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You get my drift? Pesticides cause big problems when they go where they’re not wanted

Crop duster
Shutterstock
Please be careful where you dump that toxic load.

Too many crop dusters are accidentally missing their targets and spraying poisonous pesticides where they're not supposed to go, killing crops and sickening farmers' neighbors.

Indiana Public Media reports that three-quarters of farm pesticide violations in the state involve what is euphemistically called "drift." That is, the chemicals don't land where they're intended to. From the report, which is the first in a three-part series on the problem:

[Farmer Brett] Middlesworth grows about 300 acres of tomatoes each year, but last summer he saw about a tenth of his yield damaged by a single instance of pesticide drift.

It happened halfway through the growing season. His neighbor was spraying a soybean field with Roundup herbicide. The wind picked up and carried the spray across the property line and onto Middlesworth’s tomatoes.

As Roundup targets broadleaf weeds, and tomatoes are broadleaf plants, the area closest to his neighbor was a total loss. ...

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$100 million worth of natural gas goes up in flames every month in North Dakota

Gas flaring.
Tim Evanson
Gas flaring in North Dakota.

Amidst an oil and gas drilling boom in North Dakota, a new report suggests that nearly a third of the natural gas that's being sucked out of the ground is being wasted -- burned on site and flared away.

The practice of flaring -- burning off natural gas instead of capturing and selling it -- is so rampant in the state that it is clearly visible from space. Reuters reports:

Remote well locations, combined with historically low natural gas prices and the extensive time needed to develop pipeline networks, have fueled the controversial practice, commonly known as flaring. While oil can be stored in tanks indefinitely after drilling, natural gas must be immediately piped to a processing facility.

Flaring has tripled in the past three years, according to the report from Ceres, a nonprofit group that tracks environmental records of public companies.

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EPA chief: Stop saying environmental regs kill jobs

Gina McCarthy being sworn in
U.S. EPA
Gina McCarthy takes the oath of office, with Carol Browner and Bob Perciasepe.

Tuesday, in her first speech as EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy got real with a crowd at Harvard Law School, the AP reports:

"Can we stop talking about environmental regulations killing jobs? Please, at least for today,” said McCarthy, referring to one of the favorite talking points of Republicans and industry groups.

"Let's talk about this as an opportunity of a lifetime, because there are too many lifetimes at stake," she said of efforts to address global warming.

The GOP has resorted to calling pretty much every Obama plan, especially those related to the climate, “job-killing.” McCarthy hammered home the emptiness of that claim. The Hill relays what she said:

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Thai tourist paradise wrecked by oil spill

Coconut Bay, Thailand
LisaRoxy
Coconut Bay before the oil spill.

What could be lovelier than a vacation at Thailand's Coconut Bay?

Right now, just about anything.

Thousands of gallons of crude gushed from a ruptured pipeline into the Gulf of Thailand over the weekend, blackening shorelines that had recently been bustling with tourists. Some beaches have been closed; others have simply been deserted.

Chemical dispersants have been dumped from airplanes over the slick, which should be helping to break up the oil but also potentially sickening workers, visitors, fish, and other wildlife.

The paradise-like island of Koh Samet, a tourist hub that's four hours by bus and boat from Bangkok, has been hit hard. An official told reporters that tourism there had been impacted in "an extreme way." Officials fear that the slick could reach central Thailand. From Reuters:

Worst hit was the beach at Ao Prao, or Coconut Bay, but tourists elsewhere on the island were getting out.

"We're staying on another beach but we're not taking any chances. We are checking out," Daria Volkov, a tourist from Moscow, told Reuters.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Pesticides are blowing into California’s mountains, poisoning frogs

Crop duster
Shutterstock
Not all of the pesticide stays where it is sprayed.

Pesticides sprayed over farms in California's Central Valley appear to be blowing up into the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where they've been found in the flesh of frogs in national parks.

Such farm chemicals are thought to be contributing to the ongoing decline of frogs and other amphibians in the Sierra. Mountain hikers used to need to take care to not step on frogs, but now the animals are difficult to find. Sierra amphibians help control insect numbers and provide food for birds and other wildlife, but their numbers are plummeting as they succumb to disease, habitat loss, and other environmental problems.

Researchers collected Pacific chorus frogs from Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Stanislaus National Forest, and Lake Tahoe in 2009 and 2010. They reported in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry that chemical cocktails of fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides were found accumulating in frogs from each of the sites. None of the pesticides found by the scientists were sprayed close to where the frogs were captured, but all of the pesticides were used in the Central Valley.

Read more: Food

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Gulf of Mexico dead zone is big, but not record-breaking big

Oh yay. Just 5,840 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico are virtually bereft of life this summer.

Click to embiggen
Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium
The deadest parts of the 2013 dead zone are shown in red. Click to embiggen.

This year's dead zone is much bigger than an official goal of 1,950 square miles, but not as bad as had been feared.

Heavy spring rains inundated Mississippi River tributaries with fertilizers and other nutrients, and once those pollutants flowed into the Gulf, they led to the growth of oxygen-starved areas where marine life can't survive.
Read more: Uncategorized

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Leak-prone oil tankers to remain on American train tracks for now

DOT-111
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Flickr account
A pile of DOT-111 oil tankers in Lac-Mégantic following the July 6 derailment and explosion.

Soda can–shaped rail cars like those that exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, earlier this month shouldn't be on America's train tracks. They are prone to rupture in accidents.

Yet these so-called DOT-111 railway cars will continue to haul most of the oil that's moved through the U.S. by rail at least into next year and likely beyond.

After an investigation into a deadly 2009 explosion of an ethanol-laden train in Illinois, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a redesign or replacement of DOT-111 cars, noting that their thin steel shells can easily puncture and that valves can break during rollovers.

The Obama administration has been working on rules to reduce the hazards of the dangerous railway cars, but those rules have been delayed by nearly a year, the AP reports. And it's unclear whether new regulations would apply to an estimated 40,000 older DOT-111's now in use or only to newer ones.

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Leaked EPA document raises questions about fracking pollution

Cabot Oil and Gas operation in Dimock
William Avery Hudson
The EPA isn't looking too hard at what Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. is up to behind this fence, or anywhere else.

The EPA doesn't seem very interested in finding out whether fracking pollutes groundwater. The latest indication of this emerged over the weekend in the Los Angeles Times.

Residents of the small town of Dimock in northeastern Pennsylvania have long been convinced that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. was poisoning their drinking water by fracking the land around them. In July of last year, the EPA announced that although water from some local wells contained “naturally occurring” arsenic, barium, and manganese, the agency was ending its investigation there without fingering the any culprits.

Now we find out that staff at a regional EPA office were worried about the role of fracking in polluting the town’s water, but their concerns appear to have been ignored by their bosses.

An internal EPA PowerPoint presentation prepared by regional staffers for their superiors and obtained by the L.A. Times paints an alarming picture of potential links between water contamination and fracking. And it reinforces the perception that the EPA is giving a free pass to the fracking industry, perhaps because natural gas plays a key role in President Obama's quest for "energy independence" and an "all of the above" energy portfolio. From the L.A. Times article:

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Anti-Keystone activists keep the heat on

Dozens of activists young, old, and in between walked 100 miles, from Camp David in Maryland to the White House, to call attention to their campaign for climate action and Keystone rejection. The Walk for Our Grandchildren, which wrapped up over the weekend, was one of many climate actions being coordinated all around the U.S. this summer.

Jay Mallin captured the highlights on video:

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Herbicides linked to farmer depression

Sad farmer
Shutterstock
Herbicide use is linked to depression among farmers and farmworkers.

Killing weeds with toxic chemicals might be making farmers clinically sad.

A study of more than 700 French farmers and farmworkers found that those who used herbicides were more likely to be treated for depression than were those who avoided the stuff.

From Reuters:

[W]hen the researchers took into account factors linked with depression, such as age and cigarette smoking, they determined that those farmers exposed to weedkillers were nearly two and a half times as likely to have had depression.

Furthermore, farmers who had greater exposure -- either more hours or longer years using herbicides -- also had a greater chance of having depression than farmers who had used weedkillers less.