Archives for the month of: June, 2011

From Houston Chronicle:

rom Dana Janczak’s home in a secluded rural area east of Cleveland, it’s a 40-mile ride to the nearest asthma doctor in Kingwood, so she tries to keep trips to a minimum by stocking up on nebulizers: four in her house and two in her car.

Janczak is one of 25 million Americans who suffer from asthma, but what distinguishes her and other rural residents in the Houston region — which has the highest prevalence of asthma in Texas — is that, despite her best efforts, she still has ended up in the hospital three times.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of state health records found that rural Cleveland in Liberty County has the highest rate of hospitalization for asthma-related conditions in the 10-county region. In the Houston area overall, nearly 10,000 people were hospitalized between 2007 and 2009 for asthma, according to data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“We had to live in the ER for a while,” Janczak recalls of her most serious attack in 2007. “I felt like my airway was closed. I heard my husband’s voice was getting farther and farther away.”

Liberty County health professionals say several factors contribute to the elevated hospitalization rate, such as a high percentage of smokers and the fact that much of the area is densely covered by woods and their naturally aggravating allergens. But the primary factor, they say, is likely the lack of access to medical care.

“We have few pediatricians in Liberty,” said Alexis Cordova, president of the Liberty County Health Awareness Coalition. “We have limited health care, which means people don’t take their children to doctors as often so their respiratory problems become more serious.”

Other rural areas such as Coldspring and Shepherd in San Jacinto County also had significantly elevated hospitalization rates. Experts attribute that mainly to one thing: Urban areas, with more health care options, are better equipped to treat the respiratory disease that kills almost 4,000 people and puts 456,000 Americans in hospitals every year.

“(Asthma) specialty services are really concentrated in urban areas,” said Dr. William Calhoun, a lung disease professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “In Central and West Texas, up to the Panhandle, there are entire counties that don’t have pulmonary or allergy specialists.”

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Uniformly, though, the areas in the greater Houston region that also have elevated hospitalization rates for asthma are all in pockets where the median household income is lower than the average.

Sunnyside, mere miles from the Texas Medical Center and its dense knot of top-notch medical clinics, ranked second-highest in its hospitalization rate in the Chronicle analysis. With a household median income level of $17,000, however, it is much poorer than the rest of Harris County where the median income is nearly $43,000, suggesting poverty may be the greatest single contributor.

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Generally, the east side of Houston – with the Ship Channel and an array of oil refineries – has a higher rate of asthma hospitalizations than the west.

North Pasadena, La Porte, Highlands and Baytown – which are all along the Ship Channel – have higher than average rates. So do La Marque and west Texas City, near the oil and gas facilities in Galveston County.

“You’re right in the road of refineries and that is a very significant source of pollution, and pollution is documented to trigger asthma,” said Dr. Harold Farber, a professor and pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital. “I know some pediatricians have said when the wind from the refineries is blowing in our direction, you get more kids coming into the office with asthma.”

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Medical research shows that environmental factors can trigger asthma attacks, including air pollution, secondhand smoke, dust mites and even cockroach allergens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that higher levels of the ozone pollutant is a significant risk to asthma patients, and the Houston region is classified as being in “severe nonattainment” by EPA standards.

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The CDC says the asthma rate has been increasing steadily over the past decade: while about 20 million people, or 7 percent of the population, had asthma in 2001, 25 million had it in 2009.

In 2007, the total charges for asthma hospitalizations in Texas were more than $446 million, according to the report conducted in 2009 by the state health department. While a third of that is paid by private insurance firms, more than half falls to Medicare and Medicaid.

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Christopher Gavigan, author and CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World talks about experiences he made with children with learning or other behavioral disabilities and realized that what we bring in our homes is affecting our children. Even today the science has shown us, that there has been a clear direct link between chemicals and handmade toxins and the rise in illnesses and diseases. By taking those chemicals out of homes, immediately positive change could be seen in those children. Healthy Child Healthy World exist to give you information on how you can create healthier environments for children. Actions we take today will affect our future generations.

