Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Plutonium is missing, but the government says nothing

leave a comment »

One endemic problem of strongly hierarchical organizations is that problems are hidden away and covered up rather than exposed and solved. We see this in the military, in the church, in police departments, in universities, and now in Rick Perry’s Department of Energy. Patrick Malone and Jeffrey Smith report at the Center for Public Integrity:

Two security experts from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory drove to San Antonio, Texas, in March 2017 with a sensitive mission: to retrieve dangerous nuclear materials from a nonprofit research lab there.

Their task, according to documents and interviews, was to ensure that the radioactive materials did not fall into the wrong hands on the way back to Idaho, where the government maintains a stockpile of nuclear explosive materials for the military and others.

To ensure they got the right items, the specialists from Idaho brought radiation detectors and small samples of dangerous materials to calibrate them: specifically, a plastic-covered disk of plutonium, a material that can be used to fuel nuclear weapons, and another of cesium, a highly radioactive isotope that could potentially be used in a so-called “dirty” radioactive bomb.

But when they stopped at a Marriott hotel just off Highway 410, in a high-crime neighborhood filled with temp agencies and ranch homes, they left those sensors on the back seat of their rented Ford Expedition. When they awoke the next morning, the window had been smashed and the special valises holding these sensors and nuclear materials had vanished.

More than a year later, state and federal officials don’t know where the plutonium – one of the most valuable and dangerous substances on earth – is. Nor has the cesium been recovered.

No public announcement of the March 21 incident has been made by either the San Antonio police or by the FBI, which the police consulted by telephone. When asked, officials at the lab and in San Antonio declined to say exactly how much plutonium and cesium were missing. But Idaho lab spokeswoman Sarah Neumann said the plutonium in particular wasn’t enough to be fashioned into a nuclear bomb.

It is nonetheless now part of a much larger amount of plutonium that over the years has gone quietly missing from stockpiles owned by the U.S. military, often without any public notice.

Unlike civilian stocks, which are closely monitored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and openly regulated – with reports of thefts or disappearances sent to an international agency in Vienna — the handling of military stocks tended by the Department of Energy is much less transparent.

The Energy Department, which declined comment for this story, doesn’t talk about instances of lost and stolen nuclear material produced for the military. It also has been less willing than the commission to punish its contractors when they lose track of such material, several incidents suggest.

That nontransparent approach doesn’t match the government’s rhetoric.

Protecting bomb-usable materials, like the plutonium that went missing in San Antonio, “is an overriding national priority,” President Obama’s press office said in a fact sheet distributed during the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit that he hosted in late March 2016, a Washington event attended by more than 50 heads of state.

The administration boasted in the declaration that America’s security standards for military-grade materials “meet or exceed the recommendations for civilian nuclear materials” made by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. It also touted the strength of its tracking of such materials, which it said would “ensure timely detection and investigation of anomalies, and deter insider theft/diversion.”

The United States also boasted about its transparency, explaining that it “has published studies and reviews of nuclear security incidents, including lessons learned and corrective actions taken.”

President Donald Trump, speaking to a military audience at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, on Aug. 21, 2017, parroted the Obama administration’s refrain that “we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us, or anywhere in the world for that matter.”

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, released in February, similarly emphasized the threat posed by nuclear terrorism, and asserted that “preventing the illicit acquisition of a nuclear weapon, nuclear materials, or related technology and expertise by a violent extremist organization is a significant U.S. national security priority.”

But America’s record of safeguarding such materials isn’t sterling. Gaps between the amount of plutonium that nuclear weapons companies have produced and the amount that the government can actually locate occur frequently enough for officials to have created an acronym for it – MUF, meaning “material unaccounted for.”

Just a cat or a brick

The gaps have shown up at multiple nodes in the production and deployment cycle for nuclear arms: at factories where plutonium and highly-enriched uranium have been made, at storage sites where the materials are held in reserve, at research centers where the materials are loaned for study, at waste sites where they are disposed, and during transit between many of these facilities.

