The Toxic Avengers

Daniel Rosenberg

We're constantly being exposed to toxic chemicals, in our food, our water, the products we buy, in our homes, at work, even in utero. Meet the Toxic Avengers: people working to stem the tide of toxic chemical pollution that can lead to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other health impacts. Learn about Toxic Avengers' fights against the chemical industry to win strong federal and state protections; local campaigns to defend communities facing the greatest toxic exposures; and the power of consumers to make household products safer. read less
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Episodes

Interview with Ted Smith, Founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Part Four
Nov 28 2023
Interview with Ted Smith, Founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Part Four
In Part Four we pick up our conversation about recycling e-waste, including the genesis of EPR -- Extended Producer Responsibility -- and the limits of a “bottle bill” approach to recycling e-waste.  We discuss the Coalition’s collaboration with the Basel Action Network, and the current state of e-waste recycling, including certification guidelines and the influence of the European Union’s regulation of e-waste under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive. We talk about the circumstances that led to the Campaign for Responsible Technology expanding their work to be international, now the ICRT.  Ted then tells a brief story about his interaction with Steve Jobs, and the evolution of Apple’s response to the e-waste issue.  We discuss the outsourcing of hazards from electronic manufacturing, and the book written in conjunction with the Coalition’s anniversary, Challenging the Chip.We discuss the ongoing lack of transparency on worker and reproductive hazards in the electronics industry, and implementation of the CHIPS Act. We end with Ted’s reflections on founding and running a public interest organization, and his thoughts on the next generation of activists.It was a real honor to speak with Ted Smith about his life and career of activism.  He was very generous with his time, enough to cover four episodes of the podcast.  For people wanting to learn more, be sure to read this oral history interview of Ted conducted in 2000.
Interview with Ted Smith, Founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Part Three
Nov 14 2023
Interview with Ted Smith, Founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Part Three
In part three of our interview, we begin speaking about the train derailment and release of vinyl chloride in East Palestine Ohio that occurred in February.  We discuss the difficulty of retaining institutional memory of toxic accidents and other incidents, and what that could mean for communities where new micro chip plants may be built under the CHIPs Act. We talk about the long history of attempting to regulate the use of hazardous toxic solvents like TCE, at the local, state and federal levels and the battles with companies over the extent of their cleanups of Superfund sites.  We then discuss the Silicon Valley Toxic coalition’s partnering with environmental justice organizations in the southwest, as chip plants began to move to New Mexico, Arizona and Texas including creating the Electronics Industry Good Neighbor Campaign with the Southwest Organizing Project, Tonatierra, and PODER.  We also begin a discussion on the creation of the Campaign for Responsible Technology and the growth of their work to address e-waste, including the development of the Electronic Takeback Campaign and a campaign targeting Dell Computers.  Finally, we discuss the international implications of the e-waste work.  Resources: Here are some of the news stories, books and reports that are referenced in this episode:A story by Eric Lipton in the New York Times re the Biden administration’s implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), March 16, 2023https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/16/us/politics/toxic-chemicals-biden-epa.html?searchResultPosition=4The book written jointly by SVTC, SWOP, PODER and Tonatierra.Sacred Waters: Life-Blood of Mother Earth (1997)A report by Silicon Valley Toxics CoalitionCorporate Strategies for Electronics Recycling: a Tale of Two Systems  (2003)A report produced by SVTC and the Basel Action NetworkExporting Harm: The High-tech Trashing of Asia (2002)See also the International Campaign for Responsible Technology’s (ICRTs) websiteAnd the Basel Action Network’s website
Interview with Ted Smith, Founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Part One
Apr 18 2023
Interview with Ted Smith, Founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Part One
In this episode, we have Part One of my interview with Ted Smith, Founder and Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.  For more than forty years, Ted has worked to clean up the extensive pollution caused by manufacturers of semi-conductors in Silicon Valley, which contains the most Superfund sites in the country.  In the wake of discovery of contaminated drinking water aquifers, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition successfully passed local ordinances on hazardous materials, and public right to know, which became models for state and federal laws, including the Toxics Release Inventory.  The Coalition partnered with Environmental Justice groups in the Southwest to address the environmental and health challenges posed by the spread of the semi-conductor industry into Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Ted’s work, along with his wife, the renowned occupational health lawyer Amanda Hawes, has continued to expand to the international level, addressing the pollution and health harms to workers and communities across the globe. He co-founded the International Campaign for Responsible Technology and co-edited the book “Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry.” We began our conversation discussing the recently enacted federal legislation known as the CHIPs Act, which provides more than $50 billion dollars to promote the on-shoring of semiconductor production to the United States.  We discuss the absence of provisions in the law to ensure that new communities aren’t exposed to and harmed by pollution from the new semi-conductor plants in the U.S. We then discuss the early part of Ted’s life, including his experiences at Wesleyan University, his time spent in Washington DC as a volunteer for the anti-poverty program Volunteers in Service to America or (VISTA). Ted describes his experiences after moving to California to attend law school at Stanford, and his work supporting cannery workers, which set the stage for his decades of toxics advocacy.Ted Smith is both a pioneer and a giant in the anti-toxics movement. It was an honor to discuss his life and career, and I’m looking forward to sharing our conversation with you. Here’s Part One of my interview with Ted Smith recorded last December.$52 billion for chips, plus $200 billion for science research https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/27/us/politics/senate-chips-china.html?searchResultPosition=2NYT re Taiwanese building in Phoenix  -- https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/06/technology/tsmc-chips-factory-phoenix.html?searchResultPosition=1The court decision in a case Ted Smith brought on behalf of farmworkers early in his career.Mandujano v. Basic Vegetables https://openjurist.org/541/f2d/832/mandujano-v-basic-vegetable-products-inc
Interview with Pamela Miller, Founder of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), (Part 2)
Mar 14 2023
Interview with Pamela Miller, Founder of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), (Part 2)
In this episode, we have Part Two of my interview with Pamela Miller, Founder and Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, also known as ACAT. We pick up our conversation as Pam describes the work that initially brought her to the west coast, from Florida, including her work for Washington state’s Department of Ecology to establish a National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington and Oregon.  We discuss her work with Greenpeace, and the environmental and health impacts of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, as well as the less well-remembered Nestucca spill in 1988.Pam talks about the process of starting ACAT, and its early work researching the leakage of radioactive material from nuclear testing under Amchitka Island in the 1960s and 70s. Finally, we discuss Pam’s work as Co-Chair of the InternationalPollutants Elimination Network, IPEN, to implement the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (The POPs Treaty), and enact global bans of persistent chemicals including the pesticides lindane and endosulfan and the plastics additive UV238. Here are links to the two reports on the impacts of underground nuclear testing in Alaska, that Pamela discusses in the interview: Nuclear Flashback report: https://www.akaction.org/publications/nuclear-flashback-the-return-to-amchitka/Nuclear Flashback Part two: https://www.akaction.org/publications/nuclear-flashback-part-ii-the-threat-of-the-u-s-nuclear-complex/
Interview with Pamela Miller, Founder of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) (Part 1)
Feb 28 2023
Interview with Pamela Miller, Founder of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) (Part 1)
This is Part One of my interview with Pamela Miller, Founder and Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, also known as ACAT. Since starting ACAT in 1997, Pamela has worked in support of indigenous communities in Alaska seeking cleanup of polluted, military, industrial, and resource extraction sites.  At the same time, Pam has long been a leader engaged in the creation and implementation of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, also known as the POPs Treaty. Pamela is the Co-Chair of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN). The treaty has led to global bans on chemicals and chemical classes including Endosulfan, short-chain chlorinated parrafins and Lindane. We began our conversation with ACAT’s current work to address PFAS contamination throughout Alaska, the potential use of micronuclear reactors for mining sites, and the ongoing health threat posed by PCBs and other toxic chemicals from abandoned military sites on St. Lawrence Island.  We discuss some of Pam’s recent work on the POPs treaty, the health impacts on indigenous communities of the global transport of persistent toxic chemicals to the Arctic, and the critical role of community research in advocating for cleanup and environmental justice for indigenous people. We then talk about Pam’s childhood, growing up in Dover, Ohio, and how the nearby presence of Dover Chemical affected her family, and influenced her career path. We discuss her education, including making a choice whether to focus on science or music, and learn about her post-college career working as a marine biologist, prior to moving out West.Pamela’s breadth of knowledge and experience are remarkable, and her steadfast commitment to addressing toxic pollution and obtaining environmental justice for the indigenous people of Alaska is inspiring.
Interview with Dr. Mark Mitchell, founder of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ)
Apr 5 2022
Interview with Dr. Mark Mitchell, founder of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ)
This is Part One of my interview with Dr. Mark Mitchell, founder of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ). A medical doctor, with a Masters in Public Health, he is a long-time toxics and public health advocate.  Dr. Mitchell is currently working at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, serving as the Director of State Affairs for the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, and Director of the Climate and Health Equity Fellowship Program. He previously served as the Deputy Director of the Kansas City Missouri Health Department for six years, and Director of the Hartford Health Department in Hartford Connecticut for four years, before leaving to start the Hartford Environmental Justice Network, later renamed the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.In the first part of our interview, Mark discusses his current work on climate, health and environmental justice, including educating and organizing medical health professionals, and explains his pneumonic for the health effects of climate change. He then describes his childhood growing up in St. Louis Missouri, and how the racism he experienced from an early age formed the path he took to become a doctor with a focus on the preventative side of medical practice, and environmental stressors of health.  Mark then describes some of his experiences while getting his Masters in Public Health from John’s Hopkins University in Baltimore, and his early work opposing the influence of the tobacco industry. Mark is a great storyteller, with a million stories to tell, and it was both a pleasure and an honor to speak with him.   For more on Dr. Mitchell’s life story, here is an essay he wrote in 2020 for the journal Daedalus: “Racism as a Motivator for Environmental Justice”Here is his 1984 memo to the Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation re the CBCF’s promotion of smoking: https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/#id=yjmj0143
Interview with Jacqueline Warren, long-time toxics attorney with EDF and NRDC
Jan 25 2022
Interview with Jacqueline Warren, long-time toxics attorney with EDF and NRDC
For this episode, I spoke with Jacqueline Warren, who worked as an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) from 1973 to 1991. She was one of the leading toxics advocates in Washington DC when most of the major federal toxics laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Superfund and the Toxic Substances Control Act, were enacted.During her years at EDF and NRDC, Jackie was involved in the development, implementation and enforcement of laws related to drinking water, pesticides and toxic chemicals in products. She was a triple threat to the chemical industry, working to pass strong legislation, pressing EPA to adopt protective health standards, and litigating against EPA and the industry when they failed to follow the law.  Among her many accomplishments was a successful lawsuit overturning EPA’s attempt to exempt most uses of toxic PCBs from a ban enacted by Congress, and halting the use of several widely used pesticides that were dangerous to public health. Our conversation traced the path which led to her starting a career in environmental law, looked at some of the key areas of her work, and discussed what it takes to win meaningful protections from toxic chemicals. One technical note, there were some connectivity problems during our interview that had an occasional minor effect on the audio quality of the recording.Here is a clip of Jackie testifying at a hearing on the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1988, in which she discusses PCBs, asbestos, and the need for more toxicity testing of chemicals, and a more protective health standard in the law, starting at 21:53 on the recording.You can read a recent story by Pro Publica on the ongoing health risks posed by PCBs here.For ongoing issues with inadequate regulation of pesticides by the EPA, you can read an article by recent Toxic Avengers guest Sharon Lerner here.
Interview with Jose Bravo, Executive Director of the Just Transition Alliance
Dec 28 2021
Interview with Jose Bravo, Executive Director of the Just Transition Alliance
For the past three decades, Jose Bravo has spent his life working to improve the health and lives of communities across the country and around the world, using every available tool of advocacy including door-to-door education, building diverse coalitions, corporate-focused consumer campaigns, negotiation, litigation and direct action.  He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Just Transition Alliance, and National Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions. I spoke with Jose in August. During our conversation, we discussed the work of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions to compel Dollar stores to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in their products and provide customers with healthier locally grown food options in intentionally food-deprived areas; as well as the genesis and early campaigns of the Just Transition Alliance.  Jose also talked about the lives of his parents as farmworkers, his childhood growing up in and around San Diego, and his early years of student activism and organizing including countering the anti-immigration forces in the 1980s. This work led to his joining the Environmental Health Coalition and working on their Toxic Free Neighborhoods project in Barrio Logan including the campaign to stop the pollution of surrounding areas with methyl bromide from the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal.  Jose also attended the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington DC in October 1991.Jose describes the life cycle of chemicals from production, to use and disposal – all of which contribute to pollution and health impacts in overburdened communities; and the ways that non-pollution factors including lack of health care, inadequate housing, and police brutality contribute to environmental injustice.  In the course of our conversation, Jose referenced two of his friends and colleagues, Luke Cole, co-founder of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, and Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director of WE ACT, both tremendously important environmental justice leaders.
Interview with Ken Geiser, founder of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute
Dec 14 2021
Interview with Ken Geiser, founder of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute
Throughout his career of teaching, writing and organizing, Ken Geiser has been one of the most important theoreticians of the Toxics movement, as well as a Johnny Appleseed, having a hand in the creation, development and sustenance of more than two dozen organizations, while mentoring many other Toxic Avengers.Among many accomplishments, Ken was one of the authors of the landmark Toxics Use Reduction Act in Massachusetts. Ken served as the Director of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute from 1990 to 2003 and in 2001 published his first book, “Materials Matter,” while teaching as a professor of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.I spoke with Ken from his farmhouse in Maine. In the interview, Ken offers a couple of stage-setting stories about his childhood in Scottsdale, Arizona and early experiences as an undergrad studying architecture at U.C. Berkeley. He describes the parallel paths of his graduate studies at MIT and his work organizing to protect neighborhoods from highway projects and waste dumps, to the creation of the National Toxics Campaign with John O’Connor. Key events discussed in Ken’s evolution of understanding and engagement in the Toxics movement include the contaminated drinking water in Woburn, Massachusetts, the fight over a PCB dump in Warren County, North Carolina, and the death of thousands caused by the gas leak from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.Ken describes the process leading to the passage of the Toxics Use Reduction Act in 1989, and his work following the law’s enactment, including his leadership of the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI). He recounts some of his extensive work with colleagues and allies across the country, building organizations to tackle various aspects of the Toxic Chemicals problem.