Minden, West Virginia has begged for the cleanup of its town from PCB contamination for over thirty years. In 2019, hope was found among community members when the Superfund site was placed on the EPA’s NPL list. Yet, movement for either cleanup or relocation remains stagnant. Read more about the background of contamination in Minden and the current status of its residents as they continue to fight for cleanup. Read More.
Recent studies have unveiled the potential long term effect of toxics spread by natural disasters. Evidence shows that in areas where homes were destroyed by wildfires in California there was a higher incidence of toxic chemicals than in areas without homes. Hurricane Maria has been found to cause the spread of PCB contamination throughout Puerto Rico. In a world where toxic chemicals are often common household items, stronger storms have the ability to cause long term contamination. <Read more>
by Kenia French, CHEJ Communications Intern
A study from the University of Victoria found that humans likely consume 74,000-114,000 microplastic particles per year. How does this happen, and what does this mean for our health?
What are microplastics and where do they come from?
Every year, between 5 and 14 million tons of plastic flow into our oceans, and for a long time, we believed that it just stays there. You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: an expanse of plastic litter larger than Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific ocean. In fact, wherever there’s a major ocean in the world, there’s also a massive garbage island sitting in the middle.
However, recent research suggests that these large expanses of plastic don’t just simply sit there: they degrade over time. This degradation has resulted in a phenomenon referred to as microplastic, or tiny particles of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, often microscopic. These tiny particles of plastic have infiltrated not only our oceans, but all of the water systems on our planet.
Why are these tiny plastic particles so bad for marine ecosystems?
Microplastic pollution is particularly dangerous because it has a particle and chemical aspect. Microplastics have been found in over 114 aquatic species. Plastic particles fill fish’s stomachs and clog their organs, which has been linked to disrupted eating patterns and starvation. Filter feeders (think oysters) are particularly impacted because their feeding mechanism involves sifting tiny, microscopic organisms out of ocean water— microplastics inevitably get caught up in their dinner.
Microplastics have the potential to leach dangerous chemicals, like PCBs or BPA. While PCBs have been banned in the US since 1979, they aren’t banned worldwide, and many find their way into the ocean through illegal dumping or countries with less stringent regulations. These chemicals have been linked to liver and reproductive damage in many fish species, and to accelerating the destruction of coral reefs.
If microplastics are having their largest impact on marine life, how do they affect people?
The good news is that most microplastics that affect sea animals don’t make it back to affect humans. Microplastics remain in fish gut tissue, and haven’t made it to the muscle tissue, which is what we eat.
As the University of Victoria study found, though, it is clear that we are consuming an astounding number of microplastics from our everyday foods. Seafood is not the only vector for contamination: they found that tap water, bottled water, and sugar, are just a few sources of human microplastic consumption.
Should we be concerned about the potential impact of microplastics on our health?
According to the National Geographic, dosage is a key concept in toxicology. While 74,000-141,000 may seem like very large numbers, they may be quite small in terms of microplastic toxicity and may not be enough to have any impact on human health. Consuming plastic doesn’t really sound healthy, but everything is relative, and there isn’t yet any evidence linking microplastics to human health problems.
How can I limit my impact on microplastic pollution?
What is clear now is that plastic consumption is a problem for species that live on our planet, especially ocean species. If these plastics are harmful for our oceans, then they are probably aren’t the best thing for us to consume either.
There are alternatives: scientists have discovered ways to create biodegradable plastics, and people can push for bans on plastics responsible for leaching toxic chemicals, like our PCB ban. Overall, the best thing for a person to do to reduce plastic pollution is to try to limit your consumption of single use plastics. Single use plastics are plastics you only use once: plastic bags, like the ones your groceries are bagged in, are the main culprit, but plastic water bottles and product packaging are significant sources as well. Next time you’re at the grocery store, choose a paper bag, or better yet— a reusable one!
From the leaders of Minden’s movement for justice:
Reflecting on the March for Minden
On Saturday, June 8th, over 150 Minden residents and allies marched through Minden into Oak Hill to bring awareness to the long-term impacts of PCB exposure. They took to the streets to memorialize the Minden residents who they believe lost their lives to PCBs, to support those who are currently suffering from PCB-related illnesses and to pay tribute to the activism that first brought attention to toxic dumping in Minden in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The march was a 30th anniversary historical reenactment of an event that took place in 1989, when Concerned Citizens for Fayette County organized a march to demand that the government provide clean up and relocation for Minden residents. Meeting a goal that was made by those same marchers decades ago, Minden was recently added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites. The EPA’s National Priorities List is reserved for the most toxic sites in the United States. Placement on the list gives Minden more access to funds for testing, clean up, and potentially, for relocation.
