Nearly 60,000 Connecticut children under age 6 were reported with lead exposure in 2013, and an additional 2,275 children had high enough levels of the toxin in their blood to be considered poisoned. While those numbers, the latest available from the state Department of Public Health, may seem high, health experts say they actually must be higher because of significant gaps in state-mandated testing. Even though Connecticut has some of the strictest lead-screening laws in the country – requiring every child to be tested twice, before age 3 – DPH figures show that only half were screened twice, as mandated. Unlike in Flint, Mich., whose residents were poisoned when a corrosive water source was directed through aging lead-lined pipes, the main culprit in Connecticut is lead paint. Though banned in 1978, lead-based paint is present in countless older apartment buildings and homes, especially in urban centers, such as Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.
A Norwalk-based exterminator was called to an apartment building in the New Haven area and, entering one unit, he found the walls “dripping with bed bugs.”
The same company, Bliss Pest Control of Connecticut, answered a call from a Greenwich resident who had recently returned from one of his frequent business trips. His family was regularly waking up with bites. The culprit? Bed bugs. “Bliss gets calls all the time for that very story,” Michael Lawrence, area district manager of Bliss, wrote in an email.
Struggles with unemployment, food insecurity and unstable housing can take a serious toll on individuals’ health, and stronger social supports could play a key role in improving their well-being, according to an advocacy group. While national health reform and the Affordable Care Act have focused largely on improving access to and the quality of health care, socioeconomic factors – like housing, employment and food security – play a larger role in someone’s overall health than clinical factors, according to the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. “Health is affected by many other things, not just whether you have access to a doctor, access to health care,” said Jill Zorn, senior policy officer at the foundation. “If you’re really interested in improving health, it’s not just about clinical care.”
In fact, just 20 percent of a person’s health is attributed to clinical are, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 10 percent is attributed to physical environment, 30 percent to health behaviors and 40 percent – the largest share – is tied to socioeconomic factors, according to the CDC.
Kylee Mowel gladly makes the 15-mile trip from Middletown to New Britain each week to pick up locally grown organic produce from Urban Oaks Organic Farm. The farm’s store offers fresh greens year round, plus a variety of seasonal produce, meat, eggs, bakery and specialty foods produced in the region. By buying local and choosing organic, Mowel, 27, said she can avoid Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in her food. Her choice reflects a growing cultural shift toward healthier eating habits that support sustainable agriculture. “Ten years ago we had a hard time selling greens.
Starting July 1, Connecticut retailers will charge customers a 75-cent surcharge when they buy a gallon of paint, and in exchange, they’ll be able to drop off most unwanted household paint for recycling at participating paint retailers. While customers won’t get their deposit back like with the bottle bill, the surcharge is intended to cover the cost of safely recycling paint and paint cans. It’s all part of the state’s efforts to reduce waste, increase recycling and help municipalities save money. It will also cut emissions of toxic paint fumes, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), by 32 percent statewide, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. This change is the result of Connecticut’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) strategy.
Wethersfield resident Patrice Gilbert knew that compact fluorescent bulbs contained mercury, so as they burned out, she put them aside until she could find out where to properly dispose of them. One day, she accidently knocked one off the counter and it broke. “I scooped that broken one up, put the other three in a paper bag, put that in a plastic bag and put it in my recycling bin,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do with them.”
Gilbert’s action is typical. Nationally, only an estimated 2 percent of household CFLs are recycled properly, the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers says. In Connecticut, only 4 percent of households participate in hazardous waste collection days – where mercury-containing CFLs, thermostats and thermometers should be recycled. Instead, those items usually end up in one of the state’s trash-to-energy plants, where, through the disposal process, mercury gas is emitted into the air and eventually pollutes waterways and ends up in fish. While 40 percent of mercury pollution in Connecticut comes from out-of-state sources such as Midwestern coal-fired plants, volcanoes and other sources of pollution, 60 percent comes from in-state sources – primarily the state’s six trash-to-energy plants and its one coal-fired plant.
Two decades after New Haven’s English Station power plant stopped producing energy for United Illuminating, state officials have ordered the owners to conduct a massive clean-up of the property, which is contaminated with hazardous PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. “English Station has been a potential source of pollution to Fair Haven and the waters of the state for too long. It must be cleaned up by all those responsible for its present condition,’’ said Attorney General George Jepsen, whose office is working with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The administrative order announced Thursday requires that the current and previous owners of the plant make a full investigation of the contamination on, and emanating from, the site; submit a remediation plan for DEEP approval that is in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations; and then remediate the site in accordance with the approved plan. The property, on the Mill River, contains the former electric-generating plant and a warehouse. The parties named in the order include the current owners, Asnat Realty, LLC of Bayside, N.Y. and Evergreen Power, LLC, of Wilmington, Md., as well as Quinnipiac Energy, LLC; Grant Mackay Demolition; and the United Illuminating Company, which previously owned the site. The plant is shut down, and access to the property has been limited, pending submission of a formal plan to clean up extensive contamination by PCBs, a known carcinogen, as well as heavy metals and other contaminants.
The moment Mark Spiro walked into G&K Services, an industrial laundry in Waterbury, the steamy air stung his eyes and made his head ache. The place reeked of chemical solvents: methyl ethyl ketone, xylene, toluene – the sickly sweet scents of spray paint permanent markers and model glue. On that day in 2007, Spiro, an air pollution control engineer with Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), discovered high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) pouring from G&K’s roof stacks, the result of laundering shop and print towels contaminated with toxic solvents, state records indicate. The state eventually sued G&K, won a $1.8 million settlement and stopped the facility from laundering shop and print towels in Connecticut. Laundering shop and print towels, which are cloths used to wipe oil, solvent and other chemicals off machinery can fuel the release of VOCs above federal limits. The use and processing of shop towels is largely under-regulated, despite its potential to emit toxic substances into the air. When the DEEP uncovered the chemical release violations at G&K, it alerted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which launched its own investigation into all industrial laundries in New England.
Since 1994, close to $60 million has been spent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help rid communities of so-called brownfield sites, including close to $12 million for removing or containing pollutants. But to date only 19 have been completely cleaned and the cases closed, according to the EPA, hardly making a dent in a vast inventory estimated to be in the thousands.