Saturday, March 29, 2014

Citizen Science campaign in San Francisco peninsula

"Teams tally biological oddities on Bay Area's federal land"
2014-03-29 by Peter Fimrite []:
Scientists were swinging in the trees at Muir Woods on Friday as botanists, lepidopterists, entomologists and other lab-coat-wearing types poked around the Presidio and other sites in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in a frenzy of research.
The professorial convergence is part of a two-day celebration of biodiversity called BioBlitz, in which 300 volunteer scientists document the bats, bugs, plants, mosses, worms and other oddities living on federal lands in the Bay Area.
The event, sponsored by the National Park Service and National Geographic, is expected to attract 5,000 people, including 2,700 youths, who will take part in field science and attend a Biodiversity Festival at Crissy Field on Saturday.
The idea is to increase scientific knowledge about national parks in the Bay Area and inspire future generations of citizen scientists to become park stewards, according to the organizers, who have held yearly BioBlitzes at parks around the nation for a decade.
The redwood research at Muir Woods was serious business for Stephen Sillett, a professor of forest ecology at Humboldt State University and the head tree-swinger on a team of scientists conducting measurements, taking core samples and documenting life in the canopy of the giant trees.

Charting health of trees -
Sillett and his colleagues were climbing 250 feet up to the top of a clump of coast redwoods at Cathedral Grove. Their work, the first significant scientific study of the tree canopy at Muir Woods, is part of the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative, a statewide project started by the Save the Redwoods League, a San Francisco advocacy group working with scientists from Humboldt State and UC Berkeley. They are documenting the age, size, health and tree-ring history of California's last remaining old-growth redwood groves.
"The goal is to measure this tree all the way from the base to the top," Sillett, a pioneer in research conducted in the redwood canopy, said as he prepared to climb one of the trees. "We are trying to figure out the biomass of the redwood forest, what is its capacity to sequester carbon ... and relate its performance over the last century to previous periods."
The plan is to chart the health of the trees over time and use laboratory analysis of carbon and oxygen isotopes to figure out how the trees have reacted to climate and weather conditions. By studying the rings, scientists hope to be able to plot biological changes dating 1,000 to 2,000 years and forecast how the redwoods will change as the Earth warms up.
The redwood tree-ring record can reliably be traced back to the year 328, revealing drought years and other major weather events, according to dendrochronologist Allyson Carroll, who analyzes and documents tree-ring patterns for Humboldt State and the Save the Redwoods League. Researchers have documented a significant growth spurt among redwoods in the past century.

Remnant of Spanish fort -
The research at Muir Woods also has a more immediate purpose: to determine the age of the old adobe found at the historic Presidio Officers' Club. The adobe, hidden for years under a covering of wood plank and plaster, is believed to be the last remnant of the original Spanish fort El Presidio de San Francisco.
The problem: No one can figure out when the 3-foot-thick adobe walls were built. The hope is that core samples from Muir Woods can be compared with the tree rings in the timber beams propping up the adobe to determine when the wood was cut to build the garrison.
"We have long-term redwood-monitoring plots from throughout the range, but we don't have any here in Muir Woods," Carroll said. "This site here is going to be the closest of all our redwood plots to where the (old military) journals indicated the wood came from."
Trees are not the only subject of the brainiac blitz. A team of UC Berkeley microbiologists is counting bacteria and acoustic-monitoring devices will detect bats in the Presidio.
Meanwhile, forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey is leading a team of 30 UC Davis undergraduates identifying Presidio bugs.
"There are over 500 families of insects in California and somewhere in the order of 25,000 individual species of beetles alone. ... So when it comes to diversity, arthropods have it all over everything else by orders of magnitude," Kimsey said, explaining why the insect count is important. "There is a hell of a lot out there right now that we just don't know about yet."
It is "very much within the realm of possibility" a new insect species will be discovered, Kimsey said.

Citizen scientists encouraged to help -
Public events at Crissy Field on Saturday include dung beetle races, science demonstrations, photography workshops and live raptor and animal exhibits. The final species count, including bugs and bacteria, is to be announced at 3:45 p.m. Saturday.

Restoration of Mountain Lake in San Francisco

"Restoration under way at Presidio's Mountain Lake"
2014-03-29 by David Perlman from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
Mountain Lake, the Presidio's watery gem, has finally been cleansed of the sediments and toxic chemicals that poisoned it for a century, and scientists have begun restoring its natural vegetation to create a new wildlife habitat.
Working by boat along the lake's shoreline, botanists last week planted seeds and buds of long-vanished flora into the bottom - each batch encased in hand-made balls of protective mud.
"These are pioneer species," said plant ecologist Michele Laskowsky, whose team collected them from Bay Area lakes and lagoons and propagated them in the Presidio's Native Plant Nursery.
"They're wonderful habitat plants," she said, "because they're great food for ducks and other animals in the water, they help keep the water clear, they help prevent the algae blooms that reduce oxygen in the water, and they'll provide shelter for all the small native fish that will soon be living here."
From their boat, Presidio interns Finn Black and Marion Anthonisen gingerly lowered the mud balls into the lake. The mud balls had been placed inside wire cages to protect the fragile plants from the countless invasive fish that have flourished there for decades.
In stages that will take months or even years, Presidio scientists are working to restore the lake and its surrounding area to their natural condition, and those invasive fish must go.

Unwelcome guests -
They are being hunted relentlessly by biologist Jonnathan Young, a graduate student at San Francisco State University who has spread nets into the water along the shoreline in the effort to rid the lake of the creatures.
For decades San Francisco residents have used Mountain Lake as a convenient place to dump unwanted pets from their home aquariums - often ordinary goldfish and colorful koi. All are varieties of carp, however, and all can grow to huge sizes with big appetites for smaller prey.
"There's one big orange koi that patrols the south shore," Young said. "It must be 2 1/2 feet long, but I've put a net there, and I know we'll get it."
Young sends the invasive fish he catches to a reptile rescue center in Sebastopol, where they are adopted by owners of isolated artificial vineyard ponds - "where they won't create the same issues in those nature systems as they are here," Young said.

The first plants in -
The first species of native plants that Black and Anthonisen lowered to the lake bottom last week are called sago pondweed. They will be followed by coontails and water nymphs - what botanists call SAV, for "submerged aquatic vegetation." All were selected for their many benefits to the lake's restoration, Laskowsky said, and were originally collected from Marin County lakes, lagoons and oceanside coves.
The vegetation once grew naturally in Mountain Lake Park, and Laskowsky said she identified the species in the plant collections and records of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. They go back to the 189os, when Alice Eastwood was the museum's first paid curator of botany, Laskowsky said.
Native fish species will be introduced to the lake once it is free of all its alien fish. The first, Young said, will be the three-spined sticklebacks, a species that thrives in the Presidio's Lobos Creek. Eventually the area will see the return of still more native fish, turtles, reptiles and other wildlife, he said.
"It has to be a long process," Young said, "but then, restoring the ecology and the wildlife of a 4-acre lake to the way it was hundreds of years ago is a complex process, and it has to go step-by-step."

Cleaning complete -
The state's Environmental Protection Agency gave its approval for the project this week when its Department of Toxic Substances Control noted that during 11 years of testing and two years of dredging, the Presidio had successfully removed nearly 17 tons of potentially toxic sediments from the lake.
As a result, the agency certified, Mountain Lake is now free of toxic chemicals like lead and petroleum hydrocarbons, and that its surface water meets "drinking water levels."
In a campaign to protect the lake restoration effort, the Presidio is distributing stickers to the public bearing the message "Love Mountain Lake" and a colored image of the endangered Western Pond Turtle. The sticker urges San Franciscans and park visitors to pledge not to feed the area's wildlife, not to abandon unwanted plants or animals there, and to help keep the lake healthy.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Lawsuit filed to save Richmond's people from dangerous and fatal petroleum rail-shipments

"Groups Challenge Crude-by-Rail Shipments to Bay Area City; Highly volatile and explosive crude on rails puts residential community at risk"
2014-03-28 from "Earth Justice" []:
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.
WASHINGTON - March 28 - Environmental justice and conservation groups today filed a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to halt the shipment of highly explosive and toxic crude oil into the City of Richmond, a community already burdened by intense pollution caused by the fossil fuel industry.
Earthjustice filed the complaint and injunction request [] on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in the San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday.
The Air District (BAAQMD) issued Kinder Morgan a permit to operate its crude-by-rail project in early February, without any notice to the public or environmental and health review.  The case asks the court to halt operations immediately while the project undergoes a full and transparent review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Members of the Richmond community, perhaps even members of the BAAQMD’s Board of Directors, did not know that a permit to transport crude oil had been issued for over a month.  According to longtime resident of Richmond and CBE organizer Andres Soto, the community is tired of being blind-sided and ignored.
“If the BAAQMD Board knew nothing about the permit, it should be embarrassed, and it should actually exercise its authority and hold its staff accountable to the community,”   CBE organizer Andres Soto said.  “The BAAQMD’s hush-hush permitting process for the Kinder Morgan permit reinforces the high level of distrust that the community has towards the BAAQMD staff.  They lied to us during the Chevron fire, and now we are seeing them make backroom deals with industry in their permitting.”
“Richmond residents are already over-burdened when it comes to pollution in our community and toxins in our bodies,” said Sandy Saeteurn, an APEN Richmond Organizer.  “The idea of trains carrying explosive Bakken crude oil in and out of our neighborhoods is outrageous. It's like BAAQMD just pulled the pin off of a bomb, allowing it to roll all around town, knowing it's only a matter of time before it stops ticking, and explodes on all of us.”  
“There are environmental and health laws on the books to protect people from the harmful effects of industrial activities, but those laws can’t work if agencies ignore them, or worse, deliberately skirt them,” said Suma Peesapati, the Earthjustice attorney handling the case. “The air district has violated the rights of the people of Richmond - and beyond - by failing to examine the harms and hazards of crude-by-rail.”
Earlier this week, the Berkeley and Richmond city councils voted to oppose crude-by-rail plans that involved trains running through their cities. The number of trains carrying crude oil around the country has risen dramatically in the last two to three years, due to the increased drilling in both the Alberta tar sands in Canada and the Bakken shale oil area of North Dakota.
The California Public Utilities Commission, office of Rail Safety, released a report in November 2013 [] listing a number of alarming railway safety concerns associated with the increased movement of crude oil by rail through California. The report specifically identifies California’s railroad bridges as a significant rail safety risk.
"Even the National Transportation Safety Board says that crude oil trains should stay out of urban areas," said Diane Bailey, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This dirty and dangerous project does not belong in Richmond."
Bakken crude is extremely explosive and toxic. In January, the U.S. federal agency that regulates hazardous materials on the rails issued an alert, stating that Bakken crude may be more flammable than other types of crude.  In both the U.S. and Canada, as the number of train cars carrying crude oil has quadrupled over the past six years, accidents, explosions and derailments have dramatically increased.  Last July, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a town in Quebec, Canada, killing 47 local residents and destroying most of the downtown area.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We are targets of marketplace chemical experimentation

Preserving the Human Ecology [link]

"The Great American Experiment: Lax regulation of toxic chemicals turns us all into human guinea pigs"
2014-03-18 by Jill Richardson []:
Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore [] and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board [].
There are more than 1,000 chemicals known to be toxic to the brains of animals in lab experiments. Yet we only know of 214 for humans, and just 12 for developing fetuses and infants, a recent study revealed.
Why are these numbers so far apart? Is it because lab animals’ brains are more feeble and susceptible to chemicals than ours?
No. It’s because we can conduct experiments by feeding mercury, lead, and arsenic to rats to find out what happens to their brains. It’s unethical to do so in humans.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’re doing — just not in a lab.
Without the capability to conduct a lab experiment on humans, we’ve got a few ways to find out exactly which chemicals are bad for our brains.
Typically, most of us are exposed to low levels of a wide variety of the chemicals in our lives — from paint, carpet, food, food containers, air, water, and more. If, after 60 years, you get sick, it’s hard to say what caused it.
Sometimes the harm can be much more subtle, like the loss of a few IQ points in a child who was exposed to a chemical before birth.
The exception is usually when a group of people is exposed day after day to high doses of a chemical on the job. When they all become acutely ill, it’s obvious there’s a problem. The cause is fairly easy to track down.
This method works for adults — resulting in the discovery of 214 neurotoxicants in humans — but not in developing fetuses and infants.
To find the dozen chemicals that harm the youngest brains, scientists compare exposure levels among a group of babies while still in the womb and then track their growth in their early years. Only by comparing them to one another, scientists can detect which chemicals cause problems.
For example, one study tested pregnant mothers for levels of a pesticide, chlorpyrifos, and then followed their children for many years (2011-04-21 "Exposure to Pesticides in Pregnancy Can Lower Children’s IQ" by Alice Park from "Time" weekly newsmagazine [link]. They linked chlorpyrifos exposure to reduced head circumference at birth and neurobehavioral problems that lasted at least seven years.
These studies recognize that we’re all being used as human guinea pigs.
Back to my first point: We know darn well that over 1,000 chemicals harm the brains of animals — and animals’ bodies are not all that different from ours. About half of the chemicals on this list are chemicals that are in our industrial solvents, pesticides, flame retardants, and other common products.
What’s our current approach? Just keep using them. Move along, everyone, until scientists can prove beyond a doubt that a specific chemical made a specific person sick.
Trying to steer clear of dangerous chemicals can drive you crazy. Just try to discover which products in your life contain chemicals that are toxic to you or your kids, and how you can find non-toxic replacements for them. It’s hard not to grow exasperated and give up.
And as a society, we should theoretically have more control over the process of identifying and banning toxic chemicals. But the federal law that regulates them, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, has no teeth.
Corporations don’t even have to test their products for toxicity before putting them on the market. And the government has a very limited ability to prevent toxic chemicals from being sold. Why?
Why do we prioritize a corporation’s right to make money over the right of our citizens to be healthy?
People, particularly children and the unborn, shouldn’t be guinea pigs.
Corporations should be required to prove their products’ safety before they are allowed to sell them.

Monday, March 17, 2014

UC Santa Cruz reintroduces nearly extinct Marsh sandwort (Arenaria paludicola) at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

"Reintroduction experiments give new hope for a plant on the brink of extinction; Research findings guide experimental reintroductions to establish new populations of a critically endangered wetland plant"
2014-03-17 by Tim Stephens from "UC Santa Cruz" []:
Greenhouses director Jim Velzy worked with plant ecologist Ingrid Parker to propagate cuttings of the endangered marsh sandwort in the UCSC greenhouses. (Photo by T. Stephens)

UCSC undergraduates (Megan Bontrager with clipboard, Krystal Acierto in blue sweatshirt) worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to plant marsh sandwort at a site in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (Photo by Ingrid Parker)

Marsh sandwort (Arenaria paludicola) in bloom at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. (Photo by Alison Forrestel, NPS)

A critically endangered plant known as marsh sandwort (Arenaria paludicola) is inching back from the brink of extinction thanks to the efforts of a UC Santa Cruz plant ecologist and her team of undergraduate students.
Ingrid Parker, the Langenheim professor of plant ecology and evolution at UC Santa Cruz, got involved in the marsh sandwort recovery effort at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Although it used to occur all along the west coast, from San Diego to Washington state, this wetland plant with delicate white flowers had dwindled to one population in a boggy wetland in San Luis Obispo County. Federal biologists wanted to reintroduce the plant to other locations, but they weren't sure where it would be likely to thrive.
"When you have a species that's only known from one place, how do you figure out where it could live? We had very little information about its biology that would allow us to predict where it might be successful," Parker said.
Her team, which included undergraduate students and greenhouse staff at UCSC as well as USFWS biologists, propagated cuttings from the last remaining wild population, studied the plant's tolerance for different soil conditions in greenhouse experiments, and conducted field experiments to identify habitats where the plant could thrive. They published their findings in the April issue of Plant Ecology (available in advance online).
Surprisingly, the plants tolerated a much wider range of soil moisture and salinity than biologists had expected. "This really brought home to me the importance of experiments to help guide conservation," Parker said. "The one place where this species is found in San Luis Obispo County is a freshwater bog where the plants are in standing water. There are so few places like that left in California, we wondered if that's the only kind of place where it can grow. Instead we found that it actually does better without standing water."
In addition, field studies showed the importance of small-scale habitat variations, according to first author Megan Bontrager. "We planted out marsh sandwort in different habitats within a stone's throw of each other, and in areas dominated by willow they all died, whereas we had good success in nearby areas dominated by different species," said Bontrager, who worked on the study as a UCSC undergraduate and is now a graduate student at the University of British Columbia.
A key finding was the discovery that a relatively common plant can serve as a useful indicator of good habitat for the endangered marsh sandwort. Water parsley (Oenanthe sarmentosa) is a native plant that grows in wet areas along the west coast of North America. Field experiments in two California State Parks in Santa Cruz County showed that marsh sandwort does well in areas dominated by water parsley. This information provided guidance for larger-scale reintroduction experiments in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in Marin County.
"We think water parsley might be a good indicator of moisture and light conditions that work well for this endangered species. That isn't to say that every place water parsley grows will be good for marsh sandwort, but within the range of coastal habitat this plant likes, planting it alongside water parsley is likely to be successful," Bontrager said.
The researchers were thrilled to discover that plants in the reintroduced populations are flowering and setting seed. This is especially important because sexual reproduction has not been observed in the one remaining natural population.
"Our reintroduction experiments have resulted in much more genetic diversity for this endangered species than there was before," Parker said.  "When we started, only 11 different genetic clones were left in the world. Seeing plants not only surviving but producing flowers and seeds in the field was fantastic."
Arenaria cuttings root easily, making it relatively straightforward to propagate large numbers of plants in the UCSC greenhouses. Greenhouses director Jim Velzy will continue to maintain the collection of Arenaria plants to preserve the genetic diversity of the original population in case it ever goes extinct in the wild.
For the field studies, Bontrager and coauthor Kelsey Webster, another UCSC undergraduate, worked closely with coauthor Mark Elvin, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. With help from other undergraduates in Parker's lab, they prepared the plots, planted out marsh sandwort cuttings propagated in the UCSC greenhouses, and made regular visits to check on the plants and measure characteristics of the habitats where they were planted. Planting the larger field plots in Marin County was a big job that involved about a dozen undergraduates and almost as many federal biologists, Parker said.
Bontrager said the project is a good example of how government agencies and academic researchers can work together to save endangered species. "This collaboration was fruitful both in its practical conservation outcomes, by establishing new populations of an endangered species, and also in furthering our understanding of wetland ecology," she said.
This research was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tesoro Corp. Golden Eagle Refinery

"Tesoro refinery acid accident burns 2 workers"
2014-03-11 by Jaxon Van Derbeken and Henry K. Lee from "San Francisco Chronicle"[]:
RODEO -- Two contractors doing maintenance work at Tesoro Corp.'s refinery near Martinez suffered burns Monday when they were splashed with sulfuric acid, an accident that occurred in the same processing unit where two employees were burned by acid last month, officials said.
A federal safety board said late Monday that it would investigate the cause of the latest incident. The agency also said it had not received full cooperation from the oil company in its probe of the first accident, which the federal board said was more serious than Tesoro has described.
The latest accident happened when sulfuric acid spilled on the two contractors' necks at 10:50 a.m. at the Golden Eagle Refinery at 150 Solano Way, said Maria Duazo, a Contra Costa County hazardous materials specialist. The men were taken to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek with injuries that were not life-threatening, she said.
Both maintenance workers were wearing protective garments, Duazo said.
Other workers with knowledge of what happened said the two had been splashed with acid while working on a pipeline, though the circumstances were not immediately known. The men were initially protected from injury by their protective suits, but some acid remained on the garments and drained onto their necks after the men took decontamination showers, the workers said.
Tina Barbee, spokeswoman for the San Antonio company, said in an e-mail that the workers had been conducting planned maintenance. One of the men was released from the hospital Monday while the other "remains at the facility for observation," she said.

Site of previous accident -
Peter Melton, spokesman for Cal/OSHA, the state's worker safety regulatory agency, said the contractors had been working on pipes in the same unit where two Tesoro employees were burned by acid Feb. 12. The pipes carry sulfuric acid to be mixed with butylene to boost octane levels in gasoline.
The two workers in the February incident were not wearing proper protective gear when a broken pipe sprayed acid on them. They were treated for first- and second-degree facial burns at a Sacramento hospital and released the same day.
The incident was scrutinized by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which investigates the causes of accidents at chemical plants. Tesoro allowed federal investigators into the refinery the day after the workers were burned but barred them from future visits, saying the incident was minor and did not warrant a federal probe.

Investigators return -
The safety board wrote a letter in protest and, after federal investigators subpoenaed Tesoro for documents, the company allowed inspectors onto the refinery grounds again this month.
Safety board spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said late Monday that federal investigators had received "some cooperation" from Tesoro in their probe of the February accident. But the company "has yet to provide some of the key documents sought" and did not preserve some evidence from the incident, she added.
"One eye-opening document that the team did obtain is a Tesoro engineering calculation estimating that 84,000 pounds of sulfuric acid was released in the Feb. 12 incident," Cohen said in a statement.
She said it was "hardly the minor release that Tesoro has been describing to the public."
Tesoro's Barbee said the company disagreed with the safety board's assessment. She said the federal agency "failed to acknowledge that the release was contained in a process sewer, which is part of the system's design. The amount of (sulfuric acid) released to the environment was classified as minor according to regulatory requirements."
She added that Tesoro "placed no restrictions on the amount of time the (safety board) teams spent at the scene. We also provided documents and space to work at the refinery and facilitated interviews of employees with knowledge of the incident."
The Chemical Safety Board's investigative team left the Bay Area last week, but an inspector was expected to return to the refinery by Monday night to look into the latest accident.

Workers expressed fear -
State inspectors with Cal/OSHA ordered Tesoro's octane unit shut down Feb. 18 after finding several possible safety violations. In justifying the shutdown, investigators said workers "feared" dealing with the sulfuric acid and that a pipe had broken apart in workers' hands days after the spill.
After the company completed retraining and safety checks, the state agency allowed Tesoro to reopen the unit Feb. 28.
The state agency said it would also investigate the latest accident.

"State lets Tesoro refinery reopen accident unit"

2014-03-01 by Jaxon Van Derbeken from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
State regulators allowed Tesoro Corp. on Friday to restart a unit at its refinery near Martinez that was shut down after two workers were burned with sulfuric acid.
Cal/OSHA said the company had conducted reviews of worker safety measures and training intended to prevent a repeat of the Feb. 12 incident at the Golden Eagle Refinery, in which the two employees were sprayed with sulfuric acid from a broken pipe. The two were treated for first- and second-degree burns at a Sacramento hospital and released the same day.
The state agency, which investigates workplace injuries, told Tesoro six days after the incident to shut down the unit where octane is added to gasoline. Authorities told the San Antonio company to review its operating procedures and protection measures against workers being sprayed with acid, and to arrange refresher training for all workers.
Also Friday, federal investigators said they had made progress in a standoff with Tesoro over a U.S. Chemical Safety Board probe of the Feb. 12 incident.
Tesoro allowed three federal investigators into the refinery the day after the workers were burned, but had barred them since then. The company said the incident was not serious enough to merit a safety board investigation.
Daniel Horowitz, managing director for the safety board, said late Friday that the company had agreed to let inspectors into the refinery again.
"We've made some progress - we're sending some investigators out," he said. "Unfortunately, the unit will already be online before we even have a chance to see it. They've been making modifications and repairs that change the conditions. "

"Tesoro bars federal safety agency from East Bay refinery"
2014-02-21 by Jaxon Van Derbeken from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
PACHECO -- In an unprecedented challenge, Tesoro Corp. has barred federal authorities from going inside its refinery near Martinez to investigate an incident in which two workers were burned by acid spewing from a broken pipe, The Chronicle has learned.
State officials ordered a partial shutdown of the Golden Eagle Refinery following the Feb. 12 incident after inspectors with California's workplace safety agency found numerous suspected safety violations, state officials said.
The investigators with Cal/OSHA went to the plant at 150 Solano Way in the unincorporated community of Pacheco when a pipe containing sulfuric acid burst, spraying the two workers in the face with the caustic chemical. The two were flown by helicopter to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where they were treated for first- and second-degree burns and released later that day.
On Feb. 18, Cal/OSHA ordered Tesoro to shut down the section of the refinery where the pipe was located until the company reviews its operations, shows how it protects workers against acid spills and conducts refresher training. The unit adds octane boosters to refined gasoline.

Probe blocked -
Investigators with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the lead federal agency in major chemical-plant accidents, showed up a day after the incident and gained access to the refinery grounds. However, Tesoro has rebuffed federal investigators' subsequent requests to return to the refinery, agency officials said Thursday.
Tesoro officials said the Feb. 12 incident was minor and did not qualify under the rules for a federal investigation.
Safety board officials could not recall another refinery or chemical plant on U.S. soil that has challenged the board's authority since its inception in 1998.
"It's rather unique," said Dan Horowitz, the federal agency's managing director, "because our authority is very broad. We not only investigate incidents, but we can investigate hazards even where there has not been a release."

Feds' job -
The Tesoro incident, Horowitz said, falls squarely into the agency's jurisdiction.
"This is a hazardous unit - it released a hazardous substance, (and) those workers were seriously impacted," Horowitz said. "This is not the sort of accident that should be occurring, a loss of containment involving a hazardous substance. This is exactly the sort of incident that regulatory systems are designed to prevent. We need to find out why this happened."
He said the Chemical Safety Board has subpoenaed Tesoro to turn over documents about the unit's operations and answer questions related to the accident by March 7.
Tesoro, based in San Antonio, downplayed the incident and said it was not satisfied the federal board had the right to intervene.
Elizabeth Watters, a company spokeswoman, described the incident as a "minor chemical release" that left the two workers with "minor chemical burns."
"We were surprised when the Chemical Safety Board notified the company that the agency intended to deploy a team to investigate, as the (board) is not charged with investigating a personal safety incident that did not result in serious injuries or substantial property damage," Watters said.

Chevron precedent -
Horowitz noted that Chevron allowed safety board investigators into its Richmond refinery to investigate an August 2012 fire, even though it resulted in no major injuries to workers. The board eventually found that Chevron had ignored workers' warnings about widespread corrosion at the plant.
The Chemical Safety Board's interest in Tesoro's operations heightened in April 2010, when an explosion at the company's Anacortes, Wash., refinery killed seven workers. In a draft report issued last month, the federal board said Tesoro had a lax approach to safety, which had led to "catastrophic consequences."
Tesoro required "proof of danger" before it would make safety improvements, the agency said in the report.
Don Holmstrom, head of the board's Western regional office of investigations, said the latest probe will focus on safety culture as well.
"We think there are some serious safety issues that need further examination," he said. "We need to examine how strong their safety culture is."

