Starting January first, the U.S. will let farms and certain
other businesses use more of the pesticide methyl bromide. But
environmentalists may go to court over the issue. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Starting January 1st, the U.S. will let farms and certain other businesses use more
of the pesticide
methyl bromide. But environmentalists may go to court on the issue. The Great
Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Methyl bromide is used to sterilize soil before planting and to fight invasive
insects that come
into the U.S. on wooden pallets. But scientists say emissions of methyl bromide
harm the ozone
layer. In the 1980s, the U.S. agreed to phase out use of the compound, except for
where there are no feasible alternatives.
Methyl bromide use is only a third of what it was in 1991. But the Bush
administration wants to
let that figure rise to 37 percent this coming year. David Doniger is with the
Defense Council. He says he doubts whether more methyl bromide is needed.
“The problem is the critical use exemptions have mushroomed… way out of control.
The U.S. has agreed to reduce use of methyl bromide in 2006… but critics say that
promise may not be kept. The NRDC says it’s likely to challenge the 2005 plan in
Indiana company is one of the nation’s largest suppliers of methyl bromide.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering
extending the use of a pesticide that the agency once decided was
not safe around children. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lester Graham reports:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering extending the use of a
the agency once decided was not safe around children. The Great Lakes Radio
Lester Graham reports:
The pesticide Dursban is sprayed on the ground during construction to protect new
termites. Four years ago, the EPA and Dow had agreed to phase out that use of the
the end of this year. Exposure to children was considered risky. Now, the EPA is
considering lifting the ban. Jay Feldman heads up the environmental group Beyond
Feldman says this would be like testing the safety of Dursban on humans without their
“They really should stop production, then stop use, do all the studies they want to
do with full
public disclosure and then revisit the issue. Not retain the use, allow people
unknowingly to be
exposed and then obviously put children at serious risk.”
In a report in The Washington Post, a Dow spokesperson indicated using new EPA
computer modeling, Dursban now “falls within an acceptable range” of federal
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
PVC is used in many building materials, including pipes like these. However, due to health problems that can be caused by PVC and the emissions created in production, the expansion of a PVC plant along Lake Erie is worrisome to some environmentalists. (photo by Jason
A new PVC manufacturing plant is being built in the region,
and that has some environmental groups alarmed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak reports on efforts to halt production of polyvinyl chloride:
A new PVC manufacturing plant is being built in the region, and that has some environmental groups alarmed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, Joyce Kryszak reports on efforts to halt production of polyvinyl chloride:
Environmental groups are protesting the construction of a new PVC plant near Buffalo. They say manufacturing PVC releases toxic chemicals into the environment. The group recently released a report highlighting the dangers of PVC and are calling on companies to phase out production of the popular manufacturing material. Mike Schade heads the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition in western New York. The region is home to CertainTeed, a PVC plant that will soon expand to a site along Lake Erie. Schade says it’s a step backward.
“I think it’s outrageous that, given the fact the Great Lakes have seen so many environmental problems, that CertainTeed is coming in and citing a PVC plant right on the lake,” said Schade, “It certainly isn’t my vision for a clean and safe and healthy waterfront.”
Schade says residents near other Certain Teed plants show increased levels of cancer and other serious disease. But company spokesperson Dottie Wackerman disputed the claims. And she says the company’s new plant will have virtually no emissions.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.
Meredith Buhalis and her daughter Zoe. Meredith's breast milk was tested for PBDEs as part of a study by the Environmental Working Group. (Photo by Meredith Buhalis)
Couch cushions often have PBDEs in them... (Photo by Nicholas Sales)
...and so do TVs. Are there any health effects from being surrounded by these chemicals? (Photo by Craig Young)
Flame retardant chemicals help make our lives safer.
The chemicals are designed to keep plastics and foam from
catching on fire, but the flame retardants are worrying some
scientists because these chemicals are turning up in people’s
bodies, sometimes at alarmingly high rates. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
Flame retardant chemicals help make our lives safer. The chemicals are designed
to keep plastics and foam from catching on fire. But the flame retardants are
beginning to worry some scientists because these chemicals are turning up in
peoples’ bodies. Sometimes at alarmingly high rates. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:
If you take a look around your house, you can find a lot of things that have
flame retardant chemicals in them. They’re in your television set, the cushions
in your couch, and the padding underneath your carpet. They’re known as poly-bromiated-diphenyl
ethers, or PBDEs. And they’re either mixed in or sprayed on plastics and foam to keep a fire
Five years ago a Swedish study found these chemicals were accumulating in women’s breast
milk. Studies in the U.S. followed, and researchers also found PBDEs in Americans, but at
even higher levels. In fact, Americans have some of the highest levels ever measured. And
over time, the levels have been going up.
(sound of baby)
Meredith Buhalis was one of those people measured in a study by an envrionmental organization
called the Environmental Working Group. Buhalis and 20 other first time moms sent in samples
of their breast milk. When the samples were tested, all of them had some level of PBDEs in
them. Buhalis says when she read the results she didn’t know what to think.
“I guess I kind of read the results and the study was like, ‘Oh, well that sort of sucks.’
I wish I knew more about what that meant. ‘Cause I don’t. You know, they don’t know what
Scientists don’t know how or if the chemicals affect human health. And some scientists
think the government and the chemical companies aren’t doing enough to look into PBDEs.
(sound of typing)
In his office at the University of Texas in Dallas, Dr. Arnold Schecter is working on an
article about the flame retardants. He’s been studying toxic chemicals for more than thirty
years. He and some of his colleagues think PBDEs are a lot like another type of chemical…
“It reminds us of PCBs. PCBs structurally are similar to the PBDEs. So there is the worry,
or the concern, that they may have many, if not all, the toxic effect that PCBs have on humans.”
So far the data on PCBs strongly suggest that the chemicals can cause cancer in humans as
well as other human health effects such as damage to the nervous and immune systems. The
companies that manufacture the flame retardants say it’s not fair to compare PBDEs with
PCBs. They say the chemicals are vastly different.
But no one really knows whether the chemicals are similar in the way they affect human
health. That’s because no one’s studied the human health effects of PBDEs.
“Unfortunately, there are no published human health studies and I don’t believe any have
been funded by the federal government to date. Nor by industry, nor by any foundations,
which is a bit different than the situation with PCBs and dioxins years ago when many
studies were being funded.”
Some animal studies suggest that the chemicals can permanently disrupt the hormone and
nervous systems, cause reproductive and developmental damage, and cause cancer. All that
makes scientists such as Dr. Schecter especially concerned about the most vulnerable
population – developing babies.
Because of the concerns, the biggest manufacturer of these chemicals in the U.S. has agreed
to stop making two of the PBDE formulations that were found to accumulate in people. Great
Lakes Chemical says production will stop by the end of this year. The chemicals will be
replaced with another type of brominated flame retardant.
The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum is a trade group that represents companies
that make the flame retardants. Peter O’Toole is the group’s U.S. Director. He says so
far the amount of chemicals found in people doesn’t concern the companies, but the upward
“And again, it wasn’t of alarming numbers, but the manufacturer was concerned that these
numbers were going up nonetheless. And they thought it was prudent, and they talked to the
EPA and EPA thought it was prudent if there was some sort of mutual phase out of those materials.”
Dr. Schecter says he commends the company for taking this step. But he says even though these
two formulations will be phased out, the flame retardants are already in our environment now.
He says his research has found high levels of PBDEs by wiping the plastic casing on television
sets, and in the dust found in homes. He says what’s in our homes now isn’t going to vanish,
so we need to figure out how the chemicals get into us, so we can avoid potential health problems.
For its part, the U.S. Envrionmental Protection Agency says large-scale human health studies
take a long time to develop. An agency spokesperson says the EPA first needs to learn how a
person becomes highly exposed. After that, they say researchers will be able to ask the question,
“for the highly exposed people, are there any health effects?”
(sound of baby)
That leaves people such as Meredith Buhalis, with a lot more questions than answers.
“We are thinking of having another baby, and I think I would really like to know more about
PBDEs. I think about it when I think about that.” (to her daughter) “Oh thank you. Hi, baby.
The Federal government doesn’t plan to regulate the chemicals anytime soon. But some states
aren’t waiting for more studies. A handful of states have placed restrictions on certain
types of PBDEs. And in other states, legislation is pending.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
New research shows that chemicals used to repel food, stains, and water are sticking just about everywhere else in the environment. They were recently found in the Great Lakes. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports, their discovery was not a surprise:
New research shows that chemicals used to repel food, stains, and water are
sticking just about everywhere else in the environment. They were recently found
in the Great Lakes. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett
reports, their discovery was not a surprise:
The chemicals are called perfluoronated compounds. They’re used in products
like Teflon, Scotchgard, and Gore-Tex. They’ve been detected in animals from
Arctic polar bears to seals and birds in the Baltic.
Matt Simcik is a researcher at the University of Minnesota. His studies turned up
the chemicals in lake trout from all five Great Lakes. Simcik says a likely source
for the contaminants is wastewater treatment plants.
“Because these chemicals are used in everyday use – textiles and carpets and
things. And when you wash your clothes, or wash your carpet, that water gets
into the waste system, and eventually ends up in the lake.”
The effects of the chemicals on humans is the subject of intense debate – but at
high exposures they’ve been linked to problems including birth defects and
One of the two known chemicals has been phased out of use. Federal regulators
are looking at the other to determine whether it should be restricted as well.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.