Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday after a leak at a wastewater pond posed a major flooding threat and prompted more than 300 homes to be evacuated.
Officials said that water pouring out too quickly posed the greatest risk. The latest projection shows that 340 million gallons of wastewater could rush out within minutes, potentially creating a wall of water 20 feet high.
"What we are looking at now is trying to prevent and respond to, if need be, a real catastrophic flood situation," DeSantis said at a press conference, The AP reported on Sunday.
Officials first detected the leak on Friday in a Piney Point reservoir pond located in the Tampa Bay area. The pond is 33 hectares and 25 feet deep and contains millions of gallons of water contaminated with phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant, The AP reported on Saturday. This led the Manatee County Public Safety Department to send out two evacuation notices Friday evening warning of an "imminent uncontrolled release of wastewater," WFLA 8 reported.
A total of 316 homes were impacted by the evacuation orders, The AP reported. To prevent flooding, officials are now pumping water out of the reservoir at a rate of 22,000 gallons per minute and transferring it to Port Manatee. Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said that they were hoping to increase that rate with more workers, and that the risk of collapse should decrease by Tuesday.
The water contained in the wastewater pond is not radioactive and "meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen," The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said, according to NPR. "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern."
However, officials are worried that a collapse of the leaking pond could destabilize other nearby ponds that are more polluted.
"The pond is basically salt water. We saw ducks yesterday, there are snooks swimming in there. It's sustaining wildlife. That's not the case for the other two pools," Hopes told The AP on Saturday.
The ponds are located amidst a stack of phosphogypsum, the radioactive waste from processing phosphate ore into phosphoric acid for fertilizer, and the incident calls attention to the problems of storing this waste.
"This environmental disaster is made worse by the fact it was entirely foreseeable and preventable," Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. "With 24 more phosphogypsum stacks storing more than one billion tons of this dangerous, radioactive waste in Florida, the EPA needs to step in right now. Federal officials need to clean up this mess the fertilizer industry has dumped on Florida communities and immediately halt further phosphogypsum production."
Phosphogypsum contains radium-226, which has a half life of 1,600 years. The waste product can also contain toxins such as arsenic, lead and mercury. Its storage is an ongoing problem for Florida and other states. In 2004, a breach at a stack in Riverview, Florida, sent millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay. In 2016, a sinkhole opened beneath a different phosphogypsum site and contaminated an aquifer with 215 million gallons of waste. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, a stack began to shift in 2019, prompting emergency action. There are also phosphogypsum stacks in Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
"Phosphogypsum stacks are getting bigger and more dangerous by the minute, and Piney Point's fate could befall them all," Environmental Attorney Rachael Curran said in the press release. "We need real solutions that start with halting the addition of any phosphogypsum and process water to active stacks so that we can deal with the problem we already have. Underground injection control wells or building radioactive roads out of phosphogypsum are dangerous, unacceptable distractions."
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By Andrea Germanos
Despite lower applied amounts of pesticides in U.S. agriculture, their toxicity to non-target species including honeybees more than doubled in a decade, according to a new study.
The findings by a team of researchers from Germany's University Koblenz-Landau were published Friday in the journal Science.
"We have taken a large body of pesticide use data from the U.S. and have expressed changes of amounts applied in agriculture over time as changes in total applied pesticide toxicity," explained lead author Ralf Schulz, professor for environmental sciences in Landau, in a statement.
"This provides a new view on the potential consequences that pesticide use in agriculture has on biodiversity and ecosystems," he said.
The researchers looked at changes in the use of 381 pesticides from 1992 to 2016 and analyzed toxicity impacts on eight non-target species groups, drawing data from the U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency. They used the EPA's threshold values to determine "total applied pesticide toxicity."
Lower amounts of pesticides have been applied, which brought decreased impacts on vertebrates, the scientists noted. But the same can't be said for non-target species including aquatic invertebrates like crustaceans and pollinators like bees, who faced a doubling in toxicity between 2005 and 2015 — a shift the authors put on increases in the use of pesticides called pyrethroids and neonicotinoids.
Also troubling is that an increase in herbicide toxicity has been on the rise as well, the scientists said, with the biggest impact seen on terrestrial plants. The study pointed to increased toxicity in the widely cultivated genetically modified crops in the U.S. of corn and soybean.
Schulz said the findings "challenge the claims of decreasing environmental impact of chemical pesticides in both conventional and GM crops and call for action to reduce the pesticide toxicity applied in agriculture worldwide."
The study was released amid continued concerns, both nationally and international, about wide-ranging adverse ecological impacts of neonicotinoids, or neonics, as they're sometimes called, especially amid a global decline in insect numbers that threatens humanity's future.
As Philip Donkersley, a senior research associate in entomology at Lancaster University, wrote this month at The Conversation:
Since their introduction in the late 1980s, robust scientific evidence has emerged to suggest these chemicals impair learning and memory, foraging behavior, and pollination in bees. The E.U. banned neonicotinoids in 2019, and while the U.K. government pledged to follow suit, it granted a special exemption for sugar beet farmers to use the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam in January 2021. Thankfully, it wasn't used.
Because honeybees don't spend much time on the ground, environmental risk assessments for neonicotinoids often neglect to consider how exposure to these chemicals in the soil affects all pollinators. But in a landmark study published in Nature, researchers have shown how neonicotinoids affect bees not just by accumulating in the plants pollinators visit, but in the ground where most wild bees build their nests.
Evidence suggests neonics' impacts go well beyond bees, including possibly to mammals like deer who inadvertently consume them.
As Civil Eats reported last month, the concerns are prompting continued demands for U.S. regulators to take action to curb or ban use of neonics.
Daniel Raichel, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the outlet: "It's a bee issue for sure, but really, it's an ecosystem issue. It's an everything issue."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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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 Andrea Germanos
A public health watchdog on Wednesday praised California's proposal to add the so-called "forever chemical" PFOA to the state's list of chemicals known to cause cancer.
PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, was formerly used to make DuPont's Teflon and other products. It's part of a group of chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Dubbed forever chemicals because they don't break down and can accumulate in the human body, PFAS contamination is widespread. Humans can be exposed through workplace environments, groundwater contamination, or household products.
The U.S. EPA says there's evidence PFOA can cause adverse health effects including reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological harm.
The proposed listing decision was announced last Friday by the California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). It said products with PFOA should carry a warning label that the chemical is known to the state to cause cancer under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, or Proposition 65. That determination, said OEHHA, is based on findings from the National Toxicology Program.
PFOA has been phased out of production in the U.S., but public health watchdogs says there remain concerns about ongoing contamination, existing stockpiles, imported products, and the fact that some replacement chemicals present health dangers of their own.
PFOA is already on the Proposition 65 list, but for reproductive toxicity.
The public comment period on the new proposed listing ends May 3.
Adding the cancer warning to PFOA would be good news for public health, says the Environmental Working Group (EWG), because such labeling "historically has pushed manufacturers to remove listed chemicals from their products."
EWG President Ken Cook, in a statement Wednesday, welcomed the California regulator's move as a "landmark decision" that "underscores the state's longstanding commitment to protecting its citizens from cancer-causing chemicals like PFOA."
"The damage to communities nationwide from PFOA-contaminated drinking water and exposure through everyday consumer products is almost unimaginable," said Cook, "but California's action underscores the urgency of addressing the crisis."
The proposal also drew praise from environmental attorney and Right Livelihood laureate Robert Bilott, who, following a two-decade legal battle, helped reach a $671 million settlement in class-action lawsuit against DuPont on behalf of thousands of people who said their drinking water was contaminated by the corporation.
Bilott said in a statement that the "more information and scientific data that is uncovered and revealed, the more concerned scientists and regulators all over the planet become."
