From the Lake Charles American PressSasol officials got an earful from Mossville residents Wednesday night, as a group from the Westlake community voiced their anger over the company’s proposed multibillion dollar plant expansion.More than 70 residents from around Calcasieu Parish turned out at the Lake Charles Civic Center for what was intended to be Sasol’s public meeting on its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetlands modification permit. Corps officials asked Sasol to hold the meeting for the public to ask questions and make comments on the company’s proposal to replace close to 2,000 acres of wetlands in the Calcasieu Watershed.Less than halfway through the meeting, however, a group of residents from Mossville asked Sasol officials if they had any plans to give them the same considerations they would be giving to the waterfowl and wildlife their plant expansion would disturb.“It sounds good that you guys are committed to improving the amount of wetlands that you’ll impact in a negative manner in building your facility,” said Mossville resident Jimmy Catlon. “Well, you’re having an extremely negative impact on an entire community that is basically destroyed at this point.”Delma Bennett, a representative from Mossville Environmental Action Now, initially wanted to know if Sasol’s project would cause any flooding in the Mossville area. Charles Dartez, vice president and principal scientist of URS Corp., said the water within the construction site would be collected and released at a controlled rate to maintain the current flood elevation.But after several business and political leaders voiced their support for the project, particularly Hal McMillin, the police juror who represents the Mossville area, Bennett grew angry.“It’s nice for the big boys to come and stand here before everybody and talk about how much money that’s going to be made in this community because Sasol’s coming in,” he said. “For a representative from your area to come in and say what he just said is a sin and a shame!”Mossville resident Erica Jackson wanted to know what her community was going to get out of Sasol’s expansion.“We get to hear about the billions of dollars you’re going to spend on your plant, but you don’t care anything about me, about my children, or the things that we go through in our community,” she said. “You don’t even care about that. And then you won’t even give us a job. You say you’ve got a million jobs out here. Who gets them? You’re sure not giving them to the people of Mossville.”Sasol’s wetlands mitigation plans will replace more than 1,900 acres of medium- to high-quality restored wetlands in the Calcasieu Watershed. More than 700 acres of those wetlands are on Sasol’s property, said Michael Thomas, Sasol’s vice president of U.S. operations.Daniel Bollich, ecological program director of Delta Land Services, the Port Allen-based firm Sasol has hired to conduct the wetlands restoration, said the initial construction in the watershed will take up to a year.“There are areas, though, that will develop into what they need to be over time,” he added. “For example, we’re restoring forest wetlands. But to plant the trees and prepare the site, that will not take a year. It may take 10 to 15 years for the forest to grow and develop and survive.”Thomas said he hopes to get the Corps’ approval by spring 2014.“At the end of the day, one of the most difficult things to predict in our line or work is when permits will be issued,” he said. “We hope (the Corps) they will issue it soon. We can’t begin building our projects until we have these permits. I hope it only takes a month or two, but we’ll see; it could take longer.”
Migraine sufferers desperate to reduce or get rid of their pain may have a new treatment method: avoiding plastic. That’s the hypothesis behind a recent study by researchers at Kansas University Medical Center.
Nancy Berman, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at KU Med, and Lydia Vermeer, a postdoctoral fellow in Berman’s lab, say they’ve found a link between bisphenol A, a chemical used to harden plastics, and migraines in lab rats. Their study was recently published in the journal Toxicological Sciences.
“The next question is: Does this happen in people?” Berman said. “The only way to find out is to do some kind of clinical trial.”
While the researchers have yet to do a study featuring humans, they say migraine sufferers should avoid plastics with BPA in the hopes it can relieve their symptoms. To investigate whether avoiding environmental estrogens can prevent or reduce migraines, the KU researchers need funding. But, Berman said, “You don’t have to be part of a clinical trial to stop eating plastic.”
With so little known about what causes migraines, Berman years ago started looking into the connection between the condition and hormones.
“It’s a complicated disease that’s not very well-understood,” she said. “Nobody’s really looked at environmental issues in the field of migraine.”
She eventually found a connection between the disease and estrogen. Berman also discovered a way to test headache medications on lab rats, who, like humans, avoid light, sound, grooming and routine movements when they have headaches.
This intrigued Vermeer, who has a background in studying pesticides and Parkinson’s disease. The two joined forces, and dosed lab rats with BPA. They hypothesized that BPA, which mimics estrogen in the body, would activate estrogen receptors. The rats with migraines showed significantly worse headache symptoms than those not exposed to the chemical.
“We’re hypothesizing that people with migraines do not have more BPA in their system, but that they’re more sensitive to BPA,” Vermeer said. “Many people with migraines are more sensitive to changes in things like estrogen.”
Several countries, including China, France and Canada, have banned BPA in certain uses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, has ruled that BPA is safe at low levels, but has expressed concern about the potential negative effects on the brain, behavior and prostates of fetuses and young children. That’s why baby bottle and sippy cup makers have eliminated BPA from their products; many manufacturers of infant formula have also stopped using BPA in their cans.
Most of the research on the topic, however, has come from animal studies. No research has yet found a direct link between health problems in humans and BPA. More than 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies, much of it from eating food in containers that contain the chemical. Eliminating plastic and canned packaging has been found to reduce the amount of BPA in urine (plastics with the recycling codes 3 and 7 are likely to contain BPA).
More than 1 in 10 Americans suffer from migraine headaches — severe, recurring, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Three times as many woman (20 percent at reproductive age) get migraines as men, thought to be the result of their higher estrogen levels. In addition, more than 10 percent of women have menstrual migraines. But the only way to diagnose the condition is to ask questions about symptoms; there is no physical test for the disease.
