Southern California environment news and trends

FDA flexes on BPA, says the chemical causes some concern

Still no ban, but after significant consumer and environmental-group pressure, and numerous public hearings, the federal Food and Drug Administration is issuing new guidelines for Bisphenol A. Cautious ones.

What are they worried about? Here's Linda Birnbaum - the head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:

There are critical periods of development when exposure to BPA may lead to certain health effects, including behavioral effects, diabetes, reproductive disorders, development of certain kinds of cancers, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and effects that can go from one generation to the next.

What makes this interesting is it harmonizes a couple of government agencies on the issue - and helps them sing a clearer song to consumers. This announcement puts FDA on the same page as the National Toxicology Panel which had found "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures" when the FDA was sounding a less cautious note a couple of years ago.


Haiti recovery essentials: water, medical supplies...and cell phones?

On my way back to our downtown bureau from our soon-to-be-new-building, I heard really interesting stories today from The World: first, Matthew Bell reports on the pressing need for water in Haiti: water purification systems and tablets so that people can carry water home in plastic jugs (they don't get to worry about what kind of plastic that is, this week). What came next surprised me a little and in a good way: a story about people who set up communications in disaster areas - first, for aid workers, then calling centers for everyone.

During the water story I was thinking of what it means; how some international political theorists think of it as a "basic right." Like liberty, and food. Plenty of people have written books about water as a coming political crisis in recent years: Steven Solomon has one out I'd love to read, called Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization. (interestingly, he's got a blurb from the guy who wrote The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. Must all quests be epic?) At the State of the Bay Conference yesterday, I listened to Dr. Bill Cooper from UC Irvine's Urban Water Research Center talk about how he thought the price for water was ridiculously low in California, where it's increasingly scarce. I think of Katrina, of course; people without water for days, without much water for a week. It doesn't matter that it's in our country. What matters is the unquenched and unquenchable need.


Sittin' on the dock of the bay...monitoring its pollutants

Every five years, just like with the European Union commission presidency, the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission updates its State of the Bay. What is that state, you ask? Better than last time, still got problems, got some new stuff going on. There. Now you don't have to listen to a whole news spot. Community service for the impatient.

But it's worth checking out the commission's dedicated page for the report. Perhaps wisely, it didn't make the whole report available at once. Instead, it's broken up into sections – habitat conditions, water quality, natural resources, and, a reporter's favorite – looking ahead – focusing quite a bit on climate change. (Frank Stoltze says this blog talks a lot about adaptation. Here's one of many reports that proves it's relevant.)

Maybe the biggest development since the last report is improved water quality measured in the last 5 years. Bacteria, trash and other standards like metals and toxics have come into place since 2003. Low-flow diversion of runoff water sends it to treatment. New technologies are demonstrated throughout the basin for managing runoff water. Still, according to the report: "Even during dry weather, excessive outdoor water use throughout the watershed creates unnecessary runoff and increases the demand on the local water supply."


Schoolin' kids in the environment, California style

California just got its first environmental education curriculum. I'm related to a lot of people who teach (though the sort of things they teach have rhyme and scan, as opposed to kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus or species), so I checked it out.

The new "curriculum units" for the state's environmental education plans cover climate change, habitats, Monarch butterflies (what up, St. Joe's Menlo Park first grade), energy, water resources, and plenty more.

They developed the lessons with "business, non-profits, state agencies and education partners." Right now it's on-line; in the future, EEI hopes to be able to provide printed versions and teacher training. (Though on-line seems so eco-friendly, after all.)

Here's one example: alphabet cards for kindergardeners:

The second grade curriculum includes "The Mystery of the Missing Strawberries." I am glad I am not in the second grade, for I would not do well at explaining what Tina and her dad are talking about here (your guess is as good as mine; seasonality of crops?):


New deputy mayor Austin Beutner...has a lot to do

KPCC's correspondent and man-about-town Frank Stoltze is covering this announcement. But I'm interested by the release from the mayor's office, which notes that the new deputy mayor and jobs chief "will be given a large portfolio with unprecedented oversight of City resources beginning with a direct line of authority over the Department of Water and Power (DWP), the Port of Los Angeles, and economic development and business policy issues at the Los Angeles World Airports." It goes on: "As the three main engines of economic development in Los Angeles, the Port, airports and the DWP will be focused on using their considerable leverage to create jobs while delivering their core services successfully and efficiently."

The Wall Street Journal's Tamara Audi had some ideas about what that might mean. "The Department of Water and Power, the biggest municipal-owned utility in the nation, has an enormous capital-expenditure budget," she wrote. "It could try to lure firms to locate in the area by promising to purchase equipment such as solar panels from them, for example."