Springtime Health News From CEH
Remember methyl iodide? Called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” by Dr. John Froines, UCLA biochemist and chair of the committee of expert scientists that did the official review of methyl iodide’s health hazards, this strawberry pesticide may soon be used to grow berries that’ll be sold nationwide.
Californians for Pesticide Reform, a statewide coalition that includes CEH, has worked hard for the last couple of years to keep methyl iodide out of California. The results have been astonishing and inspirational because of the tens of thousands of people around the state (including many of you!) who have joined in this effort. Use of methyl iodide in California, which most people thought was a done deal a couple years ago, has still not actually occurred.
The lame duck Schwarzenegger administration approved use of methyl iodide last December. Since then we’ve been working on a four-part strategy to reverse that decision. We’ve asked Governor Brown to take a second look, and he’s indicated that he might do just that. We’ve started legal action, challenging the process that the former administration used to approve methyl iodide. We’ve asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the approval of this pesticide on the federal level. And we’re asking everyone who cares about toxic chemicals to buy strawberries grown without methyl iodide. The best way to do that is to buy organic strawberries, because organic strawberry growers don’t use fumigant pesticides like methyl iodide.
We just launched a new website (http://www.safestrawberry.org/) where you can learn more about methyl iodide, take the Safe Strawberry pledge, and get the information you need to talk to your favorite grocery store about also signing the pledge. Please join us!
Last month I had an extraordinary opportunity to witness partisan politics in action.
A Congressional subcommittee held hearings on a bill that would gut important protections for children’s health under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). In 2008, the CPSIA set the first-ever limits on lead in children’s products, a critically needed step for children’s health. Congressman Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the sub-committee, asked CEH to come to Washington to testify about the benefits of the law.
In 2008 the law was a clearly bipartisan effort. In fact, it passed the house with only one dissenting vote. This year it’s become a partisan football. In 2008, Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) spoke eloquently about the need for the law and the lead-free birthday presents he wanted to buy for his son and grandchildren. This year he spoke only of industry complaints.
CEH has been checking major stores like Walmart, Target, Toys R Us and others for compliance with the law ever since 2008 when it passed and we have first hand knowledge about the dramatic positive changes since the law was adopted. During the last year, despite testing about 1200 items purchased after experienced and intensive searching, we identified less than 50 that were in violation of the law. That’s over 95% compliance! With these numbers, my testimony added a realistic note to the hearing, which otherwise consisted mostly of industry lobbyists.
Children’s safety should never be a partisan issue. For me, getting to see first hand how political ideology is trumping something so basic as health inspired me to make sure that these ideologues don’t succeed in rolling back protections for children that we have worked so hard to achieve.
The Center for Environmental Health works to eliminate the threat that industrial chemicals pose to children, families, and communities. We recognize that the communities most impacted by industrial chemicals are primarily low-income communities of color. We believe our work is intrinsically linked to environmental justice and constantly seek to make sure our work includes, is informed by, and positively impacts the health of environmental justice communities.
As an outgrowth of our public interest litigation to eliminate toxic health threats, we provide small grants to grassroots, community-based, environmental justice organizations that serve and are led by low-income people, people of color, indigenous peoples and residents of disproportionately impacted communities in California.
We generally make these donations through an annual grant cycle of our Community Environmental Action and Justice Fund (the Justice Fund). The majority of Justice Fund grants range in size from $250 – $5,000. This year, we are proud to support the work of many community-based organizations throughout the state fighting for community health and environmental justice.
For information on this year’s grantees, please visit our website at: http://www.ceh.org/ejpartners
CEH is delighted to announce our East Coast office has opened! This spring, new staff member Kathryn Alcantar came aboard as our new Policy Director, and former CEH Policy Director Ansje Miller took the reins as our East Coast Director. Working from New York, Ansje will focus on the energy sector, reviewing alternative and emerging energy sources throughout their lifecycle as viewed through an environmental health lens. Ansje will also work to deepen our relationships with East Coast environmental health and justice allies, and on our federal policy and media work. For more, contact Ansje at Ansje@ceh.org.
