News Article | April 17, 2017
In honour of National Grilled Cheese Day, we offer what may be the dumbest product shown on TreeHugger since the right-handed banana slicer or the plastic wishbone: The Toastabag. It is a bag made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) also known by the trade name Teflon. The manufacturer, Boska, says it is “ideal for people with a gluten allergy, the sandwich in the bag does not come into contact with other food stains. And can be eaten with confidence.” Eaten with confidence? What about the PTFE? The Environmental Working Group links PTFE to “smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weakened immune defense against disease.” Fast Company wrote about it a few years ago, noting that “cooking in a toaster is also an energy-efficient alternative to turning on a range or oven, and the bags trap the heat that would ordinarily escape out the top.” Which makes no sense because the bag is open at the top. It also makes no sense that the grilled cheese sandwich in the picture has grill markings on it, given that it was toasted in the bag.
News Article | May 4, 2017
Janette Oregon has lived in the Los Angeles area since her parents moved from Mexico when she was a little over a month old. But she’s never swallowed a drop of municipal tap water. Neither have any of her friends or neighbors. “I don’t even think I know anybody,” says Oregon, who is 28. “My kids, maybe, with the hose when they’re getting wet.” Driving through Whittier, California, Oregon points out her childhood home near a 7-Eleven and her middle school a few blocks away. She says the city — which sits on the outer edge of L.A. County and has a population of nearly 90,000 — has changed considerably during her lifetime, seeing an influx of people and businesses. But Wateria, a filtered-water store, has occupied the same storefront in the city for 20 years. It was Oregon’s first place of employment, and she still works for the company today. “Buenos dias, Paz,” Oregon calls to the one employee working at the store the morning we visit. Paz Herrera would usually be busy filling water bottles for customers, but on this day, the weather is gloomy, chilly, and rainy — a rarity — so business is slow. “Any other day, the line would be out the door,” Oregon says. Un Kim, a Korean immigrant, opened this store in 1996. Since then, Wateria has grown into a regional chain of 21 stores, most of them in L.A. County. Kim and other Korean entrepreneurs own 20 of them. Anywhere in L.A., water stores do brisk business. Customers, many of them Latino immigrants or second generation, bring three, five, even 30 jugs to be filled at outposts such as House of Living Water, Oasis Water Store, and Wonder Alkaline Water. Vending machines where people can fill up bottles with water also occupy corners throughout the city. But Kim, with his franchises and sleek storefronts, is a full-blown water mogul. Wateria’s popularity demonstrates the unique culture immigrants have forged in Los Angeles, and the distrust many of them have for public services. Customers pay a premium of hundreds of dollars a year to drink filtered water instead of tap water because they’re more confident in its safety or think it tastes better. Communities of color and low-income areas in the United States are more likely to have contaminated drinking water supplies, and trust in public water systems has been further battered by the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan. But water experts and municipal water providers contend that most tap water is safe. They point out that some filtered and bottled water is even more contaminated than what comes out of the tap. Still, demand for the filtered stuff is persistent enough to keep Wateria doing good business. Inside the Whittier store, red and yellow slushies swirl in plastic machines. An ice cream freezer hums near the front window. Cold drinks, including soda and Wateria-branded water bottles, sit in refrigerated cases near the entrance. “The slush here, even though it has sugar, is made from our water,” says Oregon, nodding at the spinning ice crystals. “Our coffee also uses our water — it’s just automatic.” Bags of ice are made with the company’s filtered water, too. Further inside, the store’s crown jewel sits behind a plate of glass: a gleaming reverse osmosis machine. The tangle of wires, meters, and silver cylinders makes up Wateria’s “13-step drinking water purification system.” Kim, an engineer who used to work on portable televisions, designed the system based on a technology first developed by a French physicist in the 1700s and later refined by researchers at Dartmouth. Displaying the machine is a signature Wateria move; the owners say it builds trust in their product. That helps the average Wateria store sell about 30,000 gallons a month. The Whittier store, the chain’s busiest, sells about 75,000 gallons a month. The day I visit, the machine is pumping out 3.2 gallons of filtered water per minute. The process starts with municipal tap water. It runs through a series of filters, a UV purifier, a salt softener, as well as a few other steps before it gets pumped up to the service table, where attendants dispense it into five-gallon plastic jugs or whatever containers customers bring in. Oregon worked at this store filling those containers for two and a half years. Now, she works in accounting and payroll at Wateria headquarters in a nondescript Whittier office park surrounded by birds-of-paradise and a residential neighborhood. She’s been with the company for a decade. Sticking around that long is not unusual. Herrera has worked at Wateria for 16 years. Leslie Jimenez, another decade-long employee who works at stores in the L.A. suburbs of Norwalk and Downey, told me Wateria feels “kind of like a second family.” It’s a family business in a more literal sense as well. Un Kim’s daughter, Kelly Choi, is Wateria’s CFO. I meet the two of them in an upstairs conference room at the company’s headquarters. It’s decorated with nautical kitsch: a wooden figurine of a captain at a ship’s helm, framed sailing knots, and several model sailboats, including one branded with Wateria’s logo. Kim says the trinkets remind him of the small, sparsely populated island where he grew up in South Korea. “I have very strong nostalgia, still,” he says with a smile. After arriving in Southern California in 1994 with his wife and children in tow, Kim noticed that many residents bought water at vending machines in their neighborhoods or had it delivered. He saw an opportunity and, with his engineering mind and entrepreneurial spirit, seized it. He built his first reverse osmosis machine by hand, and still pieces together the machines himself in Wateria’s warehouse before each new store opens. According to Choi, the vended water market really blew up in L.A. in the early 2000s. “Every block, there was a water store,” she says. But Wateria struggled at first. Kim keeps the small spiral notebooks in which he used to meticulously track the day’s sales in neat rows. On Wateria’s first day, he made just $13. “This is my history book,” Kim says, pushing it toward me. “People told me, ‘You are crazy. You are going to be closed soon.’” But 20 years later, Wateria is thriving. Choi says the company stays ahead of the abundant filtered-water competition because its water is high quality. Wateria, as she portrays it, is the BMW of water stores. That’s a hard claim to test, but the company is in good standing with the state Department of Public Health, which regulates water vendors. Independent tests submitted to the department show that Wateria’s levels of total dissolved solids are consistently below allowable maximums set by the Federal Drug Administration for “purified” water, and its levels of coliform bacteria and other potential contaminants also meet standards. “The people who drink our water actually drink a better water than the Sparkletts and Arrowhead,” Choi says, referencing other commonly consumed brands. Oregon, too, believes Wateria offers a better product. “There are always the mom-and-pop shops,” she says. “Usually once they come here, they don’t go back.” Not everybody is lining up to fill bottles, though. Jeff O’Keefe, the Los Angeles region chief for the California State Water Resources Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water, seems perplexed that so many people rely on water stores. “I know that many immigrants have come from countries where they don’t have confidence in their home country’s drinking water supply, so they often feel the same way about our supply in the U.S.,” he told me. “My personal feeling is, if my program is to ensure that your tap water is safe to drink, there shouldn’t be a need for a water store.” In recent years, drinking water in L.A. County has been found to contain elevated quantities of naturally occurring arsenic and chemicals like chromium-6 from a variety of industrial activities. Generally, officials have said that treatment prevents these chemicals from reaching residents’ taps, or that the level of contamination is too low to affect health. O’Keefe insists the water delivered to people’s homes is safe. In its annual water quality report released in April, the L.A. Department of Water and Power said its water met and surpassed most federal and state water quality standards. “Your water coming out of your tap is just as good if not better” than bottled or filtered water, said Albert Rodriguez, spokesperson for the department. Greg Kail, communications director at the nonprofit American Water Works Association, a membership group for water utilities and others working in the field, points out that utilities are required by federal law to tell customers when contamination exceeds legal limits. “In the United States, we have very good water quality,” he said. “It’s important that the customers know.” “My temperature always rises when we talk about these [water stores],” says Jennifer Clary, the California water program manager at Clean Water Action, an environmental nonprofit. “If people want water that has better flavor, I can understand it, but it would certainly be much less expensive if they just put a point-of-use filter on their faucet. … If they’re worried they have something in their water they want to get rid of, they need to buy a filter that actually gets rid of it.” Clary worked with the California legislature to craft a 2007 law that more tightly regulates water vendors. The Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council, two nonprofits that work on environmental health, also generally recommend that residents stick with tap water and install filters on their faucets if they’re concerned about contaminants. David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG, notes that reports on L.A.’s water show contaminant levels below legal limits. He says that filtered water purchased in large containers is similar to water filtered at home, just more expensive. Mae Wu, an attorney with NRDC’s health program, agrees, adding that most customers receiving water from big municipal systems like L.A.’s can rely on getting clean water from their faucets. Still, Andrews says that some chemicals in public water supplies can go unreported. “One of the things we’re concerned about are unregulated contaminants, contaminants that may not be tested for,” he says, such as the likely carcinogen trichloropropane. “It is difficult to discern what are concerning test results, what’s not.” But those kinds of contaminants can make their way into filtered water as well. Most water venders, like Wateria, start the filtration process with tap water, rather than drawing water from a spring, aquifer, or other natural source. O’Keefe says some water vendors’ filtration systems can actually reduce tap water’s quality. In past years, assessments of water vending machines have found filtered water that has more bacteria than tap water and chemical levels that exceed legal limits. And vended water isn’t always as well-monitored as tap water. Says Andrews, “It’s not always possible to verify that the bottled water is meeting the same standard as the tap water.” Wateria’s filtration system might be better than many companies’ systems, though. According to EWG’s water filter guide, reverse osmosis systems, like