Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Chemicals, pesticides

EPA’s secret list shows pollution unchecked

A secret EPA “watch list” unearthed by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity revealed that hundreds of the nation’s worst industrial air polluters violate toxic air emissions standards with little or no action by state agencies, sometimes for decades. Several of the plants on the list are in Southern California.

NPR reports that about 1,600 power plants and other industrial facilities were flagged as requiring urgent action to reduce emissions, and nearly 300 were marked as “high priority violators” of the Clean Air Act for more than a decade.

If a facility is noted as needing urgent action, and no enforcement action is taken within nine months, it is automatically bumped onto a watch list, which now includes more than 450 plants. It’s unclear why the list was kept secret, although a former Environmental Protection Agency official noted in the story that it was to prevent tipping off the facilities that were the targets of criminal investigations.

Not all the plants on the list are being investigated, and some end up there for bureaucratic reasons not directly related to the seriousness of the violations.

The upshot is that some big polluters skate by for years without any remediation. CPI used this data to put together its “Poisoned Places” report, telling the story of communities across the U.S. that are wrestling with elevated incidence of cancer and other illnesses thought to be related to high concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and other toxic substances released by industrial plants.

In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, NPR and CPI received watch lists from July and September 2011. California companies on those lists are noted below. In notes included on the lists, several of the companies explain why they do not belong on the list or how they ended up there due to administrative error.

Aera Energy, San Ardo (Monterey County).
Big West of CA, LLC, Bakersfield.
Blue Lake Power, Blue Lake.
CA Portland Cement Co., Mojave.
Cold Canyon Landfill, San Luis Obispo.
ConocoPhillips Santa Maria Refinery, Arroyo Grande.
ConocoPhillips SF Refinery (Phillips 66), Rodeo.
E&J Gallo Winery and Brandy, Modesto.
Forward Inc. Landfill, Manteca.
Red-Scotia, LLA (Town of Scotia Co.), Scotia.
Shell Oil Products U.S., Martinez Refinery, Martinez.
Tamco, Rancho Cucamonga.
Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co., Martinez.
TXI Riverside Cement, Oro Grande.
Valero Refining Company, California, Benicia.


Keystone XL pipeline decisions to be probed by State Department

Burning oil from BP spill produced carbon plumes

California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: Oil refinery near Martinez, Calif. Several area refineries are on an EPA watch list with unaddressed Clean Air Act violations. Credit: Ray Saint Germain/AP Photo/Contra Costa Times

California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

Oil refinery
The California Air Resources Board, after three years of contentious debate, on Thursday approved the nation's first state-run cap-and-trade program, which will for the first time put a price on carbon emissions.

The unanimous vote paves the way for the carbon trading market, which begins in 2013 and will eventually require 85% of the state's largest polluters to either emit less carbon or purchase credits on a market that the air board will regulate.   

The market is projected to exchange about $10 billion in carbon allowances by 2016, which would make it second largest in the world behind the European Union.

The program is part of AB 23, the state's 2006 climate change law that mandates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Said board Chairwoman Mary Nichols: "We've done something important."


Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

California falls behind Massachusetts in energy efficiency

Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data

--Julie Cart

Photo: Valero Energy's Wilmington refinery in a 2010 photo.  Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

Group launches online environmental accident map

The environmental monitoring group SkyTruth launched an online map that tracks pollution accidents
The nonprofit environmental monitoring group SkyTruth on Thursday launched a real-time alert system that uses remote sensing and digital mapping to track pollution events in the United States.

The SkyTruth Alerts system shows air and water pollution, toxic spills and other incidents on an interactive map, noting the time of the event and whether toxic materials are involved. Users can track specific geographic areas and receive updates via email or RSS feeds.

The group culls satellite images, aerial photography and reporting data from federal and state emergency response agencies to compile the maps.


Gov. Jerry Brown signs ban on chemical BPA in baby bottles

Pregnant California women show high levels of flame retardant

Texas fire: Chemical plant processes toxics, produces pesticide

-- Julie Cart

Photo: Fires burn off oil near the crippled BP well site in June 2010. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times


California lists flame retardant as a carcinogen

Prop 65

A state science panel voted Wednesday to place a commonly used flame retardant on California's Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals.

The action does not ban chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), which is found in foam furniture cushions, auto seats and a variety of baby products, but it will require warning labels that the products contain carcinogens.

TDCPP was withdrawn from use in children's sleepwear in the late 1970s but resurfaced in a number of products as a substitute for other flame retardants banned in California within the last decade.

Manufacturing representatives argued against the listing at an Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment meeting, saying there was no evidence that the chemical causes cancer in humans. But after hearing testimony that TDCPP has been found to cause tumors in rats, a science committee voted 5 to 1 to list the chemical as a carcinogen.

“It's really important because it brings the public's attention to the fact that there are these cancer causing flame retardants in their furniture, and nursing pillows and kids' strollers,” said Arlene Blum,
executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, who testified at the hearing.

California product requirements have been a driving force in the use of flame retardants, which have been detected in adults, newborns, domestic pets and birds of prey.        


Flame retardants detected in baby products

Gov. Jerry Brown signs ban on chemical BPA in baby bottles

Pregnant California women show high levels of flame retardant

Photo: Proposition 65 requires the posting of public notices that warn of potentially harmful substances contained in products sold in California. Flame retardant was added to the Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals. Credit: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown signs ban on chemical BPA in baby bottles


Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill banning the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, from baby bottles and toddlers' drinking cups.

The bill, the Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act (AB 1319), had passed the Senate in August.

The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina Del Ray) would ban BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups made or sold after July 1, 2013. It would also require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative to BPA in those products. Similar efforts have failed in recent years.

Supporters have urged California to follow the lead of other states and nations in restricting BPA, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and sexual dysfunction in people and cancer in mice.

Opponents argued that the bill could open companies to lawsuits if the chemical is found in baby products after the ban takes effect.


Dirty money: BPA on dollar bills

Bisphenol A: Should there be laws?

Bisphenol A and its potential health risks

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: Bisphenol A is found in many plastic baby bottles and other food containers. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Texas fire: Chemical plant processes toxics, produces pesticide

A fire broke out Monday morning at the Magnablend chemical plant in Waxahachie, Texas

The Magnablend chemical plant in Waxahatchie, Texas, where a raging fire broke out this morning, processes tons of toxics, and uses large amounts of anhydrous ammonia, which is caustic, hazardous and can cause breathing problems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's risk management plan.

The plant, about 30 miles south of Dallas, also is listed as a pesticide producer, and mixes or produces chemicals used in agriculture and the petroleum industry, including fluids for hydraulic fracturing (the most common of which are benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene).

Nearby facilities include two other agricultural chemical plants.

Here is a list of chemicals released or transferred at the plant, in pounds, by year, according to the EPA:

COPPER COMPOUNDS                 5  
CERTAIN GLYCOL ETHERS               250 250  
ZINC COMPOUNDS 5 5         800 35 250  
FORMIC ACID                 250  
METHANOL 40 40 45 45 45 45 2,412 1,680    
ETHYLENE GLYCOL 1 1 1       8,700 5 505  
DAZOMET                 250  

The plant is located in the Upper Trinity watershed, which has reported contaminants in fish tissue, including chlordane, a chemical formerly used in pesticides, and PCBs, according to the EPA.

More information on the Magnablend chemical plant in Texas.

BPA ban passes California state Senate

Pesticide exposure linked to prostate cancer

High levels of toxic PBDE found in pregnant California women

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: The Magnablend chemical plant in Waxahachie, Texas. Credit:

Auto shredder to pay $2.9 million to settle toxic waste case

SArecyclingThe California Department of Toxic Substances Control and Los Angeles district attorney's office announced a $2.9-million settlement Thursday with an Anaheim scrap metal company over allegations that it improperly handled hazardous materials.

A judge has accepted the agreement, which resolves complaints that the owner and operator of SA Recycling and Simms Metal West violated hazardous waste and air pollution laws by continuing operations after an air pollution control system was damaged by a May 2007 explosion at its Port of Los Angeles site.

At the time of the violations, the company was operated by Sims Hugo Neu West, a subsidiary of Sims Group Limited, which acquired substantially all of the recycling operations of Hugo Neu Corp. in October 2005.  Sims Group merged the metal recycling operation with Adams Steel in 2007, creating SA Recycling, LLC.

The facility shreds automobiles, household appliances and other metal-based waste.

"We continue to deny that any of these allegations occurred," company spokesman Michael Bustamante said Thursday. "We're happy to put this behind us for the sake of the company and for the sake of the community."

The Department of Toxic Substances Control estimated that about 4.4 tons of unspecified "material" was released into the environment during that period.

State regulators have turned their attention to auto shredders and scrap processors, which crush and compress motor vehicles, consumer goods and other items for recycling, but leave behind residue dubbed "auto fluff," consisting of glass, rubber, fiber, engine fluids and plastics, among other substances.

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BPA ban passes California state Senate

Bisphenol A, a compound found in many plastic baby bottles and other food containers, has been linked to reproductive problems in animals. The California state Senate voted Tuesday to ban the plastic chemical bisphenol A, also known as BPA, from baby bottles and sippy cups sold statewide.

The Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act (AB 1319) heads back to the state Assembly for a vote on Senate amendments later this year.

“Today’s action by the Senate is further proof that the interests of California’s children can have a voice in Sacramento,” said Renee Sharp, head of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group's California office.

Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said Tuesday's vote "is part of reasserting California's leadership on environmental health protections.”

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Neighborhood pesticide exposure linked to prostate cancer

Cockburn_mResearchers at the University of Southern California have found that men exposed to certain pesticides in Central Valley neighborhoods are at increased risk for prostate cancer, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. 

The authors recruited 173 men, ages 60 to 74, from 670 diagnosed with prostate cancer in Tulare, Fresno and Kern counties, according to the state's cancer registry. They used Medicare and tax records to find 162 men ages 65 and older without prostate cancer to use as a control group. 

They traced where the men lived and worked from 1974 to 1999, and compared those locations with state records of pesticide use. They found prostate cancer more prevalent among men who lived near areas sprayed with methyl bromide, captan and eight organochlorine pesticides.

Greenspace spoke with one of the study's authors, Myles Cockburn, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, about the implications.

Q: Why did you look at these particular pesticides?

A: We had to isolate particular pesticides to determine causality. So we started with things that we had some lab-based evidence that they might lead to prostate cancer. There had to be biological plausibility.

Q: How could you be sure these people were exposed in their neighborhoods, not agricultural or other jobs?

A: We asked them if they worked in farming occupations, and our control group was a random selection from the [Central] Valley, and only about 3% worked in agriculture.

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The cave is his classroom, the environment his passion

Cave2 I picked up my candle lantern and entered the cool, damp and dark Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park. I had paid my fare to take candlelit tour at dusk, hiked down the steep mountainside and prepared to enter the cave’s gaping mouth with a handful of park visitors, expecting to see fanged bats in the shadows.

And then came the cave naturalist and tour guide, Billy Dooling, 26, who promptly reminded the group to hold the candle upright, not to touch any of the dagger-like stalactites or stalagmites, and to not worry about the bats …because there were none.

Bummer, I thought to myself, blinking to see in the flickering darkness. The 48-degree chill crawled up my spine and I shuddered as the gigantic cavern opened up to reveal hundreds of ghoulish calcite formations that had spent millions of years twisting and warping in the marbled sanctuary.

Of 280 caves in the park, Crystal Cave is the only one open to the public, but is inaccessible without a professional guide, such as Dooling.

A biology graduate from Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis, Dooling works for the nonprofit organization Sequoia Natural History Assn. and has spent his first season as a guide educating visitors about cave conservation. It was about halfway through the tour when I realized Dooling was going beyond the history of the cave, informing us of its future and how we can help keep it intact.

I connected with him soon after to learn more about his role as a national park tour guide, active environmentalist and undercover educator.

Continue reading »

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