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Pollution in Hyderabad. Christian Baars / NDR

Big Pharma's Industrial Pollution Goes Unchecked, Breeds Superbug Crisis

By Madlen Davies

Industrial pollution from Indian pharmaceutical companies making medicines for nearly all the world's major drug companies is fueling the creation of deadly superbugs, suggests new research. Global health authorities have no regulations in place to stop this happening.

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Photo credit: Fossil Free Penn

With Sleeping Bags in Tow, 33 Students Begin Sit In Demanding University Divestment From Fossil Fuels

By Fossil Free Penn

At 9 a.m. today, 33 students at the University of Pennsylvania entered College Hall, sleeping bags in tow, to sit in with two demands. These demands were:

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Sting: 'Dear Leaders, Please Do Something Quick, Time Is Up, the Planet's Sick'

By Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

Sting and ecotheology? Seriously? What possible connection could there be between the famous pop music artist and the study of ecology and religion? Read on!

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Fracking

Huge Victory: Winona County, Minnesota Bans Frac Sand Mining

By Jim Gurley

Winona County, Minnesota has placed a total ban on the strip-mining of frac sand, a necessary component of fracking. This is thought to be the first such countywide ban in the nation.

The Winona County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 22 voted 3-2 to ban the mining, processing or trans-loading of frac sand in the county, which is located in the environmentally delicate and beautiful Mississippi River bluff lands of southeast Minnesota.

Frac sand being transported by barge in the Upper Mississippi River between Iowa and Wisconsin. Ric Zarwell

Frac sand is an essential ingredient in fracking, which fractures shale deep underground. The frac sand (also known as silica sand) props open those fractures so that bubbles of oil or gas can flow to the surface. Fracking, a type of extreme energy extraction, cannot take place without this special silica sand. (Although there are more expensive alternatives such as imported ceramic beads or resin-coated sand.)

The sand we're familiar with (sand boxes or beach sand) is angular and variable in size, whereas frac sand is almost pure quartz and must be spherical, extremely crush-resistant and uniform in size.

The best type of this valuable sand is found in the Upper Midwest, with Wisconsin holding 75 percent of the nation's frac sand market. But the industry has been somewhat stymied in Minnesota due to intense and organized citizen opposition by such groups as Winona County's Citizens Against Silica Mining (CASM) and Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project which spearheaded the ban campaign.

Frac sand mining from the sky in Wisconsin, October 2013. Ted Auch

This ban applies only to rural areas, not to the city of Winona—which already has a half-dozen operations, including a mine within the city limits. City leaders, working behind the scenes, enabled the industry to get a substantial foothold in Winona in 2011 prior to public discussion, debate or significant local media coverage.

As the central transport hub (rail and barge) for the region, the city of Winona has seen intense controversy and protest. Citizens took direct action in 2012 when they dumped frac sand on the steps of city hall. In 2013, more than 100 people blocked the trucks with their bodies and shut down two large operations simultaneously, resulting in 35 arrests.

Citizens shut down two frac-sand facilities April 29, 2013 in the city of Winona, Minnesota, resulting in 35 arrests. Here citizens block frac-sand trucks from unloading at the city's port on the Mississippi River. Andrew Link / Winona Daily News

Ban supporters cite several concerns. Frac sand is a known carcinogen leading to cancer and silicosis (a fatal and incurable lung disease). Frac-sand trucks emit diesel exhaust, which is linked to lung cancer. Chemicals used in settling ponds are concerning, as are the threats to groundwater from the leaching of heavy metals.

Citizens block trucks carrying frac sand during the 2013 Winona, Minnesota protest by locking arms at the Hemker processing facility.

People near frac sand operations suffer a loss of a sense of place, as entire bluffs are obliterated with mountain-top removal; stress and sickness from the 24/7 bright stadium lights and noise, and the hundreds of 80,000-pound semis that pass their houses daily.

Economically, tourism dollars are jeopardized, property values are often devalued for those who refuse to sell, roads are degraded or destroyed, and taxpayers are burdened with the added costs of monitoring and enforcement. (The industry has often flagrantly ignored regulations.)

When applying for a permit, the industry promises "reclamation" of the land afterwards, sometimes saying it will be better than before for native plants or crops. But experts warn that soil is a living organism that takes many years to form. And extractive industries have a history of declaring bankruptcy once they've taken the resource, leaving the residents to deal with the resulting problem.

The two commissioners who opposed a ban warned of impending lawsuits, saying that regulating the industry made more sense than banning it. They offered an alternative ordinance that would have limited the number of mines. But the county attorney, Karin Sonneman found that such a ban, with proper findings of fact, would be defensible in court.

Ban opponents also cited property rights, saying that taking away the possibility for a landowner to strip-mine constituted a "taking" under the U.S. Constitution, and interfered with interstate commerce. County Attorney Sonneman disagreed.

"I cannot control anyone who wants to sue this board, but I can certainly make darn well sure that the board's decisions are supported by the law and the facts," she said.

An average of 80 percent of citizen comments received on this issue favored a ban. Commissioner Greg Olson said the case is strong. Referring to an industry attorney who threatened a lawsuit, Olson said, "I'd put more weight on the public who has spoken at that podium ... than I do on a letter from an attorney in Minneapolis. We represent the citizens of Winona County as a whole and I think they've been clear."

Johanna Rupprecht, an organizer with the Land Stewardship Project, reflected on the victory. "I'm really pleased that a majority of the county board listened to the will of the citizens and followed through on passing the ban even in the face of threats and pressure of outside interests," Rupprecht concluded.

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The Marine Hotspot That Could Save Our Seas

By Neela Eyunni

The Earth's oceans are under siege. Human activity is wiping out coral reefs and marine life at a faster rate than ever before. As conservationists try to restore the health of our seas, one place may be key to turning the tide.

The Verde Island Passage has the highest concentration of marine species in the world. Spanning 4,400 square miles, it sits between the province of Batangas and the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. Just more than a decade ago, Prof. Kent Carpenter of the Biological Sciences Department at Old Dominion University labeled the Verde Island Passage "the center of the center" of marine biodiversity.

Hard corals in Anilao, part of the Verde Island Passage. Boogs Rosales

Today, Carpenter sees the passage as a litmus test for global conservation. He said it holds valuable insight into what needs to be done in order to protect the planet's aquatic life.

"Being able to study the Verde Island Passage gives us the opportunity to understand how to preserve global biodiversity," said Carpenter.

In 2005, he and marine scientist Victor Springer recorded 1,736 overlapping marine species in a mere 10-square kilometer area of the passage. Everything from giant clams and hawksbill turtles to unique sea slugs and rare corals call the Verde Island Passage home.

But like many hotspots of marine biodiversity, it too is being threatened by unsustainable fishing and pollution. While dynamite fishing plagued the area in the 1980s and 1990s, the major threat today is overfishing. Carpenter points to the reduction of herbivores in the corridor as a major cause for concern. Herbivorous fish play a key role in ensuring the survival of coal reefs by keeping algae growth in check.

Garbage from coastal communities and ships floating off Tingloy municipality in the province of Batangas, Philippines. Boogs Rosales

Adding to the environmental pressure is the fact that the Verde Island Passage is a major shipping lane, transporting goods and passengers between the Philippine capital of Manila and the rest of the country. Carpenter said that ships traveling through the passage often dump their garbage in the ocean to avoid paying the offloading fee when they arrive in Manila.

With the challenges, however, has come hope, thanks to the Verde Island Passage's resilience and conservationists who are dedicated to protecting it. Robert Suntay is president of the SEA-VIP Institute, a nonprofit organization which promotes conservation in the Verde Island Passage through science, education and advocacy.

The Verde Island Passage is home to a high concentration of shrimp species, including this Coleman Shrimp. Boogs Rosales

"In the more than two decades that I have been diving in the Verde Island Passage, I have seen her suffer from terrible bouts with coral bleaching and algal blooms, and from indiscriminate cyanide and dynamite fishing," Suntay said. "It has also been my privilege to see her recover, seemingly miraculously, with amazing resilience and in record time."

One hypothesis is that the corridor's resilience is because of its extreme biodiversity. Greater diversity means a different species can fill the ecological role of another in case of decline. While it requires further research, the Verde Island Passage's ability to bounce back from destructive human activities makes it an even more valuable tool in the fight to save the planet's seas. Suntay said the passage should be studied by scientists in other parts of the world that are suffering from environmental degradation.

But while the potential is high, so are the stakes.

"This is a winning model that we have shown could work," Carpenter said. "To have it fail would be devastating in terms of what we want to do in conservation."

Doctors to Gov. Wolf: For the Sake of Human Health Ban Fracking

By Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility

A comprehensive report, authored by Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, was released Thursday demonstrating the tremendous amount of scientific evidence of the health impacts, water contamination and climate risks of fracking.

The Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking brings together findings and studies from scientific and medical literature, government and industry reports, and journalistic investigations.

"The available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that fracking is incredibly harmful," said Sandra Steingraber, PhD, biologist, author, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College and co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

"Scientific studies have demonstrated that drilling and fracking can increase risk of cancer, respiratory conditions and migraines in communities surrounding fracking sites. Fracking pollutes the air, water and land in nearby towns and cities, and has resulted in explosions and earthquakes. There are least 17 million Americans living within one mile of a fracking site, whose lives will be negatively impacted and potentially shortened, by fracking."

There are now more than 900 peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of fracking, the vast majority of which indicate risks and adverse impacts. The new compendium includes summary and analysis of the trends in the scientific findings over the years.

Major areas of risks and harms identified in the compilation of the science include: public health impacts, air pollution, water contamination, occupational health and safety hazards, radioactive releases, inherent engineering problems, impacts from associated infrastructure and climate change impacts.

"Each year, the empirical data yield increasing certainty that fracking is causing irrevocable damage to public health, local economies, the environment and to global sustainability," Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL, of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said. "The compendium, and especially this new, fourth edition, which has drawn from a wide range of scientific studies, investigative reports, and accident reports, only reinforces the desperate need for a moratorium on fracking."

Three of the 12 major scientific trends identified in the compendium are that fracking threatens drinking water and that there is now proof of water contamination, that drilling and fracking emissions contribute to toxic air pollution and smog at levels known to have health impacts, and that public health problems associated with drilling and fracking, including reproductive health impacts and occupational health and safety problems, are increasingly well documented.

The compendium also contextualizes the issue of fracking in terms of the Paris climate agreement, noting how drilling and fracking significantly exacerbate climate change due to methane leaks and emissions and increasing reliance on fossil fuels.

With the release of the compendium, a group of doctors gathered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to hand-deliver it and more than 100 of the most recent studies—many about public health—demonstrating the harms of fracking to Gov. Wolf. Pennsylvania is the focus of many of the scientific studies, where drilling and fracking have been linked to widespread water contamination and health impacts.

The doctors and scientists felt the need to hand-deliver the recent studies because Gov. Wolf has not publicly commented on any of them, despite the fact that many of them have documented impacts in Pennsylvania and harms to Pennsylvania residents, reflecting the high volume of fracking taking place in the state. They called on the governor to heed the science and the recent call from the Pennsylvania Medical Society for a fracking moratorium.

"As the primary author of the Pennsylvania Medical Society's resolution on a moratorium on new gas drilling, today's new edition of the compendium only confirms why we should stop drilling," said Walter Tsou, MD, former president of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, past president of the American Public Health Association and former health commissioner of Philadelphia, and author of the Pennsylvania Medical Society's unanimous resolution for a moratorium on fracking. "The scientific evidence only points to precaution in continuing this practice."

Bob Little, MD, agrees. "In light of more than 900 scientific studies that overwhelmingly demonstrate risks and adverse impacts of drilling and fracking, Governor Wolf must implement a moratorium to stop the public health crisis that is occurring in Pennsylvania," he said.

Since the release of the first edition of the compendium in July 2014, concerns about and opposition to fracking have grown. In December 2014, the New York State Department of Health released its own years-long review of the health impacts of fracking, which served as the foundation for a statewide ban, along with an environmental review finding significant impacts.

Following New York's ban, Maryland overwhelmingly passed a two-and-a-half year moratorium on fracking. Internationally, both Scotland and Wales imposed moratoria on fracking in January and February 2015, respectively, and in July 2015 the Dutch government banned all shale gas fracking, joining a range of countries and provinces in prohibiting the practice including Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and parts of Canada, Spain and Switzerland.

In June 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft version of its study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water. The agency found that fracking has polluted drinking water in several communities nationwide and identified several "potential mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing could affect drinking water resources."

And most recently, the Baltimore City Council just passed a resolution calling on the General Assembly to pass a statewide ban on fracking. A study from the Yale School of Public Health found specific fracking compounds to be tied to an increased risk of leukemia. In August, new research was released indicating that living near a fracking site is associated with increased rates of sinus problems, migraines and fatigue in Pennsylvania residents. A July 2016 Johns Hopkins study found that fracking was linked to increased asthma attacks in Pennsylvania.

Given the continuous growth in research, the compendium is designed as a living document that is publicly available on the websites for Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

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People Power Wins Again!

By Ossie Michelin

In the early hours of Oct. 27 it felt like we changed the world—and we did. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador had announced they will meet my friends' requests for environmental and human health protections on the Lower Churchill Hydroelectric project. The hunger strike was over after 13 days and my friends could eat again! One of the happiest moments of my life was watching Billy Gauthier, Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister devour an Arctic Char after several long days of ups and downs.

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Exxon Alleges Climate Investigations Are Conspiracy

By Climate Denier Roundup

ExxonMobil filed a motion Monday to add New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to its court case against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy's investigation.

Apparently emboldened by last week's ruling that Healy needed to provide the court with evidence that they were not unduly biased in presuming guilt before beginning the investigation, ExxonMobil asked that the same standard be applied to the New York case. For Healy, the Texas District Court must first be satisfied that the investigation wasn't biased before it will decide on whether to throw out ExxonMobil's complaint or force the Attorney General to back down.

Alleging that the investigations are part of a broad conspiracy, Exxon's filing is a reversal of their prior cooperation with Schneiderman. The purported reason for this newfound conspiracy charge are recent media reports that Schneiderman is investigating whether or not ExxonMobil properly accounted for climate risk and stranded assets when valuing its reserves and dealing with investors. It's not clear how big a change this is from the initial investigation but apparently it is enough for ExxonMobil to worry about and to charge that the narrowed scope is a reason to believe Schneiderman is looking for any excuse to persecute the company. (As opposed to simply following where the evidence is leading him and doing his job investigating a potential breach of New York state laws).

In the filing, deemed a meritless delay tacit and "desperate attempt at forum shopping" by a New York Attorney General spokesperson, ExxonMobil claims that Schneiderman's accusations of fraud are without evidence and that Healy declared before the investigation began that the company was guilty. Both Attorney Generals were merely describing the implications of the reporting done by InsideClimate News and the LA Times/Columbia School of Journalism. With that research, they had sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation, as giving millions of dollars to climate denial groups while their own researchers provided consensus-supporting research seems rather duplicitous.

On a side note, the funding relationship between ExxonMobil and Republican state Attorneys General made a small splash last month. And Rep. Lamar Smith's request for documents from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about their new investigation has been rebuffed.

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