President Trump’s budget plan slashes EPA budget


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Quickly melting ice sheets in Illulissat, Greenland are evidence of Earth’s warming climate. (United Nations/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | March 17, 2017

President Donald Trump plans to cut U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding by 31 percent according to his budget plan released Thursday.

In all, the proposed plan would cut $2.6 billion dollars from the agency and eliminate some 3,200 EPA jobs. Gina McCarthy was EPA administrator during the Obama administration. She said, “Literally and figuratively, this is a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land.”

While funding will be slashed for climate change research and Superfund site reclamation, some EPA programs will be eliminated all together. Among them are urban air quality improvement efforts, infrastructure projects on Native American reservations, energy efficiency improvement programs and water quality improvement work in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said, “Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward. We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.’ So that is a specific tie to his campaign.” More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming over the last century are due to human activity, according to NASA.

In line with a recent report written by over 400 medical doctors, Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies said, “If such cuts are realized, many more people will die prematurely and get sick unnecessarily due to air, water and waste pollution.”

Other environmental activists and scientists were also quick to speak out against the proposed cuts. Fred Krupp is the director of the Environmental Defense Fund, he said, “This is an all-out assault on the health of our planet and the health and safety of the American people.” Krupp continued, “Cleaning up our air and protecting our waters are core American values. The ‘skinny budget’ threatens those values — and puts us all at risk.”

President Trump’s budget outline still must be approved by Congress and is expected to change. The Administration’s final budget will be released in May.

Flint residents sue EPA for $722 million in damages


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Tap water samples used by Virginia Tech University researchers during the Flint Water Study. (Science-based Medicine)
Jenna Ladd | February 2, 2017

Residents of Flint, Michigan are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly mishandling the city’s lead contamination issue.

The more than 1,700 citizen are seeking $722 million dollars in damages. The plaintiffs argue that the EPA “failed to follow several specific agency mandates and directives” and neglected to determine whether local and state officials were immediately taking steps to address the issue.

The 30-page lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Michigan on Monday. It reads, “This case involves a major failure on all levels of government to protect the health and safety of the public…Local, state and federal agencies and employees, working individually and at times in concert with each other, mismanaged this environmental catastrophe.”

According to the EPA’s own website, lead contamination of drinking water can cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia among children. Lead from drinking water can also pass through the placenta resulting in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth.

The city of Flint, population of 100,000, switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014, causing lead to leach from the city’s old pipes. A year later, children from Flint were found to have high levels of lead in their blood samples. Researchers from Virginia Tech University concluded that 40 percent of the homes in the predominantly African American city had drinking water that exceeded federal safety limits in September of 2015.

On January 24, 2017, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that the city’s drinking water tested below the federal limit. Ninety percent of the samples taken contained lead levels of 12 parts per billion or less, well below the federal limit of 15 parts per billion. Still, public health officials recommend that residents continue to use filtered water for cooking and drinking as the city continues to replace its pipes.

This class-action lawsuit follows Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s felony charges against four government officials involved in the public health crisis. In all, 13 current and former government officials have been held accountable for the contamination of Flint’s water.

New administration stifles publication of climate change science


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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Haydn Blackey/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 26, 2017

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has worked to eliminate climate science from the public arena.

Hours after swearing in, the new administration removed climate-related information from the White House website. The only reference to climate change now visible on the site is a promise to throw out “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

The Trump administration also ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its climate change webpage on Tuesday, according to reports from two anonymous EPA employees. The sources say the page could go down as early as Wednesday. The agency has also been banned from making press releases, writing blog posts and communicating via social media while the Trump administration make its transition into power.

In a recent interview with NPR, Doug Ericksen, the head of communication for the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, said that throughout the transition period, scientists will be subject to an internal vetting process before they can make their conclusions public.

Ericksen said, “We’ll take a look at what’s happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that’s going to reflect the new administration.”

He did not say whether the review process would become a permanent hurdle for EPA scientists. Ericksen said, “We’re on day two here…You’ve got to give us a few days to get our feet underneath us.”

Any internal vetting at the EPA directly contradicts its scientific integrity policy. The policy, established in 2012, “Prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.”

It is not unusual for new administrations to curb public outreach while its agencies adjust to the transition of power but government vetting of scientific work is uncommon.

