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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Pesticide chemicals linked to food allergies

You may not be at all surprised to learn that pesticides are bad for us. No, but, like, really bad.


A couple of months ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned about the effects of pesticides on kids. Today's kids have grown up with a new normal of pesticide-laden food and increased food allergies (up 18 percent in the U.S. between 1997 and 2007). According to a new study, those two things might be connected. From Mother Earth News:

The study reported that high levels of dichlorophenols, a chemical used in pesticides and to chlorinate water, when found in the human body, are associated with food allergies.

"Our research shows that high levels of dichlorophenol-containing pesticides can possibly weaken food tolerance in some people, causing food allergy," said allergist Elina Jerschow, M.D., M.Sc., ACAAI fellow and lead study author. "This chemical is commonly found in pesticides used by farmers and consumer insect and weed control products, as well as tap water ...

"Previous studies have shown that both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the United States," said Dr. Jerschow. "The results of our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies."

Eat all the organic apples you want, but there's no escaping pesticides. The New York Times' Mark Bittman had some strong words about that this week:

Read more: Food, Living


Seven states, led by New York, sue EPA over methane from oil and gas drilling

One of the benefits of being an elected official in a bright blue state, a state so blue that it casts a pale blue glow over its neighbors, is that you can be pretty aggressively liberal. New York state has a proud tradition of such politicians (as well as some less aggressive ones) -- particularly those politicians ensconced as state attorney general.

Ten years ago, the state's attorney general was a gentleman named Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer basically created the role of the crusading AG, running hard against Wall Street, prostitution (ahem), and pollution. When he wasn't at the office, he was at home with his wife Silda, because he is a family man. Spitzer was succeeded in his role by Andrew Cuomo, who went after student loans and violations of privacy by police. In January 2011, when Cuomo became governor, the AG position was assumed by Eric Schneiderman -- who has taken up the activist tradition with gusto.

Schneiderman, during his campaign for attorney general
Schneiderman, during his campaign for attorney general.

Last May, Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to force an environmental review of fracking. That lawsuit was tossed out. So today, Schneiderman is trying a different route. From his website:

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of seven states, today notified the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of his intent to sue the Agency for violating the Clean Air Act by failing to address methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry. …


New Yorkers create three pounds of garbage per person per day

Twelve years ago, New York City residents created nearly four pounds of garbage per person per day. It was broken down as follows:

  • 27 percent thin pizza crusts
  • 20 percent tourists
  • 18 percent surliness
  • 14 percent unused Mets tickets
  • 11 percent lox
  • 6 percent rejected New York Post headline ideas
  • 4 percent ticker tape

Today, good news: The figure has declined to less than three pounds a day, about 12 ounces of which is recycled material. That's an estimated drop from 32 million pounds of garbage a day to 25 million pounds.

Not that the city is all that happy about it. From The New York Times:

While that’s the lowest amount since at least 2000, the cost of collecting and disposing of the garbage has remained relatively constant, ranging from a low of about 70 cents [per person per day] in 2002 to a high of more than 80 cents in 2008. In 2012, the average cost per person daily was about 75 cents. The cost figures are all in 2012 dollars.

Refuse accounts for most of the garbage, but recycling, which is more expensive per pound, makes up nearly half the daily expenditure.

Click to embiggen.
Independent Budget Office
Click to embiggen.
Read more: Cities, Living


How eco-awful is your Christmas tree? Experts are split

Ohhhh, Christmas tree.


We may be engaging in a fierce war on Christmas right now, but y'all know we love trees -- even the Christmas kind! Well, wait, maybe.

From The Washington Post:

Christmas trees play into a wider debate among environmentalists: Are tree farms better or worse at carbon sequestration than untouched forests?

The answer may surprise you: A study on North Carolina tree farms published last month looked at the farms' unique ability to sequester and soak up a whole lot of atmospheric carbon.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Coming soon to a horror movie near you: Antarctica is being invaded by king crabs

King Crab

The Antarctic is being invaded by king crabs -- and, somewhat ironically, it's because they survive better in warmer water.

From Nature:

Cold temperatures have kept crabs out of Antarctic seas for 30 million years. But warm water from the ocean depths is now intruding onto the continental shelf, and seems to be changing the delicate ecological balance. An analysis by [marine ecologist Craig] Smith and his colleagues suggests that 1.5 million crabs already inhabit Palmer Deep, [a] sea-floor valley ... And native organisms have few ways of defending themselves. “There are no hard-shell-crushing predators in Antarctica,” says Smith. “When these come in they're going to wipe out a whole bunch of endemic species.”

Scientists are asking for volunteers to help stem the invasion; the research team will provide melted butter and nutcrackers.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Ohio fights a multi-front war against blight

Good samaritans in Ohio may be getting a reprieve from potential misdemeanor charges.

Today the state House is voting on a bill that would allow people to clean up vacant, blighted properties without fear of a trespassing charge. This measure essentially gives residents more power to improve their neighborhoods, harnessing NIMBY instincts for good. From The Columbus Dispatch:

Some residents hesitate to take care of the properties around them because they risk trespassing charges, said Tiffany Sokol, office manager of the nonprofit Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., which boards up and cleans up vacant properties. The bill would allow individuals to clean up blighted land or buildings that have clearly been abandoned.

“Very ugly, nasty places,” [said Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D), the bill’s sponsor]. “These properties are an eyesore, a danger to their neighbors.”

East Cleveland
Blight in East Cleveland.

The Rust Belt is only getting rustier, and Ohio communities have tried a number of strategies to fight neighborhood blight. Yesterday, The Columbus Dispatch and a city website published the names of negligent owners of more than 100 blighted properties. The city called it a fight for neighborhoods.

City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. said anything is worth a try.

“If it gets their attention, good,” he said.

Read more: Cities


Republicans are having lots of fun objecting to Sandy relief funding

Oh my God, some politicians are dicks.

The federal budget for 2013 is $3.8 trillion dollars -- $3,800,000,000,000. Last week, President Obama requested that some $60.4 billion be used to help the Northeast recover from Sandy. $60.4 billion is a lot of money, but it's a small percentage of what the government spends each year. It's under six days worth of spending -- going to rebuild infrastructure and restore the lives of those displaced by the storms.


But it's also an opportunity for assholes to grandstand, and God forbid they should let such an opportunity pass. From Reuters:

Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona said on Tuesday that Obama's Sandy request was simply "too much."

"At $60 billion? In this time when we're trying to solve the deficit problem?" he told reporters.

The resistance could put the Sandy aid bill at risk of becoming a pawn in the tense negotiations over the year-end "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts, although members of both parties have said it is essential for Congress to approve new disaster relief funds before the end of the year.

In 2010, Kyl's home state of Arizona received $64.4 billion from the federal government without having neighborhoods wiped out by a storm. In this time when we're trying to solve the deficit problem?!?


Department of Energy announces millions in grants to offshore wind projects

There is some good news in the wind industry: The federal government has announced a large investment in offshore wind.

From the New York Times' Green blog:

The federal government is stepping up its efforts to kick-start the offshore wind industry by awarding $28 million in grants to seven projects that are developing varying kinds of power-generation technology.

The Department of Energy said Wednesday that each developer would receive up to $4 million to complete the engineering, design and permitting phases of their projects in six states. Three of the seven will then be selected to receive up to $47 million over four years, subject to Congressional appropriations, for construction and installation, with the aim of having them begin commercial operation by 2017. So far, no offshore wind farm is operating in American waters.

The Department of Energy also has a surprisingly cool map of the grant recipients. (You may need to zoom out.)


As deadline for saving wind industry nears, wind advocates fold

I've just returned from an expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula to see for myself. And I can confirm: The Mayan prediction of the end of the world is real and the threat is imminent. Two minor caveats, though. The first is that the key date isn't Dec. 21, it's Dec. 31. And the second is that all of civilization isn't at risk -- just the U.S. wind industry. So that's kind of good news, I guess.

What's putting the wind industry at risk, as you may remember and as the Mayans savvily predicted, is the expiration of the wind production tax credit, an incentive given to electricity producers to use wind energy. It's a key prop for the industry, allowing it to compete in a sector heavily biased toward long-standing fossil-fuel-based systems. First introduced under President George H. W. Bush, the credit (and other similar renewable credits) has been regularly renewed since. With the production tax credit in place, wind has seen growth. Without it?


If not renewed, industry advocacy group the American Wind Energy Association predicts the loss of 37,000 jobs -- and perhaps a complete collapse in new wind installations.

Over the course of the summer, the future of the wind PTC was uncertain. In June, even conservative stalwarts like Karl Rove came out in support of extending it. But in September, Mitt Romney, who had yet to begin his post-election tour of middle America, came out forcefully against an extension. With Romney leading the party, the effect was to solidify Republican opposition to the tax credit, greatly complicating the situation for proponents.

Those calling for an extension, including AWEA, have seemed stumped on how to get an extension passed on Capitol Hill. Even Democratic members of Congress have been surprisingly indifferent to the issue -- particularly in light of fierce, hypocritical, Koch-backed opposition.

With 18 days left before expiration, the fight is picking up. On Wednesday, former President Clinton brought his campaign mojo to Chicago, celebrating the Midwest's spike in wind installation. A group of veterans stormed D.C. to push for a renewal and the jobs that would result. Even religious leaders are speaking out, with the Evangelical Environmental Network and others holding a press conference this morning arguing that the transition to cleaner energy sources is a moral imperative, given the health damage done by fossil fuels.

Opponents have also moved into action: Exelon, a nuclear energy provider, is asking its employees to contact Congress to oppose the extension. A coalition of groups linked to fossil fuels held its own press conference today. (Spoiler for everyone, everywhere: Press conferences are always useless and you should stop having them.)

Yesterday afternoon, a breakthrough by AWEA. No, it hadn't cobbled together enough votes to win the fight. Instead, it agreed to support an appeasement, a gradual decrease in the PTC until it goes away completely. From AWEA's letter to congressional leaders [PDF]:


U.K. reapproves fracking, because it’s jealous of how cool we are

Colonists in America once bristled at the authoritarian decrees of the King of England. Taxed without recourse, conscripted, yoked to dictates from a man who'd never set foot on this continent, they rebelled. After a years-long war, America won its independence. Only a few decades later, though, England wanted to reclaim what it had lost, invading the still-young United States, all but burning its capital to the ground.

Today, proud Americans, two centuries after those acts, we have our ultimate revenge. The United Kingdom has just reapproved fracking.

A sad British woman wants to end U.S. energy hegemony. Too bad, British woman!
A sad British woman wants to end U.S. energy hegemony. Too bad, British woman!

From CNN:

Britain's government lifted its ban on a controversial mining process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Thursday, allowing companies to continue their exploration of shale gas reserves.

Energy Secretary Edward Davey said the decision was subject to new controls to limit the risks of seismic activity.

A halt was called to fracking last year after two small earthquakes in Lancashire, northwestern England, where Cuadrilla Resources was exploring for shale gas.