Monday, November 21, 2011

Congress finally gets to work on chemical reform

After watching 2 hours of constructive, informed, substantive, and sometimes even juicy debate in the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee last week, I am elated that toxic chemicals reform is finally on the agenda in Congress. It's not there because of special interest lobbying or industry pay-backs, but because everyday folks (like you and me!) have been badgering Congress so persistently to do something about this toxic chemicals mess, that they are finally getting the message.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the federal law that covers the chemicals that saturate our every-day lives as ingredients in almost every consumer product you can name. With more than 80,000 chemicals on the market and less than 200 tested for safety, it’s no wonder that TSCA is widely considered to be a complete failure.

Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to fix TSCA’s problems and give the American people an assurance of safety when products like baby bottles and household cleaners are put on the market. He facilitated a lively bipartisan discussion that covered everything from the EPA’s jurisdiction to the “body burden” of 212 industrial chemicals in Senator Udall’s body.

Five expert witnesses testified to the committee (you can read their testimonies and watch the archived video here). Watching the hearing, it became clear that all the stakeholders are at the table, and that one - the chemical manufacturers - are dragging their feet. One Senator after the next grilled the American Chemistry Council and asked them to stop criticizing from the sidelines, roll up their sleeves and get to work fixing TSCA, if they are sincere in their assertions that it needs to be fixed. Another key industry player, the Consumer Specialty Products Association, representing the likes of Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble, is clearly doing just that. The CSPA and the environmental health folks in the hearing room agreed that they are “on the cusp” of agreeing to solutions for all the sticky points they identified in the hearing.

Next stop: "Markup," which is inside-the-beltway language for all the stakeholders getting out their red pens and working with Senate staff to make detailed edits to the bill so that the committee can vote on actual changes. After the hearing, Senator Lautenberg reiterated his intention to bring the Safe Chemicals Act to a vote before the year is out.

Now that the ball is finally moving down the field, we all need to make sure that our Senators understand how important chemical reform is to our health and our economic future. Moms like me have kept up a steady drumbeat that has put safer chemicals on Congress’s to-do list. Our job now is to make sure that they get it done.

It was a great feeling last week to watch the Senate seriously debating an issue so important to our health and our future. This week as I give thanks with my family for our many blessings, I’ll also be giving thanks for all of you who are working together for a healthier world for our children.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How I turned my 1991 Camry wagon into a force for environmental justice

by Guest Blogger Kate Pattison

Donate your car to Toxic Free NC, it's so much easier than dealing with insurance companies!

My beloved 1991 Toyota Camry has always been there for me. It motored through work travels that took me all over the southeastern United States, endured a hellish commute on I-40 between Raleigh and Durham for about two years, and steadfastly for the past two years my Camry has been right there backed up almost to the fence among the thickening bamboo and English ivy in my driveway. It hasn't left my sight (as long as I stand in the driveway).

Back in the winter of 2010, that jolly little wagon was plugging along *slowly* but reliably back home when the transmission took its last breath and gave out on the upward climb of a hill near Crabtree Valley. With an expensive overhaul, Camry could have been back at it on I-40 within the week, but I knew the repairs would cost far more than the value of the car. I had been aiming for at least 250,000 miles on the odometer. Camry made it to 230,000. Good enough.

So should I sell Camry? With a busted transmission, it was only good for parts at that point. I did a little research and found out that by donating my car, I could get a nice tax deduction. After a $75 processing fee, the recipient of my donation would get the rest of the cash. I wanted my favorite local non-profit, Toxic Free NC, to reap the rewards of my car's demise. And, it just so happens that my sister, Fawn Pattison, is the Executive Director at Toxic Free NC. Fawn liked the car donation idea, too, and set up TFNC's relationship with a car donation program. I was going to be the test case for Toxic Free NC's very first car donation!

The process was extremely easy; I called the nice people at CARS, they took some basic information about my car (VIN number, etc) and told me I would get a call from a towing company within 48 hours. The following day, I filled out the seller's information on my title and got it notarized at my bank, plus the towing company called and set up the appointment. By the time Camry was rolling out of its spot at the very back of the driveway yesterday (and just out of the grasp of rapidly encroaching bamboo), it was just a hair over 48 hours since I had placed that first call to car donation folks.

It was actually the second call to the car donation folks. I did say Camry died in the winter of 2010, and I formulated the donation plan then. But I didn't keep my decomposing car in the driveway for two years out of some sick attachment, and I didn't leave it there out of laziness, either. Well, not too much laziness. A few other car-related things intervened to delay the process.

After Camry was decommissioned, I became the owner of a lovely Honda Accord, which was promptly rear-ended. A short while later, a freak wind storm blew my neighbor's tree down - right on top of the Accord. While the Accord was in the shop having the tree damage fixed, I was rear-ended again, this time in the rental car! And the giant pile of mulch (from said fallen tree) blocked Camry from being extracted from the driveway for most of 2011. So there you have it. Moral of the story: donate your car to Toxic Free NC, it's so much easier than dealing with insurance companies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New short film reveals teens’ experiences being sprayed with pesticides
Last week Toxic Free North Carolinareleased our latest Farm Worker Documentary Project film, Overworked & Under Spray. It’s a six-minute piece featuring six high school-aged farm workers’ stories about being sprayed with agricultural pesticides while tending crops in fields across NC.
For two months this summer, full-time Student Action with Farmworkers intern Abi Bissette and I crisscrossed the eastern side of the state. We visited farm worker families in their homes, giving out pesticide safety information and discussing their rights as farm workers. By midsummer we had assembled a group of motivated, outspoken teenagers who have worked cultivating and harvesting blueberries, strawberries, sweet potatoes, green beans, grapes, cucumbers and tobacco.
“You could see the spray coming at you...but we kept on working. The next day I didn't feel so good,” Felix Rodriguez, one of the youth featured in the film, told us during his interview. “I wouldn't feel comfortable talking about pesticides to the owner or supervisor because they'll see you as nagging. They just really want you to work.”
When we asked the youth how they would fix the situation, they had a range of impressively astute answers:  put more inspectors in the fields, get rid of child labor in agriculture, make stronger regulations for crew leaders. But one message we heard loud and clear from everyone interviewed was “enough is enough”. The exploitation of children (or anyone) for cheap food—and the poisoning of the people who work to fill our grocery store shelves—has gone on for far too long. It’s time for eaters of conscience to demand an end to abusive, toxic agriculture.
Here in North Carolina we're actively working to protect children, and all workers, from exposure to toxic pesticides and other dangerous working conditions. Want to take action for farm workers in NC? Check out our website for three simple steps you can take.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Farmworker Advocacy: We're All Important!

Hi there Toxic Free NC fans! This is Abi Bissette. I’m the Student Action with Farmworkers intern this summer working on the Farmworker Documentary Project. This project is in its third year running. Its intent is to share farmworkers’ stories with a broad audience. By increasing awareness about the struggles farmworkers face every day, we hope to move people into action in support of the people who harvest our food. This year, the documentary I am making focuses on youth working in the fields and their experiences with pesticides.

Lately I have been doing a lot of visiting. Visiting farmworker camps and family houses, looking for people with interesting stories who might be willing to be interviewed for this year’s documentary. On one such visit to the Wilson area last week, one house in particular struck me as a textbook example of the ways in which farm workers’ rights to safe, healthy living conditions are being violated. As we drove up the dusty dirt driveway towards a small house in ill repair, a woman stepped out onto the front porch. She was young, and appeared to be in the late stages of pregnancy. After approaching the house and greeting the woman, other members of my group and I began explaining our work to her. One was from Migrant Ed, the other worked with migrant youth and families and I worked for an agency that informed farm workers of their rights surrounding pesticides in the fields and at home.

Early on in the conversation, two little heads peeked around the corner of the house. The older of the two boys exclaimed “¡Eso no es Papá!” looking, surprised, at our group of gringos. The woman explained that the older boy was her little brother and the younger was her son. Her parents and husband were still at work. Because she was close to her due date, she had not been working since they arrived in North Carolina two weeks earlier.

As the other two farmworker outreach workers continued to talk with the woman, I took a moment to watch the boys run around in front of the house. I was jolted out of my reverie, though, when one asked the young mother, “do they tell you when they spray the tobacco field here?” pointing to the thriving field not ten feet from the front door. The woman answered, unconcerned, that growers never inform the family when they are about to spray the fields, nor are they advised about how long to wait before it’s considered safe to walk through the tobacco after it’s sprayed. As she was talking, I watched the two boys giggling as they playfully hit each other with limp tobacco leaves.

Looking at the field, the tobacco didn’t look dewy with pesticides, but how could you tell? How could a person know the damage that is being done to their own health by living and working in such close proximity to pesticides? How could this pregnant mother know how the pesticides she was breathing would affect her soon-to-be-born baby in and out of the womb? I was reminded of my role as a person who shares safety information. “But what,” I wondered, “is the point of telling someone the importance of wearing long sleeves at work to protect against pesticides if the pesticides are being sprayed in through the front door?”

I was also reminded that in terms of helping this woman, my information was only going to go as far as she was willing to take it. I could give her all the numbers for legal aid and various other governmental agencies that I could think of, but it was this young immigrant mother who would ultimately have to decide to take the next step and seek contact. This made me aware, once again, that my relationship with farm workers is a partnership. Without the information and connections held by advocates, many workers would be unaware of their power to advocate for themselves. Without the input and self-advocacy of farm workers, advocacy work is self-serving and ineffective. This puts my weekly outreach visits into a different perspective. By involving farmworkers in my documentary, I hope to make them aware of the importance of their stories in creating social change. By taking these stories to the general public, I hope to make my audiences aware of the importance of their support in making sure current laws are followed and new legislation is passed so that everyone can have access to food that is delicious, environmentally friendly and ethically sound.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stronger limits on pesticide residue in food, smaller lawsuit risk?

The Environmental Working Group (“EWG”) recently published this year's “Dirty Dozen” list of the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables as well as the “Clean 15” list of produce with the least amount of pesticides. Several of the “Dirty Dozen” (like blueberries, apples, and strawberries) are among North Carolina's most important commodity crops.

Industry's take on the lists is to frame it as fear-mongering. They point out, rightly, that approximately 98% of all conventional produce contains less than the legal limit for pesticides. But that response is an answer to a question that no one is asking.

The problem isn't whether pesticide residue on produce exceeds the legal limits. Rather the issue is whether those limits are actually protecting the public. Scientists and government agencies collaborated on a study to answer this question last year. They found that the current legal limits for pesticides do not protect children. In the study, children who ate conventional produce ingested pesticides well beyond what is considered to be safe. This is why EWG and other food safety groups are arguing for new pesticide guidelines that are based on what is safe for children.

It's a mistake for industry to fight against revised pesticide guidelines. Primarily, new regulations could help protect the most vulnerable—kids and farmworkersfrom the effects of pesticides. New regulations could also be beneficial to the industry. Absent better regulation, pesticide users and producers are leaving themselves open to liability. As the scientific data builds linking pesticides to illnesseslearning disabilities, asthma, endocrine disruption, and cancers—industry and regulators face lawsuits and public relations campaigns similar to those faced by tobacco companies. Safer regulations could prevent future injury and future lawsuits, both fine reasons for industry to join EWG's campaign for safer pesticide limits.

Sonya Ziaja, J.D., writes regularly for LegalMatch and Ziaja Consulting's Shark. Laser. Blawg.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

update: Governor vetoes S13

Governor Perdue has issued the first veto of the legislative session (and only the second of her administration.

Toxic Free NC and many other sustainable agriculture advocates argued that removing money from the current year's economic development funds would significantly harm the state's investment in sustainable agriculture and rural jobs, by de-funding the Tobacco Trust Fund and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.

See the Governor's press release here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

House to Gut Crucial Rural Economic Development Funds

February 9, 2011

Contact: Fawn Pattison, Toxic Free North Carolina | (919) 833-5333

House to Gut Crucial Rural Economic Development Funds

“Balanced Budget” bill will limit jobs growth in rural North Carolina

Raleigh, NC - Today the NC House is expected to pass SB 13, the “Balanced Budget Act of 2011.” The bill takes money from the current year’s balanced budget in order to offset the looming budget hole faced by the NC Legislature for 2011-12, authorizing the Governor to make $400M in cuts. Ironically, the bill will drain another $87M away from a handful of the state’s trust funds aimed at economic development.

“Our message to the General Assembly is this: don’t cut funds that are creating jobs and strengthening our state’s economy” says Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association executive director.

What is at stake in rural North Carolina: the continued investment in projects that foster innovation and create jobs while building local food systems. Some examples of the types of successful projects that would not exist without this funding are:
  • Piedmont Food and Agricultural Processing Center
  • Carolina Ground Bread Flour Project
  • Blue Ridge Food Ventures
  • Eastern Carolina Organics
  • Foothills Farmer Fresh Market
Eastern Carolina Organics is a private, manager- and grower-owned distributor in Chatham County that connects North Carolina's organic farmers with the restaurants and grocers who want to buy from them. It all got started with a $48,000 grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund in 2004.

"Without the Tobacco Trust Fund, none of this would exist," says Sandi Kronick, ECO's CEO. In 2010, ECO sold over $2 million in products to local customers and buyers throughout the East Coast and in Canada, sending $1.6 million back to NC organic family farms in just one year.

For instance, in 2010 alone, RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund received 403 applications requesting over $4.5 million. Of those, RAFI-USA was able to fund 120 new projects with $1.2 million in grants from the Tobacco Trust Fund. That investment along with the cost share from participating farmers totaled $5.9 million in new investment, created $5.25 million in new annual income for farmers and created and retained 1091 jobs as a result. 12,600 other farmers benefited from the funded projects, and approximately 330 unfunded farmers replicated a funded project.

The proposal would drain the unused balance of key trust funds used for job development in rural North Carolina: The Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and the Tobacco Trust Fund. It would also divert $67 million in tobacco settlement funds from the Golden LEAF Foundation to be used by legislators in the state’s General Fund.

The Golden Leaf Foundation, the Tobacco Trust Fund, and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund have been actively investing in local food to help farmers and rural communities maintain and regain vitality. Between 2000 and 2009, these trust funds have invested $36.6 million into local, regional, and statewide value-added agriculture enterprises and programs. These awards have also been leveraged to attract federal and private funding to support these and other projects.
  • The Golden Leaf Foundation has awarded $21 million in grants for 157 agriculture and food enterprise development programs since 2000.1
  • The Tobacco Trust Fund has awarded $12.9 million to value-added ag enterprises since 2002.2
  • The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has made $2.7 million in grants through the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.3
For more specifics about the projects listed above, contact:
Jennifer Lapidus, Carolina Ground Bread Flour Project,
Mary Lou Surgi, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, (828) 348-0128

Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, (919) 542-2402
Noah Ranells, Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center, (919) 245-2330
Sandi Kronick, Eastern Carolina Organics, (919) 542-3264
Mike Faucette, Faucette Farms, Browns Summit, (336) 669-5262
Herbie Cottle, Cottles Organics, Rose Hill, (910) 289-5034
Stefan Hartmann, Black River Organic Farm, Ivanhoe, (910) 540-8600
Stanley Hughes, Pine Knot Farm, Hurdle Mills, (919) 880-5979
Joe Schroeder, Program Director, Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund RAFI-USA, (919) 542-1396

Timothy Will, Foothills Connect, (828) 447-2660


Sustainable Food NC is a coalition of organizations committed to advocating for state-level policies that foster sustainable and organic food production, enhance local economic development, support community health and increase access to local food throughout North Carolina. For more information, contact Shivaugn Rayl, Coalition Coordinator, at 919.576.9173.

1 The Golden LEAF Foundation,
2 North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission,
3 NC Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund,

Monday, January 3, 2011

Good news for a new year

Here's a little tidbit of good news to start your new year right. Last week a California appeals court upheld a previous, landmark ruling that organic farmer Larry Jacobs has the right to sue a neighboring farm for pesticide drift that occurs through volatilization. The lawsuit was on behalf of Jacobs Farm Del Cabo, whose organic herbs are sold in Whole Foods stores all over the country. Jacobs' farm was contaminated in 2007 when pesticides from a neighboring Brussels sprouts field volatilized and made their way to his fields, making his entire dill and rosemary crops unmarketable.

We hear on a pretty regular basis from organic farmers and gardeners in North Carolina who are frustrated and concerned about the risk of pesticides drifting onto their crops. This ruling may set a positive precedent for not only those farmers and gardeners, but also for farm workers who are often on the receiving end of pesticide drift.

There is of course, still plenty of bad news to go around. Here's a story about a group of South Carolina hunters who were hospitalized after they were exposed to the pesticide Temik while hunting. Temik is used a lot in North Carolina, and many of the violations that the NC Pesticide Board settles each year involve the mishandling of this particular toxic pesticide.

Here's to progress, and a whole new year of working to make harm from pesticides a thing of the past!