Costa Rica Wants to Become World’s First Country to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics


Costa Rica Wants to Become World’s First Country to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics

Lorraine Chow    August 7, 2017

Costa Rica wants to become the world’s first country to achieve a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.

The Central American nation intends to replace these wasteful, ocean-clogging items—such as plastic store bags, straws, coffee stirrers, containers and plastic cutlery—for biodegradable or water-soluble alternatives, or products made of renewable materials (think plant starches).

The initiative is led by Costa Rica’s Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and from local governments, civil society and various private sector groups.

Costa Rican government officials announced the country’s ambitious plan on June 5, World Environment Day.

“Being a country free of single use plastics is our mantra and our mission,” according to a joint statement from Environment and Energy minister Edgar Gutiérrez, Health minister María Esther Anchía, and Alice Shackelford, resident representative for UNDP Costa Rica.

“It’s not going to be easy, and the government can’t do it alone,” the statement continues. “To promote these changes, we need all sectors—public and private—to commit to actions to replace single-use plastic through five strategic actions: municipal incentives, policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers; replacement of single-use plastic products; research and development—and investment in strategic initiatives.”

“We also need the leadership and participation of all: women, men, boys and girls,” the statement notes.

Costa Rica has emerged as an global environmental leader, with its frequent 100 percent renewable energy streaks and its 2021 goal of becoming carbon neutral—a deadline set a decade ago.

However, the officials point out in their statement that Costa Rica’s impressive environmental record still has room for improvement.

“Although the country has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26 percent in 1984 to more than 52 percent this year, today one fifth of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced daily is not collected and ends up as part of the Costa Rican landscape, also polluting rivers and beaches,” they explain.

“Single-use plastics are a problem not only for Costa Rica but also for the whole world,” they add. “It is estimated that if the current consumption pattern continues, by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish—measured by weight. For this reason, we began our journey to turn Costa Rica into a single-use plastic-free zone.”

“It’s a win-win for all: Costa Rica, the people and the planet.”

Peru’s glaciers have made it a laboratory for adapting to climate change. It’s not going well.

Washington Post-A flood of problems

Peru’s glaciers have made it a laboratory for adapting to climate change. It’s not going well.

Story by Nick Miroff, Photos by Jabin Botsford      August 7, 2017 Andes mountain range and a cross headstone are seen from Cementerio Municipal De Huaraz in Huaraz, in the Ancash region of Peru, on July 13.


After a day of bright sunshine, a chunk of ice the size of a dump truck broke off the glacier on Mount Pucaranra a few weeks ago. It plunged into the lake below and kicked up a wave nine feet high.

Victor Morales, a small, catlike man with a tattered ski cap who is the lake’s solitary watchman, scrambled up to a stone hut on the side of the mountain and got on the radio. The wave had damaged an emergency drainage system meant to reduce the volume of the lake. But to his great relief, the earthen dam holding back the water was intact.

Sources: National Snow and Ice Data Center, Google Earth

Above: An Andes mountain range and a cross headstone are seen from Cementerio Municipal De Huaraz in Huaraz, in the Ancash region of Peru, on July 13.

“It wasn’t a big avalanche,” Morales said.

Lake Palcacocha is a mile long and 250 feet deep, and the effect of a large avalanche would be similar to dropping a bowling ball in a bathtub. Modeling scenarios predict a 100-foot wave so powerful it would blow out the dam. Three billion gallons of ice water would go roaring down the mountain toward the city of Huaraz, burying its 200,000 residents under an Andean tsunami of mud, trees and bouldersSources: National Snow and Ice Data Center,  Google Earth

Lake Palcacocha is an example of the immediate threats Peru and other developing countries are facing from climate change. The country is especially vulnerable since it is home to 70 percent of the world’s “tropical glaciers” — small, high-altitude ice caps found at the earth’s middle latitudes. Their disappearance has made Peru something of a laboratory for human adaptation to climate change.

So far, it’s not going very well.

“For countries like Peru that are trying to climb out of poverty, there are major social, cultural and economic obstacles to adaptation,” said Nelson Santillán, a researcher at Peru’s national water authority. “Identifying risks is one thing, but doing something about them is another.”

In the weeks since President Trump announced the United States would renege on its commitment to the Paris climate accord, scientists have pointed to new signs the planet is edging closer to a precipice. Maximum temperature records continue falling. New cracks are opening at the polar ice caps.

Peru’s high-altitude glaciers are tiny by comparison, but millions of people depend on their runoff for water, food and hydroelectricity.

Some of Peru’s glaciers have lost more than 90 percent of their mass. While much of the water trickles harmlessly down the mountainside, in places like Lake Palcacocha, it is pooling in great big puddles of melted ice. Many of these new lakes are held back by glacial moraines, which are essentially mounds of compressed sediments. They may be structurally weak, and as the volume of water pushing on them increases, some will collapse.

“We have glaciers across 19 — no, 18 — mountain ranges,” said Marco Zapata, the head of Peru’s institute for glacier research, correcting himself to reflect the latest monitoring data.

“They’re all shrinking.”

For Peruvian authorities, this is becoming more of an engineering problem than an environmental lament. Without reliable glacial runoff, the country’s water and irrigation systems will need to be retooled. New dams and reservoirs will be needed to more effectively store water. Investments in agriculture and other water-intensive industries will need to be recalculated.

“The glacier used to come down to there,” said Tomás Rosario, 45, who farms in the shadow of 22,000-foot Huascaran, Peru’s highest peak. He pointed at a ridge above his village, where bare rock was exposed. “Now the snow is gone and we’re running out of water.”

Victor Morales, the solitary watchman whose job is to call the city of Huaraz to warn of potential floods, waits for breakfast in his stone hut near Lake Palcacocha, a swollen glacial lake in the Andes mountain range.

Drought’s dire impact

Last November, in the middle of a crippling drought, a rumor began to spread in Rosario’s tiny town of Soledad and in other Quechua-speaking villages whose residents grow potatoes and corn on the flanks of mountains here.

