Posts tagged: Friday Finds

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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
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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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
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)

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
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.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
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.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
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.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
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. 

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
06 January 2012, 7:20 AM
Natural gas guessing games, green hog waste, melting mountains
Under current guidelines, pigs and other farm animals are routinely given drugs. (friendsoffamilyfarmers)

FDA gives “okay” to continue drugging livestock
Farmers can continue giving healthy cows, pigs and other livestock routine doses of penicillin and tetracyclines—two commonly used antibiotics—even though the practice threatens public health, reports Forbes. The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to no longer consider withdrawing approval of the common practice comes after years of meat and produce recalls that have been contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and sickened many. It also comes after the agency’s own guidance showed that drugging animals who aren’t sick is, simply put, a bad idea. No doubt, consumer advocacy groups were disappointed in the government’s decision; however, the FDA’s decision wasn’t all bad. It did decide to ban the indiscriminate use of another class of antibiotics called cephalosporins in healthy animals, citing concerns over the growing threat of cephalospins-resistant bacterial infections found in people. Too bad that cephalosporins account for a tiny and rapidly shrinking percentage of overall antibiotic use on factory farms, as Mother Jones recently pointed out. Nice try, FDA.

Natural gas bonanza claims based on dicey guessing games
Mainstream media reports of a 100-year natural gas supply lying beneath our feet is largely based on hypothetical speculation, reports Slate. Recently, the online magazine found that of 2,170 trillion cubic feet (tcf) estimated to lie beneath U.S. lands, only 273 tcfs--or 12 percent of the total amount--are “proved reserves,” meaning that they actually exist and are commercially viable to drill. That leaves us with only about 11 year’s worth of proven natural gas reserves, not 100 years, as the industry claims. The idea that there's another almost 2,000 tcfs of natural gas out there is considered to be either “probable,” “possible,” or “speculative.” Speculative, by the way, means “based on conjecture or incomplete facts or information,” according to the Encarta Dictionary. Another word for speculative is “risky” or “hypothetical.” As Slate so aptly points out, “By the same logic, you can claim to be a multibillionaire, including all your ‘probable, possible, and speculative resources.’” Just one more thing to consider before we risk our health and environment to drill another well with “speculative” reserves.

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
22 December 2011, 1:12 PM
Facebook “likes” sustainability, McDonald’s goes locavore, Seattle bans bags
The corn rootworm is taking a bite out of Monsanto's bottom line. (Purdue University)

Pesticide-resistant bugs eat Monsanto’s crops, lies & profits
Monsanto is taking a page from George Orwell's 1984 with the recent release of an EPA report that chides the biotech company for not adequately monitoring its pesticide-resistant crops, reports Mother Jones. According to the agency’s report, a pesky bug known as corn rootworm is rising up and decimating corn fields in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska. Unfortunately for Monsanto and its farmers, the insect is targeting Monsanto’s Bt corn, which is engineered precisely to resist rootworm. The problem of pesticide resistance is a well-known issue amongst those in the ag and business world these days. In fact, Earthjustice is suing the USDA for failing to adequately asses the environmental and economic impacts of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready crops. But despite evidence to the contrary, Monsanto continues to deny that its products propagate pesticide-resistant bugs and weeds, all while promoting new genetically engineered seeds designed to “fix” the very problem that it won’t admit it created. That is some clever doublespeak indeed.

Greenpeace successfully prompts Facebook to “like” clean energy
After two years of prodding by Greenpeace, Facebook has announced that it will move away from dirty coal and power its operations using clean, sustainable energy, reports the UK Guardian. According to a Greenpeace report, more than half of Facebook’s electricity is powered by coal. That’s bad news for the climate and for clean air, considering that coal plants are the nation’s worst toxic air polluters (though that could change thanks to a recent Earthjustice victory wherein the EPA set the nation’s first-ever toxic air pollution limits for power plants.) In the meantime, though, moving off coal is a great first step to greening one of the most popular social networking sites out there. Now we just need to keep a close eye on Facebook to make sure it lives up to its largely vague green promises.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
16 December 2011, 12:30 PM
Environmental justice backlog, greenwashing Walmart
Popular sodas like Mountain Dew may contain flame retardants. (PaysImaginaire)

American sodas spiked with flame retardants
That mid-day caffeine boost you reach for every afternoon may contain a chemical that causes skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, reports Environmental Health News. Sodas like Mountain Dew and Gatorade contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a synthetic chemical  that keeps a soda’s fruity flavors well-mixed inside the can or bottle. Recent studies have found that brominated flame retardants, which may have effects similar to BVOs, build up in people’s bodies and are linked to “impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones.” BVOs are found in about 10 percent of US soda drinks. Though drinking the occasional soda is unlikely to cause any health problems, binge drinkers and young children may want to find another way to get through the day with their eyes open.

EPA turns a blind eye to environmental justice cases
Despite an EPA memo outlining environmental justice issues as a top priority, more than a dozen complaints alleging that air pollution is disproportionately harming low-income and communities of color have languished under Administrator Lisa Jackson’s EPA, reports iWatch News. Some of those complaints have sat in the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights for more than a decade, such as one woman’s case in Texas that alleges toxic emissions from a 10-mile stretch of oil refineries and industrial plants have caused her to have several miscarriages. Though the EPA insists that it has made “meaningful progress” on many of the complaints, environmental justice advocates are skeptical, like Earthjustice’s Marianne Engelman Lado, who told iWatch, “The backlog doesn’t seem greatly improved, and it’s not clear what processes they use to evaluate the complaints. Why is that progress?”
 

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
09 December 2011, 2:53 AM
Tiny plastic problems, “green” tanning, dry-clean druggies
New Mexico's dairy farms must clean up their act. (USDA)

New Mexico dairies forced to clean up their cow pies
New Mexico recently passed some of the most progressive water regulations for dairy farm operations in the West, reports High Country News. Large dairy operations create huge waste problems—each cow produces about 145 pounds of solid and liquid waste per day—so when Texas transplant Jerry Nivens found out in 2007 that a large dairy was planning to set up shop near his town, he and a band of allies teamed up against the powerful dairy lobby, and won. Four years later, after countless hours of grassroots organizing, New Mexico citizens have done what others in Idaho, Washington and California—all big dairy states—haven’t yet been able to: stop dairy farms from polluting their groundwater with nitrates, antibiotics and deadly bacteria like E.coli and salmonella. The new rules may inspire citizens in other states to follow suit by taking matters into their own hands when Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations of any kind—whether they house chickens, cows or pigs—poison their community.

Oceans get fleeced by clothes with microplastic
Polyester yoga pants may seem harmless with all of their comfy-ness and warmth, but every time you wash them you may be polluting the ocean, reports Grist. According to a new study by Environmental Science and Technology, approximately 2,000 polyester fibers are released for each piece of polyester clothing thrown the wash. And since the home appliance industry doesn’t filter out these tiny fibers, they end up in the world’s oceans where they can potentially harm marine life. Though most of the attention to date has been on plastic giants like the garbage patches found in the Atlantic, Pacific and elsewhere, these tiny microplastics worry scientists because they can be eaten by bottom feeders like clams and mussels, eventually making their way up the food chain, to us.