the one Wateria uses, are among the most effective. When maintained correctly, they strain out just about everything — from noxious contaminants like lead, to even beneficial minerals. And a carbon filter, which Wateria also uses, can sift out molecules that reverse osmosis misses, like volatile organic compounds. Purchasing water at stores or vending machines has a significant cost, though. Tap water costs about three-quarters of a cent per gallon for most L.A. residents. Most water stores in the area charge between 20 and 35 cents a gallon. Wateria sells its purified water for 40 cents a gallon at most of its stores, and plans to raise prices by five to 10 cents this summer. Oregon, who gets free filtered water as a Wateria employee, says her family consumes about 30 gallons each week. If she were a customer, that would cost her $12 a week. If she got her drinking water from the tap, it would cost roughly $12 a year. A Wateria customer who consumes as much as Oregon would be paying a premium of more than $600 annually. While some critics question the need for filtered water companies like Wateria, there certainly is a demand. Currently, 1,171 retail water facilities have licenses to operate in the state, according to the California Department of Health, which regulates them. Nearly 40 percent of L.A. residents buy bottled water. Bottled water advertising has been criticized for targeting people of color. Latinos are a particularly attractive demographic for bottlers and vendors, given that water stores and delivery services are ubiquitous in Mexico and Central America. In a 2011 survey of parents in the United States, about 20 percent of Latino respondents said they gave their children only bottled water — and not tap water — to drink, while just 10 percent of white respondents did the same. Latino parents reported spending a median of 1 percent of their household income on bottled water, up to a high of 12 percent, while white parents spent a median of 0.4 percent of their income on bottled water, up to a high of 6 percent. (The study found that black parents relied on bottled water more than both Latino and white parents.) It’s understandable, experts say, that historically marginalized populations — like Latino immigrants — would distrust public agencies’ claims about water safety and choose to rely on bottled water instead. “In Mexico, tap water can be hit or miss,” says Abel Valenzuela Jr., a professor of Chicano studies and the director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. “It’s uneven in terms of where you get it and what’s in it,” he says. “And then, when you add up Flint and all the media exposure related to that, it makes sense why poor folks would prefer bottled water even in the United States, where you don’t have the same sorts of problems. Or, at least they tell you we don’t have the same sorts of problems.” There’s also a taste difference, says Valenzuela, which is the main reason he and his family buy filtered and bottled water. Oregon says most of Wateria’s in-store employees are native Spanish speakers like herself. Many of the neighborhoods in which Wateria stores are located have a high proportion of Latinos. And Wateria is considering expanding to Texas, a state trailing only California in the size of its Latino population. But Latinos reportedly own few of the water stores in the L.A. area. A 2004 Los Angeles Times article reported that “virtually all the water stores in Southern California are owned by Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants.” Edward Park, a scholar on race relations in L.A. who teaches Asian Pacific American Studies at Loyola Marymount University, says Wateria is among a number of Korean-owned businesses filling niches in Latino communities, which he says are often underserved by mainstream retailers. He notes that there’s a “dimension of inequality in terms of the migration streams that are bringing folks into these communities,” meaning that some immigrant groups, including many from Asia, may get better access to capital and more support for entrepreneurial ventures in the United States. But according to Park, who is Korean American himself, the “political volatility or cultural volatility” that has existed between other demographic groups in Los Angeles is less present between Latinos and Asians. Los Angeles — like all major U.S. cities — has a history of strained race relations. As the demographics of the city have shifted, tensions have changed, too. At times, conflicts in the city have revolved around the high proportion of local businesses owned by Koreans and Korean Americans, and how those business owners interacted with their neighbors. In 1992, riots roiled L.A. after white police officers were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King, a black man, and a year after a Korean store owner shot dead Latasha Harlins, a black teenage girl. Rioters looted or destroyed about 4,500 stores, more than half of which were Korean-owned or -operated. All told, damage to Korean businesses amounted to about $500 million. Asian-American historian Shelley Sang-Hee Lee writes in a 2015 article that the Korean community’s “expansion into business ownership was striking: By the time of the  riots, in Los Angeles County, one in three Korean immigrants operated a small family business. … Twenty years after the riots, Korean Americans still dominated mom-and-pop stores in South Los Angeles.” According to Valenzuela, L.A.’s history is full of entrepreneurial immigrant groups finding “creative ways” to make money by marketing to other demographic groups. That has led to tensions in the past, but he doesn’t see the same type of racial friction around water stores. “These Korean entrepreneurs … have nice, niche inroads, and are probably making lots of money,” he says. “Lots of people probably buy this water.” A lot of people do, collectively purchasing hundreds of thousands of gallons a month from Wateria. The company will likely add several more California stores to its empire this year. “He doesn’t give up. He’s always thinking,” Choi says of her father. “He’s a very good engineer. Very smart.”
News Article | February 28, 2017
Making the Desert Bloom – How Israel's Water Expertise is a Model for California and the World -- Congregation Emanu-El will host a special in-house conversation about Israel's world-renowned water expertise, and its relevance for California and the World. The event, being held in partnership with the Environmental Working Group of Congregation Emanu-El's Tzedek Council and co-sponsored by the American Technion Society, will feature, New York Times best-selling author of, and, co-founder and CEO of Epic CleanTec, and co-founder of the Israel-California Greentech Partnership: Thursday, March 23, 7:00 pm: Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake Street, San Francisco, CA 94118: http://www.emanuelsf.org/"Depending primarily on the weather for our water is dangerous, and the California drought made this painfully clear," said Tartakovsky. "I'm looking forward to my discussion with Seth and sharing how Israel itself overcame its own water scarcity, and how the Golden Gate and the Jewish State can work together on this important issue."Israel offers a story of inspiration for the climate challenges posing California. Facing a similar situation, Israeli leaders took the courageous decision to create a system immune to drought. "What we learn from Israel is that every country and region can have a secure water future," said Siegel. "California's drought and floods are two sides of the same coin of inadequate planning and vision. What is needed is an engaged, informed citizenry which can demand of its leaders forward-looking water policies and practices. I hope the dialogue with Aaron helps give the tools and impetus to the Emanu-El and Golden Gate community.""Follow the conversation on social media via #LetThereBeWater and #TechnionWater"Seth is the author of the New York Times bestseller. His essays on water and other issues have appeared in, the, and in leading publications in Europe and Asia.Seth is the Daniel M. Soref Senior Water Policy Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. He is a Senior Advisor to Start-Up Nation Central, an Israeli non-profit that connects government, NGO and business leaders to the relevant people, companies and technologies in Israel. Seth is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.Aaron Tartakovsky is co-founder and CEO of Epic CleanTec, a green technology start-up that has introduced a revolutionary new technology into the on-site wastewater treatment market. Aaron previously served as director of business development and marketing for CB Engineers, a sustainability-focused mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design firm, where he ran its R&D division. Aaron is a graduate of Tufts University, magna cum laude, and received a master's degree in political science (security and diplomacy) from Tel Aviv University.Based in New York City and with a local office in Sunnyvale, CA, the American Technion Society (ATS) provides critical support to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, ranked among the world's leading science and technology universities. ATS Donors have provided more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. The ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more. Its mission is to enable the Technion to be among the world's leading institutions improving the well-being of Israel and all humanity through leadership in science and technology. Learn more at www.ats.org.Rob Freedman/Byron Gordon Congregation Emanu-El email@example.com@emanuelsf.org
News Article | January 8, 2016
Cans of Campbell's brand soups are seen at the Safeway store in Wheaton, Maryland February 13, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron More (Reuters) - Campbell Soup Co said it will label all its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms, becoming the first major food company to respond to growing calls for more transparency about contents in food. The world's largest soup maker broke ranks with peers and said it supported the enactment of federal legislation for a single mandatory labeling standard for GMO-derived foods and a national standard for non-GMO claims made on food packaging. The company, which also makes Pepperidge Farm cookies and Prego pasta sauces, said it would withdraw from all efforts by groups opposing such measures. (bit.ly/1OeE1Md) Several activist groups have been pressuring food companies to be more transparent about the use of ingredients, especially GMO-derived ones, amid rising concerns about their effects on health and the environment. Several big companies such as PepsiCo Inc, Kellogg Co and Monsanto Co have resisted such calls and have spent millions of dollars to defeat GMO-labeling ballot measures in states such as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and California, saying it would add unnecessary costs. Monsanto Co said in a statement Friday that it sells seeds to farmers, and does not manufacture or sell food products from crops grown from those seeds. The six biggest agrochemical and biotech seed companies — Monsanto, Dupont, Dow AgroSciences, Bayer CropScience, BASF Plant Science and Syngenta AG — spent more than $21.5 million to help defeat a 2012 California proposition labeling proposition, according to state election data. However, in 2014, Vermont became the first U.S. state to pass a law requiring food companies to label GMOs on their products, which will come into effect in July. Pro-labeling groups such as Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Just Label It cheered Campbell's move. "We applaud Campbell's for supporting national, mandatory GMO labeling," Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at EWG said. Advocacy group Just Label It said Campbell's move was a step closer to reaching the goal of a federally crafted national GMO labeling solution. Campbell said late on Thursday that if a federal solution is not achieved in some time, it was prepared to label all its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients that were derived from GMOs and would seek guidance from the FDA and approval by the USDA. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents more than 300 food companies opposed to mandatory GMO labeling, said it respected the rights of individual members to communicate with their customers in whatever manner they deem appropriate. However, the GMA said it was "imperative" that Congress acted immediately to prevent the expansion of a costly patchwork of state labeling laws that would ultimately hurt consumers who can least afford higher food prices. Kellogg and Pepsi were not immediately available to comment on Campbell's move. Campbell said in July that it would stop adding monosodium glutamate (MSG) to its condensed soups for children and use non-genetically modified ingredients sourced from American organic farms in its Campbell's organic soup line for kids. The company also said it would remove artificial colors and flavors from nearly all of its North American products by July 2018.
News Article | March 18, 2016
Women who eat as much seafood as the FDA recommends for people who are pregnant — or who eat slightly more — may be exposing themselves to unsafe levels of mercury depending on the kinds of fish they’re eating, says a new study just published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The report calls for more detailed federal guidelines on what types of fish are safe, and in what quantities. But an industry group has already criticized the study. The National Fisheries Institute, a trade organization representing the seafood industry, released a statement Tuesday decrying the report’s “fear-mongering,” even as other academics supported its basic conclusions. Mercury contamination in the environment comes from a variety of sources, mainly industrial pollution. Mercury that makes it into water systems and eventually into the ocean can be consumed by small organisms and work its way up the food chain in larger and larger amounts, which is why it tends to exist in the highest levels in large, predatory fish — often the kinds of fish that people like to eat, such as certain species of tuna. In previous decades, nutritionists have recommended that pregnant women abstain from seafood entirely to avoid exposing their developing babies to harmful mercury. But in the past decade or so, “we’ve seen the nutritional science shift to say that there are benefits to eating seafood,” said the new report’s lead author Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the EWG, a nonprofit environmental group with a long history of working on the mercury issue. The most widely touted of these benefits is the prevalence of omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered essential for human health but can’t be made naturally by the body. There are three types of omega-3s, two of which are found mainly in seafood. Research has suggested that consuming these omega-3s during pregnancy can aid in a fetus’s development, which is the major reason nutritionists now generally give pregnant women a complex recommendation: consume a moderate amount of seafood, adhering to certain federal guidelines to create a safe level of mercury exposure. In 2014, the FDA and EPA jointly released a new draft set of guidelines to aid in just that. Overall, for pregnant women and some other groups, the guidelines recommend eating 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week, and list a number of healthy, low-mercury examples, including salmon, shrimp and light canned tuna, as well as four types of fish to avoid entirely: tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. They also recommend limiting the consumption of albacore tuna to 6 ounces or less per week. But the EWG’s report suggests that may not be specific enough. A study of more than 250 women of childbearing age who ate approximately the amount of seafood recommended by the federal guidelines found that around 30 percent of them had higher mercury levels in their bodies than is considered safe by the EPA. On average, the participants were found to have mercury levels 11 times higher than those of a control group of women who ate seafood rarely or not at all (though the control group consisted of only 29 individuals). The results suggest that study participants may not be choosing the most optimal fish for low mercury and high omega-3 intake. The study estimated, for instance, that tuna accounted for about 40 percent of all the participants’ mercury intake — a result that may have been caused in part by the guidelines’ incomplete recommendations when it comes to tuna consumption, Lunder pointed out. The government recommends light canned tuna — which is usually composed of skipjack tuna — as a healthy seafood choice that’s low in mercury. However, canned tuna comes in many other varieties, some of which include different species with generally higher mercury concentrations. Canned white tuna, for instance, is usually made from albacore tuna, which can have mercury concentrations several times higher than skipjack. The importance of differentiating between the different types of canned tuna is not articulated in the guidelines. In fact, Lunder noted, when surveyed many of the study’s participants were unsure exactly what type of canned tuna they’d been eating. Additionally, participants reported eating many other forms of tuna, including tuna steaks and tuna sushi, which often are made from species with relatively high mercury contents. None of these are specifically addressed in the guidelines, either. In general, Lunder said, the EWG continues to support the recommendation that pregnant women consume more seafood. But, she added, “We think that those recommendations need to be paired with much more detailed information about moderate- and high-mercury species that would pose a risk if you eat them.” Other experts agree that better information needs to be included in the guidelines — it just needs to be done carefully. “I think that the recommendations that this group make are reasonable — the challenge is that there’s a trade-off in providing more information,” said Roxanne Karimi, a research scientist at Stony Brook University who has conducted similar research. “Overall, more information is good so that consumers can make decisions on their own, but it can also be confusing, and there’s a concern that consumers will be discouraged from eating fish altogether, even when there’s an overall benefit.” Sharon Sagiv, an assistant adjunct professor of epidemiology at the University of California Berkeley, noted that the FDA/EPA guidelines already list some specific recommendations when it comes to which fish to avoid and which fish might be better choices. So one question is whether the participants in the study were unclear about some of these recommendations (for example, the recommendations on tuna) or did not strictly heed them. Lunder pointed out that strict adherence to the types of fish recommended was not a requirement for participation in the study, and indeed some women did report eating fish that the guidelines specifically warn against, such as swordfish. So the issue is not that the existing recommendations are wrong. Rather, the report urges more specific and detailed instructions to consumers that may make it less likely for women to misunderstand the guidelines. “FDA and EPA can put out these recommendations, but if they’re at all complicated in terms of their message that’s a problem because it means that women aren’t necessarily getting effective risk communication,” Sagiv said. Sagiv has conducted research on the effects of prenatal exposure to both mercury and fish consumption. A 2012 study she co-authored found that low-level prenatal mercury exposure was associated with a greater risk for ADHD behaviors in children, but fish consumption during pregnancy can actually protect against these behaviors. “These findings underscore the difficulties of balancing the benefits of fish with the detriments of low-level mercury in developing dietary recommendations in pregnancy,” she and her colleagues wrote in the paper — a conclusion that aligns closely with the EWG’s new report. The EWG’s study has not been received favorably by all, however. “Published peer-reviewed science that takes into account the befits of omega 3’s and the risks of mercury together…is accepted and understood as the gold standard,” the National Fisheries Institute’s statement says. “Consumers don’t eat fish with a side of mercury, studying it that way only works to further EWG’s agenda when they don’t agree with the avalanche of research that stands in contrast to the narrative they are pushing to the press.” Aside from the value of revamping the seafood guidelines, Lunder noted that the report highlights the continued need for policies aimed at reducing mercury pollution. In 2013, the U.S. was one of nearly 150 countries to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury, an international treaty aimed at reducing mercury emissions worldwide. The report calls for strong and effective implementation of the treaty. Such steps will be necessary to protect both the environment and human health, Lunden noted. “Since we’ve polluted nature’s perfect food, we now have to look to changing human habits and patterns in order to protect ourselves from these known toxins,” she said. And Sagiv echoed her sentiments. “If we didn’t have contaminated seafood, we wouldn’t have to advise women not to eat [certain types of] fish,” Sagiv said. “Unfortunately, we’re in an environment where we do have to worry about that, and that risk communication is really very important.”
News Article | September 20, 2016
Tap water supplies for roughly 218 million Americans nationwide were found to have chromium-6, a carcinogenic chemical, at levels above California's public health goals, a new study found. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, analyzed more than 60,000 samples of drinking water taken from taps across the United States. Thousands of local water utilities gathered the samples from 2013 to 2015 as part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program. SEE ALSO: Coca-Cola says it 'replenished' all the water it used to make its soft drinks Over 75 percent of the water samples contained levels of chromium-6 above 0.02 parts per billion. That’s the threshold at or below which California state scientists say chromium-6 would pose a "negligible" cancer risk over a lifetime of consumption. "Chromium-6 is so widespread, in terms of its distribution across drinking water sources," David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG, told Mashable. "I should be shocked by the findings of EWG's report, but I am not," Erin Brockovich, the crusading environmental legal clerk and inspiration for the 2000 film starring Julia Roberts, said in a statement Tuesday. Brockovich brought chromium-6 into the national spotlight in the 1990s after fighting a California power company that allegedly leaked the chemical into tap water supplies in Hinkley, California, sickening residents. The case was settled for $333 million. She said that EWG's findings were "nothing short of an outrage." But does the report mean that over two-thirds of the U.S. population could develop cancer from their drinking water? Chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, naturally appears in some minerals, but it can also sneak into drinking water supplies through industrial pollution. The chemical is used to manufacture stainless steel, textiles, for anticorrosion coatings and in leather tanning. California's public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion effectively means that if a million people drank water with that level of chromium-6 every day for 70 years, one additional case of cancer would occur, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), which set the state's health target. Even so, "Water containing levels that exceed the public health goal can still be considered acceptable for consumption," Sam Delson, the office's deputy director for external and legislative affairs, said in an email. "The public health goal is not a boundary between a safe and dangerous level of chromium-6, and it is not considered the highest level that is safe to drink," he added. California established a public health goal in response to a handful of studies that showed chromium-6 can cause cancer in animals. A 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program, for instance, found that drinking water with chromium-6 caused cancer in lab rats and mice. Scientists at OEHHA extrapolated from that research that ingesting even tiny amounts of chromium-6 could cause cancer in people. In 2011, the office established the "very conservative" public health target of 0.02 parts per billion, which factored in the increased susceptibility of young children and other sensitive groups, Delson said. California's health target was designed to help inform California legislators as they crafted the nation's only state-specific legal limits for chromium-6 in drinking water. The Golden State — the world's sixth largest economy — struck out on its own because a federal limit for chromium-6 does not exist. The EPA instead has a 25-year-old drinking water standard of 100 parts per billion for total chromium, which includes chromium-6 as well as chromium-3. "At a national level, we're still operating under an outdated standard that doesn't even address this particular chemical," Bill Walker, EWG's vice president, told Mashable. "EPA's drinking water regulations lag behind science," he said. California's own state limit for chromium-6 is significantly higher than the public health target of 0.02 parts per billion. In 2014, legislators in that state adopted a "maximum contaminant level" of 10 parts per billion, a level that appeased the state's chemical companies but disappointed environmental groups, including EWG. "We don't believe that it's adequately protective of public health," Walker said of the 10-parts-per-billion state limit. Still, the California standard for chromium-6 is ten times lower than what the federal standard is for both chromium-6 and chromium-3. Delson said that while the more conservative 0.02 parts per billion public health goal is based solely on health protection, the maximum contamination level must be set at a level that is technically and economically feasible for the state's utilities to meet. The EPA, for its part, is working to develop a risk assessment of chromium-6, which will include a comprehensive evaluation of the health effects associated with the chemical. The agency said it expects to release its draft risk assessment for public comment in 2017. The EPA ordered nearly 5,000 public water systems to collect water samples — the ones that EWG analyzed — to help paint a nationally representative picture of the occurrence of chromium-6 and total chromium in the nation's drinking water supplies. Regulators found that less than 2 percent of those roughly 5,000 systems had levels of chromium-6 exceeding California's standard of 10 parts per billion, the EPA told Mashable. Only one system exceeded the EPA's standard for total chromium. "Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA," the agency said in an email.
News Article | February 16, 2017
When sunscreen chemicals wash off beach-goers, they bleach coral, stunt its growth, and sometimes kill it outright. If you’re heading to Hawaii, or any other tropical paradise, to soak up the sun this winter, you might want to leave the sunscreen behind. It sounds counterintuitive after years of being told to slather on sunscreen to protect our skin from dangerous UV rays, but now research is showing that human use of sunscreen could be seriously damaging tropical coral reefs. Senator Will Espero presented a bill to the state congress on January 20 that would ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate (except under medical prescriptions) in Hawaii. Espero argued that a ban is crucial to maintaining the health of coral reefs – an tourist attraction on which Hawaii relies. Sunscreens use filters, either chemical or mineral, to block out the sun’s radiation. The chemical filters are most damaging, washing off the skin into the water while swimming, surfing, spearfishing, or even using a beach shower. Researchers have measured oxybenzone in Hawaiian waters at concentrations that are 30 times higher than the level considered safe for corals. According to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources: Says Craig Downs of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, whose research on stunted coral growth has heavily influenced Espero's bill: This problem is not unique to Hawaii. Approximately 80 percent of the corals in the Caribbean Sea have died over the past 40 years. While there are many compounding factors, such as temperature anomalies, overfishing, coral predators, coastal runoffs, and pollution from cruise ships and other vessels that affect coral health, the fact that an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen wash off annually into the world’s oceans is a serious matter. Not surprisingly, Espero has met resistance from sunscreen manufacturers, such as L'Oréal, which say the evidence is not yet strong enough to justify a ban; but Espero insists the public support is there. Scientific American quotes him: If you’re wondering how not to burn in the sun, check out the Environmental Working Group’s 2016 guide to safe sunscreens, and consider its advice: “Sunscreen should be your last resort.” Use clothing (long-sleeved shirts or special UV blocking clothes), shade, sunglasses, and careful timing to minimize exposure to sunshine.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate committee suspended rules on Thursday to approve U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, amid a boycott of his nomination by the panel's Democratic members. John Barrasso, chair of the Senate's environment and public works committee, said the panel would "suspend several rules" temporarily to approve the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator. Democrats on the committee boycotted Wednesday's meeting to approve Pruitt, saying that he doubts the science of climate change and has too many conflicts of interest with the companies he would be charged with regulating. The full Senate will now vote on Pruitt's nomination. The date for that has not yet been confirmed, but with Republicans holding a majority in the Senate, the nomination will likely be approved. Barrasso justified the move by saying that Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times as Oklahoma's top attorney, reflects the agenda of the president who won the 2016 election. "Elections have consequences and a new president is entitled to put in place people who advance his agenda," he said. Environmental groups, which have strongly criticized the choice of Pruitt, raised concerns that the nomination was pushed through to the full Senate. "If he is approved by the full Senate, he will start on day one as the worst EPA administrator in history," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
News Article | November 8, 2016
"Are the many hog and poultry farms of eastern North Carolina creating 'fields of filth,' as two groups of environmental activists put it last summer? And if they are, what happens when a hurricane comes along and dumps a foot and a half of water on them? The two groups, Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance, just issued a partial answer. It's a report filled with overhead photos taken in early October, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. They show flooded poultry barns and "lagoons" filled with swine manure, spilling animal waste into nearby waterways. According to the two groups, the flood waters partially submerged 10 pig farms with 39 barns, 26 large chicken-raising operations with 102 barns, and 14 manure lagoons. They say that flood waters inevitably carried large amounts of animal waste downstream and out to sea, "putting waterways, drinking water sources and public health at risk.""
News Article | February 15, 2017
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans suspended Senate committee rules Thursday to muscle President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency toward confirmation after Democrats boycotted a vote. It was the latest sign of political hostilities on Capitol Hill as Senate Democrats used parliamentary procedure to delay votes on some of Trump's Cabinet nominees and Republicans used their slim Senate majority to advance and approve them. Also Thursday, two Senate committees voted along party lines to send Trump's nominee to lead the White House budget office, South Carolina GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney, to the full Senate for a vote. As the scheduled meeting to discuss EPA nominee Scott Pruitt was gaveled to order, the seats reserved for the 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee were empty for the second consecutive day. Committee rules required that at least two members of the minority party be present for a vote to be held. The 11 Republicans voted unanimously to temporarily suspend those rules and then voted again to advance the nomination of Pruitt, the state attorney general of Oklahoma. Committee chairman John Barrasso accused the absent Democrats of engaging in delay and obstruction. "It is unprecedented for the minority to delay an EPA administrator for an incoming president to this extent," Barrasso said. The Wyoming Republican then echoed President Barack Obama's famous 2009 statement to GOP leaders that "elections have consequences." "The people spoke and now it is time to set up a functioning government," Barrasso said of the November election. "That includes a functioning EPA." Despite the rhetoric from committee Republicans, the Democrats appeared to have borrowed directly from their opponents' playbook. In 2013, GOP members of the same committee boycotted a similar committee meeting on Gina McCarthy, Obama's then-nominee for EPA administrator. McCarthy was eventually approved by the Senate, serving in the post until Trump's inauguration last month. Barrasso has said that is not an "apples-to-apples" comparison since Obama was not then a new, first-term president building out his team. Democratic members of the committee said this week the boycott was necessary because Pruitt has refused to fully respond to requests for additional information. Democrats did attend meetings of the Senate budget and homeland security committees Thursday as Republicans voted to approve Mulvaney, Trump's nominee to lead the White House Budget Office, for a vote by the full Senate. The move came over the opposition of Democrats who warn of his support for cutting rising costs of Medicare and increasing the age for claiming Social Security benefits. Mulvaney was among tea party lawmakers who backed a government shutdown in 2013 in an attempt to block the Affordable Care Act from taking place. In 2011, he was among those against increasing the government's borrowing cap. Mulvaney easily sidestepped a controversy in which he failed to pay payroll taxes on a nanny he employed from 2000-2004. While Pruitt's nomination to lead EPA has been praised by Republicans and the fossil fuel industry, Democrats and environmental groups said his confirmation would be a disaster. "During the campaign, President Trump pledged to dismantle the EPA," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. "In Scott Pruitt, he found just the man to carry out his vision." In his current position as Oklahoma's state attorney general, Pruitt has frequently sued the agency he hopes to lead, including filing a multistate lawsuit opposing the Obama administration's plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Pruitt also sued over the EPA's recent expansion of water bodies regulated under the Clean Water Act. It has been opposed by industries that would be forced to clean up polluted wastewater. Like Trump, the 48-year-old Republican has previously cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats during his Senate confirmation hearing, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump's earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the U.S.