* Dumping Dioxin on Dixie and Charlotte

New article from The Institute for Southern Studies speaks frankly about dioxin emission in the South.

Please note the highlighted words, as they pertain to the Charlotte area. Based on information contained in this report, Gerdau Ameristeel is the 2nd largest emitter of air borne dioxins, the active agent in Agent Orange for which there is no known safe level. See the map below for schools, parks, and other facilies surrounding this piont source for this deadly toxin.

As environmental health advocates call on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to release a long-awaited report on the health impact of dioxins, an analysis by Facing South finds that Southern communities bear a disproportionate burden of industrial dioxin pollution.

A class of toxic chemicals that persist in the environment and build up in the food chain, dioxins have been linked to a host of health problems including immune-system damage, hormone disruption and cancer — and at very low levels of exposure. Environmental dioxin pollution has been declining since the 1970s, but the EPA says current exposure levels “remain a concern.”

That’s why the agency has undertaken a reassessment of the chemicals’ effects on human health. The EPA has said it would release the non-cancer portion of the reassessment this month, with the cancer portion to follow “as expeditiously as possible.” The reassessment has been delayed for decades amid political pressure from industry.

EPA is expected to recommend an intake limit of 0.7 picograms of dioxin per kilogram of body weight per day, The Atlantic reports. (A picogram is one-trillionth of a gram.) The anticipated limit is lower than the 1 to 4 picogram limit set by the European Union for various foods.

Americans get most of their dioxin exposure from eating dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and eggs, which shows why blood dioxin levels are much lower in vegans, who do not eat animal products.

So how does dioxin get into the environment in the first place? Some is produced by natural events such as volcanoes and forest fires. Another source is open trash burning. But most dioxin pollution is a byproduct of industry, with plants producing chemicals, steel, cement and paper topping the list of the heaviest dioxin polluters in the United States. Wood preservation plants are another major dioxin source as some use chemicals similar to dioxins in the preserving process.

The chart below — click on image for a larger version — lists the 30 U.S. industrial facilities that released the highest levels of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds to the air and surface water in 2010, using self-reported data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.

Some observations:

* The South bears a disproportionate burden of dioxin pollution, with 25 of the 30 worst dioxin polluters located in Southern states. There are six major dioxin-emitting facilities in Alabama, five in Louisiana, four in Texas and three in North Carolina.

* The worst dioxin polluter in 2010 was Westlake Vinyls in Calvert City, Ky., which reported releasing over 14,000 grams — more than 31 pounds — of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds to surface waters in 2010 alone. Calvert City, located on a heavily industrialized section of the Tennessee River, has been called a “national sacrifice area” by environmental justice advocates because of its unusually heavy concentration of polluting industry.

* Michigan-based Dow Chemical owns the second and third-biggest dioxin emitters, in Texas and Louisiana respectively. And the Kansas-based conglomerate Koch Industries through its Georgia-Pacific subsidiary owns three of these top dioxin-emitting facilities — two in Alabama and another in Arkansas.

* Several other major industrial emitters of dioxins are owned by foreign corporations, including companies based in Brazil, Germany, Taiwan and Canada.

* Frack, Baby, Frack?

Check out this EnergyVox Blog about Fracking Facts:

Frack, Baby, Frack?

By: Allison Fisher

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama embraced the development of unconventional natural gas. In step with the theme of the address, the president highlighted both the abundance of the domestic resource and its job creation potential.

President Obama Overstates the Benefits of Natural Gas

In response, anti-fracking groups including the National Grassroots Coalition, United for Action, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy and Protecting Our Waters immediately challenged the resource supply and job statistics cited by President Obama, saying in an email to supports,

He was referring to industry-produced studies predicting 600,000 jobs as estimates from “experts”, but the real experts — the Bureau of Labor Statistics — predict less than one-fourth that numbers by 2018.

And the president, like the industry, fails to estimate how many jobs will be lost — far too many farmers, for example, have already lost their livelihoods due to extreme pollution and animal deaths caused by shale gas drilling.

The President overstated the amount of shale gas believed to be recoverable: proven reserves will provide 7 to 11 years, and unproven (speculative) reserves may provide up to 20 years, which does not add up to 100. The federal Energy Information Agency just dropped its estimate from Marcellus reserves down to 6 years from its previous estimate of 17 years.

Disagreement about the amount of natural gas that can be recovered from shale and how many jobs could be created by this industry is certainly an important discussion, but it is secondary to the discussion of whether or not extracting this resource can be done safely.

Chemical Disclosure Requirement Would Only Apply to a Small Percentage of Wells

President Obama followed his endorsement of natural gas development by stating that he will require all companies that drill on public land to disclose chemical use “because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.” This proposed disclosure requirement, which is currently making its way through the Department of Interior rulemaking process, seems intended to soothe public anxiety around the practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking. However, the rule referenced here would apply only to gas drilling on public land.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, only about 11 percent of all U.S. natural gas production occurred on federal land, and the department estimates that hydraulic fracturing is used for about 90 percent of gas wells drilled on public lands.

The vast majority of fracking is done on private land, and only a handful of the 33 states where fracking occurs have adopted some kind of requirement that the chemicals used be disclosed to the public. In fact, according to a report prepared by the Wilderness Society for the Department of Energy’s subcommittee on natural gas, “only one [state] requires full public disclosure of the chemical components of hydraulic fracturing fluids: Wyoming. Three other states (Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) provided some disclosure of chemicals, but not to the public or in sufficient detail.”

Disclosure Requirements are Not Enough

And while it is clear that we need a national standard for disclosure of fracking chemicals, this alone would not safeguard the public against the risks associated with fracking. Many questions about the safety of this practice remain unanswered. There have been more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near drilling sites around the country. Meanwhile, the industry is drilling new wells at an alarming pace. According to a ProPublica investigation, between 2003 and 2008, the number of new wells drilled in fracking states increased 42 percent. Aside from the rulemaking for drilling on public lands being undertaken by the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency are conducting studies on the safety and impacts of hydraulic fracking.

At the minimum, fracking should be halted before the conclusion of these studies. And it goes without saying, that the president should not be promoting an underregulated and unproven technology as a central component of his energy platform.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Greenstock 2009 at Davidson College

On Saturday, April 4th, the Davidson College group Engage for Change will host “Greenstock”, a day of service and advocacy around the theme of environmental justice on the campus of Davidson College. The morning will begin with several group service projects from 9am – noon followed by environmentally-focused music, vendors, activities and a clothing swap from noon until 4pm. More details here