Backyard Talk

Greg Palast on BP Oil Spill; Citizen Mapping

By Reed Dunlea : May 11, 2010 10:12 am

I’ve found that Greg Palast always brings a critical and independent questioning of corporate abuse, and this article is no different. Palast covered BP’s involvement in the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and argues BP’s handling of their spill in the Gulf of Mexico is more of the same from the company. The below article is about one week old, but still worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

“And here we go again. Valdez goes Cajun.”

Slick Operator: The BP I’ve known too well, by Greg Palast

CHEJ allies Louisiana Bucket Brigade are looking for citizen journalists to participate in developing an oil spill crisis map. Find more info here.

“The Louisiana Bucket Brigade and partners are calling upon residents of the Gulf Coast to submit their reports of the effects of the oil spill. ‘By mobilizing information from affected communities the immediate purpose is to contribute useful data. As time goes on, these reports will serve as a record of this tragedy, so that others may never have to bear witness again,’ said Mariko Toyoji of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.”

*Update May 26: Democracy Now! piece on BP in Exxon Valdez



Mother Nature Says “Time Out!”

By Lois : May 11, 2010 9:12 am

Is it Mother Nature?  God?  The Mother Earth itself?

It seems to me that something is trying to tell us to stop being  . . . well, so stupid.

Clean Coal?  Oil Drilling off-shore in our critical oceans and coasts? People are still debating the impacts of Climate Change (more like climate crisis) . . . at least the loud voices of denial are calmed.

I think that Mother Nature or Mother Earth just gave everyone a “time out.”  That Icelandic volcano?  I think that was Mother Nature’s little way of saying, “You are all grounded!”  No planes will take off until you understand what has happening to the planet and just how angry the earth is today. “I’m giving you all a time out,” may be the message, particularly to globe-trotting business executives. Read More »


Mike Schade

We got the videos, you bring the popcorn.

By Mike Schade : May 10, 2010 9:15 am

On our 10-day PVC-free schools speaking tour, we brought along our handy new flip-videocamera, recording  and shooting videos of our adventures from the road.  Check out these short videos we made chronicling our journey.

Don’t forget the popcorn! :D

Betty the Be Safe Ducky visits SUNY Stony Brook!

Lois leading students in chant at Power Shift NY!

Jim from the UB Green Office talks about our event at Power Shift NY!

Caitlin from Project Conservation on Betty the Be Safe Ducky

You can check out more videos from CHEJ on our new YouTube page.



The House TSCA Reform Bill: What Gets Lost in the Sauce?

By Moira Bulloch : May 3, 2010 9:30 am

Today we have a special guest post from our friends over at Safer Chemicals Healthy Families.  This is cross-posted from the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families blog. We’re very happy to welcome Andy Igrejas to Backyard Talk today!

By Andy Igrejas, campaign director

If you’ve been following our campaign — or the debate over chemical policy — you know that we reached a milestone on April 15, when both the U.S. House and Senate unveiled strong legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

As the House is planning action on the legislation very soon, I thought it was worth taking stock of what the key issues are in the House bill, what they mean on a practical level, and where the coalition would like to see improvement. Chairman Waxman and Chairman Rush are already meeting with key stakeholders and planning votes in June. It’s a great time for concerned citizens to get involved in the debate and help influence the outcome.

Turning chemical policy right-side up

As we noted in our press response that day, the new legislation is really a big deal. For the first time, the chemical industry would be required to demonstrate that chemicals are safe, rather than the EPA having to prove they are unsafe. In a major shift the legislation would require chemical manufacturers to provide basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for them remaining on or entering the market. This was a key demand of our coalition and we’re very happy to see it included.

New leverage for consumers demanding non-toxic products

Under the new legislation, businesses will gain access to the information they need to make sure they’re not passing along toxic chemicals to their consumers.

The legislation also makes most of this information public, acknowledging that it isn’t only useful to EPA, but to “the market.” Companies that use chemicals to manufacture products, as well as consumers like you and me, have a right to know basic safety information about chemicals. For example, in response to consumer pressure, companies like Staples and Kaiser-Permanente have already adopted policies to weed out the bad chemicals from their supply chain. Under the new legislation, businesses will gain access to the information they need to make sure they’re not passing along toxic chemicals to their consumers. And consumers will have even more leverage to demand non-toxic products from retailers. In this way, the market — including both businesses and consumers — can create change.

Cooling down toxic ‘hot spots’

The House bill also reflects a key demand of environmental justice advocates: that EPA identify communities that are disproportionately exposed to chemicals (aka toxic “hot spots”) and implement actions to bring that exposure down. Hot spots may arise because of their proximity to industrial plants, diesel refueling stations, or toxic waste dumps — and are often located in black, Latino, and low-income communities. Right now these “hot spots” are basically lost in the sauce because EPA focuses on the “average” person. But for the same reason you’ve never met anyone with 2.5 children, that system leaves out millions of people who live in communities — like the industrial Ironbound community in Newark where I was born — where just getting to “average” exposure would be a huge improvement. Kudos to the bill sponsors for recognizing this and doing something simple and pragmatic to address it.

Naming names

The legislation also acknowledges that EPA’s efforts to regulate specific chemicals historically get bogged down by political pressures. So it actually names 40 known dangerous chemicals — including recent arrivals like bisphenol A (BPA) as well as old-timers like formaldehyde — and directs EPA to accelerate evaluations of these chemicals and propose appropriate restrictions within a year. This requires at least some kind of meaningful decision on a reasonable timeframe.

Punting on PBTs

But the legislation punts on several issues where it really should take a stand, like PBTs.

But the legislation punts on several issues where it really should take a stand, like PBTs. It acknowledges that persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals (PBTs) are uniquely dangerous, yet it stops short of defining a clear path to reduce their use. Instead of legislative action, the bill sponsors chose to leave it to the regulators to come with a new way to assess their safety, further delaying meaningful action to control them. That legislative open-endedness is simply not good enough for a class of chemicals already subject to restrictions all over the world.

Washington State, for example, is years into a PBT policy that basically says when something is a PBT you have to move away from using it except for uses that are critical and for which there are no viable alternatives. That’s also how Europe is now treating PBTs. It’s how the Stockholm Convention — signed by President George W. Bush — treats PBTs. Many major businesses also already treat PBTs this way. The legislation should take a stand, and we ask you to join us in demanding stronger action on PBTs .

New chemicals get off too easy

Surprisingly, the House draft appears to allow new chemicals onto the market without having to go through a safety determination, as long as EPA believes they are not “reasonably anticipated” to pose a risk. This provision could well undermine one of the core goals of reform that is widely understood by the public — that all new chemicals should have to be proven safe before they are allowed onto the market.

Ignoring key scientific recommendations

The legislation ignores a major scientific development of the past few years. The National Academy of Sciences — our nation’s premiere scientific body — was asked by EPA to look into what has gone wrong with EPA’s process for assessing the risks of chemicals. It described the process as “bogged down” and pointed out that some assessments “take more than 10 years.” But it also found that EPA’s assumptions and scientific practices in assessing chemicals are out of date. They have not kept pace with the latest science. They incorrectly exonerate chemicals that should be controlled, with the result being that we will continue to be exposed to them for years.

The National Academy’s eight detailed recommendations for how EPA should reform its practices were released in 2008. It seems bizarre not to use this opportunity to require EPA to implement the recommendations. And it would be tragic to miss this opportunity, because laws like TSCA open up only once in a generation, and because the Academy’s findings could lead to immediate improvements in our health and safety.

Bolstering the EPA’s ability to act

You may have noticed that a common theme across what I’ve identified as both good and bad in the new legislation is the observation that EPA’s approach to chemicals management has in many ways been dysfunctional and that, without strong legislative impetus, it may be unable to achieve strong reform. It’s important to realize that, although there are great people in EPA (Administrator Jackson appears to be a sincere and committed reformer eager to bring out EPA’s best) the agency has been politicized and beaten down over the years.

By taking a tough stands on issues like PBTs, new chemicals, and the National Academy’s recommendations, Congress will be doing Administrator Jackson — and future EPA Administrators — a favor. Strong laws will bolster EPA’s ability to take decisive action and, eventually, lead to better health for all American communities.

Take action

We need your help to correct the flaws in the legislation that don’t do enough to ensure that chemicals are safe before entering the market and to guarantee that the most dangerous chemicals are taken off the market quickly.

Please take this opportunity to send a letter to your Members of Congress now.

And if you are not yet a member of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, please sign up today.

To stay on top of news about the bills to reform TSCA moving through Congress, check our website for regular updates at


Mike Schade

Photos from the Road – CHEJ’s PVC-Free Schools Tour

By Mike Schade : April 28, 2010 10:03 am

CHEJ is back from our 10-day New York State PVC-free schools speaking tour!

We traveled all across the state, from Long Island to Western New York, organizing and mobilizing students to tackle the poison plastic at their college campuses.  We also promoted and released our brand new Toolkit & Guide to Action for Student Activists.

Check out this wonderful slideshow of photos from the tour below, and also be sure to check out some of the videos we shot.

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