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If You Had a Nuclear Weapon in Your Neighborhood, Would You Want to Know about It?

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Monday, November 20, 2023

This podcast is Part 3 of a five-part series. Listen to Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The podcast series is a part of “The New Nuclear Age,” a special report on a $1.5-trillion effort to remake the American nuclear arsenal. [CLIP: Audio from Association of Air Force Missileers video: “After over 50 years of incredible service, the Minuteman III will be replaced and modernized with a new generation ICBM. The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Systems Directorate team will deploy 400 new missiles, update 450 silos and modernize more than 600 facilities across almost 40,000 square miles of U.S. territory. This undertaking is a true megaproject that will require radical teamwork, disciplined execution and historic resolve.”] [CLIP: Music]  Ella Weber: This true megaproject is now called the Sentinel missile program. It’s the Air Force’s most ambitious military construction and weapons project in decades. Weber: The new weapon is one part of a plan that was started under former President Barack Obama. It was accelerated by the Trump administration to replace and upgrade the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal — at a projected cost of upward of $1.5 trillion over the next 30 years.  It’s a project that will perpetuate, until at least 2075, the little-known role that my tribe—the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota—plays in U.S. National Security policy: to be a nuclear target. You’re listening to Scientific American’s podcast series The Missiles on Our Rez. I’m Ella Weber, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, a Princeton student, and a journalist.  This is Episode 3: “The Air Force’s New Nuclear Missile.”  In this episode, we’ll be talking about how the Air Force came to our reservation to present its new missile project to the tribe, and how this fits into the broader patterns that have characterized our historical relationship with the U.S. government. [CLIP: Air Force environmental impact statement video: “The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a federal law that requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making process. NEPA review is required when a federal action is proposed that may have impacts on the human or natural environment. NEPA includes requirements for involvement of the public and government entities and, in the case of this project, 62 Native American Tribes.”]  Weber: Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the U.S. Air Force is required to produce an environmental impact statement. In this case, it’s to “analyze the potential effects on the human and natural environments from deployment of the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile system.” Also, it’s to “provide the public and other stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the action and associated analyses, and to consider all alternatives.” [CLIP: MHA Nation honor song] Weber: The Fort Berthold reservation was the first place picked by the Air Force to present this report at a public hearing and collect public comments on the record. This was an opportunity for the Air Force to connect with the MHA Nation and to explain the military branch’s plans and what they meant for the reservation.  Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly what happened. Logan Davis: That public hearing? Meaningless. You know why it’s meaningless? Because nobody was really informed, nobody was able to give the testimony they wanted to do, and nobody had a clear picture because nobody was prepared. I certainly wasn’t prepared. Weber: Logan Davis is a freelance journalist, an army veteran and an elder of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa of North Dakota. He’s been reporting on the MHA Nation for a long time and happened to be on the reservation that day. He learned about the EIS meeting by chance. [CLIP: Music]  Davis: I was eating, talking, visiting, and I saw this policeman that’s a friend of mine. He’s like, “Hey Logan, you going to that environmental impact study meeting?” I was like, “What?” I’m a journalist, and nobody told me. I didn’t know about it until this cop called me.  So nobody knew about it. So I was calling people, “Hey, you gotta get over here; you gotta testify,” you know? Weber: Davis’s struggle to find where the meeting was taking place was confusing. The Air Force had advertised for weeks in local newspapers and on the radio that the meeting would take place at the New Town Powwow grounds. But for some reason, the location of the meeting was changed last minute—to the Four Bears Casino. Davis: The cop was there. I sat with him. And I said, “Are you going to testify?” “Oh, I don’t know,” he goes. “If somebody else does.” And I just looked around, and there is just very few people from this community. It was mostly Air Force people. Nobody told any of the journalists or any news person. It was so highly secretive. And that bothers me. So they did this whole video thing [on] how great it’s going to be, blah, blah, blah, jobs, and it was just like, okay, you guys are not telling the truth. Weber: In case you’re wondering, the video that’s being talked about is the one that we played at the beginning of this episode. It’s about the environmental impact statement of the Sentinel Program. Davis: They never talked about war. They didn’t talk about jobs. They talked about how it’s going to benefit the community, for the most part.  My forte is journalism—and I started asking questions and they took the general out of the meeting, out of the building, out of the area of testimony. They left! And then we’re, they said we’re going to have an intermission.  When we come back, they were starting the public testimony. But where the hell is the chairman, where the hell is the major general? They should be here listening to the public testimony.  Weber: As it turned out, Davis was the only one who had filled the sign-in sheet at the meeting entrance. And he was called up first. Davis: I’ve always felt nervous about being in North Dakota because there’s so many nuclear missiles here. I testified that I know there’s always a chance for incidents and accidents and nuclear accidents. They’re not all going to be like Chernobyl, but it could be. And when you’re messing with warheads, you know, you have to be, you know, so precise, and, you know, there’s a process and procedure and safety. Weber: So Logan’s a reporter. But he was also stationed in Germany in the 1970s, when the country had short-range nuclear missiles, so he has some prior knowledge in this area. Davis: I’m not the most smartest, the most knowledgeable, about nuclear missiles. I do know enough that it’s a dangerous occupation. I mean, any kind of amount of radiation exposure can kill you or hurt you—lessen your health. Weber: Someone else spoke up, too. Jerry Ruth Birds Bill Ford: Jerry Ruth Birds Bill Ford. My mother is a Cherokee from Oklahoma, from Claremore, Oklahoma. And my dad is Lawrence Birds Bill, from here. He’s Mandan and Hidatsa. Weber: Jerry was one of the two women that testified that day after Logan spoke up. She’s married to a retired Air Force colonel. Her daughter’s in the Air Force, too. I asked what  brought her to testify that day. Birds Bill Ford: Well, they asked me if there was a close working relationship between the tribe and the, and the United States Air Force. And I tell them no, there wasn’t one at all, that everyone here knew that there were silos on the reservation, but there was just, like, little-to-no communication between the Air Force and the tribe.  