In today’s On the News segment: There are nearly 100 chemicals used in food processing and packaging that pose a serious health risk, but the FDA is only banning three of these type of chemicals, which are no longer even in use; Greenland is losing about 8,000 tons of ice sheet every second; Germany just opened a superhighway that is only open to bikes; and more.
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You need to know this. There is a massive methane leak in California that you may not even know about. Since mid-October, a broken pipe located 8,000 feet below ground has been leaking an estimated 50,000 kilograms of methane every hour, but Gov. Jerry Brown only declared a state of emergency over that leak last week. The ruptured pipe is located in Porter Ranch, California, and the well is owned and operated by the Southern California Gas Company (SoCal). Despite the warnings of environmental groups about the dangers of methane and concerns about aging infrastructure, it had been over a year since that pipe was tested, and no safety mechanism had ever been installed. According to the attorney for local residents, who have already suffered serious health effects, “The safety valve that should have been at the bottom of the well to prevent [gas] from migrating up is not present in the wells…” In other words, just like the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, SoCal gas could have installed the proper safety mechanism to protect the public, but corporate greed stood in the way of social responsibility. And, just like the Gulf spill, the company has been unable to stop the massive leak ever since because of the depth of the leak and the underlying safety concerns. Currently, that company is building a relief well to stop the blowout, but they estimate that it won’t be complete for months. In the meantime, surrounding residents have been evacuated, lawsuits have been filed against the company, and one of the most potent greenhouse gases continues to pour into our environment. In the words of the legendary Erin Brockovich, “The enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated.” And, the fact that once again corporate greed has put our nation – and possibly our planet – at risk cannot be ignored. In the short term, we must demand that all available resources are used to stop this leak. In the long term, we need to come together as a nation and stand up to the corporate greed that leaves us all at risk for the next disaster.
According to the Environmental Working Group, there are nearly 100 chemicals used in food processing and packaging that pose a serious health risk. But, the FDA is only banning three of these type of chemicals, which are no longer even in use. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration banned three grease-resistant chemicals more than a decade after environmental and health groups started sounding the alarm. Those chemical substances have been linked to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses, but it’s been five years since US chemical companies have stopped their production. However, as EWG President Kevin Cook explained, “This is another egregious example of how, all too often, regulatory actions under the nation’s broken chemical laws are too little and too late to protect Americans’ health.” That group is calling on Congress to investigate the use of perfluorinated compounds – aka PFCs – in food processing and packaging, and to intervene before more Americans are harmed by the chemicals still being used. It shouldn’t take decades to ban chemicals that we know are dangerous, and it’s time that these broken laws are changed.
Germany’s known for their Autobahn highway, which famously has no speed restriction. Now, that nation is making headlines for a new type of superhighway that is only open to bikes. According to a recent article over at CommonDreams.org, the first 3-mile stretch of the RS1, a special superhighway for bikes, is officially open. When it’s complete, the RS1 will stretch about 62 miles, and it will connect 10 major cities and include four different universities. A report from Fast Company states, “The RS1 will be continuous, running not just between cities, but right through city centers.” And, the paths will be well lit and cleared of snow during the winter. The development group RVR estimated that the path will soon take 50,000 cars off the road every day, and it will help clear up areas with congested vehicle traffic. Typically, one of the biggest obstacles to getting cars off the road is providing people with another way to commute. Germany is answering that call by investing in bike lanes and and infrastructure. Could we do the same here at home?
Greenland is losing about 8,000 tons of ice sheet every second. According to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Greenland’s melting ice sheets are disappearing much faster than scientists expected. Warmer temperatures have increased the amount of meltwater, and changes in the make up of glaciers have made it more difficult for that meltwater to be reabsorbed. Rather than refreezing, the water that melts off of the glaciers is staying on the surface of the ice sheet, forming rivers, and traveling miles downstream into the sea. That means that far more of that meltwater winds up contributing to sea-level rise, and it means that Greenland’s ice sheets are shrinking much faster than earlier estimates. NASA climate scientist Josh Willis explained the study, saying, “The ice in Greenland is a big, complicated beast, but every time we have a new result lately, it turns out [that] it’s melting faster than we thought.” That is not good news for Greenland, and it’s not good news for our species. We better get to work changing our ways while we still have a chance.
And finally … Orchids are some of the most beautiful flowers on earth, but they’re not always the most sweet-smelling. In fact, a common bog orchid in the United States mimics human body odor to attract mosquitoes for pollination. Although this orchid, the Platanthera obstusata commonly live alongside other orchid species, they rarely interbreed. So, scientists figured that they must use different pollinators to reproduce. In order to test their theory, researchers placed air-tight bags over different orchid species, and studied the chemical make up of the scent that each gave off. The mosquito-attracting plants actually release some of the same chemicals found in human body odor, which lure tiger mosquitoes, which then spread the flower’s pollen. They say a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but that may not apply when we’re talking about orchids that smell like B.O.
And that’s the way it is for the week of January 11, 2016. I’m Thom Hartmann on Science and Green News.