‘500-year flood’: Florida begins to assess Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic damage
Dylan Stableford, Senior Writer – September 29, 2022
A day after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida as a Category 4 storm, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the storm surge that came with it was “basically a 500-year flood event.”
“We’ve never seen a flood event like this,” he said during a news briefing in Tallahassee. “We’ve never seen a storm surge of this magnitude.”
More than 2.5million people across the state were without power as search and rescue teams and first responders assessed the historic damage.
Large sections of the Sanibel Causeway, which connects the Sanibel Islands to the mainland, collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico.
DeSantis said the causeway and Matlacha Pass Bridge are “impassable” and are going to require “structural” rebuilds.
Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, was particularly hard hit. On NBC’s “Today” show, Mayor Kevin Anderson, who has lived in the city since the 1970s, said Ian was “by far the worst storm” he’d ever seen.
And there were conflicting reports of fatalities.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said, “While I don’t have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds.” DeSantis, though, said that that number was unconfirmed and based on the thousands of people who called to report rising water in their homes.
Later on CNN, Marceno said that there were five confirmed deaths and that “a couple thousand calls came through 911.”
“We got crushed,” he said.
The devastation was seen in other counties too. In Port Charlotte, in Charlotte County, the storm ripped part of a roof off a hospital’s intensive care unit, forcing staff and patients to evacuate to other floors.
DeSantis said he spoke early Thursday with President Biden, who formally issued a disaster declaration and reaffirmed his commitment to use all available federal resources to assist in rescue and recovery efforts.
Biden was scheduled to receive a briefing on the response efforts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon.
Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm as it cut across the state Thursday morning, but officials warned that conditions remain dangerous.
In Kissimmee, Fla., just south of Orlando, multiple people were rescued from their cars in rising floodwaters. A military transport vehicle was used to bring people and their pets to safety.
“The initial investigation indicates the victim was using a hose to drain the pool down a hill and into a 30-foot-wide canal, where a steep decline into the water was extremely soft and slippery due to the heavy rain,” the post read. “The Sheriff’s Office sends its sincere condolences to the victim’s family.”
Cuba without electricity after hurricane hammers power grid
Andrea Rodriguez – September 27, 2022
HAVANA (AP) — Hurricane Ian knocked out power across all of Cuba and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco farms when it slammed into the island’s western tip as a major hurricane Tuesday.
Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that work was underway to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people during the night. Power was initially knocked out to about 1 million people in Cuba’s western provinces, but later the entire grid collapsed.
Ian hit a Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power outages in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the island’s western end, devastating Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area ahead of the arrival of Ian, which caused flooding, damaged houses and toppled trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no fatalities had been reported by Tuesday night.
Ian’s winds damaged one of Cuba’s most important tobacco farms in La Robaina.
“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather made known internationally.
Robaina, also the owner of the Finca Robaina cigar producer, posted photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.
State media said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the affected region.
Cuba’s Meteorology Institute said the city of Pinar del Río was in the heart of the hurricane for an hour and a half.
“Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are here alive,” said Pinar del Rio resident Yusimí Palacios, who asked authorities for a roof and a mattress.
Officials had set up 55 shelters and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph).
Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching top winds of 130 mph (209 kph) approaching the southwestern coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.
As the storm’s center moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba. Authorities were still assessing the damage in its world-famous tobacco belt.
Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage at the main hospital in Pinar del Rio city, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings and downed trees. No deaths were reported.
Videos on social media showed downed power lines and cut off roads in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque. A hospital in Pinar del Río was damaged.
“The town is flooded,” said farmer Andy Muñoz, 37, who lives in Playa Cajío in Artemisa.
He said many people lost their belongings due to the storm surge.
“I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The masonry and zinc roof of the house had just been installed. But the storm tore it down,” said Mercedes Valdés, who lives along the highway connecting Pinar del Río to San Juan y Martínez. “We couldn’t rescue our things … we just ran out.”
AP journalist Osvaldo Angulo in Pinar del Rio contributed to this report.
Column: California’s water usage was built on a historic lie. The cost is now apparent
Michael Hiltzik – September 21, 2022
It’s human nature to mark big-number anniversaries, but there’s a centennial looming just ahead that Californians — and other Westerners — might not want to celebrate.
It’s the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, a seven-state agreement that was signed Nov. 24, 1922.
That evening, in the Ben Hur Room of Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, using the lapboard on which Gen. Lew Wallace had written his biblical epic 40 years earlier while serving as New Mexico’s territorial governor, representatives of six of the seven states of the Colorado River Basin applied their signatures to the compact with a gold pen.
If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability … the crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.
Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute co-founder
The compact — essentially an interstate treaty — set the rules for apportioning the waters of the river. It was a crucial step in construction of Hoover Dam, which could not have been built without the states’ assent.
The compact stands as a landmark in the development of Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix and other Western metropolises. But it is also a symbol of the folly of unwarranted expectations.
That’s because the compact was built on a lie about the capacity of the Colorado River to serve the interests of the Western states — a lie that Westerners will be grappling with for decades to come.
The crisis of water supply from the Colorado is vividly represented by the so-called bathtub ring around Lake Mead, the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam, showing how far below normal the water level has fallen.
As my colleague Ian James has reported, federal projections show that the risk is growing that both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam, are approaching “dead pool” levels, below which water would no longer pass downstream through the dams.
The prospect has led to pressure from the federal government on water agencies in California and the six other basin states to drastically cut back on water use. So far, however, no agreements on cutbacks have emerged.
The ultimate danger is that Lake Mead reaches the “dead pool” stage. At the end of last month, Lake Mead was at 1,044.28 feet of surface elevation above sea level. That’s about 100 feet below its level in August 2003 and about 180 feet below its record elevation of 1,225 feet, reached in July 1983. When the level falls to 950 feet, the lake can no longer generate hydroelectricity. At 895 feet, the dam can’t release water downstream.
The long-term decline in Lake Mead’s capacity has been blamed mostly on global warming. But as I’ve reported before, the river’s enemies are both natural and man-made. It’s true that nature has placed the basin in a long-term drought. But human demands for water from the Colorado have far outstripped what it can provide — indeed, what it ever could provide.
That brings us back to the compact negotiations. The impulse for a high dam on the lower Colorado came largely from California — principally from growers in the Imperial Valley. They depended on the river for irrigation and desired a more reliable supply as well as flood control that could only be provided by a major dam.
Congress resisted approving the project unless the seven basin states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming could agree on how to apportion the river among themselves.
The task of supervising the negotiations fell to Herbert Hoover, who was President Harding’s Commerce secretary. The process was contentious. The upstream states were painfully aware that California was the most voracious user of the river’s water even though it had the smallest acreage within the basin.
All were convinced that California, the most-developed state of the seven, was plotting to appropriate more than its share of the water to stoke its continued development at their expense. They were suspicious of Hoover, who though born in Iowa had made his home in California since becoming a member of the first graduating class at Stanford University in 1895.
Working with his deputy, Arthur Powell Davis — director of the U.S. Reclamation Bureau and a nephew of John Wesley Powell, the pioneering explorer of the Colorado and the Grand Canyon — Hoover overcame the states’ disagreements by promising that they all would receive enough water to provide for all their future economic growth.
They did this through connivance. Davis provided an estimate that the river’s annual volume averaged 16.4 million acre-feet. (One acre-foot, the equivalent of 325,851 gallons, is enough water to serve one or two average households today.)
That allowed the compact to be concluded with a guarantee that the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico could pass 7.5 million acre feet a year — measured as 10-year averages of 75 million acre-feet — to the lower states of California, Nevada and Arizona without sacrificing their own needs. All the states agreed on this formula except Arizona, which didn’t sign the compact until 1944.
(By then the state had all but gone to war with California over water rights on the river, dispatching a squad of National Guard troops to the river on a ferryboat to block construction of Parker Dam in 1934. The ferry was derisively dubbed the “Arizona navy” by a Times correspondent assigned to cover the skirmish. After the federal government imposed a truce, the guardsmen were reported to have returned home from the “war zone” as “conquering heroes.”)
The real flaw in the compact was no joke, however: Davis’ figure was a flagrant overestimate — as he certainly knew, having studied the Colorado for decades.
The 1899-1921 time span on which his figure was based was one of the wettest periods in the basin’s known history. Indeed, only four times since construction of Hoover Dam began in 1931 has the 10-year average reached 16.4 million acre-feet.
Current estimates place the average annual volume of the Colorado since 1906 at 14.7 million acre-feet; since 1991, the annual average is closer to 13.5 million.
Yet the portions of California and the West dependent on the river for their sustenance have grown as if its bounty is effectively limitless.
In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the dam from a podium overlooking the project, declaring that it had turned the willful river into “a great national possession.” Since that time, the population of the seven basin states has grown by more than 52 million, much of the growth fueled by the water and electricity the dam has provided.
For several decades, however, climate and hydrological experts have warned that there can be no soft landing from the restrictions that global warming are forcing upon the Colorado River’s historical beneficiaries.
Hard choices are becoming imperative. The federal government is effectively ordering that the basin states cut their water usage by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet a year.
The draconian cutbacks signaled by the federal government have been made necessary by inadequate action in the recent past.
As water and climate expert Peter Gleick told James recently, “If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability, there would be more water in the reservoirs today,” Gleick said. “The crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.”
The reckoning may have been long in coming, but it was inevitable. As long ago as 1893, John Wesley Powell — the uncle of Arthur Powell Davis, who perpetrated the foundational lie allowing the construction of Hoover Dam — foresaw the basin’s destiny.
Attending an irrigation congress in Los Angeles at which the coming paradise of water-driven growth was being proclaimed, Powell stood to deliver a hard truth. “I tell you, gentlemen,” he said, “you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land.”
He was driven from the hall by a chorus of catcalls and boos, but time has proved him right.
Climate change could wipe $108 billion from U.S. property market, study finds
Alex Lubben – September 20, 2022
Sea level rise will flood huge swaths of the country and submerge billions of dollars’ worth of land, according to a new report.
An analysis from Climate Central, a nonprofit research group, put a price tag on just how much all that land is worth — and how much local governments stand to lose when it goes underwater. The report found that nearly 650,000 privately owned parcels of land over more than 4 million acres will fall below tide lines within the next 30 years. The analysis indicates that sea level rise could reduce the value of that private land by more than $108 billion by the end of the century.
Because all land below the tide line is, by law, state-owned, the encroachment of the tides could essentially vaporize huge amounts of private, taxable wealth. That, in turn, will decrease property tax revenue substantially in coastal areas, which experts caution could ultimately bankrupt local governments.
For millennia, tide lines haven’t really budged. Nor has the notion that any land under water is public, which is an “idea that goes way back to Roman times,” said Peter Byrne, the director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Program. “The tidelands, the sea, they’re open to the public because they’re navigable. They’re inherently public.”
But as the planet heats, the old tide lines are climbing uphill. The study found that an area the size of the state of New Jersey that is now above water will be submerged at high tide in 2050.
“Sea level rise is ultimately going to take land away from people,” said Don Bain, a senior adviser with Climate Central, who wrote the report. “That’s something we haven’t come to grips with.”
All told, places that are currently livable will become increasingly hard to live in. Here’s what this might mean for local governments.
Risk isn’t evenly distributed
Climate Central found that, unsurprisingly, the effects of sea level rise aren’t evenly distributed across the U.S. The Atlantic and Gulf Coasts will feel its effects more than other parts of the country. In many areas along the coast, sea levels will rise significantly faster because land is sinking as sea levels rise.
By 2050, Climate Central estimates that about 75% of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, will be underwater. In Hudson County, New Jersey, $2.4 billion worth of taxable property will be submerged. In Galveston County, Texas, more than 4,200 buildings that are currently above sea level will be at least partially underwater.
“Climate impacts are not going to happen far off into the future, but within the life of the mortgage on your house,” said Anna Weber, a policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council.
While sea level rise is one of the major impacts of the climate crisis, it’s not the only one. Supercharged hurricanes and wildfires will also cause displacement and will contribute to the erosion of local tax bases as people move to safer areas. More frequent intense rainstorms are expected to cause more inland flooding in many parts of the U.S. Coastal counties won’t be the only places affected.
“These numbers are relatively conservative,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor of sustainable architecture at Tulane University, who was not involved with the Climate Central study. “That’s what should scare people.”
Doing more with less
In many places, coastal property is the most valuable real estate — and a major source of property taxes for local governments. Without it, municipalities could see a huge loss of revenue at a time when the costs of adapting to climate change are expected to skyrocket. The costly measures that municipalities will need to undertake to adapt to rising sea levels, like building seawalls or elevating roads, could become more difficult to fund.
“When that property tax revenue base shrinks, it’s a compounding problem for adaptation,” said A.R. Siders, a climate adaptation researcher at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center. That could create a vicious cycle: “Not being able to protect those homes reduces their value and so you have fewer resources to protect those homes.”
That won’t just affect the owners of beachfront property. Municipalities rely on property taxes to fund roads, schools, trash pickup — all the basic services that residents rely on.
“It seems probable to me that over time we’re going to have to figure out a different funding model for really flood-prone communities, or communities along the coastline,” Siders added. “They’ve been relying on the perpetual growth of the housing market and that just doesn’t deem realistic in places that are going to experience the effects of climate change.”
One tool that municipalities use to raise money to fund projects that make them more resilient to climate change is municipal bonds — to do things like build a new bridge, fund the construction of a school, or, maybe, to pay for flood control so a city doesn’t get submerged by the next big storm.
Flooding poses threats to crops, commuting routes, utilities, wastewater treatment plants and buildings, the report noted. How local governments react to these economic hits will have implications for their ability to repay debt and keep their credit ratings afloat.
“Before they even reach bankruptcy, stress is going to reverberate through the muni bond market,” Keenan said. “What we’ll begin to see is a more explicit [climate] premium and a higher cost of borrowing for these counties.”
‘Choices to be made’
There are parts of the country that are exacerbating their exposure to the climate risks by continuing to build in coastal areas that will soon be underwater. Climate Central’s report calls for stricter restrictions on new developments and for building new housing outside of risk zones.
Buyouts, in which the government offers to purchase flood-prone buildings, could help create a natural “buffer zone” along the coasts, other experts suggest.
“This issue of losing tax base is something that comes up a lot when we talk about home buyouts because in that case, you are deliberately converting a property from private ownership to public ownership,” Weber said. “What this report shows is that, in some cases, that process is going to happen whether you do it deliberately or not.”
Besides building codes and moving people out of harm’s way, there’s still time to change course on greenhouse gas emissions, Bain emphasized. If the world continues to produce emissions at the current rate, the tides will rise faster; reducing emissions now will allow crucial time to adapt to the rising tides.
“We may not be able to change much between now and 2050, but we can make a large difference going forward from that,” Bain said. “There are still choices to be made — between better outcomes and far worse outcomes.”
8 million ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol slams across Japan: ‘Raining like never before’
John Bacon, USA TODAY – September 19, 2022
More than 8 million people in southern and western Japan have been ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol roars across the island nation with historic wind and waves.
Local government officials across Japan told national broadcaster NHK that a level 5 alert, the highest on Japan’s disaster warning scale, was issued to more than 330,000 people in about 160,000 households in Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Oita prefectures.
Nearly 8 million people in about 3.7 million households affected by a level 4 alert were ordered to evacuate in parts of the Kyushu, Shikoku and Chugoku regions, NHK said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said it was “raining like never before” in Miyazaki, where some areas saw more than 15 inches of rain in the 24 hours through Sunday afternoon. Power lines tumbled and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were dark as the storm slowly rolled northward over Kyushu.
“To protect your life and the lives of your loved ones, please follow the evacuation information already issued by your local municipality immediately,” the agency said. “Ensure your own safety without waiting for the announcement of a special warning.”
First special typhoon warning
In Kagoshima, thousands took shelter at evacuation centers. Wind speeds of almost 115 mph were reported in parts of the region.
It was the first time the agency has issued a special typhoon warning for an area outside from Okinawa Prefecture. Flights were canceled and train service, the lifeblood of Japanese travel, was suspended in the region.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had mobilized police, firefighters, the Self-Defense Forces and other agencies.
“I urge (the public) to avoid going near places posing potential dangers such as rivers and other waterways or places at risk of landslides, and to evacuate without hesitation if they feel in danger in any way,” Kishida said.
Earthquake strikes Taiwan
Less than 900 miles southwest of Japan’s natural disaster, a strong earthquake struck southeastern Taiwan on Saturday evening, collapsing a house and interrupting rail service on the island. Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the 6.4 magnitude shallow quake was centered north of Taitung County on the island’s eastern shore.
Bill Clinton: ‘The world’s on fire,’ but teamwork can help
Glenn Gamboa – September 19, 2022
NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton is calling on governments, businesses, philanthropies and other prominent institutions to draw together and help a world that is “on fire” as he reconvenes the Clinton Global Initiative, the meeting of international leaders, for the first time since 2016.
“Somebody needs to show up and make something good happen,” he said during the conference’s opening public session Monday. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Interest in the two-day meeting has been so intense that the Clinton Foundation had to turn away more than 1,000 potential attendees. It is convening a spectrum of luminaries, including Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and actor and water access activist Matt Damon.
Clinton, president of the United States from 1993 to 2001, said he has been amazed by the massive response.
“The world’s on fire in a lot of different ways,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “But there are a lot of things that businesses, non-governmental groups and governments working together can do to help with a lot of these problems.”
The Clinton Global Initiative, or CGI, has helped more than 435 million people in more than 180 countries since it was established in 2005. It previously required attendees to create a Commitment to Action, a measurable project that addresses a global issue, though for this first year, everyone will be expected to announce or develop a partnership. Those commitments often unite new partners and encourage cooperation between the public and private sectors.
“I think there is a longing for people to get together and meet with an end in mind,” Clinton said in an interview. “Not just talk about it, but knowing that when they walk away, they will have committed to doing something.”
Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton calls that “a bias toward action,” which she says is part of what makes CGI special and a catalyst for global change. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has energized interest in public health and addressing health disparities because people outside of the field could see the impact.
“Health is interconnected to anything and everything that anyone may care about,” Chelsea Clinton said. “There are a lot of people who now are mobilized to do something with what they have come to newly understand and which they now feel responsible for helping to solve.”
Dr. David Fajgenbaum received a standing ovation as he announced plans for his new nonprofit Every Cure, which seeks to find new uses for generic drugs to treat rare diseases. The idea came from his own research to find a treatment for his own Castleman’s Disease, a rare ailment where the immune system attacks vital organs.
He said his new nonprofit would work on using generic drugs to treat 106 rare disease initially, a process that would cost 500 times less than developing a new drug. “There would be no greater impact in terms of saving lives,” he said. “As long as I’m alive, we’re going to continue to chase them.”
In other commitments, Andrew Kuper, founder and CEO of impact investing firm LeapFrog Investments, announced the firm planned to support 25 million enterprises offering 100 million jobs in developing countries by 2030. Israeli global venture firm OurCrowd announced a partnership with the WHO Foundation to launch a $200 million Global Health Equity Fund that focuses on breakthrough technology solutions in health care.
Peter Sands, executive director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said CGI has always introduced his group to new potential partners, something even more valuable after two challenging pandemic years that made access to new donors difficult. “There’s only so much you can do with PowerPoints and Zooms,” Sands said.
He is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign of his own. President Joe Biden will host The Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York on Wednesday, delayed two days so that Biden can attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II on Monday.
However, he now plans to attend CGI and said the gathering has been missed during its hiatus, even though the Clinton Foundation itself has remained active. The initiative convened annually until 2016 during former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, when questions were raised about the appearance of potential conflicts of interests if donors then had business before her administration.
Bill Clinton said the initiative is counting on the special energy of its participants to tackle a growing number of issues.
“We’ve got the largest number of migrants since World War II,” he said. “And the most publicity they get in America is when one governor or two turns it into some political issue and tries to make problems for other people. Sensible countries work together and try to figure out the best way to deal with it.”
Clinton also hopes CGI can spotlight various solutions that need more support. He points to a study from Generation180, a nonprofit that promotes the use of clean energy. Its research shows some rural schools have installed solar panels to reduce their carbon emissions and their electric bills. The schools then used the savings to give raises to teachers.
“The energy is here. The jobs are here. The benefits are here. The kids win,” Clinton said. “That shouldn’t be a political issue.”
He says philanthropy can help bust through political and cultural gridlock by showing what can be done. For example, he said that when President Barack Obama proposed hiring 100,000 new STEM teachers and Congress turned him down, philanthropy stepped in to make it happen.
“We got the Carnegie Corporation and the American Federation of Teachers and more than 20 other partners together and they said, ‘We will raise the money,'” Clinton said. “Nobody ever thought of that as being a purpose of philanthropy. But it got the job done, and it demonstrated why Republicans and Democrats should cooperate on such things.”
Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.
It may be impossible to completely avoid PFAS, but there are a few simple ways to reduce your exposure.
Eating at home, ditching nonstick pans and unnecessary carpets, and filtering your water can help.
Hazardous, long-lasting “forever chemicals” are all over the news lately, and they’re all over our day-to-day environments too.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, is a class of thousands of man-made substances that are common in everyday objects, but research is making it increasingly clear that they may be harmful to human health. Peer-reviewed studies have linked them to some cancers, decreased fertility, thyroid disease, and developmental delays.
That’s bad news since PFAS last for decades without breaking down, earning them the “forever chemicals” nickname. Researchers have found them in drinking water and household dust across the planet, in the oceans, at both poles, and drifting through the atmosphere.
In a paper published last month, leading researchers at the University of Stockholm concluded that all the planet’s rainwater, and probably all of its soil, are contaminated with unsafe levels of PFAS. Ian Cousins, who spearheaded that research, fears it’s impossible to avoid the chemicals.
“I don’t bother,” Cousins told Insider, adding, “It’s almost mission impossible. You can’t really do it.”
Even if you can’t completely dodge PFAS, there are a few easy ways to reduce exposure in your daily life.
Eat at home, with minimal grease-resistant packaging
PFAS were developed in the 1940s to resist heat, grease, stains, and water. That means they’ve ended up in a lot of food packaging. That includes pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags, some wrappers, and grease-resistant paper.
Restaurants and fast-food chains may use such packaging more than grocery stores do. A 2019 study found that people had lower PFAS levels in their blood after eating at home, and higher levels after eating fast food or at restaurants.
Throw out scratched nonstick pans
The coating used in nonstick cookware usually contains PFAS, and they can easily leach into your food at high heat and once the coating gets scratched.
The Washington Department of Ecology advises against heating nonstick cookware above 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and recommends throwing it out once the nonstick coating scratches. Cast-iron pans are a safe alternative.
Ditch your carpet and stain-resistant fabrics
Other household items like carpeting, water-resistant clothing, and stain-resistant treatments for fabrics can also contain PFAS. Researchers don’t think the chemicals can easily absorb into your body through your skin, but those fabrics shed fibers that can travel through the house as dust, eventually getting ingested or inhaled.
Vacuum, dust, and open the windows
PFAS accumulate in dust, which lingers in the air and allows humans to breathe the chemicals into their lungs. By dusting and vacuuming regularly, along with opening windows to allow for airflow and ventilation, you can keep dust levels low in your home and reduce the amount of PFAS you inhale.
Test and maybe treat your drinking water
You can test your water for PFAS through a laboratory certified by your state. If the water exceeds guidelines, you may want to consider doing something about it, especially if you have children.
Even at very low levels, exposure to two of the most common PFAS — called PFOA and PFOS — has been linked to decreased vaccine response in children. That research prompted the US Environmental Protection Agency to revise its drinking-water guidelines, decreasing the safe levels of those substances by a factor of 17,000. In August, the agency issued a proposal to classify those two PFAS as hazardous substances.
A few types of water filters can diminish PFAS levels, though they may not completely remove the chemicals from the water. State environmental departments recommend filtration systems that use reverse osmosis for tap water. They also recommend filter systems that use granular activated carbon (aka charcoal), which can be installed on faucets house-wide or used in a tabletop pitcher, but a 2020 study found mixed results from those systems.
If you get your drinking water from a well, the EPA recommends testing it regularly and contacting your state environmental or health agency for certified labs and safety standards.
Check before you buy cosmetics
Last year, a group of researchers published the results of testing 231 cosmetic products in the US and Canada for PFAS. More than half the products contained indicators of the chemicals.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a public, searchable database of cosmetics and personal-care products, highlighting ingredients with potential risks to human health, such as PFAS like Teflon. They also maintain a map where you can check if you live near a PFAS contamination site.
Ultimately, Cousins said, people don’t need to be “super worried” about low-level exposure, since there’s no strong evidence of major health impacts across the population. Still, reducing PFAS use in consumer products could keep the problem from getting worse in the future.
“I think we should use this to get a bit angry about what’s happened and try and make change, so that we don’t keep doing this,” Cousins said. “Maybe we have to use [PFAS] in some cases, but only when they’re absolutely essential. And then we should also try to innovate, to try and replace them in the longer term.”
Alaska towns flooded, residents evacuated as massive storm batters state
Sophie Reardon – September 17, 2022
A massive, potentially record-breaking storm brought major flooding and damage to coastal towns in Alaska Saturday, and some residents were evacuated. Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he “verbally declared” a disaster for communities impacted by the storm.
The center of the storm was making its way up the Bering Strait Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.
On Alaska’s western coast, the towns of Nome, Hooper Bay, Skaktoolik, Kotlik and Nunam Iqua were all hit hard by the storm, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF).
The governor said on Twitter that there had been no reported injuries as of Saturday morning. “We will continue to monitor the storm and update Alaskans as much as possible,” he tweeted. A news briefing was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. local time Saturday night.
Rep. Mary Peltola also tweeted Saturday afternoon, asking that Alaskans “please be safe and seek shelter. It’s imperative we all look out for each other and keep each other safe. We will get through this, but stay safe.”
In the town of Golovin, major flooding was reported early Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, and forecasters warned it would only get worse. The town could see an additional 1 to 2 feet of water by the day’s end. The Old Golovin Airport was under water, according to ADOT&PF.
“Water is surrounding the school, homes and structures are flooded, at least a couple homes floating off the foundation, some older fuel tanks are tilted over,” the weather service’s office in Fairbanks tweeted.
Wales – the westernmost town in both Alaska and the U.S., located on the Bering Strait coast – was seeing flooding in “low lying areas,” the weather service reported.
“Water levels will peak this afternoon with the high tide, then gradually fall through Sunday,” the weather service tweeted.
Another town, Shaktoolik, reported coastal flooding, with water “entering the community and getting close to some homes,” according to the weather service. Residents there were evacuated to a school and clinic. Shaktoolik was also expected to see the worst of the storm later in the day.
According to the weather service, the water level in Nome rose above 10 feet Saturday, and is expected to continue to rise.
The weather service also shared footage from a webcam in Unalakleet, comparing an average day in the town against the scene there Saturday morning.
As of Saturday afternoon, large swaths of the state’s western coast were under coastal flooding and high wind warnings. The weather service said flood warnings would remain in effect for several areas through Sunday night, while the wind warnings were expected to expire by Saturday night.
The weather service said the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta would see a “smaller surge” during high tide in the afternoon and evening hours Saturday.
The “highest water levels are expected from Kipnuk north to Newtok,” the NWS tweeted. A coastal flood warning was extended for that region through 10 p.m. Saturday.
Other portions of the state are under gale warnings, according to the weather service.
The weather service shared peak reported wind gusts as of 8 a.m. local time — the highest recorded was 91 mph in Cape Romanzof. Several other towns, including Golovin, saw winds topping 60 mph.
The storm is the remnants of Typhoon Merbok, and forecasters predicted this week it could bring “potentially historical” flooding, with some coastal areas seeing water levels up to 11 feet higher than the normal high tide.
‘Angry sea’: Huge storm floods roads, homes in Alaska as governor declares disaster
Christine Fernando and Claire Thornton – September 17, 2022
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has declared a state of disaster Saturday as a powerful storm threatens huge swaths of the state’s western coastline.
Towns are facing strong winds and flooding, and bracing for possible power outages caused by a storm forecasters are calling one of the worst in the state’s recent history.
The storm systems continued to “produce a potentially historic and long-duration storm surge, and damaging high winds across southwestern and western Alaska,” the National Weather Service said Saturday.
The remnants of Typhoon Merbok are expected to bring moderate to heavy rainfall to the region until Sunday morning. On Saturday morning, a “very angry sea” brought storm surge into the community of Port of Nome, the Weather Service station in Fairbanks, Alaska tweeted. Wind gusts could reach hurricane strength in some areas, Weather Service forecasts say.
Significant coastal flooding is expected until Sunday morning, with the highest water levels Saturday afternoon, the Weather Service said.
Related video: Heavy rain, strong winds from Kay send small pane off runway
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On Saturday, photos showed roads in Golovin, Alaska, were covered with floodwater and the tide reached homes, causing a couple of homes to float off their foundations, the Weather Service station in Fairbanks, Alaska said. Golovin, Alaska is a small town about 70 miles east of Nome.
Likely wind gusts of 50 to 75 mph may also topple trees, damage roofs and buildings, and lead to substantial power outages, according to AccuWeather. The storm will also create “life-threatening conditions” for fishing operations, AccuWeather said, warning small boats to remain in port.
There were no injuries reported as of Saturday afternoon, Dunleavy said on Twitter.
‘One of the strongest storms to ever hit the state,’ forecasters say
The storm’s impacts may exceed the 2011 Bering Sea Superstorm, one of the most powerful cyclones to affect Alaska on record, the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said, adding that some parts of the state may experience their worst coastal flooding in almost 50 years.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Fiona is expected to dump up to 16 inches of rain on parts of Puerto Rico on Saturday, threatening severe flooding, landslides and power outages.
The storm is expected to become a hurricane as it nears Puerto Rico, just after battering the eastern Caribbean islands. One death was reported Saturday in Guadeloupe, a French territory in the southern Caribbean Sea.
Puerto Rican authorities have opened shelters and shuttered public beaches, theaters and museums, urging people to remain indoors.
Largest Western wildfires burn mostly uncontrolled during above-average season
September 16, 2022
With more than 6.7 million acres in the U.S. engulfed by wildfires so far this year, the active fire season continues without much relief for Western states plagued by warm and dry weather that has driven explosive fire growth in recent weeks.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the U.S. is 116% above the 10-year average for 2022. Most of that uptick is attributed to the Alaska wildfires earlier this summer. Sufficient rainfall in Alaska over the last several weeks eliminated drought conditions for most of Alaska, improving fire weather overall. After 366 fires to date this year, there are no active wildfires in Alaska, according to the Alaska Wildland Fire database.
For California and much of the Northwest, a record heat wave and dry weather fueled significant wildfire growth in September. More than 140 wildfires greater than 100 acres are burning in the U.S., consuming 1.3 million acres. Nearly all the active fires are in the Northwest.
Smoke from Western wildfires continues to push east, even creating hazy skies as far as the Northeast on Friday.
Air quality in areas near the wildfires will be the poorest in the early hours of the day.
“So many people in the Tahoe area love to hike, they love to be out on the lake and so those activities, honestly, just can’t happen safely for the entire day,” FOX Weather meteorologist Britta Merwin said. “The time frame that you want to avoid is the morning, so we’ve had some stable air move in overnight, and with that stable air it literally traps that smoke down to the ground, and you’re going to breathe that in as you head out for that morning walk.”
As daylight heats the air, it should mix up, and air quality could improve later in the day.
Very unhealthy air quality alerts are in place for areas outside California’s Mosquito Fire in the Tahoe National Forest, including Carson City and Reno in Nevada. Unhealthy air quality extends east to Lovelock.
Hazardous air quality levels above 301 were recorded in Nevada County, California, on Friday.
Now at more than 69,900 acres, the Mosquito Fire continues to burn in the Tahoe National Forest and, until recently, was out of control. Firefighters have gained ground on the explosive fire with 20% containment as of Friday.
The fire began on Sept. 6, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
A front is expected to bring rain and increased winds to the fire area beginning Saturday and into next week.
Earlier in the week, strong southwesterly winds caused the fire behavior to increase, and critically dry fuels drove rapid fire growth toward Foresthill Road, according to CAL Fire.
Nearly 12,000 people have been forced to evacuate as evacuation orders remain in place for areas in Placer and El Dorado counties. According to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, the fire continues to threaten more than 9,000 homes. The Mosquito Fire has destroyed at least 70 structures and damaged 10 others.
The wildfire continues to send waves of smoke into neighboring states, creating air that is unhealthy to breathe. The school district that includes Reno, Nevada, canceled classes on Wednesday due to poor air quality from wildfire smoke.
According to the Washoe County School District, when a majority of the air quality sensors reach hazardous levels, district officials will work with the National Weather Service to determine if classes will be canceled.
CAL Fire and the U.S. Forest Service have reported more than 6,200 fires have burned over 316,000 acres in the Golden State this year.
Numerous wildfires across Washington and Oregon are blanketing the region in smoke and unhealthy air conditions. Air Quality Alerts are in place for parts of Oregon, Washington and Idaho on Friday due to ongoing wildfires.
More than 2,300 firefighting personnel are working to contain the now more than 93,000-acre Cedar Creek Fire in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, which remains uncontrolled.
Most of the flames are burning inside the National Forest, but private lands are threatened in the western part of the state. An estimated 1,900 homes have been put under some type of evacuation notice as the blaze is out of control.
August lightning is believed to be the cause of the fire. The U.S. Forest Service said about 20 to 30 new fires started because of the storms.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared an emergency last Friday to help mobilize resources for the fire burning in Lane County.
“The Cedar Creek Fire grew rapidly towards Oregon communities this morning, and the fire’s growth potential in the coming days is troubling, requiring additional resources to battle the fire and support the state’s response,” Brown said in a statement.
Also in Oregon is the Double Creek Fire, the Pacific Northwest’s largest fire of the year. As of the latest update, the fire has consumed more than 157,000 acres in eastern Oregon along the Snake River. On Sunday morning alone, the fire grew to more than 42,800 acres. The fire is more than 20% contained.
Officials said that between 100 and 200 homes are threatened, and the fire is burning close to the community of Imnaha.
Like the Cedar Creek Fire, August thunderstorms that produced lightning are blamed for starting the Double Creek Fire.
In Washington state, the Boulder Mountain Fire has been burning in the northeastern corner since late August after being sparked by lightning.
Because of the rural nature of the fire, only 24 structures are threatened, but crews have had some success in controlling the wildfire.
More than 2,300 acres have burned, and official containment has improved to about 60%.
A mixture of state, federal and private land is being impacted, and firefighters have reported difficulty working the fire because of the terrain and heavy timber.
While rain was forecast for earlier in the week in the Cusick, Washington, area, Northeast Washington Fire officials said it would be welcome but only provide momentary aid to firefighting efforts.
“While rain is always welcome, it will provide only a temporary relief to fire behavior until a significant event occurs due to the dry heavy fuels. A wind shift from the southwest has the potential to reduce the potential for spotting on the southern edge of the fire,” fire officials wrote.
Burnin about 37 miles east of Seattle, the Bolt Creek Fire is threatening hundreds of homes and has burned more than 9,400 acres.
According to the Washington State Department of National Resources, firefighters have 5% of the blaze contained.
Evacuations have been ordered around the town of Skykomish by the King County Sheriff’s Office.
First responders said the fire threatened at least 300 homes.
So far, there’s no word on what sparked the initial flames.
Much-needed rainfall has moved over one of the Northwest’s largest wildfires, allowing firefighters to make progress in containing the Moose Fire.
The Moose Fire started north of Salmon, Idaho, and has now burned more than 130,000 acres. It’s one of six new wildfires that sparked in the Salmon-Challis National Forest this week, according to forestry officials.
National Forest officials report the fire area recorded about a quarter to half an inch of rain early in the week.
Cooler temperatures, increased humidity and chances of rain are in the forecast for the weekend. That cooling trend will continue into next week.
About 850 firefighting personnel have gained 50% containment on the Moose Fire as of the last update.