Covid Also Hurts The Environment, Thanks To Lazy Mask Disposal

WGCU reports on the “worldwide problem” of careless covid mask disposal, which is not only unsightly but also threatens wildlife and can block sewers. Meanwhile, in Hawaii the Navy continues to clean up a fuel spill that contaminated tap water, and military-used toxic foam worries rise.

Mask Litter Is A Worldwide Problem With Serious Environmental Ramifications, Study Shows

Discarded cigarette butts, cans and bottles have been fouling Florida’s beaches, preserves and parking lots for as long as people have been using such items, and now there is a new scourge being mixed in: discarded masks used to protect the wearer from COVID-19. Masks come in many shapes and sizes, but one commonality is too many of them are being discarded everywhere except in a trash can. Some were white but have been trampled by dirty sneakers and driven over by car tires so many times the masks are spotted brown, flattened and stuck to the pavement. Others were light blue, but now white fibers from the inside show through. Red ones shine so brightly they can be seen from far away. Masks dropped to the ground are a threat to wildlife, and when washed into sewers they have the potential to clog sewage systems. (Bayles, 1/30)

In news about water safety —

Navy To Drain Polluted Water After Fuel Contamination In Hawaii 

The Hawaii Department of Health authorized the Navy on Thursday to discharge treated water from its Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility after the water forced Army and Navy families from their homes into hotels. The contaminated tap water contained diesel fuel 350 times the safe level after a jet-fuel spill in November. The Navy will pump up to 5 million gallons of water a day from the Red Hill Shaft into the Halawa Stream in order to get rid of the contaminated tap water. The discharge was authorized under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general permit. (Frazier, 1/29)

Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Toxic Foam Used At Military Bases Raises Contamination Concerns

Cleanup of cancer-causing contaminants found at hundreds of military installations — including those in Nevada — has prompted frustrated senators to urge the Pentagon to improve communication with local communities to develop long-term plans to reduce health risks. High levels of contamination in Nevada were found at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs and particularly at Nellis Air Force Base, which landed on a Superfund clean-up list under the Environmental Protection Agency. The groundwater contamination is at unsafe levels and could spread. (Martin, 1/28)

North Carolina Health News:
Chemours’ Program Could Aide Homes With PFAS-Contaminated Wells

Representatives of the Chemours chemical company are expected to show up at Laura Adams’ Cumberland County home next week to walk her through the policies, procedures and potential cost of connecting to public water under a new pilot program. Adams found out in June that the well water at her home on Anniston Street – in the Black Bridge subdivision between Hope Mills and Parkton in Cumberland County – is polluted with per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, or forever chemicals. Since then, the Chemours Fayetteville Works plant has been supplying Adams and thousands of other people in Cumberland, Robeson and Bladen counties with either bottled water, under-the-sink reverse osmosis filtration systems or whole-house granular activated carbon systems to keep them from drinking their potentially cancer-causing well water. (Barnes, 1/31)

US Pushes For Better Tap Water But Must Win Over Wary Public

Angela Stamps won’t drink water from her faucet, showers less and no longer takes the baths she once found relaxing. She doesn’t cook with tap water and sometimes skips rinsing her produce. Even though the amount of lead in Flint, Michigan’s tap water has been well below a key state threshold for several years, she hasn’t been able to stop worrying since going through the trauma of the city’s lead crisis.“I just don’t trust it,” she said. (Phillis, 1/30)

In other environmental health news —

The Texas Tribune and ProPublica:
EPA Rejects Texas’ More Lenient Standard For Highly Toxic Air Pollutant 

As part of a sweeping announcement detailing strategies to crack down on toxic industrial air pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced this week it was moving to formally reject Texas’ less protective standard for the potent carcinogen ethylene oxide and stick with its own scientific conclusions, a move that clears the way for significant reductions in emissions nationwide. EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan announced the decision after an investigation by ProPublica, in collaboration with the Texas Tribune, revealed that ethylene oxide, a low-odor, ubiquitous gas that is used to make everyday household items like dish soap, is contributing to the majority of the excess industrial cancer risk in the United States. (Collier and Miller, 1/28)

The Texas Tribune:
State Report Shows How Agency Misses Pollution Spikes During Storms 

The Texas agency tasked with enforcing clean air rules often does not monitor industrial pollution during and immediately after severe weather events — often the height of emissions from refineries and chemical plants — leaving a hole in the state’s knowledge of air quality, according to a new state report. Industrial facilities, like oil refineries and chemical plants along the Texas Gulf Coast, typically shut down in advance of hurricanes and other storms to keep workers safe and avoid spills. But the process can cause pollution above what’s permitted or healthy. Emergency shutdowns and other accidents, equipment breakdowns and power failures during the storms tend to create even worse levels of pollution as plants burn off waste gases, which include health pollutants and climate-warming greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds. (Douglas, 1/28)

Detroit Free Press:
No Health Risk Found In Air Near Jeep Plant In Detroit

Residents who have been complaining for months about strong paint odors from a Stellantis plant on Detroit’s east side received some assurance Thursday night from a state toxicologist about health risks of the air in their neighborhood but left frustrated over unanswered questions and uncertainty over asthma and other concerns. A community outcry over the air around the plant, which makes new versions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, has led to multiple investigations and violation notices from the state and prompted the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to lead a virtual community meeting Thursday, attended at one point by almost 150 people who heard from state and federal environmental and health officials. (Lawrence, 1/28)

Bangor Daily News:
No One Knows How Many ‘Forever Chemicals’ Could Be In Maine’s Organic Foods

Mainers who have purchased food from local farms certified as organic have felt safe in the knowledge that the label meant they were getting a chemical-free product. But the discovery of high levels of forever chemicals in soil and groundwater is throwing into question the safety of food grown or raised in the state. Songbird Organic Farm in Unity  halted all sales and pulled its products from store shelves earlier this week after its water, soil and produce tested positive for toxins known collectively as forever chemicals, or PFAS and PFOS. (Bayly, 1/29)

Georgia Health News:
Emory Med Students Learn Health Risks Of Climate Change 

Emory Medical School’s administration is making climate change a formal part of its curriculum. It’s the culmination of several years of student-led efforts to ensure Emory’s future doctors learn about the growing health impact of a warming planet, because climate change doesn’t just bring hotter weather and more extreme storms. It also makes many health issues worse – issues that doctors need to recognize and treat. Those issues were top of mind for second-year medical student Irene Liu when she was applying to medical schools. She had been interested in climate advocacy for a long time, and wanted to find a school where she could focus on the environment – but that didn’t work out. (Jones, 1/28)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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