Louisiana wildlife officials say they have documented more than 100 oil-soaked birds after crude oil spilled from a refinery flooded during Hurricane Ida.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said Thursday that a growing number of oiled birds had been observed within heavy pockets of oil throughout the Phillips 66 Alliance Refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, as well as nearby flooded fields and retention ponds along the Mississippi River.
Jon Wiebe, a biologist running the state restoration program, said 10 oiled birds have been captured and transported to a rehabilitation location for cleaning. Five additional dead birds were recovered and bagged as evidence, he said.
Wiebe said efforts to capture and save more birds are ongoing. The affected species include black-bellied whistling ducks, blue-winged teal and a variety of egrets. Other animals were also seen covered in oil, include alligators, nutria and river otters.
A summary issued Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency said it had received 43 notifications of significant inland oil spills and chemical releases in its jurisdiction after Ida. The agency’s compliance arm has issued 10 requests to facility operators seeking information to determine whether federal environmental laws were violated during the storm, potentially triggering penalties and fines.
That is a small fraction of the 1,539 reports of pollution a U.S. Coast Guard hotline has received since the Category 4 storm made landfall made landfall Aug. 29 at Port Fourchon, the primary port for the offshore oil and gas industry. The Coast Guard said Thursday it was actively supervising the cleanup and mitigation efforts at 564 sites. Another 197 reports were listed as unverified because there was no remaining evidence of pollution.
The Associated Press first reported the spill at the Alliance Refinery on Sept. 1 after reviewing aerial images captured by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aircraft. In the days after the hurricane, Phillips 66 repeatedly sought to downplay reports of damage at the company’s sprawling refinery.
Asked about reports of levee failures near the refinery the day after Ida hit, Phillips 66 spokesman Bernardo Fallas told AP there was “some water” in the facility and stressed that operations were shut down in advance of the storm.
Asked two days after the storm about potential environmental hazards emanating from the facility, Fallas referred a reporter to a statement on the company’s website saying its response is focused “on ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees and our surrounding communities.”
On Day Three, after the AP sent Phillips 66 aerial photos showing extensive flooding at the refinery and what appeared to be petroleum in the water, Fallas conceded the company could had “discovered a sheen of unknown origin in some flooded areas” of the refinery and that all pollution had been “secured and contained within refinery grounds” at that time.
A Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality assessment team sent to the refinery last week reported a sizable spill of heavy crude oil at the site was being addressed with booms and absorbent pads. A levee meant to protect the plant had breached, allowing floodwaters to flow in during the storm and then back out as the surge receded.
Despite the gap in the levee remaining open for days after the storm, Fallas once again asserted Thursday no oil spilled beyond the land owned by Phillips 66.
“The breach has been secured,” Fallas said Thursday. “Clean-up crews continue to remove oil and sheen contained within some flooded areas of the refinery. There has been no offsite impact. We continue to work with all appropriate regulatory agencies.”
No estimate for how much oil might have spilled from the refinery has yet been made public by state or federal regulators. When fully operational, the Alliance Refinery can process more than 255,000 barrels of crude oil per day into gasoline and other petroleum products.
The company listed the aging refinery for sale last month, before the storm hit, citing poor market conditions. The facility remained shut down Thursday, with no timetable to reopen.
Following inquires from AP, Fallas also confirmed Thursday that a Phillips 66 pipeline in an uninhabited area outside Paradis, Lousiana, leaked during Ida. Records show the company reported to the Coast Guard on Aug. 31 that 2,700 barrels of isobutane, a liquified flammable gas often used to fuel camping stoves, had spilled.
“The site was isolated and brought under control last week,” Fallas said Thursday. “The product vaporized to the atmosphere when it was released; there was no impact to soil or water. The pipeline remains shut down while repairs are underway.”
The hole in the ozone layer that develops annually is “rather larger than usual” and is currently bigger than Antartica, say the scientists responsible for monitoring it.
Researchers from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service say that this year’s hole is growing quickly and is larger than 75% of ozone holes at this stage in the season since 1979.
Ozone exists about seven to 25 miles (11-40km) above the Earth’s surface, in the stratosphere, and acts like a sunscreen for the planet, shielding it from ultraviolet radiation. Every year, a hole forms during the late winter of thesouthern hemisphere as the sun causes ozone-depleting reactions, which involve chemically active forms of chlorine and bromine derived from human-made compounds. In a statement Copernicus said that this year’s hole “has evolved into a rather larger than usual one”.
Vincent-Henri Peuch, the service’s director, told the Guardian: “We cannot really say at this stage how the ozone hole will evolve. However, the hole of this year is remarkably similar to the one of 2020, which was among the deepest and the longest-lasting – it closed around Christmas – in our records since 1979.
“The 2021 ozone hole is now among the 25% largest in our records since 1979, but the process is still under way. We will keep monitoring its development in the next weeks. A large or small ozone hole in one year does not necessarily mean that the overall recovery process is not going ahead as expected, but it can signal that special attention needs to be paid and research can be directed to study the reasons behind a specific ozone hole event.”
