This news in from our guest blogger from Alaska, Maricarmen Cruz-Guilloty, highlighting an upcoming conference call seminar entitled Aamjiwnaang: A culture in shock. It will take place TOMORROW, Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:00 AM Alaska time (10:00 AM Pacific; 1:00 PM Eastern). You can sign up by following this link.
Here’s a description of the seminar topic and speaker:
Aamjiwnaang First Nation is an Aanishinaabek community located on the border between Ontario, Canada and Michigan, USA. Surrounded by 63 petrochemical refineries, Aamjiwnaang was called “The Most Polluted Spot in North America” by National Geographic staff. The World Health Organization concluded that Aamjiwnaang has “The Most Contaminated Air-shed” in Canada. Aamjiwnaang residents continue to be exposed to a range of harmful pollutants, including chemicals known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular health effects. They also have an alarmingly low number of baby boys being born: since the early 1990s, the number of boys born dropped from a normal ratio of roughly half of all births to a skewed ratio of two girls born for every boy. Researchers suspect the change may be caused by exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Join Ron Plain, founder of the Aamjiwnaang Environment Committee as he shares cultural impacts on citizens living on Aamjiwnaang, the research that opened the community’s eyes, and current arguments to counter the Government’s and industry’s blame-the-victim strategies for avoiding responsibility for the cumulative impacts of the pollution.
Ron Plain is Instructor of Trent University’s Indigenous Environment and Health program and founder of the Aamjiwnaang Environment Committee. Ron has lead several well-documented grassroots actions to bring Aamjiwnaang to the world’s attention. A sought after Lecturer, Ron has spoken around the world on the impacts of industry, contamination and encroachment on Indigenous cultures and people. Join the Conversation.
Just moments ago I posted on yet another state’s successful lawmaking on commercial chemicals regulation. Now, unfortunately, I get to update you on the continued paralysis in Congress on federal TSCA reform.
The Hill reports today that Rep. Shimkus’s floating of “draft bills” within his subcommittee on Environment and the Economy (of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) has produced little progress. As blogged earlier, these trial balloons have been shot down by lawmakers and public health and environmental groups as being too soft on industry.
Now Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said at a recent subcommittee hearing, “I’m not ready to give up, but I do have a suggestion. I think we should considering scaling back the ambition of this effort. Let’s focus on where we can find agreement. Let’s see if we can return to the drawing board and come up with a streamlined proposal that can truly be bipartisan.”
The Hill observes that “the current Congress has until the end of the year to reach an agreement, experts say, or risk losing any momentum lawmakers have already achieved when the new Congress comes in on Jan. 3, 2015.”
This in from local on-line news source, the Vermont Digger: “In one of the most decisive votes of the session the Vermont House supported the regulation of toxic chemicals found in children’s products. The vote was 114-27.”
As blogged a few weeks ago, a bill that would require manufacturers to label or remove toxic chemicals from children’s products sold in the Green Mountain State was making its way through the Senate and now, the House.
While Vermont has chosen to regulate individual chemicals like BPA and flame retardants during the last decade, this bill marks a transition from a series of one-offs controlled by the legislature to a systemmatic and comprehensive appproach driven by the state Health Department. As Rep. David Deen, chair of the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee and a drafter of the House bill, said, “One of the problems that we face with this whole situation is the immense growth of new chemicals coming into the marketplace without testing. We can no longer face this onslaught, chemical by chemical.”
This Vermont House version is modeled on similar state laws in California, Washington, and Maine. The bill allows the Health Department to establish a list of chemicals that fall under its jurisdiction, then report back to lawmakers in a year with recommendations for additional products to include.
Under the bill, manufacturers must report toxic chemicals found in their products sold in Vermont and pay a $200 fee every two years for each of the chemicals they report. These fees would support the program.
Our guest blogger from Alaska, Maricarmen Cruz-Guilloty, highlights this upcoming conference call seminar on how acid rock drainage from mining affects water chemistry and environmental health. The Wednesday, April 30
teleconference will explore how acid rock drainage is one of the major sources of toxic metals associated with mining. When waste rock excavated from a mine is exposed to air and water, it chemically reacts to form sulfuric acid by essentially dissolving the surface of the rock. Metals leach from the rock and may contaminate both surface and ground water. Direct exposure to these metals can be harmful to fish and people, and can indirectly harm via changes in water quality that affect aquatic habitat.
The teleconference presenter, Kendra Zamzow, Ph.D.,
is an environmental biogeochemist and the Alaska representative for the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2
). She specializes in microbial interactions with trace metals, environmental toxicology, and processes relating to acid rock drainage, metal leaching, and water quality. Since joining CSP2, Dr. Zamzow has provided technical analysis of projects including copper heap leach closure, arsenic chemistry in a tailings impoundment, mercury release from thermal processing of gold, potential for acid drainage, and chemistry of underground coal gasification. She has commented on regulatory issues, including federal gold mine mercury air emission regulations and Alaska coal and water quality regulations. Recently she completed an American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship at the EPA Office of Research and Development in Washington, DC.
N.B. from Maricarmen: The commercial chemicals bill introduced in the Alaska legislature this term, the Toxic Free Children’s Act (SB 151), died in the Judiciary Committee. Maricarmen is hopeful that “the Legislature will do the right thing next year!”
Public Health Law Research (PHLR), a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has been celebrating National Public Health Week by contributing graphics and posts on the specific role that public health law plays in improving human health. PHLR’s research agenda is to produce evidence about which public health laws work to save lives and reduce morbidity (or not), and to communicate their evidence to encourage improved law and policy making.
PHLR’s contributions this week include one environmental public health law example: lead laws.
According to PHLR:
“In 1990 approximately 20 percent of all U.S. children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. However, only a decade later that percentage was down to 1.6 percent, thanks to public health laws researched and crafted to look out for the wellbeing of children. One of the most significant pieces of legislation was The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988, which was already on the path to improving public health in 1990.”
Now see it graphically.
This video tells the story of the Philadelphia Lead Court, which was created in 2002 as an innovative law enforcement strategy to compel property owners to comply with city health codes to remediate their properties of lead hazards. This study analyzes the effectiveness of the PLC as compared with precourt law enforcement strategies and within the context of a specialized court; its use of fines; the impact of grant funding for remediation work; and major advantages and disadvantages of the PLC, along with suggested changes to improve the court’s function.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA’s 2012 rule setting emission standards for coal and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units, denying the challenge from utilities and industry groups that EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act.
The rule, establishing limits for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), are based on authority granted under the 1990 amendment to § 112 of the Clean Air Act. The amended Act requires EPA to implement maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for certain HAPs when they find such regulation appropriate and necessary based on a study of their hazards to public health. The MACT standards cannot be less stringent than the average emission limitation achieved by the best performing sources, regardless of cost or considerations other than the study of their hazards.
The groups opposing EPA’s MACT standard argued that the phrase “appropriate and necessary” in § 112(b)(1)(A) limits EPA’s ability to regulate emissions from electric utilities, and that EPA exceeded its authority by considering factors other than public health. The Court disagreed, explaining despite the statutory ambiguity of the phrase, EPA’s “commonsense” construction–which considered the HAPs hazards generally but within the context of the requisite study on public health–was permissible, satisfying Chevron’s two-part test, and within the bounds of its discretion.
According to an EPA spokesperson, the MACT standards will eliminate 90 percent of mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Two new articles of mine on environmental health law topics have just been published and can be found on SSRN. The article on the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, a bill pending in Congress to overhaul TSCA, can be found at the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law‘s beautiful home page. The essay about the ethics of using human health-based standards in environmental law, published in the University of Michigan’s Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law, will appear soon at this site.
The Anadarko Petroleum settlement of environmental health claims against its Kerr-McGee subsidiary has rightfully garnered a lot of attention in the last few days: the biggest environmental cash settlement in Department of Justice history, the $5.15 billion settlement involves clean up of dozens of sites across the country and compensates more than 7,000 people living with the effects of contamination from Kerr-McGee’s 85-year operation of chemical, energy and manufacturing businesses.
While the focus now is on moving the business and its shareholders into a more certain financial future, this map published in the Wall Street Journal (under the headline “A frightening map of where Kerr-McGee polluted”) documents the company’s continuing environmental and health impacts.
This week the United Kingdom has experienced a toxic smog that has caused 1.6 million people to suffer an asthma attack. A survey by Asthma UK conducted yesterday found 30% of the country’s 5.4 million asthmatics had suffered an asthma attack as a direct result of the toxic cloud hanging over the U.K. Dr. Keith Prowse, honorary medical adviser to the British Lung Foundation, said symptoms brought on by the smog could last several days: “The people who are most vulnerable are people with chest diseases and heart disease, the very young and very old because their immune systems cannot cope as well.” Ambulance services saw a 14% spike in 999 calls and hospitals are braced for an increase in admissions. Mike McKevitt, head of patient services at the British Lung Foundation, said: “It would be surprising if we didn’t see an overall increase in the number of hospital admissions as a result of the pollution, certainly among people with respiratory condition such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
A combination of dust from the Sahara Desert, emissions from the European continent, low south-easterly winds, and domestic pollution has caused air quality to plummet across the UK and the smog-like conditions are not expected to clear until Friday night.
In addition to warnings aimed at asthmatics, public health officials urge others experiencing sore eyes, cough, or sore throat to reduce outdoor activity. Some schools in London have banned students from outdoor playgrounds to reduce their exposure to the fog. Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London and a member of the Department of Health’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, said that doing so would help reduce long-term harm to children. Meanwhile, officials of the London Marathon reported that its doctors were monitoring the smog ahead of next weekend’s race.
All of which reminds me of London’s Great Smog of 1952, an event, along with the Donora, Pennsylvania smog a few years earlier, that is described in every environmental health text as leading to air pollution laws. The Met Office describes the Great Smog as “a fog so thick and polluted it left thousands dead [and] wreaked havoc on London in 1952. The smoke-like pollution was so toxic it was even reported to have choked cows to death in the fields. It was so thick it brought road, air and rail transport to a virtual standstill.” This smog resulted from an inversion, which occurs when air close to the ground is cooler than the air higher above it. When warm smoke emitted from home heating chimneys (it was a particularly cold and wet winter), as well as from (at that time, unregulated) factory chimneys, the particles and gases in it were trapped. And like this week’s toxic smog, winds from the east added industrial pollution from the continent in 1952. All told, 1,000 tons of smoke particles, 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 140 tons of hydrochloric acid, and 14 tons of fluorine compounds infused the Great Smog of 1952. In addition, 370 tons of sulphur dioxide were converted into 800 tons of sulphuric acid. As a result, when the fog cleared a few days later, some 4,000 people were dead, many more suffered breathing problems, and even cattle were claimed to have been asphyxiated by the smog.