Archives for category: Government Action

From Living On Earth (portions of radio discussion of the “the health effects of the deepwater disaster”):

GELLERMAN: . . . . It’s been more than six months since BP finally capped its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But now come reports of a wave of illnesses and puzzling symptoms from some residents along the Gulf Coast. Their blood contains high levels of chemicals found in oil and the dispersants that were used to clean up the mess.

Many who are suffering say firm answers and adequate treatment are hard to come by, and there’s a growing sense of frustration with government agencies and the medical community. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has the first part of our special report: “Toxic Tide – Discovering the Health Effects of the Deepwater Disaster”.

[HEARING: OIL SPILL COMMISSIONER DON BOESCH Okay, questions and comments from the floor…]

YOUNG: When the National Oil Spill Commission presented its final report in New Orleans, commissioners expected to get an earful from rig workers and fishermen worried about their jobs. Instead they heard speaker after speaker worried about something else: their health.

SPEAKER 1: I worked 60 days on the frontline for BP out here. I’m sick today, nobody wants to take care of me.

SPEAKER 2: The issue is ongoing; people are getting sick and dying.

SPEAKER 3: I have seen small children with lesions all over their body. We are very, very ill. And there’s a very good chance now that I won’t get to see my grandbabies.

YOUNG: Some had worked cleaning up the oil, others lived in or had visited places where oil washed ashore. All complained of mysterious ailments that arose after the spill.

Robin Young was one of those who spoke out. She manages vacation rental properties in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she has lived for 10 years.

When the spill started, Young helped form a citizen group called Guardians of the Gulf. At first, the group was not focused on health issues. Then, people, including Young, started getting sick.

R YOUNG: Headaches, I would get nauseous – and these are all things that I don’t normally experience at all, I’ve always been very, very, very healthy. Then the coughing – I coughed up so much nasty looking mess.

J YOUNG: Young says symptoms started after she spent a day near the water in June and she still hasn’t fully recovered. She heard from others in her community and across the Gulf coast with similar problems.

* * *

J YOUNG: Young’s group paid for more blood sampling. The Louisiana Environmental Action network asked biochemist and MacArthur grant winner Wilma Subra to analyze the results. The blood samples came from cleanup workers, crabbers, a diver who’d been in oiled water, and at least two children who live on the coast. All had reported recent health problems. Subra compared the levels of volatile organic compounds in those samples to a national database of VOC’s in blood compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.

SUBRA: They’re as much as 5 to 10 times what you’d find in the normal population. And again, these are chemicals that relate back to chemicals in the BP crude and the dispersants.

* * *

SUBRA: I think it’s demonstrating that the chemicals they are being exposed to are showing up in their blood. We’ve briefed the federal agencies on it, tried to get them interested – they are evaluating the results. And I think there’s a lot of frustration in the community members across the coastal areas. They are really requesting answers.

* * *

YOUNG: Solid answers will take time. There’s little in the scientific literature on long term health effects of oil spills. In March the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to start enrolling Gulf spill cleanup workers in a long-term health study. The principal investigator is Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at NIEHS. She hopes to track some 55,000 subjects for at least five years.

SANDLER: This will be by far the largest study of individuals exposed during an oil spill disaster that’s ever been conducted. So we have been moving heaven and earth to make this go quickly.

YOUNG: Sandler’s study has funding, thanks in part to BP. The study is a few months behind its original schedule. But researchers face another hurdle that may prove more difficult. Signing up tens of thousands of participants and getting people to accept results depends on credibility and trust. After the BP spill and Hurricane Katrina, trust is in low supply on the Gulf Coast. Here’s how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kinnon sums up the attitude.

KINNON: The bottom line is very few people trust governmental agencies. They think there’s this incestuous relationship between BP and the government, and I tend to agree with them.

J YOUNG: And even as Robin Young asks the government to help her community, the plea comes with a note of deep suspicion.

RYOUNG: I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist – that’s what I’m starting to feel like. Because it’s hard to believe that something like this is going on in the United States and no one’s helping.

More . . .

Link to Living on Earth podcast.

Wilma Subra’s analysis of blood samples from sick Gulf Coast residents.

The NIEHS plan for a large-scale, long-term study of cleanup workers.

Advertisements

From St. Louis Beacon: Where we live can determine how long we live (by Robert Joiner).

