News Archive

Legal News Line Environmental coalition sues EPA over wastewater guidelines

Sean Fowler, Legal News Line. A number of environmental groups, including CHEJ, discussed their concerns and the purpose for the lawsuit against the EPA. 
WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia, seeking to force it to revise and publish new guidelines for the handling of oil and gas waste, in particular wastewater associated with the oil mining method known as fracking.
One industry attorney called the suit an unnecessary effort to hamper energy production methods with which the groups don’t agree.
“The case is really about generating publicity and propaganda for the environmental NGO community who wants to attack at every turn responsible, domestic energy production,” Michael Mills, an attorney for the firm Stoel Rives LLP, told Legal Newsline.
The coalition (consisting of the Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthworks, Responsible Drilling Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, and the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice) has a few primary complaints.
The first concern is that wastewater produced by methods of oil and gas extraction, such as fracking, could get back into the primary water table, contaminating drinking water. Mills, however, says that the current guidelines prevent that from being a concern.
“If the operations are conducted correctly, there should be no risk of ‘danger’ or harm because wastewater injection does not enter drinking water supplies,” Mills said. “Produced water is injected into exempt aquifers, and so there is no harm to human health or the environment. The produced water is going back to where it came from.”
The groups are also concerned that injecting this water back into the ground can increase seismic stress and possibly cause an increase in earthquakes. Mills said that this determination is inconclusive at best, citing that the United States Geological Survey has only just begun studying the issue, and the increase in seismic stress currently tends to seem to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Another complaint regards the regulations that govern the disposal of this wastewater. The groups allege that, while current laws state the policies must be reviewed and updated every three years, the EPA last did so in 1988.
Mills, however, stresses that the law the groups are referring to states the policies must only be reviewed. Updating the policies is only necessary is a problem is found and needs to be fixed.
“(The) RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) requires that the EPA review the regulations every three years, but only requires revision where necessary,” Mills said. “The EPA does not have to revise (its) rules every three years.”
While the groups may have serious concerns they hope are addressed, in the end Mills sees this as a frivolous lawsuit that won’t go far.
“By bringing lawsuits, like this one, that have no merit in regulatory policy or scientific fact, the plaintiffs are hoping that the public will believe the allegations,” he said. “Their objective by and large is simply filing the action and reaping the headlines it may bring. I don’t see this case doing more than that.”

To read the original article click here.

Homepage News Archive

The 2015 volume of liquid drilling wastes going into Ohio’s injection wells keeps growing

Bob Downing, Akron Beacon Journal. Teresa Mills, one of CHEJ’s own, provided vital data for recording the amount and impact of liquid drilling wastes being injected underground in Ohio.  
Ohio is continuing to rewrite the record book for liquid drilling wastes being injected into underground rock formations: The 2015 injection total keeps ­growing.
That’s because additional fees are being paid in 2016 by waste haulers to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management.
That 2015 volume was reported as 28.8 million 42-gallon barrels in March. Now it is up to 31.4 million barrels, as of May 20.
That’s enough to fill nearly 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools with the salty wastes from shale drilling.
That means that Ohio’s injection volume in 2015 grew by nearly 42.8 percent from 2014. The earlier reported percent was 27.2 percent.
In 2014, 22.0 million barrels were disposed of in Ohio’s injection wells. That total was 16.3 million barrels in 2013.
The updated totals include 16.6 million gallons from Ohio and 14.8 million gallons from other states.
Injecting the wastes has been linked to small earthquakes in Ohio and other states, and critics say injecting wastes into underground rock formations poses a threat to groundwater.
Industry and state officials say injection wells are a safe disposal method and the growing volume of waste is simply evidence of the Utica and Marcellus shale booms in Ohio and surrounding states.
The new data come from Columbus activist Teresa Mills with the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice — who regularly analyzes state financial data to determine the injection volumes. ODNR does not release injection volumes but has never disputed Mills’ totals.
Athens County is No. 1 with 4 million barrels injected in 2015. Second is Coshocton County with 3.7 million barrels and third is Guernsey County with 3.0 million barrels.
The rest of Top 10 counties are: Tuscarawas, 2.9 million, Muskingum, 2.8 million; Washington, 2.6 million; Portage, 2.1 million; Trumbull, 2.0 million; Meigs, 1.6 million and Ashtabula, 1.3 million. Stark County is No. 12 with 577,369 barrels.
The drilling of new wells in Ohio’s Utica Shale has slowed because of low commodity prices, but production from already drilled wells is continuing to grow and that’s what has triggered the big increase in Ohio drilling wastes, state officials said.
Such a big increase in Ohio injection volumes is troubling to activists and local communities, Mills said.
Efforts by Northeast Ohio county commissioners and the grass-roots Concerned Citizens Ohio in 2015 to win support for a proposed statewide moratorium on new injection wells failed because of lack of support.
Ohio has 214 active injection wells. Much of the out-of-state liquids coming into Ohio originate in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Ohio can do little to block out-of-state wastes because they are protected as interstate commerce by the U.S. Constitution.
To read the original article click here

