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Backyard Talk

Chicago, We have a Problem! Another School Siting Gone Bad

Since 2000, CHEJ’s Childproofing Our Communities (CPOC) campaign has been working on environmental school based issues and specifically school siting. What is school siting? School Siting is the process of where to locate a school facility. For decades this has been a contentious problem for decision makers because often where to place a school can be influenced by the budget. Decision makers have been enticed into purchasing ridiculously low cost land or property often not taking into consideration the cost to remediate or clean-up any toxic contamination. This oversight has cost school districts extra millions of dollars to clean-up site and even more because often on-going monitoring must be put in place.

There have been many examples of poor planning of where to place a school. The Belmont Learning Complex in Los Angeles was built on top of a former oil field full of explosive and toxic gases and other contaminants. The full environmental assessment was not completed until after $123 million was already put into the project. The site was them abandoned due to the health and safety concerns. A new school was built after a thorough cleanup. Over $300 million was spent on the project!

Now in Chicago there are plans to locate an elementary school on contaminated land in an industrial area. The proposed site is near a power plant and in an area already documented to have the state’s highest levels of toxic chromium and sulfates, a hazardous air pollutant and probable human carcinogen. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Read More]

The economic advantage that school boards hope for with the purchase of a contaminated site is rarely as beneficial as designed. Often the ones who have very little input in the process suffer the most, children. The community can have input in this process by making sure your state have some type of school siting policy. In October 2011, the EPA released its School Siting Guidelines to assist school districts in assessing environmental factors when deciding where to place a school. Although guidelines  does not pertain to existing schools, it can be used as a tool to enact a policy in your area and assess existing schools for potential environmental hazards.

Check out CHEJ’s School Siting Toolkit for additional information on how to take action on where to place a school facility in your area.

CHEJ’s Focus on Schools webpage offer resources on other children’s environmental health issues.  

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Backyard Talk

Lisa Jackson: Finalize the EPA’s Dioxin Study Once and for All

Pressure is mounting on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to make good on her promise to finalize the EPA’s 25+ year-long delayed Dioxin Reassessment.

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EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

Today CHEJ’s Executive Director Lois Gibbs sent EPA Administrator Jackson a letter strongly urging EPA to finalize the Dioxin Reassessment once and for all.  Lois has been working on dioxin issues for over 30 years, even going back to 1978 when she organized her neighbors to be relocated from the dioxin-contaminated community at Love Canal.

You can read the letter here, and I’ve selected some choice excerpts:

“It is outrageous that EPA has been evaluating the risks of dioxin exposure since 1985 – for more than 25 years – and that the agency has repeatedly allowed the regulated industry to delay its efforts to finalize its assessment.

As EPA has continued to work on the Dioxin Reassessment, people in communities across the country are continuing to be exposed to this highly toxic chemical.

Yet once again, industry is attempting to stall the release of this important report. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other industry trade associations are once again pressuring the agency to further delay the release of this important document. Once again they are asking for more review, more certainty, and more delays.  EPA will never satisfy these requests no matter what information you provide, because these groups continue to benefit from an incomplete report that is not finalized.

EPA has a moral and ethical responsibility to make public in final form its best scientific opinion on the health risks posed by exposure to dioxin and dioxin-like compounds. The American public has a right to know about the health consequences of exposure to dioxins, and EPA needs to take steps to protect American families from this unnecessary harmful class of chemicals.”

We’re not in this alone.

A broad coalition of environmental health, environmental justice, labor, Vietnam, women’s groups, and reproductive health organizations has joined this urgent call.

Today, James Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who represents over 1.4 million workers, sent a letter to Lisa Jackson urging EPA to finalize this report.  The Teamsters represent many workers that are likely exposed to dioxin on the job, as EPA has reported landfill fires are one of the biggest source of dioxin in America.  The letter reads in part:

“Over 32,000 of our members are represented by the Teamsters Solid Waste, Recycling and Related Industries Division.  The Teamsters Union is committed to standing up for the rights of all waste workers.

Waste workers may potentially be exposed to dioxin from landfill fires, the disposal of residual ash generated by incineration, and commercial and industrial sites that were not properly cleaned up.

According to your Agency’s January 5, 2012 report, air releases of dioxin rose 10 percent from 2009-2010, while other releases, such as landfill disposal, increased 18 percent.

These exposures to dioxin, in addition to its presence in our food supply, means that waste workers may face increased risks of high dioxin levels.

I am pleased that the EPA “is committed to a transparent, scientifically sound process to determine how this chemical impacts Americans’ health” and I respectfully urge you to move expeditiously, past two decades of delay, to guard the health of American workers, families and the public from this unnecessary hazard.”

Last week Rep. Markey (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, sent EPA a fantastic letter urging EPA to finalize this dioxin study.  You can read Markey’s letter and press release here. This comes at a time when EPA actually announced dioxin releases increased by 18% from 2009-2010, and dioxin air releases increased by 10%.  Read about it in this story in the Washington Post.

A growing body of organizations have written to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson the past few weeks urging the agency to act on dioxin.  Other organizations include:

You can join us by signing on to our letter to EPA, which we plan to deliver next week.

Will you join us and stand up to the chemical industry?

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Backyard Talk

What the Chemical Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know!

The American people will panic if they find out there is dangerous levels of dioxin in their food. That’s the argument the chemical and food industries are using to stop the release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) scientific report on dioxin.   Really. . . do they really think people will panic rather than take steps to protect their families?  The American people didn’t panic and not place their children in vehicles when they learned that more kids are injured in auto collisions than in any other type of accident. Parents installed safety seats.

The EPA’s dioxin report has been meticulously peer reviewed and is scientifically sound.  Yet, the power of the corporations that are responsible for dioxin in our environment and food has kept this critical scientific information (over 20 years of study) from reaching the public.  Consequently, the public is unable to make personal decisions about what foods they’ll eat and how best to reduce their families’ risks.

Dioxin, a known cancer causing and endocrine-disruptor chemical, is a byproduct of combustion and various industrial processes and is found everywhere in the environment. Chlorinated dioxins are released into the air and travel great distances landing on fields, pastures and waterways from waste incineration, burning household waste and a variety of industrial processes, including smelting, chlorine paper bleaching, PVC plastics and pesticide manufacturing. When animals graze in the pastures or eat feed that has animal byproducts, they ingest dioxin which is then stored in their fat.  So when little Joey drinks his whole milk, he also ingests dioxin contained in the milk’s fat.

Ninety percent of the public’s body burden of dioxin comes primarily from animal fat in the food supply.  The Environmental Working Group has found that the amount of dioxin a nursing infant ingests daily is up to 77 times higher than the level EPA has proposed to protect the endocrine and immune systems. The fact that both breast milk and infant formula are contaminated with dioxin highlights the urgent need for EPA to release its report.  For cancer risk, the situation is also concerning because the general public is exposed to up to 1,200 times more dioxin than regulatory agencies typically consider safe.

Parents place bike helmets on their children, fasten their seat belts, and take their babies for regular checkups because they understand the risks of not taking these steps.  However, everyone is being kept in the dark when it comes to dioxin in our food.  For example, breast milk contains fairly high levels of dioxin.  Nevertheless breast milk is still the healthiest food for baby.  EPA must release this information to new mothers so they know that nursing is the healthiest option.

Whose protection is our public agencies’ priority?

Recently, there has been an increased lobbying effort by various industries to stop the release of the EPA’s dioxin report. The International Dairy Foods Association, for example, wrote EPA a letter stating, “Animal products, such as milk and dairy foods, have the highest concentrations of dioxins, albeit at levels that are only in the parts-per-million and clearly below levels that have been determined to be unsafe. However, EPA’s proposed values for evaluating dioxin, if translated publicly to a “reference dose,” would scare consumers away from our products, and this would be contrary to the government’s own dietary guidance to consume three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy each day in order to get essential nutrients found in milk and dairy.”

Releasing the EPA’s dioxin report will help consumers make choices in food products that are low in fat content (as recommended by government’s dietary guidance) and could educate the dairy lobbyists as well since they got it wrong in their letter. Low fat and fat free products are not the big problem, because dioxin is carried into food products through the fat content.

Consumers should call their federal representatives and urge them to support the release of the EPA’s dioxin report so they can make their own decisions about what is safe.  It is time to stop assuming the American people will not understand and give them the scientific information.