* * *  Larry Chavis, George Banks, Tracy Blue and Carolyn Dickerson are among the St. Louisans featured in this Beacon series about how and why some health and social conditions afflict African Americans in certain zip codes at a much higher rate than whites. They are known as health disparities or inequities. And, for the most part, they have been accepted as perplexing but unsolvable facts of black and white life in St. Louis and the nation.Public health as prevention

Until now, that is. One aim of the new health-reform law is to reverse the notion that health disparities are inexplicable and inevitable. The new law is expected to address the issue in part by re-energizing the public health movement.

While medical doctors treat disease, public health workers identify trends, explain why people get sick and address conditions that trigger illnesses. Public health work includes screening children for lead poisoning, offering nutrition programs for diabetics, and setting up sex education classes to try to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. Over the years, this work has faltered from a lack of manpower and money. That has allowed some diseases to move way beyond the prevention stage. Traditional medicine has been left to fill the void with a case-by-case approach to treating disease. It as if we had responded to the massive BP oil spill by dealing with one oil-soaked fish at a time.

Still, the news in some poor St. Louis neighborhoods isn’t all bad. Examples include the city Health Department’s sustained attack on lead poisoning and a similar effort planned for childhood asthma. Another is the Maternal and Child Health Coalition’s push to reduce infant mortality. These challenges have prompted providers to be more imaginative in the ways they view and tackle health problems.

Looking upstream

We can trace the roots of such efforts all the way back to the 19th century and the work of Dr. John Snow. He’s credited with looking beyond conventional thinking during a cholera outbreak in London. Snow eventually traced the epidemic to a contaminated public water pump. Removing the pump is said to have helped end an epidemic that claimed 600 lives. Fast forward to 2010, and the moral might be that high-tech medicine isn’t always the answer and certainly not the cheapest solution to some diseases in St. Louis.

“The public fails to realize that some illnesses have an environmental influence and are preventable,” says Dr. William Kincaid, former head of the St. Louis Health Department and now head of the local Asthma Coalition. “We develop systems to treat them after they happen, but we don’t look upstream to see why we are having these problems. And we lose an opportunity to make some of them go away. Lead is a classic example. So is asthma.”

Location influences wellness

Hope and despair run on parallel tracks in some of the worst neighborhoods on the north side. Hope surfaces unexpectedly as a motorist takes in street after street of gloomy sights, then turns a corner and finds a suburban-like setting of a block or two of stately, market-rate brick homes, trimmed lawns, fenced-in backyards and newly poured concrete sidewalks out front. These neighborhoods still include many working-class and middle-class families, some of who can’t afford to leave. Others stay out of a sense of pride in a part of town that is rich in black history.

But the north side’s decay is never far away. Some neighborhoods have been reduced to a treeless landscape with crumbling houses, weedy sidewalks, cracked storefront windows and closed factories. The higher than average concentration of health problems in this part of town mirrors the conditions of many of its residents. You find many here with stooping bodies, burned out by cancer and respiratory conditions, heart disease and other illnesses that are the results of inhaling too much nicotine and bad air and consuming food high in fat and low in fiber.

The stress of living in what amounts to a racially isolated, crime-ridden wasteland also takes its toll. Many residents have no choice except to settle for substandard housing, unreliable public transportation, limited access to grocery stores and the trauma of hearing gunshots and witnessing occasional fights and other forms of violence. It is a community where Larry Chavis’ mom might be more likely to happen upon a crack house than a store that sells WIC-approved fresh fruits and vegetables essential to the health of her lead-poisoned son.Just as location affects the value of property, it influences wellness. In other words, where people live and how they live matter. Last February, that point was brought into sharp focus with a study from the University of Wisconsin’s Population Institute. The institute ranked the quality of life of communities within states, the first such study of its kind.

Stable St. Charles County ranked at the top. St. Louis, despite its world-class health facilities and providers, ranked at or near the bottom for most indicators, ranging from smoking to STDs. The survey showed that where people live, rather than access to clinical care, can make a big difference in health outcomes, according to Julie Willems Van Dijk, an associate scientist at the University of Wisconsin’s Population Institute.

“St. Louis is a perfect example of what we’re trying to show,” she says. “You have very good access to care and pretty good quality of care for those who get the care. But that alone is not enough to produce good health. It’s not just having a doctor. We’re saying it’s all of those factors working together to determine health outcomes.”

More.

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 . . .

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.

You can link to an illuminating podcast interview, titled “Better Living Through Chemistryfrom the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), here.

