Monday, July 18, 2016

A word about Brownfields cleanups in Rochester, NY

Whenever you hear businesses complain about the financial burdens of environmental regulations, think of Brownfields. Brownfields are abandoned sites, usually in urban locations, that are tainted by either real or perceived contamination, making them undesirable for private redevelopment efforts. Not to mention, Brownfields (like Love Canal) are public health scourges.

Brownfields aren’t an indispensable part of doing business; Brownfields happen when you aren’t conducting a business properly.

Ironically, the City of Rochester characterizes the cleanup of Brownfields as an opportunity, which is true I suppose if you view cleaning up urban areas unfit for human habitation as job creators. Even the EPA frames their Brownfields Program this way: “…creates many benefits for local communities”.

If you are able to glean the necessary funds to provide these jobs from the state or (even better) from the actual businesses that created these environmental disasters, then I’m sure there are jobs to be had. I get the part about making the best of a bad situation but I hope by describing the cleanup of Brownfields as opportunities we don’t put ourselves in the absurd position of encouraging Brownfields so folks can get jobs. (I know, as our present economics are practiced, this toxic waste circle-jerk would make sense, but in the real world dumping and leaving toxic waste behind never, ever makes sense.)

Cleaning up Brownfields “especially those in areas characterized by high poverty, unemployment or other indicators of community distress” is critical in preparing for Climate Change.

NEWS RELEASE - EPA AWARDS ROCHESTER $200,000 FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANUP Mayor Lovely A. Warren announced today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded the City of Rochester $200,000 in supplemental funding for the City’s Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund. The funding will be used for cleanup and re-use efforts at contaminated manufacturing sites, especially those in areas characterized by high poverty, unemployment or other indicators of community distress.  “These funds will advance our efforts to help city neighborhoods that have suffered from neglect and disinvestment,” said Mayor Warren. “Cleaning up these contaminated properties in our most challenged neighborhoods is critical to our efforts to create more jobs, safer more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities in our schools. (July 13, 2016) City of Rochester, NY

Many of our Brownfields exist within poverty areas so when more extreme weather comes with Climate Change it is more likely that toxic leaching due to frequent, heavy flooding that will put more pressure on the public health in areas least prepared for these increased environmental hazards. Climate justice demands that Brownfields in poor areas get cleaned up immediately.  

I don’t know how many Brownfields there are in Rochester, Monroe County, or New York State—or the world for that matter. I don’t know how a Brownfield gets cleaned up in such a way that the contaminated area is entirely free to operate again as a healthy component of any ecosystem. I don’t know the best way to fund the cleanup of Brownfields so that the businesses who get the public money for cleaning up Brownfields use these funds or tax breaks for the intended purpose.

I do know that Brownfields are unacceptable no matter how they are characterized. And, I know that to prepare best so we can adapt to Climate Change, we need to get these damned places cleaned up.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Lyme disease, a Climate Change indicator in our region, is telling us to wake up

First, let’s get on the same page when we talk about Climate Change indicators. Here’s what our US government understands it to be: “…indicators of climate change can communicate key aspects of the changing environment, point out vulnerabilities, and inform decisions about policy, planning, and resource management.” Indicators, from 

This is what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) thinks:

Many lines of scientific evidence show the Earth's climate is changing. This page presents the latest information from several independent measures of observed climate change that illustrate an overwhelmingly compelling story of a planet that is undergoing global warming. It is worth noting that increasing global temperature is only one element of observed global climate change. Precipitation patterns are also changing; storms and other extremes are changing as well. (Global Climate Change Indicators, NOAA)

Basically, climate change indicators are things like:

Sorry about all the hyperlinks but they lead somewhere. They lead to a plethora of indicators that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Climate Change is not only knocking at our door but threatening to break it down.

Buried in the EPA’s litany of indicators is Lyme Disease and I haven’t though too much about this particular indicator, as the local media doesn’t mention it much. (You can track local coverage of Lyme disease since 2000 here.)

So, it came as a surprise to come across this news report this week about the Lyme disease crisis in the Hudson Valley and how it’s at the forefront of a political fight.

Lyme disease drives campaign in Hudson Valley As campaigns for local offices intensify, candidates are running on fairly traditional campaign issues — job creation, economic growth and Second Amendment rights, to name just a few. But in the Hudson Valley, an unexpected issue has emerged.. In a race in the 41st Senate district in the Hudson Valley, candidates from both major parties have made Lyme disease a central part of their campaigns. The ailment, a result of tick bites, can produce a wide range of symptoms including fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis. Dutchess and the surrounding counties have some of the highest levels of the disease in the nation. (July 5, 2016) Politicol

It’s a surprise to find that not too far from us in Rochester there is a major outbreak of Lyme disease but I guess many New Yorkers were already well aware of the problem:

More than 71,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in New York since 2000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, 3,736 new cases were reported in the state. The number of cases is rising in many counties, including those in Central New York. Onondaga County had just a handful of cases in the early 2000s, but nearly 200 from 2011 to 2014. (How many cases of Lyme disease where you live? Search our NY database by county, March 16, 2016

This is how prevalent Lyme disease crisis is in the affected area and how at least one of our politicians understands the problem.

“In the Hudson Valley, almost everyone knows someone suffering the effects of Lyme or TBDs,” said Senator Serino. “While the diseases might not be known to that extent in other communities, they’re certainly beginning to spread across the state and eyes are really starting to open to the severity of Tick-Borne Diseases. If we want to prevent that spread and help those who are suffering, combatting Lyme and TBDs needs to be a priority each and every year.” (April 1, 2016, SERINO RENEWS COMMITMENT TO BATTLE LYME DISEASE New York State Senate).

Here’s what concerns me greatly. We have a massive outbreak of a major Climate Change indicator going on now and our politicians and media don’t mention the connection with this outbreak with the crisis of our age. Our climate experts have continually linked Lyme disease as an indicator of Climate Change and study after study has clearly linked the increase of Lyme disease in the Northeast with Climate Change. Here’s a reference to that link in our most important climate study pertaining to our region.

"Climate change may have serious implications for diseases affecting wildlife and people. Vector species, such as mosquitoes, ticks, midges, and other biting insects, respond dramatically to small changes in climate, which in turn alters the occurrence of diseases they carry. For example, Lyme disease, erlichiosis, and other tick-borne diseases are spreading as temperatures increase, allowing ticks to move northward and increase in abundance. " (Page 185, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011)

Along with the dramatic increase in heavy rains in our region since 1958 (I know, we’re experiencing a little drought here in Monroe County right now, but this is a discussion about climate not weather), we are experiencing many other indicators of Climate Change in our region like Lyme disease. But our politicians talk about every aspect of Lyme disease—the symptoms, the number of people affected, how this devastating disease can screw up your life, how to prevent tics when going outdoor, and much more—except the very real connection with Climate Change. So when our politicians and the media don’t connect the dots between Lyme disease and Climate Change it means the public gets very concerned. But the public doesn’t realize we are experiencing Climate Change; the public doesn’t realize that our public health is already seriously compromised by Climate Change.

This code of silence between the media and our politicians on Climate Change means the public continues to believe that Climate Change is some far-off disaster they don’t have to worry about. It means when we vote in November, the public will still think Climate Change is not a priority.
It means we are allowing ourselves to let these few short years we have before the window of opportunity to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of Climate Change to go by without a public engagement on a level and speed that will ultimately matter.

Time passes. 

Monday, July 04, 2016

Paris Agreement, Climate Change, and Rochester, NY--an update

This week St. Vincent and the Grenadines ratified the Paris Agreement which they and 176 other nations signed the climate accord last Earth Day. Only 19 nations have ratified Paris at this time, though by the end of this year, signings by China and the USA could get the job done. We have until April 22, 2017 “the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Depositary.”(1.) (You can track Ratifications here: United Nations Treaty Collection.)

Already markets are seeing an uptick in renewable energy since Paris, but still the fossil fuel industry holds on tenaciously. Credit rating industries are using the Paris Agreement as a guide for future credit assessments, which bodes well for our future. Investors need to operate in a somewhat predictable world where they are assured that every country is doing its best to achieve a sustainable existence.

However, it’s not all peaches and cream for our future. Despite the evidence that the fossil fuel industry knew that the results of their own investigations indicated a causal and dramatic relationship between the use of fossil fuels and Climate Change, they threatened the organizations calling them on this—instead of shifting gears and helping the world out. Reason and science and good will towards all don’t seem to be enough to fix this problem.

In Rochester some ground has been gained on addressing Climate Change because of the near-completion of the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). (We’re hearing it could pass city council by end of the year.) In and of itself, the CAP can’t fix this worldwide crisis, but it could go far in getting local businesses and the public prepared for the consequences. But for this to happen, the Rochester’s CAP needs public attention so it will get the support a climate plan needs.  For this to happen, our local media needs to connect the dots: Sustainability => Climate Change => public => media => government climate plan => actions on a speed and scale that will matter.

However, our local media still seems oblivious to Climate Change. According to this week’s news, the only downside of low gasoline prices is the probable increase in holiday accidents—not how our region will contribute more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere. Perhaps our local media thinks that because the national media fails the public on Climate Change, it’s OK to fail us locally too.

Nothing is made of the increase of Zika Virus in New York and the relationship to Climate Change.

State Identifies 324 Cases Of The Zika Virus New York's Health Department says it has identified 324 cases of Zika, all associated with travel to areas where mosquitoes are known to transmit it. The department says Thursday it has found no cases so far from mosquito bites in the state. It has reported 22 pregnant women with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infection may cause birth defects. (July 1, 2016) WXXI News 

This is odd because the mosquitoes that carry the Zika Virus will fare better during Climate Change in NYS and so will the Zika Virus. Read the NYT story: “In Zika Epidemic, a Warning on Climate Change” Our New York State Public Health Department, which is all over the Zika Virus outbreak, is sadly dropping the ball on informing the public of the Zika Virus/Climate Change relationship.
There is a little hope in the reporting of harmful Algae blooms (HABs), where local media are finally starting to connect the dots with the warmer waters of the Finger Lakes, HABs, and Climate Change.

Health advisory issued for blue-green algae in Conesus Lake Conesus Lake has the dubious distinction of sporting the first confirmed outbreak of blue-green algae in the Rochester region this summer, prompting the Livingston County Department of Health to issue an advisory. Thirteen lakes now appear on the DEC's harmful algal bloom alert page. Among them is the Avon Marsh Dam Pond, also in Livingston County, where there is a suspicious but unconfirmed bloom of something nasty-looking. “Outbreaks of blue-green algae are become more and more common, with warming temperatures and other aspects of climate change partially to blame.” (June 24, 2016) Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Last year Seneca Lake had its first official case of blue-green algae. Canandaigua Lake continues to be plagued by toxic algae. And the shallow Honeoye Lake usually has an on-going blue-green algae problem. Climate Change is changing our Finger Lakes and this needs to be on our list of present consequences of this crisis so we can plan properly. Read the EPA factsheet on blue-green algae and Climate Change: “Impacts of Climate Change on the Occurrence of Harmful Algal Blooms
One of the more pernicious cases of the media’s fossil-fuel amnesia involves the link between Climate Change and Bomb Trains. Whether you know it or not there has been a vast increase in the transporting of dangerously volatile crude oil since 2011 through our communities on railcars meant for corn syrup. To show your support locally for the need to reduce fossil fuels, consider attending this memorial rally: 4:15-6 p.m., Wednesday, July 6, 2016 at the Federal Building, 100 State Street, Rochester, NY.

Press Release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                
CONTACT: Linda Pratt at (585) 729-2558 or

Mothers and Others Remember Train Victims, Warn of Danger
Rochester, NY —Wednesday, July 6, at 4:15 p.m., citizens decrying the continued passage of explosive Bakken crude oil trains through Monroe County will line the sidewalks in front of the Federal Building to name and mourn the 48 victims of the 2013 Bakken train oil derailment in  Lac Megantic, Quebec.  The Toronto Star recently stated that apart from war, the destruction from this event was unprecedented in Canadian history. 30 buildings, about half the downtown, were destroyed, and most of the remainder are too contaminated to allow to stand.

The memorial rally was called to draw attention to the tragic consequences of Bakken oil trains. 
There have been 11 explosive derailments since 2013, including the most recent one on June 3, 2016 in Mosier, Oregon.  The Fire Chief there has called shipping Bakken Crude by rail “insane.” 
Monroe County sees a daily average of over 200 Bakken oil tanker rail cars, “and each tank car of crude holds the energy equivalent of two million sticks of dynamite (WSJ, May 22, 2014: The National Transportation Safety Board calls these unit trains of Bakken crude “an unacceptable public risk.” (

“Lac Megantic has been the only accident in a populated area so far. In Monroe County, trains run through highly populated areas, past dozens of schools, and across sensitive waterways. Derailments have happened here before, but this kind of explosive derailment would be worse than anything we have seen, with fireballs larger than our downtown skyscrapers,” explains Linda Isaacson Fedele of the Rochester Mothers Out Front Bakken Research Team.
Mothers Out Front of Rochester and Monroe County researches the dangers of fracked Bakken crude, and has recently been presenting to local governments and school boards about the risk. The most effective prevention for all the risks involved would be to leave the oil in the ground. This memorial protest will call on congress for a national ban on transporting this oil by rail.

·         WHO: New York Mothers Out Front (“Mobilizing for a Livable Climate”) and supporters
·         WHAT: Lac Megantic Memorial/Action Rally
·         WHEN: 4:15-6 p.m., Wednesday, July 6, 2016
·         WHERE: The Federal Building, 100 State Street

On the Oregon derailment:

On the 2013 Lac Megantic derailment:

About  Mothers Out Front: Mothers Out Front Is a group of mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers coming together to make climate change an issue that our leaders can no longer ignore.