Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Gasp Comments on JCDH Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019

Every year Gasp comments on the Ambient Air Monitoring Plans put out by ADEM and JCDH. These plans contain any changes that either ADEM or JCDH plan to make to their ambient air monitoring network in that year. The plans are subject to public comment and EPA must approve the Plans.

Where ambient air monitors are placed and for what pollutant they monitor is crucial to the regulators’ and public’s ability to understand their air quality. For example, when Birmingham has “ozone days,” this information is being collected from the various ozone monitors throughout JCDH’s ambient air monitoring network. Gasp has been commenting on these plans the past several years not only because of the crucial role ambient air monitors play in informing us about air quality, but also because a more robust, intentionally strategic ambient air monitoring network is a critical component of establishing everyone’s right to breathe healthy air.

According to a recent article, the gains the U.S. has made in improving air quality have decreased over the past 2 years. “There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when America had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.” The American Lung Association ranked Birmingham 14th worst city for year round small particle (PM2.5) pollution.

This year, Gasp is asking for more monitoring. Specifically, for monitors to address the Acipco-Finley neighborhood’s concerns about emissions from scrap metal recycling facilities in their neighborhood and for a dedicated fenceline SO2 monitor for ABC Coke. These are very specific requests that could not only give a clearer picture of air quality in these communities, but such information gives residents the power to make their communities and air healthier.

Information is power. A robust ambient air monitoring network, with monitors placed in the right places (short version: the “right places” are in hot spots of pollution, not far away from them), gives people critical information about the quality of the air they breathe. This is why weighing in on JCDH’s Ambient Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2019 is a crucial part of advancing healthy air and environmental justice.

Groups Sue Trump’s EPA for Coke Oven Cancer Pollution

Groups Sue Trump’s EPA for Coke Oven Cancer Pollution

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 15, 2019) — Today Earthjustice on behalf of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Gasp, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Sierra Club, sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for improperly regulating coke ovens – producers of known carcinogens – thus failing to protect communities throughout the country. Over a decade ago, EPA found that carcinogenic emissions from coke ovens destroy air quality and cause devastating health complications, yet plaintiffs in the case argue the agency failed to act to protect nearby communities from this threat.

“The pollutants spewed by coke ovens cause cancer and other serious illnesses. Fourteen years ago today, EPA admitted that it couldn’t say whether its own regulations adequately protected people from this threat and promised to do something about it. Since that day, EPA hasn’t taken a single step to fulfill its promise. It’s long past time for EPA to do its job and protect people in places like Birmingham, Ala., Clairton, and Erie, Pa., and St. James Parish, La.,” said Earthjustice Attorney Tosh Sagar.

“EPA determined years ago that coke ovens produce known carcinogens and that millions of residents in nearby towns and cities breath these carcinogens in. This is just one in a long litany of EPA’s failure. It’s time EPA does its job to review and revise standards for coke ovens in order to protect these people and meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act,” said the plaintiffs in a joint statement.

Coke ovens used usually for iron making superheat coal producing more than 40 highly toxic air pollutants – including benzene, arsenic, and lead – that escape poorly-sealed oven doors every time coal is added to bake or coke is removed from an oven. These poisonous gases not only cause breathing problems but are also known carcinogens that threaten nearby residential communities.

In 2005, EPA issued regulations for emissions from coke oven batteries. But these regulations didn’t address many of the points in the coke oven plants that are responsible for significant emissions. Even worse, EPA itself recognized that it could not know whether the 2005 regulations adequately protect people from these carcinogenic gases.

EPA promised to address this problem, but 14 years have passed and EPA has done nothing. In just the last few years, EPA admitted in federal court that it similarly failed to review and update standards for more than 40 other sources of hazardous air pollutants. Thus, EPA’s failure to review and revise standards for coke ovens is just one example of its disregard for using the Clean Air Act to protect communities. This lawsuit aims to enforce the Clean Air Act by requiring EPA to properly regulate coke oven facilities that produce known carcinogens.

Examples of the Impact of Coke Facilities:

  • U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works in Allegheny County is the largest coke plant in the country and decidedly has the greatest impact on deteriorating air quality in western Pennsylvania. Decades of consent orders, multi-millions of dollars in fines paid, and more recently, tougher enforcement by regulators have not resulted in Clairton operating in a manner protective of air quality. “Forcing EPA to finally set standards for these emissions will go a long way to protecting people living near coking facilities like Clairton in western Pennsylvania and across the country,” said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo.
  • In Birmingham, there are two coke plants less than two miles from each other within low-income, overwhelmingly African-American communities. One of the two plants, Drummond Company’s, ABC Coke, is the largest merchant producer of foundry coke in the United States. In February, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the company would be fined $775,000 for violating the Clean Air Act. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America ranks Birmingham in the top 10 in its Asthma Capitals report.
  • The residents of the St. James Parish, La., already experience some of the highest cancer rates in the nation and Nucor plans to add to their burden by building a new, massive coke oven plant. If EPA reviewed and updated these standards, Nucor would have to build this plant using the most-up-to-date pollution controls. But if EPA doesn’t act fast to review the standards, the residents of St. James parish will be subjected to carcinogenic gases as a result of Nucor’s old, dirty technology for decades to come. “Nucor made the decision to put its polluting facility in the middle of a historic black community, and now that community is bearing the brunt of its pollution and the government’s failure of oversight. It’s long past time for the law to be enforced,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. 