Scientists accept that the depletion in the ozone layer is caused by human-made gases called CFCs, which were first developed in the 1930s for use in refrigeration systems and were then deployed as propellants in aerosol spray cans. The chemicals are stable so can travel from the Earth’s surface to the stratosphere. But then, at the altitude where stratospheric ozone is found, they are broken down by high-energy UV radiation. The ensuing chemical reactions destroy ozone. CFCs have been banned in 197 countries around the world.Advertisementhttps://c521fbe4d8370b00a08a3c46176a6b35.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Since the ban on so-called halocarbons the ozone layer has shown signs of recovery, but it is a slow process and it will take until the 2060s or 70s for a complete phasing-out of the depleting substances. During recent years with normal weather conditions, the ozone hole has typically grown to a maximum of 20 million sq km (8 million sq miles).
The 2020 Arctic ozone hole was also very large and deep, and peaked at roughly three times the size of the continental US.
The Antarctic ozone hole usually reaches its peak between mid-September and mid-October. When temperatures start to rise high up in the stratosphere in late southern hemisphere spring, ozone depletion slows, the polar vortex weakens and finally breaks down and, by December, ozone levels usually return to normal.
Known as ‘forever’ chemicals due to the fact they do not break down in the environment, poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are used in a wide range of products and processes from fire proofing to stain resistant surfaces.
The Lancaster University study has found them in the surface seawater close to melting Arctic ice floes at concentrations of up to two times higher than levels observed in the North Sea, even though the region of the Barents Sea under investigation was thousands of kilometers from populated parts of Europe.
The research has shown these chemicals have traveled not by sea, but through the atmosphere, where they accumulate in Arctic sea ice. Because Arctic ice is melting more quickly than before, these harmful chemicals are efficiently released into surrounding seawater resulting in some very high concentrations.
Lancaster’s Dr. Jack Garnett and Professor Crispin Halsall along with colleagues from HZG, Germany, have been investigating the long range transport and deposition of PFAS to the Arctic as part of EISPAC—a project jointly funded by UK’s NERC and Germany’s BMBF as part of the Changing Arctic Ocean program.
PFAS comprise of a very large number of chemicals that have myriad uses, including processing aids in the manufacture of fluoropolymers like Teflon, stain and water repellents in food packaging, textiles and clothing, as well as use in firefighting foams.
One particular group of these chemicals—the perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) – are extremely stable and do not degrade in the environment but can bioaccumulate and are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife.
PFAAs can enter the food chain due to their mobility in the environment and protein-binding characteristics. The longer carbon chain compounds of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) are generally associated with liver damage in mammals, with developmental exposure to PFOA adversely affecting fetal growth in humans and other mammals alike.
Dr. Jack Garnett discovered an unusual phenomenon whereby PFAAs present in the atmosphere are deposited with snowfall onto the surface of ice floes where they can eventually accumulate within the sea ice. Jack made this observation while taking ice and water samples as part of a scientific expedition under the Norwegian Nansen Legacy project (arvenetternansen.com/).
Undertaking both salinity and stable isotope analysis of snow, ice and seawater, he was able to determine what contribution of the water locked in snow and ice came from the atmosphere and what contribution arose from seawater. This way it was possible to assess the role that atmospheric transport from far away regions had on the presence of these chemicals in the ice.
The PFAA present in the atmospheric component was much higher than the seawater component, confirming that long range transport and deposition from the atmosphere is the main source of these chemicals to the remote Arctic rather than ‘recycling’ of older stocks of these pollutants present in ocean waters.
Furthermore, the team’s studies conducted in a sea ice facility at the University of East Anglia, found that the presence of brine (highly saline water) in young ice serves to enrich contaminants like PFAS in different layers within the sea ice. PFAS like other organic pollutants, generally reside in the brine rather than the solid ice matrix itself. As the ice ages the brine becomes more concentrated resulting in an enrichment of these pollutants into focused areas within the ice pack.
Prolonged periods of thaw, particularly when the ice floes are still covered in snow, results in the re-mobilization of the ice brine and also the interaction of snow meltwater with the brine. This can result in marked release of PFAAs into the underlying seawater.
Brine channels on the underside of ice serve as unique habitats for organisms at the base of the marine foodweb, and, as a consequence, they will be exposed to high levels of PFAAs released with brine drainage and meltwater from the thawing ice pack.
Prof Halsall a co-author of the recent Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program (AMAP) report on “POPs and Chemicals of Emerging Arctic Concern: The Influence of Climate Change,” says that we have an unfortunate situation where the Arctic Ocean is now dominated by one-year ice at the expense of multi-year ice due to global warming. Meaning that the majority of the ice in the Arctic has formed the previous winter, rather than over many years.
This one-year ice contains a lot of mobile brine that interacts with the overlying snowpack and can serve to concentrate pollutants like PFAS which are usually found at very low levels.
Unfortunately, with earlier and more erratic thaw events, this can lead to the rapid release of the stored chemicals resulting in high concentrations in the waters surrounding the ice floes.
It is only through this type of investigative science that we can understand the dynamics of pollutant behavior and identify key hazards, particularly those related to climate change.
In turn this can drive international legislation so that chemicals that exhibit this type of behavior are banned.
The slope of permafrost where an 810-foot section of the pipeline is secured has started to shift as it thaws, causing braces holding up the pipeline to twist and bend.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline, one of the world’s largest oil pipelines, spans 800-miles from Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez on Prince William Sound in the south.Edwin Remsburg / Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesJuly 11, 2021, 3:01 AM PDTBy David Hasemyer, Inside Climate News
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, one of the world’s largest oil pipelines, could be in danger.
Thawing permafrost threatens to undermine the supports holding up an elevated section of the pipeline, jeopardizing its structural integrity and raising the potential of an oil spill in a delicate and remote landscape.
The slope of permafrost where an 810-foot section of the pipeline is secured has started to shift as it thaws, causing several of the braces holding up the pipeline to twist and bend.
This appears to be the first instance that pipeline supports have been damaged by “slope creep” caused by thawing permafrost, records and interviews with officials involved with managing the pipeline show.
In response, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has approved the use of about 100 thermosyphons — tubes that suck heat out of permafrost — to keep the frozen slope in place and prevent further damage to the pipeline’s support structure.
“The implications of this speak to the pipeline’s integrity and the effect climate change is having on pipeline safety in general.”
While the use of these tubes is common along the pipeline’s expanse, available records show that they have never been previously used as a defensive safeguard once a slope has begun to slide.
“This is a wake-up call,” said Carl Weimer, a special projects adviser for Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Washington. “The implications of this speak to the pipeline’s integrity and the effect climate change is having on pipeline safety in general.”
Permafrost is ground that has remained completely frozen for at least two years straight and is found beneath nearly 85 percent of Alaska. In the last few decades, permafrost temperatures there have warmed as much as 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
In seeking permission in February 2020 to install the thermosyphons on the slope northwest of Fairbanks near the Dalton Highway in the central part of the state, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., which operates the pipeline, confirmed that thawing permafrost posed a threat.
“The purpose of this project is to protect the integrity of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (mainline) from permafrost degradation,” according to the company’s application.
Michelle Egan, a spokeswoman for Alyeska, an association of oil companies that includes a subsidiary of Hilcorp Energy Co., as well as ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, declined to talk about the condition of the weakened section of pipe or the extent of permafrost thawing.
Egan said that “permafrost changes were anticipated during the original design” of the 800-mile pipeline, which opened in 1977 and runs from Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez on Prince William Sound in the south.
There are about 124,000 thermosyphons arrayed along the path of the pipeline — a nod from its engineers to the importance of keeping the ground below it frozen. The tubes are bored from 15 to 70 feet into the permafrost in areas where warming might cause it to thaw. But those chillers only cool the permafrost directly below the pipeline, which holds the supports.
The new project, in which Alyeska is installing about 100 free-standing thermosyphons 40 to 60 feet into the ground, is required to keep a broader slope from collapsing or sliding and damaging the supports.
Construction began last month and is expected to take 120 days and will also include a three-foot layer of insulating wood chips atop the permafrost.
To avoid problems with the permafrost, 420 miles of the pipeline were built on an elevated support system that keeps the pipe about 6 feet above the ground. The frames that hold the pipeline, called vertical support members, look like a capital H with the pipeline resting on the cross stroke.
Tony Strupulis, the pipeline coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said there is no reason for panic — the support structures are not in immediate danger of collapse. But he added that the department remains “very mindful” about the implications of thawing permafrost for pipeline safety.
As the melting permafrost threatens pipeline supports and raises the potential of an oil spill, Alyeska says in its emergency response plans that cleaning up a spill could accelerate the thawing.
Alyeska’s plan to chill the permafrost with additional thermosyphons in the face of global warming, as Alaska heats up twice as fast as the global average, underscores an obvious irony: The oil industry must act to keep the permafrost frozen to maintain an infrastructure that allows it to extract more of the fossil fuels that cause the warming.
There have been 18 breaches of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the last 20 years, according to data from the Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).
Spills have ranged from less than one barrel to 6,800 barrels. In all, the pipeline has spilled 9,784 barrels of oil, resulting in $52.7 million in damages and costs, according to the PHMSA records.
Causes of the spills include breaks in corroded pipe to equipment failure and operator error. None of the spills recorded by PHMSA were attributed to permafrost thaw.
The extent of ecological damage from another spill would depend on the amount of oil spilled, how deep it saturated the soil and whether the plume reached water sources. But any harm from an oil spill would likely be greater than in most other landscapes because of the fragile nature of the Alaskan land and water.
