Backyard Talk

Exercise Your Rights Vote on Tuesday

By Lois : October 31, 2014 10:02 am

Get ready . . . Get educated about the issues . . . who stands with you and who does not . . . then vote on Tuesday. You don’t get to complain about what’s happening in your community or your country if you don’t vote. That doesn’t mean you don’t have something to complain about after you vote. Unfortunately, the corporate huge contributions can put the newly elected representative in office to look out for their interests. It means you need to vote on Tuesday and then figure out how to change the outcome of the next election on Wednesday.

Say, “My vote won’t make a difference,” is wrong. Here in Virginia where CHEJ’s headquarters are located the results in the last election of State Attorney General (2013) the difference between the winning and losing candidates was 165 votes – out of 2.2 million cast.

Voting is an important step in the process of democracy but it is not the only step. As I have often said, there are two sources of power in this country – money and people. Most of our organizations work on a shoe string budget so we don’t have money, but we do have the ability to reach and motivate a larger number of people.

“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.”

On Wednesday, think about who you could run for office. Most people respond when I ask this question, “No one wants to run for office.” However, that same leader says “No one wants to let the local industry continue to poison the community through their chemical releases. Or I don’t want to go to another government hearing . . . just clean the mess up.” These two issues are connected. Working on one while ignoring the other doesn’t make sense.

If voting didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be so much money and energy to make it difficult for American citizens to vote. States across the country are passing measures that make it harder and harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. These measures include requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship to register, cutting back on early voting, eliminating Election Day registration, new restrictions on voter registration drives and additional barriers to voting for people with criminal convictions.

For example, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law several bills in 2014 that will rewrite voting rules in the state, eliminating a number of early voting and registration opportunities as well as tightening identification standards. Fifteen states in all are actively involved in voter suppression measures.

The attached outlines which states passed voter suppression measures since January 1, 2013 and where the right to vote remains under siege today.

Corporations think and plan long term. They activity work to get people elected to school boards, then city or town councils and then state legislative seats and so on. More often than not our efforts are solely on trying to turn around the elected representatives that the “other side” helped get elected. As a movement we too need to think and work long term to elect representatives that have our best interest in mind. Activists in our movement are positioned locally to begin the long term process of changing who represents America—where it needs changing.

So vote Tuesday and begin thinking about your first steps in creating a long term plan Wednesday.

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Sharon H.

A Sad State: Pesticide Use Linked to Depression in Farmers

By Sharon H. : October 24, 2014 9:26 pm

When we consider the effects of toxic pesticides, we tend to think first and foremost of physical health. From the developmental damage caused by DDT to the cancer risks of chlordane, pesticides have been linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes. Now, new research has surfaced solidifying the link between pesticide usage and depression in farmers.

Credit: USMC via Wikimedia Commons

From the organochlorine and organophosphate chemicals used widely in the pre-Silent Spring era to newer groups of compounds like the pyrethroids, many pesticides exert their damage by scrambling the nervous systems of insects and other pests. It should come as no surprise that these compounds also have a potent effect on the neurological systems of humans, with the potential to compromise the mental health of those who come into close contact with the chemicals.

A study published last month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives investigated links between pesticide use and depression, and found that the use of organochlorine and organophosphate insecticides and fumigants caused higher rates of depression in male farmers. As Brian Bienkowski reports for Environmental Health News, this is not the first paper to show evidence of links between pesticides and mental health. Studies in France, Brazil and China have also linked pesticide use to depression and suicide.

The troubling impact of pesticides on mental health may be a global problem, but it is not one that will affect all farming populations equally. Of the seven pesticides investigated in the study, only three are currently still registered for use in the United States. While chronic use of these pesticides by farmers prior to their phase-out may still cause long-term damage, more worrisome is the fact that many of these compounds are still used in agriculture and disease control in many developing nations. Farmers in countries like India, where organochlorine pesticides are still widely used, may be at increased risk of mental health concerns from pesticide usage.

Within the United States, pesticide usage presents a serious environmental justice concern. The group Californians for Pesticide Reform acknowledges that of the 700,000 farmworkers in California, many are people of color who “live on the front lines of a toxic barrage and experience more reported acute pesticide poisoning cases than any other segment of California’s population.” Migrant farmworkers, as well as those who are undocumented immigrants, may face unequal mental health burdens not only because of their increased exposure to pesticides, but due to lack of access to health care.

To address this issue, we need to expand research on the links between mental health and pesticide exposure. Many of the newer-generation pesticides were not included in last month’s study, but they may have a similar correlation with compromised mental health. While these links may take years to prove, we can take more immediate action by working to reduce health disparities among farming populations.

To learn more about pesticide exposure and regulation and farmworker health, visit

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My Halloween Nightmare

By Teresa Mills : October 22, 2014 10:54 am

I dreamed that just as I entered a Halloween haunted house the first monster I ran into was Frackenstine. Just like the book Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley about a creature produced by an unorthodox scientific experiment, I noticed that the Frackenstine that stood before me was also made up by combining many parts. Frackenstines legs turned out to be the Ohio legislature that gave the monster his legs to make his way around Ohio, his torso was made of the Ohio oil and gas industry, his arms were the different state agencies that gave the monster the strength to strong-arm Ohio communities by not allowing citizens or local government to have any say into whether or not they wanted this massive industrial process to destroy their community. The Frackenstine monster was so big I was having a hard time seeing who or what made up the head but as I moved farther away from the monster I could see that the monsters head was Ohio’s own governor, Governor John Kasich who has become the mouthpiece and cheerleader for industry.

Down a long dark hallway I came to a closed door, as I opened the door I saw a room full of bubbling cauldrons. As I looked around the room I saw thousands of Material Safety Data Sheets with all of the toxic chemicals blacked out. There was also a flashing sign that warned of radiation. While trying to read all of the signs I was suddenly approached by someone dressing in a hazardous materials moonsuit telling me that bubbling brew was safe and not to worry. Even though he was dressed in protective garb he informed me that I was not allowed to know what was in the bubbling toxic brew and the door was quickly closed in my face. As the door closed I could hear the sinister laugh of a crazy person who had spent too much time inhaling the toxic vapors of the bubbling cauldrons full of fracking fluid.

As I continued down the dark hallway I turned a corner and was face to face with a Vampire with blood dripping from his fangs. NO wait, it wasn’t blood dripping, I realized his fangs are drilling rigs that were dripping oil and he is hungry for more and more. He can’t get enough; he is sinking his rigs into hundreds of thousands of acres of Mother Earth just to see if he can find more oil or gas to feed his needs. I thought if I can just hold out until dawn the sun will destroy this vampire, but I was so wrong.

As I was about to exit the haunted house I heard the screams of the banshee foretelling the death of life as we know it. No longer will we have local communities where we can cross the street without worrying about being hit by one of the thousands of trucks or being harassed by out of state workers that have no since of pride for the community. We face industrial facilities in places where they have no business being in.

But wait, I suddenly realized I was not asleep, I was not having a nightmare. What I had thought was a horrible nightmare was indeed reality for many communities in Ohio and across the nation that are faced with the nightmare known as fracking.

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The Easy Way — NOT Most Effective Way

By Lois : October 20, 2014 11:28 am

Sign a petition or write a letter? It is true that many signatures on a petition is meaningful but such petitions also has its limits. Legislators look at the petition signatures and note the number but essentially ignore what activists see as their “powerful voice” they intended the petition to represent.

It’s a case of “the easiest way is also not the most effective.” Clicking on to a form letter ends up to be not only a very soft message to the targeted audience. Moreover, the person signing thinks that they have done their good deed of the day and takes no further action. For example, last year, almost 4,000 comments were submitted to a legislator in Pennsylvania and 95% of them were rejected as “form letters.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t represent some level of people’s voices but were not as meaningful.

When you look at what citizens did in NC around fracking regulations, where they worked to get specific comments from people who may have use a model predefined set of issues, but many comments were personalized, you get a very different story. According to an article in the NC paper News Observer the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission is plowing through a mountain of public comments on its proposed fracking standards with less than a month left to fine-tune the safety rules for shale gas drilling. State officials estimate that more than 100,000 comments flooded in by the Sept. 30 deadline and the finally tally could approach 200,000.

The number of submission was so large that the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials are not sure they have sufficient memory space on the agency’s hard drives to post the comments online for public view. DENR have assigned at least eight extra staffers, including from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, to sort through public remarks and enter them into a database.

That action made a difference at a very high level. However the people power could have been even stronger if everyone said a little more than “don’t frack.” According to the commissioner, “about half of the comments are repetitive ‘don’t frack’ and they don’t really count, if you know what I mean.”

This was successful with the chairman of the commission saying, there is no question that we will recommend some adjustment to the rules, how much is not clear. It was the volume and the individual comments not just signing on to a model set of comments that made the difference and has moved the needle. So think about giving people talking points to actually submit individual comments that are not all exactly the same and you may see the difference, next time you want to move a person with authority or regulations. Some people will only act with a sign-on but encouraging one more step, making that step as easy as possible could increase your power. No one ever said that activism was easy, but it’s not all that hard either.

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EPA Selects Bogus Remedy for LDC Site

By Jose Aguayo : October 16, 2014 1:09 pm

Once again, EPA manages to get it all wrong! The Record of Decision (ROD) for the Lower Darby Creek Superfund Site was signed by Region 3 and released to the public at the end of last month. Despite criticism from the affected community and CHEJ in the form of public comments during the remedy selection process, EPA selected a remedy that is not at all suitable for the environment of Pennsylvania.

This remedy is termed an Evapotranspiration (ET) Cap and is essentially a dense cover of about four feet of sand with vegetation planted on top of it. The idea is that rainwater will be stored in the sand and the plants will absorb it, use it and ultimately evaporate it into the air. This concept works but, as EPA themselves pointed out in a study conducted in 2005 by William Albright and Craig Benson, it works in areas where rain levels are similar to evapotranspiration levels (the level at which plants evaporate water from their bodies) such as the West. Here, average precipitation levels range between 10 and 15 inches per year, and evapotranspiration rates range from 8 to 12 inches per year. Darby Township receives 42.5 inches of rainfall on average every year, while its evapotranspiration rate is only slightly above 20 inches per year.

I could go on and on about why the ET cap is a very bad idea for the region, from the fact that it will take years to work half-decently to the fact that its leachate treatment consists of dumping it into a man-made swamp… but EPA will not listen to me. What they will listen to is the voice of the community that has to live with this engineering disaster. Citizens from different groups in from the affected area are getting together to attend a public meeting on October 23 to discuss this bogus remedy. CHEJ will attend this meeting and help the citizens voice their concern. Let’s see if EPA has the nerve to ignore their comments to their face.

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