Cookies help us run our site more efficiently.

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information or to customize your cookie preferences.

Tracking down a poison: Getting the lead out of spices in Bangladesh and Georgia

News Feed
Monday, September 25, 2023

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series, “Tracking down a poison.” See part 2 here. NEW YORK CITY — In 1988, turmeric producers in Bangladesh had a problem. The country sits on the world’s largest delta, where three rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, flooding annually and leaving behind rich soils that farmers depend on. That year, all three rivers reached their peaks within a matter of days, creating a deluge that submerged three quarters of the country and killed at least 2,000 people. When the floods subsided, farmers found black and soggy turmeric roots — unappealing to prospective buyers, even if the raw spice remained intact. Turmeric polishers, who prepare the roots for sale, found a solution: a quick polish to smooth the exterior then a dusting of a yellow pigment to enhance the natural color. They didn’t know the powder was poison. They were adding lead chromate, a toxic material used in paints and plastics for its yellow hue. The practice persisted for decades until research collaborators from Bangladesh and the United States uncovered the problem. Bangladesh isn’t alone. Investigators have identified lead in spices brought to the United States from Pakistan, Nepal, Morocco, India, Georgia and other countries. Many low- and middle-income countries have laws governing food safety, but lack the resources to monitor and enforce them. Lead is unsafe in any quantity, affecting children most severely with behavioral and developmental delays. An estimated one in three children in the world has lead poisoning from contact with common exposure sources like paints, informal battery recycling centers, cookware, cosmetics and, in some cases, spices, a 2020 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Pure Earth found Tests for lead poisoning occur rarely in low- and middle-income countries, where cases are clustered, because doctors lack the information and resources to administer them. Yet in Bangladesh and Georgia research that narrowed in on a specific lead-poisoning problem and its source, along with government investment in enforcement, made the difference. Both countries transformed their spice industries to remove poison pigments. Uncovering a lead exposure problemIn 2018, a study of pregnant women in rural Bangladesh revealed that 31% had elevated blood lead levels. A research team from Stanford University and Bangladesh’s International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, or icddr had evidence the women were encountering lead in the solder on tin cans, in turmeric roots and in small pieces of clay sometimes chewed during pregnancy. They analyzed each source at its atomic level and found that only the lead in turmeric matched the lead in the women’s blood. That finding led them to the spice supply chain. “We wanted to be very detailed, because there have been a lot of food safety scares in Bangladesh,” Jenna Forsyth, a research scientist at the Stanford School of Medicine, told Environmental Health News (EHN). Debunked reports of fake eggs and plastic in rice had left the public and government skeptical. Interviews and workshops with turmeric producers revealed that the practice of adding yellow pigment to turmeric roots started with large floods in the 1980s and persisted decades later. Even when the roots weren’t black from wet conditions, the yellow pigment increased profits. Turmeric roots are a duller brown on the outside, and polishing reveals the yellow spice inside, but that means losing weight and earning less for each root. With the lead chromate pigment, polishers could preserve weight and mimic the warm yellow color. Finding the lead in GeorgiaThousands of miles away, in the country of Georgia, spice mixes containing the regional yellow marigold flower were contaminated with the same lead chromate pigment. Here, instead of a dusting of color, spice packagers added pigment straight into powdered spices, sometimes in enormous quantities.Health officials noticed the first signs of trouble in New York City. In the state, doctors test all 1- and 2-year-olds for lead and conduct risk assessments until age 6. Whenever a high blood lead level is identified in a child or an adult in New York City, investigators look for the source. “We identify patterns in the types of consumer products that contain high levels of lead,” Paromita Hore, director of environmental exposure assessment and education at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told EHN. “[Data] can identify at-risk communities.” Her team has found lead in spices from around the world, typically carried from other countries by individuals into New York. Georgian spices repeatedly ranked among the worst offenders, with high quantities of lead. In the worst instance, a spice mix sample taken during an investigation in September 2020 contained 78,000 parts per million of lead, meaning that nearly 8% of the spice was pure lead. “The solution is fixing the issue in the abroad country,” said Hore, “so one of our approaches is to share our findings with foreign authorities.” The team reached out to the Georgian consulate in 2011 and in 2015.Continuing to identify lead in spices from Georgia, in 2017 the New York City health department issued a warning for New Yorkers to get a blood lead test if they had eaten spices from the country. News sites in Georgia picked up the story, and the Georgian National Food Agency responded saying the information “ has nothing to do with today’s reality,” and admonished the media for misleading the public, according to a Google translation of a 2017 Facebook post.Yet a 2015 study of blood lead levels in Georgia had pointed to a bigger problem in the country. It was led by Dr. Ziad Kazzi, a medical toxicologist and emergency medicine professor at Emory University who traveled frequently to Georgia because of a family connection.