Tag Archives: activism

Fighting for Clean Air in Oklahoma ~ An Interview with Lisa Sharp

Lisa Sharp is a freelance writer, social media marketer and environmental activist, living in a small town in Oklahoma. She has a blog called Retro Housewife Goes Green and runs a website called Green Oklahoma.  Lisa and I have been online friends for a few years, which in internet time equates to forever.  So when I saw Lisa talking about a local cement plant, air pollution, and the subsequent health effects on Facebook, I told her I’d love to interview her for the Moms Clean Air Force

How did you become interested in and first learn about the pollution coming from the local cement plant?

Around 1992, I would have been five, the cement plant tried to get a permit to burn hazardous waste and my grandmother was very active in fighting it. They won that fight so I didn’t think about it much until I became more active in the environmental community. A few years ago I was at a sustainability conference listening to Earl Hatley and I ended up talking to him about the cement plant and it turned out he had been apart of the fight against the plant in 1992. The things he told me sparked my interest and I started researching cement plant pollution more. 

Please give us a summary of the environmental problems caused by the cement plant.  What pollutants are released? Are current emissions standards being exceeded?

After the cement plant lost the battle to get a hazardous waste burning permit they started burning tires. As of a few years ago there were only nine wet-process cement plants burning tires in the U.S. Seven of the nine are in violation of the pollution limits, set by the Clear Air Act. Three are high-priority violators. One of these three plants is the plant in my town. In 2005 they violated the pollution limits more than 1,000 times in one year. They were only fined $321,000. Last I checked they were currently in violation as well.

Some of the toxins the plant puts off include ammonia, benzene, certain glycol ethers, chromium, diethanolamine, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, ethylene glycol, lead, manganese, mercury, sulfuric acid, and zinc compounds. Cement plants are the third largest contributor of mercury emissions. 

How has your own health and/or your family’s health influenced your environmental activism?

I personally have asthma, as do my mom and brother. My mom’s asthma was very severe when I was young and we were living 0.7 miles from the plant. While many things played a role in her asthma being so bad, we believe one of those things was the cement. Since they have moved from that house, out of town, she has been much better. My asthma was better when living outside of town as well and once I moved back to town, now 2.5 miles from the plant, my asthma has gotten worse. 

I also have many friends that are quite young but already are battling cancer. My town’s cancer rates are above the state average, which is above the national average. I’m tired of seeing my friends sick and dying and knowing there is this plant pumping tons of cancer causing chemicals into our air.

Has the pollution from the cement plant been linked to local health issues?

Officially, no. But as I said our cancer rates are high. I also believe our autoimmune illness rate is high but haven’t been able to research this yet. Many doctors in town have commented on Ada’s cancer rate and citizens are starting to also question this. Benzene is one of the toxins that the cement plant puts off in large amounts and it’s been shown to cause cancer so it’s hard not to question a link. And benzene isn’t the only cancer causing chemical the plant puts off.

Have your local politicians become involved in this issue?

No. There is a city council member in Tulsa that is fighting the cement plant there on burning hazardous waste but that is the only politician I know of. And he is not being well received by others in Tulsa. That will be a very big fight.

What are you hoping will happen? What would be your ideal outcome?

Many people have this idea that I’m trying to get the cement plant closed down, but that’s not the case. I know they are one of the largest employers in my town and that it was cost the city jobs and money that we can’t afford to lose. Also at this time we need cement, I don’t want to close our plant just to end up with another city polluted to make the cement we were making. 

I would love to see the plant follow the current laws and for the laws to be made stronger. I also would like the burning of tires and hazardous waste by cement plants made illegal. This is where a lot of the emissions come from so this would cut them a lot. More scrubbers and other improvements that would help pull out the toxics would be nice as well. The biggest thing for me though, is to first get them to follow the law.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming an environmental activist?

Don’t do it! Just kidding. It is a very hard job and one that is often thankless but it can also be the most rewarding job you can do. You don’t have to take on a big company like I’m doing. I started by joining my local recycling coalition, I’m currently a board member. Simple things like that can really help your community be a better place. 

More about cement plants from Lisa:

I’d like to thank Lisa for sharing her fight for clean air with the Moms Clean Air Force.  As Lisa said, her goal is to have the cement plant follow current emission standards and she thinks emissions standards need to be strengthened. 

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force in our fight to strengthen clean air standards and protect our children’s health.

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800,000 Voices for Clean Air

Three years ago, I remember having a “light bulb moment.”  I was sitting in my environmental law class, the first class in my environmental education program (my second MS).  I was taking notes in black pen on my repurposed notebook, learning about how a bill becomes a law and listening to my professor talk about the comment period.

I remember thinking that I had never learned this before.  I’m sure at some point in my education I was supposed to learn it, but to be honest I was much more interested in things like studying the cartilaginous skeleton of sharks, adding insect species to my entomology collection, tracing the evolution of placental viviparity, and the genetics of Przewalski’s horse.  I kid you not, those were my passions and college.  I didn’t see how US law was connected to the natural world.  But then suddenly, years later, I got it.

I could do all I want on my own to protect everything I love about the natural world.  I could stop dying my hair, make my own cleaners and read every environmental book since Silent Spring, but that wasn’t enough.  If I wanted to affect real change on a large-scale, I had to get politically active and advocate for legally protecting the environment.  I had to speak up and make sure others were listening.

Now, I am so proud to play a role in the environmental movement at the political level.  I’m thrilled to be one of over 800,000 people who made their voices heard and contacted the EPA about the new Mercury and Air Toxics Rule.  I hope that my writing for the Moms Clean Air Force encouraged even a small fraction of those 800,000 people to speak up for the health of our atmosphere and the air that our children breathe.  Thank you to everyone who contacted the EPA, and congratulations on taking a stand on protecting our environment. 

The EPA is going to consider all the comments and release the final Mercury and Air Toxics Rule by November 16.  This doesn’t, however, mean that our work is done.  It’s only the beginning of the road to clean air.

I was thinking about that class in environmental law today, and how I should email my professor to thank her for starting me down this path.  As a teacher myself, I know how much she’ll appreciate hearing from me.

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force to help us fight for clean air for our kids. Thank you!

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Contact Your Reps Now!

By Dominique Browning of the Moms Clean Air Force

MomsCleanAirForce

I don’t want to nag, though we all know moms are great at that. But I’m going to remind everyone that as of Monday, August 1, we have only FOUR MORE DAYS to write to the EPA  in support of their NEW Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. This regulation will cut down the poisonous emissions from coal-fired electric plants. Fetuses, infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of toxic coal pollution.

Pro-polluters have been working overtime to cut funding for the EPA and block anti-pollution regulations. They’re spending millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions–to protect their right to pollute!

Motherhood is powerful too.  We have to make our voices heard.

Someday your children will thank you. Right now, you have to fight for them. My A Number One Reason will always be the same: my two beloved sons, for whom I will always fight like a mama bear, Alex and Theo. I’ll bet you feel the same way about yours.

Here is a GREAT REASON to write to the EPA now.

1.  YOUR VOICE MATTERS. No politician wants to make a mom mad. The EPA needs to hear that you want it to protect your right to clean air. Sometimes being a great mom means being an active citizen.

2.  WE’VE MADE IT EASY–AND YOU CAN FIND THE TIME. It is faster to write to the EPA than it is to change a diaper. Sometimes being a great mom means being an active citizen. Make your voice heard!

3.   POLLUTION CONTROL MEANS MORE JOBS. Green jobs are rising dramatically. Retrofitting coal stacks with scrubbers means more jobs for people in the industry–and a stronger industry overall.

4.   HOW DARE THEY HARM OUR BABIES! Fetuses, infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of toxic pollution. Childhood cancers are on the rise. So are asthma attacks.  Pregnant women are warned against eating tuna fish because it is full of mercury. And polluters keep on fighting for their right to pollute.

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Calling All Green Moms!

Cross-posted at Moms Clean Air Force

Are you a green mom? Have you taken steps towards reducing your environmental impact? Have you educated yourself on environmental problems? Have you contacted your representatives, the EPA, or written letters to the editor about environmental legislation? Do you blog about your efforts to go green? Do you consider yourself to be an expert environmentalist?