Here is PSR’s brief description of the interview:

We depend on chemicals in consumer products to perform as expected, and to be safe. But our regulatory system is not adequately protecting us from potential hazards in our food cans, diapers, shower curtains, baby bottles, and other consumer products. Listen to Washington State PSR President, Dr. Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist, together with pediatric urologist and Phsicians for Social Responsibility (“PSR”) board member Dr. Rich Grady, discuss chemicals policy in an illuminating radio interview, touching on “chemical trespass,” the precautionary approach to chemical regulation, and the importance of state-level policy change. They also discuss the federal bills, currently before Congress, intended to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act — including the need to strengthen these bills. The interview was aired on Seattle radio station KEXP on June 19, 2010.

Listen to the interview here (mp3, 10 MB).

Upstream Contributor Peggy Shepard speaks on Environmental Justice and surfacing the meme of “Sacrifice Zones.”

Visit Peggy Shepard’s main Upstream page.

From Wired:

Since returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, an untold number of soldiers have come down with puzzling health problems. Chronic bronchitis. Neurological defects. Even cancer. Many of them are pointing the finger at a single culprit: The open-air “burn pits” that incinerated trash — from human waste to computer parts — on military bases overseas.

Pentagon officials have consistently reassured personnel that there was no “specific evidence” connecting the two. But now, only days after Danger Room uncovered a memo suggesting that Army officials knew how dangerous the pits were, an animal study is offering up new scientific evidence that links burn pits to depleted immune systems.

“The dust doesn’t only appear to cause lung inflammation,” says Dr. Anthony Szema, an assistant professor at Stony Brook School of Medicine who specializes in pulmonology and allergies, and the researcher who led this latest study. “It also destroys the body’s own T-cells.” Those cells are at the core of the body’s immune system, “like a bulletproof vest against illnesses,” Szema tells Danger Room. When they’re depleted, an individual is much more prone to myriad conditions.

For scientists, trying to establish a definitive connection between those diffuse health problems and the pits has been exceedingly difficult to do. Most notably because the Department of Defense, as a report issued by the Institutes of Medicine noted last year, didn’t collect adequate evidence — like what the pits burned and which soldiers were exposed — for researchers to draw any meaningful conclusions about the impact of the open-air incinerators. Szema’s study is only on 15 mice, so it’s by no means definitive. But it is an important first step.

Regardless, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Pentagon officials were aware of the risk posed by the pits. Another memo (.pdf), written by Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis in 2006 and obtained by Danger Room, warned of “an acute health hazard” to personnel stationed at Iraq’s Balad air base. “It is amazing,” he noted, “that the burn pit has been able to operate … without significant engineering controls being put in place.”

But as recently as yesterday, when asked about the leaked Army memo obtained by Danger Room (which cited a risk of ”long-term adverse health conditions” from the pits), Pentagon spokesperson George Little told reporters that “we do not have specific evidence that ties these kinds of disposal facilities to health issues.”

Perhaps not. But researchers just got way, way closer. A team, led by Dr. Szema at Stony Brook University, this week revealed to Danger Room the results of their ongoing investigations that are trying to directly link health problems to the air emitted by burn pits. And the results should cause those who served near the pits — which burned trash at most major bases in Iraq and Afghanistan during at least some period over the last decade — to be concerned.

More.

The Chicago Tribune has just published a brilliant collection of articles, documents, charts, and videos that Upstream readers shouldn’t miss.  Here is the video for Part 4 of their series on EPA’s inefficacy in regulating toxic chemicals.

Regulators have allowed generation after generation of flame retardants onto the market without thoroughly assessing the health risks. One chemical touted as safe is now turning up in wildlife around the world. Read »

Rena Steinzor has posted her article “The Truth About Regulation in America (Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 5, pp. 323-346, 2011) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The special interests leading the accelerating crusade against regulation have re-ignited a potent coalition of industry lobbyists, traditional conservatives, and grassroots Tea Party activists. The politicians speak in generic terms for public consumption: “the nation is broke,” “big government is bad,” “regulation costs trillions.” Behind the scenes, industry lobbyists target for repeal dozens of regulations that are designed to control pollution, ensure drug, product, and food safety, and eliminate workplace hazards. In an effort to bring light and air to an often misleading and always opportunistic national debate, this essay presents five truths about the state of health, safety, and environmental regulation in America: First, regulatory dysfunction hurts many people. At the same time, big, bad government and powerful, protective regulation are two different things. The current system is sufficiently weak, especially with respect to enforcement, that even scoundrels are not stopped. Fourth, regulated industries understand the benefits of regulation and could negotiate compromises with agencies and public interest representatives if deregulatory opportunists would back off. Finally, if left alone, health, safety, and environmental agencies could accomplish great things.

