The Environment

  • A pot of unspent federal money could have prevented Jackson’s water crisis
    by Lylla Younes on May 23, 2024 at 9:00 am

    A new report surfaces a trail of red flags that the EPA didn’t raise.

  • Microplastics are in human testicles. It’s still not clear how they got there.
    by Joseph Winters on May 23, 2024 at 8:30 am

    People eat, drink, and breathe in tiny pieces of plastics — but what they do inside the body is still unknown.

  • As reservoirs go dry, Mexico City and Bogotá are staring down ‘Day Zero’
    by Jake Bittle on May 23, 2024 at 8:15 am

    Cape Town, which beat a water crisis in 2018, holds lessons for cities grappling with an El Niño-fueled drought.

  • The key to better climate outcomes? Respecting Indigenous land rights and autonomy.
    by Anita Hofschneider on May 23, 2024 at 8:00 am

    A new conservation study carries important implications for global climate targets.

  • A Glimpse at the Columbia Climate School in the Green Mountains Program
    by Columbia Climate School on May 22, 2024 at 8:50 pm

    Students from around the globe spent two weeks in Vermont learning about current issues and solutions in climate change.

  • California bill to protect children from lead exposure advances to Senate
    by rcoleman on May 22, 2024 at 7:33 pm

    California bill to protect children from lead exposure advances to Senate rcoleman May 22, 2024 SACRAMENTO, Calif. – On May 21, California Assembly lawmakers passed a bill to safeguard children’s health from the lasting and devastating effects of lead exposure through drinking water, an urgent threat in the state.Assembly Bill 1851, by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), would enact a goal of zero lead in school and childcare drinking water. It also would set up a state-funded pilot program to test for, and clean up, lead in drinking water in up to 10 school districts. The program would identify strategies schools can use to bring water lead levels to as close to zero as possible. The Environmental Working Group and Children Now are co-sponsoring the bill, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.Lead is a potent neurotoxin that can permanently harm children’s intellectual development and affect their behavior and ability to concentrate. Even in tiny amounts, it can lower a child’s IQ, slow growth and harm hearing. Studies show lead’s harm cannot be reversed and there is no safe level of exposure to it.Lead testingHolden’s bill, if enacted, would create a state goal of zero lead in school and childcare facilities’ drinking water, help identify and clean up any faucets on campuses that release lead above 5 parts per billion, or ppb, and identify the most health-protective, cost-effective methods of sampling and removing lead in school drinking water.“Lead consumption among youth and disenfranchised communities occurs at a higher rate. Assisting schools with the resources and appropriate standards to ensure the water our children drink is safe will help us protect our schools, students and communities,” said Holden. “Children do not become more resistant to lead’s toxic effects once they transition from daycare to kindergarten, so California should take the responsible step of aligning child care and school lead testing standards,” he added.Holden has long championed drinking water safety. He authored a law in 2018 requiring licensed child care centers in the state to test their tap water for lead contamination. The results of those tests, released last year, revealed alarming levels of lead. The drinking water in nearly 1,700 licensed child care centers statewide – one in four – topped 5 ppb, the allowable threshold in California. Over 260 centers found levels between 50 and 1,000 ppb – 50 to 200 times the state’s limit. One center found levels as high as 11,300 ppb, a staggering 2,200 times the limit.Irreversible damageBecause of the lifelong serious health harms linked to childhood lead exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lead in drinking water not exceed 1 ppb. “Even in minuscule amounts, lead can irreversibly damage young minds and bodies, leading to developmental delays, cognitive disorders and lifelong health complications,” said Susan Little, EWG senior advocate for California government affairs. “We must act swiftly to protect our children from the devastating effects of lead exposure, which can rob them of their potential and inflict a lifetime of suffering,” she said. “Lead is not just a neurotoxin; it’s a ticking time bomb that threatens our kids’ health and well-being.”“Lead exposure is a health, education and racial justice issue for our kids,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a statewide children’s advocacy organization. “We thank Assemblymember Holden for authoring this legislation to protect students from lead in drinking water, and we are pleased to partner with EWG to co-sponsor the bill. “Children Now is committed to ensuring that schools have the support and resources they need to keep kids safe,” said Lempert.### The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.Children Now is a non-partisan, whole-child research, policy development and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting children’s health, education and well-being in California. The organization also leads the Children’s Movement of California, a network of over 4,800 direct service, parent, youth, civil rights, faith-based and community groups dedicated to improving children’s well-being. Learn more at https://www.childrennow.org Areas of Focus Food & Water Water Family Health Children’s Health Toxic Chemicals Lead Regional Issues California Disqus Comments Press Contact Aimee Dewing aimee.dewing@ewg.org (818) 216-2639 May 22, 2024

  • Northern Michiganders are getting off propane — and on to natural gas
    by Izzy Ross on May 22, 2024 at 8:30 am

    The state’s largest utility says natural gas is a bridge fuel, but advocates say it’s no climate solution.

  • Billions of people cook over open fires. Are gas stoves the solution?
    by Gautama Mehta on May 22, 2024 at 8:00 am

    Last week in Paris, dozens of countries agreed to tackle harmful cooking methods — but sidestepped the controversial question of how to replace them.

  • Small island nations get big climate victory in international maritime court
    by Anita Hofschneider on May 21, 2024 at 11:16 pm

    Advocates say the ruling makes clear that complying with the Paris Agreement is not enough.

  • The House farm bill’s disastrous dozen: 12 reasons to vote against GOP proposal
    by rcoleman on May 21, 2024 at 5:58 pm

    The House farm bill’s disastrous dozen: 12 reasons to vote against GOP proposal rcoleman May 21, 2024 There’s plenty to dislike about the farm bill proposal the House Agriculture Committee will consider this week, including its Department of Agriculture funding cuts and problematic provisions that would weaken environmental and other safeguards. The Farm, Food and National Security Act was developed by committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pa.) and has disastrous proposals affecting a wide range of issues including farm subsidies, conservation spending, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP, better known as food stamps, and more. Here are 12 reasons for panel members to vote against it: Cuts SNAP funding. Thompson’s proposal would hamstring the USDA’s ability to increase SNAP benefits and divert $30 billion in funding that would otherwise be used to feed hungry people. More than one in eight Americans – 41 million – rely on SNAP to put food on the table.  Privatizes SNAP. Thompson’s proposal to outsource SNAP administration to the private sector ignores previous similar attempts by states, which led to years of administrative chaos, losses in benefits for the needy and bureaucratic hurdles.  Postpones conservation spending. The bill would delay urgently needed spending for popular USDA conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program by at least $4 billion over the five-year period covered by the next farm bill. That’s despite growing backlogs of farmers seeking funding for proven conservation practices, such as planting cover crops.  Creates conservation loopholes. The proposal would also generate new loopholes to subsidize equipment purchases by farmers for “precision agriculture,” diverting funds from proven practices such as cover crops.    Thompson’s proposal vastly expands the definition of “precision agriculture” to justify spending more on costly practices. Precision agriculture enhancements already received the most funding – more than $220 million – of all Conservation Stewardship Program enhancements between 2018 and 2023.  Removes climate guardrails. It would eliminate guardrails included in the Inflation Reduction Act that ensure farmers seeking help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have access to USDA funding. The bill would also undermine the carbon sequestration potential of the Conservation Reserve Program.  Blocks state animal welfare laws. The bill would quash state efforts to set standards that ensure humane treatment of farm animals.  Prevents state and local pesticide laws. It would also block passage of state and local pesticide laws, including state laws designed to protect schoolchildren from exposure to toxic pesticides.  Increases subsidies for large, Southern farmers. The proposal would divert anti-hunger funds to dramatically increase subsidies for a handful of large peanut, rice and cotton farmers, primarily in Southern states. Raising these subsidies will drive up the cost of renting and buying lands, further tilting the playing fields against family farmers, Black farmers and young farmers.  Increases subsidies for crop insurance, especially agents and companies. The bill proposes to raise subsidies for crop insurance, especially for crop insurance agents and companies. Fewer than one in five farmers – or 20 percent – can afford to participate in the crop insurance programs.  Enlarges the federal deficit. While the Congressional Budget Office has not produced a cost estimate for the bill, it would likely add tens of billions of dollars to the federal deficit to provide more money to large, Southern farms – even after $30 billion in SNAP cuts.  Undermines school food standards. The proposal would set the stage for an end run around the process for setting standards for school meals. It would also handicap the evidence-based approach to setting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Weakens environmental safeguards. If enacted, the bill would threaten bedrock environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.  There are many other reasons to oppose Thompson’s proposal, including his failure to boost funding for programs that help farmers build local markets.  But perhaps the most compelling reason – other than cuts to SNAP and conservation programs – is that the proposal departs from the usual bipartisan process that has long been a feature of the farm bill. Instead, for the first time, the proposal would move money from one part of the farm bill to pay for another part.  People outside the Beltway know that partisan solutions are not durable solutions, and that it’s never wise to rob Peter to pay Paul.  Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Conservation Farm Subsidies Disqus Comments Authors Geoff Horsfield May 21, 2024

  • South Korea’s energy trap: Government-funded dead end fossil fuel investments
    by Grist Creative on May 21, 2024 at 5:21 pm

    South Korea is investing massive amounts of public funding into importing natural gas while demand is declining.

  • How data gaps could put US territories like Guam and Puerto Rico at greater risk for climate change
    by Anita Hofschneider on May 21, 2024 at 8:45 am

    “If folks are serious about environmental justice, they need to be serious about addressing equity issues in U.S territories.”

  • Landfills leak methane with impunity, new research shows
    by Naveena Sadasivam on May 21, 2024 at 8:30 am

    “Something is wrong with the system.”

  • Scope 3 Carbon Emissions and the Management of Supply Chains
    by Steve Cohen on May 20, 2024 at 12:01 pm

    Measuring an organization’s impact on its environment is becoming a routine part of competent and effective organizational management. Extending that measurement process into the supply chain is part of current best management practices.

  • Bottled water is full of microplastics. Is it still ‘natural’?
    by Joseph Winters on May 20, 2024 at 8:45 am

    Recent lawsuits say Arrowhead, Evian, Poland Spring, and other water bottlers are deceiving customers.

  • Oil companies contaminated a family farm. The courts and regulators let the drillers walk away.
    by Mark Olalde, ProPublica on May 19, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    The oil and gas industry has reaped profits without ensuring there will be money to plug and clean up their wells. In Oklahoma, that work could cost more than $7 billion if it falls to the state.

  • As fossil fuel plants face retirement, a Puerto Rico community pushes for rooftop solar
    by Esther Frances, Inside Climate News on May 18, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    Land for large solar arrays is limited on the island. Rooftop panels can provide electricity during blackouts and bring the island closer to its clean energy goals.

  • New EPA data confirm widespread ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water
    by rcoleman on May 17, 2024 at 8:43 pm

