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Trump administration condemned over delaying action on toxic drinking water

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Environment advocates have condemned Trump administration plans to spend at least another year considering whether to restrict toxic chemicals increasingly found in drinking water across the country.

The chemicals – known as PFOS and PFOA – are found in nonstick pots and pans, food packaging, and firefighting foam sprayed in drills on military bases. They seep into soil and groundwater in areas where they are manufactured and used.

In high levels, the chemicals are linked with kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and problems in pregnancy. The chemicals are so prevalent that they are estimated to be in the bloodstreams of nearly all Americans.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator of water, David Ross, told reporters on Thursday that the agency plans to publish a proposal about setting a maximum level of the chemicals allowed in drinking water. But the full regulatory process could take years, and the agency could ultimately decide against establishing a requirement.

“Whatever we do, we’ll have to defend in court,” Ross said. “So part of this process is making sure whatever we do is legally defensible.”

The Environmental Working Group accused the EPA of “foot-dragging” and said the plan “would not stop the introduction of new PFAS chemicals, end the use of PFAS chemicals in everyday products, alert Americans to the risk of PFAS pollution or clean up contaminated drinking water supplies for an estimated 110 million Americans.”

Betsy Southerland, a career staffer who was the science and technology director of EPA’s water office under Barack Obama, said the Trump administration is trying to create confusion about the chemicals to delay regulation.

“They want to say: wow, we’re really paralyzed. We can’t make industry clean this stuff up, there’s too much uncertainty. We need years more study,” she said. “I think they’re very happy that they’ve managed to waste an entire year.”

Rob Allen, the mayor of Hoosick Falls in New York, which has suffered with water contamination, said the announcement showed “the lack of guidance & leadership at the highest levels” of the EPA.

EPA is publishing a broader action plan for handling the chemicals, but it was not immediately available to reporters.

Without rules from EPA, water providers will not be required to test for or remove the chemicals. The agency has previously advised against levels of 70 parts per trillion or higher. The Trump administration has since delayed publishing a study suggesting even lower levels of the chemicals might be dangerous, according to Politico.

PFOS and PFOA have been phased out of production but replaced with other chemicals that are not as well studied.

In May, Scott Pruitt, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the agency would evaluate whether the federal government should set a limit on the level of the chemicals allowed in drinking water. Pruitt said EPA would also weigh in on what level of two replacement chemicals – GenX and PFBS – is toxic.

Nine months later, the agency is still working on those steps.

The broader class of chemicals, known as PFAS, are discussed by some experts as this generation’s DDT, a now-banned pesticide that was used to control malaria and associated with widespread environmental damage and public health concerns. EPA has been considering their risks for nearly two decades.

Chemical companies say the newer chemicals are safer because they are short-chain and don’t persist in the human body as long, but Southerland said scientists don’t have enough information to come to that conclusion.

Without federal rules, some states are setting their own standards. But doing so can be difficult with limited advice from EPA, Southerland said. While government officials typically know which communities might have been exposed to PFOS and PFOA, they don’t know as much about the production or use of the newer, related chemicals, she said.

EPA is moving forward to classify the chemicals as hazardous substances, which could force producers and users of the chemicals to help pay for site cleanups. Ross said the agency will soon release interim recommendations for cleaning up sites where groundwater has been contaminated.

Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate’s environment and public works committee, said in a statement: “After a year of hemming and hawing, Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler’s EPA is punting on action to tackle a serious public health risk lurking in Americans’ drinking water.

“Meanwhile, Wheeler is pushing as hard as humanly possible to roll back vital environmental protections he thinks stand between his polluter patrons and bigger profits. It’s another example of an administration captured by polluter donors and their minions embedded in federal agencies.”

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Saoirse McHugh: We need to talk about capitalism

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N HER FORTNIGHTLY column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos.   

A most ludicrous situation is taking place in which we are disrupting weather systems we have relied on for centuries, poisoning drinking water, destroying habitats that provide food and fuel and pushing ourselves outside of the relatively stable climate we have enjoyed for the past few thousand years.

Despite all of this, most of our media and the great majority of our politicians refuse to talk about the reason why I believe this is happening. What is driving us to continue down such a grim and unpredictable path? The answer is capitalism.

Extracting profit from resources (often privately owned) and labour only to reinvest in further extraction has wreaked havoc on our world. The accumulation of profit as a shaping force in society leaves so much unaccounted for and undervalued.

In general, there is no cost given to implications such as resource use, pollution, and (much and all as I don’t like the term) ecosystem services such as air and water cleaning, pollination and nitrogen cycling.

When these are factored into cost it can have an alleviating impact, but of course the natural world does not trade in dollars and no amount of money can ever compensate for species extinction, coral reefs dying or the damage caused by oil spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The need for growth and the relentless expansion into and enclosing of new commons, such as carbon use and genetic information, means that capitalism is entirely incompatible with a finite planet and a just world.

Despite all this it is rare to hear our economic system discussed openly in Ireland outside of a few groups or lone politicians. It has developed the impression of being outside of our control, almost like some God imposed this system upon us.

When the conversation comes up politically, our elected representatives shy away from it and speak in vague terms about prosperity and growth. They do not delve into the idea that not only do we have the power to begin changing our economic system, but we have a moral and environmental imperative to do so.

‘But look at North Korea and Cuba’ 

I am not fully sure why there is such hesitancy to speak about capitalism. Is it because decades of American television have well and truly damaged the ability to talk about it without somebody bringing up the Soviet Union and communism?

I myself have had so many conversations where capitalism comes up and is met with: “But look at North Korea and Cuba, look at how many people died in Soviet Russia.” No doubt atrocities occurred in countries which were under a different economic system.

However, that argument ignores and minimises the atrocities that have been carried out in capitalist countries. The suffering and destruction capitalism has caused and is continuing to cause in the world is immeasurable.

It is a system with its origins in colonialism and to this very day there is a massive extraction of wealth from previously colonised countries. The social, physical, and economic violence used to keep these relationships in place is beyond comprehension and much of it has become accepted as normal.

It is ridiculous to talk about environmentalism without talking about capitalism, yet many people do so. Not only is it a part of our lives but it is the system within which we all operate.

It is all that most of us have ever known and for that reason people tend to avoid the conversation, perhaps for fear of looking radical or outside of the world of common sense.

The promises of green growth or sustainable capitalism are tempting, yet I fear that every year spent chasing these will-o-the-wisps is a year lost while continuing to worsen our predicament.

There will be no climate justice until we move to a different economic system. We need to halt the extraction of wealth from previously colonized countries and, more than that, repay and compensate these countries as fully as possible.

Obviously, it is not just capitalism that damages the environment. There are discussions of petroleum-based socialism and of communism focused on growth, which are extremely damaging too but we have arrived at a time where capitalism is the dominant economic model.

There is no point in skirting around the issue, we need to transform our economies and recognise that any politician who is not engaging in the conversation about our economic model and ways to change it is wasting everyone’s time. 

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Letter: Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness

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Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness. All Hanson offers is more of the same prescriptions that brought us to climate change, inequality, huge government, corporate and private debts, erosion of our infrastructure, a health care crisis, international turmoil, etc.

How about some ownership and something new? If we redefine the goal as sustainability instead of growth, universal equity in services and opportunity, building community instead of dominance, and building a world for the seventh generation in the future, then we must acknowledge that capitalism as we have known it is broken.

Rather than try to pigeonhole the opposition with a derogatory label, let’s find a way to utilize human character to fulfill the promise of a better world for all living creatures both now and in the future.

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Let’s restore our values, do away with capitalism

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One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures, the writer says.

In this past decade, we witnessed a degeneration of politics across the spectrum, with social media, notwithstanding its use, becoming the worst platform for corrosive politics.

We also witnessed moral degeneration and character assassination as influenced by capitalism.

The moral degeneration in SA is very high and that directly reflects the politics of our country.

This open letter is an invitation for us, more especially ANC and Alliance partners, to think critically about who we are as a society and perhaps champion ways in which we can restore some of the values that we have lost.

No more buyers for the escapism Top Billing is selling

Of all the feasts and feats of Top Billing in the past 23 years, there are perhaps not enough Gucci slides that can quite help it dodge its flip and …Opinion1 month ago

One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures. And one of our loopholes as the ANC from 1994 onwards was not to restore our values of ubuntu and revive the black family unit.

Twenty-five years into democracy, it is in our hands as ANC to dissociate ourselves with capitalism because capitalism is an evil that causes the corruption we are seeing now.

It is capitalist ideas that are behind killings of our comrades.

Capitalism is an inherently evil system that thrives on hate, jealousy and inhumanity.

Viwe Sidali, Duncan Village, East London

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