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.


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
15 March 2012, 12:23 PM
Dog-gone oil spill cleanups, coastal city wipeouts, leaded bullets
Is your baby getting its daily dose of hormone-disrupting chemicals? (photo courtesy of pfly)

Low chemical doses may have big health effects
A recent finding that tiny doses of certain hormone-altering chemicals can lead to harmful health effects could lead to a paradigm shift in the way that regulators evaluate a chemical’s harmfulness, reports Environmental Health News. Traditionally, toxicologists and regulators have evaluated the toxicity of a chemical by following the common adage, “The dose makes the poison,” which means that some chemicals can be harmful at high doses but perfectly fine at lower doses. However, this latest research has flipped that theory on its head by finding that some chemicals, especially those with hormonal properties like bisphenol A (BPA), can actually have a more harmful effect on people at low, rather than high, doses. Considering that BPA is found in everything from baby bottles to soup cans, the new study has implications not only for scientists and regulators, but for the people who are exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis.

Arctic oil spill cleanup methods go to the dogs
Norwegian researchers are experimenting with using dogs to sniff out oil spills in the harsh Arctic environment, reports the UK Guardian. So far the super-sniffing dogs, a dachshund and two border colliers, have been able to detect the scent of oil up to three miles downwind of a spill. Though impressive, the oil sniffing dogs experiment has largely been derided as a last ditch option for cleaning up oil in an area where “we do not have adequate science and technology…particularly in ice,” said Marilyn Heiman, a director of PEW’s US Arctic Program. Though Shell doesn’t plan to deploy oil-sniffing dogs to the Arctic anytime soon, its existing “plan” to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic if one were to occur is scarily inadequate and is based on very unrealistic assumptions, says Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe, who added, “The fact is, there simply is no way to adequately respond to an oil spill in the Beaufort Sea—it is too remote, icy, stormy, dark, and foggy. Shell’s plan needs to acknowledge the difficulties of the region, not assume them away.” 

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09 March 2012, 10:46 AM
Toxic ships, BPA-free soup, bicycle buses
Photo courtesy of fox_kiyo

U.S. schools buying McDonald’s pink slime rejects
It’s baaaaack. Last month, burger enthusiasts rejoiced after McDonald’s announced that it would no longer be using ammonium hydroxide, an anti-microbrial agent that, when used on inedible scrap meat turns into a pink slime, as the basis for their burgers. But they may have sighed in relief a little prematurely, according to the Washington Post, which recently reported that the “USDA, schools and school districts plan to buy the treated beef…for the national school-lunch program in coming months.” Though the FDA considers ammonium hydroxide as “generally recognized as safe,” food safety advocates and parents beg to differ and have called on the government to stop feeding children beef scraps that were previously destined for pet food. In addition to the moral and health implications of feeding our kids dog food, the anti-bacterial treatment doesn’t seem to be all that effective. According to a 2009 NYT piece, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in meat from Beef Products Inc., the company from which the USDA and schools are planning to buy the ammonium hydroxide-treated meat.

Navy dumps old, toxic ships into ocean for target practice
The Navy’s ship dumping program is polluting the ocean and scrapping much-needed recycling jobs, reports the Associated Press. For years, the Navy has been dumping its old ships into the ocean as part of a program known as “Sinkex," short for sinking exercises. Though the Navy has found ship-dumping to be an inexpensive way to send its ghost ships to the grave, the problem is that the massive boats are loaded with toxic chemicals like PCBs, asbestos, lead and mercury that may contaminate the water and local fish populations. In fact, new data from a study in Florida supports the conclusion that PCBs, dumped during ship sinking exercises, are leaching from the sunken vessels and are entering the marine food chain, making nearby fish unsafe for human consumption. Late last year, Earthjustice sued the EPA for its ongoing failure to regulate the ship-sinking program, arguing that the agency is “legally required to keep dangerous chemicals like PCBs out of our oceans.” In addition to trashing the ocean, the ship-sinking program takes away recycling jobs that could stimulate local economies and squanders natural resources.

