How Should We Talk to Our Kids About Climate Change?

As Laura M. Holson from the New York Times reports, as climate change dialogue is increasing across the country, be it through realistic portrayals or fictionalized Hollywood movies, children are increasingly nervous about the prospect of impending disaster. Children, especially, are feeling the impacts of our overall anxiety about climate change because much of the messaging is directed at them, explaining how our children are the ones that will feel the worst impacts of our warming planet.
As climate change becomes a very real issue weighing on our kids’ minds, here are some ways to explore the topic to help our kids feel as though they have agency over their futures. <Read more>
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Climate Protest in Berlin / Wikimedia Commons
Climate Protest in Berlin / Wikimedia Commons

News Archive

After a Close Call with Hydrogen Fluoride, Twin Ports is Uniting to Ban it

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Husky Superior Refinery Burns // Bob King, Duluth News Tribune
Husky Superior Refinery Burns on April 26th, 2018 //  Bob King, Duluth News Tribune

On April 26th, 2018, a massive plume of black smoke exploded into the sky above Superior, Wisconsin. When Ginger Juel saw the ominous black cloud from her Duluth, Minnesota home across the water, and she immediately knew that something was wrong. However, when she turned on the news to see what was going on, there were no reports of any black smoke. Being a lifetime Twin Ports (Duluth, MN and Superior, WI) resident, she was especially concerned because she knew the smoke was billowing from Husky Refinery, and she knew that all five K-12 schools in Superior were located within 1-2 miles of the refinery. 
So when the news failed to provide any information on the potential disaster, Juel turned to social media. As she began to comb through tweets about the area, she noticed that there was a Facebook live stream of the plume, warning people it was coming from the refinery. Even more alarming, the wife of a refinery worker had tweeted that there had been a fire at the refinery and all of the workers had been evacuated. Her husband had come home to tell her to pack up their kids and leave town. 
Growing increasingly worried, Juel called her family members and advised that they leave town before preparing to leave the area herself. Her family was hesitant, because there were still no official evacuation orders from the city. They assumed that if there was any real danger, they would have heard about it, and that it would be okay. 
As Juel learned later, Twin Ports was extremely lucky on April 26th. The tanks that exploded and caused the smoke plume on April 26th were a mere 200 feet from the tanks that contain Hydrogen Fluoride (HF), which is an incredibly dangerous compound that’s lethal even in small doses. Had the fires reached the tanks containing HF on April 26th, the death toll in Twin Ports could have been staggering— potentially upwards of 100,000. 
Despite the immense danger posed by any fire or explosion at a refinery containing HF, Juel recounts an overall lack of leadership from local law enforcement and government in regards to the action. An official evacuation wasn’t ordered until 1:00 pm, even though the fires had been burning since the morning, and there weren’t clear instructions given on when it was safe for residents to return. Many returned early only to suffer from nosebleeds and headaches, and to notice that the air smelled strange. Juel remembers that a tweet she sent warning residents not to drink the water got over 10,000 retweets by Twin Ports residents. People were desperate for information, and official sources were not providing it. 
Juel recalls spending the entire night of April 26th unable to sleep after the ordeal. The next morning, she had the conviction that she had to do something to ensure this never happened again. 
When the ordeal began, Juel had already been wetting her toes in the world of activism. She first got involved with activism through attending a pipeline protest, and since then made sure to stay involved in issues in her community. However, she had never taken on leadership for a protest, let alone an entire community’s environmental justice movement. Before the explosion, she was planning on starting an organic mushroom farm, but the toxic fumes from the refinery ruined her chances of having a successful first crop. 
“I always knew that I wanted to start a nonprofit, but I always assumed it would be about gardening or something,” Juel said. “I just kept thinking: if I don’t do this, who else will?” 
So she began leading the charge to get HF banned from the Husky Refinery. She formed the nonprofit organization TPAA, or Twin Ports Action Alliance, who have been working tirelessly ever since. Some successes of TPAA include polling of residents regarding their opinions on HF, email campaigns to local legislators and  a successful Chemical Safety Board (CSB) hearing resulting in the CSB calling for the EPA to investigate the use of HF at refineries across the United States. 
After one year of hard work, Juel says she’s most proud of how her work has allowed the Twin Ports community to unite in raising awareness of the dangers of HF. 
“I’m most proud of the relationships this community has built with each other. This group [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][of people fighting against HF] hasn’t existed before in a genuine way,” Juel said. 


