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"A Chemical Used in Weapons Is Showing Up in Water Samples." That story and other headlines for the week ending January 14, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

Unfortunately, Mudslides Are Not Uncommon in California

The tragic mudslides in Southern California last week have killed 18 with 5 people still missing. More than 60 homes were destroyed and more than 400 damaged. According to the National Weather Service, over 6 inches of rain fell near Montecito, where the disaster struck.

Mudslides like the one that occurred last week are not new. A fact sheet by the USGS says that flooding and debris flows are common in the aftermath of wildfires, such as the Thomas Fire that recently devastated the area and was only contained last week after burning for a month. KPCC reports that there is a long history of mudslides in Southern California, with one of the worst occurring in 1969 that killed 87.

Los Angeles May Be the Next to Sue Oil Giants for Global Warming following a Lawsuit by New York City

The recent wildfires and mudslides were on the minds of two members of the Los Angeles City Council who last week urged the city to file suit against oil companies for damages they see as linked to climate change. Their call follows a lawsuit filed last week by New York City against five major oil companies. The city claims that the companies have known for years that burning fossil fuels causes global warming, but hid that knowledge, and that together the five companies produced eleven percent of all global-warming gases through the products they sold.

The suit seeks to shift the costs of protecting the city onto the companies that have created the conditions leading to climate change. In suing the oil companies, New York is adopting the strategy of several California cities and counties including San Francisco and Oakland. In response to New York’s action, a spokesman for Chevron told The Washington Post that the suit will do nothing to address the serious issue of climate change. A spokesperson for ExxonMobil added that lawsuits filed by trial attorneys do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New York City is also planning to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels. About 5 billion dollars will be invested in other industries as long as pension fund trustees agree.

A Chemical Used to Make Explosives Is Showing up in Water Samples, but the Pentagon Says It’s Safe

A chemical which is used to make military explosives is showing up in water and soil samples. According to recent reporting by ProPublica the substance known as RDX that was developed by the U.S. during the Second World War—and is still used today—is being carried by winds during weapons testing and settling in soils. From there it moves easily into water supplies. Surface and groundwater samples show that RDX persists and does not quickly dissolve or breakdown.

Recently Canadian researchers looked at soil and water samples and found that in nearly 75 percent of them RDX made its way into aquifers exceeding safe levels. RDX has been classified as a possible carcinogen by the EPA. The agency suggested that it has a danger score stricter than other deadly pollutants such as benzene and atrazine. The RDX contamination is not confined to the U.S. and is, according to the researchers, an internationally known issue. ProPublica states that one of the EPA’s foremost experts on pollution from explosives has said that RDX is the single greatest problem the U.S. faces when it comes to cleaning up thousands of toxic munitions sites. But the Pentagon says that RDX does not pose a great risk, and has fought against the EPA classifying it as a likely carcinogen.

Water Found on Mars May Support Future Missions

Large quantities of water ice have been discovered on Mars by a powerful camera on board NASA’s Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ice formations were seen in areas where erosion has removed rocks and surface dirt exposing steep cross sections of frozen water that range from one to 100 meters in depth. Wired reports that It’s not just the volume of water found, it’s how mineable it promises to be to support things like drinking, growing crops, or making hydrogen for fuel.

The water ice was found further north than where current Mars landing missions can go because of extremely low temperatures. Scientists theorize that one might have to drill deeper in areas closer to the Martian equator to find the ice. Two missions to the Red Planet are planned in 2020 one by NASA and the other by the European Space Agency both of which will be capable of studying the ice in more detail. The discovery was reported in last week's issue of Science, by researchers led by the USGS.

British PM Fights Plastics Scourge as Biggest Recycling Country Cries NO MORE

Last week British PM Theresa May unveiled a new green agenda for the UK in which she pledged to eliminate the “scourge” of plastics. Speaking at a nature reserve just south of London, she outlined a plan to eradicate “avoidable plastic waste” within 25 years. That plan includes things like calling on supermarkets to create 'plastic free aisles' when displaying food, and imposing a levy on all single-use plastics from coffee cups to spoons and forks. She also wants to extend a charge on plastic bags to all retailers, including corner shops, in an effort to take millions of sacs out of circulation.

While environmental groups applauded her efforts for raising awareness about plastics and other issues, they complained that the plan lacked specifics and didn’t go far enough. Opposition politicians said the announcement was just a cynical ploy to attract young, eco-conscious voters to her Conservative Party. Recent polling found that climate change was the top policy issue for Britons ages 18 to 28. But, there might be another reason for the sudden interest in going green: China. Last year the country announced it would no longer be the “world’s garbage dump” recycling about half of the globe’s plastics and paper. A ban went into effect on Jan. 1st.

According to Greenpeace, every year Britain sent enough recyclables to China to fill up 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. The United States shipped so many millions of tons of scrap paper and plastics annually to China, it’s the sixth-largest export to the country. While China’s move has left Western countries scrambling to deal with their waste, most environmental groups say the answer is clear: find sustainable alternatives to plastics.

To that end, they might take a lead from the Lonely Whale Foundation, which began its “Strawless in Seattle” campaign last September. The group seeks to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the oceans and the impact our lifestyles have on the environment, such as using plastic straws. In other words, protect the planet and don’t suck.

"Republicans Say No to Trump’s Drilling Plans." That story and other headlines for the week ending January 7, 2018[ Show/Hide Transcript ]

While the Central and Eastern U.S. Have Been Very Cold, The Rest of Planet Was Warmer

A massive winter storm hit the U.S. east coast last week bringing freezing temperatures and snow from Florida to Maine. The storm was a result of a bomb cyclone, or bomb genesis, which NOAA describes as a storm that intensifies as the barometric pressure drops rapidly over 24 hours. And in this case a cold air mass from the north collided with warmer ocean waters. Typically, that frigid air is locked around the north pole, but the pattern broke, and cold air headed south. According to the Associated Press the reason for this is hotly debated. Jason Furtado of the University of Oklahoma said that it is probably a mixture of human caused climate change and natural variability. He added that global warming has not made the polar pattern more extreme, but has made it seem more severe due to its movement.

While the central and eastern U.S. have been very cold, the rest of the planet was almost 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer than normal last week, and the Arctic was more than 6 degrees higher. On Tuesday, the temperature in Anchorage, Alaska reached 48 degrees while it was 19 in Boston. The first weeks of December last year were the second warmest ever in Fairbanks with temperatures 20 degrees above average.

Snowpack in the West Raising Worry about Colorado River Basin Drought

Dry weather in the western U.S. is raising concerns about drought along the Colorado River Basin and other areas. Snowpack which supplies much of the runoff to fill reservoirs is very low. For December snowfall was 20 percent below average in some areas, according to the Associated Press, and last Thursday, the total snowpack was only 65 percent of normal. These numbers have led to some dire predictions for the Colorado River which supplies about 40 million people with water.

Runoff in the basin this spring may be only about 55 percent of average, and the low snowpack could affect other river basins that flow east out of Colorado including the Arkansas and the South Platte. Brian Domonkos of the National Resources Conservation Service told the Denver Post that, the area still has more than half of snow season remaining and conditions could change; but, it is unlikely to make up for the current deficit.

Trump Administration Plans to Allow Drilling in Almost All Coastal Regions

The Trump administration announced last week that it will allow oil and gas drilling in almost all US coastal regions including the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Many of those waters had been protected for a long time, and some were recently set aside by President Obama. E & E News reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the move was a start to looking at American energy dominance. He added that opening up the massive areas to drilling will deepen his department’s commitment to environmental stewardship because they do it right.

There was swift reaction not just from environmental groups but even from some in Trump’s own party. A spokesman for Maryland Republican governor Larry Hogan told the Washington Post that the governor has instructed his attorney general to take any legal action necessary to prevent the exploration. Republican governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Rick Scott of Florida are also opposed, and the democratic governor of North Carolina said the move was a critical threat to the state’s economy. Governor Jerry Brown, Democrat of California said in a statement that his state would do whatever it takes to stop what he called a reckless and short-sighted action.

Zinke said that the plans were just a draft and that states would have a say in the final decision.

Zinke Recommends Shrinking or Opening Up Marine Monuments

In related news, Zinke has recommended to the President that the size of three marine monuments, one in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific be downsized, or at least opened up to commercial fishing. The monuments harbor unique species and are a wealth of biodiversity, according to Jane Lubchenco a past administrator of NOAA. She told The Guardian that there are plenty of other places to fish in the oceans other than these protected areas. The three marine monuments currently comprise areas more than three times the size of California.

Surprise in Brazil: Government Announces Halt to Dams

In a surprising move, the Brazilian government announced last week that it is going to stop building large hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin. Brazil gets about 70 percent of its electricity from hydropower, and mega-dams were being planned in the Amazon. There was much opposition from indigenous peoples and social movements prompting large antigovernment demonstrations. Paulo Pedrosa of the Ministry of Mines and Energy told O Globo newspaper that the government has to respect the views of society which has reservations about these big projects. But, Mongabay News reports that there may be other reasons for the government’s policy change, including a decrease in political influence of large construction companies which is likely caused by corruption scandals and a decline in Brazil’s economy.

Would You Drink Raw Water? It Could Be a Raw Deal

And finally, there have been health trends over the years that promote “natural” over processed foods claiming they preserve vitamins and nutrients, contain enzymes that make them easier to digest, and are free of dangerous toxins. But as the New York Times reported there’s a new trend in San Francisco that has health experts worried. Say hello to “raw water”— unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water. It’s so popular with health-conscious Bay Area consumers that one brand, "Live Water," selling for nearly $37 for 2.5 gallons is often sold out. Supporters distrust tap water, partly because of added fluoride as well as concerns about lead pipes, but they also contend that water treatment removes beneficial minerals and healthful bacteria something they call water “probiotics.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA, and various health departments caution they could also be getting a mouthful of farm waste runoff, septic tank spillover, chemicals, and pesticides. While water systems in the U.S. has had issues with crumbling infrastructure and ongoing risks of lead leaching from pipes, all in all, said David Jones, of Harvard Medical School, “we have an incredibly safe and reliable water supply,” and he added, treatment is likely responsible for increasing life expectancy by 30 years during the period between 1900 to 1970. Observers hope the “raw water” movement will be a passing fad, and instead money will be spent not on pricey trends but on safer water and infrastructure for all.

Miss older episodes? Hear all segments from 2017

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