I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

June 27, 2010

More on the oil spill and the dispersants

Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund has been blogging about the oil spill dispersants being used on the BP oil spill.

Most concerning is the fact that EPA data show dispersants plus oil are more toxic than either alone.

Meanwhile, the Society of Environmental Journalists Daily Glob blog reported on June 25 that “Spill-Related Measures Advance in Congress”.


NOAA Response – Provides a wide variety of information about the Deepwater Horizon Incident, including trajectory maps and links to such sources as IncidentNews (http://www.incidentnews.gov/), which provides information from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) about the BP oil spill and other incidents.

GeoPlatform.gov/gulfresponse (http://www.geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/) is a new online tool that provides you with near-real time information about the response effort.  Developed by NOAA with the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Interior, the site offers you a “one-stop shop” for spill response information.

The site integrates the latest data the federal responders have about the oil spill’s trajectory with fishery area closures, wildlife data and place-based Gulf Coast resources — such as pinpointed locations of oiled shoreline and current positions of deployed research ships — into one customizable interactive map.

Other mapping sites the Daily Glob links to include:

Tired of being a guinea pig?

Toxic chemicals are everywhere

There are ten of thousands of chemicals in your life, some of which can be harmful.

We are all exposed

Many toxic chemicals are found in the bodies of virtually every person on the planet, even those living in remote communities. In fact, the blood of nearly every American contains hundreds of chemicals, including those used in flame retardants, food packaging and even rocket fuel.

I Am Not a Guinea Pig is a new online campaign created by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that provides tools and information Americans from all walks of life can use to press for fundamental reform of our nation’s toxic chemical law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  (EDF press release)

The “I Am Not a Guinea Pig” campaign is aimed at helping to ensure that the voices of millions of Americans who are concerned about and affected by exposures to untested and unsafe chemicals are heard as Congress begins the first serious effort to overhaul the 34-year-old TSCA.

The campaign will use a variety of social media, including a website, a Facebook page with daily updates, and a #NAGP Twitter hashtag.  It supports the efforts of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition to enact an effective chemical safety law.

The campaign’s goal is to engage Americans across the country to push for substantive reform of our toxic chemicals law.

To encourage support for a strong bill, EDF has joined with other members of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition that EDF helped found that includes over 200 health and environmental groups representing 11 million people across the nation. Key coalition partners in EDF’s campaign include:

The “I Am Not a Guinea Pig” website describes how we’re all exposed to toxic chemicals.  It includes a short video on “Chemicals in Your Home” and other videos on exposure to toxic chemicals.

The site notes that some groups are especially at risk

Teens and Toxic Chemicals in Products

Many teens don’t realize products they use every day may contain chemicals that can disrupt their still-developing biochemistry.

Kids & Chemicals: Developing Brains At Risk

Exposure to toxic chemicals in the womb, during infancy and childhood can result in lifelong problems with learning, behavior and development.

Health Professionals and Toxic Chemicals

Health care institutions regularly use a surprising number of highly toxic materials that can affect the health of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff.

March 8, 2010

Identifying dangerous chemicals

In 1997, the Environmental Defense Fund published Toxic Ignorance, a report on the lack of basic toxicity information about many industrial chemicals.

Thirteen years later EDF is still pursuing improving chemical testing and assessment data for High Production Volume chemicals.

The law governing the production of toxic chemicals is called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  EDF’s Richard Denison, among others, has been calling for reforming U.S. chemicals policy through strengthening TSCA (his blog on chemicals and nanotechnology is in my blogroll).  In one post he describes some of the actions taken under Lisa Jackson, Obama’s EPA Administrator.

Of note is the fact that EPA announced late last year that it was moving from a voluntary program called ChAMP to an enhanced chemical management program.  (EDF blog posts on problems with ChAMP, a now superseded program)

In addition to its Toxic Ignorance, EDF has published more reports recently

  • EDF’s 2007 report Not That Innocent documented the urgent need for policy reform. Our analysis contrasted U.S. policies with those in Canada and the European Union and identified “best practices” culled from all three systems that together create a vision for future U.S. chemicals policy.
  • Our September 2008 report Across the Pond assessed one of the first impacts that the new European regulation called REACH will have on U.S. companies and chemicals: REACH’s identification of “substances of very high concern.”
  • EDF scientist Richard Denison’s paper Ten Essential Elements in TSCA Reform, published in January 2009 in the Environmental Law Reporter, laid out a blueprint for new legislation to replace the outmoded Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

(from the EDF page on “Chemicals Policy Reform”)

EDF is also a founding member of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families campaign, which issued its own Platform for Reform of TSCA.

Why is this important? Well, because there’s an awful lot we don’t know about chemicals and their effect on health.  Denison addresses this in a blog post back in May 2009.  Among the things he advocates there (emphasis in original):

  • For each chemical assessed, clearly identify and communicate to the public all gaps or quality concerns in available data.  (My comment: It is interesting to contrast EPA’s approach vs. that of ATSDR in its Toxicological Profiles.  (alternate URL: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxpro2.html) See below for more info on ATSDR.)
  • Stop assigning low-priority rankings to chemicals, especially those with data gaps in the most basic, minimum set of screening-level hazard data. As we said before, it’s one thing for EPA to identify as high-hazard those chemicals where, despite the data gaps, available data demonstrate high toxicity. It’s quite another for EPA to effectively exonerate chemicals as low-hazard or low-priority when not even a bare-minimum data set is available for them.
  • Adopt a health-protective approach to hazard screening: Where data are uncertain, of questionable quality or equivocal, assume a hazard exists until and unless a chemical’s manufacturer provides the data to show otherwise.


The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  ATSDR’s mission is to determine human health effects associated with toxic exposures, prevent continued exposures, and mitigate associated human health risks at Superfund sites.

ATSDR first identifies data needs in its Toxicological Profiles for certain substances. The data needs are then subjected to further evaluation and prioritized.  When data gaps are identified, they are described in the documents.  (If you look at any of the Tox Profiles, you will see a subsection in several chapters called “Adequacy of the database.”)

While the Tox Profiles cover very nasty chemicals, the irony of this is that these are chemicals found at Superfund sites (of which, according to ATSDR, there are about 1,200).  However, many of these same chemicals are still being manufactured (as well as chemicals for which we have even less data than the Tox Profile ones!) in plants all over the country and the number of places probably far exceeds 1,200.

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