The Greene Report is a compilation of environmental stories written by Linda Greene for the Alternative and WFHB Community Radio's EcoReport. This week's edition includes:
Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.
AK Steel nation’s premier toxic water polluter
On April 4, Valley Watch reported that Indiana leads the United States in the release of toxic chemicals into water. Rockport’s AK Steel is the country’s largest toxic water polluter, having dumped 30 million pounds of pollution into Indiana waterways in 2010.
"[Rockport] is already one of the most toxic communities in the entire U.S.," Valley Watch says. "And yet, local and state officials are wanting to force Hoosier natural gas consumers to pay a premium for syngas produced by the proposed Indiana Gasification facility just a mile south of AK Steel and directly across U.S. 231 from the huge polluter AEP Rockport power plant, a 2,600-megawatt behemoth that supplies electricity to southern Michigan and northeastern Indiana.”
A news release from Environment America says U.S. waterways received 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals in 2010. Five states, among them Indiana, accounted for 40 percent of the total volume of toxic discharges to U.S. waterways in 2010.
Environment America details these facts in a report,
“America’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise right now, …” said Shelley Vinyard, clean water advocate with Environment America. “We must turn the tide of toxic pollution by restoring Clean Water Act protections to our waterways.”
Food and beverage manufacturing (slaughterhouses, rendering plants, etc.), primary metals manufacturing, chemical plants and petroleum refineries were some of the largest polluters.
In 2010, industries emitted approximately 1.5 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals, including arsenic, chromium and benzene, into America’s waterways. Nevada’s Burns Creek received the largest volume of carcinogens in 2010, while its neighbor Mill Creek placed third.
Nitrates accounted for nearly 90 percent of the total volume of discharges to waterways reported in 2010. Nitrates are toxic, particularly to infants consuming formula made with nitrate-laden drinking water. Those infants might be vulnerable to methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby” syndrome, a disease that reduces the ability of blood to carry oxygen throughout the body.
The report summarizes discharges of carcinogenic chemicals, those that persist in the environment and others with the potential to cause reproductive problems, including birth defects and decreased fertility. Among the toxic chemicals discharged by facilities are arsenic, mercury and benzene. Exposure to those chemicals is linked to cancer and to developmental and reproductive disorders.
“The Clean Water Act’s original objective was to clean up all of America’s waterways by 1985 -- 27 years ago,” said Rob Kerth, analyst for Frontier Group and co-author of the report. "Many people born in 1985 have kids of their own now, yet still millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are being dumped into our waterways."
To decrease the pollution of American waterways, Environment America recommends preventing pollution, protecting all waterways and “tough” permitting and enforcement.
“The bottom line is that America’s waterways shouldn’t be a polluter’s paradise, they should just be paradise," Vinyard said. "We need clean water now, and we are counting on the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment.”
Dangerous levels of air pollution in Evansville
On the morning of March 31, air pollution in Evansville hit a dangerous level for two hours, according to the Evansville Courier Press.
The levels of fine particulate material, any substance suspended in the air, reached more than 49 micrograms per cubic meter, in the range thought to be unhealthful for sensitive people, including children, elders, patients with heart or lung disorders and those exercising outdoors.
Particulate matter can come from natural or human-made sources.
“[I]n high enough concentrations it can aggravate existing respiratory problems or trigger new ones,” says the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Air pollution in general is linked to warm weather in Evansville, but, unlike ozone pollution, fine particles can cause trouble at any time of year.
“Fine particulates (called PM 2.5),” the Courier-Press reported, “are generally emitted from activities such as industrial and residential combustion and from vehicle exhaust and are also formed when gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted by combustion activities are transformed by chemical reactions in the air.”
This situation was of concern to John Blair, president of the local grassroots environmental organization Valley Watch, because the Evansville EPA and Vanderburgh County Health Department hadn’t issued an official air-quality alert.
