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Articles Posted in Air pollution

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.

smog-219x300In the summer of 2008, the Chinese city of Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. The event has frequently been called the most polluted Olympics ever and many remember seeing the images of Beijing skyscrapers barely visible through a thick layer of hazy smog. What many Americans may not know, however, is that the same type of air pollution from Particulate Matter emissions has been linked to the premature deaths of many women and men right here in the United States.

According to a study published this year, more than 30,000 deaths in the United States in a single year may have been caused by exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine, examined deaths in 2015 to determine how many could be attributed to exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution. Researchers estimated that Particulate Matter pollution was responsible for the deaths of 15,612 women and 14,757 men in 2015 alone. The risk of premature death was greater in areas with lower income and higher poverty rates than in wealthier counties. Communities of color and communities where fewer residents had completed a high school education were also at greater risk.

What is Particulate Matter?

EPA’s Air Pollution Chief, Bill Wehrum, recently announced his plans to resign. This announcement comes just two months after the sam-bark-R1GWSOJ9cng-unsplash-300x200House Committee on Energy & Commerce started investigating him for potential federal ethics rules violations. Wehrum’s conduct came into question when Wehrum allegedly provided conflicting information to Congress about his ties to his old law firm and the Utility Air Regulatory Group, a lobbyist group that fights Clean Air Act regulations.

Before joining EPA, Wehrum worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for power companies seeking to scale back air pollution rules. His client list included the Utility Air Regulatory Group. In his position at EPA, Wehrum met with some of the Utility Air Regulatory Group’s members, which might be a violation of the federal ethics rules that require that he recuse himself if they were his former clients. Given his “industry-first” attitude that has loosened air pollution rules, it’s not a surprise that people question Wehrum’s motives.

Wehrum’s departure is definitely something to celebrate. He looked out for industry to the detriment of human health and the environment by wreaking havoc on environmental regulations. During his one and a half years at EPA, Wehrum championed industry, rolling back the Obama Administration’s farthest-reaching air policies. Most recently, he finalized the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, which helps the coal industry by reducing carbon emissions by less than half of what experts say is necessary to avoid a climate change catastrophe. Wehrum also played a role in relaxing tailpipe emission standards and changing how EPA measures the health effects of air pollution. In the Chicago-area, he showed a complete disregard for the health of communities affected by ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics by agreeing that it is possible for Sterigenics to reopen if they implement stricter pollution controls. It’s certainly not a shame to see Wehrum leave!

Beach-Park-300x190We are environmental personal injury lawyers with years of experience representing the victims of chemical exposure. People who are injured as a result of toxic exposure have a special kind of case: a toxic tort case which is a personal injury and environmental case blended together. The victims of the toxic spill of anhydrous ammonia in Beach Park, Illinois may have a toxic tort lawsuit against the person responsible for the spill and will need an experienced environmental lawyer to represent them. Our toxic tort attorneys can help them fight for the maximum compensation for their injuries.

What Happened in Beach Park, Illinois?

A tractor was pulling two large containers of anhydrous ammonia when they began leaking near Green Bay Road and 29th street in Beach Park. The spill created a large and dangerous chemical cloud in the area, prompting authorities to close all of the public schools in the area and to warn residents within a one-mile radius to stay indoors with their windows closed. In addition, dozens of people affected by the toxic gas were taken to area hospitals. Most of the victims were treated and released, but some remain in the hospital. Now, the National Transportation Safety Board has announced they will be conducting an investigation to see how this spill happened.

Last week, Governor Rauner finally joined the group of elected officials calling for the shutdown of the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook. Officials had pressured Rauner to take action to protect the community after weeks of public outcry following the recent release of a report about cancer-causing emissions coming from the plant.

Bruce_rauner_cropped-thumb-356x519-106443-thumb-250x364-106444-205x300That report, written by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, detailed a three-decade-long contamination of the Willowbrook area with a toxic carcinogen, ethylene oxide, by Sterigenics. The authors of the report came to the conclusion–after evaluating ethylene oxide testing done near the facility last May–that the emissions from Sterigenics posed “a public health hazard” and an elevated cancer risk for the community. In fact, the report estimated the cancer risk of exposed residents in the area to be 64 times the EPA’s acceptable lifetime risk.

Understandably, residents, many of whom already had cancer or who had lost a family member to cancer, were outraged. How could this have happened and how could any elected official allow it to continue happening?

aeroplane-1867209_1920.jpgA study by the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that the air inside airplane cabins can be “contaminated by pyrolysed engine oil and other aircraft fluids [that] can reasonably be linked to acute and chronic symptoms”, including:

  • “eye, nose and throat irritations, skin reactions, recurrent respiratory tract infections and fatigue, nausea and cramps”, and
  • “cardiovascular, neurobehavioral, neurological and respiratory symptoms, chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivity, aerotoxic syndrome, cancer, and soft tissue damage.”

Thumbnail image for plants-2168119_1920.jpgGet ready for a lot more of this.

Last September, the Obama EPA issued a new rule limiting the levels of air pollution that would be allowed in the states. The idea was to save lives and health, because industrial air pollution is well-documented to threaten both. Wisely, the rule created an exception for events outside the state’s control–such as wildfires or volcanic eruptions–that could dramatically increase air pollution on a short-term basis, and which the state had little or no ability to control.

But leave it to history’s most polluter-friendly EPA, run by the petroleum industry’s best spokesperson, Scott Pruitt, to take a good idea and exploit it as an excuse to create more life-endangering pollution. According to a lawsuit filed by two giants in the environmental protection field– the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Sierra Club–Pruitt has created another exception to the rule. This exception goes far beyond creating short-term allowances for natural, unforeseeable, uncontrollable events. As alleged, this new exception now allows more “emissions from coal-burning power plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, hazardous waste incinerators and a wide variety of industrial activity”, so long as the emissions are the result of “reasonable controlled human activity”.

coal-1626401_1920.jpgIn recent executive orders, President Trump announced his intention to allow coal companies to spew significantly more health-endangering chemicals into the environment. “Reducing costs will bring back coal industry jobs”, is Trump’s justification. But a survey of 32 utilities–all of whom had been moving away from coal production– proves that Trump’s justification is wrong. Only one of the 32 said that Trump’s executive orders caused it to re-think its move away from coal. Overwhelmingly, the utility companies said that Trump’s orders will not cause them to re-commit to coal, largely because alternative energy sources–such as natural gas, wind, and solar power–are so much cheaper. No one should have been surprised by these survey results, least of all the President. The high watermark for American coal industry employment was 1925, almost a century ago, and the steady declines since have tracked the declines in many American industries over time.

The reason for the loss of coal industry jobs over the last 90+ years is not the Obama administration’s environmental regulations of 5 years ago that the President has fraudulently attacked. It is cruel of the President to create false hope in coal miners and their families that simply allowing coal plants to pollute more is going to bring back their jobs, let alone their industry. As a country, we should thank these workers for their brave and necessary service that helped make the American industry the marvel of the world. And we should provide them the health care which they badly need, and re-train them for work in other well-paying jobs.

But we should not lie to them. And we should not allow massive new pollution in order to “bring back” jobs to an industry that is quickly becoming extinct.

In a recent decision described by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as “a resounding victory for public health and a key component of EPA’s efforts to make sure all Americans have clean air to breathe,” the Supreme Court backed federally imposed limits on smokestack emissions that cross state lines. The ruling, issued on April 29th, upholds rules adopted by EPA in 2011 that force polluting power plants to limit the emission of pollutants that ultimately contaminate the air in downwind states and cause smog and acid rain. The Supreme Court held that under the Federal Clean Air Act, the EPA can regulate states that do not adequately control downwind pollution. According to the EPA, the reduction in air pollution will result in hundreds of billions of dollars in health care savings and prevent more than 30,000 premature deaths.

As acknowledged by the EPA and public health agencies, environmental exposures to contaminated air and water are significant risk factors in human illnesses, including cancer. Unfortunately, decades of improper chemical disposal has left a legacy of thousands of contaminated waste sites across the country. As a result of this legacy — today — homeowners from coast to coast are learning that their homes have been contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals like TCE, PCE, Benzene and Vinyl Chloride.

Hopefully, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling will spare future generations from the very real consequences of environmental pollution.

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