children’s health

Photo by Hannah Rappleye, NBC News

How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?

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Coaches, athletes and families across the U.S. have started to draw surprising connections between the “grass” on athletic fields and instances of childhood cancer.

Photo by Hannah Rappleye, NBC News

A rash of leukemia and lymphoma diagnoses among soccer goalies has sparked concern about “crumb rubber” turf commonly used on athletic fields. Recent studies of crumb rubber, commonly made from used tires, have shown that the material contains hazardous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Could your child be at risk?

Read the full story by Hannah Rappleye at  NBC News.

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Support “The Canal” Documentary about the Love Canal Disaster

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A team of documentary filmmakers have worked for three years to complete a project on Love Canal, telling the story of the disaster and documenting the testimonies of those still affected by toxic chemicals in the Love Canal area. They are now raising the money they need to finish editing the film and get it out to the world.

According to the filmmakers, the documentary has two goals:

“The first is to save the families living in Love Canal today. And save is not too big a word: the rates of leukemia, miscarriages, and heart conditions are through the roof. Babies conceived in the area are at a hugely elevated risk of having birth defects…

The second goal is what effects us all. There are practically no safeguards between you and toxic chemicals either in the products you use or in the waste streams where they are deposited. The current laws do not require a company to prove that a chemical is safe before it is used. We must amend this law so that we can live without this unnecessary risk. We believe there is a way for companies to make money while behaving responsibly. This film introduces people to this debate through one of the most infamous chemical disasters. It tells a specific human story that affects us all and hopefully will inspire us to demand change.”

To follow updates about the film, visit their Facebook Page.

To contribute to the film, visit their Fundraising Page.

Not So Simple Science

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It’s common to think that in science and technical information lies the answer to the many questions that people have about their problems and how to solve them. At CHEJ, we have not foundthis to be the case. We have learned many lessons about science and how it is used. Science and technical information is important and has a role in helping to achieve your community goals. Identifying this role and learning how to use scientific and technical information is critical to the success of your group.

The most important lesson is that science and technical information alone will not solve problems. It’s common to think that if you hire the best scientists and engineers and make solid technical arguments, the government will do the right thing. Those of you who have been there know it doesn’t work that way.

When the government discovers a problem, it’s reluctant to determine the full extent of the problem. This is because if the government documents contamination that threatens people’s health, it then has to do something about it—like evacuate people and cleanup the contamination. This costs money that government doesn’t have or want to spend. Such action might also set a precedent by establishing cleanup standards or unsafe exposures levels that would mean spending more money at other sites.

Deciding what action to take is complicated by the fact that there are few answers to the many scientific questions raised by exposures to toxic chemicals. Scientists actually know little about the health effects of exposure to combinations of chemicals at low levels. As a result, when politicians and bureaucrats look for answers, the scientists don’t have them.

Most scientists however, are reluctant to admit they don’t know the answer to a question. Instead they introduce the concept of “risk” and begin a debate over what’s “acceptable.” This process hides the fact that scientists don’t know what happens to people who are exposed to low level mixtures of toxic chemicals. This uncertainty gets lost in the search for what’s “acceptable.”

Because of the lack of scientific clarity, bureaucrats and politicians use “science” cloaked in uncertainty, not facts, to justify their decisions which in truth are based on the political and economic pressures they face. Whether this is right or not is not a scientific question but an ethical and moral question. It is foolish to think that in this setting, science can be anything but a tool used by politicians and corporations to get what they want.

While science and scientific information have failed to provide clear answers and solutions to the hard questions about the health and environmental impact of the chemicals we use, we cannot abandon science. Science and scientific information can be a powerful tool for community groups, but only if you recognize what it can tell you and what it can’t, and only if you learn how to use the information and not just collect it. The right information used in the right way at the right time can be very powerful. Learning how to use scientific and technical information strategically is an organizing skill that will help you win your local fight.

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In Massachusetts, contaminated drinking water linked to stillbirths

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By Gail Sullivan
From The Washington Post

For nearly 20 years, New Englanders drank and bathed in water without knowing it was laced with a neurotoxin. The chemical leached into the water from vinyl coating sprayed inside water pipes in the late 1960s in response to complaints the water smelled and tasted funny.

More than half of New England’s 1,050 miles of water pipes sprayed with the contaminant are in Massachusetts, mostly in the Cape Cod region. The poison, tetrachloroethylene or PCE, still widely used in dry cleaning, wasn’t discovered in the water supply until 1979.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Health shows that the exposure to the poison is linked to increased risk for stillbirths and other pregnancy complications.

To read more, visit <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/06/in-
massachusetts-contaminated-drinking-water-linked-to-stillbirths/”>The Washington Post

The study itself can be accessed at the Environmental Health Journal.

New interactive map from the Center for Effective Government shows students in proximity to toxic chemicals

1 in 3 U.S. students attend classes near dangerous chemicals

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Lubbock Online, Oct. 5, 2014

Roughly one in five school-aged kids attend classes near a Lubbock County facility that stores dangerous chemicals, about twice as many as originally thought, according to a recent study.

The numbers likely could be higher.

Self-reported industry data tucked away in federal reading rooms across the United States show two of the known six facilities storing dangerous chemicals in Lubbock have a vulnerability zone wider than a 1-mile radius, according to a study by the Center for Effective Government, which released a new report last week.

That means there are roughly 9,500 students in 27 schools across the county who attend class near a facility that uses dangerous chemicals.

In May, A-J Media found about 4,200 students were at risk, but that number only reflected students attending class within a mile of a chemical facility. And it did not include detention facilities or private schools.

Researchers were only able to examine a limited number of the nation’s more than 12,000 chemical facilities. The center only examined two of the six facilities in the Hub City — Bayer CropScience and the Lubbock Water Treatment Plant.

Three of the four facilities with dangerous chemicals near Lubbock Independent School District campuses use and store anhydrous ammonia, a volatile chemical that can suffocate, burn the skin and cause blindness. In large quantities, it can be fatal. It is commonly used for refrigeration, among other uses.

Across the U.S., one in three students attends school in a vulnerability zone identified from self-reported industry data, the center reported.

New interactive map from the Center for Effective Government shows students in proximity to toxic chemicals

Lubbock ISD Superintendent Berhl Robertson Jr. did not comment on the new study, but said in May he was not aware of all the chemical facilities near district schools, many of which are 50 years and older.

“Lubbock ISD has a plan for emergencies that impact our schools, both natural disasters and accidents, and we practice those plans,” Nancy Sharp, a district spokeswoman, said in an email to A-J Media.

Chris Wooden, whose wife is expecting their first child next month, called the report “startling and alarming.”

“It’s past the point of needing awareness to where something egregious is going on,” Wooden said.

“With chemical companies not making available the chemicals they are storing without prodding from the government and action groups, it’s scary.”

‘It only takes one bad day’

Roughly 865,000 pounds of toxic chemicals are stored at and used in Lubbock facilities, according to data compiled by the Center for Effective Government, a Washington, D.C., organization that advocates for better health and safety standards.

The city of Lubbock reported that the water treatment plant near the airport on North Guava Avenue has a vulnerability zone of 8 miles, meaning everything within that reported radius could be at risk of a chemical catastrophe.

The Bayer CropScience facility on Erskine Street, which had a spill and evacuation last year in the Guadalupe neighborhood, reported a 2.4-mile vulnerability zone.

There has been growing public concern about public safety in the wake of last year’s deadly fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, near Waco and about 340 miles southeast of Lubbock.

“The West Texas fertilizer plant handled their chemicals safely for decades,” said Sean Moulton, director of the Open Government Policy program at the Center for Effective Government.

While the public has pressed for more information about where dangerous chemicals are stored, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has clamped down on releasing it.

Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, has faced withering criticism from his Democratic challenger Wendy Davis and the public after he suggested in July that people drive to facilities and ask what chemicals are being used.

On July 10, after a local facility refused to release any information during a walk in, A-J Media requested information on hazardous chemicals that is required to be filed with the Lubbock Fire Department.

The city has not released any information.

In an Aug. 7 letter to Abbott’s office requesting an opinion, Assistant City Attorney Amy Sims said the information was exempt from disclosure.

Sims, citing Abbott’s earlier opinion, wrote that releasing the location and amounts of dangerous chemicals “may pose a risk to citizens of the city in the case of a terrorist attack.”

Abbott’s office has until Wednesday to respond.

“You have an attorney general down in Texas saying we need to hide this information as though the information was dangerous, not the chemical,” Moulton said.

“People have a right to know if there’s a risk.”

By NICOLE C. BRAMBILA, A-J MEDIA


View the report on kids at risk HERE

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Thugs, Cancer, Radioactive Wastes – EPA Again Sitting on Their Hands

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Republic Services sent several of their men – young men—to stand out in front of the hall where a community meeting was being held to hand out corporate propaganda. Imagine walking from your car, after leaving your young child who is suffering from brain cancer at home, to be met by men from the company that you believe is responsible for exposures. “Just clean up the waste, dig it up and take it out of our community,” was the response of one of the local moms.

