Backyard Talk

Lead More Toxic To Kids

Lead is more toxic to children than previously believed and the federal government has once again lowered the blood level of concern threshold.  The federal Center for Disease Control recently reduced the “action level” from 10 micrograms per deciliter to 5 micrograms per deciliter. 

The agency stated that this new action level means that “children will be identified as having lead exposure earlier, and parents and doctors can take action earlier.  The action came about because a national committee of experts recommended CDC change the blood level of concern.  Their recommendation was based on reviewing a growing number of scientific studies that show that even low blood lead levels can cause lifelong health effects.  For more information, go to  

Backyard Talk

No More Fukushimas

Beyond Nuclear and the NYS Alliance for a Green Economy are challenging the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to shut down the dangerous FitzPatrick reactor in upstate New York, which has the same design as the tragic Fukushima reactor in Japan. 

Yesterday, the groups gave presentations to NRC’s Petition Review Board urging them to shut down the reactor, located in Oswego, NY, north of Syracuse. The FitzPatrick Fukushima-design GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor’s design is unprepared for managing a severe accident. The groups outlined the serious risks of the design in a formal petition signed by dozens of organizational leaders.  For more information, contact

Backyard Talk

Phasing PVC Out of NYC Purchasing: Lessons in Persistence

“Section 7 – Dioxin Reduction. Product: Paper Products. Standard: Process-chlorine free”

Proposed Environmentally Preferable Purchasing rule, Mayor’s office of the City of New York, Feb. 27, 2012

“Environmental, Public Health, Labor Groups Call on Bloomberg Administration to Phase Out Toxic PVC Plastic, a Major Source of Dioxin.”

CHEJ Press Release after March 29, 2012, public hearing

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NYC City Hall
Photo Credit:

When we read the standard above, we knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us. To the public, the standard would seem like a positive environmental step, eliminating the purchase of chlorinated paper that produces toxic chemicals when burned. To CHEJ and our allies, it meant that more than seven years of work to phase polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic out of NYC purchasing was in danger of being thrown under the bus. So once again, on March 29th, we rallied the troops, this time for a public hearing before the Bloomberg Administration.

Greening the Big Apple

NYC agencies spend billions of dollars a year on goods, construction and services, which can have a huge impact on the environment.  In 2005, CHEJ worked closely with members of the NYC City Council to help pass the “Environmentally Preferable Purchasing” (EPP) laws, which set standards for energy and water efficiency, “green” cleaning products, and recycled content in goods and construction materials bought by City agencies. Importantly, the laws also addressed hazardous substances associated with products purchased by the City, including a requirement that:

“By January 1, 2008, the director shall promulgate rules to reduce the City’s purchase or lease of materials whose combustion may lead to the formation of dioxin or dioxin-like compounds.”

This was a huge victory.

Dioxins, some of the most toxic chemicals on the planet, are associated with birth defects, developmental disorders, and cancer. They’re formed primarily when materials like PVC plastic containing chlorine are burned.

Chlorine, PVC and Dioxin – the Connection

As one of the largest sources of dioxin in the world, PVC consumes about 40% of all the chlorine produced worldwide. The plastic itself, which is found in many products purchased by City agencies, including flooring, siding, office supplies, carpeting, and electronics, contains and releases chemicals associated with asthma, learning disabilities, and other chronic diseases on the rise. When PVC burns in building fires it turns into hydrochloric acid, and has been linked to respiratory problems and cancer risks for first responders. The City Council legislators who drafted the dioxin provisions of the EPP laws did so with the intention of phasing PVC products out of City purchasing, as documented in the voting report discussing the legislation.

NYC: A Huge Opportunity

By January 1st, 2008, the City had missed their deadline for producing the dioxin-reduction rules.

In response to the missed deadline, we wrote letters to the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) signed by over 20 diverse organizations and experts, calling for the dioxin rules to be released, and for green purchasing provisions to address PVC.  We called, emailed, and met with officials; more recently we gave testimony at a City Council oversight hearing. We made clear that safer and cost effective PVC-free alternatives are readily available on the market, and that companies such as Google, Apple, Target, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft all have policies to reduce or phase out the purchase of PVC.

Over four years late, in February of 2012, MOCS finally issued the draft rules, and announced a 30-day public comment period, culminating in a public hearing on March 29, 2012. We at CHEJ read the dioxin provision with great disappointment:

“Section 7 – Dioxin Reduction. Product: Paper Products. Standard: Process-chlorine free.

MOCS was trying to meet the dioxin requirements solely by reducing the chlorine content of their paper products, ignoring PVC entirely.

On the positive side, while the proposed purchasing regulations did not address PVC, we learned that the City has already begun to make progress in reducing NYC’s purchase of PVC products. The City is working with Staples, NYC’s sole office supply vendor, to identify and purchase PVC-free office supplies. It has issued bids for a large new citywide carpeting contract that requires all carpeting to be completely PVC-free. And City purchasers are already selecting computers off of State contracts that have PVC-free requirements.

These are positive steps, and they should be codified in the proposed regulations. Including PVC in the rules themselves would not only meet the documented intent of the law, it would also ensure that future mayoral administrations will be bound by the same rules, and make NYC a national leader in safe, green purchasing.

Firefighters, Teachers, Doctors Speak Out

During the 30-day public comment period and at the March 29th hearing, CHEJ and more than 35 organizations and experts submitted testimony, including environmental health and justice groups, experts in children’s health and brain development, teachers and firefighters unions, and green businesspeople and architects. 100 citizen activists signed a letter, and City Councilman Robert Jackson sent a letter of support. Below are some key quotations from the hearing, and you can find more in the press release.

Captain Alexander Hagan, President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA), said, “Fire Officers take an oath to ‘protect the lives and property of the citizens of New York City’ and there is an ongoing interest to the public if laws regarding the purchasing and use of PVC products by the City are not being complied with. PVC is among the most serious dangers to humans and the environment when it is burned. … From a fire perspective, we urge compliance of the City to ensure an environmentally friendly purchasing process.”

Stephen Boese, Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, said, “As advocates for persons with learning disabilities and related impairments, the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State supports initiatives that prevent disability. We therefore urge that the City of New York assure that its purchasing policies exclude products with harmful plastics like PVC that release dioxin, wherever feasible, and protect the health and well-being of City workers, those in the care of City programs, and all other City residents.”

Also check out these great stories from the Village Voice and WNYC.

Looking to the Future

If we succeed in getting PVC-reduction written into the rules, they will be among the first, if not the first, binding PVC-specific city-level purchasing regulations in the country, impacting the largest city in the United States, which spends approximately $17 billion annually on goods and services.

Let’s hope Mayor Bloomberg recognizes this opportunity to lead the country into a safer, greener future.


Contact Daniel at DGradess at a domain called chej dot org


Backyard Talk

Coal Ash Poisons Water

Eleven environmental groups are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to better regulate toxic coal ash.  

Using EPA’s own data, the groups highlighted how coal ash has polluted groundwater at at 29 coal ash dump sites in 16 states. Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of the groups on April 5th.  They noted that EPA has not updated coal ash disposal regulations in more than 30 years despite evidence of “leaking waste ponds, poisoned groundwater supplies and threats to public health.”

Coal ash is produced mainly by coal-fired power plants and contains a mixture of toxic chemicals and compounds, including arsenic, lead, hexavalent chromium, manganese, mercury, selenium and cadmium.

For more information, contact

Backyard Talk

No Nuclear Nirvana

As we approach the one year anniversary of Fukushima on March 11th, Robert Alvarez reports that there is “No Nuclear Nirvana” and nuclear power remains expensive, dangerous and too radioactive for Wall Street. ( Huffington Post, 3/5/12)

“Is the nuclear drought over? When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently approved
two new nuclear reactors near Augusta, Ga., the first such decision in 32 years, there was plenty of hoopla.It marked a “clarion call to the world,” declared Marvin S. Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. “Nuclear energy is a critical part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy,” declared Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who traveled in February to the Vogtle site where Westinghouse plans to build two new reactors.

