Three Stories of Environmental Progress to Celebrate This Thanksgiving


With social crises escalating in the US and worldwide, it can be difficult to find news stories to give thanks for or to celebrate. This week, there are a few stories of environmental progress that shine a light in the darkness. These victories on the community, national and international levels prove that positive change, though sometimes slow in coming, is always on the horizon.

1) Community Victory in St. Louis: Just last week, Missouri delegates introduced legislation that would transfer the Bridgeton and West Lake Superfund Sites to the jurisdiction of the Army Corps of Engineers, rather than the EPA. Community activists are hopeful that this change in authority will yield positive results for the communities near the site. As Lois Gibbs wrote in a statement last week, this move will take advantage of the Corps’ technical expertise, while shifting clean-up responsibility from Republic Services, which has managed the site under the EPA.  This is not the end of the road for St. Louis communities who are threatened by a burning landfill creeping slowly towards another site containing radioactive waste. “What really must be moved is not only the jurisdiction of this clean-up, but vulnerable families. This is the first step on a long road to recovery for the families involved and for the natural environment,” said Gibbs.

2) National Decision on Keystone XL: On November 6th, President Obama announced his decision reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, which would have  transported crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The potential for spills endangered the crucially important freshwater Oglalla aquifer and threatened communities along the pipeline’s route. Additionally, the pipeline project would have perpetuated injustices against indigenous people in Alberta Canada whose homes have been destroyed by tar sands development, while increasing impacts from oil refineries in the Gulf. Though this is undoubtedly a moment to celebrate, recent NPR coverage makes the point that “thousands of miles of pipelines have been built in the same time that people have debated the 875-mile stretch that would have completed the Keystone XL. And more are being built right now.” Though we are far from transforming the energy economy, the Keystone decision is a symbolic victory and a sign of the power of grassroots organizing.

3) International Community Gearing Up for Climate Negotiations: Even as Paris is reeling from devastating terror attacks last week, the city is still preparing to host the COP21 UN Climate Summit, where over 150 world leaders will gather and attempt to hash out an international response to climate change. The meeting is expected to result in the first climate agreement since the failed Kyoto Protocol. Though rallies and marches associated with the conference have been canceled in the wake of the attacks, thus removing a powerful channel for citizen actions, the talks will proceed, and will hopefully culminate in a powerful act of international solidarity in a city at its most vulnerable moment.

In the midst of international crises, the needle continues to move on critically important environmental justice issues, from community pollution to climate change. It’s the perfect time to give thanks for the community members and advocates who are fighting for change on these and other issues – to express gratitude for grassroots action that continues to guide the way forward to a more just world.


What Chemicals Are Used in Fracking? Industry Discloses Less and Less


“Since 2013, energy companies that report their hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the FracFocus website have become less forthcoming, increasingly citing the use of proprietary compounds to limit disclosure, according to a new study from the journal Energy Policy.

The paper, written by two Harvard University researchers, is the most comprehensive analysis of FracFocus to date. They examined more than 96,000 disclosure forms filed between March 2011 and April 2015, highlighting trends and offering suggestions to improve the site’s accuracy and completeness.

FracFocus is the nation’s largest dataset on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It was launched in 2011 as a voluntary tool for oil and gas operators, and later adopted by individual states to fulfill their chemical disclosure regulations. More than 20 states currently require companies to report the fracking compounds they use, through FracFocus…”

Read More from Inside Climate News


Nevada says national nuclear dump could harm farm community


“Radioactive well-water contamination could threaten some 1,400 people in a rural farming community if federal regulators allow the nation’s deadliest nuclear waste to be buried in the Nevada desert, state officials said in a report issued Friday.

A 53-page document submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission derides environmental assessments of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository as legally inadequate. It also characterizes the project itself as “an unworkable waste management plan at an unsafe repository site.”

The state says groundwater studies don’t properly address the danger to people in nearby Amargosa Valley or the cultural and spiritual effect that construction of the repository would have on Native Americans.

“In the end, there are real people there,” said Robert Halstead, chief of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects and the top state official leading opposition to the project…”

Read More from Naples Herald


Early lead exposure linked to sleep problems


From Chemistry World:

“Lead exposure in early childhood is associated with increased risk for sleep problems and excessive daytime sleepiness in later childhood, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania, US.

The findings, which will be published in the December but are already available online, are based on data from a longitudinal study of more than 1400 Chinese children that began in 2004 to examine the influence of lead exposure on neurocognitive, behavioural and health outcomes in children and adolescents.

‘Little is known about the impact of heavy metals exposure on children’s sleep, but the study’s findings highlight that environmental toxins – such as lead – are important paediatric risk factors for sleep disturbance,’ said principal investigator Jianghong Liu. ‘Lead exposure is preventable and treatable, but if left unchecked can result in irreversible neurological damage.’

Past research has linked lead poisoning in children has been to violent crime and brain damage. This study is the first longitudinal, population-based study to investigate the connection between lead exposure and sleep.”


Together, We Can Combat Climate Change. #EarthToParis


In less than a month, leaders from around the world will come together in Paris for the biggest climate meeting of our time, the UN COP21 Climate Summit. Given the globally connected digital context of this meeting, we developed#EarthToParis with the United Nations Foundation as a simple way for individuals to join together as a collective voice to encourage our leaders to take strong action.

Here’s how: Watch this video to join the #EarthToParis movement and send your own message by posting a video or photo using #EarthToParis.

Today, GOOD and all the partners of the Earth to Paris coalition are asking you to be part of this historic moment by sharing your support for the Earth. We need your help to bring the #EarthToParis message to life.

Can we count on you to add your voice before November 22?

We’ll bring your message to Paris and make sure it gets seen and heard on the world stage. I’ll be at the White House next Thursday to represent our voices and share our collective momentum for strong action this December.

We can combat climate change but we’ve got to be loud and we have to do it together now.


Racism, Environmental Injustice, and the U.S. Farm Bill


By Dylan Lenzen

A new report by U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Institute indicates that the United States’ most important piece of farm legislation plays an enormous role in maintaining structural racism and environmental injustice. This important piece of legislation, that is the U.S. Farm Bill, is enormous, providing massive amounts of federal dollars for agricultural production, as well as over $700 billion for food stamps. According to the report, the Farm Bill has played an important role in corporate consolidation at all levels of food production. For example, large-scale farms control 49.7% of all production value, while only representing 4.7% of all U.S. farms. This mass consolidation, from the production to retail, has lead to incredible power for corporate power in our society.

The power of corporate interests involved in the creation of the U.S. Farm Bill has resulted in numerous negative consequences for minority and low-income communities around the country. One of these consequences has been the depression of minority food worker wages. This includes those working as migrant laborers in agricultural fields of California to those employed at fast food restaurants. Food workers of color make roughly $6000 less than the average white food worker and many migrant farmworkers make less than minimum wage for their strenuous efforts. These low wages for all food workers have lead to incredible rates of food insecurity. And, as has been discussed on the CHEJ blog before, the result of overwhelming minority makeup of low-wage farm labor has been that people of color experience much higher levels of toxic pesticides that they are exposed to while toiling in agricultural fields.

The Farm Bill also fails to adequately address the structural inequality found in our society. According the U.C. Berkeley study, “as of 2013, 14.3% of US households—17.5 million households, roughly 50 million persons—were food insecure.” In addition, Black, Latino/a, low-income, single women/men households represent an overwhelming proportion of those who are food insecure. Despite rising food insecurity, the amount of money allocated for food stamps (under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) has decreased in recent editions of the Farm Bill.

As if these negative consequences do not already demonstrate the environmental injustice of the Farm Bill, we must consider the contribution of the current industrialized, fossil fuel-intense form of agriculture promoted by the Farm Bill to global climate change. This is important, as we know that communities of color, considering broader social inequity, are much more vulnerable to the effect of climate change. The high levels of economic and food insecurity, in these communities, among other factors, will mean that they will likely suffer the most as our atmosphere continues to warm. Given that agricultural production contributes 9% of all US greenhouse gas emissions, climate concerns must factor into the type of food production that we promote with the billions of dollars that the farm bill offers.

While there are certainly many factors that contribute to environmental injustice and social inequality in our society, altering monolithic and impactful pieces of legislation, such as the U.S. Farm Bill, appear to be great starting points if we are to address these issues in the future.

Find out more from the Haas Institute


New study indicates gas drilling could impact rivers, streams


Depending on where and how it’s done, natural gas drilling does have the potential to impact Pennsylvania’s waterways, an independent study reveals.

Kenneth M. Klemow, professor of biology and environmental science and director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research at Wilkes University, was one of the contributors to a new study examining how natural gas development affects surface water, such as creeks, streams and rivers.

In their paper, “Stream Vulnerability to Widespread and Emergent Stressors: A Focus on Unconventional Oil and Gas,” Klemow and five colleagues look at how vulnerable the bodies of water are in the six main shale plays across the U.S., including the Marcellus Shale.

“What we’ve developed is a predictive model,” Klemow said. “We have not proven anything about whether shale gas development is affecting streams or not.”

Watersheds are areas from which all the water beneath it or on it drains into the same place, whether creek, stream, river or lake. Surface water is used for drinking water, recreation, and feeds into fisheries, Klemow said.

Read more from Standard Speaker


State’s instructions for sampling drinking water for lead “not best practice”


“The Flint water crisis has uncovered all kinds of details about how cities test the safety of their drinking water. In particular, critics say the state is giving bad advice on testing drinking water for lead. The state of Michigan tells cities to do something called pre-flushing. The instructions tell people to turn on their cold water tap and let it run for five minutes (that’s the pre-flushing part). Then, people are supposed to wait six hours before taking their water sample.

Critics say pre-flushing is one of many practices used to skirt the intent of the EPA’s lead and copper rule. Lee Anne Walters wants to see the rules changed. Her four-year-old son had elevated lead levels in his blood after Flint started using the Flint River as a water source. “I want the loopholes for the lead and copper rule out. I’m not going to stop until that happens,” she says. She’s speaking at a national meeting this week in Virginia about proposed revisions to the lead and copper rule…”

Find out more from Michigan Radio.


EPA: N.C. risking federal takeover of environmental regulation


“North Carolina’s recent tactic of blocking citizens from challenging state permits for industrial polluters could result in a federal takeover of the state’s regulatory program.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has put state officials on notice that North Carolina’s strategy is putting the state at risk of losing its authority to regulate industrial water pollution and air pollution. Since receiving the warning two weeks ago, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is downplaying the incident as a misunderstanding.

In a letter dated Oct. 30, Heather McTeer Toney, a regional EPA administrator, cautioned department Secretary Donald van der Vaart that the state’s stance in several recent court decisions — that citizen groups did not have standing to challenge air and water quality permitting decisions — was troubling.

The letter mentioned court challenges, brought by two environmental organizations and backed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, over permits issued for a proposed cement plant near Wilmington and a limestone quarry on Blounts Creek near Vanceboro.

The EPA regional administrator stated that court rulings prohibiting the groups from seeking judicial review of the permits “cast serious doubt” on whether North Carolina meets minimum federal requirements to protect its residents from environmental pollution…”

Read More from Winston-Salem Journal


Table salt and shellfish can contain plastic


“Scientists have found tiny plastic bits, known as microplastics, in salts collected from supermarkets across China. The researchers analyzed 15 brands of salt. They turned up plastic bits in table salt extracted from seas and lake water. They also found plastic bits in rock salt mined from underground deposits. By far, however, sea salt contained the most plastic. In a second study, the same team found similar plastic fibers in shellfish.

The new findings should, perhaps, come as no surprise. For years, studies have reported finding microplastics in ocean water. And in 2011, scientists showed that laundering clothes made of nylon and other types of plastic shed bits of lint. The wash water carried that lint down the drain and eventually into rivers and the ocean. Plastic bits have since turned up in sea animals. But the new paper is one of the first to report microplastics in food to be eaten by people.

It found that sea salt had 550 to 681 particles per kilogram (2.2 pounds). Each kilogram of lake salts had 43 to 364 particles. Rock salts had seven to 204 particles per kilogram.

These new data suggest that sea salt may be dragging microplastics from tainted water to dinner tables, the scientists conclude. They reported their findings October 20 in Environmental Science & Technology.

“We’re finding plastics in stranger and stranger places,” says Kara Lavender Law. She is an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., where she studies plastics in the ocean. Plastics, she notes, are “in salts, in the oceans, in the air. They’re all around us.” Law was not involved in the new study. But she says the findings may not be isolated to salt in China. Microplastics could taint sea salts from other regions, she warns. For now, no one knows what threat, if any, eating plastic bits might pose…”

Read more from Student Science