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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #929 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Thursday, October 18, 2007printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Deadly Secrets
"We believe that the Asarco bankruptcy is a test-case for world- wide industrial interests to show how environmental liabilities can be shed -- passed onto the people who actually suffered the damages in the first place."
The Green-Collar Solution
"The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people -- while honoring the Earth. If you can do that, you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems."
An Interview with Robert Bullard
"The idea is that if a community is already sick and overburdened with toxic facilities, it does not make a whole lot of common sense to add an additional facility."
PBDEs in U.S. Infants Mirror Adult Population
A new study finds toxic flame retardants in the blood of U.S. babies at levels at least twice as high as those found in babies in Europe.
PCB-like Toxin in Breast Milk, Scientists Warn
"It will be an urgent task to assess the effect on human beings and determine the origin," Ota said, referring to the possibility that Co- PXBs may also originate from incinerated garbage or factory wastewater.
Pentagon Backs Plan To Beam Solar Power from Space
The U.S. military says global warming provides a reason to revive an old plan to collect solar energy in outer space and beam it to earth as microwaves or a laser beam. It could provide electricity, but it could also fry large numbers of earthlings.
Italian Mafia Accused of Trafficking Nuclear Waste
Confirming the unavoidable link between nuclear power and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Italian authorities have accused a mafia organization of illegally trafficking in radioactive waste and of manufacturing and selling plutonium.


From: Powells.com
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By Devra Davis

[Devra Davis, Ph.D., M.P.H., is the author of the important new book, "The Secret History of the War on Cancer." She is the Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Cancer Institute. Visit her website at www.devradavis.org.]

Young children tell secrets, many of which turn out to be fabulously untrue. But what passes as child's play can turn deadly when adults agree to keep matters of life and death under wraps.

Few have ever heard of Reveilletown, Louisiana. In 1987 30 families, in what was then a poor black community next to Georgia Gulf's flagship plant, sued the company alleging that their land was packed with hidden toxic contamination. The company responded by turning the claims into secrets, buying up the town, paying the residents for their homes, leveling the entire neighborhood, and requiring that no information on what had happened to the health of the people would ever become public. Some of the local environmental and community advocates protested that this solution removed the people but did not remove the hazards. Silence was bought and research stopped.

But was there any risk to people's health? Nobody knows and nobody is asking. A few years later, the town of Mossville also was wiped off the map. Living downstream of several major chemical facilities, folks in the area got used to what was called "sheltering in place." Della Sullivan who grew up in the town remembers, "A big boom would go off, rattling the house and everything in it. Sometimes windows would crack. Running out in the middle of the night in this swamp can be scary, especially for little kids who grow up looking out for swamp monsters."

I asked her, "Come on now, did you really believe in swamp monsters?"

With a deadpan look, she answered, "Of course there are swamp monsters. What do you think a water moccasin or an alligator really is? We grew up knowing things to stay away from. Nobody in their right mind goes into a swamp at night in their bedclothes unless they be scared out of their head."

Swamp monsters were not the only things in the area that didn't leave clear tracks. The residents of Mossville shut their doors and windows to smoke and fumes, but couldn't shut their bodies from pollution that entered their water and food. In 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that older persons from the area had more than four times the amount of dioxin in their blood of their peers in the rest of the country.

All that was left of Mossville when I visited two years before Katrina leveled the region was a solitary white painted board with a slogan painted in black:

"In memory of workers and citizens who have paid with their lives for a toxic environment. Our fight for a clean environment is for you, our families and our future."

Surrounding this statement were more than fifty hand-lettered names.

As we walked along what was left of Mossville, we found the remains of small cement-block foundations. Tall grasses claimed the space of what had once been a vibrant hunting and fishing community.

In Mossville, the lucky ones who were still alive collected money from Conoco and Condea-Vista before they left town. But there was a catch, as one investigator anonymously confided. Everything became a secret. "There was one clause in all the agreements that no matter what pollution, no matter what illness ever came up in the future, from no matter what chemical, no matter what source of what chemical, they were no longer going to be allowed to sue the chemical companies if they got sick later on."

I haven't been back to the area since the big hurricanes hit -- first Katrina, then Rita. In the ocean, as hurricanes build and move across the surface, a train of lee waves is produced. Behind them, a large zone of upwelled water rises that sweeps over whatever it finds, until it runs out of steam. Jerome Longo, head of the National Wildlife Federation, comes from Mossville. He told me that a wall of water more than twenty feet high swept through what was left of the small town. When it receded, it took along sludge and waste of years, spreading the toxic residues more broadly than before.

