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birmingham AL

Families Expose to Toxic Chemicals Lives’ Matter

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I am so frustrated and cannot understand how to win equal protection of health for all people.  I’ve been doing this work for over thirty years and observed that unlike food contamination or infectious disease, where health agencies move at the speed of light to keep people safe, when the source is toxic chemicals from a corporation, people are sacrificed.  I’m looking for ideas from those who read this blog.  Just recently we saw the call to action to protect public health  around the cilantro scare.

This week I received requests for help from local leaders CHEJ is working with that related to health studies and public health impacts from chemicals in their environment.

One study around hydro fracking, researchers found that pregnant women living near clusters of fracked wells were more likely to have babies with lower birth weights.  The second study found higher rates of hospitalization for heart conditions, neurological illness, and other conditions among people who live near fracking sites.

Those studies were not enough to stop fracking in the communities. In fact, health authorities said they believe it may not be the fracking at all – it could just be a random clustering of medical problems.

The third study was around a low wealth African American community in Birmingham, Alabama. Adjacent to the community is Walter Coke Facility that manufactures coke, toluene sulfonyl acid, produces pig iron from iron ore and more.

The Federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted a study to determine the health risk to community families based upon exposures to arsenic, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in residential surface soil and homegrown garden produce in the communities collected from November 2012 through January 2015.

ATSDR concluded that:

  • past and current exposure to arsenic found in surface soil of some residential yards could harm people’s health. Children are especially at risk.
  • past and current exposure to lead found in surface soil of some residential yards could harm people’s health. Swallowing this lead‐contaminated soil could cause harmful health effects, especially in children and in the developing fetus of pregnant women.
  • long‐term exposure (i.e., many years) to PAHs found in the surface soil of some residential yards is at a level of concern for lifetime cancer risk.

The agency’s recommendation was for parents to:

  • monitor their children’s behavior while playing outdoors and prevent their children from intentionally or inadvertently eating soil;
  • take measures to reduce exposures to residential soil and to protect themselves, their families, and visitors;
  • have their children tested for blood lead; and
  • for EPA to continue testing for arsenic and lead in the soil and continue with its plans to cleanup additional properties (patch quilt of clean up not community wide as though the wind won’t carry toxic dust from one yard to another) to reduce levels in residential surface soil.

There was no mention of what the polluter should do. No mention of relocating families from the area to safe housing somewhere else. There was no mention of health monitoring or a clinic for people, especially children who are exposed and sick.

What level of human tragedy, suffering and loss of life will it take to stop the poisoning of American people from toxic chemicals?  The ethics behind the two responses of food/infectious disease versus chemical threats to public health is unethical.  Families being exposed to toxic chemicals matter just as much as everyone else. It’s time our health agencies stopped treating them as sacrificial families to protect corporate profits.

Missouri Mothers Ask For Relief this Mother’s Day

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Community moms with sick children traveled from Bridgeton, MO to Washington D.C. to demand action from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Philanthropist Bill Gates – to use their power to save innocent families living adjacent to Republic Service’s Superfund landfill in St. Louis, MO that is burning out-of-control and contains radioactive wastes from the Manhattan Project.


Republic’s landfill has been burning due to an underground fire that has been spewing toxins for years – leaving nearby families physically harmed and financially trapped. The state of Missouri found that the community has a childhood cancer cluster, a high number of rare appendix cancers, and many other diseases which local families believe are directly related to the fire and radioactive wastes.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to protect and move families under the Superfund program. Bill Gates has the power to protect and move families using his voting power as the dominant shareholder of Republic Services. Donald Slager, Republic Services CEO, is the owner of the site has a moral responsibility.


“It is outrageous that EPA Administrator McCarthy is allowing this poisoning of American families to continue.  McCarthy has mismanaged this site for years. Additionally, she relocated (or “transferred” –  what the EPA does instead of firing) everyone – including EPA’s regional administrator Karl Brooks – while innocent people are trapped living in fear. The state of Missouri admitted that the fire will never be put out and it will be more than two years before the first shovel of dirt is moved to build a barrier wall between the fire and radioactive waste. This is unacceptable. EPA has the authority to move families away from the danger through Superfund. McCarthy must use her authority to protect innocent American families,” said Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.


“My child is suffering with an autoimmune disease called alopecia and from asthma. Besides that, our community has a childhood cancer cluster – so I go to bed at night worried that my son will also develop cancer. I think if Administrator Gina McCarthy heard our story, she’d agree to move our families now,” said Meagan Beckermann, a resident and member of the community group Just Moms STL.


Dawn Chapman, another mom and Just Moms STL member who flew to DC from St. Louis, hoping for a meeting with McCarthy, said, “We are living next to an out-of-control burning Superfund site that just had a 500% increase in sulfur emissions over the past year alone.”


“Property values are declining in communities surrounding the site. We are imprisoned in our homes that we cannot morally sell with good conscience,” said Karen Nickel, another member of Just Moms STL.


A group representing Just Moms STL marched to EPA headquarters today to deliver a letter to Administrator McCarthy and hand out flyers asking those passing by to contact the Administrator’s office and urge her to meet with the victims of the out-of-control fire and radioactive dumpsite.


The group of protesters then marched to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in D.C. to deliver over 1,500 signatures on a petition to ask Bill Gates to use his voice and power as the dominant shareholder in Republic Services to ask the corporation to stop the suffering, and to purchase the homes of victims who need to be moved away from the toxic landfill.

Photos are available at:   http://chej.org/gallery/stl_justmoms/

Photo credit CHEJ



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Trevor vs. Republic Services 2015

Gina McCarthy Where Are You?

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In my 35 years of working in the field, beginning with Love Canal, I have never seen such irresponsible behavior by EPA headquarters. Yes, there has been many cases where EPA did not act responsibly but this is by far the worst.

In St. Louis, Missouri waste from the Manhattan Project has sat throughout the community for more than 20 years. The West Lake Superfund site contains tons of this highly radioactive wastes. Over 20 years not much has been done about cleaning up the wastes, except studies.

Today, the landfill adjoining the Manhattan waste site is burning and the fire is moving toward the radioactive wastes. What will happen when the fire and radioactive wastes meet? No one knows.

That however, if the background of the situation. In the fore ground is USEPA’s mismanagement of the sites. Everyone right up to the regional administrator has been “transferred.”  Transfers is what government does instead of firing people.

In a recent meeting with local community leaders, EPA staff from headquarters and the region EPA refused to talk about the fire moving toward the radioactive wastes. EPA staff also refused to even consider the relocation of families downwind of the smoke that often bellow’s from the site. EPA staff was like those silly dolls where you pull the string and they say the same things over and over again.

This mismanagement of the site and situation is a direct result of incompetency and has created an even larger problem. It will be two years before the new cleanup plan and barrier will be defined and then it must go through public comments. Not a shovel will be moving around the site for two plus years.

Why is this important? Because toxic smoke rises from the site and into the neighborhood especially Spanish Village on a regular basis. No one can put the uncontrolled fire out.  That is what the state and federal government is saying. The fire will burn for years to come.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is only willing to transfer inept staff and won’t take a single step to assist the community. Today she is refusing to meet with local leaders who will travel to Washington, D.C. next week after raising travel costs from bake sales. They want to tell their story and plead for help. Their children are sick and their families are trapped.

Throughout my years of work in CHEJ I’ve been disappointed and frustrated by EPA but never have I been told that the community leaders will never get a meeting with the Administrator.  Never get this and never get that.  “We (staff below her level of authority) make the decisions not McCarthy.”  So according to these people who work under Gina they have the final say. I wonder if she knows that. So according to them there is nowhere to appeal the lower staff decisions.

Its past time for Gina McCarthy gets her Superfund program and staff in order.  If I as CHEJ’s Director received negative comments about my staff I would certainly talk to those who are unhappy about staff’s behavior and performance not just get rid of bad apples.

Trevor nightly breathing treatment

St. Louis burning: Atomic Legacy Haunts City

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by Ryan Schuessler @RyanSchuessler1 April 29, 2015 5:00AM ET

Karen Nickel had never even heard of lupus before she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease six years ago. Today she says she takes as many as 18 pills a day — “and that’s just to make me feel OK.”

Read part one of three part series.

circle children

The Circle of Poverty and Poison

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This past month I’ve spent time with several grassroots organizations fighting to protect their families from environmental chemical threats. In each case I was reminded of how impossible it is for parents, with dreams of a bright successful future for their children, to achieve their goals while living in the circle of poison and poverty.

Many parents in low wealth communities, tell the story of how they work hard to support their children in school. Moms and dads make sure their homework is done, provide the healthiest breakfast and lunch they can afford and attend as many meeting and events that time allows. They want their children to succeed in school, to learn the skills needed to later secure a job that will bring them a better life.

Yet, no matter how hard parents try they often can’t stop the environmental poisons in the air, water or land. As the children leave for school the toxic air triggers an asthma attack. A parent must lose a day of work, daily earnings, and take the child to the hospital or care for the child at home. When a child is exposed to other environmental chemicals, or maybe even the same ones that cause the asthma, they can suffer from various forms of central nervous system irritants that cause hyperactive behaviors, loss of IQ point or a host of other problems that interfere with learning potential.

The end result is the child becomes frustrated because s/he can’t keep up with what is required at school because of being sick or unable to focus and often drops out of school. That child and the parent’s dreams disappear. A healthy baby, poisoned for years from environmental chemicals, life is forever altered. Often unable to earn enough money to ever leave the poisoned community, possibly even raising their own families in that same neighborhood, continues another generation within the circle of poverty and poison.

America’s environmental protection agencies are responsible for a healthy environment. As we all know the agencies fail often and even more frequently in low wealth communities. In my conversations with leaders in such areas I hear over and over again, parents saying we had so much hope for our child but the chemicals destroyed that hope. Our family can’t afford to move and our children can’t succeed if we stay and they are poisoned. What are families supposed to do?  I can’t answer that question, except to say keep speaking up and out. Can you answer parent’s cries for a solution?

school bus

Oregon schoolchildren inhale cancer-causing fumes on buses as state plods towards fix

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Almost half of Oregon’s school buses spew unhealthy amounts of diesel fumes into the air, exposing tens of thousands of children to cancer-causing exhaust every day.

An Oregonian/OregonLive review of state data found that 3,300 of the state’s 5,800 school buses were built before 2007 when federal rules for emissions tightened.

The state has equipped just 600 of those with tailpipe filters that eliminate most pollution.

“From a policy standpoint, it boils down to economics — as much as I don’t like it,” said Michael Wiltfong, the Oregon Department of Education’s transportation director. “Choosing between a teacher and a bus, the bus is often the one that’s postponed.”

Read more at The Oregonian

Children have higher exposures to some phthalates, which are found in some PVC plastics and personal care products.

Good news/bad news: Some phthalates down, some up

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By Lindsey Konkel
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

January 15, 2014


Children have higher exposures to some phthalates, which are found in some PVC plastics and personal care products.


Scientists have documented for the first time that several phthalates – controversial chemicals used to make vinyl and fragrances – are declining in people while several others are rising. The study, published today, is the first comprehensive, nationwide attempt to document trends in exposure to these widely used chemicals over the past decade.

Anne Petersen/flickr
Most nail polish no longer contains the phthalate called DBP.

The researchers said the results suggest that manufacturers may be reformulating products in the wake of a federal regulation and environmental groups’ campaigns.

Three compounds banned in U.S. toys and other children’s products in 2008 have declined. But since other phthalates are increasing, it’s possible that industries have substituted them in some products.

“Our findings suggest that interventions may be working, though legislation didn’t entirely predict which levels went up or down,” said Ami Zota, a George Washington University assistant professor of environmental and occupational health who led the research when she was at the University of California, San Francisco.

Phthalates have been linked to a variety of health effects in animal tests and some human studies, including hormone disruptionaltered male genital development,diabetesasthmaattention disorders, learning disabilities and obesity.

Chemical industry representatives said that the traces found in most products are small, and not likely to cause harm.

“Despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure is extremely low – much lower than the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies,” said Liz Bowman, a spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers of phthalates and other chemicals.

The researchers analyzed the urine of more than 11,000 American adults and children between 2001 and 2010. They discovered that people are still widely exposed to phthalates; some were found in 98 percent of people tested.

Breakdown products of three phthalates that Congress banned from toys and other children’s products were significantly lower in 2010 than in 2001. One of the compounds, known as DEHP, found in some toys, blood bags and medical tubing, decreased 37 percent.

“Despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure is extremely low – much lower than the levels considered safe by regulatory agencies.” –Liz Bowman, American Chemistry CouncilWhile DEHP remained higher in children than adults, the levels dropped faster in children, narrowing the gap over time, according to the study, which was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study did not look at children under 6, who may be more highly exposed to phthalates and more susceptible to adverse health effects.

“Today phthalate usage is virtually nonexistent in toys. They have been replaced by non-phthalate substitutes,” said Alan Kaufman, senior vice president of technical affairs for the Toy Industry Association. He added that the toy industry began to transition away from phthalates years ago, but that the trend has been accelerated by regulatory actions in the U.S. and European Union.

However, three other phthalates used in some children’s products increased between 2001 and 2010. DiNP rose 149 percent, while DnOP increased 25 percent and DiDP rose 15 percent. The three were temporarily banned in 2008 in U.S. toys and childcare products that could be put in a child’s mouth. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently debating whether to lift the restrictions or make them permanent.

In addition, last month, California added DiNP to a list of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer. That could lead to warning labels on consumer products sold in the state.

Diueine Monteiro/flickr
Phthalates are used as fragrances in some shampoos and lotions.

DBP, which dropped 17 percent in people in the decade studied, was used in nail polish until a few years ago, when most major manufacturers eliminated it. Benzylbutyl phthalate, used in vinyl tiles and sealants, decreased 32 percent. Both compounds were part of the 2008 ban for children’s products.

A phthalate used primarily for fragrance – diethyl phthalate or DEP – decreased 42 percent. While it is not subject to U.S. bans, advocacy groups have pressured the cosmetics industry to remove it from products with initiatives such as the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

The study authors saw a steeper decline in DEP in adults and adolescents than in children, who may be less likely to use personal care products.

Joe Braun, an epidemiologist at Brown University who was not involved in the study, said “the age-dependent patterns confirm what we suspect about where these exposures are coming from.”

“These findings are not as reassuring as they could be,” Braun added.

For instance, DiBP, used in some nail polishes and personal care products, increased 206 percent in the decade studied.

Manufacturers may be using some phthalates as substitutes for the ones that declined, the researchers said. But it’s hard to know because they aren’t required to list ingredients on many consumer products.

“We are not confident that cosmetics manufacturers are replacing toxic phthalates with safer alternatives,” said Janet Nudelman, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

The Personal Care Products Council, a Washington D.C.-based trade group, did not respond to requests for comment on the findings.

“There’s a clear need for better data reporting on ingredient composition of everyday consumer products so that we can fully understand the impacts of legislation and consumer pressure,” said Zota, who co-authored the study with UC San Francisco Professor Tracey Woodruff and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist Antonia Calafat.

Source: Zota et al. 2014

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Stop Poisoning The Children

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When will we stop poisoning our children?  What is a child’s life worth? I can’t help but ask those questions today as I click through my e-mail box and see the story on fracking related health effects, around birth defects and infertility and another on cancer, respiratory disease and more. As I scroll down there’s a new story by the Center for Public Integrity focused on a study finding childhood leukemia related to the petrochemical industry.

“Children, developing fetuses, they’re especially vulnerable to environmental factors,” says Ellen Webb, the study’s lead author and an energy program associate at the Center for Environmental Health. “We really need to be concerned about the impacts for these future generations.”

The Center for Public Integrity story is almost a mirror image of the story about Woburn,  Massachusetts. Parents in that community in the late 1970’s discovered a cluster of childhood leukemia while taking their children into the hospital for treatment. For those who are familiar with the Woburn story just read the paragraphs below for the article and see the similarities.

“It was December 29, 1998, six years after Jill McElheney and her family had moved next to a cluster of 12 petroleum storage tanks. Jill was escorting her son Jarrett, then 4, to the doctor again. He had spent the day slumped in a stroller, looking so pale and fatigued that a stranger stopped her to ask if he was all right.

It was an encounter Jill couldn’t shake. For the previous three months, she had noticed her once-energetic preschooler deteriorating. He complained of pain in his knee, which grew excruciating. It migrated to his shoulder and then his leg. His shins swelled, as did his temples. At night, Jarrett awoke drenched in sweat, screaming from spasms. Jill took him to a pediatrician and an infectious-disease specialist. A rheumatologist diagnosed him with anemia.

Doctors identified a common form of childhood leukemia. “I heard the words,” Jill recalled, “and I only knew the bald heads and the sadness.”

In the waiting room, family members heard more unsettling news: A neighbor’s child also had developed leukemia.

Days later, Jarrett’s doctor penned a letter to federal environmental regulators about the two cancer patients, highlighting their “close proximity” to Southeast Terminals, a group of 10,000-gallon tanks containing gasoline, diesel and fuel oil.

“Could you please investigate,” the doctor wrote, “whether high levels of chemicals could have contaminated the water, possibly contributing … to the development of leukemia?”

I can remember like it was yesterday, talking with mothers from Woburn literally telling the same story. Why are corporations allowed, now over thirty five years later, to continue to poison our children? These children have parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, names and personalities. They are not just numbers in a report or statistics in someone’s research they are little people and are helpless. It is well past time to stop this madness and protect the most vulnerable among us. Enough is enough our children matter.

EPA Children's Health Month October 2011 logo

Pediatricians’ Perspective: Ensuring Clean Air, Protecting Children’s Health

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By Jerome Paulson, MD, FAAP, and Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP

When we recognize October as Children’s Health Month, bringing awareness to children’s unique health needs, it can be easy to overlook one variable that impacts each one of us every day, especially the health of our children—changes in our environment.