Federal and Alaska state regulators do not have specific guidelines for addressing safety issues related to thawing permafrost. Instead, they rely on general rules that require pipeline operators to evaluate stress factors, such as earthquakes, vibration and thermal expansion and contraction.
“While there is no way to make transporting oil safe, the regulatory agencies need to be doing everything they can to protect from the potential harms,” Monsell said.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said its focus is on ensuring that operators maintain pipeline integrity by adhering to state-mandated inspections that follow industry safety standards.
“Pipeline subsidence, regardless of cause, should be addressed through a maintenance and inspection program,” spokeswoman Laura Achee said in an email. “DEC does not have guidelines that are specific to permafrost.”
Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., a pipeline consulting firm, said it wouldn’t be wise for pipeline operators to count on permafrost remaining solid in the same way as in the past.
Assessing pipelines to determine if years-old structural designs can withstand the changing conditions and accelerated rate of permafrost thaw is prudent, he said.
“Operators need to understand this new world being brought about by climate change,” he said. “What was true in the past may not be true today.”
Doug Goering, dean emeritus of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks College of Engineering and Mines, credits the Trans-Alaska Pipeline for its robust safety design.
Yet, he said thawing permafrost can pose considerable risk to the structural integrity of pipelines. “If the permafrost thaws, the ground loses its grip on the piling,” he said. “You can understand the consequences.”
By GABE CHERRY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN JUNE 27, 2021
Satellites reveal ocean microplastic fluctuation in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and releases from the Yangtze River in China.
An estimated eight million tons of plastic trash enters the ocean each year, and most of it is battered by sun and waves into microplastics—tiny flecks that can ride currents hundreds or thousands of miles from their point of entry. The bits can harm sea life and marine ecosystems, and they’re extremely difficult to track and clean up.
Now, University of Michigan researchers have developed a new way to spot ocean microplastics across the globe and track them over time, providing a day-by-day timeline of where they enter the water, how they move, and where they tend to collect. The approach relies on the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) and can give a global view or zoom in on small areas for a high-resolution picture of microplastic releases from a single location.
The technique is a major improvement over current tracking methods, which rely mainly on spotty reports from plankton trawlers that net microplastics along with their catch.
“We’re still early in the research process, but I hope this can be part of a fundamental change in how we track and manage microplastic pollution,” said Chris Ruf, the Frederick Bartman Collegiate Professor of Climate and Space Science at U-M, principal investigator of CYGNSS and senior author on a newly published paper on the work.
Season changes in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The team found that global microplastic concentrations tend to vary by season, peaking in the North Atlantic and Pacific during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months. June and July, for example, are the peak months for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a convergence zone in the North Pacific Ocean where microplastic collect in massive quantities. Concentrations in the Southern Hemisphere reach their peak during its summer months of January and February. Concentrations tend to be lower during the winter months, likely due to a combination of stronger currents that break up microplastic plumes and increased vertical mixing that drives them further beneath the water’s surface.
The data also showed several brief spikes in microplastic concentration at the mouth of the Yangtze River—long suspected to be a chief source.
“It’s one thing to suspect a source of microplastic pollution, but quite another to see it happening,” Ruf said. “The microplastics data that has been available in the past has been so sparse, just brief snapshots that aren’t repeatable.”
The researchers produced visualizations that show microplastic concentrations around the globe. Often, the areas of accumulation are due to prevailing local water currents and convergence zones, with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being the most extreme example.
“What makes the plumes from major river mouths noteworthy is that they are a source into the ocean, as opposed to places where the microplastics tend to accumulate,” Ruf said.
Ruf says the information could help organizations that clean up microplastics deploy ships and other resources more efficiently. The researchers are already in talks with Dutch cleanup organization The Ocean Cleanup on working together to validate the team’s initial findings. Single-point release data may also be useful to United Nations agency UNESCO, which has sponsored a task force to find new ways to track the release of microplastics into the world’s waters.
Hurricane-tracking satellites set their sights on plastic pollution
Developed by Ruf and U-M undergraduate Madeline C. Evans, the tracking method uses existing data from CYGNSS, a system of eight micro-satellites launched in 2016 to monitor weather near the heart of large storm systems and bolster predictions on their severity. Ruf leads the CYGNSS mission.
The key to the process is ocean surface roughness, which CYGNSS already measures using radar. The measurements have mainly been used to calculate wind speed near the eyes of hurricanes, but Ruf wondered whether they might have other uses as well.
“We’d been taking these radar measurements of surface roughness and using them to measure wind speed, and we knew that the presence of stuff in the water alters its responsiveness to the environment,” Ruf said. “So I got the idea of doing the whole thing backward, using changes in responsiveness to predict the presence of stuff in the water.”
Using independent wind speed measurements from NOAA, the team looked for places where the ocean seemed less rough than it should be given the wind speed. They then matched those areas up with actual observations from plankton trawlers and ocean current models that predict the migration of microplastic. They found a high correlation between the smoother areas and those with more microplastic.
Converging ocean currents
Ruf’s team believes the changes in ocean roughness may not be caused directly by the microplastics themselves, but instead by surfactants—a family of oily or soapy compounds that lower the surface tension on a liquid’s surface. Surfactants tend to accompany microplastics in the ocean, both because they’re often released along with microplastics and because they travel and collect in similar ways once they’re in the water.
“Areas of high microplastic concentration, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, exist because they’re located in convergence zones of ocean currents and eddies. The microplastics get transported by the motion of the water and end up collecting in one place,” Ruf said. “Surfactants behave in a similar way, and it’s very likely that they’re acting as sort of a tracer for the microplastics.”
The research team is currently testing this hypothesis, working with naval architecture and marine engineering assistant professor Yulin Pan to conduct experiments in a wave-generating tank in the Aaron Friedman Marine Hydrodynamics Lab.
“We can see the relationship between surface roughness and the presence of microplastics and surfactants, so the goal now is to understand the precise relationship between the three variables, as well as the reasons behind them,” Pan said. “The wave tank and its ultrasonic sensors enable us to focus on those relationships by taking measurements under very precisely monitored wave, surfactant and microplastic conditions.”
Reference: “Toward the Detection and Imaging of Ocean Microplastics With a Spaceborne Radar” by Madeline C. Evans and Christopher S. Ruf, 9 June 2021, IEEE Transactions of Geoscience and Remote Sensing. DOI: 10.1109/TGRS.2021.3081691
Local media report San Pedro Mixtepec Clean Beaches Committee, who found the female dolphin, said it had received blows all over its body and injuries to its fins as well as a broken jaw.Dailymail.co.uk: News, Sport, Showbiz, Celebrities from Daily MailPauseNext video0:42 / 2:01SettingsFull-screenRead More
Mexican authorities, among them the Federal Prosecution for the Environment Protection (PROFEPA) and the secretary of Environmental and Natural Resources along with the Sea University are investigating the case in order to discover the cause of the death of the mammal.
The striped dolphin was reportedly 1.57 metres (5.15 feet) long and weighed around 100 kilogrammes (220 lbs).
Authorities have now removed the dolphin’s body from the beach.
The striped dolphin inhabits temperate or tropical, off-shore waters and is found in abundance in the North and South Atlantic Oceans, including the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. +6
Mexican authorities, among them the Federal Prosecution for the Environment Protection (PROFEPA) are now investigating
More: Dolphin is found suffocated to death by a DIAPER that got caught in its teeth and throat while it swam off the coast of Mexico
A juvenile sea lion sick with a blood infection known as leptospirosis lays in an enclosure at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, U.S., May 8, 2021. (Photo/VCG)
Parts of the sea areas near the coast of California have been seriously polluted. Due to the long-term waste dumping, the ecological environment of the sea area has been seriously affected. One in five California adult sea lions have died from cancers, with pollutants such as pesticides playing a significant role.Previous
10-May-2021Soaring sea lion cancer linked to DDT dumping off California’s coastCGTN
A juvenile sea lion sick with a blood infection known as leptospirosis lays in an enclosure at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, May 08, 2021 in /CFP
Sea lions in California are facing a surge in cancer cases that are potentially linked to thousands of barrels of dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), a banned insecticide, that were dumped in the Pacific Ocean off the Southern California coast decades ago.
A research vessel from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego recently discovered and photographed over 27,000 barrels possibly containing the toxic substance DDT on the seafloor between Santa Catalina Island and the Los Angeles coast.
A Marine Mammal Center veterinarian staff takes care of a sick juvenile sea during an examination in Sausalito, California, May 8, 2021. /CFP
A recent study conducted by the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, has found that approximately one in five California adult sea lions have died from cancer developed from a herpes virus in sea lions.
Another study led by the same team showed that pollutants such as Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), man-made industrial chemicals, and DDT play a significant role as co-factors in the development of this cancer. This is particularly relevant to Southern California, where most of the sea lion population gathers each year to breed.
Veterinarian staff examine a sea lion cancer sufferer that was euthanized at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, May 8, 2021. /CFP
Marine mammals nurse their young and live relatively long lives, like humans. They accumulate toxins in their blubber and are sickened by the same kinds of viruses that affect humans.
Intern veterinarian Michelle Rivard performs an ultrasound on a sick juvenile sea lion at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, May 08, 2021. /CFP
“It is extraordinary, the level of pollutants in these animals in California. It is a big factor in why we’re seeing this level of cancer,” said Padraig Duignan, chief pathologist at the Marine Mammal Center and a co-author of the study.
“With all the dumping since the Second World War, right up to the 1970s, that’s a lot of stuff out there,” Duignan said. “These legacy chemicals haven’t broken down anything appreciable in intervening years, and nobody knows if they ever will. This is something that they’re going to have to be exposed to for who knows how long.”
Intern veterinarian Michelle Rivard (R) and resident veterinarian Megan Cabot (L) perform an ultrasound on a sea lion that was euthanized at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California after veterinarians found signs of cancer, May 8, 2021. /CFP
The Marine Mammal Center is the world’s largest marine mammal hospital. Since cancer in sea lions was first discovered in 1979, researchers have found that between 18-23 percent of adult sea lions admitted to the Center’s hospital have died of the fatal disease.
(With input from AP. All photos via CFP.)
(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at email@example.com.)
Tesla Inc. TSLA, -1.44% disclosed Wednesday that it received notice in April from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleging the electric vehicle company “failed to provide records demonstrating compliance” with National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants under the Clean Air Act of 1963. In a 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tesla said the allegations are related to the Act’s Surface Coating of Automobiles and Light-Duty Trucks regulations. The stock rose 0.3% in morning trading, after dropping 4.5% on Tuesday in the wake of what was seen as mixed first-quarter results. “Tesla has responded to all information requests from the EPA and refutes the allegations,” the company said in a statement. “While the outcome of this matter cannot be determined at this time, it is not currently expected to have a material adverse impact on our business.” In February, Tesla had disclosed that the EPA was reviewing compliance of its Fremont Factory with requirements under the Clean Air Act. The stock has shed 15.4% over the past three months, while the S&P 500 SPX, -0.09% has gained 10.8%
MICROPLASTICS can be thought of as litter that never, ever goes away. New research into this seemingly invisible pollution shows just how durable they can be as they go from land to sea to air and back again.
In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers suggest atmospheric microplastics — bits of fibers and fragments in the air — can re-enter the atmosphere, even if they’ve already settled on land or water.
Three striking findings are:
84 percent of atmospheric microplastics in the western U.S originate from road dust.
The greatest concentration of atmospheric microplastics is estimated to be over the ocean.
While Antarctica contributes no microplastic emissions, it’s still polluted by microplastics.
WHAT’S NEW — Co-author Natalie Mahowald is a Cornell University professor whose specialty is Earth and atmospheric science. While previous research shows microplastics can reach remote parts of Earth — far away from their origin — this study provides new and alarming data, Mahowald tells Inverse.
“Our paper suggests that not only are microplastics getting to remote regions, but they are being resuspended from the ocean, agricultural regions, or roads into the atmosphere,” Mahowald says.
Furthermore, Mahowald and colleagues found approximately 1 gigagram (Gg) of microplastic sits in the atmosphere over the western United States. For context, 1 gigagram equals 1,000,000 kilograms.
The study team found three sources that contribute to the pervasiveness of microplastics in the atmosphere above the western U.S.: roads, the ocean, and dust from agricultural production.
The largest contributor to microplastics was roads (84 percent)
The second-highest contributor was oceans (11 percent)
The final and least contributing source was agricultural dust (5 percent)
On average, the study suggests particles linger in the atmosphere for different periods of time, ranging anywhere from an hour to 6.5 days. This depends on the size and source of the microplastic.
HOW THEY DID IT — To measure microplastic abundance, the team sourced information collected by data stations throughout the western United States for 14 months.
Armed with this data, the scientists modified atmospheric models to determine where atmospheric microplastics were coming from, their time spent in the atmosphere, and where they accumulated above Earth’s surface.
They also examined the size of microplastics, dividing them up by big, medium, and small particles (though they used the medium-sized particles as their baseline for reference).
They included only microparticles that were bigger than 4μm (micrometers), as smaller particles can be harder to track and measure. Four micrometers is 0.004 millimeters.
For comparison, the head of a sewing needle ranges from half a millimeter to 1 millimeter, so microparticles really can be quite tiny.
Finally, the scientists applied their model to a global context to understand the bigger impact of microplastics in the atmosphere.
DIGGING INTO THE DETAILS — While previous research already found microplastics can enter Earth’s atmosphere, this data provides new insight into the range of sources contributing to the polluted spread.
“Our combination of model and data suggest that those microplastics may well come from not only road sources, but also agricultural dust and oceans,” Mahowald says.
Critically, roads may not specifically contribute to atmospheric microplastics. Instead, it’s more about plastic particles are being carried — through winds or other means — and being deposited on roads, including roads that are far from human cities.
Tires driving over these roads then break down plastic particles — which would otherwise be too big to ascend into the atmosphere — into finer microplastics, enabling them to be launched into the atmosphere.
However, we can’t discount the important role that oceans play in circulating microplastics, the study argues. “Most continents were net importers of plastics from the marine environment, underscoring the cumulative role of legacy pollution in the atmospheric burden of plastic,” the scientists write.
WHY IT MATTERS — Ultimately, the team found microplastics could wind up far from their original dumping site. The research suggests the greatest concentration of atmospheric plastics is above the ocean, while Antarctica was found to have its own microplastic pollution — despite being so far from the actual creation of microplastics.
“The idea that microplastics are being resuspended means that all the unmanaged plastics we are accidentally dumping into the ocean or on land could be ending up in other remote regions,” Mahowald says.
Furthermore, Mahowald’s research suggests microplastic pollution is increasing. And while recent research found microplastics in the placenta of unborn children, we still don’t really know how microplastics affect health.
“Given these preliminary findings, the accumulation and transport of microplastics in the natural environment may have negative and as yet unknown consequences for ecosystems and human health,” the study team writes.
WHAT’S NEXT — The researchers write that their study “leads to more questions than it definitively answers.”
Some of these questions have to do with constraints in the data. The study relies on data from the western U.S, which means that there’s a high degree of uncertainty about the application of these findings on a global scale. As the study authors put it, “plastics now spiral the globe.”
For example, the authors suggest that plastic is used more in road materials in Europe and Asia than in the U.S. — which could alter the degree of plastics entering the atmosphere from roads. The researchers also hypothesize that Africa and Asia are the largest global source of plastic, so further studies are required on these continents specifically.
Different agricultural practices around the globe — such as greater use of plastic mulch in China’s agricultural fields — could lead to a bigger release of microplastics into the atmosphere in those regions. Meanwhile, coastal areas may face a greater atmospheric concentration of microplastics from ocean spray. Changing ocean currents could also affect the distribution of microplastics.
Ultimately, the team argues that our “relative ignorance” should spur us to improve plastic waste management and technologies that can capture and remove plastics from the ocean.
Abstract: Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century. Recent work has highlighted the atmosphere’s role in transporting microplastics to remote locations’S. Allen et al., Nat. Geosci.12, 339 (2019) and J. Brahney, M. Hallerud, E. Heim, M. Hahnenberger, S. Sukumaran,Science368, 1257–1260(2020)]. Here, we use in situ observations of microplastic deposition combined with an atmospheric transport model and optimal estimation techniques to test hypotheses of the most likely sources of atmospheric plastic. Results suggest that atmospheric microplastics in the western United States are primarily derived from secondary re-emission sources including roads (84%), the ocean (11%), and agricultural soil dust (5%). Using our best estimate of plastic sources and modeled transport pathways, most continents were net importers of plastics from the marine environment, underscoring the cumulative role of legacy pollution in the atmospheric burden of plastic. This effort uses high-resolution spatial and temporal deposition data along with several hypothesized emission sources to constrain atmospheric plastic. Akin to global biogeochemical cycles, plastics now spiral around the globe with distinct atmospheric, oceanic, cryospheric, and terrestrial residence times. Though advancements have been made in the manufacture of biodegradable polymers, our data sug-gest that extant nonbiodegradable polymers will continue to cycle through the earth’s systems. Due to limited observations and understanding of the source processes, there remain large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics. Thus, we prioritize future research directions for understanding the plastic cycle.
Hundreds of residents in Manatee County, Florida, were ordered to evacuate their homes over Easter weekend as officials feared that a wastewater pond could collapse “at any time.” On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the area.
County officials said the pond, located at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant, had a “significant leak,” according to CBS affiliate WTSP-TV.The Manatee County Public Safety Department told people near the plant to evacuate due to an “imminent uncontrolled release of wastewater.”
As of Monday afternoon, the leaks have not been fixed, according to officials. Thermal imaging from a drone on Sunday night identified “a number of sites” in one concentrated area in the eastern wall of the pond where temperatures indicated that water was seeping through. The most visible breach continues to be the one at the southeast corner.
Manatee County Public Safety Department initially sent out emergency evacuation notices on Friday for those who were within half a mile of Piney Point, and by 11 a.m. Saturday, evacuation orders were extended to people within one mile north of the reservoir’s stacks of phosphogypsum — a fertilizer waste product — and those within half a mile to the south of the site. Surrounding stretches of highway were also closed to traffic.
Mandatory evacuations were extended an additional half mile west and one mile southwest of the site on Saturday evening. Manatee County Public Safety Department said that 316 households are within the full evacuation area.
Despite the mandatory evacuations for local residents, officials have not fully evacuated Manatee County Jail, which lies within the evacuation zone. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to CBS News on Sunday that out of more than 1,000 inmates, they will be moving 345 “to an undisclosed secure location.”
The move, the office said, is to “free up bed space” for the remaining 721 inmates on the upper level of the jail.
“For security purposes, we are not providing details right now about the transfer of inmates,” the office said. “Sheriff Rick Wells and staff are still in constant communication with officials on the situation, and are feeling better with the progress to drain the stack. In the event of a collapse we expect only about a foot of water making it onto jail property.”
Saur told reporters at a press conference on Monday afternoon that the inmates have been transported and “are safe.”
State Representative Michele Rayner-Goolsby tweeted that she has spoken to the sheriff and said he has “assured” her that “there is a plan in place to make sure inmates at the jail are protected and evacuated safely.”
On Monday morning, Manatee County schools announced that school bus transportation within the evacuation zone has been suspended. Students from six schools are impacted by the situation, according to the list of impacted buses.
At a press conference Sunday morning, DeSantis said officials are pumping out 33 million gallons of water a day from the pond, and that the water “is not radioactive,” although another official added that the water is “not water we want to see leaving the site.” The primary concern, DeSantis said, is the nutrient makeup of the water, which contains metals. Reports on water samples should be available in the coming days.
“We’re hoping that we can just continue to get the water out in an efficient way to prevent a catastrophic event,” DeSantis said.
Officials said at the meeting that the greatest threat for the time being is flooding. Even after days of pumping water out of reservoir, there are still roughly 3,450 million gallons of wastewater that could suddenly be unleashed.
If the reservoir were to fully collapse, one model shows that the area could see a “20-foot wall of water” within minutes, Hopes said.
Phosphogypsum is the “radioactive waste” left over from processing phosphate ore into a state that can be used for fertilizer, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
“In addition to high concentrations of radioactive materials, phosphogypsum and processed wastewater can also contain carcinogens and heavy toxic metals,” the center said in a statement on Saturday. “For every ton of phosphoric acid produced, the fertilizer industry creates 5 tons of radioactive phosphogypsum waste, which is stored in mountainous stacks hundreds of acres wide and hundreds of feet tall.”
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said in a statement Saturday that the “public must heed that notice to avoid harm.”
The water that is currently being pumped out by officials to avoid a full collapse is a mix of sea water from a local dredge project, storm water and rain runoff. The water has not been treated.
“The water meets water quality standards for marine waters with the exception of pH, total phosphorus, total nitrogen and total ammonia nitrogen,” the state said in a statement. “It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be a concern, nor is it expected to be toxic.”
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried wrote a letter to DeSantis on Saturday urging an emergency session of the Florida Cabinet to discuss the situation. She wrote that the leaking water is “contaminated, radioactive wastewater,” and noted that this leak is not the property’s first.
On Sunday, Hopes corroborated that issues with the Piney Point facility have persisted for decades. While the governor on Sunday blamed the situation on HRK Holdings, the company that owns the site, and said it will be held accountable for the incident, Hopes indicated that the latest leak is the result of officials not acting on past failures.
“It could have been resolved two decades ago,” Hopes said. “What I’ve seen in the past four days from the governor’s office is that all agencies and entities are now committed to a permanent resolution.”
Meanwhile, the Florida National Guard deployed two CH-47 helicopters on Sunday to place two pumps at the site to lower the water level. The pumps should be running at full capacity by Monday morning, Hopes said at a Sunday afternoon press conference.
Authorities noted that Manatee County water is safe to drink and there is no threat to Lake Manatee, which is the primary source of drinking water. Well water was also not affected.
Officials describe lead up to latest incident
Video of a Manatee County Commissioners meeting provided insight into what happened prior to the leak. On Thursday afternoon, Jeff Barath, a representative for HRK Holdings, appeared emotionally distressed while briefing the Manatee County Commissioners about the situation.
He said he immediately notified FDEP of his concerns.
“The water was changing around the seepage. We went into a very aggressive monitoring program,” he said, to find out where the seepage was coming from.
They discovered the south side of the stack system had “increased in conductivity” and that the acidity of the water, which is normally around a 4.6, had dropped to about a 3.5, which indicated an issue.
After a few days, the water chemistry had not improved and water flows were increasing from about 120 gallons a minute to more than 400 gallons per minute in less than 48 hours, Barath said. Last Saturday night, the flow rates increased to “rates that I could not even estimate to you,” he said.
Water was filling the stacks so quickly that the ground was starting to rise, Barath said. This “bulging” was temporarily stabilized but then extended hundreds of feet.
Barath submitted a report to the state on March 26, according to the state-run “Protecting Florida Together,” website, which was created by DeSantis to allow more transparency about state water issues.
“I was anticipating that the gypstack itself was destabilizing at a very rapid rate and recommended that we consider an emergency discharge,” he told commissioners. He said he feared that “overpressurizing” the system would result in “complete failure.”
“I’ve spent most of my days and nights constantly monitoring all aspects of this gypstack system and identifying failure points within it,” he said, noting that failure points were happening “constantly, I mean hourly.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said that it ordered the company to “take immediate action” to prevent further leaks. On March 30, the department said that “pipes at the facility are repaired” and controlled discharges were initiated to prevent any pressure buildup.
However, based on Barath’s testimony at the meeting, the situation was far from over. He concluded his address by saying they were doing “everything possible to prevent a true catastrophe.”
On Friday, another leak was detected in the south containment area of the facility. Despite overnight work to attempt to stop this and other leaks, Manatee Director of Public Safety Jake Saur said on Saturday that the situation was “escalating.”