Tag Archives: epa

Review of EPA data leads USA Today to towns with contaminated water

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Ryan Garza, USA Today NetworkLee Anne Walters of Flint, Mich., pours gallons of bottled water into a bucket and pan to warm up for her twin sons to take a weekly bath. Her son, Gavin, 4, looking on, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning. The photograph ran as part of USA Today’s investigation into lead levels nationwide, beyond the crisis in the Detroit suburb.

Photo: Ryan Garza, USA Today NetworkLee Anne Walters of Flint, Mich., pours gallons of bottled water into a bucket and pan to warm up for her twin sons to take a weekly bath. Her son, Gavin, 4, looking on, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning. The photograph ran as part of USA Today’s investigation into lead levels nationwide, beyond the crisis in the Detroit suburb.

Yes, database websites can seem clunky, and government data can seem hopelessly riddled with errors.

But searching, downloading and analyzing it – specifically EPA records on drinking water – led USA Today to a blockbuster front-page story that not only drew attention to the threat of lead contamination beyond the crisis in Flint, Mich., but also stirred residents to action.

Mark Nichols, who shared the byline with Alison Young at the paper, was the force behind the number crunching. Continue reading

Almost 40 years later, fallout from Mich. contamination disaster continues

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Four decades after polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), a dense, flame-retardant toxin, was accidentally dumped into a Michigan cattle feed supplement, Detroit Free Press reporter Robin Erb looks into the aftermath of what she calls “one of the most catastrophic agricultural disasters in U.S. history.”

Today, despite decades of cleanup efforts, the contamination lives on in the sites of mass burials of livestock who were exposed to the toxin and thus slaughtered and, as Erb writes in the second part of the series, in the massive superfund site that has grown up around the property of the company responsible for the fatal mixup in the first place. Continue reading

Your money or your life? Missouri town had to choose

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

On KBIA public radio, Jacob Fenston tells the story of a Missouri town faced with a brutal, impossibly high-stakes catch-22. For decades, thanks to pervasive pollution, the Doe Run lead smelter was slowly destroying Herculaneum physically. At the same time, that lead plant, the continent’s largest, was the only thing keeping Herculaneum afloat economically. Residents had to choose: fight the polluter and take their own livelihoods down in the process, or live with the pervasive, toxic lead dust and its consequences. Continue reading

Blame trucks, not just factories, for industrial pollution in Seattle

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Spurred by a few recent studies, InvestigateWest’s Robert McClure and KCTS-Seattle’s Jenny Cunningham launched an investigation to figure out just what has made Puget Sound’s air some of the most toxic in the nation. Their work centered on the heavily polluted, industrial Seattle neighborhoods of Georgetown and South Park, where residents “face an onslaught of toxic airborne pollutants that according to a recent study exceed regulatory caution levels by up to 30 times.”

Where is this toxic air coming from? The answer may surprise you. The majority of the pollution, government regulators and scientists say, comes not from the large concentration of industrial facilities in South Park and Georgetown. Rather, it’s from the cars, trucks and buses whizzing by these neighborhoods – especially those with diesel engines. Fumes from ships in Elliott Bay and the Duwamish, as well as diesel-powered equipment at the Port of Seattle and elsewhere, add to the toxic mix. In the fall and winter, wood smoke from fireplaces becomes a significant contributor.

The problems here have implications in other neighborhoods, too: Anywhere people are living close to major roadways, they’re likely breathing unhealthy air, studies show. Anyone living within about 200 yards of a major roadway is thought to be at increased risk, with the first 100 yards being the hottest pollution zone.

Watch the full episode. See more KCTS 9 Connects.

Reporters looking to localize the story will probably want to scroll first to the “The Effects” section, which gets into the practical science of how this sort of pollution takes its toll. You’ll probably also enjoy Cunningham’s sidebar on what she learned in reporting the piece (it’s at the bottom of the page). If you’re also looking to understand the regional and national regulatory structure which governs diesel and related emissions, the “Solutions” subheading is also worth a pit stop.

For more on the big picture issues impacting health in South Seattle, see Carol Smith’s recent piece on the related Superfund site.

EPA changes would improve public access to data

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

A recent OMB Watch story covers the EPA’s latest attempt to leverage the Toxic Substances Control Act to make it easier for the public to access chemical data and harder for manufacturers to hide health and safety related information behind the “trade secrets” label.

Fire and emergency response personnel practice techniques for hazardous materials containment and removal.

Fire and emergency response personnel practice techniques for hazardous materials containment and removal. (CDC photo)

The key is the expansion of the Inventory Update Reporting rule, which requires companies to report toxic substances over a certain weight threshold. According to OMB Watch, the Bush administration bumped this threshold from 10,000 to 25,000 pounds, and decreased reporting frequency from every four years to every five years.

The proposed rule lowers or eliminates thresholds for reporting and increases reporting frequency, moves that should provide the public with more information on more chemicals. The amount of a chemical manufactured at a facility in any given year fluctuates widely. … EPA’s proposed rule would require a manufacturer to submit information on a chemical if the volume exceeds the 25,000-pound threshold for any year since the previous submission. The agency is also proposing to return the reporting frequency to every four years rather than every five. Additionally, EPA is proposing requiring all reporters to submit data on the processing and use of the chemicals. The current program requires such reporting only for chemicals manufactured or imported over 300,000 pounds.

The manufacturers would use EPA-provided software to report their chemical inventory – currently, most manufacturers submit paper reports. The paper reports take years to process and the data-entry process introduces extra error into the system.

Another proposed change would require reporting of a number of valuable pieces of information, such as yearly production volumes, more specific chemical names and numbers to ensure the correct chemical substances are identified, and the approximate number of workers exposed to the chemicals.

Furthermore, manufacturers currently can label just about anything as “confidential business information,” the new rules would place annual limits on the practice and require manufacturers to justify any such designations.

The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote about the issue back in March and included a link to a report [PDF] from the EPA’s Inspector General, as well as other coverage.

Agenda indicates federal health priorities

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

This week, OMB Watch brought our attention to the recently released “Current Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions,” which serves as a sort of broad outline of the priorities of federal agencies.

It comes out twice a year, and OMB Watch found the latest edition to packed with health-related items from departments across the board. A few highlights, all summarized from the hard work of the folks at OMB Watch:

EPA Proposed labeling BPA and phthalates as “Chemicals of Concern” Proposed standards for “nanoscale materials” Updated air quality standards Department of Labor A prevention-oriented OSHA plan that would require employers to create and maintain plans to protect workers Proposal for limiting workers exposure to silica dust FDA For the first time, the FDA will begin asserting its newfound jurisdiction over tobacco.

OMB Watch points out that, while the agenda has not been a useful tool because agencies tend to miss the timelines, it “can be a useful planning and accountability tool to measure the Obama administration’s efforts to solve long-neglected health and safety problems.”