By Shannon Kelleher
Online retail giant eBay has been illegally selling hundreds of thousands of harmful pesticides and other unsafe products, posing “unacceptable risks” to communities across the country, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
The legal action was filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court in New York. It argues that the company’s actions violated environmental laws including the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
“The complaint filed today demonstrates that EPA will hold online retailers responsible for the unlawful sale of products on their websites that can harm consumers and the environment,” David Uhlmann, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a press release.
The DOJ and EPA allege that eBay sold at least 23,000 unregistered, misbranded, and restricted use pesticides, including a highly toxic insecticide banned in the US, and products that make false claims about protecting against the virus that causes COVID-19.
This was not eBay’s first alleged FIFRA violation. In June 2020, the EPA ordered eBay, as well as Amazon, to stop selling pesticide-containing products that claimed to prevent COVID-19. The following summer, the agency ordered eBay to stop selling an additional 170 unregistered or misbranded pesticide products.
By Shannon Kelleher
The US agriculture industry puts food on Americans’ tables, but many of the farming practices used to produce that food are controversial. Critics say large corporate interests dominate agriculture and push policies and practices that endanger human and environmental health and harm the interests of small farmers and rural communities.
A group of community advocates announced on September 20 that they were joining forces with legal and food system experts to form an organization they’re dubbing “FarmSTAND,” with the specific goal of challenging the companies that dominate US industrial animal agriculture through court actions. The group said it is working to dismantle a “corporate-controlled, industrial food system” and support regenerative farming to help “change the system from the ground up.”
The New Lede spoke with FarmSTAND Executive Director Jessica Culpepper about the group’s goals.
Q: What is your mission? How do you envision FarmSTAND’s role?
A: We really believe that independent farmers and ranchers, food chain workers, and consumers of agricultural products deserve a legal advocacy group that’s focused only on them. That doesn’t exist yet. We are really excited to be that for them.
Wildlife exposure to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) poses added added threats to species already struggling to adapt to habitat loss and harmful climate change, a new paper warns.
In a discussion paper published Tuesday in Science of the Total Environment, scientists wrote that there is enough evidence of the toxicity of persistent chemicals such as PFAS in humans to cause substantial concern about the same chemicals’ impacts on wildlife. Considering toxic chemicals’ health harms to wildlife is especially important, they write, as multiple pressures cause steep drops in biodiversity worldwide.
“There’s an incredible body of scientific evidence linking PFAS to health harms in humans, and this should really serve as an indicator of the potential health harms that may be occurring in wildlife globally,” said David Andrews, a co-author on the paper and a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental advocacy group.
PFAS are commonly used for their stain- and water-resistant properties and have been used for years as a common ingredient in firefighting foam and many household products. Almost all US residents have PFAS in their blood, and the chemicals contaminate water systems serving millions of people nationwide. PFAS are abundant in the natural environment, as well: According to one analysis by the Waterkeeper Alliance, over 80% of natural waterways are contaminated with the chemicals.
Toxic across taxa
There are thousands of types of PFAS, and scientists have found evidence that many can impair the immune system and spur developmental and reproductive problems, as well as cause thyroid and hormone disorders, liver problems, cancers, and nervous system effects.
“What we know [about health harms] in humans indicates that this is a threat to wildlife species globally,” said Andrews.
By Shannon Kelleher
Most mornings, Nathan Berwick rises well before dawn at his home in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, setting out on nearby Lake Charles in a small fishing boat to check his crab traps. If it’s not too hot and the water is calm, Berwick’s family occasionally joins him on the boat. His eleven-year-old daughter enjoys playing with baby crabs that fall from the traps as Berwick hauls them from the water.
Berwick comes from a long line of crabbers dating back to the 1820s, when his ancestors first arrived in the heel of the Louisiana boot – the state’s southwest corner.
“Thirty years from now I want my children to be able to say, ‘this is my home, this is where eight generations of Berwicks have lived,’” he said.
But this simple dream is in danger from a growing threat facing Berwick and others who contribute to – and depend on – the $1.5 billion fishing industry along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.
The fossil fuel industry has identified the Gulf region as a key site for expanding liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals. Eight new terminals are planned for southwest Louisiana alone, with a total of at least 16 new LNG projects anticipated for the Gulf region in coming years.
The terminals take in gas from transmission pipelines, cool it to a liquid, and store it for overseas exports. LNG is considered the cleanest of fossil fuels because it produces less carbon dioxide than coal and oil. And industry groups, including the Center for LNG, claim the fuel is vital to a clean energy future, with the potential to provide energy security and “lift people out of poverty.”
But environmental groups and concerned residents call the claims “greenwashing,” citing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane and other air pollutants associated with LNG facilities, leakage, and emissions along its supply chain. They also point to a history of alleged shoddy operating practices that jeopardize public health and safety – all forced on communities with little consent.
By Shannon Kelleher
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced $4.6 billion in competitive grants on Wednesday to fund state, city, and Tribal programs designed to reduce climate pollution, advance environmental justice, and transition to clean energy.
The announcement came as business leaders, nonprofits, and government officials convene in New York for the annual Climate Week NYC, which takes place alongside the UN General Assembly.
The grants mark the second wave of funding through the agency’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) program, which was developed under the Inflation Reduction Act. The CPRG program is intended to advance the Biden administration’s Justice40 Initiative by helping to ensure that overburdened communities receive federal climate change funding. The newly available grants will fund projects planned using the initial $250 million in CPRG funding announced in March.
“Together, these grants will stimulate economic growth, spur the creation of new industries and jobs, and enable communities, especially low-income and disadvantaged communities, to chart a path towards unprecedented emissions reductions,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said on a press call. “We recognize that it won’t get us all the way, but it’s a significant shot in the arm.”
By Bill Walker
California fired its opening salvo against the oil and gas industry two years ago, with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and trucks after 2035. In April, the offensive escalated, as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) ordered a phaseout of diesel trucks and locomotives starting in 2036. The state opened another front in June, establishing a watchdog agency to investigate gasoline-pump price spikes and recommend fines for oil companies deemed guilty of gouging customers.
Now the state has dropped its biggest bombshell yet: a monumental lawsuit against five of the world’s largest petrochemical companies for their “decades-long campaign of deception” about the harm of their products to the planet’s climate, and the disastrous and costly impacts of the climate crisis on California.
The 135-page lawsuit, filed last week in San Francisco County Superior Court, alleges that Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP (formerly British Petroleum) knew since the 1950s that burning fossil fuels would heat up the climate with devastating consequences, but covered up the truth instead of alerting the public. The suit also names as a defendant the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s trade association. The defendants are accused of fraud, negligence, product liability, false advertising and creating a public nuisance.
“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change — but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment,” state Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a news release. “From extreme heat to drought and water shortages, the climate crisis they have caused is undeniable. It is time they pay to abate the harm they have caused.”
Consumers can slash their exposure to certain types of indoor air pollution by using “green” labeled cleaning products, according to new research.
In a study published this month in the journal Chemosphere, researchers detected nearly 200 hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in common household cleaning products — some at levels that could pose a risk to human health. Products that were labeled “green” or “fragrance-free” were less likely to contain VOCs, they found.
Many VOCs have both immediate health impacts, such as eye or throat irritation, and long-term impacts, such as nervous system damage or cancer.
“This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers and regulators to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the numerous chemicals entering our indoor air,” said Alexis Temkin, an author of the study and senior toxicologist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a research and consumer advocacy organization.
By Carey Gillam
Women exposed to several widely used chemicals appear to face increased odds for ovarian and other certain types of cancers, including a doubling of odds for melanoma, according to new research funded by the US government.
Using data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a team of academic researchers found evidence that women diagnosed with some “hormonally-driven” cancers had exposures to certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are used in thousands of household and industrial products, including in stain- and heat-resistant items.
They found similar links between women diagnosed with cancer and high exposures to phenols, which are commonly used in food packaging, dyes and personal care products.
The study, published late Sunday in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, did not find similar associations between the chemicals and cancer diagnoses in men.
PFAS chemicals, in particular, may disrupt hormone functions specific to women – a potential mechanism for increasing their odds of hormone-related cancers, the researchers determined. Hormonally active cancers are common and hard to cure, making deeper inquiry into potential environmental causes critical, the researchers said.
“People should care about this because we know that there is widespread human exposure to these chemicals and we have documented data on that,” said Max Aung, assistant professor of environmental health at USC Kreck School of Medicine and a senior author of the study.
“These chemicals can increase the risk of various different health outcomes and they can alter your biological pathways… that is important to know so that we can better prevent exposures and mitigate risks,” Aung said.
A draft policy meant to curtail improper interference in federal scientific work falls far short of what is needed, according to a warning issued this month by a group of public health and science advocacy groups.
The draft issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the first to come from a key federal agency in answer to a call by President Joe Biden for federal agencies to strengthen policies meant to protect the integrity of their research. HHS is expected to release its final policy by February 2024.
The HHS oversees government entities that play critical roles in evaluating harmful chemicals, tracking and analyzing data on important public health threats, and conducting research into human health and disease, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
The HHS works to “enhance the health and well-being of all Americans depends on the development and use of accurate, complete, and timely scientific and technical information,” HHS states in the draft policy.
But according to a letter sent to HHS this month by 11 advocacy organizations, the draft policy would do little to stem what has become a systemic problem in key federal agencies whose work is supposed to protect the public but too often is swayed by political and/or corporate interests.
“Under this proposed policy, every aspect of enforcing scientific integrity principles would remain a captive of the political process inside the agencies,” Jeff Ruch, the Pacific director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), said in a press release.
By Keith Schneider
BERNE, Minn. – It was a hot afternoon in mid-July and 60-year-old Brian Bennerotte was making a pilgrimage of sorts, navigating a shotgun-straight, gravel road south of Minneapolis on a journey through a landscape stitched with crop and livestock farms as far as the eye can see.
Bennerotte is one of only three surviving members of a family who farmed for three generations along a mile-long stretch of County Road B. As a long-haul truck driver, Bennerotte rarely gets back here. But with a visitor at his side, he finds his way.
From the passenger seat of a rented vehicle he scans both sides of the road, then points to a dust-scoured barn leaning into the wind. The building is all that remains of his family’s farmstead, which once encompassed 200 acres and a home large enough for Bennerotte’s parents to raise five boys and a girl.
Down the road a bit further, he recognizes neighboring properties: There is the Glarner farm, and the Spreiter farm and the Serie farm. All are connected by circumstances of geography, topography, agriculture, and social commerce.
All are also joined by disease and death.
Among the four families who lived for decades along County Road B, 12 people developed cancer and seven died. Bennerotte was one of three people who developed lymphoma. The disease nearly killed him in 1983 when he was 20 years old. His father and three brothers would not survive their own bouts with cancer.
For some, County Road B has a different name: They call it Cancer Road.
“Every family along here was affected. Every one,” said Bennerotte.