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COLORADO SPRINGS, CO The results from the 2012 Colorado College State of the Rockies Conservation in the West poll find that Latino western voters a growing and politically- significant constituency in the upcoming elections support upholding and strengthening protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife. They also view America’s parks and public lands as essential to their state’s economy, and quality of life.

The survey, completed in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming by Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm), found that across multiple issues, Latino voters express stronger pro-conservation views than their Anglo counterparts.

“An overwhelming majority of Latino voters see national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife as an essential part of their quality of life and want to protect conservation efforts,” said Dave Metz. “In fact, 76 percent of Latino voters voiced support for maintaining environmental protections.”

Latino voters across the west nearly unanimously agree 94 percent that public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas are “an essential part” of the economies of these states. The survey also found that 87 percent of Latinos believe that having a strong economy and protecting land and water are compatible.

“Hispanics are passionate about their public parks and open spaces,” said Maite Arce, executive director of the Hispanic Access Foundation. “Parks are often the center of family activities, gatherings, and even their careers. As such, their protection ranks high on Hispanics’ priority list.”

Eighty-eight percent of Latino voters said that cuts to funding for state parks and protections for water quality was a serious problem in their state, indicating that even with tight state budgets, they want government to find a way to maintain investments in land, parks, water, and wildlife protection.

More than 8 in 10 Latinos view air pollution as a serious problem in their state, and see the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws as important protections rather than burdensome

regulations. Along with other western voters, Latinos believe suspending environmental laws along U.S. borders to address illegal immigration is unnecessary (74 percent).

Western Latino voters also see renewable energy as a job creator 78 percent of Latino voters believe that increasing the use of renewable energy will create jobs in their state, and eight in 10 Latino voters want to reduce consumption of coal, oil, and gas by expanding use of renewable energy.

The 2012 Colorado College Western States Survey is a bipartisan poll conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. The poll surveyed 2,400 registered voters in six key western states (AZ, CO, NM, UT, WY, MT) January 2 through 5 & 7, 2012, and yields a margin of error of + 2.0 percent nationwide and +4.9 statewide.

The full survey is available on the Colorado College website. 

Biofuel production could be a boon for the environment, but there’s still a lot of waste plant material, called lignin, remaining from the process. Now, an enterprising student has found a new use for some of that waste – paving unpaved roads. Living on Earth speaks with Wilson Smith of Kansas State.
120127lignin.mp3 2.7 MB

The Steelers head into their first NFL Playoff game of the season without the aid of one of their fiercest defenders – Ryan Clark. Clark, who leads the defense with 100 tackles this season, may not be able to tackle the health effects of sickle-cell trait when it comes to facing the Denver Broncos.
A person inherits sickle cell trait when they receive just one copy of the sickle cell gene from one parent. The more serious and symptomatic sickle cell disease occurs when a person receives a copy of the sickle cell gene from each parent – resulting in anemic crises and debilitating pain when low oxygen levels change the shape and reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells.
Sickle cell trait is typically asymptomatic. However, the trait may be exacerbated by physical strain, like the workout regiment demanded by professional sports.  The trait can also be stoked by exertion at high altitudes where oxygen levels are notoriously low. Ryan Clark's job as starting free safety for the number one defense in the league playing in an arena called Mile High Stadium fits this definition. In fact, Clark had serious complications during a 2007 game – resulting in complications and surgery that left him without a spleen or gallbladder. Two years later, faced with the same potential health issue, Coach Mike Tomlin benched Clark during a regular season game with the Broncos.
But the playoffs are another story. When the goal is to get to the "Big Show" for a chance to win it all – players have been known to risk their body and career a la the Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's bloody sock in the 2004 American League Championship Series. On Monday it was reported that Tomlin was going to leave it to Clark to decide after consulting with doctors. But today CNN reports that although Clark was ready and willing to hit the turf, Coach Tomlin had a change of heart and decided to prioritize the safety of his starting safety and bench Clark.
Although surely disappointed, Clark was touched by the sentiment expressed by his coach. In an interview with ESPN Clark said, "All things pointed to me going until (Coach Tomlin) told me I can't. He said he wouldn't have let his son play and so I'm not playing either."
Tomlin said "It is a big game for us, but it is a game."
Regardless of how the Steelers fare during the game, Tomlin is the real winner for maintaining perspective.

Black Californians are more than twice as likely as whites to seek medical care from excess air pollution, according to new research. The study, published in Social Science and Medicine also showed that while Hispanic residents were exposed to the highest levels of air pollution, they seek air pollution-related hospital care only as often as whites.  The most stark racial disparity for air pollution-based illness comes from asthma, where blacks experience nearly six times the rate of asthma-related emergency room visits.
Leonard D. Schaeffer a researcher at the Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California says, “many factors contribute to these disparities, and our work suggests that they might be good targets for environmental justice efforts.”

Read the abstract here.

See last year's list of the best and worst places to breath in America.

Race, heat and dust:  Huge dust storms demonstrate that Phoenix, Arizona is in trouble, thanks to unsustainable development. It is host to less than eight inches of rainfall per year, the hottest temperatures of any city in the Northern Hemisphere, and the dirtiest zip code in the country. In his new book Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, cultural critic Andrew Ross examines the sprawling metropolis’s ecological challenges alongside its social and political ones — namely, widespread disenfranchisement from high rates foreclosure and unemployment, and strident anti-immigrant legislation. If efforts toward sustainability in Phoenix are not “directed by and toward principles of equity,” Ross contends, “then they will almost certainly end up reinforcing patterns of eco-apartheid.”Andrew Ross has written a searing op-ed piece for the New York Times that encapsulates his book. (Photo by Ms. Phoenix)

The epic series of recent dust storms are  stark remindersthat Phoenix, Arizona: is in trouble. The city has been dubbed  a "horizontal hymn to unsustainable development." It is host to less than eight inches of rainfall per year, the hottest temperatures of any city in the Northern Hemisphere, and the dirtiest zip code in the country. In his new book Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, cultural critic Andrew Ross examines the sprawling metropolis's ecological challenges alongside its social and political ones — namely, widespread disenfranchisement from high rates foreclosure and unemployment, and strident anti-immigrant legislation. If efforts toward sustainability in Phoenix are not "directed by and toward principles of equity," Ross contends, "then they will almost certainly end up reinforcing patterns of eco-apartheid."

Andrew Ross has written a searing op-ed piece for the New York Times that encapsulates his book . (photo by Ms. Phoenix)

The deadly white nose syndrome has been decimating bat populations.  A recent article in Nature identifies the cause of the epidemic as a fungus discovered in 2007.  You can listen to a conversation about the science behind the syndrome this weekend on Living on Earth.  But not just scientists are talking about this issue, some students at Tufts University, are rapping about it. These students pack a surprising amount of science into verse.  But I'll let them, "kick the facts to ya" about "a fungus attacking bats in hibernacula."     

The desire for straight hair puts stylists and customers in danger.  One of the active ingredients in popular straighteners is formaldehyde. Planet Harmony has been reported on how the National Toxicology Program moved formaldehyde from a list of probable carcinogens to known ones.  Last year we covered when California sued the company that makes Brazilian Blowout for dangerously high levels of the toxin. Now these hair products are making news again for their lasting presence in hair salons.  When the Washington Post visited D.C. salons and asked women why they continue to endanger themselves, one woman responded, "there are so many bad things out there,” adding, “I enjoy my hair. I don’t think too much about it.”

Read the rest of the Washington Post article here:

When Adelia Varga visited Brazil four years ago, she tried a hair smoothing product and couldn’t believe how it tamed her wild, curly hair. She brought it back to the Rockville salon where she works and now regularly uses a similar treatment on herself and her clients.