Production of the bomb materials was so frantic during the Cold War that a total of roughly six tons of the material – enough to fuel hundreds of nuclear explosives – has been declared as MUF by the government, with most of it presumed to have been trapped in factory pipes, filters, and machines, or improperly logged in paperwork. (That figure, which dates from 2012, has not been publicly updated.)

For nearly 40 years, “DOE officials and their predecessors … did not have an effective capability within their accounting systems to know if significant quantities of” bomb-grade uranium were being diverted to illicit use, according to Charles Ferguson, a physicist who is now director of the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board at the National Academies of Sciences.

The Government Accountability Office declared in Sept. 2015 that the department also had never conducted an authoritative inventory of the location and quantity of plutonium loaned by the United States to other nations, and that eleven foreign sites with U.S.-made bomb-grade uranium had not been visited by U.S. inspectors in the previous 20 years. Many sites inspected before 2010 lacked rigorous security systems, the GAO warned.

Asked for comment, National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Greg Wolfe said in an email on June 29 that his agency is still working with DOE on that inventory, three years later. He did not say when it would be finished. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more in the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2018 at 3:30 pm

In India, Summer Heat Could Soon Be Unbearable. Literally.

leave a comment »

I still remember how Dana Perino in the White House made the claim that global warming is good for you. (This was in the George W. Bush administration, where there seemed to be an affirmative action program to hire more idiots.) In the NY Times Somini Sengupta reports how global warming is treating India:

On a sweltering Wednesday in June, a rail-thin woman named Rehmati gripped the doctor’s table with both hands. She could hardly hold herself upright, the pain in her stomach was so intense.

She had traveled for 26 hours in a hot oven of a bus to visit her husband, a migrant worker here in the Indian capital. By the time she got here, the city was an oven, too: 111 degrees Fahrenheit by lunchtime, and Rehmati was in an emergency room.

The doctor, Reena Yadav, didn’t know exactly what had made Rehmati sick, but it was clearly linked to the heat. Dr. Yadav suspected dehydration, possibly aggravated by fasting during Ramadan. Or it could have been food poisoning, common in summer because food spoils quickly.

Dr. Yadav put Rehmati, who is 31 and goes by one name, on a drip. She held her hand and told her she would be fine. Rehmati leaned over and retched.

Extreme heat can kill, as it did by the dozens in Pakistan in May. But as many of South Asia’s already-scorching cities get even hotter, scientists and economists are warning of a quieter, more far-reaching danger: Extreme heat is devastating the health and livelihoods of tens of millions more.

If global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace, they say, heat and humidity levels could become unbearable, especially for the poor.

It is already making them poorer and sicker. Like the Kolkata street vendor who squats on his haunches from fatigue and nausea. Like the woman who sells water to tourists in Delhi and passes out from heatstroke at least once each summer. Like the women and men with fever and headaches who fill emergency rooms. Like the outdoor workers who become so weak or so sick that they routinely miss days of work, and their daily wages.

“These cities are going to become unlivable unless urban governments put in systems of dealing with this phenomenon and make people aware,” said Sujata Saunik, who served as a senior official in the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and is now a fellow at the Harvard University School of Public Health. “It’s a major public health challenge.”

Indeed, a recent analysis of climate trends in several of South Asia’s biggest cities found that if current warming trends continued, by the end of the century, wet bulb temperatures — a measure of heat and humidity that can indicate the point when the body can no longer cool itself — would be so high that people directly exposed for six hours or more would not survive.

In many places, heat only magnifies the more thorny urban problems, including a shortage of basic services, like electricity and water.

For the country’s National Disaster Management Agency, alarm bells rang after a heat wave struck the normally hot city of Ahmedabad, in western India, in May, 2010, and temperatures soared to 118 degrees Fahrenheit, or 48 Celsius: It resulted in a 43 percent increase in mortality, compared to the same period in previous years, a study by public health researchers found.

Since then, in some places, local governments, aided by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group, have put in place simple measures. In Ahmedabad, for instance, city-funded vans distribute free water during the hottest months. In the eastern coastal city of Bhubaneswar, parks are kept open in afternoons so outdoor workers can sit in the shade. Occasionally, elected officials post heat safety tips on social media. Some cities that had felled trees for construction projects are busy trying to plant new ones.