Today nothing at all is left of the former failed resort town of Times Beach, Missouri, which also found its history turned into a secret. When you drive there, as I did during a recent visit to St. Louis early in 2007, you find a small National Park museum, oddly named for Route 66 -- a road that never went there. A small wooden building sits in the middle of miles of grass-covered mounds, from which the occasional solitary white plastic well-head pops up. The only signs of former human habitation are the odd geranium or petunia that managed to regrow, despite the removal and incineration of millions of tons of topsoil from the area.

In 1980, as part of a team for the Environmental Law Institute, I wrote a report for the Congressional Research Service documenting the extensive spreading of dioxin-laced wastes throughout the Times Beach area. In several years in the 1970s, a waste oil hauler, Russell Bliss, had dribbled toxic oil throughout the region, poisoning horses, dogs, and leaving some children ill. The good and honest park ranger that hosts the museum was just a child when all this happened. She doesn't know that the written history of Times Beach is a lie. A photo I took of the record in that small museum says that the people of Times Beach only learned that their homes were unliveable in 1982, when a major river flood forced them to evacuate. Imagine suddenly being forced to leave your home as flood waters peaked and never being allowed back. Memories don't end, but the photos and the relics of lives became entombed in toxic muck.

In fact, the massive contamination of Times Beach had not been a secret to the officials of the federal government who had my report from 1980 and those of many others. Yet the citizens of the region never heard of our report. They were forced to abandon their homes after the 1982 deluge spread toxic muck throughout the area.

Another region of the southern United States haunted by poisonous secrets is that of El Paso, Texas, home of the ASARCO lead smelter. In his 1975 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Philip Landrigan detailed the toxic impact of lead residues on local children that forced the examination of every other smelter in the country. His work for the Centers for Disease Control showed that levels of lead that were insufficient to immediately sicken children permanently dulled their brains and nervous systems.

ASARCO's answer to this crisis was straightforward. Smeltertown families were booted out of their homes. When I visited the area in 2004, only the dead remained. The small local cemetery of marked and nameless graves was covered with blackened, windswept sand. Longer stones or slabs of poured concrete presumably indicate adults, and smaller ones outline those who died as children. The name and short life of Guadaloupe Carmona, 1925-1927, are handwritten on a poured slab.[1]

In the Environmental Law Institute's report for the Library of Congress in 1980, we described El Paso, along with Times Beach, as well-established cases of mostly historic interest, about which there was little left to learn. We knew that the lawsuit against the company had been settled and that the land surrounding the smelter had been bought by ASARCO for less than half a million dollars. The purchase was made on the condition that all the residents were to be removed so that their former home sites could be used to store acid tanks and railroad cars.[2]

But when I visited the region three years ago, I learned that some environmental solutions, unlike love, are not forever. El Paso's problems are not nearly as well resolved as I had believed. In fact the story has taken a strange turn. In May 1992, ASARCO set up two[3] CONTOP (continuous top-feed oxygen process) furnaces. These hot- burning ovens never slept. All day every day, they burned tons of toxic wastes at 90 percent efficiency. This meant that just 10 percent of what they tried to burn ended up intact. Still, 10 percent of hundreds of thousands of tons of wastes fired over several years left enough metal poisons in the region that the furnaces were put out of business by the U.S. Department of Justice after operating just seven years.[4] Although many nearby businesses were long shut down, the smelter next to Smeltertown remained, along with the buildings supporting the U.S. Mexico dam and canal system.

A secret government memo released in 2006 from the EPA, written during the Clinton years, showed that so long as the furnaces were running, the company told the world it was recycling materials. Think back to the waste oil that Russell Bliss distributed or took to be burned in mills in Missouri. If this waste is laced with dioxin or heavy metals, then when it gets burned, thousands of tons of toxic agents get finely spewed back into the air over large regions. Recycling thus becomes a neat redistribution system, taking measurable solid wastes and turning them into immeasurable, ultrafine air pollutants.

Pollutants do not need passports. The residents of El Paso and Juarez know this, because they are joined by more than a century's worth of leaden soils and plumes that have crossed back and forth over the U.S.-Mexican border and left many zones uninhabitable. Commerce, of course, crosses borders as well. In 1999 ASARCO was bought for more than $1 billion and today is a completely owned subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.[5] They have declared their intention to reopen this century- old facility.[6] What happened to the hundreds of millions of dollars that ASARCO had set aside to pay for cleaning up El Paso? In a stunningly cynical move, Grupo Mexico was granted permission by the U.S. government to use that money to pay down corporate debt. Not a penny has been spent to remedy the damage from this longstanding pollution.[7]

At this time, ASARCO faces bankruptcy because of its responsibilities to clean up dozens of Superfund sites. Of an estimated $2 billion in cleanup costs for old ASARCO areas throughout the United States alone, the firm has set aside less than $100 million. The Steelworkers Union in Dallas used the Freedom of Information Act to unearth an EPA memo warning that any sampling of metals in El Paso could show that the smelter had burned illegal wastes for years. Many locals suspect the plans to reopen the rusted old smelter are just a ploy to keep the plant from being declared a Superfund site. If the company declares its intent to operate, it can't be prosecuted for having abandoned the area.

The signing and sealing of secrecy agreements about contaminated environments -- just like those about defective cars or planes -- is not a matter of child's play. It's perfectly legal and perfectly bad to allow health and safety information to be kept secret. Such secrets also handicap the ability of science to evaluate hazards. We are left with a policy that perversely allows that you can't ask about what someone doesn't want you to know.

As you open the pages of The Secret History of the War on Cancer and join me at our web site, you will find long forgotten secrets exposed. You will also find a map that ensures that those of us who want the future of cancer to be different from the past, understand that keeping secrets about the things that cause the disease endangers all of us.



[1] Residents of Smeltertown moved upstream two miles to Bueno Vista across from Anapra, New Mexico, and old Anapra, Mexico. In the 1980s New Mexico labeled Anapra, New Mexico, the most lead-contaminated spot in New Mexico and blamed it on the smelter. Since then three generations have grown up in Anapra, and the generations are suffering increasing horrific health problems. Word of mouth accounts are common about babies born without organs, born without a brain, fused-skulls at birth are common and doctors have privately told women it comes from drinking the city water when pregnant. The residents of Anapra have formed a community group and are fighting to get honest assessment of the extent of contamination from the smelter. Meanwhile, New Mexico, Mexico, and Texas continue to turn Anapra into the regional dumping ground -- siting three sewage treatment plants, a regional dump, the electric generating plant, a quarry and other toxic developments at this residentially-zoned neighborhood (platted in the early 1900s).

[2] Wal-Mart bought several hundred acreas of ASARCO-contaminated land just north of the old smelter cemetery for a whopping five million dollars, just after Wal-Mart was cited nationwide by the EPA for failing to observe storm water rules in construction of its properties.

[3] The two largest CON0TOPs in the world, designed to smelt toxic waste (shredded automobiles, sludges) for "energy recovery" to provide additional heat for the concurrent melting of the ore concentrates. But ASARCO never got permission to smelt toxic waste -- they were supposed to recover metals from all materials that they received.

[4] The EPA began testing and residential cleanups in the early 2000s. ASARCO had shut down in 1999, claiming a historic low in copper prices. It wasn't until 2006 that the Federal Department of Justice released an EPA secret memo from 1998, showing the fake recycling, the secret incineration of toxic waste for profit that ASARCO's ConTop furnaces had conducted for nearly a decade. The government had used ASARCO to dispose of Rocky Mt. Arsenal material (oil bearing materials, chemical weapon quench waters).

[5] Carlyle Group is an owner of Grupo Mexico.

[6] We believe that this may actually be a sham-intent, and that the fight is over ownership of the carbon credits from the Air permit 20345.

[7] We also believe that the Asarco bankruptcy is a test-case for world-wide industrial interests to show how environmental liabilities can be shed -- passed onto the people who actually suffered the damages in the first place.

Copyright 1994-2007 Powells.com

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From: The New York Times (pg. A27)
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By Thomas L. Friedman

Van Jones is a rare bird. He's a black social activist in Oakland, Calif., and as green an environmentalist as they come. He really gets passionate, and funny, when he talks about what it's like to be black and green:

"Try this experiment. Go knock on someone's door in West Oakland, Watts or Newark and say: 'We gotta really big problem!' They say: 'We do? We do?' 'Yeah, we gotta really big problem!' 'We do? We do?' 'Yeah, we gotta save the polar bears! You may not make it out of this neighborhood alive, but we gotta save the polar bears!' "

Mr. Jones then just shakes his head. You try that approach on people without jobs who live in neighborhoods where they've got a lot better chance of getting killed by a passing shooter than a melting glacier, you're going to get nowhere -- and without bringing America's underclass into the green movement, it's going to get nowhere, too.

