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
21 June 2012, 2:54 PM
Plus: Body snatching weeds, clean air apps, cold chemicals, pineapple pesticides

Mexican government saves miracle reef
Cabo Pulmo, an ecological treasure and the jewel of California, recently received a stay of execution after the Mexican government announced its decision to cancel a mega-resort development project near the reef in Baja California Sur, reports the LA Times. The cancelled Cabo Cortes resort development was by far the largest of three proposed development projects near the area (two still remain). The government’s decision comes after the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (which partners closely with Earthjustice) challenged a conditionally approved environmental impact assessment, arguing that the new developments would harm the rich biodiversity of the nearby Cabo Pulmo National Park. Though threats to the reef from other projects and intensive marine resource use remain, the Mexican government’s decision is a big win for defenders of the 20,000 year-old reef, which  has experienced an unprecedented 463-percent increase in biodiversity just 10 years after Mexico established the surrounding the reef as a Marine Protected Area. 

Higher CO2 levels breathe life into body-snatching weeds

Weeds, those pesky invaders that break through sidewalk cracks and blemish perfectly good vegetable beds, are getting a leg up over agriculture crops thanks to increased CO2 emissions, reports ScienceNews. According to recent research, because weeds can adapt more quickly to a changing climate than food crops, they’ve already figured out how to use increased carbon dioxide to their advantage. Food crops, on the other hand, are slow learners by design so that their tastes are not constantly changing, which keeps consumers happy. Though faster growing weeds are a headache in their own right, the more troubling finding of the research is that carbon dioxide makes the weed-like quality in weeds more contagious. As CO2 emissions increase, researchers found that the weedy natural form of rice “increasingly hybridized with the crop plants,” with the result being a diminished value and quality of the cultivated rice. In other words, the crops that breeders have spent decades cultivating into perfect specimens could eventually be transformed into weeds. It seems that when it comes to climate change, you really do reap what you sow.
 

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
15 June 2012, 3:41 AM
Plus: Testy turtles, gas pump fallacies and Alberta oil spills
Seaside in Victoria, Australia (Shutterstock)

Australia announces world’s largest marine reserve
Just in time for this week’s Rio+20 Earth Summit, Australia has announced its plans to create the world’s largest marine reserve, reports the BBC. The protected zone will cover more than a third of Australia’s waters (about 3 million square kilometers) and will include restrictions on fishing as well as oil and gas exploration. The announcement comes on the heels of another big environmental win, courtesy of the Australian government, which last week announced that it is putting a stop to a billion-dollar coal project that could negatively impact the Great Barrier Reef. Though this latest move to create a marine reserve didn’t quite go as far as some environmentalists groups would have liked, it’s a great first step in building resilient oceans, which are already being battered by overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and now ocean acidification. Find out more about Earthjustice’s work to push for building resilient ocean ecosystems.

Turtle couple that’s been dating for decades calls it quits
After more than 100 years of companionship, a pair of Giant Turtles at an Austrian zoo have decided to call it quits, reports the Austrian Times. According to the zoo staff, the century-long love fest came to a seemingly sudden end after the female turtle, Bibi, attacked her partner by biting off a chunk of his shell. Afterwards, Bibi continued attacking the male turtle until he was moved to a different cage. Since there have been no apparent changes in the turtles’ routine, the zoo suspects that Bibi may simply want to be single and nothing—including “romantic good mood food” and couples —will change her mind.

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08 June 2012, 11:13 AM
Plus: fatty flame retardants and debris tsunamis
Great Barrier Reef. (Shutterstock)

Coal project kept out of Great Barrier Reef
This week, Australian environment minister Tony Burke put a stop to a billion dollar coal project that could have negatively impacted the Great Barrier Reef, reports CorpWatch. The world’s largest coral ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef contains an abundance of marine life, is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and provides a major boost to the Australian economy. The massive coal project—the first of several proposed coal projects—would have increased the likelihood of damage to the delicate reef ecosystem by expanding the number of ship journeys occurring near the reef. Though Burke’s decision is a big win for the environment, many of the ocean’s reefs still face other environmental stressors like pollution and ocean acidification, which could alter their very existence. Currently, Earthjustice is working to reduce ocean stressors to help protect coral reefs and the millions of creatures (including us) that depend on them.

Flame retardants may be making you fat
Flame retardants are back in the news again, and this time they’re being tied to obesity, anxiety and developmental problems, reports the Chicago Tribune. According to new research, small doses of flame retardants can disrupt the endocrine system by altering levels of thyroid hormones, among other effects. Given that the average American baby is born with the highest recorded levels of flame retardants among infants in the world, the recent study is raising concern amongst researchers and parents alike. And though flame retardants have been widely touted as lifesavers for preventing household fires, research by government and independent scientists has found that they actually provide no meaningful protection from furniture fires. Find out more in the Chicago Tribune’s special report, “Playing with Fire.”

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
01 June 2012, 1:53 PM
Fukushima fish, two-faced corporations, corn sugar fail
(Photo courtesy of fortherock)

Taking a hike may boost your brainpower
Spending time outside doesn’t just make you happier and calm your frazzled nerves, reports the Wall Street Journal. It can also improve creativity. According to a yet-to-be-published paper by University of Kansas researchers, a group of hikers that spent four days in the woods outperformed another set of hikers that had yet to hit the trails on a standard creativity test. This wasn’t just a meager boost in creativity, though. The test results showed a nearly 50 percent increase in performance from the hikers who were already on the trails. In addition to boosting creativity, previous studies have shown time spent in nature (or even having a window that looks out into a grassy area) can improve everything from short-term memory to how you handle life’s major challenges.

 Fukushima fish swim their way to California waters
U.S. scientists recently announced that Bluefin tuna contaminated with low levels of radiation from last year’s Fukushima meltdown were found along the California coast five months after the disaster, reports Mother Jones. The finding comes on the heels of Japan’s own announcement that it’s preparing to restart one of the nation’s nuclear plants, which were idled after the Fukushima meltdown. Despite the stigma that radioactive fish will no doubt entail, the scientists maintain that radiation levels found in the fish is lower than what occurs naturally in the environment and therefore doesn’t pose a risk to human health. Unfortunately, these days radiation isn’t the only contaminant that people have to worry about when ordering a tuna fish sandwich. Many fish, including Bluefin tuna, also contain mercury, a toxic chemical linked to impaired neurological development and having other harmful effects. But unlike nuclear radiation pollution, which tends to happen only when there’s a meltdown, mercury is willingly created every day by industrial sources like coal-fired power plants. Find out how we're shutting them down and cleaning them up.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
25 May 2012, 8:46 AM
Cruel pizza toppings, superweed takeover, Hollywood bags the bag
(Cambridge Brewing Company)

Breweries worry that extreme gas drilling will frack their beer
It turns out that hydraulic gas drilling or fracking doesn’t just contaminate the air and water; it could also mess up your favorite brew, reports Mother Jones. Brewmasters like Brooklyn Brewery and upstate New York’s Ommegang Brewery are raising the alarm about toxic fracking chemicals like benzene making their way to America’s beers through weak fracking regulations that don’t protect an area’s water supply. After all, beer brewing takes a whole lot of water and places like the Brooklyn Brewery often get their water from local watersheds. The Brewery’s founder, Steve Hindy, says that fracking threatens the purity of his beer. New York has promised to ban high-volume fracking in areas where the city sources its water, but environmental groups like Earthjustice say that the state’s rules are weak and leave aquifers vulnerable to contamination by fracking chemicals. Find out how we’re helping breweries like Ommegang to keep their beer from being fracked.

Domino’s pizza’s meat policy makes little piggies cry
Domino’s may have recently had an artisanal makeover, but the pizza giant still isn’t budging on its policy to continue serving pork from pigs raised in gestation crates, reports Grist. For the uninitiated, gestation crates are cages about the same width and length of a pig’s body, a space so small that the pigs are unable to even turn around in the crates. Given that pigs are extremely smart animals capable of feeling fear, pain and stress, many food vendors have been successfully pressured into working with its pork suppliers to eliminate the cruel practice, but not Domino’s, which is one of the last holdouts in the industry. It looks like Domino’s new “artisan toppings,” meant for food-conscious customers, is just lipstick on both the proverbial and the literal pig.  
 

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11 May 2012, 9:14 AM
Beneficial pollution, farmers market boost, plastic oceans
Photo courtesy of matthewven (flickr.com)

Investigation sets flame to chemical retardant claims
Flame retardants have long been heralded as life-saving chemicals that slow fires, but a recent investigative series by the Chicago Tribune has found that the toxic chemicals, which are found in American babies at the highest recorded levels among infants in the world, both may not be safe or prevent fire deaths. Among the discoveries that the Tribune uncovered includes a decades-long campaign of deception by the flame retardant industry that has loaded American homes with furniture treated with chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility. Read the entire series here.

Air pollution protecting humans from climate change
Air pollution may be clogging up your lungs and burning your eyes, but at least it’s keeping global warming in check, reports E: The Environmental Magazine. According to research by Harvard scientists, for many decades the eastern half of the U.S. stayed cooler than the rest of the country thanks to a thick cloud of particulates that reflected incoming sunlight, helping to mitigate rising temperatures. But as levels of industrial pollution have decreased, warming has increased, inadvertently creating a perverse incentive to pollute the air. Despite the benefits, the researchers were quick to point out that they weren’t against improving air quality. After all, air pollutants like particulate matter from coal-fired power plants can embed themselves deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems, no matter how breezy the weather stays. Find out how Earthjustice is working to enforce Clean Air Act regulations to both clean up the air and reduce greenhouse gases.

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16 April 2012, 12:09 PM
GMOs and BPA get a kiss, while green chemistry gets the boot
Photo courtesy of healthserviceglasses (flickr)

EPA disses green chemistry program
Recently, the EPA pulled the rug out from under a green chemistry grant program without any explanation and little notice, reports Environmental Health News. The program, which planned to bring together experts in many fields to design a new generation of green chemicals that are less toxic to people and the environment, would provide $20-million towards the research of green chemistry. It was nixed just weeks before the deadline for proposals, a move that no doubt annoyed the researchers who worked for months on the program. Though the EPA says it may pick back up the program in the future, the recently burned scientists are, not surprisingly, skeptical as to whether that will ever actually happen.

FDA says BPA is A-Okay
The Food and Drug Administration won’t ban bisphenol-A (BPA) anytime soon, despite several studies that have linked the chemical’s exposure to a wide range of ailments, from obesity to cancer and even to changes in behavior, reports Grist. According to the FDA, there’s still not enough evidence to deem BPA a threat. And the fact that the chemical, which is found in up to 90 percent of the human population, may be potentially harmful doesn’t mean we should ban it. After all, what would soup companies, baby bottle manufacturers and other industries do without their precious BPA? It’s not like there are other alternatives out there that are safer and cost-effective, right? Wrong.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
06 April 2012, 12:42 PM
Dumping ship, passing the food safety buck, flame retardant flameout
Say bye-bye to pancakes and waffles covered in maple syrup (little blue hen)

Climate change ruins breakfast for everyone
This year’s early arrival of spring is devastating maple production, which generate the most sap when freezing nights follow cool days, reports the Washington Post. Typically a month-long season, maple syrup producers who rely on traditional taps and buckets saw their maple season cut dramatically this year, which means less maple production . One producer only came up with about 40 gallons of syrup when her typical haul is 300. Another family in Wisconsin, which usually collects about 400 gallons of syrup, ended up with only 165 gallons this year. Though, as Grist points out, the heat wave that we’re having now could easily be followed by a cold snap next year, climate change is expected to cause more global weirding like freakishly warmer temperatures, so it’s time to start stocking up on real maple syrup now...or resign yourself to the artificial tastes of Aunt Jemima’s and Mrs. Butterworth.

Ships still dumping pollution despite government crackdown
Over the past 10 years, the Department of Justice has fined ship operators more than $200 million for illegal ship dumping, yet the violations may just be the tip of the iceberg, reports iWatch News. Under federal and international law, ships are required to properly dispose of oily wastewater and sludge, but that costs money and time, so instead ships sometime dump their waste directly into the water using so-called “magic pipes,” which can be detached and easily rerouted when inspectors come by. Though the federal government has stepped up efforts to crack down on polluters by, in part, rewarding whistleblowers with six-figure digits and hunting for magic pipes, there's more work to be done to keep waste out of ocean waters. Last June, Earthjustice successfully defended Alaskans’ right to rein in wastewater dumping from cruise ships, which dump an estimated 148 million gallons of wastewater laced with partially-treated sewage, heavy metals and toxic chemicals like flame retardants into Alaska’s pristine waters every year.

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30 March 2012, 1:16 AM
Fracking gags, exploding urine, climate change truths
More droughts are just one of the things we can expect with a climate-changed world. (photo by jczart)

Climate scientists warn that Earth’s tipping points are at the tipping point
Recently, climate scientists announced that this is the last decade to cut carbon emissions significantly or there’s no going back on global warming, reports Reuters. And they’re not just talking about freak heat waves and threats to Cherry Blossom festivals. Though estimates differ, the world’s temperature is expected to rise by six degrees Celsius by 2100 if we keep doing “business as usual” in terms of emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases. That increase, in turn, is expected to melt polar ice sheets, which greatly assist in keeping the climate livable. Other tipping points that we’re close to crossing include the loss of rainforests and melting of permafrost—which both store vast amounts of carbon and could change from carbon sinks to carbon emitters if humanity doesn’t get its act together, and soon. In other words, it’s the end of the world as we know it. There’s no way to feel fine about that.

Pennsylvania doctors with fracking info get gagged
Fracking uses millions of gallons of toxic chemicals that could harm human health, but doctors in Pennsylvania aren’t allowed to tell their patients about them, reports Mother Jones. According to a new law that’s been deemed a gag rule by its detractors, though doctors in Pennsylvania are allowed to see information about fracking chemicals—unlike the general public in the rest of the U.S.—they can’t share any of that information with their patients, even those who have been exposed to a hazardous chemical from fracking. The new provision, which was quietly slipped in near the end of the debate about the law, is just another in a long line of favors given to the oil and gas drilling industry over the past few years. Others include a fracking exemption from the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory and another exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It seems that, at least when it comes to fracking, the more secrets you have to hide, the more exemptions you crave. Find out how Earthjustice is working to uncover those secrets.

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
22 March 2012, 11:42 AM
Gas price lies, “safe” fracking water, BPA bans
Dirty air, not eating all those chips, may cause obesity, so munch on! (Photo courtesy of loop_oh)

Forget Fritos: Air pollution may be making people fat
Sure, it’s got nothing on the much-hyped “Paleo Diet,” but a new theory that air pollution may be making us fat could provide one more bullet in the never-ending arsenal of dieting ticks and trips that people can use to lose weight. According to Discovery News, just as the oceans are becoming more acidic as they sequester more carbon dioxide, studies show that our blood becomes more acidic when we breathe in CO2-laden air, even just for a few weeks. But though higher acidity in the ocean means weaker coral reefs and shell-covered creatures, a drop in pH in our brains acts much differently by making appetite-related neurons fire more frequently, which could result in us eating more, sleeping less and, eventually, gaining more weight. Though the theory hasn’t yet been heavily tested, previous studies have shown that the issue of obesity goes far beyond cutting calories and exercising more. And, even if the theory doesn’t pan out, clean air is definitely tied to a whole host of other great health benefits, like not dying early, so take a deep breath!

History shows that “drill, baby, drill” mentality doesn’t lower gas prices
The commonly held notion that more domestic drilling leads to lower U.S. gas prices is completely false, reports the Associated Press, which came to the conclusion after analyzing more than three decades’ of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production. Though both political parties are guilty of using the "drill, baby, drill" mentality to link higher gas prices to an "unfriendly" domestic drilling policy, the facts tell an entirely different tale. For example, since February 2009 we’ve increased oil production by 15 percent (yes, during the Obama presidency, which is supposedly extremely unfriendly to domestic energy production), yet between 2009 and 2012 prices at the pump spiked by more than a dollar during that time. The reason, much to Americans’ dismay, is that since oil is a global commodity, neither the U.S. nor our president has much say in determining the price of gasoline. We do, however, have a say in how much gas we use, which means that the only real way to decrease the amount that we pay at the pump is to, simply, use less gas by driving more gas-efficient cars and taking public transit, to name just a few examples.

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