Jessica Knoblauch's Blog Posts

unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Jessica Knoblauch's blog


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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins readily leach into drinking water supplies. Watch the video above and take action to support federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal.

ABOUT EARTHJUSTICE'S BLOG

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.

Jessica Knoblauch is Earthjustice's Content Producer / Associate Editor and creator of the unEARTHED blog, "Friday Finds," which highlights some of the most remarkable or ridiculous eco news tidbits of the week. Jessica enjoys writing about environmental health issues and believes that putting toxic chemicals into our bodies and into our environment is generally unwise. In her free time, Jessica can often be found at the other end of the leash of her two dogs, Emma and Charlie, messing around in her garden, and eating fine Midwestern cuisine like deep-dish pizza, pork tenderloin sandwiches and, of course, corn.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
10 January 2013, 12:02 PM
Plus: New FDA food rules and record-breaking heat waves
A collection of plastic washed up along a beach San Francisco, Calif. (Kevin Krejci / Flickr)

Tiny plastics clog the world’s oceans
By now we all know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a giant mess of trash in the ocean—but in turns out that the world’s oceans are also full of tiny plastics, reports CNN. These so-called microplastics are used in everyday products like exfoliating face soaps and hand cleansers to give you that just-scrubbed feeling without taking a Brillo Pad™ to your face. But despite their tiny nature, microplastics may be wreaking havoc on marine life that unsuspectingly swallow these plastic bits floating in the ocean. One 2008 study even found that these tiny particles can hang out in the bodies of mussels for almost two months, though scientists don’t know yet if they cause any harm (mostly because of a lack of research on the issue). And, because they stick around the environment for a long time and can’t easily be dredged out, the plastic pollution problem is only going to get worse. According to one researcher, there has been a 100-fold increase in plastic garbage over the last 40 years. Personal product companies like Unilever are responding to the problem by phasing out the use of microplastics as a scrub material in its products. So, you may soon have to find another way to get your scrub on.

FDA takes bite out of food illnesses with proposed rules
After years of deadly outbreaks from contaminated spinach, peanut butter and other foods, the Food and Drug Administration recently proposed sweeping food safety rules to prevent contamination of the nation’s food, reports the LA Times. Each year, a shockingly high number of people fall ill from a food-borne illness—about one in six Americans—and of the people who get sick, 3,000 die. Historically, the FDA’s approach to food safety has been to wait until there’s a problem and then scramble to fix it. Now, in order to stem the tide of foodborne illnesses before they occur, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act will take a more preventative approach by stepping up federal audits of food facilities and establishing science-based, minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Though the Act is the most sweeping reform of FDA’s food safety authority in more than 70 years, the rules, unfortunately, won’t come any time soon since large farms have more than two years to comply with the final rules once they’re published and small farms have even longer. Bon appétit!

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
03 January 2013, 5:35 PM
Plus: Oregano immunity, recycling for couples, NorCal coastal protections
Photo courtesy of Scott Beale (flickr)

Climate change could flood Facebook, Google by 2050
Facebook can't be brought down by angry fans irritated with its privacy policy and data mining tendencies, but it could be swept away by climate change- induced sea level rise, reports Climate Wire. Though much of the California coastline is at risk, Silicon Valley is especially vulnerable since the land it sits on is between 3 and 10 feet below sea level. According to a draft study from the Army Corps of Engineers, an extreme storm coupled with higher seas could put the valley, along with nearby homes and businesses, under water. Despite the dire predictions, for now Silicon Valley inhabitants seem content with delaying any climate change action, a sentiment that world leaders are mimicking. Unfortunately, a recent study has found that delaying carbon cuts until 2020 will make dealing with climate change far more expensive than tackling it now, reports Reuters. And, delaying action also significantly reduces the chance of meeting an U.N. agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, which is the limit many scientists agree we must adhere to in order to avoid the most damaging effects of catastrophic climate change. So far, temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius since we first started emitting carbon in massive quantities. While governments and industries dawdle, find out how Earthjustice is taking action to stop climate change, before it’s too late.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
18 December 2012, 2:54 PM
California urged to ban super toxic rat poison that kills unsuspecting wildlife
A photo of P-25. Credit: National Park Service

She was one of 26 mountain lions being studied by National Park Service biologists. Collared back in August along with her brother, Puma-25 had been dead for about a week before hikers found her on an October Sunday in Point Mugu State Park, located in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Her death, though, didn’t come at the barrel of a gun or a swipe from a competing lion. Most likely, the one-year old puma—a “Specially Protected Mammal” in California—died of rat poisoning, either by consuming it herself or eating an animal that itself ate the poison.

But Puma-26 is not alone.

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
07 December 2012, 5:11 PM
Your dog’s favorite chew toy may be loaded with more than just slobber
Credit: TheGiantVermin (flickr)

Your favorite four-legged companion may get a dose of toxic chemicals the next time you throw him/her a chew toy.

That’s the conclusion of an as-yet unpublished study, which found that dogs that chew on plastic toys may be exposed to hormone-altering chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. The new study, conducted at Texas Tech University, is one of the first to examine dog products as carriers of toxic chemicals. It’s not the first study, however, to look at the health effects of BPA and phthalates, which are widespread in the U.S. population and have been linked to everything from reproductive toxicity to obesity.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
04 October 2012, 3:41 PM
Plus: Cleaning up greenwashing, pesticide overdosing, toxic tuna
(flickr, tribp)

Climate change leaves CA wine lovers with fewer options
California’s popular wine varieties may soon be hard to find thanks to drier and hotter temperatures caused by climate change, reports the Center for Investigative Reporting. Though by now farmers are used to Mother Nature’s unpredictability, a slightly wetter or drier season is nothing compared to the extreme weather that the world has been experiencing over the past few years, which is wreaking havoc on California’s vineyards (and those who insure them). And, the situation is only expected to get worse. Recent research from Stanford University found that as little as two degrees of warming, predicted to happen by 2040, could reduce California’s prime wine-growing land by up to 50 percent. The situation is so dire, in fact, that wine breeders are recommending that vineyards switch to grapes that are well-adapted to higher temperatures, and soon, since vineyards have a shelf life of about 30 years. So far, wine growers are hesitant to make the switch given the public’s attachment to well-known wine varieties like pinot noir. But if our carbon-based economy continues as business-as-usual, consumers may have no choice but to drink outside of the wine box.
 
Federal consumer watchdog cleans up greenwashing
Ecofriendly. Biodegradable. All Natural. As green goes mainstream, consumers are finding it hard to determine which eco-friendly terms are legit, but the Federal Trade Commission’s revised guidelines for green marketing should help shed some light on all the fuzzy claims, reports the Christian Science Monitor. And it's about time. The revisions are long overdue (they were written in 1998), and since that time consumers have seen a dramatic increase in the number of products that tout supposedly green characteristics. Though the guides are not considered rules or regulations, the FTC has fined companies for using deceptive claims. Speaking of deceptive marketing, Earthjustice has been working to make green shopping easier by advocating for better verification testing for Energy Star, which points consumers to energy efficient appliances, but doesn’t do a great job in strengthening its testing requirements or updating labels. 
 

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
01 October 2012, 12:06 PM
Plus: Bacon blues, ocean critter jitters, burger smog and cattle candies
(flickr, cookbookman17)

Climate change may ruin BLTs and loaded baked potatoes
You know Americans may be a little food-obsessed when the only time we get concerned about climate change is when it affects our favorite meals. According to the USDA, this year’s drought is so bad that it’s expected to negatively impact next year’s pork production, reports Mother Jones, meaning that BLTs and pork chops may soon become a luxury item for many Americans. And forget about importing your bacon fix from Europe. Britain’s National Pig Association recently announced that a “world shortage of pork and bacon is now unavoidable” thanks to high pig-feed costs that are causing farmers to reduce their herd sizes. Though the association’s press release doesn’t specifically mention “climate change,” it does allude to “disastrous growing and harvesting weather,” which scientists only expect to get worse with increasing carbon emissions. In other words, if we don’t get our act together soon, it may mean good-bye, baconator®. Hello, tofu maker?
 
Consumers’ caffeine consumption gives ocean critters the jitters
Many people these days tend to be a little over-caffeinated, and it turns out that all of the sodas, coffee and energy drinks that people consume are having a similarly jittery effect on the world’s oceans, reports National Geographic. Conditions are especially amped up along the Pacific Northwest, home of Starbucks and many a caffeine-fiend, where researchers recently discovered caffeine pollution off of Oregon’s coast. Currently, caffeine’s impact on natural ecosystems is relatively unknown, though at least one researcher has found that the stimulant’s presence in water does tend to stress out mussels. Surely anyone who has knocked back too many cups of black gold can relate. But the problem isn’t just coming from the Pacific Northwest. Caffeine has also been detected in Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay seawater. The presence of caffeine is the oceans isn’t all that surprising though considering that most water treatment facilities typically don’t screen or filter for many pollutants, such as pharmaceuticals, detergents or estrogen-containing birth control pills. But given the growing evidence for elevated levels of human contaminants in the water, they may soon have to, or suffer the caffeinated consequences.
 

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
27 July 2012, 1:18 AM
Plus: London smog, EPA’s petrified politics, grocery bill blues
Greenland's ice melt from July 8th (left image) to July 12 (right image). Photo courtesy of NASA

Greenland's record ice melt blows scientists’ beakers
The ice melt happening in Greenland right now is one for the record books, reports the UK Guardian. In fact, it’s so dramatic that even the scientists who have been staring at Greenland’s ice melt for decades were so surprised at just how fast the ice is melting that they thought they made a mistake in their data. They didn't. One group of researchers even had to rebuild their research camp after the snow and ice melted beneath their feet. Within a four-day period, the area of melting ice in Greenland increased from approximately 40 percent of the ice sheet surface to 97 percent. Typically, only about half of Greenland’s ice sheet melts during the summer. The unprecedented ice melt doesn’t bode well for those living near sea level, like, say, the almost four million Americans that live within just a few feet of high tide

London smog may send athletes sprinting for inhalers
As the Olympics in London heats up, the world’s best athletes are gearing up with top-notch running shoes, high-performance energy drinks...and their best inhalers, reports the UK Guardian. Health experts are warning that London’s forecast temperature of hot weather and easterly winds this week may result in a deadly combination that spikes smog pollution in the area, triggering breathing problems and scratchy throats. Also known as ground level ozone, smog is formed when sunlight reacts with oxygen and pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, which spews out of vehicle tailpipes and industry smokestacks. Though physicians often recommend that people reduce physical activity during really smoggy days, that’s not really an option for speedy, air-sucking Olympic athletes. Last fall, President Obama withdrew the EPA’s new smog standard, which would have tightened air toxics regulations and saved thousands of lives each year. Though the president cited economic concerns as the reason for his decision, it’s unclear whether he considered the economic impact of putting a smog-filled damper on the Olympics. As for the non-athletes attending the games this year who’d like to know when air pollution spikes, don’t worry. There’s an app for that.
 

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
20 July 2012, 8:52 AM
Plus: BPA’s dating game, drought doldrums, Big Ag’s big gift

Insurance agency says fracking too risky to cover
A major insurance company has announced that it won’t cover damage related to fracking, reports the Associated Press. “Fracking" is when oil and gas companies blast millions of gallons of water treated with chemicals into the ground to force oil and gas from hard-to-reach places deep inside the earth. Along with a fracking-fueled gas rush have come troubling reports of poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths and sick families. In an internal memo not meant for the public, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. acknowledged these risks, writing: “After months of research and discussion, we have determined that the exposures presented by hydraulic fracturing are too great to ignore.” Earthjustice and other environmental and health groups agree, which is why we’re pushing to enact tougher regulations for fracking.

BPA causes fish to court curious companions
Exposure to the estrogen-mimicking chemical known as BPA can cause interspecies mating between fish, potentially harming ecosystems by reducing biodiversity, reports New Scientist. BPA, a widely-used chemical that’s used to make hard plastic, has been under fire for years for its estrogen-mimicking properties, which trigger bodily changes that are normally regulated by hormones. Previous studies have shown that BPA can feminize fish, and now this recent study, which found that exposure to BPA made male red shiners look like other species of shiners, makes the animal dating scene even more confusing. And since male red shiners are considered invasive species in some places, the possibility of red shiners shacking up with non-red shiners could have big impacts on biodiversity.

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
13 July 2012, 1:56 AM
Plus: Toxic ships, seed wars and dirty produce

Extreme gas drilling fracks up ice cream ingredient
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may cause a worldwide ice-cream headache by eating up supplies of a food additive that’s used in everything from ice cream to cosmetics, drugs and explosives, reports the Houston Chronicle. It turns out that guar gum, a magical white flour-like substance that’s added to all kinds of foods for thickening, binding and volume enhancing, is also useful for forcing pockets out of gas out of deep fissures in the earth. Currently, purchasing guar gum accounts for about one-third of fracturing costs. A typical fracking job requires about 20,000 pounds of the stuff so it's unsurprising that the U.S.'s fracking boom has put a strain on guar gum availability over the past few years, causing prices to skyrocket. That’s bad news for ice cream lovers since guar gum is one of the main ingredients in the dairy dessert. So what does the fracking industry get for ruining our water, our air and now our ice cream? According to Grist, the industry gets a tax loophole that allow gas industries like Chesapeake Energy Corp. to pay just 1 percent in income tax over the last two decades. There’s got to be a better way to get our energy

Navy rekindles its love for dumping toxic ships into U.S. waterways
The U.S. Navy is going back to its old ship-dumping ways, reports the LA Times. After a nearly two-year moratorium spurred by both cost and environmental concerns, the Navy will soon dump three inactive warships into Hawaii’s waters as part of a series of naval exercises known as RIMPAC. In late 2011, Earthjustice sued the U.S. EPA for failing to adequately regulate the Navy’s ship sinking program, which pollutes the sea with a group of highly toxic chemicals called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Though PCBs were banned by the EPA in 1979, they still linger in many of the Navy's old ships. Currently, the Navy is required to document the amount of toxic waste that’s left on the ships while removing as much as the material as possible. But, environmental groups believe that the Navy should clean up the vessels to higher standards before sinking them, especially because some of the toxics have been found to eventually work their way into the ecosystem.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
28 June 2012, 5:17 PM
Plus: Pesticide poisonings, fracking evictions and druggy meat

Bumblebees join honeybees in buzzing off
It turns out honeybees aren’t the only pollinators experiencing mysterious, massive die-offs, reports Grist. Bumblebees, those fuzzy, buzzy bees that pollinate everything from alfalfa to apples, are also disappearing. That’s bad news for farmers...and anyone who happens to like eating food. According to research published last year, the abundance of some bumblebee species has declined by as much as 96 percent in a mere two decades. One reason for the massive die-off may be a lack of wildflower-rich habitats. Another may be pesticides, which have been under increased scrutiny after two scientific studies linked a commonly used corn pesticide to the die-offs of pollinating bees. And yet still another cause may be climate change, which impacts the bees’ habitat range.
 
Pesticide poisoning all too common among farmworkers
The EPA estimates that up to 20,000 physician-diagnosed poisonings occur each year among agricultural workers but since no comprehensive database to track pesticide exposure incidents currently exists, there may be a lot more incidents that go unreported, reports iWatch News. Lack of data is just one of the many challenges in making agricultural fields safe for farmworkers, who often come in contact with toxic pesticides that can cause nose bleeds, rashes and vomiting. Another challenge  is that many farmworkers are illegal immigrants, so they're reluctant to speak up in fear of getting reported to the federal authorities. Currently, Earthjustice, along with other groups, is trying to increase protections for farmworkers by pressing for upgrades to the Worker Protection Standard, which hasn’t been thoroughly revamped in 20 years.