The Lengths Companies Will Go to Pollute

BY ON June 24, 2011

As a mom who has testified in Sacramento to help get rid of toxicElisa Batistachemicals from baby products, I can tell you that companies will go through great lengths to maintain their market share, even if that means selling us toxic products, and polluting our air and water.

I have seen it all: millions of dollars spent to donate to schools in exchange for low-income children testifying against environmental regulations; injured victims in wheelchairs claiming that toxic chemicals saved their lives or mothers won’t have formula if chemicals are removed from cans; out-of-state attorneys claiming that workers’ jobs will be in jeopardy if Company X or Company Y is not allowed to pollute. Yes, some companies will sink to a new low just for the “right” to pollute.

The good news is their tactics are not going unnoticed in the media. I just came across a couple of news stories highlighting their claims as snake oil.

First, I spotted this peer-reviewed study that was presented this week at the International Symposium on Fire Safety Science at the University of Maryland. In that study, scientists found that California’s furniture flammability standard, also known as Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117), does not provide measurable fire safety benefits. TB117 practically mandates the use of toxic flame retardants in the foam of all of our furniture and even baby products like nursing pillows and changing pads.

The scientists’ findings are disturbing in a number of ways. Toxic flame retardants are, well, toxic. Animal studies have linked flame retardants to cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders. They easily leach from the crumbling foam of old products — surely, I am not the only one who used second-hand baby products! — onto dust and pet hair, and are easy to ingest by children.

Despite all claims by the chemical companies, specifically Chemtura, Albermarle, and Israel Chemicals Ltd., scientists found that the flammability standard TB117 offers “no benefits” to fire safety. Arlene Blum PhD, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley Chemistry Department and Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute who helped present the research at the symposium, stated the obvious:

“If these companies believe we need flame retardants in our baby products, they should fund green chemistry research into safer chemicals rather than spending millions lobbying against improved fire safety regulations that protect health. Parents don’t want toxic flame retardants in their baby products or in their babies.”

Amen. Then there was this story in the National Journal about the contradictions coming out of American Electric Power, one of the nation’s biggest coal utilities that has fought the EPA on clean air standards. Republicans have even introduced legislation to curb the EPA’s powers.

As it turns out the sob story of job losses peddled by AEP to legislators is not the same one it is sharing with its investors. From the National Journal:

“‘Because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power-plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit, and replace coal-fueled power plants,’ AEP chairman and CEO Mike Morris said in a statement last week. ‘The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling.’

“A week earlier, Morris had sought to allay investors’ concerns about the plant closures and their effect on AEP’s bottom line at a June 1 investors conference.

“‘On balance, we think that is the appropriate way to go,’ Morris said of the closures. ‘Not only to treat our customers, but also to treat our shareholders, near and long term, with that small amount of the fleet going off-line.’

“Most of what AEP said it will have to shutter is spare capacity, used when it’s very hot or cold. (The plants were used, for example, during last week’s Midwestern heat spell.) That fact was not included in the company’s release, but Morris made sure to remind investors.

“‘As you know, those are high-cost plants and dispatch infrequently,’ Morris said. He went on to add that most of them didn’t run at all in 2009 because natural-gas prices were so low.”

Uh huh. Well, if there is another message here it is for investors to consider putting their money in clean energy. Not only would it be safer for workers, their families and the community at large, but it may help spur job growth.

We are in a recession, and no one is feeling it worst than workers at coal plants and other industrial jobs. I say this as the daughter and granddaughter of millworkers, who were able to sustain a middle class existence in this country with these jobs.

But an economy that runs on dirty energy is and should be a way of the past. We have an opportunity here to re-train our workers for the green jobs of the future. Take, for instance, green chemistry as Blum suggested. We aren’t going to get there if investors and the government continue to pump money in old technology.

Not to mention we would save money in the way of lower healthcare costs related to our consumption of toxic chemicals and air pollution. Can we quit it with the scare tactics? Let’s ask our leaders for clean air now! Please join me at the Moms Clean Air Force and lend your support to the EPA.

TOPICS: Asthma, Coal, Economics, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution