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Arkema Plant Explosion Sparks Criticism of Trump EPA Relaxing Chemical Safety Rules
Thursday's explosions at the Harvey-damaged Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas have prompted criticism of the Trump administration's delay of an Obama-era chemical safety regulation that was designed to "improve chemical process safety, assist local emergency authorities in planning for and responding to accidents, and improve public awareness of chemical hazards at regulated source."
The 2013 Risk Management Program rule was developed after a Texas fertilizer plant in the city of West exploded in 2013 and killed 15 people. However, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt the program on hold for two years in order to reconsider industry objections.
Notably, the International Business Times reports that Arkema and its industry colleagues lobbied Pruitt and the EPA to delay the regulation, claiming it was too expensive and burdensome to implement.
After the explosions, Harris County sheriff's office said 15 deputies complained of respiratory irritation and were treated at a local hospital. The office said that all 15 were released from the hospital and healthy.
The blasts also occurred just a day after a federal court refused to force the EPA to implement the Obama rule.
But if the EPA had implemented the regulation, none of the officers would have been at risk, Mathy Stanislaus, who led the agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response during the Obama administration, told E&E News.
The rule, which Stanislaus helped draft, would not have prevented the explosions but would ensure "that the local responders were fully aware of the particular chemical and the particular method to respond to an incident," he said.
Stanislaus said that it also would have strengthened efforts to head off accidents and help keep the public informed of potential risks at such facilities.
The substances that caught fire at the Arkema plant were organic peroxides for the production of plastic resins, polystyrene, paints and other products. The company, however, has not provided a full list of chemicals stored at the plant.
"There was a gap in specific knowledge. People need to know what chemicals (are being stored) and what kind of precautions are in place," Stanislaus told the Associated Press.
EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham told the AP that "the agency's recent action to delay the effectiveness of the 2017 amendments had no effect on the major safety requirements that applied to the Arkema Crosby plant at the time of the fire."
The EPA has since sent emergency response personnel to the site and is reviewing data received from an aircraft that surveyed the scene, Pruitt said Thursday.
"There are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time," the EPA administrator said.
But Nathan Donley, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program, cried foul.
"Trump's EPA chief say's there's nothing to worry about at Arkema. Quite frankly, I don't believe him," Donely said. "These are incredibly reactive chemicals that the EPA, under previous administrations, has recognized as dangerous. But once again Trump's EPA is siding with industrial polluters rather than looking out for the health of the American people."
Bakeyah Nelson, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, also criticized the Trump administration's continued regulatory rollbacks.
"It's extremely frustrating, it's disheartening, it's unfair to the communities that face these risks," Nelson told POLITICO. "Not just in a natural disaster-type situation, but on a daily basis."
The unprecedented rain and flooding from Harvey has sparked concerns about the risks of the Gulf Coast's massive petrochemical infrastructure. According to data from the Sierra Club, the area is home to 230 chemical plants, 33 oil refineries and hundreds of miles of pipelines.
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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
By Kerstin Palme
Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.
But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.
Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.
The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.