Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Endocrine Disruptors used as ingredients for consumer items

"EWG's “Dirty Dozen” List of Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals" from "The Environmental Working Group" []:
WASHINGTON - October 28 - The Environmental Working Group and the Keep A Breast Foundation today released a guide to educate consumers about some of the most problematic hormone-altering chemicals that people are routinely exposed to. EWG, known for creating the popular and widely used Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-contaminated produce, partnered with KAB to develop the Dirty Dozen list of endocrine disruptors to highlight the prevalence of these toxic chemicals, how they affect our health and simple ways to avoid them.
 “We were so thrilled to provide a grant to the Environmental Working Group for their work and research on this educational piece about endocrine disruptors in the environment,” said Shaney Jo Darden, founder of the Keep A Breast Foundation.  “The scientific data and reports that exist on this information needs to be made easy to read, easy to understand, and broken down in a way that empowers people to become activists. I am positive that this Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptor guide will be able to do just that.”
“We are all routinely exposed to endocrine disruptors, and this has the potential to significantly harm the health of our youth,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s Director of Research. “It’s important to do what we can to avoid them, but at the same time we can’t shop our way out of the problem. We need real chemical policy reform.”
EWG researchers compiled the new Dirty Dozen list by scouring the scientific literature and identifying the most hazardous and widely used hormone-disrupting chemicals that pollute the environment and ultimately our bodies. These substances are frequently found in food, water and consumer products, and studies have linked them to a wide array of health problems, including cancer, birth defects, lowered sperm count, lowered IQ and thyroid disease.
EWG and KAB’s Dirty Dozen list includes BPA, phthalates and other well-known endocrine disruptors that are widespread in consumer products such as plastic containers, food cans and fragrances. The list also includes common contaminants that many people don’t realize can be hormone disruptors, such as arsenic, mercury, lead and others that are less familiar, such as glycol ethers and perfluorinated chemicals. The guide is intended for consumers of all ages, particularly young people who are most at risk from these dangerous chemicals.
Following discussions with key Congressional staffers concerned about increasing exposure to endocrine disruptors, EWG and Keep A Breast teamed up to create the guide. It provides helpful tips on how to avoid many of these chemicals – such as eating organic produce, filtering water and avoiding fragrance – but the truth is that some of these chemicals are so ubiquitous that reducing exposure may be quite difficult. Ultimately, the only solution is regulatory reform to prevent these and other toxic chemicals from coming on the market in the first place.
The federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 was intended to protect consumers from toxic chemicals, but the law is acknowledged to be deeply flawed by virtually the entire public interest community and by a number of leading medical professional associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Since 1993, the Environmental Working Group has been a leader in efforts to restrict the use of toxic substances and educate the public about potentially dangerous chemicals. Millions of consumers worldwide rely on the organization’s online guides to household cleaners and personal care products to help them find the safest products...
The Keep A Breast Foundation is the leading youth-focused, global, nonprofit breast cancer organization. Its mission is to eradicate breast cancer for future generations. KAB provides support programs for young people dealing with cancer and educates people about prevention, early detection and cancer-causing toxins in our everyday environment.

"Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors: 12 Hormone-Altering Chemicals and How to Avoid Them"2013-10-28 []:
There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones.
Here are 12 of the worst hormone disrupters, how they do their dirty deeds, and some tips on how to avoid them.

Some may say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but do you really want a chemical used in plastics imitating the sex hormone estrogen in your body? No! Unfortunately, this synthetic hormone can trick the body into thinking it’s the real thing – and the results aren’t pretty. BPA has been linked to everything from breast and others cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease, and according to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies!
How to avoid it? Go fresh instead of canned – many food cans are lined with BPA – or research which companies don’t use BPA or similar chemicals in their products. Say no to receipts, since thermal paper is often coated with BPA. And avoid plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. Not all of these plastics contain BPA, but many do – and it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to keeping synthetic hormones out of your body. For more tips, check out:

Dioxins are multi-taskers… but not in a good way! They form during many industrial processes when chlorine or bromine are burned in the presence of carbon and oxygen. Dioxins can disrupt the delicate ways that both male and female sex hormone signaling occurs in the body. This is a bad thing! Here’s why: Recent research has shown that exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can both permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men during their prime reproductive years. But that’s not all! Dioxins are very long-lived, build up both in the body and in the food chain, are powerful carcinogens and can also affect the immune and reproductive systems.
How to avoid it? That’s pretty difficult, since the ongoing industrial release of dioxin has meant that the American food supply is widely contaminated. Products including meat, fish, milk, eggs and butter are most likely to be contaminated, but you can cut down on your exposure by eating fewer animal products.

What happens when you introduce highly toxic chemicals into nature and turn your back? For one thing, feminization of male frogs. That’s right, researchers have found that exposure to even low levels of the herbicide atrazine can turn male frogs into females that produce completely viable eggs. Atrazine is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently it’s a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals, and some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.
How to avoid it? Buy organic produce and get a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine. For help finding a suitable filter, check out EWG’s buying guide:

Did you know that a specific signal programs cells in our bodies to die? It’s totally normal and healthy for 50 billion cells in your body to die every day! But studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates can trigger what’s known as “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, making them die earlier than they should. Yep, that’s cell death – in your man parts. If that’s not enough, studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.
How to avoid it? A good place to start is to avoid plastic food containers, children’s toys (some phthalates are already banned in kid’s products), and plastic wrap made from PVC, which has the recycling label #3. Some personal care products also contain phthalates, so read the labels and avoid products that simply list added “fragrance,” since this catch-all term sometimes means hidden phthalates. Find phthalate-free personal care products with EWG’s Skin Deep Database:

Who needs food tainted with rocket fuel?! That’s right, perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel, contaminates much of our produce and milk, according to EWG and government test data. When perchlorate gets into your body it competes with the nutrient iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormones. Basically, this means that if you ingest too much of it you can end up altering your thyroid hormone balance. This is important because it’s these hormones that regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and young children.
How to avoid it? You can reduce perchlorate in your drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filter. (You can get help finding one at: As for food, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid perchlorate, but you can reduce its potential effects on you by making sure you are getting enough iodine in your diet. Eating iodized salt is one good way.

Fire retardants
What do breast milk and polar bears have in common? In 1999, some Swedish scientists studying women’s breast milk discovered something totally unexpected: The milk contained an endocrine-disrupting chemical found in fire retardants, and the levels had been doubling every five years since 1972! These incredibly persistent chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have since been found to contaminate the bodies of people and wildlife around the globe – even polar bears. These chemicals can imitate thyroid hormones in our bodies and disrupt their activity. That can lead to lower IQ, among other significant health effects. While several kinds of PBDEs have now been phased out, this doesn’t mean that toxic fire retardants have gone away. PBDEs are incredibly persistent, so they’re going to be contaminating people and wildlife for decades to come.
How to avoid it? It’s virtually impossible, but passing better toxic chemical laws that require chemicals to be tested before they go on the market would help reduce our exposure. A few things that can you can do in the meantime include: use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, which can cut down on toxic-laden house dust; avoid reupholstering foam furniture; take care when replacing old carpet (the padding underneath may contain PBDEs). Find more tips at:

You may or may not like heavy metal music, but lead is one heavy metal you want to avoid. It’s well known that lead is toxic, especially to children. Lead harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to a staggering array of health effects, including permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. But few people realize that one other way that lead may affect your body is by disrupting your hormones. In animals, lead has been found to lower sex hormone levels. Research has also shown that lead can disrupt the hormone signaling that regulates the body’s major stress system (called the HPA axis). You probably have more stress in your life than you want, so the last thing you need is something making it harder for your body to deal with it – especially when this stress system is implicated in high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression.
How to avoid it? Keep your home clean and well maintained. Crumbling old paint is a major source of lead exposure, so get rid of it carefully. A good water filter can also reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water. (Check out for help finding a filter.) And if you need another reason to eat better, studies have also shown that children with healthy diets absorb less lead.

Arsenic isn’t just for murder mysteries anymore. In fact, this toxin is lurking in your food and drinking water. If you eat enough of it, arsenic will kill you outright. In smaller amounts, arsenic can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer. Basically, bad news. Less well known: Arsenic messes with your hormones! Specifically, it can interfere with normal hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. What does that mean for you? Well, disrupting the glucocorticoid system has been linked to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation and high blood pressure.
How to avoid it? Reduce your exposure by using a water filter that lowers arsenic levels. For help finding a good water filter, check out EWG’s buying guide:

Caution: That sushi you are eating could be hazardous to your health. Mercury, a naturally occurring but toxic metal, gets into the air and the oceans primarily though burning coal. Eventually, it can end up on your plate in the form of mercury-contaminated seafood. Pregnant women are the most at risk from the toxic effects of mercury, since the metal is known to concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development. Mercury is also known to bind directly to one particular hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, interfering with normal signaling pathways. In other words, hormones don’t work so well when they’ve got mercury stuck to them! The metal may also play a role in diabetes, since mercury has been shown to damage cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is critical for the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.
How to avoid it? For people who still want to eat (sustainable) seafood with lots of healthy fats but without a side of toxic mercury, wild salmon and farmed trout are good choices.

Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
The perfluorinated chemicals used to make non-stick cookware can stick to you. Perfluorochemicals are so widespread and extraordinarily persistent that 99 percent of Americans have these chemicals in their bodies. One particularly notorious compound called PFOA has been shown to be “completely resistant to biodegradation.” In other words, PFOA doesn’t break down in the environment – ever. That means that even though the chemical was banned after decades of use, it will be showing up in people’s bodies for countless generations to come. This is worrisome, since PFOA exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, among other health issues. Scientists are still figuring out how PFOA affects the human body, but animal studies have found that it can affect thyroid and sex hormone levels.
How to avoid it? Skip non-stick pans as well as stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets.

Organophosphate pesticides
Neurotoxic organophosphate compounds that the Nazis produced in huge quantities for chemical warfare during World War II were luckily never used. After the war ended, American scientists used the same chemistry to develop a long line of pesticides that target the nervous systems of insects. Despite many studies linking organophosphate exposure to effects on brain development, behavior and fertility, they are still among the more common pesticides in use today. A few of the many ways that organophosphates can affect the human body include interfering with the way testosterone communicates with cells, lowering testosterone and altering thyroid hormone levels.
How to avoid it? Buy organic produce and use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which can help you find the fruits and vegetables that have the fewest pesticide residues. Check it out at:

Glycol Ethers
Shrunken testicles: Do we have your full attention now? This is one thing that can happen to rats exposed to chemicals called glycol ethers, which are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics. Worried? You should be. The European Union says that some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Studies of painters have linked exposure to certain glycol ethers to blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. And children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies.
How to avoid it? Start by checking out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning ( and avoid products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Report: Some chemicals in S.F. Bay near levels of concern"

2013-10-28 by Stephanie M. Lee from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
Pesticides, flame retardants and other chemicals used in homes and businesses have been found in San Francisco Bay at levels that could pose hazards to aquatic life if they go unchecked, according to a new report.
For now, none of the chemicals is present in concentrations alarming enough to be of "high concern," meaning they are unlikely to cause significant harm to water quality and the bay's inhabitants, according to the annual report from the Regional Monitoring Program, an environmental group that tracks contaminants in the bay.
"However, there are a number of chemicals that are showing up not too far from levels of concern, and that's the bad news," said Tom Mumley, assistant executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Those chemicals warrant further monitoring and stricter regulation, he said.
The Water Quality Control Board and other bay monitors, including the San Francisco Estuary Institute and companies and municipalities that discharge wastewater into the bay, published the report in advance of the biennial State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference. On Tuesday and Wednesday, scientists, policymakers and experts will meet in Oakland to discuss the findings and other issues affecting the bay.

A variety of sources -
Chemicals enter the bay from all kinds of sources. Pesticides used indoors to combat lice, pet parasites and other pests, for instance, travel through drains, into wastewater treatment plants and into bay waters. Outdoor pesticides used in agriculture and landscaping end up in urban storm-water drains that lead to creeks, rivers and then the bay.
The monitors identified many toxic substances, including mercury, which has long been known to exist in the bay and is a potential health threat to humans who eat fish contaminated with the chemical element. But they have not yet identified many compounds they found in the bay. The effects others have on the mollusks, fish, birds and other bay wildlife that are directly exposed or eat organisms that have absorbed them are unknown.
"There's a really big, long list of chemicals that we haven't measured yet, or we don't have good thresholds to interpret whether the concentrations out there are something to be alarmed about or not," said Jay Davis, a senior scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute. More than 100,000 chemicals are registered or approved for commercial use in the United States.

Insecticides, detergents -
One chemical the monitors are concerned about is fipronil, an insecticide that's increasingly being used to control pests around buildings and fleas on pets. Found in higher-than-usual concentrations in bay sediment, it could affect the delicate bay wildlife if allowed to build up, according to the report.
Pyrethroids, another family of insecticides used to combat fleas and bedbugs, aren't a big danger in the bay now, but they're widespread in the urban creeks that feed into the bay.
"It's theoretically just a matter of time," Mumley said. "The more they continue to be used, the more we'd expect them to be at high levels in the bay."
Also under scrutiny are alkylphenols, which are breakdown products of chemicals in household detergents and other cleaning products. Chemicals in this family - which are known endocrine disruptors that can interrupt the hormone system in mammals - were found in varying levels in mussels and the eggs of cormorants, and experts say they may contribute to the decline of fish populations in the bay. Perfluoro-octane sulfonate - which is used as a stain repellent on textiles, furniture and carpets - was detected in bay birds, seals, fish and mollusks. In mammals, exposure to this chemical has been associated with compromised immune systems, reproductive defects, neurotoxicity and cancer.
The report's authors say that stricter chemical regulations at the state or federal level can work, as evidenced by the flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Once common in furniture and electronics, PBDEs are not chemically bound to the products that contain them, so they can break off into dust or air. Linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children, these chemicals were once detected in high amounts in some fish, mussels and birds' eggs in the bay.

'Success story' -
But national manufacturers voluntarily phased out certain mixtures of PBDEs in 2004, and California banned those compounds in 2008. Since then, local water regulators have watched levels drop.
"All these indicators are pointing toward a decline," Davis said, who called it a success story. "It's happened pretty quickly in response to the bans."

State of the bay -
Report: Every year, the groups that put together the "Pulse of the Bay" report focus on different aspects of monitoring data. Read this year's report at [].
Conference: Attend the biennial State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday in Oakland. Details are at [].

Sunday, October 27, 2013

River Otter

"Otter signals Lake Merritt ecosystem's comeback" 
2013-10-27 by Will Kane from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
A river otter climbs a dock at Lake Merritt early this month, inspiring hope for the lake's future. Photo: Greg Lewis, Courtesy

Greg Lewis had just finished his evening row on Oakland's Lake Merritt when he saw a slick, squirmy, furry bundle hoist itself out of the water and onto the edge of the dock.
It was a river otter, the first one spotted in Lake Merritt in decades.
"I saw his head pop up and saw him pull himself on the dock," Lewis, 53, of Berkeley, said of the surprise Oct. 6 encounter. "He looked at us, we looked at him for a bit."
Lewis, who develops air pollution monitors, snapped a few shots, and like that, the animal plopped back into the water and paddled off.
No one has reported seeing the otter since, and biologists ordered Lewis to keep his mouth shut until they were sure the popular, photogenic animal wasn't going to make the lake a home.
But the sighting alone is proof, experts said, that Lake Merritt is making a comeback.
"It is one indication that the lake is getting healthier," said Richard Bailey, executive director of the Lake Merritt Institute, a nonprofit that monitors the lake. "Another indication, just this week, was that we spotted an osprey on an island in the lake. We haven't seen one of those here in a decade."
Bacteria in the lake are at some of their lowest levels in years, and there's half as much trash floating in the lake as there was in 2005, Bailey said.