“I asked a question about lead in Georgia and I rapidly discovered there was no answer at the time,” Kazzi told EHN. He launched a study of children’s blood lead levels at a hospital in Tbilisi in 2015, and found that many children had levels above five micrograms per decilitre. This level means a case of lead-poisoning, and it causes children to lose about three to five IQ points, according to UNICEF.The finding motivated the Georgian government to add blood lead testing to a national survey of children’s health. UNICEF coordinates children’s health surveys in developing countries around the world, but they had never included blood lead testing. Most low- and middle-income countries, where the surveys are conducted, don’t have the equipment or experience to test blood samples for lead. In Georgia’s case, the Italian National Institute of Health agreed to test the samples, collected from more than a thousand children around the country in 2018.The testing revealed that 41% of children in Georgia had lead poisoning. “It was really appalling, nobody expected this,” Abheet Solomon, global program lead on healthy environments for healthy children at UNICEF told EHN. In a region of western Georgia called Ajarra, 80% of children had lead poisoning.As the Georgian government and UNICEF started outreach and medical care, Bret Ericson, former chief operating officer at Pure Earth, arrived with a research team to root out the source of lead exposures.The Pure Earth team went to the homes of children who tested exceptionally high for lead, at 30 micrograms per decilitre or more, six times the typical level for serious concern. They brought an expensive handheld machine that could identify lead presence in anything it was pointed at.Ericson recalls spending hours in the first few houses, scanning every conceivable item and surface. Then he remembered a few studies he read on the plane to Georgia that mentioned spices as a source of lead exposure, and they started testing spices from families’ kitchens.Particularly in the Ajarra region, “we started getting hit after hit of exceptionally high levels in spices,” Ericson told EHN. “We found one at 25,000 parts per million, that’s poison, and it’s just in some kid’s house, so it’s heart wrenching stuff,” he said.Pure Earth contacted spice producers to understand how lead ended up in people’s food. They modeled their outreach off of Stanford and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research’s work in Bangladesh, Andrew McCartor, executive director of Pure Earth, told EHN.“We interviewed everyone in the supply chain from the retail vendor in a bazaar to the wholesaler that supplies them to the manufacturer that supplies the wholesaler,” he said. They discovered that the same lead chromate yellow pigment used in Bangladesh was added to spices by people packing them for sale across Georgia.The yellow marigold flower loses its bright hue as it dries, so packagers added yellow pigment to increase visual appeal and total weight, “There was no real understanding about the threats” from people in the spice industry, Khatuna Akhalaia, Georgia country director for Pure Earth, told EHN.Getting the lead outGeorgia’s government passed regulations to ban lead in spices, developed their enforcement capacity and began a public health awareness campaign. Bangladesh already had laws banning lead in food, but a lack of awareness of the problem in turmeric meant it was never enforced. The mountain of data and information published by researchers convinced the government they needed to act. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority distributed roughly 50,000 flyers to people in wholesale markets selling turmeric and the public, explaining that lead chromate powder used on turmeric is poisonous and that they’d start enforcing the rules. Like the spice packagers in Georgia, turmeric polishers and wholesalers in Bangladesh weren’t aware of the health dangers. Producers became “champions” of removing lead from turmeric once they knew about the health risks, said Forsyth. Her team tested blood lead levels of some people working in turmeric production: high levels were found in everyone from the people doing the polishing to business owners more removed from the raw pigment. After making the industry aware of the rules, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority entered a spice market in Dhaka in 2019 with testing equipment, a mobile court and a camera crew to make a public example of enforcing the law. Officials tested turmeric on the spot, and found it in two shops, where they confiscated the roots and issued $9,288 fines. The media picked up the story, and turmeric producers across Bangladesh saw that the lead chromate had to go. Early signs of success in removing leadThe research team in Bangladesh returned to turmeric producers in 2021. First they tested turmeric in markets, and found no lead in more than 600 samples purchased from dozens of wholesalers in Dhaka, compared to the 47% of samples that contained lead in 2019. They visited turmeric polishing sites where they had previously seen the yellow pigments at 30% of production sites, and this time found no evidence of its presence. Finally, they repeated blood testing of turmeric polishers, finding a 30% drop in blood lead levels.For children, removing an exposure source can lower their blood lead level and stop the impacts of lead from progressing, but neurological and developmental damage can’t be undone. In the most extreme cases, with a blood lead level above 45 micrograms per decilitre, doctors can use chelating medicine to remove lead from the blood, but it isn’t recommended below that level due to harsh side effects. Good nutrition with sufficient vitamins can help the body absorb less lead while it’s present in the blood.Turmeric isn’t the only source of lead exposure in Bangladesh. The country has many informal lead acid battery recycling sites, which can expose people to lead through the air and soil surrounding them. But Forsyth is optimistic when it comes to spices. “We’re seeing some exciting results that, indeed, these local levels have declined frankly more than expected,” she said.Similarly, in Georgia Pure Earth tested samples from markets in 2022 and found no evidence of lead in any spices, reported Akhalaia. She and Md. Mahbubur Rahman, project coordinator at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, both emphasized the importance of continuing strict monitoring.“When you take action it works, but later on, when people forget, they can turn back to the same position,” Rahman said. Pure Earth Georgia and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research continue to monitor spices in their respective countries to stay vigilant for back sliding.As for New York City, where the lead in Georgian spices was first flagged, Hore and her team are “seeing a 95% decline in the rate of children with Georgian ancestry with elevated blood lead levels,” she said.Read part 2 to learn more about global efforts to stop lead-poisoning, an often overlooked health crisis.

Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series, “Tracking down a poison.” See part 2 here. NEW YORK CITY — In 1988, turmeric producers in Bangladesh had a problem. The country sits on the world’s largest delta, where three rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, flooding annually and leaving behind rich soils that farmers depend on. That year, all three rivers reached their peaks within a matter of days, creating a deluge that submerged three quarters of the country and killed at least 2,000 people. When the floods subsided, farmers found black and soggy turmeric roots — unappealing to prospective buyers, even if the raw spice remained intact. Turmeric polishers, who prepare the roots for sale, found a solution: a quick polish to smooth the exterior then a dusting of a yellow pigment to enhance the natural color. They didn’t know the powder was poison. They were adding lead chromate, a toxic material used in paints and plastics for its yellow hue. The practice persisted for decades until research collaborators from Bangladesh and the United States uncovered the problem. Bangladesh isn’t alone. Investigators have identified lead in spices brought to the United States from Pakistan, Nepal, Morocco, India, Georgia and other countries. Many low- and middle-income countries have laws governing food safety, but lack the resources to monitor and enforce them. Lead is unsafe in any quantity, affecting children most severely with behavioral and developmental delays. An estimated one in three children in the world has lead poisoning from contact with common exposure sources like paints, informal battery recycling centers, cookware, cosmetics and, in some cases, spices, a 2020 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Pure Earth found Tests for lead poisoning occur rarely in low- and middle-income countries, where cases are clustered, because doctors lack the information and resources to administer them. Yet in Bangladesh and Georgia research that narrowed in on a specific lead-poisoning problem and its source, along with government investment in enforcement, made the difference. Both countries transformed their spice industries to remove poison pigments. Uncovering a lead exposure problemIn 2018, a study of pregnant women in rural Bangladesh revealed that 31% had elevated blood lead levels. A research team from Stanford University and Bangladesh’s International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, or icddr had evidence the women were encountering lead in the solder on tin cans, in turmeric roots and in small pieces of clay sometimes chewed during pregnancy. They analyzed each source at its atomic level and found that only the lead in turmeric matched the lead in the women’s blood. That finding led them to the spice supply chain. “We wanted to be very detailed, because there have been a lot of food safety scares in Bangladesh,” Jenna Forsyth, a research scientist at the Stanford School of Medicine, told Environmental Health News (EHN). Debunked reports of fake eggs and plastic in rice had left the public and government skeptical. Interviews and workshops with turmeric producers revealed that the practice of adding yellow pigment to turmeric roots started with large floods in the 1980s and persisted decades later. Even when the roots weren’t black from wet conditions, the yellow pigment increased profits. Turmeric roots are a duller brown on the outside, and polishing reveals the yellow spice inside, but that means losing weight and earning less for each root. With the lead chromate pigment, polishers could preserve weight and mimic the warm yellow color. Finding the lead in GeorgiaThousands of miles away, in the country of Georgia, spice mixes containing the regional yellow marigold flower were contaminated with the same lead chromate pigment. Here, instead of a dusting of color, spice packagers added pigment straight into powdered spices, sometimes in enormous quantities.Health officials noticed the first signs of trouble in New York City. In the state, doctors test all 1- and 2-year-olds for lead and conduct risk assessments until age 6. Whenever a high blood lead level is identified in a child or an adult in New York City, investigators look for the source. “We identify patterns in the types of consumer products that contain high levels of lead,” Paromita Hore, director of environmental exposure assessment and education at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told EHN. “[Data] can identify at-risk communities.” Her team has found lead in spices from around the world, typically carried from other countries by individuals into New York. Georgian spices repeatedly ranked among the worst offenders, with high quantities of lead. In the worst instance, a spice mix sample taken during an investigation in September 2020 contained 78,000 parts per million of lead, meaning that nearly 8% of the spice was pure lead. “The solution is fixing the issue in the abroad country,” said Hore, “so one of our approaches is to share our findings with foreign authorities.” The team reached out to the Georgian consulate in 2011 and in 2015.Continuing to identify lead in spices from Georgia, in 2017 the New York City health department issued a warning for New Yorkers to get a blood lead test if they had eaten spices from the country. News sites in Georgia picked up the story, and the Georgian National Food Agency responded saying the information “ has nothing to do with today’s reality,” and admonished the media for misleading the public, according to a Google translation of a 2017 Facebook post.Yet a 2015 study of blood lead levels in Georgia had pointed to a bigger problem in the country. It was led by Dr. Ziad Kazzi, a medical toxicologist and emergency medicine professor at Emory University who traveled frequently to Georgia because of a family connection.“I asked a question about lead in Georgia and I rapidly discovered there was no answer at the time,” Kazzi told EHN. He launched a study of children’s blood lead levels at a hospital in Tbilisi in 2015, and found that many children had levels above five micrograms per decilitre. This level means a case of lead-poisoning, and it causes children to lose about three to five IQ points, according to UNICEF.The finding motivated the Georgian government to add blood lead testing to a national survey of children’s health. UNICEF coordinates children’s health surveys in developing countries around the world, but they had never included blood lead testing. Most low- and middle-income countries, where the surveys are conducted, don’t have the equipment or experience to test blood samples for lead. In Georgia’s case, the Italian National Institute of Health agreed to test the samples, collected from more than a thousand children around the country in 2018.The testing revealed that 41% of children in Georgia had lead poisoning. “It was really appalling, nobody expected this,” Abheet Solomon, global program lead on healthy environments for healthy children at UNICEF told EHN. In a region of western Georgia called Ajarra, 80% of children had lead poisoning.As the Georgian government and UNICEF started outreach and medical care, Bret Ericson, former chief operating officer at Pure Earth, arrived with a research team to root out the source of lead exposures.The Pure Earth team went to the homes of children who tested exceptionally high for lead, at 30 micrograms per decilitre or more, six times the typical level for serious concern. They brought an expensive handheld machine that could identify lead presence in anything it was pointed at.Ericson recalls spending hours in the first few houses, scanning every conceivable item and surface. Then he remembered a few studies he read on the plane to Georgia that mentioned spices as a source of lead exposure, and they started testing spices from families’ kitchens.Particularly in the Ajarra region, “we started getting hit after hit of exceptionally high levels in spices,” Ericson told EHN. “We found one at 25,000 parts per million, that’s poison, and it’s just in some kid’s house, so it’s heart wrenching stuff,” he said.Pure Earth contacted spice producers to understand how lead ended up in people’s food. They modeled their outreach off of Stanford and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research’s work in Bangladesh, Andrew McCartor, executive director of Pure Earth, told EHN.“We interviewed everyone in the supply chain from the retail vendor in a bazaar to the wholesaler that supplies them to the manufacturer that supplies the wholesaler,” he said. They discovered that the same lead chromate yellow pigment used in Bangladesh was added to spices by people packing them for sale across Georgia.The yellow marigold flower loses its bright hue as it dries, so packagers added yellow pigment to increase visual appeal and total weight, “There was no real understanding about the threats” from people in the spice industry, Khatuna Akhalaia, Georgia country director for Pure Earth, told EHN.Getting the lead outGeorgia’s government passed regulations to ban lead in spices, developed their enforcement capacity and began a public health awareness campaign. Bangladesh already had laws banning lead in food, but a lack of awareness of the problem in turmeric meant it was never enforced. The mountain of data and information published by researchers convinced the government they needed to act. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority distributed roughly 50,000 flyers to people in wholesale markets selling turmeric and the public, explaining that lead chromate powder used on turmeric is poisonous and that they’d start enforcing the rules. Like the spice packagers in Georgia, turmeric polishers and wholesalers in Bangladesh weren’t aware of the health dangers. Producers became “champions” of removing lead from turmeric once they knew about the health risks, said Forsyth. Her team tested blood lead levels of some people working in turmeric production: high levels were found in everyone from the people doing the polishing to business owners more removed from the raw pigment. After making the industry aware of the rules, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority entered a spice market in Dhaka in 2019 with testing equipment, a mobile court and a camera crew to make a public example of enforcing the law. Officials tested turmeric on the spot, and found it in two shops, where they confiscated the roots and issued $9,288 fines. The media picked up the story, and turmeric producers across Bangladesh saw that the lead chromate had to go. Early signs of success in removing leadThe research team in Bangladesh returned to turmeric producers in 2021. First they tested turmeric in markets, and found no lead in more than 600 samples purchased from dozens of wholesalers in Dhaka, compared to the 47% of samples that contained lead in 2019. They visited turmeric polishing sites where they had previously seen the yellow pigments at 30% of production sites, and this time found no evidence of its presence. Finally, they repeated blood testing of turmeric polishers, finding a 30% drop in blood lead levels.For children, removing an exposure source can lower their blood lead level and stop the impacts of lead from progressing, but neurological and developmental damage can’t be undone. In the most extreme cases, with a blood lead level above 45 micrograms per decilitre, doctors can use chelating medicine to remove lead from the blood, but it isn’t recommended below that level due to harsh side effects. Good nutrition with sufficient vitamins can help the body absorb less lead while it’s present in the blood.Turmeric isn’t the only source of lead exposure in Bangladesh. The country has many informal lead acid battery recycling sites, which can expose people to lead through the air and soil surrounding them. But Forsyth is optimistic when it comes to spices. “We’re seeing some exciting results that, indeed, these local levels have declined frankly more than expected,” she said.Similarly, in Georgia Pure Earth tested samples from markets in 2022 and found no evidence of lead in any spices, reported Akhalaia. She and Md. Mahbubur Rahman, project coordinator at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, both emphasized the importance of continuing strict monitoring.“When you take action it works, but later on, when people forget, they can turn back to the same position,” Rahman said. Pure Earth Georgia and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research continue to monitor spices in their respective countries to stay vigilant for back sliding.As for New York City, where the lead in Georgian spices was first flagged, Hore and her team are “seeing a 95% decline in the rate of children with Georgian ancestry with elevated blood lead levels,” she said.Read part 2 to learn more about global efforts to stop lead-poisoning, an often overlooked health crisis.



Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a 2-part series, “Tracking down a poison.” See part 2 here.


NEW YORK CITY — In 1988, turmeric producers in Bangladesh had a problem. The country sits on the world’s largest delta, where three rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, flooding annually and leaving behind rich soils that farmers depend on. That year, all three rivers reached their peaks within a matter of days, creating a deluge that submerged three quarters of the country and killed at least 2,000 people.

When the floods subsided, farmers found black and soggy turmeric roots — unappealing to prospective buyers, even if the raw spice remained intact.

Turmeric polishers, who prepare the roots for sale, found a solution: a quick polish to smooth the exterior then a dusting of a yellow pigment to enhance the natural color.

They didn’t know the powder was poison. They were adding lead chromate, a toxic material used in paints and plastics for its yellow hue. The practice persisted for decades until research collaborators from Bangladesh and the United States uncovered the problem.

Bangladesh isn’t alone. Investigators have identified lead in spices brought to the United States from Pakistan, