Fighting for a Just COVID-19 Response
By Derrick Z. Jackson
As much as hurricanes Katrina and Maria upended African American and Latinx families, the landfall of the coronavirus brings a gale of another order. This Category 5 of infectious disease packs the power to level communities already battered from environmental, economic, and health injustice. If response and relief efforts fail to adequately factor in existing disparities, the current pandemic threatens a knockout punch to the American Dream.
"There's a whole segment of society that's invisible to policy framers, and everything I'm hearing so far about how we're supposed to deal with the coronavirus assumes we all have the same level of affluence," said Robert Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University, and considered the father of environmental justice. "They're doing policy from a privileged position. If the invisible stay invisible to our policymakers, it will create a second disaster."
A major question of the hour is whether this nation can avoid the second disaster. The coronavirus gives us the opportunity to declare in our political and medical decisions that we will not drape the cloak of invisibility over historically neglected victims of disaster, as it was in the hollowing out of the black middle class in New Orleans after Katrina and the inhuman abandonment of Puerto Ricans after Maria.
The early signs are not good. There are stark examples of how the privileged can get tested for the virus, stock up for landfall, and be assured of financial relief well before we hit our likely peak period of infection. But early harbingers do not have to dictate the outcome if we treat the disadvantaged equally in this crisis, medically and economically, rather than triage them away.
Them That Have Get the Test
While most Americans have been left hanging in collective anxiety over the Trump administration's abominable botching of the preparations needed to make COVID-19 tests widely available, actors, athletes, college presidents such as Harvard's Lawrence Bacow, and politicians such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have gotten tested.
In terms of math, perhaps the most telling case was the Utah Jazz.
When it was suspected that one Jazz player had coronavirus while in Oklahoma City for a National Basketball Association road game, the state of Oklahoma conducted 58 tests on the team's entire traveling party. At the time, the United States was so short of test kits that state labs were averaging just 55 tests per state according to the Daily Beast.
While that testing thankfully helped trigger a national shutdown of spectator sports, music festivals, and business conventions, it also symbolized the divide between the haves and have nots. Many other NBA teams were quickly tested through official relationships with top medical centers and private services. An NBA official told the Washington Post, "We had, and still have, tests at the ready for our players." The official said that testing was, "One phone call away."
That level of access rightly angered New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. As he tweeted, "An entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick."
Or consider the cleaning out of grocery stores in panic buying, a phenomenon that clearly advantages those with disposable income while leaving empty shelves to the disadvantaged. Ironically, some of those left empty handed are the very farmworkers who picked the vegetables for the cleaned-out shelves.
In upstate New York, Luis Jimenez, head of the immigrant farmworker group Alianza Agricola, told The American Prospect magazine and Capital & Main, a California non-profit news organization, "We can't buy food until we get off work, and by then the store shelves are empty — no rice or eggs or meat."
Selfishness is already on full display in the corporate clamor for bailouts, led by the airline industry's request for $50 billion. This is despite the industry being notorious for throwing free cash on stock buybacks to increase shareholder earnings instead of improving consumer service, worker pay or creating rainy day funds. So far, President Trump has said, "We're going to back the airlines 100 percent."
Who Has Workers’ Backs?
There is no such pledge of 100-percent backing for workers who keep America humming with honest, humble labor, from cashiers to cleaners in hotels and from farm workers to restaurant servers. Far more needs to be done to take care of these workers who are the backbone of Fortune 500 profits yet are the first to have their backs broken financially in economic crisis.
The proposed one-time check of up to $3,400 for a family of four does not come close to the average monthly living wage of $5,734 in the United States, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator. Undocumented workers do not get a check at all. The 60-day foreclosure moratorium for homeowners does not cover America's 40 million renters. That is a huge consideration as close to three quarters of white families own homes, while less than half of African American and Latinx families do.
In another arena where the working poor are barely backed at all, only about 20 percent of private-sector workers are covered in the new coronavirus paid sick leave legislation. According to the New York Times, a combined 2 million people work at McDonald's, Walmart, Kroger, Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Target, Marriott, Wendy's, and Taco Bell alone and all of them normally lack any paid sick time. In recent days, President Trump has praised many such companies for pledging to offer pick-up meals and parking lot space for drive-through virus testing.
Many of those companies have temporarily covered their public relations flanks by offering two weeks of COVID-19 sick pay. But if coronavirus is anything like the 1918 flu that killed 675,000 Americans in three waves, we need permanent paid sick pay to account for future illness. While 75 percent of Americans receive some paid sick days, only 25 percent of fast food workers do, according to the Washington Post. The United States is also the only nation in the developed world with no form of paid family leave. In a 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, 60 percent of food workers said they have worked while ill and 43 percent said they came to work because there was no sick leave policy.
Congressional Republicans steadfastly refuse to consider making paid leaves permanent, even though science says we would all be better off if low-wage workers had these safety nets. Paid family leave is particularly beneficial to low-income mothers, reducing the incidence of early birth, low birthweight, infant mortality and maternal health. It also results in better long-term health for disadvantaged children, with less obesity and attention deficit. One study bluntly said, "Paid maternity leave has particularly large impacts on the children of unmarried and black mothers."
Disparities the Coronavirus Exploits
The risk of unequal treatment is embedded in even the seemingly universal "we're-all-in-this-together" advice we are getting to protect ourselves and stop the spread of the coronavirus. One person who sees this clearly is Lawrence Reynolds, a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan. He served on the 2016 Michigan task force which determined that the Flint Water Crisis in that 54-percent African American city was "a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice."
Reynolds retired a year ago but was asked by Flint's mayor to be an advisor for COVID-19 care.
He said he already sees where daily life for disadvantaged people is not being factored into public health advisories. "Take social distancing," he said. "That is much easier to do for a family that owns a single-family home where they can spread out inside the home and have a backyard to get some fresh air in private. That is much harder for people who live in small apartments in buildings where people are always passing each other in the hallways. No one has come up with a strategy as to how those folks are supposed to 'social distance.'"
Ana Baptista, chair of the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management Program at the New School's Tishman Environment and Design Center, worries about higher rates of COVID-19 among people of color as they are more likely to have jobs that cannot be telecommuted. While 37 percent of Asian Americans and 30 percent of white Americans told the Census they can work at home, only 20 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Latinx respondents say they can work at home. Only 9 percent of low-wage workers in the lowest quartile of wage earners say they can telecommute, compared 62 percent of those in the highest quartile.
One of those job categories requiring workers on site, of course is hospital and nursing home care. One-third of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides and a quarter of vocational nurses who work under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians are black, and a quarter of medical assistants are Latinx — well above their share of the general population. Both Baptista and Reynolds rightly point out that current shortages of protective gear for our health care and other frontline workers mark not only an unconscionable failure by the federal government in its preparations but also one that will disproportionately affect workers of color.
Social distancing also has created other ironies for the working poor and communities disproportionately breathing in the particulates of pollution. With retail stores closed, Amazon says it will hire 100,000 people to fill the explosion of online shopping. Reports are widespread that the frantic pace of teams moving around each other at warehouses makes it impossible for this army of the working poor to observe the dictum of staying six feet apart.
Workers at more than a dozen Amazon facilities in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus, and more than 1,500 workers have signed a petition demanding stepped-up safety measures. In the world of immigrant farmworkers, Jimenez said living conditions also make social distancing irrelevant. "We live 8 to 10 people in a house, so how would we isolate? Some have their own room, but I know one farm where everyone sleeps in bunk beds in a big room. At work we have to help each other all the time, like when we have to move a cow. You can't do this alone."
The ramp-up in online commerce also means increased truck traffic. Environmental justice advocates fear that the increased exhaust around Amazon facilities will drive up air pollution in abutting neighborhoods, increasing illness and vulnerability to COVID-19. A landmark study last year found that while white households generate the majority of lung- and heart-damaging fine particulate pollution in the consumption of goods and services in the U.S., African American and Latinx neighborhoods disproportionately breathe it in. That study found that 83,000 premature deaths occur from such commerce.
"Essentially, all the things we do and all the things we buy are those 80,000 deaths," said study co-author Jason Hill, a biosystems engineering researcher at the University of Minnesota.
Drive – Through Testing – If You Have Wheels
Another response that policymakers seem to assume is applicable to everyone is drive-through virus testing. While such drive-through locations seem to have proven effective in South Korea and elsewhere, this diagnostic measure of course requires you to have a car.
Vehicle ownership is nearly ubiquitous in white America, with 93.5 percent of white households having wheels. But according to the National Equity Atlas, Latinx and Native American households are twice as likely as white households to be without a car and African American households are three times as likely to be carless. The percentage of African Americans without a car ranges from around 30 percent to 50 percent in many cities, including Milwaukee, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Miami, Atlanta and San Francisco.
Compounding the problem, many of these drive-through testing facilities are planned for locations such as Walmart and Target parking lots. But big-box stores are often located outside of urban centers, hard to walk to, and not easily accessible by public transit. Such is the case in Southeast Chicago, said Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. Salazar's group has pushed back against coal ash, manganese dust and lead contamination in neighborhoods squeezed between toxic industries on the Calumet River in Chicago and refineries just over the border in Indiana.
"It can take me an hour and a half to take public transportation to downtown Chicago," Salazar said. "We're so isolated down here, if you don't have a car, it's tough."
And, with social distancing, it's not like you can ask a neighbor to give you a lift. In a 2016 column for the Boston Globe, Clayborn Benson, an old friend and founding director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, told me he knows of countless African Americans in Milwaukee who "can't get jobs in the suburbs because they can't drive. Even if they can drive, they lose jobs because they can't afford good cars and they break down."
The COVID-19 crisis gives America an opportunity to avoid another response that breaks down once more along color and class lines to treat the least privileged as expendable. For instance, if the exploding levels of online shopping remain a permanent part of our economy, local and state governments must no longer place warehouses in, and run diesel-spewing trucking routes through, so-called "fenceline communities" already stewing in pollution. In those communities, respiratory diseases such as asthma are often already off the charts for African Americans and Latinx, putting them at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Policymakers must find ways to assure that neighborhoods suffering from food insecurity get security. The lack of quality grocery stores and the oversaturation of fast food chains that heavily target children with advertising and free toys has already fueled levels of diabetes and obesity higher than those for the white population. Diabetes is another disease COVID-19 can exploit. Dennis Derryck, founder of the Corbin Hill Food Project, which delivers fresh produce to low-income residents in New York City, said the multitude of health issues makes a broader range of people more vulnerable to coronavirus. "We define the elderly in Harlem as easily being 55 because of health disparities," he said.
Reynolds said we should also change the way we view water. With everyone being told they must constantly wash their hands, many cash-strapped cities that imposed impossible water bills on low-income residents have said they will not shut off anyone's water for the time being. Reynolds thinks this should mark the end of cutoffs, period, saying, "Water is a human right."
Perhaps most urgently, as medical centers tell patients that they are postponing "non-urgent" care in preparation for skyrocketing COVID-19 emergency treatment, where does that leave African Americans and Latinx, who are twice as likely than white Americans to choose emergency rooms for non-emergency care? Will they be disproportionately displaced?
The NAACP recently issued a resource guide pointing out pitfalls for policymakers to avoid so that the nation's response to coronavirus does not exacerbate inequity. Besides access to testing, worker pay, and protecting frontline healthcare workers and those in essential transportation and service industries, the list includes:
- Ensuring access to quality online education even in less-resourced public-school districts during long closures;
- preventing the crisis from becoming an excuse for increased incidence of racist attacks (already true for Asian Americans as President Trump deliberately calls coronavirus the "Chinese virus");
- halting the militarization of immigration policies that have already targeted Latinx populations;
- addressing virus exposure risk to inmates who are housed and herded in tight proximity to each other;
- protecting our democracy from being upended by disruptions in Census canvassing, delays in primaries, or relocating voting away from senior citizen centers and their reliable, but vulnerable voters.
The Center for American Progress and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University also called upon the nation to attend to the multiple layers of inequities, urging a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, penalties on late car payments and credit card debt, and covering all workers with paid sick and family leave. In making the call, the center said, "It's important to note that these communities lack wealth not because of individual choices but instead due to 400 years of collective harms by federal, state, and local governments compounding over time."
Assuring Access to Care
Finally, it is crucial that our response to the pandemic does not reverse the gains in health care access won under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed during the Obama administration.
Under the act, the uninsured rate for nonelderly Latinx people dropped from 33 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It dropped for African Americans from 20 percent to 11 percent, for American Indians and Alaskan Natives from 32 percent to 22 percent and for Asian Americans from 17 percent to 7 percent. But uninsured rates have either plateaued or crept up under the ongoing attacks on the ACA by the Republicans and the Trump White House.
This is the last thing that should be happening as African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans are two to three times more likely to be in the working poor, and are still significantly more likely to be uninsured. It is the last thing needed in communities where poor health outcomes are baked into local environments.
It is also the last thing needed for hard working, but poorly paid Americans who are forced to live in affordable housing, or who must live in three-generation households, with grandparents caring significantly for grandchildren while the mother in the middle goes off to work. This happens more frequent in families of color and is especially visible in many black neighborhoods badly wounded by mass incarceration and the flight of jobs in the last century. Five times more African American women than white women make it into their 40s having never married.
"Everybody is each other's lifeline," Bullard said. "The daughter may be working two jobs, but if she gets laid off, there's no paid leave, no health insurance. The grandmother may be 62 and not yet on Medicare. We know that children can be carriers without getting sick, and if the kid comes home and infects grandma . . . you kill grandma you kill childcare. The coronavirus shows what a house of cards these communities are."
The Trump administration's early complacency and confusion in its response to the pandemic led to a mixture of decisiveness and hesitance by churches, schools, concert halls and museums to close down. Who knows how much that chaos helped spread the virus? We may be all be separated by social distancing far longer than might have been necessary because of this president's distance from science.
That makes it all the more critical that the people who live the farthest from privilege and the closest to pollution not be lost in the effort to stem the pandemic and return to some sense of normalcy. An ominous sign that the White House could care less about this came in late March when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was suspending enforcement of environmental standards during the coronavirus crisis.
The EPA said it was trying to "protect workers." But with the EPA being run by a former coal lobbyist who wants to slash staff down to 12,610 (the agency had as many as 17,000 employees during the Obama administration), it is likely very bad news for communities living next to industry.
A cliché among African Americans is that when white folks catch a cold, black people get pneumonia. Now that all of America faces down the pneumonia of COVID-19, America should not make the same mistakes it did in Katrina and Maria. Coronavirus is going to batter us far longer than the worst of hurricanes. We must not let environmental justice communities be flattened in the process.
Derrick Z. Jackson is a UCS Fellow in climate and energy and the Center for Science and Democracy. He is an award-winning journalist and co-author and photographer of Project Puffin: The Improbable Quest to Bring a Beloved Seabird Back to Egg Rock, published by Yale University Press (2015).
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Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.
Soil can act as a natural "carbon sink." Climate Central, 2019
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By Shelly Miller
The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.
It’s All About Fresh, Outside Air<p>The safest indoor space is one that constantly has lots of <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">outside air</a> replacing the stale air inside.</p><p>In commercial buildings, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143277/" target="_blank">outside air is usually pumped in</a> through heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. In <a href="https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/how-does-outdoor-air-enter-building" target="_blank">homes, outside air gets in</a> through open windows and doors, in addition to seeping in through various nooks and crannies.</p><p>Simply put, the more fresh, outside air inside a building, the better. Bringing in this air dilutes any contaminant in a building, whether a virus or a something else, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.2010.00703.x" target="_blank">reduces the exposure of anyone inside</a>. Environmental engineers like me quantify how much outside air is getting into a building using a measure called the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/jes.2013.30" target="_blank">air exchange rate</a>. This number quantifies the number of times the air inside a building gets replaced with air from outside in an hour.</p><p>While the exact rate depends on the number of people and size of the room, most experts consider roughly <a href="https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0668.2002.01145.x" target="_blank">six air changes an hour</a> to be good for a 10-foot-by-10-foot room with three to four people in it. In a pandemic this should be higher, with one study from 2016 suggesting that an exchange rate of nine times per hour <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1420326X16631596" target="_blank">reduced the spread of SARS, MERS and H1N1</a> in a Hong Kong hospital.</p><p>Many buildings in the U.S., <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12403" target="_blank">especially schools</a>, do not meet recommended ventilation rates. Thankfully, it can be pretty easy to get more outside air into a building. Keeping <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0960-1481(99)00012-9" target="_blank">windows and doors open</a> is a good start. Putting a box fan in a window blowing out can greatly increase air exchange too. In buildings that don't have operable windows, you can change the mechanical ventilation system to increase how much air it is pumping. But in any room, the more people inside, the faster the air should be replaced.</p>
Using CO2 to Measure Air Circulation<p>So how do you know if the room you're in has enough air exchange? It's actually a pretty hard number to calculate. But there's an easy-to-measure proxy that can help. Every time you exhale, you <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12383" target="_blank">release CO2</a> into the air. Since the coronavirus is most often spread by breathing, coughing or talking, you can use <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/dd7e/b2870c38f70e5285e5118ed6f158c091f7cf.pdf" target="_blank">CO2 levels</a> to see if the room is filling up with potentially infectious exhalations. The CO2 level lets you estimate if enough fresh outside air is getting in.</p><p>Outdoors, CO2 levels are just above 400 parts per million (ppm). A well ventilated room will have around <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0668.1999.00003.x" target="_blank">800 ppm of CO2</a>. Any higher than that and it is a sign the room might need more ventilation.</p><p>Last year, researchers in Taiwan reported on the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">effect of ventilation on a tuberculosis outbreak</a> at Taipei University. Many of the rooms in the school were underventilated and had CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers improved air circulation and got CO2 levels under 600 ppm, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">the outbreak completely stopped</a>. According to the research, the increase in ventilation was responsible for 97% of the decrease in transmission.</p><p>Since the coronavirus is spread through the air, higher CO2 levels in a room likely mean there is a <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ina.12639" target="_blank">higher chance of transmission</a> if an infected person is inside. Based on the study above, I recommend trying to keep the CO2 levels below 600 ppm. You can buy <a href="https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-7-3325-2014" target="_blank">good CO2 meters</a> for around $100 online; just make sure that they are accurate to within 50 ppm.</p>
Air Cleaners<p>If you are in a room that can't get enough outside air for dilution, consider an air cleaner, also commonly called air purifiers. These machines remove particles from the air, usually using <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cap.2005.07.013" target="_blank">a filter</a> made of tightly woven fibers. They can <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/miller-leiden-et-al-1996.pdf" target="_blank">capture particles containing bacteria and viruses</a> and can help reduce disease transmission.</p><p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that <a href="https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/air-cleaners-hvac-filters-and-coronavirus-covid-19" target="_blank">air cleaners can do this for the coronavirus</a>, but not all air cleaners are equal. Before you go out and buy one, there are few things to keep in mind.</p><p>The first thing to consider is <a href="https://shellym80304.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/air-cleaner-report.pdf" target="_blank">how effective an air cleaner's filter is</a>. Your best option is a cleaner that uses a high-efficiency particulate air (<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0021-8502(05)80214-9" target="_blank">HEPA</a>) filter, as these remove more than <a href="https://doi.org/10.1063/1.2771421" target="_blank">99.97% of all particle sizes</a>.</p><p>The second thing to consider is how powerful the cleaner is. The bigger the room – or the more people in it – the more air needs to be cleaned. I worked with some colleagues at Harvard to put together a tool to help teachers and schools determine <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1NEhk1IEdbEi_b3wa6gI_zNs8uBJjlSS-86d4b7bW098/edit#gid=1275403500" target="_blank">how powerful of an air cleaner you need for different classroom sizes</a>.</p><p>The last thing to consider is the validity of the claims made by the company producing the air cleaner.</p><p>The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers certifies air cleaners, so the AHAM Verifide seal is a good place to start. Additionally, the California Air Resources Board has a <a href="https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/air-cleaners-ozone-products/california-certified-air-cleaning-devices" target="_blank">list of air cleaners</a> that are certified as safe and effective, though not all of them use HEPA filters.</p>
Keep Air Fresh or Get Outside<p>Both the <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/transmission-of-sars-cov-2-implications-for-infection-prevention-precautions" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/deciding-to-go-out.html" target="_blank">U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a> say that poor ventilation increases the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.</p><p>If you are in control of your indoor environment, make sure you are getting enough fresh air from outside circulating into the building. A CO2 monitor can help give you a clue if there is enough ventilation, and if CO2 levels start going up, open some windows and <a href="https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2020/07/17/outdoor-gathering" target="_blank">take a break outside</a>. If you can't get enough fresh air into a room, an air cleaner might be a good idea. If you do get an air cleaner, be aware that they don't remove CO2, so even though the air might be safer, CO2 levels could still be high in the room.</p><p>If you walk into a building and it feels hot, stuffy and crowded, chances are that there is not enough ventilation. Turn around and leave.</p><p>By paying attention to air circulation and filtration, improving them where you can and staying away from places where you can't, you can add another powerful tool to your anti-coronavirus toolkit.</p>
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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.
France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.
The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.
"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."
Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.
By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.
The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.
"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.
While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.
"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.
Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.
Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.
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Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.
Polyproylene fibers found in one of the sampled sharks. Kristian Parton
Spiny dogfish. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons<p>"There appear to be two routes for these particles to end up in the sharks," Parton said. "The first through their food source [such as] crustaceans. Their prey may already contain these fibers, and consequently it's passed to the shark through bioaccumulation up the food chain. The second pathway is direct ingestion from the sediment. As these sharks feed, they'll often suck up sediment into their mouths, some of this is expelled straight away, although some is swallowed, therefore fibers and particles that may have sunk down into the seabed may be directly ingested from the surrounding sediment as these sharks feed."</p><p>Some sharks only contained a few plastic particles, but others contained dozens. The larger the shark, the more plastic was in it, the findings suggested. The highest number of microplastics was found in an individual bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.</p><p>"It's perhaps likely this individual shark had swallowed a larger piece of fishing rope/netting and this has broken down during digestive processes within the shark, and also broken down into smaller pieces during our analysis," Parton said.</p>
Lesser-spotted dogfish caught as bycatch. Kristian Parton<p>While this study only examined the stomach and digestive tracts of demersal sharks, Parton says it's possible that plastic would be present in other parts of the sharks' bodies, such as the liver and muscle tissue. However, more research would be needed to prove this.</p><p>At the moment, there is also limited understanding of how microplastic ingestion would impact a shark's health, although microplastics are known to negatively influence feeding behavior, development, reproduction and life span of zooplankton and crustaceans.</p><p>"If we can show that these fibers contain inorganic pollutants attached to them, then that could have real consequences for these shark species at a cellular level, impacting various internal body systems," Parton said.</p>
Parton in the lab. Kristian Parton<p>This new study demonstrates how pervasive and destructive plastic pollution can be in the marine environment, according to Will McCallum, head of oceans for Greenpeace U.K.</p><p>"Our addiction to plastics combined with the lack of mechanisms to protect our oceans is suffocating marine life," McCallum said in a statement. "Sharks sit on top of the marine food web and play a vital role in ocean ecosystems. Yet, they are completely exposed to pollutants and other human impactful activities. We need to stop producing so much plastic and create a network of ocean sanctuaries to give wildlife space to recover. The ocean is not our dump, marine life deserves better than plastic."</p>
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By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun
After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.
<div id="bb0a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e5aefc0fff61ab1aea2f4b03c5399864"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291765757013983238" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">The #oilspill is devastating but I want to honour the community mobilisation at the Mahebourg waterfront today (to… https://t.co/UWFkZFdjdi</div> — Fabiola Monty (@Fabiola Monty)<a href="https://twitter.com/LFabiolaMonty/statuses/1291765757013983238">1596815930.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Booms are made of nylon mesh filled with #sugarcane straws all hand-stitched by Mauritian volunteers, empty plastic bottles used as buoys," described Mauritian journalist Zeenat Hansrod in a tweet. </p>
How to Tackle Oil Spills<p>The method for tackling oil spills depends on several factors, including the type and amount of oil in question, location and weather conditions.</p><p>"Once the oil comes to shore, the more intensive the cleaning technique. You can risk causing further damage," said Nicky Cariglia, an independent consultant at Marittima, who specializes in marine pollution. </p><p>"If you wanted to remove all traces of oil, the techniques available become increasingly aggressive the less oil that remains. In mangroves, you would have the added risk of causing damage by trampling," Cariglia told DW. Highly sensitive mangrove ecosystems line the Mauritius east coast that is threatened by the current spill.</p><p>Because oil normally has a lower density than water, it floats on the surface of the ocean. This means that for clean-up action to be most effective, it should happen very quickly after a spill, before the oil disperses. </p>
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