July 29th, 2010
04:53 PM ET

New law pushed for Mossville, other 'hot spots'

A doctor told a House committee Thursday that reducing pollution in “hot spot” communities such as Mossville, Louisiana, was one reason Congress should overhaul the law governing toxic chemicals.

Dr. Mark Mitchell, who has served on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, sited Mossville and West Louisville, Kentucky, as communities surrounded by chemical plants, including plastic manufacturers.

“These ‘hot spot’ production communities have high rates of disease and premature deaths,” Mitchell said at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.

CNN featured Mossville in Toxic Towns USA, an hourlong Dr. Sanjay Gupta documentary that aired in June. [Toxic Towns USA re-airs on CNN, Saturday, July 31, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.  ET]

Mitchell was testifying in favor of The Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, which has a provision for “hot spots” such as Mossville. The law would require EPA to name 20 communities in the first five years and develop action plans to reduce disproportionate chemical exposures within a set time period.

In Mossville, blood tests have shown residents have dioxin levels three times the national average, and residents claim the 14 chemical plants surrounding their community have resulted in cancers and other illnesses.

Dioxins are carcinogenic chemicals. Among the industrial sources of dioxins: vinyl chloride production, wood treatment and waste incineration. They are also produced naturally by volcanic eruptions and forest fires.

Mitchell, who is founder and president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, also said the proposed chemical law would push companies in Mossville and elsewhere to produce safer plastics.

“I believe that these facilities would not have been allowed to perform so poorly in the first place if they were located in more affluent communities,” Mitchell said. “I also believe that these facilities should be converted to producing the safer plastics that the public is demanding by using green chemistry.  This would put them in the forefront of plastics production, help preserve jobs, spur economic development and improve public health in these communities.”

Calvin M. Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the American Chemistry Council, told the committee the bill would be expensive for companies, cost jobs and hurt innovation.

Congress is considering an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was passed in 1976. Critics say the law is outdated and does little to protect the public from dangerous chemicals.

Today’s hearing was committee's first on the proposed legislation. There's no timetable for a House vote on the measure. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. AnnBChrist

    Environmental Justice is the pivotal issue since toxic hot spots do cluster around poorer neighborhoods, and while many regulators and others working in this field recognize this it is very frustrating that legislators do not propel themselves as the standard bearers to clean up these spots. Problems sited here are illness and early mortality, but the major problem is that in addition to unnecessarily increasing the toxic load on the environment as a whole it compromises the quality of and is a deriment to human lives, something all of us eventually have to pay for one way or another.

    July 29, 2010 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Andy

    I think we need safe clean industry in this country, industry that competes internationally.

    – A

    July 29, 2010 at 21:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Turtle 42

    What came first...heavy industrial and chemical plants in poor communties, or poor communities growning next to heavy plants because that is where land affordable to the poor is located?

    July 29, 2010 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hb

      Thanks to Sanjay for his report on Mocksville. I do hope that Mocksville will get SuperFund status – so that our federal dollars (and hopefully $$ from the "fingerprint" companies that leaked the dioxin) will help these people relocate to less toxic places.
      It is NOT TRUE nor is it fair to say that this is just a problem in the poor communities. Wake up, America. Most of our "former" military bases have become SuperFund sites – and their lands sold off at pennies on the dollar to developers (mostly Lennar) which has developed these properties into new communities all across our land – NEW RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENTS ON TOXIC LAND – mostly on former valuable land near the coast from South Carolina to California.

      August 1, 2010 at 00:19 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      A lot of the communities in Louisiana are very, very old. It's not likely that the factories moved in and a poor town sprouted up next to it. It's more probable that the the factories prevented the town from growing over time, in effect causing poverty, since individuals living in the area would not have an easy way to get out due to property and moving costs.

      Either way, it's a very shoddy excuse to allow ANY company to operate poorly or cause environmental damage around itself simply because the community near it is poor – or any other reason, for that matter. Damage is damage.

      August 1, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse |
  4. nomoregobldgk

    the 2nd avenue projects were slum areas in New York city up until the 80's, but urban renewal contributed to cleaning them up without increasing the tenant's rents. it is not acceptable that someone must be force to trade safety for housing in this country. as someone who works in environmental control I know first hand that doing things in a way to mitigate adverse environmental impacts does not cost much more than doing them in a thoughtless slap dash manner that hurts the environment and people and over the long run doing things in an irresponsible manner winds up costing us a whole lot more, even if we don't live right next door to the polluter. If you follow the Earth's water cycle alone you will find that at some level we each have shared the same water at some point, even if it is just one molecule in common and we can no longer be so blaze about it being just the other guy's problem.

    July 30, 2010 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply

    turtle 42- does it really matter which came first- this isnt like being next to a noisey airport- this enviroment is TOXIC! we dont want to wind up like china with all the toxic areas.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. John B

    Okay Mr. Dooley, you move you and your family to Mossville or one of these other towns. Drink the water they drink, eat the food they eat, and then you tell me you're worried about jobs and innovation. Try running your chemical plants as if you lived next door, because someone has to.

    July 30, 2010 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jimmy

      John B

      Well, actually, noone *has* to live in an industrial area. The real problem arises when industry moves next to residential areas and makes their property values drop. And that, my friend is the problem with things like Kelo v. New London, which says that municipalities can use eminent domain to sweep up a bunch of property owners who'd otherwise hold out against the influx of industry.

      July 30, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse |
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  8. Westlake

    Another one-sided piece from CNN. Mossville is an unincorporated rural area of maybe 1000 people between Westlake and Sulphur. Mostly black and generally poor/unemployed. The plants in question are some distance from Mossville and are actually adjacent to Westlake and Sulphur. Those towns comprise at least 50,000 population. Not a mention was made of those closer communities and those people who actually work in those plants on a daily basis and how they are affected. You would think that the concentration of problems would be worse???

    Sanjay has either been sucked in by a few black activists wearing Palestinian scarves (see the video) or else he's part of the CNN mission to demonize industry in general. If there are issues with pollution then they should be dealt with but its funny that Westlake and Sulphur don't have these problems. Maybe a 30-minute or one-hour piece of why they don't should be on the good doctor's schedule.

    July 31, 2010 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarah

      What it comes down to is the science. Numbers don't lie, and the simple fact is is that the numbers are very high in Mossville.

      Now, you can say that nobody knows the direct cause, but it's not hard to draw a correlation between chemical plants, pollution, and the motion of pollutants.

      Just because the town is small, poor, or predominantly black, that is NOT a reason to just go, "Oh well, tough for them." Whether it's rednecks or a community of rich white people, there should be no difference.

      August 1, 2010 at 09:34 | Report abuse |
    • Heron1001

      My husband was born in Sulphur in the 70s. He has Crohn's disease and less than 5 feet of small intestine remaining. Two of his sisters have Multiple Sclerosis and serious lung and breathing problems. Shouldn't someone research the birth defects and immune related illnesses in the Sulphur populations before it is too late?

      December 3, 2013 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
  9. george Claxton

    I have seen your expose on Mossville twice but you are not telling the complete truth. First, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, has declared dioxin (TCDD) a "human carcinogen" since 1997 (volume 69). Second, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) declared dioxin a human carcinogen in 2001. I have over 8000 studies on dioxins in my data base and all of them show disabilities associated with dioxin exposure. Dont take my word for it just E-mail me. I will give you a copy of the data base.

    July 31, 2010 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. C. Johnson

    and this stuff is in the plastic we buy food wrapped in....


    July 31, 2010 at 23:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ruben Lee Sims

    The definition of "hot spots" should include old dumps and landfills near public housing and older home developments in low income and minority neighborhoods. These old dumps and landfills usually contain toxic coal and incinerator waste in unlined landfills. The EPA has reported finding these chemicals at an alarming rate in old landfills that became superfund sites; however, public housing and minority communities are allowed to continue occupancy even where these chemicals are known to exist. Therefore, the soil and groundwater are likely contaminated with high concentrations of toxic metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) including coal tar and creosote. A study released by Physicians for Social Responsibility in November 2009 concluded that coal and coal waste causes 4 out of 5 of the leading causes of death in this country. They include heart disease, stroke, cancer, and respiratory diseases. Further, other studies have proven coal waste cause birth defects, weaken immune systems, hamper cognitive development, and is a mutagen. Also, coal waste was used as fill dirt in construction in many low-income minority neighborhoods, including schools, theaters, etc. Between the 1880s and 1960 coal-gasification plants produced coal oil from coal throughout this country before natural gas lines put them out of business. These coal-gasification plants created billions of tons to toxic coal waste that is still unaccounted for today. Today Coal-gasification plants are reemerging as "Clean Coal" plants. B.S. there is no such thing as "Clean Coal" until they can clean the toxic waste they create. For example: for nearly a century, Florida operated 25 coal-gasification plants that were municipally owned or contracted out. When located, they immediately become alternative superfund sites. Florida openly admits that these plants kept poor records and operated with poor housekeeping practices. However, the underlying question is where are the billions of tons of toxic coal waste they created over nearly a century of operations. The answer is clear, just look at the number of minority public housing that are rapidly being demolished and the death rates and life expectancy in those communities. The results are startling. A good example is the Carver Court housing project in Orlando, Florida. It had been known for decades that the site was contaminated but it was never considered a superfund site because city officials simply did not want superfund sites in Orlando, bad press for a tourist mecca. So, people continued to live there until they created a plan to clean up the site without public knowledge. The plan included obtaining millions of dollars from Congress without revealing the presence of toxic chemicals at the site. Congress provided over 18 million dollars under the HOPE VI funding and the site was subsequently cleaned up in 2007. Video of the clean up can be seen at youtube.com "Killing Black America". During the Bush Administration, Mel Martinez (former head of the Orlando Housing Authority) was appointed head of HUD after a very controversial election in 2000. Mel Martinez proceeded to provide Florida over $100 million dollars to demolish public housing in minority neighborhoods. Another example: Durrs Neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale has been terrorized with similar toxic chemicals for decades. At least the local press covers their stories but not much has been done to resolve the situation. In Miami, residents of Scott and Carver homes complained they were sickened by toxic chemicals in their neighborhood; but a bogus health study didn't even bother to list the nature of their complaints before concluding the chemicals did not cause the sicknesses. In conclusion, we cannot limit the definition of "hot spots" to neighborhoods with numerous industries in their back yards. There are industries that operated uncontrolled in this country for nearly a century that created billions of tons of deadly toxic coal waste in neighborhood that are not necessarily surrounded by industry today. Orlando, Florida is surrounded by tourist attractions, yet the death rate for Blacks is 2-3 time higher than Whites and life expectancy is about 10 years shorter than Whites. And, Black and White neighborhoods remain largely segregated today. So, do not forget these neighborhoods in the “hot spot” definitions.

    August 1, 2010 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. David Vera

    I Have to say that I am very impress to see CNN doing this type of News. I think is refreshing to see corporate media finally standing up for the american people. I guess we are coming out ,from the dark ages of the bush era where news where nothing more than pure propaganda. I meant back in those if you dare to even question the status quote you where unpatriotic. it got to the point that I just to got my news from the comedy channel. I will start watching CNN again. Keep up the good work and by the way you do not have to be mexican in order to be spanish. There are many rich spanish cultures in the USA such us Cubans, Puerto Ricans,Ecuadorians, Dominicans, Colombians, etc, etc. As of matter of fact in places like New York / the Tri State Area mexicans are actually a very small portion of the large Spanish culture that will make up spanish population. going back to this report lets make USA a better place for all of us. Good bless you guys

    August 2, 2010 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Read "State of Fear"

    EPA confirms in a public meeting Aug 16, 2010 after extensive testing that Mossville water system has no industrial contaminants in it whatsoever. Their problem is similar to most small communities – their well water system is undermaintained due to inadequate funding, and the residents want a handout from whomever they can shake down – whether it is local industry or the federal government. People in Lake Charles know this – hopefully, the rest of America will now start to realize that as well.

    Please see Water ‘is safe to drink’ on Page A1 of Tuesday, August 17, 2010 issue of Lake Charles (LA) American Press.


    EPA gives Mossville water system a clean bill of health

    http://www.kplctv.com/global/story.asp?s=12989773 (Click red camera icon for video story)

    August 17, 2010 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
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