Risk assessment does acknowledge potential risks for plants and wildlife exposed to the chemical
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released on Monday a human health and ecological draft risk assessment for glyphosate, concluding that the widely used — and highly controversial — pesticide is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans."
Photo by Chafer Machinery, Flickr
According to the EPA's announcement, the assessment “found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label." However, the announcement noted, "the ecological risk assessment indicates that there is potential for effects on birds, mammals, and terrestrial, and aquatic plants."
Last month, the ingredient won a new five-year lease in the Europe Union, following a bitter fight. Similarly, Monday's draft assessment is a foundational document in the EPA's potential extension of the product's registration for use in 2019, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The EPA's latest findings contradicts the March 2015 conclusion of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which labeled glyphosate a “probable carcinogen." The France-based panel's ruling sparked debate around the world, prompted hundreds of lawsuits over allegations that glyphosate causes cancer, and resulted in the state of California adding glyphosate to its list of cancer-causing chemicals.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in many herbicides, most notably in Monsanto's star product, Roundup. The product is the world's best-selling weedkiller, applied to more than 150 food and non-food crops and used on lawns, gardens, and parks. In fact, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that human exposure to glyphosate has increased approximately 500 percent since 1994, the year Monsanto introduced its genetically modified Roundup Ready crops in the US. Today, the chemical can be detected in household foods such as cookies, crackers, ice cream,and even our urine.
Monsanto strongly disagrees with IARC's classification and vehemently defends the safety of its products. The St. Louis-based company has sued California to stop it from requiring cancer warnings on glyphosate-based products.
But earlier this year, a batch of Monsanto's internal records released by attorneys who are suing Monsanto over glyphosate-cancer claims, suggested company ties to an official at the EPA, prompting an investigation into possible collusion between Monsanto and the EPA staffer.
"This trove marks a turning point in Monsanto's corporate life," Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an attorney involved with the class action suit, told journalist Carey Gillam, who is also the research director …more
It’s time for Malaysia to listen to Indigenous communities and help preserve Borneo
I’m piled into the back of a 4x4 on my first trip to Sarawak, alongside my compadre and boss Jettie Word. We are barrelling down the road from Miri to Sungai Keluan — a strip of highway that can be described as part paradise, part post-apocalyptic — on our way to visit an Indigenous community fighting to save their last remaining patch of rainforest. We are visiting as part of our work with Earth Island Institute’s Borneo Project, an organization that supports community-led efforts to defend forests, sustainable livelihoods, and human rights in Borneo.
Photo by Fiona McAlpine
Miri is the jumping off point for this region of Malaysian Borneo, and the centre of Sarawak’s offshore drilling wealth and oil pride (although tragically, we skipped the Petroleum Museum). The village we’re visiting is up several hours of corrugated logging road, and is Berkeley, California’s teeny antipodean sister city.
The highway is occupied almost exclusively by speeding Toyota Hiluxes, and alongside the road we pass the entrance to Lambir National Park. Our beer guzzling local friend (in the driver's seat) tells us that the National Park is so small and isolated that the mammal and bird populations have collapsed, the only positive outcome of which is a mass extinction of leeches.
After the park, we hit infinite fields of oil palm plantations, which range from lush fake forests, to bald scruffy dust patches. All the trees are planted in meticulous rows, occasionally separated by grizzly wooden shacks where foreign (mostly Indonesian) seasonal workers live, in what I can only assume are suboptimal conditions. Especially considering it’s 89 degrees with 80 percent humidity.
Word explains that because the plantations have created a monoculture, snakes and rats are flourishing in prolific numbers. But if you thought you couldn’t imagine anything worse than a rat and snake plague, think again: giant ancient lizards are also thriving on these plantations in a real-life Jurassic Park. I make a deal with myself not to wander off, so as to avoid sleeping with the leeches.
Photo by Fiona McAlpine
We arrive in Sungai Keluan just as the sun is setting, and pull our creaking …more
Ban on garbage imports could reshape global recycling markets
With holidays approaching, many of us are mindful of the need to collect and recycle all the additional plastic, paper, and other waste that we are about to generate. This year, however, there are questions about where that waste will end up. China, the world’s largest importer of scrap, is looking to clean up its act.
