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Friday Finds: Bacon Grease Blues

Chinese food regulations go down the gutter
Some restaurants in China are taking Mom’s sage advice to reuse the bacon grease to a new, hazardous level, reports Time magazine. Recently, Chinese authorities announced a crackdown on so-called “gutter oil,” the resale of used cooking oil that’s been snagged from sewers or complacent restaurant owners. In addition to the “ew” factor, eating food cooked in gutter oil can cause some serious health problems like an increased risk of liver cancer, caused by fungus-tainted oil. According to the police, a six-month investigation in China turned up 100 tons of gutter oil being processed for resale, and broke up six illicit oil recyclers, including a biodiesel company that was secretly processing oil to be sold back to food markets, not biodiesel stations.
 

Republican debates influence global warming belief
Participating in contests where Republican presidential candidates compete to denounce global warming, the loudest may actually be creating more global warming believers, reports Reuters. A recent poll found that 83 percent of Americans believe the planet is warming, up from 75 percent last year. Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University, explains that by bringing up the issue during Republican presidential debates, climate deniers like Michelle Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry are actually hurting their cause by forcing people to think about whether they believe in global warming.

In addition, reports that tied 2010 global temperatures with 2005—the hottest year on record since the 1880s—have some Americans literally sweating the issue more than normal. The poll also found that approximately 71 percent of Americans who believe in global warming also think that it’s either partly or mostly caused by humans, which suggests that President Obama could gain a great advantage by defining himself as an “environmental candidate.” Meanwhile climate skeptics, in true conspiracy zealotry, are digging in their heels amid overwhelming evidence to their contrarian beliefs. According to the poll, the certainty of skeptics was 53 percent this year. Last year it was 35 percent. 

Golf courses teed off about pesticide ban
Golf courses nationwide are rushing to use up their supplies of methyl bromide before the controversial pesticide is completely banned in 2013, reports the Washington Post. The U.S. EPA started phasing out methyl bromide, an odorless gas that thins the ozone and has serious health effects at high doses, in 1995 as part of the Montreal Protocol. Though manufacturers haven’t been able to make the chemical and contractors haven’t been able to use it since 2005, lobbyists for the golf and agriculture industry successfully persuaded lawmakers into allowing a “critical use” extension until December 2013. As a result, golf clubs, who swear by the pesticide’s ability to wipe out weeds and pests like no other, are scrambling to use up about 25 million pounds of methyl bromide, a practice that’s raising eyebrows amongst environmentalists and some club members worried about the chemical’s health and environmental effects.

Meanwhile, Earthjustice is busy fighting to stop methyl bromide’s evil brother and replacement, methyl iodide, a cancer-causing pesticide used on agricultural products like strawberries and tomatoes. Recently, new documents showed that former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger favored the input of the chemical’s manufacturer, Arysta LifeScience, over the recommendations of its own scientists, who warned of the dangers of methyl iodide and strongly criticized the methods by which the “acceptable” levels of exposure were set.

Gas fields leave nearby residents gagging
While calls for increased gas drilling echo across the country, the health effects from the practice remain largely unknown, reports ProPublica. In an in-depth investigation, the nonprofit newsroom found that cases of residents near gas sites falling ill go back 10 years to drilling hot spots like Colorado and Wyoming. For example, Susan Wallace-Babb, a rancher in Western Colorado, suffered from uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhea and burning rashes after fumes from a nearby gas tank drifted toward the field where she was working. Despite the severity of these health issues, federal agencies like the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry say that they “do not have enough information on hand to be able to draw good solid conclusions about whether this is a public health risk as a whole.” The difficulty lies, in part, because of exemptions that allow oil and gas companies to omit reports of toxic emissions and hazardous waste releases by all but their largest facilities. In addition, many of the chemicals used in fracking remain secret, a fact that Earthjustice is working hard to change. In the meantime, the push to drill the Marcellus Shale in New York state moves forward. Says Daniel Teitelbaum, a toxicologist who has spent years examining health issues around drilling, “We are going lickety split ahead with the drilling along the East Coast and nobody knows what the hell is going on. And nobody wants to spend any money on it."
 
Organic farmer sours on pesticide-grown “organic” strawberries
Outdated federal standards are allowing strawberries labeled as “organic” to be treated with toxic pesticides while they’re still in the nursery, reports The Bay Citizen. The chemical, methyl bromide, is a soil sterilizer and pesticide that depletes the ozone layer. In a letter to the National Organic Program, the Pesticide Action Network and three growers argue that the standards, used by growers of organic berry crops like blackberries, blueberries and strawberries, violates existing regulations and jeopardizes the “credibility of the organic label.” Said Paul Towers of PAN, “Consumers are under the impression that workers and communities are being respected in the process of growing organic strawberries.” According to the EPA, in 2011 farmers around the world applied more than a million pounds of methyl bromide to strawberry nursery fields—a number that’s sure to leave a sour taste in the mouths of eco-conscious consumers paying a premium price for organic goods.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.