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MEDIA CONTACTS

Tosh Sagar
Earthjustice attorney
202-797-4300
email

Anne Rolfes
Louisiana Bucket Brigade
504-484-3433
email

Michael Hansen
Gasp
205-746-4666
email

Judy Kelly
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future
412-805-8494
email

Jane Williams
Sierra Club
661-256-2101
email

How Air Pollution Gets Into Our Bodies

How Air Pollution Gets Into Our Bodies

I have to be honest. Until I started reading about air pollution, I didn’t think much about it. I mean, I knew that it was bad in a vague, general kind of way, but my thinking never went past that. Air quality was way too easy to ignore, and it was even easier to downplay its importance to my own health and the health of every person on this planet.

The reality of air pollution didn’t hit my consciousness until I visualized poor air coming into my lungs. I saw myself breathing in air that is full of harmful chemicals, that air traveling in and through my nose, down my throat and into my soft, squishy, absorbent lungs.

My lungs taking in whatever is in that air and my bloodstream spreading it across my body, into all of my organs, including my brain (read about the effects of air pollution on our brains HERE ; spoiler alert, it ain’t good).

Air is all around us. Whether we are sitting on the couch, driving in the car, traveling on a plane, walking in the park, it doesn’t matter. We are never not around air.

If you are currently breathing, then you are consuming whatever is floating around you, seen or unseen, odorless or scented.

That inescapable fact kind of freaked me out at first. But it gave me the much needed kick in the pants to stop ignoring the importance of air quality. After this finally clicked for me, I also learned that air pollutants don’t just come into our bodies through our nose and lungs.

Besides breathing in contaminated air, air pollutants gets into our bodies in the following ways [1]:

 

And as the world globalizes, and more of our food and products come from places with fewer air quality regulations and greater air pollution, the more I realize that air pollution is not a “their” problem, but an “our” problem. Let’s come together – for each other and ourselves.

Take a moment to cultivate positive emotions for yourself and others using this short Loving Kindness meditation.

Till next time.

Wishing you joy, safety and ease,

Anna

References

[1] https://www.epa.gov/haps/hazardous-air-pollutants-sources-and-exposure

FAQs About ABC Coke’s Permit: What You Need to Know

FAQs About ABC Coke’s Permit: What You Need to Know

Last fall, the Jefferson County Department of Health posted ABC Coke’s Title V pollution permit renewal application. (Title V is just a provision of the Clean Air Act.) We asked for (and received) an extension on the public comment period to allow us and residents of Jefferson County to submit questions and to JCDH. We also requested a public hearing. That request was granted and two hearings were held on November 15. Dozens of community members filled the conference room at JCDH at both hearings and made compelling arguments about the need for a strong permit to protect public health. 

We filed extensive written comments on the permit which pointed out several deficiencies with the permit renewal and permit application. We posted those comments here and highlighted some of the opportunities for improvement.

If you were one of the people who made oral comments at the hearings or submitted written comments by mail or email, you may have recently received a letter from JCDH. Folks have been asking us what this letter means and what’s next, so we thought we would put together a FAQ guide for you. An amazingly helpful resource is this booklet, Proof is in the Permit.

Index

Why did I get this letter?

What is a “proposed permit?”

What is EPA’s 45 day review period?

Is this letter about another public comment period?

What does it mean for EPA to “object” to a permit?

Is it only EPA who can object to a permit?

Is Gasp going to object to ABC Coke’s permit?

I asked JCDH to deny ABC Coke’s permit. Why didn’t they?

What can I do now? How can I be involved?

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why did I get this letter?

A: You either 1) attended the hearing, 2) also made comments at the hearing, and/or 3) submitted written comments to JCDH about ABC Coke’s Draft Permit. JCDH wrote this letter to inform you that the Draft Permit was proposed (more on what this means later) to EPA on March 1, 2019. They also used this letter to direct people to JCDH’s website where their responses to written comments are posted.

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Q: What is a “proposed permit?”

A: After the public comment period and reviewing the comments on the Draft Permit, JCDH submits the draft permit to the regional U.S. EPA office, Region 4, for a 45 day review period. At the time JCDH submitted the draft permit to EPA, it becomes a “proposed permit.”

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Q: What is EPA’s 45 day review period?

A: In this situation, EPA’s “clock” to review started ticking on March 1, 2019 (which means the 45 day review period ends on April 18, 2019, which begins another clock. More on that later). This means that during these 45 days, EPA will review the permit and may object (more on that later). While every permit must be submitted to U.S. EPA for the 45-day review period, U.S. EPA is not required to review every proposed permit. Each regional U.S. EPA office has its own policy on selecting permits to review, but U.S. EPA suggested a target of reviewing at least ten percent of all permits proposed for facilities in each of U.S. EPA’s ten regions. The EPA is most likely to review proposed permits for very large or controversial facilities.

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Q: Is this letter about another public comment period?

A: No. There are no more opportunities for public comment with EPA during their 45 day review period. If you provided comments during the public comment period, you could petition the EPA to object to ABC Coke’s permit (more on that later).

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Q: What does it mean for EPA to “object” to a permit?

A: EPA must object to the proposed permit if EPA determines that the proposed permit does not comply with federal laws or regulations. In addition, the EPA can choose to object to a proposed permit if the Permitting Authority does not provide U.S. EPA with sufficient supporting information to allow for meaningful U.S. EPA review or if the permitting authority fails to follow the right procedures for public participation. If EPA chooses to object, they must give JCDH a written explanation for the objection and give JCDH 90 days to submit a revised version of the proposed permit to EPA. If JCDH misses this deadline, EPA can either deny the permit or develop a permit for ABC Coke themselves.

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Q: Is it only EPA who can object to a permit?

A: No. If you commented on the draft permit during the public comment period and are not satisfied with the proposed permit JCDH sent to EPA, you can ask EPA to object to the permit. You make this request through a petition to EPA. This is the clock that starts ticking after EPA’s 45 day review period ends. You have 60 days from the end of the 45 day review period to petition the EPA to object to the permit. In this case, you have until June 14, 2019 to petition the EPA to object to ABC Coke’s permit.

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Q: Is Gasp going to object to ABC Coke’s permit?

A: Gasp is still reviewing JCDH’s responses to our and SELC’s comments (which we incorporated by referenced into our comments) and the proposed permit renewal for ABC Coke. We will use EPA’s 45 day period, and the 60 days thereafter, to determine if there are issues that warrant a petition to object.

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Q: I asked JCDH to deny ABC Coke’s permit. Why didn’t they?

A: The best we can do is point you to JCDH’s answers to those written comments themselves (specifically, you can see these responses on pages 4, 7, 11-14, 17-20, 23, 24, 26, 28, 30, 37 and 51).

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Q: What can I do now? How can I be involved?

A: If you are concerned about the pollution from ABC Coke and are not already a member of Gasp, join now. If you want to stay informed of when EPA’s review period ends and when Petitions to Object are due and/or if you’re thinking about drafting a petition yourself, feel free to email or call me ([email protected], 205-701-4272).

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Clean Air, Healthy Brains

Clean Air, Healthy Brains

It’s been known for quite some time that polluted air leads to heart and lung problems, and now we are becoming aware that air pollution also has a negative effect on our brains [1]. There is growing evidence that toxic chemicals in our air are linked to disorders such as autism, ADHD, intellectual disability and learning disorders.

Project TENDR (TargetingEnvironmental Neuro-Development Risks), which is run by a unique group of leading scientists, health professions and children’s health advocates, is helping us better understand what we should do about it.

Below is the breakdown of their recommendations.

#1: The US Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) sets the national air quality standards, known as NAAQS standards. They also calculate the cost of air pollution to our healthcare system. They should give greater consideration to evidence of how toxic air impacts the health of our brain and the resulting serious health issues when they set the NAAQS standards and when they calculate the cost of poor air to our healthcare.

The importance here being that if the EPA does not do this, the cost of air pollution to health care might be lower than it actually is. This could lead people to believe that air pollution is not as pricey as it truly is. It would be like buying something with a price tag of $10 dollars, only later to find out that your credit card was charged for $1,000. What a rip off. Also, the NAAQS standards might not be as good if the effect of air pollution on brain health is not seriously considered.

#2:The EPA should strengthen and enforce federal fuel efficiency standards. Meaning, on average, new vehicles should be able to drive 36 miles per gallon instead of 25 miles per gallon.

The less fuel that a vehicle uses, the less combustion-related pollutants are released into the air. And the less fuel your vehicle uses, the more money you save when you go to fill up. Win-Win!

#3: States and local governments should promote and advance clean energy policies that reduce reliance on fossil fuels, including coal, that is used for energy generation and transportation.

Many states, including New York, Washington DC, Oregon, Hawaii, and California, are moving towards renewable energy for electricity generation. This is a complicated topic, however, since there are a lot of workers whose livelihood comes from the coal industry. Retraining such a large number of people for other jobs has many challenges but we shouldn’t give up on fighting for clean air AND figuring out how to help those who want and need to transition out of the coal industry at the same time.

#4: State and regional agencies should develop best practices that help reduce combustion-related pollutants from large sources (such as highways, other major roadways, ports and rail yards) near residential neighborhoods.

This one is pretty straightforward. When you visit a doctor, wouldn’t you want them to be using the absolute best practices in medicine rather random methods that are convenient and lucrative for them? Same goes here, wouldn’t you want your state to use the best practices available to limit the harmful impact of combustion-related pollutants on your health?

#5: Regional air pollution control agencies across the United States should restrict permitting new sources of combustion-related air pollutants (like highways, ports and rail yards) to be placed in close proximity to residential areas.

Basically, let’s not create new problems. There are amazing urban planners out there who can suggest city and neighborhood layouts that limits how many pollution sources are located near where people live.

#6: Expand air monitoring near locations where children spend time

Air monitoring helps us paint a much more accurate picture of what is going on with the air quality. This would help the local community understand the environment that they live in and know during which days they should stay indoors to protect themselves from poor air quality. Don’t miss our blog on how the Hoover High School environmental science research competition team built their own air monitoring device HERE!

#7-8: Expand research to (1) find strategies to mitigate exposures near large sources of combustion-related air pollution and (2) understand the effects of ultrafine particles on human health

Without research, it’s not possible to know the best approaches of how to help people who are currently living near large sources of combustion-related air pollution or to understand the effects of air quality on our health in general.

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Whew! That was a lot of information. Important, but a lot. Let’s a few deep breaths together. In through the nose, counting to four…1..2..3..4.. And out through the mouth, counting to six… 1..2..3..4..5..6.. Repeat a few more times.

‘Til next time. Wishing you joy, safety and ease.

Anna


References:
[1] https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304902

Settlement Alleges Clean Air Act Violations by Drummond’s ABC Coke

Settlement Alleges Clean Air Act Violations by Drummond’s ABC Coke

Drummond Company has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Jefferson County Board of Health (JCBH) for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at the ABC Coke in Tarrant, Ala. The consent decree, which was released on Friday, February 8, says Drummond will pay a $775,000 civil penalty for violating the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) for benzene emissions and waste, equipment leaks and fugitive emissions, and benzene waste at the coke plant. The fine will split equally between the EPA and JCBH.

This is a big deal. Benzene is a toxic chemical and known carcinogen that is emitted by major polluters like ABC Coke. We’ve been sounding the alarm about ABC Coke’s toxic pollution — including benzene — for years, including in our 2014 documentary, Toxic City: Birmingham’s Dirty Secret. (Watch the film for free at toxicbirmingham.com.) We have been fighting for stronger enforcement and environmental health protections for the residents of North Birmingham and Tarrant since day one.

How does this consent decree impact our work and frontline communities? Last year, Drummond submitted a renewal application for its Title V air pollution permit, which resulted in a public comment period as well as two public hearings at the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) last October. This enforcement action emphasizes the public health concerns Gasp has raised for years. ABC Coke’s Title V air permit renewal has yet to be finalized. JCDH next must formally propose the draft permit as final to the EPA, which will then review the permit and permit application to ensure compliance with the law.

According to nonprofit journalism website BirminghamWatch.org, JCDH plans to use half of the windfall to “benefit public health in the area that was affected by the air pollution at issue”:

“We’ll have discussions with elected officials and others in the area to figure out what kind of projects will help the environment and the public health there. We really want them to be involved in that process and help to guide us as to what they need.” —Jonathan Stanton, JCDH environmental health services director

Jefferson County Health Officer, Dr. Mark Wilson, told al.com that JCDH will ask that their share of settlement funds go toward “public health benefits for communities near the ABC Coke facility.” This is a positive development, though none of this is final yet and there are critical details that need to be sorted out.

The bottom line is that enforcement action demonstrates a clear need to strengthen ABC Coke’s permit and make sure it is significantly more protective of public health for everyone who lives and works in the area near the facility. There will be a 30-day public comment window before the consent decree becomes final.

Stay tuned — we will update you with more information about ABC Coke, this enforcement action, and the Title V permit on this blog!


NOTE: This settlement is unrelated the EPA/Superfund corruption trial last year involving former Rep. Oliver Robinson, Drummond VP David Roberson, and Balch & Bingham Attorney Joel Gilbert. You may recall that former state regulators Scott Phillips and Trey Glenn were indicted in November for alleged violations of Alabama ethics laws. Their trial will begin any day now.