Thousands of Superfund sites exist around the U.S., with toxic substances left open, mismanaged and dumped. Despite the high levels of toxicity at these sites, nearly 21 million people live within a mile of one of them, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Currently, more than 1,300 Superfund sites pose a serious health risk to nearby communities. Based on a new study, residents living close to these sites could also have a shorter life expectancy.
Published in Nature Communications, the study, led by Hanadi S. Rifai, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston, and a team of researchers, found that living in nearby zip codes to Superfund sites resulted in a decreased life expectancy of more than two months, the University of Houston reported.
"We have ample evidence that contaminant releases from anthropogenic sources (e.g., petrochemicals or hazardous waste sites) could increase the mortality rate in fence-line communities," Rifai told the University of Houston. "Results showed a significant difference in life expectancy among census tracts with at least one Superfund site and their neighboring tracts with no sites."
The study pulled data from 65,000 census tracts – defined geographical regions – within the contiguous U.S., The Guardian reported. With this data, researchers found that for communities that are socioeconomically challenged, this life expectancy could decrease by up to a year.
"It was a bit surprising and concerning," Rifai told The Guardian. "We weren't sure [when we started] if the fact that you are socioeconomically challenged would make [the Superfund's effects] worse."
The research team, for example, found that the presence of a Superfund site in a census tract with a median income of less than $52,580 could reduce life expectancy by seven months, the University of Houston reported.
Many of these toxic sites were once used as manufacturing sites during the Second World War. Common toxic substances that are released from the sites into the air and surface water include lead, trichlorethylene, chromium, benzene and arsenic – all of which can lead to health impacts, such as neurological damage among children, The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in a blog.
"The EPA has claimed substantial recent progress in Superfund site cleanups, but, contrary to EPA leadership's grandiose declarations, the backlog of unfunded Superfund cleanups is the largest it has been in the last 15 years," the Union wrote.
Delayed cleanup could become increasingly dangerous as climate change welcomes more natural hazards, like wildfires and flooding. According to a Government Accountability Office report, for example, climate change could threaten at least 60 percent of Superfund sites in the U.S., AP News reported.
During the summer of 2018, a major wildfire took over the Iron Mountain Superfund site near Redding, CA, ruining wastewater treatment infrastructure that is responsible for capturing 168 million gallons of acid mine drainage every month, NBC News reported.
"There was this feeling of 'My God. We ought to have better tracking of wildfires at Superfund locations,'" Stephen Hoffman, a former senior environmental scientist at the EPA, told NBC News. "Before that, there wasn't a lot of thought about climate change and fire. That has changed."
In the study, researchers also looked at the impacts of floodings on Superfund sites, which could send toxins flowing into communities and waterways.
"When you add in flooding, there will be ancillary or secondary impacts that can potentially be exacerbated by a changing future climate," Rifai told the University of Houston. "The long-term effect of the flooding and repetitive exposure has an effect that can transcend generations."
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
- Do You Live Near One of the 1,300 Most Toxic Sites in America ... ›
- EPA Adds Prison Locations to Its Environmental Justice Mapping ... ›
- EPA: Houston Superfund Site Leaked Toxic Chemicals After Harvey ... ›
The bill, SB467, would have prohibited fracking and other controversial forms of oil extraction. It would also have banned oil and gas production within 2,500 feet of a home, school, hospital or other residential facility. The bill originally set the fracking ban for 2027, but amended it to 2035, The AP reported.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), one of the bill's two introducers, told the Los Angeles Times. "California really has not done what it needs to do in terms of addressing the oil problem. We have communities that are suffering right now, and the Legislature has repeatedly failed to act."
The bill was introduced after California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would sign a fracking ban if it passed the legislature, though his administration has continued to issue permits in the meantime, Forbes reported. Newsom has also spoken in favor of a buffer zone between oil and gas extraction and places where people live and learn, according to the Los Angeles Times. The latter is a major environmental justice issue, as fossil fuel production is more likely to be located near Black and Latinx communities.
Urban lawmakers who want California to lead on the climate crisis supported the bill, while inland lawmakers in oil-rich areas concerned about jobs opposed it. The oil and gas industry and trade unions also opposed the bill.
This opposition meant the bill failed to get the five votes it needed to move beyond the Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee. Only four senators approved it, while Democrat Sen. Susan Eggman of Stockton joined two Republicans to oppose it, and two other Democrats abstained.
Eggman argued that the bill would have forced California to rely on oil extracted in other states.
"We're still going to use it, but we're going to use it from places that produce it less safely," Eggman told The AP. She also said that she supported the transition away from fossil fuels, but thought the bill jumped the gun. "I don't think we're quite there yet, and this bill assumes that we are," she added.
Historically, California has been a major U.S. oil producer. Its output peaked in 1986 at 1.1 million barrels a day, just below Texas and Alaska, according to Forbes. However, production has declined since then making it the seventh-most oil-producing state.
Still, California's fossil fuel industry is at odds with state attempts to position itself as a climate leader.
"There is a large stain on California's climate record, and that is oil," Wiener said Tuesday, according to The AP.
Wiener and Democrat co-introducer Sen. Monique Limón from Santa Barbara vowed to keep fighting.
"While we saw this effort defeated today, this issue isn't going away," they wrote in a joint statement. "We'll continue to fight for aggressive climate action, against harmful drilling, and for the health of our communities."
- What the Industry Doesn't Want You to Know About Fracking ... ›
- Final EPA Study Confirms Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water ... ›
- Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Much Higher Than ... ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Jessica Corbett
Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since Covering Climate Now (CCNow) was co-founded in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation in association with The Guardian and WNYC, over 460 media outlets — including Common Dreams — with a combined reach of two billion people have become partner organizations.
CCNow and eight of those partners are now inviting media outlets to sign on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which begins: "It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here. This is a statement of science, not politics."
The statement notes that a growing number of scientists are warning of the "climate emergency," from James Hansen, formerly of NASA, to the nearly 14,000 scientists from over 150 countries who have endorsed an emergency declaration.
"Why 'emergency'? Because words matter," the CCNow statement explains. "To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could 'render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable,' warned a recent Scientific American article."
CCNow's initiative comes after U.S. government scientists said last week that "carbon dioxide levels are now higher than at anytime in the past 3.6 million years," with 2020 featuring a global surface average for CO2 of 412.5 parts per million (PPM) — which very likely would have been higher if not for the pandemic.
As Common Dreams reported last week, amid rising atmospheric carbon and inadequate emissions reduction plans, an international coalition of 70 health professional and civil society groups called on world leaders to learn from the pandemic and "make health a central focus of national climate policies."
"The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that health must be part and parcel of every government policy — and as recovery plans are drawn up this must apply to climate policy," said Jeni Miller, executive director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance.
CCNow also points to the public health crisis as a learning opportunity, describing the media's handling of it as "a useful model," considering that "guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example)."
"We need the same commitment to the climate story," the statement emphasizes.
Journalism should reflect what science says. https://t.co/MCbSRQMFch— The Nation (@The Nation)1618240621.0
CCNow executive director Mark Hertsgaard echoed that message Monday in The Nation, for which he serves as environment correspondent. He also addressed reservations that some reporters may have about supporting such a statement:
As journalists ourselves, we understand why some of our colleagues are cautious about initiatives like this Climate Emergency Statement, but we ask that they hear us out. Journalists rightly treasure our editorial independence, regarding it as essential to our credibility. To some of us, the term "climate emergency" may sound like advocacy or even activism — as if we're taking sides in a public dispute rather than simply reporting on it.
But the only side we're taking here is the side of science. As journalists, we must ground our coverage in facts. We must describe reality as accurately as we can, undeterred by how our reporting may appear to partisans of any stripe and unintimidated by efforts to deny science or otherwise spin facts.
According to Hertsgaard, "Signing the Climate Emergency Statement is a way for journalists and news outlets to alert their audiences that they will do justice to that story."
"But whether a given news outlet makes a public declaration by signing the statement," he added, "is less important than whether the outlet's coverage treats climate change like the emergency that scientists say it is."
Editor's Note: Common Dreams has signed on to the Climate Emergency Statement, which can be read in full below:
COVERING CLIMATE NOW STATEMENT ON THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY:
Journalism should reflect what the science says: the climate emergency is here.It's time for journalism to recognize that the climate emergency is here.
This is a statement of science, not politics.
Thousands of scientists — including James Hansen, the NASA scientist who put the problem on the public agenda in 1988, and David King and Hans Schellnhuber, former science advisers to the British and German governments, respectively — have said humanity faces a "climate emergency."
Why "emergency"? Because words matter. To preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately. Failure to slash the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will make the extraordinary heat, storms, wildfires, and ice melt of 2020 routine and could "render a significant portion of the Earth uninhabitable," warned a recent Scientific American article.
The media's response to Covid-19 provides a useful model. Guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devastating impacts, called out disinformation, and told audiences how to protect themselves (with masks, for example).
We need the same commitment to the climate story.
We, the undersigned, invite journalists and news organizations everywhere to add your name to this Covering Climate Now statement on the climate emergency.
