New CDC Research Debunks Agency's Assertion That Mercury in Vaccines Is Safe
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) once again advised pregnant women to curb consumption of fish in order to limit fetal exposures to neurotoxic mercury. This warning raises the baffling query: How can the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) justify its recommendations that pregnant women get flu shots which are laden with far more mercury than what's found in a can of tuna?
The CDC has long answered that nettlesome question with the controversial claim that ethylmercury in vaccines is not toxic to humans. Now, two CDC scientists have published research decisively debunking that assertion. As it turns out, there is no "good mercury" and "bad mercury." Both forms are equally poisonous to the brain.
The CDC study, Alkyl Mercury-Induced Toxicity: Multiple Mechanisms of Action, appeared last month in the journal, Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The 45-page meta-review of relevant science examines the various ways that mercury harms the human body. Its authors, John F. Risher, PhD, and Pamela Tucker, MD, are researchers in the CDC's Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
"This scientific paper is the one of most important pieces of research to come out of the CDC in a decade," Paul Thomas, M.D., a Dartmouth-trained pediatrician who has been practicing medicine for 30 years, said. "It confirms what so many already suspected: that public health officials have been making a terrible mistake in recommending that we expose babies and pregnant women to this neurotoxin. I regret to say that I gave these shots to children. The CDC led us all to believe that it was perfectly safe."
Among the findings of the CDC's new study:
- Methylmercury, the highly-regulated neurotoxin found in fish, and ethylmercury (found in medical products, including influenza and tetanus vaccines, ear drops and nasal sprays) are similarly toxic to humans. Methylmercury and ethylmercury share common chemical properties, and both significantly disrupt central nervous system development and function.
- Thimerosal is extremely toxic at very low exposures and is more damaging than methylmercury in some studies. For example, ethylmercury is even more destructive to the mitochondria in cells than methylmercury.
- The ethylmercury in thimerosal does not leave the body quickly as the CDC once claimed, but is metabolized into highly neurotoxic forms.
Despite this stark rejection of a decade of CDC safety assurances, CDC's public relations machine is still bucking the new scientific consensus; the article concludes with a telling disclaimer in tiny font:
"The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry."
CDC's website continues to feature now discredited safety assurances.
"Baldly dismissing the danger to humans from ethylmercury, has long been a reckless gambit," said J.B. Handley, a Portland, Oregon, businessman who believes that his son received debilitating injuries from a mercury vaccine. "With this study, by its own scientists, the CDC has now edged into the realm of criminal endangerment."
Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, a vaccine safety advocacy group, condemns the CDC for misleading the medical establishment.
"The CDC knows that pediatricians and physicians rely on its public pronouncements when they make treatment decisions for their patients; how can we escape the conclusion that the agency is knowingly causing the poisoning of tens of millions of American children," Handley stated.
For example, CDC's webpage still parrots the now discredited industry canard that:
"Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is cleared from the human body more quickly than methylmercury, and is therefore less likely to cause any harm."
However, the new study makes the opposite conclusion:
"Thimerosal is quickly metabolized in vivo (in a living organism) due to its reactions with protein and non-protein thiols … so the effects of thimerosal reported in numerous articles are very likely the result of exposure to the metabolite ethylmercury."
Ignoring the agency's own scientific evidence, the CDC's webpage stubbornly insists that the "two types of mercury to which people may be exposed—methylmercury and ethylmercury—are very different." The new CDC study directly contradicts this assertion, "There are many commonalities/similarities in the mechanisms of toxic action of methylmercury and ethylmercury …"
The study meticulously details identical toxicity pathways shared by both forms of mercury:
- Both ethyl and methyl mercury cause DNA damage or impair DNA synthesis (Burke et al. 2006; Sharpe et al. 2012; Wu et al. 2008).
- Both cause oxidative stress/creation of reactive oxygen species (Dreiem and Seegal 2007; Garg and Chang 2006; Myhre et al. 2003; Sharpe et al. 2012; Yin et al. 2007).
- Both decrease glutathione activity, thus providing less protection from the oxidative stress caused by MeHg and EtHg (Carocci et al. 2014; Ndountse and Chan (2008); Choi et al. 1996; Franco et al. 2006; Mori et al. 2007; Muller et al. 2001; Ndountse and Chan 2008; Wu et al. 2008).
- Both cause effects on cell division by damaging the spindle apparatus during mitosis (Burke et al. 2006; Castoldi et al. 2000; Gribble et al. 2005; Kim et al. 2007; Ou et al. 1999b; Machaty et al. 1999; Rodier et al. 1984).
- Both MeHg and EtHg bind to the amino acid cysteine (Clarkson 1995; Wu et al. 2008).
- Both MeHg and EtHg strongly inhibit the reacylation of arachidonic acid, thus inhibiting the reincorporation of this fatty acid into membrane phospholipids (Shanker et al. 2002; Verity et al. 1994; Zarini et al. 2006).
- Both cause an increase in NOS, causing an overproduction of NO (Chen et al. 2003; Chuu et al. 2001; Shinyashiki et al. 1998).
- Both disrupt glutamate homeostasis (Farina et al. 2003a, b; Manfroi et al. 2004; Mutkus et al. 2005; Yin et al. 2007).
- Both alter intracellular calcium homeostasis (Elferink 1999; Hare et al. 1993;Kang et al. 2006; Limke et al. 2004b; Machaty et al. 1999; Marty and Atchison1997; Minnema et al. 1987; Peng et al. 2002; Sayers et al. 1993; Sirois and Atchison, 2000; Szalai et al. 1999; Tornquist et al. 1999; Zarini et al. 2006).
- Both cause effects on receptor binding/neurotransmitter release involving one or more transmitters (Basu et al. 2008; Coccini et al. 2000; Cooper et al. 2003; Fonfria et al. 2001; Ida-Eto et al. 2011; Ndountse and Chan 2008; Yuan and Atchison 2003).
