children’s health

People or Pollution – Which Came First?

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Researchers at the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment published a paper last month that examines an important question about environmental disparities: Which came first – The people or the pollution? More specifically, are present-day disparities around hazardous sites the result of a pattern of placing hazardous waste sites, polluting industrial facilities, and other locally unwanted land uses disproportionately where poor people and people of color live? Or are they the result of demographic changes that occur after the facilities have been sited? Their answer published in the December issue of the journal Environment Research Letters points to a clear pattern of disproportionately placing hazardous waste facilities in people of color communities at the time of siting.

The authors used a national database of commercial hazardous waste facilities sited from 1966 to 1995 and examined the demographic composition of host neighborhoods at the time of siting and demographic changes that occurred after siting. They found strong evidence of disparate siting for facilities sited in all time periods, though they did find some evidence of post-siting demographic changes. According to the authors, these changes “were mostly a continuation of changes that occurred in the decade or two prior to siting, suggesting that neighborhood transition serves to attract noxious facilities rather than the facilities themselves attracting people of color and low income populations. Our findings help resolve inconsistencies among the longitudinal studies and builds on the evidence from other subnational studies that used distance-based methods. We conclude that racial discrimination and sociopolitical explanations (i.e., the proposition that siting decisions follow the ‘path of least resistance’) best explain present-day inequities.”

This study examined the processes by which racial and socioeconomic disparities in the location of polluting industrial facilities can occur. According to the authors, “prior studies have had mixed results … principally because of methodological differences, that is, the use of the unit-hazard coincidence method as compared to distance-based methods.” This is the first national-level environmental justice study to conduct longitudinal analyses using distance-based methods.

The authors came to conclude that “Our findings show that rather than hazardous waste TSDFs ‘attracting’ people of color, neighborhoods with already disproportionate and growing concentrations of people of color appear to ‘attract’ new facility siting. The body of distance-based research suggests that government policies, industry practices and community empowerment measures are needed to ensure fairness in the siting process and to address disparities in risks associated with existing facilities. In addition, more studies that use reliable methods to assess such racial and socioeconomic disparities in the location of other types of environmental hazards could also improve our understanding of the processes and factors that contribute to environmentally unjust conditions in the United States and around the world.”

The authors also published a review paper in the same issue of this journal that summarized previous environmental justice studies that demonstrated the existence of racial and socioeconomic disparities in relation to a wide range of environmental hazards.



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Childhood asthma rates are dropping, but for who?

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By: Dylan Lenzen

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released some good news with a report that shows that rates of asthma among U.S. children began to plateau after 2010 and actually declined in 2013. This is welcomed news considering that asthma rates doubled in the 80s and 90s and continued to increase from 2001 to 2010. Considering this, we should all be rejoicing these somewhat surprising new results, right? Not quite, as it turns out, for racial minorities and more generally, the poor, asthma continues to pose a challenge with little hope for amelioration.

For some minority demographics, the same study showed that rates of asthma have actually started to plateau, which lead the authors of the study to conclude that the black-white disparity in the prevalence of asthma has stopped increasing. While this sounds positive, the reality that black children experience a far greater occurrence of asthma than white children still exists. Black children remain nearly twice as likely to have asthma than white children and are also more likely to suffer complications from the disease due to inadequate medical care. While minorities and low-income children need better access to healthcare to treat the disease, it is not enough.

We need to recognize that this racial disparity in the occurrence of asthma among children is just one of many more symptoms that result from much greater problems of environmental and racial injustice. It is hard to imagine adequately treating this problem of childhood asthma without improving the toxic neighborhoods where many of our nations poor and minority children live and that remain a factor in the prevalence of the disease.

It is undeniable that minorities and low-income populations reside in neighborhoods of far lesser environmental and economic quality. A number of factors in these communities could potentially contribute to a greater prevalence of asthma. For example, low-income communities, especially those in populated metropolitan areas, likely face higher levels of air pollution from the overabundance of toxic industry or more indoor allergens due to deteriorating housing. Beyond these dangerous environmental factors, low-income communities experience higher levels to stress (an important social factor linked to asthma) due to exposure of violence, financial strain, family separation, chronic illness, death and family turmoil. In addition, poor health behaviors that result from overabundance of tobacco, alcohol, and fast food outlets and a lack of grocery stores can also lead to a greater prevalence of asthma susceptibility in minority and low-income communities. These factors must be addressed in order to eliminate the racial disparity seen with diseases like childhood asthma.

In order to adequately solve the health issues of our society for all Americans, the social structures that lead to environmental and racial justice must also be challenged.



Styrofoam Ban in our Nation’s Capital

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On January 1, 2016 a ban on the use of Styrofoam containers went into effect in the city of Washington, DC.  This new law will prohibit restaurants and local business from using single use Styrofoam (technically speaking, expanded polystyrene foam products) containers to package food and drinks, typically used for take-out orders or to take home leftovers. According to one estimate in a private blog, there are similar bans in effect in more than 70 cities including New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.  In New York City alone, 28,500 tons of expanded Styrofoam was collected in 2012. About 90% of this material was from food and drink related containers.

I couldn’t help but smile when I read this story as a remembered back in the late 1980s when CHEJ (then CCHW) kicked off a national campaign against McDonald’s to get the mega food giant to stop using Styrofoam clam shells for all its food packaging. We called this the “McToxics Campaign” and groups all over the country participated including grassroots environmental health activists, students, churches, annual rights activists and advocates of healthy food. These groups, individually and in coalition, picketed local restaurants, fought for local ordinances banning Styrofoam, launched boycotts and engaged in send-it-back campaigns to send the message to McDonalds that they wanted the company to be a corporate leader for positive change, rather than a symbol of our throw-away society.  And it worked!  After a little over 3 years, McDonalds caved in, marking one of the biggest victories of the grassroots environmental health movement. On November 1, 1990, McDonalds’ announced it would end nearly all Styrofoam packaging use in U.S. restaurants within 60 days.

As anticipated, when McDonalds made its announcement, other companies would follow its lead. Jack-In-the-Box followed suit almost immediately, and soon most other fast food restaurants also stopped using Styrofoam.  Although many small restaurants and local businesses continued to use Styrofoam, the message continues to grow that this toxic plastic has no place in our society. The many toxic substances generated and released during production, the formation of toxic chemicals when it is burned and the difficulties in recycling and disposal of this material is what drove this campaign and continue to be an issue today as restaurants and businesses search for options to deliver food and drinks.

Fortunately there are better options and better alternatives that don’t cause the public health and environmental risks that this plastic does. Cheers to the growing list of cities, towns and municipalities that are deciding one jurisdiction at a time, to move away from this toxic plastic.  May there be many more in the coming years.

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What’s the deal with the water in Flint, MI?

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By Dylan Lenzen

There seems to be no relief for those who call Flint, MI home. Residents there have been victims of some extremely shortsighted management decisions, driven by supposed cost-savings, for which residents have been forced to pay for in the form of horrendous health effects. The latest result of these decisions has been the declaration of a state of emergency in order to cope with the fallout.

It all started when city officials decided to stop purchasing drinking water from Detroit in April 2014, with plans for building a new pipeline to draw drinking water from Lake Huron. The only problem is that the pipeline is not set to be completed until 2016, which meant that in the meantime, drinking water would come from the Flint River. Almost immediately after making the switch, residents began complaining of negative health effects including skin lesions, hair loss, chemical-induced hypertension, vision loss and depression. There were also repeated detections of elevated levels of coliform bacteria and trihalomethanes, for which the side-effects of ingestion include liver and kidney issues, as well as cancer.

Despite these warning signs and repeated demands of residents to switch back to Detroit drinking water, City leaders did nothing more than treat the water with excess amounts of chlorine and administer boil advisories. City officials repeatedly made claims throughout this period that the water remained safe to drink. At the same time, residents who noticed discoloration of the water and continued to experience horrible health effects took all steps possible to avoid drinking the water. As a result, residents were forced to choose between purchasing large quantities of costly bottled water to protect their families, or pay later in the form of health consequences from drinking the highly toxic Flint River water.

In September of this year, the complaints of city residents were supported by the release of a key study on blood lead levels of Flint children. Over the 18 months that this saga has unfolded, the number of children experiencing above average levels of lead in their blood has more than doubled.

Following the release of this troubling study, Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, finally made the decision to come up with the necessary funds to switch back to Detroit water. In addition, a state of emergency has been declared by Flint mayor, Karen Weaver, in recognition of these results and the inadequate amount of special education and mental health services needed to deal with them.

Parents and other city residents have filed a lawsuit, seeking damages for the irreversible effects of lead toxicity that the decision to source water from the Flint River has created. In the words of Flint residents filing the lawsuit, “the deliberately false denials about the safety of the Flint River was as deadly as it was arrogant.”


Superfundman Image

Put the Super Back in Superfund!

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Today CHEJ released a new report on the mismanagement of the Superfund program and the need to reinstate polluter pays fees.

Superfund: Polluters Pays So Children Can Play 35th Anniversary Report is released as part of a National Day of Action where groups across the country are participating in different ways to deliver the message: polluter pays fees need to be reinstated!

32 groups in 24 states plus Puerto Rico representing 31 Superfund sites provided site profiles and quotes about the need to reinstate the polluter pays fees. The profiles are part of this new report. Some groups around the country are delivering cakes to their representatives celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Superfund and a card asking them to be a Superhero and support reinstatement of the polluter pays fees.

Some of the key findings in the report  include:

  • Funding for Superfund is insufficient to properly manage the program.

  • This funding shortfall has resulted in fewer completed cleanups each year; fewer cleanups started each year; inadequate funding of ongoing projects; an increase in the time to complete projects; and a steady stream of unfunded projects.

  • The expansion of the Superfund Alternatives program, in which responsible parties agree to cleanup a site and avoid being listed on the National Priority List, provides benefits to the polluter while hampering citizen participation that is provided for under the Superfund program.

  • The Superfund program has been so badly mismanaged by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that an unprecedented act of Congress has proposed transferring EPA oversight of a Superfund site to the Army Corps of Engineers.

  • Congress must reinstate the polluter pays fees. Without collecting the corporate fees to replenish Superfund, there is simply not enough money to do the critical job of cleaning up hundreds of abandoned toxic waste sites.

For more information, questions, or comments, please contact Lois Gibbs at lgibbs@chej.org.

To view the executive summary of the report, click here

To view the full report, click here

To view the community quotes, click here

pesticides

Pesticides as bad for kids’ lungs as cigarette smoke, study says

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Chronic exposure to pesticides can damage children’s lung function by about as much as secondhand cigarette smoke does, according to a study of farmworker children in the Salinas Valley.

The long-term study of 279 children from farmworker families is the first to suggest that even being one step removed from pesticides can bring harm to children’s lungs. Previous studies examined effects on adults who spray the chemicals or work in fields where the pesticides are applied.

Read More at the LA Times

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How Safe Are The Fields Where We Play?

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Amy Griffin, the former U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper and current University of Washington goalkeeper coach, started keeping a list in 2009. She started gathering names of athletes who had played on crumb-rubber synthetic turf and had been diagnosed with cancer.

Read More at ESPN.com

St. Louis Child

BILL GATES NEEDS TO INVEST IN AMERICA’S FAMILIES

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Bill Gates’ net worth is estimated to be $79.7 billion and his worth just seems to grow every year. Known as the world’s richest man, Gates is also listed as the sixth most powerful person in the world. He and his wife Melinda run the Gates Foundation their goal is to reduce inequity and improve the lives of people in poorer countries.

But what about America? What about the innocent people in which his investment company, Cascade Investments, is making him even more money, at the expense of innocent children who are made sick and dying from chemical/radioactive materials?

My mother often told me that it is wonderful, honorable to support others who need help, but always remember charity begins at home.

Bill and Melinda are doing extraordinary work in poor countries, but their money to do that work is coming from their investments like, Republic Services where they have personally invested 2.9 Billion dollars. Gates Foundation has divested from Republic Services but Bill and Melinda have not.

Families with children in St. Louis have watched helplessly as their children developed cancer and some have died. Parents believe their children health problems are due to Republic Services burning and radioactive Superfund site. The Missouri health authorities found an over 300% increase in children’s brain cancer near the Republic site. This cancer is preventable.. .avoidable… by helping people move away. Today they are trapped. Families can’t live in their homes, sell their homes or afford to pay rent or mortgages somewhere else. These are working people, many not earning a living wage.

Bill could direct his investment company to use their power as shareholders to purchase the homes of innocent families that surround the burning landfill. Once the fire is put out and the radioactive materials cleaned up Republic can resell the homes and reduce their costs. It is anticipated that the fire will burn for another four years and the plan to clean up the radioactive wastes is also far into the future.

I thought at one time, that maybe Bill and Melinda just didn’t know. As parents of three children Jennifer, Phoebe, and Rory I thought they could relate to the fears the parents in St. Louis face every day to protect their most precious asset their children. Unfortunately they do know and I guess don’t care. Recently, they sold all of their Foundation’s stock in Republic Services. A good first step but far from what’s needed. Their personal stock of almost three billion is still earning dividends off the back of little children and hard working parents. We believe it was the petition drive that CHEJ did with the local group Just Moms STL in St. Louis, Missouri that brought the problem to their attention. Maybe it did, we’ll never know.

Today, it’s clear that Bill and Melinda know there is a problem in St. Louis, and they don’t want the public face of the Gates Foundation to be associated with that Superfund site. With this knowledge, they continue to profit from Republic Services, which in turn continues to place children in harm’s way. Bill and Melinda have made a decision to not take action with their personal wealth.

I can only ask, and hope others who read this ask, won’t you please reconsider your decision? Please, give a little charity at home. You are the richest man and one of the most powerful in the world and have said you want to improve the lives of people in poor countries, how about America? You can use your power in the Republic Services Board room to vote to move the innocent families or buy the properties yourself. The child, with brain cancer in the photo, is worth helping.

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Calls Continue For EPA To Clean Up Former Lead Production Site In Philly

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“A recent federal study is reigniting decades-old worries about contamination in the neighborhoods that surround an old lead production plant in Philadelphia. The study found high numbers of children in the area had elevated blood lead levels — and while it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly where that lead is coming from, local activists are calling for the EPA to step in.

Today, the former factory site in North Philadelphia is a commercial strip, home to a gas station, an Applebee’s and a Dunkin’ Donuts. Row houses all around are being rehabbed and increasing in value. But longtime residents like Joann Hand remember the lead smelters that stood here until the late 1990s.

“We played in the lot when we were younger — we used to have a baseball team coming out of there,” Hand says, pointing to an empty lot near the former plant office. “Nobody ever told us how bad it was; how high the levels were. I mean, we knew something was going on, but we just didn’t know nothing because we had no information on it.”

Federal testing made public last month found about 1 in 7 kids in neighborhoods surrounding the site had elevated levels of lead in their blood. That’s compared to a national average of 1 in 40…”

Read more on NPR

Expectant mothers with exposure to high levels of unconventional natural gas development are more like to have premature births and high-risk pregnancies, a new study says.

Pennsylvania study finds link between gas drilling and premature births

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Women are more likely to have premature babies and high-risk pregnancies the more they are exposed to unconventional natural gas development, according to a new study based on more than 10,000 babies born in the shale-gas region of Pennsylvania.

Expectant mothers with exposure to high levels of unconventional natural gas development are more like to have premature births and high-risk pregnancies, a new study says.

The study, released by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health on Thursday, found that mothers who lived near the highest levels of gas-industry activity were 40 percent more likely to give birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy than those where the industry was least active.