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The known extent of contamination of American communities with the toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS continues to grow at an alarming rate, with no end in sight. As of March 2019, at least 610 locations in 43 states are known to be contaminated, including drinking water systems serving an estimated 19 million people.
The latest update of an interactive map by EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, at Northeastern University, documents publicly known pollution from PFAS chemicals nationwide, including public water systems, military bases, military and civilian airports, industrial plants, dumps and firefighter training sites. The map is the most comprehensive resource available to track PFAS pollution in the U.S.
The last time the map was updated, in July 2018, there were 172 contaminated sites in 40 states. This update draws from new data sources, so it is not directly comparable with the previous edition. But clearly, the crisis is spreading, and the new data may represent just the tip of a toxic iceberg.
PFAS chemicals, used in hundreds of consumer products, have been linked to weakened childhood immunity, thyroid disease, cancer and other health problems. PFOA, formerly used to make DuPont's Teflon, and PFOS, formerly in 3M's Scotchgard, have been phased out in the U.S., but manufacturers have replaced them with chemically similar, largely untested compounds that may be no safer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PFAS chemicals contaminate the blood of virtually all Americans.
"The Environmental Protection Agency has utterly failed to address PFAS with the seriousness this crisis demands, leaving local communities and states to grapple with a complex problem rooted in the failure of the federal chemical regulatory system," said Ken Cook, president of EWG, which has studied these compounds for almost two decades. "EPA must move swiftly to set a truly health-protective legal limit for all PFAS chemicals, requiring utilities to clean up contaminated water supplies."
"The updated map shows that PFAS contamination is truly a nationwide problem, impacting millions of Americans in hundreds of communities," said Phil Brown, a professor of sociology and health sciences at Northeastern University and director of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute. "Leaders in many communities and states are doing great work to raise awareness about PFAS and push for cleanup, but this is a national crisis demanding national action. The EPA should act more quickly to evaluate all PFAS chemicals and restrict their use, and polluting industries should be held responsible."
Michigan has 192 sites on the map, reflecting a testing program more comprehensive than anywhere else. It reinforces the fact that PFAS chemicals are everywhere - when you look for them, you find them. California has 47 known contamination sites and New Jersey has 43.
The map also shows contamination of 117 military sites, including 77 military airports, a legacy of the Pentagon's 50-year history of using PFAS-based firefighting foam.
There are no legally enforceable limits for PFAS chemicals under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA's non-binding health advisory level for drinking water is 70 parts per trillion, or ppt, for PFOA and PFOS, separately or in combination.
Last year the federal Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry proposed safe levels that roughly translate to 7 ppt for PFOS and 11 ppt for PFOA. Based on the best available science and emerging evidence of harm from the entire class of these chemicals, EWG is today proposing drinking water and cleanup standards for all PFAS chemicals as a group at 1 ppt. This is a health-based level that will fully protect public health for the most vulnerable populations, and does not depend on economic or political considerations.
Officials in several cities on Friday were expecting large-scale protests to break out over Nichols' killing.
Social justice advocates on Friday registered the Memphis police chief's response to footage of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by five officers as evidence that the video "must be awful," as Chief Cerelyn Davis said the soon-to-be-released footage shows "acts that defy humanity."
"You're going to see a disregard for life, duty of care that we're all sworn to, and a level of physical interaction that is above and beyond what is required in law enforcement," David toldCNN.
The footage is expected to be released Friday. Officials in a number of cities including Memphis, Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, and Minneapolis have all said they are preparing for large-scale protests.
"Just the disregard for humanity... That's what really pulls at your heartstrings and makes you wonder: Why was a sense of care and concern for this individual just absent from the situation by all who went to the scene?" Davis toldCNN.
\u201cHaving difficulty imagining how sickening and horrible something must be to elicit these words from a top cop about the actions of their own \n\nhttps://t.co/xkKKmm21yY\u201d— Mason Herson-Hord\ud83d\udea9\ud83c\udf3b\ud83c\udf31\ud83d\udc19 (@Mason Herson-Hord\ud83d\udea9\ud83c\udf3b\ud83c\udf31\ud83d\udc19) 1674829387
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland also called the footage "deeply disturbing," and President Joe Biden acknowledged that nationwide protests may break out over Nichols' killing, demanding "accountability when law enforcement officers violate their oaths" and joining Nichols' family in "calling for peaceful protest."
"I called on Congress to send the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to my desk," said Biden on Thursday. "When they didn't, I signed an executive order that included stricter use of force standards and accountability provisions for federal law enforcement, as well as measures to strengthen accountability at the state and local level. Today, we all must re-commit ourselves to the critical work that must be done to advance meaningful reforms."
Nichols died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure, three days after he was pulled over by Memphis officers—allegedly for reckless driving—although Davis said her department has been "unable to substantiate that at this time."
The 29-year-old had two violent "confrontations" with the officers, according to the Memphis Police Department, before being rushed to a hospital in critical condition.
The five officers were fired from the department after the attack and on Thursday were charged with crimes including second-degree murder.
Antonio Romanucci, an attorney representing Nichols' family, called on the nation's police unions to condemn the killing.
"Where does the Fraternal Order of Police stand on this?" he asked at a press conference. "We have not heard from you... We want to hear you say that what happened to Tyre, what happened to this family, should never, ever happen again."
\u201cTyre Nichols\u2019 family attorney Antonio Romanucci calls out police unions for not condemning Nichols\u2019 fatal arrest at the hands of Memphis police:\n\n\u201cWe want to hear you say that what happened to Tyre... should never, ever happen again; that you condemn the brutality, the savagery.\u201d\u201d— The Recount (@The Recount) 1674843389
FBI Director Christopher Wray announced the bureau will open a civil rights investigation into the killing.
"I've seen the video myself," said Wray. "I'm struggling to find a stronger word, but I will tell you that I was appalled."
Grassroots organizer Bree Newsome Bass expressed disgust over the latest police killing and the drawn-out lead-up to the video being made public.
"The way they've spent days and hours emphasizing the violence of Tyre Nichols' murder like it's a countdown to a movie release tells you everything about the depravity of the system we live under," said Newsome Bass.
"It has price-gouged consumers in plain sight and it's going to get away with it," lamented one consumer advocate.
Chevron announced Friday that it brought in a record-shattering $35.5 billion in profits in 2022, a sum that campaigners said highlights just how much the company benefited from global energy market chaos spurred by Russia's war on Ukraine.
“What Big Oil has done over the last year is the definition of war profiteering," said Jamie Henn, a spokesperson for the Stop The Oil Profiteering (STOP) campaign. "After working with Russia for decades, companies like Chevron have used the war in Ukraine as cover to jack up prices and suck billions directly out of the pocket of American families."
"Big Oil is rolling in cash while families are struggling to heat their homes or fill their gas tanks," Henn added. "Congress could provide people with immediate relief by returning some of the money Big Oil has pulled from our pockets over the last year. If Chevron has $75 billion to lavish on its wealthy shareholders and CEO, then it can certainly afford a windfall profits tax to provide much-needed relief to hard-working Americans."
Henn was referring to the massive stock buyback program that Chevron announced earlier this week, making clear the company's plan to reward shareholders with its 2022 windfall—which Chevron CEO Mike Wirth has defended as a "modest return."
Chevron, which reported $6.4 billion in profits for the fourth quarter of 2022, also raised its quarterly dividend by around 6%.
"That Chevron feels free to spend $75 billion of its windfall profits on stock buybacks signals its belief that it is immune from accountability," Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement Friday. "It has price gouged consumers in plain sight and it's going to get away with it."
"Once oil prices spiked after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a government not compromised and captured by Big Oil would have done the commonsense thing of taxing Big Oil's windfall profits and returning the proceeds to consumers," said Weissman. "The failure to impose a windfall profits tax reflects Big Oil's raw political power, not any principled policy dispute."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called Chevron's buyback program "corporate greed at its worst."
"Chevron spent the last year raking in cash by price gouging consumers," Jayapal wrote on Twitter. "And now they're announcing $75 billion in stock buybacks as poor and working families continue to struggle."
"The failure to impose a windfall profits tax reflects Big Oil's raw political power, not any principled policy dispute."
Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced windfall profits tax legislation last year and President Joe Biden belatedly floated his support for the idea, but the proposal never moved in either chamber—which were both narrowly controlled by Democrats at the time.
Currently, the prospects of a windfall profits tax passing Congress are zero with the House controlled by Republicans, who have wasted no time placing oil and gas industry allies on key committees. The progressive watchdog group Accountable.US noted Friday that the chief of staff for Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), the new chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, "is a longtime oil lobbyist."
"She'll be joining eight other former oil industry lobbyists in high-ranking staff positions on the Natural Resources Committee and in conference leadership," the group said in a new report.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, received more oil and gas PAC money in the most recent election cycle than any other House Republican, Sludgereported last month.
With Lula in power "there is hope now, but our paper shows it is not enough to resolve deforestation," said one co-author. "There is much more work to be done."
Peer-reviewed research out Friday shows that human activity has degraded much more of the Amazon rainforest than previously believed, with over a third of the remaining forest area afflicted and at risk of being irreversibly damaged.
Deforestation in the Amazon has been well-documented, but the new paper published in Science focuses on anthropogenic disturbances that harm what is left of the biodiverse ecosystem and threaten its future.
According to the international team of 35 scientists who conducted the study, the four most consequential sources of disruption are "edge effects" (forest changes caused by nearby deforestation and the ensuing habitat fragmentation); "selective logging"; and forest fires and extreme droughts intensified by the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis.
Based on their analysis of existing data on the extent of edge effects, timber extraction, and fires from 2001 to 2018, researchers found that 5.5% of Amazonian forests are degraded. When data on extreme droughts was considered, their estimate of the total degraded area grew to 38%.
The Guardian, which had early access to the full paper, summarized the scholars' findings as follows on Thursday: "Fires, land conversion, logging, and water shortages have weakened the resilience of up to 2.5 million square kilometers of the forest, an area 10 times the size of the U.K. This area is now drier, more flammable, and more vulnerable than before, prompting the authors to warn of 'megafires' in the future."
A substantial chunk of the world's largest tropical rainforest—nicknamed the "lungs of the Earth" due to its unparalleled capacity to provide oxygen and absorb planet-heating pollution—is "less able to regulate the climate, generate rainfall, store carbon, provide a habitat to other species, offer a livelihood to local people, and sustain itself as a viable ecosystem," The Guardian noted.
Degradation, defined as human-induced changes in forest conditions, has led to carbon emissions equivalent to or greater than those from deforestation, the authors note. As an accompanying statement explains: "Degradation is different from deforestation, where the forest is removed altogether and a new land use, such as agriculture, is established in its place. Although highly degraded forests can lose almost all of the trees, the land use itself does not change."
Co-author Jos Barlow, a professor of conservation science at Lancaster Univerity, said that the cumulative impact of the key degradation factors examined "can be as important as deforestation for carbon emissions and biodiversity loss."
In addition, the paper makes clear that Amazon forest degradation is associated with significant socioeconomic harms that require further investigation.
"Degradation benefits the few, but places important burdens on many," said co-author Rachel Carmenta from the University of East Anglia. "Few people profit from the degradation processes, yet many lose out across all dimensions of human well-being— including health, nutrition, and the place attachments held for the forest landscapes where they live."
"Many of these burdens are hidden at present," Carmenta added. "Recognizing them will help enable better governance with social justice at the center."
"Preventing the advance of deforestation remains vital, and could also allow more attention to be directed to other drivers of forest degradation."
Looking ahead to 2050, the paper projects that the four main drivers of Amazon forest degradation "will remain a major threat and source of carbon fluxes to the atmosphere" regardless of whether deforestation is halted.
"Even in an optimistic scenario, when there is no more deforestation, the effects of climate change will see degradation of the forest continue, leading to further carbon emissions," said lead author David Lapola, a researcher at the Centre for Meteorological and Climatic Research Applied to Agriculture at the University of Campinas. However, "preventing the advance of deforestation remains vital, and could also allow more attention to be directed to other drivers of forest degradation."
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the recently inaugurated leftist president of Brazil—home to roughly 60% of the Amazon—has vowed to make "this devastation" of the forest "a thing of the past."
"There's no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon," Lula said during a mid-November speech at the United Nations COP27 summit—the first he made on the international stage after defeating Brazil's far-right ex-president, Jair Bolsonaro.
The Amazon passed a key tipping point at the tail end of Bolsonaro's four-year reign, during which ecological destruction accelerated as logging, mining, and agribusiness companies routinely violated the rights of Indigenous forest dwellers.
Last week, Lula accused Bolsonaro of committing genocide against the Yanomami people, who are enduring a deadly rise in hunger and disease due to a surge in illegal gold mining.
"There is hope now, but our paper shows it is not enough to resolve deforestation," Barlow told The Guardian. "There is much more work to be done."
As the new paper notes: "Whereas some disturbances such as edge effects can be tackled by curbing deforestation, others, like constraining the increase in extreme droughts, require additional measures, including global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Curbing degradation will also require engaging with the diverse set of actors that promote it, operationalizing effective monitoring of different disturbances, and refining policy frameworks."
The authors propose creating high-tech systems to monitor forest degradation and implementing policies to prevent illegal logging and better manage the use of fire.
"Public and private actions and policies to curb deforestation will not necessarily address degradation as well," said Lapola. "It is necessary to invest in innovative strategies."