Archives for posts with tag: Environmental Justice

Miller-McCune: America’s hidden diseases.

Millions of poor Americans living in distressed regions of the country are chronically sick, afflicted by a host of hidden diseases that are not being monitored, diagnosed or treated, researchers say. From Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta to the segregated inner cities of the Great Lakes and Northeast, they say, and from Navajo reservations to Latino communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, more than 20 chronic diseases are promoting the cycle of poverty in conditions of inadequate sanitation, unsafe water supplies and rundown housing. “These are forgotten diseases among forgotten people,” said Peter Hotez, a microbiologist at George Washington University, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Sabin Vaccine Institute and co-founder of the institute’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease Control. “If these were diseases among middle-class whites in the suburbs, we would not tolerate them. They are among America’s greatest health disparities, and they are largely unknown to the U.S. medical and health communities.”  More . . .

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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.

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

Visit Peggy Shepard’s main Upstream page.

Lindsey Konkel has just published an outstanding article on Environmental Health News.  Here is an excerpt:

When doctors told Wanda Ford her 2-year-old son had lead poisoning, she never suspected that the back yard in her low-income neighborhood was the likely culprit.

Ford knew that exposure to the heavy metal could be dangerous. So when she and her husband moved into the Lower Lincoln Street neighborhood, Ford, then pregnant, took steps to make sure their 100-year-old home was lead-free.

“We never thought to test the soil – my son played in the back yard all the time,” said Ford, whose son is now seven.

It’s long been known that children in poorer neighborhoods like Ford’s are more likely to be exposed to lead, industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust and other contaminants. Now, scientists are beginning to suspect that low-income children aren’t just more exposed – they actually may be more biologically susceptible to them, even at low levels.

A growing body of research suggests that the chronic stressors of poverty may fundamentally alter the way the body reacts to pollutants, especially in young children. Several studies have found that such stress may exacerbate the effects of lead on children’s developing brains, while others reported more asthma symptoms in kids with simultaneous exposure to air pollution and socioeconomic problems.

Everyone experiences stress occasionally; it can improve focus and performance to overcome obstacles at work, during athletic competitions, or in everyday life. But stress also can harm the body.

“When the stress is chronic and the stressors are out of our control, we experience it as a threat rather than a challenge,” said Dr. Rosalind Wright, a physician and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health. “This type of stress can have negative, lasting effects on key systems in the body. It’s like having the fight or flight response turned on all the time.”

Schools and homes next to refineries and Superfund sites, farm workers drinking toxic water, urban children breathing exhaust from congested streets. Many of these people are living in poverty or with low incomes, and they have to cope with socioeconomic problems as well as high exposure to pollutants. Scientists say living in such areas and facing financial strain, racial issues and high crime rates can wear down the systems responsible for controlling immunity and hormones. Hormones needed for proper brain development may be altered, or the immune system may continually release inflammatory molecules into the blood.

“This may make you more susceptible to everything else around you, including pollution,” said Jane Clougherty, an exposure scientist and epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

One + one = four

Stress, when combined with certain pollutants, may produce a much greater health effect than either stress or pollution alone.

“It would be like adding one and one together and getting three or four,” said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, a non-profit organization focused on applying science to promote health. “Socioeconomic status may affect underlying biology, making exposure to certain chemicals more adverse for the poorer kid.”

In Worcester, about 40 miles west of Boston, nearly one in five residents lives below poverty level, almost double the Massachusetts average, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Its median household income is roughly 30 percent lower than the state’s.

Worcester is representative of many old manufacturing towns across the country. “With a decline in manufacturing, you get a decline in certain types of pollution, but you are also left with ongoing problems such as lead contamination in soil, which is typical of a lot of older American towns and cities,” said Katherine Kiel, an environmental economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. “Low-income housing is often built where property is cheapest. Unfortunately, these areas often have more pollution.”

Socioeconomic stress “may make you more susceptible to everything else around you, including pollution.  Jane Clougherty, University of PittsburghThe eaves of Ford’s home – one of Worcester’s iconic triple-decker apartment houses – are blackened by soot from trucks and cars. From her front porch, she can see the on-ramp to the interstate highway that bisects the city.