The Minden Community Action Team has three major demands. First, members demand that those who wish to leave Minden receive government support for relocation. In addition, the group believes it is essential that past and present Minden residents should have access to specialized healthcare for those who have been exposed to PCB’s and other chemicals. The group also is demanding a thorough clean-up and decision making power for those who may choose to stay after the community is relocated.
According to marchers, the long, uphill route out of Minden that participants walked during the march symbolizes the uphill battle for justice and relocation in this small but strong community. Allies from all over West Virginia and six different surrounding states marched with Minden residents. Their energy and support strengthened the marchers resolve to keep walking and keep fighting. As Jean Evansmore, a community activist from Mt. Hope, stated about the marchers who travelled many hours to stand in solidarity with Minden, “People realize that this issue affects all of us because we’re all humans who want to put an end to suffering. “If it’s hurting you, I don’t care where you live…it’s hurting me.”
Minden residents and allies spoke at the culmination of the march in Oak Hill about their motivation for making that long walk and getting involved in organizing for justice. Eddie “Percy” Fruit pushed a barrel up the length of the march in homage to Lucien Randall, who did the same 30 years ago. Thinking of these organizers decades ago, Percy reflected, “My thanks goes out to Lucian Randall, Larry Rose and John David, who started out a quest to make a wrong right. So many lives have been lost to cancer from PCBs. Thank you pioneers…the fight will continue.”
Sixteen year-old Marcayla King took to the stage and expressed her desire to see justice for Minden residents. “I’ve lived in Minden most of my life and have been told to stay away from the creeks and the soil,” she said, “Even with the death tolls rising, with family and neighbors getting sick, we’ve been told that it’s safe and there’s nothing to worry about. The only solution is to relocate so that people in Minden have an opportunity to have a better quality of life.” Marcayla then went on to explain how she and a group of high school students conducted tests for PCBs in Minden and determined that levels of the chemical were over 50 parts per million–far from safe for human exposure.
Kimberly Duncan spoke about the loss, grief and illness PCBs have inflicted on her body and the lives of family members. “I’ve lived in Minden since 1989, in a little white house, right next to the Shaffer site,” Kimberly said. “Our kids use to play in mines where they didn’t know the PCBs were dumped. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007. Because of the aggressive treatments of chemotherapy, I went from being an independent person to needing help with everything. I grieve for my lost loved ones and family and neighbors. My dad had skin cancer on his face. My son is getting checked for thyroid cancer. I have over five family members that have seizures.” Reflecting on the activists of the 80’s and 90’s, Kimberly noted, “The women who marched then were called hysterical housewives. But those women were right.”
Lois Gibbs, whose organizing in her community of Love Canal, site of the infamous environmental disaster, led to a national emergency declaration and eventually to the creation of EPA’s Superfund, also attended. Local environmental activist, Pamela Nixon whose work in her hometown of Institute, West Virginia, led to the creation of the Community Right to Know Act that was enacted in 1986 showed up in support as well.
While Minden residents and allies grieve for the lives that have been taken by PCBs, they continue to have faith in the power of community to serve as an instrument for hope, change, and justice. Remarking on Minden’s placement on the NPL list, Lois Gibbs said of the Minden Communit Action Team, “you might not have had a perfect victory, but you have power, and you are a force to be reckoned with.”
For further media inquiries about the March for Minden, contact Brandon Richardson at 304-640-6353
March for Minden
Join us June 8th in Minden, WV
This March will be taking place on the 30th anniversary of a march that happened in June 1989. The participants are marching again for the same basic needs. We are reenacting the march by using the same route, recruiting the same allies, and bringing awareness to the same issue. The March for Minden is to increase awareness about the problems that face the toxic town of Minden. Participants will be remembering those who have needlessly lost their lives because of toxic PCB exposure, showing support for those who are currently suffering from PCB related illness, and paying respect to the activism done in the 1980’s&1990’s when the Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County first tried to get something done about the toxic dumping.
The March will begin at 3:00PM at 1574 Minden Rd. which is the old company store. We will march in the road out of Minden, on to Main St. Oak Hill, down Central Avenue, and to the Oak Hill City Park where we will have an assembly with speakers from Minden as well as special guests. We will continue to the Collins Park on Burgess Street in Oak Hill where toxic Minden dirt was dumped as a part of Oak Hill’s recent sewer upgrade construction. We will Bring attention to the toxic dirt and have Music provided by Lady-D. At Dusk, we will have a candlelight vigil to remember all of our people who have fallen because of the decade’s long PCB contamination.