“My hair looks so healthy,” Varga, 38, said recently as another stylist dabbed the white liquid on her brunette hair. “My hair is usually frizzy and bushy. Now it is silky and bouncy.”

(Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST) – Mahshid Hosseini has her hair styled by Adelia Varga, a fan of a smoothing product she found in Brazil four years ago.)

Health officials say such smoothing products, often known as Brazilian treatments, may pose a hazard to stylists and users alike. That’s because most of them contain formaldehyde or chemicals that release formaldehyde, which has been identified as a cancer risk.

In its annual report on carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program this year reclassified formaldehyde from a probable carcinogen to a known one.

Several companies that make formaldahyde-based hair smoothing products are under investigation or have been cited for violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Food and Drug Administration for false advertising about their products, and for exposing workers to formaldehyde above legally allowable levels.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, a panel funded by the cosmetics industry and backed by the FDA, recently stated that, “in the present practices of use and concentration . . . hair smoothing products containing formaldehyde and methylene glycol are unsafe.” The problems noted were high concentration of the chemical, overuse of the hair product and inadequate ventilation during application.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, usually strong-smelling chemical that has been in use for about 70 years as a preservative and binding agent. Think frog floating in a science-class jar, corpses, particleboard, carpets, glue, cosmetics — and hair products.

Formaldehyde can be an irritant and an allergen. Some people’s eyes tear, their noses run and their throats burns. Some experience more-extreme reactions, such as coughing, wheezing or even asthmalike symptoms. And there have been cases of hair loss and vomiting from hair products with high levels of formaldehyde.

As a result, said David Andrews, a scientist for the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, “these [hair] products have been banned in Europe, Canada and Australia.”

OSHA does not regulate the amount of formaldehyde in hair products used in salons. It does, though, stipulate that the air in a salon have no more than 0.75 parts of formaldehyde per million parts (ppm) during an eight-hour shift and no more than 2 ppm during any 15-minute period. Formaldehyde is released into the air when a stylist dries a client’s treated hair with a blow-dryer or straightening iron.

“Our responsibility is to ensure the workplace is free of hazard,” said OSHA’s top official, David Michaels. “Formaldehyde is a hazard.” He estimates that there are 75,000 salons in the United States and about 500,000 people who work in them. OSHA does not track how many of the salons use formaldehyde-based smoothers.

“Relaxers work by breaking the bonds” formed by hair’s keratin proteins, said John Bailey, a former FDA official and former chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, a trade association. Doing so allows a stylist to reset the hair as curly or straight and it “stays fixed in the different configuration. Formaldehyde [then] bonds the keratin, or protein, to the hair shaft [in that new configuration] and protects it from losing the effect.”

The FDA recently sent a warning letter to the company that makes Brazilian Blowout, saying it was “misbranding” its product as formaldehyde-free even though it “contains methylene glycol, the liquid form of formaldehyde, which . . . may harm users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling.”

Michael Brady, chief executive of Brazilian Blowout, said he doesn’t believe methylene glycol is the same as formaldehyde. “For every scientist who says methylene glycol is the same as formaldehyde, we have a scientist who says it is different,” he said. He does agree that once his product is heated with a blow-dryer or hair iron formaldehyde will be a byproduct, but he says it is well within OSHA emission standards.

The company also sells Brazilian Blowout Zero, which uses a “plant-derived” proprietary bonding system and “releases 0% formaldehyde before, during or after the in-salon smoothing treatment,” according to the company’s Web site.

The OSHA/FDA investigation started a year ago with a complaint from a stylist in Portland, Ore., who used Brazilian Blowout and was “experiencing symptoms such as headaches, nose blood, symptoms consistent with exposure to formaldehyde,” said Melanie Mesaros of Oregon’s OSHA. “We took examples of original product . . . and a range of formaldehyde was found in the products. As far as OSHA is concerned, methylene glycol and formaldehyde are the same, and you have to follow the same rules for exposure.”

