Backyard Talk News Archive

The Meaning of Environmentalism Has Expanded

The year 2021 marks the 40thth anniversary of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.  The Love Canal community’s efforts in 1978 successfully won the relocation of 900 working class families away from a leaking toxic waste dump and awoke a nation to the hazards of toxic chemicals in our environment.  Overcoming powerful resistance from government and a multi-billion dollar company, Occidental Petroleum, this grassroots effort demonstrated how ordinary people can gain power through joining together to win their struggle.  Love Canal sparked a new nationwide social justice movement concerned with links between health problems and the environment.  Hand-in-hand with these concerns are questions about the rights of corporations to increase their profits through decisions that sacrifice the health of innocent families and the environment.
The Meaning of Environmentalism Has Expanded—A New Grassroots Environmental Health Movement
Traditional environmentalism in America has centered, in general, around protecting the natural environment through laws and regulations.  Newer grassroots efforts, however, are as much about protecting public health as the environment.  These efforts value the basic human right to have clean air, water, food and soil along with preserving our nation’s natural resources.  The grassroots leadership believes systemic change comes from the bottom up—people plus organization equals strength—the strength to influence policy and win protection of these basic rights, and the strength to counteract the money and pressure corporations bring to bear on elected representatives to oppose or weaken protective laws.  As a result, the grassroots strategy is to build a stronghold at the local and state levels that can trickle up to influence federal-level representatives and national policies.
Another distinction between the two movements is their contrasting approaches on achieving the same overarching goals of protecting the environment and public health:
Traditional environmentalism is focused on regulations and regulatory controls.  It therefore inevitably winds up debating how many parts per million of chemical X can be in wastewater that is released into a river without killing off downstream fish populations?
Today’s grassroots efforts are focused on prevention.  Grassroots leaders are asking “Why do we allow chemical X in wastewater to be discharged into our rivers when non-toxic alternatives exist?”
Neither approach is right or wrong, or is superior to the other.  The overarching goal of protecting the environment and all living things is the same for both segments of the environmental movement.  When operating on a parallel path, the two approaches together can make significant progress in protecting the environment and public health.
Who Represents the Grassroots Environmental Health Movement Today?
The grassroots environmental movement has a long history of success.  One of its most important achievements has been building a broad and diversified base of support that includes:  Workers, people of color, faith-based organizations, rural and urban families, and indigenous peoples living in today’s society whose lives have been affected by environmental issues.  Parent-teacher organizations, doctors, nurses, and other health professionals working to transform the health care industry’s disposal of potentially harmful substances; people who make their living fishing or depend upon fish as a primary food in their diets and other people from all walks of life.

News Archive

‘Burden falls on exposed people’ as EPA weighs PFAS rules

Breast cancer doesn’t run in his family. But that didn’t prevent Tom Kennedy’s diagnosis with the disease five years ago, and it won’t stop the cancer, now in his brain and spine, from killing him.
Kennedy, 49, blames the tap water he drank for more than a decade before learning it was contaminated with the chemical compound GenX. Now terminally ill, the Verizon consultant from Wilmington, N.C., says he hopes something can be done to get GenX out of the water his wife and two daughters still use to bathe, before they fall sick too.
“I think it should be regulated ASAP,” he said. “But I’m not going to hold my breath.”
Part of a family of chemicals known as PFAS, GenX has been linked to liver and blood problems, as well as certain types of cancer. But EPA, tasked with regulating contaminants in drinking water, has no action planned to immediately crack down on the compound. Rather, the agency’s efforts to regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water are focused on just two chemicals: PFOA and PFOS.
Read more…
Photo Credit: EPA (text); Jenn Durfey/Flickr (faucet); Freepik (man with glass); Wikipedia (GenX chemical formula); PxHere (xrays)

Homepage News Archive

Biden must stop methane pipelines to deliver on climate change and environmental justice

Four years of President Donald Trump have cost America dearly. We lost our global leadership on addressing climate change and saw the struggle for environmental justice thwarted here at home. President Joe Biden has defined both of these objectives as cornerstones of his legacy, but a huge interstate methane gas pipeline now being rammed through the Appalachian Mountains threatens to undermine the progress his administration has promised.

