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Cancer-Free Product Labeling – What Do You Think?

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It’s no secret that market campaigns have been very effective in changing corporate behavior when in comes to using toxic chemicals. Some of the world’s largest retailers, corporations and major institutional purchasers like schools have changed their purchasing and chemicals policy to avoid harmful chemicals, like PVC, phthalates, dioxin and bisphenol A (BPA). Consumers have helped move Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart away from products and packaging with PVC the poison plastic.

The idea is to use consumer purchasing power to change corporate behavior to protection public health in lieu of traditional government regulations. Last week, a Florida Democrat took this philosophy to a new dimension when he introduced federal legislation that would require companies to label their products “cancer- free” if they do not contain any known or suspected carcinogens.

Rep. Ted Deutch described this legislation as a common sense measure that would provide clarity for consumers. “We all know that using sunscreen, quitting smoking and steering clear of asbestos can reduce our risk to cancer,” Deutch said when he introduced the bill, “but when it comes to limiting exposure to carcinogens that may be found in everyday food and products, consumers are largely kept in the dark.”

The Cancer Labeling Act of 2012 will enable consumers to reduce their exposure to carcinogens by allowing manufacturers to affix a Cancer-Free label to products that do not contain known or probable carcinogens through a voluntary process that does not require public disclosure of trade secrets. The issued label would state that the product “does not contain known or likely carcinogens that increase your risk of cancer.”

Companies would apply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) seeking approval to label a product under the jurisdiction of the agency. The application must include a list all substances in the product; a statement that the product does not contain any known or suspected carcinogens; and a statement that the product does not contain any substances that display carcinogenicity upon degradation, upon interaction with other substances contained in the product or exposed to the product during storage or transportation, or during intended use. Use of the label would be voluntary and the process would not require “disclosure of trade secrets.”

Deutch said the bill will allow consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase. “Just as consumers who refused to buy baby products laden with BPA nearly wiped this chemical off the shelves,” Deutch said, “the Cancer Free Label Act will harness market forces to drive change and ultimately reduce Americans’ everyday exposure to known carcinogens.” If only it were that easy. What do you think? Is this a good idea or not?

Photo: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=8

Scientists find vinyl plastic chemicals linked to diabetes

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Photo: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topicsobjectives2020/overview.aspx?topicid=8

Two new peer-reviewed studies published over the past few months are calling attention to the potential link between exposure to phthalates and diabetes, a disease that affects 25.8 million Americans or 8.3% of the US population.  Over 90% of all phthalates are used to soften vinyl, such as vinyl school supplies and flooring.

The most recent study, led by researchers at Harvard, found phthalates linked to higher rates of diabetes in women. This comes at a time when the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes doubled from 1980 to 2010 in women.

They found that the diabetes rate was double for women with the highest levels of phthalates in their bodies, even after accounting for sociodemographic, behavioral, and dietary factors.  Phthalates were also linked to higher blood glucose levels and insulin resistance, two common precursors of type 2 diabetes.    In a story published by Environmental Health News, Richard Stahlhut, an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center who co-authored the study, noted:

“These findings are important clues, but it’s only a first step…It’s extremely likely that phthalates and other chemical contaminants will turn out to be a big part of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, but at this point we really don’t know how these chemicals are interacting with each other, or with the human body.”

The story notes that African Americans have a 19 percent chance of developing diabetes – a rate 77 percent higher than that of whites –  and Hispanics have a 66 percent higher rate than whites.  The story also notes that, “Poor women had up to 78 percent higher levels of BBP – the phthalate in vinyl flooring that was associated with a double rate of diabetes –  than women living above poverty level.”

Another study published in April by the American Diabetes Association found that people with higher phthalates in their bodies had about twice the risk of diabetes as those with lower levels.  Another study published last year also found a link between phthalate exposure and diabetes.

Dioxin and Diabetes

Phthalates aren’t the only vinyl chemicals that may be associated with diabetes.

The production and disposal of vinyl plastic, like the roofing and flooring in our children’s schools, is a major source of dioxin. A number of studies published over the years have linked dioxin exposure to diabetes.

For instance, author and scientist Pete Myers published a synopsis of a study a few years ago and stated that,

A large new epidemiological study in Japan finds that even at background levels of exposure, people with higher levels of dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs are a significantly greater risk to metabolic syndrome, which includes high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes… Using a method to assess total exposure to this family of chemicals, they found that the people most exposed were over five times more likely to suffer from the health condition.  Looking at some of the chemicals one-at-a-time, they found that some, by themselves, had an even stronger relationship, as high as 8 to 9 times more likely.”

This is of great cause for concern given how widespread this disease is.  Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke, and is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.  It is also the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower- limb amputations, and new cases of blindness among adults in the United States.

