Homepage News Archive

EPA changes stand, sides with ethanol industry in court case

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The federal government announced Monday that it will support the ethanol industry in a lawsuit over biofuel waivers granted to oil refineries under President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it is reversing course and will support a January 2020 decision by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a lawsuit filed by the Renewable Fuels Association and farm groups. The lawsuit is headed to arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.

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Photo Credit: M. Spencer Green/AP Photo, File

Homepage News Archive Water News

EPA takes action to address PFAS in drinking water

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued two actions to protect public health by addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, highlighting the agency’s commitment to address these long-lasting “forever chemicals” that can enter drinking water supplies and impact communities across the United States. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to addressing PFAS in the nation’s drinking water and will build on these actions by advancing science and using the agency’s authorities to protect public health and the environment.
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Photo Credit: Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

Homepage News Archive

High concentrations of thallium, a heavy metal toxic to humans, detected on Wausau property

Soil samples collected at a city-owned property targeted for potential redevelopment show high concentrations of metals including thallium, a substance now banned in the U.S. due to its extreme toxicity to humans.
The test results are part of a Phase II environmental study performed by GEI Consultants and released in January that also noted levels of potentially cancer-causing contaminants as much as four times the industrial standard in some areas of the property at 1300 Cleveland Avenue. The roughly 7-acre property is south of Thomas Street and is surrounded largely by residential homes.
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Photo Credit: Geographic Information Systems

Backyard Talk

Social Determinants Meet Environmental Health

By: Evelyn Zavala, Science Intern
I was drawn to working with CHEJ because of their work with communities across the United States of diverse backgrounds, socio-economic status, ethnicities, geographical locations, and education. CHEJ is where the community meets science, environment, health, and justice. Recently we have seen how vital this relationship really is. While the snowstorms of 2021 are seen across the country, Texas has been hit hard. Within Texas, minority and marginalized communities were hit even worse. 
Social Determinants of Health are described as the conditions in the environment where people are born, live, work, play, worship, and age, affecting their health and quality of life outcomes and risks. The neighborhoods and environment of a community have a significant impact on the health of individuals. Many people in the United States live in areas with unsafe water, unsafe air, toxic chemicals, loud noises, and pollution. 
Lower-income and minority communities tend to live closer to industrial sites and can be exposed to more pollution. Hundreds of industrial facilities are located in Texas where electricity was lost and pipe eruption occurred, it is expected they release pounds of airborne emissions as plants shut down and then resume operations just like after Hurricane Harvey in 2015, which is very harmful to the surrounding communities. As with any disaster, marginalized communities are disproportionately affected. There is a disproportion in death and negative health effects, as seen by COVID-19 and other natural disasters. 
Stephen Lester highlighted earlier this year the inequity in those affected by the COVID-19. African Americans and Latinos are getting vaccinated at much lower rates than at the rate they have been affected. People of color and low-income communities who were also disproportionately affected by blackouts and pipe bursts just last week will now face an even harder journey to recovery. 
While the storm hit families of all races and ethnicities, here is where the social determinants come into play. People of low-income communities often don’t have access to a car or transportation to get groceries, live in food deserts, and may not have money for pipe repairs or insurance to replace damaged housing.  Lower-income families who live farther from densely populated areas, not near hospitals and nursing homes, are the last communities to have their power turned back on, leaving many historically black and brown neighborhoods without power.
CHEJ’s work is crucial in implementing policy change at the local, state, and federal levels to reduce health and safety risks that exist among these communities. By providing communities a voice and role in their environment, they have one less social determinant working against their well-being, creating a safe environment for their families to work and play. 
Photo Credit: Terri Gruca via Twitter

Homepage News Archive

Texas freeze led to release of tons of air pollutants as refineries shut

NEW YORK/HOUSTON (Reuters) – The largest U.S. oil refiners released tons of air pollutants into the skies over Texas this past week, according to figures provided to the state, as refineries and petrochemical plants in the region scrambled to shut production during frigid weather.

An arctic air mass that spread into an area unused to such low temperatures killed at least two dozen people in Texas and knocked out power to more than 4 million at its peak. It also hit natural gas and electric generation, cutting supplies needed to run the plants along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Shutdowns led to the refineries flaring, or burning and releasing gases, to prevent damage to their processing units. That flaring darkened the skies in eastern Texas with smoke visible for miles.

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Photo Credit: Loren Elliot/Reuters/File Photo

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Lawyers Are Working to Put ‘Ecocide’ on Par with War Crimes. Could an International Law Hold Major Polluters to Account?

