Public Health and Toxics

The Health & Science of Our Bays: A Fire Island Perspective

We were proud to co-host the forum, "The Health & Science of Our Bays: A Fire Island Perspective." The public forum brought together experts from government and environmental organizations to begin a critically important discussion on water quality challenges and solutions, specifically tailored to the unique challenges of Fire Island. Background: Long Island’s water quality is in jeopardy, and the culprit is excessive nitrogen. Nitrogen pollution from outdated sewage and septic systems causes harmful algal blooms (HABs), hypoxia, beach closures, and fish and turtle die offs. HABs impair water quality and can be toxic to humans and marine life.

In Suffolk County, 360,000 homes are on septic systems and cesspools. According to a recent USGS study, 80% of septic systems on Fire Island leach effluent directly into the Great South Bay with little or no filtration due to sandy soils. Suffolk County is currently providing homeowners incentives to upgrade antiquated septic systems and cesspools to advanced, on-site wastewater treatment systems, which will reduce nitrogen entering our ground and surface waters.

Speakers included Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Carl Lobue, Ocean Program Director, The Nature Conservancy; Chris Schubert, Supervisory Hydrologist, USGS (United States Geological Survey); and John Sohngen, P.E., Principal Public Health Engineer, Suffolk County Department of Health Services (“SCDHS”), Office of Ecology. Each speaker gave a brief presentation (click on each speaker's name to see a pdf of their presentation), followed by 30 minutes of questions and answers.  Thank you to all our speakers and members of the public that made this such a productive discussion!

 

 

 

Trump Administration Attacks on the Environment are Hazardous to Americans' Health

The first 170+ days of President Trump's term as President of the United States have been marked with controversy around a plethora of issues affecting the American public -not the least of which being the obvious and unjustifiable attacks on our environment, or the relentless assertion that climate change is a hoax. Since taking office in January, President Trump has wasted little time in waging his assault on our environment.  Early in his term, Trump appointed former Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt as his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief; a man who sued the EPA more than a dozen times during the course of his career as Attorney General. It's a classic example of 'the fox watching the hen house."

The president's FY2018 budget proposal included a $2.6 billion (31%) cut to the EPA  budget, reducing the agency to funding levels to it's lowest level in 40 years (adjusted for inflation).  The proposal would eliminate more than 3,200 employees, severely diminishing the agency's ability to implement and enforce important environmental standards, review permit applications, and oversee superfund remediation sites and other environmental cleanup projects.

The president's budget also zeroes-out more than 50 geographic EPA programs, including the Long Island Sound, Great Lakes, and Hudson River Estuary programs.  These critical programs monitor water quality and implement on-the-ground projects to restore habitat and improve water quality in our nation's most vital waters.  Not only do these programs help support local economies by maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems, but they also play an important role in protecting public health.

In addition to his assault on the EPA, the president has already signed a slew of executive orders (EO's) aimed at limiting environmental protections.  These include EO's to expedite the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, abandon the Clean Power Plan that would limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants, eliminate protections for vital waterways under the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, ease restrictions on off-shore drilling including in the Arctic, allow disposal of coal sludge in rivers and streams, and several others.

By taking such aggressive action to eliminate environmental protections (without congressional approval), Trump is sending a clear message that the interests of business and industry are a priority over  public health and our environment.  Nothing embodies this dynamic better than the Trump administration's war on climate science.

Recently, EPA Director Pruitt has announced the establishment of a new task force to review and challenge climate change data at the EPA.  The task force would review inconsistencies or "vulnerabilities" in existing climate data and determine how the agency should vet and apply climate change research moving forward.  This completely undermines the peer reviewed, science-based standard that is traditionally used to weigh and verify scientific research, and it could limit the agency's ability to ensure sound scientific approaches to important environmental policy matters.

Trump ran on a platform of eliminating the EPA and removing what he deems are "unnecessary" regulatory burdens to business and industry, and so far, it seems he intends to deliver.  Unfortunately, the news media has been so focused on the controversy regarding the president's use of Twitter and swirling allegations of collusion with the Russians, that the president's actual policy agenda is sailing past voters without them even knowing it.  During times like these, it's critical that members of the public remain vigilant, they remain informed, and most importantly, they must remain active.  Now more than ever, our environment is under attack, and it's up to you to defend it.

CT Legislative Recap: Areas of Progress and Missed Opportunities in 2017

With the 2017 Connecticut legislative session behind us, it's time to reflect back on what happened this year in the realm of conservation, environmental protection, and public health.  As a whole, this session was marked with some disappointment from environmental groups and consumer advocates across a spectrum of issues, but there were some noteworthy areas of progress as well.  As always, CCE remains committed to advancing unfinished business in the future, and we will continue to advocate for our legislative priorities in 2018 and beyond. Water Protection

VICTORY: CCE worked in conjunction with CT Clean Water Action, Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, Save Our Water, and the CT League of Conservation Voters to successfully advocate for legislation that allows the public greater access to water planning information under the Freedom of Information Act. Additionally, legislation to appoint a consumer advocate to the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) board.  MDC is a municipal water authority serving 8 municipalities, including Hartford, Bloomfield, East Hartford, West Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, Windsor and Wethersfield.  It is critical that the public have increased transparency and greater input into decisions that impact our water supply.

