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Teflon’s Toxic Legacy

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“Almost two decades ago, Carla Bartlett, a then 41-year -old West Virginia secretary and mother of two, was first diagnosed with cancer – what her surgeon later labeled a “garden variety” type of kidney cancer.

“I was scared to death,” Bartlett, now 59, told an Ohio federal jury this fall during hearings in the first of more than 3,500 personal injury and wrongful death suits by West Virginia and Ohio residents against the chemical giant DuPont. “And all I could think of was not being there, not being able to be there for my family.” Bartlett’s tumor and part of her rib were removed in a surgery in 1997 that, she said, involved cutting her “virtually in half.” Though the cancer hasn’t recurred since, for Bartlett, the harm, both physical and emotional, has lingered. “It’s never out of my mind, because you worry constantly about it,” she said. “And then I have the reminder of the scar, every day, that, you know, this… this is… this was cancer; this could come back.”

On October 7, after less than a day of deliberations, the jury found DuPont liable for Bartlett’s cancer, agreeing with the defendant that the company had for years negligently contaminated her drinking water supply in Tuppers Plain, Ohio with a toxic chemical formerly used to make its signature brand of nonstick coating: Teflon.

What makes the verdict remarkable is that unlike, say, mesothelioma – a form of lung cancer almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure – the renal cell carcinoma that struck Bartlett is not usually considered the calling card of a specific carcinogen. So it was difficult for her doctors to definitively say what had first made Bartlett sick – it could have been virtually anything. The $1.6 million the jury awarded to Bartlett – the product of decades’ worth of legal battles that unearthed reams of secret DuPont studies and internal emails – came despite the extreme difficulty of connecting common ailments to a specific chemical under the current United States legal system…”

Read more from Earth Island Journal

Styrofoam Ban in our Nation’s Capital

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On January 1, 2016 a ban on the use of Styrofoam containers went into effect in the city of Washington, DC.  This new law will prohibit restaurants and local business from using single use Styrofoam (technically speaking, expanded polystyrene foam products) containers to package food and drinks, typically used for take-out orders or to take home leftovers. According to one estimate in a private blog, there are similar bans in effect in more than 70 cities including New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.  In New York City alone, 28,500 tons of expanded Styrofoam was collected in 2012. About 90% of this material was from food and drink related containers.

I couldn’t help but smile when I read this story as a remembered back in the late 1980s when CHEJ (then CCHW) kicked off a national campaign against McDonald’s to get the mega food giant to stop using Styrofoam clam shells for all its food packaging. We called this the “McToxics Campaign” and groups all over the country participated including grassroots environmental health activists, students, churches, annual rights activists and advocates of healthy food. These groups, individually and in coalition, picketed local restaurants, fought for local ordinances banning Styrofoam, launched boycotts and engaged in send-it-back campaigns to send the message to McDonalds that they wanted the company to be a corporate leader for positive change, rather than a symbol of our throw-away society.  And it worked!  After a little over 3 years, McDonalds caved in, marking one of the biggest victories of the grassroots environmental health movement. On November 1, 1990, McDonalds’ announced it would end nearly all Styrofoam packaging use in U.S. restaurants within 60 days.

As anticipated, when McDonalds made its announcement, other companies would follow its lead. Jack-In-the-Box followed suit almost immediately, and soon most other fast food restaurants also stopped using Styrofoam.  Although many small restaurants and local businesses continued to use Styrofoam, the message continues to grow that this toxic plastic has no place in our society. The many toxic substances generated and released during production, the formation of toxic chemicals when it is burned and the difficulties in recycling and disposal of this material is what drove this campaign and continue to be an issue today as restaurants and businesses search for options to deliver food and drinks.

Fortunately there are better options and better alternatives that don’t cause the public health and environmental risks that this plastic does. Cheers to the growing list of cities, towns and municipalities that are deciding one jurisdiction at a time, to move away from this toxic plastic.  May there be many more in the coming years.

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Millions of people being contaminated with toxic mercury used in mines

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“Brandon Nichols knows first hand what it’s like to get poisoned by mercury.

“I got mercury poisoning two or three times,” he told CBC news. “I got some serious headaches.”

The University of British Columbia grad student had been in South America, researching small scale gold mining operations in Ecuador and their use of mercury.