EPA Strengthening Lead Dust Standards to Protect Children

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced last Friday that the EPA is strengthening standards for lead dust, especially in schools and work places, throughout the county. Their updates include reducing the amount of dust considered to be a hazard in an attempt to better reflect the amount of lead that can impact children. These new standards focus on lead dust on floors and on windowsills. <Read more>

Backyard Talk

Our oceans are filled with plastic. Our bodies may be, too

by Kenia French, CHEJ Communications Intern 
A study from the University of Victoria found that humans likely consume 74,000-114,000 microplastic particles per year. How does this happen, and what does this mean for our health?
What are microplastics and where do they come from? 
Every year, between 5 and 14 million tons of plastic flow into our oceans, and for a long time, we believed that it just stays there. You may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: an expanse of plastic litter larger than Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific ocean. In fact, wherever there’s a major ocean in the world, there’s also a massive garbage island sitting in the middle. 
However, recent research suggests that these large expanses of plastic don’t just simply sit there: they degrade over time. This degradation has resulted in a phenomenon referred to as microplastic, or tiny particles of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, often microscopic. These tiny particles of plastic have infiltrated not only our oceans, but all of the water systems on our planet.
Why are these tiny plastic particles so bad for marine ecosystems? 
Microplastic pollution is particularly dangerous because it has a particle and chemical aspect. Microplastics have been found in over 114 aquatic species. Plastic particles fill fish’s stomachs and clog their organs, which has been linked to disrupted eating patterns and starvation. Filter feeders (think oysters) are particularly impacted because their feeding mechanism involves sifting tiny, microscopic organisms out of ocean water— microplastics inevitably get caught up in their dinner. 
Microplastics have the potential to leach dangerous chemicals, like PCBs or BPA. While PCBs have been banned in the US since 1979, they aren’t banned worldwide, and many find their way into the ocean through illegal dumping or countries with less stringent regulations. These chemicals have been linked to liver and reproductive damage in many fish species, and to accelerating the destruction of coral reefs. 
If microplastics are having their largest impact on marine life, how do they affect people? 
The good news is that most microplastics that affect sea animals don’t make it back to affect humans. Microplastics remain in fish gut tissue, and haven’t made it to the muscle tissue, which is what we eat. 
As the University of Victoria study found, though, it is clear that we are consuming an astounding number of microplastics from our everyday foods. Seafood is not the only vector for contamination: they found that tap water, bottled water, and sugar, are just a few sources of human microplastic consumption. 
Should we be concerned about the potential impact of microplastics on our health? 
According to the National Geographic, dosage is a key concept in toxicology. While 74,000-141,000 may seem like very large numbers, they may be quite small in terms of microplastic toxicity and may not be enough to have any impact on human health. Consuming plastic doesn’t really sound healthy, but everything is relative, and there isn’t yet any evidence linking microplastics to human health problems. 
How can I limit my impact on microplastic pollution? 
What is clear now is that plastic consumption is a problem for species that live on our planet, especially ocean species. If these plastics are harmful for our oceans, then they are probably aren’t the best thing for us to consume either. 
There are alternatives: scientists have discovered ways to create biodegradable plastics, and people can push for bans on plastics responsible for leaching toxic chemicals, like our PCB ban. Overall, the best thing for a person to do to reduce plastic pollution is to try to limit your consumption of single use plastics. Single use plastics are plastics you only use once: plastic bags, like the ones your groceries are bagged in, are the main culprit, but plastic water bottles and product packaging are significant sources as well. Next time you’re at the grocery store, choose a paper bag, or better yet— a reusable one! 

Homepage News Archive

Sign the Petition Demanding a DNC Climate Debate!

Why isn’t the DNC holding a climate debate? 
In the past two weeks, climate change activists have been furiously protesting after Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez announced that he did not support the Democratic party having a climate specific debate for the 202o elections.
According to Perez, holding a climate debate would be putting too much focus on a single issue, especially when there are candidates like Jay Inslee who are focusing their entire campaign around climate change.
However, environmental organizations don’t see climate as only  a single issue, rather the issue that will define everything in the coming decade. 314 Action pledged $100,000 to put on a climate debate, and 15 out of the 23 Democratic candidates want to see a climate-specific debate.
As Vox reports, many democratic voters want to make climate a central issue in the 2020 election, especially since it was hardly brought up in the 2016 election cycle. In Iowa, three quarters of Iowa Democratic caucus voters wanted to see climate change treated as the single most threatening risk to humanity. <Read more>
Sign the petition for the DNC to hold a climate debate!
Most specifically, Sunrise Movement is currently holding a sit in in the DNC protesting the organization’s lack of movement on the climate debate front. Sunrise Movement is a an organization building a network of young people to create an army fighting climate change.
In 2019, fighting climate change is more important than ever. The midwest is flooding, more temperature anomalies have been reported, and large chunks of the polar ice caps are breaking off. What’s even worse is that climate change has the potential to have impact marginalized communities the most. No matter your political affiliations, it’s important to discuss this issue across the aisle.
Sunrise Movement is circulating a petition to demand the DNC hold a climate debate. Click here to sign the petition.


Supreme Court Decides to Uphold Virginia’s Uranium Mining Ban

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on Virginia Uranium vs. Warren, a case questioning whether Virginia had the authority to ban Uranium mining, the New York Times Reports. The justices were deciding whether the Atomic Energy Act, a federal law regarding Uranium, would overturn Virginia’s decision to ban the practice after a fierce battle beginning in the 1970s, when Uranium was first discovered in the state.
The Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s right to ban Uranium Mining, with Justice Neil M. Gorusch (joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Kavanaugh) stating that states should have the authority to regulate their own policies on mining. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (joined by Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan) wrote a second opinion, agreeing with much of Gorusch’s analysis but stated that Gorusch’s opinion discussing the perils of questioning the motives of legislation “sweeps well beyond the confines of the case”.
Chief Justice Roberts, along with Justice Breyer and Justice Alito, offered a dissenting opinion. <Read more>

Homepage Water News

Members of Seneca Nation paddle 290 miles for peace down Ohi:yo’ (Allegheny) River, Pennsylvania

Members of the Seneca Nation paddled down the entire 290 miles of the Allegheny River, called Ohi:yo’ (meaning beautiful river) in the Seneca language, in a journey called Paddle for Peace to Protect Our Waters. The journey has been organized by Seneca cause Defend Ohi:yo’, a group that helped stop corporations from dumping treated fracking water in the river just last year. The purpose of the journey is to raise awareness about the importance of protecting the environment and to protest a proposed pipeline project that will threaten the region’s rivers. <Read more>

One of many bends down the 290 mile length of Ohi:yo' (Allegheny) River
One of many bends down the 290 mile length of Ohi:yo’ (Allegheny) River
Backyard Talk

Is EPA Stifling Science on Chemical Toxicity Reports?

This is the question that journalist Jim Daley raised recently in an article published in Scientific American. According to the article, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is substantially changing the program that evaluates the toxicity of chemicals by shifting staff and program emphasis from the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) to duties related to implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Daley writes that “Former EPA officials contend that the shake-up takes chemical assessments out of the hands of career scientists, potentially to the detriment of public health.”
As evidence of this shift, Daley writes that that the agency has reduced the number of its ongoing chemical toxicity assessments from twenty to three.
The IRIS Program began in 1985 to support EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment by identifying and characterizing the health hazards of chemicals found in the environment. The IRIS program has become the most respected scientific program in the agency. Its health assessments are the backbone of EPA risk analysis work and is the preferred source of toxicity information used by EPA to determine public health risks. It is also an important source of toxicity information used by state and local health agencies, other federal agencies, and international health organizations.
The TSCA program on the other has a much narrower focus which is primarily on reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures, according to EPA’s website. Certain substances are not covered by TSCA including food, drugs, cosmetics and pesticides. While the 2016 amendment to TSCA greatly improved this regulation, it did not address its narrow focus. This shift began with the leadership of Andrew Wheeler who took over for a beleaguered Scott Pruitt as administrator of EPA in July 2018.
One EPA official who declined to be identified was quoted in the Daley article saying that IRIS and TSCA are “very different” in their approaches to evaluating the public health risks posed by exposure to chemicals. “One could make the argument that this is political interference, in that high-level people are saying which methodology we should be using to assess the safety of a chemical. “And the policy’s pretty clear that they’re not supposed to do that.”
Bernard Goldstein, Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, who served as EPA Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development (ORD) from 1983 to 1985, summed it up this way in the Daley article, “I really see this as part of a restructuring of EPA in such a way that science will have very little to do with what EPA is basing its regulation on, and that we will end up with much weaker regulations in terms of protecting public health. “It’s troubling, in large part because it’s very consistent with an overall approach – a very astute approach – to take out the inconvenient facts.”  Also cited in the same article was a comment by Thomas Burke from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a former EPA lead scientist adviser and Deputy Administrator of ORD from 2015 to 2017, “’any  reduction’ of the number of IRIS chemical assessments ‘is a loss for public health and, unfortunately, puts populations who are exposed at risk.’”
Read the full article here.

Homepage Water News

Vermont to require schools to test for lead in their water

Vermont legislators have just passed a bill that will require schools to test water for lead, and that will require the state to pay for it. The bill comes after increased national concern about potential toxins in school water systems: just last year, Vermont tested water in 16 schools, and all were found to have traces of lead in their water. <Read more>

Corroded faucets can be a source of water contamination / Pixabay Creative Commons
Corroded faucets can be a source of water contamination / Pixabay Creative Commons
Homepage Superfund News

EPA advisory group to hold 3 community meetings about Superfund site on Kalamazoo River, Michigan

As WWMT News reports, an EPA advisory group will hold three community meetings for the Allied Paper, Portage Creek, Kalamazoo River Superfund Site. These meetings are meant to serve as town halls for the community to discuss the status as the clean up, as well as the role of Michigan and Natural Resource Trustees in the clean up. Each meeting will discuss a different aspect of the Superfund Site clean up. <Read more>

Portage Creek Superfund site on the Kalamazoo River / Jeremy M Wintworth, Creative Commons
Portage Creek Superfund site on the Kalamazoo River    Jeremy M Wintworth, Creative Commons