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Ask Umbra: How do I get rid of the mold in my house?


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Q. I recently learned that we have a serious mold problem in our basement and attic. It’s mostly confined to old cardboard boxes and the insulation paper. Our insurance doesn’t cover mold damage and we can’t afford to hire professionals, so I’m looking for an environmentally safe way to kill the mold and stop it from coming back. Right now I’m using a mixture of water, vinegar, baking soda, borax and a few drops of eucalyptus citriodora essential oil to wash the woodwork, plaster walls, and concrete floor. For the attic, I’m considering using a “mold-bomb” fumigant, which is claimed to be safe, but I’m concerned about the health effects of the chemicals used to kill the mold.

Green with fungi,
Eric T.
Pittsburgh, PA

A. Dearest Eric,

In a horror movie, right now we’d all be screaming, “No, Eric! Don’t go into the basement! Or the attic!” Alas, this is real life, and you must face your fuzzy green invaders head-on to prevent the mold from spreading. Otherwise, it could pose a slew of troubling respiratory complications for you and your family before it takes over the house.

The good news: It is often possible to tackle mold cleanup jobs yourself, depending on their size and severity.

Read more: Living


Meet the anti-government conspiracy theorist behind GOP environmental policy

illuminati is real
Wikimedia Commons

When state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, vice-chair of the Montana Republican Party, needed an expert on natural resources to testify before the state’s Environmental Quality Council earlier this year, she turned to Doyel Shamley.

An Army veteran and president of a Nevada-based firm called Veritas Research Consulting, Shamley took the trip to Montana as only the latest in a long line of appearances as an expert witness on land management. There he was at a county board of supervisors in the Sierras, on behalf of the California Association of Business, Property, and Resource Owners. And before the Arizona Senate. And in Northern California, alongside a local sheriff. And in southern Arizona, at an event sponsored by the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a leading conservative group backed by the Koch brothers. And Kingman, Ariz., discussing wolves. In 2012, at the invitation of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), he testified at field hearing for the House Committee on Natural Resources. On his website, he lists four current Republican members of congress -- Reps. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and Gosar -- as "clients."

But his interest in the federal government goes far deeper than water rights and wildfire prevention. By day, Shamley is a consultant and natural resources coordinator for Arizona's Apache County. But by night, he's a conspiracy theorist who until recently hosted an online radio show called The Hour of the Time, during which he speculates that UFO sightings are a false-flag operation by the Illuminati to accumulate more power, and federal agents killed his friend because he was asking questions about the attacks on the World Trade Center.


Sochi Olympics are bad for environment and locals alike

Vladimir Arndt / Shutterstock

When Russia made its bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, it promised green building standards and "zero waste." But as we count down to the opening ceremony on Feb. 7, illegal landfills and trashed ecosystems suggest that Russia may not medal in eco-friendly practices.

Not only is this shaping up to be the most expensive Olympics in the history of the games, with $51 billion of new development, it is also arguably one of the most destructive. Five thousand acres of pristine forests have been felled, while wetlands that served as important stopovers for migrating birds have been filled in. Landslides and waste dumping threaten the watershed, which feeds into the Black Sea. Building within national parks in Russia used to be limited, but that regulation was reversed in order to make way for some games facilities, hotels, and roads. Some observers note that the Olympics have provided an opportunity for developers to cash in on what they hope will be a profitable tourist destination in the future.

The construction projects have also left local Sochi-ers in the lurch, facing frequent power shortages, land subsidence, flooding, and widespread pollution. While the mayor of Sochi pointed to a new Louis Vuitton store as a symbol of progress, nearby communities are living without running water, and some have been cut off from the city by a new $635 million highway, as the Associated Press reports:

The residents of 5a Akatsy street have lived for years with no running water or sewage system. Construction for the 2014 Winter Games has made their lives more miserable … Even their communal outhouse had to be torn down because it was found to be too close to the new road and ruled an eyesore. …


Cattle ranchers lose bid to shoot bison with biobullets

Don't shoot!

Most of the country's bison herds have crossbred with domestic cattle, but one purebred herd still roams in Yellowstone National Park. About half of the park's 4,600 purebred bison are thought to have been exposed to brucellosis, a bacterial infection that also affects cattle. 

Nearby ranchers want the wild beasts inoculated against the disease to help protect their cattle herds. Capturing the bison and administering vaccines is out of the question. Because they're wild. Is shooting medicine into each of the animals with an air gun every year the solution?

Ranchers say yes. Environmentalists say no. On Tuesday, following a decade of research and debate, the federal government sided with the environmentalists. Reuters reports:

Read more: Food


Leaping blizzards: Global warming produces bigger snowfalls

Satellite image of the intense US blizzard of February 5-6, 2010. Click to embiggen.
NASA/Wikimedia Commons
Satellite image of the intense U.S. blizzard of February 5-6, 2010. Click to embiggen.

We all remember "Snowmageddon" in February of 2010. Even as Washington, D.C., saw 32 inches of snowfall for the month of February -- more than it has seen in any February since 1899 -- conservatives decided to use the weather to mock global warming. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and his family even built an igloo on Capitol Hill and called it "Al Gore's New Home." Har har.

Read more: Climate & Energy


These beautiful videos show the flight paths of birds as drawings in the sky

Dennis Hlynsky's video project "small brains on mass" use digital processing to show the tracks of birds and bugs. It's like that one part in Donnie Darko, except there's no time travel and no incipient mental breakdowns -- just a beautiful illustration of the patterns of nature.

Read more: Living


Beijing bans new power plants to help clear the air

testing / Shutterstock

Beijing, the hazy home of the world's most famous air pollution, announced new steps on Wednesday to help clear the air.

No new fossil fuel-burning power plants will be allowed to be built in the city, and existing facilities will not be allowed to expand. Same goes for steel and cement factories and oil refineries. The rules will take effect in March, Reuters reports:


Texans want frackers to stop causing earthquakes


Some North Texans who have been enduring a months-long flurry of earthquakes want the shaking to stop -- and they believe that means putting an end to a controversial fracking practice.

“Is somebody going to help us?” one resident asked the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas and oil drilling, during a hearing on Tuesday. “I’ve heard of tornado alley. I’ve never heard of earthquake alley.”

The dozens of residents who traveled to Austin for the hearing want frackers barred from injecting their wastewater underground at high pressure. Scientists have linked the practice to earthquakes in other regions.


Tough love: Can a local leader save the EPA’s troubled southeast region?


Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) picked Heather McTeer Toney, a former Mississippi mayor, as the new director of its historically troubled southeast region. This region (Region 4 out of EPA’s ten regional jurisdictions) not only contains many of the “energy apartheid” states where people of color appear unnecessarily locked out of the benefits of renewable energy, but is also where racist policies are persistent and pervasive. It’s also the region where environmental justice advocates have, in the past, had the most beef with decisions about allowing factories and power plants to be built near poor communities and communities of color.

“Many of the bad facility siting and permitting decisions result directly from deals and compromises made between Region 4 and state and local governments -- often at the expense of and over the opposition of African American residents,” wrote environmental justice historian Robert Bullard back in 2009. “It is no accident that the modern civil rights movement and the environmental justice movement were born in the South.”


Leave a piano on the street in Melbourne, get a delightful cover of Pharrell’s “Happy”

piano copy
Screenshot via Real Good Kid

The news lately hasn’t been great, but this should make you feel better about the world:

The "Play me, I'm yours" piano comes Street Pianos, which has brought these public bits of delight to 37 cities so far. The cover of Pharrell's Happy is from Gillian Cosgriff, a "singer, songwriter, pianist, actress, and sometime waitress."

Read more: Cities, Living