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The Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: An International Human Right

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by Danny Gogal

“Sure, I’ll serve as EPA’s lead for international human rights agreements.” That was my response to my Office Director this past April, although I knew very little of what this new responsibility would entail. However, I was intrigued by the potential opportunities to engage the international community on issues of environmental justice.

Fortunately, I had some previous exposure to international human rights processes in 2010, when the U.S. Government (USG) initiated its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record.  During this time, the USG was engaged in a concerted effort to meet with a wide range of interested parties throughout the country to get input and comments on efforts to provide for human rights.  These included consultations with federally recognized tribal government officials and indigenous peoples.

Four years later, I found myself once again fully engrossed in our government’s preparation for its review by the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). For the first time, EPA was asked to participate as an official member of the U.S. delegation. Although the USG completed and submitted its report to the CERD in June 2013, the presentation to the UN wasn’t until August 2014. The environmental section of our report highlights the re-establishment and activities of theFederal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (Section 28), a variety of environmental justice projects, such as federal agencies’ EJ strategies (Section 144), and EPA’s use of indigenous traditional ecological knowledge in a pollution permit decision (Section 173).

The day before our presentation, the U.S. delegation met with U.S.-based non-governmental organizations (NGO) and tribes at the United Nations’ Palais des Nations in Geneva.  More than 80 individuals attended the three-hour meeting, which provided the opportunity for the NGOs, many of whom had submitted “shadow reports,” to share their perspectives on human rights in the United States and the USG’s implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The meeting and interactions after the meeting proved to be beneficial to many of the NGOs, as well as the U.S. delegation.

The meeting with the CERD was held over a two-day period, consisting of two 3 hour sessions which opened with remarks from the US Ambassador for Human Rights, Keith Harper. The key environmental issues raised by the CERD included:

  • Water shut-offs in Detroit and Boston
  • Impacts of resources extraction on water and drinking water
  • Pollution in foreign countries caused by multi-national companies
  • Addressing environmental and public health impacts to minority, low-income and indigenous communities living along the coasts, particularly the Vietnamese communities in Louisiana and indigenous communities.
  • General concerns included need for:
    • USG to actually seek “transformation” to address discrimination
    • Greater education within the United States about the ICERD and its principles

In its initial report, the CERD also expressed concern about “the large number of tribes that remained unrecognized by the Federal Government and the obstacles to recognition…, and ongoing problems to guarantee the meaningful participation of indigenous people…” These concerns drew my attention given EPA’s new Policy on Environmental Justice for Working with Federally Recognized Tribes and Indigenous Peoples, which speaks to how EPA works to provide the meaningful participation of state-recognized and non-recognized tribes, indigenous peoples, as well as others, in EPA’s decision making processes.

The CERD’s concluding observations highlighted their recommendation that the USG improve its protection of the environment and public health of minority, low-income and indigenous communities.

The upcoming USG UPR review, scheduled for May 11, 2015 also will likely bring attention to environmental justice and equitable development.  This review also includes engaging with the public through various civil society consultations held throughout the country, including a consultation on environmental issues held October 7 of this year.

I am looking forward to once again engaging the NGOs, my fellow public servants, and the international community during this UPR process as we strive to identify ways to more effectively make a visible difference in vulnerable communities, particularly in environmental and public health protection.  I also would be interested in hearing from NGOs about how valuable they find these international human rights processes.  This work is proving to be a viable avenue for raising awareness and harnessing interest in environmental justice, both domestically and internationally.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background.  He is currently serving as EPA’s lead for international human rights agreement, and has been working on tribal and indigenous peoples environmental policy and environmental justice issues for the past 28 years.  He is the Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, and has worked in various capacities for the Agency’s environmental justice program over the past twenty-two years.

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Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Rules on Mercury From Power Plants

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear a major challenge to the limits set by the Obama administration on emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

It is the latest effort by industry groups to roll back regulations that would reduce emissions like mercury, soot, sulfur, smog and carbon dioxide. The case also threatens to undermine one of the administration’s most significant victories and chip away at President Obama’s legacy.

John Walke, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the regulation of mercury emissions that are at issue in the new case “the greatest clean air achievement of the Obama administration’s first term.”

The industry groups say the Environmental Protection Agency is overstepping its authority under the Clean Air Act by issuing the series of regulations. Republicans have attacked the rules as a “war on coal” and an example of what they say is the executive branch’s overreach.

The basic question in the new case is whether and when the E.P.A. must take regulation costs into account. The agency’s interpretation is that the Clean Air Act, which requires regulations to be “appropriate and necessary,” does not demand that costs be taken into consideration early in the regulatory process.

Photo

Power industry groups continue their efforts to roll back government regulations on emissions from coal-fired power plants. CreditJim Urquhart/Reuters

In the Supreme Court term that ended in June, the justices heard cases filed by industry groups against two of the Obama administration’s environmental regulations — one aimed at limiting power plant pollution that wafts across state lines, the other at cutting planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The E.P.A. won the first case and largely prevailed in the second, though the Supreme Court indicated that it remained prepared to impose limits on the agency’s regulatory authority.

The case against the mercury pollution rule is likely to be followed by more fights. The E.P.A. on Wednesday will release a regulation to cut ozone pollution. Next year, the agency is scheduled to finalize rules that would slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Environmental law experts say the Supreme Court’s decision in the mercury case may provide some hints about how those other rules might fare.

