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Backyard Talk

The End is Coming – Market for Phthalates Continues to Shrink

Last month, the nation’s third largest home improvement chain – Menards – agreed to phase out the use of phthalates in its vinyl flooring by the end of the year. In a statement in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Menards spokesperson Jeff Abbot said, “We are still aware of the phthalate concern and have been working diligently with our vendors to eliminate any flooring products that contain phthalates.” Menards, which follows the lead of Home Depot and Lowes, has roughly 285 stores in 14 states.

This announcement follows a report by the Health Building Network (HBN) that the world’s largest flooring manufacturers, Mohawk and Tarkett, are also phasing out the use of phthalate plasticizers. Rochelle Routman, VP of sustainability for Mohawk, told HBN that it “long ago” phased out the use of ortho-phthalates in all the vinyl floors that it manufacturers, and is working to eliminate them from third party manufactured floors. HBN reported in April that Tarkett, the world’s second largest flooring company, has phased out the intentional addition of phthalates to its flooring.

The decisions by these major retailers and by global manufacturing companies portends an end to the use of phthalates in consumer products. Consumers simply do not want to take risks, especially with their children, that they can avoid.

The August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports makes clear what parents should do if they have vinyl flooring in their home – regularly mop vinyl floors that contain phthalates and wash toddlers’ hands, especially if children crawl on the floors. Consumers Union tested 17 vinyl floors and found small amounts of phthalates on the surface layers – enough however to warrant action by parents. “Although phthalate levels are very low, we recommend that parents of toddlers wet-mop often and wash those little hands after they’ve been crawling on a vinyl floor,” it reports. Frequent cleaning could help remove dust particles which are known to accumulate phthalates commonly used in these floorings.

Phthalates migrate from PVC, can accumulate in people’s bodies, and can cause developmental harm. Some phthalates are carcinogens.

Rather than worry about moping the floor and washing your children’s hands, most parents want nothing to do with vinyl flooring. The risks are too great and the market forces are following this lead.

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Backyard Talk

The latest news on the poison plastic: what every parent needs to know

The bad news on vinyl, the poison plastic, and phthalates keeps on mounting.

The more I learn, the more I wonder, why are we still allowing this hazardous plastic in our schools and homes?

Here are some of the most recent developments that every parent needs to know.

First responders file lawsuit over vinyl chloride disaster

In response to the December vinyl chloride disaster, which sent over a cloud of over 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the air (originally destined for OxyVinyls in NJ), a group of first responders have filed a lawsuit over this toxic exposure.  NBC Philadelphia reports:

“A class action lawsuit was filed today relating to the Paulsboro, New Jersey train derailment and chemical spill that forced hundreds of people from their homes and left dozens sick last year.

The plaintiffs include more than 100 first responders, young children, and property owners who allege they sustained injuries and damages after the hazardous chemical spill… First responders claim that Conrail representatives advised them throughout the day that they did not need breathing masks or other personal protective equipment, despite high readings of vinyl chloride in the air. The suit states they later underwent extensive medical testing that showed high levels of vinyl chloride in their urine.”

Vinyl chloride is the basic building block of PVC, used to make vinyl flooring in our nation’s schools, hospitals and homes.  You can’t make this plastic without this cancer-causing chemical.

The latest science: vinyl chemicals toxic to our health

As families and first responders have been suing over vinyl chloride epxousre, more scientific studies have been published showing that vinyl chemicals are harmful to our health.  Some notable studies in recent months include:

  • Research funded by the US Department of Defense found phthalates, used to make vinyl flooring soft and flexible, may contribute to disease even generations after exposure. They report that, Observations demonstrate that a mixture of plastic derived compounds, BPA and phthalates, can promote epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of adult onset disease. “
  • Only a few weeks after I blogged on new studies linking vinyl chemicals to asthma and obesity, researchers in China found a link between phthalates and obesity in school children.
  • Researchers in Ireland found potentially hazardous nanomaterials leach from PVC food packaging into food: “An exposure assessment revealed that human exposure to silver (assuming a worst case scenario that all silver is in its most harmful nanoform), is likely to be below current migration limits for conventional migrants and a provisional toxicity limit; however it is acknowledged there is still considerable uncertainty about the potential harmful effects of particles at the nanoscale.”

