The Mysterious Deaths of a Young Family on California Trail Near Toxic Algal Blooms | Who Has the Answers?

Washington (GGM) Analysis | September 20, 2021 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise

The mysterious deaths of the young California family and their dog while out hiking along the remote Savage Lundy Trail in Devil’s Gulch in Sierra National Forest in Mariposa, California on August 15, 2021, should have us all on high alert as we enter this new high heat era that scientists know very little about. 

Heart of the matter. There are many toxins in our environment that become more dangerous in high heat, especially extreme high heat with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. These hazardous chemicals are likely to become airborne in temperatures with a heat index of 90 degrees. Examples of such toxins are the pesticides used on golf courses as well as conventional farms. These toxic pesticides — typically glyphosate and chlorpyrifos — run off the treated land during heavy rains, and spread far and wide. They’re invisible, and most are odorless, which results in the public being unaware that we’re exposed. A family might live hundreds of yards from a golf course, and not think to attribute a health condition to this unfortunate reality. In fact, doctors might be stumped and unable to quickly identify what is causing an ailment. 

This appears to be the way investigators in Mariposa, California are feeling right now as they try and solve the tragic deaths of John Gerrish, 45, his partner Ellen Chung, 30, their one-year-old daughter, Miju, and dog, Oski, who all died while hiking in the California wilderness on a hot Sunday afternoon when local thermometers hit 109 degrees.

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Important facts.

  • Harmful algal blooms (HABs, also known as cyanotoxins) were in the south fork of the Merced River a couple of miles from where the family was found. The investigators didn’t provide any information about whether the family swam or waded in the toxic water, or drank from it, although apparently they did not, since no evidence of that was discovered during the autopsies, and no information to that effect has been reported.
  • Upon testing the water, high levels of anatoxin-a (ATX) were found. ATX is also known as Very Fast Death Factor that can cause multiple conditions including breathing paralysis and death.
  • In April of this year, scientists found airborne ATX around Capaum Pond on Nantucket and weren’t clear about how it became airborne. They expressed concern: “People often recreate around these lakes and ponds with algal blooms without any awareness of the potential problems.”
  • University of Michigan researchers, Andrew Ault and Kerri Pratt, conducted a study on the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Michigan in 2018 where toxic blue-green algal blooms appear each year en masse in the wake of agricultural run-off. They found that the waves splashing against the algal blooms along the shoreline, resulted in the toxic algal blooms becoming aerosolized. Ault and Pratt were the first to report this finding.
  • The terrain itself may have posed a problem. Steep mountain walls on all sides, with  the four bodies found along the trail on the lower section of the mountain. Hopefully investigators are researching whether thermal runaway was a contributing factor. Thermal runaway is a condition, where “an increase in temperature changes the conditions in a way that causes a further increase in temperature, often leading to a destructive result.” This likely was not the case, but because the new high heat conditions are foreign to us, scientists don’t necessarily know whether or not it was a contributing factor, and might want to research this possibility. The toxic algal blooms were located at the very bottom of the mountain range in the valley, with towering mountains on all sides. Can thermal runaway cause the toxins to become more potent and rise further in the air?

Next Steps:

  • The Savage Lundy Trail is closed until at least September 26, 2021. Investigators have been very tight-lipped about their investigation, not providing any additional details after they learned about the high levels of ATX in the Merced Rivers due to toxic algal blooms. They did not respond to our request for an update, nor whether the Savage Lundy Trail would re-open after the 26th. 
  • Murder and suicide were ruled out. 
  • Nine out of ten Americans breath polluted air that becomes that much more toxic in the high heat.
  • We all may want to consider wearing facemarks outdoors in the high heat due to the sheer volume of chemicals that become airborne.
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School Buses with White Roofs Lower the Heat | Albedo Effect

Washington (GGM) Analysis | September 14, 2021 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise

Many decision makers in our towns as well as local businesses and corporate office parks are aware of the albedo effect and apply the principles. We can see this with our own eyes as we drive through our towns and cities. Large sports arenas and convention centers seem to glow in the sun, many with their white exteriors and white roofs. I hiked up a mountain over the weekend and was startled to look out and see the bright white church steeples, metallic silver domes covering silos, and a few other gleaming white rooftops on buildings dotting the rural landscape. Another excellent example of the albedo effect principles being applied all around us is the widespread use of white roofs on public school buses in communities across the country. My county in Virginia has white-topped school buses.

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In 1992, Brunswick County, North Carolina decided to run a pilot program to gauge the effectiveness of white roofs on school buses to lower the temperature. They’d learned about the white tops being used in California and Florida. California had begun applying albedo principles to school buses 20 years earlier. The Brunswick County pilot ran from August through December that year. At the conclusion, they found that the white roofs:

  • lowered the temperature by 10 degrees
  • lowered the temperature by 17 degrees during peak hours
  • and only lowered the temperature by 3 or 4 degrees in the winter

Heart of the Matter. Chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Kathy Castor (FL-D) said at a recent hearing, “We are all dealing with the devastating consequences of a rapidly warming planet. In the past 5 years, about 4,000 Americans have died from extreme wether events. Every year we lose about 700 Americans to heat related deaths.” Experts have gone on record stating officially that heat has a direct negative impact on our health.

Chelsea, Massachusetts has taken protecting the health and well-being of school children to the next level. According to WBUR in Boston, Chelsea Massachusetts just finished installing two white roofs on their two public middle schools this past July 2021. Their objective was to lower the heat in the classrooms, as well as the area surrounding the school. Chelsea is an oppressive heat island, North of Boston, across form Logan airport and is considered one of the hottest cities in Massachusetts. In addition to lowering the heat in the classroom for the students, according to WBUR, the Superintendent, Almi Abeyta, is also looking forward to the lower cost of electricity that will free up some money in the school budget.

Chelsea elementary schools are up next for the white roofs. Additionally, the city planner, Ben Cares, explained they also plan to replace the asphalt with a lighter material.

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I’m personally and professionally very excited about the two white roofs reducing carbon emissions and also having two more buildings added to the growing collection around the world that will help reflect the sun’s energy and make up for the shrinking icecaps. August 20, 2021 was yet another alarming global warming red flag. It rained for the first time in recorded history on Greenland’s summit. According to the Sierra Club, 337,000 square miles of Greenland’s ice sheet, experienced surface flooding and 7 billion tons of water flooded the summit.

Active measures such as these — switching to white roofs on buildings and buses, and lighter ground surfaces to reduce deadly heat — are what every community should be rushing to do to save lives in this new high heat era. We have the ability to lower the heat. We must act.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb. Groundbreaking YA book series for all ages. Not only a gripping modern day nail-biter with Machiavellian villains, but also one that opens our eyes to the brutal war going on beneath our feet that controls our destiny, despite our obliviousness to this potentially civilization-destroying threat.

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Top Tips for Staying Alive While Working In the Heat

Washington (GGM) Analysis | August 19, 2021 by author and climate journalist Noreen Wise

Heat can hurt, warned UCLA Assistant Professor of Public Policy Dr. R. Jisung Park in a Twitter thread last month. “In unexpected ways, even indoors,” Park emphasized along with images highlighting the data that supported his assertions. Millions of Americans suffered through a scorching heat wave that punished the Pacific Northwest from late June to mid July, 2021. The staggering temperature highs jolted mayors and governors across five states. “Hotter temperature increases workplace injuries significantly,” Park stated point blank in one tweet.

With so many enduring the negative impact of the heat, and with the IPCC Report confirming last week that we are now above 1ºC and will remain there for at least 20-30 years, (although scientists are very concerned temperatures will climb even higher, possibly at an exponential rate if we don’t act now to lower carbon emissions), the public must demand that OSHA rush to establish national Heat Index Standards to protect employees from the dangers while on the job.