“Is this part of a larger trend of the Supreme Court exerting greater authority over E.P.A.’s regulations?” asked Roger R. Martella Jr., a general counsel at the agency during President George W. Bush’s administration. The new case is a challenge by more than 20 states, along with industry groups and energy companies.

A divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in April that the agency’s interpretation of the act was reasonable.

“For E.P.A. to focus its ‘appropriate and necessary’ determination on factors relating to public health hazards, and not industry’s objections that emission controls are costly, properly puts the horse before the cart,” Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote for the majority.

In dissent, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh said that in context, the statute required attention to costs “as a matter of common sense, common parlance, and common practice.”

“To be sure,” he continued, “E.P.A. could conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs. But the problem here is that E.P.A. did not even consider the costs. And the costs are huge, about $9.6 billion a year — that’s billion with a ‘b’ — by E.P.A.’s own calculation.”

In its petition seeking review of the appeals court’s ruling, the National Mining Association said the mercury regulation’s costs far outweighed its benefits.

“No rational person,” the group’s brief said, “would see spending $9.6 billion for $4 million to $6 million in return as an appropriate exchange.”

In response, the agency said it took costs into account later in the regulatory process. Its brief said that it considered “compliance costs when establishing the appropriate level of any power plant regulation, but not when deciding whether to regulate those plants” at all.

The agency also disputed the mining group’s calculations. Once fully in place in 2016, the regulations would yield benefits that could total as much as $90 billion, the E.P.A. said in its brief.

“Those quantifiable benefits,” it said, “include the prevention of up to 11,000 premature deaths each year and the prevention of I.Q. loss to children whose mothers consume noncommercial freshwater fish caught by recreational anglers in modeled watersheds during pregnancy.”

The cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear are Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-46; Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-47; and National Mining Association v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-49. The court consolidated the cases for a single one-hour argument.

In its order granting review of the cases, the court sharpened and streamlined the issue it would consider: “whether the Environmental Protection Agency unreasonably refused to consider costs in determining whether it is appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electrical utilities.”

statins

Statins: Widely used drugs may protect people from air pollution

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By Brian Bienkowski
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

Nov. 24, 2014

One of the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States may have an extra benefit: protecting people from air pollution.

Statins, prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce risks of heart attacks and strokes, seem to diminish inflammation that occurs after people breathe airborne particles.

AJC1/flickr
About one in four Americans over 45 takes statins.

“Health impacts from spikes in particulates in the air are substantial. Statins seem to protect not only lungs from these impacts but the heart, too,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association’s senior medical advisor.

About one in four Americans over the age of 45 takes statins, including Lipitor, Zocor and other brand names.

Although drugs cannot be prescribed to protect people from air pollution, several studies show that people who take statins have fewer proteins in their blood that indicate inflammation of tissues, said Dr. Stephan van Eeden, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in lung health. This inflammation may aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Most recently, a study of 1,923 U.S. women found that those taking statins are less likely to have signs of inflammation, said Bart Ostro, an epidemiologist with California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment who led the study.

“There are some specific groups [such as diabetics] that seem to have higher levels of inflammation after long-term exposure,” Ostro said. “On the converse side, we found that people on statins seem to be protected from the inflammatory effects of PM2.5.”

In the women taking statins, there was no association between PM2.5 – the tiny particles emitted mostly by burning diesel and other fossil fuels – and the proteins indicating inflammation, while for most of the other groups the links were quite strong.

It’s not the first time researchers have noticed this link: University of Michigan researchers found decreased blood indicators of inflammation in people who took statins in a study of 92 people in Boston. A national study of 5,778 people also reported that statins canceled out the presence of signs of inflammation from PM2.5, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

“Health impacts from spikes in particulates in the air are substantial. Statins seem to protect not only lungs from these impacts but the heart, too.” –Dr. Norman Edelman, American Lung AssociationScientists believe that inflammation is a key factor in heart disease.

“The older thinking was that plaque in coronary arteries caused heart attacks,” Edelman said. “Now the thinking is that it’s also due to some living tissue under plague that gets inflamed and that disrupts the plaque. We already knew statins ameliorate heart disease, and always thought it was through lipids, but here’s a new pathway.”

Around the world, studies have shown that whenever particulates increase, deaths from heart attacks and respiratory disease rise, too. Experts estimate that fine particles are linked to about 800,000 deaths annually worldwide.

Ben Amstutz/flickr
Despite significant air quality improvement over the past decade, some U.S. cities such as Chicago still struggle with particle pollution.

Particulate pollution has been on a steady decline in the United States: The national average for PM2.5 decreased 34 percent from 2000 to 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, high concentrations of the pollution still persist in some cities with heavy traffic and industry, such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

When van Eeden and colleagues gave statins to rabbits before exposing them to particulate matter they had decreased lung inflammation. In a second studyof rabbits, statins seemed to help clear large particles from the lungs by promoting the movement of white blood cells to nearby lymph nodes, which protects the lungs against pending inflammation.

“It’s clear that if the animals are treated for about a month with statins before they’re exposed to particles, you can significantly lower the amount of particles generated in the lungs and decrease the blood vessel inflammatory process,” van Eeden said.

