While Coal Ash Kills Americans, the EPA Stands By

Elaine Steeles house sits on a hill just above where 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled after a dike containing the pond ruptured at Tennessee Valley Authoritys Kingston power plant in Roane County, Tennessee, in December 2008. For months later, she watched as men and women workers cleaned up hundreds of acres of thick, toxic gray sludge.

She told The Daily Beast they dug out iceberg-sized mounds of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of burning coal, to clear roads and trees and find buried homes. The workers she saw were always covered in the sludge from head to toe. Wed see them out working day and night, and I never once saw anyone wearing protective gear, Steele said.

The Kingston spill is one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Coal ash, which contains toxic metals like mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, smothered the water and soil in rural Roane County, and a decade later, residents like Steele are still unaware of whether the toxins have been removedor if they ever will be.

The long-term effects of the spill on those exposed to the ash cleanup are clear, however. In 2013, more than 30 current and former workers and some spouses filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court against Jacobs Engineering, a company hired to oversee cleanup efforts, claiming the company knowingly exposed the workers to the toxic coal ash. Other workers and their families keep coming forward. In March, 180 new cases of dead and dying workers who had cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and other conditions from working for months or years cleaning up the spill were recently filed in Roane County Circuit Court. The death toll is now more than 30, and those who fell ill have reached at least 200, according to an ongoing investigation by the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Its shocking how many different bodily organ systems these can affect.
Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for the Physicians for Social Responsibility

In the years since the spill, theres been a widespread effort by communities around the U.S. to get utilities to clean up coal ash. To date, utility companies have excavated or committed to excavate about 90 million tons, Holleman said, but thats just a drop in the bucket: in 2014 alone, the U.S. produced 140 million tons of it, according to the EPA. Many utilities mix the ash with water and run it into lagoons or ponds nearby, held in by a dike usually made from earthen material, and others dump the fly ash in landfills. A recent analysis by utility companies showed evidence of groundwater contamination at more than 70 of these sites around the U.S.

The EPA estimates that these sites are responsible for at least 30 percent of all toxic pollution coming from industrial pollution, Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said. [The Southeast] is much higher because we have more than our sharealmost every major river system in Southeast has one or two facilities near it.

Despite overwhelming evidence that coal ash is a major health risk, President Trumps administration is prepared to roll back federal regulations on the disposal and maintenance of coal ash, giving more power to states to decide how and where to store coal ash and how to clean up spills and leaks. Last month, Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt announced the agency will move forward with more than a dozen changes to the the 2015 Coal Combustion Residuals rulethe first time the federal government finalized regulations for coal ash disposal. The EPA claims the changes will save the utility sector up to $100 million per year in compliance costs.

Pruitt claims the revisions will allow for public comment and flexibility for state regulators, but his agency just dismissed a lawsuit about the health impacts of coal ash, citing insufficient evidence Alabama regulators violated the Civil Rights Act by allowing a landfill company to operate in a black community. During the Kingston cleanup, 4 million tons of coal ash was shipped to a landfill in Uniontown, Alabama, a predominantly black town. Since then, Uniontown residents had been fighting the legal battle with state and federal environmental regulators.

What weve seen over and over again is that when we have fuzzy flexibilities, utilities take advantage to delay any decision on what they have to do, Holleman said. It puts maximum political pressure on the state agencies.

The communities who live and breathe adjacent to coal ash ponds or landfills know the risks all too well, but these facilities have ripple effects throughout the regions theyre located in. Since coal ash is not counted as a hazardous waste and is minimally regulated, there are many possibilities for exposure, Barb Gottlieb, director of environment and health for the Physicians for Social Responsibility, told The Daily Beast.

What weve seen over and over again is that when we have fuzzy flexibilities, utilities take advantage to delay any decision on what they have to do.
Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center

The toxinssuch as lead, mercury, and radiumcan leak into drinking water and contaminate the air miles from where facilities are located. Arsenic, also found in coal ash, is particularly dangerous when it penetrates skin or is ingested, as it can lead to heart disease and diabetes, as well as bladder, lung, kidney, and skin cancer. Chronic exposure to cadmium in drinking water can result in kidney disease and obstructive lung diseases like emphysema, bone mineral loss and osteoporosis. Drinking water laced with chromium can cause stomach ulcers, and breathing in the toxin can lead to lung cancer.

Its shocking how many different bodily organ systems these can affect, Gottlieb said.

The chemicals can also be spread in other ways. Through beneficial use policies, the coal industry is allowed to reuse coal ash in some concrete and other construction projects instead of storing it, which has caused its own host of problems. In Town of Pines, Indiana, for example, the product was used so extensively in building roads and building material, the town was declared a Superfund site. A golf course in Chesapeake, Virginia partially built with coal ash led to a years-long legal battle with Dominion Energy over environmental contamination.

Its hard for people to put the pieces together, Gottlieb said. How often are people informed about toxic substances? And some of the harm that will result happens years later, making it harder to determine what was the cause.

Steele said the thought of the damage coal ash caused her community and neighbors weighs on her. She moved to Roane County before the spill to retire and enjoy life on the water; she loves to kayak on the nearby Emory Riverwhere the coal ash eventually spilled intoand often takes her 4-year-old grandson to the beach. We dont know whats in that water to this day, she said. Theres still leaking, its still in groundwater, we still have ponds right up against the river.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/while-coal-ash-kills-americans-the-epa-stands-by

86% of Teens Have These Toxic Chemicals in Their Bodies

Research published Monday in the journal BMJ Open revealed some frightening statistics about the incidence of Bisphenol A (BPA) among teenagers: 86 percent of 94 teenagers tracking their diet and submitting urine samples in a study showed evidence of BPA in their urine.

