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Pollution

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Tepco bulldozed hill that could have prevented Fukushima disaster

When engineers first assessed the future home of the Fukushima nuclear power plant that would eventually melt down in response to a tsunami, the site featured a striking, 82-feet-high bluff that overlooked the ocean below. It was more than high enough to have withstood the tsunami that struck the site in March. But a cost-benefit calculation indicated that controlling company Tepco could save money if it put the plant’s cooling seawater pumps nearer to sea level. So Tepco leveled the hill with bulldozers. "We decided to build the plant at ground level after comparing the ground construction costs and operating …

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DuPont herbicide may have caused mysterious tree plague

Millions of dollars worth of spruce and pine trees across the country have mysteriously withered and died in the past few months. The likely culprit is an herbicide marketed as a way to control lawn pests like dandelions. The herbicide is Imprelis, a new product from DuPont. It was supposed to be better for the environment than its predecessors and has been sold at a premium to professional landscapers. DuPont claims it "may not have been mixed properly or was applied with other herbicides." Landscapers just want to know if they're going to have to pay to replace the trees …

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How many lives did the EPA just save with coal pollution regulation?

The EPA's new rules regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants, limiting air pollution from coal plants in 27 Eastern states. According to the agency, this could result in 34,000 fewer premature deaths per year by 2014, plus preventing 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 cases of asthma every year. (The above map shows how many early deaths could be prevented in each state.) By then, the rules will have cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent below 2005 levels -- an ambitious goal, but one that will save lives and, not incidentally, also save $280 billion a …

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Documents show Exxon downplayed time it took to seal Yellowstone spill

ExxonMobil told federal officials and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer that they had sealed the pipeline leaking oil into the Yellowstone River within 30 minutes. But federal documents show that sealing the pipe took 56 minutes -- almost twice as long as the company originally said. The company told the AP that the error came about because the Exxon representative who briefed officials was providing information without the benefit of notes. In other words, not really intended to be a factual statement. About 150 people, worried about health risks from the spill, came to an EPA meeting on the spill last …

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Critical List: Republicans plan to defund the environment; no one likes the EPA

House Republicans want to defund all kinds of environmental activity -- the EPA, the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service. You know, just anything having to do with the outside. And the USDA thinks that bioengineered bluegrass doesn't fall within its regulatory sphere, which means companies could grow the stuff without any regulation. Exposing mice to air pollution makes them dumber and more depressed. So it's probably good for everyone that the EPA is putting new regulations on coal-fired power plants that should reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide by 73 percent and nitrogen oxides by 54 percent from 2005 …

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Ranchers are clearing the Amazon rainforest with Agent Orange

In Brazil, ranchers are opting to use Agent Orange -- one of the most toxic herbicides ever concocted, infamous for its use as a defoliant and de facto weapon during the Vietnam War -- to clear acres of rainforest. It's illegal to clear the forest, but by spraying swaths of trees with Agent Orange, deployed by helicopter, ranchers stand less chance of detection than if they cleared the land by bulldozing or cutting down trees. Agent Orange is all sorts of bad news. It not only destroys the trees it hits but also kills (horribly) any wildlife that happens to …

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ExxonMobil, historic flooding join forces to spread oil through Yellowstone River

The oil leaking from an ExxonMobil pipe into the Yellowstone River in Montana spread farther than the company said it anticipated. The reason, according to ExxonMobil’s spokespeople, is historic levels of flooding on the river. By Tuesday, Exxon had 280 people on the case, but still hadn’t managed to fight through floodwaters to reach the break in the pipeline. Exxon says the river is preventing its clean-up crews from going out on foot or in boats to look for oil on the river's banks. Exxon did shut down the busted pipeline, but not before spilling more than 40,000 gallons of …

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Gigantic, gorgeous visualization of humanity's transport footprint on planet Earth

It's the Atlantic, as you've never seen it before: Cities are red, shipping routes blue, roads green and air networks in white. Click on the image to see the full map of the entire planet.

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Your beach has a good chance of being contaminated with bacteria

When mulling over that eternal 4th of July question, Mountains v. Beach, consider that mountains are never closed because of bacteria that transmit rashes, pink eye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis. Beaches, on the other hand, are closed for exactly that reason. And last year the number of beach closings and advisories, most of which were connected to bacteria, reached the second highest level in the past two decades, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. What's worse is that the tests for bacteria levels take 24 hours. Swimmers might be enjoying a dip in what seems like cool, clean …

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Half of the Bay Area's litter comes from fast food

Fast food is already a lot like pollution -- it's bad for you, but it's more convenient than the alternative, so it's really really hard to get rid of. Also it shows up frequently on the sides of highways. Now, environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action has found that, at least in the San Francisco Bay area, these two dirty birds flock together. More than half of the litter in the four cities the group studied came from convenience foods at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Starbucks, and 7-11. Some of these places are at least trying to cut down on their …

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