Tag: environment

Welcome to the 3rd World

The newest career path in the Bay Area is picking through billionaire’s trash:

San Francisco trash pickers rummage through their billionaire neighbours’ garbage and sell the discarded treasures they find, The New York Times revealed in a story published Sunday.

One man The Times profiled – Jake Orta, a 56-year-old military veteran – lives in government subsidized housing near Mark Zuckerberg’s roughly $US10 million home. Orta has uncovered a hair dryer, a vacuum cleaner, and a coffee machine (all still in working condition) in the Facebook CEO’s trash, and an iPad in someone else’s.

Orta sells what he finds, with a goal of earning about $US30 to $US40 a day, according to The Times.

Yeah, the whole “Welcome to the 3rd World seems to be approaching meme status, but this sounds like something out of a Delhi slum.

Shocks the Conscience*

A judge has reinstated Michigan Governor Snyder as a defendant te Flint water lawsuit, and it appears that said judge is unamused:

A federal judge on Monday allowed a major class-action lawsuit over the Flint water contamination crisis to move forward and reinstated claims against former Gov. Rick Snyder.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy authorizes new evidence in the case that plaintiff attorneys argue shows Snyder was aware of significant risks posed by Flint River water as early as April 2015 but did not inform residents until five months later, when the crisis could no longer be denied.

Levy had dropped Snyder from the case in the fall 2018. But new allegations, if proven true, would show Snyder was “deliberately indifferent” and showed “callous disregard” for the health and safety of Flint residents, she wrote in a 128-page decision reinstating Snyder as a defendant and addressing other claims.

The consolidated class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Flint residents claiming personal injury and/or property damage as a result of the city’s water contamination crisis, including those exposed to lead and at least one person who died due to possible Legionnaires’ disease.


Levy on Monday also rejected motions to dismiss “bodily integrity” claims against former Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon, several other state officials and former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose.

The amended complaint allowed under Monday’s decision alleges that Snyder did not do enough to intervene in the lead contamination crisis or warn the public about outbreaks of deadly Legionnaire’s disease.


The complaint targets the former governor for alleged “injuries he caused to plaintiffs resulting from his deliberately indifferent deprivation of plaintiffs’ constitutional and civil rights.”

In her decision, Levy called the plaintiffs’ claims against Snyder “plausible” and worthy of additional consideration in court.


Furthermore, Levy said, plaintiffs “plausibly state” that Snyder showed a “callous disregard” for the plaintiffs right to bodily integrity. Viewed as a whole, the allegations plausibly describe ‘conscience shocking’ conduct,” she wrote.


The class includes about 25,000 individuals but could grow if plaintiffs’ attorneys and the state reach a settlement in the case, Pitt said.

There is a possibility that with that many clients, that Rick Snyder will exhaust his whole fortune in lawyers and penalties.

I hope that this rat-f%$# has his own Eddie Ray Valentine moment.

*Yes this is actually a legal term.

Seriously, Reality Outstrips My Wildest Hallucinations

At the confirmation hearing for David Bernhardt, Trump’s nominee to replace the fabulously corrupt Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior, a protester donned a “Creature from the Black Lagoon” mask:

A protester dressed as a “swamp creature” was escorted out of a confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary nominee David Bernhardt Thursday morning.

The protester remained seated for two hours before being escorted out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

A protester dressed as a “swamp creature” was escorted out of a confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary nominee David Bernhardt Thursday morning. The protester remained seated for two hours before being escorted out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Bernhardt, a former oil and gas industry lobbyist, reportedly helped block the release of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study outlining the effects of pesticides on endangered species while working as a deputy Interior secretary under Ryan Zinke, according to The New York Times.

An Interior Department spokesman told the Times that Bernhardt’s actions had been “governed solely by legitimate concerns regarding the legal sufficiency and policy.”

Seriously weird:

Why Bankruptcy Laws Need to be Reformed

On Tuesday morning, California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (PDF), citing billions of dollars in potential damages and fines stemming from liability in several 2017 and 2018 wildfires.

The utility noted in its Tuesday filing that it has secured $5.5 billion in debtor-in-possession financing to continue operating while it restructures. PG&E serves 16 million customers, primarily in northern California.

