Backyard Talk

New Plan for Disposing of Oil/Gas Waste: Where Bad Science Hits the Road

The state of Ohio reached a new low when it approved the use of radioactive oil and gas-related waste “brine” on roads as a deicer and dust suppressant. This issue came to public attention during a state legislative hearing on a proposed bill that would make this practice easy to continue. In response, the Buckeye Environmental Network filed a public records request for an Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) report that tested several samples of AquaSalina, a product available to consumers in local hardware and home improvement stores across the state. This product is typically used on public roadways and on public and private driveways and sidewalks and in port-a johns. This waste is largely generated by the oil/gas industry.
Several samples were taken right off the shelf, one from a hardware store in Hartville, Ohio and another from a Lowe’s Home Center in Akron, OH. The state’s testing found alarming levels of radiation measured as radium 226 and 228 in the samples. In the Hartville store, the AquaSalina container had a combined radium concentration that was almost  500 times the U.S. EPA drinking water standard. The average radium concentration of the samples taken by the state was over 300 times the EPA standard. EPA drinking water standard for combined Radium-226 and Radium-228 is 5 picocuries per cubic liter (pCi/L).
Exposure to high levels of radium results in an increased risk of developing bone, liver and breast cancer. The EPA and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BIER) define radium as a known human carcinogen. There is no safe level of exposure to radiation. Any exposure increases the risk of developing cancer. Spreading this radioactive consumer product on roads and sidewalks will also impact the environment. A study by researchers at Penn State University found that the radium spread on roads is not retained by the road where it is applied, but rather it is absorbed into runoff, entering groundwater, lakes, and streams where it can contaminate the water, impacting soil, crops, other vegetables, wildlife, livestock, and pets. Radium spread this way will remain in the environment for decades. The half-life of radium is 1,600 years.
In a letter to Governor John Kasich of Ohio, 24 local community, environmental and public health organizations expressed outrage that the state is allowing companies to profit by mixing oil/gas waste into a product that is sold to the public and that the state legislature is considering legislation that would further this practice. The letter asked the governor to “…halt this unnecessary and potentially deadly practice of spreading oil and gas waste, so-called ‘brine,’ on Ohio roads and stop the marketing of radioactive waste to an unsuspecting public.” CHEJ’s science staff reviewed the state’s testing results and provided a scientific analysis that is attached to the letter to the governor. The governor has yet to respond.
There is no reason to allow this practice to continue. The risks to public health and the environment are clear and easily avoidable. The state of Ohio would be derelict in its duty to protect public health and the environment if it allows this practice to continue. While several states (IL, MI, PA, and WV) also allow the spreading of fracking waste in deicer mixtures, the state of PA was recently changed its opinion and no longer allows this practice. We’ll see what Ohio decides

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

Air near Bridgeton Landfill may have harmed people’s health

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has determined that past exposure to sulfur-based compounds in the air near the Bridgeton landfill may have harmed the health of area residents and workers.  Read more.


Floodwaters Swamp Toxic Coal Ash Dump in NC

Toxic coal ash from Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton power plant in Wilmington,NC flowed into the Cape Fear River this past week-end when rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence overwhelmed the storage basin. Read more …


Community by Community: Women proved environmental trailblazers at Love Canal and beyond

When it comes to environmental reform, the conversation starts around the kitchen table. And while they don’t get the credit or recognition they deserve, women over the years heavily influenced environmental reform.
Dr. Terrianne K. Schulte narrowed it down to four reformers across the 20th century to represent the work done. She spoke Friday during a talk titled, “We Have to Create a National Debate, Community by Community: Women Trailblazers in Environmental Reform.” She spoke of Helen Dortch Longstreet, Rachel Carson, Betty Klaric and Lois Gibbs.
The talk was sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution as part of the Orleans County Heritage Festival.
“They often time don’t get the credit — what’s really ironic about the individuals I chose, three out of the four were closely aligned with media,” Schulte said. “So they did receive attention where they were, but when you look across the broad scope of the 20th century, you don’t really see the work a lot of women did.”
Women did most of their work as part of organizations. In this area especially, Housewives to End Pollution was very effective to clean up Lake Erie when it was labeled “dead” after there was a 1,400 mile dead zone due to the eutrophication and detergent phosphates.
The League of Women Voters were also extremely important, not only locally, but nationally, in terms of conservation and environmentalism. Women Strike for Peace during the Kennedy era was important in protesting the nuclear tests. Read more.

Backyard Talk Water News

Is the Drinking Water Safe at Your Child’s School?

