News Article | May 11, 2017
The warmer months have arrived, and children and adults alike are ready to bask in the sun. But while the sun’s rays feel good, they can be your skin’s worst enemy, potentially causing wrinkles, age spots, and even skin cancer. Skin cancer rates are on the rise at more than 76,000 new invasive melanoma cases poised to be diagnosed in the United States last year. More than 90 percent of melanoma skin cancers are actually caused by sun exposure. How sun-safe and protected are you and your family? Here are some tips from the experts so you can safely play under the sun this season. Over time, according to WebMD, the sun’s UV light harms skin fibers called elastin, which prompts skin to sag and stretch as they break down. Too much time in the sun, too, can also lead to skin freckles, white spots, rough texture, and yellow of skin, to name a few issues. First on one’s sun-safe list should be wearing sunscreen every day, no matter what weather or season you are in. The sun protection factor or SPF should be 30 and declared “broad-spectrum” on the label, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Slather the sunscreen on your skin at least 15 minutes before going outside, with 1 ounce (about the size of a shot glass) as the recommended amount. Reapply at least every 80 minutes, or more frequently as you sweat or swim. Even babies and young kids need sunscreen, so check out the findings from nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group on which sunscreen products are most child-friendly. Generally, the best-rated products contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for ultraviolet filters, which are deemed stable in sunlight and offer balanced protection from UVA and UVB rays. Taking a skin supplement will boost your protection, advised dermatologist Dr. Leslie Baumann. One key ingredient is Polypodium leucotomos, a fern extract shown to help shield the skin from UV damage and even reduce redness after sun exposure. Take the recommended dose in the morning, particularly if you know you will stay out in the sun for long periods of time. But don’t forget to wear that sunscreen, Baumann reminded. Sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats are not just fashionable, but also helpful in the fight against harmful sun exposure. While you’re at it, don long-sleeved shirts and pants as well. Cosmetics like makeup as well as contact lenses that advertise UV protection are near useless, as you still need to use sunscreen and wear those glasses with broad-spectrum protection. As for makeup proclaiming the letters “SPF” on the label, Baumann thinks you should forget it. "You would need to apply 14 times the amount [of powder] people normally use," she said, adding that the same goes for foundation and similar cosmetics for covering skin. Stay indoors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as much as you can, as this is the time of the day when the sun is at its most merciless. Check your skin regularly to determine what’s normal, along with any new growth or change that emerges. Instead of using tanning beds, settle for tanning lotions, gels, and sprays that temporarily tint your skin (but not before you check the label and the ingredient list and composition). © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | May 23, 2017
Candidate Donald Trump vowed to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form,” leaving only “little tidbits” intact. President Trump is making good on his promise to take a sledgehammer to the agency. When the White House releases its latest budget proposal on Tuesday, the EPA will fare worse than any other federal agency. An advance copy of EPA’s budget for fiscal 2018, obtained by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, indicates the administration will proceed with its effort to reduce current funding by more than 31 percent, to $5.65 billion. The plan would eliminate several major regional programs, including ones aimed at restoring the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, as well as EPA’s lead risk-reduction program. The White House also proposes nearly halving categorical grants, which support state and local efforts to address everything from pesticide exposure to air and water quality, to $597 million. It would slash funding for the Superfund cleanup program, which helps restore some of the nation’s most polluted sites, despite the fact that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lists it as one of his priorities. [Trump’s EPA moves to dismantle programs that protect kids from lead paint] Dozens of other programs also would be zeroed out entirely, including funding for radon detection, lead risk reduction, projects along the U.S.-Mexico border and environmental justice initiatives. The agency would have significantly less money for enforcement of environmental crimes and for research into climate change and other issues. The budget proposal would maintain funding for “high priority” infrastructure investments such as grants and low-cost financing to states and municipalities for drinking water and wastewater projects. But in the broadest sense, the White House wish list would undoubtedly hobble the EPA, leaving the work of safeguarding the nation’s water and air primarily up to local officials. EPA officials declined to talk publicly about the specifics of its budget ahead of Tuesday’s planned release of the latest White House proposal. But in a recent email, an agency spokeswoman said the proposal “prioritizes federal funding for work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace. The budget aims to reduce redundancies and inefficiencies and focus on our core statutory mission.” S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said in an interview that he was amazed the administration had not shifted course from its first proposal in March — former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy called it a “scorched earth” budget — despite bipartisan push back in Congress and warnings from many groups that such cuts could hamper state and local work to curb pollution. “You would think they would have learned something from these trial balloons,” Becker said. “Instead, they’re doubling down. They just don’t care about the reaction.” [Here’s one part of the EPA that the agency’s new leader wants to protect] Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, echoed the exasperation of many in the environmental community. “This isn’t a budget — it’s a road map for the President, EPA Administrator Pruitt and polluters to see that millions of Americans drink dirtier water, breathe more polluted air and don’t have enough nutritious food to lead healthy lives,” he said in a statement. “With each cut in EPA funding, each regulatory rollback, each special favor for polluters, it becomes more clear that for President Trump, public health protection is not a priority, but a target.” Trump administration officials, including Pruitt, repeatedly have made clear that they intend to return the agency to its “core responsibilities” of protecting air and water quality. Combating climate change, which was a key focus in the Obama administration, has essentially vanished from the EPA’s mission. In unveiling its initial proposal, the administration acknowledged that the drastic cuts “will create many challenges” at the agency. But it suggested that, “by looking ahead and focusing on clean water, clean air and other core responsibilities rather than activities that are not required by law, EPA will be able to effectively achieve its mission.” A deal reached recently by lawmakers to fund the government through September left the EPA largely untouched, reducing its budget $81 million below the current operating level — about a 1 percent cut. Trump signs order at the EPA to dismantle environmental protections
News Article | May 23, 2017
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released their annual sunscreen guide rating all natural sun protection products based on their safety and efficacy.
News Article | May 23, 2017
As someone whose skin is so pale it veers into blue, I funnel an absurd amount of money into the sunscreen industry each year, starting right around now. It’s an expense, so I tend to grab whatever’s cheapest; if I’m lucky, there’s a buy one, get one 50% off deal at the drugstore. But my thrifty approach may, according to the 2017 Guide to Sunscreens just released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), be setting me up for a host of unpleasant and costly health problems down the line. Around three-quarters of products on the market fail to actually protect skin from the sun; some actually exacerbate the skin’s sensitivity to damaging rays. Many others contain ingredients that you don’t want to be rubbing on your skin. This is the 11th year of the EWG’s sunscreen guide, and since its inception, the industry has been slow to change. When we wrote about the 2010 guide, just 8% of the 500 products the EWG tested passed muster in terms of sunburn and UV protection. Now, they’ve tested over 1,500, and found that just 215 beach and sport sunscreens–around 14%–will satisfactorily shield your skin. The problem is lack of regulation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst and lead scientist on the 2017 Guide to Sunscreens, “has indicated that they have concerns about the efficacy of the products on the market,” and while the agency passed some industry regulations in 2011–the term “sunblock,” for instance, was outlawed–it has yet to pass more stringent guidelines. One of the main fallouts from this lack of oversight is sunscreens labeled with an SPF–sunburn protection factor–of well over 50, sometimes as high as 100. Theoretically, Lunder says, an SPF of 100 means that you could stay out in the sun 100 times longer than you would under unmodified circumstances. “But this is probably my biggest beef with the sunscreen industry,” Lunder tells Fast Company. “You look at an SPF 100 product and that implies a certain level of protection, but it actually sends a very misleading message.” SPF values are determined by applying a thick layer of sunscreen to the skin, and assessing the severity of the burn that develops after masochistic volunteers are exposed to lights of varying intensity in a lab. Not only do these conditions not mimic real-life scenarios, but they also produce scattershot results: When Proctor & Gamble tested a competitor’s SPF 100 product, they found the protection ranged from SPF 37 and SPF 75. The numbers are more like a strong marketing ploy: People flock to high-SPF products because they think they can apply them once and forget about them, Lunder says. But cheap sunscreens contain ingredients that break down in the sun and wash off in wind and water, and people neglect to reapply or throw on a shirt because they think the SPF 100 has them covered. “So they end up spending more time in the sun and getting more UV exposure,” Lunder says. And even should someone walk away from a day at the beach with no sunburn, having adequately reapplied a high-SPF product, that’s no guarantee that they’re protecting against melanoma, Lunder says. Among adult Americans, rates of skin cancer have tripled since the 1970s, from 7.9 per 100,000 people in 1975 to 25.2 per 100,000 in 2014. Severe sunburns and exposure to UV radiation are two of the key risk factors of melanoma, and Lunder says one of the crucial mistakes people make when choosing sunscreens is thinking that protecting against sunburn alone–as in, gravitating toward high SPF bottles–will also block all UV rays. While high SPF sunscreens can shield people from UVB rays, which cause sunburn, they do next to nothing to protect against UVA rays, which are used in tanning beds and while they don’t cause burns, can heighten the risk of melanoma later in life. The damage from UVA rays is much more subtle, and often doesn’t immediately show on the skin. However, UVA exposure adds up throughout a person’s life without proper protection, which Lunder says is only offered through mineral-based sunscreens containing either zinc oxide or avobenzone, neither of which break down in the sun.
News Article | May 23, 2017
US consumer, health, and food safety groups have filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), challenging a rule they argue undermines the integrity of the nation's food safety system, according to a release from the Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI). Chemical and food manufacturers often seek to add chemicals to food, typically to enhance flavor, add nutrients, or prevent spoilage, the CSPI said, adding that chemicals often leach into foods from processing equipment and packaging. While Congress has required FDA determine that chemical additives are safe before they can be used on food, the FDA rule allows manufacturers to decide for and by themselves—in secret—what can be added to foods. The groups assert this rule is unconstitutional and illegal. "The public expects, and the law demands, that FDA ensure the safety of Americans’ food," CSPI said. The groups suing the FDA for allegedly illegally delegating that authority to self-interested food and chemical manufacturers include the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Environmental Defense Fund and Environmental Working Group, represented by legal counsel from CFS and the environmental law firm Earthjustice. They also allege that while Congress mandates an open and public process, the FDA allows manufacturers to make these decisions about food ingredients without any disclosure to either the FDA or the public. The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Federal law requires the FDA to ensure that substances used in food are safe, taking into account consumers’ entire diet and all exposure to the chemical and similar chemicals, CSPI said. But any substance designated as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by FDA or by a food or chemical company can bypass the rigorous pre-market review and approval process applied to food additives. This exemption was initially created to cover ingredients that are widely known to be safe, such as vegetable oil, but has been applied in recent practice to novel chemicals and is now a loophole that has swallowed the law, the CSPI said. Under pressure from industry, in 1997 and again in 2016, FDA adopted a practice that allows food and chemical manufacturers to decide for themselves, without notice to FDA or the public, that food chemicals are safe—even if the chemicals are new, not widely studied, and not widely accepted as safe, CSPI said. CFS filed suit in 2014 to challenge FDA’s use of an interim rule that initially put this practice into place; and that successful challenge forced FDA to stop using the interim rule and instead finalize the GRAS rule, CSPI said. Today’s lawsuit challenges the final rule that formalizes this practice. “FDA has a duty to ensure the products we buy and feed our families are safe,” said Cristina Stella, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety and co-counsel in the case. “The secretive GRAS system makes it impossible for FDA to carry out its core responsibility to the public.”
News Article | May 23, 2017
In the report, researchers gave low scores to products that had SPF over 50 and contained chemicals like Oxybenzone and Retinyl palmitate. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual guide to sunscreens Monday explaining how sunscreens work and why all products do not help protect your skin from UV rays. In the report, researchers gave low scores to products that had SPF over 50 and contained chemicals like Oxybenzone and Retinyl palmitate. The report claims that 73 percent of the 880 sunscreens tested by the group show the products don't work as well as advertised, or contain "worrisome" ingredients. “People are still confused about sunscreen and how it works and what the drawbacks may be,” Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at EWG said in the report, which rates almost 1500 products based on their ingredients. "Sunscreens are really mismarketed, and as a result, people who depend on them think they are far more powerful than they really are." The advocacy group compiled a list of best and worst-rated products after examining SPF protection, chemical ingredients, overall safety and effectiveness of several sunscreens. Sunscreen is made of both organic (carbon-based) and inorganic (non-carbon-based) materials. Organic materials act chemically and absorb UV rays. Inorganic ones include zinc oxide and titanium oxide, and they physically block UV rays from scorching your skin. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen to block the sun's ultraviolet rays. Both the types of UV rays — UVA and UVB — can cause skin cancer. Most sunscreens sold today promise protection from both. To get the complete list of EWG's sunscreen ranking list, click here. SPF and Sunscreen Ratings: A sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) refers to its ability to shield from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The SPF number is the level of protection a sunscreen provides against the rays. In general, it takes about 10 to 20 minutes for a person’s skin to start burning if he/she is not using a sunscreen. "If you're standing on the equator at high noon, it would usually take your skin one minute without sunscreen to become red and irritated. With a sunscreen having SPF 15, you could stand in that same sun exposure for 15 minutes," Dr. Dawn Davis, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic who was not involved in the new reports told CNN. For many, the numbers can get confusing. "SPF is not a consumer-friendly number," Florida dermatologist James Spencer told WebMD. "It is logical for someone to think that an SPF of 30 is twice as good as an SPF of 15 and so on. But that is not how it works." A sunscreen with an SPF 15 blocks about 94 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. SPF 30 products block about 97 percent of such rays and SPF 45 sunscreen protects from 98 percent of such rays. Below are five facts that many people using sunscreens are less aware of, according to EWG. 1. There’s no proof that sunscreens prevent most skin cancer. 2. The common sunscreen additive vitamin A may speed development of skin cancer. 4. Sunscreen doesn’t protect skin from all types of sun damage. 5. Some sunscreen ingredients disrupt hormones and cause skin allergies.
News Article | May 23, 2017
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney holds up a copy of President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget as he speaks to members of the media in the Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump Administration budget released Tuesday slashes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by nearly one-third, eliminating more than 3,800 jobs while imposing dramatic cuts to clean air and water programs. The White House's proposed spending plan for the EPA amounts to $5.7 billion, a 31 percent cut from the current budget year. Adjusted for inflation, that would represent the nation's lowest funding for environmental protection since the mid-1970s. The agency's workforce would drop from 15,416 full-time employees to 11,611. The proposed cuts are in line with views expressed by President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who portray the environmental agency as a job-killing federal bureaucracy. Both have called for increased fossil fuel production while expressing doubt about the scientific consensus that man-made carbon emissions are the primary driver of global warming. "The president's budget respects the American taxpayer," Pruitt said. "This budget supports EPA's highest priorities with federal funding for priority work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace." Since taking office, Pruitt has moved to roll back or delay numerous Obama-era programs to cut pollution from mining operations, oil and gas wells and coal-fired power plants. Pruitt has said he will instead focus on cleaning up decades-old contamination, announcing Monday the creation of a new task force to "streamline and improve" the Superfund program. Despite expressing that cleaning up toxic pollution would be his top priority, the administration's proposed budget cuts funding for Superfund by $330 million, to about $762 million. Current spending for Superfund is already down to about half what it was in the 1990s. "I am confident that, with a renewed sense of urgency, leadership and fresh ideas, the Superfund program can reach its full potential of returning formerly contaminated sites to communities for their beneficial use," Pruitt said. Also hard hit would be the EPA's science and technology programs, with a total reduction of 38 percent. Dozens of programs would be eliminated entirely, including $427 million in regional programs that help decrease pollution in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound and other large water bodies. Though the administration has said state agencies should take more of the lead in enforcing environmental laws, the budget also reduces grants that help states pay for those programs by more than half. Environmentalists said the administration's spending plan, if adopted by Congress, will lead directly to more pollution-related illnesses and deaths. "This proposal would guarantee more children will suffer life-threatening asthma attacks and be forced to drink water polluted with pesticides and other toxic chemicals," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. "It is crystal clear that for President Trump, public health protection is not a priority, but a target." Trump's budget is likely to face an uphill fight on Capitol Hill, where even lawmakers in his own party have already shown a wiliness to ignore the president's fiscal priorities. Many of the regional programs the administration has targeted for the chopping block have bipartisan support. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has received more than $2 billion in federal funding since it was established in 2010, has nearly unanimous backing from members of both parties across region's eight states, from New York to Minnesota. They fiercely resisted cuts during the Obama administration and last month warded off Trump's proposal for a $50 million reduction to help pay for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. "The health and vitality of the Great Lakes are instrumental to having sustained economic growth in Michigan and across the entire Great Lakes region," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who co-chairs the House's Great Lakes Task Force. "I remain committed to working with both Republicans and Democrats to prioritize, strengthen, and defend the Great Lakes."
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 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.