Homepage Superfund News

Virginia, EPA to recoup nearly $64 million for Portsmouth Superfund site

After years of wrangling over who should pay to clean up a Superfund site on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, a proposed settlement would reimburse Virginia and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nearly $64 million. Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring calls the consent decree a “significant agreement that will ensure accountability and sustained environmental improvements along an important Hampton Roads waterway.”
The decree must still undergo a 30-day public comment period, however, and be approved by the court. Read more.


Celebrating Janet Marsh Zeller International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day adopted in 1975 by the United Nations. Today, CHEJ is honoring and celebrating an extraordinary women Janet Marsh Zeller who changed our world and made the lives of so many safer, healthier and joyful.

“One person speaking alone may not be heard, but many people speaking with one voice cannot be ignored.“- Janet Marsh

In 1984, when the Department of Energy announced that Ashe County, NC, was being considered as the site of a high-level nuclear waste dump, Janet Marsh organized her friends and neighbors, holding the first meetings at the Holy Trinity Church of what would become the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. At the time, she was raising young children and farming in Glendale Springs, and shared concerns about the Federal Government’s plans with other parents, farmers, teachers and merchants in the area. A study group was formed, and the example that has served as the model for BREDL and its chapters was born. Janet served as BREDL’s Executive Director for over two decades, 1986 until 2012. From July 2012 until her death, Janet acted as strategic adviser to the BREDL Board Executive Committee.
In her early adult life, Janet was a successful teacher and a rising star in the educational establishment of North Carolina. Blinded by a congenital disorder in her twenties, Janet’s career was cut short. Nevertheless, she founded the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League to fight a national nuclear waste dump near her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The community group was successful in stopping the dump, and the fight brought together the founding members of BREDL. The principal organizers, recognizing an ongoing need, stayed together to form a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The community organizing strategies, vision, and tactics which helped win BREDL’s first victory guide us today. Today BREDL is a league of more than fifty community-based chapters serving the Southeast with the founding principles of earth stewardship, public health protection, environmental democracy and social justice.
A woman who shouldered much responsibility without fanfare, Janet poured herself into the organization she founded. Under Janet’s leadership, BREDL received numerous awards and accolades including the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund National Award for Environmental Activism in 1989, CHEJ National Award for Outstanding Work in 1993, the NC Governor’s Conservation Achievement Award for air quality protection in 1999, and the Bob Sheldon award in 2014, in honor of BREDL’s thirtieth anniversary.
In December 1988, the Winston-Salem Journal featured Janet in the paper’s Tarheel Sketch series. In the article, she stated “We think in the short term. We think of the quarterly ledger sheets or of the next sales profit – but not of the consequences of our actions.” Janet was also featured in an article in The Independent from the December 19, 1986-January 15, 1987 edition. That article was titled “She has the vision to see we can live without fear”. Sandy Adair, the BREDL administrator at the time, had this to say about Janet: “Her mind is like a steel trap, as far as reading official documents and reading between the lines. She sees shortcomings and she sees places where they’ve tried to gloss over an issue. She can see the empty loopholes.” Most recently, an interview with Janet appeared in the May 2014 issue of All About Women, a lifestyle magazine that recognizes women in leadership in the high country of western North Carolina.
Janet was a role model to many activists and organizers in the environmental justice movement. She served on the board for the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, and achieved countless grassroots victories through her work with BREDL. Janet’s words and work will continue to inspire people with her belief that, “One person speaking alone may not be heard, but many people speaking with one voice cannot be ignored.”- Janet Marsh
The BREDL family, Center for Health, Environment & Justice and communities throughout the Southeast have lost a true friend and advocate.

Backyard Talk

A student’s reflection on the EPA, Superfund and CHEJ

Maddelene Karlsson. As a Community Health student, I had the opportunity to go as an intern with Center for Health Environment and Justice to the EPA headquarters for a meeting regarding the Superfund program on March 5. This meeting, although very emotional, was also intellectually rewarding and confirming in many ways. It is one thing to read and learn about public health, community health and the topics under those umbrellas in class, but a whole other thing to see it and experience it in reality.
At the meeting, there were six EPA representatives all with different roles, CHEJ founder, staff and interns, community members and a few organizational environmental health advocacy individuals, each one with expertise on specific topics. The goal was to raise the concerns in the communities affected by superfund sites, general superfund issues and to put pressure on the EPA to act faster and more responsible. The community members shared their personal stories and experiences to give everyone an insight of what it is like to live near or on a superfund site, to see their own and their loved ones’ health spiraling downwards without the capacity to do anything about it. One community member expressed the she “doesn’t care about her own health concerns any longer, she’ll deal with it and all that matters is that her children and next generations at least get the chance to grow up healthy.” Another community member said that he “was the only one of his nine siblings still alive, and that after reaching the age of 60, which no one else of his entire family ever did, he is now worried about what health issues he might face” after growing up and living in a highly polluted town all his life. These stories were heartbreaking to me, and what might have been even more heartbreaking was the straight, expressionless faces of some of the EPA representatives. They were even caught off guard by another community member stating that no one of them would ever accept living in any of those conditions or be treated that way by top level leaders and officials, so why do they let other people go through that? Ironically, the EPA clearly states on their website that their core mission is the “protection of human health and the environment” and that they “are committed to providing clean air, water and land for all Americans.” To me it sounds like a mission that is too hard for them to live up to, or maybe it is only for a very few selected, as I observed faces expressed with frustration and distrust, and gloomy eyes filled with hopelessness.
In school, I have learned about the importance of the building blocks of public health for the establishment and management of healthy communities: assessment, policy development and assurance. It sounds like a pretty straight forward model, but in reality, it’s not. Especially when it comes to environmental health, it seems like it sometimes becomes a question of whether it is a human right or privilege to be part of healthy communities. Should it really be this way? In my opinion, no. I have come to the realization that we, the general population are sometimes naïve, we like to think that certain agencies and parts of the social system is there for us to keep us safe, represent us and to provide us with the tools needed for optimal health. Yesterday in that meeting, the EPA showed to me that this is not the way they work, and that the system is in fact very weak. The system is weak because it is full of loopholes and like serpents, they use these loopholes to bolt and dodge their responsibilities. Individuals at grassroots level on the other hand, have power. Lots of power. They are all one essential link each of an unbreakable chain, and what makes them stand out is their support and empowerment of one another and their commitment for battling the problems they face along the way together.

Homepage Superfund News

Community Leaders Travel to D.C. to Demand EPA Action at their Superfund Sites

Leaders from fence line communities met with EPA representatives Tuesday, March 5th at EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to push for action at their Superfund sites.
“We need action in our communities where people are sick and dying because of exposures to chemicals in the environment,” was the resounding cry for help from community leaders.
The group met with Steven D. Cook, Deputy Assistance Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM), Peter C. Wright, Assistant Administrator of OLEM, James E. Woolford with the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) and other EPA staff. The meeting was organized by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice as part of a commitment from EPA to meet quarterly with communities at risk from Superfund sites.
Relocation of families living among some of the most toxic chemicals was an overarching issue. How can communities trigger relocation as the policy is unclear? Leaders called for a committee or task force to find ways to clarify this section of the law.
Medical monitoring of victims at Superfund sites was another key issue that the law requires but the agency ignores. Testing only children up to six years of age is inadequate. Children live within many of these communities their entire lives. Fifteen-year-old adolescents need testing as well to determine their body burden from living in a poisoned community.
Technical Assistance Grants were also discussed as an overarching issue to simplify the program so that average lay people can complete the process and application rather than hiring a grant writer when families can barely afford food and housing due to their medical bills and economic status.
Contacts Community Leaders attended meeting.
Lois Gibbs, People’s Action/Center for Health, Environment & Justice
Charles Powell, PANIC, Birmingham, Alabama – 35th Street Superfund Site
Jackie Young, Texas Health & Environment Alliance, Houston, Texas – San Jacinto Waste Pits, Superfund Site
Olinka Green, Highland Hills Community Action Committee, Dallas, Texas – Lane Plating Works, Inc, Superfund Site
Akeeshea Daniels, East Chicago, Indiana – USS Lead Superfund Site
Brandon Richardson, Minden, West Virginia – Shafer Chemical Superfund Site


Wheeler on climate: ‘I don’t see it as the existential threat’

Fox news interview, Payne asked the newly minted EPA chief: “Do you see [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”][climate change] as the existential threat that within 12 years, if we don’t do anything, that’s it, we’ve crossed the Rubicon, kiss Earth goodbye?”
Wheeler responded: “No. You know, as far as the largest environmental issue facing the planet today, I would have to say water. The fact that a million people still die a year from lack of potable drinking water is a crisis.” Read More. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Homepage Superfund News

EPA Should Improve the Reliability of Data on National Priorities List Sites Affecting Indian Tribes

EPA’s National Priorities List sites are some of the most contaminated places in the country. They may pose unique challenges for Indian tribes. For example, toxic substances in 2 New York rivers pose a threat to one tribe’s health and its subsistence lifestyle, which includes fishing.

