Fear and Fury in Michigan Town Where Air Force Contaminated Water
By Brett Walton
Anthony Spaniola knew something was off with his town's water. He read accounts in the Detroit Free Press and attended community meetings hosted by state health and environment agencies. Until last summer Spaniola was concerned but didn't think the situation was out of control.
Then he saw foam on Van Etten Lake.
The unsightly ivory-colored meringue that rimmed the shore is a visible illustration of an ongoing national health and environmental disaster related to perfluorinated compounds. PFAS, as this group of chemicals is collectively called, are used to manufacture rain-repelling, stain-deflecting, heat-resisting consumer and industrial products like Teflon skillets, Gore-Tex jackets and fire retardants. There's a good chance that every home in America has products strengthened with one of the compounds.
Spaniola and his family own a home on the east side of Van Etten Lake, a civic centerpiece in a town, nicknamed Paddletown USA, whose economy and identity is built around northern Michigan's natural bounty of lakes and rivers.
East of Oscoda is teal-hued Lake Huron, one of North America's Great Lakes. To the west is the Au Sable River, renowned for its cold water trout fishery and a 120-mile canoe race every July through unbroken forest that attracts paddlers from across the U.S. and Canada.
And to the north, ringed by modest vacation cottages, recreational camps and family homes is Van Etten Lake. Summer winds naturally froth the shore, according to those who live here. But what appeared last July and August, and throughout the fall, was unusual. Spaniola described the foam as sticky.
Greg Cole, who manages the dam at the lake's outlet, took pictures of the rumpled mass bunched against the barricade. Laboratory tests indicated worrisome concentrations of perfluorinated chemicals, at levels thousands of times higher than a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health warning for drinking water.
Some studies have found that over decades of low-level exposure in drinking water—in parts per trillion even—the chemicals are associated with a higher risk of kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, hormone disruption and other ailments. Developed for durability, they do not easily break down once set loose from the production line.
In Oscoda the source of contamination is well documented. The chemicals are flowing underground, mostly unimpeded, from the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base where PFAS compounds, sprayed for decades during training exercises to extinguish petroleum fires, soaked into the groundwater. The closer regulators look, the more they find groundwater contaminated with PFAS, not just in Oscoda, but nationwide on military bases and industrial sites, and in towns that border them.
Wurtsmith's location, a mile from Lake Huron and abutting Lake Van Etten is not exactly a hilltop. But it is one of the highest points in Oscoda. That's a problem because water—and groundwater—runs downhill. And downhill from Wurtsmith is Van Etten Lake, which flows into Van Etten Creek, which joins with the Au Sable River before emptying into Lake Huron.
For years Wurtsmith, which closed in 1993, has been recognized as one of the most polluted places in Michigan. The EPA proposed designating the base as a national Superfund site in 1994, but it was never officially listed. The EPA withdrew its oversight in 2016, leaving the Air Force and state agencies to handle the cleanup while the town and county redeveloped parts of the base. The public library is located there, as are homes, churches, play fields, a plastics manufacturer, an airplane maintenance company and a healthcare facility.
But groundwater contamination from PFAS and other toxic substances below the new facilities spreads largely unchecked. The steady dose of chemicals into the area's natural riches has upended lives in Oscoda. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality says that people should not eat fish that live year-round in the lower Au Sable River and in Clark's Marsh, a wetland adjacent to the base where some of the highest chemical concentrations have been measured.
Drinking water is affected, too. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has told more than two hundred households near Van Etten Lake that are on private wells not to drink their tap water. The state is providing bottled water or faucet filters, and the town is using federal grant money to extend public water to some of the homes.
But even the public water supply is at risk. Traces of the chemicals are now found downstream, in Lake Huron, the source for the regional water system. It is even in the treated water, at a few parts per trillion, that is supplied to 14,000 homes.
Current and former Oscoda residents and veterans who served at Wurtsmith have stories of odd cancers and a profusion of illnesses that have stumped doctors looking for a cause. They wonder if their ailments are connected to the relatively unstudied toxic residues in soil and water. They hope to be included in an upcoming Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assessment of PFAS exposure on military bases that could confirm or reject their fears.
After seeing the lake foam this past summer, Spaniola felt that the agencies responsible for managing the contamination were not as much in control as he had thought. "My antennae went up," said Spaniola, a business lawyer who has immersed himself in chemical literature. "This stuff is everywhere."
More and more people in Oscoda are coming to that conclusion. They see delays in promised cleanup actions. They read news reports from other parts of Michigan and outside the state of PFAS contamination from military bases and factories. They worry about being forgotten in the jumble. After seeing their town's magnificent waters tarnished and neighbors getting sick, they're starting to speak out against a system that is failing to accomplish what they want most: stopping the flow of contaminated groundwater from the base.
On a chilly evening in mid-March about 60 people file into the Oscoda VFW building to listen to a law firm's pitch. The meeting was called by the Veterans and Civilians Clean Water Alliance, a group of about 1,800 Wurtsmith veterans and family members whose goal, according to its founder James Bussey, is to get health care coverage for people who were sickened while living on the base. The group is considering a class-action lawsuit against 3M, the company that produced the firefighting foam.
The alliance is one of several community groups that have formed in the last few years to inform residents and demand action.
Arnie Leriche, a veteran who did not serve at Wurtsmith but lives in Oscoda, lobbied the Air Force to restart a community advisory board that had been active in the decade after the base closed. The first meeting was Nov. 1, 2017, and Leriche was voted co-chair.
"The community needed to be a part of the equation," he told Circle of Blue.
Arnie Leriche, standing, talks with two men at a community meeting to discuss PFAS contamination. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
Greg Cole and Cathy Wusterbarth head the local group Need Our Water. They hope it will be a source of information about a highly technical issue for a community that, despite the years of testing, still seems to be relatively unaware of the PFAS contamination, Wusterbarth said. After hearing the questions posed by some residents at the VFW meeting, she feels like there is still much work to do.
"None of us has done anything like this before. We're new activists," Wusterbarth, who used to lifeguard on Van Etten Lake, told Circle of Blue.
Greg and Vicky Cole sit at their kitchen table, flipping through photos of guests who have stayed at the three cottages on their property at the south end of Van Etten Lake. Clients come for the fishing: northern pike, black crappie, walleye, blue gill, perch and more. "They're from Ohio," Vicky says, pausing over one photo with three generations of family members. "They said, 'It's a piece of heaven, a piece of heaven.' That's how I've always referred to it: I live in heaven."
Between them, against the wall, is a Culligan water cooler, a noticeable reminder that their heaven, just a quarter-mile from the base, has changed.
In October 2016, the Coles received a letter from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Testing of their well water showed traces of PFAS compounds, but at levels lower than the EPA's health advisory of 70 parts per trillion in drinking water. That advisory, however, applies only to the two most well-known PFAS compounds. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of others.
The health department, taking a cautious approach, said in the letter not to drink the water, cook with it, wash vegetables, or brush teeth unless the water was filtered through a reverse osmosis system. After three months in which Greg hauled drinking water from a clean tap at the town hall, the state said it would pay for one faucet filter or in-home water deliveries. The Coles chose Culligan.
The Air Force, following protocol, paid for replacement water only for homes that tested above the EPA standard. To this point, it has aided only one home in Oscoda.
Greg and Vicky Cole sit at their kitchen table. Between them is their Culligan water jug. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
Extinguishing One Problem, Igniting Another
Wurtsmith existed as a military aviation site in various forms since 1923. After the Air Force Strategic Air Command took over operations in 1953, one of the base's main function was to host a fleet of loaded B-52 bombers and other aircraft ready to take immediate flight in response to a nuclear attack. At the end of the Cold War, and no longer considered essential, Wurtsmith was placed into an economic redevelopment process called base realignment and closure, or BRAC.
Wurtsmith is one of 393 U.S. military installations, active or BRAC, where the Department of Defense reports a known or suspected release of PFAS compounds into water and soil. Through February 2018, the Air Force alone had spent more than $210 million on site investigations and cleanup activities for PFAS. Future cleanup liabilities for the Defense Department could run into the billions, according to government figures. The expense could soar if the government has to start paying out health claims similar to the $2.2 billion awarded in 2017 to veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, a Marine base in North Carolina whose water was laced with a different lineup of cancer-causing chemicals.
In a Feb. 29, 2016 letter, Robert Wagner, chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's remediation division, asked David Strainge, then the BRAC environmental coordinator, to "prevent further off base movement" of PFAS contaminated groundwater because it was affecting well water. The letter said that the Air Force must 1) monitor residential wells for PFAS; 2) define the boundaries of the contamination plume; 3) monitor the plume's movement off base; and 4) deliver a cleanup plan to DEQ.
The Air Force's response on March 18, 2016, stated that it would comply with any applicable state and federal laws. The letter outlined the actions that the Air Force had taken to date. Officials began investigating PFAS contamination stemming from the former fire training site in 2012, after Michigan DEQ tests of fish in Clark's Marsh, downhill from the training site, showed high levels of the chemicals, more than 15 times the state limit. PFAS were in firefighting foams that were used starting in 1970. The Air Force said it did not know about their toxic potential until the EPA initiated a production phase out of the two most known chemicals in 2000. By that time, Wurtsmith had already closed.
The Air Force claimed in the March 18, 2016 letter that testing in 2012 determined that PFAS contaminated groundwater was contained on the base.
That turned out not to be the case. Subsequent testing has revealed traces of the chemical from at least 16 sites on the former base while the chemical plume has spread throughout the waterways around Oscoda. The Air Force built a treatment plant in 2015 to filter pollution coming from the fire training site, which is now an open field studded with monitoring wells.
But more than two years after the exchange of letters in the spring of 2016, the Air Force has finalized no additional actions to halt the advance of the contaminated plume. Matt Marrs, the current BRAC environmental coordinator, told Circle of Blue that a second treatment unit will come online by August 2018. The Michigan DEQ had ordered that facility to be completed by the end of 2017.
The treatment systems are a page from a well-worn playbook. Groundwater contamination, of all sorts, is the primary focus at Wurtsmith. The first chemicals to attract scrutiny at the base, back in the 1970s, were the chlorinated solvents TCE and vinyl chloride. A number of treatment systems dot the grounds.
Cleanup for those chemicals is, in a twist, spreading PFAS contaminants farther afield. Since 1981, so-called "pump and treat" systems have been drawing groundwater from the base, stripping it of chlorinated solvents, and discharging it into the base's storm sewer, which empties into Van Etten Creek. Marrs told Circle of Blue that the three-unit system does not remove PFAS compounds. Instead, they go into the storm sewer, then into the creek before being carried downstream. A spokesman told Circle of Blue that the Air Force has tested the outfall as discharging water with 800 to 1,002 parts per trillion PFAS. Locals call the treatment systems "pump and dumps."
Water from the Wurtsmith storm sewer pours into Van Etten Creek. The water smells strongly of benzene. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
The military and the state are now in a dispute about the scope of the cleanup and which standards should apply to PFAS compounds found in Van Etten Lake, Van Etten Creek and the Au Sable River. The state standard for surface water not used for drinking is 12 parts per trillion of PFOS, a main ingredient in the firefighting foam. The Michigan DEQ notified the Air Force in a Dec. 14, 2017 letter that the treatment systems were inadequate. They are in a private resolution process that neither side will discuss publicly.
Oscoda residents are furious that the state has not been more forceful. To some extent, though, many of those residents bear at least some of the responsibility. Iosco County, home to Oscoda, is a rural Republican domain. A majority of voters cast their ballots for conservative state and federal administrations that have exhibited fealty to deregulation, animus to environmental enforcement, and disregard for investing in initiatives that protect public health. Michigan, after all, is where the Republican governor and his aides ignored warnings of contamination in the water supply for residents of Flint. To a large extent a political mismatch exists between what Iosco County residents want from government and who they helped elect to key government offices.
It's hard, in fact, to discuss water contamination in Michigan these days without conversation turning to Flint. Oscodans frequently mentioned that city's lead contamination and the slow state response. When they began holding meetings on PFAS in Oscoda, Spaniola thought state agencies might have learned something from the Flint crisis. After seeing the delays in response, he no longer has that opinion.
"I'm speechless with the lack of urgency I've seen in dealing with this issue," Spaniola said.
Just as with the Flint water crisis, the DEQ has failed to enforce its water pollution standards. Nearly a year ago, at an April 25, 2017 meeting, Air Force officials asked the DEQ for a letter clarifying the cleanup standards that apply. The response has been shuttled from DEQ to the governor's office to the attorney general's office, but according to the last available documents from base cleanup meetings it has not yet been delivered. The attorney general's office did not respond to repeated phone calls asking about the letter's status.
Aaron Weed, the town supervisor, has asked to meet with the director of the Michigan DEQ but no meeting has taken place. What would he request? "I'd say that action needs to be taken," Weed said.
The DEQ did not allow its field staff who are working on the Wurtsmith case to speak with Circle of Blue for this story.
Air Force officials, meanwhile, say they can only work with the money that is allocated to them. Congress appropriated an additional $84 million in the recent budget for PFAS cleanup, but directed it at naval bases. "We're in fiscally constraining times," Marrs said. "All BRAC bases are competing for limited funds."
The situation is not entirely hopeless. Soon the Coles and about 30 other homes will be able to hook into the public water system. Oscoda received a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the water main down their road. Homeowners who want to connect—it is not required—will have to pay to install a service line from their home to the main, which could run more than $1,000.
Weed, the town supervisor, told Circle of Blue that he's looking "for anyone who can write us a check" for $4 million to extend public water to another 230 homes affected by the plumes. Weed, like most Oscodans, had to educate himself quickly on PFAS chemicals once he found out they were disrupting the town. He took an online college course on environmental science.
Not even the public water system, however, is immune from the threat. In a sign of how far the contaminants have traveled, testing of treated water from Huron Shores Regional Water Authority, the local water system, in 2016 showed a range of results: from no detection up to 27 parts per trillion of PFAS. The authority's Lake Huron intake is about a dozen miles south of the mouth of the Au Sable.
A measurement in parts per trillion is almost inconceivably tiny. Imagine this: count back one trillion seconds in the course of human history. How far does that reach? More than 30,000 years ago, long before people tamed dogs or started row-cropping plants. Measurements in parts per trillion, essentially, are a sneeze in the span of human civilization.
Yet those sneezes are enough to worry public health professionals, who have convinced officials in Minnesota, New Jersey and other states that the EPA's guidelines are not strict enough to guard against long-term health risks.
Those risks are the town's worries, too. Residents are concerned that tourism may take a hit unless officials "stop the bleeding coming from the base," as Greg says. The Coles say that their cottages aren't booked up for the summer as they usually are by mid-March. The ordeal has changed their outlook and redirected their attention.
"I thought we were all set," Greg said, about life on their property. "We'll probably stay here. But now my passion comes from what I've seen. Even when we get city water, I'm going to fight for cleanup so that the next generation, the kids and grandkids can enjoy it."
Veterans and community members came to a March 12, 2018 meeting at the Oscoda VFW to discuss PFAS contamination.Brett Walton / Circle of Blue
They aren't the only Oscodans who feel a sense of loss, a disruption of place. For those aware of how deeply the chemicals are embedded in the area's waters, home is not what it used to be.
Tressa Thompto grew up in Oscoda and lived here until 1982. Her husband served in the Air Force and was stationed at Wurtsmith for four years starting in 1978. They now live in Des Moines, Iowa, but Tressa returned to the area for the meeting at the VFW. Her husband was diagnosed in 1991 with oligodendroglioma, a type of brain tumor. The growth, the size of her fist almost, was found behind his left eye.
"I have five brothers and sisters and we all wanted to come back here someday. But the way it is now … " Her voice trails off, then she picks up the thread again. "I always wanted to come back here, but it's like the town has been damaged by this."
Tressa's sister still lives in Oscoda, in a house on Van Etten Lake. She had planned to stay with her while in town for the meeting, but she ended up staying with her brother in Alpena, an hour drive to the north. She couldn't bear to stay so close to the lake, whose waters now carry new meaning. "I couldn't do it," she said.
Trump Administration Sued for Suspension of Clean Water Rule https://t.co/65gwNGTOFE #CleanWaterRule @Earthjustice… https://t.co/5Q4LBjAMSL— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1518026901.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Danielle Nierenberg and Alonso Diaz
With record high unemployment, a reeling global economy, and concerns of food shortages, the world as we know it is changing. But even as these shifts expose inequities in the health and food systems, many experts hope that the current moment offers an opportunity to build a new and more sustainable food system.
1. Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community, and the Meaning of Generosity by Priya Basil (forthcoming November 2020)<p>Priya Basil explores the meaning of hospitality within a variety of cultural, linguistic, and sociopolitical contexts in this short read. Basil uses her cross-cultural experience to illustrate how food amplifies discourse within families and touches on the hospitality and the lack thereof that migrants and refugees experience. <em>Be My Guest </em>is at once an enjoyable read and a hopeful meditation on how food and hospitality can make a positive difference in our world.</p>
2. Biodiversity, Food and Nutrition: A New Agenda for Sustainable Food Systems by Danny Hunter, Teresa Borelli, and Eliot Gee<p>In <em>Biodiversity, Food and Nutrition</em>, leading professionals from Bioversity International examine the positive impacts of biodiversity on nutrition and sustainability. The book highlights agrobiodiversity initiatives in Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, featuring research from the <a href="https://www.bioversityinternational.org/research-portfolio/diet-diversity/biodiversity-for-food-and-nutrition/" target="_blank">Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Project </a>(BFN) of the <a href="https://www.bioversityinternational.org/alliance/" target="_blank">Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT</a>. Through this analysis, the authors propose that the localized activities in these countries are not only benefiting communities, but are transferable to other regions.</p>
3. Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C. by Ashanté M. Reese<p>In <em>Black Food Geographies, </em>Ashanté Reese draws on her fieldwork to highlight community agency in response to unequal food access. Focusing on a majority-Black neighborhood in Washington, DC, Reese explores issues of racism, gentrification, and urban food access. Through her analysis, she argues that racism impacts and exacerbates issues of unequal food distribution systems.</p>
4. Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice edited by Hanna Garth and Ashanté M. Reese (forthcoming October 2020)<p>Access, equity, justice, and privilege are the central themes in this forthcoming collection of essays. The food justice movement often ignores the voices of Black communities and white food norms shape the notions of healthy food. Named for Black Lives Matter, <em>Black Food Matters </em>highlights the history and impact of Black communities and their food cultures in the food justice movement.</p>
5. Diners Dudes & Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture by Emily J.H. Contois (forthcoming November 2020)<p>In <em>Diners, Dudes & Diets</em>, Emily Contois looks at media's influence on eating habits and gendered perceptions of food. Focusing on the concept of dude foods, the book follows the evolution of food marketing for men. In doing so, Contois shows how industries used masculine stereotypes to sell diet and weight loss products to a new demographic. She argues that this has influenced both the way consumers think about food and their own identities.</p>
6. Feeding the Crisis: Care and Abandonment in America’s Food Safety Net by Maggie Dickinson<p>The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is essential for individuals who face food insecurity on a daily basis. Still, the program fails to reach many, including those who are unemployed, underemployed, or undocumented. <em>Feeding the Crisis</em> provides a historical overview of SNAP's expansion and traces the lives of eight families who must navigate the changing landscape of welfare policy in the United States.</p>
7. Feeding the Other: Whiteness, Privilege, and Neoliberal Stigma in Food Pantries by Rebecca T. de Souza<p>In <em>Feeding the Other</em>, Rebecca de Souza explores the relationship between food pantries and people dependent on their services. Throughout the work, de Souza underscores the structural failures that contribute to hunger and poverty, the racial dynamics within pantries, and the charged idea of a handout. She argues that while food pantries currently stigmatize clients, there is an opportunity to make them agents of food justice.</p>
8. Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato by Rebecca Earle<p>In <em>Feeding the People,</em> Rebecca Earle tells the story of the potato and its journey from a relatively unknown crop to a staple in modern diets around the world. Earle's work highlights the importance of the potato during famines, war, and explains the politics behind consumers' embrace of this food. Interspersed throughout are also potato recipes that any reader can try.</p>
9. Food in Cuba: The Pursuit of a Decent Meal by Hanna Garth<p>In <em>Food in Cuba</em>, Dr. Hannah Garth looks at food security and food sovereignty in the context of Cuba's second largest city, Santiago de Cuba. Throughout the work, Garth defines a decent meal as one that is culturally appropriate and of high quality. And through stories about families' sociopolitical barriers to food access, Garth shows how ideas of food and moral character become intimately linked.</p>
10. Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain<p>Scholar, speaker, and strategist Marcia Chatelain provides readers insight into the ways fast food restaurants expanded throughout Black communities. Dr. Chatelain traces their growth during the 20th century and their intersection with Black capitalists and the civil rights movement. This book highlights the dichotomy between fast food's negative impacts on Black communities and the potential economic and political opportunities that the businesses offered them.</p>
11. Honey And Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper by Andrew Coté<p>In <em>Honey and Venom,</em> Andrew Coté provides a history of beekeeping while taking the reader through his own trajectory in the industry. A manager of over one hundred beehives, Coté raises colonies across New York City, on the rooftops of churches, schools, and more. Coté's<em> </em>passion for beekeeping comes through clearly as he narrates the challenges and rewards of his career.</p>
12. Life on the Other Border: Farmworkers and Food Justice in Vermont by Teresa M. Mares<p>Agriculture, immigration, and Central American and Mexican farm workers may conjure ideas of the Mexico-U.S. border, but in <em>Life on the Other Border</em>, Teresa Mares gives a voice to those laboring much farther north. Mares introduces the readers to the Latinx immigrants who work in Vermont's dairy industry while they advocate for themselves and navigate life as undocumented workers. This is an inspiring read that touches on the intersection of food justice, immigration, and labor policy.</p>
13. Meals Matter: A Radical Economics Through Gastronomy by Michael Symons<p>In <em>Meals Matter</em>, Michael Symons argues that economics used to be, in its essence, about feeding the world but has since become fixated with the pursuit of money. Symons introduces readers to gastronomic liberalism and applies the ideas of philosophers like Epicurus and John Locke to the food system. Through this approach, he seeks to understand how large corporations gained control of the market and challenges readers to rethink their understanding of food economics.</p>
14. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg<p>Greta Thunberg addressed the United Nations at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit and has since been a global symbol of environmental activism. Her community organizing and impassioned speeches are uncompromising as she argues that climate change is an existential crisis that needs to be confronted immediately. <em>No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference </em>includes Thunberg's speeches and includes her 2019 address to the United Nations.</p>
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16. Plucked: Chicken, Antibiotics, And How Big Business Changed The Way The World Eats by Maryn McKenna<p>In this exposé on the chicken industry, acclaimed author Maryn McKenna explains the role antibiotics played in making chicken a global commodity. <em>Plucked </em>makes it clear that food choices matter and show how consumers' desire for meat, especially chicken, has impacted human health. McKenna also offers a way forward and outlines ways that stakeholders can make food safer again.</p>
17. Stirrings: How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice by Lana Dee Povitz<p>Between 1970 and 2000, food activists in New York City pushed to improve public school lunches, provide meals to those impacted by the AIDS epidemic, and established food co-ops. In <em>Stirrings</em>,<em> </em>Lana Dee Povitz draws on oral histories and archives to recount the stories of individuals who led these efforts. She highlights the successes of grassroots movements and reminds readers of the many women leaders in the New York food justice movement.</p>
18. The New American Farmer: Immigration, Race, and the Struggle for Sustainability by Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern<p>In <em>The New American Farmer</em>, Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern offers a look at farm labor in the U.S. Although most farm owners are white Americans, farm workers are overwhelmingly immigrants and people of color. In this book, Minkoff-Zern details the experiences of farm laborers who are becoming farm owners themselves and outlines the many barriers that workers must overcome during this transition. Through interviews with farmers and organizers, Minkoff-Zern shows that these farmers bring sustainable agricultural practices that can benefit our food system.</p>
19. The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here by Hope Jahren<p>Hope Jahren breaks down climate change for readers in an accessible and data-driven book. <em>The Story of More </em>explains<em> </em>how greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of natural resources in developed nations exacerbate climate change and outlines the consequences of these actions. Although she argues that the planet is in danger, she also provides a variety of everyday actions, like decreasing meat consumption, that consumers can take to make a difference.</p>
20. Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes by Bryant Terry<p>Author, chef, and food justice activist Bryant Terry provides readers with over a hundred recipes to create approachable and flavorful vegan dishes, without relying on meat alternatives. This book is a wonderfully practical recipe book that begins with a list of recommended tools, is organized by ingredients, and even includes a music playlist. Vegans and non-vegans alike will appreciate Chef Terry's <em>Vegetable Kingdom</em>.</p><a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?text=Make+this+summer+a+season+of+reflection+and+self-education+with+Food+Tank%27s+reading+list+%E2%80%94+new+and+important+books+from+%40AMReese07%2C+%40GretaThunberg%2C+%40EmilyContois%2C+%40BryantTerry%2C+%40DrMChatelain%2C+and+more&url=https%3A%2F%2Ffoodtank.com%2Fnews%2F2020%2F07%2Ffood-tanks-summer-2020-reading-list%2F&via=foodtank"><span></span></a>
By Brian J. Love and Julie Rieland
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. recycling industry. Waste sources, quantities and destinations are all in flux, and shutdowns have devastated an industry that was already struggling.
Goodwill's Canton, Mich. site looks overwhelmed on June 16, with an oversupply of donations and little immediate chance for resale. Brian Love / CC BY-ND
Recyclers Under Pressure<p>Since March 2020, when most shelter-in-place orders began, sanitation workers have noted massive increases in municipal garbage and recyclables. For example, in cities like Chicago, workers have seen up to <a href="https://chicago.suntimes.com/coronavirus/2020/4/7/21212543/coronavirus-chicago-garbage-pickup-streets-sanitation-masks" target="_blank">50% more waste</a>.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://swana.org/" target="_blank">Solid Waste Association of North America</a>, U.S. cities saw a <a href="https://swana.org/news/swana-news/article/2020/06/17/swana-submits-statement-on-recycling-challenges-for-u.s.-senate-hearing" target="_blank">20% average increase</a> in municipal solid waste and recycling collection from March into April 2020. Increased trash can be attributed partly to spring cleaning, but most of it is due to people spending greater time at home. Restaurants struggling to survive under COVID-19 restrictions are contributing to the rise in plastic and paper waste with <a href="https://theconversation.com/using-lots-of-plastic-packaging-during-the-coronavirus-crisis-youre-not-alone-135553" target="_blank">takeout packaging</a>.</p><p>Although higher volumes of recyclables are being set on the curb, budget deficits are squeezing recycling programs. Many municipalities are struggling with <a href="https://www.ketv.com/article/omaha-mayor-health-officials-to-provide-covid-19-update-friday-afternoon/32498068#" target="_blank">multimillion-dollar shortfalls</a>. Some communities, such as Rock Springs, Wyoming, and East Peoria, Illinois, <a href="https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2020/05/27/budget-shortfalls-threaten-local-recycling-programs/" target="_blank">have cut recycling programs</a>.</p><p>And these stresses are testing a business already faced uncertainty.</p>
While bottle deposit stations remain closed, recyclables pile up in basements and garages. David Rieland / CC BY-ND
Turmoil in Scrap Markets<p>The global recycling economy has suffered since 2018 as first China and then other Asian nations <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-more-developing-countries-reject-plastic-waste-exports-wealthy-nations-seek-solutions-at-home-117163" target="_blank">banned imports of low-quality scrap</a> — often meaning improperly cleaned food packaging and poorly sorted recyclable materials. As in any business, the value of raw recyclables is linked to supply and demand. Without demand from nations like China, which formerly took up to 700,000 tons of U.S. scrap annually, recyclers have scrambled to stay in business.</p><p>The pandemic has boosted prices for some materials. One industry leader told us that between February and May 2020, prices doubled for recycled paper and tripled for recycled cardboard. These shifts reflect higher demand for tissue products and shipping packaging under shelter-in-place orders.</p><p>However, he also reported that prices for the most-recycled categories of reclaimed plastics — PET (#1) and PE (#2 and #4) – were at 10-year lows. An influx of cheap oil has driven the raw material cost of oil-derived virgin plastics to their lowest levels in decades, <a href="https://millerrecycling.com/oil-prices-recycling#:%7E:text=Higher%20oil%20prices%20can%20also,robust%20market%20for%20recycled%20plastic." target="_blank">outcompeting recycled feedstocks</a>.</p>
Difficult Economics<p>Ideally, revenues from recycling offset municipalities' costs for collecting and disposing of solid wastes. However, given worker safety concerns, low market prices for scrap materials, a slowed economy and cheaper alternatives for disposal, many communities and businesses across the U.S. have <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/recycling-mrfs-prison-labor-suspensions-coronavirus-covid-19/574301/" target="_blank">temporarily suspended</a> collection of recyclables and bottle deposits.</p><p>Meanwhile, as the commercial sector slowed, the distribution of waste generation changed. As people have spent more time producing waste at home, waste collectors implemented <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/" target="_blank">new procedures</a> to protect their employees from infection.</p><p>Recycling is a very hands-on process that requires workers to manually sort out items from the collection stream that are unsuitable for mechanical processing. Workers and waste collection companies have <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/" target="_blank">raised many safety questions</a> about recycling during the pandemic.</p><p>Precautions like social distancing and use of personal protective equipment have become commonplace among waste collectors and sorters, though concerns remain. Sorters are increasingly relying on automation, but implementation can be costly and takes time.</p>
Collections on Pause<p>Based on monitoring since 2017 by the trade publication <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/curbside-recycling-cancellation-tracker/569250/" target="_blank">Waste Dive</a>, nearly 90 curbside recycling programs had experienced or continue to experience a prolonged suspension over the past several years. About 30 of these suspensions have occurred since January 2020.</p>
Like many bottle deposit programs, Kroger's Ann Arbor, Mich. drop-off center shut down on March 23. Michigan bottle deposits across the state resumed on June 15, 2020 with new safety protocols. Brian Love / CC BY-ND<p>On a broader scale, it's not clear how much more waste Americans are currently producing during shutdowns. Commercial and residential waste aren't directly comparable. For example, a granola bar wrapper thrown away at the office is tallied differently than if discarded at home.</p><p>It is also challenging to quantify the effects of the pandemic while it is still unfolding. Historically, waste output from the commercial and industrial sectors has far outweighed the municipal stream. With many offices and business closed or operating at low levels, total U.S. waste production could actually be at a record low during this time. However, data on commercial and industrial wastes are not readily available.</p><p>At the California-based <a href="https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2020/04/28/city-data-shows-covid-19-impacts-on-recycling-tonnages/" target="_blank">Peninsula Sanitary Service</a>, which serves the Stanford University community, total tonnage was down 60% in March. The company attributes this drop to reduced commercial waste, particularly from construction. Similarly, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, noted a <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/metro-vancouver-garbage-decrease-covdi-19-1.5544942" target="_blank">10% decrease</a> year over year of waste collection levels for April.</p>
Expected sectors of plastic waste increase due to COVID-19, based on 2018 plastic usage distribution data from PlasticsEurope and Klemes et al., 2020. Brian Love and Julie Rieland / CC BY-ND
More Plastic Trash<p>As cities and industries reopen in the coming months, new data will show the pandemic's effects on consumer habits and waste generation. But regardless of total volume, the mix of materials in household wastes has shifted given the new ubiquity of single-use plastic containers, online shopping packaging and disposable gloves, wipes and face masks. Many of these new staples of pandemic life are made from plastics that are simply not worth recycling if there are any other disposal options.</p><p>Today Americans are trying to balance their physical well-being against ever-mounting piles of plastic waste. At a time when reducing and reusing could be dangerous, and recycling economics are unfavorable, we see a need for better options, such as more <a href="https://theconversation.com/bio-based-plastics-can-reduce-waste-but-only-if-we-invest-in-both-making-and-getting-rid-of-them-98282" target="_blank">compostable packaging</a> that is both safer and more sustainable.</p>
1. Processed ‘Low-Fat’ and ‘Fat-Free’ Foods<p>The "war" on <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/saturated-fat-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">saturated fat</a> could be considered one of the most misguided decisions in the history of nutrition.</p><p>It was based on weak evidence, which has now been completely <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/it-aint-the-fat-people/" target="_blank">debunked</a>.</p><p>When this discussion started, processed food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started removing the fat from foods.</p><p>But there's a huge problem. Food doesn't taste well when the fat has been removed. That's why they added a lot of sugar to compensate.</p><p>Saturated fat is harmless, but added sugar is incredibly harmful when consumed in excess.</p><p>The words "low fat" or "fat free" on packaging usually means that it's a highly processed product that's loaded with sugar.</p>