In July 2017 China, which is by far the world’s largest importer and recycler of scrap metals, plastic, and paper, notified the World Trade Organization that it planned to effectively ban imports of 24 types of scrap, which its environment ministry called “foreign garbage,” by the end of the year. Immediately, organizations such as the US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and the Bureau of International Recycling warned that China’s action would cause job losses, shut down many US recycling facilities, and send more waste to landfills.
These worries are not unfounded. Global recycling markets are easily prone to disruption, and developed countries have underinvested in recycling infrastructure for years. Beijing has delayed implementation by a few months and eased its stringent new contamination limit, but its shift continues to send shock waves through the industry. Waste Dive, the must-read daily bulletin of waste-related news, named the initiative “Disruptor of the Year.” China’s action could reshape an overlooked but critical segment of the global economy: the cross-border flows of scrap that underpin recyclng markets worldwide.
The world’s recycler
Scrap exports to China took off in the early 2000s following the lifting of broader trade restrictions. In 2012 China received nearly half of all the plastic waste that Americans sent abroad for recycling and about one-third of the European Union’s plastic waste exports. According to one 2014 study, China received 56 percent by weight of global scrap plastic exports.
This trade makes economic sense all around. Shipping is cheap: Cargo ships carry goods from China to Western countries and carry scrap back, a process known as reverse haulage. China’s booming industries are located near major ports and hungry for plastics they do not yet produce at home, so they willingly pay for high-quality imported scrap to reuse. For US-based waste collectors, selling scrap to a broker to be shipped to China is cheaper than sending it to recycling facilities at home.
Plastic scrap is …more
Restoration work in the California Delta could be key to addressing state's water and climate challenges
From this vantage point, the deck of a cargo ship skims by above, beyond the fragile levee wall that holds back the mighty San Joaquin River. It passes effortlessly through the wide flat river that, due to the levee and the perspective, is completely out of view on a crisp winter morning. With the ship’s submerged propeller probably somewhere around forehead-level, this perspective would normally require immersion in the relevant body of water — no place for a few wetland engineers and scientists like us.
Photo by Kyle Seewald Hemes
A few centuries ago, standing in this same spot on the edge of Twitchell Island in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River, we would have been covered in ten or twenty feet of peat: dark, pungent, carbon-rich soil — the muck of thousands of years of decomposing plant matter and bacterial corpses. It would have enveloped anyone there, bubbling through their entrails and seeping under their toenails, like being embalmed in a thick microbial stew. Today, our small group is merely dusted with the black sediment that, since being drained and exposed to the atmosphere, is kicked up by wind that blows steadily from San Francisco Bay, to the west. This island, like all the islands that make up the Delta, is a bowl ringed by precarious levee walls, anchored in a network of rivers and channels, emptied of its carbon-rich soil by a century and a half of human meddling.
As the water level rises outside, and the land surface sinks inside as drained wetland soils decompose in the presence of oxygen, ever more pressure builds on the levees that are meant to protect these fertile agricultural lands from inundation. Here at the tired heart of California’s water system, from which water is pumped to the farthest reaches of California’s …more
Lack of defensible space around homes a major reason for extent of destruction, says wildfire ecologist
On Monday, journalist, author, and author and environmental activist Bill McKibben tweeted data from CalFire regarding the top 20 most destructive fires in California. He wrote:
“Five of the twenty worst fires in CA history have come since September. Hot new world.”
Image from Twitter
When I came across the tweet, I immediately grabbed a screenshot and sent it off to Earth Island’s own wildfire expert — ecologist Chad Hason, director of John Muir Project.
Is McKibben’s interpretation accurate? I asked. What exactly do these figures mean?
Here’s the explanation that Hanson emailed back, which I’m reproducing with some edits here. It’s worth reading through during this ongoing fire season in the West, when there are so many numbers and confusing data and wildfire causes being cited in the media.
