Backyard Talk

How Ohio handles radioactive waste from oil/gas drilling

Ohio has an amazing way to make the radioactive waste produced by the oil/gas industry just disappear.  How you ask, just mix the radium 226 and 228 with dirt until the levels are only 5 picocuries above background.  There are two other options that Ohio gives industry, send the waste to a low level waste site in Oregon or to a landfill in Michigan that takes the radioactive waste below 50 picocuries.  Gee, wonder which one is cheapest for the oil/gas industry.

Ohio also is considering allowing the “beneficial use” of drill cutting.  They say nothing about testing of this toxic, radioactive waste.  Save landfill space is their cry.  One way Ohio is saving space is by using the drill cuttings as landfill cover.  Did Ohio consider that this waste may become airborne? Remember this is Ohio.

Maybe we should require that the multimillionaires of the oil and gas industry live next to the landfills or injection wells that take the drilling waste.  Just like during the Roman Empire when an architect built one of the still standing arches they were pretty sure that the arch was safe to walk under because, when they built one, the empire made the Designer/Architect stand under it while they removed the supports after construction.

Backyard Talk

An Insider's View of The Toy Industry Association Flyering Event

My name is Tommy Mutell and I just started working at CHEJ’s New York City office as an intern last month. Last Tuesday I was given the opportunity to participate in a flyering event alongside about forty other people organized by the JustGreen Partnership to bring awareness to the nation-wide lobbying efforts of the Toy Industry Association (TIA) against the discontinuation of harmful chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, and mercury in toys.

TIA claims to have the best interests of its consumers as a primary mission to their association. However, what they say to consumers about toy safety and what they do regarding toy safety legislation and regulations are two different things. Our time at the Toy Fair, an event that attracted tens of thousands of visitors from 92 countries, was spent calling out TIA for their recent lobbying of continued usage of toxic chemicals in toys and other consumer products.

“The Toy Industry Association should stop toying around with our children’s health, and support state and federal efforts to protect children from toxic chemicals in children’s products,” said Mike Schade, Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ).

The flyering event was really a great learning experience and I received a lot of satisfaction in helping to spread the word to the issues we are working to resolve. It felt like the few dozen of us accomplished the amount of work in about an hour that it would take me alone months to complete. I am learning that our collaborative efforts of flyering and raising awareness are really at the frontline of making an impact and bringing about change, and I am going to continue to work on the discontinuation of toxic chemicals in toys and consumer products in the months to come.  I also enjoyed meeting and working with other interns, staff, and volunteers at different environmental groups within the city, as well as members of NYPIRG, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, and the Center for Environmental Health to name a few.

Backyard Talk

Naptime Nightmares

A California watchdog group is suing major manufacturers and retailers, including Target and, for selling baby nap mats made with a toxic flame retardant that is also a known carcinogen, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (2/21/13).

The lawsuit is the latest legal move for the group, which last year put the companies on notice for selling or making similarly contaminated changing pads, crib mattresses and other items. While some of the manufacturers and retailers say they’ve started to change their practices, the Center for Environmental Health says it wants the courts to require swift action.

Many foam nap mats, which are widely used at places like day care centers, are doused with flame retardants linked to obesity, hormone disruption and infertility, according to the lawsuit. One of those flame retardants is chlorinated Tris, a carcinogen that was banned more than 30 years ago from children’s pajamas, the group says. These chemicals are released into the air that infants and toddlers inhale as they doze on the mats, said Caroline Cox, the center’s research director. “Kids are sleeping on them with their nose practically right up against the mat,” she said.

According to a report released by the Center, a Duke University scientist found flame retardants in 22 out of 24 nap mats that researchers bought or borrowed in California, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states. According to the lawsuit, the companies illegally failed to inform consumers that the products contain chlorinated Tris, which was banned from pajamas in 1979. That omission violates Proposition 65, the state’s consumer protection law, which requires warning labels on products with certain toxicants, the group said. The group said it can only sue sellers and makers of items with chlorinated Tris, because the other flame retardants found are not subject to Prop. 65.

Read more:

Backyard Talk

Adverse Health – Real Cause – Poof Deflected

Two studies, from completely different states were recently released concluding the same thing. Both said there was no cause for alarm. Their findings . . . every elevated health abnormality was more likely due to something other than the chemicals in the environment. Poof the words on the paper report deflected the problems. Yet that is not what the studies honestly found.

Enough already . . . real people, with real families need honest answers. However, when there is a question or a real statistical finding of an abnormality the health authorities, as to not upset the corporate polluters or their friends in government, assumption that it’s more likely be a meteor, like recently seen in Russia, than due to chemical exposures in the air or soil. O.K. maybe not the meteor but the answers are just as foolish. The cause for high disease is almost never related to the obvious, 500 pound toxic elephant in the room, nor do the recommendations falls on the side of precaution and cleaning up the environment.

In North Birmingham a recent study around soil and air contamination suggested that the levels of chemicals would not be harmful to health unless you had pica children. Pica children are young and frequently because of age put hands and other things into their mouths. O.K. but the soils samples came from an elementary school grounds, just the place you would find pica children. Just wash their hands and teach them not to place their fingers in the mouth. Poof deflected. It’s the children’s fault and parents for not training the children well enough to keep their hands away from their mouths.

The second study came from New York. The NY State Department of Health undertook a study in Tonawanda where air contamination from multiple industries have been an on-going problem. They found high rates of cancer and birth defects. The study found cases of bladder cancer in the area were 24 percent higher for men and 81 percent higher for woman compared to the rest of New York State, excluding New York City. And women living in the neighborhood had 93 percent more leukemia cases than the rest of the state. Lastly, they found 30 percent more birth defects than the rest of New York State.

The analyses of birth outcomes in the study area compared to birth outcomes in NYS showed some elevations that were relatively smaller than the cancer elevations. Preterm births were elevated in the overall study area. Total heart defects as a group were also elevated, but major heart defects were not elevated.

Then poof the results went away! How? Doctors are better at reporting in the region then in other regions of the state. The report said, “the health investigators compared the birth outcomes in the study area to birth outcomes in Erie and Niagara Counties, the elevations declined substantially. This is consistent with other evidence suggesting this area has more complete reporting than elsewhere in the state.” Poof deflected.

Cancer results the health department said, “factors include smoking, family history, and occupational exposures, as well as others. In the general population, smoking is the most important risk factor for both lung and bladder cancer. We do not know the individual medical and exposure histories for the people included in this study.” Deflected again. So because the victims themselves could have cause the problem and we don’t know if they did the default is, these are sad people who are likely making themselves sick.

If only families living in contaminated areas could create that same magic and poof make the toxic, cancer causing and birth disrupting chemicals go away. Or pretend that contamination in school property will somehow not hurt young children even though the entire property, building and play area is intended for small children.

I walk with these parents, sit in their living rooms and listen as they try and struggle with the pain of their sick loved one and the disappointment they have for those who are supposed to protect and defend American families from criminals and their poisons.

It is hard to respond when parents, women ask over and over again, “why?” It’s not right when can’t smoke in buildings and restaurants (a very good law) but industries can just violate the law, poison people and government covers up the problems just as the tobacco industry did for decades. I never thought I’d see the day when the American people through our tax dollars hired scientists that mirror those that our elected leaders despised-tobacco scientists.

The message to all those fighting for justice and hoping that science may provide some evidence, it won’t – not because it can’t but because our scientists lack the back bone. Our struggles, although should be won on science alone, are clearly political fights and these two studies are just more proof.

Backyard Talk

Making a Bad Decision Worse – Reselling Homes at Love Canal

Earlier this week, three families living in what was once the Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, NY filed a lawsuit against the state of New York for $113 million. The lawsuit alleges that the Love Canal landfill – with over 20,000 tons of toxic waste still sitting in the midst of this suburban neighborhood – is leaking and that people living nearby have become ill from chemicals coming from the landfill.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the toxic waste crisis at Love Canal that led to the evacuation and relocation of over 900 families who lived around the toxic waste landfill. The events at Love Canal marked an important moment in history. It led directly to a sea change in how the country manages toxic waste; it was the impetus to the passage of the federal Superfund law that provides funds to clean up the worst toxic waste sites in the country; and it was the catalyst to the birth of a movement of grassroots leaders and community based organizations that changed the environmental movement in this country.

Lois Gibbs, who led the community efforts at Love Canal and who founded and is still CHEJ’s executive director, warned against resettling any of the homes around the Love Canal landfill. In a letter to the US EPA in 1989, Gibbs argued against allowing the area to be resettled for two basic reasons. First, the 20,000 tons of toxic waste that were dumped into the landfill remained in the middle of the neighborhood. The cleanup plan did not remove any of the waste and there were many uncertainties about whether the containment system would work, especially since there was no liner at the bottom of the landfill. Second, there were unacceptable levels of toxic chemicals throughout the Love Canal neighborhood including the areas targeted for resettlement. The cleanup plan did not address contamination outside the fence that surrounded the landfill, in areas where homes, once evacuated, were resold to innocent people who thought the area was safe.

Many of the new residents, some of whom I have personally talked with, believed the area was safe. It’s what the developers told them and what government officials led them to believe. Yet in 1988 when the state completed its evaluation of the contamination throughout the neighborhood, they never concluded that the area was safe. In fact, they found that 4 of the 7 sections of the Love Canal neighborhood were not habitable. And in the sections where homes were resettled, all they were comfortable saying was that it was as “habitable as other areas of Niagara Falls.”

What they did not say was that none of the Love Canal neighborhood was habitable after their first analysis which compared the levels of contamination in Love Canal to two neighboring towns. This conclusion was not politically acceptable, so they did a second analysis. This time they compared the levels of contamination in Love Canal to two selected areas of Niagara Falls. Both of these areas were suspiciously contaminated with many of the same chemicals found at Love Canal. Not surprisingly, they found the contaminant levels in Love Canal to be similar to the contaminant levels in these two select areas of Niagara Falls.  I doubt the people who bought resettled homes at Love Canal would have done so if they had known how this decision was made.

Love Canal was never habitable and people never should have been allowed to move back in. To get a copy of Lois’ letter to EPA or to learn more about the New York state habitability decision, contact CHEJ at

Backyard Talk

An Interesting Reaction

I wish someone could explain to me why an Ohio citizen was arrested on the spot and charged with a fifth degree felony for inducing panic for blocking an injection well, while a company (Hardrock Excavating) was caught red handed intentionally and illegally disposing of toxic brine, drilling mud and oil into a storm drain in Youngstown, OH.  But in this case nobody was arrested on the spot.

Madeline ffitch from Athens County blocked the entrance to an injection well by inserting her arms into two fifty-five gallons drums filled with cement.  Soon on the scene was the Athens County Sheriff’s Office, Albany Police, Albany Fire Department, Athens Fire Department, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Wildlife officer.  These local departments were joined by the Ohio State Highway Patrol tactical team who were flown in by helicopter from Columbus to handle this one woman.  Also, every supporter that had gathered to show support for Madeline was harassed by the sheriff’s office and asked for their name and social security number because they were witness to a crime.  Some citizens who didn’t know better complied. Talk about an overreaction by the local and state officials.

Now compare what Madeline did trying to protect her community to the illegal dumping of toxic brine, drilling mud and oil in Youngstown.  During the month of January the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had received several anonymous tips that illegal dumping was occurring but failed to investigate. (This doesn’t surprise citizens because ODNR has also ignored several complaints from citizens who have witnessed brine spills.) It wasn’t until another anonymous tip on February 1st that ODNR even went to the location.  ODNR was joined by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

When the state and federal agencies approached the dumper he admitted what he was doing and informed the agencies that he had been instructed to do so by the company owner.  The company owner, Ben Lupo, owns several companies including several injection wells in Ohio.  One of these wells was found to have caused the earthquakes in Youngstown during 2011 and 2012.

While investigating the dumping the agencies saw a brine hauling tanker leave the scene with the company name of Mohawk on the side of the tanker.  However, Mohawk did not have a license to transport brine in Ohio.  In fact, Mohawk was using the UIC identification number issued to Hardrock Excavating.  Yet, another illegal act.

A week after the dumping was discovered ODNR revoked all the permits for D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating.  The decision by ODNR to revoke the permits can still be appealed by D&L Energy and Hardrock, which are owned by the same person who ordered the dumping.

U.S. EPA estimated 40,000 gallons of water had been removed from the Mahoning River. EPA investigators also estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons of oil had been dumped into the storm drain which drains into a tributary which empties into the Mahoning River.  Communities downstream were notified that they should shut down the water intakes.

Talk about under reaction by state officials.

Who should be considered the felon here?

Backyard Talk

Is vinyl plastic making our children fat and asthmatic?

An alarming pair of new studies add to the mounting scientific evidence linking vinyl chemicals to asthma and obesity in children.

The latest study found an association between the phthalates DINP and DIDP and asthma, which are primarily used to make vinyl flooring and other vinyl products flexible.  The researchers report:

“The strong correlation between MCOP and MCNP suggests similar sources of exposure to the parent compounds, which are both used primarily as plasticizers of PVC and may be used in flooring, wall coverings, building materials, heat-resistant electrical cords, car interiors, and toys.”

OK.  I need to vent, for just one moment.

We’re talking about asthma here people! You know, the disease that impacts over 7 million children!  A disease that kills over 3,000 Americans a year.  AND it’s super costly.  According to the CDC, asthma costs $57 billion a year in healthcare costs. B-I-L-L-I-O-N.

Now that I got that out of me, as I’ve blogged before, this isn’t the first time certain phthalates have been linked to asthma.  It’s not even the second or third!

What’s particularly interesting is that DINP and DIDP are phthalates the industry loves to argue are “safe.”  And of course, they make the same argument for just about every other poisonous chemical they just love to pump into consumer products.

The other new study, which Nick Kristof wrote about in the New York Times last weekend, found a link between certain organotins and obesity.

Nick Kristof sums it up:

“Just this month, a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that endocrine disruptors that are sometimes added to PVC plastic cause mice to grow obese and suffer liver problems — and the effect continues with descendants of those mice, generation after generation.”

These chemicals which can apparently help trigger obesity, have been coined obesogens (dioxins and phthalates have also been linked to obesity BTW).

Like phthalates, organotins are added to vinyl products to give them certain properties; in this case they’re used as “stabilizers.”  Lead and cadmium are also used as stabilizers, and now the chemical industry seems to be playing a toxic shell game with our children’s health, where they’re replacing one toxic stabilizer for another (in this case, switching out lead for cadmium or organotins).  If that’s not a regrettable substitute, I don’t know what is. Oy.

What’s especially concerning is that these chemicals continue to be used in building materials and other vinyl products in our homes and schools, where our kids spend so much of their time.  Why is that they can be banned in toys, but still be allowed in so many other products?!

If we want to avoid these harmful additives, and all the other toxic hazards associated with vinyl (HELLO!  chlorine gas, ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride, chlorinated byproducts like PCBs, dioxins and furans, and mercury, oh my!), the best thing to do is to get it out of our schools and homes in the first place.

These new studies underscore the need for companies like Disney to get these chemicals and plastic out of children’s products one and for all.

After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.  Right?

Backyard Talk

Toxic Flipper Dies

A polluted dolphin in Brooklyn was “killed by government incompetence,” wrote Andrea Peyser’s in her New York Post article, January 28, 2013.

“It broke the heart of the hardest New Yorker. Even mine. Just one living soul in this city was slain during the nine days ending Friday, during a bone-chilling cold snap that kept the guns still. The Gowanus Canal Dolphin. The marine mammal was a victim of another kind of homicide. The dolphin was killed by acute bureaucratic neglect and incompetence. There was no saving the poor, lost soul. Rest in peace.

The species is called the common dolphin. But there was nothing common about this gentle creature. The 6-foot miracle floated Friday morning to a spot near Union Street, in the revolting and polluted Brooklyn canal. It’s a 1.8-mile garbage dump stretching from Gowanus Bay to New York Harbor.

Like a long, filthy puddle, the canal is strewn with more than a century’s worth of foulness. Old tires, used syringes, grocery carts.

Pesticides. Metals. Cancer-causing PCBs. The Gowanus has long been bestowed with the reputation of being the spot where the mob disposes of bodies, which are meant to virtually dissolve in the putrid water.

In the late ’90s, a photographer I know found a corpse floating in the murky canal. Cops told him the dead man was probably killed by a prostitute. Nothing to see here.

And yet the rancid waterway sits between the multimillion-dollar houses of star-choked Park Slope (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Patrick Stewart) and fame-friendly Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill (Norah Jones, Michelle Williams). How authorities could allow the Gowanus to exist in its rank condition for a day, let alone 100-plus years, is a made-in-New York mystery. (The thing was built in the mid-19th century, and deteriorated as quickly as people could invent chemicals to dump.)

Maybe the dolphin, sick or hurt, sensed he was in friendly company. No one knows where the animal came from. The age is unknown. The beast was male, said biologists.

A crowd formed for hours as the dolphin, its dorsal fin bleeding, swam in circles, gasping for air. Clinging to life. I’m not what you would call an animal person. But the mesmerizing sight of the dolphin swimming in a nasty realm not known to support amoebas, let alone a magnificent creature, gave me hope.

Rescue workers arrived. People prayed. Shortly after 5 p.m., a lone man stepped into the ice-cold water, risking infection or disease. He stroked the dolphin, gently. The animal seemed to like it. The man did what rescue workers would not.

Police and experts from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research decided against going in the cesspool of a canal. They waited instead for the tide to rise at about 7 p.m., allowing the animal to swim to safety without stressing out, or grossing out, workers.

“We’re concerned about the animal, but we’re concerned about our safety first,” biologist Julika Wocial told The Post. By 5:30 p.m., the dolphin stopped moving. Just after 6, Wocial said, it had breathed its last.

Yesterday, biologists planned to conduct a necropsy, or animal autopsy, to find out what happened Could the tragedy have been prevented? Maybe not. It took decade upon decade of dumping, paired with official sloth, to make the canal unsafe for rescue workers to enter. The animal was doomed from the start.

In 2010, the federal government declared the canal a Superfund site, angering Mayor Bloomberg, who wanted the city to clean it up. But nearly three years after the feds took over, nothing.

Just this week, the government got around to holding public hearings about cleaning up the canal, over 10 to 12 years, at a cost to taxpayers of $504 million.

What took so long? As the morons blathered, a dolphin died. Rest in peace, big guy. Sadly, you won’t be the last creature to suffer.”

Backyard Talk

35 Years of Progress Since Love Canal

This year marks a very significant date – the 35th anniversary of the Love Canal crisis. It is hard to believe it has been that long and in recognizing this fact of life, I realize that entire generations have been born since who may know little or nothing about Love Canal and how the environmental health and justice movement began.

History is important and we need to find ways to tell the story so that we don’t repeat our mistakes and we can reap the benefits of lessons learned through oral histories. One key lesson from Love Canal is that a blue collar community with next to no resources was able to win its fight for justice and open the eyes of the nation and the world to the serious problems of environmental chemicals and their effects on public health.

Thanks to Mark Kitchell, an Oscar nominated and well known filmmaker (Berkeley in the Sixties), there’s now a compelling and thought provoking film that can be used as a tool in educating younger generations about Love Canal and the history of the environmental movement and engaging them and re-engaging the rest of us in the fight for a healthy planet. What is exciting about A Fierce Green Fire is that this film, which includes a prominent segment on Love Canal, demonstrates in real footage that change happens when people get involved.

“The main difference between my film and a lot of other environmental films is that instead of it being focused on the issues, ours is focused on the movement and activism,” said Mark Kitchell in an interview. “I feel that telling stories of activists, taking up the battle and fighting, is the best way to explicate the issues. And that was my main handle on the environmental subject, doing the movement story,” adds Kitchell. The film, narrated by such notables as Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ashley Judd among others, received great reviews at Sundance.

As CHEJ moves forward this coming year, we are partnering with groups across the country who would like to show the film in a theater setting, at small group gatherings or house events and have a conversation about how change happens and what they might do differently in their efforts to win on environmental and environmental health and justice issues. Partnering with groups, we hope to also bring media attention to their local issues and raise funds for their group and CHEJ. It’s a plan that’s hard to pass up.

If your group is interested in hosting a local viewing, please contact CHEJ. Together we can inspire people to take action to protect health and our planet.