children’s health

EPA’s Remedy for Darby Creek

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The Lower Darby Creek Superfund Site in Darby Township, Pennsylvania is nearing a critical junction in its cleanup cycle. The Record of Decision (ROD), a technical document that delineates EPA’s chosen remediation method, will be released to the public soon. This is a welcome step given that EPA has been jugging the site with very little progress since its inclusion in the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2001.However, it is increasingly apparent that the ROD will suggest a particular kind of remedy that is not suitable for the site.

The site consists of two landfills – the Clearview Landfill and the Folcroft Landfill. Folcroft remains under evaluation and will be dealt with separately. Clearview and how to contain its waste are the subject of the ROD. In previous evaluations, EPA proposed and seemed to be pushing for the implementation of a non-traditional cap for the landfill. This non-traditional cap is known as an evapotranspiration (ET) cap and consists of a thick layer of soil covered by various forms of vegetation. The idea behind it is that rain water that falls over the landfill will be trapped in the soil and then soaked up by the plants to be used and evaporated into the surrounding air. In principle, this kind of mechanism is possible and the solution is sound. But this breaks down when you take into account various other factors.

An ET layer is not suitable for the Lower Darby Creek site because of the climate and geo-hydrology. This kind of cover prevents water infiltration in locations that possess greater levels of soil evaporation and plant transpiration (collectively termed evapotranspiration) than precipitation. Arid and semiarid climates such as that of the Midwest are suitable for this kind of cover. However, Darby Township receives 42.05 inches of rain every year, a figure almost twice as high as it average evapotranspiration level. In addition, the site is located on a floodplain that experiences a massive flooding event on average every 6-8 years.

All of these factors make an ET layer as the permanent cap for the Clearview Landfill an extremely inefficient and non-protective remedy. As the announcement of the ROD approaches, it is CHEJ’s hope that EPA takes the health and well-being of the residents surrounding the site as their top priority and decides against an ET layer.

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Germany Wants To Ban Fracking

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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.

Evaluating Cumulative Impacts – A New Approach

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Some of you may know Peter Montague, the author of Rachel’s Environment and  Health News and a long-time leader in the Environmental Health movement. He recently gave an on-line presentation as part of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) on Evaluating Cumulative Impacts. This presentation offered a new approach to evaluating cumulative impacts which is worth sharing.

Montague defined cumulative impact analysis as being needed whenever some new disturbance (new project, new technology, etc.) is introduced into any of the three environments (natural, built or social). When the idea of using cumulative impact analysis is raised, he said, it almost always is “met by a groan (or by silence as the whole issue is ignored).” Montague gives 4 reasons for why he thinks this happens.

  • We think of events and actions as “one cause, one effect.”
  • Science works best when it can reduce a problem to its simplest form, eliminating all extraneous influences (“variables”).
  • Our regulatory systems are not designed to consider cumulative impacts.
  • Agencies use quantitative risk assessment in the old way, not the new way that was recommended by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences in their 2009 report Science and Decisions.

Montague poses the idea that we are asking the wrong question, as was noted in the NRC report. Rather than asking whether a disturbance considered in isolation will exceed some threshold or standard, which is what government agencies currently do, instead, we should be asking is, how can we minimize or avoid harm?

He gives an example. “Will this brownfield cleanup contaminate children in this neighborhood with blood-level levels that exceed some magic number like 5 micrograms of toxic lead per deciliter of blood (ug/dL)? If the answer is no, then the cleanup is deemed safe and satisfactory, even though the cleanup might add 4 ug/dL to the blood of many children, reducing their IQs accordingly and, in combination with other exposures, perhaps, even exceeding the magic 5 ug/dL “reference” level.”

Montague also states that the concept of violating a standard is itself problematic because so few standards exist and because the ones that do exist “are so poorly settled by science, so plagued by uncertainties, so conducive to endless disputes and litigation.” He argues that this approach needs to be replaced and he proposes three “tests” by which to measure cumulative effects: the 9 planetary boundaries test; the health disparities test; and the justice test.

The 9-boundaries test includes factors such as measuring climate change; loss of biodiversity; nitrogen (and phosphorus) cycles; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification and freshwater use. The health test asks how the disturbance contributes to cancer and other adverse health effects including, reproductive, immune, developmental, and behavior effects. The justice test asks for any disturbance, who will receive most of the benefits and who will pay most of the costs.

Each of these tests is discussed by Montague who concludes that “If these tests show that the new disturbance will make matters worse, then the proposal will need to be stopped (which raises the all-important question, How can affected parties say No to harmful proposals?), or modified sufficiently to make it beneficial or at least neutral in effect?”

To read more about this precautionary approach to assessing cumulative risks, see http://www.precaution.org/lib/why_ci_is_hard.pdf

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Childhood Cancer & Environment

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Between 1975 and 2011, the U.S. has seen a 55% increase in the number of children diagnosed annually with childhood leukemia. Read more from Environmental Health Policy/PSR.

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Public Health Risks & Corporate Profits

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People’s bodies are being contaminated with industrial chemicals without their consent or knowledge. Unlike food and drugs, most of these industrial chemicals have never been tested to determine their effects on human health or the environment. Diseases linked to chemicals like childhood cancers are on the rise. Our laws need to be changed to protect public health and the environment. We must phase out the worst chemicals and switch to safer, effective and affordable alternatives that already exist. Because our country’s laws are outdated—prevention, substitution and proof of safety—are not our nation’s goals. Instead calculated harm and sacrifice are the goals of today’s regulations and laws. Risk of harm and cost of change (regardless of how large or small) dominate decisions around chemical exposures of innocent people and the environment.

Corporations and our government try to confuse the public about risks or make a certain level of risk somehow acceptable. To simplify the entire mathematical formula to justify unnecessary risks for the average person I came up with this analogy. Although this may be a bit of over simplification it is the formula that is used to dismiss risks and allow corporations to expose people, innocent children, to very dangerous chemicals in order to increase their profits.

Here is the analogy to demonstrate their technique.

Protective Gates vs. Cheap Pillows

Most people believe if you have a toddler and an open staircase it makes sense to be cautious and place a gate across the stairs to prevent the child from falling down the stairs.

U.S. chemical industries would argue investing in the gate may not be necessary—instead they would do studies to determine how many toddlers would fall and the level of harm from each tumble down the stairs.

After defining statistically how many toddlers would likely fall down the stairs and the percentage that could be harmed, industry would still argue the gate is too expensive and purchasing them would cause financial harms.

They would argue that instead of expensive gates, believed to be overkill, they would invest in cheap pillows at the bottom of the stairs which would provide adequate protection for tumbling toddlers.

So the next time you are faced with a risk benefit equation from corporations or government ask them (using this analogy) if they are suggesting pillows instead of a gate? Are they really interested in protecting public health especially from involuntary risks?

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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.

Film Demonstrates How We Win

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A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet Premiers Earth Day on PBS – tomorrow evening. If you want to understand how change happen this is the film to watch.

It clearly demonstrates through historical film that so much of what has been accomplished was done through people joining together and raising their voices. Saving the Grand Canyon, rivers, whales and so much more was the result of organizing voices not a smart group of people in Washington, D.C. The documentary—which airs on Earth Day, nationwide—opens with a stirring montage of idyllic nature, followed by ecosystem despoliation and devastation, such as mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Scenes of global activism appear, including NASA scientist Jim Hansen getting busted at the White House for protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai declaring: “We will shed blood for land!” This riveting, rapidly cut sequence is set to the pulsating beat of the Chamber Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today.”

Coming together with other leaders from your group and watching the film with a discussion afterwards could help think through how you might proceed to win justice for your community.

Dow Chemicals Vinyl Plant in Freeport, TX.Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011

10,000 Schools Located Half Mile From Chemical Facility

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By Kate Sheppard http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-sheppard
A new study released Wednesday finds there are almost 10,000 schools across the country located within a mile of a chemical facility.

The research was released ahead of the April 17 anniversary of an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, which killed 15 people and injured hundreds of others. The explosion left many people wondering why schools and homes were located so close to the plant.

The report finds that 4.6 million children attend a school located within a mile of a facility that stores potentially risky chemicals.

The research, from the nonprofit organization Center for Effective Government, maps the facilities covered under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Plan Rule. That rule requires all companies that process, distribute or store certain toxic or flammable chemicals to create and submit an emergency plan. It must describe the potential impacts of an accident, the facility’s accident history, what emergency responders need to know to treat anyone impacted by an accident and any prevention measures that are in place.

There are 12,761 facilities in the U.S. that had registered plans under RMP as of May 2013, including storage facilities, refineries and factories. The RMP rule covers a number of potentially dangerous chemicals. Ammonium nitrate, the chemical that caused the West Fertilizer Co. disaster, is not a listed substance under RMP, but the chemicals used in its production are, as well as certain processes that use ammonium nitrate. The Center for Effective Government report pulls together EPA information on facilities that report under RMP along with school location information from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“The number of children who are potentially in harm’s way is deeply troubling,” Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the center, said in a statement.
The center has called for tougher standards for disclosing the presence of chemicals, more oversight and more expansive emergency response planning. It is also calling for inherently safer chemicals and processes whenever possible. The federal government is still in the process of creating policies to respond to last year’s explosion; representatives from a number of agencies released a list of proposals in January.

The report is packaged as an interactive map and also uses U.S. Census Bureau data to show the racial and economic profile of residents in the area around the chemical facilities. Users can search the map by school name, city or state.

This article has been edited to clarify that ammonium nitrate is not specifically listed in the EPA Risk Management Plan rule, but chemicals used in its production are.

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Childhood Leukemia Associated With Traffic

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Studies reviewed by the CDC suggest “that childhood leukemia is associated with residential traffic exposure during the postnatal period, but not during the prenatal period. Read more.