"The current action in California is just the latest within the scientific and regulatory community to reject the manufacturers' claims that these forever chemicals present 'no risk' to humans," said Bilott.
Public health experts and legal observers say PFAS-making companies knew of the chemicals' harm for decades but continued their production, leaving some affected residents to feel they "collateral damage" while companies try to dodge accountability.
PFOA has been phased out of production in the U.S., but public health watchdogs say there remain concerns about ongoing contamination, existing stockpiles, imported products, and the fact that some replacement chemicals present health dangers of their own.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
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.
One of our recent articles, "Disinfection dangers: How to avoid viruses without exposing yourself to toxics," gives readers an in-depth look at cleaning and disinfecting in a safe manner.
Here, we're going to boil down exactly what to look for when you're faced with shelves upon shelves of cleaning products.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It
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.
Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.
2. With Bleach? Do Without
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.
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.
3. Check the Back Label
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.
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.
4. Ingredients to Avoid
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.
- Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.
- Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer
- 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.
- 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.
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line
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.
Reposted with permission from Environmental Health News.
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By Scott Faber
No candidate for president has ever pledged to make the toxic "forever chemicals" known as PFAS a priority – until now.
In his environmental justice plan, President-elect Joe Biden pledged to set enforceable limits for PFAS in drinking water and to designate PFAS as a hazardous substance under the Superfund cleanup law.
Here's why that matters.
PFAS chemicals are building up in the blood of every American, posing the risk of serious health problems. PFAS makes vaccines less effective and are linked to cancer, harm to the reproductive system and other health hazards.
More than 200 million Americans are likely drinking water and eating food contaminated with PFAS. Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and Defense Department have for decades failed to address the chemicals' health risks. There are no federal limits on PFAS releases and uses and no requirements to clean up PFAS pollution.
Setting a national drinking water standard for PFAS under the federal Safe Drinking Water would have a huge impact on public health. Right now, only a few states require drinking water utilities to meet tough standards for PFAS in tap water. A national standard that would apply to all utilities would dramatically reduce our overall exposure to PFAS.
Designating PFAS as "hazardous substances" under Superfund would also be historic. By doing so, the Biden-Harris administration would not only kick-start the cleanup process but also require polluters to pay their fair share of cleanup costs.
But that's not all the Biden team has pledged. The president-elect also pledged to prioritize PFAS substitutes in the marketplace. That means Biden could direct the EPA and the FDA to quickly phase out non-essential uses of PFAS in food packaging, cosmetics, sunscreens and other everyday products.
The Biden team will have other tools at its disposal. The president-elect could quickly restrict industrial discharges of PFAS into the air and water by using the tools provided by the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and expand reporting of these releases through the Toxic Release Inventory. Right now, more than 2,500 manufacturers are thought to be releasing PFAS with no limits.
The Biden-Harris administration can also direct the Defense Department to accelerate efforts to end the use of PFAS-based firefighting foam, impose a moratorium on the incineration of remaining stocks of PFAS foam, and accelerate PFAS cleanup at military installations. More than 300 military installations are known to be contaminated with PFAS.
No candidates have ever pledged to do as much to address America's environmental challenges as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And that is especially the case for PFAS pollution.
Scott Faber is the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
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By Arohi Sharma
Quarantining and sheltering in place from COVID-19 has a lot of us going stir-crazy — myself included. With summer in full swing, more of us are itching to get outside safely. Unfortunately, we're also right in the middle of peak harmful algal bloom (HAB) season. While state agencies are understandably redirecting resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the resources normally used to test recreational freshwater bodies for HAB events — including the dangerous toxins that are harmful to humans and pets — are on hold. This concerns me because, as NRDC's updated What's Lurking in Your Lake assessment shows, state agencies are already under-resourced to address HABs. Furthermore, our updated scorecards and mapping efforts show there is not enough comprehensive freshwater HAB data collection. With state budgets being redirected, it's unclear whether proactive freshwater HAB data collection will get necessary funding in coming years.
First, What Are Harmful Algal Blooms — or HABs?
While HABs along our ocean coastlines — like red tide events in Florida — garner more media attention, HAB events also occur in our nation's freshwater bodies. As I wrote last year, HABs occur when excess nutrients make their way into water ecosystems. Nutrients are food for the cyanobacteria that are normally present in freshwater ecosystems. But when excess nutrients are paired with other enabling factors like warmer weather and stagnant water, cyanobacteria proliferate. Some species of cyanobacteria leech cyanotoxins, which can be harmful to humans, especially children, as well as dogs. The increased outdoor recreation in the summer, and the fact that some states' capacities are constrained due to COVID-19 response (like in Utah and Kansas), make it all the more important to be aware of these events and how they can impact us. For states like Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which are home to tens of thousands of freshwater bodies, funding constraints could have severe impacts on efforts to prevent exposure to HABs.
Results of NRDC’s Updated Assessment
Last year, NRDC mapped freshwater HAB events across all 50 states from 2008 to 2018 because no such map exists at the federal level. This week, we updated that map to include 2019 freshwater HAB data and revised each state's freshwater HAB program scorecard. Those updated scorecards provide a baseline understanding of each state's freshwater HAB program. They also signal whether states are prepared to proactively prevent exposure to, and respond to, freshwater HAB events. As the chart below shows, there are noticeable improvements in state freshwater HAB programs from last year, but the overall outlook remains the same: State agencies don't have the resources to effectively address HABs.
Some of the improvements observed from our updated scorecards include:
- Seven more states (California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming) scored an overall "excellent" rating compared to last year.
- Five states (Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee) have created new websites that share information on freshwater HABs in their states.
- Seventeen states improved the information made available on their websites.
- Six additional states (Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin) adopted cyanotoxin thresholds since last year.
- Nine additional states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) developed and/or created response protocols for how to respond to HAB outbreaks. From this list, unfortunately, only Arkansas and Michigan have made their protocols available online.
- Nine additional states claim to be leveraging relationships with NGOs and local organizations to communicate HAB information to the public compared to last year.
- We found 11 new states using social media to communicate HAB information to the public.
Some disconcerting trends from our updated analysis include:
- 36 states do not collect comprehensive HAB data.
- 34 states do not make HAB data easily available to the public.
- 29 states do not make their response protocols available online.
- 24 states do not proactively sample for cyanobacteria or cyanotoxins.
- 20 states claim they do not have the authority to issue recreational advisories.
The Role of Data in Decision-Making
The adage "you can't manage what you don't measure" plays into my work every day. The troubling trends highlighted in NRDC's assessment have common threads: lack of data collection and inaccessibility of data.
I firmly believe that comprehensive data collection is a necessary pillar of effective decision-making. Data show trends that can help address the root causes of problems, help us understand what we know and reveal what we don't know, illuminate gaps in management and program efficacy, and provide information to hold decision-makers accountable. When states don't collect comprehensive data nor make data available to the public, it's tough to accomplish any of those goals.
The Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately crystalizes what happens when decision makers politicize and withhold data. Public health decisions and emergency response become undermined by politics instead of empowered by evidence.
Double Down on Prevention
The federal government could be preventing the kind of excess nutrient runoff that contributes to HABs by enforcing the Clean Water Act, but it isn't, so states are bearing the costly burden of testing, researching, responding, monitoring, and mitigating freshwater HAB events. Now, with the health and economic crises emerging from the pandemic, state agencies responsible for responding to freshwater HAB events are being asked to do more with less.
According to NRDC's updated assessment, 62 percent of states do not dedicate financial resources to respond to or research HAB events, which means state agencies tasked with HAB response must pull funding from other environmental remediation or water quality protection funds, compete with other agencies for funding, reduce funding for one area of HAB activity to supplement another, or simply forgo proactive testing altogether. Climate change will increase the frequency and duration of HAB events nationwide so the reactive approach to freshwater HAB response will only increase states' future costs.
While we all do everything we can to keep our families and loved ones safe this summer, NRDC will continue to hold states and the federal government accountable. Prevention is the smartest and most underutilized tool in our toolbox to combat HAB events so we will continue fighting this administration's rollbacks to the Clean Water Act. We will also continue our advocacy for healthy soil stewardship because we know that building healthy soil addresses one of the root causes of freshwater HAB outbreaks — nutrient runoff.
What to Know for 2020 Summer Recreation
I understand the need to get outdoors this summer — I'm feeling the urge too. Should you seek out lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and streams, please look out for HAB indicators (e.g., blue-green colored water, a funky smell, dead fish, or caution signs, like the one below) and keep these things in mind:
- Dangerous HAB toxins that can harm your families and your pets are not visible to the naked eye. Removing blue-green algae or pond scum from the top of a freshwater body is not enough to keep your loved ones safe.
- If you see anything suspicious, stay out of the water and report the potential event to the appropriate state agency. If you need help figuring out how to report a HAB event, you can download your state's scorecard.
- Keep your eyes peeled for caution signs that inform you whether the water is safe to recreate in.
- Finally: The lack of a caution sign doesn't mean the waterbody isn't experiencing a HAB event. It's possible that your state doesn't have the resources it needs to proactively test every single freshwater body, especially with COVID-19 still surging across the United States. Call the appropriate state agency or waterbody manager to inquire whether that waterbody has been tested for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins.
We've placed this new signage in conjunction with the Wyoming Department of Health & Wyoming Livestock Board to ensure info about #HCBs is nearby for people recreating in #Wyoming. Visit https://t.co/eXIVjPp6SU for information about advisories and further FAQs. #WDEQ pic.twitter.com/HBIDP9Flqy— Wyoming DEQ (@Wyoming_DEQ) June 15, 2020
Reposted with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
By Allison Johnson
Most people who buy organic do it because they want to eat healthier. It's true – switching to an organic diet rapidly decreases exposure to a wide range of pesticides, including glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup). According to a new study published in Environmental Research, glyphosate levels in families' bodies dropped 70% in just one week on an organic diet. The researchers concluded that diet is a major source of glyphosate exposure and that eating organic reduces exposure.
Friends of the Earth / https://foe.org/the-study/
But the health benefits of organic agriculture extend far beyond our individual dinner plates. Organic farming offers a comprehensive alternative to chemical agriculture, and it protects our soil, air, water, wildlife, and critically – our farming communities – from toxic pesticides.
The purpose of pesticides is to kill. So it's not surprising that widespread use of these chemicals poses a serious public health threat. Diet alone exposes us to a frightening cocktail of pesticide residues, and toxic pesticides pose much more severe health threats to farming communities.
Food system workers and their families and communities – who are disproportionately Latinx and low-income – bear the brunt of harm from toxic pesticide use in agriculture. Farmworkers are at risk from direct exposure to harmful chemicals when mixing and applying pesticides, as well as while working in fields; as a result, they suffer more chemical-related injuries than any other U.S. workforce. Exposure also extends beyond the workplace. Workers can carry pesticides home on clothes, shoes, and skin, inadvertently exposing their children and other family members, and pesticide drift can harm people living, working, and learning near farms.
These exposure routes add up. And weaning our agricultural system off its addiction to toxic chemicals is an uphill battle.
We've seen recent wins on pesticide issues in the courts and in some states, but it can take decades of fighting to end the use of a single pesticide. For example, NRDC petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to end use of the brain-toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2007; thirteen years later, we're still in court demanding that EPA protect public health. Meanwhile numerous similar organophosphate chemicals also remain in our fields and our bodies.
This pesticide "whack-a-mole" problem makes organic farming a potent addition to our public health toolbox, especially in farming communities: organic farmers do no use most synthetic pesticides, so organic farming eliminates a wide range of health threats posed by farming with toxic chemicals.
"As long as we treat organic food as if it's a shopping preference instead of a public good, we will miss the opportunity to fight for a desperately needed shift in how we farm."
We should all be able to eat without exposing anyone to toxic pesticides. That's why we support more public investment in organic in schools, in the Farm Bill, in climate policy, and beyond. The stakes are high – but the solutions are within reach.
Reposted with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Art by Matteo Farinella, written by Jeremy Deaton
Algal blooms are killing wildlife and making people sick. Here's how we aided their reign of terror.
Matteo Farinella is a neuroscientist-turned-cartoonist who uses comics to explain science. You can follow him @matteofarinella. Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a nonprofit climate change news service. You can follow him @deaton_jeremy.
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
By Wesley Rahn
Plastic byproducts were found in 97 percent of blood and urine samples from 2,500 children tested between 2014 and 2017, according to a study by the German Environment Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute.
The German weekly magazine Der Spiegel published the findings, which were part of a federal study focused on "human biomonitoring" of 3 to 17-year-olds. Traces from 11 out of 15 plastic ingredients were found in the test samples.
"Our study clearly shows that plastic ingredients, which are rising in production, are also showing up more and more in the body," Marike Kolossa-Gehring, one of the study's authors, told the magazine.
Toxic Clothes and Cookware?
Plastic from cleaning products, waterproof clothing, food packaging and cooking utensils frequently comes into direct contact with the body.
Although some of the chemicals studied pose no known health risk, researchers said that they were especially concerned about high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that were found in the study. PFOA is frequently used in non-stick cookware and in waterproof clothing.
According to the German Environment Ministry, the chemical is dangerous for the reproductive system and is toxic to the liver. The EU will ban the substance in 2020.
Plastic byproducts are also blamed for disrupting hormone function, which could lead to obesity, reproductive disorders, cancer and development delays in children.
Youngest Children Most Vulnerable
According to the research, younger children were reported to be the most affected by plastic ingestion. The study also showed children from poorer families had more plastic residue in their bodies than children from higher-income families, according to German public broadcaster ARD.
"It is very concerning that the youngest children, as the most sensitive group, are also the most affected," Kolossa-Gehring said.
"It can't be that every fourth child between three and five years old is so heavily burdened with chemicals that long-term damage cannot safely be ruled out," Green Party environmental health expert Bettina Hoffmann told Der Spiegel.
According to the magazine, the study has not yet been published, and the results were made available by the government upon request by a Green Party inquiry into the effects of chemicals on public health.
Hoffmann said that there has not been enough research on how plastic chemicals affect the body, and how they are ingested.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Deutsche Welle.
By Dan Nosowitz
A hot-button issue in the UK focuses on something most Americans don't even know about: a particular method of disinfecting raw poultry.
In the UK, "chlorine-washed chicken" has become a shorthand for the excesses of American agribusiness; Prime Minister Boris Johnson has even used it as an insult for his political foes. Much of the U.S.' chicken is disinfected with a strong solution of chlorine, a quick and effective way of killing a lot of bacteria. Chlorine treatments have been banned in the UK since 1997, due to an European Union-wide ban on the practice, but chlorine-treated chicken is back in the news in the UK.
Due to the UK's pending exit from the European Union (EU), many of the union's laws will be reconsidered there, and either maintained or cast aside. The UK, essentially, will have the option to start importing American chicken for the first time in decades, at least at a large volume. Allowing chicken processed in this way into the UK is a very controversial topic there. The British media has been accused of being "obsessed" with the issue; British publications have run dozens of stories about what American chlorine-treated chicken is.
The U.S. has not let this go unnoticed. BuzzFeed News got ahold of a document laying out the American government's plans to get its chicken into the UK. The document proposes a $100,000 press junket for "influential" British journalists to tour American farms — presumably a carefully selected array of those farms — in order to change the dialogue about this chlorinated chicken. The document is largely focused on fighting "misconceptions" about American agribusiness, including such topics as GMOs, animal welfare and factory farming.
Using a chlorine solution to disinfect chickens is not, according to many studies, particularly unsafe. Even European agencies have found that chlorine is an effective way to kill bacteria. The EU didn't ban it because it doesn't work; they banned it because it works too well. Essentially, the EU's objection to the method is that it is a sledgehammer method used to cover up the atrocities in much of the American poultry industry: tiny spaces, wildly overbred birds that have difficulty standing up, and mass production that results in heavily soiled, contaminated birds. Chlorine, by the EU's way of thinking, encourages such bad behavior. After all, why bother to treat your birds well, when it's expensive and can all be cleaned off by a 50-parts-per-million chlorine solution?
Obviously, securing access to the UK as an export market would be a huge victory for the American poultry industry. The U.S. produced more than nine billion broiler chickens — those raised for meat consumption — in 2018, a value of more than $31 billion. Chicken is now the most popular meat in the UK, and American chicken producers would surely love to ignore their antitrust issues and sell some chicken to a huge new market.
The British concern about the provenance of American chicken, though, is unlikely to be healed with a luxury press tour for a select group of journalists.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
By Courtney Lindwall
Question: I've heard that producing denim is particularly bad for the environment. Do I need to give up my blue jeans?
Answer: Throwaway plastics and gas-guzzling cars are the typical consumer no-nos, but clothing also has oversize impacts on the planet and our health. And it's true — denim is one of the worst offenders.
Let's start with the fabric. Denim is made primarily with cotton, though it's now often blended with synthetic fibers like polyester. And though all fibers have their trade-offs, "cotton in general is a very thirsty crop," said Tatiana Schlossberg, a former environmental reporter at the New York Times and the author of Inconspicuous Consumption, a new book on the hidden environmental impact of our spending habits. Very thirsty, indeed: Producing just 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cotton can require up to 7,660 gallons of water, depending on where it's grown. (In comparison, producing 2.2 pounds of tomatoes requires one one-hundredth of that amount, 76 gallons.) A cotton crop consumes a lot of chemicals too: 16 percent of all insecticides are used on the plant, and many of them pose significant health risks for farm workers and nearby residents.
Nowhere have the impacts from this process been more evident than in Xintang, a town in southern China. The denim capital of the world, it produces one in every three pairs of jeans sold. Because of limited regulatory oversight, by 2013 Xintang's rivers ran a deep blue and smelled foul, a result of manufacturers dumping chemical-laden wastewater directly into local waterways. Unsafe amounts of toxic metals like mercury, lead and copper have been found in the water, which residents rely on for drinking and bathing. Workers and residents have reported rashes, lesions, and, some locals believe, infertility. Denim also goes through a particularly energy — and water-intensive — and destructive — dyeing and finishing process, beginning with what gives the fabric its signature indigo color (originally a plant-based dye, but today largely replaced with a synthetic version). After dyeing, fabrics are repeatedly treated and washed with a variety of chemicals, like bleach, to soften, fade or texturize the fabric. Most of our favorite shades and styles — acid-washed, distressed, light-washed — require additional treatments and chemicals. All in all, producing a single pair of jeans requires an immense amount of water and energy and creates significant pollution.
"These clothes are cheap in the store because nobody's paying for this waste," Schlossberg said, adding that communities on the other side of the world will be footing that bill for generations.
Top, from left: Every morning, workers at a Xintang denim-washing factory must search through wastewater to scoop out stones that are washed with the fabric in industrial washing machines to make stonewash denim; wastewater discharged from a denim-washing factory in Xintang. Bottom: A Greenpeace campaigner takes a water sample from a polluted river near Dadun Village, Xintang, where the economy is centered around textile production. Greenpeace has found high levels of industrial pollution and has documented the effects on the community.
Lu Guang / Greenpeace
But the industry is transforming, however slowly. When the dangerous situation in Xintang came to light several years ago, China's central government ordered the local government to tackle the pollution issue. In response, between 2016 and 2018, 76 facilities, including 68 dyeing, printing and laundry mills, were shut down. According to Sina Finance, these shutdowns have caused more than 1 billion U.S. dollars' worth of local economic loss. But there are now encouraging signs: Some companies are rolling out new production techniques that significantly reduce water usage, and other brands are pursuing sustainability by powering their factories with renewable energy and recycling water.
Although some denim manufacturers are making smarter choices, most international corporations get away with disclosing little information about their production processes. "People need to demand that companies make their practices available. Because the information isn't there in the first place, people don't know what to ask," Schlossberg said.
Yiliqi, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is working to do just that. She said improving the clothing industry will require oversight, transparency and accountability. NRDC has worked with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in China, for example, to map and rank multinational corporations on their supply chain performance. Meanwhile, the Clean by Design program that NRDC created more than a decade ago provides a tool for brands to cut water, energy and chemical consumption as well as wastewater discharge from their supply chains. (Last year the program was transferred to the Apparel Impact Institute, a collaboration of industry stakeholders working to scale up the initiative.) The Sustainable Apparel Coalition has developed indices for measuring a products' environmental impact. And various sustainability certifications, including BCI (Better Cotton Initiative), Bluesign, OEKO-TEX and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), among others, can be used as branding and put on clothing labels, creating further incentives for companies to improve.
For individuals, Yiliqi said, "the fastest way to make an impact is to ask their brands to do better." It's also important to investigate the work a company is doing to reduce its impact before you buy its products. And if you're looking to change some of your shopping habits, here are some tips:
- Avoid overconsumption. Wear the denim you have as long as possible and forgo "fast fashion," which is a term for cheaply made, trendy clothing manufactured to last only a season or two.
- Take existing jeans in for mending when needed, rather than tossing them out altogether.
- Shop at thrift stores, which extends the life and reduces the carbon footprint of each pair of jeans, or swap with friends.
- When you do buy new, opt for durable items that will last years instead of months.
We don't have to forgo this American classic — it just needs a makeover.
- The Environmental and Human Cost of Making a Pair of Jeans ... ›
- What You Can Do to Make Your Clothing Ocean Safe - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Tips for a More Earth-Conscious Wardrobe - EcoWatch ›
- Blue Jean Fibers Found Polluting Arctic Ocean, Great Lakes - EcoWatch ›
By Anne Schechinger
Over the Fourth of July holiday, many of us love to beat the heat in a favorite lake, pond or river. But this year, vacationers from coast to coast will have to look out for a potentially record-breaking number of algae blooms.
So far this year there have been news stories about 107 algae outbreaks, compared to just 63 this time last year. That's a 70 percent increase. EWG's interactive map tracks news reports of blue-green algae blooms across the country since 2010, and this year is on track to have the most so far.
Recreating in or near water stricken by an algae bloom can lead to serious health consequences. Short-term exposure — whether through skin contact or ingestion — to the toxins sometimes produced by algae outbreaks has been linked to sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and liver damage.
These outbreaks don't just affect peoples' health, they also hurt their wallets. Algae keeps people away from businesses near affected lakes, such as marinas and restaurants.
Lake Hopatcong, in New Jersey, is currently suffering the biggest bloom ever recorded in the state. Hopatcong Mayor Mike Francis says it could have devastating impacts on the health of residents and his town's economy.
In many cases, algae outbreaks are preventable. Reducing the amount of chemicals that run off farm fields can greatly reduce the number and severity of blooms in agricultural areas.
Lake Macbride, in Iowa, is an example of a lake surrounded by farmland that has algae bloom and E. coli problems. Mandated agricultural conservation practices could go a long way toward cleaning up water bodies like Lake Macbride.
If you plan a lake outing this holiday, it's vital to know what to look for to figure out whether a toxic blue-green algae bloom is present in the water. Before your next trip to a lake, check out our new video to find out.