Air Pollution Linked to Severe Mental Illness

September 3, 2021 – by Tiffany Duong in EcoWatch

 

Air pollution is an underrated problem in the world, with many dangerous health consequences.

Recently, the most comprehensive study of its kind linked exposure to air pollution to increased severity of mental illness, The Guardian reported.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, tested 13,000 people in London, England and used frequency of admission to hospitals or visits to community doctors and nurses as a measure of severity, the news report said. The researchers found that relatively small increases in exposure to nitrogen dioxide had negative effects on mental health, including a 32% increase in the risk of needing community-based treatment and an 18% increase in the risk of being admitted to a hospital.

Lead researcher Ioannis Bakolis of King’s College London said there is no safe level of air pollution.

“Even at low levels of air pollution, you can observe this kind of very important effect,” Bakolis told The Guardian.

Importantly, the researchers also found that even a small reduction in a single pollutant could reduce illness and save the UK national healthcare system tens of millions a year.

The scientists noted that their findings likely would apply to most cities in developed nations around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of the world’s population breathes air that exceeds safe levels. The study showed that millions would be harmed by incremental increases in air pollution, and, conversely, reducing air pollution could therefore benefit millions of people.

Crucially, the findings indicate that growing up in polluted places increases the risk of mental disorders. Because many cities and developing nations are crowded and polluted, this raises questions of environmental justice.

The Guardian previously reported that even small increases in air pollutants lead to significant rises in depression and anxiety. Dirty air was also linked to increased suicides. Unrelated studies have linked air pollution to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.

According to IQ Air, a similar 2019 study of mental health data from 151 million people in the United States and 1.4 million in Denmark found that long periods of increased air pollution could be linked to a 17 percent increase in bipolar disorder, 6 percent in depression diagnoses and a 20 percent increase in personality disorder diagnoses. Those scientists likened the level of air pollution measured to what could typically be found in major urban areas.

In other parts of the body, dirty air can cause everything from blindness to heart disease to increased cholesterol to cancer. A 2019 global review concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ in the human body.

For the new study, the link between increased chemicals in polluted air and mental health issues was strongest for NO2, which is largely emitted by diesel vehicles, The Guardian reported. Small particle pollution, which is produced by burning all fossil fuels, also ranked high.

The scientists followed up seven years after the first treatment and found the link to air pollution was still apparent. The findings were not explained by a range of other possible factors including age, sex, ethnicity, deprivation or population density, although unidentified factors might still play an important role, the researchers noted.

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EPA exposed for hiding chemical risks, favoring corporate interests.

August 31, 2021 – by Carey Gillam,  US Right to Know

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a long and well-documented history of questionable conduct when it comes to regulation of chemicals important to the profit centers for many large and powerful corporations.  Numerous examples show a pattern of agency actions that allow for the use of dangerous chemicals by consumers, farmers, groundskeepers and others despite evidence of harm.

Documents and other evidence, including information provided in public disclosures by multiple EPA scientists, reveals actions in which EPA managers have intentionally covered up risks associated with certain chemicals. According to the evidence from these EPA insiders, pressure from chemical manufacturers, chemical industry lobbyists and from certain U.S. lawmakers drives internal agency manipulations that protect corporate interests but endanger public health.

Evidence indicates the misconduct dates back decades and has occurred in administrations led by Democrats and Republican alike.

A research project sponsored by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics said while the EPA has “many dedicated employees who truly believe in its mission,” the agency has been “corrupted by numerous routine practices,” including a “revolving door” between EPA and industry in which corporate lawyers and lobbyists gain positions of agency power; constant  industry lobbying against environmental regulations; pressure from  lawmakers who are beholden to donors; and meddling by the White House.

Blowing the whistle

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21 Century Act, signed into law on June 22, 2016, was the first substantive reform to Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The law requires EPA to make an affirmative determination on whether a new chemical substance presents an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment under “known, intended or reasonably foreseen conditions of use.” See information here for more information.

Despite the law, the EPA has make valid determinations about the risk presented by numerous chemicals.

In June 2021, four EPA scientists, each working within the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and
Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), publicly accused the the EPA of deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments. The four whistleblowers made their complaints public through a group called Public  Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In a June 28 letter to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, PEER said the four EPA scientists were providing “disturbing evidence of fraud and corruption,” involving “deliberate tampering with chemical risk assessments conducted under the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), including PFAS (a.k.a. “forever chemicals”), and the deletion of potential health effects without the knowledge or consent of the human health assessors.”

