California Investigates Skin-Lighteners for Dangerous Mercury

By Ngoc Nguyen
New America Media

There could be a dark side to skin-lightening creams often found in stores that cater to ethnic communities.

Starting next week, California health officials will collect and test a sampling of skin-lightening products in the Bay Area for possible mercury contamination. Health officials launched the investigation in response to a spate of mercury poisoning cases linked to the tainted face creams that are made outside the United States.

A handful of cases emerged in the mid ‘90s, but it was a 2010 case involving a 39-year-old Latina and her family in Alameda County that spurred the state to action.

Coordinators of a health study found the East Bay resident with dangerously-high mercury levels, and notified state health officials.

Methyl Iodide on Trial: Bad for Public Health, Food Security, Worker Safety and the Environment

By Jora Trang

Today, a lawsuit filed in December 2010 by Earthjustice and California Rural Legal Assistance - on behalf of several farmworkers and a number of activist groups, including Worksafe, Inc., against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and Arysta LifeScience – heads back to court. At issue is the approval of methyl iodide for agricultural use here in California.

Methyl iodide is a particularly nasty carcinogen. Fifty-four eminent scientists, including six Nobel Laureates in Chemistry, called it “one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing” and questioned the wisdom of U.S. EPA’s approval of the chemical in the first place. It poses the most direct risks to farmworkers, particularly young workers, and neighboring communities; a team of independent scientists determined that it would likely result in exposures far above levels of concern, unless the size of spray buffer zones was “several hundred feet to several miles.”

The Chemical Industry’s Money to Burn

By Liza Gross
Environmental Health News

Facing growing concerns over the health risks of flame retardants in household products, the chemical industry spent at least $23.2 million over the past five years to lobby California officials and donate to campaigns in a successful effort to defeat legislation. During that time, five bills that would have regulated the ubiquitous chemicals failed to pass the California Legislature. The four top recipients of industry's donations, three Democrats and one Republican, never voted in favor of any of the bills. Two of them were members of a committee that rejected the bills.

A five-month investigation by Environmental Health News revealed an infusion of chemical industry cash into California that has global implications. During the five years of lobbying, the flame retardants have been building up in people's bodies, including breast milk, around the world.

Study Maps Pollution Hotspots in CA's San Joaquin Valley

By Ngoc Nguyen
New America Media

It’s well known that California’s San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air quality in the nation. A new study finds that the impacts of pollution are not felt uniformly across the region, but instead are clustered in urban centers and isolated rural towns.

Researchers at UC Davis used public records to map pollution sources such as hazardous waste facilities, refineries and areas under intense pesticide applications, and they overlay that data with demographic information, including poverty level, education, race/ethnicity and age.

Methyl Iodide Approved Under Industry Pressure

By Heather Pritchard

Methyl Iodide was approved almost a year ago by the State of California to be used in the production of numerous crops – most notably Strawberries.  The decision has been controversial from the outset as evidenced by numerous state and national organizations requesting that California reconsider its decision, a lawsuit challenging the state’s approval filed by a coalition of farmworkers, community advocates and environmental health organizations, and a letter signed by 35 California legislators urging the EPA to ban the toxic pesticide all together because it is a known carcinogen, thyroid toxicant, and used to cause cancer in the laboratory.

California Waters Showing Toxicity Increase 170%

By Dan Bacher

California has a “green” reputation throughout the country, but this reputation is largely undeserved when one considers the fact that the number of California rivers, lakes and coastal waters showing toxicity has increased dramatically since 2006, as exposed in a list of polluted waterways released today.

The alarming list, submitted by the state of California to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and finalized by the agency on October 11, reveals that more of California’s waterways are impaired than previously known. Increased water monitoring data shows the number of rivers, streams and lakes in California exhibiting overall toxicity have increased 170 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to Nahal Mogharabi, spokesman for the California EPA, in a news release.

Time for EPA to Get Moving on Risks of Drinking Water Contaminants

By Gina Solomon
Natural Resources Defense Council

Anyone who saw the famous movie Erin Brockovich is familiar with hexavalent chromium, or 'hex chrome'; it's the carcinogen that polluted the town water supply in Hinkley, California and triggered the David vs. Goliath fight between sick community members (aided by Erin Brockovich), and PG&E, the polluter.

The real fight raged long after Hollywood moved on to other blockbusters. The list of corporations that are responsible for the nearly 700 toxic waste sites with chromium contamination reads like a Who’s Who of the rich and powerful, including military and military contractors, pesticide companies, leather, plating, utilities, and chemical companies.

Students, Teachers Push to Halt Methyl Iodide Use in California Farms

By Li Miao Lovett
New America Media

Sal Lua remembers the reactions he and his fellow Brown Berets encountered when they first spoke out against methyl iodide at the Watsonville City Council meeting last December. “They were surprised that someone this young would go to the City Council,” he said.

The council later passed a resolution against the fumigant, but the students’ elation was short-lived. The next day, methyl iodide was approved for use by California’s State Department of Pesticide Regulation, which overrode the findings of the agency’s own scientists. While many Brown Berets, a Chicano activist group dating back to the 1960s, lost their enthusiasm upon graduating from high school, activists like Lua and his teachers continue the David vs. Goliath battle to reverse the approval.

Industry’s Last Gasp Efforts to Stop Regulation of Toxic Chemical

By Bill Allayaud
Environmental Working Group

Health advocates are waiting to see if Governor Brown will sign Assemblymember Betsy Butler’s AB 1319 that would ban the chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, from baby bottles and sippy cups. Consumer Union’s Elisa Odabashian’s editorial at this site (September 22, 2011) laid out the basic facts about the known health effects of BPA and that the medical community has come around in calling for it to be removed from baby products. But while we are hopeful the Governor will sign the bill, nothing is assured given the amount of money the chemical industry is willing to spend to keep the cash-cow chemical BPA as unregulated as possible. 

Governor Brown: It's Up to You to Ban BPA in Baby Bottles

By Elisa Odabashian
Consumers Union

After five years and millions of dollars spent by the chemical industry to lobby against protecting California's children from baby bottles and sippy cups containing the dangerous chemical Bisphenol-A, known as BPA, the Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act or AB 1319 has been sent to Governor Jerry Brown for a signature. We hope that he will sign this ban into law, as California lags behind ten other states, as well as Canada, China, and the European Union in banning BPA in baby bottles.