Newsletter – Summer 2013, Volume 32, Number 2

In this edition:

Defining Appropriate Action in Syria

by Robert F. Dodge, MD

The horrific use of chemical weapons in Syria is a crime against humanity and demands an international response. President Obama states that the United States must take appropriate action vs. doing nothing. This is absolutely true. The problem comes in defining appropriate action. There are at least two options, military vs. non-military, the latter with a host of options.

Framing that action in military terms guarantees the loss of additional innocent lives. Choosing a military option further fuels the sectarian strife spreading across the Middle East.  This will encourage the growth of anti-American sentiment rife in the region. Our trillion dollar war in Iraq has demonstrated that war is not the answer. Iraq is on the verge of falling into the worst chaos since the beginning of that conflict.

This crisis does demand action ― non-military action.  Doing nothing is cowardly and not in keeping with the credibility or morals of the United States or any other country that professes to support the rule of international law and morality. This includes Russia, Iran and China.

An international response is demanded. After 9/11 there was a brief period and opportunity when the world came together with a sentiment that the “whole world was American.” That feeling was quickly lost as the U.S. opted for bombing nation after nation, including a unilateral “pre-emptive” war against Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. We have paid and will pay the price of that war for generations.

Today, in a similar vein, the entire world identifies with and is sickened and horrified by the images of children and innocent victims of these cowardly gas attacks. But the military intervention being debated is not intended to end the violent conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Syrians. It won’t help the nearly two million Syrian refugees return home or get the more than 6.8 million people in need access to humanitarian aid.

Our leaders need to show courage against the tide of war. The perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice. There is an international arena for these crimes against humanity to be addressed. The International Criminal Court’s mission is to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression. The International Court of Justice’s mission is to prosecute Nations that have committed crimes against humanity. These are just two methods by which perpetrators of these crimes can be held accountable. The United States has the opportunity to lead the way in empowering and supporting these international institutions in performing the role that they were established to do.

This will take courage, strength, determination, vision and true international leadership―not bombs. This is the role that the United States can and must pursue if we hope to see an end to sectarian violence in this region and the world over.  We must call upon all nations and our own elected leaders complacent with arming the various sides in these conflicts to endorse and support this international peace keeping effort. This will demonstrate their true commitment to peace, international law and humanity.

Dr. Robert Dodge

We must follow our moral compass. The United States and other world leaders should intensify their efforts to find a peaceful, political solution to end the bloodshed, not add more violence to a tragic civil war. The president needs to hear from us and be supported for his courage and willingness to pause and hear from the nation as we pursue the best hope for the ordinary men, women, and children of Syria.

Dr. Robert Dodge of Ventura is a family practice physician and a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He frequently speaks and writes on issues related to global sustainability and nuclear security.

Oppose SB 4 – Stop Fracking and Protect Our Health

PSR-LA started the 2013 legislative session supporting three proposals to either ban or place a moratorium on fracking. All three failed—one on the Assembly floor, and two never even got far enough to have a vote of the full Assembly.  Seven other bills were also introduced.  All that remains now are two bills. One addresses bonding levels and the other is SB 4—a bill authored by Senator Fran Pavley, best known for authoring the State’s climate change bill. Senator Pavley says that SB 4 seeks to ensure that fracking and other “well stimulation” activities are regulated. Of particular concern is a technique call “acidization” during which tons of very strong, highly volatile acids and other chemicals are pumped into an oil well to dissolve rock and release the oil.

We opposed SB 4 from the beginning for two reasons: First, we believe that regulating this inherently dangerous and counterproductive practice is not the way forward; and second, the bill originally included provisions that allowed companies to hide information about the chemicals being used by calling that information a “trade secret,” leading to a doctor gag rule that prohibited doctors from discussing the health impacts from chemicals used in well stimulations.

Last week, the bill was amended to remove the doctor gag rule and to limit the ability to hide information about chemicals from the public. We’ll be watching it very closely as we enter the last week of the legislative session to do all we can to limit negative changes to the language. Now we have a new fight. Senator Pavely made amendments on Friday that appear to exempt fracking from full environmental review through the CEQA process, which we cannot support.

Take action now to oppose SB 4 and stop fracking.

Even as we focus our attention on the politics in Sacramento, we cannot afford to lose sight of the larger public health and energy policy issues at stake. Increasing our ability to extract more oil and gas just at the moment that we are seeking to curtail the burning of fossil fuels is deeply irresponsible policy. And, frankly, disclosure of the breathtaking amount and toxicity of the chemicals used to extract oil in our communities does nothing to make it less irresponsible.

In Los Angeles County, the 11 weeks between June 4th and August 25th saw 286 oil wells and 1 gas well drilled, completed, or reworked.  Fifty one percent of those—147—reported being near a residence. Also, a handful of these sites are near a preschool, school or hospital.  And 140 of the wells, nearly 50% were “acidized” while only 1 was fracked[i].  Every single one of these sites is deeply embedded in the urban fabric—after all, Los Angeles County is the third most densely populated County in the state (San Francisco is first, and Orange is second).  Contrary to what the oil lobby says, oil extraction is not just in oil fields in isolated portions of Kern County or on the outskirts of rural communities. Even if it were, that’s not the future of oil extraction now that fracking and acidization have been perfected for wide-scale use.

At its core, Sacramento is saying the way forward is simply to notify people about the oil wells being fracked or acidized in their community. Here’s an example, using data from a real notice filed in Los Angeles County, of just what that means: Families in South Los Angeles would receive notification that 3 wells as close as 85 feet from their homes are being “acidized.” This legislation would permit and disclose that 24,000 pounds of chemicals, including about 9 tons of the highly toxic and flammable hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid, and half a ton of a product containing methanol, a known air toxic, are being pumped into the ground basically right outside their door.

Take action now to oppose SB 4 and stop fracking.

Regulating fracking and acidizing wells this way would also mean that the State’s policy is to hope that none of these chemicals escape at any time during their life cycle because if they do, the impacts can be significant from explosion, to burning eyes, to respiratory problems, to cancer, to harming reproductive health.  Once the oil is extracted, it will be transported, refined and eventually burned exposing more people to more pollution–as well as the occasional truck crash on the freeway.  And, by extension, permitting and disclosing fracking means that the State’s policy is to encourage burning fossil fuels increasing emissions of particulate matter, ozone precursors, and air toxics that cause problems like asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, autism, cancer, and death. Finally, by extension, the State’s policy would increase emergency room visits, health care costs, and lost work and school days by engaging in increasingly extreme techniques to get at carbon stored underground so that we can recklessly burn it and release it into our air.

By simply permitting and disclosing oil extraction and chemical use in our communities, California will be facilitating and expanding our fossil fuel status quo. Responsible policy would be to stop this harmful and reckless activity by banning fracking and other non-conventional oil extraction because—from a health perspective–the facts demand it.  The risks to community and worker health, as well as the ecosystems and the planet, are plainly too high.  Permits and disclosure will not protect a single child from asthma, or a worker or family from chemical exposure.  Nor do permits and disclosure help us address the climate crisis.  And once the harm has occurred, it can’t be undone. We must prevent what we cannot cure.

What you can do

Tell Governor Brown and Senator Pavley that we must stop fracking and protect our health. Click here to send your message.

Contact Angela Johnson Meszaros at PSR-LA to discover other opportunities for engaging in our efforts to ensure that fracking and non-conventional oil extraction do not threaten public health. Angela can be reached via e-mail or phone at 213-689-9170.

[i] South Coast Air Quality Management District Rule 1148.2 Public Information Portal. Accessed on August

Councilmembers Koretz and Bonin Call For Fracking Moratorium in Los Angeles

Cross-posted from Food & Water Watch

Councilman Koretz and PSR-LA’s Angela Johnson Meszaros.

Councilmember Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin introduced a motion to place a moratorium on fracking within the City of Los Angeles and along the City’s water supply route. They were joined outside beforehand by the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch, the environmental health group Physicians for Social Responsibly-Los Angeles, Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community, and the Sierra Club to announce the motion at a press conference.

Councilmember Paul Koretz said, “On one hand, we’re all concerned that a strong earthquake could destroy the Bay Delta levees and contaminate one of L.A.’s major water supplies with salt water. On the other, fracking is happening all over the state, and the United States Geological Survey says fracking-related activity has definitively caused earthquakes in Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. As a state, we have to decide which it is, are we protecting our water supply, or not?”

“Already, 16 of our neighborhood councils have called for a ban on fracking. Like with coal power and plastic bags, if the federal or state governments are unwilling or unable to act to protect Angelenos, we will do our part to lead by example here at the local level,” said Koretz.

“The quality of our water and the safety of our neighborhoods comes first,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin. “The threat fracking poses to families in L.A. is serious and I am proud to join Councilmember Koretz in proposing a moratorium on fracking in the City of Los Angeles and along our water supply route.”

Councilmember Bonin called on Governor Brown to listen to the majority of Californians who disapprove of the inherently dangerous process of fracking and impose an immediate statewide moratorium on fracking.

“As Governor Brown has failed to act, cities like Los Angeles are stepping up to protect residents,” said Brenna Norton, Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch. “Nationwide the evidence is clear: No amount of regulation can make this fundamentally destructive and toxic drilling safe. Food & Water Watch congratulates the courageous leadership of Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin, willing to stand up for Angelenos and all Californians.”

Fracking is a highly polluting form of oil and gas extraction that involves blasting huge volumes of water mixed with toxic chemicals into the earth to break up rock formations. The controversial technique is currently unregulated and unmonitored by California officials. Fracking has been tied to air and water pollution, seismic activity and it threatens the climate by emitting large amounts of methane.

“The health impacts of the chemicals used in fracking, acidization and gravel packing are clear,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, general counsel for Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “Introducing these chemicals into a densely populated city like Los Angeles exposes people to unnecessary threats in both the short term and over the long term. Fracking is all the more reckless because we’re creating all these exposure routes just to extract oil to burn which has its own massive negative health consequences.”

Oil companies have already begun fracking in the Los Angeles region, most notably in the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country, located between the Baldwin Hills and Culver City. Residents living near confirmed fracking activity in the L.A. area have already experienced severe property damage, a noxious oil field blowout in 2006 and a spike in serious health concerns.

“The Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community fully supports the Councilmembers’ motion calling for a moratorium on fracking and other forms of risked-filled exploitation of the remaining fossil fuel reserves under the City of Los Angeles,” said Paul Ferrazzi of CCSC. “With many old, idle and abandoned oil wells under existing infrastructure in the city, this is the prudent action for Los Angeles City Councilmembers to support before a disaster similar to the 1985 Fairfax District Ross Dress for Less explosion is allowed occur again. We must act now on the city and county levels to prevent the destruction of our urban and rural communities given Governor Jerry Brown’s refusal to impose a statewide moratorium to allow independent study of the environmental and health risks already realized in other parts of the country.”

Oil companies are gearing up to frack unconventional shale oil in the Monterey Shale, a formation beneath some of the state’s most productive farmland, critical water sources and dozens of towns and cities from the Salinas Valley to the Los Angeles Basin. It has also been noted that the Los Angeles County portion of the Monterey Shale contains more oil per square meter than any other oil producing basin in the world, making it a potential hotbed for fracking and other dangerous extraction activity.

Actor and environmental champion Ed Begley, Jr. also joined the press conference. “It is very important that we realize the potential risks that others around the country have already been dealing with and make sure that we do not expose Californians to those risks,” said Begley. “There are just too many unknowns and our citizens cannot afford foolish experimentation with our water, air, health, earthquakes and climate.”

“Fracking has become a very local hot-button issue. As the industry searches for more extreme ways to wring additional oil out of mature urban wells, we can’t allow their drive for profits to come before the health and well-being of the people of Los Angeles and their property,” said Koretz.

The motion can be viewed here:

PSR-LA Air Pollution Lawsuit Featured in LA Times and CBS

angela-cbs-screenshotLast year, we announced our law suit to demand that the EPA place air monitors near freeways to determine exactly how much particulate matter is reaching the many families and communities who live within 300 yards of these major roadways. Studies show that women who live near heavy traffic roadways have a greater risk of having a low birth weight child and the child is more likely to develop asthma. Over a lifetime, living with this pollution also increases the likelihood of adult onset asthma, heart attacks, cancer and premature death. Cal State Fullerton’s 2008 study of Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino Counties cites 3,052 deaths and 2,300 hospital admissions attributed to just the portion of particulate matter that is in excess of the federal health-based air standards.

The LA Times followed up on the story this week, interviewing PSR-LA’s Angela Johnson Meszaros and gaining attention from CBS Los Angeles and KABC radio, and even a related story by LA Daily News on a proposed apartment complex near the 101 and 405 freeways.

See the excerpts, video, and audio below.

Air board will start monitoring pollution next to SoCal freeways

excerpt from the LA Times

By Tony Barboza | August 25, 2013

Under EPA requirements, monitors will be installed at four sites, providing data about what the 1 million Southern Californians who live within 300 feet of a freeway are breathing.

Air quality regulators will begin monitoring pollution levels near major Southern California traffic corridors next year, for the first time providing data important to nearly 1 million Southern Californians who are at greater risk of respiratory illness because they live within 300 feet of a freeway.

Under new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements, air pollution monitors will be installed at four sites next to some of the region’s busiest freeways. Similar steps will occur in more than 100 big cities across the country.

Scientists have linked air pollution from traffic to a long list of health problems, including asthma, heart disease, bronchitis and lung cancer.

Though tens of millions of people nationwide live within a few hundred feet of a major road, monitoring stations established to measure common air pollutants typically have been placed away from such thoroughfares and other obvious sources of contamination. That’s because the monitors are intended to measure pollution across entire regions to determine if they are within health standards set by the state and federal government.

Of the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s 35 air quality monitoring stations measuring pollutants across a four-county basin of 17 million people, none sits close to a major roadway. Environmental groups say that system underestimates exposure levels in many neighborhoods.

The new monitoring is likely to have broad implications. If, as expected, the new data show higher pollution levels, environmental organizations and neighborhood activists almost certainly will call for local officials to take more aggressive steps to reduce emissions and curtail residential development near freeways.

“We will do everything possible to make sure people who live near those roadways get the protections they’re entitled to,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, an attorney for Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, one of several advocacy groups that sued the EPA last year to force it to require fine-particle pollution monitoring near Southern California freeways.

Read the rest of the article at the LA Times

Air Quality Monitors To Be Installed To Measure Vehicle Pollution On SoCal Freeways

excerpt from CBS Los Angeles

Starting in January, two of the four air pollution monitors will be installed along the 10 Freeway in the Inland Empire and along the 5 Freeway in Santa Ana. The monitoring devices will study the impacts of pollution on neighborhoods directly adjacent to freeways both in Los Angeles and nearly 100 major U.S. cities.

A 2008 Cal State Fullerton study of L.A., Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino Counties found 3,052 deaths and 2,300 hospital admissions attributed to vehicle exhaust pollution. Among the health risks identified are asthma, bronchitis, low birth weight, autism and lung and brain cancers.

“What are we going to do about siting new homes and new schools next to freeways?” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, general counsel for Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles (PSRLA), one of the groups that sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force the upcoming monitoring.

“We sued, demanding that the EPA require those monitors so we can start making movement toward cleaning up the air,” said Meszaros.

Read the rest at CBS Los Angeles

Talk Radio 790 KABC Peter Tilden Interviews Angela Johnson Meszaros

Listen to the 6-minute interview here, and read more about the the show at Late Night with Peter Tilden on on TalkRadio 790 KABC.

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Saving “Chain Reaction”

IMG_5625PSR-LA was pleased to co-sponsor a Hiroshima Anniversary Vigil on August 6 with Save Chain Reaction, a group dedicated to restoring and saving Paul Conrad’s historic sculpture at the Santa Monica Civic Center.

Chain Reaction is a 26-foot-tall sculpture depicting a nuclear mushroom cloud created from chain links. The inscription at the base reads, “This is a statement of peace. May it never become an epitaph.”

The piece was designed by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Conrad and gifted to the City of Santa Monica in 1991. Though designated a Santa Monica Landmark last year by the Landmark Commission, the City wants to remove Chain Reaction unless supporters can raise $400,000 by February 1, 2014.

It was most fitting for the Hiroshima remembrance to be held at the sculpture, as both the event and artwork share the important goal of calling attention to the devastation caused by nuclear weapons.

Sixty-eight years ago, the United States became the first country to use a nuclear weapon by bombing Hiroshima, Japan, instantly claiming the lives of at least 140,000 people and causing thousands more to suffer from the debilitating effects of radiation. Two days later, the US dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, instantly killing 80,000 with thousands more to be impacted by radiation.

Other countries quickly moved to have their own nuclear weapons, but the dramatic escalation of US and Soviet Union arsenals terrified citizens worldwide and prompted a massive global movement for disarmament.

PSR-LA was founded as part of that movement. Our 1981 conference on the medical consequences of nuclear war was attended by 3,000 people. We led physician diplomacy visits to the Soviet Union and China, where like-minded physicians from those countries joined in our call for peace. Physicians throughout Southern California joined PSR-LA, recognizing that on the matter of nuclear war, prevention is the only cure.

Nationwide, the movement flourished. In 1982, over a million people gathered in New York’s Central Park to rally for nuclear disarmament. A diverse group of speakers – from Martin Sheen to Cesar Chavez – called upon world governments to step back from the brink.

As the Cold War ended, the threat of nuclear war faded from our collective consciousness. The disarmament movement made great progress indeed – the global arsenal has gone from 70,000 nuclear weapons down to approximately 20,000 today. But the nuclear threat has by no means disappeared.

Today’s nuclear bombs are far more powerful than those that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and thousands remain on hair trigger alert. Nuclear power is rife with proliferation, security and health threats. Commercial nuclear reactors contain 1,000 times the radiation as released by the Hiroshima bomb, and the impacts of a disaster are difficult if not impossible to mitigate as we are seeing in Fukushima. Last year, taking into account the threats posed by nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, and climate change, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the hand on its infamous Doomsday Clock to 5 minutes before midnight.

IMG_5533 As the clock keeps ticking, it is ever more important to remember the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to preserve art like Chain Reaction that reminds us that the nuclear cloud remains over all of our heads. On August 6, 2013, PSR-LA, Save Chain Reaction, and a dedicated group of individuals did just that.

Santa Monica icon and veteran peace activist Jerry Rubin, who organized and emceed the event, opened with a moment of silence for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, followed by a moment of silence for those suffering due to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Regina Sakurai and Michio Masubuchi of the Koyassan Buddist Temple in Los Angeles then presented the Hiroshima Eternal Peace Flame. The flame was given to the City of Los Angeles by the Mayor of Hiroshima in 1984 for the summer Olympics. Folk singer Ross Altman then sang a song about Hiroshima entitled “Furusato.”

An impressive group of speakers, including former Mayors of Santa Monica, longtime nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman, and Vietnam veteran, activist, and author of “Born on the Fourth of July” Ron Kovic, author and peace advocate Marianne Williamson, and Truthdig editor Robert Scheer, took to the mic for a few words.

Speakers included:

  • Jerry Rubin, peace activist
  • James Conn, former Mayor of Santa Monic First mayor to be arrested while protesting at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site.
  • Judy Abdo, former Mayor of Santa Monica. Also arrested while protesting at the Nevada Test Site.
  • Michael Feinstein, former Mayor of Santa Monica
  • Alexandra Paul, Actress and participant in 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament
  • Rev. Janet McKeithen, Minister, Church in Ocean Park
  • Cris Gutierrez, Santa Monica activist
  • David Conrad, Save Chain Reaction and son of Paul Conrad
  • Denise Duffield, Associate Director,Physicians for Social Responsibility- Los Angeles
  • Dr. William E. Perkins, Pediatrician and PSR-LA Peace and Security Ambassador
  • Ian McIlraith, Director of Peace and Community Relations, Soka Gakkai International- USA
  • Harvey Wasserman, Author and leading strategist and organizer in the anti-nuclear movement
  • Ron Kovic, paraplegic Vietnam veteran and author of “Born on the Fourth of July”
  • Nat Trives, former Mayor of Santa Monica
  • Elena Christopoulos, scientist and communications and sustainability expert
  • Marianne Williamson, Spiritual teacher, author of “A Course in Miracles” and co-founder of the Peace Alliance
  • Robert Berman, Founder and Owner of Robert Berman Art Gallery
  • Robert Scheer, Editor in Chief, Truthdig
  • Carol Wells, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics
  • Richard Brand, architect

As the evening drew to a close, participants held candles and encircled the Chain Reaction sculpture – each resolved, perhaps, to do just a little bit more for a nuclear weapons free world. And do more, we must. The nuclear threat has not gone away, and neither must we.

To get more involved in PSR-LA’s peace and security program, call Denise Duffield at 213-689-9170 or email [email protected]. To learn more about how you can help perserve the Chain Reaction, visit Please also sign the petition.

View photos from the event:
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Op Ed – Do we need nuclear power plants? No: Toxic waste too dangerous

On op-ed on the future of nuclear power in California was published today in the UT San Diego. The piece is authored by PSR-LA’s Dr. John Goldenring and Dan Hirsch of Committee to Bridge the Gap.

The 1976 Nuclear Safeguards Act bars new nuclear plants in California until there is a solution to the high-level radioactive waste problem. Thirty-seven years later, there is still none. Two-thirds of a century after the first reactor waste was created, we still don’t know what to do with the toxic garbage.

Click here to read full article in the UT San Diego

TSCA Reform – Let’s Fix the Problem

Industrial Barrels containing toxic waste

PSR-LA has been closely tracking the national conversation on reforming our toxic chemical law – The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 – also known as “TSCA”. A new proposal has emerged that unfortunately, fails to protect our health. Passing laws that better regulate chemicals is an urgent priority, but we have to make sure it’s done in a way that actually protects health. We must protect the health of the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children, workers, and communities living fenceline to production. Of particular importance to PSR-LA members is a recent proposal that would make it even more difficult for doctors and professionals to receive medical information necessary to treat their patients.

Fortunately, Senator Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will hold a hearing tomorrow about TSCA reform proposals – and we invite you to listen in. The hearing starts early, Wednesday, July 31st  at 9:30am ET. Click here to read about the panelists and see the livestream when the hearing starts .

Statement on S. 10009, The Chemical Safety Improvement Act

PSR-LA is the convener of the statewide coalition, CHANGE (Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy), which is a statewide coalition of 37 environmental health and environmental justice groups, health organizations, labor advocates, community-based groups, parent organizations, faith groups, and others who are concerned with the impacts of toxic chemicals on human health and the environment. This week, CHANGE recently sent a letter and statement to Senator Boxer, expressing our strong concerns about the latest TSCA reform proposal, S. 10009, The Chemical Safety Improvement Act. PSR-LA stands by this strong statement of opposition: We strongly oppose the CSIA unless significant amendments are made. The language of this bill does not advance prevention, protect public health, nor reduce harm. The CSIA does not fix many of TSCA’s significant problems that have left the public unprotected from toxic chemicals. Specific shortcomings include:

  1. The CSIA’s safety standard fails to shift the burden of proof about chemical health and safety onto the chemical manufacturers to demonstrate their products are safe. The bill too closely parallels the failed language of TSCA by saying a chemical must not pose an “unreasonable risk to human health or the environment under intended uses.” We support the language of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, as well as the introduced Safe Chemicals Act (S.696), both of which call for “reasonable certainty of no harm.” That language provides a much higher margin of health and safety, and level of protection for the public, as it shifts the burden of proof onto the manufacturer to demonstrate “reasonable certainty of no harm.” Surely this is the standard we want for our children.
  2. The CSIA does not adequately consider aggregate exposure, which is the reality in the world today. We know from biomonitoring studies that everyone is exposed repeatedly to multiple environmental chemicals. By not requiring an assessment of cumulative exposure, the CSIA repeats the mistake in TSCA by looking at one chemical at a time without acknowledging cumulative impacts from ongoing exposures.
  3. There is no mandate that disproportionately-affected communities and vulnerable populations receive added protections. Over-exposed and burdened fence-line communities, workers who handle chemicals, and people at sensitive developmental stages, such as infants and pregnant women, are more vulnerable to harm from chemical exposures than the general population. They require a law that protects their ability to thrive and attain their right to good health by addressing the impacts of disproportionate exposures that lead to actual reductions in toxic chemicals in their home and work environments.
  4. The CSIA effectively curtails the rights of states to determine their own standards of protection in environmental, occupational, and other public health arenas. The bill would prohibit states from taking action once the U.S. EPA designated a chemical as either a high or low priority, or if EPA simply began a safety determination process. A waiver provision for states to act is limited and cumbersome and is unlikely to succeed in many cases. We need a federal law that is as protective as possible, but states absolutely must retain the right to set a higher bar than federal minimums. Furthermore, under the CSIA, “no State or political subdivision of a State may establish or continue to enforce…” current laws that in any way pertain to a chemical that EPA begins to address. This means that current and proposed regulations that offer real preventive action about chemicals would be invalidated. This would be particularly harmful in California, affecting occupational health regulations (e.g., registering the presence of carcinogens in occupational settings, the 200-plus permissible exposure limits/PELS unique to the state), environmental health regulations (e.g., the Safer Consumer Products Regulations) and public health activities (e.g., about lead).
  5. The CSIA has no timelines or milestones for EPA action, instead calling for EPA action “from time to time” or in a “timely manner.” We know from experience that regulatory action to prevent or reduce harm from chemicals is a long process in the best of circumstances. EPA must have firm deadlines and deliverables to advance its obligations under any new law.
  6. The CSIA requires the use of cost-benefit analysis at the critical regulatory decision-making point where a phase out or ban of a chemical is contemplated. While the bill provisions state that only health considerations can be factors in making a “safety determination” (which we support), it must also be the case that regulatory decisions, including but not limited to phase-out or bans of problematic chemicals, should also be based solely on health factors. Traditional cost-benefit analyses are unlikely to adequately consider externalities such as costs to the public health, the need for environmental remediation, decline in property values, and reduced productivity at work, for example. The end result will mean some of the most toxic chemicals will remain in commerce despite their failure to meet the safety standard.
  7. The CSIA makes an unsupportable assumption that lack of information equals a lack of harm. Any bill reforming TSCA should require a minimum toxicity data set be submitted and reviewed before any chemical is designated as a “low priority.”
  8. Confidential Business Information (CBI) provisions in the CSIA include a “gag rule” on medical professionals who receive information necessary to treat patients who may have been harmed by exposure to toxic chemicals. This restricts health care providers from carrying out their mission to “do no harm.” The CSIA’s CBI provisions also impair the ability of public health practitioners to do their job, and reduce the right-to-know for workers, employers, and other members of the public.
  9. The CSIA makes no special provisions for nanomaterials despite the fact that they are insufficiently studied, differ structurally from their parent compounds, and may present new health hazards and risks.
  10. There is no language in the CSIA that allows the EPA to collect fees to help pay for safety assessments or determinations. Coupled with the lack of enforceable deadlines, this ensures that meaningful action to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals will be extremely modest.
  11. The CSIA has no provisions that support the development of green chemistry-based alternatives. The bill needs meaningful incentives in the bill that strengthen innovation in the marketplace for non-toxic and less toxic alternatives that promote safety and economic growth.

Read the statement as a PDF here. For more information, please contact Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director, [email protected], (213) 689-9170.

The Toxies: Exposed — Web Series Premiere Inspires Action!

by Kriszta Farkas, PSR-LA Summer Intern

Kriszta Farkas and Dan Huynh, PSR-LA Summer Interns.
Kriszta Farkas and Dan Huynh, PSR-LA Summer Interns.

The Toxies: Exposed, the 4th annual event of The Toxies, created by the statewide coalition, CHANGE, and led by Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, was yet another great success! By highlighting the hazards of specific “bad chemical actors” in screening short videos, the event exemplified how we can all work together to protect our neighborhoods, workers, businesses, and consumers from toxic chemicals and pollutants.  Our infamous Toxies characters, expert panelists, families, and community organizers all arrived for an evening of fun and community outreach. Fun photos were taken of all wearing and showing off our signature “Toxies” masks. Then, the show began!

The audience was ushered in for the premiere of our seven entertaining and information-filled 3-minutes video series presentation on this year’s Toxies honorees – BPA, Chloropicrin, Flame Retardants, Fracking Chemical Cocktail, Lead, Mercury, and Yellow Soap. The videos received hearty applause and support from the audience, and this year’s Toxies bad actors rushed out of the room in a theatrical moment of reacting to the audience’s strong “boos”. Our panelists then convened on stage, introducing their specialties and organizations, and answering questions from our audience members. An engaging discussion ensued about the presence of specific hazardous chemicals in our communities and workplaces and what we, together, can do to fight it and protect ourselves and our communities. As the attendees made their way out of the theater, we received positive event evaluations and engagement in writing and sending out postcards to Senator Boxer to strengthen our national chemical laws.

The rest of the evening was spent enjoying delicious food – generously provided by the local Cabbage Patch Restaurant – and networking against the backdrop of upbeat music. Many thanks to all of our supporters, and for all of the great feedback that we have received this year along with the previous years! You can see all seven short videos — in English, and also available with Spanish subtitles — at These videos are now being shared in community organizing workshops and with our partners, engaging new audiences in the conversation on toxic pollutants, and inspiring everyone to action!

See select photos below and make sure to watch the video web series!

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Why smart growth is different from equitable growth: CEQA and SB 731

photo by flickr user JulieAndSteve
photo by flickr user JulieAndSteve

By Monika Shankar and Martha Dina Argüello

cross-posted from the CA Planning and Conservation League newsletter

Many of us living and working in Los Angeles have faced the realities of infill and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policies for decades. Touted as an environmental and economic solution, infill and TOD, if implemented hastily and without public input can lead to negative impacts on communities. With the release of Senator Steinberg’s SB 731, a bill intended to provide for greater certainty around infill development, we must acknowledge the downsides to infill and TOD that are rarely discussed yet are central issues to social justice and public health advocates. That is, not all TOD and infill development results in equitable development.

The lived experiences of residents and multiple studies have shown that smart growth often means housing built near heavy traffic roadways and freeways and increased exposure to unhealthy air pollution and increased vehicular traffic. It can also raise rental and housing costs, change community aesthetics, and lead to gentrification and displacement. And while smart growth can transform neighborhoods, it fails to help the long term underemployed and unemployed who cannot access newly created jobs or afford the new amenities or even basic goods and services.

Research done by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy found that transit investment frequently changes the surrounding neighborhood. According to the 2010 study, ‘the most predominant pattern is one in which housing becomes more expensive, neighborhood residents become wealthier and vehicle ownership becomes more common.” The study also reveals that transit development can have unintended consequences for core transit users—usually renters and low-income residents — who are priced out in favor of higher-income, car-owning residents who are less likely to use public transit for commuting. Consequently, the most vulnerable in our communities (renters, low-income and people of color) are pushed to the urban fringes away from jobs, schools and amenities, contributing to what has been dubbed the suburbanization of poverty, and increased air pollution.

A case study exemplifying this phenomenon is downtown Los Angeles, and the surrounding communities of Pico Union and South Park. As major housing and entertainment development made downtown a hip place to live, work and play, low-income residents experienced increasing police harassment, rising costs of living, more traffic and a deep sense that they were no longer welcome in their own neighborhoods. These trends were documented in a health impact assessment conducted by Health Impact Partners in 2012, which showed significant demographic shifts, with African American and Latino populations moving out and a substantial growth of college age individuals and some baby boomers. Displacement and gentrification have health impacts related to mental stress and anxiety. Even small fluctuations in rental rates can mean less money to spend on food, health care, education, all of which are determinants of health.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is one of the few tools communities have to address developments with these negative impacts. In addition to requiring a cumulative health impact assessment, CEQA leverages a community’s ability to assess how a project will impact their health and environment, and mitigate harm through active participation in the process. We must prioritize and protect communities by ensuring equitable growth and we accomplish this by strengthening community participation, conducting more robust health impact assessments, and protecting communities through planning and policy.


PSR-LA Joins Lawsuit to Block Improper Disposal of SSFL Radioactive Waste

PSR-LA joined Consumer Watchdog and other organizations in filing a lawsuit against the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and the California Department of Public Health (DPH) over disposal of radioactive waste from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) to facilities not designed or licensed for such waste. We have previously, repeatedly and successfully, fought attempts to send radioactive waste from SSFL to sites such as Kettleman City and Buttonwillow.

On Monday, August 5, Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Race Poverty and the Environment issued a letter to DTSC and DPH to immediately stop the pending demolition of a plutonium fuel facility and all other demolition and disposal activities at Area IV of SSFL. The letter was accompanied by a comprehensive study by longtime PSR-LA ally Committee to Bridge the Gap. DTSC declined, and the lawsuit was filed the following day.

See Consumer Watchdog Press Release below:

Consumer Watchdog Filing Suit to Block Top Toxics Regulators From Disposal of Radioactive Waste, Including Plutonium, From Nuclear Site

Boeing Radioactive Waste from Santa Susana Field Lab Nuclear Meltdown Site in Simi Valley Headed to Facilities not Licensed to Accept Radioactive Waste

After regulators failed to meet a 24 hour deadline set by public interest groups to stop Boeing from demolishing and disposing of radioactive waste at facilities not licensed to accept radioactive waste and at recycling plants, Consumer Watchdog and Strumwasser & Woocher LLP are filing suit against the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) to force their hand.

Click here to view the complaint.

Radioactive debris from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Simi Valley has already been disposed in municipal landfills, hazardous waste landfills like Buttonwillow in Kern County, and at metal, concrete, and asphalt recycling shops. Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Committee to Bridge the Gap, and the Southern California Federation of Scientists also joined the suit.

The complaint being filed alleges the continuing violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by Respondents because they have entirely failed to perform any of the required environmental review for the demolition of structures at Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Lab site prior to authorizing their demolition and disposal.

“Respondents have approved, without environmental review, the demolition and disposal of structures that are, by Boeing’s own measurements, radiologically contaminated,” the complaint says. “Worse, Respondents are expressly approving Boeing’s disposal of this radiologically contaminated waste offsite to toxic waste facilities that are neither licensed, nor designed, to accept radiologic material. Many tons of these materials have even been sent to recycling facilities so that these radiologically active materials enter the commercial metal supply.”

Consumers may be buying products or working in buildings tainted with the contamination. “It is paramount that the public be protected from toxic, and in this instance radioactive, harm,” said Consumer Watchdog Liza Tucker. “If the state won’t live up to its mission, we must force it to do so. People shouldn’t be wearing radioactive belt buckles or working in radioactive office buildings.”

Only licensed facilities with barriers to prevent any material from escaping for 500 years can accept low-level radioactive waste in California, which has no such facility. Hazardous waste facilities are not deep enough to safely contain radioactive waste.

The DTSC already approved the disposal of debris from six structures at the site. A nuclear reactor structure has also been demolished, but it is unclear if the debris has already been shipped off site. And the radioactively-contaminated plutonium fuel fabrication building structure awaits a decision. Four more radioactive structures also await decisions on disposal. Exposure to radioactive waste can cause cancer and genetic mutations.

“Plutonium 239 is by far the most dangerous radioisotope and one of the most toxic substances known,” according to Dr. Robert Dodge, Board Member of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “Once it circulates and deposits throughout the body, it exposes the blood, kidneys, liver and spleen to its cancer-causing alpha particle emissions.”

Yesterday, Consumer Watchdog revealed that regulators at the troubled DTSC and at DPH have been quietly allowing Boeing to demolish all of its radioactively-contaminated structures at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) site in Simi Valley and dispose of the debris at sites that are not licensed to receive low-level radioactive waste.

The US EPA has estimated that a person exposed to the levels of radiation that regulators and Boeing are using as radioactive release criteria could deliver a dose up to 45 millirem per year. That is equivalent to 22 additional chest X-rays a year and almost twice EPA’s limits for public exposure from an operating nuclear plant, but it is what DTSC, DPH, and Boeing have used to approve sending radioactive materials offsite, Tucker said.

A report delivered to state regulators yesterday asking them to cease and desist shows:

•Boeing’s own data analyzed in the report indicate structures already demolished were radioactively contaminated.

•In April this year, at the DTSC’s request, Boeing amended its procedures for building demolition to include radiological facilities and allow them for disposal in unlicensed sites. It gave the public no notice or opportunity to comment.

•The DTSC performed no environmental review of the demolition and disposal plans in direct violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Read the report by Daniel Hirsch, President of Committee to Bridge the Gap here:

Recycling companies Gillibrand of Simi Valley, Kimco of Sun Valley, and Standard Industries of Ventura have received material from the SSFL nuclear site. Debris has also been shipped for disposal to the Buttonwillow hazardous waste landfill operated by Clean Harbors Inc. in Kern County, and to municipal or industrial waste landfills Azusa Land Reclamation, Lancaster Landfill and Hauling, and McKittrick Waste Landfill, according to Boeing’s data. None of these facilities are licensed to accept radioactive waste.

See radioactive waste disposal map here:

For more on the DTSC and its failure to protect the public from toxic harm, read Consumer Watchdog’s report Golden Wasteland here:

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