EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer

EPA letting some hazardous coal ash ponds stay open longer

SOURCE: AP
DATE: October 16, 2020
SNIP: The Trump administration will let some leaking or otherwise dangerous coal ash storage ponds stay in operation for years more and some unlined ponds stay open indefinitely under a rule change announced Friday.

The move by the Environmental Protection Agency is the administration’s latest rollback of environmental and public health regulations governing operators of coal-fired power plants, which are taking hits financially as cheaper natural gas, solar and wind power make dirtier-burning coal plants less competitive.

Friday’s move weakens an Obama-era rule in which the EPA regulated the storage and disposal of toxic coal ash for the first time, including closing coal-ash dumping ponds that were unstable or contaminating groundwater.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for power and contains arsenic, mercury, lead and other hazardous heavy metals. U.S. coal plants produce about 100 million tons (90 million metric tonnes) annually of ash and other waste.

Data released by utilities in March 2018, after the Obama administration required groundwater monitoring around coal ash storage sites, showed widespread evidence of contamination at coal plants from Virginia to Alaska.

For decades, utilities largely disposed of coal ash by sluicing it into huge open pits. In 2008, the six-story-tall dike on a massive coal ash pond at a Tennessee plant collapsed, releasing more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Swan Pond community. It remains the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and prompted the 2015 regulations that were intended to increase oversight of the industry.

But the change in administrations brought a change in priorities, with President Donald Trump vowing to boost the struggling coal industry by rolling back regulations and appointing former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to lead the EPA.

The latest rollbacks will allow some coal plants to keep their storage ponds open for years longer than envisioned in the 2015 rule.

The 2015 rule required the most dangerous ponds to close by April 2019, but that deadline has been repeatedly pushed back, Evans said. Her group sued over the original rule, arguing that it didn’t go far enough. One of their victories came in 2018 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that all unlined ponds (called “clay-lined” by the EPA) needed to close. The court stated simply, “Clay-lined units are dangerous.”

All the changes together are expected to save the industry between $41 million and $138 million per year, according to EPA estimates.

Eco glitter causes same damage to rivers as ordinary product – study

Eco glitter causes same damage to rivers as ordinary product – study

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE October 15, 2020
SNIP: Biodegradable glitter causes the same ecological damage to rivers and lakes as the ordinary product, according to the first study of its kind on the impact of the microplastic on the environment.

Tests on ordinary glitter and so-called biodegradable or eco glitter were carried out by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge.

The production of eco glitter has increased as consumers are urged to turn to apparently environmentally friendly alternatives to glitter made from a type of plastic known as PET.

Sixty festivals in the UK announced they would switch to biodegradable glitter instead of PET glitter by 2021, but the study says the biological or ecological effects of any type of glitter, conventional or biodegradable, have never been tested. The Anglia Ruskin study is thought to be the first to examine the environmental impacts of glitter.

One version of eco glitter has a core of modified regenerated cellulose (MRC), sourced mainly from eucalyptus trees, which is coated with aluminium for reflectivity and then topped with a thin plastic layer. Another form is mica glitter, which is increasingly used in cosmetics.

The research found that the alternative “biodegradable” glitters had several effects similar to those observed for conventional PET glitter, meaning they could be causing ecological damage to rivers and lakes.

The study found that the effects of MRC and mica glitters on root length and chlorophyll levels were almost identical to those of traditional glitter.

Dr Dannielle Green, a senior lecturer in biology at ARU, said: “Glitter is a ready-made microplastic that is commonly found in our homes and, particularly through cosmetics, is washed off in our sinks and into the water system.

“Our study is the first to look at the effects of glitter in a freshwater environment and we found that both conventional and alternative glitters can have a serious ecological impact on aquatic ecosystems within a short period of time.

She said all types, including so-called biodegradable glitter, had a negative effect on important primary producers that are the base of the food web. “Biodegradable” cellulose-based glitter had an additional negative impact in that it encouraged the growth of an invasive species, the New Zealand mud snail.

“We believe these effects could be caused by leachate from the glitters, possibly from their plastic coating or other materials involved in their production,” she said.

The supermarket chain Morrisons has announced it has removed glitter and plastic from all its own-brand ranges before Christmas, including cards, crackers, wrapping paper, present bags, flowers, plants and wreaths and non-seasonal items. It said the decision would remove more than 50 tonnes of plastic from its shelves over Christmas alone.

From Abundant to Critically Endangered: Shark Species Nearly Vanishes in Just 40 Years

From Abundant to Critically Endangered: Shark Species Nearly Vanishes in Just 40 Years

SOURCE: The Revelator
DATE: October 14, 2020
SNIP: Oh what a difference a few decades make.

Back in in the 1980s and 1990s, a species known as the smalltail shark (Carcharhinus porosus) was one of the most common fish caught off the coast of northern Brazil.

That’s not the case anymore. A new paper by researchers from a trio of Brazilian science institutions calculates that smalltail shark populations in the country have declined by a shocking 90%. They say the species has now become critically endangered and is in need of “urgent conservation methods…to prevent its extinction in the near future.”

The problem, as with so many other declining oceanic species, stems from rampant overfishing.

In this case smalltail sharks face similar threats from two very different types of fisheries. Small-scale, artisanal fishers use gillnets to catch species like mackerel and weakfish, while industrial-fishing operations use trawl nets to catch shrimp and massive gillnets to scoop up catfish and other bottom-dwelling species. These industrial gillnets regularly reach up to 5.5 miles in length.

Each of these methods indiscriminately catches a wide range of species, including smalltail sharks, which swim in muddy coastal waters and estuaries. The sharks only reach 3-4 feet in length, so they’re easily swept up by these fishing operations.

Amplifying the fishing threat, the paper reports, a majority of smalltail sharks caught by the fisheries have always been juveniles. In the 1980s sharks younger than six years accounted for 90.6% of catches.

The elimination of so many immature sharks from the population removed any chance they’d get to breeding age and perpetuate the species.

Airborne radioactivity increases downwind of fracking, study finds

Airborne radioactivity increases downwind of fracking, study finds

SOURCE: The Guardian and Nature Communications
DATE: October 13, 2020
SNIP: The radioactivity of airborne particles increases significantly downwind of fracking sites in the US, a study has found.

The Harvard scientists said this could damage the health of people living in nearby communities and that further research was needed to understand how to stop the release of the radioactive elements from under the ground.

The radioactivity rose by 40% compared with the background level in the most affected sites. The increase will be higher for people living closer than 20km to the fracking sites, which was the closest distance that could be assessed with the available data.

The scientists used data collected from 157 radiation-monitoring stations across the US between 2001 and 2017. The stations were built during the cold war when nuclear war was a threat. They compared data with the position and production records of 120,000 fracking wells.

“Our results suggest that an increase in particle radioactivity due to the extensive [fracking development] may cause adverse health outcomes in nearby communities,” the team concluded.

Petros Koutrakis at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston, who led the study, said: “If you asked me to go and live downwind [of fracking sites], I would not go. People should not go crazy, but I think it’s a significant risk that needs to be addressed.”

Previous work has shown that chemicals released during fracking could pose a health risk to children and the process has contaminated groundwater in some places. Fracking is also an issue in the forthcoming presidential election, particularly in swing states such as Pennsylvania. Donald Trump has falsely claimed Joe Biden will ban fracking but the Democratic presidential candidate is largely supportive of fracking and only backs a ban on federal lands and offshore.

The researchers found that fracking resulted in a far bigger increase in particle radioactivity than conventional oil and gas operations. This is because the initial source of the radioactivity is a uranium isotope in the rocks. Tapping a conventional oil and gas reservoir barely disturbs the rock. But in the shale formations targeted by frackers the oil and gas is trapped within the rock, which is blasted apart with high-pressure water and releases the uranium.

The uranium isotope decays to the gas radon, which itself decays to ultrafine radioactive particles containing polonium and lead. These are thought to become attached to particles already in the air and are then carried by the wind.

“The polonium isotopes are the ones which are very toxic,” said Koutrakis. The element was used as a poison to kill the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Koutrakis said previous studies have shown that increases in particle radioactivity of the scale seen in his work can have harmful effects on people.

Too Much Sun Degrades Coatings That Keep Pipes From Corroding, Risking Leaks, Spills and Explosions

Too Much Sun Degrades Coatings That Keep Pipes From Corroding, Risking Leaks, Spills and Explosions

SOURCE: Inside Climate News
DATE: October 11, 2020
SNIP: For natural gas pipeline developers hunting for a good deal on a 100-mile section of steel pipe, a recent advertisement claimed to have just what they are looking for.

Following the cancelation of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania and New York, a private equity firm recently offered a “massive inventory” of never-used, “top-quality” coated steel pipe.

What the company didn’t mention is that the pipe may have sat, exposed to the elements, for more than a year, a period of time that exceeds the pipe coating manufacturers’ recommendation for aboveground storage, which could make the pipe prone to failure.

Long term, aboveground pipe storage has become commonplace as pipeline developers routinely begin construction activity on pipeline projects before obtaining all necessary permits and as legal challenges add lengthy delays.

Whether canceled or stalled, overdue oil and gas pipelines across the country may face a little-known problem that raises new safety concerns and could add additional costs and delays.

Fusion bonded epoxy, the often turquoise-green protective coating covering sections of steel pipe in storage yards from North Dakota to North Carolina, may have degraded to the point that it is no longer effective. The coatings degrade when exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun while the pipes they cover sit above ground for years.

The compromised coatings leave the underlying pipes more prone to corrosion and failures that could result in leaks, catastrophic spills or explosions. Degraded coatings were implicated in an oil spill from a failed pipeline near Santa Barbara, California in 2015. Toxic compounds may also be released as the coating breaks down, raising concerns that the pipes could pose a health threat to those who live near the vast storage yards holding them.

The National Association of Pipe Coating Applicators, an industry group, states that “above ground storage of coated pipe in excess of 6 months without additional ultraviolet protection is not recommended.”

However, photographs and satellite images suggest pipe sections for the Constitution Pipeline may have been stored aboveground without ultraviolet protection for more than a year before they were covered in “whitewash”—common household paint—that shields their coatings from the sun.

Pipeline safety experts question whether the pipe is still safe for use as part of a natural gas transmission pipeline.

Sections for the long-delayed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry tar sands crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, may be in even worse condition. The pipes have been stored outside with only partial whitewash cover for nearly a decade.

TC Energy, which owns the pipes, inspected a small sample of them in 2018 and published what they found earlier this year in Corrosion Management, an industry journal. Environmental advocates say the findings are cause for concern. Company engineers analyzed 12 sections of pipe for the proposed pipeline that were stockpiled in Little Rock, Arkansas and were exposed to sunlight for up to 9 years.

The 80-foot pipe sections were coated with acrylic, water-based whitewash. However, several feet at the ends of each pipe were not covered to avoid hiding identification markings stenciled onto the pipe, the report said. It concluded that the green protective coatings on areas that were not whitewashed “completely failed to retain their original properties and attributes.”

Those properties and attributes include things like coating thickness, flexibility, absorption capacity and the ability to adhere to the underlying steel pipe. Their purpose is simple; they keep the underlying steel from rusting.

If even a portion of the coating wears away, cracks, allows water to permeate it, or fails to stick to the pipe, water contacting the pipe’s bare steel can cause it to rust. If enough rust forms on the pipe the steel can thin to the point that it forms a hole or rupture, spilling oil or leaking gas that can explode.

Significant failures in pipelines transporting gas, oil and other hazardous liquids are increasing, with one fifth of all failures due to corrosion, according to a recent assessment of government data by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a watchdog group.

‘It’s pretty messed up’: Americans’ deadly love for tigers

‘It’s pretty messed up’: Americans’ deadly love for tigers

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: October 11, 2020
SNIP: More tigers are now held in captivity in the United States than survive in the wild in Asia. That is the grim statistic that underpins Americans’ growing appetites for posing for pictures with big cats and their offspring, a desire that is today being met by thousands of tigers that are caged and displayed in private roadside zoos across the US.

Young tigers are taken from their mothers just after their birth and bottle fed and handled by humans. Then they are used as props until they are about 12 weeks old when they become too dangerous to hold. Many develop bone and joint problems because they were removed so early from the adult female and not given proper nutrition. At the same time, mother tigers are returned to cages to provide future supplies of cubs. “This is done repeatedly,” says wildlife photographer Steve Winter. “It’s inhumane.”

For the past two years Winter has tracked the fates of tigers across the US and recorded scenes of their confinement, maltreatment and exploitation. Some of the most powerful of these images will be highlighted this week when a portfolio of his tiger photographs receives a special commendation at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards at the Natural History Museum, London, on Tuesday.

Winter told the Observer last week that some roadside zoo customers will spend several hundred dollars on visits to tiger enclosures where they can handle young animals and pose with older ones. When challenged, these individuals will often justify their behaviour by saying the zoos were helping to conserve animals, he added.

Winter told the Observer last week that some roadside zoo customers will spend several hundred dollars on visits to tiger enclosures where they can handle young animals and pose with older ones. When challenged, these individuals will often justify their behaviour by saying the zoos were helping to conserve animals, he added.

[T]he huge success of the Netflix series Tiger King, which exposed some of the worst excesses of the industry through the story of zoo owner Joe Exotic, has – ironically – only intensified that appetite in the US, it appears. “There was a huge surge in interest after the programme. If it had not been for Covid, things would have gone through the roof,” Winter added.

B.C. gives Pacific BioEnergy green light to log rare inland rainforest for wood pellets

B.C. gives Pacific BioEnergy green light to log rare inland rainforest for wood pellets

SOURCE: The Narwhal
DATE: October 9, 2020
SNIP: Sean O’Rourke was hiking in B.C.’s globally rare inland rainforest this spring when pink flagging tape indicating a planned cutblock caught his eye. Finding flagging tape is nothing new, but when he looked closer, he realized the tape had the name of a nearby pellet company on it — Pacific BioEnergy.

The company operates a plant in Prince George where it turns waste wood products — sawdust from mills, tree bark, wood shavings and clippings — into pellets to be burned to produce heat or electricity, replacing coal and fossil fuels. More than 90 per cent of Canadian wood pellets are shipped overseas to Europe and Asia, according to the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.

But the ancient cedars and hemlocks in the rainforest in Lheidli T’enneh First Nation territory, about 60 kilometres east of Prince George, are most certainly not waste wood.

O’Rourke, a field scout with Conservation North, a grassroots organization advocating for the protection of old-growth forests in northern B.C., took photos of the flagging tape to show his colleagues. He later combed through the publicly available harvest data to confirm the province had indeed issued permits to Pacific BioEnergy to log the old-growth forest.

While wood pellets are often touted as a renewable energy source, Conservation North director and ecologist Michelle Connolly challenges that claim.

“If the raw material for harvested wood products or pellets is coming from primary and old-growth forest, it is not clean or green or renewable in any way, shape or form,” she said in an interview.

“Destroying wildlife habitat to grind forest into pellets to ship them overseas to burn, to feed into an electricity plant so that people can watch Netflix or play video games really late at night — we can’t allow that to happen,” she added.

The planned cutblock is set to be logged this winter for pellets. The forest is surrounded by clearcuts and second-growth stands of lodgepole pine. Connolly described it as an oasis.

“There are low carpets of moss and beautiful fallen old trees,” Connolly said. “The stands that we’ve seen have really large western red cedars and western hemlock, and we occasionally came across massive Douglas firs that are really large for this area … it would take at least three people to wrap your arms around them.”

More than 500 kilometres from the coast, the inland rainforest is one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. Temperate rainforests far from the sea are only found in two other places on the planet: in Russia’s far east and southern Siberia.

The rainforest supports a variety of animals including moose and endangered caribou. The stands of old-growth trees have been absorbing carbon from the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and the soil also stores huge amounts of carbon.

The province’s promotion of the pellet industry focuses on using wood that would otherwise be wasted or burned in the forest to reduce the risk of wildfires, but rarely mentions the use of whole trees.

