As cool weather sets in to the US Midwest, much of the farm state of Iowa is suffering from moderate to severe drought, but for farmer Brent Drey, another worrisome weather trend is also top of mind: Over the past few decades, the Drey family farm has noticed an uptick in rainfall, which often comes down so hard and fast that the moisture actually does more harm than good.
“There are times, especially in the spring, where it can dump three or four inches in a matter of an hour or two,” Drey said. “That really makes a mess for any farmer.”
Drey Farms, which grows 3,000 acres of mostly corn and soybeans near Sac City, Iowa, has sometimes lost production due to excess moisture, according to Drey. Flooding, heavy rains and excess snow melt can complicate planting, and drown out or sicken maturing crops as wet conditions lead to elevated levels of mold, fungus, and toxins.
For Drey and other farmers who suffer production losses due to excess moisture, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has long offered a crop insurance program to cover their losses.
Four miles from my house, a Silicon Valley company wants to drill an 8,000-foot-deep well to store millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the greenhouse gas identified as the main cause of the climate crisis.
The well, planned at the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Riverbank, Calif., could be one of a network of CO2 storage wells California is hoping will help the state reach its ambitious climate goals.
The idea is to trap emissions from petrochemical refineries, power plants and other industrial and agricultural sources, super-chill them into liquids that are piped through earthquake-vulnerable terrain, and pumped deep underground to to keep them from heating up the atmosphere.
This Rube Goldberg-like scheme is called carbon capture and sequestration. The captured CO2 can also be used in other industrial processes. A related scheme, direct air capture, sounds even more like science fiction, making use of giant vacuums to suck existing CO2 out of the atmosphere.
At first carbon capture may sound like a smart idea: The company seeking a permit to drill in Riverbank is named Aemetis, which it says means “one prudent wisdom.” But the type of carbon capture Gov. Gavin Newsom’s climate policy counts on to reach “net-zero” CO2 emissions by 2045, is neither wise or prudent.
By Carey Gillam
When US regulators issued a 2019 assessment of the widely used farm chemical paraquat, they determined that even though multiple scientific studies linked the chemical to Parkinson’s disease, that work was outweighed by other studies that did not find such links. Overall, the weight of scientific evidence was “insufficient” to prove paraquat causes the brain disease, officials with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared.
The EPA reiterated its assessment in a 2021 report. The agency said after extensive analysis of numerous factors, including concerns about Parkinson’s risk, it determined farmers could safely continue to apply the weed killer across millions of US acres to help in the production of soybeans, corn, cotton and an array of other crops.
The determination has been significant for Syngenta, the longtime maker of paraquat weed killers. The company is facing calls in the US for a paraquat ban, as well as more than 2,000 legal claims brought by farmers and others alleging they developed Parkinson’s disease because of their exposure to paraquat.
Syngenta cites the EPA assessment of the science on paraquat in defense of the pesticide, and says scientific research “does not support” a causal relationship between the chemical and the disease. On a Syngenta-run paraquat information website, the company highlights several studies it says also backs that position, including many conducted by company scientists or by outside scientists who received company funding for their work.
Last week the Guardian and The New Lede reported that internal corporate records show Syngenta had knowledge of science linking paraquat to Parkinson’s decades ago but sought both to refute the evidence with various secret tactics. The documents are available at the Paraquat Papers Media Library.
US farmworker, health and environmental advocacy groups say in contrast to the corporate science, research conducted by independent scientists provides abundant evidence of paraquat’s ability to cause Parkinson’s and other health dangers, and the EPA is improperly discounting that body of research.
More than 50 groups have called for the US to follow the lead of dozens of other countries in banning paraquat. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research submitted a petition to the EPA with 107,000 signatories calling for a ban. The foundation cited a study that found people exposed to paraquat in their teens or as young adults had an increased Parkinson’s risk of 200 to 600 percent, depending on the overall exposure.
by Shannon Kelleher
Viewing 45-second videos that explain common misperceptions about toddler milks and fruit drinks reduced caregivers’ intentions to serve these sweetened beverages to their young children, according to a study published today in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study’s findings suggest that countermarketing messages designed to illuminate problematic marketing techniques could reduce demand for unhealthy foods.
“We were delighted at the findings,” said Frances Fleming-Milici, a researcher with the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health at the University of Connecticut and an author of the study. “We’re hoping that we have an opportunity to see effects on actual behavior and long-term behavior.”
“There isn’t a lot of research in countermarketing in the area of highly processed food, junk food,” said Chris Palmedo, an associate professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health. “[The study] confirms the gradual progress that research is making in this area.”
Previous research suggests many parents do not realize what they are really buying when they purchase toddler milks and kids’ fruit drinks. Popular fruit drinks often contain less than 10% juice and are packed with added sugars and diet sweeteners. Health claims on toddler milks, which are also sweetened, are not backed by science.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises giving children under five mostly water and plain milk to drink, stating that sugar-sweetened beverages are “detrimental to child health,” artificial sweeteners’ health effects on kids are “not well-understood,” and toddler milks are “unnecessary for most children and provide no nutritional benefit over a healthy, balanced eating plan.”
Grace van Deelen
In a corner of southwestern Wisconsin, in a town called Eden, Bob Bishop spends his days farming land that has been in his family since the 1940s. He manages about 2,000 acres— some is pasture for his cattle, some is seeded with corn and soybeans. But 40% of his acreage, as he likes to say, will soon be farming the sun.
Under a 25-year lease to a large solar project called the Badger Hollow Solar Farm, Bishop has agreed to the installation of solar panels across hundreds of acres of land he previously used to grow crops. The project, which is owned by energy companies Invenergy and Madison Gas & Electric, is projected to total 3,500 acres in all and generate enough energy to power more than 77,000 homes. The developers say landowners will collect an estimated $59 million from leasing their property to the project.
In agreeing to set aside some of his land for solar energy production, Bishop is one of an increasing number of farmers in the Midwest looking to solar as a way to add to – or replace – money made growing crops, and potentially help fight climate change at the same time.
The moves are triggering some controversy, as critics say filling large swaths of land with massive installations of solar panels is unsightly and inhibits needed food production.
But advocates say using farmland to harness a clean, renewable energy source is a critical move in the face of harmful climate impacts. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), a part of the US Department of Energy, says that solar energy has an important role in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality and reducing the strain on water resources that otherwise are tapped for traditional energy production.
Bishop said he considers the transition of his land to solar production as a welcome move. His land will produce far more usable energy per acre than it would if he was still growing corn for ethanol, Bishop said. And while growing corn requires regular management and costly inputs to control weeds and pests, solar panels require little maintenance.
“It’s all revenue,” said Bishop.
By Carey Gillam and Aliya Uteuova
When Illinois farmer Ron Niebruegge was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 55, he was certain it must be a mistake. Niebruegge had always been healthy and active, someone who loved horseback riding and taking his wife dancing on weekend nights.
But a dizzy spell and a fall in 2007 led him to visit a neurologist, and then another. Both doctors agreed that the little things Niebruegge had started to notice – a left arm that didn’t seem to work quite right, some stiffness in his joints – were undeniable signs of the onset of Parkinson’s, a progressive debilitating brain disease for which there is no cure.
Now 70 years old, Niebruegge lives a very different life: The horses he loved have been given away and the horse trailer sold. Dancing is a thing of the past; Niebruegge struggles simply to walk across a room. He uses a cane but falls so frequently and unexpectedly that he fears leaving home.
One recent fall left him with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery. And his wife of 49 years has transitioned from dance partner to caregiver.
Niebruegge is far from alone. More than 8 million people globally suffer from what scientists see as the fastest growing neurological disorder in the world. And while scientists see multiple toxins as potential causes, one pesticide popular with farmers across the US has been prominently linked to the disease: a weed killer called paraquat that has grown in use over recent decades.
The longtime manufacturer of paraquat, Syngenta AG, along with Chevron USA, the successor to a former US paraquat distributor, are now being sued by thousands of Parkinson’s sufferers. The plaintiffs claim scientific studies show that exposure to paraquat can cause, or significantly increase the risk of, Parkinson’s disease, but rather than warn users, the companies prioritized paraquat sales over human health.
Secret “Paraquat Papers” reveal corporate tactics to protect weed killer linked to Parkinson’s disease
By Carey Gillam and Aliya Uteuova
For more than 50 years, Swiss chemical giant Syngenta has manufactured and marketed a widely used weed killing chemical called paraquat, and for much of that time the company has been dealing with external concerns that long-term exposure to the chemical may cause the dreaded, incurable brain ailment known as Parkinson’s disease.
Syngenta has repeatedly told customers and regulators that scientific research does not prove a connection between its weed killer and the disease, insisting that the chemical does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier, and does not affect brain cells in ways that cause Parkinson’s.
But a cache of internal corporate documents dating back to the 1950s obtained by The New Lede in a reporting collaboration with the Guardian suggests that the public narrative put forward by Syngenta and the corporate entities that preceded it has at times contradicted the company’s own research and knowledge.
And though the documents reviewed do not show that Syngenta’s scientists and executives accepted and believed that paraquat can cause Parkinson’s, they do show a corporate focus on strategies to protect product sales, refute external scientific research and influence regulators.
In one defensive tactic, the documents lay out how the company worked behind the scenes to try to keep a highly regarded scientist from sitting on an advisory panel for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency is the chief US regulator for paraquat and other pesticides. Company officials wanted to make sure the efforts could not be traced back to Syngenta, the documents show.
And the documents show that insiders feared they could face legal liability for long-term, chronic effects of paraquat as long ago as 1975. One company scientist called the situation “a quite terrible problem,” for which “some plan could be made….”
by Shannon Kelleher
This Saturday the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southeastern Utah is planning a rally to protest the last functioning uranium mill in the United States. The White Mesa Mill, which sits on sacred ancestral tribal lands, has been polluting the environment and jeopardizing the health of local communities for decades.
“We keep fighting and fighting to get it to either shut down or get it to move,” said Michael Badback, a tribal member and longtime White Mesa resident.
More than 700 million pounds of radioactive waste from across the US are buried in the White Mesa Uranium Mill’s waste pits, according to a report by Grand Canyon Trust. And the site may soon become a dumping ground for radioactive materials from around the world, with waste streams from Canada, Japan, and Europe approved for shipment to the mill.
While the mill was designed to accept crushed uranium ore from mines, it can also accept waste streams as long as they contain uranium or thorium.
“Really what we have is a uranium mill that’s essentially functioning as a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility without being regulated like one,” said Tim Peterson, cultural landscapes director at Grand Canyon Trust. “It’s accepting this sort of stew or cocktail of materials that has all kinds of other components in it. We don’t have any other facility in the United States that has this particular mix in its waste pits, so we don’t really know how these things interact and what they might do together.”
Clean water advocacy groups said this week that they have found toxins linked to cancer and other health problems in more than 80% of tested watersheds around the United States, adding to the growing body of evidence about the pervasiveness of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS.
Results of the study, which was carried out by the nonprofit organization Waterkeeper Alliance, were released Tuesday. The group said PFAS toxins were detected in 95 of 114 watersheds tested, and some samples were found to contain levels of PFAS thousands of times higher than the levels considered safe for drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)
Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida were among the states with the highest number of water samples containing PFAS.
The results “demonstrate that existing laws are inadequate for protecting us,” said Marc Yaggi, CEO of Waterkeeper Alliance.
The study is the first nationwide surface water quality survey to measure PFAS, and probably the most extensive survey of PFAS presence in surface waters that has ever been conducted in the US, according to the group.
One type of PFAS known as PFOA is considered a likely human carcinogen. Another type, PFOS, is known to accumulate in humans and cause liver damage and birth defects in lab animals. Both were detected in 69% of samples.
The report noted that PFOA was detected above the EPA Interim Health Advisory Level of 0.004 ppt in samples taken in waterways located in 26 states and D.C. The highest level detected was 847 ppt in a sample from Kreutz Creek, Pennsylvania. PFOS was detected above the EPA advisory levels in 28 states and D.C. The highest level detected was 1,364.7 ppt in a sample from Piscataway Creek, Maryland.
Amid growing evidence of the health risks associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a wave of technology companies are developing strategies to remove toxic PFAS chemicals from drinking water and wastewater.
The moves come as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action to crack down on PFAS pollution, particularly on two of the most widely used PFAS, which have been linked to an array of health problems.
Cleaning up the contamination is a significant challenge, however; one recent study warned that PFAS contamination is so ubiquitous globally that advanced technological intervention is needed.
One tech company seeking to tackle the problem, 374Water, has created waste processors called AirSCWOs that use an oxidation method to convert toxic sludge – including PFAS-contaminated waste streams – into clean water.