Less than a week ago it was reported that several gold miners in Brazil are now under investigation by federal prosecutors for the massacre of 10 people from an uncontacted indigenous community deep in the Amazon rainforest. The men reportedly bragged about having murdered them and cut up their bodies before disposing them in a […]
After more than a decade of exploring Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft will soon commit suicide by plunging into the planet it has been documenting for years. The spacecraft launched nearly 20 years ago, and took about seven years to make it to Saturn’s orbit. Since 2004, Cassini has completed more than 290 orbits of the…
by Nicole Casal Moore
A study of lead service lines in Flint’s damaged drinking water system reveals a Swiss cheese pattern in the pipes’ interior crust, with holes where the lead used to be.
The findings—led by researchers at the University of Michigan—support the generally accepted understanding that lead leached into the system because that water wasn’t treated to prevent corrosion. While previous studies had pointed to this mechanism, this is the first direct evidence. It contradicts a regulator’s claim earlier this year that corrosion control chemicals would not have prevented the water crisis.
Researchers say the findings underscore how important uninterrupted anti-corrosion treatment is for the aging water systems that serve millions of American homes.
The team focused on the layer of metal scale—essentially lead rust—inside 10 lead service line samples from around Flint. They studied the texture of the rust layer, as well as its chemical composition. Then they used their analysis to estimate that the average lead service line released 18 grams of lead during the 17 months that Flint river water (without corrosion control) flowed through the system.
“This is the amount of lead that would have entered a single home,” said Terese Olson, a U-M associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and lead author of a study in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. “If we average that release over the entire period the city received Flint River water, it would suggest that on average, the lead concentration would be at least twice the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion.”
The lead ended up in several places.
“Some was consumed,” Olson said. “Some washed down the drain. Some might still be stored in the homes’ plumbing. In other words, there is a chance that some of that lead is a potential health risk even after the lead service line is removed.”
If a lead service line connects to a home with galvanized steel pipes, for example, those pipes can act as lead sponges that can hold and then later release particles containing the toxic metal, said study co-author Brian Ellis, U-M assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.
In addition to examining pipe samples under a scanning electron microscope, the researchers pulverized the pipe linings to analyze what they’re made of. In the Flint pipes, they found a greater ratio of aluminum and magnesium to lead than is typical for lead service lines, when compared with data from 26 other water utilities.
“We estimated how much lead was ‘missing’ in order to bring the Flint lead scale into line with the amount of aluminum and magnesium that was reported in other communities,” Olson said. “That missing lead represents what was leached from the pipes during the Flint corrosion episode.”
As lead pipes age, the atoms on their surface react with oxygen and other chemicals in the system and become oxidized, or rusted. Adequate water treatment doesn’t prevent that process. What it does prevent, though, is the breakdown of the rust layer.
“It’s like when you put an old penny in a glass of Coke and watch it get shiny again,” Ellis said. “The acid in the Coke dissolves the copper corrosion product. This is similar to what happened in Flint’s lines. You can have a stable corrosion product, but when you change the water chemistry the oxidized lead compounds on the surface may become unstable and readily dissolve.”
Water utilities with both corrosive water and lead service lines in their systems add compounds called orthophosphates to prevent that breakdown. When Flint switched from Lake Huron water to the more corrosive Flint River to save money, the utility didn’t adjust its treatment process by adding orthophosphates.
“Beyond implications for Flint, we demonstrated that small changes in water chemistry can release what was stable lead in a fairly quick pulse,” Ellis said. “This is a known condition. So while we weren’t surprised, being able to show it underscores the importance of maintaining uninterrupted lead corrosion control.”
The authors hope to verify their prediction of the amount of lead released by analyzing a lead service line from a vacant home that was not exposed to the corrosive Flint water. The challenge is to find a home that has had its water turned off since 2014 and has a lead service line that can be dug up.
The study is titled “Forensic Estimates of Lead Release from Lead Service Lines during the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan.” The research team included six undergraduate students, four graduate students, two postdocs and six faculty from U-M’s Flint and Ann Arbor campuses. It was funded by U-M’s Schlissel Research Fund for Flint, U-M’s MCubed research funding program and the Dow Sustainability Fellows program.
Edited for mb3-org.com
by Rachel Levelle / 350pdx.org
Climate Justice means hard work.
It’s tempting to assign labels or catchphrases to movements. The concept of climate justice or environmental justice has caught massive traction in organizing groups, but as easy as it is to put on a banner, it’s even easier to lose sight of what it really means.
Growing up in Beaverton, it was very easy for me to view climate change as solely a crisis of nature. It never occurred to me that the burden of the crisis was being shouldered unevenly. I heard about the polar ice caps melting and polar bears dying, but not about the Pacific Islander and seaside communities that were losing their homes at the same time. People like the workers at fossil fuel plants that need a steady paycheck, indigenous communities whose land is poisoned by oil, and low-income communities neighboring train tracks or dumping sites are not responsible for climate change or harm to environment. Yet, when coal trains derailing, toxic waste dumps, pipelines, and horrific factory conditions are talked about, plants and animals receive empathy while the people affected by these tragedies are too often ignored by the climate and environmental movements.
