Water defines our life in the summer in Maryland. We visit and vacation on the water. Sadly, this summer, many of us avoided spending time on Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Throughout the summer we saw reports of people and pets contracting serious infections from swimming in those waters that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
Andy Fellows, Chesapeake Regional Director
Washington DC – Clean Water Action is appalled that the leadership of the US House of Representatives appears willing to shut down the federal government in order to win passage of budget riders limiting the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and prohibiting funding for Planned Parenthood.
While recent press reports have indicated that the EPA restrictions may no longer be on the table, the House Republican leadership has brought the federal government close to the brink of shutdown over policy issues that should not be part of budget negotiations.
The House of Representatives in the 112th Congress voted more than 300 times to weaken public health and environmental protections. Clean Water Action analyzed twelve key votes in this unprecedented effort to rollback decades of important environmental policies that have made our water safer to drink and our air healthier to breathe.
It was better in the Senate, but barely. While the Senate rejected the majority of proposals to roll-back decades of critical environmental protections, it failed to pass legislation to repeal oil and gas subsidies. Learn more below and download the scorecard here!
Today’s guest blogger is Emma Shlaes, Clean Water Action National Campaigns Associate.
Summer is winding down. When you put your child on the bus for school, or take that one last road trip of the season, you expect that everyone will stay safe and healthy, as long as there are no accidents. But there is a hidden danger lurking around most school buses, highways and too many residential neighborhoods and schools. Dangerous and preventable diesel pollution from buses, trucks and construction vehicles is placing families in harm's way.
Dirty diesel engines emit a mixture of particles, metals and gases called "particulate matter" which include over 40 "hazardous air pollutants" as classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act. This mixture can cause a range of health problems. From increased rates of asthma, to lung cancer, stroke and heart attack, diesel pollution contributes to countless illnesses and 21,000 early deaths a year.
In addition to being a serious public health problem, diesel pollution contributes to climate change by emitting a pollutant that’s aptly named “black carbon”. Black carbon soot is approximately 2,000 times more potent as a global warming agent than an equal amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). Over half the black carbon emissions in the U.S. come from diesel engines. Fortunately, black carbon is a short-lived pollutant and does not remain in the atmosphere, so this is one aspect of climate change we can do something about right now.
How do you ask? Available retrofits can reduce diesel particulate matter and black carbon emissions by at least 90% from the 11 million old, dirty diesel engines that are currently used in the U.S. This means an instant reduction of black soot in our atmosphere. Additionally, studies indicate that for every dollar spent on reducing particulate matter pollution from diesel engines, $12 would be avoided in monetized health damages. That translates to improved health for you and your family.
Since 2005, the federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) has been funding retrofits for existing heavy-duty diesel vehicles and engines in every state in the U.S. DERA has enjoyed support by: members of both parties in Congress, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and industry, labor, environmental and health groups. This important act is set to expire in 2011 and Congress must reauthorize it at the same level of funding if we are to see continued reduction in diesel pollution and the health effects it causes.
Clean Water Action works nationally and in the states to pass policies that will clean up diesel pollution and protect communities. Some states haven’t waited for government protections and funding to take action. For example, Clean Water Action recently helped Rhode Island pass the Clean Construction Law, which requires diesel-burning construction equipment on federally funded projects to be retrofitted to reduce emissions by 2013. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey have also taken action at the state and local level. Find out more.
Clean Water Action works as part of the Diesel Clean-Up Campaign, a nationwide collaboration of organizations committed to reducing diesel emissions 40 percent by the year 2012, 55 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020. You can visit their website at www.dieselcleanup.org
Last year, with the help of Clean Water Action members, the District set up a new fund supported by a fee on plastic and paper bags to help restore the Anacostia River and other District waterways. However, within a few months, this fund was threatened by proposals to raid the money to support other programs. One of the many positive aspects of the legislation that imposed a fee on bags was that it would generate money for river clean-up efforts, and thus provide funding during challenging fiscal times.
Included in this issue:
guest posting by Jonathan A. Scott, for Clean Water Action
In 2010, should any company be allowed to produce a consumer product that is expressly designed to pollute?
Since the 1940s, the largest corporate purveyors of laundry detergents (and more recently automatic dishwasher detergents) have done just that by including phosphates as an integral part of their products. When used as directed, those products and that phosphate pollution go straight where intended: into appliances, down the drain and into our water.
The problem of phosphate pollution was already so bad in the early 1970s when Clean Water Action was getting its start that phosphates captured an entire chapter in organizational founder Dave Zwick's bestselling expose, Water Wasteland. The chapter was titled, Pollution for Sale: Detergents.
That is one reason why the news that the American Cleaning Council (a manufacturer's trade group representing most detergent companies, formerly known as the Soap and Detergent Association) will announce a voluntary ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergents effective July 1, 2010 is such a big deal.
More than four decades have passed since early Clean Water Action leaders and others first called for phosphates to be removed from laundry and dishwashing detergents. The fact that it took so long is a testament to the political power and insider lobbying prowess of the "big three" companies which dominated the industry for much of that time (Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers), fighting tooth and nail against phosphate bans at every level. That's a depressing thought.
But it is also a testament to the staying power and persistence of grassroots environmental organizing by Clean Water Action and others. This victory, even coming four decades later than hoped, shows promising new synergies evolving between environmental activism, newer companies and their leaders embracing a new environmental business ethic, and an increasingly enlightened consumer public willing to demand and purchase environmentally safer alternatives.
In the 1970 or 1980's it would have been unthinkable for almost any manufacturer of cleaning products for the consumer market to go on the record saying what Seventh Generation's Martin Wolf (aka Scienceman) has to offer in his company's June 29 news release on the ban: "If a negative environmental impact can be lessened or avoided, both industry and consumers have a responsibility to do so," said Martin Wolf, a leading authority on the environmental impact of household cleaning products. "This is a landmark moment, and as a company that's worked for years to make this desperately needed change a reality, we're celebrating a well-earned victory in the effort to build a healthier, cleaner world."
A mandatory federal ban passed decades ago would have done much to improve water quality over the years, but this new voluntary ban is still good news at a time when good news about the nation's water is all too scarce. For one thing, the ban means that more attention can now be paid to some of the bigger remaining problems, starting with phosphates and other nutrient pollution from industrial-intensive agriculture, over-fertilization of lawns and gardens, and outdated water systems that flush the pollution from farms and communities into our waterways.
The concept itself - the idea of going "upstream" to eliminate pollutants at the source, in this case, the phosphates in dishwasher detergents - is a commonsense approach whose time has surely come. In the face of today's most intractable water problems, "upstream" solutions that keep pollution out of the water in the first place, rather than waiting to act until after the contamination has already occurred may offer the most promising path forward.
Our situation today may be a bit more complicated and challenging than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, but the fundamental truth revealed in this exchange during a 1969 Congressional hearing on phosphates, as documented in Water Wasteland, endures. Here, U.S. Rep. Henry Reuss (D-WI) grills Assistant Secretary of the Interior Carl Klein on the issue:
Mr. Reuss: [Is it not a fact that] by and large the phosphate which shows up at sewage disposal plants comes from two main sources - household detergents and human waste?
Mr. Klein: Yes, sir.
Mr. Reuss: And household detergents are made by three major manufacturers?
Mr. Klein: That is correct.
Mr. Reuss: And human wastes are made by a couple hundred million manufacturers; is that correct?
Mr. Klein: Yes, sir.
Mr. Reuss: Well, doesn't it occur to you that it is easier to do something about three than about a couple hundred million?
In fact, competition from companies offering greener alternatives to the biggest players' phosphate laden products was an important factor in the eventual phosphate ban victory. But even though there are now many more than just the "three major manufacturers" the focus for solutions - whether regulatory, legislative or voluntary - can and should remain on the much smaller number of corporate manufacturing players on the "upstream" end of the spectrum.
Pollution from phosphates, an essential nutrient in minute quantities, can easily overwhelm waterways, causing algae blooms that decay and leave the water without oxygen and unable to sustain life. Clean Water Action has supported phosphate detergent bans starting before Congressional debates and hearings which led to the 1972 Clean Water Act. Clean Water Action played key roles in bans later adopted around the Chesapeake Bay, in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.
As additional states passed mandatory bans and facing mounting pressure from environmental groups and consumers, the industry finally relented by phasing phosphates out of laundry detergents in the 1990's, while continuing to insist that the polluting ingredient remained essential for automatic dishwashing. Meanwhile emerging industry leaders, including Seventh Generation and others, advanced phosphate-free formulas and joined environmentalists in pressing for further action by states and other manufacturers. States that previously banned or improved regulation of phosphates in dishwasher detergent include Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.
Washington, DC - On July 1, 2010 a voluntary ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergents will be implemented by many members of the American Cleaning Council (formerly the Soap and Detergent Association), a manufacturer's trade group representing most detergent companies.
"Industry's announcement on phosphates in dishwasher detergents is welcome news, indeed, if somewhat overdue," said Jonathan Scott, a spokesman for Clean Water Action, founded in the early 1970's to fight for clean, safe water. "Even small amounts of phosphates can wreak havoc when they get into our water," Scott says, "so it's the last thing you want as an ingredient in detergents, which are specifically designed to end up in the water by way of household appliances and drain pipes."
"Good news is all too scarce these days, when it comes to our water. Between the BP Gulf oil disaster, and a host of other problems, it is clear that the nation's commitment to clean and safe water has faltered.