Editor’s Note: This is an update to a story that we published about the proposed copper mining in Porcupine Mountains. Michigan Strategic Fund is considering a grant for the Copperwood project – a project that will destroy the natural habitat in the Porcupine Mountains. This is an urgent call for action, you can find the original piece here.
URGENT: Michigan considering $50M grant for Copperwood
We are writing today with an urgent action request that needs to be completed as soon as possible. If you care about the health of Lake Superior and about the wilderness quality of the North Country Trail and Porcupine Mountains State Park, now is the time to fight for it.
An article released on January 30th reports that the Michigan Strategic Fund is currently considering a $50 million grant for the Copperwood project. This money would more than double Highland Copper’s bank account, but more importantly, a State endorsement would provide a massive boost in momentum and be used as leverage for future funds from grants, investors, and loans. To quote Highland Copper’s CEO Barry O’Shea: “I can tell you with certainty that an award of this nature will move the needle significantly in terms of how our debt providers and our equity investors look at our company. It’s not only a large financial boost for the project, but it is a true endorsement.”
Fortunately, a few of the MSF board members have expressed doubts regarding the necessity and wisdom of the grant, and the decision has been deferred to subcommittee for expedited consideration. We don’t know the timeframe in which a decision will be made, which is why it is crucial we act NOW.
We are asking you to write a message to the Michigan Strategic Fund board members who are deliberating over this grant as we speak. Their emails are provided below. We have already sent them a thorough elaboration on all our key arguments, so you only need to follow up with a few short paragraphs or even a few sentences. Write about whatever points resonate personally with you, but keep in mind, these are businesspeople who are interested mainly in the soundness of their investment.
Here are a few points to inspire your pen:
- Are they aware of this petition with over 11,000 signatures opposing Copperwood’s development? 11,000 is more than the populations of the closest three towns to the Mine combined (Wakefield, Bessemer, and Ironwood). Contrary to what they have been told, social license for this project is far from universal.
- The board members are likely not familiar with this area— remind them that this is not “the middle of nowhere”: the juncture of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, the North Country Trail, and Lake Superior is one of the most spectacular outdoor recreation areas in the country.
- Outdoor recreation contributes over $10 billion to Michigan’s economy annually; mining, around $1 billion. An operating mine would disrupt this thriving outdoor recreation area with noise pollution, light pollution, subterranean blasting, and heavy industrial traffic.
- Copperwood would be the closest sulfide mine to Lake Superior in history. Copper sulfide mines always contaminate and tailings dams are far from invincible.
- Inform them that, despite what they may have been told, copper is NOT a critical mineral and therefore there is no urgent need to fund this project.
Specific Economic Arguments
- Highland Copper is a foreign company, largely funded by foreign investors;
- The copper will be transported to Canada for processing, meaning a great many of the highest-paying jobs will go to foreigners. See the 2023 Feasibility Study:
P. 1.18 states concentrate to be shipped by a trans-load facility in Champion, MI to have access to Canadian National Railway networks (CN).
P. 19.2.1 discusses the need for downstream refining and smelting: “Several smelters could receive concentrate with the nearby candidates being the Horne smelter located in Noranda, Quebec or the copper smelter in Sudbury, Ontario. Other alternatives include seaborne export to Asia or Europe.”
- If this project is such a slam dunk, why haven’t they been able to procure funding after over a decade of scrambling?
- And why did their CEO step down just a few months ago?
- This study on the economic impact of mining shows that only 25% of mines lead to long-term economic benefit for communities, with half of those coming from before 1982, and most of those being new coal strip mines out West; in other words, it is an exceedingly small fraction of mines which will lead to meaningful economic revitalization.
- The study specifically cites the issue of “flickering“— the tendency for metal mines to close and re-open, again and again, as the price of a mineral fluctuates above and below the cost of operation; this creates much uncertainty in the lives of workers. Flickering is what has defined Copperwood’s entire nonexistence thus far: the flickering of funding, the flickering of proposed start-up dates, the flickering of CEOs. Highland Copper has stated again and again that, in addition to awaiting the necessary capital, they are awaiting a surge in the price of copper to make the project viable— Great… but what happens if the price plunges after the mine begins operation?
- This is a big chunk of change for a project that will only last 11 years;
- Since HC’s market cap is only $43 million — well short of the $390 million in startup capital required — MSF would be investing in a company that likely will be taken over by a larger partner at some point before the mine is up and running;
- Interim CEO Barry O’Shea said, “I can tell you with certainty that an award of this nature will move the needle significantly in terms of (how) our debt providers and our equity investors look at our company. It’s not only a large financial boost for the project, but it is a true endorsement.”