The science is unequivocally worrying. Across the region, a recent World Bank report concluded, rising temperatures could diminish the living standards of 800 million people.

Worldwide, among the 100 most populous cities where summer highs are expected to reach at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, according to estimates by the Urban Climate Change Research Network, 24 are in India.

Rohit Magotra, deputy director of Integrated Research for Action and Development, is trying to help the capital, Delhi, develop a plan to respond to the new danger. The first step is to quantify its human toll.

“Heat goes unreported and underreported. They take it for granted,” Mr. Magotra said. “It’s a silent killer.”

On a blistering Wednesday morning, with the heat index at 111 degrees Fahrenheit, he and a team of survey takers snaked through the lanes of a working-class neighborhood in central Delhi. They measured temperature and humidity inside the brick-and-tin apartments. They spoke to residents about how the heat affects them. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more in the article.

This heat, which will in time affect all the tropics, is likely to cause the same sort of mass migration that we will see from the rise in sea level.

And still the GOP denies the problem.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2018 at 3:16 pm

Take a Walk in the Woods. Doctor’s Orders.

leave a comment »

Amitha Kalaichandran, M.D., writes in the NY Times:

On a damp Saturday morning last August, I joined 10 others in the woods outside Ottawa, Canada, as part of a “forest bathing” session offered by a local wilderness resort.

First we sat in a circle on the leafy ground, each sharing a moment in nature from our childhood that filled us with joy. Next our guide, Kiki, a newly trained forest therapist who insisted we call her by her first name, led us on a mindful — and very slow — walk through the forest.

“What do you hear, smell, see?” Kiki asked, encouraging us to use all five senses to become deeply “immersed” in the experience.

An older woman in the group told us that she was undergoing a difficult and stressful period in her life, and that being among the trees felt “healing.” Others mentioned that the activity reminded them of walks they took as part of Boy Scouts or commented on the sounds: insects, birds, the rustling of leaves. I noticed the bright green acorns that dotted the forest floor, which reminded me of my childhood collection of acorns and chestnuts. Admittedly, I was also worried that the early morning rain was fertile ground for vicious mosquitoes (West Nile!) and ticks (Lyme!).

We ended the two-hour forest walk with a tea ceremony, sipping a concoction of white pine needles steeped in hot water.I left feeling relaxed and more at peace, though with at least two dozen bites from mosquitoes that seemed immune to DEET.

Kiki had been trained according to standards set by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, a professional group that has certified more than 300 people across North America to be forest therapy guides, among them psychotherapists, nurses and six M.D.s. The sessions are modeled after the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku,or forest bathing.

Over the years, I’ve had physician mentors recommend Richard Louv’s books, “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods,” which describe the benefits of time spent in the wilderness, from stimulating creativity to reducing stress. Florence Williams’s best-selling book, “The Nature Fix,” has a chapter dedicated to the benefits of forest therapy. And now, it appears that more North American doctors are starting to incorporate spending time in forests into their practice.

Some small studies, many conducted in Japan and Korea, suggest that spending time in nature, specifically in lush forests, might decrease stress and blood pressure (especially in middle-aged men), improve heart-rate variability and lower cortisol levels while boosting one’s mood. An analysisof studies from 2010 that focused on exercising in nature found improvements in self-esteem, particularly among younger participants. Overall effects on mood were heightened when there was a stream or other body of water nearby.

But other studies have shown mixed results. A cross-sectional study from Korea found no change in blood pressure with forest bathing, and a systematic review from 2010 found that while time in the forest may boost mood and energy, any effects on attention, blood pressure and cortisol may not be statistically significant. Another recent review from Australia underscored the challenges of drawing causal links to disease prevention, with the authors calling for robust randomized controlled trials.