Over time, I expect the evidence will only continue to mount linking dioxin and phthalates to these and numerous other health problems.

The question is: how much more do we need to know before we act?

Mr. Edgar Mouton.  Photo: Jay Burney

RIP Mr. Mouton, an Environmental Justice Hero

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I was recently saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Edgar Mouton, Jr., a leader and former president of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN).

Mr. Edgar Mouton. Photo: Jay Burney

Mr. Mouton was an inspiration to me as a fighter for environmental justice.

A lifelong resident of Mossville, Louisiana, Mr. Mouton fought passionately and diligently against the PVC plastics and petrochemical industry in his community, which has been spewing poisonous chemicals into the air and water of his community.  Cancer-causing chemicals like dioxin and vinyl chloride.

Words of an environmental justice hero.

Mr. Mouton was humble yet extremely persistent.  He fought for his community for many, many years.  He was outraged by the dioxin and vinyl chloride pollution that was getting into residents’ yards, chickens, homes, and their bodies.  Portions of the community were relocated and demolished due to groundwater contamination from a nearby PVC plant.

He wouldn’t let them get away with this.

In 2000, Mr. Mouton and other leaders from Mossville traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to testify at a US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting.  At that meeting, he said:

“As I grew up in Mossville, I remember when the plants were built as a child. My father helped build a lot of those plants. It is terrible. We had beautiful green woods around us and we did all the fishing that we ever wanted. But they did not care anything about that. And that is the same thing today.

“People are sick and dying in our community because of the high levels of dioxins found in our blood…We have a lot of people sick. There’s a lot of people with some type of illness, lungs, or some with cancer that I know of. There’s a lot of sick people there that thedoctors don’t know what’s wrong with them.”

“They seem continually to stall, for some reason or another. They give us the impression that we do not know what our needs and wants are. They want to run the show; they want to take control.”

At the same time Mossville residents were seeking justice, the polluters themselves were infiltrating and spying on the community.

From Buffalo to Mossville

Mr. Mouton leading us on a toxic tour. Photo: Jay Burney

I met Mr. Mouton back in 2004 when PVC manufacturer CertainTeed was proposing to build a PVC plant on the Lake Erie waterfront in Buffalo, NY where I lived.  We knew CertainTeed’s primary PVC plant was just outside Mossville, and that’s how I had the pleasure of working with and meeting Mr. Mouton.

I led a delegation of environmental health activists to travel from Buffalo to Mossville, to bear witness to the pollution the PVC plastics industry was leveling on this historic African American community.  Mr. Mouton and other leaders of MEAN welcomed us into their community with open arms, introducing us to families, taking us on toxic tours, holding a joint press conference, and even throwing down with us at a crawfish boil.  You can read about the trip in this newsletter article I wrote back in 2004 (see page 8).

I’ll never forget that trip visiting Mr. Mouton, Mossville and the Lake Charles area.  It stays with me every day.

Broken promises, and the struggle continues.

“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” – Mother Jones

I’ve always been inspired by these words of Mother Jones.  And I like to think that Mr. Mouton would agree.  He’d want to see the struggle continue, until justice is served.

Over 12 years since Mr. Mouton spoke out at that meeting in Atlanta, and over 8 years since I traveled to Mossville to go on a toxic tour around CertainTeed and Mossville, CertainTeed is on the minds of Mossville residents once again.

“We’re being hit from the north, south, east, and west. Every time the wind changes, we get a lungful of pollution from some other plant. These chemicals end up in our water, our gardens, our children’s bodies. Each day we hear about someone in our community being diagnosed with cancer or another illness. We’re taking legal action so that we might live to see some improvements for ourselves and our community.” – Mr. Mouton, former President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

Over the past decade, MEAN, Earthjustice and other groups have taken EPA to court numerous times, and won! As a result of their work, the EPA  agreed and promised to clamp down on pollution from PVC chemical plants like CertainTeed in Mossville.

Unfortunately, the EPA has now broken their promises to this community, which flies in the face of the EPA’s commitment to environmental justice.  The EPA has set stronger emission standards for PVC plants in other communities, but weaker ones in Mossville, home to more than PVC plants than anywhere else in the country!

That’s why this week, MEAN, Earthjustice, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and other groups are fighting back once again.  They’ve filed a petition and lawsuit demanding EPA reduce toxic pollution from the CertainTeed plant.

“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, Louisiana, it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation.  EPA should stay true to its commitment to environmental justice and correct this unfairness by setting stronger air pollution limits that will protect our health as we and all Americans deserve.”- Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson owes this community justice.  She owes it to Mr. Mouton’s family.

RIP Mr. Mouton.  We will miss and never forget you.   The struggle continues.

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

EPA Rule Leaves Gulf Coast Communities Burdened With More Toxic Pollution

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Community groups’ lawsuit challenges EPA’s weakened protections against toxic air pollution from Polyvinyl Chloride facilities

Washington, DC — When Dorothy Felix of Mossville, Louisiana, learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was going to finally cut  toxic pollution from the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant nearby, she rejoiced.  But after EPA reversed its plan to protect the community in the final rule, she and others in the Mossville community who breathe in the plant’s toxic fumes must restart a decade-long effort to get these basic limits on toxic air pollution.

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club have filed a lawsuit today to challenge the weaker protections as unlawful and arbitrary.  The groups also filed a petition asking EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to reconsider her decision voluntarily.

“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, Louisiana, it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation,” said Dorothy Felix of MEAN. “EPA should stay true to its commitment to environmental justice and correct this unfairness by setting stronger air pollution limits that will protect our health as we and all Americans deserve.”

According to the EPA, there are 17 plants in the United States that manufacture polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin, and they emit more than 1400 tons of hazardous air pollutants every year.  These emissions include more than 270 tons per year of vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen.  They also include benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and dioxins, all of which also are known human carcinogens, as well as probable human carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.

The EPA’s emission standards for the plants in Mossville, Louisiana and Deer Park, Texas are especially weak, allowing these plants to emit toxic pollutants at far greater concentrations than other PVC facilities. In an about-face, the EPA decided without warning to create special categories for these two sources, even though the agency recognized that the pollution is similar to and could use the same types of pollution control technologies that are generally available and in use by other PVC facilities.

“Just across the highway from the local PVC facility are neighborhoods, two high schools, an elementary school, youth sports fields and churches but no air monitors to help protect the health of the people who live there,” said Matthew Tejada, of Air Alliance Houston. “For the EPA to fail to set strong regulations for such facilities which emit cancer-causing pollution is stupefying.”

“For far too long, the vinyl plastics industry has released staggering levels of vinyl chloride, dioxin and other toxic pollutants into surrounding communities,” said Mike Schade, Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “Mossville is surrounded by more vinyl manufacturers than anywhere else in the country.  This community should receive the greatest, not the weakest, protection.  Shame on EPA for issuing weaker standards for this community, which has been overburdened with toxic pollution for much too long.”

Although the agency claimed legal authority to issue weaker standards for these two plants, it did not address the need for stronger public health protection in its decision.  Notably, the owners of both plants have billions of dollars in revenue each year, according to the EPA, and could afford to clean up their toxic emissions at least to the same level as the rest of the industry.

“EPA’s decision to allow so much more toxic pollution into American communities is disturbing,” said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. “It is hard to see how this rule honors the agency’s longstanding commitments to protect community health and provide environmental justice, particularly in the Gulf region.  We hope Administrator Jackson will consider the consequences of her decision on the residents of Mossville, Deer Park, and other American communities and set the protective standards they need.”

Here is a map showing the locations of PVC plants nationwide.

Here is emissions data information for all 17 facilities.

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Photo of Westlake PVC chemical plant after it exploded and caught on fire, releasing vinyl chloride and other toxic pollutants into the community.

(Yet) Another PVC Plant Explosion and Fire

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An explosion and raging fire at the Westlake PVC plant rocked Geismar, Louisiana a few weeks ago, sending a billowing cloud of toxic vinyl

Photo of Westlake PVC chemical plant after it exploded and caught on fire, releasing vinyl chloride and other toxic pollutants into the community.

chloride and hydrochloric acid through the community.  The accident forced area residents and plant workers to shelter in place for several hours, shut roads, and even led to the closure of a 45-mile section of the Mississippi River.

The accident took place just one week before the Vinyl Institute was in NYC arguing PVC was perfectly safe. For some reason, they forgot to mention in their testimony that one of their plants had just exploded.

Westlake Vinyls makes 550 million pounds of vinyl chloride monomer and 60 million pounds of PVC a year.  The company reports this is used to make PVC pipe, pipe fittings, vinyl sidings, bottles, flexible and rigid film and sheeting used for packaging, credit cards and wall coverings.

Check out this local TV news report (and see another at the bottom) on the accident:

A Toxic Cocktail of Chlorinated Chemicals

We’ll likely never know exactly what was in that cloud of smoke released into the community, but according to report filed by Westlake Vinyls, the company estimated they released a toxic cocktail of:

  • 2,645 pounds of hydrochloric acid;
  • 632 pounds of chlorine;
  • 239 pounds of vinyl chloride monomer;
  • 29 pounds of 1,2-dichloroethane;
  • 11 pounds of 1,1,2-Trichloroethane;
  • 1 pound of 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane; and a number of other chemicals.

