Communities Most Vulnerable to the Coronavirus

Although the elderly are the most in danger of infection from the virus, those that have developed preexisting conditions due to constant exposure to pollutants cannot be forgotten. Individuals in these communities are commonly low-income and/or minority populations and have to travel great distances in order to receive medical services. Former Army Surgeon General William C. Gorgas explained that it is in times of stress and danger that we need to be our most brave and unselfish to those that are most vulnerable. Read More.


CA’s Air Quality Regulations Make Farms More Productive

California has some of the strictest air quality standards in the country. These standards have come to the benefit of farmers when a decrease in ground ozone has resulted in an increase of $600 million in crop production a year. Read More.


Could Air Pollution Make the Effects of the Coronavirus Worse?

Health experts are concerned that pollution may exacerbate the health effects of the coronavirus. Air pollution is known to be linked to lung and heart damage. The coronavirus may have a more serious impact on city dwellers and those that are in closer to proximity to pollution. Read More. 


50th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, passed by the United States Congress in 1970. After 50 years of amendments, advances in research and technology, and administration changes, the UN Environment Programme takes a look at how the country’s air holds up today. Read More.


Trade Tariffs Could Make Fighting the Virus More Difficult

The Trump Administration’s trade policies with China might hinder the United States’ ability to receive medical supplies needed to assist in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Tariffs were imposed on imported products from China including protective gear for doctors and nurses, and monitoring equipment for patients. The administration has announced that it will temporarily reduce the tariffs placed on these products to help treat the virus. Read More.


Environmental Journalism: 30 Years of Reporting

Peter Dykstra, journalist for the Environmental Health News, pays tribute to the 30 years of reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Founded in 1990, the SEJ is comprised of over a thousand reporters from various news media across the United States and a number of countries across the world. Every year, the group hosts an annual conference to bring together some of the greatest minds in environmental journalism, research and activism, including CHEJ’s own Lois Gibbs. Even through the ups and downs of reporting, journalists continue to report on the pressing issues concerning the environment today. Read More. 

Backyard Talk

The Coronavirus Outbreak

This blog was recently published by Hesperian Health Guides.

Coronavirus is all over the news and people are looking for how-to, actionable information on surviving the pandemic. But limiting advice and actions to improving individual or community hygiene is only washing our hands of the problem. To successfully defeat the looming epidemic, we have to change a health system that places profit over health. We have to recognize and address the political, social and economic factors –the social determinants of health — that govern how health or illness moves through our communities. 

Most of what to do immediately about Coronavirus (or COVID-19) is already known: Wash your hands; don’t touch your face so often; stay home if you are sick. Clean surfaces often that are touched by multiple people. Since the virus is mostly transmitted by respiration, cough or sneeze into your elbow, wear a mask if you are sick or around sick people, or stay about 6 feet away from people you speak with if you think the virus is active in your area. (See our COVID-19 Fact Sheet for more details.)

While individual action is important, it will not stop an epidemic, only collective action will. We have to start acting like the connections among us are not routes to transmit disease, but the channels through which we can defeat it. There are many actions and policies we can demand to lower the possibility that COVID-19 becomes epidemic in the United States:

1) Guaranteed income for people affected by the virus.

Most of us live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to stay home from work without pay. Quarantines are difficult enough for people without making them worse by causing financial disaster.

The federal government has refused to require employers to pay sick leave, and even states that do — California requires only 3 days a year – would not cover the time necessary for your quarantine, much less if your quarantine is because someone else in your household is sick. And how would people with the lowest wages survive, those in service or production jobs who cannot telecommute (as our health advisors so blithely suggest), if their employers shut down?  If schools are closed to prevent disease from spreading, how will adults stay home with children and not lose their jobs or income?

In places like the Bay Area, where housing costs take the lion’s share of monthly expenses, it may also be necessary to declare mortgage holidays and a moratorium on evictions. 

2) Free access to testing and treatment.

The cost of health care already stops people from getting timely testing and treatment for health problems. With coronavirus, our health system is a prescription for an epidemic. 

The CDC bungled producing testing kits for COVID-19, and hospitals still have a shortage. People who have been tested are being charged thousands of dollars. When asked about treatment costs, HHS Secretary Azar refused to say treatment would be affordable: “We can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest.”

If the US continues on the health-care–for-profit path, it insures the epidemic will be more widespread and more severe. Free access to testing and treatment for coronavirus is essential, as it is for other health conditions. Demand access to care now and in November don’t vote for anyone who doesn’t support Medicare for All – they’re basically telling you that saving your life is too expensive. 

3) Prioritize reaching the most vulnerable communities

People of color and low-income communities have more exposure to disease and less access to health care facilities. We can’t perpetuate this injustice in our coronavirus response.

People already sick, especially those with breathing problems, have a higher chance of getting severely ill and dying from COVID-19. Environmental racism places factories and freeways disproportionately in poor communities of color, leading, for example, to 20% more asthma among African Americans. By prioritizing reaching communities marginalized by the medical system with necessary supplies, testing and treatment, we can slow the epidemic and begin to undo the deadly relationship of ill health, inequity and injustice. 

These are all achievable demands. To win them, we have to organize pressure on our local, state and national governments from our neighborhood organizations, unions, churches, professional groups, and within the political parties that are contending for our votes this election year. 

We can also organize locally to care for each other:

–Reorient your Neighborhood Watch or Earthquake Preparedness group to check up on your neighbors. Find out who is sick and who needs help.

–Expand the reach of Meals on Wheels and other such programs to feed those in quarantine.

–Volunteer and train others to be community health outreach workers to help answer questions and prepare your neighborhood for the coronavirus.

–Compensate “gig workers” who are the human backbone of food and supplies order and delivery apps for the time and disinfection supplies  they need to safely support people stuck at home in quarantine.

What really stands out in the face of an epidemic like coronavirus is our leaders’ antagonism to the concept of “the public good” — unless it’s profitable, it just shouldn’t exist. Our public health systems have been weakened by millions of dollars of budget cuts, an opposition to regulation of both pollution and greed, and the refusal to build or maintain common infrastructure. If we are going to survive coronavirus with a minimum of deaths, we need to replace our health-for-profit system with one that recognizes that health is a human right.


Juliette, Georgia Gets Answers on Water Contamination

Residents of Juliette, Georgia have received answers to what has been contaminating their drinking water. A coal ash pond at the Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer is contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a cancer causing heavy metal. The pond is partially connected to an aquifer that supplies some of the community’s drinking water.
Water testing revealed levels of hexavalent chromium in Juliette that is 500 times the health advisory limit in California and 150 times the limit in North Carolina. Georgia does not have limit and the EPA has not yet determined a guideline for the human toxicity limit for hexavalent chromium. Therefore, the contamination and poisoning of Georgia residents from this cancerous metal is currently considered legal. Read More.

Homepage Superfund News

Finally Cleaning Up Portland Harbor After Two Decades

20 years of waiting and finally The Portland Harbor will be cleaned up.  It’s highly contaminated with dozens of pollutants from more than a century of industrial use. Yesterday, EPA announced additional agreements with more than a dozen companies for cleanups of the river.
The companies that have signed agreements include NW Natural, Arkema Inc., Bayer Crop Science Inc., General Electric Company, Chevron U.S.A. Inc., Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals LLC, McCall Oil and Chemical Corporation, Phillips 66 Company, Shell Oil Company, Atlantic Richfield Company, BP Products North America Inc., Brix Maritime Co., Exxon Mobil Corporation, Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals LLC, Union Pacific Railroad Company and FMC Corporation,  PacifiCorp, Cargill, Inc., CBS Corporation and DIL Trust, Glacier Northwest, Inc. Read More.
portland harbor map


Will DuPont have to pay for PFAS cleanup?

DuPont, a large contributor of PFAS production and contamination may have found a loophole to avoid assuming primary liability for PFAS cleanup and damage compensation. Beginning in 2015, the New Jersey company initiated transactions to The Chemours Company, Corteva Inc, and a new DuPont that would transition the responsibility of cleanup. However, these smaller companies do not have the funds to support the tens of billions of dollars needed to cover all damages. Read More.