Backyard Talk

Over 5,000 March On D.C. To Stop Fracking

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Photo by Hendrik Voss

Over 5,000 people traveled from all over the country this past Saturday July 28th to be part of a rally and powerful voice against fracking on the West lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Their goal: to end dirty and dangerous fracking; closure of the seven legal loopholes that let frackers in the oil and gas industry ignore the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act; and full enforcement of existing laws to protect families and communities from the effects of fracking. Not unreasonable demands given that hydro fracturing for gas or “Fracking” has already destroyed people’s land, water, air, property and health. Asking congress to stop this destructive practice is a no brainer but then some in congress don’t act on intellect but only focused on greed and/or how they can get reelected.

Congress has the power to stop the fracking of our country and the destruction of the American Dream for so many people. The fracking industry, astonishingly, doesn’t even have to adhere to the laws that other industries are held to like the safe drinking water act — a critical law — because when there is no safe water people die.

If you were at the rally you would have experienced people’s feelings of fear and frustration among many who were gathered to speak to the issue and talk with congressional representatives. So many of the participants expressed how they have experienced or fear their lives being destroyed, their families left helpless and frustrated because they cannot stop the frackers. “Our land has been in our family for generations and now it’s poisoned, polluted and unusable. We received no benefits, no money from the frackers and today we have nothing but poisoned land not fit for livestock or crops. This is so wrong,” said a grassroots farmer from Pennsylvania.

“I support any legislation that we can get passed that will cost the companies money,” said another activist who attended the demonstration. “I don’t think that there can be a safe form of fracking.”

If you were at the rally you would have also been swept up in the enthusiasm, energy and sense of power people felt. Together we are strong . . . together we can make a difference, said many of the participants. There were all kinds of people there, young, old, farmers, businessmen and women, rich, poor, black, white, brown a reflection of the diverse American populace.

Rally speakers included, Bill McKibben, co-founder of; Josh Fox, producer of Gasland; Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish, Texas; Allison Chin, board president of the Sierra Club, and community members from swing states affected by fracking. After the rally people marched for more than one hour, stopping at the headquarters of the America’s Natural Gas Alliance and American Petroleum Institute.

“As the increasingly bizarre weather across the planet and melting ice on Greenland makes clear, at this point we’ve got no choice but to keep fossil fuels underground. Fracking to find more is the worst possible idea,” said McKibben.

This was an impressive rally with grassroots people impacted by fracking in their communities joined together with 136 local and national organizations to call on Congress to Stop the Frack Attack and protect Americans from the dangerous impacts of fracking. CHEJ was proud to play a small role in the event.


Backyard Talk

"The Story of Change," Climate Change, and PVC-Free Schools

Two great new pieces of activist reporting came out last week, and both dovetail perfectly with our work to get PVC, the poison plastic (a k a vinyl), out of NYC schools. Check them out!

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More than half of the United States is currently in drought

“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” a feature article in Rolling Stone by Bill McKibben, lays out three numbers that may well define the future of our planet: how much warmer we can “safely” allow the climate to get; how much carbon we can burn without going over; and how much carbon is currently planning to be burned by the oil and gas industry. (Hint: that last one is about five times larger than the second one.)

McKibben’s frightening conclusion is that unless the international community (i.e. we) demands that Exxon, Chesapeake, and the other oil, gas, and coal giants keep about 80% of their current reserves in the ground, unused, uncontrollable climate destabilization is inevitable. Problem is, that would mean about $20 trillion in losses for these companies, giving them roughly unlimited financial (if not human) incentive to block legislation forcing them to do it.

In short, we have our work cut out for us. Enter the latest installment from Story of Stuff Project:


Story of Change

The animated web-comic “The Story of Change” by Annie Leonard and her team takes viewers through a six-and-a-half minute tour of how citizens can bring about the environmentally sustainable, people-centered, non-toxic, socially equitable economy that we want.

Her prescription? [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Big idea] + [people] + [action] = CHANGE. It’s a convincing argument, and one that we’ll need to take to heart if we’re going to keep the fossil fuel industry’s equation from stealing the future.


So what’s the connection to PVC-free schools for New York City?

Dow Chemicals Vinyl Plant in Freeport, TX.Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011

First, it can save energy.

The vinyl 3-ring binders, floor tiles, and examination gloves found throughout the NYC school system don’t just release harmful toxins into the air. They also take enormous amounts of energy to produce. PVC plastic is made up of about 40% chlorine, and chlorine production is one of the most energy intensive (not to mention dangerous) industrial processes in the world. According to Joe Thornton, PhD, of the Healthy Building Network, “Chlorine production for PVC consumes an estimated 47 billion kilowatt hours per year — equivalent to the annual total output of eight medium-sized nuclear power plants.”

By spending its multi-million dollar purchasing budget on safer, cost-effective alternatives to PVC, the NYC school system can better protect its students, teachers, and staff, and help drive producers away from this costly, energy-intensive material.

Second, we’re using a big idea, building people power, and taking action!

We’re bringing together parents, teachers, students, doctors, environmental justice activists, labor unions, and more to stand behind a clear message: PVC is the wrong choice for NYC school supplies and construction materials. Click here to join the effort!


Backyard Talk

NC Legislator Fracked It Up

Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the controversial fracking bill Sunday, July 1st the last day she had to act before it would have become law.

The governor said she supports hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” but believes additional safeguards are needed in the bill. Without those safeguards in place to protect drinking water and the health of North Carolina families, Perdue said she was forced to veto the bill. “If they improve the bill to strengthen the protections for North Carolina families, I will sign it into law.”

Then two days later, Representative Becky Carney solved the problem for the Governor when she accidentally voted to override her veto.  That’s right accidentally pushed the wrong button.  Unbelievable.

The most important job of an elected representative is the power of their vote based upon their constituencies needs.  We elect people who Americans feel will pay attention and support their issues. Rep. Carney said she felt rotten but when you are responsible for the future of the states well being you don’t have the right to feel bad or rotten as she said.  It is your job to pay attention no matter what time of day or night it is and responsibly vote.

She said it was late after 11 o’clock and she was tired.  “I pushed the wrong button – the green one.”  Even if you’re tired doesn’t green mean go?  Oh she tried as best she could to change her vote but couldn’t – house rules.  I certainly wonder about what really happened, despite her drama on the floor after her green not red voting exercise.

In any case this is the second time the Governor vetoed the bill from the legislators and sent them back to make a change.  And today Carney’s vote has created the opportunity for the fracking industry to exploit North Carolina just as they have in PA, OH and so many western states.

Maybe voters in NC should ask tired Carney to take a break and let someone else take on the tiring effort of working past 11 o’clock in the evening and voting responsibly.

Backyard Talk

Climate Change: Wilderness's Greatest Challenge

Last week I had the good fortune to visit the Big Sky state of Montana. I stayed at a cabin at Georgetown Lake in the western part of the state with family who live in nearby Deer Lodge. Not surprisingly, we spent a lot of our time outdoors, fishing, hiking, biking and sitting on the porch. The wilderness in western Montana is beautiful, but it is suffering a shocking loss of its signature tree – the lodgeple pine. Everywhere you travel, you see huge tracks of the tress cut as though the area had just been clear cut. It is stunning.

The culprit is not an aggressive logging effort, but an insect, an infestation of beetles – lodgepole beetles and it’s changing the landscape of this beautiful countryside, serving another lesson in the impacts of climate change.

A popular tree throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, the lodgepole pine is long, straight and lightweight and was a favorite for making log cabins and tee pees in earlier times. Now these trees are being devastated by a tiny beetle which according to the National Science Foundation, has infected more than six billion trees in the western United States and British Columbia since the 1990s.

The mountain pine beetle is a native insect that plays a natural role in regenerating pine forests in Western North America. This role is now in jeopardy because of changing weather patterns in Montana and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

In the past, populations of this beetle were controlled naturally by the harsh winter weather in this rugged mountain area. Typically it takes 7 to 10 days of intense cold weather – 20 degree below zero or more – to kill the beetles. In past years, this was never an issue. Some beetles would survive, but many were killed off by the bitter cold winter weather.

Now the weather is changing. Winter is not as harsh in this part of the country as it used to be. It does not get as cold for as long as it had typically in past years. As a result, the beetles are thriving and continuing to wipe out huge tracks of lodgepole pine trees.

A study published in 2009 by a research group from several western universities found that the death rate of trees in western U.S. forests had doubled over the several decades driven in large part by higher temperatures and water scarcity brought on by climate change. One of the lead authors commented that longer and hotter summers in the west were subjecting trees to greater stress from droughts and insect infestation.

It’s hard to predict how these changes will transform the western landscape, but it’s not likely to be a pretty picture. I had no idea how climate change was impacting the western forests and I‘m glad I visited when I did. It It‘s not likely these forest will be regenerated in my lifetime.

Backyard Talk

Power Plants Impacting Native Americans

Associated Press reports that many Native American communities are being negatively impacted by power plants.   In a July 4th article, they reported serious health problems in  Native American communities from coal plants.

A “coal-powered plant blamed for polluting the southern Nevada reservation’s air and water is visible from nearly every home. “Everybody is sick,” said Vicki Simmons, whose brother worked at the Reid Gardner Generating Station for 10 years before dying at age 31 with heart problems. Across the country, a disproportionate number of power plants operate near or on tribal lands. NV Energy maintains its plant near the Moapa Paiute reservation is safe and has been upgraded with the required clean emissions technologies.

Meanwhile, local, state and federal health agencies say they cannot conduct accurate health studies to verify the tribe’s complaints because the sample size would be too small. In all, about 10 percent of all power plants operate within 20 miles of reservation land, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many of those 51 energy production centers are more than a half-century old and affect roughly 48 tribes living on 50 reservations. Fewer than 2 percent of all people in the United States identify as Native American and only a small portion live on tribal land.

In many cases, Native American leaders have long embraced energy development as an economic opportunity for communities battling widespread unemployment. But a growing backlash has some tribal leaders questioning whether the health and environmental risks associated with energy production has put their people in harm’s way. While it’s not conclusive that coal operations pose a direct danger to reservation residents, the Moapa Paiutes are one of several tribes demanding the closure of their neighborhood power plants.

Sherry Smith, a history professor who co-edited the book “Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest,” said hardly anyone paid attention or were aware of potential environmental consequences when the power plants were built decades ago. “These are not simply people who have been duped by the government or the energy corporations,” said Smith, director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Texas. “They are simply 21st century people who are coping with the same issues the rest of us are about economic development and the environmental consequences and having to weigh these things.”

When coal is burned, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury compounds are released into the air, according to the EPA. Research has shown those fine particles can be linked to serious health problems, including premature death. Children, who breathe more often, and senior citizens, who tend to have health problems agitated by pollution, are particularly vulnerable, said Colleen McKaughan, an associate director in the EPA’s air division.

Backyard Talk

Warning: PVC Packaging Laden with Toxic Cadmium

A brand new report by the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse has documented elevated levels of toxic cadmium and lead in PVC packaging sold by dollar-store discount retailers.  They found that:

This is the symbol of PVC packaging. Just remember Bad News Comes in 3’s – Don’t Buy PVC!

“Almost 40 percent of imported PVC packaging of products tested, sold by discount retail chains, was found to violate state toxics laws… These packages contained cadmium or lead, which are restricted by laws in 19 states due to toxicity.” – TPCH press release

“Packaging in violation of state laws is likely not one-time sourcing or production mistakes, but rather appears pervasive in imported PVC packaging,” – Kathleen Hennings of Iowa Department of Natural Resources.”

PVC packaging violates laws in 19 states.

No less than nineteen states have laws that prohibit the sale or distribution of packaging containing intentionally added cadmium, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium, and set limits on the incidental concentration of these materials in packaging. The purpose? To prevent the use of toxic heavy metals in packaging materials that enter landfills, incinerators, recycling streams, and ultimately, the environment.  The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse has been working to implement and enforce these laws.

In their latest report released this past Friday, a total of 61 flexible PVC packaging samples were screened using XRF technology. 39% of the packaging samples failed the screening test for cadmium and in one instance, also for lead. All the failed packaging samples were imported, mostly from China.

Packaging that failed the screening tests was used for children’s products, pet supplies, personal care, household items, home furnishings, hardware, and apparel.  The products were purchased at eight retail chains across America.  Six of the eight retail chains operate at least 500 locations each across 35 or more states.

Not the first time PVC packaging contaminated with toxic metals

This isn’t the first time the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse has documented PVC packaging laden with toxic heavy metals.  In 2007, they published a report which found sixty-one percent of the PVC packages tested were not in compliance with state laws due to the use of cadmium and/or lead. In 2009 they published a follow up report which found that all packaging samples failing for cadmium content were flexible PVC, and over 90 percent of these were imported.

Other studies have documented other chemicals of concern in PVC packaging, including phthalates, organotins, bisphenol A (BPA), and adipates.  Unfortunately, these were not tested for in the brand new study, and are also likely lurking in PVC packaging at retailers.

Is cadmium the new lead?

In recent years, the vinyl chemical industry has been moving away from lead as a stabilizer, but apparently has been replacing lead with cadmium and organotins.

There’s a body of evidence that cadmium may be the new lead. Like lead, cadmium has been linked to learning problems in school children, which are on the rise.  A recent study by researchers from Harvard found children with higher cadmium levels are three times more likely to have learning disabilities and participate in special education.

Our friends at SAFER have compiled lots of great information on cadmium, including a summary of cadmium’s health concerns.

Just Remember – Bad News Comes in 3’s, Don’t Buy PVC

Thankfully, it’s not too hard for consumers to identify and avoid PVC/vinyl packaging, to help reduce your exposure to cadmium and the other toxic additives commonly found in vinyl.

One way to be sure if the packaging of a product is made from PVC is to look for the number “3” inside or the letter “V” underneath the universal recycling symbol.   If it is, that means it’s made out of the poison plastic.  That’s why we say Bad News Comes in 3’s – Don’t Buy PVC!

Not sure? Call the manufacturer or retailer and ask them directly.

Have some PVC packaging? Return it to the manufacturer or retailer and demand they go PVC-free!

To help you remember, watch this animated video we created a few years ago– Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, the Poison Plastic.