If you answered “Of course!” to any (or all) of those questions, then the Moms Clean Air Force would love to invite you to participate in our online chat on Wednesday, June 1, from 2:00 to 3:00pm EST.  We want to get more moms involved in our movement in support of clean air, and I know that most of my posts at Farmer’s Daughter are “preaching to the choir” or perhaps to the “experts”! I’m counting on you to come share your experiences and ideas in our online chat.  We want to brainstorm about ways to get other moms involved in the fight for clean air! Some more details…

Politicians in Congress, influenced by profit-driven corporations and lobbyists, are trying to gut the Clean Air Act and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. We have to rally moms to counter pro-pollution forces for the sake of our kids’ health and their future. If moms don’t fight for clean air, who will?

But moms are busy and may not know how to get involved. How do we get their attention? How do we get them to speak up? How do we recruit them for the Moms Clean Air Force?

 The chat will take place on Facebook, so be sure to “Like” Moms Clean Air Force, then click on the “smiley face” chat tab on the left hand side of the page.  You can RSVP/register here.

To get your gears turning, here’s the first discussion question:

What, for YOU, is the most powerful motivation to be involved in this campaign?

My motivation to preserve, protect and defend the environment is for the benefit of future generations.  I cared about the environment long before I became a mom, since I love spending time in nature, but having a child brings the future into  reality instead of an abstract concept.  When I look down at that little perfect face, I know how important it is to act!  Who better to defend my son’s health and future than his Mommy?

Since I won’t be home from work in time for the chat, I plan to check it out later and join the conversation as I can.  I hope my green friends can help to fill my place!

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Save the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is in danger of closing (see the story here).  Below is the letter that I sent to the powers that be.  If you are a CT resident, please take the time to send a letter, too.  Feel free to use my letter as a model if you wish.

 
Governer Dannel P. Malloy
State Capitol
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT  06106

May 14, 2011

Dear Governor Malloy,

I am writing to express my concern over the Plan B cut of 100% funding for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.  As a citizen who values farms and scientific research, I urge you to reconsider your proposed plan to close CAES.

As the oldest Agricultural Experiment Station in the country, CAES has a long list of accomplishments including identification of the potato scab pathogen in 1888, the development of double crossed hybrid corn in 1919, discovery of the first organic fungicide in 1940, development of a test for pesticide residue on produce in 1963, development of an antibody test to diagnose Lyme Disease in 1984, the first culture of the West Nile Virus in 1999, and the development of new methods to detect oil-spill contamination in seafood in 2010.  CAES scientists and technicians have repeatedly shown their commitment to helping the people of Connecticut and the world through their agricultural research.  What discoveries can the future hold? CAES scientists are currently studying ways to control bed bugs, searching for causes of honeybee mortality, and investigating new crops.  I implore you not to cut this research short.

In addition to these major scientific accomplishments, CAES helps ordinary citizens on a daily basis.  Through soil testing, insect identification, educational tours and speakers, tests for food safety, testing ticks for Lyme Disease, and collecting and testing mosquitoes for West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, CAES gives taxpayers with a return on their investment.  CAES scientists provide research-based answers to questions from gardeners and farmers about which heirloom tomato varieties to plant or which grapes are best for local vineyards.

On a personal level, I want to be able to raise my son in a state that values our agricultural heritage.  My family’s farm, Rose Orchards in North Branford, turns 365 years old this year.  Rose Orchards is one of the oldest family farms in the country, and my family has had the opportunity to attend events and work with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station on many occasions.  One of my fondest memories was when my family attended Plant Science Day at Lockwood Farm in Hamden to receive the Century Farm Award.  I have also found CAES to be a valuable resource throughout my career as a high school science teacher.  Scientists from CAES have graciously donated their time to come in and speak to my Botany classes at XXXXXXXX High School, and we have also used them as a resource for soil testing. 

I can understand the need to make budget cuts in this economy, but to shut down the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is short-sighted.  You need to understand that this action will have ramifications through all areas of Connecticut’s agriculture.   

Thank you for your consideration,

Abigail Rose Walston
 
 Cc:
Nancy Wyman, Lt. Governor
Benjamin Barnes, Secretary, Office of Policy and Management
 
UPDATE! Good news, there has been an agreement so there’s not a need to go to “Plan B”… but there will still be some budget cuts, so it’s a good idea to write anyway and let them know you support CAES! 

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What’s Your Number?