(Pictured at right with his 3 sons in Yosemite)
Rick explores legal avenues to address environmental health issues, including representing CEH in Prop 65 litigation. He has devoted his career to representing plaintiffs injured by corporate wrongdoing or negligence. Before joining CEH, Rick practiced with Sher Leff LLP representing public water providers in litigation against major oil companies for MtBE contamination of drinking water. Rick graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science and received his J.D. from Hastings College of the Law in 1993.
Q: How did you become interested/end up working in Environmental Health law?
A: I became aware of the health effects of pollution at a young age. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles, where on some days the smog was so thick you couldn’t see the mountains a few miles away. I recall days that ended with headaches, burning lungs and coughing fits from playing outside all day and breathing the brown air. I also can remember beach closures due to high levels of bacteria from sewage. These experiences stayed with me and formed the basis of my interest in environmental health issues. As a young lawyer, I continued to be drawn to these issues and had the opportunity to work with residents exposed to pollution from the many oil refineries and chemical plants in the Bay Area. I also represented a number of families whose drinking water became contaminated after years of dumping at a nearby industrial plant. Working with these clients solidified my interest in environmental health issues by showing me the real world impact that careless or illegal corporate environmental practices can have on people’s lives.
Q: Please tell us about some of your projects/cases.
A: We are investigating a number of interesting potential cases, including lead paint in older residential units. Though lead has been banned in paint since 1978, exposure to lead from deteriorating paint continues to be a serious health hazard, especially for young children who live in older housing. CEH has years of experience dealing with lead in consumer products and we are investigating to see whether there is a role for CEH to play in addressing the ongoing problem of lead paint in housing.
I’m also working on a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit involving a large truck distribution center in Visalia. The project was approved by the city of Visalia with no environmental review. CEH joined the Coalition for Clean Air, Association of Irritated Residents and the Teamsters in a lawsuit to require the city to comply with CEQA’s environmental review provisions, and to require VWR (the company building the warehouse) to comply with San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District rules that would reduce air pollution associated with the construction and operation of the facility. Visalia already has some of the worst air quality in the country, and this project would make the problem worse by greatly increasing diesel truck traffic in the area.
Q: How did you become involved in the Visalia case?
CEH has an existing relationship with the Teamsters, having worked together in the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports which is aimed at improving environmental and working conditions at the Port of Oakland. We were approached by the Teamsters who asked CEH to consider joining the VWR lawsuit in Visalia. Since CEH has supporters throughout the state, including the San Joaquin Valley and Visalia, and because the case fits squarely with our public health mission, we were glad to join in this important case.
4. What do you find most interesting when researching cases about toxics affecting people’s health?
Though I don’t have a science background, I have always enjoyed learning about the science/health issues in cases I’ve handled. I like that I get to work with and learn from top experts on a variety of technical issues and then put that knowledge to work to try to solve difficult environmental health problems.
What does your work seek to accomplish?
The goal of my work is to get corporations to change their behavior to eliminate or minimize the public health impacts of their decisions and business practices. Litigation is a powerful tool that gets corporations’ attention and can force them to change their practices. The threat of a court judgment also can bring them to the negotiating table to work out a solution. My hope is that through legal action we not only solve the issue that led to the litigation, but also get corporate decision makers to consider the environmental and public health implications of their future actions.
CEH will be bringing free product testing, our story of perseverance and our record of accomplishment on the road in the next few weeks.
We will be in Venice, California next Tuesday May 24, with CEH friends Ed Begley, Jr. and Annie Leonard (of “The Story of Electronics”) at a private event.
Jellyvision, the company behind, “You Don’t Know Jack” is hosting an event for CEH friends and supporters in Chicago on Wednesday, June 8th.
For more information on these events and to attend, please contact Jody@ceh.org.
CEH will be celebrating our 15th anniversary on October 24, 2011 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco. Anniversary Co-Chairs Kirsten Steward Beckwith and Donald Simon invite you to join us.
For ticket and sponsorship information, please contact Sean Sullivan at 510.655.3900 x303
The East Bay Community Foundation has awarded us with a generous grant for our work with the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports.
The San Francisco Foundation has awarded us with a generous grant to continue our work to remove toxic chemicals from food, air, water and consumer products, especially those impacting low income communities of color and collaborating in those communities to educate and build support for environmental justice.