premies_2 2There are no shortages of studies linking bad air with birth defects and premature births. But until now no one has taken on the task of trying to add up the national toll in both lives and money.

In a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives on Tuesday, UCLA researchers estimated that almost 16,000 premature births across the country in 2010 — about 3 percent of the nationwide total of 475,368 — were related to exposure to high levels of "air polution" – in this case the insideous and ubiquitos Particulate Matter, or PM.  These premie births cost the system $4.33 billion, including $760 million spent on prolonged hospital stays and long-term use of medications, as well as $3.57 billion in lost economic productivity due to physical and mental disabilities associated with preterm birth. 

"For policy makers, decisions about regulating air pollution come down to a trade off between the cost of preventing air pollution and the health and economic benefits of limiting air pollution sources," study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, associate professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Population Health and Environmental Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Without data documenting the health effects of air pollution on preterm births, there's only one side to that discussion. So what we did was to quantify the disease burden and economic cost associated with preterm birth that could be traced to air pollution."

Developing fetuses are very vulnerable to pollutants of all kinds. That's why doctors tell women not to smoke during pregnancy. Exposures to high levels of air pollution increases toxic chemicals in the blood and can weaken the immune system, causing stress to the placenta and leading to preterm birth (defined as birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy)

PM pollution represents a threat because the particles are so tiny and fine they pass from your lung right into your blood stream and go where ever the flow takes them – to your heart, your liver, your brain. PM can also act as a kind of toxic suitcase for whatever other polutants came out of the same smokestack or exhaust pipe – metals, endocrine disruptors, etc. 

Premature babies face greater risk of health issues including heart and breathing problems, weaker immune systems, anemia, jaundice and other complications. Longterm, while many preemies grow up healthy, they can be more likely face hearing or vision problems or developmental disabilities.

The study authors emphasized that this burden is preventable and say they plan to share their findings with policymakers in an effort to help shape regulations and laws designed to reduce air pollution. 

"This really speaks to the need to continue with efforts to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants and vehicle exhaust," Trasande said. We have some of those in Texas. 

Endocrine Frog 2Founded by the late great Theo Colburn, who along with her co-authors of "Our Stolen Future" way back in 1996 just about invented the field of "endocrine-disrupting chemicals," the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) is holding a monthly teleconference series begining in April focusing on chemicals associated with fracking. 

First up on Thursday, April 7th at 1 pm is Dr. Chris Kassotis, who's been looking at the connection between fracking chemicals and surface and ground water contamination near fracking sites. According to the TEDX release, Kassotis will speak about… 

"…his recently published research demonstrating increased endocrine disrupting activity in surface and ground water near fracking wastewater spill sites, as well as nuclear receptor antagonism for 23 commonly used fracking chemicals. His studies have shown prenatal exposure to a mixture of those chemicals at likely environmentally relevant concentrations resulted in adverse health effects in both male and female C57 mice, including decreased sperm counts, modulated hormone levels, increased body weights, and more. Dr. Kassotis will also discuss his recent work showing increased receptor antagonism downstream from a wastewater injection disposal site.

Dr. Kassotis is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He completed his PhD at the University of Missouri working with Susan Nagel to assess unconventional oil and gas operations as a novel source of endocrine disrupting chemicals in water, and the potential for adverse human and animal health outcomes from exposure. 

This April get together is one of three briefings being given from now until June. According to a preview of the next two calls:

Thursday May 5, 2016, 1:00 pm Central  – Dr. Shaina Stacy will discuss "Perinatal outcomes and unconventional natural gas development in Southwest Pennsylvania"

Thursday June 2, 2016, 1:00 pm Central – Dr. Nicole Deziel will discuss "A systematic evaluation of chemicals in hydraulic-fracturing fluids and wastewater for reproductive and developmental toxicity"

You have to go online and register as a participant if you want to listen in or ask quesitons via a live chat line. 

DFW New vs old boundariesWant the Coal Plants to Face the Kind of Regulation 

They've Been Avoiding for Decades? 

Click here and send a formal comment letter demanding the coal plants

be included in the new DFW non-attainment area for smog. 


 

Even as we're all waiting to see what EPA decides to do about the current Texas air plan for DFW under the current 75 ppb ozone standard, the regulatory process is gearing-up to administer the new 70 ppb standard.

One of the things which must be decided by the EPA are what geographical boundaries to use for the new standard when it comes to the DFW airshed and its chronic smog condition. Should they stick with the current 10-County configuration or should it be different and/or more inclusive? 

The history of DFW's smog fight is a lengthy chronicle of bringing new counties into the fold despite official resistance. Originally, the DFW non-attainment area was only Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton. Then Rockwall, Parker, and Johnson Counties came in because of their commuter traffic. 

Downwinders had to petition the EPA to bring Ellis County and its cement industrial complex into the non-attainment area early in this century after being told repeatedly by state officials that its pollution had no impact on DFW air quality. 

More recently, the state argued against the inclusion of Wise County, despite its huge inventory of oil and gas pollution, population of commuters, and more than likely, the highest ozone levels of anywhere in North Texas. EPA decided to bring it in anyway.

We're once again at a crossroads, and it could be the most significant one in a decade. 

100% coal statewinde impactNew evidence shows the huge impact the East Texas coal plants have on DFW air quality. Every scenario run by the UNT Engineering Department with the state's own DFW air computer model as part of Downwinder's Ozone Attainment Project demonstrates there's no more effective smog fighting strategy than reducing or eliminating the pollution from these coal plants.

In fact, with a few other measures within the DFW area itself, controlling or eliminating their emissions could bring us in compliance with the 75 ppb standard, something that's not likely to happen otherwise. 

Why is it so important to officially bring them into the DFW non-attainment area? Because major sources of pollution like coal plants are regulated differently inside than they are outside the area. 

Right now, many DFW businesses are having to pay to operate and maintain pollution control equipment although most emit a tiny fraction of the pollution coming from the coal plants. That's because they're located in one of the ten counties in the DFW non-attainment area. They're held to a higher standard of control than their peers doing business outside those ten counties. 

On the other hand, despite their large contribution to DFW's chronic ozone problem, the East Texas coal plants remain untouched by the same regulations and are not held to that higher standard.  What sense does that make? 

As much sense as it made to keep the cement plants out. As much sense as it made to try and exclude Wise County. 

As per usual, the EPA is letting the state have first crack at defining a new DFW smog zone. The state has decided to leave the boundaries the way they are.

CHAPPs study result copyNow, it's your turn to comment on that state decision, and tell Austin and the EPA – which will review the State's recommendations – what you think needs to happen. 

The state is accepting comments on its decision until April 15th. This time, you can send your comments directly by e-mail instead of having to go through the official Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website

If you want to use our ready-to-send letter, all you have to do is CLICK HERE , sign the letter and add your own comments if you want. Then one more click and it's on it's way to Austin. 

If you want to write your own comments: 

EMAIL: kristin.patton@tceq.texas.gov 

SNAIL MAIL: Kristin Patton, MC 206, State Implementation Plan Team, Office of Air, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, P.O. Box 13087, Austin, Texas 78711-3087, 

FAXED:(512) 239-6188. 

All comments should reference "2015 Ozone NAAQS Designation Recommendations." 

Lois Gibbs in color 2Many of you got a chance to meet and hang out with American grassroots legend Lois Gibbs during our Root and Branch Review last November. Now comes news that her Virginia-based Center for Environmental Health and Environmental Justice is opening up a new round of small grants for local groups. 

According to the Center's release, "grassroots communities of color, low wealth, faith based, rural and urban groups are encouraged to apply.  This grant program will support projects that help groups move towards their goals by building leadership and/or the group’s capacity. These projects could include meetings to develop an organizing strategy plan, training events, educational activities or membership outreach.  The grant awards will be uwith annual budgets of no more than $50,000.

CHEJ’s Small Grants Program helps grassroots, community organizing groups build their capacity.  The program is designed to especially reach people from low wealth communities and communities of color who are impacted by environmental harms. Grant activities can include board development, membership outreach, and fundraising efforts. Project activities could also include meetings to develop an organizing strategic plan, training events, educational activities which are directly connected to your strategic plan, or membership recruitment.  It is recommended that project activities be creative, effective and/or strategic." 

Not an official 501c3 non-profit? Not a problem if you can find a friendly one to piggyback on as "a fiscal sponsor" to accpet the funds on your behalf.

Deadline for proposals is Friday, April 8th. The short two-page application can be downloaded here: Small Grants Outreach Letter Application 2. Any questions can be directed at the group via their email address, info@chej.org. 

Good luck.

Battlefield mapThere's been a lot of activity lately on the many-fronted war the State of Texas is conducting against the Clean Air Act. What about a brief status report:

1) Mercury Rules

Thursday's headline was that Supreme Court Justice Roberts denied the attempt by Texas and 18 other states to delay the implementation of EPA's new, more protective limits on release of toxic Mercury pollution from coal plants. In 2013, three out of the top five largest Mercury polluters in the whole country were Texas coal plants.

It was only last summer that majority of the entire Court ruled EPA hadn't followed protocol in weighing costs to the coal industry versus public health benefits, and sent the standard back to the Agency to be rewritten. Not an especially big deal.

Texas, along with other states, sought an injunction from Justice Roberts to stop the timeline for implementation of the rules until the rewrite was finished. Roberts denied the request and so EPA is allowed to continue writing the rules and now expects to release the revised edition next month. One indication of how much trouble the rules are in, or not, is the speed and format of Robert's actions. He ruled on the case only a day after the EPA had submitted its brief, and  ruled on it unilaterally, not bothering to convene the full Court. 

The practical implications of the rules are reductions in the use of coal with higher Mercury content, better Particulate Matter pollution control equipment, and specific carbon absorption control technology aimed at Mercury. Many Texas coal plants have already taken steps to comply with the standards and it seems like almost all have applied for extensions to the original deadline. 

2) Haze Rules 

Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the state was suing the EPA for rejecting its lackadaisical plan to protect national parks from haze air pollution, also mostly coming from coal plants. Just three Luminant coal plants – Big Brown, Martin Lake and Monticello – release 40% of all Texas’ Sulfur Dioxide air pollution.

Late last year, EPA announced it found the state's lightning-fast 140-year plan to do absolutely nothing somehow inadequate, and begin to draft one of its own that would require "scrubbers" for Sulfur Dioxide pollution at nine coal plants across the state. It also concluded Texas had intentionally downplayed the impact of the coal plants on park air quality in computer modeling submitted to EPA . 

Texas is suing to prevent the EPA from enforcing its plan to require scrubbers and asking the court to accept the original Texas plan as reasonable. Pending. 

3) Sulfur Dioxide Non-attainment Areas in East Texas 

In mid-February, EPA announced it intended to declare areas surrounding three East Texas coal plants as out of compliance with national Sulfur Dioxide pollution limits and declared them in official "non-attainment" of the Clean Air Act. Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake power plants were found to be causing the violations in ambient air quality using computer modeling results first run by the Sierra Club, and then analyzed by the EPA. Boundaries were drawn for the new non-attainment areas that include all or parts of Freestone, Anderson, Rusk, Gregg, Panola, and Titus counties.

Final action by EPA on the non-attainment area classification is scheduled for this summer. Then it will be up to the state to submit a plan for action. We can all write the script from there. It ends in a court ruling. 

Eventually, these East Texas non-attainment areas are another tool by EPA's to raise the costs of operating the oldest, most polluting coal plants to better reflect their toll on public health. Plants could lower their Sulfur Dioxide emissions by importing more "Cleaner Coal" from Wyoming and/or paying for those scrubbers the Haze Rules requires too. 

4) DFW Clean Air Plan 

DFW is in "non-attainment" for ozone, or smog pollution. It has been since 1991. The State has submitted a plan to EPA that sits back and watches federal fuel changes reduce smog-forming pollution by 20-40 tons per day. The problem? EPA estimates it will take cuts of 100-200 tons per day to get down to the current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. The state says it sees no reason for more cuts. 

This is the state plan up for comment at the the now infamous "F*** the TCEQ" public hearing in Arlington in late January, with final submission to EPA by the state this summer. 

But between now and then one of the headlines you should see will be EPA rejecting the part of the state's plan dealing with pollution control technology.  EPA has already telegraphed their intention to do so, and they don't have to wait for the state's final submittal deadline to act. 

This will, of course, be followed by the state's suing the EPA for daring to enforce the Clean Air Act when Austin won't. But it won't keep the EPA from doing exactly what it did in the Haze Rule fight – write its own clean air plan for DFW. 

And that will be our chance to make the greatest leap forward in local air quality in a decade.