The letter further states:

“All four clients have experienced numerous instances where their risk assessments were changed
by their managers or by colleagues in response to direction by management. These changes
include –
● Deleting language identifying potential adverse effects, including developmental toxicity,
neurotoxicity, mutagenicity, and/or carcinogenicity;
● Major revisions that alter the report conclusions to indicate that there are no toxicity
concerns despite data to the contrary; and
● Risk assessments being reassigned to inexperienced employees in order to secure their
agreement to remove issues whose inclusion would be protective of human health.”

As a result of the manipulations, people who work with these chemicals are not receiving information they need to protect themselves, such as “proper handling procedures, personal protection needed, accidental release measures, and first aid and firefighting measures,” according to PEER.
This is a particular concern for pregnant women, according to the PEER complaint.

Erasing important information

On August 26, 2021, PEER filed a separate complaint alleging that the EPA has been breaking the law by erasing original versions of internal communications and draft documents and retaining only the final version of key documents. The practice violates the Federal Records Act by eliminating details of the decision-making process from outside review, according to PEER.

PEER states that that discarding of documents trails is not only contrary to law but also violates the EPA’s own records retention policy. According to PEER, its complaint focuses on two classes of documents:

  • Alterations of chemical risk assessments by managers in which both the identity of the manager and the alterations themselves are not apparent; and
  • Internal comments related to the development of its Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, in which EPA software overwrote the original and all prior versions any time there was an edit. Thus, only the “final” version was saved.

“It is as if EPA memorializes its internal decision-making in disappearing ink,” PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, said in a press release. “EPA’s record-keeping practices allow unknown officials to make changes while disguising what precisely was changed and who changed them.”

PEER said it has asked the National Archives and Records Administration to intervene to prevent the EPA from destroying more records and to adopt safeguards to prevent any recurrences.

The case of Ruth Etzel

Ruth Etzel,  former director of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection (OCHP), has pending whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board contending she was subject to illegal retaliation in 2018 and 2019 after she complained publicly about what she said was  EPA resistance to stronger public protections against lead poisoning. Continue reading

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No more babies? The hormone-altering chemicals threatening human procreation

Sperm counts are set to reach zero in 2045, leading scholar Shanna Swan says.

March 10, 2021 – By Eline Schaart in Politico

File Photo © BlairPhotoEVV

There’s a looming solution to all of humanity’s problems — by 2045 most men may no longer be able to reproduce because of the impact of hormone-altering chemicals.

That’s according to Shanna Swan, a leading scholar of reproductive health. “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” she told POLITICO. 

That adds yet another danger to the list of potential human calamities, but awareness of our looming reproductive demise still isn’t widespread, Swan said.

“We’re about 40 years behind global warming, in terms of awareness,” she said.  

Four years ago, she calculated that the sperm count of the average man in Western countries had fallen by 59 percent from 1973 to 2011— making international headlines of a looming “spermageddon.”

Now Swan, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, paints an even grimmer picture in her book “Count Down,” which was published in February. 

Following current projections, sperm counts of the median man are set to reach zero in 2045, Swan and co-author Stacey Colino, a health and science journalist, write in the book. That means half of all men would have zero viable sperm and the rest would have very close to zero.

The reason, Swan said, may be growing exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in everything from plastics, electronics, food packaging and pesticides to personal care products and cosmetics — and as such are in the bodies of just about everyone on the planet. 

Chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates interfere with normal hormonal function, including testosterone and estrogen. Even in small doses, they pose a particular danger to unborn babies whose bodies are still developing. 

While other factors such as contraception, cultural shifts, obesity and smoking are likely to be contributing factors, Swan warned of indicators that suggest there are also biological reasons — including studies that found infant boys are developing more genital anomalies and testosterone levels have been dropping at 1 percent per year since 1982.

The outlook for women isn’t good either. The miscarriage rate has risen by 1 percent per year over the last two decades and more girls are experiencing early puberty. If these trajectories continue, she warned, in vitro fertilization and other artificial reproductive technologies may become widely needed for conceiving children.

Swan has been studying the impact of chemicals on fertility for over two decades. In 2005 she was the first to prove with her team the so-called phthalate syndrome in humans — showing that baby boys exposed to four different phthalates at the end of the first trimester in the womb had a shorter distance between the anus and the beginning of the genitals, or gooch — one of the best indicators of reproductive potential later in life. 

