Investment in Transit Can Reduce Energy Burden for Low Income Households

It’s undeniable. The energy burden is larger for low income households in the United States, and transportation costs play a big role.

For low-income households, the largest majority of non-disposable income goes toward rent, transportation, and energy, in that specific order (CNT 2016).[1]  ACEEE recently released Lifting the High Energy Burden in America's Largest Cities, which highlighted the financial burden energy costs place on households across the United States. The major finding: an overwhelming majority of low-income and minority households experience higher-than-average energy burdens. The proportion of total household income that low-income households pay to energy bills is more than three times what higher-income households pay, on average. Energy efficiency can help reduce this burden and improve energy affordability for households across the board.

The elevated burden on low-income households is compounded by transportation costs.The average household in spends almost 20% of total income on transportation expenses. For low-income households in Detroit, this average burden can be as high as 30%.1 Latino households in Detroit experience amongst the greatest energy burdens in the country.

In Detroit, many jobs have moved away from the urban core, leaving low-income and minority communities inadequately served by affordable and efficient transportation options. With personal vehicles serving as the primary mode of transportation, expenditures on vehicles, gasoline, insurance, and maintenance is substantial in addition to very unpredictable. For every one dollar earned, the average household spends 18 cents on transportation. Of that expenditure, 94 percent goes toward buying, maintaining and operating cars.[2] Transit riders save approximately $1,400 in gas per year (subject to change dependent on current gas prices.)[3] Investment in public transportation improvement, like the RTA Master Plan, creates and sustains employment. Moreover, for every one billion USD of federal investment in the transportation infrastructure 47,500 jobs are created.[4]                                                                

And what’s better: public transportation not only increases energy efficiency on a micro-level and strengthens the economy on the macro-level, but also produces numerous environmental benefits. Public transportation produces 95 percent less carbon monoxide, 90 percent less in volatile organic compounds, and half the amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, per passenger mile, as privately-owned vehicles.[5] Promoting public transportation reduces transportation costs for families, but also our chips away at our toxic dependence on fossil fuels. Public transportation use in the United States saves 4 million gallons of gasoline per day. 5 Public transportation connects communities to help reduce sprawl, increase urban density, increase walkability, decrease parking lot construction and preserve the valuable green space.

There are even notable public health benefits. The ACEEE posits that families who face higher energy burdens experience negative long-term health effects. Statistically, these families are at greater risk for respiratory diseases and increased stress. Lower rates of respiratory illness and heart disease are associated with public transportation vehicles than with the high emissions levels of private vehicles.                                                                        

As you can see, programs, including public transportation improvement, that address high energy burden also help alleviate poverty and provide other benefits to society beyond energy savings, such as economic development, employment, education, and public health. In November, voters in the 4-county RTA region have the opportunity decide on whether or not to pass a $1.2 million, 20-year property tax millage to pay for the improvements to public transportation for Detroit and the surrounding counties.  On November 8, Vote Yes for Regional Transit so you, too, can stand with us to improve our environment and fight social inequality.                                   

 


[1] See the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing + Transportation Index for more information on housing and transportation affordability: www.cnt.org/tools/housing-and-transportation-affordability-index.

[2] Consumer Expenditures in 2004. BLS Report 992. Washington: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2006.

[3] Public Transportation and Petroleum Savings in the U.S.: Reducing Dependence on Oil. Fairfax, VA: ICF International, January 2007.                                                                                                                                         

[4] “Introduction to JOBMOD.” Washington: Federal Highway Administration, 2002.

[5] Shapiro, Robert J., Kevin A. Hassett, and Frank Arnold. Conserving Energy and Preserving the Environment: The Role of Public Transportation. Washington: American Public Transportation Association, 2002. 

Published on August 25, 2016

Bee Friendly or Bee Toxic?

Home gardeners everywhere are heeding the call to protect pollinators. Trowels busily digging and planting native and “bee-friendly” flowers are precursors to better neighborhood bee habitat and food sources during the growing season. Concerned gardeners plant with a diversity of color, flower size, and bloom times to fit an array of pollinator preferences and ensure consistent foraging sources. They also forego pesticides whenever possible, especially bee-toxic neonicotinoids (neonics)* to create a healthy habitat for all those who visit the garden.

