Backyard Talk

BPA in Receipts – The chemical that’s everywhere, or so it seems

It’s very likely that you’ve heard of a chemical called BPA or bisphenol A. It’s been in the news because it’s an endocrine disrupting chemical used in making plastic products and in the lining of metal cans. The problem is that BPA leaches out of plastic bottles, canned foods and other products and gets into the food and drink. Trace amounts of BPA have been found in the urine of at least 90% of Americans.  BPA mimics the hormone estrogen in the body and has been linked to reproductive and developmental abnormalities as well as other adverse health effects.

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Source: American Chemical Society

Concerns about these adverse health effects led Canada to define BPA as a toxic substance and 11 states to ban its use in baby bottles and sippy cups. The FDA followed suit in July of this year. Concerns remain however about BPA leaching into infant formula, food and beverages. Approximately eight billion pounds of BPA are used each year worldwide.

Although diet is the primary route of exposure to BPA, research has shown that it can also be absorbed though the skin in a less familiar way – the handling of receipts of all kinds. BPA is the primary chemical used in cash register and thermal receipts commonly used in stores, ATM machines, gas stations, various tickets, and many other uses. BPA is used as a color developer for the printing dye. It’s applied as powder coating that acts in the presence of heat to produce an image without ink. The problem here is that the chemical is not bound to the paper, so it rubs off when you handle the receipt. It gets on your fingers and quickly gets into your blood stream. If you handle receipts every day, and it accumulates in the body, you increase your risk. This is especially a concern for workers who handle receipts all day long, or for pregnant women.

While there’s no way to tell if a receipt contains BPA or not, a number of studies have tested receipts for BPA. One study reported in the New York Times of 103 thermal receipts collected from cities in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Vietnam in 2010 and 2011 found 94% of the receipts to contain BPA. All of the receipts in the U.S. had traces of BPA, even some marked as BPA-free. A study by researchers in Boston found 8 of 10 cash register receipts had BPA, and a study by the Environmental Working Group in 2010 found 14 of 36 receipts collected from fast food restaurants, retailers, grocery stores, gas stations and post offices tested positive for BPA.

Although studies in animals have found that very low concentrations of BPA can produce adverse effects, it’s unclear what level of exposure in people can produce adverse effects. It’s also unclear how much exposure from thermal receipts contributes to a person’s total exposure to BPA. Diet remains the primary route of exposure. It is clear, however, that there are readily available alternatives to BPA and this is another source of chemical contamination that can easily be eliminated. It’s also easy to say “no thank you,” when asked if you want your receipt.


Backyard Talk

Remembering Barry Commoner

Earlier this week the environmental movement lost one of its most innovative and creative leaders. Barry Commoner, considered by many to be the founder of the modern ecology movement passed away at the age of 95 in Manhattan, NY. Along with Rachel Carson Barry Commoner was one of the most influential and prominent environmentalists in American history.

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CHEJ’s Lois Gibbs presents achievement award to Barry Commoner in 2010.

For more than 60 years, Barry Commoner played a pivotal role in the environmental movement. He spoke out against nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s, led the movement to make scientific information available to the public in the 1960s, and participated in the energy debates of the 1970s. More recently he spoke to the dangers of dioxin and incinerators and pioneered research on recycling, organic farming and toxic chemical substitution. He was also among the first to link environmental issues to broader issues of social and economic justice and felt that environmental problems could not be solved without also addressing the problems of poverty, injustice, racism and public health.

Born to Russian immigrants in 1917, Commoner grew up in Brooklyn, NY, was educated at Columbia University and earned a PhD from Harvard in cellular biology in 1941. After serving in the war, he took a faculty position at Washington University in St. Louis, MO where for 34 years he wrote about the environmental consequences of the post WW II industrial and chemical revolution. It was here that he became interested in the nuclear tests the U.S. was conducting in Nevada and the impact on the American public from the fallout from those tests. When he tried to find out more about the fallout tests, Commoner was told that the information was classified and not available to the public.

This rejection struck at the heart of Commoner’s sense of justice and scientific integrity and he began a public campaign to address the importance of open communication of science between government, corporations and the public. As Commoner saw it, the heart of science was open communication, so secrecy whether imposed by government or by private corporations undermined the very nature of science.

At Commoner’s 80th birthday celebration, Peter Montague credited Commoner with introducing many fundamental ideas that are the heart of the grassroots environmental health and justice movement. “In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Commoner developed many of the fundamental ideas that today propel the burgeoning movement of grassroots environmentalism. Specifically, in Commoner’s early writings, I find the following ideas that today seem entirely contemporary and widely accepted – moral wisdom resides in citizens; scientists have no special competence in moral matters; scientists have an obligation to make alliance with citizens; pollution must be prevented, it cannot be successfully managed; the burden of proof lies properly with the polluter; citizens have a right to know; the precautionary principle should guide our decisions; environmental impact assessment is a necessary tool; and risk assessment is political, not scientific.”

Barry Commoner made clear that scientists have a social responsibility to make their work relevant and understandable to the public. He laid the foundation for bridging science with public policy and citizen activism.   He maintained that scientists had an obligation to make scientific information accessible to the general public and that the public not only had the right to be involved in public debates that involved scientific questions but an obligation.

In his best selling book, The Closing Circle, Commoner introduced the idea of sustainability writing that there’s only one planet, where everything is connected to everything else and where what affects one, affects all.  He felt that we needed to design and make products that didn’t disrupt the delicate balance between people and nature. And he railed against the corporate need for growth that emphasized profits and technological progress with little regard for the consequences and the impact on the planet.

Few people made greater contributions to protecting and improving the environment than Barry Commoner as a scientist, teacher and advocate. He will greatly be missed.

To read more about Barry Commoner see


Backyard Talk

Identifying Disease Clusters – What Comes Next?

It’s hard to say how many disease clusters have been identified. The website of the National Disease Cluster Alliance (NDCA) which held a national conference last week has a map that identifies 73 clusters. Several people attending the meeting pointed out that their cluster was not on the map and there are no doubt many others not on the map. While identifying clusters is an important step, knowing how to respond and what steps to take once a disease cluster (even a suspected disease cluster) has been identified is, perhaps, more important. This and other questions about disease clusters were discussed at a National Disease Cluster Conference held in Washington, DC last week by the NDCA.

It was clear from several presentations that no guidelines exist for what action steps a government agency should take once a disease cluster has been identified. This is a big problem, especially since most health agencies typically close their investigation once a cluster has been identified, concluding that they could not determine the cause of the cluster. This is not the time to walk away from a community that is struggling to determine not just whether a disease cluster exists, but what‘s causing it as well.

There are plenty of examples of communities where a disease cluster was identified. There is the cleft palate cluster in Dickson, TN, increase cancers in Clyde, OH, and childhood cancers in Toms River, NJ, Sierra Vista, AZ and Fallon, NV to name a few (see NDCA map). There are few examples, however, of agencies being able to identify the cause of the cluster. Woburn, MA is the exception as the state health department was able to identify contaminated drinking water wells as the cause of a childhood leukemia cluster.

No doubt determining the cause of a disease cluster is a difficult question to answer. It took the MA state health department over 10 years to conclude that the contaminated drinking water wells were the cause of the cluster in Woburn. But because it’s difficult is not reason enough for public health agencies to walk away. This is unconscionable and irresponsible. Public health agencies need to come up with an action plan for how to follow-up the finding of a cluster. Part of the response needs to include an environmental investigation into what may be causing the cluster. In addition, the community would likely benefit from the distribution of educational materials about the disease in question and the methods used to investigate clusters and their causes. Whatever follow-up occurs, the government needs to include from the very beginning of the process the affected community as part of the planning group directing the investigation.

One example highlighted at the conference was the work of Dr. Paul Sheppard from the University of Arizona who conducted an environmental investigation following the identification a childhood leukemia cluster in Fallon, NV. Between 1997 and 2004, 17 children living in Fallon were identified with leukemia, three of them died. For three years Sheppard studied heavy metals in air, especially tungsten which had been identified as increased in Fallon. Sheppard used tree leaves and tree rings to measure tungsten and found a high concentration of tungsten in the center of Fallon, the home to a tungsten refinery and a tungsten plant since the 1960s.

Although Sheppard was unable to prove that exposure to tungsten caused the increase in leukemia, his work has clearly related the two. His work provides a model for how to follow-up finding a disease cluster. Investigating environmental exposures in a community with a cluster makes perfect sense. Now we need to convince the public health agencies that they need to include this step in as part of their responsibilities. For more about the conference, see

Backyard Talk

EPA Proposes Short-term Limit on TCE Exposures

The U.S. EPA has made a remarkable decision recently to protect the health of people exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE) in indoor air, primarily as a result of vapor intrusion of TCE vapors from groundwater. The Region 9 EPA has proposed a Remedial Action Level (RAL) for acute (short term) exposure to TCE of 15 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) or 2.8 parts per billion by volume (ppbv). RALs are developed to protect residents exposed to chemicals in indoor air. The regional EPA staff is awaiting approval from EPA headquarters. This exposure limit was proposed to prevent against possible cardiac birth defects when pregnant women are exposed to TCE vapors. TCE is one of the most common chemical contaminants found in the environment. It is used primarily as vapor degreasing solvent to clean metal parts.

This new RAL was proposed as part of the cleanup efforts for the Middlefield-Ellis-Whisman (MEW) Superfund site in Mountain View, CA. The proposed exposure limit is based on EPA’s recently completed health assessment of TCE that set a reference concentration (RfC) for chronic exposure to TCE of 2.0 ug/m3. This reference dose is a level that EPA estimates a person can inhale over the course of their lifetime without causing any adverse health effects.

What’s unique about this proposed exposure limit is that EPA chose to use the reference concentration, which is considered a continuous lifetime exposure, as a daily average exposure. The proposed RAL assumes that a single daily exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy could result in an adverse developmental effect. I believe this is the first time that EPA has proposed a short term exposure limit for any chemical. This is a remarkable event.

The chemical industry of course has cried foul, arguing that using the RfC to create a short term exposure limit is inappropriate and that there is too much uncertainty about short term exposures to TCE. A report prepared by consultants for the chemical industry went on to say that by creating the short term RAL, the agency is considering “an overly strict standard that will cause unnecessary precautions and alarm.” No surprises there.

What it actually does is provide genuine protection for people exposed to TCE (and likely other chemicals) in homes where vapor intrusion occurs from contaminated groundwater. This is a good thing that EPA should be applauded for and encouraged to do more of. Local residents in CA support the EPA’s proposal. The Center for Public Environmental Oversight who has been active at the MEW Superfund site and on vapor intrusion issues has written to EPA asking that headquarters adopt the Region 9 proposal nationwide. EPA has not yet made a decision.

In the meantime, several states including California and New Jersey are following the EPA Region 9‘s lead and have begun using or are considering developing short term exposure limits for TCE. If you are involved in a situation with vapor intrusion of volatile chemicals like TCE, use the short term exposure limit for TCE as a guide to evaluating the risks you face. It’s a lot better than what the chemical industry would have you use.

Backyard Talk

Cancer-Free Product Labeling – What Do You Think?

It’s no secret that market campaigns have been very effective in changing corporate behavior when in comes to using toxic chemicals. Some of the world’s largest retailers, corporations and major institutional purchasers like schools have changed their purchasing and chemicals policy to avoid harmful chemicals, like PVC, phthalates, dioxin and bisphenol A (BPA). Consumers have helped move Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart away from products and packaging with PVC the poison plastic.

The idea is to use consumer purchasing power to change corporate behavior to protection public health in lieu of traditional government regulations. Last week, a Florida Democrat took this philosophy to a new dimension when he introduced federal legislation that would require companies to label their products “cancer- free” if they do not contain any known or suspected carcinogens.

Rep. Ted Deutch described this legislation as a common sense measure that would provide clarity for consumers. “We all know that using sunscreen, quitting smoking and steering clear of asbestos can reduce our risk to cancer,” Deutch said when he introduced the bill, “but when it comes to limiting exposure to carcinogens that may be found in everyday food and products, consumers are largely kept in the dark.”

The Cancer Labeling Act of 2012 will enable consumers to reduce their exposure to carcinogens by allowing manufacturers to affix a Cancer-Free label to products that do not contain known or probable carcinogens through a voluntary process that does not require public disclosure of trade secrets. The issued label would state that the product “does not contain known or likely carcinogens that increase your risk of cancer.”

