The banning of the ban of single-use plastic bags

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

Here is interesting commentary on the (temporarily anyway) banning of the banning of single-use plastic bags, an ordinance proposed by our Environmental Advisory Council and point person Beth Behrend that Gadfly reported on a few weeks ago.

Wait till next year, Beth!

Greg Vitali, “Your View: How a state senator blocked Pennsylvania bans on plastic bags.” Morning Call, August 14, 2019.

In the final days of budget negotiations, a powerful state senator quietly inserted language in a budget related bill that would prevent Pennsylvania from regulating single use plastic bags.

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) inserted a provision in the fiscal code that would prohibit the commonwealth and its municipalities from regulating single-use plastic bags and other containers for one year — ostensibly to allow more time to study the issue.

Sen. Corman’s district includes a single-use plastic bag manufacturing plant — Hilex Poly in Milesburg, Centre County. This plant is owned by Novolex, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of single-use plastic bags. Novolex has lobbied against plastic bag regulation in other states.

Given the backdrop of these national, state and municipal plastic bag programs, Corman’s assertion that another year of study is needed before Pennsylvania or its municipalities should consider enacting plastic bag regulations lacks plausibility. To the contrary, Corman’s actions are consistent with a continuing, parochial effort to protect the Novolex plastic bag manufacturing plant in his district.

Legislation to prevent plastic bag regulation has been opposed by most Pennsylvania municipal associations, including the Pennsylvania Municipal League, The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs. Local governments want the tools of plastic-bag fees and bans to help them deal with local problems such as litter, the clogging of storm drains and sewers, and the stressing of landfills.

Much-needed plastic bag regulations will be prevented or delayed because our elected officials in Harrisburg have allowed the actions of one powerful senator to carry the day.

Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan on the move

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

“There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil.
The triumph of anything is a matter of organization.”
(Kurt Vonnegut)

Councilman Reynolds has been the main driver in the formation of a local Climate Action Plan, dating back to his “Bethlehem 2017” report, which can be found linked on the Gadfly sidebar.

Here we are two years later, and Gadfly was pleased to attend the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) meeting last night at Illick’s Mill at which members discussed proposals from four organizations to write a plan for the City.

The EAC is chaired by Lynn Rothman, and the members are Elizabeth Behrend, Elisabeth Cichonski, Kathy Fox, Brian Hillard, Brian Nicas, and Mike Topping. Nine other members of the public were also present.

As explained by chair Rothman, the EAC had input into the call for proposals and now was invited to make recommendations before the City made the final decision and awarded a contract to one of the bidders. The City has allocated funds for the project to begin this year, and it sounded to Gadfly that the project would take about a year to complete.

Next year we could have a Climate Action Plan!

Each of the four proposals was lengthy and densely packed with information. EAC members reviewed them beforehand and discussed them one-by-one at the meeting.

Gadfly is always proudly pleased to show our non-tax dollars profitably at work. Here to give you a taste of the meeting is the final section in which Council members ranked the proposals for their recommendation to the City. Most interesting in the later portion of this clip is a discussion of attention to underserved populations.

Nicely done!

It’s Friday, August 9, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

Climate Action Plan taking a big step

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

Hey, speakin’ of the Environmental Advisory Council and the Climate Action Plan:

NOTICE is hereby given that the Bethlehem Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) will conduct a special meeting on Thursday, August 8, 2019, at 6:30 PM, at Illick’s Mill, 100 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem PA 18018. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss and make any pertinent recommendations to the City regarding proposals from four environmental consulting firms to write a Climate Action Plan for the City of Bethlehem. 

This is a public meeting and all interested parties may attend and be heard. Rescheduled or special meetings will be advertised in compliance with the Act of July 3, 1986, P.L. 84. Information about the EAC is available on the City of Bethlehem’s website at, under Authorities & Boards.

Elisabeth Cichonski

Secretary, EAC

It is still Wednesday, August 7, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

The Environmental Advisory Council recommendations on the Polk Street Garage

(The latest in a series of posts relating to parking, the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

The good ol’ Environmental Advisory Council (EAC). Love ’em!

Always a step ahead.

Look at this July 29 letter to the Bethlehem Parking Authority about the design of the Polk Street Garage (be sure to note the interesting photos):

EAC to Parking.Authority

The EAC has recommendations concerning electric vehicle charging stations, solar panels, stormwater management, tree replacement, and car idling impact.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Gadfly expressed concern about in a post yesterday when he said, “Gadfly is wondering, for instance, how the garage fits in with any related City goals — like walkability or Climate Action or whatever.”

Gadfly worries that the BPA works independently.

He hopes that the Polk Street Garage design will have plenty of public review as well as the routine technical scrutiny from the City departments.

He is not sure what “power” the EAC has, but you would think the City would be under great pressure to make sure the BPA follows such recommendations.

If we are serious about a Climate Action Plan, such recommendations must be followed.

It’s Wednesday, August 7, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

West Bethlehem residents are at 4 or more times the risk of developing cancer

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

This disturbing article escaped Gadfly’s attention till a member of the “Next Door” blog posted:

West Bethlehem residents are at 4 or more times the risk of developing cancer as a result of ethylene oxide pollution from B. Braun’s plant in Hanover township. I, for one, am very concerned about this news and risk. Has anyone brought this up to city council or our state reps?

Binghui Huang, “EPA raises concern about elevated cancer risk for people living around B. Braun plant near Allentown.” Morning Call, July 20, 2019.

A medical device company suspended operations in a Chicago suburb for most of this year after mounting community pressure prompted the state to order the facility to stop releasing a carcinogenic chemical into the air.

But more than 700 miles to the east, a Lehigh Valley medical device company hasn’t faced the same pressure to stop emitting the chemical — ethylene oxide — even though it released about 50% more of the chemical than the Sterigenics plant outside Chicago in 2016, the latest year with EPA emission data for both companies.

B. Braun, a German medical and pharmaceutical device company with a plant in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, by Lehigh Valley International Airport, is the 12th biggest polluter of ethylene oxide nationwide, according to EPA’s latest cancer-causing pollution data. Ethylene oxide, a gas commonly used to sterilize medical equipment, is linked to breast cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, among others.Braun has broken no laws in its ethylene oxide emissions, which from 2008 to 2015 increased from about 1,900 pounds to 7,600 pounds, according to EPA data. The company is permitted to release up to 20,000 pounds of the gas per year, said Colleen Connolly, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Since 2015, B. Braun’s emissions have decreased each year to 4,660 pounds in 2018, according to the company and the EPA.

The EPA says there may be an elevated health risk in areas where the possibility of getting cancer from breathing the polluted air over a lifetime is greater than 1 in 10,000 people. The agency applies that standard when determining which facilities need to reduce emissions. On July 10, the EPA contacted the DEP with its concerns about ethylene oxide emissions from B. Braun, Connolly said. DEP likely will inspect the facility in the coming weeks, including reviewing possible ethylene oxide leaks, she added.

In 2014, the data show that B. Braun accounted for 92% of all of Pennsylvania’s ethylene oxide emissions, putting more than 41,000 residents near its plant at a higher risk of developing cancer under the federal standard.

“B. Braun’s highest priority is the health and safety of our employees, our community, and millions of patients who depend on our medical products,” he said in a prepared statement. “We would not operate our facility if we believed our operations created an unsafe environment for our employees or our neighbors.”

One Hanover Township neighborhood immediately surrounding the airport — bordered to the west by the Lehigh River and to the east by Schoenersville Road, and including Route 22 — has a cancer risk from ethylene oxide that is greater than 200 times that of the state average risk, which is 2.4 per 1 million people. Nationally, that ratio is 1.3 in 1 million.

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, said last week she will ask the CDC to study the effects of ethylene oxide pollution on Lehigh Valley residents.

Braun’s manufacturing plant is in an industrial area, but just down the block from Hanover Township’s Allendale neighborhood, with townhouses, a playground and a dog park.

Unlike the situation with B. Braun, which has brought no public outcry, emissions from the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, Illinois, had people up in arms.

Gadfly gathers that data shows that air quality in Bethlehem is not good. For some odd reason Gadfy remembers that a speaker at the Martin Tower evening meeting at Nitschmann asked our Health Director why. If memory serves, she said, somewhat fatalistically, that we are in a valley. Didn’t seem like a good answer.

But we certainly don’t need this “present” to add to the mix.

It’s Thursday, August 1, do you know where your local Climate Action Plan is?

The City needs to improve recycling effort in food-service area

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)

Peter Crownfield is officially retired but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.


As Dana points out, quite a few local businesses are taking steps to be more sustainable, and it is definitely worth letting them know you appreciate it. In the case of serveware & packaging, it does increase their costs somewhat. When government does not act, less-responsible businesses may get a competitive edge.

“Biodegradable” take-away containers, utensils, plates, & cups are far better than the styrene and polypropylene they replace, largely because they reduce the horrible environmental health hazards associated with their manufacture. However, since local cities do not provide a way for the [items] to actually be composted, most of them wind up in the landfill anyway—and under those conditions, they can take hundreds of years to break down. The city should provide composting for food waste and compostable food-service products.

While we’re on this subject, it’s worth pointing out that the city still does not provide on-street recycling in the downtown areas and does not even require all food-service establishments to provide effective recycling in ways that encourage their customers to recycle.


Voluntary action by business owners is an excellent step

(The latest in a series of posts relating to the environment, Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan, and Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council)


Many local businesses are already taking steps by using bio-degradable take-away containers and brown paper bags, which can be recycled with flat board (non-corrugated cardboard that tears brown and grey). Voluntary action by business owners is an excellent step, and CM Reynolds is spot on about going different routes to circumvent the state legislation.

I always thank a business for taking these steps so that they know that I appreciate their efforts and its impact on the environment.