Working with state -
Watters said the company takes "all incidents seriously" and was cooperating with Cal/OSHA's probe, "as it is clearly within their jurisdiction to investigate."
The Feb. 12 incident was not the first one involving acid at the Tesoro plant, officials said.
In November, a worker suffered facial burns when he was sprayed with sulfuric acid from a pipe that had been leaking and had been clamped as a makeshift repair.
The workers burned in the latest incident were wearing standard protective gear, but Tesoro had not issued them the specialized equipment required by law to protect their face and body from acid burns, Holmstrom said.
Workers at the refinery told state investigators that they were "afraid" to operate the unit where the spill occurred because acid leaks occur "all the time," according to a Cal/OSHA report. They said the pipes carrying the caustic fluid are dangerously thin.
They said the pipe that failed Feb. 12 broke again just four days later, Cal/OSHA said. Pipe-fitters were working on the unit and "the piping came apart in the exact same spot it did during the accident," the state report said.

"Golden Eagle Refinery chastised by feds after workers hurt"
20104-02-28 by Trapper Byrne from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
The Contra Costa County refinery that barred federal investigators from its grounds after two workers were splashed in the face with sulfuric acid is creating the impression it has something to hide, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said in a letter to the company.
The workers at Tesoro Corp.'s Golden Eagle Refinery just outside Martinez suffered first- and second-degree burns when they were splashed with acid from a broken pipe early Feb. 12. They were flown to a Sacramento hospital, where they were treated and released the same day.
After initially allowing Chemical Safety Board inspectors onto the refinery grounds, Tesoro refused to permit return visits or turn over documents, saying the workers' injuries weren't severe enough to warrant a federal investigation.
Company officials said they were instead cooperating with the state agency that investigates workplace accidents, Cal/OSHA. State investigators ordered Tesoro to shut down the refinery unit where the workers were injured after inspectors discovered possible safety violations.
The Chemical Safety Board subpoenaed Tesoro documents.
In their letter to Tesoro on Wednesday, Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso and the safety board's two other members said the company's action "creates a real concern that Tesoro may be trying to withhold other facts and issues from the agency."
Although Tesoro hasn't cooperated, federal investigators have learned that the burned workers weren't wearing required face shields, and that being splashed with sulfuric acid during routine procedures is "a common occurrence" at the refinery, the safety board said.
"Furthermore, some workers have made the assertion to us and to their union representatives that they have been fearful for their jobs at times when they wished to express safety concerns," the letter said.
The board members noted that after seven Tesoro workers were killed in an explosion at the company's refinery in Anacortes, Wash., in 2010, the federal agency "found a multitude of shortcomings in Tesoro's plant safety. The CSB is interested in examining safety culture issues stemming from the Feb. 12 incident."
Asked for comment, a Tesoro spokeswoman said, "We've received the letter and are in the process of reviewing it."
The safety board investigates most chemical-industry accidents in the U.S. It produces reports on causes but does not issue fines.

"Refinery workers splashed with acid"
2014-02-12 by Henry K. Lee from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
MARTINEZ -- Two workers at the Tesoro refinery in Martinez were injured early Wednesday when they were splashed with acid, firefighters said.
The victims were airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center after the incident, which happened about 2:40 a.m. at the refinery at 150 Solano Way, said Capt. Robert Marshall of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. Their conditions weren't immediately known, and their names have not been released.
The workers were injured while working in a gasoline production unit, said Tesoro spokeswoman Tina Barbee. The production unit has been shut down, and the cause of the release is under investigation, she said.
"All requisite regulatory agencies have been notified, including but not limited to the Contra Costa County Health Department, local law-enforcement agencies, the local Fire Department and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District," Barbee said.
About 700 employees produce gasoline and diesel fuel at the refinery.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Phillips 66 refinery

"Phillips 66 fined for air-quality violations at Rodeo refinery"
2014-03-10 Victoria Colliver from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
Bay Area officials levied a $230,900 fine against Phillips 66 Co. on Monday for air-quality violations at the company's Rodeo refinery.
The oil company agreed to pay the penalty to cover 19 violations it committed in 2008 and 2009, including failing to take flare-gas samples and having vapor leaks at valves and connectors, said officials with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
"Any violation of these regulations, no matter how minor, will not be tolerated," said the air-quality agency's executive officer, Jack Broadbent.
The fine was the second major penalty the district has levied this year. In January, Tesoro Corp. agreed to pay $472,000 to settle 35 allegations of air-quality violations at its refinery near Martinez that happened from 2009 to 2011. The violations included two power failures that required nearby residents to stay in their homes until the air was cleared.
Officials at Phillips 66, headquartered in Houston, said the company had disclosed most of the violations to the air district and fixed the problems quickly.
"We continue to make improvements in our procedures, training and monitoring to minimize if not eliminate the likelihood of recurrence," said Janet Grothe, a spokeswoman for Phillips 66.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

San Francisco Mountain Lake wetland rehabilitation

"Part of SF Mountain Lake being returned to wetland"
2014-03-06 by David Perlman for "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
Fifteen goats have been munching on the underbrush in a section of the Presidio, clearing the way for a future Shangri-La where turtles, frogs and other wild creatures can thrive as their ancestors did in what was once a fertile wetland.
The goats have played a key role in a pioneering venture on the edge of San Francisco's Inner Richmond District: the transformation of a long-neglected little valley next to historic Mountain Lake into a model site for amphibious animals, and the plants and insects that sustain them.
"We're returning the lake's arm into the haven it once was for generations of wildlife going back long before the 1800s," said Terri Thomas, the Presidio's conservation director and longtime protector of its natural resources.
The narrow water-filled arm on the eastern shore of Mountain Lake disappeared when home construction was booming in the Richmond more than a century ago.
Over the years, the lake itself became filled with debris, toxic pollution, alien fish, pet shop turtles - even an alligator. But as part of the larger restoration project, its polluted bottom has been dredged and its western shoreline thickly planted with trees and new vegetation.

Goats clear the ravine -
Today, the lake's East Arm is a shallow ravine, cleared by the goats from its thickets of French broom, Cape and English ivy, and a jungle of other invasive plants. The area can be seen by passersby through a sagging chain link fence along West Pacific Avenue.
The goats had been brought in to clear that jungle when 200 nonnative eucalyptus trees were removed to give them room to dine. The additional sunlight afforded by the trees' removal will help establish plants that are being brought in for the restoration.
"It's a great opportunity for bringing back the biodiversity that once was there," said Jonathan Young, a biology researcher, graduate student at San Francisco State University and leader of the project to return life to the East Arm and Mountain Lake.
Young will oversee the return of animal life to the East Arm.
Among the first on his list is the California red-legged frog, a species that once thrived in the East Arm, and has long been threatened by overdevelopment of its wetland habitats throughout the state.
The tiny Pacific chorus frog will also be reintroduced, and like so many other amphibians being brought back, will dine on a variety of spiders, beetles, flies and their ilk that inhabit the East Arm.

Cutting back on mosquitoes -
Neighbors on the city side of the East Arm have long been pestered by mosquitoes during the damp season, and the hungry amphibians should help ease that problem by snapping them up along with their larvae, Young said.
"The East Arm will also make great habitat for the San Francisco western forktail damselfly," he said. "It's one of the rarest damselflies in North America. It's beautiful, and there's only one very tiny population left here, out by Fort Point."
The colorful insects also consume huge numbers of mosquitoes and the nymphs, their water-born young, are great consumers of mosquito larvae.
Also on the return list are Western pond turtles, a native species long gone from Mountain Lake. Young pond turtles, extremely rare in California, are being reared at the San Francisco Zoo and new nesting grounds will be built on the sandy slopes of the East Arm to welcome them after they've reached maturity in the lake.
Turning the East Arm into the living wetland it once was calls for water, and the planners have that figured out.
"There's bedrock deep beneath the East Arm," said Brian Hildebiddle, a Presidio ecologist and stewardship coordinator. "Back in the 1890s it was filled in, but when that fill is removed there will be groundwater and runoff from the golf course.
"So even in drought times there will be water here, and once we've planted, it'll only take a month for everything to start growing," he said.
Wild strawberries, cow parsnips, cinquefoil and the pink honeysuckle favored by hummingbirds are on Hildebiddle's list of 30 species of plants he intends for the low-lying ground that will soon be contoured by some 6,000 cubic yards of fresh earth.

