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Category Archives: toxic

Residents of Tellevast Florida have agreed with Lockheed Martin to settle their property contamination suit out of court. This is a huge step towards compensating the 270 people whose lives have been tainted by a cancer-causing berylium leak from the Lockheed Martin plant. 

Lockheed Martin had bought the site from the original owner, the American Berylium Company. They didn't know the level of pollution but at purchase they assumed legal responsibiltiy of the contaminated site.  This responsibility expanded to cover the 200-acre pollution plume which had seeped into the town's groundwater.

The leak was discovered in 2000 by Lockheed but at the time the company was not compelled by Florida law to disclose its finding.  Residents only learned of the carcinogenic leak 3 years later. They have been seeking justice from Fortune 500 ever since. 

The cancer-causing agents like trichloroethylene (TCE), common machine degreaser, makes the ground water prohibitively dangerous.  Lockheed has acknowledged that it will take 50 years to restore the town to pre-toxic levels.  Despite this, they have refused to locate the 80 homes of this historic town.  

The terms of the settlement have not yet been made public by the company or Tellevast residents.

Read more:

New research shows that Latinos and Asians are disproportionately likely to live near toxic refineries or manufacturing plants.  Researchers from UC Irvine looked close to 12,000 people in homes through 6 communities in Southern California. They found that neighborhoods with 15 percent more Latinos than average were exposed to 84.3 percent more toxic waste. Those with 15 percent more Asians were exposed to 33.7 percent more toxic waste.

But the study in the journal of Health and Place also claims that income and race are not the biggest factors in predicting one’s proximity to a toxic chemical site.  Researcher, John Hipp told the Orange County Register that "it turned out more educated neighborhoods have fewer of these sites. It’s less an income thing and more of an education thing."

This could be because less-educated immigrant communities are not aware of the health risks associated with living in the shadow of a toxic site. 

To educate yourself on the risks of resedential refineries, check out pH’s coverage of Human Rights in Cancer Alley.The study appears in July’s online issue of Health & Place

(Photo by Sousveillance)

Tween outfitters, Justice and Limited Too, have announced a recall of jewelry tainted with toxic metal. The stores that brought us jeggings (jeans+leggings=jeggings, if you have to ask) sold ~137,000 metal necklaces, bracelets, and earrings from November 2008 through February of 2010 that contain dangerous levels of cadmium.

Cadmium is a naturally occurring metal that, if ingested, can weaken bones, lead to kidney failure and hinder brain development. Exposure is especially concerning in necklaces that may be chewed on. 

This is just the latest in a spate of cadmium related product recalls that include Shrek cups and Miley Cyrus brand jewelry. There’s no clear reason why manufacturers, all from China, have turned to cadmium.  But plummeting prices of cadmium and closer regulation of lead could be a contributing factor.

For more information about which products are affected try Tween Brands recall hot line at 800-934-4497.

photo from

Few toxins have ever had as destructive a force as lead.  Some historians say that lead water pipes contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire. Now, two thousand years later, lead in paint and toys continues to be linked to high blood pressure, organ failure, learning disabilities and behavioral problems (Check out the award winning pH documentary on lead in Cincinnati for more).

Today the EPA advances lead regulation by closing an old loop-hole on lead abatement.  The new EPA rule removes a provision that allowed owner-occupants of pre-1978 homes to “opt-out” of having their contractors follow lead-safe work practices if there were no children under six years of age in the home. A statement from the EPA says "the result will better protect children and adult occupants during and after renovation, repair and painting projects."

Read more about the EPA’s Lead policies here.

Photo By  Abby Lanes.

The BP oil disaster has caused so much distress around the Gulf. A lot of people want to help. But before heading towards the region to help, there are a few things you should know. You could be exposing yourself to potential risks. Wilma Subra is a microbiologist and a chemist. She’s consulted for the Environmental Protection Agency and she warns helpers could face health hazards.

SUBRA: Well if people are considering coming down and volunteering to help out in these communities or to help actually help out clean up a beach or wetland they have to realize that they must receive appropriate Hazmat training so they know the precautions they need to take

PAYNE: Wilma Subra works with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. They supply safety equipment to crews who are working to clean and contain the leak.

SUBRA: They must be provided with protective gear; respirators, goggles, protective clothing and gloves. If they are not, they will be severely impacted on the short term having acute impacts and the potential to have very long chronic health impacts.

PAYNE: BP spokesman Graham McEwen says BP is “unaware of any health complaints among cleanup workers.” Wilma Subra disagrees. She says as someone who works on chemical messes, she knows the symptoms of exposure to toxic substances, and she’s seeing them here.

SUBRA: Its causing headaches, nausea, respiratory problems, burning eyes, sore throat and for people who have asthma its causing asthma attacks.

PAYNE: Workers who are close to the oil and dispersants aren’t the only ones at risk. Subra says that toxic vapors have reached as far away as New Orleans. She says parts of crude oil belong to a family of chemicals know as volatile organics. And it’s easy for these chemicals to be carried long distances by the wind.

SUBRA: Volatile organics are chemicals that evaporate easily, sort-of like when you were young and had a bottle of finger nail polish remover and you opened it up and your mom came running in there and said be careful, I know you opened it, because I can smell It all over the house. They give off the vapors. And benzene is one of those volatile organics and its known to cause cancer in humans.

PAYNE: Environmental chemist, Wilma Subra. If you are looking to volunteer with clean up efforts, make sure to protect yourself. Check out the list of places where you can help at For Planet Harmony, I’m Ebony Payne.

For more volunteer information in each gulf coast state check below:

• Volunteer Louisiana – 800.755.5175

• Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service

• Volunteer Florida

• 211 Connects Alabama – 866.869.4921

(Image Courtesey of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice)

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The residents of Mossville Louisiana live in the shadow of 14 petrochemical refineries. Community members allege that their high rates of cancer stem directly from these plants. After years of making this argument in American courts they sought a higher judicial body. Now, for the first time ever, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear an environmental human rights case against the United States. Planet Harmony and Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah reports.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Mossville, Louisiana is old. The village was founded by freed slaves. They chose to settle land with deer to hunt, fish to catch and fertile soil to grow rice and sweet potatoes. Today the descendents of those settlers live in a very different place. Christine Bennett’s family has been living here for four generations.

BENNETT: The place that was once so beautiful and so clean is now a dump.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The petrochemical industry built 14 factories where she lives. They make things like siding for houses and each year release four million pounds of carcinogens such as benzene and vinyl chloride.

BENNETT: What happened to that place that I was reared at—that I can go back and share with my children. This is where my ancestors are. But now part of it is gone, the rest that’s left there is a little ghost town people and starving for life.

SRISKANDARAJAH: We met up with Bennett on her way to file a petition in Washington D.C. on behalf of her community’s human rights. Now, after five years of back and forth with the Government, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear the case.

FARRIOR: Well this case is important in a number of respects.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Stephanie Farrior teaches International Law at Vermont Law School.

FARRIOR: It is the first environmental case coming out of the United States to go to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

SRISKANDARAJAH: So this is the first? So nobody’s tried this before?

FARRIOR: Not from the United States.

SRISKANDARAJAH: But other environmental cases have succeeded. In 1985 The Yanomamo Indians charged the Brazilian government with violating their human rights.

FARRIOR: So that was the first environmental case that came to the Inter-American Commission.

SRISKANDARAJAH: For 50 years the Commission, made up of members from Canada to Argentina, has provided a last line of defense for human rights in the Americas. The United States has been before the Commission on complaints about the death penalty and Indian land claims. But this is the first environmental case from the U.S. to reach the Commission.

FARRIOR: And the commission found the petition actually did make out several potential claims regarding two important rights. One is the right to equality and freedom from racial discrimination, and the other, which they linked to the environment, the right to protection of the law against abusive attacks one’s life, family life.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Racial discrimination and health impacts of polluted environments have been notoriously hard to win in American courts. Jerome Ringo—former Chairman of the National Wildlife Federation—consulted on another Mossville case. That succeeded in buying up homes of residents closest to a petrochemical factory.

RINGO: Today the first mile from the plant, from the fence line of the plant to a mile into Mossville is abandoned and the property now is owned by the industry and that is contaminated property.

SRISKANDARAJAH: This suit compensated for property damage, but personal health damage…that’s another story. Legal standards make it difficult to pinpoint which of the 14 plants, if any, is to blame for the high rates of cancer in the area.

RINGO: The EPA and the CDC does studies that really check the chemicals that are being discharged by a specific plant, but I am not aware of any study that monitors the chemicals that once they meet into the atmosphere and they mix what do we have then?

SRISKANDARAJAH: This toxic chemical mix is a hallmark of Louisiana’s infamous cancer alley. The emancipated slaves who settled Mossville had land, but no voting rights to protect it.

With the boom in the chemical and plastics industries after World War Two, companies found little resistance to building factories in these disenfranchised, black neighborhoods. Today, government researchers find three times the national average of dioxin levels in Mossville residents.

RINGO: Well you know that’s the responsibility of government. We recognize that we have an EPA, who is now doing great job because of the leadership of Lisa Jackson.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Jackson is the first African American administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. And she cares about this area.

JACKSON: That’s right. It’s where I grew up.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The administrator has made environmental justice a centerpiece of the EPA. But she says that the laws of the United States still don’t provide adequate protection to its poor and minority populations.

JACKSON: And I think the Mossville case is a really interesting one because what the petitioners argue, as I understand it, is not in order to get heard they had to basically make a case that the laws of this country do not provide them an opportunity for redress.

And it is true that at this point there are no environmental justice laws—there’s nothing on the books that gives us the ability to do it.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Since 1994 a U.S. presidential order has mandated equal protection for minority and low-income populations. But implementation is weak. This isn’t only a problem in North America says Santiago Canton. He’s the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

CANDON: We hear that over and over again from people that come to the Commission saying that they try to exhaust local remedies in their own countries, they tried to find justice in their own countries, and they couldn’t find it, so that’s why they come to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

SRISKANDARAJAH: In the coming year the Commission will determine the merits of the Mossville case. This could be a lengthy process as 1,500 petitions are filed every year. But, international lawyer, Stephanie Farrior, says just getting the case heard is a victory.

FARRIOR: The Commission’s decision to let the case go forward really goes to the very foundation of human rights law. Conditions of severe environmental pollution are inconsistent with the right be respected as a human being. And I think that’s what this case is about.

SRISKANDARAJAH: And depending on the outcome, this case could open a new channel to protect and defend the human right to a clean and safe environment for all American citizens. For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.

CURWOOD: Ike is the Senior Editor of Planet Harmony, and everyone is invited to participate in our new online network, and we especially encourage young people of color to share their stories of environmental concern.

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