Archive for June 2015 | Monthly archive page

posted by | on , | Comments Off on Be Wary of Chemical Safety “Reform”

By Brianna Knoppow

It’s a curious thing that only after Senator Frank Lautenberg died did his life’s work – to enact chemical reform legislation – finally start to pick up momentum. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 647) was introduced in March of 2015 and is ostensibly meant to modernize the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The TSCA is so toothless that of the approximately 85,000 chemicals produced, the EPA has tested 200 chemicals, banning only five. Though Lautenberg worked for more than a decade to make chemical reform a reality, only recently have Congress members worked to make TSCA reform a priority. With a record 40 co-sponsors, one might initially assume that the bipartisan bill really is designed to protect Americans from the most harmful of chemicals.

Remember the Healthy Forest Initiative of 2003, a giveaway to the timber industry? Or the proposed Clear Skies Act of 2003 – which was really an attack on the Clean Air Act? Naming S. 647 a “Chemical Safety” bill is likewise disingenuous.

For many proposed bills, compromises must be made, but occasionally the compromises deviate the bill so far from its original intent that passage may do more harm than good. There are a few major issues that need to be resolved in S. 647:

  • unnamedCurrently states are the leaders in the realm of chemical regulation, having adopted laws and regulations that restrict the sale or use of products containing harmful chemicals. Minnesota just passed a bill restricting certain flame retardants. Maine is phasing out BPA in baby bottles. Iowa restricts the use of mercury-containing thermostats. According to a joint statement by the attorneys general of New York, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Oregon and Washington, “ In contrast to the existing law, S. 647 would prevent states from adopting new laws or regulations, or taking other administrative action.”
  • Though it makes sense from an industry perspective to have to adapt one’s products to regulations that are uniform throughout the country, the bill has the potential to bar states from creating or implementing new regulations if the EPA is studying a chemical or even considering regulating it. There could be years in which the EPA is studying the chemical and no state is permitted to regulate it. It’s easy to see where the chemical industry support of the bill came from.
  • With monumental cuts to EPA it’s unlikely the agency will have the staff or resources to conduct studies within the proposed deadlines. Though S. 647 allows the EPA to collect industry fees, these fees are up to a cap, rather than until the work is done and the studies are complete.
  • The chosen chemicals. EPA would be required to create a list of ‘low priority’ chemicals, which will then be barred from undergoing a full evaluation. Additionally, with an ‘industry request’ policy, industry – not the EPA – has the power to determine the majority of chemicals the agency evaluates. Industry probably won’t be basing its decision by which chemicals pose the greatest threat to human health.

CongressWho supports S. 647? Republicans and a plethora of moderate democrats. As for environmental stalwarts, Senator Barbara Boxer came up with a competing bill of her own that includes stricter standards for chemical safety evaluations. So far though, it has not been given the light of day. The House also has a proposed bill of its own. As for S. 647, until it addresses the above concerns and is in the spirit of Senator Lautenberg’s tireless work to protect public health, the “Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act” is not worthy of Lautenberg’s name…or passage.

To summarize the three proposed TSCA reform bills:

Bill name Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 647) TSCA Modernization Act of 2015 (H.R. 2576) Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S. 725)
Main bill sponsor Sen. Udall, Tom [D-NM] Rep. Shimkus, John [R-IL] Sen. Boxer, Barbara [D-CA]
Co-sponsor count 40 (21 R, 19 D) 16 (8 R, 8 D) 5 (4 D, 1 I)
Funding Fees, with a cap Appropriations Industry would be required to provide the funding necessary to do timely safety reviews.
Number of chemicals reviewed Gives EPA up to five years to start safety reviews of 25 chemicals and would allow the agency up to seven years to assess each one. EPA will initiate 10 assessments per year. Start evaluating 75 chemicals within five years and would allow only up to six years for each one.

Brianna Knoppow works in the environmental field in D.C. and enjoys biking, kayaking, and foraging for wild mushrooms. She has an M.S. in Environmental Science & Policy.

posted by | on , | Comments Off on A New Hope for the World’s Coral Reefs

By Sodavy Ou

Over the years, scientists have released countless research results demonstrating the detrimental impacts of increased temperature and atmospheric CO2 on coral reefs that serve as important habitats to numerous marine organisms. These scientific results show that there is much to be done if the international community wants to avoid a 2° C or a 35.6° F increase in the Earth temperature—a threshold at which global warming is irreversible. Already, we have seen major declines in coral coverage in numerous parts of the oceans. For instance, scientists have recorded major declines in coral coverages in the Great Barrier Reef due to increased temperatures and ocean acidification, a process that results from increased atmospheric CO2. However, among these disheartening stories there are a few encouraging stories of corals adapting to the effects of global warming. The telling of these stories, however few, is important in order to fuel and continue the efforts to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Chromis_reef_fish_and_staghorn_coral_underwater_scenicIn the beautiful waters of Florida, global warming has caused populations of Staghorn coral—once found widely throughout South Florida and the Caribbean—to rapidly decrease. In fact, only 2% of the original Staghorn coral population remains in the Florida Reef Tract. However, a study from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science demonstrates that Staghorn corals can withstand decalcification and increasing ocean temperatures when dietary supplements—made of dried zooplankton power—are provided. This supplemental diet increases coral feeding rates, allowing coral to store more energy reserves and mitigate the detrimental effects of ocean acidification and increased temperatures. The results of this study can be implemented into the management of marine protected areas where Staghorn corals are abundant in order to effectively manage this important population of coral reef.

Another study by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies also demonstrates that Staghorn corals are capable of adapting to ocean acidification. This study found that over a relative short period—approximately 9 days—juvenile Staghorn corals can acclimate to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 level and can re-adjust their gene expression to pre-exposure levels. However, this study only tested one stressor, ocean acidification. Still, it is refreshing to know that some corals are capable of adapting to some of the changing ocean conditions.

Red_mangrove_trees_rhizophora_mangle_growing_close_togetherCoral reefs are ecosystems that provide refuge for numerous marine organisms. Yet a recent study by the US Geological Survey shows that corals are seeking refuge themselves to escape the negative impacts of rapidly changing ocean conditions. The study found more than 30 species of corals have found refuge within the red mangroves of the US Virgin Islands. Mangroves are subtropical and tropical tresses that inhabit coastlines and brackish waters. The root systems of mangroves extend toward the seafloor. These systems serve as a perfect sanctuary for corals by providing them with shade from high levels of solar radiation and coral bleaching. In addition, mangroves keep acidity in the surrounding waters below harmful levels, allowing corals to grow on and under their root systems.

Despite these encouraging studies, there are some species of coral that are struggling to survive as the oceans become more acidic and warmer. The composition of the world coral reefs may look very different in the future. Nevertheless, since corals provide important habitats to countless marine organisms, it is promising to know that some of these corals can continue to serve our oceans. In the end, these promising results will only remain if we continue to address global warming with innovative plans and actions.

Sodavy Ou was born in Cambodia and grew up in southern California. She received her BA in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She will be starting her Master’s Program in Environmental Science and Management at the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara. She spent more than half of her life living by the coast; it’s only natural that she is a lover of the outdoors. 

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on Reflections with a DC EcoWomen Leader

By Robin Garcia

DC EcoWomen’s president, Christina Sorrento, is leaving the executive board after nearly a decade of service to the organization and to women in the DC environmental field. A land use attorney in Maryland, Christina has been an integral part of DC EcoWomen’s growth, helping mold it into the wonderful and strong organization that it is today. I met with Christina recently to discuss what her involvement has meant to her.

5278910729_31a74e3ff2_oWhy did you first become involved with DC EcoWomen?

At the time, I wasn’t working in the environmental field, and I wanted to maintain a connection to the community. I went to an EcoHour event in 2006 and left feeling so inspired. I asked the board if they needed help and was immediately brought on board!

What positions have you held on the board?

First, I was the Speaker Coordinator. I then became Vice President of the EcoHour Committee, Vice President of the Events Committee (which has now separated into the Professional Development and Program Committees), Vice President of Professional Development, and finally President.

How did DC EcoWomen help with your professional and personal development?

It definitely helped me professionally. While I am an attorney, I used to get very nervous about speaking publically. All of the public speaking that I had to do with the various positions that I have held helped me overcome that fear. I also had the chance to be involved in ways that are not quite as tangible but still important.

8760784245_7e5c4e13cf_oWhat events are you most proud of?

The day-long conference in 2013. We pulled it off in a couple of months, and everyone seemed to love it! The 10 year gala was also a wonderful accomplishment.

Why would you recommend DC EcoWomen to others?

First of all, for the professional development. That was why I first became involved, but the women I met has kept me involved for all of this time. Women I have met through DC EcoWomen have become close friends; I have even been to the weddings of women I met through the organization.

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I can personally attest that in the past year Christina has always made me feel welcomed and involved. We have been so lucky to have her for as long as we have, and I hope that she will stay involved with the environmental community in DC for years to come.

Thank you Christina for all that you have done!

Robin is a Communication Specialist at NOAA and a DC EcoWomen board member. A DC native, she enjoys exploring her hometown, developing her yoga skills, and getting out on the water as much as possible. She would also like the world to know that Bill Nye the Science Guy is now available on Netflix.