EDF Health

Hurricanes Coming: Protecting Black and Brown Neighborhoods from a “Triple Whammy”

Elena Craft, Ph.D., is Senior Director of Climate and Health

This is the first in a series of Global Clean Air blogs on COVID-19 and air pollution. EDF scientists will share data about pollution levels during quarantine from a local and global perspective, and provide recommendations for governments and companies to Rebuild Better.

A black man who lived most of his 88 years in Pleasantville was one of the first Houstonians to die from COVID-19.

James C. Campbell, Source: ABC13.com Houston

His name was James C. Campbell. He raised a family in one of the first neighborhoods in the city planned for black Houstonians, Pleasantville, which has been surrounded in the years since it was founded by congested interstates, salvage yards, metal recyclers, and a sprawling brewery where heavy trucks come and go day and night. Pleasantville residents still share stories about where they were when chemicals in warehouses exploded in the 1990s and forced them to flee their neighborhood for safety.

Just days after Campbell’s funeral in early April, as the coronavirus started to spread across Texas, UT Health researchers mapped neighborhoods across Houston like Pleasantville where residents suffering from underlying health conditions and from years of exposure to air pollution were at increased risk from the worst impacts of a COVID infection. The intention was clear: Data could help local government leaders decide how, and where, to marshal resources to protect the health of those who needed it most.

Disasters do not impact neighborhoods equally, data like that show. It’s clear during the coronavirus pandemic, just as it was clear during past disasters like Hurricane Harvey. In 2017, for example, in the first, and worst days of the storm, 93 percent of all known toxic emissions in all of Harris County were released within a four-mile radius of the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood Manchester — an area that includes Pleasantville — even though it makes up less than 5 percent of the county geographically.

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The Trump Administration’s got a problem with testing (TSCA edition)

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

A constant criticism of EPA’s draft risk evaluations for the first 10 chemicals has been the dearth of information on which EPA has relied to draw sweeping, unqualified risk conclusions.  EDF and other stakeholders, as well as EPA’s own Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC), have repeatedly pointed to the lack of sufficient, reliable information on:

The Trump EPA appears intent on continuing to conduct risk evaluations that are ill-informed by actual data.

  • the chemicals’ presence in and releases into various environmental media;
  • their presence in and releases from industrial, commercial, and consumer products and materials;
  • the extent and magnitude of workplace exposure levels;
  • key human hazard endpoints; and
  • ecological hazards to and exposures of sediment- and soil-dwelling and terrestrial, as well as aquatic, organisms.

Concerns have also been repeatedly raised about EPA’s over-reliance on models in the absence of measured data and on physical-chemical and environment fate data to rule out exposure pathways, especially in the absence of rigorous uncertainty analyses and incorporation of uncertainty into EPA’s risk conclusions.

It’s not as if there isn’t a solution to the dearth-of-data problem.  Yet the Trump EPA has steadfastly refused to use it.  Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, TSCA Reform / Comments are closed

EPA’s own words reveal what its new chemicals program has become – a captive of industry

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

“The agency’s goal is to allow the commercialization of products,” said EPA associate deputy assistant administrator for new chemicals Lynn Dekleva.

Readers of this blog know that EDF is no fan of how the Trump EPA has implemented – in our view, twisted – the 2016 reforms made to the review process for new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  Decision after decision over the last 3.5 years under this administration has undercut public health and benefitted industry interests, despite some noble efforts by career staff to chart a better course.  In recent weeks the Trump EPA’s intentions have been even more clearly revealed, thanks to the trade press’s reporting of EPA political appointees’ comments delivered to industry audiences.  That’s what this post is about.  Read More »

Posted in EPA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, Regulation, TSCA Reform, Worker Safety / Tagged | Comments are closed

NGOs call on EPA to revise the draft scopes for its upcoming risk evaluations to comply with TSCA and its own regulations

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families yesterday told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the 20 draft scope documents the agency released for public comment on April 9 and April 23, 2020, fail to meet TSCA and EPA regulatory requirements.  The groups called on EPA to revise the drafts to include the information that both TSCA and EPA’s Risk Evaluation Rule require be included, and then make the revised draft scopes available for public comment.  Read More »

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Amid COVID-19, the Trump administration sets dangerous air pollution standards. What is at stake for Houstonians?

Ananya Roy, Senior Health Scientist; Rachel Fullmer, Senior Attorney; Jeremy Proville, Director; Grace Tee Lewis, Health Scientist

The Trump administration’s disregard for science has been clear in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s not the only health threat they’re making worse by ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence. For three years the administration has systematically sought to weaken clean air safeguards, endangering all Americans.

We know air pollution causes heart disease, diabetes and lung disease—and that the people suffering from these conditions are at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Independent of the ongoing pandemic, air pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths across America year after year. This underscores the vital importance of pollution protections to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Unfortunately, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has proposed to retain an outdated and inadequate standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution despite strong scientific evidence that it must be strengthened to adequately protect human health.

To understand what having this pollution standard means for families living in the Greater Houston area, Harvard University and EDF scientists undertook an analysis of the impacts of PM2.5 exposure across the city. We found that:

  • Exposure to fine particle air pollution in 2015 was responsible for 5,213 premature deaths and over $49 billion in associated economic damages.
  • More than 75% of the health burden was borne by communities exposed to PM2.5 levels below the current standard.
  • Meeting the current standard alone would have prevented 91 deaths of the more than 5,000 premature deaths due to fine particle pollution.

By ignoring the scientific evidence and retaining the current standard, Administrator Wheeler is ignoring the very real health impacts felt by Houstonians and communities across the country from exposure to fine particle pollution.

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Posted in Air Pollution, EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, Hyperlocal mapping, States / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

EPA refuses to extend TCE comment deadline, ignoring requests from Congress, health groups

Joanna Slaney, Legislative Director and Lindsay McCormick, Program Manager. 

Yesterday, in the midst of the COVID-19 national emergency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) closed the comment period on an extremely flawed draft risk evaluation on the toxic chemical, trichloroethylene (TCE).

Due to the many scientific and legal concerns raised by the draft risk evaluation, and its significance for any future regulation of TCE, the draft needs thorough and careful review from experts, the public, and other affected stakeholders. However, EPA refused to delay the deadline for the draft risk evaluation’s comment period, despite the growing hardships and major disruptions resulting from the current COVID-19 crisis.  EPA now seems intent on racing to the finish line with its flawed evaluation, ignoring multiple requests to ensure the document is fully vetted:

  • Congress: In two separate letters from the House and Senate, Members of Congress raised concerns with EPA moving forward with various rulemakings and scientific reviews without sufficient opportunity for expert and public input in light of the pandemic – explicitly referencing the TCE draft risk evaluation as a prime example.
  • Health groups: Health organizations whose staff and members are on the front lines of the pandemic requested that EPA extend the public comment period until after the national emergency is lifted due to severe capacity constraints. EPA did not respond.
  • Impacted communities: In early March, nearly 300 people from communities grappling with TCE contamination asked EPA to hold a public meeting to allow them “to ask questions of the agency and engage in critical dialogue.” EPA denied the request.

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