Therefore, it’s no big surprise that thousands of people spoke out and petitioned big box retailers, Home Depot and Lowe’s, in 2014 upon learning that half of the “bee-friendly” plants being sold there could contain bee-toxic neonics. Bee poison in bee-friendly flowers just doesn’t make sense.

How do we know these flowers were contaminated? The Ecology Center and other groups worked with the non-profit organization, Friends of the Earth, to collect bee-attracting bedding plants from local big box stores in Michigan and throughout North America to test them for neonic residues.  

The resulting Gardeners Beware report stirred consumers—and the retailers—to action. Home Depot and Lowe’s responded to the outcry with a commitment to eliminate neonics from their plants and from the products on store shelves over the course of 4 to 5 years. We are now two years into those commitments. This summer the Ecology Center joined Friends of the Earth to check on their progress by again testing store-bought bee friendly plants.

The percentage of plants testing positive for neonics dropped in half, down to 23%, according to Gardeners Beware 2016, released this month.  Great news for gardeners and bees! Unfortunately, neonics are still widely available off the shelf as treatment for grubs, aphids, and other pests. Also, other major retailers, Ace, True Value, and WalMart, have yet to make a commitment to eliminating neonics. In fact, in Michigan both of the plants purchased from True Value Hardware tested positive for neonics. One of the two Michigan True Value plants (the petunia pictured above) had some of the highest levels of any of the 60 plants tested. 

Here’s what gardeners and anyone concerned about pollinators need to do now:

  • Take Action: Use our collective voice to Tell Ace and True Value to eliminate neonics
  • Avoid all pesticides in your yard, especially those containing neonics.
    • Examples of neonic products include: Flagship, Grubz Out, Lesco Bandit, Marathon, Merit, Safari, Xytect, and more.
    • Packaging of almost all neonic products should bear the EPA’s Bee Advisory Box. Look for the bee hazard icon (at right) and Avoid these products!
  • Attract beneficial insects that prey on insect pests by planting (you guessed it!) native plants. 
  • Handle lawn and garden pests naturally.
    • Use techniques for tough turf to create stronger, more drought tolerant, disease-resistant grass.

    • Treat grubs with Milky Spore or beneficial nematodes in September or October (Learn more at: Pest Patrol: Grubs

    • Knock aphids off of plants with a hose or spray bottle (for younger plants). Remove and dispose of heavily infested plants.

    • If pests are still a serious problem, look for eco-friendly insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, or botanical-based products. Avoid pyrethrins, which are highly toxic to bees. Examples of Natural Pest Control Products.

  • Make sure “bee-friendly” is not bee-toxic. Ask your garden center if flowering plants, such as daisies, coreopsis, geranium, salvia, sunflowers, zinnias, and others have been pre-treated with neonicotinoid pesticides. Leave them on the shelf if the answer is yes or not known.

 

 

*Neonicotinoids (neonics)

Neonicotinoids (neonics) are a relatively new class of pesticides that came onto the market in the 1990s to replace organophosphates, which are highly toxic to the human nervous system. Neonics are systemic insecticides.  The chemicals can be applied as a liquid onto the soil (or as a seed coating or as a spray). The plant’s root system will then absorb the insecticide, expressing it throughout the plant—even in its pollen and nectar. For humans this is a much safer way to apply a toxic chemical. For bees, neonics have proven to be disastrous. 

Certain levels of exposure to neonics will kill bees and other beneficial insects outright. Lower levels can have what are termed “sub-lethal” effects. These include harm to a bee’s memory, reproduction, foraging and flying abilities. These negative effects can be amplified as foraging bees deliver collected pollen and nectar—and any contaminants—to the hive to be shared throughout.

 

 

Published on August 22, 2016

Cultivating Care in Our Food System

Healthy, Accessible, Sustainable Food for All

Did you know that on average, a hospital spends 1 to 7 million dollars annually on its food and beverage purchases?

That is tremendous purchasing power. Tremendous purchasing power equates to a tremendous opportunity to make a difference. Collectively, our healthcare institutions can wield their purchasing power to help foster a sustainable food system. Focusing millions of purchasing dollars on healthy, sustainably produced food is an investment in clean air, water, and an overall healthier environment. Institutions have the opportunity to invest in a culture of health

The central fact is this — everyone should have access to healthy, fresh, locally produced food. Whether at home, school, work, or a hospital, healthy, fresh food should be readily available. Serving fresh locally produced food within our healthcare system should be the norm, not the anomaly.

Through the work of our Farm to Institution program, we're helping institutions, such as schools, universities, hospitals, healthcare facilities and corrections facilities,  develop a healthy sustainable food system.  By helping institutions source local food while also helping farmers and food suppliers produce the foods that institutions are looking for, the Ecology Center acts as a veritable matchmaker. Helping to cultivate the necessary connections and relationships builds the foundation for which a sustainable food system can thrive. This program bolsters local and regional agriculture, addresses widespread issues such diet-related diseases, food insecurity, and affordable access to healthy food throughout our community.

Lindsey Scalera currently leads the program. Lindsey’s pursuit to ensure that all communities have affordable access to healthy fresh food began in 2008. Her efforts were inspired by the realization that “everybody eats and that people, plants, and animals are all part of an ecological system and therefore share a stake in that system’s sustainability.” In 2009, she established the Giving Garden at Eastern Michigan University, and seven years later, she became the director of Ecology Center’s Farm to Institution program and the co-lead of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network. 

Over the past decade, much progress has been made within our food system. People are more likely to think about where their food is coming from and how it was grown. Even with the heightened demand for local food, there is still a need for greater transparency within the food system — transparency regarding where food is coming from, who produced it and by what methods. Increased transparency would make it easier for interested institutions to implement sustainable food practices. However, the need for greater transparency presents some challenges.

Our food system is enormous, even when broken down into local regions. It will take the involvement of concerned citizens, community leaders, governments, institutions, producers, distributors, and nonprofit organizations, such as the Ecology Center, to make a noticeable impact. The Ecology Center's Farm to Institution program works in collaboration with two very important partnerships: Health Care Without Harm, a collaborative campaign for environmentally responsible health care made up of more than 250 organizations; and the Michigan Farm to Institution Network. Through these collaborations, we’ve engaged hundreds of advocates throughout the state, all working together to educate, engage, and empower institutions, farmers, producers, distributors, purchasers, and community leaders in order to cultivate a food system that cares about everyone affected by it, with fair food and fair practices. This means that farmers are paid a fair price, that institutions are financially able to sustain their food practices, and most importantly, that healthy food is made available for everyone, from the most affluent to our most vulnerable communities.

Our work with Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) goes back many years; Ecology Center was a co-founder of the organization. While we collaborate with HCWH on a number of initiatives, our Farm to Institution work focuses on supporting hospitals and health care systems in their commitments to purchase local and sustainable food products. This includes our “better meat” campaign, which encourages hospitals to use their purchasing power to commit to purchasing meat raised without the misuse of antibiotics, addressing the serious issue of antibiotic resistance due to unsustainable meat production practices.

The Michigan Farm to Institution Network was launched in 2014 along with our local purchasing campaign, Cultivate Michigan, as a space for learning, sharing and working together to get more local food to institutions. In the short term, we aim to help institutions meet the Michigan Good Food Charter goal of sourcing 20% Michigan food by 2020. Over the long term, we want to see healthy, local foods on the menus of schools, hospitals, colleges, and other institutions.

Currently, through the Cultivate Michigan program, 104,104 meals are being served per day in 46 participating institutions. This includes 11 hospitals, 2 long-term care facilities, 27 schools and districts, 4 early childhood programs, and 2 colleges and universities. Momentum for the movement is building as more lives benefit from access to good food. 

 “Institutions have tremendous purchasing power, which they can leverage to affect changes in the food system. The same way consumer demand for sustainable and local foods has grown so has the demand for these foods to be served in places like schools, colleges, and hospitals. Many institutions have made commitments like Cultivate Michigan’s 20 percent locally sourced food by 2020 goal. As of late, much of our time has been spent facilitating the necessary connections between institutions, farmers, and distributors, and supporting the increase of available local and sustainable foods in order to meet the demand.” –Lindsey Scalera 

“Tremendous purchasing power” is not an overstatement. If we were to reach our goal of sourcing 20 percent local Michigan food by 2020, 200 thousand to 1.4 million dollars per hospital could be spent supporting a local, sustainable food system, i.e., local farmers, distributors, producers and workers. You don’t need to be an economist to understand that is as good for local economies as it is for the health of our communities. So while the primary motivation for this work is to cultivate healthy people and a healthy planet, healthy economies are also supported. 

Although there is much work on the road ahead, much has been accomplished already. Bronson Healthcare in southwest Michigan is a prime example of what can be accomplished by making local purchasing a top priority. Not only have they met the Michigan Good Food Chapter goal; they’ve exceeded that goal and are sourcing 33% of their food locally.  Education, engagement, perseverance, relationship building and collaboration were essential to making this happen. Healthcare institutions like Bronson are leading the way toward a sustainable food system that supports prevention-based health care.

Diet-related disease is a leading cause of preventable illness and death in our country. Providing healthy food at the very place one seeks health is vital. It is clear that health and a healthy food system are unequivocally connected. Designing and building a sustainable food system is not only a requisite for a healthy future, it’s entirely achievable.

 

Published on July 26, 2016

U.S. Scientists Call for Action on Toxics

Helmets protect our children if they fall. Policies require children to wear them when biking on city streets. Industry promotes their use as safety devices. Regulators test them. Parents and grandparents buy them and make sure children wear them. Pediatricians even inquire about helmet usage at a child’s annual check up. We work together as a society to protect our children from brain damage while riding bikes, playing football or hockey, or skateboarding or rollerblading. But, when the activity is over and the helmets come off, children are still at risk—from dangers not so obvious.

Everyday exposures to toxic chemicals put our children at an unacceptably high risk of developing brain disorders, says a group of America’s leading scientific and medical experts. The TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks) Consensus Statement warns that the current system for evaluating chemicals in the environment is “…a gamble with our children’s health.”

Project TENDR began in 2015 when scientists across many disciplines and children’s health advocates came together to demand action to reduce widespread exposures to chemicals that interfere with fetal and children’s brain development.

Toxic chemicals, they say, are one of multiple factors that endanger American children and can lead to neurodevelopment disorders, such as intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and ADHD. Genes and social factors can lead to such disorders as well. But, the difference, according to the TENDR Consensus Statement, is exposures to toxic chemicals can be prevented.

Local physician with Beaumont Health System, Dr. Paula Kim applauds the TENDR Consensus Statement. “This is an important wake up call for the medical community. The preventative approach, including avoidance of environmental exposures, is currently neglected. Primary care physicians--be they family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics or ob/gyn--should make a major effort to educate their patients about ways they can avoid toxicants [toxic subtsances introduced into the environment] in their daily lives.”

The Project TENDR scientists and health advocates, who include Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of the governmental National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, single out six known bad actors in the world of neurotoxic chemicals:

  • Organophosphate (OP) pesticides

  • PBDE flame retardants

  • Combustion-related air pollutants, such as PAHs, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter

  • Lead

  • Mercury

  • PCBs

Where are these chemicals found? Basically everywhere: our air, water, food, soil, and consumer products. If they are so prevalent, you may wonder what is the harm? Aren’t we doing just fine? Not exactly. The chance of a child having a developmental disability is 17% higher than a decade ago. One in six children now have a learning disability, ADHD, autism, or other developmental delay. The rate is one in ten for AHDH specifically; one in 68 for autism. The rates are ever increasing.

We also know that it costs twice as much to educate a child with a developmental disability. And for every $1 society spends to reduce a child’s exposure to lead, in particular, has a return savings of $17 - $221.

Children’s brains are still developing, so their exposures to all these chemicals are a particular concern. Neuroscientists agree that an exposure can cause lasting harm if it occurs during a “window of vulnerability,” such as embryonic and fetal development, infancy, early childhood, or adolescence.

Testing shows that the vast majority of pregnant women in America are carrying more than their babies; they are carrying a body burden of chemicals that includes PBDEs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS), phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), perchlorate, lead, mercury, and dozens of other chemicals. Many of these cross the placenta and show up in umbilical cord blood and fetal tissue.

While this crisis is widespread, the authors of the consensus statement note that communities of color and of lower socio-economic status experience the heaviest burden of exposure and negative health impacts.

Project TENDR calls on regulators, businesses, health professionals, and policy-makers to do better. Just as we all have a part to play in protecting children with helmets; each can do their part to prevent exposures to brain harming toxic chemicals. According to the Consensus Statement, regulators should follow scientific guidance to assess the way a chemical can affect brain development. Businesses should rid their supply chains and products of neurotoxic chemicals. Health professionals should learn more about toxics in the environment and integrate that knowledge into patient care and public health practice. Policy makers should focus on one threat: lead.

They advise usage of the Precautionary Principle. “We as a society should be able to take protective action when scientific evidence indicates a chemical is of concern, and not wait for unequivocal proof that a chemical is causing harm to our children.” Project TENDR warns against maintaining our current system, which allows a known toxic chemical to be replaced with an unknown, untested, and possibly equally toxic chemical.

At the Ecology Center we are working on these fronts. Here are some of the programs addressing the issue of toxic chemicals in our environment and advocating for change.

  • Health Leaders Fellowship: Through a series of issue and civic engagement trainings and field experiences, local health professionals learn how to advocate for better environmental health within health care institutions and in the public policy arena.

  • HealthyStuff: Staff researchers tests hundreds of everyday products for toxic chemicals, using the results to educate consumers and encourage manufacturers to make safer products. HealthyStuff collaborates with advocacy groups nationwide through Mind the Store. Project TENDR’s What You Can Do page lists healthystuff.org as a resource.

  • Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board: Rebecca Meuninck, deputy director for the Ecology Center, serves on this board formed by the State of Michigan with the sole purpose to end lead poisoning in Michigan.

  • Children’s Health: The Ecology Center advocates for national and state policies to protect children from toxic chemicals found in consumer products, homes, schools, and the environment.

  • Green Living Resources: We provide outreach and education to families focused on creating healthier homes and reducing exposure to toxic chemicals.

Project TENDR website: projecttendr.com

 

Published on July 20, 2016

Michigan’s Energy Future Still In Limbo

Michigan state legislators adjourned for the summer without passing a new energy package. The state’s current energy legislation plateaued at the end of 2015. Senate Bills 437 and 438, that would repeal the state’s highly successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, were not discussed in-depth on the Senate floor. A majority of the senators’ last two weeks before the break were focused on Detroit Public Schools legislation and other pressing issues. This means that this fall will be a crucial time for energy legislation.

The bills in their current form are still far from what is needed in Michigan to move forward on clean energy, protect public health, and reduce costs for ratepayers.

Senate Bills 437 and 438 would implement a combined clean energy goal of 35%, with no requirement that the utilities actually meet the goal. The bills would phase out the state’s current energy efficiency standards by January 1, 2021, even though higher standards are affordable and achievable. The renewable energy standard would also be repealed, reducing the likelihood that the state would see any significant investments in clean energy beyond the current 10%.  

Michigan’s  has seen great success since 2008 in creating clean energy jobs, increasing investment in Michigan’s economy, improving public health and saving families and businesses money on their monthly utility bills. Michigan has the opportunity to keep strengthening our economy and cleaning up our air by making further progress on energy efficiency and renewable energy. This summer is the time to engage your elected officials and urge them to pass a commonsense energy package when they get from break. Michigan residents deserve legislation that includes renewable energy and energy efficiency standards to protect public health and the environment.

 

Published on June 29, 2016

A Transit Future for Our Region

The long awaited RTA Master Plan draft was released to the public on May 31st. The intention of the plan is to connect transit service between Washtenaw, Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne counties, enabling ease of travel between the counties and connecting to existing local service.  In addition to connecting major commuter routes across county corridors, the plan contains additional cross-county connectors, which will augment the services already provided by local transit agencies. The newly-released, Plan offers a detailed picture of the components, including bus rapid transit (BRT), paratransit services for seniors and people with disabilities, and commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The plan has several infrastructure components: Bus Rapid Transit, Cross-County Connector Buses, Regional Rail, and airport service.

The first component, Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT,  provides the same benefits as light rail (LRT) at a lower cost per mile. These routes will run along Gratiot Avenue between downtown Detroit and M-59, Michigan Avenue between downtown Detroit and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Washtenaw Avenue between downtown Ann Arbor and downtown Ypsilanti, and Woodward Avenue between downtown Detroit and Pontiac.There will be dedicated BRT lanes which will alternate between centered and curb-running. Infrastructure improvements including covered stations, pre-board ticketing machines and level boarding platforms akin to stepping onto subway cars are planned, features which would, especially, benefit the elderly and disabled.

The second component of the Master Plan is Regional Commuter Rail. Ann Arbor to Detroit regional rail service will offer the first rapid, reliable connection to regional job centers in Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Stations are expected in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Wayne, Dearborn, and the Detroit New Center Amtrak station.

The third component is the addition of several cross-county connector and commuter express bus lines, allowing transit riders to easily travel from county to county along several newly established or expanded routes.  Cross-county connector lines include 15Mile, 12Mile, 9 Mile, 8 Mile, Grand River, Greenfield, Jefferson, Fort/Eureka, Van Dyke, and Plymouth Roads.  Commuter Express lines will offer limited-stop services to provide new options for people to commute to work.  The express services will include M59 from Pontiac to Mt. Clemens, Ann Arbor/Plymouth/Livonia, Canton-Ann Arbor, and along I-75 from Auburn Hills to Detroit.

The fourth component is the QLINE (M-1 RAIL) streetcar, slated to open in 2017. The QLINE will run approximately 3.3 miles along Woodward Ave in downtown Detroit.

Two additional goals of the plan are to expand ADA paratransit and senior transportation services and offer a wider range of travel options for Southeast Michigan, especially for those who cannot use or do not have access to the fixed-route network.

As for the existing transit services provided by AAATA, DTC, DDOT and SMART: these  will serve as the foundation of a new regional transit system. All services will continue operating and will provide imperative connections within the new network as necessary.

The plan currently has a price tag of approximately $4.6 billion. It will be financed, in part,  by a voter-approved $1.2 million, 20-year property tax millage. The millage translates to an $1.20 increase in property tax for every $1,000 of assessed value of a home. Meaning, homes that are assessed at $100,000 would incur an additional $120 per year in property taxes. This new millage would be in addition to those already in existence in areas served by SMART and the AAATA.

The economic benefits of the plan are large. The new RTA plan will bring increased connectivity and economic development to the Southeast Michigan area. The RTA estimates that over the next 20 years, the plan will have a $6 billion economic development impact, directly support 67,844 new jobs (approximately 3,500 jobs per year), and growth in real personal income by $4.4 billion (in USD, 2015) Statewide benefits are predicted at 72,941 jobs supported, $6.4 billion (in 2015$) added in gross regional product, and approximately $5.3 billion (in 2015$) growth in real personal income.  

Looking forward, we can expect to see the Master Plan formally approved by the RTA board at the board’s meeting on July 21. In November, voters in the 4-county RTA region will decide on whether or not to pass the $1.2 million, 20-year property tax millage to pay for the changes in the plan. If the millage is passed, work will commence in 2017.

Published on June 29, 2016

TSCA Reform Bill Is Signed Into Law

However, many environmentalists and public health advocates feel the reform still falls short of what is needed.

On June 7th, the US Senate approved H.R. 2576, a bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), our nation’s main law regulating chemicals. TSCA has been in dire need of reform for nearly 40 years and the Ecology Center has been calling for reform much of that time. Then on June 22nd, 2016, in a historic act that was well overdue, Obama signed H.R. 2576 into law.  President Obama proclaimed, "I'm absolutely confident that we can regulate toxic chemicals in a way that's both good for our families and ultimately good for business and our economy. Here in America, folks should have the confidence to know that the laundry detergent we buy isn't going to make us sick, the mattresses our babies sleep on aren't going to harm them." 

TSCA reform is definitely historic. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 has failed to protect American families for over 40 years, this reform was well overdue. However, the reform laid out in H.R. 2576 isn't enough to fully protect us. So, this momentous occasion is tinged with uncertainty for many environmentalists and public health advocates. 
 

H.R. 2576, while much better than the original proposal, is not the bill we have been fighting for. Instead, the bill rolls back some existing health protections. It reduces states’ rights to enact chemicals laws that protect residents, restricts the EPA’s authority to stop toxic imported products from entering the US market, and potentially limits the EPA from using the best available science to study the safety of chemicals. 
 
Despite the bill’s shortfalls, we can be proud of the work and support of thousands of environmentalists who called on Congress to improve this bill. Advocacy led to progress in some areas. For example, the EPA must now use a health-based safety standard that removes cost as a consideration when determining if a chemical is safe. It also improves protections for vulnerable populations, like workers, children and the elderly and allows for expedited action on some of the most dangerous chemicals.
 
"Whether or not new TSCA reform will protect health will depend on how the agency implements it and how the courts interpret it.  In the months and years to come there will be much work to do to ensure that the best parts of this bill are successfully implemented and that the worst parts are mitigated, modified, or eliminated," stated Rebecca Meuninck, Ecology Center Deputy Director.  

We hope for swift action from the EPA to remove and ban the most hazardous chemicals commonly found in everyday products. As the new law gets implemented, it's critical that we keep demanding safer products and real government oversight.  We will continue to push manufacturers and retailers to remove toxic products from their store shelves. Our HealthyStuff Lab will continue to test everyday products for toxic chemicals so that you can make informed purchasing decisions. We will continue to fight for better chemicals laws and practices wherever we can, be it in our hometowns, at the state level, and back in the halls of Congress. In short, we will continue to fight on to protect people and the environment from toxic chemicals. 

Published on June 29, 2016

Ending Lead Poisoning in Michigan

Our vision for the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board

On June 10, 2016, Rebecca Meuninck, deputy director for the Ecology Center, was appointed to the Governor’s Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board. The Ecology Center strongly advocated for this Board and we were pleased that the Administration agreed and that Rebecca would be appointed.  Rebecca shares the Ecology Center’s vision for the Board, whose first meeting is Monday, June 20th. 
--

Our vision for the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board

I am honored to serve alongside an extraordinary team of lead advocates who share a visionary, transformation goal for our state -- to end lead poisoning in Michigan. The all-star team includes the hero physician in Flint, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Rosalynn Bliss the mayor of Grand Rapids, Dr. Abdul El Sayed the executive director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department and other children’s health advocates.* 

The Board meets for the first time today, Monday June 20th. Our vision is for the board to forward an agenda which will make Michigan a national model and leader in protecting children from lead and eliminating this preventable scourge. 

The crisis in Flint has renewed attention on the critical issue of lead poisoning. Yet even before the Flint crisis, Michigan was ranked fifth worst in the nation for  childhood lead poisoning (CDC 2013).  Now is the time to elevate lead poisoning in Michigan to the critical public health problem that it is. While we still have communities with 17% of lead poisoned children, Michigan policymakers should not rest when there are cost-effective solutions for an entirely preventable problem.

While the world watches, our intention is to transform the story of lead in Michigan to one where we lead the world in protecting children from lead poisoning.

The state must commit to a eliminate lead from all preventable sources within a specific timeframe  - we think 10 years makes sense.  To do this, we’ll need a lot of help from every part of society, and a decade-long public commitment to the goal.

We will urge the board to review best practices nationally and internationally, and to find effective ways to eliminate lead sources in our homes, schools, and communities. 

Tackling this problem will take a multifaceted approach. We believe that administrative and legislative remedies need to be considered as well as increasing enforcement and establishing clear metrics to monitor in order to be accountable for progress. Ending lead poisoning can’t be limited to actions lawmakers in Lansing can take. The board should also consider convening other key stakeholders including leaders in healthcare, education, philanthropy, and the private and the non-profit sectors.

Opportunities and Challenges
Public awareness about lead poisoning and support for eliminating it is higher than ever in the wake of the Flint water crisis. The Governor and Lt. Governor have shown a commitment to ending lead poisoning by appointing such a strong group of children’s health advocates to the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board

We have an opportunity to influence policy like never before. While there are certainly real financial costs to eliminating lead poisoning, it is a cost effective goal (Price of Pollution 2010; Economic Impact of Lead Exposure and Remediation in Michigan 2014).  We have many allies in achieving this goal, from a diverse set of sectors including public health and healthcare, education, early childhood advocates, and families across the state. 

As we embark on this process we will keep you informed of our progress and will continue to call on you to join us in advocating for an end to lead poisoning. 

Today you can take action and call on the legislature to support policies to end lead poisoning. 

- Rebecca Meuninck, Deputy Director
 

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* Members of the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board 
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will chair the Board, Seven gubernatorial appointees will serve along with four state department directors or their designees. The relevant departments are the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Gubernatorial Appointees: 
• Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. 
• Rebecca Meuninck, deputy director of the Ecology Center.
• Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department. 
• Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor of Grand Rapids, MI
• Paul Haan, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.
• Riley Alley, Great Start collaborative director for St. Clair County’s Regional Education Service Agency. 
• Dr. Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University.

Published on June 18, 2016

Community Champion– Allen Kennedy

After over 17 years of service at Recycle Ann Arbor, Allen still believes recycling is an integral part of a sustainable future for his family and yours.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Allen Kennedy for an interview and survey of his over-17-year-long career at our subsidiary Recycle Ann Arbor. When I first began working at Ecology Center and Recycle Ann Arbor this past September, Allen was retiring from his position as Curbside Manager that month. I didn't know Allen well, I hadn't met Allen, but his reputation proceeded him. I was told by co-workers , "Allen isn't here, he just retired, but don't worry he'll be back next month as a consultant."  This was communicated with an obvious sense of relief by the co-workers informing me of Allen's impending return. It was obvious Allen was an important part of Recycle Ann Arbor, and of the curbside recycling program provided by the City of Ann Arbor. One that I had taken for granted as an Ann Arbor homeowner. I love our recycling program, I appreciate our recycling program, but prior to working at Recycle Ann Arbor, I didn't give it too much thought. Especially in regards, to the people that make it happen. 

Allen began working with Recycle Ann Arbor back in March of 1999. Over the years, he filled many positions with the organization from working at the Drop-Off Station, driving a Curbside Recycling truck, supervising Curbside Recycling, and inevitably managing the Curbside Recycling Program. Basically, if you had recyclables collected curbside in Ann Arbor from April 1999 until now, Allen likely had a hand in it happening. 

And, it was clear from our discussion that while recycling holds a tried and true importance in the pursuit of a green and sustainable lifestyle, recycling can be hard work. Allen recollects, as a curbside collection driver, having to manually lift and toss sorted recyclables into the trucks, and of being painfully aware of things like the warmth of clothes and shoes due to Michigan's harsh winters. While myself and many others are guilty of sometimes letting small inconveniences get in the way of recycling everything that can be, there are many folks like Allen that day in and day out put forth the most effort (sometimes very inconvenient efforts) to make sure that recycling happens.

Allen spoke of the importance and impact of recycling education, to quote him, "Educating elementary school kids is huge in my mind", and went on to say that he'd like to see recycling education in elementary schools starting at the earliest age possible. There is no age too young to begin understanding recycling and its importance for a sustainable future. According to Allen, focusing on offering effective recycling services at Ann Arbor area apartments is one of the biggest opportunities to increase the percentage of waste diverted from the landfill. "We have way too many landfills in the state of Michigan. If we can at least decrease our waste stream, at least we are doing our part. I get a good sense of feeling out that."

During our hour-long discussion we talked about a lot, from the early days of recycling in Ann Arbor to the future of recycling and the recycling opportunities in our area, from the challenges of recycling both before single-stream recycling and after to what recycling and working at Recycle Ann Arbor has meant to him and his family.  The most memorable statement that Allen made was simple,  "Recycling is very important to me, recycling is very important to my household, recycling is very important to the students that come here to the University, and it's important to the rest of the Ann Arbor community." 

And while Allen gets a 'good sense of feeling' about doing our part to decrease the waste stream, I get a good sense of feeling about Allen and the other folks that work tirelessly in our community to make sure recycling happens. 

Erica Bertram, Communications & Marketing Director 

 

Published on May 26, 2016

Ecology Center's Environmental Health Educator, Melissa Sargent, teams up with our friends at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and the Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors (CURES) for a FREE lunch and learn about healthy homes. 

Matrix Human Services 13560 McNichols E Detroit, MI 48205

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