World’s rivers ‘awash with dangerous levels of antibiotics’

The Guardian reports:

Hundreds of rivers around the world from the Thames to the Tigris are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics, the largest global study on the subject has found.

Antibiotic pollution is one of the key routes by which bacteria are able develop resistance to the life-saving medicines, rendering them ineffective for human use. “A lot of the resistance genes we see in human pathogens originated from environmental bacteria,” said Prof William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter who studies antimicrobial resistance but was not involved in the study.

The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global health emergency that could kill 10 million people by 2050, the UN said last month.

The drugs find their way into rivers and soil via human and animal waste and leaks from wastewater treatment plants and drug manufacturing facilities. “It’s quite scary and depressing. We could have large parts of the environment that have got antibiotics at levels high enough to affect resistance,” said Alistair Boxall, an environmental scientist at the University of York, who co-led the study. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s EPA is ‘cooking the books’ to justify its attack on clean air rules

Think Progress reports:

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to distort the way it measures the benefits of some of the agency’s most impactful policies, regulations that safeguard human health by limiting air pollution. The primary beneficiary of such distortion? The coal industry.

When the government evaluates the health and financial benefits of clean air, the calculation typically incorporates the number of lives saved and the scale of reduced health impacts thanks to reducing pollution — also known as “co-benefits.” Incorporating these factors into a cost-benefit analysis forms the very foundation upon which many environmental protections are based.

But now, experts warn the EPA is opening the door to industry challenges to these clean air rules by changing the way it evaluates the long-accepted science on the risk of particulate matter — microscopic particles polluting the air that are linked to increased heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory disease.

The agency may also be laying the groundwork, experts say, for using these “biased and misleading” calculations in other policy contexts. That fear was stoked by a new EPA memo released this week, ushering in a formal process to change the way the agency calculates its cost-benefit analysis across a slew of issues, from water pollution to pesticides. [Continue reading…]

Poisoning America: EPA wants to triple level of rocket fuel chemical allowed in drinking water

Think Progress reports:

The Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to raise the threshold for a chemical found in rocket fuel to triple the previous limit allowed in drinking water supplies. This is the first new drinking water rule introduced by the agency since the George W. Bush administration.

In the EPA’s latest move to weaken environmental and health protections, it released a notice on Thursday requesting public comment on its proposal to raise the maximum level allowed for the chemical perchlorate — which is linked to thyroid problems — to 56 micrograms per liter.

This is three times higher than what the EPA previously recommended as a safe level for drinking water (15 micrograms per liter). The previous recommendation was just an advisory to help guide states, as opposed to an enforceable limit, which is what the agency is now proposing. [Continue reading…]

Humans are killing off most large wild animals as sixth mass extinction advances

The Guardian reports:

Humanity’s ongoing destruction of wildlife will lead to a shrinking of nature, with the average body size of animals falling by a quarter, a study predicts.

The researchers estimate that more than 1,000 larger species of mammals and birds will go extinct in the next century, from rhinos to eagles. They say this could lead to the collapse of ecosystems that humans rely on for food and clean water.

Humans have wiped out most large creatures from all inhabited continents apart from Africa over the last 125,000 years. This annihilation will accelerate rapidly in the coming years, according to the research.

The future extinctions can be avoided if radical action is taken to protect wildlife and restore habitats, and the scientists say the new work can help focus efforts on key species.

Animal populations have fallen by 60% since 1970, suggesting a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth is under way caused by the razing of wild areas, hunting and intensive farming. Scientists said this month that human society was in danger from the decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems, with half of natural ecosystems now destroyed and a total of a million species at risk of extinction. [Continue reading…]

EPA plans to ignore thousands of deaths by changing its methods of risk assessment

The New York Times reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the E.P.A. had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation — the Clean Power Plan, which was President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure. It would also make it easier for the administration to defend its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

It has been a constant struggle for the E.P.A. to demonstrate, as it is normally expected to do, that society will see more benefits than costs from major regulatory changes. This is one of many examples of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations.

The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted. But the proposed change is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels. [Continue reading…]

Air pollution is deadlier than tobacco smoking

The Guardian reports:

Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review.

The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found.

The systemic damage is the result of pollutants causing inflammation that then floods through the body and ultrafine particles being carried around the body by the bloodstream.

Air pollution is a “public health emergency”, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 90% of the global population enduring toxic outdoor air. New analysis indicates 8.8m early deaths each year – double earlier estimates – making air pollution a bigger killer than tobacco smoking. [Continue reading…]

Plastic waste pact approved with U.S. among few holdouts

The Associated Press reports:

Almost every country in the world has agreed on a legally binding framework for reducing polluting plastic waste, with the United States a notable exception, United Nations environmental officials said Friday.

An agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of U.N.-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals. Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results.

Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Program said the “historic” agreement linked to the 186-country, U.N.-supported Basel Convention means countries will have to monitor and track movements of plastic waste outside their borders.

“It’s sending a very strong political signal to the rest of the world — to the private sector, to the consumer market — that we need to do something,” Payet said. “Countries have decided to do something which will translate into real action on the ground.”

The deal affects products used in a broad array of industries, such as health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, and food and beverages.

Countries will have to figure out their own ways of adhering to the accord, Payet said. Even the few non-signatory countries, like the United States, could be impacted when they ship plastic waste to countries that are on board. [Continue reading…]

U.S. fossil fuel subsidies exceed Pentagon spending, says IMF

Rolling Stone reports:

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

The study defines “subsidy” very broadly, as many economists do. It accounts for the “differences between actual consumer fuel prices and how much consumers would pay if prices fully reflected supply costs plus the taxes needed to reflect environmental costs” and other damage, including premature deaths from air pollution. [Continue reading…]

Humans are wiping out life on Earth

The New York Times reports:

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. [Continue reading…]

Loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change

Robert Watson writes:

A colleague recently described how fish would swim into her clothing when she was a child bathing in the ocean off the coast of Vietnam, but today the fish are gone and her children find the story far-fetched.

Another recalled his experiences just last year in Cape Town – one of the world’s most attractive tourism and leisure destinations – when more than 2 million people faced the nightmare prospect of all taps, in every home and business, running dry.

These instances, on opposite sides of the world, are two faces of the same problem; the relentless pressure we are putting on biodiversity and the contributions that nature makes to our wellbeing, and the way we humans are changing the Earth’s climate.

The rich variety of nature provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, and countless moments of personal inspiration spent in forests and mountains, exploring beaches and rivers, or even listening to a simple birdsong in a quiet moment.

We have all assumed that nature would always be here for us and our children. However, our boundless consumption, shortsighted reliance on fossil fuels and our unsustainable use of nature now seriously threaten our future.

Environmentalists, scientists and indigenous peoples have been sounding the alarm for decades. Our understanding of the overexploitation of the planet has advanced with grim, sharp clarity over that time.

We have entered an era of rapidly accelerating species extinction, and are facing the irreversible loss of plant and animal species, habitats and vital crops, while coming face to face with the horrific impacts of global climate change. [Continue reading…]