The 42-inch diameter Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) would run 303 miles from West Virginia to Virginia, and it is one of the biggest U.S. gas pipelines in process. The pipeline’s climate impact is estimated to be equivalent to about 23 typical coal plants, or more than 19 million passenger vehicles. That does not include a proposed 74-mile extension of the pipeline into North Carolina.

Methane gas is a climate change double whammy. It’s a fossil fuel and, when burned for energy, releases the planet-warming greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But methane itself is a very potent greenhouse gas, and when some of it inevitably escapes into the atmosphere during hydraulic fracturing, we get further warming.

Photo Credit: Bob Brown/AP
Stories of Local Leaders

Champion of the Underdog: Melissa Mays of Flint, MI

By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern
Water You Fighting For activist, Melissa Mays, is not a stranger to standing up and speaking out. Nicknamed “Champion of the Underdog” at a young age, she always protected and helped the “little guy” succeed. She was working as a financial planner when her job transferred to Flint, Michigan. At the time, General Motors was cutting back benefits for retirees, and Mays would help people in retiring comfortably. Later, she went into music promotions and marketing, specifically for metal bands. 
Flint, MI was struggling financially, and the head of MI at the time, Governor Snyder, put the emergency manager law in effect. He appointed an unelected emergency manager that had the power to veto all local government. In reality, Mays says this was a guise to privatize all of Flint’s assets which in effect began cutting multiple revenue streams. What prevented Flint from going bankrupt was the water crisis.
In 2014, the decision was made to switch the city’s water supply to the Flint River though residents knew to not fish or even go there. For decades, industry had been dumping waste into the river. The government did not test the water and went against locals’ wishes and switched the water supply. Mays said she was naive in thinking that the government would never give people something that was bad. Then, some residents began reporting brown and orange water running in their homes. This was as a result of Flint River water being 19 times more corrosive. The government would try to ease people’s minds by telling them that these houses with brown and orange water were just isolated incidents as a result of old pipes and such. Mays called these people lucky. Because their water had an odd color, they knew to immediately stop using it. Everyone else’s clear, normal looking water kept being used. Unfortunately, residents did not realize water could still be contaminated even without obvious odors or taste. Additionally, Flint residents’ water bills increased tremendously. Those in Flint paid in one month what residents in other nearby towns paid in 3 months.
Residents began talking to each other about odd things happening to their bodies like rashes. In September of 2014, Mays’ son got pneumonia, or Legionnaires, because of legionella in their plumbing. Mays also developed a respiratory infection that did not subside for 3 months. Her hair started falling out and her muscles and bones began aching.
In January of 2016, residents received a letter that stated for the past nine months their water had been contaminated with cancer causing byproducts total trihalomethanes (TTHMs). Again, residents were assured that they were most likely fine but to consult with their doctor about the water. This time, Mays went to Google to search for more information and came across Lois Gibbs and Stephen Lester of CHEJ. They provided her with information about TTHMs, and Mays realized residents were being lied to. The government was also using outdated data to justify the water’s safety. Mays knew she had to do something.
Since Mays was a promoter, and her husband was a graphic artist, they created Water You Fighting For in January of 2015. The organization started as a website portal for information because she wanted residents to be informed about the lies and issues. To further spread the word, Mays spent her tax money making door hangers to put on people’s front doors. They had a protest, and Mays conducted a “bootleg” epidemiological study by asking residents about any symptoms they may have had and where they were located to create a map. She figured that if people were informed and enough information was gathered, the government would see what is wrong and fix things. Mays found out that this was not the case.
Things then snowballed. They gained a lot of media attention but then it dissipated, though the crisis was and is still ongoing. Mays said that she does not like being lied to, and does not like that she, her kids, and Flint residents were hurt. Mays has had to deal with trauma from the consequences of speaking up. Her break lines have been cut, and she has been followed and threatened. That does not stop her, though. She knows this is what she is meant to do.
In 2015, with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU), a lawsuit was filed and then settled in 2017 to force the city and state to replace all lead and galvanized steel service lines. This is still in progress. Mays stated that the settlement was not enough, but it was a start.
People have asked Mays why she does not relocate and she says that 1) she did not do this, 2) if she leaves, they win, and 3) she does not know anywhere else she would go. Mays has testified before Congress, and traveled across the nation to organize other groups fighting for a clean environment. She believes the most important thing is to build a community that unites against racial, economic, and geographical lines. That is what public officials most fear. As for Mays and Flint fighters, she says that they are going to continue what they do best – getting in the face of elected officials and pushing for laws.
“We’re not victims, we were victimized. We’re not victims, we’re fighters, and we’re not gonna give up until they replace every piece of damaged infrastructure or pay for it.”

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

N.J. has the most Superfund sites. Tax industry to clean them up, top Democrat says.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. on Tuesday introduced legislation to renew a federal tax on the oil and chemical industries to fund the cleanup of Superfund sites, of which New Jersey has more than any other state.

“Superfund sites threaten public and environmental health in New Jersey and across the country, and those sites could be cleaned up faster with adequate funding,” said Pallone, D-6th Dist., who outlined his plan during a Zoom press conference.

Pallone, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over the issue, said he was proposing the legislation in response to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.
Read More…
Photo Credit: Jersey Journal

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

Blumenauer Introduces Legislation to Reinstate Superfund Taxes; End 25-Year Polluter Tax Holiday That Slowed Toxic Cleanup

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced the Superfund Reinvestment Act to require polluters to pay for the cleanup of toxic and hazardous waste sites throughout the United States.
For nearly three decades, petrochemical industry polluters have enjoyed environmental liability protections without paying into the Superfund Trust Fund, which has depleted the fund, unfairly shifted costs to taxpayers, and brought some Superfund cleanup efforts to a near stop. The legislation introduced by Blumenauer would reinstate this tax, something that President Biden identified as a top priority as part of a major infrastructure package.
Read More…
Photo Credit: The Skanner Archives

Homepage News Archive

Pennsylvania lawmakers urge Gov. Wolf to protect residents following EHN fracking investigation

On the heels of an Environmental Health News (EHN) study, 35 members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate have issued a public letter calling on state Governor Tom Wolf to take “immediate action in response to the ongoing harm” from fracking.
The letter, led by State Senator Katie Muth and State Representatives Sara Innamorato, points to a study recently published by EHN that found evidence of exposure to harmful chemicals in families living near fracking wells.
Read More…
Photo Credit: Senator Katie Muth via Twitter

Homepage News Archive Superfund News

The Superfund program turns 40. And it’s a mess.

History will record that Abraham Browning first christened New Jersey “The Garden State” in 1876.
But if such hokey nicknames had been distributed at any point in the last 40 years, my ancestral home might be The Superfund State. With roughly 150 toxic waste sites and only 35 deemed adequately cleaned up, Jersey is outpacing larger, more populous states like California and New York.
Read More…
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Homepage News Archive

One-third of US rivers have changed color in recent decades, research finds

Rivers may seem like immutable features of the landscape but they are in fact changing color over time, a new study has found.
Researchers compiled a database of satellite images of major rivers in the United States from 1984 to 2018 and learned that about a third have significantly changed color in less than 40 years.
The overall significance of the changes are unclear and could reflect various ways in which humans are impacting the environment, said lead author John Gardner, an assistant professor of geology and environmental science at the University of Pittsburgh.
Read More…
Photo Credit: USGS/NASA Landsat