Backyard Talk
Sharon H.

Deepwater Horizon, 5 Years Later

By Sharon H. : April 20, 2015 11:02 pm

On April 20th 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven workers and triggering the spill of nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The accident wreaked massive damage on marine and coastal ecosystems, caused myriad negative health effects in cleanup workers, and gutted the Gulf Coast economy. Five years later, it remains the largest offshore environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Environmental effects from the disaster linger and the debate around offshore drilling for oil continues. Meanwhile, Gulf Coast residents are still writing a story of resilience and recovery in the years following the disaster.

In the immediate aftermath of the spill, water quality was drastically impaired in the Gulf of Mexico. Concentrations of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS) skyrocketed in the waters off the coast of Louisiana, and were also found at elevated levels in the ocean near Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. The spill threatened dozens of marine species with elevated risks of extinction. Residents and cleanup workers experienced health effects from exposure to both the toxic organic compounds that composed the spill, and from the cleanup process itself. Toxic dispersants were used in the cleanup process, causing illnesses that gravely affected cleanup workers.

After five years the acute effects of the spill have passed, but marine species are still dying at accelerated rates and tar balls continue to wash up on the shores as oil that was buried under sand at the time of the spill resurfaces. Researchers have also begun to investigate the possibility of long-term health damage in cleanup workers. As debate surrounding offshore drilling continues, the BP oil spill has added a horrific cautionary tale to the annals of what many hope will be the key to solving our energy crisis.  The lingering environmental and health effects from the spill ensure that the BP oil disaster will not soon be forgotten…and thanks to one groundbreaking citizen journalism initiative, neither will the stories of those most closely affected by the disaster.

The Bridge the Gulf Project is a community media project founded in 2010 following the BP disaster. For the past five years, the organization has worked to elevate the voices of Gulf Coast communities as they work to enhance sustainability and social justice. The Project is organized by a network of community leaders, experts and writers, and spotlights stories that are seldom heard in the mainstream media, while providing training and support for those engaged in regional movement-building. Many of the stories center on environmental activism. On April 19th, one blogger wrote of being arrested at BP America’s headquarters; another recent post covers environmental justice mapping initiatives; and last month, one BP spill cleanup worker spoke out about his health issues. However, media featured on the site also cover topics ranging from immigration to racial justice.

In the immediate and long-term wake of environmental disasters, it is often the stories of failure and tragedy that dominate the mainstream media. Bridge the Gulf offers an alternative to this often dehumanizing coverage, elevating the voices of those most responsible for the complex recovery from an environmental accident that intersects with many other social and economic injustices.

To learn more about the Bridge the Gulf project, visit http://bridgethegulfproject.org/about.

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jaguayo

BTEX and Endocrine Disruption

By Jose Aguayo : April 20, 2015 10:28 am

A new study has revealed the possible association between BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) and endocrine disruption at levels way below the reference concentrations used by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

BTEX chemicals are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are used as solvents in consumer and industrial products, as gasoline additives, and as intermediates in the synthesis of organic compounds for many consumer products. As a result, they are prevalent in our environment, especially in indoor settings. The current scientific understanding of these chemicals is that they can cause skin and sensory irritation, central nervous system problems and effects on the respiratory system at acute short-term exposures; and kidney, liver and circulatory problems as well as leukemia and other forms of cancer at chronic long-term exposures.

However, this new study points to the role of BTEX chemicals in hormone disruptions, a field of study pioneered by the late Theo Colborn. In fact, Theo contributed personally to this study before her passing along with scientist from the The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) (the international non-profit she founded) and the University of Colorado, Boulder. Although direct association can be made between endocrine disruption and BTEX exposure, this study points to the real need to examine this link more closely. Cathy Milbourn, a spokesperson for the EPA, said in an emailed response that the agency will “review the study and incorporate the findings into our work as appropriate.”

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Guest Author

Greenpeace Starts Countdown Clock Asking: Why is Obama Letting the EPA Slow-walk Chemical Plant Safety?

By Guest Author : April 16, 2015 12:02 pm

By Rick Hind, Greenpeace — When he was a Senator, President Obama championed legislation to prevent chemical disasters. On the Senate floor in 2006 he warned, “these plants are stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.”

As a candidate for in 2008, Obama made it an issue in his campaign platform, Change We Can Believe In

As President he sent representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and EPA to Capitol Hill to testify in favor of the same prevention policies that he had championed in the Senate. After the legislation was blocked by the chemical lobby in 2011 a coalition of over 100 organizations urged the President to use EPA’s long standing authority under the Clean Air Act to prevent future disasters by requiring safer alternatives.

Two years ago on April 17th, following the deadly chemical fertilizer disaster in West, Texas President Obama spoke at the memorial service of the fifteen victims of that preventable calamity, most of whom were first responders, saying, “we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere.” Obama video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARMMiH1UjSk

On August 1, 2013 the President appeared to put those words into action when he issued an executive order directing federal agencies to modernize their safety rules. Last May the EPA committed to finalizing new safety requirements by 2016. But two years after the disaster in West, Texas we’re still waiting for the EPA to begin the rule-making process. In the meantime there have been more than 350 additional chemical accidents. And there are still 466 chemical plants that each pose a catastrophic hazard to 100,000 or more people – 88 of which put one million or more people at risk.

Because the EPA rarely finalizes new rules in less than 18 months, our Coalition has urged them to start as soon as possible. If they don’t finish by June 2016 a new President or Congress could kill it by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), as President Bush did to important workplace safety rules in 2001.

Unfortunately, the EPA has chosen to wait until sometime in September to start this process.

To track their progress Greenpeace created a Countdown Clock on our web site. If the President and the EPA are serious about prioritizing disaster prevention, they must move up their start time to June 1st of this year so they can finalize a new rule by June 2016. After that, any new rule will be more vulnerable to the CRA.

The safety of millions of people depends on the administration finishing what they started. The EPA has been “considering” this issue on and off for 20 years. We finally have a President who knows how and what to do.

If he’s serious and wants this to be an important part of his legacy, he needs to ensure that the EPA acts as soon as possible. He’s hearing from the chemical lobby so please let him hear from you today by clicking here.

——– ***Chronology of the EPA “Considering” Chemical Disaster Prevention***

1995 “EPA does not favor inclusion of a specific requirement in the initial program for an analysis of the inherent safety of processes…EPA is considering further study of this issue with all stakeholders and requests comment on this issue.”

2002 Following the 9/11 attacks, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman proposed regulations in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks but they were scuttled by the Bush White House. She has since urged Obama to issue new safety rules.

2009 Peter S. Silva, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, testified in favor of requirements to use inherently safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.

2010 Cynthia Dougherty, EPA’s Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water of the Office of Water testified in favor of requirements to use inherently safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.

2011 Rand Beers, Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary testified in favor of requirements to use safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.

2012 EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council recommended that the “EPA use its authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act section 112 (r) to reduce or eliminate these catastrophic risks, where feasible, by issuing new rules and guidance…”

2012 EPA says they will address a petition from 54 organizations urging that they use their Clean Air Act authority to require inherently safer technologies (IST).

2013 President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 giving federal agencies such as the EPA, DHS and OSHA nine months to propose ways to modernize their chemical facility safety and security policies.

2014 In a multi-agency report to the President the EPA pledged to complete new regulations by 2016 including possible requirements for inherently safer technologies (IST)

2015 EPA plans to issue “proposed” regulations in September 2015 with the expectation of completing them in 2016.

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Steve

EPA’s EJ 2020 Action Agenda

By Stephen Lester : April 14, 2015 12:46 pm

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a draft for public comment of its EJ 2020 Action Agenda (EJ 2020) Framework. This strategy document lays out its plan for continuing to address environmental justice in the context of the agency’s work. EPA is hoping to build on its EJ 2014 Action Agenda and expand that work through commitments that will continue over the next five years. EPA is seeking input on the draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda framework. The public comment period runs from April 15 to June 15. The agency is planning to conduct informational and dialogue sessions during this comment period and is encouraging the public to submit written comments. For more details, see: www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/plan-ej/.

As described in the draft framework document, “EPA’s environmental justice efforts seek to protect the health and environment of overburdened communities, support them to take action to improve their own health and environment, and build partnerships to achieve community health and sustainability.”

The agencies goal through 2020 is to make a visible difference in overburdened communities by:

  • Deepening  environmental justice practice within EPA programs to improve the health and environment of overburdened communities;
  • Collaborating with partners to expand our impact within overburdened communities; and
  • Demonstrating progress on outcomes that matter to overburdened communities

Key elements to the EJ 2020 plan include incorporating EJ in rulemaking; considering EJ in permitting; advancing EJ through compliance and enforcement; supporting community based programs; fostering administration-wide action; and developing science and legal tools for considering environmental justice in decision-making. The framework document also includes a chart that defines the agency’s status and progress in achieving these key elements. In addition, EPA has established a one-stop informational “Resource for Communities” web portal as well as a new EJSCREEN tool that quantitatively identifies areas with potential EJ concerns by using environmental, health, demographic and enforcement indicators.

Contacts on environmental justice are included for each of the 10 EPA regions and for each of 13 major divisions within the agency such as the Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Water, Office of Research and Development, etc.

EPA will make the draft document available on April 15th on its Environmental Justice website at: www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/ej2020/. Comments can be submitted electronically to: ejstrategy@epa.gov, or via hard copy to: Charles Lee at lee.charles@epa.gov. If you have any questions, please contact Charles Lee via email or at 202-564-2597.


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Sharon H.

Crowdsourcing Discovery: White House Celebrates Citizen Science

By Sharon H. : April 7, 2015 9:51 am

Expanding our environmental monitoring networks and empowering students to learn about science and the environment: both these elements are critical to advancing a more sustainable, healthier future for communities in the U.S. and worldwide. The annual White House Science Fair this past March gave special focus to citizen science, announcing that the Office of Science and Technology Policy will be holding a Citizen Science Forum before the end of 2015.

Citizen science, also known as crowd-sourced science, is a powerful tool for advancing environmental health and justice. While investigations by scientific professionals add necessary rigor to the analysis of environmental issues, citizens can contribute to monitoring environmental phenomena and gathering data on issues in their own communities that might not otherwise be brought into the light of discovery.

In a recent example from EPA Region 2, citizen science was used in Newark, New Jersey to monitor fine particulate air pollution from traffic. Kim Gaddy, a member of the NJ Environmental Federation, states that the study tried to “bring exposure to the fact that in the City of Newark, and most urban communities, one in four children is asthmatic.” The connections between asthma and air pollution are known in a general, global sense, but gathering concrete data at the local level can help stimulate changes to policies that directly affect community health. The White House’s Citizen Science Fact Sheet also speaks to the power of citizen science projects as “tools for providing students with skills needed to excel in science, technology, engineering and math.”

The announcement particularly highlighted efforts by the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, a group that uses do-it-yourself monitoring techniques to enable communities facing environmental hazards to more effectively participate in decision making processes.  The group is committing to “putting 6,000 low-cost, accessible sensors…into the hands of community environmental researchers to enable residents to identify pollution affecting their own backyards.” New tools include a conductivity/temperature/depth sensor and an oil testing kit. Public Lab is also partnering with SciStarter, the Museum of Science Boston, and Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society to “connect citizen scientists to data collection tools” through a lending library.

In communities facing toxic pollution and exposures, a lack of both scientific attention and the resources to conduct investigations lead many problems to go unaddressed. Citizen science can help leverage the energy and ingenuity of those who have the most at stake in environmental issues, and provide the tools and frameworks necessary for advancing policy change at the local level. Public Lab and other groups are leading the charge to address environmental hazards through crowdsourcing, and the recent White House announcements are an encouraging sign of the increasing importance of citizen science on the national policy level.

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