Berman said the study’s results could be a breakthrough because of the lack of new migraine drugs coming down the pipeline.
“But you don’t need a physician or even FDA approval to reduce the amount of plastic you consume,” she said. “The good thing about our idea is it’s not going to hurt you.”
by Andrea Schmidt for Al Jazeera America
OTTAWA, Canada — Anti-fracking demonstrators set tires ablaze to block a New Brunswick highway Monday in a fiery response to a judge’s decision to extend an injunction limiting their protests against a Texas-based shale gas exploration company.
In a courtroom in Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, Judge Paulette Garnett ruled to continue through Dec. 17 the injunction obtained by SWN Resources Canada against a coalition of protesters led by Mi’kmaq indigenous people from the Elsipogtog First Nation.
The injunction, which SWN obtained on Nov. 22, is designed to keep protesters from interfering with SWN’s seismic testing work. It requires that demonstrators remain at least 250 yards in front of or behind contractors and their vehicles and 20 yards to the side.
The Mi’kmaq have argued that SWN is conducting exploration work on land that they never ceded to the crown when they signed treaties with the British in the 18th century.
New Brunswick’s government granted SWN licenses to explore for shale gas in 2010 in exchange for investment in the province worth approximately CA$47 million (about US$44 million).
The protesters fear that exploration will inevitably lead to gas extraction by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which water and chemicals are injected into shale rock to release gas deposits trapped inside. Opponents say fracking can contaminate the environment, especially water.
SWN has been trying since mid-November to complete the final 10 days of work it says are left in its exploration season. The company has claimed in court documents supporting the injunction application that each day of lost work costs about $54,000 and that vandalism by protesters has resulted in damage to more than 1,000 geophones — pieces of equipment used for seismic testing in conjunction with specialized trucks.
But the injunction has not deterred the anti-fracking alliance of indigenous people and members of New Brunswick’s Acadian and anglophone communities, a grouping that has consolidated since Elsipogtog residents began trying to stop SWN’s exploration work last May. Over the past week there have been daily confrontations with police, as protesters — who prefer to be known as protectors of the land and water — have persisted in their efforts to slow the seismic-testing operation.
“This isn’t just a native issue,” Edgar Clair of Elsipogtog First Nation told Al Jazeera from the site of the blockade on Route 11. “But the natives want the world to know that this is Mi’kmaq territory, and they won’t back down, and they won’t abide by this injunction.”
Earlier Monday afternoon protesters blocked Route 11 — the latest front line in this conflict over shale gas exploration — after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who decide how and when to enforce the injunction, arrested several people on or near the highway. People at the site said that there were more than 100 RCMP officers in the area, that some were armed with rubber pellet guns often used for crowd control and that at least one K-9 unit was on hand.
As night descended, there were reports that police in riot gear were near the blockade. The RCMP could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Our people are tired, and this is a response to the justice system,” said an Elsipogtog community member who was at the site and asked to go by the name Jane Doe 372, for fear of being targeted by police. The moniker is a reference to the injunction that names five individuals and a John and Jane Doe. “We’re tired of not being taken seriously and that the treaties we agreed to are not being taken seriously.”
Dancing around burning tires
As the sun set and round dances were held around the burning tires at the blockade, drumming and singing could be heard in live video streams broadcast from the site.
SWN’s original application for an injunction was supported by the provincial government. In an affidavit accompanying the filing, Bill Breckenridge of the Department of Energy and Mines maintained that the company “is engaged in lawful exploration activity along New Brunswick Route 11, a designated highway under the administration and control of the province.”
This is not the first injunction that members of the Mi’kmaq-led coalition of fracking protesters have defied.
At the beginning of October, SWN Resources Canada obtained an injunction against occupants of an encampment of protesters blocking a lot where the company had parked seismic-testing trucks. The camp effectively trapped the equipment.
On Oct. 17, a day before the injunction was due to expire, the RCMP enforced it. Dozens of officers entered the camp with automatic rifles, dogs and beanbag guns. As the day progressed, RCMP pepper-sprayed elders and women from Elsipogtog. Six RCMP vehicles were torched, and some 40 people were arrested.
Nonnative support growing
Across Canada on Monday, solidarity actions unfolded in support of the Elsipogtog. Demonstrators set up a temporary blockade at Vancouver’s port and rallied in the western city of Victoria. In Toronto there were banner drops, and a group of protesters photo-bombed an interview by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a local news station. A small rally was held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. And in Montreal, a solidarity blockade stopped traffic at an intersection until an angry motorist turned violent and ran his car into a protester.
“The call has been heard across Canada,” said Dave Goodswimmer, who traveled to New Brunswick with a small caravan of supporters from British Columbia more than a month ago. “We’re not going anywhere,” he told Al Jazeera by phone, adding that more people were expected to join the blockade as the night progressed.
“Nonnative support is growing and growing,” Clair said. “It’s becoming a bigger issue than a single corporation coming to bully us around. It’s becoming a small revolution. Canada’s going to change after this.”
Gov. Paul LePage has been taking a beating from Democrats and advocates of the Kids Safe Products Act, a law that identifies and tries to phase out harmful chemicals from consumer products.
The criticism stems from the governor’s decision last week to put four chemicals on the so-called priority list, supposedly ending the administration’s nearly three-year resistance to a law that it once tried to repeal.
But advocates of the law and Democrats in the House of Representatives called the LePage administration’s list a “sham,” arguing that many of the chemicals elevated as a priority – mercury, arsenic, cadmium and formaldehyde – were already being phased out of consumer products. Groups like Environmental Health Strategies and the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine argued that the LePage administration’s action was “election-year trickery,” a move that symbolically put the governor on the right side of a law designed to protect pregnant women and children while not upsetting industry allies.
It’s not clear if it was intentional, but LePage isn’t the only one implicated in the criticism.
The administration’s announcement closely coincided with the recent demise of a bill sponsored by Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, that would have added phthalates to the priority list. Phthalates, added to plastics to make them more flexible and durable, have been in the news a lot lately because they mimic hormones and have been linked to premature birth, adverse impacts on male fetuses and health problems in teenagers.
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, voted with the Republican minority to spike Grant’s bill, prompting questions about whether he did so to preserve or obtain Republican votes on other measures, most notably Medicaid expansion, a priority for Democratic lawmakers and a key component of the Affordable Care Act.
At the center of this rumored deal is Sen. Tom Saviello, a moderate Republican from Wilton. Saviello, who has publicly endorsed Medicaid expansion, once played a key role in staving off the repeal of the Kids Safe Products Act in 2011 (the Environmental Health Strategies Center thanked him for it). However, Saviello has since drawn advocates’ ire for vocally opposing measures to strengthen the law, including one sponsored by former Senate Democratic leader Seth Goodall of Richmond, whose high-profile bill met a conspicuously quiet death earlier this year.
Saviello said he objected to Goodall’s bill because it was an overreach and unraveled the compromise he worked to achieve in 2011. Advocates suspected a more nefarious motive, specifically the $5,250 that the American Chemistry Council has donated to Saviello’s leadership PAC.
Saviello on Tuesday took exception to the implication that his resistance to Goodall’s bill, or Grant’s bill, was a quid pro quo with the American Chemistry Council, a leading opponent of the Kids Safe law. He also flatly denied speculation that he threatened to withhold his support for Medicaid expansion if Alfond didn’t vote with Republicans to oppose Grant’s bill.
“I’ve already said that I support Medicaid expansion and that’s not going to change,” he said.
Alfond, meanwhile, also denied that his opposition to Grant’s bill had anything to do with a deal for Medicaid expansion.
“Absolutely not,” he said last week. “Whoever is saying that is 100 percent making things up and I don’t appreciate it.”
Nonetheless, Alfond felt compelled to explain his vote, which he did in an email to Senate Democrats. He cited the LePage administration’s announcement about the four priority chemicals.
While he wished that the list was longer and included phthalates, the governor was technically complying with the law.
“Before the KSPA, chemicals were cherry picked individually and there was no rhyme or reason,” he wrote. “I don’t want to go back to that system.”
He added, “Finally, as (you) may know, this bill is a political (lightning) rod (all of you remember Seth’s bill) and given the short session and how much bipartisan work is ahead of us, I voted to keep this bill out of the mix.”
PACs AND THE 2011 CASINO VOTE
The 2011 ballot initiative to establish a Lewiston casino is probably best remembered for two things: 1. A whiny slogan (“It’s our turn!”) 2. Its overwhelming defeat (63 percent of voters voted against it.).
But Maine Ethics Commission documents show that there was a lot more going on with the political action committees pushing the casino than was made public in 2011.
On Thursday, the commission will vote on recommendations from its staff, which found that the political action committees advocating for the casino reported contributions that were “objectively false” and that real donors were never disclosed. Those donors include two gambling companies in Maryland and an Oklahoma man who recently struck a plea deal with Florida authorities after facing 205 felony counts for a gambling operation posing as a veterans charitable organization.
The ethics staff investigation pulled bank records for the PACs to obtain the real donor information. Now the commission will have to decide whether to penalize the operators of the two PACs – the Lewiston-Auburn duo of Stavros Mendros and Peter Robinson – for a late disclosure filing. Staff originally recommended an $85,000 fine, but has since backed off a specific amount as new information has surfaced to complicate the case. Essentially, Mendros and Robinson are claiming that they relied on the statements of out-of-state donors. The out-of-state donors, meanwhile, are saying they never provided inaccurate information to Mendros and Robinson. Ethics documents describe this as “they said-they said.”
Given the players in this mess, it’s no wonder that the ethics staffers are having difficulty determining whom to believe. Mendros has been involved with some unsavory business before; in 2007, he pleaded guilty and was fined for three counts of falsely notarizing the signatures of petition circulators for gambling petitions. Also, a spokesman for GT Source, the company originally and incorrectly listed as the PACs’ primary donor, told the Sun Journal in Lewiston that the company had in fact made the donations.
And then there’s this guy: Chase Burns, the 37-year-old Oklahoma businessman whose plea deal in the Florida gambling scheme helped him avoid jail time. An investigation by the Oklahoma attorney general showed that Burns invested in a yacht to entertain Florida politicians and there have been multiple press accounts of his involvement in a video gambling controversy in North Carolina (CliffsNotes version: North Carolina has barred video sweepstakes, but the machines continue to proliferate thanks to lax regulatory oversight and legal tweaks; meanwhile, the industry, and specifically Burns, has emerged as a top donor to Republican politicians.).
With all of that as background, Thursday’s ethics commission hearing should be interesting.
THE PRESSURE TO TWEET
“They’re trying to get me to tweet more.”
Many a reporter has uttered the above phrase, but apparently political operatives are also under pressure to tweet.
Last week Ted O’Meara, the campaign manager for independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, sent a tweet that suddenly became a story, at least for one newspaper.
On Monday, O’Meara tweeted: “Gov. LePage publishes campaign brochure at taxpayer expense, hosted on maine.gov (the state website). Outrageous.”
O’Meara’s complaint was about the book published by the LePage administration that highlights the governor’s achievements since taking office in 2011. O’Meara said the book was essentially a campaign document and that state resources should not have paid for it.
“Nobody can look at that book and say that it’s anything but campaign material,” O’Meara said.
