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U.S. Government Sued By Activists Seeking Endangered Status of Bees Vital To Pollinating Staple Crops

Rusty patch bumble bee. Photo by Headline & Global News.

While most people don’t give much thought, if any, to how important bees are to our lives by pollinating some of our most basic fruits, vegetables, and grains, activists are taking notice and making efforts to stop their declining numbers in the wild, resulting from multiple threats including habitat destruction, pesticides, and pathogens.

To really understand the important role of bees, Achim Steiner, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, says, “The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees.”

In the United States, an important pollinator that conservation groups are currently trying to protect is the rusty patch bumble bee, which is an important pollinator of crops including tomatoes, apples, cranberries, blueberries, and alfalfa.

Last year, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation together with the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the rusty patch bumble bee considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

To understand the process, under the law, the Secretary of the Interior is required to make an initial response, within 90 days, of whether or not a petition provides enough information to support a protection request.

If the Secretary finds that there is enough information that a species might be considered for protection, then the agency has up to a year to make a final decision on the protection status.

Then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is legally responsible for listing decisions for species such as the rusty patch. Neither agency ever responded to this initial petition

Earlier this year, the conservation groups filed a complaint with the District Court in Washington, D.C., urging the court to order the agencies to make a 90-day finding and publish it in the Federal Register. A decision is still pending.

The conservation groups explained that among the reasons this particular bee is important is because of its ability to buzz pollinate, which means that the vibrations or buzzing from its wings dislodge plant pollen and facilitate the fertilization process.  

A number of our staple foods such as the tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries can only be fertilized through buzz pollination, and there are very few types of bees can do this kind of pollination.

Honeybees don’t buzz pollinate, and the San Francisco online magazine Bay Nature explains that many of the plants that do produce these staples crops “do not produce nectar, so honeybees ignore them anyway.”

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Michigan Utility To Reduce Emissions From Its Coal Burning Plants As Part of Federal Settlement

The Michigan utility Consumers Energy agreed to a proposed settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department to reduce emission including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter at its coal-fired plants, which were found to exceed allowable levels under the Clean Air Act.

Consumers Energy Coal Fired Power Plant near Bay City, Michigan. Photo courtesy of MLive Media Group.

The agreement will affect the company’s five Michigan coal-fired plants located in West Olive, Essexville, Muskegon, and Luna Pier. Each plant has several coal burning operating units, comprising a total of 12 units for the company as a whole.

As part of the agreement, the company said that it will shut down its seven oldest coal-fired units. These will encompass three units at the J.R. Whiting Generating Complex near Luna Pier; two at the B.C Cobb Generating Plant in Muskegon; and two at the Karn/Weadock Generating Complex near Bay City bordering Essexville.

Consumers Energy said that, “These units will comply with new interim emissions limits until their retirement in April 2016.” In the meantime the settlement agreement will require the company to continue operating existing pollution controls as well as install new pollution control technologies onto these and all of the remaining units to meet current Clean Air Act emissions standards.

The EPA says that sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are the two predominant pollutants emitted from the power plants. The agency adds that these pollutants can be converted into fine particulate matter once in the air, which can then be “breathed in and lodged deep in the lungs, leading to a variety of health problems and even premature death.”

The EPA explains that high concentrations of sulfur dioxide can effect breathing and aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Those most at risk include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly. Sulfur dioxide is also a primary contributor to acid rain.

Nitrogen oxide is also a contributor to acid rain deteriorating water quality, as well as contributing to ground-level ozone (smog) and global warming. The EPA adds that children, people with lung problems such as asthma, and people who either work or exercise outside are also susceptible to adverse effects such as lung tissue damage.

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NYC Year-Round Safe Disposal Options For Household Items Containing Harmful Chemicals

In New York State, it’s illegal to throw certain household items into the regular trash because they contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment, wildlife, and human health.

Graphic courtesy of NYCRecycles.

A lot of the items that can’t go into the regular trash include things containing mercury, such as florescent and compact florescent bulbs (CFLs), old fashioned thermostats, and rechargeable batteries.

Alternatively, you might find it interesting to know that you are allowed to throw alkaline batteries into the regular trash.

Standard household alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury – and with the exception of rechargeable and lithium batteries (commonly used for portable equipment) – most batteries pose little risk to the environment if thrown into the trash, says the New York City mayor’s office.

The reason most batteries don’t contain mercury anymore is because it’s a highly dangerous neurotoxin. It can be breathed in or absorbed through the skin, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which adds that mercury can cause severe and potentially fatal damage to the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, and other organs.

The NIH also says that even very low exposure to mercury can impair the immune system, and exposure to very small amounts “in concentrated forms can result in devastating neurological damage and death.”

With the heightened awareness of the dangers of mercury and the need to limit public exposure, in the 1990s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified batteries as the largest source of mercury in municipal solid waste streams. As a result of legislation and public pressure, the battery industry has removed mercury from virtually all household batteries, making them safe to throw out into the regular trash.

In contrast, rechargeable batteries which can contain toxic chemicals, including mercury, cadmium, lead, and other heavy metals, are illegal to throw out into the regular trash.

NYS’s Rechargeable Battery Law requires stores that sell rechargeable batteries (or products containing rechargeable batteries) take back up to ten batteries of the same shapes and sizes as they sell, free of charge.

In NYC, another option for disposing of rechargeable and lithium batteries is to take them to any of the city’s Department of Sanitation Household Special Waste Drop-Off Sites located in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

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IBM Still Paying For Toxic Chemicals Effects On Upstate New York Town Old Former Repair Site

The Southern District Court of New York ruled that IBM must reimburse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for past costs incurred by the agency for the toxic waste cleanup of the East Fishkill area of Dutchess County, N.Y.

Water pollution effects from IBM waste. Photo by Laws.com.

The pollution contaminated local drinking water which resulted from the company’s use of a contracted facility (J. Manne Inc.) to clean and repair its computer chip racks.

The majority of the cleanup has been the responsibility of IBM, with oversight from the EPA. So far, the company has spent approximately $46 million on cleanup of the area.

Between 1965 and 1975, J. Manne Inc. operated a facility that used industrial cleaning solvents containing chemicals including tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE), which are volatile organic chemicals whose exposure can cause serious health impacts.

The NYS Department of Health says that short-term exposure to PCE can affect the central nervous system causing problems including dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, lightheadedness, and poor balance.

Long-term exposure to PCE can lead to health impacts including liver and kidney damage, reduced red blood cells, as well as effects on the immune system, such as increasing white blood cell count and antibodies.

The NYS Department of Health has also associated PCE exposure to several types of cancers including bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Limited studies have also shown links to cancers of the esophagus, kidneys, lungs, liver, cervix, and breasts.

In addition, the NYS health agency looked at the effects of TCE and also found that short-term exposure was liked to problems associated with the central nervous system including effected motor coordination, nausea, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, blurred vision, and fatigue.

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Group Wins Lawsuit Against Personal Care Cos. To Remove Cancer Causing Ingredient

The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has finalized settlement agreements with 14 personal care companies, including Colgate-Palmolive Co., Avlon Industries Inc., and House of Cheatham Inc., to remove a chemical called cocamide DEA from their products in California. The settlements are expected to have national implications.

Graphic courtesy of ameliebeaute.com.

Cocamide DEA is a synthetic chemical made by a reaction between coconut oils and diethanolamine.  The chemical is frequently used in shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, and shower gels as a foaming agent, and as a thickener, says the CEH, which has also found it in shaving creams and some dishwashing detergents.

The concern is that the chemical is a possible human carcinogen and is known to cause cancer in lab animals.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) tested the chemical by applying it to the skins of 100 mice, for five-days-a-week for two years, which resulted in a high incidence of tumors forming on their kidneys and livers.

The IARC said that the increased incidence in mice was “associated with the high level of free diethanolamine that was present in the solutions.”

In addition, the Environmental Working Group said there is strong evidence that the chemical can trigger skin allergies.

The CEH used California’s Prop 65, also called the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, as a pretext for its litigation. As the CEH explained, the law requires businesses to warn California consumers if their products will expose them to “significant amounts of toxic chemicals.”

The law covers two types of toxic chemicals: those that cause cancer and those that cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. California’s governor is charged with maintaining a list of these toxic chemicals, which is updated at least annually.

In 2012, cocamide DEA was identified by California as a cancer-causing chemical. The CEH explained that under Prop 65, businesses were given a one-year grace period, after which they would be required to either warn their customers about the presence of the chemical or remove it from their products.

Beginning last summer, the CEH began an investigation in which it purchased hundreds of shampoos and other products from major national stores around California and from online retailers. The group looked for products than contained cocamide DEA without any warning labels, which is a violation of Prop 65.

The investigation resulted in the CEH initiating litigation against over 150 companies which either make or sell the violating products.

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