The rainy season was late, the fields were parched and livestock were dying. The government said global warming was making matters worse.

The villagers, not unlike climate-change skeptics in the United States, did not believe it.

Their suspicions fell instead on the strange machines that foreign scientists and aid workers from the nonprofit group CARE Peru had installed with great fanfare at Lago 513, another swollen glacial lake not far from Lake Palcacocha.

Alejandro Rosales, 61, talks about about his poor corn harvest this year because of low rainfall. He wants the regional government to complete an irrigation project that would grant his town access to more water from the glacial runoff in Yarush.

The $250,000 emergency warning system included a monitoring station to alert residents living downstream in the town of Carhuaz (population 13,000) in case of a dam rupture. A 2010 flood triggered by an icefall at Lago 513 destroyed dozens of homes.

But in the middle of a drought, no one was especially worried about flooding. Years of disappointing rainfall were sowing anxieties up and down the valley.

Then the rumors picked up. “Everyone was saying that the gringos’ machines were scaring away the rain,” said Feliciana Quito, who farms a small plot downstream from the lake.

Jesús Caballero, the Carhuaz mayor, said he wanted to set the villagers straight, so he offered to hike up to the lake one morning in November to show them the “gringo machines” were harmless.

But when Caballero arrived at the lake that day, he said, it was clear the villagers were not interested in a climate lecture. Some of the young men were carrying sticks. This was a lynch mob.

“I told them the equipment had nothing to do with the rain,” Caballero said. “But I was rowing against the current.”

The villagers attacked the monitoring station, tearing out the antennas and solar panels. They bludgeoned some of the instruments and carried the rest back down the mountain, triumphant, as if they had slayed a dragon.

The rains came three days later, ending the drought. The villagers were jubilant. Their climate science was vindicated.

But now the lake has no emergency warning system in case the dam bursts. The farmers say they will not allow the foreigners to put the equipment back in, let alone drive through their village. When CARE Peru sent a team to inspect the damage, they were stopped on the road by women carrying rocks, threatening to stone them.

“We’re not going to let anyone put anything up there that interferes with the rain,” said Rosario, who was one of the expeditionaries who went to the lake that day.

Caballero said the episode has demonstrated the need for greater sensitivity to the fears of rural villagers whose lives and traditions are upended by water shortages and extreme weather.

What is left of the old monitoring system is now locked in a storage room opposite the Carhuaz city hall. Caballero said he thinks he can get the villagers’ approval to put the equipment back in if there is another drought this fall, because it would prove his point that the machines have nothing to do with the rain.

Then again, he said, the villagers may direct their anger at the emergency monitoring systems installed at other nearby lakes, such as Lake Palcacocha. “If the rains don’t come, I worry they’ll march up there and tear the other equipment out, too,” he said.

A sheep joins a group of people as they sit at an overlook in Huaraz. Police officers cordon off streets during a drill to prepare for a potential flood triggered by a dam rupture at the swollen glacial lake upstream in Huaraz. People make their way through the market near Plaza de Armas in Carhuaz.

Population boom 

It would be especially unwise to attack the monitoring station at Lake Palcacocha.

A moraine dam at the lake collapsed in December 1941, and the flood it unleashed killed several thousand people in Huaraz. The city only had 17,000 residents at the time. Since then its population has exploded, as farmers in the surrounding hills have been lured to the city by jobs in mining and tourism.

Land was cheap along the riverbanks, and today the flood zone is the most heavily populated part of the Huaraz, with schools, hospitals and a stadium.

Siphon pipes lead up the mountain to Lake Palcacocha. The siphons were installed to reduce the lake’s volume and to prevent a dam rupture. Nonetheless, the siphons were damaged in the recent icefall, and only a pair remains in operation.

The Peruvian government launched dozens of flood control projects across the Andes after the 1941 disaster, adding an emergency spillway at Lake Palcacocha. When a 7.9 earthquake hit in 1970 and much of Huaraz was destroyed again, thousands died, but the dam held.

But since then the volume of the lake has increased 34-fold as glacial melting accelerates. Lake Palcacocha rose so high in 2011 that authorities declared an emergency, and soon after a series of flexible plastic pipes were installed to siphon off water from the surface like giant soda straws.

The siphons lowered the height of the lake by nearly 20 feet, but they were damaged in recent icefall, and only two are now working.

A major avalanche would toss the pipes from the lake like wet noodles, and the spillway tunnel that is the dam’s last safety valve would be quickly clogged with rock and ice.

Draining the lake to a safer level can be done with relatively simple engineering techniques that would cost only about $7 million, environment ministry officials say. In contrast, a dam failure and catastrophic flooding in Huaraz would inflict more than $2.5 billion in damage, in addition to causing thousands of deaths.

But fixing Palcacocha has become a source of fierce debate. The lake is inside a national park, where big engineering projects are not welcome. While the central government in Lima is eager to drain the lake, local farmers say they need the water, and want new reservoirs that would store it elsewhere and redistribute the load.

These proposals are muddied by deep distrust. The last three regional governors from Huaraz have been jailed on graft charges, and the reputation of the central government in Lima isn’t much better, as two former presidents are also under indictment for corruption.

While the threats of climate change are new, the shortcomings of the political system are not, said Jahir Anicama, head of the CARE Peru office in Huaraz. “In the end, it’s a matter of effective government,” he said.

Officials and aid groups have been focused on disaster prevention, but he said the latest conflicts show the need to address the full range of fears that will probably intensify as the glaciers vanish and water supplies grow more irregular.

“We’ve been focused on future flood risks, but that’s not the biggest worry for these farmers,” he said. “They want projects that give them access to water, and they want them now.”

From spectacular vistas to the pits: A decades-long public land battle continues in the California desert

The Los Angeles Times

From spectacular vistas to the pits: A decades-long public land battle continues in the California desert

The Eagle Mountain iron mine closed more than 30 years ago, and it still haunts the park that borders it on three sides.

By Bettina Boxall, Contact Reporter, Reporting From Desert Center, California   August 7, 2017

Just beyond the southeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park, rows of boarded-up houses, gouged mountainsides and concrete ruins are an ugly reminder of the never-ending battle over the West’s public lands.

This scarred piece of California desert is what’s left of one of the country’s largest open-pit mining operations and the little company town that Kaiser Steel Corp. built after World War II. More than three decades after the Eagle Mountain iron mine closed, it still haunts the park that borders it on three sides.

Plans to turn the site into a huge landfill and dump as much as 20,000 tons a day of Southland garbage into the gaping mine pits died in 2013 after years of court battles. Now, a private company wants to use the pits for a $2-billion hydropower project.

The plant, proponents say, would help boost renewable energy use in Southern California and lower greenhouse gas emissions. But park officials fear the hydropower project could draw down local groundwater levels and harm wildlife.

The Eagle Mountain tract, shaped like a handgun aimed at the park’s interior, offers a lesson in what can happen when federal monument protections are stripped from public lands — as President Trump’s administration is considering doing at a number of national monuments in the West.

“It’s been a sordid history,” said Mark Butler, a former Joshua Tree superintendent who is retired from the National Park Service.

It’s been a sordid history.

Steve Lowe, president of Eagle Crest Energy Co., stands amid the ruins of the ore loading area.

— Mark Butler, former Joshua Tree National Park superintendent Steve Lowe, president of Eagle Crest Energy Co., stands amid the ruins of the ore loading area. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Joshua Tree National Monument on roughly 825,000 acres of federal and railroad holdings northeast of Palm Springs, capping a hard-fought campaign to conserve a singular desert landscape of Joshua trees, massive boulders and spectacular vistas.

But the monument’s ban on new mining claims infuriated gold and silver prospectors who’d long mined the area. In the 1940s, Kaiser Steel bought old patented claims to iron deposits in the Eagle Mountains and started digging them up.

In 1950, Congress shrank the monument by more than a third, chopping a chunk off the northern boundary and the Eagle Mountain area. The way was cleared for Kaiser to blast millions of tons of iron ore out of the mountainsides over the next three decades and ship it by rail to the roaring blast furnaces of the company’s Fontana steel plant.

The 1994 California Desert Protection Act that upgraded Joshua Tree to a national park added much of the Eagle Mountains to the park. But the law omitted the abandoned mine and surrounding federal land.

The reservoirs would be part of what Steve Lowe calls “an elegant solution” to a problem California is confronting.

On a recent day, the town remnants baked in 120-degree heat beneath a mountain of mine tailings. The hulking ruins of the ore loading area looked like a bombed-out village in Afghanistan. Rock benches traced the excavation of four huge pits.

Jeff Harvey and Steve Lowe of Eagle Crest Energy Co. climbed to the top of a metal tower that Kaiser foremen had used to direct mine traffic.

The 360-degree view swept from park peaks to the north, over the moonscape of the mine to the haze-veiled Chuckwalla Valley in the distance.

“This would be full of water,” said Harvey, looking at one of two pits that Eagle Crest wants to convert to reservoirs.

Separated by about 1,400 feet of elevation, the reservoirs would be part of what Lowe calls “an elegant solution” to a problem California is confronting as it boosts renewable energy production.

The sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow according to peak electricity demand. Utilities need some way of storing wind and solar power — or shifting the production time.

One way is with battery systems. Another is through pumped water — the method that Eagle Crest proposes to use in an area that averages less than 4 inches of rain a year.

When the solar panels and wind turbines that are sprouting from the desert floor churn out more power than the electrical grid needs, Eagle Crest would use some of that excess to pump water through an underground tunnel system to the 191-acre upper reservoir.

Later in the day, when energy demand climbs, the water would be released back into the tunnel system, powering turbines and generating electricity at it flowed downhill to the 163-acre lower reservoir.

Pumped storage is not new. There are seven of the operations scattered around California at reservoirs and lakes. Eagle Mountain would be the biggest in the state, capable of producing 1,300 megawatts of electricity — enough to supply nearly 1 million homes.

Like all pumped hydropower systems, it would actually consume more energy pushing water uphill than it generates with the downhill flow.

Unlike the other California operations, Eagle Crest would use groundwater — piped from three new wells drilled on private land in the Chuckwalla Valley to the south.

Over the project’s four-decade life, the company says, it would withdraw a total of about 100,000 acre-feet from the Chuckwalla aquifer. That is enough to supply 200,000 homes for a year.

It is also enough to worry park officials.

They don’t think groundwater feeds their springs. But the Pinto Basin aquifer on Joshua Tree’s east side supplies the Chuckwalla with underflow. Draw down the Chuckwalla, they fear, and groundwater levels in the park could drop.

“The aquifers that underlie the park are ancient,” Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith said. “Once you start depleting those reservoirs, no one knows what’s actually going to happen. How will that affect the park.… I don’t want to take that risk.”

He cited a 2012 research paper by federal scientists who concluded that groundwater recharge rates in the Chuckwalla Basin may be much lower than previously estimated, suggesting the aquifer is already in overdraft.

A view of the lower portion of the Eagle Mountain mine site and abandoned company town. A large solar farm is in the distance.

A view of the lower portion of the Eagle Mountain mine site and abandoned company town. A large solar farm is in the distance. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Eagle Crest, which bought the 10,000-acre Eagle Mountain site two years ago for $25 million, disputes the paper. Even if it is accurate, Harvey says, company wells would deplete the Chuckwalla aquifer by less than 1%.

Groundwater isn’t the park’s only worry. The hydropower project would disturb an area that has been largely quiet for decades, allowing bighorn sheep and other wildlife to return.

Butler warns that plopping two artificial lakes on such arid land would attract ravens and other predators that could prey on threatened desert tortoises and other park wildlife.

“You’re going to be essentially changing the ecology of that region,” said Butler, who was Joshua Tree’s superintendent from 2011 to 2014.

Despite the park service objections, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Eagle Crest a hydropower license in 2014.

