Aug 16

Lejeune water victims get help

August 13, 2012|Tom Philpott | Military Update

President Obama signed a bipartisan bill last week that, for the first time, offers veterans and family members government-funded hospitalization and medical services for 15 specific ailments presumed linked to drinking water contamination at Camp Lejeune, N.C., over 31 years, ending in 1987.

The bill has several controversial features, including a mandate that the Department of Veterans Affairs, rather than the military and its TRICARE program, provide the care. The estimated cost for the first five years is $162 million to treat several thousand victims who are expected to qualify.

Aug 28

Water Contamination at Camp Lejeune

Semper Fi: Always Faithful – Documenting a Fight for Environmental Justice.

 

NYC writer focusing on women’s issues; co-founder, cultID
Posted: 8/28/11 04:35 PM ET in Huffington Post

“There are over 130 contaminated military sites in the United states. This makes the Department of Defense the nation’s largest polluter.”

These words stand as the most salient message of the documentary Semper Fi: Always Faithful, a film that encompasses the worlds of environmental justice, the military, politics and science.

The protagonist of the narrative is Ret. Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger — a formidable presence. When framed against the backdrop of the United States Capitol, his physical demeanor telegraphs that he is a man to be reckoned with. For Ensminger, the narrative begins with his daughter, Janey, who died at the age of 9 from a rare form of childhood leukemia. Trying to understand the reason behind her illness is the subtext of Ensminger’s quest, as well as the connective tissue for the ensuing narrative about water contamination at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Ensminger’s relentless search for truth is driven by the need to get answers not only for himself, but also for the nearly one million people who were unknowingly exposed to toxic chemicals at the base.

The backstory gets set in motion in 1941, when a fuel depot in operation at Camp Lejeune had leaks that were seeping into the ground — 1,500 feet from a drinking water supply well. The estimated start date of the water contamination was 1957, when other improperly disposed of solvents additionally entered the mix. In 1975, Ensminger was living at Camp Lejeune. His wife was pregnant with Janey. In 1983, his daughter received her diagnosis. Ironically, unbeknownst to Ensminger, between 1980-1984, the water was being tested at the base with results consistently finding contaminants and “health concerns.”

In 1985, the Commanding General at Camp Lejeune notified residents to conserve water because of well closures, but neglected to mention that 11 wells were closed due to contamination –referencing only “minute [traces] of several organic chemicals” present in the water. In actuality, the chemical levels were 20 to 280 times the safety standards of today. The last contaminated well was closed in 1987, without notification to any of the residents of Camp Lejeune, either past or present.

It wasn’t until 1997 that Ensminger had a clue about the situation. He heard a report on the local news about a “proposed health study on adults and babies” exposed to carcinogens in the water supply at Camp Lejeune. Then it all started to click.

When Ensminger found out that the Marines were not taking care of their own, he felt totally betrayed. Yet his close to 25 years of military service as a drill sergeant had comprehensively prepared him to become a forceful opponent to the Department of Defense (DOD). He applied the Marine mindset — “Don’t give up ground; No person left behind” — to the task at hand. It gave him the tenacity and grit to take his case all the way to the halls of Congress. The juxtaposition between hardnosed non-com and grieving parent presents Ensminger as a multidimensional anchor for the action around him. The film captures Ensminger’s righteous anger in a sequence when he visits a cemetery near Camp Lejeune, pointing out a series of headstones marking the graves of babies. Later, while detailing the pain his daughter endured from her illness, it comes as no surprise when he states emotionally, “You understand my resolve.”

Ensminger came to realize that he was dealing with a cover-up, and that the government regulations “were a burden that was unwelcome” by the DOD. An interaction between those who have been harmed and Marine Corps representatives is telling. “A very difficult and laborious task” is how the Marines qualify notifying those who have been impacted, adding feebly, “We could try.” One of the key characters fighting cancer, former Marine Denita McCall, is overwhelmed by frustration. She states, “If I die tomorrow, my family gets nothing.”

The movie, which began shooting in mid-2007 and wrapped at the end of 2010, is able to encapsulate Ensminger’s journey through the political maze. He graduates from consistently unreturned phone calls to finding support from Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). Miller has reintroduced the Janey Ensminger Act, which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care to veterans and their families who have been impacted from their exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. Burr has sponsored a bill in the Senate, the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act of 2011.

With approximately 1 in 10 Americans living within 10 miles of a contaminated military site, Ensminger comments, “Camp Lejeune is just the tip of the iceberg.” His verbal asides lend color and a down to earth voice amidst the technical jargon of science, military, and law material. A meeting at the National Academy of Sciences to review the classification of the chemical PCE, is an opportunity for Ensminger to weigh in on the testifying suits. “These people come flying in on jets… Why is the benefit of the doubt going to the chemicals?… It’s all about money.”

