Regulatory ‘Burden’? A Mere $2,000 Would Have Saved This Man’s Neighborhood
By Meghana Kuppa
The exasperation was apparent in Jesse Marquez's voice recently as he testified at a public hearing in Washington DC, about a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to roll back a safety rule that would make the chemical industry more accountable for public health.
Marquez was 17 years old when he and his family witnessed a massive explosion right in front of their house in the LA community of Wilmington. The explosion occurred at the Fletcher Oil and Refining Co., located across the street in the city of Carson, California, where Marquez and his family were living at the time. Four oil tanks exploded, and one tank roof top flew 700 feet into the air, landing in the middle of the street intersection. All seven members of his family suffered from burns ranging from 1st degree to 3rd degree.
"The fire burned for a day and a half, and after two days, the police said it was okay to go back. We were so terrified, none of us wanted to go back to the house," said Marquez.
The refinery was eventually shut down by governmental regulatory agencies due to numerous continuing violations.
Déjà vu gripped Marquez in the spring of 2015, when he heard about an explosion at ExxonMobil's oil refinery in neighboring Torrance. The explosion occurred just a few miles down the road from the explosion he had lived through 46 years earlier. The blast narrowly missed a tank of highly toxic hydrofluoric acid, which if released, would have lethally gassed thousands of people.
Shaken by news of this new explosion and many others over the years, Marquez began researching steps the oil refinery could have taken to avert it. His research disclosed that if the refinery had spent just $2,000 on a gas leak detector, ExxonMobil could have found the gas leak that triggered its explosion and the explosion at the Fletcher Oil refinery in Carson could have also been prevented.
For years, Marquez has been advocating for stronger safety protections both in California and nationally. Recently, after the Trump EPA postponed a new final rule that would require ExxonMobil and other companies to take basic steps to prevent future chemical releases, Marquez and other members of communities affected by chemical disasters traveled to Washington to testify before EPA. (Editor's note: The EPA is accepting written comments from the public only until Aug. 23. Send in your comment today.)
At the hearing in June, Marquez and other community members urged the EPA not to roll back the 2017 Risk Management Program amendments (also known as the Chemical Disaster Rule), which would force chemical companies to evaluate and strengthen their safety practices and reduce harm from any disasters they fail to prevent.
Some of the protections the EPA wants to rescind or weaken would require chemical industries to do the following:
- Find safer alternatives to hazardous chemical processes and evaluate investing in worker training and safety before a disaster happens
- Conduct independent third-party audits every three years.
- Include root-cause analyses in all incident investigations.
- Investigate near misses, including cases like fires, explosions, accidental releases of listed chemicals, and overall strengthen important investigation requirements to ensure they happen and that there is a public meeting so communities receive a report soon after an incident occurs.
- Coordinate and share information with first-responders and engage in notification and response exercises and preparation before an emergency is in progress; and implement stronger community access to information, and many other such precautionary measures.
Even while Marquez and others are fighting the rollback, the Chemical Disaster Rule remains suspended under the current administration. After receiving petitions by oil, chemical and other companies, the agency has twice delayed the effective date of these life-saving protections, most recently until February 2019. Scientists, community groups, environmental and health groups represented by Earthjustice are suing to get the amendments back on track.
There have been at least 48 disasters, and counting, since the original effective date of the amendments. Communities and first responders across the country remain in danger as the EPA reconsiders the rule—and as hurricane season has begun, many facilities along the Gulf Coast are experiencing elevated risk, making action to implement these amendments even more urgent.
At the June EPA hearing in DC, Marquez—whose experiences in surviving a refinery explosion helped motivate him to found the Coalition For A Safe Environment, an environmental justice advocacy organization—testified about how industries keep fenceline communities in the dark when it comes to industry hazards. He spoke of incidents where patients were treated for typical asthma attacks, when they did not know they were actually suffering from exposure to a toxic chemical. The Risk Management Program amendments would require refineries and chemical manufacturers to make safety information more accessible to fence-line communities and hospitals.
"There is no acceptable trade secret when it comes to the lives of residents in bordering communities," Marquez said.
Marquez's advocacy work on the Risk Management Program amendments has opened his eyes to the ways politics and industry money can influence environmental regulation, he said. That's why he believes that organizations like the Coalition and Earthjustice play an important role in keeping the regulators honest.
"I've learned that they [the EPA] cannot be trusted; it requires the public to always be on guard," he said. "It's important to belong to community-based organizations who have other [bigger] networks…that way, we can assure that we are always being protected, the truth of how catastrophic incidents impact residents is known and the availability of low cost off-the-shelf safety products."
To read Marquez's full testimony or listen to audio from him and other community advocates from around the U.S. who made the journey to Washington DC, to urge the EPA not to weaken chemical disaster protections, click here.
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The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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