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In new battleground over toxic reform, American Chemistry Council targets the states

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The American Chemistry Council, pictured here, is located in Washington, D.C.
just blocks away from Capitol Hill.
Credit: Sarah Whitmire/Center for Public Integrity

HARTFORD, Conn. — In the bare-knuckle war over toxic chemicals, the fight between industry and activists has shifted noticeably from Washington, D.C., to state venues such as the golden-domed Capitol that rises over Hartford like a lordly manse.

What happened this year in Hartford shows how industry — fueled by the American Chemistry Council, a $100 million a year advocacy group glittered with Fortune 500 partners — is flexing its muscles from statehouse to statehouse to beat back efforts to disclose harmful chemicals or remove them from the shelves.

In Connecticut, grassroots activists worked with state Rep. Diana Urban, a former professor of economics and politics, to craft a bill they viewed as little more than a baby step toward reform. The measure — An Act Concerning Children’s Products and Chemicals of High Concern — would have allowed the state Public Health Department to identify and list chemicals that posed dangers to children.

The bill came at zero cost to state government.

This session, it was snuffed out by an aggressive lobbying push from the ACC and state business groups, and an outcry from Republican members portraying the bill as an attack on business and duplication of federal efforts. Urban couldn’t even get it to a vote — legislative critics literally talked the three-page bill to death for more than four hours one afternoon, killing it on an appropriations deadline day with question after question that kept the clock ticking to zero.

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Listen: An Interview with Chris Ingalls on KIRO

Linda Thomas invited KING 5's Chris Ingalls onto KIRO Radio this morning to talk about what the main concerns are with I-5 pollution and whether air filters are a solution.

Listen in:

(If you've already watched the newscast, skip ahead to 3:46 to hear Chris and Linda talk.)

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'Exhausted at School' leads to changes at Seattle Schools

We’re happy to report that InvestigateWest’s work alongside KING 5 on our just-released “Exhausted At School” project has prompted action by Seattle School District officials to protect students from the toxic air pollution emanating from traffic along big roads.

District spokesperson Tom Redman said the district just launched a new policy in response to inquiries from InvestigateWest and KING 5 concerning air quality. Principals in the coming year will be sent a daily notice of the regional air quality to help them decide whether its necessary to keep kids inside for recess. In general, air quality reports can indicate high ozone counts, more common on hot days, or higher-than-normal levels of toxic soot from traffic and wood smoke, which hang in the air more on colder days.

The school we focused on in the top of our story, John Marshall Junior High, currently undergoing renovations, is also getting a new look from the Seattle School District. In an email, Redman told KING 5's Chris Ingalls:

“We are looking at our options to install an upgrade to the air filtration system into Phase II of the John Marshall reopening project.  We have time to incorporate this scope of work.  We have asked our Engineer to work up construction estimates and a design modification proposal.”

Watch this space as InvestigateWest and KING 5 continue to follow the story.

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KING 5 Investigators: Exhausted At School

InvestigateWest worked with KING 5 to put Exhausted at School onto the local news here in Seattle. Watch as reporter Chris Ingalls interviews Maria Renninger, takes a tour of John Marshall, and hears about changes at Seattle Schools in response to our reporting:

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Map: Schools and Road Pollution in Washington State

Related Article »

Definitions

In the map above, high-traffic routes carry at least 50,000 vehicles per day, according to WSDOT data.

T-1 truck routes carry more than 10 million tons of annual freightage. T-2 truck routes carry more than 4 million tons of annual freightage.

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Exhaust, diesel fumes foul public schoolyards across Washington state

More than a dozen schools are located in the pollution plume created by traffic on Interstate 5.
Credit: HeatherHeatherHeather/Flickr

More than half a century has elapsed since the Seattle School Board — with nary a raised eyebrow, records indicate — voted to allow one of the nation's biggest and busiest highways to be built cheek-by-jowl with John Marshall Junior High, trading away the school's playground for a larger plot of land nearby.

The John Marshall building beside Interstate 5 near Green Lake was closed for the last few years, but its doors are expected to open again to North Seattle middle schoolers in 2014. Yet now, as in 1958, school board deliberations on the renovation and opening of the school didn’t include a word about the road rushing over the kids' heads, despite a compelling body of evidence dating back decades that air pollution from highways can cause lifelong respiratory problems and asthma attacks and boost school absenteeism.

Document: 1958 John Marshall Land Transfer

Read the related story.

 
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Document: 2007 Study of Freeway Air Pollution in Seattle and Portland

 
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