Archives for posts with tag: Environmental Protection Agency

From Charleston Gazette:

Federal environmental regulators are looking closely at a new scientific study that found Appalachian residents who live near mountaintop removal mine sites face an increased risk of birth defects.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials met last week with one of the study’s authors, and EPA is concerned about growing evidence about mountaintop removal’s potential adverse effects on public health in the coalfields.

Nancy Stoner, acting assistant EPA administrator for water, testified to a congressional committee last week about her agency’s concerns regarding the findings of a series of West Virginia University studies.

“In 2010, an independent, peer-reviewed study by two university professors found that communities near degraded streams have higher rate of respiratory, digestive, urinary and breast cancer,” Stoner told a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government and Regulatory Reform.

“That study was not conducted in a far-off country,” Stoner said. “It was conducted in Appalachian communities — only a few hundred miles from where we sit today.”

In her testimony, Stoner noted the birth defects study and another WVU scientific paper that found Appalachian citizens who live near mountaintop removal “experience significantly more unhealthy days each year than the average American.”

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From iWatch:

With a handful of Democratic votes, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill Wednesday that limits the EPA’s ability to regulate coal ash and says coal ash residue deserves little more scrutiny and regulation than municipal trash.

Instead of giving the Environmental Protection Agency the mandate to regulate coal ash, the bill puts the onus on states to set up a program to deal with the issue. EPA would provide oversight. The bill passed by a 35-12 vote, with six Democrats joining the GOP.

As iWatch News has reported, coal ash’s metals have poisoned water supplies, damaged ecosystems and jeopardized the health of nearby residents. EPA has faced stiff resistance in trying to regulate the material as hazardous waste, led by coal-supported politicians such as one of the bill’s biggest proponents, David McKinley, R-W.Va.

“I’m going to defend the coal industry all across America,” McKinley said Wednesday. “We cannot afford any further attack in this war on coal.”

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From Slate:

The last quarter of a century has taught science some newfangled things about breasts. For one thing, they appear to be showing up earlier in young girls, with possible consequences for breast cancer later on. For another, the way they grow and develop varies from woman to woman, and—if lab animals are any indication—normal exposures to commercial chemicals can alter that process. The growing human breast is also more vulnerable than we thought. Data from atomic-bomb survivors in Japan show that it was adolescents—not grown women—near the explosions who were most likely to develop breast cancer in later years. Since then, there’s been similar data for girls who were exposed to medical X-rays or radiation therapy, as well as research showing that the pesticide DDT, now banned but pervasive in the 1950s and 1960s, is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women exposed as girls.

So it may come as a surprise that the federal agencies responsible for public health don’t routinely take childhood exposures into account when testing whether commercial chemicals cause mammary tumors. In fact, in many lab-animal tests, they don’t bother to look at the mammary gland at all. Breast cancer may be the No. 1 killer of middle-aged women in the United States, but as a new set of reports makes clear, the breast is a major blind spot in federal chemical-safety policy. “They just throw the mammary glands in the trash can,” says Ruthann Rudel, research director with the nonprofit Silent Spring Institute and lead author of one of the papers, a review of the latest science on mammary gland development and toxic exposures.

The reports, published last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, grew out of a 2009 workshop on mammary gland risk assessment, which involved scientists from federal and international agencies as well as independent groups. Breast cancer is just one of the areas federal agencies neglect, the reports show, along with health issues surrounding lactation and the timing of breast development in puberty. “Few chemicals coming into the marketplace are evaluated for these effects,” state Rudel and her co-authors.

But blowing off these tests is a big mistake. The mammary gland—the breast’s intricate milk-making structure—is uniquely sensitive to toxic chemicals, says Suzanne Fenton, a reproductive endocrinologist with the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health, and a co-author of the science review. In both rodents and humans, it starts to develop in the fetus, undergoes a colossal growth spurt at puberty, and doesn’t fully develop until late pregnancy. During these times, its cells appear particularly vulnerable to carcinogens and other organ-altering substances. While lab rats and mice aren’t perfect proxies for humans, their mammary glands undergo similar development patterns under similar hormonal influences, says Fenton.

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From The Morning Call:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Climate change, and our attempts to prevent it, can worsen indoor air quality and make people sick.

That’s are the key finding of a report compiled by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies at the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

There isn’t enough evidence to say whether climate change was already harming indoor air quality, the report finds. ‘However, available research indicates that climate change may make existing indoor environmental problems (worse) and introduce new problems,’ the report says.

It reviewed existing science, and found it lacking.

‘(T)here is a clear lack of recognition of this topic at a level commensurate with its importance,’ the report says, noting that the issue does not ‘fall neatly under the aegis of any federal department or agency.’

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing notion is that ‘green’ buildings can endanger public health. That’s because they seek to save energy use by, among other things, adding insulation and sealing leaks.

‘Research indicates that poor ventilation in homes, offices and schools is associated with occupant health problems and lower productivity,’ the report says.

‘Climate change may make ventilation problems more common or more severe in the future by stimulating the implementation of energy-efficiency (weatherization) measures that limit the exchange of indoor air with outdoor air.’

This finding is particularly noteworthy now, because many developers are erecting buildings that meet various green standards that include weatherization and sealing of the building envelope. And many governments have started requiring new public and, in some cases, private buildings to achieve green certifications, such as those under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

‘The United States is in the midst of a large experiment of its own making in which weatherization efforts, energy-efficiency retrofits, and other initiatives that affect that characteristics of interaction between indoor and outdoor environments are taking place and new building materials and consumer products are being introduced indoors with little consideration of how they might affect the health of occupants,’ the report says.

‘Experience provides a strong basis to expect that some of the affects will be adverse, a few profoundly so.’