Avoiding extinction

Continue reading

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Australian State bans “Killer” single use plastics

March 16, 2021 – By Graham Readfearn in The Guardian

Queensland has banned single-use plastics that are blighting waterways and beaches. Photograph: Paulo Oliveira/Alamy

Queensland has become the second Australian state to pass laws banning single-use plastics including straws and cutlery that are blighting the state’s waterways and beaches and endangering wildlife.

Environmental groups congratulated the Queensland government after it passed legislation on Wednesday night that will ban single-use plastic items, including polystyrene food containers and cups, from 1 September.

The state’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said the state had seen benefits from its 2018 ban on single-use plastic bags, which had dropped 70% in litter surveys.

The state’s container deposit scheme that gives a 10c return on most plastic and glass bottles, also introduced in 2018, was now approaching 3bn returned items.

 
Deadliest plastics: bags and packaging biggest marine life killers, study finds
 

“Plastic pollution is spoiling our streets and parks, escaping into our ocean and waterways and killing our iconic wildlife,” Scanlon said. “Half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once and then thrown away and that litter is destroying our environment.”

South Australia was the first state to introduce a ban on single-use plastics, in September, with a similar list of items banned.

Last week the federal government launched a national plastics plan that includes a phase-out by 2022 of expanded polystyrene packaging and food containers.

Queensland’s ban covers single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and plates, and polystyrene food containers and cups.

The laws exempt supply to people who need any of those items, such as people with disability or healthcare needs.

Exemptions have also been made for plastic straws and spoons attached to food packaging, including drink cartons and yoghurts, though the minister said this would be reviewed. Continue reading

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Ten years later, Fukushima disaster still a disaster in the making

March 11, 2021 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Wow, it was 10 years ago today that the disaster in Fukushima, Japan began. Sadly, it continues, dumping millions of gallons of radioactive contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, endangering aquatic food supplies, for centuries to come.

For more than 70 years, the nuclear industry has told us their problems were transient and answers just around the corner while huge volumes of nuclear waste build up with no true solution in sight.

In 1977, the Hoosier National Forest, near Branchville, was proposed to be a major depository for high level nuke waste. To counter that we formed the predecessor to Valley Watch called the Nuclear Waste Action Committee that successfully fought that ridiculous proposal.

What followed was the formation of Valley Watch and we were part of a successful effort to stop the Marble Hill nuke near Madison. That was our first long term fight and lasted seven full years.

Today, we are being told that a new smaller reactor is the answer to energy needs, envisioning those small nukes being built in every locale that is gullible enough to buy into the prognostications of a discredited industry. One that refuses to go away even though they have a legacy of Fermi, Browns Ferry, Three Mile Island, Maxey Flats, Hanford, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

It should be clear to everyone that the nuclear industry is not to be trusted and we should all be “Better Active Today-Than Radioactive Tomorrow.”

 

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Good News for southern Indiana. Duke to shut down New Albany coal plant ahead of schedule.

February 24, 2021 – By John Blair, valleywatch.net editor 

Duke Energy’s Gallagher coal plant lies on the western edge of New Albany, IN across fro Louisville. It is the plant that is seen just west of the I-64 Bridge as Hoosiers drive into Louisville. © BlairPhotoEVV

Duke Energy Indiana has decided to shut down its dirty, economically unjustified coal fired plant in New Albany by June 1, a year earlier than they originally planned in their 2018 Integrated Resource Plan. 

According to company sources, the transmission related infrastructure at the plant will remain in place while Duke decides on the site’s future. There will still be operations to close down the massive coal ash facilities where coal combustion waste has been stored next to the Ohio River for nearly sixty years. 

Duke will continue to operate its Gibson and Edwardsport coal plants in Gibson and Knox Counties in SW Indiana until at least 2028. Duke Energy Indiana serves customers in sixty-nine central Indiana Counties but built most of its generation capacity in southern section of the state. 

Gallagher will soon join a number of other southern Indiana power plants in closing that include Tanners Creek in Lawrenceburg (I&M), Ratts in Petersburg (Hoosier Energy), a couple of units at Petersburg (IPL), and several slated to close this decade. These closures are good news for Hoosiers who have been forced to breathe fouled air from the emissions of those power plants for a half century. It remains to be known what impact these closures will have on tax revenue in the Counties where they are located.

