Backyard Talk News Archive Superfund News

Love Canal a Model for Creating Change

Forty years ago, on October 4th, a beautiful child at the age of seven was taken from his family. Why? Because he played in his own backyard. Unknown to anybody, this backyard was contaminated with chemicals. Jon Allen was a special little boy who at the age of seven was always kind and considerate to everyone. Two weeks before he died his mother made cupcakes for him to take to school to celebrate his seventh birthday. He was concerned because he knew one of his classmates had some dietary restrictions and would not be able to eat a cupcake. He was only satisfied when his mother told him that his classmate had a treat for the day. This was Jon, always concerned about others, not himself. I keep thinking that the world lost this compassionate little boy because of corporate greed and government’s failure to protect American families.
Many people hear the words “Love Canal” and they think about toxic chemicals in the environment. Some people know the story while others just identify with the name which has become synonymous with toxic chemicals and harmful health effects on people. Most people, even if they know the detailed story behind the words, Love Canal, don’t understand the real cultural, scientific, public policy and practice that this event shaped.
In honor of little Jon Allen and the 40th anniversary of Love Canal, I want to highlight the extraordinary impact this local fight made on American history, regulations and practice.
First and foremost, the events demonstrated the incredible power of our country’s democracy. An average working class and working poor community, united together, spoke truth to power, demanding that our government which was elected and established to protect the people, do just that. Holding elected representatives accountable resulted in the President of the United States to traveling to Love Canal providing the resources needed to end the suffering of 800 families. Neither the lawyers, scientists, nor existing laws and regulations provided the pathway to victory. They were just tools within the community’s toolbox. It was the people, organized and willing to risk everything that created the power for change.
Secondly, the Love Canal crisis opened new scientific explorations around public health effects and environmental chemical exposures. Prior to the events at Love Canal, most scientific research around chemical releases and impacts were done on the natural environment, wildlife and marine life. Rachel Carson’s work on how pesticides were destroying birds and other species is a critical example. There were also studies on lead exposures in the air and in paint as well as worker exposure, but these worker studies focused on 160 pound male employees exposed 40 hours a week. The scientific studies done by Dr. Beverly Paigen at Love Canal, connecting the 56% birth defect rate in the community to exposure of chemicals in homes and yards was groundbreaking new science. Later Paigen and Dr. Lynn Goldman studied growth and maturation of children, concluding that children’s growth was affected by living in this toxic community.
Since Love Canal there have been studies on endocrine disrupting chemicals, consumer products resulting in product bans, chemicals such as dioxins and PCBs, multiple chemical exposures, and much more. Prior to the studies at Love Canal, the exploration of science related to public health was slow and focused on a narrowly limited population and often on a single chemical.
Third, Love Canal open the eyes of the world to how dangerous our past practices and policies around disposal and releases of chemicals are to public health, especially in low wealth and communities of color. Soon after the events at Love Canal, researchers looked to see where other “like” toxic sites might be across the nation. Their studies demonstrated that the majority of toxic releases and disposal sites are located in low income and communities of color. This lead to the establishment of the Environmental Justice Movement and President Clinton’s Executive order of February 1994. This was the first major federal action on environmental justice in the United States and required that all federal agencies “make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”
Last but not least, Love Canal was the impetus for a new federal program, called Superfund. This program provides resources to assess and cleanup toxic sites across the country making the responsible corporation pay the cleanup costs. What’s important about this program is that it allows EPA to recover costs from any and every company whose waste is found in the site. This clause made companies very nervous and created the incentive for some companies to find substitutes for the toxic chemicals they use, to recycle their wastes, and more. Another incentive that helped convinced corporations to change their nasty practices was the Right-to-Know amendment to the Superfund law in 1986 that allows anyone to search on-line and find out what a local corporation is releasing into the air.
Love Canal opened a pandora’s box of scientific inquiries, legal strategies, changes in corporate polluter’s practices, public health and environmental policies. However, none of those changes would have happened, if it was not for average American families standing up, not backing down, speaking truth to the powerful and forcing change. Love Canal families were not different than other communities. Most of families had someone working in the chemical industry that we were fighting, 240 families were poor, living in subsidized housing and no one would have thought they would ever carry a sign, march on city hall or be politically active. But they were.
This is a time in our country’s history, we need everyone to do what the Love Canal families did and stand up and speak out. Everything from health care to our planet’s health is at stake. No single person can change the future of America. We need everyone to stand tall and take risks and like the Love Canal events, we can change the direction, policy and practices of our great country. Democracy really works but only if you participate.


U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy

The 1,656-page assessment report lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds. Read more.

Backyard Talk

Solar in the US is Booming!

By: Katie O’Brien
Solar in the United States is booming! According to the most recent Solar Market Insight Report by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there are more than 58 Gigawatts (GW) of solar currently installed in the US. That’s enough to power over 11 million American homes! The amount of solar installed in the US generates enough power to offset more than 74 million metric tons of CO2 emissions, equivalent to taking 15.8 million vehicles off the road or planting 1.9 billion trees.
Solar is expected to keep growing in coming years…total installed capacity is expected to double by 2023. One of the fastest growing segments in the solar industry is community solar. Community solar is a large solar project shared by multiple community subscribers. These subscribers receive credits on their electricity bill for their portion of the power produced. This allows homeowners, renters, businesses and others who may not have the means or may not have the appropriate roof positioning/tree cover for their own systems. Community solar is also helping assist residents in low income communities. The in Fort Collins, CO is the largest low-income community solar project in the US. The 1.95 megawatt (MW) solar farm will directly benefit low income households, affordable housing providers and non profit organizations located in the utility’s service territory. The project is part of a Colorado state initiative to show the benefits of low income solar for utilities for their highest need customers.  Community solar allows more people to share in the economic and environmental benefits of solar.
Solar is not just good for the environment, it’s great for the economy, especially compared to other forms of electricity generation. More than 250,000 Americans are employed in the US solar industry. In fact, solar employees more people than the gas, coal and oil industries combined. With installations expected to boom, more employees will be needed to assist in installation. The solar industry has also accounted for over $159.5 billion in investment into the economy, with over $17 billion alone in 2017. The cost of solar has also been recently found to be the same or cheaper than other forms of generation. With such low costs, high jobs numbers, and investment, it’s hard to understand why there are still so many solar opposers out there.
The solar industry is also refereed to as the “solar coaster”. With most regulation being done at the state level, the benefits of solar can vary immensely from state to state depending on guidelines set by regulators. Florida is known as the sunshine and ranks as one of the top states in the country for solar potential, yet they fall 12th in total installed capacity. This is mostly due to poor solar policy, driven in part by the lobbying efforts of greedy, monopolistic utilities. With solar policy now changing in the state, Florida is expected to rank 2nd in the country growth over the next 5 years, with over 5.1 MW forecasted to be installed. Florida will truly be the sunshine state in so many ways!
Continued growth in solar will help replace other forms of generation that can be not only costly, but their emissions deadly. To learn more about the solar industry visit


The Interior Department Is Sidelining Environmental Justice

…In early September, DOI quietly rescinded two policy memos that provided specific guidance on how to implement principles of environmental justice. The first memo, issued in 1995, instructed bureaus to look at impacts of proposed projects and, where necessary, to evaluate the environmental consequences on vulnerable communities or human health. The second memo, drafted two years later, addressed Interior’s responsibility to protect Native American trust resources and sacred sites on federal lands. In addition to rescinding the memos, the department has delayed publication of a manual on how to conduct environmental justice analyses and has asked BLM employees to review environmental justice policy in the context of an “energy dominance” agenda…” <read  more >.

Homepage Superfund News

Trump’s Region 4 EPA Administrator Indicted on Alabama Ethics Charges

The USEPA Region 4 Administrator, a 2017 Trump appointee, has been indicted by a Jefferson County, Alabama, grand jury for ethics violations, along with his former business partner, former Alabama Environmental Management Commissioner Scott Phillips. <Read more…>

Backyard Talk

Periodic Mass Shootings Aren’t The Only Source Of Lead In Schools

By: Sharon Franklin
In a November 5, 2018 Katie LaGrone and Matthew Apthorp of ABC Action News Tampa Florida, reported that “most Florida school districts don’t test for lead on campus”.  They reported that Florida law requires school officials to protect children’s health and safety, but the law does not require schools to sample for lead in drinking water.  Throughout the United States, there are only six states that require school systems to test for lead in drinking water.  They are California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York.  Across the country and around the state of Florida, lead-contaminated drinking water has put schools in the spotlight and under the microscope.  In Florida’s Hillsborough County, 54 schools have tested above 15 parts per billion, the federal standard for action.   Water fountains at the school recently tested 50.5 parts per billion (ppb) and 73.7 (ppb), nearly four and five times above that federal standard. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead levels should not exceed one part per billion (1/ppb).
The lack of consistent lead testing at schools in Florida is a statewide failure spelled out in a 2017 Environment Florida Report, where the sunshine state got an “F” for failing to keep school water from becoming laced with lead.  Jennifer Rubiello, Executive Director of Environment Florida, a state advocacy group, said “lead testing is like Russian roulette”.
Believe it or not, there is no federal requirement for schools to test for lead in their water.  Only 43% of school districts in the United States are purported to say that they have tested their water for lead in 2016 or 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office, and 37 percent of those districts found at least some of the toxic metal.
In a report by the USPIRG Education Fund Environment America Research & Policy Center released in February 2017, Get the Lead Out Ensuring Safe Drinking Water for Our Children at School by John Rumpler and Christina Schlegel, they stated the health threat of lead in schools water deserves immediate attention from state and local policymakers.  They give two main reasons for this conclusion, (1) Lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children, impairing how they learn, grow, and behave.  (2)  Current regulations are too weak to protect children from lead-laden water at school.
Where are we now on this issue? Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has repeatedly delayed revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which had earlier stated that eliminating lead from plumbing materials is the only way to guarantee nobody will drink lead-tainted water.  .  However, while we wait, our children are being still being exposed to another lethal threat.   For additional information, see CHEJ resources fact sheets on water:


Seven New Governors May Be The Biggest Election Boon For Climate And Clean Energy

Seven new governors have two things in common: they all pledged to move their states to 100 percent clean energy, and they all won.
Those seven victories may prove the biggest benefit to advanced energy technologies, according to analysts at Advanced Energy Economy, an advocacy group founded by California billionaire activist Tom Steyer. Read More.

Homepage News Archive Water News

Virginia Governor Proposes New Steps to Address Sea Level Rise

“I will propose legislation to dedicate the revenue generated by our carbon pollution reduction rule to adaptive infrastructure,” Governor Northam said at a speech in Williamsburg last week. “Instead of sending tens of millions of dollars back to the companies creating the pollution, we should set those funds aside, take the chance to begin tackling these problems in a meaningful way.”
Executive Order 24, released today, lays out a series of actions the Commonwealth will undertake to limit the impact of flooding, extreme weather events, and also wildfires. This includes improving resilience of state-owned buildings by taking sea level rise projections into account, as well as creating a long-overdue “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan” that will detail specific actions to adapt and protect Virginia’s coastal regions.
A big win for Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN ) who first proposed this idea in 2014 and has been advocating for it nonstop ever since. Read more.

Homepage Superfund News

St. Louis, MO Landfill Busts into Flames Again!

Flames shot to the surface from the burning fire below from the Bridgeton Superfund site landfill. It was 5:30 in the evening, when people were sitting down to dinner and sirens could be heard throughout the community. Just Moms STL have been fighting to get this site cleaned up and local families relocated for years. The flames shooting into the air was terrifying to local families. What’s in the smoke? Whats in the odors? Recently the Missouri Depart. Of Health released a study that clearly demonstrated that families in the community were exposed to unhealthy levels of chemicals due to the releases from the underground fire. A meeting is planned to discuss their findings on Nov. 15th. Now this.
“We’ve been fighting this issue, now, for six years. We have people who live just a half-mile from this site, right over the hill,” said Nickel. “I don’t want to take any chances. When we got here, the wind was blowing in different directions and we didn’t smell anything,” Nickel said. ” Now it seems the wind is kind of moving around a little bit and we’re getting strong odors.”
“After hitting it, with a lot of water and foam, we were not able to extinguish it. It appears at the time, from my belief, it was a gas-fed fire from the gases generated from the landfill underneath,” Fire departments assistant Chief LaVancy. It took almost over two hours to put the fire out. Black toxic smoke went throughout the community during that time.
The community is still pushing EPA to relocate them. The event alarmed nearby residents, who have been concerned about the underground smoldering fire at the Bridgeton Landfill for several years. The landfill is also adjacent to the West Lake Landfill, a Superfund site that contains World War II-era radioactive waste. To view video from community leaders monitoring the fire click here.

Homepage Water News

Baltimore Becomes First Major City to Ban Water Privatization

Baltimore, Maryland voters made history today by voting in favor of passing ballot question E, a city charter amendment that bans privatization of the city’s water and sewer systems. The Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to ban water privatization earlier this year. As of 11:15 p.m., Baltimore voters voted 77% in favor of this amendment with 91 percent of precincts reporting. This confirms Baltimore is now the first major city in the country to amend its charter to prohibit the sale and lease of the city’s water and sewer system.
“With water corporations circling around Baltimore over the past several years, ramped up privatization ploys last Spring, and a federal administration hellbent on propping up corporate power over peoples’ rights, it is momentous that the city has voted to keep its water public,” said Rianna Eckel, Maryland Organizer, Food & Water Watch.
“This vote makes it clear that grassroots organizing and people power have taken precedence over deep-pocketed corporate fat cats in Baltimore. Voters have chosen to resist pressure to sell and outsource one of the most vital and precious resources we have and have vowed to keep control, accountability, and transparency of our water.
Now that privatization is out of the picture, Baltimoreans can work with our elected officials to improve the accountability and affordability of our water system and ensure every person in our city has access to safe water at a price they can afford to pay. Food & Water Watch looks forward to working with other cities to protect their water systems from corporate control and using Baltimore as a model for water justice for the nation.”