Category Archives: Chemicals

West Chester’s Goose Creek fire of 1931

In the recent Earth Day commemorations, commentators mentioned the infamous 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, which although hardly the first time the chemically-polluted surface of that river in Cleveland caught fire, was strategically timed to dramatize environmental efforts building at that time toward the first Earth Day the next year.

West Chester had its own river fire and environmental 9/11 89 years ago. Goose Creek, which flows through the east side of West Chester on its way to the Delaware River, caught fire on September 11, 1931. According to research by Professor Jim Jones in 2006,

“A road paving company stored tar and other flammable materials in tanks near the creek at Union Street. One tank leaked, and some neighborhood boys accidentally set fire to the resulting oil slick near the Nields Street bridge. The fire spread upstream along the creek and burned down fences and sheds belonging to the houses on Franklin Street. The heat destroyed the Lacey Street bridge and the flames ignited the tanks at Union Street. The fire burned for three hours and closed down the railroad. No one was killed, but several were injured when the crowd of onlookers panicked and began to run.”

Daily Local News coverage of the fire compiled by Professor Jones (download it here) says, in the dramatic language of the period:

“Confronted by a roaring fury of flames and enveloped in billowing clouds of dense black smoke, fear-stricken householders, property owners and volunteer firemen from every end of town and every walk of life, battled into submission one of the most spectacular and dangerous fires in the history of the borough.”

Jim comments that “I was part of the annual Goose Creek cleanups for a lot of years. In the first year Goose Creek still seemed pretty dead, but I remember seeing our first fish a year or two later, and then seeing larger fish each year after that. At the same time, the amount of trash that we collected went down, leading to the formula ‘Trash weight down = fish weight up.'”

Yes, streams like Goose Creek are a lot cleaner now, thanks to initiatives begun in the 1960s and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) enacted on 1/1/70. Only continued efforts, in West Chester and elsewhere, to keep such programs viable will continue protecting environmental and human health and safety.

Home Depot, Lowe’s, and more remove harmful phthalates from flooring products



Success! – Home improvement retailers follow through on commitments to remove phthalates from flooring. The environmental organization Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) celebrates this recent win in the reduction of phthalate use in home remodeling products. In 2015, SCHF secured commitments from home remodeling stores Home Depot, Lowe’s, Lumber Liquidators, and Menards to eliminate added phthalates from flooring. But first – what are phthalates and why are we concerned about them?

Phthalates are a class of chemical compounds commonly used in home flooring, along with plastic containers, cosmetics, and other personal care products. Phthalates are so widely used that they have made their way into our bodies. Once phthalates are inside the body, they break down into metabolites and pass through. The CDC and FDA have not said outright that these chemicals are harmful to us, although many are concerned that prolonged exposure may cause adverse health effects.

This is why SCHF started a collaboration with the Ecology Center, the Environmental Health Strategy Center, and Healthy Building Network, to reduce phthalates in popular home remodeling products. Tile samples recently taken from Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Lumber Liquidators, show no measurable amounts of phthalates – that’s great!

Nowadays, you can’t escape manufactured chemicals – they surround us everywhere we go, they’re in our homes, our food and water, and ultimately in our own bodies. So let’s applaud these stores that are reducing their contribution of chemicals to the environment! Please see SCHF’s full article and visit their site to learn more about minimizing your exposure to chemicals.