Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chemical Waste Site May Cause Birth Defects

Sometimes while I am standing in the cold asking for petition signatures and getting ignored, I think that being an activist is just an exhausting and pointless career choice. But then I read stories like this am reminded that all of our surveying and petitioning you outside of your grocery store does have a real world impact.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a group of environmental justice activists were surveying the Kettleman City community and found an alarming amount of birth defects. Of the 20 babies born within the last 15 months, 5 had cleft palates and 3 of them died. The residents of the community believe it has to do with the landfill near their homes.

This farming town is located near the largest landfill in the west, which is also the only landfill in California licensed to accept carcinogenic PCBs. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer (CANCER!) and have serious effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine system. So PCBs are only harmful to your entire body, makes sense to put it next to a community (sarcasm!). According to the LA Times article, this specific waste dump was also recorded in 2003 as one of 22 facilities in California with unusually high radiation. So the community clearly has reason to inquire.

An activist being interviewed said that since they stumbled upon the problem and made it public, not one agency has bothered to investigate. What makes me sick is the comment by a Kings County health officer in an interview. The officer said:

"I understand why people are concerned. But most of the time, when we are talking about small numbers such as these, they are just random occurrences.”

So it sounds like if only 3 kids die then it is not worth investigating. What if one of those 3 kids was yours, sir? I mean, if Chemical Waste Management Inc., which owns the landfill site, is pressing for an outside an investigation and chastising the county for not doing so, what is the hesitation!? Please don’t tell me money.

Where is Erin Brockovich when you need her!

Image source: L.A. Times

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Are You Drinking Dirty Water?

Last Thursday, I blogged about Bhopal’s 25th anniversary and considered how frightening it must be to live in fear that your drinking water might poison you, not to mention living with the knowledge that your government is doing little to nothing to protect your health. Well, an article I read today from The New York Times has me reliving this fear!

The article is called “Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water, Records Show,” and it cites 49 million people in the U.S. as having been exposed to illegal levels of chemicals like arsenic and uranium since 2004.

Arsenic and uranium? What on earth are they doing in my water? I’m getting queasy just thinking about how many people, including my family and friends, could be cooking with, bathing in and drinking water that could make us sick. In addition, the NYTimes explains that fewer than 8% of water systems supplying this contaminated water have been persecuted. I was absolutely livid to read that America is allowing these treatment facilities to get around the law; how are so few of these facilities being punished? Well, it seems that unless the contamination is immediately life-threatening, many minor violations requiring excess paperwork have been pushed aside, effectively allowing individuals to continue drinking water containing chemicals beyond their legal limit. These chemicals have been linked to many different cancers, and the effects of drinking such tainted water can take years to surface.

I think the most alarming point of the article came toward the end, during a discussion of the failure of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s regulations:

“A system could deliver tap water that puts residents at a 1-in-600 risk of developing bladder cancer from arsenic, and still comply with the law.”

I don’t understand how laws that leave so many people at such risk can exist. There are enough things to worry about; no one in the world should have to be apprehensive that they might get cancer from the arsenic in their water. The article ends on a slightly dismal note;

“The same people who told us to ignore Safe Drinking Water Act violations are still running the divisions,” said one mid-level E.P.A. official. “There’s no accountability, and so nothing’s going to change.”

I can only hope that anticipated reforms do address the issues they need to, including accountability for officials. I mean come on, what is more important than public health?

And I’m now going to filter my drinking water a few more times…although I doubt that will help with the uranium.

If any of my readers want more information about the Safe Drinking Water Act, you can visit the EPA at If you’re feeling really bold, check out their list of water contaminants. Warning, do not read if you are thirsty!!

Photo Credit: Randy Son of Robert

Friday, December 4, 2009

Incredible Video on Bhopal - Please Watch

I know it's the day after the 25th anniversary for Bhopal, but got stuck helping the girls at softball practice last night. (Tigers gotta win this season!!!)

Wanted to share this - I saw an incredible video on a blog this morning, and thought you should check it out too. The stories of the people in this really hit home every time I go out on Highway 50 and see the plant:

25th Anniversary of Bhopal

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the world's worst industrial disaster and I hope you take a minute to learn from this.  On the night of December 3, 1984, methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal;  8,000 people were killed immediately and an estimated 500,000 were exposed to the poisons.

