Natural Cycles – Water

Shrinking Ice Caps

With the changing of the season so obvious where I live – especially the beauty of the leaves on trees turning yellow, orange, red and brown amongst the greens, the cycles of nature are front and center in my mind. Also, water has been on my mind. There is the melting of polar and glacial ice, the appearance that storms are increasing in their intensity, drought in some areas leading to large and intense wildfires and just having enough clean and safe drinking water for the burden of humanity.

For too long, humankind has treated the Earth as though it was a supermarket of resources to be tapped, extracted and exploited for profitable gain and usage. When I was growing up in the El Paso TX desert area, the Rio Grande always had water flowing. One year not too long ago, there was only dry river bed. Because Nature is not static, water levels are always changing. The amount of snow in the Colorado Mountains in winter or the release of excess water by the Mexican government preparing for “flood season” can greatly change the flow of the Rio Grande from one year to the next or from one week to the next. In my early adulthood, I once saw a girl drown in that unpredictable river.

On our own farm, the farm pond and beaver ponds can be full and overflowing in Springtime and dry and minimal this time of year. These are all reflections of the natural cycles of nature and water and we would do well to learn to understand them and cooperate with them, rather than fighting against nature or polluting the little fresh water the planet actually has available. We are a “water” planet which is crucial to all of life.

Water makes up about 71% of the Earth’s surface, while the other 29% consists of continents and islands. However, 96.5% of all the Earth’s water is contained within the oceans as salt water, while the remaining 3.5% is freshwater lakes and frozen water locked up in glaciers and the polar ice caps. Of that fresh water, almost all of it takes the form of ice: 69% of it, to be exact. If you could melt all that ice, and the Earth’s surface was perfectly smooth, the sea levels would rise to an altitude of 2.7 km. For those like me who don’t do metric easily that is a rise of almost 9,000 feet or over 1-1/2 miles. Wow !!

The amount of water that exists as groundwater, rivers, lakes, and streams is only a little over 0.7% of the planet’s total water resources. It is a much rarer and more precious commodity than most people are aware it is as they flush their toilet, water their yards and fill up their drinking container.

The Water Cycle

Water has many forms which most of us are intimately familiar with — rain, hail, snow, ice, steam, fog and dew. Even though the minerals in salt water are harmful to most land plants and animals, it is from these vast salty reservoirs (the seas and oceans) that most of our precipitation (rain, snow, etc) rises up to form clouds and comes down upon the land and flows back into the ocean again. The water, or hydrologic, cycle never ends. That is a good thing.

Each person needs about a gallon a day for drinking, cooking, and washing. The average water usage in medieval times was no more than 3 to 5 gallons a day per person. Presently in the United States, people are using about 1,500 gallons a day for their needs and comforts which does include recreation, cooling, food production, and industrial use related to their existence. Another Wow !!

I have been aware for a long time that there are concerns about enough fresh water for the planet’s growing and evolving population. Long ago, Leonardo da Vinci acknowledged that water is the driving force of all nature. In many places on this planet reservoirs and aquifers are drying up. Currently, one in seven people on the planet lacks access to safe drinking water. In some places in the Middle East water has become more important than oil and governments invest in desalination plants. Up to 75% of the farmers in the hot dry plains of northern India, eastern Pakistan and Bangladesh intensely irrigate their crops with pumped groundwater and their use of that water is intensifying.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change predictss that the fraction of global population experiencing water scarcity is destined to increase throughout the 21st century. More and more, people and nations will have to compete for those water resources. Jean Chrétien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council, admits that “Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”

So what can be done ? As far back as 2010, 1200 leading international experts from 80 different countries came together and created a list of 19 partial solutions to the Freshwater challenges facing humanity. Of course raising consumer awareness and teaching how to make better use of limited water resources tops the list and is why I am writing a blog about this today. I always seek to be part of “the solution” to whatever concerns me rather than part of the “problem” which only leaves one mired in disfunction.

Wastewater treatment is an obvious place to conserve and revitalize the water that exists. Advanced technologies for cleansing wastewater continue to progress and develop refinements. Clearly agricultural and irrigation practices need rethinking. 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is currently used for agriculture. Water needs to be revalued at higher prices which would reduce waste and pollution. One way to conserve fresh water is to improve the catchment of water running off paved surfaces in urban areas.

Good water management takes into consideration the whole ecosystem – sewage treatment plants could be operated in partnership with clean energy producers who use the wastewater to fertilize algae and other biofuel crops. Those crops, in turn, have an ability not only to soak up nutrients but purify the wastewater which can reduce pumping and treatment costs.

Yemm & Hart’s Origins Material uses recycling water that is heated and sent through piping to melt the recycled post-consumer plastic flakes and pellets loaded into the trays of our press. Then, recycling cool water is sent through pipes to set the material into the patterns that make Origins unique. It is the melting flow of plastic which then is “frozen” into place that gives us a random and natural patterning effect.

What’s new with the most “ECO” of all materials ? (Yeah, I’m talking WATER) I believe that what’s new is a developing but radical change in humanity understanding not only the precious nature of this natural resource but regarding each person’s role in conserving and protecting it’s life sustaining qualities.

Think about it the next time you take a thirst-quenching drink of pure, clean water.

Clean Water

~ Information Resources

Conservation and the Water Cycle posted at NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the USDA – United States Dept of Agriculture) – http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/factpub/aib326.html

As Rio Grande water levels rise, Border Patrol warns of dangers by Analise Ortiz posted May 26, 2015 at ValleyCentral.com – http://valleycentral.com/news/local/as-rio-grande-water-levels-rise-border-patrol-warns-of-dangers?id=1209856

What Percent of Earth is Water? by Matt Williams posted Dec 1, 2014 at Universe Today – http://www.universetoday.com/65588/what-percent-of-earth-is-water/

Length Units Converter from The Engineering ToolBox – http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/unit-length-converter-d_851.html

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis by Robin McKie posted March 7, 2015 in The Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/08/how-water-shortages-lead-food-crises-conflicts

Experts Name the Top 19 Solutions to the Global Freshwater Crisis posted May 24, 2010 at Circle of Blue – http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2010/world/experts-name-the-top-19-solutions-to-the-global-freshwater-crisis/

Yemm & Hart Origins – http://www.yemmhart.com/materials/origins/colorchartpatterns.html

Origins 514 Aquamarine

Origins 514 Aquamarine

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Non-physical Resources

internet

Back in 1922, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin invented the word Noosphere to describe a sphere of human thought. It is an emergence of human cognition that would fundamentally transform the biosphere (biological life) of the Earth. In our modern civilization there is developing a non-physical (though accessed through a multitude of physical devices) resource of enormous value and potentially enormous risk for humanity. There is now so much information available to people all over the planet via the internet that it is like a quantum leap in intelligence for our species. I depend on it to write this blog. I depend on it to craft dinner out of diverse ingredients I happen to have on hand. I would rather have a targeted recipe that I can keep or pitch than a shelf full of cookbooks (though there seems no dearth of new ones published – just think of the trees saved !!)

Not only do my children know that they can find the answer to anything they can think to ask a question about on the Internet but they also know to be wary about and try to discern what is more likely to be truthful from what is more likely fiction or myth. I use the internet to get a better sense of our Yemm & Hart recycled material’s customers (primarily interior designers and architects) by visiting their firm’s websites or track down contacts who have been on the move, often thanks to Linked In.

Morel Mushrooms

Morel Mushrooms

Today, I googled the answer to one of my children’s questions – “Is a mushroom a plant ?” Actually it isn’t, it has more in common with an animal but it is also simply a unique species of life that my sons spent all last winter studying thanks to the book “Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms” by Maxine Stone and then they spent all summer finding and identifying them and we ate many varieties of them. Even my youngest son, our most picky eater, has fallen in love with wild mushrooms. I have looked up images of mushrooms on the internet when the photo in the book just wasn’t enough. A friend signed me up for a mushroom group on Facebook.

Last Dec 29, 2014 an op-ed by Ray Kurzweil appeared in Time Magazine that had a more positive perspective on AI than Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk have been offering. He makes many arguments including that AI has reduced the violence (or loss of human life) in war situations. He also points to “safeguards” in Biotechnology created at a conference back in 1975 that while revised over time have worked very well to avoid the problems identified for almost 40 years now.

The Singularity is Near cover

2015 marks the 10th anniversary of Kurzweil’s book – The Singularity is Near. In the decade since its publication, we’ve witnessed an explosion of breakthroughs in genetic engineering, medical regeneration of the human body, autonomous robotics, computing power, and renewable energy. Advanced sensor arrays and internet meshes are uniting all people and things within the interconnected environments we live in, and with each other. Today’s massively scaled, crowd-sourced knowledge, innovation, and shared human experience are driving this momentum. The future is now.

Kurzweil explains we’re already in the early stages of this transition, and within a few decades, life as we know it will be completely different. He says, “The singularity will be a merger of our bodies and minds with our technology. The world will still be human, but transcend our biological roots. There will be no distinction between human and machine, nor between physical and virtual reality. “If you wonder what will remain unequivocally human, it’s this quality — our species inherently seeks to extend its physical and mental reach beyond current limitations.”

In the Dec 2014 op-ed in Time Magazine, Kurzweil identified some effects that I certainly see with my children who are allowed unlimited access to electronics and the Internet in our home as part of their “free-spirit, self-guided, natural education”. He points out that AI is not being integrated into the world today in such a way as to spell the extinction of human beings. As one example, he says “AI is not in one or two hands; it’s in 1 billion or 2 billion hands. A kid in Africa with a smartphone has more intelligent access to knowledge than the President of the United States had 20 years ago. As AI continues to get smarter, its use will only grow. Virtually everyone’s mental capabilities will be enhanced by it within a decade.” Maybe instead of “artificial intelligence”, we should be thinking of this as distributed intelligence ?

Currently the mass migrations taking place out of the Middle East and Northern Africa into Europe include smartphones wrapped in plastic and rubber bands to protect them from moisture. Time Magazine in their Oct 19, 2015 issue has an article by Patrick Witty about why the smartphone is the refugee’s best friend. They use them to message people concerned about their welfare, take selfies and document their journey, use mapping apps to share their current location or the safest routes with others. This is a realm of internet based information put to entirely new uses in the sagas of humanity.

2015 Model S Tesla

2015 Model S Tesla

I already believe that the evolution of individual transportation (at least until we begin teleporting wherever we want to go) will definitely migrate to a dominance of self-driving vehicles, though there will remain those who like to drive a vehicle themselves for recreation or out of preference. Not only Google and many of the major automotive manufacturers but now also an announcement from Tesla, who’s recently equipped central operating system models S and X will simply update all of the models that have been purchased recently simultaneously over the airwaves.

There are many people who hope that technology will create a world that provides for every person at a reasonable level of basic qualities and even free us all to more fully realize our highest potentials. Others, such as the Center for Existential Risk which Stephen Hawking heads along with many other thoughtful illuminaries, plus the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates have grave concerns. Concerns that any thoughtful person also shares. The future is uncertain but technology is here to stay.

~ Information Resources

Noosphere – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noosphere

“What is a Mushroom ? Mushroom Facts” – http://www.gmushrooms.com/info.htm

The Old Mushroom Identification Page – a secret (and not so secret with over 1,300 members) group on Facebook

Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence – http://www.kurzweilai.net/

Time Magazine – http://time.com/

“Tesla’s Cars Now Drive Themselves, Kinda” by Molly McHugh posted Oct 14, 2015 at Wired.com – http://www.wired.com/2015/10/tesla-self-driving-over-air-update-live/

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk – http://www.cser.org/

“Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates Warn About Artificial Intelligence” by Michael Sainato on Aug 19, 2015 in the Observer – http://observer.com/2015/08/stephen-hawking-elon-musk-and-bill-gates-warn-about-artificial-intelligence/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Good News for Plastics

It is often hard for environmentalists to love plastics. A realist however knows that plastics are here to stay. Lately, I’ve become aware of several pieces of “good news” for plastics thanks to the publication known as “Plastics News”.

Cyanobacteria Good Bad Algae

As with many aspects of life, there are good and bad qualities to things that exist in this world, including Cyanobacteria, also known as Algae. In an Aug 27, 2015 article titled “Researchers probe microbes for a future plastics building block” Michael Lauzon writes for Plastics News that “Researchers at the U S Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are tweaking cyanobacteria to produce ethylene through photosynthesis. . . . working with a specific strain . . . that makes ethylene when exposed to sunlight”, this sustainable process (if researchers can get its yields up) could mean that making plastics (ethylene) would also play a role in cutting atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide which is the greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. It just so happens that Ethylene is one of the chemicals this microbe makes when it converts carbon dioxide to biomass as it grows.

I find this exciting !! It may still be another 10 years before this research actually results in semi-commercial farms according to Jianping Yu who heads the research group at Golden CO. Previously, researchers explored a bio-based route to making ethylene from sugar cane or other plant matter. However this approach used lots of water in growing the feedstock plants and had the drawback of tying up land that could be used to grow food for a still growing global population. The new system works in both fresh water and more importantly in seawater, which is available in abundance on this planet. Happily oxygen is one of the byproducts of this cyanobacteria route. It is interesting to note that these ancient microbes are thought to have created most of earth’s oxygen billions of years ago when they were the dominant life form on the planet.

The new approach cuts the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere when compared to ethylene production sourced from oil and gas. Using fossil fuels generates between 1.5 and 3 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of ethylene. By contrast, the NREL approach removes 3.4 tons of carbon dioxide because the cyanobacteria capture CO2 from the air in order to perform its photosynthesis. Ethylene production is the highest volume petrochemical made on earth.

Mealworm Life Cycle

Mealworms are food for many living creatures including humans. Not that I’ve ever eaten them myself but I remember buying some to feed some creature we had responsibility for once upon a time. Mealworms are vegetarians feeding on fresh oats, wheat bran or grain, with sliced potato, carrots, or an apple as a source of moisture. I have seen them in novelty “food products” such as tequila-flavored candies which adds a definite creepiness factor. Mealworms are typically used as a pet food for captive reptiles, fish, and birds. They are also provided to wild birds in bird feeders, particularly during the nesting season. Mealworms are useful for their high protein content and are also used as fishing bait.

Now comes news that the plastic foam used for carryout food containers could become a new part of the mealworm’s diet and in the process solve a major garbage problem. It turns out that the larvae of the darkling beetle will actually feed on expanded polystyrene (EPS). The beauty of this is that microorganisms in their guts effectively biodegrade the EPS internally. The end result is that the larvae’s poop from this food source seems to be a safe product that may eventually be suitable as a soil product to grow more plant crops.

Researchers at Stanford University in the civil and environmental engineering department headed by professor Craig Criddle and senior researcher Wei-Min Wu in collaboration with colleagues in China have high hopes for its implications “to find a way to remediate current plastic pollution” according to Wei-Min Wu. Researchers at the Beihang University in China had previously observed waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, break down polyethylene in the form of plastic bags because of microorganisms existing in their guts.

The findings of the latest research are also “significant because EPS ‘has been considered basically non-biodegradable and it causes pollution problems in soil, rivers, lakes and oceans’, Wu said.” “Microbes in the guts of the baby bugs broke down the plastic and converted some of it into carbon dioxide and some of it into biodegradable fragments, which were excreted like tiny rabbit droppings within 24 hours.”

The researchers at Stanford and in China plan to study whether the microorganisms in mealworms and other insects could biodegrade other plastics, such as polypropylene, microbeads and bioplastics and they will also begin looking for a marine equivalent of the mealworm. “This is early stage research,” Criddle said. “We don’t know where it will go.” Their research may develop powerful enzymes to degrade plastic or guide manufacturers to design polymers that don’t accumulate in the environment or food chains.

Plastic Bank

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the work of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based organization known as the Plastic Bank which is monetizing plastic waste to reduce litter, especially marine debris, while helping people living in poverty.

The organization does this through standard commercial channels but not with the standard commercial emphasis on their own bottom line. Individuals voluntarily pick up discarded plastic from beaches, canals or streets and then take it to a collection center for recycling. The Plastic Bank then pays the center above-market rates for the recyclables — some of which are being ground into flake and injection molded into containers at Plascon Plastics Corp. in Delta, British Columbia, for Lush brand cosmetics. Also based in Vancouver, Lush has a green policy to protect people, animals and the planet in the production of its makeup and toiletries.

What’s not to feel GOOD about business that is managed this way ?

In Haiti, an individual who turns in their collected items will then be able to get cooking fuel, internet access or cell phone minutes, all items with a real world value. So that in a poverty-stricken pocket of the world plastic is upcycled instead of finding its way into the ocean. Ripples of a cleaner and better world have a significant impact even though it is coming from such a modest undertaking.

The co-founders of the Plastic Bank – David Katz and Shaun Frankson – call their recycled feedstock “social plastic”. They are leveraging social media to create demand for their materials. They have a page on Facebook titled “Social Plastic” which now has more than 1 million followers and Twitter users publicly ask major corporations to buy it and to do their part to reduce poverty and plastic waste.

A visionary thinker, Katz is a fan of plastic and how it can go from a PET bottle to a T-shirt to a car component. He raves about its versatility and durability. He sees solutions in its ability to change form and be used over and over — if properly handled. This is what Yemm & Hart does as well – take cleaned and ground up milk jugs and detergent bottles and turn them into construction grade panels that can be used to make restroom partitions and countertops. Personally, I have thought of our thick recycled plastic panels like the gold stored in Fort Knox. By keeping it out of the landfill, it remains viable into the future for re-use. A single 1″ thk panel at 60″ x 120″ typically used to fabricate a restroom partition side wall uses up approx 2,200 containers !!

Origins 508 at Boulder Co

~ Information Resources

“Researchers probe microbes for a future plastics building block” by Michael Lauzon posted in Plastics News on Aug 27, 2015 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20150827/NEWS/150829910/researchers-probe-microbes-for-a-future-plastics-building-block

Mealworms info at Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mealworm

“Hungry mealworms may be the future of EPS recycling” by Catherine Kavanaugh posted in Plastics News on Oct 1, 2015 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20151001/NEWS/151009984/hungry-mealworms-may-be-the-future-of-eps-recycling

PlasticBank.org – http://plasticbank.org/

“Plastic Bank aims to reduce marine debris, help people” by Catherine Kavanaugh posted in Plastics News on Oct 6, 2015 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20151006/NEWS/151009927/plastic-bank-aims-to-reduce-marine-debris-help-people

“Social Plastic” on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/PlasticBank

Yemm & Hart Origins Slideshow illustrates applications for 100% post-consumer recycled HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) plastic – http://www.yemmhart.com/materials/origins/slideshow_origins/slideshow.html

The United States Bullion Depository Fort Knox, Kentucky – http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/fun_facts/?action=fun_facts13

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Why Climate Change Might Mean Colder Weather

1677 River Thames ~ Abraham Hondius The History Channel

1677 River Thames
~ Abraham Hondius
The History Channel

For a long time I have not used the term “global warming” but have preferred to think in terms of “climate change” as a constant of life on earth regardless of whether man’s behavior effects it or not (though I have to believe that human behavior has its effects for I believe that everything is inter-related).

Last Sunday night my family watched a dvd from The History Channel about The Little Ice Age. This is not ancient history lost in the mists of time. This is history that most of us have learned some portion of in our schooling but I had no idea that sudden and brutal climate change was the underlying factor for so many events that I had other explanations for. I’ve long realized that climate change happens all the time on this planet. I don’t doubt that the behavior of such an overwhelming presence on the planet as human beings are would affect our planet’s overall qualities including its weather related qualities.

It was surprising to know that such diverse occurrences as the Irish Potato Famine, which peoples originally migrated into the United States of American and why, the “Black Death” bubonic plague, the fall of the Ming Dynasty with the breach of the Great Wall by Manchurian invaders giving rise to the Qing dynasty in China, the Salem Witch trails and burnings, the French Revolution, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein book and the deaths of thousands of Napoleon’s troops in the Russian invasion are all effects of a 500 year long “Little Ice Age”.

Napoleon Retreating from Moscow in 1812 ~ The History Channel

Napoleon Retreating from Moscow in 1812
~ The History Channel

It is staggering to realize that it only took a couple of degrees change to bring it on or how quickly such a “flip” in climate can occur. This is not a rare occurrence in the history of the Earth’s climate. In his article, Thom Hartmann describes The Great Conveyor Belt including the Gulf Stream, undersea rivers that move currents of cold salty water from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Although much of Europe and Scandinavia are at the same latitude as Alaska and permafrost-locked parts of northern Canada and central Siberia, their climate is more similar to that of the United States than northern Canada or Siberia.

That warmth is the result of ocean currents that bring warm surface water up from the equator into northern regions that would otherwise be so cold that even in summer they’d be covered with ice. In the North Atlantic Ocean salty, cool waters settle to the bottom of the sea and then flow south down to and around the southern tip of Africa, where this river finally reaches the Pacific Ocean. The slightly lower level of the Atlantic ocean than the Pacific ocean draws in a strong surface current of warm, fresher water from the Pacific to replace the outflow of the undersea river from the Atlantic. This warmer, fresher water loops around North America where it’s known as the Gulf Stream, and ends up off the coast of Europe.

Map of  The Great Conveyor Belt

Map of
The Great Conveyor Belt

Amazingly, this Great Conveyor Belt is the only thing between comfortable summers and a permanent ice age for Europe and the eastern coast of North America. Only since the 1980s have scientists begun to understand the transition time from icy to warm back to icy. According to Hartmann, in studying ice core samples from Greenland “scientists were shocked to discover that the transitions from ice age-like weather to contemporary-type weather usually took only two or three years. Something was flipping the weather of the planet back and forth with a rapidity that was startling”.

These weather patterns are part of a delicately balanced teeter-totter, which can exist in one state or the other, but transits through the middle stage almost overnight. What brings on these sudden shifts are the warm-water currents of the Great Conveyor Belt shutting down. Once the Gulf Stream is no longer flowing, it only takes a year or three for the last of the residual heat held in the North Atlantic Ocean to dissipate into the air over Europe, and then there is no more warmth to moderate the northern latitudes. When the summer stops in the north, the rains also stop around the equator so that at the same time Europe is plunging into an Ice Age, the Middle East and Africa are being ravaged by drought and wind-driven firestorms.

This is weather that is NOT for the faint-hearted !!! If the Great Conveyor Belt, which includes the Gulf Stream, were to stop flowing today, the result would be sudden and dramatic. Winter would set in for the eastern half of North America and all of Europe and Siberia, and never go away. Within three years, those regions would become uninhabitable and nearly two billion humans would starve, freeze to death, or have to relocate.

Most scientists involved in research on this topic agree that the culprit is global warming, melting the icebergs on Greenland and the Arctic icepack and thus flushing cold, fresh water down into the Greenland Sea from the north. When a critical threshold is reached, the climate will suddenly switch to an ice age that could last minimally 700 or so years, and maximally over 100,000 years.

OK, so what’s the GOOD NEWS ? There is some . . . there is “hope” (except whatever is beyond what human beings are able to control at all – like a giant meteor striking the Earth or a coronal mass ejection from the sun !!). According to a very recent article in New York Magazine by Jonathan Chait, “There is good news. And not just incremental good news but transformational good news, developments that have the potential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change to a degree many had feared impossible.” He goes on to say “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with — by the standards of its previous behavior — astonishing speed.”

Rail Cars loaded with Coal

Rail Cars loaded with Coal

A quick bold print snapshot tells us that Coal usage has declined 21% since 2007 and that the number of operational coal-powered electric generating plants has dropped from 523 in 2009 to 323 in 2015. I recently heard a bit on NPR about the railroads in Kansas City. Only 10 years ago, “… railroads couldn’t hire people fast enough. They couldn’t lease locomotives fast enough. They couldn’t upgrade the infrastructure quick enough. They couldn’t build railcars to haul the stuff quick enough.” according to Zach Pumphery, a train engineer in Kansas City. Since 2008 the rail traffic has dropped by the equivalent of 14,000 train loads for coal production alone. According to Frank Morris, “The big reason is the power plants like this one in Kansas City are switching from coal to natural gas, which is cheap now and burns cleaner.”

More good news ? The cost of a watt of solar power has dropped from $101 in 1975 to $0.61 in 2015. Global solar power installations have grown from 10,000 in 2009 to 65,000 in 2015. China plans to add 18 gigawatts of solar energy capacity in 2015 alone (just compare that to the TOTAL gigawatt capacity in the US of 20). “Clean Energy” has added 125,000 NEW jobs since 2013. And the number of electric cars has increased from 200,000 in 2012 to 750,000 in 2015.

The “Good News” is a long article but well worth reading to avoid despair over the climate change challenges. A link to the full article can be found in the ~ Information Resources at the end of this blog – “The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You’ve Ever Read”.

Good News Clouds

~ Information Resources

“Little Ice Age, Big Consequences” posted by Jennie Cohen, Jan 31, 2013 posted at The History Channel – http://www.history.com/news/little-ice-age-big-consequences

“Napoleon’s Disastrous Invasion of Russia, 200 Years Ago” posted by Jesse Greenspan, June 22, 2012 at The History Channel – http://www.history.com/news/napoleons-disastrous-invasion-of-russia-200-years-ago

“How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age…” posted by Thom Hartmann, Jan 30, 2004 at Common Dreams – http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0130-11.htm

“The Sunniest Climate-Change Story You’ve Ever Read” posted by Jonathan Chait, Sept 7, 2015 posted at New York Magazine – http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/09/sunniest-climate-change-story-ever-read.html

“Fall In Shipping Commodities Threatens Commercial Railroad Industry” by Frank Morris on All Things Considered aired on NPR Sept 2, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/09/02/436944868/fall-in-shipping-commodities-threatens-commercial-railroad-industry

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Natural Predators and an Emerald Prey

Woodpecker-Emerald Ash Borer

In Missouri’s natural rural forest stands, ash trees only comprise about 3% of total trees. This tree makes up a greater percentage of urban trees – 14% for trees lining residential streets up to 21% in urban parks. Visitors to the state’s parks are reminded not to bring firewood into the state from other states when camping out here and to burn whatever they obtain locally and not take it out of state when they leave. These measures act like a type of quarantine to reduce the likelihood of the insect’s arrival into any state employing similar measures.

Tiny Emerald Ash Borers (they are only 1/2″ long or about the diameter of a penny) have killed millions of ash trees since they were discovered in Michigan in 2002. The beetles in their larval form disrupt the flow of nutrients beneath the bark. Over time, they kill the tree. I believe I first became aware about the threat at our Missouri State Fair in 2012. We encourage and support a high degree of diversity for tree planting in our forest as a hedge against any potential insect infestation. In July 2008, a small Emerald Ash Borer infestation was discovered at a Wappapello Lake campground. That discovery put the potential threat in a nearby county to our own forest. Since then, the beetle has been detected in several other areas in the state.

Because the insect is a serious problem in states where it has been identified, concerned citizens and officials have looked for all the possible methods they might employ to eradicate the Emerald Ash Borer that is killing ash trees. Enter natural enemies of the Emerald Ash Borers. These include predaceous and parasitic insects and insect-pathogenic fungi. With the help of bird-watchers, researchers used information from Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch (for which my late mother in law was a long-time volunteer) and the US Forest Service to identify that the Red-bellied, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers and the White-breasted Nuthatch populations grew in areas of known Emerald Ash Borer infestations. This was not an impact caused by birds migrating into the area but a result of local birds flourishing and successfully rearing families because they had happily discovered an abundant new food source. Fortunately, BOTH bird species are natives here in our Missouri forest and that is reassuring for our own ability to come through the latest threat with our forest still in a good condition.

According to Walter D Koenig from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, the birds “can depredate quite a surprisingly high percentage of Emerald Ash Borer larvae in some forests” but that “It’s unlikely that this would be enough to stop the invasion, but it could certainly slow it down, at least in some areas.” We should not discount the tenacity of the most predaceous species on our planet, human beings, to continue to look for every way possible to turn back the tide of the latest invasive species to drawn our concern.

The arthropod predators of insects and mites include beetles, true bugs, lacewings, flies, midges, spiders, wasps, and predatory mites. Insect predators can be found throughout plants, including the parts below ground, as well as in nearby shrubs and trees. Some predators are specialized in their choice of prey, others are generalists. Some are extremely useful natural enemies of insect pests. Unfortunately, some prey on other beneficial insects as well as pests. Insect predators can be found in almost all agricultural and natural habitats. Each group may have a different life cycle and habits. Although the life history of some common predators is well studied, information on the biology and relative importance of many predatory species is lacking.

While research has found that commercial chemicals can be effective in controlling emerald ash borer infestations, “you just can’t afford to do that in the woods,” said Andrea Diss-Torrance, a forest entomologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. And some of us (this blog’s author and her husband definitely included !!) PREFER NOT to use chemicals on our land.

Chinese Stingless Wasp ~ photo credit  U.S. Dept of Agriculture

Chinese Stingless Wasp
~ photo credit
U.S. Dept of Agriculture

Two kinds of wasps are being used that will insert their egg-laying appendage through the bark and lay eggs in tunnels on, or in, emerald ash borer larvae. Once the eggs become larvae, they will eat the larvae of the beetle, Diss-Torrance said. Another species of wasps released at a different point in the seasonal cycle lay their eggs on or inside the eggs of the emerald ash borers when they are laying their eggs on the bark of ash trees. Once the larvae develop, they will eat emerald ash borer eggs.

The process will be invisible. “They are very tiny, and a lot of their work will be done inside or on the bark of a tree,” said Diss-Torrance. Entomologist Ken Raffa of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that “these wasps have undergone intense scrutiny by the USDA to safeguard harm against native species.”

Sometimes, biological controls have interesting consequences. We have experienced the swarming of Asian lady beetles that will crawl into crevices of homes and that look alot like a native ladybug. These are believed to have first arrived in the United States in 1916. Southern farmers reintroduced them in the 1980s to control pecan aphids. We once captured the lady bugs emerging indoors here in Springtime and relocated them to a treasured replanted live Christmas tree that had developed an aphid infestation.

The wasps are reared in a US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service laboratory in Brighton, Mich. To date, 180,000 wasps have been released in nine other states, including Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota under permits granted by the inspection service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The first wasps used in a field trial were in Michigan in July 2007. Tiny wasps have been used to control gypsy moth populations.

Traditional Potawatomi Black Ash Basket ~ Nancy Krogmann of Whitepigeon Baskets

Traditional Potawatomi Black Ash Basket
~ Nancy Krogmann of Whitepigeon Baskets

The Potawatomi Indians of Michigan have been on the front lines of the battle against the Emerald Ash Borer. Their native tradition includes making a cultural style of basket from Black Ash trees. For generations the Potawatomi Indians have used wood from Black Ash trees to weave baskets, teaching the skill to their young. For the tribe there is much more at stake than a side source of income. “Baskets made from Black Ash played a huge role in our tribe’s life and history. Back then, the baskets were like money. You traded for it, and got the things your needed to care for your family” says Jamie Brown a part-time basket weaver who is part Potawatomi.

She learned basket making from her parents. Her mother learned the skill from her uncle. So there are at least three generations of her family that have made these baskets. She adds that “It’s part of who we are. It’s cool to carry on the tradition and share it with the next generation.” The USDA Forest Service research team has discovered that the Potawatomi Indian’s traditional method of storing Black Ash logs by submerging them in rivers can effectively preserve the logs for basketmaking while simultaneously KILLING the Emerald Ash Borer larvae lurking under the bark which then prevents the emergence of adult beetles in spring. A study concluded that submerging the logs for 18 weeks during winter or 14 weeks in spring killed the insects and retained the wood’s quality for basketmaking.

Thus the arrival of the insect onto their lands was taken quite seriously by the tribe. While the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi tribe has used insecticide on its trees in the Hartford and Dowagiac regions, they are participating in the introduction of wasps as predators in their battle against the decimation of their ash trees by the Emerald Ash Borer.

Rachel Carson with Silent Spring bookcover

There are many potentially invasive insects listed at the Missouri Dept of Conservation’s page for the Emerald Ash Borer. Interestingly, they are all types of beetles from Asian Longhorn to June Bugs to Lady Beetles and more. A healthy and diverse forest with a healthy and diverse wildlife contingent will help any forest to survive the occasional arrival of undesirable insect guests. As Rachel Carson pointed out repeatedly, graphically and so very well in her 1962 book Silent Spring – natural deterents to such threats are the best approach and chemicals should be used only sparingly or not at all because any lethal chemical will have impacts beyond the intended targets. We have noted that after a large swarming of Lady Beetles here that over the years the quantity has naturally diminished to a point where their presence is less disagreeable. Just like the weather, insects have natural cycles that will seek balance with their environment over time.

Often too, the role of the beneficial predators has not been adequately studied. The use of chemicals is motivated by profits and easy availability. However, surveys of agricultural systems give an indication of the potential number and diversity of predators in a crop. For example, over 600 species of predators in 45 families of insects and 23 families of spiders and mites have been recorded in Arkansas cotton. Eighteen species of predatory insects (not including spiders and mites) have been found in potatoes in the northeastern United States. There may be thousands of predators per acre, in addition to many parasitoids. Although the impact of any one species of natural enemy may be minor, the combined impact of predators, parasitoids, and insect pathogens can be considerable.

It is also worth noting that the efforts of bird-watchers truly make a difference in helping to advance science. According to Koenig, data from Project FeederWatch and similar efforts “play a critical role in almost any attempt to assess the populations of animals at large geographic scales as well as the ecological consequences of an invasion such as that of the Emerald Ash Borer. Given the increasing prominence of such phenomena, citizen science projects such as FeedWatch and eBird are likely to play an even greater role in the future!”

~ Information Resources

“Emerald Ash Borer Management” posted at the Missouri Dept of Conservation website – http://mdc.mo.gov/your-property/your-trees-and-woods/tree-diseases-and-pests/emerald-ash-borer-management

“Emerald Ash Borers vs Woodpeckers (And Nuthatches) posted 07/21/14 by Meredith Mann at 10,000 Birds – http://10000birds.com/emerald-ash-borers-vs-woodpeckers-and-nuthatches.htm

“Biological Control – Predators” posted at Cornell University – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – http://www.biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/predators.php

“Natural U.S. Predators Discover the Emerald Ash Borer” posted 08/21/13 at Wood Acres Tree Specialists – http://www.woodacrestree.com/blog/natural-u-s-predators-discover-the-emerald-ash-borer.html

“State to send wasp hit squad after emerald ash borers” by Lee Bergquist posted 05/05/11 in the Milwaukee-Wiscondin Journal Sentinel – http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/121358734.html

“Pokagon Band uses wasps to save its trees, tradition” by Landa Bagley posted 08/28/15 in the South Bend Tribune – http://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/pokagon-band-uses-wasps-to-save-its-trees-tradition/

“Basketmakers’ Tradition of Storing Black Ash Logs in Water Effective in Killing EAB” posted 07/18/15 in Native News Online – http://nativenewsonline.net/currents/basketmakers-tradition-of-storing-black-ash-logs-in-water-effective-in-killing-eab/

“Submergence of black ash logs to control emerald ash borer and preserve wood for American Indian basketmaking” posted 06/27/15 by the USDA Forest Service Research Station in Lansing MI available from Wiley Online Library – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/afe.12122/pdf;jsessionid=0AADC6B0F5BCE545F153F2306C8EB2DA.f01t02

Information about volunteering to participate in Project FeederWatch is avaialable at The Cornell Lab – http://feederwatch.org/

eBird uses global tools to report and make information about birds accessible – learn more at eBird – http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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The Plastic Man

 “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

“Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.”

Sometimes it is embarrassing to be associated with an industry such as the Plastics industry. Even though what we do is environmentally friendly (keeping already existing plastics out of the landfill) and the plastics that we are dealing with HDPE, LDPE and PP “seem” relatively benign. However, it does not appear that we can trust any assurances from the chemical industry.

The Huffington Post has a damning article titled “Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia” by Mariah Blake (see Information Resources at the end of this blog for a link). It is a saga yet to reach it’s conclusion. It is the story of the Washington Works, a plant in the DuPont family of companies and the Dry Run Creek landfill. It is the story of intentional deception on the part of DuPont. It is the story of how our modern day conveniences and ease in living are often obtained through the horrendous suffering of everyday people while the corporation – inherently different from a small business where someone actually cares and there is a “buck stops here” sense of responsibility – grows enormously wealthy and seeks to shed any liability for its actions in doing so.

DuPont assured the family on who’s farm it wanted to obtain a landfill that it would only dispose of non-toxic material like ash and scrap metal. It is easy for me to believe that with large corporations the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. That the person making these assurances believed them. That whoever was responsible for supervising the transport and disposal of toxic substances in that landfill may have known nothing about such assurances. This is one of the more troubling aspects of corporations – no direct human responsibility as the corporation is a non-human entity – even though human beings are employed by it.

Teflon Happy Pan

I know it has long been troubling for me to see the Teflon (or its more recent similarly structured derivatives) non-stick coating on my electric kettle and skillet flake off and I’ve not felt entirely reassured that it is safe and inert. There seems to be a good reason for my reluctance and distrust of the chemical industry in general. Thankfully, the last electric skillet I purchased has what appears to be a very durable surface that does not flake off, although it may subtly disintegrate imperceptibly over time. There is no way for me to be certain.

The histories of our various chemical giants like DuPont, 3M, Monsanto and Union Carbide just to name some of the more recognizable is littered with enough worrisome behavior as to justify a degree of bad karma for these businesses. After congressional hearings in 1934, DuPont (who had “supplied half of the world’s gunpowder and was expanding into bombs and poison gas. But it was drawing fire on the home front”) was advised that “the only way DuPont could escape the ‘atmosphere of plague’,” was to “transform its image from that of a purveyor of doomsday weaponry to a maker of peacetime products that benefited American society”.

Thus was born the “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry” blueprint for the future. “Through the marvels of science, synthetic materials would free people from mundane tasks, allowing them to lead lives of leisure and ease.” DuPont’s legacy with Teflon traces itself back to its use in coating “the valves and seals of the Manhattan Project’s uranium enrichment equipment”. There was also created the idea of The Plastic Man in the late 1940s. “This fortunate being would enter a world of ‘color and bright shining surfaces, where childish hands find nothing to break … no crevices to harbour dirt or germs’. He would live his life ‘surrounded on every side by this tough, safe, clean material which human thought has created’.” There was even a comic book series of that name.

Plastic Man comics

It can be frequently seen that large corporations create smaller entities to shirk financial responsibility. Prior to Sept. 1, 1997, a corporation that was then known as the “Monsanto Company” operated an “ag business”, a pharmaceuticals and nutrition business and a chemicals business. A company known as Solutia (currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eastman Chemical Company) now operates Monsanto’s former chemicals business. This past July 2015, “DuPont spun off its specialty chemicals division into a separate company called Chemours. The new enterprise will assume the liability for DuPont’s most polluted sites, including Washington Works—but it will only have one-quarter of DuPont’s revenue. Many people with cases pending against DuPont worry that it will use this arrangement to avoid paying damages.”

3M was long the supplier of C8 (perfluorooctanoic acid) to DuPont. C8 is a soaplike substance that gives Teflon its nonstick qualities. It is also found in thousands of household products, including carpeting, waterproof clothes, dental floss, kitty litter and cosmetics to name a few. Only in May 2000 did 3M annouce that it would phase out a close relative of C8 called perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS used in Scotchgard fabric protector. Over the decades, DuPont has dumped huge quantities of Teflon waste into the ocean and into unlined pits along the Ohio River. When 3M began shutting down its C8 production, DuPont began manufacturing the chemical itself.

Ad for 3M Scotchgard

Ad for 3M Scotchgard

DuPont was involved in “another cover-up involving a grease-repellant chemical called Zonyl that is used in candy wrappers, pizza boxes and countless other food containers. DuPont had long insisted that the substance didn’t migrate into the food, but internal documents showed that it seeped off packaging at levels three times higher than what the FDA regarded as safe—and then broke down into C8”. C8 has been detected everywhere. In produce and beef in American grocery stores, polar bears in the Arctic, even children in the remote Faeroe Islands. One analysis of blood banks from around the world showed that nearly all of the blood contained C8.

Monsanto claims that they are a relatively new company even though they share the name and history of a company that was founded in 1901. Monsanto can claim credit for Saccharin used in 1902 by Coca-Cola. In 1929, Monsanto became the largest producer of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were later banned in the 1970s. They remain to this day they in the water along Dead Creek in Sauget, IL (just across the Mississippi River from St Louis, MO where Monsanto is headquartered) where Monsanto had its plant for manufacturing PCBs. By 1938 Monsanto was largely involved in the plastics business. And from 1939 to 1945 Monsanto did a lot of research on enriching uranium for Manhattan project. During WWII, Monsanto was involved in the production of PCBs, DDT and chemical weapons. From 1961 to 1971 Monsanto was involved in the production of Agent Orange which was sprayed on the Vietnamese civilians and American troops during the Vietnam War. No wonder they wish to distance themselves from the “old” company !!

It can be disconcerting to learn that under the final version of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 existing chemicals are all “grandfathered” in. Only five chemicals have ever been banned under the Toxic Substances Control Act. This means that only a handful of the 80,000-plus chemicals on the market have ever been tested for safety. Manufacturers are required to “inform” the EPA when they introduce new chemicals; however, no testing of such chemicals is required. This regulatory regime still exists today. “We are all, in effect, guinea pigs in a vast, haphazard chemistry experiment.” Since the Toxic Substances Control Act makes it extremely difficult for the EPA to ban chemicals, the best the EPA could do was negotiate with DuPont for a voluntary phase-out by 2015.

I am grateful that Missouri appears to be free of drinking water PFC contamination in the counties that have been tested for it. Our county has not been tested but it is reassuring to know that it is unlikely that we have any concerns related to this particular substance being in our drinking water though larger concerns remain due to C8 being already generally pervasive throughout modern society. You can check your location at the Environmental Working Groups interactive map – PFC Contamination.

Environmental Working Group Section of Map showing PFC Contamination

Environmental Working Group
Section of Map showing PFC Contamination

~ Information Resources

“Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia” by Mariah Blake posted at Huffington – http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/welcome-to-beautiful-parkersburg/

PFC Contamination in Drinking Water, an interactive map, at the Environmental Working Group – http://static.ewg.org/reports/2015/pfoa_drinking_water/interactive_map/index.html

Monsanto Company History – http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/pages/monsanto-history.aspx

“Dark History of Monsanto” posted at Seattle Organic Restaurants – http://www.seattleorganicrestaurants.com/vegan-whole-foods/dark-history-monsanto/

“Corporate Relationships Among Monsanto Company” – http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/pages/monsanto-relationships-pfizer-solutia.aspx

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Unintended Consequences

Gold King Mine 1899

Gold King Mine 1899

When in the course of human events, intentional actions bring unintended consequences, it may be intelligent to notice that there exists an imbalance that needs adjustment. Therefore I did appreciate an editorial that was posted in the NY Times online Aug 20, 2015 “When a River Runs Orange” by Gwen Lachelt. This article makes the point that mining laws placed on the books back in 1872 are still in effect and having an impact on the circumstances related to abandoned mining operations in the United States.

She notes that “A study by the environmental group Earthworks estimated that approximately 500,000 abandoned and unreclaimed mines litter the country. The E.P.A. says that mining pollutes approximately 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds and that cleaning up these mines may cost American taxpayers more than $50 billion.”

EarthWorks has a lot of information on the General Mining Law of 1872 and the need for reform. They note that it was signed into law by President Ulysses S Grant and that the mining law allows “mining interests to take valuable hardrock minerals including gold, silver, and uranium from public lands without royalty payment to the taxpayer unlike other mining industries that extract coal, oil or natural gas” and “to buy valuable mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre” which was the price set in 1872 and which has never been adjusted for inflation. The fact is that “19th century America wasn’t concerned with environmental protection. So the mining law doesn’t contain environmental protection provisions”.

Animas River Before and After

Animas River
Before and After

It’s just that when rivers run an Orange color it attracts attention . . . “The Mining Law has been historically interpreted to trump all other potential uses of public lands. If you hold a mining claim, that claim is treated as a right-to-mine by the federal government. The federal government is on record as saying that they cannot say no to mining proposals. Even if those proposals threaten some of America’s most special places. Even if those proposals pollute clean water.”

And who are some of the people currently impacted by the EPAs unintended consequences when their contractor was investigating the Gold King Mine near Silverton, CO because it was already seriously polluting the Animas River ? When that big “oops” of accidentally releasing 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the river happened. The “problem” now directly impacts the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. The Navajo Farming Authority has had to “shut off public water intakes and irrigation canals”. Hundreds of Navajo farmers and ranchers must now drive long distances to water their crops and livestock. “This contamination brings up memories of other environmental disasters caused by the federal government. One in particular that Navajo people are talking about is uranium mine contamination — a decades-long legacy that still affects people on the reservation today. The EPA has only started in the last seven years to clean up those mines.”

Navajo Sheepherder

Navajo Sheepherder

There have been some small legal patches applied in recent decades as noted in a Bureau of Land Management assessment of the Madison Watershed in Montana which includes information about the impacts of mining and abandoned mine lands there. Federal policy details as outlined in this report are probably pretty consistent in perspective everywhere mining has been a part of any local region – “The Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), and the Natural Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act of 1980 direct that the public lands be managed in a manner that recognizes the nation’s needs for domestic sources of mineral production. Under the Mining Law of 1872, claimants have a statutory right to develop their mineral deposits consistent with applicable environmental laws. The mineralized areas of the watershed have seen extensive mineral development over the past 150 years. The BLM Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program is responsible for cleaning up sites determined to be hazardous to human health, to the environment, or those which present physical safety hazards to the public. Early mining prior to 1981 did not require reclamation or bonding, many of these abandoned mines have legacy features such as eroding dumps, abandoned tailings, or open mine features. Reclamation will be prioritized by the magnitude of the environmental problem, the severity of the safety risk, funding available, and/or the partnerships available to conduct the work.”

North American Lead Co Fredericktown, MO

North American Lead Co
Fredericktown, MO

So why do we at Yemm & Hart care ? – apart from having environmentalist’s hearts in general. It is because we live and work in an area that has been contaminated by mining practices in the past. My region of Missouri was historically and heavily influenced by early lead mining and later on in more recent times cobalt mining as well. Mining here has left large tracts of “wasteland” locally. Lead mining in our region dates back to the very first French settlers before there was even a General Mining Law of 1872. The sad truth is that mining practices in our region resulted in us becoming “known” as a EPA SuperFund Site identified as the Missouri Mines Site. Before the local population knew “better” tailings from the mines were often used on residential yards, in sidewalk construction and on driveways. Children in the area have been widely tested for lead exposure and remediation has been accomplished locally by digging up yards and replacing top soil.

It is interesting to note that my husband comes from a long family line of coal miners beginning in the Gloucestershire area of the UK and immigrating into the coal fields of Illinois and Indiana in the US. Eventually, his family worked their way out of the mines and into other occupations but it is still interesting to note that we ended up on a farm in the Lead Belt mining region of Missouri – although thankfully there were no direct mining activities here on our land or anywhere nearby.

Lachelt notes at the end of her editorial that there is a comprehensive reform of the old law currently being attempted and that “Congress already has a bill before it that will do it: H.R. 963, the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona. The new law, currently bottled up in committee, would create a fund to clean up abandoned and inactive mines by establishing an 8 percent royalty on all new hard-rock mines on public lands, a 4 percent royalty on existing mines on public lands and reclamation fees on all hard-rock mines, including those that were ‘purchased’ for low prices under the 1872 Mining Law. A similar system is already in place for abandoned coal mines, so there’s no practical reason it can’t work for hard-rock mining too. The bill would also improve both reclamation standards and requirements that mining companies financially guarantee that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up existing mines.”

~ Information Resources

“When a River Runs Orange” posted Aug 20, 2015 in the NY Times online – http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/20/opinion/when-a-river-runs-orange.html?ref=opinion&_r=1

General Mining Law of 1872 posted at EarthWorksAction.org – https://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/general_mining_law_of_1872

“Navajo Nation Farmers Feel The Weight Of Colorado Mine Spill” story on NPR by Laurel Morales aired Aug 17, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/08/17/432600254/navajo-nation-farmers-feel-the-weight-of-colorado-mine-spill

“‘Yellow Dirt’: The Legacy of Navajo Uranium Mines” aired Oct 22, 2010 on NPR and based on the book “Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed” by Judy Pasternak – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130754093

Pgs 10 -11 and 58 – 59 – “Mining, Minerals and Abandoned Mine Lands” in the Madison Watershed of Montana, report published at Bureau of Land Management – http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/mt/field_offices/dillon/madison.Par.4414.File.dat/report.pdf

“Madison County Mines EPA Superfund Site” – http://www.epa.gov/Region7/cleanup/npl_files/mod098633415.pdf

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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