According to a local newspaper:

Even after the fire was out, a large white cloud could be seen still billowing from the plant.”

According to Westlake own reports to the EPA, its plant puts 589,558 people at risk due to the bulk use and storage of chlorine. An accident involving this chemical could potentially impact an area up to 25.00 miles downwind of the plant.

A History of Environmental Injustice

Low income and communities of color live downwind of the Westlake PVC plant.  According to census data, 52.83% of people living within 3 miles of the facility are people of color.  445 people that live within 3 miles of the plant are below the poverty level.

This isn’t first time the plant has had an accident in recent years. On July 8 2010, over 900 pounds of vinyl chloride as well as other chemicals were released during another accident.

A number of other significant incidents and violations that have taken place at this location over the past twenty years, particularly when it was owned operated by Borden Chemicals and Plastics.  This has been well documented in the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice report, From plantations to plants: Report of the Emergency National Commission of Environmental and Economic Justice in St. James Parish, Louisiana, which found:

“In March 1998, Borden Chemicals and Plastics and the federal government reached a settlement under which Borden would pay a $3.6 million penalty and clean up groundwater pollution at its plant in Geismar. The fine was described by a U.S. Attorney as “the largest ever for hazardous-waste law violations in Louisiana.” The settlement ended a case in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claimed Borden failed to investigate and clean up contamination at its site, failed to report toxic spills, and ran an incinerator without the proper license. Borden said in a news release that the penalty is “less than 1 percent of the $800 million judgment sought by the government.”

On December 24, 1997, a 500,000-gallon storage tank at Borden Chemicals & Plastics in Ascension Parish, Louisiana blew off its top “with a detonation heard for miles around, forcing the closure of Louisiana Route 1 and the voluntary evacuation of some neighbors.” Over a year before (August 22, 1996), equipment failure during the restart of Borden’s facility caused 8,000 pounds of “hazardous materials” to be released.”

In addition, Borden was charged in 1994 with shipping over 300, 000 pounds of hazardous waste to South Africa without notifying the US EPA, as required by law.

The Borden-Westlake-Formosa-Explosion Connection

The Westlake plant that exploded used to be operated by Borden.  Borden also used to operate a chemical plant in Illiopolis, IL which was later taken over by Formosa Plastics.  Interestingly, there was also a major chemical explosion and fire at this plant in Illiopolis a few years ago, which acclaimed author Sandra Steingraber has written about.

This explosion sent a plume of toxic smoke for miles around surrounding communities. Five workers were killed, four towns were evacuated, several highways closed, a no-fly zone declared, and three hundred firefighters from twenty-seven surrounding communities battled the flames for three days.

Did the Westlake Plant Release Deadly Dioxin?

Perhaps even more importantly, we’re very concerned that the fire and explosion sent a plume of toxic dioxin into communities and waterbodies downwind and downstream.  Given that large quantities of highly toxic chlorinated chemicals burned for numerous hours, under uncontrolled conditions, you can bet dioxins and furans were released.

The question is – will EPA and the state DEQ launch an investigation?

Will they sample communities downwind for dioxin contamination?

As we ponder that, here’s another video on the accident:

NYC City Hall

Phasing PVC Out of NYC Purchasing: Lessons in Persistence

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“Section 7 – Dioxin Reduction. Product: Paper Products. Standard: Process-chlorine free”

Proposed Environmentally Preferable Purchasing rule, Mayor’s office of the City of New York, Feb. 27, 2012

“Environmental, Public Health, Labor Groups Call on Bloomberg Administration to Phase Out Toxic PVC Plastic, a Major Source of Dioxin.”

CHEJ Press Release after March 29, 2012, public hearing

NYC City Hall

Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

When we read the standard above, we knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us. To the public, the standard would seem like a positive environmental step, eliminating the purchase of chlorinated paper that produces toxic chemicals when burned. To CHEJ and our allies, it meant that more than seven years of work to phase polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic out of NYC purchasing was in danger of being thrown under the bus. So once again, on March 29th, we rallied the troops, this time for a public hearing before the Bloomberg Administration.

Greening the Big Apple

NYC agencies spend billions of dollars a year on goods, construction and services, which can have a huge impact on the environment.  In 2005, CHEJ worked closely with members of the NYC City Council to help pass the “Environmentally Preferable Purchasing” (EPP) laws, which set standards for energy and water efficiency, “green” cleaning products, and recycled content in goods and construction materials bought by City agencies. Importantly, the laws also addressed hazardous substances associated with products purchased by the City, including a requirement that:

“By January 1, 2008, the director shall promulgate rules to reduce the City’s purchase or lease of materials whose combustion may lead to the formation of dioxin or dioxin-like compounds.”

This was a huge victory.

Dioxins, some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, are associated with birth defects, developmental disorders, and cancer. They’re formed primarily when materials like PVC plastic containing chlorine are burned.

Chlorine, PVC and Dioxin – the Connection

As one of the largest sources of dioxin in the world, PVC consumes about 40% of all the chlorine produced worldwide. The plastic itself, which is found in many products purchased by City agencies, including flooring, siding, office supplies, carpeting, and electronics, contains and releases chemicals associated with asthma, learning disabilities, and other chronic diseases on the rise. When PVC burns in building fires it turns into hydrochloric acid, and has been linked to respiratory problems and cancer risks for first responders. The City Council legislators who drafted the dioxin provisions of the EPP laws did so with the intention of phasing PVC products out of City purchasing, as documented in the voting report discussing the legislation.

NYC: A Huge Opportunity

By January 1st, 2008, the City had missed their deadline for producing the dioxin-reduction rules.

In response to the missed deadline, we wrote letters to the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) signed by over 20 diverse organizations and experts, calling for the dioxin rules to be released, and for green purchasing provisions to address PVC.  We called, emailed, and met with officials; more recently we gave testimony at a City Council oversight hearing. We made clear that safer and cost effective PVC-free alternatives are readily available on the market, and that companies such as Google, Apple, Target, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft all have policies to reduce or phase out the purchase of PVC.

Over four years late, in February of 2012, MOCS finally issued the draft rules, and announced a 30-day public comment period, culminating in a public hearing on March 29, 2012. We at CHEJ read the dioxin provision with great disappointment:

“Section 7 – Dioxin Reduction. Product: Paper Products. Standard: Process-chlorine free.

MOCS was trying to meet the dioxin requirements solely by reducing the chlorine content of their paper products, ignoring PVC entirely.

On the positive side, while the proposed purchasing regulations did not address PVC, we learned that the City has already begun to make progress in reducing NYC’s purchase of PVC products. The City is working with Staples, NYC’s sole office supply vendor, to identify and purchase PVC-free office supplies. It has issued bids for a large new citywide carpeting contract that requires all carpeting to be completely PVC-free. And City purchasers are already selecting computers off of State contracts that have PVC-free requirements.

These are positive steps, and they should be codified in the proposed regulations. Including PVC in the rules themselves would not only meet the documented intent of the law, it would also ensure that future mayoral administrations will be bound by the same rules, and make NYC a national leader in safe, green purchasing.

Firefighters, Teachers, Doctors Speak Out

During the 30-day public comment period and at the March 29th hearing, CHEJ and more than 35 organizations and experts submitted testimony, including environmental health and justice groups, experts in children’s health and brain development, teachers and firefighters unions, and green businesspeople and architects. 100 citizen activists signed a letter, and City Councilman Robert Jackson sent a letter of support. Below are some key quotations from the hearing, and you can find more in the press release.

Captain Alexander Hagan, President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA), said, “Fire Officers take an oath to ‘protect the lives and property of the citizens of New York City’ and there is an ongoing interest to the public if laws regarding the purchasing and use of PVC products by the City are not being complied with. PVC is among the most serious dangers to humans and the environment when it is burned. … From a fire perspective, we urge compliance of the City to ensure an environmentally friendly purchasing process.”

Stephen Boese, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, said, “As advocates for persons with learning disabilities and related impairments, the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State supports initiatives that prevent disability. We therefore urge that the City of New York assure that its purchasing policies exclude products with harmful plastics like PVC that release dioxin, wherever feasible, and protect the health and well-being of City workers, those in the care of City programs, and all other City residents.”

Also check out these great stories from the Village Voice and WNYC.

Looking to the Future

If we succeed in getting PVC-reduction written into the rules, they will be among the first, if not the first, binding PVC-specific city-level purchasing regulations in the country, impacting the largest city in the United States, which spends approximately $17 billion annually on goods and services.

Let’s hope Mayor Bloomberg recognizes this opportunity to lead the country into a safer, greener future.

 

Contact Daniel at DGradess at a domain called chej dot org

lets make a deal

EPA Caving To The Chemical Industry-Election Year Posturing?

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I can’t help but wonder if President Obama is posturing for re-elections trying to appease the all powerful oil, gas and chemical industries. It’s been over two years since the USEPA released their preliminary clean up goals for dioxin. These are clean up goals or levels that can be left in soil, and were based upon scientific studies that looked at non cancer effects. Health effects like birth defects, learning disabilities, miscarriages and more.

After EPA published the clean up goals they went to the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) where they sat for nearly two years. I had the opportunity to meet with OMB staff working on the dioxin goals and walked away angry and frustrated. I rename the agency the Office of Mannequin Bodies because no one would say anything–literally.

