Toxic Fossil Fuels Are Invading On a regular basis Products, From Water Bottles To Kids’ Toys, Experts Warn

NEW YORK — Armed with colorful plastic tubes brandished like swords, youngsters at Manhattan’s Tinker Tree day care middle took swipes at a towering, cylindrical puppet named the “Fracked Gasoline Pipeline Monster.” The cardboard beast, emblazoned with evil crimson eyes, teetered and tottered with every enthusiastic blow till a closing strike sent it toppling to the floor.

“Down with the pipeline!” cheered Natalie Cronin, who runs the Upper East Side facility.

Two-12 months-outdated Max Giampaolo stood grinning beside the slain monster, which now stared up from the floor at a “Communicate for the Bushes” poster hanging on the wall. The boy then dropped his weapon and crawled inside the pipeline.

As each a mom and an educator, Cronin, forty, says she has spent years attempting to insulate the youngsters in her charge from a dizzying array of generally used chemicals experts believe to be harmful — principally through careful looking for organic foods and natural cleaners, and even making her own playdough. However her efforts proved Sisyphean. She ultimately realized that makes an attempt to completely keep away from the chemicals — which public health advocates say include potentially mind-damaging pesticides and hormone-scrambling plasticizers — are doomed in the fashionable world. Fossil fuels, Cronin says, are to blame, and she makes use of the pipeline puppet to show her class concerning the dangers they pose.

“At the top of the day, all of it comes all the way down to fossil fuels,” Cronin said. “It could possibly all be traced again to an industry that refuses to die.”

Fossil fuels are, in any case, way more than simply fuel. As oil, gas and coal are refined into properly-recognized energy products that propel cars and heat houses, a host of lesser-known byproducts are stripped away and shipped off to petrochemical plants. Leftovers from pure gas refining — ethylene, propylene, butylene, xylene and toluene — “all go into nearly each conceivable client product you could imagine,” stated Dan Borne of the Louisiana Chemical Affiliation during a January webinar offered by Pennsylvania State University.

“The chemical industry makes use of natural fuel like a bakery shop makes use of flour,” he said.

It is a lot the identical story for different fossil fuels. Whereas the vinyl of a U.S.-made child’s raincoat in all probability started as pure gasoline, for example, one manufactured in China possible started as coal.

Not everyone believes that is a nasty factor. Plastics, preservatives and pesticides derived from fossil fuels, supporters argue, have revolutionized modern life, offering goods that final longer, are simpler to keep up, and are far cheaper to manufacture. The present increase in the U.S. production of pure gasoline, which trade experts notice burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, has reinvigorated a once-flagging petrochemical sector and opened up scores of Large Pressure Vessel On-site Tank new jobs. The industry has, in turn, spent lavishly to both assist laws that has helped to develop and nurture fossil gasoline development, and prevent regulation that would more carefully monitor the probably detrimental consequences of industrial chemical use on public well being and the atmosphere.

While some companies are pursuing safer materials, the general consensus within the industry is that most toxicity considerations lack adequate scientific proof and due to this fact do not name for a change to the established order.

But critics like Cronin say there’s nothing inevitable or needed about the saturation of trendy life with oil and fuel and their legion of polysyllabic by-products. “This is simply how things have been completed. Our total culture is dependent on it,” she says. “And it’s not going away anytime soon — especially not with out lots of people pressuring for change.”

Towards that finish, Cronin has gone beyond her properly-researched purchasing lists, rallying against initiatives that support what she now sees as sources of the issue. She’s held protest indicators in Washington, D.C., opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline venture — which would ferry tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast — and held meetings in Manhattan with dad and mom who share her issues about pollution from extracting and transporting pure fuel. Not only is there a heated debate over whether or not New York state ought to inexperienced-light so-called fracking — or breaking apart shale rock to extract natural gas — many are also involved about a new excessive-pressure pipeline already beneath development to deliver pure fuel harvested in Pennsylvania to New York City. The pipeline enters Manhattan only a few hundred toes from a children’s playground.

That’s what impressed the “Fracked Gasoline Pipeline Monster” in Cronin’s day care classroom — now certainly one of her children’ favorite toys. “This can be a monster that is hiding in a number of places,” Cronin said. “It is never too early to allow them to know.”


