What a night it was! Long-time and new friends joined Lois Gibbs in New York City to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Love Canal. The event also honored and celebrated Lois for her legacy and leadership as the founder of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ).
It was a truly celebratory evening. You could feel real energy in the room as everyone enjoyed the warm company and delicious food. It was a night to recognize how far we’ve come since the days of Love Canal and to reflect on the elements that have powered change in the past three decades.
In line with the celebratory theme, there were no lectures or speeches; a brief clip of the Love Canal segment in the documentary A Fierce Green Fire, The Battle for A Living Planet was shown. There was giggling at some scenes; boos at those that showed anti-environmental attacks, like when Ronald Reagan alleged that “the environmentalist won’t be happy until they turn the Whitehouse into a bird’s nest.” And of course, there was a lot of applause when Lois challenged President Carter and the U.S. government by taking the EPA representatives hostage. It was a fun fifteen minutes of viewing.
CHEJ and Lois certainly felt proud to be recognized and introduced by our special guests Chevy and Jayni Chase. The evening was also a successful fundraiser for CHEJ, bringing new critical resources to support the work of CHEJ’s Leadership Training Academy. The event is the first in a series that will be held this year across the country, commemorating the Love Canal anniversary and raising funds to train and mentor the next generation of grassroots leaders through the Academy.
A big thanks goes out to our host committee for their planning and support, especially to our co-chairs Sarah Stranahan and Cara McCaffrey. Their hard work has set a very high bar. Thank you to all who came and to our sponsors. Your support and involvement will have a lasting positive impact in the communities in which we serve.
THE LANDSMAN COMETH
This is a narrative of what happened to two Pennsylvanian dairy farmers told by Bob Scroggins of New Milford, PA. Their plights, as told separately by two women, are woven together as one, each filling in the blanks of the other for a complete picture. We’ll give them the singular name, Barbara. This is her story.
Barbara wasn’t getting any younger. Running the farm this year was more difficult than last year and next year would be harder still. She wanted to somehow retire but how? Then came that knock on the porch door. It was the landsman.
After some small talk, the landsman told me I was walking on money. A mile down was a deposit of natural gas. There is a new way to extract it, he explained, that was minimally invasive. Of course there would be some surface disruption but not much and it would be over quickly. Then the gas would flow and so would the money from royalties.
How much money? A lot of money over the 30-year life expectancy of the well, answered the landsman. It seemed like the answer to my prayers. I could not only retire but could possible become a “shaleionaire.”
The landsman was likable, forthright, and sincere. I trusted him. That was my first mistake. He handed me a two-page contract to sign with assurance that it was in my interest.
I glanced over the small print, then signed it. That was my second mistake. Paragraph 15, had I read it, would have given me pause for thought: “no promise on behalf of either party shall be binding unless agreed to in writing.” In other words, what the landsman said, no matter how misleading or false, had no legal standing.
Several months later I woke up to find 18 trucks idling on my land. Bulldozers leveled a drill pad, and a rig went up not far from my backdoor. I should have counted myself lucky. Paragraph 4 read: “no well may be drilled nearer than 200 feet to any dwelling house.” The rig was 500 feet away.
Then came the fleets of trucks carrying water, sand, chemicals, rig parts, heavy-duty construction equipment, diesel engines, fuel, pumps, exotic machinery. This was a 24/7 operation against which I was a helpless observer.
But paragraph 4 was warning enough: “Lessee shall have the right to construction . . . all facilities to discover, produce, store, treat and/or transport production.” And paragraph 8 gave them the right to “ingress and egress.”
In plain language, the gas company had the right to do whatever it wanted whenever it wanted.
My back pasture became an industrial zone.
Then it got worse.
I noticed that the water in the cow trough stopped freezing on cold nights. This affected the cows as well as the marketability of their milk. My tap water turned milky white, then became gelatinous, the faucets sputtered with methane. It was undrinkable.
The gas company agreed to provide water provided I sign a non-disclosure agreement. I didn’t sign. I wanted people to know what was going on.
My royalty check for the first month of production was $1,400. I calculated that based on the volume of gas extracted it should have been more. But that was because I didn’t read paragraph 3: “the amount realized from the sale of gas less all costs of post-production expenses.”
