Pollution Law Watch

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What You Need To Know About Toxic Chemicals in Your Neighborhood – #4

Posted in PAHs/PNAs, Perchlorate, Petroleum Contamination (BTEX), Uncategorized, Xylene

By Shawn Collins and Edward Manzke of The Collins Law Firm, P.C.

Co-authored by Cassidy Carroll and Jacob Exline of The Collins Law Firm, P.C.

Over the last 15 years, many of our environmental contamination cases have started the same way. A family gets the startling news that their water is contaminated with some toxic chemical that they’ve never heard of. Sometimes the news comes in a letter in the mail from a government agency. Sometimes it’s a knock on the door from a government worker. The details are few, but the gist of what the family is told is that some company-perhaps the factory up the street-years ago dumped industrial waste out the back door. Over the years, the chemicals in that waste bled down through the soil, and are now in the groundwater that serves as the family’s supply of water for drinking, preparing food and bathing.

Mom or dad then tries to figure out what to do. They’re scared and angry all at the same time. Their thoughts are: “How could someone do this to us?” “Why weren’t we told before?”

And then there’s this one: “What is this chemical, and what can it do to my family?”

To help families in precisely this unfortunate situation, we’ve compiled short and easy-to-read summaries of the important facts about those chemicals most likely to be found contaminating drinking water. All you need to do is click on the chemical’s name below, and you will find a snapshot of useful information that can help you protect your family. While there are more toxic chemicals out there than we have provided, we are dedicated to updating and adding more toxic chemicals to our list to better help families. If you need any further information, please contact us.

Petroleum Contamination (BTEX)
Polycyclic/Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs/PNAs)




Posted in Contamination, TCE, Vapor Intrusion

For the last 17 years, I and a team of lawyers have been representing families threatened by TCE contamination in their water supply, in the groundwater underneath their homes, and in the air inside their homes (called “vapor intrusion”).  Recent reports in the media unfortunately describe how TCE, disposed of years ago in Nonantum, Massachusetts has seeped into the groundwater about 60 feet below the surface, and, after turning into gas (‘vapor”), has risen back up through the soil and intruded into the breathing space of area homes.

Having known many hundreds of families over the years who were horrified to receive such news about TCE contamination in their homes and communities, my heart goes out to the families of Nonantum.  I know many of them are scared—“What can this chemical do to me and my family?” they will ask.  They have important questions that deserve answers such as: “How long has this contamination been in my neighborhood, and in my home, and who is responsible?” And they might well be angry—“Why didn’t someone in government protect us from this, or at least warn us that this could happen?”

With exactly these anxieties in mind, I want to provide some information to the people of Nonantum who are dealing with this, so they might understand what is going on, and how better to protect themselves.  Here are some important things I have learned over the years:

