Unintended Consequences

Gold King Mine 1899

Gold King Mine 1899

When in the course of human events, intentional actions bring unintended consequences, it may be intelligent to notice that there exists an imbalance that needs adjustment. Therefore I did appreciate an editorial that was posted in the NY Times online Aug 20, 2015 “When a River Runs Orange” by Gwen Lachelt. This article makes the point that mining laws placed on the books back in 1872 are still in effect and having an impact on the circumstances related to abandoned mining operations in the United States.

She notes that “A study by the environmental group Earthworks estimated that approximately 500,000 abandoned and unreclaimed mines litter the country. The E.P.A. says that mining pollutes approximately 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds and that cleaning up these mines may cost American taxpayers more than $50 billion.”

EarthWorks has a lot of information on the General Mining Law of 1872 and the need for reform. They note that it was signed into law by President Ulysses S Grant and that the mining law allows “mining interests to take valuable hardrock minerals including gold, silver, and uranium from public lands without royalty payment to the taxpayer unlike other mining industries that extract coal, oil or natural gas” and “to buy valuable mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre” which was the price set in 1872 and which has never been adjusted for inflation. The fact is that “19th century America wasn’t concerned with environmental protection. So the mining law doesn’t contain environmental protection provisions”.

Animas River Before and After

Animas River
Before and After

It’s just that when rivers run an Orange color it attracts attention . . . “The Mining Law has been historically interpreted to trump all other potential uses of public lands. If you hold a mining claim, that claim is treated as a right-to-mine by the federal government. The federal government is on record as saying that they cannot say no to mining proposals. Even if those proposals threaten some of America’s most special places. Even if those proposals pollute clean water.”

And who are some of the people currently impacted by the EPAs unintended consequences when their contractor was investigating the Gold King Mine near Silverton, CO because it was already seriously polluting the Animas River ? When that big “oops” of accidentally releasing 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the river happened. The “problem” now directly impacts the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The Navajo Farming Authority has had to “shut off public water intakes and irrigation canals”. Hundreds of Navajo farmers and ranchers must now drive long distances to water their crops and livestock. “This contamination brings up memories of other environmental disasters caused by the federal government. One in particular that Navajo people are talking about is uranium mine contamination — a decades-long legacy that still affects people on the reservation today. The EPA has only started in the last seven years to clean up those mines.”

Navajo Sheepherder

Navajo Sheepherder

There have been some small legal patches applied in recent decades as noted in a Bureau of Land Management assessment of the Madison Watershed in Montana which includes information about the impacts of mining and abandoned mine lands there. Federal policy details as outlined in this report are probably pretty consistent in perspective everywhere mining has been a part of any local region – “The Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), and the Natural Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act of 1980 direct that the public lands be managed in a manner that recognizes the nation’s needs for domestic sources of mineral production. Under the Mining Law of 1872, claimants have a statutory right to develop their mineral deposits consistent with applicable environmental laws. The mineralized areas of the watershed have seen extensive mineral development over the past 150 years. The BLM Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program is responsible for cleaning up sites determined to be hazardous to human health, to the environment, or those which present physical safety hazards to the public. Early mining prior to 1981 did not require reclamation or bonding, many of these abandoned mines have legacy features such as eroding dumps, abandoned tailings, or open mine features. Reclamation will be prioritized by the magnitude of the environmental problem, the severity of the safety risk, funding available, and/or the partnerships available to conduct the work.”

North American Lead Co Fredericktown, MO

North American Lead Co
Fredericktown, MO

So why do we at Yemm & Hart care ? – apart from having environmentalist’s hearts in general. It is because we live and work in an area that has been contaminated by mining practices in the past. My region of Missouri was historically and heavily influenced by early lead mining and later on in more recent times cobalt mining as well. Mining here has left large tracts of “wasteland” locally. Lead mining in our region dates back to the very first French settlers before there was even a General Mining Law of 1872. The sad truth is that mining practices in our region resulted in us becoming “known” as a EPA SuperFund Site identified as the Missouri Mines Site. Before the local population knew “better” tailings from the mines were often used on residential yards, in sidewalk construction and on driveways. Children in the area have been widely tested for lead exposure and remediation has been accomplished locally by digging up yards and replacing top soil.

It is interesting to note that my husband comes from a long family line of coal miners beginning in the Gloucestershire area of the UK and immigrating into the coal fields of Illinois and Indiana in the US. Eventually, his family worked their way out of the mines and into other occupations but it is still interesting to note that we ended up on a farm in the Lead Belt mining region of Missouri – although thankfully there were no direct mining activities here on our land or anywhere nearby.

Lachelt notes at the end of her editorial that there is a comprehensive reform of the old law currently being attempted and that “Congress already has a bill before it that will do it: H.R. 963, the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. The new law, currently bottled up in committee, would create a fund to clean up abandoned and inactive mines by establishing an 8 percent royalty on all new hard-rock mines on public lands, a 4 percent royalty on existing mines on public lands and reclamation fees on all hard-rock mines, including those that were ‘purchased’ for low prices under the 1872 Mining Law. A similar system is already in place for abandoned coal mines, so there’s no practical reason it can’t work for hard-rock mining too. The bill would also improve both reclamation standards and requirements that mining companies financially guarantee that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up existing mines.”

~ Information Resources

“When a River Runs Orange” posted Aug 20, 2015 in the NY Times online – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/opinion/when-a-river-runs-orange.html?ref=opinion&_r=1

General Mining Law of 1872 posted at EarthWorksAction.org – https://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/general_mining_law_of_1872

“Navajo Nation Farmers Feel The Weight Of Colorado Mine Spill” story on NPR by Laurel Morales aired Aug 17, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/08/17/432600254/navajo-nation-farmers-feel-the-weight-of-colorado-mine-spill

“‘Yellow Dirt’: The Legacy of Navajo Uranium Mines” aired Oct 22, 2010 on NPR and based on the book “Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed” by Judy Pasternak – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130754093

Pgs 10 -11 and 58 – 59 – “Mining, Minerals and Abandoned Mine Lands” in the Madison Watershed of Montana, report published at Bureau of Land Management – http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/mt/field_offices/dillon/madison.Par.4414.File.dat/report.pdf

“Madison County Mines EPA Superfund Site” – http://www.epa.gov/Region7/cleanup/npl_files/mod098633415.pdf

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Who Wouldn’t Want Clean Power ?

Einstein Quote w Tree

Judging by the flurry of articles in our local Democrat-News published on Aug 12, 2015 there are certainly some who don’t want to make the effort to have cleaner sources of powering our electricity in these parts of our country. They include not only our local rural electric co-op and the guiding National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) but our politicians as well. That our politicians are directly supportive of our electric utilities doesn’t surprise me. The monthly Rural Missouri co-operative publication has been carrying editorials against the EPAs initiatives for months, maybe a year or longer. So of course it doesn’t surprise me to see editorial pieces this week in our local newspaper by Congressman Jason Smith (R) or Sen Roy Blunt (R) against the EPA plan as well.

I’ve only seen ONE real argument against making any changes to how we get our electricity from any of these official sources – COST.

Sen Roy Blunt – “Electric service providers in Missouri have warned that the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan will raise energy costs for Missourians . . . ” and “Middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, . . .”

Congressman Jason Smith – “. . . under the Clean Air Act . . . emission limits will raise the price of electricity, force the closure of coal plants in Missouri and cost people jobs . . .”

Jo Ann Emerson (former Missouri Congresswoman, now CEO for the NRECA) – “Any increase in the cost of electricity impacts those who can least afford it, . . .” and “While we appreciate the efforts . . . the Clean Air Act . . . will raise electricity rates . . .”

Barry Hart, CEO Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives – “We are focused on the affordability . . . of electricity” and “. . . the final rules make it far more likely electric rates will dramatically increase.”

Maybe we don’t pay enough for electricity here in Missouri. We love our right to pollute in order to keep our costs low. Certainly, the burden will be on the poorer segments of society. I’m certain that there will be no executives volunteering to cut their salary in order to keep the increased cost of electricity lower for the poorer segments of society !! I do worry that “enormously wealthy individuals and vastly powerful corporations are digging in their heels and allowing themselves to be willfully blinded to reality, all in the name of milking the last few dollars out of a dying economy based on fossil fuels”.

Missouri's Callaway Nuclear Generating Station

Missouri’s Callaway
Nuclear Generating Station

Jim Jura, CEO Associated Electric Cooperative notes that “Coal generation has been a significant factor in providing our members with reliable electricity at low rates.” He also complains that the EPAs new rules do not credit electric cooperatives for the 750 megawatts of renewable energy from wind farms nor the millions of dollars spent on energy efficiency measures to reduce demand. Yes, Missouri does have a serious problem with the new EPA regulations.

In 2013, coal supplied 83% of Missouri’s net electricity generation. The state had one nuclear power plant, the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station, which contributes 9% of the state’s net electricity generation. And renewable energy resources accounted for only about 3% of Missouri’s net electricity with most of this coming from conventional hydroelectric power and wind. Honestly, I’ve no idea where the other 5% comes from as that was not identified at the US Energy Information Administration’s website !! So while I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in Sen Claire McCaskill’s (D) lack of a visionary energy perspective as well, I do think she does make an important point – Missouri won’t be able to make such extreme modifications to our energy delivery systems in only 5 years, and maybe not even in 15 years.

I am grateful for our electricity. I miss it when we don’t have it. Our lives are built around access to certain conveniences. I certainly don’t prefer having to use the gas powered generator that we are reduced to when we have an extended power outage usually because of some storm. Thankfully these don’t happen too often. Gas powered generators are noisy and I don’t think gas is the “cleanest” kind of energy.

Electricity Cost

It’s not that I really want my electric bill to cost us more. Currently we pay $372 + each month for our local electricity consumption. No one (including us) really wants to pay more for anything. I’ve been grateful to see gasoline prices falling (yes falling, which seems like a novel idea at the moment) over the last year or two. However, I must admit that my environmentalist heart is in conflict with my frugal heart at the moment on this whole issue. We can’t forever deny the atmospheric challenges that are affecting our weather, will likely affect our food crops and often affect the quality of air that people breathe leading to suffering and diseases.

So I see this Clean Power Plan as something similar to Obamacare – not the perfect solution, not the complete answer to one of the more vexing, complex and difficult to solve problems of our time but it’s a beginning, an attempt to right the balance that sustains life on this planet. I fear sometimes that we are already too late but throwing up our hands in despair and doing nothing certainly can’t help. Pretending there isn’t a serious imbalance in our environmental qualities, or being in such a state of denial that we think there really isn’t a “problem” at all, won’t help us arrive at cleaner sources of energy generation.

My partner says we need a new kind of energy. Yes, that is what we really need now !! And that happy circumstance is not in our view finders currently.

Current Energy Choices

In this blog I try to be a voice that is reasonable and practical about the complexity of our environmental choices. As I write this morning, I am gazing at a thorny thicket which is blocking the forward progress of humanity. How do we keep the environmental quality of this planet at the level of human sustainability ? The way is not clear. Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” So we need an entirely different perspective on how to supply our energy needs. Not simple resistance, not blind denial, not optimistic sugar plums. I don’t personally have a creative vision of something that will solve this problem for us. But I do hope there are some humans out there who will yet find that opening into a brighter future. I believe there is no issue of more importance in our modern times than the resources we choose to supply our energy requirements and the ways in which our human behaviors affect the planet’s climate. There are so many ways that both of these are going to directly affect the quality of life for humans going into the future.

Even as far back as 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover (a visionary with the gift of great insight and clear thinking) had this to say –

“The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume. In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.”

“Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.”

Unfortunately, current energy strategies are at present based on unsustainable thinking. When it comes to public policies and strategic planning, a complete rethinking must take place in order to step away from self-destructing behavior. While it is understandable for us to focus on novel ways of obtaining energy (wind, solar, geothermal or nuclear power sources), it has long been recognized that simply reducing demand is cost effective and can help sustain us in the short term at least. Realistically there will be inefficiencies in our attempts at converting to alternate energy sources. Our dependence on complex systems means that we will need time to find a way. Using less energy in general, recycling most of the resources we do use (hopefully approaching even as high as 90-95% recycled) will keep enough material in the cycle to also help keep restocking demands from as yet untapped resources low.

Conserve Energy

~ Information Resources
(please note that this week you may not find ALL of the information resources below quoted or used in my blog but these are all good sources of information on this topic which I have located while doing my own research that may help you to form opinions and perspectives for your own self about this important issue. ~ Deborah Hart Yemm)

On New EPA Rule—McCaskill Leads Colleagues in Pursuing Commonsense Adjustments to Protect Consumers – posted on Sen McCaskill’s website Dec 10, 2014 – http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov/media-center/news-releases/on-new-epa-rulemccaskill-leads-colleagues-in_pursuing-commonsense-adjustments-to-protect-consumers

How Obama’s Clean Power Plan actually works — a step-by-step guide posted Aug 5, 2015 by Brad Plumer at Vox – http://www.vox.com/2015/8/4/9096903/clean-power-plan-explained

Clean Power Plan puts children ahead of polluters posted July 14, 2015 at Clean Air Missouri from the Columbia Daily Tribune – http://www.cleanairmissouri.org/clean-power-plan-puts-children-ahead-of-polluters/

Affordable Electricity Rural America’s Economic Lifeline – http://www.nreca.coop/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Affordable-Electricity-Rural-Americas-Economic-Lifeline.pdf

Clean Power Plan posted at the EPA website – http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan

6 Things Every American Should Know About the Clean Power Plan posted Aug 3, 2015 by Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator – https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/08/6-things-clean-power-plan/

Elon Musk: Burning Fossil Fuels “Dumbest Experiment In History” posted Mar 30, 2015 by Steve Hanley at Gas2.org – http://gas2.org/2015/03/30/musk-burning-fossil-fuels-dumbest-experiment-ever/

Sustainable Cities and Military Installations pg 238 as edited by Igor Linkov and published Nov 12, 2013 is posted at Google Books – https://goo.gl/5RXRae

Missouri State Profile and Energy Estimates – posted at the US Energy Information Administration website – http://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=MO

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Not Good News for Recycling

Bales of Plastics Bottles

A recent article in The Guardian reflects what we have been feeling for reasons of our own within our business. We are not in the first tier of the recycling process. We have been there in the past – actually bringing in bales of minimally sorted plastic bottles and paying our employees to carefully remove the resins that shouldn’t be co-mingled with the #2 HDPE resin that is our predominant feedstock (we can tolerate some #4 LDPE and #5 PP because our process is “forgiving” enough to handle that much variety). At that time, we actually were paying them more in “bounties” than their base rate without the inducement.

It has seemed to us that recycling in general, while happily still continuing to be utilized in many communities (ours included) to reduce transfer costs and the space required in limited landfills, is no longer given very much “public” attention. This has psychological impacts on the individuals who are creating waste. They may feel that their personal effort isn’t really significant or that the “problem” has already been solved without their input. Neither of these perspectives is valid. Waste and the accumulation of it are still an issue we should all be concerned about. Recently the Environmental Protection Agency announced that as of 2013 overall recycling rates were 34.3% of the waste stream and had contracted for the second year in a row.

The article notes – “Falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened Chinese economy are combining to make the global business of recycling less profitable than ever.” The article goes on to say – “Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise.” This is not good news after so much effort has gone into changing a lot of individual behaviors with curbside programs. In the world as it exists today most enterprises that consistently lose money do eventually fail. David Steiner, Waste Management’s chief executive, stated this directly – “We want to help our customers, but we are a for-profit business. We won’t stay in the industry if we can’t make a profit”. According to Waste Management, and confirmed by other recyclers as well, “more than 2,000 municipalities nationwide are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.”

And it isn’t only municipalities struggling, Waste Management’s recycling division posted a loss of nearly $16 million in the first quarter of the year. The company has shut nearly one in 10 of its biggest recycling facilities. According to Steiner, “An even larger percentage of its plants may go dark in the next 12 months”. Even though environmentalists and conservation advocates question whether the industry is overstating a cyclical slump, a perfect storm of falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened economy in China have conspired to devastate prices for American recyclables worldwide. Chinese companies have also become pickier about the quality of American materials they purchase.

WM Curbside Recycling Bin

I remember when we had to do a lot of the work of recycling ourselves BEFORE we ever took our recyclables to the collection center. Everything needed to be sorted and I always made sure it was clean as well. Although our local center does still ask for some pre-sorting by citizens bringing in their recyclables, many centers and especially curbside programs don’t require any sorting at all (but I guarantee you that to make use of it all – it has to be sorted – before it is further processed). We pay a “bag fee” on transfer station non-recyclable trash. Maybe the collection centers for recyclables need to start charging a much lower fee for those items – perhaps half of what the landfilled materials cost to dispose of.

Contamination of the recyclable stream has always been a problem. Glass is a problem in automated sorting facilities because it often breaks and ends up rendering valuable bales of paper or plastic unsaleable. And the reality is – uninformed and untrained curbside program users often contaminate their recyclables with garbage – even if some of the items were placed there with optimistic good intentions that they had a residual value.

And there is an interesting market impact due to changes in the packaging of consumer products. Patty Moore, head of California-based Moore Recycling Associates, notes that “. . . what’s different now is that the material mix has changed”. The once-profitable old newspapers, thick plastic bottles and aluminium cans that could be easily baled and reused make up a far lower percentage of the recyclable stream, replaced by lighter weight alternatives like vacuum-packed bags for coffee and foods like tuna fish. Tin cans and plastic water bottles have become thinner. Many items such as soup and other liquids come in aseptic cartons now. Even the plastic milk jugs we depend on for Yemm & Hart’s Origins product are frequently replaced with that type of packaging.

Horizon Milk Cartons

And in the midst of all the bad news, there is this bright spot – an increase in cardboard turned in for recycling. More people are buying items through online merchants (we certainly do as stores are a long way from home and time consuming to shop at). Because of this trend, cardboard has doubled its volume in the recyclable stream. Also businesses that eventually process sorted plastic bottles continue growing and a processor that feeds an Indiana paper mill churning out 100% recycled cardboard has just recently added capacity with two new facilities coming on line.

Everyone should care about these issues. Anyone can make a more diligent effort to do a good job of recycling ONLY materials that can be utilized and keeping their garbage contamination out of the recyclables system. Like droughts or floods, the current economic situation could change at any time – oil prices could rise (though I’m not wishing for that out of terrible self-interest). The US dollar could weaken and I’m not proficient enough at economics to say whether that would be a good or bad thing for most of us. And one could put some hope in China’s tendency to plan far far ahead for the common good of their own people. Unfortunately, the United States of America does not tend to look beyond the next fickle election cycle and our politicians are unlikely to ever care very much about “trash”.

The danger is that we could lose the momentum built up over several decades with a short-term, profit-driven/loss-adverse mindset or even worse – apathy. The reality is that money still makes the world go round . . . environmentally we would be better off if quality of life and human welfare and protecting the world that sustains us were the values that determined decisions about what should be done and why. I don’t see such a sea change in perspective coming any time soon, not even in my lifetime, and yet I never say never and I don’t give up hope easily.

~ Information Resources

Why the US recycling industry is feeling down in the dumps by Aaron C Davis posted on 06/27/15 and reprinted in The Guardian online from The Washington Post – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/27/recycling-unprofitable-oil-china-dollar

Aseptic packaging details at “FAQs” for Pacific Foods – http://www.pacificfoods.com/about-pages/faqs

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Materials With Some Concerns

YH in FS

We do not live in a “perfect” world but in the best circumstances each of us would be trying to push “what is” a bit more towards “the perfect” each day. When it comes to recycling materials, we often have to remind ourselves that [a] we did not cause the original material to exist and [b] keeping it out of the landfill and locked up in a useful application is the better alternative. Therefore, we continue to offer some materials that we wish were more perfect.

What I hope to do with this blog is simply share some of what we know about two material families with those who care the most about environmental issues and the complexities that should be considered. As with all of the materials that we market – it is the responsibility of the professional specifying our materials to determine the suitability of these materials for a particular application. We willingly do our part by being honest with you to the best of our own understanding about the nature of these materials.

Flexisurf

One of these materials that we are involved in getting recycled through our business, Yemm & Hart Ltd, is a PVC based material we call Flexisurf. We have this recycled material installed in our own bathroom where it has functioned for years beautifully and because it was “pre-finished” with a sealer on the production line as it was made – it is a dream to keep clean and looking nice.

As we became aware of growing concerns about PVC in general, we temporarily discontinued actively marketing Flexisurf but we would still fill orders for it with disclosure about our own concerns. As we worked through our personal feelings about being involved with PVC, we realized the point I made above. We did NOT cause it to exist and we do keep it out of the landfill where it could possibly breakdown over time and might affect the environment in some manner.

Why is PVC desirable ? PVC is strong, resistant to oil and chemicals, sunlight, weathering and is also flame resistant. PVC is all around us because it is an incredibly versatile material. Found as bottles, packaging, toys, construction materials, bedding, clothing, piping, wire coatings, imitation leather, furnishings and more places PVC third in both global plastic output and consumption. Because 57% of PVC’s mass is chlorine less petroleum is required for its manufacture than many other polymers.

What are some of the concerns about PVC generally ? Oil and chlorine are NOT what most people could call “green” substances. Their extraction, refining and by-products all pose serious concerns. One such issue of concern in its initial production is the creation of dioxin (and dioxin could also be released if the material is incinerated). Dioxin is one of the deadliest man-made poisons and it is a cumulative toxin. It stays in the body for a long time and can concentrate in food chains at the highest levels.

Another issue that has been identified with PVC is the use phthalates added to make it flexible. It’s often reported that no other plastic presents such a direct environmental and human health threat as PVC does.

FS Jet Coasters

So it really is the manufacture of PVC to begin with that is the issue of most concern. Recycled into the sheet form that we sell it as is NOT the real concern. Why ? It’s highly stable and not likely to biodegrade. Items made from PVC will retain their form for decades and the breakdown that does occur is into smaller and smaller pieces.

Recycling PVC is difficult and dangerous and requires special equipment to make its reprocessing safe for the employees of the facility and to prevent any emissions from entering the atmosphere. That is why only 1% of all the PVC created is ever recycled. It is likely your local recycling center will NOT even accept #3 (PVC) plastics from you.

Tire Veneer 10501 20% Green

Tire Veneer
10501 20% Green

Rubber is another material that we are involved in recycling through our business. We call our recycled rubber material Tire Veneer (for obvious reasons). Recently a few reasons for concern regarding rubber have come to my attention. I already knew from local history that making piles of tires usually culminates in tires burning and sending lots of smoke up into the air. Our Missouri Dept of Natural Resources won’t allow that practice any longer. When we are working at cleaning trash out of waterways for our state Stream Team organization, we are given financial assistance to defray the cost of properly disposing of the numerous tires that many people seem to think nothing of dumping into ditches, on back roads or into our streams and rivers.

Recently, some concerns have been expressed about the use of crumb rubber (tires recycled by grinding them up into crumbs) in applications where children will be playing. On the positive side the resilience and cushioning ability of the material had been the reason it was specified to benefit from its ability to help prevent injuries. The crumb rubber form of the recycled rubber material has been used for athletic fields, as garden mulch and in children’s playgrounds.

Taylor Bird Sculpture

As with PVC, there is more concern related to manufacturing issues than with subsequent use of the reclaimed material. Tire crumbs do contain volatile organic hydrocarbons (VOCs) with carcinogenic potential. Evidence of VOCs in crumb rubber has been extracted under laboratory conditions. Health reports from workers in the rubber fabrication industry and also within the rubber reclamation industry describe the presence of VOCs and some toxic elements that can become airborne. Studies at some tire reclamation sites have reported leaching of similar chemicals into the ground water. Occupational studies document potential health effects ranging from skin, eye, and respiratory irritation to implication in the origination of three forms of cancer.

Studies have been conducted that resulted in some recommendations that the use of reclaimed crumb rubber from tires should be limited when related to human exposure in outdoor applications. The summertime heating of the material could amplify the release of VOCs from crumb rubber installations. And there are advisories against using crumb rubber for mulch when growing nursery food plants.

What about applications for recycled rubber in sheet form flooring ? I sincerely appreciated the response of Cynthia Phakos of Koffka Phakos Design in Los Angeles CA on the US Green Building Council’s website (link in the Information Resources section at the end of this blog). She said –

[1] Recycled rubber flooring is very green as it diverts used products from the landfill, and is a durable, renewable material.

[2] There can be off-gassing of VOCs which could be harmful if one has sensitivities. These odors will dissipate over time into the atmosphere.

Her support for that application did note that various manufacturers’ products can vary in their environmental and health impacts and that some testing of rubber flooring material in a basement installation has proven it to be an acceptable use. She is correct in noting that “colored granules” are there for aesthetic purposes and the that highest recycled content would be in the solid Black variety. It is also noted that recycled rubber flooring has a longer life (approx 20 yrs) than vinyl or carpet products.

We find recycled rubber sheeting useful as a weed barrier and to soften concrete steps. We have also upholstered a hard plastic chair and drum table, both with good results.

Tire Veneer Chair & Drum Table

Tire Veneer
Chair & Drum Table

Life is full of complexities and trade-offs. We feel that both Flexisurf and Tire Veneer are excellent materials for their durability and ease of maintenance. And of course, we are totally committed to bringing you recycled content with ALL of our materials.

~ Information Resources

“PVC plastic’s environmental impact” posted at Green Living Tips on Jan 4, 2010 – http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/pvc-and-the-environment.html

“Artificial Turf: Exposures to Ground Up Rubber Tires – Athletic Fields, Playgrounds, Garden Mulch” posted at Environment and Human Health Inc – http://www.ehhi.org/reports/turf/

“Is recycled rubber flooring a green and healthy choice? We’re considering it for a basement living space.” at US Green Building Council’s “Green Home Guide” – http://greenhomeguide.com/askapro/question/is-recycled-rubber-flooring-a-green-and-healthy-choice-we-re-considering-it-for-a-basement-living-space

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Tar Sands & Train Wrecks

Stanton Curve movie - Unstoppable

Stanton Curve
movie – Unstoppable

One of my family’s favorite movies is Unstoppable with Dezel Washington. That movie tracks somewhat closely a real life incident that it is based on the CSX 8888, also known as the Crazy 8s incident. In both the movie and the incident there are tanker cars carrying molten phenol and an un-manned “runaway” train. The reasons this happened are the same in both versions – a misaligned switch, an engineer leaving the cab to address it and thinking that applying the independent air brake would be adequate.

The movie is a gripping, seat of your pants drama about how ill prepared the powers that be are to rapidly respond to the inevitable shouldn’ts that still happen. It turns out that when it comes to railroad issues, the powers that be are the railroads themselves (the fox guarding the chicken coop – the serious danger policed by the source of that danger).

I wanted to watch the Unstoppable movie again after I recently listened to the Feb 25, 2015 episode of NPR Fresh Air titled “A Hard Look At The Risks Of Transporting Oil On Rail Tanker Cars” which was an interview of the investigative journalist, Marcus Stern. And to complicate things even more, the railroads don’t have 100% control over the “source” of the danger highlighted in this segment but control over the quality of those tanker cars is in the hands of those whose product is inside those tanker cars.

Lac-Megantic Quebec Canada

Lac-Megantic Quebec Canada

Train wrecks involving tanker cars are increasing in frequency. The most note-worthy of recent disasters in the interview occurred in Lac-Megantic Quebec Canada and involved a train that was unattended, which experienced a failure of its brakes that sent it traveling downhill at speeds reaching 60 mi/hour whereupon it encountered a curve causing it to derail, killing at least 47 people in a bar there on a Saturday night in July 2013.

It is not surprising to discover that BIG money obscures the dangerous risks now taking place. The onset of fracking in North Dakota and the existence of East Coast refineries that were not competitive processing imported oil and the convenience of rail lines and available tank cars to connect the two . . . how BIG is the payoff ? – this whole economic system is “worth tens of billions of dollars, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars” according to Stern.

So how many tanker cars are we actually talking about ? In 2008, there were 9,500 rail cars carrying crude oil. In 2014, just 6 years later, that number had jumped to 400,000. And regarding each train, they are now often 100 tanker cars extending a mile in length carrying a combined total of as much as 3 million gallons. Does this represent some change from trains only a few years ago ? Yeah, it does. In the past when hauling crude oil by rail, there might be only a couple of tankers and they’d be split up over the length of the train, reducing the risk.

Is there some characteristic that makes the North Dakota crude more dangerous. Well, yeah. It is known as “light oil” and it is a lot like gasoline. It’s actually a mixture of oil and liquid natural gases (methane, butane, propane) which are suspended in the oil. As this travels the thousands of miles from North Dakota to the East Coast, the gas part begins to separate from the liquid part leaving a gaseous blanket of propane sitting on top of the liquid oil. A breach and a spark and you have fireballs shooting hundreds of feet in the air with flaming oil shooting in all directions and such explosions can continue for several days. The emergency responders can’t do anything more than keep people away and let it burn out.

DOT-111 Tanker Railcar

DOT-111 Tanker Railcar

Is there something about the tanker cars being used that would make a breach more likely ? Yeah, there is. The most common model is the DOT-111 which was designed back in the 1960s for non-flammable liquids like corn syrup. This particular design is highly likely to rupture in a derailment because the shell is not thick enough. The opening at the top through which the oil is loaded into the tanker can break off in derailments. The valves don’t shut properly. At the bottom, there’s a fitting that is used to remove the oil at the refinery that also tends to break. Both ends of the tanker car need to reinforced as well. The DOT-111 is used by producers and refiners because of the economics – there are simply a lot of old DOT-111s available. Presently as many as 100,000 of them are transporting oil.

Why isn’t anyone doing something about the use of these dangerously inappropriate tanker cars ? The railroad did put into effect in Oct 2011 a mandate for tougher cars with thicker shells, though not nearly as thick as they need to be nor are there the other improvements that could increase the safety of transporting fuel on rails. And the mandate is very limited in scope – it only applies if a “new” car is built. Then, that new tanker must meet the new standards. The problem is that there are still hundreds of thousands of the old “legacy” cars still out there and they are active on the rails.

Here’s where it gets interesting . . . although the railroads are concerned, getting the tanker cars phased out and replaced is NOT under their control. The “shippers” (the refineries that take them and the producers that load them in North Dakota) are the owners of these railcars. Therefore the burden of upgrading these falls on them. And once again, “it’s the money” preventing increases in safety because it is the owners are the ones that are resisting the upgrades. How much would it cost them ? Maybe $3 billion dollars to upgrade all of the tankers.

To make this division of responsibility a bit clearer – the railroads own the track, have the right-of-ways and the locomotives. And railroads cannot legally refuse to carry any specific cargo but must allow their tracks to be open to the transportation of goods generally. Another issue of concern is that the viability of bridges that railroads also own is their responsibility. The railroad is the only party that can tell you whether the bridge is safe and there are no engineering standards for railroad bridges. The federal government does not inspect the bridges nor does it enforce any regulations related to their safety.

Yeah, what about our government ? Isn’t there something they could do ? The regulatory process includes “negotiated rulemaking”. What this means is that there are a lot of secret behind-closed-door meetings between industry and policy makers. That gives the industry a very loud voice which allows them to delay, dilute, or delete provisions that they object to. And there is gridlock in the process. Here’s an example, the Department of Transportation (regarding anything related to crude-by-rail) has not been able to get these regulations officially functional for more than a year and a half. It is no surprise that the rail-related industries put millions of dollars into lobbying in Washington to keep everything going in the direction of their best interests.

After Lac-Megantic, the Department of Transportation did issue an emergency order that trains may not be left with their engines running while sitting unattended on tracks without “specific” permission. Yet this practice continues and if the railroad receives a complaint about it, they will assert that they were “allowed” to do that. Why ? Because it says in the small print only that they have to have “a plan” (inconveniently in a drawer somewhere ?) for leaving the railroad cars unattended with their engines running.

Also mandated after Lac-Megantic, the railroads must notify state emergency officials whenever they’re going to be sending any train through a state that has more than a million gallons of oil being transported. But anything less than that and the states won’t get notified. Even when notifications are transmitted that’s no guarantee that the information will reach the local community level.

Obama Keystone Cartoon

Recently President Obama vetoed the bill approving the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline modification. A Senate vote to override the veto fell short on Wed, March 4th. That certainly is okay with me. I wonder however who that pipeline actually benefits financially. What I found was that it is an indication of the power of the oil industry over this country. The very first order of business when the Republicans took over the Senate was a bill related to an oil pipeline for a foreign oil company to get their product passed through our country to the Gulf coast refineries and ports for export to other countries. Personally, I wonder if the whole Keystone issue isn’t simply a distraction from the more serious concerns that Stern highlighted in his rail tanker car report.

Officially, the reason the president vetoed the bill “is that it circumvents a long-standing administrative process for evaluating whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interest of the country.”, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. In an op-ed piece in the NY Times, Jonathan Waldman suggests that “Getting behind a law holding pipelines to higher standards seems an executive act far more courageous than a veto.” while acknowledging that “In the generation since, regulations have actually gotten laxer . . .”

In the Marcus Stern interview, one of the arguments for a pipeline – not needing to transport by rail any longer was ably refuted. He said – “… the reasons I think that producers and refiners have turned to rail is because pipelines are just so difficult to get approved. You can look at the Keystone XL Pipeline – the big debate over it – and it’s become a lightning rod for this whole discussion. But building pipelines is very contentious. And in addition to that, it takes a lot of time to do it. There’s a big upfront expense. And by the time they were putting pipelines into North Dakota, the North Dakota play might be played out.”

Map of the Keystone Pipeline

A lot of the Keystone Pipeline already exists as part of an infrastructure that has been built over the last 50 years. All the uproar is about “straightening” it and adding the final completing link to the Gulf Coast. So this pipeline infrastructure project just may not really make either economic or environmental sense. The Alberta Canada Premier, Jim Prentice, puts the issue bluntly this way – “under the Free Trade Agreement . . . this is a free-market product that’s moving across the North American continent one way or the other. Right now, in the absence of pipeline capacity, it will be increasingly carried by railcars. That is not the safest way. It’s not the most environmentally responsible way to carry hydrocarbons”. And it is no surprise that he believes that “… pipelines are an infinitely better choice”. Clearly, blocking further progress to finish the Keystone pipeline won’t ever prevent Canada from extracting its tar sands oil.

Jonathan Waldman asserts – “Pipelines are the safest way to move oil. They’re an order of magnitude more reliable than trains, and trains are an order of magnitude more reliable than trucks.” Still, whether it is rail or pipeline the ways of regulation in this country are discouraging – “dramatic explosion, calls for reform and powerful resistance”. Waldman makes some reassuring points about the state of technology to make pipelines safer – “smart pigs” that “can record tons of information, and capture unprecedented levels of detail” and are “more agile” – able to traverse narrow pipelines and make tight turns. He notes that leak detection software has gotten better and is now running on big databases that can monitor developing corrosion in pipelines over time.

Pipeline Smart Pig

I think back to Marcus Stern’s point about pipelines in general and it would seem to me that tanker railcars are the more “flexible” choice to move product around, whether to the East Coast or the Gulf Coast. Why not strengthen the overall safety of the rail system ? – the tanker cars, the bridges, the travel ways through the population centers around refineries – why not upgrade the whole rail system ? if the US is going to be “in the petroleum producing business” for a long time any way but perhaps continuously moving around to develop different geographical areas of our energy reserves. I’m not a fan of fracking – not at all !! – but my feelings about it aren’t going to stop it as long as it is reducing our energy dependence on politically volatile areas like the Middle East and of course if there’s a lot of money to be made and lobbying of politicians to support that effort.

Plastic is a petroleum product. Therefore, it would seem safe to assume that when we recycle plastic, we are extending the life of that already extracted natural resource. When we use it for serious construction purposes – such as restroom stall partitions – it should mean that there is less of a need to extract “new” petroleum. Or so one might hope – though markets operate on more and more stuff being generated as a rule. The Container Store believes in Conscious Capitalism and one of the ways they show that by their actions is by using Yemm & Hart’s 513 Tornado for vanity countertops in their retail establishment’s customer restrooms. Funny, somehow the color reminds me of oil flowing . . .

Origins 513 Tornado

Origins 513 Tornado

~ Information Resources

Unstoppable (2010 film) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unstoppable_(2010_film)

The CSX 8888 Incident – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSX_8888_incident

A Hard Look At The Risks Of Transporting Oil On Rail Tanker Cars – interview w/Marcus Stern at NPR Fresh Air – February 25, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/02/25/389008046/a-hard-look-at-the-risks-of-transporting-oil-on-rail-tanker-cars

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Bill, But Fight over Climate-Threatening Oil Pipeline Isn’t Over – posted at Democracy Now.org on Feb 25, 2015 – http://www.democracynow.org/2015/2/25/obama_vetoes_keystone_xl_bill_but

Keystone XL Pipeline Benefits U.S. And Canada, Alberta Premier Says – interview with Jim Prentice, Alberta Premier for NPR Morning Edition on Feb 04, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/02/04/383724544/keystone-xl-pipeline-benefits-u-s-and-canada-alberta-premier-says

Don’t Kill Keystone XL. Regulate It. by Jonathan Waldman posted March 6, 2015 – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/06/opinion/dont-kill-keystone-xl-regulate-it.html

What We Stand For – blog by The Container Store – http://standfor.containerstore.com/category/conscious-capitalism/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Vitally Precious

Drinking Water

Water !! There is nothing more precious to life on Earth. Almost as precious however are the youth who will inherit the Earth when their elders are no longer the driving force of progress and evolution.

I stumbled upon the story of one such young man, Steven McDowell, with a vision for helping to alleviate the drought conditions that have become frequent news items in the southwest over to the west coast. California is currently in one of it’s worst drought cycles ever. Steven realizes that – “With climate change affecting our rain patterns we must now plan for the possibility of living with far less annual rainfall, so saving every drop could be essential.”

As this 14 year old began doing research for his science fair project, using California’s drought as his subject and how to help solve it with a focus on how each person could do their share by preserving and storing as much water as possible, he was not able to find suitable storage options already existing that would fulfill his personal goals.

So, he started thinking outside of the box to come up with a completely different solution. He took a walk around his neighborhood. What did every house have in common ? In a moment of inspiration, the answer to that question became the seed for his new idea. Every house had a fence around their yard and “for the most part they all were made of the same thing…wood”. Steven goes on to say – “I had an idea; what if the fence around my yard could be used to collect runoff rainwater!”

So he did an internet search for an existing fence product that could accomplish that goal but he found nothing like it at all. He started doing his theoretical calculations using his own yard’s fence which was 80 feet by 70 feet by 80 feet. At six feet high by seven feet long and making his “idea” fence slightly wider than his actual, 12 inches, he determined that each fence section could hold approximately 320 gallons.

Next Steven calculated how much rainwater run-off he could capture from a 2,000 sq ft roof surface area using a rainfall total of 1 inch times his conversion factor. He determined the rainwater run-off would equal around 1,200 gallons of water. The fence would capture and evenly spread that run-off water to each storage unit whenever it rained. Thus he realized that he could theoretically hold almost 13 thousand gallons of fresh pure rain water in such a fence structure.

Steven McDowell with his science project

Steven McDowell
with his science project

It is not surprising to learn that Steven won 1st Prize at his science fair with the mock-up of his working Water Fence idea. Steven explains how he realized that he was onto a truly important product idea – “My engineering teacher stated it was the best original idea he had seen in 14 years of science fairs and my science professor told me to patent the idea right away, which I did. Three of the judges approached me as well and asked me to install it in their homes immediately.”

Steven McDowell has gone on to win many other prizes with his Water Fence idea as well including the U.S Stockholm Junior Water Prize Regional Award and the American Meteorological Society’s “Certificate of Outstanding Achievement”. Even as he is very excited that his incredible Water Fence system made of HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) which is 100% recyclable (yes, Steven is saving trees that would have been wooden fences as well as conserving fresh water !!) will soon be available for purchase, he also encourages others to create sustainable options for water conservation. The importance of water can not be over-stated.

2006 Water Scarcity by Country Both Physical & Economic

2006 Water Scarcity by Country
Both Physical & Economic

Scientist’s predict that by 2050 half of the world’s population will be impacted by a scarcity of fresh water. Environmental refugees will be forced to migrate away from areas without the necessary resource of water. The current mismanagement and misuse of increasingly scarce water resources threatens to plunge most of the global population into extreme water poverty according to the world’s leading water scientists.

The draining of rivers and underground aquifers as well as pollution and erosion along with climate change pose a long-term threat to human welfare. The increasing use globally of water combined with the permanent degradation of quality in existing water supplies is on an “unsustainable trajectory” according to scientists who feel it is fast approaching a global tipping point.

Our world needs more kids like Steven McDowell and I believe they are out there dreaming up solutions to the challenges that face mankind as we move into a future we can only theorize about now. I remain optimistic that the vitally precious resource of imaginative kids will not only find solutions to a potential scarcity of fresh water but the other pressing issues to affect everyone’s quality of life.

~ Information Resources

Steven McDowell/Water Fence – http://www.waterfence.com/about-the-inventor

“Lack of fresh water could hit half the world’s population by 2050” posted by Steve Connor on May 24, 2013 at The Independent – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/lack-of-fresh-water-could-hit-half-the-worlds-population-by-2050-8631613.html

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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What Happened to Good Intentions ?

2001-2014 EPA Chemical Assessments Graph

What happened to President Obama’s promise to divorce politics from science ? More specifically, what happened to those good intentions to assess dangerous chemicals more quickly at the EPA ? When Lisa Jackson came on board as the new EPA administrator in 2009 during the first Obama term, she was fully supportive of the president’s promise. She knew the EPA needed to assess 50 chemicals a year to do its job properly. Jackson quickly rolled out a plan to break through the logjam of the Bush years when the EPA was only averaging five assessments per year. Jackson’s plan seemed easily achievable and needed only a little tweaking regarding the inner workings of bureaucracy. It required no congressional approval and the Republican party never passed any legislation to block it.

It seemed like a great start for Jackson who is educated as a chemical engineer. It is interesting to note that she attended Tulane University on a scholarship from Shell Oil Company. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering in 1983 and earned her Master of Science degree, also in chemical engineering, from Princeton University in 1986. Jackson had some valid environmental experience from working in a variety of positions beginning at the EPA involved in toxic waste clean-up issues and moving into the top position as Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection before being nominated to head the EPA for Obama. Even so, New Jersey environmental activists when asked were divided in their opinion of her work at the NJ Dept of Environmental Protection agency and the split seemed to be between those who work on energy and climate policy in the state’s capital (who were supportive of her) and those who work on toxic cleanups at the local level who were critical of her.

Environment is Foundational

In spite of all the good intentions, since 2012, the EPA has assessed fewer chemicals than ever. Last year it completed only one assessment. More worrisome is the indication that the agency has now embraced measures sought by the chemical industry that have led to endless delays. I learn a lot about the chemical industry in reading Plastics News. I know that they have had impacts on LEED v4 as well. Though chemicals are important in our business and in everyday life, I can’t shake the feeling that the industry as a whole can’t be entirely trusted to consider the people’s health and welfare over profits when making decisions.

There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today. You might think that the government tests each chemical to assure that it’s safe. However, that is NOT true in the United States. Unlike the European Union, in the US, chemicals are assumed to pose no health risk unless the EPA proves otherwise. This task is left to a small program within the EPA called the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS. Jackson wanted to drastically cut the time spent on each chemical assessment from an average of seven years to less than two years. Yet almost immediately the chemical industry found ways to thwart Jackson’s plan with the help of certain Republicans in Congress. Although the GOP didn’t control either chamber in Obama’s first two years, some Republican lawmakers still found ways to delay the application of science at the EPA in favor of insignificant details.

Formaldehyde Warning Label

Here is one example –

In the early days of our contract furniture business the collateral furniture pieces we made had a foundation of particle board that was then covered with plastic laminate or wood veneer. One good thing about particle board is that it is made with 100 percent recycled materials. The tiny wood chunks and sawdust that go into it are usually reclaimed waste from sawmills and lumber yards. That means that some manufacturers are now using wood that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

However, particleboard isn’t part of the green-building pantheon. The reason is that the resin glue that binds the wood fibers and provides structural strength contains formaldehyde which emits carcinogenic gases into the air from the finished boards. At surprisingly low levels these formaldehyde emissions produce a pungent odor and they can pose a health risk. For decades, formaldehyde (which turns up in many other building and consumer products including automobiles and even no-iron shirts) emissions have been known to cause eye, nose and respiratory irritations in sensitive people. The World Health Organization has classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen. EPA scientists began evaluating the chemical in 1998 and determined that it was linked to nasal cancers and leukemia. To be honest, all wood naturally emits minute amounts of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde Particleboard

Particleboard inevitably became part of discussions regarding how far beyond “minute” it is safe to go because the fabricated material is one of the primary sources of indoor formaldehyde emissions. In lab tests, formaldehyde emissions from particleboard average about 0.2 parts per million. Greenguard Environmental Institute was a nonprofit group that tested and certified formaldehyde emission levels in building-products and furnishings. According to Marilyn Black, an environmental chemist and the original founder of Greenguard, above 0.3 parts per million almost everyone will notice their eyes watering and nose and throat becoming irritated. In 2011, UL Environment acquired ownership of Greenguard and as such is no longer a non-profit.

Georgia-Pacific makes particleboard with formaldehyde. It is owned by Koch Industries’ whose billionaire owners Charles and David Koch financially influence politics. The American Chemistry Council, a trade association and lobby group for the chemical industry, said in a statement in defense of the formaldehyde industry – “The scientific literature is clear that there is no increased health risk from low-level exposures normally found in home or work environments.” Who do you want to believe ? I certainly have a preference.

Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana blocked the EPA appointee who would oversee the IRIS program until the agency agreed to get a second opinion on its formaldehyde assessment. The EPA agreed to have the National Academy of Sciences review its formaldehyde draft. The academy is considered the preferred scientific adviser at the national level but the panel reviewing the formaldehyde assessment didn’t focus on whether the EPA was right about the science. Instead it criticized the formaldehyde draft for being confusing and made suggestions on how to make future IRIS reports clearer. This seemingly valid perspective actually made the chemical industry very happy.

What Happened to Good Intentions ?

What Happened to Good Intentions ?

So back to what happened . . . What put the brakes on the EPA’s intention to complete chemical assessments in a timely manner ? The short answer – the chemical industry’s lobbyist and former EPA official Charlie Grizzle. By leveraging the National Academy’s criticisms about the clarity of the formaldehyde assessment, Grizzle and others got language inserted into legislation that delayed all 47 chemical assessments that were in progress at the time. They did this by instructing the EPA to adopt the academy’s recommendations and explain to Congress how it was going to implement those regulations for ongoing and new assessments.

William Ruckelshaus, who ran the EPA for presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, said getting the National Academy to review the EPA’s scientific findings is a common delay tactic used by industry that endangers the public health. He said that delaying the publication of adverse findings is an unconscionable act on behalf of the industry that manufactures the chemicals and derives economic benefit from that activity. Ironically, last year the National Academy subsequently released its own assessment of formaldehyde. I’ll bet you guessed it already !! It agreed with the EPA’s findings that formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Regrettably it has been 17 long years that the EPA has been trying to get its formaldehyde assessment completed and even now, it is still mired in delays.

Formaldehyde Danger

And the situation remains worrisome because in July 2012, Dr. Kenneth Olden took charge of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, which is who oversees IRIS. While a director at the National Institutes of Health, Olden raised eyebrows by collaborating with the American Chemistry Council to fund scientific research. It should not be surprisingly then that his appointment has won praise from the chemical industry and certain Republicans for his embrace of the procedural changes to assessment reports as suggested by the National Academy of Sciences.

Companies in the particleboard industry say that they HAVE voluntarily reduced formaldehyde emissions from their products by 80 percent in 20 years. I believe it but Yikes !! Certainly, we can all be thankful for that much. The particleboard industry could bring its formaldehyde emissions down simply by using a different glue – phenol formaldehyde resin. Emissions from particleboard made with that glue are so low that some green rating systems give points to home builders for using it. According to Healthy House Institute, Urea-formaldehyde (UF) glue off-gasses considerably more formaldehyde than Phenol-formaldehyde (PF) glue. Georgia-Pacific Chemicals does manufacture and offer a Phenol-formaldehyde glue under the tradename LEAF®. The product is considered by them to be a low-emission resin for use in particleboard and MDF. LEAF GB resins may be melamine-formaldehyde, melamine-urea-formaldehyde or phenol-formaldehyde based and GP believes they may meet some green building standards.

As often happens, what California demands serves all of the citizens of the United States because their influence in the marketplace is that strong. The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board has established low emission standards for the off-gassing of formaldehyde that should result in safer substrate products becoming more common in the marketplace nationwide. The first emission standards were implemented on January 1, 2009. The latest update on this issue was posted at their website on May 23, 2014 (see my information resources below for that link).

~ Information Resources

“Obama’s EPA breaks pledge to divorce politics from science on toxic chemicals” posted by David Heath on Jan 23, 2015 – http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/01/23/16641/obamas-epa-breaks-pledge-divorce-politics-science-toxic-chemicals

Environmental Protection Agency’s Integrated Risk Information System – http://www.epa.gov/iris/

Lisa P Jackson, EPA Administrator 2009-2013 posted at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_P._Jackson

“A Solution to the Particleboard Problem?” by Katherine Salant posted May 31, 2008 at the Washington Post – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/30/AR2008053001485.html

Greenguard Certification from UL Environment – http://greenguard.org/en/index.aspx

“Formaldehyde-Based Glues” posted at Healthy House Institute – http://www.healthyhouseinstitute.com/hhip-780-Formaldehyde-Based-Glues

Adhesives/Binder Resins offered by Georgia-Pacific Chemicals – http://www.gp-chemicals.com/Adhesives_Binder_Resins_Product_Category

Composite Wood Products ATCM (airborne toxic control measure) – http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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