While the EPA continues to cut environmental regulations, the country’s most polluting industries are now turning their focus to state environmental regulatory agencies. Many companies have recently asked state regulators to relax or delay pollution monitoring requirements, claiming that Covid-19 has made them unable to comply with laws that protect the public from the health hazards of pollution. The majority of states do not publish any information about companies that say they are struggling to comply with environmental laws, meaning that most Americans that live near large polluting factories, refineries, and farms are unaware whether the pandemic has led to more pollution in their areas or not. Read More
Current legislation in Louisiana makes it a felony to trespass on the lands of oil and gas facilities, which are considered “critical infrastructure”. Louisiana is currently working to expand these laws to make these trespassing charges include those of flood control infrastructure and to stiffen the penalties of jail time from 3 to 15 years if the area is under an emergency order. This legislation criminalizes protests against large oil, gas, and levee infrastructure projects and have made it much more difficult for environmental justice organizations to protest against large and harmful infrastructure projects and sites. Read More
By: Kara Hoisington
In 2019, data of all police killings in the country compiled by Mapping Police Violence, black Americans were nearly three times more likely to die from police than white Americans. The recent murder of George Floyd finally sparked the flame for Congress to address this form of systematic racism police departments impose. Democratic lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation to address the excessive abuse of power used by police officers and make it easier to identify, track, and prosecute police misconduct.
Civil rights activists have been pushing this agenda for decades. If it took our country this long to wake up and see the light – how long will it take to address systematic racism in environmental policies?
On June 4th 2020, President Trump signed in an executive order allowing emergency authorities to circumvent environmental review of major projects. This could fast-track the approval of major highways, pipelines, oil and gas projects, and other polluting industries which disproportionately affect people of color. Erasing requirements in environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act, Trump’s order blocks such communities from fighting back against unwanted projects.
If police brutality doesn’t kill people of color, toxic pollution will. This executive order bars communities first amendment rights to speak up and say no! Here at the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice we serve to amplify your communities voice past the thick wall of pollution.
Written by Kara Hoisington, CHEJ Summer Intern.
What is Formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a dangerous chemical that affects the respiratory system, lungs, eyes, and skin. It is classified as a carcinogen, hazardous substance, and hazardous waste. According to the American Cancer Society, Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong smelling gas used in making building materials and many common household products. It is well known for its preservative and anti-bacterial properties. It is commonly used in building materials such as particle board, pressed wood, insulation, glues and adhesives and more. It is also found in medic2ines, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Formaldehyde is even used in some food products as a preservative.
Why is it dangerous?
Formaldehyde is a dangerous chemical and is a known human carcinogen. It has been linked to cancer in animal studies. One study in mice showed that “applying a 10% solution of formaldehyde to the skin was linked to quicker development of cancers caused by another chemical”. Formaldehyde is common in certain workplaces and studies of industrial workers show increased risk of leukemia and cancers of the nose and throat. Formaldehyde can also be released from plants producing products that contain the chemical, increasing exposure to surrounding neighborhoods
Who is affected?
Since Formaldehyde is commonly found in many products commonly used in the home and workplace, exposure to the public is high. The main way exposure occurs is inhaling the chemical, although the liquid form can also be absorbed through the skin. Because of these routine exposures, formaldehyde is often present in both indoor and outdoor air, though at low levels. Materials containing formaldehyde can release it as a gas or vapor into the air.
There is a section of St. James Parish in Louisiana known as “Cancer Alley”. Cancer Alley is an 85 mile stretch of petrochemical plants and oil refineries along the Mississippi river. Many of these plants release several cancer causing chemicals, including formaldehyde and benzene. People living in this area are 50 times more likely to get cancer than the average American. Rolling Stone calls Cancer Alley the “frontline of environmental racism”. The communities surrounding this toxic stretch of plants consist largely of minority and low income neighborhoods, the poorest people in Louisiana live closest to Cancer Alley. New plants are in the process of getting approved and residents are wary of more poolution including an increase in formaldehyde and other cancer causing chemicals.
To learn more about formaldehyde, click here.
To learn more about Cancer Alley, click here.
The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor by police and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority communities has largely brought to light the systemic racism that is deeply embedded in our society. The effects of industrial pollution and extreme weather events due to climate change are often also brought specifically upon minority communities. In the attached article, Yale Environment 360 interviews Elizabeth Yeampierre, the co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance, to further discuss the deep intersection between environmental injustice, climate change, and racism and how we can build a movement to help combat them together. Read More
The economic impacts of Covid-19 have allowed the Trump administration to continuously cut US environmental regulations. This week, Trump continued to derail our current environmental regulations by cutting environmental reviews for infrastructure projects. These cuts will not only result in increased rates of pollution and contamination with great public health risks but will likely have a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority communities. It is extremely concerning that the Trump administration aims to rollback so many environmental regulations that will have negative health impacts on our communities, especially while we are currently experiencing a global health crisis. Read More
Climate change has resulted in devastating flooding and natural disasters that have overwhelmed and greatly impacted communities. The Edenville dam along the Tittabawassee River in mid-Michigan collapsed due to large amounts of rainfall on May 19th, resulting in the collapse of another nearby dam. The resulting impacts of these events led to extreme flooding and the evacuation of nearly 10,000 residents in the surrounding areas. Communities with Superfund sites are in specific danger due to the potential mass movement of toxins into communities during flooding. Mary McKSchmidt, an author, photographer, and community member in Midland County, Michigan reflects on extreme flooding events that have put surrounding communities at risk for exposure to toxic chemicals from a Dow chemical complex and a large Superfund site. The Government Accountability Office has recommended that Superfund sites should be actively protected by planning for possible climate change events. However, the EPA has yet to address this issue. Read More
By: Gustavo Andrade
What happens to people when the air they breathe is so polluted with chemicals that the simple act of inhaling hurts? When they go out to their car every morning to find a half-inch-thick layer of ‘dust’ on it? When kids in the neighborhood seem to share certain birth defects and developmental challenges to a disturbing degree? When so many neighbors develop cancers at an alarmingly young age?
Here’s what’s been happening to people who have to live in America’s Sacrifice Zones: They perish, as shamefully as Mr. Floyd; with the knee of corporate polluters pushing steadily and unrelentingly against their necks.
No individual or corporation will be held responsible, no charges will be filed, and no damages will be paid to grieving families.
After all, the company settled on this area for a reason: local residents are black, latino, indigenous, white and in all cases, poor. They can’t afford lawyers and don’t have time on their side. They lack political power, are unorganized and don’t even know what is being done to them. To those in power, they are easy prey.
When you live in a Sacrifice Zone, it means your neighborhood falls in the 70th percentile of cancer and respiratory illness in your state. You might have a power plant down the street from the kids’ school, or some type of factory just up the road from your church. You’re told they’re good people who bring jobs in so you shouldn’t ask too many questions about their business.
Now, what happens when those residents start to organize?
Well then, friend, all hell breaks loose.
They start asking questions. They start talking to one another and having meetings. Yes, sometimes even on Zoom. They form coalitions and neighborhood organizations and hold press conferences and make demands.
They start misbehaving.
And that’s how they, like the brave protesters and freedom fighters out on the streets, finally force that knee off their necks and win.
On Monday, June 1st, New Jersey became one of the few states in the US to regulate two specific types of PFAS—Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acid (PFOS) —that are known to be cancer-causing chemicals that contaminate drinking water. The chemicals are often found in nonstick cookware, waterproof apparel, and firefighting foam and have been tied to cancers and immune system issues. New Hampshire, Vermont, and New Jersey are currently the only states that regulate PFOA and PFOS in drinking water systems. This step to better ensure the environmental safety of drinking water is one that needs to be instituted throughout other states. Read More
Many people largely associate air pollution with emissions from cars. However, if this was the case wouldn’t fewer cars on the road drastically decrease air pollution? As seen in Pittsburgh, PA, driving has largely decreased due to Covid-19 but air pollution rates have not. In contrast to driving, many industrial activities have continued at similar rates as before the pandemic. NPR and Pittsburgh’s Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) largely tie steady air pollution rates to the continuation of coal-fired power plants and coke production in Western Pennsylvania. According to a senior scientist at the Clean Air Task Force, John Graham, cars only contribute about 5-10% of emissions in Western PA. Therefore, in order for Pittsburgh to have significantly cleaner air, emissions from industrial plants must be curbed. Read More