Reagan Interior Secretary James Watt Dies, Pallbearers To Be A Black, A Woman, Two Jews And A Cripple

James Watt, the former secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan who no doubt resented coming up second on Google to the inventor of the steam engine, died yesterday in Arizona at the age of 85. Watt was notorious for his devotion to the principle that the best way to protect the natural environment was to make use of it so it wouldn’t be wasted on owls and caribou and other shiftless creatures that didn’t do a damn thing for the economy.

Watt was a rightwing fundamentalist who got his start in the environmental destruction game, as Wonkette’s own labor historian Erik Loomis reminds us, as “head of the loathsome Mountain States Legal Foundation,” the lobbying outfit funded by “fascist and beer capitalist” Joe Coors, who hated Big Government Overreach especially if it kept him and other Western rich guys from exploiting resources on federal land. There, Watt helped promote

the most astroturf movement of all time—the Sagebrush Rebellion, in which rich landowners and their employees started raising havoc in the West over government control of resources, which they were always fine with so long as the government served their interests. But with environmentalism a thing now, they had no use for competing interests and demanded the return of these lands to the states. In other words, Cliven Bundy and his followers are followers of James Watt. This is the kind of person Watt empowered.

Forget the great big New York Times obit of Watt, or at least supplement it with Loomis’s excellent, scathing obituary at Lawyers, Guns & Money, where you get a fuller sense of how Watt became the spiritual forbear of the “drill baby drill” crowd a couple decades later.


To be sure, the Times obit is hardly a love song, either, going straight to this story in the third and fourth paragraphs:

After taking office in 1981, Mr. Watt was asked at a hearing of the House Interior Committee if he favored preserving wilderness areas for future generations. […]

Mr. Watt’s response startled some committee members, but seemed to explain his intention to ease restrictions on the use of millions of acres of public lands. “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns,” he said.

Watt later explained that he’d only been joking, in the way that Republicans like to “joke” about using Second Amendment solutions, with votes and all that.

He believed the Interior Department had gone too far in indulging “environmental extremists,” and griped that environmental regulation “is centralized planning and control of society” like in communist Roosha. Watt considered it his mission to reorient the agency to its true purpose, helping extractive businesses get at all the neat stuff that God put in the Earth so humans could burn it and make stuff out of it. This old Newsweek cover sums it up nicely:

Way better illustration than some damn AI art program, that’s for sure.

Watt was an ideological precursor to Donald Trump’s first Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, albeit minus the open corruption, the 24/7 security detail, or the personal Secure Phone Booth in his office.

Unfortunately, Watt’s 33-month tenure at Interior was also a hell of a lot like what we see in politics now: His anti-environmental policies were full on garbage, and he should have been shitcanned for them, but instead his departure came after a series of idiotic things that had little to do with the substance of his maladministration. For instance there was his silly refusal in 1983 to let the Beach Boys (and the Grass Roots — “la la la la la let’s live for today“) perform for the Fourth of July on the National Mall. The bands had done the concerts without incident from 1980 through 1982, but Watt fretted that Rock and/or Roll would attract the “wrong element” and lead to crime. So instead, he booked Wayne Newton, who at the time was unironically kitschy, not nostalgically cool-kitschy like he is today. (Danke schoen,Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. [Hat tip to alert Wonkette operative Granny Sprinkle])

Watt insulted Native Americans, too, saying in an interview, “If you want an example of the failure of socialism, don’t go to Russia, come to America and go to the Indian reservations.” Not a great look for a guy whose agency oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but Watt wanted to eliminate that, too, and make Native Americans get off the government gravy train for their own good.

Ultimately Watt was pressured to leave office not primarily because he sought to pave paradise, but for a stupid “look at me mock diversity” joke where he said, of an Interior Department panel on coal leasing, “We have every mixture you can have. I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.” Three weeks later, he was out, not because anyone in the Reagan White House was really bothered, but because Watt had become too embarrassing to keep around. And with the loud embarrassing guy gone, Reagan’s administration went right on weakening environmental protections, but with less public attention.

Finally, we’ll close with this wonderful ephemera Dr. Loomis found in the papers of the Hoedad Reforestation Cooperative, archived at the University of Oregon. He’s been saving it for this very occasion. (The Hoedads were a bunch of hippie environmentalist tree-planters, Crom bless them, and far more worthy of everyone’s time than James goddamn Watt.) Says Loomis, “They did not like James Watt.” Guess not!

Crude cartoon drawing of James Watt fellating a dead bear, with the title 'Watt Blows Dead Bears' and a fake news story saying Watt had been photographed in the act of blowing the bear in Yellowstone National Park

And now Watt is no doubt sharing stories with Pat Robertson in Hell about how mean the liberals are. Haha, we joke, there is no afterlife. But we would suggest that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recognize Watt by naming a parking lot in his memory. Or possibly a tree museum, where they charge the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em.

youtu.be

Speaking of matters environmental, don’t forget to join us this afternoon tomorrow — Saturday, June 10 — for the fourth meeting of our Wonkette Book Club! We’re reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2020 climate novel The Ministry for the Future. More on the book club and this week’s reading (Chapters 51 through 69, nice) here! As ever, please drop by even if you haven’t finished (or even started) the reading, because we’re all living in the world James Watt and Ronald Reagan and their cronies built, and we’ve been having some excellent discussions of the book and the climate crisis.

Update: Because of IndictmentPalooza, we’re rescheduling the Book Club for Saturday, so hooray, more time to read, unless there’s a nuclear war and your glasses break. That would not be fair!

[AP / Lawyers, Guns, Money / University of Oregon / NYT]

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A quarter of Americans live with polluted air, with people of color and those in Western states disproportionately affected, report says | CNN



CNN
— 

About 1 in 4 people in the United States – more than 119 million residents – live with air pollution that can hurt their health and shorten their lives, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. People of color are disproportionately affected, as are residents of Western cities.

Since President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, emissions of outdoor air pollutants have fallen 78%, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. But Wednesday’s 2023 State of the Air report, which focuses on ozone and particle pollution, shows that millions put their health on the line every time they step outside.

To capture pollution levels at the county level, researchers analyzed data collected by the EPA’s Air Quality System, a repository of ambient air quality data from more than 10,000 monitors. They characterized the hourly average ozone concentration and the 24-hour average particle pollution concentration for 2019-21 at each monitoring site and factored in year-round pollution information from the EPA.

There were significant improvements in some areas. Generally, 17.6 million fewer people were breathing unhealthy air than in last year’s report, due largely to falling levels of ozone in some regions.

Ozone pollution is the main ingredient in smog. It comes from cars, power plants and refineries. Exposure to ozone can immediately exacerbate asthma symptoms, and people with long-term exposure to higher levels face a significantly higher risk of death from respiratory diseases than those who live with cleaner air.

Around 25% more counties got an A grade in the report for lower levels of ozone pollution. Some of that improvement can be attributed to the Clean Air Act, according to Katherine Pruitt, author of the report and the American Lung Association’s national senior director for policy.

Emission controls have helped, she said, as has the country’s continuing move away from its reliance on coal for its energy needs. Even something simple as the increase in the number of people who work from home has played a role.

“The Biden administration has set themselves a good, strong to do list of things that will help with environmental justice and climate protection,” Pruitt said. “They’re moving kind of slow, though. So we’d like them to pick up the pace.”

Despite the progress, not everyone was lucky enough to live in a county with good ozone levels. More than 100 million people live in counties that get an F for ozone smog, the report says.

Western and Southwestern cities are the most ozone-polluted, with 10 of the 25 most-polluted cities in California. New York, Chicago and Hartford, Connecticut, were the only three on that list east of the Mississippi River.

The five metropolitan areas with the worst ozone pollution are Los Angeles-Long Beach, California; Visalia, California; Bakersfield, California; Fresno-Madera-Hanford, California; and Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona.

Particle pollution, the other form of pollution tracked in the report, still seems to be a significant issue for the US.

Often hard to see, particle pollution is a mix of solid and liquid droplets that may come in the form of dirt, dust, soot or smoke. Coal- and natural gas-fired power plants create it, as do cars, agriculture, unpaved roads, construction sites and wildfires.

Particle pollution is so tiny – 1/20th of a width of a human hair – that it can travel past your body’s usual defenses.

Instead of being carried out when you exhale, it can get stuck in your lungs or go into your bloodstream. The particles cause irritation and inflammation and may lead to respiratory problems. Exposure can cause cancer, stroke or heart attack; it could also aggravate asthma, and it has even been associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety, studies show.

The new report says the number of people living in counties with failing grades for daily spikes of particle pollution was the highest it has been in a decade. Nearly 64 million live with these kind of unhealthy spikes in counties that get failing grades.

One driver of the high amounts of particle pollution are the wildfires that have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres. In 2021 alone, there were 14,407 fires, many in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. There used to be a wildfire season, experts say, but now they happen year-round.

Those fires are why the regions with the highest concentrations of air pollution are largely in the West.

When the American Lung Association started producing its report in 2004, 106 counties in 30 states got failing grades for daily spikes in particle pollution. Fewer than half were in eight states west of the Rocky Mountains. Today, 111 counties in 19 states got Fs for spikes in particle pollution, and all but eight counties are in the West, the report says.

Urban centers in the Rust Belt and the industrialized East had gotten the most failing grades in the early 2000s, but many have cleaned up and now get passing grades.

Bakersfield, California, displaced Fresno as the metropolitan area with the worst short-term particle pollution, but Fresno did not suddenly develop cleaner air. That city still had the most-polluted label for year-round particle pollution, tied with Visalia, in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.

Los Angeles is still the city with the worst ozone pollution, according to the report, as it has been for all but one of the years included in the report.

California has some of the more progressive environmental legislation in the country, but the climate crisis has not been kind to the state, said Tarik Benmarhnia, an air pollution and wildfire researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who did not work on the new report.

“All these cities like Bakersfield and Visalia are in a valley near the forests that are seeing big fires. There’s also intense agricultural and industrial work there, so they unfortunately have all the worst conditions for air pollution,” Benmarhnia said.

There are some newcomers to the list of the 25 areas with the most particle pollution, including Denver and Fargo, North Dakota. Reno, Nevada; Yakima and Spokane, Washington; and Boise, Idaho; all made the worst list this year.

San Luis Obispo, California; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle and Bellingham, Washington; all moved off the list of worst 25 cities.

Residents in the cities ranked worst for particle pollution are living with more of it, the report says. In the top 25 cities with the worst air, the average number of days residents were exposed to high levels of fine particle pollution increased to a weighted average of 18.3, up from 16.5 in last year’s report.

East of the Mississippi, Pittsburgh and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were the two worst metropolitan areas in the country, posting more days high in fine particle pollution in this year’s report.

Not everyone experiences pollution the same way in the US. Regardless of the region, communities of color bear the brunt of the problem.

Specifically, although people of color make up 41% of the overall US population, they are 54% of the nearly 120 million people living in counties with at least one failing grade for unhealthy air. And in the counties with the worst air quality, 72% of the 18 million residents are people of color, the report said.

Other research has also shown this trend. On maps that lay out areas with high levels of air pollution and where communities were redlined – areas where Black people were forced to live – they line up perfectly, Pruitt said.

“Then, the other aspect is, when you have a community of color that is a voluntary community, people aren’t forced to live there, those are communities that tend to have less of a voice, so decision makers place polluting sources in those communities because there’s not as much howling by people with power when they do. So those communities get the highways; they get the landfills; they get the fence lines,” she said.

There’s a myth that only poor communities live with disproportionate pollution levels, says Chris Tessum, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of the University of Illinois. Tessum, who was not involved in the new report, says race really is the determining factor.

“The thinking is that people with more money will buy better property, which has lower air pollution and that’s just the way of the world or whatever, but that’s just kind of emphatically not, not true,” he said.

Communities need to play a key role in making decisions to help clean air, Tessum said.

“People that have the power will use that power to benefit themselves and not the people that have been historically overburdened,” he said.

The new report says government and residents can make a difference. One suggestion is to leverage Inflation Reduction Act funding to help reduce emissions at ports and to invest in zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles and in infrastructure that would improve air quality monitoring.

States can also use the Clean Air Act authority to adopt the California zero-emissions standards for cars and trucks, the report says.

At the federal level, agencies must finalize stronger limits on air pollution to truly protect public health and advance environmental justice, the report says, including standards to move the country toward zero-emissions vehicles. The EPA also has to set stronger national standards for particle pollution and ozone, the researchers say.

Pruitt said she knows firsthand how better policies can work. She said growing up before the Clean Air Act, pollution was so high that she could see it every time she stepped outside. Today, the pollution is not nearly as visible.

“I’m in my mid-60s, and of course, air pollution was very tangible when I was young, but these days, thank goodness it isn’t. Most people don’t see it,” she said. Unless a person has a lung condition, they may not even feel it.

But just because you can’t see it or feel it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Pruitt encourages people to remember that no level of pollution is safe. The World Health Organization estimates that the combined effects of ambient air pollution and household air pollution are associated with 6.7 million premature deaths annually.

“People don’t really recognize that what they’re breathing is impacting their health,” Pruitt said.

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How to reduce PFAS in your drinking water, according to experts | CNN

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CNN
— 

In the next three years, drinking water in the United States may be a bit safer from potentially toxic chemicals that have been detected in the blood of 98% of Americans.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS are a family of thousands of man-made chemicals that do not break down easily in the environment. A number of PFAS have been linked to serious health problems, including cancer, fertility issues, high cholesterol, hormone disruption, liver damage, obesity and thyroid disease.

The US Environmental Protection Agency proposed on Tuesday stringent new limits on levels of six PFAS chemicals in public water systems. Under the proposed rule, public systems that provide water to at least 15 service connections or 25 people will have three years to implement testing procedures, begin notifying the public about PFAS levels, and reduce levels if above the new standard, the EPA said.

Two of the most well-studied and potentially toxic chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, cannot exceed 4 parts per trillion in drinking water, compared with a previous health advisory of 70 parts per trillion, the EPA said.

Another four chemicals — PFNA, PFHxS, PFBS and GenX — will be subject to a hazard index calculation to determine whether the levels of these PFAS pose a potential risk. The calculation is “a tool the EPA uses to address the cumulative risks from all four of those chemicals,” said Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a consumer organization that monitors exposure to PFAS and other chemicals.

“The EPA action is a really important and historic step forward,” Benesh said. “While the proposed regulations only address a few PFAS, they are important marker chemicals. I think requiring water systems to test and treat for these six will actually do a lot to address other PFAS that are in the water as well.”

For people who are concerned about PFAS exposure, three years or so is a long time. What can consumers do now to limit the levels of PFAS in their drinking water?

First, look up levels of PFAS in your local public water system, suggested David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. The advocacy nonprofit has created a national tap water database searchable by zip code that lists PFAS and other concerning chemicals, as well as a national map that illustrates where PFAS has been detected in the US.

However, not all water utilities currently test for pollutants, and many rural residents rely on wells for water. Anyone who wants to personally test their water can purchase a test online or from a certified lab, Andrews said.

“The most important thing is to ensure the testing method can detect down to at least four parts per trillion or lower of PFAS,” he said. “There are a large number of labs across the country certified to test to that level, so there are a lot of options available.”

If levels are concerning, consumers can purchase a water filter for their tap. NSF, formerly the National Sanitation Foundation, has a list of recommended filters.

“The water filters that are most effective for PFAS are reverse osmosis filters, which are more expensive, about in the $200 range,” Andrews said. Reverse osmosis filters can remove a wide range of contaminants, including dissolved solids, by forcing water through various filters.

“Granular activated carbon filters are more common and less expensive but not quite as effective or consistent for PFAS,” he said, “although they too can remove a large number of other contaminants.”

Reverse osmosis systems use both carbon-based filters and reverse osmosis membranes, Andrews explained. Water passes through the carbon filter before entering the membrane.

“The important part is that you have to keep changing those filters,” he said. “If you don’t change that filter, and it becomes saturated, the levels of PFAS in the filtered water can actually be above the levels in the tap water.”

Carbon filters are typically replaced every six months, “while the reverse osmosis filter is replaced on a five-year time frame,” he added. “The cost is relatively comparable over their lifetime.”

Another positive: Many of the filters that work for PFAS also filter other contaminants in water, Andrews said.

Drinking water is not the only way PFAS enters the bloodstream. Thousands of varieties of PFAS are used in many of the products we purchase, including nonstick cookware, infection-resistant surgical gowns and drapes, mobile phones, semiconductors, commercial aircraft, and low-emissions vehicles.

The chemicals are also used to make carpeting, clothing, furniture, and food packaging resistant to stains, water and grease damage. Once treated, the report said, textiles emit PFAS over the course of their lifetimes, escaping into the air and groundwater in homes and communities.

Made from a chain of linked carbon and fluorine atoms that do not readily degrade in the environment, PFAS are known as “forever chemicals.” Due to their long half life in the human body, it can take some PFAS years to completely leave the body, according to a 2022 report by the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

“Some of these chemicals have half-lives in the range of five years,” National Academies committee member Jane Hoppin, an environmental epidemiologist and director of the Center for Human Health and the Environment at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, told CNN previously.

“Let’s say you have 10 nanograms of PFAS in your body right now. Even with no additional exposure, five years from now you would still have 5 nanograms.

“Five years later, you would have 2.5 and then five years after that, you’d have one 1.25 nanograms,” she continued. “It would be about 25 years before all the PFAS leave your body.”

The 2022 National Academies report set “nanogram” levels of concern and encouraged clinicians to conduct blood tests on patients who are worried about exposure or who are at high risk. (A nanogram is equivalent to one-billionth of a gram.)

People in “vulnerable life stages” — such as during fetal development in pregnancy, early childhood and old age — are at high risk, the report said. So are firefighters, workers in fluorochemical manufacturing plants, and those who live near commercial airports, military bases, landfills, incinerators, wastewater treatment plants and farms where contaminated sewage sludge is used.

The PFAS-REACH (Research, Education, and Action for Community Health) project, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, gives the following advice on how to avoid PFAS at home and in products:

  • Stay away from stain-resistant carpets and upholstery, and don’t use waterproofing sprays.
  • Look for the ingredient polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, or other “fluoro” ingredients on product labels.
  • Avoid nonstick cookware. Instead use cast-iron, stainless steel, glass or enamel products.
  • Boycott takeout containers and other food packaging. Instead cook at home and eat more fresh foods.
  • Don’t eat microwave popcorn or greasy foods wrapped in paper.
  • Choose uncoated nylon or silk dental floss or one that is coated in natural wax.

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After a train derailment, Ohio residents are living the plot of a movie they helped make | CNN



CNN
— 

When Ben Ratner’s family signed up in 2021 to be extras in the movie “White Noise,” they thought it would be a fun distraction from their day-to-day life in blue-collar East Palestine, Ohio.

Ratner, 37, is in a traffic jam scene, sitting in a line of cars trying to evacuate after a freight train collided with a tanker truck, triggering an explosion that fills the air with dangerous toxins. In another scene, his father wears a trench coat and hat while people walk across an overpass to get out of town. Directors told the group they wanted them to look “forlorn and downtrodden” as they escape the environmental disaster.

The 2022 movie was shot around Ohio and is based on a novel by Don DeLillo. The book was published in 1985, shortly after a chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, that killed nearly 4,000 people. The book and film follow the fictional Gladney family – a couple and their four kids – as they flee an “airborne toxic event” and then return home and try to resume their normal lives.

Ratner tried to rewatch the movie a few days ago and found that he couldn’t finish it.

“All of a sudden, it hit too close to home,” he said.

Ratner and his family – his wife, Lindsay, and their kids, Lilly, Izzy, Simon and Brodie – are living the fiction they helped bring to the screen.

Officials ordered them to evacuate their home last week, a day after a Norfolk Southern train carrying 20 cars of hazardous materials slid off the rails and caught fire, threatening to explode. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the incident.

“The first half of the movie is all almost exactly what’s going on here,” Ratner said Wednesday, four days into their evacuation.

In a way, the movie has provided a point of grim humor about the situation facing the residents of East Palestine – the joke no one wanted to make.

“Everybody’s been talking about that,” Ratner said of his friends and neighbors who are keeping in close touch through the crisis. “I actually made a meme where I superimposed my face on the poster and sent it to my friends.”

In the 2022 film

Scholars who study DeLillo’s work say they are not surprised by the collision of life and art. His work is often described as prescient, said Jesse Kavadlo, an English professor at Maryville University in St. Louis and president of the Don DeLillo Society.

“The terrible spill now is, of course, a coincidence. But it plays in our minds like life imitating art, which was imitating life, and on and on, because, as DeLillo suggests in ‘White Noise’ as well, we have unfortunately become too acquainted with the mediated language and enactment of disaster,” Kavadlo said.

The night of February 3, Ratner was watching his daughter’s basketball game at the local high school when the crash happened. He didn’t hear it over the noise of the game, but when they walked out of the building, he could see the massive blaze. He shot a few seconds of video on his cell phone.

His family returned to their house, which sits less than a mile from the crash site. Throughout the night, he said, they heard sirens but got little information. “We weren’t sure exactly what the danger was.”

While his family slept, he stayed up, nervously watching the fire and the news.

The next morning, activity around the site had picked up. “There was a lot of commotion, helicopters and people hightailing it out of town, and it was it was a little intense,” he said.

His wife and kids headed to stay with his wife’s parents, who live about 2 miles from the crash site. Ratner went to work running the coffee shop he and his wife own, LiB’s Market, in nearby Salem.

By that afternoon, an official alert warned that people needed to move even farther, beyond a 2-mile radius. Roughly half of the town’s 4,800 residents had to evacuate.

A friend offered to let them stay in their pool house. They later moved to another friend’s house next to their café.

School was canceled for the week. They got their dog out of the house, but they had to leave the pet turtle behind.

For now, they’re keeping their distance. But even after they go back, they have to decide whether they’ll stay.

East Palestine is in an economically depressed area, Ratner said, but it had been on a rebound. He and his wife had been considering opening another café there, but now they’re worried that plan is in jeopardy.

“That’s where we’ve been raising our kids, finishing college, buying a business, and that’s been our place,” he said. “In the future, are we going to have to sell the house? Is it worth any money at this point?”

Five of the tankers on the train that overturned last week were carrying liquid vinyl chloride, which is extremely combustible. Last Sunday, they became unstable and threatened to explode. First responders and emergency workers had to vent the tankers, spill the vinyl chloride into a trench, and then burn it off before it turned the train into a bomb. Authorities feared that an explosion could send shrapnel up to a mile away.

But that didn’t happen. The controlled burn worked and the evacuation order for East Palestine residents was officially lifted Wednesday after real-time air and water monitoring did not find any contaminant levels above screening limits.

“All of the readings we’ve been recording in the community have been at normal concentrations, normal backgrounds, which you find in almost any community,” James Justice, a representative of the US Environmental Protection Agency, said at a briefing Wednesday.

Support team members prepared to assess remaining hazards in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 7.

Although authorities have assured the residents that any immediate danger has passed, some residents have yet to return home. Ratner said they’re worried about longer-term risks that environmental officials are only beginning to assess.

Real-time air readings, which use handheld instruments to broadly screen for classes of contaminants like volatile organic compounds, showed that the air quality near the site was within normal limits.

The decision to lift the evacuation order was based on analysis of air monitoring data, according to Charles Rodriguez, community involvement coordinator for the EPA’s Region 5 office.

Up to this point, officials have been looking for large immediate threats: explosions or chemical levels that could make someone acutely ill.

“Under this phase, it’s been the emergency response,” Kurt Kohler of the Ohio EPA’s Office of Emergency Response said Wednesday. “As you see the emergency services go back home, off-site, Ohio EPA is going to remain involved through our other divisions that oversee the long-term cleanup of these kinds of spills.”

The cleanup and monitoring of the site, he said, could take years.

Although the explosion risk is past, Ratner said, people who live in East Palestine want to know about the chemical threats that might linger.

Fish and frogs have died in local streams. People have reported dead chickens and shared photos of dead dogs and foxes on social media. They say they smell chemical odors around town.

When asked at Wednesday’s briefing about exactly what spilled, representatives from Norfolk Southern listed butyl acrylate, vinyl chloride and a small amount of non-hazardous lube oil.

“Butyl acrylate is a lot of what we’re gathering information on,” said Scott Deutsch, a regional manager of hazardous materials at Norfolk Southern.

Butyl acrylate is a clear, colorless liquid with a strong, fruity odor that’s used to make plastics and paint. It’s possible to inhale it, ingest it or absorb it through the skin. It irritates the eyes, skin and lungs and may cause shortness of breath, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Repeated exposure can lead to lung damage.

Vinyl chloride, which is used to make PVC pipes, can cause dizziness, sleepiness and headaches. It has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer in the liver, brain, lungs and blood.

Although butyl acrylate easily mixes with water and will move quickly through the environment, it isn’t especially toxic to humans, said Richard Peltier, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

“Vinyl chloride, however, has a specific and important risk in that is contains a bunch of chlorine molecules, which can form some really awful combustion byproducts,” Peltier said. “These are often very toxic and often very persistent in the environment.”

Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed February 3 were still on fire the next day.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern acknowledged but did not respond to CNN’s request for more information on how much of these chemicals spilled into the soil and water.

The Ohio EPA says it’s not sure yet, either.

“Initially, with most environmental spills, it is difficult to determine the exact amount of material that has been released into the air, water, and soil. The assessment phase that will occur after the emergency is over will help to determine that information,” James Lee, media relations manager for the Ohio EPA, wrote in an email to CNN.

Lee said that after his agency has assessed the site, it will work on a remediation plan.

Vinyl chloride is unstable and boils and evaporates at room temperature, giving it a very short lifespan in the environment, said Dana Barr, a professor of environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“If you had a very small amount of vinyl chloride that was present in an area, it would evaporate within minutes to hours at the longest,” she said.

“But the problem they’re facing here is that it’s not just a small amount, and so if they can’t contain what gets into the water or what gets into the soil, they may have this continuous off-gassing of vinyl chloride that has gotten into these areas,” Barr said.

“I probably would be more concerned about the chemicals in the air over the course of the next month.”

State officials said they would continue to monitor the site for exactly that reason. They are also continuing to try to dig and remove contaminated soil.

“Right now, we have a system set up. As the data comes, it is distributed to a network of people to look at both on an immediate-phase – ‘Hey, is there anything really alarming to look at’ – and those smaller numbers that really matter to long-term health,” Kohler said at Wednesday’s briefing.

He said the local health department would test residents’ wells to make sure their drinking water is safe. Officials are also offering to test the air in residents’ homes before they come back.

Norfolk Southern is funding a phone line for residents to speak to a toxicologist with the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, an environmental consulting firm.

No one is quite sure whether to trust the help, though, since it’s coming mostly from the company behind the spill. Some residents have already filed a class-action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern.

“We’re definitely signing up for the air testing of the home before we get in there,” Ratner said.

The first trains to pass since the accident started rolling through again midweek, Ratner said. The roar of the trains, a sound he used to tune out, is now jarring.

Even the sounds of loud trucks are “off-putting,” he said.

Don Cheadle, left, and Adam Driver star in

Ratner said it was fun to be part of a disaster movie – a stylized, darkly comedic Netflix streamer starring Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig and Don Cheadle.

In real life, the situation has been gutting.

“Those are great actors, but it was hard to see it as a put-on,” Ratner said.

He shares the sentiments of Lenny Glavan, a local tattoo artist, who wrote a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw on Tuesday to express the town’s anger and frustration over the accident.

“You just ripped from us our small-town motto ‘A place you want to be,’ ” Glavan wrote.

“It may not be beach-front property, it may not even have the highest paying jobs, or much else to offer, but in my experiences in life, the place I and most people want to be is when you need a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to pray with, or a place to call home East Palestine has always been that place to want to be,” he said in his note, which was publicly posted on Facebook.

“With the events in which have occurred, the railroad that gave this small town life has now taken the life, the heartbeat, the unity and that security that families or individuals long for in this wild world away … possibly indefinitely.”

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Climate change is contributing to the rise of superbugs, new UN report says | CNN



CNN
— 

Climate change and antimicrobial resistance are two of the greatest threats to global health, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

The report, titled “Bracing for Superbugs,” highlights the role of climate change and other environmental factors contributing to the rise of antimicrobial resistance. It was announced Tuesday at the Sixth Meeting of the Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance in Barbados.

Antimicrobial resistance or AMR happens when germs such as bacteria, viruses and fungi develop the ability to defeat the medications designed to kill them.

“The development and spread of AMR means that antimicrobials used to prevent and treat infections in humans, animals and plants might turn ineffective, with modern medicine no longer able to treat even mild infections,” the UN Environment Programme said in a news release.

Roughly 5 million deaths worldwide were associated with antimicrobial resistance in 2019, and the annual toll is expected to increase to 10 million by 2050 if steps aren’t taken to stop the spread of antimicrobial resistance, according to the report.

In the US, there are nearly 3 million antimicrobial-resistant infections each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Antimicrobials are commonly used in cleaning products, plant pesticides and medications to kill and prevent the spread of germs among people, animals and crops.

Drug resistance can develop naturally, but experts say the overuse of antimicrobials in people, animals and food production has accelerated the process. The microorganisms that survive these chemicals are stronger and more powerful, and they can spread their drug-resistant genes to germs that have never been exposed to antimicrobials.

The focus so far has largely been on excessive antimicrobial use, but experts say there is growing evidence that environmental factors play a significant role in the development, transmission and spread of antimicrobial resistance.

“Climate change, pollution, changes in our weather patterns, more rainfall, more closely packed, dense cities and urban areas – all of this facilitates the spread of antibiotic resistance. And I am certain that this is only going to go up with time unless we take relatively drastic measures to curb this,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious diseases specialist at Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved with the new UN report.

The climate crisis worsens antimicrobial resistance in several ways. Research has shown that increased temperatures increase both the rate of bacterial growth and the rate of the spread of antibiotic-resistant genes between microorganisms.

“As we get a more extreme climate, especially as it warms, the gradients that drive the evolution of resistance will actually accelerate. So, by curbing temperature rises and reducing the extremity of events, we can actually then fundamentally curb the probability of evolving new resistance,” Dr. David Graham, a professor of ecosystems engineering at Newcastle University and one of the UN report’s authors, said at a news conference ahead of the report’s release.

Experts also say severe flooding as a result of climate change can lead to conditions of overcrowding, poor sanitation and increased pollution, which are known to increase infection rates and antimicrobial resistance as human waste, heavy metals and other pollutants in water create favorable conditions for bugs to develop resistance.

“The same drivers that cause environmental degradation are worsening the antimicrobial resistance problem. The impacts of antimicrobial resistance could destroy our health and food systems,” Inger Andersen, the UN Environment Programme’s executive director, said at the news conference.

Environmental pressures are creating bugs that thrive in the human body, which experts say is unusual for some species.

“There’s one hypothesis from a prominent mycologist who suggests that the reason the body’s temperature is 98.6 is because that is the temperature where fungi can’t grow that well. And so, now we’re seeing Candida auris and some of the other new microbes that have come up that really grow quite well – even at temperatures of 98.6 in the human body. And so I think climate change, really selecting for these organisms to adapt to a warmer climate, is going to increase the odds that there’s infection in humans,” Roberts said.

Such opportunistic infections jeopardize medical advancements like joint replacements, organ transplants and chemotherapy – procedures in which patients have a significant risk of infection and require effective antibiotics.

Drug-resistant infections can make treatment difficult or even impossible. Roberts says that resorting to “last-ditch treatments” is “never a good scenario from the patient level because there are reasons we don’t use them up front,” such as organ toxicity and failure.

“When somebody does present with a drug-resistant bacteria or fungus and we really need to rely on one of these last-line antibiotics, it’s usually a challenge to treat from the outset. And so the patients really don’t do as well as a result,” he said. “In rare circumstances, we run out of options entirely, and in that case, there’s really nothing we can do. Fortunately, those cases remain quite rare, but I am certain that with this growing antibiotic resistance problem, we’ll see these increasing frequency over time.”

Experts say that both climate change and antimicrobial resistance have been worsened by and can be improved by human actions. One critical step is to limit antibiotic overuse and misuse.

“Antibiotics and antifungals do not work on viruses, such as colds and the flu. These drugs save lives. But, anytime they are used, they can lead to side effects and antimicrobial resistance,” the UN report’s authors wrote.

The authors also emphasize that the health of people, animals, plants and the environment are closely linked and interdependent, and they call on governments to identify policies to limit antibiotic use in agriculture and reduce environmental pollution.

Finally, experts say, steps to reduce climate change are steps to limit antimicrobial resistance.

“Whatever we can do on an individual level to kind of reduce the impact of climate change, really, that’s kind of only worsening this problem, as well as pollution and urbanization and in dense, crowded areas. Although I know from the individual level that’s a hard thing to change,” Roberts said.

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Pandemic fueled alcohol abuse, especially among women, but there are treatment options | CNN

Editor’s Note: In the final two episodes of “This Is Life With Lisa Ling,” the series explores alcoholism in America (at 9 p.m. ET Sunday) and interracial marriages (at 10 p.m. ET Sunday).



CNN
— 

Brook was 34 years old when her use of alcohol escalated, a way of coping with a breast cancer diagnosis.

“I just decided I’m not gonna go through this straight,” she told Lisa Lang in an episode of “This Is Life With Lisa Ling,” airing at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on CNN.

“I would drink before I went to my chemo sessions. It became more and more of a coping mechanism,” said Brook, who did not want to use her last name.

Brook survived the bout with cancer but says she became dependent on alcohol — and the pandemic only made it worse.

“When Covid started and I was home, I started drinking more and more and more,” said Brook, now 42. “I started not being able to eat, I started throwing up more often, and then I started throwing up blood.”

She recently ended up in the hospital, diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and a bad bleed from ulcers, which doctors said could take her life if not quickly treated.

“When they were talking to me afterwards, they said, ‘If you keep going like this, you’ll be dead in a year,’ ” Brook told Ling.

Alcohol use disorder is defined as compulsively using alcohol despite negative consequences on relationships and one’s ability to function at work, school or in the community. Over time, excessive alcohol use may even rewire the brain, making booze as desirable as natural rewards such as food or sex, experts say.

Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles showed pictures of alcoholic drinks to people who are and are not addicted while scanning their brains. Regions of the brain associated with craving, pleasure and reward lit up significantly more in those with an alcohol use disorder.

“It’s much more of a medical and brain disease than we initially thought,” Lara Ray, a clinical psychologist who runs the UCLA Addictions Lab, told Ling.

In addition, just one pint of beer or average glass of wine a day may begin to shrink the overall volume of the brain. The brains of nondrinkers who began consuming an average of one alcohol unit a day showed the equivalent of half a year of aging, according to a study published in March.

The damage worsens as the number of daily drinks rises, the study found — drinking four alcohol units a day aged a person’s brain by more than 10 years.

Alcohol use disorder is a growing problem in the United States, which experts say has been enhanced by the pandemic, especially among women.

“Last year, I took care of two women who were in their early 20s who had cirrhosis and needed liver transplants, and I’ve never seen that before in my entire career,” Dr. James Burton, medical director of liver transplantation at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, told Ling.

A recent study found a significant increase in alcohol-associated liver disease and a 15% higher rate of waiting lists and subsequent liver transplants between 2020 and 2021 — the greatest increase occurred in young adults.

Since the pandemic’s onset, statistics show an overall 14% increase in the number of drinking days per month, but a “41% increase in heavy drinking days among women,” Dr. Sarah Wakeman, medical director of the Substance Use Disorders Initiative at Massachusetts General Hospital, told CNN in January.

Why? Pre-pandemic mom wine culture, which “normalized and even glorified” drinking, is partly to blame, said Dr. Leena Mittal, chief of the women’s mental health division in the department of psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

In addition, “studies have shown the complexities of balancing home, work and caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic have fallen disproportionately on women,” Mittal said earlier.

Women are especially sensitive to the effects of alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol-related problems appear sooner and at lower drinking levels than in men, said the institute, part of the US National Institutes of Health.

Women are more susceptible to alcohol-related brain damage and heart disease than men, and studies show women who have one drink a day increase their risk of breast cancer by 5% to 9% compared with those who abstain.

Pandemic lockdowns also forced many people to live and work from home — sometimes alone. A July study found drinking alone during adolescence and young adulthood can strongly increase the risk for alcohol abuse later in life, especially if you are a woman.

Victoria, who also did not want to use her last name, told Ling she began drinking as a teenager. Now 55, she still “can’t control it. It’s like a tension that builds up. And so then when I do drink, it’s like, ‘Ah! I’m drinking,’ you know, so it’s way too much, way too fast.”

Victoria says she continues to crave alcohol but goes regularly to support meetings for addiction recovery after moving in with her mother during the pandemic.

Binge drinking — defined as more than four drinks for women and five for men within a few hours — is on the rise. According to a study published in June, even older people who consider themselves moderate users of alcohol are downing multiple drinks in one sitting.

People who binged were about five times more likely to experience numerous alcohol problems, including injuries, emotional or psychological issues, and alcohol dependence at work or school or while caring for children, the study found.

“What this means is that an individual whose total consumption is seven drinks on Saturday night presents a greater risk profile than someone whose total consumption is a daily drink with dinner, even though their average drinking level is the same,” study coauthor Charles Holahan, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, told CNN previously.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved only three drugs designed to reduce alcohol use since 1951: disulfiram, which causes headaches, nausea and vomiting when mixed with alcohol; acamprosate, which works on the reward centers of the brain to reduce alcohol cravings; and naltrexone, which reduces cravings and appears to help with heavy drinking.

There is help. Find it here

  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a tool called the NIAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator that “helps adults find alcohol treatment for themselves or an adult loved one.” For teens, the institute recommends these resources.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a free, confidential National Helpline active 24/7/ 365 days a year to provide information and treatment referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organizations: 800-662-HELP (4357) and 800-487-4889 (TTY option).
  • All three have significant side effects that can deter people from using them consistently.

    Researchers continue to experiment with various drugs to see if they can help cure cravings without major side effects. While not FDA-approved, the anticonvulsant drug topiramate has shown promise in some clinical trials but may affect cognition and memory. Other anticonvulsant drugs, such as zonisamide and gabapentin, and a smoking cessation drug called varenicline have shown mixed results.

    At Ray’s lab at UCLA, small clinical trials have found promising results from the neuromodulator ibudilast, which hindered cravings and reduced the odds of heavy drinking for some people by 45%.

    For Billy Flores, 45, the change happened quickly.

    “In the first two days, I was upset in the stomach, but by the third day I was on it, I was off of alcohol, which is pretty amazing I thought,” he told Ling about using ibudilast.

    Bill has struggled with alcohol but says he has found hope with a clinical trial.

    Additional studies are needed to see if the benefits hold true for larger populations.

    In the meantime, there are gold standard treatments for alcohol use disorder that don’t involve medications. Those include Alcoholics Anonymous and Self-Management and Recovery Training 12-step programs, cognitive behavioral treatments and mindfulness-based approaches.

    A large 2006 clinical trial found behavioral interventions can be as effective as drugs — in fact, most of the medication clinical trials done to date have also included some form of social or behavioral treatment in combination with drugs.

    Having support is critical to keeping a positive mindset that will ultimately win the battle with alcohol, experts say.

    Brook agrees.

    “When I was doing my therapy intake for rehab, one of the questions was, ‘What made you decide to do this?’ And I said, ‘I’m better than this,’ ” she told Ling.

    “I still like to think that even with the relapses, I’m gonna still be that person who gets right back up and tries again.”

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