Air Pollution From Livestock and Fertilizers Kills Nearly 18,000 People Yearly

A curious pig looks at visitors to the barn on one of the Silky Pork farms in Duplin County in a 2014 file image. Air pollution from Duplin County farms is linked to roughly 98 premature deaths per year, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A curious pig looks at visitors to a Silky Pork farms barn in Duplin County, North Carolina. Air pollution from Duplin County farms is linked to roughly 98 premature deaths per year, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

BYChris WalkerTruthoutPUBLISHEDMay 11, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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Anew study from a group of agricultural researchers found that nearly 18,000 deaths occur annually in the United States due to air pollution coming from farms.

The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, noted that gases associated with manure and animal feed are producing particles that are able to drift hundreds of miles away from their source. Most of the deaths attributable to farm pollution, however, come from animal-based agriculture, accounting for 80 percent of the deaths the study uncovered.

Chronic exposure to increased levels of fine particulate matter (sometimes shortened to PM2.5) that is released from farms “increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke,” an analysis of the study noted.

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Notably, deaths associated with farm pollution are more localized than deaths that occur with greenhouse gas pollution. Communities upwind from farms discharging the pollutants are at greatest risk, said Jason Hill, University of Minnesota professor and a lead author of the study. In other words, the health effects from agriculture-based air pollution tend to be more localized, dependent upon local weather patterns and other factors.

While that reduces the risk from these pollutants at the national and global levels (areas most affected by this type of pollution are in eastern North Carolina, California’s Central Valley and the Upper Midwest), the annual number of deaths caused by farm pollution now exceed deaths caused by pollution from coal power plants in the U.S.

The biggest culprit behind the deaths from farm pollution, in the study’s estimation, is ammonia, a chemical that’s released by manure and fertilizer, and which often combines with other pollutants found on farms, including nitrogen and sulfur. Hill, speaking with The Washington Post about the study, pointed out that animal waste is often stored in “lagoons” on farms, where huge amounts of ammonia are generated by the breakdown of animal feces. Ammonia is also created when farmers apply too much fertilizer on crops.

According to the study, livestock waste and fertilizer overuse likely accounted for about 12,400 deaths per year. While particulate matter emanating from “dust from tillage, livestock dust, field burning, and fuel combustion in agricultural equipment use” accounted for around 4,800 more deaths annually.

Agriculture industry leaders were quick to push back against the study’s findings. “U.S. pork producers have a strong track record of environmental stewardship,” claimed Jim Monroe, a spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council.

A spokesperson for Smithfield Foods, which runs industrial hog operations in North Carolina, agreed with Monroe’s contentions, citing a study from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, which said it didn’t find air quality problems in the areas where they had farms. But that study has some noteworthy flaws, including the fact that monitors used to detect ammonia levels were set up far away from the farms themselves.

Ammonia is a reactive chemical, and is difficult to detect unless a significant amount is released at one time.

In spite of this pushback, the study on agricultural air pollution noted there are potential solutions to the problem that could reduce yearly deaths in the U.S.

“Air quality–related health benefits … can be achieved through the actions of food producers and consumers,” the study’s authors said. Reducing particulate-related emissions, promoting dietary shifts in animals, reducing food loss and waste, and other methods are cited in the study as helpful to reducing the number of deaths from agricultural air pollution.

“The greatest benefits are from changes in livestock waste management and fertilizer application practices,” the study said. “Producer-side interventions in the 10 percent of counties with the highest mitigation potential alone could prevent 3,600 deaths per year.”

Methods based out of regenerative agriculture — described as “a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm” by the Climate Reality Project — could also be beneficial for scaling back farm-based air pollution, particularly in California, where such efforts could potentially reduce the impact of wildfires in the state. Such methods (including encouraging animals to graze natural plants, shrubs, or grass on the land, rather than animal feed, and engaging in no-till farming strategies to increase moisture levels in the soil) have been cited by farmer Alexis Koefoed as helping her family’s farm survive a wildfire last year.

“I think what the fire reinforced for me is that regenerative agriculture, managing the soil, using animals as grazers to build healthy soil is absolutely the direction to go in,” Koefoed said.

Beyond saving family farms, reducing the impact of wildfires could result in better health outcomes for nearby areas, particularly since smoke from those fires has been found to be 10 times more harmful than from other sources, including car exhaust.

Neighbors and anglers cry foul over Sunoco’s pollution of Chester County trout stream

Sunoco construction site behind the Meadowbrook Manor development in West Whiteland Township. Muddy water continues to flow and pollute the West Valley Creek, a stocked trout stream. (Susan Phillips / WHYY)
Sunoco construction site behind the Meadowbrook Manor development in West Whiteland Township. Muddy water continues to flow and pollute the West Valley Creek, a stocked trout stream. (Susan Phillips / WHYY)

Easter Sunday brought more than chocolate bunnies and spring blossoms to the Meadowbrook Manor neighborhood of West Whiteland Township. Retired schoolteacher Libby Madarasz says one of her neighbors noticed muddy water flowing from beneath a barrier to Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline construction site. It filled a wetland behind the Chester County Library, across from Exton Square mall, where the clay-like runoff continues to pollute a tributary to West Valley Creek.

Madarasz says she and her neighbors are fed up with the noise from Sunoco’s trucks and construction operations, and the fear that they could lose their homes if continued work causes more sinkholes.

Libby Madarasz, a resident of Meadowbrook Manor, surveys the damage caused by Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline construction. (Susan Phillips / WHYY)

Earlier this week, as she walked behind a row of homes through a wooded area filled with blooming buttercups covered in murky brown water, her feet sank into the ground like quicksand. Several blue filtration socks lined the area but failed to catch all the clay particles. Madarasz is frustrated by what she sees as a lack of accountability for a project that she feels moves “full steam ahead” no matter the consequences.

“They come into our town, an out-of-state corporation, and they’re trashing this,” she said. “And I’m sure the question for them is, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll slap us with a fine, but we’ve got to make progress. So let’s just do this.’”

A statement from the company says the muddy discharge is permitted by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.

“The water leaving the site is colored because of the clay layer through which we are currently working,” the statement from Sunoco said. “It is being filtered through approved erosion control measures. We expect the water to remain this color until we hit a different geology. Additionally, we have an environmental inspector on site 24/7 to monitor the filtration.”

Sunoco construction site behind the Meadowbrook Manor development in West Whiteland Township. Muddy water continues to flow and pollute the West Valley Creek, a stocked trout stream. (Susan Phillips / WHYY)

DEP says the company is complying with the permits, which require it to use a series of best management practices to contain the sediment. The mesh in the filtration socks, however, is not fine enough to capture the tiny clay particles, according to DEP spokesperson Virginia Cain.

“Despite what it looks like, there’s no clear violation,” said Cain. She added that it’s unclear why the water continues to flow, and why the remedies outlined in Sunoco’s permit are not working.

Sunoco submitted a new plan Friday to mitigate the flow, which includes using a flocculant to force the clay particles to settle, as well as additional sand filters and sediment filter bags.

Though residents are worried about sinkholes, Cain said there is no connection between the current groundwater flow and the sinkholes that developed on site.

The area lies above limestone, or karst geology. It’s not clear what the company means by “a different geology.” But since construction began, dangerous sinkholes have developed in this area, including some so large they forced the company to buy several homes on nearby Lisa Drive.

The company has also run into problems with drilling through a region notorious for its complex and tricky geology and is several years behind schedule. This stretch of the Mariner East 2 pipeline is one of the last to be completed. The line runs about 350 miles across the state carrying Marcellus Shale gas to an export terminal in Delaware County, where it gets shipped to Scotland to make plastics. A workaround pipe, using an idled line, is currently carrying the gas while the new line is completed. There is also the parallel Mariner East 1 line that was laid back in the 1930s to carry gasoline to rural Pennsylvania and has been repurposed to carry natural-gas liquids. The current construction on this route uses an auger bore to create a pathway for the Mariner East 2 between the two lines.

Several sinkholes at this site have developed close to the two operating natural-gas liquids lines and at an adjacent valve station. When sinkholes developed along Lisa Drive in 2018, the state Public Utility Commission forced the adjacent operating lines to shut down. An exposed line is subject to cracks or leaks, potentially causing the highly flammable natural-gas liquids to explode, as the company’s Revolution pipeline did after a heavy rain event exposed the line in Beaver County in 2018.

Those incidents weigh heavily on the minds of Meadowbrook Manor residents, said Madarasz. The company’s instructions in case of a leak of the gas, which has no smell, is to run upwind.

“Where would I go?” she asked. “There’s a woman living here with a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old, and an infant, you want her to run?”

