Articles Posted in Air pollution

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 decades 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 water mark 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 than 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 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 smoke stack 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 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 risks 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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