Jim Jones

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Celebrating 30 years of Citizens’ Right-to-Know

30 years ago today, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was established through a law co-authored by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Five years ago, the Senator recollected, “Everyone has a right to know if danger is lurking in their own backyard, but for a long time, Americans were denied this basic right.”

Senator Lautenberg was talking about the right of citizens to have access to information about which toxic chemicals industrial facilities are using and how much of each is released into the environment. EPA makes this information easily available to the public online. Most of the emissions tracked by TRI result from routine production operations, which are subject to regulatory requirements, but TRI also includes data on accidental releases and one-time remediation efforts.

Recently the program returned to its roots in EPA’s chemical safety office, and I am once again impressed by the power of disclosing this information to the public and the extent to which citizens, industry, researchers, and others have relied on it as a tool for informed decision making.

Administrator McCarthy echoed Senator Lautenberg’s statement recently when she said, “people deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used and released in their backyards, and what companies are doing to prevent pollution. By making that information easily accessible through online tools, maps, and reports, TRI is helping protect our health and environment.”

But don’t take it from us at EPA. Here’s what others have said about the impact of the TRI:

“After 30 years, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act has exceeded expectations in driving down the use and release of toxic chemicals. This law created the TRI Program and has given concerned citizens, researchers, and others access to information that should be a basic right to know. While it was a new approach in 1986, today more than fifty countries have established their own registries, using the TRI as a model.  These registries, in the U.S. and abroad, have allowed companies to learn best practices from each other and, simply by shining a spotlight on releases of toxic chemicals, have led to dramatic reductions.” – U.S. Senator Tom Udall

“The TRI Program provides a critical tool for informing and empowering communities to hold polluters accountable. I applaud EPA’s efforts to adapt TRI to technological advances and make the TRI data as accessible as possible.” – U.S. Representative Frank Pallone

“Having to report and having to keep a closer eye on the chemicals and the processes that we use offers an insight so that we can…look at the bigger picture and plan ahead to make reductions.” – Bette Danielson, Safety and Environmental Affairs Manager at Nordic Ware

“If you’re working for the benefit of the neighborhood, you need to identify, understand and measure the problem. Then, you can do things to improve the situation. TRI provides us a tool — that information that we need desperately in order to move anything forward.” – Wendy Menken, board president of a neighborhood association in Minnesota

The Aspen Institute called TRI one of the ten biggest ways EPA has improved America.

There’s plenty of data to support these great statements. One of the best indicators of the TRI Program’s success is the steady and significant decline in releases since 1987 – the first full year of data on toxic releases. A great example is the decreasing trend in air releases.

Air Emissions Grahic

On-Site Air Releases, 2003-2014

 

Find out more about the power of TRI data and the 30th Anniversary.

Happy 30th anniversary to one of EPA’s finest programs – one that has made such a positive difference in fulfilling our Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Celebrating an Amazing Year of Safer Choice

By Jim Jones

Tipping points are hard to predict. You might make an observation and see some trend data, but saying when they’ll happen is tough, and may come down to something you feel in your gut. Well, my gut, informed by some promising signs, tells me that Safer Choice—EPA’s label for safer chemical-based products—may be reaching a consumer-awareness tipping point.

Products with the Safer Choice label began appearing on store shelves this spring. We hit the ground running to educate consumers and commercial buyers on the label with outreach campaigns focusing on spring cleaning and back-to-school. I’m proud to say that we’re beginning to see our efforts pay off. A survey found that one-third of consumers said they had seen the Safer Choice label on store shelves. Even more noteworthy, 76% of consumers in general—83% of parents and 86% of millennials—said they would like to use a mark such as the Safer Choice label to inform their purchasing decisions.

And not surprisingly, with consumer awareness and demand up, more manufacturers want to have their products certified to carry the label.  Applications for partnership are up sharply over last year. To help manufacturers meet the demand for safer products, we continuously evaluate and identify new chemicals that meet our strict criteria and add them to our Safer Chemical Ingredients List. We added 100 chemicals this year alone, bringing the total to more than 820. The result is a vibrant Safer Choice community with scores of newly qualified or requalified chemicals and products.

This progress is very promising, and I feel like we’re close to the tipping point. To get there, we need everyone’s help to spread the word and build on our momentum. As awareness of and demand for the Safer Choice label grows, so does the program’s ability to drive innovation in chemical safety and availability of safer products.

To all of the manufacturers, retailers, and NGOs out there – you can be part of ongoing efforts to shape and enhance the program by participating in the second Safer Choice Summit this November in DC. If you’re a formulator who’s worked hard to make a product with safer ingredients, shout it out with the Safer Choice label. And if you’re a concerned consumer, help us tip the scales for Safer Choice by letting the label be your guide to safer products.

A marketplace with safer chemicals and safer products carrying the Safer Choice label—now that’s something we can all celebrate.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Turning Data into Action

By Jim Jones

I’ve always been amazed by the power of data. Given the right information at the right time, we have the power to transform our lives. During my time at EPA, we have worked with companies, manufacturing facilities, and professional organizations to reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances and prevent pollution – a good thing for industry and for the American public. As part of our efforts to create a more sustainable future, we provide information to the public about chemicals, chemical releases, and pollution prevention practices.

One of our longstanding tools for providing this information is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI collects information from industrial facilities on which toxic chemicals they’re using and how much of each is released into the environment. Information is power and time after time communities have used this information to effect change and take action to protect families and the environment. Making these data publicly available also gives companies an incentive to reduce pollution, and we’re seeing real results.

Over the past 15 years or more, pharmaceutical firms have implemented a wide array of green chemistry practices in their manufacturing processes. The environmental benefits that these green chemistry practices have had, and continue to have, are evident in the TRI information they submit to us. Between 2002 and 2014, the quantities of toxic chemicals reported annually by pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities to our TRI Program declined steadily by 58%.

Similar trends are observed in the TRI information submitted by facilities in the automotive manufacturing sector. Between 2004 and 2014, the quantities of toxic chemical releases to the environment and reported annually by automotive manufacturing facilities declined by 56%. This occurred at the same time that production within the automotive sector rose sharply. Despite the increase in production, since 2009, the quantities of toxics reported as released to the environment or otherwise managed as waste have not increased.

Data drives informed and empowered decision making. By leveraging TRI data to help identify industries that are practicing or can benefit from implementing green chemistry practices, we’re taking tangible steps to work with industry to protect human health and the environment.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Endorsing a Path to Healthier Schools

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as Assistant Administrator is visiting schools that have transformed themselves by reducing the unnecessary exposure of students, teachers, and staff to pests, allergens, and pesticides. Safer, healthier and well-maintained school environments can improve attendance rates, student learning and even school pride. Reduced pesticide use can also save money.

How have these particular schools done it? It all starts with a champion – someone to introduce and advocate for his or her school to change its approach to pest management. This person can be a school superintendent, nurse, plant manager, teacher, or even a parent. Second, the changes can be simple.  Very often it’s about tackling the source of the pest problem which can remove or reduce the need for pesticide treatments in the future. This approach is called Integrated Pest Management, or IPM.

With so many success stories popping up, the question was: how can EPA reach the thousands of school administrators, nurses, plant managers, teachers and PTAs across the country to give them information they can use to transform their schools?

Recently we took a huge first step towards meeting this challenge! Twenty national organizations came to Washington, DC to stand with EPA and sign on to help the agency in the effort to reduce the unnecessary exposure of students, teachers, and staff to pests and pesticides.

The goal is to “make IPM practices the standard in all schools over the next three years.”  And these partnering organizations agreed to use their vast membership and communication channels to help get sustainable pest management practices adopted in schools across the United States. Here’s the impressive list of organizations:

Simple preventive measures like sealing cracks and openings, installing door sweeps, fixing water leaks, and refining sanitation practices can make a school unappealing to pests. Conducting regular inspections, monitoring for pests and pest-conducive conditions, implementing an IPM policy or plan, and providing IPM education for the school community can institutionalize this smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control.

Where preventive measures are not sufficient to eliminate pests, the judicious and careful use of pesticides can complete your school’s pest control strategy.

For more information on EPA’s School IPM program, visit: https://www.epa.gov/managing-pests-schools

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Location is important, especially when it comes to household products

By Jim Jones

Where do you keep your cleaning supplies? If you’re like most of us, you probably said under the sink. What about other household products like insect repellents and flea or tick products? Where you store your household products might seem like a small detail. However, storing cleaning and other products incorrectly could be putting your kids at risk for an accidental poisoning.

Here are some interesting statistics from the American Association of Poison Control Centers:

  • Poisoning is our country’s leading cause of injury-related death.
  • 91% of poisonings occur at home.
  • Exposure to household cleaning products is the second leading cause of pediatric poisonings.

The good news is that most poisonings are preventable. Storing cleaning and other household products out of children’s reach, is one of the easiest things you can do to protect your kids from accidental poisonings.

One of the most common cleaning products kids are exposed to is bleach. In 2014, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported over 15,000 poisoning incidents involving only bleach for kids 12 and under. Making cleaning products inaccessible to kids by simply moving them to a higher shelf or installing safety latches on cabinets where cleaning products are stored could have prevented some of these incidents from occurring.

Here are a few more things you can do every day to prevent poisonings:

  • Read the label first. Follow the directions as they are written on the label before using a product.
  • Use child-resistant packaging correctly by tightly sealing the container after every use.
  • Never put cleaning or other household products in containers that could be mistaken for food or drinks.

When you think of environmental protection you probably don’t automatically associate it with poison prevention. However, an important part of our mission involves ensuring the safety of public health around the country. But we can’t do it alone – we need your help!

Check out more poison prevention tips at http://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/reduce-your-childs-chances-pesticide-poisoning.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Greening the Federal Purchasing Machine – Leading By Example

By Jim Jones

Did you know that the Federal government is the single largest consumer in the world, spending close to $500 billion each year on a wide variety of products and services?

And did you know that in March the President issued an Executive Order directing federal agencies to meet a goal of buying 100% environmentally preferable products and services? This can make a big difference in reducing our environmental footprint. It can also spur consumers and the private sector to use and demand safer and greener products.

Of course the big challenge for federal agencies is how to sort through the hundreds of products with private labels that claim to be safe or environmentally friendly.

Now it just got easier for federal agencies.

First, the Executive Order directs feds to buy products identified by EPA’s Safer Choice, EnergyStar, WaterSense, SNAP, and SmartWay programs, USDA’s BioPreferred, and DOE’s FEMP programs to meet their needs.

Second, we are evaluating current private eco-labels to help federal buyers sort through which ones are the most credible and environmentally-preferable. We are using our draft Guidelines for Environmental Performance to do this pilot. We’re focusing on standards and ecolabels for 1) furniture; 2) flooring; and 3) paints and coatings. The results will help us with evaluations of other product categories in the future. For more information on our pilot, see http://www.resolv.org/site-guidelines/.

And third, in the meantime, we’ve released interim recommendations of standards and ecolabels to help federal buyers green their purchases. These include standards and ecolabels for construction, adhesives, flooring, insulation, paint, wood, custodial products, electronics, grounds/landscaping materials, office supplies, operations, fleets, shipping and a whole host of other products and services. These sustainability standards and eco-labels have been researched and verified by GSA and DOE, and feds can use them to ensure their purchases perform well and are readily available in the market. So if you need paper towels, there are recycled content requirements, as well as a recommended private label for paper products. We plan to regularly update these recommendations as we implement our Guidelines for non-governmental ecolabels and standards.

All of these efforts will help reduce our environmental footprint, support manufacturers that produce environmentally preferable products, and stimulate supply of greener products and services across the globe. By purchasing environmentally preferable products and services, federal agencies are leading by example, and protecting our health and the environment — for generations to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Join the Fight against Childhood Lead Poisoning

By Jim Jones

Why is it so hard to prevent childhood lead poisoning? Lead paint was banned over 30 years ago, but lead poisoning continues to plague communities across the country. One thing that makes this problem so hard to solve is that millions of homes built before the lead paint ban in 1978 still contain lead paint. In fact, lead from paint, particularly lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning.

Lead can cause decreases in IQ, nervous system damage and behavioral changes, which not only can change a person, but can significantly impact a community. Every individual exposed to lead could mean one less child going to college or one more violent crime next door.

Here at EPA we work hard every day to spread awareness about the dangers of lead, provide advice on preventing lead poisoning and enforce our Renovation Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule, which requires the use of lead-safe work practices during renovations in older homes. But we can’t do it alone.

The solution lies in everyone playing a role. We need state and local governments to ensure that communities with the greatest risk for lead poisoning become a priority for action. We also need help from community organizations and concerned citizens. Organizations need to help families find lead-safe housing. Teachers need to help educate our families. Individuals need to be aware in order to protect themselves and their families.

Wondering what you can do to prevent lead from ever affecting your kids, your grandchildren, or your best friend?

  • Get your home tested. If your home was built before 1978, there is a good chance it has lead-based paint. Find a certified inspector or risk assessor to get your home checked for lead hazards.
  • Get your child tested. Find out if your child has elevated levels of lead in his or her blood. You can test your child for lead poisoning by asking your pediatrician to do a simple blood test.
  • Help spread the word about Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, happening now! Join our Twitter Townhall on October 28, 2015 at 2 pm EST by following @EPAlive and using the hashtag #LeadChat2015. We’ll be answering questions and providing tips on how to protect your family from lead poisoning.

The good news in this story is lead poisoning is 100% preventable. Everyone is responsible for preventing lead poisoning; we need all hands on deck!

Learn more about lead and get tips to protect your family.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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What’s an ounce of prevention worth?

By Jim Jones

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s easier to prevent something bad from happening than to fix it after it’s already happened. For me this means stopping pollution before it starts, which is the core concept behind pollution prevention (P2) or sustainability.

Here’s a couple of real world examples of how costly it can be to clean up pollution after it’s already happened:

  • Effective P2 practices could have avoided hundreds of millions of dollars of PCB cleanup costs. PCBs are a hazardous chemical that can cause cancer and were banned in 1979. Cleanup of Hudson River PCB contamination alone has cost more than $500 million.
  • If we can take effective action to slow down the rate of climate change, we can save not billions but trillions of dollars over the coming decades.

From these examples I know that an ounce of prevention is worth millions of dollars in clean-up activities and countless environmental hazards. What many people may not know is that sustainable practices started out as P2. In 1990, the Pollution Prevention Act tasked EPA with establishing a grant program to teach state and local governments and businesses about the benefits of P2. Over time, businesses, colleges, and even sports teams have realized that with P2 they can achieve their corporate objectives and help save the environment, all while improving their bottom lines. From clean energy initiatives, like the Clean Power Plan, to programs that promote the user of safer chemicals, like Safer Choice, sustainability is now part of the fabric of institutions around the world.

This week is P2 Week, and this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Pollution Prevention Act. During this week, and every week, I encourage you to find things you can do in your daily life to stop pollution before it starts. Whether it’s riding your bike instead of driving or reducing the amount of garbage you generate, you’ll be making choices that are better for you, your family and the environment. What’s an ounce of prevention worth to you?

Learn more about P2 Week and how you can prevent pollution.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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American Innovators are Cracking the Code to Solve Environmental Problems

Two weeks ago, I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which is across the street from my office here at EPA. Its new American Enterprise exhibition in the museum’s recently opened Innovators wing is packed with breakthroughs of the last few centuries. From the light bulb to medical and farm devices to personal computers you’re struck by how creativity and ingenuity played a role in our country’s history and progress.

The same is proving to be true for environmental progress. American innovation is playing a pivotal role in helping us solve environmental issues such as climate change, limited water resources, waste and chemical safety, turning these problems into business opportunities and spurring investment.

Today we’re announcing the winners of the 20th Annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, another opportunity to celebrate the power of American innovation and entrepreneurs that bring these technologies to the marketplace.

Take a look at the 2015 innovative winning technologies and pictures from the award ceremony!

Developing Safer Floors, Wood Furniture and Foam Insulation. Hybrid Coating Technologies/Nanotech Industries (Daly City, California) developed a safer polyurethane that isn’t made with isocyanates, which causes skin and breathing problems and workplace asthma. Isocyanates have always been used in making polyurethane, most often a flexible plastic material used in many consumer products, and last year the U.S. produced 5.5 billion pounds of it. So, this is clearly a breakthrough technology. The technology is also reducing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and manufacturing costs and making the end products safer for people and the environment.

Producing Safer Additives for Car Lubricants and Gasoline. SOLTEX (Synthetic Oils and Lubricants of Texas, Houston, Texas) has developed a technology that, if widely used, could eliminate millions of gallons of wastewater per year and reduce the use of a hazardous chemical by 50 percent. The technology has the potential to improve the production of other products such as caulks, adhesives, and personal care products.

Using Waste Gas to Create Products.
LanzaTech (Skokie, Illinois) is using waste gas from steel plants to create fuels and chemicals while reducing the carbon footprint. A facility captures and converts the gas, which would otherwise be emitted into the air, into a substance with commercial value. Two facilities already use the technology to produce 100,000 gallons per year of ethanol. This technology is an excellent example of creating valuable fuel from waste.

Creating Fuel from Algae
Algenol (Fort Myers, Florida) developed a blue-green algae that can be used to create valuable fuel. The technology combines sunlight with waste carbon dioxide from air or industrial emitters to create fuel while dramatically reducing costs, water usage, and carbon footprint. The ethanol and green crude produced are substitutes for petroleum-derived fuels and chemicals.

Using Consumer and Municipal Trash to Make Products. Renmatix (King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) developed a cost-effective process using high temperature and high pressure water to break down woody biomass, plant material, and even some municipal waste into sugars to make plant-based chemicals and fuels. Production can be set up with whatever plant-based material is available. The production also can be set up anywhere, which makes the technology easy to replicate regionally and globally. The technology could significantly reduce dependence on petroleum-based chemicals and fuels.

Using Plants to Make Plastics, Chemicals and Fuels. Professor Eugene Chen of Colorado State University developed a process that uses plant-based materials in the production of renewable chemicals and liquid fuels. This new technology is waste-free and metal-free. It offers significant potential for the production of renewable chemicals, fuels, and bioplastics that can be used in a wide range of safer industrial and consumer products.

I am confident that these types of innovative technologies will be showcased in future exhibits highlighting American innovation. The winners have great scientific expertise and keen business sense. Their innovative technologies have the potential to be “game changers” to solve important environmental problems and show that we can innovate towards a sustainable economy.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Integrating Environmental Justice Into Our Work

We work to achieve our mission to protect public health and the environment in a myriad of ways by providing for grants to states, incentive programs, and technical assistance – but we also issue rules. And, because we’re committed to environmental justice, we want to ensure that our regulations serve all people, including those who are often the most impacted by environmental harm and public health concerns.

We’ve been integrating environmental justice into our rules for years. Today, we’re advancing our efforts by releasing our final Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of a Regulatory Action. Building on our July 2010 interim guidance, this is an essential resource that gives our rulemaking teams the tools, guidance and specific strategies they need to consider environmental justice. This final guidance helps us expand the scope and impact we have in American communities.

NEWEJ-pic

The guidance will also continue the commitment we’ve had to environmental justice since President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 directing federal agencies to address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations. Over the past year, our rulemaking teams have been hard at work engaging communities, learning about the environmental impacts that affect them, and developing rules with these considerations in mind. Here are a few examples:

  • Earlier this year, we released our final Definition of Solid Waste Rule, which addresses the disproportionate impacts on minority and low-income populations from when hazardous materials are mismanaged and sent to recycling. We conducted a rigorous environmental justice analysis that examined the location of recycling facilities and their proximity and potential impact to adjacent residents. This process led to a final rule that encourages safe and legitimate recycling, and that gives communities a voice prior to recycling operations beginning.
  • In June of 2014, we proposed an updated rule to achieve further controls on toxic air emissions from petroleum refineries. In addition to evaluating the lessons learned from enforcement settlements, and data analysis from an extensive data collection effort, we conducted robust community engagement. This included community conference calls, webinars, trainings and public hearings to learn from those affected, and help them understand how the proposed rule could help. The proposed rule includes requirements that will benefit these communities, including emission controls for storage tanks, flares and coking units; higher combustion efficiency for flaring operations; and monitoring of air concentrations at the fenceline of refinery facilities.
  • In March of 2014, we published a proposed rule to revise the current Worker Protection Standard, designed to protect the nation’s two million farmworkers and their families from exposure to pesticides. It will afford farm workers similar health protections to those already enjoyed by workers in other jobs. In developing the proposed and final rules, we sought extensive input from the farmworker community. The final rule expected this fall will help protect farm workers and their families through better training, increased access to information, improved safety precautions, and modernized compliance standards.

These are just three examples – see more by reading our memo to EPA staff announcing the final guidance. We take seriously our obligation to lead on environmental justice, and to set an example for others. Administrator McCarthy has set the tone, and this final guidance supports her leadership. It’s another way we’re doing our part to fulfill the spirit of Executive Order 12898, and to protect our environment and every American’s fundamental right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live on clean land.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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