Breast Cancer and Air Pollution: Are they Linked? Maybe.

November 18th, 2014

Air pollution from motor vehicle traffic may put women at higher risk for breast cancer, Canadian researchers recently reported.
Researchers at Montreal’s Research Institute of McGill University Health Centre, McGill University and Universite de Montreal found a link between post-menopausal breast cancer and exposure to nitrogen dioxide — a “marker” for traffic-related air pollution.

“Another way of saying this is that women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas,” study co-author Dr. Mark Goldberg of the Research Institute said in a statement.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found the risk of breast cancer increased by about 25 percent with every increase of nitrogen dioxide of 5 parts per billion. “Another way of saying this is that women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas,” study co-author Dr. Mark Goldberg of the Research Institute said in a statement.

Goldberg and colleagues had created two maps showing levels of nitrogen dioxide — a by-product of vehicular traffic — in different parts of Montreal and then they charted the home addresses of women diagnosed with breast cancer in a 1996-97 study onto the air pollution maps. The data showed that the incidence of breast cancer was clearly higher in areas with higher levels of air pollution.

The next step would be to dig deeper into the data, acquire more data and find out if this is coincidence, some other factor or a causal relationship worth doing something about.

California Pay-As-You-Drive Tax

October 17th, 2014

Utah Moms for Clean Air proposed a similar tax for Utah drivers – but we called it an AIRSHED USER FEE – the more you use it, the more you pay and visa versa. This is basic economics – if X is free, it will be used more than if people must pay to use X. The best way to fairly and quickly curtail pollution is to charge for it`s production. Our airshed suffers year after year because pollution is spewed freely – literally and metaphorically. Below is more info about the pay-as-you-drive California proposal as reported by Justin Hyde.

California Pay-As-You-Drive Tax

It won’t happen immediately, or even within the next year, but not too far into the future you might pay a tax for every mile you drive — thanks to California.

Three weeks ago, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the first test of mileage-based road taxes in the Golden State. The bill, which passed the state legislature with the backing of transit agencies, environmental groups and most major automakers, creates a 15-person panel to oversee a pilot of pay-by-the-mile taxation by 2018.

The move makes California the largest state to explore how modern technology might replace the dwindling money from gasoline taxes used to build and maintain roads, thanks to ever-more efficient vehicles and less driving overall. Congress has been forced to fill the gap at the federal level with billions of dollars in temporary funding; in California, where residents pay 48.5 cents on the gallon in state gasoline taxes worth more than $3 billion a year, the state has borrowed from those revenues in recent years to cover shortfalls elsewhere.

Of the other states which have explored such systems, Oregon stands as the most advanced, with its plan to offer a voluntary pay-as-you-drive tax setup next year offering 5,000 drivers the chance to pay 1.5 cents for every mile they travel in the state. The Oregon system uses a pair of devices — one in vehicles, and one in special fuel pumps — that used GPS to track miles driven, then gave the appropriate credit or surcharge at the pump itself. (Oregon also found that drivers in a test program paid 28 percent more than they would have using fuel taxes alone.)

But the backers of Oregon’s mileage tax system say the technology could be far less complicated, and adoption far quicker, thanks to services like Apple’s iPay and in-car Internet setups, such as General Motors OnStar. State Farm already has a pay-as-you-drive discount for its customers with newer Ford vehicles that use Ford’s Sync to automatically keep track of how far they’ve traveled. As the Oregon officials imagine it:

One envisions a time when all new cars will come equipped with mileage reporting capability. New car buyers will decide during the registration process whether to activate the mileage reporting capability already installed into the car or add an external reporting device. They will also choose a provider for account management or default to government managed account. Motorists will then drive and periodically receive a bill by mail or email—their choice—that may be bundled with other value added services… Motorists may check the bill details and pay online or by mail or authorize automatic payment from their smartphone, tablet device or the connected vehicle console in the dashboard of their car. Giving motorists the ability to choose their mileage reporting and bill payment preferences will make mileage reporting and per-mile charge payment simple and comfortable— as each motorist defines it.
If you think this sounds like another way for government to invade personal privacy, you’re not alone: the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns about unapproved tracking, and privacy was the top concern of those who took part in Oregon’s trial. The California law requires the test panel to address privacy worries, but also says the system must take into account “public and private agency access, including law enforcement,” of any data it collects.

Movements may be a more personal form of data than even name and address; where you live is a public record, but tracking someone’s daily routine can reveal far more private information. Yet there are already many ways businesses can do so; every iPhone running the latest iOS 8 update has the ability to send location data to advertisers or remember a user’s frequent locations, and license-plate scanning firms already have a billion plates on record.

Chances are, given the technology on hand and the money at stake, California will devise a system similar to Oregon’s that can satisfy some privacy complaints (perhaps by tracking odometers only) but is also easily adoptable by motorists. With 17 percent of all U.S. new-car sales in the Golden State, and a need for road repair mimicked in most other states, it’s entirely likely that when it comes to taxing by the mile the old saw is true: As goes California, so goes the nation.

Stericycle Medical Waste: Piling It Higher and Deeper

September 18th, 2014

Its a blue sky day in North Salt Lake today, but things are only getting dirtier and darker at Stericycle.

Excellent job, EnviroNews for scooping that powerful interview.

The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article today discussing the interview and allegations of a former Stericycle employee:

State regulators are investigating a medical waste incinerator after an anonymous former employee charged that it burned so much waste and such toxic materials in recent years that it violated state law.

Stericycle, which operates the North Salt Lake facility, also is looking into the claims after an online video appeared on the website EnviroNews, said Jennifer Koenig, vice president of corporate communications. But the company’s procedures forbid such violations, so it’s unlikely they occured, Koenig said Wednesday.

Residents of the Foxboro subdivision in North Salt Lake and other clean-air advocates hold signs expressing their feelings about Stericycle’s medical waste incinerator during a protest at the state Capitol in September. They wanted the incinerator to be shut down.

A new Utah Department of Health report examines the potential health impacts of the Stericycle medical-waste incinerator in North Salt Lake. While rates of some cancers are elevated in nearby residents, those patterns cannot be tied to any specific environmental exposure, the department said.

The primary incinerator at Stericycle can be seen above a piece of machinery used to sterilize biohazard containers. The medical-waste handler wants to move its controversial incinerator out of a North Salt Lake neighborhood and it has secured remote state land in western Tooele County for that purpose. Activists are denouncing the state’s role in the deal.

Communities for Clean Air staged a news conference Wednesday outside Gov. Gary Herbert’s Capitol Hill suite demanding the governor shut the plant down with an executive order.

No one brought the former employee’s claims to the Department of Environmental Quality to investigate and document, said spokeswoman Donna Kemp Spangler. But she said the department is looking into the allegations anyway.

In a videotaped interview, parts of which are included in a documentary titled “The Devil’s Work,” a man wearing a bandana and sunglasses over his face says he is a former worker at the medical incinerator and alleges that supervisors told him and other employees to forgo measuring the weight and radioactivity of much of the waste coming into the plant, especially types believed to be radioactive.

Not measuring the waste items would violate Stericycle’s state permits.

The company is required to log how much infectious waste it processes and cannot process radioactive waste, according to its permit, Koenig said. However, some materials it burns contain traces of radioactivity, and the facility uses machines to measure those levels.

The former worker claimed employees ignore those rules and a host of others. He declined to be named or interviewed, citing fears for his former co-workers still at Stericycle.

It’s the latest flashpoint for the much-debated incinerator. Advocates at the Capitol Wednesday spoke against the operation and said medical waste should be shredded and sent to the landfill, not burned.

To read the entire article click here.

The interview with the former Stericycle employee can be seen at EnviroNews

Poetry That Eats Air Pollution?

September 4th, 2014

Air pollution is now the biggest global environmental killer, the World Health Organization has confirmed. The seven million deaths it caused in 2012 exceeded the victims of cigarettes, and is more than double previous estimates.

In Utah, btw 1000 and 2000 people die prematurely every year due to the scourge of our dirty skies.

Click here to view some high-tech solutions that include smog-eating poetry. Is Utah ready to get creative?

