Posted by on September 21, 2022 6:42 pm
Categories: News The Hill

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Bloomberg goes big to stop petrochemical pollution

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is launching an $85 million campaign to curb the spread of petrochemical and plastic pollution across the country, his philanthropic foundation announced on Wednesday. 

The so-called “Beyond Petrochemicals” initiative aims to “turbocharge existing efforts led by frontline communities to block the expansion of more than 120 proposed petrochemical projects” in Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley, a statement from Bloomberg Philanthropies said.

Such a fossil fuel expansion would double the emissions generated by the petrochemical and refinery industries to 15 percent of the U.S. carbon budget — preventing the country from fulfilling international climate commitments, the foundation warned.

“Petrochemical plants poison our air and water — killing Americans and harming the health of entire communities,” the former mayor said in a statement.  

“Communities around the country are standing up to confront the petrochemical industry and defend their right to clean air and water,” he added. 

The Beyond Petrochemicals campaign draws from Bloomberg’s Beyond Coal and Beyond Carbon initiatives, which have sought to shutter coal plants and smoothen the global transition to clean energy.  

In addition to blocking the expansion of planned petrochemical projects, Bloomberg’s new initiative will promote stricter rules for existing facilities, according to the foundation.

“This campaign will help ensure more local victories, support laws that protect communities from harm, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling the climate crisis,” Bloomberg said. 

Among the initiative’s partner organizations, per the announcement, are Beyond Plastics, the Bullard Center at Texas Southern University, Defend Our Health, Earthjustice, Earthworks, Hip Hop Caucus, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Rise
St. James. 

In response to Bloomberg’s announcement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) — a U.S. chemical and plastics industry trade group — said that the campaign was being launched “due to unfounded environmental concerns.” 

“Everyone has a fundamental human right to clean air and water and access to energy sources that will help create a cleaner, healthier, and safer future,” ACC president and CEO Chris Jahn said in a statement. 

“With more than 135,000 workers across Texas, Louisiana, and Ohio, ACC member company employees are also community members,” Jahn continued, noting these employees are committed to protecting these resources for their families and neighbors.

Stressing that “chemistry is the single most important element to transitioning to renewable energy and combatting climate change,” Jahn said that the solutions the chemistry industry develops “are guiding the way forward.”

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. Subscribe here.

Today we’ll visit Tasmania, where first responders are struggling to save hundreds of beached whales. Then: a look at the latest children’s products laced with “forever chemicals” and the arsenic problem plaguing California prison water.  

In dangerous waters, a rush to save stranded whales

First responders are racing to save 230 pilot whales that ran aground on an isolated Australian beach on Wednesday morning as scientists struggle to figure out why the mass strandings keep happening. 

Dangerous rescue: The rescue is being disrupted by the harsh sea conditions present in that part of the island state of Tasmania off the coast of mainland Australia, The New York Times reported. 

“Because of the waves, they just keep being washed further and further up the beach,” local captain Sam Gerrity told the Times.

Waves are exceeding 50 feet. 
Half of the whales are believed to be dead already. 
“At least 95 percent will die, because the ocean’s just so fierce,” Gerrity predicted. 

A grim anniversary: The pilot whales’ disastrous navigational error on Wednesday came on the precise two-year anniversary of Australia’s worst stranding — in which 470 pilot whales ran aground in the same harbor, according to The Associated Press.

In that 2020 incident, first responders and local fishermen were able to save about a quarter of those whales. 
But conditions in 2020 were very far calmer, “and we could get the boats up to them,” salmon farmer Linton Kringle told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.   

This time, “you just can’t get a boat in there, it’s too shallow, way too rough,” Kringle added. 

Complicating disposal: Within days, the bodies of dead whales will begin to burst, and over the long term they will draw sharks and leach oil into the water, the Times reported. 


For reasons that are poorly understood, pilot whales are particularly prone to mass strandings, according to the Times.

Despite the name, pilot whales are a form of dolphin — the largest aside from the orca or killer whale — according to British nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation. 
They are highly social and live in groups of up to thousands, which mostly hunt squid, per Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Follow the leader: Those strong communal bonds are proving lethal in Tasmania, the Times reported. 

“Because they are so social, it’s a follow-the-leader situation,” Macquarie University wildlife scientist Vanessa Pirotta told the Times. 
A single whale’s mistake can doom hundreds, she noted. 

No clear cause: The fact that two such strandings happened on the same day two years apart might indicate an environmental cause, Pirotta told the Times. 

But she emphasized that scientists don’t really know. 
“Every stranding is different, and we don’t know when they’re going to happen,” Pirotta said. 

US climate stimulus and fuel prices lure EU firms 

European steel and chemical manufacturers are moving to the United States in an attempt to both secure access to relatively cheap gas and take advantage of a climate stimulus package, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

The Democrats’ climate and health care bill — which passed in August — offers substantial tax credits to firms seeking to either decarbonize or create fuels like hydrogen or ammonia, according to the Journal. 

For example, Dutch chemical firm OCI NV announced this month that it was expanding one of its ammonia plants in Texas. 
Meanwhile, automaker Tesla is holding off on plans to make batteries in Germany while it campaigns for tax credits in the U.S

An obvious move: For energy intensive products, “It’s a no-brainer to go and do that in the United States,” CEO Ahmed El-Hoshy of OCI NV told the Journal.

Moving production, not gas: In essence, European firms’ decision to offshore manufacturing to the U.S. is part of the same drive for cheaper energy that is causing the continent to invest billions of euros in new liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals. 

Fifteen projects that could bring in more than 120 billion cubic meters of LNG per year are underway in Europe, according to a report from market analyst Statista. 
The U.S. is also on track to send 45 billion cubic meters more gas to Europe this year compared to 2021 — triple the amount Biden promised in March, Reuters reported. 

But a factory expansion in the U.S. allows European companies to essentially sidestep the need for gas imports by moving to where the energy is, the Journal reported. 

How long will this last? Many companies are waiting to see what winter brings, the Journal reported. 

But at least some industries will “permanently relocate,” Svein Tore Holsether, of Norwegian fertilizer manufacturer Yara International ASA, told the Journal. 

‘Forever chemicals’ found in school uniforms 

Millions of school students in the U.S. and Canada are being exposed to toxic “forever chemicals” through the uniforms they wear every day, a new study has found. 

Stain-resistant, with a catch: The exposure to these compounds — also called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — lies in the “stain-resistant” technology often marketed as an advantage in these fabrics.  

But the scientists behind Wednesday’s study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, said they detected PFAS in uniforms from all popular brands they tested.  
“PFAS don’t belong in any clothing, but their use in school uniforms is particularly concerning,” senior author Marta Venier, of Indiana University, said in a statement.  

What are PFAS again? They’re cancer-linked compounds with a distinctive ability to persist in the human body and the environment.  

These chemicals are key ingredients in firefighting foams, as well in nonstick pans, cosmetics and waterproof hiking clothes.  
Most school uniforms tested in Wednesday’s study contained PFAS concentrations as high as those in outdoor apparel, the researchers found.  

Cotton uniforms stood out: In total, the scientists said they analyzed 72 children’s textiles marketed as stain-resistant in the U.S. and Canada in 2020 and 2021.  

Total PFAS levels of school uniforms were significantly higher than those of bibs, hats, stroller covers and swimsuits, but comparable to those found in outdoor apparel. 
Uniforms made of 100 percent cotton tended to have higher concentrations of PFAS than those of synthetic blends.  
Cotton, which naturally attracts water, likely needs additional PFAS treatment to reach a desired stain-resistant state. 

There’s no getting rid of them: PFAS-treated uniforms remain a source of potential contamination in the environment when they are worn, laundered, discarded or recycled, the authors explained. 

Is anything being done about this? Both New York and California have recently advanced bills that would phase out PFAS from textiles, including school uniforms, the authors noted.  

New York’s S6291A and California’s AB-1817 have both passed through their state legislatures and are awaiting signature from their respective governors.  

Vulnerable and unaware: “What was surprising about this group of samples was the high detection frequency of PFAS in the garments required for children to wear,” study co-author Graham Peaslee, of the University of Notre Dame, said in a statement.

“Children are a vulnerable population when it comes to chemicals of concern, and nobody knows these textiles are being treated with PFAS and other toxic chemicals,” Peaslee added.

To read the full story, please click here.

Arsenic may lurk in California prison water

Incarcerated Californians — and those who live in neighboring rural communities — may be exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic in their drinking water, a new study has found.  

Months on end of toxic water: Arsenic concentrations in the water supply near a Central California prison exceeded regulatory limits for months or even years at a time, according to the study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives.   

This toxic contamination affected both the Kern Valley State Prison and three nearby Central Valley communities: Allensworth, McFarland and Delano. 

The authors combed through 20 years of water data from both the prison and the communities, where groundwater aquifers contain unhealthy levels of naturally occurring arsenic.  

The dangers of arsenic: Long-term exposure to even small amounts of arsenic in drinking water has been associated with a variety of cancers and other serious health issues, the authors warned.  

“This is one of the few studies to document ongoing structural challenges to realizing this basic human right to water on both sides of the prison walls,” lead author Jenny Rempel, a graduate student in the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. 

A legislative right: California recognized the human right to water in September 2012, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the bill AB-685 into law.

With that step, California became the first state in the country to recognize the human right to water via legislation. 
  Yet across the state, about 370,000 Californians rely on drinking water that may contain high levels of arsenic and other chemicals, another team of Berkeley researchers determined earlier this year.  

Violations everywhere: Drinking water arsenic levels exceeded the federal limit at the Kern Valley State Prison and in all three surrounding communities at various times in the past two decades, Rempel and her colleagues observed.  

But the impacts varied: The researchers observed that the drinking water of Delano — the largest of the communities, with 50,000 residents — has almost never surpassed the federal limit for arsenic since 2013, after new wells and treatment facilities were constructed.  

But in McFarland — with just 12,000 residents — arsenic levels have occasionally exceeded the threshold, despite the addition of a new treatment system.   
The even smaller community of Allensworth, which has about 600 residents, does not yet have a treatment facility. 

To read more about these findings, please click here for the full story. 

World Wednesday

The German government resuscitates a faltering gas company, why Wall Street is rethinking decarbonization commitments and a call to climate war. 

Germany to nationalize floundering energy giant 

Germany will be acquiring a 99-percent stake in the country’s biggest gas importer, Uniper, from the firm’s Finnish parent company, The Wall Street Journal reported. Uniper suffered huge financial losses after Moscow cut off gas supplies to Europe — forcing the company to buy gas at sky-high market rates, according to the Journal. 

Fearing lawsuits, banks contemplate leaving climate alliance  

Wall Street banks are threatening to desert the U.K.-based Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, Reuters reported. Bank of America, JP Morgan and others fear that they could be sued for failures to meet the strict decarbonization measures promoted by the group, which seeks to direct investment in ways that brings world economies to net-zero by 2050, Reuters reported.

Island president calls for ‘total war’ on climate ‘monster’ 

The president of the Marshall Islands called on world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to “declare total war on this century’s greatest challenge — the climate change monster,” The Associated Press reported. President David Kabua also lamented that “the world has failed to break our addiction to fossil fuels,” according to AP. 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.


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