From Washington Post:

Nearly 10 percent of the world’s adults have diabetes, and the prevalence of the disease is rising rapidly. As in the United States and other wealthy nations, increased obesity and inactivity are the primary cause in such developing countries as India and in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

That’s the sobering conclusion of a study published Saturday in the journal Lancet that traces trends in diabetes and average blood sugar readings in about 200 countries and regions over the past three decades.The study’s findings predict a huge burden of medical costs and physical disability ahead in this century, as the disease increases a person’s risk of heart attack, kidney failure, blindness and some infections.“This study confirms the suspicion of many that diabetes has become a global epidemic,” said Frank Hu, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s School of Public Health who was not involved in the research.

“It has the potential to overwhelm the health systems of many countries, especially developing countries.”Worldwide, the prevalence of diabetes in men older than 25 rose from 8.3 percent in 1980 to 9.8 percent in 2008. For women older than 25, it increased from 7.5 percent to 9.2 percent.“This is likely to be one of the defining features of global health in the coming decades,” said Majid Ezzati, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at Imperial College London, who headed the study. “There’s simply the magnitude of the problem. And then there’s the fact that unlike high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we don’t really have good treatments for diabetes.”There are two types of diabetes, a metabolic ailment in which the body is unable to rapidly or adequately move sugar out of the bloodstream and into tissues after a meal. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease that comes on in childhood and requires that a person take insulin shots to survive. Type 2 accounts for 90 percent of cases and generally comes on after age 25. It is controlled by insulin, pills and, in some cases, weight loss and exercise.

The disease is most common in the islands of the South Pacific — Oceania — where an explosion of severe obesity, coupled with a genetic proclivity for diabetes, has driven diabetes prevalence to 25 percent in men and 32 percent in women in some places. The Gulf States also have very high rates, with Saudi Arabia ranking No. 3, Jordan No. 8 and Kuwait No. 10 in diabetes among men in 2008.

Among high-income countries, the United States had the steepest rise over the past three decades for men and the second-steepest rise for women (behind Spain). In 2008, 12.6 percent of American men and 9.1 percent of women had the disease.

China and India, however, are the nations that will be most responsible for what happens over the next several decades. Together, they account for 40 percent of people with diabetes today. In contrast, 10 percent of the world’s total live in the United States and Russia.

Barry M. Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina who has done research in China, said the increase in diabetes there has just begun. That’s because diabetes lags behind inactivity and obesity, both of which have increased during China’s economic boom.

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From Mercury News:

Santa Clara County supervisors this week passed what is believed to be the first law of its kind to ensure that electronic waste — computers and other electronic appliances — isn’t exported out of the country for recycling.

Due to low recycling costs overseas, recyclers have a financial incentive to export e-waste to developing countries where it can be broken down at lower cost. But unregulated recycling practices in those countries often have children breaking apart the devices and exposing themselves to lead, mercury and other toxic materials.

Because only the federal government can directly control international trade, the county ordinance approved Tuesday requires anyone who collects e-waste to bring it to a certified recycler. The recyclers must be certified by e-Steward, a program that seeks to prevent electronic waste from being shipped to poor countries.

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In April 1991 Nancy and Jim Chuda establish the Colette Chuda Environmental Fund (CCEF) after their daughter, Colette, dies of a non-genetic cancer. CCEF begins funding new research to identify the causes of childhood cancers.

In June 1992 Childrens Health Environmental Coalition (now Healthy Child Healthy World) is created. Healthy Child’s mission is to inform parents about the preventable childhood health and developmental problems cause by exposures to toxic substances and to educate them on risk reduction in their homes, schools, and community.

From Chemical & Engineering News:

.The dust has yet to settle on whether bisphenol A (BPA) harms humans, but now people may start worrying about BPA’s chemical offspring. Researchers report that certain bacteria convert BPA into compounds more deadly to fish than BPA itself

Industry produces millions of tons of BPA each year, mostly for making plastics. People ingest BPA or absorb it through their skin, ending up with levels that are detectable in serum and breast milk. The chemical structure of BPA is similar to estrogen, raising concerns that it could mimic the hormone and wreak havoc in the body, particularly in early life.

Max Häggblom of Rutgers University knew that a significant amount of BPA ends up in the environment, where bacteria could transform it to compounds with unknown properties and health effects. So Häggblom and colleagues added BPA to four species of Mycobacterium, a common genus of microbe that the researchers knew could chemically transform related compounds. When they monitored the products with gas-chromatography/mass spectrometry, they discovered that all four species could add one or two methyl groups to BPA.

The researchers then added these compounds in varying concentrations, all higher than BPA’s usual levels in nature, to vials of water containing zebrafish . . .  embryos and watched the fish develop. They found that it took ten times as much BPA as methylated BPA to kill half the zebrafish over five days.

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From Associated Press:

Nearly two-thirds of deaths in the world are caused by noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart and lung disease which are rapidly increasing at a cost to the global economy of trillions of dollars, according to U.N. estimates and preliminary results of a new study.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report circulated Monday that while the international community has focused on communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the four main noncommunicable diseases “have emerged relatively unnoticed in the developing world and are now becoming a global epidemic.”

According to the report, 36 million people died from noncommunicable diseases in 2008, representing 63 percent of the 57 million global deaths that year. Nearly 80 percent of deaths from these diseases were in the developing world, and 9 million deaths were of men and women under the age of 60, it said.

In 2030, the report said, these diseases are projected to claim the lives of 52 million people.

Ban said the rapidly increasing magnitude of noncommunicable diseases is fueled by rising risk factors including tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, obesity and harmful alcohol use — and is driven in part by an aging population, the negative impact of urbanization, and the globalization of trade and marketing.

At a press conference Monday to preview a U.N. summit in September that will spotlight the need to tackle these diseases, John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, said that by 2030 noncommunicable diseases are expected to cause five times as many deaths as communicable diseases worldwide.

“No health problem in the history of the world has ever gone so hidden, misunderstood and under-recorded,” Seffrin said.

Seffrin said “it is the poorest people that suffer the most” because they can’t afford early detection and quality care and must deal with overburdened and poorly equipped health care systems.

He called for urgent action to start solving “what will be the 21st century’s greatest health challenge, namely noncommunicable diseases.”

Professor David Bloom of the Harvard School of Public Health, who is leading a project to estimate the global economic burden of noncommunicable diseases, said preliminary results indicate that the substantial economic burden caused by these diseases today “will evolve into a staggering economic burden over the next two decades” that could have a huge impact on economic development and fighting poverty.

The project, which is sponsored by the World Economic Forum, is estimating the global costs of newly diagnosed cancer cases at “more than $300 billion in 2010” and of “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on the order of $400 billion in 2010,” he said.

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From Environmental Health News:

Exposure to chemicals early in life may alter how breast tissue develops and raise the risks of breast cancer and lactation problems later in life, scientists concluded in a set of reports published Wednesday.

The scientists are urging federal officials to add new tests for industrial chemicals and pesticides to identify ones that might disrupt breast development. In some cases, they said, mammary glands are more sensitive to effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals than any other part of the body, so low levels of exposure may be causing breast changes.

“Few chemicals coming into the marketplace are evaluated for these effects,” said one of the reports, based on the findings of more than 60 scientists who convened a workshop in Oakland, Calif., in 2009.

Although many experts have long debated the role of the environment in breast cancer, the possibility that chemicals are changing how and when breasts develop is a relatively new concern for scientists.

Recent animal tests show that when rodents are exposed to some hormonally active chemicals in the womb or as newborns, their mammary glands do not grow normally, and the changes can slow or speed up breast development, impair breastfeeding or cause cancerous tumors later in life. Included are estrogens used as pharmaceuticals, phytoestrogens in plants consumed as foods and synthetic compounds including bisphenol A, flame retardants and pesticides, according  to the report, which was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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From The Morning Call:

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For years, New Jersey has struggled to get Pennsylvania to consider its neighbor’s air in enforcing emission standards, a situation that has allowed some coal-powered plants to operate without scrubbers for decades.

And for just as long, New Jersey officials and activists say, Pennsylvania has thumbed its nose at its neighbor, who has labored mightily to meet federal standards for sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.

Federal records show Pennsylvania has more than 80 fossil-fuel power plants, several of which produce prodigious amounts of sulfur dioxide, a pollutant shown to aggravate asthma.

Yet westerly winds blow a sizable portion of the contaminant over the Delaware River into New Jersey, leaving Pennsylvania’s skies and the consciences of its lawmakers clear.

As a result, Pennsylvania regulators have been slow to push upgrades of outmoded power plants, officials and activists say — including the Portland Generating Station in Northampton County, now the subject of a federal review.

“States and state legislators are often very parochial in their outlook: ‘It’s not affecting our state, so it’s not a big deal,'” said Frank Kuserk, a professor of biological sciences at Moravian College. “That’s why you need regional and national cooperation.”

Sulfur dioxide is a jack-of-all-trades pollutant. Inhaled, it aggravates asthma and can cause respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. Combined with other contaminants and water vapor, it falls from the sky as acid rain. Over long distances, it often clumps together with other pollutants, forming tiny particles that can cause breathing problems.

It’s also easily controlled using scrubber systems, though not necessarily cheaply. Federal officials recommend two basic techniques, featuring components like mist eliminators and vacuum filters.

But the 53-year-old Portland plant doesn’t have any such controls. Neither do a number of other Pennsylvania plants, lawsuits contend. When pressed, Portland plant owner GenOn Energy always says the same thing: The state never told us to upgrade.

GenOn officials wrote in 2010 annual financial filings that installing scrubbers at older coal plants is economically unfeasible. Cost estimates to bring Portland into compliance have run as high as $300 million.

But when Maryland enforced stricter sulfur dioxide rules in 2009, GenOn agreed to install pollution control at three plants in that state, reducing emissions by more than 80 percent, according to the filings. Pennsylvania hasn’t enforced similar rules.

That riles New Jersey, which has failed to meet federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide in one county and for certain particulates in more than 10. Warren County has failed to meet both ozone and sulfur dioxide standards for eight years straight.

Fed up — and with federal rules growing ever stricter — the Garden State filed a complaint with the EPA last year under a “good neighbor” clause of the federal Clean Air Act, written to protect eastern states from pollution blown cross-country from the Midwest.

In this case, officials say the coal-fired plant just south of Portland along the Delaware River produces more sulfur dioxide than all of New Jersey’s coal plants combined, befouling the air in four counties.

Earlier this year, the EPA agreed to consider a petition to enforce stricter sulfur dioxide standards against the plant. Public comment ended June 13, with a federal decision coming this fall.

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New Jersey says it has no choice but to take the matter to court.

“If we have to be a bit tough toward our neighbor, we will be,” New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese said. “The plants we are now litigating against, we wish they would have already been through state rules and regulations and have had pollution controls in place.”

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From The Oklohoman:

California researchers who first established a link between two commonly used pesticides and Parkinson’s disease have found a third crop-enhancing chemical — ziram — that appears to raise the risk of developing the movement disorder. And they have found that people whose workplaces were close to fields sprayed with these chemicals — not just those who live nearby — are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.

In a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, a team of researchers led by UCLA neurologist Dr. Beate Ritz found that exposures to the trio of pesticides were higher in workplaces located near sprayed fields than they were in residences. And the combination of exposure to all three pesticides appears to be cumulative, the team led by Ritz concluded.