Companies would apply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) seeking approval to label a product under the jurisdiction of the agency. The application must include a list all substances in the product; a statement that the product does not contain any known or suspected carcinogens; and a statement that the product does not contain any substances that display carcinogenicity upon degradation, upon interaction with other substances contained in the product or exposed to the product during storage or transportation, or during intended use. Use of the label would be voluntary and the process would not require “disclosure of trade secrets.”

Deutch said the bill will allow consumers to make informed choices about the products they purchase. “Just as consumers who refused to buy baby products laden with BPA nearly wiped this chemical off the shelves,” Deutch said, “the Cancer Free Label Act will harness market forces to drive change and ultimately reduce Americans’ everyday exposure to known carcinogens.” If only it were that easy. What do you think? Is this a good idea or not?

Backyard Talk

Climate Change: Wilderness's Greatest Challenge

Last week I had the good fortune to visit the Big Sky state of Montana. I stayed at a cabin at Georgetown Lake in the western part of the state with family who live in nearby Deer Lodge. Not surprisingly, we spent a lot of our time outdoors, fishing, hiking, biking and sitting on the porch. The wilderness in western Montana is beautiful, but it is suffering a shocking loss of its signature tree – the lodgeple pine. Everywhere you travel, you see huge tracks of the tress cut as though the area had just been clear cut. It is stunning.

The culprit is not an aggressive logging effort, but an insect, an infestation of beetles – lodgepole beetles and it’s changing the landscape of this beautiful countryside, serving another lesson in the impacts of climate change.

A popular tree throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, the lodgepole pine is long, straight and lightweight and was a favorite for making log cabins and tee pees in earlier times. Now these trees are being devastated by a tiny beetle which according to the National Science Foundation, has infected more than six billion trees in the western United States and British Columbia since the 1990s.

The mountain pine beetle is a native insect that plays a natural role in regenerating pine forests in Western North America. This role is now in jeopardy because of changing weather patterns in Montana and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

In the past, populations of this beetle were controlled naturally by the harsh winter weather in this rugged mountain area. Typically it takes 7 to 10 days of intense cold weather – 20 degree below zero or more – to kill the beetles. In past years, this was never an issue. Some beetles would survive, but many were killed off by the bitter cold winter weather.

Now the weather is changing. Winter is not as harsh in this part of the country as it used to be. It does not get as cold for as long as it had typically in past years. As a result, the beetles are thriving and continuing to wipe out huge tracks of lodgepole pine trees.

A study published in 2009 by a research group from several western universities found that the death rate of trees in western U.S. forests had doubled over the several decades driven in large part by higher temperatures and water scarcity brought on by climate change. One of the lead authors commented that longer and hotter summers in the west were subjecting trees to greater stress from droughts and insect infestation.

It’s hard to predict how these changes will transform the western landscape, but it’s not likely to be a pretty picture. I had no idea how climate change was impacting the western forests and I‘m glad I visited when I did. It It‘s not likely these forest will be regenerated in my lifetime.

Backyard Talk

Making Sense of Zero Waste

When most people think of zero waste, they think of a near impossible and impractical goal.

They think that zero waste means not generating any waste or that all the waste that is generated has to be recovered, reused or recycled. Zero waste is much more than these narrow views envision. A new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, On the Road to Zero Waste: Successes and  Lessons from Around the World, provides a realistic view of what zero waste is by providing examples of how it is being applied and offers great hope of what it can be.

The report makes clear that zero waste is both a goal and a plan of action. The goal is to ensure resource recovery and protect scarce natural resources by ending waste disposal practices that use incinerators, dumps and landfills. The plan incorporates waste reduction, composting, recycling and reuse, changes in consumption habits and industrial redesign. The report also points out that zero waste is a “revolution” between waste and people. “It is a new way of thinking that aims to safeguard the health, and improve the lives of everyone who produces, handles, works with, or is affected by waste – in other words all of us.”