Acres of wetland -
"By this time next year, birds will be nesting, plants will be growing, and we'll have 3 or 4 acres of wetland right where we're standing," he said.
Michael Boland, the Presidio Trust's chief of planning and projects, doesn't hide his enthusiasm when he talks about the future of the East Arm project.
"Restoring the East Arm as protected wetland, with the plants and animals living their lives and thriving there, will give us a really unique way for the public to enjoy and understand the life cycles of everything," he said. "It's really vibrant wildlife, and we want people who see it to feel like the woodland is wrapping around them."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"New Technique Allows Frequent Water Quality Monitoring For Suite of Pollutants"

2014-03-05 by Matt Shipman and Dr. François Birgand from "North Carolina State University" []:
Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new technique that uses existing technology to allow researchers and natural resource managers to collect significantly more information on water quality to better inform policy decisions.
"Right now, incomplete or infrequent water quality data can give people an inaccurate picture of what's happening - and making decisions based on inaccurate data can be risky," says Dr. Francois Birgand, an assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work. "Our approach will help people get more detailed data more often, giving them the whole story and allowing them to make informed decisions."
In addition to its utility for natural resource managers, the technique will also allow researchers to develop more sophisticated models that address water quality questions. For example, the researchers are using data they collected using the new technique to determine the extent to which fertilizer runoff contributes to water pollution in specific water bodies and the role of wetlands in mitigating the effect of the runoff.
The researchers used existing technology called "UV-Vis" spectrometers, which are devices that measure the wavelengths of light absorbed by water to collect water quality data. The upside to these devices is that they can collect data as often as every 15 seconds, and over long periods of time. This is far more frequent than is possible with conventional water sampling and lab analysis techniques.
The downside is that they are designed to monitor only a handful of key water quality parameters: nitrates, dissolved organic carbon and turbidity - or how clear the water is.
But the NC State research team developed a technique that uses a suite of algorithms to significantly expand the amount of information that can be retrieved from the spectroscopy data collected by UV-Vis devices. Specifically, the new technique allows researchers to get information on the levels of organic nitrogen, phosphates, total phosphorus, and salinity of the water. This water quality data can offer key insights to a host of questions, including questions about nutrient pollution.
The researchers tested the new technique in a restored brackish marsh that experiences approximately 70 centimeters of tidal variation - and a salinity that can vary from freshwater to saltwater within minutes when the tide turns.
"We found that the automated results using our technique were comparable to the results we obtained by testing water samples in the lab," Birgand says. "So we gain a lot in terms of monitoring frequency, without sacrificing accuracy."
The paper, "Using in situ ultraviolet-visual spectroscopy to measure nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, and suspended solids concentrations at a high frequency in a brackish tidal marsh," is published online [] in Limnology and Oceanography: Methods. Lead author is former NC State Ph.D. student Randall Etheridge. Co-authors include Birgand; Dr. Jason Osborne, an associate professor of statistics at NC State; Dr. Christopher Osburn, an assistant professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences at NC State; Dr. Michael Burchell, an associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at NC State; and Justin Irving of s::can Measuring Systems.
Abstract: The collection of high frequency water quality data are key to making the next leap in hydrological and biogeochemical sciences. Commercially available in situ ultraviolet-visual (UV-Vis) spectrometers make possible the long-term collection of absorption spectra multiple times per hour. This technology has proven useful for measuring nitrate, dissolved organic carbon, and total suspended solids in many environments, but has not been tested in tidal marsh conditions where upstream freshwater mixes with estuarine waters, resulting in rapid changes in concentrations and salinity. These three parameters encompass only a portion of the nutrients that are of interest in these systems. To test the potential of spectroscopy to measure these and other nutrient concentrations, spectrometers were installed in a constructed brackish tidal marsh and absorbance spectra were compared to lab analyses for coinciding discrete samples. Variable selection techniques, including partial least squares regression, lasso regression, and stepwise regression, were used to develop models with which nitrate, total kjeldahl nitrogen, dissolved organic carbon, phosphate, total phosphorus, total suspended solids, and salinity in brackish marsh waters can be predicted from UV-Vis spectrometer measurements. Significant relationships between the absorption spectra and the laboratory measured concentrations were observed for all of the parameters. Phosphate and total phosphorus were the only nutrients which had R² values less than 0.86 for their best calibrations. This study shows the potential to collect multiple water quality parameters at a high frequency in brackish waters using in situ spectrometers and gives the tools to replicate this analysis in all environments.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Homes built atop toxic waste disposal sites by Lennar Corp., USA Navy et al at Treasure Island

"Radioactive burn pit found near Treasure Island home"
2014-03-04 by Carol Harvey a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. [carolharveysf (@)], for "San Francisco Bay View" newspaper []:
On Jan. 29, 2014, Kathryn Lundgren learned that an area next to her Treasure Island home was the former site of a U.S. Navy base “burn pit” where toxic radioactive and chemical contaminants were incinerated as trash, leaving behind “hot commodities” or radioactive objects which could be linked to her children’s serious illnesses.
Since the early ‘90s, the Navy has been locating and “remediating” radioactive hot spots from Treasure Island. But it wasn’t until two weeks ago, Feb. 12, 2014, that Kathryn Lundgren learned of the presence of a toxic former burn pit buried next to her home.
Treasure Island Navy map Solid Waste Disposal Area Locations, or burn pits, on Treasure Island (Video frame from Carol Harvey):

Kathryn reported that the presence of a burn pit was never revealed by Navy officials in any monthly Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) meeting or other community meeting of which she was aware.
Since 2011, all three of Kathryn’s children have developed serious illnesses associated with radiation exposure.
“The burn pit is where they would incinerate pretty much everything – paint, plastics, metals – whatever became waste,” she said. “The definition of waste is endless. It could be just about anything used on this base in its entire history.
“The burned items could include radioactive material, chemical pollutants, coated electrical wire, plumbing fixtures, anything.”
Possible chemical hazards could have been posed by Dioxin, DDT, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PCBs, benzine and more – all carcinogenic materials.
Her major worry has been that, over time, radioactive objects and chemical contaminants, as well as assorted trash could have moved in a radiated circle out from the burn pit toward her building, perhaps directly underneath the house, her lawn and the sidewalk where her toddlers sat playing.
This radiating movement of earth, as well as soil grading before the housing was built – along with earthmovers routinely spreading soil across the island – could have accounted for the radioactive metal disc located by subcontractor Gilbane’s mobile geiger counter, or “towed array,” being discovered in toxic soil underneath the sidewalk next to her yard. This metal disc could possibly be linked to her three children’s physical ailments.
On Feb. 12, 2014, a neighbor sent Kathryn a red-lined document that his research had unearthed from the California Department of Public Health’s website. The document indicated the former presence of a buried burn pit on Site 12 close by.
On their maps, duplicated in the video clip, the Navy identifies the burn pit as a “solid waste disposal site (SWDS).” Kathryn is seen rotating in a circle indicating with her finger the possible perimeter of the burn pit.
The Navy’s map perimeters continue to shift, so the burn pit’s exact location is not defined. In multiple past meetings, officials informed Kathryn that drawn perimeters around all areas are strictly arbitrary and subject to change.
The SWDS area was located at the northern end of Kathryn’s townhouse, the building perimeter closest to the Bay. Her unit is located at the building’s opposite south end.
Before the Navy dug the burn pit, storage and ammunition bunkers were located along the path that she indicates with her finger as she circles defining the burn pit perimeter. Kathryn notes that ammunition, like burned trash, contains dangerous radiological and chemical properties.
Kathryn verifies there are at least two known burn pits. The other was an actual incinerator located on the island’s far eastern end. When this incinerator was in use, wind would have blown a toxic plume over Berkeley, just across the Bay.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

BPA-Free Plastics are still toxic


"The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics, and the Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury it"
2014-03-01 by Mariah Blake, photographs by Evan Kafka, for "Mother Jones" newsmagazine []:
Update (3/3/14): After this story went to press, the US Food and Drug Administration published a paper finding that BPA was safe in low doses []. However, due to laboratory contamination, all of the animals—including the control group—were exposed to this chemical. Academic scientists say this raises serious questions about the study's credibility. Stay tuned for more in-depth reporting on the FDA's most recent study [].
EACH NIGHT AT DINNERTIME, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green's home: He'd slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she'd howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette's sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.
He pondered these findings as the center prepared for its anniversary celebration in October 2011. That evening, Green, a slight man with scruffy blond hair and pale-blue eyes, took the stage and set Juliette's sippy cups on the podium. He recounted their nightly standoffs []. "When she wins…every time I worry about what are the health impacts of the chemicals leaching out of that sippy cup," he said, before listing some of the problems linked to those chemicals—cancer, diabetes, obesity. To help solve the riddle, he said, his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogenlike chemicals.
The center shipped Juliette's plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette's—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab's findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics. CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives []. It reported that "almost all" commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren't exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun's ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner's research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.
Estrogen plays a key role in everything from bone growth to ovulation to heart function. Too much or too little, particularly in utero or during early childhood, can alter brain and organ development, leading to disease later in life. Elevated estrogen levels generally increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.
Estrogenic chemicals found in many common products have been linked to a litany of problems in humans and animals. According to one study, the pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs female. DES, which was once prescribed to prevent miscarriages, caused obesity, rare vaginal tumors, infertility, and testicular growths among those exposed in utero. Scientists have tied BPA to ailments including asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD. "Pick a disease, literally pick a disease," says Frederick vom Saal, a biology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who studies BPA [].
BPA exploded into the headlines in 2008, when stories about "toxic baby bottles" and "poison" packaging became ubiquitous. Good Morning America issued a "consumer alert." The New York Times urged Congress to ban BPA in baby products []. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned in the Huffington Post that "millions of infants are exposed to dangerous chemicals hiding in plain view" []. Concerned parents purged their pantries of plastic containers, and retailers such as Walmart and Babies R Us started pulling bottles and sippy cups from shelves. Bills banning BPA in infant care items began to crop up in states around the country.
Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner's findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.
Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity—in a campaign to discredit Bittner and his research. The company has gone so far as to tell corporate customers that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected Bittner's testing methods. (It hasn't.) Eastman also sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, to prevent them from publicizing their findings that Tritan is estrogenic, convincing a jury that its product displayed no estrogenic activity. And it launched a PR blitz touting Tritan's safety, targeting the group most vulnerable to synthetic estrogens: families with young children. "It can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe," the vice president of Eastman's specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, said in one web video, before an image of a pregnant woman flickered across the screen. With Tritan, he added, "consumers can feel confident that the material used in their products is free of estrogenic activity."
Eastman's offensive is just the latest in a wide-ranging industry campaign to cast doubt on the potential dangers of plastics in food containers, packaging, and toys—a campaign that closely resembles the methods Big Tobacco used to stifle scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking. Indeed, in many cases, the plastics and chemical industries have relied on the same scientists and consultants who defended Big Tobacco. These efforts, detailed in internal industry documents revealed during Bittner's legal battle with Eastman, have sown public confusion and stymied US regulation, even as BPA bans have sprung up elsewhere in the world. They have also squelched debate about the safety of plastics more generally. All the while, evidence is mounting that the products so prevalent in our daily lives may be leaching toxic chemicals into our bodies, with consequences affecting not just us, but many generations to come.

