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Our Children’s Health Ignored by Agency Charged to Protect the Most Vulnerable – Will It Change Now?

It’s become an all too familiar story: a government agency whose job it is to protect us has failed to do so according to a watchdog audit.  The work is done to figure out how to fix a problem, recommendations are vetted and sent to the “Deciders”, just to have them ignored.  Meanwhile, the Deciders collect their paychecks and go about business as usual.  Even though it is a familiar story of government failure, the latest revelation out of Washington is causing shock waves of tsunami proportions.  Why?  Because the failures affect an entire generation of our children.

According to the federal Government Accounting Agency (GAO), EPA Children’s Health Officials routinely ignored the recommendations of their own advisors and experts for the last 10 years.

Because children breathe more air in proportion to their weight than do adults, and because their bodies are still developing, toxic chemicals affect them more profoundly. Exposures to chemicals today portend a “flood of chronic disease” tomorrow, according to Ted Schettler, of the Science and Environmental Health Network.

Schettler, who has served on EPA advisory committees, testified that the problems “are setting the stage for an overwhelming wave of disease and disability … in the coming decades.”   As the Air Hugger has warned before, we’re concerned about the lack of information about thousands of chemicals and how they interact with each other.  The EPA only has enforceable air quality standards for 6 air pollutants that cause smog, leaving the worst cancer causing chemicals largely unmonitored and unregulated.

The GAO report documents “high-level” failures to ensure that the interests of children were considered when the EPA acted.  Get this: Ruth McCully, the head of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection at the time, told Americans that it wasn’t her job to determine whether the air outside schools contained high levels of toxic chemicals.  Huh?  Where do you think the air INSIDE the classroom comes from?

If there is any good news, it’s that things are changing at EPA apparently.  Just this week EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson sent a memo to her staff reminding them that “protecting children’s environmental health is central to our work at EPA.”

Can we believe it this time?  EPA is supposed to roll out a host of new regulations and air monitors, so we’ll see rather quickly if it’s just talk or real action.

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James Cameron may not have won the Academy Award for Best Picture or Best Director, but he walked away from the Oscars with the highest accolades from many of the world’s leading environmental and human rights campaigners. Groups like Greenpeace, Rainforest Action and the Sierra Club joined grassroots community groups and Indigenous Rights groups from Canada and the US in placing a high profile ad in Variety magazine showing the mass destruction of pristine forest lands by Canadian tar sands production.  Complete with a ‘Hell’ giant truck it looked literally like a scene out of Avatar.  The Ad read:

… Where Indigenous Peoples in Canada are endangered by toxic pollution and future oil spills.

… Where Shell, BP, Exxon and other Sky People are destroying a huge ancient forest.

… Where giant Hell trucks are used to mine the most polluting, expensive unobtanium oil to feed America’s addiction.

Well it didn’t take the PR flacs for Big Oil long to react with a vengance – the same day they fired off a volley:

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CASS scrap metal furnaceOakland has finally signed a deal (with the folks who masterminded the awesome redevelopment of the grand old Fox Theatre) to develop the 118 acre Army base abandoned since 1999.

But first they’ll need to do a massive toxic clean up from what the Army left behind.  It’s estimated they’ll need 300,000 cubic yards of ‘clean dirt’ to replace the toxic sludge which likely will have to go to a hazardous waste landfill.

Where can they get it – from the new bore of the Caldecott tunnel perhaps, which would put that stuff to good Reuse.  That’s the second ‘R’ of the old environmental modicum: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Turns out Oakland could accomplish the two other R’s by another common sense move as well.  You see, nearby in West Oakland, there’s a potentially great green redevelopment space along Mandela Parkway and Grand Avenue.  With the freeway gone and the new parkway greening up with plants and trees, new businesses like Brown Sugar Kitchen have sprouted up and green infill housing has also moved in.

But the old three Rs are only going to get us so far, and that’s why we also need to be talking about the fourth R…Relocation.

In West Oakland there’s some old less desirable industrial factories cluttering up the landscape and bringing large amounts of toxic diesel truck traffic through the neighborhood.

And the businesses in question are – get this- recyclers, so you get the third R in the deal.

So that’s why Councilmember Nancy Nadel and others are pushing to have these old grandfathered plants, which emit toxic pollution and dust, relocated from near schools and homes to the Army Base.  You also can reduce the diesel emissions by keeping the trucks closer to the Port.

CASS exteriorSo relocating the recycling facilities that include a large industrial aluminum melting plant far away from neighborhoods and green businesses is a true win-win-win for West Oakland.

And that gets us the fourth R (Relocation) that is becoming increasingly important in so-called ‘mixed use’ zones where new homes and businesses end up next to less than desirable old industrial neighbors.

Admittedly, industrial relocation faces a struggle from competing land grab factions on the council, but let’s hope a green future and common sense win the day.  Life expectancies in West Oakland are already 10 years shorter than the rest of SF Bay Area folks because of air pollution. The fourth R will mean cleaner air and a healthier West Oakland.

Tar Sands earth mover

There’s nothing worse than having to hear the whining and gnashing of teeth, especially when the oil industry feels like THEY got a raw deal.  BOO HOO!  Well, then of course the whining is worse when it was Big Oil that started the whole hissy fit and continues to throw gasoline on the fire!

Latest case in point:  The oil industry’s claim that Avatar got the extractive mining of tar sands in Alberta all wrong. In case you haven’t heard about the real world example that James Cameron drew upon for his fable about the raping and plundering of a planet and people for a precious substance buried in the ground, please check out the National Geographic feature or dirtyoilsands.org.

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