May 18, 2024


Eating one wild fish same as month of drinking tainted water: study

Paris (AFP) – Eating one freshwater fish caught in a river or lake in the United States is the equivalent of drinking a month’s worth of water contaminated with toxic “forever chemicals”, new research said on Tuesday.

The invisible chemicals called PFAS were first developed in the 1940s to resist water and heat, and are now used in items such as non-stick pans, textiles, fire suppression foams and food packaging.

But the indestructibility of PFAS, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, means the pollutants have built up over time in the air, soil, lakes, rivers, food, drinking water and even our bodies.

There have been growing calls for stricter regulation for PFAS, which have been linked to a range of serious health issues including liver damage, high cholesterol, reduced immune responses and several kinds of cancer.

To find out PFAS contamination in locally caught fish, a team of researchers analysed more than 500 samples from rivers and lakes across the United States between 2013 and 2015.

The median level of PFAS in the fish was 9,500 nanogrammes per kilogramme, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research.

Nearly three quarters of the detected “forever chemicals” was PFOS, one of the most common and hazardous of the thousands of PFAS.

Eating just one freshwater fish equalled drinking water with PFOS at 48 parts per trillion for a month, the researchers calculated.

Non-stick pans are among the products that use PFAS, which have been linked to a range of serious health issues © Karim SAHIB / AFP/File

Last year the US Environmental Protection Agency lowered the level of PFOS in drinking water it considers safe to 0.02 parts per trillion.

The total PFAS level in the freshwater fish was 278 times higher than what has been found in commercially sold fish, the study said.

‘Greatest chemical threat’

David Andrews, a senior scientist at the non-profit Environmental Working Group which led research, told AFP he grew up catching and eating fish.

“I can no longer look at a fish without thinking about PFAS contamination,” said Andrews, one of the study’s authors.

The findings were “particularly concerning due to the impact on disadvantaged communities that consume fish as a source protein or for social or cultural reasons,” he added.

“This research makes me incredibly angry because companies that made and used PFAS contaminated the globe and have not been held responsible.”

Patrick Byrne, an environmental pollution researcher at the UK’s Liverpool John Moores University not involved in the research, said PFAS are “probably the greatest chemical threat the human race is facing in the 21st century”.

“This study is important because it provides the first evidence for widespread transfer of PFAS directly from fish to humans,” he told AFP.

Andrews called for much more stringent regulation to bring an end to all non-essential uses of PFAS.

The study comes after Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden submitted a proposal to ban PFAS to the EU’s European Chemicals Agency on Friday.

The proposal, “one of the broadest in the EU’s history,” comes after the five countries found that PFAS were not adequately controlled, and bloc-wide regulation was needed, the agency said in a statement.

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Bjorn Lomborg: 7 myths about climate change

The Danish academic challenges common misconceptions

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Freddie Sayers meets Bjorn Lomborg. Listen to the podcast version here: As the COP26 summit meets over the next couple of weeks in Glasgow, we can all expect to be bombarded with disaster scenarios, replete with stories about our species’ imminent demise.

Bjorn Lomborg takes a different view. His latest book, ‘False Alarm: how climate change panic costs us trillions, hurts the poor, and fails to fix the planet’ sets out his argument that, although climate change is a real problem and is mostly man-made, the panic and alarmism is counter-productive. He spoke to Freddie Sayers:The UN estimates we will live much longer — possibly up to about 100 years by the end of the century — we’ll all be literate, we’ll have much higher education, all these other things. So it’s important to recognise global warming is not the end of the world. It’s not the reason why kids should say, “why should I bother going to school?” It’s a problem among many other problems that we need to fix. 

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Real-Time Northern Lights Dancing Over Fairbanks, Alaska

Real-Time Northern Lights Dancing Over Fairbanks, Alaska

Occurred on November 4, 2021 / Fairbanks, Alaska, USA Info from Licensor: “Auroras dancing bright over Fairbanks, Alaska! This solar storm was absolutely amazing and I continue to be amazed by all the

Another massive California oil spill: What you need to know

It can be a messy industry, and previous oil spills have sparked outrage and driven policy and reforms. California, in its protest against leasing in federal waters, has over the decades enacted laws to make that offshore crude more difficult and expensive to transport to the coast, and also imposed tougher penalties for spills. 

Yet California remains, in its essence, an oil state — ranking seventh in the nation for production. Huntington Beach is a prime example of California’s complicated relationship with oil. It dubs itself Surf City USA, and has built an economy utterly dependent on clean beaches and water. Yet offshore oil platforms are visible from the city’s famous seashore, and Huntington Beach High School’s sports teams are called The Oilers.

Huntington Beach is especially vulnerable to spills because of its cluster of six large oil platforms offshore. In all, California has 19 offshore oil leases in state waters, including eight oil platforms and islands, and 23 facilities in federal waters.

The last major spill off Huntington Beach was nearly 32 years ago — in almost the same spot. That spill occurred when an oil tanker, the American Trader, ran aground on its anchor nearshore, spilling about 400,000 gallons of British Petroleum crude oil into the ocean. Now it’s happened again.

What happened, when and where?

The spill began about five miles off the coast of Huntington Beach, where Amplify Energy, one of the largest producers of oil in Southern California, owns three platforms in an oil field known as the Beta Field.

The oil leaked from the San Pedro Pipeline, which stretches 17 miles, connecting one of the offshore platforms, known as Elly, to a pumping station at the port of Long Beach. 

Constructed in 1980, the rig is nine miles offshore in waters that are 265 feet deep. It processes crude oil collected from two other nearby platforms in the Beta Field. Those two platforms produce up to 8,000 barrels of crude — 336,000 gallons — per day, according to the Amplify Energy Co.’s spill response plan.

The cause and the exact timing of the spill is unknown. The Coast Guard was first notified at 9:10 a.m. Saturday. By Sunday, oil and petroleum-coated birds began to appear on Huntington Beach’s shoreline, which local officials closed to the public.

As much as 3,111 barrels of oil — roughly 130,000 gallons — may have spilled from the pipeline, according to Martyn Willsher, president and CEO of Amplify Energy Corp.

Willsher said a ship’s anchor striking the pipeline was “one of the distinct possibilities” for the cause of the spill. The Coast Guard is investigating. The area is a busy corridor for ships serving the nearby ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, but they are allowed specific spots for dropping anchors that are supposed to avoid pipelines.

What’s at stake?

On Sunday, an estimated 13 square miles of ocean surface were slicked with oil. And the oil is still moving south with the currents, reaching as far south as Dana Point today. Sticky balls and patties of oil are tainting the sand of local beaches, mostly in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, officials said Monday afternoon. 

“It is an area from Huntington Beach down to just south of Dana Point that extends a couple of miles offshore and within that there are ribbons or pools of oil,” said Rebecca Ore, US Coast Guard Captain of the Port.

Birds are at high risk, as well as marine mammals and bottom-dwelling creatures. Crude oil can break down the natural waterproofing of birds’ feathers and damage their internal organs. Four birds coated in oil have already been found, including one brown pelican that was euthanized onsite after sustaining wing injuries. 

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has deployed booms to try and stem the flow of oil into sensitive stretches of the coast, including one of Southern California’s biggest ecological treasures, the Bolsa Chica wetlands, according to Christian Corbo, a lieutenant with the department. Pushed by currents, the slick is likely to continue moving south, away from Bolsa Chica and Long Beach.

Oil already has penetrated the smaller Talbert Marsh, which is south of Bolsa Chica and managed by the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy, said Executive Director John Villa. So far, no birds or fish have died in the marsh, he said, although two birds have been coated in oil, and clams, oysters and crabs living among the oil-covered rocks could be at risk. 

“We’ll have to see what’s going to happen,” Villa said. 

On Sunday, the California Department of Fish closed fisheries within six miles of shore from Sunset Beach to Dana Point. California’s environmental health experts warn that fishing in the vicinity of the spill and eating potentially tainted fish and shellfish could threaten public health.

Newport Harbor, home to several thousand recreational boats, also was closed down.

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The latest on the oil spill: A ship may have caused the pipeline damage weeks earlier

California oil spills have driven policy and reforms, making it more difficult to transport offshore oil to the coast and imposing fines.


How ‘Right to Repair’ Gadgets Is a Climate Issue

August 28, 2021

Some of us are old enough to remember the days when you could easily swap out a dud battery in your flip phone. Nowadays, repairing a smartphone — or virtually any electronic device from a gaming console to a microwave oven to a fan — can cost more than buying a new one. Manufacturers make it hard for technicians to get inside their products, source parts, or update software. So devices are just thrown away, generating potentially hazardous waste and forcing consumers to buy new items whose production further taxes the environment. Now frustrated consumers are demanding a “right to repair” their stuff. Some governments are responding, while the tech industry is resisting efforts to give products longer lives. 

1. What’s behind the right to repair movement?

Since the first electronic goods emerged in the 1950s, buyers have sought to keep them going by repairing or replacing broken parts. Today, it’s clear that many products are designed to be unfixable. Manufacturers use non-standard screws, seal devices with glue or solder parts together unnecessarily, making it virtually impossible to replace individual components. The growing complexity of gadgets means technicians need dedicated manuals and tools that are hard to access or unavailable to the public. Some manufacturers use software to ensure only their own parts work. They’ve even been accused of updating software in products to deliberately impair performance with age. Apple Inc., which says it engineers “each software release to make sure it runs beautifully on all supported devices,” nevertheless has been a particular focus of grievance. 

2. What are the complaints about Apple?

Most smartphones have unique components, so the only way to get spares is via the manufacturer. Apple, like other tech companies, doesn’t usually share spare parts with repair shops it hasn’t approved. Critics say that keeps the cost of fixing its products artificially high. When other workshops do switch out batteries or screens, users are plagued by glitches and error messages. Apple says unverified parts can lead to poor performance or even serious safety issues. The company launched a program in 2019 to allow third parties to fix devices no longer under warranty. It said it’s now trained more than 265,000 repair technicians and made its newer products easier to fix. But some parts, such as iPad displays, aren’t covered by the program. And right-to-repair campaigners say Apple still refuses to do some repairs and misleads consumers by claiming to fix their phones while actually selling them refurbished devices. Apple said it always states clearly when it’s offering a refurbished unit, and only does so when a customer’s device cannot be mended.

3. What’s at stake?

Discarded electronic goods generated an estimated 53.6 million tons of waste in 2019, and only 17% of that was properly recycled. This trash contains heavy metals and compounds including arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium, which if not disposed of appropriately can expose communities to the risk of cancer, birth defects and mutations. Moreover, the production and shipment of new devices to replace unfixable ones, not to mention the mining of the necessary raw materials, burns energy, often resulting in the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Researchers estimated in a 2017 study that the production of a smartphone, for example, emits from 40 to 80 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent, about the same as driving the typical passenger car as many as 200 miles (320 kilometers). As more people around the world purchase cellphones and other electronic devices, emissions from their production multiply. The authors of the 2017 study noted that in the previous 50 years, consumption of electronic devices grew sixfold though the world’s population only doubled. 

4. How are tech companies resisting the right to repair?

Companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Tesla Inc. have spent heavily on lobbyists to make a case that right-to-repair laws would expose industry secrets, give third parties access to sensitive information, and put the safety and security of consumers at risk. When Apple representatives fought a right to repair bill in Nebraska in 2017, they told lawmakers it would turn the state into a “mecca” for hackers. Critics say the industry opposes a free market in repairs because it would lower prices for this work and encourage more people to get their gadgets fixed, hammering sales of new ones.

5. What are governments doing? 

Laws enacted this year in the European Union and the U.K. are forcing makers of washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and TV monitors to ensure parts are replaceable with common tools that consumers can use easily. Now the EU is looking into regulating mobile phones, tablets and computers. In France, manufacturers must provide a “repairability score” for some electronic devices. Apple, for instance, gave its iPhone 12 Pro Max, released in late 2020, a six on a scale of zero to 10. In the U.S., President Joe Biden signed an executive order in July directing the Federal Trade Commission to introduce initiatives to boost competition, including measures limiting manufacturers from barring self- or third-party repairs of their products. Twenty-seven U.S. states considered right-to-repair bills this year, but more than half have already been voted down or dismissed, according to consumer groups tracking the proposals. 

6. Are the new measures making a difference?

It’s early days. In the U.K., manufacturers have a two-year grace period to comply. The rules have limitations. Consumer rights advocates complain that they only benefit professional repairers as they don’t guarantee the right to repair for consumers and not-for-profit organizations. Also, the current legislative push focuses on physical components, not software. Replacing a faulty part may be of no use if your device also needs a software update. The regulations also skirt around a practice among manufacturers of selling some parts only as a bundled group, which keeps repair costs high. For example, a consumer looking to replace drum bearings in a washing machine may have to replace the whole drum, making the repair almost as expensive as a new machine.

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