Guilt, grief and anxiety as young people fear for climate’s future
Natalie Thomas, Barbara Lewis, Jonathan Shenfield October 22, 2021
Environmental campaigners march ahead of the COP26 climate summit, in London.
Global Climate Strike of the movement Fridays for Future, in Berlin
Ice sculptures of children by Sand in Your Eye at New Brighton Beach
LONDON (Reuters) – Overwhelmed, sad, guilty are some of the emotions young people say they feel when they think of climate change and their concerns world leaders will fail to tackle it.
Broadly referred to as climate anxiety, research has stacked up to measure its prevalence ahead of the U.N. talks in Glasgow, which begin at the end of the month to thrash out how to put the 2015 Paris Agreement on curbing climate change into effect.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-6-0/html/r-sf-flx.html
One of the biggest studies to date, funded by Avaaz, an online campaign network, and led by Britain’s University of Bath, surveyed 10,000 young people aged 16-25 years in 10 countries. It published its results in September.
It found around three quarters of those surveyed considered the future frightening, while a lack of action by governments and industry left 45% experiencing climate anxiety and distress that affected their daily lives and functioning.
Elouise Mayall, an ecology student at Britain’s University of East Anglia and member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, told Reuters she had felt guilty and overwhelmed.
“What I’d be left with is maybe the sense of shame, like, ‘how dare you still want lovely things when the world is ending and you don’t even know if you’re going to have a safe world to grow old in’.”
She spoke of conflicting emotions.
“You might have sadness, there might be fear, there might be a kind of overwhelm,” she said. “And maybe even sometimes a quite like wild optimism.”
Caroline Hickman, a psychotherapist and lecturer at the University of Bath and one of the co-authors of the research published in September, is working to help young people manage climate-related emotions.
“They’re growing up with the grief and the fear and the anxiety about the future,” she told Reuters.
“SENSE OF MEANING”
London-based psychiatrist Alastair Santhouse sees climate change, as well as COVID-19, as potentially adding to the burden, especially for those pre-disposed to anxiety.
For now, climate anxiety alone does not normally require psychiatric help. Painful as it is, it can be positive, provided it does not get out of control.
“Some anxiety about climate change is motivating. It’s just a question of how much anxiety is motivating and how much is unacceptable,” said Santhouse, author of a book that tackles how health services struggle to cope with complex mental issues.
“The worry is that as climate change sets in, there will be a more clear cut mental health impact,” he added.
Among some of the world’s communities that are already the most vulnerable, extreme weather events can also cause problems such as post traumatic stress disorder.
Leading climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, 18, has experienced severe climate anxiety.
“It’s a quite natural response, because, as you see, as the world is today, that no one seems to care about what’s happening, I think it’s only human to feel that way,” she said.
For now, however, she is hopeful because she is doing everything she possibly can.
“When you take action, you also get a sense of meaning that something is happening. If you want to get rid of that anxiety, you can take action against it,” she said.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)
‘This stuff won’t go away’: PFAS chemicals contaminate Wisconsin’s waterways and soil
Tom Perkins October 22, 2021
Last year, residents in Campbell, Wisconsin, a four-square-mile island city in the Mississippi River, learned disturbing news: toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” used in firefighting foam at a neighboring airport had probably been contaminating their private wells for decades.
As state and local leaders search for a solution, residents now use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth. Yet the situation represents more than an enormous inconvenience. Some strongly suspect that the seemingly high rate of cancer, Crohn’s disease and other serious ailments that have plagued the island’s residents stem from the dangerous chemicals.
“It’s emotionally draining,” said Campbell town supervisor Lee Donahue. “People are angry that it happened, they’re angry that they had no control over it, and they’re angry that their well is contaminated for no fault of their own.”
Campbell isn’t alone. Across the US similar stories of water contaminated with PFAS are emerging.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products water, stain and heat resistant. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t naturally break down, and they persist in the environment and accumulate in humans’ and animals’ bodies. The compounds are linked to cancer, decreased immunity, thyroid problems, birth defects, kidney disease, liver problems and a range of other serious diseases.
Between July and October, officials in nearby Eau Claire in Wisconsin shut down half its 16 municipal wells over PFAS contamination, and across the state PFAS have poisoned drinking water supplies, surface water in lakes and streams, air, soil and wildlife like deer and fish that are eaten by the state’s residents.
As municipalities and residents wrestle with the water crisis, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature has killed legislation and blocked funding meant to address the problem, which is likely much larger than currently known: only about 2% of the state’s utilities have tested for the chemicals, and those that have check for no more than 30 of the approximately 9,000 PFAS compounds that exist.
“We’ve had difficulty just testing water to get a handle on the scale and scope of PFAS contamination,” said Scott Laesar, water program director with the Clean Wisconsin advocacy group. “We are asking for some really basic information about what’s in people’s water, and if we can’t even get that, then we’re in a difficult spot.”
Wisconsin’s troubles aren’t unique. States around the US are contending with similar difficulties, as increased testing has revealed that drinking water supplies for more than 100 million people are contaminated with PFAS, and the Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed 120,000 sites across the country that may expose people to the chemicals.
The compounds’ ubiquity makes it difficult to determine sources of contamination, but Wisconsin airports and military bases that use PFAS-laden firefighting foam have often been identified as the culprit, including in Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Campbell.