The culprit: plastic containers and bottles that seep potentially cancer-causing chemical through food and beverages. The teenage participants attempted to reduce their exposure to BPA by avoiding fruits and vegetables packaged in plastic containers, tinned food, and meals designed to be reheated in a microwave in packaging containing BPA, according to a press statement. Welpanyone whos had a long day and wants to just nuke some food in a microwave could be getting a dose of BPA to boot.

And while the teens were able to reduce their exposure to BPA, one author of the paper noted that its next to impossible to avoid BPA: Our students who followed the BPA-free diet reported that it would be difficult to follow it long term, because labelling of BPA products was inconsistent. They found it difficult to source and identify BPA-free foods.

Thats the crux of a problem highlighted BPA literature for the better part of a decade: Warnings about the health effects of cancer-causing chemicals that trickle into food and beverages from common plastic household products that then enter our systemsfrom babies sucking out of sippy cups to adults storing leftovers to heat up the next day. But its a problem neither public health nor the government has figured out yet.

Its not the first time that urine samples have shown that an overwhelming majority of people have BPA floating in their bodies. A 2003-04 survey conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 93 percent of 2,517 urine samples of people over the age of 6 had BPA in their system, primarily from food and beverage containers; for infants, breast milk was a primary source.

But wasnt BPA labeled a bad guy nearly a decade ago, when bespoke water bottles flashed the fact that they werent made of BPA and made slinging one around in public practically cool? Yes, but the history of BPA in our plastics runs deepand continues to plague Western plastics consumption.

Public health advocates began warning of BPAs dire effects several years ago, as bombshell study after study reported the chemical, which is used to harden polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, could seep into humans as they broke down. Used since the 1960s, the chemical is found in everything from plastic food storage containers to helmets to dental sealants to water bottlesproducts with high usage across all demographics, including children. BPA can seamlessly enter our bodies because its cloaked in a chemical disguise that makes it similar to estrogen. That means genes that respond to estrogen respond to BPA instead, disrupting the endocrine system and wreaking havoc in the regulation of hormones.

Getting even a minute trace of BPA into the bloodstream isnt pretty: Once in the bloodstream, it can lead to a host of serious health issues, including affecting the prostate gland of fetuses, increased risk of high blood pressure, and hyperactivity. BPA has been connected to other, more serious diseases as well, ranging from prostate cancer and heart disease to fundamental disruptions in the endocrine system and genetic expression, according to a database of BPA studies the NIEHS maintains.

Because of their dangerous side effects, children and pregnant women have been especially warned against using products that contain BPA. But health agencies have been slow to react to BPA outside warning Americans to be careful of exposing themselves to products. In fact, a 2008 report from the National Toxicology Program found minimal concern for females, infants, and children exposed to BPA in mammary glands (i.e., breast milk), and negligible concern for pregnant women and those who might be exposed to BPA in their workplace. Meanwhile, there was some concern about how BPA affected brain, behavior, and prostate gland development in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures.

What makes sense from a consumer frontavoiding products that explicitly say they are free of BPAisnt necessarily a safe strategy.

That leads to the latest study on BPA, which suggests that the effects are showing up in a majority of teens (who probably went through the first wave of BPA health warnings) and can lay latent until symptoms of more serious diseases show up later in life. On average, the participants in the studystudents in six southwest England aged between 17 and 19 years oldhad 1.22 ng/mL of BPA in their urine. The students were part of a public health initiative designed to see if tracking diet would help them identify sources of BPA, particularly around plastic food storage containers. The researchers not only found that 86 percent of the students showed signs of BPA in their urine, buttroublinglythat it was nearly impossible to avoid BPA in daily life due to poor labeling: We found no evidence in this self-administered intervention study that it was possible to moderate BPA exposure by diet in a real-world setting.

What's even more worrisome is the sheer prevalence of products that contain BPA in everyday life, despite regulations not only in the United States but across the world. As the studyfrom researchers at England's University of Exeterpoints out, the European Food Safety Authority has investigated the health effects of BPA. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration has not outright banned the use of BPA but warned in the 2008 National Toxicology Report that it had some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures, along with a 108-page report that outlined the negative health effects of BPA.

Whats more, alternatives arent exactly a safe bet. The public outcry over BPA had the plastics industry scrambling to create alternate products that were BPA-free yet helped harden plastics the way BPA did, but some early research indicated that these BPA-replacements had the ability to induce estrogenic activity, including baby bottles and sippy cups, that stressed they were BPA-free and used resins like polysterene and Tritan instead.

So what makes sense from a consumer frontavoiding products that explicitly say they are free of BPAisnt necessarily a safe strategy, and its one that the researchers themselves ran into while working with the 94 teens, who reported that they had a hard time outright avoiding products that contained BPA.

We found no evidence in this self-administered intervention study that it was possible to moderate BPA exposure by diet in a real-world setting, the authors noted. Furthermore, our study participants indicated that they would be unlikely to sustain such a diet long term, due to the difficulty in identifying BPA-free foods.

The study has its limits: It focuses on fewer than 100 British teenagers in a specific region in England, and the students self-reported their own dietary restrictions.

But the study highlights two things. First, its nearly impossible to avoid BPA in our food packaging. Second, safe substitutes arent necessarily safe. Better labeling might help, but what will ultimately make for less dismal statistics are outright bans of BPA and better-tested substitutes of plastic hardenersor better yet, avoiding them altogether with equally effective, affordable, accessible optionsthat dont make BPA the unavoidable health threat it has become.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/86-of-teens-have-these-toxic-chemicals-in-their-bodies