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02 March 2012, 11:15 AM
Google oceans, cutting oil subsidies, beach-bound tsunami debris
(Photo courtesy of B Rosen)

The Lorax peddles SUVs to elementary kids
The main character from Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” a book that has long been considered a timeless screed on the environmental perils of overconsumption, is now being used to hawk gas-guzzling SUVs to school children, reports the Washington Post. In the book, the Lorax speaks for the trees against the greedy Once-ler. But recently, the fuzzy character showed up at Alexandria’s James K. Polk Elementary School, encouraging kids to persuade their parents to take a test drive of a Mazda SUV. In exchange, kids could help raise money for other schools’ libraries and qualify for a sweepstakes entry. At the event, a Mazda rep defended the move, arguing that the eco-friendly Lorax would like the new SUVs, which have “really good environmentally friendly technologies,” like getting 35 miles per gallon. Yikes!  (If that's considered "good" gas mileage, I'd hate to know what's poor gas mileage.) Luckily, not all the kids were taken in by the greenwashed marketing pitch. For example, when a group of kids walked past the car and started excitedly yelling, “Lorax car!” , one student quietly pointed out that the Lorax doesn’t even drive a car.

Google takes its street view to the oceans
Ocean enthusiasts who are terrified of the water can now take a virtual swim among parrotfish, coral reefs and other sea creatures, all without getting wet, thanks to a new Google venture that brings Google Street View to the oceans, reports the Wall Street Journal. Partnering with oceanographers and the international insurance company Catlin Group Limited, the program will give ocean access to anyone with a computer. It will also allow scientists to track data such as migration patterns, sea turtle populations and the health of the Great Barrier Reef, which, among other reefs, is under constant threat from climate change. As with other environmental programs like wilderness treks and farm-to-school initiatives, the hope is that Google Oceans will inspire people to protect the ocean environment, which are under threat from overfishing, habitat loss, pollution and now climate change.

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24 February 2012, 3:15 AM
Sour milk, filthy beaches, biotech's legal blues
(Photo courtesy of p*p)

Big business attack ads create fear conditions for environmental scientists
Scientists are being pulled out of their labs and attacked by anti-science campaigns in an unprecedented fashion, reports the UK Guardian. Though most have kept mum about the issue until now, recently the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Nina Fedoroff, spoke out about the attacks, confessing that she was “scared to death” by an ever-growing anti-science movement. The attacks, which focus on casting doubt on scientific certainties like climate change and other environmental problems, have come in the form of Facebook page hijacks, email hacks and even death threats. Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the Merchants of Doubt, a book about the links between corporate business interests and U.S. campaigns aimed at blocking environmental and health protections, told the Guardian that these are "massive organized attempts to undermine scientific data by people for whom that data represents a threat to their status quo. Given the power of these people, scientists will have their work cut out dealing with them."

Big Dairy cries giant milk tears as popularity in alternatives spills over
As alternative “milk” varieties like coconut and almond gain in popularity, the dairy industry, purportedly nervous about decreased profit shares, is fighting back, reports Grist. Big Dairy’s most recent ad campaign, “Real Milk Comes from Cows,” highlights the many ways that milk alternatives differ the real thing: from almond milk’s slightly off-color to coconut milk’s "spooky" trick of looking like real milk. Sadly, the dairy industry neglects to point out one of the main and most important differences between its product and the alternatives, which is that most conventional milk (i.e. not organic) is, as a product of industrial agriculture, likely tainted with hormones and pesticides. Milk alternatives may need to be shaken before consumption, but at least their ingredient lists won’t stir you. 

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17 February 2012, 4:57 AM
Strawberry pesticides, explosive ag waste, greening Guantanamo
Photo courtesy of shrff14

College students crush plastic water bottles, industry wines
As banning bottled water becomes the cause du jour amongst college students, the bottled water industry is crying over spilled water, reports NPR. Everywhere from San Francisco to national parks like the Grand Canyon, cities and community members are considering banning plastic water bottles, which contribute to landfill waste, are rarely recycled, and whose purity is suspect. And now college campuses are jumping onto the bottled-water-banning bandwagon, with more than 20 schools signing on to complete or partial bans on plastic bottles brimming with H20. That has the International Bottled Water Association, an industry trade group, upset about “misinformation" and what it deems a war on freedom of choice. It even released a video to show college kids how silly they are for spending time on environmental issues like banning bottled water. Check it out: 

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10 February 2012, 2:11 AM
Chemical list limbo, idle air pollution laws, green coup
Photo courtesy of Calgary Reviews.

