By Ronnie Greene for The Center forPublic Integrity
In Vermont, the Senate has just passed a bill potentially empowering the Green Mountain State to ban chemicals it deems harmful to consumers. Some 3,000 miles away, in Washington State, environmental reformers weren’t as successful: A bill to ban six toxic flame retardants died in the Senate, beaten back by industry opposition and politicians’ cries of state overreaching.
In state capitols from Maine to Oregon, environmental advocates are filing bills to identify and ban noxious chemicals and industry groups are fighting back with pointed rebukes and high-pitched lobbying. Toxic reform legislation is either breathing with new life or being extinguished altogether.
The toxics tug-of-war in state houses is direct fallout from the muddled environmental politicking of Washington, D.C.
In 1976, Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, a federal framework intended to safeguard the public from dangerous chemicals. Yet in the nearly four decades since, TSCA, as it is known, has done little more than gather dust. Among tens of thousands of chemicals in commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency has “only been able to require testing on a little more than 200 existing chemicals,” and banned five, the EPA told The Center for Public Integrity.
Yet three years to the month since the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg proposed sweeping change through the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, the TSCA overhaul remains in the works, with proposals, counter-proposals and criticismsabout the working draft’s fine print.
Fed up with logjams in D.C., state legislators are filing hundreds of measures in their own states to do what the federal government hasn’t — take action against destructive chemicals, by singling out the most dangerous toxins and seeking to remove them from shelves.
While the political smoke continues in Washington, the chemical reform fire is playing out in statehouses from Montpelier to Olympia.
At least 442 bills involving toxics and chemicals have been filed in 2014, or refiled from previous sessions, covering 39 states, according to an environmental health legislation database maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures. A year earlier, 399 such bills were filed and the year before that, the database shows, more than 500.
“There’s only so much you will say, ‘We can wait and see. It will be great if the feds do something.’ I think people are losing patience,” said Justin Johnson, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency for Natural Resources.
As the Center for Public Integrity reported last year, the American Chemistry Council and other industry groups fight nearly every state measure, contending that a patchwork of state laws would do more harm than good, and that true change should come through TSCA. The industry’s statehouse pushback, fueled by a chemical advocacy group that spends tens of millions of lobbying dollars along with making political campaign donations, has helped beat back hundreds of state bills in recent years.
Vermont’s Johnson is among the state officials who understand the argument that having multitudes of differing state laws “is not the way to go.” Yet in his state, as in others, the argument of waiting for Congress to act has grown stale.
“I’ve been personally to the statehouse here in Vermont for five years in a row. ‘Let’s wait and see what the feds do,’” said Johnson, who serves on the Environmental Council of the States, a nonpartisan association of state leaders. “It’s getting pretty old.”
Bills filed, and fought, from Vermont to Washington State
Last week in Vermont, the Senate approved Senate Bill 239, which would allow the state Department of Health to “identify and publish a list of chemicals of high concern,” following the lead of states such as Washington and Maine. The bill would require manufacturers of products using such chemicals to notify the state, “and to replace the chemical with a safer alternative.”
“Given where we are with the toxics reform at the federal level; given that we haven’t seen movement there; and given that we have over 60,000 chemicals that haven’t been adequately tested for their effect on public health, this is the way to begin,” the bill sponsor, Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, told a Vermont news website.
The bill must clear the House before becoming law.
As in other states, the toxics legislation faces opposition from industry, with lobbyists describing it as another piece in a patchwork of state laws across the U.S.
The Toy Industry Association, a trade group composed of 700 members, has gone on record opposing the bill, citing what it views as a “flawed scientific approach” as the basis for the measure, and the “immense cost to businesses” and the state.
“TIA commends the bill sponsors for their keen interest in the safety of children. We share that interest, and our industry is founded on the mission of bringing fun and joy to children’s lives,” the association wrote Vermont legislators.
“However, we have serious concerns regarding Senate Bill 239 as it does not consider the existing robust safety system for toys sold in this country — including federal regulation and international standards — and will create unnecessary burden on companies doing business in Vermont with arguably no measurable increase in safety.”
In Washington State, industry opposition helped quash the Toxic-Free Kids & Families Act. The measure would have banned six flame retardants on the state’s list of “Chemicals of High Concern for Children” — and put the onus on manufacturers to replace them with safer chemicals.
Sen. Sharon Nelson, a Democrat who has pushed toxics legislation for several years in Washington State, is among the legislators weary of waiting for the federal government to act. “We haven’t seen the changes at the federal level,” she said. “Ultimately the science will prevail, but it’s hard.”
As they had in previous sessions, the Association of Washington Business and the American Chemistry Council pushed back against the flame retardants bill, officially filing opposition to the proposal.
The bill died in the state Senate.
“I’ve seen every time we go into this across the nation, the chemistry council comes in behind the scenes and does a good job about casting questions: Should we be doing this at the state level? They’ve done a good job of just constantly either trying to water down the bills or kill them,” Senator Nelson said. “They’ve been effective. They are well-heeled lobbyists.”
Republican State Sen. Doug Ericksen, chair of the Washington legislature’s Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee, said the bill as proposed was problematic, putting too much power in the hands of a state agency to potentially ban chemicals.
Ericksen said he proposed a compromise measure but Democrats didn’t go along. Sen. Nelson said that measure was watered down to ban chemicals already being phased out.
In a broader sense, Sen. Ericksen echoes the industry’s biggest complaint with state bills. “The issue you get into is creating an island in Washington State,” Ericksen said. “I would say it doesn’t help for Washington State to have a go it alone mentality.”
Brandon Housekeeper, an Association of Washington Business government affairs official, used the same phrasing as Ericksen in describing his group’s opposition, asking “Whether Washington should act alone as an island and ban chemicals used in commerce.”
Housekeeper said the AWB, which describes itself as the state’s “premiere advocate for the business community” representing 8,000 members, helped Ericksen create the alternate bill. “Just an out and out ban in these things in their use didn’t seem appropriate, so we proposed a different path to get to that result,” Housekeeper said.
How effective was the industry effort? “I think the opponents of the legislation obviously had some voice and hand in how legislators reacted to the legislation. Because I think we asked valid questions,” Housekeeper said.
The AWB’s slogan: “We mean business.” Ericksen said he listens to industry and “all different points of view.”
“The industry groups are not necessarily opposed to eliminating these harmful chemicals from these product lines,” he said. “They just find it difficult when they are mandated to be included in one state and mandated to be prohibited in another state.”
More state battles: Oregon, Connecticut, Maine
Legislators in other states have also filed bills this session to identify and remove unsafe chemicals. In state after state, the legislation encounters strong industry pushback, with critics working capitol hallways to douse reform proposals.
“Even if these bills don’t pass, it’s raising awareness,” said Oregon Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, who for several years has proposed a bill that would, like Washington State’s, create a state list of high priority chemicals for children’s health.
Again this year, the bill was shot down. “The industry fought it very hard,” the Oregon legislator said.
Creating lists of dangerous chemicals can make a difference, Keny-Guyer believes. “If companies see they are showing up in these things, there’s much more incentive for them to find safer chemicals,” she said.
In many states, getting from proposal to approved bill is a steep climb.
In Connecticut, advocates are again trying to win approval for a bill allowing the state to compile and maintain a list of harmful chemicals. Supporters crafted the bill so it would not cost the state government a penny.
That same measure was pitched in 2013 but failed when the proposal was talked to death by a committee and never came to a vote.
“We really feel like we’re doing everything we can to kind of build momentum, but we’re not resting on anything at this point. I know that the industry is continuing to fight the bill on a daily basis,” said Anne Hulick, coordinator for the nonprofit Coalition for a Safe & Healthy Connecticut. “I’m worried the opposition is building and we don’t see it.”
The lack of an updated TSCA is a “really big factor,” she said, in why states like Connecticut need their own laws to target hazardous chemicals.
In Maine, advocates are pushing legislation in a state where the Republican governor last year vetoed a bill intended to protect pregnant women and children from harmful chemicals, and where the head of the Department of Environmental Protection is a former lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council. A spokeswoman for the Maine DEP’s director, Patricia Aho, said any potential conflicts had been “thoroughly vetted” before she took office in 2011. The governor’s office said he vetoed bills that were “not good policy.”
This year’s toxic reform push is a direct offshoot of the languishing pace of TSCA overhaul in D.C.
“It’s huge,” said Beth Ahearn, political director for the Maine Conservation Voters. “It creates all the reason we’ve decided to go ahead on our own, because we cannot wait for TSCA reform.”
So you’ve decided to start living a PVC-free life. You have finally gotten fed up with unsafe and unhealthy chemicals and are officially taking the steps to rid yourself of them for good. You’ve done all of the research on why PVC and phthalates are bad for you and your family, and now, armed with knowledge, you are embarking on a new, guilt-free outlook on life. You send your kids to school with binders and lunch-boxes that are PVC-free, buy them skin care products and fragrances that aren’t made with harmful plastics and leads, and you think your cork floors look better than their low cost would suggest. And while you don’t work directly with PVC, you take small steps to move your office towards cleaner living as well.
But is this enough?
While consumer responsibility and choice is extraordinarily important in moving the market towards safer and healthier products for our daily lives, it may not be enough to protect us from the harmful effects of PVC. Large scale change can really only be brought about with a delicate balance between individual actions and responsible legislation. So while making sure that you and your family are exposed to as little toxins as possible is a goal worth the effort, you may still be vulnerable to the effects of the very toxic chemicals you thought you had banished from your daily life
The bad news on vinyl, the poison plastic, and phthalates keeps on mounting.
The more I learn, the more I wonder, why are we still allowing this hazardous plastic in our schools and homes?
Here are some of the most recent developments that every parent needs to know.
First responders file lawsuit over vinyl chloride disaster
In response to the December vinyl chloride disaster, which sent over a cloud of over 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the air (originally destined for OxyVinyls in NJ), a group of first responders have filed a lawsuit over this toxic exposure. NBC Philadelphia reports:
“A class action lawsuit was filed today relating to the Paulsboro, New Jersey train derailment and chemical spill that forced hundreds of people from their homes and left dozens sick last year.
The plaintiffs include more than 100 first responders, young children, and property owners who allege they sustained injuries and damages after the hazardous chemical spill… First responders claim that Conrail representatives advised them throughout the day that they did not need breathing masks or other personal protective equipment, despite high readings of vinyl chloride in the air. The suit states they later underwent extensive medical testing that showed high levels of vinyl chloride in their urine.”
Vinyl chloride is the basic building block of PVC, used to make vinyl flooring in our nation’s schools, hospitals and homes. You can’t make this plastic without this cancer-causing chemical.
The latest science: vinyl chemicals toxic to our health
As families and first responders have been suing over vinyl chloride epxousre, more scientific studies have been published showing that vinyl chemicals are harmful to our health. Some notable studies in recent months include:
- Research funded by the US Department of Defense found phthalates, used to make vinyl flooring soft and flexible, may contribute to disease even generations after exposure. They report that, “Observations demonstrate that a mixture of plastic derived compounds, BPA and phthalates, can promote epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult onset disease. “
- Only a few weeks after I blogged on new studies linking vinyl chemicals to asthma and obesity, researchers in China found a link between phthalates and obesity in school children.
- Researchers in Ireland found potentially hazardous nanomaterials leach from PVC food packaging into food: “An exposure assessment revealed that human exposure to silver (assuming a worst case scenario that all silver is in its most harmful nanoform), is likely to be below current migration limits for conventional migrants and a provisional toxicity limit; however it is acknowledged there is still considerable uncertainty about the potential harmful effects of particles at the nanoscale.”
Policies to protect our kids from poisonous chemicals
On the policy front, the big news is the reintroduction of the Safe Chemicals Act by Senators Lautenberg and Gillibrand (honored to have her as my Senator here in NY, thank you very much ), which will go a long way in protecting American families from unnecessary toxic chemicals like phthalates. Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a news release announcing their endorsement of these common sense health safeguards.
As chemical policy reform continues to be debated here in the US, at the international level, Denmark has just unveiled a comprehensive new strategy to address phthalates in consumer products.
“As part of the strategy, the Danish EPA will commence evaluation of the information available about the most common phthalates. And this may very well lead to new bans or other measures if necessary, the Minister for the Environment pledges.”
Pressure mounting to eliminate vinyl and phthalates nationwide
Meanwhile, the market movement away from vinyl and phthalates continues. For instance, EPEAT has recently announced new standards for printers and imaging equipment, which rewards PVC avoidance in electronics – which should have a huge impact on the electronics sector.
Just yesterday, the San Francisco Travel Association announced that all new street banners around the convention center will be completely free of PVC, due to the hazards PVC poses from production to use to disposal.
“San Francisco has always been a city of firsts when it comes to sustainability and now that extends to our city’s street banners. I’m pleased to see the San Francisco Travel Association embrace our city’s goals of zero waste and toxics reduction by eliminating the use of PVC, a harmful and non-recyclable material, and up-cycling the banners as well,” said Melanie Nutter, director San Francisco Department of the Environment.
Last and certainly not least, CHEJ and our friends at the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families campaign have launched a new Mind the Store campaign to urge the nation’s top ten retailers to eliminate the hazardous 100 chemicals, which includes phthalates, vinyl chloride, and a number of other chemicals unique to this poison plastic. Many retailers, such as Target, have already taken steps to phase out PVC, but much more is still needed. Read all about what bloggers are saying about the new campaign, who traveled to stores nationwide urging them to get these nasty chemicals out of their products.
Phew, that’s a lot to report on!
Anything important I missed? Would love to hear other new developments!
Till next time. Your humble plastics crusader, Mike.
Environmental Health Advocates Celebrate Historic Vote
LouisvilleCharter.Org Participants Respond
(Washington, DC) The United States Senate resisted tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions from the chemical industry to pass the Safe Chemicals Act out of a key committee. This bill would reform the Toxic Substance Control Act, for the first time since 1976.
“A measure of faith has been restored in our U.S. Senate. Despite corporate influence and deceptive practices by the chemical industry, our legislators did the right thing and acted to protect us from toxic chemicals that are linked to so many illnesses. But their work is by no means over. As nurses, we urge passage by the full Congress of the strongest possible Safe Chemicals Act,” says Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM, Director of Programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.
Mark Mitchell, MD Co-Chair of the National Medical Association’s Environmental Health Task Force, comments, “Conditions such as lowered IQ, learning and behavioral problems, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and infertility – all linked to chemical exposure – are on the rise. The Senate has shown that they are serious in efforts to reduce harmful exposure from many of the 84,000 unregulated chemicals in commerce.”
“Since many people and communities of color, as well as workers, are disproportionately impacted by chemicals, this is a major step towards justice and human rights in the United States,” responds Kathleen A. Curtis, LPN, Executive Director of A Clean and Healthy New York.
“We applaud the U.S. Senators who stood up to some of the most powerful corporations in the world to protect our health and especially our children’s health from chemicals exposure,” Mike Schade, Markets Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ).
“Today we moved closer towards protecting those most at risk from chemical exposure. As a result the public as a whole will reap the health benefit from this historic step 35 years in they making,” comments José T. Bravo Executive Director Just Transition Alliance.
Available for Interviews
Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, New York. 718.873.3505 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike Schade can address the manufacturing of polyvinyl chloride and the communities harmed by it, and the hazards PVC presents in everyday products, and market shifts created when consumer awareness was raised on bisphenol A (BPA).
Jose T. Bravo, Executive Director, Just Transition Alliance, San Diego, CA. 619.838.6694, email@example.com. Jose works with communities contaminated with chemicals, which occurs mostly where people of color and low-income residents live, Habla Espanol.
Kathleen A. Curtis, LPN, A Clean & Healthy New York, 518.708.3922. Albany, New York. firstname.lastname@example.org. Kathy can address chemical reform in states and on a federal level and the role of flame retardants in the story.
Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM, Director of Programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. 410-706-2351 email@example.com. Katie can address concerns from nurses and helath care prodvers about chemical exposure issues.
Mark Mitchell, MD Co-Chair of the National Medical Association’s Environmental Health Task Force, the oldest and largest association of Physicians of Color. 860.794.9497, firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark can talk about health disparities linked to environmental issues, as well as hot spots, legacy chemicals, increased susceptibility and unanticipated exposures in environmental justice communities.
Richard Moore, Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, NM, 505.301.0276, email@example.com. Richard can talk about environmental justice issues and organizing in the Southwest around TSCA reform.
Michele Roberts, Environmental Justice Alliance, 504.450.8568, firstname.lastname@example.org. Michele can address TSCA policy issues and the impacts on communities in Mossville, Louisiana and other historic African American communities.
It’s the American Chemistry Council (ACC) who spent more in the fourth quarter then any quarter in recent history . . . in fact they doubled their spending.
ACC, the chief lobbying arm of the chemical manufacturing industry, spent $5.37 million that quarter, the fifth highest of any lobbying operation on Capitol Hill during that time.
ACC’s lobbying disclosure report shows they were involved in a host of issues, ranging from efforts to update chemical regulations, to EPA’s air pollution rules for boilers and incinerators, to the long-delayed health assessments of substances like bisphenol A (BPA) and formaldehyde.
Their disclosure also demonstrates it lobbied EPA on its 27-year-old IRIS assessment of dioxin. EPA was supposed to finalize the non-cancer portion of its dioxin assessment on January 31st but didn’t happen in the face of significant industry opposition. However, the agency hasn’t publicly explained the delay.
So while ACC protects and possibly even increases their profit, the American people, our children are unnecessarily expose to chemicals and face a lifetime of health problems and learning disabilities.
Yes America is for sale, and it’s time for American to stand up for everyone to stand up and say America’s Not For Sale! No More!
ACC included Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-N.J.) “Safe Chemicals Act” in their efforts, which would overhaul the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and require manufacturers to prove their substances are safe before they go on the market.
For all of 2011, ACC spent almost $10.3 million, significantly more than the $8.1 million it spent the year before. Last year’s total trumps what was spent by Dow Chemical Co., which spent $7.3 million. The American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, also spent far less.
These industries had record earnings last year – their shareholders are not suffering from a drop in earnings. Even though they are eating and drinking dioxin just like the rest of us, they can afford the safest foods and the best health care money can buy, unlike CHEJ’s constituency.
Although the polluters and their lobbyist have more money than most of us can imagine we can still prevail. They understand the real power of the people and cannot control that element. In fact, this is why someone sent a thug into our offices and cut our telephone and internet lines at near the peak of our fundraising and dioxin campaign organizing. Despite their efforts we delivered over 2,000 individuals and organizations from across the country to EPA representing millions of people.
It is time to exercise our collective power and put the power back in the hands of American people. However, our power can only be activated when people take step up. With the 2012 elections this year everyone has an opportunity to exercise your power. Ask candidates where they stand on your important issues and let them know they must earn your vote. This country belongs to its people not to corporations whose greed is insurmountable.
This week, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson delivered a gift to Dow Chemical and the rest of the chemical industry.
I bet you’re wondering. What’d she do? Nothing.
You see, that’s the problem.
For twenty seven years, we’ve been waiting for the release of the EPA’s report on the health hazards on dioxin. Since 1985! We know dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, but without a final report from EPA on the health impacts of dioxin, the EPA’s and state governments’ hands are tied to meaningfully protect us from this unnecessary poisonous chemical.
For twenty seven years, every step of the way, the chemical industry and big ag have delayed the release of this critical public health report.
We’ve been waiting. And waiting. And waiting. It’s not just us. Vietnam Veterans, breast cancer advocates, environmental justice leaders and many others have raised their voices and called on EPA to finalize this study once and for all. Thousands of people and organizations have signed a letter calling on EPA to finalize this report. We’re all in this together.
Our rallying cry? Enough is enough – no more delays! After all, we have the the right to know.
And I’m afraid to say, it’s happened again this week. I still can’t believe it.
That’s why we need your help. We can’t let them get away with this!
In response to these new delays, we issued a national press release blasting EPA . Our founder and Executive Director, Lois Gibbs, who’s been working on dioxin issues for over 30 years, had this to say:
“Shame on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for denying parents the information they need to protect their children from the health impacts of dioxin. This is America — parents have the right to know. Today the EPA has once again caved into pressure from Dow Chemical and their chemical industry cronies. EPA shouldn’t cave in to chemical industry dollars and interests over public health. Cancer, diabetes, infertility, learning disabilities and other chronic diseases linked to dioxin exposure are extremely costly to American taxpayers. EPA missed yet another deadline to release their report on dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. In recent months, the chemical industry has been working behind closed doors to hide and distort the truth about the dangers of dioxin. At the same time, Vietnam Veterans, breast cancer advocates, public health organizations, and environmental justice leaders have stood shoulder to shoulder and urged EPA to do what’s right for the health of American children and families. We call on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to immediately release this important report. We can’t wait any longer.”
Our allies at the Lone Tree Council did as well. Michelle Hurd Riddick of the Council had this to say:
“Since the mid 1980’s when the Reagan administration permitted Dow Chemical to rewrite the EPA report on dioxin, administration after administration in the White House has cowed to this company and their lobbyists. Public health is being sacrificed, our water resources disregarded and science is being ignored once again in an effort to placate the moneyed interest. It is indefensible that this administration capitulated to industry, reaffirming the belief of most Americans that corporations have greater influence and more control and rights than people”
The American Chemistry Council (aka Dow Chemical’s spokespeople) was quoted as saying, “Another delay is unfortunate.”
What? That’s just exactly what they want.
EPA has been amazingly silent this week. They issued no official statement on the timeframe for next steps. No update to the science plan. Nothing.
I still can’t believe it.
Where is EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson?
Paging Lisa Jackson, the American people are waiting for you. We can’t wait any longer.
Once Again American Public Denied Right to Know and Ability to Protect Families from Unnecessary Exposure
(Falls Church, VA) For twenty seven years, the American public has been kept in the dark about the health impacts of dioxin. Today environmental health advocates strongly condemned the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for once again failing to meet their January 31st deadline to release their report on the noncancer impacts of dioxin.
“Shame on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for denying parents the information they need to protect their children from the health impacts of dioxin,” said Lois Marie Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “This is America — parents have the right to know. Today the EPA has once again caved into pressure from Dow Chemical and their chemical industry cronies. EPA shouldn’t cave in to chemical industry dollars and interests over public health. Cancer, diabetes, infertility, learning disabilities and other chronic diseases linked to dioxin exposure are extremely costly to American taxpayers. EPA missed yet another deadline to release their report on dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. In recent months, the chemical industry has been working behind closed doors to hide and distort the truth about the dangers of dioxin. At the same time, Vietnam Veterans, breast cancer advocates, public health organizations, and environmental justice leaders have stood shoulder to shoulder and urged EPA to do what’s right for the health of American children and families. We call on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to immediately release this important report. We can’t wait any longer.”
EPA has been under intense pressure by environmental health, environmental justice, labor, health-impacted, and Vietnam Veterans organizations to release the non-cancer health assessment in recent weeks and ever since President Obama entered office. Last week, a letter was delivered to EPA Administrator Jackson signed by over 2,000 organizations and individuals from across the country.
Over the past three weeks a broad coalition of organizations have written to EPA urging the agency to finalize this review The coalition includes Breast Cancer Fund, Endometriosis Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, Vietnam Veterans of America, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Canadian Environmental Law Association, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Clean Water Action, Ecology Center, Edison Wetlands Association, Environmental Working Group, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Healthy Child Healthy World, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, International POPS Elimination Network (IPEN), Ironbound Community Corporation, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, the Lone Tree Council, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Reproductive Health Technologies Project, Science & Environmental Health Network, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Union of Concerned Scientists, Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, and Women’s Voices for the Earth.
In January, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, sent EPA a letter urging the agency to finalize this dioxin assessment. In April, Rep. Markey and 72 members of Congress sent a letter to EPA calling on the agency to release the report.
Dioxin is a known human carcinogen. Dioxin also causes a wide range of adverse non-cancer effects including reproductive, developmental, immunological, and endocrine effects in both animals and humans. Animal studies show that dioxin exposure is associated with endometriosis, decreased fertility, inability to carry pregnancies to term, lowered testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts, birth defects, and learning disabilities. In children, dioxin exposure has been associated with IQ deficits, delays in psychomotor and neurodevelopment, and altered behavior including hyperactivity. Studies in workers have found lowered testosterone levels, decreased testis size, and birth defects in offspring of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Dioxin’s effects on the immune system of the developing organism appear to be among the most sensitive endpoints studied. Animal studies show decreased immune response and increased susceptibility to infectious disease. In human studies, dioxin was associated with immune system depression and alterations in immune status leading to increased infections. Dioxin can also disrupt the normal function of hormones—chemical messengers that the body uses for growth and regulation. Dioxin interferes with thyroid levels in infants and adults, alters glucose tolerance, and has been linked to diabetes.
According to EPA, dioxin releases increased by 18% from 2009-2010 nationally. Dioxin air releases increased by 10%. The top ten U.S. companies that reported releasing dioxin into the environment in 2010 were Westlake Vinyls, Dow Chemical (Freeport Facility), Dow Chemical (Louisiana Operations), Missouri Chemical Works, Gerdau Ameristeel, Lehigh Southwest Cement, Formosa Plastics Corporation (Louisiana), Temple-Inland, Cahaba Pressure Treated Forest Products, and Clean Harbors Aragonite. Four of these ten facilities make chemicals to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Municipal waste incinerators, medical waste incinerators, landfill fires, and backyard burn barrels are some of the other top sources of dioxin in America.
Most Recent Dioxin Timeline:
January 31, 2012: EPA once again misses their deadline for finalizing their report on the noncancer impacts of dioxin.
January 26, 2012: Thousands of individuals and organizations from across the United States write to EPA urging the agency to finalize this study once and for all: http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/PVCSignOnLetterJanuary26.pdf
January 10-31, 2012: Over a two week period, 30 organizations send letters to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging EPA to finalize dioxin studies: http://chej.org/2012/01/lisa-jackson-finalize-the-epa%E2%80%99s-dioxin-study-once-and-for-all/
January 11, 2012: International Dairy Food Association (IDFA) and other members of the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group, a coalition of agriculture, processing and retail food industry organizations that have been pressuring EPA and the Obama Administration to once again delay the release of the dioxin report, formally ask EPA to withdraw its dioxin risk reassessment from interagency review and remove it from EPA’s regulatory schedule. http://www.idfa.org/news–views/details/6833/
January 10, 2012: Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, sends EPA a letter urging the agency to finalize the dioxin study. http://markey.house.gov/press-release/markey-epa-no-more-delays-dioxin-health-assessment
January 5, 2012: EPA announces that overall dioxin releases increased by 18% from 2009-2010 nationally, and dioxin air releases increased by 10%: http://markey.house.gov/press-release/markey-epa-no-more-delays-dioxin-health-assessment
December 20, 2011: American Chemistry Council (ACC) requests EPA delay the release of the dioxin reassessment: http://www.americanchemistry.com/Policy/Regulatory-Reform/Cal-Dooley-Letter-to-Administrator-Jackson-Fix-Dioxin-Reassessment.pdf
December 7, 2011: IDFA and other members of the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group, urge the White House to intervene on the dioxin reassessment: http://www.idfa.org/key-issues/category/food-safety–defense/details/6721/
November 2, 2011: IDFA writes to U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and requests that the two agencies “urge EPA to pursue scientific review by the National Academy of Sciences of any proposed reference dose and to coordinate with your agencies any actions that could undermine consumer confidence in the safety of our food supply.” http://www.idfa.org/files/resources/idfa_dioxin_letter_vilsack_hamburg_102811.pdf
August 29, 2011: EPA announces its final plan for completing their study on dioxin, which EPA has been working on since 1985. http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=209690
August 26, 2011: EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) releases their final report reviewing EPA’s draft dioxin Reanalysis: http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/fedrgstr_activites/2A45B492EBAA8553852578F9003ECBC5/$File/EPA-SAB-11-014-unsigned.pdf
April 11, 2011: Rep. Markey and 72 members of Congress send a letter to EPA calling on the agency to release the study. http://markey.house.gov/press-release/april-11-2011-markey-leads-call-epa-speed-action-dioxin
For a more detailed history of dioxin delays, visit: http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/DioxinTimeframeFebruary2012.pdf
For a fact-sheet on the hazards of dioxin, visit http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/Documents/Dioxin%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
Environmental and Health Groups Call on EPA to Finalize Study on One of the Most Toxic Chemicals on the Planet
Chemical Industry Stall Tactics Have Delayed Release of Study for 27 Years, Groups Say
(Falls Church, VA) Pressure is escalating on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to make good on the EPA’s promise to finalize their 27 yearlong-delayed study on dioxin by the end of this January. Today a broad coalition of environmental health, environmental justice, Vietnam Vets, labor, women’s groups, and health-impacted organizations delivered a letter calling on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to finalize their study on dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. Over 2,000 individuals and organizations from across the United States signed the letter.
“It is outrageous that EPA has been evaluating the risks of toxic dioxin since 1985 – for more than 25 years – and that the agency has repeatedly allowed the chemical industry to delay its efforts to finalize its study,” said Lois Marie Gibbs, Executive Director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “EPA must take action to protect American children from exposure to this poisonous chemical which is building up in our bodies, breast milk and food.”
Dioxin is a chemical that is known to cause cancer. Learning disabilities, birth defects, endometriosis, and diabetes have all been linked to dioxin exposure. Dioxin weakens the human immune system and decreases the level of the male hormone testosterone. Almost every man, woman and child in the U.S. has measurable levels of dioxin in their bodies. Babies are exposed to dioxin in the womb, and nursing infants are exposed to dioxin in breast-milk. Dioxin is the same chemical that was in Agent Orange. Over 170 nations across the world have a signed a global treaty to phase it out.
Over the past two weeks a broad coalition of organizations have written to EPA urging the agency to finalize this study once and for all. This includes the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Breast Cancer Fund, Canadian Environmental Law Association, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Clean Water Action, Ecology Center, Edison Wetlands Association, Endometriosis Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Working Group, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, Healthy Child Healthy World, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, International POPS Elimination Network (IPEN), Ironbound Community Corporation, Kentucky Environmental Foundation, the Lone Tree Council, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Medical Association, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Physicians for Social Responsibility, Reproductive Health Technologies Project, Science & Environmental Health Network, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Union of Concerned Scientists, Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, and Women’s Voices for the Earth.
“Cancer is killing our kids. Every sixty minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer and every six hours a child will lose her battle to the disease. It’s time for the EPA to step up and set limits on dioxin to protect our families from chemicals that cause cancer,” said Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, an organization that empowers parents to protect children from harmful chemicals. Healthy Child Healthy World collected 890 petition signatures urging the EPA to take action on dioxin.
• January 26, 2012: Thousands of individuals and organizations from across the United States have written to EPA urging the agency to finalize this study once and for all: http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/PVCSignOnLetterJanuary26.pdf
• January 10, 2012: Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, sent EPA a letter urging the agency to finalize this dioxin study. http://markey.house.gov/press-release/markey-epa-no-more-delays-dioxin-health-assessment
• January 2012: EPA announced dioxin releases increased by 18% from 2009-2010, and dioxin air releases increased by 10%. http://markey.house.gov/press-release/markey-epa-no-more-delays-dioxin-health-assessment
• December 2011: American Chemistry Council and coalition of agricultural trade associations pressure EPA to delay release of EPA’s noncancer dioxin study, scheduled to be released the end of January 2012. http://www.americanchemistry.com/Policy/Regulatory-Reform/Cal-Dooley-Letter-to-Administrator-Jackson-Fix-Dioxin-Reassessment.pdf
• August 2011: EPA announced its final plan for completing their study on dioxin, which EPA has been working on since 1985. http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/cfm/recordisplay.cfm?deid=209690
• April 2011: Rep. Markey and 72 members of Congress sent a letter to EPA calling on the agency to release this study. http://markey.house.gov/press-release/april-11-2011-markey-leads-call-epa-speed-action-dioxin
For a more detailed timeline, visit: http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/DioxinTimeframe.pdf
For a copy of the dioxin coalition letter sent to EPA today, visit http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/PVCSignOnLetterJanuary26.pdf
Contact: Mike Schade, CHEJ, 212-964-3680, email@example.com
Source: Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
This Thursday, CHEJ joined environmental health leaders, environmental justice organizers, and nurses from Alaska to Texas for a spirited rally outside of Exxon Mobil’s Houston corporate offices to demand an end to the poisoning of our communities and kids’ toys. We blasted Exxon Mobil for blocking new restrictions on toxic chemicals that damage children’s health and pollute local communities. Betty the Be Safe Ducky, the symbol of phthalate-laden PVC toxic toys, made a special visit to Texas just for the occasion.
Environmental Justice in Texas
For far too long, Exxon has been polluting communities around Texas with their toxic emissions. Asthma afflicts nearly 1 million children in Texas and accounts for almost 200,000 hospitalizations a year. In the Houston-Galveston region alone, roughly 76,000 children suffer from asthma.
“Exxon’s petrochemical plants were built around historic communities of color, and now Texas and Louisiana families are suffering from illnesses, such as asthma and cancer, linked to the toxic chemicals they release,” explains Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.
Exxon’s Corporate Profits Over Children’s Health
In recent years, Exxon Mobil has been playing politics with our children’s health. Exxon is the largest manufacturer of phthalates in the United States, and for years has been doing all they can to defend their dinosaur product line at the expense of our children’s health. How have they done this?
- In 2008, Congress banned toxic phthalates in PVC toys, which Exxon aggressively lobbied against. The legislation set up a committee within the Consumer Product Safe Commission (CPSC) to review the hazards of some phthalates like DINP that were temporary banned in the legislation. Ever since, Exxon has aggressively lobbied the federal government to overturn the ban on these toxic phthalates.
- Exxon has also worked to stall the EPA’s chemical action plan on phthalates, by lobbying the White House Office of Management and Budget, who has been reviewing the action plan for over 500 days now. 500 days!
- Even more recently, Exxon has been working to influence the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DFE) program to assess safer alternatives to phthalates.
- ExxonMobil also opposes Congressional approval of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which would overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the nation’s broken chemical safety law that was last updated 35 years ago.
Rather than lobbying government officials to protect their corporate profits at the expense of children’s health, ExxonMobil should invest in safer chemicals that are healthier for children, workers and communities.
American Public Health Association and PVC
Thursday’s action comes on the heels of the American Public Health Association, one of the nation’s largest health associations, calling for a phase-out of phthalate-laden PVC in schools, daycare centers, hospitals, and other facilities with vulnerable populations. The new policy focuses on PVC particularly because of the hazards of phthalates. While Congress has banned phthalates in toys, they continue to be widespread in our nation’s schools and hospitals.
This resolution by one of the largest association of health professionals in the United States is an important new voice calling for government agencies to take action to address the risks posed by PVC and phthalates.
See what CNN had to say about this new policy.
Emerging science: PVC chemicals harmful to kids’ health
The science is clear. Phthalates are harmful to children’s health, and phthalate-laden PVC products have no place in our nation’s schools or hospitals.
Will Exxon listen up?