Weber: If you listened to the previous episode, you’ll know that there are 15 nuclear missile silos on the reservation itself. But Jerry didn’t know there were that many. Birds Bill Ford: There are 15? I couldn’t remember. All on the reservation? Or…okay…wow. I didn’t know that.  Weber: During her testimony, Jerry suggested that the Air Force develop a permanent partnership with the Tribal Council itself and the representatives of a higher level. Despite the fact that the Air Force changed the location of the actual meeting with the tribe so close to the event that the chairman and veterans went to the wrong location, Major General Michael Lutton, commander of the 20th Air Force, came on the reservation to talk about how grateful he was to the tribe for showing up.  [CLIP: Major General Michael Lutton speaking at visit to the MHA Nation: “And when you combine knowledge and time, you have wisdom. And we’re so thankful for your time and the time of the people here, and we look forward to cooperation as we share a common goal to defend our nation and our land. Thank you so much.”] Weber: In an e-mailed statement in response to this reporting, the Air Force said, “The National Weather Service issued a severe weather storm wind advisory alert for Northwest and North Central North Dakota for July 18, and 19, 2022. MHA Leadership, Veterans Groups, Tribal Law Enforcement, security and facility security directors consulted with each other.   The decision was made for the protection of human health, safety and cultural resources that the hearing be moved to the planned back up, indoor venue, 4 Bears Casino and Lodge.”  Though there was one severe weather alert for those dates, on the day of the hearing on July 19, 2022, it was sunny by 4:15 P.M. local time, prior to the meeting’s start at 5:30 P.M.  I asked Logan if, during its 30-minute PowerPoint presentation, the Air Force had discussed the role of the silos in U.S. nuclear strategy, the rationale behind the modernization program and the risks that are involved for the tribe, if nuclear war or accidents were to occur. Davis: The only thing they talked about is that they were going to make sure everything was safe. We have to take it for granted and, and rely on that word of the military and the politicians. Weber: During Major General Lutton’s visit to the tribe, he exchanged gifts with the MHA Nation’s chairman, Mark Fox.  Six months later, Fox signed a programmatic agreement with the Air Force. The agreement streamlines the exchange of historically and culturally relevant information of sites that could be impacted by the missile modernization program, which will include deploying Sentinel and quote “decommissioning and disposing of the Minuteman III ICBM system.”  In its e-mailed statement, the Air Force said that, quote, “the radiological effects of a strategic nuclear attack on the continental United States are beyond the scope of this Environmental Impact Statement.”  Mark Fox, the MHA Nation’s chairman, did not reply to several requests for comment.  MHA was one of two tribal nations to sign this agreement out of 63. Davis: Did we really need that Minuteman change? Do they really? I mean, it’s not going to really deter any more than they already have. Nothing will change because nothing is really—we don’t know if it’s going to affect us except if there’s an accident. [CLIP: Music]  We’re supposed to be protective of the land. You see, the system has changed us—changed the last couple generations to not respect the land like we’re supposed to. Our ancestral teachings as Native Americans teach us to respect, honor Mother Earth, not to put toxics, crap in her. Weber: This was a lot to take in. I asked Logan what made him speak up so freely today, especially considering the fact that he’s been worried about retribution in the past. Davis: I’m trying to protect the environment and my grandchildren’s future. And my little granddaughter, she’s born today. I want to come into a world that’s safe and secure and doesn’t have to have the dreams and nightmares I did when I was a little boy worried about nuclear war.  Weber: To better understand who in the tribal government had been consulted about the environmental impact statement, I met Edmund Baker, environmental director of the reservation, who is responsible for enforcing the Three Affiliated Tribes’ environmental protection code. You might recognize him from the previous episode. I told him about the EIS hearing. Weber (tape): I guess they said, like, it was like a town hall, community-type meeting. But ... Edmund Baker: Really? Weber (tape): Yeah. Baker: Well, you understand that [on] the reservation, there’s sort of the official release of information, either in a newspaper or maybe on the radio. But even so I haven’t heard the guys in the office mentioning anything like this. I'm a little surprised that—I don’t know what they think of this office. Maybe in the scheme of things, with all the projects going on—and this is a busy council—that if you’re going to deal with such things as government-to-government relations and a re-signing or an extension or an agreement to keep nuclear warheads within or near your tribal nation’s homeland, that somehow [the] Environmental Division might be somewhat relevant. Weber: Edmund wasn’t exactly thrilled. Baker: I’m  just trying to imagine how they see us. Maybe they see us as “This is not important to them. They handle the oil field” or—I don’t know what they’re thinking, actually. But what surprises me most is [that] this has not been an issue. Weber: Given his experiences with environmental impact studies and other permitting issues, I asked Edmund whether it was important for members of the tribe to know what would be the potential nuclear risks associated with living with the silos. Baker: You know, just technically speaking, I don’t—if you’re going into another person’s house, we’ll say—well, we’ll make this candid.  [CLIP: Music] Let’s say you come into my house. You want to build something in there. You think it’ll be good for me. And you’re going to tell me, “Oh, this is what it does. I’m not going to harm anything.” And I ask you, “Okay, well, what are the risks?”  And you tell me. At that point, I have the ability—now, this is small scale, but these concepts are in there—I have the ability to say, “No. That ain’t gonna fly here. Thank you. Have a good time. I’ll see you later. No. Door closed.”  In a lot of sense, that’s, that’s what the EIS sort of functions as, right?  [CLIP: Music] Weber: In the next episode, I will interview nuclear weapons experts to better understand what was not discussed during the EIS public hearing: the real risks for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation from living with nuclear silos on our lands. This show was reported by me, Ella Weber, produced by Sébastien Philippe and Tulika Bose. Script editing by Tulika Bose. Post-production design and mixing by Jeff DelViscio. Thanks to special advisor Ryo Morimoto and Jessica Lambert.  Music by Epidemic Sound. I’m Ella Weber, and this was The Missiles on Our Rez, a special podcast collaboration from Scientific American, Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, Nuclear Princeton, and Columbia Journalism School.

The Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota has had nuclear missile silos on its land for decades. Now the U.S. government wants to take the old weapons out and replace them with new ones, and it’s unclear how many living there know about that.

This podcast is Part 3 of a five-part series. Listen to Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The podcast series is a part of “The New Nuclear Age,” a special report on a $1.5-trillion effort to remake the American nuclear arsenal.

[CLIP: Audio from Association of Air Force Missileers video: “After over 50 years of incredible service, the Minuteman III will be replaced and modernized with a new generation ICBM. The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent Systems Directorate team will deploy 400 new missiles, update 450 silos and modernize more than 600 facilities across almost 40,000 square miles of U.S. territory. This undertaking is a true megaproject that will require radical teamwork, disciplined execution and historic resolve.”]

[CLIP: Music] 

Ella Weber: This true megaproject is now called the Sentinel missile program. It’s the Air Force’s most ambitious military construction and weapons project in decades.

Weber: The new weapon is one part of a plan that was started under former President Barack Obama. It was accelerated by the Trump administration to replace and upgrade the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal — at a projected cost of upward of $1.5 trillion over the next 30 years. 

It’s a project that will perpetuate, until at least 2075, the little-known role that my tribe—the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota—plays in U.S. National Security policy: to be a nuclear target.

You’re listening to Scientific American’s podcast series The Missiles on Our Rez. I’m Ella Weber, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, a Princeton student, and a journalist. 

This is Episode 3: “The Air Force’s New Nuclear Missile. 

In this episode, we’ll be talking about how the Air Force came to our reservation to present its new missile project to the tribe, and how this fits into the broader patterns that have characterized our historical relationship with the U.S. government.

[CLIP: Air Force environmental impact statement video: “The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a federal law that requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision-making process. NEPA review is required when a federal action is proposed that may have impacts on the human or natural environment. NEPA includes requirements for involvement of the public and government entities and, in the case of this project, 62 Native American Tribes.”] 

