New trouble on Whidbey Island as chemicals from Naval Air Station contaminate a creek

New trouble on Whidbey Island as chemicals from Naval Air Station contaminate a creek

SOURCE: Seattle Times

DATE: December 10, 2019

SNIP: For decades, cows on the Christensen farm sauntered across the pasture to quench their thirst at a creek that carries storm-water runoff from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

In October 2018, the Navy disclosed the water contained trace amounts of toxic chemicals from firefighting foam used on the base during aviation accidents and training.

Brian Christensen feared harm to the cattle. So he fenced off the shoreline and installed a metal trough to hold water piped in from another area.

He’s still worried. The channel called Clover Valley Creek frequently floods, depositing sediments and possibly chemical contaminants on some of the farm’s low-lying acreage used for grazing and crops. And downstream, the pollution makes its way into Puget Sound’s Dugualla Bay, a rearing area for young chinook salmon.

“We don’t know what this is doing” Christensen said. “And that’s a big problem.”

The chemicals — perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — have emerged as a pervasive pollution problem, one that for decades largely escaped regulatory scrutiny.

There are more than 4,700 compounds, found in products ranging from carpet to food wrappers to dental floss. And, since being introduced in the mid-20th century, they have made their way into public waterways and seeped underground into drinking-water wells, including some spots on Whidbey Island.

For Christensen and other residents along the creek, surface-water pollution also is now a concern.

Scientists are trying to better define the health risks the chemicals pose and at what levels, which is a key question since a survey indicates they are present in the blood serums of 98 percent of Americans. Meanwhile, federal and state officials seek to determine the scope of the pollution, and what to do about it, a task made more difficult since Congress has not listed PFAS as pollutants under the federal Clean Water Act or designated them as hazardous under the federal Superfund program.

Firefighting foams used to combat aircraft fuel-based blazes at the air station and many other military installations, have been a major source of PFAS pollution. Defense Department investigations have found PFAS chemicals migrated into ground and surface water at 400 current and former military installations, including Whidbey Island.

The biggest regulatory effort, to date, has focused on drinking-water pollution from two of the PFAS firefighting-foam chemicals, which already have been phased out by U.S. manufacturers amid mounting concerns.

These chemicals — PFOA and PFOS — may increase the risk for kidney cancer, immune-system disorders and other health problems, including impaired learning development of infants, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. As of yet, there is no regulatory consensus in the United States on what constitutes a safe amount of these two PFAS chemicals in drinking water and there are no federal standards to require a cleanup of drinking water.

The EPA has an “advisory guideline” to alert people to levels that could create health risks if they drink contaminated water over their entire lifetime. The guideline for PFOA and PFOs combined is 70 parts per trillion. On Whidbey Island, Navy-contracted testing has found 15 wells with levels above that guideline. The Navy has provided bottled or taken other measures — such as filtration system for Coupeville — to assist those well owners.

[Note: these are the same chemicals featured in the new film “Dark Waters”]

Climate change: Greenland ice melt ‘is accelerating’

Climate change: Greenland ice melt ‘is accelerating’

SOURCE: BBC

DATE: December 10, 2019

SNIP: Greenland is losing ice seven times faster than it was in the 1990s.

The assessment comes from an international team of polar scientists who’ve reviewed all the satellite observations over a 26-year period.

They say Greenland’s contribution to sea-level rise is currently tracking what had been regarded as a pessimistic projection of the future.

It means an additional 7cm of ocean rise could now be expected by the end of the century from Greenland alone.

This threatens to put many millions more people in low-lying coastal regions at risk of flooding.

It’s estimated roughly a billion live today less than 10m above current high-tide lines, including 250 million below 1m.

“Storms, if they happen against a baseline of higher seas – they will break flood defences,” said Prof Andy Shepherd, of Leeds University.

“The simple formula is that around the planet, six million people are brought into a flooding situation for every centimetre of sea-level rise. So, when you hear about a centimetre rise, it does have impacts,” he told BBC News.

Whereas in the early 90s, the rate of loss was equivalent to about 1mm per decade, it is now running at roughly 7mm per decade.

Imbie team-member Dr Ruth Mottram is affiliated to the Danish Meteorological Institute.

She said: “Greenland is losing ice in two main ways – one is by surface melting and that water runs off into the ocean; and the other is by the calving of icebergs and then melting where the ice is in contact with the ocean. The long-term contribution from these two processes is roughly half and half.”

In an average year now, Greenland sheds about 250 billion tonnes of ice. This year, however, has been exceptional for its warmth. In the coastal town of Ilulissat, not far from where the mighty Jakobshavn Glacier enters the ocean, temperatures reached into the high 20s Celsius. And even in the ice sheet interior, at its highest point, temperatures got to about zero.

“The ice loss this year was more like 370 billion tonnes,” said Dr Mottram.

Over 9 million bags of nuclear cleanup waste piled up across Fukushima Pref.

Over 9 million bags of nuclear cleanup waste piled up across Fukushima Pref.

SOURCE: The Mainichi

DATE: December 10, 2019

SNIP: The number of bags of waste from decontamination efforts around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant reached a little under 9.16 million as of the end of September according to Fukushima Prefecture and the Environment Ministry.

The 1-cubic-meter bags are found at some 114,700 interim storage or decontamination sites across the prefecture. In the town of Tomioka — covered by a nuclear disaster evacuation order — mounds of bags have grown so tall that they obscure the power shovels used to move and stack the waste, the black balls covering every sliver of landscape.

The bags of waste are typically stacked four layer high, with a fifth layer of uncontaminated soil laid on top to block radiation. Waterproof sheets are also used to stop rainwater from getting into the bags and becoming contaminated.

Negotiations with the towns of Okuma and Futaba — both under evacuation orders — to establish mid-term waste storage facilities there have been hard-going, and the start of construction is nowhere in sight.

[Ed. Note: This doesn’t sound sketchy at all. No, not at all.]

Newly identified jet-stream pattern could imperil global food supplies

Newly identified jet-stream pattern could imperil global food supplies

SOURCE: Phys.org

DATE: December 9, 2019

SNIP: Scientists have identified systematic meanders in the globe-circling northern jet stream that have caused simultaneous crop-damaging heat waves in widely separated breadbasket regions-a previously unquantified threat to global food production that, they say, could worsen with global warming. The research shows that certain kinds of waves in the atmospheric circulation can become amplified and then lock in place for extended periods, triggering the concurrent heat waves. Affected parts of North America, Europe and Asia together produce a quarter of the world food supply. The study appears this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“We found a 20-fold increase in the risk of simultaneous heat waves in major crop-producing regions when these global-scale wind patterns are in place,” said lead author Kai Kornhuber, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “Until now, this was an underexplored vulnerability in the food system. During these events there actually is a global structure in the otherwise quite chaotic circulation. The bell can ring in multiple regions at once.”

Kornhuber warned that the heat waves will almost certainly become worse in coming decades, as the world continues to warm. The meanders that cause them could also potentially become more pronounced, though this is less certain. Because food commodities are increasingly traded on a global scale, either effect could lead to food shortages even in regions far from those directly affected by heat waves.

The jet stream is a fast-moving river of air that continuously circles the northern hemisphere from west to east. It generally confines itself to a relatively narrow band, but can meander north or south, due to a feature scientists call Rossby waves. Among other effects, these atmospheric wobbles may pull frigid air masses from the polar regions, or hot ones from the subtropics, into the populous midlatitudes. The wobbles strongly influence daily weather. When they become particularly large, they can bring prolonged heat waves, droughts or floods in summer; or in colder seasons, abnormal cold spells.

Because the earth’s atmospheric circulation is so vast and complicated, only in recent years have scientists been able to pick out global patterns in the Rossby waves. The new study builds on previous discoveries of such patterns, and links them to measurable losses in crop production.

Many scientists believe that Rossby waves will grow and stall more often as the planet warms. Kornhuber said that this scenario is quite plausible-almost all the global events have occurred since 2000- but that says is not yet enough data to form a consensus on this. Regardless, he said, “even if the frequency or the size of the [Rossby] waves doesn’t change, the heat extremes linked to the patterns will become more severe, because the atmosphere as a whole is heating.”

Why Texas’s fossil fuel support will ‘spell disaster’ for climate crisis

Why Texas’s fossil fuel support will ‘spell disaster’ for climate crisis

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: December 7, 2019

SNIP: In the same month that Greta Thunberg addressed a UN summit and millions of people took part in a global climate strike, lawmakers in America’s leading oil- and gas-producing state of Texas made a statement of their own.