EPA has a policy to consult with tribes if its efforts to deal with these sites may affect them. In some cases, consultation is a legal mandate. However, we found the databases EPA uses to track sites and tribal consultations are sometimes inaccurate.

We made 4 recommendations, including that EPA improve its data and clarify its guidance on consultations.


Movement against proposed gas pipeline inspires Virginia Episcopalians’

Episcopalians in Virginia are joining a movement to block a proposed mid-Atlantic gas pipeline that they say will disrupt and pollute minority communities and increase American dependence on fossil fuels at a time when the church and others are pushing for greater reliance on renewable energy sources. Read more.

Homepage Water News

MN Preventing Lead Poisoning

It would cost more than $4 billion to get the lead out of Minnesota’s drinking water, but it could bring a 2-for-1 return on the investment.”As we see in many other areas of public health, preventing a health problem is more cost effective than waiting for a health problem to develop and then treating it,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. Read More.

Backyard Talk

Necessary Prevention: Toxic Pollution and Natural Disasters

By: Maia Lemman
Starting as thunderstorms that travel west across Sub Saharan Africa, these weather systems grow in size and magnitude as they move across the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. As the moisture evaporates it rises creating twisting air flows that develop into hurricanes. One such storm developed in the summer of 2017. Harvey was first labeled as a slow-moving tropical storm on August 17th as it made its way towards North America from the Gulf of Mexico. Two days later Harvey was downgraded, only to steadily regain strength until making landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on August 25th.
As Harvey approached, many Texas counties declared mandatory evacuations, while other towns sandbagged their houses in preparation for the influx of water. Hospitals set up diesel generators to keep them powered during the storm and extra staff members were brought in to manage the expected increase of individuals requiring medical attention. Despite these preparations people caught in the storm’s path were in severe danger. Texas was battered by a deluge of rain that dumped 27 trillion gallons of water in the span of 6 days. Catastrophic flooding, and wind speeds of 130 miles per hour destroyed homes, flooded roads, and claimed 88 lives. In total, NOAA estimates that Harvey incurred $125 billion in damages.
While the rescuers and city officials worked diligently to care for the citizens, chemical plants, oil refineries, and toxic waste sites had not sufficiently prepared for Harvey. Battered by the hurricane, numerous sites poured uncontrolled pollution into the air and water. Oil refineries with damaged equipment could no longer manage their emissions, flaring an estimated one million pounds of pollutants into the air.4 The level of toxic chemicals such as benzene and sulfur dioxide far exceeded the levels permitted by the EPA. When other toxic chemicals were taken into account, the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that close to 5 million pounds of chemical pollutants were poured into the environment. In Houston the level of volatile organic compounds was registered at 15,000 parts per billion. This is ten times higher than deemed safe by health officials.
The environmental damage was not limited to pollution from chemical plants and oil refineries. Texas is home to 53 superfund sites. These are sites which the federal government has deemed toxic and pays to cleanup. The EPA reported that 13 Superfund sites were flooded during Hurricane Harvey. To the dismay of those living near these sites, the EPA failed to assess the potential spread of the toxic pollutants from these sites in the days following the flooding.
The chemical plant that received the most attention was the Arkema plant in Crosby Texas. This chemical plant houses 19.5 tons of volatile chemicals that depend upon refrigeration to remain stable and prevent combustion. However, as Harvey knocked out electricity, and then Arkema’s backup generators, the plant lost power and burst into flames releasing a plume of toxic chemicals. While the EPA maintained the stance that there were no threats from the toxicity, local officials suggested a 1.5-mile evacuation radius around the plant. Two hundred people living within the radius to the plant were evacuated, and twenty-one individuals required medical attention.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, attention has been focused on the operations of these polluting industries. Dozens of civil suits were filed against Arkema, and additionally in August of 2018 the attorney general brought criminal charges against the chemical manufacturer and two of the leaders of Arkema.8 Besides the fight to determine who should be held responsible for these pollutants there has been a push to ensure that toxic industries take preventive measures against potential damage from future natural disasters. With hurricanes are occurring at larger magnitudes and battering the southeast U.S. where many of these polluting industries are located, it seems logical that they should develop comprehensive contingency plans, insure their machinery is operational and assess whether their site is within a flood plain. Furthermore, the EPA should be assisting in assessing damagers and enforcing emission controls after a storm. While people struggle to recover from the storm, they should not also be assaulted by plumes of toxic air pollution that will damage their health.