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Wildfire smoke may carry ‘mind-bending’ amounts of fungi and bacteria, scientists say

February 8, 2021 – By Joseph Serna in the Los Angeles Times 

 
Cars drive along the San Francisco Bay Bridge under an orange smoke filled sky at midday in San Francisco, California on September 9, 2020. - More than 300,000 acres are burning across the northwestern state including 35 major wildfires, with at least five towns "substantially destroyed" and mass evacuations taking place. (Photo by Harold POSTIC / AFP) (Photo by HAROLD POSTIC/AFP via Getty Images)
Cars drive along the Golden Gate Bridge under an orange, smoke-filled sky in the middle of the day as massive wildfires burned in Northern California on Sept. 12. Scientists are concerned that wildfire smoke contains microbes that can cause illness. (Harold Postic / AFP/ Getty Images)

When wildfires roar through a forest and bulldozers dig into the earth to stop advancing flames, they may be churning more into the air than just clouds of dust and smoke, scientists say.

Those dark, billowing plumes of smoke that rise on waves of heat during the day and sink into valleys as the night air cools may be transporting countless living microbes that can seep into our lungs or cling to our skin and clothing,according to research published recently in Science. In some cases, researchers fear that airborne pathogens could sicken firefighters or downwind residents.

“We were inspired to write this because we recognize that there are many trillions of microbes in smoke that haven’t really been incorporated in an understanding … of human health,” said Leda Kobziar, a University of Idaho associate professor in wildland fire science. “At this point, it’s really unknown. The diversity of microbes that we’ve found are really mind-bending.”

As this recent fire seasons suggests, the need to understand what’s in the wildfire smoke we can’t help but breathe and how it may affect us has never been more pronounced, but scientists say we are seriously behind the curve.

Wildfires burned across more than 10.2 million acres of the United States in 2020, federal statistics show, including some 4.2 million acres in California, where a greater number of residents were exposed to smoke for a longer period of time than ever before.

Wildfire smoke now accounts for up to half of all fine-particle pollution in the Western U.S., according to researchers. Although there are many studies on the long-term impacts to human health from urban air pollution and short-term impacts from wildfire smoke, there’s little known about the multitude of ways the latter can hurt us over a lifetime.

“Frankly, we don’t really know about the long-term effects of wildfire smoke because community exposures haven’t been long-term before,” said Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and a member of the California Air Resources Board.

But humans — and Californians in particular — should expect to inhale more wildfire smoke in the future.

Scientists say the planet will continue warming for decades to come, even if humans suddenly collectively act to stop climate change. This warming, and other factors, are contributing to ever more destructive wildfires. The state’s forests, meanwhile, are struggling to adapt and native plants are being displaced by faster-burning invasive species.

Add to those trends a global pandemic that attacks the respiratory system, and microbe-filled fire smoke every year could be considered a growing health risk, researchers say. They wonder whether microbes in wildfire smoke could make cancer patients more vulnerable to infections or make children with asthma more prone to developing pneumonia.

Scientists believe some microbes survive and even proliferate in wildfire, where heat scorches the ground and leaves behind a layer of carbon that shields microbes within the earth from intense heat. Others survive in the air because wildfire particulates can absorb the sun’s otherwise lethal ultraviolet radiation, the scientists said. And still other spores are likely spread on wind currents caused by fire.

Kobziar and study co-author George Thompson III, an associate professor of medicine at UC Davis, said that up until now, the connection between microbes and wildfires has been anecdotal — such as the tendency for wildland firefighters to get sick with Valley fever after working on an incident. The illness is contracted by inhaling spores of the fungi genus Coccidioides.

“We have more questions than answers at this point,” Thompson said. “Our lungs are exposed to pathogens every day we don’t think much of. But [what] if we increase the number of microbes in there with fire?” Continue reading

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Plastics Recycling is obviously not working. What remains to be done to make it work.

January 21, 2021, By Paul Goettlich, valleywatch.net contributor

Photo © 2010 John Blair.


We’re told that a world without plastics is impossible to imagine. But 70 years ago, I lived with almost none of it. Modern humans lived without it for almost 200-thousand years. Now it’s plainly an existential threat to all life on Earth. And it’s literally everywhere. It’s impossible to overstate how much plastic surrounds us.

Plastics production began, in earnest, about 1950 and grew quite steadily over the last 70 years to the point that more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic have been made. That’s more than enough to cover Manhattan’s 22.7 square mile area under two miles of plastic waste – a staggering 45 cubic miles of plastic. Until recently, plastics manufacturers haven’t considered where it would all go after its use. Much of it is used less than one minute before carelessly discarded. Plastics aren’t durable, but they simultaneously fail to decompose safely in a timely manner. They all migrate harmful toxins into whatever they contact.

