Plastic pollution is an international problem, as trillions of pieces of plastic have made their way into the ocean from commercial and household waste, blown from landfills and trash cans into sewers and rivers and out to sea. Marine animals can ingest and become entangled in ocean plastic, leading to sickness, starvation and death. Plastic leaches toxic chemicals and doesn’t biodegrade naturally in the environment. An inordinate amount of plastic waste has been dumped in the Pacific Islands (Te Moananui) in what is referred to as waste colonization or waste colonialism — where a disproportionate amount of plastic pollution is dumped in a region, leading to threats to the livelihoods and health of its people, a press release from The University of Newcastle, Australia, said.
Climate science is clear: Floodwaters are a growing risk for many American cities, threatening to displace not only people and housing but also the land-based pollution left behind by earlier industrial activities. In 2019, researchers at the U.S. Government Accountability Office investigated climate-related risks at the 1,571 most polluted properties in the country, also known as Superfund sites on the federal National Priorities List. They found an alarming 60% were in locations at risk of climate-related events, including wildfires and flooding. As troubling as those numbers sound, our research shows that that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Many times that number of potentially contaminated former industrial sites exist. Most were never documented by government agencies, which began collecting data on industrially contaminated lands only in the 1980s.
If you had ventured down a dirt road running through remote marshland along the Gulf Coast in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, at just the right time back in late February, you might have come across a pit of gray muck. Down in that pit, you’d find a contractor welding a steel cap about the size of a dinner plate onto a stub of pipe jutting up from the mud below. That pipe was the last visible sign of an old oil and gas wastewater well that once dropped over a half-mile deep into the earth, now plugged up and sealed by contractors hired by the state. For decades, oil and gas companies disposed of millions of barrels of waste down that hole, ringed with cement and steel, dubbing the wastewater well Freshwater City SWD 01, according to state records. Experts told DeSmog the well was defective and that using it put underground supplies of drinking water in the area at risk.
“As a result of being on or near wastelands, prisons constantly expose those inside to serious environmental hazards, from tainted water to harmful air pollutants,” Leah Wang recently wrote for the Prison Policy Initiative. “These conditions manifest in health conditions and deaths that are unmistakably linked to those hazards.” In this edition of Rattling the Bars, Mansa Musa speaks with Paul Wright about the scope and scale of the drastic environmental hazards the prison-industrial complex poses to incarcerated people, prison staff, and surrounding communities. Paul Wright is the founder and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center. He is also editor of Prison Legal News (PLN), the longest-running independent prisoner rights publication in US history.
Last week a coalition of 33 environmental groups in Colorado wrote a letter asking the state to include analyses of already existing ozone, air pollution, and climate change impacts when evaluating the effects of pollution from oil and gas operations. The letter, which can be read in full here, is in response to a report by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency. The “Report on the Evaluation of Cumulative Impacts,” is the first annual edition. That report can be read in full here. The environmental groups addressed the letter to the COGCC and gives a series of recommendations as to how the commission can widen the scope of its report by including a comprehensive view of pollution in a given area and how the various sources of pollution — like pollution from oil and gas activities and pollution from automobiles — compound their respective harmful environmental impacts.
29 years ago, in 1993, Steven Donziger, a New York lawyer, visited Ecuador and saw communities who lived their lives with their bare feet and hands permanently covered in oil sludge and other pollutants, whose agriculture was ruined and who suffered high levels of mortality and birth defects. He started a class action against Texaco in the United States, representing over 30,000 local people. Texaco, confident that they had control of Ecuador, requested the US court to rule that jurisdiction lay in Ecuador. It also set about obtaining the agreement from the Government of Ecuador to cancel any liability. In 2002 the New York court finally agreed with Texaco (now Chevron) that is had no jurisdiction and the case moved to Ecuador, much to Chevron’s delight.
When Governor Whitmer signed the bipartisan Building Michigan Together Plan, she chose to allow a $50 million subsidy to Michigan Potash Company to remain in the bill. MCWC and other concerned groups and citizens learned about this gift to a poorly conceived start-up project only days before the bill came out of the legislature for signature. We have been investigating and opposing this unnecessary and potentially destructive scheme for the last 6 years. Clearly neither the legislature nor the Governor took the time to investigate this venture before slipping it into the otherwise decent infrastructure bill. The people of Michigan deserve a better deal.
In 2017, the Trump administration sided with industry lobbyists and rescinded safety rules governing thousands of chemical plants across America. Five years later — after multiple chemical plant explosions in the Houston area — government investigators are telling lawmakers that a lack of federal regulation is heightening the risk of chemical disasters during climate change-related extreme weather events at thousands of facilities nationwide. President Joe Biden’s administration is considering issuing a new rule regulating such facilities — but not until next summer. Chemical companies and industry groups have already sicced their lobbyists on the EPA to stop the new rules, arguing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, their members are well-prepared for disasters and will only be made more vulnerable by new regulations.
After the Biden administration’s bipartisan infrastructure law was passed, the administration hailed the bill’s $4.7 billion package to cap orphaned oil and gas wells as a move to tackle “super-polluting methane emissions,” saying it will combat the climate crisis and create jobs. But it is possible that, without tight rules, these public funds could be spent in ways that contradict those goals — and go to the very entities that enabled these environmental messes in the first place. Though the administration claims it will establish safeguards, currently there are no rules to compel state oil and gas regulators to use the federal funds in a way that prioritizes plugging the inactive and supposedly ownerless wells that are emitting the most methane, or even any methane at all.
East Side, Chicago — The city’s health department Friday rejected the final permit needed for a controversial metal scrapper to open on the Southeast Side, a victory for local activists who spent years organizing to block the industrial facility’s move from the North Side. Southside Recycling, owned by Reserve Management Group, will not be permitted to move troubled scrapper General Iron’s assets and employees to 11600 S. Burley Ave. in East Side. Reserve Management Group spent $80 million in anticipation of a permit for the facility at the Burley Avenue campus, where the Ohio-based firm operates four other recycling facilities, company officials said. Since General Iron’s plans to leave Lincoln Park were finalized in 2019, Southeast Siders have resisted the plan to open another industrial facility in an “area of environmental justice concern” for state regulators.
The Earth has remained remarkably stable since the dawn of civilisation 10,000 years ago. In 2009, experts outlined nine boundaries that keep us within the limits of this steady state. They include greenhouse gas emissions, forests, biodiversity, fresh water and the ozone layer. While we have already estimated the limits for global warming or CO2 levels, scientists have not looked at chemical pollution. The wide range of different polluting sources means that, before now, experts have not been able to reach a conclusion on the state of this particular boundary. There are reportedly around 350,000 different types of manufactured chemicals - or “novel entities” as they are known - on the global market.
In a strongly worded proposed decision and order, on December 27, 2021, David Day, the Hawai’i State Department of Health Red Hill case Hearing Officer and Deputy Attorney General announced in a 33-page proposed decision and order that the “imminent peril” caused to the drinking water by the U.S. Navy’s leaking jet fuel tanks in the island of O’ahu outweighs the military’s claims that the tanks are key to “national security.” On November 28, approximately 19,000 gallons of jet fuel and water leaked from the massive 20 underground fuel storage tanks at Red Hill and contaminated two wells providing drinking water for over 93,000 persons on the U.S. Navy’s water system. Each of the fuel tanks holds 12.5 million gallons of jet fuel and the tank complex sits only 100 feet above Honolulu’s main aquifer.
Pointing the finger at individual consumers has been the default strategy of powerful corporations since the 1950s. Deflect blame for smog or litter or polluted waterways or carcinogens or gun violence away from manufacturers and onto John Q. Public. Make the issue about personal responsibility. “People start pollution, people can stop it,” said the famous crying Indian ad from the early 1970s, the brainchild of a can and bottle manufacturers trade group. The strategy has worked like a dream because Americans prize personal responsibility. Ronald Reagan was speaking for many of us when he said: “It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”
Hawai'i - On Friday, December 24, I went to Aliamanu Military Reservation at Red Hill housing area which is located above the entryway into the main tunnel that leads into the U.S. Navy’s deep, massive, leaking 80-year-old Red Hill underground jet fuel storage tanks complex. These tanks are only 100 feet above the main aquifer of drinking water for 400,000, half the population of the island of O'ahu, Hawai'i. A recent leak of at least 19,000 gallons of jet fuel and water leaked from a fire suppressant pipe into two Navy operated wells that supply drinking water to over 93,000 residents in the Pearl Harbor-Hickam Air Force Base area. Built during World War II, the tank complex has 20 huge tanks, each measuring 100 feet in diameter and 250 feet high — the height of a 20-story building, or Aloha Tower, a famous landmark for tourist ships in Honolulu harbor.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division (Indian Head) has conducted open burning/open detonation (OB/OD) of military flares that contain up to 45% of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), according to a report by Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, (CSWAB). Indian Head has conducted OB/OD for decades without a hazardous waste (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) permit. EPA officials confirm there are no enforceable permit conditions restricting the amount or type of munitions treated by OB/OD, including flares.