Erin Brockovich Calls on EPA to Finally Set Standard for Carcinogen Found in Millions of Americans' Tap Water
As news about North Carolina's governor and his administration downplaying the risks of drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium unfolds, two leading environmental health advocates are pushing the Obama administration to finally set a nationwide standard for the highly toxic chemical.
Erin Brockovich, a noted environmental health advocate and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop dragging its feet and move quickly to set a tough national standard, known as a Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL, for the ubiquitous carcinogen found in millions of Americans' tap water.
In a joint letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Brockovich and Cook wrote:
We write with deep concern about this continued delay. It is clear that the delay is sowing confusion among state and local regulators, utilities and the public about how much hexavalent chromium is safe in drinking water. This confusion is resulting in many Americans' exposure to unregulated levels of hexavalent chromium that federal, state and independent scientists agree pose health hazards.
The request comes as a top state health official in North Carolina resigned in protest over meddling by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff. McCrory sought to retract "do-not-drink" warnings directed at some residents whose tap water comes from wells likely tainted by hexavalent chromium from nearby Duke Energy coal-burning facilities.
The situation in North Carolina is, in part, a result of the absence of a stringent nationwide health-protective EPA standard, argued Brockovich and Cook:
States like North Carolina, where industrial byproducts like coal ash increase the risk of hexavalent chromium contamination, need a federal mandate to set strong, health-protective standards for levels of the contaminant in drinking water. Without it, states will continue to use inconsistent and potentially unsafe guidelines and leave citizens confused about whether their drinking water is safe.
A report issued by EWG back in December 2010 found hexavalent chromium in tap water from 31 of 35 American cities.
"It's high time EPA put in place a stringent national standard to protect Americans from drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium," Cook said in a separate statement.
"A lack of a federal standard and the ongoing delay in setting one, are confusing utilities, states and citizens about what level of hexavalent chromium in drinking water is safe. Until EPA acts, we will likely continue to see the situation happening in North Carolina unfold in other states."
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
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Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.