Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs for oil lobby group American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFRM), bragged about how successful the industry has been in pushing anti-protest legislation, as heard in leaked audio obtained by The Intercept. What kind of protests are we talking about? In this case, pipeline protests. And as more states are passing laws to criminalize these protests, this boasting is nothing to brush off. Read more.
Month: August 2019
The water samples drawn Aug. 8 at Crete-Monee Middle School found numerous school drinking fountains that tested well above the EPA action level, including one that was 90 times above the level on first draw and 30 times above the level after a 30-second flush, according to district-supplied data. Read more.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has signed an executive order to curb contamination from chemicals in firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and fast-food wrappers, his office announced Friday.
The state DNR will have to create a council to develop a PFAS action plan for the state and evaluate the risk PFAS pose to public health. The agency already has a PFAS technical advisory group that examines the chemicals’ impact on the state but it doesn’t have an appointed membership. Anyone can attend the group’s meetings.
Times Beach made national headlines in December 1982 when state and federal health officials declared the town uninhabitable because its unpaved roadways were polluted with dioxin, a toxic chemical. “Everything that was near and dear to the people in this community. All the houses and the city equipment. Everything that they didn’t take with them that was left in their homes is buried here,” said Marilyn Leistner, the last mayor of Times Beach. Read more.
The Ohio Environmental Council released a report Thursday, August 22 addressing Ohio’s children at the greatest risk to climate change. As wild fires rage on in the Amazon and carbon dioxide levels cause climate temperatures to rise, the OEC has voiced concern for asthma and allergy problems, water contamination, and dangerous algae blooms <Read More>.
A study released Tuesday, August 20, 2019 by the University of Chicago has linked proximity to air pollution to an increased rate of neuropsychiatric diseases. The study examines the worst polluted counties in both the United States and Denmark and associated data in those counties on cases of bipolar disorder and depression. Counties in the United States with the worst air pollution had a 27 percent increase in bipolar disorder and a 6 percent increase in depression compared to counties with the best air quality. A similar result was observed in polluted counties in Denmark.
Computational biologist and member the University of Chicago research team, Atif Khan, explains, “Our study in the United States and Denmark show that living in polluted areas, especially early in life, is predictive of mental disorders.” <Read More>
The way scientists think about how chemicals cause their toxic effects is changing. Recent scientific research tells us that the traditional notion of how chemicals act is being replaced by a better understanding of the actual features of exposures to environmental chemicals. These features include the timing and vulnerability of exposures, exposures to mixtures, effects at low doses and genetic alterations called epigenetics.
Traditional thinking tells us that how much of a chemical you are exposed to (the dose) determines the effect. This principle assumes that chemicals act by overwhelming the body’s defenses at high doses. We’re learning now that this principle is not always accurate and its place in evaluating risks needs to be reconsidered. What we now know is that some chemicals cause their adverse effects at low exposure levels that are not predicted by classic toxicology.
Recent research has shown that environmental chemicals like dioxin or bisphenol A can alter genetic make-up, dramatically in some cases. These changes are so powerful that they can alter the genetic material in eggs and sperm and pass along new traits in a single generation, essentially by-passing evolution.
It wasn’t too long ago that scientists believed that the DNA in our cells was set for life, that our genes would be passed on from one generation to the next, and that it would take generations to change our genetic makeup. That’s no longer the case.
This new field – called epigenetics – is perhaps the fastest growing field in toxicology and it’s changing the way we think about chemical exposures and the risks they pose. Epigenetics is the study of changes in DNA expression (the process of converting the instructions in DNA into a final product, such as blue eyes or brown hair) that are independent of the DNA sequence itself.
What researchers are learning is that the “packaging” of the DNA is just as important as a person’s genetic make-up in determining a person’s observable traits, such as blue eyes, or their susceptibility to diseases such as adult on-set diabetes, or to the development of lupus.
The environment is a critical factor in the control of these packaging processes. We may be born with our genes, but epigenetics changes occur because of environmental influences during development and throughout life. These influences include chemicals in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and they appear to contribute to the development of cancer and other diseases.
Epigenetics may explain certain scientific mysteries, such as why certain people develop diseases and others don’t, or why the person who smoked for 30 years never developed lung cancer. There is still much to learn, but an early lesson to take away from this emerging science is that we need to rethink our traditional ideas of how chemicals affect our health.
