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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.

NJ Roxbury

Gov. Christie’s Wastegate in Roxbury, NJ

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Gov. Christie reopened a landfill without following the states regulatory procedures, allowed a burner to be built without even a stack test, allowed waste to be placed in the landfill without knowledge of what was in the waste stream, and allowed a convicted felon to operate the landfill which is also against the law. Why is the Gov. ignoring his own state laws and regulations pout in place to protect public health and the environment? Does Christie think he is above the law?

By MIKE CONDON Editor

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Roxbury New Jersey

Gov. Christie’s Wastegate–His Toxics—Not his Tummy

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This bullying, ignoring his own state laws and regulations, endangering thousands of innocent people, and potentially creating a serious groundwater crisis in the Highlands protect watershed, and wasting taxpayers money adding to the financial strain on the state which just had their bond rating lower is why we named his actions Wastegate.

What kind of a Governor says no, to place one of the state’s most toxic sites on the federal superfund program? And why would the Governor make state taxpayers pay to manage this toxic site rather than moving the costs to the federal government? The state’s finances are in trouble and just had their credit, the state’s bond rating, lowered. Why?

Maybe it could be the Governor has a soft spot for DuPont? The DuPont toxic site in Pompton Lakes is a nightmare. There is mercury in the water, toxic cancer causing chemicals in the air . . . Not just in the outside air but in homes that are downhill from the old DuPont facility. Oh, and yes it has been going on for over 20 years. It won’t cost the state anything to place the site on Superfund. In fact it is costing the taxpayers of NJ to manage the site. Furthermore the site is hurting innocent people. When the power goes off in Pompton Lakes, like when Super Storm Sandy hit, people sit in their homes, with their babies and young children surrounded by toxic chemicals in the air that have been acknowledged by the federal EPA as dangerous. Without power the homeowners “mitigation” fans don’t work to remove the toxics before they enter the house.

Governor Christie says, not to worry. I am in control and will decide who gets to protect the good people of Pompton Lakes. It’s my sandbox and no one can play in it unless I say so. A bully, by any ones gauge.

Ahh but it’s not just the good taxpaying, church going families in Pompton Lakes that Christie is putting in harm’s way, he is doing the same to the families in Roxbury, New Jersey. Christie’s idea was to get a grant to build a solar farm on an old brownfields sites. He wanted it so bad that he actually let the “construction” begin without following his own state laws. He let a convicted felon purchase the property – against the law. Then gave permission to place Super Storm Sandy waste on the cleaned up and closed superfund site. Christie then allowed his agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, to ignore their regulations around the protection of the Highlands critical water protection area. This protected area preserves the quality and quantity of drinking water for the 850,000 people in the Highlands as well as the more than four million people in surrounding areas who depend on Highlands’s water. Today alarms go off regularly to warn residents that the air is so dangerous they should not go outside or should evacuate their homes.

I can almost hear the Governor say, So what if the state has regulations . . . I’m in charge . . . I say what happens. Christie is a Governor who knows what he wants and will take it . . . do it . . . regardless of who gets in his way. It’s time for New Jersey residents to get the Governor under control.

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Pesticides Harm Children’s Brains

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A study has detected developmental problems in children born to mothers who toiled in California’s treated fields.
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What’s wrong with this picture?

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Birth defects, diseases, tax payers dollars spent for health care and enormous resistance to policies that prevent disease.

Sen. Chris Edwards, from Eugene, Oregon introduced the legislation this year and said he would support the amended legislation. “As the father of a 12-year-old with autism, I’m particularly sensitive to issues such as toxicity and how environmental toxicity can affect neurological developments and the growth of children’s brains,” he said. “At the end of the day for me, I just have to wonder why it is we’re punting on this issue year after year after year when we know incidents of neurological and developmental disorders are up, and we know these toxic chemicals put children at risk.”

Health care spending in the U.S. has surged more than eightfold since the 1960s. Skyrocketing in that same time frame are rates of chronic disease, use of synthetic chemicals, and evidence that many of these widely used substances may be wreaking havoc on human health. “We know that these chemicals are reaching people. We know that chemicals can cause disease and those diseases cost money,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of preventative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. New research published offers an example of this financial burden, widely overlooked in the health care debate. The use of bisphenol A, or BPA, in food and beverage containers, according to the study, is responsible for an estimated $3 billion a year in costs associated with childhood obesity and adult heart disease.