It should be noted that many green-building standards include minimizing use of materials that contribute to indoor air pollution by giving off fumes and gases. And many green buildings prioritize bringing in outside air during warmer periods by having windows that open, a rarity in office buildings.

The report also finds that climate change itself can worsen indoor air quality.

‘Increased use of air conditioning, an expected adaptation measure, could exacerbate emissions of greenhouse gasses and, if accompanied by reduced ventilation rates, increase the concentration of pollutants emitted from indoor sources,’ it says.

‘The potential for poisoning from exposure to carbon monoxide emitted from portable electricity generators may increase if peak electricity demand due to heat waves or extreme weather events leads to power outages.’

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From New York Times:

The Supreme Court decided today not to take up General Electric Co.’s legal campaign over how U.S. EPA exercises its authority to order companies to clean up hazardous waste sites.

GE, backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has fought a lengthy battle against the agency’s authority under the Superfund statute, formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, to issue so-called unilateral administrative orders.

If companies refuse, they can face treble damages and daily fines of up to $37,500.

GE says the law creates an uneven playing field that gives EPA too much leverage in negotiating settlements with companies.

But courts have rebuffed GE every step of the way and the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene in the case, General Electric v. EPA, means the legal issue is decisively resolved in EPA’s favor.

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From ABC7 News (Fort Detrick):

For years, Rosemary Gruden was worried whether the water from her well and the soil in her garden are safe. She feared they were contaminated by chemical runoff. She considered moving. “I really don’t want to pull up roots and move,” she said.The Grudens live one mile from Fort Detrick. ABC7 has been investigating alleged spraying of the chemical known as Agent Orange at the Fort.“I don’t think it’s safe for people who work there. I really don’t,” she said.Gruden’s father, Charles, was a Detrick test lab worker for 30 years. He died of colon cancer. Her husband, Joe, was an employee at the Fort for 15 years. He suffers from blood cancer.“Frederick has a very high cancer rate and it always has,” Gruden said. “Lots of people have had cancer. Five of my neighbors, close neighbors. And now my husband.”

From New York Times:

One of the most important U.S. EPA officials is somebody you probably don’t know.

Vincent Cogliano is the new acting director of the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS, which assesses health risks posed by — you name it — automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke, chemicals in drinking water. EPA uses the assessments to guide its regulation writing, the focus of intense scrutiny these days on Capitol Hill.

IRIS, Cogliano said, is “kind of the center of everything EPA does scientifically.”

“IRIS is EPA’s program to evaluate scientific information on the adverse health effects of chemical contaminants in the environment,” he said. “IRIS contains information on more than 500 chemicals and is consulted by scientists and decisionmaking officials in EPA and other environmental health agencies worldwide.”

EPA hired Cogliano — a 59-year-old Washington, D.C., native, who had worked at EPA early in his career — from the World Health Organization, where for the last seven years he directed the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France.

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The program that Cogliano took over last November has long been dismissed by environmental watchdogs as weak and slow, as evidenced by a large and venerable backlog of chemicals awaiting evaluations. It is also less than well-regarded by the Government Accountability Office, which listed IRIS among “high risk” troubled federal programs (Greenwire, Feb. 16).

Cogliano has plans for revamping IRIS, including streamlining its process for assessing chemicals and making plans to analyze substances that might present future health risks.

His zeal for reforming the program has environmentalists cheering.

“Dr. Cogliano is the right person at the right time for this monumental task,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “IRIS not only needs to ramp up its pace of completing assessments, but it has to update its science to be responsive to many of the recommendations of the National Academies reports.”

Sass added that the National Academy of Sciences has advocated using science-based factors to adjust studies and account for data gaps, kids’ exposures and other uncertainties — all recommendations that Sass said IRIS should follow.

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From People’s World:

More than 160 scientists from major universities across Michigan this week urged support for the Environmental Protection Agency, calling the federal agency’s role essential to protecting the public health.

In a letter addressed the state’s congressional delegation, the scientists called on elected officials to “reject any measure that would block or delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the people of Michigan from air pollution and human caused climate change, both of which put public health, agriculture, the environment and our economy at risk.”

“For more than 40 years, the EPA has protected public health and safety by holding polluters accountable – and it should be allowed to continue doing its job,” Knute Nadelhoffer, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday, March 9.

“Scientists across Michigan stand united with scientists at the EPA and across the nation,” he said. “Science, not politics, must drive our fight against dangerous pollution.”

Full article here.

Center for Public Integrity: EPA chemical health hazards program has 55-year backlog of work, report says.

Eighteen months after the Environmental Protection Agency announced reforms to its controversial process for evaluating health hazards posed by dangerous chemicals, significant problems continue to hamper the program and leave the public at risk, according to a new report by a nonprofit research group.The agency has fallen years behind in meeting its statutory requirements to profile at least 255 chemicals and assess their potential links to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. That delay has effectively halted numerous regulatory actions that would protect the public, according to the report by the Center for Progressive Reform, a public health and environmental protection group. “[The Obama administration has] been so busy reacting to the right wing and fighting off crisis after crisis that it’s been difficult for them to see this pattern of regulatory failure,” said Rena Steinzor, president of the center and a University of Maryland law professor.

The Government Accountability Office, Congressional committees, and other experts have criticized the EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) in recent years. Under President George W. Bush’s administration, critics say, the agency’s chemical assessment efforts ground to a near halt because of interference by other federal agencies, unwarranted delays, and a lack of transparency.

The GAO warned in a 2008 report that the IRISdatabase “is at serious risk of becoming obsolete.” In January 2009, the GAO added the EPA’s method for assessing and managing chemical risks to its list of“high-risk” areas requiring attention.

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From CBS News: Gas drilling is linked to contamination in people’s drinking water and it’s dividing rural landowners. Armen Keteyian reports.

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