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Rep. Solis Demands Answers on Environmental Justice from EPA

(Beyond Pesticides, March 12, 2007) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson appeared before the Environmental and Hazardous Materials and Energy and Air Quality Subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 8, 2007 to discuss the EPA’s Budget for the first time in his six-year tenure as Administrator. Representative Hilda Solis (D-CA) pressed the Administrator for answers related to EPA’s Performance Track Program, the closure of EPA libraries, changes made to the Toxic Release Inventory, closure of Region 10’s Office of Environmental Justice, failure to implement the Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice (EJ), and the overall budget for environmental justice.

According to Rep. Solis, three Monsanto facilities are members of the Performance Track Program, despite the fact that their parent company paid one million dollars in fines to the Department of Justice last year after being criminally indicted in 2005. Eligibility of the program requires that a company not be convicted of any environmental fines within the past five years. When asked why the three Monsanto facilities were members, Mr. Johnson deferred to staff from EPA to comment, at which time Rep. Solis was told they must review the documents and respond at a later date. The California Air Resources Board estimates 5,400 premature deaths, 2,400 hospitalizations and 140,000 cases of asthma in the Long Beach neighborhood of Los Angeles. When pressed on whether there was any reference in EPA’s proposed rule to the heath impact of locomotives and marine vessels in this environmental justice community, Mr. Johnson could not provide a clear answer or cite. Rep. Solis noted that a collection filter used in an EJ community near the ports of Los Angeles showed an accumulation of what EPA considers 2 ½ months worth of diesel exhaust only in a 24-hour period.

Similarly, the effects of pesticides on human health and the environment are well-documented in scientific and policy journals, however, the disproportionate risk to people of color communities is often ignored and has never been fully examined. Pesticides are linked to a range of serious health problems, including cancer, birth defects, reproductive effects, respiratory illness including asthma and reactive airway disease, neurological disorders including Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases, learning disabilities and hormone system disruption. The range of effects and their impacts on daily life are staggering and unacceptable given the availability of safe alternatives that do not poison people or contaminate their communities.

Risk assessments that calculate “acceptable�? risks across population groups do not disclose the disproportionate effect that pesticide use has on people of color communities. Public policies, based on risk assessments, have been established without due regard for protecting human health or ensuring equity that prevents racially disproportionate pesticide exposures. For example, the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which has been touted by many as a “health-based” standard for regulating pesticides that is far superior to the “risk-benefit” standard of the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which allows escalating and uncapped hazards based on a presumption of benefits to the pesticide user and society. However, the FQPA standard does allow the use of unnecessary toxic pesticide products without regard for either the health effects of chemical interactions or the availability of safer non-toxic practices and products. Both standards are based on the flawed assumption that a pesticide has value or benefit if it meets a certain “acceptable” risk threshold. These standards ignore the disproportionate risk, for example, to African American children whose asthmatic conditions are caused or triggered by the very pesticide products that meet health-based standards.

The disproportionate impacts of pesticide standards and other public health and environmental policies are borne out by the statistics on asthma: 12.5 percent of children nationwide; 17 percent of children in New York City; and, 30 percent of children in Harlem, New York City. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health, African Americans are 4 to 6 times more likely than whites to die from asthma.

According to Rep. Solis, “Two Inspector General and one GAO reports noted the failures of the EPA to address environmental justice and Executive Order 12898, including EPA’s inability to determine if its rules and regulations were disproportionately harming environmental justice communities (See Daily News).” EPA has again requested a 28 percent cut to environmental justice programs.

TAKE ACTION: Let your Congressional representatives know how you feel about this issue. Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative and tell them to support the Environmental Justice Act of 2007.


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