Many recent studies have involved the effect of microplastics in drinking water on both human and marine health. However, more and more studies have begun investigating the impact that airborne microplastics have on both human and ecological health. Inhaling fragments of microplastics have largely detrimental human health impacts. The most surprising finding is that airborne microplastics have not just been found in highly industrialized and polluted areas, but also ones that we normally see as “pristine,” such as national parks. Microplastics can come from obvious sources such as plastic bottles, but also from waterproof outdoor gear and tents used for camping. The human health risks involved with breathing in fragments of microplastics have been recently linked to lung disease and tissue damage. Read More
The Environment Integrity Project released a report assessing the impact of Houston’s current plastics industry and the industry’s projected expansion. The report reviewed a total of 90 plants in the area revealing that nearly two-thirds of the facilities do not meet current compliance standards. Further, a total of 48 expansion proposals for plastic producing facilities in Houston are projected to add thousands of more tons of pollutants into the air over the next few years. Read More.
For years, Diane Wilson has tried to get Formosa Plastics Corp. to stop discharging plastic pellets from its sprawling petrochemical complex on the Central Texas coast. This week, she’s getting her day in court. Read more ...
Harris County has sued Intercontinental Terminals Co. for failing to prevent a massive chemical fire that burned for more than 60 hours last week and spewed an unknown volume of hazardous chemicals into the air and nearby waterways. Read more …
State and federal officials have known about the shipments from the Netherlands to Fayetteville for at least a year but never told the public. Read more here
When a plastic bottle gets recycled by an environmentally-conscious consumer, where does it go? Many people assume it gets trucked off somewhere nearby and ultimately gets reborn as a brand new product further down the line. The reality, however, is that a significant portion of America’s waste used to get sent to China to be processed and potentially turned into something useful.
Unfortunately, since January 1 of 2018, China has placed bans and restrictions on many types of waste the United States used to export, leaving huge amounts of potentially reusable materials with nowhere to utilize them. By 2030, 111 million metric tons of plastic waste that otherwise would have been processed in China now has nowhere to be handled.[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”] The domestic factories that process these kinds of materials into usable goods are too few, too small, and too swamped to take on this extra capacity.
Under an administration that touts its “America First” values as paramount, it seems overwhelmingly hypocritical to be sending huge portions of our recycling, and the jobs and income associated with processing and repurposing it, away to other countries. The United States isn’t only missing out on a large economic opportunity by neglecting to re-establish a recycling industry on American soil. Unsurprisingly, the practice of shipping off our waste for someone else to deal with has had negative consequences for the countries burdened with it.
Currently, portions of what used to be sent to China now go to countries like Vietnam and Thailand without adequate facilities to process recyclable materials. Without the proper infrastructure it is common in some places to simply burn these pallets of plastics, metals, and e-waste releasing huge quantities of air pollution. Under America’s current recycling system, we are essentially exporting toxic gases that damage the health and beauty of developing nations across the Pacific.
While public awareness of what can and can’t be recycled and government initiative to re-establish an American recycling industry are important, they do nothing to address the fact that Americans on average generate nearly 5 pounds of waste every day. Ultimately, the best thing to do is consume less plastics and other single-use materials altogether. If you want to reduce the amount of waste you generate, consider using reusable water bottles and portable coffee mugs, bringing your own cutlery to work on days you eat out, and demanding that companies or businesses where you spend your money use less single-use packaging.
CHEJ founder Lois Gibbs, considered the mother of the federal Superfund program, said it was “about time polluters were held accountable” when she heard that the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop letting polluters off the financial hook for the contamination they cause. At the end of January, the court directed EPA to finalize its “financial assurance” regulations that have been more than 30 years in the making. The Superfund law has teeth to hold corporate polluters accountable and this is an important step towards making that happen.
The financial assurance provision of the Superfund law – officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) – ensures that responsible parties, and not the public, bear the financial burden of completing Superfund cleanups. This provision requires corporate polluters to demonstrate that adequate financial resources are available to complete required cleanup work. One of the main tenets of this law is to prevent companies who created toxic sites from declaring bankruptcy and walking away, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for cleanup, often causing long delays before these dangerous sites are cleaned up.
The court recognized that “Although CERCLA requires operators to pay to clean up hazardous releases, many avoid payment by restructuring their operations so they never have to pay. It is a common practice for operators to avoid paying environmental liabilities by declaring bankruptcy or otherwise sheltering assets.”
For 35 years since the law was passed in 1980, EPA has failed to issue regulations that describe how it would implement and enforce this provision of the Superfund law. As a result, company after company found ways to pass the cost of environmental disasters on to taxpayers. With this new ruling EPA has no choice but to finally issue these financial assurance regulations which will require polluting companies to pay up front, or place funds aside to cover the costs of cleaning up contaminated sites. It will also provide an incentive for polluters to reduce their pollution and thus reduce their liability.
As the nation’s leading source of toxic pollution (nearly 2 billion pounds per year), the mining industry was targeted to be the first in line for the new regulations. The court has ordered the EPA to complete the draft regulations by December 1, 2016, and finalize the regulations by Dec. 1, 2017. EPA must also establish regulations for three other industries, including coal ash ponds, chemical manufacturing facilities and petroleum and oil refineries by Dec. 1, 2016.
The lawsuit was filed Earth Justice on behalf of Earthworks and several coalition partners. For more information, see https://www.earthworksaction.org/media/detail/court_orders_environmental_protection_agency_to_finalize_rules_so_polluters/04270#.Vs4bj-btiwZ
Researchers at the University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment published a paper last month that examines an important question about environmental disparities: Which came first – The people or the pollution? More specifically, are present-day disparities around hazardous sites the result of a pattern of placing hazardous waste sites, polluting industrial facilities, and other locally unwanted land uses disproportionately where poor people and people of color live? Or are they the result of demographic changes that occur after the facilities have been sited? Their answer published in the December issue of the journal Environment Research Letters points to a clear pattern of disproportionately placing hazardous waste facilities in people of color communities at the time of siting.
The authors used a national database of commercial hazardous waste facilities sited from 1966 to 1995 and examined the demographic composition of host neighborhoods at the time of siting and demographic changes that occurred after siting. They found strong evidence of disparate siting for facilities sited in all time periods, though they did find some evidence of post-siting demographic changes. According to the authors, these changes “were mostly a continuation of changes that occurred in the decade or two prior to siting, suggesting that neighborhood transition serves to attract noxious facilities rather than the facilities themselves attracting people of color and low income populations. Our findings help resolve inconsistencies among the longitudinal studies and builds on the evidence from other subnational studies that used distance-based methods. We conclude that racial discrimination and sociopolitical explanations (i.e., the proposition that siting decisions follow the ‘path of least resistance’) best explain present-day inequities.”
This study examined the processes by which racial and socioeconomic disparities in the location of polluting industrial facilities can occur. According to the authors, “prior studies have had mixed results … principally because of methodological differences, that is, the use of the unit-hazard coincidence method as compared to distance-based methods.” This is the first national-level environmental justice study to conduct longitudinal analyses using distance-based methods.
The authors came to conclude that “Our findings show that rather than hazardous waste TSDFs ‘attracting’ people of color, neighborhoods with already disproportionate and growing concentrations of people of color appear to ‘attract’ new facility siting. The body of distance-based research suggests that government policies, industry practices and community empowerment measures are needed to ensure fairness in the siting process and to address disparities in risks associated with existing facilities. In addition, more studies that use reliable methods to assess such racial and socioeconomic disparities in the location of other types of environmental hazards could also improve our understanding of the processes and factors that contribute to environmentally unjust conditions in the United States and around the world.”
The authors also published a review paper in the same issue of this journal that summarized previous environmental justice studies that demonstrated the existence of racial and socioeconomic disparities in relation to a wide range of environmental hazards.