In Colorado a recently study demonstrated that babies born near gas wells had children with birth defects including heart defects. I find this interesting because many, many years ago women in the Silicon Valley area also found that children in the neighborhood were born with birth defects of their hearts. In this case it was women sitting in a park and talking with each other that they recognized the cluster of heart defects. Years later a study demonstrated that it was chemicals, used in the high tech industry, got into their well water that was responsible for the clustering of birth defected babies. History repeating itself but it’s not just history these are children’s lives and the future workforce of America.

I’ve sat in the living rooms of families with children dying from cancer, gasping for air due to asthma and unable to speak because of learning disabilities. I’ve seen the pain in parents’ eyes and the frustration in getting answers or resolution to the environmental health risks. Now with the explosion of gas drilling everywhere and the reports of health effects I feel so angry.

So, instead of arguing about how taxpayers will pay for the national health care program, or if the contaminated water or air made some child ill, let’s argue about how to prevent disease especially in children. Our children are helpless and depend on us to keep them safe.

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A Circle of Poison and Poverty

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Imagine for a moment that you live in a community that is poor. You work every day in the service industry but just can’t make enough money to move to a better neighborhood. Now imagine that you have a young child who is gifted with high level of intelligence. You want to send your child to a school that can challenge her to help reach her potential. But, you can’t because of your limited income.

This is how one mother described her situation to me recently in Detroit, Michigan. She went on to say that the area around her home and school had lead levels, left over from former lead smelter activities, which were three times the legal standard. Her child and her neighbor’s children began their lives with so much potential. Today, the children are lead poisoned and are having difficulty passing the state school standardize tests. In fact, so many children are failing the standardized tests that their school is about to be closed, their teachers fired and their community further impacted by another empty building and no neighborhood school.

When people hear about the struggles in environmental justice communities they often only think about the immediate pollution and health impacts in a low wealth community. But to understand it one level deeper you need to understand that families living in these communities are really trapped. If you were only to look at their children’s ability to get out of poverty and reach the birth potential, it speaks volumes about the real world situation.

Their children cannot reach their potential because they are impacted by the chemicals like lead in their environments. Often young people, because they are frustrated in trying to achieve in school while faced with asthma, learning disabilities, and the inability to maintain attention students end up dropping out of school. Students weren’t born with the inability to achieve; it was due to their exposures to lead and other toxic environmental chemicals that they developed problems. Once students drop out of school they have little ability to improve their economic status and thus continue the family’s legacy of poverty.

Those who have the power to change this cycle of poison and poverty choose not to. Instead they cover their intentional neglect by blaming the victims, the parents, teachers, and community leaders. Not only do those in power blame the innocent, they exasperate the problem by ignoring the existing pollution while placing more polluting faculties in the area. I think it was Mayor Bloomberg who said, “Do you really want me to put that smokestack in downtown Manhattan?” when community leaders near NYC navy yard objected to an incinerator being added to their burdens.

I’m not sure how to change this situation. It is a larger societal crisis that will take the majority of people to demand change. Today it is only the voices of the desperate parents, frustrated teachers that sound the alarm and cry for justice. This must change.


school picture

How to Create Greener and Healthier Schools for Children and Teachers

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WHEN: Thursday May 23 – 4:30pm – 5:45 pm

WHERE: Free Webinar From Your Home/Computer

RSVP online at: http://bit.ly/healthyschoolswebinar

Healthy schools that are free from toxic chemicals are critical to children’s health. Unfortunately school building materials and products can contain chemicals harmful to children’s health that have been linked to asthma, learning and developmental disabilities, cancer and other serious health problems on the rise.  For example, hazardous chemicals and materials like mercury, phthalates, vinyl and halogenated flame retardants have been found in lighting, flooring, office supplies, and/or other products in schools. The good news is safer and affordable alternatives are available for schools and parents to use and purchase.

Learn how you can encourage your school to be greener and healthier by launching an environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) program.

Join this free webinar sponsored by NYS United Teachers (NYSUT), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) and the Green Schools Alliance.

RSVP online at: http://bit.ly/healthyschoolswebinar

Questions? Contact mike@chej.org / 212-964-3680.

Funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.   Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Environmental Conservation.