Archives for the month of: December, 2012

Lisa Jackson

From the Washington Post:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who pushed through the most sweeping curbs on air pollution in two decades, announced Thursday morning that she will resign her post.

Jackson, who will step down shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union address next month, said she was “ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference.” Many had expected that she would not remain for the administration’s second term; Jackson herself joked about it recently.

Outspoken on issues including climate change and the need to protect poor communities from experiencing a disproportionate amount of environmental harm, Jackson pressed for limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants and on dumping mining waste into streams and rivers near mines.

The slew of rules the EPA enacted over the past four years included the first greenhouse-gas standards for vehicles, cuts in mercury and other toxic pollution from power plants and a tighter limit on soot, the nation’s most widespread deadly pollutant. Many congressional Republicans and business groups claimed Jackson was waging a “war on coal.” But she was a hero to the environmental community.

The president issued a statement praising Jackson.

“Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act, and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump while also slashing carbon pollution,” Obama said.

Read the entire article here.

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The Story of Cosmetics, released on July 21st, 2010, examines the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in our everyday personal care products, from lipstick to baby shampoo. Produced with Free Range Studios and hosted by Annie Leonard, the seven-minute film by The Story of Stuff Project reveals the implications for consumer and worker health and the environment, and outlines ways we can move the industry away from hazardous chemicals and towards safer alternatives. The film concludes with a call for viewers to support legislation aimed at ensuring the safety of cosmetics and personal care products.

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Center for Public Integrity: Big polluters freed from environmental oversight by stimulus.

In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.

Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.

Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.

The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.

Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPAexemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.

Some polluters reported their stimulus projects might cause “unknown environmental risks” or could “adversely affect” sensitive resources, the documents show. Others acknowledged they would produce hazardous air pollutants or toxic metals. Still others won stimulus money just weeks after settling major pollution cases. Yet nearly all got exemptions from full environmental analyses, the documents show.

More . . .

A Report by Healthy Schools Network, titled “Sick Schools 2009: America’s Continuing Environmental Health” [pdf here] provides a state-by-state analysis of environmental health risks in the nation’s schools.  The report begins as follows:

Crisis for Children

We know that healthy school buildings contribute to student learning, reduce health and operating costs, and ultimately, increase school quality and competitiveness. However, 55 million of our children attend public and private K-12 schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions make students (and their teachers) sick and handicap their ability to learn.

Differences in school resources for maintaining schools exacerbate social and economic inequities and academic disparities.3 However, “poor children, in poor schools with a poor environment may have poor academic achievement. To assume that the cause of their lack of achievement is solely due to curricular and teaching deficiencies ignores other strong confounding variables in the child’s environment.”

You can download the report by clicking here.

Newsweek ran a story, “Heavy Metal High School,” this week on the mounting evidence of health risks in America’s schools.  It begins this way:

The elementary, middle, and high schools in Cle Elum, Wash.—a town on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains with a poverty rate twice the national average—were built across from the trash transfer station. They are also near a washing station once used by coal-mining operations, which left hills of black waste containing arsenic, cadmium, and lead. The elementary school opened without heat, and the boilers that were ultimately installed did not burn cleanly and released exhaust into an intake for the ventilation system located feet away. Construction issues led to water seeping into the building, and mold grew throughout the school.

All of this is according to Thelma Simon, a parent who removed her son, Kyle, from the system in 1995 because of his constant asthma attacks, and former teachers who also claim to have been sickened by the buildings. Other kids and teachers reported symptoms including mouth blisters, rashes, and cysts, and teachers in the high school ultimately filed a lawsuit. But though the school district made some improvements in response to the suit, Simon and teachers who left the school system for health reasons say the underlying problems remain unaddressed, and they continue to hear reports of the schools’ causing illness. . . .

This should be a one-of-a-kind story. But tales of schools rife with mold and toxins from building materials, as well as schools built on former industrial sites or in the shadow of chemical factories, can be found all across the country.

Read the entire story here.

Dr. Robert Lustig (Sugar: The Bitter Truth) speaks at Yale’s Peabody Museum on the policy and politics of the “Sugar Pandemic.” Hosted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

From Rollbackcampaign:

Camden has the second highest cancer rate in New Jersey, and the eighth highest in the nation thanks to over 100 toxic waste sites. When the St. Lawrence Cement Company tried to build yet another polluting factory in Camden, citizens banded together and convinced a district court to halt construction. Then the Supreme Court ruled in Alexander v Sandoval that citizens could not sue based on discriminatory effect. In order to block the construction of yet another polluter, citizens would need to show that there was intentional discrimination.

This clip is part of a video made by award-winning documentarian Stanley Nelson, which exposes the negative consequences of a federal judiciary that is increasingly opposed to civil rights protections. Mr. Nelson puts a human face on what has come to be known as the “rollback” of civil rights.

Environmental Health Perspectives recently posted an excellent podcast interview, titled Neurobehavioral Effects of Artificial Food Dyes,” with Bernard Weiss:

“In the past several decades there has been a sharp increase in the amount of artificial dyes and flavorings children encounter daily in foods, beverages, medicines, and toiletries such as toothpaste. Over the same period there has been a marked increase in the number of diagnoses of neurobehavioral disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Bernard Weiss began studying potential links between artificial food dyes and neurobehavioral effects in children in the late 1970s. In this podcast he discusses some of his earliest research and tells why he remains convinced the two are connected. Weiss is a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

You can listen to the podcast and read the transcript here.

Greenwire: Prenatal exposures prompt EPA to re-examine chemical regulations.

U.S. EPA regulators convened with scientists last month to discuss how to design regulations for chemicals based on emerging science that connects exposures during pregnancy with disease much later in life.

A mother exchanges with her child in the womb chemicals that have remained constant for much of human evolution. They dictate which genes will be turned on and off in the child, which proteins the child will make in his body and how much of them.

New research, in a field called epigenetics, now suggests that these changes, made during the earliest part of gestation, could spell out the child’s longer-term medical record. It could determine his propensity for mood swings, his tendency to gain weight into the realms of obesity, his risk of developing cardiovascular disease or cancer when he hits 50, and his propensity of passing on his genes to his children.

The idea is that the child adapts to environmental cues in the womb that will reflect the chemical composition of the world, thus conferring a Darwinian fitness advantage.

The mix of chemicals a fetus is exposed to has exploded in the past 200 years, heralded by the Industrial Revolution. Technology has outstripped evolution, said Robert Chapin, senior research fellow in drug safety research and development at Pfizer Inc. People were suddenly surrounded by particulate matter from cars, coal-plant emissions, metals, organic molecules from hand sanitizers, body lotions and other chemicals, some of which could cross into the placenta and merge into the child’s aqueous world.

Some, such as folic acid, were intentionally given to moms as beneficial; others such as bisphenol A became common in the modern environment and had the ability to mimic hormones that are naturally present in humans. Yet others, such as arsenic and tin, are naturally present in some places.

Scientists now suspect that the altered chemical cues during the critical windows of pregnancy — at stages when gender is still developing and the human is little more than a collection of cells — could trigger pathways that manifest as disease well into adulthood.

More . . .

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