For more information see
Global Youth Climate Strike
This September, millions of people across the world will walk out of their jobs, classrooms and homes to join in the annual Global Youth Climate Strike. On Friday, September 20 and 27, participants in more than 150 countries will disrupt their daily routines to speak out against the coal, oil, and gas industry with a goal to demand an end to the use of fossil fuels. More information on how to organize a climate strike and strike event locations can be found on the Global Climate Strike website. <Read More>
A South Carolina elementary is reopening for the first day of school despite a smoldering, toxic fire in a 50-foot trash pile at a nearby recycling center.
About 25 neighbors have evacuated from the neighborhood.
The Environmental Protection Agency has found at least one hazardous substance in the area: Acrolein. People can be exposed to that toxin by inhaling it or through skin or eye contact, and it can attack the respiratory system and heart, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Read more.
by Kenia French, CHEJ Communications Intern
As a college student studying environmental science, I find myself constantly inundated with terrifying news about my future. The world’s collapsing if we don’t make sweeping change to the structures of our lives by 2030? Great. We’re posed to lose an obscene amount of Earth’s biodiversity in this century? Fun. The ice caps in Greenland are melting at unprecedented rates after July 2019 went on record as the hottest month ever recorded? Amazing.
It can be really hard to stay motivated in a field where every fight feels like an uphill battle. However, working at CHEJ this past summer opened my eyes to environmental justice, and with that an entirely new perspective on motivation, uphill battles and the impending end of modern society as we know it.
It’s not that the issues we confront at CHEJ are any easier for the soul to process. Charlie Powell and the people of Northern Birmingham have watched friends and family die and have faced every single roadblock imaginable advocating for the right to live in a community that wouldn’t poison them. The people of Minden, West Virginia have suffered for 30 years in a PCB-contaminated town, and only now is the government beginning to take action that may help their situation change.
Spending my summer working at CHEJ, I was struck everyday by how the work we were doing was having a real, tangible impact on people’s lives. Even more striking is that everything CHEJ has achieved and has helped others to achieve is through grassroots community action.
According to CHEJ, community action is the way: overall, the big institutions that govern our country like stability and not doing work. Even if emission standards exist that are meant to protect communities from toxic pollution and hazardous waste, it doesn’t at all mean that people are actually enforcing these standards. Community action, then, is the way forward in our democracy, a way to get your voice heard and get the law enforcers to pay attention to you and fix your situation in order to shut you up.
CHEJ’s community action philosophy is different from any other that I’ve ever come across, and is defined by two main principles. First, community action must run on a community based approach: in order to be successful, you have to go into a community and understand what their specific issues are and what they want to achieve through community action.
CHEJ’s approach to community action has nuance that I had never considered before. This nuance is that in order for community action to be successful, communities themselves have to be willing to do the legwork and fight for their rights. Lois Gibbs is a realist: she will offer her services to any community that needs help. However, if a community isn’t willing to do the work she knows is necessary to be successful, she’s honest and straightforward and doesn’t waste her time and resources trying to convince them to organize because there are others who would benefit more from her time.
This mindset, that especially when it comes to the environment, time is valuable and should not be wasted, is my biggest takeaway from the summer. It’s what makes CHEJ so effective, because if a bureaucracy is trying to waste Lois’s time, she won’t just sit down and take it, she’ll think of a creative, out of the box solution to get what she wants. More often than not, her solutions work: she’s helped countless communities across the United States to get out of toxic situations.
While Lois and CHEJ’s story is unique, the lessons I’ve learned here have given me a new understanding of how to make things happen in the environmental world. I’ve learned that community action is a powerful tool, but that it’s only going to work if the people involved genuinely want to do the work necessary to see success. If they don’t, don’t waste time trying to convince them of something: move onto a different solution.
I’ve found these lessons immensely comforting as we round the corner into our action deadline for the climate. Yes, it’s an uphill battle, and yes, we need to make revolutionary change to our lifestyles, and no it’s probably not something that can be achieved in a mere decade.
However, we also can’t be afraid to think outside of the box and think of new approaches to the environmental challenges we face, and we can’t be afraid to stray from a conventional approach to change. If people aren’t hearing us, maybe we shouldn’t just yell louder, but we should change the way the message is being delivered.