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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Scars from large mining operations are permanently etched across the landscapes of the world. The environmental damage and human health hazards that these activities create may be both severe and irreversible.
Catastrophic Failures Renew Old Worries<p>Tailings dam failures range from the 1966 <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-150d11df-c541-44a9-9332-560a19828c47" target="_blank">Aberfan disaster</a> that buried a Welsh village to multiple spills over the past decade in <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/mine-tailings-dam-failures-major-cause-of-environmental-disasters-report/" target="_blank">Canada, China, Chile and the United States</a>. The <a href="https://www.icold-cigb.org/" target="_blank">International Commission on Large Dams</a>, a nongovernmental organization, warned in 2001 that the frequency and severity of tailings dam failures was <a href="http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/2891-TailingsDams.pdf" target="_blank">increasing globally</a>.</p><p>Two catastrophic and highly publicized failures at the <a href="https://www.mountpolleyreviewpanel.ca/" target="_blank">Mt. Polley dam in Canada</a> in 2014 and the <a href="https://theconversation.com/dam-collapse-at-brazilian-mine-exposes-grave-safety-problems-110666" target="_blank">Brumadinho dam in Brazil</a> in 2019 finally catalyzed a response. The <a href="https://www.icmm.com/" target="_blank">International Council on Mining and Metals</a>, the <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/" target="_blank">United Nations Environment Programme</a> and the independent organization <a href="https://www.unpri.org/" target="_blank">Principles for Responsible Investment</a> drafted a "global standard for the safe and secure <a href="https://globaltailingsreview.org/" target="_blank">management of mine tailings facilities</a>." The first public review of the standard was completed in December 2019, and its authors plan to finalize their recommendations by the end of March 2020.</p>
International Rivers at Risk<p>Today these decisions loom large in the Golden Triangle, home to the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers – three of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1111-9" target="_blank">longest undammed rivers in North America</a>. Salmon from these rivers have supported indigenous communities for millennia, generate <a href="https://www.mcdowellgroup.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/FINAL-Southeast-Alaska-Transboundary-Watershed-Economic-Impacts-10_10red.pdf" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars in economic activity annually</a> and provide a dependable source of food for organisms ranging from insects to brown bears.</p><p>We calculate that 19% of the total drainage area of these three rivers is staked with mineral mining claims or leases. This includes 59% of the Unuk River watershed, along with the entire Iskut River corridor, the largest tributary to the Stikine River.</p><p>We have identified <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ipseXInQJTFPt1wtac431c9AEmDHJqb05qqRwFTOlNU/edit#gid=0" target="_blank">dozens of mines in exploratory or production phases</a>. Some industry representatives call these statistics irrelevant because only a small portion of the claims will convert to economically viable projects. But from our perspective, the fact that vast areas of these watersheds are included in initial explorations implies that few rivers in this region are safe from potential mining development.</p>
Accurately Assessing Risk<p>Rivers are the arteries of coastal Alaska and northwestern Canada, draining pristine snow and ice-covered mountains and pumping out cold, clean water to support fish, wildlife and people. Here and elsewhere, we believe that regulators should take a measured and cautious view of current and planned tailings facilities.</p><p>Dam failures are <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/environments4040075" target="_blank">increasing in frequency</a>, and often are so large that true cleanup or reclamation is not possible. Before more are built, we see a need for independent science to provide a means of honestly assessing the risk of storing mining waste.</p>
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Jamini Mohan Mahanty is out for a morning walk every day. At 91, he is hale and hearty. A resident of Jharbagda village in Purulia district, West Bengal, Mahanty thanks the "green mountain" in his village for having added some extra years to his life.
(L) A view of the barren mountain in 1996 and (R) a restored landscape as seen in 2006. Mongabay India
Long Walk for Firewood<p>Another major problem that villagers, especially the women faced was the near absence of firewood as there were hardly any trees, "We had to walk for three to four kilometres for firewood and the entire day was lost in the travel. It was also risky and cumbersome for the women to walk for such a long distance carrying the firewood on their heads. Besides, some couldn't afford the money required to buy firewood for fuel," said another villager.</p><p>Villagers realized that turning the mountain green could save them from the torment of inclement weather coupled with water shortage issues. But it was easier said than done as the mountain spread across 376 acres of land and required extensive labour and funds for plantations.</p><p>An NGO involved in nature <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/conservation" rel="noopener noreferrer">conservation</a> came to their rescue. The <u><a href="http://www.tsrd.org/" target="_blank">Tagore Society For Rural Development</a></u> (TSRD), a non-profit engaged in rural work, agreed to do the plantation work on the entire stretch while the community was given the responsibility of maintaining and protecting the green cover. </p><p>"A group of villagers contacted us and told about the problems they were facing. We were overwhelmed by their passion to grow a forest. We then decided to do the plantation," said Prahalad Chandra Mahato, 70, senior employee of the NGO.</p><p>Subsequently, in 1999, a village committee involving 60 members of Jharbagda village of Manbazar-1 block was formed for plantation at a community land of around 300 acres.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNDA1Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTk1MDExM30.Vj6WT9OiMU3jVqI4zb-DCPJY9qXEjmiRaufIRTd0-c4/img.jpg?width=980" id="01077" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dadebea5768c9346fa9800b45e177704" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Committee members representing the villages for plantation on the barren mountain. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
Villagers can now collect dry leaves for fuel from the forest on the Makino Raghunath Mountain. Earlier, they would have to walk long distances to get firewood. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
The Stretch Turned Green Within a Few Years<p>Within a span of a few years, the landscape, starting with five villages started changing. "The first visible sign was the easy availability of firewood for fuel. The dried leaves that fell from the trees were collected by us and used as fuel. It not only saved us from the ordeal of walking for several kilometers but also reduced our expenditure on buying wood for fuel. It encouraged us to protect the forest and shoo out anyone trying to destroy it," said Kalyani Mahanty, 40, a homemaker in Jharbagda.</p><p>The forest also led to an increase in the groundwater level and brought down the constant quarrels among villagers, "The groundwater level that had depleted to 40-50 feet (and went down even more in summers) became normal and was available at 15-20 ft. The easy availability of water brought peace to the village," she added.</p><p>The dense green cover also ensured the presence of biodiversity and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/elephants" target="_self">elephants</a> began to traverse the forest that was once barren, "We first noticed the movement of elephants in 2005. There was a sense of jubilation among villagers. There were also constant sighting of snakes and other animals. Birds are now regular here," said Bikash Mahanty, 40, who resides at the neighbouring Radhamodhobpur village.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNjUzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTI0OTUxOX0.S9eG2GAmbVZI6yhmzwCPauTUEIvlfSCae47Lrt0O2cQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="8554a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f3bc72b3aba749959342680b81c62168" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Makino Raghunath Mountain, a once-barren mountain where plantation took place between 1999 and 2002, restoring its greenery. Mongabay India
Trenches Being Dug to Store Rainwater<p>The state government in collaboration with TSRD is now digging trenches down the mountain to stop the wastage of rainwater and to make the soil nutritious, "The water in the trenches would make the soil nutritious while the overflowing water would be stored in a nearby pond and used for farming. It would also recharge the groundwater," said Badal Maharana, 43, team leader, <u><a href="https://usharmukti.nregawb.in/" target="_blank">Ushar Mukti</a></u> project, TSRD Purulia Unit.</p><p>He further said that around 1.5 feet deep trenches have been dug up in 50 hectares of land after the start of the work last year.</p><p>"The trenches would certainly help in storing the rainwater and would be used for multiple purposes. We are also trying to make it an animal corridor to facilitate their movement but the presence of habitation near the forest is a hurdle to the plan. The efforts of the villagers stand as a classic example of how environment conservation is vital for the survival of every individual," said Niladri Sarkar, Block Development Officer (BDO), Manbazar-1 block in Purulia district.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNDA2NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTYwNDg5NX0.H_elNTErtxSE5y_j_8ATWT6x72fppFDmnTzGgEQQp9A/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e943" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d8953097e3227af62caf8b1d5aa4fdc0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The overflowing water from trenches would flow into the nearby pond and would be used for farming. Gurvinder Singh / Mongabay India
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By Laura Sear and Leslie Steed (Arica, Chile)
Arica is a dusty, windswept port city in northern Chile. Tourists wander the city's long seafront under the shadow of a dramatic buff-colored cliff called El Morro. But the bracing sea air belies a toxic controversy that has bounced from court to court, from Chile to Sweden, in vain search of resolution.
Today, the waste is walled off but still exposed to the elements, just five minutes' walk from the nearest social housing.
The waste is now just outside the impoverished Cerro Chuno neighborhood of Arica, where most residents are migrants.
The climate crisis has put at least 945 designated toxic waste sites at severe risk of disaster from escalating wildfires, floods, rising seas and other climate-related disasters, according to a new study from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), as the AP reported.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
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Scientists continue to uncover more ways climate change poses a threat to our health, such as the spread of tropical diseases northward and the loss of crucial nutrients in crops. Now, researchers at Harvard have added another risk to that list: increased neurotoxins in seafood.
By Jordan Davidson
Plastic gets around. Previously, researchers had discovered fragments of microplastics in the world's most remote locations, like the depths of the Marianas Trench and Antarctica. New research has shown that microplastics rain down on the pristine peaks of the Pyrenees mountains.
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Acting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler downplayed the threat of climate change and defended his deregulatory record at the first Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination to officially run the agency Wednesday. It was a hearing that some activists and Democrats did not even think should take place, given that business as usual at the EPA has been hampered by the ongoing government shutdown.
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In its latest attack on clean air protections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its new proposal to weaken the Obama-era Mercury & Air Toxics Standards (MATS), putting public health at risk from more than 80 dangerous pollutants, some of which are known to cause brain damage in children.
"This is an unconscionable rollback to serve the coal industry at the expense of all Americans, especially our children," said John Walke, director of NRDC's Clean Air program. "And it says EPA's just fine with allowing brain poisons mercury and lead and toxic carcinogens to fill our skies."