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From Wisconsin State Journal:

Many of Dr. Susan Davidson’s patients whose babies have gastroschisis, a birth defect in which the intestines grow outside of the body, come from small, agricultural towns.

Davidson, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies at St. Mary’s Hospital, said she’s seeing more pregnancies involving gastroschisis than she would expect, based on historic estimates in other states. Many involve women from rural areas.

Davidson wonders if the cases are linked to atrazine, an herbicide used on corn crops in Wisconsin and elsewhere. “This could be the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

She has asked the state to investigate.

State health officials say their data show no alarming trends, but they acknowledge shortcomings in how Wisconsin tracks birth defects. Evaluating a tie between gastroschisis and atrazine — or other possible causes of the defect — would be expensive, they say.

“You’d have to survey the mothers of the children,” said Dr. Murray Katcher, chief medical officer for community health promotion at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “The odds of finding a connection are very small.”

But Davidson is not alone in her suspicion. Dr. Kathy Stewart, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies at Meriter Hospital, said she’s also seeing what she considers an unusual number of gastroschisis cases.

“I think Susan is onto something with it being environmental,” Stewart said.

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Davidson said she wants to further study gastroschisis in Wisconsin.

“It’s clearly something to be vigilant about,” she said.

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From Maine’s Sun Journal:

Brystal doesn’t know exactly what asthma is, but she knows, “I can’t breathe.”

This personable little girl has been hospitalized at least a dozen times to treat her lung disease, the first time when she was five months old.

She was so sick in infancy, wheezing and gasping for air, that her family thought she might die several times during one particular month-long stay at Central Maine Medical Center.

Instead, with careful attention to treatment, she has thrived.

And, according to her mother, Loretta Pinkham, “She keeps busy no matter how miserable she feels.”

Last year, when Brystal was hospitalized, Loretta remembers her daughter saying, “I’m sorry I’m sick, Momma.”

It breaks her heart, Loretta said, seeing her daughter “struggling and there’s nothing I can do to make this better … until the meds kick in.”

“She could grow out of it,” Loretta said. “There’s a chance she could get worse. We don’t know at this point.”

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Brystal, who lives with her parents and older sister Brianna Jordan in Poland, is one of an estimated 25,877 Maine children living with asthma, and is among the most seriously ill who account for an estimated 2,562 emergency-room visits and 414 hospital stays each year.

In recent years, the number of people here afflicted with asthma has increased.

Last year, the number of adults in Maine living with asthma was 106,273, with the highest rates of disease in Cumberland, York, Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin counties.

In 2000, the asthma rate in Maine was 7.3 percent of the population. By 2005, that figure had grown to 8 percent, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The asthma rate in Maine now stands at 10.8 percent, which is the third-highest rate in the country and more than two points higher than the U.S. average. Oregon has the highest rate, followed by Arizona.

In Maine, the rate among women is 13.4 percent; the rate for men is 8 percent. And, according to DHHS, children have higher prevalence rates and higher rates of emergency department visits and hospitalizations than adults.

Every year, according to DHHS, half of all asthma patients suffer an asthma attack, which happens when bronchial muscles tighten suddenly in response to an irritant, such as pollen, smoke, pollution, temperature or exercise. When that happens, bronchial airways swell, which limits airflow and induces wheezing, rapid breathing and coughing. Left untreated, a severe attack can result in death as a person’s oxygen supply is strapped.

Dr. Andrew Carey of the Adult and Pediatric Asthma and Allergy Treatment Center in Lewiston is Brystal’s pulmonologist. He has been in practice for 19 years and says he’s seeing more asthma cases now than ever before.

Dr. Neil Duval, managing physician at Central Maine Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine in Lewiston, is also seeing an increase in the number of adult asthma patients.

In practice for the past two decades, Duval said, “The numbers have been climbing back as far as I can recall.” There are a number of reasons for it, he said.

