Posts tagged: Health and Toxics

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Health and Toxics


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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins readily leach into drinking water supplies. Watch the video above and take action to support federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
30 December 2010, 1:12 PM
Clean air protections saved more than 100,000 lives this year

As 2011 approaches, scores of online outlets are eulogizing the Hollywood stars, musicians, authors, and other icons who died this year. While it’s only natural to reflect on what was lost, there’s also a powerful story to be told about a huge group of people who didn’t die—though it may not get the attention won by familiar names and faces.

According to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 160,000 American lives were saved in 2010 by the Clean Air Act’s health protections. That tremendous number—roughly the population of U.S. cities such as Santa Rosa, CA, Sioux Falls, SD, and Springfield, MA—is the capstone in a year-end list of the eleven biggest clean air events of 2010, compiled by the American Lung Association.

ALA’s list highlights some of 2010’s monumental victories, including the first-ever toxic air emission standards for cement kilns—one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in the United States—and new limits on auto pollution.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
29 December 2010, 4:00 PM
Terminator vs. greens, salty roads, oil spill probes
Sharks are targeted for their fins to make shark fin soup. Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

Congress puts the kibosh on shark fin soup
Last week, Congress adopted legislation to curb shark finning, the practice of chopping off a shark's fins and dumping the finless shark back into the water, all so that people can dine on shark fin soup, reports the Washington Post. Though shark finning is currently banned off of the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, the bill will protect sharks off of all U.S. coasts by requiring vessels to land sharks with their fins attached, helping to restore endangered shark populations.

Oil spill probe undermined by conflict of interest
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has alleged that the investigation into the cause of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been tainted because Transocean and Cameron, two companies with a stake in the investigation's outcome, have been allowed to participate in the examination. Allowing these two companies is a bit like asking a bank thief to help investigate a robbery that he/she was involved in, but there's no word yet on whether the allegations will be taken seriously. In the meantime, Earthjustice is working hard to make sure those guilty of causing the biggest environmental disaster in the U.S. are held accountable.

View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
29 December 2010, 12:21 PM
EPA grossly inflates the cost of coal ash recycling

Just last week we marked the two-year anniversary of the Kingston, TN TVA coal ash spill. Today, Earthjustice, the Environmental Integrity Project and Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center have released an analysis of an analysis: basically the EPA overinflated (by 20 times!) the values for coal ash recycling. The EPA claims that coal ash recycling is worth more than $23 billion a year, but the government’s own data shows that this number is actually $1.5 billion. Apparently this inflated number is holding up coal ash regulations due to the fear that stricter standards will depress markets for coal-ash recycling.

Earthjustice and the other advocacy groups are fearful that the EPA will be intimidated into adopting weak coal ash rules (there are two being proposed) based on these inaccurate numbers. The discrepancy is due to many factors, including double counting pollution reductions and overstating emission levels from cement kilns. Here is what Earthjustice staff attorney Abbie Dillen had to say:

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
23 December 2010, 11:45 AM
EPA ash sitting, mama pig abuse, food safety victory
The HSUS recently released a video on sow abuse at Smithfield farms. Photo courtesy of garwee, sxc.hu

Oil spill sand berms saturated in failure
Miles of sand berms built to protect the coastline during the Gulf oil spill that cost millions of dollars were a huge waste of money, according to a presidential oil spill commission. During the spill, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal strongly insisted on having the berms, despite scientists and federal agencies raising concerns over the berms' potential effectiveness. Yet, as the Associated Press quoted coastal scientist Rob Young as saying, the berm effort has so far done little more than draw "a pencil line of sand." Ouch.

EPA sluggish on coal ash regulations
Two years after the Tennessee coal ash spill released more than 1 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry that destroyed homes and the area's livelihood, the EPA is still "sitting on its ash," reports Mother Jones. Despite EPA administrator Lisa Jackson's pledge early on to investigate coal ash sites, there is still no regulation of coal ash dumps, an unsettling fact that has prompted Earthjustice and others to call on the EPA to finally protect the public from the dangers of coal ash.

View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
23 December 2010, 10:25 AM
EPA Announces Timetable for GHG Reductions at Power Plants and Oil Refineries

Earthjustice is feeling merry today – and it’s not just the holidays. In part to our litigation, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced timetables for setting greenhouse gas emission limits for power plants and oil refineries. In a press call making the announcement, Gina McCarthy—EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation – explained that power plants and oil refineries are “two of the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.”

View Trip Van Noppen's blog posts
22 December 2010, 10:41 AM
Communities across U.S. are in peril until agency acts
Coal ash spill in Tennessee

Today marks the second anniversary of the nation’s largest toxic waste spill, when a billion-gallon wave of arsenic-filled coal ash carried away three houses and destroyed a riverfront community below the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant in rural Tennessee.