  • TCE is dangerous.  Give exposure over a significant period of time, TCE can cause cancer, and a variety of other serious health conditions. You already have been told so, it appears, but what you particularly need to know is that TCE is especially dangerous for children.  (See my guide to the dangers of TCE: http://www.thepollutionlawyers.com/?p=8078 ) This is because children’s immune systems are not yet fully formed, and so do not process and eliminate toxins like TCE as efficiently as adults’ do.  I do not offer you this information to alarm you, only to suggest that the dangers of TCE is the reason why protection against the presence, or even possible presence, of TCE in your home is an urgent matter.
  • There is no “safe” level of TCE. While it is certainly true that lower levels of TCE are less dangerous than higher levels of TCE, those who tell you that there is some level of TCE that cannot harm your family, or that you should be willing to tolerate, are usually the people who have to pay to clean it up. Or sometimes you find that government regulators adopt this kind of thinking, believing it is their job to provide worried families with false assurances of safety.  The truth is that TCE was typically used in factories to clean nasty dirt and grime off of parts in the manufacturing process.  If you ever saw how well TCE does its job, you will understand immediately why it does not belong in the human body…..in any concentration
  • TCE vapor intrusion happens far more easily than you might imagine.  TCE is what is referred to as a “volatile” chemical.  That means, simply, that under the right circumstances, it easily turns into a gas, and then does what gasses do, i.e., it rises.  When the TCE in the groundwater in Nonantum turns into a gas form, as it already has and continues to do, it begins to rise back up through the soil—about 60 feet from groundwater to the basement floors of the homes up above it in Nonantum.  Then, because it is a gas, the TCE can slip (“intrude”) into a home fairly easily through even very tiny cracks in a basement floor, for example, or openings in the basement floor designed for sumps.  It doesn’t need much.
  • TCE isn’t necessarily confined to the basement.  It’s certainly true that the basement areas in Nonantum are the most vulnerable, because they are closest to the contaminated groundwater that is the source of the problem.  But in my cases I have seen TCE detected in the living areas above the basements, and even in the third stories of some homes, because heating and air conditioning piping served as conduits that carried TCE vapor into those areas.  Testing for TCE vapors should therefore be done on all levels of a home.  (More on this below.)
  • Demand urgency.  Environmental investigations into how far a chemical has spread, and the clean-up of the chemical, can take many years, even decades. How long it takes has a lot to do with the amount of money available to pay for this work, of course, but can also be significantly influenced by the competence of the governmental agency managing the work, the political clout of the polluter–who always wants things to move slowly–and the noisiness of the families most affected.  In my experience, a concerned, informed, noisy-when-necessary group of impacted families can keep the pressure on, and dramatically reduce the length of time these processes take. And they can go a long way toward counter-acting any political clout that the polluter may wield, that can be used to slow the process down, or cut corners to save the polluter money in cleaning up the problem it caused.  Rule of thumb:  families threatened by the contamination want to keep the issue on the front page of the local paper; once it has moved off the front page, everything that you need done quickly will slow down to a crawl.
  • Get your home tested, and tell your neighbors to. Some people resist testing for TCE vapor in their homes because they believe that, if it is found thereit will damage their property value.  While I understand the concern for property values, all homes within, and even near, an area known to be contaminated are going to be damaged, at least for a while.  So, you’re not protecting your property value by refusing the testing.  But you are certainly depriving government regulators of information that may be very important to determining how serious and widespread of a problem this is, and, worst of all, may be depriving your family of the information it needs to protect itself.  For example, if TCE is in your home, you need to know it so that you can get a “vapor mitigation system” installed, and perhaps take other precautions, as well.
  • Beware “false negatives”,and the results of one-time testing.  Lots of testing is necessary to figure out where the TCE really is, and how far it has spread, etc.   A common mistake that governmental regulators make–often because they are listening to the polluter paying for the testing and clean-up, who does not want to test as thoroughly as you do–is they insist on too little testing.  I hope that is not happening in Nonantum.  The simple but critical point here is this:  gas is elusive.  It moves.  It may not be found in a home during testing on Tuesday, but appear in that same home in high concentrations by Friday. I have seen high concentrations of TCE vapor detected in one part of a home, but no concentration at all a few feet away, a few minutes later.  Likewise, I have seen TCE vapor found inside a home during a first test, but not during the second test a few days later; and high TCE concentrations found in a home on the north side of the street, but not detected in the home right across the street.  All of this simply means that a one-time, single location test finding no TCE does not mean that there is no TCE in that home, and never will be.  Therefore, because of the elusive, unpredictable movement of TCE vapor, competent testing should be undertaken on multiple occasions over the course of a year–both within the home where no TCE was previously found, as well as in the neighborhood–and during different weather conditions.  For example, TCE is less likely to be found in a home after a significant rainfall, because the rainwater percolates down through the soil, and tends to form at least a temporary barrier for TCE moving up through the soil during those times.  Also, as mentioned above, while the home’s basement is most vulnerable, TCE can migrate to other levels of the home, as well, and so they should be tested, too.
  • If any level of TCE at all is found in a home, it should have a TCE “vapor mitigation system” installed. As mentioned above, the levels of TCE vapor in a home are typically not static.  They fluctuate, and can change rapidly and significantly. Therefore, if any level of TCE in vapor is found in any location within the home even during just one test, that home should be considered to be threatened by high levels of vapor contamination, and protected against them.
  • Clean up the groundwater! Another mistake that gets made in these types of situations is that, unbelievably, the source of the vapor intrusion–the TCE-contaminated groundwater–gets ignored.  In other words, what sometimes happens is that once “vapor mitigation systems”–designed to pipe any TCE-contaminated air away from the home–get installed, government regulators, local politicians and sometimes even affected families think the crisis is over, and everything is fine.  But it’s not fine.  First of all, while many “vapor mitigation systems” do their job very well, none are perfect.  Even for the best system, some TCE will slip through. Also, like any machine, the systems need maintenance and can break down.  Most important: in Nonantum, you have very high concentrations of TCE–up to a whopping and very dangerous 52,000 micrograms per liter–that have been detected in groundwater right underneath or near the homes.  Untreated, concentrations like that are not going away any time soon, and will continue to threaten to vaporize, and head toward the breathing space of homes above it.  Bottom line:  it is only when the TCE has been removed from the groundwater that the problem is solved, and the threat is gone.
  • You deserve timely and complete information.   For example, you deserve to know exactly why Massachusetts’ Department of Environmental Protection sent letters to Northrup Grumman and One Nevada Realty, informing them that they are potentially liable for the contamination.  What does DEP believe these companies did to potentially cause, or otherwise be responsible for, the contamination?  You also deserve to know whether anyone other than you—the taxpayer—is paying for investigation and clean-up.  This is important to know because, one, if there is a financially viable company responsible for the contamination, it is not fair that you should have to pay to fix it.  Also, two, as we all know, government has very limited funds to do much these days, and competent investigations and clean-ups for problems like this can cost literally millions of dollars.  I mean no disrespect to Nonantum when I predict that Nonantum doesn’t have that kind of money laying around.  Finally, you deserve to know what the plan and timeline are for finalization of the investigation, and cleanup of the TCE-contaminated groundwater.  If there is no plan, you must demand one. And if there is no timeline, then there really isn’t a plan.

