Toxic battery plant has to tell its 12,000 neighbors they might get cancer | Grist


Toxic battery plant has to tell its 12,000 neighbors they might get cancer
By Aura Bogado on May 19, 2016

A smelter in the Los Angeles area has 30 days to tell its 12,000 neighbors that the plant’s arsenic emissions put them at a high risk for developing cancer. It also has to come up with a plan to reduce those emissions — but that could take years, if it happens at all.

Quemetco operates a lead-acid battery recycling plant in City of Industry, a largely Latino community in the San Gabriel Valley, east of downtown L.A. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) notified the company on Tuesday that it must inform neighbors of the high cancer risk its operation poses in City of Industry and three adjacent communities. As it happens, all four are neighborhoods full of people of color, mostly Latino and Asian.

The arsenic, a carcinogen, gets into the air as a byproduct of Quemetco’s lead smelting. But health officials didn’t consider the level at which the plant emits arsenic life-threatening until about a year ago, when the state updated its health risk assessment standards. After an extensive evaluation, the state determined that previous guidelines had underestimated the consequences of toxic emissions such as arsenic, especially for children.

Aside from having 30 days to inform its neighbors of the high cancer risk, Quemetco has 180 days to come up with a proposal to reduce its arsenic emissions in line with AQMD’s standards. Once regulators approve its new proposal, the plant then has another three years to implement it. That means it could take nearly four years for Quemetco’s neighbors to finally breathe a small sigh of relief. And that’s only if things go according to plan.

Quemetco’s lead-acid battery recycling plant – the only one operating in the western U.S. – hasn’t had a great record of complying with air-pollution regulations. California’s toxic substances agency outlined a plan to test for arsenic and lead within a half-mile radius to Quemetco last October. The company opposed the plan, claiming that it was impossible to know whether Quemetco or another company was polluting the area. The two struck a deal, which initially limits the scope of testing to a smaller, quarter-mile area Quemetco suggested.

The AQMD confirms that Wayne Nastri, who took over as the agency’s top executive last month, recused himself from any decisions on the plant because Quemetco is his former clients

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Trump Jr. wants his dad to put him in charge of federal parks and lands | Grist


REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Trump Jr. wants his dad to put him in charge of federal parks and lands
By Katie Herzog on May 18, 2016

Donald Trump is butting heads with the GOP establishment over the issue of federal lands. Republican orthodoxy calls for handing them over to the states. But when asked about the issue in January, Trump said, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”

Turns out there’s one very specific reason Trump wants to keep the lands great: because his sons like to kill animals on them — his eldest son in particular.

Donald Trump Jr., a hunter of big game as well as smaller defenseless animals, recently shared his own views on public lands with The New Yorker. “I’m in the fortunate position to be able to buy some land on my own, but not everyone has that ability,” Jr. said. “As it stands, if the states get the lands back, they could remain public or they could be sold off. So, say you have a ten-thousand-acre area. Well, a state could turn that into fifty golf courses that would be private and exclusive.”

While this may not bring in votes from the golf club contingent, Jr. has been actively hunting the sportsman vote, as E&E Daily reports. He invited reporters along on a pheasant hunting trip in January, and has given exclusive interviews to Field & Stream, Bowhunter Magazine, and Deer & Deer Hunting. His father was the only presidential candidate to speak at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual trade show in Las Vegas.

Big ambition runs in the family: Trump Jr. told the magazine Petersen’s Hunting that he would like to be secretary of the interior in his father’s administration. He is, to be sure, completely unqualified, but that’s never stopped a Trump before. “Between my brother and myself, no one understands the issues better than us,” Jr. told Petersen’s. “No one in politics lives the lifestyle more than us.” No one.

Big egos, it seems, run in the family as well.

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The Alberta wildfire is dumping mercury into the atmosphere | Grist

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MCPL VanPutten/Canadian Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters
The Alberta wildfire is dumping mercury into the atmosphere
By Melissa Cronin on May 19, 2016

Alberta’s massive wildfire is sending more than just smoke into the air.

The Fort McMurray fire, which merged with another smaller wildfire last week, has displaced residents and cleared nearly everything in its path, including swaths of the region’s dense boreal forests. The combined blaze has already released the equivalent of 5 percent of Canada’s annual carbon dioxide emissions and is expected to continue to burn for the next few months. The fires have also filled Fort McMurray’s air with dangerous contaminants, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide, pushing its air pollution to off-the-charts levels. Along with all that carbon, the fires are releasing mercury into the atmosphere.

When a huge fire rages through a boreal forest, it is probably going to hit some peatlands, 80 percent of which are located in high latitudes. Peat contains more mercury than other soils, accumulated in layers that can build up over thousands of years. Peatlands are largely stable sinks for mercury — until a wildfire comes along.

“All of a sudden, you have this big release in a fire,” said Christine Wiedinmyer, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Atmospheric Chemistry Observations and Modeling Lab. “The mercury that before was staying in one place is now in the atmosphere, and can be transported downwind, adding more mercury in places where we don’t necessarily want it.”

And mercury may be able to travel far away from its source. By some estimates, mercury in the atmosphere can travel around the Earth for about a year before being deposited on land or water.

“The mercury level in rain is not only from us — the sources are also global, like when it gets released Europe and Asia and deposited down,” said Yanxu Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University who studies mercury and other pollutants. “It has the capability for long-range transport, which makes it harder to control and combat.”

Mercury exposure can cause insidious effects even at low levels, worsening health problems that already exist. It depends on the dose and the type of mercury, and there are three types: elemental, which can cause neurological damage; salts, industrial pollution causing kidney problems; and organic, the type that gets into the food chain and causes birth defects and is why pregnant women are advised against eating fish.

“In a lot of cases, mercury has a lasting impact — but the degree to which that resonates is something we don’t understand yet,” said Dave Krabbenhoft, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who’s been studying mercury contamination for 28 years.

The 2012 U.S. mercury and air toxics rule, meant to clean up the industrial kind of mercury pollution from power plants, is expected to prevent some 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year, saving up to $70 billion in healthcare costs annually.

Boreal fires could roll back some of those numbers. Since these fires take place in less-populated areas, they are often left to burn longer, releasing more mercury. This problem will only be exacerbated by the increasing intensity and frequency of boreal fires due to climate change.

We don’t yet know exactly how much mercury Alberta’s fires are releasing — and we might not know for years, until scientists can complete a post-mortem review. But one thing’s for sure: Those plumes of smoke aren’t healthy for you.

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