Environment

Oil Spill – Pacific Ocean, Southern California

More than 120,000 gallons of oil that spilled into the Pacific Ocean has reached the Southern California coastline, closing parts of the beach as officials warn residents to stay away from the slick.

Federal, state and local agencies are racing to determine the cause of the spill, which is at least 13 square miles in size, and mitigate its impacts. Initial reports suggest the spill originated from on offshore oil rig.

The oil from the spill has already washed up onto Huntington Beach and the Talbert Marsh wetlands, an area that’s home to vibrant birdlife, including great blue herons, pelicans and endangered California least terns, which migrate up the Pacific Coast. The coast is also the habitat for myriad non-avian marine life, from fish, such as tuna and sea bass, to sea turtles, dolphins and whales. This spill has already left fish dead, birds mired in petroleum and wetlands contaminated.

Environment

Solar Meltdown

Earth’s reliance on electronics could make the planet vulnerable to a global internet “meltdown” should a solar storm as powerful as the one that occurred in the pre-hi-tech year of 1859 knock out that technology. The Carrington Event of Sept. 1-2, 1859, caused serious damage to telegraph systems of the day.

Speaking to WIRED, researcher Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi said that while local and regional fiber networks probably wouldn’t be badly affected by such a large-scale solar storm, she is concerned about the repeaters used to connect the world’s vast undersea cable system.

Earlier studies have warned that other technology, especially orbiting satellites, could be fried by an intense solar storm.

Pollution Killer

A new report highlights how air pollution, mainly from coal, is impacting life expectancy far greater than diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, and even behaviour such as smoking cigarettes and waging war.

The Air Quality Life Index reveals that unless particulate pollution is reduced to meet World Health Organization guidelines, the average person will lose about 2.2 years of his or her life.

Even though China has slashed its air pollution, dirty air is still cutting about 2.6 years off its life spans. India has made no such efforts, and its citizens lose 5.9 years off their lives, especially in the highly polluted north of the country.

Global Warming

Polluters Are Trying to Ensure They’re Never Held Responsible for Climate Change

Last week, Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc from Louisiana to New York — but that wasn’t the only part of the country or world experiencing extreme weather events. The day before Ida raged through New Orleans, fire tornadoes blazed in California, a state currently grappling with more than a dozen active wildfires. The entire Pacific Northwest has been plagued by drought and heat waves all summer. The turmoil hasn’t been limited to North America. Italy, Lebanon, Siberia, Spain, Turkey, and Greece have been experiencing wildfires, while the Chinese province of Shaanxi has been struggling with extreme flooding and landslides.

The culprit is easily identified: man-made climate change. In recent years, “attribution science,” or the science of identifying causal connections between climate change and individual weather events, has become much more accurate. And last month, for the first time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserted that human activity is the driving force behind planetary warming. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” noted the new report.

According to the well-established “polluter pays” legal principle, those responsible for this warming should be held liable for the cost. Sure enough, the fossil fuel industry has increasingly found itself in the legal crosshairs of governments, impacted communities, students, and activists all over the world, especially in light of investigations showing that companies like Exxon knew about the dangers of climate change decades ago, did little to address it, and even misled the public on the dangers.

According to a January report from the UN’s Environment Programme, the number of climate change cases filed against countries and corporate actors nearly doubled in the past few years, with at least 1,550 cases filed as of July 2020. In the United States alone, twenty-four climate lawsuits — including some related to climate change–fueled wildfires — are currently moving through the courts. In February, the International Bar Association even released a model for litigants to pursue legal action related to climate change.

But the biggest polluters have yet to face meaningful consequences for planetary destruction — and it remains to be seen if they ever will. As efforts mount to hold polluters accountable, fossil fuel companies and other corporate interests are working overtime to leverage the US court and political system to avoid responsibility for the climate crisis — and offload the costs of environmental damage onto taxpayers.

Environment

Nuclear Contamination

Contaminated water now stored in about 1,000 tanks at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant will be released offshore into the Pacific through a newly planned undersea tunnel.

Operators say they will drill through bedrock beneath the seabed and begin releasing the water about 40 feet below the ocean’s surface beginning in the spring of 2023. They say the scheme is designed to avoid interfering with local fishing.

The stored water from the plant’s meltdowns will first be diluted with large amounts of seawater to reduce the concentration of the radioactive material.

Northernmost Land

Members of a Danish research expedition to Greenland’s northern coastal waters say they accidently discovered what is now believed to be the northernmost island on the planet. While unsuccessfully trying to locate and land on Oodaaq Island to collect samples, they instead “landed on a strange unvegetated bunch of mud, moraine deposits and gravel surrounded by sea ice on all sides.”

After checking their position, the found they were not on Oodaaq, but on land about 3,600 feet farther north than what was previously thought to be the island nearest to the North Pole. The team wants the newly discovered island to be named Qeqertaq Avannarleq, which means “the northernmost island” in Greenlandic.

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Environment

Eye of Fire

A rare combination of events near a Mexican oil platform in the Bay of Campeche created a massive ocean-surface fire that took hours to extinguish.

Mexico’s state-owned Pemex oil company, which has a long history of major accidents at its facilities, says the leak of an underwater pipeline allowed natural gas to accumulate on the ocean floor, and was probably ignited by a lightning bolt when it rose to the surface. Once a brief video of the fire went viral on social media, the orange bubbling mass on the water’s surface was dubbed “eye of fire.”

Pemex said swift action by its workers prevented any environmental damage, a claim disputed by environmental groups and activists.

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Environment

Toxic Pollution

A burning container ship dumped tons of plastic debris onto Sri Lanka’s beaches, prompting a widespread environmental disaster.

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Environment

Massive DDT Dumping Ground off California Coast

The sea bottom near southern California has been hiding a very dirty secret: decades of discarded chemicals in thousands of barrels. And the toxic debris field is even bigger than anyone expected, containing at least 27,000 drums of DDT and industrial waste, scientists recently discovered.

High concentrations of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, an insecticide that was widely used for pest control during the 1940s and 1950s) were previously detected in ocean sediments between the Los Angeles coast and Catalina Island, in 2011 and 2013. At the time, scientists who searched the seafloor in the area identified 60 barrels (possibly containing DDT or other waste) and found DDT contamination in sediments, but the full extent of the area’s contamination was unknown.

Now, a research expedition presents a clearer picture of the deep-sea dump site. Their findings reveal a stretch of ocean bottom studded with at least 27,000 industrial waste barrels — and possibly as many as 100,000.

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Environment

Plastic Winds

The scattering of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways and atmosphere is now resulting in the “plastification” of the planet, with the debris “spiraling around the globe” in the wind.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that smaller microplastics can remain in the atmosphere for nearly a week, which is long enough for them to be carried across an ocean or a continent. A lot of the airborne particles are from decades-old, broken-down items such as plastic bags, wrappers and bottles.

But the biggest sources are roadways, where the tires of large trucks and other vehicles degrade into tiny bits as they rumble along and are picked up by the wind.

Wildlife

Waste Personal Protective Equipment from Covid-19 is Killing Wildlife

Waste from lifesaving personal protective equipment is killing birds, fish and other wildlife across the globe, a study has found. Animals are fatally ingesting or becoming entangled in discarded latex gloves and disposable face masks, while others have started building their homes using the same material, researchers said.

Scientists found a fish trapped in medical latex gloves in a canal cleanup in the Dutch city of Leiden in August, which prompted researchers to explore whether there was a larger problem.

The biologists found hundreds of discarded face masks in Leiden’s historical canals over the course of a few months and soon realized a worrying picture was emerging. Those affected are not confined to small fish and birds, rather the entire animal kingdom globally will suffer from COVID-19 litter.

Environment

Floods and Pests

Southeastern Australia’s worst floods in 50 years have forced thousands from their homes and driven a frightening number of snakes and spiders into populated areas. Other wildlife are also scrambling for higher ground, including skinks, ants and crickets.

The hordes of spiders invading people’s homes have proven to be the most traumatic for many residents. But they are advised not reach for insecticides because the arachnids will eventually leave when the waters recede.

Plastic Pathogens

Researchers say they have found that the vast amounts of microplastics released into the environment from wastewater treatment plants each day may be “hubs” for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other pathogens. A team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology says the plastic pollution forms a slimy layer of film on the surface of wastewater, which collects dangerous microorganisms and allows them to commingle and mix with antibiotic waste. The scientists say this poses a threat to marine life and human health if the plastic-borne pathogens bypass the treatment process, which is typically not designed to remove the plastics.

Environment

More than 50 new environmental chemicals detected in people

Researchers have detected more than 50 new environmental chemicals lurking in people’s bodies, the vast majority of which are little known or unknown compounds. The findings are concerning given that very little is known about these chemicals and their potential health effects.

Of these newly detected chemicals, two were perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. These chemicals, used in consumer products such as nonstick cookware and pizza boxes, stay in the human body for a long time and can accumulate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ten of the newly detected substances were plasticizers, or chemicals used in the production of plastics. For example, one of the detected plasticizers, a group of chemicals called phthalates, are often found in fast-food packaging and have been associated with adverse health effects. Two of the newly detected chemicals are used in cosmetics; one in pesticides. But most — 37 — of these newly detected chemicals are ones that researchers have little to no information on.

Environment

Smoke alarm

Intense, widespread bushfires in Australia injected huge amounts of smoke into the stratosphere in 2020. Hirsch and Koren found that this smoke caused record-breaking levels of aerosols over the Southern Hemisphere, as much as that from a moderate volcanic eruption. The severity was caused by a combination of the vigour of the fires and their location at a latitude with a shallow tropopause and within the midlatitude cyclones belt. This aerosol increase caused considerable cooling over oceanic cloud-free areas.

Pulveriszing Plastic

Scientists say they have found a way to cleanly, efficiently and cheaply break down polystyrene, a type of plastic used in packaging material, food containers, cutlery and other items.

A team from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Clemson University says it has found a way to grind up the polystyrene with metal ball bearings until a desired chemical reaction occurs. This type of “mechanochemistry” deconstructs the plastic through chemical events in which the metal bearings and oxygen in the air act as co-catalysts. The resulting debris can be used to create other products. “We think this proof of concept is an exciting possibility for developing new recycling technologies for all kinds of plastics,” said senior scientist Viktor Balema.

Environment

Orange veil of dust chokes Beijing in record-breaking sandstorm

Beijing has been enveloped in one of its most severe sandstorms in over a decade, which has combined with air pollution to create a toxic, gritty haze that turned skies orange and made the skyline disappear.

The sandstorm hit the Chinese capital on Monday morning (March 15) after gale-force winds from Mongolia blew dust from the Gobi desert over the border. In Mongolia, 341 people are missing after the same sandstorm blew across the country.

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Environment

Oil Spill in the Mediterranean

A suspected oil tanker leak off the coast of Israel last week has led to Israel’s biggest maritime ecological disaster in many years, with authorities closing the country’s beaches and beginning a massive cleanup effort.

Chunks of sticky, black tar began washing up late last week. On Sunday, Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry warned people to avoid going to beaches from the country’s northern border with Lebanon all the way to the south near the Gaza Strip. Tar exposure can make people sick and irritate the skin.

The tar pollution has already affected wildlife. Volunteers rushed to rescue sea birds, turtles and fish that were covered in oily residue or had ingested oil. One species that has ecologists particularly worried is a reef-building snail called Dendropoma petraeum. As the Mediterranean Sea heats up due to global warming, the snail’s population on the Israeli coast has plummeted. That makes the species particularly vulnerable to other ecological disasters.

Wildlife

Ocean Noise

The racket of human activity beneath the ocean surface is drowning out the natural noises made by marine creatures, which researchers say is as harmful as overfishing, pollution and climate change.

A University of Exeter team made the conclusion after reviewing more than 500 studies on marine noise. The review says while military sonar and oil exploration blasts are obvious sources of distress and deafness in the ocean, noise from shipping has increased by 32 times in the past 50 years. The study says the din of offshore wind farms, bottom trawling and other sources are drowning out the calls many species use to communicate, spawn and migrate.