Cross-posted at Moms Clean Air Force

How many premature deaths due to air pollution are acceptable?  American Electric Power (AEP) says 34,000 in two years ia A-okay.  AEP is a huge polluter and they’re spending a ton of money to try to limit clean air standards.  They’ve even drafted legislation that would allow them to continue polluting.

Why does AEP think they can change the laws to allow them to continue polluting? Ordinary citizens, mothers and fathers and children, have the right to stand up to AEP and tell them to stop polluting.  We have the duty to tell our representatives to protect our families’ health.  Why should we allow AEP to continue to pollute? Why should we AGREE to let an estimated 34,000 people die due to air pollution?

Let’s ask AEP: How many lives are you willing to sacrifice with your assault on clean air standards?  #WhatsYourNumber?

Send AEP an email, then spread the word with these tweets:

34k premature deaths from @AEPnews’s dirty air bill. How many deaths are ok? #WhatsYourNumber #CleanAir http://goo.gl/34syA Tweet this!

@AEPnews’s Dirty Air Bill = 240k asthma attacks and 34k premature deaths. Acceptable? #WhatsYourNumber http://goo.gl/34syA Tweet this!

No advanced pollution controls on 40% of @AEPnews’s plants. How many lives is that costing? #WhatsYourNumber http://goo.gl/34syA Tweet this!

@AEPnews #1 polluter spends 0.5% on #energy efficiency. Their legislation would cost 34k lives #WhatsYourNumber http://goo.gl/34syA Tweet this!

@AEPnews #1 polluter dirty air bill = more mercury, more asthma, 34k early deaths. #WhatsYourNumber http://goo.gl/34syA Tweet this!

@AEPnews $1.2 billion in profits and their bill would cause 34k premature deaths. #WhatsYourNumber http://goo.gl/34syA Tweet this!

@AEPnews’s Dirty Air Bill = More kids exposed to toxic mercury, more worry for moms. #WhatsYourNumber http://goo.gl/34syA Tweet this!

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Mercury Pollution: What Parents Need to Know

My dad tells a story of his science teacher handing out vials of mercury and allowing students to play with it and watch how it pools.  Those days are gone! (I should know, I’m a science teacher.)  Today, we aren’t even allowed to have mercury thermometers in school, and there are news reports of schools being evacuated due to a broken thermometer.  We now know that mercury is toxic to kids.

Mercury as an atmospheric pollutant comes mostly from power plants, with 72% of it coming from coal-fired power plants.  Once released into the atmosphere, mercury contaminates entire ecosystems: fresh and salt water, soil, the substrate at the bottoms of streams, rivers, lakes and oceans, as well as plants an animals.  Microorganisms in the water convert mercury to the highly toxic methylmercury.  Methylmercury accumulates in the tissues of animals, especially salt water fish like sharks, swordfish and tuna.

Here’s what I think all parents should know about mercury pollution:

  • 1 in 10 American women of childbearing age have potentially dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies.
  • 410,000 US children are exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the womb each year.
  • 95% of the methylmercury we consume is absorbed through our small intestines and enters our bloodstream, which carries it to the rest of our body.  It will eventually be excreted over a period of weeks to months.
  • Methylmercury easily crosses the placenta and travels into a fetus’s blood and organs, including his or her brain.
  • Methylmercury levels in an unborn child’s blood can accumulate to be higher than the levels in his or her mother’s blood.
  • Mercury in both the form of methylmercury (from seafood) and inorganic mercury (from amalgam fillings) has been found in breast milk in studies around the world. However, the level of mercury in a mother’s blood are about 3 times higher than the level of mercury in her milk, so babies are exposed to much more mercury in utero than through breastfeeding.  Experts say that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of mercury exposure.
  • Infants can be exposed to mercury through formula if it is prepared with water contaminated with methylmercury, so experts recommend breastfeeding over formula-feeding in areas with contaminated water.
  • Methylmercury exposure leads to impaired neurological development in fetuses, infants and children.  It can also delay developmental milestones and cause severe mental disabilities.

The Clean Air Act does not currently have limits on the amount of mercury that can be emitted by power plants, but the EPA would like to set a new Mercury and Air Toxics rule to reduce the amount of mercury and other emissions by 91%.  (Learn more about the proposed rule here).  Won’t you join me in supporting the EPA’s right to limit mercury emissions? Send a comment to the EPA!

Sources:

This post will be cross-posted at Moms Clean Air Force.

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