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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.

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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.

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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. 
 

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.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
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.