The Lessons We Didn’t Learn From the Largest Gas Leak in U.S. History
By Byron Chan
Almost 15,000 residents of Los Angeles' Porter Ranch neighborhood evacuated their homes in the fall of 2015, many of them suffering from headaches, breathing problems and nosebleeds. The culprit: a massive leak of carcinogenic chemicals at SoCalGas's nearby Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility. From October 2015 until February 2016, the facility expelled more than 100,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere.
Three years later, community residents continue to suffer severe health effects. In a lawsuit filed on Oct. 15, Los Angeles firefighters who responded to the leak stated that they also continue to experience "nosebleeds, migraine headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, sleeping difficulties, and breathing difficulties. Some now battle cancer."
And yet, agencies and underground gas storage operators continue to show a shocking lack of initiative to regulate and share information about the toxic pollutants in stored gas. No regulatory agency has tried to force operators to reveal the gas' chemical composition. Without this information, scientists cannot determine the leak's risks to human health.
Kyoko Hibino sought emergency room treatment soon after the Aliso Canyon facility began spewing methane in October 2015. She, her partner and their cats had to relocate.Edward Clynes / Earthjustice
"The public health department consistently delivered messages to the community that are misleading," one Porter Ranch resident told the Los Angeles Daily News this week. "They showed no justice and had unexplained delays and inactions."
This problem isn't limited to Aliso Canyon. California has 12 underground gas storage facilities: four in southern California, seven in northern California, and one in central California with a total capacity to store just under 400 billion cubic feet of gas. For a sense of scale, that's a lot. One billion cubic feet is enough to fuel about five million U.S. homes for a day.
What We Don't Know About the Toxic Chemicals in Gas Wells
Many folks don't know that California's underground gas storage facilities are in depleted gas or oil fields. These were not originally designed for high-pressure gas storage. (The Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility, for example, is in a depleted oil field originally drilled by the Getty family in the 1950s.)
Chemical contaminants left over from oil operations combine with injected gas during underground storage. These contaminants are emitted into our air during gas leaks. We simply do not have enough information about just how terrible that chemical cocktail is for us. And that's by design–there's no regulation requiring companies like SoCalGas to disclose the composition of toxic chemicals in their gas wells.
SoCalGas Aliso Canyon, CA 5min youtu.be
Public health and energy scientists from the California Council on Science and Technology recently presented their findings on the human health hazards of underground gas storage at a workshop in Los Angeles. At the workshop, the scientists emphasized that a lack of access to data on the composition of gas at Aliso Canyon and other underground gas storage facilities significantly limited the scope and detail of their assessment.
The clearly frustrated scientists concluded, "the responses [from underground gas storage operators to data requests] make clear that information on the levels of toxic air contaminants (other than sulfur compounds) will likely not be available without a mandate from the responsible regulatory agency or agencies."
A Health Study With No Teeth
Now, as part of the settlement agreement between SoCalGas and state agencies, SoCalGas has agreed to pay $25 million for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to study the long-term impacts of exposure to emissions from gas leaks. That health study, however, will again have to rely on the voluntary cooperation of SoCalGas.
We believe that's an inherently flawed approach. In comments to the California Air Resources Board on the limitations of the Aliso Canyon settlement agreement, Earthjustice noted the inherent self-interest of underground gas storage operators, including SoCalGas, to withhold key information about toxic pollutants in gas.
A truck leaves the Aliso Canyon facility.Edward Clynes / Earthjustice
Without an independent study based on complete information, the health impacts from the toxic pollutants in stored gas will never be fully understood and addressed. It'll be another good idea with no follow-through. The families in Porter Ranch and the wider San Fernando Valley will not get the answers they deserve about their nosebleeds, their headaches or their breathing difficulties.
The health effects of the Aliso Canyon gas leak are just the latest indication of how little we know about stored gas and the lack of regulatory oversight to match the dangers of underground gas storage facilities. The toothless health study laid out in the Aliso Canyon settlement is a grave discredit to the community residents and emergency first-responders who suffered, and continue to suffer, significant health impacts from the Aliso Canyon gas leak.
In all, Aliso Canyon must serve as a constant reminder for California: it's time to get off natural gas. Natural gas infrastructure leaks. There's no way around that. At every turn from our energy grid to our vehicles and our buildings, we can kick gas to the curb and choose cleaner, safer options instead.
The Porter Ranch communityDave Getzschman / Earthjustice
Byron Chan is an associate attorney with the California regional office of Earthjustice.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.