PG&E announced that it would file for bankruptcy earlier this month, as investigations into some of California’s deadliest wildfires pointed to sparks from PG&E’s transmission equipment as the causes of more than a dozen fires over the last two years. Investigators have implicated PG&E in 18 wildfires that occurred during October 2017, according to The Wall Street Journal. The fires “burned nearly 200,000 acres, destroyed 3,256 structures, and killed 22 people,” the WSJ noted.

Investigators are still looking into whether PG&E’s equipment sparked the deadly Camp Fire that ripped through northern California last fall, killing 86 people. Late last week, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection announced (PDF) that PG&E was not responsible for the deadly October 2017 Tubbs Fire, which killed 23 people. That fire, the department said, was caused by a “private electrical system adjacent to a residential structure.”

Still, despite not being held responsible for the Tubbs Fire, PG&E says it could be on the hook for more than $30 billion in damages and fines related to California’s wildfires. Climate change has exacerbated wildfires in California, and the state allows fire victims to bring lawsuits against utilities whose equipment sparks a wildfire, even if that utility hasn’t been found negligent.

They need to be “Arthur Andersoned”, and their senior executives need to be jailed.

Can We Just Give the Whales Weapons and Let the Chips Fall Where They May?

On Wednesday, Japan announced that it was pulling out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a step that will allow it to restart commercial whaling in the spring. The move comes after a failed attempt to get the IWC to set legal quotas for legal hunting by its members. For whales, the news is good and bad: the move with shift Japan’s hunting to its territorial waters, and away from the healthier populations in the Antarctic.

The plunge in whale populations in the 1970s ultimately resulted in an international moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales. The IWC allowed some exemptions for subsistence hunting among native populations, and left a loophole for killing whales in the course of scientific research. Japan exploited that loophole, sending large vessels to the Antarctic that killed hundreds of whales annually, with their meat ending up for sale in Japan.

But Australia, which has put whale sanctuaries in place to protect Antarctic populations, took Japan to the International Court of Justice and won a suit over the practice. The International Court determined that there was little to Japan’s claim that its whaling program was for science, as the country had never explored non-lethal alternatives or determined whether the number of whales it killed was appropriate to answer any scientific questions.

Japan has literally years of whale meat stored on ice, because even the Japanese don’t want to eat cetacean flesh any more.

This is a pissing contents engaged on the backs of aquatic mammals.

I’m hoping that someone blows up the whole f%$#ing fleet, but I’m a very bad person.

Windows Toilet???? Are You Sh%$#ing Me?

It appears that Bill Gates is determined to create the high tech toilet of the future.

4 Words, Blue Screen of Death.

Do ……… not ……… want:

Bill Gates believes the world needs better toilets.

Specifically, toilets that improve hygiene, don’t have to connect to sewage systems at all and can break down human waste into fertilizer.

So on Tuesday in Beijing, Mr. Gates held the Reinvented Toilet Expo, a chance for companies to showcase their takes on the simple bathroom fixture. Companies showed toilets that could separate urine from other waste for more efficient treatment, that recycled water for hand washing and that sported solar roofs. 

Two points:

  1. Toilets need to be more reliable than you average machine.
  2. Bill Gates only qualification to be an “expert” s that he’s obscenely rich, which something profoundly f%$#ed up about our society.


Blah, blah, blah!

The title is a term for floating solar panels on water, and while the initial costs are larger there are some significant advantages:

A total of 1.1 gigawatts (GW) of solar have been installed around the world as of September, according to a new report by the World Bank (PDF). That’s similar to the amount of traditional solar panel capacity that had been installed around the world in the year 2000, the report says. The World Bank expects that, like traditional solar 18 years ago, we’re likely to see an explosion of floating solar over the next two decades.

That’s because floating solar is not simply “solar panels on water.” Solar panels prevent algae growth in dammed areas, and they inhibit evaporation from occurring in hotter climates. (According to Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, major lakes in the southwestern US like Lake Mead and Lake Powell can lose more than 800,000 acre-feet of water to evaporation per year, and the adorably-described “floatovoltaics” could prevent up to 90 percent of that evaporation.”) Additionally, floating solar avoids taking up space on land that is priced at a premium. In Northern California, for example, a floating solar installation was added to a nearby reservoir because the land around it was better used for growing grapes.

Another benefit of floating solar is that ground doesn’t have to be leveled before the plant is installed. Usually, fixed-tilt panels are attached to a floating platform that’s moored to the bottom of the reservoir. Most systems send electricity through floating inverters, although in some smaller installations the inverters are situated on land.

The downside is, of course, cost. Floating platforms and water-resistant wiring are more expensive for water-dwelling panels than for their land-based counterparts. As solar PV panel prices have been falling, however, the extra cost to make a floating system might save it from being considered too expensive.


Floating solar and hydroelectric dams actually work in a pretty nice symbiosis. In some areas, hydroelectric dams produce energy in an extremely predictable manner. In these cases, the electricity can be used to augment the more variable solar energy coming from the panels. In other cases, hydroelectric energy wanes in times of drought, and solar energy can be used to augment hydroelectric power when water levels are low. “Floating solar may therefore be of particular interest where grids are weak, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of developing Asia,” the World Bank writes.


The market for floating photovoltaics has been growing. Until this year, no floating solar systems had more than a 100 megawatt peak capacity, but as of 2018, several 100 MW floating solar systems have been connected to the grid, the largest being a 150 MW floating plant. “Flooded mining sites in China support most of the largest installations,” the World Bank writes.

Large reservoirs are large areas that are not available for other development, and their placement on things like the 3 Gorges Dam, where algae blooms have occurred,  might ameliorate the some of the impacts of that particular clusterf%$#.

Monsanto is Killing Us All, Cuba Edition

It turns out that Cuba is having no problems with colony collapse disorder and related bee issues.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that sanctions have kept Monsanto and its ilk out of the island nation:

Alberto Quesada loads a flatbed lorry in a field in the middle of the night for a two-hour drive to the dense mangrove swamps on the Gulf of Batabanó. “It’s important that they wake up in their new habitat,” he says of his cargo of bees. In the summer his 30,000 hive-dwellers feast on coastal flowers; in the autumn they forage on milkweed and morning glories further north. Around October it is off to the mountains, as Cuba’s trees reach their prime, before he brings the bees back to his farm about an hour’s drive from Havana. There, they have their pick of palm, mango and avocado trees, fresh vegetables—an uncommon luxury in Cuba—and a garden teeming with sunflowers, lilies and bougainvilleas. The diets of these well-travelled insects are more diverse than that of most Cubans.

It is good to be a bee in Cuba. Beekeepers elsewhere lose around 20% of their colony in the winter. Climate change, parasites, the intensification of pesticide use, urbanisation and an obsession with tidiness are causing colonies to collapse. “We mow our lawns and trim our hedges so much that there are now fewer places even for wild bees to nest,” says Norman Carreck of the British-based International Bee Research Association.

Communism has done Cuba few favours but it has proved a boon for its bees. Impoverished farmers cannot afford pesticides. A lack of modern equipment and little economic incentive to farm mean much of the island’s vegetation is wild in a way that keeps bees well nourished and produces high-quality honey.

While honey production in most countries has taken a hit along with hives, Cuba’s healthy bees have been busy. The population is growing by an average of 7,000 hives a year, each yielding around 52kg of honey in 2017, double the average from American hives. Although nine-tenths of total production, around 10,000 tonnes last year, is managed by private farmers like Mr Quesada, they are obliged to sell it to the government at a little over $600 a tonne. It is then exported, mostly to Europe, where it fetches $4,600 a tonne for ordinary honey and $14,000 for the 16% that counts as organic. Were a costly certification process not required, much more could fetch such a premium.

The modern way of farming looks set to destroy itself.

Parody is Dead.

Not the Onion

Reality has so far outstripped parody that the latter has become irrelevant.

Case in point, following an EPA proposal to re-legalize asbestos, a Russian asbestos manufacturer has put Donald Trump’s on their packaging:

On 25 June 2018, a Russian mining company named Uralasbest, which is one of the world’s largest producers of asbestos, posted a message of support for President Trump on their official Facebook and VK (a Russian version of Facebook) pages. The post included photographs of packed asbestos material adorned with the face of Trump and the text “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States.”

Asbestos is a mineral that was once widely used in construction projects for its fire resistant properties, but research has since linked it to a variety of cancers, most notably lung cancer and mesothelioma.


In June, when Uralasbest posted their message of support, then-Administrator of the EPA Scott Pruitt had recently announced new interpretations of the Toxic Substances Control Act that could allow for “new uses” of asbestos to be approved in the United States. While this move would not allow for previously banned uses to be considered, it was a reversal of Obama-era rules that barred the EPA from considering any new uses for asbestos.

While I’ve always thought that the Donald Trump was toxic, I had no idea that they were taking this concept so literally.

The Jihad Against Plastic Bags (Literally)

Al Shabab, the Islamist terrorist group, has banned plastic bags:

Over the years, the Shabab, a terrorist group in East Africa that has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, have banned music, cinemas, satellite dishes and humanitarian organizations.

This week, they added a new item to the prohibited list: plastic bags.

Residents of areas controlled by the terrorist group, which operates out of Somalia, will no longer be able to use plastic bags, out of respect for the environment.

The announcement — by a group better known for suicide attacks that have killed and maimed thousands — prompted a flurry of mocking memes on the internet, some calling the Shabab the first eco-friendly terrorist organization.

The statement banning the use of plastic bags was published on Somalimemo.net, a pro-Shabab website that is believed to be run by the terrorist group’s media office. The website aired an audio recording from Mohammed Abu Abdullah, the Shabab’s governor in the Jubaland region, who said that plastic bags “pose a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike,” a statement that was repeated in a Twitter message posted on a Shabab-associated account.

This real.

This is the New York Times, not the Onion.

Truth be told though, the difference is increasingly hard to discern.

The Meaning of Scott Pruitt

As everyone knows by now, Scott Pruitt was fired by Trump after a spate of really cheesy scandals.

There is a precedent, the tenure of Anne Gorsuch Burford, head of the EPA from 1981 to 1983.

What happened then, and what is happening now is very similar:  You have a very public, and not particularly competent, bête noire, who has people screaming, and the press covering their misdeeds obsessively, but this is largely a diversion.

While we have been looking at Pruitt’s cone of silence, his sweetheart deal with his landlord, his using staff for personal errands, etc., Trump and his Evil Minions were forcing out senior career civil servants and replacing then with “burrows” who are implacably opposed to the mission of the EPA, demoralizing the whole staff, and shredding the organization.

His tenure was as long as it was because it was sufficient to achieve the underlying goals.

Once that was done, he was expendible.

I am Fine, I am Dry, and This Was Not A Natural Disaster

Area in yellow has been paved over, creating a flood making machine

Notwithstanding the flooding which got wide coverage in Ellicott City, it was not a big deal where I live, Owings Mills, about 20 miles away.

It was a fairly intense storm, but beyond a few flooded basements, it should not have been a disaster.

The flooding was caused by reckless and uninformed real estate development:


For 200+ years the flooding in Ellicott City came from the rising of the Patapsco River and was mostly limited to lower Main Street. During major rain storms the water was absorbed into the ground in the surrounding woods north and west of town and the Tiber River, which runs east along Fredrick Road, was wide enough to handle the overflow that ran through town. (rivers have the uncanny ability to be just as wide and deep as they need to be)

In the past 20+ years developers and Howard County zoning board have banded together to pave over all of those woods with medium and high density housing. The yellow area is mostly new construction built in the last two decades. When you pave over the natural terrain and add sewers and roads that lead directly to Main Street (red area) you get a high speed rollercoaster for the water to ride right through town. This “top down” flooding has nothing to do with Mother Nature. This is a man-made disaster caused by greedy and/or uninformed people who decided that building homes above this wonderful city was worth the risk of destroying it.


The county executive may be right that this is a “once in a thousand year storm” but anyone who has ever been on Main Street in a rain storm knows that flooding is a common occurrence since the construction above town became so out of control. Now, in perfect irony, The state and county will spend more money than they earn on tax from new construction to fix the damage it created. This is a horrible disaster but nature had nothing to do with it.

This problem was foreseeable, and there have been plenty of indications of a problem even before the last flood 2 years ago.

I am not sure what can be done to fix this now, though requiring the replacement of driveways and parking lots with porous surfaces could not hurt.

Like Lord of the Flies, on Acid

In appears that in response to the widening miasma of corruption surrounding EPA chief Scott Pruitt, he has directed his staff to start leaking damaging information on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

The stories were shopped with the intention of “taking the heat off of Pruitt,” the sources said, in the aftermath of the EPA chief’s punishing congressional hearing last week. They both added, however, that most reporters felt the story was not solid enough to run. On Thursday, Patrick Howley of Big League Politics published a piece on the allegations; he did not respond to request for comment as to his sources.

Abboud alleged to reporters that an Interior staffer conspired with former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski to leak damaging information about the EPA, as part of a rivalry between Zinke and Pruitt. The collaboration, Abboud claimed, allowed the Interior staffer to prop up Zinke at the expense of Pruitt, and Chmielewski to “get back” at his former boss.

Not a surprise.  Both Pruitt and Zinke have little interest in the underlying purpose of their jobs, or their agencies, and as such, it’s all about that old career ladder.

This is Impressive

The costs of renewable energy installations, including storage, has fallen precipitously:

Proposals for renewable electricity generation in Colorado are coming in cheap, like, $21/MWh-cheap for wind and battery storage. Though there are a few caveats to those numbers, federal incentives and quickly falling costs are combining to make once-quirky renewable projects into major contenders in an industry where fossil fuels have comfortably dominated since the 19th century. 

Early last year, Colorado energy provider Xcel Energy requested proposals for new electricity generation. Specifically, the company needed 450 megawatts of additional generation to meet future demand. In a separate request called the Colorado Energy Plan, Xcel said (PDF) it would consider replacing two coal plants providing 660MW of capacity with “hundreds of megawatts of new wind and solar as well as some natural gas-fired resources” if new resources could be found cheaper than what those coal plants cost to operate (including costs to shut down the plants early).

By late November, energy companies had submitted their best offers. Although exact details of the offers aren’t available yet, Xcel Colorado was required to make public a summary of the proposals (PDF) in the month after the bids were submitted.


Still, the prices quoted were encouragingly competitive. Although Xcel’s report doesn’t have a lot of details, this is what we know:

  • Out of 152 standalone solar bids, the median bid price was $29.50/MWh.
  • Standalone wind received the second-most bids from potential developers (that is, 96), and the median bid price was an astonishingly low $18.10/MWh. That’s on the same level as a record-low $17.70/MWh bid put forward in Mexico in November.
  • 87 bids were placed to develop solar-plus-storage installations, with a median bid of $36/MWh. Still, we don’t know what kind of storage was proposed or how much of it was proposed. If you have a giant solar field sending electricity to the grid as it gets made, and a small battery installation to manage frequency regulation or serve a local community for an hour of downtime, that’s not terribly exciting. This median price is down from a previous competitive price of below $45/MWh signed by Tucson Electric.
  • 11 bids were placed to build wind-with-storage at a median bid of $21/MWh. The same problem with evaluating Xcel’s solar-and-storage bids is present in the reported wind-and-storage bids: without more detail, it’s hard to evaluate how much storage comes with that.
  • Seven bids suggested a combination wind, solar, and battery storage installation, with a median price of $30.60/MWh.
  • Five bids suggested combining solar and wind for around $19.90/MWh.

A few more traditional, dispatchable technologies were proposed as well, but Xcel asked bidders to price these out in terms of dollars per kilowatt-month ($/kW-mo). That unit of measurement is considered capacity pricing, or pricing for electricity that’s generated when demand exceeds a certain point, so it’s not quite comparable to the $/MWh seen above.

Among those resources, combustion turbines came in at $4.80/kW-mo, and combustion turbines with battery storage came in at $6.20/kW-mo. For context, in a 2010 paper (PDF), New England’s grid saw a $4.50/kW-mo bid for more traditional fossil fuel generators.

Renewables are still more expensive to install, but the differential is falling quickly.


After decades of deaths from collisions with ships and entanglements with fishing nets, the North Atlantic Right Whale is on the brink of extinction:

Officials with the US federal government say it is time to consider the possibility that endangered right whales could become extinct unless new steps are taken to protect them.

North Atlantic right whales are among the rarest marine mammals in the world, and they have endured a deadly year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has said there are only about 450 of the whales left and 17 of them have died so far in 2017.

The situation is so dire that American and Canadian regulators need to consider the possibility that the population won’t recover without action soon, said John Bullard, the Northeast Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. The high year of mortality is coinciding with a year of poor reproduction, and there are only about 100 breeding female North Atlantic right whales left.

“You do have to use the extinction word, because that’s where the trend lines say they are,” Bullard said. “That’s something we can’t let happen.”

Bullard and other NOAA officials made the comments during a Tuesday meeting of the regulatory New England Fishery Management Council. Mark Murray-Brown, an Endangered Species Act consultant for NOAA, said right whales have been declining in abundance since 2010, with females hit harder than males.


The U.S. and Canada must work to reduce the human-caused deaths of the whales, Murray-Brown said. Vessel-strikes and entanglement in fishing gear are two frequently cited causes of the whales’ deaths.

Any fix is probably going to be greeted by howls of protests from the fishing and shipping industries, but f%$# them.

This is a Feature, Not a Bug

Over at Bloomberg, we have a bit of history which describes how US Chipmakers dealt with the toxicity of their manufacturing processes by moving overseas, where they could harm brown people and no one would care:

Results in epidemiology often are equivocal, and money can cloud science (see: tobacco companies vs. cancer researchers). Clear-cut cases are rare. Yet just such a case showed up one day in 1984 in the office of Harris Pastides, a recently appointed associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


SIA, representing International Business Machines Corp., Intel Corp., and about a dozen other top technology companies, established a task force, and its experts flew to Windsor Locks, Conn., to meet Pastides at a hotel near Bradley International Airport. It was Super Bowl Sunday, January 1987. “That was a day I remember being at a tribunal,” Pastides says. The atmosphere “bordered on hostility. I remember being shellshocked.” Soon after the meeting the panel formally concluded that the study contained “significant deficiencies,” according to internal SIA records. Nevertheless, facing public pressure, SIA’s member companies agreed to fund more research.


Pastides felt vindicated. More than that, he considered the entire episode one of the greatest successes in public-health history, as do others. Despite industry skepticism, three scientific studies led to changes that helped generations of women. “That’s almost a fairy tale in public health,” Pastides says.

Two decades later, the ending to the story looks like a different kind of tale. As semiconductor production shifted to less expensive countries, the industry’s promised fixes do not appear to have made the same journey, at least not in full. Confidential data reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek show that thousands of women and their unborn children continued to face potential exposure to the same toxins until at least 2015. Some are probably still being exposed today. Separate evidence shows the same reproductive-health effects also persisted across the decades.

The risks are exacerbated by secrecy—the industry may be using toxins that still haven’t been disclosed. This is the price paid by generations of women making the devices at the heart of the global economy.


Yet in virtually every study published since the 1990s, Kim read one form or other of the same phrase: The global semiconductor industry had phased out EGEs in the mid-1990s, signaling the end of reproductive-health concerns. The statements made sense. Not only had IBM and other companies publicly announced that the use of EGEs had been discontinued, but the chemicals also had become classified as Category 1 reproductive toxins under international standards, and European regulators had placed them on a list of the most highly toxic chemicals known to science, designating them Substances of Very High Concern.

Still, something nagged at Kim. In focus groups, young South Korean women working in chip plants told Kim’s colleagues it was not uncommon to go months, or even a year, without menstruating. (Some saw these potentially ominous changes to their reproductive systems as blessings, not warnings. It was just easier not to have periods.) As in the U.S., women dominated production jobs in South Korea’s microelectronics industry, which employs more than 120,000 of them, mostly of childbearing age; they’re often recruited right out of high school. Kim and a colleague decided they needed to conduct a new reproductive-health study. They faced a challenge, however, that Pastides and the other U.S. researchers hadn’t, at least on the front end: a lack of industry cooperation.

In 2013 they persuaded a member of South Korea’s parliament to pry loose national health-insurance data. They got five years of physician-reimbursement records through 2012 for women of childbearing age working at plants owned by the country’s three largest microelectronics companies: Samsung, SK Hynix, and LG. Samsung and SK Hynix accounted for the vast majority of women in the study, as the two have long been among the world’s largest chipmakers. The data covered an average of 38,000 women per year. From that number, the researchers looked at the records of those who had gone to doctors for miscarriages.

The results were both undeniable and shocking to Kim, just as they had been for Pastides almost three decades earlier. She found significantly elevated miscarriage rates and a rate for those in their 30s almost as high as in the U.S. factories. And the findings were conservative, because many women don’t go to the doctor for miscarriages, and because production workers couldn’t be separated in the study from those who worked in offices. “This was not the result I had expected,” Kim says.

As an aside here, this is another argument for single payer in some form, it creates a demographic database that is both available and universal that can be used to find problems like these.


After the outcry in the U.S. in the 1990s, chemical companies said they’d changed the formulations for the photoresists and other products they supplied to chipmakers, including those in Asia. But testing data obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek show that changes weren’t made quickly or, in some cases, completely.