Led by the the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, hundreds of gas victims gathered in Bhopal last night for a torch rally. They marched and chanted for the 5 kilometers to the old Union Carbide factory, sending the message that they will not give up until they receive justice and adequate compensation.

The damage that Union Carbide (now under Dow) has done is evident not only in the faces of these Bhopalis, but is also in plain site at the factory

According to Corpwatch, toxic materials have been abandoned inside the factory and left in evaporation pools outside. Their waste systems were poorly designed and are now leaking contaminants into the surrounding area.
"Groundwater and soil inside and outside the factory hold dangerous levels of chlorinated solvents, pesticides and heavy metals. Every rain spreads the poison to groundwater that more than 30,000 people rely on as their main source of drinking water."

Can you imagine the fear of being poisoned by the only water you have to drink? And knowing you have no other option because you're own government won't intervene? That's frightening! Facilities like Union Carbide's pose a threat to cities in the U.S. as well as their safety measures and the size of chemical containers are at risk for a terrorist attack.

I ask that you take a moment and click here to learn more about the victims of Bhopal, and understand hat there is a possibility that this could occur in the U.S. - even in Iowa.

Image: RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images (Via Amnesty International)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Some Good News!

Today was a huge success in the movement to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The Senate Committee for the Environment and Public Works held their first hearing to discuss the need for reform, mostly due to pressure from concerned citizens, (like myself!)

Even more exciting, I read that 13 state governments released their own statements for TSCA reform. Sadly, my Iowa is not on that list, but with these states leading the way, hopefully more will catch on that these toxic chemicals are doing more than just polluting our air and waterways, they are posing real risks to American families.

I remembered today that December 3rd marked the 25th anniversary of Bhopal, and it makes me so angry that after all these years, and all the terrible repercussion we have seen from that disaster, that we do not have comprehensive regulations for toxic chemicals! It totally freaks me out that something like Bhopal could happen here in Ogden Marsh because the government hasn’t taken appropriate action to protect its citizens. It’s crazy that these chemical companies are still trying to keep dangerous chemicals on the market just to make a buck. Remember when chemical companies spent millions of dollars to squash a bill in California that would ban toxic flame retardants from furniture? Why? I understand industries need to make a profit, but why at the expense of public health?

Alright, I’ll stop my rant there. I am really hopeful that this hearing is a sign of a wave of change for chemical reform, and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for Iowa to follow suit with those 13 other states who have called for safer regulations.

If you are as concerned about this issue as me, check out the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign webpage, where you can send a letter to Congress asking for better regulations for toxic chemicals! They also have some great blog posts that I’d suggest checking out if you want more information about the hearing today and the history of TSCA.

And of course, please tell your representatives to put limits on toxic chemicals!

Image by blmurch

AP Reports Dow Spent 1.4 million on Lobbying Govenrment

According to a report posted by AP today, Dow Chemicals spent $1.3 million on lobbying the U.S.. government in the third quarter. 1.3 million!! That's insane! That money could be much better spend on the 200,000 people in Bhopal, India injured from the Union Carbide gas leak 25 years ago.

According to a report filed at the House Clerk's office, Dow lobbied on legislation that dealt with surface transportation reauthorization, railroad antitrust, toxic substances and chemical security, as well as on climate change, pensions and issues related to credit markets.
Complete Report
Image by Simon Standgaard

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kenyans ill in 'toxic waste' leak

"Hundreds of people near the Kenyan port of Mombasa say they have become ill after a consignment of leaking chemical containers was dumped nearby... Nassir Rashid, the director of environment at the Mombasa Municipal Council (MMC), says... more than 1,500 villagers have been treated for various illnesses caused by the chemicals."



"The resulting run-away nuclear reaction, fire and explosion released more than 400-fold the amount of radiation from the Hiroshima bomb, hitting Belarus hardest and extending as far as Ireland. A total of 56 deaths and over 4,000 cancer cases are attributed directly to the accident."