Homepage Water News

Barrels of dioxins found in Oregon lake reveal history of contamination

In August 2018, a dive group found barrels containing the two specific toxic chemicals required to make Agent Orange at the bottom of Wallowa Lake, Digital Journal reports. One of these chemicals is known to be contaminated with dioxins, which were used in Oregon forests as a herbicide until higher rates of miscarriages were reported in 1979. Residents were alarmed, not only because the lake is treasured by the community but also because it provides drinking water to the nearby town Joseph. However, Oregon DEQ still has not pulled these barrels out of the lake. <Read more>
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Wallowa Lake, 1 mile south of Joseph, Oregon
Wallowa Lake, 1 mile south of Joseph, Oregon

Homepage Superfund News

Elementary school to be constructed near hazardous waste site in North Carolina

A new elementary school in Moore County, North Carolina, is to be constructed between two Superfund sites threatened by high levels of air pollution, NC Policy Watch reports. According to the city, the site bears no heightened risk of contamination, but CHEJ science director Stephen Lester isn’t so sure. Stephen shares CHEJ’s findings that there is no scientifically proven “safe distance” from pollution sites, and he calls into question effectiveness of current school siting guidelines. He recommends that parents sending their kids to the new Aberdeen elementary school in the future be incredibly vigilent about changes in their children’s health.
The Moore County case is particularly relevant because the new Aberdeen elementary school would serve primarily low-income students and students of color. In many ways, constructing a new elementary school is a push toward progress, as existing Aberdeen elementary schools were built during the segregation era. However, the new elementary school’s future location could potentially mean disproportionately exposing students of color and low income students to environmental contamination. As Stephen says, children are at higher risk for health complications from pollution contamination, and no child should have to face health complications due to pollution. <Read more>
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Train station in Aberdeen, North Carolina
Train station in Aberdeen, North Carolina

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Why is so much of the US experiencing extreme flooding?

In 2019, the Midwest has experienced unprecedented flooding, BBC reports. The flooding is tied to the increased frequency of rainstorms: not only have they been stronger, but there’s less time for water levels to recede between each one. Floods can be especially damaging for farmers, who’s crops are increasingly threatened by rising waters. <Read more>
Industry Self-audit

Homepage News Archive Water News

Drinking water in the US isn’t as safe as we think

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drinking water from an American homeowner's tap
drinking water from an American homeowner’s tap

While drinking water in the United States is some of the safest in the world, that doesn’t mean that everyone should be drinking the water that comes out of their tap. Water scientist Joan Rose reports in the Great Lakes Echo that 43 states have toxic fluoride contamination in their water (PFAS), and many agricultural communities face arsenic and nitrate contamination from agricultural runoff.
Every single person on the planet needs to drink water in order to survive, and for many families, buying bottled water becomes an unfair financial burden. Under the Safe Water Drinking Act (SDWA), the EPA has been able to execute a water quality management program that keeps most of our tap water safe to drink. However, some communities are slipping through the cracks and many citizens are unwittingly drinking contaminated water. <Read more>[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

Is Drinking Water Safe in the United States?

