The Duquesne Environmental Health Law Journal serves as a forum for the examination, analysis, and criticism of predominant issues in environmental and health law. In this respect, it serves not only to inform and influence courts, the bar, and legal scholars but also provides law students an opportunity to participate in that process.
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Our inaugural issue will be published in the winter of 2013. Subscribe now and you will be notified as soon as it becomes available.
In the News . . .
Dangerous Chemicals Banned from Children’s Toys Found in School Supplies
As school comes back into session, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Virginia is raising concerns about chemicals found in school supplies and their effect on children’s health. These chemicals, termed phthalates, are industrial chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. The severity of harm of exposure to phthalates is unknown and widely disputed; some believe the chemicals pose little risk to humans, while others believe exposure to phthalates disrupt the endocrine system and potentially cause cancer. One of the chemicals, di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer1 as 2B, meaning the chemical is possibly carcinogenic to humans. Regardless of the dispute of harmful effects of these chemicals, phthalates have not been used in baby products such as rattles, pacifiers, and teethers, since 1999. Additionally, Congress banned six phthalates from children’s toys and cosmetics in 2008.
Out of concern, the Safe Chemicals Act was proposed by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to protect children and consumers from toxic exposure to phthalates. Introduced April 14, 2011, the bill would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to ensure the various risks from chemicals are adequately managed and understood. Currently, the bill has passed the committee stage and is waiting to be passed by Congress. If enacted, the Act would give the EPA more control over chemicals used in the manufacturing of products, ultimately protecting consumers.
1The International Agency for Research on Cancer is an organization that promotes international collaboration in cancer research. The organization identifies causes of cancer and their relationship to environmental factors such as chemicals, mixtures, occupational exposures, and agents. The Agency’s research findings are grouped into Monographs under one of five groups relative to the environmental factor’s probability of causing cancer.
EME Homer City Generation, L.P. v. EPA
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court ruled the EPA overstepped its authority and violated the Clean Air Act (“CAA”) in an effort to reduce harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants in the eastern half of the country. Under the CAA, the EPA is authorized to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) which promote public health and welfare by protecting and enhancing the quality of the Nation’s air. Under the Obama Administration, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule under the Good Neighbor Provision of the CAA authorized the EPA to reduce interstate pollution that interferes with a State’s attainment and maintenance of NAAQS. The EPA used the Good Neighbor Provision to impose massive emissions reduction requirements on upwind States, forcing eastern states to meet Federal air rules even though they are on the receiving end of pollution emitted from states as far away as Texas and Illinois, two states which are hardly “neighbors” to any eastern states in the country. Emissions from western states blow downwind across the country and contribute to forming smog and acid rain in the east, making it much more difficult for eastern states to meet NAAQS. In a 2:1 ruling on August 21, 2012, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule was deemed costly and burdensome; thus, the Rule was overruled. The EPA disregarded the limits imposed by the CAA and dictated the measures to be used to reduce emissions instead of allowing states to design their own plans as the CAA demands. As a result, the George W. Bush Administration’s Clean Air Interstate Rule was reinstated.
Regardless of the decision by the Circuit Court, the need to reduce dangerous air pollution blowing across state lines still remains, threatening the environment and ultimately public health and welfare. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are harmful pollutants with very serious consequences to public health and welfare if levels are exceeded beyond NAAQS. These chemicals, along with other pollutants, contribute to the acidification of lakes, streams, and forests, ultimately eliminating the Nation’s natural beauty. Exposure to these chemicals and other pollutants at dangerous levels can cause severe respiratory problems, including premature mortality, heart attacks, and bronchitis. Cleaning up the environment and treating medical conditions as a result of air pollution are extremely costly; however, by taking necessary preventative measures, the cost can be curbed in the long run.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court’s decision does not eliminate the need to reduce dangerous air pollution that blows across state lines. It is possible, unfortunately, that by overreaching no solution will ever be reached.