Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Photo by Stephanie Thomas

Flares along the Houston Ship Channel during Hurricane Harvey.

Public Citizen has been pushing back against the EPA’s rollbacks of the Chemical Disaster Rule. The Chemical Disaster Rule came into being following an explosion at a Texas fertilizer facility in 2013, an incident that killed 15 people and injured 160. The Chemical Disaster Rule would put further protections in place to better ensure the safety of communities surrounding facilities.

Under the Trump presidency, the EPA delayed the implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule, which was finalized in early 2017. However, that delay was met with a legal challenge, Air Alliance Houston v. EPA. (Public Citizen’s Litigation Group provided an amicus brief to the court on this challenge).

On August 17th, an appeals court ruled that the delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule was unlawful. The judges went so far as to say that the EPA’s tactics made a “mockery” of federal statute. But even though the judges shut down the Trump Administration’s attempt to delay the Chemical Disaster Rule, the EPA is still looking to rollback the rule through a proposed reconsideration rule.

Photo By Stephanie Thomas

Petrochemical processing and storage stretches for miles along the Houston Ship Channel.

Houston’s Chemical Footprint

To better understand the impact of the Chemical Disaster Rule and the Risk Management Program under the EPA, Public Citizen analyzed data publicly available through rtk.net from facilities that are required to submit risk management plans. Basically, these are facilities that store or use large amounts of hazardous chemicals.

In our new report, we found that chemical facilities currently registered as RMP facilities use 2.4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals and 38.5 billion pounds of flammable chemicals in their processes. And the bulk–two-thirds–of those toxic chemicals reside in the eight-county area of the Houston region.

In the Greater Houston region, 442 facilities have reported to the Risk Management Program (RMP) database over the past 5 years, and 314 facilities meet the conditions that require them to report to the Risk Management Program (RMP) database as of April 2018. Among the 314 facilities that are currently reporting, there are 892 processes that could have offsite consequences. This means that should an accident happen, these processes could harm communities.

The RMP facilities within the 8 county region use 51 different toxic chemicals in processes, which total to over 1.6 billion pounds. Those chemicals include chlorine, chloroform, formaldehyde, and hydrofluoric acid. Many are known to be hazardous to human health, and some are carcinogenic. Those facilities also use 29.9 billion pounds of flammable chemicals, which is 78% of the total of flammable chemicals in RMP facilities across Texas.

Accidents and Injuries

Every five years, companies submit risk management plans. When data is pulled from rtk.net, it reflects companies’ latest submissions. For instance, Company Y’s last plan may have been submitted in 2018, but Company Z’s last plan was submitted in 2013. In that way, the information summarized here doesn’t necessarily  reflect an apples-to-apples comparisons, and is not entirely current. But all these RMP submissions taken together gives us a broader understanding of the chemical risks that Houston faces.

The report shows that 89 5-year accidents were recorded in the Greater Houston area. What that means is 89 accidents happened during the 5 years that the reports are compiling. For some companies that could reflect 2008-2013, for others it could be 2013-2018, or some other five year period in the mix.

For those 5-year accidents, 5 deaths and 112 injuries were reported. The amount of property damage from 5-year accidents exceeded $175 million. Again, because RMP facilities are supposed to provide reports every 5 years, this number does not reflect the amount of property damage that took place from 2013-2018; this number reflects the amount each facility has reported over the 5 years previous to their last RMP submission.

Chemical Safeguards

The Chemical Disaster Rule helps protect workers, first responders, and the wider community from potentially injurious or life-threatening chemical exposure. With 1.6 billion pounds of toxic chemicals in a region that is home to nearly 7 million people, let’s keep the rules that protect human life.

Read Full Post »

The Texas Hill Country is 18,000 square miles of natural wonders, economic resources, and a cherished way of life. In this unique place, the boom of construction and growth is sweeping in. In fact, Comal County is now the second fastest growing county in the United States.

Unfortunately, the Hill Country’s natural resources and beauty are endangered by the aggressive aggregate industry seeking air quality permits for quarries and cement plants throughout the region. The aggregate industry includes concrete batch plants, rock crushing operations, and hot mix asphalt plants. The 17-county expanse of the Hill Country is located just to the north and west of fast-growing San Antonio, Austin, and the rapidly urbanizing Interstate Highway 35 corridor connecting these cities. Many unincorporated areas of the Hill Country are now in the crosshairs of the demands of the aggregate and concrete industry, putting public health and natural resources at risk.  

In 2017, Vulcan Construction Materials (VCM) submitted a permit application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to convert Comal County’s “White Ranch”, a 1500-acre parcel of pristine ranchland between Bulverde and New Braunfels, into a limestone rock crushing plant.

(The proposed site will reside amongst 6,000 properties and have about 12,000 residents within a 5-mile radius. Vulcan Quarry -center)

(more…)

Read Full Post »

As if the relentless heat wasn’t enough this summer, Austin is experiencing hazy skies due to an African dust cloud originating in the Saharan desert. The dust was most noticeable on Sunday, July 1. The technical term for this dust is “fine particulate matter,” particles that are so small they can travel from our lungs into our blood stream, causing health problems. An individual particle is 1/20th the width of a human hair. 

The Clean Air Act establishes standards for fine particulate matter (also known as “PM2.5” because it is 2.5 microns in diameter) in the air we breathe. PM2.5 is measured in micrograms per meter cubed, a measurement of how much material is found in a given volume of air. The Environmental Protection Agency has established limits of PM2.5 at 35 μg/m³ in a 24 hour period and 12 μg/m³ in an annual average. If an air monitor exceeds that level of PM2.5, then the region it monitors risks being designated in “nonattainment” of the federal standard. There are currently no areas in Texas in nonattainment of the PM2.5 standard, though there are several areas in nonattainment of the ozone pollution standard.

Unfortunately, the Austin area got very close to violating the PM2.5 standard on Sunday. The table below lists hourly monitor values at the Zavala air monitor in Austin (you can see a map of all the air monitors in Texas here). As you can see, the 24-hour average of monitor values at Zavala on July 1 was 32.5 μg/m³, very close to the EPA’s standard of 35 μg/m³.

Data available from TCEQ

This does not mean, though, that Austin risks falling out of attainment of the fine particulate matter standard. There are a few reasons for this. First, measuring compliance with the standard is a complex calculation that involves averaging three years of air monitoring data. Second–and more importantly for air quality this week–African dust is considered an “exceptional event” that would be excluded from the data anyway.

An exceptional event is an air pollution event that is excluded from the data because it meets certain criteria. The EPA establishes the criteria for an air pollution event to be considered exceptional. These criteria include that “the event is associated with a measured concentration in excess of normal historical fluctuations, including background.” 40 CFR § 50.14(c)(3)(iv) (emphasis added).

African dust has been reaching Texas since time immemorial, and the impact of these events on air quality in Texas is absolutely part of the normal historical fluctuations of weather and air quality. In fact, the phenomenon was first identified by a noted historical figure, Charles Darwin, during his famous trip aboard the H.M.S. Beagle in 1833.

You might think that the considerable historical record on African dust events would cause EPA to reject their exclusion from the data on the basis that they are, after all, well within “normal historical fluctuations.” You would be wrong. The truth is that Texas has a long history of claiming exceptional events that include African dust storms. Other typical exceptional events in Texas include agricultural fires in Mexico (as old as agriculture) and ozone pollution blowing in from other countries (also Mexico, also old).

Why does this matter? Most importantly, air pollution is linked to public health. Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory ailments such as asthma and COPD are particularly vulnerable to air pollution. We have to keep our air clean to keep ourselves healthy. But nonattainment designations have consequences for a region that can last for decades and cost billions of dollars. Houston and Dallas, for example, have been trying to get into attainment of the ozone standard for decade. It’s why we have emissions tests for our cars, and why we can’t build a new factory without reducing pollution from an existing one. The consequences are so great precisely because the impact on human health is so serious. Asthma is the number one cause of school absences. Globally 7 million people die each year from air pollution.

So the purpose of a nonattainment designation is to make our air healthier and protect ourselves and our children. Unfortunately, in Texas, the focus is on avoiding nonattainment designations and their consequences to big business. Several times in the last few years, Texas has used the exceptional events rule to keep areas artificially in attainment of air pollution standards. In 2013, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality plainly stated that it was excluding enough exceptional events from Houston’s data to keep the area from being desingated under the fine particulate matter standard. Several air quality advocates (including myself) objected to this move. We even pointed to Charles Darwin’s observations as evidence that Texas could not exclude African dust events from its data.

Our objections were ignored by Texas and EPA. The result today is that thousands of people are breathing air that does not meet federal pollution standards. Their health will suffer as a result. Some people will even die. There are quantifiable consequences to these decisions, and they are measured in human lives.

Since the 2013 move to avoid designating Houston as not meeting the PM2.5 standard, several other exception event exclusions have kept areas of Texas artificially in attainment of pollution standards. El Paso doesn’t meet the ozone standard, but exceptional events blamed on Mexico in 2015 have helped the area to avoid a nonattainment designation. More recently, the failure to designate San Antonio as not meeting the ozone pollution standard was blamed on ozone transport from other regions.

In some cases, Texas is using the law correctly to exclude exceptional events. (Houston’s lack of a PM2.5 designation is not one of these cases. We still maintain that it was done improperly and in violation of the exceptional events rule and the spirit of the Clean Air Act.) But even if the state is legally correct in its maneuvers, it’s doing so at the cost of human health. When the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality relies on tricks of data manipulation to avoid federal scrutiny, it is prioritizing business interests over people. A nonattainment designation has consequences for business and industry: old plants have to clean up, new plants have to invest in clean tech. These consequences do reach into the billions of dollars. The total cost of compliance with the Clean Air Act in 2020 is estimated to be $65 billion. But the health benefits of cleaner air in 2020 is estimated at $2 trillion. That’s a return on investment of more than 30 to 1.

Notably, more and more of our air pollution is coming from vehicles. When you register your vehicle, you pay a fee that is used in part to reduce vehicle pollution. When you get your car inspected and make any improvements needed to meet emissions standards, you are investing in clean air. Texas makes sure that you pay your fair share of the cost of reducing air pollution, and you should be happy to do so. After all, it is an investment in your health and your children’s future.

So why does Texas keeping fighting against Clean Air Act regulation? It’s a question of priorities. Much of the cost of compliance is born by industry, especially the oil and gas industry. That’s a powerful lobby in Texas, far more powerful than children who can’t go to school because of chronic asthma attacks. Texas is willing to skirt some regulations in order to save money for industry. It isn’t willing to invest in environmental improvements that pay huge dividends to its people in the long term.

Industry profits today, or public health tomorrow. Texas has made its choice. What’s yours?

Read Full Post »

Petra Nova, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project, has been in commercial operation at the W. A. Parish Plant in Thompsons, Texas, southwest of Houston, since January 2017. The project offers no hope for combating climate change.

Petra Nova Facility

The Parish station has 10 generating units, but only unit 8 has been upgraded with carbon capture technology, and thus, the other 9 units are still emitting CO2. The project was supposed to divert 40% unit’s exhaust into a post-combustion capture (PCC) system, which designed to capture 90% of the CO2 in that stream. However, once the emissions from the gas-fired turbine that powers the carbon capture system and the emissions from the additional petroleum products resulting from enhanced oil recovery are taken into consideration, the total impact of the carbon capture system is actually an estimated 2% increase in CO2 emissions.

The Petra Nova has retrofit cost $1 billion and benefitted from a $190 million Clean Coal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. This huge amount of money has been invested to build a new coal power plant and enhance oil recovery by injecting 5,200 tons of carbon dioxide per day at West Ranch. However, NRG’s CEO has claimed that the Petra Nova CCS project “made both strategic and economic sense at $75 to $100 a barrel” and that “obviously [with West Texas Crude selling for less than US$50 a barrel], it does not currently make economic sense.”

Fossil fuel industries have promoted the use of CCS technology as a solution to enable the continued burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation. The coal industry has been seeking to increase its profit by lobbying Congress to get subsidies even though they are aware of the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels on the human health and climate change. Moreover, fossil fuel industries have influenced the EPA to reduce penalties and long-term liability to increase the profitability of CCS projects at the expense of public health and the environment.

Petra Nova Carbon Capture

Health and Environmental Impacts of CCS Technologies Include:

  • Power plants that are capable of capturing carbon require 15-25% more energy than conventional plants in order to capture and store CO2. The mining, transportation, and burning of the additional fuel (usually coal) needed for CCS produces more CO2 emissions.
  • Particulate matter and Nitrogen Oxide are both expected to increase as a result of the additional fuel consumption in order to capture carbon dioxide. Particulate matter is identified by the World Health Organization to be the deadliest form of air pollution as its ability to enter the respiratory system
  • Due to the degradation of the solvents in the process of capturing carbon, Ammonia is expected to increase, which can lead to form particular matter in the atmosphere
  • Possible damages or any leakage in the pipeline or storage reservoir would result in serious environmental impacts
  • Gradual leakage in the storage site can damage fresh groundwater resources if the incorrect storage site is selected or the site is not prepared correctly
  • Injecting CO2 into aquifers can cause acidification of the water and increase its ability to break down the surrounding rocks, aggregate the potential for leakage into the soils or water table, which could worsen the impact of climate change in ocean sinks as a major reservoir of carbon dioxide.

Since burning fossil fuels is the main reason for global warming, do we really need another coal power plant with CCS capability? Isn’t better to allocate federal tax credits and incentives for building energy storage or solar/ wind farms to generate electricity?

Recently, the average cost of solar energy has decreased by $2.71 to $3.57 per watt and the wind energy cost has dropped to around $30/MWh to $60/MWh in 2017. Solar battery energy storage technologies have also advanced and costs have declined by $400 dollars per kilowatt hour (kWh) to $750/kWh. Therefore, it is more viable and profitable to invest in the clean renewable energy to cut CO2 emissions instead of building new coal power plants with CCS capability.

As a result of a growth in the world population and energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions are increasing and have accelerated climate change. In order to combat climate change, nations must shift their reliance away from fossil fuels to renewable energy instead of applying new technologies to produce “clean coal.” Relying on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies to rescue the world from climate change instead of focusing action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a dangerous gamble.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Look for this tear pad display at the register when you check out at any Texas HEB store.  Take this opportunity to make donations when you check out with your groceries.  Donations go to Earthshare, which supports Public Citizen.

Making a donation at the register when you check out with your groceries at any HEB store in Texas funds environmental organizations in the state.  This funds Public Citizen’s Texas office as well as several of our partner organizations, such as EDF, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club (among many).  If you want to help us and the many other organizations that are working to keep the Texas environment clean and healthy for all Texans, make a donation before Tuesday, May 1st.

Read Full Post »

Texas Director Adrian Shelley speaking at a VW Settlement community engagement meeting in Fort Worth.

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal led to a $14.7 billion dollar settlement. Basically, what Volkswagen did was install what are called “defeat devices” which were programmed to run differently during emissions tests so that they appeared to be much less polluting than they actually are. In some cases, NOx (nitrogen oxides), which is not only harmful but is also a precursor to ground-level ozone, was up to 40 times higher than what the cheating emissions tests revealed!

By cheating on emissions tests, Volkswagen harmed public health, causing at least 59 premature deaths and over $450 million in health and social costs (Barrett, 2015). The settlement provides Volkswagen with a chance to compensate owners of vehicles impacted by the defeat devices, mitigate some of the harm done, and reduce future harm using zero emissions technology.

Details of the Settlement

The Volkswagen Settlement is essentially divided into three parts: a personal vehicle buyback program, an environmental mitigation program to reduce the harm done, and a zero emissions vehicle investment commitment to prevent more harm and promote zero emissions technology.

More information on the personal vehicle buyback program can be found at VW’s settlement website http://www.VWCourtSettlement.com. If you have an eligible vehicle, you may also be eligible for additional funds through the Bosch VW Settlement (https://www.boschvwsettlement.com/en/Home/FAQ).

The Environmental Mitigation Trust will be administered at the state level and will fund projects to upgrade and replace dirty diesel engines. Texas will receive $209 million dollars. Once a beneficiary is designated, projects will be determined. We are collecting feedback on these projects, discussed below.

The third fund is the Zero Emissions Vehicle Investment Commitment, also known as Electrify America. VW will be allocating $2 billion dollars toward zero emissions infrastructure and educational campaigns to promote their use. The City of Houston is among the first round of cities to be supported by this fund.

Community Engagement

Public Citizen, alongside Houston coalition partners Coalition of Community Organizations, t.e.j.a.s., and Air Alliance Houston hosted informational meetings regarding the Volkswagen Settlement at Austin High School in Houston and at the Houston Area Research Center in the Woodlands in May and June. Given that both the Houston area and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are in non-attainment for ozone and that this settlement could help improve air quality in both regions, we hosted additional informational meetings last week in Dallas and Fort Worth with our co-sponsors Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness Group, Liveable Arlington, and Arlington Conservation Council, Fort Worth Sierra Club Group and the Dallas Sierra Club Group.

While some other states have had a formal community engagement process, an agency of the State of Texas has yet to hold public meetings regarding the settlement. That’s where Public Citizen and other organizations have stepped in to gather important feedback from community members in regards to what sorts of projects hold the most interest. These projects are limited to those that reduce NOx emissions through engine upgrades or replacements, such as replacing old freight trucks, school buses, dump trucks, etc. A portion of the funds will be available for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

If your group, city, or region is interested in learning more about the Volkswagen Settlement, please contact Stephanie Thomas at [email protected] to learn about upcoming community meetings.

Read Full Post »

UPDATE: Happening now in Houston, until 8pm CT.  Go on Facebook to TEJAS’s page to watch.

https://www.facebook.com/TejasBarrios/videos/

Date:           Thursday, 11/17/2016
Location:  Hartman Community Center, 9311 East Ave. P. Houston, TX 77012
Time:          2:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Join HPCC public health advocates at an EPA hearing about toxic air pollution from petroleum refineries!

(En español, mira aquí: http://airalliancehouston.org/wp-content/uploads/Spanish-EPA-Hearing-Flier.pdf)

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing on the reconsideration of the Refinery Sector Rule for which EPA did not provide adequate opportunity for notice and comment. This rulemaking is the result of a lawsuit filed by Air Alliance Houston, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Community In-Power and Development Association, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who are collectively represented by Earthjustice.

This is is our only chance to tell EPA we are concerned about pollution from oil refineries and its impact on our health. This is the only public hearing EPA will hold anywhere in the country, and public comment will be taken for six hours, from 2-8 pm. We’d like EPA to hear from us and our allies in refinery communities throughout the entire hearing, so please sign up to speak today.

Join us in telling EPA:

  • Our health suffers from pollution from oil refineries.
  • Our children are particularly at risk from the health effects of air pollution.
  • Air pollution affects our lives where we live, work, and play.

Together we can demand a stronger rule to protect communities from air pollution. The refining industry must cut pollution by:

  • Reducing emissions from flares and pressure relief devices.
  • Eliminate pollution exemptions for malfunction and force majeure events.
  • Require fenceline monitoring at all times.

Air Alliance Houston will have fact sheets and talking points available at the hearing.
If you would like to present oral testimony at the hearing, please complete this form or notify Ms. Virginia Hunt no later than November 15, 2016, by email: [email protected] (preferred); or by telephone: (919) 541-0832.
Space will also be available that day if time slots are not all filled, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Basic background on key issues from EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/petroleum-refinery-sector-reconsideration-october-2016
Sign the Earthjustice petition: http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2016/community-and-environmental-groups-sue-the-epa-and-call-on-the-agency-to-remove-free-pass-to-pollute-from

Read Full Post »

Monsanto has a bad track record when it comes to the safety of its products. From saccharin, to Agent Orange, to DDT, Monsanto has a history of producing and distributing chemicals that have serious health consequences. Most recently, the company has come under pressure for its herbicide, Roundup. After years of consumer concern, world-leading scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a study in March 2015, stating they believed glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, is “probably carcinogenic”. These findings have been echoed by the World Health Organization.

Chafer Sentry Herbicide Application

Chafer Sentry Herbicide Application

This news should bring shockwaves in regulatory policy, as glyphosate is by far the most used herbicide in the world. The use of this carcinogenic herbicide has become essential for thousands of farmers who are under contract with Monsanto to use Roundup Ready genetically modified (GM) seeds. Roundup Ready crops are most heavily applied with glyphosate and these include soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, cotton, sorghum, and wheat.

Countries such as Sri Lanka, and Bermuda have banned the use and importation of glyphosate, while Germany’s health ministers are spearheading a campaign to have the herbicide banned all across the European Union. For the US, the first instance of this can be seen in the California Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to begin labeling Roundup and other products containing the chemical as carcinogenic. Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, stated,

“As far as I’m aware, this is the first regulatory agency in the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen. So this is a very big deal.”

Glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential has been known to Monsanto and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from long term animal experiments since the early 1980s, but the company has repeatedly dismissed such claims and refused to disclose the studies, buy claiming they contain “trade secrets”. After petitioning the EPA, Dr. Anthony Samsel, a research expert who has worked for the EPA, and as a hazardous materials expert, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG), received the lab documents.

One study shows how mice exposed to glyphosate produced renal tubular adenomas, which are tumors in kidney cancer, along with developing hepatocyte hypertrophy, which is a sign of liver cancer. In addition, lab findings show how glyphosate glyphosate stops the body from absorbing selenium, which leads to thyroid cancer growth. As a result, the EPA labeled glyphosate a Class C carcinogen in a March 4, 1985 EPA review. The Class C carcinogen label means there is suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential. This classification was changed by the EPA just six years later to a Class E category which suggests “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans”. Is it a coincidence that this change in glyphosate’s classification transpired during the same period that Monsanto was producing its first Roundup-Ready GM Crops?

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Porter Ranch - photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

Porter Ranch – photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

The massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, CA, just outside of Los Angeles, has been temporarily capped. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the leak isn’t yet permanently stopped and that it has already done incredible damage over the 111 days it spewed methane and toxic chemicals into the air.

The state of emergency called by Governor Jerry Brown is still in effect for what is being named the largest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill. Over 94,700 metric tons of methane has escaped since October 23, which is one of the largest leaks ever recorded. This incident has taken California two steps back in its progress towards greenhouse gas emissions reductions especially since methane is 87 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For perspective, the amount of methane released so far from the natural gas leak will have the same impact on climate over the next twenty years as emissions from seven coal power plants. Despite these environmental crimes, not one person has been arrested, although this past week, the citizens of Los Angeles County have begun taking legal action.

Southern California Gas Co (SoCal Gas), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, is the responsible company for the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak, and is finally facing charges for this disaster. District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the criminal charges filed against SoCal Gas for failing to immediately report the gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility to the proper state authorities. The site leaked for three days before SoCal Gas officials contacted the city’s fire department.

Major public health concerns are also leading to lawsuits. Residents across the county are reporting health issues such as nose bleeds, female health problems (excessive bleeding), rashes, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness, and have packed town hall meetings voicing their concerns. One Porter Rach resident, Christine Katz, stated, “Even though you can’t see the gas, it’s there. And that’s the saddest part — people don’t understand it. Because it’s not a mudslide, it’s not an earthquake. You just don’t see the devastation, but it’s there.”

SoCal Gas has yet to release a full listing of the chemicals being emitted from the leak, furthering distrust and anxiety from the community. Local law firms have organized a website (www.porterranchlawsuit.com) for citizens to reach out if they have been impacted. More than 25 lawsuits have been filed pursuing damages from the SoCal Gas and Sempra Energy. For example, a family of an elderly woman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the gas company, claiming that the leaking chemicals led to the worsening of her health and untimely death this past January.

Legal actions will certainly hurt these gas companies financially, but is this an effective way of enforcing the law? History says no. Time and time again, environmental crimes are punished with fines, and these disasters continue to happen putting the public at risk. New regulations, transparency, and stricter criminal enforcement on the individuals responsible very well could bring justice in these incidents.

Crimes committed under a corporate veil are still crimes and should be treated as such. No amount of money will ever reverse the harsh health and environmental effects the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak is having on the region. But we can put into place policies that make corporations take the environmental risks of their operations much more seriously. A proactive justice process would be exponentially more effective means of dealing with environmental crimes than merely reacting after the fact.

Read Full Post »

In a new study released by George Thurston of New York University’s Langone Medical Center that surveyed more than 500,000 Americans, shows that as air pollution levels rise in the areas where they live, rates of death rise, specially deaths from heart disease.

Diesel Particle

An example of particulate matter is a diesel particle, which have carbon at their core with toxics and carcinogenic substances attached to their surfaces.

Even with new, stricter standards on emissions, their data adds to a growing body of evidence that particulate matter is really harmful to health, increasing overall mortality, mostly deaths from cardiovascular disease, as well as deaths from respiratory disease in nonsmokers.  Specifically the study looked at air pollutants called particulates, in this case tiny particles 2.5 micrometers or less (sometimes referred to as PM 2.5). These particles can settle into the lungs, pass from there into the blood stream, and are not coughed up. They also often contain dangerous heavy metals such as mercury or arsenic.

The team used a survey run by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, looking at more than 500,000 volunteers aged 50 to 71 in six states and two large cities, Atlanta and Detroit. They used Environmental Protection Agency data that breaks down exposure to air pollution by county or city.

Every extra 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air raised the risk of heart death between 2000 and 2009 by 10 percent, they report in the government journal Environmental Health Perspectives. And that increase in air pollution raised the overall risk of death over the decade by 3 percent.

People who are poorer and less educated often live in more polluted areas and also have higher death rates, so the researchers accounted for that, along with age, race, marital status, smoking, weight and alcohol use. The effects held even when those other factors were considered.

This study should be of particular interest to those living in areas that are in non or near non-attainment for Federal air quality standards.

While Houston is currently in attainment for PM 2.5 standards , this new study would indicate that that is no guarantee that Houston residents are not at risk for increased health impacts.

Read Full Post »

Protecting our Workers from Climate Change by Christina Hausle

Protecting our Workers from Climate Change by Christina Hausle

The world is getting hotter. And for those who work outdoors, climate change could mean very dangerous working conditions. As the heat index increases, stricter regulations and safety practices need to be implemented to ensure the health of our workers. Not doing so could be the difference between life and death.

People working jobs that require time outside, especially those working strenuous jobs outside must protect themselves from heat illness. The body is vulnerable to heat illness when our natural cooling mechanisms are not enough, allowing out body temperatures to rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken such as drinking water and resting in shade or air condition. Heat illness can take many forms, such as heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke which requires immediate medical attention, and can result in death. Extreme heat increases the chances of deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease as the raised levels of ozone and other pollutants  in the air from climate change exacerbate these diseases along with increased pollen and other aeroallergen levels.

Most employers understand the risk of heat illness and prepare by establishing a heat illness prevention programs that provide workers with water, rest, shade and modified schedules for those who need to acclimatize to the hot conditions such as new workers or those who have not been working for a week or more. The danger increases when workers have to wear bulky protective clothing or take part in intensive work tasks; similarly, working in full sunlight can increase the heat index values by 10 degrees Celsius.

