Backyard Talk

Icelandic Volcano Poses a Public Health Threat to all of Europe

By Jose Aguayo : September 16, 2014 1:17 pm

The Bardarbunga volcano, the biggest of Iceland’s 30 or so volcanic systems, has been plagued by hundreds of tremors on a daily basis since mid-August, prompting fears the volcano could explode. Bardarbunga is Iceland’s second-highest peak and is located under Vatnajoekull, Europe’s largest glacier by volume. This means that the volcano system is under immense pressure and a mass movement of lava could result in a massive explosion. This brings to memory the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which melted through 200 meters of glacier ice and sent more than 200 million cubic meters of fine ash billowing almost 10 kilometers into the sky. As a result, several European countries were forced to ground or re-route thousands of flights for several days.

A full eruption, or more worryingly, an explosion of Bardarbunga could result in an even greater release of volcanic ash and debris than its 2010 counterpart. Among this debris are toxic and noxious gases such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen fluoride and sulfur dioxide. These gases can lead to acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer and even to genetic and physiological deformities of organisms exposed to them. As a result, the public health authorities of Iceland and other European countries are on high alert, monitoring closely the activity of Bardarbunga.

Large volcanic explosions also have the potential of creating tsunamis. A volcano caused an avalanche in Sicily 8,000 years ago that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea at 200 mph, triggering a devastating tsunami that spread across Europe. Scientists estimate that the tsunami waves were taller than a 10-story building. If Bardarbunga creates a massive movement of ice or rocks into the Mediterranean, a tsunami of comparable size can develop and affect coastal areas across the region. The Tsunami’s destruction would not be limited to the original strike. Areas affected develop stagnant water and create perfect environments for the proliferation of bacteria and fungi. As was the case with the 2004 Indian-Ocean Tsunami, the majority of the casualties occurred weeks later from rampant disease and lack of sanitation.

European public health authorities are well aware of these dangers. Although no one can prevent mother nature from unleashing its fury, we can be prepared to best deal with its wrath.

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BP Found “Grossly Negligent” in Gulf Oil Spill

By Stephen Lester : September 10, 2014 2:50 pm

Last week a federal judge ruled that the British oil giant BP was the primary culprit in the explosion at Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Hundreds of miles of beaches and marshes along the Gulf coast were impacted as were countless fish and wildlife. The company who has already paid over $28 million in damages claims and cleanup costs is now subject to as much as $18 billion in civil fines for violating the Clean Water Act. BP’s subcontractors Halliburton and Transocean were found to be simply “negligent.” BP says it will appeal the decision.

The judge found that BP had acted with “conscious disregard of known risks” during the drilling of the well that led directly to the explosion. He pointed to specific decisions made by BP employees that led him to conclude that the company was reckless in its decisions leading up to the spill and that these decisions were “motivated by profit.”

The decision to slap BP with gross negligence, rather than simple negligence, means fines could rise to $4,300 per barrel, rather than the minimum $1,100 per barrel. EPA has estimated 4.2 million barrels of oil were released. BP estimate is that 2.45 million barrels were released. Both sides agreed that 810,000 barrels of oil escaped the well but were captured before it could pollute the Gulf.

It’s about time that one of the big boys was held accountable for operating with little concern about its impact on health and the environment. Hopefully this decision will send a message to other companies, not just oil companies who consider environmental damages and health injuries to be another cost of doing business. Read the complete transcript of the decision here.

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Andrew Morris

Groundbreaking Study on Chemicals in Fracking Wastewater

By Andrew Morris : September 6, 2014 9:29 pm

A new study by in the science journal, Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts, has come out with groundbreaking report on the health and environmental impact of fracking wastewater and the potential hazard it poses to the environment. According to InsideClimate News, “while fracking-produced water shouldn’t be allowed near drinking water, it’s less toxic than similar waste from coal-bed methane mining. It also revealed how the contents of this waste differ dramatically across three major shale plays: Texas’ Eagle Ford, New Mexico’s Barnett and Pennsylvania’s Marcellus.”

“The study defines produced water as the water that flows out of a well after fossil fuel extraction starts. It includes some of the slurry first injected down a well, as well as naturally occurring water and materials from deep underground, such as salts, heavy metals and radioactive material.”

The study by Rice University in Houston, Texas, identified roughly 25 inorganic chemicals in the waste. Of those found, six were determined to pose significant health risks. Among the list of known toxins were barium, chromium, copper, mercury, arsenic and antimony. According to Inside Climate, “Depending on the chemical, consuming it at high levels can cause high blood pressure, skin damage, liver or kidney damage, stomach issues, or cancer.”

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Jordan Haferbier

How Safe is Triclosan? Industry-Backed Studies Raise Flags

By Jordan Haferbier : September 2, 2014 10:52 am

Triclosan, a hormone-disrupting ingredient found in many household products including toothpaste, soap and cosmetics has been in the press recently. Colgate has been authorized by the FDA to use this pesticide for years in consumer products, but their recent reapplication for approval has raised flags.  This year, the industry-funded tests that denoted triclosan as “safe” were released to the public.  The results of these company-backed studies raise major questions about the safety of this additive.  Among this and other independent studies, triclosan was linked to malformations in mice bones, antibiotic resistance, learning disabilities and increased chance of infertility.  In addition, a Centers for Disease Control study carried out in 2003 found that 75% of Americans had triclosan in their urine.

In light of this information, some states, including Minnesota have issued state-wide bans on products containing triclosan that haven’t been approved by the FDA.  Other companies, including Johnson and Johnson, Softsoap and Proctor and Gamble are voluntarily removing this ingredient from their products.

Advocacy groups across the United States, including Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families are calling for consumers to “mind the store” and ask retailers to eliminate this and other harmful chemicals from their products.  Many products from big name retailers such as Arm and Hammer, Colgate and Cetaphil contain this harmful ingredient.   Be sure to protect yourself from triclosan by checking the label on products for ingredient lists and avoiding “anti-microbial” or “anti-bacterial” products.

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Andrew Morris

Battle Against Fracking Wrongs Continues in Colorado.

By Andrew Morris : August 31, 2014 10:08 pm

The fight against fracking in Colorado has reached a fever pitch.  The Ecologist, an environmentalist site and paper since 1970 has been covering the emerging controversy in Colorado.  According to community activist Duke Cox, “as fracking for gas became more common across the state, he has found more and more of his time taken up with the cause. “We are ground zero for natural gas and fracking in this country”, he told the Ecologist.

A study that he sites as conclusive of the detrimental impact natural gas causes in communities can be founding in this study, “This study suggests a positive association between greater density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and greater prevalence of CHDs and possibly NTDs, but not oral clefts, preterm birth, or reduced fetal growth. Further studies incorporating information on specific activities and production levels near homes over the course of pregnancy would improve exposure assessments and provide more refined effect estimates. Recent data indicate that exposure to NGD activities is increasingly common. The COGCC estimates that 26% of the > 47,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado are located within 150–1,000 feet of a home or other type of building intended for human occupancy (COGCC 2012).”

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