Texas’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Act went into effect on 1 September, stiffening civil and criminal penalties specifically for protesters who interrupt operations or damage oil and gas pipelines and other energy facilities.

Within a couple of weeks, two dozen Greenpeace activists who dangled off a bridge over the Houston ship channel became the first people charged under the new law, which allows for prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to $500,000 for protest groups.

With kindred spirits in the Trump White House, Texas is now intensifying its support of the fossil fuel industry and, pipeline by pipeline, literally laying the groundwork for production to ramp up even more in the next decade.

The scale of new production is “staggering”, according to an analysis by Global Witness, a campaign group, with Texas leading the way as US output of oil and gas is forecast to rise by 25% over the next decade. This makes it a “looming carbon timebomb”, the group believes, in a period when global oil and gas production needs to drop by 40% to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“The sheer scale of this new production dwarfs that of every other country in the world and would spell disaster for the world’s ambitions to curb climate change,” the report states.

The US is already the planet’s leading producer of oil and gas and central to its rise is the Permian Basin, a shale region of about 75,000 sq miles extending from west Texas into New Mexico.

In March, the Permian overtook Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar to become the world’s most productive oilfield. While Saudi Arabia’s overall production remains far higher, predictions that the Permian’s output will continue to grow at a similar rate – doubling by 2023 as pipeline capacity expands and major oil companies increase their presence – are alarming environmentalists.

The pace of drilling, low prices and lack of capacity have led to the Permian’s frackers producing more natural gas than the infrastructure system can handle, prompting them to vent gas or deliberately burn it off in an environmentally harmful process known as flaring.

“We probably have some of the worst air that we’ve ever had out here in west Texas” Collins said. “Every night we flare out here, let off natural gas, a lot of it really fugitive emissions because we don’t have the regulators out here.”

Private border wall construction continues despite court order

Private border wall construction continues despite court order

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: December 7, 2019

SNIP: The construction of a private border wall partially funded by rightwing allies of Donald Trump continued with vigor in south Texas this week, seemingly in blatant violation of a court injunction ordering work to be suspended.

On Thursday and Friday, within three days of a temporary restraining order being issued, the Guardian found construction crews with at least 10 heavy machinery vehicles moving soil, digging trenches and positioning tall metal posts along the US bank of the Rio Grande in Hidalgo county, which forms the border with Mexico. A 3.5-mile, privately-funded concrete barrier is planned on the site, near Mission, Texas.

The state court order was served to We Build the Wall (WBTW), an anti-migrant group founded by military veteran Brian Kolfage, and the landowners, Neuhaus and Sons LLC, whose land is situated between Trump’s proposed wall and the Mexican border.

WBTW is a not-for-profit group that has crowd-funded millions of dollars by tapping into anti-migrant fervor and is led by former White House advisor Steve Bannon as chairman of its advisory board. Kolfage has described migrants as terrorists and drug traffickers, and accuses border wall critics as being cartel collaborators.

The injunction, issued on Tuesday by a state judge, was granted citing potential “imminent and irreparable damage” to the National Butterfly Center, a popular 100-acre riverfront nature reserve adjacent to the Neuhaus property. The wall could act as a dam and redirect floodwater and debris to the sanctuary, destroying an ecosystem which sustains hundreds of native butterfly species and birds, the center said.

Work was still going on on Friday afternoon when the Guardian was given access to an adjacent private plot, and witnessed crews moving soil, excavating a trench on a vast stretch of cleared riverbank, and preparing it for concrete foundations and metal posts. A Border Patrol vehicle was parked close to the bulldozers, partially hidden by lofty sugar cane.

An employee of the construction company Fisher Industries, who identified himself as Sean, confirmed that work had continued uninterrupted – despite the injunction.

Oceans losing oxygen at unprecedented rate, experts warn

Oceans losing oxygen at unprecedented rate, experts warn

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: December 7, 2019

SNIP: Oxygen in the oceans is being lost at an unprecedented rate, with “dead zones” proliferating and hundreds more areas showing oxygen dangerously depleted, as a result of the climate emergency and intensive farming, experts have warned.

