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Detroit incinerator often exceeds pollution limits, rarely fined by state

agosto 24, 2018

The mammoth trash incinerator located in Detroit’s midtown frequently exceeds pollution limits, but is seldom fined by the Department of Environmental Quality.

“It’s a stink, it’s a horrendous stink,” said Janas Dillon, who’s lived near the incinerator for years. “I’m hoping that they would close it down and move it to an isolated area.”

But since 1989, the incinerator has stood at the corner of Russell and Ferry, with school children, families and an entire community in the shadow of its smokestack.

“The smells can be really strong,” said Melisa Cooper Sargent, a director at the Ecology Center, an environmental group in Ann Arbor, and a nearby resident.

We met up with her at a neighborhood meeting where residents said their biggest concern isn’t just a smell.

“It’s the chemicals that are coming out,” she said. “Things like particulate matter, which are little tiny bits of debris, could be even metals that are so tiny that they could get into your bloodstream, get into your lungs. We know there’s a link with that and heart disease and asthma.”

In Detroit, asthma sends people to the hospital at a rate more than three-times the state average. And children can be hit the hardest

“Up and down the block, there’s children with asthma, “ said Kinga Osz-Kemp, who lives nearby. “My daughter has asthma for example. That worries me, and I always wonder if we didn’t live here, would she still have asthma?”

Chris Ethridge, a manager for the state’s air quality division, says the Department of Environmental Quality is aggressively policing facilities like Detroit Renewable Power’s incinerator.

“I can tell you we spend a lot of man hours doing complaint investigation, holding public hearings, interacting with the community,” he said.

A report released this year by the environmental group Breathe Free Detroit revealed that, between 2013 and 2017, the incinerator exceeded emission limits nearly 800 times.

But Detroit Renewable Power was cited for only 8 emission exceedances, for a total of $149,000.

The DEQ says they weren’t cited for more because they can only fine companies for emissions that occur at certain times of the day; for example, those that happen when the incinerator is starting up or shutting down are off the table.

But Ethridge admits that there are times where the facility could be fined, where the state choose not to.

Facilities aren’t allowed to pump out too much carbon monoxide for more than an hour. But the state chooses to only issue fines if the pollution lasts longer than 2 hours.

“There are violations you don’t fine for,” said Channel 7’s Ross Jones. “Why not fine them for every single violation?”

“That, again comes back to the guidance and procedures that we follow,” Ethridge responded.

“But you enforce the procedures. They’re your procedures,” Jones said.

“Right,” Ethridge said. “And I would say that we’ve been doing that.”

Detroit Renewable Energy COO Michael Marr says residents should view the facility as a benefit, employing 130 men and women and producing enough energy through steam to power 60,000 houses.

“We’re trying to be a better neighbor,” he said, stressing that the company is investing in its facility to lessen emission violations.

Residents will believe it when they see it, or in this case, smell it. A good start, they say, would be if the incinerator followed all the rules and the state enforced them.

“Can you please consider the fact that we have asthma up and down our block?” asked Osz-Kemp.  “Can you please keep them to stick to their limits of pollution?”

On Friday, the same day WXYZ spoke with the DEQ, the state announced it was fining the incinerator $55,000 for odor violations—something residents say is long overdue. But fines over emission violations—the ones that can harm our health—have been much smaller: only $3,000 since last year.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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Nitrogen pollution is a problem as big as climate change. Does science have a fix?

agosto 24, 2018
This post originally appeared on Grist.
Some think nitrogen pollution may be the greatest danger we face. The Stockholm Resilience Center, an organization that examines the largest threats to natural life-support systems, considers our overuse of nitrogen a more extreme risk to life on Earth than climate change.

But a new paper, published in the journal Nature this week, uncovered a way that we could keep millions of tons of nitrogen fertilizer from evaporating into  the atmosphere and running into the oceans.

Nitrogen is a basic building block of our food, so farmers spread tons of the stuff — in the form of manure, compost, and synthetic fertilizer — on their fields. But only half of this nitrogen makes it into plants. The rest gets chewed up by hungry soil bacteria and turned into a greenhouse gas 300 times worse than carbon dioxide, or gets washed into waterways where it fuels an explosion of algae growth that turns into lakes and oceans into gloopy, oxygen-starved dead zones.

It’s a massive problem that doesn’t get enough attention. If the Earth were a spaceship [eds note: isn’t it?], the control panel’s nitrogen light would be flashing red.

Humans accelerated the nitrogen disaster during the “green revolution” of the 1960s with the worldwide adoption of fertilizer-hungry crops. These replaced strains of wheat, rice, and other grains that grew more slowly and conservatively. Grain harvests more than doubled in two decades, but clouds of pollution spread into the air and water. It seemed like a vicious tradeoff.

But this new research suggests that crops can be nitrogen-hoarding and high-yielding at the same time. Before this study came out, it seemed like we had to choose between frugal crops that grow slowly and hoard nitrogen, and spendthrift crops that grow quickly require extravagant nitrogen.

What had looked like a trade-off may simply have been a mistake. The scientists identified a gene that inhibits nitrogen absorption in rice, which had become hyperactive in high-yielding strains, and figured out how to counteract it. This gene (metaphorically) shouts, “Don’t suck up nitrogen!” Through breeding, scientists were able to turn down the volume of this shout to a whisper. The result is high-yielding rice that needs less fertilizer.

A rice-breeding program to bring this breakthrough to farmers is underway in China, where nitrogen pollution is especially bad. It will take about five years before we really know if this works for farmers outside of greenhouses and test plots. If it does, it might change that nitrogen warning on spaceship earth’s dashboard from red to yellow.

Interaction between dioxin and HLA gene variant activates events associated with rheumatoid arthritis

agosto 24, 2018

It has been known for more than three decades that individuals with a particular version of a gene -; human leukocyte antigen (HLA) -; have an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

Meanwhile, in recent years, there has been a growing interest in the relationship between rheumatoid arthritis and environmental factors, such as cigarette smoking. In smokers who develop rheumatoid arthritis, the disease hits harder. Smokers who also carry the HLA gene variant have even higher likelihood to develop RA, and their disease is more severe. For these patients, this means not only greater pain and swelling, but also more severe bone destruction -; a lesser known and more dangerous aspect of the disease.

In a new mouse study, Michigan Medicine researchers probed the relationship between these two factors: the HLA gene and environmental pollutants.

“We found a particular enzyme that acts as a channel, or pathway, in the cell for a conversation between the two culprits, so they work together to do greater damage. Individually they are bad, but together, they’re worse,” says Joseph Holoshitz, M.D., professor of internal medicine and associate chief for research in the Division of Rheumatology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine.

The work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Factors at work

Cigarettes are one of the top environmental concerns with rheumatoid arthritis. But many other environmental pollutants can also help trigger the condition. For example, living in urban areas or near highways is linked with RA, regardless of cigarette use.

The chemical dioxin may be to blame. It’s the same contaminant that was found in soil near a Dow Chemical plant in Midland, Michigan. “One scenario is that air pollution from vehicles on highways produces dioxin or other pollutants. Dioxin is just one of many chemicals that similarly activate this pathway,” says Holoshitz.

Dioxin also has been shown to increase severity in an experimental model of another autoimmune disease, multiple sclerosis.

“We’ve shown in this study that the interaction between dioxin and the HLA gene variant activates events known to be associated with rheumatoid arthritis. And we’ve demonstrated quite convincingly that this facilitates bone destruction,” says Holoshitz.

Bone degeneration in rheumatoid arthritis is caused by hyperactivity of certain bone cells called osteoclasts, which absorb bone tissue. “In our research with the combination of dioxin and the HLA gene variant, we saw that osteoclasts are overactive and overabundant, and that bone is destroyed because of it,” says Holoshitz.

Currently, the treatments available for rheumatoid arthritis focus primarily on the inflammation but do not directly target bone destruction, says Holoshitz. “Once we have better drugs that directly and specifically address bone destruction in this disease, we’ll have better treatment.”

Says Holoshitz: “As a separate project, we have a couple of early-stage drug candidates that block the HLA gene-activated pathway and are effective in preventing bone damage. These drugs almost completely inhibit experimental rheumatoid arthritis and bone damage in mice.

“By understanding the mechanisms, we may be able to develop better inhibitors to prevent disease and identify therapeutic targets for new treatment strategies,” says Holoshitz.

Texas officials ignore dioxin spread in local waterways

agosto 24, 2018

HIGHLANDS — Evelyn and Jerome Matula were still polka-dancing newlyweds in 1950 when they spotted a half-finished cottage in the woods along the San Jacinto River east of Houston. It seemed idyllic, with panoramic views and a sandy path to the river, where their three children and later their grandchildren fished. Now, the retired refinery worker and former educator fear their kin were poisoned by carcinogenic dioxin in the fish and well water.

Decades ago, paper mill waste barged down the Houston Ship Channel was buried across the river. From their bluff today, the Matulas can see orange buoys marking a federal Superfund hazardous waste site established in 2008.

An agreement announced last month has cleared the way for the San Jacinto Waste Pits to finally be cleaned up. But dioxin damage already has spread far beyond the waste pits, the Houston Chronicle and The Associated Press found.

More than 30 hotspots — small sites where dioxin has settled — have been located in sediments along the river, the Houston Ship Channel and into Galveston Bay, according to University of Houston research conducted from 2001 to 2011 and pieced together by the news organizations.

The affected areas are alongside parks and residential neighborhoods with thousands of homes. But the residents’ wells or yards have not been tested by state health officials.

Details about the hotspots have not been made public by Texas environmental regulators, who used more than $5 million in federal money to pay for the research. In 2012, they ended a fact-finding committee that oversaw the project and had proposed new standards for dioxin and PCBs that could have been costly to corporate polluters.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality refused to release the full results of the studies that identified the sources of dioxin and PCBs, even to academic researchers, Harris County officials and lawyers who later sued companies over environmental damage. The research funding ended in 2011, leaving unanswered questions about whether toxic damage spread even farther during hurricanes Ike and Harvey.

The university data linked hotspots primarily to three sources: the leaking waste pits, the original site of the paper mill in Pasadena and a major chemical complex in nearby Deer Park that is part of another Superfund site, records show. None has been cleaned up.

Under the Clean Water Act and state law, Texas authorities were required to address dioxin and PCBs in the river and ship channel, waterways officially designated as “impaired.” Setting such standards could have forced the responsible companies to clean up and upgrade contaminated stormwater and wastewater treatment.

All three TCEQ commissioners, appointed by the governor, declined an interview request.

Carl Masterson, a former Houston-Galveston Area Council staffer who for years served as a facilitator for the committee, said state regulators failed to do their duty. Once “the meetings were done, the project was over and the findings were in, the TCEQ should have approved” the committee’s recommendations, he said.

In a statement, the agency said it’s still working on “a document summarizing the source characterization of dioxin loads in the Houston Ship Channel/Upper Galveston Bay system.”

The state’s approach to dioxin follows the same pattern the Chronicle and AP previously identified in an investigation into air and water pollution releases from Hurricane Harvey. The news organizations found that state and federal regulators did little in response to massive releases of toxic pollution reported during and after Harvey’s torrential rains.

Similarly, Texas regulators have not followed up on the dioxin research with additional testing to see if wells, parks or property also are contaminated by the pollutants that formed the toxic hotspots.

In the Matulas’ case, their grandson Sean, a 33-year-old emergency manager, paid to have samples from the cottage’s two wells tested after learning he suffers from long-hidden heart and kidney defects that may shorten his life.

His mother had moved to the cottage when she was pregnant with him. Recent test results showed that the family well used at the time he was born tested at twice the level of dioxin considered healthy for human consumption.

“I have been told,” Sean Matula said of conversations with his doctor, “that I am lucky to be walking.”

___

LEAKING WASTE PITS

The Texas Department of Health Services warned in 1990 that catfish and crabs in the San Jacinto and parts of upper Galveston Bay area contained so much dioxin that local seafood posed potential health risks — and banned its consumption by children and pregnant women.

The Environmental Protection Agency already had been funding initiatives to clean up the nation’s impaired rivers and identify sources of toxic substances in sediments and water that poisoned fish. The actions came in response to revelations in the 1980s that one of the most dangerous dioxin forms had been unleashed into the environment from paper bleaching and chemical manufacturing.

Even in microscopic doses, those dioxin types have been linked to birth defects as well as cancer and reproductive problems.

Some of the most likely sources were two former paper mills and the huge chemical complex in Deer Park. Then a state park employee discovered sand pits near a highway bridge where pulp from the larger paper mill in Pasadena had been barged in the 1960s, buried and forgotten.

A video of the site taken around 2009 shows that fishermen and others had carved a path across unmarked sand pits partially submerged by the river. Particles of what looks like an egg carton were shearing off the shore into the water. Those crystalline fragments are examples of dioxin sediment, said Larry Koenig, who for 10 years was the TCEQ staff member assigned to the dioxin study.

He and other experts have estimated that about half the waste originally buried in pits already had escaped into the environment before the site was rediscovered.

Koenig retired in 2010, in part, he said, because of frustration over inaction on any proposed water quality standard.

A dozen hotspots identified by teams of University of Houston researchers were scattered around those pits.

Some of the worst hotspots became part of the San Jacinto Waste Pits Superfund site a decade ago. But others are miles downstream, near riverside neighborhoods in Baytown and LaPorte.

Another source of hotspots was chemical plants along Patrick Bayou in Deer Park, according to the committee’s reports and research. The bayou had been identified as a priority site for Superfund cleanup even before the state committee’s dioxin water quality work began.

The committee formed by state regulators to study dioxin included representatives of two companies ultimately found to be major contamination sources: Shell Chemical and OxyVinyls, a subsidiary of Occidental Chemical.

By 2009, the corporate representatives, along with environmentalists and government officials, had reviewed proposed water quality standards for PCB and dioxin that could have sparked regulatory or legal action against their companies.

Most of Patrick Bayou’s dioxin and PCB pollution was from historic industrial activities. But Shell and Occidental Chemical would likely have faced pressure to address contaminated runoff, according to TCEQ documents, UH research, EPA records and Hanadi Rifai, the UH environmental engineering professor who oversaw the research teams.

Representatives of OxyVinyls and Shell expressed no objections to proposed pollution-reduction reforms in public meetings, according to minutes and interviews.

But EPA records show that during the time the dioxin cleanup committee was making its recommendations, neither company had agreed to pay to address polluted Patrick Bayou. EPA subsequently named Shell Chemical, Occidental Chemical and Lubrizol, all chemical companies with operations in Deer Park, as “potentially responsible parties”, according to EPA records.

The companies still have not agreed to fund the cleanup of Patrick Bayou, 16 years after the area was designated as a Superfund site.

At the San Jacinto Waste Pits, federal officials said in April that International Paper Company and McGinnis Industrial Maintenance Corporation had pledged to pay design costs for the plan to remove 161,000 tons of carcinogenic paper mill waste buried there in the 1960s.

Ray Fisher, a Shell spokesman, said the company continues to collaborate “with other relevant parties” on the Patrick Bayou site, adding, “Our focus is on safety of our people and community.”

Eric Moses, an Occidental Chemical spokesman, said the company is working with others to complete investigation of the site “and implement effective controls and remedies that will be protective of human health and the environment.”

Both Shell and Occidental Chemical have acted more quickly to address dioxin and other pollutants at multiple Superfund sites in other states, EPA records show.

___

NO KNOWN THREAT?

In 2012, the Texas Department of State Health Services delivered its public health assessment of dioxin in the waste pits. The report again warned of hazards posed to fish, but it dismissed the idea of contamination in neighborhoods’ soil or well water.

Rifai said UH’s studies of river water and sediment could not be used to determine whether yards, parks or well water was safe. She is now working with the Galveston Bay Foundation, an independent nonprofit, and Harris County to conduct more testing after Harvey’s flooding.

The Matulas have two wells on the cottage property. For decades, they drank from the older, shallow well. About 10 years ago, they dug a deeper one.

After Sean Matula paid for testing, he asked state health officials to review the complex lab reports. They found dioxin in the older well to be more than twice what the EPA considers dangerous for humans of any age to drink. Dioxin levels in the newer well represented an increased risk of cancer for children and adults but were within EPA’s drinking water limits.

Houston lawyer Richard Mithoff represents the Matulas and another 600 families. He says he believes he will be able to prove that cancer, birth defects and other ailments reported by many clients who lived around the pits are directly related to the dioxin in the river and its fish.

The EPA cleanup of the waste pits won’t undo damage done to those who lived there, Mithoff said, “but it certainly holds great promise for the future and those living there now will be able to rest a little easier.”

 

(from)

Judge dismisses suit over Dow dioxin contamination

agosto 24, 2018
tags: ,

Saginaw – Dow Chemical has prevailed in a long-running lawsuit by property owners over dioxin contamination along the Tittabawassee River.

TV station WJRT says the 2003 lawsuit was recently dismissed by a Saginaw County judge. Dow argued that the statute of limitations had long expired when the case was filed.

The company’s legal position was strengthened in January. The Michigan Supreme Court said the clock began to run when damage occurred, not in 2002 when regulators publicly reported high levels of contamination in the river’s flood plain.

WJRT says Dow has been cleaning up properties along the river by replacing contaminated soil. Property owners wanted to be compensated for lost land value and enjoyment of their property.

I sindaci disertano il tavolo sull’Ilva con Di Maio. Melucci: «È una sceneggiata»

luglio 30, 2018

Il sindaco di Taranto annuncia che domani non sarà presente al vertice sull’Ilva: «Il Comune non si presta a dilettantismo spaccone»

Oltre al primo cittadino di Taranto, non parteciperanno anche gli altri sindaci dell’area ‘di crisì di Taranto e il presidente della Provincia, Martino Tamburrano. I rappresentanti del territorio Tarantino che non andranno a Roma terranno una conferenza stampa, convocata alle ore 10 al Municipio di Taranto.

TARANTO – È una vigilia agitata quella del vertice istituzionale sull’Ilva convocato per domani al Mise dal ministro Luigi Di Maio. Contestando un eccessivo allargamento della partecipazione, diserteranno l’incontro il primo cittadino di Taranto, Rinaldo Melucci, i sindaci dell’area di ‘crisì del tarantino, e il presidente della Provincia ionica, Martino Tamburrano. La stessa ArcelorMittal, che domani presenterà la sua proposta migliorativa per l’acquisto del siderurgico, ha inviato una lettera a Di Maio precisando di non essere stata informata dell’allargamento a tanti soggetti, ma sottolineando un’apertura al dialogo e la necessità di un percorso “condiviso». Nella missiva, ArcelorMittal ha anche sottolineato l’opportunità che all’incontro partecipino il ministero dell’Ambiente e i tecnici del Mise che hanno lavorato alla controproposta.

Alle polemiche sull’incontro risponde il ministro Di Maio, avvertendo che «il tavolo Ilva non è stato convocato per trasformarsi in un club privato dove si discute nell’oscurità. Tutto deve essere trasparente». Di Maio sottolinea che «stiamo parlando del futuro di migliaia di cittadini e lavoratori, e chi preferisce può liberamente scegliere di non partecipare. Da ministro lo accetto, ma ne trarrò le dovute conseguenze».

Il dietrofront degli amministratori tarantini arriva dopo l’ulteriore allargamento del tavolo Ilva a movimenti e associazioni tra cui figurerebbero alcuni attivisti che, al grido «assassino assassino», due mesi fa contestarono Melucci inseguendolo sotto la Prefettura dopo l’incidente sul lavoro in cui perse la vita il 28enne Angelo Fuggiano, operaio della ditta Ferplast dell’appalto Ilva.

«Ma è finita – rileva Di Maio – l’epoca delle riunioni che escludono i cittadini da qualsiasi tipo di discussione. I vecchi schemi mentali ci hanno portato dove siamo oggi e non ripeteremo gli errori di chi ci ha preceduto. Il nostro metodo, che fa rima con partecipazione, è un altro». Un metodo che Melucci, però, definisce «dilettantismo spaccone» al quale il Comune di Taranto “non si presterà: Di Maio – evidenzia il primo cittadino – lo spaccerà per trasparenza e democrazia, ma è solo una sceneggiatura per coprire il vuoto di proposte e di coraggio».

Anche il governatore pugliese Michele Emiliano sottolinea su Twitter l’importanza di un’ampia partecipazione: «A chi fa paura – chiede – la presenza dei cittadini ai tavoli istituzionali ai quali col governo del Pd non era ammessa neanche la Regione Puglia?». Dal fronte dei sindacati, il leader della Fim Cisl, Marco Bentivogli, crede sia «concreto il rischio-passerella» su “una riunione cui parteciperanno, per sole due ore, 62 soggetti tra istituzioni, associazioni e sindacati». Mentre i comitati dei cittadini di Taranto temono che «la volontà del governo sia scongiurare la chiusura dell’Ilva e legare il futuro del territorio alla produzione dell’acciaio».

(La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno)

EU-OSHA introduces new dangerous substances database — check it out! Le Nuove sostanze pericolose pubblicate da OSHA Europa

luglio 30, 2018

Do you work with dangerous substances or manage people who do? Do you need more information on how to assess and manage the risks? If so, have a look at EU-OSHA’s comprehensive new database on practical tools and guidance on dangerous substances, with links to key resources and audiovisual tools from Member States, EU and beyond. It includes several new case studies created for the current Healthy Workplaces Campaign, which provide real-life examples of good practice in dealing with dangerous substances.

The hundreds of database entries cover topics like training or risk assessment,carcinogens and substitution. What’s more, the database is easy to search, so, if you’re interested in resources on a specific country, sector, work task or hazard, you can quickly and easily find exactly what you’re looking for.

Search the dangerous substances database now

Find out more about the Healthy Workplaces Manage Dangerous Substances campaign 

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