    New EPA data confirm widespread ‘forever chemicals’ in drinking water rcoleman May 17, 2024 WASHINGTON – On May 16, the Environmental Protection Agency posted new data confirming 89.3 million people in communities throughout the U.S. have drinking water that has tested positive for the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.But the actual scale of the PFAS contamination crisis is likely much greater, as the EPA’s results are based just on the latest testing from about one-third of water systems that serve 90 percent of the population. All public water systems serving over 3,000 people are required by the agency to test for 29 individual PFAS between now and 2026, so more results are coming.“We call on water utilities to inform their customers immediately if PFAS have been detected, and to begin water treatment as quickly as possible to protect their customers from these toxic forever chemicals,” said John Reeder, vice president of federal affairs at the Environmental Working Group.The EPA’s new data underscore the importance of the Biden administration’sunprecedented efforts to tackle PFAS contamination in drinking water, clean up contaminated sites and reduce unnecessary uses of forever chemicals.Notably, the agency in April finalized landmark drinking water standards that establish health-protective legal limits for six PFAS in tap water, including a 4 parts per trillion, or ppt, limit on PFOA and PFOS – two of the most notorious PFAS. These new enforceable standards are expected to save thousands of lives, prevent tens of thousands of serious illnesses and improve drinking water quality for millions of people.“The EPA data reaffirm the Biden administration’s decision to issue bold new drinking water standards for PFAS,” said Reeder.The newly posted data reflect the results of water sampling for PFAS conducted from 2023 to 2024 at 4,750 water systems as part of the agency’s Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule, or UCMR 5. The data show PFAS were present in 33 percent of systems tested. But the latest test results released by the EPA tell only part of the story – PFAS contamination is likely much more widespread.A 2020 study published by EWG scientists estimated more than 200 million Americans are served by water systems with PFOA or PFOS in their drinking water at a concentration of 1 ppt or higher. The EPA only reports detections at 4 ppt or higher for these chemicals.EWG’s interactive PFAS contamination map, which is updated frequently, shows public and private water systems known to be contaminated with toxic PFAS at thousands of locations. As of May 21, 2024, the map shows PFAS are known to contaminate 6,189 locations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four territories. Risks of PFAS exposure“These chemicals are toxic at extremely low levels,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., EWG deputy director of investigations and a senior scientist. “Every week new research reveals the endless extent of contamination and detrimental impacts that PFAS exposure causes through the body.“These new PFAS detections highlight a threat to the well-being of individuals and communities drinking this contaminated water,” he said.PFAS are known as forever chemicals because once released into the environment they do not break down and they can build up in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected PFAS in the blood of 99 percent of Americans, including newborn babies. Very low doses of PFAS have been linked to suppression of the immune system. Studies show exposure to very low levels of PFAS can also increase the risk of cancer, harm fetal development and reduce vaccine effectiveness. If you know or suspect PFAS are in your tap water, the best way to protect yourself is with a filtration system at home. EWG researchers tested the performance of 10 popular water filters and measured how well each reduced PFAS detected in home tap water. ###The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Areas of Focus Food & Water Water Toxic Chemicals PFAS Chemicals Disqus Comments Press Contact Monica Amarelo monica@ewg.org (202) 939-9140 May 20, 2024

