Sunday, August 23, 2015

PNN - Aloha

PNN - Aloha - Surrounded Islands of Sanity

RWS                     7:01pm
Brook                   7:14pm
3 Muckrakers      7:30pm
Annie Orlando    8:26pm
Alice Carr            8:44pm

1. Unexplained Pacific Whale Die-Off
Whales are dying off the coast of Alaska and no one knows why. Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared the recent deaths of 30 large whales in the western Gulf of Alaska an “unusual mortality event,” triggering an investigation into the cause of the mass die off. NOAA defines an unusual mortality event as “a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population, and demands immediate response.”

Since May, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans have stranded around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula. The uptick is nearly three times the average for the area. Last year, there were only five whale strandings for the entire year. There were also six dead stranded whales reported along British Columbia’s north coast in the last few months, which is a significant increase above annual seasonal numbers for that area as well.

“NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months,” said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator. “While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live.”
NOAA is encouraging the public to help out by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover, but warns people not to get close or touch the animals.

“The prevailing theory is that a large toxic algae bloom off the West Coast might be to blame,”reports CBC News. “However, scientists have been unable to make a concrete connection.”

The West Coast has experienced the largest toxic algae bloom in a decade, forcing the closure of fisheries from California to Washington. This isn’t the first time scientists have linked algae blooms and whale die offs. 

A toxic algae bloom this spring off the coast of Chile is the suspected cause of death for 20-30 sei whales.

“When algae that produces toxins overtakes a body of water, those toxins make it into the food chain by way of the tiny creatures that feed on it,” reports the Washington Post. “In the case of these sei whales, the scientists studying them hypothesize, sardines poisoned by the algae could have given the whales deadly food poisoning.”

NOAA cautions that these investigations often take months, even years, of data collection and analysis to reach a conclusive answer. So far, scientists working in Alaska have only been able to take the tissue sample of one of the carcasses, which NOAA described as a “less than ideal” sample. That sample tested negative for a type of toxin produced by algae, but the carcass was so decomposed that it may not be reliable, The Alaska Dispatch News reported. The scientists did not find a clear cause of death from that sample and many of the other carcasses have been unretrievable, or too badly decomposed to study.

“Alaska has an awful lot of coastline and much of it is difficult to reach,” NOAA adviser Dr. Bree Witteveen told CBC News. “We can’t get to those carcasses more often than not.” They also have to deal with “predator competition” for sample sizes from the likes of bears and other animals.

NOAA said in an online FAQ that it’s “highly unlikely” that radiation from Fukushima is playing a role, but “further testing is under way.” Some have speculated that warmer temperatures may be to blame. The Alaska Dispatch News reported in June that surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska were running 0.9 to 3.6 degrees above average. There is no doubt that Alaska is rapidly warming due to climate change. Alaska’s glaciers are melting even faster than most places along with the rest of the Arctic, which is warming at twice the rate of other regions.

The fortress-like mill, circa 1910, later became a hazardous waste dump.

Still reeling from a disaster it created at a Colorado gold mine, the EPA has so far avoided criticism for a similar toxic waste spill in Georgia.

In Greensboro, EPA-funded contractors grading a toxic 19th-century cotton mill site struck a water main, sending the deadly sediment into a nearby creek. Though that accident took place five months ago, the hazard continues as heavy storms — one hit the area Tuesday — wash more soil into the creek.

The sediment flows carry dangerous mercury, lead, arsenic and chromium downstream to Lake Oconee and then to the Oconee River —  home to many federally and state protected species .

Lead in the soil at the project site is 20,000 times higher than federal levels established for drinking water, said microbiologist Dave Lewis, who was a top-level scientist during 31 years at the Environmental Protection Agency.

He became a whistleblower critical of EPA practices and now works for Focus for Health , a nonprofit that researches disease triggers

An EPA project results in a broken water main, which flooded toxic dirt into a nearby creek.

“Clearly, the site is a major hazardous chemical waste dump, which contains many of the most dangerous chemical pollutants regulated by the EPA,” Lewis wrote in a 2014 affidavit for a court case filed by local residents that failed to prevent the EPA project: creating a low-income housing development.

The mill site contains 34 hazardous chemicals, 30 of which are on the EPA’s list of priority pollutants because of “high toxicity, persistence, lack of degradability, and harmful effects on living organisms,” Lewis wrote.

But while the nation is transfixed by the bright orange waterways in otherwise pristine Colorado wilderness, little attention has been paid to the unfolding Greensboro disaster

The four-acre site features the abandoned Mary Leila Cotton Mill, which produced sheeting until the early 2000s. Looking like a ghostly fortress, the 135,000-square-foot building with turrets and a water tower was covered in lead-based paint that flaked off and covered the grounds along with ash produced by its coal-burning generators. High levels of cancer-causing chemicals, such as benzo(a)pyrene , are also buried there. And neighboring farmers dumped pesticides on the vacant grounds back when arsenic was used to kill bugs.

The Environmental Protection Agency has denied — but now admits — that it funded the cleanup and development project the triggered the catastrophe.


The EPA issued a grant around 2005 to turn the mill and surrounding grounds into a housing complex for the mentally ill, homeless and indigent. Contractors working with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GEPD) have started digging and tearing down the buildings — despite objections by the city of Greensboro and the absence of a plan to deal with the hazardous waste.

EPA and GEPD documents reviewed by Watchdog show proposals to move the dirt elsewhere or to cover it with concrete. In the latter case, the government agencies promise to monitor and repair any potholes, cracks or foundation breaks.

But for Lewis, any excavation would send large amounts of toxic soil into the creek.

Despite the manmade pollutants, Mother Nature has managed to hold her own against further degradation. The toxic soil was mainly confined to densely packed lower levels held in check by a clay barrier near the creek. EPA/GEPD contractors destroyed that barrier with a backhoe.

Now groundwater and other contaminants can flow freely, Lewis said.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment. The agency has offered conflicting statements about its involvement in the project, alternating between knowing nothing, providing only data and guidance, and acknowledging, finally, that it funded cleanup and development at the site through a grant to the state.

Lewis says his former employer, the EPA, never showed any concern in several responses to his ongoing pleas regarding hazards around the old mill.

In letters to Lewis and David Kopp, who represented the residents in their court case, the EPA downplayed toxicity in the land, pointing to low levels in a 2010 sampling. Lewis says he tested his own samples at the University of Georgia, where he worked for a time as a marine biologist. The results staggered him.

But the EPA told him it knew nothing about Mary Leila Cotton Mill.

“There is no federal agency involved with this project at the mill property,” EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney wrote Lewis on Jan. 9. “This property does not warrant federal action at this time.”

Five months later, in a May 28 letter to Lewis, Toney admitted the program was an “EPA brownfields grant-funded project” and that “remediation must be conducted in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment.” The state directed the developer to “maintain the mill property in a manner that protects humans from exposure to hazardous constituents while the property is undergoing corrective action.”

The EPA’s website says brownfields projects are part of the agency’s mandate “to make environmental justice an integral part of every program, policy and activity by…. Applying EPA’s regulatory tools to protect vulnerable communities.”

And involving lead, it appears that the EPA is violating its own standards. The agency prohibits release of untreated lead-laden water into the waterways and cites the Clean Water Act , saying: “The CWA prohibits anyone from discharging pollutants, including lead, through a point source into a water of the United States unless they have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.”

Researcher Earl Glynn contributed to this report. 

5. The Chicago Police Are Seeking to Destroy Hundreds of Thousands of Records of Police Misconduct
The great bonfire of documents FOP wants to ignite would erase knowledge necessary to establish a credible regime of police accountability. Having finally broken through official secrecy and gained access to information needed to diagnose patterns of police abuse and impunity, the public would see the bulk of those documents go up in smoke.

The FOP challenge takes the form of a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop the city from releasing information about police misconduct sought by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Soon after the settlement of Kalven v. Chicago, the two newspapers submitted FOIA requests seeking the disciplinary history of every Chicago police officer since 1967. The documents sought are not the underlying investigative files, but rather a list of every complaint and its disposition over the last 48 years. According to the city, the requested information comes to more than 7,000 pages.

In a striking demonstration of the reach of its new transparency policy, the city did not contest these requests but agreed to provide the information to the newspapers.

At that point, the FOP intervened. The union claims that releasing the list would do harm to its members, because the list includes information the city should not have had in its possession. Under the terms of its contract, the FOP argues, misconduct files should be destroyed after five or seven years, depending on the category of file.

The FOP’s lawsuit strikes at the heart of the principle of freedom of information. It asserts, in effect, that the extent of public access to information we need as citizens to hold the police and the city accountable should be determined by the police and the city.

Unthinkable? On the contrary. On Dec. 15, Judge Peter Flynn enjoined the city from releasing the information sought by the newspapers pending a labor arbitrator’s decision in the dispute between the union and the city over the contract provision regarding destruction of police misconduct files.

There is thus a very real danger that fundamental issues of human rights and freedom of information will be decided in the context of a labor arbitration from which advocates for the public interest are wholly excluded. Under the circumstances, the one sure way to avoid this outcome is for the state Legislature to pass a law requiring police departments to preserve police misconduct records.

Police officers are not ordinary citizens. They are public officials vested with extraordinary powers. A strong line of appellate court decisions, culminating with Kalven, has established the principle that police officers do not have a personal privacy interest in information regarding allegations they have abused their powers. Such documents are quintessential public information.

The passage of time does not dilute the public interest in such information. Destruction of these records would inflict blindness on the institutions charged with supervising, monitoring, and when necessary, disciplining the police. And it would equally diminish our ability as citizens to assess the quality of investigations performed by those institutions.

Moreover, misconduct files may be of great importance long after the events that occasioned them. To take the most dramatic but far from the only example, documented instances of police torture by Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command extend back more than 30 years. There remain individuals in prison who claim their confessions were coerced by Burge and his team. The FOP position, if upheld, would destroy evidence they might use to challenge their convictions.

The city has appealed Judge Flynn’s ruling. It has strong arguments, in view of Flynn’s disregard for the precedents of the appellate court. Even if it prevails, though, the underlying problem remains. The lists of disciplinary records at issue in the case could be released, and there could be a bonfire of the police misconduct files from which those lists were derived. Hence, the urgent need for legislative action.

At a time when citizens across the nation are calling on their elected officials to address patterns of police abuse and impunity, Illinois legislators have the opportunity — and responsibility — to protect the Freedom of Information Act and thereby ensure a solid foundation for enduring police reform.

Public Records Settlement Hits Taxpayers Hard

Taxpayers will be one point three million dollars poorer after Governor Rick Scott’s office settles several public records lawsuits. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the costs have public records advocates fuming.

Behind this law office sits the home of former Governor Leroy Collins. It’s soon going to be a museum. The Attorney..Steve Andrews, supported Governor Rick Scott’s opponents. And after Scott was elected, a dispute erupted over who had rights to buy the law firm property…Andrews or the state. In requests for public records, Andrews discovered Scott had two non state email accounts used for state business. Law suits followed. This is what Andrews told us last year.
“One of the most important rights in the Florida Constitution is the right to public records. In any form. Private emails, cell phones “ said Andrews last August.

A year later, the state is settling with Andrews for 7 hundred thousand dollars. A 120,000 check was ordered by the Governor;s office on Monday. The exchange is set for 10 am Friday morning.

We talked with Andrews off camera. He wants to wait until the case settles Friday before saying anything publicly.

Documents also show the Governor is paying 304 thousand dollars to outside law firms to defend himself against Andrews and against media outlets in a separate case.

Media Attorney Carol Locicero says its a shame taxpayers are on the hook for the Governor’s actions.

“Transparency starts with the right attitude and its really not been a priority of this Governor’s office.”

In agreeing to settle the case, Andrews is giving up 1.2 million in legal fees. T
The future of whether the law office every becomes part of the museum entrance remains up in the air.   

Public records requests made of the Governor often take a month or more to fulfill. And under a new policy, the office posts every response to a records request online.

7. Charlotte Water: Contaminants detected but water is safe 

Chemicals used by Duke Energy to curb air pollution appear to have caused a spike in contaminants in Charlotte’s drinking water.

Charlotte Water reported Thursday elevated levels of disinfection byproducts called trihalomethanes. THMs may cause liver, kidney or central nervous system problems and may increase cancer risks.

The levels detected came close to federal and state limits but do not make the water unsafe, authorities said.

THM levels in drinking water began to rise in mid-2014. The compounds are more likely to form as water warms.

But it was also about a year after Duke began using calcium bromide, in 2013, to wash coal at its Marshall and Allen power plants on lakes Norman and Wylie. The bromide wash reduced releases of toxic mercury into the air when coal is burned.

Bromide reacts with chlorine, which is used to disinfect drinking water, to form THMs.

“It appears that may have been the triggering event,” Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert told reporters Thursday.

Duke stopped using calcium bromide at the plants in May, but the region’s drought has kept it from being flushed out of the lakes. That’s expected to improve when rainfall returns and water cools this fall.

Duke acknowledged earlier this year that bromide releases from power plants could cause THM problems in water systems downstream.

In a $102 million settlement of federal charges over coal ash contamination, Duke agreed to set up a claims process for water utilities who felt harmed by bromide released by power plant scrubbers, which also clean air emissions.
Duke had already paid two cities that draw water downstream of its Belews Creek power plant, Eden and Madison, $2.3 million and $770,000 respectively to modify their treatment systems.

Other factors can also form THMs, including warm, still water. Charlotte Water director Barry Gullet said the city will change treatment processes and operating practices, such as flushing hydrants more often and reducing the pH of water, to reduce those risks.

Those changes could cost $1 million to $1.5 million, Gullet said. It’s unclear whether the city will seek reimbursement from Duke.
“We know, and Duke agrees, that at least some of this is coming from the Duke plant,” Gullet said.

Gullet said York, S.C., has also seen high THM levels. Officials there could not be reached Thursday.

The utility’s announcement Thursday was triggered by results this week that found high THMs at eight of 12 sampling sites on the fringes of the city.
Individual readings ranged as high as 116 parts per billion, well above the federal standard of 80 ppb. Because results are averaged over time, none constituted a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Customers at the sampling sites – mostly businesses or county buildings – were notified of the results Thursday.

“It would take someone ingesting large, large amounts over 20 to 30 years to get the same effects found in (lab) animals,” said Dr. Stephen Keener, the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s medical director. “We feel very comfortable in reassuring citizens that use the water that this is not a situation that causes concern.”

8. A big Gator Goodbye to Dr. Guilette

Our hero and a great man has left this plane of existence.  He advocated for the farmworkers who worked on the farms on Lake Apopka.  He was a scientist, but also an amazing human being.  We will miss him terribly!

t is with great sadness that we report that Louis Guillette, Jr., Ph.D., died from complications of cancer treatment on Thursday, August 6. He was 62. Lou was an incredible inspiration, communicator, researcher, and teacher. And, beyond that, he was a truly good guy and beloved among students, researchers, and environmental and public health advocates.


PNN concludes its forth year of webcasting and spends some time amidst this silly worlds troubles with some Islands of Sanity.

Our Political Commentator Ms Brook Hines dissects the latest charades of what passes for a Legislative body . See the Legislature  continue their unconstitutional GERRYMANDERING WAYS

Then we welcome from the ancient nation of Wales the journalists called The Three MuckRakers. Who bring us their insight on the  American political scene and views of politics in the UK as well as their vantage point of Europe. (The UK has a progressive, Jeremy Corbyn) who out of nowhere, is bucking the austerity meme that sends everything to the 1%. 

They also address the MidEast and the death dance that opposes the Iran Treaty.  Reflecting on American politics with a decidedly UK perspective. The Three Muckrakers; Dennis Campbell, Prof. Dario Llinares, and Phil Perry bring a century of political acumen. 

We also welcome Progressive Atheist Alice Carr from Austrailia, who talks about the issues that engage the progressive humanists across the pacific, from theists crowding out liberty, to refugees  to environmental insults to the Great Barrier Reef, she provides very powerful voice from a leader in the progressive atheist community overseas. A voice you should hear.

And a special guest Annie Orlando a political activist in the north Florida college town of Gainesville who will bring us her tale of political malfeasance that stains too much of Florida's political landscape. Tune in Sunday at 7pm (Eastern)

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