In April, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced it was preparing to approve a right of way on federal land outside of the park for 12 miles of Eagle Crest transmission lines and a 15-mile, buried water pipeline from the wells.

Both agencies essentially concluded that the hydropower project would not cause significant environmental harm and would not deplete the aquifer over the long term.

“It’s a FERC-licensed project, so it is pretty much the law of the land right now,” Smith said with an air of resignation.

He grew up in San Diego County, the son of desert rats who headed for Joshua Tree and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on the weekends. He learned how to climb on Joshua Tree’s boulders. He got his first permanent park service job there.

“I love Joshua Tree. It’s part of who I am as a person,” said Smith, who succeeded Butler as superintendent.

He manages a park that is surging in popularity — Smith expects 3 million visitors this year — and is beset by outside pressures.

Development is on its doorstep. The nitrogen in Southland smog fertilizes invasive grasses that spread across the park, carrying ecologically destructive wildfires with them. Global warming threatens the park’s signature Joshua trees.

“Once you start depleting those reservoirs, no one knows what’s actually going to happen…. I don’t want to take that risk.”

— David Smith, superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park

Weed-filled streets and boarded-up houses are all that is left of the company town.Weed-filled streets and boarded-up houses are all that is left of the company town. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Yes, he acknowledges, the Eagle Crest project could help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. “My concern is that the solution does not cause problems in the park,” he said.

Lowe, Eagle Crest’s president, ticks off the ways in which the abandoned mine is “a great site” for his project.

It is close to existing electrical transmission corridors and solar farms — a new one glints just down Kaiser Road. And, he says, it’s “repurposing a brownfield site that is never going to wind up the way it was.”

Lowe and his late father, Art, founded the company in 1991 and started pursuing the hydropower project despite the competing landfill proposal.

Initially, they eyed the wind turbines popping up in the desert. Now, with the growth of solar and California’s push for renewable energy, Lowe figures his time has come.

“The grid needs this,” said Lowe, who runs the company out of Santa Monica.

Two years ago Eagle Crest signed up a development partner, NextEra Energy, a large energy producer with several solar farms in the California desert, including Desert Sunlight, the 4,000-acre operation down the road.

But Lowe has yet to line up utility customers for the hydropower. And conservation groups have filed protests of the pending right-of-way approval in a move that foreshadows another court fight.

The long battle over Eagle Mountain, it seems, is not yet over.

“Since those boundaries were changed, there’s been almost 70 years of fighting over this landscape,” said David Lamfrom, California desert director for one of the groups, the National Parks Conservation Assn.

“So when people are thinking about the real implications of rolling back national monuments — they are severe.”

“I’ve spent a decade of my career trying to correct past wrongs as they relate to Joshua Tree National Park,” he added.

Donald Trump’s Bad Deals

Donald Trump's Bad Deals: Marty Rosenberg on Trump Taj Mahal

Donald J. Trump and his billionaire buddy Carl Icahn's bad business deals destroyed jobs for the hard working people of Atlantic City."I want people to see and understand what Mr. Trump is. I am only speaking up because most people won't."#1uVote

Posted by AFL-CIO on Thursday, August 4, 2016

Trump Complains About Polls Showing He’s Least Popular President Ever

Newsweek  Politics

Trump Complains About Polls Showing He’s Least Popular President Ever

T. Marcin, Newsweek August 7, 2017

Hold on to your hats, folks, because this might shock you: President Donald Trump vented his anger online Monday morning. The leader of the free world took to Twitter to share some of the things grinding his gears, as he is wont to do.

Trump posted some of his usual gripes, fake news (otherwise known as news that paints him in a bad light) chief among them. Despite being in the midst of a more than two-week vacation at his Bedminster golf course, Trump also made sure to post that he was “working hard from New Jersey while White House goes through long planned renovation,” which didn’t directly mention Newsweek’s recent viral cover depicting him as a lazy boy-king but could be seen as a response of sorts.

Other tweets from Trump Monday morning were far angrier than the post claiming he was working in New Jersey.

After a standalone tweet railing against The New York Times, Trump posted a series of tweets stating: “The Trump base is far bigger & stronger than ever before (despite some phony Fake News polling). Look at rallies in Penn, Iowa, Ohio and West Virginia. The fact is the Fake News Russian collusion story, record Stock Market, border security, military strength, jobs…..Supreme Court pick, economic enthusiasm, deregulation & so much more have driven the Trump base even closer together. Will never change! Hard to believe that with 24/7 #Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, NYTIMES & WAPO, the Trump base is getting stronger!”

The president has good reason to be upset at polling firms: They’re nearly unanimous in assessing that Americans, by and large, think Trump is doing a bad job in the White House. The weighted average from data-centric website FiveThirtyEight pegged Trump’s approval rating at just 37 percent Monday, while it had his disapproval rating at 57.3 percent. No other president in the history of modern polling has had an approval rating so low on day 199 of their presidency, where Trump is now, and only former President Gerald Ford was close, at 39.4 percent approval—and that was in the wake of pardoning his predecessor, Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace amid the Watergate scandal.

Don’t miss: Trump Says He’s Working Hard, But His Schedule Says Otherwise

To be clear, other presidents have had lower approval ratings, but none so early in their tenure, when leaders are typically gifted a grace period of sorts. Former President George W. Bush sunk to the mid-20s, for instance, but it took eight years, two unpopular wars and a struggling economy to get there.

Trump does appear to still have a base—and perhaps some of those voters are digging in and supporting him even more—but he is wrong to claim his base is growing. A Quinnipiac University poll last week, for instance, found just 43 percent of non-college-educated, white voters approved of the job Trump was doing, while 50 percent disapproved. It’s a remarkable turn of events, considering that is the demographic who voted for the president in droves in November. CNN’s exits polls, for instance, found 66 percent of non-college-educated whites voted for Trump.

More from Newsweek

Drinking Water and Children’s Health

The Environmental Working Group EWG

Drinking Water and Children’s Health

Drinking Water and Children's Health: Read the Report

By Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst     July 26, 2017

Toxic pollutants in drinking water are particularly hazardous for children. Compared to adults, children drink more water per pound of body weight, resulting in greater exposure and greater risk. They’re also more vulnerable to harmful contaminants because their bodies are still growing and toxic chemicals cause more harm to developing organs and tissues.

