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Articles Tagged with Air pollution

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!

Willowbrook has been in the news recently because of a federal government report which revealed that Sterigenics has been contaminating the community with a carcinogen known as ethylene oxide for decades, resulting in a significantly elevated cancer risk for nearby residents. This situation reminds me of some similar cases I was involved in: the Lockformer lawsuits in Lisle, IL.

My name is Shawn Collins. I’m the lawyer whose firm–The Collins Law Firm in Naperville– represented a community of families in those cases. In three separate cases, we successfully won from the polluter (Lockformer, in Lisle) $27 million in property damage; a generous settlement (the precise amount remains confidential) for a young woman who had contracted cancer from exposure to the chemical; tens of millions more for a fund for future cancer victims; and a safe, clean water supply for hundreds of area families.

The saddest but most meaningful case was the one for the young cancer victim. Her illness is why we are right to take so seriously toxic contamination in our communities. We don’t want a devastating illness to happen to anyone we love.

Hundreds of Willowbrook residents filled a standing-room-only meeting last night. They came to hear their government explain whether their health is in danger due to the ethylene oxide pollution that a local company, Sterigenics, has been belching into their neighborhood for the last 30 years.

Ethylene oxide is a nasty carcinogen. But the people of Willowbrook had no idea that such a chemical even existed, let alone that it had been in their neighborhood for decades. Until last week.

Sterigenics has known–probably since the 1980’s–that it was causing ethylene oxide pollution in Willowbrook. So did government, or at least it should have known. Its job was to know. Hard to say what is worse: the government knowing about the ethylene oxide pollution for many years and doing nothing to protect the people of Willowbrook, or the government not knowing anything about the problem until just now.

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.”

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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