I wonder how many parents, in the excitement of this new school year, were stunned to read this week that there is a good chance that their children’s school drinking water is tainted with lead?
More concerning to me is how many more parents still have no idea whether there is lead in their kids’ school water fountain. Children are more at risk from the danger of lead poisoning than adults and the damage lasts a lifetime. Yet the majority of schools nationally don’t test their water, or if they do, they don’t provide the information to parents.
Despite the danger, there is no national requirement for water in public schools to be tested. In April Scott Pruitt and other high ranking EPA staff told me that they are going back to basics. “Basics”  was defined as Superfund and getting lead out of water.  EPA created a new website just for lead and water, and hired Dr. Hughes to run the program within EPA.
This raise the question in my mind if they are really serious. If so, wouldn’t public schools be the first place to make a significant impact?  In the big splash headlines of their initiative EPA said, “EPA is committed to taking action to address this threat, and improve health outcomes for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens – our children.” Clearly they know what population is at highest risk so where’s the action? Children are the most vulnerable and it’s clear that even a small step toward testing and repairs would go a long way to protect children.  
Trump and EPA still have an opportunity to really make a difference by supporting the legislation that has been sitting on the senate floor for months with no movement. Republicans can champion this bill and show the country that EPA meant what they said and are moving to remove lead within the most vulnerable, this country’s children and future leaders.
There is a solution, the “Get the Lead Out of School Act (SB 1401) requires every school in the country to test drinking water for lead. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, (D-IL)  would require school administrators to share the results of the water testing with parents and the community. Unfortunately, the bill has been languishing on the Senate floor for months.
If the lead level is greater than the EPA’s 15 parts per billion standard, then the Get the Lead out of Schools Act also provides funding to solve the problem.
We take clean water for granted, at least until we don’t have it anymore.  We also expect that our children will be safe when we send them to school each day. I know I did. As a young parent 40 years ago, I sent my own children to school, never connecting it with their frequent rashes and assorted health issues, or the high rate of birth defects and other health problems in my neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, called Love Canal.
My own grandchildren go to school in Texas where a study last year by Environment Texas, showed that 65 percent of the schools there that tested their water for lead found levels that exceeded recommendations b the American Academy of Pediatrics. Still, the state government has refused to pass legislation requiring schools to test drinking water.
It’s not that unusual. Most states don’t require schools to check for lead-tainted drinking water, which makes the national legislation that much more critical if we are serious about protecting our kids.

Homepage Superfund News

EPA Assessing Toxic Threats in Hurricane’s Path

The EPA assessing the vulnerability of at least 40 toxic waste sites that could be damaged by Hurricane Florence in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. But that review does not include dozens of inland Superfund sites that potentially could be flooded by the storm’s fluctuating path. Read more.

News Archive

CHEJ Small Grants Program

Did you know that CHEJ has a Small Grants Program that prioritizes grassroots groups working on environmental health, and justice issues? The grants program supports projects that help groups move towards their goals by building leadership, increasing capacity and/or training and education.
The program is designed to especially reach people from low wealth communities and communities of color who are impacted by environmental harms.
A small grant makes a big difference in grassroots communities fighting for their lives. CHEJ is proud to be able to offer these resources to local neighborhood groups who otherwise would have a more difficult time moving a solution to the problem forward. We have seen group do amazing things with a little funding.  Citizens have rented buses to take community members on toxic tours of their area.  Groups have rented billboards to help get their message across.  What a great “in your face” approach.  Groups have held Human Rights Tribunals that went on to be presented at the National Human Rights Tribunal held this last May.
“CHEJ’s support to Black Belt Citizens (BBC) was very timely and made a HUGE impact from day one. The CHEJ grant was BBC’s first grant (in 2016) to support their environmental justice work. The grant allowed BBC to strengthen the work they were doing. In 2017, the CHEJ grant increased community programming and created our Community Health Network. BBC is able to fight today and tomorrow because of groups like CHEJ.”  Adam Johnson, Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Environmental Justice. Sept. 2018
Grant activities can include board development, membership outreach, and fundraising efforts. Project activities could also include meetings to develop an organizing/strategic plan, training leaders to go door-to-door, events, educational activities which are directly connected to your strategic plan. No strategic plan, give us a call, we can help. Think outside of the box, we love to see projects that are creative, effective and strategic.
CHEJ focuses on community-based organizations aiming to have local, state and regional impact as the core of the health and environmental justice movement. CHEJ believes that no social change on behalf of the exploited comes without strong community-based organizations.
CHEJ believes that improving the environmental health outcomes for grassroots communities and laying the groundwork to establish environmental health organizing must be a priority.  Jackie Young from Texas Health and Environment Alliance an awardee has this to say about our program, “CHEJ Small Grants program has helped our group continue our critical role as watch dogs for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund Site. There is so much behind the scenes work that goes into successfully work with the Superfund process and CHEJ understands this and financially supports this important work.” Sept. 2018
To this end, we look for proposals with projects that train and assist local people to work toward attaining justice, to become empowered to protect their communities from environmental threats and build strong locally controlled organizations. For example:
Skill-building sessions that cover such topics as developing organizational structure, building broad based coalitions, raising money, working with the media, strategic planning, motivating volunteers. Events that facilitate networking and coalition building. Workshops to educate communities about specific local polluting facilities or proposed facilities and develop strategies for reducing or eliminating the environmental threat.
With the CHEJ Small Grants program, we have been given the tools and knowledge to successfully organize, strategize, and plan events. We have the capability to present our issues to local and state government officials. This would not have happened without this Small Grants program. Our community is grateful we will be able to use what we have learned in so many ways. Thank you CHEJ!!!
We unfortunately cannot support proposals from
Organizations with an annual budget over $1 Million, Individuals, National organizations,
Organizations outside of the United States, National campaigns, except local/statewide group-specific efforts that may fit in to such a campaign, Legal work or lobbying

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

Leaders meet with EPA about Superfund Sites

September 11, 2018
Contact: Lois Gibbs, Peoples Action/Center for Health, Environment & Justice
Phone: 703-627-9483
“Mother of Superfund,” Lois Gibbs and Local Leaders
Deliver Strong Messages to Congress to Reinstate “Polluter Pay” Fee
Leaders meet with EPA high ranking staff about Superfund Sites
What: Members of grassroots groups are meeting with Congressional representatives asking them to be a Superhero and support the Polluter Pays Fees. This is part of a nationwide action joining other local groups across the country.
Leaders will also be meeting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at 2:00 on September 12th. This meeting is part of an on-going commitment by EPA to meet with leaders on a quarterly basis organized by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.
Who: Lois Gibbs, Peoples Action/Center for Health, Environment & Justice
Charles Powell, PANIC, Birmingham, Alabama – 35th Street Site
Jackie Young, Texas Health & Environment Alliance, Houston, Texas — San Jacinto Waste Pits
Dawn Chapman, Karen Nickel, Just Moms STL, St. Louis, Missouri –West Lake/Bridgeton Site
Linda Robles, EJ Task Force, Tucson, AZ — TARP Superfund site
Larry Davis, People Against Hazardous Waste Landfills, East Chicago, Indiana – East Chicago Superfund Site
When: September 12th at 2:00 PM –
Where: USEPA Headquarter, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC
Details: Groups say that reinstating the “Polluter Pays” fee would stabilize the Superfund Program and accelerate the cleanup of contaminated sites. Center for Health, Environment & Justice claims that a fundamental problem with the Superfund program are due to inadequate funding. Funding for Orphan sites, testing, cleanup, legal action and technical assistance grants for communities at superfund sites.
This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Love Canal events, which was the impetus of establishing the Superfund Program.

Backyard Talk Homepage Superfund News

Toxic, yet non-hazardous?

Coal is dirty. That is an unsurprising fact of coal, every process involving coal is dirty. Mining coal is extremely energy intensive and can destroy whole ecosystems, burning coal produces millions of tons of carbon dioxide, but perhaps the dirtiest part of coal is disposing of coal ash.
The United States burns over 800 million tons of coal each year to produce 30% of its energy. This burning of coal produces 110 million tons of coal ash annually according to the EPA. Coal is really just ancient carbonized plants, burning it produces millions of tons of carbon dioxide annually and disrupts the Earth’s carbon cycle. Once the coal is burnt and has released all of its possible potential energy, the remanence is ash, just like you would find in your fireplace, only this ash has a deadly secret. It contains lead, arsenic, mercury, chlorine, chromium, barium, and selenium. Despite its toxic nature, coal ash is considered “non-hazardous waste”. That’s right, waste that contains toxic levels of lead and arsenic can be considered non-hazardous.
So, what does the United States do with this “non-hazardous”, yet very toxic coal ash? The ash is typically put into ditches and filling it with water, but these coal ash ponds are more than often unlined, so the toxic coal ash comes in direct contact with the surrounding environment. The coal ash in unlined ponds can easily leach into the ground and contaminate nearby water sources with its deadly toxins. Coal Ash is the second largest industrial waste stream and it only saw the first set of regulations in 2015. Only after there have been over 200 known coal ash spills and contamination events. The new regulation requires that all coal ash ponds must be lined and companies must regularly inspect their ponds, which is a step in the right direction, but the simple fact is that this waste is toxic and needs to be treated as such.
People living within one mile of an unlined coal ash pond have a 2,000 times greater risk of having cancer than what is deemed safe by the EPA. Communities near unlined coal ash ponds are drinking water poisoned by lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals. A coal ash pond in Tennessee failed in 2008 and flooded 3,000 acres and poisoned communities. Not regulating coal ash as the toxic and hazardous waste that it is doesn’t help families or communities, it only aids big coal industries. America, we deserve better, we deserve our government to put families and communities before big polluting corporations.