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Want cleaner air? Try using less deodorant

Kendra Pierre-Louis and Hiroko Tabuchi, NEW YORK TIMES

The deodorants, perfumes and soaps that keep us smelling good are fouling the air with a harmful type of pollution — at levels as high as emissions from today’s cars and trucks.

That’s the surprising finding of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Researchers found that petroleum-based chemicals used in perfumes, paints and other consumer products can, taken together, emit as much air pollution in the form of volatile organic compounds, or V.O.C.s, as motor vehicles do.

The V.O.C.s interact with other particles in the air to create the building blocks of smog, namely ozone, which can trigger asthma and permanently scar the lungs, and another type of pollution known as PM2.5, fine particles that are linked to heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer.

Smog is generally associated with cars, but since the 1970s regulators have pushed automakers to invest in technologies that have substantially reduced V.O.C. emissions from automobiles. So the rising share of air pollution caused by things like pesticides and hair products is partly an effect of cars getting cleaner. But that breathing room has helped scientists see the invisible pollutants that arise from a spray of deodorant or a dollop of body lotion.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/climate/perfume-pollution-smog.html

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Post-fire health survey now open to North Bay residents

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more about the UC Davis study, click here

Researchers at UC Davis hope to enlist thousands of Northern California residents in an online survey designed to gather the personal experiences, household circumstances and health effects from devastating wildfires that burned over 245,000 acres in six counties and killed 44 people.

About 140 people signed up in advance to take the survey, which went live Thursday (February 1).

But the push to get the word out is just beginning, with particular focus in hard-hit Sonoma and Napa counties, said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist and director of the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center.

“If you’re living there, you’re living it,” said Hertz-Picciotto, the research leader.

Residents of other affected counties, including Mendocino, which suffered significant losses, are urged to take part, as is anyone else affected by the fire and smoke that plagued the region for weeks beginning Oct. 8.

Researchers said the survey should take about 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

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UC Davis study to focus on post-Sonoma County fire pollution

Mary Callahan, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER

Anyone who endured the October firestorms remembers the choking smoke followed by weeks of air that was acrid and irritating, while the surrounding world felt toxic after wildfires laid waste to 137 square miles of Sonoma County.

A research team from UC Davis now hopes to find out what, if any, potential health hazards may have resulted from the incineration of more than 5,100 homes and all they contained: cleaning products, paints, pesticides, electronics packed with rare earth elements, synthetic building materials, fuels.

The two-year investigation will focus on components in the smoke as the fires burned, as well as those left in the air and ash once the flames had roared through.

Researchers also plan to test the post-fire environment for any new chemicals that may have resulted from the transformation of existing materials under extremely high-temperature, low-oxygen conditions.

Read more at http://napavalleyregister.com/news/state-and-regional/uc-davis-study-to-focus-on-post-sonoma-county-fire/article_e45b2afc-df92-5280-84ae-b24382c5f1f6.html

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New Sonoma County government office will focus on wildfire recovery, resiliency

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday created a new government office to help the region bounce back from this year’s devastating wildfires and assist with charting a formal vision for the long-term recovery of the local housing supply, the economy and other key areas.

The new Office of Recovery and Resiliency will have its own budget and seven staff members, three of whom will come from the ranks of current county employees. Housed within the County Administrator’s Office, the body will for at least the next five years support the production and implementation of a plan to guide the community’s recovery and improve its ability to withstand future disasters.

Staffing costs this fiscal year will total an estimated $400,000. While the county hopes to get federal reimbursement, local officials must find their own way to pay for it — at least for now — so the Board of Supervisors is expected to consider funding options early next month.

“We have to be bold,” said Supervisor James Gore of the recovery office. “I look forward to this being the start of a really kind of good, deep discussion as we go into next year.”

The plan will focus on five broad areas where the post-fire recovery will play out: the housing market, the economy, the environment, safety net services and local infrastructure. Similar collaborations among county departments have been in place since the fires’ immediate aftermath.

“In the wake of the disaster, our communities must have the right tools to make smart, fast and agile transitions so that we can emerge from this tragedy economically, environmentally and socially stronger than ever,” County Administrator Sheryl Bratton wrote in a document this month outlining her reasoning behind the recovery office proposal. “It can be done but doing it requires a shared vision for the building of a more resilient future — a return to the status quo is not sufficient.”

Read more at: New Sonoma County government office will focus on wildfire recovery, resiliency

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California health officials advise caution against cellphone radiation

Dominique Mosbergen, HUFFPOST

The state recommends these steps to reduce exposure to cellphone radiation:

  • Keeping the phone away from the body
  • Reducing cell phone use when the signal is weak
  • Reducing the use of cell phones to stream audio or video, or to download or upload large files
  • Keeping the phone away from the bed at night
  • Removing headsets when not on a call
  • Avoiding products that claim to block radio frequency energy. These products may actually increase your exposure.

Read the California Department of Public Health guidance in full here.

The California Department of Public Health has issued its first guidelines for cellphone usage, advising people to reduce exposure to their phones’ radio frequency energy. The department cited preliminary research suggesting a link between human health and the “long-term, high use” of cellphones, but stressed that studies haven’t definitively concluded whether cellphone radiation is harmful.

“Although the science is still evolving, there are concerns among some public health professionals and members of the public regarding long-term, high use exposure to the energy emitted by cellphones,” said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the department. “We know that simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults.”

