Conservationists Sue Over Changes to Endangered Species Act

Seven environmental and animal rights groups are suing the Trump administration for its regulations that would make drastic changes to the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.The environmental law group Earthjustice filed the joint suit Wednesday in San Francisco.They charge the administration with breaking the law by announcing changes to the implementation of the landmark act without first analyzing the effects the changes would have.”In the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis, the Trump administration is eviscerating our most effective wildlife protection law,” the National Resources Defense Council said. “These regulatory changes will place vulnerable species in immediate danger – all to line the pockets of industry. We are counting on the courts to step in before it is too late.”An Interior Department spokesman responded by saying “We will see them in court and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act with the unchanging goal of conserving and recovering species.”Attorneys general from two states — California and Massachusetts — also say they will sue.Environmentalists credit the 1973 Endangered Species Act with saving numerous animals, plants and other species from extinction.About 1,600 species are currently protected by the act and the administration says streamlining regulations is the best way to ensure they will stay protected.”The revisions finalized with this rule-making fit squarely within the president’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week. The finalized changes include requiring consideration of economic cost when deciding whether to save a species from extinction. The law currently says the cost to logging or oil interests will have no bearing on whether an animal or other species deserves protection. The revised regulations would also end blanket protection for a species listed as threatened, a designation that is one step away from declaring it endangered, and reduce some wildlife habitat.Conservation and wildlife groups call the changes U.S. President Donald Trump’s gift to logging, ranching, and oil industries, saying they take a bulldozer through protections for America’s most vulnerable wildlife.  A number of congressional Democrats have also denounced the changes, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,Republican President Richard Nixon signed the act into law in 1973 as part of the response to the new environmental awareness sweeping the country in the early 1970s, which included Earth Day and the Clear Water and Air acts.

WHO: Plastic Particles in Drinking Water Pose ‘Low’ Risk

Microplastics contained in drinking water pose a “low” risk to human health at current levels, but more research is needed to reassure consumers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.Studies over the past year on plastic particles detected in tap and bottled water have sparked public concerns, but the limited data appears reassuring, the U.N. agency said its first report on potential health risks associated with ingestion.Microplastics enter drinking water sources mainly through run-off and wastewater effluent, the WHO said. Evidence shows that microplastics found in some bottled water seem to be at least partly because of the bottling process and/or packaging such as plastic caps, it said.“The headline message is to reassure drinking water consumers around the world, that based on this assessment, our assessment of the risk is that it is low,” Bruce Gordon of the WHO’s department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health, told a briefing.FILE – A man on a boat collects plastic materials from dirty water in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 17, 2019.What happens to plastic in the body?The WHO did not recommended routine monitoring for microplastics in drinking water. But research should focus on issues including what happens to chemical additives in the particles once they enter the gastrointestinal tract, it said.The majority of plastic particles in water are larger than 150 micrometres in diameter and are excreted from the body, while “smaller particles are more likely to cross the gut wall and reach other tissues,” it said.Health concerns have centered around smaller particles, said Jennifer De France, a WHO technical expert and one of the report’s authors.“For these smallest size particles, where there is really limited evidence, we need know more about what is being absorbed, the distribution and their impacts,” she said.More research is needed into risks from microplastics exposure throughout the environment — “in our drinking water, air and food,” she added.Alice Horton, a microplastics researcher at Britain’s National Oceanography Centre, said in a statement on the WHO’s findings: “There are no data available to show that microplastics pose a hazard to human health, however this does not necessarily mean that they are harmless.”“It is important to put concerns about exposure to microplastics from drinking water into context: we are widely exposed to microplastics in our daily lives via a wide number of sources, of which drinking water is just one,” she added.A credit card’s worth a weekPlastic pollution is so widespread in the environment that you may be ingesting five grams a week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, a study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International said in June. That study said the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, but another major source was shellfish.The biggest overall health threat in water is from microbial pathogens, including from human and livestock waste entering water sources, that cause deadly diarrhea disease, especially in poor countries lacking water treatment systems, the WHO said.About 2 billion people drink water contaminated with feces, causing nearly 1 million deaths annually, Gordon said, adding: “That has got to be the focus of regulators around the world.”

UN Chief to Travel to Epicenter of DRC Ebola Outbreak

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will travel to the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo next week.The DRC is no stranger to periodic outbreaks of the Ebola virus, but this most recent epidemic is the worst the African nation has seen in 40 years.The World Health Organization says the country has recorded more than 2,800 confirmed cases and at least 1,900 deaths from the virus, which spreads primarily through contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected fruit bats or monkeys.FILE – U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks after a Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Aug. 1, 2019.Guterres plans to visit the country for three days, arriving Aug. 31. His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that Guterres wants to assess the situation and mobilize additional support for the response. “In the province of North Kivu, he is scheduled to meet with Ebola survivors and health workers during a visit to an Ebola treatment center,” Dujarric said.He also is to meet with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in the capital, Kinshasa. In July, the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern.The majority of cases have been concentrated in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, in the country’s northeast, but cases have emerged in other parts of the country. At least three cases were also confirmed in June in neighboring Uganda. The people infected with the virus there had traveled from the DRC and had been in contact with a relative who died of Ebola. 

US Takes Aim at Deadly Chinese Fentanyl Networks

The US Treasury took action Wednesday to crack down on Chinese traffickers of deadly fentanyl, sanctioning producer-exporters and warning banks on financial schemes used to distribute the synthetic opioid behind thousands of US overdose deaths.The Treasury identified Zheng Fujing, 36, and a company he controls, Qinsheng Pharmaceutical Technology, and a partner, Zheng Guanghua, as a major, Shanghai-based production fentanyl production and trafficking organization.The Zheng drug trafficking organization, the Treasury said, produced and shipped hundreds of controlled substances, including fentanyl analogues such as carfentanil, which is 100 times more potent than fentanyl.”Zheng created and maintained numerous websites to advertise and sell illegal drugs in more than 35 languages,” it said.Moreover, it said, Zheng was producing counterfeit cancer pills that replace the active cancer-fighting ingredient with “dangerous synthetic drugs.”Yan, meanwhile, produces and trafficks in synthetic opioids, cannabinoids, and cathinones, and amphetamine-like drug, the Treasury charged.”Yan has tried to evade prosecution by modifying the chemical structure of his synthetic analogues based on his monitoring of legislation and law enforcement activities in the United States and China,” the Treasury said.All three men have already been indicted in separate trafficking cases in the United States.The Treasury’s designation of the three as “significant foreign narcotics traffickers” under the US Kingpin Act allows the Treasury to use more sanctions and controls to attack their networks.The Treasury said it had also issued an advisory to banks and other financial institutions describing how synthetic opioid producers and traffickers operate in financial networks, with the aim of closing off their ability to produce and sell their drugs.”We are making the financial sector aware of tactics and typologies behind illicit schemes to launder the proceeds of these fatal drug sales, including transactions using digital currency and foreign bank accounts,” said Kenneth Blanco, the head of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.The Treasury said both the Zheng and Yan groups used digital currencies like bitcoin for production operations and sales.

Lack of Clean Water Impeding Eradicating Polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Thirty-some years ago, polio used to cripple hundreds of thousands of children a year. So far this year, about 60 children have gotten polio. The focus now is largely on only two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yet, there are reports that the eradication effort is stumbling. VOA’s Carol Pearson has more.

China Hopes US Will Come Back to the Table at Chile Climate Talks

China hopes to welcome the United States “back to the negotiating table” to discuss global efforts to limit climate change at a United Nations summit to be hosted by Chile in December, its top climate change envoy said on Tuesday.Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs, told journalists during a visit to a solar energy plant outside the Chilean capital Santiago that China would provide “full support to the Chilean presidency of this meeting.”The summit was “strong proof that a multilateral negotiation process is successful, that multilateralism is working,” he said.Asked if the U.S. approach to the threat of climate change under President Donald Trump and the U.S.-China trade dispute might affect the outcome in Santiago, Xie replied: “China and the U.S. has many differences but we do have some common grounds on climate change issues as well and we welcome them back to the negotiating table on climate change, we are very open to that.”Trump has signaled his intention to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord and been dismissive of regulations aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions. He has also expressed his preference for bilateral trade pacts over multilateral agreements.In July, China pledged on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka to show “the highest possible ambition” in the fight against climate change. Experts and policy advisors say the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter could introduce new and more stringent carbon targets next year. Xie said China would back a bid by the U.N. secretary-general and climate change envoy to persuade all countries to update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) goals to keep global warming to well below two degrees centigrade.”The most important objective is to identify the new NDCs for the post-2020 period and link those new NDCs together with the financial support from the developed countries as promised,” Xie said. “To have that financial support in place is very important and that’s the objective we would like to achieve.”China is a key investor in Chilean renewable energy projects and manufactured half of the solar panels at the 110MW Parque Quilapilún solar plant Xie visited with environment minister Carolina Schmidt.Schmidt will serve as president of the COP25 U.N. climate change summit in December.

Ending Polio, Not Assured, But Seemingly In Progress

We may be a step closer to wiping polio off the face of the earth. The virus is a scourge that attacks children and causes lifelong paralysis, if not an early death.Nigeria has not had a case of wild polio since 2016, and Dr. Tanji Funsho, head of Rotary International’s National Polio Committee in Nigeria, said he has no doubt his country will succeed in being declared polio free.”I’m very confident, Funsho said, “because the ingredients are in place. We are reaching more children. The surveillance structure is very robust, and resources are made available to ensure that vaccines that are required get to the children.”Rotary International, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and two UN agencies — UNICEF and the World Health Organization — are part of a public/private partnership to end polio. The Global Eradication Initiative to End Polio includes these organizations as well as national governments. In the 31 years since the launch of this global effort, the number of polio cases has dropped by 99.9%. Instead of hundreds of thousands of children being paralyzed each year, the number stood at 65 as of August 20.At one time, conflict and concerns about the vaccine in northeastern Nigeria, contributed to low immunity levels. Jay Wenger, director of the polio program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said the Nigerian government uses innovative strategies to get to more children. This includes teams that vaccinate children at markets, outreach to nomadic populations, better surveillance and better training for vaccinators. Carol Pandak, head of Rotary’s Polio Plus program, says the number of inaccessible children in Nigeria has been reduced from around 600,000 in 2016 to between 60,000 and 70,000 today. Funsho said that number is not significant because the children are widely spread out they won’t cause an outbreak. At one time, many Nigerians were wary of the polio vaccine, but traditional leaders now support immunizations. Nigeria wasn’t the only place where the polio vaccine has been eyed with skepticism. False rumors in Pakistan led to violent attacks on polio workers earlier this year and a suspension of the immunization program. Vaccinations have since resumed along with better efforts to educate people about the vaccine. Access to clean water is also a problem. The virus can spread if the water supply is contaminated with raw sewage, as it often is in Pakistan. Dr. Iqbal Memon, part of the Pakistani Polio Eradication Advisory Committee, said in regions with frequent infections and contaminated water, 15 doses of the vaccine is needed for children to be adequately protected.Cross-border migration between Pakistan and Afghanistan makes it difficult to vaccinate and revaccinate every child, but that issue is now being addressed. Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative, said both countries are now coordinating dates for vaccination coverage campaigns and sharing surveillance data. And that is having an impact.Even if Africa achieves a designation of being polio free, Rosenbauer said, “Unless you get to zero cases, because it’s such a contagious disease, and an epidemic-prone disease, we run the risk that it will spread again globally.”

10 Facts on How Mosquitoes Pose a Threat to Half the World

A warmer climate, travel and trade are helping to spread mosquito-borne diseases as a deadly beast smaller than a paper clip poses a threat to more than half the world’s population.World Mosquito Day on Tuesday commemorated the discovery in 1897 by British doctor Ronald Ross that female mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans, but the World Health Organization (WHO) warns progress against malaria is stalling.Below are 10 ways that the mosquito — Spanish for “little fly” — has affected humans and methods to mitigate the risks:1. Many species of mosquito feed on the blood of various hosts and ingest pathogens, meaning their bites can transfer diseases directly into the blood of hosts. This has made mosquitoes one of the deadliest animals in the world.2. Mosquito bites result in the deaths of more than one million people every year with the majority due to malaria, and the WHO warns nearly half of the world population is at risk. In 2017, malaria caused over 435,000 deaths.3. About 90% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa. Currently in Burundi, more than half the population is infected with malaria.4. Malaria cases continue to spread in countries including Uganda, where the Ministry of Health this week announced a 40% increase in instances of the disease this year to 1.4 million.5. Dengue fever is a viral disease widely spread in tropical regions that 2.5 billion people are at risk of contracting. Up to 100 million new infections are estimated to occur annually in more than 100 countries.6. Most mosquitoes only fly an average of 400 meters. It is often humans, not mosquitoes, that carry a disease across communities and countries. The mosquito blamed for transmitting the Zika virus breeds in car tires, tin cans, dog bowls and cemetery flower vases.7. After Zika spread to the United States in 2016, experts warned that more life-threatening diseases could be carried from the tropics.8. Up to one billion additional people, including those in the United States and Europe, could be exposed to mosquito-carried viruses by 2080 if the climate continues to warm, according to U.S. research released earlier this year.9. If you have ever wondered why mosquitoes are more attracted to certain people, research published in the PNAS scientific journal demonstrated that some people are able to emit masking odors that can naturally repel mosquitoes.10. Hitting mosquitoes where it hurts — their eggs — is one way of controlling pesticide-resistant insects. North and Central American scientists in 2016 came up with a trap to trap eggs using two pieces of an old tire.

Water Pollution an ‘Invisible Threat’ to Global Goals, Economists Warn

Water pollution threatens nearly all the globally agreed development goals to end environmental destruction, poverty and suffering by 2030, economists warned in a report Tuesday, citing the largest-ever database on the world’s water quality.The World Bank report warned of the ripple effects of water pollution on the health, economies, education and agriculture of rich and poor countries alike.”This study was a huge wake-up call to us about the quality of water worldwide,” said Richard Damania, World Bank economist and one of the study’s authors.”The world tends to focus on water quantity such as floods and droughts, but this report focuses on the more invisible threats — the effects of pollutants impacting global water quality,” Damania said.The 193 United Nations member states agreed on Sept. 25, 2015, to a lofty 15-year agenda of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 169 targets aimed at helping everyone live healthier, more prosperous lives on a cleaner planet.FILE – A man on a boat collects plastic materials from dirty water in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 17, 2019.SDG 6 refers to clean water and sanitation for all, but the U.N. World Water Development Report found about three out of 10 people — 2.1 billion — did not have access to safely managed drinking water at home in 2015.In sub-Saharan Africa, coverage was only 25 percent.”Chemical contamination such as arsenic in Bangladesh, mercury in Maputo and fluoride in parts of Kenya are major concerns,” said Neil Jeffery, the CEO of water rights group Water Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP).”Clean water brings dignity. Entire communities are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, with a lack of basic water and sanitation impacting health, school attendance and livelihoods,” Jeffery told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.Information keyThe World Bank report used satellite data and artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze nitrogen, salt and oxygen levels — water health markers — of water globally.”Pollution affects countries both rich and poor. It is just the cocktails of chemicals that change,” Damania said. “Plastics and pharmaceutical contaminants are problems everywhere.”Ripple effects of consuming pollutants include childhood stunting, infant mortality, lowered economic activity and food production.”Information is the first step,” said Damania, in league with water rights groups.By way of example, Jeffery cited that “informed consumers can make decisions to keep rubbish out of waterways.”And they can pressure corporations and government “to take the challenge seriously,” said Javier Mateo-Sagasta, senior researcher at the Water Management Institute (WMI).The report said that the scale of the problem meant there is “no silver bullet,” but Damania remains optimistic that “social movements, political and corporate will and new technologies” could still save the threatened resource.

Chile to Account for Costs of Climate Change in Budget

Chile will begin budgeting for the costs of fighting climate change, Finance Minister Felipe Larrain announced Tuesday, as receding glaciers and drought put a squeeze on water and natural resources in the world’s top copper producer.The South American nation, which is due to host the COP25 global conference on climate change in December, said it would include a new line item for “climate expenditures” in its government budgets beginning in 2020.”Currently, we don’t know how much we’re spending in the financing of climate action. The lack of information makes it difficult to make good decisions,” Larrain told reporters.The methodology, called the Climate Public Expenditures and Institutional Review (CPEIR), is sponsored in part by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and has received funding from Germany. It includes a tool that allows countries to more precisely track how much money is spent on fighting climate change.Larrain said the tool would allow Chile to “assess … the costs of inaction, that is, incorporate the analysis of the cost of not implementing immediate and timely measures.”A years-long drought in Chile, coupled with a growing population and a sprawling copper and lithium mining industry thirsty for water, have forced Chilean officials to look more closely at the costs of climate change.FILE – The Codelco El Teniente copper mine, the world’s largest underground copper mine, is shown near Machali, Chile, April 11, 2019.”The lands threatened by desertification exceed 60% of the national territory. … Having an estimate of the critical investments we must make to address the issue of desertification and soil erosion can have a great impact,” he said.The CPEIR methodology is already applied in more than 30 countries, including Colombia and Ecuador.