EWG set out to find which tap water contaminants pose the greatest risks for children in America today. We reviewed drinking water reports from nearly 50,000 water companies or utilities nationwide, collected between 2010 and 2015, and compared test results to science-based health guidelines.

According to EWG’s Tap Water Database, drinking water supplies for millions of American children and adults have higher amounts of 90 contaminants than scientists consider safe, even if the water gets a passing grade from the federal government. This number doesn’t account for the exposures of the more than 40 million people who drink water from private wells, which are not routinely monitored for contaminants.

Some drinking water contaminants are more harmful when exposure occurs during critical windows in a child’s development. These exposures can have serious effects on health that continue for a lifetime, or their impact on health may surface decades later. Overall, the data show:

  • More than 250 detected contaminants – and the more we test the more we find;
  • 93 chemicals linked to cancer;
  • 78 chemicals linked to brain and nervous system problems;
  • 63 contaminants that can harm development of the fetus or young child;
  • 38 contaminants linked to human fertility problems; and
  • At least 45 contaminants linked to hormone disruption.

For some chemicals, researchers don’t know if or how exposure can affect a child’s development or harm the finely balanced hormonal system because subtle alterations can be hard to detect. The data collected by EWG may be an underestimate of the full range of health concerns for drinking water contaminants.

Tap water and bottle-fed babies

Water contamination is especially concerning for bottle-fed infants.

A baby fed exclusively powdered formula mixed with tap water drinks the most water for its small size of any age group. Tap water can be 85 percent of a formula-fed baby’s diet, and this period of intense exposure can last four to six months, until parents start supplementing formula with food.

Here are five contaminants to watch out for:


A potent neurotoxin, lead is particularly harmful during pregnancy and early childhood. Old, corroded lead pipes and plumbing are common sources of lead in drinking water, and additional exposures come from paint, soil and contaminated household dust.

Under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, if lead concentrations exceed an action level of 15 parts per billion, or ppb, in more than 10 percent of sampled homes, the water utility must apply measures to control lead leaching from the pipes. However, there is no amount of lead exposure scientists consider safe.

Recent Environmental Protection Agency modeling suggests that lead concentrations in excess of 3.8 ppb could boost some children’s lead exposure above acceptable levels. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration limits lead in bottled water to 5 ppb, and California has set a public health goal of 0.2 ppb lead in tap water to protect children’s’ brains and prevent the loss of IQ points.

The data collected by EWG show that more than 19,000 U.S. water utilities have reported some residences with lead levels exceeding 3.8 ppb between 2010 and 2015. Lead levels vary from house to house based on the presence of lead in pipes and solder. Tests performed in your city might not reflect specific lead risks in your home. If you are pregnant or have young children, consider having your tap water tested for lead.

Read more about lead in drinking water. 


The federal government allows up to 10 parts per million, or ppm, of nitrate in

water, but EWG recommends that nitrate levels should not exceed 5 ppm, based on emerging evidence that nitrate causes problems during pregnancy and could increase risks of cancer. In excess of 10 milligrams per liter, nitrate can block the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, which can severely harm bottle-fed infants.

EWG data show that in 2015, 7 million Americans drank water with nitrate levels at an average of 5 ppm or greater, exceeding the level the National Cancer Institute research shows increases the risk of cancer. Additionally, many Americans drink nitrate-contaminated water from private wells, which are not routinely monitored for contamination.

Read more about nitrate in drinking water.


Atrazine, an herbicide linked to hormone disruption, is found in the water supplies of at least 30 million Americans. Federal laws allow up to 3 ppb of atrazine in treated tap water, but human epidemiological studies suggest that federal standards for atrazine are inadequate to protect public health.

In agricultural areas, atrazine and nitrate are frequently present together in drinking water, and the mixture of the chemicals could have a cumulative effect. Researchers from the University of Illinois reported a statistically significant association between the presence of atrazine in drinking water and preterm births. The average concentration of atrazine in the study was one-seventh of the federal legal limit. The same research team found that the effect may be exacerbated by the simultaneous presence of nitrate.

Scientists don’t know exactly how atrazine affects the developing fetus or infant, but the risks from even low levels of exposure are clear. In 1999, scientists in California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment set a public health goal of 0.15 ppb for atrazine in drinking water. EWG recommends people filter drinking water if it contains atrazine concentrations above this amount.

Read more about atrazine in drinking water.


Manganese is a naturally occurring metal, found in food and water, and may be added to food supplements. It leaches from rocks and soil into drinking water. Several recent studies show lower IQ scores, and lower verbal and behavioral performance scores in children who live in areas with higher concentrations of manganese in water. Scientists remain puzzled by the fact that manganese also occurs naturally in food, but food doesn’t seem to be associated with the same harmful effects.

EWG supports the state of Minnesota’s guideline that formula-fed babies not drink water with more than 100 ppb of manganese. Manganese in excess of this level is found in water served to more than 10 million Americans.

Read more about manganese in drinking water.


Unlike other chemicals monitored by water systems, fluoride is intentionally added to drinking water, even though research clearly shows that fluoride is most effective when used topically in toothpaste and not ingested.

In 2011, responding to a lawsuit by EWG and other advocacy groups, the Department of Health and Human Services recommended that water utilities reduce the amount of fluoride added to water to 0.7 ppm – down from the previous federal recommendation allowing up to 1.2 ppm fluoride in drinking water. This new recommendation took effect in 2015.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that if infant formula is mixed with fluoridated water, the baby’s teeth might be affected by dental fluorosis, which appears as white spot markings on the teeth.

EWG recommends that baby formula be mixed with fluoride-free water, especially for infants whose diet is exclusively powdered baby formula.

Federal drinking water regulations do not protect children

EWG believes that federal drinking water regulations must give special consideration to the exposure and toxicity of drinking water contaminants for young children. Yet, many existing national drinking water standards have been developed for an adult weighing 70 kilograms, or 154 pounds – not for a child or an infant. That’s why we published our own EWG Standards, which are limits drawn from the best scientific research that put children’s health first.

What can I do to protect my kids from tap water contaminants?

The best way to reduce your children’s exposures to harmful chemicals in drinking water is to install an effective in-home filter. Look to the EWG Water Filter Guide to find the right filter to remove the specific contaminants in your water and fit your budget.

For atrazine and lead: Even a simple countertop pitcher with a carbon filter can work.

For fluoride, manganese and nitrate: Reverse osmosis is the most reliable system for removing these contaminants. Click here to see reverse osmosis filters.

And after you get a filter for your home, don’t stop there. Reach out to local, state and federal officials to ask them hard questions about water quality, and hold them accountable for making sure all American children have safe water in their homes. Click here to see EWG guide, “7 Questions to Ask Your Elected Officials About Tap Water.”

Look out for future research from EWG on tap water

In the coming months, EWG will publish a series of reports for parents, future parents, and everyone interested in children’s health and drinking water. Look for advice on drinking water during pregnancy and nursing, information on contaminants to avoid, the latest research on chemicals in water such as hormones and hormonal disruptors, and how we can make children’s health a priority in national drinking water policy.

How Midwestern Farmers Could Help Save the Gulf of Mexico

Mother Jones

How Midwestern Farmers Could Help Save the Gulf of Mexico

This cool technique can rescue sea creatures and soil—so why aren’t more farmers using it?

Tom Philpott     July/August 2017 Issue


If you pay state taxes in Maryland, you fund a program that gives farmers as much as $90 per acre—$22,500 annually for a typical corn operation—to plant a crop that’s not even intended for harvest. This absurd-sounding initiative cost the state’s coffers a cool $24 million in 2015.

Yet I come not to expose a government boon­doggle, but to praise an effort crucial to saving our most valuable fisheries. Let me explain.

From Iowa, the excess fertilizer heads downstream into the Mississippi, where it helps fuel an annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that this year is the size of New Jersey, the largest ever recorded.

Every summer, an algal bloom stretches along the Chesapeake Bay, the most productive estuary in the continental United States. As the algae dies, it sucks oxygen from the water, suffocating or driving away marine life. Cleaning up the dead zones would lead to more productive fisheries, increased tourism, and higher property values—benefits that would total $22 billion per year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

What drives the algal blooms is what makes corn grow tall: nitrogen. The corn that farmers plant sucks up 50 percent or less of the nitrogen in the fertilizer they apply in the spring. But come harvest, there are no plants to absorb the excess, and so it leaches into streams and runs off into the bay—where it fertilizes a bumper crop of algae.

By paying farmers to plant a winter-­hardy crop like rye right after corn is harvested in the fall, Maryland is trying to solve that problem. The rye absorbs the excess nitrogen and is typically harvested in the spring—before it matures into an actual grain crop—to make way for corn and soybeans. The chaff is either tilled under or left as is; when farmers plant into it, the dead vegetation crowds out weeds.

The program owes its origins largely to a 1998 University of Maryland study that showed planting rye after corn reduced nitrate leaching by about 80 percent. When cover crops were used for seven straight seasons, the researchers found, the nitrate levels in the water table dropped by 50 percent or more. Now, more than half of all corn and soybean acres in Maryland are covered in the winter, keeping 3.4 million pounds of nitrogen out of the Chesapeake Bay.

Hundreds of miles to the west, clean-water advocates looked at Maryland’s success with envy. In Iowa, by far the nation’s No. 1 corn-­producing state, nitrogen doesn’t just threaten oysters. Runoff finds its way into wells and municipal drinking-water systems—and has been linked to birth defects, blood disorders, ovarian cancer, and thyroid problems. But the ill effects don’t end there. After it wreaks havoc in Iowa, the excess fertilizer heads downstream into the Mississippi, where it helps fuel an annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that this year is the size of New Jersey, the largest ever recorded. That’s a major threat to a fishing area that’s more productive than the Chesapeake Bay.

Yet Iowa’s incentive program is much less generous than Maryland’s—it pays just $25 per acre, and sometimes only for the first year of planting. A recent analysis of satellite data by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Practical Farmers of Iowa found that roughly 600,000 acres, or 2.6 percent of the state’s corn and soybean fields, had cover crops over the 2015-16 winter. To make a significant impact on nitrate pollution, Iowa needs to cover 12.6 million acres.

That’s a daunting goal, but Sarah Carlson, a co-author of the study, notes that cover-crop acreage has grown dramatically since 2009. And nitrate levels in drinking-water systems like Des Moines’ have gotten so dire—inspiring a fierce, ongoing public battle between the city’s water utility and the state’s Big Ag-aligned politicians—that the “Legislature in Iowa is getting serious about funding cover crops,” she says.

Sure, taxpayers will have to foot at least part of the bill. But we’re already underwriting the uncovered agriculture now fouling up drinking water and the Gulf of Mexico: The federal government doles out $1 billion annually to support Iowa farmers’ current practices, whereas the cover-­crop program gets a total of just $10.6 million per year.

At the current level of funding, Iowa farmland won’t reach the crucial milestone of 12.6 million acres under cover crops until sometime in the 2090s, the satellite-data study found. To speed up the process, one of the paper’s co-authors, the EWG’s Soren Rundquist, suggests a bit of budget jiujitsu: shift a tenth of that federal cash now heading into Iowa, $100 million annually, into paying farmers to plant covers. Within a decade, he calculates, they’d reach and maintain the target level. “It’s just practical,” Rundquist says. “If we can afford to spend $1 billion supporting corn and soybeans, we can spend a fraction of that to support the environment and the people who depend on it.”

Three Renewable Energy Numbers to Impress Your Friends With: 7, 43, 50


Union of Concerned Scientists

Three Renewable Energy Numbers to Impress Your Friends With: 7, 43, 50

By John Rogers August 5, 2017

Next time you’re talking with a friend about the exciting things happening in our electricity sector (aren’t you always?), here are three easy numbers for remembering how we’re doing: 7, 43 and 50. That’s: wind energy’s progress, solar energy’s growth and the number of states making it happen.

Wind’s Growth = 7

Renewables on the Rise, a new report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center and the Frontier Group, details some of the progress we’ve made in this country over the last decade, and includes handy accompanying graphics. Here’s a glimpse of what it all looks like.

Photo published for Renewable Energy Booming After a Decade of Progress

Growth in renewable energy in recent years has meant we produced almost seven times as much wind-powered electricity in the U.S. in 2016 as we did in 2007. And wind’s share of our national electricity generation increased from 0.8 percent to 5.5 percent.

All told, the tens of thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape generate enough to cover the electricity needs of some 25 million typical American homes.

Environment America / Frontier Group

The wind action is taking place from coast to coast and particularly in plenty of places in between, from coal-has-been-king-but-here-comes-wind Wyoming to where cod rule (think offshore wind).

And, increasingly, wind is an energy option that decision makers ignore (or get wrong) at their peril.

Solar’s Growth = 43

Recent gains have in some ways been even more impressive for solar. The baseline is maybe a little tough to pin down (and our own calculations suggest an even greater growth), but the new report says that we got 43 times as much electricity from solar in 2016 as in 2007.

Environment America / Frontier Group

That steep upward trajectory has taken solar from a minuscule 0.03 percent of U.S. electricity generation to 1.4 percent. Still small, but definitely noticeable—and definitely worthy of notice, in terms of solar past and future. As my colleague Julie McNamara points out in that post, our 19.5 billion kilowatt-hours of solar generation in 2016 would have been enough to cover residential electricity needs in half the states.

And solar, like wind, isn’t resting on its laurels. Just last year, the U.S. industry installed enough new solar capacity to provide 2 million homes’ worth of electricity.

States Involved = 50

So where’s all this progress coming from? Though some are still finding their way, every state has some generation from solar and wind, and some have taken those technologies to pretty impressive heights.

For Texas, it (mostly wind) added up last year to 59 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to keep 4 billion light bulbs burning every evening of the year. In North Dakota, wind generation added up to the equivalent of 45 percent of the state’s electricity consumption; in Iowa, 42 percent. For California and Hawaii, solar, with help from wind, produced enough to have accounted for one out of every six kilowatt-hour consumed.

Sure, some states really need to get in on the action in a much bigger way (the details in the back of the new report help highlight leaders and … others). And they’d benefit in doing that by reaping all that renewables have to offer.

But even states without much yet on the generation side are contributing—and benefiting—in other ways, through manufacturing, for example, of components for solar or wind installations (see map). And that progress has meant jobs—in most cases, more solar and wind jobs than coal has to offer.

Our 50 united states are far from done. Every one of them has a lot more potential in solar, wind and other renewables. Taking it the next step, and beyond, will be crucial.

But for a moment, acknowledging and celebrating clean energy progress is really important. For that, for the near term, just remember 7, 43 and 50.

American Wind Energy Association

John Rogers is a senior energy analyst with expertise in renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and policies at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides and Other Chemicals


The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides and Other Chemicals

By Center For Media and Democracy July 27, 2017 Scott / RF Scott Imagery

The Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy released a trove of rediscovered and newly digitized chemical industry and regulatory agency documents Wednesday stretching back to the 1920s. The documents are available here.

Together, the papers show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press. These papers will transform our understanding of the hazards posed by certain chemicals on the market and the fraudulence of some of the regulatory processes relied upon to protect human health and the environment.

“These documents represent a tremendous trove of previously hidden or lost evidence on chemical regulatory activity and chemical safety. What is most striking about these documents is their heavy focus on the activities of regulators,” Dr. Jonathan Latham, executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project, said. “Time and time again regulators went to the extreme lengths of setting up secret committees, deceiving the media and the public, and covering up evidence of human exposure and human harm. These secret activities extended and increased human exposure to chemicals they knew to be toxic.”

The Poison Papers are a compilation of more than 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers via open records requests and public interest litigation. They include scientific studies and summaries of studies, internal memos and reports, meeting minutes, strategic discussions and sworn testimonies.

The majority of these documents have been scanned and digitized for the first time and represent nearly three tons of material. The regulatory agency sources of these documents include: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. Chemical manufacturers referenced in the documents include: Dow, Monsanto, DuPont and Union Carbide, as well as many smaller manufacturers and the commercial testing companies who worked for them.

The Poison Papers catalogue the secret concerns of industry and regulators over the hazards of pesticides and other chemicals and their efforts to conceal those concerns.

Most of the Poison Papers were collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum.

“In total, the stark truth revealed by these 50 years of documents is that the entire pesticide industry could not exist without lies, coverups, rampant fraud, and government enablers,” said Van Strum, who authored the 1983 book Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights.

Corporate concealment is not a new story. What is novel in the Poison Papers is the abundant evidence that EPA and other regulators were often knowing participants or even primary instigators of these cover-ups. These regulators failed to inform the public of the hazards of dioxins and other chemicals; of evidence of fraudulent independent testing; and of widespread human exposure. The papers thus reveal, in the often-incriminating words of the participants themselves, an elaborate universe of deception and deceit surrounding many pesticides and synthetic chemicals.

The chemicals most often discussed in the documents include dioxins, herbicides and pesticides (such as 2,4-D, Dicamba, Permethrin, Atrazine and Agent Orange) and PCBs. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic and persistent ever manufactured. Except for PCBs, almost every chemical discussed in the Poison Papers is still manufactured and sold today, either as products or as product contaminants.

“The Poison Papers will be a tremendous resource for researchers, the media, and everyday Americans worried about many of the chemicals used on farm fields and in common consumer products,” said Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy.

Explore: Some of the 20,000+ documents in this repository have surfaced over the years. Many have never been seen online or publicly written about. The Poison Papers therefore offer a unique opportunity for researchers, the public and the media to discover much more about what was known about chemical toxicity, when and by whom.

Access: You can access the papers at Important instructions on how best to search these old documents are also available here and on the website.

Poison Papers Reveal:

Secrecy — They disclose EPA meeting minutes of a secret high-level dioxins working group that admitted dioxins are extraordinarily poisonous chemicals. Internal minutes contradict the agency’s longstanding refusal to regulate dioxins or set legal limits.

Collusion — They demonstrate EPA collusion with the pulp and paper industry to “suppress, modify or delay” the results of the congressionally-mandated National Dioxin Study, which found high levels of dioxins in everyday products, such as baby diapers and coffee filters, as well as pulp and paper mill effluents.

Deception — They provide important new data on the infamous Industrial Bio-Test (IBT) scandal. By the late 1970s, it was known that more than 800 safety studies performed by IBT on 140 chemicals produced by 38 chemical manufacturers were nonexistent, fraudulent, or invalid. The Poison Papers, however, show that EPA and its Canadian counterpart, the Health Protection Branch (HPB), colluded with pesticide manufacturers, to keep invalidly registered products on the market and covered up massive problems with many IBT tests.

Cover-up — The papers also show that EPA staff had evidence that this IBT scandal involved more independent testing companies and more products than ever officially acknowledged.

Concealment —Show that EPA concealed and falsely its own studies finding high levels of dioxin–2,3,7,8-TCDD–in environmental samples and human breast milk following routine use of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (Agent Orange) by the federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Intent — Show that Monsanto chief medical officer George Roush admitted under oath to knowing that Monsanto studies into the health effects of dioxins on workers were written up untruthfully for the scientific literature such as to obscure health effects. These fraudulent studies were heavily relied upon by EPA to avoid regulating dioxins. They also were relied upon to defend manufacturers in lawsuits brought by veterans claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange.


Why arguments against WaPo’s Oval Office leaks are wrong

CJR Columnist

Why arguments against WaPo’s Oval Office leaks are wrong

By Trevor Timm On Press Freedom      August 4, 2017

The Washington Post made waves on Thursday when it published the full transcripts of President Trump’s erratic phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia that occurred just after he was inaugurated.

Despite their clear news value, some journalists and pundits questioned whether the leaked transcripts should be published. David Frum, a George W. Bush speechwriter and current editor at The Atlantic, led the charge in a widely cited article, claiming that “leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous.”

The hyperbolic nature of this statement is only surpassed by Lawfare’s Paul Rosenzweig, who wrote that the person who leaked the transcripts is “doing as much damage, if not more, to the United States than he ever will. Really.”


Far from being criticized for publishing these leaked transcripts, The Washington Post should be commended. The Trump administration has spent the last few months trying to cut off all avenues of transparency to the White House, refusing to release visitor logs, keeping Trump’s schedule opaque, limiting the information in readouts of calls to foreign leaders, refusing to hold a presidential press conference since February, and even demanding journalists do not record the administration’s daily press briefings. At the same time, the president spent his days rattling the leaders of foreign countries, expanding wars across the Middle East, and starting international incidents via Twitter.

The Trump administration may complain all day about leaks, but leaks are increasingly the only way the American public can learn what the administration is really doing. And the news value of these transcripts could not be more obvious: They showed Trump did not know basic facts, that he asked a foreign leader to lie to the press for him, that he knew from the start that his signature campaign promise to “make Mexico pay for the wall” was bogus, and that he has no sense for how allies should cooperate with each other.

Yet, as Frum argues:

“No leader will again speak candidly on the phone to Washington, D.C.—at least for the duration of this presidency, and perhaps for longer. If these calls can be leaked, any call can be leaked—and no leader dare say anything to the president of the United States that he or she would not wish to read in the news at home.”

First, you’ll notice that no one criticizing these leaks seems to be arguing Trump or his counterparts said anything remotely sensitive in these calls that would constitute “damage” to national security. The worry seems to lie in the hypothetical idea that because the Post published a transcript of Trump’s calls on this one occasion, it will lead to an avalanche of leaks where no call with a foreign leader—no matter how sensitive—is safe, thereby grinding diplomatic relations to a halt.

This is absurd. The Washington Post does not just blindly publish anything and everything that is leaked to them (and a leak like this has always been and will always be incredibly rare). Newspapers, when they receive sensitive information like this, almost always go through a process of skeptically looking at whether publishing a particular document will affect national security. Clearly here, the public interest far outweighed any damage, which was speculative at best.

By and large, national security “experts” are always making ominous and vague pronouncements about how one leak or another will lead to catastrophe at some point in the future when, in fact, it never actually comes to pass. We can look to Chelsea Manning’s disclosure of State Department cables in 2010 for an apt analogy here. While Manning’s leaks were incredibly newsworthy—cited thousands of times in countless publications over the years—many denounced them at the time on the grounds they would lead to a total breakdown in diplomacy. Only Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was willing to be truthful to the American people. He said at the time:

“Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”

It turns out he was right. And the exact same principle applies to Trump’s calls. Of course foreign leaders are going to continue to talk to the president. Regardless, foreign leaders are well versed on Trump’s incompetence at this point, and will make adjustments about the sensitivity of their calls whether there are leaks or not—especially given Trump’s penchant for broadcasting sensitive information himself.

Now, of course, no one is arguing that the president shouldn’t be able to ever have confidential conversations, or that no leaks can potentially be dangerous. (For example, Frum was a key member of the Bush administration when they were making the public case for the war in Iraq. The White House or its allies notoriously leaked intelligence to an unskeptical post-9/11 press that turned out the be false yet led to the nation’s worst foreign policy disaster in a generation.) But there is no question that what The Washington Post published is important for the American public to know.

If there’s anything that’s “unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous” about these leaks, it’s Donald Trump’s foreign policy. And the more the American public knows about it, the better.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports and defends journalism dedicated to transparency and accountability. He is also a twice-weekly columnist for the Guardian, where he writes about privacy, national security, and the media.