Two-Alarm fire in our building. No one was hurt. If you are trying to call us the phone will only ring. On Friday, with our Board of Directors in town for a meeting a two-alarm fire broke out in the offices one floor below ours. Please e-mail our offices if you need help or have a question and someone will get back to you. The damage at this time has not been assessed but we are likely to have damages especially in our electronics’. We are continuing our work through virtual offices – our homes. Thank you for your patience.
News Brief: Falls Church fire officials investigated a two-alarm fire at an office building in the 100 block of S. Washington Street on Friday. The fire started around 1:00 p.m. at a commercial building located on 150 S. Washington Street. Around 80 people were evacuated due to the fire. No injuries were reported.
The City of Falls Church Fire Marshal has ruled the fire as accidental. The damage is estimated to be around $1.5 million.
The grassroots toxics movement has a long history of engaging in non-violent civil disobedience when faced with government and corporate injustice and inaction.
Mothers with babies in strollers were arrested for blocking the gates at Love Canal. Hundreds of African American and white Warren County, N.C. residents were arrested for lying down in the road to protest their community becoming a dumpsite. Community members in Oceanside, NY enlisted over 2,000 mothers, grandmothers and other average citizens to block the Oceanside dump, protesting its continued operation despite numerous violations. Mounted police charged the crowd, sending protesters to the hospital with broken bones. In Tombstone, AZ, eight senior citizens linked arms to block haulers for a mining company that dumped cyanide into the town’s water supply. They were outraged that the company was only fined $10 for its crime. One community leader was arrested for assault after knocking a trucker to the ground when he shook his fist in her face. Save Our County of East Liverpool, OH had leaders arrested when they blocked the local dump to prevent toxic ash from Philadelphia’s incinerator from being dumped there. Kay Kiker, head of Alabamians for a Clean Environment, had to explain her own arrest record to the Secret Service before receiving the Volunteer of the Year Award from President Reagan at the White House.
Many up-right, law-abiding leaders of the grassroots toxics movement have turned to nonviolent civil disobedience when the law seems to work only for the polluters and chemical industry. We’ve seen it from coast to coast in both small rural towns and big cities in places like Eden Prairie, MN, Cohasset, MA, Harlem, NY and Sumter, SC. None were professional radicals. None were Greenpeace staff where getting arrested is almost a job requirement.
What motivates model citizens to break the law? Why do people take such brave actions? The first step toward nonviolent civil disobedience often arises from despair and betrayal. When the system not only fails but also profits the rich and powerful at others’ expense, then some leaders begin to think the unthinkable. In Sumter, SC, members of Citizens Asking for a Safe Environment spoke of the higher law—the principle that when a law is unjust, decent people have the right, if not the duty, to challenge it. Concerned Citizens of Cohasset (MA) saw their actions as a necessary defense. When confronted with a threat to their lives and property, when the proper authorities failed in their duty, they felt they had the right and responsibility to act. In Eden Prairie, MN, the mothers in the Homeward Hills Association explained to their children why it was necessary and moral for them to blockade BFI’s leaking landfill with a school bus.
For some of these community leaders, their law-breaking was an answer to a higher calling. “Miss Polly”—a devout Pentecostal Christian from Sumter County, S.C.—told the jury she felt she was serving her “God, community and state.” Three protesters who were arrested with Miss Polly and her daughter, the president of Citizens Asking for a Safe Environment (CASE), all were decorated war heroes. Each searched their souls before and after arrest. Each concluded their act of civil disobedience was like going to war to fight for freedom.
In our years at CHEJ, we’ve never spoken with a grassroots leader who took nonviolent civil disobedience lightly. We marvel at how profoundly painful it is for honest people to feel so vexed by an uncaring system that they’re compelled to violate rules of law they’ve always honored. The greatest crime is civic leaders betraying people so greatly and hurting them so deeply.
