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Cleaning up Fireworks Displays on San Francisco Bay

Advocates push for stronger regulation of Fourth of July shows to protect bay ecosystem

On July 4, all around San Francisco Bay, brightly colored fireworks will light up the night sky. It’s a fun tradition. But how much does the rockets’ red glare pollute the bay?

Photo by Daniel Parks Fireworks displays over the bay are a tradition in San Francisco.

Fireworks are often set off over water, as they are in the shows around San Francisco Bay, because setting them off over land creates a risk of fire. However, fireworks can cause so much pollution, some communities ban them over lakes used as drinking water sources.

Following two fireworks shows over San Francisco Bay earlier this year, held as part of the festivities celebrating the 50th Super Bowl, several reports of fireworks pollution came in to Baykeeper’s Pollution Hotline.

The morning after the first fireworks display, swimmers in the water at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park swam into significant plastic and cardboard debris. That day, National Park Service staff removed charred fuses, plastic, and cardboard pieces from the Aquatic Park beach, filling four 50-gallon trash containers.

Following the second fireworks show a week later on February 5, 30 more pounds of fireworks debris washed up at the Aquatic Park beach. More continued to wash up for weeks. It’s likely that even more remained in the bay, washed up on other shorelines, or washed out into the Pacific Ocean.

Photo by David McGuire, Shark Stewards Fireworks debris that washed up at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park in February.

In addition to the debris that is often left behind following displays, studies have linked fireworks to water contamination, particularly by perchlorate, a chemical used in fireworks to create bright flashes of light. Perchlorate exposure can cause thyroid problems, and is considered a “likely human carcinogen” by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It can also harm wildlife.

This pollution doesn’t have to happen. There are methods of preventing, or at least minimizing, pollution from fireworks. Some cities are already doing this. In San Diego, for example, companies putting on fireworks displays are required to use practices that give maximum protection to the body of water below.

In San Francisco, as in other cities around the country, there are several simple ways to reduce pollution. To start, companies putting on fireworks displays should remove all …more

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TransCanada Complains to NAFTA, Sues US for $15 bn Over Keystone XL Rejection

Environmentalists respond by criticizing closed-door trade deals that favor corporations

The other shoe has finally dropped regarding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, and it’s a big one. TransCanada is suing the United States for $15 billion for rejecting the pipeline project that would have carried crude oil from Canada’s Alberta tar stands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Photo of Keystone PipelinePhoto by Shannon RamosA Keystone Pipeline pumping station. TransCanada is suing the United States for rejecting the KXL pipeline project.

Last week, the Canadian company filed an arbitration claim under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) over President Obama’s rejection of the pipeline, making good on its January threat to take legal action against the US decision.

According to the official request for arbitration, the $15 billion tab is supposed to help the company recover costs and damages that it suffered “as a result of the US administration’s breach of its NAFTA obligations.” NAFTA is a comprehensive trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that went into effect in January 1, 1994. Under the agreement, businesses can challenge governments over investment disputes.

In addition, the company filed a suit in US Federal Court in Houston, Texas in January asserting that the Obama Administration exceeded the power granted by the US Constitution in denying the project.

Keystone XL is a 1,179-mile pipeline system that, if approved and constructed, would transport up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta across the border into Nebraska eventually travelling down to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. The project saw opposition from a broad range of groups including landowners in Texas and farmers in Nebraska as well as national environmental and indigenous rights groups.

President Obama had rejected the pipeline proposal on November 6, 2015 on the grounds that transporting crude oil from Canada wouldn’t help the US economy or increase the country’s energy security.

In response to this latest salvo from TransCanada, a coalition of environmental groups, including 350.org, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Bold Alliance came out swinging at a press conference on Monday. They not only disputed TransCanada’s claims, but also turned the tables, using the NAFTA challenge as ammunition in the growing fight against the latest international trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“This lawsuit from TransCanada is both …more

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Illegal Mining, Logging and Coca Cultivation Are Ravaging Colombia’s National Parks

New peace deal with the country’s largest insurgent group, FARC, offers hope of a reprieve

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valleyColombia’s national parks were created as both a showcase for the country’s spectacular biodiversity and as a protected refuge for its delicate ecosystems. But in recent years, they have instead become a haven for criminal activities that are leaving a trail of environmental devastation.

Colombia is one of the world’s 17 most biodiverse countries. Due to the great variation in altitudes and climates within the country — from high mountains to pristine white sand beaches — this South American nation is home to many rich and varied ecosystems. Its 314 types of ecosystems host nearly 10 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. Worldwide, it ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes, and amphibians.

Nowhere is this rich and complex array of life more evident than in its network of 59 national parks, which span snow-capped mountains of the Andes, the Amazon rainforests, coastal cloud forests, open savannas and the Caribbean islands. These parks hold within them archaeological treasures, uncontacted indigenous tribes, endangered flora and fauna, such as jaguars, cotton-topped tamarins, and spectacles bears, black cedar, and Colombian palm, and (perhaps unfortunately) a wealth of mineral resources.

Chingaza National Park in Colombia.Photo by Luis Alejandro Bernal RomeroFausto and Siecha-Mitov lagoons in Chingaza National Park, near Bogota. The South American nation, which has more than 300 varied ecosystems, holds nearly 10 percent of our planet's biodiversity.

However, the parks are also home to guerrilla insurgents and criminalized paramilitary groups that have been drawn to the wilds by the lucrative prospect of exploiting coca crops and cocaine production and illegal mining and logging. The invasion of these underworld networks has been accompanied by ecological destruction and contamination that threatens the future of some of Colombia’s most fragile protected areas.

“It is a confluence of illegal forces and groups that profit from these activities,” says Elsy de Alcalá, advisor to the leadership board of Parques Naturales Nacionales (PNN), the government body that oversees the country’s national parks. “These could be the most critical problems we face in our parks.”

The most visible of these criminal activities is the cultivation of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine. Eight percent of the coca grown in …more

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Oakland City Council Votes to Ban Coal Exports in Big Win for Local Advocates

Councilmembers cite strong concerns about public health and safety

The Oakland City Council took a strong stand against coal last night. Following a long and often emotional city council meeting — during which whistles and cheers were at times met with boos and yelling — the council passed an ordinance prohibiting the storage and handling of coal and petcoke at Oakland facilities, and a resolution that would specifically apply the ordinance to the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT), which is being built on the old Oakland Army Base.

Photo of Port of OaklandPhoto by Tony WebsterThe Oakland City Council voted 7-0 to ban coal storage and handling in Oakland.

The meeting drew hundreds of impassioned Oakland residents, including representatives from the labor, faith, environmental, and health communities, as well as the terminal developers. Those speaking against the terminal emphasized that West Oakland already suffers the effects of disproportionate air pollution. They argued that added particulate pollution tied to the coal export terminal could elevate the risk of health problems like asthma, cancer, and lung and heart disease.

Several speakers also pointed to climate change and it’s impact both globally and in Oakland. “There is strong evidence that if coal is not shipped from OBOT, it will not be shipped and combusted at all,” Linda Rudolph, director of the Climate Change and Public Health Project at the Public Health Institute, said, speaking to the city council prior to the vote. “If coal is shipped from OBOT, the greenhouse gas emissions from burning that coal will be greater than that from all five bay area oil refineries. It will contribute significantly to climate change and climate change is the defining health challenge of this century. It’s a serious threat to the health of Oakland residents.”

Those speaking on behalf of the project said that measures could be taken to mitigate the impacts from coal and emphasized the jobs associated with the terminal project. “[The terminal] will be the source of generational prosperity for many of the… un- and underemployed residents, and most important, it will be safe,” said Jerry Bridges, president and CEO of Terminal Logistics Solutions, which will operate OBOT. (Labor representatives, however, spoke out strongly against the use of the terminal for coal shipments, rejecting the idea that the issue is one of jobs versus community health or justice, and pointing …more

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Diablo Canyon Shutdown Proves People Power Can Defeat Nuclear Power

Plant’s closure follows more than half-a-century of sustained citizen action against nuclear energy in California

The story behind the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) announcement last week that it would close down the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant  is the culmination of a 60-year land conservation and appropriate energy debate between the utility company and the people of California. The point winner is the environmental community and grassroots activists who fought long and hard for the plant’s closure.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2Photo courtesy of Nuclear Regulatory CommissionThe closure of Diablo Canyon, the last operating nuclear plant in California, will effectively bring to an end the state’s more than half-a-century long, contentious relationship with nuclear power.

PG&E’s concession that it cannot afford to continue running the last operating nuclear plant in California, effectively brings to an end this state’s more than half-a-century long, contentious relationship with nuclear power.

Back in the 1950s the utility company hand sought to prove the economics of the emerging nuclear technology as “too cheap to meter” and received the first commercial nuclear power plant license in the United States. The company’s then president, Norman Sutherland, envisioned “atomic parks” along the California coast in Sonoma, Mendocino, Santa Cruz, and San Luis Obispo counties to replace fossil fuels and hydro-power — an idea that was vociferously opposed by many Californians.

Conservationists, focused on protecting the California coast as open space, challenged the atomic parks as a threat to the environment. Fishermen feared the parks would lead to loss of fisheries. Dairy farmers worried about radiation impacting milk production. Thus, a diverse group of citizens came together and organized a campaign to get state and federal agencies to stop licensing nuclear plants. The debate expanded to concerns about the safety of nuclear power, the unresolved issue of waste disposal, and a desire for clean decentralized alternative energy generation. 

The Bodega Bay Atomic Park was stopped while under construction when an earthquake fault was discovered under the proposed location of the nuclear of the reactor. Bodega Head is now a state park. PG&E withdrew plans for atomic parks in other locations when faced with massive opposition and ever-recurring discoveries of earthquake faults adjacent to planned reactor sites. Diablo Canyon was the only large nuclear plant the utility finally constructed, though in the face of stiff opposition. A remarkable cast of characters …more

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High Levels of Toxins Found in Bodies of People Living Near Fracking Sites

Study first to show that harmful chemicals from natural gas operations are contaminating bodies of Pavillion, Wyoming residents

Many of the toxic chemicals escaping from fracking and natural gas processing sites and storage facilities may be present in much higher concentrations in the bodies of people living or working near such sites, new research has shown.

two women wearing gas masks in front of a natural gas operationPhoto by courtesy of Coming CleanThe study found traces of volatile organic compounds such as benzene and toluene are linked to chronic diseases like cancer and reproductive and developmental disorders.

In a first-of-its-kind study combining air-monitoring methods with new biomonitoring techniques, researchers detected volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from natural gas operations in Pavillion, Wyoming in the bodies of nearby residents at levels that were as much as 10 times that of the national averages.

Some of these VOCs such as benzene and toluene are linked to chronic diseases like cancer and reproductive and developmental disorders. Others are associated with respiratory problems, headaches, nosebleeds, and skin rashes.

“Many of those chemicals were present in the participants’ bodies at concentrations far exceeding background averages in the US population,” notes the study, titled “When the Wind Blows: Tracking Toxic Chemicals in Gas Fields and Impacted Communities,” which was released last week.

Some residents of Pavillion have for years been concerned about the rise in health issues that they suspected were connected to emissions from the gas production activities. This tiny town of less than 250 people has been at the center of the growing debate on fracking since 2008 when locals began complaining that their drinking water had acquired a foul taste and odor back in 2008.

In 2014, air monitoring data showed some toxic chemical emissions at oil and gas sites in Wyoming were up to 7,000 times the “safe” levels set by US federal environmental and health agencies. In March of this year, Stanford University researchers found evidence that fracking operations near Pavillion were contaminating the local groundwater.

Now this new study, conducted by researchers with the national environmental health organization Coming Clean, establishes clearly that at least some of these harmful chemicals are making their way into the bodies of nearby residents.

The study focused on measuring ambient levels of a specific family of VOCs named BTEX chemicals — which include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes — because these chemicals are …more

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Reformed Chemical Safety Law Doesn’t Eliminate Need for Public Vigilance

First update in 40 years to key law regulating chemicals in the US greeted with cautious optimism

At a White House ceremony yesterday, President Obama signed into law legislation updating the United States’ main chemical safety law for the first time in 40 years. The new law revises the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), which gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to regulate the tens of thousands of chemicals used commercially in the US.

view of a child's legs and a plastic toy she's draggingPhoto by soikkoratamo/FlickrThe new Toxic Substances Control Act will not interfere with state-level chemical regulations or actions that were in place as of April 22, 2016, inclding laws in Massachusetts and New York state laws that have been instrumental in limiting hazardous chemicals in toys.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – as the new TSCA law is formally called to honor the late Senator Frank Lautenberg who championed its cause — was years in the making and is designed to enable the EPA to better protect Americans from exposure to hazardous chemicals – including many used in consumer products.

“So this is a really significant piece of business,” Obama said at the signing ceremony.

“Here in America, folks should have the confidence to know that the laundry detergent we buy isn’t going to make us sick, the mattresses our babies sleep on aren’t going to harm them.” He pointed out that the law would “make it easier for the EPA to review chemicals already on the market, as well as the new chemicals our scientists and our businesses design.”

Approved overwhelmingly by Congress and with bipartisan support, (there were only 12 nay votes – about half of those from Democrats who wanted a stronger bill) the bill is being welcomed by the chemical industry and environmental groups alike. While a number of environmental advocates are withholding full support — citing their wish for a bill more protective of public health — even they consider this an important step forward.

Yet questions remain about how effectively the EPA will actually be able to act under the reformed TSCA, particularly given the enormous number of chemicals already out there that lack safety data.

What the old TSCA didn’t do

When it was passed and signed into law in 1976 by President Gerald …more

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