For more information:
Susie Worley-Jenkins: 304-640-3653
Annetta Coffman: 304-228-1145
March Logistics: Brandon Richardson: 304-640-3653
Minden, a small Fayette County [WV] community, is now officially on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites, making it a federal priority for enforcement, cleanup and funding. <Read more>
We support the people of our county who desire to live, once and for all, free of PCBs. For way too long, Berkshire residents have had to endure the consequences of GE’s half century of willfully dumping hundreds of thousands of pounds of PCBs into the Housatonic River, and of spreading large amounts of PCB-contaminated soil all around the county. Read More.
In eastern Washington, a push to clean PCBs from the Spokane River faces a dirty legacy and global pollution problem.
The future of our country will be the hands of our children. But what does that mean? We can raise our children with values and ethics and teach the basic lessons of life, encourage learning and education. Yet our children and our future children are at risk of not being able to lead our country. Our children risk not being able to succeed in business, in society because of the environmental chemicals that they are exposed to every single day. Chemicals are leaching from the floors that they crawl on as infants, beds that they sleep on nightly or the toys they play with and put into their mouths, all release dangerous chemicals. What will their future be like? How can our country grow and prosper or compete in the global economy?
Recently the Center for Disease our federal health agency reported that 1 out of every 88 American children is affected by autism. That is a 78% increase in autism since 2002 and 23% increase since 2006. As if that is not bad enough, the agency also reports that 14% of American children are affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Of course not all of these problems are the result of chemicals in a child’s environment but a good percentage are. Looking at the chemicals that are in every day products, ones that are linked to these particular diseases, it is clear society can prevent the harming of children. PCBs, for example are fond in our environment, in lighting and windows of schools built before 1980. Lead is found in toys imported from other countries; paint in older building, homes, play grounds and around various industrial sites. Brominated flame retardants are in mattresses, pillows, clothing and all types of furniture. Also there are Endocrine disruptors like phthalates found in PVC products that are all around us in flooring, toys, pipes, shower curtains and binds.
Not a single one of these chemicals in products are necessary for life or for comfort. Every one of them can be taken out of children’s environment today. We know how, and we know where to find and remove these threats. We are just lacking the political will.
Our politicians need to stop the madness and find the conviction and courage to stand up to Corporate America and say no more . . .”Our children will no longer be sacrificed.”
If I as a parent deliberately, knowing harmed my child I would go to jail, yet in America corporations are above the law and spend huge amount of money to keep their unsafe product from being eliminated in our marketplace and environment.
Just look at the statistics above or the rising cancer incidence in children across the country. This is an election year where we have a chance to ask the hard questions and vote out of office those that intend to harm our children to protect corporate interests. Everyone needs to get involved, today, so that we together can reverse the trend and protect our futures. For more information
Autism and Environmental Chemicals
CHEJ has been talking about the dangers of PCB’s in school lighting fixtures and how the chemical can affect children’s health. Last month, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that autism spectrum disorder now affects 1 of every 88 American children — a 23% increase from 2006 and a 78% increase from 2002. CDC also reported that ADHD now affects 14% of American children.
As these disorders continue to affect more children across the U.S., researchers are asking what is causing these dramatic increases. Some of the explanation is greater awareness and more accurate diagnosis. But clearly, there is more to the story than simply genetics, as the increases are far too rapid to be of purely genetic origin.
The National Academy of Sciences reports that 3% of all neurobehavioral disorders in children are caused by toxic exposures in the environment and that another 25% are caused by interactions between environmental factors and genetics. But the precise environmental causes are not yet known.
To guide a research strategy to discover potentially preventable environmental causes, a list of ten chemicals found in consumer products that are suspected to contribute to autism and learning disabilities.
This list was published today in Environmental Health Perspectives in an editorial written by Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, director of the CEHC, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and Dr. Luca Lambertini, also of the CEHC.
The top ten chemicals are:
4. Organophosphate pesticides
5. Organochlorine pesticides
6. Endocrine disruptors
7. Automotive exhaust
8. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
9. Brominated flame retardants
10. Perfluorinated compounds
The editorial was published alongside four other papers — each suggesting a link between toxic chemicals and autism.
There are things we can do as parents as concerned taxpayer and citizens. First, is to remove chemicals in areas that children frequent. As you may know CHEJ’s Children Environmental Health Program has been working on identifying and the removal PCBs in school lighting fixtures as well as removing other environmental chemicals from children environment such as emissions near schools.
As a humane society we cannot allow this devastating neurological problem to continue to rise in our children. It is time to speak up and out about environmental chemicals and children’s health. It is time to ask our health authorities to explore where children may be being exposed and eliminate that source of exposure. This is especially true in the case of PCBs and school lighting(schools built before 1980 and had no retrofitting) since this is a win win situation. The school district can remove exposure and save money on the energy efficiency of new lighting fixture.
Our children are our future. Let’s protect them . . . our future depends on their leadership.