You are here

toxics

Chemicals used in Deepwater Horizon spill are harmful to people, study proves; finally

By Charles Digges - Bellona, September 25, 2017

Last week, the National Institutes of Health in the United States released a report that confirmed people living along the Gulf of Mexico who were very ill, but who for seven years have been told to keep quiet up about it, weren’t crazy after all.

Thousands of them had broken out in rashes. They had been coughing up blood, wheezing, experiencing migraines, and were tormented by burning eyes and memory loss. Others were surprised by heart aliments, kidney problems, liver damage, blood in their urine and discharge from their ears. Still others muddled through cognitive decline and anxiety attacks. Many went on to die.

Yet barely anyone in a position of authority was willing to believe they were sick at all. Often, even their own doctors told them that it was all in their heads.

What these people had in common was that they had been cleanup workers on the BP’s Macondo well disaster, which for 87 days in 2010 poured 4.9 million barrels oil into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded that April 20 off the coast of Louisiana. It was the worst oil spill in US history.

Some 47,000 people responded to the blow out. Fishermen rushed their boats into the fray to coral the oil at sea. Others worked to siphon it off beaches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In other cases they burned it off the surface of the ocean in flames visible from space.

All of these workers toiled under a haze of chemicals dumped from the skies to bombard the ballooning slick and sink it to the bottom of the Gulf. In most cases, they didn’t have protective gear – BP and its contractors told them they didn’t need it.

The US Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency backed that up – they, too, had been assured by BP and Corexit’s manufacturer, Nalco Environmental Solutions, that it was safe.

Last week, the National Institutes of Health finally told them, after a seven-year wait, that it wasn’t.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons goes International!

By FightToxicPrisons.org - Earth First! Newswire, September 16, 2017

We’re Hitting the Road with the U.K. “End Toxic Prisons” Tour. Check out dates and details below.

This Autumn, the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons will be touring the UK with Community Action on Prison Expansion.

All over the world prisons are toxic environments causing social and ecological harm. Folks from the US have been organizing resistance at the intersection of mass incarceration and the environment, successfully delaying the only current Federal prison construction for over 2 years!

Through grassroots organizing, advocacy and direct action they have been challenging the prison system which is putting prisoners at risk of dangerous environmental conditions, as well as impacting surrounding communities and ecosystems by their construction and operation. Learn about their strategy and tactics, as well as broader struggles of prison abolition, anti-racism, and environmental justice.

Information will then be shared about resistance to the six new mega-prisons in England and Wales, which themselves are proposed for toxic sites, including radiological contamination and asbestos pollution, as well as habitat destruction at every site. Learn how you can get involved!

Meet the L.A. Household Worker Taking On the Toxic Cleaning Industry

Article and Image by Brooke Anderson - In These Times, September 6, 2017

In 2016, after more than a decade of intense struggle, a statewide coalition of domestic workers won a landmark Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in California. The legislation establishes overtime pay for some of the lowest paid and most exploited workers in California’s massive economy.

Now this scrappy but increasingly influential coalition of mostly first-generation Latina and Filipina immigrant women is taking on the powerful consumer cleaning product industry that is poisoning their bodies, children, air, water and soil.

Like many of the women who mop floors and scrub toilets in other people’s homes, when María first started cleaning, she developed a nasty rash and cough, among other ailments. Now she’s one of the leading organizers behind an effort to require that the consumer cleaning product industry include ingredient lists so housecleaners can identify health risks.

While people have made and cleaned homes for tens of thousands of years using natural cleansers and disinfectants—from vinegar and citrus fruit peels to rosemary and thyme—the production of synthetic chemicals skyrocketed after World War II. Of the at least 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States today, tens of thousands have never been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. Studies show that our bodies—including our breastmilk—are awash in these chemicals, leading to a host of health issues like asthma and cancer. Now, women like María are fighting back.

While in Los Angeles, Calif., I sat down with María, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, in light of recent immigration attacks and the many reprisals workers face for speaking out.

A closer look at electric vehicle growth: impact on pollution, and labour conditions in the mines supplying raw materials

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, August 23, 2017

The summer started with several “good news” stories about the surge of electric vehicles, such as “Starting in 2019, Volvo will use electricity to power every new model” from the Washington Post (July 5) , quoting Volvo’s CEO :  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car.”  Bloomberg Business Week, summarizing the findings of its latest New Energy forecast,  stated on July 7, “in just eight years, electric cars will be as cheap as gasoline vehicles, pushing the global fleet to 530 million vehicles by 2040″, and “Electric cars will outsell fossil-fuel powered vehicles within two decades as battery prices plunge, turning the global auto industry upside down and signaling economic turmoil for oil-exporting countries” .  On July 6,  France announced   it would end the sale of gas and diesel cars by 2040 ,  and on July 26 the U.K. released its Clean Air Plan, which included  a ban on the sale of new diesel and gas cars after 2040, with only electric vehicles available after that.

Response to the U.K. announcement is mixed.  In “Electric cars are not the solution to air pollution” Professor Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London and chair of the government’s  Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants states that “The government’s plan does not go nearly far enough,” “Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars.”  In his role as a member of  the Centre for London’s commission on the future of the capital’s roads and streets  ,    Professor Kelly provides more detail about the problem of particle pollution and states:  “London should lead in showing electric cars will not tackle air pollution”  in The Guardian (August 4).  His conclusion: “The safe and efficient movement of people around the city can only be achieved through a clean and expanded mass transit system served by buses, overground trains and the underground system – and as much active transport in the form of walking and cycling as is feasibly possible.”

Others are raising issues about electric vehicles on other grounds, specifically the environmental costs  and labour conditions of producing the lithium ion batteries that power them.  These are not new concerns:  Carla Lipsig Mumme and Caleb Goods raised the flag in June 2015 with “The battery revolution is exciting, but remember they pollute too”   in The Conversation.   In January 2016, Amnesty International published a detailed documentation of the hazardous working conditions and the use of child labour in cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in  This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt  . (Cobalt is also used in mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices). The report  is available in English, French and Chinese from this link .

Climate Refugees in Toxic Immigrant Jails Are Victims of Environmental Racism

By Candice Bernd - Truthout, July 30, 2017

This story is the fourth piece in "America's Toxic Prisons," an investigative, collaborative series between Truthout and Earth Island Journal. This series dives deeply into the intersection between mass incarceration and environmental justice.

In April, the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, again made headlines after more than 100 immigrant detainees launched a hunger strike to protest the conditions inside the for-profit immigration jail.

The demands reflected many of the concerns originally raised by detainees when they went on strike in 2014: abuse from guards, maggoty food, inadequate access to medical care and exorbitant commissary prices, to name a few. The detainees were also protesting the fact that they were running the prison's basic services for wages of just $1 a day, some reportedly receiving only a bag of chips in exchange for waxing the prison's floors.

Conditions at the immigration jail have drawn in local climate activists and other allies, who, in 2015, blockaded three exits where buses and vans usually carry out detainees for deportation. The activists' interest in the jail is not only grounded in concerns about basic human rights -- it's also about environmental justice.

The 1,500-bed immigration jail, operated by the private prison giant GEO Group, sits adjacent to a federal Superfund cleanup site where a coal gasification plant leeched toxic sludge into the soil for over three decades. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took over the site in the early 1990s as part of its Superfund cleanup of the tar pits, which included monitoring groundwater wells, and stockpiling and capping contaminated soils, according to the News Tribune, Tacoma's main newspaper. Today, the site is still dotted with drainage ditches, retention ponds and a capped waste pile.

The site is just one of several distinct Superfund cleanup sites in the industrial district known as the "Tideflats," encompassing the city's port and multiple railroad facilities. Another cleanup site in the Tideflats is located around the former ASARCO copper smelter, which, according to the News Tribune, emitted lead and arsenic from its nearly 600-foot-tall smokestack for decades, contaminating the area's water, sediments and upland areas in the process.

The area is so polluted that the city designated it unfit for residents -- except, that is, for Northwest's immigrant detainees. Eager to approve the jail, a Tacoma councilman, aided by a city attorney, found a useful loophole to keep it from being built on the city's "prime port property," by determining that it didn't meet the state's definition of an "essential public facility." This allowed developers to get around local zoning laws, according to the News Tribune.

On top of that, the Tideflats district is vulnerable to an array of disasters, both natural and human-caused, with everything from benzene-filled underground storage tanks to oil-filled "bomb train" cars at risk of exploding. Even the ground beneath the jail is made of "fill-material that is likely to liquefy in the event of an earthquake," according to the Seattle Globalist. The sediment there also shows evidence that "volcanic lahars have flowed through the area during past eruptions of Mount Rainier." To make matters even worse, in the event of a tsunami, the prison would fill with as much as two meters of water in less than eight minutes, according to the Globalist.

Wendy Pantoja Castillo, a naturalized US citizen from Mexico, has been campaigning on behalf of detainees at the Northwest Detention Center, including publicly protesting the jail's conditions and visiting detainees there for the past several years. She described detainees' exposure to extremely polluted air and soil in the area, and said she has worked to organize "toxic tours" of the Tideflats district with other local environmental activists.

"Many of the detainees are reporting they have headaches at night, especially. At night, the air is a little heavier, and it's more dirty," Pantoja Castillo said. "It smells really bad, and this is in all the city, but it's really close to the detention center, and at night people say ... they are feeling dizzy."

No environmental study on air quality and impacts has been conducted in the area, which is something Castillo is pushing to change. She and other organizers are working to pressure the city and state Department of Ecology for air monitoring in the district.

Moreover, the water in the area is known to have been contaminated with lead and arsenic from the ASARCO copper smelter, which Pantoja Castillo suspects could be affecting the detainees there. "Many of [the detainees] are reporting that the water is different ... so we don't know about the water quality," Pantoja Castillo says.

The jail underwent both a federal and state-level environmental assessment in 2001, but according to the News Tribune, the review process for the jail was unusual in many aspects, including that the federal and state reviews were not coordinated, that the state determination only assessed one site alternative in play and that the final federal review did not include a required "preferred site alternative" at all. An earlier draft of the federal Environmental Impact Statement identified an alternative site as preferential due to the risks posed by the hazardous waste stored at the original site and its location along the tar pits Superfund cleanup. Subsequent drafts, however, identified the original site as suitable.

Years later, Pantoja Castillo says the city is still pushing its own agenda over the well-being of the detainees. "The city is doing, to be honest, not really anything in this situation because they want to be pushing LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas]," she said.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has proposed a massive, 18-story, 8-million-gallon LNG plant at the Port of Tacoma that would liquefy fracked gas and distribute the product on ships and on tanker trucks. The plant has faced opposition from environmental activists concerned that an accident could be catastrophic to the neighborhoods within three miles of the site -- and the even-closer prisoners at the Northwest Detention Center who would have to "shelter in place" if there is an accident. Most prisoners in the US are almost never actually evacuated during disasters.

PSE's own figures show the plant would release 39.6 tons of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulates, as well as 20,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year. These human and environmental risks are why six protesters chained themselves to construction equipment in May and currently face misdemeanor charges.

Opposition has also come from the Puyallup Tribe, who are native to the banks of Commencement Bay and hold treaty rights within the Tideflats area. The city has solicited the tribe's input as it works to develop a subarea plan to review zoning and land-use rules in the area. Additionally, the city is currently working toward interim regulations on industrial uses in the Tideflats as it conducts its multi-year subarea review.

Following up on the FTP 2017 Convergence

By staff - The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, June 29, 2017

[The following letter was sent to all who registered for the 2017 FTP Convergence, but we felt there was pertinent info in here for the rest of you as well. Have a look, take some action, write some prisoners to tell them about it, and pass it on.]

Greetings Toxic Prison Fighters,

Earlier this month we held our second annual national convergence, bringing together environmental activists with the community of people involved in prisoner advocacy and prison abolition. We also addressed issues which surround this intersection related to labor, immigration, race, gender, sexuality and economics.

For those who were able to support the convergence with your attendance and/or donations, we offer our utmost appreciation. It was a groundbreaking and life-changing event, and it couldn’t have been possible without everyone’s contributions.

First off, here’s a link to a PDF of the convergence program, in case you did not get a physical copy to take home (or were not able to make it, but were curious about the schedule.)

This email aims to keep you plugged in  and engaged. Please use it as a guide to taking action and building this movement. Then pass it along to others who may also see the value in it.

In the coming weeks we will be releasing another series of audio recordings from panels and workshops which occurred over the convergence weekend (as we did last year.). Keep an eye out for that.

Throughout the weekend, we were also able to open lines of communication with prisoners who are still locked up, through direct call-ins with them, letters written to be shared, pre-recorded messages, and calls from support people who relayed messages on behalf of their friends or family.

It is out hope that this will not be a one-time correspondence or a one-way line of communication. To that end, we are providing ways to contact those who joined us in some way from behind the bars. You will find this list at the end of the email. We ask that you reach out to at least one of the individuals to let them know they are not alone, they are not forgotten. Unless you yourself have been inside, you have no idea how much a letter can mean.

But the one thing that may even be better than a letter is seeing a crowd of people gathered in front of the prison raising a ruckus, declaring their love and support for those locked inside. For those who were able to stay till Monday June 5th, you got to experience this for yourself. And we want to keep the pressure on to #CloseCarswell. Our primary demand is the immediate closure of the extremely repressive and isolated Administrative Unit. Make a call today to the Department of Justice and tell them there is no reason to keep this unit open: Department of Justice Comment Line: 202-353-1555. DOJ Main Switchboard: 202-514-2000.

In other news, since the FTP Convergence, we have received some major news on the Letcher County, KY fight against a federal prison on a former coal mine site. Two weeks ago the Department of Justice, which oversees the Bureau of Prisons, set in stone that they do not have a need for the new prisonand cannot justify $444 million to build it. While members of Congress could attempt to force it’s construction anyway—as Hal Rogers has done—we are in a much stronger position to fight and win than we were last month. Let’s keep the pressure on!

Start by sending U.S. Rep Hal Rogers a note TODAY telling him that you want to see the $444 million for Letcher kept out of the budget.

Members of Congress who sit on the budget committee can be found here.

Pick a few that are closest to you and tell them the same thing… Better yet, show up at their local offices to deliver the message in person.

And as we know, revolution takes more than a few phone calls and emails, it also means we must get out in to the street. On August 19, prisoners around the country and their allies have called for a national mobilization in D.C. to End Prison Slavery. If you can get there, go. If you can’t, plan local events and actions. (For example, check out what FTP in Florida has in store.

And last, you may have heard word at the convergence about a new Immigrant Detention facility underway near Houston, TX, built and operated by GEO Group. We want to support resistance to this construction. Keep up with this issue through the TX-based group Grassroots Leadership.

P.S. We are looking for feedback from participants: What did you come hoping to get out of it and how does that match up with what actually happened? Please reply to this email with your answer and it will be shared among organizers in hopes of improving next years’ convergence.

P.S.S. If you haven’t already, check out the online version of Candice Bernd’s excellent article, America’s Toxic Prisons. Hopefully you got to pick up a hard copy in TX, but this is intended to be an ongoing multi-media series, so keep an eye on it and pass it around.

The Day of Mourning for injured and killed workers was invented by Canada. Now we're killing more workers than anyone

By Ed Finn - Rabble.Ca, April 28, 2017

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. This is the second of a two-part series. read part one here.

The lack of safety in Canada's workplaces is a national -- and international -- disgrace. Many of our industries neglect safety training, skimp on safety equipment and keep employees unaware of the danger of new chemicals. In our fiercely competitive global market, they will put the maximization of profits ahead of the "costly" provision of safe workplaces -- as long as they can get away with it.

Our governments, too, have given on-the-job safety an inexcusably low priority. Oh yes, they've beefed up work safety rules, even given workers the right to refuse dangerous duties, the right to sit on industrial health and safety committees -- even the right to be informed about the dangers of any material they are obliged to handle.

But, as with Bill C-45, no such legal rights can be exercised without managerial retaliation unless workplaces are regularly inspected and safety laws strictly enforced. And on that score, our federal and provincial governments have fallen shamefully short.

Without stringent government oversight, employers are left free to flout safety rules and regulations. They can maintain their profits-before-personnel policy with virtual impunity.

Behind a corporate monster: How Monsanto pushes agricultural domination

By Alan Broughton - Green Left Weekly, March 10, 2017

Monsanto, one of the world’s biggest pesticide and seed corporations and leading developer of genetically modified crop varieties, had a stock market value of US$66 billion in 2014. It has gained this position by a combination of deceit, threat, litigation, destruction of evidence, falsified data, bribery, takeovers and cultivation of regulatory bodies.

Its rise and torrid controversies cover a long period starting with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, chemicals used as insulators for electrical transformers) in the 1940s and moving on to dioxin (a contaminant of Agent Orange used to defoliate Vietnam), glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide), recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH, a hormone injected into dairy cows to increase their milk production), and genetic modified organisms (GMOs).

Its key aim in dealing with health and environmental issues is to protect sales and profits and the company image. The latter has been a monumental failure, making Monsanto potentially the most hated corporation in the world.

To better sell its GMO technology, Monsanto began acquiring seed companies in 1996 and within 10 years became the largest seed supplier in the world. If the planned merger with German multinational Bayer takes place, the combined corporate giant will control a third of the world’s seed market and a quarter of the pesticide market.

The dark side of Christmas: the impact on sweatshops

By Amoge Ukaegbu - New Internationalist, December 8, 2016

It’s not elves, but underpaid Chinese workers working around the clock that will enable you to unwrap your presents, writes Amoge Ukaegbu.

Television screens are filled with Christmas advertising, propagating the apparent need to buy something, and above all electronics, apparel, toys – the most popular Christmas gifts. The festive countdown is well underway.

Three points specifically define the ‘festive’ season: advertisements and commercialisation, shopping and spending, and increased revenue for the Western economy. Data from Capgemini and new in the UK’s industry association for e-retail, the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), reveal that in 2015, British retailers took in over £24 billion (roughly $30 billion) during the Christmas period alone, more than the entire GDP of countries like Nepal or Honduras. This spending craze is linked with advertisement and the increasing consumerism promoted by mass-, and now social media.

US discount events, hyperbolically labelled ‘Black Friday’ and Cyber Monday’, have been transposed across Europe, with the periods before Christmas and between Christmas and New Year’s Day becoming the busiest spending times in our annual calendars.

Over last year’s discount weekend, British consumers spent a whopping £3.3 billion ($4.16 billion). Masses took to the internet to buy, spending £968 million on Cyber Monday alone, causing the websites of large UK retailers, including Argos, Tesco and John Lewis, to crash. Struggling to cope with the surge of online purchased goods, courier firms imposed daily caps on the number of orders accepted from online retailers.

No More Toxic Chemicals in Agriculture!

By Farmworker Association of Florida - La Via Campesina, December 7, 2016

December 3, 1984 was a day of infamy that resounded around the world.  Today, we say "No more" to poisoning of people and the planet!

Thirty-two years ago, on this day, a leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India resulted in a horrendous tragedy that poisoned hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the middle of the night and early morning hours of December 3rd.  More than 30 tons of the pesticide methyl isocyanate were released into the air, causing widespread panic and suffering, as some 600,000 men, women and children experienced severe symptoms from exposure to the toxic gas and several thousand victims died.   In the ensuing years, there have been another estimated 15,000 deaths related to the pesticide accident, and an untold number of children born with physical and/or mental health problems.

Today, we remember Bhopal and all the innocent victims who were needlessly harmed and killed.  But, sadly, this is still happening - in smaller ways - all the time all over the globe.  As long as transnational agrochemical companies continue to grow, gain power, produce and distribute increasingly more toxic agricultural chemicals, people, animals, the air, land, water and our food around the world will continue to be contaminated by pesticides, while corporations profit at the expense of health, human rights and a safe environment.  And, farmworkers are often the first ones on the frontlines of these exposures. 

AGROTOXICOS DAY is a call to action (español) to peel back the curtain on the myths surrounding the lies the agrochemical industry tells the world.  Small-scale, local and sustainable agriculture is the true key to end world-wide hunger and to pull communities out of poverty, disenfranchisement and disempowerment.   Millions of acres of agricultural land world-wide are dominated by the cultivation of a few crops - corn, soy, palm oil, sugar cane - that do not feed people at all, but are used for fuel and other products.   Agriculture must return to its origins of being deeply rooted in communities and in working with, not against the earth.

In October, the Farmworker Association of Florida sent a delegation to Brazil to meet with others from South America to share information and develop networks and strategies of resistance to the domination by transnational corporations coopting agriculture.  In Florida, FWAF has four community gardens projects at which we are learning and practicing agroecological principles.  These gardens are a grassroots form of resistance to the dominant culture of agriculture. 

Stand up today and demand "no more toxic chemicals" in agriculture

International Day of the Struggle Against "Agrotoxicos"

Pages