When a Nigerian judge ruled in 2005 that Shell’s practice of gas flaring in the Niger Delta was a violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to life and dignity, Nnummo Bassey, a local environmental activist, was thrilled.
Bassey’s organization, Friends of the Earth, had helped communities in the Niger Delta sue Shell for gas flaring, a highly polluting practice that caused mass disruption to communities in the region, polluting water and crops. Researchers had found that those disruptions were associated with increased rates of cancer, blood disorders, skin diseases, acid rain, and birth defects—leading to a life expectancy of 41 in the region, 13 years fewer than the national average.
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Photo Credit: Mike Kemp/In Pictures, Getty Images

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.
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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Stories of Local Leaders

An Injection Well Nearly Destroyed her Community, but Phyllis Glazer Didn’t Give Up

By: Leia Ku Cheng Yee, Communications Intern
Phyllis Glazer is an activist featured in People Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, CNN/Time News Magazine’s Earth Day 2000 Special, NBC Dateline, and more. She was the founder of Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins (MOSES), and has been fighting against toxic pollution since the 1990s.
Phyllis was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. After her father passed away, she decided to fulfill her father’s dream and live in a ranch in Winona, Texas. One day, as she was driving her son to school in Winona, they passed a commercial hazardous waste injection well facility that was surrounded by dark reddish clouds and intense fumes caused by an explosion. “I couldn’t breathe,” she said. In just three days, Glazer had developed multiple health issues — her toenails came off, her nasal septum disappeared, and she felt like the top of her mouth had melted. As long as she lived there, she had throat ulcers and developed asthma, and later found out the whole community had symptoms as well. Glazer and her now-deceased husband also developed brain tumors due to the toxic exposure.
As she advocated for the community, Glazer realized that many regulatory agencies sided with the company instead of the people because the agencies were sending their own waste there. She knew that the regulatory agencies would have no motivation to close it down, so she needed to go bigger.
As a writer and a mother, she reached out to the press, and had  corporate attorneys help her to fight the corporation that owned the injection well. With her background in business, her idea was to use the press to drive the facility out of business. “If you don’t have business, you are not in business.” She began to write press releases, and went on a war with the company. Many even referred to it as the “Phyllis Blitz”. 
In 1994, Glazer and 30 residents from Winona were sent to Washington, DC by Don Henley to file a Title VI Complaint against the Texas State environmental agency. Henley sat her down with Phil Gramm, the former Congressman from Texas, and Gramm agreed to take the community to the House Armed Services. Two years later, the military contract was torn up. 
To help mothers to share their stories in all the hearings, MOSES decided to create “Wasted Babies” to represent the voice of the mothers that have lost their children due to environmental harm. “Wasted Babies” are dolls, made with stockings, button eyes, caps that signify cancer, and booklets attached to each doll that tell the stories of the children. These dolls were given to every Congressman and Senator that Glazer has encountered, including Nancy Pelosi. Frank Lautenberg, former Senator from New Jersey, was particularly helpful when the facility was operating, and aided the community in fighting for the attention of Congress and regulatory agencies.
Glazer learned from chemists and other scientists about the dangers of the injection well. The company had constructed the well improperly, without making adjustments for the Austin chalk the well went through. “An injection well is supposed to be done in one pour, and if it’s done in more than one pour, the cement is going out somewhere” she said. In fact, there was 800 feet of cement casing missing, allowing toxic waste to pour out of the well. The company, Gibraltar Chemical Resources, was then sold to the American Ecology Corporation. 
“I was in it to win it”
Despite the challenges of facing such a large corporation, Glazer and her community prevailed. The toxic waste dump in Winona closed in March of 1997 and sued Glazer, her family’s business, and MOSES under the Civil RICO Statute. Ralph Nader and Oprah Winfrey’s attorney in the Mad Cow case, Chip Babcock, represented her and the other defendants. After two and a half years, Glazer has successfully won the lawsuit.
It was a moment of realization for Glazer when people brought their children with deformities to her ranch. She had never been an activist before, but she knew she couldn’t abandon her community in the struggle. Though she managed to close down the facility in 6 and a half years, she continued fighting the toxic waste for sixteen years total. Her story shows that no matter what powerful interests you’re up against, you can win if you are dedicated to the fight.

Homepage News Archive

NJ to spend $100M on green energy, environmental justice

Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to spend $100 million on clean transportation projects, much of which would be targeted to reducing unhealthy air quality in urban areas with communities that are already overburdened with pollution problems.
The projects announced Tuesday include a range of initiatives aimed at electrifying the transportation sector. That would mean funding for projects to transition to electric buses and electrifying garbage and delivery trucks. It also includes money to switch from fossil fuel used by medium- and heavy-duty equipment in cargo handling operations at ports and funding to aid industrial areas in so-called environmental-justice communities.
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Photo Credit: Reed Saxon/AP Photo

Homepage News Archive

Watchdog says HUD failures resulted in lead poisoning at one housing development: report

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) failures to enforce its environmental standards resulted in lead poisoning at a housing development in East Chicago, Ind., according to a report from the agency’s watchdog.
The department’s Office of Inspector General reviewed the agency’s efforts to mitigate risks to residents of public housing near toxic waste dumps after the West Calumet Housing Complex was deemed uninhabitable in 2016.
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Photo Credit: Getty Images