A big push is on to rewrite federal regulations on the toxic chemicals in household products.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Dozens of public interest organizations and legal scholars today sent letters to Congressional leaders expressing their unified opposition to the industry-backed Chemical Safety Improvement Act introduced last month by a bipartisan group of senators.
…Among the groups’ concerns are the legislation’s failure to create much-needed health protections that are absent in the current law but were included in the Safe Chemicals Act introduced earlier this year by the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg.
…the current bill doesn’t ‘explicitly protect women and children’ or take into consideration ‘the cumulative burden of chemical pollution for residents of highly polluted communities and workers.’ In addition, the industry-backed bill ‘sets no clear timelines to ensure EPA assesses hazardous chemicals in a timely manner’ and ‘would not require that chemicals be found to be safe before manufacturing begins.’
In his own comment on the bill, EWG president and co-founder Ken Cook said that: ‘While we appreciate the efforts to craft a bipartisan path toward TSCA reform, the bill as it stands now is nothing short of a monument to the chemical industry. Something is clearly amiss when chemical companies, their lobbyists and lawyers are united in support of a bill while virtually the entire environmental community is aligned against it.’”
— Sara Sciammacco, Press Release, Environmental Working Group
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (NJ), left, at work this May at age 89, speaking to Sen. Ben Cardin (MD).
NEW YORK, NY — “. . . his real achievements were at the intersection of public health and the environment—especially on toxic industrial chemicals. He authored the ‘Toxic Right to Know’ act, which gave the public the ability to find out what toxic chemicals were being released into their neighborhood—a key piece of legislation in New Jersey, which might be called the Garden State, but which has long been home to a polluting chemical industry. . . .
Lautenberg was still working on toxic chemical reform when he died in office. For years he was the driving force in the efforts to update the nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substance Control Act (TCSA), the outdated law that deals with nearly all industrial chemicals, including household ones like those found in plastics. Even the chemical industry has come to agree that some reform is needed for TCSA, which hasn’t been updated since it was signed into law in 1976. The burden of proving that new chemicals are dangerous falls almost entirely on the government, even as industry confidentiality privileges deny regulators the information they need to make informed decisions. In the years since TCSA was enacted, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only put limits on a handful of dangerous chemicals, and has largely been unable to respond to new science indicating possible risks from widespread chemicals like bisphenol-A.
Less than two weeks before his death, Lautenberg and Republican Senator David Vitter announced an agreement on new legislation that would update TCSA.”
WASHINGTON, DC — “In a rare display of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, a group of key senators unveiled legislation Wednesday that would require chemical companies to provide more health and safety information about their products and give regulators more power to force harmful compounds off the market.
The compromise bill, supported by some health advocates and the chemical industry’s chief trade group, would overhaul a 1976 federal law that by all accounts has failed to protect Americans from harmful chemicals added to household products, including furniture, baby products, toys and electronics.
Sponsored by Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Republican David Vitter of Louisiana, the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act for the first time would require the Environmental Protection Agency to review the safety of more than 84,000 industrial chemicals, many of which already were on the market when Congress last acted on the issue nearly four decades ago.”
The 2,400-acre ExxonMobil petrochemical complex in Baton Rouge, La.
BATON ROUGE, LA — “Shirley Bowman noticed the smell after 8 a.m. on June 14, 2012, her 61st birthday. In Baton Rouge, where the petrochemical industry dominates the landscape, foul odors resembling burnt rubber or propane are perennial. But this odor, caustic and potent, seemed especially foul — ‘like some sort of chemical,’ she recalls.
Bowman found her daughter crying over a migraine. Her neighbors experienced headaches, dizziness, nausea. One family reported a toddler son coughing up phlegm; another, an elderly father collapsing on the floor. She soon suspected the cause: A leak of ‘steam-cracked’ naphtha, a liquid mixture of volatile petrochemicals, occurring at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge petrochemical complex a half mile away
Four hours earlier, Exxon operators detected an odor in the East area tank field and discovered a ‘bleeder’ valve on Tank 801 dripping naphtha into a sewer. The leaky valve dumped 411 barrels into the underground system, company records filed with the state show. The liquid traveled a mile before pouring into a separator pit, vaporizing along the way, and releasing tens of thousands of pounds of benzene and other toxic chemicals into the air.”
— Kristen Lombardi and Andrea Fuller, Center for Public Integrity
CLEVELAND – Rachael Belz today begins her new job at Ohio Citizen Action as Interim Executive Director. The organization’s Board of Directors asked Belz to lead the organization after former Executive Director Sandy Buchanan was chosen to be Executive Director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a new national non-profit organization headquartered in Cleveland.
Sandy Buchanan said, “Rachael’s 17-year track record with Ohio Citizen Action has been stellar. She brings to the job excellent campaign management and organizational skills, and a deep commitment to our work. I’m confident that Ohio Citizen Action is in good hands with Rachael and the rest of our wonderful team.”