In other words, he has stated explicitly that they want to use an official State endorsement as leverage to win over more outside equity investors and bank loans— a pretty suspect use of Michigan taxpayer money, don’t you think?
- Finally, Highland Copper no doubt touted their “resolutions of support” gathered from area townhalls. Keep in mind, those resolutions were agreed upon by no more than two or three dozen people. Meanwhile, there is a petition with over 11,000 signatures opposing the Mine.
Now, without further ado, the details of the action:
- Firstly, please submit your short message via this online form (allows for limited length )
- Secondly, send that same message, or a longer version, to the e-mail addresses below— you may copy and paste the entire list directly into the CC: field of a new email. These addresses comprise ALL the Michigan Strategic Fund board members, plus a few more of special relevance:
You can also call the office of Quentin L. Messer, Chair of the Michigan Strategic Fund:
Again, this is our most important action to date, and the clock is ticking!
Thank you for your help, everyone! Remember, ProtectThePorkies is not an organization, but a movement, comprised of anyone who feels a connection to this area and a desire to fight for its wellbeing! Take care!
Editor’s Note: In this essay, Carl (one of our editors) describes the process of ocean acidification, and how it relates with other ecological crises.
First we need to know what an acid is. An acid is any substance (species) who’s molecules or ions are capable of donating a hydrogen ion proton (H+) to another substance in aqueous solution. The opposite of an acid is a base. Which is a substance who’s molecules or ions are able to accept a hydrogen ion from an acid. Acidic substances are usually identified by their sour taste while bases are bitter. The quantitative means to measure the degree to which a substance is acidic or basic is the detection of “potential of hydrogen” (pH) or “power of hydrogen”. This is expressed with a logarithmic scale 0 -14 that inversely indicates the activity of hydrogen ions in solution. The greater the amount of hydrogen ions which are measured below 7 the more acidic a substance is, going to 0. The less hydrogen ions are present which are measured above 7 the more basic a substance is, going to 14. So the pH values are inverse to number of hydrogen ions present. As the concentration of hydrogen ions increases the pH decreases (acidic). As the concentration of hydrogen ions decreases the pH increases (basic). With the value of 7 being neutral which is where pure distilled water falls on the scale. So acidification would be increasing hydrogen ions.
Basic (or alkaline) properties can be associated with the presence of hydroxide ions (OH−) in aqueous solution, and the neutralization of acids (H+) by bases can be explained in terms of the reaction of these two ions to give the neutral molecule water (H+ + OH− → H2O).
Small Drop in pH Means Big Change in Acidity
For millions of years the average pH of the ocean had maintained around 8.2, which is on the basic side of the scale. But since industrial development that number has dropped to slightly below 8.1. So not acidic but going in that direction. While this may not seem like a lot, remember the decrease is nonlinear and measures the amount of hydrogen ions present. A change in pH of 1 unit is equivalent to a tenfold change in the concentration of (H+) ions. So the drop of .11 units represents a 30% increase of (H+) ions than were present in the relative homeostasis state of preindustrial time. Ocean acidification is an increase in the dissolved hydrogen ions (H+) in the water.
What is causing this decrease in pH?
Oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through wave action. Pre-industrialization there was a balance between the CO2 going into the water and coming out of the water. The pH was stable in this narrow range. Life in the oceans have evolved to survive in a balanced condition. Industrialization through the burning of fossil fuel has released increased amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. This has caused the oceans to absorb more CO2. So here is where the chemistry comes into play. As CO2 dissolves in water (H2O) the two create Hydroxycarboxylic (Carbonic) Acid (H2CO3).
CO2 + H2O = H2CO3
This breaks down easily into Hydrogen Carbonate ions (HCO3) and H+ ions.
H2CO3 = HCO3 + H+
Hydrogen ions break off of the Carbonic Acid. So more CO2 means more H+ ions which means increased acidity.
And this is where the problem is. Shells are formed primarily of Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3). But Carbonate (CO3) binds more easily with H+ than with Calcium (Ca), CO3 + 2H+. This takes away Carbonate that would have bonded with the Calcium for shell production. Calcium is relatively constant, so it is the concentration of carbonate that determines formation of calcium carbonate. Less carbonate available makes it more difficult for corals, mollusks, echinoderms, calcareous algae and other shelled organisms to form Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), their major mineral building block. Also, when Carbonate concentrations fall too low, already formed CaCO3 starts to dissolve. So, marine organisms have a harder time making new shells and maintaining the ones they’ve already got. This causes decreased calcification. In healthy humans, normal body pH average is 7.4. This is one of the main reasons why the pH in swimming pools should be maintained around 7.5.