Weber: Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the U.S. Air Force is required to produce an environmental impact statement. In this case, it’s to “analyze the potential effects on the human and natural environments from deployment of the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile system.” Also, it’s to “provide the public and other stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the action and associated analyses, and to consider all alternatives.”

[CLIP: MHA Nation honor song]

Weber: The Fort Berthold reservation was the first place picked by the Air Force to present this report at a public hearing and collect public comments on the record. This was an opportunity for the Air Force to connect with the MHA Nation and to explain the military branch’s plans and what they meant for the reservation. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly what happened.

Logan Davis: That public hearing? Meaningless. You know why it’s meaningless? Because nobody was really informed, nobody was able to give the testimony they wanted to do, and nobody had a clear picture because nobody was prepared. I certainly wasn’t prepared.

Weber: Logan Davis is a freelance journalist, an army veteran and an elder of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa of North Dakota. He’s been reporting on the MHA Nation for a long time and happened to be on the reservation that day. He learned about the EIS meeting by chance.

[CLIP: Music] 

Davis: I was eating, talking, visiting, and I saw this policeman that’s a friend of mine. He’s like, “Hey Logan, you going to that environmental impact study meeting?” I was like, “What?” I’m a journalist, and nobody told me. I didn’t know about it until this cop called me. 

So nobody knew about it. So I was calling people, “Hey, you gotta get over here; you gotta testify,” you know?

Weber: Davis’s struggle to find where the meeting was taking place was confusing. The Air Force had advertised for weeks in local newspapers and on the radio that the meeting would take place at the New Town Powwow grounds. But for some reason, the location of the meeting was changed last minute—to the Four Bears Casino.

Davis: The cop was there. I sat with him. And I said, “Are you going to testify?” “Oh, I don’t know,” he goes. “If somebody else does.” And I just looked around, and there is just very few people from this community. It was mostly Air Force people. Nobody told any of the journalists or any news person. It was so highly secretive. And that bothers me.

So they did this whole video thing [on] how great it’s going to be, blah, blah, blah, jobs, and it was just like, okay, you guys are not telling the truth.

Weber: In case you’re wondering, the video that’s being talked about is the one that we played at the beginning of this episode. It’s about the environmental impact statement of the Sentinel Program.

Davis: They never talked about war. They didn’t talk about jobs. They talked about how it’s going to benefit the community, for the most part. 

My forte is journalism—and I started asking questions and they took the general out of the meeting, out of the building, out of the area of testimony. They left! And then we’re, they said we’re going to have an intermission. 

When we come back, they were starting the public testimony. But where the hell is the chairman, where the hell is the major general? They should be here listening to the public testimony. 

Weber: As it turned out, Davis was the only one who had filled the sign-in sheet at the meeting entrance. And he was called up first.

Davis: I’ve always felt nervous about being in North Dakota because there’s so many nuclear missiles here.

I testified that I know there’s always a chance for incidents and accidents and nuclear accidents. They’re not all going to be like Chernobyl, but it could be. And when you’re messing with warheads, you know, you have to be, you know, so precise, and, you know, there’s a process and procedure and safety.

Weber: So Logan’s a reporter. But he was also stationed in Germany in the 1970s, when the country had short-range nuclear missiles, so he has some prior knowledge in this area.

Davis: I’m not the most smartest, the most knowledgeable, about nuclear missiles. I do know enough that it’s a dangerous occupation. I mean, any kind of amount of radiation exposure can kill you or hurt you—lessen your health.

Weber: Someone else spoke up, too.

Jerry Ruth Birds Bill Ford: Jerry Ruth Birds Bill Ford. My mother is a Cherokee from Oklahoma, from Claremore, Oklahoma. And my dad is Lawrence Birds Bill, from here. He’s Mandan and Hidatsa.

Weber: Jerry was one of the two women that testified that day after Logan spoke up. She’s married to a retired Air Force colonel. Her daughter’s in the Air Force, too. I asked what  brought her to testify that day.

Birds Bill Ford: Well, they asked me if there was a close working relationship between the tribe and the, and the United States Air Force. And I tell them no, there wasn’t one at all, that everyone here knew that there were silos on the reservation, but there was just, like, little-to-no communication between the Air Force and the tribe. 

Weber: If you listened to the previous episode, you’ll know that there are 15 nuclear missile silos on the reservation itself. But Jerry didn’t know there were that many.

Birds Bill Ford: There are 15? I couldn’t remember. All on the reservation? Or…okay…wow. I didn’t know that. 

Weber: During her testimony, Jerry suggested that the Air Force develop a permanent partnership with the Tribal Council itself and the representatives of a higher level.

