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By Daniel Lewis, Product Manager

On June 2, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposal to set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants in the United States. As part of this proposal, the EPA issued a fact sheet on how the new rule would improve the health of all Americans. Specifically, the fact sheet estimated that there would be 3,700 fewer cases of bronchitis; 150,000 fewer asthma attacks in children; 3,300 fewer heart attacks; and an estimated 310,000 fewer lost work days. With this recent EPA proposal in mind, we decided to look at our History Vault product to see what historical documentation we could find on the health effects of pollution.

The ProQuest History Vault module, American Politics and Society from Kennedy to Watergate, contains two EPA collections: Records on the Health and Ecological Effects of Pollution, 1971-1977; and Records on Automobile Emissions Standards.

The EPA came into existence in December 1970 as a result of a proposal by President Richard Nixon, during a period in which there was more awareness of the dangers that pollution posed to the planet and to human health. Environmental Protection Agency: Records on the Health and Ecological Effects of Pollution documents the major environmental concerns of the 1970s and gives researchers an opportunity to assess the amount of progress made in combating air, soil, and water pollution since the 1970s. The collection consists of internal EPA correspondence, research studies, and correspondence with businesses and the general public about the health and ecological effects of pollution.

Major topics pertaining to air pollution include emissions from automobiles, problems with catalytic converters, exhaust from diesel engines, asbestos, industrial plant emissions, acid rain, and even tobacco smoke. Topics relating to water and soil pollution include water quality in the nation’s rivers and lakes, the impact of coal mining on rivers, dumping of sewage sludge into rivers and lakes, and health and environmental problems caused by pesticides.

Some of the most interesting documents in the collection consist of letters reporting on health problems encountered by the general public. In March 1976, for example, Daniel W. Hannan, the Safety and Health Representative of the United Steelworkers of America, wrote about “some startling information and alarming statistics” for the population of Clairton, Pennsylvania. Hannan wrote about one Clairton church that, of its approximately 200 members, 78 members were widows, most of whom had husbands that worked at the Clairton Works. In the first two months of 1976, 17 church members had died, 15 of them from cancer.

Several angry letters from residents of Hopewell, Virginia, cover the kepone contamination caused by the Life Science Products Company in 1975 and 1976. A fact sheet produced by the EPA on this incident spells out the basic details of the case. In mid-1975, 28 workers at the Life Science Products Company (LSPC) were hospitalized due to massive exposure to kepone. Shortly thereafter, the EPA conducted tests on humans and in the environment to determine the level of kepone contamination. Kepone was found in the blood of all 28 hospitalized workers as well as in the blood of 25 percent of the residents of Hopewell. The EPA also found that the James River, fish and shellfish in the James River, sediment and soil in the area, and the air within 200 yards of the factory, were contaminated with high levels of kepone.

In August 1975, the EPA ordered LSPC to stop the sale or use of kepone. A March 1976 letter from EPA Assistant Administrator Wilson K. Talley (photo, above) to U.S. Senator Charles Mathias Jr. notes that the EPA forwarded a criminal referral to the United States Attorney in December 1975 for violation of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and that a grand jury had been impaneled in Richmond, Virginia, to investigate contamination in Hopewell.

In January 1977, Therese M. Halas wrote to EPA Administrator Russell E. Train, expressing her concerns about catalytic converters. Halas had recently purchased a 1977 Buick Skylark, but in the first five weeks after her purchase, Halas needed to take the car in for service three times. The car’s performance issues were only a minor problem compared to the more serious health issue she wrote about: “My nine-year-old has encountered headaches and coughing spells, concomitant with riding in this vehicle. Although he has no history of respiratory problems, the boy’s allergist has mandated he frequent the vehicle as little as possible and seems to find it plausible that Steve’s increased sensitivity is merely a harbinger of nationwide problems which EPA, public health services, and doctors at large will encounter with increasing frequency in the years ahead.” Halas concluded: “It seems to me that the U.S. bureaucracy has shown incredible ineptness in this entire matter in creating a situation where it is impossible to purchase an automobile without creating a health hazard to my own family."

These examples are just a small sampling of the many interesting topics that researchers will find in the Environmental Protection Agency: Records on the Health and Ecological Effects of Pollution collection, within the ProQuest History Vault module American Politics and Society from Kennedy to Watergate.

Librarians: learn more and sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault modules. Plus, learn about complementary resources, including ProQuest Executive Branch Documents, new ProQuest Executive Orders and Presidential Proclamations 1789-2014 (releasing soon), and ProQuest Digital U.S. Bills and Resolutions 1789-Present.

26 Sep 2014

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