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Seeking millions to clean up PCBs from Duwamish

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“The city of Seattle is suing to make Monsanto pay for cleanup of toxic PCBs from the city’s drainage system and the Duwamish River.

Monsanto was the sole producer of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) for commercial use in the U.S. from 1935 to 1977, and continued to profit from their sale for years even as its officials knew the chemicals were polluting the environment, causing harm to people and wildlife, said Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.

“When the profit motive overtakes concern for the environment, this is the kind of disaster that happens,” Holmes said Tuesday. “I’m proud to hold Monsanto accountable.”

Seattle is the sixth major city in the West to seek cleanup damages from the company, joining San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, San Diego and Spokane, which Holmes said gave him the idea to file the federal lawsuit.

The amount of damages requested isn’t specified and would be determined in the course of the lawsuit, said Laura Wishik, section director for environmental protection in the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

Targeted is PCB contamination in 20,000 acres that drain to the Lower Duwamish, a federal Superfund site. Also at issue are areas that drain to the East Waterway, adjacent to Harbor Island, a separate Superfund site…”

Read more from the Seattle Times

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Flint Isn’t the Only Michigan Town That Should Be Worried About Lead

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“The contaminated water crisis wreaking havoc on Flint, Michigan, is easily one of the worst public health and environmental disasters in recent memory. It’s been the subject of widespread public outcry, calls for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s resignation, and a federal investigation.

But while Flint is clearly an extreme case, it is by no means alone in exposing its residents to dangerous levels of lead. Many other Michigan cities also show signs of elevated lead exposure in children—although in these cases, the problem doesn’t come from water but from exposure to lead paint in old houses.

Using information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Mike Wilkinson of Bridge magazine pieced together an interactive map that provides a startling picture of elevated lead levels across the state of Michigan as a whole. The map’s dark red splotches indicate places where 10 or more children have shown elevated levels of lead in their blood. The lighter red splotches indicate where fewer than 10 children tested had seriously elevated lead levels…”

Read more from City Lab

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Plastic now pollutes every corner of Earth

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“Humans have made enough plastic since the second world war to coat the Earth entirely in clingfilm, an international study has revealed. This ability to plaster the planet in plastic is alarming, say scientists – for it confirms that human activities are now having a pernicious impact on our world.

The research, published in the journal Anthropocene, shows that no part of the planet is free of the scourge of plastic waste. Everywhere is polluted with the remains of water containers, supermarket bags, polystyrene lumps, compact discs, cigarette filter tips, nylons and other plastics. Some are in the form of microscopic grains, others in lumps. The impact is often highly damaging.

“The results came as a real surprise,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, of Leicester University. “We were aware that humans have been making increasing amounts of different kinds of plastic – from Bakelite to polyethylene bags to PVC – over the last 70 years, but we had no idea how far it had travelled round the planet. It turns out not just to have floated across the oceans, but has sunk to the deepest parts of the sea floor. This is not a sign that our planet is in a healthy condition either.”

The crucial point about the study’s findings is that the appearance of plastic should now be considered as a marker for a new epoch. Zalasiewicz is the chairman of a group of geologists assessing whether or not humanity’s activities have tipped the planet into a new geological epoch, called the Anthropocene, which ended the Holocene that began around 12,000 years ago…”

Read more from the Guardian

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A Question of Environmental Racism in Flint

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The New York Times

Civil rights advocates say that the Michigan city’s health crisis smacks of the kind of discrimination that causes the disproportionate exposure of blacks to polluted air, water and soil. Read the full story

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ExxonMobil Beaumont, TX Polyethylene Plant Plant-wide Failure

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Emergency dispatchers Thursday received numerous calls about flaring at The ExxonMobil Beaumont, TX Refinery & Chemical complex. Just as I was leaving a meeting in Houston, TX to work with leaders about chemical refineries and oil/gas pipelines this horrible situation happened.

The flaring is the result of power outages in the area.  Beaumont Fire Rescue told 12News it was notified by ExxonMobil that its Beaumont facility had 8 flares going to help maintain safety levels because of the outages.

Plant officials had this to say, “This is ExxonMobil Beaumont Polyethylene Plant on Highway 90 an EXXONMOBIL Beaumont Refinery & Chemical Complex. We can confirm that a plant-wide power failure resulted in significant flaring. We can confirm that non-essential personnel have been dismissed per protocol and are actively engaged at the complex with the goal of returning to normal operations.”

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Did the EPA Fail to Protect a Black Community from Environmental Racism?

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“Over the last 14 years, a landfill has been consuming Ronald Smith’s hometown.

The aptly named Stone’s Throw Landfill is situated in the leafy countryside of Tallassee, Ala. Around 4:00 a.m. most mornings, a processional of trash-transporting semis thunder over old local bridges, down narrow rural roads and past Smith’s home. Vultures perch on his neighbors’ roofs and feral dogs trot by to get to the refuse on the other side. What was once a family-owned junkyard for a community of a few hundred has now become one of the largest landfills in the state, accepting everything from household rubbish to blocks of asbestos to even septic sewage.

“Every landfill in the state of Alabama is in a Black community or in an economically depressed community,” said Smith, a 63-year-old pastor who returned to the neighborhood, known as Ashurst Bar, to care for his mother and defend his family’s property. “The whole reason they’re there is because the communities can’t defend themselves. It’s the path of least resistance.”

In situations like these, neighborhoods look to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for help. In accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for guarding against discriminatory practices or outcomes among EPA funding recipients. But strangely enough out of 298 complaints filed across 22 years, the OCR has never made a finding of discrimination. In fact, more than half of the complaints never lead to investigations at all and were instead rejected for various reasons…”

Read more from Ebony

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Spotlight hits coal ash impact on poor and minority communities

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Too often toxic coal ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power, ends up in poor, minority communities. U.S. civil rights officials are launching a deeper look at federal environmental policy to find out why.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold a hearing next week on environmental justice and the Environmental Protection Agency. The focus is the impact of coal ash, a toxic waste product of burning coal that often contains harmful metals such as lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium.

Depending on exposure, such contaminants can cause cancer and harm most human organs, and kill or sicken wildlife. Coal ash is the second largest source of industrial waste in the country, after mining, according to a joint report from the nonprofit environment law organization, Earthjustice, and the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The Commission intends “to shine a light on the civil rights implications of toxic coal ash, as well as other environmental conditions, on communities most in need of protection,” said Commission Chairman Martin R. Castro in a statement.

Those planning to testify next Friday in Washington, D.C., at the hearing say minorities and poor people should no longer bear the burden of these dangerous pollutants.

Esther Calhoun of Uniontown, Alabama, and president of Black Belt Citizens for Health & Justice, knows coal ash pollution all too well. The Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown not only takes in the garbage from dozens of states, but also took in heaps of coal ash from the infamous ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008.

“People in Uniontown have all kinds of health problems that they didn’t have before,” Calhoun intends to tell the committee, in remarks shared with Environmental Health News. “I am only 51 years old and I have neuropathy.

Read more from Environmental Health News

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Watchdog group cites higher risk to minorities and poor

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From E&E News:

Sam Pearson, E&E reporter

Published: Monday, January 18, 2016

“Minorities and the poor are far more likely to live near the highest-risk chemical plants, a chemical safety watchdog group said in a new report.

The Center for Effective Government analyzed the demographics of people who live within a mile of the 12,545 facilities included in U.S. EPA’s chemical risk management program.

The agency requires the sites to file contingency plans because they handle high quantities of the most hazardous chemicals. The plants under scrutiny generally report safety incidents at twice the rate of facilities in predominantly white neighborhoods.

The group released the report over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to draw attention to the siting of chemical plants as an underappreciated social justice issue.

“Our nation’s chemical policies are failing to protect our most vulnerable populations,” Ronald White, director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government, said in a statement. “These include children and the elderly, who are the most susceptible to chemical hazards and among the least able to evacuate should a disastrous release occur.”

The group found that minorities and people living in poverty are far more likely to live near high-hazard sites compared with whites or people who earn incomes that put them above the poverty line.

More than a quarter of children who live near these sites are younger than 5, putting them at higher risk of harm from an accidental chemical release, the report found.

The latest document expands on previous findings from crunching EPA data and other demographic records. The group has previously found that millions of children go to school near higher-risk facilities (Greenwire, Sept. 30, 2014).

The group, pointing to its research, said EPA must require chemical facilities to use safer ingredients and processes whenever possible.

It also demanded that the agency pay more attention to environmental justice issues by requiring new reviews and mitigation plans tied to how chemical facilities affect surrounding neighborhoods.

Governments could also put zoning laws in place to prevent new or expanded high-risk chemical facilities near homes and schools, and keep new homes and schools away from areas where facilities are already present, the group said.

Regulators should also conduct continuous monitoring of emissions at the sites and subject them to enhanced workplace safety and environmental laws, the report said.

New policies have been top priorities of chemical safety groups for years but have received little traction among EPA leaders. The chemical industry opposes them as overly burdensome.

Safety advocates say EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told them last year that the agency would not pursue a proposal to require plants to use safer chemicals and processes, citing the complexity of such rulemaking (E&ENews PM, Nov. 6, 2015). EPA later declined to confirm the comments because the meeting was private.”

Twitter: @samrpearson Email: spearson@eenews.net

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How tap water became toxic in Flint, Michigan

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During a state of financial crisis, Flint, Michigan switched their drinking water source from Lake Huron to the filthy Flint River. What’s in the water is now poisoning citizens.

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Va. board OKs permits for dewatering Va. Power’s coal ash ponds

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Dominion Virginia Power will now be dumping waste from coal ash ponds into the James and Potomac rivers, following state approval on Thursday.

Read more at The Richmond-Times Dispatch.