Today, EPA announced that they have withdrawn the clean up goals from OMB and will essentially abandoning them. This means that every state will use the scientific report, released in February of non-cancer dioxin effects to set their own guideline. Unbelievable, since today EPA has the scientific report (released in February) to support their proposed clean up goals. What this means is in each state the corporations will come to the table ready to play Monty Hall’s “Let’s Make A Deal!

So states with big corporations ruling the governance will deal a whole lot different than those with stricter regulations and public support. Some sites could be cleaned up to protective levels, and others well . . . who knows.

In the simplest format of Let’s Make A Deal, a trader is given a prize of medium value (such as a television set or in this case a almost good clean up), and the host offers them the opportunity to trade for another prize. But a poorer state with little money and political influence could get “Zonked” an unwanted booby prizes, which could be anything, fake money, fake trips or something outlandish like a fake clean up.

Communities deserve equal protection from dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. We know the chemical industry has invested significant resources lobbying against EPA’s proposed cleanup levels. Is EPA caving into the chemical industry during an election year? What is going on here? All of a sudden EPA has withdrawn them from OMB review, without any public notice or participation.

We call on EPA Administrator Jackson to move swiftly to finalize and release final dioxin cleanup guidelines once and for all, especially now that the non-cancer health assessment is complete. Infants and young children are already being exposed to dioxin levels higher than what EPA considers acceptable.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/garymacfadyen

NYC: Phase Out Toxic PVC Plastic, a Major Source of Dioxin

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For Immediate Release: Thursday March 29, 2012 Contact: Mike Schade, 212-964-3680, mike@chej.org

After Four Years of Delay, NYC Issues Landmark “Green Purchasing” Rules for City Agencies to Reduce Dioxin, One of the Most Toxic Chemicals Known to Science

Environmental, Public Health, Labor Groups Call on Bloomberg Administration to Phase Out Toxic PVC Plastic, a Major Source of Dioxin

(New York, NY) At a major public hearing held today by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS), environmental health, labor, and pediatric medical organizations and experts testified and called on the Bloomberg administration to fully implemen t a “green purchasing” law 7 years in the making, by phasing out the purchase of toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/garymacfadyen


The NYC 2005 Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) laws called for the development of City regulations to reduce the purchase of products by City agencies that release toxic dioxin when burned.   Dioxin is linked to cancer, learning disabilities, diabetes, birth defects, endometriosis, and infertility, and is widely considered to be the most toxic synthetic chemical. The 2005 law was intended to reduce NYC’s purchase of products containing PVC that form dioxin. After more than four years of delay, the EPP rules were released on February 27th, yet do not address NYC’s purchase of PVC products.

“We are very concerned that the proposed dioxin regulations do not address NYC’s purchase of PVC plastic, a major and preventable source of dioxin,” said Daniel Gradess, Organizer with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “The New York Academy of Sciences and New York State Attorney General’s Office have both documented PVC as a significant dioxin source.  The Bloomberg Administration has an opportunity to lead the nation in reducing the purchase of this unnecessary toxic plastic harmful to children’s health.”

“Fire Officers take an oath to “protect the lives and property of the citizens of New York City” and there is an ongoing interest to the public if laws regarding the purchasing and use of PVC products by the city are not being complied with,” said Captain Alexander Hagan, President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA). “PVC is among the most serious dangers to humans and the environment when it is burned.  It releases dioxin, which is widely considered to be one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, and virtually every resident of NYC has measurable levels of dioxin in their bodies.  From a fire perspective, we urge compliance of the City to ensure an environmentally friendly purchasing process.”

Groups testifying at today’s hearing included representatives of the Learning Disabilities Association of NYS; Children’s Environmental Health Center of Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Sierra Club NYC Chapter; New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH); CWA Healthcare Coordinating Council; Perkins and Will Architectural Firm; the Center for Health, Environment & Justice; Center for Environmental Health; Ironbound Community Corporation; Food and Water Watch; and others.  Many other groups submitted written comments on the proposed regulations, including the Uniformed Firefighters Officers Association (UFOA); United Federation of Teachers (UFT); NYS Nurses Association (NYSNA); American Sustainable Business Council; the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Healthy Schools Network; NYPIRG; and Health Care Without Harm.

Safer, cost-effective alternatives are readily available for NYC agencies to purchase. Major corporations such as Google, Apple, Target, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft have policies to reduce or phase out the purchase of PVC.  The NYC Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) have both begun to make voluntary progress by reducing the purchase of PVC products:

  • NYC purchases its computers off of state contracts, which require all computers to be free of PVC in large plastic parts.
  • In January, MOCS announced it is working with Staples to reduce the purchase of PVC office supplies by City Agencies.
  • In March, DCAS issued a request for bids for a new NYC carpet contract. This multi-year, multi-million dollar contract states that all carpets sold to NYC must be completely PVC-free.

Advocates today called on the Bloomberg Administration to codify these voluntary efforts into the proposed environmentally preferable purchasing regulations.

“The incidence of learning disability and related neurological impairment such as autism, is increasing at an unprecedented rate,” said, Stephen Boese, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State. “Research shows that a substantial part of this increase is attributable to environmental factors.  Meanwhile, many chemicals known or suspected to cause neurological impairment remain largely unregulated by the federal government.  As advocates for persons with learning disabilities and related impairments, the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State supports initiatives that prevent disability.   We therefore urge that the City of New York assure that its purchasing policies excludes products with harmful plastics like PVC that release dioxin, wherever feasible, and protect the health and well-being of city workers, those in the care of city programs, and all other city residents.”

Jean Grassman, a Board Member with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), said, “When buildings containing materials made of PVC burn, firefighters, other “first responders”, building occupants, and the surrounding community face exposure to dioxins, benzene, phosgene, hydrochloric acid and other hazardous substances which place them at risk of acute and chronic health effects. Exposure to a single PVC fire can cause permanent respiratory disease.”

“It is our belief that products that are harmful to humans, animals, and the environment should not be used in our projects, and to that end, we advise our clients to seek alternatives to substances such as PVC,” said Peter Syrett, Architect and Associate Principal at Perkins+Will.

Larry McCormick is an officer of the CWA Healthcare Coordinating Council (HCC), a network for two dozen union locals in New York and New Jersey that represent 15,000 healthcare workers. He notes, “The HCC urges New York to phase out the purchase of PVC.  We put our patients first, and we believe a PVC phase out will help reduce cancer, learning disabilities, infertility, birth defects, and diabetes in those we care for.”

“Phasing PVC plastic out of City purchasing is the right move for New Yorkers’ health and environment,” said Irene Van Slyvke, Vice President of the Sierra Club New York City Group.  “We should act now to prioritize nontoxic, cost-effective alternatives to PVC, rather than continuing to pay for the healthcare costs associated with dioxin exposure.”

Ellen Weininger, Educational Outreach Coordinator for Grassroots Environmental Education, said, “The best way to avoid the negative human health and environmental impacts and economic burden of toxic exposures is to minimize the production and purchase of toxic products.  Children and their parents rely on government officials to provide the protections they need for their health and safety.  The stakes are too high to deliver anything less than the full implementation of a PVC-free procurement plan for New York City.”

“When buyers demand safer products, the market responds,” said Ansje Miller, Eastern States Director, of the Center for Environmental Health. “By phasing out the poison plastic PVC, NYC will create a global market for safer electronics and other products, creating a healthier environment for workers, consumers, and all New Yorkers.”

Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, said, “With every manufacturer advertising products as green, it is hard for cities and states to determine what is green and what is merely green washing. Mindful of the public health effects of chemicals in products and the rising epidemics of asthma and learning problems, we urge the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services to take more care to ensure that the products it specs are truly healthy and green. Relying on third party certifiers will do that.”

Thursday’s public hearing concludes a 30-day public comment period, and comes on the heels of a January 2012 NYC Council oversight hearing examining NYC’s compliance with the green purchasing laws.

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ATTENTION JOURNALISTS: For copies of testimony delivered at today’s hearing, or additional background information, please contact Mike Schade, CHEJ at mike@chej.org / 212.964.3680.

To download the NYC proposed environmentally preferable purchasing regulations, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycrules/downloads/rules/P_MOCS_2.24.12_A.pdf

To download the original legislation and 2005 City Council voting report that discusses the relationship between PVC and dioxin, visit http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/12-21-05-Voting-Report-Int-544-A-Hazardous.pdf

Low Doses Matter

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You were right.

How often have you been told that the levels of a particular chemical found in the air, soil or water are very low and thus not significant, or that the risks are so low that there is no cause for alarm?  This is what EPA said about dioxin just about a month ago when they released its non-cancer report.   Now a new scientific report is helping make the case that most people living in a contaminated community have known for years – low dose effects matter.   A group of scientists led by Laura Vandenberg at Tufts University reviewed literally hundreds of published scientific papers, many on endocrine disruptors, and found dozens of examples of low dose effects.  These papers included a wide range of chemicals including many found in the environment, our food, and many consumer products such as plastics, pesticides, and cosmetics.  The researchers found “overwhelming evidence that these hormones altering chemicals have effects at low doses and that these effects are often completely different than effects at high levels.”  Low doses are defined as levels occurring in the range of typical human exposure.

This is a remarkable paper.  It says and supports what community leaders having been saying for years –  low dose exposures are damaging people’s health and the way scientists evaluate health risks using risk assessment no longer works.  One of the key conclusions in this paper is that “the effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses.”   This paper needs to be read by every regulating agency at the state and federal level because it opens the door to a new way of thinking about heath risks.  No longer is it enough or even good science to evaluate health risks using traditional dose response thinking that accepts effects at high doses, but not at low doses.

As noted in an earlier blog, Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, described this traditional approach to evaluating health risks as “antiquated” and that it needs to be replaced by a “better understanding of the actual characteristics of modern environmental chemicals.”  In a recent editorial Birnbaum says “It is time to start the conversation between environmental health scientists, toxicologists, and risk assessors to determine how our understanding of low doses effects and non-monotonic dose responses influence the way risk assessments a re performed for chemicals with endocrine disrupting activities.“

Birnbaum is right.  We need to begin rethinking how we evaluate health risks from low dose exposures to toxic chemicals.  For a copy of the Vandenberg paper see: http://edrv.endojournals.org/content/early/2012/03/14/er.2011-1050.full.pdf+html.




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New Dioxin Report: What it means

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Several weeks ago EPA released the non-cancer portion of the EPA’s health assessment for the chemical known as dioxin. The event passed without industry collapsing, without the public going into panic as was anticipated by the food industry, and basically without the world coming to an end. The myriad forecasts of doom that industry and its apologists predicted did not come to pass. In fact, the media barely took notice. Why? – Because the reassessment did not set any new standards or introduce any new regulations.  It simply provided the scientific basis for determining the risks that dioxin poses, though in this case, just the non-cancer risks (EPA is still working on the cancer report).

The non-cancer effects of dioxin as described in the report are quite serious. In a recent review paper, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the NIEHS, summarized the adverse health effects of dioxin exposure in humans as including “cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, porphyria, endometriosis, early menopause, reduced testosterone and thyroid hormones, altered immune responses, skin, tooth, and nail abnormalities, altered growth factor signaling, and altered metabolism.”

Most notably, the non-cancer assessment included for the first time a value called the reference dose.  This is a number used to evaluate non-cancer risks and is generally defined as “a level below which exposures are generally considered to be safe.” The EPA’s Reference Dose for dioxin is 0.7 picograms TEQ per kilogram per day (pg/kg/d) which was derived by evaluating developmental and reproductive effects in a community in Italy (Seveso) exposed to dioxin caused by an accident at a pesticide manufacturing plant.

What’s remarkable about the EPA reference dose is when you compare this number to the average daily exposure of the American public to dioxin (defined as the daily intake from all sources, 90% of which comes from food).  Using the most recent data from EPA (see Lorber et al. 2009) the average daily exposure is 0.54 pg TEQ/kg/d compared to EPA’s reference dose of 0.7 pg TEQ/kg/d.  So the average person gets a daily dose of dioxin that’s 77% of EPA’s new reference dose. That’s the good news; the bad news is that the average is so very close to the EPA reference dose and that some groups, especially children, are exposed to higher levels that exceed the new EPA reference dose. This is because children have different eating habits than adults. They tend to eat more diary products that are high in dioxin. Dioxin is prevalent in foods that are high in saturated fat, primarily meat and dairy.

A 2003 study conducted by a National Academy of Sciences Committee on Dioxin in Food bears this out. The committee found that children ages 1 to 5 were exposed to 1.09 pg TEQ/kg/day and children ages 6-11 years old were exposed to 0.69 pg TEQ/kg/day. This analysis shows that dioxin exposure in children 1 to 5 years old exceeds EPA’s reference or safe dose and that children 6 to 11 years old have dioxin exposure that is virtually identical to the EPA reference dose.

As a practical matter, this means that the best risk estimate we have on dioxin shows that the public, especially children are being exposed to unacceptable levels of dioxin that may be causing subtle adverse effects. These subtle effects likely include developmental effects that Dr. Birnbaum described in her review paper as posing the greatest concern “in part because the effects occur at the high end of the background range for the general population.”  These exposures may exceed the EPA’s reference does and even approach the levels observed in the study of Seveso, Italy.    The developmental effects may include altered thyroid and immune status, altered neurobehavior at the level of hearing, psychomotor function, and gender-related behaviors, altered cognition, dentition, and development of reproductive organs, and delays in breast development, in addition to altered sex ratios among exposed offspring.

While no exposure to dioxin is the ideal, we are not there yet.  In the meantime, exposure to dioxin in food, especially for children remains too high and needs to be addressed by EPA, FDA, and USDA. CHEJ strongly urges the EPA to finish and release their review on dioxin and cancer, and to develop a comprehensive action plan to further reduce dioxin emissions and exposures.

For a copy of EPA’s new dioxin health report, visit http://www.epa.gov/dioxin

To see CHEJ’s press release about this report, visit http://bit.ly/dioxinvictory