Using taxpayer dollars to produce campaign literature is definitely a no-no. The problem, however, is defining what campaign literature is. Staff members at the Maine Ethics Commission essentially say that literature which expressly advocates for a particular candidate should be paid for by an election committee or political action committee, not state resources. But there’s a broad gray area, and the LePage administration isn’t the first to push the limits. In fact, one could argue that news releases sent by partisan staff or the constituent mail highlighting lawmakers’ accomplishments serve the same purpose as helping politicians get elected.
That gray area is probably the reason why O’Meara said he wasn’t filing an ethics complaint against LePage, even though he believes the book is campaign fodder paid for with taxpayer dollars.
“I sent the tweet because they’re trying to get me to tweet more,” he said. “I woke up the next day and saw a headline saying I’d attacked LePage.”
Welcome to Twitter, Ted.
The holiday shopping season officially kicks off on Black Friday, and so begins that annual hunt for the perfect present, at the best price — and with the fewest poisons.
Store shelves, as consumers have been warned, can be filled with everything fromlead-contaminated jewelry and toys, to hormone-disrupting perfumes and lotions. Just in the last month, watchdog groups reported finding potentially toxic levels of phthalates in Spongebob Squarepants vinyl rain ponchos and flame retardants in Toys R Us furniture.
And let’s not forget the neurotoxic lead and other chemicals that leach from somefake plastic Christmas trees.
Despite growing recognition of toxic dangers that may lurk in consumer products, avoiding these chemicals is another story. Advocates continue to lament weak and outdated federal regulation of toxic chemicals, even though they cheer incremental gains, such as California’s announcement last week that furniture manufacturers will no longer be required to fill their foam with flame retardants starting in January. Thecontroversial chemicals are the subject of an award-winning Chicago Tribune series and a documentary, “Toxic Hot Seat,” which premiered Monday on HBO. (In light of this news, people with furniture on their holiday shopping lists may want to consider gifting an IOU.)
“Right now, the dangers are invisible, unlabeled, and a consumer has no basis for making a reasonable and health-protected choice,” said John Wargo, an environmental health expert at Yale University. “The onus is on the consumer, who needs to do research product by product,” he added. “People don’t have time for that and often opt for buying whatever is available.”
Some environmental groups are now attempting to make navigating around toxic chemicals easier for concerned shoppers, with a fleet of new consumer guides and mobile apps.
A website launched in September, SafeMarkets.org, provides information, tips and resources, such as HealthyStuff.org‘s database of more than 5,000 tested consumer products. The new site from the Workgroup for Safe Markets, a collaboration of environmental groups, links to other sites, including a new nontoxic shopping guide published by Women’s Voices for the Earth and Greenpeace’s electronics buying guide.
An increasing number of tools are also available for shoppers on the go. Mobile product-rating apps from the Good Guide and the nonprofit Environmental Working Group allow users to simply scan a barcode. The latter, launched in mid-November, offers iPhone and Android versions of its Skin Deep database, which contains data on about 80,000 cosmetic and personal care products.
“A lot of people are surprised when they start scanning,” said Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group. The average American uses 10 to 12 personal care products a day, totaling some 126 different ingredients.
Among the most critical ingredients to avoid due to their hormone-mimicking, cancer-causing, antibiotic-resistance-promoting or development-disturbing properties, according to White, are parabens, formaldehyde, triclosan, polyethylene, phthalates and “fragrance.”
Fragrance formulas are protected as “trade secrets,” so their ingredients are rarely disclosed. White noted that the additives often include phthalates. Research published in November added an increased risk of preterm birth to the list of phthalates’ potential health hazards.
“Lip gloss, mascara, perfume. They are popular stocking stuffers,” White added. “But there are some serious concerns being raised each day.”
An app very similar to Environmental Working Group’s is available for mobile phones called Think Dirty. Launched in October, its database includes close to 14,000 products — primarily “best sellers,” according to founder and CEO Lily Tse.
A comparison of the two apps by The Huffington Post showed significant differences between scores on the same products. Edge sensitive skin shave gel, for example, rated 4 out of 10 on Environmental Working Group’s app, and 10 out of 10 on Tse’s. Higher values mean greater toxicities, according to both scales.
Tse suggested the discrepancy reflects differing philosophies on toxic chemical exposures.
“For myself and many others with chemical sensitivity, it’s important to stay away if a certain chemical is present, regardless of how much of it is there,” said Tse. In this case, the presence of PEG-90M, triethanolamine and fragrance put the shave gel in the red.
Tse’s advice for the holidays: Minimize fragrance use to protect yourself and others around you who may be chemically sensitive. “You don’t need to overload to show holiday spirit,” she said.
Perhaps no sight or smell represents the holiday spirit more than a Christmas tree. But the season staple isn’t without chemical dangers, from pesticides at tree farms to lead and phthalates found in fake plastic versions and on the lights traditionally strung across branches.
Yale’s Wargo said he will likely be on the hunt for a Christmas tree this holiday weekend. “I can’t bring myself to buy a fake tree. We go to a tree farm every year,” he said, choosing one that runs sustainably, without pesticides.
Still, Wargo’s family falls short of avoiding chemical dangers. He recalled shopping for an extension cord the other day and seeing the ubiquitous warning label for lead. He said he uses old Christmas lights that are also likely contaminated.
Mike Schade of the nonprofit Center for Health, Environment and Justice, who helped create the SafeMarkets.org website, emphasized the health hazards associated with PVC, also know as vinyl, used widely in fake Christmas trees, lights and in products wrapped and put under trees. He called PVC the “poison plastic.”
“From production to use, to disposal, it releases harmful chemicals that are building up in our bodies and are linked to chronic health problems on rise,” Schade said, listing links to cancer, learning disabilities and obesity, among other conditions. He noted that heat from lights can encourage chemical additives to leach out.
Phthalates and lead are among chemicals that have been commonly added to PVC to soften and stabilize the plastic. While some companies have eliminated those chemicals, scientists are finding that organotins and other replacement additives may be toxic, too.
“We don’t want to be a grinch,” Schade said. “We just recommend consumers avoid purchasing trees, toys or infant products made of PVC, even if they are labeled lead or phthalate-free.”
A potential red flag are items imported from China, added Schade. Several such products have been found in recent years to be contaminated with lead or elevated phthalates.
“But just because it’s made in the U.S., doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe,” Schade said. “Our chemical safety system is broken.”
Even the patches in place to help protect consumers, advocates warned, are far from foolproof.
While laws restrict certain chemicals from products aimed at younger children, for example, Penelope Jagessar Chaffer warned that parents also need to be cautious about what they bring into the home for older members of their family. Play jewelry gifted to a teen girl, for example, may find its way into the hands and mouth of a more vulnerable little sister or brother.
Jagessar Chaffer is the director of the film “Toxic Baby,” which will be released next year as an innovative iPad app with additional footage, an interactive map of toxic sites across the country and an encyclopedia of information on toxic chemicals. One of the awards for pledging to her soon-to-launch Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign will be a toxic audit — available for Christmas or New Year’s.
“People do tend to buy a lot from Black Friday onward,” said Jagessar Chaffer. “I can help them navigate what presents to get, what they bring into their home.”
She added that if people plan to purchase big-ticket items during after-Christmas sales, she can also help them manage toxicity levels or even decide if now is the time to buy an air filter or HEPA vacuum.
It’s this rise and dispersal of information that experts and advocates said they believe is the key to solving our toxic chemical woes.
Wargo likened it to the evolution of organic food. That was caused, he said, by “widescale recognition among consumers that pesticides are potentially dangerous.”
“As more people are educated, our hope is that they’ll take action to move the market,” said Environmental Working Group’s White. “As the market changes, we hope the political climate changes — giving more hope for revising our outdated law.”
“We can’t shop our way out of this problem,” White added.
This week’s Retro Report video looks at the story that began 35 years ago when toxic chemicals leaking from an old landfill thrust a upstate New York community called Love Canal into the national headlines. Here, the environmental writer Andrew C. Revkin looks at the mixed legacy.
By Andrew C. Revkin Published: November 25, 2013
The 1970s began with a remarkable pulse of federal legislation aimed at protecting endangered species and restoring the nation’s air and waters. But it took until 1978 for another type of environmental threat, toxic hot spots left behind by industrial activity, to gain the spotlight.
The galvanizing story was that of the frightened, outraged homeowners around Love Canal, an unfinished waterway near in upstate New York that, in the industrial boom around World War II, became a chemical dump. Covered with dirt, the 16-acre site in 1953 was sold under pressure by the Hooker Chemical Company to the local school district for a dollar, with the paperwork including a warning about what lay there.
Nonetheless, a school was built. Suburbia encroached. Then 35 years ago, the site’s buried and largely forgotten history made national headlines as contaminants seeped into some nearby homes and residents complained of illness, miscarriages and other effects.
Lois Gibbs, a mother of two who led community efforts to get nearby families relocated and seek compensation from the responsible company, became the public face of Love Canal and still leads an organization devoted to cleaning up such sites.
The state and federal governments declared an environmental emergency, eventually moving 239 families out of the neighborhood and, in 1980, buying 500 more homes from families seeking to leave the area.
In December of that year, the most sweeping impact of Love Canal came with enactment of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, best known as Superfund. That law has had a long and contentious history since, with its cost a continuing focus of the Government Accountability Office.
This Retro Report video casts that mixed legacy this way: “While sometimes criticized as costly and bureaucratic, Superfund has led to the remediation of nearly 400 toxic sites. Love Canal was among the first addressed. But it took nearly two decades and cost more than $350 million.” (In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency says it has completed cleanup remedies more than 700 other that still remain on the Superfund list.)
The legal and medical issues at Love Canal are still playing out.
But now some families who bought homes nearby after the cleanup have gone to court, claiming harm from seeping pollutants. “New residents, attracted by promises of cleaned-up land and affordable homes, say in lawsuits that they are being sickened by the same buried chemicals from the disaster in the Niagara Falls neighborhood in the 1970s,” the Associated Press reported this month. In the article, E.P.A. officials insist that the cleanup and containment of the pollution succeeded.
A central question, for residents old and new, is whether the passage of time has bolstered or undermined initial health concerns related to the more than 80 chemicals buried at the site, including 11 that state officials at the time said were carcinogens.
An initial burst of government and independent epidemiological investigations led to confused and sometimes contradictory results, with some finding significant health impacts but others seeing no pattern distinguishing the health of people who had lived there from residents of unaffected communities around Niagara County or New York State.
A thorough study published by New York State in 2008 found some evidence of raised rates of birth defects but found that the overall cancer rate for residents was no different than that in the surrounding population.
A persistent challenge in such studies is that ailments of greatest concern, like cancers, are rare enough that it is often impossible to detect a statistically significant indication of cause and effect amid the many other factors, like smoking, that can play a role. Another issue is that many cancers take decades to unfold.
Dan Fagin, a longtime Newsday medical and environmental writer who wrote a recent extraordinary book on toxic sites and cancer, “Tom’s River,” noted in an email exchange that Love Canal had too many unknowns about exposure routes and doses and too few highly exposed people to settle questions of environmentally induced disease.
“Like so much else in this fraught corner of science, Love Canal is a Rorschach test in which people see what they wish to see,” he wrote.