“He is talking about the number of homes burned, which may be accurate. He is not referring to fire size, although the Thomas fire is large — but the others not so much.
“This year there was not much wildland fire in the mountain forests, since we had a big winter in 2016-2017. But the high levels of winter and spring precipitation allowed a lot of grass to grow, and these fires are mostly driven by grass, and shrubs in low elevations near population centers.
“Because there is poor monitoring and enforcement for defensible space in most California counties, and because few counties have meaningful requirements with regards to fire-safe roofing and siding materials, severe impacts on communities can be expected in such circumstances.”
Los Angeles is an exception in this regard, Hanson says. Which is why during the La Tuna fire in September, though there were more than 700 homes within the fire perimeter, only 5 burned.
Hanson has explained before that while a volatile combination of higher temperatures, low rainfall, and dry weather — all in part connected to climate change — is making extreme fire weather more frequent in the West than in the past few decades, that’s not the main reason that certain fires are so damaging.
He says we can avoid the kind of destruction the current fires have wrecked on our homes and communities, “but only if we stop focusing resources on backcountry fire suppression and logging, and instead focus on protecting communities.”
Read our in-depth …more
Climate change, global migration, and border enforcement are coming to an explosive head
When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia (“the Beast”), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.
Photo by Peg Hunter
The men hid momentarily as a Mexican army truck with masked, heavily armed soldiers drove by. Given Washington’s pressure on Mexico to fortify its southern border, US Border Patrol agents might have trained those very soldiers. As soon as they were gone, the Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days. The night before, they had tried to jump on La Bestia, but it was moving too fast.
When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”) In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras’s “dry corridor” planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.
For Central America, this was not an anomaly. Not only had the region been experiencing increasing mid-summer droughts, but also, as the best climate forecasting models predict, a “much greater occurrence of very dry seasons” lies in its future. Central America is, in fact, “ground zero” for climate change in the Americas, as University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor Chris Castro told me. And on that isthmus, the scrambling of the seasons, an increasingly deadly combination of drenching hurricanes and parching droughts, will hit people already living in the most precarious economic and political situations. Across Honduras, for example, more than 76 percent of the population lives in conditions of acute poverty. The coming climate breakdowns will only worsen that or will, as …more
Illegal electric fences on farms are a serious threat to the endangered animal
In May this year, a disturbing wildlife video from India began circulating on the Internet. It showed a dead elephant being carted off for an autopsy in a village in West Bengal in eastern India. The elephant had collapsed on a paddy field after reportedly coming in contact with an illegal electric fence. A crane truck awkwardly dragged the elephant upside down along a dirt road and a small crowd followed, taking pictures on cell phones. Burn marks were clearly visible on the elephant’s trunk.
Photo by Bikash Das
Wild elephants are electrocuted with startling regularity in India. According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, there was a sharp uptick in 2016 with 43 elephants killed accidentally by damaged power lines or intentionally by illegal electric fences. In the southern state of Karnataka there were ten deaths in the last three six months alone. Karnataka is one of the states where electrocutions have overtaken poaching as a leading cause of unnatural death among elephants. “Every alternate day you hear about an electrocution case,” said K. Vijay, a conservationist with the Ooty-based Nilgiri Wildlife & Environment Association, shortly after a mother and two calves were killed by a fence on a coconut farm in neighboring Tamil Nadu earlier this year.
Asian elephants are an endangered species. But not everyone views them in that light. For some farmers, elephants are a menace because they can demolish a crop within a matter of hours. Wealthy landowners protect their harvest with power fences equipped with transformers that deliver a safe buzz of electricity to deter the animal. But small farmers who can’t afford commercial fences tend to improvise. A “homemade” electric fence is often just a single wire strung out on the periphery of a farm illegally connected to an overhead power line. Because they lack a transformer, illegal fences deliver a full blast of 220 volts of alternating current, strong enough to fell an elephant on the spot.
On paper, there are stringent laws protecting India’s “heritage” animal. Under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, killing an elephant carries a prison sentence up to seven years. But in reality, the system is prone to “influence,” according to one conservationist. A conviction in …more