"This study is a nuclear bomb detonating over the CDC," Boyd Haley, chairman emeritus of the University of Kentucky Chemistry Department, said. "It should be getting international, front page headlines."
As one of the world's leading authorities on mercury toxicity, Haley observed, "It's a momentous rejection of a widely held medical orthodoxy dictating policy changes even more significant than the medical establishment's reversals on thalidomide, calomel tooth powder, x-rays during pregnancy, or lead exposure to children. In each of these cases, thousands of children were injured or killed before an entrenched medical establishment was finally willing to abandon treatments that were unquestionably causing great harm."
Ethylmercury vs. Methylmercury in Mass Poisonings
The revolutionary conclusions of the new CDC study actually reflect decades of work by mainstream independent scientists outside the agency. A rich scientific literature that emerged from accidental poisoning events has consistently documented—despite CDC's official claims—that ethylmercury and methylmercury are equally toxic. In addition to the well-known Minamata and Iraq methylmercury-poisoning, many other large-scale food poisonings have occurred involving ethylmercury fungicides in Iraq in 1956 and 1960, in Pakistan in 1961, and in Russia in the 1960s as well. These episodes resulted in maladies ranging from basic tissue injury to heart and brain injury and even death.
Derban reported in 1974 on 144 cases of mercury poisoning from the use of ethylmercury fungicide on a southern Ghana state farm. Multiple other studies based on these poisoning events showed, as stated in a 1977 study by David Fagan, that the long-term neurological consequences produced by the "ingestion of either methyl or ethyl mercury-based fungicides are indistinguishable."
A 1979 case report concerned a fifteen-year-old boy who had eaten the meat of a pig that had fed on ethylmercury fungicide−treated seed. Documented effects on the boy included debilitating brain damage and loss of coordination, with high toxicity for the brain as well as the spinal motor neurons, peripheral nerves, skeletal muscles, and heart muscle. The boy died about one month after becoming ill.
Ethylmercury's use as pesticide was eventually banned in many countries, including the United States and those in the European Union, and for good reason: A 1977 study gauged ethylmercury chloride's relative toxicity as a pesticide as the fifth most toxic of thirty substances tested, with a score of 12.7. That grade score almost matched that of DDT, at 14.2, an infamous pesticide banned in 1972.
In 1977 Fagan reported on 13 children suffering from exomphalos (a rare abdominal wall defect that allows the intestines to protrude from the abdomen) treated with gauze soaked applications of thimerosal to prevent infection. Of thirteen patients treated with thimerosal, 9 died. The authors tested mercury levels in the tissue of 8 of the children who died. They reported that "blood and tissue levels of mercury well above the threshold at which damage occurs in all other age groups, it is extremely unlikely that these infants escape neurological damage, which may be subtle." One infant exposed to thimerosal and survived was later reported as being "restless, easily distracted, and not interested in schoolwork." The authors recommended that "organic mercurial antiseptics should be heavily restricted or withdrawn from hospital use, as the fact that mercury readily penetrates intact membranes and is highly toxic seems to have been forgotten."
Why Does the US EPA only Provide Guidelines for Exposure to Methylmercury and not Ethylmercury?
In 1995, based on research from outbreaks of poisonings and other research from the Faroe Islands and the Seychelles, the EPA established a safe "reference dose" for methyl mercury (RfD). An RfD is defined as "an estimate of a daily exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of adverse effects when experienced during a lifetime," according to the EPA.
The EPA adopted for methylmercury an RfD of 0.1 microgram of mercury per kilogram of the individual's body weight per day. Other health agencies set their own recommended limits for methylmercury exposure, including the FDA in 1979, the World Health Organization in 1989 and the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in 1999. The highest of these limits was the WHO's, at 0.47 microgram per kilogram of body weight per day.
In 1999 the US Congress directed the EPA to contract with the nonprofit, independent National Research Council (NRC) to prepare recommendations on an updated and appropriate RfD. The EPA commissioned the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the NRC to carry out a study on toxicological effects of methylmercury compounds. The goal was to review the process used by the EPA to establish national safety standards. The committee evaluated the literature, which demonstrated methylmercury compounds' high toxicity to brain tissue, even at minute levels. The NAS ultimately agreed with the EPA's originally conceived RfD, which remains in place today. An RfD has never been established for ethylmercury.
The CDC has crossed ethical and perhaps even legal boundaries by purposefully blocking efforts by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science's (NIEHS) National Toxicology Program (NTP) to test ethylmercury for toxicity – a process that would have lead to maximum exposure guidelines. In 2000, the FDA nominated thimerosal to the NTP for toxicity testing. However, CDC officials derailed the review telling the NTP committee that "There is a great concern within CDC about continued attacks from anti-vaccine groups questioning the integrity of CDC activities and recommendations regarding the use of thimerosal-containing vaccine." In response to CDC pressure, the NTP put thimerosal on permanent deferred status. Thimerosal has, therefore, never been tested for safety or toxicity.
Ethyl Mercury Exposure Levels Based on Methyl Mercury Guidelines
A single Thimerosal-preserved flu vaccine contains 25 micrograms of ethylmercury. If the EPA RfD for ingested methylmercury is applied to this injected ethylmercury figure, an individual would have to weigh more than 250 kilograms (551 pounds) for the 25 microgram exposure to be considered safe. Back in the 1990s, a two-month-old child could have received 62.5 micrograms from three vaccines in a single doctor's visit. Assuming the child weighed about 5 kilograms (11 pounds), he or she would have received 125 times the EPA RfD for methylmercury.
At least one study has suggested that the methylmercury RfD should be set lower for infants and also for fetuses. In 1995, Steven Gilbert and Kimberly Grant-Webster wrote: "Available information on the developmental neurotoxic effects of MeHg [methylmercury], particularly the neurobehavioral effects, indicates that the fetus and infant are more sensitive to adverse effects of MeHg. It is therefore recommended that pregnant women and women of childbearing age be strongly advised to limit their exposure to potential sources of MeHg. Based on results from human and animal studies on the developmental neurotoxic effects of methylmercury, the accepted reference dose should be lowered to 0.025 to 0.06 MeHg [microgram]/kg/day."
What might this mean for a fetus today? We'll take the low end of that estimate and apply it to an average 1.15-kilogram (2.54-pound) fetus at the start of the third trimester. A fetus exposed to 25 micrograms of mercury via a Thimerosal-preserved flu shot administered to its pregnant mother could be subject to 870 times the proposed lower reference dose.
Mainstream Science Suggests Ethylmercury is More Toxic than Methylmercury
New and old research support the caveat that "safe" levels of ethylmercury exposure might indeed be dramatically lower than the EPA's RfD. A 2012 Italian study, for instance, showed that ethylmercury-containing Thimerosal diminished the viability of human cells in the lab at a concentration one-fiftieth that of methylmercury. By this measure, ethylmercury is 50 times as toxic as methylmercury to humans.
Japanese research on rats in 1968 showed that ethylmercury compounds, such as ethylmercuric chloride from which Thimerosal is made, clear the body more slowly than other mercury compounds including mercuric chloride and phenylmercuric chloride.
A book chapter in 1972 by Staffan Skerfving, an emeritus professor at Lund University in Sweden, reviewed literature on methylmercury versus ethylmercury, noting several instances where compounds of the latter appeared more toxic than the former in animal studies.
For example, ethylmercury chloride killed off half of a test population of mice—a classic "LD50" (lethal dose) study—within a week at a concentration of 12 milligrams of mercury per kilogram of body weight; methylmercury chloride's LD50, meanwhile, lethal to half the mice was 14 milligrams. This study suggested that ethylmercury was twice as toxic.
Further examples abound. Pig studies by Tryphonas and Nielsen in 1973 showed that ethylmercury "proved much more toxic" than methylmercury. Meanwhile, another 1973 study that emerged from a 1971 international conference found the toxicity of ethylmercury compounds comparable to or even greater than that of methylmercury, as well as more persistent in the brain.
An advisory committee at the conference reported that the International Committee on Maximum Allowable Concentration for Mercury and Its Compounds grouped ethylmercury with methylmercury, and observed that accounts of human intoxication with ethylmercury have usually described neurological and other symptoms similar to those of methylmercury. The report noted that in studies of patients transfused with a commercial product of human plasma containing 0.01 percent Thimerosal, as well as in studies of mice injected with an ethylmercury solution, the increased level of inorganic mercury added to the mercury already existing in the body resulted in a "longer biological half-life of total mercury than that reported for methylmercury injection."
Why do the CDC and WHO Report that Ethylmercury Exposure is Safe?
The WHO's conclusion that ethylmercury is safer because of its "short" half-life may be based on observations that ethylmercury disappears from blood samples quicker than methylmercury. However, this tendency may be evidence not of ethylmercury's comparative safety, but of its greater danger if, as science has suggested, ethylmercury is not leaving the body but simply migrating more rapidly to the organs, including the brain. Indeed, studies have shown that an ethylmercury compound's short residence in the blood stems from its ability to more easily pass into the organs, where it can remain for long periods and possibly cause injury.
For example, Blair in 1975 dosed squirrel monkeys with intranasal saline or Thimerosal daily for six months, finding that, compared to the saline group, mercury concentrations in the Thimerosal group were significantly raised in the brain, liver, muscle, and kidney, though not in the blood. Although there were no signs of toxicity in the animals, Blair concluded that the "accumulation of mercury from chronic use of thiomersal-preserved medicines is viewed as a potential health hazard for man."
Beyond a possibly greater capacity to have inorganic mercury accumulate in organs, Thimerosal also passes more easily from a mother's bloodstream through the placenta into a developing baby than does methylmercury. That was the evaluation made in a 1983 review study by A. Leonard. In addition, a 1995 study demonstrated that both ethylmercury and methylmercury cause mutagenic changes at similar concentrations in bacterial cells.
The Twisted Saga of Pichichero
With these and other studies as background, an important study in humans took place in the early 2000s. The study, by Michael Pichichero of the University of Rochester Medical Center and published in The Lancet in 2002, lent some apparent scientific credence to the idea that ethylmercury is safer than methylmercury. Pichichero, who helped develop the HiB vaccine and previously received grants and honoraria as a consultant for other vaccine makers, did not declare these conflicts of interest in a statement in his paper, as required by The Lancet's peer review rules. The Pichichero study assessed mercury levels in the blood, urine, and feces of forty infants ages six months or younger three to twenty-eight days after they had received Thimerosal-preserved vaccines (DTaP, HepB, and in some cases Hib). For comparison, twenty-one similar infants who received Thimerosal-free vaccines were also evaluated. Although infants who received Thimerosal-preserved vaccines had higher levels of mercury in their blood, urine, and feces than did the infants who received Thimerosal-free vaccines, the authors concluded that the levels of mercury detected were not greater than what is considered safe. Most of the mercury from the injected Thimerosal seemed to have left the children's bloodstreams more rapidly than methylmercury found in the blood of those eating fish in previous studies; the researchers estimated a half-life of seven days for ethylmercury in the blood. Pichichero concluded that ethylmercury, therefore, did not remain in children's bodies long enough to possibly cause damage.
Pichichero's study immediately came under attack by internationally respected scientists in a 2003 letter to The Lancet by Neal Halsey, of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Lynn Goldman, also of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Halsey and Goldman pointed out that Pichichero and colleagues "did not measure the peak blood concentrations that occurred within hours after the injections." The concentration listed for one child in the study of 20.55 nanomoles per liter was obtained five days post-vaccination. Assuming Pichichero's own estimate of an ethylmercury half-life in the blood of seven days, the peak blood concentration for this child was 29.4 nanomoles per liter—exceeding the conventional safety threshold of 29.0 nanomoles per liter, and contradicting the study's claim that "no children had a concentration of blood mercury exceeding 29 nmol/L." The child in question had received 37.5 micrograms of ethylmercury rather than the possible maximum exposure of 62.5 micrograms. In the latter scenario, the child's peak blood mercury concentration would have hit 48.3 nanomoles per liter.
