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State rewrites textbook chapter influenced by plastics industry

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Under pressure from politicians and environmental groups, California’s environmental agency has rewritten a chapter in a statewide K-12 curriculum on plastic bags that was influenced by the chemical and plastics industry.

The new chapter, which was posted today for review, no longer includes a section titled, “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags,” and it incorporates more recent and relevant recycling statistics.

The public can weigh in during the next 30 days on the revised chapter [PDF] by visiting the website for the state Environmental Protection Agency's "education and the environment initiative."

"We continue to support Cal/EPA's ongoing efforts to transparently enhance the state's education and environment initiative, including through this most recent public-comment process," said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council. 

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Last summer, a California Watch investigation showed whole sections of the 11th-grade teachers’ edition guide for the new curriculum had been lifted almost verbatim from comments submitted by the American Chemistry Council.

After the investigation was published, state schools chief Tom Torlakson issued a statement saying his office would work with Cal/EPA to examine the material and identify areas “where further review may be warranted.”

State Sen. Fran PavleyD-Agoura Hills, also called for an investigation, and Cal/EPA issued a statement saying they would review the chapter.

"I am grateful for CalEPA's work and allowing a public process for review," Pavley said in a statement today. "I am pleased to see the EEI curriculum is staying true to the mission of providing educational materials that are factual, unbiased, academically appropriate and rigorous."

A Santa Cruz school librarian started a petition to have the chemical industry's influence removed from the curriculum. To date, she has garnered more than 30,000 signatures.

"Our concern always with the curriculum was to ensure integrity and accuracy," said Bryan Ehlers, Cal/EPA's assistant secretary for education and quality programs. "We went back and looked at the whole unit and really picked through it with a fine-tooth comb."

The revised chapter incorporates 33 changes, including deletions, additions and changes in the text.

For instance, a question in the teachers’ guide that was originally phrased: “What are the advantages of using plastic shopping bags?” now reads: “What factors have contributed to the consumption of plastic shopping bags?”

In another section, in which the original text had used recycling statistics offered by the American Chemistry Council, indicating a 12 percent rate of recycling for plastic shopping bags, the new text notes recycling rates of plastic shopping bags are largely unknown. It also shows state estimates, which hover closer to 3 percent.

"You can see from what we've released – particularly given that so much of it was written years ago – that we've updated a few statistics and made a few tweaks to make certain there is no bias. That certainly was never our intent," Ehlers said.

He said that while reviewing the text, his office made sure not to begin biasing it in "the other direction."

Mark Murray, executive director of the Sacramento-based Californians Against Waste, said he was "pleased with the changes."

"They are more evenhanded and honest with regards to plastic bag waste," he said.

Filed under: Environment, Daily Report

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