I hope this information helps.  I wish all the families of Nonantum the very best in finding the truth about the extent of this problem; how it happened; who caused it; protection against it; and a thorough clean-up.



Posted in Contamination, Government, Lead

Illinois legislators have an opportunity this fall to do something important and help to regain some of the public’s trust in government. They can pass a bill to test for lead in the drinking water at Illinois’ schools.  (Yes, believe it or not, no such testing is currently required….as if we needed a reason to think even less of the state’s leadership.)

Last May, the Illinois Senate passed Senate bill 550, sponsored by State Senator Heather Steans, (D – Chicago 7th), which, among other things, requires elementary schools in the state to test for high levels of lead in drinking fountains and sinks. Environmental groups, such as the Illinois Environmental Council are pushing for the House to pass the bill in their November Veto Session. 1

Some organizations are pushing back. The Illinois Association of School Administrators is asking who will pay for this, and the Illinois Municipal League, an advocacy group for local governments, opposes the bill because they don’t want municipalities to pay. 

All of this squabbling over “who pays” has got to stop. This is not the time for cutting corners. State and local governments need to work together with school districts to pay for this and get it done. Lead is too grave a danger to our children. People whose job it is to protect schoolchildren shouldn’t be risking the kids’ health over the question of who pays the few bucks to get the testing done.

And just so we know the stakes here:  The World Health Organization says that there is no safe level of lead. “At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with mental retardation and behavioral disorders. At lower levels of exposure … that previously were considered safe, lead is now known to affect children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as reduced attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.” 2

This last sentence is especially important: once the damage is done, the effects of lead exposure cannot be fixed.

Just as troubling, lead poisoning has been linked to an increase in criminal behavior. The link between childhood lead exposure and violent behavior is well-established in scientific studies. Small doses can reduce IQ and essentially cause parts of the brain to short out, in particular the areas responsible for controlling aggression.  Ann Evans, former chief of lead poisoning prevention at the Chicago Department of Public Health has researched childhood lead exposure extensively. Her peer-reviewed study found that exposure to lead during early childhood significantly increases the chance that a student will fail reading and math tests, even when controlling for other factors such as poverty, race, birth weight and the mother’s education level. 3

Why is this important? Because studies show that students who fail to master reading skills are more likely to fall behind in later grades and drop out of high school.  These children who have been exposed to lead struggle in school more than those who have not been exposed, and as teens, commit crimes more frequently, according to a report by researchers at the University of Cincinnati. 3

So, our government leaders know that lead in drinking water is extremely dangerous for childrennow they need to act like they know it.   A significant number of schools in Illinois have elevated lead levels in their drinking water.  For example, recent testing in the City of Chicago showed that a whopping 99 schools have tested positive for levels of lead in drinking fountains above the Environmental Protection Agency’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb). 4 And the problem is not just confined to Chicago. In Waukegan, testing showed that 10% of the schools had lead levels in drinking fountains above that same EPA guideline.  In addition, 36 fountains had levels between 5 – 15 ppb, and one Elementary school had a shocking lead level of 225 ppb. 5 St. Charles, too, has found levels of lead as high as 10 times the amount deemed safe by the EPA. In all, 129 sinks or faucets in the district had problematic lead levels. 6 Who knows how many other districts have similar dangerous levels of lead?