Backyard Talk

TSCA Reform: Is It Enough?

On Tuesday in a vote of 403-12 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to update the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, named after a former democratic senator from New Jersey who dedicated much of his life to TSCA reform, is a “compromise bill” designed to appease industry and environmental groups alike. The bill is also a compromise between the House and the Senate who came up with separate TSCA reform bills and were forced to combine them. The Senate’s vote is still pending, and will likely happen in the next few weeks. White House correspondents have said President Obama supports the bill and will sign it into law pending its passing in the Senate.
The original TSCA was meant as a way for EPA to evaluate the toxicity of chemicals and regulate them if they posed a threat to human or environmental health. However, TSCA is full of holes and red tape that have actually made it more difficult for EPA to regulate chemicals. The 1976 TSCA does not require industry to get safety approval before beginning the sale of a product and only allows EPA a certain amount of time to evaluate the product. Additionally, a counterintuitive measure of TSCA required EPA to provide proof of potential harm for a chemical before beginning to evaluate the harmfulness of the chemical. Worst of all, the original TSCA legislation required the EPA to consider the cost of enforcing regulations when evaluating chemicals. These restrictions meant that EPA could not or did not take sufficient regulatory action, and when it did, courts used TSCA to overturn their rules (including the asbestos regulations). Consequently, only about 200 chemicals have been evaluated since TSCA first passed, while the New York Times estimates about 64,000 chemicals are currently left unregulated.
The current TSCA reform bill aims to address the problems in the 1976 law. It requires EPA to test chemicals regularly, working on 20 chemical reviews at one time. It also ensures that EPA focus on chemicals that are more likely to harm vulnerable populations (children, workers, pregnant women, low income communities) and chemicals that could easily pollute drinking water. EPA will evaluate what it perceives as the most dangerous chemicals first, but industry can pay to have their chemicals evaluated out of order (useful if they want to begin selling new products). Industry will also contribute $25 million total each year to help fund the EPA evaluations. The rest of the funding will come from federal allocation of the budget. Finally, the TSCA reform bill also includes a requirement to find ways to reduce animal testing and a requirement to evaluate chemicals linked to cancer clusters (see Trevor’s Law).
However, despite the numerous improvements to TSCA, the reform bill is also somewhat problematic. The section that most concerns environmental activists and other critics explains that EPA regulations will preempt those set by states. While any state regulations enacted on or before April 22 will be upheld, EPA regulations will apply to chemicals evaluated after April 22nd. Proponents of the bill argue that this section addresses the patchwork of enforcement by state and that it will improve interstate commerce. However, this could mean that states with traditionally strict chemical safety measures like California could see their regulations watered down. States are permitted to request waivers from EPA, but EPA takes full responsibility for the nationwide evaluation of chemicals, even blocking states from continuing to evaluate chemicals the EPA is researching. This statute gives EPA an enormous amount of power, even allowing EPA to control our exposure levels. Even now EPA allows for higher exposure levels of some chemicals than do states. Are we sure we’re ready to trust them so completely? Federal safeguards such as those preventing chemical exposure should be a minimum, not a maximum. Or as Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said when asked about the bill, “[F]ederal chemical regulations should be a floor, not a ceiling.” EPA should set the standards, but states should be free to make them more stringent in order to better protect the health of their residents.

Backyard Talk

The Water in Flint is Not Safe to Drink

I suspect that many of you watched in amazement as President Barack Obama drank a sip of tap water while visiting Flint, MI earlier this month and told everyone that it’s OK. Sorry, Mr. President, but all’s not well in Flint. This publicity stunt is a slap in the face to so many people. Not only have thousands of people including young children and infants already been exposed to toxic levels of lead and other contaminants that will affect their health for years, but thousands of people in Flint are still drinking and using contaminated water.
Dr. Marc Edwards, a professor of engineering at Virginia Tech who has done an enormous amount of water testing in Flint released the latest testing results in April several weeks before Obama’s visit. These results showed lower levels of lead in the water, but lead levels were still above the action level set by Obama’s EPA. In a press release, Edwards stated that “People have to continue using bottled water and filters until further notice.” Furthermore, no one is testing the water for volatile organic compounds like trihalomethanes (THM), contaminants that result from adding chlorine to kill bacteria. Early in the Flint crisis, THMs and bacteria levels were found to be high, but once elevated lead was found in the water, testing for THMs and bacteria stopped.
Be clear, Obama’s publicity stunt was not about public health. It was not about good science or testing results that show that the water is safe to drink. Instead, it was about reassuring the public that all is well in Flint and that the government has everything under control. It was about avoiding taking responsibility and not holding those at the highest levels of government accountable for the mistakes that led to the disaster in Flint. It was about controlling the media and trying to convince the media to move on to the next hot button issue. If this succeeds, then we can expect to see more Flints in the future, because we will not have learned anything from this public health disaster.

Backyard Talk

What the Frack?

Yesterday morning Reuters, a business and financial news source, published an article about a new dimension of the fracking debate: home insurance. With rising concerns about man-made earthquakes, insurers in Oklahoma are none too keen on providing policies to cover earthquake damage. Some insurance companies are increasing earthquake insurance prices by more than 250%, while others increased the deductibles so clients would have to pay for more damage out of pocket. Finally, some companies are beginning not to offer earthquake insurance at all.
According to the Reuters article, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has tracked earthquakes in Oklahoma and found that earthquake frequency is increasing surprisingly quickly. In 2008 the state had “a handful” of earthquakes, then 103 in 2013, and 890 in 2015. Meanwhile, the value of earthquake insurance more than tripled from 2009-2015. Scientists have connected this increase in earthquakes with the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. By injecting chemical-laden water into deep wastewater wells, energy companies disturb faults and induce earthquakes. As UT Austin Professor Dr. Cliff Frohlich explains, fracking engineers are careful to avoid faults because they don’t want to waste the water they’re using for fracking. Wastewater disposal is not done as carefully because many industries don’t care where the water goes when they are done using it. Dr. Frohlich says, “They’re trying to get rid of it, so they want a very porous material where fluids can flow away across long distances. So they’re more likely to get to a fault.” Even more concerning, some scientists think that as more water is pumped into the waste wells the disturbances will increase, meaning that as wells are used for longer periods of time more frequent and more powerful earthquakes will occur. With this increased risk, is it any wonder insurance companies are backing away from the problem and discussing their willingness to sue oil and gas companies for damages when the insurers do have to pay?
Energy companies claim that as long as wastewater disposal is carefully managed, there should not be any problems. However, industry officials acknowledge the earthquakes and their connection to fracking. For example, emails obtained from open record requests to the Texas Railroad Commission (regulates oil and gas drilling in Texas) demonstrated that industry members have even talked to EPA about their concerns over these earthquakes and the connection to fracking.
But the fossil fuel industry is huge. Fracking in particular has grown from being the source of less than 2% of domestic oil production in the U.S. in 2000 to the source of greater than 50% of domestic oil production in 2016, an increase of over 48% in less than 16 years. The United States is now third globally in oil production behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. We’ve gone from 23,000 fracking wells producing 102,000 barrels of oil per day in 2000 to 300,000 wells producing 4.3 million barrels daily in 2016. It seems daunting to try to stand up to such an enormous industry, regardless of the damages it causes and the problematic policies that lie in its wake.
Yet as much of a problem as the new insurance policies are, low income families are going to suffer the most. Families that can barely afford their current mortgage and insurance plan are not going to be able to afford the price hikes and high deductible. These families will not be able to move away from high earthquake areas and definitely will not be able to easily repair damages after an earthquake. According to Talk Poverty Oklahoma had a 16.6% poverty rate in 2015, higher than the U.S. national poverty rate of 14.8%. Therefore, as we’ve seen with so many other environmental health issues, fracking earthquakes will likely disproportionately affect low income communities. Again we face the question: how do we protect people instead of just profit?

Backyard Talk

Groups Sue EPA Over Dangerous Drilling and Fracking Waste

Call for Rules for Handling and Disposal of Oil and Gas Waste to Prevent Earthquakes, Drinking Water Contamination. A coalition of community and environmental organizations filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for regulations to stop oil and gas companies from disposing and handling drilling and fracking wastes in ways that threaten public health and the environment.
The organizations are pushing EPA to issue rules that address problems including the disposal of fracking wastewater in underground injection wells, which accept hundreds of millions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater and have been linked to numerous earthquakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.
“Updated rules for oil and gas wastes are almost 30 years overdue, and we need them now more than ever,” said Adam Kron, senior attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project.  “Each well now generates millions of gallons of wastewater and hundreds of tons of solid wastes, and yet EPA’s inaction has kept the most basic, inadequate rules in place. The public deserves better than this.”
The groups filing today’s suit include the Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthworks, Responsible Drilling Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, calls on the court to set strict deadlines for EPA to comply with its long-overdue obligations to update waste disposal rules that should have been revised more than a quarter century ago.
Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “Waste from the oil and gas industry is very often toxic and should be treated that way.  Right now, companies can get rid of their toxic mess in any number of dangerous ways—from spraying it on icy roads, to sending it to landfills with our everyday household trash, to injecting it underground where it can endanger drinking water and trigger earthquakes. EPA must step in and protect our communities and drinking water from the carcinogens, radioactive material and other dangerous substances that go hand-in-hand with oil and gas waste.”
The organizations are urging EPA to ban the practice of spreading fracking wastewater onto roads or fields, which allows toxic pollutants to run off and contaminate streams. And EPA should require landfills and ponds that receive drilling and fracking waste to be built with adequate liners and structural integrity to prevent spills and leaks into groundwater and streams.
The groups filed a notice of their intent to sue EPA last August, warning the agency a lawsuit would follow unless it complied with its duty under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to review and revise the federal regulations and guidelines governing how oil and gas waste must be handled and disposed. RCRA requires that EPA review the regulations and state plan guidelines at least every three years and, if necessary, revise them. The agency determined in 1988 that such revisions of the regulations were necessary to address specific concerns with oil and gas wastes, yet has failed to meet its legal responsibility to act for nearly three decades.
Over the last decade, the oil and gas industry’s fracking-based boom has produced a vast amount of solid and liquid waste. Each well produces millions of gallons of wastewater and hundreds of tons of drill cuttings, which contain contaminants that pose serious risks to human health. These include known carcinogens such as benzene, toxic metals such as mercury, and radioactive materials. However, the current RCRA rules that govern oil and gas wastes are too weak because they are the same rules that apply to all “non-hazardous” wastes, including household trash.
As a result, oil and gas companies are disposing, storing, transporting, and handling these wastes in a number of troublesome ways. These include: spraying fracking waste fluids onto roads and land near where people live and work; disposing of billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater in underground injection wells; sending the drill cuttings and fracking sands to landfills not designed to handle toxic or radioactive materials; and storing and disposing of wastewater in pits and ponds, which often leak. Across the U.S., there are numerous instances of wastes leaking out of ponds and pits into nearby streams and the groundwater beneath, and operators often “close” the pits by simply burying the wastes on site.
Aaron Mintzes, Policy Advocate for Earthworks, said: “In 1988, EPA promised to require oil and gas companies to handle this waste more carefully. Yet neither EPA nor the states have acted.  Today’s suit just says 28 years is too long for communities to wait for protections from this industry’s hazardous waste.”
The following are some examples of problems caused by the improper disposal and handling of fracking and drilling waste:

  • Ohio: Underground injection wells in Ohio accepted 1.2 billion gallons of oil and gas wastewater for disposal in 2015, more than double the amount in 2011. Half this wastewater came from out of state. This has resulted in scores of earthquakes in the well-dense Youngstown area, with one well alone linked to 77 earthquakes. The Ohio Oil and Gas Commission has stated that regulations “have not kept pace” with the problem and that (to an extent) both the state and industry are “working with their eyes closed.” Other states that have experienced increased seismic events in the proximity of injection wells include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
  • Pennsylvania:In May 2012, a six-million-gallon industrial pond holding fracking wastewater in Tioga County leaked pollutants, including arsenic and strontium, through holes in its liner into groundwater and a nearby trout stream.
  • West Virginia:Oil and gas wastewater dumped or spilled in rivers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania contains high levels of potentially hazardous ammonium and iodide, according to a study by Duke University scientists.
  • North Dakota:In January 2015, three million gallons of drilling wastewater spilled from a leaky pipe outside Williston, polluting a tributary of the Missouri River. In July 2011, a pipeline serving a well in Bottineau County leaked over two million gallons of fracking wastewater, damaging 24 acres of private land.
  • Colorado:A contractor for a pipeline services firm gave a detailed account of sand-blasting pulverized waste buildup (called “scale”) from pipeline seals directly into the air outdoors without a filter, even though such dust can be radioactive and cause damage to lungs.
  • Across the Marcellus region:Over the past several years, landfills in states around the Marcellus shale formation—even in New York, where fracking is prohibited—have experienced increasing shipments of drill cuttings that contain high levels of radiation.  Many of the landfills do not test for radiation and do not have adequate controls to prevent the often toxic and radioactive “leachate” from seeping into groundwater.

Julie Archer, project manager at the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, said:  “Although West Virginia has taken some steps to improve regulation, the state’s approach has been to permit horizontal drilling without carefully considering whether current methods of waste disposal are appropriate or adequate. It’s past time for the EPA to provide clear guidance on how these wastes should be handled to protect our communities.”
Teresa Mills, director of the Ohio field office for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, said: “A major reason for the industry’s use of injection wells to dispose of toxic fracking waste is the low disposal cost.  We reject this reasoning because the public’s health and safety must come first.”
EPA’s current regulations do not take into account the dangerous contents of oil and gas wastes or their unique handling and disposal practices. Since 1988, the agency has acknowledged the shortcoming of its basic rules for solid waste management and has indicated that it needs to create enhanced rules tailored to the oil and gas industry. However, the agency has yet to take any action to develop these updated regulations.
Dan Olson, Executive Director of the Colorado-based San Juan Citizens Alliance, said: “As an organization representing hundreds of families living in close proximity to oil and gas operations, we see not only the physical pollution, but also the psychological toll that oil and gas waste exacts on communities. That the EPA is 30 years overdue in creating common sense rules for managing toxic waste from oil and gas operations is a cause of great concern for everyone living near these sources of improperly regulated industrial pollution.”

Media Releases

Teamsters, Community Protest Republic Services Over Toxic Landfills

Teamsters Attend Waste Company’s Annual Shareholders Meeting; Republic Board of Directors a No-Show

Kara Deniz

Phone: (202) 624-6911

(PHOENIX) — Teamsters with the Solid Waste and Recycling Division, and Beth Roach, a community activist from Wayne County, Ga., attended Republic Services Inc.’s [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][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”][NYSE: RSG] annual shareholders’ meeting in Phoenix on Friday, decrying the company’s serial mismanagement of its landfills and the lack of care and respect for affected communities.
“Republic Services management and the company’s biggest shareholder, Bill Gates, are making money today by building up huge environmental liabilities and sowing discord. This is not sustainable behavior,” said Chuck Stiles, Assistant Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division.
The company’s evident indifference seems to extend to its board of directors who, other than the CEO, failed to attend the annual shareholders’ meeting in person or by phone. Mismanagement at Republic’s landfills is stoking rising costs and the company is facing an intensified push for greater accountability, remediation and relocation of those communities directly impacted.
“The board’s lack of involvement is deeply troubling and unacceptable,” said Ken Hall, Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer. “Shareholders demand our directors be present and accountable. How can we be confident that Republic’s board of directors is representing the shareholders’ interests and effectively overseeing management when they do not even show up for the annual meeting?”
The Teamsters Union represents thousands of sanitation workers at the company in many locations throughout the country.
An underground fire has been raging for five years at Republic’s West Lake complex in Bridgeton, Mo. The complex contains thousands of tons of illegally-dumped radioactive nuclear wastes in an unlined landfill. The subsurface fire is moving closer to the nuclear waste and is releasing toxic chemicals impacting residents and workers.
Beth Roach is from a community affected by a toxic spill arising from Republic’s landfilling of out of state coal ash, behind the backs of the local residents.
“They’ve already spilled beryllium and who knows whatever else into our water,” Roach said. “And now Republic wants to get a permit to massively expand toxic coal ash dumping in our community. They already have shown they can’t handle this waste in an appropriate manner.”
Mismanagement at Republic’s landfills is stoking rising costs overall and the company is facing an increased push for greater accountability, remediation and relocation of those communities directly impacted.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has ordered Republic to submit amended closure plans for the Bridgeton landfill by April 16, and corrective action plans by May 16, along with associated cost estimates for both.
As recently as May 3, St. Louis residents Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, founders of JustMoms STL, and Lois Gibbs, founder of the Center for Health Environment and Justice, met with United Nations Human Rights Council representatives.
The delegation delivered a formal human rights complaint to the attention of the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment, John Knox, with whom they have been corresponding regarding the effects of Republic’s ongoing West Lake Bridgeton landfill environmental crisis. The complaint outlines the need for corporate accountability and government action.
“We see that these problems in the workplace carry over into surrounding communities. We want an apology from Bill Gates and we want Republic to halt its Wayne County coal ash plans,” Roach said.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and on Facebook at

Find the original release here.


Backyard Talk

CAFOs and Environmental Injustice in North Carolina

While the situation in Flint, Michigan has deservedly garnered much of the American public’s attention, it is important to recognize that it is just one example of many minority and low-income communities around the country that are living in a toxic environment. Rural North Carolina is another community that has seen its leaders fail to protect the most disadvantaged citizens, in this case, from the toxic pollution associated with the many hog farms in the region. African American and Native American communities in this region have been dealing with the toxic conditions for decades, since North Carolina saw a boom in the number of concentrated animal feeding operations, commonly known as CAFOs, in the 1980s and 1990s.
These feeding operations, that allow hog farmers to produce thousands of hogs for slaughter on a single farm, also produce millions of tons of waste, pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and debilitating odors that damage the health and well-being of the minority families that overwhelmingly makeup the neighborhoods that surround them. As an example of how impactful these CAFOs can be, one 80,000-head facility produced 1.5 times the amount of waste generated by the City of Philadelphia in a single year. Yet, these hog producers lack all of the chemical and mechanical filtration systems that are required to treat human sewage. Instead, waste from these operations end up in unlined and untreated lagoons that leach into groundwater and can even rupture and spill their contents into surrounding landscapes and waterways. In addition, the noxious odors that are generated by CAFOs have also been found to cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, and even high blood pressure among individuals living nearby.
Because the development of this type of farming happened so fast in North Carolina, lawmakers have failed to keep up in implementing the necessary policies and regulations to protect the health of its citizens and environment. Particularly troubling is that despite the fact that CAFOs result in localized health problems, state and local health agencies do not have any authority in regulating them. Instead, natural resource agencies, whose mission is not to protect human health, are left with the responsibility.
While some progress has been made in recent years to improve technology, nearby residents are still struggling with horrible living conditions. This has resulted in a recent complaint filed by the University of North Carolina and Earthjustice in 2014 with the state’s Environmental Protection Agency. The complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which says that recipients of federal funds must prevent harm to communities or individuals based on race. Negotiations between community groups and regulators fell apart when regulators invited pork industry representatives to participate in negotiations. This left many community members with the impression that state leaders cared less about the health of its disadvantaged citizens, and instead was looking out for the interests of the pork industry. And much like the U.S. EPA failed to act in order to protect the citizens of Flint, they have also yet to intervene and do an investigation to improve the situation in North Carolina and other regions plagued by the negative effects of CAFOs.
This is just one of many examples of environmental injustice that shows us that if there is pollution generated from industry, or in this case, from the production of our food, it is overwhelmingly impacting the most disadvantaged in our society. We need to make the connection between the atrocities that are occurring in Flint, with the similar injustices that are experienced in North Carolina and all across the country and we need to call on our leaders to do a better job of promoting clean and healthy communities for all its citizens.
To learn more about the effects of hog farming, check out this paper by Environmental Health Perspectives

Backyard Talk

I’ve Got Your Back, Really?

I can’t believe that President Obama drank a sip of water from Flint. It was a slap in the face to so many people. His own agency was responsible for not raising the alarms when EPA received data that said the water was poisoned. Obama has done a number of extraordinary things while in office. Yes, I voted for him and yes, I’d likely do it again. I’m stunned. What in the world could Obama have been thinking when he drank that water? Of course there is no way his water was toxic from chemicals, viruses or bacteria let alone lead. Further dismissing the crisis, he said he likely eat lead paint chips as a child. Really? That dismissal brings no comfort to the parents of lead poisoned children who will never reach their birth potential and are sick. I can’t help but wonder if Gina McCarthy orchestrated that news event.
Obama’s person in charge, Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator has ignored literally all but one division of EPA’s programs and responsibility including drinking water. The one exception since she was confirmed in July 2013 is climate change. Remember the January 2014 West Virginia Elk River spill that poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 people. Drinking water in schools, hospitals, family homes with pregnant women and small children were exposed to toxic chemicals resulting in serious health impacts. The company responsible had not been inspected by EPA since 1991. You would think that McCarthy’s EPA would monitor the site after the spill but they didn’t. Seven months later, in June 2014, another spill from the same company occurred from a sump pump malfunction into the same Elk River.
Then in February 2014 there was the Dan River coal ash spill that poisoned the river from Virginia to North Carolina. For a week a pipe poured arsenic and other heavy metals 140,000 tons of toxic waste and wastewater directly into the river. Ash was found on the bottom of the river for 70 miles and as much as 5 feet deep in places.
Today, the question of what to do with coal ash wastes is still a problem especially for low income communities. EPA is behind the proposal to dump it in garbage landfills in mostly low wealth, rural, communities of color. Gina McCarthy supports this proposal but the US Commission on Civil Rights is investigating the fairness of the plan.
The Colorado Animas River spill was solely the fault of EPA’s lack of careful attention. It was EPA that accidentally released an estimate of three million gallons of waste water into the river in August 2015. This river supplies drinking water to area residents. EPA authorities knew about the risk through a June 2014 work order that read “Conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals” and through a May 2015 action plan for the mine that also noted “the potential for a blowout.” People living along the Animas and San Juan rivers were advised to have their water tested before using it for cooking, drinking, or bathing. The spill also caused major problems for farmers and ranchers who rely on the rivers for their livelihoods.
The next crisis is likely in St Louis, MO. An underground fire from one old dump site is creeping towards the adjunct radioactive site. When the fire reaches the radioactive materials the state’s Attorney General’s experts say there could be a Chernobyl like event. This possible crisis can be taken care and avoided but McCarthy is not acting. Saying you are sorry and accepting the resignation of staff is not how to run an agency.
McCarthy has hurt so many innocent American people and the reputation of the agency is questionable. I don’t know if EPA can ever recover. Her advice to the President should have been, say you’re sorry, don’t act like me, an incompetent leader and declare the situation what it is a disaster. Then bring in the troops to change the pipes so everyone can be sure their water is safe.

Media Releases

Just Moms STL & CHEJ File Complaint with United Nations

“This place is disease. It takes your heart away; it takes your spirit away. And something’s got to end.  Somebody has got to help us because there are people stranded here. My kids are stranded here.  Somebody from the outside has got to come and save us.”      
-Bob Terry a local resident pleading to the United Nations for help in his testimony
May 3, 2016 — This afternoon Dawn Chapman, Karen Nickel, from Just Moms StL in St. Louis, Missouri, Lois Gibbs, Center for Health, Environment & Justice delivered a request on behalf of American families living in harm’s way of a Chernobyl like event to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Mr. John Knox. Ms. Nicole Bjerler, Mr. Knox’s colleague will be meeting with the Just Moms STL delegation to accept the Tribunal Summary Documents, Complaint and Transcript as he is currently in Switzerland.
The community has exhausted every possible government and non-governmental option for relief within the United States leaving the United Nations as the next level of authority.
Community has asked the state to act but only have been informed of the pending crisis of a “Chernobyl like event,” (Attorney General, MO). The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has done little since 1990 and done little to date to stop the fire from reaching the radioactive wastes. State and federal legislators have introduced a federal bill that would transfer the cleanup from USEPA to the Corps of Engineers because of no confidence in US EPA. The bill passed the Senate and is in the house committee being queried. This bill does nothing to relieve the daily exposures and urgent need to get out of the area before an explosion or other disastrous event.

  • On a daily basis flares around the Bridgeton landfill, which is burning beneath the surface, release chemicals that are toxic to human health at levels above permitted health based standards. These chemicals travel through the air and into the surrounding community. Children waiting at bus stops and playing outside must breathe this toxic air.
  •  Although there is cover over the burning landfill, however when materials below the surface burn and reduce in size, the cover material collapses causing a rupture in the cover material. This results in smoke containing toxic chemicals to be released into the air of the surrounding community. Smoke at times is so thick that it is difficult to maneuver an automobile due to visibility and travels across the street blanketing adjacent homes and playground.
  • The entire site which was designated a U.S. federal Superfund site in 1990. Yet the USEPA has failed to complete mapping of the site to define where the buried radioactive waste is located. After more than two decades no one understands where the radioactive wastes are.
  • Children are suffering and dying from cancer at an alarming rate. State health studies have clearly documented increased childhood brain cancer risks in nearby neighborhoods. Today the number of children with brain cancer is over 300 times what would be expected.
  • Public schools are concerned about an event which will cause students and school employees to remain in a “shelter in place” situation for a long period of time. Parents were asked to bring to school a supply of medications that children take before and after school in the event they cannot go home. This is an unacceptable situation especially for preschool children ages 3 to 4 to be without their parents overnight.
  • Families with members that are vulnerable to respiratory impacts are at risk daily. Windows must remain closed year round. Outdoor activities such as yard work, home repairs and organized sports are near impossible. Quality of life standards are negatively impacted as a result of not being able to sit outdoors, decorate for holidays or enjoy a child’s sporting event.
  • Lastly, tucking your child into bed at night or sending them to school in the morning and not knowing if an event will occur that day, as a result of the fire reaching the radioactive wastes.