Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
I think that it’s odd that we Americans allow the poisoning of our own food supply. Tom Philpott in Mother Jones:
Last week, the European Commission voted to place a two-year moratorium on most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides, on the suspicion that they’re contributing to the global crisis in honeybee health (a topic I’ve touched on here, here, here, and here). Since then, several people have asked me whether the Europe’s move might inspire the US Environmental Protection Agency to make a similar move—currently, neonics are widely used in several of our most prevalent crops, including corn, soy, cotton, and wheat.
The answer is no. As I reported recently, an agency press officer told me the EU move will have no bearing on the EPA’s own review of the pesticides, which aren’t scheduled for release until 2016 at the earliest.
All of which got me thinking about other food-related substances and practices that are banned in Europe but green-lighted here. Turns out there are lots. Aren’t you glad you don’t live under the Old World regulatory jackboot, where the authorities deny people’s freedom to quaff to atrazine-laced drinking water, etc., etc.? Let me know in comments if I’m missing any.
Why it’s a problem: A “potent endocrine disruptor,” Syngenta’s popular corn herbicide has been linked to range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibiansand humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people’s drinking water.
What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.
US status: EPA: “Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA’s periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013.”
2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed
Why it’s a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn’t harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and its also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.
What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds “were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries.”
US status: The drug giant Pfizer “voluntarily” stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.
3. . .
And where is the FDA in this? Laura Fraser reports at OnEarth.org:
You probably wouldn’t expect to find pesticides in your toothpaste or your gym socks, but they might be in there all the same. And the vast majority of those pesticides have made it into everyday products without adequate oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because they’ve been approved through a bureaucratic loophole known as “conditional registration,” which means they haven’t been fully tested to ensure that they pose no threat to human health or the environment, as required by U.S. law.
Most of us think of pesticides as the chemicals that get sprayed on weeds or used to kill rodents and bugs, but they’re actually found in everything from cosmetics to food containers, as well as antimicrobial textiles (such as the exercise shirt you might have worn to the gym this morning). By killing bacteria and other microorganisms, pesticides can help clothes resist stains or help containers keep food fresh longer. But some have also proven to cause health concerns in humans, kill trees, birds, bees, and fish, or do other unintended harm to the environment.
The EPA has been responsible for registering pesticides since 1972, and during that time, 90,000 have been allowed on the market. A significant number of those — just over 25,000, according to the EPA — were initially approved through the conditional registration process. An internal report by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs shows that of the more than 16,000 pesticides allowed on the market as of 2010, about 11,000 of them were conditionally registered. Because of the agency’s poor record-keeping and flawed procedures, it remains unclear how many of these conditionally registered pesticides have ever gone through the full gamut of safety testing required by law.
“The dirty little secret of the EPA is that almost every pesticide gets put on the market while the agency is looking the other way,” says Michael Hansen, a senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. “That’s not good for consumers, and it’s not the intent of the regulations.”
By law, in order to register and sell a pesticide, companies are supposed to go through a process than can last several years; it includes public comment, reviews of scientific studies, and evaluations by the agency’s in-house science experts. The fast-track conditional registration process was intended to be used only under rare circumstances — when a product is nearly identical to one already on the market, for instance, or when the EPA needs to approve a new pesticide immediately to prevent a disease outbreak or other public health emergency (a new treatment for bedbugs, for example).
No one knew the extent to which the EPA had been abusing the conditional registration rules until 2008, when the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) began asking questions about why nanosilver, an antimicrobial made of extremely tiny bits of silver and used to kill bacteria in products such as athletic gear and baby blankets, had been granted conditional registration.
That year, Swiss manufacturer HeiQ had applied to the EPA for permission to use nanosilver in textiles, including clothing and bedsheets. NRDC scientists were concerned that nanosilver might be more toxic than regular silver — which is not very harmful to humans, but toxic and persistent in aquatic environments — because its tiny size allows it to travel into cells, organs, and blood, with potentially dangerous, but poorly understood, health effects. A 2010 internal EPA report on nanosilver notes: “the same property that makes it lethal to bacteria may render it toxic to human cells.”
“Until we understand the risks of nanosilver, we really shouldn’t be wearing it in our clothing and bedding,” says NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass. Chemist Martin Mulvihill, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Brain Chemistry, agrees that more studies are needed, especially because nanosilver is widely used in consumer products. The effects of nanosilver on human health are not well understood, “which is not to say there are no concerns,” says Mulvihill, who adds, “It’s very clear silver is bad for the environment.” Silver bioaccumulates and is toxic to single-celled organisms and aquatic invertebrates; a 2010 study found that runoff containing silver particles dramatically reduced the reproductive capabilities of mollusks in San Francisco Bay. Products like nanosilver washing machines, which kill bacteria with nanosilver ions embedded in the machinery, could also damage water organisms with their runoff.
“Do I really need nanosilver in my jeans or Tupperware?” Mulvihill asks. “I don’t think so. I can just wash them.”
In response to HeiQ’s 2008 request to use nanosilver, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel recognized that the effects of nanosilver are different from regular silver. The panel said its regulations would require the company to produce numerous studies on the specific health effects of nanosilver before it could be registered for use as a pesticide.
Then the agency went ahead and allowed the company to use nanosilver in its products anyway. . . .
Read it and see what you think. It’s a McClatchy article by Greg Gordon:
In a U.S. patent application, a little-known Maryland inventor claims a stunning solar energy breakthrough that promises to end the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels at a fraction of the current cost – a transformation that also could blunt global warming.
Inventor Ronald Ace said that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which can be mounted on rooftops or used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative.
“This is a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery,” Ace said. “This invention can meet about 92 percent of the world’s energy needs.”
His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology.
Ace said he is arranging for a national energy laboratory to review his calculations and that his own crude prototypes already have demonstrated that the basic physics for the invention work.
If the trap even comes close to meeting his futuristic vision, its impact could be breathtaking: It could reorder the world’s energy landscape, end the global economic drag of soaring energy costs, and eventually curb greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change.
That all might sound rather rosy, since the previously undisclosed invention has yet to be constructed and fully tested. But John Darnell, a scientist and the former congressional aide who has monitored Ace’s dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations, has no doubts.
“Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he’s proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: ‘Oh, well it’s obvious it’ll work,’” said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics.
“Ron has turned conventional wisdom about solar on its head,” he said. “He thinks outside the box.” . . .
Continue reading. There’s more detail at the link.
Of course, the invisible hand of the market will fix this problem, leading (for example) pesticide manufacturers to cut back on the total load of toxins released into the environment. Or maybe this is a job for strict government regulation and enforcement.
In the meantime, why isn’t the EPA and FDA and the Dept of Agriculture jumping up and down with hair on fire to solve the problem? (Rhetorical question, since it’s clear that these agencies tend to be controlled by the industries they are to regulate, and those industries don’t want the problem solved.)
Nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the United States died or disappeared last winter, an unsustainable decline that threatens the nation’s food supply.
Multiple factors — pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition — are believed to cause the losses, which were officially announced today by a consortium of academic researchers, beekeepers and Department of Agriculture scientists.
“We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.
Beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013, roughly double what’s considered acceptable attrition through natural causes. The losses are in keeping with rates documented since 2006, when beekeeper concerns prompted the first nationwide survey of honeybee health. Hopes raised by drop in rates of loss to 22 percent in 2011-2012 were wiped out by the new numbers.
The honeybee shortage nearly came to a head in March in California, when there were barely enough bees to pollinate the almond crop.
Had the weather not been ideal, the almonds would have gone unpollinated — a taste, as it were, of a future in which honeybee problems are not solved.
