By Alison Cagle
When was the last time you looked around your kitchen or bathroom for chemicals that are toxic to your health? In many households, those chemicals don't just come in the form of liquid products like pesticides or bleach. They often can be found in the most common items lying around, like frying pans used to cook up a morning egg, or in that popcorn bag heating up in the microwave. That's because a class of highly toxic, long-lasting chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has become ubiquitous in American products.
PFAS have been used in American households since the 1950s, when it was first marketed in Teflon cookware by DuPont. Today, PFAS are added not just to nonstick pans, but also water-resistant clothing, grease-repelling fast food wrappers, stain-proof carpets, and other products. Its unusual resistance to degradation is what makes PFAS so damaging to human health and the environment: decades of study has shown that accumulation of PFAS in the bloodstream can cause various cancers and birth defects. Yet the Trump administration is reluctant to make the dangers of PFAS, and its common use, widely known to the American public.
In January, the Trump administration tried to suppress a report about PFAS that was conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a division of the EPA)—the latest instance of the administration's predilection for scientific censorship. An internal aid stated that public knowledge of PFAS toxicity and its use in consumer goods would create "a public relations disaster." Six months later in June, the ATSDR released the report, which conclusively links PFAS to a host of harmful side effects and recommends lowering the EPA's current non-enforceable risk level to 12 parts per trillion, down from 70 ppt (about the size of a drop of water in an Olympic pool).
The report links PFAS exposure to liver toxicity, immune disruption, and developmental problems. In court cases against chemical manufacturers, plaintiffs and medical studies have also linked PFAS in drinking water to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pancreatic cancer, and birth defects. "It's an unusual list of chemical effects," says Sonya Lunder, Senior Toxics Policy Advisor at Sierra Club. "It's hard to tie that all together—it's affecting multiple parts of the body in different ways."
Exposure to PFAS isn't only limited to household products, and its presence in drinking water has led to intense litigation. Thousands of people who live near manufacturing plants owned by companies such as 3M and DuPont have reported water toxicity levels exponentially higher than the EPA limit, often sourced from storm runoff that seeps from chemical plants into the ground—or, from illegal dumping directly into rivers and creeks. In the absence of federal regulation, numerous states have sued chemical manufacturers that produce PFAS for damages to public health and the environment. Minnesota filed a lawsuit in January against Wolverine World Wide, to recoup the cost of PFAS cleanups and municipal water installations for contaminated wells. In February, North Carolina sued Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, for failing to take action after rainwater runoff mixed with GenX, Chemours' special group of PFAS used in Gore Tex clothing, and contaminated the Cape Fear River. In that same month, Ohio sued DuPont and Chemours for contaminating waterways with PFAS used to make Teflon, and for withholding knowledge of PFAS' dangerous side effects to the public.
These lawsuits are not without precedent, and some have already been successful. In 2017, DuPont settled a class action lawsuit in West Virginia for $671 million dollars, in reparations for 3,550 personal injury cases in the state over contaminated water and cancerous side effects. In February of this year, 3M settled a lawsuit with the state of Minnesota for $850 million, after eight years of litigation over PFAS that had leached into public drinking water as a result of making Scotchguard.
Despite these cases and the evidence they present, PFAS remains unregulated, and the path to controlling its production faces a troubling obstacle. The U.S. Department of Defense uses PFAS as a critical component in firefighting foam at military bases throughout the country, where it's used to put out jet fuel explosions and in demonstrations for Navy training exercises. Compounding this, the cost of waterway cleanups and carbon filtration in contaminated cities would net an estimated $2 billion—all on the Department of Defense's budget. To protect its relationship as a supplier for the DoD (and defend against the massive litigation in West Virginia), in 2001 the chemical industry created theFire Fighting Foam Coalition, a lobbying alliance of chemical manufacturers and distributors. The FFFC has spent years making persuasive presentations to the EPA and the military, arguing that PFAS are not only nonhazardous, but necessary for domestic security.
Today, 99% of Americans are predicted to have PFAS in their bloodstream, where it is passed on to newborn babies. The Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 1,500 drinking water systems across the country, serving at least 110 million people, are contaminated with PFAS.
The solution to PFAS regulation should not hinge on the outcome of case-by-case litigation. As high as DuPont's $671 million settlement with West Virginia sounds, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the company's $79.5 billion revenue for the year of 2017. Regulating PFAS by individual chemical, and not class, is also untenable: GenX was created by DuPont directly in response to the EPA banning production of PFOA, the main chemical in Teflon; the new class is just different enough from PFOA to escape regulation, but with all the same side effects. "PFAS has to be regulated as a group; we can't just ban one or two chemicals, and watch the industry shift to another similar one," says Lunder. "We need to stop all unnecessary uses of these chemicals in new products. It's not for [city and state] water districts to go bankrupt cleaning up the water[of contaminated regions]."
One step to fighting PFAS production is to raise awareness in communities where chemical manufacturing plants are, and to ensure that the public has legal representation to fight back— and demand that elected officials prevent chemical companies from producing it in their state. Sierra Club is working with environmental lawyers and county officials in North Carolina, Colorado, and other states where PFAS are produced, with the aim of ensuring that every affected citizen is aware of and armed against the toxic secret living in their environment.