Revitalizing lake -
Oakland is trying hard to revitalize the lake. Oakland voters passed a $198 million bond in 2002 to spiff up the lake, and in February, the city inaugurated a new channel that will eventually restore the natural order by reconnecting the lake to the bay.
Before Oakland was developed, Lake Merritt was a brackish lagoon that would swell and shrink with the tide and was home to otters, sea lions and an extraordinary array of migrating birds.
As Oakland grew from a town to a city, it choked the lake's connection to the bay and started pouring sewage into the lake. The water stagnated, and wildlife fled.
But the appearance of a river otter might be a sign that that's all changing.
The otter was probably searching the Oakland Estuary for a new fishing hole when it swam up a culvert, squeezed between metal bars designed to keep trash from flowing into the bay and started exploring the 155-acre lake.
"It is exciting, but not particularly surprising," said Megan Isadore, the co-founder of the River Otter Ecology Project, a Marin County group that tracks river otter sightings across the Bay Area. "River otters are making a recovery in the Bay Area. They were gone from the Bay Area for a long time."
The North American river otter once lived in almost every creek and lake in Northern California. The fissipeds - animals with padded feet - are members of the weasel family. They can live in salt water, brackish water or fresh water and are agile on their feet, sometimes even climbing trees.

Threats to survival -
Russian and other European hunters killed thousands of river and sea otters, all so the ladies of the Victorian age could wear their thick, water-repellent fur coats. Habitat loss from construction of dams and canals also depleted the river otter ranks. Pollution, including mercury from gold mining, reduced the population further.
But increasingly, otters are being spotted across the Bay Area. Earlier this year, a young river otter frolicked at the ruins of San Francisco's Sutro Baths. The otter, dubbed Sutro Sam, was the first otter spotted in the city in almost a half century. Sam eventually left the baths.
It is not impossible, but unlikely, that Sam swam across the bay to Oakland. But it is hard to tell otters apart, Isadore said.
"We know that there are otters all over in the Oakland area, and otters have a pretty variable social life," Isadore said. "He was probably just exploring, came to visit and see if there are a lot of other nice fish for him.
"He probably was there for a few days, and then he went somewhere with better fishing," Isadore added.
Conrad Jones, a wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said spotting an otter in Lake Merritt was "encouraging, certainly, but it is too early to say if what we are doing is paying off."
"The biggest milestone," Jones said, "is if it comes back, it stays, it successfully breeds, and those kids grow up."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Refinery pollution monitering

"Refineries should maintain community monitors"
2013-10-24 from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
The Chevron Richmond oil refinery fire in August 2012 woke up the Bay Area to the fact that we know more about tailpipe emissions than refinery pollution because Clean Air act rules focus on auto exhaust. But that is changing as air quality regulators inch toward new refinery rules.
As those rules are developed, it will take vigilance and work on the part of all Bay Area communities to ensure the broad concerns of public health are reflected in those rules.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is crafting a refinery emissions tracking rule, with a proposal expected to go to the board this summer and final regulations in effect sometime in 2016. Refinery communities - Richmond, Benicia, Rodeo, Martinez - are keenly interested in how and how soon this effort plays out, but the entire region wants to know what's in the air.
At the moment, efforts to sniff out what is wafting into the region's skies from its five major oil refineries are under way but slowly.
The air district maintains its own monitors at each of the region's refineries, but it only looks at two chemicals. Exposure to other petroleum-associated chemicals have effects on human health, but the air rules don't address those contaminants.
Under legal agreements, refinery operators have purchased equipment in Richmond, Benicia and Rodeo to monitor a broader range of chemicals and provide that information in real time to the public. Chevron, working with a third-party contractor, has installed three fence line stations as of April and the first of three stations in neighborhoods last month. The project, agreed to in 2010, lagged until the 2012 fire, which sent thousands of residents to the hospital with breathing problems, prompted the city and Chevron to speed up.

Benicia's equipment is currently unused.
Hopefully, the monitors will give trend data. Data gathered after an incident - such as Richmond's efforts to analyze particulate fallout from the fire - is only meaningful if compared to a baseline.
The air district can't impose policies or fines based on data collected by these community monitors, just on infractions caught by its own equipment as was Valero's Benicia refinery this week.
The air district can require refineries to maintain community monitors to gather data to regulate refinery emissions. As it works out the details of its new emissions tracking rule, it should.

Air quality monitors -
Real-time data from air monitors along the fence line of Chevron's Richmond refinery is available at

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Valero petroleum refinery in Benicia

"Valero to pay fine for air quality violations"
2013-10-22 by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
The Valero Refining Co. has agreed to pay more than $300,000 for repeated air quality violations, including gas leaks, over the past few years, regulators announced Tuesday.
 The company will pay $300,300 in civil penalties for 33 violations in 2011 and 2012 at its petroleum refinery in Benicia, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
 The violations mostly involved late reporting and lack of data, but there were also emissions excesses and leaks, air quality officials said. They said none of the problems caused a significant threat to public health.
 "This penalty against Valero serves as a reminder to the industry to be more vigilant in daily maintenance and operations," said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the air district, the regional agency responsible for protecting air quality in the nine-county Bay Area.
 Representatives of Valero acknowledged the penalty in a brief statement: "These settlement fees are related to compliance issues that Valero self-reported to the District in 2011 and 2012 and subsequently resolved," said Sue Fisher Jones, the Valero spokeswoman.
Valero was named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year as one of California's top distributors of dangerous substances. It was second to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo as the most profligate disseminator of poisons in the Bay Area, releasing 504,472 pounds of toxic substances into the air, water or ground. It was the 10th biggest source of chemicals and pollutants in the state, according to the report released in January.
 Almost half of the violations cited by the air quality district between 2011 and 2012 involved excessive short-term emissions and valve leaks on tanks.
 The rest of the violations had to do with missing data on a valves and connectors database and late samples from gas flares, which are required every three hours by air district regulation. Valero had to take the flare samples manually after its automated system failed to provide samples that were suitable for analysis, regulators said.
 The settlement money will be used for air quality district inspection and enforcement operations and activities, according to district officials.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Seal and Sea Lions in the San Pablo bay

The San Pablo Bay basin, including the Sacramento Delta, Napa River / Mare Island Sound, Grizzley Bay, and the marshlands surrounding Skaggs Island are all areas known to be visited by seals and sea lions.