Despite the fact that the Air Force changed the location of the actual meeting with the tribe so close to the event that the chairman and veterans went to the wrong location, Major General Michael Lutton, commander of the 20th Air Force, came on the reservation to talk about how grateful he was to the tribe for showing up. 

[CLIP: Major General Michael Lutton speaking at visit to the MHA Nation: “And when you combine knowledge and time, you have wisdom. And we’re so thankful for your time and the time of the people here, and we look forward to cooperation as we share a common goal to defend our nation and our land. Thank you so much.”]

Weber: In an e-mailed statement in response to this reporting, the Air Force said, “The National Weather Service issued a severe weather storm wind advisory alert for Northwest and North Central North Dakota for July 18, and 19, 2022. MHA Leadership, Veterans Groups, Tribal Law Enforcement, security and facility security directors consulted with each other.  

The decision was made for the protection of human health, safety and cultural resources that the hearing be moved to the planned back up, indoor venue, 4 Bears Casino and Lodge.” 

Though there was one severe weather alert for those dates, on the day of the hearing on July 19, 2022, it was sunny by 4:15 P.M. local time, prior to the meeting’s start at 5:30 P.M. 

I asked Logan if, during its 30-minute PowerPoint presentation, the Air Force had discussed the role of the silos in U.S. nuclear strategy, the rationale behind the modernization program and the risks that are involved for the tribe, if nuclear war or accidents were to occur.

Davis: The only thing they talked about is that they were going to make sure everything was safe. We have to take it for granted and, and rely on that word of the military and the politicians.

Weber: During Major General Lutton’s visit to the tribe, he exchanged gifts with the MHA Nation’s chairman, Mark Fox. 

Six months later, Fox signed a programmatic agreement with the Air Force. The agreement streamlines the exchange of historically and culturally relevant information of sites that could be impacted by the missile modernization program, which will include deploying Sentinel and quote “decommissioning and disposing of the Minuteman III ICBM system.” 

In its e-mailed statement, the Air Force said that, quote, “the radiological effects of a strategic nuclear attack on the continental United States are beyond the scope of this Environmental Impact Statement.” 

Mark Fox, the MHA Nation’s chairman, did not reply to several requests for comment. 

MHA was one of two tribal nations to sign this agreement out of 63.

Davis: Did we really need that Minuteman change? Do they really? I mean, it’s not going to really deter any more than they already have.

Nothing will change because nothing is really—we don’t know if it’s going to affect us except if there’s an accident.

[CLIP: Music] 

We’re supposed to be protective of the land. You see, the system has changed us—changed the last couple generations to not respect the land like we’re supposed to. Our ancestral teachings as Native Americans teach us to respect, honor Mother Earth, not to put toxics, crap in her.

Weber: This was a lot to take in. I asked Logan what made him speak up so freely today, especially considering the fact that he’s been worried about retribution in the past.

Davis: I’m trying to protect the environment and my grandchildren’s future. And my little granddaughter, she’s born today. I want to come into a world that’s safe and secure and doesn’t have to have the dreams and nightmares I did when I was a little boy worried about nuclear war. 

Weber: To better understand who in the tribal government had been consulted about the environmental impact statement, I met Edmund Baker, environmental director of the reservation, who is responsible for enforcing the Three Affiliated Tribes’ environmental protection code. You might recognize him from the previous episode. I told him about the EIS hearing.

Weber (tape): I guess they said, like, it was like a town hall, community-type meeting. But ...

Edmund Baker: Really?

Weber (tape): Yeah.

Baker: Well, you understand that [on] the reservation, there’s sort of the official release of information, either in a newspaper or maybe on the radio. But even so I haven’t heard the guys in the office mentioning anything like this.

I'm a little surprised that—I don’t know what they think of this office. Maybe in the scheme of things, with all the projects going on—and this is a busy council—that if you’re going to deal with such things as government-to-government relations and a re-signing or an extension or an agreement to keep nuclear warheads within or near your tribal nation’s homeland, that somehow [the] Environmental Division might be somewhat relevant.

Weber: Edmund wasn’t exactly thrilled.

Baker: I’m  just trying to imagine how they see us. Maybe they see us as “This is not important to them. They handle the oil field” or—I don’t know what they’re thinking, actually. But what surprises me most is [that] this has not been an issue.

Weber: Given his experiences with environmental impact studies and other permitting issues, I asked Edmund whether it was important for members of the tribe to know what would be the potential nuclear risks associated with living with the silos.

Baker: You know, just technically speaking, I don’t—if you’re going into another person’s house, we’ll say—well, we’ll make this candid. 

[CLIP: Music]

Let’s say you come into my house. You want to build something in there. You think it’ll be good for me. And you’re going to tell me, “Oh, this is what it does. I’m not going to harm anything.” And I ask you, “Okay, well, what are the risks?” 

And you tell me. At that point, I have the ability—now, this is small scale, but these concepts are in there—I have the ability to say, “No. That ain’t gonna fly here. Thank you. Have a good time. I’ll see you later. No. Door closed.” 

In a lot of sense, that’s, that’s what the EIS sort of functions as, right? 

[CLIP: Music]

Weber: In the next episode, I will interview nuclear weapons experts to better understand what was not discussed during the EIS public hearing: the real risks for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation from living with nuclear silos on our lands.

This show was reported by me, Ella Weber, produced by Sébastien Philippe and Tulika Bose. Script editing by Tulika Bose. Post-production design and mixing by Jeff DelViscio. Thanks to special advisor Ryo Morimoto and Jessica Lambert.  Music by Epidemic Sound.

I’m Ella Weber, and this was The Missiles on Our Rez, a special podcast collaboration from Scientific American, Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, Nuclear Princeton, and Columbia Journalism School.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Australian Authorities Say More Sydney Schools Tainted With Asbestos

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An asbestos contamination in Sydney widened on Sunday, with authorities saying the toxic material had been detected in more...

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An asbestos contamination in Sydney widened on Sunday, with authorities saying the toxic material had been detected in more schools, as a weeks-long effort continued to remove it from mulch used in public places.The contamination was discovered in January when asbestos was found in a playground in the New South Wales capital, and a subsequent probe found it in recycled mulch near the park, built above an underground road interchange.In an update on the contamination on Sunday, the state's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said 34 city sites had now returned positive for bonded asbestos.New sites where asbestos had been confirmed were two schools in the city's west, the EPA said, lifting the number of schools confirmed as tainted to four."There is ongoing testing at a further four schools," EPA head Tony Chappel said, adding that testing was also underway at a hospital and in part of the city's vast Royal National Park.The agency on Saturday said a public school, park, and two part-built housing estates were tainted, while transport projects, a warehouse and a hospital have also been confirmed as impacted.In response, the state government has set up an asbestos task force to give more resources and support to the EPA, in the agency's largest probe since it was established in 1991.Asbestos became popular in late 19th century as a way to reinforce cement and for fire-proofing, but research later found that the inhalation of asbestos fibres could cause lung inflammation and cancer. It is now banned in much of the world.(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters.

Australia Authorities Say More Sydney Sites Tainted With Asbestos

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian authorities on Saturday said asbestos had been discovered in more places in Sydney including housing estates as the...

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian authorities on Saturday said asbestos had been discovered in more places in Sydney including housing estates as the New South Wales government continues a weeks-long scramble to remove the toxic material from mulch used in public spaces.The contamination was discovered in January when asbestos was found in a playground in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, and subsequent investigations spotted it in recycled mulch near the park, built above an underground road interchange.Since then, in what is the biggest investigation by the state's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in decades, 32 city sites have returned positive results for bonded asbestos, the agency said in a statement on Saturday.The EPA said new sites where asbestos had been detected were a public school and park in the city's north, and two residential estates under construction in Sydney's south-west.The University of Sydney had also been identified as potentially tainted and would be tested this weekend, it said."Since 10 January, the EPA has taken almost 300 samples. The rate of positive results is around 10 percent," the EPA said.Authorities this week cordoned off areas in several contaminated Sydney parks, forcing the cancellation of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Fair Day event scheduled for Sunday, which usually draws tens of thousands of revellers, after traces of asbestos were found around the venue.Transport projects, a primary school, a warehouse and a hospital have also been confirmed as contaminated.In response, the New South Wales government has set up a dedicated asbestos task force to give more resources and support to the EPA as it investigates the widening contamination.Asbestos became popular in late 19th century as a way to reinforce cement and for fire-proofing, but research later found that the inhalation of asbestos fibres could cause lung inflammation and cancer. It is now banned in much of the world.(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by Matthew Lewis)Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters.

Seven Sydney schools tested as asbestos mulch found at hospital, supermarket and new park

EPA confirms bonded asbestos found at St John of God hospital in North Richmond, Kellyville Woolworths and Transport for NSW park in Wiley ParkMap and full list of locations where asbestos has been foundGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastAsbestos has been found in mulch at a hospital, a supermarket and another park in Sydney, and seven schools will be tested as a priority as the state’s environmental watchdog continues its largest ever investigation.The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority confirmed on Friday that bonded asbestos had been found in mulch at St John of God hospital in North Richmond, Woolworths in Kellyville and a Transport for NSW park in Wiley Park.Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup Continue reading...

Asbestos has been found in mulch at a hospital, a supermarket and another park in Sydney, and seven schools will be tested as a priority as the state’s environmental watchdog continues its largest ever investigation.The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority confirmed on Friday that bonded asbestos had been found in mulch at St John of God hospital in North Richmond, Woolworths in Kellyville and a Transport for NSW park in Wiley Park.The EPA named the new sites the day after the government announced a surge workforce of public servants and firefighters, as well as a new asbestos taskforce, would assist the agency with its criminal investigation.Seven schools have been chosen to undertake precautionary testing based on how much mulch they have on site. The EPA said it identified these particular schools because they received mulch from Greenlife Resource Recovery.Greenlife denies they are responsible for the contamination.Greenlife supplied the mulch that has been found to contain both bonded and friable asbestos at sites, including parks, hospitals and several government infrastructure projects across Sydney and in regional NSW.Testing will take place at Allambie Heights Public School, International Grammar School, Mt Annan Christian College, North Sydney Public School, Penrith Christian School, Westmead Christian Grammar and St Luke’s Catholic College.St Luke’s Catholic College, in Marsden Park, will be closed on Friday, with students to learn from home.“There is currently no evidence of asbestos contamination at any of the schools identified,” an EPA spokesperson said.“The EPA is providing this advice ahead of testing to keep the school community across developments so they can advise parents and keep school communities safe.”skip past newsletter promotionSign up to Afternoon UpdateOur Australian afternoon update breaks down the key stories of the day, telling you what’s happening and why it mattersPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionAsbestos had been found at 10% of the sites tested by the agency since it began its investigation after the discovery of contamination at the Rozelle parklands in January.Bonded asbestos had been found at 23 sites and the more dangerous friable asbestos at one site – Harmony Park in Surry Hills.The City of Sydney said it would test another 33 parks and garden beds in 38 sites where the council believes asbestos contaminated mulch may have been used.On Thursday, the EPA chief executive, Tony Chappel, said it was a “complex, large supply chain” and while multiple suppliers were being looked at as part of the probe, so far only mulch from Greenlife had been found to contain asbestos.Greenlife has insisted it is not responsible for the contamination and that multiple rounds of testing by independent laboratories showed their mulch was free from asbestos before it was distributed to customers.But the EPA has raised concerns about mulch manufactured and sold between March and December last year, which it said was not available for them to inspect when they visited Greelife’s facility in January.The landscaping products manufacturer has launched a legal challenge in the NSW land and environment court against the EPA as it fights a ban on it selling mulch while the investigation is under way.

Endangered Right Whale Floating Dead off Georgia Is Rare Species' Second Fatality Since January

Government scientists say a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale has been found dead off the coast of Georgia, marking the rare species' second fatality in the past month

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The carcass of a North Atlantic right whale found floating off the coast of Georgia marks the second known death in the past month for the critically endangered whale species.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the dead whale off Tybee Island east of Savannah had been identified as a female born last year. The carcass was heavily scavenged by sharks before the Georgia Department of Natural Resources towed it to shore Thursday, agency spokesman Tyler Jones said. Scientists still hoped a necropsy could provide clues to how it died. “It’s going to be challenge to determine the cause of death because it’s been so heavily predated and decayed,” Jones saidThe discovery came after another young female right whale was reported dead Jan. 28 off Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. A necropsy found rope embedded in its tail. NOAA said it was consistent with a type of rope used in commercial fishing gear.Female right whales head to the warmer Atlantic Ocean waters off the southeastern U.S. during the winters to give birth. Because they swim close to the surface, the rare whales are vulnerable to collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear.Scientists estimate the North Atlantic right whale population has dwindled to fewer than 360. NOAA says a period of elevated fatalities and injuries in right whales has been ongoing since 2017. The two deaths recorded since January bring the period's total to 38 fatalities. “The death of two juvenile North Atlantic whales within three weeks of each other is heartbreaking and preventable," Kathleen Collins, senior marine campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in statement Thursday. “The right whale graveyard off our eastern seaboard continues to grow and inaction from the administration is digging the graves.”A coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday in an effort to force the U.S. government to finalize rules that would expand zones off the East Coast where ships are required to slow down to protect right whales. The new rules would also require compliance by a wider range of vessels.Some industries have pushed back against tighter laws. Last year, a federal appeals court sided with commercial fishermen who harvest lobsters and crabs and say proposed restrictions aimed at saving whales could put them out of business.Right whales were once abundant off the East Coast, but they were decimated during the commercial fishing era and have been slow to recover. They have been protected under the Endangered Species Act for decades.Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

EDF and Google partner to map global methane emissions from space

By this time next year, a new satellite will be detecting how much methane is leaking from oil and gas wells, pumps, pipelines and storage tanks around the world — and companies, governments and nonprofit groups will be able to access all of its data via Google Maps. That’s one way to describe the partnership…

By this time next year, a new satellite will be detecting how much methane is leaking from oil and gas wells, pumps, pipelines and storage tanks around the world — and companies, governments and nonprofit groups will be able to access all of its data via Google Maps. That’s one way to describe the partnership announced Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund and Google. The two have pledged to combine forces on EDF’s MethaneSat initiative, one of the most ambitious efforts yet to discover and measure emissions of a gas with 80 times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. MethaneSat’s first satellite is scheduled to be launched into orbit next month, Steve Hamburg, EDF chief scientist and MethaneSat project lead, explained in a Monday media briefing. Once in orbit, it will circle the globe 15 times a day, providing the ​“first truly detailed global picture of methane emissions,” he said. ​“By the end of 2025, we should have a very clear picture on a global scale from all major oil and gas basins around the world.” That’s vital data for governments and industry players seeking to reduce human-caused methane emissions that are responsible for roughly a quarter of global warming today. The United Nations has called for a 45 percent cut in methane emissions by 2030, which would reduce climate warming by 0.3 degrees Celsius by 2045. EDF research has found that roughly half of the world’s human-caused methane emissions can be eliminated by 2030, and that half of that reduction could be accomplished at no net cost. Emissions from agriculture, livestock and landfills are expected to be more difficult to mitigate than those from the oil and gas industries, which either vent or flare fossil gas — which is primarily methane — as an unwanted byproduct of oil production, or lose it through leaks. That makes targeting oil and gas industry methane emissions ​“the fastest way that we can slow global warming right now,” Hamburg said. While cutting carbon dioxide emissions remains a pressing challenge, ​“methane dominates what’s happening in the near term.” Action on methane leakage is being promised by industry and governments. At the COP28 U.N. climate talks in December, 50 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies pledged to ​“virtually eliminate” their methane emissions by 2030, Hamburg noted. The European Union in November passed a law that will place ​“maximum methane intensity values” on fossil gas imports starting in 2030, putting pressure on global suppliers to reduce leaks if they want to continue selling their products in Europe. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed rules to impose fines on methane emitters in the oil and gas industry, in keeping with a provision of 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act that penalizes emissions above a certain threshold. And in December, the EPA issued final rules on limiting methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations, including a role for third-party monitors like MethaneSat to report methane ​“super-emitters” — sources of massive methane leaks — and spur regulatory action. Accurate and comprehensive measurements are necessary to attain these targets and mandates, Hamburg said. ​“Achieving real results means that government, civil society and industry need to know how much methane is coming from where, who is responsible for those emissions and how those emissions are changing over time,” he said. ​“We need the data on a global scale.” Turning satellite data into regulatory action That’s where Google will step in, said Yael Maguire, head of the search giant’s Geo Sustainability team. Over the past two years, Google has been working with EDF and MethaneSat to develop a ​“dynamic methane map that we will make available to the public later this year,” he said during Monday’s briefing. EDF and Google researchers will use Google’s cloud-computing resources to analyze MethaneSat data to identify leaks and measure their intensity, Maguire said. Google is also adapting its machine-learning and artificial-intelligence capabilities developed for identifying buildings, trees and other landmarks from space to ​“build a comprehensive map of oil and gas infrastructure around the world based on visible satellite imagery,” he said — a valuable source of information on an industry that can be resistant to providing asset data to regulators. “Once those maps are lined up, we expect people will be able to have a far better understanding of the types of machinery that contribute most to methane leaks,” Maguire said. These maps and underlying data will be available later this year on MethaneSat’s website and from Google Earth Engine, the company’s environmental-monitoring platform used by researchers to ​“detect trends and understand correlations between human activity and its environmental impact.” The work between Google and EDF on MethaneSat is part of a broader set of methane-emissions monitoring efforts by researchers, governments, nonprofits and companies. At the COP28 climate summit, Bloomberg Philanthropies pledged $40 million to support what Hamburg described as an ​“independent watchdog effort” to track the progress of emissions-reduction pledges that companies in the oil and gas industry made at the event. MethaneSat will bring new technology to the table, he said. Its sensors can detect methane at concentrations of 2 to 3 parts per billion, down to resolutions of about 100 meters by 400 meters. That’s a much tighter resolution than the methane detection provided by the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel satellite, which nonetheless has been able to detect gigantic methane plumes in oil and gas basins in Central Asia and North Africa in the past three years, he said. At the same time, MethaneSat can scan 200-kilometer-wide swaths of Earth as it passes overhead, he said. That combination of detail and scope will allow it to ​“see widespread emissions — those that are across large areas and that other satellites can see — as well as spot problems where other satellites aren’t looking.”

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