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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.

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Citizens’ Petitions for Protection from Toxic Contamination

By Russ Maddox

As citizens of the United States, we all sleep better knowing that if our property or health is threatened by others, we can seek assistance from our government.  However, sometimes local and state government can prove unresponsive to our concerns. In situations where contamination is documented and local and state agencies prove ineffective in addressing concerns, we can petition the federal government to assess the situation. If our petition is approved, the government will hire a contractor to quantify any contamination and identify potential sources and responsible parties.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accepts citizen’s petitions for preliminary assessments of properties that are known to be contaminated but need to be quantified. Anyone with evidence of contamination on their property and concerns for their personal safety and health because of possible exposure to harmful substances may request a preliminary assessment (PA). There are ten EPA regions so your petition will need to go to your specific region’s office. If the EPA agrees with your concerns, they will hire an environmental contractor to collect samples for analysis and will investigate potential sources of any contamination they may find. If the PA exposes contaminants whose levels and volume meet a specified Hazard Risk Score (HRS), the EPA will conduct a Full Site Inspection to clearly define any areas that may need to be cleaned up. The reports that the EPA generates may provide the evidence necessary to prompt a clean-up or to recover damages from the responsible party or source of contamination. The EPA’s scrutiny alone will often compel the responsible parties to clean up or even eliminate the source of the contamination.

The citizen petition process through the EPA may be the best route to pursue risks posed by exposure to coal ash in your neighborhood.  Coal ash contains many toxic heavy metals that, if found in high enough concentrations, will rank for a clean-up. Due to the vast volumes of coal ash being generated, transported, stored and disposed of, around the clock and across the nation, right now and for decades in the past, multiple concerns exist.  The Tennessee Valley Authority’s catastrophic dam failure in 2008 highlighted the need for better oversight and handling of coal ash wet-storage disposal ponds.  In addition, many regions endure wind-blown coal ash reaching residential areas. In some states, coal ash is used as fill in residential areas and can pose risks to groundwater, soil, and air quality. Some states allow coal ash to be dumped and stored indefinitely with zero containment, allowing offsite migration through wind and stormwater. Coal ash may spill when transported, allowing it to spread even further.  Some states still utilize coal ash for road traction in winter and even utilize intentional aerial dispersion on river ice to speed melting.  All of these scenarios create more exposure pathways to toxic coal ash constituents.

Here in Alaska, we have worked closely with EPA Region 10 and have used the citizen’s petition process on numerous occasions to address contaminated sites (coal ash and other) with great success. Local and state agencies do not always have the funds and expertise to deal with these situations, but the EPA is fully prepared to step in under the right circumstances. They can be invaluable in identifying, explaining and promoting remediation of contamination risks. If you, too, have concerns with exposure to coal ash or other hazardous substances, consider filing a citizen’s petition.  You will need to document your concerns and contact your regional EPA office.   Don’t hesitate to do so.  It is our health and our right to know.

EPA Region 10 Preliminary Assessment Citizens Petition information (You will need to submit to your EPA region.)

 

Comments

Francis C. Wood, Jr., MD said ..

It is essential that the EPA control various sources of contamination!

October 14, 2012
DEBBIE RINALDI said ..

PROTECT OUR WATER!

October 13, 2012
Shiu Hung said ..

End subsidies for fossil fuels, nuclear, hydrofracking and giant agribusiness. Support safe, sustainable energy sources such as hemp, solar, geothermal, as well as small organic farmers.End corporate personhood. End the carried interest tax break, tax havens, and loopholes.

October 12, 2012
John Curotto said ..

It's time we started dealing with the root causes of health issues by eliminating the sources.

October 12, 2012
GAYLE HASSINGER said ..

We need protection@@!

October 12, 2012
craig clark said ..

the case for regulation is exemplified currently by the outbreak of spinalmeningitis and the lack of oversight as its cause.

October 12, 2012
Colonel Meyer said ..

Clean up contaminated sites.

October 12, 2012
Rick Nordland said ..

The EPA's job is to protect our environment that is necessary for our very lives or life in general as it is guaranteed in the Constitution. So they have to work for the people not for big business.

October 12, 2012
John Nettleton said ..

Please protect our environment.

October 11, 2012
Jamee Koss, MD FAAEM said ..

EPA protects

October 11, 2012
jennifer t. schultz said ..

There are so many toxic effects of coal ash that can affect pregnant women, infants, and those who are immune compromised. coal ash gets into the air, when it is used on roads in the winter for traction it seeps into the ground, and contaminates ground water.

October 11, 2012
t logan said ..

we are becoming a weak species

October 11, 2012
Sharon Kansas said ..

WE NEED A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT TO END OUR HIGHEST MORTALITY RATES OF DEVELOPED NATIONS AND MORE SICK PEOPLE AT ANY TIME. THIS WILL HELP OUR ECONOMY IN THE LONG RUN.

October 11, 2012
michael katz said ..

living in a clean and safe home shouldn't be a issue?

October 11, 2012
Joe Feinstein said ..

With out a healthy environment we have nothing. we leave our children and grandchildren nothing.

October 11, 2012
Stewart Rosenkrantz said ..

The EPA i there to protect u from toxic contamination.

October 11, 2012
Mindy Hall-Lane said ..

ALASKA IS KNOWN FOR SPECTACULAR SCENERY: HEALTHY; TREES, COLORFUL WILDFLOWERS, BLUE LAKES, CLEAR STREAMS, WHITE SNOW, CLEAN AIR, DRINKABLE WATER, HAPPY PEOPLE, GORGEOUS ENVIRONMENT. DIRTY COAL EXPORTS WILL POLLUTE OUR AIR, WATER, LIVES!!! NO DIRTY COAL EXPORTS PLEASE, NO DIRTY COAL EXPORTS! SAVE OUR STATE, SAVE OUR ENVIRONMENT, SAVE OUR LIVES. Sincerely, Mindy Mindy Hall-Lane 8089 SW Charlotte Dr. Beaverton, Oregon 97007 mindymandm@gmail.com

October 11, 2012
Claudia Hall said ..

AMERICA WAS BEAUTIFUL, ANIMALS THRIVED, THE AIR WAS CLEAR, THE WATER CLEAN....THEN, "MAN DISCOVERED" THE CONTINENT. SINCE THAT TIME, WE HAVE PLACED OUR ENVIRONMENT IN JEOPARDY.  WE HAVE FOULED THE AIR & DIRTIED THE WATERS. WE HAVE CAUSED THE EXTINCTION OF SPECIES, IN THE AIR, ON THE LAND, & IN THE SEA!    DO NOT ALLOW THE GREED OF A FEW TO ENDANGER THE LIVES OF US ALL!  EARTH IS OUR ONLY, HOME!!  WE ARE BREATHING OUR , ONLY, AIR SUPPLY!    PLEASE, I BEG YOU, LISTEN TO YOUR CONSCIENCE...RELEASE COAL ASH PROTECTION, NOW!   LISTEN TO YOUR CONSCIENCE & VOTE FOR LIFE!  YOUR COUNTRY, THE WORLD DEPENDS ON YOU TO REMAIN FIRM IN YOUR COMMITMENT TO THE HEALTH OF OUR PLANET, OUR ANIMALS, OUR ENVIRONMENT, OUR PEOPLE!  YOU, HONESTLY, REPRESENT THE VERY BEST OF AMERICA. Thank You, for reading my PLEA   Light, Life, Respect , & Peace, Claudia Claudia Hall 14865 SW Osprey Dr.   #813 Beaverton, Oregon 97007 USA aliceforest@comcast.net I am a retired Health Resource Librarian & Home Interventian Teacher.

October 11, 2012
Sister Carol said ..

Please do what you are supposed to do and protect our health from being contaminated. Thank you!

October 11, 2012
Nick Mantas said ..

Save our water.

October 11, 2012

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