The San Pablo Bay Ecological Preservation Association (SEPA) advocates for the placement of info signs with advice about how to deal with seals and sea lions, like what fish they eat and what to do when they get snagged on fishing lines. These info signs will be placed at recreational fisher areas, and as pamphlets at marinas.

"Seagull Steals a Fish From a Seal or Sea Lion Carquinez Strait Martin", posted 2010-09-22 to "" []: Seagull Steals a Fish From a Seal or Sea Lion  Carquinez Strait Martinez California. SEagull steals fish at 1:04!

Osprey Raptors

2012-07-19 "Osprey nest on top of light pole by Carquinez Bridge in Vallejo"
by Gary Bogue []:
Three ospreys in nest on light pole by Carquinez Bridge in Vallejo, CA. Photo by Marina Chainey, Richmond, CA

[begin letter] Gary: I saw this osprey nest empty last year when I walked across the Zampa (Carquinez) bridge in Vallejo.  When I walked the bridge again a few days ago, 3 ospreys were waiting for food as mom flew around.  Looks like they are getting ready to leave the nest. I hope you continue to inspire others about wildlife and pets during your retirement. I’ve enjoyed reading your column and will miss it. [signed] Marina Chainey, Richmond, California [end letter]
Osprey nest on top of light pole (see red arrow) by Carquinez Bridge in Vallejo, CA. Photo by Marina Chainey, Richmond, CA

[begin reply] Marina: Ospreys are beautiful, fish-hunting birds of prey. As you can see, they like to build their nests on high spots, even if they are in the middle of humans … as long as there is a nearby place to fish. These are beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing them! [signed] Gary [end reply]
Ospreys in nest on top of light pole by Carquinez Bridge in Vallejo, CA. Photo by Marina Chainey, Richmond, CA

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta

"On the Hunt—Searching For Rare Plants in the Delta"
2013-10-19 by Alessandra Bergamin []:
Seated in a wooden kayak at the mouth of Sycamore Slough, Danny Slakey peers through his hand lens at a plant no bigger than a sprig of thyme. Carefully, he inspects the small purple flowers growing along its stem, turning the specimen in his hand. Beside him, Brian Keelan reads from his iPad, asking Slakey questions like, “Paired in the axil? Alternate, spatulate leaves?” When it comes to plant identification, the devil is in the details.
It’s early morning and already the sun beats down hard and hot, making the clouds seem particularly low and the water sparkle in the sunlight. In the distance, Mount Diablo rises from the valley floor, its silhouette tinged by the color of the sky. The slough is dotted with dense reed islands and muddy outcrops surrounded by thick mats of water hyacinth, the invasive plant that has established itself throughout much of the central valley.
Keelan had first spotted the plant near one of those larger islands. The pair continues their back and forth, checking off potential species from a mental list. Slakey is not one for exaggerated excitement. But as he calls the rest of the kayak group over to take a closer look at the plant, you can tell there’s something special about this one.
Slakey is a botanist at the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and is leading a group of volunteers on a rare plant survey of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, focusing on Sycamore Slough.
Since 2010 the CNPS has been conducting rare plant treasure hunts throughout the state, engaging plant enthusiasts through citizen science and focusing on areas where proposed projects could significantly alter existing rare plant habitat. Several of the surveys have been undertaken in the Mojave Desert, where only a small percent of California’s desert flora has been documented and where massive solar power development projects are being planned.
In the Delta, the state is proposing a huge construction project centered around twin tunnels dug under the Delta to deliver water from the northern part of the watershed to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley and urban consumers in Santa Clara County and Southern California. The proposed “peripheral tunnel” project is paired with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which aims to improve habitat for native species as mitigation for the tunnels. Having baseline data for what is here now is an essential prerequisite for understanding what species need to be taken into account and Slakey, so far, is optimistic.
“It seems there should be minimal impacts to the rare plants in the Delta,” Slakey says.  “Overall, it sounds like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan may help to make for improved habitat restoration.”
Paddling down Sycamore Slough, a tributary of the Delta some 14 miles west of Lodi, the human touch is not hard to find: a stream of motor boats and jet skis regularly zoom past, sending ripples through the water while just out of sight, beyond the riprap levees, sunflower fields crisp in the central valley heat.
“You can have a rare plant that’s rare because it has always been rare and that’s just the way it is,” Slakey says. “But you can also have a plant whose habitat has been so altered or destroyed that it’s gone from being a common plant to a rare plant; the Delta is a good example of the latter.”
That’s the kind of plant that Brian Keelan found, on a mud float no bigger than a bowling ball, and that Slakey and the volunteers are gathered around. After deliberating, Slakey, with the help of Keelan, identifies it as the side-flowering skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) a perennial herb of the mint family. It shares the same fresh smell and fuzzy leaf texture of its more common cousins but certainly won’t be found in any teabags. In California, this species is known from only 12 populations, most of which are in the Delta — and it has never been documented in the location where Keelan just spotted it.
Slakey explains that the last time it was recorded in the slough was in 1892 by the early Californian botanist Katharine Brandegee. But even then, it was found on Bouldin Island, about two miles south of its current location, meaning this is most certainly a new population.
“Also, it’s never been seen flowering in California in July, so we now know that the blooming period is a little long than previously known,” Slakey says.
As the day continues, the weight of the sun makes nature’s colors pulse. Even the purples and greens of the water hyacinth glisten in the sunlight. On the bank above the levee an abandoned pesticide truck rusts into the mud—a stark contrast to the life in the slough itself.
Now in its fourth season, the CNPS rare plant treasure hunt program has expanded to include sites in the Bay Area and central coast. To date, citizen scientists along with professional botanists have contributed data on nearly 2,000 rare plants to the California Natural Diversity Database.
“Field botany in California is fascinating because of the range of habitats created by varying elevation, latitude, soil and precipitation,” says Keelan, a volunteer who has participated in several CNPS rare plant treasure hunts. “Many native species are quite restricted in distribution because of the combination of factors they require, so it’s challenging and rewarding to search them out.”
Near the end of the trip, Slakey points out one last plant, towering over the edge of a levee. With its white petals and deep pink center, the wooly rose-mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus var. occidentalis) seems to belong more in the tropics than in the central valley and is one of the prettier rare plants in the Delta. We have seen it several times throughout the day, poking its petals through the reeds along the levees and as Slakey explains, it is more common than other rare plants in the area.
It is late afternoon and the group reconvenes by this hibiscus with specimens and notes in tow. Some stop to take photos and stretch in their kayaks, while the steadfast botanists continue searching the area, hoping for one last rare plant. But some four miles into the slough, Slakey decides it is time to head back. And facing that rising Mount Diablo, the paddle back begins.

Brian Keelan spotted this population of side-flowering skullcap growing alongside seaside brookweed on a mud float. Photo: Alessandra Bergamin.

Brian Keelan inspects the side-flowering skullcap specimen through his hand lens. Photo: Alessandra Bergamin.

Danny Slakey, a botanist for CNPS, leads the Bay Area and central coast rare plant treasure hunts. Photo: Alessandra Bergamin.

A wolly rose-mallow peaks out from between the reeds. Photo: Alessandra Bergamin.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

LNG in the San Pablo Bay? No Way!

During 2004, Vallejo City Council publicly revealed it had been in secret negotiations with Shell petroleum company to construct and operate a LNG refinery within Vallejo. The refinery was prmised to the public as a clean job creator, although later it is revealed that the permanant job vacancies for operating the refinery would not go to local people, that the amount of job vacancies was much less than they originally claimed to the public, and that the air pollution, flares and explosions created by the refinery process were extremely dangerous to the long-term health of the people in the area.

* LNG Plant in Vallejo supported by VPOA (2011-01) [link]

"Study to look at British Columbia's 'clean' LNG"
2013-10-04 from "UPI":
Victoria, British Columbia -
The government of British Columbia said it will launch a study to determine emissions in Kitimat, the hub of the province's proposed liquefied natural gas sector.
The study, announced Wednesday, will evaluate three proposed LNG export terminals, an existing aluminium smelter, a proposed oil refinery, a crude-oil export facility and gas-turbine-powered electrical generation facilities.
Premier Christy Clark has repeatedly said British Columbia's LNG would be the cleanest in the world. Canada aims to be a major supplier of liquefied natural gas to Asia.
The province had previously maintained any air quality studies would only be needed after LNG projects are approved.
"This study will ensure our airshed plan for Kitimat is comprehensive, so the quality of life in the area is upheld while jobs and economic prospects increase as a result of LNG and industrial development," Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development, said in a release.
"British Columbia is an environmental leader and we are taking the steps necessary to keep that title," Coleman said.
The province released a report in July estimating the LNG industry could provide 60,0000 construction jobs and support 75,000 jobs in operating gas liquefaction plants and drilling natural gas for export
The announcement for the air quality study follows environmental group Clean Energy Canada's release last week of a report -- "The Cleanest LNG in the World?" -- warning if the LNG industry grows as large as the British Columbian government predicts, its carbon footprint could amount to nearly double that of Alberta's entire oil sands sector in 2010. The group said it based its evaluation not only on the emissions of British Columbia's proposed LNG plants, "but also on the full carbon footprint of the commodity they would produce -- from wellhead to waterline -- given the government's commitment to deliver LNG with 'lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than anywhere else.'" One-third of the carbon emissions are expected to be created by the liquefaction process, Clean Energy Canada's report says, and two-thirds of the emissions would come from extracting it out of the ground and shipping it to the coast for export.
"My commitment is to have the cleanest LNG facilities in the world," Clark told an editorial board meeting of The Globe and Mail Tuesday, a day before the announcement of the Kitimat air quality study.
She said, however, she never intended for the "clean" commitment to capture the emissions produced upstream, meaning the exploration and production of the gas, the newspaper reported.
"We don't produce LNG in the northeast, we produce natural gas. We will produce liquefied natural gas in the northwest, so that's what we have been talking about," Clark told the newspaper. "There is no 'L' in LNG until it gets to Kitimat or Prince Rupert," she said, referring to export facilities.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tests show how the toxic metal Selenium disrupt bee pollination actions

Save the Bees! [link]

"Toxic metal selenium and diesel fumes baffle bees"
2013-10-03 from "AFP" newswire []: Paris -
Diesel exhaust fumes alter the flowery smells that guide bees when they forage, potentially sending them off course and putting the food-growing industry at risk, a study said Thursday. Honeybees rely heavily on their sense of smell to locate flowers from which they harvest life-giving nectar -- transferring pollen grains from one bloom to another in the process. The new research shows that diesel exhaust fumes from cars, tractors or power generators can chemically alter the smell of flowers and render them undetectable to bees. This, in turn, threatens the insects' crucial role as a key pollinators of human food crops. "Somewhere in the region of 70 percent of world crops require pollination services, and... about 35 percent of our current food production is reliant on pollination," study co-author Tracey Newman of the University of Southampton told a press conference ahead of the report's release in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. Pollination services have an estimated economic value of 153 billion euros ($208 billion) a year. For the study, Newman and a team created a synthetic odour blend mimicking the complex chemical mix that make up the smell of oilseed rape flowers. The synthetic blend of eight chemicals was released into a sealed glass vessel with clean air, and another that contained diesel exhaust at levels similar to rush-hour, roadside fumes. The fumes contained high concentrations of NOx gases: nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, as well as carbon monoxide. Within one minute, the chemicals alpha-farnesene and alpha-terpinene, which comprised 72.5 percent and 0.8 percent of the blend respectively, were "rendered undetectable" in the diesel-polluted air. The other chemicals were also considerably reduced in volume while there was no change for the blend in the clean-air vial. Next, the team tested whether bees would notice the difference. They trained the insects by exposing them to the eight-chemical synthetic odour blend and feeding them a sugar solution at the same time to build an association of reward -- as the smell of flowers hold the promise of nectar. Over time, the trained bees would start sticking out their tongue-like proboscis in anticipation whenever they recognised the odour. The scientists then removed chemical elements from the synthetic odour to create a depleted mix like the one left over after diesel exposure. When they removed alpha-terpinene, the insects' ability to recognise the odour dropped to less than 30 percent, said Newman -- demonstrated by the bees no longer extending their proboscis. When alpha-farnesene was taken out too, the ability dropped even further. "This isn't just about a bee getting confused because there is a new smell around. This is actually that the chemistry of the odour itself is being chemically altered," she explained. If the foraging bees are unable to find nectar, the entire hive will suffer for a lack of food -- as will the plants that depend on pollination to reproduce. "And without efficient, effective pollination, there are going to be consequences for human health," said Newman. Bees account for some 80 percent of pollination by insects, but their numbers have slumped in Europe and the United States in the past 15-odd years due to a worrying phenomenon dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD). The mysterious plague, often characterised by a rapid loss of adult worker bees, has been blamed on everything from agricultural pesticide use, a loss of wild bee habitat, a virus or fungus, mites -- or a combination that may now also include diesel fumes. The disorder has killed off about 30 percent of bees annually since 2007.

"Toxic metal selenium said a risk to honeybees critical to agriculture"  
2013-10-03 from "UPI" newswire: Riverside, Calif. -
The pollutant metal selenium, which can accumulate in plants, can kill honeybees or delay their development, a study led by researchers in California found. The anthropogenic pollutant joins other honeybee stressors including pesticides, pathogens and diseases, the researchers said.
"Metal pollutants like selenium contaminate soil, water, can be accumulated in plants, and can even be atmospherically deposited on the hive itself," lead study author Kristen Hladun, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, said.
"Our study examined the toxic effects of selenium at multiple life stages of the honey bee in order to mimic the chronic exposure this insect may face when foraging in a contaminated area."
Honeybees, an important agricultural pollinator in the United States and throughout the world, may be at risk in areas of selenium contamination because of the biotransfer of the metal from selenium-accumulating plants, the researchers said. Anthropogenic sources of selenium include mining and industrial activities such as petroleum refining and coal-power production, as well as where agricultural runoff is collected and can concentrate selenium from the surrounding soils, they said.
While low concentrations of selenium are beneficial to many animals, in higher concentrations it is toxic. The toxic element can enter a honeybee's body through ingestion of contaminated pollen and nectar, the scientists said. "It is not clear how selenium damages the insect's internal organs, or if the bee has the ability to detoxify these compounds at all," Hladun said. "Further research is necessary to examine the cellular and physiological effects of selenium."
In the United States, the known toxicity of selenium to wildlife and humans has resulted in the element being regulated by the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Clean Water Act. The study has been published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

Demand safer drinking water in California!

2013-09-02 message from the "Environmental Working Group":
Demand a true safety limit for hexavalent chromium. We must make our voices heard before October 11.
Click here right now to demand safe drinking water [link].
The California Department of Public Health is about to leave you unprotected from hexavalent chromium, the potentially carcinogenic industrial chemical made famous by investigator Erin Brockovich.
After spending 10 years developing a legal limit for the amount of hexavalent chromium that can pollute drinking water, the agency has proposed a bar that is 500 times higher than the level California state scientists have determined to be safe for public health.
The state Department of Public Health is accepting public comment until October 11. We need you to take action right now. The California Department of Public Health needs to know that Californians want real protection from hexavalent chromium.
Some hexavalent chromium pollution occurs in nature but more is attributed to leakage from industrial processes such as chrome-plating, leather tanning and corrosion control.
In 2010, EWG research found potentially unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium in the drinking water in 31 of 35 city water supplies across the country. This report became one of the turning points in a nationwide movement to set safe legal limits on hexavalent chrome in drinking water.
The California Department of Public Health wants to set the legal limit for hexavalent chromium in water at 10 parts per billion, 500 times higher than the public health goal issued by state toxicologists. As well, if these regulations become law, only 15 percent of California's contaminated water sources would be treated.
That is simply not good enough. We need the state to establish real protections for our drinking water. The state is accepting public comments on these proposed standards until October 11. If we can flood the Office of Regulations with demands from Californians - from you! - we can get a true safety standard.
Text of petition:
"Establish a health protective drinking water limit for hexavalent chromium" at []:
Thank you for this opportunity to provide comment on the Department of Public Health's (DPH) proposed drinking water legal limit (also known as a maximum contaminant limit or MCL) for hexavalent chromium. I wish to go on record as strongly opposing the 10 parts per billion (ppb) standard because it will not protect the vast majority of Californians already exposed to this extremely toxic chemical through their drinking water. 
Hexavalent chromium is a potent carcinogen and reproductive toxicant and is linked to other serious health effects such as severe gastric problems, hemorrhaging, and liver and kidney damage and failure. Yet DPH is proposing a standard 500 times greater the public health goal of .02 ppb, which the state has determined (through peer-reviewed scientific analysis) to be protective of health.
What DPH has done in proposing the 10 ppb standard is to give greater priority to the costs to drinking water providers and polluters than to the health and safety of the people living in the 51 counties with detected hexavalent chromium pollution. Based on the department's own data, this standard will ensure that 85 percent of the water sources known to contain hexavalent chromium will not be treated, allowing potentially millions of Californians to continue to be exposed. While DPH argues that treating the water is expensive, it is largely ignoring the external costs borne by communities in the form of health expenditures, replacement water, lower property values, and other social effects. It is also turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering of families hurt by this contaminant.
I am concerned that DPH has forgotten that its role is to protect public health. I call on you to remember that mandate and to establish a health protective drinking water standard that will ensure that all known water sources contaminated with hexavalent chromium are treated.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement Selling Bee-Killing Garden Plants

Save the Bees! [link]

TAKE ACTION: Ask The Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement to Stop Selling Bee-Killing Garden Plants: []
A new study co-authored by Friends of the Earth U.S. and Pesticide Research Institute found that seven out of 13 samples of garden plants purchased at top retailers (such as The Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement) in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Bay Area and Minneapolis contain bee-killing, neurotoxic pesticides known as neonicotinoids. 

Campaign to preserve eco-system against illegal CalTrans projects

* Occupy Willits Bypass! Save Little Lake Valley! [link]
* Save Richardson Grove! [link]

2013-10-01 "Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters" Campaign Alert!
Put the Brakes on Caltrans !
 Tell Caltrans ~ No More Super Highways Where We Don't Need Them !
Thanks to Caltrans intransigence, the threats to the old growth redwoods in Richardson Grove in Humboldt County are back on the horizon, along with more backward-thinking projects in redwoods and wild country in the Smith River area, on the far north coast. These renewed threats add to Caltrans' poor performance in Mendocino County in Willits and the extreme damage heavy equipment has been wreacking on the wetlands and forests there.
The new developments:

1) Richardson Grove:
Caltrans has posted new documents in response to the April 2012 court order issued when EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity prevailed in federal court and halted the Richardson Grove highway "realignment" project that we and our allies had been opposing, with their lawsuit in April 2012. The Federal Judge ruled that Caltrans had "arbitrarily and capriciously tried to justify the project with false data." (their measurements of the trees and their mapping.)
It does not appear that they are following the court order with substantive changes to their plan, and Gary Hughes of EPIC commented that "We can immediately recognize on several fronts how Caltrans is still failing to abide by the law and provide adequate environmental review for this project that they are proposing in an extremely rare and sensitive environment,”
The documents are posted on the CALTRANS website at:
The public comment period on these documents closes on October 21, 2013 unless we can convince Caltrans to extend the close date. Our allies at EPIC are in process of analyzing the documents in order to help us formulate public comment, and we will send out that Action Alert when it is ready.
Written comments may be submitted to Caltrans, Attn: Environmental Management, P.O. Box 3700, Eureka, CA 95502 by October 21, 2013.
It is also important to email Caltrans and ask for an extension of the comment period. You can email them at: []

2) The Wild Smith River -
The Smith River in far north coastal California is not only deep within the ancient redwoods, but is the last undamed free flowing river in the state. The stellar legal team from EPIC and CBD has just filed suit to stop a Caltrans highway project that has been in the wings, in line with Richardson Grove and the Willits Bypass. The 197/199 highway widening project along the Smith River corridor is their latest assault on our North Coast environment. Please see the Press Release at:

3) The brave and stalwart folks of Save Our Little Lake Valley and Earth First! continue their opposition to the Caltrans Bypass. A mass demonstration is planned on October 12, 2013. All are invited; details will follow. See more info at [] and []. To see a thorough and well-researched analysis of how Caltrans gets away with it, see:
Caltrans is bound and determined to make Highway 101 STAA (large Interstate trucks) accessible from Grants Pass, Oregon to the Bay Area. We, and our friends in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties are bound and determined to keep another big interstate ala I-5 off California's fragile coast.

Support our work on these campaigns and more! A little goes a long way! Click on []
Come visit our booth at the Indigenous Peoples' Day powwow and Market Sat., Oct. 5, 10-6 at Civic Center Park! Our booth is on the Farmers' Market side.