McDonald’s takes pink slime goop out of burgers
It’s official: The next time you have a Big Mac craving, you no longer have to worry about your burger being loaded with pink goo, reports MSNBC. Recently, McDonald’s announced that it is no longer using ammonium hydroxide, an anti-microbrial agent that, when used on inedible scrap meat, turns into a pink slime that’s the basis for your burger. Though the USDA maintains that ammonium hydroxide is “generally recognized as safe,” food safety experts and television celebrity chef Jamie Oliver disagree, arguing that “taking a product that would be sold in the cheapest form for dogs and making it 'fit' for humans” is “shocking.” Not long after Oliver’s show on ammonia-treated beef, McDonald’s announced that it would stop using lean beef trimmings—aka scrap meat—treated with ammonia in its burgers (though McDonald's maintains that the show had nothing to do with its decision). If the idea of pink slime in your burgers doesn’t make you gag, take a look at McDonalds' ridiculous new “farm to fork” video campaign and see if you can hold that burger down.

Check out Jamie Oliver's episode on pink slime: (note: not for the faint of heart)

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03 February 2012, 2:15 AM
Dirty lettuce, winterless havoc, sick meat
A Burmese python. (wildexplorer)

Pythons and anacondas put the squeeze on the Everglades
Forget snakes on a plane. Snakes like pythons and anacondas are taking over the Florida Everglades and eating everything—including rabbits, raccoons and even deer—in sight, reports the Washington Post. Thanks to reckless owners releasing pets they no longer want, invasive snakes are slowly climbing their way to the top of the swamp food chain to the detriment of the Everglade ecosystem, which has been listed as a World Heritage Site and boasts many rare and endangered species like alligators and wood rats. The ecological upset puts added stress on an area already plagued by water pollution from nearby industrial sugar growing operations—a problem that Earthjustice has helped clean up through recurring litigation over the last two decades. Though the Obama administration recently banned the import and interstate commerce of several snake species, others like the boa constrictor managed to slither by, which means that the snake problem may not be going away anytime soon.

Bagged greens industry gets down and dirty with contamination
The salad greens industry is trying to clean up its E. coli-tainted image by exploring new options to keep its greens clean, reports the LA Times. Over the past few years, headlines about people being sickened by bacteria-tainted greens have caused consumers to lose faith in the industry’s ability to keep salad greens safe. The easiest way to eliminate bacteria is to, of course, cook the greens, but nobody wants soggy baby spinach, so the researchers are looking into alternative methods like chlorine alternatives, radiation and even ultrasound to remove germs from tainted lettuce. In the meantime, health experts continue to argue about whether rinsing those “triple-washed” bagged lettuces makes them safer…or more dangerous. Until the debate is settled, many agree that bagging bagged lettuce and growing your own greens may just be your best (and tastiest) option.

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27 January 2012, 2:36 AM
Green seas, climate change horticulture, mercury meddles with melody
Photo courtesy of AJC1

Conspiracy theorists descend on Florida climate change plan
Plans to prepare for rising sea levels and other climate change affects in south Florida are being attacked by conspiracy theorists who believe climate change is a hoax perpetuated by a group of “progressive elites” who want to raise taxes, reports the Sun Sentinel. Though the majority of comments on the draft Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan came from government agencies and nonprofits that want to improve the plan, a small faction of conspiracy theorists are bent on taking it down, but that doesn't mean policymakers will listen. Said John Van Leer, associate professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami, “A lot of people believe the earth is 5,600 years old. A lot of people believe the human landing on the moon was staged in a Hollywood studio…but that doesn't mean we should base public policy on that." Meanwhile, other states like Hawaii are moving forward on bills to prepare their states for sea level rise. Whether those bills will sink or swim under climate climate change conspiracies remains to be seen.

Clean seas could boost economies’ green
It turns out that oceans that don't have heaps of garbage patches in them don’t just look better, they also make more money for the world economy, reports Reuters. A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program found that pollution from events like oil spills and chemical dumps, coupled with rampant over-fishing, have heavily damaged the oceans’ productivity and health. Add to that the fact that the oceans have acidified more in the last 200 years than the previous 21,000 years and it’s clear that the oceans and its critters need some help from its land-based brethren. In order to clean up oceans, the report recommends "key steps for ‘greening’ the seas across areas” like tourism, fishing and deep-sea mining. Though greening the sea may be costly upfront, the long-term benefits include a $50-billion boost to the economy each year just by restoring fish stocks and reducing fishing capacity. Find out more about how Earthjustice is working to clean up the deep blue sea and why the high value of the oceans is crystal clear.

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19 January 2012, 12:50 PM
Olympic air challenge, Nemo’s CO2 problem, NYC trashes trash
Bacon cheeseburger (Like_the_Grand_Canyon)

Ag industry takes beef with Americans eating less meat
Americans are eating less meat, which means the U.S. obsession with double-bacon cheeseburgers and chicken-fried sandwiches may one day be a thing of the past, reports Grist. According to the USDA, beef, chicken and pork sales are all down, prompting the meat industry to accuse the U.S. government of being anti-meat by “wag[ing] a war on protein.” This claim, though meaty, is full of holes considering that the U.S. gives the agriculture industry a number of economic freebies to support meat consumption in the form of farm subsidies, lax regulations and school lunch programs fueled by surplus chicken supplies. The real reasons that Americans aren’t eating as much meat are much more multi-faceted and include everything from cutting grocery bill costs and eating healthier to preserving the environment by lessoning carbon footprints. What’s your beef with that?    

Olympic athletes race against London’s air quality
London’s habitually bad air quality may negatively affect Olympic athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games this summer, reports The Independent. Since the European Union’s limits for particulate matter—extremely small particles of smoke, soot, metals and other chemical compounds emitted from sources like power plants, factories, and diesel trucks—were first put in place a few years back, London has continually exceeded its limits, potentially putting people at risk of negative human health affects like lung and heart disease. Athletes, especially, are at risk due to their need to inhale large amounts of oxygen, which unfortunately also means inhaling unsafe quantities of particulates, nitrogen dioxide and ozone that could give them chest pains and decrease their lung capacity. Though the city has introduced long-term air quality improvement measures in London, currently there is no short term plan to clear the air before July, when the Olympic games begin.

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13 January 2012, 12:22 PM
The oceans' acid test, playing with wildfire, raising a glass to climate change
Napa Valley vineyards in autumn. (tibchris)

Transit riders run over by reduced tax breaks
Thanks to a lack of action by Congress before the holidays, mass transit commuters will have to pay an additional $550 in taxes this year, reports the New York Times, while those who commute by car will benefit from an increase in pre-tax benefit for monthly parking. In addition to encouraging the number of cars with single occupants, the move will no doubt clog already congested streets and increase carbon emissions. It also takes a jab at people who, for the most part, already deal with enough aggravation (think late bus arrivals, screaming babies and the person who insists on practically sitting on your lap despite the availability of other seats.) Maybe when Congress gets back in session, they’ll consider making the tax benefit, at the very least, apply equally to car and transit users.

Acidic oceans threaten entire food chain
Sharks are already stressed by the public’s taste for shark fin soup and warmer weather meddling with their dating habits. Now it looks like they will have to add acidic oceans to their list of worries. Increasingly acidic waters thin the shells of their main food source, tiny marine creatures, reports MSN. But it’s not just sharks that rely on these species for food. Virtually every creature from salmon to seals to even humans will be affected, thanks to a little thing we like to call the marine food web. Scientists already know that as oceans absorb more carbon, the waters acidify, which makes living conditions very uncomfortable for any animal with a shell, and creates food scarcity for everyone else. Add this to the already overwhelming threats of pollution, habitat loss and overfishing, and it’s clear to see that the oceans—and the people who work to save them-- including Earthjustice—have their work cut out just trying to keep their heads above water.