We’re led to think the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol on plastic indicates it’s recyclable and that the number inside the triangles indicates the type of plastic. Both are exaggerations, essentially deceptions. The chemical makeup of all plastic types varies between manufacturers. There is no standard, making the recycling numbers nonspecific for the purposes of recycling. Dave Williamson, an ancient plastic recycler in Berkeley, considers that inconsistency in plastic formulas one type of contamination that hinders recycling because they cannot be mixed without decreasing its value. Another type of contamination comes from the substances that the plastic containers held. In other words, your food gets into the plastic. Conversely, that plastic also gets into your food.

The FDA, which regulates food contact plastics, states that all plastics must meet their standards for migration of toxic chemicals. But FDA regulations are not consistent with current scientific knowledge.  They fail to acknowledge that extremely low doses of plastic’s constituent chemicals disturb and injure the endocrine systems of humans and all animals. And the industry is trusted to test its own products, leaving us with little defense and protecting the industry instead. The chemical ingredients of plastics are proprietary information protected by law – trade secrets. The FDA is prohibited from releasing them to the public which makes public research of the toxicity extremely difficult.

Officially, 9% has been recycled, but less than 1% has been recycled more than once. That means it isn’t actually recycled or recyclable. The system of recycling was never meaningfully thought out. Instead it’s merely a tool of waste management that was fraudulently concocted by the industry to impose its responsibilities onto the public. Their burden of waste is placed on the public in terms of tax dollars, land use, environmental damage and depletion, as well as simple aesthetics and healthcare costs. These are enormous burdens on all parts of society. Even academic integrity is severely affected by corporate control through its funding.

Incineration is presently at 12% and rising. The majority, 60% of all plastics ever produced were landfilled or discarded in the natural environment. Plastics recycling is a lie. Biodegradable plastics is an oxymoron because the legal definitions barely consider the massive volumes produced and their toxicity.  Quite simply, they don’t biodegrade. Green plastics and the circular economy of plastics are yet more distractions to allow plastics to continue being produced. Bioplastics can be just as toxic as petroleum-based plastics. They have the added burden of being composed of GMO crops such as corn and soy which are products of a vile commercial ag industry that thrives on highly toxic synthetic chemical inputs such as Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Bioplastics also fail to fully biodegrade. The key tools of these massive corporations are lies, spin, lobbyists, payoffs, threats, and more lies.Plastic

In the early 1960s, plastic trash floated by me as I sailed the Long Island Sound. In 1974, Dr Edward J. Carpenter wrote about his observations of pelagic plastic in the journal Science.   He recently told me that a plastics industry representative visited him at his workplace, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and threatened him and possibly his superiors to discontinue writing about it. In 2001, we learned that there was 6-times more plastic floating plankton in the North Pacific Gyre by weight.  The response from regulators was a daft silence.

Twenty years later and conditions are critically worse, both in terms of quantities and how much is known about the harm of these environmental toxicants to all life. Not only has there been no effective action taken in reducing plastics waste and production, there’s considerably more going into the oceans, up into the air and down into the earth. My own opinion is that the production of most or all plastics and synthetic polymers must be halted immediately. If it is made, there is no way to control where it ends up. And the chances of chemically redesigning these plastics to be nontoxic is close to zero. Reducing toxicity could be compared to a Biden presidency to replace Trump’s. Continue reading

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UPDATE: It is time for Spencer County officials to demand action from Riverview Energy.

October 10, 2020 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

This night picture of the experimental plant built in China shows it as part of a much larger petroleum refinery complex. Because of its proximity to the conventional refinery, it is likely that instead of coal, it uses petroleum coke, a refining waste as feedstock. In any case, such a plant, lit up to feign daylight on the ground will permanently alter the bucolic life of those who currently live in Dale. Photo credit:Unknown. 

Valley Watch and Southwest Indiana Citizens For Quality of Life (NOC2D) have remained active during 2020 in our efforts to keep the ridiculous proposal for a Coal to Diesel plant from being constructed in Dale. Of course, the Covid Pandemic has slowed life as usual but our efforts remain strong and we predict success in stopping the plant in the end.

