Current Hot Topics

Congress is attacking the health of the environment.

The non profit watchdog organization, Beyond Pesticides, published two reports (July 29 and September 19, 2011) detailing the startling actions by Congress to stifle the regulation of toxics by the EPA. House bills 2018 and 2584 would emasculate EPA’s ability to enforce pollution standards needed to insure people’s health. Altogether there have been 50 bills that would dismantle the Clean Water Act and defund or repeal clean energy initiatives. The bills would ban EPA from all work to reduce the climate change pollution of power plants, refineries, and other major polluters for one year, and allow major sources of carbon pollution (i.e., coal-fired power plants) to be built without any controls. They would also prohibit EPA from holding hardrock mining companies responsible for footing the bills of costly environmental cleanups at their sites.  The taxpayers would be responsible!

EPA caves in to big agriculture

In 2007 the EPA approved the use of methyl iodide as a fumigant for crops, to replace methyl bromide because the latter destroys the ozone layer, whereas methyl iodide does not. California (the biggest strawberry producer) approved its use, in contrast to New York and Washington states that banned it.

Under intense pressure from scientists, medical people, and non profit organizations, the EPA opened the case to public comment. Extensive scientific analyses have been conducted on methyl iodide and scientists have overwhelmingly concluded that the adverse health and environmental risks to public, worker, and environmental safety associated with this chemical are significant. Methyl iodide is a known carcinogen, neurotoxin, and mutagen. According to the chair of the Scientific Review Committee, Dr. John Froines, “there is no safe level of use for methyl iodide.”

Consider the issue from the viewpoint of the field workers who have to harvest the strawberries. In the past, methyl bromide (gas) was injected into the soil under plastic sheet coverings to kill fungi (and incidentally, all other life forms), and within hours the gas dissipated into the atmosphere. By contrast, methyl iodide is a liquid with a boiling point of 109 degrees F, hence it will remain in the soil for much longer than methyl bromide, slowly evaporating and leaking out, posing a dangerous health risk to field workers.

There is hope: the Safe Chemicals Act

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found more than 212 industrial chemicals in the bodies of most Americans, including at least six known carcinogens and dozens that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and other adverse health effects. But the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), which governs these chemicals, has not been amended since its adoption more than three decades ago. TSCA placed severe burdens on EPA’s ability to require safety testing or regulate a chemical – burdens so onerous that over the past 30 years EPA has required testing for only about 200 chemicals out of more than 80,000 on the EPA’s inventory, and has regulated only limited uses of five chemicals. Truly an appalling situation! It is no wonder that we are assaulted by an armada of toxic chemicals in our daily lives.

The Safe Chemicals Act, a bill authored by Senator Lautenberg and now in committee, would correct core failings of TSCA, requiring EPA to evaluate the safety of chemicals based on the best available science. It would for example:

  • Ensure that EPA has information on the health risks of all chemicals
  • Require EPA to prioritize chemicals based on risk and expedite action to reduce  risk from chemicals of highest concern
  • Evaluate chemicals that could pose unacceptable risk
  • Promote safer alternatives to chemicals of concern.

If you care for the health of people everywhere, write or phone your senators and urge the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act out of committee and onto the floor of the Senate.


About donlouis

The author has long had a keen interest in staying healthy and fit, and in doing whatever I can to keep the natural environment unpolluted and a healthy space for people and all animals. As a former Board Member of a municipal water district, I regularly had to deal with the issue of water quality. I first became aware of radiation hazards from toxic materials while working on uranium for nuclear reactors. During the 1960s I was tuned into the global hazard from Strontium 90 raining down from atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs. While working in the chemical industry in later years I became aware of the many forms of chemical contaminants entering the environment every day, and resolved to do something about it. I am able to make sense out of the voluminous descriptions of common toxic chemical because of my training in chemistry, with a Ph.D. degree and several decades of research and development work in the chemical industry. My training and experience enables me to present to readers reliable and current information on the topic of chemical hazards in the environment, and their threats to human health. All my life I have loved hiking and camping in nature. Skiing, river kayaking, and tennis have been my favorite physical activities. Nature photography is my artistic passion.
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