Archive for Environment

Oil Slick Culture–The Cookbook Edition

In the sometimes you shouldn’t speak without a script department:

“(Mississippi Governor Haley) Barbour described the oil as “weathered, emulsified, caramel-colored mousse, like the food mousse.” “Once it gets to this stage, it’s not poisonous,” Barbour said. “But if a small animal got coated enough with it, it could smother it. But if you got enough toothpaste on you, you couldn’t breathe.””

If you’re rolling on the floor laughing it is hard to breathe too, but actually it isn’t funny, and implying that weathered oil is safe is putting wildlife and people in danger.

And Then What?

Two stories today that are scaring the she-it out of me–

The first a post from someone near Tampa saying there was oil mixed in the rain they had driven through.  No confirmation of that, but it seems pretty plausible to me that it could happen and there have also already been stories reporting concern about things getting worse when hurricane season starts.  Think about it–wind pushes moisture out of the gulf and comes inland–we even got hit with a hurricane in Louisville, KY a few years ago and we are seriously land-locked around here.  So think you’re safe because you don’t live near the gulf.  I’d say think again.

And the other thing I saw that is a very scary thought is this from David Roberts on Grist regarding what happens if the ‘top kill’ doesn’t stop the oil that is spewing into the gulf:

“(T)hen what? Junk shot? Top hat? Loony stuff like nukes? Relief wells will take months to drill and no one’s sure if they’ll work to relieve pressure. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that we’re going to be stuck helplessly watching as this well spews oil into the Gulf for years. Even if the flow were stopped tomorrow, the damage to marshes, coral, and marine life is done. The Gulf of Mexico will become an ecological and economic dead zone. There’s no real way to undo it, no matter who’s in charge.”

The essay in its entirety is a must read.

Cousteau–The Under Water World Of BP

As each day goes by, the BP oil disaster only seems to get worse. Today ABC showed footage shot by one of their reporters who went deep sea diving in hazmat suits with Phillipe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques. What they show is truly terrifying. Yes the dispersants are breaking the oil into smaller globs, but that just makes it more easily absorbed by fish and other ocean life.  And about that top kill plan–iffy that it will work and might make it worse.  Anyone betting which way that will go?

When The Truth Is Found To Be Lies

We Americans are not very good at telling or hearing the truth, although we’d like to think that we are. We tell our schoolchildren that George Washington could not tell a lie about chopping down the cherry tree, even though, ironies of ironies, the story likely isn’t true.  We fall all over ourselves giving the microphone to people whose whole understanding of the world is a lie (Rand Paul, Sarah Palin) because while we might not be very good at discerning or disseminating facts, we do so love our fiction.

Over the weekend we listened to our President tell West Point Cadets we will succeed in Afghanistan–succeed?  At what?  Even his own General–McChrystal– recently said that indeed, no one is winning. Congress keeps appropriating money for this endless battle but the truth is that war will make you poor.  Congressman Alan Grayson has it right,

“Next year’s budget allocates $159,000,000,000 to “contingency operations,” to perpetuate the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s enough money to eliminate federal income taxes for the first $35,000 of every American’s income each year, and beyond that, leave over $15 billion that would cut the deficit.”



And in the Gulf–one wonders if there has been a coup–BP seems to be calling the shots.  The EPA tells them not to continue to use a toxic chemical dispersant (see quote below regarding why this is so extremely terrifying and see here regarding the issue that this chemical was approved for use even though we have known about its toxicity for many years), and BP says they will keep using it.  When reporters call law enforcement, they reach BP, scientific evidence is being evaluated by a company that counts BP as a client and worst of all, damage estimates are repeatedly minimized.

But the marshes are being destroyed, the oceans poisoned–there is no going back from this and as yet no way to stop it.  This isn’t Exxon-Valdez, it is far, far worse and the damage beyond anything this country has ever seen  and one which cannot be fixed.  The Gulf coast as we know it is gone.  The fishing, the tourism.  There will be health consequences.  There won’t be fish.  Or perhaps coral reefs. Or perhaps us. And that is the truth of it.

Bob Herbert puts it eloquently,

“No one knows how much of BP’s runaway oil will contaminate the gulf coast’s marshes and lakes and bayous and canals, destroying wildlife and fauna — and ruining the hopes and dreams of countless human families. What is known is that whatever oil gets in will be next to impossible to get out. It gets into the soil and the water and the plant life and can’t be scraped off the way you might be able to scrape the oil off of a beach.

It permeates and undermines the ecosystem in much the same way that big corporations have permeated and undermined our political system, with similarly devastating results.”

And just how devastating?  As bad as the consequences of  what we have seen so far will be, it may get far, far worse:

“The oil field the Deepwater Horizon had tapped is said to be the second largest deposit in the world. reports, “The site covers an estimated 25,000 square miles, extending from the inlands of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. “

The oil deposit is so large, it could produce 500,000 barrels of a day for more than a decade.

Part of the reason the well exploded is because the site also contains large deposits of natural gas…

…The New York Times has reported that scientists suspect the leak is thousands of times larger than what BP has been reporting.  Some estimates are as high as one million gallons a day.

Rock particles, gas and oil escaping under pressure are pushing against  the capstone on the sea floor that surrounds the actual well. If it collapses, the canyon of oil will escape with a vengeance.

Neither BP nor anyone else wants to say what will happen it the wellhead gives way or the sea floor around it caves in.”



Meanwhile, to hear government officials and Wall Street tell it, the economy is recovering, and perhaps in the language of economics it is.  But in truth the ‘recovery’ looks something like an upside down Ponzi scheme, a bit like the Tempe, AZ City Hall.

All the wealth is at the top but there is little to support it down below–and unlike the architecturally brilliant building, the upside down economic pyramid must eventually fall down. We have almost pathological blinders when it comes to seeing the obvious perils to our continued existence–climate change and global warming, peak oil, water and food shortages, melting glaciers, species extinction, deforestration, floods, droughts, oceans under siege. But still we gulp the koolaid and believe that growth is good and things will be better soon.  And we are just as blind when it comes to understanding that commodifying the sanctity of corporate well-being over human welfare is ultimately our downfall, not the path to prosperity that it claims to be.

I don’t watch much television, but I guess I should because it seems there is a Tru Tv which claims to be, “television’s destination for real-life stories told from an exciting and dramatic first-person perspective.  “Not Reality. Actuality”.   The truth will not be televised, but television is truth. As for the American dream, it is the reality show to end all reality shows.  And in the finale, the truth will out, but unlike “Lost” or American Idol”, there won’t be re-runs and don’t hold your breath for a spin-off or a sequel.


Note regarding dispersants:  Via the Times Online this is why these are so very dangerous.  I would add that we should be extremely worried about the impact on reproductive health on animals and humans as well:

“Dispersants can contain particular evils. Corexit 9527 — used extensively by BP despite it being toxic enough to be banned in British waters — contains 2-butoxyethanol, a compound that ruptures red blood cells in whatever eats it. Its replacement, COREXIT 9500, contains petroleum solvents and other components that can damage membranes, and cause chemical pneumonia if aspirated into the lungs following ingestion.

But what worries Dr (Susan) Shaw most is the long-term potential for toxic chemicals to build up in the food chain. “There are hundreds of organic compounds in oil, including toxic solvents and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), that can cause cancer in animals and people. In this respect light, sweet crude is more toxic than the heavy stuff. It’s not only the acute effects, the loss of whole niches in the food web, it’s also the problems we will see with future generations, especially in top predators.””

Are You Cleaning Your House With Dispersants?

Tomorrow I am going to be talking to Dr. Riki Ott about the impact of oil and dispersants on reproductive health. This afternoon, in preparation for that, I spoke to her assistant, Lisa Marie Jacobs who shared a few thoughts that are going to make it awfully difficult to sleep tonight.

Dr. Riki Ott

Dr. Riki Ott

One of the ingredients in Corexit, the dispersant BP is using in the Gulf is 2-ButoxyEthanol.  It is being used in massive quantities in the Gulf, more than 700,000 gallons so far.  But guess what, chances are you have some 2-ButoxyEthanol under the sink in your kitchen or out in the garage because it is a common ingredient in cleaners, car wax and paint primer.  The National Institute of Health has a handy list of all the places you might find this toxic stuff here.  And here is why you worry about this stuff:

People exposed to high levels of 2-butoxyethanol for several hours reported irritation of the nose and eyes, headache, a metallic taste in their mouths, and vomiting. No harmful effects were seen on their lungs or hearts. People who swallowed large amounts of cleaning agents containing 2-butoxyethanol have shown breathing problems, low blood pressure, low levels of hemoglobin (the substance in the blood that carries oxygen to organs of the body), acidic blood, and blood in the urine.

It is not known whether 2-butoxyethanol or 2-butoxyethanol acetate can affect reproduction or cause birth defects in people.

Animal studies have shown hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells that results in the release of hemoglobin) from exposure to 2-butoxyethanol and 2-butoxyethanol acetate. High doses of 2-butoxyethanol can also cause reproductive problems and minor birth defects in animals.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and Environmental Protection Agency have not classified 2-butoxyethanol and 2-butoxyethanol acetate as to their human carcinogenicity.

No carcinogenicity studies on 2-butoxyethanol and 2-butoxyethanol acetate are available in people or animals.

Sounds like reason enough to empty your cabinets and take that stuff to the nearest hazardous dump (and don’t even think about just throwing it in the trash).  But then try to imagine 700,000 gallons of that stuff in our oceans.  Feeling sick yet?

Postscript:  A few hours after I spoke with Ms. Jacobs, I was at the grocery store picking up a few things.  The clerk was about to spray the scanner with disinfectant before scanning my produce.  I opted to take the risk of the bacteria rather than the chemicals.

The Amnesty Ad That The Financial Times Won’t Run

The Financial Times apparently wouldn’t run this Amnesty ad, but it should be run and Amnesty has asked that it be shared, so on behalf of the independent blogosphere, a big up yours to the Financial Times for genuflecting to corporate power and shirking at ads like this that tell the truth:

And ya know what–it feels mighty damned good that I can run this for no cost because it is the right thing to do and I don’t have to kiss any corporate ass.

Hopi Wisdom

Necessary wisdom from the Hopis:


Oil Of Dismay–It Just Keeps Getting Worse

Afternoon wrap-up of what we know about what we don’t know about the gulf oil disaster:

BP is now in charge of U.S./international waters?  Perhaps they should change the name of the company to Poseidon…  CBS news team threatened w/arrest by Coast Guard who said they were acting under BP authority.

(According to) NOAA director of marine mammal health and stranding response Teri Rowles, a veterinarian, impacts on “those species living in deep water, like sperm whales, may not be detected,” because dead whales simply disappear beneath the waves. Plus, the use of dispersants beneath the surface to break up the oil into droplets may make it more damaging to deep-sea wildlife. “Instead of having big chunks of oil that are very buoyant and move very quickly to the surface, you have microdroplets with an enormous surface-to-volume ratio, which then are captured by the viscosity of the seawater. They’re stuck down there,” says environmental chemist Jeffrey Short of environmental group Oceana, who has studied the aftereffects of the Exxon Valdez spill. “Ancient deep-water corals, which are suspension feeders, are extraordinarily efficient at accumulating microdroplets of oil. It’s a major unseen impact.”

Much of the oil will also end up trapped in big eddies—like the infamous Pacific Garbage Patch or the Sargasso Sea—which is where sea turtles and other ocean life like to congregate. “Most of those mortalities will never make their way to shore to be counted,” said NOAA national sea turtle coordinator Barbara Schroeder.

And that is not enough of an adverse effect to immediately cease using dispersants?  As for human health:

Fishermen...are getting sick from the working on the cleanup, yet BP is assuring them they don’t need respirators or other special protection from the crude oil, strong hydrocarbon vapors, or chemical dispersants being sprayed in massive quantities on the oil slick.

And understand this clearly–The spill is getting worse despite insertion tube:

The massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill is growing despite British Petroleum’s effort to siphon some of the spewing crude from its ruptured deepwater well, the U.S. Coast Guard official leading the cleanup warned Tuesday.

Oil Stain Removal–Lessons From The Laundry Room

We’ve all had it happen–you spill a bit of greasy or oily food on your clothes and then frantically try to get it out before it stains–warm water, a bit of soap, stain remover.  But the spot is still there, and your favorite blouse is ruined.  Imagine this concept on a very grand scale…

Yesterday on Twitter,  Kate Sheppard, an environmental reporter for Mother Jones, posted the following comments by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson regarding the oil disaster in the Gulf at a Congressional hearing on the matter:

  1. Jackson: EPA reserves right to stop use of dispersants under the water if determined that risks out weigh benefits.
  2. Jackson: “We are working with BP and other to get less toxic dispersants to the site as quickly as possible.”
  3. Jackson: “In the use of dispersants we are faced with environmental tradeoffs.”
  4. Jackson: “We are also deeply concerned about the things we don’t know. The long term effects on aquatic life are not known.”
  5. Jackson: “… and the use of subsea dispersants is unprecedented.”
  6. Jackson: “That there are very large, unprecedented volumes of dispersants being used at the surface … “
  7. Jackson, still on UK Corexit ban: “We’re still looking into it.”
  8. Also, re: UK ban on Corexit: seems like their ban “had less to do with inherent toxicity and more to do with near-shore impacts”
  9. Jackson says that perhaps the science is far enough along in understanding the impacts of dispersant use in this volume.
  10. Jackson, more on dispersants: “There has been a real reliance on them, maybe more than anybody thought would ever happen.”

Regarding the first statement above–there is only one itsy bitsy problem with this–we likely won’t know the harms until after it is used since obviously any sort of realistic scientific testing has not been done.  And the comments in total amount to bureaucratic doublespeak for hell if we know/we got nothing.  Which makes this morning’s announcement that BP has been given a go-ahead to use the dispersants below the surface very ominous indeed.

“Based on the scientific analysis of the EPA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and review by the National Response Team, it has been determined that the use of dispersants at the subsea source is the prudent and responsible action to take along with other tactics including surface dispersant, skimming and controlled burns,” said Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen, the spill’s national incident commander…

…to safeguard nearshore areas from any dispersant-related harm, these chemicals may not be used within three miles of the U.S. coastline or where water is less than 10 meters deep.”

Really?  Did someone tell the dispersant to stay in the deep end and not even to think about surfing on in to shore.  Forgive me for not feeling re-assured.  I’ve posted a lot about this disaster in the last few weeks.  It isn’t because it is the only horrific problem facing this world, but for reasons that I can’t even verbalize, it has pierced my soul.  It wakes me at night and haunts me during the day.  William Rivers Pitt says it more eloquently than I in describing his response to this series of photos of the disaster from the Boston Globe:

“I’m beginning to believe I have lost the capacity to weep. We’ve been through so much in the last ten years. So much damage has been done in so many places and in so many ways. Millions of people have died in wars and acts of terrorism, of disease and starvation and neglect and atrocity. Our Constitution has been ravaged, our economy pillaged, New Orleans was shattered and Detroit has been left to rot. The Supreme Court sealed the deal and made us all slaves to the corporate ethic, which scantly exists beyond a profit motive devoid of morals or genuine patriotism.

But something in those pictures makes me feel worse than I have in a long time, even after encompassing every other horror we have endured. I can’t explain why; worse things have happened than this Gulf spill (maybe), but my heart hurts and my gut feels hollow when I look at the pictures, and I cannot weep.”


In the end perhaps it comes to this–you can always buy a new blouse, but when the ocean is ruined, it cannot be replaced.

The Fossil Fuel Party–Oil Over?

One of the problems with the gulf oil disaster is it isn’t a 30 second and we’re done sort of a story.  Nor is it a simple story–the amount of leaking oil, the extent of the damage, who is to blame, the path it will follow and how well the ‘cleanup’ will work are all aspects of the story that will be unknown for quite some time.

It’s a hard story for the media to cover and a hard one for the public to fully grasp.  In an effort to try to understand what we know at this point, I started making a list of links to information about various parts of this story.  And because I’m a really nice person who likes to share, here is what I found:

Meanwhile, dead turtles like this are starting to wash up on our shores:

And how did it happen–this excellent graphic from NOAA explains:

  • So just how much oil is gushing?  Good question–probably more than we’ve been told.
  • And as if that weren’t all depressing and infuriating enough, the story that should be screaming at the top of page one but is almost completely awol in the media is this:

Peak oil is coming to an end

  • Finally, here is a series of videos running around the web this morning showing just how easy it is to boycott BP–you drive away and go to another gas station to tank up.  While boycotting BP is a worthy idea, doing it in your car might possibly be missing the point.  Here is another idea that makes the point in a slightly more principled way.  Call some friends, get some drums to bang on and make some signs and go stand in front of a well-traveled gas station and make some noise.  Count me in.