By Dahr Jamail
Former nuclear industry senior vice president Arnie Gundersen, who managed and coordinated projects at 70 U.S. atomic power plants, is appalled at how the Japanese government is handling the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
"The inhumanity of the Japanese government toward the Fukushima disaster refugees is appalling," Gundersen, a licensed reactor operator with 45 years of nuclear power engineering experience and the author of a bestselling book in Japan about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, told Truthout.
He explains that both the Japanese government and the atomic power industry are trying to force almost all of the people who evacuated their homes in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to return "home" before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This March Japan's federal government announced the subsidies that have, up until now, been provided to Fukushima evacuees who were mandated to leave their homes are being withdrawn, which will force many of them to return to their contaminated prefecture out of financial necessity.
And it's not just the Japanese government. The International Olympic Commission is working overtime to normalize the situation as well, even though conditions at Fukushima are anything but normal. The commission even has plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to have baseball and softball games played at Fukushima.
Gundersen believes these developments are happening so that the pro-nuclear Japanese government can claim the Fukushima disaster is "over." However, he noted, "The disaster is not 'over' and 'home' no longer is habitable."
His analysis of what is happening is simple.
"Big banks and large electric utilities and energy companies are putting profit before public health," Gundersen added. "Luckily, my two young grandsons live in the U.S.; if their parents lived instead in Fukushima Prefecture [a prefecture is similar to a state in the U.S.], I would tell them to leave and never go back."
Reports of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which began when a tsunami generated by Japan's deadly earthquake in 2011 struck the nuclear plant, have been ongoing.
Seven more people who used to live in Fukushima, Japan were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, the government announced in June. This brings the number of cases of thyroid cancer of those living in the prefecture at the time the disaster began to at least 152.
While the Japanese government continues to deny any correlation between these cases and the Fukushima disaster, thyroid cancer has long since been known to be caused by radioactive iodine released during nuclear accidents like the one at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. A World Health Organization report released after the disaster started listed cancer as a possible result of the meltdown, and a 2015 study in the journal Epidemiology suggested that children exposed to Fukushima radiation were likely to develop thyroid cancer more frequently.
The 2011 disaster left 310 square miles around the plant uninhabitable, and the area's 160,000 residents were evacuated. This April, officials began welcoming some of them back to their homes, but more than half of the evacuees in a nearby town have already said they would not return to their homes even if evacuation orders were lifted, according to a 2016 government survey.
Officials from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company responsible for cleaning up the disaster, announced this February they were having difficulty locating nuclear fuel debris inside one of the reactors. Radiation inside the plant continues to skyrocket to the point of causing even robots to malfunction.
Cancer cases continue to crop up among children living in towns near Fukushima.
And it's not as if the danger is decreasing. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Earlier this year, radiation levels at the Fukushima plant were at their highest levels since the disaster began.
TEPCO said atmospheric readings of 530 sieverts an hour had been recorded in one of the reactors. The previous highest reading was 73 sieverts an hour back in 2012. A single dose of just one Sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea. Five sieverts would kill half of those exposed within one month, and a dose of 10 sieverts would be fatal to those exposed within weeks.
Dr. Tadahiro Katsuta, an associate professor at Meiji University, Japan, is an official member of the Nuclear Reactor Safety Examination Committee and the Nuclear Fuel Safety Examination Committee of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. Truthout asked him what he was most concerned about regarding the Japanese government's handling of the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
"What I regard as the most dangerous, personally, is the fact that the Japanese government has chosen the national prestige and protection of electric power companies over the lives of its own citizens," Katsuta, who wrote the Fukushima update for the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, said.
Gundersen thinks it simply makes no sense to hold the Olympics in Japan.
"Holding the 2020 Olympics in Japan is an effort by the current Japanese government to make these ongoing atomic reactor meltdowns disappear from the public eye," Gundersen said. "I discovered highly radioactive dust on Tokyo street corners in 2016."
According to Gundersen and other nuclear experts Truthout spoke with, the crisis is even worse.
Fukushima and Surrounding Prefectures Radioactively "Contaminated"
"The Japanese government never dedicated enough resources to trying to contain the radiation released by the meltdowns," Gundersen said.
Gundersen said that during his first trip to Japan in 2012, he stated publicly that the cleanup of Fukushima would cost more than a quarter of a trillion dollars, and TEPCO scoffed at his estimate. But now in 2017, TEPCO has reached and announced the same conclusion, but as a result of its inaction in 2011 and 2012, the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful mountain ranges in Fukushima and surrounding prefectures are contaminated.
One of the tactics that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's administration chose to deploy at Fukushima to contain radiation was an underground "ice wall."
"As the 'ice wall' was being designed, I spoke out that it was doomed to fail, and was [an] incredibly expensive diversion," Gundersen said. "There are techniques that could stop water from entering the basements of the destroyed reactors so that the radioactivity would not migrate through the groundwater to the ocean, but the Japanese government continues to resist pursuing them."
Gundersen argues that Japan could and should build a sarcophagus over all three destroyed reactors and wait 100 years to dismantle them. This way, the radioactive exposure will be minimized for Japanese workers, and ongoing radioactive releases to the environment would be minimized as well.
Gundersen also points out that it is equally important that radioactive water continues to run out of the mountain streams into the Pacific, so a thorough cleanup of the mountain ranges should begin right now, but that is a mammoth undertaking that may never succeed.
In addition to his other roles, Arnie Gundersen serves as the chief engineer for Fairewinds Energy Education, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization founded by his wife Maggie. Since founding the organization, Maggie Gundersen has provided paralegal and expert witness services for Fairewinds. Like her husband, she's had an inside view of the nuclear industry: She was an engineering assistant in reload core design for the nuclear vendor Combustion Engineering, and she was in charge of PR for a proposed nuclear reactor site in upstate New York.
When Truthout asked her how she felt about the Abe government's response to Fukushima, she said, "Human health is not a commodity that should be traded for corporate profits or the goals of politicians and those in power as is happening in Japan. The Japanese government is refusing to release accurate health data and is threatening to take away hospital privileges from doctors who diagnose radiation symptoms."
Maggie Gundersen added that her husband also met with a doctor who lost his clinic because he was diagnosing people with radiation sickness, instead of complying with the government's story that their illnesses were due to the psychological stress of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns.
M.V. Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and is also a contributing author to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report for 2016. Like the Gundersens, he is critical of the Abe administration's mishandling of Fukushima.
"I am not sure we can expect much better from the Abe administration that has shown so little regard for people's welfare in general and has supported the nuclear industry in the face of clear and widespread opposition," Ramana told Truthout. "As with restarting nuclear power plants, one reason for this decision seems to be to reduce the liability of the nuclear industry, TEPCO in this case. It is also a way for the Abe administration to shore up Japan's image, as a desirable destination for the Olympics and more generally."
"Prime Minister Abe has neither the knowledge about the issue of Fukushima accident nor the interest at all," Katsuta said. "The Abe administration has yet to clearly apologize for its responsibility for promoting the nuclear energy policy."
Instead, according to Katsuta, the Abe administration has lifted evacuation orders in an effort to "erase the memories of the accident."
Fukushima Evacuees "Forced" Back Home
In the immediate wake of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, 160,000 people fled areas around the plant. The Abe government has been providing housing subsidies to those who were evacuated, but its recent announcement means those subsidies will no longer be provided. Many "voluntary evacuees" will be forced to consider returning despite lingering concerns over radiation.
"This is very unfortunate," Ramana said of the withdrawal of the subsidies. "The people who were evacuated from Fukushima have already been through a lot and for some of them to be told that the government, and presumably TEPCO, does not have any more liability for their plight seems quite callous."
He explains that, in enacting this callous move, the Japanese government is claiming that radiation exposure is now within "safe levels" for people to return home. This claim ignores the fact that levels now are even higher than before the accident, and also disregards the widespread uncertainties plaguing the measurement of radiation in the affected areas.
Katsuta expressed similar concerns.
"The lifted evacuation area has not been restored completely, as the radiation dose is still high, and decontamination of the forest is excluded," he said. "Besides, the decontamination waste is often stored in the neighborhood, and there were many families who did not return, and then the local community collapsed."
Katsuta added that the subsidies only amount to $1,000 per refugee, so paying them for the next 10 years is "not expensive" in order to safeguard human lives.
Given her work in PR for the nuclear industry, Maggie Gundersen had an interesting position on the Abe government's tactics.