“This feels like a depressed town. There are a lot of neglected, dilapidated places. It’s not very child-friendly,” said Ford, who is not using her real name for fear that her son will be bullied at school about his learning disabilities.

Ford is black, as is roughly 12 percent of Worcester. One small study published last year found that women in Boston who faced racial discrimination and community violence had higher levels of a stress hormone linked to preterm births.

Gang activity and a drug raid at a house nearby have brought community violence close to home. “My husband and I didn’t see it at first when we moved here, but it’s pervasive,” said Ford.

Rates of violent crimes in Worcester are about 17 percent higher than the national average. In 2010, there were roughly 471 assaults, armed robberies and murders per 100,000 inhabitants in Worcester. The national average for that same period was 404 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.

She worries constantly about the safety of her kids. Four of them, all under the age of 15, live at home.

When her son was born in 2004, he seemed healthy. “Looking back, there were signs of developmental delays early on, like he drooled too much, but we didn’t think much of it,” she said.

When he was 2, his doctor found that his blood lead levels were elevated, though they fell below the commonly defined threshold for effects of lead. Ten micrograms per deciliter has traditionally been defined as the harmful level, but recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered it to five, recognizing that effects can occur at lower levels.

Synergy between lead and stress

With lead pollution, “the toxicity of lead may be stronger in a child also exposed to the stress of poverty,” said Dr. Robert Wright, a pediatrician and environmental health scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, and husband of Rosalind Wright.

Lead exposure, which has been linked to reduced IQs, attention problems and aggressive behavior, may be more detrimental to low-income kids than to children in families with higher incomes. Children in Boston began to show reduced IQ at blood lead levels as low as six micrograms per deciliter, while kids from families with more financial resources only began to show cognitive deficits at levels greater than 10, according to one study.

“If this synergy exists between stress and lead, from a biological perspective, it’s plausible this link exists between stress and other neurotoxic pollutants, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as well,” said Robert Wright.

For years, toxicologist Deborah Cory-Slechta of University of Rochester and her colleagues have studied the combined effects of lead and stressful conditions on lab rats. Lead plus stress had effects on their learning ability and brains that did not occur with either of those factors alone, according to their research.

Researchers are trying to tease apart why chronic stress may make some pollutants more harmful. Both human and animal studies suggest that it can throw key systems of the body out of whack. At a young age, it may create hormonal shifts that permanently alter the way the body responds to future stresses, including chemical exposures. It also may weaken the immune system or trigger inflammation.

“Inflammation is central to a lot of chronic diseases we worry about today,” including respiratory diseases such as asthma, Clougherty said.

In one study, young male laboratory rats put under chronic stress showed a rapid, shallow breathing pattern when inhaling polluted air – unlike rats exposed only to the pollution.

The researchers created a stressful environment by placing the young male rat in the home cage of an older, dominant male twice a week. The stressed rats had higher levels of molecules associated with inflammation in their blood.

Also, in East Boston, children who were previously exposed to community violence were more likely to show signs of asthma when breathing traffic-related air pollution than children in less violent neighborhoods. “This suggests a model where stress impacts the child’s susceptibility to pollution,” said Clougherty.

In addition to asthma, this may make low-income children more predisposed to diabetes, heart disease and even dementia later in life.

Kids living with violence also may experience more wear and tear on their DNA, damage that has been linked to disease later in life, according to a Duke University study published in April.

Susceptibility starts in the womb. Exposure to stress and pollution before birth and during early childhood may be particularly harmful because “both may alter development of the brain, lungs and nervous system during these critical periods,” said Rosalind Wright.

This raises an important question: Are people protected by policies that just consider their chemical exposures without looking at their living conditions, too? Many scientists think not.

Increased risks due to social status are “a critically important but neglected area within risk assessment, and should be incorporated in the future,” Harvard epidemiologists Joel Schwartz and David Bellinger and Johns Hopkins’ Thomas Glass wrote in a 2011 report.

Schettler said “this new understanding has the potential to change the way we think about interventions for low-income children.”

More.

From

March 22, 2012 was World Water Day. See how North Carolina citizens came together to protect their waters from coal ash.

It’s no secret that coal is our dirtiest energy source. However, what many people don’t know is that as coal burns, many of its most toxic elements, including heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and chromium, are concentrated in the ash that remains and the sludge that’s scrubbed from smokestacks. This by-product is called coal ash. It’s the second largest industrial waste stream in United States and is essentially unregulated.

From :

Advancing Environmental Justice and Urban Sustainability, 6th Annual Arnold J, Alderman Memorial Lecture, Martin Luther King Celebration, Yale Peabody Museum

From the Madison Capital Times:

When Republicans passed their far-reaching tort reform bill last year, they did away with the effects of a 2005 state Supreme Court ruling that made six paint manufacturers potentially responsible for a Milwaukee boy’s lead poisoning. Now, in a move that raises constitutional questions, Republicans want to apply the new court standards to cases already in court.

The proposal, Senate Bill 373, would invalidate so-called “risk contribution” theory by requiring plaintiffs in 173 pending cases to identify the producer of the paint that poisoned their children. The risk contribution theory, adopted by the high court, allowed the family of Steven Thomas to sue the paint companies even though the family couldn’t identify which company produced the paint that poisoned him.

The theory was not new. It was adopted by the state’s high court in 1984 in Collins vs. Eli Lilly, a case that dealt with the miscarriage-prevention drug diethylstilbestrol, which was linked to vaginal cancer.

In the Thomas case, the Supreme Court ruling did not decide it. It only allowed the lawsuit to proceed. If the companies lost, they would share a degree of liability for producing the paint.

Peter Earle represented Thomas and is the attorney for the 173 children in the current cases. On Thursday Earle said at a state Senate judiciary committee hearing that he’d never seen litigation that changed the rules in pending court cases, and for the benefit of specific litigants.

“It’s obnoxious. It’s onerous. It’s something that I would expect to happen in North Korea, not the United States of America,” he said.

The bill, introduced only last week, is moving at breakneck speed, getting a hastily scheduled public hearing on Thursday. Introduced by Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, the proposal also apparently has the blessing of Republican leadership. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has signed on as a co-sponsor.

“When a court does something that’s as outrageous as (the Thomas ruling), when they retroactively tell businesses that were producing paint in 1900 or 1910 that not only can you be liable for damages … but you have to be liable for any paint produced by any paint company in the United States in 1900, obviously you can’t operate commerce with that type of decision made,” Grothman said at the hearing.

Business interests were also enraged by the Thomas decision when it came out in 2005. In fact, they launched a successful electoral crusade to tilt the liberal court toward the conservative side. In 2008 the author of the Thomas decision, former Justice Louis Butler, lost his bid for reelection after business interests spent millions to back Michael Gableman, an obscure, conservative circuit court judge.

Grothman said Thursday that the pending lead paint cases were “filed at the last minute” to beat last year’s Feb. 1 enactment of the state’s “tort reform” bill, but Earle said he filed his cases before the law was even proposed, some as early as 2006.

Grothman didn’t restrict his comments to the bill. He questioned the notion, which has been well-documented over decades, that paint in the home can cause lead poisoning.

“Quite frankly, it’s scandalous that lawyers are leading people to believe that the lead paint in these houses is responsible for the increases in the (lead) levels in their blood,” he said.

Earle cited state health department statistics showing that Wisconsin is far above the national average in lead poisoning, and that the bulk of poisoning cases are concentrated in inner-city Milwaukee.

Earle, who showed up with several of the children he is representing who suffer from lead poisoning, said he was offended by Grothman’s comment.

“These children are born into socioeconomic situations that have every single burden that society can impose upon them imposed upon them,” he said. “And then what lead poisoning does is attacks the very gift that God gave them — their cognitive capacity, their ability to try to stand up and persevere over that.”

Earle also charged that the bill is an inside job, designed specifically to circumvent litigation in the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the cases are being litigated.

He said the parties were arguing the case on Jan. 9 and word that the bill had been drafted prompted the paint industry attorneys to cut arguments short. Two hours later, he said, Grothman sent out an email instructing the Legislative Reference Bureau to ready the bill.

“I believe it was put in the hopper so the six lead paint manufacturers had it in their back pocket, depending on how they saw the litigation in Chicago going,” Earle charged.

Grothman didn’t deny that the bill was designed to help the paint industry by eradicating the effects of the 2005 Supreme Court ruling.