Bottom line:  It’s time to find out.

 We cannot afford to send our children to school to learn, only to find out too late that the water at that very school has robbed them of their ability to learn.

Illinois’ leaders need to act now to require every school in the state to test for lead. The consequences of not knowing are too great.  Are our elected officials really willing to rob our children of their potential, and their future over a fight about a very small amount of money? Are they willing to risk relegating many of them to a life of crime? I sure as hell hope not. The fate of the next generation is depending on them.


1 http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160921/news/160929809/

2 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs379/en/


4 http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/number-of-cps-schools-with-high-lead-levels-99/




“Willful” Exposure of Workers to Lead and Other Toxins Demands the Personal Accountability of Company Executives

Posted in Contamination, Government, Lead, OSHA

This is about how to send the right message to a company that is alleged to have willfully endangered the health of workers.

The company is Fraser Shipyard of Superior, Wisconsin.  The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has accused Fraser of exposing 190 welders and ship fabricators to toxic levels of some nasty chemicals, including lead, asbestos, arsenic and hexavalent chromium.  75% of the workers tested had elevated levels of lead in their systems, including 14 who had lead levels up to 20 times the maximum allowable exposure. 1

It’s OSHA’s job to take this seriously.  Because, as we have known for a long time, lead is a toxic chemical, and the health consequences of exposure to lead are quite serious.

The National Institutes of Health say “No amount of lead is safe. Eliminating all lead exposure in our environment is our best course of action.”   Lead exposure has been linked to a number of serious health issues in adults. As a general rule, the more lead you have in your body, the more likely it is you’ll have health problems. 2

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lists the following health risks for adults exposed to lead:

  • nerve disorders
  • cardiovascular effects
  • decreased kidney function
  • memory or concentration problems
  • brain damage and lower IQ
  • fertility problems
  • anemia
  • increased blood pressure and hypertension
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • increased incidences of essential tremors 3

So this was OSHA’s reaction:

  • Shut Fraser down, at least for a while.
  • Proposed a fine of almost $1.4 million.
  • Accused Fraser of committing 14 “willful” safety violations of exposing a worker to lead
  • Accused Fraser of 5 violations for lack of a lead monitoring program, and failure to implement monitoring and other programs to protect workers against exposure to toxins
  • Issued 10 other serious violations
  • Put Fraser into its “Severe Violators Enforcement Program”—for the worst offenders.1

Fraser has a checkered past, where worker safety is concerned.  OSHA previously cited Fraser in 2000 for exposing workers to asbestos, and for as many as 60 lead violations in 1993.  It has inspected Fraser some 28 times since 1972, concerned about the possibility of similar failures to protect workers from environmental contamination. 4

Willful safety violations are rare; OSHA issues them only when it believes that an “employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.”  5

Understand that, for as serious as this OSHA action is, at this point, these are allegations.  Fraser will have the chance to prove its conduct is not as bad as alleged, if it wishes to try.

But what if these allegations are proven?  Or Fraser admits them?  Is a fine—even a very large one—enough?  What will it take to get Fraser’s attention?   What if Fraser’s behavior really is as bad as OSHA has claimed?

Then there is a serious problem with the culture at Fraser.  If proven, charges so serious and comprehensive as these—especially within a company that has a track record of failure where worker safety is concerned—would tell us that the people in charge at Fraser should not be running this company.  Because it is the people in charge at a company that establish its culture.  And so at a very basic level, the people running Fraser would be shown to obviously not give a damn for the safety of human beings.

The health of nearly 200 workers has been threatened; some could suffer life-long consequences from exposure to dangerous chemicals at Fraser.  In my opinion, that demands a penalty more likely than a fine—even a large fine—to shock Fraser into the recognition that life and health is to be respected.

That means that the people who run Fraser should have to pay a personal price.  Specifically: whichever Fraser executives are responsible for worker safety should not be allowed to work at Fraser anymore.  And criminal charges against them should be seriously considered.  If you or I so much as run a red light in our car, we can be charged with a crime, including the reckless endangerment of our passengers and others on the road.  So should it likewise be worthy of a criminal charge if, as OSHA has claimed, Fraser has “willfully” and repeatedly threatened the health of nearly 200 workers by exposing them to toxic chemicals?

If not, then we have regressed back to the 19th century on worker safety.


1 http://www.peoplesworld.org/osha-hits-wisconsin-shipyard-with-1-4-million-fine-for-lead-poisoning-of-workers/

2 https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/lead/

3 http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=10

4 http://ehstoday.com/industrial-hygiene/cancer-vessel-inspectors-find-high-lead-levels-fraser-shipyards

5 https://www.osha.gov/Publications/fedrites.html

Naperville Residents’ “Toxic Mist” Complaints Should be Taken Seriously

Posted in Contamination, E Coli, Government, Toxic Mold

Residents in a subdivision of Naperville, Illinois, believe that their recent health complaints, and mold-like staining on their backyard patios and fencing, are being caused by a “toxic mist” spraying off of a fountain in a pond adjacent to their homes.  These resident also claim that they have tested the pond’s water themselves, and found excessively high levels of E Coli bacteria.  (The subdivision responsible for the pond says they, too, have tested the pond water, but that no excessive E Coli was detected.) 1

State and local governments are saying that they might get involved, to see what’s really going.

I say to state and local government:  “What are you waiting for?  Get out to this neighborhood, do comprehensive testing, share the results with the people, and do whatever may be necessary to protect them as soon as possible.”

E coli—if indeed there are excessive levels of it in the pond water—is nothing to play games with.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain types of E Coli bacteria are pathogenic and cause illness. These bacteria can cause symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. In addition, 5-10% percent of people with an E Coli infection can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe and potentially life-threatening condition which can lead to kidney failure. 2

Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health say that exposure to black mold can cause several health problems, including: nasal and sinus congestion, chronic coughs, sore throats, skin rashes, eye irritation and blurred vision, and that “After contact with certain molds, individuals with chronic respiratory disease may have difficulty breathing, and people who are immunocompromised may be at increased risk for lung infection.” 3

An important clue which tells us that government should get to work quickly here is that the health effects caused by exposure to E coli and black mold are very similar, if not identical, to the health problems experienced by the Rachlitz and Stearns/Sutton families whose homes back up to the pond.  I’ve read nothing, heard nothing, and can think of nothing, that suggests that these families’ health problems, and their possible connection to the “toxic mist”, should not be taken seriously.

So, government should immediately test not only the pond water for E coli and other toxins, but should also test the dark staining on the residents’ patios, concrete, fencing, etc., to see if it matches what is in the pond.  The laboratory reports which show the results of these tests should be expedited (rather than delayed for the customary 2-4 weeks of processing), and shared right away with the residents, along with government’s conclusions about what is in the pond and the residents’ yards.  That’s not to say that government’s conclusions are necessarily right—government, in my experience, has a reflexive tendency to downplay environmental problems, especially environmental problems that it should have found and fixed long ago.  But government’s conclusions are a useful place to start.

Then, if these test results show a real problem, particularly one that may be threatening human health, government can enforce a sensible solution—such as eliminate the pond’s fountains—or the people most unfortunately impacted will be armed with information necessary to help themselves.

But let’s stop all the guessing and foot-dragging.  People are getting sick.  Let’s find out right away if the “mist” is what’s causing it.


1 http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/aurora-beacon-news/opinion/ct-abn-crosby-bad-pond-st-0731-20160731-column.html


2 http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/general/

3 http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/mold/

JUST THE LATEST REASON FOR AMERICANS TO BE ANGRY AT THE POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENT: Members of Congress Immediately Protect Themselves Against Possible Lead Exposure, While “Regular” Americans are Routinely Denied Environmental Protection 

Posted in Government, Lead, PCE, Pollution, TCE, Uncategorized

Day after day these days, we see expressions of clueless bewilderment from government officials:  “Why are the people so mad at us?”   “Why do they hate us?”  “Why are they so anxious to throw us out of office?”

 There are, of course, a thousand reasons, but none more revealing of what’s broken about our government than this:  While every branch of our government—Executive, Congressional, Judicial—has been working overtime to deny basic environmental protections to American citizens, when these same officials are threatened by contamination in their environment, protection for them arrives swiftly and surely.

Cases in point:

  • The lead-infested water of Flint, Michigan.  The State of Michigan tried to save a few bucks by taking Flint families off of their safe water supply, and connecting them to a water system whose pipes were badly corroded, and spewed dangerous levels of lead into the families’ drinking water.  Even though Congress has the money to protect Flint from the lead, it has again and again refused to do so, threatening many more months and possibly years of lead poisoning of the children of Flint.
  • TCE contamination at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.  Lawyers dispatched by the Obama administration went to court, and successfully argued that military families and their children who had been poisoned by the TCE and PCE-laced water at the Camp LeJeune military base would not be allowed to sue for their injuries.1
  • The fatal pollution from coal-burning plants.  The United States Supreme Court halted enforcement of new environmental standards for coal-burning plants, with the majority of the court refusing even to consider that the new standards would have saved thousands of lives every year, mostly in poor minority communities.2

Now, keep these stories in mind as you consider this:  when, just last week, members of Congress learned that the water in one of their office buildings contained concentrations of lead exceeding the actions levels set by the EPA, they:

  • Arranged immediately to make blood testing—free blood testing– available for them and their staffs, to see if they had been exposed to the lead.  And if lead is found in their blood, no doubt additional, cost-free medical testing and treatment will be at their immediate disposal.
  • Ensured prompt testing throughout all buildings in which members of Congress work, to see if the lead contamination has spread.
  • Made it a priority to find the source of the lead contamination, and fix it. 3

 So when it comes to protecting the lives and health of the poor living in the shadows of coal plants; minorities living in our rotting, third-world caliber industrial cities; or even dedicated service people living on military bases, government officials invoke “cost” and dozens of other reasons to use their power to deprive these citizens of the protection of the very laws the officials have sworn to uphold.  But when it is the lives and health of these same officials that may have been even momentarily threatened, then no expense is to be spared to protect them.

The inescapable message to us from our government officials is this:  “Our lives mean more than your lives”.

No wonder the people are so angry.

1 http://www.rollcall.com/news/Obama-Administration-Moves-to-Deny-Justice-for-Camp-Lejeune-Veterans-234417-1.html

2 https://www.pollutionlawwatch.com/2015/07/life-saving-regulation-of-toxic-power-plant-emissions-declared-invalid-by-us-supreme-court/

3 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cannon-water-lead-capitol-hill_us_577d0c3de4b0416464113974

Portland Parks Director Needs to “Get” that Lead Contaminated Drinking Water is Dangerous…or Quit His Job!!

Posted in Contamination, Lead, Uncategorized, Water


 A recent review of the Portland Parks and Recreation’s (PPR) handling of high levels of lead contamination in the drinking fountains at the Multnomah Arts Center concluded that the agency failed for years in its duty to protect citizens, especially kids, from the contamination.  In a nutshell, the review found that PPR was aware since at least 2013 that lead levels in the water at several of the drinking fountains were unacceptably high, according to EPA standards, but ignored those results.  The review also found other evidence of PPR’s shocking disregard of the health threats posed by the lead-contaminated water, including:

  • PPR staff’s ignoring of a directive to replace lead plumbing;
  • tests taken in 2015 specifically to determine if there was lead contamination in the water were never analyzed;
  • staff cancelled work orders for the installation of water filters that would eliminate or reduce lead content in the water;
  • April, 2016 PPR records were changed to show that work had been done to remedy the lead problem, but there is no record to show that this work had actually been done.

Read the full article here:  http://www.kgw.com/news/health/deep-rooted-problems-at-portland-parks-rec-kept-lead-issues-quiet-for-years-review-finds/265431423

Perhaps even worse than all of this, though, is the public statement attributed earlier this week to PPR Director, Mike Abbate, who downplayed the significance of lead in the drinking water.  According to Abbate:

“As we look at lead in water and evaluate it as a public health risk, it’s not nearly as significant an issue as other kinds of environmental exposures.” (my emphasis)

What!?  Lead contamination in Portland drinking water is not that big of a deal because it won’t hurt kids as badly or quickly as other toxins!?  Lead contamination should be tolerated…. because there’s something worse?

This sounds like the excuse offered by some industrial polluter from the early 20th century, before the many and serious health dangers from exposure to lead became known.  For the benefit of Mr. Abbate, and the visitors to his Multnomah Arts Center that may be threatened by his apparent ignorance, our National Institute of Health has said this for many years about the dangers of lead in our drinking water and environment:

No amount of lead is safe. Eliminating all lead exposure in our environment is our best course of action.” (my emphasis).

The following health issues in children exposed to lead have been reported:

  • decreased academic achievement
  • decreased hearing
  • lower IQ scores
  • delayed puberty
  • decreases in postnatal growth
  • increases in behavioral problems and attention related disorders

The following health risks for adults exposed to lead have been reported:

  • nerve disorders
  • cardiovascular effects
  • decreased kidney function
  • memory or concentration problems
  • fertility problems
  • increased blood pressure and hypertension
  • increased incidences of essential tremors

(Read about the health risks of lead exposure here:   http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/lead/)

The bottom line here?  Lead in drinking water is dangerous.  Mr. Abbate need to “get” that, ASAP.  Or he needs to step aside, in favor of someone who does.





Posted in Government, Pollution

Here’s a good example of why we don’t trust our government.1

A lawyer named Bob Sussman used to work at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC from 2009 to 2013.  While he was at EPA, Sussman was involved in the agency’s decision to seek lower limits on allowable ozone pollution.2  So that there would be less ozone in the environment.  Because ozone pollution is significantly responsible for the climate change that threatens the planet and all who live on it.

Then, Sussman left EPA.  He went to work consulting for some of the world’s biggest polluters, like BP Amoco.

And earlier this year, while working for BP Amoco, Sussman went to EPA, and helped the company argue that the limits on ozone pollution should not be lowered after all, or at least not as much as EPA wants to lower them.

In other words, Sussman got paid by BP Amoco to go to EPA, and argue against the very same ozone rules that he had helped develop when he worked for EPA.

The easiest shot to take here is to say that the standard for allowable ozone pollution should not change depending on who happens to be paying Bob Sussman at the moment—the taxpayers, or BP Amoco.

But this problem is a lot bigger than Bob Sussman.  Sussman would defend himself by saying that he has broken no laws….and the fact that he is right in saying so is the saddest part.  The truth is that our laws and regulations are often made by elected and agency officials who are the future paid consultants to the very companies that are threatened by those rules, and want them weakened. And who better to try to weaken them than the very officials who made them, and know who to talk to in order to get them either completely dismantled or so larded with exceptions that the law is effectively gutted for the benefit of their new client?

So we know who’s on the polluters’ payroll (or is auditioning for the job). Seemingly, anybody with a really important government job in Washington, DC.  But who’s on our payroll?  Who’s actually working for the people who really need the ozone levels lowered?

1 Huffington Post Green – “Oil Industry Gets Help On Undermining Ozone Standards From A Well-Informed Source” (September 9, 2015)

2 Environmental Protection Agency – Ozone (O3) Standards

SAFE, CLEAN WATER IS A HUMAN RIGHT: Why “Thirst Project” is So Important

Posted in Contamination, Groundwater, Pollution, Uncategorized, Water

This is about the importance of clean water to sustain health and life; how we as Americans assume (often mistakenly) that we will always have it; and an extraordinary young man named Seth Maxwell who founded Thirst Project, which is dedicated to the simple but powerful idea that clean water is everyone’s right.

We take many things for granted as Americans.  One of them is clean water.  To drink. To cook. To bathe. To wash things.  Clean water will always be there for us…at least that’s what we think.

But many Americans are learning the hard way that what we take for granted can be taken from us.  For example, the drought in California.  The water shortage it has caused is nothing short of frightening.  Not enough water to grow crops, or put out fires.  Not enough water to pipe to communities.  If the drought is not resolved soon—and no one thinks it will be—then California families will find other places to live.  They will conclude that, without water, it is just not safe to live in California anymore.  And so the state that everyone once wanted to live in will be a state that many will want to leave.  For their own safety.

Another example are the water supplies throughout the United States that today are badly contaminated by years of industrial chemical dumping.  These are millennia-old aquifers flowing underground, which, for as long as there have been humans on the planet, have supplied them life-giving water.  But, over the last 100 years, polluting companies have badly damaged these aquifers by dumping millions of gallons of toxins, and allowing them to seep ever deeper into the ground, until they render the water in the aquifer unusable.  Some of these aquifers can be cleaned up—but it will take decades, typically.  Some aquifers, for all practical purposes, will never be cleaned up.  I have worked as a lawyer for many hundreds of families who were devastated to learn that their aquifer had been taken from them by chemical contamination. They had to find another way to try to get clean water.  It is a horrible betrayal of what they thought it meant to be an American.

Yet, for all the unsettling news about our access to clean water here, we are in dramatically better shape than much of the rest of the world.  Beyond the United States, there are an estimated 1 billion people who do not have access to clean water.  1 billion people.  The number is almost too large to even comprehend. Yet, unlike Americans, many of these 1 billion are not shocked or angry to know that they have no clean water.  Sadly, they never had clean water in the first place.  They grew up with no expectation that clean water would be there for them….let alone a belief that clean water was their right.

And so they drink and cook with and bathe in water that is not fit for humans.  Because it is all that they have.  The consequences are as predictable as they are devastating:  for these people, water is not the source of healing and nourishment, as it was intended to be; instead, it is the reason people get sick and die—especially, children.  Children die by the thousands around the world each day for the shockingly simple reason that there was no clean water—or no water at all—for them to drink.

Thirst Project was founded by a man named Seth Maxwell and 7 of his college friends.  They are young people armed with determination, energy, brains and an unflinching passion which recognizes that people everywhere—not just in America—have the right to clean water.  Their noble and ambitious goal is to “eradicate the global water crisis.”  They do it by mobilizing young people—mostly high school and college-aged—to raise money and awareness, all aimed at building fresh water wells in developing countries and communities. As a result of their efforts, Thirst Project is the world’s leading youth water activism organization. One of their projects has focused on Swaziland, a country whose 1.25 million population is ravaged by a lack of access to clean water, which contributes significantly, for example, to the fact the life expectancy is only 48-years-old, and the mortality rate of children under age five is a shocking 80/1000.

In 2012, Maxwell and his Thirst Project partners embarked on a mission to raise $50 million to supply the entire country with clean water.  The entire country.  Which will make a profound difference and save, literally, tens of thousands of lives. Thirst Project is doing its good work through projects in many other countries as well, such as India, Uganda, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Kenya and Columbia.

I invite you to read and learn more about Maxwell and his Thirst Project and to find a way to join them in their important work.  Because once we say—as we must—that everyone else in the world has the same human right to clean water that Americans do, and once we recognize—as we must—the terrible price that is paid when that right is violated, then we realize that there is work to do…and it’s all of our jobs to do it.

What You Need To Know About Toxic Chemicals in Your Neighborhood – #3

Posted in Barium, Chromium, Cyanide, DCE, Ethylbenzene, Uncategorized

By Shawn Collins and Edward Manzke of The Collins Law Firm, P.C.

Co-authored by Cassidy Carroll and Jacob Exline of The Collins Law Firm, P.C.

Over the last 15 years, many of our environmental contamination cases have started the same way. A family gets the startling news that their water is contaminated with some toxic chemical that they’ve never heard of. Sometimes the news comes in a letter in the mail from a government agency. Sometimes it’s a knock on the door from a government worker. The details are few, but the gist of what the family is told is that some company-perhaps the factory up the street-years ago dumped industrial waste out the back door. Over the years, the chemicals in that waste bled down through the soil, and are now in the groundwater that serves as the family’s supply of water for drinking, preparing food and bathing.

Mom or dad then tries to figure out what to do. They’re scared and angry all at the same time. Their thoughts are: “How could someone do this to us?” “Why weren’t we told before?”

And then there’s this one: “What is this chemical, and what can it do to my family?”

To help families in precisely this unfortunate situation, we’ve compiled short and easy-to-read summaries of the important facts about those chemicals most likely to be found contaminating drinking water. All you need to do is click on the chemical’s name below, and you will find a snapshot of useful information that can help you protect your family. While there are more toxic chemicals out there than we have provided, we are dedicated to updating and adding more toxic chemicals to our list to better help families. If you need any further information, please contact us.

1,1-Dichloroethylene (1,1-DCE)
1,2-Dichloroethylene (1,2-DCE)