"We need a different on-ramp" for people from disadvantaged communities, says Mr. Jones. "The leaders of the climate establishment came in through one door and now they want to squeeze everyone through that same door. It's not going to work. If we want to have a broad- based environmental movement, we need more entry points."

Mr. Jones, who heads the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, which helps kids avoid jail and secure jobs, has an idea how to change that -- a "green-collar" jobs program that focuses on underprivileged youth. I would not underestimate him. Mr. Jones, age 39and a Yale Law School grad, exudes enough energy to light a few buildings on his own.

One thing spurring him in this project, he explained, was the way that the big oil companies bought ads in black-owned newspapers in California in 2006 showing an African-American woman filling her gas tank with a horrified look at the pump price. The ads were used to help bring out black votes to defeat Proposition 87. That ballot initiative proposed a tax on oil companies drilling in California, the money from which would have gone to develop alternative energy projects. The oil companies tried to scare African-Americans into thinking that the tax on the companies would be passed on at the pump.

"The polluters were able to stampede poor people into their camp," said Mr. Jones. "I never want to see an N.A.A.C.P. leader on the wrong side of an environment issue again."

Using his little center in Oakland, Mr. Jones has been on a crusade to help underprivileged African-Americans and other disadvantaged communities understand why they would be the biggest beneficiaries of a greener America. It's about jobs. The more government requires buildings to be more energy efficient, the more work there will be retrofitting buildings all across America with solar panels, insulation and other weatherizing materials. Those are manual-labor jobs that can't be outsourced.

"You can't take a building you want to weatherize, put it on a ship to China and then have them do it and send it back," said Mr. Jones. "So we are going to have to put people to work in this country -- weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, constructing wind farms. Those green-collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college."

Let's tell our disaffected youth: "You can make more money if you put down that handgun and pick up a caulk gun."

Remember, adds Mr. Jones, "a big chunk of the African-American community is economically stranded. The blue-collar, stepping-stone, manufacturing jobs are leaving. And they're not being replaced by anything. So you have this whole generation of young blacks who are basically in economic free fall." Green-collar retrofitting jobs are a great way to catch them.

To this end, Mr. Jones's group and the electrical union in Oakland created the Oakland Apollo Alliance. This year that coalition helped to raise $250,000 from the city government to create a union-supported training program that will teach young people in Oakland how to put up solar panels and weatherize buildings.

It is the beginning of a "Green for All" campaign (greenforall.org) that Mr. Jones -- backed by other environmental activists like Majora Carter from Sustainable South Bronx -- is launching to get Congress to allocate $125 million to train 30,000 young people a year in green trades.

"If we can get these youth in on the ground floor of the solar industry now, where they can be installers today, they'll become managers in five years and owners in 10. And then they become inventors," said Mr. Jones. "The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people -- while honoring the Earth. If you can do that, you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems. We can make what is good for poor black kids good for the polar bears and good for the country."

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From: Co-op America Quarterly
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Dr. Robert D. Bullard is Ware professor of sociology and director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

He is also widely known as the "father of environmental justice" for his more than 25 years of tireless work on behalf of communities of color who have been victims of environmental racism. His work gained a national spotlight in 1987, when two landmark studies -- one by Dr. Bullard that focused on Houston and the Toxic Wastes and Race national study commissioned by the United Church of Christ (UCC) -- found that toxic facilities like landfills, chemical plants, and incinerators are much more likely to be located in areas based on race and class.

This year, Dr. Bullard and three of his colleagues published a follow- up to the first UCC study, called Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007. In it, they showed that things haven't changed much -- communities of color are still bearing the poisonous burden of America's industrial way of life.

Co-op America editor Tracy Fernandez Rysavy talked to Dr. Bullard about this latest study; about how environmental justice issues affect everyone, not just those who live near toxic facilities; and about what gives him hope as he gets ready to begin the next 25 years of his important work.

CO-OP AMERICA/TRACY FERNANDEZ RYSAVY: What kind of role has race played in siting toxic facilities in the US?

DR. ROBERT D. BULLARD: When you look at all of the variables, race is still the most potent factor to predict where these facilities are located, more important than income or other socio-economic factors. Even when you control for how much money people make and the price of housing, race still comes out as the number one factor in determining where toxic facilities are located.

Race permeates everything, in terms of housing, education, where people can live, land- use decisions, transportation and mobility. And often, the fact that so many people of color live near facilities that other people don't want is based on historical factors that resulted in residential segregation and affected the decisions of housing commissions.

TRACY: So you're saying that it's not being poor that makes a community end up with toxic facilities -- it's more the fact that brown people or black people live there?

DR. BULLARD: That's right. And it's not just toxic waste facilities. Communities of color have more of the negatives and also fewer of the positives -- for example, they often lack something as basic as a grocery store or a park or a library, or ease of access to hospitals and other amenities.

Land use oftentimes is not based on any objective, rational criteria. The negatives follow the path of least resistance in terms of how they get sited and the extent to which groups can organize and fend off unwanted land use. A lot is due to legacy issues, or things left over from the past, when city councils and boards of supervisors were made up of all white people.

And newer occurrences are based on patterns that have not yet changed. Even when we get people of color elected to city councils and boards of supervisors and task forces, these things generally still follow these patterns. That's what we've shown in our report, Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty (TWART).

What that means is that the current land use and environmental protection apparatus is broken and needs to be fixed. It does not protect all communities equally. And that's why many of the policy recommendations we put forward in the TWART report are crucial -- because the existing laws and regulations and industrial siting policies do not protect and do not address these wide disparities.

TRACY: Can you give me an example of one of the policy recommendation in the TWART study that would be very powerful in repairing these disparities?

DR. BULLARD: Before toxic facilities can be located, we need to take into account the extent to which a community or neighborhood already is saturated. Right now, there's nothing in the laws or regulations that would prohibit a neighborhood from being overly saturated with locally unwanted land uses or industrial facilities.

There's nothing in our current laws that would take into account the cumulative effect of having a number of facilities within one area -- we're talking about a two-mile radius, which is a very small area. There's no threshold where we could say, "This community has had enough and there should be no more toxic loading." When a permit is granted, only that permit is taken into account, not what's already there.

The way it works in our society is that when one community gets one facility, it's easier to get two. When it has three, it's easier to get four. The idea is that since you have five facilities, one more won't make a difference. And we say that kind of concentration really disadvantages the communities that are hosting these facilities and oftentimes did not ask to get them.

There's another recommendation where we talk about the question of examining health effects and looking at comparative health disparities within a specific community or neighborhood when a facility is being proposed. The idea is that if a community is already sick and overburdened with toxic facilities, it does not make a whole lot of common sense to add an additional facility.

One example is in Port Arthur, Texas. There's a neighborhood there, a predominantly black neighborhood, that has all kinds of facilities -- we're talking incinerators, petrochemical plants, all kinds of refineries, you name it. And recently, there was an incinerator that was put there to burn VX nerve gas wastewater. It's like giving a permit to blow smoke in a roomful of asthmatics!

There should be a trigger that would say, "This community has had enough, and it's already sick, and it does not need any more environmental stressors and polluting facilities placed in this area."

Now that's not rocket science.

TRACY: You've said that this type of environmental racism even affects schools.

DR. BULLARD: Schools are not exempt from what we're talking about. If a neighborhood is saturated with landfills, incinerators, toxic waste sites, and many of our schools are in those neighborhoods, they're affected, too. If you look at schools across the US located within a one-mile radius of these facilities, you're talking about a lot of school children that are located in areas with heavy industrial pollutions.

It's important that we not think of children as little adults. We have to think of them as very sensitive populations that need special protection. We want our children to play outside and get physical activity and not be obese, but we don't want our children to be outside on dirty air days or in parks built on dump sites. It's not safe.

TRACY: I remember reading that the Love Canal neighborhood, which was built on top of a toxic waste site. That really started affecting people in the 1970s, including an incident when toxic waste barrels erupted in the schoolyard. Does that kind of thing still happen?

DR. BULLARD: It still happens. As a matter of fact, there are a number of similar cases that we've worked with. There was a school in Los Angeles that was built on top of an old toxic waste site. The Agriculture Street Landfill community in New Orleans, for example, had an $8 million elementary school built on top of an old garbage dump. The school had to be closed, and people who lived nearby were fighting for relocation. They finally won in January 2006, but they were relocated in August of 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, unfortunately.

Almost every school district in the country will be looking for land on which to site new schools, and it's important that we not make the mistakes of the past.

TRACY: We've talked about asthma rates a bit. What else happens to communities when they have clusters of toxic facilities around them?

DR. BULLARD: What also happens is that the only industries that these communities can often attract are other dirty industries. The clustering effect, the piling on effect, the saturation effect, leads to the fact that these are not areas where you will get a lot of clean industry and clean jobs coming in. What you get are basically more and more dirty industries -- and they often are not even employing the local residents living nearby.

Residents are always given this promise of jobs: "Well, if we locate this factory here, you'll get jobs." The promise of a job is very different from a job. And too often, many of the fence line residents get promises and not jobs.

Some people say that the least that these companies can do is hire local residents when they put a toxic facility in their neighborhood. If you're living on the fence line, you could walk to work. But in many cases, these jobs are not for the residents at the fence line or nearby; they are for people who commute in with their cars, and they drive in and out, causing more pollution.

So the people who are at the fence line are left with poverty, pollution, and too often, illnesses. That's a triple whammy that needs to be reversed.

TRACY: Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty said things really haven't changed in the last two decades when it comes to putting toxic facilities in communities of color. What gives you hope in the face of these findings?

DR. BULLARD: It's an uphill struggle, but I'm optimistic that we will be able to continue to expand the issues. A lot of these things just didn't happen until the last 20 or 30 years. A lot of this has been building for centuries.

First, what gives me hope is the fact that we have more people working on these issues -- we have young students, and we have universities that have environmental justice courses in law school and medical school and planning school.

There are other areas where we've made improvements in terms of getting more grassroots people on board commissions to identify other problems that may not necessarily be related to a landfill or hazardous waste site. They've expanded the whole idea of environmental justice to include access to transportation, access to full-service grocery stores, equity in how we plan our cities and our metropolitan regions. We have broadened the definition of what environmental justice means for policy makers.

And there's the fact that we've gotten all kinds of organizations -- faith-based, environmental groups, mainstream as well as health groups -- to say with us that the environment should be nurturing, and we should be able to get sustenance from the environment; it should not be something that's harmful.

So we've changed the definition, and we've gotten more and more people involved.

The other thing is that we've been able to get environmental justice on the international radar. These issues are global and they're international, such as when we're talking about the issue of climate and climate justice. The same people who are disproportionately and adversely impacted in terms of environmental problems -- generally people of color -- are impacted negatively and disproportionately when we talk about climate issues.

Environmental justice is now a concept and paradigm that is not just confined to rural places in southern US; it's international.

TRACY: You recently testified before Congress on environmental justice issues. How did that come about?

DR. BULLARD: The four principal authors of the TWART report, myself and Drs. Paul Mohai (University of Michigan), Robin Saha (University of Montana), and Beverly Wright (Dillard University of Louisiana), circulated a letter with the ten policy recommendations that were pulled out of the report. We sent it out to civil rights groups, environmental groups, health groups, and others, and we received the support of over 100 organizations representing millions of people around the country. We took that letter to the Senate, and as a result, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health, held the first- ever Senate hearing on environmental justice on July 25 of this year.

Tracy: You've been working on these issues for more than a quarter of a century, and this is your first hearing?

DR. BULLARD: (laughs) This is the first Senate hearing.

I think what that says is that we have to do a better job in getting the information out, in informing our elected officials about what's going on. In my testimony, I presented a lot of the materials and findings and recommendations from the report, and really tried to challenge the Senate Subcommittee and the Congress to strengthen and to put back in place many of the environmental justice regulations and initiatives that are being stripped and rolled back.

Like the enforcement and implementation of the Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice, which required the EPA to take the lead in addressing environmental justice issues. There have been recent attempts to redefine environmental justice and not deal with racial disparities and income -- or to basically strip race and income out of the Executive Order. That was not the intent of the order when President Clinton signed it in 1994.

There have been reports from the General Accounting Office and two reports from the EPA's Inspector General (one in 2004 and one in 2006) that basically say EPA has done a lousy job of implementing the Executive Order since it was signed 13 years ago. We're asking Congress to put the rules back in place and to strengthen what we have, and also move to the next level.

TRACY: What kind of reactions did you get after your testimony?

DR. BULLARD: After a number of us testified, we did get some commitments from the Subcommittee to move forward and get the EPA to implement the recommendations the Inspector General made in those two reports, regarding strengthening the Executive Order. If those recommendations were carried out, we would be well on our way to addressing a lot of the environmental injustice problems in communities of color and low-income communities around the country.

The Subcommittee did press the EPA on why it has taken so long to get things moving and why they've really dragged their feet. I think they really scolded the agency for not doing what it needs to do. And we want the EPA and the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and the Interior -- all those 12 or 13 agencies that come under the Executive Order -- to really get back on track. The problem is that when EPA backed off, especially in the last six years, that's given the wrong signal to a lot of these other federal agencies because they take their cues from EPA.

TRACY: Do you think they'll start acting, or do you think it'll take until after the next election?

DR. BULLARD: I would hope that the Congress would begin to move on some of these environmental justice initiatives -- there are a number of bills currently moving through Congress. I'm hopeful.

But it's all about getting communities around the country energized and mobilized to say we can't wait another 12 years. We're talking about communities that are really hurting, especially the most vulnerable parts of our communities, low-income children and elderly people.

It should not be a Democratic or Republican issue. This is an issue of health and equal protection of our environment and our communities.

TRACY: What do you recommend people do if they live in a community that's targeted?

DR. BULLARD: It's important that people identify the strengths in their community, especially the organizations. Many times, low-income communities and communities of color do not have environmental organizations operating within, but they do have church-based groups, neighborhood groups, civic groups, and homeowners associations that can do this work.

They need to organize and mobilize and get themselves educated on what the impacts of these toxic facilities are. Get the permit applications and read them and see exactly what kind of thing is being proposed. Then, access databases like the toxic release inventory database and see what the effects of that facility could be, so they can tell people about them.

We have more resources available to these communities today than we did 20-30 years ago -- there are all kinds of environmental justice organizations around the country and environmental centers based at local universities that can assist.

There's no substitute for organization and education. No substitute at all.

Also, it's important for everyone to understand that we are all in this together, even though most Americans don't live next to a toxic waste site or next to a freeway or polluting facility. It affects everybody, because when illnesses rise and health care goes up, everybody will have to pay.

If we are to be a just society, that means we all should share in trying to address these problems that may somehow hit some populations harder. In the end, we all will pay. There are some people saying, "Well, I don't drive, I don't pollute." But if you breathe the air, you are impacted.

So it becomes our civic duty to say, "If we really are to become a safer, more secure, and healthier society, we all have to contribute to solutions, not just talk about the problems."

For more information about Dr. Bullard's work, visit Clark Atlanta University's Environmental Justice Resource Center online at www.ejrc.cau.edu.

The Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007 study can be found online at www.ejrc.cau.edu/TWARTFinal.htm.

Copyright 2004-2005 Co-op America Foundation, Inc.


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From: Environmental Science & Technology
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By Kellyn Betts

The largest study yet of PBDEs [polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a group of toxic chemicals used in flame retardants] in U.S. infants confirms that American babies' concentrations of the persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic compounds are at least twice as high as those of European infants. The data also reaffirm other trends observed in studies of adults.

The study (PDF: 711KB), posted online in Environmental Health Perspectives on September 27, is also significant because of its demographics. The research team led by Lynn Goldman of Johns Hopkins University examined 297 infants, of whom 70% were African-American, 21% Caucasian, and 8% Asian. Two-thirds of the mothers were unmarried, nearly 30% did not complete high school, and almost half were overweight or obese before their pregnancies. "To date, there is little data with regards to exposures [to PBDEs of infants] in inner- city, largely African-American populations," the researchers write.

The main PBDE compounds in the infants' umbilical-cord blood were associated with the Penta and Octa formulations, which have not been used in new U.S. products since the end of 2004. The samples were collected from November 2004 to March 2005.

Studies show that PBDEs are unlike most other persistent organic pollutants in that a small percentage of people harbor concentrations significantly higher than the median. Infants in the Johns Hopkins study also followed this pattern; 5% of the population was born with overall PBDE concentrations that were three to five times higher than the median.

Younger mothers in the study tended to have higher PBDE levels, a result similar to that reported in another recent study (J. Occup. Environ. Med. 2005, 47, 199-211).

The Baltimore babies' levels of BDE-209, the main compound in the Deca formulation currently used in the U.S. and Europe, were below the level of detection. In contrast, in a recent study of Spanish infants, BDE-209 was the dominant congener in some tissues (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2007, DOI 10.1021/es0714484).

Copyright 2007 American Chemical Society

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From: Japan Times
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By Kyodo News

A toxic substance similar to the pollutant polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, has been found in the breast milk of Japanese women, according to a group of Japan-based scientists.

On Tuesday [Sept. 4], the group announced at a session of the ongoing international conference Dioxin 2007 in Tokyo its discovery of polychlorinated/brominated coplanar biphenyls, or Co-PXBs, in mothers' milk. The contaminants are thought linked to the eating of fish.

The group is urging authorities to add Co-PXBs to a list of toxic substances being monitored under a law aimed at controlling dioxin. The toxicity level of Co-PXBs is apparently similar to that of PCBs.

The group warned that the adverse effects of Co-PXBs on babies have possibly been underestimated.

"It was the first discovery of the contamination of humans by these materials," said Soichi Ota, associate professor of medicine at Setsunan University in Osaka Prefecture, who led the group.

"One of the causes of the human contamination is believed to be the intake of fish, as it has been confirmed Co-PXBs contaminated fish in many regions in the world," Ota said.

"It will be an urgent task to assess the effect on human beings and determine the origin," Ota said, referring to the possibility that Co- PXBs may also originate from incinerated garbage or factory wastewater.

The group of scientists said they detected 0.42-1.41 picograms of Co- PXBs per gram of fat in the breast milk of seven women in Japan aged 21-33.

Co-PXBs were also found in meat and fish from regions around Japan as well as minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean.

(C) All rights reserved


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From: New Scientist
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By Dan Cho, Washington, DC

A futuristic scheme to collect solar energy on satellites and beam it to Earth has gained a large supporter in the US military. A report 3.6 Mbyte PDF released yesterday by the National Security Space Office recommends that the US government sponsor projects to demonstrate solar-power- generating satellites and provide financial incentives for further private development of the technology.

Space-based solar power would use kilometre-sized solar panel arrays to gather sunlight in orbit. It would then beam power down to Earth in the form of microwaves or a laser, which would be collected in antennas on the ground and then converted to electricity. Unlike solar panels based on the ground, solar power satellites placed in geostationary orbit above the Earth could operate at night and during cloudy conditions.

"We think we can be a catalyst to make this technology advance," said US Marine Corps lieutenant colonel Paul Damphousse of the NSSO at a press conference yesterday in Washington, DC, US.

The NSSO report 3.6 Mbyte PDF recommends that the US government spend $10 billion over the next 10 years to build a test satellite capable of beaming 10 megawatts of electric power down to Earth.

Abundant energy source

At the same press conference, over a dozen space advocacy groups announced a new alliance to promote space solar power -- the Space Solar Alliance for Future Energy. These supporters of space-based solar power say the technology has the potential to provide more energy than fossil fuels, wind and nuclear power combined.

The NSSO report says that solar-power-generating satellites could also solve supply problems in distant places such as Iraq, where fuel is currently trucked along in dangerous convoys and the cost of electricity for some bases can exceed $1 per kilowatt-hour -- about 10 times what it costs in the US. The report also touts the technology's potential to provide a clean, abundant energy source and reduce global competition for oil.

Space-based solar power was first proposed in 1968 by Peter Glaser, an engineer at the consulting firm Arthur D. Little. Early designs involved solar panel arrays of 50 square kilometres, required hundreds of astronauts in space to build and were estimated to cost as much as $1 trillion, says John Mankins, a former NASA research manager and active promoter of space solar power.

Economically unfeasible

After conducting preliminary research, the US abandoned the idea as economically unfeasible in the 1970s. Since that time, says Mankins, advances in photovoltaics, electronics and robotics will bring the size and cost down to a fraction of the original schemes, and eliminate the need for humans to assemble the equipment in space.

Several technical challenges remain to be overcome, including the development of lower-cost space launches. A satellite capable of supplying the same amount of electric power as a modern fossil-fuel plant would have a mass of about 3000 tonnes -- more than 10 times that of the International Space Station. Sending that material into orbit would require more than a hundred rocket launches. The US currently launches fewer than 15 rockets each year.

In spite of these challenges, the NSSO and its supporters say that no fundamental scientific breakthroughs are necessary to proceed with the idea and that space-based solar power will be practical in the next few decades.

"There are no technology hurdles that are show stoppers right now," said Damphousse.

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From: Nature
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Italy's anti-mafia squad has launched an official investigation into allegations of illegal trafficking and disposal of nuclear waste -- as well as clandestine production of plutonium -- by managers of the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment (ENEA).

Eight former employees of ENEA's Trisaia research centre in the southern town of Rotondella, and two alleged members of the 'Ndrangheta mafia, are under suspicion following a decade-long inquiry. Trisaia is now a multidisciplinary research centre, but in the 1970s and 1980s it specialized in nuclear waste processing and storage.

A mafia informer told the anti-mafia bureau in Potenza that an ENEA manager paid the 'Ndrangheta mafia to get rid of 600 drums of nuclear and toxic waste from Germany, France, Switzerland and the United States in 1987. He claimed that the mafia disposed of the radioactive material at unauthorized, non-secure sites in southern Italy, Somalia and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Investigators also suspect that the centre illegally produced plutonium during the 1980s, which the mafia allegedly sent to Iraq. ENEA denies all charges and says that the centre did not have the capacity to produce plutonium. "But we will collaborate fully with the investigations to dispel any suspicion of misconduct," says its president, Luigi Paganetto.

Copyright 2007 Nature Publishing Group

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