- Covering Climate Now
- Scientific American
- Columbia Journalism Review
- The Nation
- The Guardian
- Noticias Telemundo
- Al Jazeera English
- Asahi Shimbun
- La Repubblica
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- The Media's Climate Coverage Is Improving, but Time Is Very Short ›
- UN Releases Scientific Blueprint to Address Climate Emergencies ... ›
- 'Climate Emergency' Named Oxford Word of the Year - EcoWatch ›
- New Zealand Declares Climate Emergency - EcoWatch ›
- New Bill Says Biden Must Declare a National Climate Emergency ... ›
By Michel Penke
More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.
Though made in large part of plastic, glass, ceramics, gold and copper, they also contain critical resources. The gallium used for LEDs and the camera flash, the tantalum in capacitors and indium that powers the display were all pulled from the ground — at a price for nature and people.
"Mining raw materials is always problematic, both with regard to human rights and ecology," said Melanie Müller, raw materials expert of the German think tank SWP. "Their production process is pretty toxic."
The gallium and indium in many phones comes from China or South Korea, the tantalum from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Rwanda. All in, such materials comprise less than ten grams of a phone's weight. But these grams finance an international mining industry that causes radioactive earth dumps, poisoned groundwater and Indigenous population displacement.
Environmental Damage: 'Nature Has Been Overexploited'
The problem is that modern technologies don't work without what are known as critical raw materials. Collectively, solar panels, drones, 3D printers and smartphone contain as many as 30 of these different elements sourced from around the globe. A prime example is lithium from Chile, which is essential in the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles.
"No one, not even within the industry, would deny that mining lithium causes enormous environmental damage," Müller explained, in reference to the artificial lakes companies create when flushing the metal out of underground brine reservoirs. "The process uses vast amounts of water, so you end up with these huge flooded areas where the lithium settles."
This means of extraction results in the destruction and contamination of the natural water system. Unique plants and animals lose access to groundwater and watering holes. There have also been reports of freshwater becoming salinated due to extensive acidic waste water during lithium mining.
But lithium is not the only raw material that causes damage. Securing just one ton of rare earth elements produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste, and has devastated large regions of China, said Günther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division of the German think tank SWP.
He says companies there have adopted a process of spraying acid over the mining areas in order to separate the rare earths from other ores, and that mined areas are often abandoned after excavation.
"They are no longer viable for agricultural use," Hilpert said. "Nature has been overexploited."
China is not the only country with low environmental mining standards and poor resource governance. In Madagascar, for example, a thriving illegal gem and metal mining sector has been linked to rainforest depletion and destruction of natural lemur habitats.
States like Madagascar, Rwanda and the DRC score poorly on the Environmental Performance Index that ranks 180 countries for their effort on factors including conservation, air quality, waste management and emissions. Environmentalists are therefore particularly concerned that these countries are mining highly toxic materials like beryllium, tantalum and cobalt.
But it is not only nature that suffers from the extraction of high-demand critical raw materials.
"It is a dirty, toxic, partly radioactive industry," Hilpert said. "China, for example, has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets."
Dirty, Toxic, Radioactive: Working in the Mining Sector
One of the most extreme examples is Baotou, a Chinese city in Inner Mongolia, where rare earth mining poisoned surrounding farms and nearby villages, causing thousands of people to leave the area.
In 2012, The Guardian described a toxic lake created in conjunction with rare earth mining as "a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world."
Local residents reported health issues including aching legs, diabetes, osteoporosis and chest problems, The Guardian wrote.
South Africa has also been held up for turning a blind eye to the health impacts of mining.
"The platinum sector in South Africa has been criticized for performing very poorly on human rights — even within the raw materials sector," Müller said.
In 2012, security forces killed 34 miners who had been protesting poor working conditions and low wages at a mine owned by the British company Lonmin. What became known as the "Marikana massacre" triggered several spontaneous strikes across the country's mining sector.
Müller says miners can still face exposure to acid drainage — a frequent byproduct of platinum mining — that can cause chemical burns and severe lung damage. Though this can be prevented by a careful waste system.
Some progress was made in 2016 when the South African government announced plans to make mining companies pay $800 million (€679 million) for recycling acid mine water. But they didn't all comply. In 2020, activists sued Australian-owned mining company Mintails and the government to cover the cost of environmental cleanup.
Another massive issue around mining is water consumption. Since the extraction of critical raw materials is very water intensive, drought prone countries such as South Africa, have witnessed an increase in conflicts over supply.
For years, industry, government and the South African public debated – without a clear agreement – whether companies should get privileged access to water and how much the population may suffer from shortages.
Mining in Brazil: Replacing Nature, People, Land Rights
Beyond the direct health and environmental impact of mining toxic substances, quarrying critical raw materials destroys livelihoods, as developments in Brazil demonstrate.
"Brazil is the major worldwide niobium producer and reserves in [the state of] Minas Gerais would last more than 200 years [at the current rate of demand]," said Juliana Siqueira-Gay, environmental engineer and Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo.
While the overall number of niobium mining requests is stagnating, the share of claims for Indigenous land has skyrocketed from 3 to 36 percent within one year. If granted, 23 percent of the Amazon forest and the homeland of 222 Indigenous groups could fall victim to deforestation in the name of mining, a study by Siqueira-Gay finds.
In early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill which would allow corporations to develop areas populated by Indigenous communities in the future. The law has not yet entered into force, but "this policy could have long-lasting negative effects on Brazil's socio-biodiversity," said Siqueira-Gay.
One example are the niobium reserves in Seis Lagos, in Brazil's northeast, which could be quarried to build electrolytic capacitors for smartphones.
"They overlap the Balaio Indigenous land and it would cause major impacts in Indigenous communities by clearing forests responsible for providing food, raw materials and regulating the local climate," Siqueira-Gay explained.
She says scientific good practice guidelines offer a blueprint for sustainable mining that adheres to human rights and protects forests. Quarries in South America — and especially Brazil — funded by multilaterial banks like the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group have to follow these guidelines, Siqueira-Gay said.
They force companies to develop sustainable water supply, minimize acid exposure and re-vegetate mined surfaces. "First, negative impacts must be avoided, then minimized and at last compensated — not the other way around."
Reposted with permission from DW.
More than 1,600 gallons of oil have spilled in the Inglewood Oil Field — the largest urban oil field in the country, where more than a million people live within five miles of its boundaries, the Sierra Club wrote in a statement on Wednesday.
The spill was caused by a human error when a valve was left open, the Los Angeles Times reported. It was also not the field's first spill. Past spills at the Inglewood Oil Field, located in Culver City and Los Angeles County, have occurred in 2019, 2018, 2010, 2006 and 2005, exposing residents in the area to toxins and carcinogens, the Sierra Club added.
After a history of community organizing, Tuesday's spill arms activists with further momentum to fight against this major public health and environmental crisis in California's largest county.
"Yesterday's oil spill is a deadly reminder that the environmental racism that's shaped and harmed Black, Indigenous, and people of color continues to put our health at risk," Martha Dina Argüello, of the STAND-LA Coalition, an environmental justice coalition, and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, said in a Sierra Club statement.
Of the people living in the area, 52 percent are Black, which is a much higher percentage than the countywide eight percent, the Sierra Club reported. The oil field is also located alongside homes and schools, putting families at risk for health outcomes from air pollution like lung disease, leukemia, lymphoma, lung cancer and asthma. In Baldwin Hills, asthma related ER visits are 4.4 times higher than the Los Angeles County average.
"A pattern of oil spills and the daily and 'authorized' toxic emissions both demonstrate that oil extraction is [an] inherently dangerous practice that has no place in our region. We look forward to working with Los Angeles County to take immediate steps to phase out oil and gas production," Argüello added, according to the Sierra Club.
Last fall, Culver City approved a resolution to take initial steps to phase out oil in the area, the NRDC wrote in a statement. Similar actions are also occurring citywide in Los Angeles.
In December, the Los Angeles City Council's Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee voted unanimously to pass a motion to begin a citywide phase-out of oil drilling, the NRDC wrote in a statement. "We're not over the finish line, but we're closer than ever," Argüello added, according to the Courthouse News Service.
Currently, there are 1,071 active oil wells in the city — 759 of which are located less than 1,500 feet from homes, schools, churches and hospitals, STAND-LA, which has been leading the fight against oil in the city of Los Angeles, wrote.
Although no injuries were reported at the Inglewood oil spill on Tuesday, environmental groups have expressed concerns about toxins released in the air from the spill that could harm nearby communities, the Los Angeles Times reported, adding to the often unknown and unreported health impacts of oil spills.
"What's terrifying about health dangers like this is that the average person living nearby rarely has any way of knowing it even happened," Ethan Senser, Southern California Organizer with Food & Water Watch told the Sierra Club. "This is an ongoing crisis we can't keep sweeping under the rug - it's time that the County commits to partnering with frontline communities and supporting the real solutions they are putting forward."
- Kinder Morgan Pipeline Spills up to 42,000 Gallons of Gasoline Into ... ›
- Chevron Refinery Dumps Oil Into San Francisco Bay - EcoWatch ›
Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, and growing inequality will exacerbate global volatility over the coming decades, a report by top U.S. intelligence officials released Thursday warns.
The Global Trends report, released every four years by the National Intelligence Council, predicted the impacts of climate change – rising temperatures, intensifying extreme weather and droughts that increase food insecurity, health risks, and conflict – would accelerate the trend of massive migration, and with it, global instability.