When she was working for the atomic power industry, she was "carefully taught" certain misinformation about atomic power reactors by industry scientists and engineers. She said she would never have done that work if she had known the "hidden truth." She and Arnie were both taught that atomic power was the "peaceful use of the atom"—she does not support war and believes that the use of atomic weapons or depleted uranium are horrific crimes—and she explains that she never would have worked for or promoted atomic power knowing what she knows now.
"Arnie and I immediately noticed that TEPCO and the Japanese government were using the same playbook that was used at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island (and for that matter, Deepwater Horizon)," Maggie Gundersen explained. "Governments immediately minimize the amount of radiation being released, or in the case of Deepwater Horizon, the amount of oil."
She added that in each of these cases, the mainstream press dutifully reported shortly after the crisis that there was nothing to fear, even though there was no evidence to support these assertions. The governments' objectives were to minimize fear and chaos, and most media simply echoed officials' claims. The responses to the Fukushima disaster are following the same pattern.
"Is the Abe regime glossing over the seriousness of the Fukushima meltdowns and ongoing radioactivity? Absolutely," she said. "What is happening in Japan to the known and unknown victims is a human rights violation and an environmental justice debacle."
2020 Tokyo Olympics to be Held Amidst "Hot Particles"
Katsuta said that the Fukushima evacuees are "extremely worried" that their plight will be overshadowed by the Olympics. He believes the Japanese government is using the Olympics to demonstrate to the world that Japan is now a "safe" country and that the Fukushima disaster "has been solved."
"In Japan, the people are really forgetting the Fukushima accident as … the news of the Olympics increases," he said.
Arnie Gundersen doesn't think it makes sense to have some of the Olympic venues (soccer, baseball and possibly surfing) in Fukushima Prefecture itself.
"Radioactively 'hot particles' are everywhere in Fukushima Prefecture and in some of the adjacent prefectures as well," he said. "These 'hot particles' present a long-term health risk to the citizens who live there and the athletes who will visit."
Ramana, too, believes that the events held closer to Fukushima "may be adding to the radiation dose of the competitors and the spectators."
Fukushima Disaster "Will Continue for More Than 100 Years"
Maggie Gundersen pointed out that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission consistently claims it has learned lessons from Fukushima, but she doesn't think the commission—or the Japanese government, or corporations—learned any lessons at all.
"Energy production is all about money," she said. "After the meltdowns, many banks in Japan invested in keeping the atomic power reactors on hold until the disaster could sort itself out. Those banks and the government supporting its access to the use of the atom have a vested interest in starting the old reactors up."
Katsuta has a dire outlook for the future of Fukushima, and said there are already numerous evacuees who have given up hope of returning because they are aware of the crisis being unsolvable by the current means of TEPCO and the Abe administration.
"Even if decontamination and decommissioning work progresses, the problem will not be solved," he said. "We have not yet decided how to dispose of decontamination waste and decommissioning waste."
Ramana believes Fukushima should be a reminder of the inherent hazards associated with nuclear power, and how those hazards become worse when entities that control these technologies put profits over human wellbeing.
Arnie Gundersen had even stronger words.
"The disaster at Fukushima Daiichi will continue for more than 100 years," he explained. "Other atomic power reactor disasters are bound to occur. Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi should have taught everyone around the world that nuclear power is a technology that can destroy the fabric of a society overnight."
According to him, the remains of the reactor containments at Units 1, 2 and 3 are highly susceptible to damage from another severe earthquake, and any earthquake of 7.0 or higher at the Fukushima site could provoke further severe radiation releases.
Shortly after the meltdowns, Maggie and Arnie Gundersen both spoke about Japan being at a "tipping point": It could respond to the disaster by leading the world in renewable energy while choosing to protect people and the pristine rural environment through sustainable energy economies.
But obviously it didn't work out that way.
"The world saw Japan as technologically savvy, but instead of moving ahead and creating a new worldwide economy, it continues with an old tired 20th century paradigm of energy production," Maggie Gundersen said. "Look at the huge success and progress of solar and wind in other countries like Germany, Nicaragua and Denmark. Why not go energy independent, creating a strong economy, producing many more jobs and protecting the environment?"
Arnie Gundersen has plans to return to Japan later this year on a crowdsourced trip with scientific colleagues in order to teach Japanese citizen scientists how to take additional radioactive samples. Fairewinds Energy Education is currently fundraising to make this possible.
In the meantime, dramatic examples of the ongoing dangers of nuclear power in Japan abound.
In June, radioactive materials were found in the urine of five workers exposed to radiation in an accident at a nuclear research facility in Japan's Ibaraki Prefecture. In that incident, one of the workers had a large amount of plutonium in his lungs.
Recent polls in Japan show that the Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority of them favor phasing out nuclear power altogether.
Meanwhile in the U.S., President Donald Trump has put nuclear energy first on the country's energy agenda and has announced a comprehensive study of the U.S. nuclear energy industry. Trump's energy secretary Rick Perry said, "We want to make nuclear cool again."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Truthout.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brian J. Love and Julie Rieland
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the U.S. recycling industry. Waste sources, quantities and destinations are all in flux, and shutdowns have devastated an industry that was already struggling.
Goodwill's Canton, Mich. site looks overwhelmed on June 16, with an oversupply of donations and little immediate chance for resale. Brian Love / CC BY-ND
Recyclers Under Pressure<p>Since March 2020, when most shelter-in-place orders began, sanitation workers have noted massive increases in municipal garbage and recyclables. For example, in cities like Chicago, workers have seen up to <a href="https://chicago.suntimes.com/coronavirus/2020/4/7/21212543/coronavirus-chicago-garbage-pickup-streets-sanitation-masks" target="_blank">50% more waste</a>.</p><p>According to the <a href="https://swana.org/" target="_blank">Solid Waste Association of North America</a>, U.S. cities saw a <a href="https://swana.org/news/swana-news/article/2020/06/17/swana-submits-statement-on-recycling-challenges-for-u.s.-senate-hearing" target="_blank">20% average increase</a> in municipal solid waste and recycling collection from March into April 2020. Increased trash can be attributed partly to spring cleaning, but most of it is due to people spending greater time at home. Restaurants struggling to survive under COVID-19 restrictions are contributing to the rise in plastic and paper waste with <a href="https://theconversation.com/using-lots-of-plastic-packaging-during-the-coronavirus-crisis-youre-not-alone-135553" target="_blank">takeout packaging</a>.</p><p>Although higher volumes of recyclables are being set on the curb, budget deficits are squeezing recycling programs. Many municipalities are struggling with <a href="https://www.ketv.com/article/omaha-mayor-health-officials-to-provide-covid-19-update-friday-afternoon/32498068#" target="_blank">multimillion-dollar shortfalls</a>. Some communities, such as Rock Springs, Wyoming, and East Peoria, Illinois, <a href="https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2020/05/27/budget-shortfalls-threaten-local-recycling-programs/" target="_blank">have cut recycling programs</a>.</p><p>And these stresses are testing a business already faced uncertainty.</p>
While bottle deposit stations remain closed, recyclables pile up in basements and garages. David Rieland / CC BY-ND
Turmoil in Scrap Markets<p>The global recycling economy has suffered since 2018 as first China and then other Asian nations <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-more-developing-countries-reject-plastic-waste-exports-wealthy-nations-seek-solutions-at-home-117163" target="_blank">banned imports of low-quality scrap</a> — often meaning improperly cleaned food packaging and poorly sorted recyclable materials. As in any business, the value of raw recyclables is linked to supply and demand. Without demand from nations like China, which formerly took up to 700,000 tons of U.S. scrap annually, recyclers have scrambled to stay in business.</p><p>The pandemic has boosted prices for some materials. One industry leader told us that between February and May 2020, prices doubled for recycled paper and tripled for recycled cardboard. These shifts reflect higher demand for tissue products and shipping packaging under shelter-in-place orders.</p><p>However, he also reported that prices for the most-recycled categories of reclaimed plastics — PET (#1) and PE (#2 and #4) – were at 10-year lows. An influx of cheap oil has driven the raw material cost of oil-derived virgin plastics to their lowest levels in decades, <a href="https://millerrecycling.com/oil-prices-recycling#:%7E:text=Higher%20oil%20prices%20can%20also,robust%20market%20for%20recycled%20plastic." target="_blank">outcompeting recycled feedstocks</a>.</p>
Difficult Economics<p>Ideally, revenues from recycling offset municipalities' costs for collecting and disposing of solid wastes. However, given worker safety concerns, low market prices for scrap materials, a slowed economy and cheaper alternatives for disposal, many communities and businesses across the U.S. have <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/recycling-mrfs-prison-labor-suspensions-coronavirus-covid-19/574301/" target="_blank">temporarily suspended</a> collection of recyclables and bottle deposits.</p><p>Meanwhile, as the commercial sector slowed, the distribution of waste generation changed. As people have spent more time producing waste at home, waste collectors implemented <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/" target="_blank">new procedures</a> to protect their employees from infection.</p><p>Recycling is a very hands-on process that requires workers to manually sort out items from the collection stream that are unsuitable for mechanical processing. Workers and waste collection companies have <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/" target="_blank">raised many safety questions</a> about recycling during the pandemic.</p><p>Precautions like social distancing and use of personal protective equipment have become commonplace among waste collectors and sorters, though concerns remain. Sorters are increasingly relying on automation, but implementation can be costly and takes time.</p>
Collections on Pause<p>Based on monitoring since 2017 by the trade publication <a href="https://www.wastedive.com/news/curbside-recycling-cancellation-tracker/569250/" target="_blank">Waste Dive</a>, nearly 90 curbside recycling programs had experienced or continue to experience a prolonged suspension over the past several years. About 30 of these suspensions have occurred since January 2020.</p>
Like many bottle deposit programs, Kroger's Ann Arbor, Mich. drop-off center shut down on March 23. Michigan bottle deposits across the state resumed on June 15, 2020 with new safety protocols. Brian Love / CC BY-ND<p>On a broader scale, it's not clear how much more waste Americans are currently producing during shutdowns. Commercial and residential waste aren't directly comparable. For example, a granola bar wrapper thrown away at the office is tallied differently than if discarded at home.</p><p>It is also challenging to quantify the effects of the pandemic while it is still unfolding. Historically, waste output from the commercial and industrial sectors has far outweighed the municipal stream. With many offices and business closed or operating at low levels, total U.S. waste production could actually be at a record low during this time. However, data on commercial and industrial wastes are not readily available.</p><p>At the California-based <a href="https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2020/04/28/city-data-shows-covid-19-impacts-on-recycling-tonnages/" target="_blank">Peninsula Sanitary Service</a>, which serves the Stanford University community, total tonnage was down 60% in March. The company attributes this drop to reduced commercial waste, particularly from construction. Similarly, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, noted a <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/metro-vancouver-garbage-decrease-covdi-19-1.5544942" target="_blank">10% decrease</a> year over year of waste collection levels for April.</p>
Expected sectors of plastic waste increase due to COVID-19, based on 2018 plastic usage distribution data from PlasticsEurope and Klemes et al., 2020. Brian Love and Julie Rieland / CC BY-ND
More Plastic Trash<p>As cities and industries reopen in the coming months, new data will show the pandemic's effects on consumer habits and waste generation. But regardless of total volume, the mix of materials in household wastes has shifted given the new ubiquity of single-use plastic containers, online shopping packaging and disposable gloves, wipes and face masks. Many of these new staples of pandemic life are made from plastics that are simply not worth recycling if there are any other disposal options.</p><p>Today Americans are trying to balance their physical well-being against ever-mounting piles of plastic waste. At a time when reducing and reusing could be dangerous, and recycling economics are unfavorable, we see a need for better options, such as more <a href="https://theconversation.com/bio-based-plastics-can-reduce-waste-but-only-if-we-invest-in-both-making-and-getting-rid-of-them-98282" target="_blank">compostable packaging</a> that is both safer and more sustainable.</p>
1. Processed ‘Low-Fat’ and ‘Fat-Free’ Foods<p>The "war" on <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/saturated-fat-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">saturated fat</a> could be considered one of the most misguided decisions in the history of nutrition.</p><p>It was based on weak evidence, which has now been completely <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/it-aint-the-fat-people/" target="_blank">debunked</a>.</p><p>When this discussion started, processed food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started removing the fat from foods.</p><p>But there's a huge problem. Food doesn't taste well when the fat has been removed. That's why they added a lot of sugar to compensate.</p><p>Saturated fat is harmless, but added sugar is incredibly harmful when consumed in excess.</p><p>The words "low fat" or "fat free" on packaging usually means that it's a highly processed product that's loaded with sugar.</p>
2. Most Commercial Salad Dressings<p>Vegetables are incredibly healthy.</p><p>The problem is that they often don't taste very good on their own.</p><p>That's why many people use dressings to add flavor to their salads, turning these bland meals into delicious treats.</p><p>But many salad dressings are actually loaded with unhealthy ingredients like sugar, vegetable oils, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-trans-fats-are-bad/" target="_blank">trans fats</a>, along with various artificial chemicals.</p><p>Although vegetables are good for you, eating them with a dressing high in harmful ingredients negates any health benefit you get from the salad.</p><p>Check the ingredients list before you use a salad dressing or make your own using healthy ingredients.</p>
3. Fruit Juices … Which Are Basically Just Liquid Sugar<p>A lot of people believe <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fruit-juice-is-just-as-bad-as-soda/" target="_blank">fruit juices</a> are healthy.</p><p>They must be because they come from fruit, right?</p><p>But most fruit juice you find in the grocery store isn't really fruit juice.</p><p>Sometimes they don't have any actual fruit in them, just chemicals that taste like fruit. What you're drinking is basically fruit-flavored sugar water.</p><p>That being said, even if you're drinking 100% quality fruit juice, it's still not the best choice.</p><p>Fruit juice is like fruit, except with all the good stuff (like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fiber-good-for-you/" target="_blank">fiber</a>) taken out. The main thing left of the actual <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/is-fruit-good-or-bad-for-your-health/" target="_blank">fruit</a> is the sugar.</p><p>Fruit juice actually contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage.</p>
4. ‘Heart-Healthy’ Whole Wheat<p>Most "whole wheat" products aren't really made from whole wheat.</p><p>The grains have been pulverized into very fine flour, which causes them to raise blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts.</p><p>In fact, whole wheat bread can have a similar glycemic index as white bread.</p><p>But even true whole wheat may be a bad idea because modern wheat is unhealthy compared to the wheat our grandparents ate.</p><p>Around 1960, scientists modified the genes in wheat to increase the yield. <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/modern-wheat-health-nightmare/" target="_blank">Modern wheat</a> is less nutritious and has some properties that make it much worse for people who have a gluten intolerance.</p><p>There are also studies showing that modern wheat may cause inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, at least when compared to the older varieties.</p><p>Wheat may have been a relatively healthy grain back in the day, but the stuff most people are eating today should be consumed with caution.</p>
5. Cholesterol-Lowering Phytosterols<p>Phytosterols are nutrients that are basically like plant versions of cholesterol.</p><p>Some studies have shown that they can lower blood cholesterol in humans.</p><p>For this reason, they're often added to processed foods that are then marketed as "cholesterol lowering" and claimed to help prevent heart disease.</p><p>However, studies have shown that despite lowering cholesterol levels, phytosterols have negative effects on the cardiovascular system and may even increase the risk of heart disease and death.</p><p>People with phytosterolaemia (a genetic condition that raises plant sterol level in blood) are more susceptible to the negative effects of phytosterols.</p>
6. Margarine<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-reasons-why-butter-is-good-for-you/" target="_blank">Butter</a> was labeled a bad food choice in the past because of its high saturated fat content.</p><p>Various health experts started promoting margarine instead.</p><p>Back in the day, margarine used to be high in trans fats. These days, it has fewer trans fats than before, but it's still loaded with refined vegetable oils.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the Framingham Heart Study <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/butter-vs-margarine/" target="_blank">showed</a> that people who replace butter with margarine are actually more likely to die from heart disease.</p><p>If you want to improve your health, try to eat real butter (preferably <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grass-fed-butter-superfood-for-the-heart/" target="_blank">grass fed</a>), and avoid margarine with trans fat. Trans-fat-free margarine has become more available in recent years.</p><p>Always read nutrition facts carefully and limit products that contain trans fat.</p><p>Recommending trans fat-laden margarine instead of natural butter may be considered some of the worst nutrition advice in history.</p>
7. Sports Drinks<p>Sports drinks were designed with athletes in mind.</p><p>They contain electrolytes (salts) and sugar, which can be useful for athletes in many cases.</p><p>However, most people don't need additional salt or liquid sugar in their diet.</p><p>Although often considered "less bad" than sugary soft drinks, there's really no fundamental difference in the two, except the sugar content in sports drinks is sometimes <em>slightly</em> lower.</p><p>It's important to stay hydrated, especially when working out, but most people will be better off sticking to plain <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day/" target="_blank">water</a>.</p>
8. Low-Carb Junk Foods<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-carb-diet-meal-plan-and-menu/" target="_blank">Low carb diets</a> have been incredibly popular for many decades.</p><p>In the past 12 years, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/23-studies-on-low-carb-and-low-fat-diets/" target="_blank">studies</a> have confirmed that these diets are an effective way to lose weight and improve health.<a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x/abstract" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, food manufacturers have caught up on the trend and brought various low carb "friendly" processed foods to the market.</p><p>This includes highly processed foods like the <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-atkins-low-carb-bars-healthy/" target="_blank">Atkins bars</a>. If you take a look at the ingredients list, you see that there's no real food in them, just chemicals and highly refined ingredients.</p><p>These products can be consumed occasionally without compromising the metabolic adaptation that comes with low carb eating.</p><p>However, they don't really nourish your body. Even though they're technically low carb, they're still unhealthy.</p>
9. Agave Nectar<p>Given the known <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-disturbing-reasons-why-sugar-is-bad/" target="_blank">harmful effects</a> of sugar, people have been looking for alternatives.</p><p>One of the more popular "natural" sweeteners is agave nectar, which is also called agave syrup.</p><p>You'll find this sweetener in all sorts of "healthy foods," often with attractive claims on the packaging.</p><p>The problem with agave is that it's no better than regular sugar. In fact, it's much worse.</p><p>One of the main problems with sugar is that it has excessive amounts of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-is-fructose-bad-for-you/" target="_blank">fructose</a>, which can cause severe metabolic problems when consumed in excess.</p><p>Sugar is about 50% fructose and 55% high fructose corn syrup, but agave contains even more — up to 70-90%.</p><p>Therefore, gram for gram, agave is even worse than regular sugar.</p><p>"Natural" doesn't always equal healthy. Whether agave should even be considered natural is debatable.</p>
10. Vegan Junk Foods<p>Vegan diets are very popular these days, often due to ethical and environmental reasons.</p><p>However, many people promote vegan diets for the purpose of improving health.</p><p>There are many processed vegan foods on the market, often sold as convenient replacements for non-vegan foods.</p><p>Vegan bacon is one example.</p><p>But it's important to keep in mind that these are usually highly processed, factory made products that are bad for almost anyone, including people who are vegan.</p>
11. Brown Rice Syrup<p><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/brown-rice-syrup-good-or-bad/" target="_blank"><br>Brown rice syrup</a>, also known as rice malt syrup, is a sweetener that's mistakenly assumed to be healthy.</p><p>It's made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars.</p><p>Brown rice syrup contains no refined fructose, just glucose.</p><p>The absence of refined fructose is good, but rice syrup has a glycemic index of 98, which means that the glucose in it will spike blood sugar extremely fast.<a href="http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php?num=2648&ak=detail" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Rice syrup is also highly refined and contains almost no essential nutrients. In other words, it's considered "empty" calories.</p><p>Some concerns have been raised about arsenic contamination in this syrup, which is another reason to be extra careful with this sweetener.</p><p>There are other sweeteners out there, including low calorie sweeteners like:</p><ul><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/stevia/" target="_blank">stevia</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/erythritol/" target="_blank">erythritol</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/xylitol-101/" target="_blank">xylitol</a></li></ul><p>In general, try to use all sweeteners wisely and follow recommended serving sizes.</p>
12. Processed Organic Foods<p>Unfortunately, the word "organic" has become a typical marketing buzzword in many instances.</p><p>Food manufacturers have found all sorts of ways to make the same products, except with ingredients that happen to be organic.</p><p>This includes ingredients like organic raw cane sugar, which is basically 100% identical to regular sugar. It's still just glucose and fructose with little to no nutrients.</p><p>In many cases, the difference between an ingredient and its organic counterpart is next to none.</p><p>Processed foods that happen to be labeled organic aren't necessarily healthy. Always check the label to see what's inside.</p>
13. Vegetable Oils<p>We're often advised to eat seed and vegetable oils, which includes soybean oil, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/canola-oil-good-or-bad/" target="_blank">canola oil</a>, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/grape-seed-oil/" target="_blank">grapeseed oil</a>, and numerous others.</p><p>This recommendation is based on the fact that these oils have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, at least in the short term.<a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23731447/" target="_blank"></a></p><p>However, it's important to keep in mind that blood cholesterol is a <em>risk factor</em>. It's not a disease in itself.</p><p>Even though vegetable oils can help improve a risk factor, there's no guarantee that they'll help prevent actual health outcomes like heart attacks or death, which is what really counts.</p><p>In fact, several controlled trials have shown that despite lowering cholesterol, these oils can increase the risk of developing heart disease and memory impairment.</p><p>It's important to eat healthy, natural fats like butter, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/" target="_blank">coconut oil</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/extra-virgin-olive-oil/" target="_blank">olive oil</a> in moderation.</p><p>Also, follow the recommended serving size, but limit processed <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/are-vegetable-and-seed-oils-bad/" target="_blank">vegetable oils</a> as if your health depended on it, which it does.</p>
14. Gluten-Free Junk Foods<p>According to a <a href="http://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/percentage-of-us-adults-trying-to-cut-down-or-avoid-gluten-in-their-diets-reaches-new-high-in-2013-reports-npd/" target="_blank">2013 survey</a>, about a third of people in the United States are actively trying to limit or avoid gluten.</p><p>Many experts believe this is unnecessary, but the truth is, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-shocking-reasons-why-gluten-is-bad/" target="_blank">gluten</a>, especially from modern wheat, can be problematic for a lot of people.</p><p>Not surprisingly, the food manufacturers have brought <em>all sorts</em> of gluten-free foods to the market.</p><p>The problem with these foods is that they usually have the same negative effects on your body as their gluten-containing counterparts, if not worse.</p><p>These are highly processed foods containing few nutrients and often made with refined starches that can lead to very rapid spikes in blood sugar.</p><p>Try to choose foods that are naturally gluten free, like plants and animals, not gluten-free processed foods.</p><p>Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.</p>
15. Most Processed Breakfast Cereals<p>The way some breakfast cereals are marketed can be deceiving.</p><p>Many of them, including those that are marketed toward children, have various health claims listed on the box.</p><p>This includes claims like "whole grain" or "low fat" that may be misleading.</p><p>This is especially true when you look at the ingredients list and see that these products mostly contain:</p><ul><li>refined grains</li><li>sugar</li><li>artificial chemicals</li></ul><p>It's important to always review product packaging to confirm what you're actually putting in your body and whether it's healthy for you.</p><p>Truly healthy foods are whole, single-ingredient foods. Their health benefits speak for them.</p><p>Real food doesn't even need an ingredients list, because real food is the ingredient.</p>
The U.S. reported more than 55,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, in a sign that the outbreak is not letting up as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off.
- The U.S. Isn't in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
- Drone Footage Captures Rare Finless Porpoises in Hong Kong ... ›
- Brazil's Amazon River Dolphin Faces Extinction After Fishing ... ›
- 10 Surprising Dolphin 'Superpowers' - EcoWatch ›
Sunscreen pollution is accelerating the demise of coral reefs globally by causing permanent DNA damage to coral. gonzalo martinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus
On July 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a controversial bill prohibiting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens.
- Your Guide to Reef Friendly Sunscreens - EcoWatch ›
- Hundreds of Sunscreens Don't Work or Have Unsafe Ingredients ... ›
- FDA Study: Sunscreen Chemicals Seep Into the Bloodstream ... ›
By Kelli McGrane
Oat milk is popping up at coffee shops and grocery stores alike, quickly becoming one of the trendiest plant-based milks.
- Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free? - EcoWatch ›
- What Nutritionists Think About Starbucks' Three New Plant-Based ... ›
- 6 Alternatives to Milk: Which Is the Healthiest? - EcoWatch ›
"Emissions from pyrotechnic displays are composed of numerous organic compounds as well as metals," a new study reports. Nodar Chernishev / EyeEm / Getty Images
Fireworks have taken a lot of heat recently. In South Dakota, fire experts have said President Trump's plan to hold a fireworks show is dangerous and public health experts have criticized the lack of plans to enforce mask wearing or social distancing. Now, a new study shows that shooting off fireworks at home may expose you and your family to dangerous levels of lead, copper and other toxins.
- No Social Distancing or Mask Requirement at Trump's Mt ... ›
- Trump's Fireworks Show at Mt. Rushmore Is a Dangerous Idea, Fire ... ›