Questioned by state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, about the origin of anonymous memos in the bill’s drafting documents that were incorporated in the bill, Grothman said he didn’t know where they came from.

“I’ve never seen it before,” Erpenbach said about the insertion of an anonymous memo in the drafting documents.

Critics say the bill could go much further than just protecting the paint industry.

“If you don’t like the court decision, why didn’t you just come in with a bill, a simple bill, that in effect repeals the court decision, rather than come up with a bill that may have serious, unintended results?” asked state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. “Because this affects not only the paint case; it affects other cases.”

More.

From Reuters:

In a study of more than 4,000 black women in Los Angeles, those who lived in areas with higher levels of traffic-related air pollution were at increased risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure.

The researchers, led by Patricia Coogan at Boston University, found that black women living in neighborhoods with high levels of nitrogen oxides, pollutants found in traffic exhaust, were 25 percent more likely to develop diabetes and 14 percent more likely to develop hypertension than those living in sections with cleaner air.

Previous research has linked air pollution to health problems such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease and even higher rates of death.

“The public health implications are huge,” said Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, who studies the effects of air pollution at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles, especially for black women, who have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than white women. He was not involved in the current work.

Forty-four percent of all black women in the U.S. have high blood pressure and about 11 percent have diabetes compared with 28 percent and roughly seven percent, respectively, of white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black Americans also experience higher levels of air pollution than white Americans, according to the study authors.

For their investigation, published in Circulation, the researchers followed participants in the ongoing Black Women’s Health Study for 10 years. The women were mainly recruited from subscribers to Essence magazine, and none had diabetes or high blood pressure when the study began in 1995.

Over the course of a decade, 531 women developed high blood pressure and 183 women were diagnosed with diabetes.

The findings on their relative risks for those conditions take into account several other potential influences, including how heavy the women were, whether they smoked and other stressors, including noise levels at participants’ homes.

Although researchers measured average pollution levels near participants’ homes for only one year of the ten-year study, Coogan told Reuters Health that air pollution patterns remained relatively constant over the entire study period.

While Coogan and her colleagues estimated nitrogen oxide concentrations near participants’ homes, they did not account for commuting habits or exposure to air pollution at work. According to the researchers, Americans, on average, spend about 70 percent of their time at home.

In addition to measuring nitrogen oxides, a proxy for traffic pollution, the researchers evaluated levels of fine particulate matter. Many sources contribute to this type of air pollution, including traffic, power plants and industrial processes.

Women who lived in areas with higher fine particulate exposures also faced an increased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, although statistically the link was weak and could have been due to chance.

Previous reports have suggested that air pollution particles small enough to make their way into the blood stream may contribute to a narrowing of blood vessels, which can lead to high blood pressure and reduce sensitivity to insulin.

More.

Image from Flickr.

<p>Peggy Shepard</p>

Peggy M. Shepard, executive director and co-founder of WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT), gives the annual MLK Lecture on Environmental Justice. The title of her talk is “Advancing Environmental Health & Justice: A Community Perspective.”

Shepard has successfully combined grassroots organizing, environmental advocacy and environmental health research to becomea national leader in advancing the perspective of environmental justice in urban communities to ensure that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment extends to all. Shepard was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science from Smith College last May for two decades of leadership in environmental justice and urban sustainability.

From the Associated Press:

For the first time in 20 years, a federal panel is urging the government to lower the threshold for lead poisoning in children.

If adopted, hundreds of thousands more children could be diagnosed with lead poisoning. Too much lead is harmful to developing brains and can mean a lower IQ.

Recent research persuaded panel members that children could be harmed from lead levels in their blood that are lower than the current standard, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

While the number of cases has been falling, health officials think as many as 250,000 children have the problem, many of those undiagnosed. The proposed change could take it to 450,000 cases.

Wednesday’s vote by the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention would lower the definition of lead poisoning for young children from 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to 5 micrograms. The CDC has accepted all of the panel’s recommendations in the past.

Lead — a metal that for years was common in paint and gasoline — can harm a child’s brain, kidneys and other organs. High levels in the blood can cause coma, convulsions and death. Lower levels can reduce intelligence, impair hearing and behavior and cause other problems.

