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Sign Up for a Webinar on EJSCREEN: EPA’s New EJ Screening Tool

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EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice is hosting three webinars to introduce the public to EJSCREEN, EPA’s soon-to-be-released environmental justice screening and mapping tool. The tool provides powerful data and mapping capabilities to display demographic and environmental information for all areas of the United States, and includes a method for combining environmental and demographic data into ‘EJ indexes,’ to assist in identifying areas in the country that have higher pollution burdens and vulnerable populations.

EPA is sharing EJSCREEN with the public to broaden its impact, build transparency, and foster collaboration on a shared commitment to protect American communities. Each of the three sneak peeks will consist of an overview and demo of the tool, followed by a question and answer session. The webinars will be held on the following dates and times:

  • ·         May 12th: 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Eastern
  • ·         May 28th: 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Eastern
  • ·         June 3rd: 3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Eastern

Please share this event with your network and anyone who may be interested in attending. If you are in need of special accommodations, please contact the event organizer within at least one week of the event.

You can RSVP for the EJSCREEN webinars here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/us-epa-ejscreen-presentation-and-demonstration-tickets-16660741727. Materials for the webinar will be e-mailed to RSVP’ing attendees a week before the presentation.

For questions, please send e-mails to olp.kevin@epa.gov.

vinyl flooring

Health effects of vinyl flooring on baby boys

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Mind the Store has achieved tremendous victories lately – the nation’s two largest home improvement retailers, Home Depot and Lowe’s, have committed to phasing out toxic phthalates in flooring by the end of the year.  

We’re now turning our attention to Menards, the 3rd largest home improvement chain in the country with sales of over $8 billion and 280 stores in 14 states. You may not have a Menards in your area, that is ok. We still need you to act. If Home Depot and Lowe’s can ban phthalates in flooring, so can Menards!  

TAKE ACTION: Tell Menards to phase out toxic phthalates in flooring.

Testing has found some vinyl flooring Menards sells contains toxic phthalates, chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects in baby boys. Chemicals that are so toxic, they have been restricted in children’s toys.

Let’s turn up the heat on Menards
— Take action today!

Act Now!

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Judge temporarily halts fracking approvals in North Carolina

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A judge has halted the approval of fracking operations in North Carolina until a higher court weighs in on the legality of the appointment of several boards that manage state resources and the environment.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens’ decision earlier this month prevents the Mining and Energy Commission from approving drilling units for hydraulic fracturing until the state Supreme Court decides a separate case regarding how the state panels are formed. No drilling units had been approved before the judge issued his order.

Stephens issued a preliminary injunction that stops the commission from accepting or processing applications for drilling units for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rocks so oil and gas can escape.

Stephens also delayed proceedings in the lawsuit filed against the state’s Mining and Energy Commission pending the other case’s outcome.

The state’s highest court will hear arguments in late June on the separate lawsuit by Gov. Pat McCrory and two of his predecessors that challenged how several other state commissions were appointed. A panel of judges sided with McCrory earlier this year in striking down the way lawmakers appointed those boards, and the decision was appealed to the high court.

While the Mining and Energy Commission wasn’t challenged in McCrory’s lawsuit, Stephens wrote that both cases hinge on the same legal issue.

“Based on the decision of the three-judge panel in McCrory v. Berger, Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that legislative appointment of a majority of the members of the MEC is an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers …,” the judge wrote in the order, signed May 6.

The fracking lawsuit, filed in January on behalf of plaintiffs including the Haw River Assembly, argues that the Legislature usurped the authority of the executive branch by forming the Mining and Energy Commission in 2012 as an administrative agency and then appointing eight of its 13 members. The governor appoints the rest.

One of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the fracking case, Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he’s pleased with Stephens’ ruling.

“The important thing to us is to not allow fracking to proceed under rules and regulations adopted by this commission,” said Carter, the law center’s director for North Carolina.

McCrory, a Republican, signed a law last summer clearing the way for permits to be issued this year for fracking. Scientists believe pockets of natural gas exist in layers of shale under Chatham, Lee and Moore counties southwest of Raleigh, but there are disputes over how much.

Rules governing fracking that were developed by the Mining and Energy Commission took effect in March, clearing the way for the state to start issuing drilling permits. Before asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for a permit, applicants must acquire mineral rights for several hundred acres of land — a parcel known as a drilling unit — and have the unit approved by the commission.

The lawsuit also asked the judge to throw out the commission’s rules and void their actions, but Stevens said the commission can continue other work pending the case’s outcome.

The commission’s chairman, Vik Rao, said the judge’s order “is fair in the sense that it doesn’t shut us down from doing good work, but it does shut us down from allowing permits to go forward.”

For example, the commission is taking a closer look at air emissions from hydraulic fracturing, which Rao said was in response to the plaintiffs’ concerns.

The state’s march toward hydraulic fracturing has prompted a passionate debate. Proponents say the extraction method can be done safely and that cheaper gas will help manufacturers and increase jobs in the state. Detractors fear that toxic chemicals could escape the wells and pollute soil and water.

The Mining and Energy Commission received nearly 220,000 public comments on the rules and considered them during revisions this fall. The commission has been debating and rewriting rule proposals since mid-2013.


Workers prepared a containment boom Thursday after an oil spill fouled the waters off Refugio State Beach. Credit Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Oil Again Fouling California Coast Near Site of Historic Spill

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GOLETA, Calif. — Refugio State Beach is one of the treasures of the California coast, a little-known curve of beach in the hills that on weekends like this one — Memorial Day — would be sprinkled with people who made their way up from Santa Barbara, about 20 miles down the Pacific Coast.





Workers prepared a containment boom Thursday after an oil spill fouled the waters off Refugio State Beach. Credit Jae C. Hong/Associated Press





But not on Thursday. Refugio was filled not with vacationers, but with teams of workers in white coveralls and masks, scooping up sand fouled with oil that had washed in after a pipeline broke earlier this week. The smell of oil, not surf, was in the air as Coast Guard riggers off shore, using yellow buoys, tried to corral and clean up the oil before it reached the shore. Read More from and  at the New York Times.

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Bacteria making meds in wastewater outflows

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Microbes that clean our water may also be piecing some pharmaceuticals back together

May 13, 2015

By Brian Bienkowski
Environmental Health News

Wastewater treatment plants not only struggle removing pharmaceuticals, it seems some drugs actually increase after treatment.

When researchers tested wastewater before and after treatment at a Milwaukee-area treatment plant, they found that two drugs — the anti-epileptic carbamazepine and antibiotic ofloxacin — came out at higher concentrations than they went in. The study suggests the microbes that clean our water may also piece some pharmaceuticals back together.

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Benjamin Blair

Carbamazepine and ofloxacin on average increased by 80 percent and 120 percent, respectively, during the treatment process. Such drugs, and their metabolites (formed as part of the natural biochemical process of degrading and eliminating the compounds), get into the wastewater by people taking them and excreting them. Flushing drugs accounts for some of the levels too.

“Microbes seem to be making pharmaceuticals out of what used to be pharmaceuticals,” said lead author Benjamin Blair, who spearheaded the work as a PhD. student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Blair is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado Denver.

Blair and colleagues found 48 out of 57 pharmaceuticals they were looking for at the South Shore Water Reclamation Facility in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which serves the greater Milwaukee area.

The researchers have a clue as to how this might happen: microbes.

After removing the solids from incoming wastewater, treatment plants use microbes — tiny single-celled organisms — to decompose organic matter that comes in the sewage.

Blair’s best guess is that people take the drugs, their body breaks them down into different metabolites that are excreted, and the microbes take these different parts of the drug and put them back together.

“It’s a fascinating idea,” Blair said.

Tanja Rauch-Williams, principal technologist at the environmental engineering company Carollo Engineers, said it was a strong study but cautioned that this doesn’t mean wastewater treatment plants are acting as pharmaceutical factories.

“It’s a large amount of pharmaceuticals that we [wastewater treatment plant researchers] look at, it’s not a trend that the plants generate higher compound concentrations,” she said. “It’s very specific compounds.”

“Microbes seem to be making pharmaceuticals out of what used to be pharmaceuticals.”-Benjamin Blair, University of Colorado-DenverShe said that this apparent piecing back together of metabolites into pharmaceuticals could, in principle, also happen in the environment after effluent discharge.

It’s not the first time researchers have noticed this trend. Canadian researchers foundcarbamazepine more than doubled its initial medicinal load after treatment at a Peterborough, Ontario, plant.

“When others have found this, people thought it was due to things like sampling errors,” Blair said. “But we found a clear upward trend over time.”

What remains unclear is why only certain drugs would increase post-treatment. Blair and colleagues saw the trend in just two of the 48 pharmaceuticals found in their wastewater samples.

“We need to look for what the structural or metabolic commonality is in these compounds. And then we could possibly predict whether some would increase [after treatment],” Rauch-Willlaims said.

NASA
It seems that the microbes that clean our water at wastewater treatment plants piece some pharmaceuticals back together.

Even with the increases, the pharmaceuticals are at levels far below what could impact humans if they consume the water, she said. But the ubiquity of the drugs in wastewater is a concern for fish and other aquatic creatures.

Carbamazepine, used as an anti-epileptic drug, impacted the enzymes in gills, livers and muscles of common carp, according to a 2011 study. Such enzyme changes are indicative of tissue damage and impaired cells. The drug also has been linked to endocrine disruption and reproductive problems in zebrafish.

Rauch-Williams said the wastewater industry is getting more efficient at removing pharmaceuticals. “Things like advanced oxidation, UV disinfection coupled with peroxide, different membrane processes … these remove a large majority of these compounds,” she said.

Blair said the drawback to many of the more effective treatments is expense. And there’s no urgency for plants to upgrade because there aren’t any U.S. regulations for pharmaceuticals in water, he added.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency evaluates substances that may be in drinking water by developing Contaminant Candidate Lists and periodically issuing a Regulatory Determination.

The EPA’s latest drinking water contaminant candidate list — water pollutants not subject to regulations yet but that might render water unsafe — includes several pharmaceuticals that act on hormones.

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

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


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

waterways

Waterways May be Contaminated with High Levels of BPA Released into the Atmosphere

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Our water may be contaminated by hormone-disrupting pollutants. Scientists have discovered that harmful concentrations of Bisphenol-A (BPA) may have been deposited directly into rivers and streams by municipal or industrial wastewater.

“There is a growing concern that hormone disruptors such as BPA not only threaten wildlife but also humans,” said Chris Kassotis, one of the researchers, in a news release. “Recent studies have documented widespread atmospheric releases of BPA from industrial sources across the United States. The results from our study provide evidence that these atmospheric discharges can dramatically elevate BPA in nearby environments.”

Read more.

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Plan EJ2020 – Conference Call with EPA EJ Staff

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PLAN EJ2020 & YOU

CONFERENCE CALL WITH U.S. EPA ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE STAFF


FEATURING

CHARLES LEEDeputy Associate Administrator for Environmental Justice

MATT TEJADADirector for the Office of Environmental Justice


TUESDAY MAY 26, 2015

2:00 PM-  3:30 PM EST


RSVP SMADDIN@EARTHJUSTICE.ORG by Friday May 22nd


Call In Number1-866-740-1260 Access Code: 7455210



EPA is seeking input on its draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda framework.  With this plan EPA aims to advance environmental justice through its programs, policies and activities, and support a cross-agency strategy on making a visible difference in environmentally overburdened, underserved, and economically distressed communities. At this session, ask questions, get answers and learn more about how communities can share their recommendations.


From EPA:

EJ 2020: over next five years, EPA is considering what to focus on in the following areas it has identified as priorities:

  • ·         Deepening environmental justice progress in EPA’s programs to improve the health and environment of overburdened communities
  • ·         Collaborating with partners to expand our impact in overburdened communities
  • ·         Demonstrating progress on outcomes that matter to overburdened communities
  • ·         EJ 2020 is a strategy for advancing environmental justice … It is not a rule.

vinyl flooring

Mind the Store, get phthalates out of flooring

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Over the last two weeks we have achieved tremendous victories – the nation’s two largest home improvement retailers, Home Depot and Lowe’s, have committed to phase out toxic phthalates in flooring by the end of the year.  

This is HUGE as together they sell billions of dollars worth of flooring a year! This is a lot to celebrate, but we’re not stopping there. 

We’re now turning our attention to Menards, the 3rd largest home improvement chain in the country with sales of over $8 billion and 280 stores in 14 states. If Home Depot and Lowe’s can ban phthalates in flooring, so can Menards!  

TAKE ACTION: Tell Menards to phase out toxic phthalates in flooring.

Testing has found some vinyl flooring Menards sells contains toxic phthalates, chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects in baby boys. Chemicals that are so toxic they have been restricted in children’s toys.

This may not be easy. Menards has earned a reputation for violating environmental laws in their own home state of Wisconsin. The were fined $1.5 million after their CEO, John Menard Jr.  ”used his own pickup truck to haul bags of chromium-contaminated incinerator ash produced by the company and dump it into his trash at home.”1 That’s who we’re up against.

Help us turn up the heat on Menards and leverage the victories we’ve achieved to date. Take action today!

Act Now!

For a toxic-free future,

Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

PS — Help us continue the momentum by calling on the nation’s #3 home improvement chain Menards to ban toxic phthalates in flooring!


Just Moms march to EPA headquarters on Thursday

Technical Difficulties: The Long Road toward Superfund Site Remediation

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Toxic environmental pollution is unfortunately widespread. If you follow Backyard Talk, by now you have probably heard the story of the West Lake Landfill near St. Louis, Missouri, a dumping ground for nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project toward which an underground fire is slowly creeping. Just last week a contingent from Just Moms St. Louis spoke at a D.C. press conference about the health challenges they and their children have faced while living near this polluted site. The following video shows footage from the press conference and the subsequent march: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpSchIhnYdE.

One commenter on this video asked me whether homeowners could potentially avoid a situation like this through diligent research into the history of where they plan to live. Shouldn’t it be relatively easy to identify whether a site near your home is on the National Priorities List? The story of this site illuminates some common complications that arise during the process of identifying a toxic area and moving toward eventual remediation. It is exceedingly difficult for environmental scientists, let alone community members, to identify pollutants and quantify risks. This post summarizes just a few of the factors that make this process so complex.

Just Moms St. Louis demonstrate outside EPA Headquarters

Many polluted sites go unrecorded and undetected. When you think of contaminated sites, what comes to mind? We might expect the ground under a former gas station to be loaded with organic contaminants, or predict pollution downstream from a factory. However, not all sites have a clear usage history with easily predictable exposures. This is especially true in the case of places like the West Lake Landfill where waste has been illegally dumped. Radioactive waste was illegally discarded in 1973, but wasn’t uncovered until 1977.

It’s a long road from detection to Superfund designation… The West Lake Landfill was discovered to be contaminated in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the site wound up on the National Priorities List, which designates it as a Superfund Site. How does a site end up on the NPL? There are several different mechanisms that the EPA uses to list sites on the NPL, all of which require extensive characterization of the hazards that are present, and of potential routes for human exposure. At the end of the day, not every polluted site ends up on the Superfund list – leaving still more undocumented but polluted areas. During these interim years, the West Lake Landfill was still polluted – it just wasn’t listed.

…And it’s an even longer road to remediation. Once the West Lake Landfill was placed on the National Priorities List, it was another 18 years until a cleanup plan was ultimately developed. The process of developing a remediation plan involves countless scientific studies, and meetings with PRPs (Potentially Responsible Parties) who are tasked with devising a cleanup strategy that makes sense for the site. During this time, communities are placed in limbo. They live in a documented toxic area, making it difficult to sell their homes, and while cleanup is planned or underway, their potential exposure to toxic compounds continues.

Even then, the unexpected can happen. Much of the current concern surrounding the West Lake site stems from the presence of a smoldering underground fire in an adjacent landfill, which is slowly making its way toward the radioactive waste. It took well over a decade for the EPA to reach a decision on what to do with the West Lake site, and now that this new factor has been introduced, the risks at the site have changed considerably. Any remediation will now have to account for the fire, and underground fires are notoriously difficult to stop.

It is difficult enough for environmental scientists and managers to detect environmental pollution, to determine the urgency of remediation activities, to decide on a plan, and to revise that plan if the unexpected occurs. It is nearly impossible for potential homeowners to keep abreast of the slow-moving yet unpredictable process of listing and remediating a Superfund Site.

incinerator

EPA Laws & Regulations Really Don’t Matter

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How can ordinary people win justice from an agency that seems to care little about their own laws and regulations? Take for example the recent report that the hazardous waste incinerator (WTI) in East Liverpool, OH. It stands tall next to the Ohio River and has released toxic substances above allowable limits 195 times over 175 days. This is not new for this facility. In fact CHEJ years ago went all the way to the Supreme Court in the state of Ohio to have the incinerators permit revoked. At that time the incinerator was only within compliance (legal limits) two quarters over a number of years.

The area surrounding the incinerator was defined as an Environmental Justice community, by the Environmental Protection Agency. As such the community should have seen tighter enforcement, more access to information and new polluting industries proposed would be weighed against the already high pollution in the area before allowed to be built.

None of that happen. In fact, a freedom of information request was made on several occasion for information because no one would provide the information through a simple request. Those freedom of information requests were able to be fulfilled but not without the low wealth community paying about $1,500. EPA refused to waive the fee for compiling the information. Fracking and injections wells were welcome in the area and operating today with little regard to the existing community toxic burden.

When CHEJ fought in court for the renewal permit to be revoked the local group Save Our County, filled the court room with local people. Three judges sat in the front of the room and listened to arguments from both sides. The community argument was clear, the company is breaking the law and have been for years and no one will do anything about it except collecting on a small number of fines and penalties. To WTI those fines are predictable and just the cost of doing business. The community is suffering from a multitude of adverse health impacts.

Ohio has this regulatory system that allows innocent people to be poisoned. The court ruled against the community when CHEJ helped them to appeal the permit. The judge said he had nothing to hang his hat on and said he understands why his court room is full of unhappy people. The judge said that because according to Ohio regulations, if a company is out of compliance – but has a plan to come into compliance – than they are considered in compliance.

What if that was the rule for everyday people and laws. For example, if you were found to be driving while drunk (DUI), but have a plan to go to alcohol anonymous, then you are not considered in violation of the law – worst you can continue to drive while under the influence, possibly killing innocent people—just like WTI.

EPA and the state of Ohio among other states need to right this wrong. It is the innocent victims that suffer the diseases and taxpayers who are burdened with the cost of those diseases and destruction of the environment and all living things.