Since then, OSHA and its state partners have conducted inspections at approximately 24 salons that use hair smoothers and at nine manufacturers and distributors based on complaints around the country, and have received more than 300 requests for assistance from stylists and salon workers.

OSHA has cited salons in New York and New Jersey and four manufacturers and distributors in Florida for allegedly failing to protect their workers from formaldehyde exposure and for failing to “communicate with the products’ users, such as salons and stylists, about the hazards of formaldehyde exposure,” according to an OSHA press release. The agency said it found “formaldehyde overexposure or dangerous levels” in the air in some salons.

At David’s Beautiful People in Rockville, where Varga works as a stylist, owner David Cohen says he limits the number of Brazilian treatments to two a day so as not to overwhelm his salon with formaldehyde. He also runs a ventilation system and an air purifier at all times.

“I stopped taking appointments for Brazilian treatments online so we didn’t overbook,” he said. Still, his clients are clamoring for the products, which range from $160 for a mild, formaldehyde-free smoother that will last up to six weeks to a $450 treatment with formaldahyde that will last up to six months.

“The true non-formaldehyde formulas are not as good as the low-formaldehyde smoothers,” he said, though “they are a good alternative as long as the client and stylist understand the difference between the two.”

He said he is sure many clients will continue to opt for the formaldehyde formulations unless the government decides they should not be sold anymore. “It’s amazing stuff,” Cohen said. “We do a color treatment, then put on the Brazilian and it keeps the color. It seals the hair.”

Varga acknowledged she is concerned about possible long-term consequences to her health from applying the product day after day. “I use a mask” when putting the liquid on customers’ hair, she said.

The desire for smooth, straight hair can be powerful. “You don’t know how many times my scalp was burned,” said Lori Pemberton, a 43-year-old District resident, remembering the sodium hydroxide, or lye, applied to hair when she was a child. This summer she tried a formaldehyde-based smoothing treatment for the first time. “I prefer this any day,” she said. “This seems a lot easier. My hair is shinier. It’s easier to style. I work out every day. I get up at 5 in the morning. Now my hair isn’t frizzy. My hair stays straight.”

Nor have worries about formaldehyde stopped Laurie Taylor, a 37-year-old recruiting coordinator for a District law firm. She once spent more than 45 minutes a day to blow-dry her hair, put it in rollers and then smooth it with a flatiron. “Now I don’t have to do all those extra steps,” she said. “Today, I woke up, washed it, put it in a bun. It will be wavy, with a soft wave.”

And carcinogens?

“There are so many bad things out there,” she said. “I enjoy my hair. I don’t think too much about it.”

Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental work in Kenya, passed away at the age of 71.  She was an unprecedented figure in many ways; the first Afican woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the first woman in Eastern Africa to hold a doctorate, and the visionary behind the Green Belt movement that pays women to plant trees across Kenya.

In 2005, our sister program, Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet visited Kenya and introduced us to the basic mechanics of the Green Belt tree planting movement and its Nobel Prize winning founder.  Click here to listen.

Maathai spoke with Living on Earth again in 2008.  Her country was suffering through a drought and she came with an urgent message for lawmakers on Capitol Hill: 

Wouldn’t it be even better to participate in supporting measures that would prevent those disasters, and not always come when one is in misery, to say, ‘I see you are dying you are on a deathbed. What can I do to help you?’ It would have been much better to help that person stay alive. And that’s what we are trying to tell the United States of America. Can you help the world before it is in the – in emergency room? (laughs).

Maathai has inspired women around the world and has helped plant millions of seeds.

Eight community groups in Chicago have banded together to keep a coal to gas processing plant from building in their neighborhood.  Southeastern Chicago already has air pollution levels over legal limits and bears some of the highest rates of cancer and lung disease in the country. 

The newly forged community group, Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, is led by Cheryl Johnson, daughter of one of the mothers of the environmental justice movement, Hazel Johnson.  Hazel Johnson passed away last year, you can listen to Planet Harmony's tribute here, and read about the neighborhood she fought for below. 

Within a month this summer, Gov. Pat Quinn beefed up laws intended to protect poor and minority communities from toxic pollution and cleared the way for a coal-to-gas plant in a low-income Chicago neighborhood where people already breathe some of the nation's dirtiest air.

The apparent contradiction is mobilizing community activists on the city's Southeast Side to fight what they see as a new wave of highly polluting industries concentrated in areas surrounded by steel mills, abandoned factories, landfills and sewage treatment plants.

Eight organizations announced Wednesday that they will work as one group, dubbed the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, to help ensure that new and existing companies comply with air- and water-pollution limits. The activists vowed to hold public officials and environmental regulators accountable for their promises to safeguard children, the elderly and others who are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

"We are tired of the environmental assault on our community," said Cheryl Johnson, a lifelong resident of the Altgeld Gardens public housing development, where President Barack Obama once worked as a community organizer. "We want jobs and industry that don't pollute our neighborhoods and make our children sick."

During the 1980s, Johnson's late mother, Hazel, helped start an "environmental justice" movement that used industry data and census figures to highlight how poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods throughout the nation are disproportionately affected by air and water pollution. More recent data show that although pollution generally has declined, low-income and minority areas continue to be hit hardest.

A 2008 Tribune investigation revealed that people in Chicago and nearby suburbs face some of the nation's highest risks for cancer, lung disease and other ailments linked to industrial pollution. Nearly two dozen of the region's top polluters are within eight miles of Altgeld Gardens and other neighborhoods ringing Lake Calumet in the city's southeast corner.

Activists led by Johnson's People for Community Recovery, the Southeast Environmental Task Force and the Sierra Club are angry that Quinn signed legislation in July paving the way for a new plant that plans to turn coal and oil refinery waste into natural gas.

The site is two blocks from Washington High School, 3535 E. 114th St., where a monitor shows the neighborhood's air already has the state's highest levels of toxic chromium and cadmium, as well as sulfates, which can trigger asthma attacks. It also has some of the state's highest levels of lung-damaging soot and brain-damaging lead.

Another company is seeking permits to build a kiln nearby that would burn refinery waste and scrap tires. A third wants to take waste from the proposed coal-to-gas plant and siphon off caustic sulfuric acid for use by other industries.

"The time has come for us to rise up, work together and come up with an alternative vision of the kind of community we want to live in," said the Rev. Zaki L. Zaki of the East Side United Methodist Church. "If we don't stand up, our communities will be overrun by polluters whose sole mission is to make money."

Developers of the coal-to-gas plant say it will turn dirty coal into cleaner natural gas, create 1,000 construction jobs and add 200 permanent jobs in an area decimated by plant closings. But it could be sidetracked for reasons other than the extra pollution it would create.

The holding company for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas announced last week that it won't buy the plant's synthetic gas, saying customers would be forced to subsidize it through heating bills that could jump by 9 percent a year. The move could make it more difficult for New York-based Leucadia National Corp. to obtain financing for the project.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also opposes a bid by the site's current owner to transfer pollution credits that would enable the coal-to-gas plant to operate in an area where overall air pollution already violates federal and state standards. EPA officials say a coke oven that once operated on the site has been shuttered too long for the credits to remain valid.

In a statement Wednesday, Quinn's office said the plant will be required to meet "strict environmental standards" and "(the governor's) principles of requiring all energy projects to protect consumers, create jobs and safeguard our environment."

Less than a month after Quinn signed the Leucadia bill, he approved legislation creating an environmental justice commission intended to address concerns about high asthma and cancer rates in poor neighborhoods. "Race, income or nationality should not determine the quality of the air one breathes or the water one drinks," he said at the time.

The governor's comments echoed statements from the Obama administration, which has repeatedly pledged to make environmental justice a more routine part of the federal government's decision-making. But the lure of jobs and lobbying from the Chicago coal-to-gas plant's backers could make the project one of many exceptions.

Tribune reporter Julie Wernau contributed.