Regulating toxic chemicals for public and environmental health

by Linda S. Birnbaum & Liza Gross
January 25, 2018 PLOS Biology

This Editorial is part of the Challenges in Environmental Health: Closing the Gap between Evidence and Regulations Collection.

By the time President Gerald Ford signed the United States Toxic Substances Control Act in the fall of 1976, tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals had entered world markets with no evidence of their safety. Ford’s signing statement described a law giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broad regulatory authority to require toxicity testing and reporting to determine whether the chemicals posed risks. “If a chemical is found to present a danger to health or the environment,” Ford promised, “appropriate regulatory action can be taken before it is too late to undo the damage.”

That’s not what happened. The 60,000-plus chemicals already in commerce were grandfathered into the law on the assumption that they were safe. And the EPA faced numerous hurdles, including pushback from the chemical industry, that undermined its ability to implement the law. Congress finally revised the law last year, with the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, to bolster the EPA’s regulatory authority. Over the decades that US policy on chemicals stagnated, scientists documented the damage whole classes of chemicals inflicted on living organisms and the environment that sustains them. Although we still have safety data on just a fraction of the 85,000-plus chemicals now approved for use in commerce, we know from field, wildlife, and epidemiology studies that exposures to environmental chemicals are ubiquitous. Hazardous chemicals enter the environment from the factories where they’re made and added to a dizzying array of consumer products—including mattresses, computers, cookware, and plastic baby cups to name a few—and from landfills overflowing with our cast-offs. They drift into homes from nearby agricultural fields and taint our drinking water and food. Today, hundreds of industrial chemicals contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested, in the US and beyond.

In the decades since Ford promised a robust policy to regulate potentially hazardous chemicals, evidence has emerged that chemicals in widespread use can cause cancer and other chronic diseases, damage reproductive systems, and harm developing brains at low levels of exposure once believed to be harmless. Such exposures pose unique risks to children at critical windows of development—risks that existing regulations fail to consider. To address these issues, PLOS Biology is publishing a special collection of seven articles, Challenges in Environmental Health: Closing the Gap between Evidence and Regulations, that focus on US chemical policy [1].

read full article

Citizens’ Group Reports Victory in Battle Against Sewage Sludge



Citizens’ Group Reports Victory in Battle Against Sewage Sludge

Morton Alexander,
Mill Canyon resident
(801) 637-6903

Chrys Ostrander,
former Mill Canyon resident
(914) 246-0309

Davenport, WA

An informal committee of neighbors in the Mill Canyon area northeast of Davenport, WA is calling it a victory: They didn’t want sewage sludge to be applied to agricultural lands in their watershed. They fought hard against it. Now, due to their efforts, sludge will not be applied to lands immediately adjacent to the canyon where they live, according to a newly approved permit, issued December 13th by the Department of Ecology.

The scale of the win for the committee is significant. The total acreage that will have sludge applied is reduced from the original 887.45 acres to 157.77 acres in the final permit. The original application indicated sewage sludge would have been applied less than one mile from Mill Canyon residents’ farms, gardens and wells and less than half a mile from the source of a private spring used for drinking water that figured prominently in comments sent to the Department of Ecology citing concerns over potential contamination from the sludge. With the approved permit, the closest to the canyon any sludge will be applied is over 5 miles away.

read full article

State leader calls on national government to aid toxic sludge cleanup

Posted: Dec 01, 2017 5:00 PM PST
Updated: Dec 02, 2017 7:59 AM PST
By Levi Ismail, Reporter

Pressure is coming from the state and now the federal levels to get toxic sludge cleaned up in Fort Myers.

The City of Fort Myers is releasing their findings on sludge to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, on the same day that Senator Bill Nelson called on the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene.

Friday marked the deadline for the city to hand over test results from recent groundwater tests at six monitoring wells.

NBC2 received the leaked results from attorneys representing residents living in and around South Street.

Arsenic levels five times what's considered safe was discovered in one of the six wells tested, with other wells also testing high for the toxic material.

At first, the results were on a need-to-know basis as city leaders decided not to publicize the data, saying the results were inconclusive.

"Just the idea that someone in government knows what's going on and not doing anything about it and not taking steps to clear it up, that's the most hurtful thing ever," Barbara Parker of Fort Myers said.

In his letter to the EPA, Nelson argued that "no one should have to wait years for a known environmental hazard in their neighborhood to be cleaned up."

Nelson updated EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on the latest test results and said if these results are accurate, "residents should not have to wait months for all testing to be completed when answers to their questions already exist."

Noting the city's lack of communication with FDEP, Nelson told Pruitt the time to intervene is now and neighbors agree.

"We shouldn't be allowed to just go on living as if everything is okay," Nelson said.

full article

NC poised to test what critics call a ‘snowblower blowing garbage juice’

By Matthew Adams,

August 12, 2017 10:00 AM

Three North Carolina landfills have the green light to collect liquid that leaks from trash and spray it into the air.

The disposal method has drawn criticism from environmentalists and some neighbors, but it could become more common if the legislature overrides a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The state Department of Environmental Quality approved the spraying process for the three landfills, plus a coal-ash dump in Chatham County. The permits can be used for 90 days.

The bill passed by the legislature and vetoed in June by Cooper would require the department to approve spraying at lined landfills where wastewater is prevented from escaping into the soil. The agency would also be allowed to consider the process for unlined landfills. Certain landfills would be allowed to spray without a permit.

A pumping system takes the water from where it is stored and turns it into mist that fans direct to a contained area of the landfill. The idea is that water will evaporate and the contaminated particles fall back into the landfill.

The process promises to save millions of dollars for waste management companies in disposal costs, but has drawn questions about how the spray will be contained and whether it will drift through the air into surrounding communities.

Bobbie Mendenhall, who lives with her husband less than a quarter-mile from the Brickhaven Mine where coal ash is dumped, worries that contaminants will end up in the air her family breathes.

“I just think it’s ridiculous,” Mendenhall said. “To me they are just spraying toxic stuff into the air and ground.”

read full article

Miami’s sewage is supposed to be pumped offshore but the pipe has sprung a leak

Miami Waterkeeper has discovered an ignored outfall sewage leak in Biscayne Bay, affecting our oceans, wildlife, and the health and safety of the public. Miami Waterkeeper

By Jenny Staletovich,

July 31, 2017 7:39 PM

A massive ocean outfall pipe intended to dump partially treated human waste in deep water far from Miami has instead been leaking in shallow water within a mile of tony Fisher Island for at least a year, an environmental group said Monday.

A Miami Waterkeeper diver sent to investigate the leak after a citizen tipped off the group recorded cloudy sewage spewing from the underground pipe earlier this month, near schools of fish and coral.

It’s not clear how much sewage is coming from the leak, but the pipe itself is capable of pumping 143 million gallons a day. On Monday, Miami Waterkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue in 60 days that cites Miami-Dade County emails saying the pipe had not been inspected in more than a decade.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the county would fail to act on this information and to allow this leak to occur for close to a year at this point,” said Waterkeeper Executive Director Rachel Silverstein. “It’s even more disappointing to find out how long its been since these outfall pipes have been inspected.”

Read full article

It’s Time to Talk (Again) about Sewage Sludge on Farmland

Each year, millions of tons of sewage sludge is disposed of on fields in the United States. (Image: Susan A. Secretariat / Flickr)

By Laura Orlando

The "land application" of sewage sludge has been promoted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1993 as the preferred method for the disposal of this by-product of municipal wastewater treatment. Millions of tons of hazardous sewage sludge have subsequently been spread on farmland and public parks in the United States. Sometimes it is bagged and sold as “organic” fertilizer and compost in garden supply stores. No matter how it is processed or how slick it is marketed as a fertilizer or soil amendment, putting sewage sludge on land is a health and environmental disaster.

read full article

Scientists’ open letter on the dangers of biosolids

Mar 01, 2016

The land disposal of sewage sludge has resulted in significant controversy, and a resistance movement is rightfully building to this misguided policy. Quite simply, the science doesn't support the disposal of sewage sludge across the landscape. The supposed benefits are more than offset by the risks to human and environmental health.

As scientists, we have been watching the issue with increasing concern.

An unimaginably large number of chemical and biological contaminants exist in these materials, and they persist in the product up to, and after, land disposal. Scientific investigations have identified only a tiny fraction of the total contaminant load. We cannot even say with any degree of confidence what the true range of contaminant risk is from the sludge. Call it an "unknown unknown." Because of potential synergistic interactions between the contaminants in the sludge, the risks are largely unknowable.

full letter


Subscribe to Sewage Sludge Action Network RSS