children’s health

vinyl flooring

Health effects of vinyl flooring on baby boys

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Mind the Store has achieved tremendous victories lately – the nation’s two largest home improvement retailers, Home Depot and Lowe’s, have committed to phasing out toxic phthalates in flooring by the end of the year.  

We’re now turning our attention to Menards, the 3rd largest home improvement chain in the country with sales of over $8 billion and 280 stores in 14 states. You may not have a Menards in your area, that is ok. We still need you to act. If Home Depot and Lowe’s can ban phthalates in flooring, so can Menards!  

TAKE ACTION: Tell Menards to phase out toxic phthalates in flooring.

Testing has found some vinyl flooring Menards sells contains toxic phthalates, chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects in baby boys. Chemicals that are so toxic, they have been restricted in children’s toys.

Let’s turn up the heat on Menards
— Take action today!

Act Now!

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CEHN seeking nominations for its 2015 NOW Youth Leadership Award!

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The Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) is seeking nominations for its 2015 Nsedu Obot Witherspoon (NOW) Youth Leadership Award!


Do you know any young leaders (ages 12-18) who are involved and committed to environmental health, participate in community action, and have strong leadership skills? Nominate them for CEHN’s NOW Youth Leadership Award!  CEHN is seeking nominations from non-family members for this award which honors youths for their exceptional environmental leadership.  This award will be presented at CEHN’s 10thAnnual Child Health Advocate Award Reception in Washington, DC in October 2015.


Visit http://www.cehn.org/NOWaward to see a list of previous awardees and to fill out the nomination form. We look forward to receiving your nominations, and if you have any questions, please contact Rachel Locke at rlocke@cehn.org.  Nominations are due by 4pm EDT on June 30th, 2015.


Formaldehyde: A Case Study in EPA’s Failure to Protect Public Health and the Environment

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According to its website, the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to “protect public health and the environment.” When the agency tries to do its job, it often runs into opposition led by special interests, private lobbyists, corporate apologists, and congressional representatives, all of whom have their own agenda, which has nothing to do with public health or the environment and everything to do with the millions (if not billions) of dollars made annually from their products.

The agency’s effort to regulate formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen that is commonly used in building materials found in most homes, is a classic case study in corporate influence and control of the agency’s work.

EPA began its process to regulate formaldehyde in compressed wood products in 2008, seven years ago. Its proposed rules, released for public comment on June, 2013, did not seek to ban formaldehyde, but rather to set exposure limits and establish testing standards for products sold in the U.S. Learn more about the EPA’s proposed rules for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products.

Three times over the next two years, EPA reopened its public comment period to allow more public comment, most recently in May 2014. EPA has yet to release its final regulations with the latest timeline estimated to be sometime in the fall.

A story in the New York Times chronicled the delays in the agency’s efforts to regulate formaldehyde, a substance with clear public health risks. The article described the influence of the big furniture companies on Washington who in turn pressured EPA. It told of the actions of special interest such as the American Chemistry Council who challenged the agency’s determination that formaldehyde is a carcinogen. And it described the role of the White House Office of Management and Budget in evaluating the costs and benefits of the proposed regulation.

What gets lost in the hyperbole and grandstanding over costs and jobs is the fact that formaldehyde is a nasty chemical that is a known human carcinogen, that affects the central nervous system and that can damage the respiratory system, causing difficulty in breathing including asthma as well as eye, nose, and throat irritation. At best this proposed regulation will attempt to define an “acceptable” level of formaldehyde vapors coming off pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials.

This is EPA’s version of protecting public health and the environment, agreeing with corporate interests after a tortured “public” process to a risk assessment that defines “acceptable” levels of risk that the public has to endure while the companies continue to earn their profits. The general public that has to live with formaldehyde fumes coming off wood products is not likely to see it this way. They might prefer that the agency try to figure out how much risk it can avoid, rather than how much is “acceptable.” But then if the EPA did that, then the influence imposed by the companies who make billions every year selling formaldehyde products might not be so critical.

