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mark! Lopez Fights for East Los Angeles, Wins Goldman Environmental Prize

Born and raised in a family of community activists, mark! Lopez persuaded the state of California to provide comprehensive lead testing and cleanup of East Los Angeles homes contaminated by a battery smelter that had polluted the community for over three decades.
Bordered by the Los Angeles River and crisscrossed by the area’s notoriously congested freeways, LA’s Eastside is home to the densest population of working-class Latino communities in the country. Residents bear the brunt of the region’s pollution, with heavy cargo traffic coming in and out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and industrial plants operating well within breathing distance of homes, schools, and parks.
Among these facilities was an aging battery recycling plant, which had been in operation since 1922 with minimal updates and repairs. Georgia-based Exide took over the smelter in 2000 and ramped up the volume of batteries processed at the plant—and with it, emission levels of dangerous pollutants such as lead and arsenic.
A sampling of dust on rooftops of nearby buildings found lead levels of 52,000 parts per million—where 1,000 parts per million is considered hazardous waste. Lead is a powerful neurotoxin that accumulates in the body over time. It can cause learning disabilities even at very low levels, and as such, there is no safe lead level in children. Read more.

Backyard Talk

Tax Reform Should Begin With Making Polluters Pay

As we begin our national conversation about tax reform, why don’t we start with low-hanging fruit – the things we can all agree are right? Why not reinstate the Superfund tax, which used to make polluters pay to clean up their own mess?
By reinstating this “Polluter Pays” tax, American citizens will save literally billions of dollars. There is no need for a new law, big debates or much else. All Congress needs to do is simply reinstate this law, which lapsed at the end of 1995. Everything is already in place, and it’s proven to be an effective way to clean up toxic wastes as well as protect public health and the environment.
I am sometimes called the “Mother of Superfund,” as I led the successful effort to relocate over 800 families, including my own, away from the Love Canal toxic waste dump where we lived in Niagara Falls, NY. We all celebrated in 1980 when President Carter signed the bill to create the Superfund, which forced polluters to take responsibility for their actions.
Then in 1981, President Reagan named Anne Gorsuch to head the Environmental Protection Agency. She quickly moved to dismantle the Superfund law, leaving behind a crippled program. Now the Trump administration is looking to finish the job that the mother of our newest Supreme Court Justice failed to do decades ago.
When the “Polluter Pays” tax expired in 1995, American taxpayers were forced to take on the burden of cleaning up the worst toxic waste sites in the country. These costs have risen to more than $18 billion since then.
During the first thirteen years of Superfund, before the tax sunset, American taxpayers only contributed about $2.8 billion. These fees have been used to clean up the worst toxic waste sites that are abandoned, were created by a company that went out of business, or where the responsible corporation refuses to take responsibility and legal action is needed.
The balance of these funds have come out of the government’s general revenue, or in other words, directly from taxpayers’ pockets. That’s a lot of money that by all rights the corporations that create and use toxic chemicals should be paying, not us.
Clearly, American taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot this bill. The tax is simple: if a corporation makes two million dollars in taxable income, then all profits after that are taxed at the rate of 0.12 percent.
Now I’m sure Exxon-Mobil or Dow Chemical can afford this tax. If they make $10,000 beyond the $2 million threshold, their tax will be equivalent to the cost of a cheese pizza. If their profits are less than two million, they aren’t required to pay a penny. It’s that simple.
Corporations in the manufacturing industrial sector (e.g. chemical and allied products, petroleum and coal products, electrical and electronic equipment) and mining sectors historically paid about 41 percent of this tax. These sectors are responsible for about 43 percent of all Superfund sites.
Taxpayers now pay for all Superfund-led toxic cleanups, spending well over $1 billion annually to protect public health from the irresponsible business practices of polluting industries. As valuable public dollars are spent on these cleanups, polluting industries are enjoying a $4 million per day tax break courtesy of the American taxpayer.
More than 53 million Americans still live within four miles of a Superfund toxic waste site. 18 percent are children and 15 percent live below the poverty level. These toxic sites expose innocent families to dangerous toxic chemicals every day.
The cost to families living around these sites is much more than the price of a pizza. Health costs, the loss of a loved one, missed days at work, devalued property, and loss of the ability to enjoy their homes and communities.
The Crude Oil Tax portion of the program originally put a 9.7 cent-per-barrel tax on the purchase of crude oil by refineries and other industries. But Congress later eliminated most Superfund liability for oil spills.  This means Exxon-Mobil is only expected to support the “pizza” level tax. The oil industry is one of the most polluting industries on the planet. Each year, at least 14,000 oil spills occur in America.
Lastly, there is the Chemical Feedstock Tax on the most dangerous chemicals. Corporations could avoid this tax entirely by using safer chemicals in their products. This assessed a fee on the purchase of any of 42 toxic chemicals associated with dangerous substances at Superfund sites.
The amount of this tax ranged from $0.22 to $4.87 per ton, except on xylene, which was taxed at $10.13 per ton. The tax also exempted certain chemicals when used for certain purposes (e.g. methane and butane when used for fuel) or when produced in certain ways (e.g. any listed chemicals derived from coal).
Superfund sites are created when a state is unable to handle the cleanup of a dangerous site due to lack of staff, expertise or resources, and asks for help from the federal government. For this reason, Superfund sites cannot be sent back to the states. Even so, states don’t get a free ride, as they have a responsibility to pay a percentage of the costs.
State and cities across America want these toxic sites cleaned up so they can be redeveloped and no longer have a Superfund site blighting their community.
The Trump Administration, which says it wants to develop our nation’s resources, should be all for the ability to redevelop these sites, which is generally done through the Brownfields program.
However, without the “Polluter Pays” tax, even Trump can’t develop these properties, because too few of them are being cleaned up. The number of completed cleanups decreased from 80 sites annually in 1999 and 2000 to 13 by 2013.
Reinstating the “Polluter Pays” Tax should be the first step in any tax reform. It’s the right thing to do.


Living near radioactive dump, smoldering landfill, some in Missouri town want buyouts.

Doctors found the first tumors in Christen Commuso’s ovaries in 2012. Before long, more turned up in her gall bladder, thyroid and adrenal glands. Lesions appeared on her liver. While she was undergoing multiple surgeries, her stepdaughter, then 7, was learning that she could no longer climb stairs without stopping to catch her breath. Eventually, she was diagnosed with asthma. Read more.


Just Moms St. Louis, MO Closer To Buyout

Missouri senators have passed a buyout program targeting homes near a St. Louis-area Superfund site. Senators voted 30-3 Wednesday to send the measure to the House. It would allow residents to apply for buyouts for homes found uninhabitable due to contamination or within 3 miles of sites with high levels of dissolved radium in groundwater. The measure is aimed at homes near Bridgeton Landfill and adjacent West Lake Landfill, where Cold War-era nuclear waste was buried in the 1970s and adjacent to a burning landfill. Read more.

Backyard Talk

Why Do You March?

Millions of people will come together in the next few weeks, as they have since the start of the new administration, to take part in several marches. Two of which are: the March for Science (April 22, 2017) and the People’s Climate March (April 29, 2017). Although the marches will be held in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C., both marches (or shall we say movements) have generated such a following that satellite marches are being held around the country, and even around the world, on those days as well.
The goals for the March for Science:

  • Humanize science by showing that it is conducted, applied, and supported by a diverse body of people.
  • Partner with the public by joining together both scientists and supporters of science, as progress [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”][in science and research] can only be made by mutual respect.
  • Advocate for open, inclusive, and accessible science by including in conversation and valuing the voices of all members of the global community.
  • Support scientists
  • Affirm science as a democratic value

The People’s Climate March Platform:

  • Directly and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas and toxic pollution to successfully combat climate change and improve public health
  • Mandate a transition to an equitable and sustainable New Energy and Economic Future that limits the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  • Provide a Just Transition for communities and workers negatively impacted by the shift to a New Energy and Economic Future that includes targeted economic opportunity and provides a stable income, health care, and education.
  • Demand that every job pays a wage of at least $15 an hour, protects workers, and provides a good standard of living, pathways out of poverty , and a right to organize.
  • Ensure that investments are targeted to create pathways for low-income people and people of color to access good jobs and improve the lives of communities of color, indigenous peoples, low-income people, small farmers, women, and workers.
  • Make bold investments in the resilience of states, cities, tribes, and communities that are threatened by climate change; including massive investments in infrastructure systems from water, transportation, and solid waste to the electrical grid and safe, green building and increasing energy efficiency that will also create millions of jobs in the public and private sector.
  • Reinvest in a domestic industrial base that drives towards an equitable and sustainable New Energy and Economic Future, and fight back against the corporate trade-induced global race to the bottom.
  • Market- and policy-based mechanisms must protect human rights and critical, native ecosystems and reduce pollution at source

In Stephen’s blog from last week, it was easy for him to explain a scientists’ reasoning behind the March for Science. As a newcomer in the field with much less experience than he, it took me a while to come up with a personal connection to support my reasoning behind these movements. But after thinking about it, I realized that my only reasoning is because truly care about the issues, & that’s okay. I take inspiration from people my age who are making their voices heard and standing up for what they believe in, day after day.
I do it for a sense of community and understanding that we’re fighting for something greater than ourselves. I do it for the people who are, unfortunately affected every day by things they cannot control. On these days, I will be marching for the generations before me who had a stronger connection with the Earth – who took care of it and respected it. I will be marching for the generations after me who will only be able to live healthy lives and enjoy this Earth so long as we do everything we can now to preserve and care for it. I will be marching for little, 5-year-old me, who visited family in the Philippines and could not understand why she, in extremely hot, humid weather, had to pump water from the ground and then boil it before drinking so she wouldn’t get sick…
To think that other environmental factors, global warming, and climate change has made situations much worse over the years (and will continue get worse if change is not made) is truly terrifying.

As a verb, the word “march” means:

  • Walk quickly with determination
  • Walk along public rods in an organized procession as a form of protest

As a noun, it means:

  • The steady and inevitable development or progress of something

Progress. That’s all we need. A little push in the right direction is still a major win, and that’s what these movements are aiming to do.
Without strong belief in scientific evidence, without environmental regulations that protect our health, without a care for the environment and the world we live in, future generations will surely suffer.
Sure, there will be people who criticize these movements- only because they feel they have no reason to stand behind them. Find your reason. March with us.
March for Science (April 22, 2017)
People’s Climate March (April 29, 2017)[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

March for Science

As a scientist, it’s not unusual to experience people not understanding the jargon and complexity of science. Part of what we’re trained to do is explain and interpret what we do. What’s much harder to understand is the total dismissal of scientific information and consensus around issues. While science does not have many critical answers for people exposed to toxic chemicals, it is nonetheless the foundation of what we do know. It can tell us what chemicals people are exposed to, the concentration of those chemicals, and the risks these exposures pose. We often don’t know how long a person was exposed, what interactions/synergistic effects might result if exposed to more than one chemical, or what specific health outcomes a person can expect or anticipate.
There are clear limitations in what we know, but that does not mean we ignore the science altogether. This what Donald Trump is proposing to do with climate change, ignore what the vast majority of scientific researchers who devote their life to studying this issue have  coming to agree on – that human behavior is influencing the earth’s climate in a dangerous way that cannot be ignored.
This is why the scientific community is stepping out of its comfort zone and organizing a march on Washington to protest the dismissal of worldwide scientific consensus on the issue of global climate change. As described on its website the “March for Science is a celebration of science. It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it’s about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.”
There’s a lot of push back coming from within the scientific community that generally shuns public involvement in politics. But this is an unusual time. Not only has the President of the United States called global warming a “hoax” … “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” but there is an alarming tend towards dismissing scientific facts and consensus, and an illogical attack on research funding that threatens our basic world understanding. These threats have left scientists with little choice but to come together and speak out.
This is an unparalleled opportunity to highlight the value of science and show your opposition to the war on science. Join the March for Science on April 22nd in Washington, DC. For more information, see