Andrew Light, a senior fellow in the Global Climate Program at the nonpartisan World Resources Institute, said, “It’s certainly the case that every administration tries to control information, but I think that what we’re seeing here is much more sweeping than has ever been done before.” Light added, “And in particular, it’s noteworthy that it seems to be aimed at a cluster of science-driven agencies that primarily work on the environment and climate change.”

Thousands of Iowans exposed to drinking water contaminated with lead


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Utilities stopped using lead pipes in water mains in the 1950’s, but copper service lines often contain lead that contaminate water if pipes are corroded. (Siddhartha Roy/FlintWaterStudy.org)

 

Jenna Ladd | December 20, 2016

More than 6,000 Iowans have been exposed to drinking water with levels of lead that exceed the 15 parts per billion the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe.

Following the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan this year, EPA began to investigate how states are monitoring and testing for lead in drinking water. According to a report by USA today, an estimated 4 million people live in communities were testing was performed improperly or skipped all together.

Per federal regulation, utilities with more than 50,000 customers must continually take measures to protect against pipe corrosion, which can cause to lead contamination. In contrast, communities with less than 50,000 people can stop protecting against contamination as soon as levels drop below the federal limit. Data from Iowa Department of Natural Resources show that 13 rural water systems in the state exceeded federal limits in the last six months. An additional five utilities failed to test for lead at all over this period of time.

The EPA requires communities with less than 50,000 people to perform 20 lead tests per water system twice per year. If those tests come back normal, the utility is allowed to test much less frequently: 10 tests at 10 separate locations every three years. Some towns with less than 3,000 residents can qualify to test every nine years. Lead contamination in drinking water can cause lowered IQ, irreversible brain damage, behavioral problems and language acquisition delays, particularly for children. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, there have been no reported instances of children with elevated lead levels in their blood in the most recent 20 years.

Richard Valentine, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Iowa, said, “I don’t think the regulation is adequate.” Valentine continued, “It’s like saying, ‘It’s OK if only 10 percent of your airplanes crash; you’ve got good safety.’ If you’ve got one failure, you’ve got one hundred (more). You’ve got to find out why, where and sample a whole bunch more times and do something about it.”

The town of Kalona was on the reduced-testing plan prior to lead tests performed in the community this September. Two of the ten private homes tested in the town had drinking water with lead levels that were three times higher than the EPA’s 15 parts per billion limit. Kalona must now double the number of lead tests performed on drinking water. Lead levels also exceeded federal limits in Council Bluffs, Shueyville, Churdan, Blue Grass and Livermore.

The EPA announced late last month that it will be reconsidering its lead regulations. Mary Mindrup is head of the EPA’s Region 7 drinking water management branch, which serves Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

Mindrup said, “The EPA has always been concerned about smaller systems just because the economics are different…than larger systems.” She continued, “But we want to ensure that regardless of the size of system, everybody is receiving water that is safe to drink.”

Mindrup said that the EPA will focus on improving lead management for small rural communities and increasing water infrastructure funding.

Roundup herbicide found in Cheerios, among other best-selling American food products


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Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide, has been detected at high levels in Original Cheerios, Honeynut Cheerios and many other American food products. (Nicholas Erwin/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 16, 2016

The active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide, glyphosate, has been detected at high levels in a variety of best-selling food products in the United States.

Researchers with U.S. Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project used liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to perform the first independent glyphosate residue testing of popular American food products. The results reveal alarmingly high levels of glyphosate in food products such as Cheerios, Wheaties, Special K, Doritos and Kashi products, among many others.

These results were published shortly after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency postponed hearings which were to explore glyphosate’s link to cancer in humans. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a class 2A “probable carcinogen.”

Dave Murphy, Executive Director of Food Democracy Now!, said, “Frankly, such a high level of glyphosate contamination found in Cheerios, Doritos, Oreos and Stacy’s Pita Chips are alarming and should be a wake-up call for any parent trying to feed their children safe, healthy and non-toxic food.”

Use of glyphosate-based herbicides has been growing steadily over the last 20 years. According to one study by Environmental Sciences Europe, the United States has applied 1.8 million tons of the chemical since its introduction to the market in 1974. Independent peer-reviewed research has shown that exposure of glyphosate at 0.05 parts per billion (ppb) can alter gene function in the liver and kidneys of rats over the course of two years. Glyphosate was detected at 1,125.3 ppb in Original Cheerios.

Murphy added, “It’s time for regulators at the EPA and the White House to stop playing politics with our food and start putting the wellbeing of the American public above the profits of chemical companies like Monsanto.”

The Environmental Protection Agency set the allowable daily glyphosate intake at 1.75 milligrams per kilogram of body weight in the 1970’s and 80’s, following the results of industry-funded studies. Researchers with U.S. Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project call for the allowable daily intake to be reduced to 0.025 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, twelve times lower than the current allowable limit.

Dr. Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist from London, reacted to the study. He said,

“With increasing evidence from a growing number of independent peer-reviewed studies from around the world showing that the ingestion of glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup can result in a wide range of chronic illnesses, it’s urgent that regulators at the EPA reconsider the allowed levels of glyphosate in American’s food and work to limit continued exposure to this pervasive chemical in as large a section of the human population as possible.”

These findings add to local concerns regarding high amounts glyphosate residue found in Iowa’s Sue Bee honey. The Sioux City-based company is now facing ligation from Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association for allegedly inaccurately labeling their products as “all-natural” and “100% pure.”

EPA to maintain fuel economy standards


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The fuel economy standards require all new fleets of light trucks and cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon. (Robert Couse-Baker/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 1, 2016

Despite objection from automakers, the Obama administration decided on Wednesday to maintain fuel economy requirements for light trucks and cars.

Following a technical analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was concluded that vehicle manufacturers are able to continue meeting emissions standards and fuel economy requirements for model years 2022-2025. The standards require that new fleets of light trucks and cars average 54.5 miles per gallon, with a reduction to 50.8 miles per gallon should buying habits change. In a statement Wednesday, the EPA said that the requirements help to save drivers billions of dollars at the pump, double new-car gas mileage and drastically reduce carbon emissions. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said,

“Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering. This will enable long-term planning in the auto industry, while also benefiting consumers and the environment.”

Dan Becker is the director of the Safe Climate campaign environmental group. He said, “Numerous studies demonstrate that automakers have ample, affordable technology to achieve the program’s cost-effective goals.” Becker also said that the EPA plans to make the decision final before president-elect Trump is inaugurated in January.

The EPA is accepting public comment on the decision through December 30th, 2016. Comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov to Docket EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0827.

Iowa honey found to contain high levels of pesticide residue


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Iowa’s honey was found to contain up to ten times the amount of Glyphosate than is allowed by the European Union. (Keith McDuffee/Flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 3, 2016

Residue from a commonly used Monsanto pesticide have been found in Iowa’s honey.

Glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup, was classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015. Following that declaration, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chemist Narong Chamkasem and University of Iowa chemist John Vargo began testing for residue in Iowa’s honey. Their research found Glyphosate levels in honey as high as 653 parts per billion (ppb), which is ten times the level of Glyphosate residue limit of 50 ppb in the European Union. Most of Iowa’s honey had between 23 ppb and 123 ppb of residue, whereas previous testing only found a maximum of 107 ppb Glyphosate in honey. The report stated, “According to recent reports, there has been a dramatic increase in the usage of these herbicides, which are of risk to both human health and the environment.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet established a tolerance for the weed killer in honey. In a statement, EPA said, “EPA is evaluating the necessity of establishing tolerances for inadvertent residues of pesticides in honey. EPA has examined the glyphosate residue levels found in honey and has determined that glyphosate residues at those levels do not raise a concern for consumers.”

The Organic Consumers Association and Beyond Pesticides filed a lawsuit against one of Iowa’s top honey producers, Sioux Honey Association Cooperative for the prevalence of Glyphosate in their products. The honey, called Sue Bee Honey is labeled as “pure,” “100% natural,” and “All natural.” Prosecutors contend that such language is false advertising given the amount of pesticide residue found in Sue Bee Honey during the FDA’s study.

Darren Cox, president of the American Honey Association, said, “It’s a chemical intrusion, a chemical trespass into our product.” He added, “We have really no way of controlling it. I don’t see an area for us to put our bees. We can’t put them in the middle of the desert. They need to be able to forage in ag areas. There are no ag areas free of this product.”

Jay Feldman is Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Sioux Honey Association Cooperative. He said, “Until U.S. regulatory agencies prohibit Monsanto and other manufacturers of glyphosate from selling pesticides that end up in the food supply, we need to protect consumers by demanding truth and transparency in labeling.”