Though both employers and employees should understand these risks, there are still cases where heat illness caused death. Between 2008 and 2014, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) had 109 reports of workers’ deaths due to heat illness with 15 of those recorded in Texas. Though employers do not have to legally comply with the OSHA standards for heat illness prevention, they must have some version of such a program to protect their workers.

With recent increases in the global temperature due to climate change, conditions only become more and more dangerous for workers. In the last 100 years, the world has warmed by .75 degrees Celsius with the last 3 decades successively warmer since 1850. These increased temperatures are expected to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria and heat stress between 2030-2050. With increased average temperatures, more frequent and more intense heat waves are expected to occur. Throughout the U.S. the number of days with high temperatures above 90F is predicted to increase, especially in the Southeast and Southwest.

If the frequency of heat waves and extreme heat days follows this prediction, then all workers will be at risk for heat illness and even greater measures must be taken in order to protect their health. But more importantly, measures must be taken to prevent the increase of climate change in the first place—this problem that has the power to negatively affect every single aspect of our lives.

Read Full Post »

Photo by Maciek Jasik

Photo by Maciek Jasik

The air we breathe is no longer safe. It is it filled with millions of tiny particles of toxic pollution about 36 times smaller than a grain of sand that may cause or accelerate degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Particle pollution’s role in lung disease is well known and backed by years of scientific research; but, recent research correlating pollution and brain trauma has resulted in compelling evidence of its negative role on the brain, despite the research being in its preliminary stages.

Particle pollution contains toxic combinations of sulfate, nitrate and ammonium ions, hydrocarbons and heavy metals – all that reek havoc on the brain’s immune system. But only the fine and ultra-fine particles can reach the brain as natural defenses of sneezing, coughing or running noses eject larger particles. The remaining particles can embed themselves in the lungs to foster infection and cancer or may infiltrate the bloodstream and create dangerous byproducts that can travel throughout the body.

The particles can take a more dangerous lesser know path: they can travel through the olfactory nerves directly to brain. Once there their toxic metals or compounds corrupt the microglia, which are the brain’s special immune cells. The particle pollution causes chronic inflammation which leaves microglia unable to remove waste from the brain or to overproduce chemicals meant to kill unwanted bacteria. Chronic inflammation puts the immune system on over-drive, which has harmful long-term effects and consistently is associated with neurological degeneration. Doctors even use early breakdowns in the olfactory system – through which all of these harmful processes occur – as an indicator of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, further reinforcing the correlation of pollution to degenerative brain diseases.

This information is unsettling as pollution levels rise every year. About 15% of Americans are exposed for extended periods of time to levels of particle pollution about the Environmental Protection Agency standards with another 14% exposed to similar levels on bad air days. This air pollution in the United States affects mostly those who live in undesirable areas such as next to high traffic roads and overcrowded urban areas which happens to be the poor, the elderly and people of color which means the people who can lease afford medical costs, breathe in the most unhealthy air.

Even worse, some cities in China and India face air pollution levels 3-6 times higher than World Health Organization standards. Research from the environmental journal Health and Technology estimates that cleaning up the world’s air could save about 2 million deaths globally. But so many people are already reaping the negative effects of pollution on our brains. 50 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s with 6 million of those in the United States. Right now the United States is about to experience the highest number of degenerative brain diseases as the Baby Boomers reach the age where these diseases emerge and since they were born before the Clean Air Act in 1970, their generation has been exposed to the most air pollution than any generation before or after them.

Research is still unclear on whether particle pollution sparks degenerative diseases or accelerates them; however, the research is clear that there is a relationship – one strong enough to be the most potential cause of brain disease.

Read Full Post »

A study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication on the public perceptions of climate change indicates that the majority of citizens grossly misunderstand the repercussions of climate change and its effects on health. The report shows analysis of results from a national survey conducted in October of 2014 and indicates that most US citizens have given little or no thought to the potential health effects of climate change.

Few Americans are aware of any current health consequences of global warming. When asked ‘In your view, what health problems related to global warming are Americans experiencing, if any?’ a majority either didn’t answer the question (43%) – which likely indicates they didn’t have an answer – or answered that they ‘don’t know’ (14%).  Only one in four (27%) named at least one health problem related to global warming, and 10% answered, incorrectly, that there are no health problems associated with global warming.

The health effects of climate change are very prevalent and encompass a wide range of issues. According to the World Health Organization climate change affects both social and environmental determinants of health, including clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. The WHO predicts that:

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also states that weather and climate change play a significant role in people’s health. Warmer temperatures lead to heat waves which lead to most heat-related deaths and play a part in spreading diseases and increasing water and air pollutants. Increased frequency in extreme weather poses immediate and severe threats to people in dangerous areas. The consequences can be life-changing and efforts towards solving the issue are dependent on various factors.

The impacts of climate change on health will depend on many factors. These factors include the effectiveness of a community’s public health and safety systems to address or prepare for the risk and the behavior, age, gender, and economic status of individuals affected. Impacts will likely vary by region, the sensitivity of populations, the extent and length of exposure to climate change impacts, and society’s ability to adapt to change.

A variety of factors can increase the vulnerability of a specific demographic group to health effects due to climate change. Graphic from from US National Climate Assessment

A variety of factors can increase the vulnerability of a specific demographic group to health effects due to climate change.
Graphic from from US National Climate Assessment

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Blog Post PicTwo non-profit and non-partisan investigative journalism organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, have concluded through their joint investigation that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission protect the oil and gas industry instead of the public whom they claim to serve.

Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek were two oil and gas regulators working for the Texas Railroad Commission who received praise from their supervisors, promotions, and merit raises throughout their careers. But they may have done their jobs too well. They were fired in 2013 for what they believe to be their insistence in making sure oil and gas operators followed the rules and regulations in place to protect the public and the environment.

Wright was responsible for determining whether oil and gas wells were up to code to prevent groundwater contamination. He was often encouraged or coerced by his superiors to bend the rules, to say that operators had met compliance standards when they had not. In 2013, his superiors told him that complaints had been filed against him by the operators claiming he was “unreasonable to work with” and “does not attempt to offer solutions to bring them in compliance with commission rules”, citing that Fred’s methods for compliance would be “costly”. Wright’s boss at the time, Charlie Teague, insisted that Write approve oil and gas wells despite the fact that they were in violation of statewide rules.

As the enforcer of proper toxic waste disposal in the oil and gas industry, Kocurek faced very similar problems. He said his bosses made it clear that he was supposed to go easy on the industry. The violation notices Kocurek filed were usually processed very slowly and follow-up inspections were assigned to the more lenient inspectors. Eventually, Kocurek realized the influence that the industry had on its supposed regulators and his reports were all ignored. Violations would disappear after the right phone calls were made.

Documents obtained from the Railroad Commission through the open-records corroborate the stories of Mr. Wright and Mr. Kocurek. Wright has filed a civil lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. He has also filed a federal whistleblower complaint. Kocurek, on the other hand, hasn’t taken any legal action and would rather forget the whole thing.

According to InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, the Railroad Commission is controlled by three elected commissioners who have accepted nearly $3 million combined in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In the case of the Railroad Commission and the TCEQ, money talks and it’s louder than the voice of Texas citizens.

Read their extensive report here: [http://books.insideclimatenews.org/fired]

Read Full Post »

Denton’s fracking ban was approved by voters on November 4 and takes effect today on December 2. For many residents in the state of Texas, Denton’s recent ban on fracking is a watershed moment as Texas’ first ban against fracking within city limits. Denton’s city council promises to defend its ban despite opposition from the oil and gas industry as well as state officials who argue that this ban violates state law. This recent ban serves as a beacon of hope for Texas residents wanting to challenge the dominance of the oil and gas industry here in Texas.  We are seeing more Texas towns seek fracking bans.

Reno, Texas had its first earthquake last year, confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey, and then hundreds of earthquakes since which residents believe are due to fracking. On the outskirts of Reno lie disposable wells where millions of gallons of “water” are injected for hydraulic fracturing.

Barbara Brown, a resident of Reno, claims that sinkholes on her property and cracks on her front steps and above the door are because of fracking activity. She added, “They’re destroying our land, they’re ruining our health,” complaining of the noxious fumes produced by fracking. The town of Presidio, Texas is also trying to protect themselves against fracking. Their biggest concern is protecting their water source from fracking contamination.

Near fracking sites, the amount of toxic chemicals and carcinogens detected are tremendously high. These chemicals pose a significant public health risk according to Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-State University of New York. Researchers from the University of Washington and Yale University conducted a study that found that residents within 1 kilometer of a gas well had up to twice the rate of health problems per person compared to those who lived 2 kilometers away or further.

In October of this year, it was discovered that fracking sites injected about 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater into California’s drinking-water and farm-irrigation aquifers. The Central Valley Water Board reported high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates in the water supply [Arsenic is a carcinogen that weakens the immune system; thallium is used for rat poison]. Needless to say, this does not serve well for California as it continues to suffer an unprecedented drought.

Across the state, Texans are taking the example of Denton in using local democracy to counter the oil and gas industry which is destroying our environment and poisoning our water and the air we breathe.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »