Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard

Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard

SOURCE: The Guardian and Center for International Environmental Law DATE: May 15, 2019 SNIP: The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns. Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product. This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday. While plastic pollution in the oceans has become a high-profile concern, the effect on climate change of the ubiquitous use of plastic has not been a focus. “After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says. “With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse.” The key actions which the authors say are required are: • Immediately end the production and use of single-use, disposable plastic. • Stop development of new oil, gas and petrochemical infrastructure. • Foster the transition to zero-waste communities. • Implement a system where...
Plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help produce the oxygen we breathe

Plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help produce the oxygen we breathe

SOURCE: Science Daily DATE: May 14, 2019 SNIP: Ten per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one kind of bacteria in the ocean. Now laboratory tests have shown that these bacteria are susceptible to plastic pollution, according to a study published in Communications Biology. “We found that exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria,” says lead author and Macquarie University researcher Dr Sasha Tetu. “Now we’d like to explore if plastic pollution is having the same impact on these microbes in the ocean.” In the first study of its kind, the researchers looked at the effects these chemicals have on the smallest life in our oceans, photosynthetic marine bacteria. These microbes are heavy lifters when it comes to carbohydrate and oxygen production in the ocean via photosynthesis. In the lab, the team exposed two strains of Prochlorococcus found at different depths in the ocean to chemicals leached from two common plastic products — grey plastic grocery bags (made from high-density polyethylene) and PVC matting. They found that exposure to these chemicals impaired the growth and function of these microbes — including the amount of oxygen they produce — as well as altering the expression of a large number of their...
Rocky Mountain among 96% of national parks suffering because of pollution, climate change

Rocky Mountain among 96% of national parks suffering because of pollution, climate change

SOURCE: The Gazette DATE: May 13, 2019 SNIP: People and nature at nearly every national park in the U.S. are being harmed by air pollution, predominately from fossil fuels and vehicles, analysis by the National Parks Conservation Association found. Of the 417 national parks assessed: * 85% have air that is unhealthy to breathe at times * 88% have seen damage to sensitive species and habitat by air pollution * 89% suffer from haze pollution * At 80%, climate change is a significant concern Among the 96% of national parks that were found to be “suffering significantly” from the effects of climate change, unhealthy air and environmental degradation are Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes national parks, Florissant Fossil Beds and Dinosaur national monuments and Bent’s Old Fort The NPCA, the nonpartisan organization founded in 1919 that lobbies on behalf of the National Park Service, published the study last week. It based its findings on air pollution data collected by the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and academics. Highlighted in the 32-page analysis are the visible changes at Rocky Mountain National Park. Grasses are replacing vast swaths of wildflowers as excess nitrogen deposited by acid rain acidifies and harms the soil; ozone is stifling tree and crop growth; and, in turn, habitat for the park’s biodiverse animal kingdom is diminished, the study found. Other researchers have documented the direct impacts of air pollution on park visitation. A study published in July showed that travelers avoided or cut their trips short in national parks because of pollution levels that are comparable to what’s found in major cities. Oil...
EPA Worked with Mining Industry to Abandon Rule Protecting Taxpayers from Toxic Cleanup Costs

EPA Worked with Mining Industry to Abandon Rule Protecting Taxpayers from Toxic Cleanup Costs

SOURCE: Earth Justice DATE: May 13, 2019 SNIP: The mining industry played a key role in persuading the Environmental Protection Agency to reject a proposed rule that would have protected the public from toxic mining disasters, an Earthjustice review of thousands of agency records and emails has revealed. Under federal Superfund law, the EPA must establish rules requiring industries with a track record of hazardous pollution to demonstrate their ability to cover the cost of toxic cleanups. In early January, 2017, EPA issued a proposed insurance requirement that would have made operators of the riskiest hard-rock mines responsible for their own cleanup costs. Known as the hard-rock mining financial assurances rule, this regulation sought to provide incentives for safer mining practices and to minimize the potential for new toxic mining disasters. Yet in January of 2018, the Trump administration suddenly abandoned this proposed rule, which was on track to be finalized and would have soon taken effect. This abrupt reversal marked a return to business as usual, with taxpayers footing the bill for hazardous spill cleanups from dangerous mine sites. Throughout the western United States, abandoned copper, gold and other hard-rock mines have sat polluted for decades after valuable minerals were extracted, leaching acid mine drainage and posing extreme health risks by releasing cancer-causing chemicals into waterways. In some cases, the hazardous abandoned mines even created cyanide plumes in groundwater, poisoning nearby residential drinking water supplies. When mine operators lack the funds to remediate these hazards, as if often the case, the cost burden shifts onto taxpayers — often to the tune of hundreds of millions or even billions...
E.P.A. Proposes Weaker Standards on Chemicals Contaminating Drinking Water

E.P.A. Proposes Weaker Standards on Chemicals Contaminating Drinking Water

SOURCE: NY Times DATE: April 25, 2019 SNIP: After pressure from the Defense Department, the Environmental Protection Agency significantly weakened a proposed standard for cleaning up groundwater pollution caused by toxic chemicals that contaminate drinking water consumed by millions of Americans and that have been commonly used at military bases. Standards released by the agency on Thursday eliminated entirely a section that would have addressed how it would respond to what it has described as “immediate threats posed by hazardous waste sites.” Those short-term responses, known as removal actions, can include excavating contaminated soil or building a security fence around a toxic area. Exposure to the class of toxic chemicals, called per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, has been linked in recent years to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and ulcerative colitis, among other diseases. Animal studies also show delays in development. For decades, the substances, more commonly known as PFAS, have been placed in all kinds of everyday products — nonstick pans, clothing, furniture. They can also be found in firefighting foams used on military bases, on airfields and by municipal firefighters. In the proposal, the E.P.A. had suggested a water contamination level that could incite immediate removal action. That level was 400 parts per trillion of two types of PFAS, a copy of the original proposal shows. That suggestion is now gone. The recommendations issued Thursday focus instead on longer-term remedial actions — which can take years — to address instances in which the government has confirmed that drinking water supplies have been contaminated. But the agency does not explicitly ask polluters to take action in areas...