Rachael Belz, 42, was born in Seattle, Washington. She grew up in Stanton, Nebraska, on a farm where her parents still live. In 1992, Belz graduated from Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska, with B.A. in Journalism. Three days later, she was field canvassing on national health insurance for Nebraska Citizen Action in Lincoln. Later, she canvassed for Clean Water Action in Denver, Colorado, on water quality and private property rights issues. In both Lincoln and Denver, Belz began to learn organizing and showed great promise. Buchanan heard about her, and in 1996, offered Belz the job of Cincinnati Program Director of Ohio Citizen Action.
In Cincinnati, Belz has been a leader in working with communities plagued by toxic chemical pollution. She pioneered successful “good neighbor campaigns” at Cincinnati Specialties in St. Bernard, Rohm and Haas in Reading, AK Steel in Middletown, and Sunoco Refinery in the City of Oregon near Toledo. As coal program organizer, she traveled to communities across the state in the successful campaign to prevent American Municipal Power from building a new coal plant in Meigs County, Ohio. More recently, she directed the campaign for Cincinnati’s public aggregation law for electricity, which resulted in Cincinnati becoming the first big city in the nation to offer 100% renewable energy to its residents. Belz has also played key roles in statewide coordination, including training and supervising new organizers, fundraising, working closely with the field and phone canvass, and serving as Executive Director of Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund.
She will direct the organization from its Cincinnati office: (513) 221-2100, firstname.lastname@example.org, 2330 Victory Parkway #100, Cincinnati, Ohio 45206.
— Paul Ryder, Assistant Director, Ohio Citizen Action
How one organization is helping communities fight back against industries and a complicit government
Effluent from the Niagara Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant is discharged into the Niagara River near the American Falls in Niagara Falls, N.Y. (Credit: AP/David Duprey)
FALLS CHURCH, VA – “The woman who helped free an entire community from a toxic dump, literally rewriting environmental laws in the process, was so shy at the start of the struggle she tried to hide behind a tree when neighbors called on her.
Lois Gibbs took to the stage that day 35 years ago, in the seemingly idyllic community of Love Canal, N.Y., and began to find her voice. Transforming herself from homemaker to hell-raiser, she helped convince then-President Jimmy Carter to come to town in 1980 and remove 900 families from a 21,000-ton toxic dump. Earlier that year, Gibbs and her neighbors held two Environmental Protection Agency officials captive in a ploy to get the president’s attention. It worked.
Long before Erin Brockovich became a movie, Gibbs helped secure an environmental victory of greater heft. Love Canal’s war against the toxins under its feet prompted the federal government to create the Superfund cleanup program and earned Gibbs the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Today she is still in the fight as executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, a nonprofit squired in a third-floor corner office in a nondescript building in Fairfax County, Va., a few miles from Washington, D.C. A tiny gray sign hangs outside the door, betraying no sense of the history inside.”
More than 100 people, including first responders, claim they sustained injuries after inhaling vinyl chloride
PAULSBORO, NJ — “A class action lawsuit was filed today relating to the Paulsboro, New Jersey train derailment and chemical spill that forced hundreds of people from their homes and left dozens sick last year.
The plaintiffs include more than 100 first responders, young children, and property owners who allege they sustained injuries and damages after the hazardous chemical spill.
On November 30, seven cars of an 84-car train derailed on or near a swivel-style bridge over Mantua Creek. The accident released vinyl chloride, leading to the evacuation of more than 329 families and businesses. Dozens were checked out at a hospital.”
Wilma Subra, a Louisiana environmental chemist, visits Bayou Corne. “You cannot imagine what they must be going through,” she said. (Credit: Ronnie Greene/Center for Public Integrity)
BELLE ROSE, LA – “The sinkhole, triggered by a collapsed cavern operated by salt mining operator Texas Brine Company LLC, swallowed trees and fouled the air when it appeared August 3. Its discovery sent the Bayou Corne community here in Belle Rose into a state of emergency: Assumption Parish and Louisiana officials ordered a still-in-effect evacuation as state officials scrambled to unearth what happened.
…Eight months later, what comes next roils a community so close-knit it hosts its own Mardi Gras parade: The prospect that the entire Bayou Corne neighborhood, all 150 homeowners, will be relocated and not come back; that this haven for retirees and working class Louisianans will be, symbolically, swallowed by the sinkhole.
What’s happening in Belle Rose has played out in dozens of communities threatened by environmental hazards so dire residents feel compelled to demand that industry or government move them out. But as Bayou Corne’s experience shows, winning buyouts is never easy, and leaving is often painful. The community’s travails reveal the human cost of pollution.”
Of at least 200 riverkeepers in the nation, Fred Tutman is the only one who’s black. “I do think we’re invisible,” he said. “The [environmental] movement is inauthentic if it remains all white.”
WASHINGTON, DC — “Today, minority communities — black, Latino and Native American — along with low-income white neighborhoods still bear a disproportionate burden of the nation’s toxic pollution. They are in the shadows of petrochemical plants and coal-fired power plants, the nation’s greatest source of stationary pollution, according to the Congressional Research Service.
…Tutman said that he is committed to monitoring water contamination and going after polluters, that his family goes back for many generations in Prince George’s County, and that the Patuxent River runs through too many black communities he cares about.
But, he said, ‘I do think we’re invisible. The movement is inauthentic if it remains all white . . . if we can’t get a seat at the table unless we emulate their values.’”
WASHINGTON, DC — “When they hear about news events from friends and family, the vast majority of people seek out full news stories to learn more, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.
People most often receive news from friends and relatives the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. But significant percentages of people now get most of this news through email and social networks, and they follow up even more often than those who receive news in conversation.
According to the 2013 survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, nearly three-quarters—72%—say the most common way they hear about news events from family and friends is by talking in person or over the phone. But 15% get most news from family and friends through social media sites. And that rises to nearly a quarter among 18-25 year olds. Seven percent do so via email.”
INDIANAPOLIS, IN — “The ACLU of Indiana announced Thursday it has filed lawsuits against the town of Yorktown and the city of Jeffersonville because their ordinances regulating the activities of door-to-door canvassers violate the right to free expression under the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, a nonprofit dedicated to issues such as health care, political participation and environmental well-being. The organization routinely uses canvassing in residential neighborhoods to reach out to residents.
Yorktown and Jeffersonville passed ordinances last year that require canvassers to go through ‘lengthy and cost-prohibitive licensing procedures before soliciting door-to-door in those communities,’ the ACLU of Indiana says in a press release.
The ordinances restrict canvassing activity to certain hours and allow a license action to be denied at the discretion of government officials. Those fees and directives violate the First Amendment, says ACLU of Indiana staff attorney Gavin M. Rose.”
Chemical companies treated this N.J. town as a private dumping ground for decades. Here’s how they were made to pay
TOMS RIVER, NJ — “There was another worrisome factor, too. The state health department had just completed a study comparing childhood cancer incidence in New Jersey’s twenty-one counties. The 1994 analysis found that from 1980 to 1988, the overall childhood cancer rate in Ocean County was well above the statewide average. That troubled Berry, and it bothered him even more that the rates in Ocean seemed to be especially high for the category of cancers that Robert Gialanella and others had been most concerned about: brain tumors. Thirty-seven Ocean County children under age fourteen had been diagnosed with brain and nervous system tumors between 1980 and 1988, when the overall rate for New Jersey suggested there should have been just twenty-two. In a county with eighty thousand children, that was 70 percent more than expected. And now Steve Jones was telling him that the Philadelphia nurse was especially concerned about brain tumors in Toms River kids.
Berry set aside his reservations and told Jones that he would look into it.”
Then-Connecticut state of Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy paddles to shore in 2007 after announcing the opening of summer season at the state’s parks. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
WASHINGTON, DC — “On Monday, President Obama will nominate Gina McCarthy, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency’s air and radiation office, as the agency’s next administrator, and MIT professor Ernest Moniz as energy secretary, according to a White House official.
McCarthy helped usher through many of the EPA’s most contentious rules during Obama’s first term, including regulations curbing mercury and soot emissions from power plants. But she has also cultivated a strong working relationship with members of the business community, dampening much of the opposition her selection might otherwise have encountered.”
A coloring book from the 1920s extolling the virtues of lead paint. According to Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner in Lead Wars, lead paint ‘was aggressively marketed as the covering of choice to millions of young families through jingles, advertisements, and even paint books for children, who were told, for example, “This famous Dutch Boy Lead of mine can make this playroom fairly shine.”’
NEW YORK, NY — “The problem began in the early twentieth century when a spate of lead-poisoning cases in children occurred across the United States. The symptoms—vomiting, convulsions, bleeding gums, palsied limbs, and muscle pain so severe “as not to permit of the weight of bed-clothing,” as one doctor described it—were recognizable at once because they resembled the symptoms of factory workers poisoned in the course of enameling bathtubs or preparing paint and gasoline additives. One Dupont factory was even nicknamed “the House of the Butterflies” because so many workers had hallucinations of insects flying around. Many victims had to be taken away in straitjackets; some died.
By the 1920s, it was known that one common cause of childhood lead poisoning was the consumption of lead paint chips. Lead paint was popular in American homes because its brightness appealed to the national passion for hygiene and modernism, but the chips taste sweet, and it could be difficult to keep small children away from them. Because of its well-known dangers, many other countries banned interior lead paint during the 1920s and 1930s, including Belgium, France, Austria, Tunisia, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Sweden, Spain, and Yugoslavia.
…Lead paint was the most insidious danger of all because it can cause brain damage even if it isn’t peeling. Lead dust drifts off walls, year after year, even if you paint over it. It’s also almost impossible to get rid of. Removal of lead paint with electric sanders and torches creates clouds of dust that may rain down on the floor for months afterward, and many children have been poisoned during the process of lead paint removal itself. Even cleaning lead-painted walls with a rag can create enough dust to poison a child. Gut renovating the entire house solves the problem, but this too may contaminate the air around the house for months.”