But it’s too soon for nuclear boosters to pop their champagne corks. Japan’s Fukushima disaster continues to unfold nearly a year after the deadly earthquake and tsunami unleashed what’s shaping up to
be the worst nuclear disaster ever. Meanwhile, a raft of worldwide reactor closures, cancellations, and postponements is still playing out. The global investment bank UBS estimates that some 30 reactors in several countries are at risk of closure, including at least two in highly pro-nuclear France. And Siemens AG, one of the world’s largest builders of nuclear power  plants, has already dumped its nuclear business…”

To view the rest of the article, go to

Backyard Talk

Danger From Tiny Particles

Scientists have found new dangers in tiny pervasive particles in air pollution according to a New York Times article (2/18/12). “Fine atmospheric particles — smaller than one-thirtieth of the diameter of a human hair — were identified more than 20 years ago as the most lethal of the widely dispersed air pollutants in the United States. Linked to both heart and lung disease, they kill an estimated 50,000 Americans each year. But more recently, scientists have been puzzled to learn that a subset of these particles, called secondary organic aerosols, has a greater total mass, and is thus more dangerous, than previously understood. A batch of new scientific findings is helping sort out the discrepancy, including, most recently, a study led by scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash….It indicates that the compounds’ persistence in the atmosphere was under-represented in older scientific models. “If the authors’ analysis is correct, the public is now facing a false sense of security in knowing whether the air they breathe is indeed safe,” said Bill Becker, of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Taken together, the findings of the new study and of a handful of others published in the past two years could mean that two decades’ worth of pollution-control strategies — focused on keeping tiny particles from escaping into the atmosphere — have addressed only part of the problem. Paul Shepson, a professor of analytical and atmospheric chemistry at Purdue University and one of the reviewers of the Irvine paper, called it “highly significant in scientific terms,” adding that current models of fine particulates “grossly underpredict” their density, “sometimes by as much as a factor of 10.”

Backyard Talk

Fracking Ohio Health Hazard

Three years after drilling, a federal health agency has found that natural gas in Ohio’s Medina County well water is potentially explosive, according to the Beacon Journal.  The agency says potentially explosive levels of natural gas at two houses in Medina County are a public health threat. The problems in the two drinking water wells appear linked to the nearby drilling of two natural gas wells in 2008, says the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That news contradicts repeated statements from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on the connection between the drilling and problems at the two houses at State and Remsen roads.

“We are the victims of fracking… and natural gas drilling gone wrong,” said Mark Mangan, one of the affected homeowners. On Sept. 29, 2008, Mangan and wife, Sandy, found that their drinking water well had gone dry at the same time that a company was drilling for natural gas at Allardale Park about a half mile away. When the water returned to the Mangans’ well in five days, it had an unpleasant taste and a rotten-egg scent. It was salty. It bubbled. It contained methane gas and a gray slurry of cement. The Mangans could ignite the gas bubbles in the water from their kitchen sink, similar to what happened in the anti-fracking documentary Gasland. “Yes, we got water back, but it wasn’t our water,” said the 49-year-old Mangan. “Our water was gone.” Neighbors William and Stephanie Boggs had similar well problems that began one day after the Mangans’. They told federal officials they continue to use the well water. The Granger Township case is one of a small but growing number of cases in the United States where contamination problems have been linked by a federal agency to natural gas drilling.

In a Dec. 22 letter to the U.S. EPA, the CDC agency said both families are still at risk from potentially dangerous natural gas levels. The agency concluded that “the current conditions are likely to pose a public health threat.” The agency looked at natural gas levels detected last November by the Granger Township Fire Department. The levels of explosivity were 34.7 and 47.4 percent at wells at the two houses, the agency said. Hazardous conditions exist when levels surpass 10 percent, the health agency said. The gas levels in and around the Mangans’ house have been so high that firefighters were called several times. Columbia Gas shut off service for a time because of the likelihood of an explosion. “We are constantly in danger,” Mangan said. “Our house was a bomb waiting to go off.” He said the explosivity levels inside the house have been as high as 20 percent, far above the federal guideline of 1 percent.  (Source: Beacon Journal, 1/17/12)

Backyard Talk

Toxic Vapor Health Problems

A new study links congenital heart problems, low birth weight and other birth defects to soil toxic vapors from industrial contaminants that have lurked in the groundwater beneath Endicott in upstate New York. The NYS State Department of Health found infants born to mothers living in a 70-block area, south of the former IBM manufacturing facility, had health problems at higher rates than those born in the rest of the state.

The area is contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), two industrial solvents that have been connected to health problems, including cancer. Although the dangers of TCE and PCE have been relatively well-documented, most research has focused on exposure through drinking water — which is not believed to be a problem in Endicott. “This is the first that we know of that involves the soil vapor intrusion pathway,” said Department of Health research scientist Steven Forand, who co-authored the study looking at people impacted by the Endicott plume between 1978 and 2002.  For more information, contact NYS DOH at 518-474-4394.