COVID, the report said, exposed the fragility of the world order, worsening "more and cascading global challenges, ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises," the authors wrote.
"The international system – including the organizations, alliances, rules, and norms – is poorly set up to address the compounding global challenges facing populations."
Under the best-case scenario, democracies would take advantage of the opportunity to use pandemic recovery efforts to reorient national and international priorities toward solutions that would plan and adapt for climate change and other crises.
Unfortunately, said Maria Langan-Reikhof, the director of the council's strategic futures group, "greater divisions, increasing fracturing… [are] likely to continue and probably worsen."
For a deeper dive:
- Think Today's Refugee Crisis is Bad? Climate Change Will Make it a ... ›
- Louisiana's Vanishing Island: America's First Climate Refugees ... ›
- One Billion People May Become Climate Refugees By 2050 ... ›
By Quinn McVeigh
The study, published in Applied Geochemistry, found that almost every groundwater sample across 32 U.S. aquifers had detectable strontium levels, while 2.3 percent exceeded 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L), the maximum amount that people should consume routinely, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The public and private wells extending from these aquifers provide drinking water for 2.3 million people.
While low amounts of natural strontium are safe and even beneficial for the human body, these high concentrations can stunt bone growth in children who lack adequate calcium intake. Strontium can replace calcium in bones, weakening them and limiting development, according to Sarah Yang, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services' groundwater toxicologist.
"We're more worried about infants and children because their bones are actively growing," Yang told EHN. "Generally infants and children can absorb more strontium in their intestines, and adults can't."
High strontium in drinking water is linked to rickets in children, an extremely rare skeletal condition causing soft, sometimes deformed, bones.
Strontium, a soft metal that originates from minerals like celestine, makes its way into drinking water naturally. Aquifers with high strontium concentrations are often surrounded by carbonate rock containing limestone and dolomite.
In the USGS study, author MaryLynn Musgrove, a research physical scientist, found that 86 percent of people exposed to high strontium levels drink water supplied by carbonate rock aquifers. More than half of them are using Florida's underground reservoirs, where some freshwater has been blending with limestone and dolomite for 26,000 years.
Texas' carbonate aquifers also stood out.The Edwards-Trinity aquifer system, a sandstone and carbonate formation spanning from Oklahoma to western Texas, had the most frequent occurrence of high strontium concentrations in its corresponding wells.
Dolomite is abundant in the bedrock of eastern Wisconsin, where strontium levels are among the highest of U.S. drinking water supplies.
While the USGS study mainly looked at areas exceeding 4 mg/L of strontium in samples, some communities living atop these dolomite layers drink water with more than 25 mg/L, the one-day health advisory limit for children.
"We have a lot of communities that have values above 20, 30, 50 mg/L," John Luczaj, a professor of geosciences at University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, told EHN.
Removal of Strontium From Drinking Water
While its radioactive sibling, strontium-90, is regulated, natural strontium contamination is unregulated by the EPA.
The major dilemma, according to Victor Rivera-Diaz, a writer and researcher for Save the Water, is that it is still a "public health mystery." While some research has conclusively linked strontium to bone degradation, a lack of data has kept the EPA from regulating it under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
"It is a problem," Rivera-Diaz told EHN. "It definitely requires more attention, even more so in the areas that are prone to high contamination."
But this is easier said than done, Rivera-Diaz explained.
Strontium cannot be removed with conventional water treatment technology. Thus, communities would have to look to other systems, such as point-of-entry reverse osmosis.
"Some of these technologies can be quite costly, so that might be a barrier for lower-income communities," Rivera-Diaz said.
Reverse osmosis systems and water softeners are incredibly effective in removing strontium concentrations.
"If it was up to me, I would, in the short term, figure out a way to subsidize technologies that are proven to filter out strontium, especially in those communities where those levels are well above 4 mg/L," Rivera-Diaz said.
Reposted with permission from Environmental Health News.
Harmful algal blooms may be even more harmful than we thought.
They have already been shown to kill the fish that swim in the water they infest or the animals that drink from it. Now, new research indicates they could even poison the air. In a study published in Lake and Reservoir Management this month, scientists for the first time detected an airborne instance of the algal toxin anatoxin-a (ATX), also known as "very fast death factor."
"ATX is one of the more dangerous cyanotoxins produced by harmful algal blooms, which are becoming more predominant in lakes and ponds worldwide due to global warming and climate change," study lead author Dr. James Sutherland of the Nantucket Land Council said in a press release.
ATX is a toxin made by cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. Despite their name, these single-celled organisms are not plants but rather bacteria that can photosynthesize. The toxin can cause loss of coordination, muscular twitching and respiratory paralysis. It has been known to kill livestock, pets and other animals that drink contaminated water.
"Although no previous studies have documented the capture of airborne ATX molecules or cyanobacteria cells containing ATX, we hypothesized that ATX could become airborne under certain environmental conditions," the study authors wrote.
To test this idea, the scientists devised a way to sample the air above a pond in Nantucket, Massachusetts dealing with a harmful algal bloom (HAB). They brought an air sampling device to the shore on windy days and collected airborne particles on filters. They also tested the water for the presence of the toxin.
The scientists collected their samples between July and October of 2019. They detected ATX in the water at concentrations as high as 21 nanograms per milliliter, Science Alert reported. And, on one foggy and windy day in September, they detected it in the air also. They recorded an average of 0.87 nanograms per filter on their air sampling device, which would equal an airborne exposure of 0.16 nanograms per meter squared.
The researchers are not sure how the toxin ended up in the air, but think the wind might have blown it in small droplets from the pond, and then the fog allowed it to persist for longer than usual. In any case, it is a problem worth investigating further.
"These findings indicate that emission of ATX molecules, or cyanobacteria containing ATX, during HABs presents a potential human health exposure not previously examined," the researchers wrote.
Harmful algal blooms are a problem for many other reasons, of course. They can deprive water of oxygen as they decompose, killing fish and degrading water quality, the press release explained. They are also made worse by human activity, according to Science Alert. They are fed partly by excess nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff. As Sutherland noted, they are also exacerbated by the climate crisis. The cyanobacteria prefer warmer water temperatures, and heavy rain from extreme weather events can wash more fertilizer and other nutrients into bodies of water.
The research just signals another reason to be wary of pond scum.
"People often recreate around these lakes and ponds with algal blooms without any awareness of the potential problems," Sutherland said in the press release. "Direct contact or inhalation of these cyanotoxins can present health risks for individuals, and we have reported a potential human health exposure not previously examined."
- Harmful Algal Blooms Are Increasing Across the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
- Toxic Algae Blooms Set New Records From Coast to Coast ... ›
An explosion at an Ohio paint factory injured eight people, two of them critically.
The fire ignited just after midnight on Thursday at Yenkin-Majestic Paints in Columbus, Ohio, NBC4 reported. Firefighters arriving on the scene were met with employees exiting the building, five of whom were injured and needed to be taken to a hospital.
"Two other employees were trapped inside the building and had to be rescued. They are in critical condition at OSU Main," Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin told ABC News.
Everyone harmed in the fire are plant employees. One person remains missing; the Columbus Division of Fire wrote on Facebook that they had searched the entire building.
Martin told the paper that firefighters were doing everything they could to find the missing person. About 40 employees were in the plant when the fire started, The Columbia Dispatch reported.The explosion that started the fire damaged part of the building where it ignited, making the search and rescue effort more difficult. The spreading fire triggered other explosions, including one in another building within 100 feet from the first building that caught fire.
Firefighters managed to contain the blaze by 5:15 a.m., according to the Columbus Division of Fire.
"There will still be visible black smoke rising from the original fire building as we let some of the products burn off," the division wrote on Facebook.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers checked the surrounding air and water for chemicals, WBNS reported.
This is what we’re seeing now at the explosion site near the east side of Columbus. I know EPA workers were out he… https://t.co/V12NDLXRRk— Krista10TV (@Krista10TV)1617878637.0
Yenkin-Majestic Paint Corporation is a family-owned business that makes coatings. There are explosion risks in the paint-making process, according to the Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety.
"Flammable solvents, combustible powders (especially nitrocellulose used in lacquer production) and oils are all fire or explosion risks if ignited by a spark or high temperatures. Sources of ignition can include faulty electrical equipment, smoking, friction, open flames, static electricity and so forth. Oil-soaked rags can be a source of spontaneous combustion," the entry states.
The study, published in Environmental Research last week, found that children were more likely to develop central nervous system (CNS) tumors if their mothers had lived within 2.5 miles of land where pesticides were being sprayed when they were born.
"This study is the first, to our knowledge, to estimate effects for a large number of specific pesticides in relation to CNS tumor subtypes," Julia Heck, a study coauthor and the associate dean for research at the University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service said, as NBC Los Angeles reported.
The research looked at the California Cancer Registry to identify cases of certain cancers in children under six years old, the study explained. They focused on mothers who lived in rural areas and gave birth between 1998 and 2011 to identify 667 cases of childhood central nervous system tumors and 123,158 controls. They then compared these cases to data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's (CDPR) Pesticide Use Reporting (PUR) system to identify whether chemicals classed as possible carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been sprayed within 2.5 miles of the mothers' homes at birth.
One important implication of the study is that the mothers did not have to be directly working in agriculture in order for their children to face dangerous exposure.
"California's agricultural work force numbers more than 800,000, according to state estimates," Dr. Christina Lombardi, study co-author and epidemiologist with the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told Beyond Pesticides. "In addition to the negative health effects of pesticides on workers there are large numbers of pregnant women and young children living adjacent to treated fields who may experience detrimental health effects as well."
This risk is exacerbated by the fact that farmland and residential land is not always clearly delineated in the state.
"This transition from farmland to residential neighborhoods is abrupt across California, and, of course, constantly changing as farmland is developed," study co-author Myles Cockburn of the University of Southern California told Beyond Pesticides.
The researchers found that some of the chemicals they studied increased tumor risk as much as 2.5 times. Overall, exposure to the pesticides chlorthalonil, bromacil, thiophanate-methyl, triforine, kresoxim-methyl, propiconazole, dimethoate and linuron all increased tumor risk.
This is far from the first study to show that pesticide exposure is a danger to pregnant mothers and children. In fact, researchers have been studying the link between pesticides and childhood cancer since the 1970s, according to NBC Los Angeles.
The report authors called for government action to better protect mothers and children.
"Policy interventions to reduce pesticide exposure in individuals residing near agricultural fields should be considered to protect the health of children," coauthor and UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health epidemiology professor Beate Ritz told NBC Los Angeles.
The threat of a catastrophic failure unleashing a 20-foot wall of industrial wastewater over nearby homes and businesses in Piney Point, Florida, illustrates the danger of widespread reliance on industrial waste ponds across the U.S., The New York Times reports.
Many of these ponds, filled with toxic and sometimes radioactive, byproducts of climate-change causing activity like coal ash from power plants or manure from industrialized farms, are also at risk because of climate change. Open lagoons make up the extent of waste processing infrastructure for industrial hog farming operations and coal-fired power plants and both were overwhelmed by Hurricane Florence in 2018, when more than 100 hog lagoons were swamped throughout the Carolinas and coal ash poured out of containment ponds at Duke's Sutton Plant in Wilmington, N.C.
"They're just an irresponsible way to store very dangerous waste," Daniel Estrin, general counsel at the Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean water nonprofit group, told the Times. "And with climate change, we're going to see more frequent and stronger storms that are going to impact these sites."
For a deeper dive:
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
- All Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas Found Leaking Toxins Into ... ›
By Nina Sevilla
"Food desert" has become a common term to describe low-income communities — often communities of color — where access to healthy and affordable food is limited or where there are no grocery stores. Living in Tucson, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, taught me that despite its common usage, "food desert" is an inaccurate and misleading term that pulls focus from the underlying root causes of the lack of access to healthy food in communities. The language we use to describe the issues can inspire solutions, so we should follow the lead of food justice leaders who urge us to reconceptualize "food deserts" as "food apartheid" by focusing on creating food sovereignty through community-driven solutions and systemic change.
The term "food desert" emerged in the 1970s and 80s, but in the past decade has really caught on, and is now a common concept in economic and public health fields. The racial demographics of the areas described by this term are most often Black and Latino. When comparing communities with similar poverty rates, Black and Latino neighborhoods tend to have fewer supermarkets that offer a variety of produce and healthy foods, and have more small retail (i.e. convenience and liquor) stores that have fewer produce options than in predominantly white neighborhoods.
Despite its prevalence, the term "food desert" has come under scrutiny for two reasons:
- It obscures the vibrant life and food systems in these communities.
- It implies that these areas are naturally occurring.
Sonoran Desert. Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management
First, the word "desert" typically conjures up dramatic images of vast arid landscapes with little to no vegetation and water. Common uses of the word describe the absence of life or activity, but most deserts are full of adapted plants and have sustained human and animal populations for centuries. I fell into the trap of this misconception when I moved to Tucson. I thought it was going to be devoid of all life, but when I got there, I realized that the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, like most deserts, can be quite abundant, especially when they have the right resources.
Using the word "desert" to imply a location's inferiority as a desolate place writes off the people who live there, as well as the flora and fauna that are actually present in deserts. The term "food desert" obscures the presence of community and backyard gardens, farmer's markets, food businesses, and other food sharing activities that exist in these areas. As farmer and activist Karen Washington points out, "food desert" is an outsider term, used by people who do not actually live in these areas. She says, "Number one, people will tell you that they do have food. Number two, people in the 'hood have never used that term... When we're talking about these places, there is so much life and vibrancy and potential. Using that word runs the risk of preventing us from seeing all of those things."
Students harvest vegetables from a school garden. State Farm via Flickr
Second, by using the term "desert" one is implying that food deserts are naturally occurring. Deserts are classified by amount of precipitation an area receives, so they are dictated by weather patterns — forces beyond human control. Though increasing desertification due to climate change is exacerbated by human activities, for the most part, deserts are naturally occurring. Food deserts, in contrast, are not naturally occurring. They are the result of systematic racism and oppression in the form of zoning codes, lending practices, and other discriminatory policies rooted in white supremacy. Using the term desert implies that the lack of healthy and affordable food is somehow naturally occurring and obscures that it is the direct result of racially discriminatory policies and systematic disinvestment in these communities.
Building more grocery stores won't necessarily make things better. Sometimes grocery stores are unaffordable to their surrounding communities. Sociologists have started using the term "food mirage" to describe the phenomenon when there are places to buy food, but they are too expensive for the neighborhood. And, as Karen Washington and research from Johns Hopkins University highlight, people who live in the places labeled "food deserts" most of the time do have food, but often the food they can afford is fast food or junk food. People who work in public health have come up with another term for areas with easier access to fast food and junk food than to healthier food: "food swamps." Rather than simply building grocery stores, some of these communities need stable jobs and a livable wage to change their access to healthier food.
A Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlining map from the 1930's that labeled "hazardous" majority Black areas of Nashville, Tennessee in red. HOLC
Swamp, desert, mirage... all these sound like places to stay away from. Language is important and using these terms prevents us from naming and addressing the root causes and making systemic change. Many groups are now using the term "food apartheid" to correctly highlight the how racist policies shaped these areas and led to limited access to healthy food. Apartheid is a system of institutional racial segregation and discrimination, and these areas are food apartheids because they too are created by racially discriminatory policies. Using the term "apartheid" focuses our examination on the intersectional root causes that created low-income and low food access areas, and importantly, points us towards working for structural change to address these root causes.
Corona Farmers Market, Queens, New York City. Preston Keres / USDA
Getting at the root causes is not a small task — naming them is the first step, and there are many different routes to take from there. Fortunately, there are many organizations already working on different aspects of addressing food apartheid, from building alternative food system models to providing ideas for policy reform. Organizations like The Ron Finley Project, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and Whitelock Community Farm are strengthening regional food systems through urban and small-scale farming. SÜPRMARKT, Mandela Grocery, and other nonprofits are creating affordable, organic grocery stores, and re-thinking the grocery store model through co-ops. HEAL Food Alliance offers a comprehensive policy platform to address food apartheid root causes and build a better food system. As an example of transformative policy change, the Navajo Nation passed a tax on unhealthy food to fund community health initiatives in 2014. Ultimately, strong policies are necessary to ensure that no neighborhood experiences food apartheid and to redistribute power to remove systems of oppression.
A major component of power is economic capital — a reparations map maintained by Soul Fire Farm offers an easy way to start supporting efforts across the U.S. to more fairly allocate land and money and work toward repairing historical inequities based on race. In addition to economic capital, power is also control over your decisions and the choices you make. To address this, movements of food sovereignty seek to bring power back to the people. The Declaration of Nyéléni asserts that food sovereignty is the right of all people to design and influence their own food systems and the right to healthy, culturally appropriate, and sustainably-produced food.
The food sovereignty movement and the phrase "food sovereignty" were created by La Via Campesina, the largest international peasant movement. The term and movement have since expanded across the globe and into urban areas. I have encountered the term used to describe urban farming in large cities, like Baltimore, and to describe indigenous peoples reclaiming their native foodways. I have also heard people question if food sovereignty is the right term to cover these vast topics. I believe the words we choose help us see the way forward and if we are serious about transformative change, we should explore food sovereignty seriously.
In a similar way that using the term "food apartheid" can help us identify and address the root causes of the geographies that lack access to healthy food, highlighting "food sovereignty" as a call to action directly addresses the power dynamics at play in the food system. This term focuses the lens on how our modern, globalized food system does not value the rights of peasant and small-scale farmers anywhere and how in most cases the major decisionmakers are multinational corporations. The organization A Growing Culture says "there is no genuine food security without food sovereignty." They continue, "We must stop seeing food security as the pathway to eradicating hunger. It reduces food to an economic commodity, when food is the basis of culture, of life itself. Food sovereignty is the pathway to imagining something fundamentally different."
As we look forward and imagine a fundamentally different system that nourishes all people and the planet, we have a wealth of knowledge and examples to draw upon, as well as rich terminology to describe the challenges communities are facing and our goals for the future. Any efforts to achieve — and ways we discuss — a better, more equitable, food system should address root causes, redistribute power, and be guided by people with lived experience in food apartheids. Food security is more than proximity to a grocery store; it should be about food sovereignty — the right of all people to have a say in how their food is grown and the right to fresh, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.
Reposted with permission from Natural Resources Defense Council.