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EWG's Worst Environmental Stories of 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

By Nils J. Bruzelius, EWG Executive Editor

We polled our staff to see what stories they thought had the biggest impact, for better or worse. Here are the results:

We'll start with the worst today, so we can end on a cheerier note by year's end:




  1. BP's Gulf oil spill (includes: slow response, wholesale use of dispersants and secrecy about what's in them) No surprise that this one topped almost everyone's list. And as in Alaska's Prince William Sound, it will probably be years before we know the full extent of the damage to the Gulf ecosystem and its economy.
  2. BPA, the notorious plastics chemical There was both bad news and good (see second list) about this ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting substance, which most of us have in our bodies. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) tried valiantly but couldn't get legislation to ban BPA in baby bottles and children's sippy cups through the U.S. Senate. Earlier in the year, research by EWG and others turned up yet another source of exposure - cash register receipts.
  3. Brazilian Blowout We're not talking about soccer, though Brazil got the boot in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. This is about the hair-straightening product that, according to testing by health agencies in Oregon and Canada, contains high levels of toxic formaldehyde - despite the company's insistence that it's "formaldehyde free." Oregon tested the product after salon workers reported cases of hair loss and skin burns.
  4. Climate change bill dies in the U.S. Senate In the toxic political climate of Washington, any kind of climate legislation - never mind a cap-and-trade system - >fell victim to a combination of climate skeptics and protectors of the energy status quo. Early hopes for a bipartisan push on measures to combat global warming withered away.
  5. Carcinogenic chromium-6 in your water EWG tested tap water samples from 35 cities and found this cancer-causing chemical, the one made notorious in the film "Erin Brockovich," in 31 of them. In 25 cities, levels were above those being considered by California health officials for a public health goal, and as the eventual basis for a legal limit.
  6. California's "Green Chemistry" rule is gutted When regulators announced their rules for implementing the state's pioneering law designed to reduce the use of toxic substances in consumer products and shift toward safer alternatives, the proposal was so weak that even the law's original sponsor renounced it - joining others who called it a Christmas gift to the chemical industry.
  7. Reading, writing and fracking At a time when municipal budgets are stretched beyond the breaking point, it's not surprising that officials in Texas, Ohio and elsewhere would be the tempted by the revenue they could gain by leasing mineral rights to drilling companies that want to use hydraulic fracturing to pry natural gas from deep rock formations deep beneath school property. They should pay close attention to reports of dizziness, nausea and breathing troubles at schools that have already done it.
  8. Here comes the sun - but no sunscreen rules It's been more than 32 years since the Food and Drug Administration began to work on rules that would ensure that sunscreens are safe, effective and don't make exaggerated claims. But what's the rush? That's only one full generation that has had to take its chances, if you don't count their parents and grandparents.
  9. Slouching toward chemicals regulation reform Another bad news/good news story (see next list). Just about everyone agrees that the Toxic Substances Control Act, the 1976 environmental law that has never been updated, is broken. EPA has stepped up enforcement efforts, but the statute gives the agency too little power to protect the public from dangerous industrial chemicals that often get rushed onto the market with little safety testing. There was some hopeful movement in Congress this year, but nowhere near enough.
  10. Feeding at the corn ethanol trough. Congress wasn't entirely impotent on energy issues. At the very last minute it kept alive the tax credit that pays gas refiners 45 cents a gallon to blend corn ethanol into gasoline, not to mention the excise tax that blocks imports of cheaper Brazilian (sugar cane) ethanol. This makes commodity corn growers happy - at the expense of the environment and consumers.


Check back Thursday, December 30th to see EWG's picks for the BEST environmental stories of the year (because we could all use a little something positive to kick off the new year).

[Thanks to Flickr CC & striatic for the appropriately negative hand gesture]

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