Usually, the victims are children living in old homes that are dilapidated or under renovation, who pick up paint chips or dust and put it in their mouths. Lead has been banned in paint since 1978. Children have also picked up lead poisoning from soil contaminated by old leaded gasoline, and from dust tracked in from industrial worksites.

Lead poisoning is detected through a blood test, often when kids are toddlers. Most cases are handled by seeking out and removing the lead source, and monitoring the children to make sure lead levels stay down. A special treatment to remove lead and other heavy metals is used for very high levels.

But the problem has seemed to be diminishing, based on the old standard. In 2009, researchers reported that 1.4 percent of young children had elevated lead levels in their blood in 2004, the latest data available. That compares with almost 9 percent in 1988.

The lead poisoning threshold was last changed in 1991. The proposed level of 5 micrograms was calculated from the highest lead levels seen in a comprehensive annual U.S. health survey. The panel recommended that it be reassessed every four years.

“It’s a moving target,” said Perry Gottesfeld, co-chair of the group that came up with the advice.

Some groups celebrated the decision, saying medical evidence has been mounting that lower levels of lead poisoning can erode a child’s ability to learn and cause behavior problems.

“This is long overdue,” said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, a Baltimore-based organization.

The recommendation might be difficult to implement. In many places, it’s up to city and county health departments to provide many of the services for lead poisoned kids, and those departments have lost more than 34,000 jobs in the last three years because of budget cuts. Meanwhile, Congress just slashed the CDC’s lead program from more than $30 million to $2 million.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From The Province:

Public elementary schools in low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to be located near a major road or highway, exposing students to higher levels of air and noise pollution, according to a new B.C. study.

The study, which examined the proximity of 1,556 schools to a major thoroughfare in Canada’s 10 largest cities, found that more than 22 per cent of schools located in the poorest neighbourhoods lie within 75 metres of a major road, compared to 13 per cent for the richest areas.

“The relationship between income and proximity was quite consistent across cities,” said Simon Fraser University assistant professor Ryan Allen, one of the co-authors of the study, published this week in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

* * *

One possibility for the correlation, speculated Allen, could be that high volumes of vehicular traffic make a neighbourhood less desirable, driving property values down and making them more affordable to low-income residents.

The study obtained addresses for elementary schools in Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The schools where then geocoded and their proximity to the nearest major road calculated.

“About 16 per cent of the schools we looked at is close enough to a major road to have elevated pollution and noise,” said Allen, a health-sciences professor.

* * *

Research has shown that increased exposure to traffic-generated air pollution is linked to reduced lung functions, asthma and decreased cognitive functions. Noise pollution is also linked to increased blood pressure and reduced sleep quality.

The study does not list schools and its distances to major roads, but authors said Vancouver schools near or along Knight Street or Kingsway would be representative of schools that fall within the 75 metres radius.

A 2003 city of Vancouver report on the Clark/Knight Corridor had noted that while ambient sound levels in classrooms during lessons should be 35 decibels, the cacophony on Knight Street exceeds 70 decibels.

“It would be a challenge to meet the relevant criteria (< 35 dBA) in classrooms, even with the windows tightly closed,” said the report.

Allen said he hopes the study increases awareness of where schools, daycares, and other similar facilities are built in the future.

“I’d like to see environmental quality be a consideration,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to provide a safe environment for our kids to grow up in.”

More.

Image from Flickr.

From iWatch News:

Three years into Lisa Jackson’s tenure as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than a dozen formal complaints alleging air pollution is disproportionately harming low-income, minority communities remain unresolved. Each of these complaints has languished — in some instances, for more than a decade — in the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights despite Jackson’s stated commitment to environmental justice.

“We must include environmental justice principles in all of our decisions … especially with regard to children,” Jackson wrote in a January 2010 memo outlining the agency’s top priorities.

But EPA documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and interviews with activists and residents reveal that the administrator’s words have brought little relief to underprivileged communities overburdened with pollution.

The Office of Civil Rights — whose leader reports directly to Jackson — has in its files a total of 38 unresolved complaints dating to July 1994, according to a list published on the office’s website following a Freedom of Information Act request from iWatch News. Fifteen of these OCR complaints involve air pollution.

