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Are Any Plastics Safe? Industry Tries to Hide Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Bottles, Containers

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/4/are_any_plastics_safe_industry_tries

AMY GOODMAN: “Are any plastics safe?” That’s the title—that’s the question of a new exposé by Mother Jones that may shock anyone who drinks out of plastic bottles, gives their children plastic sippy cups or eats out of plastic containers. For years, public campaigns have been waged against plastic containing BPA, Bisphenol-A, a controversial plastic additive. But a new investigation by Mother Jones magazine has revealed that chemicals used to replace BPA may be just as, if not more, dangerous to your health than their cousin compound.

BPA is still widely used in everything from the lining of soup cans to printed receipts, even though studies show it mimics the behavior of estrogen in the human body, and have linked it to breast cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Just last week, a study estimated the use of BPA in food and beverage containers is responsible for some $3 billion a year in healthcare costs. But because BPA can hamper brain and organ development in young children, it’s been banned in bottles and sippy cups since 2012. Now new studies show the plastic products being advertised as BPA-free, and sold by companies such as Evenflo and Nalgene, Tupperware, are still releasing synthetic estrogen.

The Mother Jones report goes on to look at how the plastics industry has used a Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury the disturbing evidence about the products you use every day.

We’re joined in Washington, D.C., now by Mariah Blake, staff reporter with Mother Jones magazine.

Mariah, welcome to Democracy Now! Just lay out what you have found.

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, essentially, there is relatively new research showing that the vast majority of plastics, at least commercially available plastics that are used for food packaging, contain BPA-like chemicals, so chemicals that are what they call estrogenic. And the—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what BPA is.

MARIAH BLAKE: So BPA is a chemical that mimics the hormone estrogen. And estrogen plays—we all have estrogen in our bodies. It plays an essential role in various bodily functions and is also very important in human development, so the development of our brain, the development of our organs. However, too much or too little of this hormone, basically, especially during early childhood or prenatally, can set you up for disease later on in life. So, exposure—what the research shows is that exposure in the womb can then lead to breast cancer, diabetes, increased aggression, really sort of a staggering list of health problems later on in life.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about what has happened since BPA has been banned.

MARIAH BLAKE: So, yes, and many people will recall that in 2008 the dangers of BPA became very widely known. There was a scare. Major retailers pulled BPA from their shelves. Customers began demanding BPA-free products, especially for children. And many manufacturers began introducing products that were BPA-free. And all of us who have children have these BPA-free products in our home, most likely. One of the—so—and in many cases, it turns out that the chemicals that were used to replace BPA, or the plastics contained chemicals that were, you know, similar to BPA—at any rate, many of these chemicals had not been tested to see whether they had similar properties to BPA, whether they mimicked estrogen, in essence. And it turns out that many of them do. So, the implication is that they could have similar effects on human health.

AMY GOODMAN: You begin your piece by telling us the story of Michael Green and his daughter.

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that experience.

MARIAH BLAKE: So, Michael Green is—he had a two-year-old daughter. He’s somebody who works in the environmental health field. And he had heard—he had seen research suggesting that BPA-free plastics may have posed some of the same problems to human health. And—but he told me this very moving story about himself and his two-year-old daughter. Somebody else in the family had given his two-year-old daughter this pink plastic sippy cup with a picture of a princess on it, which she just loved. And every night at dinner time, they would have this battle of the wills over this pink plastic sippy cup: He wanted to give her the stainless steel sippy cup; she wanted the pink plastic sippy cup. And in the interest of maintaining peace in the household, occasionally he gave in and gave her this pink plastic sippy cup. But the decision really weighed on him. And I think that those of us who have children—I have a three-year-old son—can relate to this situation, where sometimes you do the expedient thing in the interest of peace, but you wonder if it’s the best thing for your child. And in this case, he decided that he would try to answer that question. And he runs this environment health organization, and he collected sippy cups from Wal-Mart and Toys”R”Us—Babies”R”Us, I’m sorry—and he sent them to an independent lab in Texas to be tested. And he found out that in fact roughly a third of them did contain estrogen-like chemicals.

AMY GOODMAN: And that pink sippy cup?

MARIAH BLAKE: His daughter’s sippy cup was leaching estrogenic chemicals. So his fears were founded.

AMY GOODMAN: And what can that do to her?

MARIAH BLAKE: This is the big question. We know a lot about BPA. BPA is one of the most studied chemicals on the planet. And we know that these chemicals generally are associated with a range of negative health effects. But the specific effect of any given chemical varies slightly from chemical to chemical, and we actually don’t know what chemical is leaching out of that sippy cup. So it’s impossible to know. I mean, there’s a very high correlation with breast cancer, for example, with all of these estrogenic chemicals, and with certain developmental problems. But other specific diseases vary from chemical to chemical. So, Michael Green, the way he describes it is an unplanned science experiment that we’re doing on our families all of the time.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion and talk about Big Tobacco, what Big Plastic has learned from Big Tobacco. We are talking to Mariah Blake, a staff reporter with Mother Jones. Her story is in the new issue of the magazine. It’s called “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics: And the Big Tobacco-Style Campaign to Bury It.” Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are with Mariah Blake, staff reporter for Mother Jones magazine. “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics: And the Big Tobacco-Style Campaign to Bury It” is her new piece. What is the campaign to bury the information, Mariah Blake?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, there are multiple facets to the campaign, but the primary—the primary objective is to cast doubt on the scientific evidence linking these chemicals to human health problems. So—and there are various ways this is done. In the case of BPA, for example, the industry funded studies, which were biased studies that found that this—that the chemical was not harmful to health. And there’s a sort of network there. They published them in certain journals that, in many cases, had links to the tobacco industry. They relied on scientists that, in many cases, had helped to discredit the science linking smoking and secondhand smoke to disease. So, in many ways, this is—they didn’t only borrow strategies and tactics from Big Tobacco; they are actually relying on the same cadre of experts that Big Tobacco relied on to bury—to bury the truth about smoking.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a video made by the plastics industry featuring the vice president of Eastman’s specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, speaking in the video made by the company. A pregnant woman is one of the people shown buying plastic products as Boldea speaks.

LUCIAN BOLDEA: We understand that there are concerns about plastic materials that are used in consumer products that consumers use every day. Those products include water bottles, baby bottles and food storage containers. We can see how available information about plastic materials can be confusing and how it can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe. We want you, the consumer, to know the facts behind our clear, tough material named Tritan. Consumers can feel confident that the material used in the product is free of estrogenic activity.

Consumers should have high expectations of the products that they use, and no one is tougher on our products than the researchers and engineers at Eastman Chemical. Most importantly, we have used reputable, independent, third-party laboratories that have used well-recognized scientific methods to prove that Tritan is free of estrogenic activity. Numerous regulatory agencies around the world have independently reviewed our data and have approved the product for use in food contact applications. Some of the world’s most recognized brands trust Tritan as their ingredient.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Lucian Boldea, who is president of Eastman Chemical’s specialty plastics division. Can you respond to this, Mariah Blake?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, the Eastman product, called Tritan, which is the product that Boldea is speaking about in this video, is actually one of the primary focuses of my investigation. A number of independent scientists have tested this product and found that it is actually more estrogenic than polycarbonate, which is the plastic that contains BPA. And Eastman Chemical, according to internal documents which were released as part of a lawsuit, has taken pains to suppress the evidence showing that its products—or that this product, in particular, is in fact estrogenic.

AMY GOODMAN: So how is it the EPA isn’t regulating this?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, and this is one of the most surprising things to me when I read this—when I was reporting the story. So, there are about 80,000 chemicals in circulation in the United States. Virtually none of those chemicals has been tested for safety, or a very, very small fraction of those chemicals has been tested for safety. In general, chemicals are presumed safe until proven otherwise under the U.S. regulatory system. So, when a chemical like BPA is removed from a production line, the industry will substitute another chemical that is untested, and we really, in many cases, just don’t know the health effects of that chemical. So, it’s largely an unregulated realm.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about George Bittner.

MARIAH BLAKE: OK. George Bittner is a neuroscientist at the University of Texas, and he has launched an independent lab called CertiChem—it also has a sister company called PlastiPure—and it tests products for estrogenic activity. And he—working with a prominent Georgetown professor, he and his staff tested, I think it was, 455 commercially available plastics that are on the market and published a paper in Environmental Health Perspectives, which is the premier NIH journal, which found that virtually all commercially available plastics have estrogenic activity. And among the plastics he tested were Tritan products, several Tritan products. And this publication, this finding, prompted a pretty big backlash from the industry. So he ended up being targeted by the industry as a result and, in fact, was sued by Eastman, which is—many of the documents that formed the basis of my story were released as a result of that lawsuit.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from a memo that Eastman’s senior chemist, Emmett O’Brien, wrote after customers began asking about George Bittner’s tests that showed that Tritan may still be estrogenic. O’Brien describes a meeting with Whole Foods executives who were considering replacing their polycarbonate bulk food bins with ones made from Tritan. He wrote, quote, “We called Bittner a mad scientist. They didn’t know his name actually. They asked twice, by two independent people, what we thought of them. I hemmed and hawed (ducked and dodged) saying I prefer not to comment, but we joked and pushed and flat out said the guy was ‘shady’ — with this non-stereotypical crowd it was a good term.” O’Brien added, “They asked if they could do their own tests — I mentioned the cost is very high and they were quick to chime in that the tests take very long.” Can you respond to that, Mariah Blake?

MARIAH BLAKE: I think you chose the most telling possible quote. So this was effective—this was the strategy they used. Firstly, they worked to discredit Bittner, and they did this through a campaign of personal character assassination and by calling his business practices into question. And secondly, they worked to discredit the science. So, one of the things that Eastman did was they claimed that the test that Bittner is using, which relies on a specialized line of breast cancer cells, had been rejected by the EPA, when in fact it hadn’t. The EPA is considering using this very line of breast cancer cells for its own screening program for what they call endocrine-disrupting chemicals. BPA is one of those.

So, the other thing they did was they commissioned their own research, so they paid labs to perform research which found that Tritan was not estrogenic. And—but if you look at—if you look at the research closely, you’ll see that it is—the studies are essentially designed in a way that guarantee that estrogenic activity will not be found. So, for instance, they use a type of rat; it’s called a Charles River Sprague Dawley rat. This rat is known to be insensitive to estrogen, so it can withstand doses, according to one Japanese study, a hundred times higher than a human female can withstand, with—and show absolutely no effect. They also used doses that are below what is known as the no-observable-effect level, so the doses that are known not to cause an effect. And they then published their own study in a scientific journal, which is—has numerous tobacco industry ties, finding that Tritan was in fact not estrogenic. So, that is essentially how they responded to the finding that their product contained these chemicals that are potentially harmful to human health: They attempted to cover it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Your report cites some leaked minutes from a 2009 meeting of the BPA Joint Trade Association, whose members include the American Chemical—the American Chemistry Council, Coca-Cola, Del Monte. During the meeting, they explored messaging strategies that included using what they called, quote, “fear tactics.” For example, “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?” The attendees agreed that the “holy grail” spokesperson was a, quote, “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.” Mariah?

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes, and this is one of the most disturbing things I discovered during the course of reporting this, is that in their efforts to portray plastics as safe, they oftentimes target the groups who are most vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals. So, prenatal exposure and exposure during early childhood is potentially the most harmful, and oftentimes the marketing of these products targets pregnant women, targets families with children. And also, Eastman, for example, in their efforts to portray their products as safe, also targeted these specific groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Nalgene bottles, Evenflo—is it Evenflo?—Tupperware, Rubbermaid, CamelBack?

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes, all of these companies produce at least some products that are made with Tritan, so—and they’re not alone. There are hundreds, probably, of companies that use this. This is the only plastic on the market that markets itself as being free of all estrogenic activity, so many companies that cater to consumers who are concerned about their health and many of the high-end consumer brands have started using this plastic. I think the thing to keep in mind is that Eastman misrepresented their product to their customers, as well. So these brands are not necessarily to blame for this. They have been told by Eastman that Eastman produced—performed independent, third-party testing and found no evidence of estrogenic activity. And so, in many cases, it appears that these companies are trying to do the best thing for their customers, but they were not given—they were not given accurate information about the plastic that they use in their products.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, NPR did a report, “Maybe That BPA In Your Canned Food Isn’t So Bad After All.” Can you talk about that?

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes. So, this is based on a recent study that was performed by FDA scientists. This is a $30 million taxpayer-funded study. And the FDA used many of the same tactics that the industry uses. For instance, they used the Charles River Sprague Dawley rat. The other thing about this study is that the lab appears to have been contaminated. So the control group of rats—these are the rats that are supposed to not be exposed to BPA, so that you can—you have some sort of a baseline to measure the animals that have been exposed to this chemical—they were somehow accidentally exposed to BPA. I have been talking to scientists about this and am planning to write about this later this week. And the academic scientists I have been speaking to say that this essentially—this raises very serious questions about the validity of the findings, and it’s unclear whether any conclusions can be drawn based on this study.

AMY GOODMAN: What most shocked you in all your research, Mariah?

MARIAH BLAKE: Boy, that’s a good question, because there were a lot of—a lot of shocking things I discovered. I would say there’s a couple things. One, the fact that so few of the chemicals that are in the products we use every day have been tested for safety. So, as I said, there are 80,000 chemicals that are in commercial use in the United States; only a tiny fraction of those have been tested for safety.

Two, how easy it is for the industry to bias that safety testing in their favor. I had—obviously, many of us know about Big Tobacco and the way they were able to essentially buy science saying their products were safe. But I was not aware that that was happening on such a grand scale today. And it really is. You know, plastics—as I worked on the story, it became evident to me that plastics—that this is not the only industry—the plastics and chemical industry are not the—is not the only one that is using these tactics. These tactics are fairly widespread.

And I guess, on a micro level, one of the things that surprised me most, in Bittner’s testing, he looked at various types of commercially available plastics, and one of the types of plastic that was most frequently estrogenic was the corn-based plastic, so the plastic that is biodegradable, that you often find in restaurants—health food restaurants, health food stores, that this is potentially one of the most harmful types of plastic.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that again.

MARIAH BLAKE: So, Bittner looked at various kinds of plastic, Bittner and his colleagues, when they tested plastics. There’s a variety of different kinds of plastic—polyurethane, PET-P, polycarbonate—all these different kinds of plastic. So he broke it down by types of plastic. He tested a number of samples of each one. And he—in the final paper, they showed which ones—what percentage of each type of plastic tested positive in their tests. And there is a type of plastic that is—frequently you’ll find it in Whole Foods, you’ll find it in health food stores. It is corn-based, and it is marketed as biodegradable. Oftentimes there are forks made out of this, for example, in health food restaurants. I believe the statistic was 95 percent of samples made out of this kind of plastic tested positive for estrogenic activity.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you going to do with your three-year-old? What have you decided to use?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, what I’ve already done is removed all plastic from my home. So, I have switched to natural materials. We use glass or stainless steel for our Tupperware, for our sippy cups, for everything that we possibly can. Plastic is unavoidable, so we still buy food packaged in plastic, because there is no alternative. But we try to minimize it.

AMY GOODMAN: Saran Wrap?

MARIAH BLAKE: Saran Wrap, actually, in Bittner’s tests, I believe it was somewhere around 99 to 100 percent of plastic wraps tested positive for estrogenic activity.

AMY GOODMAN: And where does the EPA come down when you question them about when they’re going to be regulating some of this, in the way that they regulated BPA?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, the EPA still does not regulate BPA. The FDA—the FDA banned BPA in sippy cups and bottles at the request of the industry. So—and they still—the agency still insists that BPA is safe. So the industry asked the FDA to ban it, because they wanted to reassure parents that their products are safe. There has been no meaningful regulation of any of these chemicals, with the exception of phthalates. And in the case of the EPA, they have a program which was supposed to screen these 80,000 chemicals for what’s called endocrine disruption. So, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are chemicals that mimic hormones, like BPA. And they—this was supposed to be at least partially done by 2000. They still haven’t fully vetted a single chemical. So the industry has managed to throw stumbling blocks in their path. And delay is the name of the game, essentially, sowing doubt and delay. So—

AMY GOODMAN: And how much does the plastic in water bottles and juices leach into the water and the juices?

MARIAH BLAKE: PET or PETE, which is most commonly used for water bottles, is—I believe 75 percent of samples in Bittner’s study leached estrogenic activity. There is another study performed by a scientist in Germany which also found that this particular type of product was estrogenic. So, it seems, based on the available evidence, that many or most of these bottles leach estrogen.

AMY GOODMAN: And the longer the bottle of water you buy sits, is the water becoming increasingly contaminated?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, there are certain factors that increase the risk of these chemicals being released. So, exposure to UV rays, heat, if they’re put in a dishwasher, these are the things that are known to increase—increase the risks that these chemicals leach out of plastics. So, with reusable plastics, in particular, this is a concern. If you boil them, if you put them in your dishwasher, if you leave them in your car, that causes plastics to break down, and it’s more likely that estrogenic chemicals will leak into whatever those containers contain.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mariah Blake, we want to thank you for your research, staff reporter with Mother Jones magazine. Her story is just out in the new issue; it’s called “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics: And the Big Tobacco-Style Campaign to Bury It.” We’ll link to it at democracynow.org. You can also follow her on Twitter. Later today, she’ll be doing a Twitter chat with readers.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/tritan-certichem-eastman-bpa-free-plastic-safe

The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics

And the Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury it.

—By Mariah Blake | March/April 2014 Issue – MotherJones

The Original Common Core: Why Aren’t We Teaching Rachel Carson in Schools?

by Robert Shetterly

August 08, 2014

by Common Dreams

This is what you shall do: love the earth and the sun and the animals… — Walt Whitman

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, but I suspect for most people reading it today the information would be fresh, enlightening, and alarming. I can say that with some confidence because though I had read the book many years ago, have been an activist on many environmental causes that build on Carson’s work, keep up to date on ecological issues, and painted her portrait, I was shocked when I read her book. Don’t take my word for it. Go to your library and get a copy, read it on some electronic device, buy it used, but read it!

The shock arises form a number of factors. By 1962 she knew an enormous amount about the workings of chemicals and pesticides at micro and macro levels; she could describe the potent mechanisms that made them into carcinogens; it was already clear to her—to science—that most pesticides were counter-productive: Insects adapted to them and became resistant very quickly. More and stronger pesticides were always needed, and the poisons persisted in the environment, useless to kill pests, but incredibly potent in destroying the health and fate of many other species—including humans. In fact, nature did a better job of handling insect predation than chemicals. Carson accepted that pesticides were occasionally necessary but only with extreme care.

However, at the core of my response to Silent Spring are a profound sense of an opportunity missed and a profound failure of education. Think for a moment about the term “common core” that is used to describe the basic goal of education today. What is the core that all living things share in common? It’s the reality of nature, this Earth, the laws of nature, our connections in the biological web to all living species, our common evolution and destiny, our sacred duty to pass on a healthy environment. Any system of education for all children must teach that common core—from nursery school on. If we fail to teach that reality, we have failed as educators. Period. Our common core is not math and reading and critical thinking. Those are important skills. I’m sure the CEOs of Monsanto, Dow, and Exxon are critical thinkers. Our common core is our integral relationship to nature. First teach reality, then the skills needed to live in harmony with it. Then find a unique passion for learning and living in every child. Then teach that all economies must adhere to nature’s laws—not the other way around.

I wish that after 1962, every school in this country had started teaching the science and values of Rachel Carson’s book. Rachel Carson would have agreed with Russell Libby, a great advocate of local and organic farming from Maine who said, “If contamination is the price of modern society, then modern society has failed us.” She put it this way: “Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called ‘insecticides’, but ‘biocides.’”

By the third grade every kid in this country should know what Rachel Carson meant by: “The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man.” We should all know what she meant when she said, “…we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look around and see what other course is open to us.” And everyone should understand that cancer is an environmental disease. It’s epidemic because of the pollutants and poisons we have put in the environment. To continue to treat the symptoms —trying to find cures—rather than confronting the causes, serves the profits of the medical and drug and chemical industries. By the 5th grade, we should understand the function of the liver and what happens to it when overtaxed by chemical pollutants. We should know that the leading cause of death in children is cancer.

Why don’t we teach our kids these things? Aren’t they supposed to learn facts that will make their lives better and healthier? And the values to implement them? Is Rachel Carson’s work not taught because she is too political? Why are facts about the essentials of biology and ecology political? Should Rachel Carson be taught as evolution and climate change are taught in many schools — one of several possible ways to think about “facts?”

Listen up students, it just could be that God put elements in nature so we could recombine them into malathion and dieldrin. Praise God. He put mountains over coal so we could have fun blowing them up to get it. Hallelujah! He created all living species in 6 days. Awesome! And He promised, if we would burn enough fossil fuel, a nice warm blanket of carbon dioxide to tuck us under at night. Thank You, God.

What a gift Rachel Carson gave us! What a tour de force to have done all that research. She collected scientific data from all over the world and had the temerity to write it all down when the US was in thrall to the chemical companies. With great clarity that anyone can understand—unusual for a scientist—she explains the biological mechanism of chemically induced mutations. She explains how poisons kill, how toxins interrupt the reproductive process of many species and why cancers have different gestation periods. And her science is woven into an ecologically moral philosophy.

And after discussing the atomic structure of chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT is one), she describes the death throes of robins and squirrels as their collateral damage. The deaths she witnessed happened in the 1950s, but her writing is so vivid, so present, that I found myself outraged and grieving for each one. What she did not know yet, but was implicitly predicting, was the mass extinction of species that is taking place now.

People often date the beginning of the modern environmental movement from the publication of Silent Spring. The reaction to the book is credited with the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. And Earth Day. But those outcomes have done little to stem the flood of over 80,000 chemicals in our environment now, 98% of them untested for human and ecological health. Rachel Carson is our common core. Our survival. Our kids need to be growing up with a firm ethic that would stem this flood of chemicals no matter how much money is involved.

Rachel Carson said, “The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to call itself civilized.”

Do we have the right to call ourselves civilized because of our wealth and power and ingenuity, or only when we act with the wisdom our children and grandchildren can emulate for generations, treating the environment and their bodies with the care they deserve?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

To access the original article click on the link below

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/08/08/original-common-core-why-arent-we-teaching-rachel-carson-schools

Songbirds Dying From DDT in Michigan Yards

Superfund site blamed

by Brian Bienkowski

ST. LOUIS, Mich. – Jim Hall was mowing the town’s baseball diamond when he felt a little bump underneath him. “And there it was, a dead robin,” he said.

Just last week, he found another one. “Something is going on here,” said Hall, who has lived in this mid-Michigan town of 7,000 for 50 years.

Two dead birds may not seem like much. But for this town, it’s a worrisome legacy left behind by a chemical plant-turned-Superfund site.

After residents complained for years about dead birds in their yards, 22 American robins, six European starlings and one bluebird were collected for testing.

The results, revealed last week: The neighborhood’s songbirds are being poisoned by DDT, a pesticide that was banned in the United States more than 40 years ago. Lethal concentrations were found in the birds’ brains, as well as in the worms they eat.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. When people told me about it I didn’t believe it. And then we ran these tests. These are some of the highest-ever recorded levels in wild birds,” said Matt Zwiernik, a Michigan State University assistant professor of environmental toxicology who led the testing.

The birds’ brains contained concentrations of DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, from 155 to 1,043 parts per million, with an average of 552. “Thirty in the brain is the threshold for acute death,” Zwiernik said. “All the birds exceeded that by at least two- or three-fold, and many by much more than that.” Twelve of the 29 birds had brain lesions or liver abnormalities.

The culprit is a toxic mess left behind by Velsicol Chemical Corp., formerly Michigan Chemical, which manufactured pesticides until 1963, a year after Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring exposed the hazards of DDT, especially for birds. Populations of bald eagles and other birds crashed when DDT thinned their eggs, killing their embryos. The pesticide, known for accumulating in food webs and persisting for decades in soil and river sediment, was banned in the United States in 1972.

The nine-block neighborhood has become a real-life example of Carson’s “Fable for Tomorrow” in Silent Spring. “It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh,” Carson wrote.

Velsicol is infamous for one of the worst chemical disasters in U.S. history: In 1973 a flame retardant compound they manufactured – polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs – was mixed up with a cattle feed supplement, which led to widespread contamination in Michigan. Thousands of cattle and other livestock were poisoned, about 500 farms were quarantined and people across Michigan were exposed to a chemical linked to cancer, reproduction problems and endocrine disruption.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took control of the site in 1982 and the plant was demolished in the mid-1990s, leaving behind three Superfund sites in the 3.5-square mile town.

EPA officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the poisoned birds and the Superfund cleanup.

Of most concern is the 54-acre site that once contained Velsicol’s main plant, which backs up to the neighborhood where residents have found dead birds on their lawns.

“When he [Zwiernik] tells people about what we have going on here, people say ‘Really? That’s a 1960s problem,’ ” said Ed Lorenz, a professor at nearby Alma College and vice chair of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force, which represents the community. Hall is the chair of the task force.

While there is a long-term health study for residents who had been exposed to PBBs, no one is monitoring their exposure to DDT or looking for possible human health effects. Elsewhere, traces of the pesticide have been linked in some human studies to reproductive problems, including reduced fertility and altered sperm counts.

“There’s definitely concern about the plant, the plant site, health and the environment,” said St. Louis City Manager Robert McConkie. “But we’ve learned to live with it.”

The town’s median household income is 43 percent lower than the state’s. About 22 percent of its families live below the poverty line.

The birds apparently have been poisoned by eating worms living in contaminated soil near the old chemical plant. No studies have been conducted to see whether the DDT has contaminated any vegetables or fruits grown in yards.

Jane Keon, secretary of the task force, said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored their complaints about dead birds for years.

But Dan Rockafellow, the state agency’s project manager for the site, said it took time to collect enough bird samples to test.

“People would tell us they found dead birds all the time, but birds disappear quickly. Cats, raccoons, other animals get to them,” Rockafellow said. “They weren’t just lying around everywhere.”

Keon said that for two decades the EPA stayed only on the plant site, “as if the chain link fence would hold in the chemicals or something.”

State officials didn’t start testing people’s yards until 2006, when they found several yards highly contaminated with DDT and PBBs.

EPA contractors now are cleaning up 59 yards. (One homeowner refused the cleanup.) Next year the agency plans on adding another 37 yards outside of the nine-block area.

Most of the contamination is in the top six inches of the soil, probably from the chemicals drifting over from the plant, Rockafellow said. However, some yards have DDT and PBBs deeper in the soil, which could be due to Velsicol’s offer of free fill dirt to their neighbors decades ago.

The cleanup is driven by ecological risk, not risk to the homeowners, Rockafellow said. “This is because of the dead robins.”

When asked why it took so long to address the contaminated yards, Rockafellow said it came down to “knowing where the chemicals were. Once we did we fenced those areas off.” Those areas were cleaned up in the fall of 2012, he said, and that spurred “aggressive sampling in the neighborhood.”

Now the neighborhood is buzzing with trucks and workers. Clad in construction helmets and orange vests, workers contracted by the EPA tear up yards, remove dirt, fill it back in and lay new sod.

It isn’t the first time St. Louis wildlife has been contaminated. The Pine River’s contaminated sediment has resulted in a no-consumption advisory for all species of its fish. From 1998 to 2006, most of the Superfund site’s cleanup money – about $100 million – went toward cleaning up the river. After polluted mud was dredged up, preliminary testing has shown that DDT levels are declining in bass and carp downstream of the site, Rockafellow said.

However, DDT and PBBs remain in the river’s sediment and soil, he said. In addition, traces of a chemical that is a byproduct of DDT manufacturing, pCBSA, have been found in the city’s water system, so new water mains will tap into a nearby town’s water supply.

“Our first priority was water and the second priority is now getting the lawns cleaned up,” Rockafellow said.

The bird testing by the Michigan State researcher was largely unfunded, except for a small amount from the community task force. Zwiernik said the EPA and state need to determine if the cleanup actually stops birds from dropping dead.

“They have to have some kind of future monitoring program to test the remediation effort’s success. We’ve had a difficult time to get regulators to listen to that,” he said.

While birds in the rest of the region aren’t at risk, “the robins’ population in the nine-block area is decimated year over year,” he said.

Residents of the neighborhood go about their business of watering flowers and walking their dogs. “It’s sad because a lot of people here are losing some beautiful trees,” Keon said. She pointed to a large Victorian home with new, patchy sod. “The owner of that home said this was going to be his retirement home,” Keon said.

For Hall, leaving St. Louis is not an option. Pollution or not, this is home.

“It’s a nice place to raise your family, great community, people love and take care of each other,” Hall said. “If I ran away, I’d be running away from my responsibility to leave this place better for the next generation.”

By Brian Bienkowski
Staff Writer
Environmental Health News

August 6, 2014

Health experts are questioning the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan state officials for their decades-long delays in cleanup of a Superfund site that is killing songbirds in yards, possibly leaving people at risk, too.

After years of complaints from residents, researchers recently reported that robins and other birds are dropping dead from DDT poisoning in the mid-Michigan town of St. Louis, which was contaminated by an old chemical plant.

“The more we know about DDT the more dangerous we find out it is for wildlife, yes, but humans, too,” said Dr. David Carpenter, director of the University at Albany – State University of New York’s School of Public Health and an expert in Superfund cleanups.

Velsicol Chemical Corp., formerly Michigan Chemical, manufactured pesticides at the plant until 1963. DDT, known for accumulating in food webs and persisting for decades in soil and river sediment, was banned in the United States in 1972.

The dead robins and other songbirds tested last month at Michigan State University had some of the highest levels of DDT ever recorded in wild birds. They were contaminated by eating worms in the neighborhood’s soil.

The EPA has been in control of the Superfund site since 1982, and the residents and songbirds have been living with the highly-tainted soil in their yards for decades. This summer, EPA contractors are excavating contaminated soil from 59 yards in the town of 7,000 people. Another 37 yards will be cleaned up next year.

EPA and state officials are not conducting any testing to determine how highly exposed the residents are, or whether they are experiencing any health effects.

Carpenter said research elsewhere has linked DDT exposure to effects on fertility, immunity, hormones and brain development. Fetuses are particularly at risk. It also may induce asthma.

“Let’s say your backyard has DDT in it. If wind blows, and kicks up dust, you might [be exposed to] DDT. The sun shines, water evaporates, you might get a little DDT,” Carpenter said. “And who knows what other chemical exposure they’re getting from the site.”

Michele Marcus, an Emory University epidemiologist, said she and her team of health experts heard “shocking stories” when they visited the neighborhood near the dismantled chemical plant last December.

“We heard from several people in the neighborhood that back in the day [decades ago] on several occasions alarms would go off and the neighborhood would be covered in white powder,” Marcus said. “It would take the paint off of people’s cars. Imagine what it was doing to people.”

When asked why it took three decades to address contamination in people’s yards next to the plant, Thomas Alcamo, remedial project manager for the Superfund site, said “hindsight is 20-20.” He said there were some “obvious problems” with the initial cleanup but he maintained it was “not an oversight.”

“This was just a natural progression of the Superfund. It’s just a continual investigation of the plant site itself,” Alcamo said. “Then we looked at the [Pine] river and focused efforts there. Then the state looked at residential areas.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality started sampling some yards in a nine-block area near the plant in 2006, after complaints from residents. Orange fences were installed around heavily contaminated areas. The EPA cleaned up those yards in 2012, Alcamo said. Further sampling, however, found that nearly the entire neighborhood needs cleanup so more excavations began this summer.

Jonathan Chevrier, an epidemiologist at McGill University, said research suggests that fetuses and young children are most vulnerable to DDT. The major worry is brain development in the womb, he said. “Research shows those with prenatal exposure scored lower on neurodevelopmental scales,” which can indicate lower IQs, he said.

There also is evidence that DDT is linked to low birth weights. In addition, a study last month found female mice exposed as a fetus were more likely to have diabetes and obesity later in life.

“The way it kills insects is by affecting the nervous system. It induces a rapid firing of neurons, exhausts them, and then the insect is killed,” Chevrier said. “It’s very plausible that it would attack humans’ nervous systems in the same way.” DDT also may disrupt thyroid hormones, which are critical for brain development, he said.

Nevertheless, EPA officials said St. Louis residents are not in danger. Alcamo said the levels in the soil are not high enough to pose an immediate risk to people.

“This [cleanup] is all for long-term risk so there’s no one that needs to leave during cleanup activities,” he said.

The EPA has not issued recommendations on gardening or other activities while the yards are cleaned up, other than keeping people away from the removed dirt. The agency is monitoring air and controlling dust, Alcamo said. “As long as they wash vegetables,” they should be fine because DDT doesn’t uptake into plants, he said.

However studies have found that some plants can take up DDT, including pumpkin and zucchini and some corn.

Health experts disputed Alcamo’s contention that the DDT levels are not high enough to pose a risk to people. There is no such thing as a level of DDT that “we don’t need to worry about,” Carpenter said.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s a clear health threshold,” Chevrier added. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but, if there is, scientists haven’t found it.”

Velsicol is infamous for one of the worst chemical disasters in U.S. history: In 1973 its flame retardant compound – polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs – was mixed up with a cattle feed supplement, which led to widespread contamination in Michigan.

Marcus and her colleagues are studying people exposed during the PBB mix-up. They also have launched a new study to examine the levels of PBB, DDT and other chemicals in former Velsicol workers and their families.

Some of the chemical workers in Marcus’ study live adjacent to the plant, but the study does not cover the entire contaminated neighborhood.

Alcamo said community health studies are “outside the scope” of what the EPA does.

Most of the contamination is in the top six inches of the soil, probably from the chemicals drifting over from the plant, but some yards have DDT as deep as four feet, according to an EPA report from April.

All 59 houses tested had at least one soil sample that contained more than 4.1 parts per million of DDT that the EPA set as a cleanup standard. Two-thirds of the yards had at least one sample with more than double the 4.1 parts per million guideline.

The EPA uses a DDT cleanup standard of 5 parts per million based on studies to protect wildlife health, Alcamo said.

“We are using an excavation level of 4.1 ppm DDT to ensure that we are 95 percent confident that we are meeting the 5 ppm number,” he said.

Michigan’s cleanup criteria, based on protecting people from exposure, is 57 ppm for DDT. One home had levels more than twice that amount –140 parts per million in the top six inches of soil.

Alcamo said the EPA is now over-excavating many yards to be certain of cleanup. Contractors will remove about 30,000 tons of contaminated soil this summer.

Alcamo said the EPA has made “great progress,” including a Pine River cleanup. There’s been a “98 percent reduction in fish tissue concentrations of DDT,” he said.

In addition, the EPA is providing 90 percent of the funding to overhaul St. Louis’ drinking water supply because low levels of a DDT byproduct, pCBSA, have been found in the city’s water system.

But Gary Smith, a lifelong resident of St. Louis, said the EPA failed St. Louis on the first round of cleanup, and it cannot happen again.

“We just want the doggone neighborhood cleaned up so we can put an end to this,” said Smith, 63, who is treasurer of the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force. “We don’t want to be called a toxic town. We want people to say ‘hey, they cleaned it up.’

“Let’s go the extra mile and not have this be an embarrassment for the EPA again,” he said. “’We have no money’ may be true, but it’s a poor excuse.”

Carpenter said it’s unfortunate that people were probably exposed to DDT for many years.

“The EPA is simply overwhelmed with hazardous sites,” Carpenter said.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Editor in Chief Marla Cone at mcone@ehn.org.

Follow Brian Bienkowski on Twitter.

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2014/aug/michigan-ddt-cleanup

Camp Lejeune and the U.S. Military’s Polluted Legacy
By Alexander Nazaryan / July 16, 2014 5:36 AM EDT

The old railroad track, now a bike and jogging path, winds through the forest that separates Camp Lejeune from Highway 24, which caters to the thousands of Marines stationed here with cheap barbershops that will trim your high-and-tight for $5, furniture stores for the many young families on base, a couple of gun shops, a few bars and the requisite jiggle joint. None of this familiarly shabby Americana is even remotely visible from the verdant path. Trees crowd the sylvan trail like overeager children at a Fourth of July parade, their branches poking through the base’s barbed wire fence. You hear far more woodpeckers and thrushes than Osprey helicopters. Spend enough time on this lush greenway or on the dunes of nearby Onslow Beach and you might forget that Camp Lejeune may be, as Dan Rather once said, “the worst example of water contamination this country has ever seen.”

Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, is a toxic paradox, a place where young men and women were poisoned while in the service of their nation. They swore to defend this land, and the land made them sick. And there are hundreds of Camp Lejeunes across the country, military sites contaminated with all manner of pollutants, from chemical weapon graveyards to vast groundwater deposits of gasoline. Soldiers know they might be felled by a sniper’s bullet in Baghdad or a roadside bomb in the gullies of Afghanistan. They might even expect it. But waterborne carcinogens are not an enemy whose ambush they prepare for.

That toxic enemy is far more prevalent than most American suspect, not to mention far more intractable. That the Department of Defense is the world’s worst polluter is a refrain one often hears from environmentalists, who have long-standing, unsurprising gripes with the military-industrial complex. But politics aside, the greenies have a convincing point. Dive into the numbers, as I did, and the Pentagon starts to make Koch Industries look like an organic farm.

In size alone, the Department of Defense dwarfs the footprint of any corporation: 4,127 installations spread across 19 million acres of American soil. Maureen Sullivan, who heads the Pentagon’s environmental programs, told me her office must contend with 39,000 contaminated sites (to be fair, a single base can have several, some as small as a single building).

Camp Lejeune is one of the Department of Defense’s 141 Superfund sites; that’s about 10 percent of all Superfund sites, easily topping any other polluter. And if the definition is broadened out beyond proprietary Pentagon installations, then about 900 of the 1,200 or so Superfund sites in the United States are “abandoned military facilities or facilities that produced materials and products for or otherwise supported military needs,” according to a presidential panel on cancer.

“Almost every military site in this country is seriously contaminated,” said John D. Dingell, a soon-to-retire Michigan congressman who served in World War II. “Lejeune is one of many.”

These military sites form a sort of toxic archipelago across the land: Kelly Air Force Base in Texas, where the Air Force allegedly dumped trichloroethylene (TCE) into the soil, part of what some residents call a “toxic triangle” in south-central Texas; McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California, which includes not only fuel plumes and industrial solvents but also radioactive waste; Umatilla Chemical Depot in the plains of northern Oregon, where mustard gas and VX nerve gas were stored; Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a onetime sarin stockpile just north of Denver; the Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod, poisoned by explosives and perchlorate, a rocket fuel component that is emerging as a major Pentagon pollutant. But because Camp Lejeune’s abuses and betrayals are more flagrant, it has become a test case for whether the military can defend our soil without ruining it.

To those who suffered at Camp Lejeune, an ugly truth about the American military has revealed itself, a truth no amount of compensation or self-flagellation can vanquish. “I would never recommend to anyone that they go into the Marine Corps,” said former Marine corporal Peter Devereaux, who has good reason to believe that his breast cancer is the result of drinking Camp Lejeune’s tainted water. The Marines, he said, “are like a mafia.”

As I was finishing this article, one of the Camp Lejeune activists I’d been speaking to sent me a short, sad email. “So much for our environment,” the brief note said, linking to a Supreme Court ruling that was published that morning, June 9. The case, CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, called into question how long defendants in North Carolina had to sue industry for sickness or death caused by pollution. By ruling for CTS, the polluter, the Supremes indirectly but incontrovertibly complicated the efforts of those seeking compensation at Camp Lejeune. The fight, always hard, suddenly got harder.

Methyl-Ethyl Death

Among those who could never again be charmed again by Camp Lejeune’s bucolic seaside surroundings is Jerry Ensminger, who today lives in nearby White Lake, North Carolina. Ensminger joined the Marines during the Vietnam War, in which his brother had been wounded. After a stint in Okinawa, he was assigned to Camp Lejeune in 1973. He and his wife lived in a housing complex on the base’s northern edge. Their second daughter, Janey, was born in 1976. Photographs show a pretty girl with bangs and cheeks like apples. In one picture, she clenches her teeth and proudly shows off invisible biceps, in what looks like an imitation of her ball-busting drill sergeant of a father.

But then, no more happy pictures. At the age of 6, Janey was diagnosed with leukemia. In the photographs that follow, her hair is cut short. Deposits of fat, from treatments, pad her body. You can see that she knows things no child should have to know. On September 24, 1985, Janey Ensminger died. She was 9.

There were many Janeys at Lejeune, and some didn’t even make it through their first year of life. As Mike Magner writes in A Trust Betrayed, his masterfully thorough book on Camp Lejeune, the base hosted a grim dance of miscarriages, stillbirths and inexplicable postnatal deaths, especially during the 1960s and ’70s: Christopher Townsend, dead at 3½ months from a legion of ailments; Michelle McLaughlin, dead at birth; Eileen Marie Stasiak, dead in the womb. Ricky Gagnoni, alive but a single month, started to bleed from his mouth as his mother fed him and died the next day. So many infants perished at Camp Lejeune that a nearby cemetery had a section mourning parents named “Baby Heaven[1] [2] .”

Finding no other answers, grieving parents turned the loaded gun of guilt upon themselves. “I blamed myself for years,” a mother named Mary Freshwater would later testify. “I hated myself, I hated my body, ’cause I thought I had failed my children.” Standing at a podium, unable or unwilling to hide her tears, she held up the pajamas her infant son was wearing when he died. She had never washed the vomit he’d left on them. She said that after his death, base officials urged her and her husband to try again. They did. And their next son died, too.

“I have two graves out in Onslow Memorial Park,” Freshwater said.

Those with plots at Baby Heaven now know that, as early as 1981, officials at the base were told that the millions of gallons of drinking water consumed by the base’s 100,000 or so residents each day were full of what toxicologists call “methyl-ethyl death,” informal shorthand for a variety of known and suspected carcinogens. But the first batch of groundwater wells was not shut down until the fall of 1984 and the winter of 1985. The base became a Superfund site in 1989, but even today, the full extent of the camp’s contamination is not known. Blame that on poor record-keeping, stonewalling, arrogance or just plain ignorance. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn’t even sure how many people have been poisoned by Camp Lejeune’s bad water, though estimates suggest that it was consumed by as many as a million people.

How much the likes of Ensminger deserve in financial compensation for their grief is the most complex question of all: Suffering at once yearns for a dollar amount and resists such crass calculation. Ensminger is one of about 3,500 people involved in litigation against the Department of Defense. They thought the Marine Corps, which proudly professes to leave no man behind, would own up to its mistakes. As they pushed the Marines to reveal what they knew about Lejeune’s drinking water, and when, they figured that the motto Semper Fidelis (“Always Faithful”) was more than just a sales pitch.

Now, they know better.

Kevin Shipp knows better, too. As an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, he was stationed at Camp Stanley, an Army site right near San Antonio’s heavily polluted Kelly Air Force Base. (During our conversation, Shipp would not reveal exactly where he was stationed or his job there, though other outlets had previously identified both.) Shipp and his family lived at the base, which is believed to be a secret weapons storage facility, for two years starting in June 1999.

Unlike the largely unsuspecting residents of Camp Lejeune, the Shipps realized quickly that something was amiss. One of his sons told The New York Times that “the house that our family was moved into was planted on top of a lot of buried ammunition. One time, me and my little brother dug up a mustard gas shell.” Their house was also teeming with mold, which made them ill. “My children were bleeding from their noses, vomiting, had severe headaches and strange rashes on the exposed areas of their skin,” Shipp later wrote. “My wife became bedridden with headaches so severe, she had to be placed on morphine. … I began to have burning in my lungs…and was losing my short-term memory.”

In 2002, Shipp left the CIA and sued his employer for placing him in a mold-ridden house. The case was eventually dismissed on the basis of the State Secrets Privilege.

When we spoke, Shipp, who now lives in Jacksonville, Florida, described Camp Stanley as a “toxic mess.” Not only is it littered with aging munitions, but its water has been poisoned in a fashion strikingly similar to Camp Lejeune’s.

“Frankly,” Shipp told me, “they don’t care.”

Men With Mastectomy Scars

Camp Lejeune, built in 1941, is 240 square miles in area, making it the largest Marine base east of the Mississippi River, and the second largest in the nation after Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. Situated at the swampy mouth of the New River, it is an ideal training ground for the sorts of amphibious assaults that are the Marines’ favored means of arriving at the war dance. From here, leathernecks shipped out to the Pacific theater of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The Marines killed in the 1983 terrorist bombings of a barracks in Beirut had also come from Lejeune; a memorial to them sits in a wooded glade at the camp’s edge.

In the decade before Camp Lejeune was built, the chemical industry saw the advent of the “safety solvents” TCE and tetrachloroethylene (PCE). These were chemical cleaning agents of the organochlorine group: TCE was a degreaser for machine parts; PCE was used in dry cleaning.

A military base is rife with machines. This sounds obvious, but it’s quite striking when you see all those tanks and airplanes and amphibious vehicles that seem perfectly poised for battle, even on a humid North Carolina afternoon when overseas wars might as well be waged in another galaxy. Part of that readiness is cleanliness, which your average military mechanic would have achieved, until very recently, by washing grease-covered parts in TCE.

In 2004, a former Marine named Joseph Paliotti decided to clear his conscience. He was on the verge of perishing from cancer, and he suspected that Camp Lejeune had something to do with it. He had spent 16 years working on the base. “We’d come down there, we used to dump it: DDT, cleaning fluid, batteries, transformers, vehicles,” he told his local television station. “I knew sooner or later something was gonna happen.” Several days later, Paliotti died.

The cleaning of clothes might seem like a more innocuous matter, but that’s only because most people don’t have much of a notion of how a dry cleaning enterprise works. You surrender your clothes; they return immaculate. Magic! As it happens, the chemicals that cleanse a shirt are about as carcinogenic as those that cleanse an airplane engine.

One of the places at Camp Lejeune that could care for your uniform was ABC One Hour Cleaners, which sits just a few yards from the edge of the base. The dry cleaners, which started operation in 1964 and ended on-site cleaning service in 2005, did nothing different from what thousands of other dry cleaners did around the United States: It used PCE as a cleaning solvent. Some of the PCE sludge was used to fill potholes, while much of the liquid waste ended up in the ground, just like the TCE used to clean machines across the road, behind the barbed wire.

The TCE and PCE percolated through the sandy soil of Camp Lejeune and into the shallow Castle Hayne aquifer, from which the base drew its water. Also flowing into the soil was benzene from the Hadnot Point fuel farm. A component of gasoline, benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon. Its name does not mean that it is pleasantly pungent. Instead, the deceptively alluring adjective refers to the strong carbon-hydrogen latticework of the compound. Like other aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene is a carcinogen that readily enters the body.

An Associated Press report found that as “late as spring 1988, the underground tanks at Hadnot Point were leaking about 1,500 gallons of fuel a month—a total of more than 1.1 million gallons, by some estimates.” Eventually, the leaked fuel would form an underground layer 15 feet deep, a carcinogenic band essentially covering the aquifer from which the drinking water was drawn.

Among those who drank that water was Mike Partain, who was born on base. His father was a Marine, as was his grandfather. He lived in the same housing complex where the Ensmingers conceived their daughter Janey. He joined the Navy but was discharged because of a debilitating rash that would overtake his body without explanation. Eventually, Partain ended up in Tallahassee, Florida, where he was a teacher and, later, an insurance adjuster.

Then married with four children, Partain was in good health until the age of 39. (He has since divorced; “my marriage didn’t survive Lejeune,” he told me.) Toxins, like terrorist sleeper cells, are patient. As he would later write for the website of Semper Fi, a documentary about Camp Lejeune, in April 2007 “my wife gave me a hug before bed one night. As she did, her hand came across a curious bump situated above my right nipple. There was no pain, but it felt very odd.” Partain went for tests, which revealed an almost incredible diagnosis: breast cancer.

Male breast cancer is rare enough in the general population, especially for someone like Partain who has no history of the disease in his family. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, only about 7 breast cancer victims out of 1,000 are men. Yet it turned out that many other men who’d lived on Camp Lejeune had developed breast cancer: Partain told me that he knows of 85 victims. Several of these aging men, showing mastectomy scars, posed for a 2011 calendar.

Coincidences do happen, even in cancer epidemiology. What looks like obvious causation to some may be just cruel fate, but the overall infrequency of the disease, combined with its relatively high frequency among the men of Camp Lejeune, as well as the other ailments plaguing those who lived on the base, made clear that there was a connection. “This has all the characteristics of a male breast cancer cluster,” the noted epidemiologist Richard Clapp said at the time. Camp Lejeune is, in fact, now widely believed to be the largest known cluster of the male variant of the disease.

“So Much Audacity”

The Superfund law, passed in 1980, did not apply to federal facilities until 1986. Once it was exposed to litigation, the Department of Defense could no longer dismiss the environmental movement as a mere leftist nuisance. The EPA did better under self-described “environmental president” George H.W. Bush than it had under Ronald Reagan. The Clinton presidency appeared to embolden the regulators, even as the centrist Democrat allowed the Superfund tax on industry to expire in 1995. The presidency of George W. Bush, however, proved a long-sought reprieve for polluters, as the wannabe Texan quickly stocked the EPA with friends of industry.

The attacks of 9/11 proved an especially ripe opportunity for the Pentagon to push back against the oversight implemented in 1986. With the EPA already weakened by the White House and the wounded country in a bellicose mood, the Pentagon asked, in 2003, for a pass on pollution. The Department of Defense figured that Americans were far more afraid of terrorists than polluters. “The manner in which certain environmental laws are being applied is seriously hampering our military training opportunities,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in an April 2003 letter to EPA head Christine Todd Whitman.

Military officials did not anticipate the resistance they would encounter on Capitol Hill. Perhaps the most vociferous critic of the exemptions was Dingell. “Nowhere has a single set of legislative proposals had so much audacity and so little merit,” thundered the aging legislator during one hearing. “I would note that the Defense Department is supposed to defend the nation, not to defile it.”

Despite an industry-friendly White House on its side, the Pentagon failed to earn the exemptions from environmental laws. Just as important, its overreach brought national attention to the then little-known problem of military pollution, with Camp Lejeune coming to serve as an example of what happened when the Department of Defense was left to police itself.

Sullivan, the Pentagon’s chief environmental officer, said that to clean up all of the Pentagon’s pollution would cost American taxpayers $27 billion. Nevertheless, she is upbeat about the challenges before her, noting that the Department of Defense has done all it could to meet new regulations. Its shortcomings, she said, resulted from a widespread ignorance about the danger of certain chemicals, which was hardly restricted to the Pentagon. “We all grew,” she told me, “at the same time.”

Others are skeptical of the Pentagon’s efforts to come clean. One report by the religiously nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office deemed “daunting” the Pentagon’s “task of cleaning up thousands of military bases and other installations across the country.” It concluded that “identifying and investigating these hazards will take decades, and cleanup will cost many billions of dollars.” The GAO has also found that regulators lack the muscle to make the Pentagon clean up its many messes.

“A World Trade Center in Slow Motion”

Today, Camp Lejeune is a tidy base of red-brick buildings and thick groves of pine. Occasionally, one sees vistas of the New River, which opens into a bright blue bowl of a bay. Marines can rent cabins on a beach that recalls untrammeled stretches of Cape Cod. The base is home to a rare variety of woodpecker, as well as the Venus flytrap. The place looks ordinary, even pretty in places, if you can get past the punishing Southern heat. It is like a body whose wounds have healed, though the scars are still visible if you know where to look: the yellow poles of observation wells, empty lots behind barbed wire, groves in which dump sites hide. But most people aren’t looking.

We pass an unexceptional building on the side of the road. Here, the base once stored the toxic pesticide DDT, made infamous by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Later, the same building became a day care center, with kids playing in ground soaked with an incontrovertible poison. I told the environmental officials who led me around the base that I was reminded of something that Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “All things truly wicked start from an innocence.” I don’t think they knew if this was supposed to be condemnation or exculpation. I don’t know, either.

The ignorance argument falls loud and flat when it comes to TCE, which could have been classified as a known carcinogen much earlier than 2011, which was when the EPA finally released its long-awaited determination of the solvent’s manifold dangers. According to a two-part Los Angeles Times series on trichloroethylene, the EPA realized in the 1990s that TCE was “as much as 40 times more likely to cause cancer than [the agency] had previously believed.” Its efforts to classify TCE as a carcinogen were largely hindered by the Pentagon, which produced experts confidently assuring that TCE’s danger was overblown. Those attempts at assuaging concerns failed, but the delay was costly, while the contamination remains vast and the cleanup has been slow. David Ozonoff, an epidemiologist at Boston University, called the nation’s TCE problem “a World Trade Center in slow motion.”

The public affairs and environmental officials who took me around Camp Lejeune were young, informed and sunny in disposition, not quite the clenched-anus Dick Cheney minions one expects of the nefarious military-industrial complex. They told me, proudly, that the water at the base was now probably the cleanest in the nation. One hears a similar refrain about both Woburn, Massachusetts, and Toms River, New Jersey, the infamous cancer clusters where water was also tainted with TCE. What they don’t say is that today’s pristine water has been paid for by past generations, many times over.

Yet several dozen sites remain, each benzene plume, munitions dump and TCE-laden lot its own private battlefield. It will be decades before the base is fully clean, though past neglect appears to have been replaced by penitent diligence. Solar thermal panels have already been installed on 2,000 homes, improbably making Camp Lejeune one of the largest residential communities in the nation to use solar energy. Even more improbable, earlier this year Camp Lejeune won an environmental restoration award from the Pentagon, beating out bases across the various services. Of course, that’s partly because there was so much here to restore.

“They’re Slick”

In 2012, advocates like Jerry Ensminger and Mike Partain won a victory when President Barack Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act, which is supposed to ensure that those sickened by Lejeune water get medical treatment from the Department of Veteran Affairs. The law is also known as the Janey Ensminger Act, a nod to the father who turned his howling grief into righteous anger. In the Oval Office, Ensminger stood next to the president and looked over his shoulder, as if to make sure the bill was properly signed.

Ensminger said working on Camp Lejeune has been like “pulling teeth.” He wasn’t exaggerating all that much. Earlier this spring, Obama’s Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, in which 25 Asheville, North Carolina, residents were suing an electronic firm for contaminating their well water. The brief was in favor the polluter, not the alleged victims. That seemed to put the administration at odds with its position on the treatment of victims of toxic exposure.

When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of CTS in June, it essentially said that North Carolina’s 10-year statute of repose trumps the Superfund law’s statute of limitations. A statute of repose is much friendlier to business, while a statute of limitations favors those, like Ensminger, who might want to sue a potential polluter, since it gives them much more time to discover the result of their illness (which could take far more than a single decade to manifest). Some observers noted that the Supreme Court ruling could make it difficult for the Camp Lejeune lawsuits to proceed.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ensminger said a couple of days before the Supreme Court decision. “I’m not quitting.” In the hours after the ruling, he and his lawyers quickly identified a seeming loophole in the majority opinion that they were eager to exploit, while North Carolina legislators rushed to pass legislation that would preserve the legal claims of both CTS and Camp Lejeune victims. (North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill in late June.)

“You gotta watch these people like a hawk, man,” Ensminger told me of the Marines. “They’re slick.” The armed forces took his daughter. They took so many other lives, too, without firing a single shot.

VA Agent Orange Studies Master List
VA Agent Orange studies

Move To Amend Organization

https://movetoamend.org/

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other related cases, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

We the People, Not We the Corporations

On January 21, 2010, with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government. Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions.

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United and other related cases, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court is misguided in principle, and wrong on the law. In a democracy, the people rule.

We Move to Amend.

“. . . corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”
~Supreme Court Justice Stevens, January 2010

https://movetoamend.org/

Ultimate Civics Organization

Our mission is to re-establish that only human beings are endowed with inalienable rights, thus creating a democratic republic in America that is genuinely accountable to the People.

Ultimate Civics started in May 2009 as a project of Earth Island Institute. Our mission was to coalesce a popular movement to support passage of a constitutional amendment abolishing the legal doctrine of “Corporate Personhood.” In October 2009, we co-founded Move to Amend, a national grassroots coalition to amend the U.S. Constitution – corporations are not persons, money is not speech – which now has community chapters in many states. Ultimate Civics niche within the larger movement focuses on three programs:

Energy & Democracy
Education & Democracy
Alaska Democracy Initiative

Although our mission sounds rather grandiose – especially for three people! – it has very simple beginnings. In Alaska, we each grew more and more frustrated with big money in politics and laws that failed to hold corporations accountable to the people. In Cordova, Riki was a plaintiff in The Exxon Valdez Case and dealing with real long-term social, economic and environmental impacts that Exxon denied even existed. Lisa Marie was working at the Cordova Legislative Information Office of the Alaska State Legislature and saw how big money influenced state policies. Meanwhile from Haines, Gershon was designing campaigns to stop big cruise ships from dumping raw sewage into coastal waterways.

After hearing Thomas Linzey speak at Bioneers in 2006, Gershon and Riki attended Linzey’s first Democracy School in Wasilla, Alaska then two more schools in other states over the next year. Riki included the story of the evolution of corporate personhood – “corporate persons” entitled to human rights – in the final chapter of Not One Drop, her second book on the oil spill. She launched on book tour with Lisa Marie as an assistant in September 2008 – right into the national economic meltdown.

The timing was perfect. Many Americans were reeling from job, home, and financial losses and could quickly connect the dots between their losses and giant corporations wielding human rights to amass financial capital and political clout – at the expense of the other 99 percent. Across America, Riki and Lisa Marie found that people supported the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to affirm that corporations are not persons and money is not speech.

In May 2009 after book tour, Gershon, Riki, and Lisa Marie co-founded Ultimate Civics as a project of Earth Island Institute. Our goal was to coalesce a movement to amend the Constitution. In September 2009 in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, Ultimate Civics co-founded Move To Amend, a national grassroots coalition to amend the Constitution. In January 2010, the Supreme Court delivered its most blatant statement that corporations are persons entitled to human rights to justify its decision to allow “corporate persons” to spend unlimited amounts of “speech” (money) to influence elections. With that, “corporate persons” suddenly became a national topic of discussion and MoveToAmend.org launched to build the movement.

There is one last twist to our story: how Ultimate Civics came to define its niche in the larger campaign through our three programs. In response to the April 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf, Riki flew to Louisiana to help fishermen deal with the mental, emotional, and physical health impacts of the disaster – and wound up staying for a year! In the process, she laid the foundation for Ultimate Civics’ Energy & Democracy Program: Riki and Lisa Marie work with “accidental activists”, people whose lives have been uprooted by fossil fuel-related disasters and who, like us, want to do something about it. We teach campaign skills through rights-based community organizing and recruit for the larger movement.

While teaching in schools and communities, especially after the Occupy Movement started, we all saw a need for education in the basic democratic arts of overcoming our differences, finding common ground, and working together to move dialogue into action. There was also an opportunity to introduce such lessons into community forums and school programs on sustainability, as sustainability is not attainable without basic democracy – people having control over their future at the local level. This became the work of our Education and Democracy Program.

Gershon builds the larger campaign through our Alaska Democracy Initiative, teaching in high schools and working with communities to pass local resolutions and support a statewide ballot initiative to affirm that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights.

The Democracy Crisis

http://ultimatecivics.org/presentations/PowerPointPresentation.swf

Please check out our programs!

http://www.ultimatecivics.org/

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