The health effects of increasing pollution levels on child health may not be as easy to see as a sore throat or runny nose, but they can still cause damage, leading to adverse reactions like asthma and reduced lung function. As pediatricians whose number one job is to keep children healthy, we believe that our changing climate and its impact on children’s health warrants our full attention.

To help ring the alarm bell on this issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently hosted a Twitter chat with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, which reached more than 7 million people, emphasizing the need to keep our air clean for children.

Children are uniquely susceptible to changes in their environment. They breathe more air, eat more food and drink more water per unit of body weight, making them more vulnerable to pollutants. Children today are already experiencing climate associated health impacts, including worsening allergic and asthmatic disease, changes in patterns of climate-sensitive infectious diseases such as Lyme Disease and displacement from extreme events like Hurricane Katrina. In fact, more than 80% of the current health burden due to changing climate occurs in children younger than five years old.

Children also have a fundamental right to inherit a planet that is as safe, productive and beautiful as the one our generation has enjoyed. Given our knowledge of the grave and potentially irreversible impacts of rising greenhouse gas concentrations, to continue on our current emissions trajectory is an unprecedented injustice to future generations.

There is no one solution to this sweeping public health concern, but the EPA has taken a step in the right direction by proposing a rule that would help to limit carbon emissions. Pediatricians are committed to working with the agency to ensure the strongest possible standards are implemented to protect children’s health, and are calling on public health advocates across the country to join us. We have no time to waste– the health and security of our children depends on our success.

About the authors: Jerome Paulson, MD, FAAP, and Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, chair and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, respectively, are pediatricians based in the Washington, DC metro area.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog. 

Please share this post. However, please don’t change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don’t attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Spanish Village Playground Air Monitor

St. Louis Injustices & Bill Gates

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As I write this I’m on my way back from St. Louis, Missouri. Yes, I there are riots in the street

Spanish Village Playground Air Monitor

and it was a bit risky to go now rather than postponing the trip for another day when the city settles down. But, this is a city of so many injustices, and honestly the “quiet” after the protests only means the world stopped paying attention. The problems don’t go away when the media leaves. It’s because people took the voices and bodies to the street that a light is shining on one of the problems today, but there are many serious injustices that exist in St. Louis. The local group Just Moms STL have been planning this training and educational event for six months, so I needed to go.

Just a short distance from the center of the unrest is another form of injustice, a landfill which is burning underground. The fire is slowly moving beneath the surface toward the neighboring landfill which contains radioactive wastes. What happens when the fire reaches the nuclear waste, no one knows? It’s very scary for families with small children who have no idea when the fire will reach the radioactive material or what will happen when it does. This waste travels through Ferguson but originates from a neighboring subdivision.

The truth is, all of North St. Louis is in a fight for justice. CHEJ is moving forward to provide assistance, but only where we have expertise. Our work is focused on the families living in the Mobile Homes Park and single family homes that have been exposed to smoke, odors, toxic chemicals and likely radioactive waste for over a decade without relief. Their children are sick, the community riddled with cancers and nothing has been done. The fire continues to burn and release toxins into the air, government continues to test and continues to find dangerous chemicals, and the responsible company, Republic Services, is doing less.

What makes this site even more symbolic of injustice—on one side is the rich, powerful, protected people and on the other side the poor. Bill Gates, the wealthiest man in this country is the largest shareholder in Republic Service. He alone has enough money to move the families who need to be evacuated out of harm’s way. He wouldn’t even miss the funds. Certainly, as the largest shareholder, he could convince Republic Services to pay him back. Or with his power as the largest shareholder get Republic Services to move the innocent families and permanently clean up the sites. But he hasn’t lifted a finger to help.

I have to wonder if Bill and Melinda Gates saw the story of unrest on T.V. or if either of them realizes that the company that is paying him over $30 million dollars a quarter in dividends is responsible for another form of violence on the local people. They both give generously to children’s hospitals across the country (and should continue) but in St. Louis children are the being made sick daily because of the fire and landfill related pollution in which he could do something about. He has the power to get Republic Services to move the families that live in harm’s way and clean up properly the dump sites.

One participant at the community training said, we need to tell Bill Gates, “We can’t open our windows.” They aren’t describing his windows program but rather that the pollution and odors are so bad that they need to keep the windows of their homes closed and air conditioning running, for those who can afford air conditioning.

Try to imagine living in a community with a burning landfill moving slowly toward a radioactive waste site and no one seems to care. Although I do not support violence, however, it seem people raising their voices in the street is the only way people can expose their suffering to the public and their best hope of getting ant action.