Semper Fi: Always Faithful had its world premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, and is rolling out in theaters on August 26. At a time when the Environmental Protection Agency is coming under attack for “over-regulation,” the film stands as a testimony to what happens when the public’s health is neither protected nor considered.

I spoke with Rachel Libert (who co-directed the film with Tony Hardmon), to discuss the political ramifications of the documentary, and her commitment to creating films that “raise awareness and effect social change.” Libert characterized the information they encountered as similar to “layers of an onion peeling away.” She never expected to learn how “broken” the public health and environment regulatory systems were. Libert expanded on the enforcement issues the EPA was having with the DOD, clarifying that as a government agency — the DOD has been able to circumvent standards that would be strictly applied to private companies.

As Libert explained it, Ensminger’s search for the truth rippled out into an examination beyond water contamination and illness. It entered the spheres of the clout of special interests and how to determine guidelines on regulating toxic chemicals. She said, “When you make a film like this, it doesn’t just exist in the entertainment world. Our first question was, ‘What can we do?’ Film is a very powerful tool to reach people you wouldn’t normally reach. It has the ability to do that. It’s a pathway to action.”

To that end, the film’s website has a “Take Action” link which encourages the public to write their representatives in support of the pending legislation. Community screenings have been set up across the country, and partnerships have been forged with environmental groups.

For Libert, the fact that the film could push forward an agenda was a “dream” for her as a filmmaker. It also left her with a new sense of optimism. Despite the fact she knew that Ensminger was a man of “relentless determination,” she was cynical about how much he could actually accomplish.

Liebert pointed to the ultimately “hopeful message” — Individuals can make a difference through the power of one.

This article originally appeared on the website cultureID

 

Aug 20

Coal Mining Polluting Kentucky’s Water

Flaming drinking-water well in Kentucky illuminates
Big Coal’s abuses

calvin_howard_burning_well.pngThe flaming drinking water well at a home in eastern Kentucky’s Pike County first came to public attention back in May, thanks to a report by a local TV station.

WKYT visited the home of Calvin and Denise Howard on Big Branch Road, where the Howards reported that the water, which runs orange and black, burned their skin when they bathed. They also said that Excel Mining, the operator of a nearby coal mine, had offered to install a water filtration system — but only if the residents signed a liability waiver.

The Howards refused the company’s offer — and when WKYT checked back in July, the flames that had been just about to the top of the well were shooting out at least a foot and a half.

Since then, the Howards have filed a lawsuit [pdf] over the contamination. In addition, environmental advocates have gotten involved, arranging for the delivery this week of clean water to 13 area families amid inaction by the company and state environmental regulators.

“In all my 20 years of working on water quality problems, I have never seen a drinking water well catch on fire and burn continuously for days on end,” says Donna Lisenby of Appalachian Voices, who with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has arranged for the delivery of bottled water from Nestle and Keeper Springs Natural Spring Water, a company founded by environmental advocate Bobby Kennedy Jr. that gives 100 percent of its profits to clean-water causes.

According to the lawsuit, the trouble for the Howards began back in late January when they started hearing explosions beneath their home. About the same time, their well water turned gray and took on an offensive odor. Around May 1, the well exploded into flames, destroying the well house. It’s burned continuously ever since.

Earlier this month, Ted Withrow, a former regulator with the Kentucky Division of Water who now works with the grassroots citizens group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and KFTC activist Sue Tallichet visited the community, where residents confirmed the water contamination. Residents also reported mysterious health problems they feared could be connected to the poisoned water, including a teenage girl’s hair falling out and a boy vomiting blood.

The Kentucky Department of Mining Reclamation has investigated the burning well and confirmed that it “is creating an environmental and public safety hazard.” At that point, the company began providing bottled water to the Howards, but other impacted families did not get any assistance. The Howards have been advised to evacuate their trailer home but can’t afford to do so. The lawsuit seeks compensation for their replacement housing and their water.

“Based on my direct, firsthand experience with contamination of water by coal operations, I am deeply worried about the safety of the drinking water of these families,” says KFTC’s Withrow.

An ‘ineffective, choregraphed sham’

The water contamination along Big Branch Road illustrates a larger problem facing Kentucky: the coal mining industry’s abuse of communities and regulators’ failure to protect them from harm.

The Pike County situation is unfolding against a backdrop of coal company lawlessness and regulatory inaction in Kentucky. Back in June, an alliance of environmental groups including Appalachian Voices and KFTC sent notice-to-sue letters to two mining companies after discovering they had exceeded their pollution permit limits more than 4,000 times in the first quarter of this year alone.