The EPA did not explain why so many cases remain unresolved. However, a spokeswoman said in an email that “the Agency has made meaningful progress on many of the complaints that remain on its docket.”

Environmental justice advocates are dubious. “The backlog doesn’t seem greatly improved, and it’s not clear what processes they use to evaluate the complaints” said Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. “Why is that progress?”

Poverty and pollution

Tammy Foster, a 39-year-old housewife turned environmental activist from Corpus Christi, Texas, has had several miscarriages in the 17 years that a complaint alleging discrimination in her community has been pending at OCR. Doctors don’t know why she’s been unable to conceive, she said. “If I had to guess, I’d say living on Refinery Row,” a 10-mile stretch of oil refineries and other industrial plants.

Foster blames emissions from the plants that border the Dona Park neighborhood on three sides for a birth defect that causes her to average four kidney infections per year and for regular outbreaks of hives and blisters. “When I’m gone, I feel great,” she said.

Dona Park, where Foster has lived most of her life, is about 70 percent Hispanic, according to the 2010 census. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey found that about a quarter of all families in the community live below the poverty line.

In Ford Heights, Ill., a solidly African-American exurb of Chicago, about 40 percent of all families are in poverty, according to the American Community Survey. In April 2006, residents filed a complaint — still unresolved by OCR — against the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for failing to act on Geneva Energy, LLC, which bought a tire-burning power plant located only blocks from a community center that housed a preschool program.

The plant has operated intermittently due to financial and environmental problems that include a long list of air pollution violations. “The only way that you would know [it was running] is that the smoke was in the air,” said Melva Smith-Weaver, who worked at the Head Start program in Ford Heights until 2007.

”There was quite a few children during that time that were asthmatic. You would expect to have out of 102 kids, one or two that are asthmatic, but we had quite a few — maybe 15 to 20.” In 2009, the preschool program moved to new location about a mile away, but middle school students still attend classes just down the road from the plant.

“This facility is clean and safe for the surrounding community,” said Geneva Energy CEO Ben Rose. He acknowledged the air pollution violations but said “there is little evidence that plants such as ours increase asthma attacks.” Rose said it’s “outrageous that this complaint wasn’t addressed immediately” by OCR.

Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin agreed. In an October letter to Jackson, he noted that Geneva Energy is the city’s biggest private employer and taxpayer. “This could have been dismissed after a brief investigation, lifting the cloud of uncertainty from the facility,” Griffin wrote.

The Corpus Christi and Ford Heights complaints are among at least 15 Clean Air Act cases pending with OCR; three of these cases date to the 1990s. Twenty-three other pending complaints allege violations of laws governing water pollution, toxic waste and pesticides.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From University of Michigan:

When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.

That is the claim of University of Michigan social scientist James S. Jackson and colleagues in an article published in the May 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The theory helps explain a long-time epidemiological puzzle: why African Americans have worse physical health than whites but better psychiatric health.

“People engage in bad habits for functional reasons, not because of weak character or ignorance,” says Jackson, director of the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Over the life course, coping strategies that are effective in ‘preserving’ the mental health of blacks may work in concert with social, economic and environmental inequalities to produce physical health disparities in middle age and later life.”

In an analysis of survey data, obtained from the same people at two points in time, Jackson and colleagues find evidence for their theory. The relationship between stressful life events and depression varies by the level of unhealthy behaviors. But the direction of that relationship is strikingly different for blacks and whites.

Controlling for the extent of stressful life events a person has experienced, unhealthy behaviors seem to protect against depression in African Americans but lead to higher levels of depression in whites.

“Many black Americans live in chronically precarious and difficult environments,” says Jackson. “These environments produce stressful living conditions, and often the most easily accessible options for addressing stress are various unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors may alleviate stress through the same mechanisms that are believed to contribute to some mental disorders—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis and related biological systems.”

Since negative health behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use and overeating (especially comfort foods) also have direct and debilitating effects on physical health, these behaviors—along with the difficult living conditions that give rise to them—contribute to the disparities in mortality and physical health problems between black and white populations.

These disparities in physical health and mortality are greatest at middle age and beyond, Jackson says. Why?

“At younger ages, blacks are able to employ a variety of strategies that, when combined with the more robust physical health of youth, effectively mask the cascade to the negative health effects,” Jackson said. “But as people get older, they tend to reduce stress more often by engaging in bad habits.”

Black women show heightened rates of obesity over the life course, he points out. In fact, by the time they are in their 40s, 60 percent of African American women are obese.

“How can it be that 60 percent of the population has a character flaw?” Jackson asks. “Overeating is an effective, early, well-learned response to chronic environmental stressors that only strengthens over the life course. In contrast, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, black American men’s coping choices are different.

“Early in life, they tend to be physically active and athletic, which produces the stress-lowering hormone dopamine. But in middle age, physical deterioration reduces the viability and effectiveness of this way of coping with stress, and black men turn in increasing numbers to unhealthy coping behaviors, showing increased rates of smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.”

Racial disparities in physical illnesses and mortality are not really a result of race at all, Jackson says. Instead, they are a result of how people live their lives, the composition of their lives. These disparities are not just a function of socioeconomic status, but of a wide range of conditions including the accretion of micro insults that people are exposed to over the years.

“You can’t really study physical health without looking at people’s mental health and really their whole lives,” he said. “The most effective way to address an important source of physical health disparities is to reduce environmentally produced stressors—both those related to race and those that are not. We need to improve living conditions, create good job opportunities, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of inner-city urban life.

“Paradoxically, the lack of attention to these conditions contributes to the use of unhealthy coping behaviors by people living in poor conditions. Although these unhealthy coping behaviors contribute to lower rates of mental disorder, over the life course they play a significant role in leading to higher rates of physical health problems and earlier mortality than is found in the general population.”

More.

From iWatch:

One spring day in 2010, the haze hanging over this Mississippi River town was worse than usual. It billowed from the smokestacks of a corn processing plant and blanketed the neighborhood across the street. It enshrouded homes and, seen from a certain angle, looked almost blue.

Kurt Levetzow watched from his car. An inspector with the state agency that enforces air pollution laws, he’d been fielding more and more citizen complaints lately about Grain Processing Corp., known as GPC.

The company’s plant sits on the edge of the town’s South End neighborhood, where black soot and bits of corn collect on cars and homes and many residents worry about what they’re breathing. Even on an ordinary day, a pungent burnt-corn odor hangs in the air, and the haze can be seen from miles away.

But Levetzow hadn’t seen anything like this. Driving through the neighborhood near the plant, he snapped pictures and took notes for the memo he would write. “I went through Muscatine on 3-26-10,” he wrote. “I was amazed at what I saw.”

A pickup truck came to a stop next to Levetzow’s car. It was a company security guard.

“Is there a problem?” the guard asked.

“Yes, there is,” Levetzow answered. “GPC is fogging that residential area with a blue haze.” Levetzow pointed. “You see what I mean?”

The guard looked over. “Ah, they’re getting used to that,” he said, chuckling.

Many communities have had little choice but to get used to it. As the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News has reported, hundreds of communities are beset with chronic air pollution involving toxic chemicals Congress intended to rein in years ago. Here in the heart of the Corn Belt, people endure the consequences of a regulatory system that has failed them for years.

The plant’s troubles are well-known to state and federal officials, but fixes — when they have come at all — have been slow. Memos, reports and thousands of emails obtained by iWatch News detail Levetzow’s efforts, the company’s resistance and the state environmental agency’s passivity. They also highlight gaps in a regulatory system that relies on a self-reporting honor system, spotty monitoring and ambiguous rules.

Officials at the state Department of Natural Resources, known as the DNR, have allowed GPC to avoid improvements that would reduce pollution. Even when Levetzow told his bosses he thought GPC’s apparent compliance with air pollution laws was a façade and repeatedly urged them to act, they did little, emails show.

The company says it stays within the limits outlined in its permit, has followed air pollution rules and is upgrading pollution control equipment as part of a major plant improvement project, some of which is scheduled to be finished in 2014. The improvements — some required by a court order resolving a case brought by the state for environmental violations five years ago — still may fail to keep the area in compliance with air quality standards, the state says.

GPC spokesperson Janet Sichterman said other companies share responsibility for Muscatine’s air quality problems, and GPC is doing its part to clean up the skies. “We want this to be a great community with quality air, too,” she said.

While the Clean Air Act delegated enforcement duties to the states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency keeps tabs on state agencies and sometimes steps in. The plant appeared on the September version of EPA’s internal “watch list,” which includes serious or chronic violators of the Clean Air Act that have faced no formal enforcement action for nine months or more. GPC was not on the list in October.

Now, after years on the sidelines, the EPA has started to get involved. The agency says it is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation of GPC — a rare step the EPA usually reserves for companies it feels have knowingly violated the law. In December 2009, a team of investigators led by the EPA raided the plant and seized documents. Sichterman said the company doesn’t know why it’s being investigated but is confident the probe will determine GPC followed all laws.

Some residents, no longer content to wait for official action, are organizing and building their own case. They are filing complaints and documenting health problems. Recently, they hired a lawyer. As in other communities, they face significant hurdles, from limited air monitoring and health studies that would help them make their case to wariness among their neighbors about taking on powerful political and economic forces.

More.

From Huffington Post:

“Who wouldn’t be against the poisoning of children?”

This was the rhetorical question posed by Dr. Robert D. Bullard during a recent phone interview that I had with him. Our talk covered topics from the genesis of his career as the “Father of Environmental Justice,” to the role that women and mothers have played in the struggle for the health of the planet. As Bullard stated, “Women have been the backbone of environmental justice — and women of color have consistently been fighting for their kids.”

African-American and Latinos have repeatedly found their communities targeted as prime locations for toxic facilities. I reached out to Bullard for an overview on the evolution of the Environmental Justice movement, which has served as a prism through which to examine policy based on race, environment, and waste. Bullard walked me through his work from the 1970s, when he developed the theory of Environmental Justice, to his current role as the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

* * *

Dumping In Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality, Bullard’s 1990 book, became a textbook primer for teaching the underpinnings of Environmental Justice. In it, Bullard illustrated how siting practices have created a full range of health problems in the African-American population as the result of incinerators, garbage dumps, hazardous waste, and chemical plants. Bullard meticulously used research based on science and facts to demonstrate that environmental waste was being located in economically poor and politically powerless neighborhoods. The same year, Bullard built a list of groups doing related advocacy initiatives, which led to the National People of Color Environmental Summit in 1991 and a Principles of Environmental Justice manifesto. His formulations on public policy branched out to the international level, when in 1999 he assisted in preparing environmental racism documents that were presented at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

When we spoke, Bullard expressed his concern about the current atmosphere of ongoing negativity toward the Environmental Protection Agency. He said, “When people demonize the EPA, it’s totally bogus. We need a strong, independent EPA.” Reflecting on what a lapse on enforcing standards could do to the public’s wellbeing, Bullard remarked, “Are we trying to race to the bottom?”

On the issue of “unequal protection,” Bullard emphasized the need of governmental agencies to work together so that “no community becomes a dumping zone.” He was definitive in his stance, “You need a strong Federal presence,” referencing how in too many circumstances, “states have done a lousy job.” Drilling down on the way equity issues impact low wealth communities, Bullard noted that the same neighborhoods that experience toxic sites are also the ones lacking in supermarkets, parks and other quality of life markers. Pointing to a Toxic Waste and Race Report, Bullard observed that of 413 commercial waste facilities, 56 percent were in locations inhabited by people of color. Using the term “clustering,” he pointed to hot spots in California, Texas, and New Mexico — as well as to the urban centers of Detroit, Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City — that shared similar patterns of toxic release.

* * *

In explaining how children of color were disproportionately affected by ozone, automobile and truck exhaust, coal-fired power plants — putting them on the front line, Bullard circled back to the efforts of mothers in East Los Angeles, reiterating how they had been battling against local incinerators for decades. He also mentioned the ongoing work of [Upstream Contributor] Peggy Shepard, executive director and co-founder (1988) of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), New York’s first organization devoted to improving environmental health in communities of color. Speaking of all youngsters, Bullard said, “If we protect children, we protect everyone. If we don’t, we put everyone at risk.”

His final words to me summed up why mobilizing to ensure and maintain the progress and regulations put into place by the EPA is so essential:

“Writing off an entire generation is not acceptable.”

More.

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