Six “protector agencies” with the mission to safeguard people and natural resources from the hazards of the industrial age are the focus of the essay. In the descending order of size include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

In a nutshell, I argue that stringent regulation has enabled this country to achieve a remarkable level of industrialization while maintaining its natural environment to a remarkable degree, with the admittedly huge exception of the eroding ozone layer that is causing severe climate change. For verification of this observation, we have only to consider China, where a break-neck pace toward industrial development has left the environment in shambles, causing as many as 2.4 million deaths annually as a direct result of contaminated water and air (adjusted for population, the American equivalent would be 558,000 deaths).

The truth about regulation in America is that we cannot prosper without it, as many corporate executives will admit when they are standing outside the herd. The agencies that protect health, safety, and the environment cost less than one percent of the federal budget and projected benefits exceed costs by at least two to one. But the agencies are growing weaker and less able to enforce the law effectively. Further, as happened on Wall Street, even egregious violators continue business as usual until disaster strikes (and, in some painfully notorious cases, even afterwards — see, for example, British Petroleum’s chronic violations of worker safety and environmental laws that were left undeterred over the decade leading up to the Gulf oil spill).

Download the paper for free.

From EENews:

As President Obama catches up, at least rhetorically, with drilling critics who have pushed for public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, activists are stressing that disclosure is not enough.

In his State of the Union address last night, Obama said he would implement a proposal bouncing around the Interior Department since 2010 to require drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals used when fracturing on public land (E&E Daily, Jan. 25). It was the only specific action he mentioned about how he would develop the country’s vast store of natural gas in shale formations “without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

But activists stress that disclosure alone does not protect health and safety. Once the chemicals are known, they say, officials should move to make sure they are regulated, some would say banned.

“I can’t point to any community where that’s saved lives,” said Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist at Ithaca College, speaking at a conference earlier this month in the Washington area on drilling and public health.

At the same conference, Kathleen Hoke Dachille of the Network for Public Health Law pointed to U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, saying it has been helpful but “not transformative.”

“Disclosure is necessary, but not sufficient,” Dachille, director of the network’s Eastern region, said in an interview. “Detection is not prevention.”

Such sentiments are likely to rekindle suspicions in the oil and gas industry that disclosure is a Trojan horse in its persistent conflict with environmental groups.

“This isn’t the first time these folks have moved the goal posts on us, and we’re not naive enough to think it’ll be the last,” said Chris Tucker of the industry group Energy in Depth. “The bottom line here, at least for some of these groups, is that they don’t want us to produce the resource, plain and simple.”

Industry as a whole has moved grudgingly toward disclosure in the last few years, slowly giving up some of its concerns about revealing trade secrets.

While disclosure has gained acceptance among some companies and state regulators, actual public disclosure remains in its infancy. There is still no database of well-by-well fracturing chemicals that allows researchers to search by chemical or easily see how often a chemical has been used. In many states, public disclosure remains voluntary.

The industry-preferred method of disclosure, a website called FracFocus.org, included lists of chemicals used for 5,200 wells as of October. Operators could upload the data from any well “fracked” after Jan. 1, 2011. But more than 30,000 wells had been drilled in the United States through October (E&ENews PM, Oct. 21, 2011).

Disclosure requirements in Colorado and Texas have yet to go into effect. Colorado starts in April and Texas starts in February. Wyoming has required disclosure since September 2010.

After all the political fights over disclosure, there is little mention of the chemicals actually listed, which include diesel fuel and other carcinogens.

More.

From :

With an eye toward envisioning a Farm Bill that promotes health, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Jennifer Billig will provide an overview of the Farm Bill and its intersections with public health, including the kinds of farming and eating the bill currently supports.

Roni Neff, PhD of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will enrich the discussion by sharing an innovative new web-based tool that allows visual analysis of Farm Bill spending. Using the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, Neff will answer questions like, “What portion of the overall Farm Bill goes to fruits and vegetables, to commodity crops, or to industrial food animal production?” and “How big are some of the public health initiatives within the Farm Bill?”, demonstrating graphically how the provisions and budgets within the bill tie into the nation’s public health and environmental sustainability. Beth Hoffman of Food+Tech Connect will also join us to share highlights from the Farm Bill Hackathon, an event held in early December that brought together policy experts with designers and developers to create more visually interesting representations of the Farm Bill.

From the Denver Post:

Black goo is still seeping into waterways from Suncor Energy’s oil refinery north of Denver, and the latest tests show benzene levels 48 times the limit for drinking water, even downstream of the point at which Sand Creek flows into the South Platte River.

Federal labor officials have launched an investigation of possible worker exposures at the refinery, where tap water also is tainted.

State regulators say they’re working with Suncor to find a way to block the toxic material from burbling into the bed of Sand Creek.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data — from samples taken by Suncor — showed benzene concentrations at 720 parts per billion on Jan. 9 at the point where Sand Creek meets the South Platte, up from 190 on Jan. 6, and 144 times higher than the 5 ppb national drinking-water standard. Benzene is a chemical found in crude oil that is classified as cancer-causing, especially affecting blood.

Downriver on the South Platte, the data show benzene at 240 ppb on Jan. 9, a decrease from 590 on Jan. 6 but still 48 times higher than the standard.

The South Platte River is the main water source for northeastern Colorado and the Denver area.

Spilled contaminants from decades of refinery operations at the site have seeped underground, “and it is snaking through. The pressures change. It finds the path of least resistance, and that’s apparently what has happened: It has found the path of least resistance to get into Sand Creek,” Colorado health department environmental-programs director Martha Rudolph said in an interview last week.

“We were not expecting that to occur,” she said. “If we were expecting that to occur, we would have taken steps to stop it.”

State regulators favor construction of underground clay walls at the creek and the refinery to try to block toxic material before it spreads; vapor-extraction systems to remove it from soil; and pumping of contaminated groundwater — all aimed at preventing further pollution.

They characterized the spill as one where hydrocarbons dissolved in groundwater enter through the bottom of Sand Creek, which carries them into the river. Aerators are being installed on Sand Creek to try to release toxic vapors trapped in water into the air — which is analogous to blowing through a straw in a fizzy drink to release what is trapped in the bubbles.

Preventing further pollution of Sand Creek has become a top-tier priority, Rudolph said. “We need to accelerate our responding to that particular issue — to get it out of Sand Creek, to stop that.”

For utilities such as Aurora Water, which serves 335,000 people, the situation has proved the importance of state-of-the-art water-treatment systems that can remove benzene before water reaches residents’ homes. Aurora Water currently is not drawing from its Prairie Waters intake system, 13 miles downriver, and will assess the upstream seepage before doing so, spokesman Greg Baker said.

Shortly after the spill was discovered Nov. 28, benzene in Sand Creek reached 120,000 ppb, according to state data released after a written request by The Denver Post.

Under Suncor’s property, a monitoring well detected benzene in groundwater at 74,000 ppb, with ethyl benzene at 7,300 ppb (standard is 700), toluene at 110,000 ppb (standard: 1,000), and xylenes at 38,000 ppb (standard: 1,400).

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating both air and water on Suncor property in response to a complaint that workers may have been exposed.

“It’s going to definitely take weeks, by the time we review all the information,” said Herb Gibson, director of OSHA’s Denver-area office. “We have not found any over-exposures. We’re focusing on benzene because that is the chemical that has the lowest exposure limit.”

However, OSHA lacks jurisdiction to look into the situation at the nearby Metro Wastewater plant, where toxic vapors forced workers to wear respirators and the closure of a technical-services building.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From CNN:

As a third-grader in Winsted, Connecticut, last year, Matthew Asselin was sick — a lot. He was lethargic and plagued with a persistent wet cough, respiratory infections and painful headaches.

As the school year wound down, Matthew’s health worsened. He was out for two weeks in the spring with pneumonia and then developed a sinus infection so severe he needed to spend the night at the hospital, where he received intravenous antibiotics and breathing treatments.

In all, Matthew missed 53 days of school.

But over the summer, a strange thing happened. Matthew was healthy. He was energetic. He could ride his bike for hours at a time.

“When we put him back in school this year, within three weeks, he missed 10 days with a respiratory infection,” Melissa Asselin said. That’s when Matthew’s mother had an a-ha moment.

“When he was out of school, he was well. When he was in school, he became ill,” Asselin said.

Matthew’s parents concluded that the 9-year-old’s school, Hinsdale Elementary, was making their son sick.

Indoor air problems

Figures are hard to come by, but studies have estimated that a third or more of U.S. schools have mold, dust and other indoor air problems serious enough to provoke respiratory issues like asthma in students and teachers.

A national survey of school nurses found that 40% knew children and staff adversely affected by indoor pollutants.

Indoor air affects more than health. A growing body of research suggests students also perform better in schools with healthier air.

“If you get an unhealthy building, you’re not going to have a successful school,” said Lily Eskelsen, vice president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the United States.

“Asthma is the number one chronic illness that keeps kids out of school, and it’s growing,” Eskelsen added.

More.

Programming note: For more about environmental health issues in the classroom, watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s report “Toxic Schools” on “CNN Presents” Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET on CNN.

From Huffington Post:

The U.S. Navy is asking government investigators to suppress information concerning the toxic water scandal at the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, according to a letter obtained Thursday by The Huffington Post.

The letter, signed by Maj. Gen. J.A. Kessler of the Marine Corps and dated Jan. 5, 2012, asks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry to withhold from a forthcoming report details about the whereabouts of water lines, wells, treatment plants and storage tanks on the North Carolina military base — in the name of national security.

“The Marine Corps understands the need to share information with the scientific community,” writes Kessler, the Marines’ assistant deputy commandant for installations and logistics. “Prudence requires, however, that information sharing be within the rubric of responsible force protection.”

Government watchdogs and environmental advocates said they interpret the letter as further evidence of a Navy effort to evade culpability for what many call the worst and largest drinking water contamination in U.S. history.

Congress assigned the disease registry to trace when, where and at what levels Camp Lejeune’s drinking water was tainted with toxic industrial chemicals from the late-1950s to the 1980s. The research is a prerequisite for a series of health studies exploring links between chemical exposures and what appears to be increased levels of disease among former Camp Lejeune residents, including male breast cancer and childhood leukemia.

As part of its research, the disease registry must map the entire water system on the base, past and present. And for the findings to be credible, the registry must release all of the information, so other scientists can review or replicate the results. The Navy’s pressure could stymie that effort.

“This is exactly what happens when you have one federal agency investigating another,” said retired Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, the central character of a new documentary, “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” which tells the Camp Lejeune contamination story.

Ensminger added that the information the Navy seeks to suppress has been in the public domain for decades, including in print materials distributed by the Marines. “Anyone with Google Earth can zoom in on Camp Lejeune and see those red and white checkered tanks popping out of the housing areas,” said Ensminger, who lost his 9-year-old daughter Janey to a rare type of leukemia. Janey was conceived at Camp Lejeune.

Ensminger and other advocates said they are concerned that the letter represents another maneuver by the Navy to cover up its actions and inactions, and to delay justice for the estimated 1 million Marines and family members who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune over 30-odd years.

As the documentary explains, base officials received multiple warnings from 1980 to 1984 that tests of the drinking water showed toxic chemicals including the solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), and the fuel additive benzene. Yet the first contaminated well wasn’t closed until late-1984, when the co-owner of an outside lab that had conducted three of those tests notified North Carolina environmental officials. By the end of 1985, 10 more contaminated wells had been closed.

The Marine Corps denies any delay or wrongdoing. TCE, a metal degreaser, and PCE, a dry-cleaning solvent, were unregulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act when they were discovered in water, Capt. Kendra N. Hardesty, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, told HuffPost in an email.

“The test results varied between drinking water samples collected at different times,” Hardesty added. “Base officials were confused and unable to immediately identify the source of the chemicals.”

Legislation is currently pending in the House and Senate that seeks to provide healthcare to Camp Lejeune residents suffering as a result of exposure to the contaminated drinking water. The Senate bill passed the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs over the summer and awaits further action. Legislators are on the hunt for offsets to cover its $340 million price. The House version of the bill, named after Janey Ensminger, has yet to move out of committee.

For Richard Clapp, the Camp Lejeune controversy triggers a bit of deja vu. Decades ago, the cancer expert at the Boston University School of Public Health helped link well water contaminated with TCE and PCE to an unusual number of childhood leukemia cases in Woburn, Mass. — a battle that became the basis of the book and movie, “A Civil Action.”

He recalled his first thought when those same two chemicals “popped up” in the Camp Lejeune water: “Here we go again.”

More.

From

As of Monday, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) had received a record-breaking 20,800 public comments on the latest draft of its review of hydrofracking.

The document, called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) has sparked a major public debate in New York.

But by Tuesday, the agency had its hands full with thousands of more comments arriving at the 11th hour.

The deadline for submitting a public comment to the DEC about hydrofracking is Wednesday, January 11th.

%d bloggers like this: