White House Unveils Plan to Replace All Lead Pipes in Next 10 Years

The Biden administration has released the “Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan,” an ambitious plan to replace all the lead water pipes and service lines in the country in the next decade. The plan also intends to provide support to local communities for lead paint removal. The administration seeks to engage local, state and federal agencies and resources in the plan’s implementation, and states are being asked to prioritize underserved communities.

As many as 10 million households in America and 400,000 schools and child care facilities are serviced by lines, pipes or fixtures containing lead, and over half of U.S. children are at risk of lead exposure, the White House press release said. People with low income and communities of color are more likely to be exposed to drinking water contaminated with the toxic metal, while Black people of non-Hispanic descent are more than twice as likely to live in housing that is substandard and therefore presents a greater risk of exposure to the chips and dust from deteriorating lead-based paint, CBS News reported.

“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks. President Biden and Vice President Harris believe this is unacceptable and must change,” the press release said.

The funding for the Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan includes $15 billion from last month’s bipartisan infrastructure bill for the EPA. The EPA is allocating $2.9 billion for states, Tribes and territories to replace lead service lines, and asking states to prioritize underserved communities.

As part of the plan’s implementation, Department of Housing and Urban Development grants will be awarded to state and local government agencies. Implementation of the plan will also include hubs to support the development of inventories for local water agencies’ lead service lines, and a revised plan from the EPA for reducing lead exposure.

For years, residents of some towns in Michigan have had to rely on bottled water to do daily tasks like cook and brush their teeth because of lead-contaminated drinking water, reported CBS News. Last month, thousands of residents in Flint were compensated after years of exposure to unhealthy levels of lead in their water when a federal judge approved a $626.25 million settlement, CBS News reported at the time.

“For far too long, American families from Flint to Houston and across the country have had to live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the water that comes out of their taps is putting their children’s health at risk. Removing and replacing toxic lead pipes will protect our families, while creating thousands of good union jobs,” Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz said in a statement about the new plan.

Since lead is harmful even at low levels, there is no recognized safe level for drinking water, according to the EPA. Exposure can cause developmental issues in children and higher blood pressure, impaired kidney function and reproductive issues in adults.

“The bottom line is that there is no reason in the 21st century for why people are still exposed to this substance that was poisoning people back in the 18th century,” Vice President Kamala Harris remarked in a speech yesterday, CBS News reported. “But here’s the truth, and it’s a hard truth: Millions of people in our country, many of them children, are still exposed to lead every day.”

Wood Burning a Major Source of Carcinogens in Athens Air, Study Finds

Sitting around the fire on a cold winter’s night may feel like a cozy treat, but wood burning is actually a major source of dangerous air pollution.

Now, a new study published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics this month found that the practice of burning wood in the wintertime was responsible for almost half of the urban air pollution cancer risk in Athens, Greece. However, this problem isn’t limited to one country.

“Athens is not an exception – it’s more representative of a rule,” study co-author Athanasios Nenes of the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas in Patras, Greece and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland told The Guardian.

The researchers focused on a type of pollutant found within particulate matter known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the study authors explained. PAHs are known to be carcinogenic, but less is known about how they end up in urban air.

To answer this question, the researchers spent a year taking more than 150 air samples in Athens and testing them for 31 PAHs. They found that wood burning was responsible for 31 percent of the yearly average of PAHs while diesel and oil were responsible for 33 percent and gasoline for 29 percent. However, wood burning primarily occurs in the winter, and is the reason that PAH levels were seven times higher during that season. Further, when the actual cancer-risk of various PAHs was factored in, wood burning turned out to be responsible for 43 percent of that risk.

“This can result in a large number of excess cancer cases due to BB [biomass burning]-related high PM [particulate matter] levels and urges immediate action to reduce residential BB emissions in urban areas facing similar issues,” the study authors wrote.

While the study focused on Greece, wood burning is a problem across Europe and around the world. In the UK, for example, government statistics reported by The Guardian in February found that home wood burning was responsible for more fine particulate matter than any other source, out-emitting road traffic by a factor of three.

“Greek urban centers are not unique in this regard,” the study authors wrote, “as residential biomass burning (BB) is a major issue for urban air quality throughout Europe. Studies in central European cities have reported BB contributions to cumulative particle PAH concentrations that even exceed 50%.”

Luckily, the problem has a fairly easy solution.

“On the one hand, it’s: ‘Oh, my goodness, this is terrible,’” Nenes told The Guardian. “But on the other hand, it points to something people can actually do to reduce this risk without too much effort. You basically stop burning wood. That’s the bottom line.”

The research team also called for policy changes in Europe to regulate wood burning as soon as possible.

In lower and middle income countries, however, the solution may not be as clean. That’s because around 2.6 billion people still cook using solid fuels like wood or charcoal or kerosene, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Indoor air pollution from this type of cooking kills 3.8 million people every year.

“Without a substantial policy change, the total number of people lacking access to clean fuels and technologies will remain largely unchanged by 2030,” WHO wrote.

This is why ensuring worldwide access to clean fuels and technologies is part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

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A Call to Birdwatchers: Join the Search for World’s 10 ‘Most Wanted’ Lost Bird Species

Conservation groups and scientists are calling on birdwatchers around the world to help them locate 10 species of bird that have been lost to science.

The so-called Search for Lost Birds, which launched today, is a collaboration between Re:wild, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and BirdLife International to find 10 species that haven’t been seen in the wild for at least 10 years, but are not yet classified as extinct according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The species may be under threat from human activity, or they may simply live in remote areas that scientists haven’t been able to access or haven’t known to search.

“By working with partners and collaborators from around the world, the Search for Lost Birds hopes to engage the knowledge and expertise of the global birdwatching community to solve these conservation challenges,” John C. Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at American Bird Conservancy, said in a statement. “By directly reporting sightings and information through eBird, birdwatchers and citizen scientists from anywhere in the world can help us find and learn more about these lost species.”

eBird is an important citizen science tool from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that allows birdwatchers to report their sightings. It currently has more than 700,000 registered users who have documented more than one billion bird sightings. Still, none of those sightings include the birds on the list.

The “most wanted” lost birds are

  1. Dusky tetraka, last documented in 1999 in Madagascar
  2. South Island kōkako, last seen in 2007 in New Zealand
  3. Jerdon’s courser, last seen in 2009 in India
  4. Itwombwe nightjar (or Prigogine’s nightjar), last seen in 1955 in Democratic Republic of Congo
  5. Cuban kite, last seen in 2010 in Cuba
  6. Negros fruit-dove, last seen in 1953 in the Philippines
  7. Santa Marta sabrewing, last seen in 2010 in Colombia
  8. Vilcabamba brush-finch, last seen in 1968 in Peru
  9. Himalayan quail, last seen 1877 in India
  10. Siau scops-owl, last seen in 1866 in Indonesia

“The Siau scops owl is known from the small Indonesian island of Siau,” Roger Safford of BirdLife International told The Guardian. “A stuffed specimen was brought back to Europe in 1866, then nothing. Most of the forest on Siau has since been cut down. But there have been rumours of an owl on Siau. To find a species that hasn’t been seen for over 150 years … imagine that.”

The initiative is an offshoot of Re:Wild’s Search for Lost Species, which has so far located eight of its top 25 most wanted species since 2017. The most wanted list does include three birds. The point of finding the missing plants and animals isn’t just to prove they still exist, but also to aid with conservation, and this is the case with the bird-specific list as well.

“If we can find these lost birds, conservationists can better protect them from the threats they face,” Barney Long, senior director for conservation strategies for Re:wild, said in a statement.

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