Southern California environment news and trends

Secret chemicals, still, even after Obama action

A very interesting article today from the Washington Post about the release of information related to new chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Reporter Lyndsey Layton rounds up recent events and reports to point out that 20 percent of chemicals registered in the US are secret under federal rules and "critics -- including the Obama administration -- say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to."

Last summer, the EPA ended confidentiality protection for more than 500 chemicals registered under TSCA. Lots of 'em publicized their ingredients elsewhere, like in marketing materials or a website, but claimed confidentiality because they could.

The WaPo article cites another interesting fact to the EPA. 151 chemicals who have confidential status with the federal government are manufactured in quantities of more than a million tons a year. So, uh, there's lots of those ones there. Also 10 of these chemicals are in children's products. What does that mean to a parent? Well, hell if we know. Confidential, remember? Could go either way. Or more precisely, any way.


This ain't no place for the weary kind: Cohen does Crazy Heart

If you really need an environmental hook for this, I can tell you that for the new film Crazy Heart, Fox Searchlight did web-based electronic press kits (EPKs) – thereby helping cut plastic waste and, for that matter, business at the post office. Also, with KPCC’s Alex Cohen at the premiere, I noticed that Jeff Bridges had a silvery mane of hair cresting over his head that reminded me of a river. In the movie, he drives a Suburban, which was my first car, and I can testify both to the accuracy of engine’s rumble and the tank’s thirst. But otherwise: this is just a public service announcement.

Bridges plays a guy named Bad, a country singer reduced to playing bowling alleys (though, I gotta say, in at least one bowling alley I know in New Orleans, that’s a sought-after gig) who has to pull his one pair of sunglasses out of a garbage can he pukes in. But if you think it’s some obvious Heartwarming Tale Of Redemption™, or a Wrenching Portrait of An Unredeemed Alcoholic™, uh, no. It’s lovely all on its own.


Catchin' up with debris basins

Nick Roman, our editor, loves storm season. When he says "storm watch," you know he means StormWatch. Or even STORMWATCH!. I'm, as with many things I cover, awestruck by it.

A few weeks back I did a story explaining how debris basins work. It's got a short video so you can see what it looks like in dry times at the Dunsmuir debris basin. You'd have to imagine the debris flowing down the watercourse into the area. But maybe with the rain falling outside your window, you can.

Today we're also following news announcements in the run-up to Copenhagen. Mayor Villaraigosa and a posse or a passel or a flock or whatever are going to Denmark and to Germany to talk about what cities can do to combat global warming; the mayor's promise to get rid of coal by 2020 certainly draws interest there. And the Environmental Protection Agency - authorized by the Obama Administration - will announce an "endangerment" ruling - a finding by the agency that greenhouse gases are endangering peoples' health and must be regulated. That certainly could up the pressure on Congress to pass its own regulation, which has seen fire and rain this fall, and whose fate is uncertain.


Adapting to a warming (political) climate

California has made a monster climate adaptation strategy. It's no small thing. In point of fact, it's a 200 page thing, covering public health, biodiversity and habitat, ocean and coastal resources, water management, agriculture, forestry, and transportation and energy infrastructure. Google released accompanying visualization with it - which means with a little of that vertiginous Google-Earth action, you can see how deep your house could be underwater along the coast. (Go figure, the kayak rental place I used to work, next to whatever they're calling my Giants' park these days, is out of luck.)

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his Department of Resources, has timed the adaptation strategy to coincide with climate talks in Copenhagen for maximum effect. So what does it mean?

You could say it doesn't change much. California's got landmark laws that deal with human-sourced greenhouse gas production already, after all: AB 32 rests comfortably on the books as law, and has for 3 years now. It's not even the senior member of the climate change legislation club: legislators created a Climate Action Registry 8 years ago (if you really want to get into it, back in '88 the state started keeping track of GHGs, though maybe not incredibly well). The state's climate change site lists 20 pieces of legislation not to mention numerous executive orders - listed first, though the next governor could wipe them out with another stroke of the pen. California's been building a strategy; you don't need to read a 200 page report to see that.


Dr. Wellbee and the Thanksgiving visit to the CDC

Somewhat appropriately, I got sick after I visited my cousin for Thanksgiving: she works at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. I’m still catching up on California. Meanwhile, I got a look around at the CDC while I was there, including this Global Health Odyssey exhibit they have in the lobby for visitors.

Mostly, the CDC’s exhibit featured public health issues, and epidemiology. I had known a little about Legionnaire’s disease; I had, I think always assumed that it related to the French Foreign Legion, rather than the American Legion convention at which the outbreak occurred. I hadn’t ever known about the CDC’s origins in maritime health safety.

Meet Dr. Wellbee. (Oh. I just got it. Seriously.) He first encouraged polio vaccinations, and by 1964 was the national bug-doctor of the CDC. I know I'll regret saying this, but I see a hipster t-shirt here.