Borne’s baking analogy is an apt one. Simply as flour is the key ingredient in bagels, muffins and The Tinker Tree day care playdough, petrochemicals like butylene and xylene provide the building blocks, or feedstocks, for every thing from plastics and paints to carpets and crop fertilizers.

Overall, the industrial sector used 27 p.c of natural gasoline in the U.S. in 2010.

“The overwhelming majority of Individuals don’t very nicely perceive how a lot their lives are impacted by this power source by way of things they really use,” mentioned Penelope Jagessar Chaffer, a concerned mom and director of the upcoming documentary “Toxic Child.” “They do not have a way of its reach — into issues in our houses, issues we put on, things we put on our face.”

“Fossil fuels are fueling these products,” she added.

Natural gas is simply the latest fossil gas to play a powerful role in modern manufacturing. Remnants from the processing of oil and coal have been filling products for many years, particularly since the end of World Struggle II, when the U.S. discovered itself with a surplus of petroleum. Through the warfare effort, the gas was enlisted not only to energy planes and tanks, but in addition to equip those vehicles with canopies and radar methods and provides soldiers raincoats and bug nets.

These publish-conflict leftovers combined with a newly-established infrastructure of refineries and petrochemical plants may effectively have spurred the pervasive fossil gasoline-based mostly culture still current in the present day, in response to John Warner, president of the Warner Babcock Institute for Inexperienced Chemistry and a former chair of the Chemistry Division on the College of Massachusetts Boston.

“People had stuff and regarded into what they could make from it, reasonably than the other way round,” Warner mentioned. “Now, unlimited and increasing gas development — one other petroleum feedstock — suits into the same scheme, so we don’t need to invent or change something.”

Others see this perceived rut as extra of an opportunity than an issue.

Actually, based on Borne, the fracking boom could not have come soon enough. He noted that a drop within the U.S. pure fuel supply led the country’s petrochemical business to “hit backside” in 2009, earlier than the rise of hydraulic fracturing allowed corporations to faucet into previously inaccessible deposits.

At the moment, trade officials tout nice job prospects. A report released in Could by the American Chemistry Council, a number one chemical industry commerce group, estimated up to a further forty six,000 permanent jobs in the chemical industry if the entire proposed chemical and plastics projects are built.

One such undertaking, a “cracker” plant to break down natural gas into lucrative petrochemical constructing blocks, has been proposed in western Pennsylvania by Shell Oil Company. But the area, which is on the forefront of fracking controversies, is already facing environmental issues. Drinking water wells situated close to fracking websites in the realm are at excessive risk of contamination, in accordance with a examine published last week. Other current research suggests that methane, a potent greenhouse gas, escapes readily during pure fuel extraction.

Cracker plants themselves are known to emit massive quantities of toxic air pollution, including nitrogen oxide and risky natural compounds.

Cronin grew up in western Pennsylvania. She recalled realizing nothing about fracking or cracking throughout her youth, despite the persistent presence of pollution from another fossil gasoline. She described a “shiny orange” creek running by means of her yard that her dad, who worked within the power business, cautioned her by no means to contact.

“It was contaminated with sulfur from coal mining,” she said.

Cronin knows all about fracking now. After protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in February, she returned from D.C. to participate in a smaller stand against the extra modest pipeline project that will tunnel natural gasoline underneath the Hudson River into Manhattan. While New York Metropolis touts the potential to substitute dirty heating oil with the cleaner-burning gas, Cronin and different activists worry that the radioactive radon probably launched from pure gasoline will be delivered to their urban apartments.

Cronin additionally fears an explosion just like the 2010 pure gas pipeline rupture in San Bruno, Calif., which took eight lives. The general public does not at all times understand, she added, that many explosions of that nature are tied to power extraction. In April, 15 people were killed in an explosion at a Texas facility that stored fertilizer produced from fossil fuels, and explosions in June at two separate Louisiana petrochemical plants killed three. Each facilities had been components of a bigger fleet that’s increasing pure fuel development.

“When something goes improper and a plant blows up, it turns into easier to see the place our stuff comes from,” mentioned Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and author of the environmental well being guide Elevating Elijah. She described an explosion in 2004 at a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant an hour away from her rural Illinois hometown, and the way her subsequent investigation led her to understand that the PVC tiles of her kitchen floor came from pure gas.

At this time, Steingraber lives in upstate New York, a area that sits atop a motherload of pure fuel trapped in deep layers of shale. She’s change into a vocal opponent of using fracking to extract it.

As for Cronin, she’s “still preventing fracking right here in New York,” pointing to multiple delays by the state authorities on a choice. “We breathe slightly sigh of relief each time we will push it back additional.”


Whereas fracking fights rage from Colorado to North Carolina, and opposition escalates with protests at building sites alongside the proposed Keystone XL, another heated dialogue is going down about an overhaul of the nation’s toxic chemical regulation.

A proposed federal plan, first launched by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in 2005, would reverse the burden of proof on toxic chemicals — from the present assumption that a chemical is protected till proven toxic, normally after it’s already spent years on the market, to a requirement for the business to show a chemical is secure previous to putting it on retailer shelves. Lower than two weeks before his dying in June, Lautenberg co-sponsored a bipartisan and arguably weaker model of his laws that’s now working its manner through Congress.

Due in large part to the current lack of thorough toxicity testing for chemicals in most client merchandise, the jury continues to be out on potential dangers of utilizing the products. A growing number of scientific research, nonetheless, are hinting at increased risks of reproductive issues, diabetes and other well being effects even from exposures to small amounts of some chemicals. At explicit risk are growing youngsters.

In February, consultants from the United Nations and the World Well being Group declared that phthalates, bisphenol-A (BPA) and different hormone-mimicking chemicals prevalent in petrochemical-derived merchandise, equivalent to plastic water bottles and children’s toys, have been a “international menace.” The experts noted rising proof linking the chemicals with health issues like obesity and certain cancers, just as rates of these well being issues have risen.

Such findings are helping drive the push for toxic chemical reform, which may affect the best way Cronin stocks her day care cupboards, the survival of petrochemical companies and even the make-up of the U.S. power market — controlled by three of the most powerful industries in the world.

Judy Robinson, director of the environmental health non-profit Coming Clean, puts it simply: “To grapple with chemicals is to grapple with oil, gas and coal.”

It’s no coincidence, Robinson said, that the number three publicly-traded chemical company additionally occurs to be the quantity two oil firm: ExxonMobil.

Examples of the intertwined industries abound.

Lawmakers on the Home Energy and Commerce Committee who voted for the so-called Halliburton loophole acquired greater than six times as a lot cash from oil and gasoline firms as individuals who voted in opposition to it, in response to a report by Widespread Cause, a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizen’s lobbying group. The loophole essentially exempts the natural gasoline trade from obeying a federal regulation that protects drinking water from toxic chemicals. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who chairs the committee, accepted $80,000 for his marketing campaign between January 2011 and September 2012 from the chemical industry, a separate Widespread Cause report discovered.

In Pennsylvania, the entrance-line of the natural fuel rush, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is broadly criticized amongst environmental advocates for the $1.8 million in campaign contributions he received between January 2000 and April 2012 from the oil and gasoline trade. He signed a “Cracker Credit” in June of final 12 months that will go into effect in 2017, in the end providing Shell Oil Company with up to $1.65 billion in tax credits over the following 25 years should it transfer forward with its proposed petrochemical plant within the state.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the executive committee of the American Chemistry Council voted unanimously in February that “public policies ought to promote the availability of competitively priced pure gasoline and feedstock to support the continued progress of the chemical industry in the United States.” A 2007 report from the investment research firm Innovest singled out the most important determinant of profitability for the chemical trade: energy sources.

Stephane Horel, a French documentary filmmaker, stated things aren’t a lot different overseas.

Chemical and pharmaceutical firms including Dow, BASF and DuPont, she famous, are currently lobbying in opposition to tighter regulation of hormone-disrupting chemicals within the European Union, with the assistance of a set of oil and gasoline firms together with BP, Eni, ExxonMobil and Honeywell.

“Now we have a really powerful chemical trade,” she stated. “But what we have to do is move to another sort of chemistry altogether.”

The impetus for reform goes past chemical toxicity. Fossil fuel provides across the globe are dwindling and methods used to amass them are becoming more excessive: mountaintop coal elimination, deepwater drilling, oil sands excavation and, after all, fracking for natural gas.

Eventually, Robinson mentioned, we’re going to hit the underside of the barrel and will need a “sea change.” Until we keep eighty p.c of world fossil gas reserves in the ground, local weather scientists warn, we’ll face an unsafe and unstable climate.

Throughout a highly publicized speech at Georgetown University final week, President Barack Obama introduced a plan to reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution from the burning of fossil fuels and transition to clean energy, “for the sake of our youngsters, and the well being and security of all Americans.”

“This doesn’t imply we’re going to out of the blue stop producing fossil fuels. Our economy would not run very nicely if it did,” he stated, later suggesting that pure gasoline ought to act as a fuel to bridge the transition.

“We must always strengthen our place as the top pure gas producer because, within the medium time period not less than,” Obama said, “it not solely can provide secure, cheap power, however it may also assist scale back our carbon emissions.”


A silk scarf plucked from a pile on the playroom flooring morphed into a cape the second Gavin, Cronin’s 4-yr-old, held it to the back of his Superman T-shirt and paraded around the day care. A couple of feet away, youngsters sat at a mirrored table pounding, molding and carving playdough coloured brown with immediate espresso and cocoa.

“These kinds of open-ended supplies encourage innovation,” stated Cronin, referring to the playdough and scarves, and suggesting that innovation is the “one factor that’s going to solve our issues.”

Applying Cronin’s tactics to issues introduced on by fossil fuels means first arising with various power sources, novel ingredients to proceed making the merchandise folks want, and ways to reside comfortably without the stuff that, as critics argue, society solely thinks it needs.

As the inexperienced vitality industry develops methods for tapping renewable vitality like wind and solar — a troublesome task, environmentalists say, given diverted investments into further fossil gasoline improvement — chemists are additionally attempting to make products safer.

“For those who were working from bio-based mostly material that had breakdown qualities that made it inert and natural, you then’d have a better constructing block,” mentioned Robinson of Coming Clean, noting that while there are all the time exceptions, materials that start off as fossil fuels are usually the least secure.

But chemists, like green power advocates, face a monetary foe: Toxic chemicals presently have a market advantage over safer ones.

Steingraber, the ecologist and creator, famous that “low cost sources of carbon” are a major obstacle to altering the way in which merchandise are made. Warner, the inexperienced chemist, agreed. As carbon-based mostly fossil gasoline provides increase, he said, the plummeting worth tags make it very difficult for other source supplies to compete.

“No one will make investments if they can not see a safe return,” Warner added. “Proper now, they see fuel costs going down. Everyone is concentrated on next quarter’s earnings, not the long run.”

Nonetheless, for folks fearing unsafe products, there could also be a minimum of a couple of upsides to the shrinking natural gasoline costs and expanding fleet of petrochemical plants in the U.S., according to industry officials.

More U.S.-manufactured goods might mean fewer gadgets in the marketplace that pose toxicity concerns past their fossil gas ingredients. Toys, sneakers and different merchandise imported from China, for example, are frequently flagged as tainted with toxic chemicals reminiscent of lead.

“There’s a robust argument to make for having these merchandise developed in nations the place there are very robust requirements for environmental safety and health — corresponding to in the U.S., Canada and Europe,” mentioned Kevin Kolevar, vice president of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Dow Chemical Company.

Kolevar added that the glut of fuel and its byproducts could even lower manufacturing prices for renewable energy technologies, reminiscent of solar shingles or supplies for large wind turbines, which, like most different products, typically start out as petrochemicals.

Many environmental advocates argue that we can do with out a few of the petrochemical-derived merchandise, equivalent to agricultural chemicals. Petrochemical-derived fertilizers, just like the inventory that exploded at a Texas facility in April, are extensively used on American monocultures. But Robinson noted that rotating crops and different pure methods, albeit typically extra time-intensive ones, may enrich the soil and fend off pests with healthier outcomes for the land and the patron.

Some chemical companies are investing in alternate options, each inside and outside the fossil gasoline household. Dow spends round $1.Seventy five billion a yr on research and development “throughout the range to identify methods to make merchandise safer, more practical, more efficient with more sustainable supplies,” Kolevar said.

The U.S.-made dump truck that Cronin picked out for her class, for example, was constructed of recycled plastic and marketed as free of doubtlessly harmful phthalates and BPA. Cronin not solely chooses specific toys for her children, she continues environmental classes throughout the day — from composting to singing a music she learned at protests in opposition to the pipeline at the moment being built into Manhattan.

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