Nonviolent disobedience in the toxics movement has been positive and effective when done from conscience. In Oceanside, the dump was closed. Ash dumping in East Liverpool stopped a few days later at a cost a couple of hundred dollars in fines. In AZ, the assault conviction was overturned on appeal and the mining company was driven into bankruptcy. The police refused to arrest the mothers and children on that school bus in Eden Prairie. BFI’s dump was closed a few days later and their expansion application was denied. The Cohasset protesters won a sharp curtailment of dumping and the jury acquitted them based on the Necessity Defense. And Miss Polly, her daughter, and the other heroes of the CASE 5 of Sumter, S.C. were found innocent by the jury because they were following a higher law. Nonviolent civil disobedience is just one tool in the “organizing toolbox” of the toxics movement. It’s one that should only be used with great care, careful strategic thought, and only in the face of serious provocation. It does work when it’s done well and used only at the right time. It’s been a powerful tool used in all the great social change movements.
Somehow the American people have to find a way to give President Obama a wake up call. It’s getting so bad that it’s seems like a new disaster every single week, because or no regulations, or no enforcement, no one caring what happening to people, to families who work, play and pray in this country. I’d love to hear some ideas about how we can help Obama hear the alarms. It’s just too much. It’s like going back in time when river caught fire, clouds of smoke filled the air and people living in industrial areas did not live very long lives. Today the rivers don’t burn but do run full of chemicals that if you touch it your skin would burn. The sky is not black with smoke it brown with dust storms because of the poor usage of water an climate changes. People of low wealth who live in the extraction zones are sick and dying at an alarming rate. Let’s just look at the last several recent crisis.
- West Virginia chemical spill sent a clear message about the dangers of extraction industries and it’s not over just because the media is no longer covering the problem. People still have chemicals in their air of their homes and some in the water pipes. Schools are still being closed because of vapors.
- Soon after the West Virginia spill came the North Carolina spill of coal wastes? That too is far from being over. Clean up is going to take years to restore the river.
- This week came the five confirmed earthquakes that have hit the Mahoning Valley in Ohio within a 25-hour period. The Columbia University’s Earth Observatory said there have been actually 11 shocks in the area in one week, from March 4 to 10.
- We’re not done yet, a new story about radioactive wastes and fracking made headlines when Rachel Maddow detailed the highly radioactive wastes being illegally dump on Native American lands and abandoned buildings in North Dakota.
- Workers have found more nuclear waste leaking between the walls of a nuclear storage tank on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The waste was found in a new place between the walls of one of the 28 double shell tanks at the site.
- And today as I write this someone sent me a picture of a wall of dust as tall as 1,000 feet and 200 miles wide that roared across parts of West Texas and New Mexico due to the lack of rain and water. Yet Texas continues to allow fracking which requires million and millions of gallon of water.
These are the stories that made headlines. Behind those headlines are rural farmers with contaminated well water from hydro-fracturing; household family pets and live stock getting sick and dying because of gas and oil processes. Children, women and men gasping for air due to pollution. Our federal oversight agencies, the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and Center for Disease Control have let all Americans down — turned their backs on the people they are suppose to protect . . .well all Americans except the industries involved in extreme energy.
Enough is enough. So many people’s lives, livelihoods, property and futures have been destroyed with so little regard from the very government agencies that are responsible for protecting, the American people.
When the events in West Virginia came to light, I as a non-scientists knew that just not drinking and bathing in the toxic water was not enough. The chemicals evaporate into the air and every toilet was a point source of toxic vapors. Boiling water after the pipes were flushed was yet another hazards as along with the bacteria was residue chemicals. As the water vapor rose from the boiling water so too did the chemicals into the air of unsuspecting families with small children, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. One resident calling CHEJ’s offices talked about all the homes that were elevated on top of a hill still had water and air that smelt like licorice. Her concern was that homes and schools that were located on a hill somehow weren’t flushed properly. That same day two schools were evacuated because the children were experiencing health related symptoms. Both schools were on elevated land.
I’m not sure what it is we can do. I would love ideas from you. Recently, more than 1,000 doctors and nurses wrote to President Obama urging him to stop shale gas extraction pending detailed study of its health effects. Many others have asked to revoke the exemptions clean water, air and so on fracking. Stop the exports of gas and coal was another message to Obama with a positive angle America could really become energy independent.
Let’s explore what we all might do to get the Presidents attention. All of us are in this struggle together and it is together that we will find the answer.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has ordered Hilcorp to halt all operations in Poland Township after two earthquakes shook the area on Monday.The first occurred at 2:26 a.m. at 40.017 N, 80.537 W at a depth of 1.2 miles in Lowellville, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS initially recorded that quake at a magnitude of 2.8, but later updated it to a 3.0 magnitude. The epicenter was directly below property owned by Republic Services’ Carbon Limestone Landfill, where Hilcorp Energy Co. has one well actively producing and a number of others being drilled.
The second occurred at 11:44 a.m., to the southeast of the first epicenter in Lowellville, registering at a 2.6 magnitude.
There are no injection wells in the area.But both sites are near laterals extending from hydraulic fracturing wells.
By Mike Schade, Mind The Store Campaign Director
Yesterday, Walmart announced a major update to their corporate chemicals policy with the release of their new Sustainable Chemistry Implementation Guide, sending a strong message to suppliers, competing retailers and the chemical industry that toxic chemicals that build up in our bodies linked to cancer, birth defects and learning disabilities have no place in products sold on store shelves.
This is big news, as our Mind the Store campaign has been challenging Walmart and the other top ten US retailers to eliminate the Hazardous 100+ chemicals of high concern from their products. Yesterday, we responded to the new announcement with this statement. We congratulate Walmart on expanding their chemicals policy with the release of this new implementation guide. The million dollar question is – will their suppliers listen? How will Walmart ensure suppliers actually comply with this important new policy? Here, we take a look at some of the more exciting elements of the expanded policy, as well as some initial thoughts on how the policy can be improved.
Raising the bar for disclosure of chemicals of concern
Arguably the most exciting elements of Walmart’s policy center on online and product-level disclosure. We are especially pleased that Walmart will now be requiring suppliers to disclose the presence of toxic chemicals of concern business-to-business through the Wercs, publicly on company websites, and even on product labels (!) beginning in January 2018. This new requirement should not only provide incentives for manufactures to reduce or eliminate the use of “priority” chemicals, to avoid having to list them on products, but also empower moms and dads to make smarter and healthier shopping choices for their families. The company is also attempting to address chemicals like fragrances, which most companies virtually never disclose. They recommend that disclosure should include “full disclosure of all ingredients including those typically protected under trade secrets (e.g. fragrances)” as well as “known residuals, contaminants and by-products”.
The question is – will suppliers listen – and how will Walmart actually ensure fragrances and other additives are actually publicly disclosed?
Expanding “Priority” list of chemicals – but what are their top ten?
This past fall, Walmart announced their new chemicals policy and were going to be prioritizing a list of ten chemicals as an initial list of “high priority” chemicals for “continuous reduction, restriction and elimination”, yet the company never disclosed the names of these chemicals. Unfortunately, Walmart is still not disclosing the names of these chemicals for “business reasons” and state that these ten chemicals are “based on (a) authoritative lists, (b) current and pending regulatory lists, (c) high prevalence in Walmart products, and (d) concerns of direct exposure to consumers.” So that leaves about 2 or 3,000 chemicals to choose from. Hmmmm, any guesses as to what ones they may be? We are disappointed that Walmart has still not disclosed their initial ten “high priority” chemicals, despite public pledges to do so. In the interest of transparency, we call on Walmart to reconsider their decision to not disclose these “high priority” chemicals. After all, American families have the right to know.
On the positive side, Walmart has announced a brand new set of “Walmart Priority Chemicals”, which is comprised of no less than twenty of the most important authoritative lists in the US and internationally identifying chemicals of high concern, such as California Proposition 65, US EPA PBT and chemical action plan chemicals, and the states of Washington and Maine chemicals, demonstrating the significance of state action on chemicals. We are very pleased that this list includes every single one of the lists we referenced on our Hazardous 100 list, and many more. While the company did not identify the actually chemicals on these lists, you don’t have to work so hard to find them. This could very well likely include thousands of chemicals, though right now it’s somewhat unclear if every single one of the substances on these lists are included, or not. By comparison, Target’s policy and list is also very significant, with over 1,000 substances.
Reducing, restricting and eliminating toxic chemicals
Walmart is now calling on suppliers to, reduce, restrict and eliminate these substances. The policy states that suppliers should:
“Reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists, which will be made public, to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy…. All suppliers are expected to reduce, restrict and eliminate use of priority chemicals using informed substitution principles. Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. have defined a list of authoritative and regulatory lists (made publicly available through Appendix 1) to identify “Walmart Priority Chemicals” within the scope of this policy.”
Tracking reduction of chemicals of concern
The company is using the Wercs database/website to notify suppliers when products they sell contain either a “Walmart Priority Chemical” or “Walmart High Priority Chemical”. Using the Wercs system, they will send an e-mail to each supplier indicating which products contain “high priority chemicals” and in the future, any time a product entered contains a “priority” or “high priority” chemical, the supplier will automatically be notified. They will also use the Wercs database to track the number of priority chemicals in products, as well as their reduction, using various metrics including quantifying reductions by weight, number of products, number of suppliers, and sales volume.
The company also plans to publicly report their progress on transparency, advancing safer formulation of products and DfE certification in the company’s 2016 Global Responsibility Report.
Getting off the toxic treadmill
Another significant element of their expanded policy is that Walmart is for the first time encouraging their suppliers to get off the toxic treadmill, and avoid “regrettable substitution” by evaluating the hazards of replacement chemicals and embracing best in class “informed substitution” and “alternatives assessment” principles. Walmart states:
“Informed substitution is the considered transition from a chemical of particular concern to safer chemicals or non-chemical alternatives . Using informed substitution principles will mitigate hazard risks associated with product formulation and achieve compliance with Walmart’s Policy on Sustainable Chemistry in Consumables…In the aim of advancing safer formulated products and promoting informed substitution, Walmart recommends the major tenets of Alternatives Assessment, a process for identifying, comparing and selecting safer alternatives to priority chemicals (including those in materials, processes or technologies) on the basis of their hazards, performance, and economic viability…”
In their guide, they cite many great resources, such as the Pharos Chemical and Material Library, BizNGO’s Chemical Alternatives Assessment Protocol, and the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production’s Alternatives Assessment Protocol. It’ll be interesting to see whether suppliers listen, and use these useful tools. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
What’s good for our pets is good for our children
The policy impacts a number of categories of products sold at Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores in the US, primarily cleaning products, cosmetics and personal care products, infant products, and pet supplies. This is a good list of products to start with, and we hope Walmart will expand this over time to all other categories where chemicals of high concern are often found, such as children’s toys, apparel, furniture, electronics, and food packaging.
We also hope Walmart will expand this policy to their stores globally. As a company that has enormous power and influence over their supply chain, if they can do it in the US, why not the rest of the world? Families worldwide deserve the same protections.
Will other retailers Mind the Store?
Today’s new announcement should be a call to action to other big box retailers, grocery stores, and drug store chains. We call on the other leading top ten retailers to join Walmart to Mind the Store and get tough on toxic chemicals. After all, with great market power comes great responsibility.
We look forward to working with Walmart and the other nine leading retailers to create similar action plans on the Hazardous 100+ list of toxic chemicals in the months to come.
Texas schools within a short distance too close to chemical facilities that can result in exposures and serious harm to young school children. 27 schools with a population of 25,968 students at risk in one area alone.
CHEJ has developed guidelines to avoid such situation in the future when building schools. Check them out and get your school board to adopt policies before it’s too late for your district. Click here for more information.
Four years ago, the First Lady launched Let’s Move!, a nationwide initiative to create a healthier future for our kids and families. Today, Let’s Move! has moved the nation in a healthier direction. Read about the many Let’s Move! successes here. To demonstrate the national scope of this movement, the First Lady is encouraging people of all ages, to show her how they move – through their everyday fitness routine, making better food choices, or by moving their community toward that new norm – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc. using #LetsMove. Click here to watch the First Lady explain this online challenge.>>>
Counter Punch By RALPH NADER
The annual Academy Awards Gala, viewed by one billion people worldwide, is scheduled for the evening of March 2, 2014. Motion pictures and the people who act in and produce them are center stage. Apart from the documentaries, this is a glittering evening of “make-believe” and “make business.”
Now suppose our country had another Academy Awards Gala for citizen heroes – those tiny numbers of Americans who are working successfully fulltime in nonprofit groups to advance access to justice, general operations of our faltering democratic society, and the health, safety, and economic well-being of all citizens. .
This must sound unexciting in comparison with the intensity of the world of film. Until you see what these unsung people do in your local communities, your state, and your country. Then let’s see if you think what my choice of civic heroes do every day isn’t exciting. They are selected because they work in groups associated either directly or indirectly with me over the course of several decades.
1. Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety and an engineer and lawyer. Mr. Ditlow has forced the auto companies to recall millions of defective motor vehicles, has brought auto companies to justice on many occasions in courts of law, and puts out volumes of information to inform elected representatives and the public about the need for stronger federal regulation of the resisting auto industry.
2. Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International. As a mere high school graduate, he stunned specialists with the brilliance of his written analysis of energy subjects in Alaska. Mr. Love has been on the move all over the world challenging the tax-subsidized, highly profitable drug companies to stop gouging millions of patient-victims with “pay or die” marketing schemes. Big Pharma endured a rare defeat when Mr. Love convinced Ministers of Health and Dr. Yusuf Hamied, head of India’s CIPLA Pharmaceutical, in 2001 to break the $10,000 per patient per year drug treatment for AIDS and bring the cost down to $300 per year (http://fireintheblood.com).
3. Dr. Michael Jacobson was a young PhD student in biochemistry at MIT when I interviewed him for a position with us. I told him we were looking for long-termers. He nodded. Nearly forty-five years later, Dr. Jacobson, having started the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has done more than anyone to document and brightly publicize enjoyable nutritional diets with less salt, sugar and fat. His Center knows how to communicate. Nutrition Action goes to 90,000 subscribers. He sends messages to your stomach in order to stimulate your mind.
4. Al Fritsch, another scientist PhD, joined us at the same time as did Michael Jacobson. He didn’t spend much time in Washington before he returned to his home region of Appalachia where he started the Appalachia Center for Science in the Public Interest. Applied science and technology, as if people mattered most, was his credo. He pioneered simple, old and new ways – for example, to preserve the land and forest, make the drinking water safe, and grow more food – that he conveyed to local people of all ages who then became community scientists innovating themselves.
5. Lois Gibbs started as a mother and housewife until she saw what the chemicals seeping through the ground of their middle-income housing project in Niagara Falls were doing to residents, especially children. She then became unstoppable, moving from protesting for a cleanup to starting theCenter for Health, Environment and Justice in 1981 with chapters and activists all over the country taking on and often winning the battle against the silent violence of reckless industries.
6. Dr. Sidney Wolfe founded with me the Health Research Group of Public Citizen. Do you want to see what a small group of half a dozen people can accomplish in getting rid of hundreds of prescription and over the counter drugs “that don’t work?” Or do you want to learn how Dr. Wolfe has kept the Food and Drug Administration’s feet to the fire and held many doctors accountable to professional standards? Or how about investigating scores of harmful conditions bred by the avarice or incompetence of the medical/hospital/drug industry complex (http://www.citizen.org/healthletter)?
7. Joan Claybrook, went from heading our immense Congress project, that issued magazine-sized profiles of every member of Congress going for re-election in 1972, to running the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for President Jimmy Carter, and then to the presidency of Public Citizen for nearly thirty years without missing a beat. The auto companies called her “the Dragon Lady.” A fixture on Capitol Hill, she roared down the corridors on behalf of safety protections for millions of Americans.
8. Karen Ferguson started, a few years out of Harvard Law School, with my help the Pension Rights Center (PRC) in 1976. Karen and her staff dedicated themselves completely to being a watchdog of Congress, the Department of Labor, and a myriad of corporations, proposing legislative and regulatory changes and responding to the growing crisis of declining or looted traditional pensions for millions of workers. One of the biggest economic injustices in our economy is the loss or shredding of defined benefit pensions which either aren’t being replaced or are replaced by exploitable 401(k)s. Trillions of dollars and millions of families are affected – luckily, the PRC and Ms. Ferguson are there year in and year out.
9. Robert Fellmeth in 1970 brought hundreds of eager law students from Harvard and other law schools to work with us. In a short time he authored or co-authored three large books, then went to California to become a prosecutor, then combined a career as law professor, litigator and leading public advocate for children through his Children’s Advocacy Institute. No one can ever outwork or out-produce Fellmeth. His example has prompted his associates to coin the word “Fellmethian.” His emphasis on children – protection, legislation, lawsuits, exposes, and a unique annual California Children’s Budget only provide a glimmer of this creative civic giant’s prodigious successes.
10. Robert Vaughn, when in his mid-twenties, chose our project on the federal civil servants. His work became a book titled The Spoiled System (1975). Over forty years later he teaches at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C., is an expert on civil servant law and is the world’s leading authority on whistle-blowing in dozens of countries (see The Successes and Failures of Whistleblower Laws, Edward Elgar, 2012). He has inspired hundreds of law students in treating law as justice and practicing along that pathway.
11. John Richard, has worked with us since 1979 becoming a peerless networker and adviser for citizen groups, their leaders and staff on all kinds of subjects. In his thirty-five years, he has participated in more gatherings and action meetings on more topics than anyone. This has nourished the wisdom of his assistance to scores of civic advocates who seek his help. Mr. Richard avoids taking any credit but his daily low-key pushing forward of the train of justice speaks for itself.
These people of significance, and many more stalwarts who labor in the vineyards of a better life for all Americans, receive far less public attention than cartoon characters, misbehaving entertainers and athletes, and carousing politicians.
The more difficult, despairing, and overburdened are the livelihoods of millions of hard-pressed Americans, the more they spend time becoming spectators of mass entertainment and sports as a distraction and relief from their painful and desperate situations.
A drama-filled activist award night for civic courage and creativity will inspire millions of viewers to try their hand at operating the levers of power for the good of our society. And what is more dramatic than real life struggles and successes for justice against the bullies, the greedhounds and the authoritarians who presently make up the few who rule the many?
Dare it be said that the more people immerse themselves in learning about these heroics, the more compelling will be their civic interest and passion. Certainly there is more meaning to their daily lives than watching “make-believe” or someone putting a ball in a hoop or into the ground.
Where is the enlightened billionaire who can launch such a televised national activist awards evening for the greatest work of humans on Earth – which is advancing justice?
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.
Counter Punch February 13, 2014
The recent drinking-water contamination incident represents a major crisis for 300,000 people living in the Charleston, W.Va. area, but it’s also a wake-up call to people across the United States who rely on their public servants to ensure their health and safety. The lack of openness during this crisis by government officials and agencies has aggravated an alarming situation and left many people doubting the competence and credibility of the people in whom their welfare is entrusted.