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Keep America Energy Independent


These are my arguments for the direction our country must take to protect our citizen’s and secure our homeland. Natural gas extraction, exports, damages and lack of regulations have been front page news for several years.  What’s the answer, here are my thoughts but I welcome others to contribute their thoughts.

  • Natural gas is a part of the answer to our energy needs in this country. In fact, America is today energy independent if we keep what we harvest and not ship our energy resources overseas. It’s really that simple.
  • Our abundance of energy resources, if kept in the U.S., will provide affordable energy for America’s industries today and attract new industries tomorrow.
  • Exporting liquid natural gas according to the Energy Department’s own report will end up being worse from a greenhouse gas perspective to climate change than if China simply built a new power plant and burned its own coal supplies.
  • Exporting natural gas creates environmental and public health risks through gas industries “boom” to drill as many wells as possible with little regulations to make quick profits especially in the export markets which will purchase at five times the domestic rates.
  • Exporting Americas energy resources increases the country‘s security risks. American men and women fought and hundreds died in wars around oil. Let’s honor those who fought for America by not selling our energy and placing the country and its armed forces at risk again.  More than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells were set on fire by the Iraqi forces causing massive environmental and economic damage.
  • The only one who benefits from exports is the corporations making profits exporting our natural resources.

In fact, exporting our natural resources creates a different equation entirely. The overseas workforce is very cheap, in many cases not paying close to a living wage. If we provide an influx of new energy resources for countries that don’t even pay a living wage, why in the world would any corporation want to set up business in America? They have cheap labor and an abundance of energy which they don’t have today.

I want to take care of America and keep our energy —our gas —here so we can grow and prosper. It’s un-American to export energy sources when men and women have died in wars over oil.  It doesn’t change the climate crisis and doesn’t provide an incentive for new industries to set up business in America or existing ones to expand. Lastly, holding on our our gas and oil resources will slow down the drilling of new wells giving us time to explore the real environmental and health impacts from hydro-fracturing.





After Sandy slammed into New Jersey’s coast in October, 2012, the state was left with the gargantuan task of collecting and disposing of nearly nine million cubic yards of debris, enough to fill a football stadium almost a mile high, according to FEMA. As soggy carpets and damaged appliances piled up on people’s curbs, landfills and incinerators around the state were granted special, emergency permits to operate longer hours and more days a week to process all the waste.

In addition to all the regular sites, the Fenimore landfill in Roxbury was very likely the final destination of some of that trash, although state officials say there’s no evidence to link the massive increase in debris at the site to Sandy. Since that time, people living near the landfill have gotten sick, the site has become entangled in a myriad of lawsuits, and some town residents feel they’ve indirectly become victims of the storm, even though they live nowhere near the Shore.

Environmentalists say Fenimore is an extreme example of what can happen when regulations aren’t strict enough. They say the landfill presents valuable lessons for how New Jersey should handle its waste, particularly in the aftermath of future disasters. They also criticize the state for not yet learning from its mistakes and are recommending a variety of changes to regulations.

For its part, the state says Fenimore was an isolated case that had “gone wrong”and points the finger at the landfill owner.

The Fenimore Backstory

Fenimore operated as a private landfill from the 1950s to the late ‘70s, accepting municipal waste from half a dozen towns in Morris County. The state shut it down in 1979, in part because it failed to meet newer environmental requirements to keep contaminants from spreading off the property.

Over the next several decades, ownership of the site changed hands several times, but it remained unused. Trees and reed grasses began to regrow on the landfill, and residential neighborhoods sprang up around the perimeter. While noting some problems, a study commissioned by the NJDEP in 2005 basically gave Fenimore a clean bill of health.

“Based on the results of the analyses of the portable well, soil, surface water, sediment, leachate, and soil gas samples collected, no conditions were found to exist at the site that pose an acute, immediate direct threat to human health. Accordingly, this site does not pose an Immediate Environmental Concern as defined by NJDEP,” the report said. Like many older landfills, Fenimore was never properly closed, though. In accordance with state requirements, closing a landfill entails covering it with a thick, Polyethylene-like liner or a layer of clay densely packed several feet thick to “minimize long term infiltration and percolation of liquid.” Gravel, cement or demolition material is sometimes mixed in to stabilize the cap, and then it’s covered with topsoil and planted with vegetation to keep it from eroding.

Fenimore is hardly unique. According to a state database, out of 814 known or suspected landfills in New Jersey that are no longer in operation, just 88 have been properly closed, while 725 – or nearly 90 percent — were never correctly capped. The state has a sanitary landfill closure fund — supported by taxes imposed on landfill operators — that’s supposed to help cover the costs of properly closing some of these older landfills, but lawmakers have routinely raided this fund, diverting more than $100 million to other uses over the past decade, said New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel.

Relying on the Private Sector

Given the reality that it could cost billions of dollars to go back and close all these landfills, the state has increasingly turned to the private sector in recent years to pick up some of the slack. New Jersey’s most recent Energy Master Plan advocates turning landfills and brownfield sites into solar farms to help with their cleanup.

“Some of these properties cannot be developed for general commercial or residential purposes and may not provide adequate revenue to the towns and counties where they are situated,” the plan says. “However, solar development can offset the costs to cap and or remediate these sites and should be encouraged where local government has determined it to be the best use of the property.”

But while solar farms may sound like a great idea, they’re costly to build, and the return on investment could take years. In the meantime, site owners need funding to kick-start the process and prepare the land. That’s where things get complicated.

Environmentalists say the most ecologically sound method of capping a site to seal in contaminants, level it out, and provide a stable base for installation of solar panels is to simply add “clean fill” — soil that’s free of extraneous debris, solid waste or other contaminants.

“Under no circumstances does it make environmental or economic sense to bring in dirty fill, except perhaps to the landfill owner,” says Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a major public risk, and I think you could find municipal landfill operators around the country who would say that that’s a real no-no.”

But what Goldstein proposes is much easier said than done, argues Matthew Fredericks, the attorney representing Strategic Environmental Partners (SEP), which now owns the Fenimore Landfill. SEP purchased the site in January, 2011 and signed an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection in October of that year to close Fenimore and build a solar farm.

“If the state had all the money in the world, it would be easy. Just go around and put clean material that’s very expensive to obtain and clean these places up,” Fredericks said. “The state doesn’t have that money, and so you need an economic model that allows these sites to be capped.”

That economic model involves allowing landfill operators to accept truckloads of new debris to produce income in the form of tipping fees from contractors disposing of their waste.

“People aren’t out there just looking to spend millions and tens of millions of dollars to cap these sites,” Fredericks explained. “You need to generate funds and operating capital at the beginning before you can then start spending all the money on the stuff that eventually caps the landfill. Otherwise, financially it wouldn’t be possible.”

Practicalities aside, the practice raises concerns among some environmentalists, who say it defies logic.

“We have opposed this concept that the DEP has put in place about ‘re-opening’ landfills in order to close them,” says the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel. “It’s sort of like fighting for peace or drinking for sobriety.”

The new debris that’s allowed to be dumped at such sites can include things like construction materials, tires, and scraps of masonry bricks and glass. Under other circumstances, that debris would be considered “solid waste” and could only be accepted at modern-day sanitary landfills, built to current environmental standards.According to state requirements, those standards include having a liner underneath the landfill’s footprint to prevent contamination from seeping into the ground and a leachate collection system to isolate and treat any contaminant runoff from the site.

Most so-called legacy landfills like Fenimore, which ceased operations prior to 1982, were not built to these standards. But these sites are permitted to accept this debris as part of their closing processes. In these cases, the debris is regulated not as “solid waste” but as “beneficial reuse materials.”

That’s not necessarily problematic, argue some waste-industry insiders, who say the use of beneficial reuse materials is a widespread practice that rarely causes any problems. State officials need to sign off on a list of acceptable materials on a case-by-case basis for each site, and — at least in theory — the approved types of debris are not supposed to create any issues.

The Source of Fenimore’s Problems

But in the case of the Fenimore Landfill, there’s one particular type of beneficial reuse material that’s drawn more attention than the rest. Along with construction site fill and water treatment plant residue, the state gave approval for the site’s owner to accept C&D screenings, a byproduct of construction and demolition debris recycling that consists of small pieces of material less than two inches in diameter and often includes scraps of gypsum wallboard. Problems can arise when the gypsum decomposes under certain environmental conditions, releasing hydrogen sulfide, a toxic and flammable gas. In high enough volumes, that gas can cause a variety of health concerns including respiratory issues, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss, or even death.

It was in November of 2012 — nearly a year after SEP began accepting truckloads of beneficial reuse materials at Fenimore — when residents of Roxbury began having problems.

“We had family here for Thanksgiving, and the smell of rotten eggs — which we later learned was hydrogen sulfide — was so bad that our eyes were burning. People were tearing. My guests had to leave. We were choking. It was terrible,” recalled Shannon Caccavella, who’s been told her home is ground zero for the worst of the fumes. “Then my daughter started in December with massive headaches. And we went to every doctor, every test imaginable: MRIs, CAT scans, pediatric neurologists . . . And it was concluded that it was from the environment, which is the Fenimore landfill.”

Elsewhere in town, kids began vomiting and getting nosebleeds as their school bus made its way along the mountainous roads circling the landfill. Residents had to cancel soccer games and barbecues. Even some dogs got sick and died, people believe, from the fumes.

And it wasn’t just the air quality. Residents say the contamination also seeped into their private wells, forcing them to purchase expensive filters to drink their own tap water or wash their clothes.

Caccavella had lived near the edge of the landfill for a decade, including the year beginning in late 2011 when new debris was being trucked in. All that time, she says she rarely if ever had any health complaints. She’s pretty sure the problems she and her neighbors now face are the result of storm debris that ended up in the landfill.

“It’s amazing how all of a sudden, Hurricane Sandy — the tragedy that happened there — was brought up to Roxbury. We just have to connect the dots,” she said.

Though it’s hard to find absolute proof of a connection, Jeff Tittel agrees the timing was no small coincidence.

“All of a sudden, all that wallboard started coming in a month or so after Sandy,” he said. “And you have to kind of wonder where it came from because it was also all wet. And that’s where the real problem started. It’s one of those things where it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck. You know, I don’t think it’s a horse.”

Roxbury Township officials also think the two are related. Last October they passed a resolution calling on the state to provide $53 million of Sandy recovery funds to address the situation. And internal emails show the possibility of a Sandy connection was seriously considered by officials at the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Even Fenimore’s owner – Richard Bernardi – notes in legal documents that storm debris is most likely the biggest culprit.

“Every truckload that was delivered to Fenimore is documented, so we know where it came from,” explained attorney Matthew Fredericks, who represents Bernardi and SEP. “Not specifically the exact town where it originated, but we know the carriers, and we know the transfer stations that it came from. We also know that the same transfer stations and the same companies that were taking Sandy material were also simultaneously delivering to Fenimore.”

DEP Denies Sandy Connection

State officials are downplaying any links, however.

“What happened at Fenimore was not connected to Sandy,” DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said in an email. “The contentions by some Roxbury residents about an ‘exponential increase’ in material [being trucked in] after Sandy is a false attempt to link the two.”

He acknowledged that debris accepted at Fenimore might “have contained some material that might have come from Sandy. But there was no such directive and no knowledge that Sandy materials came there in any substantive amount.”

Regardless of the source, environmentalists say it was a bad decision for the state to allow Fenimore to accept C&D screenings in the first place.

“Were they smoking crack when they thought you could bring in wallboard?” Tittel asked. “I mean, everybody knows that wallboard gives off hydrogen sulfide when it gets wet. And landfills – until they’re finally closed – will get wet. So why would you even allow that, knowing the impact that stuff would have potentially?”

Not Recyclable

To be clear, not everything can be recycled, and some scraps of gypsum wallboard that remain after building demolitions and natural disasters like Sandy do need to be disposed of somewhere. But Tittel says New Jersey should follow the lead of other states like New York in segregating construction and demolition debris from the waste stream and sending it only to landfills specially designed to accept it. After some odor complaints in 2004, New Hampshire similarly instituted a ban on the use of C&D screenings in municipal landfills. And Massachusetts now requires that recyclers remove as much gypsum as possible if C&D screenings are to be used to help close a landfill.

In New Jersey — on the other hand – all thirteen, currently operating, state-approved commercial sanitary landfills commingle construction and demolition waste with all the various other types of debris they accept.

“There’s plenty of gypsum board in New Jersey that’s landfilled every day,” said Ragonese, from the DEP. “If you do it in a proper fashion and you properly deal with your landfill and you properly put in the fill you’re supposed to every day, and deal with it as every legitimate landfill does, you don’t run into these problems.”

But Fenimore has had more than its share of problems, with critics charging the plan was flawed from the outset. In addition to the site lacking modern-day environmental safeguards, it’s also ringed by residential neighborhoods that were built much closer than they are at most other landfills. And the mountainous topography of the area may have worsened the situation, funneling fumes and runoff that might more easily dissipate in flatter terrains.

What’s more, an engineer hired by SEP testified that the C&D screenings were wet when they arrived at the site, so they were already starting to decompose, and Bernardi’s attorney claims state officials exacerbated the problems by refusing to allow SEP to spread the debris over a wider area and take other measures to eliminate the odor. He said he believes the DEP’s refusal to connect the Fenimore problems to Sandy is a politically motivated attempt to avoid taking any responsibility, and he framed SEP and Richard Bernardi as scapegoats.

Others say it’s hard to point the finger in any one direction.

“This is one of those situations where nobody comes out smelling like roses,” said the NRDC’s Eric Goldstein. “The way in which the facility was opened, the lack of environmental protections onsite, the failure to engage the public in key decision-making points . . . It’s really a case study of how to bungle a landfill closure, and unfortunately there’s enough blame to go around to both government agencies and the landfill operators.”

“Everybody blames the owner, SEP: Richard and Marilyn Bernardi,” said resident Shannon Caccavella. “But somebody had to allow them to get here. So do you start with the Highlands Council? Do you start with the NJDEP that allowed him to start dumping? Do you blame the township for allowing this to happen and not fighting harder? It’s really a viscous circle that you can go around, because the more you dig, the deeper that we start looking into it, the more names that keep popping up.” In response to health concerns and persistent odor complaints from residents, state lawmakers passed a bill in June of last year to seize control of the site and allow the DEP to begin remediation. Since that time, officials have installed a number of wells around the landfill to pump out the hydrogen sulfide gas, burn it off and filter it, and they’ve also put air monitors around the perimeter of the site. Later this month, the state plans to award a contract to a company to cap the 19 acre portion of the 65 acre site where the new debris was brought, with hopes to complete the project by the end of the year.

“We were going to have a solar project on an old landfill, clean up the landfill to proper, current standards and add a green component. And that was the plan for Fenimore,” said Ragonese. “That plan went wrong, and we all know that. We wish we didn’t go into business with Mr. Bernardi, and we wouldn’t do it today, but it happened, and it’s done. The goal was to do something good. In this case it didn’t work, but we’re making it better now.”

Indeed, residents say the air quality has improved and that the fumes aren’t as persistent or severe as they once were. But the issue remains contentious, with various lawsuits winding their way through the courts and a vocal citizens’ activist group continuing to call for the state to dig up the contaminated debris and truck it out of town.

Meanwhile, environmentalists think New Jersey would do well to heed what they see as the many lessons of this whole experience.

“We turned what could have been something positive — solar on a landfill — And we turned it into a toxic nightmare for a community. And the problem that I see is that DEP has not learned from their mistakes,” said Jeff Tittel.

Assuming there’s a Sandy connection as most people think there is, Eric Goldstein’s biggest takeaway is that New Jersey needs to engage in more leadership from the top and move beyond its home rule traditions, which delegate emergency debris removal plans and procedures primarily to counties and municipalities. He’s calling for the creation of a statewide disaster debris management plan as other places likeConnecticut have done.

“The objective ought to be to put in place a comprehensive road map so that officials know exactly where our wastes will go following the next disaster,” he said. “To line up the contractors, to identify the haulers, to identify the markets for materials so that the government agencies and towns and municipalities are not forced to scramble in the immediate, chaotic aftermath of the next giant storm that comes down the pike. That’s what wasn’t done before Sandy and it still is not really being done to a large degree, even as we speak.”

Back in Roxbury, residents continue to go about their daily lives, constantly aware of the potential dangers lurking in their community. Town officials are developing a mobile app so people can more easily check up-to-the minute air quality results from monitors around the landfill. The local elementary school also keeps a close eye on the readings to determine whether to let the kids out for recess.

“This is a very difficult situation for a fantastic township,” said Township Manager Christopher Raths. “We’re going to properly address this situation within the means that we have, and we will continue to push whatever agency it is to give us the proper reports and take the proper action to make sure that this facility is abated in the best interests of the health of our residents.”

In the meantime, until the problems at Fenimore are resolved, Shannon Caccavella says she feels trapped, with no way to escape.

“How do you walk away from your house?” she asked. “Nobody’s going to buy your house. People can’t sell their houses. The house is contaminated. So where do you go? What do you do? It’s a very sad situation.”


Hazmat spills on the rise in Ohio


James Pitcher

Ohio leads the country in hazardous material transportation accidents, according to a four-month Enquirer investigation. Indiana and Kentucky also are in the top 12 states for hazmat spills.

More than a quarter of Ohio’s overall incidents occurred in Greater Cincinnati. Our area experienced a hazmat spill every day on average in 2013.

The Enquirer analysis shows there have been about 5,550 hazardous waste incidents in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky over the last 10 years. After a significant dropoff caused by the shutdown of DHL’s hub in Wilmington and the recession, incidents have risen over the last three years, the data shows.

In the last decade, the local incidents include 169 major spills, 94 evacuations, 16 injuries and two fatalities.

Those numbers aren’t overwhelming, yet experts and first responders worry that the region is overdue for a major hazmat spill – one that could affect hundreds of people, if not more. And nobody’s doing much to prevent the next big mishap, here or nationally, the experts say.

“I hate to say it comes down to money, but … agencies only do what they absolutely need to do, and any future plans go out the window,” said Michael Rodgers, a Georgia Tech engineering professor who is deputy director of the school’s National Center for Transportation Systems, Productivity and Management.

More hazardous material being transported on the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure “is just a recipe for disaster,” said David Cassuto, an environmental law professor at Pace University in New York City. “It’s not a question of if it will happen, but when and how bad.”

“We are at our capacity on the highways and in many ways on the railroads as well,” said Richard R. Young, a professor of supply chain management for Penn State University-Harrisburg. “This has meant a perfect storm for potential accidents.”

Rising shipments by rail and truck of highly explosive crude oil pulled from shale oil fields are one example of how the rising risks of hazmat spills are spurring little action.

A train carrying shale oil exploded in Quebec last July, killing 47 and essentially leveling an entire town. In reaction to this and other train-related crude-oil incidents, the National Transportation Safety Board in January recommended the Federal Railroad Administration audit all shippers and railroads to “ensure they are properly classifying hazardous materials in transportation and that they have adequate safety and security plans in place.”

The NTSB has no enforcement power, though, and the rail administration has yet to order such a review.

“The regulatory environment has become primarily reactionary…. They only act after a disaster happens,” said Cassuto. “There is no real effort anymore to lower the risk as close to zero as possible.”

Truckers and railways aren’t even required to notify communities when dangerous materials are about to ship through a town. “People really don’t realize how much of this stuff actually is on our roads, and how dangerous it can be,” said University of Cincinnati environmental health professor Andrew Maier.

Keep in mind, nearly one in seven Americans, or more than 48 million people, live within 300 feet of a major highway, railroad or airport, so transport of hazardous materials potentially affects people not just where they travel but where they live.

The Enquirer analysis shows most of the local incidents involve relatively minor spills, and many are just fuel leaks from the gas tanks of semis during a regular accident. But serious incidents also climbed over the last three years nationally, statewide and regionally, according to the analysis of data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Kentucky has the second-highest number of air transit accidents; the state is home to the DHL hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the main UPS air hub in Louisville.

‘That’s not smoke … that’s a chemical’

One hot August day in late 2005, a Cincinnati police dispatcher drove through a white mist on her way to work in the East End, and immediately her eyes watered and her throat burned.

Calling 911, she was told that someone else had reported a rail tank car on fire.

“That’s not smoke,” Karen Bentley told The Enquirer shortly after the incident. “That’s a chemical.”

A massive scramble ensued, eventually resulting in hundreds of evacuations and millions of dollars in lawsuits. Hazmat teams contained the dangerous white plume after two days of worry that the 30,000-gallon tank car could explode under pressure. The car had been left on a siding over the summer unattended for more than five months, leading the styrene inside to heat and eventually to leak out.

Nine years later, the styrene train car leak stands as perhaps the most well-known hazmat release in the region over the last 40 years.

Train companies do provide a list of the top 20 or so dangerous chemicals that might come through on any given day to what is called a local emergency planning committee. But those lists are not made public due to security and anti-terrorism concerns.

Cincinnati Fire Department District Chief Thomas Lakamp, who oversees the city’s hazmat response team, said he currently doesn’t have the resources to manage specific information of every major hazmat shipment through the area.

“I would like some more advance warning, but I could in no way handle knowing every single shipment,” he said.

Why do Ohio, region have so many mishaps?

One reason that Ohio and Cincinnati see so many hazardous material shipments is because of the Ohio River. “There are only a few places where you can cross the river, and you throw Interstate 75 into the mix and you’ve got a huge potential disaster there,” said Rodgers, who lives part of the time in Terrace Park.

Ohio ranks eighth nationally when it comes to the number of highway miles, and Greater Cincinnati has long been viewed as a key location for logistics and distribution centers with the East Coast, South and Midwest easily reachable.

Ohio also has the third-highest number of railroad miles among U.S. states, and has the sixth-highest number of railroad companies operating within the state, including CSX.

Finally, the area is not only a rail and highway hub, but also a major air freight center. The regional hazmat figures include accidents at the now-defunct air hub in Wilmington and an international air freight hub at CVG currently operated by DHL.

Since DHL has resumed operations at CVG, the airport has seen its share of significant incidents, including several accidents involving injuries. Those were handled internally by DHL, according to airport officials. CVG officials declined to be interviewed but said in an email statement that they respond to every hazmat situation at the airport. They said they work with carriers to determine what needs to be done to control the leak or treat any injured. Most times, that means carriers such as DHL handle entire incidents internally.

DHL said it meets all road and air regulations and that the shipper is prepared to handle most spills.

The location with the second highest number of incidents includes parts of Springdale, Sharonville and West Chester. The area contains the intersection of I-75 and I-275 as well as a major train yard operated by Norfolk Southern.

Two crashes show potential for disaster

Two local fatal truck crashes show how things could have been worse had they occurred differently.

The first occurred on a rainy night in October 2007, when driver Charles Osborne lost control of his tractor-trailer carrying a full trailer-load of paint and paint thinner at the ramp from Interstate 471 to Third Street Downtown at about 2:30 a.m. The truck flipped over the embankment and fell 30 feet on its back, spilling its contents below. Osborne, 53, of Bagdad, Kentucky, was killed instantly.

Osborne’s family and former employers at Yellow Freight did not return messages or declined to comment.

While he wasn’t on the scene, Cincinnati Police Lt. Bruce Hoffbauer said that, had Osborne been carrying something even more toxic or had the accident happened during rush hour, the crash could have been even more costly.

“We have been lucky to date not to have a major incident,” said Hoffbauer, who oversees CPD’s traffic unit. “I’ll take luck though … We just plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Two years later, another truck crashed early in the morning, this one carrying nearly 11,000 gallons of gasoline. An SUV driven by Thomas Johnson ran a red light and crashed into the truck on Ohio 32 in Union Township at nearly 2 a.m. in September 2008, ejecting passenger Alexandria Dierker, 19. She later died due to her injuries. The gas-carrying semi flipped over, but somehow neither driver was seriously hurt, and the 80 gallons of gasoline that was spilled did not ignite, keeping the cargo safe.

Another of Johnson’s passengers, Lee James MacInnis, was also treated at the scene for a minor head injury. But MacInnis’ mother, Beverly Mills, says her son went into depression and exhibited erratic behavior following a head injury from the crash. MacInnis is now in prison at the Lebanon Correctional Institution, serving a seven-year term for aggravated robbery, according to state prison records.

“That accident caused a lot of issues for a lot of people,” Mills said.

Could more notice, different rules help?

Experts say that the federal government’s patchwork approach to hazmat regulation plays a part in slowing safety improvements. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sets hazmat transit regulations, but other agencies primarily enforce them.

“It certainly does not make it easier,” especially if the agencies do not interact well, said Penn State’s Young, who also has served as an executive with both a major chemical company and railroad.

Joe Delcambre, a spokesman for the hazardous material administration, acknowledged “there is always room for improvement when it comes to safety,” but he said the interagency arrangement “has worked well.”

Meanwhile, industrial production is expanding, and more of these chemicals are needed. That means shipments continue to grow while highway and rail capacity do not, said New Jersey-based hazmat transportation safety consultant Scott L. Turner.

“Sometime in the next month, somewhere in Ohio or maybe in Cincinnati, one of those shipments is going to tip over or derail.”


Germany Wants To Ban Fracking


Germany is seeking a ban on shale gas and oil drilling over the next seven years because of worries that the practice could pollute drinking water and damage the environment. Read full story.


Florida County Goes To Court Over ‘Acid Fracking’ Near Everglades



In southwest Florida, county officials are fighting the state over a new oil drilling process that’s known by many different names: acidification, acidizing, acid stimulation and acid fracking.

Collier County has charged that state regulators have been lax in their oversight of the drilling, jeopardizing public health and the environment.

Acid has long been used in oil drilling operations in Florida to dissolve and loosen the limestone bedrock. But a drilling operation near Naples, on the western edge of the Everglades, was something new. In December, Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Co. injected acid under pressure there — a process not used before in Florida.

Florida regulators asked the drilling company to suspend the operation while the state studied the process. The company refused.

“Within a matter of hours after we realized that the process was going forward, I issued a cease and desist order,” says Herschel Vinyard, secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Despite the cease and desist order, Vinyard says, the company continued the work anyway and completed its operation. Eventually, Florida and the driller signed a consent agreement, and the company agreed to pay a $25,000 fine and install groundwater monitors.

But in Collier County, where local officials, residents and environmental groups had already been raising concerns about the new drilling, the dispute between Hughes and the state remained secret. More than three months after the cease and desist order was issued, Collier County officials finally learned about it through a press release.

“One of the frustrations with the Board of County Commissioners is all of the information that we’ve been receiving has been through the media,” says Tim Nance, a Collier County commissioner.

A New World Of Drilling Methods

There have been oil wells in this area of Florida for more than 70 years. What has raised concerns now are the new technologies — horizontal drilling and advanced extraction techniques — and what risk they may pose to the area’s groundwater.

County commissioners asked state officials for a public meeting without success. Finally, Collier County went to court asking the state to revoke the oil driller’s permit. It’s similar to legal action to block fracking taken by local governments in other states like California, Colorado and New York. In Florida, Nance says the state needs to tighten regulation of drilling before the new oil boom goes any further.

“Frankly, I’m very, very concerned about how well sites in the future that are near residential properties are going to be managed — because that’s my No. 1 concern,” Nance says.

To try to allay the concerns of county officials and residents, Florida’s Department of Environmental Resources recently installed its own groundwater monitors and says preliminary results show no evidence of contamination.

Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, an environmental group, isn’t reassured. She says the state needs to install deeper monitors — below the aquifer where Florida draws most of its drinking water.

But Hecker says there’s a larger problem. Florida, she says, isn’t ready for the new oil drilling technologies.

“We have some very antiquated oil and gas [regulations] that were written long ago when these kinds of techniques didn’t really even exist or were used,” Hecker says.

Florida’s oil and gas regulations currently make no mention of acid stimulation, hydraulic fracturing or other new extraction technologies. Hughes says that’s why it believes its operations are allowed under Florida law.

Hecker says regulators and lawmakers need to take action before approving more drilling permits.

“This horizontal drilling, the use of all of these chemicals, the high-pressure injection of those chemicals — that’s a whole different process than what we have traditionally seen here in Collier County, so we need to update the laws and regulations,” Hecker says.

On this point at least, state regulators, local officials and environmental groups agree. Vinyard says he has asked his staff to develop recommendations on updating Florida’s oil and gas regulations.

Ohio Fracking Protest

Groups Demand Ohio Injection Well Be Closed


Concerned Citizens Ohio and CHEJ contend that the Kovach injection well in Shalersville Township, OH has improperly received wastes for years to be injected into rock formations underground. The groups are asking the U.S. EPA to issue an immediate order to stop further injection. and filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against an injection well in northern Portage County for allegedly accepting millions of gallons of drilling wastes improperly. Read more here.


Fracking study finds newer gas wells leak more


FILE – This July 27, 2011 file photo shows a farmhouse in the background framed by pipes connecting pumps where the hydraulic fracturing process in the Marcellus Shale layer to release natural gas was underway at a Range Resources site in Claysville, Pa. In Pennsylvania’s fracking boom, new and more unconventional wells leaked far more than older and traditional wells, according to a study of inspections of more than 41,000 wells drilled. And that means that that methane leaks could be a problem for drilling across the nation, said the author of the study, which funded in part by environmental activist groups and criticized by the energy industry. The study was published Monda

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new study says new unconventional wells leak far more than older and traditional wells in Pennsylvania’s fracking boom.

The study’s author at Cornell University says the results suggest that leaks of methane could be a problem for drilling across the nation.

The study was published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was paid for in part by an environmental activist group and criticized by the energy industry.

A team of four scientists analyzed more than 75,000 state inspections of gas wells done in Pennsylvania since 2000.

The study found that traditional wells drilled after 2009 had a leak rate of about 2 percent; the rate for wells drilled horizontally was about 6 percent.

EPA Head Open to the Idea of Fracking in Our National Park


The EPA’s current outgoing chairmen Chris Smith, created controversy this past week by humoring the idea that fracking should be done in our national parks claiming the environmental impact would be minimal if, “done properly”. Smith told the Guardian, “”Provided it is done carefully and properly regulated, those fears are definitely exaggerated,” he continued, “I don’t agree with that analysis because we aren’t yet ready to see 100% of our energy requirements being produced from renewables, Over the next 10-20 years we are going to have to use fossil fuels still and it’s much better to use gas than coal.”

Groups like Greenpeace have been accusing the US government of preparing to “auction off” national park lands that are on top of valuable shale fields.

“In an interview with the Guardian in April, Dame Helen Ghosh, director general of the National Trust, said the trust would not allow fracking on its land. When asked why not, she said: “’because we don’t believe anyone understands the environmental impacts. And because we as far as possible would want to avoid anything that encourages the continued use of fossil fuels.’”

Meanwhile elsewhere, a new research report by the International Society of Endocrinology  stating that a slew of chemicals used in fracking currently are potential even more harmful environmentally and health-wise.  The study showed that “chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing not only disrupt hormones of reproduction, but they also block the activity of thyroid and glucocorticoid hormone receptors.”

The study also showed that many of the chemicals used, are linked to other health issues such as birth defects, cancer and infertility. a PhD student at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Christopher  Kassotis stated in a press release, “The high levels of hormone disruption by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that we measured, have been associated with many poor health outcomes, such as infertility, cancer and birth defects.”

“We don’t know what the adverse health consequences might be in humans and animals exposed to these chemicals,” Kassotis said, “but infants and children would be most vulnerable because they are smaller, and infants lack the ability to break down these chemicals.”


Boom Meets Bust in Texas: Atop Sea of Oil, Poverty Digs In


GARDENDALE, Tex. — From the window of her tin-roofed trailer, Judy Vargas can glimpse a miraculous world. It is as close as the dust kicked up by the trucks barreling by but seems as distant as Mars.

As you walk out of her front yard — where the chewed-off leg of an animal, probably a feral hog caught by a prowling bobcat, rots outside — a towering natural gas flare peeks over the southerly view. Across the railroad tracks and Interstate 35, a newly reopened railroad interchange stores acres of pipe and receives shipments of sand from Wisconsin to be used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Next to the terminal is an expanding natural gas processing plant that lies in the heart of the Eagle Ford, a giant shale oil field that here in La Salle County alone produces more than $15 million worth of oil a day, or about one out of every 55 barrels produced in the United States.

This rural patch of thick mesquite in the brush country south of San Antonio had been known for something else. Five miles from here in Cotulla, Lyndon B. Johnson at the age of 20 saw hardship so searing that it would help inspire his war on poverty.

Now, it is the scene of one of the greatest oil booms the country has ever seen. But poverty endures in makeshift, barely governed communities called colonias, such as the one where Ms. Vargas shares her trailer with an ever-shifting assemblage of relatives.

Decades after Johnson took a teaching job here in 1928, the area, like the country, is a startling and incongruous mix of cascading wealth and crushing hardship. And though the boom has helped produce fortunes for some and comfortable lives for many, for others it exists within a rural landscape of unpaved streets without garbage pickup, where few dare to drink the tap water because it tastes and smells like chlorine.

Early one evening in May, Ms. Vargas, 28, cooked spaghetti for her three children and her grandmother. Ms. Vargas, a high school dropout, had just arrived home from her job as a restaurant cook. She and her grandmother, who works as a maid at a motel, make a total of roughly $1,500 a month, far below the federal poverty level of $2,325 for a family of five. Above their dining table, there was a portrait of the Last Supper and, tucked in a corner of the frame, a picture of Ms. Vargas’s uncle, unsmiling in a white uniform and one of at least three incarcerated relatives. The family ate and swatted at flies as trucks roared by.

It is a different kind of poverty than it was in 1928, this time surrounded by a buzz of industrial activity, not empty stretches of scrub grass. But it feels as entrenched as ever, reinforced by bad luck, bad choices, a lack of education and the isolation that allows the poor to remain invisible and adrift in lonely, distant orbits.

“It feels the same to us,” Ms. Vargas said of life amid the oil frenzy. “The money that they have, we didn’t have it before. And we don’t have it now.”

Gaps in Improvements

Early one morning, after putting on makeup underneath a copper-colored strip of flypaper that dangled from the bathroom ceiling, Ms. Vargas slid her youngest child, Isaac, 5, into the back seat of her car. Her shift at the restaurant, a steakhouse in Cotulla where she made $9 an hour, would start soon, and she first had to drop Isaac off with a relative while her two older children were at school.

As Ms. Vargas approached the railroad tracks, on one of Gardendale’s few paved roads, she slowed the car. A thick coating covered the street. “It’s sand,” she said as she drove over it, “but from where?”

Overnight, a truck carrying sand used for drilling wells had dumped some of its load.

The fracking sand — so powdery it seemed scooped from an exclusive beach — stretched for about 100 yards on roads outside homes and the Gardendale Qwik Stop, the colonia’s lone store. In 2012, federal health officials issued an alert about the health hazards workers faced from exposure to fracking-sand dust. Breathing so-called silica dust can cause silicosis, a lung disease.

No one was sure if the sand had been left by accident or on purpose, but people suspected that the driver of an overweight truck had lightened his load. They are unlikely to find out. Gardendale has no mayor, no police department, and only a handful of tilting signs and streetlights. It is often used as an illegal dumping ground.

An estimated 500,000 people live in about 2,300 colonias in Texas, along its 1,200-mile border with Mexico. Many colonias have benefited from infrastructure improvements in recent years. Others remain institutionalized shantytowns without basic services like water and sewers.

At least in part because of the oil economy, Gardendale is one of the better-off colonias. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found in a report to be released this year that 42 percent of the population of colonias in six Texas border counties — not including La Salle — lived below the poverty line, compared with 14.3 percent nationally. The median annual household income was $29,000. In La Salle County, other studies have shown that 39 percent of children live in poverty.

The boom has both given and taken away. School officials bought 1,300 iPads, one for every student in the district. And there are jobs — well paid in the oil fields for some, marginal in fast food joints and cheap motels for others.

But oil and gas have brought a new set of problems, including environmental concerns. During the peak ozone season in 2012, Eagle Ford operations in La Salle County daily emitted 12.8 tons of nitrogen oxides and 28 tons of volatile organic compounds — pollutants that produce smog and can cause health problems — according to a report prepared by the Alamo Area Council of Governments.

There have been 11 motor vehicle fatalities in La Salle County this year, up from two in 2007, which officials blame in part on a population boom and increased traffic from the oil and gas activity. Rents have skyrocketed. Newly hired teachers had such a hard time finding housing they could afford that the Cotulla school district opened its own trailer park for them.

Texas has reaped tremendous financial benefits from oil and gas. But the poor in the colonias seldom own the leasing rights for the natural resources that lie under the ground they live on. One-third of Texas’ $48 billion in tax revenue last year came directly or indirectly from the oil and gas industry, said Bernard Weinstein of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Portions of the revenues go into the state’s general fund as well as its so-called Rainy Day Fund, but very little of it is spent on social services and programs to assist the poor, although some helps finance public schools and universities.


La Salle County, Tex., is the site of an oil and gas boom, but studies have shown that 39 percent of children there live in poverty. CreditImage by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

So, despite the boom, Texas has some of the highest rates of poverty in the nation and ranks first in the percentage of residents without health insurance. Republican leaders have supported tapping the Rainy Day Fund for one-time investments in water and transportation infrastructure, but they have blocked attempts to use the fund for education and other services, arguing that it was designed to cover emergencies and not recurring expenses.

“Despite the bounty of the Eagle Ford, which is considerable and on the whole clearly positive, it is not a rising tide that lifts all boats,” said Ray Perryman, a leading Texas economist and author based in Waco. He noted that Texas had long had a philosophy of limited government and an aversion to spending on social services, an attitude intensified by the current political environment.

“Texas is not a good place to be poor, and there is little political appetite for change,” he said.

Surrounded by Activity

One day in May, Colt Ringer, 28, limped along near Ms. Vargas’s trailer wearing a dusty black cowboy hat and carrying a .22-caliber Magnum revolver and .45-caliber pistol in holsters at his hip. He was returning home empty-handed after hunting feral hogs, which he kills for sport and for food.

“All of us are poor, in our own way,” he said. “I don’t get nothing off these wells right out here, because I don’t own the land. That just goes to show the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rule.”

The people of Gardendale, first settled in 1908, are an isolated, eclectic lot. Some are poor, but others are lower middle class. Goats are kept in the front yard of one house; a Cadillac is parked at another.

In 1996, Ms. Vargas’s grandmother, Ernestina Salinas, 68, paid just $300 for the lot they live on. Using $1,000 she made picking fruits and vegetables in Minnesota, she bought a run-down trailer that lacked running water and electricity. In 1998, a flood destroyed the trailer, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided her with a more modern one that she has frequently renovated.

At one point recently, 10 relatives were living in the trailer. Ms. Vargas and her three children slept on one king-size bed. Ms. Salinas, who has heart problems and diabetes, slept with a cross over her bed in a room awash with the fragrance of incense.

Lately, the family has been living on about $250 a week. Ms. Salinas receives an additional $500 monthly in Social Security benefits, but over all those inside the trailer rely very little on public assistance. Medicare pays most of the cost of Ms. Salinas’s drugs, but with co-payments she pays roughly $40 a month for medicine. Ms. Vargas said she had no health insurance, and pays for most of her medical bills out of pocket. They rarely follow the news, but in a state hostile to President Obama’s health care law, they do not understand the law and get the impression it is a shambles. No one in the family has applied for health care subsidies.

There is disagreement among officials, oil company executives and economists over why poverty persists amid the boom in the Eagle Ford counties.

“The oil companies come by for Thanksgiving with turkeys, or they may have a function to have pictures taken to show the world they are socially responsible and then you’ll never see them again,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

But Mr. Rodriguez and others were skeptical of those who were unemployed in a region teeming with jobs and new businesses.

“The fact is we are handing out big checks to people, and we are still short on people who want to work,” said Chris Faulkner, chief executive of Breitling Energy, an oil company that operates in La Salle County. “I would think that if I was living in one of these colonias, I would be running for the opportunity to say, ‘This is my big chance, and I am going to jump on it,’ but they are not doing that.”

But at the trailer, there was much more focus on getting through the days than on getting ahead.

Late last year, Ms. Salinas returned from working the fields in Minnesota to find that squatters and scrap metal thieves had broken into the trailer. They stripped off the trailer’s electrical wiring, stole the water heater and left behind food and dirty dishes. Ms. Vargas, who has lived in the trailer off and on since she was 10 or 11, returned to Gardendale from Dallas with her children and her common-law husband, worried about Ms. Salinas’s safety.

Life, it seems, is lived one step ahead of disaster. One day, sheriff’s deputies came to the trailer after a dispute that began when the girlfriend of Ms. Vargas’s cousin left a 10-month-old baby by the side of the road in front of the trailer.

ome days, Ms. Vargas appreciates the colonia’s quirky isolation. Other times, in a trailer held up on the dirt by concrete slabs, next to the pile of ashes where they burn garbage because no one picks it up, ordinary life seems extraordinarily hard. By June, the temperature was already above 100 as she drove through town. She rolled down all four windows — the air conditioner was busted — and dust from the 18-wheelers filled the car like cigarette smoke, coating the Bible she kept inside.

A Hard but Satisfying Life

In early June, Ms. Vargas was at the kitchen table opening a box of cake mix. Her husband, Erick Olivares, 28, lit the charcoals in the rusty barbecue grill outside. The children splashed in a plastic pool. They were having a cookout. Mr. Olivares had been released from jail several days earlier. The crosses he had made for her and the children in jail hung from strings around the trailer.

Ms. Vargas laughed more, smiled more than she had in weeks. “I am very happy,” she said as she cracked the eggs for the strawberry cake. “Why wouldn’t I be? My life is complete.”

Mr. Olivares had spent six weeks in jail on charges of marijuana possession. He was optimistic about finding a job, but had not yet done so. He was reluctant about working in the oil fields. “It crossed my mind,” he said. “It pays good, but I don’t want to lose my arms or hands for that kind of money.” Later, he gave another reason: “When you’re a convicted felon, they ain’t going to hire me.”

Ms. Vargas quit her job at the steakhouse and returned to a place she had worked before — the motel where her grandmother is a maid. She cleaned rooms and pressed shirts for $9 an hour, and got a second job as a waitress at another restaurant in Cotulla, earning $5 an hour, plus tips. Some days she worked at both jobs.

But the family was falling behind financially. It cost more than $2,400 to bail Mr. Olivares out of jail. Ms. Vargas had paid $820 but still owed the rest. When Ms. Salinas had hired a neighbor to rip out the cracked particleboard floor in the trailer and put in faux-wood flooring, one of Ms. Vargas’s children had thrown the man’s car key into a smoldering fire they had made outside to burn some trash. Ms. Vargas owed the man $300 for a new key and the cost of a tow. Her cellphone service was cut off when she failed to pay the bill.

Ms. Vargas dreams her children will have a better life. “I wouldn’t want my kid to be in no motel and no restaurant, getting paid minimum wage,” she said.

One Wednesday evening, Ms. Vargas drove her children and her grandmother to the Living Faith Family Worship Church in Cotulla, which she had recently begun attending.

One of the ushers was a recovering drug addict. The pastor, Mark Linares, runs a barbecue stand outside his house. Ms. Vargas and her family walked in late, as Mr. Linares asked the audience to pray for a truck driver whose daughter-in-law was in a coma.

Everyone filed out of the red brick building, where there is a plaque by the front doors. Ms. Vargas and Ms. Salinas did not notice it. This was the old schoolhouse where President Johnson first saw extreme poverty in 1928. During the collection, the worshipers had passed around a basket. Ms. Vargas contributes when she can. This evening she had nothing to put in.


Doctors Fail To Counsel Pregnant Women On Toxic Chemical Risks


Huffington Post

When Penelope Jagessar Chaffer became pregnant, her obstetrician warned her to avoid alcohol, cigarettes and mercury-laden tuna. Dangers posed to her unborn child by industrial chemicals such as flame retardants, pesticides and plastics, however, never came up.

“No one told me anything about any of this stuff,” said Jagessar Chaffer, 44, a documentary filmmaker and children’s environmental health advocate. She said it was the same story with all of her pregnancies. “I wasn’t being empowered.”

As Jagessar Chaffer taught herself while carrying her first child, dozens of environmental chemicals can course through a pregnant woman’s body, cross the umbilical cord and wreck havoc on a developing fetus. Birth defects, IQ losses and childhood cancers are just some of the potential risks scientists have now tied to even low levels of exposure.

Despite these high stakes, Jagessar Chaffer’s prenatal care experience is more or less the norm, according to a national survey that gauged obstetricians’ stances on counseling pregnant patients about environmental health hazards.

“They said they’d rather not go there,” noted Dr. Naomi Stotland, an obstetrician at the University of California, San Francisco and lead author of the study published on Wednesday.

Among more than 2,500 doctors consulted for the survey, nearly all of them reported counseling patients on factors such as diet, exercise and cigarette smoking. However, only about 20 percent said they addressed environmental exposures. They pegged their hesitation to a number of factors, from the fear of overwhelming patients with anxiety-inducing worries to limited appointment time to a lack of environmental health education.

Just one in 15 doctors said they had received training on the harmful reproductive effects of toxic chemicals.

“Medical school and residencies tend to frame their curriculum around the boards and required licensing exams,” said Stotland. “This material is not yet on those tests.”

The result, according to the study authors and other environmental health experts and advocates, is a serious missed opportunity.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) issued a statement in October that underscored mounting evidence of “significant and long-lasting effects” caused by industrial chemicals, and emphasized doctors’ role in protecting pregnant women.

ACOG president Dr. John Jennings told The Huffington Post it is “extremely important” to incorporate knowledge of toxic chemicals into the curricula of medical school, residencies and continuing education.

“Reproductive care providers can be effective in preventing prenatal exposure to environmental threats to health because they are uniquely poised to intervene before and during pregnancy, which is a critical window of human development,” the groups stated in their opinion.

Sonya Lunder, senior analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, noted that pregnancy can also be a window of increased exposures. “Being pregnant is a time when people are more likely to be moving or remodeling,” said Lunder, citing often overlooked concerns such as volatile organic compounds in the paint that expecting parents might apply inside a new nursery.

“Doctors feel there are not clear messages they can give to patients. But I think there are,” said Lunder. “While there is uncertainty in some relationships [between chemicals and health problems], there are a lot of associations that have been borne out.”

The heavy metal lead is perhaps the most notorious environmental neurotoxin. Despite being banned from gasoline and residential paint, it still lingers widely — especially in dust from deteriorating paint. (This can pose a particular hazard during remodeling if lead paint is not removed properly.) More recently, synthetic chemicals that mimic human hormones have come under intense scrutiny. Although still hotly debated, most studies of bisphenol A, for example, find that the chemical, commonly found in plastics, may disrupt natural hormone messengersresponsible for critical processes such as metabolism, growth and reproduction.

The chemical industry, however, suggests providers are already doing plenty for their pregnant patients. And they point to the new study as further support of their position.

“These results confirm that OB/GYNs believe it is unnecessary and counter-productive to alarm their patients about everyday environmental exposures to chemicals that expert scientists at government regulatory agencies have approved for daily use,” Anne Kolton, a spokeswoman with the American Chemistry Council, told HuffPost in an emailed statement. “Creating confusion and alarm among expectant mothers will distract from the well-established steps doctors recommend to support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.”

Importantly, the majority of doctors surveyed in the study did actually agree that counseling patients on environmental threats could reduce exposures, and could be vital to a healthy pregnancy, even if they felt ill-equipped to do so themselves. Only 14 percent of all OB/GYNs contacted for the survey responded, however, which suggests those participating may have been biased in their concern around the issue.

Stotland, the study author, allowed that for some patients, addressing basic issues such as diet may indeed be most critical. One participant in her survey suggested obstetricians often had “bigger fish to fry,” such as women who “eat at Popeye’s four times a week.”

“I can relate to that struggle,” said Stotland, who serves low-income populations. “Many patients are burdened with a lot of challenges. How many things can you throw at her at once?”

Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatric environmental health expert at Seattle Children’s Hospital, proposed tailoring information on a patient-by-patient basis. A family’s income may determine whether or not replacing furniture filled with flame retardant is a realistic option — and therefore worth addressing in a doctor’s office — while a family’s geographical location might point to local hazards such as agricultural pesticides or highway exhaust.

“Different people have different sources of exposure,” said Sathyanarayana, who authored a 2012 paper with suggestions for doctors counseling pre-conception and prenatal patients on environmental exposures.

Still, experts highlight some general steps any woman can take to avoid contaminants, even if she can’t afford organic food or change her workplace.

The University of California, San Francisco now offers a free handout, available online in both English and Spanish, that encourages pregnant women to take off their shoes before going inside, use natural cleaners such as vinegar and microwave food in glass rather than plastic, among other strategies.

The Environmental Working Group provides a free pregnancy guide that covers several toxin-avoiding steps, including cutting out nonessential personal care products and making seafood choices that maximize healthy omega-3 fatty acids while minimizing mercury exposure.

On Wednesday, the group also published a critique of a new Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency joint advisory concerning fish consumption. The EWG warns that the guidance does not provide enough detail to steer pregnant women toward the safest and most nutritious seafood options, such as salmon. Pregnant women who follow the government’s dietary recommendation of two to three servings of fish a week could consume an excess of toxic mercury, for example.

Advocates also suggest a need for stronger federal regulation of chemicals in commerce.

Doctor groups, including ACOG, are joining the push to reform the outdated Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. While drug companies must perform rigorous tests of their products before marketing them to the public, chemicals in consumer products such as food containers and raincoats need little or no proof of safety before they land on store shelves. The EPA has required toxicity testing of around 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals permitted for use in the U.S.

“The government should have the power to require manufacturers to test chemicals before they go on the marketplace,” said Tracey Woodruff, an author on the new paper and director of the University of California, San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment. “Having doctors partner in this is extremely powerful.”

Meanwhile, after-the-fact research on many chemicals continues to hint at health hazards. New studies just in the last month warn of potential links betweenpesticides and autism, as well as flame retardants and IQ deficits.

“Environmental toxins are everywhere. They are released by the thousands,” said Jennings. “We’re not sure what are toxins and what are benign chemicals … The best thing we can do right now is to take a precautionary approach.”

Since arming herself with information on environmental health, and continuing to raise two healthy children, Jagessar Chaffer now aims to empower others. She said she frequently fields questions from pregnant women and obstetricians, who see her as an expert due to her TED Talk and forthcoming documentary film, “Toxic Baby.”

“I meet a lot of women who carry a lot of guilt,” said Jagessar Chaffer. “Maybe their child is sick, or has cancer, and they’ll ask, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me about this when I was pregnant?’”