Repeatedly, environmental crises are viewed in isolation from issues like economic and racial justice by mainstream organizers and media. But the links of whose health and safety are valued and whose are disposable are deeply tied to these problems. Would corporations have the power to dump however much toxic waste and garbage they wanted if those sites were in predominantly white, middle-upper class neighborhoods? If affluent white communities were dependent on the health of the oceans and rivers for daily survival, would the response to pollution be so moderate? The answer is, unfortunately, seen in movements such as “Not In My Backyard” and in the decision to move the Dakota Access Pipeline onto Lakota and Dakota land. When projects are based in wealthier, white neighborhoods, they’re shut down rapidly.
As I began organizing during college, I realized this wasn’t because only these neighborhoods were protesting the developments. It was that these people were given legitimacy and a platform because of their identities. I could explain here the roots and causes of environmental injustice, but there are many who have done it better than I could (see the links below!). But simply stated, the effects come from the toxic combinations of capitalism and white supremacy.
Again and again in organizing, I’ve encountered an mindset among white organizers that people of color and poor folks aren’t fighting climate change. Often it is done with a sort of sympathetic, condescending tilt. When predominantly white environmental groups are asked why their campaigns aren’t drawing the power of more peoples to speak on their own behalf, there are some common responses: people of color are too busy organizing against racism, or lower-income communities are occupied with organizing for fair wages and better housing… or earning a wage.
And yet, very term “environmental justice” was coined by poor, black, rural organizers in the 1980’s. People like Reverend Leon White, Reverend Ben Chavis, and Reverend Joseph Lowery fought in Warren County against a toxic landfill being placed in their town. Environmental justice isn’t a free-floating term. It had been used by Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific-Islander organizers to rebel against exploitative, unsustainable farming practices, fossil fuel plants, toxic waste dumps, destruction of natural landscapes they call home, and more. The harsh truth is, though, that these communities have been organizing against environmental degradation from the beginning—white environmentalists just didn’t notice because the campaign message wasn’t flagged as pro-environment.
Here’s the crux of the issue. Any solution, yes, ANY solution that remedies environmental injustice, and that does not center people of color and lower-income people in both formation and implementation is incomplete. Read that sentence again, and remember it. Because these false solutions fail to defend those most affected by climate change. There are issues and solutions that middle class, white organizers frankly cannot recognize and know the solutions to by themselves, because the problems aren’t theirs.
I’m not going to pretend I’m an authority on what this work entails or have unlearned all the internalized classism, misogyny, or whiteness (given that I am multiracial, I too have a lot of whiteness I need to acknowledge!) that interferes with me being able to do this work well. But that’s just it—none of us are ever done. We have to constantly be analyzing what platforms we might be taking from those who have been historically silenced. White people must acknowledge that their thought processes and false objectivity have been informed by whiteness and realize that they simply cannot have all the answers. They must become accept the tension in confronting their own biases, complacency, and role in allowing white supremacy to continue in the Pacific Northwest.
What is whiteness, and how is it different than having white skin, or than acting with white supremacist tendencies? Challenge the excuses that pop into your head to avoid the topic, and check out some of the resources below, that also show up on the environmental justice resources page. It’s really not that bad.
Basic Info on Environmental Justice
If you know about the phrase “environmental justice” but don’t know how to explain it to someone, start here!
More About White Supremacy and Racial Justice
If you don’t know what “whiteness” means or think white supremacy is limited to hate groups and blatant racist acts, read these!
Examples of Environmental Racism
Read here to understand more about how the above problems cause real harm in communities around the United States.
White People’s Role in Environmental Justice
Understand the above problems, but don’t know what to do next? Here are some ways to implement environmental justice in your organizing.
By SCOTT NEUMAN
The world’s best-known living physicist, Stephen Hawking, says that President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accord could lead humanity to a tipping point, “turning the Earth into Venus.”
The Cambridge professor and renowned cosmologist made the remarks in an interview with the BBC that aired Sunday.
“We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible,” Hawking told the BBC. “Trump’s action could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulphuric acid.”
Hawking, who is best known for his discoveries about black holes, called climate change “one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now.
“By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children,” Hawking told the BBC.
It’s not the first time that Hawking has blurred the lines between science and politics in his public pronouncements. In December, for example, he wrote in an editorial in The Guardian newspaper that Brexit and the election of Donald Trump were “a cry of anger” aimed at the elites, such as himself, in both America and Britain. He said that we are “at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.”
Edited for mb3-org.com
Two new cases of plague have been confirmed in New Mexico, bringing the total number of cases of human plague in the state this year to three. The New Mexico Department of Health reported that two women, ages 52 and 62, from Santa Fe County were diagnosed with plague. The first case of plague in…