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, suffering from alopecia, is one child affected by the situation in St. Louis

St. Louis is Burning, and Moms are on the Move

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“The truth is that nobody is really sure what is buried at the West Lake Landfill, or where — and that’s the problem.” - Ryan Schuessler, Al Jazeera News.

A burning landfill, in proximity to a radioactive waste dump, in a neighborhood with a host of unexplained health problems ranging from appendix cancer to alopecia – all the elements of an environmental crisis in the making, and a health crisis already well underway. This is what some citizens of St. Louis have been coping with, and what has brought a group of them to Washington, D.C. today in an effort to protect their children.


Trevor, suffering from alopecia, is one child affected by the situation in St. Louis

A group of mothers from St. Louis will convene at the National Press Club today for a press conference on the nuclear waste polluting their town. After, they will deliver petitions to Bill Gates, who has the power to protect St. Louis families from further harms. While he is not responsible for the situation, Gates is the major shareholder of Republic Services, the company responsible for the waste. He can use both his shareholder vote and his financial influence to push for an evacuation of St. Louis families living near the landfill.


Post-Press Conference Updates:

On Thursday, three mothers from St. Louis, representing the group ‘Just Moms,’ spoke at the National Press Club in Washington and bore heartbreaking testimony to the devastating health problems their children have suffered from living adjacent to the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site. The mothers have been pressing EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for a meeting, but she has thus far ignored their requests, leaving them with few places to turn in fighting for the health and safety of their children.


Just Moms march to EPA headquarters on Thursday



Following the press conference, the Just Moms and a crowd of supporters marched to the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., chanting “The Moms Are Not Going Away, Gina McCarthy Meet Today!” They demonstrated and passed out fliers outside of EPA headquarters, before traveling to the headquarters of the Gates Foundation to deliver petitions to Bill Gates.

View more photos from the event at http://chej.org/gallery/stl_justmoms/.

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.

Linking Adverse Health Effects and Chemical Exposures

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One of the most common questions I get asked is about the health effects of toxic chemicals. Will the chemicals in the landfill harm my children? Will the emissions from the plant cause my family to get cancer? Did the chemicals off-gassing from the PVC flooring cause my son’s asthma? The questions continue every day from people across the country.

Most of what we know about the toxicity of chemicals comes from animal studies and from studies of workers who manufacture the chemicals. From this experience, we’ve learned that dusty air causes lung cancer, benzene causes leukemia, radioactive paint causes bone cancer, vinyl chloride, liver cancer, and certain pesticides cause muscle weakness and paralysis. There’s also limited evidence from studies in communities, especially among children who are highly susceptible to toxic chemicals. At Love Canal, for example, there were high rates of miscarriages and children born with birth defects; in Tucson, AZ, children whose parents drank water contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) were born with 2-1/2 times more heart defects than normal; in Toms River, NJ, high rates of childhood cancer was linked to drinking water contaminated with TCE and other solvents; and in Woburn, MA, increased rates of childhood leukemia were associated with drinking contaminated water.

There is no question that exposure to toxic chemicals causes adverse health effects. But for nearly all chemicals there is not enough information on what happens when people are exposed. At best, there’s good information on the toxicity of only about 10% of over 80,000 chemicals in use today.

This makes it very difficult to say with certainty what health effects will occur following exposure to toxic chemicals. Among the uncertainties are how an individual body responds to exposure (this varies quite a lot from person to person), how long exposures occur, how many chemicals you’re exposed to and the actual toxicity of the substance. In most instances, these factors are unknown.

Another confounding factor is that many symptoms or diseases are not specific to a particular chemical. In most instances, there can be many causes of the symptoms that people are having. And since few physicians know much about toxic chemicals, they often tend to blame the victim for his or her situation rather than looking at chemicals as a possible explanation. For example, many physicians will diagnose a person who is fatigued, moody and without appetite as “depressed,” likely to have a problem at home or at work. Seldom is exposure to toxic chemicals considered, even when raised by the patient.