Several theories have been proposed as to why spending time in forests might provide health benefits. Some have suggested that chemicals emitted from trees, so-called phytoncides, have a physiological effect on our stress levels. Others suggest that forest sounds — birds chirping, rustling leaves — have a physiologically calming effect. Yet evidence to support these theories is limited.

On a recent visit to Japan, I met with Dr. Hiroko Ochiai, a surgeon based at Tokyo Medical Center, and her husband, Toshiya Ochiai, who is currently the chief executive of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine. Dr. Ochiai is trained in forest therapy and currently conducts most of her sessions with volunteers within a forest in Nagano, about three hours from Tokyo, with the help of a local guide, and plans to offer forest therapy soon at one of Tokyo’s largest hospitals.

“I usually encourage participants to sit or lie down on the forest ground and listen to the sounds,” she says. “The hypersonic natural world can be soothing, and things are always moving even while we are still. It can be very calming.”

Last June the Northside Hospital Cancer Institute in Atlanta began to formally offer forest therapy as part of a pilot project in collaboration with the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Twelve patients with newly diagnosed cancers recently signed up for a session, according to Christy Andrews, the executive director of Cancer Support Community Atlanta.

“It was a four-hour session that seemed to have an impact on the patients,” she said. “I remember one participant telling me afterward that it was a way to ‘steer away from cancer,’ and the group became very cohesive. I think it helped reduce the isolation in a way that’s different from a regular support group.”

Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, an obstetrician-gynecologist based in Cedar Falls, Iowa, began guiding patients in her practice through the Prairie Woods in Hiawatha Iowa, though she has also led groups in forests around Des Moines. She became a certified guide through the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy three years ago and tries to tailor her offerings based on the group she is leading.

“I generally get a sense of where people are at. For some, it’s best for me to stick to the science, but others may literally want to hug a tree. The traditional tea ceremony at the end might turn some people off, so I’m conscious of that and adjust accordingly,” she says.

In one exercise, she has participants close their eyes as she guides them through experiencing the different senses, imagining feeling their feet growing into the ground like roots of a tree, for instance, listening to nearby sounds and observing how far they may extend, or smelling the air. It’s similar in many ways to a guided meditation.

“I recently held a session where four out of the 20 participants were in wheelchairs, so I found a local park that had plenty of trees and a paved sidewalk so everyone could enjoy it,” she says.

At the University of California, San Francisco, Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Dr. Nooshin Razani, a pediatric infectious disease doctor and director of the Center for Nature and Health, has offered a similar program for the past four years. The “Shine” program,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2018 at 11:53 am

In Baby Teeth, Links Between Chemical Exposure in Pregnancy and Autism

leave a comment »

Perri Klass, MD, reports in the NY Times:

If you are a parent worrying through pregnancy, or maybe trying to make sense of your child’s neurodevelopmental problems, you aren’t always glad to see another story about a new study looking at possible environmental risk factors. From pesticides in the food to phthalates in the plastics to pollutant particles in the air, so many different exposures have been linked to problems in the developing fetal brain that parents can sometimes feel both bewildered and, inevitably, at fault for failing or having failed to take all possible precautions.

That’s a great pity, because the accumulating research is of tremendous value, particularly to families struggling with an autism diagnosis. But there’s an unfortunate tendency to treat each new study as a single explanatory solution to what is in fact a tremendously complicated and multifactorial issue.

Autism is “a very diverse condition — not all kids with autism are alike,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the chief of the division of environmental pediatrics and an associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at New York University School of Medicine. “There are a lot of shades of gray and a lot of differential dysfunction,” probably related to different parts of the brain, he said.

Craig Newschaffer, director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University, said that while it’s very important for the public to be aware that there are environmental risk factors in the development of autism, “pointing a finger at mom is not the endgame of this kind of research. The endgame isn’t going to be about individual decision making, but more about informing policy.” He offers more information in his webinar, “Four Things to Know About Environmental Autism Risk Factors.”

“I very much agree this is not about blaming the parent in any way,” said Manish Arora, professor of environmental medicine and public health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. “It’s very hard to buy your way out of exposures; many exposures are present everywhere.”