THE FIGHT OVER THE SAFETY of plastics traces back to 1987, when Theo Colborn, a 60-year-old grandmother with a recent Ph.D. in zoology, was hired to investigate mysterious health problems in wildlife around the Great Lakes []. Working for the Washington, DC-based Conservation Foundation (now part of the World Wildlife Fund), she began collecting research papers. Before long, her tiny office was stacked floor to ceiling with cardboard boxes of studies detailing a bewildering array of maladies—cancer, shrunken sexual organs, plummeting fertility, immune suppression, birds born with crossed beaks and missing eyes. Some species also suffered from a bizarre syndrome that caused seemingly healthy chicks to waste away and die.
While the afflictions and species varied widely, Colborn eventually realized they had two factors in common: The young were hardest hit, and, in one way or another, all of the animals' symptoms were linked to the endocrine system, the network of glands that controls growth, metabolism, and brain function, with hormones as its chemical messengers. The system also plays a key role in fetal development. Colborn suspected that synthetic hormones in pesticides, plastics, and other products acted as "hand-me-down poisons," with parents' exposure causing affliction in their offspring. Initially, her colleagues were skeptical. But Colborn collected data and tissue samples from far-flung wildlife populations and unearthed previously overlooked studies that supported her theory. By 1996, when Colborn copublished her landmark book Our Stolen Future, she had won over many skeptics. Based partly on her research, Congress passed a law that year requiring the EPA to screen some 80,000 chemicals—most of which had never undergone any type of safety testing—for endocrine-disrupting effects and report back by 2000.
Around this time, the University of Missouri's vom Saal, a garrulous biologist who previously worked as a bush pilot in Kenya, began studying the effects of synthetic estrogens on fetal mouse development. The first substance he tested was BPA, a chemical used in clear, hard plastics, particularly the variety known as polycarbonate, to make them more flexible and durable. (It's also found in everyday items, from dental sealants and hospital blood bags to cash register receipts and the lining of tin cans.) Naturally occurring estrogens bind with proteins in the blood, limiting the amount that reaches estrogen receptors. But vom Saal found this wasn't true of BPA, which bypassed the body's natural barrier system and burrowed deep into the cells of laboratory mice.
Vom Saal suspected this would make BPA "a hell of a lot more potent" in small doses. Working with colleagues Susan Nagel and Wade Welshons [], a professor of veterinary biology, he began testing the effects of BPA at amounts 25 times lower than the EPA's safety threshold. In the late 1990s, they published two studies finding that male mice whose mothers were exposed to these low doses during pregnancy had enlarged prostates and low sperm counts. Even in microscopic quantities, it seemed, BPA could cause the kinds of dire health problems Colborn had found in wildlife. Before long, other scientists began turning up ailments among animals exposed to minute doses of BPA.
These findings posed a direct threat to plastics and chemical makers, which fought back using tactics the tobacco makers had refined to an art form. By the late 1990s, when tobacco companies agreed to drop deceptive marketing practices under a settlement agreement with 46 states, many of the scientists and consultants on the industry's payroll transitioned seamlessly into defending BPA.
Plastics and chemical interests worked closely with the Weinberg Group, which had run Big Tobacco's White Coat Project [] — an effort to recruit scientists to create doubt about the health effects of secondhand smoke. Soon Weinberg, which bills itself as a "product defense" firm, was churning out white papers and lobbying regulators. It also underwrote a trade group with its own scientific journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, which published studies finding BPA was safe.
The industry also worked hand in glove with the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, a think tank affiliated with the university's school of public health that has a history of accepting donations from corporations and then publishing research favorable to their products. In the early 1990s, its founder, John D. Graham—who was later tapped as George W. Bush's regulatory czar—lobbied to quash an EPA finding that secondhand smoke caused lung cancer, while soliciting large contributions from Philip Morris [].
In 2001, as studies on BPA stacked up, the American Chemistry Council enlisted the center to convene a panel of scientists to investigate low-dose BPA. The center paid panelists $12,000 to attend three meetings, according to Fast Company []. Their final report, released in 2004, drew on just a few industry-favored studies and concluded that the evidence that low-dose BPA exposure harmed human health was "very weak." By this point, roughly 100 studies on low-dose BPA were in circulation. Not a single industry-funded study found it harmful [], but 90 percent of those by government-funded scientists discovered dramatic effects, ranging from an increased breast cancer risk to hyperactivity. Four of the 12 panelists later insisted the center scrub their names from the report because of questions about its accuracy.
Chemical interests, meanwhile, forged deep inroads with the Bush administration, allowing them to covertly steer the regulatory process. For decades, the Food and Drug Administration has assured lawmakers and the public that BPA is safe in low doses. But a 2008 investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [] revealed that the agency had relied on industry lobbyists to track and evaluate BPA research, and had based its safety assessment largely on two industry-funded studies—one of which had never been published or peer reviewed.
The panel the EPA appointed to develop guidelines for its congressionally mandated endocrine disruptor screening was also stocked with industry-backed scientists. It included Chris Borgert, a toxicology consultant who had worked closely with Philip Morris to discredit EPA research on secondhand smoke. He later served as the president of the International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, the Weinberg Group-sponsored outfit, which met in the offices of a plastics lobbyist.
Members of the EPA panel say Borgert seemed determined to sandbag the process. "He was always delaying, always trying to confuse the issue," recalls one participant. And the screening approach the EPA settled on came straight from the industry's playbook. Among other things, the chemicals would be tested on a type of rat known as the Charles River Sprague Dawley—which, oddly, doesn't respond to synthetic hormones like BPA.
How best to test for estrogenic activity would become a key front in the fight over plastic safety. The American Chemistry Council joined forces with an unlikely ally, PETA, to fight large-scale chemical-safety testing on animals. At the same time, Borgert and other industry-funded scientists made the case that the other common method for testing—using cells that respond in the presence of estrogen—did not necessarily tell us how a substance would affect animals or humans. In fact, a massive, ongoing NIH-run study has found that cell-based tests track closely with animal studies, which have accurately predicted the effects of synthetic estrogens, particularly DES and BPA, on humans.
Stanton Glantz, who directs the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco, argues the chemical industry's real aim in challenging specific testing methods is to undermine safety testing altogether. "Like the tobacco companies, they want to set up a standard of proof that is unreachable," he says. "If they set the standard of proof, they've won the fight."

DURING THE HEIGHT of the battle over BPA, vom Saal periodically traveled to Texas and huddled around the dining table with his old friend George Bittner, whose home overlooks a walnut grove on the outskirts of Austin. Bittner, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford, is quirky and irascible. But he has a brilliant mind for science and an interest in applying it to real-world problems—in his lab at UT-Austin, he had developed a nerve-regeneration technique that had helped crippled rats walk within days. And he had taken a keen interest in vom Saal's research on endocrine disruption. "It struck me as the most important public health issue of our time," Bittner told me when we met at his lab. "These chemicals have been correlated with so many adverse effects in animal studies, and they're so pervasive. The potential implications for human health boggle the mind."
In the late 1990s, Bittner—a squat, ruddy man with thinning red hair and Napoleon Dynamite glasses who had made a tidy sum investing in real estate and commodities—began mulling the idea of launching a private company that worked with manufacturers and public health organizations to test products for endocrine disruptors. He believed this approach could help raise awareness and break the regulatory logjam—while also reaping a profit.
In 2002, armed with a $91,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, Bittner launched a pair of companies: CertiChem, to test plastics and other products for synthetic estrogens, and PlastiPure, to find or develop nonestrogenic alternatives. Bittner then enlisted Welshons to design a special test using a line of breast cancer cells, which multiply rapidly in the presence of estrogen. It features a robotic arm, which is far more precise than a human hand in handling microscopic material.
But before long Bittner began butting heads with Welshons and vom Saal. Bittner wanted the researchers to sign over the rights to the test Welshons had developed, while they insisted it belonged to the University of Missouri. Eventually, they had a bitter falling out. Welshons and vom Saal filed a complaint with the NIH, alleging that Bittner had misrepresented data from Welshons' lab in a brochure. (Bittner maintains that he merely excluded data from contaminated samples; the institute found no evidence of wrongdoing.) Bittner, meanwhile, enlisted V. Craig Jordan, a pharmacology professor at Georgetown University with an expertise in hormones—he discovered a now-common hormone therapy that blocks the spread of breast cancer—to refine the testing protocol. By 2005, Bittner had opened a commercial lab in a leafy office park in Austin. He managed to attract some big-name clients, including Whole Foods, which hired CertiChem to advise it on endocrine-disrupting chemicals and test some of its products.
At this point, BPA was among the most studied chemicals on the planet. In November 2006, vom Saal and a top official at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences convened a group of 38 leading researchers from various disciplines to evaluate the 700-plus existing studies on the subject. The group later issued a "consensus statement" that laid out some chilling conclusions []: More than 95 percent of people in developed countries were exposed to levels of BPA that are "within the range" associated with health problems in animals, from cancer and insulin-resistant diabetes to early puberty. The scientists also found that there was "great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans," especially given the steep uptick in these same disorders.
At the same time, a new body of research was finding that BPA altered animals' genes in ways that caused disease. For instance, it could switch off a gene that suppresses tumor growth, allowing cancer to spread. These genetic changes were passed down across generations. "A poison kills you," vom Saal explains. "A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him."
Scientists were also uncovering links between endocrine-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates and health problems, including genital abnormalities and infertility in humans. These chemical additives were commonly found in soft, pliable plastics, such as those used in pacifiers and baby bottle nipples. In 2008, Congress passed a law banning six types of phthalates in children's products []. As concerns about BPA hit the mainstream, Congress also launched an investigation into the industry's efforts to manipulate science and regulation, and a number of states proposed BPA bans.
In 2009, the BPA Joint Trade Association—which included the American Chemistry Council, Coca-Cola, and Del Monte, among others—gathered at the Cosmos Club, a members-only retreat in Washington, DC's Dupont Circle. According to meeting minutes leaked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [], the group explored messaging strategies, "including using fear tactics (e.g., 'Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?')." The "'holy grail' spokesperson," attendees agreed, was a "pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA."
Even as the industry crafted defensive talking points, some companies began offering BPA-free alternatives. But they often didn't bother testing them for other potentially toxic compounds or synthetic hormones. Nor did they have to: Under US law, chemicals are presumed safe until proven otherwise, and companies are rarely required to collect or disclose chemical-safety data. Michael Green, the Center for Environmental Health director who worried about his daughter's sippy cup, says this results in a "toxic shell game": Corporations that come under pressure to root out toxins often replace them with untested chemicals, which sometimes turn out to be just as hazardous. "It's an unplanned science experiment we're doing on our families," Green told me when I visited him at his Bay Area home, where Juliette, now 5, was padding around in a pink princess costume.
One of the most popular BPA-free options, especially among companies catering to families and health-conscious consumers, was Tritan, a clear, sturdy, heat-resistant plastic that Eastman rolled out in 2007. (Eastman also produces the chemical that sullied the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians in January [].) A company founded by alternative medicine guru Dr. Andrew Weil launched a line of Weil Baby bottles made from Tritan, which it touted as "revolutionary" and "ultra-safe" material. Thermos began churning out Tritan sippy cups, decorated with Barbie and Batman. With more and more consumers demanding BPA-free products, Nalgene, CamelBack, Evenflo, Cuisinart, Tupperware, Rubbermaid, and many other companies also worked Tritan into their production lines.
Eastman, a $7 billion company that was spun off from Eastman Kodak in the 1990s, assured its corporate customers that it had done extensive safety testing on Tritan. But its methods were questionable. According to internal Eastman documents, in 2008 Eastman signed a two-year contract with Sciences International, another product defense firm that had played a key role in the tobacco industry's scientific misinformation campaign. On Sciences' advice, Eastman then commissioned a study that used computer modeling to predict whether a substance contains synthetic estrogens, based on its chemical structure. The model suggested that one of Tritan's ingredients—triphenyl phosphate, or TPP—was more estrogenic than BPA.
Eastman, which never disclosed these findings to its customers, later commissioned another study, this one involving breast cancer cells. Again, the initial results appeared positive for estrogenic activity. In an email to colleagues, Eastman's senior toxicologist, James Deyo, called this an "oh shit moment."
Deyo's "oh shit" moment (p. 1) [].

Cell culture tests for estrogenic effects generally involve soaking plastic in alcohol or salt water, then exposing cells to various concentrations of the chemicals that seep out. After Deyo informed the lab that its findings must "be worded very well relative to the lack of" estrogenic activity, it issued a report that only counted data from the lowest concentrations—even though this violated the lab's testing guidelines, and made the results appear negative when they weren't. "The lab ignored its own criteria and misrepresented its findings," says Michael Denison, a professor of toxicology at the University of California-Davis who evaluated the document.
Eastman wasn't the only company testing Tritan. In 2009, Bittner's PlastiPure, which was searching for nonestrogenic alternatives to recommend to clients, began vetting products made with it and found that some had even more estrogenic activity than their BPA-laden counterparts. PlastiPure's CEO, Mike Usey, says CertiChem disclosed this to clients, but many chose Tritan anyway.
This was part of a broader pattern of indifference. According to Usey, hundreds of manufacturers—including most of the big baby bottle makers—contacted CertiChem to inquire about testing their BPA-free products for estrogenic chemicals, but few actually followed through. "Their position was: Until consumers are demanding nonestrogenic products, there's no reason to be an early adopter," Usey explains. "They want to delay as long as they can, because they know any transition will cost them." In some cases, manufacturers paid for testing, then never collected the findings. "They didn't want to know the results because there's liability in knowing," Usey says. "They're right in the sense that you don't want to know if you're not going to fix the problem."

DESPITE ITS "OH SHIT" FINDINGS, by 2010 Eastman began to produce marketing materials claiming that Tritan was free of all synthetic estrogens. One section of its website featured the tagline "Safety is our key ingredient" along with photos of smiling children eating and drinking out of plastic containers []. The site claimed "third-party research" had shown Tritan to be free of estrogenic activity, but when corporate customers tried to verify this information, Eastman grew cagey. In early 2010, Philips Avent, a top producer of baby bottles and sippy cups, inquired about having an outside lab run testing on Tritan. Eastman's senior chemist Emmett O'Brien fired off an email to colleagues [], saying, "We need to [do] everything possible to convince the customer NOT to do EA [estrogenic activity] testing." Philips was persuaded. But, according to testimony from Eastman executives, that same year Nestlé vetted Tritan, and found it leached synthetic estrogen. (Frédérique Henry, a spokeswoman for Nestlé, acknowledges the company tested Tritan but denies the results were positive.) Nestlé has nevertheless continued using Tritan in some of its water bottles.
Bittner and Usey, meanwhile, decided to go public. "As long as the consumer demand wasn't there, product manufacturers felt we were selling them a problem rather than a solution," Usey explains. "We saw this as the only way forward." Bittner's companies, which have received more than $8 million in NIH funding, began working with Jordan, the Georgetown professor, on a paper for publication. In the fall of 2010, Usey attended the ABC Kids Expo, a children's product extravaganza in Las Vegas, and handed out flyers with a graph showing how various products that were marketed as nonestrogenic stacked up in CertiChem's tests. The most estrogenic among them, Weil Baby bottles, were made from Tritan. (The company referred Mother Jones to a press release on its website stating that it "remains confident that Tritan is safe.")
Soon Eastman's customers began inquiring about CertiChem's findings. For the most part, Eastman convinced them to disregard Bittner's claims. At one point, O'Brien met with Whole Foods executives. They were considering replacing their polycarbonate bulk food bins with ones made from Tritan, even though Bittner had previously informed them that the product was estrogenic []. According to a memo O'Brien later wrote, when the subject came up, he responded by attacking Bittner, whom he called "shady," and his test results, which he alleged were "very questionable." The Whole Foods executives later pressed O'Brien about the other tests carried out on Tritan.
O'Brien's memo on Eastman's meeting with Whole Foods (p. 3) [].