Nine success stories from across the globe are profiled in the report. Each of the communities profiled used different zero waste practices that were unique to its culture, economy and political realities, yet each led successfully to the same goal. Each shared several key ingredients – intensive prevention and source separation policies and flexible and decentralized, low-tech waste treatment systems. Each was more cost-effective and generated more employment than systems built around big incinerators and landfills.

The introduction to the report describes a common philosophy behind a comprehensive zero waste plan driven by four core strategies: 1) Setting a new direction away from waste disposal; 2) Supporting comprehensive reuse, recycling and organics treatment programs; 3) Engaging Communities; and 4) Designing for the future.

The new direction moves society away from waste disposal by setting goals and target dates to reduce waste going to landfills, abolishing waste incineration, establishing or raising landfill fees, shifting subsidies away from waste disposal and into discard recovery, and banning disposable products, among other interventions.

Zero waste systems separate waste at its source to ensure high recovery quality and efficiency.  Separate organics collection is critical to ensure a stream of clean, high quality material which in turn enables the creation of useful products (compost and biogas) from the largest fraction of municipal waste. It also improves the recycling rates because materials remain free of contamination.

A critical element of zero waste is involving the local community in determining the direction of the waste management program. The public needs to be involved in the very design of the plan for it to succeed. Residents must actively participate by consuming sustainably, minimizing waste, separating discards, and composting at home.

Once zero waste practices are in place, it becomes easier to identify materials or products that cannot be reused, composted or recycled. This creates opportunities to address industrial design mistakes or inefficiencies so that companies will produce cleaner and more sustainable products. If it cannot be reused, composted or recycled, it should not be produced in the first place.

Zero waste strategies can help societies produce and consume goods while respecting ecological limits and the rights of communities to self determination. It can also help ensure that all discarded materials are safely and sustainably returned to nature or manufacturing.

For a copy of the report, see <>.

Backyard Talk

Burn Baby Burn

Last week, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles that uncovered a devious relationship between the tobacco and chemical industries. It’s hard not to be outraged – no matter how cynical you might be – by the tactics used by the chemical companies that made flame retardant products to convince the American public that furniture needed to be treated with chemicals to protect life and property in the event of household fires. This 4-part series, titled “Playing with Fire,” makes clear the calculated efforts of this segment of the chemical industry to dupe the American public.

The first article in the series lays the background to this extraordinary expose. “These powerful industries distorted science in ways that overstated the benefits of the chemicals, created a phony consumer watchdog group that stoked the fear of fire and helped organize and steer an association of top fire officials that spent more than half a decade campaigning for their cause.”

The source of the information used in this series was internal memos, speeches, strategic plans, correspondence and other materials among more than 13 million documents made public after the tobacco companies settled lawsuits related to health claims brought by victims. These documents also reveal the influential role that Big Tobacco played in the extensive use of toxic chemicals in American furniture.

According to the Tribune series, this relationship began when Big Tobacco came under attack when smoldering cigarettes sparked fires leading to deaths (see Part 2 in the series). One choice facing the tobacco companies was to make a fire-safe cigarette that was less likely to start a fire. But the industry insisted that they couldn’t make a fire resistant cigarette that would still attract smokers. Instead, they shifted attention to the furniture (ands away from cigarettes) and promoted fame retardant couches and chairs. To achieve this goal, Big Tobacco poured millions of dollars into an “aggressive and cunning campaign to ‘neutralize’ firefighting organizations and persuade these far more trusted groups to adopt tobacco’s cause as their own.”

Part 3, “Distorting Science,” describes how the makers of flame retardant chemicals manipulated research findings to promote their products and down play health risks. The article tells us that “the industry has twisted research results, ignored findings that run counter to its aims and passed off biased, industry funded reports as rigorous science.” There was also a prominent burn doctor speaking in support of flame retardants as part of a campaign of deception and distortion on the efficacy of these chemicals.

Lastly, Part 4 describes the pathetic efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose mission is to safeguard America’s health and environment, which allowed generation after generation of flame retardants onto the market without rigorously evaluating the health risks.

This series makes it clear that fire retardant materials used over the years are not effective and some pose serious health risks. They have been linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility. Lots of household furniture is full of these chemicals. Worse, they escape from the furniture and settle in dust that is particularly dangerous for infants who crawl and play on the floor constantly putting things in their mouths.

If ever you had doubts about the lengths that big business will go to deceive and “pitch” the public, including politicians and bureaucrats, look no further than this series. It‘s an education in corporate behavior gone awry.

Backyard Talk

Designed to Fail – An inside Look at Why Regulatory Agencies Don’t Work

How often have you sat in a public meeting with a government representative at the front of the room responding to questions from the public with answers that make no sense? Maybe his answers are legally accurate (that is, they are doing what is required by law), but are they following the spirit of the law in involving members of the public in the decision-making process? Rarely does government engage the public as an equally or even as a partner.

Have you ever wondered why it always seems to be this way? Have you ever asked why does the government do things the way it does? A fascinating look into what makes government tick was published today in Independent Science News. The article, “Designed to Fail: Why Regulating Agencies Don’t Work,” provides an insiders look into how government works, or more to the point, why it doesn’t work. The author, William Sanjour, retired in 2001 after spending 30 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mostly working on its regulations. Sanjour provides unique insight and offers counter-intuitive advice. He tells us that most people think you need to “fill the regulatory agencies with honest people who won’t cave in to special interests. “Give them more money, more authority and more people.” Instead, he says that “concentrating all legislative, executive and judiciary authority in one regulatory agency just makes it easier for it to be corrupted by the industries it regulates.”

Sanjour goes on. “I’ve learned that the way to achieve true regulatory reform is to give regulatory agencies less money, less authority, fewer people but more intelligent regulations.” He points out that by dispersing regulatory authority, rather than concentrating it, it would make corruption more difficult and make it easier to write more sensible regulations.

Public interest comes and goes, he says. “The interest of Congress, the press, and the public can only be maintained for a few months or years. There are lots of other things going on. But there is one group whose interest never wanes or wavers. The life, the existence, the future of the regulated industry depends on the pressure it can exert on the regulatory agency. At least that’s what the special interests believe.”

Here’s what Sanjour believes needs to be done:

1) Agencies which enforce regulations should not write the regulations.
2) The revolving door should be shut.
3) Whistle blowers should be protected, encouraged and rewarded.
4) To the greatest extent feasible, those who the regulations are intended to protect should participate in writing and enforcing the regulations.

The full article is available on-line at

Backyard Talk

NEJAC Joins Chorus on Chemical Security

The National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her to use EPA’s authority under the “General Duty Clause” of the 1990 Clean Air Act (CAA) – also known as the Bhopal clause – to require covered chemical facilities to prevent, where feasible, catastrophic chemical releases.

The letter goes on to say that “Implementing the Clean Air Act’s prevention authority will not only eliminate accidental hazards but also will address fatal flaws in the current chemical security law administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Presently, DHS is prohibited from requiring the use of safer chemical processes at facilities. These gaps are particularly threatening to low-income and tribal communities and communities of color because they frequently reside near waste water treatment plants, refineries, and port facilities which are exempted under a 2006 Congressional statute that allows thousands of potentially high-risk facilities such as these from being required to use safer chemicals.”

The NEJAC letter echoes efforts by Greenpeace and a broad coaliton to address chemical security issues at industrial sites across the country. Last June 104 labor, environmental, public health and civil rights groups sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use the CAA’s general duty clause to prevent chemical disasters.

There are 483 chemical plants in the U.S. that each put 100,000 or more Americans at risk of a Bhopal-like disaster and several thousand other plants that use and store poison gases such as chlorine and anhydrous ammonia on their property, As stated in the NEJAC letter, these plants are often located near residential areas in low-income and tribal communities and communities of color. Some communities no longer face these risks because the plants have switched to safer chemical processes. For example, the waste water treatment plant in Washington, DC converted from deadly chlorine gas to harmless liquid bleach 90 days after the 9/11 attacks.

The Obama Administration has repeatedly asked Congress to remove these risks by requiring the use of safer chemical processes where feasible. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have blocked these efforts and there is little hope that legislation will move forward in an election year. Alternatively, President Obama can use the general duty clause of the Clean Air Act to require companies to design and operate their facilities in a way that prevents the catastrophic release of poison gasses. Sign the Greenpeace petition urging President Obama to use his authority to prevent chemical disasters. For more information.