ISSUES FOR 2018: The legislature failed to act on legislation that would protect our water supply from large water users. A proposed bill would have put mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from large water bottlers during times of drought or other water supply emergencies, and another bill would have prohibited the use of declining block rates for large volume water bottlers and other industrial users.

Toxics 

VICTORY: CCE successfully advocated for legislation that allows retail pharmacies in the state to establish programs for collecting unused and unwanted pharmaceutical drugs.  In addition, CCE supported the passage of a new law that prohibits the use of coal-tar based sealants on state and local highways.  Improperly discarded pharmaceuticals and coal-tar sealants are emerging contaminants that both have devastating impacts on marine ecosystems.

ISSUES FOR 2018: Legislation that would have established a permanent ban on the storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous fracking waste made it through the House with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, but ultimately failed to get called for a vote in the Senate before the midnight end-of-session deadline on the June 7th.  CCE was instrumental in passage of a moratorium on fracking waste in 2014, which spawned a statewide effort resulting in more than 15 local governments in CT passing local ordinances to prohibit the storage, treatment and disposal of fracking waste.

CCE also worked in 2017 to pass a bill that would have prohibited the use of recycled rubber mulch made from shredded car and truck tires on school and public playgrounds across the state.  Despite receiving favorable reports in the Children's and Planning & Development committees, the bill was never brought forward for a vote in the House.

Clean Energy

VICTORY: CCE worked in a coalition with environmental groups and consumer advocates to prevent the passage of ill-conceived legislation that would allow Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, CT to compete with Class 1 and Class 2 renewable resources for long term power-purchase agreements with the State.  CCE is proud to have defeated this legislation in 2017, which would make our state increasingly reliant on dirty nukes while further delaying progress on meeting Connecticut's clean energy goals.

ISSUES FOR 2018: Environmental advocates were deeply disappointed in the lack of progress made on clean energy policy in 2017.  From legislation that would have expanded our Renewable Portfolio Standard to bring more renewables into Connecticut, to a bill that would have repealed a hidden surcharge levied against electric customers to help subsidize the construction of oil and gas pipelines across New England, the CGA failed to make meaningful progress on a wide range of important energy issues this year.  This is especially concerning in light of Governor Malloy's recent announcement that Connecticut would be joining the U.S. Climate Alliance (a group of 12 states that have agreed to upholding our commitments under the 2015 Paris Climate Accord).

Recycling

VICTORY: CCE worked with ConnPIRG, CT League of Conservation Voters, CT Leage of Women Voters, CT Citizens Action Group, Clean Water Action and many others to successfully defend Connecticut's bottle deposit law (aka the Bottle Bill).  Ill-conceived legislation would have eliminated the 5-cent deposit on carbonated beer and soda containers and bottled water, and replace it with a non-refundable 4-cent tax on every beverage sold in the state.  Thanks to an outpouring of grassroots opposition from all parts of the state, our coalition successfully opposed this shortsighted legislation, thereby preserving one of Connecticut's most effective recycling laws!

ISSUES FOR 2018: CCE will continue to push to modernize Connecticut's Bottle Bill to include juices, teas, and other non-carbonated soft drink containers that are currently not covered by the law. The bill to accomplish this unfortunately died in the House this year, along with a bill to increase the handling fee paid to retailers and redemption center for each container they recycle under the bottle deposit.  The Bottle Bill is a proven, effective system for incentivizing recycling and keeping our beaches, parks and open spaces free of bottles and cans.

Open Space Preservation

VICTORIES: Legislation passed in 2017 to provided added transparency and opportunities to intervene in the trimming and/or removal of trees on municipal property.

ISSUES FOR 2018: Last but not least, many environmental groups are mourning the death of a Constitutional Amendment that would require transparency and public participation for any transfer of protected state lands for development or any other purpose.  An identical bill was passed in 2016, but passage is required two consecutive years in a row in order to approve any changes to our state constitution.  Unfortunately, the bill was never brought out for a vote in the senate, despite widespread bipartisan support for the bill in 2016.

Looking back on the 2017 session, it's clear that while Connecticut has made incremental progress on a number of environmental issues, but there is still much work to be done to preserve public health and the environment, protect our water supplies and open spaces, meaningfully advance our clean energy goals, and end our reliance on dirty fossil fuels.  Unfortunately, there were a number of good bills that never saw the light of day this year- this is no doubt due in part to the looming $3.5 billion dollar deficit lawmakers are grappling with currently.  It's a classic example of how the environment suffers during tough economic times, and policymakers need to understand that these issues are just as important now as they are when the state finds itself in "greener" economic pastures.  Clean air and clean water are not luxury items that can be disregarded in difficult economic times!

The failure of the Connecticut General Assembly to act on many commonsense, bipartisan efforts to protect our environment is troubling, especially when juxtaposed against Governor Malloy's recent announcement that Connecticut must remain a leader on climate change.  What our state needs now more than anything is leadership; the kind of leadership that Malloy is trying to demonstrate.  It's time for our House and Senate representatives to step up to the plate, put politics aside, and make our health and the quality of our environment a priority once again.

People's Climate March - Washington D.C. 4/29/17

It’s pre-dawn on the Jersey Turnpike.  A torrential downpour has turned it into a river.  The unrelenting storm is complete with constant, menacing flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder.  In the days prior, it has already wreaked havoc and destruction across the Midwest as the driving force behind a rash of tornadoes. By midday in D.C., the temperature has climbed all the way to 91ºF.  It is still April.

These extreme weather events could not have been more ironically timed, as CCE came together with over 200,000 people from all over the country - lead by indigenous people from all over the world - to march for action on our changing climate.  The unseasonable heat punctuated the urgent message each one of us was there to deliver directly to the White House: “Climate Change is upon us and there is no more time to waste!”

This is fact. Fifteen of the sixteen hottest years on record occurred between 2000 and 2016.  Data collected from the polar regions tells us they are warming even faster than the rest of the world. Scientists have studied fossilized life forms and Antarctic ice cores to determine that the speed at which the Earth is warming is happening much, much faster than ever before.

Sea level rise threatens coastal communities, ocean acidification and warming ocean temperatures imperil marine organisms of all types and have already contributed to the impending death of the Great Barrier Reef.  Desertification is reducing the amount of arable land available to feed our exploding population.  Unpredictable weather patterns are leading to water shortages and crop failures.

All of that can – and must – change.

But, the People’s Climate Movement is in fact more than a movement for the climate. Indeed, one of the slogans for the march proclaimed it was for “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.”  Transitioning to renewable energy offers solutions not just for climate change, but also for a range of economic and social issues facing our country.  Over 900 different organizations came together for the march.  Among them were labor unions, groups concerned with water and air quality protection, and even coal mining communities who were there to advocate for a ‘just transition’ to renewables for the workers in their hometowns. Moving our country forward toward energy independence, toward leadership in innovation and economic prosperity, toward keeping our air safe to breathe and our water safe to drink, can only happen by embracing the renewable energy future.

The good news?  It’s already happening.  Deepwater Wind flipped the switch on the first offshore wind farm in America this week, providing 100% of the power for Block Island, Rhode Island and replacing noisy, polluting, diesel-burning generators with its five turbines a few miles out.

The best part?  It will not be the last.  Advances in solar and wind technology have made them cost-competitive against fossil fuel generation. That means we don’t have to choose between clean energy and cheap energy. We have reached the point whence they have become one in the same!

We pay tremendously with our dollars, our health, and our environment to keep fossil fuels on life support.  It needs to end now. We must demand it – for the Climate, Jobs, and Justice we all deserve.

The march was a great start.  It was an absolute inspiration to see so many doing exactly what needs to be done; standing up, showing up, and speaking up for our energy policies to work in the best interest of everyone.  We must continue to demand it because (as one sign read) “Silence is Compliance”.  We have finally arrived at the precipice of a paradigm shift away from filthy fossil fuels.  We have the technology and the capability to make it happen. Exercise your rights to the fullest!  Protests.  Letters.  Petitions.  Phone Calls. ‘This is what De-mo-cra-cy looks like!’

Some quotes spotted on signs at the march:

“CLIMATE JUSTICE IS A MORAL IMPERATIVE”

“THE GREATEST THREAT TO OUR PLANET IS THE BELIEF THAT SOMEONE ELSE WILL SAVE IT”

“WE ALL NEED CLEAN AIR, WATER”

“RESPECT EXISTENCE OR EXPECT RESISTANCE”

“GREEN ENERGY --> 5 TIMES MORE JOBS THAN COAL”

Long Island Sound Day in D.C.!

3:00am—BEEP BEEP BEEP That was the sound of CCE’s staff waking up to spend the day in D.C. fighting for Long Island Sound restoration and protection funding.  We boarded the bus in the early hours of the morning with other Long Island stakeholders, including Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, Friends of the Bay, Save the Sound, Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Hempstead Harbor Coalition, Town of North Hempstead, Seatuket Harbor Protection Taskforce, The Nature Conservancy, and many more.

We met with Congressman King, Congressman Zeldin, Congressman Suozzi, Congresswoman Delauro, Congresswoman Lowey, Congressman Courtney, Senator Schumer, Senator Blumenthal, and Senator Murphy.  Everyone agreed that the Sound was important ecological and economic asset for both NY and CT.  It is an extension of our backyard.  We have made progress in restoring the Sound but more needs to be done.  The president’s misguided budget blueprint completely eliminated funding for the Sound. These crucial federal dollars are leveraged by local, state, regional and private funds to restore habitat, improve wastewater infrastructure, implement green infrastructure, and protect ecologically important wetlands--and they are making big difference for the health of the Sound.

The day was long, yet energizing, as we heard our Senators and House members committing to fight for federal restoration and protection dollars for the Sound. Shortly after our trip, Congress reached an agreement for an interim budget for FY2017 that includes $8 million for the Sound—double what it was last year.  This is a HUGE victory!

However, our work is not over yet.  The FY 2017 budget will be in place through September, and then Congress will have to pass a budget for FY 2018.  The negotiations have already begun for the 2018 budget, and we are again facing an uphill battle.  Just as we celebrate our victory for 2017, we are going back to work  to advocate for next year's budget.  Look for opportunities to get involved, starting with our online petition.

What a Week for the Great Lakes (and every one of us that depends upon them)!

After working on Great Lakes protection and restoration issues for the past 15 years, it’s hard for me to think of a time when so many accomplishments occurred in such a short period of time.  That said, last week was good week—actually, a great week. Especially when you consider that much of the work that went into these accomplishments started well over a decade ago. It’s what I’d consider winning the triple crown of Great Lakes restoration.  Here’s what was accomplished late last week… Plan 2014 for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River Enacted!  After fifty years of regulation that forced unnatural water levels and flows on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River—devastating the health of the ecosystem and degrading tens of thousands of acres of wetlands—the U.S and Canadian governments recently seized a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore the health of the lake and river by enacting “Plan 2014.” Plan 2014 is a modern, balanced water level management plan that will work with nature to restore the health of the lake and river, while continuing over 50 years of shoreline protection.  The plan will restore 64,000 acres of wetlands, which is largest wetlands restoration effort in U.S. history outside of the Florida Everglades!

If that wasn’t enough, the plan will also rebound populations of fish and wildlife such as the Northern Pike and Black Tern, provide a $5.3 million annual increase in hydroelectric power production, provide a $12 million annual increase in recreational activity along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, and continue over 50 years of significant shoreline protection.  And one more thing—the cost of implementing Plan 2014: $0.

We have to thank the 25,000+ of our members that signed petitions and wrote letters in support of Plan 2014 in the last couple years, which contributed to the 36,000 expressions of support that we—along with our coalition partners—delivered to the White House Council on Environmental Quality in D.C. this fall. We couldn’t have done it without your support!

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act passed!  We often tout the importance and success of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which has provided well over $2 billion since 2010 to fund over 3,000 restoration projects throughout the Great Lakes. The GLRI has ushered   progress in cleaning up toxic hot spots, fighting invasive species, restoring critical habitat, and so much more; yet we still have a lot more restoration work to do.

While the GLRI was funded in each federal budget since 2010, the program has never been authorized by Congress.  Without an authorization, the GLRI could be at risk from changing administrative and congressional priorities.  Authorizing the program provides greater long term certainty for restoration to continue, and allows more long-term, complex restoration work to move forward.

After advocating for an authorization since the program started several years ago, the GLRI Act was finally passed as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act  (formerly known as the Water Resources Development Act) with bipartisan support from Congress last week!  The law authorizes the GLRI for $1.5 billion over the next five years!

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding continues! As previously mentioned, the GLRI has provided well over $2 billion for more than 3,000 restoration projects since 2010.  The GLRI has been biggest boon to Great Lakes restoration in decades, helping to push forward long-awaited projects, such as the cleanup of the Buffalo River. The GLRI has provided over $100 million for 229 projects in New York State alone.  The success of the program has been dependent upon Congress continuing to fund the GLRI year after year, in order to ensure progress continues and previous investments are not wasted.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by Congress last week continued funding for the GLRI at current funding levels through April of 2017, ensuring that progress to protect and restore the lakes can continue!

We certainly couldn’t have accomplished this without a multitude of partner organizations, which have been with us every step of the way.  And very importantly, this success has been dependent upon strong and enduring support from the public.  Our members have signed petitions, written letters, spoken at public hearings, and even traveled to Albany and Washington. We thank you!

As we take time to celebrate these victories for the Great Lakes, we also recognize that our work is never done, and the New Year will certainly bring new challenges.  Although as we’ve seen time and time again, with strong support from you—the public—there is nothing we can’t accomplish.  We look forward to working with you to continue to advance Great Lakes restoration in 2017!

VICTORY in CT: Town of Hamden Chooses Natural Materials over Crumb Rubber for new High School Athletic Field

Hamden Mayor Curt Balzano Leng announced this week that the new baseball diamond at Hamden High School would be designed using cork, coconut fiber, and rice, instead of the recycled rubber infill originally approved by the Town Council.  The decision came after months of deliberation, in which the Mayor's office consulted with CCE, researchers from Yale University, and industry experts about the potential health hazards associated with children's exposure to crumb rubber. The rubber used in synthetic turf is typically made from recycled car and truck tires, meaning it can contain a variety of hazardous materials, including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOC's), and polyciclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's).  Researchers have also found as many as 12 known human carcinogens in the rubber, which may actually put certain athletes at an elevated risk of cancer.  Additionally, the surface of these fields can reach as high as 60-70 degrees hotter than ambient temperatures, creating an unsafe playing environment on hot summer days.  Despite this growing body of evidence, the CT Department of Public Health has repeatedly dismissed any data suggesting that artificial fields made with crumb rubber are unsafe for use by children, and has refused to restrict or regulate its use in any way.

The decision to move forward with a non-toxic alternative represents an important victory for Hamden families, and it is one that CCE is proud to endorse.  It's an acknowledgement on the part of town officials that the potential health hazards associated with the chemical constituents in crumb rubber present an unacceptable risk to the health of our children, and it takes a precautionary approach that other communities should follow.  We applaud Mayor Leng for his leadership and commitment to protecting children's health in the Town of Hamden, and urge other communities to err on the side of caution when it comes to using crumb rubber where our children play.

 

Industry Decisions Matter

Industry decisions matter.  So when Ortho, a division of Scotts, voluntarily decided to phase out the controversial class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids (a.k.a. neonics) in order to save bees, we were hopeful that other companies would follow their lead.   Neonicotinoids are a relatively new class of insecticides that affect the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. They include imidacloprid, which has been implicated in killing bees and pollinators.  But instead of other companies acting responsibly, they have gone into defense mode.   Bayer put out a blog mocking Ortho for their bold action.  Bayer stated “With hundreds of studies conducted, we know more about neonics and bees than any other pesticide, and new research continues to confirm their safe use around bees when used according to the label.”  Well, that’s simply a lie. Here’s a quote from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about their assessment released in January 2016, “EPA’s assessment, prepared in collaboration with California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, indicates that imidacloprid potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators…The preliminary risk assessment identified a residue level for imidacloprid of 25 ppb, which sets a threshold above which effects on pollinator hives are likely to be seen, and at that level and below which effects are unlikely. These effects include decreases in pollinators as well as less honey produced.”

This means EPA’s analysis of detailed tests found that a specific concentration of the pesticide imidacloprid adversely impacts bees. If nectar brought back to the hive from worker bees had more than 25 parts per billion of the chemical, "there's a significant effect," namely fewer bees, less honey and "a less robust hive," said Jim Jones, EPA's assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention.

So here’s a radical idea, Bayer should stop lying and start phasing out neonics just like Scotts and Ortho did.  We need honey bees and pollinators, more than Bayer needs toxic pesticides to make money.  They can change their products.  We cannot change our global ecosystem and the role of bees in our food supply.

 

2016 Connecticut Post-Session Legislative Recap

Wednesday, May 4th marked the last day of the 2016 regular legislative session in Connecticut.  It was a difficult year for many in our state, as deep cuts to critical government programs are being implemented across virtually every sector.  Over the last few weeks, we've seen the executive and legislative branches clashing repeatedly over budget negotiations in an effort to mitigate a projected $900 million deficit in FY 2017.  The final budget agreement will be finalized and voted on this coming Thursday, May 12, when the entire CT General Assembly will return for a special budget session. While we will not know the extent of the cuts and how they will impact Connecticut's health and environment for another week, there were some significant legislative victories this year to celebrate!  Victories include:

  • Passage of first of its kind legislation to protect pollinator's health by restricting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to bees and other pollinators. The law also establishes a pollinator health task force to study the decline of pollinators in Connecticut and take steps to promote and develop pollinator-friendly habitat.

  • Legislation to reduce the amount of unnecessary and wasteful consumer-based packaging used in manufacturing every day consumer goods.

  • The legislature approved $6 million in virtual net metering credits for municipalities seeking to increase clean solar development in their communities.

  • New legislation to require greater transparency and oversight during the removal of trees on private property.

There were a number of good environmental bills that unfortunately did not get a vote before the midnight end-of-session deadline.  Important legislation that did not pass in 2016 included a bill that would eliminate toxic flame retardants in children's products and household furniture, legislation to reduce pollution from single-use disposable shopping bags, and a resolution to enact a referendum vote on a constitutional amendment to preserve State-owned lands (the resolution passed the Senate and House but unfortunately did not receive the two-thirds vote needed in the House to put the amendment on the ballot for a vote this November).

These losses came as a disappointment to many advocates and members of the public who fought hard for these pro-environment measures in 2016, but the bills also garnered a growing body of bipartisan support that advocates hope to build on in 2017.

CCE would like to extend a special thanks to Rep. James Albis, Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, Rep. Diana Urban,  Sen. Beth Bye, Rep. Phil Miller, Sen. Bob Duff, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, Rep. Roberta Willis, Rep. Mary Mushinsky, Sen. Clark Chapin, Rep. John Shaban, Rep. Kim Rose, Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, Rep. Russ Morin, Rep. Michael D'Agostino, Rep. Joe Gresko, Sen. Tony Hwang, Rep. Jon Steinberg, Rep. Fred Camillo, Rep. Roland Lemar, Rep. Matt Lesser, Rep. John Hampton, Sen. Joe Markley, and the countless others who worked tirelessly on these critical environmental issues in 2016.  We appreciate your efforts and look forward to working with you to continue fighting for Connecticut's environment during next year's CT legislative session!

New Dredged Material Management Plan for LIS Is a Betrayal of Public Trust

In 2005, the Governors of New York and Connecticut signed a bi-state agreement to end the antiquated practice of disposing untreated dredged materials in Long Island Sound.  This was done with an understanding that a healthy Sound is critical to the health of our economy and our maritime culture.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency were parties to that agreement, and they put into motion a 10 year, $7 million process to develop a Dredged Materials Management Plan (DMMP) that would phase out open water dumping in favor of environmentally safe and sustainable beneficial reuse practices. Earlier this week the Army Corps released the final DMMP for Long Island Sound, but instead of creating a framework to reuse dredged materials in beneficial ways, the Army Corps delivered a "business as usual" plan to continue using LIS as a landfill for the next 30 years or longer.  Surprisingly, many in Connecticut's State Government endorsed the plan without carefully examining the potential environmental impacts, or demanding more in the way of beneficial use alternatives.  Now there is no way to stop the dumping, unless the State of New York steps in to challenge the plan.

The final DMMP makes no meaningful assessment of beneficial reuse opportunities, nor does it factor in impacts to the environment as part of it's cost-benefit analysis.  The document actually extends the lifespan of the two existing LIS dump sites, while recommending that two previously decommissioned open water dump sites be reopened.  The plan completely fails to meet the mandate laid out by the 2005 agreement and is a massive let-down to many in the Long Island Sound community.

Worst of all, the Army Corps blatantly ignored the voices of thousands of members of the public who attended hearings, signed petitions and wrote letters during the public comment period opposing the plan.  They created the illusion of a transparent process- one with meaningful opportunities for public participation.  Once the comment period was over, the Army Corps disregarded the public comments and went right for the cheapest and easiest way to dispose of these "wastes".

The truth is that the community understands and values the health of Long Island Sound, and most people want the Army Corps of Engineers to find the best and most sustainable use for those sediments.  It's about looking at dredged sediment as a resource and not a waste product, but the Army Corps has shown that they are unwilling to do that.  Unfortunately, the State of Connecticut doesn't seem to mind.  Perhaps they honestly think that they can dump 25 million+ cubic yards of material into the sound without damaging the sensitive ecosystems it supports.  Whatever the case may be, they've broken their promise to the Long Island Sound community and have betrayed the public trust.

 

Cuomo Brings Great Hope for NY's Environment in 2016

While 2016 is less than a week old, Governor Cuomo has given us good reason to be optimistic about the year ahead. As part of Governor Cuomo's 2016 agenda, he recently proposed some critical initiatives to bolster New York's environmental legacy... Increase the NYS Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to $300 million: No matter who you are or where you live in New York, the EPF has improved your quality of life.  From Buffalo to Long Island, the EPF has been responsible for protecting clean water, improving air quality, creating jobs, conserving open space, saving family farms, bolstering recycling programs, revitalizing waterfronts, building community parks, enhancing zoos, driving economic development, and so much more.

Prior to the nation’s economic recession, the New York State Legislature passed legislation to mandate a $300 million EPF by 2009.  Unfortunately, the promise was never fulfilled as EPF funding was cut significantly during the recession and has yet to recover.  While the EPF has seen modest increases in recent years, environmental needs continue to outpace available resources.  The EPF currently sits at $177 million.  Governor Cuomo's proposed $300 million EPF would be a $123 million increase, and put the EPF at an all-time high.  We want to thank the thousands of our members that have signed petitions and written letters calling for a fully-funded $300 million EPF over the past few months--this would not have happened without you!

Increase Funding for Clean Water Infrastructure: Aging and failing sewage treatment plants discharge raw sewage into local waterways, jeopardizing human health, closing beaches, harming fish and wildlife, and damaging local economies. Drinking water infrastructure is also in a state of constant disrepair, with communities facing ever-increasing water main breaks every year and numerous “boil water advisories” due to contaminated drinking water.

Last year, the Governor and Legislature agreed to provide $200 million over three years to help upgrade failing wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.  To build on this, Governor Cuomo has proposed to provide an additional $100 million over the next two years.  Given that New York needs over $70 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade aging sewage and drinking water infrastructure, increased investment is welcome news!

Confirm Commitment to Fund the Bay Park Outfall Pipe on Long Island: Long Islanders asked for an ocean outfall pipe for the Bay Park Sewage treatment plant for Christmas, and Governor Cuomo has delivered! The plant currently discharges sewage into the Western Bays and contributes to low dissolved oxygen levels, harmful algal blooms, and depleted fisheries on the south shore.  A significant state commitment to fund the ocean outfall pipe guarantees that this project will move forward.  That’s a win for our community, our bays, and our ocean.

Confirm Commitment to Address Nitrogen on Long Island:  Septic systems across Suffolk County discharge excess nitrogen, which contaminates groundwater, degrades ecosystems, and threatens public health.  Governor Cuomo has confirmed his commitment to ensure funding for an initiative to connect nearly 10,000 Suffolk County households currently on septic systems to state-of-the-art sewer systems.

CCE will be working hard during the upcoming legislative session to ensure that these proposals are enacted.  Be on the look out for ways you can help!

 

Connecticut Legislature Approves Ban on Plastic Microbeads in Personal Care Products, Pesticides on Town Playgrounds

The 2015 Connecticut Legislative Session has officially come to a close, and CCE members in Connecticut are celebrating two important, last-minute victories for clean water and a healthy environment. The first is a bill that phases out and ultimately prohibits the sale of personal care products that contain plastic microbeads.  These are tiny plastic particles that are used as an additive in more than 100 different products on the market today.  These products include facial scrubs, soaps, cosmetics, and even toothpastes.

The bill would require manufacturers to discontinue the use of these microbeads in favor of safe, biodegradable alternatives that are already on the market.  Certain manufacturers of personal care products have already agreed to phase out the use of microbeads over time.  Unfortunately, many more remain unresponsive to the problem.  While other states have passed bans on plastic microbeads, those laws include loopholes that allow the microbead problem to persist.  The new law passed in Connecticut is the strongest in the nation and will help "raise the bar" on this issue nationally, and stands as a model for other states to follow.

CCE generated more than 4,500 letters to key elected officials and collected over 10,500 signatures in support of eliminating plastic microbeads in products that are available for sale in our state.  Ultimately, the bill passed with unanimous bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, and it was included in the budget implementer bill that was passed during the special session held in late June and early July.

Another significant win came in the form of a law that prohibits the non-emergency application of toxic pesticides on town playgrounds.  It also improves the existing parents' notification system to alert families whenever pesticides are scheduled to be applied on school grounds.  The law is the product of ongoing negotiations in the legislature, and it expands upon laws passed in 2005 and 2009 aimed at protecting children's health by eliminating pesticides on K-8 school athletic fields and daycare facilities.

These victories come as a pleasant surprise to environmentalists and public health activists who had all but given up hope on these important issues after the clock ran out on the regular legislative session on June 3.  More importantly, they are a testament to the power of grassroots advocacy and a shining example of what is possible when members of the public are educated and vocal about their concerns.

CCE would like to applaud Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., Rep. James Albis, Rep. John Shaban, Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, Rep. Diana Urban, Rep. Andy Fleischmann, and Rep. Terry Backer for their leadership and continued commitment to these important issues, and extend a special thanks to Senate President Martin Looney, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz for agreeing to address them during the special legislative session.

How to Avoid Plastic Microbeads: Ban Them!

Ever since I heard about Dr. Sherri Mason’s research on plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes, I’ve become very concerned, some say obsessed, with the issue of microbeads. The fixation began in my own house, where I found toothpastes, facial scrubs, and hand soaps with microbeads. My wife and I threw them all away, and vowed never to allow one of these products in our house again.   Within almost no time at all, we failed. On a couple of occasions, microbeads deviously snuck their way into our home. We won a gift basket with liquid hand soaps that contained microbeads.  I quickly noticed what it was and chucked it. After a dentist appointment for my daughters, the “goodie” bag they brought home had toothpaste with microbeads. An odd choice for a dentist, since the beads are being found lodged in gums and cavities, posing a potential threat for infection.  Regardless, we threw them out, educated the dentist, and moved on.

The most recent invasion of microbeads into my home was today.  My wife was at the store with my daughters shopping for a number of things, including toothpaste.  They were out of the natural stuff that we usually buy and the kids think is gross, so our girls were excited to get something else this time.  They quickly noticed a box of “Frozen” toothpaste.  Put Anna and Elsa on anything, even something without sugar, and my kids will want to buy it.  So it was a no-brainer; they had found what they wanted and threw it in the basket.

Not seeing a picture of sparkly toothpaste (aka toothpaste laden with plastic strictly for aesthetic purposes) on the box, my wife never noticed that the toothpaste had microbeads.  When they arrived home, my four-year-old could not wait to brush her teeth. She walked over to me holding the box and was smiling from ear to ear.  I took a quick look at the inert ingredients, and noticed what I had dreaded, polyethylene. Like the mean Dad that I am, I informed my daughter that this would pollute our lakes, and we could not use the toothpaste.  As expected, it didn’t go well, and this is what the box looks like after we wrestled over it:

Frozen toothpaste

Frozen toothpaste

Aside from just sharing my personal failures and telling everyone I made my four-year-old cry today, I mention these stories for a reason.  As someone that has worked on this issue for two years, doing countless hours of research, writing fact sheets, and advocating for policies to ban plastic microbeads, I consider myself somewhat educated on this issue.  Yet, microbeads have made their way into my home. Being an educated consumer is extremely important, but it is not enough to solve the problem of plastic microbead pollution once and for all.  For that, we need a legislative ban.

Legislation to ban plastic microbeads in personal care products passed the New York Assembly with near unanimous support in April. The same bill has been introduced in the Senate, and now has 37 cosponsors. Only 32 votes are needed for the bill to pass, making this a sure-thing if Senate leadership allows a vote.    As of now, there are only a few days left before the end of the legislative session.  Help us get this critical, no-brainer legislation over the finish line by emailing legislative leaders and demanding a vote before session comes to an end.

CT Legislative Update and Perspectives on Environmental Advocacy in the New Year

Connecticut has historically been a nationwide leader on environmental protection and public health issues, and activists in Hartford are working to make this another important year for our state.  The 2015 Connecticut legislative session has been underway for just over a month and state legislators have already raised a over a dozen important pro-environment bills to be debated and considered for passage this year. In addition, legislators now in leadership positions in the House and Senate (as well as in several key committees) have made environmental issues a priority in the past, and many have promised to stay true to their commitments in 2015.  Advocates are encouraged and hopeful to see a strong showing of bi-partisan support for legislation designed to protect public health and enrich our quality of life in the Nutmeg State.

Some highlights of legislation being considered this year include:

  • Protecting our waterways by eliminating plastic microbeads from personal care products;

  • Expanding Connecticut's Child-Safe Playing fields law to eliminate toxic pesticides on public parks and high school athletic fields;

  • Putting a 10-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic shopping bags at the checkout counter;

  • Expanding CT's bottle-deposit law to include single serving juices, teas, sports and energy drinks; and

  • Lifting the cap on using federal funds to purchase open space.

Another highlight is the recent announcement that Governor Malloy has formally endorsed legislation that would create a Long Island Sound Blue Plan and Inventory.  The Blue Plan would be a master planning document that would allow the state to map out all of the various features and existing infrastructure in the Sound, to ensure that new development proposals are consistent with the values and existing uses of the Sound.  The bill is similar to legislation that was introduced in 2014, but did not pass as time ran out on the session before this bill could be called for a vote in the House of Representatives.  By designating it as a Governor's bill, Gov. Malloy will help elevate the likelihood that this bill will get voted on in a timely manner.  CCE is pleased to see this legislation being re-introduced and applauds Governor Malloy for making it a priority of his administration.

Of course, not all of these forward-thinking environmental and public health initiatives will pass this year.  Many will face vigorous opposition from industry groups that  view these proposals merely as burdensome and unnecessary regulations that will cut into corporate profits, despite the fact that they will provide significant environmental, health, and economic benefits to Connecticut.

In addition, environmental groups frequently find themselves working to advance legislation aimed at protecting the environment, while simultaneously having to remain on guard for legislative proposals that would be decidedly less "eco-friendly."  Every year, dozens of bad bill and rats (dangerously worded amendments that are added onto bills, often at the last minute, to weaken them or repeal parts of existing laws) emerge in the legislature in an attempt to limit or eliminate environmental protections.  CCE continues to remain vigilant in monitoring the House and Senate for environmentally harmful legislation, and will be sure to notify policy makers and the public if this occurs.

For now, there is much to be hopeful for in the realm of environmental protection in our State.  CCE is hard at work at the state house, organizing around any number of initiatives that would make Connecticut a cleaner, healthier place to live.  But with months remaining in the 2015 legislative session, only time will tell what kind of advancements the environmental community will be able to accomplish in Connecticut this year.

A Game Changer for Drug-Free Waters

Americans are using more pharmaceutical drugs than ever before.  About half of all Americans take at least one prescription drug each month, and 10% take more than four.   In 2013, more than 3.9 billion prescriptions were filled at pharmacies in the United States.   Americans may be prescribed a whole lot of drugs, but we certainly don't use them all.  So what are we to do with all the unused, unwanted, or expired drugs that remain in our medicine cabinets? Federal Law: A Barrier to Safe Disposal of Unused Drugs

More than 40 years ago, President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, which essentially provided the public with two options for their unused drugs: surrender them to law enforcement  or dispose of them yourself.  Even pharmacies, which dispense significant amounts of pharmaceutical drugs, are prohibited from taking unused drugs back without law enforcement present.  Therefore, the best option for safe disposal has been take-back days held by the DEA and local law enforcement.  In the past four years, these events have removed 4.1 million pounds of prescription medications from circulation in the US.  CCE supports these events and encourage the public to participate.  However, given the sheer amount of pharmaceutical drugs out there, these events don't even scratch the surface of the problem.  Take-back days only occur a couple of times per year, and are inaccessible to many people.  While some police precincts are also housing permanent drop boxes for unused drugs, safe disposal remains inaccessible to many. The result: drugs are stockpiled in medicine cabinets, drugs are abused, or they are flushed.

An Emerging Environmental Threat

This gets me to the point of why an environmental organization is so concerned about pharmaceutical drugs.   For decades, the recommendation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others was to flush your unused drugs, despite the fact that sewage treatment plants, septic systems, and drinking water infrastructure were never designed to remove these contaminants.   While flushing is no longer recommended, it remains a common disposal practice by many residents and in many hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Scientific studies are now demonstrating that all of this flushing of drugs is polluting our waterways.  National studies have found trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs in drinking water supplies of 41 million Americans. A study conducted by the USGS found low levels of drugs such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids in 80% of the rivers and streams tested. Throughout New York State and Connecticut, water sources have tested positive for trace amounts of heart medicines, antibiotics, estrogen, mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, and more.

The effects of constant, low-level exposure of various pharmaceuticals on humans are uncertain, and more research is needed. Possible health concerns include hormone disruption, antibiotic resistance, and synergistic effects.

While the health effects on humans have not yet been proven, pharmaceutical drug contamination has been proven to adversely impact fish and aquatic life.  For example, studies have shown male fish have been feminized (produced eggs) when exposed to hormones (birth control pills). Other drugs, such as anti-depressants and beta-blockers, reduce fertility or affect spawning in certain aquatic organisms.

Congress Takes Action

With the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse and the environmental impact of flushing, Congress recognized the need to provide the public with greater access to safe disposal options for their unused or expired drugs. The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 was passed into law to encourage voluntary drug take-back programs, beyond just take back days held with law enforcement.

The law required the DEA to develop implementing regulations, which didn't happen overnight.  CCE, along with leaders such as Senator Schumer, worked for years to urge the DEA to move forward with their regulations.  Finally, after four years, just this week the DEA announced that they had finalized their regulations, which will go into effect in October of 2014.

A Game Changer for Safe Disposal

Release of the long-awaited regulations is a game changer -- the biggest step yet to provide the public with greater access to safe disposal options. The biggest barrier to safe disposal of pharmaceutical drugs by the public has been a lack of access to safe disposal options.    The new regulations help to overcome this barrier by allowing pharmacies to finally take back unused pharmaceutical drugs--whether it be a secure lock-box at the pharmacy or the option to mail back unused drugs  in an envelope.  What could be easier than allowing the public to return drugs to the very same place that they get them--right in their neighborhood pharmacy?  Pharmacies at hospitals and heath care facilities will also be able to take back unused drugs.  This is critical since many health care facilities, which obviously have a large amount of pharmaceuticals on site, still flush controlled substances as a common disposal practice.

Next Steps

As we celebrate the release of these regulations, we are reminded that our work is never done.  While the regulations allow pharmacies to take back unused drugs, it is merely voluntary.  We must ensure that pharmacies step up and provide this critical public service to our communities.  While CCE will be reaching out to pharmacies directly, we also need your help.  Next time you stop in to your local pharmacy, encourage them to participate and provide pharmaceutical take-back for its customers.  We can keep dangerous prescription drugs out of the hands of abusers and out of our waterways with easy, safe disposal options!