Tuesday 25th of April 2017

chemical warfare...

chemical warfare

A white cloud of pesticides had drifted into Fidelia Morales's back yard, coating her children's swing set.

The 40-year-old mother of five gestured toward the citrus groves that surround her house in California's Central Valley as she recounted when an air blast sprayer sent chemicals floating onto her property last year – landing on her family's red and blue jungle gym.

"We know this is dangerous for the kids, but what are we supposed to do?" she said on a recent afternoon, speaking in Spanish through a translator. Morales said she fears that these kinds of drifts, as well as long-term exposure to a variety of chemicals in the air, have hurt her children, ages 9 to 20, who have struggled to focus in school and have suffered from bronchitis, asthma and other chronic illnesses.

Under Barack Obama, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed an agricultural ban on chlorpyrifos, one pesticide widely used in her region, based on the growing body of research documenting the risks for farm workers and communities, including links to brain damage in children.

Donald Trump's administration, however, has rejected the science, announcing a reversal of the ban. That means that despite recent victories for families and environmentalists who have fought for more than a decade for protections from the insecticide, widespread use will continue in California, where a majority of the fruits and nuts in the US are grown.

"There's a sense of helplessness," said Luis Medellin, a 30-year-old dairy worker, sitting with his three younger sisters at his family's home in the small agricultural town of Lindsay. "I'm being poisoned and I can't do anything about it. It's like a slow death."

More than a dozen Latino residents in Tulare County, a rural farming community three hours north of Los Angeles, shared stories with the Guardian of direct pesticide poisonings from drifts and the long-term health challenges that they believe are linked to chronic exposure. They described children vomiting, suffering painful skin irritations, debilitating headaches and dizziness, as well as developing autism, learning problems, attention deficit disorders and respiratory ailments.

It's difficult to conclusively determine how chlorpyrifos may have contributed to individual children's conditions, but epidemiological studies have found links between the pesticide and a number of health conditions – research that led EPA officials to recommend the ban in 2015. Manufacturers and growers continue to assert that the chemical is safe and say that the studies are flawed.

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new EPA -- encouraging pollution agency...

The Environmental Protection Agency's administrator has found a slogan for his embattled agency's new direction. Last week, Scott Pruitt announced a #Back2Basicscampaign that proposes returning the EPA to its supposed roots: protecting the environment, spurring job growth, and not burdening industry with rules and regulations. Pruitt might see firsthand the problems with this vision on Wednesday when he visits East Chicago, Indiana, a mostly black and Latino city of 29,000 that is home to a Superfund site and a host of other environmental problems.

Local officials, including Indiana's Republican governor, Eric Holcomb, urged Pruitt to visit the site and address the issues surrounding the cleanup process, which has been lagging for several years. The site is known as USS Lead, referring to the smelting facility that operated there between 1906 and 1985, turning refined copper and lead into batteries and other products and, in the process, contaminating the soil in the area with lead and arsenic. The site was added to the National Priorities list in 2009, which means it's one of the most polluted sites in the country.

The EPA began conducting soil tests at the site in late 2009 and finally reached a consent decree with the liable companies in 2014. The White House has proposed a cut to funding for the Superfund program, but Pruitt told the U.S. Conference of Mayors in March that he believes it's vital. But his #Back2Basics plans for the EPA, which includes rolling back regulations for companies, would lead to additional problems in East Chicago. Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice.org said the plan is simply getting rid of "the health and environmental protections we all rely on—protections only the government can provide."

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daesh chemicals...

A few months ago, the use of chemical weapons by the Daesh terrorist group was in the news seemingly daily. Now you hardly ever see a thing about them, and they’re treated as no big deal. So what happened?

It's not like the attacks stopped: this weekend alone, more than thirty Iraqi soldiers participating in the Battle of Mosul were treated for injuries sustained in chlorine gas attacks.

Iraqi and US military spokespersons are in agreement on the reason for the low coverage of gas attacks: they're an ineffective weapon being used by a desperate, cornered opponent. In a statement to Pentagon reporters, coalition ground forces commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin said that Daesh "has used chemicals in the vicinity of Mosul but the chemicals have had no impact on the Iraqi security forces. It had no impact on our forces."

When asked what sort of chemical was used in the attack, Martin admitted that he didn't know. "But the chemicals that they've used in the past are all low-grade chemicals because of their lack of production capability. And so we don't know what we'll find this time. But in the past, it's been a low-grade capability."

In early March, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed that allegations of Daesh chemical attacks in Iraq were "wrong" and "what happened actually [was] just a mixture of smoke and gas," which has "a limited impact."

But the song being sung by the US and Iraqi governments isn't everyone's tune. A Kurdish official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, claimed that "multiple gas attacks did take place over the past week and that the military casualties were not known," but coalition forces deliberately quashed the story and obscured the figures.

According to London-based analyst group IHS Conflict Monitor, Daesh has used sulfur and chlorine weapons at least 52 times in Iraq and Syria since 2013. Luqman Ibrahim, an anti-Daesh Yazidi battalion commander, says that more than 50 of his men have sustained injuries from chemical-based weapons. A March barrage of chemical rockets on the town of Taza has killed one and injured 800.

"We believe Daesh is weaker than in the past, so they need to defend themselves with mines, IEDs and chemical weapons," said Brig. Gen. Hajar Ismail, director of coordination and relations at the Kurdistan Regional Government's Ministry of Peshmerga in an interview back in October. "We believe they will use more chemical operations as the Mosul operation starts."

The reason behind the discrepancy? An Iraqi intelligence source told Fox that the coalition is focused on "maintaining the psychological state of the soldiers," and is worried that media exposure of chemical attacks could shake the already-fragile ties of the coalition as well as make Daesh appear more fearsome.

Chemical attacks rarely kill, but they're scary as hell. Conventional wisdom holds that they wreak havoc on the morale of soldiers to keep fighting due to the horrific injuries they can cause. This has caused them to be banned from use in warfare by the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

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