Democracy Swallowed – Utah Style

July 14th, 2014

By Cherise Udell

The John Swallow case shows political corruption in Utah at its finest. In essence, Swallow, as Utah Attorney General, had a “for sale” sign on his office door. Unfortunately, what Swallow did was not unique. He got caught and thoroughly exposed.

The experience of citizen advocates lobbying for clean air this past legislative session revealed that many elected officials in Utah have also been seduced by big money and power. This was demonstrated to us with daily high-fives and chummy back-slapping between many state legislators and industry lobbyists. And that was in public view — who knows what was happening behind closed doors!

Actually, we do know. These industrial lobbyists were making every effort to undermine legislation that would impact big industry’s ability to pollute. These same lobbyists — many from the law firm Parsons, Behle & Latimer — also suggest and help write pollution-friendly legislation. Yes, these pro-pollution lobbyists get paid big bucks for big results (they have to, otherwise who would want to be pro-pollution?) — and the outcome is that our democracy is compromised and our lungs suffer.

In another example, we regularly contacted lawmakers and tried to arrange meetings. Occasionally, a lawmaker would come out in front of the chambers and listen for two or three minutes before dashing back inside. Meanwhile, we watched industry lobbyists being readily escorted to the private spaces hidden behind the Senate chambers.

We knew industrial lobbyists crawled on the hill like red ants raiding a picnic, but we were shocked to see that Rio Tinto/Kennecott, Utah’s biggest polluter, alone had fourteen registered lobbyists, while medical waste incinerator Stericycle had eight. A few of these lobbyists are what some would call mercenaries, in that they lobby for multiple big polluters.

It quickly became clear that the public is no match for this army of pro-pollution lobbyists stationed full-time on the Hill. After all, how many citizens can take six weeks off work to spend all day at the Capitol during a legislative session? How many citizens have the legal background to understand, let alone write, complex bills?

How many citizens can show up to testify at committee hearings with only 24-hour notice? How many nonprofits can afford to hire a hotshot lobbyist from Parsons, Behle, & Latimer, which brags on its website, “[we] not only assist clients in complying with the law, we help shape it.”

Unfortunately, the access these paid lobbyists enjoy matters tremendously. As Sen. Dabakis lamented during a committee hearing, “The system is rigged to not have clean air.” Consequently, mandatory rules are made voluntary, enforcement measures the public wants are removed, and the government entities designed to protect our health become industry puppets.

Citizens demanding clean air fight a good battle in an unfair war.

But remember, we do have truth, justice and what is morally right on our side. We can make our own army of determined citizens — no one is stopping us. At our January Clean Air No Excuses rally an army of more than 4,000 citizens was assembled. In the end, our democracy, when vigorously utilized, does ensure that justice prevails over injustice. The recent resignation of Swallow attests to this. So does the fact that despite the system being rigged against us, numerous clean air bills did pass.

So to the Utah citizens that exercised their democratic rights this past session, Utah Moms for Clean Air thanks you. For all of those who did not, but wanted to, we encourage you to get involved.

Finally, to all of the legislators who truly looked out for the public good in spite of temptation not to, we celebrate you as heroes in the good fight for what is right.

Cherise Udell is founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air.

Summer Is Ozone Season In Utah

June 30th, 2014

This past winter we all struggled with the dirty, dirty air. Too many days, the Utah Department of Air Quality flashed RED AIR day warnings to those paying attention — and if you are like me, you were paying attention. Spring brought us much needed relief with robin-egg blue skies and warmer temperatures. But now as the mercury continues to creep upward, signaling the return of summer, ozone is the uninvited guest that you would do best not to ignore.

Ozone is a poisonous gas, the result of a chemical reaction between sunlight, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxide gases (NOx). It is characterized by three molecules of oxygen and is thus highly unstable, which is why it fortunately breaks down so easily indoors, in the absence of sunlight. (Particulate matter, the scourge of our bad winter air, does not break down easily and is thus harder to escape.)

VOCs + NOx + Sunlight = Ozone

But wait, you say, isn’t ozone a good thing? Are we not worried about depleted ozone in our atmosphere? Yes, ozone up high in the sky is good (it protects the earth’s surface from ultraviolet rays), but down low it is harmful to breathe.

Breathing air heavy with ozone burns the inside of your lungs. OUCH! It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that this is not a good thing, so consider really limiting your outdoor activities and staying inside to play instead when ozone creeps into the yellow and red zones. Ice skating, indoor rock climbing, indoor swimming pools & indoor bounce houses can still get your kids’ wiggles out, but also protect their young lungs.

The Utah Department of Air Quality provides daily alerts regarding air quality (or lack thereof), so that you can take proactive steps to protect yourself and your family.

To reduce your contributions to ozone today (or any day!) and other hot summer days when ozone levels peak, Utah Moms for Clean Air asks you to consider:

* Postpone lawn mowing — unless you use a hand-pushed or electric mower — until after dark. Remember to create ozone, you need sunlight – without sunlight, ozone dips to nearly zero.

* Postpone filling-up your gas tank until after dark.

* Do not use spray paint or other paints that off-gas (they all off-gas VOC’s unless they say VOC free). If you must use them, wait again until after dark.

* Leave your car at home. Tailpipe emissions are one of the biggest contributors to ozone pollution.

* Use natural cleaning products that do not contain VOCs such as Mrs. Myers or even just the classic basics such as baking soda, vinegar and lemon. For tips on using natural cleaners — and saving $$ — check-out: or the Guide to Green Living.

* Add green leafy plants to your house which can further reduce VOCs and ozone indoors. Cactus and Tropicals in Salt Lake City co-hosted a class with Utah Moms for Clean Air on how to purify your indoor air with plants. They are happy to help with your plant selection.

We must all do our part to reduce our contributions to air pollution and ozone is no exception. Please spread the word and encourage your friends, family and elected officials to take a proactive role in protecting the Clean Air Act, which currently is under assault by America’s big polluters.

For more information about ozone check-out this great website: Air Pollution Solutions.

The EPA has a good overview of the health impacts of ground-level ozone.

Should Clean Air Trump Patriotic Fireworks & Tradition?

May 27th, 2014

On June 3rd, the SLC Council will discuss whether or not the city should continue to fund the two major firework displays in July due to growing concerns about air quality. You can contribute to this discussion by contacting your city council member and/or attending the June 3rd hearing at City Hall. See the Fox13 news clip for more info and do take the FoxNews poll – currently 78% of respondents think the city should continue funding the fireworks. What do you think?

Clean air advocates question if baby deaths in Vernal are linked to pollution

May 7th, 2014

VERNAL — The string of brief and poignant baby obituaries from the Vernal area in 2013 is causing clean air advocates to question if pollution from oil and gas production is helping to write their fate.

The Utah Department of Health has agreed to launch a study to determine if there is an inordinate number of adverse birth outcomes in the Vernal area — beyond what would be a typical rate for a population that size.

“We want to determine whether there is an issue or not,” said health department spokesman Tom Hudachko. “It is not designed to determine cause and effect.”

Hudachko said the study is expected to take about four months and will assess the number of low-birth weight babies, infant mortality such as still births and the incidences in which babies are small for their gestational age.

“Those are the outcomes we are going to take a look at,” he said. “Most of that data we can get through birth records and conduct an analysis to determine if there are outcomes occurring at a rate that would exceed what we would expect based on our statewide average.”

Dr. Brian Moench said his group went back through the records starting in 2010 and, in the past year, found that the numbers rose to 15 deaths in a year.

“It is concerning enough that it certainly needs to be addressed with earnestness, with objectivity and with some real serious intent to find out exactly what is going on,” he said.

Given the Uintah Basin’s serious wintertime ozone pollution problems linked to oil and gas activity and the rampant increase in industry production, Moench said, he believes there is a correlation between the air pollution levels and adverse birth outcomes.

Given the Uintah Basin’s serious wintertime ozone pollution problems linked to oil and gas activity and the rampant increase in industry production, Moench said, he believes there is a correlation between the air pollution levels and adverse birth outcomes.

“It does seem very likely to be related to the explosion of the oil and gas industry and all the pollution,” he said.

Moench said still births and perinatal mortality in Vernal was six times the national average in 2013, but Hudachko cautioned that a timeframe longer than 12 months should be weighed when making any conclusions.

“We don’t want to look at one year and assume there is a pattern,” he said.


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