The companies targeted by that action are International Coal Group, which is owned by Arch Coal of St. Louis, one of the world’s largest coal companies, and Frasure Creek Mining, a subsidiary of West Virginia’s Trinity Coal, which is owned by India’s Essar Group. They are the largest producers of mountaintop-removal-mined coal in Kentucky.

The watchdogs notified the same companies last October of their intent to sue over more than 20,000 violations of the Clean Water Act, including falsification of pollution monitoring reports. But Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet stepped in at the last minute and fined the companies a total of just $660,000 — less than 1 percent of the maximum fine that could be imposed under the law. Environmental advocates denounced the state’s action as an “ineffective, choreographed sham.”

Excel Mining, the mine operator implicated in the burning-well situation, is owned by Oklahoma-based Alliance Resource Partners, among the largest coal producers in the eastern United States. Alliance reported record profits in 2010, with a 67.1 percent jump in net income over the previous year to $321 million.

The company landed in the spotlight last year when a roof collapsed at its Dotiki Mine in Hopkins County, Ky., killing two miners. News reports after the incident revealed that inspectors from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing issued 31 orders to close sections of the mine or shut down equipment because of safety violations between January 2009 and the time of the collapse, according to Sourcewatch. Reporters found that the company received a total of 649 citations in 2009 alone.

In addition, Alliance was involved in a 2009 controversy over the firing of the director of Kentucky’s Division of Mine Permits. Ron Mills’ termination came after he refused to issue about a half-dozen mine permits — most requested by Alliance — because they failed to comply with federal and state laws. Mills’ denials were ultimately overruled by higher state officials.

Joe Craft, the president of Alliance Resource Partners, is a major political powerhouse. He has contributed over $150,000 at the federal level over the past decade, including $10,000 to the Republican Party of Kentucky; $17,500 to the Kentucky State Democratic Central Committee; $4,600 to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R); and $2,300 each to Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R), according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org database. The company’s political action committee has also invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in politicians’ campaigns — $193,665 in the 2010 election cycle alone.

Craft and others affiliated with the company as well as Alliance’s PAC are also major donors at the state level, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ FollowtheMoney.org database. Alliance Coal employees were among the biggest campaign donors in Kentucky’s primary election this year, together with their spouses contributing a total of $60,000 to three candidates, WBKO reported last month.

And in 2009, Craft organized a group of donors to pay for a new $7 million “Wildcat Coal Lodge” to house the University of Kentucky’s basketball players on campus — a move that sparked considerable controversy and led noted writer and environmental activist Wendell Berry to pull his personal papers from the school’s archive. While the university’s sports teams are known as the Wildcats, “wildcat coal” also refers to coal that’s mined illegally.

Meanwhile, residents along Big Branch Road are hoping to connect to a clean municipal water source — but price is a concern. Pike County officials have said it could cost as much as $150,000 to connect them to their existing water lines. The families have said they would pay to connect to closer lines in nearby Martin County, but that could take at least three months.

(Photo of Calvin Howard standing next to his burning well and destroyed wellhouse by Appalachian Voices.)

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By Sue Sturgis on August 19, 2011 10:26 AM 

Jul 01

Is Bottled Water Safer Than Tap Water?

Corporate giants like Coke, Pepsi, Nestle and others have done an great job selling us on the idea that bottled water is safer, better, perhaps sexier than tap water. However, there is a real dark side to bottled water as the movie “Tapped” has pointed out. When you seriously look at the petroleum needed to produce the plastic bottles, storage issues and potential water contamination by the plastic bottles themselves, the transportation needed to transport the water to the store shelves and environmental impact of plastic bottles have on the Earth, one can see that bottled water is not only wasteful, the discarded plastic bottles create one of the most dangerous environmental hazards known to man. This little video tells the story beautifully.

http://www.myspace.com/video/trailerpark/oceans-exclusive-use-less-plastic/104426743

One can easily see that filtered water not only is a better product, it costs significantly less. The fact is that roughly 25% of all bottled water is actually tap water that has been processed and repackaged. Corporate America treats local municipal sources as a commodity and sells it back to the community at a profit. When you really look at the cost of bottled water compared to filtered water, the numbers are staggering.

Example; bottled water averages around $2.50 per gallon. A Multi Pure 750 gallon filter is $69.95. To produce the same amount of bottled water you would spend $1850.00!! (750 gallons x $2.50= $1850.00)

To find out how your bottled water rates, check the Environmental Working Group Widget below. Simply enter your favorite brand or click the first letter to get the details on that product.