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Regulatory Gaps Leave Unsafe Lead Levels in Water Nationwide

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“In Sebring, Ohio, routine laboratory tests last August found unsafe levels of lead in the town’s drinking water after workers stopped adding a chemical to keep lead water pipes from corroding. Five months passed before the city told pregnant women and children not to drink the water, and shut down taps and fountains in schools.

In 2001, after Washington, D.C., changed how it disinfected drinking water, lead in tap water at thousands of homes spiked as much as 20 times the federally approved level. Residents did not find out for three years. When they did, officials ripped out lead water pipes feeding 17,600 homes — and discovered three years later that many of therepairs had only prolonged the contamination.

The crisis in Flint, Mich., where as many as 8,000 children under age 6 were exposed to unsafe levels of lead after a budget-cutting decision to switch drinking-water sources, may be the most serious contamination threat facing the country’s water supplies. But it is hardly the only one.

Unsafe levels of lead have turned up in tap water in city after city — in Durham and Greenville, N.C., in 2006; in Columbia, S.C., in 2005; and last July in Jackson, Miss., where officials waited six months to disclose the contamination — as well as in scores of other places in recent years.

Federal officials and many scientists agree that most of the nation’s 53,000 community water systems provide safe drinking water. But such episodes are unsettling reminders of what experts say are holes in the safety net of rules and procedures intended to keep water not just lead-free, but free of all poisons…”

Read more from the New York Times

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As Washington state decides on stronger toxics law, residents are breathing flame retardants

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“A new generation of chemicals added to furniture, building insulation and baby products like car seats to slow the spread of flames are escaping into air at higher levels than previously thought, according to a new study out of Washington state.

The findings come as Washington lawmakers decide on bolstering flame retardant bans. The state was one of the first to ban an earlier generation of retardants, known as PBDEs.

The new research found flame retardant chemicals used to replace polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) also escape, are ubiquitous in indoor air and suggest inhalation is a major route of exposure for people.

The compounds, called chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants, found in the study have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems, and some can alter hormones essential for development.

“We’ve been underestimating what total exposure is,” said Erika Schreder, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the study published this month in the scientific journal Chemosphere.

Researchers gave 10 people from Washington state an air sampler that simulates breathing to wear during a normal day: office work, commuting, hanging out at home. They tested for a suite of the new generation of chlorinated flame retardants and found all 10 were breathing some amount of them throughout the day…”

Read more from Environmental Health News

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ExxonMobil Beaumont, TX Polyethylene Plant Plant-wide Failure

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Emergency dispatchers Thursday received numerous calls about flaring at The ExxonMobil Beaumont, TX Refinery & Chemical complex. Just as I was leaving a meeting in Houston, TX to work with leaders about chemical refineries and oil/gas pipelines this horrible situation happened.

The flaring is the result of power outages in the area.  Beaumont Fire Rescue told 12News it was notified by ExxonMobil that its Beaumont facility had 8 flares going to help maintain safety levels because of the outages.

Plant officials had this to say, “This is ExxonMobil Beaumont Polyethylene Plant on Highway 90 an EXXONMOBIL Beaumont Refinery & Chemical Complex. We can confirm that a plant-wide power failure resulted in significant flaring. We can confirm that non-essential personnel have been dismissed per protocol and are actively engaged at the complex with the goal of returning to normal operations.”

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Teflon’s Toxic Legacy

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“Almost two decades ago, Carla Bartlett, a then 41-year -old West Virginia secretary and mother of two, was first diagnosed with cancer – what her surgeon later labeled a “garden variety” type of kidney cancer.

“I was scared to death,” Bartlett, now 59, told an Ohio federal jury this fall during hearings in the first of more than 3,500 personal injury and wrongful death suits by West Virginia and Ohio residents against the chemical giant DuPont. “And all I could think of was not being there, not being able to be there for my family.” Bartlett’s tumor and part of her rib were removed in a surgery in 1997 that, she said, involved cutting her “virtually in half.” Though the cancer hasn’t recurred since, for Bartlett, the harm, both physical and emotional, has lingered. “It’s never out of my mind, because you worry constantly about it,” she said. “And then I have the reminder of the scar, every day, that, you know, this… this is… this was cancer; this could come back.”

On October 7, after less than a day of deliberations, the jury found DuPont liable for Bartlett’s cancer, agreeing with the defendant that the company had for years negligently contaminated her drinking water supply in Tuppers Plain, Ohio with a toxic chemical formerly used to make its signature brand of nonstick coating: Teflon.

What makes the verdict remarkable is that unlike, say, mesothelioma – a form of lung cancer almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure – the renal cell carcinoma that struck Bartlett is not usually considered the calling card of a specific carcinogen. So it was difficult for her doctors to definitively say what had first made Bartlett sick – it could have been virtually anything. The $1.6 million the jury awarded to Bartlett – the product of decades’ worth of legal battles that unearthed reams of secret DuPont studies and internal emails – came despite the extreme difficulty of connecting common ailments to a specific chemical under the current United States legal system…”

Read more from Earth Island Journal

Styrofoam Ban in our Nation’s Capital

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On January 1, 2016 a ban on the use of Styrofoam containers went into effect in the city of Washington, DC.  This new law will prohibit restaurants and local business from using single use Styrofoam (technically speaking, expanded polystyrene foam products) containers to package food and drinks, typically used for take-out orders or to take home leftovers. According to one estimate in a private blog, there are similar bans in effect in more than 70 cities including New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.  In New York City alone, 28,500 tons of expanded Styrofoam was collected in 2012. About 90% of this material was from food and drink related containers.

I couldn’t help but smile when I read this story as a remembered back in the late 1980s when CHEJ (then CCHW) kicked off a national campaign against McDonald’s to get the mega food giant to stop using Styrofoam clam shells for all its food packaging. We called this the “McToxics Campaign” and groups all over the country participated including grassroots environmental health activists, students, churches, annual rights activists and advocates of healthy food. These groups, individually and in coalition, picketed local restaurants, fought for local ordinances banning Styrofoam, launched boycotts and engaged in send-it-back campaigns to send the message to McDonalds that they wanted the company to be a corporate leader for positive change, rather than a symbol of our throw-away society.  And it worked!  After a little over 3 years, McDonalds caved in, marking one of the biggest victories of the grassroots environmental health movement. On November 1, 1990, McDonalds’ announced it would end nearly all Styrofoam packaging use in U.S. restaurants within 60 days.

As anticipated, when McDonalds made its announcement, other companies would follow its lead. Jack-In-the-Box followed suit almost immediately, and soon most other fast food restaurants also stopped using Styrofoam.  Although many small restaurants and local businesses continued to use Styrofoam, the message continues to grow that this toxic plastic has no place in our society. The many toxic substances generated and released during production, the formation of toxic chemicals when it is burned and the difficulties in recycling and disposal of this material is what drove this campaign and continue to be an issue today as restaurants and businesses search for options to deliver food and drinks.

Fortunately there are better options and better alternatives that don’t cause the public health and environmental risks that this plastic does. Cheers to the growing list of cities, towns and municipalities that are deciding one jurisdiction at a time, to move away from this toxic plastic.  May there be many more in the coming years.

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Millions of people being contaminated with toxic mercury used in mines

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“Brandon Nichols knows first hand what it’s like to get poisoned by mercury.

“I got mercury poisoning two or three times,” he told CBC news. “I got some serious headaches.”

The University of British Columbia grad student had been in South America, researching small scale gold mining operations in Ecuador and their use of mercury.

Mercury is widely used by the miners because it bonds with gold, allowing it be more easily separated from the ore hauled out of countless mines dotting the countryside.

The widespread use of the toxic liquid metal is creating a long lasting environmental hazard that starts with ore processing and travels all the way up the food chain. But much of it is hidden in remote corners of the developing world so it’s receiving little attention.

Nichols shot hours of video as he researched mining and processing techniques. Now he’s working on ways to reduce the use of mercury and its largely unregulated use in those remote places.

“If you were ever going to try and clean this up, I don’t know how you would,” he says, describing how rudimentary workshops have become mini toxic waste sites…”

Read more from CBC News

Put the Super Back in Superfund!

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Earlier this month CHEJ released a new report on the mismanagement of Superfund program and the need to reinstate polluter pays fees.

The report Superfund: Polluters Pays So Children Can Play was released as part of a National Day of Action in with groups across the country participating in different ways to deliver the message: polluter pays fees need to be reinstated. 32 groups in 24 states plus Puerto Rico representing 31 Superfund sites provided site profiles and quotes about the need to reinstate the polluter pays fees. The profiles are part of this new report. Some groups around the country delivered cakes to their representatives celebrating the 35th anniversary of Superfund and a card asking them to be a Superhero and support reinstatement of the polluter pays fees.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Funding for Superfund is insufficient to properly manage the program.

  • This funding shortfall has resulted in fewer completed cleanups each year; fewer cleanups started each year; inadequate funding of ongoing projects; an increase in the time to complete projects; and a steady stream of unfunded projects.

  • The expansion of the Superfund Alternatives program, in which the responsible parties agree to cleanup a site and avoid being listed on the National Priority List provides benefits to the polluter while hampering citizen participation that is provided for under the Superfund program.

  • The Superfund program has been so badly mismanaged by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that an unprecedented act of Congress has proposed transferring EPA oversight of a Superfund site to the Army Corps of Engineers.

  • Congress must reinstate the polluter pays fees. Without collecting the corporate fees to replenish Superfund, there is simply not enough money to do the critical job of cleaning up hundreds of abandoned toxic waste sites.


To view the executive summary of the report, click here

To view the full report, click here

To view the community quotes, click here

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Put the Super Back in Superfund!

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Today CHEJ released a new report on the mismanagement of the Superfund program and the need to reinstate polluter pays fees.

Superfund: Polluters Pays So Children Can Play 35th Anniversary Report is released as part of a National Day of Action where groups across the country are participating in different ways to deliver the message: polluter pays fees need to be reinstated!

32 groups in 24 states plus Puerto Rico representing 31 Superfund sites provided site profiles and quotes about the need to reinstate the polluter pays fees. The profiles are part of this new report. Some groups around the country are delivering cakes to their representatives celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Superfund and a card asking them to be a Superhero and support reinstatement of the polluter pays fees.

Some of the key findings in the report  include:

  • Funding for Superfund is insufficient to properly manage the program.

  • This funding shortfall has resulted in fewer completed cleanups each year; fewer cleanups started each year; inadequate funding of ongoing projects; an increase in the time to complete projects; and a steady stream of unfunded projects.

  • The expansion of the Superfund Alternatives program, in which responsible parties agree to cleanup a site and avoid being listed on the National Priority List, provides benefits to the polluter while hampering citizen participation that is provided for under the Superfund program.

  • The Superfund program has been so badly mismanaged by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that an unprecedented act of Congress has proposed transferring EPA oversight of a Superfund site to the Army Corps of Engineers.

  • Congress must reinstate the polluter pays fees. Without collecting the corporate fees to replenish Superfund, there is simply not enough money to do the critical job of cleaning up hundreds of abandoned toxic waste sites.

For more information, questions, or comments, please contact Lois Gibbs at lgibbs@chej.org.

To view the executive summary of the report, click here

To view the full report, click here

To view the community quotes, click here

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How Safe Are The Fields Where We Play?

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Amy Griffin, the former U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper and current University of Washington goalkeeper coach, started keeping a list in 2009. She started gathering names of athletes who had played on crumb-rubber synthetic turf and had been diagnosed with cancer.

Read More at ESPN.com

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Early lead exposure linked to sleep problems

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From Chemistry World:

“Lead exposure in early childhood is associated with increased risk for sleep problems and excessive daytime sleepiness in later childhood, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania, US.

The findings, which will be published in the December but are already available online, are based on data from a longitudinal study of more than 1400 Chinese children that began in 2004 to examine the influence of lead exposure on neurocognitive, behavioural and health outcomes in children and adolescents.

‘Little is known about the impact of heavy metals exposure on children’s sleep, but the study’s findings highlight that environmental toxins – such as lead – are important paediatric risk factors for sleep disturbance,’ said principal investigator Jianghong Liu. ‘Lead exposure is preventable and treatable, but if left unchecked can result in irreversible neurological damage.’

Past research has linked lead poisoning in children has been to violent crime and brain damage. This study is the first longitudinal, population-based study to investigate the connection between lead exposure and sleep.”