The chemist claimed, falsely, that they were performed by independent scientists with no funding from Eastman and hadn't turned up any evidence that Tritan leached synthetic estrogens. Whole Foods—which declined to comment for this story—plowed ahead and installed Tritan bins in many of its 270 US stores.
Eastman refused to answer questions for this story, but it released a written statement saying that it had "paid the labs for their time and expertise and not for a particular conclusion," and remained "confident in the testing and safety of Tritan."
In March 2011, the Environmental Health Perspectives paper by Jordan and researchers from CertiChem and PlastiPure appeared online. They'd tested 455 store-bought food containers and storage products, including several made from Tritan. The results? Seventy-two percent leached synthetic estrogens. And every type of plastic commonly used in food packaging (polypropylene and polystyrene, for example) tested positive in some cases, which suggested there was no surefire way to avoid exposure.
Other scientists have also found evidence of estrogen-mimicking chemicals in BPA-free plastics. In 2009, two German environmental toxicologists tested PET, a plastic commonly used in water bottles, on a strain of mud snails that produce more embryos when exposed to synthetic estrogen. Snails reared in PET bottles produced twice as many as those reared in a glass culture dish.
These studies don't identify which estrogenic chemicals are leaching from BPA-free plastics, but many of these products are known to contain phthalates or bisphenol S (BPS), a chemical cousin of BPA that plastic makers frequently use in its place. Cell-culture tests suggest that BPA and BPS have similar effects.
In other cases, little may be known about the specific health effects of the chemicals involved, but a 2012 literature review by 12 prominent scientists found there is "substantial evidence" that endocrine-disrupting chemicals generally harm human health. "We know that there's a cost when we mess with the levels of these hormones in our bodies, regardless of how we do it," says the study's lead author, Laura Vandenberg, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. "Even small changes early in life can alter brain and organ development and set us up for disease later on."
Every type of plastic commonly used in food packaging tested positive in some cases, which suggested there was no surefire way to avoid exposure.
The month after Bittner's study appeared, the American Chemistry Council contacted Chris Borgert, the former tobacco industry scientist who stymied the EPA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. According to internal emails [], the council and the Society of the Plastics Industry offered to pay him $15,000 to write a brief letter to the journal's editor refuting CertiChem's study, and to enlist another scientist to sign on. Their letter argued that CertiChem's findings were "unconvincing"; just because a substance behaved like estrogen in a culture dish didn't mean it would do so in animals or humans.
At the same time, Eastman laid plans to sue CertiChem and PlastiPure for false advertising. Expecting that Bittner would lash out after being served papers, the company launched a preemptive PR blitz. "By proactively promoting Tritan safety," an internal memo noted [], "it will put PlastiPure in a position to have to prove Eastman wrong." The company also paid a scientist named Thomas Osimitz $10,000 to author a research paper on Tritan. While Osimitz was ostensibly working independently, Deyo, the Eastman toxicologist, micromanaged the process, from designing the study to writing the introduction. Deyo's study design virtually guaranteed estrogenic activity wouldn't be found. For example, he opted to use the hormone-insensitive Charles River Sprague Dawley lab rat. Rather than testing Tritan itself, he instructed Osimitz to test only some Tritan ingredients—TPP, the one that had raised red flags in the computer-modeling study, was not included. (The European Union has since classified the compound as a suspected endocrine disruptor.)
In June 2012, Osimitz's paper—finding that Tritan was not estrogenic—appeared in Food and Chemical Toxicology, an industry-friendly journal. Its editor, A. Wallace Hayes, was previously vice president of biochemical and biobehavioral research at R.J. Reynolds, which led the attack against science linking secondhand smoke to human health problems.
Scientific journals generally require authors to disclose any conflicts of interest. But the Food and Chemical Toxicology article made no mention of Eastman's role in the study. According to internal Eastman emails, the company was also aiming to hire Osimitz to author a second paper, again with "no…mention of Eastman." As Deyo noted, "credibility is somewhat enhanced if it is not 'Eastman' authors."
Deyo's "credibility" email (p. 1) [].

Once its own data had been published, Eastman set out to bury Bittner's findings. In August 2012, the company sued CertiChem and PlastiPure [], which it claimed were spreading false information about Tritan to generate demand for their own services. Eastman's lawyers asked the judge to bar both firms from ever claiming Tritan was estrogenic—or saying that cell-based tests could detect estrogenic activity, even though scientists routinely use them for this purpose. For decades, scientists have relied on the same breast cancer cell line Bittner's lab uses, MCF-7, to screen for estrogenic activity. According to UMass' Vandenberg, these cells have proven "remarkably good at telling us if compounds found in plastics and personal care products mimic estrogen" and their "failure rates are minuscule."
On July 15, 2013, Bittner squared off against Eastman at a federal courthouse in Austin. The company's attorneys went in hard. Specifically, they claimed running a company that tested products for estrogenic activity, as well as one that helped companies find nonestrogenic alternatives, created a conflict of interest. (Bittner counters that he's no more conflicted than a doctor who both diagnoses and treats patients.) But they didn't directly challenge the validity of Bittner's findings. Instead, they leaned on the questionable industry claim that tests based on human cells aren't sufficient to establish estrogenic activity.
Eastman's star witness, Chris Borgert, made the case that animal studies—which the industry had also fought to undermine—were a more telling indicator. But even they were not "in and of themselves" definitive. For the result to be relevant, the effects had to be demonstrated "in an animal, at least, and then on to humans." There was no mention of the ethical and legal barriers to testing on humans. And the judge barred Bittner's lawyers from mentioning Borgert's tobacco industry ties, which Eastman argued were "prejudicial." This left the jury ill-equipped to gauge his credibility.
Borgert's testimony may have done less damage than other factors. Bittner's lawyers struggled to explain the science to jurors, and Bittner grew testy on the stand. Welshons, who'd designed CertiChem's tests, testified in a deposition—just as he'd told the NIH—that Bittner had misrepresented some data in a brochure. Bittner's attorneys managed to block his testimony from being introduced. But, Bittner says, his attorneys balked at presenting key evidence, such as figures on CertiChem's NIH funding, because it might have made Welshons' testimony admissible. Bittner also maintains that his rift with vom Saal and Welshons made it difficult to recruit witnesses.
Still, several prominent scientists testified for CertiChem, including UC-Davis' Michael Denison, who coinvented a widely used test for estrogenic activity using human ovarian cells. Denison testified that he'd tested 27 samples of Tritan for estrogenic activity using this method and registered positives across the board.
But the most remarkable data might have come from none other than Wade Welshons. In the run-up to the trial, the University of Missouri scientist, who expected to prove Bittner wrong, began testing Tritan products in his lab. To his surprise, he wound up confirming CertiChem's findings. "It doesn't matter what I think of them personally," Welshons told me. "If they're right, they're right, and many of my objections no longer matter."
Welshons' findings never made it into court, however, and when the jurors returned their verdict in late July, they found against Bittner's companies on counts of false advertising and unfair competition []. They also concluded Tritan was not estrogenic. Their rationale, according to postverdict interviews, echoed Eastman's claims that estrogenic activity could not be established solely through cell-based tests. In his final ruling, the judge also noted that the "jury was likely unimpressed with Dr. Bittner's combative demeanor." And he upbraided both sides for failing to explain the science in terms jurors could understand. In the end, he barred Bittner's companies from ever talking about their Tritan findings, at least in a commercial setting. But he refused to stop the companies from asserting that their tests could detect synthetic estrogens.
The long legal battle has depleted CertiChem and PlastiPure's coffers—"We've laid off half of our staff," Usey told me. "It has pretty much crushed us"—and emboldened Eastman. After I began raising questions about Tritan, Rick W. Harrison, an attorney for the chemical giant, inadvertently copied me on an email about Eastman's damage control strategy []. "If this somehow gets picked up by mainstream media—Oprah or NY media—Eastman sends Lucian [Boldea, the vice president of Eastman's specialty plastics division] or whoever on the show prepped with the verdict, order and judgment and express surprise and indignation that these issues are still being raised after three years of litigation," he wrote. "The court/jury has spoken and spoken loudly."
The industry, meanwhile, has revived its campaign to downplay the dangers of BPA. A month after the Eastman case concluded, the American Chemistry Council relaunched its pro-BPA website, The section on infant health suggests that BPA isn't harmful, even to premature babies. "They're reverting back to exactly the arguments they were making in 1998," says vom Saal. "It's as if the last 15 years didn't happen."
US regulators also have continued to ignore the mounting evidence linking BPA and similar chemicals to human disease, even as bans have cropped up around the world. Although more than 90 studies examining people with various levels of exposure suggest BPA affects humans much as it does animals, the FDA recently announced that its research "supports the safety of BPA" in food containers and packaging []. And the EPA program that was supposed to screen some 80,000 chemicals for endocrine disruption hasn't fully vetted a single substance. In 2010, the agency sought White House approval to add some endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are commonly found in plastic—among them BPA, phthalates, and a class of compounds known as PBDEs—to its "chemicals of concern" list because it found they "may present an unreasonable risk to human health." This would have required chemical makers to share safety-testing data with federal regulators. The proposal languished until last September, when the EPA quietly withdrew it, along with a proposed rule requiring manufacturers to disclose safety data on chemicals in their products [].
Still, Bittner isn't giving up the fight. When I visited CertiChem's office in Austin recently, he was sitting barefoot at a conference table surrounded by sippy cups and heaps of lab notebooks. CertiChem and PlastiPure were planning to appeal the Eastman ruling (they've since done so) and were working with Denison on data for new papers, one on estrogenic activity in plastic resins, which are used to make plastic products and contain fewer additives that can skew results. Bittner called up a series of graphs on the overhead projector, showing the results for several new BPA-free plastics that he had tested for estrogenic activity. He raked his laser pointer over a graph displaying the results for Tritan. The line curved up steeply. "Eastman won the battle," he said. "But that doesn't mean it will win the war."