Sunoco construction site behind the Meadowbrook Manor development in West Whiteland Township. Muddy water continues to flow and pollute the West Valley Creek, a stocked trout stream. (Susan Phillips / WHYY)

In the meantime, Sunoco is sending a caravan of trucks to suck up as much water as possible. One day this week, the trucks entered a work site behind chain-link fencing covered in black plastic.

“The other day, I tallied and there were 42 that drove by the front of my house,” Madarasz said. “They hold anywhere from 2,500 gallons to 5,000 gallons. It’s full speed ahead. Let’s get through here as quickly as we can, and let’s put up black fences. So if we have a sinkhole, maybe we can fill it before anybody even knows.”

The damage couldn’t have come at a worse time for trout fishermen. The season began just a day before the water started flowing, on April 3. West Valley Creek, which flows into the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek, is a trout-stocked stream.

“It’s ridiculous and it’s been going on for days,” said Pete Goodman, the environmental chairman for Trout Unlimited’s Valley Forge chapter. “It’s choking out the life that lives in the stream as well as the stocked trout further down.”

Though the discharge is groundwater, and not toxic, the clay particles can smother the trout’s main source of food — macroinvertebrates. Goodman said the tiny insects, like mayflies, as well as the trout have a hard time surviving in muddy water.

“From the fisherman’s perspective, why would you bother, it’s like fishing in a cup of coffee,” Goodman said. He too is frustrated by the seeming lack of regulatory authority.

“I’ve watched for the past 20 years as the DEP has been defunded. I think there’s no teeth left in DEP,” he said.

DEP’s Cain said that the agency is reviewing Sunoco’s new plan and so far, there have been no reported impacts to aquatic life.

Seaspiracy: The 7 biggest claims from the new documentary

As Netflix’s newest sustainability documentary racks up views, Sophie Gallagher looks at the biggest takeaways from the 90-minute film on fishing, marine destruction and modern slavery

4 days ago 5 comments


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he internet is home to tens of thousands of documentaries on everything from cat killers to Fyre festival, but some manage to cut through the noise, change the conversation and get people thinking differently. Just as Blackfish did in 2013 on animals in captivity, then Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret in 2014 on meat farming, now Netflix presents the 2021 version – Seaspiracy.

From the co-creators of Cowspiracy, this documentary on the fishing industry breaks new ground on the conversation around what it really means for seafood to be sustainable. It examines global fisheries, and shows how while many of us have been distracted by the problems caused by land agriculture, there was another problem brewing in our waters.

Travelling across the world from the Faroe Islands, to Thailand, Japan and Scotland, filmmaker and narrator Ali Tabrizi (and his partner) chart a journey from a childhood love of the ocean to pulling back the curtain on some of the biggest problems it faces, and whether those tasked with caring for it are really the stewards the public believe they are.

Here are the seven biggest lessons The Independent learned from the documentary that will shape the way we see fish forever.

Plastic is a problem for our seas

The documentary opens with all-too-familiar headlines of whales and other sea animals being washed up on beaches, their stomachs filled with plastic. As well as snapshots of highly-publicised campaigns about reducing the amount of plastic humans contribute to the ocean – in particular, cotton buds, straws and plastic bottles.

Tabrizi says: “There is a garbage truck load of plastic dumped every minute into the ocean and over 150 billion tonnes of microplastics are already there – they [the microplastics] now outnumber the stars in the milky way.” So far, nothing we don’t already know or haven’t seen in a David Attenborough documentary.

But it is not necessarily the plastic you might imagine

Given the amount of attention given to reducing household or personal plastic use and government campaigns to ban plastic cotton buds, straws and drinks stirrers, it is only fair that the public would see these as the greatest threats to the marine environment.

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But Seaspiracy argues that actually one of the biggest plastic deposits are byproducts of commercial fishing, such as nets, claiming 46 per cent of waste in the great pacific garbage patch [a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean, also known as the Pacific trash vortex] is made up of fishing nets, while plastic straws only account for 0.03 per cent of plastic entering the ocean. And long-line fishing sets down enough lines to wrap around the planet 500 times every day.


Environmentalist George Monbiot says: “Discarded fishing nets are far more dangerous for marine life than our plastic straws because they are designed to kill.”

It also claims that while 1,000 turtles are killed by plastic in the oceans, 250,000 sea turtles are captured, injured or killed by fishing vessels. Professor Calumn Roberts, a marine scientist, claims that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 actually “benefited” marine life because “large areas were closed to fishing” giving the oceans a “respite”.

Bycatch is a huge problem caused by fishing

Bycatch is the fish or other mammals unintentionally caught when fishermen are trying to catch a target fish – for example, catching dolphins in nets designed for tuna fishing. Some of this bycatch is killed instantly but even that which is thrown back into the sea, it says is unlikely to survive. The film suggests that as many as 50 million sharks are caught annually as bycatch.about:blankabout:blank✕

Captain Peter Hammarstedt, from the Sea Shepherd nonprofit conservation society, says: “One of the most shocking things that most people don’t realise is that the greatest threat to whales and dolphins is commercial fishing. Over 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed every single year as a bycatch of industrial fishing.” Sea Shepherd also claims that up to 10,000 dolphins are caught in the Atlantic, off the west coast of France, every year during fishing.

Not only is this problematic in terms of destroying species but also for the climate, because whales and dolphins play a crucial role in fertilising phytoplankton in the sea, which Seaspiracy says absorbs four times as much carbon dioxide as the Amazon rainforest, and generates 85 per cent of all oxygen on earth. 


Labels aren’t all they are cracked up to be

If you are reassuring yourself that your seafood consumption is not harming dolphins as bycatch – or any other marine life – because it has the ‘dolphin safe’ label on the tin, or the Marine Stewardship Council labels, then Seaspiracy urges consumers to think again.Top Articles

Asked whether he could guarantee that every can of fish labelled ‘dolphin safe’ is actually so, Mark J. Palmer of the Earth Island Institute, in charge of the dolphin safe program, says: “No – nobody can [guarantee the product is dolphin safe] – once you’re out there in the ocean. How do you know what they’re doing? We have observers on board but the observers can be bribed and are not out on a regular basis.”

However in a followup statement on their website, Palmer has clarified: “When asked whether we could guarantee that no dolphins were ever killed in any tuna fishery anywhere in the world, I answered that there are no guarantees in life, but that by drastically reducing the number of vessels intentionally chasing and netting dolphins as well as other regulations in place, that the number of dolphins that are killed is very low. 

We have observers on board but the observers can be bribed and are not out on a regular basis

“The film took my statement out of context to suggest that there is no oversight and we don’t know whether dolphins are being killed. This is simply not true.

“The bottom line is that the Dolphin Safe label and fishing restrictions save dolphin lives. Yes, commercial fishing is out of control in many cases worldwide.  But canned Dolphin Safe tuna is far more protective of dolphins and target fish stocks than the vast majority of other fisheries.”

A spokesperson for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) added in defence of its own certification labels: “This certification process is not carried out by the MSC – it is independent of us and carried out by expert assessment bodies. It is an entirely transparent process and NGOs and others have multiple opportunities to provide input. All our assessments can be viewed online at Track a Fishery. Only fisheries that meet the rigorous requirements of our Standard get certified. 


“Contrary to what the film-makers say, certification is not an easy process, and some fisheries spend many years improving their practices in order to reach our standard. In fact, our analysis shows that the vast majority of fisheries that carry out pre-assessments against our criteria, do not meet these and need to make significant improvements to gain certification.”

Sustainable is not a defined term in seafood

As well as raising questions over labels such as ‘dolphin safe’ the film also asks whether there is any way that fishing can be sustainable or any type of fish we can eat that is not as bad for the oceans as large-scale commercial fishing. But much of the documentary seems to suggest sustainability is still too much of a grey term to be useful.

María José Cornax is the fisheries campaigns manager for Oceana Europe, a nonprofit ocean conservation organisation, says: “There is not a definition of sustainability as a whole for fisheries…The consumer cannot assess right not properly what fish is sustainable and what is not. The consumer cannot make an informed decision right now.”

There will be practically empty oceans by 2048

Dr Sylvia Alice Earle, an American marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer, says; “The estimate is by middle of 21st century if we keep taking wild fish at the level we are today there won’t be enough fish to catch,” predicting virtually empty oceans by by as soon as 2048.

Seaspiracy claims fishing catches up to 2.7 trillion fish per year, or 5,000,000 every single minute, and says that no industry on earth has killed as many mammals. It also highlights the problems generated by fishing methods such as bottom trawling [a method of fishing that involves dragging heavy weighted nets across the sea floor], which it claims wipes out an estimated 3.9 billion acres of sea floor per year.

Farming not the answer

The programme presents the option of farming as an alternative to catching wild fish from the seas. But on a visit to a salmon farm in Scotland, it reveals the problems of breeding in captivity such as illness, lice, and waste production.

It says that each salmon farm produces as much organic waste as 20,000 people and that the Scottish salmon industry produces organic waste equivalent to the entire population of Scotland each year. It also claims that as a result of shrimp and prawn farming, 38 per cent of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed.


Slavery at sea is a massive problem

George Monbiot makes the comparison to “blood diamonds” when talking about the human impact of fisheries on the labour market, saying that slavery is still used on boats.

The documentary makes a comparison between the number of American soldiers that died during five years of the Iraq War – 4,500 – to the reported 360,000 deaths of fish workers during the same period. Captain Hammarstedt from Sea Shepherd says: “[It is] the same criminal groups behind drug trafficking and human trafficking.”

Former fishermen are interviewed at a safehouse in Thailand and claim that they were kept on boats for years – one says he was at sea for a decade – living in squalid conditions, facing death threats and being held at gunpoint. One claimed the ship’s captain kept dead bodies of other sailors in the freezer on board.

As well as human misery in the form of slavery – the documentary also makes the connection between the destruction of local fishing communities and people in poor communities being driven to subsistence on the land, eating more bush meat and land mammals, where fish is in short supply. The documentary makes the link between this increase and the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa.


The best thing you can do is stop eating fish

Although the documentary does explore different options – such as eating more sustainable fish or only fish from farms rather than from the wild – it concludes that the “best thing to do for marine ecosystems is not eat fish” at all. It also says that there should be established “no take zones” for fishing around the world in order to preserve underwater habitats.

It says that long-held beliefs that fish do not feel pain or are not intelligent enough to be fearful is unfounded, and that other reasons to avoid fish include the heavy contamination of industrial pollutants – including mercury, heavy metals and dioxins.

As far as Seaspiracy is concerned, fish should be off the menu altogether. 

But MSC says: “Sustainable fishing does exist and helps protect our oceans…One of the amazing things about our oceans is that fish stocks can recover and replenish if they are managed carefully for the long-term. 

“While we disagree with much of what the Seaspiracy documentary-makers say, one thing we do agree with is that there is a crisis of overfishing in our oceans. However, millions around the world rely on seafood for their protein needs. With the global population set to reach 10 billion by 2050, the need to harness our natural resources more responsibly is more urgent than ever. Sustainable fishing has a vital role to play in securing those resources.”

Is it snowing microplastics in Siberia? Russia scientists take samples


By Reuters Staff

2 MIN READHe says that view was 

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian scientists are trying to understand the scale of a potential threat to the environment in Siberia: snow polluted with microplastics that then melts and seeps into the ground.

Scientists at Tomsk State University (TSU) say they have gathered snow samples from 20 different Siberian regions – from the Altai mountains to the Arctic – and that their preliminary findings confirm that airborne plastic fibres are turning up in snow in remote parts of the wilderness.


“It’s clear that it’s not just rivers and seas that are involved circulating microplastics around the world, but also soil, living creatures and even the atmosphere,” Yulia Frank, scientific director at TSU’s Microplastics Siberia centre, told Reuters.

Microplastics, which are created when bigger pieces of plastic litter break up over time, are increasingly being found in the air, food, drinking water and even Arctic ice. Scientists are increasingly worried they may pose a risk to human health and marine life, though there is no consensus yet on the issue.


Tomsk scientists have previously found microplastics in the digestive systems of fish caught in Siberian rivers, confirming that they are contributing to polluting the Arctic Ocean with plastic.

“Siberia is absolutely under-researched in this aspect and our (Russia’s) interest in this problem comes late compared to the rest of the world,” Frank said.

Scientists are now studying the snow samples to understand to what degree population density, the proximity of roads and other human activity contributes to the pollution.

Reporting by Dmitry Turlyun; Writing by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Alex Richardson

Test drilling for oil in Namibia’s Okavango region poses toxic risk

Test drilling for oil in Namibia’s Okavango region poses toxic risk (

Jeffrey Barbee  4 hrs ago

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The Canadian oil and gas company ReconAfrica began exploratory drilling in Namibia upstream of the wildlife-rich Okavango Delta in January. According to the company’s aerial imagery and an independent review, they don’t appear to have taken what experts say is an environmentally responsible measure to protect the local water supply from contamination.a group of giraffe standing on top of a grass covered field: Botswana. Okavango Delta. Khwai concession. Pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) looking out for prey.© Photograph by Danita Delimont, Alamy Stock Photo Botswana. Okavango Delta. Khwai concession. Pack of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) looking out for prey.