  • What are ultra-processed foods?
    by rcoleman on May 17, 2024 at 3:03 pm

    What are ultra-processed foods? rcoleman May 17, 2024 Most of the foods and drinks the average American consumes may be making them sick.  So-called ultra-processed foods can be harmful to your health, according to study after study. The most recent one says several categories of these foods are particularly hazardous: certain ready-to-eat meat-, poultry-, and seafood-based products, sugary and artificially sweetened drinks, dairy-based desserts and certain breakfast items.  These are familiar foods – ice cream, snack bars, frozen meals and salad dressing, cereal, baking mixes and soda, to name just a few. Many are often popular as kids’ snacks. And Americans are eating a lot of them. Experts agree that foods containing certain ingredients – such as artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers, gums and artificial sweeteners – are the hallmarks of ultra-processed food. Another shared characteristic is they’re hard to resist.  Health harms Research shows that ultra-processed foods are connected to a range of health problems.  Obesity is chief among them. Rates of obesity in the U.S. and globally have skyrocketed in tandem with the rising consumption of ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed foods have also been associated with other metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes. Heart disease and cancer, among other conditions, have been linked to ultra-processed foods. One study showed that the people who ate and drank the most of these items had a 50 percent higher risk of depression than those consuming the least. One underlying problem with ultra-processed foods is the sugar, fat and salt they typically contain. Another is the presence of chemicals that in part define the foods as ultra-processed: industrial, lab-made ingredients, including potentially harmful food additives, such as artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors.  More than half of U.S. consumption – and rising The health problems associated with ultra-processed foods are likely to continue so long as Americans keep consuming them at the current pace. The U.S. consumes more ultra-processed foods than any other industrialized country. These foods make up more than half the typical adult diet in this nation – and rising. In less than two decades, consumption went up from 54 percent of calories in 2001 to 57 percent in 2018. This type of food is responsible for two-thirds of kids’ and teens’ calories – 67 percent in 2018, up from 61 percent in 1999.  Experts say ultra-processed food and drinks trick people into eating more of them than they want – that the products are engineered to evoke a desire to consume more, especially soda. One study argues they prompt an addiction-like response, much the way people respond to nicotine and alcohol.  Inequitable consumption  But sometimes ultra-processed foods are the most affordable, easiest access choice. In many communities of color and neighborhoods of people living on less income, highly processed food is more accessible than unprocessed, whole foods and fresh produce. These inequities in turn give rise to disparities in health outcomes. Black, Latino and Asian American people experience higher rates of the many health harms associated with consumption of ultra-processed foods.   Economically underprivileged neighborhoods – those with fewer healthy food options – are most exposed to convenience stores and fast food restaurants, hubs of ultra-processed foods. Because of a history of systemic racism, the same is also true for many neighborhoods made up primarily of people of color. Dollar stores too by and large sell ultra-processed foods, not fresh produce and other whole foods. They have become notorious as ready sources of these foods – and their number has skyrocketed in recent years. There are 35,000 of them in the U.S., counting the stores owned by just two companies. In what has been called “supermarket redlining,” these stores are especially prevalent in rural areas, communities of color and communities living on lower incomes.  Studies show that the presence of stores with this abundance of ultra-processed foods harm communities’ chances of attracting traditional grocery stores, which put healthier foods closer at hand – though still often inaccessible, since they may cost more. Regulatory state of play It should not be left to consumers to shop their way out of this problem. But slow action by the federal government has led to that situation. Agencies have failed to protect consumers: Since 2000, almost all food chemicals – 99 percent – have been approved by the chemical industry, not the Food and Drug Administration. For the moment, petitions to the FDA asking it to ban certain food chemicals, filed by a coalition of nonprofit organizations, including EWG, are under review. The chemicals include the additives Red No. 3, titanium dioxide in food, bisphenol A and butylated hydroxyanisole as well as cancer-causing substances used to process food – benzene and ethylene dichloride, methylene chloride and trichloroethylene. The presence of these chemicals, among many others, is a signature of ultra-processed foods. In the absence of federal regulations, states are taking action.  In March, a bill banning six harmful food dyes and titanium dioxide in public schools was introduced in California. The bill is co-sponsored by EWG and Consumer Reports. This bill comes on the heels of a new Golden State law banning state-wide the manufacture, distribution or sale of food containing the chemicals Red Dye No. 3, propylparaben, brominated vegetable oil and potassium bromate. It was also co-sponsored by EWG and Consumer Reports. California has long been a bellwether state, but 10 others – including Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania – are also looking to limit consumption of these chemicals and others in ultra-processed food. More states will likely soon follow suit. And the Department of Agriculture 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines, under development now, may address processing rather than nutrition only. But the guidelines may have  a single focus: How are dietary patterns that include varying amounts of ultra-processed foods consumed linked to growth, body composition and risk of obesity?  The guidelines won’t be released until next year.  How to lower your consumption of ultra-processed food Who doesn’t want a little junk food from time to time? It can be a treat that shouldn’t cause major health problems. The key is to avoid the health consequences that can come from consuming too much of it. You can:  Eat primarily foods that are less processed, such as whole grains, beans and legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you choose to eat ultra-processed foods, do so in moderation.  If you buy packaged foods, choose organic whenever possible – they’re made with fewer harmful ingredients, according to peer-reviewed EWG research.  Study nutritional labels to find out what’s in the foods you want to buy. The fewer ingredients listed on the label, the less processed the food. If there are more than one or two ingredients you can’t identify, the product is likely ultra-processed and contains potentially harmful chemicals. Beware front-of-packaging marketing language like “healthy.” The FDA studied front-of-packaging labeling, consulting focus groups and reviewing research on the issue. It has said it would propose a rule this summer providing guidance on this issue, but it’s not clear when or even if that will happen. For now, companies can use whatever language they want on front-of-package labeling, including using green packaging and graphics to hint at a higher nutritional value than a product merits. Consult Food Scores, EWG’s searchable database of more than 80,000 foods, to learn more about the products you buy and their ingredients. Products are rated on the basis of ingredient, nutrition and processing concerns. These foods don’t announce themselves as ultra-processed, but the ingredients label can inform you. And don’t be fooled: Some so-called healthy foods may well fit the description. Areas of Focus Food & Water Food Family Health Children’s Health Toxic Chemicals Food Chemicals Disqus Comments Authors Ketura Persellin May 17, 2024

  • Benefit of boost in crop reference prices would mostly only aid large farmers in just 100 counties
    by rcoleman on May 17, 2024 at 1:14 pm

    Benefit of boost in crop reference prices would mostly only aid large farmers in just 100 counties rcoleman May 17, 2024 Here we go again: House Republicans are trying to rig subsidy programs to benefit Southern farmers.Their proposal would raise price guarantees for commodity crops in the upcoming farm bill, mostly to the benefit of farmers growing peanuts, cotton and rice, a recent study found – not corn and soybean farmers. And those farmers benefiting the most are located in just 100 counties – or a paltry 3 percent of U.S. counties. The proposed 10 to 20 percent increase in price guarantees would overwhelmingly help farmers clustered in a small number of counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, an EWG analysis of Department of Agriculture data finds. The study found that a 10 percent increase in price guarantees for major commodity crops would jack up the cost of the program by $17.4 billion.EWG’s analysis further showed that more than one-third of the dollars spent to boost price guarantees by 10 percent would flow to just 100 counties, primarily counties located in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia.Counties receiving one-third of payment increases Image Source: EWG, from the USDA Farm Service Agency, ARC/PLC Program Data, Univ. of Illinois – FarmDoc DailyOnce the price guarantees are triggered by declining market prices, farmers get a payment to make up the difference between the price guarantee in the farm bill and the market price. Since payments are linked to production, the largest producers receive the lion’s share of the funding. In 2021, the top 10 percent of farmers collected more than 80 percent of these Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, payments. Farmers growing covered commodities must choose between subsidies triggered either by crop prices through the PLC program or by crop revenue through the Agricultural Risk Coverage program. An increase in the price guarantees included in the farm bill will only increase subsidies triggered by crop prices in the PLC program. Farmers growing peanuts, rice and cotton are overwhelmingly expected to choose subsidies set off by crop prices, recent studies show. With the exception of rice growers in California’s Central Valley and Arizona cotton farmers, most are located in Southern states. The price guarantee for soybeans hasn’t been triggered since Congress created the PLC program, in 2014. By contrast, the price guarantee for peanuts has been triggered everyyear since 2014 and for rice in all but one year.The recent study by experts in agricultural economy at the University of Illinois and the Ohio State University showed the unequal increase in payments if price guarantees go up. Payments made to rice farmers would rise by 140 percent. But soybean farmers would see just 8 percent more.Payments linked to these price guarantees are predicted to skyrocket over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent projections, from February 2024. Those predictions don’t take into account the House Republican proposals to increase these payments by 10 to 20 percent. If it seems like déjà vu all over again, that’s because it is – we’ve seen this favoritism of Southern farmers before. The Government Accountability Office found similar preferences in the Market Facilitation Program created by the USDA during the Trump administration to address damage caused by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.The GAO found the program paid cotton farmers 33 times more than the costs of the damage. And if you guessed that that increase mostly benefited Southern states, you’d be right.  Areas of Focus Farming & Agriculture Farm Subsidies Disqus Comments Authors Jared Hayes May 17, 2024

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