It’s not clear how statins may cause fewer particles in the lungs, but van Eeden said statin-treated rabbits have more particles in lymph nodes, suggesting the drugs stimulate particles to move to the nodes.

In another animal test mice given Zocor prior to oil fly ash or particulate exposure did not experience lung injuries and inflammation like their non-treated counterparts did, according to a 2011 study in Argentina.

“It’s clear that if the animals are treated for about a month with statins before they’re exposed to particles, you can significantly lower the amount of particles generated in the lungs and decrease the blood vessel inflammatory process.” –Dr. Stephan van Eeden, University of British ColumbiaVan Eeden and colleagues are now trying to figure out if the animal findings hold true for human lungs. So far, their work looks “very promising,” he said.

His lab is examining lung tissue from people who had part of a lung removed. Many were smokers and had a lot of particles in their lungs. They haven’t finished the study but so far they’re seeing that “it’s quite clear that people who used statins had less particles in their lungs,” van Eeden said.

“Once again it suggests anti-inflammatory properties and seems to clear the particles,” van Eeden said. “And these were people chronically exposed to air pollution or cigarette smoke.”

However, it’s too early for doctors to prescribe statins for people exposed to air pollution, said Dr. Martha Daviglus, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Northwestern University and University of Illinois.

“We need more evidence. We already have a lot of people taking statins for cholesterol, and we don’t fully know the effect of taking the drugs for years and years, and decades yet,” Daviglus said.

University of British Columbia
Dr. Stephan van Eeden

The number of people taking the drugs is already expected to rise as the American Heart Association last year advocated for increased statin use to combat high cholesterol.

The.Comedian/flickr
Lipitor is one of the most common statins.

It remains unclear if people would have to take statins immediately prior to breathing air pollution, and, if so, for how long, in order for the drugs to help.

“It seems they have some good effects with regards to air pollution, but we need to conduct clinical trials with people living near roads or high-emitting facilities,” Daviglus said.

Ostro said it would be “somewhat of a leap” to prescribe statins to mitigate air pollution impacts, given some of their known side effects, such as liver problems.

Food and Drug Administration spokesman Kristofer Baumgartner said that any new claims about additional benefits for a drug have to be reviewed by a team of scientists, and the benefit would have to outweigh any risks.

Two pharmaceutical giants who sell statins, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, would not comment on the air pollution studies.

There is no research on whether other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, would also protect people from air pollution.

Van Eeden sees potential for statins to play a role in reducing effects of air pollution, possibly in the near future. One possible group could be those suffering from asthma, which causes inflamed and constricted air passages.

“If this human study confirms what we found in rabbits, then if there is an episode of air pollution, maybe people at high risk can get a short course of statins for that period until the air pollution clears,” he said. He is currently seeking funding to test statins on firefighters to see if they reduce lung inflammation caused by smoke.

Edelman said the answer to protecting people is still cleaning the air.

“We don’t want people to start thinking now we have a drug to control effects of air pollution so we don’t have to worry about air pollution,” he said. “It’s still a large threat.”

Follow Brian Bienkowski on Twitter.

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 Editor in Chief Marla Cone at mcone@ehn.org.


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Most IQ losses due to lead exposure fall outside of the federally established threshold. (Bruce Lanphear)

‘Little Things Matter’ Exposes Big Threat To Children’s Brains

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Tiny amounts of lead, chemical flame retardants and organophosphate pesticides, among other toxins, course through the blood of nearly every American. But just how much worry is a little poison worth?

Find out more from “Little Things Matter” at The Huffington Post.


Most IQ losses due to lead exposure fall outside of the federally established threshold. (Bruce Lanphear)



A breast cancer awareness charm bracelet for children sold at a Party City store in Albany County was found to contain cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, according to tests of childrens' products done by public health advocates. More than two dozen toys sold at stores including Target and Ocean State Job Lot were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals or chemicals.

Danger on the toy shelf

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Study finds toxic metals and chemicals in children’s items sold at local stores
By Brian Nearing


A breast cancer awareness charm bracelet for children sold at a Party City store in Albany County was found to contain cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, according to tests of childrens' products done by public health advocates. More than two dozen toys sold at stores including Target and Ocean State Job Lot were found to contain unsafe levels of heavy metals or chemicals.


The little metal toy charm of a cute fairy being sold at Ocean State Job Lots looks innocent enough, but it could expose any child who touches it — or puts it in his or her mouth — to dangerous levels of cadmium, a heavy metal linked to cancer, kidney and lung damage, and early onset of puberty, according to a report to be released Monday by a local public health group and an environmental advocacy organization.

That fairy charm was among nearly two dozen children’s toys on store shelves in Albany County allegedly found to contain unsafe levels of dangerous chemicals or metals like cadmium, arsenic, cobalt, mercury or lead, the report by Clean and Healthy New York and the New York League of Conservation Voters states.

Other tainted items included beads, hair clips, key chains, a luggage tag and jewelry. The metal in the fairy charm, the report states, was found to be almost 25 percent cadmium, a carcinogen with no safe level of exposure for children, according to federal guidelines.

“Parents who looked at the labels on these products have no way of knowing they are not safe,” said Kathleen Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York. Her group tested children’s toys sold at stores including Target and Party City, as well as Ocean State, using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence analyzer.

Curtis said tests were done to draw support and attention to a proposed Albany County law that would fine stores selling tainted toys up to $500 per toy, and up to $1,000 per toy for repeat violators.

Two allegedly contaminated toys sold at Target — a Lego “Legends of Chima” LED light key chain and a Monster High doll based on Dracula — were found to have unsafe levels of cobalt, a heavy metal linked to cancer, lung problems and development problems, or antimony, another heavy metal that can damage the heart, liver and respiratory tract.

A Target spokesman was unable to provide comment for this story Friday.

At Party City, a charm bracelet promoting breast cancer awareness was found to contain unsafe levels of cobalt, which is carcinogenic, the groups claim.

Bobbi Chase Wilding, a Clean and Healthy New York staffer who conducted the tests, said nearly all the dangerous toys were manufactured in China. She also said Target has a policy that urges — but does not require — its suppliers not to use hazardous chemicals or metals in their children’s products.

The New York League of Conservation Voters also supported the testing, the first time the group has gotten involved in measuring chemical exposure in children’s products, said Christopher Goeken, director of public policy and government relations for the league.

Test results point to a failure of federal and state regulators to inspect toys being imported for sale in the U.S., Wilding said. “In the absence of leadership by the federal government or state, Albany County is taking on this issue itself,” she said.

The proposal by county Legislator Bryan Clenehan, a Guilderland Democrat, would allow the county health commissioner to inspect children’s products in stores for the presence of banned or unsafe chemicals. Lead, for example, is banned in any product intended for children 13 or younger, but nine toys tested were found to contain lead.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends toys contain no more than 40 parts per million of lead. A hair clip sold at Ocean State tested out at more than 1,600 parts per million of lead, according to the report. That same clip was also found to be 11 percent cadmium.

Corporate offices for Ocean State and Party City did not return several telephone calls seeking comment for this story.

bnearing@timesunion.com518-454-5094@Bnearing10

Story originally published at http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Danger-on-the-toy-shelf-5897618.php

coal

Coal’s black wind: Pregnant women in parts of India advised to stay away

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Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

Nov. 20, 2014

In some regions of India, a married woman will return to her mother’s house for the last trimester of pregnancy and the birth of her child. But in Mettur, pregnant women are advised by their doctors to stay away.

Amritraj Stephen/Community Environmental Monitoring
Children walk among smoldering coal fires in Jharia, India.

“Black wind” from a coal yard wafts constantly across poor neighborhoods, settling on rooftops, walking paths and even indoor furniture. People complain of asthma, wheezing and frequent colds.

In its bid to industrialize, India relies heavily on energy from coal. Accounting for 71 percent of India’s electricity, coal will remain a key player over the next decade, with 455 new plants proposed, according to energy experts.

Amritraj Stephen/Community Environmental Monitoring
Coal plants produce 71 percent of India’s electricity.

The poor pay the highest cost of India’s dependence on coal, said Jennifer Wang of the nonprofit group Health Care Without Harm. Already burdened by chronic disease, poor nutrition and inadequate health care, they also are highly exposed to air and water pollution, she said.

Mettur and other industrial cities throughout India are now mobilizing to document coal’s health impacts on their own residents in an effort to wring environmental protections from local politicians and world leaders.

Coal poses health risks in India at all stages – mining, transportation, storage and use:

♦ In Jharia, famous for its rich coal resources, 700,000 people are exposed to toxic smoke that seeps from the ground as fires from opencast coalmines burn around the clock. Residents suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis and skin problems.

♦ In Gujarat, on the west coast, fish catches plummeted after the construction of a massive 4,800-megawatt coal plant destroyed mangrove and creek ecosystems by discharging polluted water in the sensitive ecosystem.

♦ Mercury-laced ash from five mega power plants in the Singrauli district in central India is stored in piles five feet thick, polluting air, water and soil.

♦ In Mettur, in southern India, a coal yard where fuel is shipped in by rail and stored for a power plant and factories stands just 100 feet from some homes. Coal dust blows from the yard into neighboring communities. Air pollution levels are high.

Women in Mettur, a city of about 50,000 with a variety of heavy industries, are hit particularly hard. Doctors often recommend that pregnant women leave.

Gonur West Agriculturist Development Union
In Mettur, coal trains unload next to a low-income neighborhood.

About 1,500 mostly low-income households are within reach of the coal yard dust, said Shweta Narayan of Community Environmental Monitoring, an environmental justice group in India.

“Women are told not to have their babies here. The pollution affects not only their daily lives, but their culture,” Narayan said.

“Women are told not to have their babies here. The pollution affects not only their daily lives, but their culture.” –Shweta Narayan, Community Environmental Monitoring, India A 2010 analysis by Narayan’s group found that airborne particles in Mettur were three to four times higher than the World Health Organization’s pollution guidelines. Worldwide, these tiny particles have been linked to increased deaths from lung and cardiovascular disease. Air quality measurements also suggest that Mettur’s air contains metal particles, such as manganese and nickel, which could harm child brain development.

Parents complain that their children are always sick. Kids often miss school due to wheezing. But complaints about sickness are largely anecdotal. Scientific analysis of the health impacts of coal pollution is lacking in Mettur and other communities.

“The health aspect has been largely ignored in India’s energy policy framing,” Narayan said.

Much of the evidence of health effects from coal pollution comes from the United States or Western Europe, which are much cleaner.

Amritraj Stephen/Community Environmental Monitoring
Coal plants have contaminated water and fish in some parts of India.

“There’s a lack of research regarding long-term exposure to air pollution in some of the world’s most polluted places, including India,” said Aaron Cohen, an epidemiologist at the Health Effects Institute in Boston.

“There’s a lack of research regarding long-term exposure to air pollution in some of the world’s most polluted places, including India.” –Aaron Cohen, Health Effects Institute, Boston An estimated 627,000 Indians die prematurely each year from outdoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Disease project. A 2012 Greenpeace India report estimated that about 20 percent of premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma cases each year could be attributed to coal pollution.

Next year, the nonprofit Community Environmental Monitoring will begin to screen people near the coal yard for asthma and other lung problems. They’ll also look for other effects in the women because “pollution manifests itself in different forms, including stress and anxiety,” Narayan said.

“Do we need more research to act? No. We know the immediate health effects from generating energy this way and the long-term effects from climate change,” said Dr. Peter Orris, director of the Global Toxics Policy Program at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. “But how do you convince local policy makers to take action? People need to feel a connection.”

Many of India’s coal plants and mines are government-run.

In some ways, energy regulations to curtail fossil fuel burning may be an easier sell in developing countries than in the United States, said Rachel Cleetus, senior economist with the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Carbon reduction efforts, such the landmark deal struck this week between the United States and China, are viewed largely as climate-change policies.

Growing concern over polluted air and water in China and India is more immediate. “Air and water pollution may be of concern to us, but to them it’s becoming a public health crisis,” Cleetus said.

The health costs associated with coal-fired power stations cost the European Union about 53 billion U.S. dollars each year, according to a report by the Health and Environment Alliance. No such economic analysis exists for India.

“Coal tends to look cheap when health and environmental costs aren’t taken into account. There is a huge need for monetizing the public health costs, especially in developing countries,” Cleetus said.

Looking to China, Cohen said, “it’s hard to argue that economic development there, in which coal has certainly played a role, hasn’t had significant beneficial effects on poverty reduction and population health. But it’s becoming evident that high levels of air pollution from coal burning and other sources is having an adverse effect on population health and life expectancy and is now an obstacle to continued development.”

Nevertheless, the energy landscape is beginning to change. China and India are the fastest growing markets in the world for wind and solar, Cleetus said.

“It’s not that old static picture anymore that coal is king,” she said. “We see that being challenged both in the U.S. and abroad.”

Follow Lindsey Konkel on Twitter.

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 Editor in Chief Marla Cone at mcone@ehn.org.


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fracking general

Fracking to be permitted in GW National Forest

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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Environmentalists and energy boosters alike welcomed a federal compromise announced Tuesday that will allow fracking in the largest national forest in the eastern United States, but make most of its woods off-limits to drilling.

The decision was highly anticipated because about half of the George Washington National Forest sits atop the Marcellus shale formation, a vast underground deposit of natural gas that runs from upstate New York to West Virginia and yields more than $10 billion in gas a year.

The federal management plan reverses an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing that the U.S. Forest Service had proposed in 2011 for the 1.1 million-acre forest, which includes the headwaters of the James and Potomac rivers. Those rivers feed the Chesapeake Bay, which is the focus of a multibillion-dollar, multistate restoration directed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A total ban would have been a first for America’s national forests, which unlike national parks are commonly leased out for mining, timber and drilling. But some environmentalists were pleased that at least some balance was struck between energy development and conservation.

“We think the decision shows the Forest Service listened to the local community,” said Sarah Francisco, leader of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s national forests and parks program. “The vast majority of the forest is protected in this decision.”

With both sides lobbying hard, Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe told his climate change panel in September that federal officials had assured him fracking was off the table. “I won’t allow it as long as I’m governor,” he said.

But the final word rested with Ken Arney, a regional Forest Service manager. And by Tuesday afternoon, well after the decision was announced, the governor wasn’t commenting.

“We think we’ve ended up in a much better place, which is we are allowing oil and gas drilling,” said Robert Bonnie, the undersecretary for national resources and environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service.

“From a policy perspective, the Forest Service allows fracking on forest lands throughout the country. We didn’t want to make a policy decision or change policy related to fracking,” Bonnie told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The new plan eliminates the potential for oil and gas leases on 985,000 acres where they could have been granted, and permits drilling only on 167,000 acres with existing private mineral rights and 10,000 acres already leased to oil and gas companies. The private mineral rights are scattered throughout the forest, which hadn’t updated its management plan since 1993.

This lobbying fight was mostly over principle, since no energy company has wanted to actually drill on the land they’re leasing, Bonnie acknowledged. “The economic value of these reserves is very low. We’ve had very little interest on oil and gas on the forest,” Bonnie said.

Also, more environmental analysis and public comment would be encouraged before any drilling is approved, the Forest Service said.

Fracking enables the extraction of oil and gas from otherwise marginal shale deposits by injecting water mixed with chemicals and sand or gravel deep underground at extremely high pressure.

Environmental groups fear the drilling and its waste could pollute mountain streams that directly provide drinking water to about 260,000 people in the Shenandoah Valley. Another 2.7 million people in Northern Virginia and Washington get part of their drinking water from the forest.

“The risks of fracking are well documented, from water, air and climate pollution to the industrialization of special places,” Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club‘s Virginia chapter, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, these risks remain for the existing leases in the forest. While the leases may be low value, they are certainly high risk.”

Opponents also argued that the trucks, wells and other infrastructure that would come with gas drilling are incompatible with the forest’s primary attractions of hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, tourism and its abundant wildlife. The forest includes a section of the Appalachian Trail and attracts more than 1 million visitors annually.

The American Petroleum Institute maintains that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely and without risk to groundwater, but the science has not been conclusive.

“Natural gas is an enormously versatile fuel that helps power our nation’s economy. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is helping to unlock the tremendous economic and job creation benefits that Virginians, and all Americans, need and want,” Virginia Petroleum CouncilExecutive Director Michael Ward said in a statement.

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Keystone

Keystone: Much More than a Climate Question

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On the eve of the Senate’s vote to approve or deny the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, NPR ran a segment addressing why this particular pipeline has become such a mobilizing force for protest. One correspondent suggests that in tackling climate change, “it’s easier to try to block a pipeline than to change people’s driving habits or get them to buy fluorescent lightbulbs or invest in green power, and so Keystone has become this larger-than-life political symbol, really out of proportion to its tangible impact on the climate.”

Graphic by Chris Spurlock, the Huffington Post

Keystone’s symbolic power is hard to deny, but this power is certainly not derived purely from political convenience. Nor should it be reduced to simply a climate change equation. Though discussion around the pipeline has largely been focused to its impacts (or lack thereof) on climate change, the project is representative of a wider range of environmental justice issues. In its route from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast oil refineries, Keystone’s proposed path carves a trail of environmental impacts – a spatial representation of the fossil fuel life cycle, from extraction to production, and the harms invoked along this journey.

The mining of the Athabasca Oil Sands, from which the crude oil carried by the pipeline will come, has had and will have a devastating effect on the health of First Nations communities. Native tribes in the United States, including the Oglala Lakota, stand to have the pipeline pass directly through their lands. And the density of oil refineries and petrochemical processing plants, many located in poor communities of color in Texas, stands to increase with the flow of tar sands oil. Some of these stories are profiled in a Huffington Post feature that highlights the experiences of people living along the proposed path for the Keystone pipeline.

Tomorrow, the pipeline’s final route may or may not be approved. Either way, those who limit the discussion to “intangible” climate impacts are missing the point. Increased tar sands oil production may well have an impact on our climate, but the extent of this impact is not the sole question at at play in this issue, nor is it the sole reason Keystone has become a mobilizing force for environmentalists and community activists. The symbolic power of Keystone is derived from its highly tangible community impacts – from land exploitation and pollution in Alberta, to air pollution in Houston  - which represent the full range of environmental justice issues caused by fossil fuel extraction and production. Keystone will affect each community along its route in a different way, but it affects them all – and the universality of these struggles is another powerful mobilizing force for change.

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Chevron’s Sham Remediation in Ecuador: Toxic Oil Pits Continue to Contaminate

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By Karen Hinton

Chevron, Chevron Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow
With Polluted Soil & Toxic Water
And Wealthy Lawyers All In A Row

During the historic contamination trial against Chevron in Ecuador, the company often took journalists to its so-called “remediated” oil pits to prove that its predecessor Texaco cleaned its “share” of one of the world’s worst environmental disasters, if not the worst.

Chevron’s well-heeled lawyers would sometimes arrange for a nice picnic near the pits to show reporters how green its gardens had grown in the Amazon rainforest since Texaco signed a 1995 agreement with the Government of Ecuador to remediate toxic pits.

But lurking beneath the vegetation was and is pure crude mixed into the soil and underground drinking water and laced with carcinogens, such as benzene and cadmium.

Six different sets of tests have shown that Texaco only dumped dirt on top of the pits to hide the contamination, not clean it.

And, eight Ecuador judges and two U.S. judges who’ve heard evidence related to the 22-year-old lawsuit have either ignored the remediation agreement, thrown it out or stated it had no merit in Chevron’s defense.

Ignoring the evidence, the oil giant continues to tout the agreement as its “get-out-of-jail-free” card, and U.S. reporters continue to use it in their stories as a legitimate response to the Ecuadorians’ charges, while the “remediated” pits continue to leech dangerous toxins into the soil and water that indigenous peoples and rainforest villagers depend on for sustenance.

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The contamination of indigenous’ ancestral homelands and the disease and death left behind is unlike anything you have ever seen. And, even though Ecuador’s Supreme Court has upheld the $9.5 billion judgment against the oil giant, Chevron refuses to pay, arguing the agreement released it from any liability.

So, let’s look a closer look at the agreement and the remediation itself:

Travel to any of the pits that Texaco agreed to clean and dig a few feet under the ground and you will find oil. 

How does Chevron explain this? With classic Chevron chutzpah.

The company maintains that in the dead of night rainforest villagers “spike” the jungle floor with oil by digging holes at the pits, pouring fresh oil into them and covering them up with dirt and vegetation so they can return the next day with a visitor to prove Chevron is lying about the remediation.

With a straight face, Chevron spokesperson James Craig peddles this outrageous story to reporters, including this Miami Herald reporter:

“…Moncayo (an Ecuadorian) plunges his auger into the ground. Within a few inches the dirt gives off the pungent odor of petroleum. Within a few feet the dirt glistens with oil residue. When a few handfuls of the soil are dropped into a bucket of water, a thick oil-slick coats the surface.

“‘This is their (Chevron’s) remediation effort,’ Moncayo says. ‘They’re no better than animals.’

“The (Ecuadorians) say it’s proof that Chevron lied about the cleanup and then got compliant government officials to sign-off on its shoddy work.

“Chevron spokesman…James Craig, said it’s not surprising to find degraded crude at the site. It might be naturally occurring, Moncayo might have dug outside the boundaries of the remediation area, or the plaintiffs might have spiked the ground with oil (emphasis added) to discredit Chevron, he said.

“‘Even if you do find hydrocarbons in the ground, it doesn’t mean that they’re a risk to people’s health or the environment,’ Craig said.”

(Read similar descriptions in The TelegraphAssociated PressBloomberg MarketsWashington PostNY Times and Rolling Stone, among many others.)

Craig’s explanation would be hilarious if the issue of remediation wasn’t so pivotal to the outcome of the litigation battle, being fought now in countries where Chevron’s assets can be seized as payment for the judgment. (Chevron has few assets in Ecuador.)

For the most part, Chevron doesn’t dispute the contamination. One of its local lawyers, Rodrigo Perez Pallares, even admitted the company dumped 15 billion gallons of toxic waste into waterways.

In addition to intentionally dumping toxic water into streams, Texaco (Chevron bought Texaco in 2001) also built over 900 huge, unlined waste pits to permanently store pure crude oil and wastewater laced with carcinogens that are a byproduct of the drilling process.

Instead Chevron’s army of lawyers argues that Texaco cut a deal with the Government of Ecuador to clean a small percentage (162 of 900 or so) of the oil pits in exchange for immunity from future lawsuits.

Yet even upon cursory examination, Chevron’s so-called “release” is not even close to what the company claims.

The agreement, negotiated after the Ecuadorians filed their original lawsuit in the U.S. in 1993, released Texaco only against government claims of contamination. It expressly carved out any claims held by individuals, such as the Ecuadorians’. AMemorandum of Understanding between Texaco and Ecuador’s government, signed in 1994, stated clearly that third-party private claims should not be “prejudiced” by the agreement.

From 1995 to 1998, Texaco conducted its fake cleanup — or cover-up, if you will. During the same time, Texaco’s lawyers waved the remediation agreement in front of the U.S. federal court, hearing the contamination case in New York. But the American judge took no note of it, given that not even Texaco argued at the time that it trumped the claims of private citizens that were pending against the company in the lawsuit.

Later, another federal judge also caught onto Chevron’s subterfuge, in a related arbitral proceeding that ended up in U.S. federal court.

U.S. Judge Leonard Sand analyzed the “release” agreement and, for all practical purposes, said it had nothing to do with the Ecuadorians’ claims.

The learned Judge Sand concluded:

“…it would be extremely difficult for [Chevron] to establish that claims nominally brought by third parties in the Lago Agrio litigation were covered by the 1995 and 1998 Agreements between Texaco and Ecuador: it is highly unlikely that a settlement entered into while (the case) was pending would have neglected to mention the third-party claims being contemporaneously made … if it had been intended to release those claims or to create an obligation to indemnify against them.” (Republic of Ecuador v. ChevronTexaco Corp., 376 F. Supp. 2d 334, 374 (S.D.N.Y. 2005).

Fearful that Judge Sand would expose the release agreement for what it was, Chevron simply pulled its lawsuit back and ended the case.

While Chevron ran for the hills to avoid Judge Sand, it convinced federal Judge Jed Rakoff that the underlying claims case should be tried in Ecuador rather than in the U.S. To get the case transferred to Ecuador, the company filed no fewer than 14 sworn affidavits praising Ecuador’s judicial system as “independent” and “fair”. In 2003, per Chevron’s request and Judge Rakoff’s order, the villagers re-filed their lawsuit in Ecuador.

By 2013, after an arduous trial that produced 105 expert reports documenting Chevron’s pollution, three layers of Ecuador’s courts — trial, appellate, and Supreme Court — had ruled against the company. No fewer than eight appellate judges held Chevron responsible for the contamination and ruled that the 1995 remediation agreement did not apply to the private claims in the case and thus was without merit as a defense.

Even though Chevron had previously promised Judge Rakoff and three U.S. appellate judges that it would accept Ecuador’s jurisdiction and abide by its court decisions in exchange for moving the case to Ecuador, Chevron has refused to pay and continues to argue in any court that will hear its complaints that the remediation agreement frees it from all responsibility for the damage it caused.

But, if that’s really the case, why doesn’t the remediation agreement have words to that effect? Or have the signatures of the villagers who brought the case? Even if a court ruled that the agreement released the claims (none has), the problem with the remediation itself remains. Why?

At best, it was terribly inadequate. At worst, it never happened. In either event, it was a sham.

Most likely, Texaco’s contractor dumped dirt over the pits to cover up the oil and called it a day. Over time, some vegetation grew on top of the dirt and that’s why Chevron began having picnics to show reporters how green its gardens grew.

Which brings us back to Chevron’s James Craig and the band of merry Ecuadorians digging holes under full moons in the jungle to “sabotage” Texaco’s so-called remediation.

Six different field tests taken by different parties, including those taken by Chevron, prove the remediation was a fraud. The so-called “cleaned” pits are just as contaminated as those not cleaned. See here for information about the field tests described below.

1) Chevron’s own tests taken at Texaco’s remediated well sites show illegal levels of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH). For example, Chevron found 13,000 parts per million (ppm) of TPH levels at the oil well site, known as Shushufindi 48. Ecuador requires the TPH level to be below 1,000 ppm; the average U.S. standard is even lower, at 100 ppm.

2) Chevron also took additional tests in March 2009, as the trial was coming to a close. Chevron’s expert Marcelo Munoz tested eight purportedly “remediated” sites and found illegal levels of contamination at two. Chevron refused to pay Munoz for his report, even though the oil company requested that he conduct the tests.

3) In 2003, five years after the fake cleanup, Ecuador government auditors reported they had discovered pits oozing with oil and concluded the government had “erred in certifying” the cleanup. “Texaco has caused irreversible damage,” stated a report by the General Controller, a government agency that audits public contracts. “The environmental remediation and repair agreement goes against the country’s interest.” The auditors’ tests found that over 85% of pits tested had toxic levels higher than 1,000 ppm of TPH. They also found oil seeping out of 41 “remediated” Texaco waste pits and said 59 pits had been left uncovered.

4) In 2009, an Ecuador prosecutor ordered yet another series of tests. Of the 20 tests conducted at nine sites, 16 returned with toxic levels higher than the Ecuadorian standard of 1,000 ppm, and of those, 13 had levels higher than 5,000 ppm.

5) The Ecuadorians also did a series of tests at the “remediated” pits and found TPH levels higher than 30,000 ppm.

6) And, in 2013, a U.S. environmental engineering firm, The Louis Berger Group, did additional tests for the Government of Ecuador and found, once again, high levels of contamination. The American company also reviewed the work of Chevron’s experts at the so-called remediated sites and found numerous flaws and incorrect conclusions. See pages 35 to 42

All of this evidence adds up to one thing: Texaco committed fraud against the Ecuador government. And Chevron has done the same by lying about the remediation to Ecuador and U.S. courts.

Chevron is responsible for what Texaco did. It’s also responsible for what Texaco never did — which was cleanup its toxic mess that is literally killing or threatening to kill thousands of people from cancer.

Follow Karen Hinton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KarenHinton

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Plant Where Workers Died Reported Recent Violation

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A plant where four workers died early Saturday after a chemical leak has a record of safety violations that dates back several years, a Texas Tribune review of state records shows.

The DuPont chemical plant in La Porte, 30 miles southeast of Houston, makes products like alcohol resins and a popular insecticide called Lannate. The workers died after an estimated 100 pounds of the chemical methyl mercaptan leaked due to a faulty valve, the company told local media. Methyl mercaptan, a primary component of Lannate, can cause nausea, vomiting, fluid buildup in the lungs and other symptoms; even in small amounts, exposure to it can be deadly.

DuPont spokesman Alan Woods said in an email, “We’re working closely with local, state and federal authorities as they conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.”

State records show that in the last five years, the plant has been cited at least two dozen times by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for violating state law. It has failed to perform routine safety inspections, keep equipment in proper working order and prevent unauthorized pollution leaks, according to violation notices issued by the agency. In a few instances, the agency demanded fines of a few thousand dollars from DuPont for more serious lapses.

At least one of the previous fines levied against DuPont was issued for a pollutant leak thatoccurred in October 2009 — also at a unit of the plant that manufactures Lannate. Too much pressure had built up in a vent system, causing a relief valve to open and spew out 3,700 pounds of methylene chloride, a “hazardous air pollutant,” according to state records. More commonly known as dichloromethane, exposure to it in high enough concentrations can cause lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting. It’s also considered a potential carcinogen.

At that time, the TCEQ fined DuPont about $10,300 for failing to prevent the release and for reporting the incident five days late. The company ultimately paid $8,269, with the rest deferred “upon timely and satisfactory compliance,” records show.

DuPont gave its employees additional safety training after that incident and added more information about potential dangerous leaks to the safety records for its Lannate manufacturing unit, according to state records.

But it wasn’t the plant’s last violation. In August 2013, the company reported that malfunctioning equipment leaked 40 pounds of chlorine — also a component of Lannate that can cause significant health impacts. In March, DuPont told the agency that a gas vent had inadvertently opened and released 110 pounds of the toxic gas carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.

In another incident in late September, the chemical plant released 36,500 pounds of sulfur dioxide in three hours, well above its allowed limit. DuPont told the TCEQ that an inexperienced operator had not spotted a malfunctioning valve and that the company was investigating the incident. While sulfur dioxide isn’t toxic in gas form, it is a contributor to ozone pollution.

The TCEQ reports that DuPont is in “satisfactory” standing in terms of following the state’s environmental laws. Spokesman Terry Clawson said the agency’s emergency responders are on-site at the plant.

“The TCEQ’s investigation of DuPont’s compliance with environmental statutes and regulations will begin in earnest,” Clawson said, after investigators determine that DuPont “is no longer in an emergency status.”

Marcos Vanetta and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.