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Citizens Take Charge of Clean Air in Utah

Citizens Take Charge of Clean Air in Utah

WildEarth Guardians

In the midst of the Wasatch Front’s first air quality advisories of the winter, a coalition of doctors, moms, health and environmental groups filed suit against Kennecott Copper Dec. 19, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, over the company’s failure to protect clean air in Salt Lake County and beyond.

At issue are ongoing clean air violations at Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, the world’s largest open pit copper mine located in western Salt Lake County in the Oquirrh Mountains. For at least the last five years, the company has violated its federal limits on ore and waste rock production. These production limits were put in place in 1994 to curb particulate matter emissions and meet health standards.

“Every Wasatch Front resident knows that our air pollution is often severe, and occasionally the worst in the nation. Rio Tinto, as a major contributor to this problem, is literally mining away our clean air. Worse, they are doing it illegally,” said Dr. Brian Moench with the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“Our families depend on clean air, plain and simple,” said Cherise Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air. “All we’re asking is that Kennecott take responsibility for protecting the health of our children and our future.”

Currently, Salt Lake County and other Wasatch Front counties are in violation of federal health limits on particulate matter. The region has some of the worst particulate pollution in the U.S. Conservative estimates show that 1,000-2,000 Utahns die prematurely every year because of particulate pollution. According to Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, an organization of medical experts dedicated to protecting public health, these levels of pollution can shorten the life span of individuals by about two years.

In 1994, Kennecott agreed to limit production at its Bingham Canyon Mine to 150,500,000 tons of ore and waste rock every year to keep dust, tailpipe emissions, and other sources of air pollution in check. This limit was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and adopted into federal regulations. However, according to data submitted to the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, every year since 2006 Rio Tinto has violated this production limit, reaching levels as high as 192,684,252 in 2009—more than 40 million tons above the limit allowed.

Although Kennecott has claimed that production increases were authorized by the state of Utah, most recently in June of 2011 where the state approved a production increase to 260,000,000 tons annually, the increases were never approved by the EPA nor were the air quality impacts analyzed to ensure compliance with federal health standards. Under federal law, States cannot unilaterally modify federal regulations through permits.

“Although the State of Utah is an accomplice in this mess, the responsibility to protect our clean air and our health falls squarely on the shoulders of Kennecott,” said Jeremy Nichols, the Climate and Energy Program director for WildEarth Guardians. “As citizens concerned over the impacts of air pollution on today’s and future generations, we’re saying enough is enough. It’s time for Kennecott to come clean, comply with the law, and start being a part of solving our pollution problems, not making them worse.”

Under the Clean Air Act, citizens have the right to enforce clean air laws in order to safeguard public health and welfare. Exercising that right, WildEarth Guardians, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Utah Moms for Clean Air filed suit under the Clean Air Act in federal court in Salt Lake City. The suit seeks a ruling that Kennecott is violating the Clean Air Act, an order that Kennecott comply with the 150,500,000 ton/year production limit, and pay the maximum penalty of $37,500 per violation per day as allowed by federal law.

For more information, click here.

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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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