Saturday, March 30, 2013

Air Quality

"Birth defects linked to car exhaust; Study of pregnant women links exhaust chemicals to common birth defects"
2013-03-30 by Drew Joseph from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
(Photograph from Michael Macor, The Chronicle) Highway 99 cuts through Fresno, traffic along the corridor is one of the many practices that contribute to the poor air quality. The San Joaquin Valley has three of the most polluted metropolitan areas in the US. Between 8 and 10 percent of the central valley population has a lung disease like asthma. The local air pollution board will voluntarily ask that the valley be upgraded to "Extreme" category of air pollution from "Severe" putting them in par with LA and giving them 5-7 more years to deal with the problem.

Pregnant women with high exposure to air heavily fouled by traffic pollution are more likely have babies with birth defects, according to a new Stanford study that focused on people living in the San Joaquin Valley.
The women exposed to the highest levels of carbon monoxide were almost twice as likely to give birth to a baby with certain defects of the brain or spine as the women who breathed the lowest levels of the pollutant, according to the study. Women who had the most contact with nitrogen oxide had almost three times the risk of having a baby with anencephaly - where the brain fails to develop fully - as women with little exposure.
Researchers examined 849 women who had healthy babies from 1997 to 2006 and 806 women who had babies with birth defects during the same period. All the women lived in the San Joaquin Valley for at least the first eight weeks of their pregnancy, "a known critical period for congenital anomalies," according to the study.
The researchers focused on five birth defects: cleft lip, cleft palate, two neural tube deformations and gastroschisis, in which the intestines are outside the body when the baby is born.
The researchers compared birth-defect data and air-quality records for the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley, a region with some of the country's worst air pollution. One big source of the region's terrible air quality is Bay Area pollution that blows into the valley.
The study was published Thursday in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
One in 33 babies develops a birth defect, according to Gary Shaw, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford and the senior author of the study. If a woman has diabetes before her pregnancy, she is more likely to have a child with a defect. But other than that and genetic risk factors, scientists are not sure what causes the defects.
"For the most part, we don't know a lot," Shaw said. "But it's critical to poke away to find answers."
The study established an associative relationship between the traffic-related pollutants and birth defects, so Shaw said scientists should now try to determine whether the chemicals that make up the pollution cause the defects in embryos.
Shaw noted that the pollutants the researchers focused on are traffic-related and not exclusive to the San Joaquin Valley, a point echoed by Seyed Sadredin, head of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
"This is something that anyone who lives near a heavily traveled roadway should worry about," he said. "I'm sure that if this study was done in the Bay Area next to I-80 or other high-traffic areas, you would probably have the same results."

Backyard Habitat

For certification of backyard habitat, see [].
For more on names and identifiers of birds, see [].

"For the Birds: Creating a backyard habitat for winged ones"
by Juliane Poirier from "Northbay Bohemian"
"What kind of bird is that?"
At the kitchen window, I'm watching unrelated birds partying together on the deck of my friend Mr. Birdman, aka John Ruch, a Napa birder who scrupulously maintains three kinds of seed feeders, a hummingbird nectar station, an indoor bird-watching scope on a tripod and birding binoculars.
"A rufous-sided towhee," says Ruch. Then, pointing to the others, he adds, "Those nervous little yellow ones are goldfinches, that pushy spotted one strutting his stuff is an uninvited European starling and over there wearing the bright red scarf, that's a flicker."
"What about that one?" I ask, pointing. Ruch looks away sheepishly. "LBJ," he says with a shrug. "Little brown job."
What makes a model (read: sustainability-minded) bird enthusiast is not how many species he or she can identify, but how much effort that person makes to maintain a backyard habitat that supports a variety of bird life. Ruch not only keeps the feeder clean to prevent rotting seed from transmitting bacteria to birds, but provides clean water, options for shelter and places to raise young birds. To safeguard bird life, Ruch allows the house cat outside only under supervision. And he grows plants that produce fruit, seeds, berries and nectar.
"I plant lots of red flowers, like 'Hot Lip' salvia," explains Ruch. "They bloom all summer, and the hummingbirds love them." In his homemade hummingbird nectar, he never uses red food dye, and his birdseed is pesticide-free.
Most backyard birds, according to the National Audubon Society, feed on insects, so they provide an ecosystem service in exchange for your hospitality efforts. Intentional backyard habitat for birds is on the rise around the world; some people even get their backyards certified. A National Wildlife Federation program has certified almost 140,000 yards throughout the United States as wildlife habitats.
But you don't need to get certified to do the right thing for flighted wildlife, and for that matter, you don't have to do everything. Just do something. And for those who have done it all and think they can rest, go the extra mile and buy bird-friendly coffee, grown in the shade. Because birds winter in South America, those coffee plantations that retain bird-supporting trees deserve some plantation-supporting sales.
Then, as you stroll this summer through your backyard bird habitat and sip your fair trade, shade-grown coffee to the sound of wild birdsong from rufous-sided towhees, American goldfinches and European starlings, you can feel pretty damned good about yourself.

Monday, March 18, 2013

2013-03-18 "Quarry Lakes on leading edge of lead ban"

by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Anglers enjoy a day of fishing at Horseshoe Lake, one of the Quarry Lakes. Lead fishing tackle is no longer allowed at the lakes. Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle

The Quarry Lakes are hardly pristine. The nearly treeless former industrial site in Fremont is engulfed by development and traffic.
But the lakes are among the cleanest around, thanks to a ban on lead fishing tackle that's thought to be the only such ban in the state.
"They are on the forefront of this, but I'm sure it's the wave of the future. It's a great idea," said Pete Alexander, fisheries manager of the East Bay Regional Park District.
The program by the Alameda County Water District allows anglers to trade in their lead weights and sinkers for steel equivalents. Visitors can make the free trade at the entrance kiosk any time the park is open. In the 10 years since the program began, staffers have collected more than 1,000 pounds of lead, which they sell to metal recyclers. The proceeds are used to buy more steel tackle to swap.
The purpose is to keep lead out of the lakes, which provide drinking water to Fremont, Union City and Newark. The lead ban is also good for birds, fish and other animals that are easily poisoned by ingesting the toxic metal.
"I live in Fremont and I happen to drink that water, so I think it's an excellent idea," said Regina Casassa, a ranger at Quarry Lakes. "And the fish don't seem to care."

Lead, water don't mix -
Quarry Lakes - a cluster of five lakes connected to Alameda Creek - is on the site of a 100-year old quarry that was turned over to park and water districts in the 1970s. The 450-acre park opened for recreation in 2001. Soon after that, the water district implemented the ban.
"Our initial thought was, lead? Drinking water? Not compatible," said Marion Gonzalez, environmental specialist for the water district. "It's not like we saw a bunch of dead birds lying around, but we knew it wasn't good for wildlife. Or people."
Loons, swans, cranes, ducks and other waterfowl mistake the lead weights for pebbles, which they eat to aid digestion. In New England, lead poisoning was found in nearly 50 percent of dead loons, according to a 2004 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Several New England states have restricted lead fishing tackle, but few such crackdowns exist in the West. In California, numerous state agencies, and at least one legislator, are studying the matter, said a spokesman for the California Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA considered ban -
Among other issues, the state is looking for reasonable alternatives, such as steel, glass or ceramic tackle, before enacting a ban, spokesman Jim Marxen said.
The U.S. EPA looked into the issue last year but declined to take action, although smaller park and water districts, including the East Bay Regional Park District, are poised to move forward.
"We've put so much effort into removing lead from gas, paint, toys. ... Fishing tackle is one of the last places we still allow lead," said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco, which petitioned the EPA for a ban. "Lead is poisonous wherever it is."
Even fishing tackle manufactures admit lead is toxic. The problem with a ban, though, is that anglers have few options. Other materials, such as steel, are more expensive and not as effective, said Mary Jane Williamson, spokeswoman for the American Sportfishing Association.
"We're all for helping fish mortality. And we're definitely for innovation. If there was a viable alternative, we'd be all for it," she said.
At Walton's Pond tackle shop in San Leandro, two 1-ounce steel sinkers cost $1.75, twice the price of lead. Generally, anglers prefer lead because it's less expensive, more malleable and denser, a shop manager said.

Anglers agree -
But at Quarry Lakes last week, fishermen said they didn't care either way. All but one were using steel or plastic tackle as they perched by the lakeside casting for trout and catfish.
"Lead's a little heavier and you can cast farther, but it's bad for the fish," said Michael Pereira, a retired car parts salesman from Newark. "The fish here are good and firm and clean. I like that."
Stephen Rivera of Newark, a training specialist at Cisco, was also happy to use steel tackle.
"It's more expensive, but it's safer," he said. "I don't even know why they make lead tackle. It doesn't make any sense."
Lisa Sweeney, a pharmacy cashier from San Ramon, didn't know about the ban on lead tackle but said she'd switch.
"We like it here, the beauty of it. It's so peaceful," she said. "And we like to take care of the places we go."

Quarry Lakes Regional Recreation Area

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Carquinez Cancer Alley

This is an incomplete list showing what regularly happens at the 5 petroleum refineries of the Carquinez Cancer Alley in the northeast San Pablo bay area, and links to info about other cancerous agents in the region:

Map published 2007-01-05 "Oil facilities are getting refined / ConocoPhillips, Chevron hoping to boost production" from "San Francisco Chronicle" [link]:

Every year, around two tons of mercury released from Bay Area petroleum refineries (as of 2007)  [link]

Tar-Sand Oil contributes to Carquinez Cancer Alley [link]

Valero Benicia's bringing increased mercury pollution and ecocide through it's "crude-by-rail" project, 2013-08 [link]

Environmental Justice Case Study: Richmond, California (1999) [link]

Chevron settles civil suit for 19 airborne toxins violations between 2010 to 2012-08 [link]

Chevron Oil Refinery at Richmond on Fire, 2012-08 [link]

Shell Refinery fire in Martinez, 2012-08 [link]

Chemical spill at ConocoPhillips in Rodeo, 2012-06 [link]

Chemical leak at Chevron refinery in Richmond, 2002-02 [link]

Chemical blast at Chevron refinery in Richmond, 1999-03 [link]

Prop. 65 warning: Diesel exhaust from Railroad Operations [link]

Prop. 65 warning: Chemicals in petroleum products are known to cause cancer:


Other cancer alleys

2013-01-29 "Kochworld: To see how the Koch brothers’ free-market utopia operates, look no further than Corpus Christi"
from "Validated Independent News" (Student Researchers: Kirsten Bigelow and Hope Jordan; Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley; Evaluator: James Mills, Professor of Geosciences and Chair of the Geosciences Department, DePauw University) []:
Hillcrest, a poor neighborhood of Corpus Christi, Texas, is the home of two oil refineries, Citgo and Flint Hills Resources, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc. There has been recent speculation that these refineries, more specifically Flint Hills, are releasing various toxins into the air which can cause serious medical problems.
According to a 2010 study, Flint Hills and Citgo refineries released 26 various pollutants into the air; 25,000 pounds of toluene, 25,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide, 19,000 pounds of benzene, and 11,000 pounds of sulfuric acid. Many residents blame the pollutants for causing cancer, chronic asthma, birth defects and other cancers. Latricia Jones, a resident of Hillcrest, reports the cause of her son’s asthma is due to the toxins released by the refineries. Jim and Bobi Miller live a quarter mile from the Flint Hills west plant and believe Bobi’s rare lung disease is due to the air she breathes. Recent public health studies show elevated rates of asthma, birth defects and cancer near oil refineries. These residents would like to move father away but they can simply not afford to move since rent and housing is much cheaper near the refineries.
After receiving her Ph.D., Melissa Jarrell decided to move to Corpus Christi in 2005 to study environmental crime. Jarrell is the author of Environmental Crime and the Media and discovered that Koch-owned refineries had the highest number of environmental violations country wide in 2000 to 2001. Koch Industries paid the highest civil environmental fine in American history of $35 million in 2000. Koch Industries caused almost 100,000 gallons of oil to spill into the Corpus Christi bay due to a damaged pipeline and have deceived regulators about their ability to control releases of benzene, which can cause cancers.
Texas has lax environmental regulation and Corpus Christi offers local tax incentives and an industry-friendly city government, making this an ideal location for refineries. The two Koch brothers have profited from this leading to a combined personal fortune of $ 62 billion. Katie Stavinoha, Flint Hills spokesperson, states that there is “no link between refinery pollutants and chronic illness.”

* “Kochworld” The Texas Observer, October 24, 2012 []
* “Kochworld” The Investigative Fund, October 25, 2012 []
* “Kochworld” Association of Alternative Newsmedia, October 29, 2012 []

2013-03 "Tanker Hits Bridge: A Wake-Up Call for Lovers of the Bay"

by Deb Self from "Bay Crossings"
When an oil tanker hit one of the Bay Bridge towers on a foggy morning in early January, it was a wake-up call for everyone who cares about San Francisco Bay. The collision between the tanker, the Overseas Reymar, and the bridge could have led to a real disaster.
The tanker was carrying no oil as cargo. But it had just filled up with 245,000 gallons of bunker fuel used to run the tanker itself, in preparation for leaving the Bay. If the ship had hit the bridge hard enough to rupture the fuel tanks, it could have been worse than in 2007, when the container ship Cosco Busan hit the Bay Bridge. That collision split open two fuel tanks. About 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel leaked out, killing thousands of birds and a generation of herring, and leaving a suffocating oil ring around the Bay’s shorelines.
Although it was a relief that the Overseas Reymar crash did not pollute the Bay, it was a close call. The accident highlighted the need for going back to the drawing board to assess measures to prevent oil spills.
And in February, Baykeeper did just that. We worked with the U.S. Coast Guard, the state’s oil spill agency and master mariners to develop new rules that will provide a new measure of protection. These rules limit cargo ships, oil tankers and other large vessels from leaving safe anchorage south of the Bay Bridge in heavy fog.
The rules certainly will reduce the risk of oil spills in San Francisco Bay. Though they are temporary, they will be in place until the San Francisco Harbor Safety Committee completes a comprehensive assessment of current and potential low-visibility restrictions. Baykeeper will be very active in this analysis and any new recommendations.
Some background: After the Cosco Busan oil spill, new rules were put in place. Ships weren’t allowed to leave the Port of Oakland with less than a half-mile of visibility. Ship travel under the Union Pacific railroad bridge in Benicia was also strictly regulated in foggy conditions, but the Bay Bridge itself was not included. So ships have been allowed to leave commonly-used anchorage areas in the waters south of the Bay Bridge, travelling north and under the bridge, in any conditions—even with zero visibility.
The latest Coast Guard rules close that loophole, though they still allow inbound ships to transit under the Bay Bridge to reach safe harbor. Baykeeper strongly supports this exception. During heavy fog, it will prevent increased ship traffic in the central Bay or outside the Golden Gate, which would increase the risk of an accident and potentially impact whales that feed in the shipping lanes near the Farallon Islands.
For better understanding of gaps in prevention and oversight, San Francisco Baykeeper looks forward to learning the causes of the Overseas Reymar-Bay Bridge accident. Two federal agencies, the Coast Guard and National Safety Transportation Board, are conducting investigations. So is the Board of Pilot Commissioners, a state agency that licenses the pilots who steer massive ships in and out of port through the Bay. Baykeeper is monitoring new information as it is released.
Baykeeper is also concerned about whether there is adequate safety oversight of bar pilots. After a major Texas ship accident three years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that all states with ports adopt minimum rest periods between jobs to prevent errors due to bar pilot fatigue. Unfortunately, California took the position that the Board of Pilot Commissioners lacked the authority to oversee bar pilot work schedules. But now the state is conducting a study to determine if minimum rest periods are needed to ensure that pilots are well-rested.
The license renewal process for pilots may also need to change. Apparently, pilot’s licenses are automatically renewed every five years, except for pilots who fail a medical exam. Baykeeper is learning more about the oversight process. Assessment of performance and near-misses may help ensure that pilots with a record of poor judgment are identified early enough for remedial training, discipline or suspension.
Baykeeper will continue to represent the Bay and the public in the decision-making process about how to best protect San Francisco Bay from oil spills. We’re proud to be at the table on your behalf.