toxic pollution

Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action

Last month, Pope Francis released his second encyclical as pontiff, urging all people to protect our natural resources and to take action on climate change.  He makes clear our moral obligation to prevent climate impacts that threaten God’s creation, especially for those most vulnerable.

As public servants working in both domestic policy and diplomacy, we understand the urgent need for global action.  Climate impacts like extreme droughts, floods, fires, heat waves, and storms threaten people in every country—and those who have the least suffer the most.  No matter your beliefs or political views, we are all compelled to act on climate change to protect our health, our planet, and our fellow human beings.

Earlier this year in a series of meetings at the Vatican on the Encyclical with key Papal advisors, Cardinal Turkson laid out our moral obligation to act on climate change not only from the compelling scientific data, but also from his own firsthand experience in Ghana.  The meetings ended with a sense of urgency, but also with a feeling of opportunity and hope.

The prime minister of Tuvalu, an island nation in the Pacific, spoke at a conference at the Vatican last week and called the world’s attention to the real existential threat they face—that their country may be destroyed if rising seas and stronger storms from climate change continue.

For all these reasons, the U.S. government, through the EPA, is taking steps to make good on our moral obligation.  Later this summer, the agency will finalize a rule to curb the carbon pollution fueling climate change from our nation’s largest source – power plants.

Carbon pollution comes packaged with smog and soot that can cause health problems.  When we limit carbon pollution from power plants, Americans will avoid hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of heart attacks in 2030.

A recent EPA report found that if we take global action now, the United States alone can avoid up to 69,000 premature deaths by the year 2100 from poor air quality and extreme heat.  We will continue to partner with U.S. Catholic and other faith-based organizations, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Climate Covenant, to get out the word about the importance of taking action to combat climate change.

President Obama and the EPA share the Pope’s concern for environmental justice—our climate crisis is a human crisis.  When we limit toxic pollution, we improve people’s health, spur innovation, and create jobs.  We owe it to vulnerable communities, to our children, and to future generations to make sure our planet remains a vibrant and beautiful home.
U.S. leadership is a crucial step, but climate change is a global problem that demands a global solution.

That’s why the United States has made joint international announcements—last year with China and more recently with Brazil—stating our commitment to strong action, including cutting carbon pollution faster than ever before, and slowing down deforestation.  Since three of the world’s largest economies have come together, we’re confident other nations will join our commitment—and the world will finally reach a worldwide climate agreement later this year in Paris.

Pope Francis is boldly building on the moral foundation laid down by Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and is joined by a chorus of voices from faith leaders around the globe calling for climate action—not only because it protects our health, our economy, and our way of life—but because it’s the right thing to do.  We look forward to welcoming the Holy Father to the United States in September to continue to discuss these and other issues that affect us all.

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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Largest Superfund Settlement in History Means Cleanups from New Jersey to California

If you pollute the environment, you should be responsible for cleaning it up. This basic principle guides EPA’s Superfund cleanup enforcement program.

We just settled our largest environmental contamination case ever, for nearly $4.4 billion that will help to clean up the communities that were affected.

Here’s some background: Last April, along with the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, EPA announced a historic cleanup settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. Many years ago, one of Anadarko’s subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee, conducted uranium mining and other activities that involved highly toxic chemicals at sites across the nation. These operations left contamination behind, including radioactive uranium waste across the Navajo Nation; radioactive thorium in Chicago and West Chicago, Illinois; creosote (or tar) waste in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the South; and perchlorate contamination in Nevada. All of these substances can be dangerous to people’s health.

Anadarko tried to skirt its responsibility by transferring the business assets responsible for this contamination into a now-defunct and bankrupt company called Tronox. EPA and DOJ vigorously pursued them – and the result was this new settlement. The nearly $4.4 billion that the company will pay will help to clean up toxic pollution and to turn the contaminated areas back into usable land.

This settlement took effect last week. Here are some ways that its impact will be felt:

  • In Manville, N.J., a coal tar wood treatment facility buried creosote in recreational areas. Funds will be used EPA and the state will get funds to clean up the waste left behind.
  • Not far away in Camden and Gloucester City, N.J., there’s a residential area where two former gas mantle manufacturing sites used to be. They’ve received cleanup assistance already, and this settlement means that more is on the way.
  • Funds are starting to flow to Navajo Nation territory to help clean up drinking water contaminated by radioactive waste from abandoned uranium mines.
  • Low income, minority communities in Jacksonville, Florida; West Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; and Navassa, North Carolina are benefiting from the settlement funds to clean up contamination from uranium and thorium, volatile organic compounds, pesticides and PCBs.

Companies that operate in American communities have an obligation to protect nearby residents from harm. That’s why we do enforcement — to protect communities and their health. We make sure that responsible parties are held accountable and pay to clean up the pollution they caused.

Learn more about our enforcement cleanup efforts at Superfund sites across the country, some of which include an enforcement component, in the December 2014 National Geographic Magazine.

Picture resources:
Federal Creosote site pictures:
Welsbach & Gas Mantle site pictures:
Map of Navajo Nation Abandoned Uranium Mines Superfund Cleanup Sites (larger poster PDF):
smaller image found at

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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Cutting Mercury and Protecting America's Children

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

From historic efforts to cut pollution from American automobiles to strong measures to prevent power plant pollution from crossing state lines, 2011 was already a banner year for clean air and the health of the American people. And the EPA is closing out the year with our biggest clean air protection yet.

Last week, we finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, a rule that will protect millions of families and, especially, children from air pollution. Before this rule, there were no national standards that limited the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases power plants across the country could release into the air we breathe. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics have been linked to damage to developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. MATS will require power plants to install emissions controls that will also reduce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

As a result, MATS will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma among children between six and 18 years old.

That last point is especially significant to me as a mother. I understand the importance of MATS in very profound ways, because both of my sons have struggled with asthma. Fifteen years ago, my youngest son spent his first Christmas in the hospital fighting to breathe. Like any parent of a child with asthma, I can tell you that the benefits of clean air protections like MATS are not just statistics and abstract concepts.

What we’re really talking about with all those numbers above are pregnant mothers who can rest a little easier knowing their children won’t be exposed to harmful levels of mercury in critical development stages. We are talking about reducing the levels of mercury in the fish that we and our kids eat every day. We are talking about future generations growing up healthier because there is less toxic pollution in the air they breathe.

Find out how MATS will protect health in your state.

What we’re also talking about with MATS are thousands of new opportunities for American workers. Not only will MATS provide health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, it will also support jobs and innovation for our economy.

To meet the MATS standards over the next several years, many power plants will have to upgrade their operations with modern and widely available pollution control technology. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units that are covered by MATS, and about 40 percent do not use advanced pollution controls to limit emissions. Increased demand for scrubbers and other advanced pollution controls will mean increased business for American companies that lead the way in producing pollution control technology.

But that’s just the start. Power plants making upgrades will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting emissions by installing pollution control technology, “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.” The EPA estimates that the demands for workers will support 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution, provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, and support job creation and innovation that are good for our economy. Families across the country – including my own – will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air. That is what environmental protection and the work of the EPA is all about.

In this holiday season as we gather with our friends and families, Americans can take pride in the gift of clean air. Our children and future generations will have healthier air to breathe because of MATS and this historic year for clean air protection.

About the author: Lisa P. Jackson is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Find out more about how MATS works:


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Renewing the American Dream: Healthy Environment for Healthy Communities and Healthy Families

This is cross-posted from The White House Blog

By Al Armendariz

Growing up in the tightly knit community of El Paso, Texas, I was always sure of a few things.

One was that family was of the utmost importance. It’s the kind of place where several generations might live within a few blocks of each other, and someone is always ready to help, scold, or praise you.

The other sure-thing involved the skyline: No matter where I was in El Paso, I could always look up and see the smokestacks of the old Asarco smelter looming. The facility affected the city in more ways than that constant visual presence. It gave many residents, including me, a lasting lesson on how pollution and industrial contamination can affect a community.

For years, El Paso families had suspected chemicals from the copper smelting facility had been contaminating nearby homes. Several studies have confirmed this is the case—toxic contamination from arsenic, lead, cadmium, and other chemicals has been found within a radius well outside the boundaries of the facility. And families who live in this area have suffered because of it. For example, a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry found children living near the facility were much more likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to neurological, behavioral, and developmental problems.

Although the smelter closed down in 1999 (after more than 100 years of operation), its legacy of contamination still affects this community.
Since the company declared bankruptcy in 2009, EPA has been working with the state of Texas and local community leaders to determine how best to clean up the toxic pollution so it doesn’t harm more generations of El Paso families. It’s especially meaningful to me to be at EPA while my hometown is in the midst of doing something so significant to improve public health. El Paso has transformed itself from a city dependent on polluting heavy industry to one with a diverse economic foundation in health care, defense, international trade, and education. So the smelter clean-up is not just a big issue for the city of El Paso, it means a lot to EPA as well.

Since becoming the regional administrator for the South Central region of the US, I’ve been a part of many efforts to restore communities that have been affected by toxins and industrial pollution. It’s been one of the most gratifying parts of my career to see communities transforming themselves, including places that are cleaning up from the legacy of toxic industrial pollution, and cities rebuilding themselves after natural disasters.

Seeing first-hand how pollution can harm the soil, water, and air in a family’s backyard is one of my first “environmental memories.” It’s probably one of the things that led me to study chemistry and engineering, and to become dedicated to protecting the environment. So by leading our region’s work with the state and El Paso’s leaders, I get to help resolve an environmental issue that was present in the lives of my families and friends.

Of course, it’s not just in El Paso that EPA is helping keep families safe and healthy. Along the entire border, we’re bringing colonia communities clean, reliable drinking water for the first time, and working with the government of Mexico to reduce air pollution from trucks hauling cargo into the US. I’m proud to be part of an Agency with such a long track record of protecting the health and environment of people along the border.

About the author: Al Armendariz is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Administrator for Region 6(Dallas: serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas)

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.