by Summer-Solstice Thomas, CHEJ Science & Technology Intern 
In the small town of O’Brien, Texas, residents drank water that violated drinking water quality standards for months before one resident found out and altered his community. Facing financial stress, the city had switched from a treated reservoir to a groundwater source with violatingly high levels of nitrates to provide drinking water for its residents.
Nitrate pollution usually comes from fertilizers, as in agricultural towns like O’Brien, and can cause methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby” disease in infants. Nitrate levels in O’Brien schools were found to be 40% above EPA standards. Upon hearing the news, many residents switched to drinking bottled water or purchased individual water filters, but not all were financially able to.
O’Brien is just one example of residents suffering from public water quality violations, but they are not alone. In fact, millions of Americans consume unsafe public drinking water everyday.
Is US Drinking Water Safe? 
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US has “one of the safest public drinking water supplies in the world”. Recent reports, however, have challenged that statement. In March, EPA’s Administrator Andrew Wheeler assured that 92% of public water in the US meets EPA standards.
Given that 90% of Americans, or 300 million people, rely on drinking water from a public source, the 8% that doesn’t currently meet EPA standards indicates that over 26 million Americans consume unsafe water daily. Additionally, while the EPA sets legal limits for over 90 drinking water contaminants, ensuring that these limits are not breached is dependent on proper funding and oversight. Based on the 22% decrease between 2009 and 2014 in funding for public water distribution by state and local governments nationwide, it is possible that more than 8% of the nation’s water is unsafe.
Lead Violations
While the CDC has determined that there is no safe blood level of lead for children, the EPA lead rule determines action must be taken if 10% or more of taps sampled have a lead level of 15 ppb or greater. Recently, this rule has come under scrutiny as many companies find ways around the regulation, by selectively testing certain taps, “pre-flushing” or sampling slowly to reduce samples’ lead concentrations.
Additionally, in 2016, CNN found 5,300 US water systems, serving more than 18 million people, to be in violation of this rule. When the lead rule was first implemented by EPA in 1991, 10 million lead lines served public water nationwide. While this number has decreased to 6.1 million lead lines, there are still 15-22 million Americans served by lead lines, predominantly in the Midwest.

Bacterial Violations
Of the 10,000 public systems violating EPA drinking water standards in 2015, 72% of them were bacteria violations. Bacterial drinking water illness outbreaks have been rising since 2000, with 42 outbreaks between 2013-2014, causing over 1,000 cases of illness. Such violations often occur from contamination of water supplies by animal manure from agricultural operations or sewage, causing 16 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illness annually.
Disparate Impact
Violations of water quality are not experienced equally across the nation, and instead they disparately impact communities of color and low socioeconomic status. Research has determined that the prevalence of nitrates and pesticides in drinking water supplies in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural powerhouse, is significantly higher in Latinx and low-income communities. After the well-publicized water crisis in Flint, Michigan, children residing in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods were found to have greater elevation of blood lead levels when compared to their peers.

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

Minden, West Virginia Marches On After Superfund Designation

From the leaders of Minden’s movement for justice: 

Reflecting on the March for Minden

On Saturday, June 8th, over 150 Minden residents and allies marched through Minden into Oak Hill to bring awareness to the long-term impacts of PCB exposure. They took to the streets to memorialize the Minden residents who they believe lost their lives to PCBs, to support those who are currently suffering from PCB-related illnesses and to pay tribute to the activism that first brought attention to toxic dumping in Minden in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The march was a 30th anniversary historical reenactment of an event that took place in 1989, when Concerned Citizens for Fayette County organized a march to demand that the government provide clean up and relocation for Minden residents. Meeting a goal that was made by those same marchers decades ago, Minden was recently added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. The EPA’s National Priorities List is reserved for the most toxic sites in the United States. Placement on the list gives Minden more access to funds for testing, clean up, and potentially, for relocation.

The Minden Community Action Team has three major demands. First, members demand that those who wish to leave Minden receive government support for relocation. In addition, the group believes it is essential that past and present Minden residents should have access to specialized healthcare for those who have been exposed to PCB’s and other chemicals. The group also is demanding a thorough clean-up and decision making power for those who may choose to stay after the community is relocated.

According to marchers, the long, uphill route out of Minden that participants walked during the march symbolizes the uphill battle for justice and relocation in this small but strong community. Allies from all over West Virginia and six different surrounding states marched with Minden residents. Their energy and support strengthened the marchers resolve to keep walking and keep fighting. As Jean Evansmore, a community activist from Mt. Hope, stated about the marchers who travelled many hours to stand in solidarity with Minden, “People realize that this issue affects all of us because we’re all humans who want to put an end to suffering. “If it’s hurting you, I don’t care where you live…it’s hurting me.

Minden residents and allies spoke at the culmination of the march in Oak Hill about their motivation for making that long walk and getting involved in organizing for justice. Eddie “Percy” Fruit pushed a barrel up the length of the march in homage to Lucien Randall, who did the same 30 years ago. Thinking of these organizers decades ago, Percy reflected, “My thanks goes out to Lucian Randall, Larry Rose and John David, who started out a quest to make a wrong right. So many lives have been lost to cancer from PCBs. Thank you pioneers…the fight will continue.”

Sixteen year-old Marcayla King took to the stage and expressed her desire to see justice for Minden residents. “I’ve lived in Minden most of my life and have been told to stay away from the creeks and the soil,” she said, “Even with the death tolls rising, with family and neighbors getting sick, we’ve been told that it’s safe and there’s nothing to worry about. The only solution is to relocate so that people in Minden have an opportunity to have a better quality of life.” Marcayla then went on to explain how she and a group of high school students conducted tests for PCBs in Minden and determined that levels of the chemical were over 50 parts per million–far from safe for human exposure.

Kimberly Duncan spoke about the loss, grief and illness PCBs have inflicted on her body and the lives of family members. “I’ve lived in Minden since 1989, in a little white house, right next to the Shaffer site,” Kimberly said. “Our kids use to play in mines where they didn’t know the PCBs were dumped. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007. Because of the aggressive treatments of chemotherapy, I went from being an independent person to needing help with everything. I grieve for my lost loved ones and family and neighbors. My dad had skin cancer on his face. My son is getting checked for thyroid cancer. I have over five family members that have seizures.” Reflecting on the activists of the 80’s and 90’s, Kimberly noted, “The women who marched then were called hysterical housewives. But those women were right.”

Lois Gibbs, whose organizing in her community of Love Canal, site of the infamous environmental disaster, led to a national emergency declaration and eventually to the creation of EPA’s Superfund, also attended. Local environmental activist, Pamela Nixon whose work in her hometown of Institute, West Virginia, led to the creation of the Community Right to Know Act that was enacted in 1986 showed up in support as well.

While Minden residents and allies grieve for the lives that have been taken by PCBs, they continue to have faith in the power of community to serve as an instrument for hope, change, and justice. Remarking on Minden’s placement on the NPL list, Lois Gibbs said of the Minden Communit Action Team, “you might not have had a perfect victory, but you have power, and you are a force to be reckoned with.”

For further media inquiries about the March for Minden, contact Brandon Richardson at 304-640-6353

Homepage Superfund News

Are your kids playing on Toxic Waste?

Has your local park been constructed on top of a Superfund site? 
Across America, Superfund sites, some of the most contaminated areas in the country, have been converted into parks and field complexes used by our kids. CHEJ Science Director Stephen Lester is featured in a ABC7 Spotlight on America investigation by Joce Sterman addressing his concerns about the safety of these areas, due to their high levels of under treated toxic waste.
Stephen explained to Sterman that “‘If my kids were going to play on that field I’d want to have a certain comfort level in how much cleanup occurred there. And you have to start asking questions not only about the residual and what’s left but what are the barriers between that contamination and the kids playing soccer?'”
According to the investigation, at a Superfund site in Pennsylvania, most residents had never heard of the term and were not aware that their neighborhood parks were potentially dangerous.
The investigation created a map detailing areas across America where Superfund sites have been turned into parks and recreation centers. Read more


Internal emails reveal how the chemical lobby fights regulation

Jayne DePotter spent almost a decade making her Michigan jewelry studio a second home for young artists seeking direction, seniors looking to exercise their hands and minds and new immigrants in search of community. <Read more>.

Backyard Talk

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

It has been almost 40 years since the residents at Love Canal felt frustrated and angry that the newest scientific study found families had abnormal chromosome breakage, “a very rare observation in any population,” according to scientists. Not only does abnormal chromosome breakage indicate a higher risk of cancer, but also genetic damage in adults and children. However, the White House didn’t feel as though these anomalies were significant enough to warrant resident relocation.
That’s when residents decided to really step out of their comfort zone. They invited two EPA officials into their office building and closed the door. “You cannot leave until the White House evacuates us,” they told the officials.
Hundreds of people encircled the building (an abandoned home) and sat down: a non-violent action that received massive media attention. The media defined the action as the first domestic hostage taking, but the residents considered it to be detaining the EPA representatives to protect them from the angry crowd outside. Residents of Love Canal detained the EPA representatives for five hours before letting them go. An ultimatum was sent to the White House – “relocate residents by noon Wednesday or what we did here today will look like a Sesame Street picnic.
Precisely at noon on Wednesday the White House announced that everyone who wished to be moved could leave with federal government funding. Later the polluter Occidental Chemical reimbursed the government. No criminal charges were filed. One of the “hostages” sent a telegram saying, “I miss your oatmeal cookies, best wishes from your friendly hostage, Frank Napal.”
I am sharing this story to say sometimes you must do things outside of your comfort zone. No, I am not suggesting anyone ever detain federal officials. What I am saying is that all too often, leaders are not willing to do things that raise the bar and are risky. Even carrying signs in front of city hall or an EPA hearing is considered to be too risky for them. However, if you play by the rules, you are almost guaranteed to lose.
Why? Because the rules are defined by those in power to control everyday people. There is nothing, for example in a state or our country’s constitution, that says citizens can only speak for three minutes at a public hearing while their opponents generally get plenty of time, loosely disguised as explaining the project/plan.
Today, there is a big push by corporate power to make it a felony to protest even in a nonviolent, peaceful manner. In Texas, some legislature members are trying to push a measure that would subject those who trespass, damage or destroy a facility, or impair or interrupt operations to a third-degree felony including two to ten years in prison. Organizations found guilty of breaking the law would face a fine of up to $500,000 under another provision in the bill.
Finding creative ways around the “rules” is often the only way to make your voice heard, along with applying pressure to those you need to move to resolve the problem. But most of the time, that involves stepping out of your comfort zone. Here are some examples.

  • One strategy you can implement is to hold a news conference ½ hour before a public hearing at the same place (or sidewalk nearby). Explain to reporters your objections to the format, the solution/problem the hearing is about and provide the reporters with questions they can ask of elected representatives, the corporation that benefits and offer community people to provide the “human impact” side of the story. Reporters are better prepared when interviewing people with real, targeted questions.
  • In Georgia, in the black belt region, the community wanted to speak out against a proposed facility that threatened their air, water and land. However, every time someone did speak out in opposition, their car tires or personal property were vandalized. The message was clear: if you speak up, there will be retaliation. The solution to this problem is to stop speaking out as individuals; instead, speak as a group. At the next public hearing, 250 African American residents filled the auditorium. That alone frightened the corporation because they had never had so many local residents attend. Then, when the first speaker from the residents group went to the podium to speak, he broke into a church hymn. All 250 residents stood up and sang along with him. When the second person went to the podium, she sang a church hymn as well and everyone stood up and sang with her. The tables were turned as the local people began to take back their power and started feeling strong.

There are many ways to take back our democracy and have our voices heard, but simply writing letters, signing petitions, and playing by the rules is not enough. To make real, tangible change, you need to step out of your comfort zone and do something creative, together, and always non-violent.
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News Archive

Pennsylvania Families Win Settlement Against Fracking Operation

Almost 10 years ago, the Haney and Voyles families of Washington County, Pennsylvania, began suspecting that a nearby fracking operation was contaminating their community and threatening their health. Family members noticed their water smelled strange, and they suffered from frequent headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness and extreme fatigue to the point where Haney’s son was diagnosed with Arsenic poisoning. In 2012, the families sued Range Resources, and journalist Eliza Griswold documented their struggle in her 2019 Pulitzer Prize winning book “Amity and Prosperity”.
After seven years, the high profile fracking suit has ended in a settlement, information released to the public via an unintentional computer error. Range Resources will be required by law to pay the families $3 million dollars in damages. Read more