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Silent Killers: The Danger of Plastic Bags to Marine Life
By Laura Beans
"Paper or plastic?" was once the inquiry of bag-boys in supermarkets around the country. But a growing conscience concerning the frivolous abuse of single-use plastic grocery bags has finally taken hold in the U.S. Around the world, from Australia to Ireland, communities have been enacting bag bans for almost a decade.
The first plastic sandwich bags were introduced in 1957. Department stores and supermarket chains started using plastic shopping bags in the late 1970s. The recycling of plastic bags began in 1990, but by 1996 four out of five grocery bags in the U.S. were thin, single-use, polyethylene bags. More than 1 billion single-use plastic bags are given out free of charge everyday. In 2009 the U.S. International Trade Commission reported that 102 billion plastic bags were used in the U.S.
Plastic bags never biodegrade, but they do breakdown. As they do so, any toxic additives they contain—including flame retardants, antimicrobials and plasticizers—will be released into the environment. Many of these chemicals may disrupt the endocrine system—the delicately balanced set of hormones and glands that affect virtually every organ and cell in the bodies of humans and animals.
Plastic bags are especially harmful to marine animals, and are one of the most common garbage items on California’s beaches according to the Los Angeles Times. Most starts out as litter on beaches, streets and sidewalks. Stormwater runoff and overwatering flushes them through storm drains or directly to creeks, streams and rivers that lead to the ocean.
In marine environments, many animals confuse the plastic littering the oceans for food, including sea turtles. One in three leatherback sea turtles have plastic in their stomach, most often a plastic bag, based on a study of over 370 autopsies. Once in these animals bodies the plastic bioaccumulates, and the chemicals can cause excess estrogen to be produced, which has led to discoveries of male fish with female sex organs. For sea turtles, the plastic blocks their digestive tract and the food that is trapped releases gases that render them buoyant, and unable to dive for food.
A group based in Mexico, Global Ban Now, is raising public awareness of the issue with the release of their short video, Silent Killers. The video was created after a member discovered a sea turtle close to death off the coast of La Paz, Mexico. The sick turtle was brought to a facility in La Paz, where it was discovered that she was slowly starving because a single-use plastic bag, which she had eaten, was blocking her digestive tract. The turtle was kept for a couple of weeks, the plastic was removed and she was released back to the sea.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.