A few more major stories are out concerning the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast:
First, ProPublica rounds up several instances in which BP has attempted to slow the flow of information about the spill. Reports are out, nonetheless, about BP refusing to publicize results of “tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning crude over the Gulf.” The tests could be an important tool in determining whether or not it is currently safe for workers in the Gulf.
Similarly, CBS News reporters were banned from filming a beach covered with oil in Louisiana by a motley crew of BP contractors and members of the Coast Guard. The reporters were threatened with arrest if they continued to attempt filming the beach. One of the men said to the reporters: “This is BP’s rule. It’s not ours.” Just who is supposed to be in charge then? This incident raises serious questions about the involvement of the government with BP. CBS reports: "We spoke with Coast Guard officials today; they say they're looking into it."
The Huffington Post reports that Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), head of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, demanded and will soon receive live streaming video of the oil spill in Gulf, following heavy criticism of BP for not releasing video sooner. As we blogged about previously, many scientists have come forward to say that even the short, grainy video clips released by BP earlier prove that the scope of the disaster is much larger than BP estimated.
In case you've had as hard of a time as we've had keeping up with all the bad news coming out about the Gulf Coast oil spill, GAP's brought together some of the more appalling tidbits from the last few days:
First, despite the fact that BP has said many times that it is impossible to accurately judge the extent of the Gulf spill by looking at video of oil gushing out of the broken pipe, experts analyzing the video at the request of NPR argue that it is possibleand that the spill is far worse than BP has estimated. While BP claims the oil is likely spilling at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, the experts predict it is somewhere between 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day and that the oil spill has already surpassed the iconic Exxon Valdez spill in scope.
Similarly, the New York Times reports that environmental groups are raising concerns over why BP continues to claim it is impossible to measure the scope of the oil spill, and why they have produced and are sticking to the number of 5,000 barrels a day. The groups argue that there are accepted scientific methods that could be easily used to more accurately measure the leak, and that "the figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills."
Greenwire reports that, as we blogged about last week, BP is continuing to use risky chemicals called dispersants to break up the oil spill, but that the oil giant has bypassed the use of less toxic chemicals in favor of ones manufactured by a company with which they have close ties. The company, Nalco Co, was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and currently has leadership that includes executives from both BP and Exxon. Even worse, EPA data shows the Nalco dispersant to be less effective than less toxic alternatives in dealing with southern Louisiana crude oil.
A solid piece that was buried in The New York Times today takes a look at the Obama administration’s enactment (or proposal of) tougher worker safety and consumer protection standards across a host of federal agencies. Sure, regulation buttressing is not really sexy, but its tremendously important. And the administration deserves some credit here.
What kind of regulations are we talking about here? Everything from construction site water runoff to safeguarding eggs. These include (from the article and its corresponding piece):
SALMONELLA AND EGGS
Final rule, July 2009
Mandates measures to prevent salmonella on eggshells during production, storage and transportation, like refrigeration of eggs or rodent-control efforts, to prevent an estimated 79,179 illnesses a year.
STOPPING DISTANCE FOR TRUCKS
Final rule, July 2009
Cost: At least $50 million a year. Savings: at least $169 million a year. New tractor-trailers will be required to be able to break from 60 m.p.h. to a complete stop within 250 feet, a 30 percent reduction, a change that is estimated to prevent 227 deaths annually and 300 serious injuries.
Final rule, October 2009
The first federal requirement to report and monitor greenhouse-gas emissions from about 10,000 industrial facilities representing 85 percent of such emissions in the United States.
The piece also talks about the upticks and generally favorable trends of inspection rates across agencies. FDA inspections are up significantly (still nowhere near what they should be, [example, example] but still headed in the right direction).
But what caught GAP’s eye today was the heavily-increasing number of inspections coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC). That agency has the not-so-insignificant task of making sure products on store shelves don’t kill or significantly hurt people. Like toys from China with oodles of lead parts.
It looks like scientists are pushing back against global warming denialists who have hijacked the debate over climate change. This week, Science magazine published a letter signed by 255 scientists that protests what they call "political assaults on scientists and climate scientists in particular." From the letter:
"There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions. But "for a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet."
In addition, Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Select House Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, held a hearing yesterday on climate science, at which he argued that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill proves that the US needs to move beyond a reliance on petroleum. Markey said that a move toward clean energy was the only solution to the undeniable reality of human-caused climate change.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Virginia released a statement opposing the actions of Virginia’s activist Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli after he launched an investigation into publicly funded work by a climate scientist formerly employed by UVA. The climate scientist, Michael Mann, was at the center of the so-called "Climategate" controversy last year, but has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a review at Pennsylvania State University, where he currently works. In addition, two reports by committees in the United Kingdom have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the scientists involved. However, Cuccinelli still wants UVA to turn over a massive number of documents relating to Mann's research to determine if Mann "defrauded" the state.
Even though we thought it was impossible to top the barrage of troubling news that emerged last week about the oil spill (still going on!) that followed the explosion, fire and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, even more disturbing information has come out since our last blog on the topic.
Hayward also neglected to point out that the chemicals themselves pose a threat to the fragile gulf ecosystem – and according to an expert, may be more toxic than oil. While not all of the compounds in the chemicals are known due to trade secrecy, at least one is associated with "headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses." From ProPublica:
“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t – of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”
The chemicals can also have a worrisome effect on food safety. Studies have shown toxic compounds from the chemicals can accumulate in shellfish, and affect the development of fish. The chemicals will likely negatively affect the Gulf Coast fish industry.
Many troubling details are beginning to come out about the explosion and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, which oil giant BP was leasing from Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling contractor. The platform exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead, and producing one of the largest oil spills in history in U.S. water.
On Tuesday, the London Guardian (UK) reported that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the US government agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil activities, was expected to launch an investigation into the sinking of Deepwater Horizon.
MMS is currently investigating a whistleblower's claims that BP had broken the law by not keeping an up-to-date set of records on the oil platform Atlantis, also located in the Gulf of Mexico. In the event of an emergency, such records would be vital to shut down the platform. According to an email from a BP executive, not having the records could lead to "catastrophic operator errors." Atlantis, which is located 190 miles south of New Orleans, is the largest oil platform of any kind in the world.
Food, Inc. examines the myriad problems with food integrity in America. The United States agribusiness model reliably generates more food on less land and at a lower cost than that of any other nation.
However, Food, Inc. takes a look at the cost of the many well-known issues that have arisen because of the factory farm model, including animal cruelty, environmental damage, foodborne illness, and health problems like obesity and diabetes.
The documentary also examines several less-known but no less shocking problems with the food industry, including a revolving door of employment that prevents workers from blowing the whistle on food integrity issues and the millions of dollars poured into marketing and lobbying by agribusiness.