2. Most Commercial Salad Dressings<p>Vegetables are incredibly healthy.</p><p>The problem is that they often don't taste very good on their own.</p><p>That's why many people use dressings to add flavor to their salads, turning these bland meals into delicious treats.</p><p>But many salad dressings are actually loaded with unhealthy ingredients like sugar, vegetable oils, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-trans-fats-are-bad/" target="_blank">trans fats</a>, along with various artificial chemicals.</p><p>Although vegetables are good for you, eating them with a dressing high in harmful ingredients negates any health benefit you get from the salad.</p><p>Check the ingredients list before you use a salad dressing or make your own using healthy ingredients.</p>
3. Fruit Juices … Which Are Basically Just Liquid Sugar<p>A lot of people believe <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fruit-juice-is-just-as-bad-as-soda/" target="_blank">fruit juices</a> are healthy.</p><p>They must be because they come from fruit, right?</p><p>But most fruit juice you find in the grocery store isn't really fruit juice.</p><p>Sometimes they don't have any actual fruit in them, just chemicals that taste like fruit. What you're drinking is basically fruit-flavored sugar water.</p><p>That being said, even if you're drinking 100% quality fruit juice, it's still not the best choice.</p><p>Fruit juice is like fruit, except with all the good stuff (like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fiber-good-for-you/" target="_blank">fiber</a>) taken out. The main thing left of the actual <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-fruit-good-or-bad-for-your-health/" target="_blank">fruit</a> is the sugar.</p><p>Fruit juice actually contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage.</p>
4. ‘Heart-Healthy’ Whole Wheat<p>Most "whole wheat" products aren't really made from whole wheat.</p><p>The grains have been pulverized into very fine flour, which causes them to raise blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts.</p><p>In fact, whole wheat bread can have a similar glycemic index as white bread.</p><p>But even true whole wheat may be a bad idea because modern wheat is unhealthy compared to the wheat our grandparents ate.</p><p>Around 1960, scientists modified the genes in wheat to increase the yield. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/modern-wheat-health-nightmare/" target="_blank">Modern wheat</a> is less nutritious and has some properties that make it much worse for people who have a gluten intolerance.</p><p>There are also studies showing that modern wheat may cause inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, at least when compared to the older varieties.</p><p>Wheat may have been a relatively healthy grain back in the day, but the stuff most people are eating today should be consumed with caution.</p>
5. Cholesterol-Lowering Phytosterols<p>Phytosterols are nutrients that are basically like plant versions of cholesterol.</p><p>Some studies have shown that they can lower blood cholesterol in humans.</p><p>For this reason, they're often added to processed foods that are then marketed as "cholesterol lowering" and claimed to help prevent heart disease.</p><p>However, studies have shown that despite lowering cholesterol levels, phytosterols have negative effects on the cardiovascular system and may even increase the risk of heart disease and death.</p><p>People with phytosterolaemia (a genetic condition that raises plant sterol level in blood) are more susceptible to the negative effects of phytosterols.</p>
6. Margarine<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-reasons-why-butter-is-good-for-you/" target="_blank">Butter</a> was labeled a bad food choice in the past because of its high saturated fat content.</p><p>Various health experts started promoting margarine instead.</p><p>Back in the day, margarine used to be high in trans fats. These days, it has fewer trans fats than before, but it's still loaded with refined vegetable oils.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the Framingham Heart Study <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/butter-vs-margarine/" target="_blank">showed</a> that people who replace butter with margarine are actually more likely to die from heart disease.</p><p>If you want to improve your health, try to eat real butter (preferably <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grass-fed-butter-superfood-for-the-heart/" target="_blank">grass fed</a>), and avoid margarine with trans fat. Trans-fat-free margarine has become more available in recent years.</p><p>Always read nutrition facts carefully and limit products that contain trans fat.</p><p>Recommending trans fat-laden margarine instead of natural butter may be considered some of the worst nutrition advice in history.</p>
7. Sports Drinks<p>Sports drinks were designed with athletes in mind.</p><p>They contain electrolytes (salts) and sugar, which can be useful for athletes in many cases.</p><p>However, most people don't need additional salt or liquid sugar in their diet.</p><p>Although often considered "less bad" than sugary soft drinks, there's really no fundamental difference in the two, except the sugar content in sports drinks is sometimes <em>slightly</em> lower.</p><p>It's important to stay hydrated, especially when working out, but most people will be better off sticking to plain <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day/" target="_blank">water</a>.</p>
8. Low-Carb Junk Foods<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-carb-diet-meal-plan-and-menu/" target="_blank">Low carb diets</a> have been incredibly popular for many decades.</p><p>In the past 12 years, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/23-studies-on-low-carb-and-low-fat-diets/" target="_blank">studies</a> have confirmed that these diets are an effective way to lose weight and improve health.<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x/abstract" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, food manufacturers have caught up on the trend and brought various low carb "friendly" processed foods to the market.</p><p>This includes highly processed foods like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-atkins-low-carb-bars-healthy/" target="_blank">Atkins bars</a>. If you take a look at the ingredients list, you see that there's no real food in them, just chemicals and highly refined ingredients.</p><p>These products can be consumed occasionally without compromising the metabolic adaptation that comes with low carb eating.</p><p>However, they don't really nourish your body. Even though they're technically low carb, they're still unhealthy.</p>
9. Agave Nectar<p>Given the known <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-disturbing-reasons-why-sugar-is-bad/" target="_blank">harmful effects</a> of sugar, people have been looking for alternatives.</p><p>One of the more popular "natural" sweeteners is agave nectar, which is also called agave syrup.</p><p>You'll find this sweetener in all sorts of "healthy foods," often with attractive claims on the packaging.</p><p>The problem with agave is that it's no better than regular sugar. In fact, it's much worse.</p><p>One of the main problems with sugar is that it has excessive amounts of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fructose-bad-for-you/" target="_blank">fructose</a>, which can cause severe metabolic problems when consumed in excess.</p><p>Sugar is about 50% fructose and 55% high fructose corn syrup, but agave contains even more — up to 70-90%.</p><p>Therefore, gram for gram, agave is even worse than regular sugar.</p><p>"Natural" doesn't always equal healthy. Whether agave should even be considered natural is debatable.</p>
