Biden Administration Launches Environmental Justice Office

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Forty years after a predominantly Black community in Warren County, North Carolina, rallied against hosting a hazardous waste landfill, President Biden’s top environment official has returned to what is widely considered the birthplace of the environmental justice movement to unveil a national office that will distribute $3 billion in block grants to underserved communities burdened by pollution.

Forty years after a predominantly Black community in Warren County, North Carolina, rallied against hosting a hazardous waste landfill, President Biden’s top environment official has returned to what is widely considered the birthplace of the environmental justice movement to unveil a national office that will distribute $3 billion in block grants to underserved communities burdened by pollution.

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A tiny Wisconsin town tried to stop pollution from factory farms. Then it got sued.

"This is standard operating procedure for the Big Ag boys."

The small community of Laketown, Wisconsin, home to just over 1,000 people and 18 lakes, is again at the center of a battle over how communities can regulate large, industrial farming operations in their backyards.The town, which is half an hour from the Minnesota border, is the target of a lawsuit supported by the state’s largest business lobbying group, which claims the town board overstepped its role when it passed a local ordinance to prevent pollution from confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Filed in Polk County Circuit Court in October, the lawsuit pits local farmers against the municipality, where decisions are made by a single town chair and two supervisors. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, or WMC, a lobbying group that defines itself as the state’s “largest and most influential business association” is representing the residents suing the town through its litigation center. Early this year, WMC sent a letter to the town board that they would see legal action if the ordinance was not repealed. The notice of claim, sent in April, argues the town passed an ordinance with various illegal provisions under state law. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Litigation Center, who have previously filed lawsuits to rollback state protections against water pollution, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. “They see this ordinance, if not challenged, as something that may become more the norm around the state,” Adam Voskuil, staff attorney for the nonprofit law office Midwest Environmental Advocates, told Grist. This law office has issued its support for Laketown’s ordinance in the past but is not representing the municipality in this ongoing litigation. As the agricultural industry increasingly forces farmers to “get big or get out,” CAFOs have become plentiful across Wisconsin and the country at large, with more and more animals living on CAFO operations in recent years. The size of these farms varies within a state but generally are seen as operations with 2,000 or more pigs, 700 or more dairy cattle, or over 1,000 beef cattle.  The growth of these operations has been linked to public health problems like various cancers as well as infant death and miscarriages, caused by water contaminated with waste runoff from farms. On the other side of Wisconsin, residents in Kewaunee County have seen manure coming out of their faucets from one the largest CAFOs in the state, who sued the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource last year when they were denied a request to nearly double their size. As more confined animal feeding operations, like the hog farm pictured, pop up across the country, towns and counties have attempted to regulate their growth. chayakorn lotongkum / Getty Images When communities try to respond with local-level enforcement, both industry interests and a lack of power at the local level cause townships to get creative with their responses.  Every state has some form of a “right to farm” law, which stops farms from being targeted for nuisances related to the daily operations of the industry, such as odor, noise, and effects on the environment. From there, each state has some form of a regulatory process that outlines how large farms are allowed to operate. In Iowa, which leads the country in CAFOs, the state government sets all regulatory requirements and local towns and counties are out of luck when it comes to enforcement, according to John Robbins, Planning and Zoning Administrator for Cerro Gordo County, Iowa. He said the county once had a restrictive ordinance for CAFO zoning on the books, but after a state law took control, counties now have “very limited authority.”  Last year, when a Missouri hog farm spilled 300,000 gallons of waste into nearby waterways, two counties attempted to regulate CAFOs differently than the state government. Those counties had to sue to challenge state-level laws and are now awaiting trials in the state Supreme Court.  Further West, Gooding County, Idaho has seen the whole gambit of what Wisconsin towns could be facing. In 2007, the central Idaho county named after a famed state sheep rancher passed an ordinance regulating CAFOs in the county limits. A month later, industry groups Idaho Dairymen’s Association and Idaho Cattle Association started a court battle with the county that ended two years later, with the state supreme court ruling in the county’s favor. Gooding County’s legal representatives did not respond to a request for comment. Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law generally restricts how local municipalities can stop or slow new CAFOs or expansions to current facilities. This law is at the crux of arguments in opposition to Laketown and other surrounding communities’ proposed or passed ordinances.  Other Wisconsin communities have enacted local level ordinances to regulate these large farms. In 2016, northern Bayfield County enacted a CAFO ordinance that imposed a one-time fee and required operators to have increased manure storage options. After a large hog farm estimated to produce over 9 million gallons of manure a year was proposed in Polk County a few years ago, the county attempted a moratorium on CAFOs, but the measure did not pass. Since then, at least five neighboring towns of Laketown have passed similar ordinances. “This is one of the first times I’ve seen a town refuse to back down to some of these letters” Adam Voskuil, Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney The Laketown ordinance that sparked the lawsuit is an operations ordinance, unlike Bayfield’s ordinance which focused on zoning. Laketown CAFO operators are asked to file a one-time fee equal to a dollar for every animal unit as well as give detailed plans of how they will prevent ground and air pollution stemming from their facilities. Passed in 2021, the ordinance states it is based upon Laketown’s obligation to “protect the health, safety and general welfare of the public.”  All along the way, industry groups Venture Dairy Cooperative and the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, its website features the slogan “Fighting for CAFOs Every Day,” have sent threatening letters to towns that passed ordinances or moratoriums, with the help of WMC. “This is standard operating procedure for the Big Ag boys,” said Lisa Doerr, a Laketown resident of over 20 years who raises horses and commercially farms hay and alfalfa with her husband. Doerr has been involved at the local level in opposition to CAFO since Polk County learned of a proposed 26,000-hog farm. Doerr, who worked with the Large Livestock Town Partnership, a multi-town committee that examines the environmental impact of CAFOs, said she worried that the landscape of the town and county would change if local action wasn’t taken. “The name of our town is Laketown because we’ve got lakes everywhere,” she said. “We still have a middle class farming community. We haven’t had corporate ag take over everything.” In its recently filed response letter, Laketown’s attorney said WMC’s argument falls flat as it is based solely on the state-level zoning law, while the town’s ordinance regulates the operations and conduct of a facility. They also noted that since the ordinance passed, no facilities have applied for a permit, which means the town has not yet enforced any actions WMC says are unlawful. Laketown board chair Daniel King declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit. Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Voskuil said he was heartened to see that Laketown has been holding its ground. “This is one of the first times I’ve seen a town refuse to back down to some of these letters,” he said. Farther south in Wisconsin, another county is reeling from letters threatening legal action. Crawford County, which borders Iowa, enacted a CAFO moratorium in 2019 but did not renew the moratorium after studying the issue for a year. Forest Jahnke, a coordinator with the Crawford Stewardship Project, said the decision to not renew the moratorium was highly influenced by the deluge of similar threats of litigation and backlash, which had a “chilling effect” on efforts to move forward.  “The fear of litigation is a very strong and deep one in our local municipalities and county governments,” Jahnke, who was a member of the committee studying the CAFO moratorium in Crawford County, said.  Since the moratorium rolled back, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources greenlit a Crawford County hog farm, home to 8,000 pigs and expected to generate 9.4 million gallons of manure each year.  This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A tiny Wisconsin town tried to stop pollution from factory farms. Then it got sued. on Dec 5, 2022.

Op-ed: Arming doctors with knowledge about PFAS pollution

When communities impacted by PFAS contamination seek medical advice, they often discover doctors are unfamiliar with these chemicals health effects and unsure how to address their patients’ concerns. A report released in July and new courses for medical professionals aim to change that. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report recommends offering per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, blood testing to individuals likely to have had elevated exposure and prioritizes certain types of medical screening for affected individuals. In addition, in October 2022, our team launched a free Continuing Medical Education course, initiated by and including perspectives from community activists, along with a Clinician Resources webpage on the PFAS Exchange. These recommendations and resources are urgent: PFAS—used to impart stain, water, grease and heat-resistance to many common consumer products—are persistent in the environment and our bodies and have likely impacted the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans. PFAS have been linked to far-ranging health effects, including high cholesterol, immune suppression, thyroid disease and cancer. Our aim to increase the medical community’s knowledge and resources in addressing PFAS is gaining traction. These efforts are part of a growing recognition of the need for more health professional education and guidance on health implications of PFAS exposure, obtaining and interpreting PFAS blood testing and improving patient care. PFAS testing can save lives The importance of clinician education regarding PFAS is demonstrated in the lives of those affected by these chemicals. Michigan resident Sandy Wynn-Stelt learned in 2017 that she and her late husband Joel had consumed highly contaminated water for over a decade prior to his fatal liver cancer diagnosis. Her quest for answers led her to get tests — both her blood and her private well had extremely high levels. She shared her test results with her doctor along with information about PFAS health effects. This information likely saved her life: Wynn-Stelt’s physician monitored her health and was able to make an early diagnosis of thyroid cancer based on the results of her PFAS blood test and other information.Related: Where did the PFAS in your blood come from? These computer models offer cluesSimilarly, Ayesha Khan became concerned about PFAS after her firefighter husband Nate Barber was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2019 and she learned that PFAS exposure is a risk factor for the condition. PFAS contamination was discovered in groundwater near the Nantucket Airport close to their home around that time and she was additionally concerned to learn that firefighters are exposed to PFAS from firefighting foam, as well as their protective gear. In 2020, she and her close friend Jaime Honkawa founded the Nantucket PFAS Action Group, a community organization that educates firefighters and the public about the risks of PFAS — and helps them take protective action. Our new course was prompted by a request from the Nantucket Cottage Hospital to the Nantucket PFAS Action Group to develop training for their medical professionals about PFAS exposure. The Nantucket PFAS Action Group worked with the PFAS-REACH collaborative team and the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit to develop the course.Released this October through Children’s Mercy Hospital, the course features both scientific experts as well as people who’ve experienced contamination. It was designed to be useful to all health professionals, and especially those in PFAS-impacted areas or whose patients have been occupationally or otherwise exposed. It can be accessed via the Children’s Mercy Hospital website or on the Clinician Resources page of the PFAS Exchange website. Testing individuals for PFASIn the past, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and other health agencies have emphasized the benefits of testing at the population, rather than individual, level. So the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report’s recommendation to offer PFAS blood testing to individuals who have likely experienced elevated exposures is noteworthy. The report highlighted the importance of patient autonomy with informed, shared decision making between clinicians and patients about PFAS blood testing and medical screening with discussion of its benefits, harms and limitations. It noted how testing can help people feel empowered in managing their own health and can relieve the stress of not knowing one’s exposure.For patients with moderately elevated PFAS blood levels, the report recommends that clinicians focus on screening for high blood pressure, pregnancy induced hypertension and breast cancer based on age and other risk factors. For patients with higher total PFAS in their blood, the report additionally recommends that clinicians test for thyroid function and assess for signs of ulcerative colitis as well as kidney and testicular cancer. The recommendations have been well received by those impacted by PFAS contamination. Andrea Amico of Testing for Pease in New Hampshire called the report’s recommendations “huge milestones in the right direction,” and Emily Donovan of the community action group Clean Cape Fear in North Carolina wrote that the new report is “an important first step for our community” and that it “allows us to begin the process of caring for the elevated disease burdens our region is experiencing.” Amico, Donovan and many others from PFAS-impacted communities across the country provided valuable input for the report. Taking action on PFAS pollutionPFAS science and activism have expanded enormously in less than a decade and engagement of medical professionals has not kept pace. Now, the combination of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report and our Continuing Medical Education course opens up new avenues to address health effects and should spur health professionals to join in work to halt the upstream production and emissions of PFAS.If you are a resident of a PFAS-impacted community, you can share our Resources for Clinicians page with your medical providers and explore our PFAS Exchange website. If you are a medical professional, please consider enrolling in our course and sharing the information with your network of medical and public health organizations. Together, we can empower PFAS-affected people and help tackle this insidious pollution. For more information: Download the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reportAccess our free Continuing Medical Education (CME) Training at the Children’s Mercy Hospital Continuing Medical Education page. Check out our Resources for Clinicians, which includes video of the training, a link to feedback survey, and medical screening guidancePFAS-REACH (Research, Education, and Action for Community Health) is a collaboration among Silent Spring Institute, Northeastern University, Michigan State University, Testing for Pease, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, and Slingshot. We acknowledge the work of Elizabeth Friedman, MD and Alan Ducatman, MD who are responsible for the medical content of the CME course.

When communities impacted by PFAS contamination seek medical advice, they often discover doctors are unfamiliar with these chemicals health effects and unsure how to address their patients’ concerns. A report released in July and new courses for medical professionals aim to change that. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report recommends offering per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, blood testing to individuals likely to have had elevated exposure and prioritizes certain types of medical screening for affected individuals. In addition, in October 2022, our team launched a free Continuing Medical Education course, initiated by and including perspectives from community activists, along with a Clinician Resources webpage on the PFAS Exchange. These recommendations and resources are urgent: PFAS—used to impart stain, water, grease and heat-resistance to many common consumer products—are persistent in the environment and our bodies and have likely impacted the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans. PFAS have been linked to far-ranging health effects, including high cholesterol, immune suppression, thyroid disease and cancer. Our aim to increase the medical community’s knowledge and resources in addressing PFAS is gaining traction. These efforts are part of a growing recognition of the need for more health professional education and guidance on health implications of PFAS exposure, obtaining and interpreting PFAS blood testing and improving patient care. PFAS testing can save lives The importance of clinician education regarding PFAS is demonstrated in the lives of those affected by these chemicals. Michigan resident Sandy Wynn-Stelt learned in 2017 that she and her late husband Joel had consumed highly contaminated water for over a decade prior to his fatal liver cancer diagnosis. Her quest for answers led her to get tests — both her blood and her private well had extremely high levels. She shared her test results with her doctor along with information about PFAS health effects. This information likely saved her life: Wynn-Stelt’s physician monitored her health and was able to make an early diagnosis of thyroid cancer based on the results of her PFAS blood test and other information.Related: Where did the PFAS in your blood come from? These computer models offer cluesSimilarly, Ayesha Khan became concerned about PFAS after her firefighter husband Nate Barber was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2019 and she learned that PFAS exposure is a risk factor for the condition. PFAS contamination was discovered in groundwater near the Nantucket Airport close to their home around that time and she was additionally concerned to learn that firefighters are exposed to PFAS from firefighting foam, as well as their protective gear. In 2020, she and her close friend Jaime Honkawa founded the Nantucket PFAS Action Group, a community organization that educates firefighters and the public about the risks of PFAS — and helps them take protective action. Our new course was prompted by a request from the Nantucket Cottage Hospital to the Nantucket PFAS Action Group to develop training for their medical professionals about PFAS exposure. The Nantucket PFAS Action Group worked with the PFAS-REACH collaborative team and the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit to develop the course.Released this October through Children’s Mercy Hospital, the course features both scientific experts as well as people who’ve experienced contamination. It was designed to be useful to all health professionals, and especially those in PFAS-impacted areas or whose patients have been occupationally or otherwise exposed. It can be accessed via the Children’s Mercy Hospital website or on the Clinician Resources page of the PFAS Exchange website. Testing individuals for PFASIn the past, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and other health agencies have emphasized the benefits of testing at the population, rather than individual, level. So the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report’s recommendation to offer PFAS blood testing to individuals who have likely experienced elevated exposures is noteworthy. The report highlighted the importance of patient autonomy with informed, shared decision making between clinicians and patients about PFAS blood testing and medical screening with discussion of its benefits, harms and limitations. It noted how testing can help people feel empowered in managing their own health and can relieve the stress of not knowing one’s exposure.For patients with moderately elevated PFAS blood levels, the report recommends that clinicians focus on screening for high blood pressure, pregnancy induced hypertension and breast cancer based on age and other risk factors. For patients with higher total PFAS in their blood, the report additionally recommends that clinicians test for thyroid function and assess for signs of ulcerative colitis as well as kidney and testicular cancer. The recommendations have been well received by those impacted by PFAS contamination. Andrea Amico of Testing for Pease in New Hampshire called the report’s recommendations “huge milestones in the right direction,” and Emily Donovan of the community action group Clean Cape Fear in North Carolina wrote that the new report is “an important first step for our community” and that it “allows us to begin the process of caring for the elevated disease burdens our region is experiencing.” Amico, Donovan and many others from PFAS-impacted communities across the country provided valuable input for the report. Taking action on PFAS pollutionPFAS science and activism have expanded enormously in less than a decade and engagement of medical professionals has not kept pace. Now, the combination of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report and our Continuing Medical Education course opens up new avenues to address health effects and should spur health professionals to join in work to halt the upstream production and emissions of PFAS.If you are a resident of a PFAS-impacted community, you can share our Resources for Clinicians page with your medical providers and explore our PFAS Exchange website. If you are a medical professional, please consider enrolling in our course and sharing the information with your network of medical and public health organizations. Together, we can empower PFAS-affected people and help tackle this insidious pollution. For more information: Download the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reportAccess our free Continuing Medical Education (CME) Training at the Children’s Mercy Hospital Continuing Medical Education page. Check out our Resources for Clinicians, which includes video of the training, a link to feedback survey, and medical screening guidancePFAS-REACH (Research, Education, and Action for Community Health) is a collaboration among Silent Spring Institute, Northeastern University, Michigan State University, Testing for Pease, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, and Slingshot. We acknowledge the work of Elizabeth Friedman, MD and Alan Ducatman, MD who are responsible for the medical content of the CME course.

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