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Archive for the ‘Pollution’ Category

Knowing whether to run or hide is a fundamental survival mechanism that Texans living near chemical plants and refineries know too well.

But it can be impossible to make the right decision without accurate and timely information. Is it safe to go outside? Is it safe to “shelter in place” in the nearest building? Is evacuation the only safe option?

The Legislature is holding a public hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee on a proposed law to help Texans get the critical information they need when toxic chemicals are released into our air and water.  The hearing is in the Texas Capitol Extension Room, E1.026 on Tuesday, March 28th at 8:00 AM

Urge the Legislature to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

Ask the House Environmental Regulation Committee to support HB 1927.

The legislation, HB 1927, would establish a system to alert neighboring communities when a facility releases toxic chemicals.

People in the affected area would get notices on their phones about the chemicals released, what direction they are moving and how to stay safe.

The Toxic Alert Bill directs the State Emergency Response Commission to develop a statewide system to inform the public of chemical emergencies in a timely manner using a multi-media
approach, including traditional media, social media, and wireless emergency alerts.

This statewide system will eliminate patchwork local approaches and relieve local governments of the burden of developing and maintaining their own systems. Residents will be directed to a hyperlink, which will provide:

  • The geographic area impacted by the release
  • Information on symptoms that could require emergency medical treatment,
  • Directionality of plume movement,
  • The chemicals involved in and toxicity of the release,
    and
  • Instructions for protection from exposure to the release.

Just like the Amber Alerts for missing persons and emergency weather alerts available on our phones, the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System should be available to keep our communities safe.

A recent poll of Houston area residents shows that most people are concerned about air pollution and its impact on vulnerable populations. Furthermore, 92% support the creation of a public notification system similar to Amber alerts for leaks of hazardous chemicals. These alerts would warn residents via cellular phone of incidents and let them know what action to take to keep safe.
According to an investigative report published by the Houston Chronicle in 2016, an incident involving hazardous materials in the Houston area occurs about every six weeks.  Nationally, there have been more than 93 incidents involving hazardous chemicals since late 2015, killing 7 and injuring 573 people.

As you can see from the list and map below, the folks in the Houston area are more aware of the issue because of the frequency of such events, but you can see that other parts of the state also experience these types of toxic emergencies.

  • Oct. 2011:   Massive chemical fire at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Schoolchildren and neighbors evacuated.
  • Nov. 2012: Massive explosion & chemical fire at Nexeo chemical plant, Garland. Local area evacuated.
  • Apr. 2013: Chemical fire at East Texas Ag Supply, Athens. Hundreds of people evacuated.
  • May. 2014: Massive explosion & chemical fire at West Fertilizer, Co., West. Fifteen people dead and 160 injured.
  • Jan. 2015: Chlorine Spill at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Employees and neighbors evacuated.
  • Apr. 2015: Train derailment carrying flammable chemicals, Longview. Neighbors evacuated.
  • Aug. 2015: Massive fire at Century Industrial Coatings, Jacksonville. A neighboring business evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion and fire at water treatment plant, Midland. One person dead, local residents evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion at PeroxyChem, Pasadena. One person dead, three others injured.
  • Mar. 2016: Explosion at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. One person burned.
  • Apr. 2016: Explosion at LyondellBasell, SE Houston. Shelter in-place in SE Houston, including Chavez H.S., Deady Middle School, and Rucker Elementary School.
  • May 2016: Fire and chemical release in Spring Branch. Shelter-in-place. Fish, turtles, snakes, and frogs die from chemical spill.
  • Jun. 2016: Chemical leak & fire, Mont Belvieu. Dozens of people evacuated from their homes.
  • Jul. 2016: Asphalt fire, Century Asphalt Plant, Burnet. Dozens of residents evacuated.
  • Jul. 2016: Propylene leak, ExxonMobil Pipeline, Baytown. Local evacuation and shelter-in-place for nearby community.
  • Jul. 2016: Chemical Release at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. Heavy black smoke and sulfur dioxide release, shelter-in-place for Galena Park residents.
  • Aug. 2016: Explosion at Voluntary Purchasing Group, Bonham, woke up neighbors. A second explosion one month later injured 2 workers.
  • Aug. 2016: Fire at Hexion in Deer Park, shelter-in-place for neighborhoods in Deer Park.
  • Sept 2016: Chemical spill in Willow Marsh Bayou, Beaumont. Local shelter-in-place, killed over 1,400 fish, snakes, turtles, racoons, and birds.
  • Dec. 2016: A chemical leak contaminated the drinking water supply for Corpus Christi. A water ban was in effect for nearly 4 days, 7 unconfirmed illnesses associated with the drinking water.
  • Jan. 2017: Naphtha overfill at tank at Valero Texas City Refinery. Residents issues. No shelter in place alert was sent because “the incident happened in the middle of the night.”
  • Jan. 2017: Chemical fire and spill, El Paso. Residents complain to TCEQ amidst concerns of respiratory issues.
  • Mar 2017: Sodium hydrosulfide spill, Brownsville. One injured, evacuation downtown.

In 2014, Iowa implement the Alert Iowa System. Counties that did not already have a system like this in place could opt-in to the statewide system to ensure that Iowans are protected from severe weather, chemical spill, and other potential disasters. The statewide system in Iowa costs about $300,000 per year.

Texas already has a system in place that can send out these type of alerts. The system proposed here is designed to work with OEMs to support them based on their needs. The intention is not for the statewide system to override functional systems already in place.

If such a system saved lives or reduced job and school absenteeism as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals, it would be well worth the cost of extending our existing technology to put in place a toxic chemical emergency system.  Urge your Legislator to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

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Public Citizen Honors Tom “Smitty” Smith

 

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After more than three decades of extraordinary work running Public Citizen’s Texas office, “Smitty,” formally known as Thomas Smith, is hanging up his spurs. Smitty is a Texas institution and a national treasure, and on February 1st, we celebrated him right.

Over 200 people attended a retirement dinner for Smitty at the Barr Mansion in Austin, TX on Wednesday evening.  Friends and colleagues from around the state who had work with Smitty on issues over his career that included clean energy, ethics reform, pollution mitigation, nuclear waste disposal, etc came to pay homage to a man who had dedicated his life to fighting for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.

Mayor Adler and Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchens

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and Smitty

Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel and Smitty

During the evening, Austin Mayor – Steve Adler, Travis County Commissioner – Brigid Shea, and Dallas County Commissioner – Dr. Theresa Daniel presented Smitty with resolutions passed by the City of Austin, Travis County Commissioners Court and Dallas County Commissioners Court all of which acknowledge Smitty’s contributions to their communities and the state of Texas.

 

 

 

Adrian Shelley (front left) and Rob Weissman (front right) at Tom “Smitty” Smith’s retirement event.

Public Citizen’s President, Robert Weissman, thanked Smitty for his service to Public Citizen for the past 31 years and introduced the new director for the Texas office, Adrian Shelley, the current Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Smitty’ impending departure fromPublic Citizen will leave a big hole in advocacy for progressive issues here in Texas, but both Smitty and Robert Weissman expressed confidence that Adrian would lead the Texas office forward into a new era of progressive advocacy.  Adrian is a native Texan from the City of Houston. He has served as the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston since 2013. He first worked with Air Alliance Houston as a legal fellow in 2010, then as a Community Outreach Coordinator in 2012. In that time, Public Citizen has worked closely with Air Alliance Houston through the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), a coalition of nonprofits and community groups which advocates policies to improve public health and safety while encouraging economic growth.

So be assured that Adrian and the Texas staff of Public Citizen are committed to carrying on the battle for justice, for democracy, for air clean and  energy and for clean politics. We can and will protect our children and the generations to come. For this, we can still use your help.  You can make a tax deductible donation to the Texas office of Public Citizen to help us continue his vital work on climate, transportation, civil justice, consumer protection, ethics, campaign finance reform and more

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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

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No Idling Sign photo from SetonBexar County has joined the other 44 communities in the state of Texas limiting idling by heavy vehicles. The primary reasoning for the ordinance to try to avoid ground level ozone levels that warrant non-attainment status for the county by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from vehicles combine with volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air to create ground level ozone, which can cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

Non-attainment status refers to “any area that does not meet (or that contributes to ambient air quality in a nearby area that does not meet) the national primary or secondary ambient air quality standard for the pollutant.” The county’s decision to limit emissions via prohibiting idling is logical because the decision limits emissions from those passing through the county rather than limiting emissions by its residents. Non-attainment status is established by the Clean Air Act and has multiple consequences that act as incentive to reduce ozone levels that affect the health of a county’s citizens. Consequences include loss of federal highway funding and EPA oversight over air pollution permits. While this measure is not expected to keep Bexar County in compliance once the new ground level ozone standard goes into effect, it will help.

Trucks idling -Idling limits for heavy vehicles are also important because most of them are diesel fueled and produce particulate mater that is harmful to health. The very small particles in diesel exhaust are composed of elemental carbon, which absorbs other compounds and caries them deep into your lungs. Diesel particulate matter is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is potential human carcinogen.

The Bexar County decision follows after Houston, the state’s largest city, approved a similar ordinance that limits vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds to five minutes of idling. Heavy vehicles include semi-trailer trucks and school buses. Idling school buses are of particular concern because children are especially vulnerable to the impacts from diesel exhaust.  The Bexar County court order allows buses to idle for up to 30 minutes though. The order also includes many other exemptions and should be revisited in the future to better protect public health.

Idling limitations are protected by the Locally Enforced Vehicle Idling Limitations Rule, established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The rule limits the idling of heavy vehicles of jurisdictions that have signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the TECQ for the local enforcement of idling restrictions. The Locally Enforced Vehicle Idling Limitations Rule was established in 2005 and with the addition of Bexar County, 45 communities have adopted idling limitations. The city of San Antonio is also set approve a similar measure later this month.

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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.

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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.

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HOUSTON – Public Citizen, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, the Texas Campaign for the Environment and the Healthy Port Communities Coalition co-hosted a neighborhood meeting in Houston’s East End on June 27 to discuss the dangers posed by oil trains passing through the community and call for stronger safeguards.

Between two and six million gallons of highly volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale pass through the Houston metropolitan area every week in fundamentally unsafe rail cars. A U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) report found than an oil train explosion in a major population center like Houston could cost billions of dollars in property damage and injure or kill thousands of people.

About 30 people attended the June 27 meeting including Texas state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, state Rep. Maria Delgado, a representative from state Rep. Carol Alvorado’s office and several public affairs representatives from the rail industry. The meeting was held at the Immaculate Conception Church on Harrisburg Street.

To gain deeper insight into the problems oil and chemical trains pose to East End residents, Public Citizen interviewed Bridgette Murray, a local resident who attended the meeting.

PC: Start by telling us a little about yourself and your community.

BM: I am a registered nurse, spending my adult life taking care of other individuals, and I am now the primary caretaker for my elderly mother.

My family has had a presence in the Pleasantville area since 1957. I returned to the community 20 years ago because I felt safe returning to the neighborhood surrounded by individuals that were like my family in many regards. I chose to live in a community that contributed to my upbringing and support, and I remain active in my community to ensure a better quality of life.

Pleasantville continues to be a community with 78 percent occupancy by actual home owners. In spite of the industrial build up on our periphery, we have easy access to both I-10 and 610 freeways. This is a landlocked community with three rail line entrances (two of them Union Pacific).

PC: Why are you worried about trains in your neighborhood? How do these trains put your community at risk?

BM: The trains have been with us from the beginning. But we recently experienced an incident of a Union Pacific train that blocked all three entrance and exit points to the community for nearly one hour, and the other exit was under construction. If we encounter a train derailment in our community, over 3,000 individuals will not be able to safely evacuate.

In addition, a significant percentage of our community is within one mile of the blast zone. My own home is within half a mile. Not only are we concerned about the oil trains, but the use of rail for other hazardous materials left unattended on the rail line without notification is a growing concern.

PC: What changes would you like to see to fix these problems?

BM: Let’s start with improved safety. How often are rail lines inspected and serviced? I am aware that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is recommending changes to the cars used for transporting oil, but this is after the fact. In the agency’s own words, “Accidents demonstrate that the DOT-111 tank cars moving these flammable liquids are not up to the task.”

It is my understanding from prior events, allowing the trains to burn out is the standard approach. In our community that will mean death for many. Implementation of NTSB’s recommended preventative measures should be considered critical.

The community successfully petitioned and partnered with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston for another entrance without rail to improve access for emergency vehicles. But much more needs to be done.

Again, in NTSB’s own words: “Preventing tragedies similar to Lac-Mégantic and Cherry Valley will require a systems approach that keeps trains from derailing, especially in sensitive areas, and preserves tank car integrity if a derailment occurs. Adequate emergency preparedness is also crucial. One of the first steps industry can take is to appropriately plan and select routes to minimize the amount of hazardous materials that travel through highly populated areas.”

PC: If you could send a message to the train, oil and chemical companies, what would you tell them?

BM: Safety always seems to follow the profit margin. Lives do matter and residents living near rail lines should be protected. The increase in oil trains should also come with increased safety in how, where and when oil is transported. There should be more community outreach to high-risk areas regarding emergency evacuation training and education.

Living near the Port of Houston, I accept the risk that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security speaks of regarding terrorist threats, but I do not accept as reasonable a sanctioned domestic threat of oil train cars when there is something that can be done to improve the situation. My only request is that industry demonstrates some respect for middle and lower income America.

PC: Thank you for sharing your story.

BM: Thank you for keeping the public informed about this major issue.

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Killing me softly

Killing me softly

Senate Bill 709, which passed in the Texas Senate on April 16th and has now passed in the Texas House, would scale back the public’s right to participate through a contested-case, an administrative hearing process that allows the public to challenge industrial applications for permits at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) – such as those allowing wastewater discharges or air pollution emissions.

Last night this bill was discussed and passed to third reading in the Texas House.   During the discussion of this bill, it was alleged that “Texas’ current bureaucracy puts the state at a ‘serious disadvantage’ compared to its neighbors,” according to Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, who carried the bill in the House.  However, the truth is that there are just not that many permit applications that are affected by the contested case hearing process. In 2014, there were 1,960 applications received by TCEQ. Of those applications, only 10 were referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings – that’s only one half of one percent of applications received in that calendar year. The other 99.5% of permit applications to the TCEQ go uncontested and are processed and issued in time-frames similar to or even faster than our neighboring states with whom we compete most closely for business. This was based on an analysis of public records by Public Citizen and later confirmed by the agency to the Texas Tribune.

This analysis also found that Texas typically processes air quality permits faster than Arkansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Colorado and even Louisiana.  When pressed for one facility Texas might have lost to Louisiana because of a misconception about our permitting process, on the floor of the Texas Senate, Senator Fraser gave the example of Shintech, Inc. (a Japanese subsidiary of Shin Etsu and the largest producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in the United States).  In 1998, Shintech backed out of its plans to build a PVC plant in Convent, LA (which is in the heart of what has become known as “Cancer Alley”, an environmental justice community of low-income, minority residents)  This community fought back and won because of legal opposition by the local residents.  Since that time, Louisiana put rules in place that makes it harder for citizens to obtain legal help to fight off industry – sound familiar?  So now Shintech will be able to expand their operations in Louisiana without much opposition and if they come back here . . . well, they may find the same “business-friendly” fast-track environment.

If this bill is enacted into law, the contested case process that has a track record of improving permits and protecting the environment from the biggest and longest lasting environmentally hazardous projects, would be substantially amended.
(more…)

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Coalition for Sensible SafeguardsThe Coalition for Sensible Safeguards strongly opposes the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which the House passed on Tuesday. They are urging members of Congress to oppose it and The White House  has issued a veto threat for the Bill . This innocuous-sounding bill is designed to undermine our nation’s environmental, public health, workplace safety and consumer financial security protections – not improve them.

The RAA would rewrite dozens of laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act by requiring federal agencies to put corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of American workers and families. Agencies would have to produce highly speculative estimates of all the indirect costs and benefits of proposed rules and do the same for any potential alternatives. What counts and does not count as an indirect cost or a potential alternative? The bill leaves that up to the imagination of industry.

In addition, the RAA would hamstring the work of agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bill would subject their work to review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is infamous for delaying, diluting and blocking important new safeguards. Federal agencies already take years to issue health and safety standards. The dozens of cumbersome requirements added by this bill would make that process even longer.

Any high-stakes rule that miraculously made it through these roadblocks would face unprecedented challenges. The RAA would allow industry lobbyists to second-guess the work of respected scientists through legal challenges, sparking a wave of litigation that would add even more costs and delays to the rulemaking process – while putting the lives, health and safety of millions of Americans at risk.

The costs of blocking crucial standards and safeguards are clear: The Wall Street economic collapse, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia, the West Fertilizer Company explosion in West, TX, countless food and product safety recalls and massive environmental disasters including the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina and the Freedom Industries chemical spill in West Virginia are just some of the most recent examples.

It’s no wonder polling shows that Americans want better enforcement of our nation’s rules and standards. Congress should listen to the public and stop trying to sabotage the safeguards that protect us all.

To learn more about the potential effects of the bill, see the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards’ 2011 report: Impacts of the Regulatory Accountability Act. The latest version of the bill has been partially revised, but the problems at the heart of the bill remain.

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(Reuters) – Children whose mothers were exposed to high levels of fine particulate pollution in late pregnancy have up to twice the risk of developing autism as children of mothers breathing cleaner air, scientists at Harvard School of Public Health reported on Thursday.

The greater the exposure to fine particulates emitted by fires, vehicles, and industrial smokestacks the greater the risk, found the study, published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Earlier research also found an autism-pollution connection, including a 2010 study that found the risk of autism doubled if a mother, during her third trimester, lived near a freeway, a proxy for exposure to particulates. But this is the first to examine the link across the United States, and “provides additional support” to a possible link, said Heather Volk of the University of Southern California Children’s Hospital, who led earlier studies.

U.S. diagnoses of autism soared to one in 68 children in 2010 (the most recent data) from one in 150 in 2000, government scientists reported in March. Experts are divided on how much of the increase reflects greater awareness and how much truly greater incidence.

Although the disorder has a strong genetic basis, the increasing incidence has spurred scientists to investigate environmental causes, too, since genes do not change quickly enough to explain the rise.

The Harvard study included children of the 116,430 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II, which began in 1989. The researchers collected data on where the women lived while pregnant and levels of particulate pollution. They then compared the prenatal histories of 245 children with autism spectrum disorder to 1,522 normally-developing children, all born from 1990 to 2002.

There was no association between autism and fine particulate pollution before or early in pregnancy, or after the child was born. But high levels of exposure during the third trimester doubled the risk of autism.

Evidence that a mother-to-be’s exposure to air pollution affects her child’s risk of autism “is becoming quite strong,” said Harvard epidemiologist Marc Weisskopf, who led the study, suggesting a way to reduce the risk.

It is not clear how tiny particles might cause autism, but they are covered with myriad contaminants and penetrate cells, which can disrupt brain development.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency, citing the link to asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, tightened air quality standards for fine particulate pollution. States have until 2020 to meet the new standards.
(Reporting by Sharon Begley; editing by Andrew Hay)

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