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Posts from the ‘environmental health’ Category

Gov. Snyder appoints MEC president Kolb to public health panel

Michigan Environmental Council President Chris Kolb was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder last week to a 24-member Public Health Advisory Commission.

Kolb will represent nonprofit environmental and health organizations on the panel, which is charged with completing an assessment of Michigan’s public health delivery system at the state and local level. The commission will issue a final report to the governor by April 1, 2017.

“It is an honor to serve on this commission alongside a wide range of state officials, medical professionals, public health experts and others who share my commitment to making Michigan a safe, healthy place for all residents,” Kolb said. “I look forward to working together and finding ways to ensure that public health programs are coordinated and effective in serving our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

Snyder also appointed Kolb in 2015 to co-chair the Flint Water Advisory Task Force, which investigated the city’s drinking water crisis, found state-appointed emergency managers and the Department of Environmental Quality chiefly responsible and provided recommendations to prevent similar disasters statewide.

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Four overlooked issues for National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which aims to raise awareness to reduce childhood exposure to lead.

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, Michiganders may be more aware of the hazards of lead than ever before. Still, we’ve got a lot of work to do. In 2014, more than 5,000 children in Michigan had blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter. That’s the level at which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends public health action to protect children, but the CDC says there is no safe level of exposure to lead. The true number of lead-afflicted children in Michigan is likely much higher, since only 20 percent of children under six years old were tested in 2014.

We’ve written quite a lot here about lead poisoning in Michigan and our work to make it a thing of the past. You can find useful background here, here and here.

Since we’ve covered the basics in previous posts, we thought we’d mark this prevention week by highlighting some lead-related issues that don’t get much attention:

Don’t get tricked by toxic treats.

With Halloween coming up next week, it’s good to be aware of a largely overlooked source of lead exposure: imported candy. The Food and Drug Administration says children and pregnant women should not eat candy imported from Mexico, which may be contaminated by lead in wrappers or through improper manufacturing practices. Candy from China, the Philippines and other countries may also contain trace amounts of lead. The federal government reports that, in California, 15 percent of childhood lead poisoning cases can be traced to tainted candy.

We don’t want to needlessly stoke fears. Halloween is fun, and you’ve got enough to worry about it. Just stick to candy produced in the U.S.

We need more cleanup contractors. Read more

Time to get serious about solving Michigan’s septic problem

Editor’s note: This post is by MEC intern Matthew McLaughlin

A story of infrastructure long forgotten is developing in Michigan. While we rank number one in the country for most dissatisfaction for road conditions, the recent tragedy in Flint has forced all Michigan citizens to consider the infrastructure that we don’t see. Here and in other states, an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality has led to neglect of water lines, municipal sewers and other infrastructure.

That neglect is especially apparent when it comes to on-site wastewater treatment systems, commonly known as septic systems, used by homes that are not connected to a centralized sewer system. Michigan has about 1.3 million septic systems in its rural areas and sprawling suburbs. Once septics are installed, many homeowners simply don’t remember to have them inspected, or even emptied, unless a problem occurs. This history of neglect has led to a widespread problem of failing systems.

Surprisingly, given the central role fresh water plays in our lifestyle and identity, Michigan is the only state without a law that specifically regulates septics. Eleven counties exercise some oversight of septics, including regular inspections, but they are unregulated in the remaining 72 counties. The state has attempted to address the problem multiple times, including in 2004 when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm created the On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems Task Force. That year the task force released a white paper with recommendations for a statewide sanitary code regulating septics. To date, however, there has not been a legislative solution to the problem.

And it is a serious problem. Joan Rose, an expert in water microbiology, water quality and public health, and others at Michigan State University recently found that rivers in areas with high concentrations of septic systems have increased evidence of E. coli and B. theta, which are indicators of human waste. In fact, they found evidence of sewage in all 64 river systems that they sampled. The state’s water strategy, issued last year by the Department of Environmental Quality, estimated that 10 percent of the state’s septics—about 130,000 systems—are failing and leaking an astounding 31 million gallons of sewage every day into our rivers, lakes and ground water. That’s a conservative estimate, far lower than observed rates in other states. Read more

On retirement day for some old coal plants, bad state policies keep others limping along

You may have noticed a lot of news stories lately about coal-fired power plants. That’s because—with federal regulations kicking in to protect public health—today marks the end of the operating permits for a number of coal plants in Michigan, including Consumers Energy’s oldest generating units, sometimes charitably described as the “Classic Seven.”

It’s good news that these coal plants are retiring—good for our health, good for our climate and good for our pocketbooks. In 2008, when Michigan enacted clean energy laws, 66 percent of our electricity came from coal. Thanks to those laws, coal now supplies less than half our electricity. With a continued, steady increase in affordable renewable power and energy efficiency, we can shrink coal’s slice of the energy pie to 35 percent by 2020.

Unfortunately, even as they retire their oldest power plants, our large, investor-owned electric utilities are still clinging to dirty coal. DTE Energy, for example, still generates over 70 percent of its electricity from coal and continues to spend millions of dollars a year to keep old plants operating, heaping the costs onto Michigan families.

And sadly, our Legislature is doing nothing to protect Michigan residents from skyrocketing energy bills or the public health impacts of dirty coal plants. Read more

With lead in the spotlight, MEC-led coalition calls for more state funding to protect kids

A lot can change in five years.

MEC Health Policy Director Tina Reynolds convened lead advocates in 2010 to form the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH) because lead poisoning received almost no attention in Lansing, despite being a completely preventable condition and one whose health effects cannot be reversed once a child is exposed.

During the coalition’s first Lead Education Day at the state Capitol, Reynolds and allies were met with puzzled faces from many lawmakers who thought the lead problem was solved when lead-based paint was banned in 1978. (About 70 percent of Michigan’s housing stock was built before that ban, so thousands of our state’s children are still exposed each year to lead from paint in older homes.)

Wednesday’s fifth annual Lead Education Day, however, came at a time when lead poisoning could hardly be a more prominent issue.

The LG weighs in

The poisoning of Flint children from lead in corrosive city water is a profound tragedy and a staggering failure of government to protect public health. It also has put an unprecedented spotlight on lead issues, providing a must-seize moment to face Michigan’s lead problem head-on.

“Now it’s something everybody is thinking about,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who kicked off Lead Education Day with remarks to the nearly 50 MIALSH members from all over the state who braved a snowstorm to meet in Lansing with legislators and urge increased state investment in successful lead-abatement programs. “I think it is time that we set some very ambitious or bold goals when it comes to eradication. We have an open door here.” Read more

Another way to help Flint

We’ve been getting calls in our office lately from people concerned about the Flint water crisis—folks from as far away as West Virginia and New Mexico—who want to know what they can do to help.

One easy answer: Head over to helpforflint.com, where you can easily donate to community organizations working to help Flint residents, or sign up for a volunteer shift. Please consider volunteering, and ask for help from your family, friends, coworkers or members of any groups you belong to. (MEC staff members had a wonderful experience volunteering with the Red Cross this past weekend. We had great leadership from a pair of seasoned disasater-response veterans, got some exercise and delivered four truckloads of water and filters to Flint residents. It was definitely a day well spent.)

Donating money and volunteering your time are good, helpful steps, and we encourage everyone to chip in however they can.

In addition, we’d like to propose another way to help: Visit Flint.

A Flint crowd enjoys live music

The serious health impacts and human suffering caused by the disaster are outrageous, and we need to do everything we can to help the people of Flint. We also should do what we can to support the city. Flint has faced serious challenges for years, and the water crisis certainly hasn’t helped its reputation.

But anyone who has spent time there knows Flint has a lot to offer. (And it’s worth noting that, while the Flint River’s reputation has taken a beating during the drinking water crisis, it’s an outstanding recreational asset for the region, and its water quality is improving. The problem was improper treatment of the water, not the river itself.)

So, we encourage you to spend a day exploring Flint, support some local businesses and tell your friends about the good stuff you find. Here are just a few options.

Shop and dine at one of the country’s great farmers markets.

Did you know Flint has a world-class farmers market? In 2009 it was named the “Most Loved Market in America” in an online contest, smoking the closest competition by more than 1,000 votes. Established in 1905, the market moved to a new location downtown in 2014. The American Farmland Trust ranked the Flint market number three in the nation last year, and the American Planning Association listed it among just six designated Great Public Spaces.

There’s a wide range of foods available at the market, from local produce to gourmet popcorn, cheeses, chocolates, Middle Eastern cuisine and barbecue. Classes and workshops also are available. It’s open year-round, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-5, and Saturdays from 8-5, so plan accordingly. Read more

Help us tell the DEQ: Michigan families aren’t guinea pigs

For more than a year MEC has been sounding the alarm about the state’s plan to deregulate emissions of some 500 toxic chemicals into Michigan’s air.

With just over a week left in the public comment period on this dangerous proposal, we are urging Michigan residents to speak up with a clear message to the Department of Environmental Quality: We are not guinea pigs.

Below we explain the state’s proposal and share some of our chief objections to it. Please take a moment to go on the public record with your opposition to rolling back these important protections for the health of Michigan residents. Feel free to use the language we’ve provided below. You have until Dec. 18 to email those comments to debrulerc@michigan.gov.

What the rule change would do

The draft policy would deregulate about 250 chemicals that have not been tested for their health impacts. Michigan’s current regulations protect public health by assuming any chemical whose effects are unknown is very toxic, and only allows them to be emitted in relatively small amounts. Without testing, state regulators can’t say with any certainty that these chemicals don’t cause cancer. In effect, the rule change would let polluters treat Michigan residents like guinea pigs.

Also concerning is the proposed deregulation of roughly 250 chemicals that are known to be toxic, despite not being linked to cancer. A chemical’s human health impact is a function of both its toxicity and the quantity emitted. The proposal eliminates quantity from that equation. It arbitrarily draws a line allowing unregulated emission of what are currently considered the least toxic 25 percent of chemicals that have been studied.

You can read more about the rule change in the Detroit News opinion piece MEC President Chris Kolb recently authored with Guy Williams of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. (If you want to really dive deeply into the subject, here’s a background report we prepared last Asthma mapyear.)

As we noted in the News,

The state’s proposed deregulation of some 500 chemicals would pack a potent punch in Detroit, where many people live in the shadow of heavy industry, and where asthma puts residents in the hospital three to six times as often as in the rest of Michigan.

Yet, the department’s plan for gathering input on the proposed deregulation does not include any public meetings in Southeast Michigan — the state’s most populous region, and one with serious air quality concerns. We find that outrageous.

How you can help

Below are a few of the key points MEC Policy Director James Clift made when he testified earlier this week at a public meeting on the proposed rule change. MEC and several of our member groups will also submit these and other concerns in our public comments.

We encourage you to include all or some of these comments—along with any other concerns you have— in an email to the DEQ. Again, that email address is debrulerc@michigan.gov. Read more

Flint water crisis: Policy changes needed to restore public trust

In what has become a national news story and a full-fledged public health emergency, state officials now acknowledge that unsafe drinking water has exposed children, pregnant women and other Flint residents to dangerous levels of lead.

If you haven’t been following the story, you can find useful information here, here and here.

Gov. Rick Snyder today put forth a plan to switch the city’s drinking water source from the Flint River back to Detroit. The switch is expected to take about two weeks. Coupled with measures announced last week—including funding for water filters and additional lead testing—today’s announcement is an important step forward.

Still, there is a lot more state leaders could do to resolve the Flint crisis and prevent similar scenarios in other Michigan communities. Below we identify some additional measures the state should take as soon as possible.

If you’ve been following this situation closely, feel free to skip ahead to our take on the situation. If you’re new to this issue, here’s some background information to bring you up to speed.

Why lead in drinking water is such a big deal

Lead exposure causes irreversible brain damage, which results in learning disabilities and violent behavior in children and adults. The effects are both heartbreaking and costly—childhood lead poisoning costs Michigan $330 million a year in decreased lifetime earnings and increased costs for health care, crime and special education.

The more we learn about lead, the more worrisome it becomes. For instance, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013 updated its risk threshold for lead poisoning and said there is no safe level of lead exposure. And new research from Wayne State University shows that a mother’s exposure to lead can damage not only her children’s fetal cells, but also her grandchildren’s.

As the Detroit Free Press noted in a recent editorial, Flint’s formula-fed infants are at extremely high risk because water makes up such a big portion of their diet. So are the unborn children of pregnant women who have been drinking water they were assured is safe. Switching back to a safer drinking water source will greatly reduce the risk, but as the Free Press editors wrote, “For children who have already been exposed, there are no remedies.” Read more

At pivotal moment for climate, two Michigan marches seek action, justice

Two landmark marches for climate justice are coming up in Michigan.

First up is the West Michigan People’s Climate March in Grand Rapids, organized by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council—an MEC member group—and many partners. It begins at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Sixth Street Bridge Park. To learn more, register or make a donation, click here.

Then, on October 3, people from across the state will travel to the Detroit March for Justice. That two-mile march from Roosevelt Park to Hart Plaza will begin at noon and wrap up around 4 p.m. RSVP for the Detroit march and find out more here.

The Detroit march is being organized by the Sierra Club and dozens of partners, including MEC and many of our member groups. The new Michigan Climate Action Network is mobilizing people from around the state, including organizing a bus from Traverse City.

We will march for environmental justice because those least responsible for pollution often suffer the worst consequences, such as in southwest Detroit, home to Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code, where many residents suffer from asthma and cancer. Families often cannot afford to move to escape pollution from the Marathon oil refinery, toxic coal plants and other industrial facilities built near their homes.

We will march for climate justice because poverty makes it harder for people to adapt to heat waves and recover from extreme weather events. This is true in Detroit, where thousands are still recovering from last year’s floods, and around the world, where the poorest countries are suffering the worst impacts of a changing climate. Read more

New fund supports expansion of healthy food across Michigan

A new loan and grant fund aims to improve public health and drive economic growth in Michigan by expanding access to healthy food in underserved communities.

The Michigan Good Food Fund, a public-private partnership launched in June, will provide funding to food producers, distributors, processors and retailers, who are often overlooked by traditional banks. The fund’s supporters say the loans and grants are an important step toward decreasing obesity rates among the 1.8 million Michiganders—including 300,000 children—who live in communities with limited access to healthy food.

The fund’s core contributors are Fair Food Network, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, W.K Kellogg Foundation and Capital Impact Partners. By 2020, the partners plan to raise $30 million for the fund and ensure that 80 percent of residents have healthy food options, with 20 percent of the food consumed in Michigan sourced from within the state.

The fund is a positive step that is well-aligned with efforts by the Michigan Environmental Council and the Healthy Kids Healthy Michigan coalition to reduce childhood obesity, said Tina Reynolds, MEC health policy director.

“We will work alongside partners from the American Heart Association who are trying to put together state dollars to help seed the fund,” Reynolds said. “We will be involved with legislative meetings, education and outreach, and engaging key members of the Legislature to support these dollars.” Read more