Kim, the epidemiologist, says the secrecy of these settlements is a reason there was so little discussion for so long of the risks in chipmaking. “It was not published in academic papers,” she says. “Just some hidden settlements between the companies and some victims.”

Even today, the chipmakers themselves sometimes don’t know what they’re bringing into their facilities and exposing their workers to. That’s what SK Hynix discovered in 2015 after hiring a team of university scientists to assess the toxic risks in two of its plants.

Some of their results were made public in Korean, but many of the findings remain confidential. An extract of the research reviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek shows scientists found that the plants used about 430 different chemical products each. These included more than 130 deemed to be dangerous enough that employees exposed to them must undergo special health checks; those chemicals are called CMR agents—shorthand for carcinogens, mutagens, and reproductive toxins. In addition to benzene and EGEs, they’ve historically included arsenic, hydrofluoric acid, and trichloroethylene.

The ability to directly or indirectly poison unsuspecting employees is one of the goals of globalization.  It’s all about labor and regulatory arbitrage, which is why promises of labor, safety, and environmental protections that we hear about whenever they want to push through a trade deal are empty.

Allowing the 1% to f%$# the rest of us is the goal of modern trade deals, so it’s no surprise that this is their actual effect.

Here’s Hoping that Someone Rolls on the Governor

There have now been manslaughter charges filed against senior officials in Michigan over the poisoning of Flint.

Given that the water change appears to have largely been driven by Governor Snyder attempting to benefit political supporters from the fracking industry, so if this gets followed to the top, Snyder may find himself in the dock:

Michigan’s health department director and four other officials involved with Flint’s lead-contaminated water were charged Wednesday with involuntary manslaughter, the most serious charges to date in the criminal investigation.

Nick Lyon was accused of misconduct in office and involuntary manslaughter, becoming the highest-ranking member of Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to be targeted in the criminal probe. The manslaughter charges carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $7,500 fine, while the misconduct charge carries a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine.

Lyon, former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith, state Water Supervisor Stephen Busch and former Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft are accused of failing to alert the public about an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Flint area. Earley, Shekter-Smith, Busch and Croft already have been charged with less-serious crimes.

I am so hoping that Snyder ends up in the dock.

Not a Surprise

Donald Trump has announced that he is pulling the US out of the Paris climate deal.

This is not a surprise. He promised to do so during the election, and the political cost of keeping this promise is pretty small.

Of note is that he took the least aggressive option to do so:

But he will stick to the withdrawal process laid out in the Paris agreement, which President Barack Obama joined and most of the world has already ratified. That could take nearly four years to complete, meaning a final decision would be up to the American voters in the next presidential election.

This is not a surprise.  Unlike EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who has sold his soul to climate deniers, Trump views this in an almost exclusively political context.

Taking 4 years to get out of the deal was quite literally the least that he could do without pissing off his supporters.

Did Not Expect This

It looks like Senate Republicans could not muster the votes to repeal an Obama administration rule on methane emissions:

Some Republican lawmakers balked at fully embracing the Trump administration’s climate skepticism Wednesday, as the Senate failed to kill an Obama-era plan for containing methane emissions that had deep support among environmental activists and many landowners in the West.

Three Republican senators joined Democrats in blocking the effort to kill the methane restrictions that the GOP congressional leadership had been confident it could scuttle. The push to scrap the methane rules faltered amid an uprising of protest in Western states, where tens of thousands of residents near drilling operations risk exposure to the toxic compounds that leak in tandem with the methane.

At issue is 41 billion cubic feet of a greenhouse gas leaking from many of the nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally owned land. Methane is among the most potent accelerators of global warming, 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

A House vote in March to eliminate an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management rule requiring energy firms to trap the escaping gas and convert it to electricity was followed by a swift public backlash. Several Republican senators wavered on the measure in recent weeks.

I don’t think that this vote was about pissed off land owners in the west, as none of the Senators who flipped, Collins (R-ME), Graham (R-SC), and McCain (R-AZ) are from states where potential landowner objections to leaky gas wells are not a huge factor.

I think that more prosaic political considerations are taking place here:  McCain and Graham clearly detest Trump, and Collins needs to pretend to be liberal every now and then in order to secure her political popularity in Maine.

Still, it’s a win for the good guys.