Cellphones have become ubiquitous in America, where 95 percent of the population owns one. The devices emit radio frequency energy when they send and receive signals. Though research hasn’t concluded for certain whether exposure to this energy is detrimental to health, some studies have suggested a link between frequent exposure to cellphone radiation and health problems, including low sperm count, impaired memory and hearing, and an increased risk of cancer.

Read more at: California Health Officials Advise Caution Against Cellphone Radiation | HuffPost

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Why has the E.P.A. shifted on toxic chemicals? An industry insider helps call the shots

Eric Lipton, THE NEW YORK TIMES

The E.P.A.’s abrupt new direction on legacy chemicals is part of a broad initiative by the Trump administration to change the way the federal government evaluates health and environmental risks associated with hazardous chemicals, making it more aligned with the industry’s wishes.

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been linked to kidney cancer, birth defects, immune system disorders and other serious health problems.

So scientists and administrators in the E.P.A.’s Office of Water were alarmed in late May when a top Trump administration appointee insisted upon the rewriting of a rule to make it harder to track the health consequences of the chemical, and therefore regulate it.

The revision was among more than a dozen demanded by the appointee, Nancy B. Beck, after she joined the E.P.A.’s toxic chemical unit in May as a top deputy. For the previous five years, she had been an executive at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association.

Read more at: Why Has the E.P.A. Shifted on Toxic Chemicals? An Industry Insider Helps Call the Shots – The New York Times

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The push to reclaim starry skies

Mike McPhate, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dark sky groups recommend “warmer” LED bulbs with an amber glow. They also push the use of dimmers, motion sensors and timers wherever they make sense.

Astronomers have preached the virtues of dark skies for years. Modern cities, they say, use way more artificial light in the evenings than necessary, much of it emanating into the sky where it does no good. So-called light pollution erases our view of stars and, to a degree, the wonder they bring at our place in the cosmos. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s population can’t see the Milky Way.

So how bad is the light pollution in California?

“It’s pretty bad,” said Sriram Murali, a Bay Area photographer who is making a film about astronomy and light pollution. “It’s not as bad as the East Coast, but definitely not as good as it is in the Midwest and Southwest.”

That’s been changing in the last five or so years, he added. A number of cities across California — from Davis to San Diego — have taken measures designed enhance the night sky.

By the end of this year, San Francisco is expected to finish converting roughly 18,500 of its sodium high-pressured streetlights to dark sky-compliant LED bulbs.

Read more at: California Today: The Push to Reclaim Starry Skies – The New York Times

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Wildfire smoke continues to hurt air quality in Napa, Bay Area

Maria Sestito, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER

To check on local air quality, go to the EPA’s AirNow site: https://www.airnow.gov/

The fires in Napa County are mostly contained, but that doesn’t mean residents can put their respirators away just yet. Smoke from wildfires across the Bay Area – including Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties – are continuing to contaminate the air, making it harmful to even breathe.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a health advisory in addition to a Spare the Air alert for Wednesday and Thursday, and says that the conditions may continue for “days to come,” according to a press release.

In the past two weeks, parts of the Bay Area have experienced air quality levels that are historically bad, said Walter Wallace, air district spokesman. Although levels were at times “hazardous,” he said, they’re comparable to a normal day in Beijing, China.

Read more at: Wildfire smoke continues to hurt air quality in Napa, Bay Area | Local News | napavalleyregister.com

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U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Federal and state agencies are already planning post-fire cleanup in seven Northern California counties, including Sonoma, outlining long-term efforts likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars but performed at no expense to residential property owners, officials said Tuesday.

In Sonoma and Napa counties, where more than 100,000 acres have burned, the chore looms so large the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will manage the first phase, which involves removal of toxic materials from thousands of fire-scorched properties.

That includes batteries, paint, solvents, flammable liquids, electronic waste and any materials that contain asbestos.

“We know people are already back at their homes, wondering what to do next,” said Lance Klug, a spokesman for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle. The agency typically handles the second phase, involving the removal of non-toxic waste — scraping away ash, concrete, metal and contaminated soil — in fire-affected counties, but CalRecycle’s role in the North Bay cleanup has not been determined, said Klug.

Details on the sprawling two-part cleanup are forthcoming and will be widely publicized, he said.

When that work is completed, homeowners will receive a certificate indicating their property has been cleaned and is eligible for local building permits, he said.

Read more at: U.S. EPA to oversee toxics cleanup after fires in Sonoma and Napa counties | The Press Democrat –

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First case of West Nile virus this year found in Sonoma County

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s first case of West Nile virus this year was detected recently in a dead bird found in northeast Santa Rosa near Trione-Annadel State Park, regional health officials announced Friday.

The dead American crow was collected near Timber Springs Drive and Timber Springs Court, according to the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District. That puts Sonoma County among 33 California counties to report the presence of the virus this year.

West Nile virus generally spreads through mosquitoes who feed on infected birds and then bite humans. Most people never show any symptoms of the disease, but about one in five will show mild symptoms including fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and rash. Less than 1 percent of people will develop severe neurological symptoms, including possible death. Nizza Sequeira, a spokesperson for the regional mosquito and vector control district, said in a written statement that preventing and controlling mosquitoes and vector-borne disease “is a responsibility we all share,” encouraging residents to take steps to reduce the production of mosquitoes on their properties and report problems to health officials.

Source: First case of West Nile virus this year found in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat