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Articles Posted in Environmental Contamination

Explosion-1-300x188A massive explosion and fire at the Chemtool plant, 1165 Prairie Road, in Rockton, IL, has caused huge plumes of ash and debris to blanket homes and businesses two miles and further from the plant, not only in Rockton but in South Beloit and other communities, as well.  Chemtool manufactures greases, including lithium, lithium complex,  aluminum, and clay/bentonite greases.

Along with the debris, it is likely that toxic chemicals have also been released into the air in these communities, and that residents will be inhaling them for some time to come.  Local officials have asked residents living within a mile of Chemtool to evacuate for their own protection, due to the potentially dangerous chemicals released in the fire. It is estimated that as many as 1000 people may be affected.

We hope that initial reports of no fatalities—either Chemtool plant workers or Rockton area residents—are correct.  If so, it is a great blessing amidst the shock and danger of this explosion.

Fire-fighting-foam-1024x742California has long been regarded as one of the most environmentally progressive states in the country, which is why it is no surprise that they are one of the states leading the charge against the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. In March of this year, California announced its intent to label two of the most widely used PFAS–PFOS and PFOA–as chemicals that cause cancer in humans and to study four other PFAS– PFDA, PFHxS, PFNA, and PFUnDA– for reproductive toxicity.

It is about time.

What Are PFAS?

baby-food-1-300x300Baby food has been facing some much-needed scrutiny lately. A recently released Congressional report disclosed that many top baby foods, both organic and non-organic, are contaminated with dangerous levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. This is especially concerning since both the World Health Organization and the FDA have concluded that these heavy metals pose a danger to human health, and to babies and children in particular.

The findings are the result of a year-long investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform into heavy metals in baby food. Launched after a 2019 study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures found toxic metals in 95% of the baby food they tested, the Congressional investigation asked top baby food companies to voluntarily produce information about their testing policies and test results. Four companies responded to this request: Gerber, Beech-Nut, Hain, and Nurture. The Hain products are labeled as ‘Earth’s Best Organic’ and the Nurture products are labeled as ‘HappyBABY’. Three other companies—Walmart, Sprout Organic, and Campbell–did not cooperate, according to the Congressional report.

The responses to the Congressional inquiry revealed a major problem: all of the companies had used ingredients containing heavy metals in their baby food. Not only that, but the companies had routinely ignored their own standards for toxic metals, continuing to sell tainted baby food to families. And most of the companies had failed to test their finished baby food products for toxic metals, despite an industry admission that testing only the ingredients might underestimate the amount of heavy metals in the finished product. Below are the some of the results included in the Congressional report. (Keep in mind that these numbers are from the companies’ own test results, not results from an independent lab.)

carbonated-water-300x200We should be able to expect that products that are widely available for purchase are safe to consume but, unfortunately, this is not always the case. When you reach for a can of fizzy, sparkling water the last thing you want is to unknowingly be ingesting toxic chemicals with each sip, but that may be exactly what you are doing. Consumer Reports recently tested sparkling water and discovered that many of the most popular brands of sparkling water contain measurable levels of PFAS, a dangerous family of chemicals.

What Are PFAS?

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as PFAS, are a class of man-made chemicals. These chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body. Because of this, they are sometimes referred to as ‘forever chemicals’. PFAS pose many health risks to humans: high cholesterol, decreased fertility in women, increased risk of thyroid disease, and an increased risk of some cancers are just a few of the primary health concerns associated with PFAS. Given the high level of risk, there is no excuse for these chemicals to be present in any food or beverage.

Tear-gas-242x300The images are everywhere on the news; protesters, exercising their Constitutionally protected right to free speech, fleeing from clouds of tear gas thrown by the police. What we have seen protesters enduring in recent months has been downright inhumane. Setting aside the fact that protesters are being abused by law enforcement for no justifiable reason, the “riot control agents”–often referred to as tear gas–that the police are using on protesters, have been banned from international warfare by the Geneva Protocol since 1925. So why on earth do we still allow tear gas to be used on citizens by the very people who are meant to protect them?

Our government’s casual use of tear gas against peaceful protesters suggests that these chemicals are not being used to control “riots”—they are often used when there clearly is no riot—but instead to punish and discourage Constitutionally protected dissent.

What is a Riot Control Agent?

Hand-sanitizer-225x300Washing your hands with soap and water is always the best option for keeping your hands clean, but we don’t always have access to soap and water. That’s where hand sanitizer comes in. Hand sanitizers have never been as popular or necessary as they are right now. Unfortunately, the increase in demand for hand sanitizers has led to some dangerous products being on the shelves. There has been a dramatic increase in hand sanitizers containing methanol, also referred to as wood alcohol. Methanol has no place in hand sanitizers given that it can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested. To make matters worse, the methanol found in hand sanitizers is not being labeled as an ingredient on the product itself, meaning we have to be extremely careful about what products we are buying and using during this time.

What is Methanol?

 Methanol is a volatile, flammable liquid that is commonly used in antifreeze and fuel production. Exposure to methanol can cause agitation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, amnesia, seizures, and comas. If hand sanitizer containing methanol is ingested, blindness or death can occur. Under no circumstances should methanol be used in hand sanitizers.

woman-applying-hand-sanitizer-3987149-200x300As if COVID-19 is not bad enough, now there is news that some hand sanitizers being sold to prevent the virus may be hazardous themselves.

The FDA has issued a warning to consumers not to use hand sanitizers made in Mexico by Eskbiochem SA de CV. The hand sanitizers, which goes by multiple names, may contain methanol, which can be toxic when absorbed through the skin.

The products identified by the FDA are:

environmental-protection-326923_1920-1024x683COVID-19 has had disastrous effects on humans around the globe. It has killed thousands, left even more in financial despair, and infected millions of people worldwide. However, it does not come without a silver lining. As a result of coronavirus-related shutdowns, air pollution, which plays a major role in whether those infected with COVID-19 live or die, is at its lowest level in years. If we pay close enough attention, this pandemic can also function as a learning moment for the climate crisis.

Worldwide, air pollution levels have dropped drastically as a result of shelter-in-place orders. The Himalayas are visible to those in India for the first time in years, skies across the globe are clearer than they’ve been in a very long time, and air pollution levels are the best they’ve been in nearly three decades. Perhaps more importantly,  highways are empty, planes are grounded, and factories have slowed production, reducing hazardous emissions in the air. While these improvements are exciting, they are temporary. The sharp reduction in fossil fuel pollution as a direct result of shelter-in-place orders has caused a short-term improvement in the quality of air that we are breathing.

However, we cannot expect these results to continue once the pandemic is over and orders are lifted. We must use this moment to pay attention and move forward into a new and better future. If we do not, when the shutdowns are over and life returns to the way it was, so will air pollution levels. We’re already seeing this happen in China, where the shutdown in response to COVID-19 is being slowly lifted. China’s air pollution levels dropped just like ours have. Now that their shutdown is being lifted, air pollution levels have jumped right back up to where they were before. Not only is this extremely disappointing for the fate of our planet, but it’s also extremely scary given that their shelter-in-place orders are not even fully lifted yet. This means that it’s possible that China’s air pollution levels may be even worse once the pandemic is fully over.

Camp-LejeuneA United States Marine Corps base in Onslow County, North Carolina was the site of “the worst example of water contamination this country has ever seen.” Camp Lejeune is the second largest Marine base in the United States. Marines and their families lived on base for short periods of time learning necessary skills, since it was an amphibious training base. Then, they would leave to be stationed elsewhere. Little did they know that they were being exposed to toxic water in their temporary homes.

From the 1950s through the 1980s, people living or working at Camp Lejeune were exposed to contaminated drinking water from multiple sites on base. For instance, prior to 1986, water coming from two treatment plants—Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point—contained volatile organic compounds. The contamination primarily included perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), dichloroethylene (DCE), vinyl chloride, and benzene. Throughout the base, the drinking water contained toxic chemicals at levels 240 to 3,400 times higher than what safety standards permit.

And, the result of the exposure to those contaminants was tragic. Drinking that contaminated water likely increased victims’ risk of multiple types of cancer, including leukemia, breast cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It also put victims at risk for other diseases and negative health effects, including Parkinson’s disease and miscarriages.

african-American-cdc-aeh1dbI_a7I-unsplash-1024x683Among the many ugly truths of COVID-19’s heartbreak and ruin, these are the ugliest:

  • In Milwaukee, African Americans are 70% of COVID-19’s deaths, but only 26% of the population.
  • In Louisiana, those numbers are 70% and 32%.
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