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Kincade fire cleanup starts with county-funded hazardous waste removal

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As crew members with a private hazardous waste removal company loaded up pickings from one pile of ash Wednesday near Calistoga, two others made their way to another pile with specialized equipment in hand.

Wearing protective suits and respirators, the workers were testing the area for signs of radiation or toxic gases — a crucial first step before work would continue on this plot.

Before the Kincade fire roared through the area in late October, the piles of ash were buildings and homes on the LaFranchi Ranch. Wednesday’s work, which will extend to burned structures throughout the nearly 80,000-acre burn zone of Sonoma County’s largest fire, marked the start of the recovery.

“Once the fire is out, we need to figure out how to return the community to that safe and healthy environment it was previously,” Environmental Health Director Christine Sosko said.

The county-funded hazardous waste cleanup, estimated to cost $500,000-$750,000, is the first step in the recovery, Sosko said. The Kincade fire wasn’t the most destructive in county history, taking only 374  buildings, including  174 homes, compared to thousands lost just two years ago. But the toll is still extensive. Nearly everything on the LaFranchi property was lost.

When workers from Chico-based NRC Environmental Services picked through the rubble, they did so with some expertise and training, scanning the ruins for specific areas: the garage, the laundry room, places used to store cleaning products, paints, solvents, and other hazardous materials.

Anything crews picked out was transferred to plastic buckets, then carried to metal, 55-gallon drums to be hauled to an approved landfill.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10310444-181/kincade-fire-cleanup-starts-with

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Jury finds Roundup weed killer a major factor in Sonoma County man’s cancer

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Roundup weed killer was a substantial factor in a Sonoma County man’s cancer, a jury determined Tuesday in the first phase of a trial that attorneys said could help determine the fate of hundreds of similar lawsuits.

The unanimous verdict by the six-person jury in federal court in San Francisco came in a lawsuit filed against Roundup’s manufacturer, agribusiness giant Monsanto. Edwin Hardeman, 70, was the second plaintiff to go to trial out of thousands around the country who claim the weed killer causes cancer.

Monsanto says studies have established that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is safe.

A San Francisco jury in August awarded another man $289 million after determining Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A judge later slashed the award to $78 million, and Monsanto has appealed.

Hardeman’s trial is before a different judge and may be more significant. U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria is overseeing hundreds of Roundup lawsuits and has deemed Hardeman’s case and two others “bellwether trials.”

The outcome of such cases can help attorneys decide whether to keep fighting similar lawsuits or settle them. Legal experts said a jury verdict in favor of Hardeman and the other test plaintiffs would give their attorneys a strong bargaining position in any settlement talks for the remaining cases before Chhabria.

The judge had split Hardeman’s trial into two phases. Hardeman’s attorneys first had to convince jurors that using Roundup was a significant factor in his cancer before they could make arguments for damages.

The trial will now proceed to the second phase to determine whether the company is liable and if so, for how much.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9409513-181/jury-roundup-weed-killer-major?ref=moststory

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US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports

Oliver Milman, THE GUARDIAN

The conscientious citizens of Philadelphia continue to put their pizza boxes, plastic bottles, yoghurt containers and other items into recycling bins.
Fighting pollution: Toledo residents want personhood status for Lake Erie
Read more

But in the past three months, half of these recyclables have been loaded on to trucks, taken to a hulking incineration facility and burned, according to the city’s government.

It’s a situation being replicated across the US as cities struggle to adapt to a recent ban by China on the import of items intended for reuse.

The loss of this overseas dumping ground means that plastics, paper and glass set aside for recycling by Americans is being stuffed into domestic landfills or is simply burned in vast volumes. This new reality risks an increase of plumes of toxic pollution that threaten the largely black and Latino communities who live near heavy industry and dumping sites in the US.

About 200 tons of recycling material is sent to the huge Covanta incinerator in Chester City, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, every day since China’s import ban came into practice last year, the company says.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/feb/21/philadelphia-covanta-incinerator-recyclables-china-ban-imports

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Court orders E.P.A. to ban chlorpyrifos, pesticide tied to children’s health problems

Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES

A federal appeals court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday to bar within 60 days a widely used pesticide associated with developmental disabilities and other health problems in children, dealing the industry a major blow after it had successfully lobbied the Trump administration to reject a ban.

The order by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came after a decade-long effort by environmental and public health groups to get the pesticide, chlorpyrifos, removed from the market. The product is used in more than 50 fruit, nut, cereal and vegetable crops including apples, almonds, oranges and broccoli, with more than 640,000 acres treated in California alone in 2016, the most recent year data is available.