“Believers see a manmade public health disaster linked through credible epidemiology to a range of health problems, especially developmental issues in children born of exposed mothers. They’re right. Skeptics see a case of fear run amok amid initially overblown scientific claims, especially of high cancer rates and significant genetic damage, neither of which have held up very well under scrutiny. They’re right, too.”
Campaigners who raised the alarm emphasize Love Canal as a symbol of the power of communities to defend themselves against corporate villainy. For more, read this news release from Gibbs’s organization, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, or this New York Times editorial in 2004.
Meanwhile, for industry, it has become a case study showing how data — the lack of evidence of substantial health impacts around the waste site — don’t always, or even often, rule the day when industrial pollution hits the news. A detailed history of the environmental campaign around Love Canal has been posted by the Boston University School of Public Health.
The uncertainties do not diminish Love Canal’s place in history, Mr. Fagin said.
“I don’t think Love Canal ever cracked the top 100 of the E.P.A.’s National Priorities List — there were (and still are) many sites where more people faced higher risks,” he wrote. “But America is still talking about Love Canal after more than 35 years because it was the first toxic waste site that was a truly national story, a testament to the relentlessness and organizing skills of Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal Homeowners Association, and to the importance of their legislative legacy, Superfund.”
This week’s Retro Report is the 21st in a documentary series. The video project was started with a grant from Christopher Buck. Retro Report has a staff of 13 journalists and 10 contributors led by Kyra Darnton, a former “60 Minutes” producer. It is a nonprofit video news organization that aims to provide a thoughtful counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle. The videos are typically 10 to 14 minutes long.
By Donna Iadipaolo
For A2 Journal
Scio Township resident Roger Rayle is beginning his 21st year as a citizen volunteer watching over the issue of the expanding Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume.
But now he and other Ann Arbor area residents contend that some of the contamination is expanding northward. This is a potential danger to Ann Arbor’s primary water source, and thus threatens health, safety and livelihood of residents.
“1,4-dioxane is fully miscible and goes wherever the groundwater goes,” Rayle said.
The hard evidence that the plume is expanding includes recent groundwater sampling and Pall’s latest plume maps.
There are potential health risks associated with the plume. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified 1,4-dioxane as a “probable human carcinogen,” and its August 2010 revised “slope factor” carcinogenicity assessment for lifetime 1,4-dioxane exposure has effectively set the lower bound of the drinking water residual cancer 1-in-100,000 risk level at 3.5 parts per billion.
Many states use a 1-in-1,000,000 risk level, but Michigan loosened its residential risk factor to 1-in-100,000 in 1995. If Michigan still used 1-in-1,000,000, the dioxane standard would be as low as 0.35 parts per billion.
Rayle is a member of Scio Residents for Safe Water (SRSW) and Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD). SRSW’s mission is “to protect and preserve the groundwater in Scio Township” and CARD’s mission is “a partnership of local governments and citizens that develops policies and strategies to address the problems by the 1,4-dioxane release by Pall/Gelman.”
According to CARD, “The groundwater contamination has expanded in Washtenaw County to an area over three miles long and one mile wide. The remediation of this site is likely to take an additional 20 years or more based on Pall Corporation and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality estimates.
The tireless work that Rayle devoted to SRSW and CARD has been, according to Rayle, “as a citizen volunteer mostly to aggregate information using tools like Google Earth to help everyone see the reality of the contamination … and to advocate for more transparency in DEQ decision making … and for accurate, timely, electronic data sharing for the site.”
Rayle explained that the dioxane contamination at or upstream from Barton Pond must be prevented since Barton Pond is the source of 80-85 percent of Ann Arbor’s water. Only about 15 percent of Ann Arbor’s water comes from wells near the airport. Rayle added that there is really no safe level of dioxane in the water.
“Zero parts per billion (ppb) is what people expect since dioxane is a man-made compound,” Rayle said. “The DEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) currently says 85 ppb is acceptable to drink but has delayed implementing the 2010 DEQ guidelines that would bring 85 ppb back down to 3 to 8 ppb. Some states that value water more than Michigan have standards less than 1 ppb.”
Addressing the dioxane contamination has been a long battle for Rayle and others, and he knows its history well.
“Gelman Sciences used a reported 800,000 pounds of dioxane from 1966-1986 without telling the state that it was in its discharges,” Rayle said.
Dioxane was used as a solvent in the manufacturing of medical filters.
“The dioxane contamination was discovered by a U-M public health student in 1984 but it took a couple of years for Gelman to acknowledge it was its dioxane and stopped using it. Pall, which purchased Gelman Sciences in 1997 and assumed the cleanup responsibilities, has removed more dioxane than the 80,000 pounds it estimated was in the groundwater, but refuses to say how much of the 800,000 pounds of dioxane it left to spread … but judging from the plume maps and sampling data, it’s a lot.
“A recent sample was 102,000 ppb, the highest ever reading since before the cleanup began.”
When asked about the likelihood of the plume reaching Barton Pound and harming the city’s safe water supply, Rayle replied: “Hopefully zero if we can complete a protective, effective, and community-acceptable cleanup … otherwise there are too many unknowns to say for sure.
In fact, Rayle said the cleanup is not being accelerated. “The cleanup has been reduced … as have much of the sampling,” he said. Additionally, Rayle believes it is important for people to understand the historical context of the issue.
“Keep in mind that this contamination site has a long and complex history … and we’re dealing with complex hydrogeology that is not well understood so there are a lot of unknowns remaining and little will by the company or the state or the current presiding judge to resolve those unknowns … all this under the current business-first regulatory climate in Lansing where the regulated community has been rewriting the environmental rules in semi-secret sessions with no or minimal input from the public,” Rayle said.
