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Outbreak of Escherichia Coli in multistate Lettuce Romaine salad for all USA and Canada.

novembre 21, 2018

CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until we learn more about the outbreak. This investigation is ongoing and the advice will be updated as more information is available.

  • Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.
    • This advice includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
    • If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.
    • Wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine was stored. Follow these five steps to clean your refrigerator.
  • Restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell any romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes containing romaine.
  • Take action if you have symptoms of an E. coli infection:
    • Talk to your healthcare provider.
    • Write down what you ate in the week before you started to get sick.
    • Report your illness to the health department.
    • Assist public health investigators by answering questions about your illness.

Advice to Clinicians

  • Antibiotics are not recommended for patients with E. coli O157 infections. Antibiotics are also not recommended for patients in whom E.coli O157 infection is suspected, until diagnostic testing rules out this infection.
  • Some studies have shown that administering antibiotics to patients with E. coli O157 infections might increase their risk of developing hemolytic uremic syndrome (a type of kidney failure), and the benefit of antibiotic treatment has not been clearly demonstrated.

Latest Outbreak Information

At A Glance

  • Thirty-two people infected with the outbreak strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 have been reported from 11 states.
    • Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 8, 2018 to October 31, 2018.
    • Thirteen people were hospitalized, including one person who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canadahas identified 18 ill people infected with the same DNA fingerprint of E. coliO157:H7 bacteria in two Canadian provinces: Ontario and Quebec.
  • Epidemiologic evidence from the United States and Canada indicates that romaine lettuce is a likely source of the outbreak.
  • Ill people in this outbreak were infected with E. coli bacteria with the same DNA fingerprint as the E. coli strain isolated from ill people in a 2017 outbreak linked to leafy greens in the United States and to romaine lettuce in Canada. The current outbreak is not related to a recent multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce.
  • CDC is advising that consumers do not eat any romaine lettuce because no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified.
  • This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will provide more information as it becomes available.

Symptoms of E. coli Infection

  • People usually get sick from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) 2–8 days (average of 3–4 days) after swallowing the germ.
  • Some people with a STEC infection may get a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).
  • E. coli infection is usually diagnosed by testing a stool sample.
  • Antibiotics are not recommended for patients with suspected E. coli infections until diagnostic testing can be performed and E. coli infection is ruled out. Some studies have shown that administering antibiotics to patients with E. coliinfections might increase their risk of developing HUS, and a benefit of treatment has not been clearly demonstrated.
  • For more information, see Symptoms of E. coli Infection.

Investigation Details

November 20, 2018

CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, Canada, and the FDA are investigating a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli O157:H7) infections.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. PulseNet is the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by CDC. DNA fingerprinting is performed on E. coli bacteria isolated from ill people by using techniques called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). CDC PulseNet manages a national database of these DNA fingerprints to identify possible outbreaks. WGS gives a more detailed DNA fingerprint than PFGE. WGS performed on E. colibacteria from ill people in this outbreak showed that the strains were closely related genetically. This means that the ill people were more likely to share a common source of infection.

As of November 20, 2018, 32 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coliO157:H7 have been reported from 11 states. A list of the states and the number of cases in each can be found on the Map of Reported Cases page.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from October 8, 2018 to October 31, 2018. Ill people range in age from 7 to 84 years, with a median age of 24. Sixty-six percent of ill people are female. Of 26 people with information available, 13 (50%) were hospitalized, including one person who developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses that occurred after October 30, 2018, might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill with E. coli infection and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of two to three weeks.

Investigation of the Outbreak

Epidemiologic evidence indicates that romaine lettuce is a likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. Eleven (79%) of 14 people interviewed reported eating romaine lettuce. This percentage is significantly higher than results from a survey[PDF – 787 KB] of healthy people in which 47% reported eating romaine lettuce in the week before they were interviewed. Ill people reported eating different types of romaine lettuce in several restaurants and at home.

Whole genome sequencing (WGS) results showed that the E. coli O157:H7 strain isolated from ill people in this outbreak is closely related genetically to the E. colistrain isolated from ill people in a 2017 outbreak linked to leafy greens in the United States and to romaine lettuce in Canada. The current outbreak is not related to a recent multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infections linked to romaine lettuce. People in the spring outbreak were infected with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria with a different DNA fingerprint.

FDA and states are working to trace back romaine lettuce that ill people ate in the current outbreak. At this time, no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified. CDC is advising that consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and restaurants and retailers not sell any, until we learn more about this outbreak and the source of the contaminated lettuce.

This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will provide more information as it becomes available.

Visit CDC for maps and more informations about the contamination

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Mercury, PCBs still threaten Arctic and its wildlife, study shows

novembre 15, 2018

The Canadian Press 

A polar bear walks along an ice floe in the Franklin Strait, Nunavut, in the Northwest Passage on July 23, 2007. The report for the eight countries that ring the Arctic Circle found several Canadian polar bear populations at high risk of suffering effects from mercury. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

A new summary of toxins in the Arctic shows contaminants, such as mercury, continue to threaten polar bears and whales. But new threats — both chemical and climatic — are emerging, says the report done for the eight nations that ring the North Pole.

“The number and types of contaminants continue to broaden,” said Canadian scientist Robert Letcher, one of the lead authors of the study for the Arctic Council.

The report on the biological effects of contaminants on animals from seals to seabirds was released late last week. It’s the latest in a series of assessments and is the most complete summary of research done between 2010 and 2017.

The number and types of contaminants continue to broaden.– Canadian scientist Robert Letcher, a lead author of the Arctic Council study

Scientists have long known that many substances pumped into southern skies make their way to the North where they work their way throughout the Arctic food web and concentrate in large predators.

Among the most common is mercury, a potent neurotoxin and a byproduct of burning coal.

Some Canadian polar bear populations have among the highest levels of mercury in the world. More than one-third of bears in the Beaufort Sea region are considered at high risk of health effects from mercury.

Mercury is also putting more than half the hooded seals in the Davis Strait at high risk.

Also found are persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which can include dioxins and PCBs, as well as residual products from pesticides and other industrial chemicals.

An international agreement signed in 2001 that now includes 179 countries attempts to limit their spread, but they’re still around.

Killer whales along the northern British Columbia coast are at high risk of PCB-related health effects. So are polar bears along Hudson Bay and seabirds along the Davis Strait.

“There are clearly hot spots in the Arctic when it comes to chemical stress impact,” Letcher said.

Those regions include Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay and the Beaufort Sea.

Shrinking sea ice seems to be altering normal feeding patterns and shifting some animals to prey more prone to contamination. Hudson Bay polar bears are one example.

“There is data that shows changes in levels over time in some contaminants are compounded by changes in the number of ice-free days,” said Letcher.

A slew of new compounds

As well, scientists are beginning to document a slew of new compounds including stain repellents, flame retardants and pharmaceuticals that are showing up in the Arctic. There are, so far, about 150 such compounds, said Letcher.

Little is known about how they get to the North, how long they stick around or what they do — individually, in conjunction with other chemicals or over time.

“It’s a massive question mark.”

All the changes are taking place in a context of changing ocean chemistry. Carbon dioxide, already largely responsible for climate change, is also acidifying the world’s oceans and the Arctic is changing more quickly than most.

A separate Arctic Council report recently found the extent of affected waters in Canada’s Beaufort Sea had grown sixfold between 1994 and 2010.

A separate Arctic Council report recently found the extent of affected waters in Canada’s Beaufort Sea had grown sixfold between 1994 and 2010. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

Letcher cautions the report can’t say chemical contamination is affecting the health of Arctic animals. There just isn’t enough data yet.

For large parts of the Arctic — Russia, notably — there’s no data at all.

But there’s enough for policy-makers to take note, he said, if for no other reason than who’s standing on top of the Arctic food chain.

“All the species we’re talking about are consumed by humans.”

New phase of dioxin cleanup readied for river Michigan river Dow Dupont

novembre 15, 2018

Saginaw – Dow DuPont is preparing to clean up the last section of a mid-Michigan river contaminated with dioxin from past operation of a Dow Chemical Co. plant in Midland.

Area residents have until Nov. 20 to submit comments on the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dioxin pollution extends across the lower 24 miles of the Tittabawassee River, 22 miles of the Saginaw River and portions of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.

The latest phase of the cleanup will cover about 7 miles of the Tittabawassee. It’s scheduled to begin next year.

Mlive.com reports the plan includes options for dealing with dioxin buried in the river sediments and banks.

Dioxin includes a group of related toxic chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, and damage to the immune system.

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.

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.”

 

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