Namibia is a water-scarce country, and when news of the company’s project became more widespread, communities expressed concern that contaminants from drilling would seep into shallow aquifers that supply drinking water and irrigation for crops.

Conservationists also worry that contamination from the test drilling could affect wildlife in the vicinity—elephants, Temminck’s ground pangolins, African wild dogs, martial eagles—and in the UNESCO-recognized Okavango Delta some 160 miles downstream.

A large waste, or reserve, pit next to the first test well appears in a video that ReconAfrica posted on its website on January 10. Such pits are for storing the mud, fluids, and other materials—which may contain dangerous chemicals or be hypersaline—that come up when drilling for oil or natural gas. In British Columbia, Canada, where ReconAfrica is based, it’s standard industry practice to line these pits with an impermeable barrier that prevents chemicals from seeping into the earth and groundwater.a train is parked on the side of a dirt field: tktk© Photograph by John Grobler tktk

ReconAfrica spokesperson Claire Preece told National Geographic in October 2020 that drill cuttings would “be managed in lined pits.” She also said that “ReconAfrica follows Namibian regulations and policies as well as international best practices.” According to Namibian law, the company must “control the flow and prevent the waste, escape or spilling” of petroleum, drilling fluid, water or any other substance from the well.

In the company’s video, no lining is visible.

Namibian journalist John Grobler, who visited the site on January 23, confirmed to National Geographic that the reserve pit was unlined and had liquid pooling in it.

“From an environmental aspect this is grossly unacceptable, and from a social aspect [it] is reckless and disgraceful,” says Jan Arkert, a consulting engineering geologist based in Uniondale, South Africa, who has worked for decades on drilling-related projects. “The communities are totally dependent on groundwater for domestic and agricultural purposes, and any contamination to the aquifer will be all but impossible to contain and clean up.”

Video: Radioactive contamination (AFP)

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Arkert says that if the company chose to line the pit now, after drilling has started, it would be complicated. It would involve multiple steps, including removing the waste already there and disposing of it at a suitable facility, preparing the underlying gravel layer to ensure it won’t puncture the liner, and then installing the liner itself, which might have to be imported. Each step, Arkert says, is time consuming and likely would take at least three to four weeks.

“It looks to me like drilling fluids from the rig are being discharged into the unlined reserve pit,” says Matt Totten, Jr., a former exploration geologist for the oil and gas industry who has worked on projects in the United States, after he examined ReconAfrica’s video and still images. “Notice the dark brown discolored areas in the pond next to the rig where drilling fluids would be discharged.”

After reviewing another aerial video from drill site published by the German news program VOX on March 4, Totten confirmed that the now very full pit still “appears unlined and likely filled with a mixture of rainwater and drilling fluids.”

ReconAfrica did not respond to multiple requests for comment about its reserve pit.

To get permission from the Namibian government to drill exploratory wells, ReconAfrica had to do an assessment of their environmental impacts. The company’s resulting report referred to a waste “pond” and noted that it would “scrape all waste that has collected in the pond and dispose of these and the pond lining at a suitable site.”

Arkert, who joined a Zoom conference on oil and gas development in Africa on February 17 hosted by the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers, asked Scot Evans, the CEO of ReconAfrica, why the company didn’t line the pit.

Evans didn’t answer the question directly but said that in Canada the fluid “is used as fertilizer.” He added, “We are going to have a little experiment when we are done with the local [agriculture] people to introduce fertilizers to the community.”

According to Arkert, that answer “can only be described as bizarre,” because Evans is referring only to the drill fluid. But what’s particularly dangerous are naturally occurring compounds such as benzene, ethylene, toluene, and zylene, as well as radioactive water, which come to the surface if petroleum is discovered. The “brew that is stored in the unlined containment pond will be a cocktail of toxic liquid waste, fit only for disposal in a hazardous landfill site,” Arkert says.

Other experts agree. Water coming up the well when drilling into oil and gas formations “is typically saline, contains oil and grease, and can contain toxic organic and inorganic compounds, and naturally occurring radioactive materials,” says Surina Esterhuyse, a geohydrologist with the University of the Free State, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Some of those chemicals have been proven to cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive disorders in people, according to a 2016 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

According to a 2009 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, reserve pits can contaminate farmland, streams, and drinking water sources and “can entrap and kill migratory birds and other wildlife.”

It is unclear what protocols ReconAfrica has followed for its first Namibian test well reserve pit to protect the area’s fragile ecosystem.

Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focusing on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more Wildlife Watch stories here, and learn more about National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to

Russia declares state of emergency over Arctic Circle oil spill caused by melting permafrost

The spill of diesel has caused rivers to run red

Updated 4:44 p.m. PDT June 5, 2020

Melting permafrost caused a fuel tank holding 21,000 tons of diesel oil to collapse in Russia’s Arctic Circle, leading to a 135-square mile oil spill.

According to Rosprirodnadzor, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, 6,000 tons spilled onto the ground, another 15,000 tons into the water. Oil products got into the Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers and in almost all their tributaries.

The spill occurred in the city of Norilsk, Russia, at a power plant operated by Norilsk-Taimyr Energy Co., a subsidiary of Nornickel. The town is located above the Arctic Circle in Russia’s far North.

An emergency situation has been declared, the company said on its website. Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to introduce a federal-level emergency regime because of the spill after the Minister of Emergency Situations Yevgeny Zinichev suggested it.

Greenpeace has already called the spill the first accident of such a large scale in the Arctic. The organization believes that damage to water bodies alone from a diesel spill in Norilsk could amount to more than $85 million.

A diesel fuel storage tank failed when the permafrost it was built on began to soften. As a result of damage to the tank, fuel spilled onto the roadway and a passing car caught fire.

“The accident was caused by a sudden sinking of supporting posts in the basement of the storage tank,” the company said in a statement.

The leaking diesel oil had extended as far as 7 miles from the accident site and turned long stretches of the Ambarnaya bright red.

In Russia, diesel is dyed red if it’s used for heating of buildings and structures. Red diesel is usually pumped into special storage tanks and subsequently consumed as an energy source.

Zinichev told Putin that the Norilsk plant had spent two days trying to contain the spill before alerting his ministry. The region’s governor, Alexander Uss, had told Putin that he became aware of the oil spill on Sunday only after “alarming information appeared in social media”.

According to Russian media, the liquidation team has already cleaned about 53,000 cubic feet of soil at the site of the diesel fuel spill in Norilsk and pumped out 201 tons of fuel. More than 130 tons were removed from the Ambarnaya river.

Nornickel is the world’s leading producer of nickel and palladium producer. Palladium is a rare metal used to make catalytic converters.

One of the company’s key co-owners is Vladimir Potanin who was listed as the richest man in Russia with the fortune of $25 billion. The billionaire has lost $1.5 billion due to the consequences of the accident, according to Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires ranking.

The Investigative Committee of Russia has opened a criminal case of negligence due to untimely reporting of an accident near Norilsk, according to the agency’s website. Who or what, exactly, the criminal case has been opened on was not specified. Russian authorities have already arrested the head of one of the units of a thermal power plant.

As global warming has raised temperatures, especially in Arctic latitudes, melting permafrost has become a major problem. In many colder areas buildings and structures are built on permafrost which can be as hard – and had been as permanent – as concrete.

That has begun to change with warming temperatures, causing damage to buildings and changing

Source: USA TODAY Research;  Google Earth; Planet Labs Inc.; Associated Press/RU-RTR/Kremlin;

Cruise Ships Dumped Over 3 Million Pounds of Trash in Alaska Last Year

MARCH 28, 2020 AT 1:32 AM

Cruise Ships Dumped Over 3 Million Pounds of Trash in Alaska Last Year


Records show cruise ships left behind more than 3 million pounds of trash in Alaska’s capital city in 2019.

Local government officials have reached out to both the Juneau landfill and the cruise ship industry to stop the dumping, but they aren’t having much luck.

Because both industries are private, and because there aren’t any laws on the books for cruise lines, there’s not much the city can do about it.

“We don’t regulate waste, garbage and hauling of garbage. So anything that we’re able to do will be by negotiation with the cruise lines,” Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt told the local news station.

Waste Management Inc. – which operates Juneau’s landfill – says it accepted 1,534 tons, or 3.3 million pounds, of cruise ship garbage in 2019.

That’s almost double what it was in 2018, which was  830 tons or 1.8 million pounds.

Tourist trash makes up a full 5 percent of the total garbage dumped in Juneau’s landfill in 2018 and 2019.

With the landfill projected to be full in 20 years, any amount of reduction helps.

And, with the climate fluctuating, the normally frozen ground has thawed, causing waste to seep into the ground.

Along with groundwater pollution, trash finds its way into Alaskan rivers and back out into the ocean as well.