From a research point of view, Dr. Arora said, one challenge has been to measure toxic chemicals and exposures during fetal development, and connect them with an outcome like autism, which is diagnosed years later. He has developed an innovative technique using baby teeth, which start to develop toward the end of the first trimester, and form a new layer each day, growing in what he called an “incremental archival manner.” The layers can capture traces of chemicals, so that they serve as “biologic hard drives,” records of what exposures occurred during fetal development, and when they occurred, in a manner similar to the rings on trees.

Using the teeth that children have shed between the ages of 6 and 12, Dr. Arora said, it’s possible to look back at exposures during fetal development, and at other aspects of early metabolism to see whether children who later go on to develop autism are biologically different early on. In a study published in Science Advances in May, scientists used this technique to compare early zinc and copper metabolism in children with autism with their siblings without autism.

Paul Curtin, an assistant professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai who was first author on the study, said that in children with autism, regulation of zinc and copper metabolism shows differences beginning early in the course of fetal development. The point of the study was not to look at whether a child had been externally exposed to these metals, but rather at the internal metabolic rhythms of nutrients and possible toxins, at “what are the dynamics of zinc and copper metabolism, and how are those dysregulated in disease.”

Dr. Arora said this could lead to a biomarker for autism, a diagnostic test which could be administered before a child shows behavioral differences. Could finding ways to correct that disrupted pathway alter a child’s neurodevelopment?

“For the first time we have a biochemical pathway which, if we could modify, could have some effects,” Dr. Arora said. “If it turns out to be causal, there might be a therapeutic benefit — I doubt if this is the only pathway in autism, but if it is one of the more important ones, we might have something.”

Using baby teeth offers a remarkable new technique for looking back at all kinds of exposures during pregnancy. “Epidemiologists like myself are thrilled,” Dr. Newschaffer said. However, he said, “it’s very exciting but extremely early days.”

And there is never going to be one simple answer. “There are so many factors that likely contribute to the origins of autism,” Dr. Trasande said. “It’s impossible to point to any one factor for any one child,” he said. “We always speak about larger populations.”

From an epidemiologic point of view, Dr. Newschaffer said, the effects of any one exposure are likely to be of small magnitude for any one individual. The important gains in reducing autism would be seen at the population level, and therefore, the best response to the research about environmental risks would be policy change to protect the whole population.

But until those policy changes are enacted, individuals may still want to reduce their exposures and to be particularly careful during pregnancy, avoiding pesticides, for example, by buying organic produce, if that is economically feasible. “You can be a little more cautious during this time,” Dr. Newschaffer said.

“The other way more generally to limit the effect of these chemicals on the brain is healthy diet and particularly iodine,” to protect the thyroid, Dr. Trasande said, since hypothyroidism, both in children and in mothers, is emerging as a possible contributing factor to autism. And after a child is born, “we can make sure families are eating healthier diets and having the best possible environment for raising their children.”

Dr. Newschaffer said that autism researchers had previously been surprised by the link between exposure to air pollution and autism. Over 25 epidemiologic studies have found an association between prenatal and early postnatal air pollution exposure and autism. Women who have higher air pollution exposures may be living in neighborhoods where there are other exposures, he said, but still, there is an emerging body of evidence to support the association.

“Air pollution” is a very heterogeneous term, and different studies have suggested a range of pollutants as more closely linked. Other associations between prenatal risk factors and autism development are also complicated, Dr. Newschaffer said. There appears to be a connection with advanced parental age, both of the mother and of the father, and an association between autism and very closely spaced pregnancies.

Autism risk is associated with a range of perinatal and neonatal complications, but as with air pollution, it’s not a simple picture, because there are many different complications and there is not one simple or consistent relationship. There could conceivably be some biological mechanism that might be activated by a range of different complications, Dr. Newschaffer said, but whatever the mechanism . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2018 at 9:04 am

How the EPA and the Pentagon Downplayed a Growing Toxic Threat

leave a comment »

Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

A family of chemicals — known as PFAS and responsible for marvels like Teflon and critical to the safety of American military bases — has now emerged as a far greater menace than previously disclosed.

The chemicals once seemed near magical, able to repel water, oil and stains.

By the 1970s, DuPont and 3M had used them to develop Teflon and Scotchgard, and they slipped into an array of everyday products, from gum wrappers to sofas to frying pans to carpets. Known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, they were a boon to the military, too, which used them in foam that snuffed out explosive oil and fuel fires.

It’s long been known that, in certain concentrations, the compounds could be dangerous if they got into water or if people breathed dust or ate food that contained them. Tests showed they accumulated in the blood of chemical factory workers and residents living nearby, and studies linked some of the chemicals to cancers and birth defects.

Now two new analyses of drinking water data and the science used to analyze it make clear the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense have downplayed the public threat posed by these chemicals. Far more people have likely been exposed to dangerous levels of them than has previously been reported because contamination from them is more widespread than has ever been officially acknowledged.

Moreover, ProPublica has found, the government’s understatement of the threat appears to be no accident.

The EPA and the Department of Defense calibrated water tests to exclude some harmful levels of contamination and only register especially high concentrations of chemicals, according to the vice president of one testing company. Several prominent scientists told ProPublica the DOD chose to use tests that would identify only a handful of chemicals rather than more advanced tests that the agencies’ own scientists had helped develop which could potentially identify the presence of hundreds of additional compounds.

The first analysis, contained in an EPA contractor’s PowerPoint presentation, shows that one chemical — the PFAS most understood to cause harm — is 24 times more prevalent in public drinking water than the EPA has reported. Based on this, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization whose scientists have studied PFAS pollution, has estimated that as many as 110 million Americans are now at risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals.

In the second analysis, ProPublica compared how the military checks for and measures PFAS-related contamination to what’s identified by more advanced tests. We found that the military relied on tests which are not capable of detecting all the PFAS chemicals it believed to be present. Even then, it underreported its results, sharing only a small part if its data. We also found that the military’s own research programs had retested several of those defense sites using more advanced testing technology and identified significantly more pollution than what the military reported to Congress.

Even before the troubling new information about PFAS chemicals emerged, the government had acknowledged problems relating to them were spreading. Past EPA water testing, however incomplete, identified drinking water contamination across 33 states that Harvard researchers estimated affected some 6 million people. The military suspected drinking water at more than 660 U.S. defense sites where firefighting foam was used could be contaminated; earlier this year, it announced it had confirmed contamination in 36 drinking water systems and in 90 groundwater sites on or near its facilities.

The new analyses suggest these findings likely represent just a fraction of the true number of people and drinking water systems affected.

In written responses to questions, the EPA did not directly address whether it had understated contamination from PFAS chemicals. The agency said it had confidence in its current testing procedures and had set detection limits at appropriate levels. It also stated that it is taking steps towards regulating some PFAS compounds and registering them as “hazardous substances,” a classification that triggers additional oversight under waste and pollution laws.

The agency will “take concrete actions to ensure PFAS is thoroughly addressed and all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water,” then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who recently resigned, said in the written statement to ProPublica in May.

The Department of Defense also responded to questions in writing, defending its testing methods as the best available and calling it difficult to fully assess risks from PFAS because the EPA has not regulated these chemicals. A DOD spokeswoman said the Pentagon’s research group has a program underway aimed at enhancing the test methods and detecting more PFAS compounds, but suggested that no alternatives were ready for use. She did not answer questions about why the agency reported contamination levels for only two chemicals to Congress when it would have had data on many more, stating only that the Pentagon “is committed to protecting human health and the environment.”

Environmental experts aren’t convinced.

“Widespread contamination may be harming the health of millions or even tens of millions of Americans and the government is intentionally covering up some of the evidence,” said Erik Olson, a senior director for health, food and agriculture initiatives at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an interview. The EPA and Defense Department “have done all they can to sort of drag their feet and avoid meaningful regulatory action in making significant investment in cleanups.”

In May, a Politico report revealed that . . .

Continue reading.

Lead and violence in Mexico

leave a comment »

Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2018 at 4:39 pm

The Military Drinking-Water Crisis the White House Tried to Hide

leave a comment »

Emily Atkin reports in the New Republic:

The Trump administration feared it would be a “public relations nightmare”: a major federal study that concluded contaminated groundwater across the country, especially near military bases, was more toxic than the government realized. Political aides to President Donald Trump and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt pressured the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry against releasing the results.

“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” an unidentified White House aide wrote, according to Politico. “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.” The study was not released.

That is, until Wednesday. Amid a media firestorm about the administration’s immigration policy, the ATSDR—a division of the Department of Health and Human Services—quietly published its 852-page review of perfluoroalkyls, or PFAS, which are “used in everything from carpets and frying pan coatings to military firefighting foams,” according to ProPublica. “All told, the report offers the most comprehensive gathering of information on the effects of these chemicals today, and suggests they’re far more dangerous than previously thought.”

These chemical compounds pose health risks to millions of Americans. They’re in roughly 1 percent of the nation’s public water supply, according to the EPA; in roughly 1,500 drinking water systems across the country, according to the Environmental Working Group. People who drink from these systems, even if their exposure to PFAS is low, now have a potentially increased risk of cancer; of disruptions in hormones and the immune system; and of complications with fetal development during pregnancy.

But military personnel and veterans are particularly at risk, because PFAS compounds are in firefighting foams, which have been used in training exercises at military bases across America since the 1970s. Those foams have leached into the groundwater at the military facilities, and often the drinking water supply. Nearly three million Americans get their drinking water from Department of Defensesystems.

The DOD has reported widespread contamination at its bases and posts, as well as their surrounding areas. In a March report to the House Armed Services Committee, the department provided a list of 126 military facilities where nearby water supplies contained PFAS levels above the EPA’s standard, and 36 bases with drinking water contamination on site. “In all, 25 Army bases50 Air Force bases49 Navy or Marine Corps bases and two Defense Logistics Agency sites have tested at higher than acceptable levels for the compounds in either their drinking water or groundwater sources,” the Military Times reported.

The EPA had been assuring people who lived on these bases that they were safe from the potentially harmful effects of PFAS—which range in severity from weight gain to liver disease to cancer—at levels of 70 parts per trillion. But the new ATSDR study says safe levels were actually much lower, from 7 to 11 parts per trillion.

“It’s pretty pervasive problem,” Melanie Benesch, a legislative attorney at the Environmental Working Group, told me. “It’s getting into the groundwater and tap water on bases, so people living on base are of course affected.” Military personnel often live on bases with their families, so those drinking contaminated water can include pregnant women and children—two populations especially vulnerable to PFAS. And these compounds can remain in the body for six to ten years. “Veterans who have since moved off likely continue to have it in their bodies,” Benesch said.

In 2016, the Grand Rapids Press spoke to several veterans who blamed various health problems—spinal defects, thyroid problems, and hypertension—on PFAS-contaminated water at Wurtsmith Air Force Base. They began connecting the dots when, that February, Michigan officials warned against consuming well water near the facility due to the presence of the compounds. “We thought that if anything was wrong, of course someone would tell us,” one veteran said. “It feels like we’ve been betrayed.”

Since becoming aware of PFAS contamination, the DOD has “shut down wells, provided alternate water sources, or installed water treatment systems” at 11 military installations, according to a 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office. But despite that progress, “the pace of actual cleanup has been quite slow,” the Berkeley School of Law said in a report cited by the Center for Public Integrity. “Most of the time and money has been spent studying the problem,” the report added.

That time and money is wasted when those studies are delayed unnecessarily, Benesch said. “It was ready six months ago,” she said. “Six months that the government agency responsible for setting these levels, for doing the toxicology, was not able to provide us with their findings.” Providing the study earlier would have forced the EPA to consider changing its regulations sooner, Benesch said. Had parents and pregnant women on military bases known about the study, perhaps more of them would have avoided the tap water.

What, then, did the study’s temporary suppression achieve for Trump and Pruitt? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2018 at 9:46 am

%d bloggers like this: