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Gas pipelines surprise land owners

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Ginny Narsete was surprised to find black hoses on her property one day, and even more surprised to find that they were gas pipelines.

Read the full story at the Columbus Dispatch.

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Biotechnology and fish farming: Gas guzzlers

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SOMETHING called Methylococcus capsulatus might not sound an appetising ingredient for a meal. Methylococcus is a methanotroph, a bacterium that metabolises methane. Fortunately, salmon are not fussy eaters. They will happily consume pelletised protein made from these bugs. And that could be handy for fish farmers—at least it will be if Alan Shaw, boss of Calysta, a biotechnology firm in Menlo Park, California, has anything to do with it. For Dr Shaw proposes to take advantage of the rock-bottom price of methane, a consequence of the spread of natural-gas fracking, to breed Methylococci en masse as a substitute for the fish-meal such farmers now feed to their charges.

Read more at The Economist.

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Recycled Vinyl Can Reintroduce Chemical Hazards Into Building Products

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“Today’s announcement by Home Depot that it will require manufacturers to phase out phthalate plasticizers from all of the vinyl flooring products it sells was the latest in a long history of efforts to eliminate hazardous additives from vinyl building products. But this does not mean that all phthalate-free vinyl floors (and other PVC products) are now free of potential concerns for building occupants.

Healthy Building Network (HBN) research found that recycled PVC used in building products usually contains legacy toxic hazards like lead, cadmium, and phthalates. (PVC is short for polyvinyl chloride, or “vinyl.”) We reveal this and more in our new report, Post-Consumer Polyvinyl Chloride in Building Products, published today.

HBN examined the supply chain for vinyl flooring. We discovered that post-consumer PVC used in flooring is more likely to come from insulation jackets stripped from old cables and wires than from discarded vinyl flooring.[1] These jackets typically contain high levels of heavy metals, problematic plasticizers, and even PCBs – substances that building product manufacturers have worked to eliminate from their consumer products in recent years.

While we tracked the recycled PVC supply chain, the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center[2] tested scores of vinyl floors sold by retail stores. They shared their results with HBN and generously allowed us to debut their findings in this report.

The Ecology Center tests revealed content previously unknown to the public. Using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device on 74 floors, the Ecology Center determined that each inner layer likely contained electrical and electronic PVC waste.[3] And the recycled PVC had surprisingly high levels of heavy metals. In at least 69% of the floors’ inner layers, lead was present above the concentrations allowed in children’s toys. The XRF tests detected as much as 2% cadmium and 1% lead. This is a lot of lead and cadmium.

As PVC products age, they can release heavy metals. In 1996, the Consumer Products Safety Commission found that surface lead levels of 1.23 percent in deteriorating PVC mini-blinds “were high enough to present a lead poisoning hazard to children 6 years of age and younger if they ingested small amounts of dust from the blinds over a short period of time. Some states have identified children with elevated blood lead levels attributable to vinyl mini-blinds.”[4]

Few PVC recycling operations, whether small-scale or industrial, screen their inputs for toxicants. A recycling consortium in Europe acknowledges that phthalates and heavy metals remain in the recycled PVC feedstocks that they currently produce, and that these substances are present above regulatory thresholds of concern.

Over the past year, HBN has been examining the supply chain of recycled feedstocks in conjunction with StopWaste, a public agency responsible for reducing the waste stream in Alameda County, CA, and with support from the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Our collaboration’s goal is to identify the best practices for optimizing recycled materials – to increase recycling rates while minimizing toxic content – that can be used in building products.[5]

Wes Sullens of StopWaste is optimistic about the future of recycling. “While HBN’s research has identified some serious problems with certain sources of recycled PVC, it also identifies opportunities to clean it up for use in building products,” he notes. “Manufacturers and suppliers have shown the ability to screen, eliminate or minimize problematic ingredients that can affect the quality of future recycled content feedstocks. I am excited by this convergence of interests, and its potential to create higher-value and healthier products.”

Watch our next newsletter for the good news about what PVC flooring manufacturers are doing to address these issues.

Funding for research on post-consumer PVC feedstock was provided by StopWaste and donors to the Healthy Building Network (HBN). An evaluative framework to optimize recycling developed by StopWaste, the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and HBN, guided our research. Today’s post-consumer recycled PVC evaluation is a prequel to a forthcoming white paper by this new collaboration. It will identify pathways to optimize the benefits of using post-consumer recycled feedstocks in building products sold in the Bay Area of California and beyond.”