Policies to protect our kids from poisonous chemicals

On the policy front, the big news is the reintroduction of the Safe Chemicals Act by Senators Lautenberg and Gillibrand (honored to have her as my Senator here in NY, thank you very much 🙂 ), which will go a long way in protecting American families from unnecessary toxic chemicals like phthalates.  Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a news release announcing their endorsement of these common sense health safeguards.

As chemical policy reform continues to be debated here in the US, at the international level, Denmark has just unveiled a comprehensive new strategy to address phthalates in consumer products.

As part of the strategy, the Danish EPA will commence evaluation of the information available about the most common phthalates. And this may very well lead to new bans or other measures if necessary, the Minister for the Environment pledges.”

Pressure mounting to eliminate vinyl and phthalates nationwide

Meanwhile, the market movement away from vinyl and phthalates continues.  For instance, EPEAT has recently announced new standards for printers and imaging equipment, which rewards PVC avoidance in electronics – which should have a huge impact on the electronics sector.

Just yesterday, the San Francisco Travel Association announced that all new street banners around the convention center will be completely free of PVC, due to the hazards PVC poses from production to use to disposal.

“San Francisco has always been a city of firsts when it comes to sustainability and now that extends to our city’s street banners. I’m pleased to see the San Francisco Travel Association embrace our city’s goals of zero waste and toxics reduction by eliminating the use of PVC, a harmful and non-recyclable material, and up-cycling the banners as well,” said Melanie Nutter, director San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Last and certainly not least, CHEJ and our friends at the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families campaign have launched a new Mind the Store campaign to urge the nation’s top ten retailers to eliminate the hazardous 100 chemicals, which includes phthalates, vinyl chloride, and a number of other chemicals unique to this poison plastic.  Many retailers, such as Target, have already taken steps to phase out PVC, but much more is still needed. Read all about what bloggers are saying about the new campaign, who traveled to stores nationwide urging them to get these nasty chemicals out of their products.

***

Phew, that’s a lot to report on!

Anything important I missed?  Would love to hear other new developments!

Till next time.  Your humble plastics crusader, Mike.

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Backyard Talk

A day in the life of CHEJ staff.

A Cold Wednesday in March Demonstrated the reach CHEJ has and how much is really accomplished.

A Cold, Windy and Snowy Day Did Not Stop Us.

Wednesday March 6th a storm was brewing across the Midwest and Northeast.  Despite the snow and travel warnings CHEJ’s leaders moved forward.  Here is what happened on that cold, windy and snowy Wednesday in March.

A day in the life of CHEJ

As I juggle calls from activists across the state of Ohio working on fracking, deep well injection, air pollution, cancer clusters and more I’m freezing outside at and anti injection well rally at the state capital.  Cold and tired watching e-mails cross my phone from CHEJ’s home office I realize how much CHEJ does in a day to move the country toward a safe, healthy and justice place for American families.

While I’m in Columbus, Ohio participating with my neighbors and friends to speak out about fracking waste disposal.  Even with the nasty weather, over 125 people gather at the state house to ask legislators to  stop accepting out-of-state fracking wastes. Ohio now has over 200 injection wells and last year accepted  581,559,594 gallons (that’s right over 581 million gallons) of fracking wastes.

My co-worker is working on greening the market place organized a shareholder action in Arizona around Disney’s use of poison plastic in toys and other children’s products.  This morning a shareholder action was held in Phoenix, Arizona.  Leaders handed out informational packets to Disney shareholders to ask them to stop using PVC the poison plastic in their toys.  Many shareholders had no idea that toys were being made in a way that could harm young children.

Commemorating 35th Anniversary of Love Canal

In New York City

That same evening a celebration and fundraiser was held in New York City with our Executive Director Lois Gibbs.  This was our first event  of several, commemorations of Love Canal events 35 years ago were underway.  Chevy and Jayni Chase joined us as our special guest along with 67 others who braved the weather to celebrate with us that evening.  CHEJ surpassed our fundraising goal at the event and launched the Leadership Training Academy.  Great time was had by all with great food, drinks, conversations with colleagues and a preview of the new documentary A Fierce Green Fire, The Battle for A Living Planet.







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Backyard Talk

What You Might Have Missed Over (and since) the Holidays

The past few months have been a real doozy for the vinyl chemical industry.

While you were probably indulging in a bit too much holiday egg nog or prancing underneath the mistletoe, the vinyl chemical industry was in hot water from New Jersey to Delaware to California.

“These individuals can never know how much and for how long they were exposed to vinyl chloride, a highly toxic gas known to cause fatal cancer and liver damage,” the chairman stated.

The biggest news was no doubt the train cars carrying vinyl chloride heading to OxyVinyls that derailed in Paulsboro, NJ. The accident was nothing short of a major environmental and occupational health disaster. One of the trains released 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which formed a cloud of toxic gas that drifted into homes and businesses throughout the community.  More than 70 people were hospitalized after the vinyl chloride release. Air monitoring found very high levels of this chemical in the community. Hundreds of families were then forced to shelter in place and eventually evacuate their homes for days.   Since then, it’s been revealed that first responders were exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride, as it’s shown up in their bodies.  Thanks in part by the fine folks over at OxyVinyls (more on Oxy below).  You can read more about the train disaster in this op-ed I authored for the NJ Star Ledger (the largest paper in NJ!).

The same week that Oxy’s vinyl chloride was poisoning the air of Paulsboro, vinyl manufacturer Formosa Plastics was fined by the state of Delaware more than $70,000 for various air pollution violations at their plant in Delaware City.  It’s not the first time Formosa has been in hot water for violating the law.

In California the US Customs and Border Protection seized 35,000 toxic rubber (vinyl) duckies, which were in violation of the federal Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act for containing elevated levels of phthalates.  According to the feds:

“they arrived from China dressed as Santa, Snowman, Gingerbread man, Reindeer and Penguin, all 35,712, but their cute holiday flair did not deflect the scrutiny of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and import specialists, at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport.”

And that was just in December!

What will 2013 bring for the vinyl industry?

The past few weeks have shown 2013 will not be much easier for the vinyl chemical industry.

Down in Georgia, a recycling company has reduced their stockpile of PVC, after more than 400 firefighters had to battle a fire at the plant.

“It’s been almost six months since Chattooga County, Ga., was hit by its largest fire in three decades, when more than 400 firefighters battled a blaze at a plastics recycling plant in Berryton, Ga.  One thing has changed since then: The North Georgia Textile Supply Co. has whittled down its stockpile of a potentially toxic type of plastic: polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. When PVC burns and firefighters spray water on it, a cloud of chlorine gas can result. Since the fire, North Georgia Textile Supply Co. has reduced the amount of PVC at the recycling facility in the old Berryton yarn mill three miles southwest of Summerville, Ga.”

EPA published the latest toxic release inventory (TRI) data, and their latest findings show that 3 of the top 5 dioxin polluters in the country were vinyl companies: OxyVinyls, Dow Chemical, and Westlakes Vinyl (with Oxy and Dow #1 and #2).

New scientific studies published continue to underscore what we know – vinyl chemicals are toxic to our health.  Studies have found dioxin delays the onset of puberty in boys, phthalates in the bodies of ants, and organotins (which are used to “stabilize” vinyl) linked to obesity, even in the grandchildren of those exposed.  Nick Kristof wrote a fantastic column about this new study in last week’s New York Times.

Finally, WFPL radio ran a heartbreaking and extremely powerful story about the families of vinyl workers who died from liver cancer, after being exposed to high levels of vinyl chloride.  This here says it all:

“But it’s too late for the workers who have already died from angiosarcoma or are suffering from liver disease. Janet Crecelius Johnson wonders why B.F. Goodrich couldn’t have erred on the side of caution. Her husband Revis was diagnosed with cancer a year to the day after he retired. He had worked night shifts for nearly 40 years, and was looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“Every time there’s a wedding, every time there’s a baby, you just think, ‘I wish he could be here.’””

Any other major stories I might have missed?

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Backyard Talk

Train Derailment in NJ: More of the Same – No Cause for Alarm



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Paulsboro train derailment.



How many times have we heard the same refrain from government leaders and scientists involved in community wide exposures such as the recent train derailment in Paulsboro, NJ that released 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the air? “There’s no cause for alarm, we have everything under control.”

If only this were true. Instead, many of the hundreds of people in the 27 block area that was evacuated remain frustrated by the lack of answers to their questions about health effects and accountability. This frustration is driven by how government leaders and scientists evaluate health risks and by the many uncertainties about what is known about the short and long term health effects of being exposed to vinyl chloride or other chemicals. Scientists can estimate risks and give their opinions, but we simply don’t know what’s going to happen to the health of the people who were exposed to vinyl chloride in the aftermath of this accident. Yet this is exactly what people want to know – what’s going to happen to their health or to the health of their children as a result of this accident?

Here’s what we do know. We know that vinyl chloride is a human carcinogen and that it damages the liver and central nervous system; that more than 200 families within a half mile of the accident site were evacuated; that the Coast Guard and other authorities acted swiftly in evacuating the homes immediately surrounding the site of the accident; that the train pulling 84 cars derailed on a bridge over Mantua Creek; that seven rail cars derailed; 4 contained vinyl chloride; one ethanol; three fell into the creek; and one ruptured releasing vinyl chloride into the air (see photo).  We also know that 10 days later most people are back in their homes with assurances from the local authorities that everything is fine.

This is not surprising because it’s the practical thing to do. But what was the scientific basis for this decision? Air samples taken by EPA on December 8th and 9th from throughout the surrounding neighborhood found vinyl chloride in every sample taken. Eight of the nine samples exceeded the EPA’s one-in-a million cancer risk value (EPA’s trigger level for action). Yet people are back in their homes. EPA’s interpretation of this data is that is that the results are within the agency’s “acceptable” risk range, which varies by a factor of 1,000. This is a ridiculously large risk range that has no meaning in protecting public health.

So the stalemate is set up between government leaders and scientists telling people that everything is fine and a frustrated community that has no answers. Given this dynamic, it’s not surprising that 54 residents filed suit this week against Conrail and CSX for damages. What they want is medical screening for early detection of life threatening medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride. This is actually a reasonable response to the many uncertainties that exist in the scientific understanding of what will happen to the health of the people exposed to toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride.

Had the government leaders and scientists in Paulsboro recognized the scientific uncertainties and more honestly acknowledged how little is known about chemical exposures and health outcomes, there may have been a more satisfying resolution. A resolution that might have included practical steps forward such as medical screening for early detection of medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride. Testing that should be paid for by the companies responsible for the accident and who own the chemicals.

As long as decision makers continue to protect the companies responsible for area-wide chemical exposures such as what occurred in Paulsboro, this scenario will continue to play out as it has since the days of Love Canal more than 30 years ago. Isn’t it time we publicly acknowledge what we don’t know about exposures to toxic chemicals and stop deluding ourselves that using risk estimates that define “acceptable” exposures is the best way to manage toxic chemicals? There is no acceptable exposure if you‘re the one being exposed.

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If People Were Treated like Corporate Profits – Maybe We’d Be Safer

Today families, school children, hundreds of residents were evacuated again from the area around the train derailment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania which sent a cloud of vinyl chloride into the air early Friday. This event is yet another example of how our federal and state governmental agencies fail to respond in a health protective way. They failed to gather enough data to clearly, scientifically and honestly say to families it is safe to go home. They shot from the hip—said it was safe and they were wrong.

Imagine on Friday all of the schools were in lock down – meaning no one could leave or even open the doors and the homes and businesses around the accident were evacuated. Other than 48 homes closest to the accident, people were told they could go home. Sunday people went to church, children played outdoors in the unseasonably warm weekend riding bikes, climbing on swings at the playground and more. People were assured the risk had been eliminated and they are safe.

Today . . . Monday test results revealed that the area is not safe and schools were closed and homes and business were once again evacuated. This, it’s dangerous—not dangerous seesaw announcements, by trusted health authorities happens time and time again in every state. We’ll never know what that unnecessary vinyl chloride exposure to local small children and families did to their health. Vinyl chloride is a very dangerous chemical that causes cancer and nervous system damage. After 31 years of watching innocent families being victimized by corporation and then victimized by their own government authorities that are suppose to protect them, I am ready to scream. Why is it that chemical exposures are responded to with such casual concerns? Why can’t or won’t the authorities take precautionary steps when it comes to the health of innocent Americans?

I know when I ask this question of government health authorities they said because, the problem is contained. Moreover, we know who was exposed and who wasn’t and unlike infectious disease or contaminated food products it won’t reach beyond the physical area.

What is shocking is that somehow; those in charge of our health and environmental protection think this casual approach “because it’s contained” is acceptable. I don’t. There is no real urgency to accidents, spills or on-going pollution because it’s contained and what the authorities don’t say is it impacts on the responsible corporations’ bottom line. What about the American families’ bottom-line? They want protection, warnings, sound scientifically based information. They shouldn’t have to pay with their wallets and health.

Odd as it might seem, I sometimes wish people were treated like corporations profits. If that was the case PA families would not have been told to return home when it wasn’t safe.

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Backyard Talk

NY PTA Passes Resolution to Phase-out PVC in Schools

The New York State Parents Teachers Association (PTA) voted last week at their annual meeting in Saratoga Springs, NY to pass a resolution calling for a phase out of the plastic PVC in schools. The resolution, called “Reducing & Phasing Out the Purchase of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Plastic in New York Schools,” acknowledged the serious harm posed by PVC throughout its lifecycle, releasing toxic chemicals such as phthalates during use in products such as school supplies and building materials; releasing toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride and ethylene dichloride during manufacture; and generating toxic chemicals such as dioxins during disposal when burned.

The PTA’s resolution recognized that chronic health problems and conditions in children linked to environmental exposures are on the rise, including learning and developmental disorders; that children are uniquely vulnerable to harm from toxic chemicals such as those released by PVC; that PVC materials and products contain toxic additives, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and phthalates, that may be released into the indoor environment, posing hazards to human health including asthma and developmental problems and that children are at greatest risk of exposure; that PVC is commonly found in office supplies and building materials used in schools; that safer, cost-effective alternatives to PVC products are readily available for schools; and that the U.S. Green Building Council provides incentives for schools to avoid PVC and phthalates in “green schools.”

The NYS PTA resolution calls for the following actions:

  • Resolved that the New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc. seek and support legislation that would reduce and phase out the use of PVC products at all New York State school facilities; and be it further
  • Resolved that the New York State PTA urge school districts and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to develop green procurement policies to reduce and phase out the use and purchase of PVC building materials and office and education supplies in school facilities where safer cost effective alternatives are available; and be it further
  • Resolved that the New York State PTA and its constituent units educate parents and community members about the potential health effects of PVC and work to eliminate PVC products at all PTA-sponsored events; and be it further
  • Resolved that the New York State PTA forward this resolution to the National PTA for its consideration.

This resolution adds to the growing movement for PVC-free schools and follows similar resolutions enacted by the American Public Health Association (APHA), the “oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world,” last year and by the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union that represents more than 600,000 employees and retirees from New York State schools, colleges, and healthcare facilities, this past summer. The full PTA resolution can be read at the following link: http://chej.org/wp-content/uploads/NYS-PTA-PVC-Resolution.pdf.

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RIP Mr. Mouton, an Environmental Justice Hero

I was recently saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Edgar Mouton, Jr., a leader and former president of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN).

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Mr. Edgar Mouton. Photo: Jay Burney

Mr. Mouton was an inspiration to me as a fighter for environmental justice.

A lifelong resident of Mossville, Louisiana, Mr. Mouton fought passionately and diligently against the PVC plastics and petrochemical industry in his community, which has been spewing poisonous chemicals into the air and water of his community.  Cancer-causing chemicals like dioxin and vinyl chloride.

Words of an environmental justice hero.

Mr. Mouton was humble yet extremely persistent.  He fought for his community for many, many years.  He was outraged by the dioxin and vinyl chloride pollution that was getting into residents’ yards, chickens, homes, and their bodies.  Portions of the community were relocated and demolished due to groundwater contamination from a nearby PVC plant.

He wouldn’t let them get away with this.

In 2000, Mr. Mouton and other leaders from Mossville traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to testify at a US EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) meeting.  At that meeting, he said:

“As I grew up in Mossville, I remember when the plants were built as a child. My father helped build a lot of those plants. It is terrible. We had beautiful green woods around us and we did all the fishing that we ever wanted. But they did not care anything about that. And that is the same thing today.

“People are sick and dying in our community because of the high levels of dioxins found in our blood…We have a lot of people sick. There’s a lot of people with some type of illness, lungs, or some with cancer that I know of. There’s a lot of sick people there that thedoctors don’t know what’s wrong with them.”

“They seem continually to stall, for some reason or another. They give us the impression that we do not know what our needs and wants are. They want to run the show; they want to take control.”

At the same time Mossville residents were seeking justice, the polluters themselves were infiltrating and spying on the community.

From Buffalo to Mossville

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Mr. Mouton leading us on a toxic tour. Photo: Jay Burney

I met Mr. Mouton back in 2004 when PVC manufacturer CertainTeed was proposing to build a PVC plant on the Lake Erie waterfront in Buffalo, NY where I lived.  We knew CertainTeed’s primary PVC plant was just outside Mossville, and that’s how I had the pleasure of working with and meeting Mr. Mouton.

I led a delegation of environmental health activists to travel from Buffalo to Mossville, to bear witness to the pollution the PVC plastics industry was leveling on this historic African American community.  Mr. Mouton and other leaders of MEAN welcomed us into their community with open arms, introducing us to families, taking us on toxic tours, holding a joint press conference, and even throwing down with us at a crawfish boil.  You can read about the trip in this newsletter article I wrote back in 2004 (see page 8).

I’ll never forget that trip visiting Mr. Mouton, Mossville and the Lake Charles area.  It stays with me every day.

Broken promises, and the struggle continues.

“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” – Mother Jones

I’ve always been inspired by these words of Mother Jones.  And I like to think that Mr. Mouton would agree.  He’d want to see the struggle continue, until justice is served.

Over 12 years since Mr. Mouton spoke out at that meeting in Atlanta, and over 8 years since I traveled to Mossville to go on a toxic tour around CertainTeed and Mossville, CertainTeed is on the minds of Mossville residents once again.

“We’re being hit from the north, south, east, and west. Every time the wind changes, we get a lungful of pollution from some other plant. These chemicals end up in our water, our gardens, our children’s bodies. Each day we hear about someone in our community being diagnosed with cancer or another illness. We’re taking legal action so that we might live to see some improvements for ourselves and our community.” – Mr. Mouton, former President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

Over the past decade, MEAN, Earthjustice and other groups have taken EPA to court numerous times, and won! As a result of their work, the EPA  agreed and promised to clamp down on pollution from PVC chemical plants like CertainTeed in Mossville.

Unfortunately, the EPA has now broken their promises to this community, which flies in the face of the EPA’s commitment to environmental justice.  The EPA has set stronger emission standards for PVC plants in other communities, but weaker ones in Mossville, home to more than PVC plants than anywhere else in the country!

That’s why this week, MEAN, Earthjustice, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and other groups are fighting back once again.  They’ve filed a petition and lawsuit demanding EPA reduce toxic pollution from the CertainTeed plant.

“After years of work to obtain the stronger air protection we need in Mossville, Louisiana, it was a shock to our community when EPA suddenly changed course and singled us out for weaker standards as compared to the rest of the nation.  EPA should stay true to its commitment to environmental justice and correct this unfairness by setting stronger air pollution limits that will protect our health as we and all Americans deserve.”- Dorothy Felix, President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson owes this community justice.  She owes it to Mr. Mouton’s family.

RIP Mr. Mouton.  We will miss and never forget you.   The struggle continues.

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EPA Caving To The Chemical Industry-Election Year Posturing?

I can’t help but wonder if President Obama is posturing for re-elections trying to appease the all powerful oil, gas and chemical industries. It’s been over two years since the USEPA released their preliminary clean up goals for dioxin. These are clean up goals or levels that can be left in soil, and were based upon scientific studies that looked at non cancer effects. Health effects like birth defects, learning disabilities, miscarriages and more.

After EPA published the clean up goals they went to the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) where they sat for nearly two years. I had the opportunity to meet with OMB staff working on the dioxin goals and walked away angry and frustrated. I rename the agency the Office of Mannequin Bodies because no one would say anything–literally.

Today, EPA announced that they have withdrawn the clean up goals from OMB and will essentially abandoning them. This means that every state will use the scientific report, released in February of non-cancer dioxin effects to set their own guideline. Unbelievable, since today EPA has the scientific report (released in February) to support their proposed clean up goals. What this means is in each state the corporations will come to the table ready to play Monty Hall’s “Let’s Make A Deal!

So states with big corporations ruling the governance will deal a whole lot different than those with stricter regulations and public support. Some sites could be cleaned up to protective levels, and others well . . . who knows.

In the simplest format of Let’s Make A Deal, a trader is given a prize of medium value (such as a television set or in this case a almost good clean up), and the host offers them the opportunity to trade for another prize. But a poorer state with little money and political influence could get “Zonked” an unwanted booby prizes, which could be anything, fake money, fake trips or something outlandish like a fake clean up.

Communities deserve equal protection from dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. We know the chemical industry has invested significant resources lobbying against EPA’s proposed cleanup levels. Is EPA caving into the chemical industry during an election year? What is going on here? All of a sudden EPA has withdrawn them from OMB review, without any public notice or participation.

We call on EPA Administrator Jackson to move swiftly to finalize and release final dioxin cleanup guidelines once and for all, especially now that the non-cancer health assessment is complete. Infants and young children are already being exposed to dioxin levels higher than what EPA considers acceptable.

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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.