In March 2017, just a month after he was confirmed as the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt rejected a petition by the health and environmental groups to ban the pesticide. He did so even though the agency’s own staff scientists had recommended that chlorpyrifos be removed from the market, based on health studies that had suggested it was harming children, particularly among farmworker families.

A three-judge panel, on a 2-to-1 vote, gave the agency two months to finalize the ban on the product, whose leading manufacturer is DowDuPont. The company, along with others in the pesticide and agriculture industry, had intensely lobbied the E.P.A. and Mr. Pruitt, who resigned under a cloud of ethics scandals last month.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/us/politics/chlorpyrifos-pesticide-ban-epa-court.html

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Bioremediation efforts mushroom in the aftermath of California’s North Bay fires

Dani Burlison, EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL

Fifty miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, California’s Sonoma County is famous for its wine-country image — a patchwork of picturesque rolling hills and vineyards graced with moderate temperatures all year round. Beyond the grapes and quaint roadside tasting rooms, oak woodlands rich with black oak, Douglas fir, madrone, and California laurel provide habitat for abundant wildlife and ecological services like erosion control and water filtration to the surrounding area. Typically hot and dry from midsummer through late fall, these woodlands also comprise an ideal environment for wildfires. It was here that flames ignited on the evening of October 8, 2017, fueled by winds of 50 miles per hour.

The fires, which also erupted in neighboring Napa and Mendocino Counties, spread quickly, reaching residential areas in the city of Santa Rosa late at night. Flames devoured nearly 250 square miles of open space and urban development, including 6,000 homes and business structures. The Tubbs, Nuns, and Pocket Fires also claimed more than 20 lives in Sonoma County, and sent a cloud of toxic ash over a wide stretch of the San Francisco Bay Area for weeks. Local ecologists promptly took action, driven by concerns about chemicals seeping into the region’s farmlands and streams, the Russian River, and eventually the Pacific Ocean.

“The concern about the toxic ash and fire runoff was becoming a priority,” says Erik Ohlsen, a Sonoma County ecologist and founder of the Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol. But, “the time frame was so small, the window was so small to do anything — how do you deploy on a scale that matches the scale of the fire, and process and strategize to catch and filter all that toxic ash?”

Ohlsen is part of the grassroots Fire Mediation Action Coalition that formed in response to widespread fire damage. In the aftermath of the fire, this group of ecologists, organic farmers, wildlife biologists, and residents discussed the probability of heavy metals, PCBs, dioxines, and a multitude of other chemicals contained in the ash contaminating local creeks, drinking water, and soil. Given the nearly 600,000 acres of agricultural land in Sonoma County, preventing chemicals from contaminating farms and vineyards was considered critical and urgent.

Read more at http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/bioremediation_mushroom_aftermath_californias_north_bay_fires/

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Dangers of rat poison: It kills more than rats!

Dr. Michael Trapani, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

When we put these poisons out into the environment, they don’t stay where we put them. Wherever they wind up, they are likely to persist for a long, long time. Non-target animals, like that gorgeous owl or eagle we’re all so thrilled to see, readily become unintended victims of our efforts to control problem rodent populations. In our quest to control rats, poisons should be our last choice, not our first.

Rats as PETS: Taken as individuals, rats are pretty decent creatures. Human-raised, humane-bred rats, that is. It’s hard to find a cleaner, smarter, more outgoing pet for a young child than a common domestic rat. They enjoy being handled, are happy to hang out in a coat pocket for hours, and gleefully share a kid’s peanut butter sandwich at lunch time. Ya gotta love ‘em.

Rats as PESTS: Not so much though, when their wild relatives are scraping around inside the wall of your bedroom, breeding in your pantry, or chewing through the wiring harness of your new car. A professional exterminator may charge $400 to $500 just for the initial home visit to identify the type of rat, its means of entry, and the extent of damage they have created. Automobile repair costs have been reported at several thousands of dollars to repair rodent damage. It’s no surprise that people commonly use readily available, over-the-counter rodent poisons to eliminate rat populations. These seemingly safe products are cheap and available in almost all hardware stores, and even supermarkets.

Read more at http://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/dangers-of-rat-poison-the-family-pet-by-dr-michael-trapani-february-2018

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Mushrooms soak up fire debris toxics in stormwater

Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
The disaster of October’s wildfires didn’t stop once the flames were finally extinguished. The toxic ash left by the firestorms—incinerated plastics, hydrocarbons, solvents, pesticides, heavy metals—lay like a ticking bomb on home sites, awaiting a rain storm to wash the deadly debris into drains and creeks. Once in waterways, the lethal plume could infiltrate watersheds and imperil drinking water and aquatic life. But thanks to an unprecedented public-private partnership, protection from that environmental hazard in hard-hit areas like Coffey Park, Larkfield-Wikiup and Fountain Grove has come from an unlikely source: mushrooms.
Erik Ohlsen, a landscape architect and permaculture educator, saw that second wave of disaster coming and acted quickly to rally a diverse team of volunteers, environmental groups, landowners and public agencies to deploy cutting-edge bioremediation techniques using mushrooms and compost to absorb and neutralize the deadly runoff. He created the Fire Remediation Action Coalition on Facebook to help organize the effort and spread the word.
And word spread quickly. The project took off as another example of the volunteerism and generosity that have characterized local efforts after the fire. Sebastopol’s Gourmet Mushrooms donated thousands of pounds of substrate used to grow mushrooms. Sonoma Compost and West Marin Compost donated compost. Petaluma’s Wattle Guy provided, you guessed it, wattles—barriers and fences made from natural materials like rice straw and sticks. And groups like Russian Riverkeepers and the Clean River Alliance marshaled volunteers to make, fill and install the wattles and monitor water flow during and after the recent rains.
Read more at: Natural Remedy | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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EPA has cleared 5,567 Sonoma, Napa properties of hazardous waste

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it has removed household hazardous waste from three-quarters of Sonoma and Napa county properties destroyed or damaged during last month’s North Bay wildfires.The EPA said that since its hazardous waste removal operations began Oct. 27, it had cleaned 5,567 properties in both counties. The federal agency has collected items such as small paint cannisters, large chemical drums, corrosive or toxic cleaners, solvents, oils, batteries, herbicides and pesticides.
The items removed have been transported to EPA staging areas in Windsor and Yountville before they are sent to permanent disposal locations. EPA officials said the cleanup of hazardous waste is necessary before state and federal agencies can remove ash and other debris.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.
Source: EPA has cleared 5,567 Sonoma, Napa properties of hazardous waste

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A secondary disaster

Letter to the Editor, PRESS DEMOCRAT
EDITOR: An article in last Wednesday’s paper quoted officials regarding the urgency for fire clean-up before winter rains commence (“With upcoming rain, fear of contamination”). Property owners are reluctant thus far to allow government to clean up their toxic ash and may be setting the stage for a secondary tragedy: massive polluting of our waterways.
Remaining ash, containing an eviscerated combination of toxic products, may be washed into the water or settle on gardens and farms to do irreparable damage. This stuff is so toxic that men in white suits with masks, gloves and boots have to remove it to a special place where they allow toxic wastes.
It is time-consuming, dirty, expensive and hazardous. And it needs to be done immediately before the heavy rains begin.
Those holding off may find it hard to find qualified people to do the job properly and affordably so they can obtain permits to rebuild. Time is of the essence to get it done. Please sign your right-of-entry form, and let others arrange to do the work free of charge.
It’s a hard choice. We feel sympathy for people having to make it, but the effects could be so dire, it might greatly compound the suffering and loss.
BRENDA ADELMAN, Russian River Watershed Protection Committee
Source: Wednesday’s Letters to the Editor

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Next challenge in Wine Country fires: colossal cleanup before winter rains 

Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
While the worst of the wildfires is over for Wine Country, the region faces another daunting test: the cleanup of heaps of ash, twisted metal and blackened debris scattered across some 250 square miles of burned hills and valleys — an area five times the size of San Francisco.Never before has California seen such wildfire destruction. The blazes that roared through Napa and Sonoma counties this month obliterated at least 7,200 houses, barns and businesses, including entire neighborhoods, each with untold amounts of hazardous items now littered about, from pesticides to propane to melted plastics.
Residents are eager to get their properties cleared of the often toxic wreckage so that they can rebuild, though it will be months before any construction starts. Plans for the huge cleanup are still being worked out, with a goal of finishing early next year. The state will lead the effort, in partnership with the federal government, but only after the fires are extinguished and logistics are addressed.
Officials need to find landfills with enough space to take the rubble and get consent from landowners to clear their properties, matters that could take weeks. Once that’s done, the state is likely to hire hundreds if not thousands of contractors to truck out the debris from private residences and public property. Businesses and their insurers, though, will probably be responsible for cleanup at their sites.
Read more at: Next challenge in Wine Country fires: colossal cleanup before winter rains – San Francisco Chronicle