NEMS News December 2013



NEMS News/Earth Day Planning
Danita Broadnax
NEMS Coordinator
Terry Leland

Environmental Justice at HHS

Environmental justice (EJ) is an important component of environmental public health that includes not just the identification of environmental health disparities, but also research and policy changes. These policy changes attempt to address ongoing grievances and injustices related to specific environmental exposures. The development and implementation of the first DHHS EJ strategy was in 1995. There has been progress made in identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse environmental exposures among low-income populations and Indian tribes. The end goal of EJ is a clean and healthy environment for everyone regardless of socioeconomic status.

You can learn more about EJ at HHS by reading the recently released 2013 HHS Environmental Implementation Report at

According to the report:

“The HHS mission is to enhance the health and well-being of Americans by providing for effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services. HHS is the U.S. government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. The 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan recognizes the impact of environmental factors on health and well-being. The HHS vision for environmental justice is a nation that equitably promotes healthy community environments and protects the health of all people.”

The Environmental Protection Agency helps to implement EJ throughout our government. The EPA’s description of EJ is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environmental in which to live, learn, and work.

The EPA hosted a 20th Anniversary EJ Video series. Here are links to some of the videos:

Susana Almanza 

Sue Briggum


Beware of Ghost of Christmas Past - Asbestos

Before crawling into your attic to retrieve those Christmas decorations beware of potential asbestos hazards. Attic insulation used in older homes may be made of asbestos or vermiculite, which often contained asbestos. About 30 million homes in the U.S. still have attics with vermiculite insulation. The decorations stored in attics from past celebrations may also be tainted, and not just by contamination from attic insulation. Why?

In 1928 a fire fighter wrote an article recommending the use of asbestos and mica as artificial snow because the cotton batting based products in use then were flammable. Throughout the 1920s and 30s artificial snow made from asbestos was widely sold and marketed under many different brand names. See the collection of photos of these products on Flicker at this link:

In the poppy field scene of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz the snow used on the set was chrysotile, the white form of asbestos. When Christmas tree “flocking” became popular in the 1940’s and 50s much of the fake snow used for flocking trees and decorations contained asbestos. This practice apparently continued into the 1970’s and 80s. Christmas tree workers frequently inhaled and ingested deadly asbestos fibers on the job, later resulting in many claims for mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases. The workers also brought asbestos fibers home on their work clothes exposing family members to second hand asbestos. Fake snow was also sold directly to the public in boxes or aerosol cans for home applications.

A common misconception is that these and most other uses of asbestos in consumer products have been banned. Today fake snow is made without asbestos but it has been reported that snow sprays containing asbestos can still be found in rare instances. Today’s asbestos free formulations may contain other chemicals of concern as propellants, solvents and flame retardants. Be an informed consumer and check the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or Product Safety Data Sheet (PSDS) for product safety information. Or opt out of an artificially white holiday celebration and just let it snow!


Upcoming Meetings and Events

Sustainability Management Team

Wednesday, December 18, 2014, 9:30 am – 10:30 am

Building 31, 6C/Room 7

  • NEMS Webpage User Data and Content Updates
  • NEMS Audit for 2014

Greenteam Leads Council Meeting and the Sustainable Labs Practices Working Group

Wednesday, December 18, 2013, 1:30 - 2:30 pm

Building 31, 6C/Room 7

  • NEMS, SMT, Earth Day, Green Labs, and Recycling Updates
  • Open Forum:  Greening Intramural Research at NIH


  • Earth Day will be on Thursday, April 24, 2014 coordinating with Take Your Child To Work Day.
  • Planning for Earth Day 2014 will be early in the year, starting in February.