Still another problem is determining the “normal” rate of an illness or disease in a community or in a group of people. Scientists simply can’t decide amongst themselves what is normal, in large part because of the many uncertainties already mentioned.

As a result, evaluating chemical exposures is largely a matter of opinion, not fact. Scientists can give you estimates of risk, or tell you what adverse effects are typically associated with exposure to a chemical, but they cannot tell you with any certainty whether your child will develop cancer because of his/her exposure to TCE or other chemicals in your drinking water. They can give you their opinion, but it’s only an opinion.

This is very frustrating for people. How can we be smart enough to put a man on the moon and bring him back, yet we don’t know much about the toxicity of the sea of chemicals that we live in every day? This speaks volumes about the power of the chemical industry to control government regulations and research agendas.

EPA’s EJ 2020 Action Agenda

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a draft for public comment of its EJ 2020 Action Agenda (EJ 2020) Framework. This strategy document lays out its plan for continuing to address environmental justice in the context of the agency’s work. EPA is hoping to build on its EJ 2014 Action Agenda and expand that work through commitments that will continue over the next five years. EPA is seeking input on the draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda framework. The public comment period runs from April 15 to June 15. The agency is planning to conduct informational and dialogue sessions during this comment period and is encouraging the public to submit written comments. For more details, see: www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/plan-ej/.

As described in the draft framework document, “EPA’s environmental justice efforts seek to protect the health and environment of overburdened communities, support them to take action to improve their own health and environment, and build partnerships to achieve community health and sustainability.”

The agencies goal through 2020 is to make a visible difference in overburdened communities by:

  • Deepening  environmental justice practice within EPA programs to improve the health and environment of overburdened communities;
  • Collaborating with partners to expand our impact within overburdened communities; and
  • Demonstrating progress on outcomes that matter to overburdened communities

Key elements to the EJ 2020 plan include incorporating EJ in rulemaking; considering EJ in permitting; advancing EJ through compliance and enforcement; supporting community based programs; fostering administration-wide action; and developing science and legal tools for considering environmental justice in decision-making. The framework document also includes a chart that defines the agency’s status and progress in achieving these key elements. In addition, EPA has established a one-stop informational “Resource for Communities” web portal as well as a new EJSCREEN tool that quantitatively identifies areas with potential EJ concerns by using environmental, health, demographic and enforcement indicators.

Contacts on environmental justice are included for each of the 10 EPA regions and for each of 13 major divisions within the agency such as the Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Water, Office of Research and Development, etc.

EPA will make the draft document available on April 15th on its Environmental Justice website at: www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/ej2020/. Comments can be submitted electronically to: ejstrategy@epa.gov, or via hard copy to: Charles Lee at lee.charles@epa.gov. If you have any questions, please contact Charles Lee via email or at 202-564-2597.


Is your child’s school toxic?

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New test results posted by the Santa Monica-Malibu school district (SMMUSD) show nine classrooms and other facilities containing toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in concentrations up to 11,000 times above federal safety limits. The revelation came a day after America Unites for Kids and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) sued the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District for violating the federal Toxic Substances Control Act involving excessive levels of PCBs in school buildings.

The new test results prepared by the district’s own consultant showed PCB levels ranging from 330 parts-per-million to 570,000 ppm, meaning that over 50% of the caulk sample was pure PCB, a cancer-causing, banned chemical. By contrast, the federal safety limit is just 50 ppm. Despite these extremely high levels of a highly toxic chemical banned by Congress, all of these rooms are still in use by students and teachers of the combined elementary, middle and high schools. Elementary school special needs students are in a classroom tested at 470,000 ppm.

CHEJ has a program that can help you to identify if your school is a problem and how to get something done. If your school was built before 1980 it is more likely, than newer schools, to have PCB’s in lighting and caulk.  Check out our project materials at CHEJ’s PCBs in Schools webpage.  This is a win-win the school can remove the PCB’s in light fixtures which are also a problem and charge the school district the difference in their electric bill (since the new fixtures are energy efficient) until the costs are paid off.

Read more about a Los Angeles school district’s own tests show shocking pcb levels.