Tag Archives: epa

Agenda indicates federal health priorities

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.”

Sapien chronicles formaldehyde battle

At ProPublica, Joaquin Sapien tells the story of how Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter successfully obstructed the FDA’s attempts to get formaldehyde, which has been linked to leukemia, as a known carcinogen. Right now, it’s still listed as “probable.” The industry’s favorite tool, and the one Vitter employed for them in this case, was to force the EPA into conducting yet another costly, time-consuming study.

The EPA’s chemical risk assessments are crucial to protecting the public’s health because they are the government’s most comprehensive analysis of the dangers the chemicals present and are used as the scientific foundation for state and federal regulations. But it usually takes years or even decades to get an assessment done, or to revise one that is outdated. Often the industry spends millions on lobbying and on scientific studies that counter the government’s conclusions.

Sapien’s history of Sen. Vitter’s stonewalling, as well as his ties to the formadehyde industry, are an excellent example of just how difficult it has been for the EPA to upgrade key risk assessments.

Sapien’s story is well worth reading, but those looking for an overview can also refer to his excellent timeline, that goes from the EPA’s first health assessment in 1989 to Vitter’s demand that an assessment of the chemical be reviewed by the National Academy and his subsequent block of an EPA nomination late last year.

Group’s tours highlight pollution in West Oakland

California Watch’s Ali Winston writes that to increase awareness of both legacy and ongoing sources of toxins in their venerable neighborhood, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project is offering “toxic tours” of the area’s most polluted locations.

oaklandCrane unloading shipping containers in West Oakland. Photo by oso via Flickr.

The tour focuses on the neighborhood’s industrial legacy and includes West Oakland’s own federal Superfund site, where a chemical company “left a deposit of cancer-causing vinyl chloride in the soil and groundwater” as well as the largest recycling smelter west of the Mississippi and the docks where lines of cargo ships and big rigs sit idling every weekday as they wait for containers to be loaded and unloaded.


In their series “Shortened Lives,” Suzanne Bohan and Sandy Kleffman profiled people from different (though nearby) ZIP codes, finding wide disparities in their expected life spans, based on where they live, their social status and the toll of chronic stress. The series explains the effect these disparities have on health care costs, as well as how they are caused and how they might be addressed. Bohan and Kleffman wrote about the project in a piece for AHCJ members and we have included additional resources for those interested in exploring disparities in health care in their own communities.

AP finds contaminated water in schools

The Associated Press has analyzed a decade of Environmental Protection Agency data and found that tests at thousands of American schools had shown the drinking water to be contaminated, with the water at some schools hitting unsafe levels in as many as 20 separate inspections. As part of the investigation, the AP provided an interactive map with which you can search and sort violations in your area. Although some children have become sick and some schools have resorted to bottled water, the AP found that the contaminants are generally not present in levels that would harm adults.

(Hat tip to Poynter’s Al Tompkins)


NYT’s Toxic Waters series takes on ag polluters

In the latest installment of the Toxic Waters series, The New York Times‘ Charles Duhigg turns his investigative spotlight toward agricultural runoff and the havoc it has wrought upon water supplies around the country.

Photo by Kordite via Flickr

According to Duhigg, “runoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources” and regulation and enforcement are instead left up to local authorities, who often lack the necessary resources.

Duhigg makes the scope of the contamination clear:

“Agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the E.P.A. An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.”

In the end, Duhigg seems to indicate that the only real hope of reigning in this contamination lies in overcoming powerful, entrenched ag interests and giving the E.P.A. broader powers to regulate agriculture.