One is that doctors are increasingly recognizing symptoms and diagnosing the disease but, he said, “Even if you account for that, there is a definite rise in the incidence of asthma, as well as the prevalence.”

In April, a coalition of Health Care Without Harm, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and the National Association of School Nurses issued a report about what researchers called “the staggering human and financial toll of asthma in Maine,” and the likelihood that the toll would increase if Congress does not act to update the Clean Air Act.

The report, “The Economic Affliction of Asthma and Risks of Blocking Air Pollution Safeguards,” outlines the cost of asthma across the country, estimating that the “direct costs of treating Maine’s worsening asthma epidemic” already exceed $265 million for medical treatment. Millions more are spent in indirect costs, such as lost productivity at work, missed school days and premature death.

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From Greenwire:

Tall smokestacks are one reason that emissions from coal-fired power plants are blown across state lines, making it more difficult for downwind states to clean up their air, a new Government Accountability Office study found.

Nationwide, there are now 284 smokestacks in operation that are more than 500 feet tall, the report (pdf) says. About 35 percent of those are in five states along the Ohio River Valley — Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Power companies build tall stacks to avoid causing air quality problems in the area around coal plants. But the states along the I-95 corridor in the Northeast blame tall smokestacks for their struggles to meet federal air quality goals, claiming that the stacks feed into fast air currents that carry soot- and smog-forming emissions for hundreds of miles.

GAO found that many older coal plants have tall smokestacks and no modern pollution controls. Fifty-six percent of the boilers attached to tall stacks lack scrubbers to control sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 63 percent do not have controls to trap emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

“Stack height is one of several factors that contribute to the interstate transport of air pollution,” the report says. “While the use of pollution controls has increased in recent years at coal power plants, several boilers connected to tall stacks remain uncontrolled.”

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From Reuters:

Exposure to even moderate amounts of certain pesticides during pregnancy may affect infants’ birth size, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among nearly 500 newborns whose umbilical cord blood was tested for pesticide residues, those with higher levels tended to be smaller at birth.

The chemicals in question include DDT and three other organochlorines — an older group of pesticides that are now banned or restricted in the U.S. and other developed countries, after research linked them to cancer and other potential health risks.

However, the pesticides persist in the environment for years. In the U.S., diet is the main potential source of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — with fatty foods, like dairy products and oily fish, topping the list.

In the new study, researchers found that for each 10-fold increase in any of the four pesticides in newborns’ cord blood, birth weight dipped by roughly 2 to 4 ounces.

Higher levels of DDT were also linked to a decrease in head circumference, while another pesticide — hexachlorobenzene (HCB), once used as a fungicide — was tied to a shorter birth length.

The findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics, do not prove that the pesticides themselves hindered fetal growth.

One problem, the researchers say, is that people are exposed to a “huge variety of chemicals” — in the environment, household products and food, for example.

So higher pesticide levels could simply be a marker of higher chemical exposures in general.

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From Charlotte Observer:

Environmental advocates in North Carolina suffered setbacks Tuesday as Republican leaders rolled out a flurry of legislation sought by the state’s business interests.

Legislation unveiled in the House would reduce state regulation of toxic industrial chemicals like ammonia and sulfuric acid released into the air. A second bill in the Senate combines nearly two dozen changes to environmental laws, including a delayed cleanup of one of the main water supplies for Piedmont cities and broader access to taxpayer funds for underground fuel tank owners forced to clean up leaks.

Both bills are headed to a vote before Republican leaders wrap up this year’s legislative session later this week. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said last week that reducing regulations on businesses is one of the chief job-creation tools the Legislature’s new GOP leadership has employed.

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The environmental legislation comes toward the end of a General Assembly session that has seen a GOP-written state budget that reduces spending in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources by more than 12 percent, cuts the agency’s work force by about 5 percent, and stops the agency from setting rules more stringent than minimum federal water and air quality rules.

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