Toxic Dump to Expand in Low-Income Neighborhoods As Violations Persist
A company with a history of failing to report hazardous material spills is set to expand its Central Valley, CA, toxic waste dump, to the dismay of low-income communities already plagued with concern over proximity to the operation.
A draft permit for the expansion of Chemical Waste Management’s Kettleman City toxic waste dump would expand the site by 50 percent, or 5 million cubic yards, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The toxic dump, considered the largest west of the Mississippi River, has been the subject of debate among local residents after it was fined in March for failing to report more than 70 toxic waste spills to California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)—a charge the company claims is irrelevant to its quest for expansion.
The toxic site borders what Greenaction describes as a low-income, predominantly Spanish-speaking community with a population of 1,500. According to the organization, those who have attempted to speak up against the expansion have been met by police-led intimidation at public hearings held only in English.
“The community is impacted by multiple sources of pollution, and threatened by new proposed polluting industries,” the organization said in a press release. “Existing pollution includes the Chemical Waste Management landfill, pesticides, drinking water contaminated with benzene and arsenic, massive diesel truck traffic on Highway 41 and Interstate 5, toxic contamination from oilfield operations, and a former PG&E site.”
At the same time Central Valley that residents are fighting the proposed Chemical Waste Management expansion, the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon, CA—nearly three hours north—is poised to reopen. The Exide plant, which was closed for alleged arsenic emissions and soil contamination, is also located in a predominantly low-income area.
“We’re considered a lot more disposable than people in communities like Napa or Beverly Hills,” Maricela Mares-Alatorre, who lives near the Kettleman City plant, told the LA Times.
Chemical Waste Management Expansion
In March, Chemical Waste Management was ordered to pay more than $300,000 in fines after it was discovered that it did not report 72 hazardous material spills over four years, according to the California DTSC.
The department said the spills occurred near a loading area and sampling facility. The spills included herbicides, lead-contaminated soil and other chemicals, according to a press release. Area residents point to these violations as potential causes of illness and fetal deformities.
“In 2007 and 2008, Greenaction and community groups discovered a large number of birth defects and infant deaths in Kettleman City,” Greenaction said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the birth defect and infant death problem continues, along with many miscarriages and several cases of childhood cancer.”
Under California law, the company was supposed to verbally notify the department of the spill within 24 hours of the incident. Written notice is supposed to be given within 10 days.
Chemical Waste Management failed to do this 72 times. The company claims it cleaned up all spills and considered them to be too small to report.
The fine was imposed after a negotiating process between the DTSC and the company. According to the LA Times, the plant is the only one of its kind in California allowed to store polychlorinated biphenyls, otherwise known as PCBs, a known carcinogen.
“Our job is to ensure that facilities operate in compliance with the hazardous waste control laws and to hold them accountable when they don’t,” Brian Johnson, the department’s deputy director of enforcement, said in a press release. “This is a significant fine that underscores our commitment and sends a clear message to communities that DTSC will protect violations of the hazardous waste control laws.”
Yet local residents see the $300,000 fine as little more than a slap on the wrist for the company, which is now poised to expand its facility by 50 percent.
“It’s an insult to the rule of law that will send a message to polluters that … it doesn’t matter how many times you violate the law, the state will protect you and not protect the people in communities,” Greenation Executive Director Bradley Angel told the LA Times.
The draft permit is expected to be approved in September.
Yet before that happens, area residents are making their voice known, urging the Environmental Protection Agency and the DTSC to deny the permit completely, citing “chronic violations by the company, the ongoing health crisis including birth defects, miscarriages and childhood cancer, and the racial discrimination in the permit process including denying Spanish-speakers equal opportunity to participate in the process and the use of police dogs and police intimidation in the public hearings.”
Meanwhile, in Vernon, Californians are fighting a similar battle.
In April, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control suspended the permit for the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant, which recycles roughly 40,000 batteries each day. The state agency cited faulty pipelines and soil and groundwater contamination.
“A recent report submitted to the department by Exide demonstrate that the facility is operating its underground storm sewer pipeline in violation of hazardous waste requirements and are causing releases to the environment,” the order for temporary suspension states. “A separate report submitted to the South Coast Air Quality Management District by Exide demonstrates that emissions from the facility operations pose a significant risk to the surrounding community.”
According to the DTSC, a report on March 5 indicated degraded and compromised underground pipelines, which were the sources of hazardous metals released into the soil and groundwater near the facility. According to the report, groundwater in the area was contaminated at a level exceeding regulations. In addition, the report indicates the facility’s furnace was emitting arsenic pollutants, impacting more than 100,000 people.
“The predominant contributor to both chronic and acute cancer risk and noncancer hazard is arsenic emissions from the facility, with the primary human organs that are harmed are the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, developmental system, respiratory system and skin,” the report states.
The suspension of the plant’s permit was seen as somewhat of a victory for those living in the area—until it was overridden.
Exide challenged the DTSC order, filing for an appeal hearing. Yet after it was determined that the process was not as efficient as the company would like, Exide took its matter to court, filing for bankruptcy protection.
According to California Public Radio, Judge Luis Lavin determined that Exide would be “irreparably harmed” by the slow hearing process, granting the company the right to once again begin operations. Lavin claimed that doing so would not put the public at risk. Clearly, this was a controversial move.
Lavin claims that Exide had proven its ability to reduce arsenic emission levels, doing so by 97 percent before the plant was set to close, according to the LA Times. Taking the issue a step in a different direction, the judge accused the DTSC of filing the suspension based on knee-jerk reactions.
“The department’s avalanche of conclusions, speculation and innuendo are not a substitute for evidence,” the judge wrote in his ruling, according to the Times.
The company will still be subject to an administrative hearing, tentatively scheduled for September—the same time residents of Central Valley will discover whether they need to brace for the expansion of a toxic dump in their own backyards.
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH page for more related news on this topic.
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Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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