Mercury is widely used by the miners because it bonds with gold, allowing it be more easily separated from the ore hauled out of countless mines dotting the countryside.

The widespread use of the toxic liquid metal is creating a long lasting environmental hazard that starts with ore processing and travels all the way up the food chain. But much of it is hidden in remote corners of the developing world so it’s receiving little attention.

Nichols shot hours of video as he researched mining and processing techniques. Now he’s working on ways to reduce the use of mercury and its largely unregulated use in those remote places.

“If you were ever going to try and clean this up, I don’t know how you would,” he says, describing how rudimentary workshops have become mini toxic waste sites…”

Read more from CBC News

Put the Super Back in Superfund!

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Earlier this month CHEJ released a new report on the mismanagement of Superfund program and the need to reinstate polluter pays fees.

The report Superfund: Polluters Pays So Children Can Play was released as part of a National Day of Action in with groups across the country participating in different ways to deliver the message: polluter pays fees need to be reinstated. 32 groups in 24 states plus Puerto Rico representing 31 Superfund sites provided site profiles and quotes about the need to reinstate the polluter pays fees. The profiles are part of this new report. Some groups around the country delivered cakes to their representatives celebrating the 35th anniversary of Superfund and a card asking them to be a Superhero and support reinstatement of the polluter pays fees.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Funding for Superfund is insufficient to properly manage the program.

  • This funding shortfall has resulted in fewer completed cleanups each year; fewer cleanups started each year; inadequate funding of ongoing projects; an increase in the time to complete projects; and a steady stream of unfunded projects.

  • The expansion of the Superfund Alternatives program, in which the responsible parties agree to cleanup a site and avoid being listed on the National Priority List provides benefits to the polluter while hampering citizen participation that is provided for under the Superfund program.

  • The Superfund program has been so badly mismanaged by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that an unprecedented act of Congress has proposed transferring EPA oversight of a Superfund site to the Army Corps of Engineers.

  • Congress must reinstate the polluter pays fees. Without collecting the corporate fees to replenish Superfund, there is simply not enough money to do the critical job of cleaning up hundreds of abandoned toxic waste sites.


To view the executive summary of the report, click here

To view the full report, click here

To view the community quotes, click here

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Put the Super Back in Superfund!

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Today CHEJ released a new report on the mismanagement of the Superfund program and the need to reinstate polluter pays fees.

Superfund: Polluters Pays So Children Can Play 35th Anniversary Report is released as part of a National Day of Action where groups across the country are participating in different ways to deliver the message: polluter pays fees need to be reinstated!

32 groups in 24 states plus Puerto Rico representing 31 Superfund sites provided site profiles and quotes about the need to reinstate the polluter pays fees. The profiles are part of this new report. Some groups around the country are delivering cakes to their representatives celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Superfund and a card asking them to be a Superhero and support reinstatement of the polluter pays fees.

Some of the key findings in the report  include:

  • Funding for Superfund is insufficient to properly manage the program.

  • This funding shortfall has resulted in fewer completed cleanups each year; fewer cleanups started each year; inadequate funding of ongoing projects; an increase in the time to complete projects; and a steady stream of unfunded projects.

  • The expansion of the Superfund Alternatives program, in which responsible parties agree to cleanup a site and avoid being listed on the National Priority List, provides benefits to the polluter while hampering citizen participation that is provided for under the Superfund program.

  • The Superfund program has been so badly mismanaged by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that an unprecedented act of Congress has proposed transferring EPA oversight of a Superfund site to the Army Corps of Engineers.

  • Congress must reinstate the polluter pays fees. Without collecting the corporate fees to replenish Superfund, there is simply not enough money to do the critical job of cleaning up hundreds of abandoned toxic waste sites.

For more information, questions, or comments, please contact Lois Gibbs at lgibbs@chej.org.

To view the executive summary of the report, click here

To view the full report, click here

To view the community quotes, click here

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How Safe Are The Fields Where We Play?

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Amy Griffin, the former U.S. women’s national team goalkeeper and current University of Washington goalkeeper coach, started keeping a list in 2009. She started gathering names of athletes who had played on crumb-rubber synthetic turf and had been diagnosed with cancer.

Read More at ESPN.com

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Early lead exposure linked to sleep problems

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From Chemistry World:

“Lead exposure in early childhood is associated with increased risk for sleep problems and excessive daytime sleepiness in later childhood, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania, US.

The findings, which will be published in the December but are already available online, are based on data from a longitudinal study of more than 1400 Chinese children that began in 2004 to examine the influence of lead exposure on neurocognitive, behavioural and health outcomes in children and adolescents.

‘Little is known about the impact of heavy metals exposure on children’s sleep, but the study’s findings highlight that environmental toxins – such as lead – are important paediatric risk factors for sleep disturbance,’ said principal investigator Jianghong Liu. ‘Lead exposure is preventable and treatable, but if left unchecked can result in irreversible neurological damage.’

Past research has linked lead poisoning in children has been to violent crime and brain damage. This study is the first longitudinal, population-based study to investigate the connection between lead exposure and sleep.”

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State’s instructions for sampling drinking water for lead “not best practice”

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“The Flint water crisis has uncovered all kinds of details about how cities test the safety of their drinking water. In particular, critics say the state is giving bad advice on testing drinking water for lead. The state of Michigan tells cities to do something called pre-flushing. The instructions tell people to turn on their cold water tap and let it run for five minutes (that’s the pre-flushing part). Then, people are supposed to wait six hours before taking their water sample.

Critics say pre-flushing is one of many practices used to skirt the intent of the EPA’s lead and copper rule. Lee Anne Walters wants to see the rules changed. Her four-year-old son had elevated lead levels in his blood after Flint started using the Flint River as a water source. “I want the loopholes for the lead and copper rule out. I’m not going to stop until that happens,” she says. She’s speaking at a national meeting this week in Virginia about proposed revisions to the lead and copper rule…”

Find out more from Michigan Radio.

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Table salt and shellfish can contain plastic

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“Scientists have found tiny plastic bits, known as microplastics, in salts collected from supermarkets across China. The researchers analyzed 15 brands of salt. They turned up plastic bits in table salt extracted from seas and lake water. They also found plastic bits in rock salt mined from underground deposits. By far, however, sea salt contained the most plastic. In a second study, the same team found similar plastic fibers in shellfish.

The new findings should, perhaps, come as no surprise. For years, studies have reported finding microplastics in ocean water. And in 2011, scientists showed that laundering clothes made of nylon and other types of plastic shed bits of lint. The wash water carried that lint down the drain and eventually into rivers and the ocean. Plastic bits have since turned up in sea animals. But the new paper is one of the first to report microplastics in food to be eaten by people.

It found that sea salt had 550 to 681 particles per kilogram (2.2 pounds). Each kilogram of lake salts had 43 to 364 particles. Rock salts had seven to 204 particles per kilogram.

These new data suggest that sea salt may be dragging microplastics from tainted water to dinner tables, the scientists conclude. They reported their findings October 20 in Environmental Science & Technology.

“We’re finding plastics in stranger and stranger places,” says Kara Lavender Law. She is an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., where she studies plastics in the ocean. Plastics, she notes, are “in salts, in the oceans, in the air. They’re all around us.” Law was not involved in the new study. But she says the findings may not be isolated to salt in China. Microplastics could taint sea salts from other regions, she warns. For now, no one knows what threat, if any, eating plastic bits might pose…”

Read more from Student Science

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Oakland sues Monsanto over PCB runoff

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“The city of Oakland is suing the Monsanto Company for financial assistance in mitigating the amount of dangerous pollutants present in storm drain runoff to San Francisco Bay.

The suit filed today in U.S District Court in San Francisco seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the continuing presence in Oakland runoff of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, synthetic organic chemicals produced by Monsanto and widely used until they were banned in 1979.

Among other things, the chemicals were sued in power transformers, electrical equipment, paints, caulks and other building materials, according to the city attorney’s office. San Francisco Bay is already polluted with the chemicals, and the amount of PCBs allowed to be present in runoff is regulated by the state.

Because of that, Oakland has already financed mitigating PCB runoff from the city, and stricter state regulations enacted this year will only make that expense steeper, according to the city. The costs for Alameda County could reach $1 billion…”

Read more from SF Bay