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Alabama Governor Bentley Encourages Children to Clean Up Dangerous Tornado Disaster Area

posted Jun 29, 2011, 1:16 PM by Nancy Swan   [ updated Sep 30, 2011, 12:00 AM ]
The following is a copy of my letter sent to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who is also a physician.  Original source Children's Environmental Protection Alliance and Community Forums

Governor Robert Bentley
Via: Vice Taylor, Director of Constituent Services

From: Nancy Swan
Mobile, AL 36608

Dear Governor Bentley:
Please do not sacrifice the safety of children by encouraging children and pregnant women of unborn children to participate in clean up of disaster areas. 

The leading story on today's (6/28/11) print edition of the Mobile Press Register is "Bus from Mobile brings helping hands from St. Luke's school to tornado battered Tuscaloosa." The photo below shows children removing debris, their only protection from possibly contaminated materials and air is thin latex gloves.  As a physician, you are aware that high school students under the age of 18 are children, despite their appearance as young adults. 

Governor Bentley, your encouragement and subsequent praise of child disaster areas workers serves to increase participation in disaster area clean up may endanger even more children with long term, serious, health problems.  Like me, an unwarned toxic chemical survivor, their sacrifice may cost them a life of 24 hour pain, and for some, a life of despair.

Sources requested: The EPA has recognized that children are more susceptible to environmental hazards, just as they are to medications. 

According to U. S. EPA,
Children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures because their responses to toxic substances, both in severity and in the nature of the adverse effect, can differ markedly from those of adults.
  • The rapid development of a child's organ systems during embryonic, fetal, and early newborn periods makes children vulnerable when exposed to environmental toxicants.  Children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food per kilogram of body weight than adults.  An infant's respiratory rate is more than twice an adult's rate.  Children’s habits (e.g., hand to mouth contact) also make them more susceptible to environmental hazards, especially dust.  Since children spend up to 80-90 percent of their time indoors, it is paramount to make every effort to minimize potential dangers.  These particular vulnerabilities of infants, preschool and young children may be of particular importance to consider where childcare centers are integrated or adjacent to elementary or other schools.
  • Children experience periods of growth and organ development which can be adversely affected by exposures to toxic substances.
  • Children with chronic illnesses such as asthma may experience increased vulnerability to environmental toxicants.  Asthma continues to be a significant problem among school age children.
Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit  PEHSU
The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU) Network encourage families, pediatricians, and communities to work together to ensure that children are protected from exposure to environmental hazards.

Fact sheets and Publications warning health care professionals, and the community, parents, and pregnant women about danger of oil chemicals during response to the BP Oil Spill. 
Note: During the BP oil crisis and when at most risk for contact with contaminants, the public, parents of children, nor clean up workers were not warned about toxicity of crude oil.
  • Advisory about Gulf Oil Spill, for patients (August 2010) 
  • Advisory for Gulf Coast Parents and Community Members
Children are at Risk
Environmental pollutants are especially harmful to children. They eat, drink, and breathe more than adults on a pound for pound basis. A child’s nose and mouth are closer to the ground than the nose and mouth of an adult; so children more easily breathe in pollutants in the air, which may accumulate close to the ground if they are heavier than air. Because children play on the ground, they are more likely to have skin contact with pollutants than adults. Toddlers may crawl and as a result, may get contaminated soil, sand and other substances on their hands and clothes. It is normal for toddlers to put their hands in their mouth so they will accidentally get more toxic substances in their bodies than older kids and adults.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA):

The EPCRA requires states and local governments to have a plan in place to alert citizens of chemical accidents. The local governing bodies are required to create emergency planning districts, and response plans including transportation routes and notification procedures.

Note:  It is inexcusable for U. S. and state officials responding to disasters to continue to fail or refuse to alert citizens of dangerous chemicals in disaster areas.  Alabama governors has consistently failed or refused to promptly and effectively alert
  • the public of potential for exposure to and injury from environmental, materials, and chemical hazards present in disaster areas, and
  • adults, parents, school administrators, youth groups, organizations and others responsible for child safety that the EPA has acknowledged that children under 18 are more susceptible to injury from exposure to environmental and chemical hazards.
Alabama has failed to alert its citizens by notification in accordance with the Right to Know, nor were children prohibited in the clean up area during the BP Oil Disaster.  Illness among adult clean up workers and children exposed to BP contaminates had been diagnosed until months after the BP disaster.   Exposure to environmental and chemical hazards can take years to present and more agonizing years before diagnosis and proper treatment and can lead to permanent and serious disease.

I was seriously and permanently injured hazardous chemicals while teaching middle school in Mississippi during a spray on foam roofing project applied during school hours.  Hundreds complained and had to have eyeglass lenses replaced.  Two dozen children were seriously injured.  Two of the chemicals, methyl diphenol isocyanate (MDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI) had been recognized by OSHA as causing permanent damage to humans.  I have permanent damage from burns and scarred lungs, surgical removal of part of my respiratory system, vocal chord damage, damaged eyes, brain damage damage , peripheral nerve damage, and am in permanent pain from neuropathy. 

I was forced to watch my students being poisoned by these chemicals and prevented from protecting them by school officials who refused to protect us. Instead of administering emergency medical care in accordance with OSHA, we were ridiculed as a cover up took place.  I wish a state official had done for me and the injured children what I am asking of you.

As a result of my injury, I am founder and director of Children's Environmental Protection Alliance (Children's EPA) and Community Forum and am an activist and partner for more than a dozen health and environmental organizations. In 2010, I hosted three CDC/ATSDR Community Conversations on Public Health and Chemical Exposure. Toxic Justice is my book and story and the incentive which initiated six proclamations, one signed you you this year making April 11, 2011 National National Healthy Schools Day (NHSD).  Governor Riley signed similar proclamations in 2008 and 2010.  In 2010 and 2011, Governor Barbour (MS) and in in 2011 Governor Bill Haslam (TN) signed similar NHSD Proclamations.

I hope that you will make prompt and public decision to prohibit child volunteers under the age of eighteen from participating in Alabama disaster areas.

Thank you for your consideration.  Please contact me if you need any further documentation or information.

Nancy Swan (signature)

Nancy Swan
Author of Toxic Justice: A Teacher's True Story of Her Chemical Injury and Battle for Justice
Website: Toxic Justice
Organization: Founder and Director Children's Environmental Protection Alliance