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 Trip Van Noppen's blog posts
15 July 2010, 9:54 AM
Report from agency's Inspector General exposes unlawful delay

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fallen far behind in one of its most important responsibilities: to protect the American public from toxic air pollutants. The New York Times recently reported on a new study from the agency's Inspector General which found that the EPA is currently violating federal law by failing to put these protections in place. Because of the EPA's failures to set vital clean air standards, millions of Americans still face appallingly high risks of cancer, birth defects and other devastating illness—all because of exposure to toxic air pollution that can and should be controlled.

This grim news does not result from an oversight or an accident. As the EPA recognized in its response to the report, the Bush administration intentionally cut the agency's budget for controlling toxic air emissions by 70 percent. Time was spent instead on reducing protections: a federal court observed in 2006 that the EPA under Bush was "devot[ing] substantial resources to discretionary rulemakings, many of which make existing regulations more congenial to industry, and several of which since have been found unlawful."

It is hardly surprising that when the Bush administration cut the budget for reducing toxic air emissions by more than half, the staff could not do their job. As a result, health protections that Congress required the EPA to issue years ago have never been put in place, the toxic pollution continues unabated, and people go on suffering unnecessarily. One key statistic on that suffering: the Inspector General reports that "1 in every 28,000 people could develop cancer from air toxics exposure."

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View Jared Saylor's blog posts
15 July 2010, 7:47 AM
Request for coal ash hearings goes ignored

For once in this coal ash fight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing something early. Unfortunately, what they're doing isn't good.

On June 21, the EPA published their two-option proposal for regulating coal ash. One option sets strong, federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash and will do much to protect public health. The other option keeps the status quo of ineffective state regulations that put the public and our environment at dangerous risk. When the EPA published these options, it said, "EPA will provide an opportunity for a public hearing on the rule upon request. Requests for a public meeting should be submitted to EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery by July 21, 2010." I added that emphasis on July 21, because that's important.

So today, July 15, six days before the deadline to request public hearings, the EPA published the location of its public hearings. We and hundreds of other groups requested public hearings in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Tennessee (the site of the biggest coal ash disaster in history), Pittsburgh (where nearby drinking water supplies are poisoned with coal ash), Texas (which is one of the biggest coal ash producers in the country) and Atlanta (a city with a strong commitment to environmental justice; many coal ash dumps and landfills are located in low income areas and communities of color).

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View Brian Smith's blog posts
14 July 2010, 4:12 PM
Public has the right to know

Under the federal Toxics Substances Control Act, chemical manufacturers are required to submit health and safety studies to the EPA. Other federal law requires manufacturers of the oil dispersants being used by BP to submit data on the toxicity and effectiveness of the dispersants.

Earthjustice went to court today representing the Gulf Restoration Network and the Florida Wildlife Federation to get that information.

While the EPA has disclosed the secret ingredients of the two chemical dispersants, the agency has not released the health and safety studies. The lawsuit also seeks to uncover what's in other chemical dispersants approved for use by the EPA on oil spills.

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View Tom Turner's blog posts
13 July 2010, 10:04 AM
Here's a long-range strategy for reforming agriculture

Wes Jackson, a plain-spoken Kansan, has been preaching agriculture reform for at least 30 years—and not only preaching but also doing ground-breaking (pardon) research at his Land Institute near Salina. Wes's basic observation is that a system such as ours, heavily reliant on wheat and corn and other grains, which requires plowing and starting from seed every year, needs fixing. It requires heavy doses of pesticides, which contaminate water and sicken field workers. It squanders topsoil, losing it to erosion and the wind.

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View Brian Smith's blog posts
12 July 2010, 2:01 PM
New cap and new estimate of total spill

New Spill Total Estimate
Government estimates released today now put the total oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico at somewhere between 89 million and 176 million gallons. Seems like a pretty large range to us. For comparison, and to give you perspective on how big this environmental disaster has become, the Exxon Valdez spilled just 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

New Cap Being Lowered into Place
Over the weekend, a team of robots removed the old cap, cleaned up the site, and prepared for the installation of a new 150,000-pound metal cap over the leaking well. The well may still leak with this new cap, but BP claims they will be able to funnel more oil to ships on the surface.

A permanent fix may still be more than a month off when the relief wells can reach the original well and hopefully plug the hole from the inside with drilling mud and cement.

View Terry Winckler's blog posts
09 July 2010, 10:10 AM
Nothing is too strange when oil is forecast
Navy blimp is oil spill eye in the sky

Whoever would have thought that Florida would be issuing daily oil forecasts as if they were predicting weather? Check out today's advisory from the state governor's office:

Forecasts are for winds and currents to move oil in the Gulf of Mexico westward and projections are Escambia County beaches will remain largely oil free for the next several days.

After 81 days of continuous oil flow into the Gulf from BP's blown out well, this wee statement symbolizes the new norm for people who must accept the spilled oil as a routine part of their lives. It's much worse of course for Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, whose residents are forced into hand-to-hand combat with the invading oil. Some pretty exotic solutions are just now coming to their aid:

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View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
06 July 2010, 2:21 PM
DC/East Coast residents will finally be able to take their breathing outside

Anyone who lives in Washington, D.C. and other smog-laden eastern regions may have kept their breathing indoors for the last few days as a result of the high pollution levels. Recent announcements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signal the agency is doing something about that.

In two moves toward cleaner air, the EPA first agreed to review hazardous air pollution rules for 28 industries—from pesticide production operations to pharmaceutical plants—and also proposed limits for interstate air pollution in 31 eastern states and Washington, D.C. The interstate rule is aimed to slash sulfur dioxide (linked to a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system) and nitrogen oxides (also very harmful to human health). EPA estimates that this rule would avoid annually an estimated 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 1.9 million days of missed school and work as a result of reactions to ozone and other air pollutants.

In other words, this is a big deal.

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View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
06 July 2010, 9:55 AM
EPA to set emission standards for 28 polluting industries

In 1970, the Clean Air Act first took aim at toxic air emissions from industrial facilities across the United States. Forty years later, it finally hit a major target.

Actually, 28 major targets. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today agreed to review and update Clean Air Act rules that rein in emissions of nearly 200 hazardous air pollutants released by 28 kinds of industrial facilities.

All those numbers will translate to one important thing: fewer toxic pollutants in our air that are linked to cancer, birth defects, anemia, nervous system damage, lung and respiratory ailments, and other illnesses. The 28 categories of industrial facilities include pesticide production operations, pharmaceutical plants and lead smelters.

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View Terry Winckler's blog posts
01 July 2010, 10:20 AM
Earthjustice demanded ingredient information, will seek expert opinions
Dispersant sprayed in Gulf of Mexico

<Update 7/1: EPA has released results of its first round of chemical testing of dispersants used in the Gulf. The report downplays toxicity, but as scientist/blogger Richard Denison points out - the report offers little new information and still leaves unresolved the bigger questions, such as what toxicity occurs when dispersants and oil combine, and what happens when that highly dispersed oil/dispersant brew is spread across vast areas and throughout the water column.>

<Update: A month after promising to test the toxicity of dispersants used against the Gulf oil spill, the EPA has yet to complete those tests - meanwhile more than 1.4 million gallons have been dumped in the Gulf with unmeasured consequences, reports Mother Jones. EPA's position is that the dispersants are less toxic than the oil, but that raises the question: are we just adding to the total toxicity of the spill?

<Update: Check out the latest information on the toxic potential of ingredients in oil dispersants>

The government wouldn't dare let a doctor give out an experimental drug without years of extensive testing, yet it has allowed British Petroleum to flood the Gulf of Mexico with more than a million gallons of a secret chemical compound in an untested experiment on human communities, hundreds of animal species, and myriad ecological systems.

We're talking about Corexit and other dispersants, made up of classified chemicals and spread over and injected into Gulf waters to break up BP's oil spill. The spill alone is in many ways unmatched in human history, scientists say, and because of dispersants may be wreaking special devastation in the Gulf. Aside from the fact that dispersants never before have been used on such a vast scale, we have been forced to guess at the danger they pose because BP and the dispersants' manufacturer refused to reveal the ingredients.

Today, after Earthjustice demanded the information through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Environmental Protection Agency finally provided a list of what's in these chemical compounds. Now, we can turn to experts to assess their danger. Our clients, the Gulf Restoration Network and Florida Wildlife Federation, who have long worked to protect the Gulf, must know what is happening to its rich fisheries, sea turtles, birds, and entire ecosystem.

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View Terry Winckler's blog posts
29 June 2010, 4:51 PM
Gulf spill area like a cauldron waiting to be stirred
Tropical Storm Alex

<Update 7/1: All BP oil spill cleanup and containment efforts are on hold as wind and waves from the former Hurricane Alex push through the oil spill area. Although the storm stayed 600 miles to the west, it still had enough punch to not only stop the cleanup but actually push oil deeper into coastal wetlands and onto beaches.>

<Update: Alex has been upgraded to a hurricane and continues on course, veering away from any direct contact with the Gulf oil spill area, but still disrupting containment and cleanup efforts. Tar balls "big as apples" have been pushed deep into wetlands by the storm, reports AP. >

Wind and waves from Hurricane Alex are stirring up more questions than havoc so far at the BP oil spill site, hundreds of miles away. Pundits, scientists and outright guessers just can't agree on what's going to happen to that stew of oil and dispersants when a storm makes a direct hit on the spill scene.

Much of their uncertainty has to do with the chemical makeup of the dispersants, which have been strewn like a giant lab experiment over thousands of square miles of spilled oil, and shot into the oil at seabed level as it escapes. After Earthjustice demanded answers from the EPA, the agency revealed the ingredients, but toxic effects of those ingredients—especially in combination with the oil it binds to—are hard to tie down. And there seems to be nothing but conjecture when it comes to figuring out the added factor of hurricanes.

At this moment, it appears Alex will temporarily halt oil containment/clean up efforts, which are recovering about half of the estimated 60,000 barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf every day. By the time it hits land Wednesday, probably near the Mexico/U.S. border, the storm will have lobbed enough energy eastward to push globs of oily goo deeper into coastal wetlands and along a much broader expanse of beaches in relatively untouched states such as Florida and Mississippi.

But, imagine if Alex's 75+ m.p.h. winds were directly ravaging the spill area, pulling trillions of gallons of that toxic water into its vortex and raining it down over a many-states area.

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