"We are taking the veil of secrecy off this," says Lunder. "Facilities need to be reporting their PFAS use and emissions into the environment. Pollution is profitable, but [with the] price tag of these cleanups, it's not viable."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
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By Taison Bell
"Hospital Capacity Crosses Tipping Point in U.S. Coronavirus Hot Spots" – Wall Street Journal
This is a headline I hoped to not see again after the number of coronavirus infections had finally started to decline in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. However, the pandemic has now shifted to the South and the West – with Arizona, Florida, California and Texas as hot spots.
Hard-Hit States Quickly Learned Value of Masks<p>As a respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted mainly through droplets that leave the mouth and nose as a person talks, sneezes, coughs or exhales. It thrives in environments where there are lots of people in enclosed spaces – <a href="https://theconversation.com/aerosols-are-a-bigger-coronavirus-threat-than-who-guidelines-suggest-heres-what-you-need-to-know-142233" target="_blank">especially if they are laughing, talking, singing</a> or otherwise coming into close contact. It thrives physically in the same settings where we thrive socially.</p><p>This is why the early hard-hit areas were able to crush the curve by closing businesses and implementing stay-at-home orders. Without significant close human interaction, the coronavirus couldn't spread.</p><p>While other states are now seeing hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, most of the Northeast is maintaining control of community spread as its economies reopen. The difference reflects, at least in part, each state's behavior expectations and the willingness of residents to keep up safety precautions like wearing masks, avoiding large crowds, maintaining social distance of at least six feet and staying isolated when they are ill or may have been exposed to the virus.</p>
How Rhode Island's Daily COVID-19 Case Numbers Fell<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ2MTAwOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDE1MDUxMH0.Ce8r6qCwhkJm8D8vUnTl5CblhFPXj_eBIlYqJ5yobqE/img.png?width=980" id="32ce3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f15da39d4dab6393216510dbed678840" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Northeastern states now <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/26/politics/maskwearing-coronavirus-analysis/index.html" target="_blank">lead the nation</a> in mask-wearing and adherence to other best practices. An <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/26/which-part-of-the-u-s-leads-the-country-in-mask-wearing/" target="_blank">Axios/Ipsos poll</a> showed that in states with high mask use, virus circulation is at <a href="https://www.inquirer.com/health/coronavirus/covid-19-coronavirus-face-masks-infection-rates-20200624.html" target="_blank">lower levels compared to states with less mask use</a>. Studies on the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">effects of how quickly coronavirus restrictions have been lifted</a> around the world have found that slow, careful strategies have led to fewer illnesses and deaths during reopening.</p><p>In many parts of the Northeast, the months of illnesses, deaths and the struggle to turn the COVID-19 tide are still <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/23/most-americans-say-they-regularly-wore-a-mask-in-stores-in-the-past-month-fewer-see-others-doing-it/" target="_blank">fresh in people's minds</a>. The progress isn't uniform, however. <a href="https://gothamist.com/news/coronavirus-cases-among-20-somethings-nyc-rise-prompting-de-blasio-issue-new-mask-guidance" target="_blank">New York City's mayor has expressed concern</a> about an uptick in positive cases among people in their 20s.</p>
The Problems of a Political Divide<p>Elsewhere in the country, the current surge in COVID-19 cases <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-surges-of-the-coronavirus-across-the-nation-could-force-more-shutdowns/2020/06/12/e6985b94-acd9-11ea-a9d9-a81c1a491c52_story.html" target="_blank">began to pick up after Memorial Day weekend</a>, when people in several states that hadn't seen the same toll from the pandemic let their guard down. <a href="https://theconversation.com/covid-19-messes-with-texas-what-went-wrong-and-what-other-states-can-learn-as-younger-people-get-sick-141563" target="_blank">Video and pictures</a> showed parties, barbecues, crowded beaches and political rallies – all with very little social distancing or mask-wearing – giving more fuel for the coronavirus to spread.</p><p>Despite the overwhelming evidence for what we should be doing, following the advice of public health experts has also, sadly, become politicized. Depending on the news sources people listen to, they might hear warnings from health officials being taken seriously or being dismissed by pundits and politicians.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.axios.com/axios-ipsos-poll-coronavirus-index-15-weeks-e4eb53cc-9bc8-4cac-8285-07e5e5ef6b2b.html" target="_blank">recent national poll</a> shows that Democrats report consistently wearing a mask 68% of the time, while Republicans reported doing the same only 34% of the time. The national conversation has devolved into a false dichotomy: Either you're on the side of prioritizing safety or you're on the side of personal freedom and opening the economy.</p><p>In reality, the two should be partners, as these preventative measures are the best tools we have to reach our common goals of reopening businesses and schools safely. It's the same reason we stop at stoplights and go through metal detectors at the airport – we make a small sacrifice for the greater public good.</p><p>For the foreseeable future, Americans will have to collectively agree to live life a little differently. Until we can all agree on this, the coronavirus will continue to have the upper hand, and our health and wealth will suffer.</p>
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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