Another child in the study registered a 7 nanomole per liter blood concentration 21 days post-vaccination; extrapolating backwards, this child's peak mercury level might have reached 42 nanomoles per liter. Halsey and Goldman's letter further pointed out that Pichichero seemed to have cherry-picked the children in the study—some already with no margin of safety for further mercury exposure—seemed to have come from a population with low background environmental and maternal exposure to methylmercury.
Soon after publication of Pichichero's study, alarming new evidence emerged that ethylmercury lingers in the body. In an unpublished letter submitted to Pediatrics, Dr. Boyd Haley, then-chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Kentuck, and Mark Blaxill challenged Pichichero's hypothesis that ethylmercury is quickly excreted. Pichichero and colleagues had measured the excretion levels of mercury in the stools of 22 healthy infants exposed to Thimerosal-containing vaccines. Pichichero's estimated range for the infants aged two and six months was 23 to 141 nanograms per gram of stool (dry weight). Assuming the excretion rate reported by Pichichero, Blaxill and Haley demonstrated that it could take children with low excretion rates of mercury in their stool almost four years to eliminate a 187.5 microgram mercury burden from their bodies.
In 2006, Luis Maya and Flora Luna further debunked Pichichero's conclusions. The authors pointed out that while Pichichero's team had found ethylmercury to be excreted in appreciable quantities in the feces, the researchers did not study other body parts beyond the blood, such as the central nervous system. In agreement with Halsey and Goldman, Maya and Luna criticized Pichichero for neglecting to measure the peak serum levels of ethylmercury after the first hours of inoculation, though other investigations had documented substantially elevated blood concentrations in the first 48 to 72 hours after administration in pediatric vaccines. Maya and Luna also pointed out that the study was small and measured variables of pharmacokinetics (the actions of a drug within the body over time), so it was not designed to measure the biological effect of Thimerosal as a preservative.
Pichichero Redux: Yes, Ethylmercury Rapidly Leaves the Blood, but Not the Body. It Lodges in the Brain!
By then, other research had clarified that, while ethylmercury disperses quickly from the bloodstream, this is not evidence of safety. For example, a 2004 study by G. Jean Harry of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences noted that mice injected with Thimerosal accumulated mercury in both the brain and kidneys. "By seven days" post-treatment, the study authors wrote, "mercury levels decreased in the blood but were unchanged in the brain" compared to levels measured just 24 hours after treatment, indicating slow clearance.
The landmark study in this regard was conducted by the University of Washington's Thomas Burbacher and published in 2005. The researchers compared mercury levels in the blood and brains of infant macaques injected with Thimerosal-containing vaccines with monkeys who ingested equal amounts of methylmercury hydroxide via a feeding tube. The former group of primates were exposed to 20 micrograms of ethylmercury per kilogram of body weight on the day they were born and when they were seven, 14, and 21 days old, which was estimated to be within the range of doses that children at different developmental stages were receiving in the United States. The dosing methods were selected to mimic the routes of exposure in humans who eat mercury-containing foods and receive mercury-containing vaccines.
Subsequent tests showed a faster disappearance of mercury from the bloodstream of Thimerosal-injected monkeys than from the methylmercury group. Total mercury amounts in the brain were also threefold less for the Thimerosal-treated monkeys. However, the Thimerosal-injected monkeys had a higher ratio of brain-to-blood levels of mercury than the methylmercury group. In general, the primates injected with Thimerosal in the Burbacher study retained twice the level of inorganic mercury—a breakdown product of Thimerosal that has been suggested to be responsible for the brain damage associated with methylmercury—in their brains as the methylmercury-exposed primates. While all seventeen monkeys given Thimerosal had "readily" detectable levels of inorganic mercury in their brains, only nine of the seventeen exposed to methylmercury had detectable levels. Burbacher cited previous research ranging the half-life of inorganic mercury in various brain regions of primates from 227 to 540 days. In either case, that is a long time period for the toxic element to remain, especially if at higher levels from ethylmercury deposition versus methylmercury.
Burbacher and his colleagues wrote in summary that "[methylmercury] is not a suitable reference for risk assessment from exposure to thimerosal-derived [mercury]" and that: Data from the present study support the prediction that, although little accumulation of [mercury] in the blood occurs over time with repeated vaccinations, accumulation of [mercury] in the brain of infants will occur. Thus, conclusion [sic] regarding the safety of thimerosal drawn from blood [mercury] clearance data in human infants receiving vaccines may not be valid, given the significantly slower half-life of [mercury] in the brain as observed in the infant macaques.
A more recent 2012 study by Croatian researchers took a similar approach as Burbacher's study, but in suckling rats. That study also discredits CDC's claims of ethylmercury's comparative safety. Maja Blanusa and colleagues gave rat pups either Thimerosal or inorganic mercury three times in their first 11 days of life, mimicking human infant vaccination schedules. The scientists then assessed the total retention of mercury and excretion over six days. The Thimerosal-exposed rats showed higher mercury retention rates in their brains. Furthermore, these Thimerosal-exposed rats exhibited similar fecal excretion and much lower urinary excretion compared to the inorganic mercury-exposed rats. That second group also demonstrated higher retention rates of mercury in organs other than the brain.
Two additional studies in the last few years by researchers in Brazil and Germany show, again, that methylmercury in particular should not be considered summarily more dangerous than ethylmercury. The studies found that cells similarly take up both forms of mercury. The former, by Luciana Zimmermann and colleagues, showed in 2013 that the methyl- and ethylmercury entered cultured rat cells in roughly equal measure and display similar toxicities. The 2014 German study led by Christoph Wehe used novel laboratory techniques in concluding that methylmercury and ethylmercury in the form of Thimerosal accumulated in equal measure in a type of cultured human neural cell.
