vinyl chloride

Phthalate baby

The End is Coming – Market for Phthalates Continues to Shrink


Last month, the nation’s third largest home improvement chain – Menards – agreed to phase out the use of phthalates in its vinyl flooring by the end of the year. In a statement in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Menards spokesperson Jeff Abbot said, “We are still aware of the phthalate concern and have been working diligently with our vendors to eliminate any flooring products that contain phthalates.” Menards, which follows the lead of Home Depot and Lowes, has roughly 285 stores in 14 states.

This announcement follows a report by the Health Building Network (HBN) that the world’s largest flooring manufacturers, Mohawk and Tarkett, are also phasing out the use of phthalate plasticizers. Rochelle Routman, VP of sustainability for Mohawk, told HBN that it “long ago” phased out the use of ortho-phthalates in all the vinyl floors that it manufacturers, and is working to eliminate them from third party manufactured floors. HBN reported in April that Tarkett, the world’s second largest flooring company, has phased out the intentional addition of phthalates to its flooring.

The decisions by these major retailers and by global manufacturing companies portends an end to the use of phthalates in consumer products. Consumers simply do not want to take risks, especially with their children, that they can avoid.

The August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports makes clear what parents should do if they have vinyl flooring in their home – regularly mop vinyl floors that contain phthalates and wash toddlers’ hands, especially if children crawl on the floors. Consumers Union tested 17 vinyl floors and found small amounts of phthalates on the surface layers – enough however to warrant action by parents. ”Although phthalate levels are very low, we recommend that parents of toddlers wet-mop often and wash those little hands after they’ve been crawling on a vinyl floor,” it reports. Frequent cleaning could help remove dust particles which are known to accumulate phthalates commonly used in these floorings.

Phthalates migrate from PVC, can accumulate in people’s bodies, and can cause developmental harm. Some phthalates are carcinogens.

Rather than worry about moping the floor and washing your children’s hands, most parents want nothing to do with vinyl flooring. The risks are too great and the market forces are following this lead.

PVC pipe

Residents Sue National Pipe (PVC) NY


Nearly 50 Endicott, NY residents have banded together in a lawsuit filed last week against National Pipe & Plastics, accusing the manufacturer of having “devastated the neighborhood” where it opened a new plant earlier this year.  The lawsuit claims noise and odors wafting from the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe manufacturing plant at 15 Mills Ave. have created an “ongoing public nuisance” to residents of the West Endicott neighborhood.

Read more.


The Importance of Government Legislation: PVC Hazards and Chemical Policy Reform


By Samantha Stahl

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

Read more >


Relocation in Sight for Mossville, Louisiana Residents


Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

Mossville, Louisiana residents, surrounded by more vinyl chemical plants than anywhere else in the United States, may finally see some justice after many years of organizing and campaigning for a healthier future.

Late last week, chemical giant Sasol announced plants to fund a relocation of Mossville residents who are interested in moving from their homes and from the pollution, as the company is attempting to expand their operations by building a giant ethane cracker and gas to liquids petrochemical plant.  Residents have been fighting for relocation since at least the 1990’s – so this is nothing short of huge news for this impacted environmental justice community.

“A Sasol representative announced plans to introduce the Voluntary Property Purchase Program in Mossville,” says Mossville resident Dorothy Felix, with Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN). “We have been advocating for relocation for years and know that the only way the plan can work is to meet the needs of Mossville residents, who suffer from industrial pollution that make us sick and ruin the value of our homes.”

Sasol plans to build and operate the industrial facilities on a site near Mossville that takes up an estimated three square miles.  Ever since Sasol’s proposed expansion was announced last year, Mossville residents have renewed their calls for relocation. The company has been buying up property in the area to secure their expansion, including an old elementary school and church.

Sasol boasts that the “estimated cost is between $16 and $21 billion” which represents “the largest single manufacturing investment in the history of Louisiana and one of the largest foreign direct investment manufacturing projects in U.S. history.”

Sasol has not made public the estimated pollution increase or potential risk of a hazardous accident from the proposed plants.

Not the first relocation in Mossville – will it be the last?

Mossville residents are surrounded by an alarming number of chemical plants that spew dangerous pollutants like the carcinogens vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, and dioxin.  I traveled there in 2004 and was shocked by the environmental devastation I witnessed, but also inspired by the community members fighting back.

In the 1990’s, many homes in Mossville were relocated after a gigantic ethylene dichloride (EDC) chemical spill was discovered traveling throughout the community, contaminating the groundwater underneath people’s homes.   A jury had found the PVC company responsible for contamination liable for “wanton and reckless disregard of public safety” and was charged with dumping a staggering amount of poisons – an estimated 19-47 million pounds of EDC, a suspected human carcinogen.  EDC is used to make vinyl plastic, such as children’s lunchboxes and flooring in our schools and homes.

Dorothy Felix (pictured above) and members of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN) have been fighting for a healthy community and relocation for years, and was featured in a major expose by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN a few years ago, as well as in the award-winning documentary Blue Vinyl.  Now, they may finally achieve the relocation so many residents have been clamoring for.

Will this relocation be the final one for this community?  Will the company truly make the residents whole?  What will be the terms of the buy-out?  These any many other questions remain unanswered, for now at least.  You’ll be sure we and many allies across the nation will be paying attention.

“Environmental health and environmental justice groups from all over the United States and the world are watching what happens in Mossville,” declares Michele Roberts, with Environmental Health and Justice Alliance, “And we will stand by the people of Mossville until they are safely out of harms way from toxic chemical contamination.

History of chemical industry buy-outs in Louisiana

Mossville is not an isolated incident, but yet another example of how the petrochemical industry has contaminated neighbors.  Over the past thirty years, a number of other communities around Louisiana have been relocated by the petrochemical industry.  Some notable examples of vinyl industry relocations include:

  • In 2003, in Plaquemine, Louisiana, a trailer park development was relocated after being contaminated by vinyl chloride groundwater contamination, but only after women suffered from an abnormal number of miscarriages in the tainted area. Residents had been drinking contaminated water for at least five years.
  • Reveilletown, Louisiana was once a small African-American town adjacent to a PVC facility owned by Georgia-Gulf. In the 1980s, after a groundwater toxic plume of vinyl chloride began to seep under homes, Georgia-Gulf agreed to permanently evacuate the entire community of one hundred and six residents. Reveilletown has since been demolished.
  • Management at Dow Chemical’s neighboring PVC factory followed suit soon afterwards, buying out all of the residents of the small town of Morrisonville.

More recently in 2002, the Concerned Citizens of Norco achieved a historic victory after Shell Oil agreed to relocate community members after years of fighting for justice.

Mossville residents and their allies are now hoping to leverage the lessons from the Shell relocation in Mossville.

“Our prior work on a successful community relocation offer between the Diamond community of Norco and the Shell Corporation in 2000 provides important lessons on how a community and an industrial company can reach agreement on future industrial operations, the terms for relocation offers, and programs for community improvements,” explains Monique Harden, attorney with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR), which represents Mossville residents and MEAN in a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that charges the U.S. Government with violating human rights by permitting toxic industrial releases in and around Mossville.

We’ll be watching and will do all we can to support the Mossville residents in their fight for justice.


The latest news on the poison plastic: what every parent needs to know


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.

Paulsboro train derailment.

Paulsboro Derailment Blamed in Death of Woman, 77


Wessie Hardy, who had an underlying cardiovascular condition, died three days after the derailment.”Ms. Hardy’s death is a tragic result of a company failing to properly maintain equipment and inadequately transporting dangerous chemicals,” said Joe Messa of the Philadelphia law firm Messa & Associates. Read more. . .


A day in the life of CHEJ staff.


A Cold Wednesday in March Demonstrated the reach CHEJ has and how much is really accomplished.

A Cold, Windy and Snowy Day Did Not Stop Us.

Wednesday March 6th a storm was brewing across the Midwest and Northeast.  Despite the snow and travel warnings CHEJ’s leaders moved forward.  Here is what happened on that cold, windy and snowy Wednesday in March.

A day in the life of CHEJ

As I juggle calls from activists across the state of Ohio working on fracking, deep well injection, air pollution, cancer clusters and more I’m freezing outside at and anti injection well rally at the state capital.  Cold and tired watching e-mails cross my phone from CHEJ’s home office I realize how much CHEJ does in a day to move the country toward a safe, healthy and justice place for American families.

While I’m in Columbus, Ohio participating with my neighbors and friends to speak out about fracking waste disposal.  Even with the nasty weather, over 125 people gather at the state house to ask legislators to  stop accepting out-of-state fracking wastes. Ohio now has over 200 injection wells and last year accepted  581,559,594 gallons (that’s right over 581 million gallons) of fracking wastes.

My co-worker is working on greening the market place organized a shareholder action in Arizona around Disney’s use of poison plastic in toys and other children’s products.  This morning a shareholder action was held in Phoenix, Arizona.  Leaders handed out informational packets to Disney shareholders to ask them to stop using PVC the poison plastic in their toys.  Many shareholders had no idea that toys were being made in a way that could harm young children.

Commemorating 35th Anniversary of Love Canal

In New York City

That same evening a celebration and fundraiser was held in New York City with our Executive Director Lois Gibbs.  This was our first event  of several, commemorations of Love Canal events 35 years ago were underway.  Chevy and Jayni Chase joined us as our special guest along with 67 others who braved the weather to celebrate with us that evening.  CHEJ surpassed our fundraising goal at the event and launched the Leadership Training Academy.  Great time was had by all with great food, drinks, conversations with colleagues and a preview of the new documentary A Fierce Green Fire, The Battle for A Living Planet.


What You Might Have Missed Over (and since) the Holidays


The past few months have been a real doozy for the vinyl chemical industry.

While you were probably indulging in a bit too much holiday egg nog or prancing underneath the mistletoe, the vinyl chemical industry was in hot water from New Jersey to Delaware to California.

“These individuals can never know how much and for how long they were exposed to vinyl chloride, a highly toxic gas known to cause fatal cancer and liver damage,” the chairman stated.

The biggest news was no doubt the train cars carrying vinyl chloride heading to OxyVinyls that derailed in Paulsboro, NJ. The accident was nothing short of a major environmental and occupational health disaster. One of the trains released 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which formed a cloud of toxic gas that drifted into homes and businesses throughout the community.  More than 70 people were hospitalized after the vinyl chloride release. Air monitoring found very high levels of this chemical in the community. Hundreds of families were then forced to shelter in place and eventually evacuate their homes for days.   Since then, it’s been revealed that first responders were exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride, as it’s shown up in their bodies.  Thanks in part by the fine folks over at OxyVinyls (more on Oxy below).  You can read more about the train disaster in this op-ed I authored for the NJ Star Ledger (the largest paper in NJ!).

The same week that Oxy’s vinyl chloride was poisoning the air of Paulsboro, vinyl manufacturer Formosa Plastics was fined by the state of Delaware more than $70,000 for various air pollution violations at their plant in Delaware City.  It’s not the first time Formosa has been in hot water for violating the law.

In California the US Customs and Border Protection seized 35,000 toxic rubber (vinyl) duckies, which were in violation of the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act for containing elevated levels of phthalates.  According to the feds:

“they arrived from China dressed as Santa, Snowman, Gingerbread man, Reindeer and Penguin, all 35,712, but their cute holiday flair did not deflect the scrutiny of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and import specialists, at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport.”

And that was just in December!

What will 2013 bring for the vinyl industry?

The past few weeks have shown 2013 will not be much easier for the vinyl chemical industry.

Down in Georgia, a recycling company has reduced their stockpile of PVC, after more than 400 firefighters had to battle a fire at the plant.

“It’s been almost six months since Chattooga County, Ga., was hit by its largest fire in three decades, when more than 400 firefighters battled a blaze at a plastics recycling plant in Berryton, Ga.  One thing has changed since then: The North Georgia Textile Supply Co. has whittled down its stockpile of a potentially toxic type of plastic: polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. When PVC burns and firefighters spray water on it, a cloud of chlorine gas can result. Since the fire, North Georgia Textile Supply Co. has reduced the amount of PVC at the recycling facility in the old Berryton yarn mill three miles southwest of Summerville, Ga.”

EPA published the latest toxic release inventory (TRI) data, and their latest findings show that 3 of the top 5 dioxin polluters in the country were vinyl companies: OxyVinyls, Dow Chemical, and Westlakes Vinyl (with Oxy and Dow #1 and #2).

New scientific studies published continue to underscore what we know – vinyl chemicals are toxic to our health.  Studies have found dioxin delays the onset of puberty in boys, phthalates in the bodies of ants, and organotins (which are used to “stabilize” vinyl) linked to obesity, even in the grandchildren of those exposed.  Nick Kristof wrote a fantastic column about this new study in last week’s New York Times.

Finally, WFPL radio ran a heartbreaking and extremely powerful story about the families of vinyl workers who died from liver cancer, after being exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride.  This here says it all:

“But it’s too late for the workers who have already died from angiosarcoma or are suffering from liver disease. Janet Crecelius Johnson wonders why B.F. Goodrich couldn’t have erred on the side of caution. Her husband Revis was diagnosed with cancer a year to the day after he retired. He had worked night shifts for nearly 40 years, and was looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“Every time there’s a wedding, every time there’s a baby, you just think, ‘I wish he could be here.’””

Any other major stories I might have missed?

Photo by Rae Lynn Stevenson

Securing chemicals to prevent another Paulsboro accident


One month ago, more than 200 homes in South Jersey were evacuated after a train carrying highly toxic and flammable chemicals derailed from a bridge into a creek near Paulsboro. Four rail cars that ended up in Mantua Creek contained vinyl chloride. One released 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which formed a cloud of toxic gas that drifted into the community.

Photo by Rae Lynn Stevenson

The incident may seem isolated, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. What happened there could happen with devastating consequences across New Jersey — and across the United States.

There are 473 chemical facilities in America today that pose a danger to populations of 100,000 or more, and 89 plants that place a million or more people at risk of immediate injury or death from toxic chemical exposure.

The Paulsboro Refining Co.’s refinery uses hydrogen fluoride that puts up to
3.1 million people at risk. In South Kearny, the Kuehne chemical facility processes chlorine gas that risks the lives of nearly 12 million people, according to company reports to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Paulsboro was bad, but the true impacts may not be known for years or even generations. Vinyl chloride is a dangerous, highly flammable chemical that, according to the EPA, causes liver damage and is known to cause cancer in humans. It took more than two weeks to remove the railcars from the creek, a tributary of the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for 15 million people.

More than 70 people were hospitalized after the vinyl chloride release. Monitoring found very high levels in the community. Hundreds were eventually evacuated and others were told to shelter-in-place. Fortunately, no one was killed.

This accident was far from the first in 2012. In October, a freight train carrying butadiene derailed just outside of Louisville, Ky. The collision resulted in an explosion and fire that hurt five workers and forced evacuations. How much worse would this have been if the train were passing through densely populated Louisville?

There’s more. In June and July, two derailments in the Midwest led to explosions and evacuations. In January, three trains collided in Indiana. And in one of the worst rail accidents in recent history, nine people died and 250 more were treated for chlorine exposure after 60 tons of the toxic gas were released in a 2005 train accident in Graniteville, S.C.

In the wake of the Paulsboro accident, some are calling for stricter train safety standards, though new standards won’t solve the underlying problem. What we need is to do something about the massive amounts of hazardous chemicals we transport by rail and store in facilities that put the health of thousands of workers and communities at risk. We know safer chemicals and options exist; the industry should use them rather than ship thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals across the country.

Aware of the dangers posed by these plants since 9/11, Congress drafted bills to secure chemical facilities and limit the storage and use of deadly toxins at the plants. After the attacks in New York, it became clear that the vulnerability of chemical facilities posed grave threats to national security. In Washington, officials ended the storage of potentially deadly toxins at the largest wastewater plant in the region just 90 days after 9/11, fearing the plant was a security risk. This move eliminated risks to more than a million people, including anyone on Capitol Hill.

And then a curious thing happened: As the chemical industry pressured representatives to delay the safeguards, President George W. Bush blocked promising rules by the EPA to prevent such a disaster at our highest-risk chemical plants. And now, a decade later, these plants still pose a threat.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The EPA has the power to use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act to safeguard chemical plants and reduce the use of deadly chemicals, including vinyl chloride, at these sites. It won’t be easy, but action to begin securing dangerous chemicals would protect the health and lives of millions, including at-risk New Jerseyans.

Republicans and Democrats were united in their desire to protect families from accidents and acts of terror targeting chemical plants post-9/11. It’s time to unite again, for Paulsboro and the many other communities affected by toxic chemicals.

We have known about this danger for too long. We have seen too many near misses for the Obama administration, which has expressed support for these policies, to continue to delay. This action as one of outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s final acts could cement her legacy, in New Jersey and nationwide. This is not just an environmental issue. It’s an issue of worker and public safety, and national security. How many more accidents do we need before we acknowledge the risks the storage and transport of these chemicals pose?

The time to act is now, before the next toxic spill takes place in Trenton, New York City, Philadelphia or any of the other hundreds of cities and towns that are one accident or act of sabotage away from disaster. We must act now, to prevent another Paulsboro.

Mike Schade is markets campaign coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.

** This op-ed originally appeared in the NJ Star Ledger on Sunday December 30, 2012:

Train Derailment in NJ: More of the Same – No Cause for Alarm


Paulsboro train derailment.

How many times have we heard the same refrain from government leaders and scientists involved in community wide exposures such as the recent train derailment in Paulsboro, NJ that released 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the air? “There’s no cause for alarm, we have everything under control.”

If only this were true. Instead, many of the hundreds of people in the 27 block area that was evacuated remain frustrated by the lack of answers to their questions about health effects and accountability. This frustration is driven by how government leaders and scientists evaluate health risks and by the many uncertainties about what is known about the short and long term health effects of being exposed to vinyl chloride or other chemicals. Scientists can estimate risks and give their opinions, but we simply don’t know what’s going to happen to the health of the people who were exposed to vinyl chloride in the aftermath of this accident. Yet this is exactly what people want to know – what’s going to happen to their health or to the health of their children as a result of this accident?

Here’s what we do know. We know that vinyl chloride is a human carcinogen and that it damages the liver and central nervous system; that more than 200 families within a half mile of the accident site were evacuated; that the Coast Guard and other authorities acted swiftly in evacuating the homes immediately surrounding the site of the accident; that the train pulling 84 cars derailed on a bridge over Mantua Creek; that seven rail cars derailed; 4 contained vinyl chloride; one ethanol; three fell into the creek; and one ruptured releasing vinyl chloride into the air (see photo).  We also know that 10 days later most people are back in their homes with assurances from the local authorities that everything is fine.

This is not surprising because it’s the practical thing to do. But what was the scientific basis for this decision? Air samples taken by EPA on December 8th and 9th from throughout the surrounding neighborhood found vinyl chloride in every sample taken. Eight of the nine samples exceeded the EPA’s one-in-a million cancer risk value (EPA’s trigger level for action). Yet people are back in their homes. EPA’s interpretation of this data is that is that the results are within the agency’s “acceptable” risk range, which varies by a factor of 1,000. This is a ridiculously large risk range that has no meaning in protecting public health.

So the stalemate is set up between government leaders and scientists telling people that everything is fine and a frustrated community that has no answers. Given this dynamic, it’s not surprising that 54 residents filed suit this week against Conrail and CSX for damages. What they want is medical screening for early detection of life threatening medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride. This is actually a reasonable response to the many uncertainties that exist in the scientific understanding of what will happen to the health of the people exposed to toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride.

Had the government leaders and scientists in Paulsboro recognized the scientific uncertainties and more honestly acknowledged how little is known about chemical exposures and health outcomes, there may have been a more satisfying resolution. A resolution that might have included practical steps forward such as medical screening for early detection of medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride. Testing that should be paid for by the companies responsible for the accident and who own the chemicals.

As long as decision makers continue to protect the companies responsible for area-wide chemical exposures such as what occurred in Paulsboro, this scenario will continue to play out as it has since the days of Love Canal more than 30 years ago. Isn’t it time we publicly acknowledge what we don’t know about exposures to toxic chemicals and stop deluding ourselves that using risk estimates that define “acceptable” exposures is the best way to manage toxic chemicals? There is no acceptable exposure if you‘re the one being exposed.