Surely, you remember in 2017 when Riverview Energy made its original pitch to County leaders and the word on the Street was, “This is a done deal!” And although many of the details surrounding the plant were (and still are) kept secret, our groups have collectively managed to analyze the economics, emissions and overall viability of building and operating such a costly and polluting plant in the bucolic town of Dale. Dale’s Town Board bought into the plant with stars in their eyes over the promised tax revenue a $2.5 billion plant would bring. 

But here is the thing. This plant will only be built by defying all the odds. 

First, is its stated cost. Did you know that Riverview is still using the same cost figures they used when they went to Vermillion County in 2010. In depositions, Riverview said the proposal in Spencer is identical to the one first proposed for Vermillion. And it should be noted that after nearly seven years there, Vermillion County officials tired of Riverview’s empty promises and politely told them to go elsewhere. Do Riverview’s financial experts claim there has been zero inflation since 2010?

Second, Riverview has claimed that financing for the project is just around the corner but have shown no evidence that their project will meet even the most liberal criteria for what will ultimately be closer to $4 billion. We do know that it DOES NOT qualify for current loan guarantees from the Federal Government since they refuse to capture and properly dispose of the enormous carbon dioxide emissions they will create.

Third, Riverview is a “start-up” company. They are not an established Exxon, Apple or Amazon that can finance such a large project out of pocket. In fact, their owner and President, Mr. Merle admitted in sworn testimony that he had zero experience in the manufacturing, construction, or operating anything, let alone what could turn out to be the third largest project ever undertaken in Indiana. Indeed, his previous experience was tutoring rich kids to take the SAT test-a business which I might add failed.

Fourth, there are only two of these facilities built in the entire world. One is in communist China and one in Russia, both of which are dictatorships with very limited environmental regulation. Of course, Merle also says he has been to neither but expects his money people to accept that as good business practice. USA environmental rules will significantly add to the cost of such a facility but Riverview does not seem to understand that fact or perhaps their plan is to simply ignore even the loose conditions of their construction permit which our groups have challenged, so far winning on at least one count where IDEM ignored their own public participation rules to issue.

Fifth, we are now living in a carbon constrained world. The international coal industry is on its last leg and the transportation fleet, including shipping are seeking alternatives to diesel fuel and naphtha

This list of reasons is almost endless but consider this. Riverview has a ten year history of promising things they simply can’t or won’t deliver. And, although they have had the support of County and economic development officials in Spencer County, nothing changes the fact that no one in their right mind is going to loan someone with zero experience, billions of dollars to build something that may have made sense in the early 20th Century but is nothing but a failed technology for a carbon conscious society in 2020.

Thus, I ask, when are Spencer County and Dale leaders going to follow the action of those in Vermillion County and tell Riverview that they are tired of continual division in their community and that it is time for him to put up or shut up. Riverview claims to control the land they have chosen and they have already had almost seventeen months since acquiring permission to begin construction but have actually done NOTHING to make that happen.

Officials need to ask what is the status of their land options? What is the status of the Front End Engineering and Design? What is the factual status of Riverview’s financing and who is providing that? Where is Riverview going to get their process water and who is paying for the infrastructure to get it to the site? Where is Riverview going to dispose of both its solid and liquid waste and what will that consist of? What kind of Federal, State and County taxpayer subsidies is Riverview asking Hoosiers to make?

If Riverview refuses or does not want to publicly disclose the answers to these and other pertinent questions, then everyone in Spencer County should tell them to hit the road and allow the whole community to reunite to achieve the progress they so rightly deserve.

Spencer County already has the dubious distinction of being one of the most toxic polluted communities on earth, ranking in the top 25 in the US while sporting a population around 20,000. Illustration credit BlairPhotoEVV

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Riverview Energy/Merle accused of fraud in NY suit

July 7, 2020 – by John Blair. valleywatch.net editor

Prior to proposing a multi billion dollar Coal to Diesel refinery in Dale, Merle’s only job was tutoring high schoolers on the SAT test.


Of course anyone can file a complaint in court against anyone. But I find it interesting that recently a complaint was filed alleging fraud on the part of Riverview Energy and its President, Gregory Merle in the Southern District of New York. This is the man and company that some Spencer County officials and many in State government yearn to locate a preposterous Coal To Diesel plant in Dale. Read for yourself.  SDNY Complaint

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This is the way we like it.

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Two years of secrecy shows Riverview Energy to be an unqualified, unsafe, unfit neighbor

March 24, 2020 – By John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

It’s been nearly two years since then head of LincolnLand Economic Development Corp., Tom Utter promised citizens of Dale that Riverview Energy would conduct an “open forum” where residents could ask questions of plant sponsors. Now, twenty-three months later, neither LEDC nor Riverview has conducted any such forum even though repeated requests for such a session have been made by the public.

Tom Utter, Former Executive Director of LincolnLand Economic Development Corp. has been the number one cheerleader for the development of the Riverview coal refinery since 2017 when Riverview was kicked out of Vermillion County after six years of broken promises. Photo: © 2018 BlairPhotoEVV

In the meantime, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has issued a construction permit for the massive refinery which will permanently light up the night sky for miles around, forever altering life as we know it in Dale. It should be noted that already the judge hearing the appeal filed by Valley Watch and SW Indiana Citizens For Quality of Life found that IDEM issued a permit to pollute without following Indiana rules for public participation. IDEM refused to share information with citizens about the refinery prior to the hearing held December 5, 2018, even though the groups had filed formal “Public Records Requests” for that information as early as June 2018.

So, we have a corporation, Riverview, which desires to operate in secrecy being backed by a government, IDEM, that wants things opaque and out of the hands of the citizens who will be most impacted by a totally experimental venture. 

It should also be noted there are only two of these experiments operating anywhere in the World. One in China and one is Russia. Neither of those plants have any public records of emissions and according to the IDEM permit reviewer, were not even in operation when the permit was issued. It is also probable that neither of those refineries even uses coal as a feedstock so even if emissions data was available, which it is not, that data would not be reflective of using coal as a feedstock.

This night picture of the experimental plant built in China shows it as part of a much larger petroleum refinery complex. Because of its proximity to the conventional refinery, it is likely that instead of coal, it uses petroleum coke, a refining waste as feedstock. Photo credit: News China

It’s not only emissions, including known cancer-causing chemicals, that concern locals because there are serious safety issues that also need to be addressed before the first spade of earth is turned to construct the plant.

Among those safety questions is how will emergencies at the refinery be handled and by whom. We know that the sponsors claim they will produce 105,000,000 gallons of naphtha annually. FYI, naphtha is the primary ingredient used in cigarette “lighter fluid,” a chemical that can easily ignite with a single spark. 

Consider this. A single day’s production of naphtha at the refinery will equal almost 287,671 gallons. Every drop of that is highly explosive and if a single day’s production was all that would ever be on the site, please imagine the fireball that would rise from Dale if it were to ignite either accidentally or as an act of terror. Such an explosion would rattle windows as far away as Jasper and level the Town of Dale.

Add to that, the resulting fire from the slower burning daily output of diesel fuel-552,328 gallons, a fire might burn for days, even weeks polluting local streams with run-off and filling the air we breathe with noxious fumes jeopardizing everyone downwind.

As good as it currently is, the Carter Township Fire Department, would not be able to fight such a disaster. To do so would require the assistance of first responders from maybe 100 miles around, leaving those communities vulnerable to reduced protection.

You might say, “But, John, you paint the worst-case scenario for a disaster.” You would be right. But consider this. The President of the Riverview has zero experience in building and operating a giant multi-billion dollar experimental refinery. In fact, prior to his appointment as President of Riverview, his only professional experience was tutoring high school students for their SAT tests to gain college entrance. That seems unqualified to me.

To recap: Riverview has a novice managing construction and operation of a plant that will be handling some of the most explosive material on the planet. They have chosen secrecy about nearly every facet of their proposal, including actual emissions, financing, and other questions of significance. Further, the regulatory body that is supposed to protect us, issued a permit without answering legitimate and legal questions further increasing secrecy of the permitting process. This plant will be a giant public safety risk handling enormous quantities of combustible material but citizens are left in the dark as to how those risks will be mitigated.

BOTTOM LINE: Spencer and Dubois residents are expected to shut up and go along with something that will permanently alter their lives and present huge risks to their health both near and long term. Why? So a man from Connecticut who has zero experience can seek to make a fortune from an experiment likely to require taxpayer assistance. Are you willing to take that risk?

 

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Nature photography is faltering in the Valley Watch garden

September 19, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Issues with my personal mobility have kept me from posting nature pix from the Valley Watch garden the last couple of years. But something did catch my eye today and I thought I would share it. A glistening blue wasp was working the early blooms of Golden Rod that are bursting forth this week.

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SE Indiana Power Plant bailed out by Ohio Legislation

July 30, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor

Clifty Creek, built in the middle 1950s may continue operating until 2040 after Ohio legislature gives them giant subsidy.

Madison, Indiana is a beautiful town. It even had a large production movie made about its community spirit last decade entitled “Madison.” And, its home to a wonderful State Park-Clifty Falls. Unfortunately, it succumbed to the lure of jobs in the 1950s and became home to the nefarious Clifty Creek power plant.

Emissions hacvwe reduced for town main reasons over the last two decades at Clifty Creek. One-it only operates a portion of the time due to its uneconomic status and because the owners decided to invest heavily on pollution controls like scrubbers for SO2 and Selective Catalytic Reduction to control NOx. Photo:© BlairPhotoEVV

Clifty Creek and its “sister” plant in Ohio called Kyger Creek were built with a single purpose in mind-to supply electricity to the now shuttered Portsmouth, OH uranium enrichment plant that was closed shortly after the turn of the Century. But both continued to operate as a “merchant plants” since.

Madison’s riverfront is really cool, except when you try to watch a sunset which is always obscured by the massive plant whether it’s operating or not as it dominates every effort to look west.

Owned by a consortium of Indiana , Kentucky and Ohio utilities, including 44% by AEP, the plant has made major investments in pollution controls around fifteen years ago. (See data in picture above). As a result, numerous efforts by a group of environmentalists, including Valley Watch, CAC, Save the Valley and Hoosier Environmental Council have failed to secure retirement for the ancient plants.

Now, Ohio ratepayers are going to be further enslaved to pay for the uneconomic operation of both Clifty and Kyger Creek plants just to highly subsidize their utility owners, none of which consider those plants in their actual rate bases.

Ohio’s legislation also bailed out some failing nuclear plants owned by First Energy in what has become the worst “socialization of risk-privatization of profit” scheme devised for plants that are not only failing financially but also constitute heavily to disease in all health for those downwind.

Fortunately, a bill that would have prevented Indiana utilities from building new plants to replace aging coal plants failed in the Indiana legislature this year even after the coal industry hired disgraced former EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt to lobby the bill.

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Earthjustice to represent Valley Watch and SW Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life in Challenge of Riverview air/construction permit.

The coal-to-diesel plant would emit millions of tons of dangerous pollution using a technology that has never been employed in the U.S.

July 11, 2019 – Press Release from Earthjustice

Riverview Energy Corp. plans to build a coal-to-diesel plant one mile from the heart of Dale, IN. Citizens put up a billboard to voice their disapproval of the project. Photo: SW Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life

Community groups appealed an air quality permit issued to Riverview Energy Corporation for its proposed construction of a massive coal-to-diesel refinery in Dale, Spencer County, Indiana.  Earthjustice worked with Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life and ValleyWatch.  The proposed refinery, which would be the first of its kind ever built in the United States, would emit dangerous air pollution in a county that already ranks among the worst one percent nationally for toxic releases.  

The community groups’ appeal describes how the permit is rife with errors that provide no reassurance to the public that they would be protected from the refinery’s dangerous pollution. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued the permit on June 11, 2019.

“This permit is deeply flawed,” said Charles McPhedran an attorney with Earthjustice. “Riverview Energy must not be allowed to site this dangerous project near vulnerable communities, including an elementary school and nursing home.” 

“Riverview Energy’s coal-to-diesel refinery is in close proximity to residential homes,” said Mary Hess, President of Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life. “This refinery would be adding to several facilities already in our community emitting toxic air pollution. We won’t let our neighborhoods become a sacrifice zone for public health.” 

“We have been down this path several times before,” said John Blair, President of ValleyWatch.  “None of the prior projects even broke ground due to the horrible economics of coal conversion projects. In the end, Riverview Energy will be little more than a failed ‘get rich quick scheme’ for the sponsors.”

Background: The proposed refinery would use “Veba Combi Cracker” technology, which has never been used before in the United States and is licensed by KBR (the former Halliburton subsidiary), to transform coal into liquid fuels like diesel and naphtha through the process of “hydro-cracking.” This process would require crushing more than two million tons of coal every year and mixing it with toxic additives and heavy gas oil. If built, the refinery would emit massive amounts of hazardous air pollution every year, including known carcinogens like benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in addition to significant amounts of particulate matter and other pollutants that contribute to asthma. The refinery also would emit more than two million tons of greenhouse gases every year.

Read the appeal.

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