Nearly all the pollutants in our everyday environment can be found easily — albeit less problematically — when one leaves our planet’s surface. Ozone is the most ironic example, restricted at ground level and protected above. And the atmospheres of Mars and Venus are mostly carbon dioxide, which at least in our atmosphere, where it is only a trace gas, the Supreme Court says it can nonetheless be mitigated under the Clean Air Act.
On August 5, 2015, EPA personnel assigned to mitigate pollutants from the foreclosed Gold King Mine in Colorado caused the discharge of toxic wastewater into the Animas River watershed, releasing lead, arsenic, and other metals and toxic elements. Even though Colorado Governor Hickenlooper eventually declared the area a disaster zone, the delayed response and devastating environmental impacts from the Gold King Mine wastewater spill revealed an urgent need to address the nearly 500,000 Abandoned Mine Lands throughout the United States. According to the EPA, the total cost to clean up AMLs ranges from $50-70 billion. Although the burden of mitigating toxic pollutants from AMLs may appear to rest solely upon the federal government, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) mandates that the party responsible for AML hazardous contamination must assume financial responsibility.
Environmental agencies are increasingly transforming their approach to citizen science, from viewing it as a source of data primarily for education and awareness to a potential source of concrete value for their programs. Although this relationship has existed for some time, the emergence of new technologies, an increasingly aware public, and the rise of unexpected pollution events has reinvigorated the way agencies and the public work together.
As we are moving from an aggressively deregulatory period to one in which regulation is more likely to be seen as important in advancing environmental policy, let’s take a quick look at what to anticipate from the three branches of the federal government.
The first session of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) six-part citizen science webinar series explored the current and potential uses of citizen/community science initiatives to improve environmental monitoring, compliance, and enforcement around the world. Citizen science encompasses a broad range of activities, ranging from the use of low-cost hand-held air monitors by individuals to sophisticated, university-based monitoring networks and satellite monitoring plans by large environmental NGOs. These activities can raise awareness of environmental issues, inform agency actions including compliance and enforcement programs, and inform citizen litigation to stop polluting activities.
The fashion industry is thirsty. Every year, it consumes 93 billion cubic meters of water—enough for the survival of over 5 million people. The problems within the fashion industry go beyond water use. Due to the rise in fast fashion, global clothing production has exponentially increased, doubling between 2000 and 2014. Fashion is now the second-most polluting industry worldwide.
In May 2016, EPA issued a lifetime Health Advisory (HA) of 70 parts per trillion (0.07 ug/L) for the combination of two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, in drinking water. EPA’s HA is not enforceable or regulatory—it provides technical information to state agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination. In EPA’s subsequent 2019 PFAS Action Plan, EPA noted that over 4,000 PFAS may have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the world since they were first synthesized in the 1940s. Because PFAS are water soluble, over time PFAS from firefighting foam, manufacturing sites, landfills, spills, air deposition from factories and other releases can seep into surface soils and potentially percolate into groundwater, thus implicating drinking water sources.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler proudly details the administration’s deregulatory record in a Newsweek opinion article published in late July. He frames his success story within President Trump’s January 2017 executive order requiring agencies to eliminate two regulations for each new one. While Wheeler touts the avoided costs, he doesn’t mention the avoided benefits the repealed rules would have provided.
Among the dizzying array of commercials and advertisements we see every day, a new electronic product seems to join the lineup every other month. Almost like clockwork, for example, Apple releases its newest edition of the iPhone early in the fall. The company generates worldwide anticipation for the new model, with people frantically pre-ordering and lining up hours in advance to purchase a phone they only plan to use until the following year, when Apple will once again release a newer, sleeker generation of the iPhone.
Numerous studies have shown that Black and Latinx communities in the United States face higher hospitalization and mortality rates from COVID-19 and are disproportionately harmed by the virus. While many cite comorbidities and underlying health issues as the reasons for this disparity, the root of this problem is systemic racism. Recent research has found that social determinants like access to healthcare, employment, and clean air and water are the true inequities that have made COVID-19 deadliest for communities of color.