“The pellet pushers (including the present NDP government) originally said they would use only logging and milling debris as the source of wood fibre for pellets,” Jim Pojar, a forest ecologist wrote in an email.

However, a recent investigation by Stand.earth found that pellets made of whole trees from primary forests in B.C. are being sent to Europe and Asia.

Wood pellets, sometimes referred to as biomass or bioenergy, are often touted as carbon neutral and sustainable, but critics claim that’s a dangerous misconception.

Burning wood to generate energy is less efficient than burning fossil fuels, which means more wood is needed to produce an equivalent amount of electricity, according to Pojar. More carbon dioxide is sent into the atmosphere from pellet-fuelled power plants than traditional coal or natural gas plants, he pointed out.

The pellet industry and its supporters argue that replanting trees will eventually sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which means burning pellets for heat or energy is carbon neutral. But even if that is true, it could take hundreds of years for those replanted trees to grow big enough to offset the emissions produced by harvesting, transporting, processing and burning the wood.

“It’s so ridiculous to claim that somehow logging is good for the climate,” [Connolly] said. “What we’ve seen happen is that the B.C. government and industry have co-opted climate change to argue for more industrial logging. In this case, it’s for pellets, but they’ve been doing the same thing for harvested wood products for the last few years.”

As climate change, industrial logging and other resource extraction projects continue to impact forest ecosystems, maintaining intact primary and old-growth forests is essential, she said.

“B.C. claims to be exploring all emissions reductions opportunities, but they are not,” she said. “They’re ignoring basically the biggest, best and cheapest opportunity, which is protecting nature. If we’re going to meet our climate commitments, keeping primary forests intact is an important step and what all of us should be asking is, ‘Why are they totally ignoring this?’ ”

95% of Marine Life on Sea Floor Killed in Kamchatka Eco-Disaster

95% of Marine Life on Sea Floor Killed in Kamchatka Eco-Disaster

SOURCE: Moscow Times
DATE: October 8, 2020
SNIP: Nearly all seafloor-dwelling life in pollution-hit waters off Russia’s Pacific coast in the Kamchatka region has been wiped out in an unexplained mass death of marine animals, scientists told the region’s governor Tuesday.

Images showing hundreds of dead octopuses, large fish, sea urchins and crabs washed up on the shore of Khalaktyrsky beach went viral over the weekend as environmentalists sounded the alarm over an ecological disaster. Kamchatka governor Vladimir Solodov said that authorities were considering manmade pollution, natural phenomena or a volcano-related earthquake as possible causes of the mass deaths.

As much as 95% of marine life along the seabed in Avacha Bay has been killed, scientists told Solodov Tuesday following an expedition to the area to collect water samples, search for dead wildlife and carry out a survey dive.

“On the shore, we also did not find any large dead sea animals or birds,” scientist Ivan Usatov said at the meeting. “However, when diving, we found that there is a mass death of benthos [bottom-dwelling organisms] at depths from 10 to 15 meters — 95% are dead. Some large fish, shrimps and crabs have survived, but in very small numbers.”

The scientists from the Kronotsky Nature Reserve, the Kamchatka Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (KamchatNIRO) and the Kamchatka branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography warned Solodov that these organisms’ deaths will also kill off the animals that rely on them for food.

“After this dive, I can confirm that there is an environmental disaster. The ecosystem has been significantly undermined and this will have long-term consequences, since everything in nature is interconnected,” said underwater photographer Alexander Korobok, who took part in the expedition, adding that he experienced chemical burns after the dive.

The scientists said they believe the contaminated area is much larger than the parts they examined.

Federal Government Admits Killing over 1.2 Million Native Animals in 2019

Federal Government Admits Killing over 1.2 Million Native Animals in 2019

SOURCE: WildEarth Guardians
DATE: October 7, 2020
SNIP: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife killing program has just announced its shocking death toll of wildlife killed last year. In 2019, USDA’s Wildlife Services program spent millions of taxpayer dollars to kill 1,258,738 native species.

“This mass slaughter is carried out in our backyards, on public lands, and in beloved parks; there is no limit to the program’s reach,” stated Samantha Bruegger, Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “Year, after year, Wildlife Services ignores the public’s desire for coexistence with wildlife, opting instead to kill bears for scratching trees in the woods, coyotes for making dens on public land, and wolves for preying on unattended cattle in the wilderness.”

In 2019, Wildlife Services killed: 62,002 coyotes, 24,543 beavers, 800 bobcats, 1,362 gray foxes, 1,280 red foxes, 400 black bears, 302 gray wolves, and 308 cougars. Wildlife Services targets the most vulnerable and defenseless animals by destroying dens with countless young animals inside: 35,226 prairie dog burrows, 251 coyote dens, and 96 fox dens obliterated in 2019.

Primarily at the behest of agribusiness and using taxpayer dollars, USDA’s Wildlife Services uses traps, snares, poisons, and aerial gunning to inhumanely slaughter wildlife, while simultaneously threatening public safety. Due to the indiscriminate nature of most of Wildlife Services’ lethal tools, the program almost accidentally killed a teenage boy in 2017 with a M-44 sodium cyanide bomb left baited on Idaho public lands. The boy is fortunate to be alive, but sadly had to witness his dog die from the poison to which they were both exposed. In total, 146 dogs died at the hands of Wildlife Services last year alone. The program brazenly admitted to “unintentionally” taking 16 dogs’ lives in 2019. Past public testimony indicates that the program routinely lies to underestimate their body count.

Wildlife Services blatantly disregards the best available science, which shows that the indiscriminate killing of wildlife only increases carnivore conflicts with livestock. In many states, the program cites decades old research and woefully outdated studies as a reason for continuing to kill native wildlife so recklessly.

“These antiquated methods, wielded recklessly, fail to meaningfully decrease conflict between native carnivores and livestock over time. Yet, despite the clear shortcomings of the ‘shoot, shovel and shut up’ philosophy, Wildlife Services’ budget was actually increased in 2019. To continue engaging in the same methods over and over again, but expect different results is the definition of insanity,” explained Bruegger.

The first human settlers on islands caused extinctions

The first human settlers on islands caused extinctions

SOURCE: Phys.org
DATE: October 6, 2020
SNIP: Though some believe prehistoric humans lived in harmony with nature, a new analysis of fossils shows human arrival in the Bahamas caused some birds to be lost from the islands and other species to be completely wiped out.

The researchers examined more than 7,600 fossils over a decade and concluded that human arrival in the Bahamas about 1,000 years ago was the main factor in the birds’ extinction and displacement in recent millennia, although habitat fluctuations caused by increased storm severity and sea level rise could have played a role.

Many spectacular species, such as a colorful parrot, a striking scavenger called a caracara, and a number of hawks, doves, owls, and songbirds, were still found as recently as 900 years ago, and may have overlapped with people by a century before disappearing or retreating to only one or two islands in The Bahamas. “No other environmental change could explain their loss,” said study co-lead Janet Franklin, a distinguished professor of botany and plant sciences at UC Riverside.

Full results of Franklin’s study were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For example, the Abaco parrot is now only found on two islands in the Bahamas. There are many islands in between the two where the parrots now live that have the same habitat.

“We wondered why those parrots aren’t found in the middle islands,” Franklin said. “It turns out, they were, not that long ago.” Franklin and her collaborator, ornithologist David Steadman of University of Florida, found Abaco parrot fossils were on all the islands until 1,000 years ago.

The study was also able to identify losses of bird species that lived in the Bahamas since the end of the last ice age, more than 10,000 years before people arrived. These species included a giant barn owl and giant eagle—predators whose prey also disappeared from the islands after people arrived.

More than two thirds of the 90 bird species identified in the fossils that date from the end of the last ice age. Either they have gone altogether extinct or now only persist outside of the Bahamas.

Furthermore, the researchers note in the study that “the related futures of biodiversity and humanity perhaps never have been at a crossroads more than now. The transfer of a zoonotic disease from wildlife to humans, which has resulted in a global pandemic, is directly linked to biodiversity loss.”

In other words, as humans increasingly take over wild habitat, particularly rainforests, there are more opportunities for diseases to jump from wildlife to people.