The state’s combined groundwater standard for six types of PFAS is 20 parts per trillion (ppt), and the chemicals were detected at levels up to 70 ppt Eau Claire. Madison, a city of more than 250,000 and Wisconsin’s capital, found PFAS in all of its 16 drinking water wells in May 2020, but only at levels that exceeded health standards in one of them, which had been shut down months before.
Meanwhile, the lakes and streams around Madison are contaminated at startling levels. Officials have recorded counts for multiple compounds as high as 102,000 ppt, and levels in fish from nearby Lake Monona reached 180,000 ppt. Wisconsin department of natural resources signs posted along the region’s riverbanks warn residents against eating fish.
Cities like Milwaukee that draw drinking water from Lake Michigan on the state’s east side face less of a threat because the chemicals are diluted by the large body of water, but many private well owners who aren’t connected to municipal systems have recorded dangerous levels.
In Marinette, just north of Green Bay along Lake Michigan, a massive 10-sq-mile PFAS plume grew from a firefighting foam testing ground owned by manufacturer Tyco Fire Products. The plume hasn’t contaminated the municipal system at high levels, but levels in nearby private wells have reached 254,000 ppt, and alderman Doug Oitzinger said rates of thyroid disease and testicular cancer in young men in the region are “off the charts”. The plume has contaminated the city’s sewage sludge, which now has to be shipped to a specialized facility in Oregon.
“This stuff is in the groundwater and won’t go away,” Oitzinger said.
Polluting the lake still has wider consequences. PFAS have been found in a range of Great Lakes fish, and the DNR issued an advisory to limit the consumption of rainbow smelt.
Though residents across the political spectrum are being exposed and PFAS legislation has had at least some bipartisan support, Wisconsin’s Republican leadership last session killed the Clear Act, which would have established drinking water standards and funded cleanup, among other measures. The bill is once again stalled in the Republican-controlled legislature. Democratic governor Tony Evers’ last budget proposed $22m for statewide PFAS testing and cleanup, but that money was stripped away. The state legislature is expected to kill new limits on PFAS being developed by the DNR.
In Campbell, town officials are demanding that the Federal Aviation Administration stop using firefighting foam with PFAS, as is now required by law, but the airport continues using it, town supervisor Donahue said. The city of La Crosse, which owns the airport, has sued PFAS manufacturers for allegedly hiding the foam’s danger.
The cleanup effort is also meeting resistance from an unlikely source – water utilities, which say they don’t have money to filter the chemicals. Meanwhile, one of the few actions taken by the DNR that would require testing and cleanup faces a legal challenge from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce trade group, which represents some of the state’s PFAS polluters. Should the case go to the state’s supreme court, it will be heard by a pro-business, Republican-controlled judge panel.
“We have an industry that would rather not know what’s out there and is engaged in a pretty cynical effort to maintain the status quo,” Laeser said. “This legislature has had numerous opportunities to invest in addressing PFAS and they have elected not to do so.”
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Untaming a river: The stakes behind America’s largest dam removal
Doug Struck October 18, 2021
They have been waiting for three years, growing fat and long in the tumult of the Pacific Ocean. Now the salmon turn, inexorably, driven by some ancient smell, into the mouth of a river along the wild Northern California coast.
For millennia, Native Americans watched the fish enter the Klamath River. The tribes celebrated them as a gift from the gods, but the fish numbers dwindled. Once the water teemed with millions of fish; last year, only 46,000 chinook salmon migrated successfully.
Huge dams, proclaimed by newcomers to the region as wondrous monuments to their dominance of nature, and promoted by the U.S. government as a way to open the West to settlers, blocked the fish from their upstream spawning grounds and slowed the Klamath in torpid reservoirs.
Now humanity is set to surrender much of the river back to nature. Four large dams on the Klamath River are due to be torn down in what is called the largest dam removal project in American history.
“It’s massive. It’s huge,” says Amy Cordalis, a legal adviser to the Yurok Tribe, of which she is a member, as she watches a heron lumber along the Pacific coast. “For the tribes and for the Yurok, it’s the beginning of healing. We remove those dams, the river runs free, and the salmon can go home.”
The removal will mark a major victory for environmentalists in their campaign to restore once-wild rivers in the United States by tearing down unneeded dams. It will be a historic victory for Native Americans who were promised eternal fishing rights, only to see fish blocked from their rivers. And it promises to help salmon, once a massive driver of the natural life cycle here in the Pacific Northwest.
But it could be too late. Environmentalists already see fish migrations dwindling in tributaries of the Klamath – a warning of further decline to come – and tribes no longer can count on fish as a source of food and a central part of their culture. Farmers upriver, meanwhile, who depend on irrigation, will continue to lay claim to their share of water from the river system. All of which means that the contentious issues that have swirled around the mighty Klamath for decades won’t vanish with the removal of four massive walls of earth and concrete.
“We are in a race with extinction,” says Michael Belchik, a senior biologist for the Yurok Tribe, of the declining salmon stocks. “And we are losing.”
The dams have foreshortened the ancient fish migration and slowed the Klamath River’s fast and wild run. Drought has stolen water. Climate change has warmed the river, now steeped with toxins and disease.
The Klamath River once strode unimpeded from southern Oregon through Northern California. Its kingdom is an overlooked corner of America, an untamed swath of rugged land and insular people. America knows the legends the area has spawned: the American Indian wars drenched in treachery and blood. The relentless gold rush miners who ravaged salmon streams. The broken treaties. The Bunyanesque loggers felling centuries-old trees. And, in modern times, the environmentalists chaining themselves to hemlock and fir in the name of a small, spotted owl.
“There are layers of culture, of history, of biology,” says Mr. Belchik. “All put together.”
Mr. Belchik, wind whipping at his words aboard a fast jet boat, is following the start of the salmon’s route from the cold waters of the Pacific. To trace the salmon’s journey inland is to see the challenges facing the river, the fish, and the people who depend on both – and how it might all soon change.
The salmon turn from the ocean into a choppy estuary at the ancient Yurok community of Requa, California, beside the town of Klamath. The place is a busy depot: Waves of chinook and coho salmon face upriver for their last brutal trip to spawn and die, meeting young salmon swimming seaward with new silver scales broadcasting a readiness for ocean life. They swim alongside steelhead trout, ropy lamprey eels, and even some massive green sturgeon. Seals prowl. Anglers prey. All mix in the estuary briefly, then go their own ways.
The adult salmon swim toward the continent as the estuary narrows. They dart under the tall slender bridge of Highway 101, the sinuous coastal traffic vein of California.
“From here, the salt water stops. And the salmon will not eat again,” says Mr. Belchik, as the shadow of the bridge passes overhead.
Five miles upriver, the Klamath River becomes shallower. At the helm of the jet boat, Hunter Mattz reads the ripples on the surface. He cuts and weaves like a matador. It seems reckless – rushing forward in a boat with a V-8 engine above shallow rocks. But speed is necessary, the pilot explains. Backing off the throttle would cause the craft to settle in water. He needs it to skim the surface. “I had to learn to press forward, not to hesitate,” Mr. Mattz says.
The struggle over fish is a family matter for Mr. Mattz, as it is for many tribal members. His grandfather, Raymond Mattz, was arrested 19 times in the 1960s as authorities tried to force the Native Americans to stop fishing. He finally invited California game wardens to take him away, and eventually won a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the Yurok’s tribal rights to fish in their ancestral waters.
“I’ve spent a lot of my time here, fishing,” says the young Mr. Mattz, his long ponytail dancing in the wind.
The salmon wend past the rocks, expending precious power. Eagles patrol the sky. Black bears visit at night. All await the salmon.
Sixteen miles upriver is the first turnoff. The salmon are drawn, in ways humans still do not fully understand, to the place of their birth. A few thousand veer into Blue Creek, whose headwaters lie far up in the Siskiyou Wilderness.
As he chats at the juncture of the creek, Mr. Belchik is distracted. Suddenly the water churns with leaps and splashes. A cloud of fish has brought a harbor seal upstream for a banquet. “Did you see that?” Mr. Belchik exalts. “I just saw a big 20-pound salmon like right there. Big 20-pounder! Wow.”
Mile after mile upriver the salmon swim, past ancient redwoods that somehow evaded the sawyers’ saws, towering Douglas firs, alders, and cottonwoods. The wet air of the coast rises with the land, and drops its rain – more than 100 inches per year – feeding the temperate rainforest.
The fish leave the territory of the Yurok, who have been here for thousands of years. They move forward in the Klamath through deep, spectacular gorges that crease uplifted granite mountains.
Sixty-six miles upriver, the Salmon River bustles in to join the Klamath. The river used to be famous for its surfeit of thousands of chinook each spring. This year biologists counted 95 fish.
In what can be a race of days or a hesitant swim of weeks, the salmon have labored their way more than 100 miles upstream. They reach Happy Camp, California, which flies the three eagle-feathered flag of the Karuk Tribe. The river at the center of the town – and at the tribe’s cultural heart – is tired and foul. The flow of water this far up is weak and the shallow currents intolerably warm for the cold-loving salmon. Blooms of toxic algae threaten the river as well.
Russell “Buster” Attebery, chairman of the Karuk Tribe, rarely eats fish from the river anymore. Mostly, he says, the fish are not there. It is an honored tradition for young men to catch and present salmon to their elders. But the tribe ended the practice four years ago. For its age-old ceremonies celebrating the return of the salmon, the tribe now gets fish from the Yurok on the coast.
“My saddest day as chairman was to tell our elders that we can’t bring them any [local] fish,” says Mr. Attebery, who has headed the tribe for 11 years. “I think the happiest day will be when I tell them that we can.”
The struggling salmon seek shady water in the day, and move at night when the river is cooler – and alive. On a fierce windy night, the Klamath, lit by the moon, turns silver. Its usual gentle shush swells to a thousand voices, and the willows on its banks flail their branches in wild genuflection.
The fish leave the green folds of the Klamath Mountains and enter high steppe plains of volcanic rock. After 175 miles, they reach the Shasta River tributary. In the 1930s, fish counts put the number of chinook salmon in the Shasta at 80,000. Last year, volunteers who walked the river recorded 4,000.
Eventually, as it nears the Oregon border, the river begins to flatten. RV parks, with fat vehicles parked on concrete pads, line its banks. The current picks up, and the fish plunge forward, oblivious of human rafters who float past them on inner tubes.