On January 1, 2016 a ban on the use of Styrofoam containers went into effect in the city of Washington, DC. This new law will prohibit restaurants and local business from using single use Styrofoam (technically speaking, expanded polystyrene foam products) containers to package food and drinks, typically used for take-out orders or to take home leftovers. According to one estimate in a private blog, there are similar bans in effect in more than 70 cities including New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. In New York City alone, 28,500 tons of expanded Styrofoam was collected in 2012. About 90% of this material was from food and drink related containers.
I couldn’t help but smile when I read this story as a remembered back in the late 1980s when CHEJ (then CCHW) kicked off a national campaign against McDonald’s to get the mega food giant to stop using Styrofoam clam shells for all its food packaging. We called this the “McToxics Campaign” and groups all over the country participated including grassroots environmental health activists, students, churches, annual rights activists and advocates of healthy food. These groups, individually and in coalition, picketed local restaurants, fought for local ordinances banning Styrofoam, launched boycotts and engaged in send-it-back campaigns to send the message to McDonalds that they wanted the company to be a corporate leader for positive change, rather than a symbol of our throw-away society. And it worked! After a little over 3 years, McDonalds caved in, marking one of the biggest victories of the grassroots environmental health movement. On November 1, 1990, McDonalds’ announced it would end nearly all Styrofoam packaging use in U.S. restaurants within 60 days.
As anticipated, when McDonalds made its announcement, other companies would follow its lead. Jack-In-the-Box followed suit almost immediately, and soon most other fast food restaurants also stopped using Styrofoam. Although many small restaurants and local businesses continued to use Styrofoam, the message continues to grow that this toxic plastic has no place in our society. The many toxic substances generated and released during production, the formation of toxic chemicals when it is burned and the difficulties in recycling and disposal of this material is what drove this campaign and continue to be an issue today as restaurants and businesses search for options to deliver food and drinks.
Fortunately there are better options and better alternatives that don’t cause the public health and environmental risks that this plastic does. Cheers to the growing list of cities, towns and municipalities that are deciding one jurisdiction at a time, to move away from this toxic plastic. May there be many more in the coming years.
“Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction.”
That’s a pretty direct and bold statement. It is also a statement that outlines the stance of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) in a report recently published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Suffice it to say it is not sugar coated.
The report, titled “International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics opinion on reproductive health impacts of exposure to toxic environmental chemicals” and authored by experts from the US, UK and Canada, makes a strong argument that prenatal exposures to toxic chemicals in the environment such as pesticides, plastics and metals are strongly related to health problems that develop throughout the lifespan of affected individuals. This means that problems like fertility issues, stillbirths, miscarriages, cancer, and attention problems are all strongly associated with exposure to unwanted chemicals during gestation and early child development.
This information is nothing new – the literature on the topic of cumulative chemical exposures during childhood development is comprehensive. But it is a new and powerful statement coming from an organization that is the leading global voice of reproductive health professionals in over 125 countries/territories.
Gian Carlo Di Renzo, leading author of the report, put it quite eloquently: “We are drowning our world in untested and unsafe chemicals and the price we are paying in terms of our reproductive health is of serious concern”. These chemicals account for tremendous losses. According to the report, ambient and household air pollution results in at least 7 million deaths a year, costs of pesticide poisoning in the Sub-Saharan region are estimated to be $66 billion, costs attributable to exposure to only a select few endocrine-disrupting chemicals was conservatively estimated to be on average €157 billion per year… the statistics go on an on.
FIGO takes a strong stance against toxic chemicals, offering health professionals four recommendations: “advocate for policies to prevent exposure to toxic environmental chemicals, work to ensure a healthy food system for all, make environmental health part of health care, and champion environmental justice.” These suggestions are in line with CHEJ’s mission and vision, and we congratulate FIGO for developing and actively pursuing this policy stance