Tag Archives: Toxics

Take the Money and Run – Oil Interests File Lawsuit to Exempt Themselves from Toxics Cleanup Initiative 97

The Automotive United Trades Organization in Washington State is just the latest example of greed and shortsightedness by businesses wanting to make money but not pay the environmental costs to society of their doing business.

This week they filed a lawsuit to try to exempt themselves from the provisions of Initiative 97 – a popular Washington State initiative overwhelmingly passed by voters to cleanup toxic waste.

Former State Senator and also former Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge is the attorney for the Automotive United Trade Association. It seems Talmadge is also willing to take the money as their attorney.
This is disappointing to say the least as Talmadge supported the original legislation, Initiative 97,  and had courted progressives and liberals in his campaigns.

Initiative 97 was passed by Washington voters in 1988. The vote was a 2 step process, Voters approved the measure with an 84% yes vote, choosing the citizens alternative over a legislative alternative. The law has been in effect for 20 years.  Citizens collected signatures to place I-97 on the ballot. The Legislature came up with an alternative that the oil industry supported because they would have had to pay less.  Voters approved the measure with an 84% yes vote, then choose the  citizens alternative over a legislative alternative by a 56% yes vote.

The current fight has come about because of efforts to increase the toxics tax to fund stormwater cleanup projects across the state.The bill is still under consideration in the special session. Oil industry officials are strongly opposing passing legislation to increase the toxics tax and threatened to take the issue to court if the Legislature increased it.

Now that the legislature is in Special Session, the oil industry  has decided not to wait to see what the Legislature does but has gone ahead with the suit anyway. The suit has been filed by the independent gas stations association called AUTO. The action ends a 20 agreement by oil interests not to challenge the        bill,  which they agreed to when the legislature in 1988 put the industry alternative on the ballot  along with the citizen’s version.

Currently before the legislature  this year are two bills:

HB 3181Concerning the clean water act of 2010 funding cleanup of water pollution and other programs necessary for the health and well-being of Washington citizens through an increase in the tax on hazardous substances has 35 sponsors. The substitute house bill 3181 has been watered  down such that  it  increases the 0.7 percent Hazardous Substance Tax (HST) rate by an additional 0.1 percent annually until the additional tax rate is 0.4 percent.”  The original bill proposed increasing the tax to 2%. The bill still has not been acted on.

SB 6851 has  24 sponsors and  has a substitute which  proposes that
Beginning July 1, 2010, the Hazardous Substance Tax rate is increased by 0.5 percent (combined tax rate is 1.2 percent).
The additional taxes are deposited as follows:
Ÿ 85 percent into a new Storm Water Account; and
    15 percent into the Motor Vehicle Account.
A new Storm Water Account is created in the state treasury. DOE is responsible for distributing funds in the account to local governments as grants.
Revenues deposited into the Motor Vehicle Account must be used to fund activities or projects that address contamination of storm water through transportation infrastructure.
Revenues may not be used for construction of storm water facilities associated with new road construction”

The Senate also has taken no further action on this bill. Legislators should act to approve this legislation

The Environmental Priorites Coalition has listed passage of legislation to cleanup polluted storm water runoff as one of their three top priorities. They have labeled this legislation as the Clean Water Act of 2010.

The  toxics  tax has been used to clean up toxic substances caused by the use of toxic chemicals. Polluters should pay for the costs of toxic cleanup

Stormwater runoff is heavily polluted by petroleum products like oil and gasoline leaking from cars and trucks as well as pesticides and herbicides.

The oil industry is once again just trying to take the profits from the sale of gasoline and other oil products and take no responsibility for the environmental and health costs caused by the use of these chemicals. They would rather have taxpayers pay all the cleanup costs. The courts need to uphold the toxic cleanup tax and the Legislature is justified to use this tax to cleanup stormwater runoff. Legislators should act to approve this legislation now that would increase the tax.

(Note – In 1987 I was the Campaign Director for Initiative 97 and coordinated the signature drive by citizens to collect the signatures that qualified I-97. Steve Zemke)

Bush Blowing Up God’s Mountains for Black Gold

The Bush Republican Administration, beholden to corporate interests over the public interest, has issued draft revisions to surface mining law to increase blowing up mountain tops to strip mine more coal. The draft rules authorize disposal of mine waste in valleys and streams, polluting water downstream, including underground aquifers, with toxic chemicals.

The Bill Moyers Journal last Friday did a special on this issue, covering the action by Evangelical Christians in West Virginia who have organized under the banner of Christians for the Mountains. They are fighting to protect their families, children and communities from rampant air and water pollution, including their drinking water.

Moyers quotes one member of Christians for the Mountains, Judy Bonds:”

There are three million pounds of explosives used a day just in West Virginia to blow the tops off these mountains. Three million pounds a day…To knock fly rock everywhere, to send silica and coal dust and rock dust and fly rock in our homes. I wonder which one of these mountains do you think God will come down here and blow up? Which one of these hollers do you think Jesus would store waste in? That’s a simple question. That’s all you have to ask.”

As John M Broder for the New York Times writes:

“Mountaintop mining is the most common strip mining in central Appalachia, and the most destructive. Ridge tops are flattened with bulldozers and dynamite, clearing all vegetation and, at times, forcing residents to move.
The coal seams are scraped with gigantic machines called draglines. The law requires mining companies to reclaim and replant the land, but the process always produces excess debris. Roughly half the coal in West Virginia is from mountaintop mining …”

The industry political connection, Broder says came about as follows:

“The Clinton administration began moving in 1998 to tighten enforcement of the stream rule, but the clock ran out before it could enact new regulations. The Bush administration has been much friendlier to mining interests, which have been reliable contributors to the Republican Party, and has worked on the new rule change since 2001.

The early stages of the revision process were supported by J. Stephen Griles, a former industry lobbyist who was the deputy interior secretary from 2001 to 2004. Mr. Griles had been deputy director of the Office of Surface Mining in the Reagan administration and is knowledgeable about the issues and generally supports the industry.

In June, Mr. Griles was sentenced to 10 months in prison and three years’ probation for lying to a Senate committee about his ties to Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the heart of a corruption scandal who is now in prison.”

Broder notes that the stream rule referred to is a critical issue:

The rule, which would apply to waste from both types of mines, is known as the stream buffer zone rule. First adopted in 1983, it forbids virtually all mining within 100 feet of a river or stream. …

The Army Corps of Engineers, state mining authorities and local courts have read the rule liberally, allowing extensive mountaintop mining and dumping of debris in coal-rich regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. From 1985 to 2001, 724 miles of streams were buried under mining waste, according to the environmental impact statement accompanying the new rule. If current practices continue, another 724 river miles will be buried by 2018, the report says.

You can get a lot more information on this issue by going to the webpage set up by the Bill Moyers Journal. Go to references and reading.

You can read and give your comments on the proposed rule and draft Environmental Impact Statement by going to the website for the US Office of Surface Mining in the Interior Department. There is a 60 day comment period.

The glaring loopholes in this rule are obvious. Their August 24, 2007 press release says:

“All mining activities must still avoid increases in sedimentation and protect fish and wildlife and related environmental values “to the extent possible” using the “best technology currently available.” and “use the most environmentally protective alternative or explain why that alternative is not possible

These rules really set no real conditions at all with such vague language. It’s totally up to those approving the permits. If you have mining industry people running the program as Bush currently does, then getting a permit really means little or nothing.

Got Microwave Popcorn? Got Bronchiolitis Obliterans? Got Milk?

Workers at popcorn plants exposed to diacetyl have developed a rare lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans. This has been investigated since 2001 yet the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has not acted to protect workers health by coming up with workplace exposure regulations.

Now this week two cases have emerged of people developing “popcorn workers lung” as it is sometimes called. It can result in the need to have a lung transplant or death. One case was reported by a pulmonary specialist at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver of a 10 year twice a day microwave popcorn eater. The other potential case was of a son of a popcorn worker who received a huge amount of microwave popcorn from his job.

After years of inaction, including secretly seeing the results of an EPA microwave popcorn study last year, the popcorn industry is stampeding to the exits. Last week Weaver Popcorn Company of Indianapolis, Indiana announced that it was removing diacetyl, the suspected toxic ingredient, from microwave popcorn. Yesterday three more companies claim they will be jumping ship. ConAgra Foods Inc, General Mills, and American Popcorn Company said they would be removing diacetyl from their popcorn.

Last week I posted on this issue – “The Great Bush Toxic Popcorn Scandal” I noticed soon afterwards that my site , MajorityRulesBlog, had been visited by someone from ConAgra . If you Google on microwave popcorn and diacetyl you will see there is a lot of web activity on this issue.

Diacetyl is not just in popcorn but actually occurs in some food naturally, like milk and wine. The Dairy Industry is concerned of course but their website actually raised more questions.

The IDFA or International Daisry Foods Association notes that

“…diacetyl occurs naturally in some dairy products, and consumers may not realize that eating products with diacetyl poses no health risks. The health risk is associated with inhaling diacetyl that has been heated to temperatures over 100 degrees.

“Because of the nature of our products, dairy foods that contain diacetyl do not present a consumer or worker safety concern,” said Clay Detlefsen, IDFA vice president. “At colder temperatures, diacetyl attaches to the water molecules in dairy foods and never volatilizes or reaches the air.”

When used as artificial butter flavoring, diacetyl may be hazardous when heated and inhaled over a long period — such as in the production of microwave popcorn and some other heated food products. Some workers in factories that make the artificial flavoring have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterns, also known as “popcorn workers lung,” which causes serious respiratory problems…

Diacetyl also occurs naturally in wine, particularly chardonnay, and is used as an additive in many baked goods, candies and snack foods as well as in some dairy products.”

Several additional questions arise. What other foods, besides popcorn, contain diacetyl and in what amounts? And what is the workplace exposure levels to diacetyl of workers that are preparing foods heated over 100 degrees – like baked goods? And what consumer danger is there from heating foods that contain diacetyl over 100 degrees like in a microwave or oven?

A just released study entitled “Bronchiolitis Obliterans Syndrome in Chemical Workers Producing Diacetyl for Food Flavorings” was published in the Sept 1, 2007 online edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study concludes: “Exposure to an agent during diacetyl production appears to be responsible for causing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome in chemical process operators, consistent with the suspected role of diacetyl in downstream food production.”

Enough scientific evidence is accumulating that there is reason to be concerned about diacetyl in all food products, not just popcorn, that are microwaved or heated to high enough temperatures to vaporize diacetyl. And worker safety levels need to be put in place in chemical plants producing the buttery flavoring diacetyl and well as plants adding the chemical as flavoring for food.

Since the Bush Administration seems not interested in tacking worker and consumer health and safety issues regarding diacetyl, action needs to take place in Congress to investigate and take action. Some states like California are already looking at acting sooner rather than later.

Contact your Representatives in Congress and urge them to take action.

Questions for the EPA

I sent the following e-mail to the Seattle District Office of the EPA today. I’ll let you know what they write back.

To the EPA:

I understand according to recent articles in the Seattle PI that the EPA completed a study last year on the release of diacetyl from microwave popcorn. Results were supposedly made available to the popcorn industry, yet not to the public.

Diacetyl is known to cause serious health problems to workers exposed to it. I would like to know what amounts I am being exposed to by microwaving popcorn.

Where and when or how can I receive a copy of this study or see a copy of this study?
When is this study going to be released?
Why has this study not been released yet?
What concerns does this study raise regarding the safety of microwave popcorn?
Have you alerted any other Federal Agencies, Congress or the President regarding the results of this study?

Steve Zemke

I did a quick keyword search of the EPA library system and it returned nothing for the words diacetyl and microwave popcorn. Try it yourself at EPA national online library system. For comparison, typing in pcb produced 786 documents and lead 3895.

Death by Plastic- Another Inconvenient Truth

The Seattle City Council last week held a hearing on its new plan to further reduce waste and promote more recycling and reuse. One of the proposals pushed by citizens was to ban Styrofoam use in the city. Another was to require stores to charge for plastic and paper bags to encourage people to bring their own reusable bag.

What the hell, one might ask. What’s the big deal about Styrofoam and plastics? Isn’t Styrofoam just a bunch of small beads of light weight inert plastic particles clumped together to form take out food containers and such? Who ever got killed or even maimed by a Styrofoam food container? Isn’t their benign nature one of the reasons they are used for food?

I remembered reading an article last year on the Internet about Styrofoam particles accumulating in the oceans and being ingested by zoo plankton. Concern was raised about the impact on the food chain.

I decided to look again to see if I could get more information. And now I am much more concerned. The first article I checked out was one that the Seattle Times printed last year in the Pacific Northwest Magazine. The article was entitled “Oceans of Waste – Waves of junk are flowing into the food chain”

It seems that all the plastic flowing into the sea has created a huge garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean , some 1000 miles across, twice the area of Texas and full of plastic. A researcher named Charles Moore described what he found:

In August 1998, Moore and his crew extensively sampled the surface waters of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre with a fine-mesh net resembling a manta ray. “What we saw amazed us,” Moore said in an analysis for the 2001 Marine Pollution Bulletin. “We were looking at a rich broth of minute sea creatures mixed with hundreds of colored plastic fragments — a plastic-plankton soup.” The team collected six times more plastic particles (by weight) than zooplankton.
Moore calls the plastic particles “poison pills” because they absorb and concentrate toxic chemicals, acting like sponges for DDT, PCBs and other oily pollutants. “It’s a serious situation,” he says, “when you’ve got a material that comes in all shapes and sizes, can mimic every type of food in the sea, and is capable of absorbing persistent pollutants that are endocrine disruptors. . . . One hundred thousand marine mammals a year are killed by entanglement (with plastic six-pack rings, fishing lines and nets); I’m not minimizing that. But the actual ability to wipe out the entire vertebrate kingdom in the ocean is with the plastic particles.”

In an interview in Satyya Magazine on line just last month Moore again emphasized the concern:

“…most of this garbage is salt-shaker stuff, the breakdown of plastic products. When we trawl a net, we get a kaleidoscope of different colored little plastic particles, mostly whites and blues. We think the reds are taken by birds and fish because they look like shrimp. And inside the garbage patch we’ve found over six times as much plastic as plankton. While outside it’s over three times as much plastic as plankton. So if you’re a fish trying to choose whether something is food or not, you can easily be confused. Gelatinous plankton feeders are heavily impacted by this. Then they’re eaten by fish, birds and turtles and so it accumulates up the food chain. And [the plastic particles are not] just indigestible, they are also a sponge for toxics, so it’s like poison pills being ingested.”

In a study Moore did for the state of California he found that some 80% of the plastic waste originated from the land. Only 10% originated from industrial sources. The rest is going into the ocean from household and municipal waste and storm runoff. Some 87 % of the particles going down rivers were less than 5mm in diameter.

In an August 6, 2006 LA Times article on our altered oceans they note that industrial spills of larger plastic pellets are also occurring.

“The pellets, like most types of plastic, are sponges for oily toxic chemicals that don’t readily dissolve in water, such as the pesticide DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Some pellets have been found to contain concentrations of these pollutants 1 million times greater than the levels found in surrounding water.

As they absorb toxic chemicals, they become poison pills. Wildlife researchers have found the pellets, which resemble fish eggs, in the bellies of fish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals.

Over time, plastic can break down into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually turning to powder and entering the ocean in microscopic fragments. Some plastic starts out as tiny particles, such as the abrasives in cleaning products that are washed down the sink, through sewage systems and out to sea.

The chemical components of plastics and common additives can harm animals and humans. Studies have linked the hormone-mimicking phthalates, used to soften plastic, to reduced testosterone and fertility in laboratory animals, and to subtle changes in the genitals of baby boys. Another additive, bisphenol A, used to make lightweight, heat-resistant baby bottles and microwave cookware, has been linked to prostate cancer.”

In another recent article entitled “Our oceans are turning into plastic … are we? ” for Best Life Magazine, the discussion continues, noting it’s not just the toxins that adhere to plastics in the ocean that enter our food chain that are of concern, it’s also the toxic chemicals that are used in making plastic that we are exposed to:

“…there’s growing—and disturbing—proof that we’re ingesting plastic toxins constantly, and that even slight doses of these substances can severely disrupt gene activity. “Every one of us has this huge body burden,” Moore says. “You could take your serum to a lab now, and they’d find at least 100 industrial chemicals that weren’t around in 1950.” The fact that these toxins don’t cause violent and immediate reactions does not mean they’re benign: Scientists are just beginning to research the long-term ways in which the chemicals used to make plastic interact with our own biochemistry.”

The health and environmental issues involved in plastic production, use and disposal are serious ones that we need to address. If you are likewise concerned I urge that you contact members of the Seattle City Council to urge that they take action to address the growing plastics problem.

Click here to contact Seattle City Council members

see also:

Residents urge council panel to ban Styrofoam, end proposed landfill, Seattle PI, 6/8/2007

Foam Free Seattle

Policy Options under consideration for possible waste reduction, City of Seattle – 5/21/2007

Forget plastic bags, foam cups if zero-waste strategy adopted, Seattle Times 6/8/2007