Op-ed: A plastic recipe for societal suicide

May 29, 2024- by Pete Myers in Environmental Health News

We must determine which uses of plastic remain essential; eliminate those that aren’t; and design new materials to replace still essential plastics.

Our romance with plastic commenced just over a century ago. For much of this history, plastic was thought harmless: An almost infinitely malleable material that could be manipulated to do miraculous things without danger to humans, wildlife or the environment.

Indeed, that belief still persists in some quarters. For example, a delegate from a major plastic producing country proclaimed at the recent UN plastic treaty negotiation in Ottawa (April 2024) that “plastic is inert.”

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That assertion is simply and profoundly wrong. Thousands of studies using modern biochemical science definitively prove the opposite, with scientific certainty. Plastic is not inert. Instead, the chemicals that go into plastics can cause many harmful effects and plastic particles themselves, now unquestionably penetrating the most intimate tissues and fluids in our bodies, may contribute to that harm directly.

How could we have been so wrong? Multiple factors have hidden the truth. Seven are especially important:

  1. Chemists and chemical engineers got better and better at mixing simple plastics with more and more chemicals to manipulate its material qualities. Do you want it softer, more malleable, better able to resist sunlight damage, etc.? Countless properties were altered to produce the wide varieties of plastic we have now. Today’s plastics are a veritable soup of chemical ingredients. All told, across all types of plastic, over 16,000 chemicals are known to be present. Very few of those plastic ingredients, or the whole soup, have been tested for safety.
  2. No one thought carefully and systematically about the reality that plastic production unavoidably includes impurities, and these react with chemicals in the soup to form literally thousands of “non-intentionally added substances.” Among them are many hazardous chemicals, and also other chemicals that have not been characterized well-enough to even begin to understand their potential dangers.
  3. No one worried initially that those chemicals might leach from the products and into the environment, or food in plastic packages. But even if they did, the assumption was that the amounts migrating would be so small as to be immaterial.
  4. No one realized at the beginning that some of those chemicals would disrupt human and wildlife hormone signaling at infinitesimally low levels so that exposures caused by leaching could actually be quite hazardous, contributing to many human maladies including heart disease, cancers, infertility, and neurological, metabolic and immune disorders.
  5. No one imagined that waste plastics, instead of being degraded by natural processes, would persist for decades or longer, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces that ultimately have invaded not just the entire biosphere but also our very bodies, in the most intimate places. And in addition to chemicals inherent in those pieces also come hitch-hiking chemicals the particles picked up somewhere in the environment they traversed enroute to our bodies.
  6. No one foresaw, except in the wildest dreams of plastic producers, that production would expand exponentially so that by today it overwhelms our ability to manage the volumes that are produced.
  7. Vast fortunes have accrued to companies and individuals in the plastic business. That has enabled serious efforts to oppose and undermine science demonstrating harmful effects of plastics. Too many examples show that companies hid data about the toxicity of their products until efforts by intrepid journalists and lawyers unearthed damning evidence in company files and memos, sometimes decades old. It makes you wonder: “Don’t the perpetrators have families whose futures they care about?”

Today, we know with confidence that the chemicals released by plastic manufacturing, use and disposal harm people, wildlife and the environment. We know they are ubiquitous. And we have considerable, growing evidence that micro and nano plastics now literally everywhere in the environment are likely to harm health also.

“Plastic is not inert. Instead, the chemicals that go into plastics can cause many harmful effects.”

Some uses of plastics are essential. We should be grateful for those. Yet it is scientifically untenable to look toward a future in which plastic production volumes triple by 2060—the plastic industry’s own projections—and imagine that future is remotely sustainable. Given the range of human maladies now traced to plastic chemicals, it is a recipe for societal suicide.

Many steps can and must be taken in response to this plastic tsunami. Overall, we should reduce production of plastic, simplify its chemistry, and remove hazardous materials from its ingredients. We must determine which uses of plastic remain essential; eliminate those that aren’t; and design new materials to replace still essential plastics. 

Most important are efforts by synthetic chemists to use the scientific knowledge that has emerged about plastic hazards to design safer materials. 

This article was originally published by Earth Action, a Swiss non-profit, in a report titled Stop the plastic avalanche in Switzerland and is republished here with permission. 

About the author(s):

Pete Myers

Pete Myers

Pete Myers is the founder and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, publisher of EHN.org and DailyClimate.org

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Indiana General Assembly appears conflicted over PFAS chemicals

May 28, 2024By Zoe Trampke in the Star Press

StarPress Editor’s Note: The following is part of a class project originally initiated in the classroom of Ball State University professor Adam Kuban in fall 2021. Kuban continued the project this spring semester, challenging his students to find sustainability efforts in the Muncie area and pitch their ideas to Ron Wilkins, interim editor of The Star Press, Journal & Courier and Palladium-Item. This spring, stories related to health care will be featured.

Indiana lawmakers remain divided over what steps should be taken to regulate harmful chemicals in Hoosiers’ lives.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, per- and-polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a group of synthetic chemicals that have been shown to have harmful effects on humans and animals. These chemicals became prominent in the 1950s and are found in drinking water as well as other everyday products including non-stick skillets, cosmetic products, waterproof clothing and more.

PFAS have gained public attention in recent years and have been increasingly written about.

In a peer-reviewed article from “Environmental Toxicology Chemistry,” it was found that most published journal articles currently attribute various health issues to PFAS. According to the article, many studies connect PFAS with problems relating to immune function, thyroid function, liver disease and cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency also considered these chemicals potentially dangerous, warning that these chemicals cause health effects.

Several states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, have enacted drinking water regulations for PFAS chemicals, but Indiana has not.

Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) attempted to pass House Bill 1085, which would have required the Indiana Department of Health to establish state maximum levels for PFAS in water provided by public water systems.

That bill died in committee after failing to advance from the Committee on Environmental Affairs.

While Dvorak has been unsuccessful in passing legislation addressing PFAS chemicals, he says that the attention to PFAS encouraged the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to create a program for testing water supplies across the state. This data is available to the public but has not led to regulation of the chemicals yet.

“The problem is, we know which water systems have PFAS and are sending them into people’s homes, but nothing is being done about them,” Dvorak said. “I’m sure, though, the water systems in those municipalities are trying to figure out ways that they can change it, but there’s no penalties, and the water can still go into people’s homes.”

Dvorak said that part of the problem is that some legislators feel that there is not enough information on PFAS chemicals to justify regulation at the state level. Recently, there have also been changing definitions from the federal government focusing on what would be safe levels should be.

In a peer-reviewed journal article published in “International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health” that reviewed differing regulations, it was found that political, social, economic, scientific and practical issues all impact whether PFAS regulation will occur.

The article discusses U.S. Senate Bill 1507 from the 2019 legislative session, which, if passed, would have, “Authorized grants for states to address ‘emerging contaminants’ in drinking water, including PFAS; to direct the U.S. Geological Survey to set PFAS concentration standards in groundwater; to direct the EPA to study, monitor and regulate PFAS in drinking water; and to establish a multiagency initiative to study emerging contaminants, would be $715 million between 2020 and 2024.”

The article notes these high costs seem to impact the decision to regulate.

There are also interest groups that oppose certain PFAS regulations.

Indiana House Bill 1399 recently gained attention because it would have changed the definition of PFAS chemicals to allow for certain products to continue to be manufactured without being labeled as PFAS chemicals. While this bill originally died, there was a last-minute attempted revival. If it had passed, certain chemicals including polymers and gases, which are considered harmful in other states, would have no longer been considered dangerous in Indiana and would not have been recognized as PFAS.

Proponents of Bill 1399 argued that certain essential products contain PFAS that should not be grouped in with other PFAS-containing products.

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Happy Earthday. Eat some plastic!

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Two western Kentucky communities have excessive rates of “forever chemicals” in their water.

November 28, 2023-By Ryan Van Velzer, Louisville Public Media. Editor’s Note: It has been known for a little over a year now that Henderson, Kentucky was also experiencing problems with these chemicals that are deleterious to our health and last forever.

In the latest round of testing for forever chemicals, the Kentucky Division of Water discovered high rates in two communities. Now, municipal leaders are working with state officials to try and fix it.

The city of Lewisport, Kentucky, is a seven-time winner of the Best Tasting Water in Kentucky. This spring, city leaders discovered another top ranking of its water, but one they would be loath to promote.

The Kentucky Division of Water collected samples from the Lewisport water plant as part of the latest round of statewide testing for forever chemicals. The city’s drinking water tested positive for three compounds among the tens of thousands that belong to the family of chemicals, also known as per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Forever chemicals are used for all sorts of stuff: non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and waterproof clothing. They’re now present in Kentucky’s soilwaterairand in fish tissue. And they’ve been linked to cancer and several other health problems — even in small quantities.

Over the last five years, Kentucky’s Department for Environmental Protection (DEP) has tested 91% of the state’s water treatment plants for PFAS, according to an LPM analysis.

They’ve found detectable levels of forever chemicals in the drinking water at 44% of the water treatment plants they tested — 86 plants in total.

In the latest round of data from 2023, the state found two places with PFAS levels above proposed federal standards, or maximum contaminant levels. 

  • Lewisport’s drinking water showed levels of PFOS three times higher than proposed standards.
  • Marshall County’s North Marshall Water District showed levels of PFOA nearly three times higher than proposed standards.

DEP Commissioner Tony Hatton has been the architect for the initiative since its inception. He helped to set up a state lab where researchers could conduct their own testing. 

“We didn’t collect the data for the sake of collecting data. We have started using that data to go to where we see specific issues, and start assisting, trying to get ahead of it,” Hatton said.

The state’s first round of testing in 2019 found PFAS chemicals in about half the drinking water systems in Kentucky including Louisville. Researchers discovered the highest levels in South Shore, Kentucky, which has since switched its water source as an interim fix and is finalizing a long term solution, Hatton said.

The Department for Environmental Protection is now working with the communities of Lewisport and Marshall County to find their own remedies.

A nationwide problem

Forever chemicals have been discovered in more than 3,000 locations across all 50 states, according to Environmental Working Group data from August. Kentucky Rural Water Association Director Scott Young agrees.

“PFAS is something that every water utility and community is going to have to at some point, address or deal with, whether they have it or not,” he said. “From a consumer standpoint, they need to know what’s in the water, they need to know what’s being done to address it.”

A slide in a power point presentation given to a state legislative committee in June 2023. It shows public community water treatment plants tested for PFAS chemicals.
A slide in a power point presentation given to a state legislative committee in June 2023. It shows public community water treatment plants tested for PFAS chemicals. 

At this point, there are basically two remedies for treating water, reverse osmosis and granular activated carbon. They’re different ways of stripping water of unwanted particles. Neither are cheap, each has its own drawbacks and all of these costs are likely to be paid for by ratepayers and utilities that had nothing to do with the contamination, Young said.

“The public utility is at a significant disadvantage, because it’s being tasked with cleaning up the drinking water supply from another industry,” he said. “And they’re also being asked to do it at the expense of their customers.”

Rural water utilities with fewer customers and smaller tax bases are at a particular disadvantage.

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Judge Rules in Favor of Montana Youths in a Landmark Climate Case

August 14, 2023 – by  David Gelles and Mike Baker in the New York Times

The court found that young people have a constitutional right to a healthful environment and that the state must consider potential climate damage when approving projects.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Melting-globe.jpg

A group of young people in Montana won a landmark lawsuit on Monday when a judge ruled that the state’s failure to consider climate change when approving fossil fuel projects was unconstitutional.

The decision in the suit, Held v. Montana, coming during a summer of record heat and deadly wildfires, marks a victory in the expanding fight against government support for oil, gas and coal, the burning of which has rapidly warmed the planet.

“As fires rage in the West, fueled by fossil fuel pollution, today’s ruling in Montana is a game-changer that marks a turning point in this generation’s efforts to save the planet from the devastating effects of human-caused climate chaos,” said Julia Olson, the founder of Our Children’s Trust, a legal nonprofit group that brought the case on behalf of the young people. “This is a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate. More rulings like this will certainly come.”

The ruling means that Montana, a major coal and gas producing state that gets one-third of its energy by burning coal, must consider climate change when deciding whether to approve or renew fossil fuel projects.

The Montana attorney general’s office said the state would appeal, which would send the case to the state Supreme Court.

“This ruling is absurd, but not surprising from a judge who let the plaintiffs’ attorneys put on a weeklong taxpayer-funded publicity stunt that was supposed to be a trial,” Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, Austin Knudsen, said in a statement. “Montanans can’t be blamed for changing the climate.”

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If you can see it, taste it or smell it…Don’t breathe it.

June 8, 2023 – By John Blair, valleywatch.net editor.

This ia a map from IQAir showing monitoring stations across the globe. Valley Watch and SW Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life have a monitoring network with IQAir called “Ohio Valley Safe Air” that keeps continuous records of fine particle pollution around the Kentucky/Indiana border. You can access the site at IQAir.com/map. Our monitoring network was funded by a grant from a settlement with American Electric Power and numerous environmental, and consumer groups in 2020.

Knowing that even slight elevation in fine particles can have serious impacts on human health, I cannot help but have great compassion for those people who are having to live in smoke filled air that are inundating the eastern half of the USA.

It is absolutely true that no one should breathe air that is so grossly polluted but then what can you do when the pollution is so widespread and so extremely high? At a minimum, the use of N95 masks should be worn but, of course, masks of any sort have become a rallying call for radical right-wingers who see them as a restriction on freedom and an assault on their manhood.

But those I really feel sorry for are the kids whose misinformed parents will claim that “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”

Reporting on this current disaster has barely linked the smoke filled skies with climate change that is the result of ever increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels across the world. Resulting drought causes massive forest to dry out and become susceptible to fire. Then in a feedback loop, as those forests burn, they release even greater amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere which in turn raises temps and dryness in a kind of morbid loop that makes things worse over time.

Wildfires in North America and Australia have recently resulted in dire health situations for millions of people. Smoke is made up mainly of fine particles that when breathed in can cause a wide array of respiratory and circulatory issues like asthma, heart attacks, stroke, COPD, and even cancer when those particles pass from the air into the lungs and ultimately the blood stream of humans. Smoke like currently experienced in the northeastern USA can have both immediate (acute) and long term (chronic) health problems for those exposed.

It is important for personal protection to avoid smoke from any source so please do what you have to do to avoid breathing crap filled air. If you can see it, taste it or smell it, do not breathe it.

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EPA announces new rules for power plant carbon

New proposed standards for coal and new natural gas fired power plants would avoid more than 600 million metric tons of CO2 pollution, while also preventing 300,000 asthma attacks and 1,300 premature deaths in 2030 alone.

May 11, 2023 Press release from USEPA

AEP’s Rockport plant, a 2,600 MW behemoth located in Rockport, IN . Photo © 2013 BlairPhotoEVV

WASHINGTON  – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new carbon pollution standards for coal and natural gas-fired power plants that will protect public health, reduce harmful pollutants and deliver up to $85 billion in climate and public health benefits over the next two decades.

The proposal for coal and new natural gas power plants would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042, which is equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 137 million passenger vehicles, roughly half the cars in the United States. Through 2042, EPA estimates the net climate and health benefits of the standards on new gas and existing coal-fired power plants are up to $85 billion.

The proposals would also result in cutting tens of thousands of tons of particulate matter (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide, harmful air pollutants that are known to endanger people’s health, especially in communities that for too long have disproportionally shouldered the burden of high pollution and environmental injustice. In 2030 alone, the proposed standards would prevent:

  • approximately 1,300 premature deaths; 
  • more than 800 hospital and emergency room visits; 
  • more than 300,000 cases of asthma attacks; 
  • 38,000 school absence days; 
  • 66,000 lost workdays.

“By proposing new standards for fossil fuel-fired power plants, EPA is delivering on its mission to reduce harmful pollution that threatens people’s health and wellbeing,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA’s proposal relies on proven, readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution and seizes the momentum already underway in the power sector to move toward a cleaner future. Alongside historic investment taking place across America in clean energy manufacturing and deployment, these proposals will help deliver tremendous benefits to the American people—cutting climate pollution and other harmful pollutants, protecting people’s health, and driving American innovation.”

Consistent with EPA’s traditional approach to establishing pollution standards under the Clean Air Act, the proposed limits and guidelines would require ambitious reductions in carbon pollution based on proven and cost-effective control technologies that can be applied directly to power plants. They also provide owners and operators of power plants with ample lead time and substantial compliance flexibilities, allowing power companies and grid operators to make sound long-term planning and investment decisions, and supporting the power sector’s ability to continue delivering reliable and affordable electricity. EPA’s analysis found that power companies can implement the standards with a negligible impact on electricity prices, well within the range of historical fluctuations.

Together with other recent EPA actions to address health-harming pollution from the power sector, today’s proposed rule delivers on the Administration’s commitment to reduce pollution from the power sector while providing long-term regulatory certainty and operational flexibility. In addition, EPA and the Department of Energy recently signed a memorandum of understanding to support grid reliability and resiliency at every stage as the agency advances efforts to reduce pollution, protect public health, and deliver environmental and economic benefits for all.

President Biden’s policy agenda has already kicked off a clean energy and manufacturing boom across the country and is adding momentum for technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) and clean hydrogen. Today, thanks to this progress, the power sector has a broad set of tools to deploy clean, affordable energy, take advantage of ready-to-go advanced pollution reduction technologies, create and retain good-paying union jobs, and reduce energy costs for families and businesses. EPA took account of this significant technologic and economic progress in developing the proposed rule and anticipates that power companies will take advantage of these tools, and trends, when determining how to most cost-effectively meet the proposed standards and emission guidelines.

The technology-based standards EPA is proposing include: 

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EarthDay 1970 changed the world, at least, mine.

April 21, 2023 – by John Blair, Valley Watch President and webpage editor. John Blair was one of the founding members of Valley Watch, whose purpose is “to protect the public health and environment of the lower Ohio River valley.” This is his perspective on environmental health progress since the first EarthDay in 1970.
April 22 marks the 53rd anniversary of EarthDay. At a ripe young 23, I went to Butler University and watched a film (No Blade of Grass) that forever changed my life. I became an “environmentalist.” My first action was to stop throwing cigarette butts out of my car window.

I gathered as much information as possible about pollution, read The Limits to Growth and celebrated the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and, in 1976 the passage of the Toxic Substance Control Act. I also ran for Congress in 1976 and two of my main issues were high utility bills and seeking to stop a stupid idea to build another Wabash Canal. I lost the election but won the issue of the Canal with the help of Indiana Senator, Richard Lugar and common sense. 

Winning that issue did embolden me and when I heard that the Feds were looking to build a nuclear waste dump in the Hoosier National Forest, I was driven to action, forming a rag tag group called the Nuclear Waste Action Committee. My first contact in that fight was the Evansville Chamber of Commerce, whom I figured would be readily on board since such a facility would not serve us well in attracting any sort of clean new business. They balked and I would soon find that they were not interested in quality of life issues at all, just jobs, often dangerous. NWAC played hardball and kept the nuclear waste site out of Indiana.

Around that same time, a massive buildout of coal fired power plants was taking place in the region as well as a huge Marble Hill nuclear plant that was proposed and being built on our drinking water source, the Ohio River, near Madison. Then, in the late 1970s three giant “synthetic fuel” plants, designed to convert local coal into other forms of coal were proposed just across the River between Owensboro and Henderson in Kentucky.

We were truly under assault from a variety of huge new pollution sources if they were successful.

This picture won the Pulitzer Prize for New Photography in 1978. It shows and Indianapolis mortgage banker held at the end of pistol shotgun by a kidnapper. Winning such a prestigious award gave our nascent environmental health movement additional credibility. © 1977 John Blair

Then, four things happened. First, I was fortunate to win a Pulitzer Prize for News Photography in 1978. After that, I knew I could go elsewhere and find a good job in my chosen profession, photojournalism. But I chose instead to stay in my adopted home of Evansville and fight as best I could to stop the onslaught of new pollution sources that seemed to be proposed nearly monthly, mostly new coal plants in one form or another.

Together with my friend and colleague. Tom Zeller, a geology instructor at University of Southern Indiana, we went on a massive campaign to alter the region’s future.

Concurrently, we did three things together to accomplish just that. We formed three different groups to fight for public health and the environment. The first was a professional group called Synfuel Inquiry. It consisted of mostly academics in a wide array of sciences, a few medical doctors, and a few like minded regional attorneys. Its purpose was to redefine the meaning of Synfuels and show the world that it was economically dumb and environmentally hazardous to spend huge sums of Federal money that would serve no useful purpose.

Second, we decided to start a monthly newsletter which we quickly turned into a newspaper called the Ohio Valley Environment or affectionately, the OVE. We freely distributed the OVE throughout SW Indiana, Bloomington, Louisville and Madison regions at the tune of 17,000 a month. We presented balanced environmental health news on most pages but had a hard hitting editorial page that was way before its time. Unlike Synfuel Inquiry and Valley Watch which came a bit later, the OVE was a “for profit” venture that was actually a labor of lOVE.

We covered stories on toxic waste like the “Valley of the Drums” in Louisville, really thorough coverage of Marble Hill as well as the developments in synfuels and, of course, the proliferation of coal plants and mining in the tri-state. We also ran exclusive stories and interviews with a variety of national figures and studies that apparently were “not worthy” of conventional news coverage.

Those included interviews with the Chair of the Tennessee Valley Authority, David Freemen, the President of the US Synthetic Fuel Corporation, an upstart funded by $88 billion of Federal (taxpayer) money. And, newsmakers like Ralph Nader, Richard Harris (the first director of the Office of Surface Mining), Joel Deckard, the 8th District Congressman and Ernest Sternglass, one of the principal scientists in the Manhattan Project which developed the first nuclear weapons.

Our first expose was about a small socially irresponsible company that operated in Rockport called Barmet. They also had facilities in Livia, KY and Bedford, IN all of which were filthy and dangerous for the people who lived nearby. The plant manager for Rockport was a former Air Force Colonel named John Grunigen. He said something that forever changed the way I would see things.

In my interview with him, I asked him about why he was allowed to operate such a dirty plant without industrial zoning. He said, “Well, young man. Laws are made by the weak to hinder the strong.” I was stunned.

The only thing I had ever heard that came even close to being so anti-democratic was something that a local attorney had said in 1977 as a member of a Chamber committee called the “Task Force For Reasonable Clean Air Standards.” On a local public affairs program addressing the very first health based standards for criteria pollutants like ozone and lead,  he seriously said, “The problem with these standards is that they are designed to protect the most sensitive people (meaning those who get sick from dirty air). We will just have to develop some sort of mask for those people to wear.” At the time, there was no viral pandemic that was killing people, he was simply saying in the best “crony capitalist” jargon that economic wealth was more important than public health. And, it is OK to stigmatize some people.

The OVE lasted for three solid years, paid for with affordable advertising and a lot of volunteer effort from writers, artists and distributors but it never really turned a profit. It did have residual impact since it forced the traditional media into covering the topics of environmental health that previously were being ignored or dismissed. That impact lasted at least a decade.

Third, we formed Valley Watch whose purpose was and still is the “protection of public health and the environment of the lower Ohio River Valley.” Unlike the other ventures, Valley Watch was designed to last and be a force for the future in defining the economic course for the region. We would oppose pollution that released toxic chemicals and the facilities that were proposed that would do that.In that effort, we won numerous battles. Barmet was finally forced to close. We beat back all three giant synfuel plants. Marble Hill was forced to shut down before it was completed. A number of coal plants were stopped before they could break ground. Con Agra was stopped from building an ozone producing soybean plant. Yet, another proposal to build a nuclear waste storage site in Kentucky was defeated. Evansville’s own Bristol Myers Squibb was forced to quit using a horrible cancer causing chemical called ethylene oxide to sterilize nipples for their infant formula. Public knowledge about the harmful health impacts of toxic chemicals in the regional environment was heightened.

We played a significant role in the passage and implementation of Indiana’s solid waste laws and rules which went far in making the disposal of regional waste safer for future generations.

In the  twenty-first century, along with colleagues, we stopped several proposed coal plants and the stupid Indiana Gasification proposal in Rockport from being built. We also successfully fought a giant polluting fertilizer in Rockport, too.

We didn’t always win. Our first loss had begun construction prior to our existence-the Rockport power plant.

At 2,600 megawatts, the Rockport power plant operated by American Electric Power to serve regions of northeast Indiana and southern Michigan continues to be one of the most polluting plants in the nation. © BlairPhotoEVV

Also, even though we beat back Peabody Energy’s proposal for a massive new coal plant in Muhlenberg County, KY called Thoroughbred, we lost out fight to keep Peabody’s Prairie State plant out of southern Illinois. Now, it is one of the world’s largest CO2 and SO2 emitters.

These battles were long and hard and stressed our entire staff of unpaid volunteers to the limit at times. Marble Hill, Thoroughbred and Indiana Gasification all consumed eight years of our effort. Others, as much as five. But we learned the lesson that if you cannot match money and other resources you MUST rely on perseverance and dedication if you expect to win in the end.

Now, nearly an empty site devoid of life, the Marble Hill nuke sits like a tribute to a technology that was neither safe nor affordable near Madison/Hanover, Indiana. The plant, originally said to cost $700 million in 1973, was shut down in 1984 after having more than $2.7 billion invested but was only 20% complete. Marble Hill was one of  Valley Watch’s first victories. Photo © 2010 John Blair.

Our most recent calling is another ridiculous project proposed for Dale, IN, a bucolic community in norther Spencer County. In 2010, a company calling itself, Clean Coal Refining Company sought to build a giant plant to convert coal to diesel fuel and naphtha in Vermillion County, north of Terre Haute. At the time, coal was still king in Indiana and Federal dollars were once again flowing to the dirty fuel. The site was the former US Army nerve gas storage site which consumed hundreds of acres on the banks of the Wabash River.

Clean Coal Refineing Corp.’s first shot was at the former US Army’s Chemical Depot located in Newport, IN. Authorities did not renew options after six years because they had had enough “empty promises.”

Vermillion County had been given the land by the Army once the nerve gas was removed and presumably destroyed and they developed a “Redevelopment Commission” to market a large new industrial site. Clean Coal Refining jumped at the chance to get a site, secure and fairly isolated, to build their experimental plant they said would cost $2.5 Billion and create 200 permanent jobs.

The Commission, recently named, Vermillion Rise jumped at the chance to lease 1,500 acres to Clean Coal Refining and gave them three year options which allowed time to design, secure financing, government loan guarantees and find a market for their products. At the end of the three year options, nothing had happened so the Commission gave them an additional three year option. Valley Watch followed their lack of progress but did not see it as much of a threat since nothing was happening.

Sometime in the middle of the last decade, Vermillion Rise found that the name Clean Coal Refining was a turn-off for other prospects who might wish to locate there. A brand change was required. Riverview Energy arose as a euphemism since it sat on the banks of the Wabash River. Like lipstick on a hog,  that was not enough to make the plant viable. By 2016, and still no progress for Riverview, Vermillion said “enough” and told Riverview to pack their bags because the options would not be renewed.

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Improvements in air quality may slow down the rate of age-related cognitive decline

February 7, 2022By Deep Shukla in Medical News Today

New research shows that improving air quality may lead to better brain health in older age. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

  • Exposure to higher levels of air pollution in late life has associations with dementia.
  • Results from studies linking air pollution to age-related decline in cognitive function have been mixed.
  • A new study involving women aged 74 to 92 years shows that living in locations with greater improvements in air quality in late life was associated with slower rates of cognitive decline.
  • These results suggest that reducing air pollution can positively affect brain health.

A new study involving women aged 74 to 92 years shows that residing in locations with a greater reduction in air pollution levels in late life had associations with a slower decline in cognitive function.

Cognitive agingTrusted Source refers to a decline in cognitive function that typically occurs with aging. Previous studies examining the association between higher air pollution levels and cognitive decline have yielded mixed results.

The results of this study add to data suggesting an adverse impact of outdoor air pollution on cognitive aging.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Diana Younan, former Senior Research Associate at USC Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, told Medical News Today, “We found women living in locations with greater improvement in air quality tended to have a slower decline in cognitive function, which was equivalent to being about 1 or 1.5 years younger.”

“We hope the new findings from our study tell the policymakers that the health benefits of improved air quality likely include maintaining brain health in older people and that it is worth the continuing efforts to enforce air quality standards and provide more clear air to all.”

– Dr. Younan

This study, which researchers at the University of South California led, appears in PLOS Medicine.

Air quality improvements

The adverse effects of air pollution on human health are well-recognized. Studies have shown that lower air pollutant levels have links to a longer lifespanand a decline in the prevalence of respiratory illnesses.

Previous research had shown that exposure to air pollution had associations with an increased risk of dementia. However, data showing a correlation between higher pollution levels and cognitive decline that normally occurs with aging have been inconsistent.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in 1970 to safeguard human health. These standards have placed a cap on the permissible levels of six air pollutants.

The subsequent adoption of policies to restrict air pollution has resulted in a gradual decline in air pollution levels over the past 50 years in the United States.

“Scientists have known that improved air quality extends life expectancy in the elderly, saves lives in adults, promotes lung growth, reduces the risk of asthma in kids, and increases the birth weights in newborns. In this study, we asked a big question: do the public health benefits resulting from improving air quality in the U.S. help older Americans maintain their brain health?” Dr. Younan noted.

Estimating air pollution levels

The present study consisted of 2,232 women aged 74–92 years enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study-Epidemiology of Cognitive Health Outcomes study between 2008 and 2012.

The study comprised a geographically diverse group of participants residing in the 48 contiguous U.S. The team did not include individuals with dementia at the time of enrollment in the research.

The researchers administered telephone-based annual assessments to the participants to measure general cognitive function. Besides the battery of tests to assess general cognitive function, the participants also received a test to assess episodic memory specifically. Episodic memory is the ability to recall personal experiences and past events, and deficits in this faculty are one of the early signsTrusted Source of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers then estimated improvements in air quality for each participant over the 10-year period before their study enrollment. According to the residential address of the participants during this timeframe, the researchers estimated the participant’s annual exposure to air pollution with the help of models and EPA monitoring data.

Specifically, the team estimated the participant’s exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter or PM2.5, which comprises air pollutants with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers and smaller.

The team estimated air quality improvements by calculating the difference between the 3-year average air pollution exposure immediately before enrollment and 10 years before the onset of their participation.

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Hilarious video from Australia about Carbon Capture and Storage

December 2, 2021 -by TheJuiceMedia on YouTubeEditor’s note: Valley Watch was one of the very first organizations to expose the lies of carbon capture and sequestration. The real CCS is leaving the coal and oil in the ground, as nature intended.

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The Kemper project just collapsed. What it signifies for CCS

October 26, 2021 – by Kristi Swartz in Energy Wire. Editor’s note:This plant is essentially the same as Duke Energy’s Edwardsport power plant in southern Indiana.

One of the nation’s largest symbols of carbon capture technology — the Kemper project — has collapsed into a pile of debris, highlighting the strategy of one of the nation’s largest utilities as it aims to decarbonize its fleet.

The Edwardsport coal gasification plant suffered tremendous cost overruns during construction and has failed to live up to its it promised performance.since built. File Photo © BlairPhotoEVV

The project, which was half of a multimillion-dollar power plant in Mississippi intended to gasify lignite coal and store its captured carbon emissions, was imploded by Southern Co.’s Mississippi Power unit earlier this month because the equipment was no longer needed. The facility, Plant Ratcliffe, captured worldwide attention and was supposed to host the first commercial-scale carbon capture project on a large coal plant in the United States.

But what was known as “Kemper” for most of its construction life stopped after delays and increased costs prompted Mississippi utility regulators to say in 2017 the facility could run on natural gas only.

Southern suspended construction on the carbon capture portion of the power plant the following week (Energywire, June 22, 2017).

Workers have spent roughly one year — totaling 70,000 man hours — removing equipment from Plant Ratcliffe that is not needed to produce electricity, spokesman Jeff Shepard said last week. The implosion was another step in that process.

“It’s so big, they had to do a controlled implosion,” Shepard said. “It’s really about the equipment that’s not in production.”

That included about half of the building that housed the gasifier to transform lignite coal as well as some mechanical and chemical equipment. The entire multilevel building, which looked like a maze of pipes like any large power plant, did not collapse.

There’s more work to be done, plant Manager Bruce Harrington told WTOK, saying “the process of removing equipment will go on for some time now. This was just the next step. “

He added: “It’ll take some time to remove the equipment and steel that came to the ground, so we don’t have a time frame set on that yet. Yes, there will be an additional felling.”

Plant Ratcliffe’s electricity serves roughly a third of Mississippi Power’s customers, Shepard said. The adjacent coal mine once intended to feed into the carbon capture system is now covered in grass and has trees starting to grow on top.

However, it may not be the end for carbon capture technology at the site.

The Energy Department last year awarded the Southern States Energy Board a grant to support a $23.5 million study to determine whether it is feasible to store carbon dioxide from three of Southern’s power plants in Alabama and Mississippi.

There are carbon capture assessments taking place at Plant Ratcliffe and at Alabama Power Co.’s Plant Miller, which runs on coal, according to SSEB’s annual report, released earlier this year.
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After two recent U.S. Steel discharges, Gov. Holcomb, IDEM to need to fix broken environmental protection system

October 9, 2021 – by Susan Thomas in the Chicago Tribune (paywall)

As her state of disbelief quickly turned to outrage, Susan MiHalo watched an orange plume of murky discharge expand from the U.S. Steel Burns Harbor outflow into Lake Michigan. Residents and boaters had seen the spill early that afternoon of Sept. 26, but were unsure of who to call. There were no signs along the waterway with this emergency information. By the time MiHalo, chair of the Ogden Dunes Environmental Advisory Board (ODEAB), was alerted and started making emergency calls, hours had passed. Within one hour of her first calls, the National Park Service arrived on the scene and promptly closed all area beaches out of an abundance of caution.

Contrast that to the time it took the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 (EPA) to show up at the scene: it was almost 8 p.m. and the precious hours to contain the spill were lost. While an anxious public panicked over what could be in that orange plume, U.S. Steel, IDEM and EPA had no comment on the substance for several days — a gut punch of a response, considering only weeks earlier IDEM Commissioner Bruno Pigott vociferously assured attendees at a public comment hearing that IDEM was taking its severe emergency communication problems with industry and area towns “very, very seriously,” while granting U.S. Steel another five-year permit in spite of hundreds of violations and legal actions against the mill.

That very public hearing was for a National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) permit renewal for another area steel mill Cleveland-Cliffs, formerly ArcelorMittal, whose 2019 toxic ammonia and cyanide spill into Burns Harbor was ignored by industry and IDEM until thousands of dead fish surfaced four days after the spill. Throughout that time, residents of Ogden Dunes and visitors to the National Park continued to recreate in the lake, including drinking and bathing in that water. There was no emergency response. In contrast, Ogden Dunes Town Council President Doug Cannon literally ran down to the beach himself to call people out of the water. For area residents, the U.S. Steel spill was a bitter repeat of those events of only two years prior.

By the time that 2019 catastrophic spill happened, ArcelorMittal had already broken Clean Water laws more than 100 times, according to a lawsuit filed against them by the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Bianca Passo, also of Ogden Dunes ODEAB, said “Each time an industrial spill occurs, our town is forced to close the beach and Indiana American Water must shut off the Ogden Dunes drinking water intake. Each time an illegal discharge occurs we feel like we are playing a game of roulette, wondering what type of toxic chemical might be dumped next.”

Residents, area business, and the $500 million tourism industry in Northwest Indiana have plenty of reasons to be nervous. U.S. Steel just signed a consent decree this September intended to prevent future illegal discharges, in reaction to their 2017 toxic hexavalent chromium spill (that flowed the same route into Lake Michigan as their Sept. 26 spill, which was finally identified days later as a permitable amount of iron). U.S. Steel was also required to pay a civil penalty of $601,242 and reimburse government agencies for $625,000, plus pay $600,000 over the next three years for testing the lake and its connected waterways. In May, IDEM fined U.S. Steel $950,000 for more than 25 permit violations from 2018-2020. Unfortunately the monetary sum of their penalties is no deterrent — it’s an actual bargain for U.S. Steel, whose record profits this year were recorded in excess of $1 billion. U.S. Steel’s history in environmental violations is vast in other states as well: Between 2018-19 alone they violated the Clean Air Act more than 12,000 times according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Days after the Sept. 26 spill, area outrage finally reached a tipping point, which has grown in volume since the spill was followed by an oil spill from U.S. Steel Midwest earlier this week. Spearheaded by Save the Dunes, a coalition of more than 25 organizations including environmental groups, local governments and agencies, residents associations, and recreation and sporting groups convened for an emergency meeting. Subsequently, they sent a letter to Governor Eric Holcomb and IDEM Commissioner Pigott demanding stiffer monetary penalties, heightened scrutiny, and vigorous enforcement against chronic polluters. They also demanded pollution control and communications requirements be strengthened in future NPDES permit renewals with further review of IDEM’s permitting process, and more thorough support for IDEM, which lost $35 million in budget cuts over the last decade leading to staffing issues.

“Over the last several budget cycles IDEM and the Department of Natural Resources have been sorely underfunded,” says retiring State Senator for the region’s lake shore districts Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes. “With the budget surplus we have now, there is no excuse. Indiana needs that money to get back in the fight to protect our environment.”

IDEM permitting allows industry to self-monitor/self-test, leaving the fox to guard the hen house. It was a whistleblower, not IDEM, revealed repeated fraudulent testing from ArcelorMittal following the 2019 spills. It is worth noting that the emergency coalition was not convinced the Sept. 26 spill was “harmless” iron. Though EPA and IDEM approved the results, it was U.S. Steel who conducted the tests. At the federal level, EPA Region 5, that serves Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota and 35 Indigenous Tribes, only has an acting director but no one to officially fill that job yet after budget cuts hampered its effectiveness during the Trump years. It’s also seen as a free pass to industry polluters.

Economy and environment linked

Unless immediate emergency actions are taken for area industry to obey the Clean Water Act and environmental laws, we are headed toward a state where gross domestic product revenues, property values and taxes will plummet with each passing spill. Continue reading

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OPINION: Indiana is leading the way to environmental Armageddon

September 30, 2021 – By Katelyn Balakir, in the Indiana Daily Student

One in three Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer. 

July was the hottest month on Earth since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began recording data more than 140 years ago. Upwards of 45,000 wildfires scorched 5.8 million acres across the United States this year, causing places such as Reno, Nevada to experience the worst air quality on record. Hurricane Ida was one of strongest storms to make landfall in the United States, triggering record hourly rainfall in Manhattan and New York City’s first ever flash flood warning. 

An estimated 1 billion sea creatures were cooked to death off the coast of the Pacific Northwest following the heat wave. Last year, California wildfires emitted more carbon dioxide than the entire state’s power grid. Hurricane Ida disrupted crude oil production in the Gulf resulting in more than 1,500 reports of oil leaks. 

Although scientists agree some devastating impacts of global warming are already irreversible, they also agree we must mitigate their severity by quickly and drastically reducing carbon emissions. Yet,  Indiana emits the most toxic pollution per square mile in the United States, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report

Instead of adopting the sense of urgency our dying planet warrants, Indiana remains dependent on fossil fuels as the eighth largest greenhouse gas-emitting state in the nation. Indiana has an obligation to its residents, country and the rest of humankind to spearhead the shift toward clean energy. 

Coal accounts for 53% of Indiana’s energy generation. Although Indiana has cut its electricity-related coal consumption by almost half since 2010, most of the reduction was offset by increased natural gas consumption. 

Human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, has increased the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by 48% since the Industrial Revolution. Carbon dioxide works alongside other greenhouse gasses to trap heat in the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect according to Melissa Denchak of the Natural Resources Defense Council. While the greenhouse effect is natural, emissions have thrown the natural process off balance causing a rapid rise in greenhouse gases and subsequently temperature, Denchak said. 

Scientists concluded human-driven climate change created the Northwest heat wave, doubled the Western U.S. forest fire area and increased the likelihood and intensity of major hurricanes like Ida. 

The use of fossil fuels also creates more localized consequences for Indiana. Continue reading

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Air Pollution Linked to Severe Mental Illness

September 3, 2021 – by Tiffany Duong in EcoWatch


Air pollution is an underrated problem in the world, with many dangerous health consequences.

Recently, the most comprehensive study of its kind linked exposure to air pollution to increased severity of mental illness, The Guardian reported.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, tested 13,000 people in London, England and used frequency of admission to hospitals or visits to community doctors and nurses as a measure of severity, the news report said. The researchers found that relatively small increases in exposure to nitrogen dioxide had negative effects on mental health, including a 32% increase in the risk of needing community-based treatment and an 18% increase in the risk of being admitted to a hospital.

Lead researcher Ioannis Bakolis of King’s College London said there is no safe level of air pollution.

“Even at low levels of air pollution, you can observe this kind of very important effect,” Bakolis told The Guardian.

Importantly, the researchers also found that even a small reduction in a single pollutant could reduce illness and save the UK national healthcare system tens of millions a year.

The scientists noted that their findings likely would apply to most cities in developed nations around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds safe levels. The study showed that millions would be harmed by incremental increases in air pollution, and, conversely, reducing air pollution could therefore benefit millions of people.

Crucially, the findings indicate that growing up in polluted places increases the risk of mental disorders. Because many cities and developing nations are crowded and polluted, this raises questions of environmental justice.

The Guardian previously reported that even small increases in air pollutants lead to significant rises in depression and anxiety. Dirty air was also linked to increased suicides. Unrelated studies have linked air pollution to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.

According to IQ Air, a similar 2019 study of mental health data from 151 million people in the United States and 1.4 million in Denmark found that long periods of increased air pollution could be linked to a 17 percent increase in bipolar disorder, 6 percent in depression diagnoses and a 20 percent increase in personality disorder diagnoses. Those scientists likened the level of air pollution measured to what could typically be found in major urban areas.

In other parts of the body, dirty air can cause everything from blindness to heart disease to increased cholesterol to cancer. A 2019 global review concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ in the human body.

For the new study, the link between increased chemicals in polluted air and mental health issues was strongest for NO2, which is largely emitted by diesel vehicles, The Guardian reported. Small particle pollution, which is produced by burning all fossil fuels, also ranked high.

The scientists followed up seven years after the first treatment and found the link to air pollution was still apparent. The findings were not explained by a range of other possible factors including age, sex, ethnicity, deprivation or population density, although unidentified factors might still play an important role, the researchers noted.

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EPA exposed for hiding chemical risks, favoring corporate interests.

August 31, 2021 – by Carey Gillam,  US Right to Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long and well-documented history of questionable conduct when it comes to regulation of chemicals important to the profit centers for many large and powerful corporations.  Numerous examples show a pattern of agency actions that allow for the use of dangerous chemicals by consumers, farmers, groundskeepers and others despite evidence of harm.

Documents and other evidence, including information provided in public disclosures by multiple EPA scientists, reveals actions in which EPA managers have intentionally covered up risks associated with certain chemicals. According to the evidence from these EPA insiders, pressure from chemical manufacturers, chemical industry lobbyists and from certain U.S. lawmakers drives internal agency manipulations that protect corporate interests but endanger public health.

Evidence indicates the misconduct dates back decades and has occurred in administrations led by Democrats and Republican alike.

A research project sponsored by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics said while the EPA has “many dedicated employees who truly believe in its mission,” the agency has been “corrupted by numerous routine practices,” including a “revolving door” between EPA and industry in which corporate lawyers and lobbyists gain positions of agency power; constant  industry lobbying against environmental regulations; pressure from  lawmakers who are beholden to donors; and meddling by the White House.

Blowing the whistle

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21 Century Act, signed into law on June 22, 2016, was the first substantive reform to Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law requires EPA to make an affirmative determination on whether a new chemical substance presents an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment under “known, intended or reasonably foreseen conditions of use.” See information here for more information.

Despite the law, the EPA has make valid determinations about the risk presented by numerous chemicals.

In June 2021, four EPA scientists, each working within the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and
Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), publicly accused the the EPA of deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments. The four whistleblowers made their complaints public through a group called Public  Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In a June 28 letter to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, PEER said the four EPA scientists were providing “disturbing evidence of fraud and corruption,” involving “deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments conducted under the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), including PFAS (a.k.a. “forever chemicals”), and the deletion of potential health effects without the knowledge or consent of the human health assessors.”

The letter further states:

“All four clients have experienced numerous instances where their risk assessments were changed
by their managers or by colleagues in response to direction by management. These changes
include –
● Deleting language identifying potential adverse effects, including developmental toxicity,
neurotoxicity, mutagenicity, and/or carcinogenicity;
● Major revisions that alter the report conclusions to indicate that there are no toxicity
concerns despite data to the contrary; and
● Risk assessments being reassigned to inexperienced employees in order to secure their
agreement to remove issues whose inclusion would be protective of human health.”

As a result of the manipulations, people who work with these chemicals are not receiving information they need to protect themselves, such as “proper handling procedures, personal protection needed, accidental release measures, and first aid and firefighting measures,” according to PEER.
This is a particular concern for pregnant women, according to the PEER complaint.

Erasing important information

On August 26, 2021, PEER filed a separate complaint alleging that the EPA has been breaking the law by erasing original versions of internal communications and draft documents and retaining only the final version of key documents. The practice violates the Federal Records Act by eliminating details of the decision-making process from outside review, according to PEER.

PEER states that that discarding of documents trails is not only contrary to law but also violates the EPA’s own records retention policy. According to PEER, its complaint focuses on two classes of documents:

  • Alterations of chemical risk assessments by managers in which both the identity of the manager and the alterations themselves are not apparent; and
  • Internal comments related to the development of its Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, in which EPA software overwrote the original and all prior versions any time there was an edit. Thus, only the “final” version was saved.

“It is as if EPA memorializes its internal decision-making in disappearing ink,” PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, said in a press release. “EPA’s record-keeping practices allow unknown officials to make changes while disguising what precisely was changed and who changed them.”

PEER said it has asked the National Archives and Records Administration to intervene to prevent the EPA from destroying more records and to adopt safeguards to prevent any recurrences.

The case of Ruth Etzel

Ruth Etzel,  former director of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP), has pending whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board contending she was subject to illegal retaliation in 2018 and 2019 after she complained publicly about what she said was  EPA resistance to stronger public protections against lead poisoning. Continue reading

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