10. Vegan Junk Foods<p>Vegan diets are very popular these days, often due to ethical and environmental reasons.</p><p>However, many people promote vegan diets for the purpose of improving health.</p><p>There are many processed vegan foods on the market, often sold as convenient replacements for non-vegan foods.</p><p>Vegan bacon is one example.</p><p>But it's important to keep in mind that these are usually highly processed, factory made products that are bad for almost anyone, including people who are vegan.</p>
11. Brown Rice Syrup<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/brown-rice-syrup-good-or-bad/" target="_blank"><br>Brown rice syrup</a>, also known as rice malt syrup, is a sweetener that's mistakenly assumed to be healthy.</p><p>It's made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars.</p><p>Brown rice syrup contains no refined fructose, just glucose.</p><p>The absence of refined fructose is good, but rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which means that the glucose in it will spike blood sugar extremely fast.<a href="http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php?num=2648&ak=detail" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Rice syrup is also highly refined and contains almost no essential nutrients. In other words, it's considered "empty" calories.</p><p>Some concerns have been raised about arsenic contamination in this syrup, which is another reason to be extra careful with this sweetener.</p><p>There are other sweeteners out there, including low calorie sweeteners like:</p><ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/stevia/" target="_blank">stevia</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/erythritol/" target="_blank">erythritol</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/xylitol-101/" target="_blank">xylitol</a></li></ul><p>In general, try to use all sweeteners wisely and follow recommended serving sizes.</p>
12. Processed Organic Foods<p>Unfortunately, the word "organic" has become a typical marketing buzzword in many instances.</p><p>Food manufacturers have found all sorts of ways to make the same products, except with ingredients that happen to be organic.</p><p>This includes ingredients like organic raw cane sugar, which is basically 100% identical to regular sugar. It's still just glucose and fructose with little to no nutrients.</p><p>In many cases, the difference between an ingredient and its organic counterpart is next to none.</p><p>Processed foods that happen to be labeled organic aren't necessarily healthy. Always check the label to see what's inside.</p>
13. Vegetable Oils<p>We're often advised to eat seed and vegetable oils, which includes soybean oil, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/canola-oil-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">canola oil</a>, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grape-seed-oil/" target="_blank">grapeseed oil</a>, and numerous others.</p><p>This recommendation is based on the fact that these oils have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, at least in the short term.<a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23731447/" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, it's important to keep in mind that blood cholesterol is a <em>risk factor</em>. It's not a disease in itself.</p><p>Even though vegetable oils can help improve a risk factor, there's no guarantee that they'll help prevent actual health outcomes like heart attacks or death, which is what really counts.</p><p>In fact, several controlled trials have shown that despite lowering cholesterol, these oils can increase the risk of developing heart disease and memory impairment.</p><p>It's important to eat healthy, natural fats like butter, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/" target="_blank">coconut oil</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/extra-virgin-olive-oil/" target="_blank">olive oil</a> in moderation.</p><p>Also, follow the recommended serving size, but limit processed <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-vegetable-and-seed-oils-bad/" target="_blank">vegetable oils</a> as if your health depended on it, which it does.</p>
14. Gluten-Free Junk Foods<p>According to a <a href="http://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/percentage-of-us-adults-trying-to-cut-down-or-avoid-gluten-in-their-diets-reaches-new-high-in-2013-reports-npd/" target="_blank">2013 survey</a>, about a third of people in the United States are actively trying to limit or avoid gluten.</p><p>Many experts believe this is unnecessary, but the truth is, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-shocking-reasons-why-gluten-is-bad/" target="_blank">gluten</a>, especially from modern wheat, can be problematic for a lot of people.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the food manufacturers have brought <em>all sorts</em> of gluten-free foods to the market.</p><p>The problem with these foods is that they usually have the same negative effects on your body as their gluten-containing counterparts, if not worse.</p><p>These are highly processed foods containing few nutrients and often made with refined starches that can lead to very rapid spikes in blood sugar.</p><p>Try to choose foods that are naturally gluten free, like plants and animals, not gluten-free processed foods.</p><p>Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.</p>
15. Most Processed Breakfast Cereals<p>The way some breakfast cereals are marketed can be deceiving.</p><p>Many of them, including those that are marketed toward children, have various health claims listed on the box.</p><p>This includes claims like "whole grain" or "low fat" that may be misleading.</p><p>This is especially true when you look at the ingredients list and see that these products mostly contain:</p><ul><li>refined grains</li><li>sugar</li><li>artificial chemicals</li></ul><p>It's important to always review product packaging to confirm what you're actually putting in your body and whether it's healthy for you.</p><p>Truly healthy foods are whole, single-ingredient foods. Their health benefits speak for them.</p><p>Real food doesn't even need an ingredients list, because real food is the ingredient.</p>
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
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By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
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