The federal Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration (OSHA) was created on April 28, 1971 after 100 years of workers demanding protection from the torturous conditions endured during the boom in factory jobs that arose during Reconstruction, following the Civil War and beyond. Massachusetts was the first state to pass factory inspection laws in 1877. By 1890, the number rose to 9 states with factory inspection laws. Does this sound familiar? We’ve been experiencing this kind of grueling, slow motion response with curbing carbon emissions for decades. Millions of citizens protest and demand action, but legislative follow through is dangerously slow.

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With temperatures rising, and multiple employees dying at work in the unprecedented heatwaves of 2021, there’s no time for delay. We must call our local, state, and federal representatives and demand that OSHA act now.

According to OSHA, the heat index is the combination of air temperature combined with humidity to create a value that is usually significantly higher than the actual air temperature. The AccuWeather app refers to this as RealFeel.

OSHA has never had specific heat index standards that cover employees working in hot environments. They do have strong messaging about “water, rest, shade” on their web page: Using the Heat Index: a Guide of Employers, but it’s not required and there’s no legal liability if employers do not provide these three essentials.

On July 8, 2021, Oregon’s OSHA established temporary agency standards that applied to both indoor and outdoor work environments where the temperature in the work area was 80ºF or higher. These emergency standards went even further if temperatures exceeded 90ºF. The temporary heat index standards will stay in effect until permanent heat index standards are passed. California and Washington have also adopted heat standards. But there are approximately 30 million Americans who work outdoors in the heat, and we have 47 states that do no have any employer requirements when the temperature skyrockets.

Buying an Eco Green Tee helps educate the public about what we must all do to lower global warming and restore our children’s future.

Under Oregon OSHA’s Temporary Heat Standard, employers must:

  • Provide shade area that meets certain specifications
  • Provide 32 oz of dinking water every hour
  • Provide training for all employees, in whatever language they speak, to educate on: environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness, as well as employee rights and obligations under the heat standard, acclimatization, common signs and symptoms, factors affecting tolerance of heat stress, and how to quickly report.
  • In high heat, with temperatures above 90ºF, employers must create a communication channel between an employee working alone and a supervisor; a mandatory buddy system for others; one designated employee per worksite who’s authorized to call for emergency medical services; ten minutes in the shade every two hours; and implementation of acclimatization practices. 
  • Establish an Emergency Medical Plan
  • Review work sites to determine how these new rules will apply to their sites
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We know that heat is here to stay and will only be getting worse. Our inability to move quickly will cost lives. There’s already so much at stake with climate change. Let’s learn from our past mistakes of inaction, to create a safer tomorrow as we all face, and try to manage, a very oppressive enemy—high heat.

No rose without thorns. —French Proverb.
Groundbreaking YA book series for all ages. Not only a gripping modern day nail-biter with Machiavellian villains, but also one that opens our eyes to the brutal war going on beneath our feet that controls our destiny, despite our obliviousness to this potentially civilization-destroying threat.

Subscribe to Force of Nature to stay connected to the insights we provide in our effort to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, eco-friendly, carbon neutral global community. Click here to subscribe.

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Single-Use Plastic Bags MUST Go

Washington (GGM) Analysis | November 19, 2020 by Attorney Michael Wells, PodcastLegal Fact and Fiction

With the world in the grip of a pandemic, everyone wants something to make life less troublesome. Plastic bags make carrying things much easier. More items can be carried, which means you can avoid going back to your car in the rain or marching through the snow to retrieve that one last item. If only it were so simple. If only we did not have to worry about the environment.

On March 1, 2020, New York state’s ban on plastic bags became law. This means any entity authorized to collect sales taxes cannot distribute plastic bags. Failure to follow this law subjects the entity to up to a fine of up to five-hundred dollars per incident. The State of New York created the ban for good reason. Prior to the ban, New York State produced on average twenty-three billion bags per year, which filled already overflowing landfills, snagged recycling sorters, and wreaked havoc with birds to name just a few problems.

New York is not the only state that passed such a ban. Eight other states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Vermont) have passed similar laws.

Of course, not all states have such rules, and these states still produce millions of plastic bags. It does raise the question: can lawsuits force other states to ban plastic bags?

Maybe. It is probably a state by state process unless Congress passes a statute under, for example, the Interstate Commerce Clause, that says plastic bags somehow affect interstate commerce. That may sound far fetched, but it is not. The Interstate Commerce Clause allowed Congress to pass much of the civil rights legislation, and it is quite a big stick to bludgeon states into submission. Whether Congress wants to take this up remains doubtful. 

In states that have the plastic bans, the bans are not absolute. New York has some restrictions. Most notably restaurants that offer takeout food, which in the age of COVID-19, can create many plastic bags, are exempt. Although it is likely not “an exception that swallows the rule,” this limitation still creates a problem when so many more people are getting takeout and likely will for the foreseeable future as virus numbers explode. 

But what about other plastic or rubber?

Rubber glove use during the pandemic harms the environment, and there is no end in sight. While banning plastic bags everywhere will help, it will not solve all issues. It should still be done, however. 

More needs to be done because bags are not the only problem:

While plastic bags certainly make things easier to carry, their burdens to the environment certainly outweigh their benefits. The extent to which lawsuits or Congressional action will limit their use remains unknown. People should count on neither. It really is about personal choices, which must also be made with respect to other items people use. Over time it can all add up to pollution, death, and, as we have seen with COVID-19, a pandemic.

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Tesla Kills It In 2019| How Will Other EVs Fair in 2020?

Washington (GGM) Analysis
NoreenProfilePicHillReport-75 by Noreen Wise

After a ten year struggle to become profitable, Tesla nailed it in 2019. The 4th quarter was the turning point according to CNN.

Some of the key factors for increased growth in consumer demand that put Tesla into the black are:

  • range
  • how long it takes to charge
  • how many public charging stations exist in local communities
  • and the EV car price

Every single one of these critical factors have moved in the right direction.

  • range increased with the new average at 200 miles per full charge
  • charging time went down significantly and now only averages a quick 20 minutes
  • public charging stations have mushroomed, not only businesses providing them in corporate parking lots to employees, but stores offering charging stations to consumers as a competitive advantage
  • EV car prices have dropped substantially

HillReport1-29-2020

Climate action focused states such as New York, California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have crafted creative carrots and stick, incentives and regulations, creating a patchwork of solutions that are driving results. Very happy for Tesla to finally experience the upside of being an innovator, after schlepping through the painful wilderness for so long.

In 2020, Tesla will have to face a much more competitive landscape, now that most of the obstacles in the EV marketplace have been eliminated.

The following is CNET’s Road Show’s official 2020 EV lineup by range:

  • Tesla Model S |373 miles | $79,990
  • Tesla Model 3 | Long Range 330 miles | $44,500
  • Tesla Model X | 328 miles | $81,000
  • Chevrolet Bolt EV | 259 miles | $36,620
  • Hyundai Kona Electric | 258 miles | $36,990
  • Kia Niro EV (SUV) | 239 miles | $38,500
  • Jaguar I-Pace | 234 miles | $69,850
  • Nissan Leaf Plus | 226 miles | $36,550
  • Audi e-tron | 204 miles | $75,000
  • Porsche Taycan | 201 miles | $150,900
  • BMW i3 | 153 miles | $44,450
  • Nissan Leaf | 150 miles | $29,990
  • Mini Cooper SE | 110 miles | $20,000
  • Honda Clarity Electric | 89 miles | lease only

Very extensive options. But the Tesla Model 3 certainly shines amongst its peers.~

HillReport1-29-2020

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