Backyard Talk

Mr. President, What Will Your Legacy Be?

As President Obama’s final year in office comes to a close, the time has come to reflect upon his legacy and his impact on our country. Perhaps more than other areas, Obama’s environmental record is a mixed bag of laudable achievements and startling mismanagement. Though his actions on climate change will rightfully be praised in the future, some of the more glaring cases of the EPA’s inattentive management in the last several years will be blemishes on his record.
From Flint to the West Lake Landfill in St. Louis, the EPA has proven itself to be maddeningly unresponsive. Despite knowing about the problem with Flint’s water nearly a year before intense press coverage, the EPA did nothing to alert the public or force the issue. Instead, the EPA sought to shift the blame entirely to state officials. In regards to Flint, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy simply understated, “clearly the outcome was not what anyone would have wanted.”Additionally, an EPA internal report released a week ago about the West Lake Landfill said that officials knew that removing the toxic waste from the landfill was both possible and relatively inexpensive — and still they chose to do nothing.
All of which leads one to wonder who exactly the EPA works for: the communities who need people in power to responsibly listen and respond to them or glib politicians and waste service companies out for their own interests? Administrator McCarthy needs to prioritize families over giving corporations a break. And each of her deputies must think first of public health and the environment rather than their own personal job prospects.
Though the EPA is an independent agency, Obama is more than able to influence its agenda and responsiveness. In the last year of his presidency, Obama is no longer chained to his own election chances and has more room to simply do the right thing regardless of the political consequences.
So I pose the following to President Obama: what do you want your environmental legacy to be? Allowing corporations to shamefully put the health of families at risk and letting politicians ignore pressing problems in service of their personal ambition? Or standing up for everyday Americans against such powerful corporations and non-responsive public servants? The fate of many communities depends on his choice.

Backyard Talk

New EPA Document’s release details what agency knew about West Lake for Three years

The EPA’s National Remedy and Review Board released a document last Thursday that called removal of toxic waste at West Lake Landfill “feasible.” It gave a summary of its recommendations for the area, many of which were in direct opposition to what the EPA has been saying about the site for years. Just Moms STL, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, and other groups have requested the document over the past three years under the Freedom of Information Act, but the EPA has denied them the document.
Now, as the document is released, it’s more clear why the EPA was so resistant to these groups seeing it in the first place. Since 2008, the EPA’s plan has been to put a cap on the site, containing the waste but not providing a long-term solution. The EPA and landfill owner Republic Services had cited that the cap would cost ten times less than removing the waste, and that the waste couldn’t be removed safely for workers or the community. The report, however, completely discredits those statements. It says that removal would be safe for workers and provide a long-term solution for the community, and that EPA region 7 overestimated the costs of removal on several fronts.
Just Moms STL have been advocating for removal for years. They recognized that a safe and permanent solution was the best way to protect the community now and in the long-term, especially given the history of the area. Some of the victims of West Lake are former victims of Coldwater creek, a nearby nuclear toxic dump site. Now that the National Review Board document has been released saying that removal is feasible after all, the community is angry. They should have had this information years ago.
If the EPA has known for three years that removal of the waste is the best option, why haven’t they done anything to start that process? It’s time for the EPA to recognize their failure on West Lake, and to abandon the plan to cap the landfill.

Backyard Talk

Climate Change’s Most Vulnerable Populations Take U.S. Government to Court

Our use of fossil fuels is driving carbon dioxide levels higher and accelerating global warming. However, most of the impacts from our overuse of coal and oil fall on people who haven’t yet been born, much less had the chance to contribute significantly to climate change. Should future generations be able to sue over global warming? According to several courts in the United States, the answer is yes.
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Children from Washington won a major victory against climate change last month. Image:

In mid-April, twenty-one young people received the go-ahead from an Oregon judge that their lawsuit against the U.S. government for failing to act on climate change could proceed. The plaintiffs, between ages 8 and 19, alleged that the federal government, by failing to act on climate change and continuing our pattern of polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, has caused harm to today and tomorrow’s youth, and violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Previous climate-related lawsuits have focused mainly on violations to specific environmental laws, and this was the first to focus purely on constitutional rights. The federal government and the fossil fuel industry moved to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
In Washington State, young people recently won a major victory against climate change. A group of eight children filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Ecology department for endangering their rights by not taking strict measures against climate change. The court ruled that the state must create rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2016, fulfilling their responsibility to protect air quality for future generations. Late in May, a group of four young people in Massachusetts won a lawsuit in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ordered the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to set stronger regulations against greenhouse gases. These groups, as well as the students in Oregon, were represented by the non-profit group Our Children’s Trust. This group also has pending cases in North Carolina and Colorado, and is engaged in international work.
According to experts on climate change, future generations will bear the brunt of global warming impacts. This week, Dr. Frederica Perera of Columbia University penned an op-ed for Environmental Health News about why our climate change policies should focus on children. While adults do suffer illness and death as a result of fossil fuel pollution, children’s health and development suffer profoundly from our lack of regulation. “While air pollution and the adverse health impacts of climate change affect us all,” Perera writes, “they are most damaging to children, especially the developing fetus and young child and particularly those of low socioeconomic status, who often have the greatest exposure and the least amount of protection.” Perera also published an article in Environmental Health Perspectives on our moral obligation to protect our most vulnerable population – children – from climate change.
As the lawsuits in Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington demonstrate, youth activists and climate change organizations are prepared to tackle this issue head-on, and in at least a few cases, the courts are prepared to listen. We can only hope that robust regulations will follow on the heels of legal victories, so that today’s children are the last generation of young people to have to sue for protection from climate change. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for generations to come are dependent on our ability to reduce our fossil fuel consumption and our emission of greenhouse gases – and as these lawsuits prove, we cannot wait any longer.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

What if government knew your water was toxic in 2008 and told you in 2016?

I’d be outraged. This is a real life situation. It took eight years for water results to be analyzed and reviewed by the federal public health agency for a small Pennsylvania community. They concluded that drinking water was not safe to drink; and that the agency has no information about water contaminates from 2011 through 2016.
Is it safe now?  Although samples were taken over the eight-year period, no one knows. The federal health scientists have never seen those results. Even if they did, it might take another eight years to get the results — that would be 2024.
This is terrible . . . right?  Unfortunately, it actually gets worse. The state health scientists said that same water was safe to drink, as did the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after reviewing the same sample results.  . . . yet the water was poisoned. It is unknown how many people mixed baby formula or bathed their young children in this toxic water.
I looked into why now, in May, 2016, did the federal Agency on Toxic Substance Disease Registry (ATSDR) release a report concluding the water was unsafe to drink. I found a recent news story that announced that the victim’s lawsuit against the polluter was recently settled in court. This settlement, in Dimock, Pennsylvania against Cabot Oil & Gas was the only change in the situation.  Although I could be wrong, my conclusion was that the agency decided not to get involved in the messy trial of a multinational corporation. Instead, allowed a community to be poisoned. If that’s true, then I have no confidence nor hope that the American people are protected by their own public health government agency. In fact, it reaffirms for me that our public health protections are controlled by polluters and their lawyers.
Families, young children, and women of childbearing age drank toxic water with false assurances of safety from the very agencies charged to protect them. What is the public supposed to do? Whom can they trust?  Why can’t our health authorities act in the best interest of public health of the American people who pay for their services through our tax dollars?
For the past thirty five years, I’ve watched the criteria for health assessments go from the preponderance of evidence (collection of all relevant studies, their quality, sources and conclusions) to obscure abstract mathematical assessments.  In the past five years, it’s gotten worse. When results are undeniably harmful to public health, even using this abstract model, the results are held from the public, with agencies utilizing “draft” as reasons for not releasing reports to the public. All this time, health professionals know people are being exposed to unnecessary, and in some cases, avoidable health risks. You need not look any further than what is still happening in Flint, Michigan with their drinking water to understand this problem.
The jury’s verdict on water contamination in Dimock may have broad implications for the broader debate about the environmental risks of the shale drilling rush nationwide. Although the case did not center on claims that the fracking process (as opposed to drilling, well casing failures, spills or other problems) had directly caused the water contamination, most of the gas wells that the plaintiffs focused their attention on were aimed at the Marcellus shale gas formation.
Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, commented, “This is a huge victory for the people of Dimock, but it’s also a sharp rebuke to the Obama administration for failing to fully investigate threats posed by fracking and dangerous drilling to water supplies in Pennsylvania and across the country. Because of the EPA’s disturbing history of delay and denial, it took a federal jury to set the record straight about the natural gas industry’s toxic threat to our water.”
America, what in the world are we going to do? I’d love to hear ideas because I don’t feel safe nor should you. Send any comment you might have to me at

Backyard Talk

Exxon and Climate Misinformation

Recently, it seems that every month or so there is a new story that shows another way that ExxonMobil has worked to hide the truth behind the highly destructive effects of climate change. This past month was no different, as the Guardian released a report that links Exxon to the elimination of an important congressional lecture series on climate science in 2001, just days after the inauguration of George W. Bush.
While this story is troubling, as it prevented members of Congress from hearing about the emerging science of climate change at a very important time, it is just one incident that has come to light in recent months showing how Exxon has sheltered the truth behind climate change decades earlier. According to an investigation by InsideClimate News, the oil company has known that the burning of fossil fuels results in a rise in the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere as early as 1977, which is over a decade before climate change ever became a public issue. The company actually played active role in discovering the phenomenon by employing top scientists to develop climate models based off of original research. Exxon’s top scientist even delivered a speech to executives introducing the science and warning that “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” Yet, almost 40 years later, humans are beginning to experience the effects of climate change and still very little has been done, thanks to Exxon’s sheltering of the truth.
Not only has Exxon prevented the public from discovering the potentially catastrophic future that climate change poses, but they have also contributed to spreading of skepticism of climate science among the general public. Much like the tobacco industry promoted misinformation regarding the health risks of smoking, Exxon has spent more than $30 million on organizations promoting climate denial. They have even utilized the same consultants that worked with the tobacco industry decades earlier to develop a communications strategy. A memo from the fossil fuel industry, found by the Union of Concerned Scientists, sums up the intentions of their campaign perfectly when it stated, “Victory will be achieved when the average person is uncertain about climate science.”
It is sad that Exxon could not act on the troubling evidence provided to them by its own scientists in the 1970s. We would’ve had a chance to get ahead of climate change and start taking the steps necessary to mitigate catastrophic levels of temperature rise. But, it is easy to see why Exxon would hide the truth and promote skepticism of climate science, as any logical response to widespread acceptance of the science by the public and our policymakers would involve major government intervention to slow the burning of fossil fuels, which would most certainly hurt Exxon’s profit. Now that it is clear that Exxon prevented action on mitigating climate change, it is time that they pay their share of the costs that climate change is already inflicting across the world.

Homepage News Archive

In Bridgeton, Missouri residents find it hard to breathe

Josh Peterson, MSR News Online. Members of the community that rally behind the movement of moms, aptly called JustMomsSTL, a group that CHEJ works very closely with, feel prisoners of their own homes. This is because some of them live within a half mile radius away from toxic waste. Their has been an ongoing investigation for a resolution involving the EPA and community representatives. Here’s a bit about how they feel it’s gone so far. 
Residents of this community near Ferguson — site of 2014’s police-involved shooting death of teenager Michael Brown — have complained for years about lung troubles caused by toxic fumes tied to radioactive waste linked to the atomic bombs that flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services will release a study in June to gauge these concerns.
Many here call this step positive, small and too late. A slow-moving, subterranean landfill fire that began in 2010, could boost the site’s toxic-gas emissions.
Some locals have been diagnosed with cancer, which they connect to nuclear waste illegally dumped at the West Lake Landfill by the Cotter Corporation in 1973. This radioactive refuse is from World War II’s top-secret Manhattan Project.
Paul Berry III, a local African American small business owner running for the U.S. House as a Republican, has long raised awareness about the toxic waste. “I take issue with President Obama and his focus on the Iran nuclear deal while we have nuclear waste sitting derelict in my community less than two miles away,” said Berry, who grew up in the area. “How are we going to be a steward for nuclear waste when we’re not even taking care of business in my backyard?” Thanks to these conditions, residents who seek government-assisted relocation feel abandoned. Lengthy fights over who ultimately should control the site have slowed cleanup efforts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly investigating the issue following a September 2014 study by Missouri’s health department. It found that between 1996 and 2011 the ZIP codes around the landfill included statistically significant higher incidences of leukemia, plus cancers of the colon, prostate, kidney, bladder and brain.
“[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”][The] recent study by St. Louis County is actually the first time that a government entity has asked people if they feel ill,” said Laura Barrett, executive director for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
“This is a hot mess,” said Dawn Chapman, a local mother and co-founder of Just Moms STL, a nonprofit organization made up of local mothers who worry that these radioactive materials are sickening their families. When Chapman bought a home in nearby Maryland Heights in 2005, she says she was never warned that her family would live near a radioactive waste site. She discovered their close proximity just three years ago when her family began experiencing what she called a “horrible odor” emanating from the site.
A 1988 Nuclear Regulatory Commission study revealed that its inspectors discovered in 1974 that the Cotter Corporation — which agreed to buy the atomic refuse from the federal government and dispose of it — mixed this waste with 39,000 tons of topsoil. Cotter illegally covered the West Lake Landfill with this irradiated earth in 1973, according to the nuclear agency’s report.
“It’s not in barrels. Some of it’s mixed in the soil and the garbage,” said Chapman. “Some of it’s just lying on the surface for over 40 years, and none of us knew about this.”
Chapman, who lives with her husband and their three special needs children, described the odor as a burning-electrical smell mixed with trash and petroleum. Two of her kids suffer developmental problems, Chapman said. She personally complains of breathing difficulties.
“I’m 35 and have never had an issue in my life,” said Chapman. “These past couple of years, I’ve found myself using and borrowing other people’s inhalers.”
Some, however, consider these fears overblown. Low-level radiation “is generally a health benefit,” said Dr. Jerry Cuttler, a scientist with more than 50 years of experience with nuclear radiation and an adviser to the New York-based American Council on Science and Health. “The natural radon level in an open area is very low. To find a harmful radon level, you would need to go into a uranium mine that has no forced ventilation.”
Despite ordering landfill owner Republic Services to build a barrier between the fire and the toxic waste, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denies residents are at risk. St. Louis County, on the other hand, published a 2014 shelter-in-place plan due to concerns that the fire could reach and burn the toxic waste, increase pollution and hurt residents. The fire is expected to smolder until 2024.
This plan dismays Chapman, whose home is located several miles from the landfill. Some locals live within half a mile of the site, and the odor penetrates their residences, according to Chapman.
“What are those people supposed to do?” said Chapman. “A lot of people here feel like they’re prisoners in their own homes.”
Thanks to Josh Peterson and Urban News Source for sharing this story with us.
To read the original article, click here.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

What We Don’t Know about Toxic Chemicals

So often people believe that the solution to their problem lies in science and technical information. How often have you heard some company spokesperson speak to the need for sound science. At CHEJ, we have have learned many lessons about science and how it is used. Science and technical information is important and has a role in helping to achieve your community goals. Identifying this role and learning how to use scientific and technical information is critical to the success of your group.
The most important lesson is that science and technical information alone will not solve your problem(s). It’s reasonable to think that if you hire the best scientists and engineers and make solid technical arguments, the government will do the right thing. Those of you who have been there know it doesn’t work that way.
When the government discovers a problem, it’s reluctant to determine the full extent of the problem. This is because if the government documents contamination that threatens people’s health, it then has to do something about it—like evacuate people or clean up the contamination. This costs money that government doesn’t have or want to spend. Such action might also set a precedent by establishing cleanup standards or unsafe exposures levels that would mean spending more money at other sites
Deciding what action to take is complicated by the fact that there are few answers to the many scientific questions raised by exposures to toxic chemicals. Scientists actually know little about the adverse health effects that result from exposure to combinations of chemicals at low levels. As a result, when politicians and bureaucrats look for answers, the scientists don’t have them. They have their opinions but no clear answers.
Most scientists however, are reluctant to admit they don’t know the answer to a question. Instead they introduce the concept of “risk” and begin a debate over what’s “acceptable.” This process hides the fact that scientists don’t know what happens to people who are exposed to low levels of a mixture of toxic chemicals. This uncertainty gets lost in the search for what’s “acceptable.”
Because of the lack of scientific clarity, bureaucrats and politicians use science cloaked in uncertainty, not facts, to justify their decisions which at best are based scientific opinion, but more likely driven by the political and economic pressures they face. Whether this is right or not is not a scientific question but an ethical and moral question. It is foolish to think that in this setting, science can be anything but a tool used by politicians and corporations to get what they want.
While science and scientific information have failed to provide clear answers and solutions to the hard questions about the health and environmental impact of the chemicals we use, we cannot abandon science. Science and scientific information can be a powerful tool for community groups, but only if you recognize what it can tell you and what it can’t, and only if you learn how to use the information and not just collect it. The right information used in the right way at the right time can be very powerful. Learning how to use scientific and technical information strategically is an organizing skill. Contact CHEJ to continue this conversation.

Backyard Talk

Did you hear that the Flint water crisis is over?

Did you hear that the Flint water crisis is over?  Nothing could be further from the truth. President Obama’s attempt to prove the water’s safety by drinking it on national television left many Flint residents confused and angry.  Right now, pregnant women and children under age six are still being warned not to drink the water.  How safe is it? Many Flint residents are relying on bottled water to bathe, cook, and brush teeth.  Flint’s old leaded pipes are a long way from being replaced.  The chemicals being used to seal pipes are showing problems. Flint’s residents are rightly anxious about the safety of the water.
The early signs which concerned moms and dads noticed included hair loss, sudden skin rashes, abdominal pain.  They knew something was wrong, but for many parents, learning that the child was lead poisoned was much worse than anything else they had imagined.  The heartbreak continued as they found that their kids were now at high risk for ADHD, low IQ, among other long-term health effects. Here is one mother’s story:
‘I’m not taking a bath . . . it hurts my skin.’ The evening struggle begins again for a mom whose child refuses to bathe. The contaminated water was causing her young son’s rash. ‘I took him to the doctors. I was told to keep his skin clean and to bathe him every night. The doctor said he had contact dermatitis from something like laundry soap, bar soap, or something else he comes in contact with. I never thought water from my faucet could be hurting my baby.”  
Oversight responsibility over city water is the local government’s job. Local government is required to report to the state, which is overseen by the federal EPA water division.  One breakdown in oversight is bad, but a break down at every level means somebody or everybody is slacking on the job and does not care.  
Sasha Khokha, a journalist from California National Public Radio has a different distressing story.  After she heard about the water crisis in Flint, she decided to check her tap water. When she reviewed her water bill from the city of Fresno, she read the “consumer confidence report” for drinking water.  Sasha read the footnote in small print: ‘123 Trichloropropane (1,2,3 TCP) has been detected in 29 wells in Fresno…. Some people who use water containing it over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer, based on studies in laboratory animals.’
Fearing for her two children, she decided to get her water tested for the presence of chemicals.  The sample from Sasha’s kitchen tap showed 2.2 parts per trillion, three times the state’s public health goal for 1,2,3-TCP.   Twenty-five years after California declared 1,2,3-TCP to be a carcinogen, drinking water regulators are only now planning to set a standard for drinking water.
And it’s not just Fresno. According to the State Water Resources Control Board, the chemical has been found in about a hundred public water systems across California, mostly in the Central Valley, but also in counties like Santa Cruz, Monterey, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.  
We have do better as a country, every person deserves safe drinking water – it is a human right.

Homepage News Archive

St. Cyprian’s Church in Perry hosts anti-fracking event

Tawana Roberts, The News Herald. One event in Perry, Ohio hosted on the National Day of Action, highlights catholic involvement in the anti-fracking movement. 
Pope Francis spreads a universal message that everyone should be good stewards of the planet, and that was at the forefront of discussion for a National Day of Action event.
The event was held at St. Cyprian’s Church in Perry on June 7 and was coordinated by Buckeye Forest Council, The Center for Health, Environment and Justice, Faith Communities Together for a Sustainable Future, Frackfree America National Coalition, Network for Oil & Gas Accountability & Protection and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.
Frack-free Lake County Coordinator Dan Phillips said their goal is to raise awareness about environmental concerns specifically fracking.
Fracking is a drilling technique that involves pumping millions of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals, into a well. Because of the high volume of fluid and pressure, the waste surfaces up from the ground. Fracking waste contains carcinogenic, radioactive and toxic materials, Phillips said in a previous interview.

The National Day of Action event highlighted Pope Francis mission of accountability to the earth while educating the community on the effects of toxic frack waste.

Phillips added that there is no local or state control over this issue.
Meanwhile, frackjng remains a controversial topic among various organizations.
According to, hydraulic fracturing or fracking technology has a strong environmental track record and is employed under close supervision by state, local and federal regulators.
Proponents also suggests that fracking produces oil and natural gas in places where conventional technologies are ineffective and boosts local economies by generating royalty payments On the other hand, Phillips expressed concern about the long-term and local effects of fracking.
“There are injection wells in Leroy Township near my home,” he said. “We are only trying to protect our health.”
To read the original article, click here.

Backyard Talk

We are all part of the problem, as well as the solution.

Currently I am on a week long family vacation in Gulf Shores, Alabama with my lovely mom, brothers, cousins, and aunt. I emphasize the word lovely because I want the readers to understand that my family is full of good, kind-hearted individuals that do not have a malicious bone in their body. They are wonderful human beings, and definitely not the face of the evil collective you envision when you think about those out ruining our environment and littering the world with trash.
And yet, that is exactly what I am accusing them, of us all, of doing.
Earlier this morning my mom and littlest brother went for a sunrise walk across the beach and came back complaining about the rubbish left along the shoreline in enormous amounts – she claims to have seen even battered lounge chairs left out far too long for us to suspect someone is planning on coming back to get them. Did this bother her to an average human extent? Yes. Did she do anything to resolve the problem? Nothing except make someone more proactive, myself, aware of it. Later that day I asked my cousin to accompany me on the same walk along my mother’s morning route with trash bags in our hands and conviction in our hearts as we picked up after the vacation goers’ neglected remains.
I am an optimistic person. I would like to believe that the endless water bottle caps, candy wrappers, and beer cans were only forgotten. That does not make this litter excusable; it merely means that the culprit could have been someone who would never dare suspect themselves to be a part of the problem – it could be someone just like you, or someone just like me. So what do I propose we do about it?
We need to start taking on the responsibility for the destruction of the environment around us. Instead of playing the blame game with the smaller problems like litter, become apart of the simple solution and pick it up! And more broadly, what I’m saying is that we need to take responsibility for the problems we are causing and more actively participate in coming up with solutions. There are a lot of things wrong with our world, and it is important that we acknowledge those things. It is far more important that we take physical action in implementing a solution. Whether it’s something as small as picking up a few stray flip-flops on the Gulf Shores, or as big as organizing a fundraiser, petition, or protest on behalf of the people of West Lake Landfill, it is about time that we do something, rather than sit back and take part in being the problem.