dioxin image

Make Sure Dioxin’s Not for Dinner In Texas


Texas Department of Health has issued a consumption advisory for crab and all species of fish from the San Jacinto River and warned women who are nursing, pregnant or who might be pregnant and children under the age of 12 not to consume any fish or blue crab from the area. The Health Department also advised adults and children to avoid the risk of exposure to dioxin through skin by not camping, fishing, swimming or picnicking near the San Jacinto River where the toxic waste ponds were located. According to the County, the health of both humans and the local ecology are threatened by releases of dioxin from the waste pond sites. Read more.

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Faith-Based and Socially Responsible Investors Call on EPA to Strengthen PVC Air Safeguards


Investors urge EPA to protect environmental justice communities

Photo: © Les Stone/Greenpeace

Washington, DC — Public pressure is mounting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen toxic air pollution standards at polyvinyl chloride (PVC) chemical plants, especially for two that were singled out for weak standards in a new set of rules that the agency released addressing emissions from nationwide facilities.

The newest action comes from over a dozen faith-based and socially responsible investors in a letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today.

Nearly twenty investors, with more than $9.8 billion assets under management, including some who own shares in PVC plants, are calling on the EPA to reconsider the rule. In a letter submitted to EPA today, they write:

“Setting PVC industry emission standards that are weaker than EPA’s initial proposed standards is counterproductive to efforts begun by investors, community groups, and local regulatory officials to reduce the toxic burden in environmental justice communities.”

The latest letter builds on the concerns raised in a July letter signed by 60 national and local environmental health and justice groups and submitted to the EPA. The investor letter also attempts to reinforce the concerns that Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) presented at the July meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to EPA. All of these efforts reinforce the petition Earthjustice filed in June on behalf of MEAN, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club in June asking EPA to grant reconsideration and issue a new, stronger air toxics rule without delay.

“As long term investors of persified portfolios we believe strong and consistent protections of public health and welfare are essential to long term economic growth, and in turn the prospects of companies in our portfolios,” said Susan Baker of Trillium Asset Management. “Communities in Mossville and Deer Park have the right to breathe clean air.”

According to the EPA, there are 17 plants in the United States that manufacture 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. Dioxins are widely considered some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, targeted for phase-out by 170 nations around the world.

The EPA’s emission standards for the plants in Mossville and Deer Park are especially weak, allowing these plants to emit toxic pollutants at far greater concentrations than other PVC facilities.

While initially proposing to grant these communities at least the same protection as those elsewhere in the U.S., the EPA then decided without warning or any opportunity for public comment to create special categories for these two sources, even though the agency recognized that the plants are similar to and could use the same types of pollution control technologies that are generally available and in use by other PVC facilities.

“We have been shouldering the burden of breathing this poisoned air for much too long, leaving us with unparalleled levels of disease and illness,” said Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “Advocates for clean air from all sectors will continue to call on EPA to strengthen these standards because it is clear that our communities were unfairly singled out.”

“Exposing communities to chemicals that cause sickness and cancer is not the way to keep our economy strong,” said Sister Judy Byron of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment. “These facilities have more than enough money to install protections that would limit the amount of poison people breathe.”

“Our community is continually exposed to cancer-causing pollution from the local PVC plant which spews its chemicals into our neighborhoods, schools and churches,” said Matthew Tejada of Air Alliance Houston. “For an agency committed to environmental justice to set weaker standards for PVC plants in communities that need protection the most is simply unacceptable.”

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

Here is emissions data information for all 17 facilities.

Here is the investor letter to EPA (submitted today).

Here is the 60-group letter to EPA (July 17, 2012).

Here is the petition for reconsideration (June 18, 2012) filed by Earthjustice on behalf of MEAN, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club.

For more information, contact:

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221; rismail@earthjustice.org

Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, (212) 964-3680; mike@chej.org

Susan Baker, Trillium Asset Management, (617) 532-6681; SBaker@trilliuminvest.com

Pompton Lakes

10,000 NJ Citizens Ask Christie For Superfund Designation


“For 25 years, DEP has been a total failure. The remediation so far has only gotten worse . . . if the governor cared about the public health and safety, he would nominate the site for Superfund so it would get the proper scrutiny and cleanup it deserves,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who joined the residents at a press conference. Read more . . .

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Cancer-Free Product Labeling – What Do You Think?


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


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


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


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.


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


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


“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?


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.