Articles Tagged with environmental contamination

water-1154080_1920-1024x680In the United States, more than 13 million households rely on private wells to get their drinking water. But unlike municipal sources of drinking water, like a town or city, private wells are not regulated by the government. Instead, private well owners are responsible for the safety of their own drinking water.

To make sure that private well water is free from contaminants, wells should be tested at least once a year. Yet, routine water tests for private wells are uncommon in Illinois and in other places across the country. Without these tests, however, families have no way of knowing whether their private well water is safe to drink.

Testing your well water is important because it’s the only way to determine whether it contains chemicals or other contaminants that may be harmful to your health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that the following contaminants are commonly found in private well water:

Since the ingredients in many traditional cosmetic products pose a health risk, it’s no wonder that consumers are searching for “natural” and “clean” products. In fact, in-house research at Sephora shows that 54% of itssephora-450966_1920-300x216 shoppers are looking for brands that are “free of” certain ingredients. As a result, new brands positioning themselves as “cleaner” alternatives to traditional cosmetics are exploding. “Natural” brands made up approximately one-quarter of all higher-end skincare sales in 2018, reflecting this consumer trend towards “clean” and “natural” products.

Cosmetics retailers are noticing the trend, and “natural” products are moving from specialty stores to the mainstream marketplace. Major stores like Target and CVS are expanding their “natural” cosmetics offerings and Sephora, already carrying an expansive line of “natural” beauty products, launched a clean beauty initiative, giving products that are free of toxic ingredients a special green label. That all sounds great! But, what do “natural,” “clean,” and “green” actually mean in the cosmetics world?

Nothing! No governing body regulates those terms, so a company can call a product “natural” or “clean” and define the term however it wants. And, there is a lot of incentive to do so, since 90% of consumers believe that natural beauty ingredients were better for them. Usually, “natural” means plant-based and “clean” means free of certain products, such as parabens, phthalates, or sulfates. However, nothing guarantees this, and some consumers are starting to catch on. For example, a recent class-action lawsuit  accuses Tarte Cosmetics of misleading consumers. The complaint alleges that Tarte’s “high-performance naturals” line includes synthetic ingredients and that the “natural” label misleads consumers into purchasing synthetic products. This is just one example of the cosmetics industry taking advantage of consumers’ fear of toxic chemicals.

coal-ash-photo-300x188Among news of federal regulations being scaled back and reports of the drastic climate change situation, it’s nice to hear about a state taking action to protect the environment. This summer, Illinois did just that. Governor Pritzker signed the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which protects Illinois residents and the environment from the dangerous effects of toxic coal ash.

So, what’s coal ash and why is it dangerous? Coal ash, also called “coal combustion residuals,” is the group of byproducts produced from burning coal. The byproducts include waste from each process in the coal plant, like “bottom ash” sitting at the bottom of the coal furnace and “fly ash” that’s captured going out the smokestacks. Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial wastes in the United States. Nearly 130 million tons of coal ash was generated in 2014. About one-third of coal ash is recycled, but the majority is either dumped into landfills at the power plants or mixed with water and put in “ponds” behind earthen walls.

Coal ash can be incredibly dangerous to humans and the environment. Depending on where the coal was mined, coal ash can contain heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead. If you eat, drink, or inhale them, heavy metals can cause cancer and nervous system malfunctions, such as developmental delays. They have also been linked to kidney disease, reproductive problems, heart damage, lung disease, birth defects, and impaired bone growth. When coal ash is improperly disposed of, in coal ash ponds that lack protective liners, for example, it can leach into the water, carrying toxic substances into drinking water supplies. Over 100 communities nationwide have been impacted by coal ash leaching. Some impacted communities in Illinois include Waukegan and Peoria.

clothesline-804812_1920-300x200The companies who sell plug-in air fresheners advertise how they make your house smell clean and fresh, and show you photos that make it appear as if the fresheners are bringing nature right into your home. What the commercials don’t say is that plug-in air fresheners may also be bathing your house in toxic chemicals that can harm your health.

One of the primary concerns with plug-in air fresheners is their use of phthalates. In fact, the National Resources Defense Council conducted a study that concluded that 86% of the air fresheners tested contain phthalates. Why is this a problem? Phthalates are disruptive to the body, alter hormone levels, interfere with testosterone, and are associated with reproductive abnormalities and birth defects.  They can also cause asthma and allergic reactions. And studies in animals show an alarming possibility of a link to cancer and liver and kidney toxicity.

But there is more. Air fresheners also typically contain formaldehyde, a toxic compound that is definitely linked to cancer of the nose and throat. Formaldehyde can also cause irritation of the throat and airways, potentially leading to infections and other respiratory ailments. In fact, a study in 2013 done by the International Journal of Public Health found that babies whose mothers used plug-in air fresheners during pregnancy were far more likely to have a serious lung infection than babies whose mothers did not.

yasmeen-1-300x206The Collins Law Firm has filed a lawsuit against Sterigenics alleging that its client, 16-year-old Yasmeen Harrison, has battled cancer for most of her young life because of Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions. According to the lawsuit, Sterigenics knowingly emitted “massive and unnecessary amounts of ethylene oxide, an invisible, odorless carcinogen” into neighboring communities, including Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, and Darien, starting in 1985 and continuing through 2019. As a result, residents like Yasmeen and her family, who lived, worked and attended school in those communities were “exposed to an unacceptably high level of ethylene oxide and therefore exposed to an unacceptably high risk of cancer”, said attorney Shawn Collins. Moreover, Sterigenics ignored an IL EPA engineer’s 1984 letter alerting them to the cancer risk associated with ethylene oxide exposure and forged ahead with the facility without warning neighbors of the danger.

The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, was brought on behalf of Yasmeen Harrison, who was diagnosed in 2005 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) as a toddler. But that was just the beginning of her arduous journey. After a brief period in remission, the cancer returned in 2007. To combat this recurrence, Yasmeen-4-216x300Yasmeen underwent a bone marrow transplant, but then contracted another cancer—myelodysplastic syndrome– in 2009. After a second bone marrow transplant and rocky recovery, things seemed to be looking up, when it was discovered in 2017 that Yasmeen had yet another cancer. This time it was kidney cancer.  Surgery followed and today that cancer is in remission. The lawsuit alleges that Yasmeen’s exposure to Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide as an infant, as well as her mother’s exposure while pregnant, contributed to her cancer.

“Helping people like Yasmeen who have been irreparably harmed by the reckless and wrongful conduct of polluters is the reason we practice law. We believe that the lawsuits we are filing will bring justice to Yasmeen, her family and the other families who are suffering from devastating illnesses. Yasmeen has been so brave and tenacious throughout her long battle; it is now time for us to take up the mantle and fight for her.” said Shawn Collins, partner at The Collins Law Firm.

SterigenicsThe Collins Law Firm has filed eleven lawsuits against Sterigenics alleging their clients  contracted cancer after being exposed to Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions for years. According to the lawsuits, Sterigenics knowingly emitted the cancer-causing gas starting in 1985 and continuing through 2019. As a result, residents who lived or worked in the nearby communities, including Willowbrook, Burr Ridge, and Darien, were exposed to a carcinogen that raised their cancer risk many times above the national average, according to a government report. Moreover, Sterigenics operated their facility without apparent concern for the health of nearby residents and without warning them of the potential danger.

“Our law firm is dedicated to protecting people from reckless and wrongful conduct by corporate polluters. It is our expectation that these lawsuits will bring justice to these families whose lives have been devastated by catastrophic illness. We also hope that, when Sterigenics’ behavior over the years is exposed publicly through our lawsuits, the State of Illinois will finally shut the company down permanently.” said Shawn Collins, partner at The Collins Law Firm.

The lawsuits, filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County on Monday, are brought on behalf of our clients who have suffered from or lost a loved one to, breast cancer, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and T cell lymphoma. All of the plaintiffs lived for a number of years within close proximity to the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Illinois. This plant, which emitted ethylene oxide for years, is within a mile of 20,000 people and four schools.

According to a new report, the state of Illinois has the most leaking coal ash dumps in the United States.

utility-power-plantCoal ash is the waste that is left over after coal is burned. Most coal ash is created by coal-fired power plants that combust coal to produce electricity. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), living next to a coal ash disposal site can increase your risk of cancer. It can also increase your risk of developing other health problems such as heart disease, reproductive issues and neurological damage in kids. This is because coal ash often contains numerous heavy metals and carcinogens, including arsenic, lead, and mercury.

Coal ash is one of the biggest types of industrial waste produced in the United States. The EPA notes that in 2012 alone, 470 coal-fired electric utilities generated around 110 million tons of coal ash. For decades, the utility industry disposed of this waste by irresponsibly dumping it unlined ponds and landfills where coal ash chemicals are free to seep into groundwater.

trump-2546104_1920-300x211Since taking over, the Trump Administration has wreaked havoc on the environment, destroying environmental protections left and right. Trump has targeted rules that he thinks are burdensome to big business, even though environmental protections are generally good for the economy. Closing his eyes to this fact, Trump issued the “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” This Order directs the heads of agencies, like the EPA, to review all existing regulations “that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.”

Trump’s Executive Order has certainly been efficient at endangering the earth. As of June 2019, the Trump Administration has rolled back or is in the process of rolling back over 80 environmental rules and regulations. These rollbacks and proposed rollbacks reach every aspect of the environment, from emissions to endangered species. Rollbacks currently in effect include:

  • Lowering fines for automakers who do not meet average fuel efficiency standards

The Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook, IL has been using ethylene oxide (EtO), a known human carcinogen, to sterilize medical and other equipment since the 1980s. Recently, U.S. EPA and the Village of Willowbrook tested the air around the Sterigenics facility and found alarming amounts of this chemical in the air near schools and other locations by the facility. These dangerous EtO levels prompted Illinois EPA to issue a Seal Order that shut down sterilization operations and use of EtO at Sterigenics on February 15, 2019. Sterigenics has not been permitted to use or emit EtO since.

willowbrook-protest-225x300After the Seal Order was issued, the community and their elected officials did not rest. They continued to fight to ensure that EtO cannot bring any more harm to their neighborhood or to other neighborhoods across Illinois. As a result of their advocacy, the Illinois Legislature passed Senate Bill 1852, which went into effect on June 21, 2019. This new law is known as the Matt Haller Act and was named in honor of a 45-year-old Willowbrook resident who passed away earlier this year from stomach cancer. Haller had lived approximately 1 mile from the Sterigenics plant and advocated for its closure. The Matt Haller Act is purported to impose the strongest restrictions on ethylene oxide use in the nation.

Despite the Matt Haller Act, the Seal Order and the community’s fight to live in an EtO-free environment, Sterigenics has not stopped pushing to emit more carcinogenic EtO into the community’s air. Just days after Governor Pritzker signed the Matt Haller Act, Sterigenics asked Illinois EPA for a construction permit which would allow it to operate and use EtO under new conditions, such as a taller emissions stack. Sterigenics filed this construction permit application on June 24, 2019.

still-life-1460067_1920-1024x683Each morning, before going about your day, do you spritz on your favorite perfume? Next time you do, look at the ingredient list. You’ll probably see the word “Fragrance.” Seems appropriate for a perfume, but what exactly is it? Turns out, a whole bunch of chemicals that could be toxic.

The word “Fragrance” on any product’s ingredient list refers to the mixture of natural and synthetic chemicals that give your products that pleasant smell. Even unscented products may list “Fragrance” as an ingredient, because chemical companies may need it to counteract foul-smelling ingredients to give the product a neutral odor. A 2010 study on perfumes and colognes found that, on average, there were 14 secret chemical ingredients in the fragrance cocktail that consumers do not see listed on the product label. Compared to the average 15 listed ingredients, almost half of the ingredients in your perfume are a secret.

Smells fishy, but why is that so bad? Well, to start, many of those secret ingredients are associated with allergic reactions. Fragrance is among the top five allergens in the world! The study discovered over 24 chemicals that could act as allergy triggers, possibly causing a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, rashes, coughing, vomiting, and skin irritation. Keeping in mind that these chemicals could trigger you and those around you, fragrances can pose a serious risk to a large number of people.

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