Sharks, tuna, marlin and other large fish species were at particular risk, scientists said, with many vital ecosystems in danger of collapse. Dead zones – where oxygen is effectively absent – have quadrupled in extent in the last half-century, and there are also at least 700 areas where oxygen is at dangerously low levels, up from 45 when research was undertaken in the 1960s.

All fish need dissolved oxygen, but the biggest species are particularly vulnerable to depleted oxygen levels because they need much more to survive. Evidence shows that depleted levels are forcing them to move towards the surface and to shallow areas of sea, where they are more vulnerable to fishing.

Some ocean areas are naturally lower in oxygen than others, but these are even more susceptible to damage when their oxygen levels are depleted further, the report’s authors said. Species that can more easily tolerate low oxygen levels, such as jellyfish, some squid and marine microbes, can flourish at the expense of fish, upsetting the balance of ecosystems. The natural oceanic cycles of phosphorus and nitrogen are also at risk.

The world’s oceans are already being overfished, and assailed by a rising tide of plastic waste, as well as other pollutants. Seas are about 26% more acidic than in pre-industrial times because of absorbing the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with damaging impacts on shellfish in particular.

Low oxygen levels are also associated with global heating, because the warmer water holds less oxygen and the heating causes stratification, so there is less of the vital mixing of oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor layers. Oceans are expected to lose about 3-4% of their oxygen by the end of this century, but the impact will be much greater in the levels closest to the surface, where many species are concentrated, and in the mid to high latitudes.

Intensive farming also plays a major role. When excess artificial fertiliser from crops, or manure from the meat industry, runs off the land and into rivers and seas, it feeds algae which bloom and then cause oxygen depletion as they decompose.

Uranium contaminated site collapsed into the Detroit River during the Thanksgiving holiday

Uranium contaminated site collapsed into the Detroit River during the Thanksgiving holiday

SOURCE: World Socialist Web Site

DATE: December 7, 2019

SNIP: The shoreline of a Detroit, Michigan property contaminated by uranium and other chemicals dating back to the 1940s collapsed into the Detroit River during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The public was not alerted to the existence of the toxic spill until a report was published this week by the local paper in Windsor, Ontario.

The property known today as the Detroit Dock was previously owned by Revere Copper and Brass, Inc., a provider of uranium rods for US nuclear weapons development during and after World War II.

According to a report in the Windsor Star on Thursday, the property has been listed by both the US Department of Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a contaminated site for decades. It has also been listed by the Wall Street Journal as one of the country’s forgotten nuclear legacy “waste lands” where “potential exists for significant residual radiation.”

The Windsor Star report said, “The riverbank apparently collapsed under the weight of large aggregate piles stored at the site by Detroit Bulk Storage which has a long-term lease on the property for such use.”

The Star report also said the collapse of the site—which is adjacent to the property of the historic colonial-era Fort Wayne and the narrowest stretch of the Detroit River between the US and Canada—“initially remained unknown to many responsible state and federal environmental regulatory agencies” because of the holiday weekend.

[R]epresentatives of the US EPA were unaware of the collapsed shoreline when contacted by the Windsor Star. The agency officials said that federal responsibility for the former Revere Copper and Brass site “belongs with the U.S. Department of Energy which was tasked decades ago with oversight of dangerous properties that feature nuclear or radiation histories across the US—especially those connected with war-related equipment.”

Among the major concerns about this alarming event is the impact it will have on Detroit’s water supply. The city has water intake lines a short distance downriver from the Detroit Dock collapse.

As pointed out by Derek Coronado of Windsor’s Citizen’s Environmental Alliance, aside from the uranium, beryllium and thorium in the contaminated soil that fell into the river, the disturbance of the sediment on the bottom of the Detroit River is a major concern. Coronado told the Star, “Sediment in that area is loaded with a cocktail of chemicals that include mercury, PCBs and PAHs which all have negative health implications for humans, wildlife and the water.”

[W]ith Detroit residents already on alert from the experience of lead contaminated water in Flint, Michigan beginning in 2014, no one is going accept the word of environmental officials that Detroit water is safe and that no one should worry about radiation poisoning.

Revere Copper and Brass was a subcontractor for the Manhattan Project—the secret US program for the development of the atomic bomb—and extruded and machined uranium and thorium rods for nuclear weapons development in the 1940s and 1950s. Between 1943 and 1944, 1,220 tons of uranium was extruded at the site and Revere abandoned the site in 1985.

Trump administration again reauthorizes wildlife-killing ‘cyanide bombs’ despite strong opposition

Trump administration again reauthorizes wildlife-killing ‘cyanide bombs’ despite strong opposition

SOURCE: Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity

DATE: December 5, 2019

SNIP: The Trump administration today announced it will reauthorize use of sodium cyanide in wildlife-killing devices called M-44s. These “cyanide bombs” received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency despite inhumanely and indiscriminately killing thousands of animals every year. They have also injured people.

“This appalling decision leaves cyanide traps lurking in the wild to threaten people, pets and imperiled animals,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA imposed a few minor restrictions, but these deadly devices have just wreaked too much havoc to remain in use. To truly protect humans and wildlife from these poisonous contraptions, we need a nationwide ban.”

The EPA allows use of the devices by Wildlife Services, the animal-killing program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The EPA also authorizes M-44 use by state agencies in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas.

A federal court recently approved a ban on M-44 use by Wildlife Services across more than 10 million acres of public land in Wyoming. The Wyoming ban is as part of an agreement resulting from a lawsuit brought by the Center and other wildlife advocacy groups.

More than 99.9 percent of people commenting on the proposal asked the EPA to ban M-44s, according to analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Environmental Law Center.

M-44 devices spray deadly sodium cyanide into the mouths of unsuspecting coyotes, foxes and other carnivores lured by smelly bait. Anything or anyone that pulls on the baited device can be killed or severely injured by the deadly spray.

M-44s temporarily blinded a child and killed three family dogs in two incidents in Idaho and Wyoming in 2017. A wolf was also accidentally killed by an M-44 set in Oregon that year. In response, Idaho instituted an ongoing moratorium on M-44 use on public lands, and Oregon this year passed legislation banning them in the state.

What happens when hermit crabs confuse plastic trash for shells? An ‘avalanche’ of death.

What happens when hermit crabs confuse plastic trash for shells? An ‘avalanche’ of death.

SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: December 5, 2019

SNIP: A study that called attention to a remote cluster of islands off Australia’s coast was met with international concern when it published in May. In a harrowing account of their trip to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands two years prior, researchers recalled seeing beaches that were “literally drowning in plastic.”

An estimated 414 million pieces of it.

But Jennifer Lavers and her research team now say they made another startling observation while digging through copious amounts of litter on that 2017 trip: Many of the bottles, cans and containers were not empty. Scores of hermit crabs, mostly dead, were trapped inside.

The scientists say plastic debris has caused the deaths of more than half a million hermit crabs on the Cocos Islands and the similarly remote Henderson Island in the South Pacific. Their findings illustrate yet another consequence of man-made waste that enters the world’s oceans and pollutes its beaches — defiling nature in ways that foster unsettling imagery. Turtles with straws in their nostrils. Sperm whales with pounds of garbage in their stomachs.

And now, hermit crabs — lured into slippery plastic bottles they cannot climb out of.

“The question was, is Cocos unique, or is this a more widespread problem that could be happening anywhere?” Lavers, a researcher with the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, said in an interview. “That’s what these two islands suggest: A lot of places where you have crabs and debris, this is probably happening.”

The staggering amount of plastic waste on the beaches of Henderson and Cocos Islands is well-documented, but Lavers says their research focused on its effect on hermit crabs is the first of its kind. They estimate 570,000 of the crabs have been killed on Cocos, which is composed of 27 islands, and that 61,000 more have died in a similar fashion on Henderson Island, located more than 8,000 miles away.

Hermit crabs are not born with a shell and spend much of their lives seeking one that needs to be replaced as they grow, said Alex Bond, a curator of London’s Natural History Museum, which assisted in the study.

When a hermit crab dies, it emits a chemical signal to let others know that a potential shell has become available, Bond explained. Thus, a crab that dies after trying to make a home out of plastic sets off an insidious chain reaction: The smell attracts another who dies, and so on, generating an ultra-strong signal that leads even more of the crabs to an almost-certain demise.

“It’s not quite a domino effect. It’s almost like an avalanche,” Bond said. “Hermit after hermit going into these bottles thinking they’ll get their next home, when in reality, it’s their last home.”