10 Most Toxic Ingredients Used In Coal, Oil and Gas Production
By Don Lieber
There are many reasons to reject fossil fuels now, after 200 years of their reign as society's primary energy source.
History will articulate both the benefits provided to human society derived from fossil fuel energy technologies from 1750 to the present—and the extensive costs.
In addition to transportation, electricity, industrial power, military and medical applications; fossil fuel technologies are also a core element behind war, political unrest, human rights abuses, extreme and permanent environmental degradation and human disease.
Perhaps the most important historical legacy of fossil fuels, however, will be their collective role as the chief protagonist behind what may be the most urgent long-term global crisis in human history: greenhouse gas–induced climate change.
It is my hope that this list, focusing on immediate public health risks (apart from climate change), serves as an adjunct to the myriad other reasons to end the use of fossil fuels—all of them—completely.
The ten "ingredients" listed in this article are not intended as an exclusive list. The major fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) each use hundreds, if not thousands, of chemicals—often not disclosed—many of which are highly dangerous to human health. Attempting a comprehensive list of all the harmful chemicals used willingly by the oil, coal and gas industries would be far beyond the scope of this blog series.
This article, rather, represents some of the more commonly cited toxic ingredients in the public literature; a starting point in reviewing the overall public health dangers inherent across the spectrum in all three major fossil fuel extraction industries: oil, coal and natural gas.
Fossil Fuel Use: Oil, Coal and Natural Gas
Benzene is a well-established carcinogen with specific links to leukemia as well as breast and urinary tract cancers. Exposure to benzene reduces red and white blood cell production in bone marrow; decreases auto-immune cell function (T-cell and B-cells); and has been linked to sperm-head abnormalities and generalized chromosome aberrations.
Benzene is one of the largest-volume petrochemical solvents used in the fossil fuel industry. It is a major component in all major fossil fuel production: oil, coal and gas.
People are exposed to it from inhaling automobile exhaust and gasoline fumes, industrial burning such as oil and coal combustion, and exposure to fracking fluids.
Studies linking Benzene from fossil fuel combustion to cancer and other severe health problems are increasingly reported from around the world. In Atlanta, scientists from Emory University earlier this year reported a “significant increase" in non-hodgkins lymphomas in regions close to oil refineries and plants that release benzene. In Canada, scientists reported unusually high rates of leukemia and non-hodgkins Lymphoma among residents living “downwind" from the tar sands fields in Alberta—corresponding with high benzene levels found in the same locations. In Calcutta (India) researchers recently linked sudden “spikes" in certain cancers to a corresponding rise in Benzene emissions since 2007.
The Colorado School of Public Health last year published a report which warned that the benzene from fracking operations gives local residents higher long-term cancer risks. “Benzene is the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risks" for people living near fracking wells, said Lisa McKenzie, Ph.D., MPH, lead author of the study.
The damage benzene inflicts on the human body, however, often takes many years to develop—but those effects are catastrophic. As the fossil fuel industry blankets the U.S. and Canada with recently invented, highly profitable extraction methods such as fracking gas and tar sands oil production, long-term consequences have not been well considered. The story of Camp Lejune is worthy of study:
Over a period of thirty years from the 1950s to the 1980s, troops stationed at the U.S. military base at Camp Lejune, NC, unknowingly drank and bathed in highly contaminated water containing benzene (and a host of other toxic chemicals, originating from leaked fuel tanks and other commercial sources both on and off the base).
Starting in the 1970s, unusual forms of cancers associated with long-term exposure to benzene became rampant among the camp's residents. Mary Freshwater was a military wife who lived on the base for many years.
“I was very active with the Officers' Wives Club. We were at a party at one of my friend's house one night. There were five of us in different stages of pregnancy. Every one of us lost their baby to a birth defect," she told ABC news in this 2012 report, part of which I'll repost here:
On Nov. 30, 1977, Freshwater gave birth to a son, Russell Alexander Thorpe, but the baby was born with an open spine. He died one month later. At the time, few people were aware of the chemicals in the drinking water, nor the long-term health effects of those chemicals. Doctors suggested to Freshwater that she try to get pregnant again—and she did. Her second son, Charlie, was born without a cranium, and died the same day. Today, Freshwater is 68 years old and has been diagnosed with two different kinds of cancers, acute myeloid and acute lymphoma. She says doctors told her the diagnosis was consistent with exposure to chemicals such as benzene, which she was exposed to during her time at Camp Lejeune.
The full story of the contaminated water at Camp Lejune is told in the documentary, Semper Fi: Always Faithful.
The use of benzene, like other toxins used in oil and gas, is particularly insidious because the effects—as seen in the children of the military families at Camp Lejune—take many years to manifest. And due to lax regulations, these products have been rushed into use long before any long-term testing has been possible.
“It takes about 20 years, let's say, for solid tumors to develop after exposure to a chemical," said Brian Schwartz, an environmental epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University.
The fossil fuel industry actively suppresses benzene disclosure and regulation. In April 2001, the Koch Petroluem Group (now Flint Hills Resources—still owned by the Koch brothers) “pleaded guilty to a felony charge of lying to the government about its benzene emissions."
The Koch brothers reported 1/149th of their actual benzene pollution to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The company was fined $10 million and ordered to fund an additional $10 million in costs for environmental cleanup in South Texas.
2. & 3. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Fossil Fuel Sources: Oil, Coal and Gas
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are two primary examples of particle-forming air pollutants (particulate matter) from coal power plants. Particulate matter is known to contribute to serious health problems, including lung cancer and other cardiopulmonary mortality. SO2 and NOx are both highly toxic to human health, and contribute directly to thousands of hospitalizations, heart attacks and deaths annually.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health, for example, labels sulfur dioxide “extremely toxic." At high concentrations, it can cause life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema); and it is linked to to respiratory ailments including chronic lung disease and asthma, as well as heart disease. It can be fatal upon inhalation at high exposure rates.
SO2 is particularly dangerous for children. Studies correlate SO2 emissions from petroleum refineries—even in lower exposure levels over time —to higher rates of childhood asthma in children who live or attend school in proximity to those refineries. Similarly, small particles of NOx can penetrate deeply into sensitive lung tissue and damage it, causing premature death in extreme cases. Inhalation of such particles is associated with emphysema and bronchitis.
The largest sources of combined global SO2 and NOx emissions are from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities.
The American Journal of Public Health published reports in 2009 that high levels of sulfur dioxide, associated with oil refining, was found indoors in residential homes in Richmond, CA—a community which straddles four major oil refineries, including the massive Chevron oil refinery. The refinery processes up to 240,000 barrels of crude oil per day. In 2010 alone, it released some 575,669 pounds of chemicals, including SO2, into air, water and waste facilities. It may be no surprise, then, that residents of Richmond suffer statistically significant higher risks of dying from heart disease and strokes and are more likely to go to hospitals for asthma than any other nearby county residents.
Conversely, one study in France reported a significant reduction in hospital visits related to SO2 exposure during the period of a national oil-refinery strike in France—when oil production ceased temporarily, and SO2 emissions dropped.
SO2 and NOx emissions represent a known and significant health risk from routine oil, gas and coal production—yet these emissions from oil and gas accidents pose additional—and unforeseen—risks. Worse, many oil- and gas-related accidents are not reported to the public at all—such as the 300 oil pipeline spills in North Dakota, which, since 2010, have never been reported. Accidents, whether reported or not, are a significant contributor to SO2 contamination and represent a serious public health risk. More than 42,000 tons of SO2 were released from oil and gas accidents—in Texas alone—between 2009 and 2011.
This raises the question: just how much SO2 and NOx is emitted from fossil fuel sources, and exposed to the public, without anyone ever knowing about it?
4. Petroleum Coke (Pet Coke)
Fossil Fuel Source: Oil (particularly tar sands bitumen)
Pet coke is an increasingly abundant by-product of tar sands bitumen oil processing. It is a heavy dust which resembles coal. It contains dozens of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals, including chromium, vanadium, sulfur and selenium. Research on its risks to public health have been scant; the little research so far is inconclusive. As explained by Chris Weisener, a researcher at the University of Windsor: “there is not much information about pet coke available, so its effects are not conclusively known."
Does, in fact, pet coke represent a public health threat?
“From the air perspective, as long as it's not being burned, the only concern would be fugitive dust," said Chris Ethridge of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. (As if “fugitive dust"—laced with toxins—would be perfectly harmless floating freely in the air.)
In fact, it is burned. The huge expansion of the tar sands oil mining in Alberta has created an unprecedented abundance of pet coke, which is now being used instead of coal in coal-powered power plants. It has become a huge export commodity in its own right. From Jan. 2011 to Sept. 2012, the U.S. exported more than 8.6 million tons of pet coke to China, most of which was likely burned in coal-fired power plants. (The largest pet coke trader in the world is Oxbow Corporation, owned by William Koch—brother of known fossil fuel industrialists David and Charles Koch.)
The burning of pet coke not only poses significant health risks—it is also an egregious contributor to global climate change. When burned, pet coke emits five to 10 percent more CO2 even than coal.
But pet coke's dangers are hidden from the public. The industry classifies it as a “refinery byproduct," which allows it to be excluded from most assessments of the climate impact of tar sands oil production—ignoring completely its dangerous end-use effects.
As tar sands oil production in Alberta has increased exponentially in the past decade, its waste stream can no longer be hidden away in the remote Canadian hinterland. Piles of pet coke this year turned up in Detroit and Chicago, "exported" from the tar sands production fields in Alberta, where it is now stored for subsequent export.
Dark, rising clouds of pet coke have sparked public protests in Detroit and Chicago, lawsuits (the Koch brothers are accused of illegal pet coke storage, to nobody's surprise), health complaints and charges of environmental racism (it's dumped, like much industrial waste, in low-income, mostly non-white neighborhoods).
Nevertheless, as an increasingly abundant by-product of the expanding tar sands oil industry, it is becoming a “profitable" fossil fuel product in its own right, even spawning its own own industry support groups: the 13th annual Petcoke Conference is being held in San Diego in Feb. 2014, hosted by “The Jacobs Group"—one of the leading “pet coke service industries."
The industry ignores the public health dangers, the environmental hazards and the dramatic climate implications of pet coke; it is instead presented—as seen in the industry website snapshot below, as an exciting element of an expanding new energy industry. In truly Orwellian language, climate-killing pet coke is presented in attractive terms with these words: “amid accelerating change, standing still is not an option."
Fossil Fuel Source: Natural Gas
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen with known links to leukemia and rare nasopharyngeall cancers, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Formaldehyde is highly toxic regardless of method of intake. It is a potent allergen and genotoxin. Studies have linked spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, low birth weights, infertility and endometriosis to formaldehyde exposure. Epidemiological studies link exposure to formaldehyde to DNA alteration. It is also contributes to ground-level ozone.
Formaldehyde is commonly used in fracking— although, the industry does not report the details of its use.
In 2006, the fracking industry was granted waivers from federal clean air and water regulations (known as The Halliburton Loophole) — since then, it has operated with few, if any, reporting requirements regarding the chemicals it uses. (The waiver was promoted by the Bush-Cheney White House; Cheney, of course, was the former CEO of Halliburton).
Independent studies, however, have detected dangerous levels of formaldehyde in both wastewater and ambient air emissions from fracking operations. One researcher, with the Houston Advanced Research Center, said reading from one test site in north Texas, “astoundingly high," and, “I've never heard of ambient (formaldehyde) concentrations that high… except in Brazil."
The designation of formaldehyde as a dangerous ingredient in fossil fuel production has been vigorously contested by both the fossil fuel industry and by the members of the U.S. Congress who receive huge funds from the industry.
In 2009, Koch Industries, one of the nation's largest fossil fuel companies, lobbied against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed declaration that formaldehyde “should be treated as [a] known human carcinogen." The largest recipients of oil and gas industry contributions in the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) and Sen. Vitter (R-LA), also lobbied extensively against the designation.
Sen. Vitter, indeed, accepts money directly from the formaldehyde industry. According to Talking Points Memo, his election campaign received about $20,500 in 2009 from companies that produce large amounts of formaldehyde waste in Louisiana. His preferences for the people of Louisiana are clear, and they aren't the avoidance of cancer.
6. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)
Fossil Fuel Sources: Oil and Coal
In actuality, this is not a single listing—polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) is an entire class of toxic chemicals, linked together by their unique chemical structure and reactive properties. I include them on this list because they are frequently cited collectively as a primary fossil fuel pollutant.
Many PAHs are known human carcinogens and genetic mutagens. In addition, there are particular prenatal health risks: prenatal exposure to PAHs is linked to childhood asthma, low birth weight, adverse birth outcomes including heart malformations and DNA damage.
Additionally, recent studies link exposure to childhood behavior disorders; researchers from Columbia University, in a 2012 Columbia University study, found a strong link between prenatal PAH exposure and early childhood depression. Infants found to have elevated PAH levels in their umbilical cord blood were 46% more likely to eventually score highly on the anxiety/depression scale than those with low PAH levels in cord blood. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The rapid development of the Alberta tar sands oil fields in Alberta, Canada, has coincided with both the discovery of dangerous levels of PAHs in the region and multiple reports of significantly higher rates of cancer and other diseases in the adjacent communities. As reported in one local newspaper:
More women in the community are contracting lupus. Infant asthma rates have also increased. During the summer months, it is not uncommon to find mysterious lesions and sores after swimming in Lake Athabasca. “When you look at what is happening in the area, it can't not be related to development," says Eriel Deranger, a spokesperson for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “Too many times, we see things in the animals and health that the elders have never seen before."
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 provides another window into the previously hidden dangers of PAHs in oil production. Following the massive spill, scientists found PAH levels to be 40 times higher than before the spill.
Local fisherman, normally accustomed to some of the most abundant and healthy fisheries in the U.S., subsequently reported finding horribly mutated shrimp with tumors on their heads, some lacking eyes and eye sockets, clawless crabs “with shells that look like they've been burned off by chemicals." An increasing number of scientists from diverse specialties—biologists, fish physiologists, environmental toxologists—from Louisiana State University, North Carolina University, North Texas University and others cite PAHs from the spill as the most likely culprit.
The effects of PAHs to wildlife in the Gulf waters—coming to light several years after the spill—may merit attention across the American heartland as U.S. domestic oil production increases dramatically.
Will North Dakotans, for example, soon begin to see a sharp rise in rare cancers, due to the hundreds of unreported PAH-infused oil pipeline spills in that state since 2012, like their unfortunate northern neighbors in Alberta are now experiencing near the tar sands fields?
Is this what we mean by “energy independence?"
Fossil Fuel Source: Coal
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin. It damages the brain and the nervous system either through inhalation, ingestion or contact with the skin. It is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children. It is known to disrupt the development of the in-vitro brain. In low doses, mercury may affect a child's development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span, and causing learning disabilities. High dose prenatal and infant exposures to mercury can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. In adults, mercury poisoning can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure regulation and can cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss and numbness of the fingers and toes.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of airborne mercury emissions in the U.S. The mercury emitted from such plants can travel thousands of miles; scientists recently linked the chemical fingerprint of mercury found in fish in deep portions of the Pacific Ocean to coal power plants thousands of miles away in Asia.
Here in the U.S., many of the largest coal-powered power plants are located within 50-100 miles of some of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Austin.
One out of every six women of childbearing age in the U.S. have blood mercury levels that could be harmful to a fetus, according to EPA reports. The EPA estimates that 300,000 children are born each year at risk for significant development disorders due to mercury exposure.
You may not hear references to mercury in the television ads speaking about “clean coal." But it's in there, too.
8. Silica (Silicon Dust/Fracking Sand)
Fossil Fuel Source: Natural Gas
Silica is commonly used, in huge amounts, during fracking operations. Each stage of the process requires hundreds of thousands of pounds of silica quartz–containing sand. Millions of pounds may be used for a single well.
The presence of silica in fracking operations, simply put, is a major safety risk with a high likelihood of dangerous exposure. Case in point: researchers from the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently collected air samples at 11 fracking sites in five different "fracking states" (CO, ND, PA, TX and AR) to evaluate worker exposure to silica. Every single site had measures higher than the NIOSH threshold for safe exposure—so high, in fact, that about one-third of the samples collected were even above the safe threshold for wearing a safety respirator mask. This was reported in May 2013 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.
The natural gas industry and its political allies have lobbied extensively against safety regulations and chemical disclosure laws; there are no federal or state standards for silica in ambient air, despite the high risks involved in acquiring lung disease. In 2006, the natural gas industry was given a waiver from the Clean Air and Water Act, granting the industry "free reign" in using the chemicals it needed without the strict rules of disclosure and/or regulation which other polluting industries were beholden to. (The waiver, of course, was an executive branch ruling—that is, approved only with the permission of the Bush/Cheney White House.)
The industry exerts considerable influence in state policies as well, with particular influence in the main "fracking states": North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Wisconsin. The relationship between the former Governor of Pennsylvania and the gas industry is a strong example: Gov. Corbett (R-PA), over his political career, received more than $2 million dollars in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industries (oil, coal and gas). Their support, arguably, was a crucial factor behind his 2010 election victory. In that election, the industry favored Corbett over his opponent, Dan Onorato, by more than 10:1, giving the Corbett campaign $1.3 million while only contributing $130,300 to Ontorato.
Corbett, ever the gentleman, said "thank you" to his benefactors two years later when he pushed a law through the state legislature which restricted the rights of doctors from discussing with their patients potential links between symptoms and chemicals used in nearby fracking operations —adjacent to residential property, for example. (This was at the same time that numerous studies, including this one from the National Academy of Sciences, were reporting these very same links). This "gagging" law by Gov. Corbett was cited by the New England Journal of Medicine, which accused the gas industry of “infringing on clinical practice and the patient-physician relationship" in Pennsylvania.
The fracking industry, in fact, is increasing its use of silica. New fracking techniques are currently being developed (using "shorter and wider" fracks) which will use significantly higher volumes of silica dust than ever before. The industry, expecting a period of growth, is ignoring the high risks of lung cancer and, instead, touting the expected rise in "frack sand stock value."
Fossil Fuel Use: Natural Gas
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas which causes lung cancer. It is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoking. About 20,000 people per year die from lung cancer attributed to radon exposure according to the National Cancer Institute. Further, there is no known threshold below which radon exposures carries no risk.
Radon exposure can come from a variety of natural sources. However, the newly-developed fossil fuel extraction methods collectively known as fracking (natural gas) represents a significant new and increased source of radon exposure to millions of citizens. Radon is released into local groundwater and air during fracking operations. It also travels through pipelines to the point of use—be it a power plant or a home kitchen.
The science behind radon release and exposure is complex but explained well here by Christopher Busby, the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who warns that radon dangers from fracking “have not been addressed properly (or at all) by the environmental impact statements published by the operators, or by the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA."
The proliferation of fracking in the U.S. has raised increased concern that the long-term public health consequences of radon exposure are being ignored in favor of the perceived short-term economic advantage of using fracked gas. In New York City, for example, Mayor Bloomberg has promoted the increased use of newly fracked natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region fields in Pennsylvania: the Spectra Pipeline, for example, is a massive new gas pipeline which, on Nov. 1, went on-line and is now transporting up to 800 million cubic feet of fracked gas into the center of Manhattan every day.
The industry (and NYC Mayor Bloomberg) touts the development of fracking as an achievement for “clean energy" and American energy “independence." The laws of chemistry and biology, however, tend to ignore patriotic soundbites, and Mayor Bloomberg is not doing New Yorkers any favors from importing newly fracked gas from Pennsylvania: the radon levels from wells in the Marcellus Shale are significantly higher than elsewhere in the U.S. This fact, combined with the short travel distance to end use in New York means that citizens throughout the most populated city in the U.S. will now be exposed to more amounts of this highly carcinogenic gas than ever before—in their homes, at work, in schools and yards above the highly pressurized pipelines running throughout the not-so-invulnerable New York City underground power grid (remember Sandy?), on the very streets of Manhattan.
“City and state leaders have failed to think through the consequences of promoting radon-laced natural gas, and they failed to heed clear warning signs that gas from Pennsylvania represents a major threat to the public health of New Yorkers," said Albert Appleton, former commission of the NYC Dept. of Environmental Protection and senior fellow at the Cooper Union Institute of Sustainable Design.
Another industry expert, Marvin Resnikoff, a PhD physicist and international radioactive waste consultant, put it more succinctly. Using fracked gas from Marcellus, he said, will directly lead to thousands of new cases of lung cancer in New York.
Long-term studies from diverse science, research and public health organizations, such as this one from the Federal Office of Public Health, provide evidence to take these warnings seriously. Many of these studies provide evidence that indoor radon causes a significant number of lung cancer cases in the general population.
Dr. Resnikoff cited the the lack of attention, however, given to radon dangers by the New York State Department of Conservation's Environmental Impact Statement on the use of Marcellus Shale fracked gas. “In the entire 1400 page statement there is only one sentence containing the word “radon" and no consideration of this significant public health hazard." Read his full report here.
Such government apathy runs contrary to the findings by the world's leading public health and science organizations who have published very clear warnings. Organizations such as the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute, all articulate a definitive, well-established connection between radon and lung cancer.
…and yet, like the tobacco industry in years past, today's fossil fuel industry denies the science. Thus, a spokesperson for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a gas industry trade group, recently disputed the findings of the world scientific community about the dangers of radon: “Their claims are unsupported by facts and science," says MSC spokesman Travis Windle.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition's website, it should be noted, makes no mention of the bloody lungs and painful bone metastases which, eventually, occur in end-stage lung cancer resulting from radon. Instead, it refers to the promise of “clean, job-creating American natural gas." (Yes, the website actually says “clean.")
10. Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) / Hydrogen Fluoride
Fossil Fuel Source: Oil and Gas
Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is “one of the most dangerous acids known." HF can immediately damage lungs, leading to chronic lung disease; contact on skin penetrates to deep tissue, including bone, where it alters cellular structure. HF can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through skin.
The senior laboratory safety coordinator at the University of Tennessee said, “Hydrofluoric Acid is an acid like no other. It is so potent that contact with it may not even be noticed until long after serious damage has been done."
Hydrofluoric Acid is a common ingredient used in oil and gas extraction.
Numerous studies, including recent ones conducted by both The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the United Steelworkers Union (USU) cite the oil industry's abysmal safety record as a high risk factor for a major HF accident; over the past decade, more than 7,600 accidental chemical releases from refineries have been reported by the industry. In the past three years alone, a total of 131 “minor" accidents involved HF.
One major refinery's experience speaks volumes about the fossil fuel industry's disregard for safety and public health: the BP Texas City refinery. This single refinery has accumulated more than 600 safety violations, which, inevitably, led to tragedy: in 2005, a series of explosions at the refinery killed 15 people and injured hundreds more.
This tragedy, however, was not entirely unforeseen by BP. Internal BP memos subsequently revealed that, in the days before the explosion, refinery managers in Texas lamented that “safety is not viewed as the #1 priority" (by company executives in London). Indeed, the memos discussed the likelihood that the refinery “would kill someone." (This is the same BP which federal investigators found responsible for numerous safety failures leading to the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill.)
And it isn't only the workers who are at risk. Public health officials have long warned that HF accidents at oil refineries have a high likelihood of causing “mass casualties." within the civilian population at large.
50 U.S. refineries use HF, many in close proximity to highly populated urban areas such as Houston, Memphis and Philadelphia. THE CPI study estimates some 16 million people are within dangerous range of an accidental HF release—HF travels easily in the air, at great distance.
The fossil fuel industry is subject to little regulatory oversight. Federal rules for the use of HF in oil and gas refining are almost non-existant; there is no mention of the topic in the Bureau of Land Management's recent draft rule for well stimulation methods with HF use (including fracking).
The oil and gas industry spends considerably on lobbying and political campaign contributions to ensure the rules remain lax. In 2013, so far, it has spent more than $100 million in federal lobbying, ranking third among all U.S. industries in federal lobbying. In the past 15 years, the oil and gas industry has spent approximately $1.4 billion in federal lobbying. The energy exercises further influence through additional massive contributions to the political campaigns of friendly U.S. congresspersons. It has contributed millions of dollars to the campaigns of Sen. Inhoffe, Sen. McConnel (R-KY), Sen. Vitter, Sen. Boehner (R-OH), Sen. Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Blunt (R-MO) and others, all of whom have proven loyal to the industry by consistently voting against proposed new safety and public health oversight and regulations.
The lack of regard to the enormous risks to the public posed by HF in fossil fuel production was summarized by a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, one of the largest oil industry lobby groups in the nation, who, when asked to respond to questions about HF safety, simply said: “We use HF acid because it's effective."
Visit EcoWatch's ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Isabella Garcia
On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.
Grassroots Resistance<p>The plant that would threaten Laur's health and home was awaiting the approval of an air permit by the North Carolina Department of Air Quality which, if approved, would basically greenlight the project. "This made me get out and go door to door," Laur says. One by one, she alerted her neighbors to the prospect of the asphalt plant. "I got to meet some of my neighbors I never knew before," she says. "There's no secret that there has always been a pretty strong line between the White community and the Black community here." In the end, three neighbors joined her efforts—the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, Anita Foust, and Bill Compton. Together, they formed the Anderson Community Group to advocate for environmental justice in their community.</p><p>"We are all the four corners of the community," Laur says with a laugh. "You've got a sick old White lady, Rev. Shoffner is a disabled vet, you've got Anita, who is a Black woman, and you've got a White, old country farmer. We all come from different faiths, but we've all come together as one."</p><p>Suddenly thrust into activism, the group contacted the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, a coalition that provides resources and connections with other groups. "We advocate, we organize, and we assist communities with whatever actions they are thinking of trying to protect themselves," says Naeema Muhammad, the network's co-director. Muhammad met with the activists from Anderson and recognized their need for legal advice, so she connected them with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The legal resources were key when the group determined that the data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's environmental justice report wasn't adding up.</p><p>The report—a requirement for all DEQ permit requests—stated that the Anderson community was 33% minority. That seemed far too low to the residents, so the Anderson Community Group did a census of each house within a 1-mile radius of the proposed plant—the same radius considered in the DEQ's environmental justice report.</p><p>"Rev. Shoffner went out into the community and did his own survey and found out that it was more than 70% minority," Laur says. "That was huge, because that changed the situation to a Title VI matter." Title VI is a federal civil rights law that prevents people from being discriminated against on the grounds of race, color, or national origin. Title VI cases require a more rigorous and comprehensive environmental justice report, so recognizing the Anderson community as a Title VI matter increases the strength of their request for a more in-depth report.</p><p>The massive difference in race demographics comes down to census data, Laur says. The DEQ was using race data from the 2010 census, which was only <a href="https://www.censushardtocountmaps2020.us/?latlng=35.77385,-78.73807&z=7&query=coordinates::36.44038,-79.36343&promotedfeaturetype=states&arp=arpRaceEthnicity&baselayerstate=4&rtrYear=sR2010&infotab=info-rtrselfresponse&filterQuery=false" target="_blank">completed by about 64% of the population of Caswell County</a>—the county where Anderson is located. Laur says the Anderson population response rate could be even lower because the community is considered <a href="https://www.nccensus.org/about-the-census#hard-to-count-communities" target="_blank">"hard-to-count" by the U.S. Census Bureau</a>.</p><p>"The people who don't fill it out are rural people who want to keep their land and don't want zoning and minorities," Laur says, which creates skewed race demographics. The Anderson Community Group said that when they brought up this issue with the director of North Carolina DEQ, he said he was aware of the problem.</p><p>"So that tells me that all the EJ reports in North Carolina that have been done may not even be valid, just like ours," Laur says. "We were told that we are the first [community members] who have ever doubted it and checked it out."</p>
Elevating Voices<p>Determined to have new data collected, the Anderson Community Group rallied in early 2020. After learning from the state Department of Air Quality, the department responsible for approving or rejecting the asphalt air permit, that 100 statements of concern from community members would be sufficient to trigger a public hearing, the Anderson group gathered letters of concern from their community. They submitted more than 108.</p><p>"Then we were told there wasn't enough concern to have a public hearing," Laur says. "So, we started inundating the [Department of Air Quality director with emails and phone calls from the community."</p><p>Finally, in February 2020, the DEQ declared a public comment period for the issue, effectively placing the air permit for the asphalt plant on hold until a public hearing August 3. The public hearing will be held online because of COVID-19, but Laur says most people in Anderson don't own computers, and won't be able to attend. When the community group filed a complaint regarding accessibility, the DEQ then allowed public comments to be submitted via voicemail.</p><p>"Well, we don't have a cell tower out here," Laur says. She has personally never been able to use her cellphone in her home, and even her landline phone drops calls frequently. Even being able to afford a landline is a luxury in Anderson, Laur says.</p>
By Danielle Nierenberg and Jason Flatt
The world's Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the world's poor, according to the World Health Organization.
1. Aboriginal Carbon Foundation (Oceania)<p>The Aboriginal Carbon Foundation is building a carbon farming industry in Australia by Aboriginals, for Aboriginals. The Foundation offers training and support for new Indigenous farmers so they can learn how to capture atmospheric carbon in the soil. The carbon farming projects generate certified <a href="http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/Infohub/Markets/buying-accus/australian-carbon-credit-unit-supply" target="_blank">Australian Carbon Credit Units</a> (ACCU), which major carbon-producing businesses must purchase to offset their carbon emissions. Income generated by ACCUs is reinvested in Aboriginal communities by the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation and its participating farmers.</p>
2. AgroEcology Fund (International)<p>The AgroEcology Fund (AEF) galvanizes global leaders and experts to fund <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/07/26-organizations-working-to-conserve-seed-biodiversity/" target="_blank">biodiverse</a> and regenerative agriculture projects worldwide. Projects funded by AEF have included Indigenous food sovereignty initiatives, agroecology training institutions, and women's market access networks on every continent. With the support of governments and financial institutions, AEF hopes that agroecology will become the standard model for food production worldwide within thirty years.</p>
3. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (Asia)<p>The Asia Indigenous People Pact is an alliance of Indigenous organizations across southern and eastern Asia. Collectively, the Pact promotes and protects Indigenous lands, food systems, and biodiversity. Their alliance is bolstered by regional youth and women's networks, as well as support from international institutions, including the United Nations and Oxfam.</p>
4. Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (South America)<p>The Association of Guardians of the Native Potato from Central Peru (AGUAPAN) is a collective of Indigenous farmers. Each farmer grows between 50 and 300 ancestral varieties of potato, which are <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/07/food-tanks-summer-2020-reading-list/" target="_blank">indigenous to the Andes Mountains</a> of modern-day Peru. AGUAPAN farmers preserve the crop's biodiversity in their native communities and band together to advocate for economic, gender, education, and healthcare equity.</p>
5. Cheyenne River Youth Project (North America)<p>The Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota has served Lakota youth for more than three decades. Its Native Food Sovereignty initiative offers public workshops on <a href="https://www.nativeseeds.org/blogs/blog-news/how-to-grow-a-three-sisters-garden" target="_blank">Three Sisters gardening</a> of corn, beans, and squash. They also offer classes on Indigenous plants, gardening, and cooking. Their Winyan Tokay Win (Leading Lady) Garden serves as an outdoor classroom to reacquaint Lakota children with the earth. Their other programs use food grown in the garden for meals and snacks. They also sell surplus crops at their weekly Leading Lady Farmer's Market.</p>
6. Dream of Wild Health (North America)<p>Dream of Wild Health runs a 10-acre farm just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their Indigenous Food Share CSA program and farmer's market booths sell produce and value-added products grown by Native Americans. During the summer, Dream of Wild Health offers a Garden Warriors program where children can learn about seed saving, foraging, farmers market management, and other aspects of food sovereignty. They also host the <a href="https://dreamofwildhealth.org/indigenous-food-network" target="_blank">Indigenous Food Network</a> (IFN), a collective of Indigenous partners who advocate for local and regional policy changes. The IFN also hosts community food tasting events featuring prominent Indigenous chefs.</p>
7. First Peoples Worldwide (International)<p>First Peoples Worldwide was <a href="http://www.firstpeoples.org/" target="_blank">founded</a> by Cherokee social entrepreneur <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQxwHVeH6zc" target="_blank">Rebecca Adamson</a> to help businesses to align with First Peoples' rights. Now a part of the University of Colorado's <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/business/CESR" target="_blank">Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility</a>, First Peoples Worldwide continues to ensure that Indigenous voices are at the forefront of decision-making processes affecting their own self-determination. The organization works with businesses and institutions to assess their investments and guide them in incorporating Indigenous Peoples' rights and interests into their business decisions.</p>
8. Indigikitchen (North America)<p>Mariah Gladstone's Indigikitchen uses Native foods as resistance. Her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO918GT8I3HX5f4Z1xKCV4A" target="_blank">cooking videos</a> offer healthy, creative ways to eat <a href="https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=PR005" target="_blank">pre-contact</a>, Indigenous foods. The recipes abstain from highly-processed grains, dairy, and sugar, ingredients that did not become standard in diets of the Americas until European colonization. Indigikitchen hopes that its recipes inspire Indigenous cooks to connect with Native foods.</p>
9. Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative (North America)<p>The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas provides model policies for Tribal governments to help <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/05/colby-duren-talks-indigenous-food-and-agriculture-policy/" target="_blank">promote and protect food sovereignty</a>. They also co-organize the Native Farm Bill Coalition with the <a href="https://shakopeedakota.org/" target="_blank">Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community</a>, the <a href="https://www.indianag.org/" target="_blank">Intertribal Agriculture Council</a>, and the <a href="http://www.ncai.org/" target="_blank">National Congress of American Indians</a>. The Initiative hosts annual <a href="https://indigenousfoodandag.com/resources/native-youth-summit/" target="_blank">Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summits</a>, where American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian youth can learn about agricultural business, land stewardship, agricultural law, and more.</p>
10. Indigenous Food Systems Network (North America)<p>The Indigenous Food Systems Network (IFSN) is a convener of Indigenous food producers, researchers, and policymakers across the 98 Indigenous nations of Canada. IFSN supports research, policy reform, and direct action that builds food sovereignty in Indigenous communities. The organization's Indigenous Food Sovereignty <a href="http://www.bcfsn.org/mailman/listinfo/ifs_bcfsn.org" target="_blank">email listserv</a> offers its subscribers everything from stories and legends to recipes and policy reform tools.</p>
11. Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (International)<p>Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty is an international organization based in Rome, Italy connecting the world's Indigenous People to agricultural research and advocacy groups. With Indigenous communities from China to India and Thailand to Latin America, Indigenous Partnerships forges dialogues within Indigenous communities to ensure <a href="http://www.fao.org/indigenous-peoples/our-pillars/fpic/en/" target="_blank">free, prior, and informed consent</a> between research and advocacy partners. Indigenous Partnerships also seeks to incorporate global and local Indigenous knowledge into non-Indigenous knowledge systems.</p>
12. Indigenous Terra Madre (International)<p>Indigenous Terra Madre is a global network of Indigenous Peoples sponsored by <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/06/living-the-slow-food-life-during-lockdown/" target="_blank">Slow Food</a>, an international institution based in Rome, Italy. The network amplifies Indigenous voices and protects the biodiversity of the crops Indigenous communities cultivate. By providing a platform for Indigenous communities to pool power and resources, Indigenous Terra Madre fights to defend the land, culture, and opportunity of all Indigenous Peoples.</p>
13. Intertribal Agriculture Council (North America)<p>The American Indian Food Program by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) helps Native American and Alaskan Native agribusinesses and food entrepreneurs expand their market reach. The Made/Produced by American Indians Trademark promoted by the IAC identifies certified American Indian products and is used by over 500 businesses. IAC's other major American Indian Food Program, Native Food Connection, helps market Native American foods and food producers across the United States. IAC also offers technical and natural resource assistance to connect Native businesses with U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and conservation stewardship resources.</p>
14. Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska (North America)<p>Through its Alaskan Inuit Food Sovereignty Initiative, the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska is convening Inuit community leaders from across Alaska. The Initiative seeks to unify Inuit throughout the state to advocate for land and wildlife management sovereignty. The Initiative also strives for international cooperation to promote food sovereignty across <a href="https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/inuit-nunangat/" target="_blank">Inuit Nunaat</a>.</p>
15. Mantasa (Asia)<p>Mantasa is a research institution in Indonesia dedicated to expanding the number of indigenous plants consumed by the Javanese people. According to Mantasa, only 20 plant species comprise 90 percent of Javanese food needs. Their research is incorporating new wild foods from Indonesia's vast biodiversity into Javanese diets to improve food security and nutrition. Mantasa also helps promote these foods to consumers and local farmers to increase their popularity.</p>
16. Muonde Trust (Africa)<p>In Mazvhiwa, Zimbabwe, the Muonde Trust invests in Indigenous innovations in food, land, and water management. The Trust seeks out individuals with new ideas and provides peer-to-peer support to help bring those ideas to life. Muonde Trust currently supports innovations in indigenous seed saving and sharing, livestock and woodland management, irrigation systems, and constructing kitchen spaces.</p>
17. Native American Agriculture Fund (North America)<p>The Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) is the largest philanthropic supporter of Native American agriculture. The Fund offers grants to Tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions to support healthy lands, healthy people, and healthy economies. In 2020, NAAF is offering US$1 million in grant funds specifically for youth initiatives and young farmers and ranchers. NAAF is also centralizing COVID-19 relief information for Native farmers, ranchers, fishers, and Tribal governments.</p>
18. Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (North America)<p>The Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA) places Indigenous farmers, wild-crafters, fishers, hunters, ranchers, and eaters at the center of the fight to restore Indigenous food systems and self-determination. NAFSA's primary initiatives are the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network, the Food and Culinary Mentorship Program, and their Native Food Sovereignty Events. Each of these initiatives centers around the reclamation of Indigenous seeds and foods.</p>
19. Native Seed/SEARCH (North America)<p>Native Seed/SEARCH preserves and proliferates <a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/07/a-call-for-community-based-seed-diversity-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">indigenous seeds</a> through their Native Access programs. Their Native American Seed Request program offers free seed packets to Native Americans living in or originating from the Greater Southwestern Region. The Bulk Seed Exchange allows growers to pay it forward by returning 1.5 times the seeds they receive to be put towards future Native American Seed Request packs. While Native Seed/SEARCH sells an assortment of popular seeds to the general public, its collection of indigenous seeds are <a href="https://www.nativeseeds.org/pages/native-access" target="_blank">only available to Native farmers</a> and families. They hope these seeds will revitalize traditional foods and build food sovereignty.</p>
20. Navajo Ethno-Agriculture (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Navajo Ethno-Agriculture is sustaining Navajo culture through lessons on traditional farming. The seasonal courses focus on land, water, and food as students cultivate, harvest, and prepare heritage crops. During COVID-19, Navajo Ethno-Agriculture suspended its courses and is focusing on supplying neighboring farms with heritage seeds and farm equipment. They are also offering food processing and packaging services to protect and rejuvenate soil.</span><br></p>
21. North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Founded by the chefs of </span><a href="https://sioux-chef.com/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">The Sioux Chef</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NāTIFS) is reimagining the North American food system as a generator of wealth and good health for Native communities. The organization seeks to reverse the effects of forced assimilation and colonization through food entrepreneurship and a reclamation of ancestral education. NāTIFS is establishing an </span><a href="https://www.facebook.com/indigenousfoodlab/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">Indigenous Food Lab</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a training center and restaurant for Native chefs and food. NāTIFS plans to eventually spread this model across North America.</span><br></p>
22. Oyate Teca Project (North America)<p><br></p><p>In response to dire food access on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota, the Oyate Teca Project offers year-long classes in gardening, food entrepreneurship, and traditional food preservation techniques. Oyate Teca helps make local foods available to the community by selling produce grown in their half-acre garden at farmer's markets. The project also serves as an emergency food provider for families and children.</p>
23. Tebtebba (Asia)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Tebtebba is an international organization based in the Philippines committed to sharing global Indigenous wisdom. Its Indigenous Peoples and Biodiversity project strengthens Indigenous organizations' research, policy advocacy, and education on biodiversity. The project also works directly with Indigenous communities to strengthen their governance structures, protect their land, and improve their food security.</span><br></p>
24. Sierra Seeds (North America)<p><br></p><p><a href="https://foodtank.com/news/2020/06/new-on-the-podcast-rowen-white-talks-indigenous-seed-sovereignty-and-viraj-puri-says-urban-greenhouses-can-transform-produce/" target="_blank">Rowan White</a> and her organization, Sierra Seeds, are dedicated to the next generation of farmers, gardeners, and food justice activists. Her flagship program, Seed Seva, offers a multi-layered education on seed stewardship and Indigenous permaculture. The program is offered online, allowing anybody to access White's wisdom. Additionally, Sierra Seeds offers a <a href="https://sierraseeds.org/seeding-change/" target="_blank">Seeding Change</a> leadership incubator, where emerging food justice leaders meet virtually to support one another while developing individual projects.</p>
25. Storying Kaitiakitanga (Oceania)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Storying Kaitiakitanga – A Kaupapa Māori Land and Water Food Story is a project of Dr. Jessica Hutchings and other Māori researchers and storytellers. The project was developed as part of the </span><a href="https://www.ourlandandwater.nz/" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">Our Land and Water National Science Challenge</a><span style="background-color: initial;"> to collect the stories of Māori food producers across the food system. Storying Kaitiakitanga is exploring how traditional Māori principles and practices can inspire more sustainable food systems for the next generation. Stories include beekeepers, yogurt producers, and business development service providers.</span><br></p>
26. Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) is a grassroots Lakota organization building food sovereignty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in North Dakota. Their reservation-wide Food Sovereignty Coalition is dedicated to reconstructing a healthy local food system. They have greatly increased food production on the reservation and train residents and students on Oglala food histories, current local foods, gardening, and food preservation.</span><br></p>
27. Wangi Tangni (Central America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">In Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, the women of Indigenous Miskita communities receive native plants from Wangi Tangni to grow for food, medicine, and reforestation. The organization provides communal and legal support for women, many of whom do not speak Spanish. The organization's overall mission is to promote political participation and gender equality through sustainable development projects such as indigenous plant rematriation.</span><br></p>
28. Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (North America)<p><span style="background-color: initial;">The public schools of the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico and Arizona partner with the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project to build gardening spaces and provide nutrition education. The partnership is intended to reintroduce traditional knowledge and practices into students' educations about food. The Project hopes that the community gardens will also inspire more Zuni to grow their own food and reduce rates of obesity and diabetes in their communities.</span><br></p>
- Indigikitchen Is Bringing Native Food Sovereignty Online - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Gardening Tips From Indigenous Food Growers - EcoWatch ›
By Olivia Sullivan
One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.
Kamikatsu, Japan. Yuki Shimazu / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>This reveals a worldwide truth: Even products made mostly from easily recyclable materials like paper, aluminum or cardboard can't be sorted and recycled if they contain plastic components that can't be separated.</p><p>The truth is, some materials simply aren't recyclable, and <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782" target="_blank">only 9%</a> of all the plastic ever created has <em>been </em>recycled. As Kamikatsu's residents have painstakingly proven, no matter how many categories consumers sort their waste into or how diligently they scrub down their plastic food containers, most plastics <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Greenpeace-Report-Circular-Claims-Fall-Flat.pdf" target="_blank">cannot be recycled</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile we keep hearing the <a href="https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/504091-the-insanity-of-plastic-recycling" target="_blank">industry-driven narrative</a> that recycling can stop plastic from choking our marine life or littering our natural places. That's intentionally misleading.</p><p>Around the world, as in Kamikatsu, plastic is everywhere. With excessive amounts of plastic products and packaging stocked on store shelves, it's clear that zero-waste goals cannot be achieved by consumers alone. Plastic is not a "zero waste" material, so in order to achieve zero waste, companies must stop making so much plastic.</p>
Marine debris collected at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. NOAA<p>We can achieve that. The first steps include banning some of the worst and most polluting single-use plastics, placing a pause on the development of new plastics facilities, and protecting state and local governments' ability to enact more stringent regulations.</p><p>We must also shift the paradigm by holding producers responsible for the waste they create. By requiring new plastic products to contain recycled plastic and making producers fund the collection and recycling of plastic products, producers would be incentivized to design longer lasting products that can <em>actually</em> be reused and recycled.</p><p>These goals — outlined in numerous scientific studies and advocacy reports — have some forward motion. In the United States, a federal bill was recently introduced in both the House and the Senate, the <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845" target="_blank">Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act</a>. If passed this bill — or others like it on the local, state or national levels — could help move the world beyond single-use plastics and make that needed systemic change a reality.</p><p>The bill hasn't moved forward since it was introduced this past February, but the world is still on a deadline. A recent study published in the journal <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/07/22/science.aba9475" target="_blank"><em>Science</em></a> looked at rising levels of plastic production and said "coordinated global action is urgently needed to reduce plastic consumption, increase rates of reuse, waste collection and recycling, expand safe disposal systems and accelerate innovation in the plastic value chain."</p><p>Requiring producers to stop making nonrecyclable products designed to be thrown out is the first step toward achieving that goal. Only then will Kamikatsu and other towns, cities and countries around the world finally be able to eliminate plastic pollution and reach 100% zero waste.</p><p><em>The opinions expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of </em>The Revelator<em>, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.</em></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/oliviasullivan/" target="_blank">Olivia Sullivan</a> <em><em>is a zero waste associate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) working on a campaign to move the United States beyond plastic.</em></em></p><p><em><em><span></span>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/cities-zero-waste/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>. </em></em></p>
The shelter in place orders that brought clean skies to some of the world's most polluted cities and saw greenhouse gas emissions plummet were just a temporary relief that provided an illusory benefit to the long-term consequences of the climate crisis. According to new research, the COVID-19 lockdowns will have a "neglible" impact on global warming, as Newshub in New Zealand reported.
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- India's Air Pollution Plummets in COVID-19 Lockdown - EcoWatch ›
Scientists have discovered and diagnosed the first instance of malignant cancer in a dinosaur, and they did so by using modern medical techniques. They published their results earlier this week in The Lancet Oncology.
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- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Help Save the World's Last Dinosaur - EcoWatch ›
By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.