Air and Water
Why Our Work on Air and Water Matters
Unsafe business practices release toxic chemicals into our outdoor air and threaten our health, especially within communities of color, low-income communities, and many workers as they are exposed to greater doses. These communities are too often plagued by toxic air pollution generated from nearby production, manufacturing, or disposal processes due to poor zoning and permitting practices and a lack of regulatory oversight. Regulatory practices which prioritize corporate profit over public health do not hold businesses accountable for their unsafe practices that put our health at risk.
Center for Environmental Health (CEH) works collaboratively with environmental justice organizations and low-income communities to address the disproportionate toll that toxic chemicals take on their neighborhoods. Historically, CEH’s legal action has spurred hundreds of major retailers to remove lead and other toxic chemicals from child and adult jewelry, fashion accessories marketed toward low income buyers, candies, toys, lunchboxes, personal care products, and more. In some cases, our public interest litigation was brought in partnership with community-based organizations.
CEH has also taken legal action (primarily using California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, Proposition 65) to force polluting industries to reduce, or otherwise mitigate, hazardous air emissions from low-income communities and communities of color.
Here are a few of our successes when we took on corporate polluters of air and water:
Health Concerns of Hydraulic Fracturing aka “Fracking”
For years, CEH has been on the front lines fighting alongside communities affected by fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a highly polluting process that involves injecting massive amounts of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to fracture rock and extract “natural” oil and gas is promoted by many, including some proclaiming themselves to be “environmentalists,” as a “bridge” to a clean energy future. Fracking pollutes our air and water, and although the we’ve made huge strides against this toxic practice, we have a long way to go to ultimately have it banned.
Ending the Use of Lead Tire Balancing Weights in California
In 2008, CEH finalized legal agreements with Chrysler and the wheel weight makers, requiring them to stop selling lead wheel weights in California.
Most wheel weights are lost on city streets when vehicles hit curbs, bounce over potholes, stop or accelerate suddenly, or turn sharply. Once lost from the vehicle, these lead wheel weights release lead into the environment — when they are worn down by traffic, lead is spread around by wind or water. As a result of our legal agreements, most wheel weights are now made of steel, zinc, and other non-lead materials — and the risk to our drinking water is greatly reduced.
As a result of our legal agreements, most wheel weights are now made of steel, zinc and other non-lead materials, reducing the risk to our drinking water greatly.
In 2011, CEH took legal action in California to address the pollution problem from lead-based aviation fuel, and we have reached a ground-breaking legal agreement to help alleviate lead pollution around 23 California airports.
If you live near an airport, either a small regional airport or a large airport that is also used by small planes, you know that air quality problems are a daily reality. Lead pollution from small airplanes that continue to use lead-based fuel is a major problem, since lead can adversely affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems, and the cardiovascular system.
Marvin Engineering is a privately owned company in the Los Angeles County town of Inglewood that specializes in manufacturing aerospace and defense equipment, including missile launchers. In 2005, Marvin Engineering released over a ton of the cancer-causing solvent perchloroethylene into its Inglewood neighborhood. The company had been using this chemical to clean and remove grease from metal parts that make up its products. The Marvin facility is near a park, homes, and local businesses, and in 2005, was adjacent to an operating preschool. In 2006, CEH began Proposition 65 litigation with Marvin Engineering. A year later, Marvin agreed to stop using perchloroethylene. Since 2008, it has not released any percloroethylene into Inglewood. Today, Marvin Engineering is a successful business with 700 employees and $225 million dollars in annual revenue.
Marvin Engineering is just one of many California companies that have reduced the use of perchloroethylene since Proposition 65 became law in 1986. Perchloroethylene released into California air declined from almost 5 million pounds per year in 1988 to less than 90,000 pounds per year in 2011. For more information on Marvin Engineering and perchloroethylene, see page four of our “State Law, National Change” report.
PFAS “FOREVER CHEMICALS”:
For years, CEH has taken policy and legal action to protect communities from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. PFAS are a large group of thousands of synthetic “forever chemicals” found in consumer products that take thousands of years to break down in the environment and can remain in our bodies for decades. In the last few years, several PFAS have been detected in drinking water sources serving over 300,000 people in the Cape Fear River basin, in human blood, and in environmental media, posing serious health risks to communities that face long-term exposure. This contamination has been linked to the Chemours chemical plant in Fayetteville.
In 2020, CEH submitted a petition along with other public health and environmental justice organizations in North Carolina asking the EPA to require Chemours to fund testing on the adverse health and environmental effects of PFAS. After the EPA failed to grant the petition and require the critical health studies that NC communities deserve, CEH and our allies have chosen to seek justice in federal court by reactivating our lawsuit under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Visit our Cape Fear Courage page to watch a short film about the communities fighting for justice and for more information about our work.
In 2016, CEH took legal action against three industrial metalworking facilities that emit carcinogenic hexavalent chromium (hex chrome) into the outdoor air where there are elementary schools, childcare centers, apartment buildings, and single-family homes. Hex chrome is also harmful to the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes.
For the past two years, CEH has partnered with environmental justice advocates and residents in the community to hold these companies accountable for their toxic emissions. Our legal agreement requires companies to pay for ongoing air monitoring if levels continue to be high, and community designated settlement funds were used to purchase air filtration systems for residents closest to the facilities.
For more information on CEH’s air and water work, please contact:
Kaya Allan Sugerman
Illegal Toxic Threats Program Director