Cruise Lines International Association Alaska became aware of the dumping last year.

Mike Tibbles, of CLIAA, said most the trash created on cruise ships is dumped at the initial port the cruise ship starts off at.

So, to figure out which cruise line is dumping what amount and where is challenging, especially with the cruise season starting soon.

“Right now we’re researching the issue a little bit more amongst our member lines to see which vessels are offloading and how much,” Tibbles said. “We definitely have a goal of trying to reduce that amount as much as we can going forward.


Discarded coronavirus masks clutter Hong Kong’s beaches, trails

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Discarded face masks are piling up on Hong Kong’s beaches and nature trails, with environmental groups warning that the waste is posing a huge threat to marine life and wildlife habitats.

Most of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people have for weeks been putting on single-use face masks every day in the hope of warding off the coronavirus, which has infected 126 people in the city and killed three of them.

But huge numbers of the masks are not disposed of properly, and have instead ended up dumped in the countryside or the sea, where marine life can mistake them for food, washing up on beaches along with the usual plastic bags and other trash.

Environmental groups, already grappling with the flow of marine trash from mainland China and elsewhere, say the cast-off coronavirus masks have compounded the problem and also raised concern about the spread of germs.

“We only have had masks for the last six to eight weeks, in a massive volume … we are now seeing the effect on the environment,” said Gary Stokes, founder of the environmental group Oceans Asia.

Stokes cited the example of Hong Kong’s isolated and uninhabited Soko islands, south of its international airport.

He said he initially found 70 discarded masks on 100 m stretch of beach and when he came back a week later, there were more than 30 new ones.

“That was quite alarming for us,” he said.


Other beaches around the city tell a similar story, he said.

Densely populated Hong Kong has for years struggled to deal with plastic waste. A culture of eating out, fast food and takeaway has fueled a rising tide of single-use plastic.

Very little rubbish is recycled with about 70 percent of the city’s 6 million tonnes of waste a year ending up in landfill.

“Nobody wants to go to the forest and find masks littered everywhere or used masks on the beaches. It is unhygienic and dangerous,” said Laurence McCook, head of Oceans Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong.

Conservation groups have been organizing beach clean-ups to tackle the trash.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The masks are made of polypropylene, a type of plastic, and are not going to break down quickly, said Tracey Read, founder of the group Plastic Free Seas in Hong Kong.

“People think they’re protecting themselves but it’s not just about protecting yourselves, you need to protect everybody and by not throwing away the mask properly, it’s very selfish.”

Burger King Sued by Vegans for Impossible Burger Contamination


Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment Joins Efforts with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society


As part of a campaign to protect the Cocos Island UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society partnered with Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment to collect and transport 34 tons of marine pollution, illegal shark finning long lines, and other confiscated fishing gear, which had been accumulating on the remote volcanic island of Cocos for over 25 years.

For a one-time project, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society removed over 1700 miles (2800 kilometers) of nylon monofilament fishing line from Cocos Island and shipped it to Aquafil to be transformed into ECONYL® regenerated nylon, which is used for carpet flooring and fashion items.

Island Del Coco National Park is home to many marine ecosystems that provide universal importance. The Costa Rican thermal dome off the coast of the Cocos Island gives 7% of biodiversity to the world. Thanks to this one-time collaboration, harmful marine debris was recovered from the ocean and is set to be transformed into a high performing material that can have a second life in new products.

“It is not just about sending a boat to the island and bring the trash to the mainland, it is to do the whole work,” stated Costa Rica’s Minister of the Environment Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, concluding “this is an achievement we are very proud of, and above all, we are very grateful for the support we received.”

“Plastics are a serious threat to marine ecosystems. Removing illegal nylon fishing gear from such a pristine environment, repurposing the material and ensuring it will not be used to kill sharks again is a big step in protecting sharks and the Tropical Eastern Pacific marine environment, which Cocos Island is part of,” said Captain Paul Watson. Adding, “This is a very important migration route for sharks and Sea Shepherd’s commitment to protect sharks and their habitats is a holistic one, tackling Illegal targeting of sharks by longline and overseeing the proper disposal of the fishing gear, by ensuring a chain of custody from the high seas to the recycling facility.”

ECONYL® nylon is obtained through the regeneration process of nylon waste and reduces the global warming impact of nylon by up to 80 percent compared with material generated from oil. Aquafil, the Italian company that invented ECONYL®, brings new purpose to waste materials that would otherwise pollute the world’s landfills and oceans.

Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

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