Tag Archives: health

Why has the E.P.A. shifted on toxic chemicals? An industry insider helps call the shots

Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The E.P.A.’s abrupt new direction on legacy chemicals is part of a broad initiative by the Trump administration to change the way the federal government evaluates health and environmental risks associated with hazardous chemicals, making it more aligned with the industry’s wishes.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.

So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.’s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it.

The revision was among more than a dozen demanded by the appointee, Nancy B. Beck, after she joined the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit in May as a top deputy. For the previous five years, she had been an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association.

Read more at: Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots – The New York Times

Filed under Sustainable Living

The push to reclaim starry skies

Mike McPhate, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dark sky groups recommend “warmer” LED bulbs with an amber glow. They also push the use of dimmers, motion sensors and timers wherever they make sense.

Astronomers have preached the virtues of dark skies for years. Modern cities, they say, use way more artificial light in the evenings than necessary, much of it emanating into the sky where it does no good. So-called light pollution erases our view of stars and, to a degree, the wonder they bring at our place in the cosmos. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s population can’t see the Milky Way.

So how bad is the light pollution in California?

“It’s pretty bad,” said Sriram Murali, a Bay Area photographer who is making a film about astronomy and light pollution. “It’s not as bad as the East Coast, but definitely not as good as it is in the Midwest and Southwest.”

That’s been changing in the last five or so years, he added. A number of cities across California — from Davis to San Diego — have taken measures designed enhance the night sky.

By the end of this year, San Francisco is expected to finish converting roughly 18,500 of its sodium high-pressured streetlights to dark sky-compliant LED bulbs.

Read more at: California Today: The Push to Reclaim Starry Skies – The New York Times

Filed under Sustainable Living

Wildfire smoke continues to hurt air quality in Napa, Bay Area

Maria Sestito, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER

To check on local air quality, go to the EPA’s AirNow site: https://www.airnow.gov/

The fires in Napa County are mostly contained, but that doesn’t mean residents can put their respirators away just yet. Smoke from wildfires across the Bay Area – including Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties – are continuing to contaminate the air, making it harmful to even breathe.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a health advisory in addition to a Spare the Air alert for Wednesday and Thursday, and says that the conditions may continue for “days to come,” according to a press release.

In the past two weeks, parts of the Bay Area have experienced air quality levels that are historically bad, said Walter Wallace, air district spokesman. Although levels were at times “hazardous,” he said, they’re comparable to a normal day in Beijing, China.

Read more at: Wildfire smoke continues to hurt air quality in Napa, Bay Area | Local News | napavalleyregister.com

Filed under Air

U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Federal and state agencies are already planning post-fire cleanup in seven Northern California counties, including Sonoma, outlining long-term efforts likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars but performed at no expense to residential property owners, officials said Tuesday.

In Sonoma and Napa counties, where more than 100,000 acres have burned, the chore looms so large the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will manage the first phase, which involves removal of toxic materials from thousands of fire-scorched properties.

That includes batteries, paint, solvents, flammable liquids, electronic waste and any materials that contain asbestos.

“We know people are already back at their homes, wondering what to do next,” said Lance Klug, a spokesman for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle. The agency typically handles the second phase, involving the removal of non-toxic waste — scraping away ash, concrete, metal and contaminated soil — in fire-affected counties, but CalRecycle’s role in the North Bay cleanup has not been determined, said Klug.

Details on the sprawling two-part cleanup are forthcoming and will be widely publicized, he said.

When that work is completed, homeowners will receive a certificate indicating their property has been cleaned and is eligible for local building permits, he said.

Read more at: U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties | The Press Democrat –

Filed under Sustainable Living

First case of West Nile virus this year found in Sonoma County

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s first case of West Nile virus this year was detected recently in a dead bird found in northeast Santa Rosa near Trione-Annadel State Park, regional health officials announced Friday.

The dead American crow was collected near Timber Springs Drive and Timber Springs Court, according to the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District. That puts Sonoma County among 33 California counties to report the presence of the virus this year.

West Nile virus generally spreads through mosquitoes who feed on infected birds and then bite humans. Most people never show any symptoms of the disease, but about one in five will show mild symptoms including fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and rash. Less than 1 percent of people will develop severe neurological symptoms, including possible death. Nizza Sequeira, a spokesperson for the regional mosquito and vector control district, said in a written statement that preventing and controlling mosquitoes and vector-borne disease “is a responsibility we all share,” encouraging residents to take steps to reduce the production of mosquitoes on their properties and report problems to health officials.

Source: First case of West Nile virus this year found in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Wildlife

Blue-green algae-related toxin warnings remain at Russian River beaches 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River tested clean this week for a toxin related to blue-green algae that prompted cautionary signs at 10 popular beaches last month and in each of the past two summers.

The river remains open to swimming and other recreation. But warning signs urging visitors to avoid ingesting river water will remain at 10 popular beaches between Cloverdale and the river mouth as a precaution against exposure to the neurotoxin involved, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services said.

The weekly sampling suggests the threat, already minimal, could be diminishing. But precautions can only be lifted after several weeks pass without detection of the neurotoxin called anatoxin-a, county health personnel said.

Read more at: Blue-green algae-related toxin warnings remain at Russian River beaches | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Sonoma County issues toxic algae warning for Russian River beaches

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County provides more information on blue-green algae at its website here

Sonoma County officials posted caution signs at beaches up and down the Russian River on Wednesday alerting visitors to positive test results for a potentially dangerous, naturally occurring neurotoxin linked to harmful algae, a problem surfacing around Northern California this summer.

Water samples collected at three local beaches turned up very low levels of a substance called Anatoxin-a, which is produced by certain species of blue-green algae, Sonoma County health officials said.

It’s the third year in a row the algae-related toxin has been detected in the river.

The most-recent samples were taken Monday and the test results received Wednesday, Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman said.

Though the level of toxin in the water “was just at the ability to detect it,” the finding triggers precautionary alerts under state guidelines, she said.

Rivergoers should be particularly watchful of dogs, which are actually attracted to harmful algae, according to studies, and, by virtue of their relative body size and habits when around fresh water, are particularly susceptible to exposure.

Read more at: Sonoma County issues toxic algae warning for Russian River beaches | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Civil grand jury says Sonoma County’s Environmental Health staff overworked

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The section of Sonoma County government responsible for everything from monitoring the Russian River for toxic algae blooms to inspecting the safety of local restaurants is overworked and insufficiently staffed, challenges that hamper its effectiveness, according to a recently released civil grand jury report.

In its latest annual analysis published late last month, the 19-member civilian panel determined the county’s Department of Health Services’ Environmental Health and Safety section faced a staffing squeeze, particularly for middle management jobs, and relied too much on trainees to play key roles, among other findings. The little known but critically important government section has found it difficult to recruit and retain qualified employees, placing too great a burden on current staff members who suffer from “reduced job satisfaction” as well as “low morale,” the report said.

Matthew Stone, the grand jury foreman, said the report’s findings continue to show that the county has yet to fully recover from its recession-era belt tightening. “They’ve got a whole bunch of sort of big-picture priorities, but they’ve been starving their foot soldiers a little bit,” Stone said. “And that’s a concern.”

The section faces budget restrictions and hiring difficulties that, in the grand jury’s estimation, result in some positions being underfilled, meaning the job is held by a trainee rather than a more senior staff member.

Read more at: Civil grand jury says Sonoma County’s Environmental Health staff overworked | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

Santa Rosa may rethink use of chemical sprays such as Roundup in parks

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa is the latest Sonoma County city to take a harder look at how it uses synthetic herbicides like Roundup following the state’s action to list the key ingredient in the weed killer as a known cause of cancer.

The City Council agreed Tuesday to re-bid a large landscaping contract to see if there are maintenance options that don’t use glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup, or neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides suspected of contributing to the demise of bee populations.

The city will seek bids for landscaping methods using common chemical sprays, as well as bids using more organic methods outlined by the Russian River Watershed Association.

“I will be very interested to see the Russian River-friendly proposal,” said Councilman Chris Rogers, who urged the city rethink its approach.

The move was the latest by a local government amid rising regulatory and scientific scrutiny of glyphosate, listed this month by California as a cancer-causing agent over the objection of agrichemical giant and Roundup maker Monsanto, which contends it is safe when used appropriately.

Read more at: Santa Rosa may rethink use of chemical sprays such as Roundup in parks | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Water, Wildlife

Russian River beach still closed; officials search for cause of high bacteria levels 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Inquiries and inspections have been made about septic tanks, porta-potty operations and homeless encampments as well, in an effort to narrow down the cause, ….

Updates on the status of the beach are available at sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Environmental-Health/Water-Quality/Fresh-Water-Quality/.

Monte Rio Beach will remain closed to swimming for at least one more day as public officials continue to pursue the reason for elevated lab tests that indicate contamination of the water with harmful bacteria, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services reported Monday.

The decision to keep beach-goers out of that stretch of the Russian River through at least Tuesday extends the ongoing beach closure to a fifth day, though officials have yet to confirm or pinpoint any specific hazard or source of pollution.

But state guidelines governing water quality required the closure last week because of test results above the state-allowed threshold for two indicator bacteria considered markers for possible fecal contamination. The beach status is now considered day-to-day.

The latest round of testing put total coliform bacteria at 11,199 organisms per 100 milliliters of sampled water collected off the beach Sunday, Deputy County Health Officer Karen Holbrook said. The state standard is 10,000 organisms per 100 ml.E. coli was measured at 149 organisms per 100 milliliters in samples taken Sunday. The state standard is 235 per 100 ml.E. coli levels dropped below the safety threshold July 6 and appear to have stayed there, though they remain above the two-digit numbers typical of routine testing at 10 Russian River beaches conducted by the county.

The highest test result in the past week put the E. coli level at 833 organisms per 100 ml. or almost four times the state standard, possibly as a result of huge crowds at the beach over the July Fourth weekend.

Read more at: Russian River beach still closed; officials search for cause of high bacteria levels | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water