The acid-base balance of the oceans has been critical in maintaining the Earth’s habitability and allowing the emergence of early life.
“Scientists have long known that tiny marine organisms—phytoplankton(microscopic aquatic plants)—are central to cooling the world by emitting an organic compound known as dimethylsulphide (DMS). Acidification affects phytoplankton in the laboratory by lowering the pH (i.e. acidifying) in plankton-filled water tanks and measuring DMS emissions. When they set the ocean acidification levels for what is expected by 2100 (under a moderate greenhouse gas scenario) they found that cooling DMS emissions fell.”
Given the importance of plankton, the fact that they are the life-support system for the planet and humanity cannot survive without them, the resulting effects will be disastrous. These organisms produce 50% of the world’s oxygen – every other breath animals take and are the basis for the food web. Covering more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface the oceans, the planets lungs, are in peril.
“Over the past 200 years, the oceans have absorbed approximately half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities, providing long-term carbon storage. Without this sink, the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere would be much higher, and the planet much warmer.”
But absorbing the CO2 causes changes in ocean chemistry, namely lowering pH and decreasing carbonate (CO3) concentrations.
On a human time scale these changes have been slow and steady relative to that baseline. But on a geological time scale this change is more rapid than any change documented over the last 300 million years. So organisms that have evolved tolerance to a certain range of conditions may encounter increasingly stressful or even lethal conditions in the coming decades.
We know this through carbon dating of ice cores which offer scientists’ the best source for historical climate data. Also deep-sea sediment cores from the ocean floor are used to detail the Earth’s history.
Estimates of future carbon dioxide levels, based on business-as-usual emission scenarios, indicate that by the end of this century the surface waters of the ocean could have a pH around 7.8 The last time the ocean pH was that low was during the middle Miocene, 14-17 million years ago. The Earth was several degrees warmer and a major extinction event was occurring. Animals take millions of years to evolve. They go extinct without an adequate timeframe to adapt to changes in habitat. Ocean acidification is currently affecting the entire ocean, including coastal estuaries and waterways. Billions of people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein. Many jobs and economies in the U.S. and around the world depend on the fish and shellfish that live in the ocean.
By absorbing increased carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the ocean reduces the warming impact of these emissions if they were to have remained in the atmosphere. Shockingly, though, only 1 percent of that heat has ended up in the atmosphere nearly 90 percent of it, is going into the ocean. There, it’s setting ocean heat records year after year and driving increasingly severe marine heat waves. As the ocean temperature has risen its ability to absorb CO2 has decreased. Colder ocean water dissolves more CO2, absorbing more from the atmosphere. But we have steadily increased carbon emissions. The percent of current emissions produced sequestered into the oceans is thirty.
It is unknown if this uptake can be sustained. What might happen to the Earth’s atmosphere if the ocean is unable to absorb continued increased carbon dioxide?
“If the seas are warmer than usual, you can expect higher air temperatures too, says Tim Lenton, professor of climate change at Exeter University. Most of the extra heat trapped by the build-up of greenhouse gases has gone into warming the surface ocean, he explains. That extra heat tends to get mixed downwards towards the deeper ocean, but movements in oceans currents – like El Niño – can bring it back to the surface.”
The ocean surface favors mineral formation, in deeper waters it dissolves.
We have enter a new Epoch, The Pyroscene
So it is obvious industrializing the oceans with offshore wind farms and deep sea mining, what capitalism calls the Blue Economy, will have the effect of continued acidification. But it will cause even more ramifications because it will have a direct impact on the species that live there and in the habitat where “raw” materials are extracted.
Regions of the ocean where the plankton communities are more efficiently utilizing organic matter, such as the deep sea, are places where the ocean has a naturally lower capacity to absorb some of the carbon dioxide produced by humans. “So understanding how zooplankton(small aquatic animals) communities process carbon, which, to them, represents food and energy, helps us to understand the role of the ocean in absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” – Conner Shea doctoral student in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) Department of Oceanography.