Rayle added that over the years, “Pall and Gelman have repeatedly tried and sometimes succeeded in loosening cleanup requirements.”
Furthermore, Rayle said the public should push for a drop in Michigan’s current dioxane cleanup standard from 85 ppb to around 3 to 8 ppb.
“There’s been a lot of disinformation clouding the reality of what’s happening at this (dioxane) site,” Rayle said. “The public needs accurate information to make sure the right things happen.”
Matthew Naud, environmental coordinator for the City of Ann Arbor, has been working on the Pall-Gelman issue for the city since he started his role in 2001. As the point person for the city, he attends CARD meetings and works with the MDEQ to encourage more action.
“There’s not enough good science on the site,” Naud said. “We don’t think Pall has demonstrated where the plume is going. We don’t think there are enough wells on the northern boundary or southern boundary of this prohibition zone. We think it ought to be much more like a picket fence, there ought to be a lot more wells.”
Naud said that Ann Arbor City Council was correct to pass a recent resolution asking the MDEQ do its job to set an appropriate standard for 1,4 dioxane.
“It is a resolution for the state to change the standard for 1,4 dioxane to reflect the new toxicity values that have been created by the EPA,” he said. “The EPA has said that 1,4 dioxane is more toxic than they thought it was before. The state should be taking that number and running it through its risk assumptions, creating a new standard. They have not done that.
“Given that there is new data that has been out there for several years, and literally every other place on the planet the level is somewhere around 3 or 6, and we are at 85 ppb.” As far as information access is concerned, Naud said the state should also require Pall Gelman to submit higher quality data.
“Pall used to provide a more robust data set to the state and then chose to take that right away from the state,” he said.
“They (Pall Gelman) consistently try to reduce the number of wells that they have to sample,” Naud added. “It reduces their costs.”
The big question, however, is will the plume reach Ann Arbor’s water supply.
“We think there is some migration to the north (by the plume) and we think there needs to be more study to demonstrate that it is not going to make it to Barton Pond,” said Naud.
Naud also confirmed Rayle’s assertion that wells in the north are going up in 1,4 dioxane concentration.
“The plume is migrating and it doesn’t appear to be just migrating to the east,” he said. “So it is going up both on the north side of the prohibition zone and and on the south. The question is, is it going to cross over and make it to Barton Pound. And I don’t think anyone can tell you the answer to that because there hasn’t been enough good science.”
Naud said, at this point, the public should be aware, but not be alarmed.
“There’s no detectable levels of 1,4 dioxane in (the public’s) drinking water,” Naud said. “We use Barton Pond for the majority of our water source. We test it regularly for 1,4 dioxane down to 1 parts per billion, and its not there. What we are trying to make sure is that it never gets there.”
Information on this issue is important, but action is also needed, according to Naud and many others.
“You know, I think if residents are concerned they are always welcome to contact their state (representatives), because this is really regulated at the state level and the Department of Environmental Quality. And there is a local group of local government and citizen representatives, the CARD group that meet. And you can find all the information and meetings at the Washtenaw County website. If you go there and just Google e-Washtenaw and CARD.”
Multiple attempts for comment were made to Pall-Gelman representative, Farsad Fotouhi, who did not respond.
Written by Jeannette I. Andrade for the Philippine Daily Inquirer
While Christmas decorations may put you in a holiday mood, an environmental and consumer protection group has warned that some can be pretty dangerous as they contain high levels of toxic metals.
The EcoWaste Coalition said Sunday that it recently detected excessive levels of toxic metals in 62 of 80 Christmas decorations—particularly in Christmas lanterns made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—bought from various budget shops around Metro Manila.
In a statement, EcoWaste’s Project Protect coordinator Thony Dizon said that “lead is dangerous even at low levels, hence [there is a] need to curb all avoidable sources of exposure as much as possible, including lead in paint, dust and soil and, of course, in consumer products.”
He warned that “children are most prone to lead exposure because their bodies are still developing and they tend to explore their surroundings by touching, tasting, biting or chewing anything they can get their hands on, including the power cord of Christmas lights and the trimmings and trinkets of a Christmas tree.”
“There is also the risk of lead [coming off] as painted or glazed surfaces deteriorate, thus contaminating the ground where children gather and play…,” Dizon said.
According to him, there is also the risk of indoor air pollution from the “out-gassing” of chemicals from plastic-based Christmas decorations, particularly among workers making or handling these products. Out-gassing is the release of gas dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in a material.
Late last month, EcoWaste bought Christmas ornaments from stores in the Divisoria and Quiapo districts in Manila, Monumento in Caloocan City and a market in Quezon City at prices ranging from P15 to P199.
Using an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, the group detected high levels of toxic metals—including lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium and chromium—from most of the items they purchased.
Lead up to 23,500 parts per million (ppm) was found in 50 samples, above the United States limit for lead in paint and surface coatings of 90 ppm. The other 12 samples contained antimony, arsenic, cadmium or chromium.
Among the samples analyzed by the group were Christmas balls, bells, foliage, garlands, lanterns, trees, trinkets, serving platters and table decorations featuring characters such as Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus.
It found 23,500 ppm of lead in a big yellow star lantern made of PVC; 16,100 ppm of lead in a medium-size yellow star lantern made of PVC and 13,600 ppm of lead in a small yellow PVC star lantern. A plate with a Christmas tree design had 11,800 ppm of lead while a Snowman ceramic container had 11,000 ppm of the toxic metal. A ceramic gingerbread house had 9,513 ppm of lead.
(New York) Children’s chairs, couches and other kids’ furniture purchased from Walmart, Target, Kmart, Toys” R” Us/Babies “R” Us, buybuy Baby and other major retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada were tested and found to have harmful toxic flame retardant chemicals linked to infertility, thyroid disease, cancer, other serious health problems. Modern studies show that they do not provide fire safety benefits in furniture and make fires more toxic and dangerous with soot and smoke.
The Getting Ready for Baby Campaign is calling upon Babies”R”Us and buybuy BABY to require product suppliers to disclose their use of a list of chemicals known as the “hazardous 100+,” as designated by the Mind the Store Campaign, which targets the nation’s top 10 retailers.
Product makers are allowed to use toxic chemicals in infant and toddler products because there is no law that bans the practice. The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) is a monumental failure, and needs to be modernized and strengthened. However, the recently-introduced Chemical Safety Improvement Act is not an improvement over TSCA.
“I had a P’Kolino Little Reader chair tested that I thought my two year old grandson would love,” says Kathy Curtis, LPN, from Clean and Healthy New York and coordinator of theAlliance for Toxic Free Fire Safety. ”The testing done by Center for Environmental Health showed both Firemaster 550 and TDCPP. Retailers should be more careful about the products they sell.”
“A Spiderman chair from Walmart was tested and it has Firemaster 550 in it,” saysMaricarmen Cruz-Guilloty, Environmental Health and Justice Coordinator from Alaska Community Action on Toxics. “Arctic Indigenous peoples already carry a high burden of many of the other toxic flame retardants in their bodies. Exposure to these chemicals are linked with thyroid disease, learning and developmental disorders, reproductive problems, and certain cancers. We also have the highest rates of birth defects in the nation up here. Our children should not be exposed to these chemicals.”
Elizabeth Crowe, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation says, “Two couches from Kentucky, from Wal Mart and Target, tested positive for toxic flame retardants. These small couches present big problems: should kids play on them? How could we safely reuse or dispose of them? Why was this toxic product allowed to be manufactured in the first place? Kentucky parents want answers, and we need our legislators to take seriously the need for federal chemical reforms.”
Jamie McConnell, Director of Programs and Policy with Women’s Voices for the Earthconcurs,”It makes no sense that we cannot trust a product made for children. We’ve been working to try and get chemical regulatory reform to stop toxic chemicals in products.”
“Shame on Disney for selling children’s Princess, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse chairs containing toxic flame retardants,” said Mike Schade, Markets Campaign Coordinator with theCenter for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “Parents should be able to trust that Disney products are safe, not toxic. We shouldn’t have to worry about our little princes and princess being exposed to poisonous chemicals. It’s time for Disney to make our dreams come true and eliminate these unnecessary dangerous chemicals. “
For more info: Alliance for Toxic Free Fire Safety
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 19, 2013
Beverly Kerr 336-376-9060
Louis Zeller 336-977-0852 (cell)
Therese Vick 919-345-3673 (cell)
LEAGUE CALLS UPON GOVERNOR TO PROTECT PROPERTY RIGHTS
No Toxic Trespass—No Fracking Way!
Today the No Toxic Trespass—No Fracking Way tour rolled into Sanford, North Carolina. At a press conference at the Lee County Courthouse, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League called upon Governor Pat McCrory to defend the state’s rural and suburban communities from the hydrofracking industry’s seizure of landowners’ rights.
Lou Zeller, executive director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, spoke about the injustices of forced pooling and split estates, and said, “We know that mineral rights under hundreds of homes in North Carolina have been severed and retained by developers hoping to cash in on hydrofracking.”
Lois Gibbs, executive director of the national Center for Health, Environment and Justice, spoke of the human consequences of fracking she has seen in states which allow the practice: “Fracking will kill the environment. Fracking will poison the water. And fracking will rob you of your right to privacy in your own home.”
Zeller gave examples of homeowners in North Carolina who have already had their mineral rights taken without their knowledge and added, “This may be just the tip of the fracking iceberg.” Thousands of acres of such property have been identified in Lee County alone. There are housing developments in Moore, Chatham and Harnett counties, the Triangle, the Triad, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg areas that may have severed properties, which could add thousands of acres more.
In a letter to the Governor delivered today, the League requested a meeting with him to determine what his administration is prepared to do to protect residents living in the potential fracking zones of North Carolina, asking: “Will you take action to protect the property rights of citizens of this state?”
Zeller concluded with a call to action: “Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League is now working with landowners in the identified shale basins, as well as those in unexplored areas. We help them find out if the mineral rights to their property have been severed. If you want help, give us a call.”
Forced pooling is the practice of compelling private landowners to have oil or gas under their homes and farms extracted and sold to commercial oil or gas production companies. Another practice, known as severed property or split estates, allows developers to keep or obtain mineral rights underneath privately owned land.
Tomorrow the No Toxic Trespass—No Fracking Way tour will be in Pittsboro for a public forum at Central Carolina Community College. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League launched the four-day barnstorming tour of cities and towns across North Carolina’s potential fracking zone on Monday.
Spanning the state with a series of local events, the tour features the nationally-recognized mother of the grassroots environmental movement, Lois Gibbs, who organized her community of Love Canal, New York, and triumphed in establishing the Superfund for toxic chemical cleanups. The national organization she founded, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, is opposing fracking in many states and has a vast experience with the public health and community impacts of the invasive natural gas extraction process.
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League was founded in 1984 by residents opposed to a federal project seeking a dumpsite for high-level radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power plants. In the 1990’s the League worked in many places to prevent both an eight-state low-level nuclear dump and a five-state hazardous waste incinerator. The League was successful in all three campaigns. Today Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League has chapters and projects in many communities extending from Charlottesville, Virginia to Valdosta, Georgia. Their Lee County chapter is the Cumnock Preservation Association.