“Whoever is in charge of getting these alerts out is missing the boat,” Blair said. “I saw people out riding bikes, children playing who probably shouldn't have. I’m not sure what caused it. Somebody in an official capacity ought to be concerned enough to call it.”
Because the standard for issuing an alert is a 24-hour average and not based on monitor results, unless it’s thought the level will surpass the U.S. EPA’s standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter for a 24-hour average, the Evansville EPA doesn’t issue an alert.
The Evansville EPA and county health department issue five-day air-quality forecasts for ozone and fine-particulate pollution, the newspaper said. The forecast for the 31st was moderate.
USDA acknowledges exterminating birds, crops and bees
In a Consciousness TV blog, Eddie Sage reported on April 8, “The USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] has been under fire recently for its admitted assault against nature, after multiple investigations … uncovered its deliberate tampering with both plants and animals alike.”
The studies revealed that the USDA was responsible for the deaths of millions of birds. Besides the mass bird slaughter, the USDA knew the popular herbicide it used killed bees. That might have contributed to colony collapse disorder.
The USDA has also threatened the integrity of U.S. crops by illegally approving Monsanto’s genetically modified sugar beets.
“These crimes,” Sage said, “are simply an excerpt from the long list of USDA crimes that are continually being exposed.”
In December 2010, mass die-offs of fish and birds were reported from Texas to Sweden. The first such event occurred in Arkansas, where 3,000 birds fell to the ground dead. In the ensuing weeks, similar events occurred, with no obvious causes.
Documents on the USDA’s website explain the mystery. “Claiming to be protecting farmers from predators,” the USDA deliberately exterminated the birds in an obscure project, "Bye Bye Blackbird.” “Like millions of other animals since the program” originated, in the ‘60s, Sage said, the birds were poisoned and killed for being considered a nuisance to farmers. It is important to take note that many of these animals don’t pose any immediate threat to farmers.”
According to Sage, in 2009 alone the USDA poisoned more than 4 million birds, including brown-headed cowbirds, European starlings, red-winged blackbirds, Canadian geese, pigeons and grackles.
Quoted in Natural News, Sage said: “A Nebraska farmer was apparently complaining that the starlings were defecating in his feed meal. The answer to this conundrum apparently isn’t to cover your feed meal but rather call the USDA and ask them to poison thousands of birds. … So they put out a poison called DRC-1339 and allowed thousands of birds to feed on that poison.”
Cows, Natural News goes on to say, are grass-eating animals. The real problem is feeding the cows the wrong food. “If you raise cows on grass, the birds don’t get into the grain and you don’t have to poison the birds.”
“You see, when one ecological element gets out of balance (feeding grain to cows, for example) it then causes another problem that must be dealt with in some other destructive way (such as poisoning the birds),” Natural News says. “The solution isn’t to keep poisoning animals and try to control populations through toxic chemicals but rather to return to the holistic web-of-life farming methods that work in harmony with nature rather than treat nature as the enemy.”
Capitalizing on climate change destruction with the world’s longest fiber-optic link
Dwindling Arctic ocean ice could be a boon to international trade for both heavy ships using the Northwest Passage and, more recently, faster telecommunications with new fiber-optic cables, according to the March 30 Popular Science.
Undersea cables carry gigantic volumes of data in the form of light, and that’s the most effective and efficient way to do so.
A 9,693-mile cable through the Canadian Arctic will link the U.K. and Japan and eliminate 62 milliseconds from the present latency period between London and Tokyo. For high-frequency traders the project means potentially millions of dollars since those traders rely on ultrafast connections.
Low doses of some chemicals tied to ill health
The Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News reported that contrary to the scientific maxim that the higher the dose, the greater the negative health effects, small doses of some chemicals can have significant impacts on health.
That’s the major finding of a new report published on April 4 by a team of researchers who study hormone (endocrine)-disrupting chemicals.
According to iWatch, “Dozens of substances that can mimic or block estrogen, testosterone and other hormones are found in the environment, the food supply and consumer products, including plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. One of the biggest, longest-lasting controversies about these chemicals is whether the tiny doses that most people are exposed to are harmful.”
The scientists concluded scientific evidence “clearly indicates that low doses shouldn’t be ignored,” iWatch reported. The evidence shows a wide range of health effects on humans, from fetuses to elders, which include links to infertility, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other illnesses.
“[R]esearchers led by Tufts University’s Laura Vandenberg concluded after examining hundreds of studies that health effects ‘are remarkably common’ when people or animals are exposed to low doses of endocrine-disrupting compounds," the report said. "As examples, they provide evidence for several controversial chemicals, including bisphenol A, found in polycarbonate plastic, canned foods and paper receipts, and the pesticide atrazine, used in large volumes mainly on corn.”
Other chemicals known to disrupt hormones are PCBs and dioxins, all of which are present in the Bloomington area thanks to Westinghouse Electric’s massive dumping of those chemicals more than 35 years ago.
The scientists concluded that low doses of hormone-disrupting chemicals affect humans negatively is no longer a subject of conjecture, for epidemiological studies have shown that “environmental exposures are associated with human diseases and disabilities.”
Conservatives’ trust in science has plummeted
Sienceblog.com has reported on a new study demonstrating that self-identified conservatives lost 25 percent of their trust in science between 1974 and 2010. During that same period, self-identified liberals and moderates had their trust in science stay stable.
The study was performed at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a report on it was published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.
According to Gordon Gauchat, a postdoctoral fellow at the university, “You can see this distrust in science among conservatives reflected in the current Republican primary campaign. When people want to define themselves as conservatives relative to moderates and liberals, you often hear them raising questions about the validity of global warming and evolution and talking about how ‘intellectual elites’ and scientists don’t necessarily have the whole truth.”
The study found that self-identified conservatives began the study period with the highest trust in science, as compared to self-identified moderates and liberals, and finished the period with the lowest.
The study also found that conservatives’ decreasing trust in science didn’t occur among the less-educated. Quite the opposite was true: “rising disgust” occurred among better-educated conservatives.
“As for the study’s implications,” Gauchat said, “it raises important questions about the future role of science in public policy. In a political climate in which all sides do not share a basic trust in science, scientific evidence no longer is viewed as a politically neutral factor in judging whether a public policy is good or bad.”
Gauchat, who is also concerned that the increasingly politicized view of science could turn people away from careers in the field. “I think this would be very detrimental to an advanced economy where you need people with science and engineering backgrounds,” he said.
Beware of what you’re putting in your gas tank
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported in an email the EPA late last year approved fuel with up to 15 percent ethanol for vehicles manufactured after 2001 and that E15 may be available at gas stations as early as this summer. This phenomenon is bad news for people and the environment.
“Until now, standard vehicle fuel (called E10), has been capped at 10 percent corn ethanol and 90 percent gasoline," EWG said. "E15 is more corrosive and runs hotter. It can void some vehicle warranties. It has been shown to cause severe damage to small engines like lawnmowers.”
Not only does E15 damage engines, it damages the environment, according to the group. With E15 we can also expect increased oil pollution and lower gas mileage.
“Growing corn for ethanol production increases use of pesticides and fertilizer, which pollute streams, lakes and groundwater. Over-planting of corn destroys wildlife habitat.” It also means less corn to feed people.
For more information see the EWG Guide to Safer Fueling. It contains information on gas pump labels; a downloadable, wallet-sized guide to aid consumers in choosing the best fuel for their engines; tips on saving money and reducing fuel consumption; and an ethanol fact sheet plus information on ethanol-related pollution.
Indiana water quality the focus of Earth Month
With April as Earth Month, the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) and Aveda Salons are drawing the public’s attention to Indiana water quality, the Public News Service said in an email.
Renee Sweany, HEC’s special events coordinator, says Indiana waterways need to be monitored because of contamination “[w]ith scary things like E. coli and other chemical toxins, runoff from our agriculture.”
Sweany says almost a thousand rivers, lakes and streams in the state have unsafe levels of E. coli. A new website “explains threats to Indiana's waterways and how people can make a difference on an individual basis by using products on yards and in homes that won't cause contamination,” the email says.
For the third consecutive year, Aveda is supporting HEC’s efforts to protect and clean Indiana’s waterways with activities and promotions at its salons throughout the state during Earth Month.
Waterways in Indiana are contaminated with toxics from such sources as agricultural animal waste, coal ash runoff and excess phosphorus from residential lawn fertilizers. HEC Water and Agriculture Policy Director Kim Ferraro urges Hoosiers to help clean up the state’s waterways by becoming “water warriors” and testing areas that the state government as designated as polluted (“impaired”).
Raising water awareness depends not only on environmental advocates but also on “green-minded citizens,” the email says.
Besides the efforts at Aveda salons, numerous restaurants will be asking customers to “Drink for a Cause” by donating $1 for a glass of water on specific dates in April. The donations will go toward HEC’s clean-water efforts. Participating restaurants in Indianapolis are R Bistro, Union Jack Pub, Sahm’s Place, Earth House Collective and Recess. Also taking part is Bistro 501 in Lafayette.
Appalachian bears buried alive by mountaintop-removal mining
Mountaintop-removal (MTR) coal mining has been destroying Appalachia’s natural landscape and wildlife habitats for nearly 20 years.
Recently an Appalachian resident saw bulldozers obliterating the entrance of a black bear den with debris, leaving a female bear and her cubs trapped inside to die.
The bulldozing and explosions that constitute MTR destroy flying squirrel, salamander, mussel and other native animal habitats.
Concerned people can sign a petition to Congress to ban MTR and enforce legal requirements for coal mining in Appalachia.
Urge the Senate to pass the Safe Chemicals Act
Americans are exposed to a deluge of toxic chemicals in everyday life. Passage of the Safe Chemicals Act could help protect them from those chemicals, according to the League of Conservation Voters.
Studies have shown that the toxic chemicals people are exposed to daily can significantly exacerbate the risk of developing serious diseases and disorders -- among them early puberty, some childhood cancers, infertility, and learning and developmental disabilities, the league said. The chemicals’ incidences have increased, “sometimes at alarming rates.”
The federal government’s Centers for Disease Control has demonstrated that exposure to toxic chemicals begins with the fetus. Most pregnant American women have numerous toxic chemicals in their bodies, and some of those chemicals are known to have adverse effects on fetal health.
“Congress,” the league says, “has an obligation to pass a law that will protect our families from harmful chemicals.”
“The Toxic Substances Control Act, the nation’s primary chemical safety law, has failed to protect public health, the environment and our communities,” said the league in an email. “While the rates of diseases like asthma, diabetes, childhood cancers, infertility, and learning and behavioral disorders keep going up, the federal system that should protect us from harmful chemicals hasn’t changed in 35 years.”
The reason for this failure is simple: “The chemical industry is vigorously fighting to protect its profits,” the league says.
For many years the chemical industry has staved off efforts to reform the nation’s chemical-safety laws. In fact, last year it spent $52 million lobbying Congress to prevent significant reform efforts. Recently it spent $1.5 million “on deceptive television ads to mislead and confuse the public about the severity of the problem,” the email says.
The Safe Chemicals Act would overhaul the ancient Toxics Substances Control Act “by requiring the EPA to identify and restrict the ‘worst of the worst’ chemicals, upgrading scientific methods for testing and evaluating chemicals and requiring basic health and safety information for all chemicals as a condition for entering or remaining on the market, among other key provisions,” said the league.
To sign a petition calling on the Senate to pass the act, go to the website above. The league, in concert with other activists and organizations around the country, has formed a coalition to collect 100,000 signatures on the petition.
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.