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Wednesday
Aug132014

NYC Year-Round Safe Disposal Options For Household Items Containing Harmful Chemicals

In New York State, it’s illegal to throw certain household items into the regular trash because they contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment, wildlife, and human health.

Graphic courtesy of NYCRecycles.

A lot of the items that can’t go into the regular trash include things containing mercury, such as florescent and compact florescent bulbs (CFLs), old fashioned thermostats, and rechargeable batteries.

Alternatively, you might find it interesting to know that you are allowed to throw alkaline batteries into the regular trash.

Standard household alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury – and with the exception of rechargeable and lithium batteries (commonly used for portable equipment) – most batteries pose little risk to the environment if thrown into the trash, says the New York City mayor’s office.

The reason most batteries don’t contain mercury anymore is because it’s a highly dangerous neurotoxin. It can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which adds that mercury can cause severe and potentially fatal damage to the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.

The NIH also says that even very low exposure to mercury can impair the immune system, and exposure to very small amounts “in concentrated forms can result in devastating neurological damage and death.”

With the heightened awareness of the dangers of mercury and the need to limit public exposure, in the 1990s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified batteries as the largest source of mercury in municipal solid waste streams. As a result of legislation and public pressure, the battery industry has removed mercury from virtually all household batteries, making them safe to throw out into the regular trash.

In contrast, rechargeable batteries which can contain toxic chemicals, including mercury, cadmium, lead, and other heavy metals, are illegal to throw out into the regular trash.

NYS’s Rechargeable Battery Law requires stores that sell rechargeable batteries (or products containing rechargeable batteries) take back up to ten batteries of the same shapes and sizes as they sell, free of charge.

In NYC, another option for disposing of rechargeable and lithium batteries is to take them to any of the city’s Department of Sanitation Household Special Waste Drop-Off Sites located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

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Monday
Jul142014

IBM Still Paying For Toxic Chemicals Effects On Upstate New York Town Old Former Repair Site

The Southern District Court of New York ruled that IBM must reimburse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for past costs incurred by the agency for the toxic waste cleanup of the East Fishkill area of Dutchess County, N.Y.

Water pollution effects from IBM waste. Photo by Laws.com.

The pollution contaminated local drinking water which resulted from the company’s use of a contracted facility (J. Manne Inc.) to clean and repair its computer chip racks.

The majority of the cleanup has been the responsibility of IBM, with oversight from the EPA. So far, the company has spent approximately $46 million on cleanup of the area.

Between 1965 and 1975, J. Manne Inc. operated a facility that used industrial cleaning solvents containing chemicals including tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE), which are volatile organic chemicals whose exposure can cause serious health impacts.

The NYS Department of Health says that short-term exposure to PCE can affect the central nervous system causing problems including dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, lightheadedness, and poor balance.

Long-term exposure to PCE can lead to health impacts including liver and kidney damage, reduced red blood cells, as well as effects on the immune system, such as increasing white blood cell count and antibodies.

The NYS Department of Health has also associated PCE exposure to several types of cancers including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Limited studies have also shown links to cancers of the esophagus, kidneys, lungs, liver, cervix, and breasts.

In addition, the NYS health agency looked at the effects of TCE and also found that short-term exposure was liked to problems associated with the central nervous system including effected motor coordination, nausea, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, blurred vision, and fatigue.

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Thursday
Jun122014

Group Wins Lawsuit Against Personal Care Cos. To Remove Cancer Causing Ingredient

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has finalized settlement agreements with 14 personal care companies, including Colgate-Palmolive Co., Avlon Industries Inc., and House of Cheatham Inc., to remove a chemical called cocamide DEA from their products in California. The settlements are expected to have national implications.

Graphic courtesy of ameliebeaute.com.

Cocamide DEA is a synthetic chemical made by a reaction between coconut oils and diethanolamine.  The chemical is frequently used in shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, and shower gels as a foaming agent, and as a thickener, says the CEH, which has also found it in shaving creams and some dishwashing detergents.

The concern is that the chemical is a possible human carcinogen and is known to cause cancer in lab animals.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) tested the chemical by applying it to the skins of 100 mice, for five-days-a-week for two years, which resulted in a high incidence of tumors forming on their kidneys and livers.

The IARC said that the increased incidence in mice was “associated with the high level of free diethanolamine that was present in the solutions.”

In addition, the Environmental Working Group said there is strong evidence that the chemical can trigger skin allergies.

The CEH used California’s Prop 65, also called the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, as a pretext for its litigation. As the CEH explained, the law requires businesses to warn California consumers if their products will expose them to “significant amounts of toxic chemicals.”

The law covers two types of toxic chemicals: those that cause cancer and those that cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. California’s governor is charged with maintaining a list of these toxic chemicals, which is updated at least annually.

In 2012, cocamide DEA was identified by California as a cancer-causing chemical. The CEH explained that under Prop 65, businesses were given a one-year grace period, after which they would be required to either warn their customers about the presence of the chemical or remove it from their products.

Beginning last summer, the CEH began an investigation in which it purchased hundreds of shampoos and other products from major national stores around California and from online retailers. The group looked for products than contained cocamide DEA without any warning labels, which is a violation of Prop 65.

The investigation resulted in the CEH initiating litigation against over 150 companies which either make or sell the violating products.

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Friday
May232014

Ten Companies Agree to Final Phase of Toxic Cleanup of New Jersey Industrial Waste Site

Ten companies have reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the final phase of a $1.4 million cleanup of the Evor Phillips Leasing Co. Superfund site in Old Bridge Township, NJ. The New Jersey District Court approved the proposal earlier this month.

Evor Phillips Leasing Co. Superfund site in Old Bridge Township, NJ. Photo courtesy of dredgingtoday.com.

The site is an unoccupied six-acre plot of land located about one mile west of Route 9 and about 1.5 miles northeast of Route 18. The groundwater beneath the six-acre site is contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from past industrial activities. The soil is also contaminated with VOCs and metals.

The EPA warns that direct contact with the soil, or accidentally ingesting of contaminated soil or groundwater could create serious health issues, including cancer.

The extent and nature of the potential health effects depends on factors including the level and length of exposure to the pollution, said the agency.

Municipal well data has confirmed the presence of site-related contaminants in the groundwater with leaching occurring into the underlying aquifer, which is a source of drinking water.

Among the most at risk are the Sayreville municipal wellfield located about 1,000 feet southwest of the site, and the Perth Amboy wellfield located about 3,000 feet southwest of the site. “All nearby residents have discontinued use of private wells and are now served by a municipal water supply,” said the EPA.

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Monday
May052014

California Towns With Highest Job Losses From Drought To Receive Food, Water & Other Aid

With California experiencing its driest year ever on record, so far, the state is now in emergency mode, and trying to get out as many relief services as possible to the public as quickly as it can.

Among these services will be food assistance for families that have been directly affected by the drought through unemployment from agriculturally-related jobs; temporary drinking water replacement for economically disadvantaged communities; statewide water conservation measures; new irrigation measured for famers; and water diversion projects for habitat preservation for wildlife.

The California Department of Social Services announced that food banks in 24 drought-affected counties will begin receiving the first in $5.1 million in food assistance, with food hitting the food bank shelves soon this month.

Shipments will be sent to counties where the unemployment rate is higher than the 2013 statewide average and have a higher share of agricultural workers than the rest of the state. These counties will include: Amador, Butte, Colusa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Sierra, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Yolo, and Yuba.

Beginning this month, the local food banks in these 24 counties will receive pre-packaged boxes of nutritional, non-perishable food items, providing enough food for a household of four people for about five days. The food items will include canned fruits and vegetables, soup, peanut butter, rice, and beans.

People that receive the food boxes will be asked to provide proof that they live in a household where drought conditions have caused their unemployment or underemployment.

In addition, these food banks are developing local “drought actions plans” for food distributions and collaborating with other local organizations serving impacted families.

Also, families and individuals who are expecting to feel the long-term impacts of the drought will also be able to apply for the CalFresh Program, which is a California program that issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at markets and food stores.

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