Republic had a lot of nerve coming to this meeting and leafleting people as they entered the building. Their signs making it look like people were the barrier to EPA cleaning up the site, but its Republic Services that wants to leave the waste where it is, which was the EPA plan before the underground fire. How heartless can you be? Families just learned that there was a significant childhood cancer cluster in the community that surrounds Republic’s radioactive and burning garbage dumps.

One woman told the Republic thugs – what she called them – that she has had both breast removed from cancer and her best friend has lupus. The state health department believes there is a problem, the Attorney General filed a lawsuit because of a problem and the community has a registry that documents health and environmental problems with Republic Services wastes. She was angry, “How dare they send thugs to our meeting of moms, dads and seniors who are sick and tired of Republic’s refusal to do the right thing.”

This community located in St. Louis Missouri area have been fighting to obtain relocation for families living around this site. There are two dumpsites one with garbage that is burning underground and the other is a radioactive waste site. At the meeting one woman spoke up and said, “Do you know what it’s like to tuck your children in at night and then lay in bed waiting for a siren to tell you the fire has reached the radioactive wastes and likely radioactive materials are traveling through the air into your home. It’s terrifying. I can’t move, I can’t stay and I can’t protect my babies.”

Republic Services has enough money to buy the families homes and properly clean up the waste sites. Last year they earned $8.4 billion in revenues and $589 million in profits. If they did the right and responsible thing by moving people and properly cleaning up the wastes they would still have plenty of profits to go around. But instead they send their thugs to picket outside the meeting of Republic Services victims.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates owns 29 percent of the company’s shares through Cascade Investment, LLC – about $4 billion worth. This includes 16 million shares (worth $645 million) purchased in 2014 alone. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also owns 1.35 million shares of Republic stock. Gates chief investment officer at Cascade Investment, has been a Republic Services board director since 2009. When Republic pays a $0.28/share quarterly dividend in October 2014, Bill Gates and his Foundation will receive $27.6 million.

CHEJ working with the community are circulating a petition to push Bill Gates to use his power of the vote to move Republic to evacuate families who need to leave and clean up the two sites to remove the hazards. Please help us by signing the petition.

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Childhood Cancer On The Rise

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Childhood brain cancer cluster found in St. Louis, MO. Read more.

Statistics for Action – a Great New Resource for Communities

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Have you ever wondered how soil or air samples are taken, or how to interpret test results, or even how to use those results successfully to win your fight? There’s a great new resource available  that can help answer these and many other questions about testing in your community. It’s a website called Statistics for Action and you can access its many resources for free at www.sfa.terc.edu. Statistics for Action (SfA) is a partnership between environmental organizations and TERC, a not-for-profit based in Cambridge, MA with a mission to provide quality teaching and learning in math and science. From 2008 to 2013, TERC, Toxics Action Center, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and others developed and piloted materials designed to help community-based groups make better use of scientific information.

SfA offers resources to help groups and individuals:

  • Understand concepts and terms involved in environmental testing
  • Analyze data and claims critically to find the story behind the data
  • Identify risks to their own or their community’s health
  • Communicate clearly about data to decision-makers and the wider community

Last week CHEJ sponsored a training call on Statistics for Action that described the many great resources available at this website and showcased how one community group used these resources to understand technical data and develop better messaging around the data they had.  The power point used in the presentation is available here.

Included on the website are a series of guides that describe different environmental testing methods such as water quality, soil testing and air monitoring. There’s also a guide on hazardous waste cleanup and one that describes the strengths and weaknesses of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) state cancer profiles including how to navigate the data on cancer trends and how to compare your local data to statewide or national data. Each guide offers advice what to look out for and how communities can get involved.

The SfA website also includes training materials and fact sheets that can be used to hold workshops on a wide range of technical topics including making sense of the data, converting between units, comparing your data to standards, mapping data, assessing risks and generating memorable messages. Each topic area begins with a great introduction called “A First Look” which provides key hints on how to understand the topic. There are also short practical videos (1 to 5 minutes) that give a quick overview of concepts such as What’s a Liter? Parts per million in water; Parts per million soil:ND = Not Detected; Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification; Soil Contamination and Gardening and Expert Advice on Health Studies.  There also are longer videos (5 to 12 minutes) that use a community story to show how different concepts link together. These topics include Sampling and Testing Contaminated Soil and Will A Health Study Prove Liability.

There’s something for everyone here whether you’re just getting started or a veteran activist of many years. Every situation involves technical and scientific information and this resource will help you navigate the technical language, understand the data better and find ways to use what data and information you have to help win your local fight. You get power not just by having information, but by knowing how to use it strategically. Check out the website and don’t hesitate contact CHEJ if you have any questions about testing or how to interpret results.

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Cindy Crawford Pulls Kids Out of School Due to Elevated Levels of PCBs

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Better safe than sorry! Cindy Crawford is not taking any chances when it comes to the health and safety of her two kids Presley and Kaia, whom she shares with husband Rande Gerber. The celeb kids missed their first day of school at Malibu High School after testing showed elevated levels of PCBs at their school and others in the county.

PCB is a chemical typically found in the window caulking of older buildings that was outlawed by Congress in 1976. Over time it can cause cancer, damage the immune and reproductive system, and negatively impact brain development in children. Crawford, 48, spoke on the Today Show with special correspondent Maria Shriver about her concerns for her children on Tuesday, Aug. 19.


“I don’t feel 100 percent safe,” she said during the interview. “I look 10 years down the line, what if my kid, God forbid, had a problem? How could I live with myself if I knew that it was a possibility, and I still sent them there?”  Read more.

Citizen Science Draws Roots in the Love Canal Experience

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I had the good fortune to participate in the defense of a Master’s degree thesis at Tufts University recently where CHEJ has donated many of its records to be archived. The topic of the thesis by Nolan Nicaise was Housewife Data: Citizen Science and the Case of Love Canal. Being a part of this process made me realize that the “science” that the residents of Canal Love Canal did was one of the first examples of “citizen’s science.”

Citizen’s science has many meanings but in general it can be defined as people who are not trained as scientists doing scientific work. When Lois Gibbs went door-to-door gathering health information from her neighbors, she had no idea that she was doing what is now generally called “citizen science.” Lois was only interested in gathering evidence to help convince the state health department that the problems at Love Canal were not confined to the neighborhood that had already been evacuated. Lois used the data she collected to show that people living outside the first evacuation zone also had health problems. This data became the basis not only for educating the public and the media, but also the state health officials. This citizen survey found high rates of birth defects and other reproductive problems that prompted the state to do its own investigation that found the same rate of birth defects as the residents did. These findings became the basis for the temporary evacuation of pregnant women and children under the age of two, an interim measure that was a prelude to the evacuation of the entire neighborhood.

Citizen science efforts such as the one carried out by the residents at Love Canal are typically  designed to engage the public in scientific investigations, such as asking questions, collecting data, or interpreting results. Citizen science can include volunteer monitoring, public participation in scientific research, and many other activities

Love Canal is but one example of citizen science. Others include the efforts of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in New Orleans where there are numerous refineries, chemical plants, and other air polluters. This group monitors air quality using air samplers made from five gallon buckets. When conducted properly, an air quality sample can provide reliable data needed to bring a case against polluters. For more information, see http://www.labucketbrigade.org/article.php?list=type&type=136

In Newark, NJ, local residents and students used air monitors to measure small particulate matter known as PM 2.5 which can contribute to asthma and cancer. The evidence gathered by these residents was used to push their legislators. For more information, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uevr3vjWDt8

In Tonawanda, NY, citizen science was used to link chronic illness to 53 air polluters within the community. High levels of benzene were found by residents using an improvised five gallon bucket system. This finding led the state to conduct its own study of air quality that confirmed the high level of benzene as well as several other chemicals exceeding federal guidelines. EPA and NY state brought enforcement actions against the largest polluter. For more information, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZKxn1nioNA

The Global Community Monitor trains and assists community groups to conduct air testing primarily near disempowered “fenceline” communities. GCM developed and pioneered the use of “bucket brigades” as a method for communities to document and understand the impacts of industrial pollution. This fall, GCM is sponsoring a conference on citizen science to be held in New Orleans. For more information, see http://www.gcmonitor.org/

The US Environmental Protection Agency has a number of good resources on citizen science including those listed below:

http://www.epa.gov/region2/citizenscience/

http://www.epa.gov/research/priorities/docs/citizen-science-fact-sheet.pdf

http://www.epa.gov/region2/citizenscience/pdf/citsci_additional_resources_attachment.pdf