by Ryan Schuessler @RyanSchuessler1 April 29, 2015 5:00AM ET
Karen Nickel had never even heard of lupus before she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease six years ago. Today she says she takes as many as 18 pills a day — “and that’s just to make me feel OK.”
Read part one of three part series.
For Immediate Release: April 29, 2015
For additional information, contact Teresa Mills, Center for Health, Environment and Justice at:
TWENTY-FIVE OHIO CITIZEN GROUPS PETITION U.S. EPA
FOR DRASTIC REFORM OF OHIO’S
FRACKING WASTE DISPOSAL PROGRAM
75% of Ohio’s Disposal Wells for Fracking Waste are in Low-Income Appalachian
Areas That Receive “Comically Inadequate” Public Participation Opportunities and No Meaningful Enforcement
COLUMBUS: A large coalition of Ohio environmental and community groups sent a detailed, fifteen page demand to U.S. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice today documenting that Ohio’s program for approving “injection” wells that dispose of highly contaminated wastewater from oil and natural gas “fracking wells” has an overwhelmingly disparate impact on low-income Ohioans in violation of a federal directive requiring that such impacts be identified and given specific safeguards. 74.9% of the 237 active injection wells in Ohio are concentrated in the state’s 32 officially recognized “Appalachian” counties due to their low-income status where just 17.4% of all Ohioans live. Injection wells disposed of over 1 billion, 46 million gallons of highly toxic fracking wastes in 2014 deep underground where it is supposed to be isolated from drinking water – but the serious problems in the program detailed in the letter place the injection well program’s claims to safety into deep doubt.
The groups charge that Ohio’s injection well regulator, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”), is a “captive regulator” controlled by Ohio’s politically potent oil and gas industry and has neither the effective public input nor reliable enforcement programs that states with disparate impacts on low-income communities are required to have under a 1994 Executive Order signed by Bill Clinton addressing “Environmental Justice.” The groups document that the Ohio program has not been updated since it was established in 1983 and has not been changed to address either the rapid growth in waste volume since fracking became common or the requirements of the 1994 Environmental Justice Order despite the obvious disparate impact.
The Environmental Justice Executive Order is enforced by U.S. EPA’s Washington DC-based Office of Environmental Justice where the demand letter was sent. The injection well program is the only component of oil and gas production where federal oversight exists through the U.S. EPA. The Executive Order requires that all federal agencies address “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects” of federal programs “on minority and low-income populations in the United States” through insuring 1) full access to relevant information, 2) meaningful opportunities for public participation in the permitting process, and 3) effective enforcement.
The groups list evidence that ODNR fails badly in all three areas. It calls ODNR’s current public participation policies established in 1983 “comical but for the profound injustice they cause” due to eight separate defects including that the Department provides only fifteen days to comment on these complicated deep well proposals, routinely refuses to hold public meetings to discuss the permitting process and respond to public concerns, and even claims that citizens have no right to contest its injection well siting decisions in court. Citizens making public records requests to ODNR routinely wait over two months for a response. ODNR’s enforcement program is virtually non-existent with not a single fine collected and only a single example where ODNR authorized the state Attorney General to take an injection well to court. When ODNR inspects injection wells, many violations are ignored while those cited are seldom followed up on to insure compliance. The injection well program is severely understaffed with only four dedicated inspectors, most of whose time is spent insuring that the wells receive their permission to operate.
For proof of ODNR’s “regulatory capture,” the groups point to the disclosure in February, 2014, of a “communications plan” prepared by ODNR to promote fracking in state parks that proposed aggressively partnering with the oil and gas industry and its lobbyists to overcome resistance from what the Department scornfully called “eco-left pressure groups” which included many of the nation’s most respected environmental groups and even two state legislators.
“With ODNR, it’s everything for the oil and gas industry and nothing for the public. They act just as biased toward the industry as their own secret communications plan revealed them to be,” says Teresa Mills of Citizens for Health, Environmental and Justice who coordinated the letter’s release. “They treat Appalachian Ohio as the fracking industry’s dumping ground whose people are too poor to resist taking the lion’s share of Ohio’s waste and that from surrounding states.”
The groups also take U.S. EPA to task for its inadequate oversight role over ODNR. The last oversight report in 2009 was virtually a cut and paste of the previous 2005 report with no mention of ODNR’s severe staff deficiencies or lack of enforcement. The groups also believe U.S. EPA is just as apathetic toward the public as ODNR citing a 2013 episode where, after ODNR refused to hold public meetings, Ohio’s citizens groups held their own to take testimony; the results were sent to U.S. EPA – who never responded.
The groups have asked U.S. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice to conduct an investigation of both ODNR’s and U.S. EPA’s injection well programs to determine how they should be reformed to satisfy the 1994 Executive Order and to order that the necessary reforms be implemented to insure that the concerns and health of Appalachian Ohioans are taken into account in the injection well program. “The industry has effectively blocked all reform in Ohio and in Washington DC,” concluded Ms. Mills. “This petition is about the only step left to instill some basic fairness into this miserably corrupt system.”
See attached letter.Tejada 4-27-15
One of the most common questions I get asked is about the health effects of toxic chemicals. Will the chemicals in the landfill harm my children? Will the emissions from the plant cause my family to get cancer? Did the chemicals off-gassing from the PVC flooring cause my son’s asthma? The questions continue every day from people across the country.
Most of what we know about the toxicity of chemicals comes from animal studies and from studies of workers who manufacture the chemicals. From this experience, we’ve learned that dusty air causes lung cancer, benzene causes leukemia, radioactive paint causes bone cancer, vinyl chloride, liver cancer, and certain pesticides cause muscle weakness and paralysis. There’s also limited evidence from studies in communities, especially among children who are highly susceptible to toxic chemicals. At Love Canal, for example, there were high rates of miscarriages and children born with birth defects; in Tucson, AZ, children whose parents drank water contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) were born with 2-1/2 times more heart defects than normal; in Toms River, NJ, high rates of childhood cancer was linked to drinking water contaminated with TCE and other solvents; and in Woburn, MA, increased rates of childhood leukemia were associated with drinking contaminated water.
There is no question that exposure to toxic chemicals causes adverse health effects. But for nearly all chemicals there is not enough information on what happens when people are exposed. At best, there’s good information on the toxicity of only about 10% of over 80,000 chemicals in use today.
This makes it very difficult to say with certainty what health effects will occur following exposure to toxic chemicals. Among the uncertainties are how an individual body responds to exposure (this varies quite a lot from person to person), how long exposures occur, how many chemicals you’re exposed to and the actual toxicity of the substance. In most instances, these factors are unknown.
Another confounding factor is that many symptoms or diseases are not specific to a particular chemical. In most instances, there can be many causes of the symptoms that people are having. And since few physicians know much about toxic chemicals, they often tend to blame the victim for his or her situation rather than looking at chemicals as a possible explanation. For example, many physicians will diagnose a person who is fatigued, moody and without appetite as “depressed,” likely to have a problem at home or at work. Seldom is exposure to toxic chemicals considered, even when raised by the patient.
Still another problem is determining the “normal” rate of an illness or disease in a community or in a group of people. Scientists simply can’t decide amongst themselves what is normal, in large part because of the many uncertainties already mentioned.
As a result, evaluating chemical exposures is largely a matter of opinion, not fact. Scientists can give you estimates of risk, or tell you what adverse effects are typically associated with exposure to a chemical, but they cannot tell you with any certainty whether your child will develop cancer because of his/her exposure to TCE or other chemicals in your drinking water. They can give you their opinion, but it’s only an opinion.
This is very frustrating for people. How can we be smart enough to put a man on the moon and bring him back, yet we don’t know much about the toxicity of the sea of chemicals that we live in every day? This speaks volumes about the power of the chemical industry to control government regulations and research agendas.
On April 20th 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven workers and triggering the spill of nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The accident wreaked massive damage on marine and coastal ecosystems, caused myriad negative health effects in cleanup workers, and gutted the Gulf Coast economy. Five years later, it remains the largest offshore environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Environmental effects from the disaster linger and the debate around offshore drilling for oil continues. Meanwhile, Gulf Coast residents are still writing a story of resilience and recovery in the years following the disaster.
In the immediate aftermath of the spill, water quality was drastically impaired in the Gulf of Mexico. Concentrations of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS) skyrocketed in the waters off the coast of Louisiana, and were also found at elevated levels in the ocean near Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. The spill threatened dozens of marine species with elevated risks of extinction. Residents and cleanup workers experienced health effects from exposure to both the toxic organic compounds that composed the spill, and from the cleanup process itself. Toxic dispersants were used in the cleanup process, causing illnesses that gravely affected cleanup workers.
After five years the acute effects of the spill have passed, but marine species are still dying at accelerated rates and tar balls continue to wash up on the shores as oil that was buried under sand at the time of the spill resurfaces. Researchers have also begun to investigate the possibility of long-term health damage in cleanup workers. As debate surrounding offshore drilling continues, the BP oil spill has added a horrific cautionary tale to the annals of what many hope will be the key to solving our energy crisis. The lingering environmental and health effects from the spill ensure that the BP oil disaster will not soon be forgotten…and thanks to one groundbreaking citizen journalism initiative, neither will the stories of those most closely affected by the disaster.
The Bridge the Gulf Project is a community media project founded in 2010 following the BP disaster. For the past five years, the organization has worked to elevate the voices of Gulf Coast communities as they work to enhance sustainability and social justice. The Project is organized by a network of community leaders, experts and writers, and spotlights stories that are seldom heard in the mainstream media, while providing training and support for those engaged in regional movement-building. Many of the stories center on environmental activism. On April 19th, one blogger wrote of being arrested at BP America’s headquarters; another recent post covers environmental justice mapping initiatives; and last month, one BP spill cleanup worker spoke out about his health issues. However, media featured on the site also cover topics ranging from immigration to racial justice.
In the immediate and long-term wake of environmental disasters, it is often the stories of failure and tragedy that dominate the mainstream media. Bridge the Gulf offers an alternative to this often dehumanizing coverage, elevating the voices of those most responsible for the complex recovery from an environmental accident that intersects with many other social and economic injustices.
To learn more about the Bridge the Gulf project, visit http://bridgethegulfproject.org/about.
A new study has revealed the possible association between BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) and endocrine disruption at levels way below the reference concentrations used by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
BTEX chemicals are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are used as solvents in consumer and industrial products, as gasoline additives, and as intermediates in the synthesis of organic compounds for many consumer products. As a result, they are prevalent in our environment, especially in indoor settings. The current scientific understanding of these chemicals is that they can cause skin and sensory irritation, central nervous system problems and effects on the respiratory system at acute short-term exposures; and kidney, liver and circulatory problems as well as leukemia and other forms of cancer at chronic long-term exposures.
However, this new study points to the role of BTEX chemicals in hormone disruptions, a field of study pioneered by the late Theo Colborn. In fact, Theo contributed personally to this study before her passing along with scientist from the The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) (the international non-profit she founded) and the University of Colorado, Boulder. Although direct association can be made between endocrine disruption and BTEX exposure, this study points to the real need to examine this link more closely. Cathy Milbourn, a spokesperson for the EPA, said in an emailed response that the agency will “review the study and incorporate the findings into our work as appropriate.”
Orders Flooring Giant to Pay Attorneys’ Fees and Costs
Yesterday a California environmental advocacy group won a resounding Court judgment against flooring giant Lumber Liquidators’ claims of defamation. In a 21-page decision, a judge ruled that Lumber Liquidators’ lawsuit against Global Community Monitor (GCM) was a strategic lawsuit against public participation and a clear violation of California’s anti-SLAPP law.
The court battle stemmed from a Proposition 65 lawsuit GCM filed last year against the company for high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde found in Chinese-made laminate flooring sold by the company. Lumber Liquidators responded with a defamation suit, which was struck down yesterday.
“Lumber Liquidators tried to silence us and the court saw through it,” stated Denny Larson, Executive Director of Global Community Monitor. “The court recognized that we have a constitutional right to free speech. The public likewise has a right to know if any product they buy may be harmful to their families’ health.”
California’s anti-SLAPP statute provides for the “early dismissal of unmeritorious claims filed to interfere with the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances.” As Judge Carvill noted in his decision, “The anti-SLAPP statute is ‘construed broadly’ to achieve its goal of ensuring that ‘participation in matters of public significance’ is not ‘chilled through abuse of the judicial process.’” The judge goes on to conclude that Lumber Liquidators did not present sufficient evidence to show that its defamation-based claims against GCM “have any likelihood of success.”
In addition, the Court found that GCM is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in defending the meritless SLAPP suit. GCM’s attorney, Richard Drury of Lozeau Drury LLP stated, “This is a good day for free speech and for the consumers of the State of California who are concerned that Chinese-made laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators contains cancer-causing formaldehyde far above levels allowed by law.”