We are headed for a Blue Ocean Event by 2030 – that is for the first time since ancient humans started roaming Earth several million years ago, an ice-free Arctic Ocean in the summer. The water instead of ice will be absorbing the suns heat rather than reflexing it back. Thus increasing sea temperature rise and disruption of the jet stream. This is basically what solar panels and wind turbines do. They make the earth hotter. Wind turbines extract the cooling breezes for their energy, the opposite of a fan. Miles and miles of solar panels destroy habitat and absorb the heat.
Continued industrialization will have the devastating effect of threats to food supplies, loss of coastal protection, diminished biodiversity and disruption of the carbon cycling – arising from these chemical reactions. This story involves a fundamental change within the largest living space on the planet, changes that are happening fast, and right now.
The oceans will find a new balance hundreds of thousands of years from now but between now and then marine organisms and environments will suffer.
What causes climate change?
The earth’s temperature cycles, glacial – interglacial, are primarily driven by periodic changes in the Earth’s orbit. Three distinct orbital cycles – called Milankovitch cycles. A Serbian scientist calculated that Ice Ages occur approximately every 41,000 years. Subsequent research confirms that they did occur at 41,000-year intervals between one and three million years ago. But about 800,000 years ago, the cycle of Ice Ages lengthened to 100,000 years, matching Earth’s deviation of orbit from circularity cycle. While various theories have been proposed to explain this transition, scientists do not yet have a clear answer. So CO2 historically has not caused climate change, it’s increased in the atmosphere during warmer temperatures and decreased during colder temperatures. Feedback loops have amplified changes initiated by orbital variations. But it is now humans that are currently increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.
Strictly from an anthropocentric point of view, humanity could adapt to global warming and extreme weather changes. It will not survive the extinction of most marine plants and animals. The destruction of nature is more dangerous than climate change. It is sad that in the effort to save the climate and continuance of business as usual, we are destroying the environment. All of life came from the sea, it would be unwise to harm the birthplace of all species.
Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS), a facility in Pike County, Ohio, produced enriched uranium for the US Atomic Energy Commission (USAEC). It operated from 1954 to 2001. Since 2019, PORTS has been under scrutiny for expelling radioactive material to the land, air and soil. The local community had been unaware till mid-2019 when enriched uranium was detected in Zahn’s Corner Middle School, culminating in the school having to be suddenly closed after the revelation. The school later filed a lawsuit against PORTS. On June 10, Dr. Michael Ketterer gave a presentation on the ongoing effects of the contamination by PORTS. The following piece presents a brief summary and reflection, followed by a video of the presentation.
By Bobby Vaughn, Jr.
On the beautiful and lightly breezy afternoon of June 10th, the residents of Piketon, OH, and many surrounding cities, were shaken awake by new, revealing disclosures exposed at the Comfort Inn Conference Center. The exposé pertained to the extent of radioactive fallout discharged from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS), and included documented evidence to prove the startling claims.
Radioactive elements were released from the plant both intentionally, as ordered by management, and also unintentionally during accidents. These occurred from the date it opened in 1954 up until the present day.
Though, until this particular meeting was held by scientists and whistleblowers, details surrounding these facts have never formally been divulged to the public by any of PORTS’ governing agencies: Department of Energy (DOE), Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The first speaker to present his detailed, yet very well explained, intel was Dr. Michael Ketterer. He is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and BioChemistry at Northern Arizona University, and has many peer-reviewed papers published science journals. He’s recently performed various in-depth radiochemical testing on samples obtained from around the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
Summing up the vast array of Dr. Ketterer’s intensive findings, he’s personally found many radioactive isotopes surrounding PORTS at multiple locations, and have so far found to be (at least) 14 miles away. These include not only uranium-235 (U-235), which was the plant’s “money isotope”, but also uranium-234, which is conservatively 7,000 times more radioactive than U-235!
To the jaw-dropped audience, Dr. Ketterer explained in a section of his powerpoint presentation entitled, The Penetrating Power of Radioactivity, also exclaiming the unique differences and high concerns between alpha, beta, and gamma particles.
The uranium detected near PORTS, OH, and even Huntington, WV is an alpha emitter.
The list doesn’t stop there. Amidst uranium, there are currently detectable amounts of transuranics, plutonium (Pu), Neptunium (Np), and Americium (Am), and also the fission-element, technetium-99 (Tc-99), which flows and interacts with water very fluently, and is a beta ray emitter. Tc-99 has been detected almost everywhere vastly surrounding the plant.
Alpha radiation, which is most common in the Uranium, Neptunium, and Plutonium, is present in samples taken from dust, dirt, water and air surrounding the Piketon, Ohio plant. When ingested from eating or inhaling they become radioactively and chemically severe, and can cause fetal abnormalities, birth “defects”, mutations, cancer, and much worse, death.
And, remember, the alpha were the most plentiful; plus, they were being released into the surrounding towns, environment/nature, as well as the homes intentionally by the plant.
These radioactive particles enter into your body, home, and business through your use of air-conditioning systems and simply breathing and eating. They are ingested alpha, beta, and gamma emitters.
Dr. Ketterer, as well as myself, and on behalf of many, many others; we beg the pardon of the DOE and governing agencies’ contracted companies, including but not limited to Centrus, USEC, Fluor-BWXT, Lockheed-Martin, Bechtel and Goodyear. Their corporate-government criminal acts have been documented, and are being investigated.
Dr. Ketterer, after vigorous testing, and documenting his findings, concluded he does not accept the DOE and Plants’ null hypothesis that the radioactive contamination surrounding the plant, which is killing children is from nuclear weapons testing from the Nevada Test Site. It all came from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
Growing up in the radioactive wasteland of Metropolis, Illinois, early on in life Bobby developed a sense of responsibility in protecting the Ohio River and the surrounding community. Bobby continues to collaborate with nuclear whistleblowers and active individuals in exposing truths which have been buried for decades. Bobby loves adventures in nature, art, scootering and researching. An Investigative Journalist by nature, yet a vigilante at heart.
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash
Editor’s note: In the short span of time that plastic was invented, plastic has become ubiquitous. Not just in its widespread use in our daily lives but also in the pervasive form that it has entered our ecosystem and our bodies. In its nanoparticle (any particle of diameter ranging from 1 to 100 nanometer) form, plastics are capable of entering our bodies more so than a coarse particle of plastic is. The following article explains the direness of the situation.
This adapted excerpt is from Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis, by Erica Cirino (Island Press, 2021). Reproduced with permission from Island Press. This adaptation was produced for the web by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
By Erica Cirino/Earth | Food | Life
The air is plasticized, and we are no better protected from it outdoors than indoors. Minuscule plastic fibers, fragments, foam, and films are shed from plastic stuff and are perpetually floating into and free-falling down on us from the atmosphere. Rain flushes micro- and nanoplastics out of the sky back to Earth. Plastic-filled snow is accumulating in urban areas like Bremen, Germany, and remote regions like the Arctic and Swiss Alps.
Wind and storms carry particles shed from plastic items and debris through the air for dozens, even hundreds, of miles before depositing them back on Earth. Dongguan, Paris, London, and other metropolises around the world are enveloped in air that is perpetually permeated by tiny plastic particles small enough to lodge themselves in human lungs.
Urban regions are especially full of what scientists believe is one of the most hazardous particulate pollution varieties: synthetic tires’ debris. As a result of the normal friction caused by brake pads and asphalt roads, and of weathering and wear, these tires shed plastic fragments, metals, and other toxic materials. Like the plastic used to manufacture consumer items and packaging, synthetic tires contain a manufacturer’s proprietary blend of poisons meant to improve a plastic product’s appearance and performance.
Tire particles from the billions of cars, trucks, bikes, tractors, and other vehicles moving across the world escape into air, soil, and water bodies. Scientists are just beginning to understand the grave danger: In 2020, researchers in Washington State determined that the presence of 6PPD-quinone, a byproduct of rubber-stabilizing chemical 6PPD, was playing a major factor in a mysterious long-term die-off of coho salmon in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. When Washington’s fall rains heralded spawning salmon’s return from sea to stream, the precipitation also washed car tire fragments and other plastic particles into these freshwater ecosystems.
Up to 90 percent of all coho salmon returning to spawn in this region have died—much greater than is considered natural. As the study’s lead author, environmental chemist Zhenyu Tian, explained in a 2020 interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting, 6PPD-quinone appears to be a key culprit: “You put this chemical, this transformation product, into a fish tank, and coho die… really fast.”
Microplastic Inside Human Airways
While other researchers had previously searched for, and detected, microplastic dispersed in indoor and outdoor air, Alvise Vianello, an Italian scientist and associate professor at Aalborg University in Denmark, was the first to do so using a mannequin emulating human breathing via a mechanical lung system, publishing his study’s results in 2019. (Despite the evidence his research provides—that plastic is getting inside of human bodies and could be harming us—it was not until 2022 that modern health researchers first confirmed the presence of microplastics in human lungs. And as comprehensive health research has ramped up, we are just beginning to understand how having plastic particles around us and in us at all times might be affecting human health.)
Vianello and his colleague Jes Vollertsen, a professor of environmental studies at Aalborg University, explained that they’ve brought their findings to researchers at their university’s hospital for future collaborative research, perhaps searching for plastic inside human cadavers. “We now have enough evidence that we should start looking for microplastic inside human airways,” Vollertsen said. “Until then, it’s unclear whether or not we should be worried that we are breathing in plastic.”
When I met Vollertsen in 2019, he had speculated that some of the microplastic we breathe in could be expelled when we exhale. Yet even if that’s true, our lungs are indeed holding onto some of the plastic that enters, potentially resulting in damage.
Other researchers, like Joana Correia Prata, DVM, PhD, who studied microplastics at the University of Aveiro in Portugal, have highlighted the need for systematic research on the human health effects of breathing in microplastic. “[Microplastic] particles and fibers, depending on their density, size, and shape, can reach the deep lung causing chronic inflammation,” she said. Prata noted that people working in environments with high levels of airborne microplastics, such as those employed in the textile industry, often suffer respiratory problems. The perpetual presence of a comparatively lower amount of microplastics in our homes has not yet been linked to specific ailments.
While they’ve dissected the bodies of countless nonhuman animals since the 1970s, scientists only began exploring human tissues for signs of nano- and microplastic in earnest during the late 2010s and early 2020s. This, despite strong evidence suggesting plastic particles—and the toxins that adhere to them—permeate our environment and are widespread in our diets. From 2010 to 2020, scientists have detected microplastic in the bodies of fish and shellfish; in packaged meats, processed foods, beer, sea salt, soft drinks, tap water, and bottled water. There are tiny plastic particles embedded in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets and food stalls.
Petrochemical-Based Plastics, Fertilizers, and Pesticides
As the world rapidly ramped up its production of plastic in the 1950s and ’60s, two other booms occurred simultaneously: that of the world’s human population and the continued development of industrial agriculture. The latter would feed the former and was made possible thanks to the development of petrochemical-based plastics, fertilizers, and pesticides.
By the late 1950s, farmers struggling to keep up with feeding the world’s growing population welcomed new research papers and bulletins published by agricultural scientists extolling the benefits of using plastic, specifically dark-colored, low-density polyethylene sheets, to boost the yields of growing crops.
Scientists laid out step-by-step instructions on how the plastic sheets should be rolled out over crops to retain water, reducing the need for irrigation, and to control weeds and insects, which couldn’t as easily penetrate plastic-wrapped soil.
This “plasticulture” has become a standard farming practice, transforming the soils humans have long sown from something familiar to something unknown. Crops grown with plastic seem to offer higher yields in the short term, while in the long term, use of plastic in agriculture could create toxic soils that repel water instead of absorbing it, a potentially catastrophic problem. This presence of plastic particles in the soil causes increased erosion and dust—as well as the dissolution of ancient symbiotic relationships between soil microbes, insects, and fungi that help keep plants—and our planet—alive.
From the polluted soils we’ve created, plants pull in tiny nanoplastic particles through their roots along with the water they need to survive, with serious consequences: An accumulation of nanoplastic particles in a plant’s roots diminishes its ability to absorb water, impairing growth and development. Scientists have also found evidence that nanoplastic may alter a plant’s genetic makeup in a manner increasing its disease susceptibility.
Plastic: Part of the Human Diet
Based on the levels of micro- and nanoplastics detected in human diets, it’s estimated that most people unwittingly ingest anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 bits of microplastic in their diets each year. That number increases by 90,000 microplastic particles for people who regularly consume bottled water, and by 4,000 particles for those who drink water from municipal taps.
In 2018, scientists in Austria detected microplastic in human stool samples collected from eight volunteers from eight different countries across Europe and Asia. By 2023, scientists had detected the presence of plastic particles in people’s lungs, bloodstreams, veins, placentas, feces, testes/semen, and breast milk. And while the long-term health impacts of plastic on the human body are still unknown, it is well understood that plastic has toxic effects on laboratory animals, marine wildlife, and human cell lines.
In a 2022 study, researchers showed that nanoplastics less than 100 nanometers wide can enter the blood and organs of animals and cause inflammation, toxicity, and changes in neurological function.
Clearly, micro- and nanoplastics are getting into us, with at least some escaping through our digestive tracts. We seem to be drinking, eating, and breathing it in.
And these tiny particles are just one component of plastic’s myriad forms of pollution. From the moment plastic’s fossil fuel ingredients are extracted, to its production, transportation, use, and eventual disposal in landfills, incinerators, and the environment, the plastics pipeline emits toxic chemicals that pollute Earth’s air, soils, waters, seas, animals, plants, and human bodies, and releases greenhouse gases that drive the climate crisis. Most often harmed are already underserved groups, including Black, Brown, Indigenous, rural, poor, and fenceline communities everywhere, driving severe injustice worldwide.
Erica Cirino is a contributor to the Observatory and a science writer and artist who explores the intersection of the human and nonhuman worlds. She took on the role of communications manager of the nonprofit Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2022. Her photographic and written works have appeared in Scientific American, the Guardian, VICE, Hakai Magazine, YES! Magazine, the Atlantic, and other publications. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, a gold Nautilus Book Award, and several awards for visual art.
Photo by Rebecca Bliklen on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: With the inevitability of peak oil, many have welcomed nuclear as an alternate source of energy. Countless “accidents” over the past few decades (Chernobyl and Fukushima being the most prominent) have warned us of the risks associated with nuclear. Not only that, business as usual (without “accidents”) for nuclear does not bode well for public health either. The following is a press release by Radiation and Public Health Project. It highlights the key points of recent health research near NFS nuclear plant in Unicoi County, Tennessee. The press release is followed by a Deep Green Book Club discussion on a film about nuclear waste.
Joseph J. Mangano, MPH, MBA, Executive Director
716 Simpson Avenue, Ocean City NJ 08226
FIRST IN-DEPTH HEALTH REPORT NEAR NFS NUCLEAR PLANT FINDS DRAMATIC RISES IN UNICOI COUNTY TN DEATH RATES
Since the 1990s, Unicoi County death rates for cancers and other causes increased dramatically, according to a new report released today.
Prior to the late 1990s, Unicoi County death rates were about equal to the U.S. But by the most recent period available (2019-2020), the county rate exceeded the national rate by the largest proportion in the past half-century, specifically:
- 44% higher for all-cause mortality
- 61% higher for premature mortality (age 0-74)
- 39% higher for all-cancer mortality
The report states that the release of radioactive chemicals into the environment by the Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) plant may play a large role in the local health decline. “No other risk factor, such as access to health care, personal health practices, or poverty appears to have changed much,” says report author Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
“As an Erwin native, I am happy to join with Trudy Wallack and Linda Modica as a contributor to important information regarding the health of the people in my hometown and the surrounding areas” says Barbara O’Neal, co-founder of Erwin Citizens Awareness Network (ECAN), which commissioned the study.
The NFS plant is situated in Erwin, in Unicoi County. Since its 1959 startup, the plant has generated enriched uranium fuels for naval reactors and nuclear power plants. NFS releases a portion of this uranium and other radioactive elements into local air and water.
Prior to this report, no in-depth attempt has been made to analyze health status near NFS. The only national study of cancer near U.S. nuclear plants was conducted by the National Cancer Institute in 1990; that study did not include NFS.
The report also identified a growing county-national gap in death rates for infants and children. In the most recent period analyzed, the death rate for Unicoi County children exceeded the national rate by nearly 40%.
ECAN co-founder Trudy Wallack, believes that “as a resident of Greeneville, the protection and safety of the Nolichucky River stands paramount to my community & others. This river serves as the key source for our drinking water as well as family recreation and water sports. It is my hope that my contribution to this study will provide critical information regarding health…to all those who care and are asking questions.”
Photo by Frédéric Paulussen on Unsplash
Editor’s Note: This press release from CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund) describes a gag order put against an activist, Tish O’Dell, for talking about her concerns on the use of an industrial byproduct in her community. The gag order was placed in 2012. Since then, tests have affirmed that not only was the product toxic, it is also high in radioactive elements. Lawsuits by big corporations against activists are one of the tools used to shut down any form of resistance. We have talked about it also in the context of the lawsuit against activists and tribal members involved in protecting Thacker Pass. After a decade during which new research has been conducted, Tish O’Dell has appealed for a termination on the gag order.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 19, 2023
Terry Lodge, Attorney CELDF
OHIO, Cuyahoga County – On Friday, June 16, a motion was filed in the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas for relief from judgment for Tish O’Dell to terminate the permanent injunction from a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) filed against her in March 2012 by Duck Creek Energy which claimed defamation and loss of business profits.
O’Dell had been active at the time, educating both her community, elected leaders and neighbors about the harmful effects of urban oil/gas drilling happening in her community of Broadview Heights and surrounding communities by sending emails, posting information online and attending community meetings. In the process, she had learned of Duck Creek Energy’s road de-icer, AquaSalina, which according to Duck Creek Energy President, Dave Mansbery, was a byproduct of oil/gas drilling. O’Dell’s concern increased upon learning, from test results reported to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), about the high levels of substances like benzene, toluene and ethylbenzene contained within the supposedly harmless de-icer. These substances are known to be carcinogenic. She also continued to conduct more research on ODNR’s website and in other places in order to inform herself and educate others as to what takes place during the drilling process and fracking.
“When I learned that AquaSalina was being used on my community’s streets as well as in neighboring communities, I wanted to inform people about what I had learned,” said O’Dell. “I felt people needed to know what was being spread on the roads that they, their kids, and their pets were walking on. And common sense indicated to me that what is spread on our streets gets into our air and our lawns and goes down street drains to water supplies. I knew the oil/gas industry was powerful, but I also believed in my right and everyone’s right to free speech and the right to question the government and their decisions. I had never heard of a SLAPP lawsuit until there was a knock at my front door and the person asked if I was Tish O’Dell and told me ‘You’ve been served’.”
After a year of court filings, depositions, and much pressure directed against O’Dell’s inclination to go to trial, a settlement was signed in the fall of 2013. Part of the settlement involved granting a permanent injunction, an extraordinary remedy in a defamation case, against O’Dell, prohibiting her from using certain words to describe the product AquaSalina. During this time Mansbery began bottling and selling the product on store shelves in local hardware stores and even at several Lowe’s locations in Ohio. This afforded activists and scientists the opportunity to purchase the product and begin testing it. And in the decade since, there has been much research and testing of the product by the state agency ODNR, universities, Rolling Stone Magazine and other publications. The tests affirmed that not only was the product chemically toxic, it is also high in radioactive elements, Radium 226 and 228. In October 2021 the Ohio Department of Transportation stopped using AquaSalina in part because of the environmental concerns.
Because these recent test results and scientific research papers didn’t exist in 2012, O’Dell is filing this motion to dissolve the court order so she can again speak freely and warn people about the dangers of this product to both humans and nature. There have been several attempts over the past few years to pass a law at the state level which would make a commodity out of this drilling byproduct. And with the state opening up leasing of park land for fracking this year, there will be more brine produced.
“SLAPP suits are just another tool used by industry and corporations to silence and intimidate those who speak out against them and their activities,” stated Wyatt Sugrue, Chicago attorney. “The goal is not only to silence journalists, individuals and organizations, but to also make others afraid to speak up. In recent years there have been high profile cases of SLAPP suits against John Oliver and HBO, Mother Jones Magazine and recently Texas Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke who was served with a SLAPP by the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelcy Warren.”
As stated in the motion:
The Ohio court system has in essence allowed a limited-purpose public figure, Duck Creek Energy, to immunize itself from public scrutiny, and the court system is acting as the personal police force for the company to stop such scrutiny.
“What I have learned over the past decade is how our system, controlled by an elite minority, is quashing the people’s constitutional rights. I witnessed this first hand working with so many great people across the state who were also attempting to protect their own communities and nature. They inspired me to do this,” stated O’Dell. “I can’t just tell others to stand up for their rights and what they believe in and to have courage even when it seems scary, and not practice what I preach.”
A recent article by EarthJustice, September 2022, sums it up, “We aspire for the courts to be an institution that upholds the rights of all, however, SLAPP suits are a way for the rich and powerful to abuse the court system and turn it into a tool that silences individuals and organizations. SLAPP suits disguise themselves as legitimate lawsuits, and while most end up being dismissed, their real goal is quashing legitimate dissent and protest in the process. Protesting is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, a right so important in the early days of our country that it is explicitly included in the first amendment. One thing is clear. Our courts must uphold this right for everyone and cannot become tools for the rich and powerful to abuse power and limit the ability of all of us to seek justice and speak out against issues impacting our communities.”
In the O’Rourke SLAPP, it has been discovered that Warren, the plaintiff, has also made campaign contributions to six of the nine Texas Supreme Court Justices that could ultimately hear the case.
According to CELDF Attorney Terry Lodge, “Ending the gag order on Tish O’Dell is important to our work as an organization. CELDF works with community members and activists throughout the state and country to assert their constitutional and democratic rights to expose harms and stand up for protecting the community and nature. If the wealthy and powerful can file lawsuits to silence their voices, those must always be opposed.”
Photo by Kilian Karger on Unsplash