Articles By The Authors
How BP Avatars Show Up In Your Life
August 6, 2010
The BP Gulf oil catastrophe is not the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, contrary to news headlines. The hugeness of the blow-out captures our attention, but the worst pollution actually takes place here in our ordinary lives, in hardly noticed events that add up day after day.
Of course BP gets a lot of credit for making that daily pollution possible. It is the nature of BP’s business, which relies on polluting manufacturing and toxic chemicals, two of the four sources responsible for the toxic assault in our daily lives (the other two sources are heavy metals and nuclear waste).
The very reason for BP’s existence –the petroleum itself –is a problem. Petroleum is a mixture of toxic chemicals, from benzene to naphthalene, which are known causes of cancer, damage to the nervous system and birth defects. Then, from that petroleum, chemistry creates 90 percent of the industrial chemicals, most of them toxic, that make up the products of today’s way of life. So we start out with a toxin and then use it to synthesize other toxic products, from pesticides to shower curtains to cosmetics. Each of these oil-based new products can trigger an illness, especially among children: asthma, birth defects, obesity, autism; or an illness that shows up later in life, such as breast or prostate cancer or Parkinson’s.
Now look at the way BP manufactures oil. These practices simply mirror the way polluters, small and large, cause daily harm. Here are just some of the parallels.
The blow-out happened because of BP’s business model. I quote the New York Times, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the assistant secretary: BP has been found to “ruthlessly cut corners in pursuit of growth and profits,” “routinely proceed with carelessness and a disregard for safety,” and “repeatedly chose risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time.” The Gulf blow-out is only the latest in a history of BP manufacturing disasters. Looking into the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas refinery which killed 15 workers and injured many others, an inquiry found the facility was poorly maintained, starved of investment, with 300 safety violations. But in 2009, inspection revealed more than 700 violations at this same facility. Also in 2005, at a huge platform like Deepwater Horizon, a value was installed backwards, causing the rig almost to topple over after a hurricane. Then, a year later, a very large leak sprung in the BP pipeline in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
BP’s pursuit of corporate profits and wealth at the expense of public health and safety is the norm in our economy, not the exception. For example, Dow, the huge chemical company, continued (and still does, to this day) to make a potent pesticide even though hundreds of parents sued the company for its harmful effects on their children’s brain; eventually EPA fined the Dow for hiding those lawsuits for over ten years. Our nation’s financial meltdown, too, was the result of greed and lack of government restraint.
Dispersing. not correcting, the evidence
As the ever-growing millions of gallons of oil spread throughout the Gulf, BP tried to disperse the oil by applying a chemical mixture, Corexit, that had never been independently tested. In the face of an uproar over the dispersants’ likely toxicity, EPA eventually demanded new tests. These tests too are flawed: one looked at the dispersants by themselves, rather than mixed with oil, the next only tested for reactions up to 48 to 96 hours’ duration and only for acute effects, whereas most serious reactions show themselves over time, sometimes years later, and show up as chronic rather than acute illness.
Similarly, all the chemical products that daily find their way into our lives have only been tested by their manufacturers. Furthermore, the tests measure the effect only on the equivalent of a 150 pound grown male, and one chemical at a time. They do not test for the way the chemical might harm a fetus or small child nor do they account for the cumulative effect of multiple exposures.
By the way, dispersants do not degrade the oil; they do not fix the problem. Corexit does not correct. Dispersants just spread the oil around and make it hard if not impossible to calculate the real amount of the spill, a figure which will determine the size of the fine imposed on BP. In fact, the National Academy of Science found dispersants can impede the breakdown of oil.
The dispersants are produced by Nalco, a company associated with BP and Dow Chemical, so profits from their use will go back into coffers of those companies.
BP sprayed more than two million gallons of these chemicals into the Gulf during its 86-day oil gusher, the largest use ever and the first time they were dispersed underwater was well as on the surface. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has documented plumes of dispersed oil throughout thousands of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. This massive usage is “an experiment of epic proportion,” that can damage the Gulf ecosystem while posing unknown health risks to exposed humans. (1)
The waste’s whereabouts
The oil that doesn’t get dispersed is being skimmed from the water’s surface, and mixed together with tar balls, polluted sand and oil-saturated booms. So far 21 million gallons of this sludge has been collected, then put on barges and shipped to the very states damaged by oil coming ashore. In communities across those states, the sludge is then dumped into existing landfills. About sixty percent of the oil-spill waste has found its way into landfills in communities where people of color live. (2)
The landfills must be equipped with two liners and other safety measures. Yet we know from untold examples over dozens of years that landfills, even well-constructed ones, eventually degrade and leak.
In the small town of Dickson, TN, the county landfill, which had accepted wastes from local manufacturing businesses, leaked a brew of chemicals, including benzene, toluene and TCE, a chemical that cleans machinery, into the groundwater. A cluster of children were born with cleft lips and palates, brain damage and cancer among families whose mothers had drunk the polluted water. There are 3,091 active and over 10,000 old landfills in the U.S., many of them in bad shape. (3)
Why isn’t BP required to do something to make the sludge less toxic? Because the industry succeeded in 1988 in getting wastes from oil and gas exploration and production exempt from the clean-up that would otherwise have been mandated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. If these wastes had been subjected to that legislation, it would have tripled or quadrupled their clean-up costs.
To be continued………………..
Sources of Information and Help
ScienceCorps is an informal alliance of scientists and other researchers who provide evaluation, communication, technology and other types of assistance in environmental and occupational health. See their fact sheet on the hazards of the ingredients that are in the Gulf, http://www.sciencecorps.org/crudeoilhazards.htm, and for medical repercussions, see their Clinical Evaluation fact sheet, http://www.sciencecorps.org/crudeoilhazards/ClinicalHealthEvaluation.pdf.
Dr, Riki Ott
Is a marine biologist, who studied the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez, and is now investigating the extent and repercussion of the Gulf blow-out.
Wilma Subra, Subra Company
Chemist and warrior who helps communities fight toxic assaults. Winner of a MacArthur “genius award.”
Environmental Defense Fund
This site helps you identify the energy reducing actions you’re willing to make, then aggregates everyone’s actions in equivalent gallons of oil, and displays the figure on the site’s home page.
If you google any terms relating to the Gulf catastrophe, at the top of the page you will find: Gulf Response, www.BP.com/GulfOfMexicoResponse
For an amazing video summarizing the situation:
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Except for the cited material, the examples and facts in this article are drawn from the book Alice wrote with her husband Philip, Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill. See www.poisonedforprofit.net.
1. “Seeking Answers on Oil Spill as Questions Mount,” New York Times, June 25, 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/06/26/us/26primerWEB.html?pagewanted=all.
2. Robert Bullard, “BP’s Waste Management Plan Raises Environmental Justice Concerns,” July 29th, 2010, dissidentvoice.org
Read the whole article here.
How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill
July 21, 2010
As we watched each of our five grandchildren and their friends enter this world and begin their life’s journey, it became more and more clear that something is amiss with this generation. How are your children and your friends’ children doing?
Most likely, one of three of the children you know in this generation suffers from a chronic illness. Perhaps it’s cancer, or birth defects, perhaps asthma, or a problem that affects the child’s mind and behavior, such as Downs Syndrome, learning disorders, ADHD or autism. Though one in three may sound exaggerated, unbelievable, the figures are there amidst various government files.
This generation is different. Childhood cancer, once a medical rarity, has grown 67 percent since 1950. Asthma has increased 140 percent in the last twenty years and autism rates without a doubt have increased at least 200 percent. Miscarriages and premature births are also on the rise, while the ratio of male babies dwindles and girls face endometriosis even in teenage years.
This generation is the first to be raised in a truly toxified world. Even before conception and on into adulthood, the assault is everywhere: heavy metals and carcinogenic particles in air pollution; industrial solvents, household detergents, prozac and radioactive wastes in drinking water; pesticides in flea collars; artificial growth hormones in beef, arsenic in chicken; synthetic hormones in bottles, teething rings and medical devices; formaldehyde in cribs and nail polish, and even rocket fuel in lettuce. Pacifiers are now manufactured with nanoparticles from silver, to be sold as ‘antibacterial.’ What’s wrong with rinsing a pacifier in soapy water?
Despite naysayers (who pays them to say nay?—that’s a whole story in itself which I’ll write a lot about in weeks to come), it’s clear there is both an association and a causative connection between the vast explosion of poisons in our everyday lives and our children’s “issues.” Over 80,000 industrial chemicals (tested only by the manufacturer) are in commerce in this country, produced or imported at 15 trillion pounds a year. Pesticide use has leapt from the troubling 400 million pounds Rachel Carson wrote about in the 1960s to the mind-boggling 4.4 billion pounds in use today. Nuclear power plants, aging and under-maintained, increasingly leak wastes, often without notifying their community. The Gulf oil catastrophe will end up damaging a great multitude of the children living in those communities.
What could be more elemental than our desire to protect our children. Children and fetuses, because of their undeveloped defense systems, are ten to sixty-five times more susceptible to specific toxins than adults. These toxins diminish the capacities of our children…the future of our families, our communities, our nation.
Illness does not necessarily show up in childhood. Environmental exposures, from conception to early life, can set a person´s cellular code for life and can cause disease at any time, through old age. This accounts for the rise in Parkinson´s and Alzheimer´s diseases, prostate and breast cancer.
Yet this is not the dispiriting ‘Bad News’ it might seem. It is, actually, a message of hope and optimism. We are fearful only when we are ignorant and powerless. Now that we know what is happening, we can determine not to let it happen further.
These poisons are manmade; manufacturers can take them out of our children´s lives and make profits from safe products. ‘Green chemistry’ can replace toxic molecules with harmless ones. We can connect global climate change actions to environmental health strategies. If we replace coal-fired power, in the process we reduce not only carbon but also emissions of the tons of lead, mercury, hydrochloric acid, chromium, arsenic, sulfur and nitrogen oxides that cause autism, Alzheimer’s and other public health menaces. If we replaced our massive consumption of oil, we’d diminish the ever-rising cases of childhood cancer.
We cannot bury our heads and hope it will all go away. We cannot leave the job to someone else. Some may feel the problem is so massive, it’s best to pretend it doesn’t exist. But it isn’t more massive than we allow it to be. It’s totally within our reach.
We are parents and grandparents. There are 23 million children adversely affected by our toxic lives. That makes (more or less) 46 million mothers and fathers, 184 million grandparents. We are a powerhouse. It is in our power to learn about what harms our children and to share our knowledge. It is in our power as a community of citizens and parents to demand action against the current harmful policies and practices and against the indiscriminate use of processes and practices that destroy and degrade all life on our planet.
Alice Shabecoff is a freelance journalist focusing on family and consumer topics, and co-author of the recently published book Poisoned for Profit (Chelsea Green). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and International Herald Tribune, among other publications. She was executive director of the National Consumers League, the country’s oldest consumer organization, and executive director of the national nonprofit Community Information Exchange.
The Sweet, Non-Toxic Smell of Success
Green Cleaning vs. Chemicals In Household Products
An extraordinary amount of shelf space in the grocery store is devoted to household cleaners, air fresheners, and other products intended to help you keep your house smelling and looking sparkly clean. But as you're achieving that shiny state, are you adding unwanted chemicals to your living space? If standard, popular household products are in your shopping cart, then the answer is yes.
In today's guest article, Alice Shabecoff, co-author of Poisoned for Profit, discusses the toxic chemicals lurking in those innocent-looking jugs and spray bottles. She also lists alternative, natural cleaning solutions for those who are ready to make the move to green cleaning.
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Save Money and Your Family's Health
by Alice Shabecoff
No smart and caring parent would spend a small fortune to end up harming her child. But that's just what we do every time we enter a supermarket and come out with an armful of products intended to spiff up our homes.
We buy air fresheners, toilet cleaners, drain uncloggers, laundry fluffers, bug killers, countertop degreasers, bacteria-slaying soaps, silver shiners... and much more. In sum, an average of 23 different boxes, cartons, jars and bottles of house cleaning products, each with its distinct mission, crowd our cupboard shelves. Our typical expenditure is $15 a week. Household cleaning products have grown into a major industry, costing consumers $13.5 billion a year.
What's in these products is a mystery. Manufacturers are not required by law or regulation to tell us the ingredients. Attempts in Congress to require full disclosure labeling are opposed by the companies, which prefer limited and voluntary listings, perhaps on a website.
When you discover the ingredients lurking in these products, you understand why the manufacturers hide them behind the veil of "trade secrets." Of course, just because many of the ingredients are tongue-twisters that might bring back unpleasant memories from high school chemistry class, that doesn't mean they are dangerous. But scientific research has proven that these man-made chemicals concocted on a base of petroleum can reduce fertility, trigger cancer, and intensify asthma. The most disturbing news is that a pregnant woman's exposure may harm her fetus, affecting the child's brain and behavior as well as his body (though, to be accurate, science now agrees that mind-body are one).
Read the whole article here.