Environmental Health News Roundup

Ben Somberg

Dec. 21, 2010

A few stories from the last week that I thought deserved noting:

  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrapped up a rather impressive 8-day series Sunday on air pollution in 14 counties of southwestern Pennsylvania. Ultimately, the paper found that "14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict. Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure. After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from those three diseases is 12,833." One of the stories looked at inadequate enforcement efforts.
  • The Knoxville News Sentinel Tennessean checked in on the search for justice two years after the Kingston coal ash disaster: "In all, more than 400 people have filed a total of 55 lawsuits against TVA and, in several of those cases, two private engineering firms, in connection with the Dec. 22, 2008, ash spill. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others are said to be waiting in the legal wings of possible class-action certification."
  • The number of mercury-emitting chlor-alkali plants in the U.S. is set to go down to two. Nearly all chlor-alkali plants in the U.S. have switched (over the last decades) to newer technologies that don't release mercury into the air or water, but four plants still use the "mercury cell" process. A bill in Congress proposed to require the plants to be converted. Industry representatives complained of the short-term cost of converting plants, though in the long term a newer process saves money. The bill stalled. Now, the Augusta Chronicle reported last week that "Olin, which operates two of the four remaining U.S. plants that still use mercury to make chlorine, announced last week it would convert its Charleston, Tenn., plant to mercury-free technology, while phasing out Augusta's chlorine operation in 2012 and using the site to produce bleach and distribute caustic soda instead."
  • ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald Tribune had two more updates on tainted Chinese drywall. The first piece found that the number of homes affected by drywall may be significantly higher than the number CPSC is using. And it explores how CPSC "has not fully exercised the powers it does have, including the ability to sue the U.S. companies that imported, built or distributed the drywall in an effort to make them pay to repair the homes." The second piece looks at reports that some domestically manufactured drywall is contaminated as well; "court records show that many of the plaintiffs have test results from independent laboratories that show high levels of sulfur gas coming from the walls of their homes."


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