The fish turn a corner, 190 miles from the ocean where they began. But here, straddling the river, is an imposing red-clay and concrete barrier – the Iron Gate Dam.
There is no ladder, no passage for fish. The wall, 740 feet wide, is the end of the line.
Six dams were built on the Klamath River between 1918 and 1962. The Iron Gate Dam is 173 feet tall. Sluice pipes wind down the face of the dam from the reservoir behind it, ejecting water through two turbines to create hydroelectricity and providing the Lower Klamath a ration of lake-warmed water. Three shorter dams further upriver – the Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and John C. Boyle – also were built to bring kilowatts to a rural land.
“This is so easy to be done, the benefit so great, and the cost so little, that it cannot fail to meet with the approval of every citizen,” gushed the Klamath Evening Herald when the dams were proposed in 1901.
The tribes say they were promised a fish passage around or over the dams, but that did not happen. Instead, a hatchery was built at the Iron Gate Dam to insert juvenile salmon into the river, obliterating the ancient spawning pull of more than 400 miles of river and tributaries upstream.
But the dams pool the river in reservoirs, interrupting its pace, and trap sediment. In this drought, the river is low, warm, and slow. That has fueled a disease called Ceratonova shasta, spores released from host worms that thrive in the slower warm current. It can kill young fish. It has claimed, by some estimates, 95% of the juvenile salmon released from the hatchery recently.
Tribal leaders and biologists say the river – once the third most fertile salmon river in the West – may soon have no more salmon.
For 20 years, the tribes argued for restoration of the tributaries that were ravaged by logging and for removal of the dams, or the installation of working fish ladders. It has been a tortured fight. They were bolstered by the 1973 Supreme Court decision that overturned the arrest of Mr. Mattz’s grandfather. The tribes were further empowered by state and federal protections of endangered species, including the Klamath’s coho salmon.
But the fight still got ugly. In 2001, nearly 15,000 farmers, demanding more water for irrigation, mounted a “bucket brigade” protest, symbolically moving 50 pails of water from the river into an agricultural irrigation canal. The administration of George W. Bush then ordered water diverted to the farmers, which contributed to a massive die-off of tens of thousands of fish. Native groups still talk about it with a hushed tone of horror.
This year, in a reversal, federal authorities have cut off the irrigation water to farmers, as the drought has endangered the fish. That has brought an outcry from farmers that they are being sacrificed for salmon.
It’s a “disaster,” says Ben DuVal. Mr. DuVal farms far above the Iron Gate Dam, southeast of Upper Klamath Lake. He runs a 600-acre spread and raises 1,700 cattle on land his grandfather won in a homestead lottery in 1948. The grandfather of his wife, Erika, also secured acreage in the lottery. They hope to pass the farm down to their daughters, Hannah and Helena – “if that’s what they want,” the couple add in unison.
Their community of Tulelake, California, was a government project. It was created when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drained swamps, dammed Upper Klamath Lake, and promised irrigation water forever to veterans of World War I and II who would homestead and farm the land. The government also promised fishing rights and water forever to the tribes. That duplicity burdens all of their descendants today: There is not enough water for both.
Outside the DuVals’ home, a 35-foot-high stack of hay bales awaits a buyer. Eventually, a tractor-trailer will haul them to Seattle, where they will be shrink-wrapped and shipped to Japan, South Korea, China, or Saudi Arabia.
“Believe it or not, it’s cheaper to ship it to China than to North Dakota,” says Mr. DuVal. About 1,200 farms in the area grow grain and alfalfa, potatoes and onions with water from Upper Klamath Lake.
But this year, the DuVals and their neighbors feel their livelihoods are endangered. Without the irrigation water, they cannot survive long, he says. Ms. DuVal motions out her sunny kitchen window to a fallow field. “You would not see brown out there; you would see green” in any other year. Their neighbor is sharing his well water, and many farmers are drilling deeper, even though they know the aquifer cannot support them all. “We’ve done a lot of things to get by this year that just aren’t going to work next year,” says Mr. DuVal.
“If we can’t get by for another year,” he adds, “it could very well be the end of our operation.”
“Finding the water is one thing,” Ms. DuVal says at her kitchen table, “but dealing with the mental and emotional struggles as well can … can break a person.”
The water cutoff has set the overwhelmingly white farmers – “irrigators” – against the defenders of the Klamath River and the Klamath River Indians. Mr. DuVal says he is not opposed to the dam removals – two remaining dams will control the lake level. But he believes the fish will not recover, given the warm and polluted waters.
“We’re putting farms out of business in order to continue doubling down on a theory that’s not working,” he says.
Don Gentry, the white-maned chairman of the Klamath Tribes, headquartered an hour north in Chiloquin, Oregon, acknowledges the dam removals will not be a panacea. Salmon may have to be reintroduced. They have not been seen in Chiloquin, on Upper Klamath Lake, for more than 100 years. But he is also concerned about two other endangered fish.
Known to the tribe as C’waam and Koptu, and called suckerfish by others, the species live in the lake. The adults are hardy and produce millions of juvenile fish each spring. But the young fish cannot survive the warm and polluted waters of Upper Klamath Lake, a shallow basin fouled by nutrients and often choked with toxic blue-green algae. Each year for nearly three decades, all the juvenile fish died by August.
Mr. Gentry frets about hydrology and biology, but it is the cultural loss he feels most keenly. He recalls the traditional catch of the C’waam and presentation to elders.
When he was a teenager, at a time of overt prejudice against Native Americans, the practice “affirmed that I had a place in our community and a purpose,” he says. “It made me the person I am today.”
The tribal members say they are not trying to deprive farmers of all their water, but, in a historical irony, the government is now on their side. State and federal laws say endangered fish must have enough water to survive.
In “normal” years, the removal of four dams downstream would not affect Upper Klamath Lake. Its two remaining dams, with fish ladders, would still control the farmers’ allocations. But climate change is altering normal expectations, and the farmers worry that the government will cut them off again to bolster water supplies for the endangered fish.
And nearly 4 million wild birds that stop on the historic ponds and marshes on their migration are “the last in line for water,” notes Bill Lehman, executive director of the nonprofit Klamath Watershed Partnership. He argues that water allocations must sustain the wetlands that support migrating birds.
In the end, the decision to remove the dams was simply a matter of business. The hydroelectric plants are now owned by the energy company PacifiCorp, which is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The owners looked at the requirements for modernizing the old dams – including a court order that they install fish ladders – and concluded the modest electrical power produced by the plants no longer justified their upkeep.
“We won because Warren Buffett decided it was too expensive” to keep the dams, admits Mr. Attebery of the Karuk Tribe.
The dams will be turned over to a legal entity called the Klamath River Renewal Corp., backed by the California and Oregon governments. Earthmovers are scheduled to begin dismantling the dams in two years.
But tensions remain ragged. Mark Bransom is chief executive officer of the new entity, and sometimes meets hostility as he explains the project in local communities. He recalls being confronted in a parking lot one night after a public meeting by two burly men who warned him never to return to the county. They added that they were armed.
“Oh, really?” Mr. Bransom says he told them. “What do you shoot? I carry my Glock .45 everywhere I go.” He offered to show them a shooting stance. “I can hit a 2-inch [target] at 30 feet every single time.” He says the men shuffled away.
Mr. Bransom, who grew up in rural Colorado, says he understands the distrust. “Your grandparents may have worked on these dams,” he tells people at public meetings. “Your ancestors came here to mine and they lost mining. And then they turned to logging and they lost logging – the spotted owl came along. Now agriculture is under assault, because we’re using too much water to grow hay and killing the salmon. So, you know, I understand what you’re saying.”
But Jeff Mitchell, an elder of the Klamath Tribes, says his people also are fighting for their way of life, their culture, and religion.
“We are fish people and we are water people,” says Mr. Mitchell. “We have a few laws that we believe the creator passed down to us, from generation to generation, and one of those is it is our responsibility to protect these fish. If for some reason these fish go away, the creator has told us we will go away. I believe that.”
Revealed: more than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicals
Carey Gillam and Alvin Chang October 17, 2021
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 120,000 locations around the US where people may be exposed to a class of toxic “forever chemicals” associated with various cancers and other health problems that is a frightening tally four times larger than previously reported, according to data obtained by the Guardian.
The list of facilities makes it clear that virtually no part of America appears free from the potential risk of air and water contamination with the chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
Colorado tops the EPA list with an estimated 21,400 facilities, followed by California’s 13,000 sites and Oklahoma with just under 12,000. The facilities on the list represent dozens of industrial sectors, including oil and gas work, mining, chemical manufacturing, plastics, waste management and landfill operations. Airports, fire training facilities and some military-related sites are also included.
The EPA describes its list as “facilities in industries that may be handling PFAS”. Most of the facilities are described as “active”, several thousand are listed as “inactive” and many others show no indication of such status. PFAS are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their longevity in the environment, thus even sites that are no longer actively discharging pollutants can still be a problem, according to the EPA.
People living near such facilities “are certain to be exposed, some at very high levels” to PFAS chemicals, said David Brown, a public health toxicologist and former director of environmental epidemiology at the Connecticut department of health.
Brown said he suspects there are far more sites than even those on the EPA list, posing long-term health risks for unsuspecting people who live near them.
“Once it’s in the environment it almost never breaks down,” Brown said of PFAS. “This is such a potent compound in terms of its toxicity and it tends to bioaccumulate … This is one of the compounds that persists forever.”
A Guardian analysis of the EPA data set shows that in Colorado, one county alone – Weld county – houses more than 8,000 potential PFAS handling sites, with 7,900 described as oil and gas operations. Oil and gas operations lead the list of industry sectors the EPA says may be handling PFAS chemicals, according to the Guardian analysis.
In July, a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility presented evidence that oil and gas companies have been using PFAS, or substances that can degrade into PFAS, in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a technique used to extract natural gas or oil.
‘Permeating all industrial sectors’
The EPA said in 2019 that it was compiling data to create a map of “known or potential PFAS contamination sources” to help “assess environmental trends in PFAS concentrations” and aid local authorities in oversight. But no such map has yet been issued publicly.
The new data set shows a total count of 122,181 separate facilities after adjustments for duplications and errors in listed locations, and incorporation and analysis of additional EPA identifying information. The EPA facility list was provided to the Guardian by the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Peer), which received it from the EPA through a Freedom of Information request. (Peer is currently representing four EPA scientists who have requested a federal inquiry into what they allege is an EPA practice of ignoring or covering up the risks of certain dangerous chemicals.)
PFAS chemicals are a group of more than 5,000 man-made compounds used by a variety of industries since the 1940s for such things as electronics manufacturing, oil recovery, paints, fire-fighting foams, cleaning products and non-stick cookware. People can be exposed through contaminated drinking water, food and air, as well as contact with commercial products made with PFAS.
The EPA acknowledges there is “evidence that exposure to PFAS can cause adverse health outcomes in humans”. But the agency also says that there is only “very limited information” about human health risks for most of the chemicals within the group of PFAS chemicals.
EPA officials have started taking steps to get a grasp on the extent of PFAS use and existing and potential environmental contamination, as independent researchers say their own studies are finding reason for alarm. Last year, for instance, scientists at the non-profit Environmental Working Group issued a report finding that more than 200 million Americans could have PFAS in their drinking water at worrisome levels.
The EPA is expected to announce a broad new “action plan” addressing PFAS issues on Monday. The list of facilities handling PFAS is one part of the larger effort by the agency to “better understand and reduce the potential risks to human health and the environment caused by PFAS,” EPA deputy press secretary Tim Carroll told the Guardian.
“EPA has made addressing PFAS a top priority,” Carroll said. “Together we are identifying flexible and pragmatic approaches that will deliver critical public health protections.”
Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and an expert on PFAS, said the EPA compilation of more than 120,000 facilities that may be handling PFAS and other recent moves shows the agency is taking the issue seriously, but more work is urgently needed.
“Unfortunately, where PFAS are used, there is often local contamination,” Birnbaum said. And while the EPA appears to be trying to get a handle on the extent of exposure concerns, progress “seems very slow”, she said.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC) asserts that PFAS concerns are overblown.
Major manufacturers have backed away from the PFOS and PFOA-related chemicals that research has shown to be hazardous, and other types of PFAS are not proven to be dangerous, according to the chemical industry organization. “PFAS are vital” to modern society, according to the ACC.
But public health and environmental groups, along with some members of Congress, say the risks posed to people by industrial use of PFAS substances are substantial.
Four US lawmakers led by Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, wrote to the EPA administrator, Michael Regan, on 6 October about their concerns regarding PFAS contamination of air and water from industrial facilities, saying: “For too many American families, this exposure is increasing their risk of cancer and other serious health problems.”
More than 150 advocacy groups also sent a letter to Regan calling for urgent action to address industrial discharges of PFAS chemicals, noting that many of the chemicals “have been linked at very low doses to serious health harms”.
One of the sites on the EPA list is the Clover Flat landfill in Calistoga, California, a small community in the Napa Valley area that is popular for its vineyards and wineries. The landfill sits on the northern edge of the valley atop the edge of a rugged mountain range.
Clover Flat has taken in household garbage, as well as commercial and industrial waste since the 1960s, but over time the landfill has also become a disposal site for debris from forest fires.
Though the EPA list does not specifically confirm Clover Flat is handling PFAS, the community has no doubt about the presence of the toxic chemicals. A May 2020 water sampling report requested by regional water quality control officials showed that PFAS chemicals were present in every single sample taken from groundwater and from the leachate liquid materials around the landfill.
Close to 5,000 people live within a three-mile radius of the landfill, and many fear the PFAS and other toxins taken in by the landfill are making their way deep into the community.
Geoffrey Ellsworth, mayor of the small city of St Helena in Napa county, said multiple streams cross the landfill property, helping rains and erosion drive the chemical contaminants downhill into creeks and other water sources, including some used to irrigate farmland. He has been seeking regulatory intervention but has not been successful, he told the Guardian.
A small group of Napa Valley residents have been working on a documentary film about their concerns with the landfill, highlighting fears that exposures to PFAS and other contaminants are jeopardizing their health.
“The water is full of foam and looks soapy and smells funny,” said 69-year-old Dennis Kelly, who lives on a few acres downhill from Clover Flat. His dog Scarlett has become sick after wading through waters that drain from the landfill into a creek that runs through his property, Kelly said. And for the last few years he has suffered with colon and stomach cancer.
Kelly said he fears the water is toxic, and he has noticed the frogs and tadpoles that once populated the little creek are now nowhere to be found.
“Pollution is going to be what kills us all,” Kelly said.
Our water usage has shrunk by 62%, saving more than 919,000 gallons of water and about $6,000 in Los Angeles Department of Water and Power charges since 2009. I like that.
I don’t like knowing that one of the roughly 120 golf courses in the Coachella Valley blows through our entire 12-plus years of water savings in about nine hours, every single night.
In one part of the permanently drought-stricken four-fifths of Australia called “outback,” golf course fairways are dirt and “greens” are compacted black sand. People play on them daily. Coachella Valley golfers and golf course owners, state water resource managers, water drinkers: Are you listening?
Chuck Almdale, North Hills
To the editor: I have been bothered for a while about how California has been underutilizing the scant water we do have by growing snacks (almonds) and wine, and now I find out that millions of gallons daily are going to golf courses from a water source that is recharged by the imperiled Colorado River.
So there’s plenty of water for snacks, wine and golf. Welcome to the hedonistic California Republic.
Jim Sangster, Ojai
To the editor: As the members of the senior generation who moved to and developed the desert’s golf resorts age and die off, what will be the need for these huge, useless expanses of green?
Details: Two-thirds of Americans say extreme weather events in the U.S. have been occurring more frequently than in the past, while only 28% said they’ve been taking place about as often, and just 4% perceiving a dropoff in frequency.
When it comes to extreme weather events in their backyards, 46% of U.S. adults say the area where they live has had an extreme weather event over the past year.
The area with the greatest number of people reporting an extreme weather event was the South Central Census Division. It includes Louisiana, a state hit hard by Hurricane Ida and heavy rainfall events.
Yes, but: Even on perceptions of extreme weather events, there is a partisan split, the survey found, with Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents more likely to report experiencing extreme weather than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
The survey of 10,371 Americans took place from Sept. 13–19, 2021, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.
What climate change and sea level rise will do to American cities
Ben Adler, Senior Climate Editor October 13, 2021
The space center in Houston surrounded by a moat; the famous beach in Santa Monica, Calif., completely submerged; a former sports stadium in Washington, D.C., turned into a bathtub — these are just some of the startling images of the future in America’s largest cities without action to limit climate change, according to new research by Climate Central, a research and communications nonprofit.
Because of greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, average global temperatures have already risen 1.2° Celsius (2.2° Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial era, but as glaciers and polar ice caps melt, there is a decades-long lag for sea level rise. So a team of researchers from Climate Central projected how much the waters will rise if the world reaches only 1.5°C of warming, which is the goal world leaders set forth in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Hover over and click/hold slider for before and after: https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/7520888/embed?auto=1
But even limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C will result in flooding in and around some key sites. Santa Monica, for example, will lose its beach at 1.5°C of warming, once sea level rise has caught up. The projections also show how much more the tide will rise in the heart of some of the world’s largest cities and most famous sites if that warming is doubled, which will happen within 100 years if nations take no action to combat climate change.
“We’re expecting, based on our current warming track, to reach something close to 3°C this century,” said Peter Girard, communications director at Climate Central. “It will take a long time for the seas to rise to match that temperature. It may be centuries in the future, but we can understand with relative precision where it will eventually settle.”
And that place will be unsettling to many. Whether it’s an international landmark like London’s Buckingham Palace or a more obscure site like the Texas Energy Museum being underwater, the images of city streets turned to rivers and once-inhabitable buildings sticking out of the water like piers are a striking warning of what may be to come. https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/7521374/embed?auto=1
Of course, in reality these buildings aren’t even necessarily going to be there if the world breaches 2°C of warming. Long before an area is actually underwater, it will face regular flooding from heavy rainfalls and storm surges — which are also becoming more frequent and severe because of climate change. Buckingham Palace in London and Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C., will have to be abandoned due to rising waters unless dramatic action is taken to save them.
Even though the nation’s capital and other U.S. cities such as Philadelphia included in the study aren’t on the coastline, they are connected to the ocean by rivers, and their riverfront areas are projected to face much higher water levels.
The consequences of sea level rise will fall hardest in the developing world, where huge populations live in large coastal cities. According to a paper published on Oct. 11 in the journal Environmental Research Letters by the Climate Central researchers behind the project, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a high level and warming reaches 4°C, “50 major cities, mostly in Asia, would need to defend against globally unprecedented levels of exposure, if feasible, or face partial to near-total extant area losses.” https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/7522014/embed?auto=1
A major inflection point in the effort to prevent such catastrophic climate change is approaching when the successor to the Paris agreement is negotiated in early November in Glasgow, Scotland. Currently, nations have not pledged enough emissions cuts or climate finance to avert the warming scenarios that Climate Central explored, but the organization’s hope is to help spur more aggressive action.
“One of the opportunities to make decisions at an international level is coming up in Glasgow, and hopefully this work by visualizing the stakes contributing to a positive outcome,” Girard said.
A half-mile installation just took 20,000 pounds of plastic out of the Pacific – proof that ocean garbage can be cleaned
Aria Bendix October 15, 2021
The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization, aims to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.
It recently debuted a device it said collected 20,000 pounds from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
But some scientists worry the device still isn’t effective or environmentally friendly enough.
It’s been nearly a decade since Boyan Slat announced at age 18 that he had a plan to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.
Slat, now 27, is a Dutch inventor and the founder of the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that aims to remove 90% of floating ocean plastic by 2040.
That goal has often seemed unattainable. The Ocean Cleanup launched its first attempt at a plastic-catching device in 2018, but the prototype broke in the water. A newer model, released in 2019, did a better job of collecting plastic, but the organization estimated that it would need hundreds of those devices to clean the world’s oceans.
What if we paved roads with plastic trash?
Scientists and engineers began to question whether the group could deliver on the tens of millions of dollars it had acquired in funding.
But over the summer, the organization pinned its hopes on a new device, which it nicknamed Jenny. The installation is essentially an artificial floating coastline that catches plastic in its fold like a giant arm, then funnels the garbage into a woven funnel-shaped net. Two vessels tow it through the water at about 1.5 knots (slower than normal walking speed), and the ocean current pushes floating garbage toward the giant net.
In early August, the team launched Jenny in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash-filled vortex between Hawaii and California. The garbage patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world, encompassing more than 1.8 trillion pieces, according to the Ocean Cleanup’s estimates.
Last week, Jenny faced its final test as the organization sought to determine whether it could bring large amounts of plastic to shore without breaking or malfunctioning. The Ocean Cleanup said the device hauled 9,000 kilograms, or nearly 20,000 pounds, of trash out of the Pacific Ocean – proof that the garbage patch could eventually be cleaned up.
“Holy mother of god,” Slat tweeted that afternoon, adding, “It all worked!!!”
Slat’s ocean-cleaning device has come a long way since the original prototype: a 330-foot-long floating barrier that resembled a long pipe in the water.
The newest version is U-shaped and more flexible, like the lane dividers in a pool. Once its attached net fills with plastic (every few weeks or so), a crew hauls it up out of the water and empties the garbage onto one of the vessels that pull it.
Once it’s brought to shore, the plastic gets recycled. For now, the Ocean Cleanup is using the plastic to make $200 pairs of sunglasses, funneling the proceeds back into the cleanup efforts. Eventually, the organization hopes to partner with consumer brands to make more recycled products.
Slat estimated that the team would need about 10 Jennys to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years. A single device can hold 10,000 to 15,000 kilograms of plastic, he tweeted.
Concerns about the ocean-cleaning device linger
The Ocean Cleanup system collects several types of floating garbage, including large containers, fishing nets, and microplastics just a few millimeters in size. But it captures only plastic floating near the ocean’s surface. A study published last year suggested that there may be upwards of 30 times as much plastic at the bottom of the ocean as there is near the surface.
The organization says large pieces of floating plastic will ultimately degrade into microplastics that are much harder to clean up.
The Jenny device, of course, doesn’t prevent plastic from entering oceans to begin with. Researchers have estimated that about 11 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year. By 2040, that figure could rise to 29 million metric tons. Ten Jenny devices would be able to collect 15,000 to 20,000 metric tons a year, according to the Ocean Cleanup.
What’s more, the boats that pull the Jenny device require fuel, meaning there’s an environmental cost. The device was originally designed to passively collect plastic using the ocean’s current, but that design led to it spilling too much of the trash it had collected. The Ocean Cleanup says it’s purchasing carbon credits to offset the towing vessels’ emissions.
“Once plastic has gotten into the open ocean, it becomes very expensive and fossil-fuel intensive to get it back out again,” Miriam Goldstein, the director of ocean policy at the think tank Center for American Progress, told Reuters last month.
But Slat tweeted on Saturday that there’s still time to address those concerns.
“Lots of things still to iron out,” he wrote of his group’s plastic-cleaning work, “but one thing we now know: deploy a small fleet of these systems, and one *can* clean it up.”
Lake Tahoe water level hits four-year low as drought pummels tourist spot
Dani Anguiano in Los Angeles October 13, 2021
Lake Tahoe’s water level dropped to a four-year low on Tuesday as gusty winds and the impacts of California’s devastating drought hit the popular tourist destination.
After days of high winds increased evaporation rates, water levels fell to the basin’s natural rim for the first time since 2017, the end of the state’s last drought. The lake normally sits above the rim, which allows for water to flow into the Truckee River. Levels will probably continue to drop, receding below the rim this week, sooner than expected.
Though the lake’s water levels have fallen to this point several times in recent years, this week’s drop concerns researchers like Geoffrey Schladow, the director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.
“It’s a sign of change at the lake,” Schladow said. “Change is very difficult to manage … When we start seeing things we’ve never experienced before at a greater frequency, it’s challenging.”
Officials reported earlier this year that Lake Tahoe was experiencing its third-driest year since 1910. Between June 2020 and June 2021, the lake dropped about 3ft.
Once the lake falls below its natural rim, it will stop flowing into the Truckee River, cutting off a major source of water to the river, and the region will see more algae washing up on beaches. Winter weather will ultimately determine how long the low water levels will last, and the extent of the impacts in the region. Though snow has fallen in the area in the last month, water levels could fall below the rim again by next summer with even an average year of precipitation, Schladow said.
“To me the big danger is next summer,” he said.
Declining lake levels are already affecting the shoreline, drying up coves and boat ramps and forcing tour boat operators to find new ways to get customers on to the water, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“You can’t get within 150 yards of the normal shoreline” in South Lake Tahoe, Kelsey Weist, the owner of Clearly Tahoe, which runs tours around the lake, told the newspaper.
The entire region is grappling with impacts of the drought and the climate crisis. The US Forest Service cancelled Lake Tahoe’s annual fall salmon festival because low water levels meant Kokanee salmon would not spawn in nearby Taylor Creek.
Lake Tahoe saw unusually high water temperatures over the summer, a worrying development as warmer water makes the lake more hospitable to invasive species.
Meanwhile, the Caldor fire imperiled the region, forcing mass evacuations, upending the tourism industry and showering the area – and the lake – in thick ash. Smoke from the fire cooled the water temperature and reduced clarity in the lake, and researchers are still evaluating its impact.
The climate crisis will have major effects on the lake in the coming years, warming water, affecting oxygen levels and potentially increasing wind events that could further diminish water levels.
Schladow said combating climate change largely required action globally, but there were things that could be done locally to help the lake. Decreasing driving in the Tahoe Basin would help reduce the amount of algal growth in the lake, as would using fewer fertilizers on lawns and gardens.
“A lot of what we’ve been advocating is to try to build the resilience of the lake to climate change,” he said. “This is going to keep happening – how can we make the lake better able to withstand it?”