Archives for posts with tag: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

A coal mine fire burning for almost a month is forcing residents of an Australian town from their homes after pollution more than 22 times above recommended safe levels triggered a health alert.

Green Halo - Australians Flee Beijing-Style Smog as Coal Mine BurnsFirefighters are pumping as much as 84,000 liters of water a minute, the equivalent of about two Olympic-size swimming pools an hour, onto the burning mine at GDF Suez’s Hazelwood power station in Victoria state, according to local authorities. Pollution readings in the nearby town of Morwell, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Melbourne, peaked last month at levels beyond hazardous on the Air Quality Index.

Residents have abandoned more than half of the 750 homes in the worst-affected area, as families with pregnant women, elderly people and young children take up A$1,250 ($1,128) weekly payments to temporarily relocate, according to the state government. Victoria’s Premier Denis Napthine has urged people in the region to offer vacant holiday homes to those seeking respite and pledged use of his own coastal vacation property.

“The ash falling out of the sky every day was getting in to every part of the house that wasn’t air tight, it smelled like an ashtray,” said Nick Albon, a 30-year-old engineer who moved out of his home about 500 meters from the mine’s northern boundary on Feb. 16. “Headaches were the first thing to instantly hit. As soon as you got out in the smoke, you could taste it in your mouth whenever you were outside.”

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The Sierra Club has put together a list of “The 5 Worst Foods for Environmentalists to Eat.” For many of you, this list probably doesn’t hold many surprises, but it is still an important reminder of the decisions we as consumers make on a daily basis when choosing what to put into our bodies. Some foods, like it or not, are best avoided completely, no matter how delicious they may taste.

Conventional Coffee

From an environmental standpoint, it’s crucial to buy shade-grown, organic coffee. (Fair trade is also important for the growers.) Coffee is meant to grow in the shade, but many farmers now grow it in full sunlight, with a heavy dependence on pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. They also chop down rainforests, destroying bird habitats. Look for the green gecko stamp from the Rainforest Alliance when purchasing coffee.

Factory-farmed Beef

“Cheap burgers are environmental assassins,” says Logan Strenchock, Central European University’s sustainability officer. Forests are clear-cut to grow the GMO corn and soy used to feed cows. Those crops have awful pesticide runoff that contaminate waterways, not to mention the waste generated by keeping large numbers of cows in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation). Even grass-fed beef “depletes native biodiversity, increases invasive exotics, diverts water, fouls streams, and bares the soil,” according to Mary O’Brien, director of the Utah Forests Program. Then the fresh meat has to be kept cool till it’s used, requiring vast amounts of energy.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is used in half of all packaged foods sold in the U.S., particularly cookies, crackers, and soups. Pam oil is the largest cause of rainforest destruction, resulting in huge swaths of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests being bulldozed in order to plant palm oil trees. “Eight million acres have been cleared and burned already, and the orangutan is on its way to extinction,” says Christy Wilhelmi, author of Gardening for Geeks. The solution? Ditch those packaged foods, start cooking from scratch, and always, always read labels.

Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin is a popular choice at high-end sushi restaurants, but their numbers in the oceans are dropping fast. Because they live so long, Bluefin are unable to stand up to overfishing. They’re also high in mercury. The Sierra Club quotes food critic Jonathan Gold, saying, “People need to stop eating Bluefin tuna, period… The numbers of these magnificent fish are dropping fast. If we don’t stop eating them now, we’ll stop in a few years anyway because there won’t be any more.”

Genetically Modified Corn

GMO corn “destroys habitats, depletes soils, breaks nutrient cycles, pollutes air and water, contaminates native maize varieties, and on and on,” according to Douglas Fox, professor of sustainable agriculture at Unity College. It kills bees, reduces biodiversity, drives heirloom crops to extinction, and requires excessive processing to transform it into high fructose corn syrup, another ingredient found in processed foods (which should be avoided anyways because they contain palm oil).

No doubt there are many other foods that should be added to this environmental blacklist, but banishing these five from one’s diet is a good place to start.

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Two and a half years after a near meltdown, the Fukushima nuclear power plant is still in trouble. The Nuclear Regulation Authority issued a new warning Wednesday, raising the severity level of the continuing leak from one to three on an international eight-point scale.

Ever since the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake shook the area, the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant has been subject to numerous leaks and controversies.

The alert comes as TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co) found at least 300 metric tons of radioactive water to have leaked from the site, with ‘hotspots’ found nearby. Workers are now scrambling to check an additional 300 tanks that currently contain contaminated water at the stricken nuclear power plant.Green Halo - Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Leaks 100 Tons of Radioactive Water

Each point on the International Atomic Energy Agencies eight-point scale of the scale represents a ten-fold increase in radiation, so a jump of two points is highly significant. The latest confirmed leak, from a tank which can hold up to 1,000 tonnes of water, hasn’t been stopped yet and TEPCO acknowledges that they have yet to identify the cause of the leak.

TEPCO has stated that there is no evidence that the contaminated water from these leaks has reached the ocean, but there is significant contamination to the soil in the area, which will need to be addressed. The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has expressed a loss of confidence in Tepco’s ability to deal with the situation, and has stated that the government will be stepping in to take additional measures to address this continuing disaster.

Tepco has also been criticized for delaying the release of strontium-90 levels in local groundwater despite demands from regulators.

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Scientists say that tuna swimming in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have experienced heart damage. 

Lab research has demonstrated how crude oil chemicals can disrupt heart function in the fish. The study, published in Science magazine, is part of the ongoing work to try to understand the impacts of the disaster.

The gulf is an important spawning ground for bluefin and yellowfin tuna. Tracking studies have indicated that many of these fish would have been in the area during the 2010 disaster.

Green Halo - Tuna Fish Impacted from 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Scientists have long known that certain chemicals in crude oil – such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – can be harmful to the hearts of embryonic and developing fish. These molecules, which have distinct ring-like structures, cause a slowing of the heart, irregularities in rhythm and even cardiac arrest at high exposures.

Pathways blocked

Earlier studies never explained the precise mechanisms involved. Now, scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) think they have some answers. Working on tuna heart tissues in the lab, they have detailed how PAHs can block important cellular pathways. These are pathways where potassium and calcium ions move in and out of cells. Their ability to do so quickly is vital to the proper functioning of those heart cells.

“What we found was that oil blocked key processes in the cardiac cells involved with linking excitation to contraction, which means that beat to beat, we slowed the heart cells down and we also decreased their contractility,” Barbara Block, a professor of marine sciences at Stanford.

Human implications?

Because the mechanisms involved operate in the same way in the hearts of all vertebrates, it is highly likely, the team says, that other animals swimming in waters around the crippled rig would have been exposed to similar cardiac risks. And the questions also reach across to human health – because vehicle engines put PAHs into the air in our cities.

Green Halo - Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 2010 Impacting Environment and Animal Life

“Impressively, the cardiac excitation-contraction coupling pathways are the most conserved pathways in all of animals. It means that the same ion channels present in tuna to make its heart beat are present in humans. So we’re interested in the impact of oil petroleum products on our own excitation-contraction coupling, and we’re interested in linking air pollution, for example – a place where petroleum products are often found, volatiles from our exhausts – to the problems of cardiac morbidity that are seen across the planet on a very smoggy day,” said Prof Block.

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