Dioxin Developments

July 20, 2016 | Commercial Litigation | Complex Torts & Product Liability

Study Finds Glyphosate Was Most Common Active Ingredient Used In Invasive Plant Management on Public Lands

Researchers from the University of Montana working with Canadian scientists have estimated that, in the United States, half a million hectares of public wildlands were sprayed with herbicides in 2010, representing 201 tons.

Background

Viktoria Wagner, Pedro M. Antunes, Michael Irvine, and Cara R. Nelson were the authors of the paper, “Herbicide usage for invasive non-native plant management in wildland areas of North America,” published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The authors conducted a survey among major government agencies and agro-statistical commercial companies to compile current data on herbicide usage in invasive plant management. They said that five out of seven contacted agencies in the United States tracked herbicide usage on public land in an electronic form and that four agencies shared data with them: the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”), the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), the Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”), and the National Park Service (“NPS”). They said that the Forest Service (“FS”) declined to provide data due to data quality concerns.

The authors said that, based on shared data from the BIA, BLM, FWS, and NPS, they were able to estimate herbicide usage in invasive plant management on public land in the United States.

Findings

The authors estimated that glyphosate was the most common active ingredient, for both the period of 2007-2011 (area sprayed, amount used) and 2010 (amount used). The found that data from the NPS indicated that grasslands, followed by roadsides and forests, were the most commonly treated sites.

The authors concluded that data on herbicide usage, efficacy, and financial costs was “critical for informing stakeholders that develop and implement” control programs for non-native invasive plants in public wildlands, and that data tracking and publication by land management agencies were “two critical steps towards narrowing our knowledge gap on herbicide usage in invasive non-native plant management.”

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Group Says “Hundreds of Cancer-Causing Chemicals” Are Building Up in Bodies of Americans

The Environmental Working Group (“EWG”), a nonprofit research organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C., has released a report concluding that hundreds of “cancer-causing chemicals” are building up in the bodies of Americans.

Background

To prepare what it characterized as the “first comprehensive inventory of the carcinogens that have been measured in people,” the EWG said that it spent almost one year reviewing more than 1,000 biomonitoring studies and other research by government agencies and scientists in the United States and around the world.

Findings

The EWG said that it found that up to 420 chemicals “known or likely to cause cancer” have been detected in blood, urine, hair, and other human samples.

“The presence of a toxic chemical in our bodies does not necessarily mean it will cause harm, but this report details the astounding number of carcinogens we are exposed to in almost every part of life that are building up in our systems,” Curt DellaValle, author of the report and a senior scientist at EWG, said in a statement. “At any given time some people may harbor dozens or hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals. This troubling truth underscores the need for greater awareness of our everyday exposure to chemicals and how to avoid them.”

The EWG estimated that a small subset of the chemicals inventoried in the report were measured at levels high enough to pose significant cancer risks in most Americans – risks, it said, that generally exceeded Environmental Protection Agency safety standards. The EWG said that those estimates only were for individual chemicals and did not account for how combined exposures to multiple chemicals might increase risk.

“Many of the carcinogens this study documents in people find their way into our bodies through food, air, water, and consumer products every day. Dozens of them show up in human umbilical cord blood – which means Americans are exposed to carcinogens before they’ve left the womb,” said the EWG’s president, Ken Cook. “We should focus on preventing cancer by preventing human exposure to these chemicals.”

Cook said that the report should “trigger outrage among Americans” and “urgent action” by public health and elected officials.

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Harris County Attorney Announces Projects Funded by San Jacinto Waste Pits Settlement

Vince Ryan, the county attorney in Harris County, Texas, has announced that park acquisition and improvements, recreational facilities, and educational programs will be among those funded by a lawsuit he filed against the owners and managers of a waste disposal site on the San Jacinto River. The Harris County Commissioners Court approved an agreement to accept $10 million from Texas to fund these projects.

Background

McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. agreed to settle a case filed in 2012 seeking civil penalties for dioxin contamination in pits located along the west bank of the San Jacinto River in east Harris County. The county and the State of Texas each received about $10 million as a result of the lawsuit.

“These waste pits are an environmental disaster waiting to happen,” Ryan said. “We know that dioxin has leaked into the San Jacinto River, ending up in fish and crabs that are caught and eaten by unsuspecting citizens. Imagine the catastrophe that would occur should a hurricane hit Harris County. While these projects won’t affect the waste pits themselves,” Ryan continued, “they will improve the environment and the quality of life for those who live along the river or use it for recreation.”

Settlement Proceeds

The $10 million from the settlement that went to the state was appropriated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (“TPWD”) by the legislature. The funding approved for the county will pay for projects chosen by TPWD and the county from ideas and input solicited from the local community. The projects include acquisition of land and improvements for parks and boat ramps; habitat restoration; and educational programs on the environment.

The county’s portion of the settlement was set aside by the commissioners for additional equipment and resources for Harris County Pollution Control and to fund projects focusing on the area within five miles of the pits.

Ryan has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to order the waste pits removed from the San Jacinto River.  A decision from the EPA is expected soon.

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EPA Releases Proposed Cleanup Plan for Portland Harbor

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has issued a proposed plan for the cleanup of the in-river portion of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

Background

The Portland Harbor Site, as listed on the National Priorities List (“NPL”), includes an in-river and an upland portion; however, the EPA’s proposed plan does not include actions to address the upland portion of the Portland Harbor Site. The EPA said that its preferred alternative, which includes a combination of dredging, capping, and enhanced natural recovery, would take approximately seven years to construct with additional time for monitored natural recovery to occur and cost an estimated $745,660,000 (present value).

In the EPA’s opinion, its preferred alternative would achieve “substantial risk reduction” and would address “the major sources of contamination” within the site.

“Contaminants of Concern”

In the 151 page document containing and discussing its proposed plan, the EPA said that it had identified “many hazardous substances, pollutants and contaminants” in the sediment at the site. In particular, it said that the following “Contaminants of Concern” (“COCs”) posed the greatest “potential dietary risks to human health and the environment” in the site based on consumption of fish.

  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”);
  • Dioxins and furans;
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”);
  • Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (“DDT”) and its primary breakdown products, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane (“DDD”) and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene (“DDE”).

According to the EPA, 64 COCs “pose risk” at the site.

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Waste-to-Energy Facilities Compare Favorably to Landfills, Article Suggests

An article comparing various alternatives for handling waste suggests that waste-to-energy facilities have one important benefit over landfills.

A recent article in The Guardian discussed the pros and cons of recycling, landfills, and incineration via waste-to-energy (“WTE”) facilities for disposing of waste.

To date, the article pointed out, only 84 WTE facilities are in operation in the United States – and only one has opened this century (in Florida). The article highlighted costs associated with construction and operation of a WTE facility.

It also quoted the director of an organization opposed to WTE facilities as saying, “Cities get locked into a contract and can end up on the hook for huge fees to waste processors, regardless of whether or not there is enough waste for them to process.” The director also was quoted as saying, “Whether dioxin, mercury, lead and other toxins go out the stack, are captured, or end up in the ash that is left over after incineration – they’re still there.”

However, Nickolas John Themelis, Professor Emeritus at Columbia University and the director of its Earth and Environmental Engineering Center, as well as the founder and chair of the Global Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council (“WTERT”), an international consortium of universities, companies, and governmental organizations concerned with the recovery of energy and materials from municipal and industrial wastes, had a very different view.

He told The Guardian that, “Studies have shown that the entire U.S. WTE industry produces three grams of dioxin per year. By comparison, there are over 3,000 landfill fires reported every year, and they produce 1,400 grams of dioxin.”

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EPA Taking Sediment Samples from the Hackensack River

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) is taking samples of sediment from 17 miles of the Hackensack River in New Jersey to determine whether the river should be named a Superfund site.

The EPA’s decision to take samples follows a study it conducted that found dioxin and other chemicals, including lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”) in sediment.

A decision to name the Hackensack River as a Superfund site likely would result in litigation in which the EPA would seek to recover cleanup costs from businesses and other entities who caused the contamination.

The EPA recently announced a cleanup plan for the lower eight miles of the Passaic River, at a cost estimated at approximately $1.4 billion.

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For further information, please contact James V. Aiosa, Paul V. Majkowski, Lawrence S. Han, or your regular Rivkin Radler attorney.

 

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