“If we want to grow fruits and nuts and berries, this is important,” said vanEngelstorp. “One in every three bites [of food consumed in the U.S.] is directly or indirectly pollinated by bees.” . . .
From TomDispatch, an interesting post by Ellen Canterow:
Gary Judson had just been removed from his shackles when they slapped the handcuffs on him. The 72-year-old Methodist minister had chained himself to the fence surrounding a compressor station — part of the critical infrastructure associated with hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking — a stone’s throw from Seneca Lake in upstate New York. The sheriff and his deputies freed him only to arrest him for trespassing.
“They don’t have the right to do this — to put the lake in jeopardy. We’ll all end up paying for their mess,” Judson told a small group of supporters on hand to witness his act of civil disobedience. The “this” he was protesting, Sandra Steingraber recounts in a recent issue of Orion magazine, was the plan of Missouri-based Inergy Midstream to turn abandoned salt caverns beneath the lake’s shores into storage areas for millions of barrels of natural gas piped in from Pennsylvania’s fracking fields. “Inergy has been in violation of the Clean Water Act at this facility every single quarter for the past three years,” Judson said. “Since 1972, there have been fourteen catastrophic failures at gas storage facilities. Each one of them has been at a salt cavern.” A “failure” at Seneca Lake could be particularly catastrophic because, Steingraber writes, it provides the drinking water for 100,000 people. (Last month, Steingraber was jailed for 15 days for her own act of civil disobedience against Inergy.)
In Pennsylvania, where gas is currently being forced out of the shale rock in which it’s resided for millions of years, “failures” are already an everyday affair, as TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow reports in the latest in her series of articles from fracking’s front lines. Once upon a time, coal miners, tunnel workers, and “radium girls” faced the horrors of their dangerous trades in seclusion, deep below ground, inside mountains, or hidden behind factory walls. They worked and died unseen and unheard.
Today, industrial safety issues have come home — literally. Toxic chemicals aren’t just reserved for Superfund sites; they are increasingly in our houses, our water, and our food. When something goes wrong at a fertilizer plant, it doesn’t just mean workers are in danger any more, but also — as in the case of the town of West, Texas — a nursing home, a school, an apartment complex, and five blocks of residences in a small town. As Cantarow writes, Pennsylvania farming communities are being turned into huge, open-air laboratories by energy companies eager to make North America a twenty-first-century Saudi Arabia, with ordinary people serving as its guinea pigs. And those people are paying a heavy price: mystery illnesses, dead animals, polluted water, land made worthless, and the loss of a way of life. In the midst of this new hell, however, there’s also hope. Like Gary Judson in New York, Pennsylvanians are speaking up, organizing, and doing what they can in the face of long odds and tough times. Nick Turse
Fracking Ourselves to Death in Pennsylvania
By Ellen Cantarow
More than 70 years ago, a chemical attack was launched against Washington State and Nevada. It poisoned people, animals, everything that grew, breathed air, and drank water. The Marshall Islands were also struck. This formerly pristine Pacific atoll was branded “the most contaminated place in the world.” As their cancers developed, the victims of atomic testing and nuclear weapons development got a name: downwinders. What marked their tragedy was the darkness in which they were kept about what was being done to them. Proof of harm fell to them, not to the U.S. government agencies responsible.
Now, a new generation of downwinders is getting sick as an emerging industry pushes the next wonder technology — in this case, high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Whether they live in Texas, Colorado, or Pennsylvania, their symptoms are the same: rashes, nosebleeds, severe headaches, difficulty breathing, joint pain, intestinal illnesses, memory loss, and more. “In my opinion,” says Yuri Gorby of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “what we see unfolding is a serious health crisis, one that is just beginning.”
The process of “fracking” starts by drilling a mile or more vertically, then outward laterally into 500-million-year-old shale formations, the remains of oceans that once flowed over parts of North America. Millions of gallons of chemical and sand-laced water are then propelled into the ground at high pressures, fracturing the shale and forcing the methane it contains out. With the release of that gas come thousands of gallons of contaminated water. This “flowback” fluid contains the original fracking chemicals, plus heavy metals and radioactive material that also lay safely buried in the shale.
The industry that uses this technology calls its product “natural gas,” but there’s nothing natural about up-ending half a billion years of safe storage of methane and everything that surrounds it. It is, in fact, an act of ecological violence around which alien infrastructures — compressor stations that compact the gas for pipeline transport, ponds of contaminated flowback, flare stacks that burn off gas impurities, diesel trucks in quantity, thousands of miles of pipelines, and more — have metastasized across rural America, pumping carcinogens and toxins into water, air, and soil.
Sixty percent of Pennsylvania lies over a huge shale sprawl called the Marcellus, and that has been in the fracking industry’s sights since 2008. The corporations that are exploiting the shale come to the state with lavish federal entitlements: exemptions from the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Clean Drinking Water Acts, as well as the Superfund Act, which requires cleanup of hazardous substances. The industry doesn’t have to call its trillions of gallons of annual waste “hazardous.” Instead, it uses euphemisms like “residual waste.” In addition, fracking companies are allowed to keep secret many of the chemicals they use.
Pennsylvania, in turn, adds its own privileges. A revolving door shuttles former legislators, governors, and officials from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) into gas industry positions. The DEP itself is now the object of a lawsuit that charges the agency with producing deceptive lab reports, and then using them to dismiss homeowners’ complaints that shale gas corporations have contaminated their water, making them sick. The people I interviewed have their own nickname for the DEP: “Don’t Expect Protection.”
Randy Moyer is a pleasant-faced, bearded 49-year-old whose drawl reminds you that Portage, his hardscrabble hometown in southwestern Pennsylvania, is part of Appalachia. He worked 18 years — until gasoline prices got too steep — driving his own rigs to haul waste in New York and New Jersey. Then what looked like a great opportunity presented itself: $25 an hour working for a hydraulic-fracturing subcontractor in northeastern Pennsylvania.
In addition to hauling fracking liquid, water, and waste, Randy also did what’s called, with no irony, “environmental.” He climbed into large vats to squeegee out the remains of fracking fluid. He also cleaned the huge mats laid down around the wells to even the ground out for truck traffic. Those mats get saturated with “drilling mud,” a viscous, chemical-laden fluid that eases the passage of the drills into the shale. What his employer never told him was that the drilling mud, as well as the wastewater from fracking, is not only highly toxic, but radioactive.
In the wee hours of a very cold day in November 2011, he stood in a huge basin at a well site, washing 1,000 mats with high-pressure hoses, taking breaks every so often to warm his feet in his truck. “I took off my shoes and my feet were as red as a tomato,” he told me. When the air from the heater hit them, he “nearly went through the roof.”
Once at home, he scrubbed his feet, but the excruciating pain didn’t abate. A “rash” that covered his feet soon spread up to his torso. A year and a half later, the skin inflammation still recurs. His upper lip repeatedly swells. A couple of times his tongue swelled so large that he had press it down with a spoon to be able to breathe. “I’ve been fried for over 13 months with this stuff,” he told me in late January. “I can just imagine what hell is like. It feels like I’m absolutely on fire.”
Family and friends have taken Moyer to emergency rooms at least four times. He has consulted more than 40 doctors. No one can say what caused the rashes, or his headaches, migraines, chest pain, and irregular heartbeat, or the shooting pains down his back and legs, his blurred vision, vertigo, memory loss, the constant white noise in his ears, and the breathing troubles that require him to stash inhalers throughout his small apartment.
In an earlier era, workers’ illnesses fell into the realm of “industrial medicine.” But these days, when it comes to the U.S. fracking industry, the canaries aren’t restricted to the coalmines. People like Randy seem to be the harbingers of what happens when a toxic environment is no longer buried miles beneath the earth. . .
Continue reading. There is a lot more, and it’s staggering: will the US public simply accept this?
Europe takes the threat to bees seriously—as it should—and seems less under the control of big business. Dan Cossins reports in The Scientist:
The European Commission (EC) will severely restrict the use of the neonicotinoid pesticides blamed by some researchers for the widespread collapse of bee populations. A fierce debate over the role the chemicals continues among researchers, lawmakers, and industry, but for the next 2 years, the EC will take a precautionary approach, it announced yesterday (April 29).
Bees pollinate roughly a third of the world’s food crops, so mass die-offs of bee colonies around the globe are a matter for grave concern. A growing body of research suggests that neonicotinoids, used since the 1990s to protect crops from insect pests, might be harming bees exposed to nectar and pollen in flowers that have absorbed the chemicals from the soil.
But pesticide manufacturers, farmers, and other scientists argue that most of the studies have been conducted in the lab and do not reflect field conditions, and that the evidence that neonicotinoids are killing bees is far from conclusive.
In January this year, the EC proposed a 2-year ban on the pesticides in areas where they might affect bees. In March, the proposal did not receive enough votes from European member states to be put into practice, and this week an appeals committee also fell short of achieving the required majority. Nevertheless, under European Union rules, the impasse allowed the EC to go ahead with the plans, reported Nature.
“I pledge to do my utmost to ensure that our bees, which are so vital to our ecosystem and contribute over €22 billion [$28.7 billion] annually to European agriculture, are protected,” said EC Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, announcing the implementation of the plans, which will come into force this December.
Environmental groups welcomed the decision as a victory for the precautionary principle, reported Nature—although some researchers pointed out that a 2-year ban may not be long enough to show whether the pesticides are the culprit.
Latest answer in a NY Times article by Martin Fackler:
Two years after a triple meltdown that grew into the world’s second worst nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is faced with a new crisis: a flood of highly radioactive wastewater that workers are struggling to contain.
Groundwater is pouring into the plant’s ravaged reactor buildings at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute. It becomes highly contaminated there, before being pumped out to keep from swamping a critical cooling system. A small army of workers has struggled to contain the continuous flow of radioactive wastewater, relying on hulking gray and silver storage tanks sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns. The tanks hold the equivalent of 112 Olympic-size pools.
But even they are not enough to handle the tons of strontium-laced water at the plant — a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster and, in critics’ view, ad hoc decision making by the company that runs the plant and the regulators who oversee it. In a sign of the sheer size of the problem, the operator of the plant,Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, plans to chop down a small forest on its southern edge to make room for hundreds more tanks, a task that became more urgent when underground pits built to handle the overflow sprang leaks in recent weeks.
“The water keeps increasing every minute, no matter whether we eat, sleep or work,” said Masayuki Ono, a general manager with Tepco who acts as a company spokesman. “It feels like we are constantly being chased, but we are doing our best to stay a step in front.”
While the company has managed to stay ahead, the constant threat of running out of storage space has turned into what Tepco itself called an emergency, with the sheer volume of water raising fears of future leaks at the seaside plant that could reach the Pacific Ocean.
That quandary along with an embarrassing string of mishaps — including a 29-hour power failure affecting another, less vital cooling system — have underscored an alarming reality: two years after the meltdowns, the plant remains vulnerable to the same sort of large earthquake and tsunami that set the original calamity in motion. . .
Just over three years ago, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP killed 11 people, injured 17, and — according to government estimates — polluted the Gulf of Mexico with 210 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude. It turns out, however, that the casualty toll didn’t end with those 28 workers. The real number may reach into the thousands.
Last year, BP pled guilty to 14 felonies stemming from the disaster, including misleading Congress about the amount of oil that gushed into the gulf. But that wasn’t the only way BP attempted to cover up the extent of the spill. The main method was using 1.84 million gallons of a substance known as Corexit that acts to “attach itself to leaked oil, break it into droplets, and disperse them into the vast reaches of the gulf, thereby keeping the oil from reaching Gulf Coast shorelines.”
Writing for Newsweek and with the support of the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, Mark Hertsgaard recently laid bare how Corexit was utilized and the dire effects it apparently had on the men and women who worked to “clean” the gulf in the wake of BP’s historically unprecedented spill. People like Jamie Griffin. A BP representative reportedly assured Griffin that the smelly sludge cleanup workers were tracking into the “floating hotel” where she was a cook would be “as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid” — so she scrubbed and scrubbed to clean it up. “Within days,” Hertsgaard writes, “the 32-year-old single mother was coughing up blood and suffering constant headaches.” She soon “fell ill with a cluster of excruciating, bizarre, grotesque ailments… unstoppable muscle spasms were twisting her hands into immovable claws… she began losing her short-term memory… The right side, but only the right side, of her body ‘started acting crazy. It felt like the nerves were coming out of my skin. It was so painful. My right leg swelled — my ankle would get as wide as my calf — and my skin got incredibly itchy.’”
Hundreds, perhaps, thousands of other workers were exposed to the same chemicals, including those who were coated in a mist of Corexit, since almost 60% of it was sprayed out of airplanes. Hertsgaard reveals that not only “did BP fail to inform workers of the potential hazards of Corexit and to provide them with safety training and protective gear, according to interviews with dozens of cleanup workers, the company also allegedly threatened to fire workers who complained about the lack of respirators and protective clothing.”
So, add Corexit to the list of toxic substances brought to us by industries that promised better and include BP in a long catalog of companies which, over the last century, have tried to hush-up the truth about the types of chemical assaults for which the Department of Homeland Security issues no fact sheets. It’s a story as old as industrial America and one that public health historians David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz know all too well. For years, they have earned the ire of the lead and petrochemical industries for historical exposés that demonstrate how American companies regularly sacrificed workers’ health and children’s lives for the sake of big profits.
In their latest historical tour de force, Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, Markowitz and Rosner chronicle the battles that have taken place over lead poisoning for the last half-century, with special emphasis on a study in which researchers from Johns Hopkins University conducted what the Maryland Court of Appeals deemed unethical research on African-American children. Knowing that some of the children in their study could be exposed to lead from old paint in the apartments they were moved into and so at greater risk for learning disorders and behavioral problems, they went ahead anyway. If it sounds to you like some dark corollary to the notorious Tuskegee experiment, in which hundreds of black men with syphilis were denied treatment with penicillin so that U.S. government researchers could study the course of the disease, you’re not alone in thinking it. The Maryland Appeals Court thought so, too. But while the Tuskegee study began in the 1930s, when protocols for protecting people from medical experimentation were lax, the Johns Hopkins research started in the 1990s, when regulations supposedly provided ample protection from harm at the hands of public health professionals. The story of how and why this came to pass is riveting and revelatory. (The co-authors will soon be discussing it with Bill Moyers on “Moyers & Company.”)
Today, Markowitz and Rosner — the first guest author ever to pen a TomDispatch piece back in December 2002 — lead a toxic tour, not through Superfund sites and nuclear no-go zones, but average American homes. And no wonder, we live our lives immersed in a chemical soup never before encountered in human history. We’re the lab rats in a make-it-up-as-they-go-along nationwide corporate experiment, which is also a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Nick Turse
A hidden epidemic is poisoning America. The toxins are in the air we breathe and the water we drink, in the walls of our homes and the furniture within them. We can’t escape it in our cars. It’s in cities and suburbs. It afflicts rich and poor, young and old. And there’s a reason why you’ve never read about it in the newspaper or seen a report on the nightly news: it has no name — and no antidote.
The culprit behind this silent killer is lead. And vinyl. And formaldehyde. And asbestos. And Bisphenol A. And polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And thousands more innovations brought to us by the industries that once promised “better living through chemistry,” but instead produced a toxic stew that has made every American a guinea pig and has turned the United States into one grand unnatural experiment.
Today, we are all unwitting subjects in the largest set of drug trials ever. Without our knowledge or consent, we are testing thousands of suspected toxic chemicals and compounds, as well as new substances whose safety is largely unproven and whose effects on human beings are all but unknown. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself has begun monitoring our bodies for 151 potentially dangerous chemicals, detailing the variety of pollutants we store in our bones, muscle, blood, and fat. None of the companies introducing these new chemicals has even bothered to tell us we’re part of their experiment. None of them has asked us to sign consent forms or explained that they have little idea what the long-term side effects of the chemicals they’ve put in our environment — and so our bodies — could be. Nor do they have any clue as to what the synergistic effects of combining so many novel chemicals inside a human body in unknown quantities might produce.
How Industrial Toxins Entered the American Home
The story of how Americans became unwitting test subjects began more than a century ago. The key figure was Alice Hamilton, the “mother” of American occupational medicine, who began documenting the way workers in lead paint pigment factories, battery plants, and lead mines were suffering terrible palsies, tremors, convulsions, and deaths after being exposed to lead dust that floated in the air, coating their workbenches and clothes.
Soon thereafter, children exposed to lead paint and lead dust in their homes were also identified as victims of this deadly neurotoxin. Many went into convulsions and comas after crawling on floors where lead dust from paint had settled, or from touching lead-painted toys, or teething on lead-painted cribs, windowsills, furniture, and woodwork.
Instead of leveling with the public, the lead industry through its trade group, the Lead Industries Association, began a six-decade-long campaign to cover-up its product’s dire effects. It challenged doctors who reported lead-poisoned children to health departments, distracted the public through advertisements that claimed lead was “safe” to use, and fought regulation of the industry by local government, all in the service of profiting from putting a poison in paint, gasoline, plumbing fixtures, and even toys, baseballs, and fishing gear.
As Joe Camel would be for tobacco, so the little Dutch Boy of the National Lead Company became an iconic marketing tool for Dutch Boy Lead Paint, priming Americans to invite a dangerous product into their children’s playrooms, nurseries, and lives. The company also launched a huge advertising campaign that linked lead to health, rather than danger. It even produced coloring books for children, encouraging them to paint their rooms and furniture using lead-based paint.
Only after thousands of children were poisoned and, in the 1960s, activist groups like the Young Lords and the Black Panthersbegan to use lead poisoning as a symbol of racial and class oppression did public health professionals and the federal government begin to rein in companies like the Sherwin-Williams paint company and the Ethyl Corporation, which produced tetraethyl lead, the lead-additive in gasoline. In 1971, Congress passed the Lead Paint Poisoning Prevention Act that limited lead in paint used for public housing. In 1978, the Consumer Products Safety Commission finally bannedlead in all paints sold for consumer use. During the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency issued rules that led to the elimination of leaded gasoline by 1995 (though it still remains in aviation fuel).
The CDC estimates that in at least 4 million households in the U.S. today children are still exposed to dangerous amounts of lead from old paint that produces dust every time a nail is driven into a wall to hang a picture, a new electric socket is installed, or a family renovates its kitchen. It estimates that more than 500,000 children ages one to five have “elevated” levels of lead in their blood. (No level is considered safe for children.) Studies have linked lost IQ points, attention deficit disorders, behavioral problems, dyslexia, and even possibly high incarceration rates to tiny amounts of lead in children’s bodies.
Unfortunately, when it came to the creation of America’s chemical soup, the lead industry was hardly alone. Asbestos is another classic example of an industrial toxin that found its way into people’s homes and bodies. For decades, insulation workers, brake mechanics, construction workers, and a host of others in hundreds of trades fell victim to the disabling and deadly lung diseases of asbestosis or to lung cancer and the fatal cancer called mesothelioma when they breathed in dust produced during the installation of boilers, the insulation of pipes, the fixing of cars that used asbestos brake linings, or the spraying of asbestos on girders. Once again, the industry knew its product’s dangers early and worked assiduously to cover them up.
Despite growing medical knowledge about its effects (and increasing industry attempts to downplay or suppress that knowledge), asbestos was soon introduced to the American home and incorporated into products ranging from insulation for boilers and piping in basements to floor tiles and joint compounds. It was used to make sheetrock walls, roof shingles, ironing boards, oven gloves, and hot plates. Soon an occupational hazard was transformed into a threat to all consumers.
Today, however, these devastating industrial-turned-domestic toxins, which destroyed the health and sometimes took the lives of hundreds of thousands, seem almost quaint when compared to the brew of potential or actual toxins we’re regularly ingesting in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.
Of special concern are a variety of . . .
Our consumerist culture is no accident but a deliberate creation. It seemed a good idea at the time—at least to big corporations eager to increase revenue—but it turns out to destroy our environment and lead to great inequality while not making people any happier. Sabrina Artel in AlterNet reports on someone trying to change the paradigm:
Need a creative way to fight fears of our planetary demise? A new book by Billy Talen prophetically titled, The End of the World  (OR Books), may be just the trick. Talen, also known as Reverend Billy, and his Church of Stop Shopping, exposes the socio-political structure of consumerism and the commoditization of the earth with songs, impassioned preaching and theater events. Talen has been arrested 70 times along with members of the Church for their acts of civil disobedience in banks and other places of corporate mediation. Their decade-long collaboration, under the direction of Savitri D, has brought them to communities throughout the U.S. and internationally where they have built a performance institution of communities of action with songs and uplifting protest spectacle on the streets and in concert halls. Talen and the Church’s inspiring and engaging performances ask us to take action on behalf of our home on our rapidly dying planet.
The End of the World is being promoted with the launch of the international Revolt of the Golden Toad tour , which began in San Francisco on April 22. The End of the World is a poetic cry of sermons to wake people up about the climate crisis, destruction of biodiversity, and catastrophic consumption orchestrated by global capitalism.
Talen spoke with AlterNet about his new book and what motivates his creative actions.
Sabrina Artel: How did this book project come about?
Billy Talen: Because of my growing feeling that human beings are losing. We’re losing ground to the corporations and the big banks, and the earth movement is losing. The big bank system needs to multiply their products and keep us in a state of consumption. Consumerism needs to be defeated.
As I started watching the sack of diapers next to [my daughter] Lena when she was born in the hospital at St. Vincent’s they were covered by Mickey Mouse faces. Here in NY we have high pressure tests confronting first-graders. The Church of Stop Shopping and I have been active in the movement to stop paying back student debt because it’s reached a trillion dollars so that young people can’t defend the earth; young people can’t be politicized because they are saddled with debt along with their marching orders to become consumers. Climate change kills people every day. It’s dangerous. Certainly it certainly kills people who don’t have the resources to defend themselves. It’s a conscious class war.
SA: Why did you title your book, The End of the World?
BT: We decided to name the book The End of the World because we won’t survive unless we understand the level of danger we are in now. We’re not registering the emergency. We don’t have a planet crier. There’s no leader standing up for the earth. I think people know it in their souls but we don’t know what to do because we’ve been consumers for so long. The consumer position is passive. Consumers are not active. They are not political. We believe you have to be pessimistic enough to be optimistic.
SA: How is your tour addressing the environmental crisis that we face? You write, “There is a direct relationship between each additional minute that we are separated and every pound of CO2 we put in the air.”
BT: With our campaign that begins in the Bay Area this week, we are taking an extinct animal and crashing into the hushed cathedrals of finance. We are trying to get at the genitals of the system. The consumer environment we’ve concocted culturally is one where we aren’t afraid even when “the town is on fire.” What kind of culture do we live in? You don’t have a normal world when you’re being hit with advertising constantly. That mediation is dangerous and disconnects us from each other. Right now in the world there are 80 coal fired plants in either planning stages or under construction.
SA: In your book you write about censorship and how addressing climate change is avoided and even focusing on the planet earth, our home is being strategically denied. You state, “This is an apocalypse of accumulating silence.” What are the consequences of this?
BT: The products surround us, instruct us, and order us. The product life that we are a part of, inside these gadgets, inside our cars, our homes, inside our lives, inside these choreographies; it has become so phenomenalized all day long that we don’t realize these products give us a story, they give us a version of events and it cannot include life on earth. The story that the products are programmed to repeat again and again until we think it is reality is the story of consumerism.
SA: How has becoming a parent and having a toddler impacted your work? . . .
Since water is an absolute requirement for life, the above sentiment translates easily to “Human beings have no right to life.” Andrew Gavin Marshall posts about the author of the sentiment:
In the 2005 documentary, We Feed the World, then-CEO of Nestlé, the world’s largest foodstuff corporation, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, shared some of his own views and ‘wisdom’ about the world and humanity. Brabeck believes that nature is not “good,” that there is nothing to worry about with GMO foods, that profits matter above all else, that people should work more, and that human beings do not have a right to water.
Today, he explained, “people believe that everything that comes from Nature is good,” marking a large change in perception, as previously, “we always learnt that Nature could be pitiless.” Humanity, Brabeck stated, “is now in the position of being able to provide some balance to Nature, but in spite of this we have something approaching a shibboleth that everything that comes from Nature is good.” He then referenced the “organic movement” as an example of this thinking, premising that “organic is best.” But rest assured, he corrected, “organic is not best.” In 15 years of GMO food consumption in the United States, “not one single case of illness has occurred.” In spite of this, he noted, “we’re all so uneasy about it in Europe, that something might happen to us.” This view, according to Brabeck, is “hypocrisy more than anything else.”
Water, Brabeck correctly pointed out, “is of course the most important raw material we have today in the world,” but added: “It’s a question of whether we should privatize the normal water supply for the population. And there are two different opinions on the matter. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right.” Brabeck elaborated on this “extreme” view: “That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.” The other view, and thus, the “less extreme” view, he explained, “says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value. Personally I believe it’s better to give a foodstuff a value so that we’re all aware that it has its price, and then that one should take specific measures for the part of the population that has no access to this water, and there are many different possibilities there.” The biggest social responsibility of any CEO, Brabeck explained:
is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise. For only if we can ensure our continued, long term existence will we be in the position to actively participate in the solution of the problems that exist in the world. We’re in the position of being able to create jobs… If you want to create work, you have to work yourself, not as it was in the past where existing work was distributed. If you remember the main argument for the 35-hour week was that there was a certain amount of work and it would be better if we worked less and distributed the work amongst more people. That has proved quite clearly to be wrong. If you want to create more work you have to work more yourself. And with that we’ve got to create a positive image of the world for people, and I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be positive about the future. We’ve never had it so good, we’ve never had so much money, we’ve never been so healthy, we’ve never lived as long as we do today. We have everything we want and we still go around as if we were in mourning for something.
While watching a promotional video of a Nestlé factory in Japan, Brabeck commented, “You can see how modern these factories are; highly robotized, almost no people.” And of course, for someone claiming to be interested in creating jobs, there appears to be no glaring hypocrisy in praising factories with “almost no people.” . . .
Continue reading. Videos (and a lot more: it’s a lengthy post) at the link.
Ryan Koronowski reports at ClimateProgress:
On the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, EPA rated the adequacy of the State Department’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as having “Insufficient Information.”
In case you missed it, today is the last day to submit public comments to the State Department regarding the proposed pipeline that would transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil through the U.S. per day.
EPA’s Cynthia Giles, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement, has submitted the agency’s public comment. They could have rated the adequacy of the impact statement three different ways: “Adequate,” “Insufficient Information,” or “Inadequate.” They rated it “Insufficient Information,” which means that they do not know enough to fully assess the environmental impacts of a tar sands pipeline traversing the continent.
Here are the reasons EPA said that State’s DEIS needs more work:
- Increased carbon pollution: EPA acknowledged the DEIS’s attempt to do a life-cycle analysis of the pipeline’s emissions, which found that emissions from oil sands crude would be 81 percent higher than regular crude, or an incremental increase of 18.7 million metric tons of CO2 per year. EPA noted that “If GHG intensity of oil sands crude is not reduced, over a 50 year period the additional CO2 from oil sands crude transported by the pipeline could be as much as 935 million metric tons.” These statistics are alarming, yet EPA’s analysis did not stop there.
- Not inevitable: Like other experts, EPA doubted State’s assurance that this tar sands oil would come out of the ground with the Keystone pipeline or without it:
The market analysis and the conclusion that oil sands crude will find a way to market: With or without the Project is the central finding that supports the DSEIS’s conclusions regarding the Project’s potential GHG emissions impacts. Because the market analysis is so central to this key conclusion, we think it is important that it be as complete and accurate as possible.
It then goes on to detail the ways in which this market analysis is incomplete: It uses outdated modeling, and the expense and infeasibility of rail shipping as an alternative to Keystone both need to be considered.
- Pipelines don’t pump themselves: . . .
For the State Department to issue an environmental impact statement strikes me as being along the same lines as the EPA publishing a recommend foreign policy strategy for the Middle East. The reason the State Department went ahead is obvious: they were falling all over themselves to follow the dictates of the energy industry. The Obama Administration seems to be pretty much under control of big business interests.
Grim but worth reading and thinking about, this piece by Michael Klare at TomDispatch seems a clarion wake-up call to me:
In his pathbreaking 2001 book Resource Wars, Michael Klare wrote: “Natural resources are the building blocks of civilization and an essential requirement of daily existence. The inhabitants of planet Earth have been blessed with a vast supply of most basic materials. But we are placing increased pressure on those supplies, and in some cases we face, in our lifetimes, or those of our children, the prospect of severe resource depletion.” More than ever, as he points out today, this remains a planetary reality with which we have still not truly come to grips. Since the beginning of this new century, however, climate change has joined resource scarcity in a way that will make for a far more combustible and explosive reality in the coming decades.
As John Vidal reported recently in the British Observer, leading scientists now believe that, by 2050, the pressures of climate change — of record floods, intensifying extreme heat, and droughts — could change the face of farming on this planet and lead to a doubling of prices for food staples, the very basics of life, as populations continue to rise. This, in turn, will undoubtedly mean destitution or worse for millions of the poor, particularly in Africa and Asia.
On a planet rapidly changing in ways that have not been part of our repertoire in the rest of human history, TomDispatch has been, and will be, asking some of its regulars to peer into the murkiness of the human future and offer us a sense of what we may face. From the next stages of weaponry in the American high-tech arsenal and the future aridificationof the American Southwest to Washington’s limited view of a world roaring toward 2030, our writers have already begun doing so. Today, Michael Klare, author most recently ofThe Race for What’s Left, and a man always ahead of the curve, offers his views on a world too potentially explosive not to be attended to. Tom
Entering a Resource-Shock World
How Resource Scarcity and Climate Change Could Produce a Global Explosion
By Michael T. Klare
Brace yourself. You may not be able to tell yet, but according to global experts and the U.S. intelligence community, the earth is already shifting under you. Whether you know it or not, you’re on a new planet, a resource-shock world of a sort humanity has never before experienced.
Two nightmare scenarios — a global scarcity of vital resources and the onset of extreme climate change — are already beginning to converge and in the coming decades are likely to produce a tidal wave of unrest, rebellion, competition, and conflict. Just what this tsunami of disaster will look like may, as yet, be hard to discern, but experts warn of “water wars” over contested river systems, global food riots sparked by soaring prices for life’s basics, mass migrations of climate refugees (with resulting anti-migrant violence), and the breakdown of social order or the collapse of states. At first, such mayhem is likely to arise largely in Africa, Central Asia, and other areas of the underdeveloped South, but in time all regions of the planet will be affected.
To appreciate the power of this encroaching catastrophe, it’s necessary to examine each of the forces that are combining to produce this future cataclysm.
Resource Shortages and Resource Wars
Start with one simple given: the prospect of future scarcities of vital natural resources, including energy, water, land, food, and critical minerals. This in itself would guarantee social unrest, geopolitical friction, and war.
It is important to note that absolute scarcity doesn’t have to be on the horizon in any given resource category for this scenario to kick in. A lack of adequate supplies to meet the needs of a growing, ever more urbanized and industrialized global population is enough. Given the wave of extinctions that scientists are recording, some resources — particular species of fish, animals, and trees, for example — will become less abundant in the decades to come, and may even disappear altogether. But key materials for modern civilization like oil, uranium, and copper will simply prove harder and more costly to acquire, leading to supply bottlenecks and periodic shortages.
Oil — the single most important commodity in the international economy — provides an apt example. Although global oil supplies may actually grow in the coming decades, many experts doubt that they can be expanded sufficiently to meet the needs of a rising global middle class that is, for instance, expected to buy millions of new cars in the near future. In its 2011 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency claimed that an anticipated global oil demand of 104 million barrels per day in 2035 will be satisfied. This, the report suggested, would be thanks in large part to additional supplies of “unconventional oil” (Canadian tar sands, shale oil, and so on), as well as 55 million barrels of new oil from fields “yet to be found” and “yet to be developed.”
However, many analysts scoff at this optimistic assessment, arguing that rising production costs (for energy that will be ever more difficult and costly to extract), environmental opposition, warfare, corruption, and other impediments will make it extremely difficult to achieve increases of this magnitude. In other words, even if production manages for a time to top the 2010 level of 87 million barrels per day, the goal of 104 million barrels will never be reached and the world’s major consumers will face virtual, if not absolute, scarcity.
Water provides another potent example. . .
Bill Moyers interviews Sandra Steingraber in a video.
Biologist, mother and activist Sandra Steingraber joins Bill to talk about the need to build awareness about toxins that contaminate our air, water and food — and threaten our children’s health. With government captured by the very industries it’s supposed to regulate, Steingraber says she’s lost patience with politicians and corporations, and the time for direct action is now.
The full transcript begins:
BILL MOYERS: Welcome.This week in the streets of Boston, we were reminded once again that civilization is too often a thin veneer stretched across the passions of the human heart, with those who would commit acts of violence trying to disrupt and even destroy the fragile commons we call society. Fortunately, there are people who will not be deterred from the work of civilization, who will even from time to time go up against authority in peaceful disobedience, taking a nonviolent stand for a greater good. People like Sandra Steingraber, my guest.
SANDRA STEINGRABER: Fight! Fight! Fight!
BILL MOYERS: We met for this conversation the day before she was to be sentenced to jail. It’s quite a story. At the age of 20, Sandra Steingraber was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Several other family members also had the disease, but it couldn’t be genetic because she’s adopted. So Steingraber suspected something toxic in her Illinois hometown’s drinking water and that led to an unusual wager. She talked about it in this 2010 documentary:
SANDRA STEINGRABER in Living Downstream: As a college undergraduate, I made a bet. I bet that my cancer diagnosis had something to do with the environment in which I lived as a child. And I think I was right about this. Ten years ago, in the fall of 1998, I gave birth to a child. I became a cancer patient at twenty and a mother at the brink of forty, which I know isn’t how most people’s lives are ordered, but that’s how mine worked out.
I am betting that in between my children’s adult lives and my own, an environmental human rights movement will arise. It’s one whose seeds have already been sown. I am betting that my children, and the generation of children that they are a part, will by the time they are my age – they’ll consider it unthinkable to allow cancer-causing chemicals to freely circulate in our economy. They will find it unthinkable to assume an attitude of silence and willful ignorance about our ecology.
BILL MOYERS: Sandra Steingraber wouldn’t stay silent, today she is at the very heart of the environmental human rights movement that she prophesied. She’s fighting to identify and eliminate carcinogens in our air, water and food, and to stop fracking, that controversial extraction of natural gas from deep beneath the earth.
She is one of the Seneca Lake 12, a group of activists who last month blocked the gates of a natural gas storage facility in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York State. On a bitterly cold day in March they were arrested as they demonstrated against the environmental dangers of fracking and the storing of natural gas in nearby abandoned salt mines. For now, New York has declared a moratorium that prohibits fracking in the state while studies are completed, but there’s no guarantee that gas obtained by fracking elsewhere won’t be stored in those salt caverns.
As you can see, for Sandra Steingraber, there is no line between her life and her cause. When her cancer went into remission, she became a biologist and wrote the book “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.” Her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Faith, led to this combination memoir and study of fetal toxicology, “Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood”. And her son’s childhood inspired her latest work, “Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.”
Sandra Steingraber is a visiting scholar at Ithaca College. Welcome.
SANDRA STEINGRABER: Thanks for having me Bill.
BILL MOYERS: There were 12 of you arrested, five have already appeared in court and paid a fine of $375. Why don’t you pay a fine, go home, and call it a day?
SANDRA STEINGRABER: Well, my feeling about civil disobedience is that it works when not only you oppose something and peacefully object to it, but also if the law itself is unjust. And so in this case, I believe that the laws around trespassing are unjust. And so accepting a jail sentence seems to me, for me the way I can best bear witness to that.
BILL MOYERS: What will your children do while you’re in –
SANDRA STEINGRABER: Well, I have a great marriage. And so as my husband says, “There’s a reason, you know, that kids have two parents.”
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
SANDRA STEINGRABER: And so as I’ve told my children in the days leading up to this that, “If it is ever the case that I can be a better parent to you in jail rather than out of jail, I’m ready to be that parent.”
BILL MOYERS: You were arrested, as you say, for trespassing. You broke the law. You knew you were breaking the law. What did you hope would happen? . . .
After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Fortunately for me the plant is located in southern California and I live in northern California, but I believe that quite a few people do indeed live (for now) in southern California. Harvey Wasserman posts at The Progressive:
The bitter battle over two stricken southern California reactors has taken a shocking seismic hit.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ignored critical questions from two powerful members of Congress just as the Government Accountability Office has cast serious doubt on the emergency planning at the San Onofre nuclear plant.
At a cost of some $770 million, Southern California Edison and its partners installed faulty steam generators at San Onofre Units 2 and 3 that have failed and leaked.
Those reactors have been shut since January 2012 (similar defects doomed Unit 1 in 1992).
They’ve generated zero electricity, but SCE and its partners have billed ratepayers over a billion dollars for them.
SCE wants San Onofre reopened by June 1. The idea is to experiment with Unit 2 at 70% of full power for five months, despite widespread concerns that the defective generators will fail again.
That would require a license amendment, about which the NRC staff has asked Edison 32 key preliminary questions. But there’s been no official, adjudicated public hearing on Edison’s response.
On April 9, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) asked the NRC to keep Unit 2 shut until the safety issues can be fully vetted.
Boxer chairs the powerful Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, which oversees the NRC. Markey is the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and is the current front-runner to fill John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat.
Their letter to NRC Chair Allison Macfarlane says San Onofre must not reopen without a “comprehensive investigation” and “full opportunity for public participation.” Utility efforts to “shortcut the license amendment process,” they say, “would put public safety at risk.”
SCE’s backdoor dodge “was made despite evidence showing that there could be a significant hazard from the operation of the deficient steam generators,” they wrote. That, in turn, “would fall far short of the kind of consideration the 8 million people who live within 50 miles of San Onofre deserve.”
Boxer and Markey asked the NRC to respond by 4 pm April 10. Instead, the Commission staff publicly issued a “no significant hazard” ruling that would speed the re-licensing process–a precise renunciation of the Boxer/Markey concerns.
Markey, in turn, said the NRC “showed blatant disregard” for public safety.
Boxer said the ruling was “dangerous and premature,” especially since “the damaged plant is located in an area at risk of earthquake and tsunami.”
She added: . . .
Continue reading. One can readily predict the letter of apology from Southern California Edison after disaster strikes. They may even have to pay a small fine.
Stunning report by Robin Greene at The Center for Public Integrity:
BELLE ROSE, La. — Tim Brown eases his john boat from his back yard dock into his daily therapy: The Bayou Corne that courses through this patch of southern Louisiana like a lifeline. Brown powers past the Tupelo Gum, Cypress Moss and Swamp Maple trees that drape the bayou in a frame, and steers to the spot where he reels catfish and collects thoughts.
“If I had to actually leave this place and go back to a house on dry land, I’d probably be dead in two years,” says Brown, 65 and retiring next year. “I guess you can say it’s a totally different life out here.”
But now that life, for Brown and 350 other residents in a neighborhood with “Crawfish Crossing” signs and roads named Gumbo, Jambalaya and Crawfish Stew Street, has been shattered by discovery of a 14-acre sinkhole that fractured the community’s calm and may bury its dreams.
The sinkhole, triggered by a collapsed cavern operated by salt mining operator Texas Brine Company LLC, swallowed trees and fouled the air when it appeared August 3. Its discovery sent the Bayou Corne community here in Belle Rose into a state of emergency: Assumption Parish and Louisiana officials ordered a still-in-effect evacuation as state officials scrambled to unearth what happened.
“Initially the concern was, that first day, you have a sinkhole … and you don’t know what caused it. All you know is a 400-by-400 section of marshland just got converted to a muddy pit. Trees were sinking into it and not coming back. It was like quicksand,” said Patrick Courreges, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
Natural gas filtered into the aquifer, and crude oil floated to the top of the sinkhole, about a third of a mile from the nearest homes anchored on each side of Highway 70. Louisiana officials feared explosion hazards and “potentially toxic constituents of crude oil and other hydrocarbons,” though the state said continuous monitoring has detected “no hazardous concentrations.” Yet earlier this month, sampling by Texas Brine found two homes with “concentrations of natural gas below the structure foundations that were above normal background levels,” Assumption Parish officials reported.
“That is just too close to the community to take any chances with what comes next,” Courreges said.
Eight months later, what comes next roils a community so close-knit it hosts its own Mardi Gras parade: The prospect that the entire Bayou Corne neighborhood, all 150 homeowners, will be relocated and not come back; that this haven for retirees and working class Louisianans will be, symbolically, swallowed by the sinkhole.
What’s happening in Belle Rose has played out in dozens of communities threatened by environmental hazards so dire residents feel compelled to demand that industry or government move them out. But as Bayou Corne’s experience shows, winning buyouts is never easy, and leaving is often painful. The community’s travails reveal the human cost of pollution.
“It’s been an ongoing, really to me, like a science fiction novel. You have this big hole that caves in and then it keeps growing and growing and growing,” said Marylee Orr, executive director of theLouisiana Environmental Action Network, an advocacy organization based in Baton Rouge. “Mysterious bubbles. It’s like watching the crawfish pot, bubbling the crawfish pot.”
Bayou Corne “is really a little piece of heaven,” Orr said. “It’s a paradise to them. They could go out, be on a boat, it’s absolutely beautiful. But now a lot of people think it’s ruined forever.”
Many residents have pushed for buyouts from Texas Brine. . .
Continue reading. Clearly, if the company had its way, it wouldn’t pay one red cent to the homeowners. Companies have zero sense of responsibility.
Arkansas Hires Notorious Private Contractor To Clean Up Mayflower Tar Sands Spill, Same Firm Also Contracted For KXL
Steve Horn reports at DeSmogBlog.com:
Arkansas’ Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has contracted out the “independent analysis of the cleanup” of the ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill to Witt O’Brien’s, a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups, a DeSmogBlog investigation reveals.
At his April 10 press conference about the Mayflower spill response, AG McDaniel confirmed that Exxon had turned over 12,500 pages of documents to his office resulting from a subpoena related to Exxon’s response to the March 29 Pegasus disaster. A 22-foot gash in the 65-year-old pipeline spewed over 500,000 gallons of tar sands dilbit through the streets of Mayflower, AR.
McDaniel also provided the media with a presser explaining that his office had“retained the assistance of Witt O’Brien’s, a firm whose experts will immediately begin an independent analysis of the cleanup process.”
Witt O’Brien’s describes itself as a “global leader in preparedness, crisis management and disaster response and recovery with the depth of experience and capability to provide services across the crisis and disaster life cycle.”
But the firm’s actual performance record isn’t quite so glowing. O’Brien’s has had its hands in the botched clean-up efforts of almost every high-profile oil spill disaster in recent U.S. history, including the Exxon Valdez spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, the Enbridge tar sands pipeline spill into the Kalamazoo River, and Hurricane Sandy.
Most troubling of all, Witt O’Brien’s won a “$300k+ contract to develop a Canadian-US compliant Oil Spill Emergency Response Plan for TransCanada’s Keystone Oil Pipeline Project” in Aug. 2008.
Thus, if the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline inevitably suffered a major spill, Witt O’Brien’s would presumably handle the cleanup. That should worry everyone along the proposed KXL route.
From OOPS, Inc. to Witt O’Brien’s
In Dec. 2012, Witt Associates merged with O’Brien’s Response Management to form Witt O’Brien’s. The merger at-large is owned by Seacor Holdings.
O’Brien’s was formed in the early 1980s by Jim O’Brien – a former U.S. Coast Guard officer – as O’Brien Oil Pollution Service, otherwise known by OOPS, Inc. That’s not a joke, it was their actual name.
OOPs, Inc. was acquired by Seacor Holdings Inc. under the auspices of Seacor Environmental Services division in 1997, later renamed The O’Brien’s Group (TOG). TOG was later re-named O’Brien’s Response Management Inc. in Oct. 2008.
Importantly, in Dec. 2009, O’Brien’s acquired a powerful public relations spin machine wing, as its former website explains:
MANY Americans assume that the chemicals in their shampoos, detergents and other consumer products have been thoroughly tested and proved to be safe.
This assumption is wrong.
Unlike pharmaceuticals or pesticides, industrial chemicals do not have to be tested before they are put on the market. Under the law regulating chemicals, producers are only rarely required to provide the federal government with the information necessary to assess safety.
Regulators, doctors, environmentalists and the chemical industry agree that the country’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, needs fixing. It is the only major environmental statute whose core provisions have not been reauthorized or substantively updated since its adoption in the 1970s. They do not agree, however, on who should have to prove that a chemical is safe.
Currently this burden rests almost entirely on the federal government. Companies have to alert the Environmental Protection Agency before manufacturing or importing new chemicals. But then it is the E.P.A.’s job to review academic or industry data, or use computer modeling, to determine whether a new chemical poses risks. Companies are not required to provide any safety data when they notify the agency about a new chemical, and they rarely do it voluntarily, although the E.P.A. can later request data if it can show there is a potential risk. If the E.P.A. does not take steps to block the new chemical within 90 days or suspend review until a company provides any requested data, the chemical is by default given a green light.
The law puts federal authorities in a bind. “It’s the worst kind of Catch-22,” said Dr. Richard Denison, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Under this law, the E.P.A. can’t even require testing to determine whether a risk exists without first showing a risk is likely.”
As a result, the overwhelming majority of chemicals in use today have never been independently tested for safety.
In its history, the E.P.A. has mandated safety testing for only a small percentage of the 85,000 industrial chemicals available for use today. And once chemicals are in use, the burden on the E.P.A. is so high that it has succeeded in banning or restricting only five substances, and often only in specific applications: polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, hexavalent chromium, asbestos and chlorofluorocarbons.
Part of the growing pressure to update federal rules on chemical safety comes from advances in the science of biomonitoring, which tells us more about the chemicals to which we are exposed daily, like the bisphenol A (BPA) in can linings and hard plastics, the flame retardants in couches, the stain-resistant coatings on textiles and the nonylphenols in detergents, shampoos and paints. Hazardous chemicals have become so ubiquitous that scientists now talk about babies being born pre-polluted, sometimes with hundreds of synthetic chemicals showing up in their blood.
It often takes a crisis to draw attention to how little the government knows about industrial chemicals in circulation. After the BP oil spill, . . .
William Boardman reports for ReaderSupportedNews:
The first “Tar Sands Oil Arkansas” (published April 7) discussed a number of questions raised by the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline that burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, on March 29, pumping tar sands oil Ð technically Wabasca Heavy crude oil Ð into a residential neighborhood for almost an hour.
Among the questions touched on in that piece were protecting the pipeline from terrorists, residents suing ExxonMobil in federal court, the nature of Wabasca Heavy tar sands oil, some effects of the spill, and the “martial law” atmosphere described by reporters trying to look at the cleanup site.
As the second week of toxic air in Mayflower begins, here are more of the questions this disaster raises and some of the current answers, subject to future refinement. A reader writes:
What is the point of origin of the leak? In front of whose house? Why no image of the hole in the ground or in the pipe? Was it corrosion, a weld failure, sabotage by cutting or explosives, or WHAT? Do we have to wait for NTSB for answers? Are ExxonMobil and their execs too big to jail?
The point of origin appears to be in the woods, behind the houses, and underground. The absence of images is unexplained.
Corrosion or weld failure seem to be two likely possibilities for the cause of the leak.
As reported so far, the spill started quietly, with no one aware of the moment it started. It’s not clear how long it took for someone to become aware, but not too long, presumably.
The circumstances known so far make sabotage (or inadvertence) by cutting, explosion, backhoe, bulldozer, or other means seem unlikely.
Several of the press releases issued by the Mayflower Incident Unified Command Joint Information Center over the past several days conclude with the statement: “The cause of the spill is under investigation.”
Since ExxonMobil and its employees have not yet been convicted of committing a crime, it seems premature to consider jailing them.
Why were the pipeline and the residential subdivision built so close together?
Close is a relative term. There’s no suggestion so far that the subdivision was built illegally, or didn’t have the right permits, or interfered with the pipeline right of way, or anything like that.
Interestingly, though, the Arkansas Times interviewed a former ExxonMobil pipeline worker who raised questions about the company’s commitment to safety.
The report continued:
He raised, too, a question mentioned here yesterday by another pipeline engineer about the wisdom of building new subdivisions over existing pipelines, as happened in Mayflower.
Considering the potential stress of building on top of a pipeline and the high pressure used when transporting heavy crude,É the developer of Northwoods should have worked with Exxon to reroute Pegasus around the neighborhood.
Other options, he said, include replacing the section of the pipeline with newer, stronger steel or burying it deeper under the ground. But … pipeline companies have little incentive to take costly preventive action.
Even if they get a fine the fine will be a small fraction of the cost to correct a dangerous condition, he said.
Who Is the Mayflower Incident Unified Command?
The command’s letterhead includes the logos for ExxonMobil, Faulkner County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Service (EPA), and the City of Mayflower, Arkansas.
It has been hard for reporters on the scene to learn much more. Even CBS News had to stay outside the yellow tape.
Hasn’t ExxonMobil been forthcoming with information and documentation relating to the Pegasus pipeline rupture?
Well, no, not really.
As a result, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has issued a subpoena for relevant documents from ExxonMobil. The deadline for complying with the subpoena is April 10, almost two weeks after the spill. ExxonMobil has said it will comply.
Why isn’t ExxonMobil more open, since we give them subsidies and tax breaks worth billions of dollars every year? . . .
Tara Haelle has an interesting article in Scientific American, rerun in Salon:
New evidence is confirming that the environment kids live in has a greater impact than factors such as genetics, insufficient physical activity or other elements in efforts to control child obesity. Three new studies, published in the April 8 Pediatrics, land on the import of the ‘nurture’ side of the equation and focus on specific circumstances in children’s or teen’s lives that potentially contribute to unhealthy bulk.
In three decades child and adolescent obesity has tripled in the U.S., and estimates from 2010 classify more than a third of children and teens as overweight or obese. Obesity puts these kids at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, and bone or joint problems. The variables responsible are thought to range from too little exercise to too many soft drinks. Now it seems that blaming Pepsi or too little PE might neglect the bigger picture.
“We are raising our children in a world that is vastly different than it was 40 or 50 years ago,” says Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity doctor and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.” The environmental factors in these studies range from the seemingly minor, such as kids’ plate sizes, to bigger challenges, such as school schedules that may keep teens from getting sufficient sleep. But they are part of an even longer list: the ubiquity of fast food, changes in technology, fewer home-cooked meals, more food advertising, an explosion of low-cost processed foods and increasing sugary drink serving sizes (pdf) as well as easy access to unhealthy snacks in vending machines, at sports games and in nearly every setting children inhabit—these are just a handful of environmental factors research has linked to increasing obesity, and researchers are starting to pick apart which among them play bigger or lesser roles in making kids supersized.
Size matters in “obesogenic environments”
In one of the three new studies dishware size made a big difference. Researchers studied 42 second-graders in which the children alternately used child-size 18.4-centimeter (7.25-inch) diameter plates with 237-milliliter (8-ounce) bowls or adult-size 26-centimeter (10.25-inch) diameter plates with 473-milliliter (16-ounce) bowls. Doubling the size of the dishware, the researchers found, increased the amount of food kids served themselves in a buffet-style lunch line by an average of 90 calories. They ate about 43 percent of those extra calories, on average.
Although kids can typically adjust their energy intake by regulating their food, Temple University public health professor Jennifer Fisher says, their surroundings and options may change that equation for kids in the same way that it does in adults. “This notion that children are immune to the environment is somewhat misguided,” says Fisher, who headed up the study. “To promote self-regulation, you have to constrain the environment in a way that makes the healthy choice the easy choice.”
Fisher says much recent research in nutrition has focused on the “obesogenic” environments of today’s society: a dietary environment offering widespread access to highly palatable foods in large portion sizes. “If we look at adult studies on dieting and weight loss, we know that the prospect of maintaining self-control in this environment is fairly grim,” Fisher says. “I think most scientists believe our bodies have evolved to pretty staunchly defend hunger and prevent weight loss, and maybe are not so sensitive in preventing overconsumption.”
Link between obesity and screen time
Overconsumption might be a key component in the link between obesity and screen time, too, according to another of the new studies. Although past research already had linked increased TV time to widening waistlines, this study dug deeper. Ninety-one 13- to 15-year-olds filled out diaries for TV, video games and computer use during a one-week period. About four to seven times a day the teens were paged to record what they were paying the most attention to at that particular moment, followed by activities receiving their second- and third-most attention. “Kids live in a multitasking world,” says Harvard Medical School pediatrics professor David Bickham, lead author of the screen-time study. “We’re trying to assess their technology use when they’re using different forms of technology at once.”
Bickham says three theories have been floated for the link between screen time and obesity: food advertising, unconscious eating and displacement—that is, the idea that the media use replaces physical activity. His team’s findings lent more support to . . .