Overwhelmingly, the literature presents clear evidence that ethylmercury is invasive and persistent in the brain. Emerging evidence suggests that ethylmercury is more toxic than methylmercury, in direct contrast with the CDC's historic position. It's time for CDC's public relations department to catch up with mainstream science. Since the World Health Organization (WHO relies mainly on CDC's vaccine safety science, the CDC's unscientific pronouncements endanger, not just U.S. children, but hundreds of millions of children around the world. Knowing what we now know, the U.S. Federal agencies and the WHO should follow the precautionary principle and phase out the use of thimerosal in all medical products, including vaccines.
A new briefing paper details how Dominion Energy's proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would involve the blasting, excavation and removal of mountaintops along 38 miles of Appalachian ridgelines as part of the construction.
The planned 600-mile interstate
pipeline will carry 1.44 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, cutting through forests, critical animal habitats and pristine mountains that Dominion would be required to "reduce" between 10 to 60 feet, according to the paper released Thursday by the non-profit Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
The paper cites data from the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Council (FERC) as well as information supplied to FERC by Dominion. It also compiles information from Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping software and independent reports prepared by engineers and soil scientists.
"In light of the discovery that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will cause 10 to 60 feet of mountaintops to be removed from 38 miles of Appalachian ridges, there is nothing left to debate," said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
"Dominion's pipeline will cause irrevocable harm to the region's environmental resources. With Clean Water Act certifications pending in both Virginia and West Virginia, we call on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to reject this destructive pipeline."
Dominion, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is one of the nation's largest producers and transporters of energy. The developer promises that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will have "minimal environmental impact" and that "best-in-class restoration and mitigation techniques will be used to protect native species, preserve wetland and water resources, control erosion and minimize emissions." Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas also have a stake in the project.
Environmentalists and other opponents argue that the pipeline will have adverse effects on sensitive habitats, reduce property values and introduce dangerous precedents for the seizure of private property through eminent domain.
Joyce Burton, a board member of Friends of Nelson County, expressed fears that Dominion's plan to build the pipeline on steep and landslide-prone Appalachian slopes could be catastrophic.
"Many of the slopes along the right of way are significantly steeper than a black diamond ski slope," Burton said.
"Both FERC and Dominion concede that constructing pipelines on these steep slopes can increase the potential for landslides, yet they still have not demonstrated how they propose to protect us from this risk. With all of this, it is clear that this pipeline is a recipe for disaster."
Opponents of the pipeline are demanding more transparency from the company.
Ben Luckett, a staff attorney at Appalachian Mountain Advocates, said it was "astounding" that FERC has not required Dominion to produce a plan for dealing with the millions of cubic yards of excess rock and soil that will result from cutting down the 38 miles of ridgetop for the pipeline.
"We know from experience with mountaintop removal coal mining that the disposal of this material has devastating impacts on the headwater streams that are the lifeblood our rivers and lakes," Luckett added.
"FERC and Dominion's complete failure to address this issue creates a significant risk that the excess material will ultimately end up in our waterways, smothering aquatic life and otherwise degrading water quality. Without an in-depth analysis of exactly how much spoil will be created and how it can be safely disposed of, the states cannot possibly certify that this pipeline project will comply with the Clean Water Act."
Dan Shaffer, a spatial analyst with the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition, said there are too many risks involved with the project.
"Even with Dominion's refusal to provide the public with adequate information, the situation is clear: The proposed construction plan will have massive impacts to scenic vistas, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and potentially to worker and resident safety," Shaffer said.
"There is no way around it. It's a bad route, a bad plan and should never have been seriously considered."
Here are some of the new paper's key findings:
• Approximately 38 miles of mountains in West Virginia and Virginia will see 10 feet or more of their ridgetops removed in order to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
• This figure includes 19 miles in West Virginia and 19 miles in Virginia.
• The majority of these mountains would be flattened by 10 to 20 feet, with some places along the route requiring the removal of 60 feet or more of ridgetop.
• Building the ACP on top of these mountains will result in a tremendous quantity of excess material, known to those familiar with mountaintop removal as "overburden."
• Dominion would likely need to dispose of 2.47 million cubic yards of overburden, from just these 38 miles alone.
• Standard-size, fully loaded dump trucks would need to take at least 247,000 trips to haul this material away from the construction site.
The new EO will direct U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke to review the current offshore drilling plans, which limits most drilling to parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Cook Inlet, and reexamine opening parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to drilling. The EO will also roll back President Obama's permanent ban on drilling in the Arctic, issued in the last full month of his presidency. Zinke cautioned reporters that implementation of the EO will be "a multi-year effort," and several groups have pledged lawsuits to further slow down the process.
"Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is dead wrong," said Greenpeace USA senior climate and energy campaigner Diana Best.
"Renewable energy already has us on the right track to energy independence, and opening new areas to offshore oil and gas drilling will lock us into decades of harmful pollution, devastating spills like the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and a fossil fuel economy with no future. Scientific consensus is that the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves—including the oil and gas off U.S. coasts—must remain undeveloped if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change."
Best added that Trump's latest executive order does not have popular support, and instead caters to "Trump's inner circle of desperate fossil fuel executives."
"Holing up at Mar-a-lago may protect Trump from an oil spill," she said, "but it will not protect him and his cabinet of one percenters from the millions of people in this country—from California to North Carolina—who will resist his disastrous policies."
Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi agrees. "This attempt to greatly expand offshore drilling into the Arctic and Atlantic is a blatant prioritization of fossil fuel profits over the health of our climate and coastal communities," he said. "President Trump is ignoring the cries of citizens who have said offshore drilling poses too great a threat to their economies and ways of life."
For a deeper dive:
A total of 41 humpback whales died in the waters off Maine to North Carolina since January 2016, including 15 that washed up dead this year. That's about three times more than the region's annual average of just 14 humpback deaths.
"The increased numbers of mortalities have triggered the declaration of an unusual mortality event, or UME, for humpback whales along the Atlantic Coast," said Mendy Garron, stranding coordinator at the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, on Thursday.
A UME is issued whenever there is an "unexpected, involves a significant dieoff of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response," she added.
So far, NOAA has examined 20 of the whales that died last year and determined that 10 of the mammals "had evidence of blunt force trauma or pre-mortem propeller wounds" likely from marine vessels, the agency said.
The whales may be moving around in search of prey, exposing themselves to shipping traffic, researchers suggested.
"It's probably linked to resources," Greg Silber, the large-whale recovery coordinator for NOAA fisheries, told reporters. "Humpback whales follow where the prey is."
The other half of the whales that were examined had no obvious signs of what caused their demise.
"Whales tested to date have had no evidence of infectious disease," Garron said.
The scientists stressed that they are unsure about what is causing the spike in humpback deaths.
"The answer is really unknown," Silber said.
By Dave Anderson
Perry's remarks came during an on-stage interview at the 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit.
During an on-stage interview, Perry was asked if the administration would interfere with state policies requiring utilities to get power from renewable sources. Such a move would potentially destroy efforts by California, New York and other states to fight climate change by encouraging the growth of clean power.
Perry didn't rule it out, saying the reliability of the grid was a matter of national security.
"That's a conversation that will occur over the next few years," Perry said. "There may be issues that are so important that the federal government can intervene."
And according to Time's Justin Worland:
During a question and answer period, Perry also suggested that increased reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar might make the grid unreliable given they only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, creating national security concerns. The Trump administration might try to preempt state and local governments that use policy to encourage clean energy to address those concerns, Perry said.
"There's a discussion, some of it very classified that will be occurring as we go further," Perry said. "The conversation needs to happen so the local governors and legislators, mayors and city council understand what's at stake here in making sure that our energy security is substantial."
Saqib Rahim of E&E News provided a slightly different quote from Perry:
"There's a conversation, there's a discussion, some of it obviously very classified, that will be occurring as we go forward, to make sure that we have the decisions made by Congress, in a lot of these cases, to protect the security interests of America," he said at BNEF's The Future of Energy Summit, "and that states and local entities do in fact get preempted with some of those decisions."
Perry's remarks re-sparked earlier concerns that the Trump administration could seek to preempt renewable energy standard policies that are now in place in 29 states, as well as renewable energy goals adopted by another nine states. The growing number of local communities that have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy could also come under fire from the Trump administration.
Renewable Energy Is Reliable and Makes America Safer—Just Ask the Department of Energy
Rick Perry is also facing scrutiny for ordering a study examining "electricity markets and reliability" that was tasked to his Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, who previously played a central role in attacks against rooftop solar for the Edison Electric Institute. Also named to lead work on the study is political appointee Travis Fisher. Fisher previously worked for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), which have received ample funding from the Koch brothers and coal industry. IER and AEA have long sought to undermine renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina, a national leader in solar energy.
Christian Roselund of PV Magazine responded to Perry's study order by pointing out that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—one of the Dept. of Energy's 17 National Laboratories—has already written studies that show we can rely on renewable energy to provide much more of our electricity than it does today. In fact, one 2012 NREL study found that we could get 80 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2050 using existing technologies. Other studies by states and grid operators confirm that renewable energy is reliable.
Another NREL study documented the significant health and environmental benefits generated by the state renewable energy standards that the Trump administration could try to preempt. In short, these policies make Americans safer by reducing harmful pollution emitted when we burn fossil fuels—especially coal—to produce electricity.
Other reports by clean energy experts have documented the economic security benefits of these state renewable energy standards, which have supported the growth of jobs in the booming solar and wind power industries.
Real world experience also shows that renewable energy is working just fine. Texas, the state where Rick Perry was governor, actually leads the nation in wind energy generation. In fact, nearly a quarter of the electricity generated in Texas during the first quarter of 2017 came from wind.
Ask the Department of Defense, Too
The Dept. of Defense does not appear to share the Trump administration's concerns about renewable energy. In fact, the military has made significant investments in renewable energy in order to enhance national security—an investment that continues with Trump in the White House. The U.S. Navy just recently refuted misleading claims that a new wind farm could interfere with a radar system made by some Republican lawmakers in North Carolina who wrote a letter to the Trump administration.
Climate Change Is a Real Threat to Energy and National Security
In 2015, the Dept. of Energy released a report that documented the threat climate change poses to energy security—and by extension national security—in every region of the U.S.
Trump's efforts to rollback limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and his embrace of the so-called "clean coal" put the nation's energy and national security at further risk from climate change. Preempting state and local support for renewables would only increase those risks.
Rick Perry Could Support Renewable Energy by Working for a Smart Grid
Greentech Media reported that Perry made only "sparse" mention of renewable energy at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit, but did say he wants to "help renewable energy make its way to the grid … "
Preempting local and state support for renewable energy would only ensure that less renewable energy makes its way to the grid. Perry could instead take positive steps to support integration of renewable energy by working to build a smart grid, the topic of a Dept. of Energy website. He could also support the energy storage revolution that is now underway, thanks in part to earlier investments by the Dept. of Energy.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's energy policy seems to more squarely align with fossil fuel and utility interests who seek to undermine state and local support for renewable energy.
The Trump Team Is Full of Opponents of State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
Travis Fisher is not the only political pick by the Trump administration that comes with a history of attacking state and local policies that have fueled the growth of renewable energy to benefit funders in the fossil fuel or utility industry.
Trump tapped Thomas Pyle, also of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), to run his Dept. of Energy transition team. IER and AEA have targeted state renewable energy standard policies with misleading attacks for years. During the 2016 election, Trump responded to an AEA questionnaire with pledges to "review" key U.S. clean energy and climate change policies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan and science-based endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has already fulfilled part of that pledge by beginning the process of rolling back the Clean Power Plan.
Trump similarly chose climate denier Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Like Fisher and Pyle, Ebell has attacked renewable energy standards in states like Ohio. Greentech Media recently took a rather revealing look at the backgrounds of some other members of Trump's energy beachhead team.
No Uncertainty About State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
At this point, it remains unclear how exactly the Trump administration would use the pretense of reliability concerns to preempt state and local support for renewable energy. If it does seek to preempt state and local control, it will certainly face significant opposition from states and local communities—including those led by Republicans—that are already leading the way on renewable energy.
The ruling against Exxon in a suit brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club found that the oil giant failed to update emissions-reductions technology at its Baytown, Texas refining and chemical plant.
In their suit, the groups alleged the plant illegally released more than 10 million pounds of pollutants between 2005 and 2013, while Exxon gained more than $14 million in economic benefits.
"Today's decision sends a resounding message that it will not pay to pollute Texas," Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, said in a statement. "We will not stand idly by when polluters put our health and safety at risk."
For a deeper dive:
Ahead of the People's Climate March, Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey stood beside movement leaders to introduce legislation that will completely phase out fossil fuel use by 2050. The "100 by '50 Act" outlines a bold plan to support workers and to prioritize low-income communities while replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy sources like wind and solar.
"100 is an important number," said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. "Instead of making changes around the margins, this bill would finally commit America to the wholesale energy transformation that technology has made possible and affordable, and that an eroding climate makes utterly essential. This bill won't pass Congress immediately—the fossil fuel industry will see to that—but it will change the debate in fundamental ways."
The "100 by '50 Act" would put a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure projects like Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipeline, and fracked gas pipelines facing opposition from tribes and landowners. Instead of new fossil fuel infrastructure, the bill invests hundreds of billions of dollars per year in clean energy—enough to create four million jobs. These large-scale clean energy investments prioritize black, brown and low-income communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
"While fossil fuel billionaires supporting Trump's administration put profits before people, we now have a legislative roadmap to phase out this dirty industry once and for all," said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. "This bill deploys clean energy in communities that need it most and keeps fossil fuels in the ground. From Standing Rock to the Peoples Climate March, movement leaders have been calling for these solutions for years. This bill is proof that organizing works, and it's the beginning of an important conversation."
The issues covered by the bill reflect the demands of the climate movement, from Standing Rock to the fossil fuel divestment campaign, to the fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The content stands in bright contrast to Trump's vision of a more polluted America where fossil fuel billionaires profit at the public's expense. While this precedent setting bill is unlikely to pass during the Trump administration, similar bills are being considered at the state and local level in California, Massachusetts, New York and elsewhere across the country.
At a press conference held by Senators Merkley and Sanders, speakers included representatives from climate and environmental justice groups, progressive organizations and more. A crowd of supporters carried banners and signs reading "100% Clean Energy For All," and, "Keep Fossil Fuels In The Ground." The event was part of an ongoing week of action leading up to the People's Climate March on April 29, when thousands of people are converging in DC and around the country to march for jobs, justice and the climate.
By Kelly Levin
Thousands of people are expected to attend the People's Climate Movement march in Washington, DC and sister cities around the world this coming weekend. They are marching because actions taken to date by governments and others are not commensurate with the scale of climate impacts—both those already borne and those projected in the years to come.
It's a good moment to reflect on the facts. What do we know about global climate change and what impacts can we expect in the future? The following graphics speak volumes.
1. What is Climate Change?
Climate change is a long-term change in Earth's weather patterns or average climate, including temperature and precipitation. While the climate has changed in the past, we are now seeing it change at an unprecedented rate. As a result of the build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—due to our burning of fossil fuels, cutting down trees and other activities—global average temperature is now changing at a faster rate than at least over the past 1,000 years.
2. What's Causing Climate Change?
When models only include natural drivers of climate change, such as natural variability and volcanic eruptions, they cannot reproduce the recent increase in temperature. Only when models include the increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities can they replicate the observed changes.
U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency, adapted from Huber and Knutti, 2012
3. How Have Global Emissions Changed?
Emissions have been climbing since the Industrial Revolution, but the rate of annual emissions increase during the first 10 years of this century was almost double the rate between 1970 and 2000.
Global Carbon Project
Emissions from fossil fuels and industry have seen a staggering increase in recent years—63 percent since 1990.
4. Who Are the Biggest Emitters?
From 1850 to 2011, the five major emitters—the U.S., European Union, China, Russian Federation and Japan— together contributed two-thirds of the world's CO2 emissions.
Now, China has emerged as the top emitter and China, the EU and the U.S. are the world's top three emitters. Together they emit more than half of total global greenhouse gases. In contrast, the 100 smallest-emitting countries collectively add up to only 3.5 percent of global emissions. Almost three-quarters of global emissions come from only 10 countries.
5. How Much Should We Limit Global Warming?
The Paris agreement on climate change sets a target for countries to collectively limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), with a goal of sticking to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) in order to prevent some of the worst effects of climate change. The amount of carbon emissions we can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees is known as the "carbon budget." As of 2011, the world had already blown through nearly two-thirds of the carbon budget and is on track to exceed it by 2033 if emissions continue unabated.
6. Where is the Temperature Headed?
In the absence of countries' recent emissions-reduction commitments, known as intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs, we would see 4-5 degrees C of warming. Even if these INDCs are fully implemented, the average global temperature is still on track to increase 2.7-3.7 degrees C by 2100, according to a range of studies. That's far short of the global goal to limit warming to 1.5- 2 degrees C.
7. What Have Been Some of the Impacts of Climate Change to Date?
The impacts of climate change are already occurring and occurring everywhere. For example, climate change has already led to: more negative than positive impacts to crops, such as wheat and maize; coral bleaching and species range shifts; more frequent heat waves; coastal flooding; increased tree die-off in various regions; and a significant loss of ice mass in places like Greenland and Antarctica.
For example, as a result of ice melting on land, such as from glaciers and ice sheets, as well as thermal expansion of the ocean, we have seen sea level rise 3.4 millimeters per year from 1993-2015, which puts coastal communities at risk of flooding and infrastructure damage.
8. What Impacts Do We Expect in the Future?
The impacts we see in the future will be determined by our emissions pathway and resultant level of temperature increase. The warmer it gets, the greater the impacts—and the lower our ability to adapt.
9. Are There Signs of Progress?
Recently, we've seen signs of "decoupling." According to the International Energy Agency, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stayed flat for three years in a row even as the global economy grew. This flattening of emissions was due to the growth of renewable power generation, fuel switching from coal to natural gas and energy efficiency gains, among other changes.
This decoupling can also be seen at the country level in 21 nations from 2000-2014. Whether these are indicative of long-term shifts remains to be seen. We will need to see a deep decline if we are to limit dangerous climate change and even with existing emissions-reduction commitments, global emissions are not expected to decline until at least after 2030.
20. Are We Investing in Solutions?
Global investments in renewable energy have been growing in recent years to an all-time high of $285.9 billion in 2015, a 5 percent rise compared to the previous year. In 2015, renewable energy (excluding large hydro) made up the bulk (54.6 percent) of new installed generating capacity for the first time.
REN21 Renewables 2016 Global Status Report
That being said, we need to shift away from fossil fuels much more quickly if we are to have a fighting chance of limiting warming to 1.5-2 degrees C.
Marching for Action
Let's hope that as people take to the streets, it will wake leaders up to the scale of the climate change challenge and the task ahead. Avoiding the most dangerous of climate change impacts—which necessitates phasing out emissions in the second half of the century—will require sustained action well beyond this weekend's activities.
Anadarko Petroleum Corporation is temporarily closing all its vertical wells across northeast Colorado following a massive house explosion and fire in the town of Firestone last week that killed two people.
The Woodlands, Texas-based oil and gas giant said in press release it was shutting more than 3,000 producing vertical wells, which produce about 13,000 barrels of oil per day, "in an abundance of caution."
Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joseph William Irwin III, both 42, were killed in the April 17 explosion. Mark's wife, Erin Martinez, was injured as well her 11-year-old son. A GoFundMe page is currently raising funds for the family.
In its statement, Anadarko acknowledged that the blast occurred approximately 200 feet from the family's recently built two-story home on Twilight Ave., where the company operates an older vertical well drilled by a previous operator.
The tragedy has sparked concerns from local anti-fracking activists over the risks of oil and gas production in Colorado and are calling for a statewide emergency moratorium as officials and regulators investigate the cause of the explosion.
The Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) are involved with the investigation.
"While the well in the vicinity is one aspect of the investigation, this is a complex investigation and the origin and cause of the fire have not been determined," Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District Chief Theodore Poszywak said.
The Colorado Independent reported on the possible link between the Anadarko-operated gas well and the Firestone house explosion:
A source has told The Independent that personnel and trucks bearing Anadarko's logo responded soon after the explosion, and that company personnel at and near the scene over the following days came in unmarked vehicles and clothes. They were apparently paying special attention to a feeder line that may have been severed near the home.
News stories after the explosion reported that Irwin, a master plumber, was helping Mark Martinez install a hot water heater, apparently at or near the time of the explosion. The insinuation was that their work may have led to their deaths.
But that narrative sounded immediately curious to those who knew Irwin and his work, and became less plausible when Colorado's Public Utilities Commission passed the investigation on to the COGCC, which regulates the oil and gas industry.
Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen would not respond to the Independent's report or questions about the company's possible involvement.
Anadarko is one of the world's largest private oil and natural gas exploration and production companies and the largest oil and gas producer in Colorado. The state is the seventh-largest oil and gas producing state in the country.
"Our teams will remain actively engaged with residents in the Firestone community," said Brad Holly, Anadarko senior vice president of U.S. Onshore Exploration and Production.
"Colorado residents must feel safe in their own homes, and I want to be clear that we are committed to understanding all that we can about this tragedy as we work with each investigating agency until causes can be determined."
In response to the incident, Boulder, Colorado-based climate change activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is calling for immediate halt on drilling activity.
"Our thoughts and best wishes go to Martinez and Irwin families, no one should have to lose a family member before their time," Martinez, who is the youth director of Earth Guardians, told EcoWatch. "We must fight to make sure that Anadarko is held accountable, if its shown their reckless behavior played a part in their deaths, so we can ensure this is the last time a tragedy like this occurs."
"Unfortunately this is likely the result of a state that has completely failed to protect it's citizens from the impacts of fracking," Martinez added. "Based on the explosive danger coming from this industry and the proximity to homes, schools and hospitals we are calling for a statewide emergency moratorium, until it can be demonstrated that fracking can be done safely."
In March, the Colorado Court of Appeals sided with Martinez and other youth plaintiffs that the Oil and Gas Conservation Act required it to strike a balance between the regulation of oil and gas operations and protecting public health, the environment and wildlife resources.
Martinez said that the appellate court's decision "clearly states that health and safety must be prioritized with regards to oil and gas industry in the state."
"Based on that decision and [the Firestone house explosion] it's clear that all drilling activity should be halted immediately and the danger of fracking should be investigated in full," Martinez said.
A source pointed out to EcoWatch that "Fractivist" Shane Davis, a biologist who started the fracking resistance in Colorado several years ago, happened to live in Firestone and "literally moved out of the town for this very reason."
Incidentally, Davis detailed in a January blog post about the dangers of living nearby drilling operations.
One landowner's decision to lease their minerals to the fracking industry "can place hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people at risk from the dangers of the fracking industry's toxic air, groundwater contamination, fugitive emissions, failed equipment, human error, and even a blowout which is the most dangerous to communities that are close by," Davis wrote on Fractivist.org.
Anadarko said the wells will remain shut in until the company's field personnel can conduct additional inspections and testing of the associated equipment, such as facilities and underground lines associated with each wellhead. The wells will not be restarted until each has undergone and passed these additional inspections. Anadarko currently anticipates the process will take two to four weeks.