The landsman’s 30-year well production prediction turned out to be two years after which it twindled to 20 percent along with the royalties. My last check was for $70.
The market value of my farm fell 85 percent. My health suffers from the contaminated water I am forced to use for brief showers. The fumes, constant noise from traffic and flaring, and glaring floodlights at night all take their toll.
There is also the anxiety caused by the possibility of the gas company filing a mechanic’s lien. This is a claim on my property incurred by unpaid subcontractors to the gas company.
And if things get a little too sticky for the gas company, there’s paragraph 10: “the lessee shall have the right to surrender this lease after which all payments and liabilities cease.” But the lease denies me the right to opt-out. That, as I found out, is in paragraph 9.
New Milford, PA
This year marks a very significant date – the 35th anniversary of the Love Canal crisis. It is hard to believe it has been that long and in recognizing this fact of life, I realize that entire generations have been born since who may know little or nothing about Love Canal and how the environmental health and justice movement began.
History is important and we need to find ways to tell the story so that we don’t repeat our mistakes and we can reap the benefits of lessons learned through oral histories. One key lesson from Love Canal is that a blue collar community with next to no resources was able to win its fight for justice and open the eyes of the nation and the world to the serious problems of environmental chemicals and their effects on public health.
Thanks to Mark Kitchell, an Oscar nominated and well known filmmaker (Berkeley in the Sixties), there’s now a compelling and thought provoking film that can be used as a tool in educating younger generations about Love Canal and the history of the environmental movement and engaging them and re-engaging the rest of us in the fight for a healthy planet. What is exciting about A Fierce Green Fire is that this film, which includes a prominent segment on Love Canal, demonstrates in real footage that change happens when people get involved.
“The main difference between my film and a lot of other environmental films is that instead of it being focused on the issues, ours is focused on the movement and activism,” said Mark Kitchell in an interview. “I feel that telling stories of activists, taking up the battle and fighting, is the best way to explicate the issues. And that was my main handle on the environmental subject, doing the movement story,” adds Kitchell. The film, narrated by such notables as Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ashley Judd among others, received great reviews at Sundance.
As CHEJ moves forward this coming year, we are partnering with groups across the country who would like to show the film in a theater setting, at small group gatherings or house events and have a conversation about how change happens and what they might do differently in their efforts to win on environmental and environmental health and justice issues. Partnering with groups, we hope to also bring media attention to their local issues and raise funds for their group and CHEJ. It’s a plan that’s hard to pass up.
If your group is interested in hosting a local viewing, please contact CHEJ. Together we can inspire people to take action to protect health and our planet.
I often ask this question when speaking publicly about what I do at CHEJ. I’m trained as a scientist and I provide technical assistance to grassroots community groups. People send me testing data to review, whether it’s the chemicals found in their drinking water, the air behind their child’s school, or the soil in the park where their children play. They ask me to do this primarily because they want to know what the test results mean. But they also believe that if they gather enough information – the right information, especially- and get it into the hands of the decision makers, that everything will fall into place.
So what do you think? True or false? Is information power? Can you solve your environmental problem by gathering information and then getting it into the hands of the decision makers? No, you cannot. The answer is false, information is not power. It’s not the information by itself but rather what you do with it that can make all the difference in the world. Just gathering data and sharing it no matter how important or impactful will not likely change a bureaucrat’s or a politician’s mind. But if you use the information to educate your community and then go the bureaucrats and politicians with a set of demands that meet the needs of your community, you have a much greater chance to be successful.
At CHEJ, we work directly with community leaders to help them become knowledgeable and proficient in understanding the technical, health, statistical and scientific aspects of chemical exposures. We also work with community leaders to help them understand how to use technical information to achieve their goals and win what their community needs to resolve its environmental problem(s). What we do includes reviewing testing data; cleanup plans; technologies for treating/disposing of hazardous waste and household garbage; reviewing plans to build new facilities; defining a community-based testing plan that includes where to test, what to test (soil, air, water), what to look for; evaluating a health study completed by a government agency or other entity; and so much more. CHEJ also has more than 60 guidebooks and fact-packs on a wide range of topics that you can use to focus your group on what it needs to be successful.
So don’t get trapped into believing you can win over the bureaucrats or your politicians by gathering information, or become frozen into inaction until you gather just a little bit more information. What really matters is what you do with the information you have and how it fits strategically into your organizing plan. To learn more about CHEJ’s technical assistance services, see our website at http://chej.org/assistance/technical-assistance/
Stunning Fact from John Hanger’s Blog: PA Unemployment Rate Rises During Last 12 Months Even As National Rate Declines Pennsylvania is among the few states to have a higher unemployment rate in December 2012 than in December 2011. The facts are that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was 7.9% in December 2012 and is up from 7.7% in December 2011.
Pennsylvania’s economy is headed in the wrong direction, even as the national unemployment rate fell from 8.2% to 7.8%, and even as Pennsylvania becomes the third largest producer of natural gas in the country. Indeed, after years of Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate being well below the national unemployment rate, December 2009 marked the fourth month in a row, when Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is above or equal to the national average.
These are ugly facts that indict the economic development and budget policies of the Corbett Administration. Corbett’s failure is rooted in an assault on public education, including our state universities, that has destroyed at least 19,000 jobs. His failure is also rooted in a mistaken belief that gas drilling and gas production alone can bring Pennsylvania a broad prosperity.
Pennsylvania requires approximately 6.5 million jobs to be at full employment. Counting direct and indirect jobs created by gas drilling, gas drilling provides less than 2% of the jobs needed. Of course, no single industry by itself can possibly generate all the jobs needed in the Commonwealth. Until the Governor understands this fundamental point and reverses his war on public education, Pennsylvania’s economy will remain a national laggard. Read John Hanger’s blog.
Now there are conversations about drilling at the Pittsburg Airport. This is crazy. The photo is from Dallas Texas airport.
“The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh surface water. The good news is that legacy contaminants are decreasing more quickly than previously reported in three of the Great Lakes, but have stayed virtually the same in two other lakes, according to new research… Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the pesticide DDT and other banned compounds dropped about 50 percent in fish in Lakes Michigan, Ontario and Huron from 1999 through 2009, although there were no significant changes in Lakes Superior and Erie fish, according to the study to be published this month in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
“These are very positive results. The lakes are improving and slowly cleaning themselves up,” said Thomas Holsen, co-director of Clarkston University’s Center for the Environment and co-author of the study . “Even with the decreases, it will be 20 to 30 years until the decades-old contaminants in Great Lakes fish decline to the point that consumption advisories can be eliminated,” Holsen said.”
All good news, except as we clean up the old chemicals like Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the pesticide DDT and other banned compounds they are being replaced by newer ones, such as flame retardants that are building up in fish and wildlife and chemicals we are not yet even looking for from oil and gas development.
Today corporations are beginning hydro-fracturing (fracking) all around the Great Lakes to extract gas. It is against the law to frack under the lakes but there are no laws about fracking near streams, creeks, rivers that empty into the lakes. This is insane. Hundreds of very toxic chemicals are injected under pressure into the ground to fracture the shale formation. Not all of these chemicals are retrieved after the fracking is done. In fact the common gas well leaves behind about 30% of the chemicals, radioactive materials and brine. It’s unbelievable, hundreds of chemicals injected all around our fresh water lakes that both the U.S. and Canada have worked for decades to clean up.
This destructive activity is a prime example of governments’ tunnel vision. Oil and Gas development moves forward, cleanup of the lakes moves forward, air deposited of chemicals from many sources continues – - – it’s like shoveling the sidewalk in a blizzard, it won’t be cleaned until the snow stops falling. There is no sign of the chemical blizzards retreat.
I grew up near the lakes in Buffalo and understand their beauty and value. My sister and brother-in-law were active in advocating the cleanup of the lakes in the 1970’s. Our family vacationed on the lakes. It was exciting back then to hear that a serious effort from both sides of the boarder would advance to make the lakes swimmable, the fish safe enough to eat and so many other promises. Now over 35 years later reports are praising the cleanup of historical chemical deposits while at the same time new chemicals are allowed to enter the lakes without protest.
Fracking is not yet widespread around the great lakes. Yes there are some wells in PA, OH, MI but we can stop widespread fracking that would further contribute chemicals to our beautiful lakes by taking a stand and insisting that regulations are put in place and bans where necessary to protect this amazing gift of nature. It is up you and me to make it happen. For more information about the recent study of the Great Lakes, click here.
The creativity of our government regulators never ceases to amaze me. I’ve seen a lot of incredibly stupid and callous decisions in my time, but this one is right up at the top. The US environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality somehow thought it was a good idea to use Blood Lead Levels in children to establish a remedial action objective (RAO) at the Bunker Hill Superfund site in Kellogg, ID. According to a recent peer reviewed paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, this decision is codified in EPA’s 1991 Record of Decision for the Bunker Hill site (1).
According to the authors, “the 1991 ROD for the Bunker Hill mine defined the EPA RAOs for child blood lead levels and stipulated the following criteria measures: (1) less than 5% of tested children should have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter and (2) less than 1% of tested children should have blood lead levels greater than 15 micrograms per deciliter.” You got that. As long as no more than 5% of the children in Kellogg have blood lead levels greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl) and no more than 1% had levels great than 15 ug/dl, then the site cleanup efforts could be considered “successful” (1).
What was EPA thinking when they decided to use lead levels in children to define the effectiveness of a cleanup? And then, to accept that some children will have blood lead levels that exceed the recommended criteria is unconscionable. Even if this factor was not the sole criterion used to make decisions about the effectiveness of the cleanup, it is still unethical to use the children of Kellogg in this way.
The adverse health outcomes of exposure to lead are well understood. Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revised its guidelines for lead lowering the blood lead level for protecting children’s health from 10 to 5 ug/dl. At the time CDC’s Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention whose recommendations led to this change made it clear that no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.
Lead was mined at the Bunker Hill site for more than 100 years and at one time this was the home of the largest lead smelter in the United States. When the mine shut down in 1981, it left behind a toxic legacy of huge waste piles and residual contamination everywhere. Blood lead testing in children as earlier as 1976 found that 99% of Kellogg children living within 1 mile of the smelter who were tested had blood lead levels greater than 40 ug/dl (2). Today it is much less clear what the blood lead levels are because so few children are tested.
It is an injustice for EPA to treat the residents of Kellogg in this way. The residents In Kellogg have suffered disproportionately not only from lead exposure which continues to this day, but also from social disparities that include unemployment, poverty, and limited educational opportunity. Although there has been substantial cleanup at the site, it remains unclear whether there has been a corresponding improvement in community health and wellbeing. So much more needs to be done. This of course will never be achieved in communities like Kellogg, so long as decision makers think there’s nothing wrong with using the children as canaries in the mine fields.
1. Moodie, SM and Evans, EL. Ethical Issues in Using Children’s Blood Lead levels as a Remedial Action Objective. American J Public Health 2011 101(S1): S156-S160.
2. Landrigan PJ, Baker EL Jr, Feldman RG, et al. Increased lead absorption with anemia and slowed nerve conduction in children near a lead smelter. J Pediatrics 1976 89(6):904-910.
I dreamed that just as I entered a Halloween haunted house the first monster I ran into was Frackenstine. Just like the book Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley about a creature produced by an unorthodox scientific experiment I noticed that the Frackenstine that stood before me was also made up by combining many parts. Frackenstines legs turned out to be the Ohio legislature that gave the monster his legs to make his way around Ohio, his torso was made of the Ohio oil and gas industry, his arms were the different state agencies that gave the monster the strength to strong-arm Ohio communities by not allowing citizens or local government to have any say into whether or not they wanted this massive industrial process to destroy their community. The Frackenstine monster was so big I was having a hard time seeing who or what made up the head but as I moved farther away from the monster I could see that the monsters head was Ohio’s own governor, Governor John Kasich who has become the mouthpiece and cheerleader for industry.
Down a long dark hallway I came to a closed door, as I opened the door I saw a room full of bubbling cauldrons. As I looked around the room I saw thousands of Material Safety Data Sheets with all of the toxic chemicals blacked out. There was also a flashing sign that warned of radiation. While trying to read all of the signs I was suddenly approached by someone dressing in a hazardous materials moonsuit telling me that bubbling brew was safe and not to worry. Even though he was dressed in protective garb he informed me that I was not allowed to know what was in the bubbling toxic brew and the door was quickly closed in my face. As the door closed I could hear the sinister laugh of a crazy person who had spent too much time inhaling the toxic vapors of the bubbling cauldrons full of fracking fluid.
As I continued down the dark hallway I turned a corner and was face to face with a Vampire with blood dripping from his fangs. NO wait, it wasn’t blood dripping, I realized his fangs are drilling rigs that were dripping oil and he is hungry for more and more. He can’t get enough; he is sinking his rigs into hundreds of thousands of acres of Mother Earth just to see if he can find more oil or gas to feed his needs. I thought if I can just hold out until dawn the sun would destroy this vampire, but I was so wrong.
As I was about to exit the haunted house I heard the screams of the banshee foretelling the death of life as we know it. No longer will we have local communities where we can cross the street without worrying about being hit by one of the thousands of trucks or being harassed by out of state workers that have no since of pride for the community. We face industrial facilities in places where they have no business being in.
But wait, I suddenly realized I was not asleep, I was not having a nightmare. What I had thought was a horrible nightmare was indeed reality for many communities in Ohio and across the nation that are faced with the nightmare known as fracking.
It is sad that across the country as new youngsters are entering school they are placed in harm’s way. Their emotions are mixed worried about leaving their home, daily environment and routine, while at the same time excited about their new experiences. But toxic dangers in the air or nearby are not part of their mantra.
Yet in schools across the country parents are concerned that the location of the school building will threaten the health of their children and possible their children’s ability to lean. For example, in Richmond, Virginia there is a petition, asking the Richmond School Board to ensure the preschoolers of Norrell Elementary, near a landfill are being educated in a safe environment. Although the petition has gained some national attention to an issue, there hasn’t been any resolution to longstanding concerns to Richmond, Virginia residents. It hasn’t provided the pressure yet to force authorities to answer parents questions.
It has with 27,370 signatures created awareness about schools on landfills across the country and beyond. And, signatures on this petition has provided energy to beleaguered city residents who feel like they’ve been disregarded and disrespected by authorities. A new round of testing has been committed of the school building grounds near the landfill but there is no evidence of safety.
“Local resident Kim Allen said, these developments have empowered us as we’ve come to know ourselves as people who make a difference in our community. I, and other private citizens like me, are lending a voice to concern for the safety of children, children like my four-year-old nephew Malachi. We speak on behalf of ourselves and our families. Being a private citizen is a privilege and a powerful place to stand when addressing the safety of the children who attend Norrell Elementary school.
The question I asked myself was, Would I be okay with Malachi being in the Norrell School building for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week? My answer . . . I don’t know. Given that concern and the urgent nature of the matter, I helped to initiate the petition.”
Despite working for over thirty years at CHEJ I’m still shocked by the blatant disregard for children’s health year after year. Schools continue to be built on or near dumpsites like Ms. Allen speaks about or the school built in Detroit literally on top of a Superfund site. Most of these schools, not surprisingly, serve low wealth and communities of color.
Further harming everyone in the school family, when the children fail at the standardized testing it is the parents or the teachers fault — not the fault of the chemicals that inhabit their ability to learn or cause them to be sick and absent too often from school to keep up.
In Houston, Texas their recently built high school, which houses 3,500 students, is encircled by a dozen chemical facilities. So close that if there is an accident or release at any of them, the children are trapped, left only to put wet paper towels along the window sills. Yet, the releases from these facilities are constant and as children enter, leave or go outdoors for recess or sports they are exposed to air pollution daily. Like the other schools when these young people fail at meeting the goals of standardized testing their parents and teachers are blamed.
It is time for all Americans to stand up and speak out about putting our children in harm’s way. It is our tax dollars that are building these schools and we should have laws that compel schools authorities to build places of learning in safe environments. Enough is enough. Our children matter and are the future of our country.