Above the Fold: Our new look, disappearing insects, evangelizing for indigenous food

Hey .... something's different ...


Hey .... something's different ...


That's right—we have a brand new website and a refreshed newsletter. Our director, Douglas Fischer, tells you all about it here.

"We overhauled our site to better reach you – and readers who don't even know us yet," he writes. "We want to be where you find and consume news.

"We want to be more proactive. We're going to drive the discussion," he adds.

Exciting, eh?

Now, let me tell you what will not change—the top environmental health news will still be delivered to your inbox, 365 days a year.

1. Today's Top Read - Firefighters fighting cancer

"It's time to be honest with one another and ourselves, because we all want to go home to our families and retire instead of dying like this." That's fire captain Peter Berger—from Hallandale Beach, Florida—a former firefighter dying of cancer.

Berger is one of the many voices in The Columbus Dispatch's 5-part series, Unmasked, a heart-wrenching report on firefighters now fighting cancer. The culprit is, at least in part, the chemicals and pollution the firefighters are exposed to every time they run into a house, building or burning vehicle.

The numbers are shocking:

  • Firefighters are at least 14 percent more likely to develop cancer than the general public.
  • About one in six has been diagnosed with cancer.
  • About 85 percent know at least one firefighter who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Read the full series from the Columbus Dispatch.

2. Where have all the insects gone?

Hamish Secrett

Last week the Guardian highlighted a stunning report that three quarters of flying insects on Germany's nature preserves vanished over the past 25 years.

Yes, insects can be real pests but this is a big problem. Total insect abundance has dropped 75 percent over the past 25 years. The critters pollinate our food (grains and fruits) and flowers, and are the base of thousands of food chains.

The Guardian has a follow up story with more uncomfortable truths about our collapsing insect population and what it means for us and our planet. "... even the most successful organisms that have ever existed on earth are now being overwhelmed by the titanic scale of the human enterprise, as indeed, is the whole natural world," writes naturalist Michael McCarthy.

Insects aren't alone: Carbon Brief today reports on the troubling new science that finds climate change may cause an imbalance in wildlife sex ratios.

3. Evangelizing for indigenous food

Meet Ruth Khasaya Oniang'o, one of the winners of this year's African Food Prize, who works in sub-Saharan Africa getting seeds, plants, soil test kits and climate change information to farmers in a region where food security is an elusive target.

Oniang'o is pushing for a resurgence of local foods—rather than sugarcane and other crops—such as African black nightshade, jute mallow and slender leaf.

"Many farmers have ignored African indigenous leafy vegetables and yet they are very nutrient rich, and some of them have medicinal values," Oniang'o told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Other food news and notes:

  1. "It's kelp season right now," says Bren Smith, Connecticut's leading kelp farmer, but Smith and other "ocean farmers" are waiting on state permits as the fledgling industry ramps up. (Source: Hartford Courant.)
  2. "At home after work, when I try to go to sleep, my hands hurt. Every time I get up early to work, my arm hurts," says poultry worker Patricia Zalasar. Civil Eats on the progress, and challenges, in chicken plant working conditions.
  3. Indian scientists found toxic lead in rice and fish sold in Kolkata city market. (Source: Times of India.)

4. Pesticide problems

Ag giant Monsanto is suing Arkansas after state officials proposed restrictions on the herbicide dicamba during summer months, according to Reuters.

Farmers say the herbicide damaged millions of acres of crops where it was not sprayed. Monsanto says they're using it wrong.

Meanwhile in Europe, the EU Commission is set to vote on Wednesday whether or not to renew the license for glyphosate (commonly sold as Roundup by Monsanto) for another 10 years. President Macron's La République En Marche! party let it be known where they stand, publishing a letter against the renewal. "France will vote against the renewal of its use for 10 years and we welcome the responsible position of our country," they wrote, according to today's Connexion.

5. From DC.

The New York Times reports the EPA cancelled the appearance of three of its scientists at a climate change conference in Rhode Island because .... well, no one knows why. The Times over the weekend also published a handy guide to the EPA's top 10 toxic threats, and details how industry is pushing back against restrictions on each one.

However, the New Republic has a piece on a new EPA appointee, Pete Lopez, in charge of Puerto Rico's environmental cleanup, who may emerge as the voice of reason in an agency at war with itself. Lopez doesn't have ties to fossil fuels or the chemical industry, believes environmental justice is a thing, and scores fairly well on the NY State Environmental Scorecard.

"Peter has an opportunity to restore some integrity in the office," Lopez's predecessor, Judith Enck, told the New Republic.

6. Toxic roundup.

  • Scientists are digging in the mud in and around Houston to find what toxics are lurking due to Hurricane Harvey, reports NPR.
  • Delaware's News Journal reports on seven communities—mostly poor and people of color— in New Castle County that are at much higher risk for cancer than nearby communities due to excessive environmental pollution.
  • Why are boys being diagnosed with autism more than girls? It could be mercury in processed food, according to Scientific American. "As inorganic mercury levels continue to rise in the American population via unhealthy diet we are seeing an increase in the prevalence of autism," writes Dr. Renee Joy Dufault of the Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute.

7. Something fun ...

@ClementViguier

In case you didn't know, it's "Inktober," an art challenge where artists around the world do a different drawing every day during October. Many artists have taken the opportunity to ink climate-inspired creations, including the picture above—dubbed "Underwater"—from Clement Viguier, an engineer in computational biology & PhD. student in ecological modeling from Grenoble, France.

Check out more Inktober climate drawings on Twitter.

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