By Rick Hind, Greenpeace — When he was a Senator, President Obama championed legislation to prevent chemical disasters. On the Senate floor in 2006 he warned, “these plants are stationary weapons of mass destruction spread all across the country.”
As a candidate for in 2008, Obama made it an issue in his campaign platform, Change We Can Believe In
As President he sent representatives from the Department of Homeland Security and EPA to Capitol Hill to testify in favor of the same prevention policies that he had championed in the Senate. After the legislation was blocked by the chemical lobby in 2011 a coalition of over 100 organizations urged the President to use EPA’s long standing authority under the Clean Air Act to prevent future disasters by requiring safer alternatives.
Two years ago on April 17th, following the deadly chemical fertilizer disaster in West, Texas President Obama spoke at the memorial service of the fifteen victims of that preventable calamity, most of whom were first responders, saying, “we’ll be there even after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere.” Obama video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARMMiH1UjSk
On August 1, 2013 the President appeared to put those words into action when he issued an executive order directing federal agencies to modernize their safety rules. Last May the EPA committed to finalizing new safety requirements by 2016. But two years after the disaster in West, Texas we’re still waiting for the EPA to begin the rule-making process. In the meantime there have been more than 350 additional chemical accidents. And there are still 466 chemical plants that each pose a catastrophic hazard to 100,000 or more people – 88 of which put one million or more people at risk.
Because the EPA rarely finalizes new rules in less than 18 months, our Coalition has urged them to start as soon as possible. If they don’t finish by June 2016 a new President or Congress could kill it by using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), as President Bush did to important workplace safety rules in 2001.
Unfortunately, the EPA has chosen to wait until sometime in September to start this process.
To track their progress Greenpeace created a Countdown Clock on our web site. If the President and the EPA are serious about prioritizing disaster prevention, they must move up their start time to June 1st of this year so they can finalize a new rule by June 2016. After that, any new rule will be more vulnerable to the CRA.
The safety of millions of people depends on the administration finishing what they started. The EPA has been “considering” this issue on and off for 20 years. We finally have a President who knows how and what to do.
If he’s serious and wants this to be an important part of his legacy, he needs to ensure that the EPA acts as soon as possible. He’s hearing from the chemical lobby so please let him hear from you today by clicking here.
——– ***Chronology of the EPA “Considering” Chemical Disaster Prevention***
1995 “EPA does not favor inclusion of a specific requirement in the initial program for an analysis of the inherent safety of processes…EPA is considering further study of this issue with all stakeholders and requests comment on this issue.”
2002 Following the 9/11 attacks, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman proposed regulations in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks but they were scuttled by the Bush White House. She has since urged Obama to issue new safety rules.
2009 Peter S. Silva, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, testified in favor of requirements to use inherently safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.
2010 Cynthia Dougherty, EPA’s Director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water of the Office of Water testified in favor of requirements to use inherently safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.
2011 Rand Beers, Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary testified in favor of requirements to use safer technologies (IST) also known as safer chemical processes.
2012 EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council recommended that the “EPA use its authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act section 112 (r) to reduce or eliminate these catastrophic risks, where feasible, by issuing new rules and guidance…”
2012 EPA says they will address a petition from 54 organizations urging that they use their Clean Air Act authority to require inherently safer technologies (IST).
2013 President Obama issued Executive Order 13650 giving federal agencies such as the EPA, DHS and OSHA nine months to propose ways to modernize their chemical facility safety and security policies.
2014 In a multi-agency report to the President the EPA pledged to complete new regulations by 2016 including possible requirements for inherently safer technologies (IST)
2015 EPA plans to issue “proposed” regulations in September 2015 with the expectation of completing them in 2016.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a draft for public comment of its EJ 2020 Action Agenda (EJ 2020) Framework. This strategy document lays out its plan for continuing to address environmental justice in the context of the agency’s work. EPA is hoping to build on its EJ 2014 Action Agenda and expand that work through commitments that will continue over the next five years. EPA is seeking input on the draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda framework. The public comment period runs from April 15 to June 15. The agency is planning to conduct informational and dialogue sessions during this comment period and is encouraging the public to submit written comments. For more details, see: www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/plan-ej/.
As described in the draft framework document, “EPA’s environmental justice efforts seek to protect the health and environment of overburdened communities, support them to take action to improve their own health and environment, and build partnerships to achieve community health and sustainability.”
The agencies goal through 2020 is to make a visible difference in overburdened communities by:
- Deepening environmental justice practice within EPA programs to improve the health and environment of overburdened communities;
- Collaborating with partners to expand our impact within overburdened communities; and
- Demonstrating progress on outcomes that matter to overburdened communities
Key elements to the EJ 2020 plan include incorporating EJ in rulemaking; considering EJ in permitting; advancing EJ through compliance and enforcement; supporting community based programs; fostering administration-wide action; and developing science and legal tools for considering environmental justice in decision-making. The framework document also includes a chart that defines the agency’s status and progress in achieving these key elements. In addition, EPA has established a one-stop informational “Resource for Communities” web portal as well as a new EJSCREEN tool that quantitatively identifies areas with potential EJ concerns by using environmental, health, demographic and enforcement indicators.
Contacts on environmental justice are included for each of the 10 EPA regions and for each of 13 major divisions within the agency such as the Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Water, Office of Research and Development, etc.
EPA will make the draft document available on April 15th on its Environmental Justice website at: www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/ej2020/. Comments can be submitted electronically to: email@example.com, or via hard copy to: Charles Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions, please contact Charles Lee via email or at 202-564-2597.
The Board of Directors of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) is pleased to s, our founder and Executive Director, has accepted the opportunity to shift the focus of her work to our newly created Leadership Training Academy program.
To maintain our momentum in supporting community-based environmental health and justice work, we have begun the formal search for the next grassroots leader with excellent training and management skills and a vision of powerful action – our successor Executive Director. To support the Board in the search process, CHEJ has engaged Democracy Partners. Our process of outreach and selection begins very soon. Questions or suggestions should be directed to Cheri Whiteman by e-mail at email@example.com.
Lois Gibbs will shift her full-time attention away from her current day-to-day administrative responsibilities with the engagement of our next Executive Director, which is expected to occur this summer. “I’m excited to spend more time in the field to build the advocacy base for change!” said Lois, “and it’s a great opportunity for one of the emerging community leaders out there to take CHEJ to the next level!”
CHEJ has launched the Leadership Training Academy program to strengthen and sustain the infrastructure of fledgling environmental health and justice organizations in the United States.
CHEJ recently completed a strategic review and refocus of our work. We were aided as a Board in this process by a group of allies and advisors, and our retreat was facilitated by Jim Abernathy. In examining our work, the following important findings led CHEJ’s Board to take those steps to reshape the organization to meet the increasing demand from the field for Leadership Training Academy program services:
• There are more local, state and regional groups emerging than in the past. This is due primarily to energy-related proposals and activities such as pipelines, extraction wells, export terminals and associated waste disposal.
• Established groups are growing and looking for advice on long-term organizing, establishing collaborative efforts, Board development and establishing a three-year strategic organizational plan.
Lois describes the Academy program this way: “The Leadership Training Academy is a training center ‘without walls.’ It provides a distinctive brand of leadership skills-building training and mentoring of local group leaders around the country to build the base of the environmental health and justice movement. This program is based on a proven, time-tested methodological framework that is grounded in CHEJ’s 34 years of grassroots leadership and coaching experience, campaign strategy knowledge and the tactics of successful grassroots victories. A special focus of the training activities is with thousands of women leading grassroots groups on a range of environmental health and economic justice issues. People of color, young people and women together comprise what many call the ‘emerging American electorate,’ and it is they who will both determine environmental and economic policy, and live with the consequences of the decisions.”
I personally am excited to “free Lois” to spend more of her energy in the field, and the Board of Directors looks forward to working with new leadership. We’ve always known that success comes when we learn from the past and step boldly into the future. With a new CHEJ Executive Director and our legendary friend and teacher, Lois Gibbs, we will have the best of both worlds!
Peter B. Sessa
CHEJ Board Chair
The natural gas extraction method known as “fracking” would be banned in Maryland until October 2017 under legislation approved Monday night by the Maryland Senate.
By a 45-2 vote, senators sent the measure to the House, which has passed a version of the bill that environmental advocates believe is stronger. The House bill calls for a three-year moratorium and further study of the health and economic development impact of the practice. The Senate bill does not require a study.
It now needs to go back to the house who earlier this year passed a stronger bill so should be no problem.