Two years and $400 million dollars later, critical problems remain. Despite removal of more than 3 million tons of spilled ash, the cleanup at Kingston is far from complete, and the direction of EPA’s rulemaking, intended to prevent another spill, is as murky as the contaminated cove beneath the broken dam.

The disaster cast a spotlight on EPA’s 30-year failure to regulate the disposal of coal ash, a toxic-laden waste left over after burning coal for electricity. In the absence of federal protection standards, an enormous quantity of this waste has been dumped in unlined pits and ponds throughout the U.S. At least 50 high-hazard dams hold back millions of tons of toxic ash and threaten communities, like Harriman, that face destruction should these aging, unregulated dams break. And if another one of these dams collapses, human life is expected to be lost.

Beyond these catastrophic disasters, there are more than 100 locations across the country where water and air are poisoned by coal ash.. Arsenic levels in drinking water around unlined ash ponds can be high enough to cause cancer in 1 of 50 people – which is 2,000 times EPA’s acceptable risk. Additionally, these sites often are not covered, allowing ash to enter into the lungs of vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

View Sarah Jackson's blog posts
21 December 2010, 1:29 PM
Industry wields fear and money to stop health protections

It's always been amazing to me just how much money polluters are willing to spend to try to convince lawmakers and the American public that public health and safety regulations will cost them too much money.

Seat belts and airbags, now standard features in all cars and trucks, were fought tooth and nail by the auto industry, which claimed they would be too costly and unpopular. It took the federal government 20 years to stand up to industry pressure and finally require life-saving airbags.

Anyone remember when EPA was first going to require installation of catalytic converters to reduce harmful tailpipe emissions? GM cried catastrophe and Ford claimed it would be forced out of business altogether.

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View David Lawlor's blog posts
21 December 2010, 1:08 PM
City water supplies across United States contaminated with known carcinogen
Probably the best (and only) film about hexavalent chromium

The nonprofit public interest organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) this week released the results of a study that tested the water supplies of 35 American cities. In 31 of the 35 cities tested, the known carcinogen hexavalent chromium was present in the water supply.

The result of industrial manufacturing and processes, hexavalent chromium can seep into groundwater after being discharged, thus contaminating drinking water supplies. In 25 of the cities tested, the EWG study found hexavalent chromium in amounts greater than the maximum threshold the State of California has set as a safe exposure level. California is the only state that tests and regulates hexavalent chromium in drinking water.

As a result of the study, EWG is asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a legal limit for hexavalent chromium contamination in water supplies and to conduct regular tests for the chemical compound. Similarly, Earthjustice is working to limit emissions from chrome plating facilities and is urging EPA to safeguard the health of communities exposed to hexavalent chromium.

View Tom Turner's blog posts
17 December 2010, 1:58 PM
Holdren lays down the law
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

 The Hill, a beltway website, carried a piece Dec. 17, reporting on a memo issued by the White House science advisor, John Holdren, ordering all federal agencies, in no uncertain terms, to use science as the basis for decisions.

The White House memo in turn links to a directive from Holdren aimed at agency heads that spells out in some detail the principles under which they are expected to act. This is all a followup to another memo, issued by President Obama last spring, urging that scientific integrity be at the top of everyone's agenda.

This all may seem like wonkish arcanity, but it seems clear that the White House is steeling itself for the expected onslaught of attacks on--among many other things--the administration's attempts to address climate change, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency's upcoming regulations to reduce the impact of vehicles on the climate.

View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
16 December 2010, 12:52 PM
Excellent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series looks at dirty air in western PA
Madi Kiddey and her sister, Abi, play near the Bruce Mansfield power plant. Photo: Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a little more than halfway through an amazing week-long series called "Mapping Mortality" that focuses on air pollution in western Pennsylvania. Reporters Don Hopey and David Templeton spent a year interviewing more than 100 people, including Lee Lasich, who uses all of her fingers to enumerate the deaths of friends and neighbors from brain and pancreatic cancers in her Clairton, PA neighborhood.

The reporting is stellar, the photos are jarring, and the takeaway, unlike western PA's air, is crystal clear: air pollution is killing people. Pennsylvanians who live in the shadow of the state's sundry sources of pollution—including 40 coal-fired power plants—often exhibit rates of heart and respiratory disease, lung cancers, and premature death that are significantly higher than national averages.

Hopey and Templeton concluded that 1,435 people in the 14-county region they studied die every year because of diseases linked to pollution exposure. Pennsylvania residents such as Ralph Hysong grasp the connections: "In Shippingport people don't die of old age," he said. "They die of cancer or heart attacks or lung disease."