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Earth Day and Environmental Justice: Connected and Working Together Side-By-Side

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April 22nd, 2015 9:44 am ET  -

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Sparks for Environmental Movement

On April 22nd, the world will celebrate the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Conceived by former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was established to focus on creating a healthier environment by protecting our planet and its resources. Perhaps, Earth Day set the tone for environmental protection, education, and advocacy. Senator Nelson said the idea of Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. This was a time when the fight for civil rights characterized activism against injustice, brutality, and dehumanization, and a time when Woodstock represented a peace and love generation.

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Read more at the CDC’s Your Health – Your Environment Blog

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Home Depot banning toxic phthalates in flooring

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Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has some GREAT news to share from their Mind the Store campaign! Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, is banning added phthalates in their vinyl flooring! The Mind the Store campaign has been working with the retailer to develop this policy over the past year.

A report at HealthyStuff.org shows other retailers like Lowe’s, Lumber Liquidators, and Ace Hardware are still carrying flooring with these harmful chemicals. They found that 58% of vinyl flooring tested at top retailers contains these harmful chemicals, which have been linked to asthma and birth defects in baby boys.

What’s worse — phthalates don’t stay in flooring – they get into the air and dust we breathe in our homes, and then make their way into our bodies. While Home Depot is banning added phthalates in its flooring products, when Lowe’s, the US’ second largest home improvement retailer, was asked whether it had a policy on phthalates it responded that it did not. If Home Depot can ban phthalates in flooring, so should Lowe’s!

TAKE ACTION: Tell Lowe’s to eliminate toxic phthalates in flooring.

Today is a day to celebrate, to thank Home Depot for the bold steps they have taken, and challenge Lowe’s and other home improvement retailers to join Home Depot in getting toxic phthalates out of flooring. Will you join us?


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Money spent cleaning up BP’s mess skipped those who needed it most

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“When reporting on the BP oil disaster five years ago, I discovered that people of color and humble income were often left out of the frenzy of economic activity generated by the emergency response and recovery efforts.

In August 2010, four months into the cleanup, I looked at the contracts doled out by the U.S. government for services including charter transportation, hazmat training, legal consultation, scientific studies, housing, food, tech, and equipment. According to the Federal Procurement Data System, which is updated weekly, just 3.5 percent of the dollars spent by the government on the recovery went to small disadvantaged businesses.”

Read more from Brentin Mock at grist.org.

Deepwater Horizon, 5 Years Later

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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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Federal researchers ID at least 9 VOC inhalation deaths at oil sites

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At least nine oil workers have died since 2010 from inhaling toxic amounts of vapors while measuring crude oil in storage tanks at well sites, according to new findings by federal researchers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report, posted Friday, documents a poorly understood hazard in the oil field from volatile hydrocarbons, also called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Many oil workers and supervisors don’t realize the petrochemicals can kill (EnergyWire, Oct. 27, 2014).

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Scientists warn of hormone impacts from benzene, xylene, other common solvents

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Researchers warn that benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene may disrupt people’s hormone systems at levels deemed “safe” by feds

April 15, 2015

By Brian Bienkowski
Environmental Health News

Four chemicals present both inside and outside homes might disrupt our endocrine systems at levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to an analysis released today.

The chemicals – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene – are ubiquitous: in the air outside and in many products inside homes and businesses. They have been linked to reproductive, respiratory and heart problems, as well as smaller babies. Now researchers from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, say that such health impacts may be due to the chemicals’ ability to interfere with people’s hormones at low exposure levels.

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Theo Colborn, who passed away last December, was a co author on the new study.

“There’s evidence of connection between the low level, everyday exposures and things like asthma, reduced fetal growth,” said Ashley Bolden, a research associate at TEDX and lead author of the study. “And for a lot of the health effects found, we think it’s disrupted endocrine-signaling pathways involved in these outcomes.”

Bolden and colleagues – including scientist, activist, author and TEDX founder Theo Colborn who passed away last December – pored over more than 40 studies on the health impacts of low exposure to the chemicals.

“Hormones are how the body communicates with itself. Interrupt that, you can expect all sorts of negative health outcomes.”-Susan Nagel, University of Missouri-Columbia(Colborn also co-authored “Our Stolen Future” along with Dianne Dumanoski and Pete Myers, founder of Environmental Health News and chief scientist at Environmental Health Sciences.)

They looked at exposures lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s reference concentrations for the chemicals, which is the agency’s estimated inhalation exposure level that is not likely to cause health impacts during a person’s lifetime.

Many of the health problems – asthma, low birth weights, cardiovascular, disease, preterm births, abnormal sperm – can be rooted in early disruptions to the developing endocrine system, Bolden said.

The analysis doesn’t prove that exposure to low levels of the chemicals disrupt hormones. However, any potential problems with developing hormone systems are cause for concern.

“Hormones are how the body communicates with itself to get work done. Interrupt that, you can expect all sorts of negative health outcomes,” said Susan Nagel an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health School of Medicine who was not involved in the study.

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.”

The “EPA is screening thousands of chemicals for potential risk of endocrine disruption,” she said. “As potential risk of endocrine disruption is identified, these chemicals are assessed further.”

The four chemicals are retrieved from the wellheads during crude oil and natural gas extraction and, after refining, are used as gasoline additives and in a wide variety of consumer products such as adhesives, detergents, degreasers, dyes, pesticides, polishes and solvents.

Ethylbenzene is one of the top ten chemicals used in children’s products such as toys and playground equipment, according to a 2013 EPA report. Toluene is in the top ten chemicals used in consumer products such as fuels and paints, the report found.

All four get into indoor and outdoor air via fossil fuel burning, vehicle emissions and by volatizing from products. Bolden said studies that measure the air in and around homes and businesses find the chemicals 90 to 95 percent of the time.

Katie Brown, spokeswoman for Energy in Depth, a program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in an email that the study suggests “products deemed safe by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are more dangerous than oil and gas development.

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Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene are added to gasoline and emitted to the air during combustion.

“Contrary to their intentions, what this report actually shows is that people should be no more afraid of oil and gas development than products in their home,” she said.

The Consumer Specialty Products Association, a trade group that represents companies that manufacturer consumer goods including cleaning products, pesticides, polishes, would not comment on the study but a spokesperson said that member groups typically don’t use the chemicals mentioned.

In several of the monitoring studies Bolden and colleagues examined, levels of the chemicals were higher in indoor air than in outdoor air, suggesting that people might be exposed within their homes.

“A lot of time indoor air is poorly circulated,” Bolden said.

Nagel cited a “huge need” to look at the impact of exposure to ambient levels of these chemicals. The study highlights “a whole lot we don’t know” about how these compounds may impact humans, she said.

Using human tissue cells, Nagel’s lab has previously shown that the chemicals can disrupt the androgen and estrogen hormones.

The authors said regulators should give air contaminants the same attention they’ve given greenhouse gas emissions recently.

“Tremendous efforts have led to the development of successful regulations focused on controlling greenhouse gases in an attempt to reduce global temperatures,” the authors wrote in the study published today in Environmental Science and Technology journal.

“Similar efforts need to be directed toward compounds that cause poor air quality both indoors and outdoors.”

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.


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Court Deems Lumber Liquidators’ Case a “SLAPP” Suit

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Court Throws Out Lumber Liquidators’ Lawsuit Against Environmental Group

Orders Flooring Giant to Pay Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

Yesterday a California environmental advocacy group won a resounding Court judgment against flooring giant Lumber Liquidators’ claims of defamation. In a 21-page decision, a judge ruled that Lumber Liquidators’ lawsuit against Global Community Monitor (GCM) was a strategic lawsuit against public participation and a clear violation of California’s anti-SLAPP law.

The court battle stemmed from a Proposition 65 lawsuit GCM filed last year against the company for high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde found in Chinese-made laminate flooring sold by the company. Lumber Liquidators responded with a defamation suit, which was struck down yesterday.

“Lumber Liquidators tried to silence us and the court saw through it,” stated Denny Larson, Executive Director of Global Community Monitor. “The court recognized that we have a constitutional right to free speech. The public likewise has a right to know if any product they buy may be harmful to their families’ health.”

California’s anti-SLAPP statute provides for the “early dismissal of unmeritorious claims filed to interfere with the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances.” As Judge Carvill noted in his decision, “The anti-SLAPP statute is ‘construed broadly’ to achieve its goal of ensuring that ‘participation in matters of public significance’ is not ‘chilled through abuse of the judicial process.’” The judge goes on to conclude that Lumber Liquidators did not present sufficient evidence to show that its defamation-based claims against GCM “have any likelihood of success.”

In addition, the Court found that GCM is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in defending the meritless SLAPP suit. GCM’s attorney, Richard Drury of Lozeau Drury LLP stated, “This is a good day for free speech and for the consumers of the State of California who are concerned that Chinese-made laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators contains cancer-causing formaldehyde far above levels allowed by law.”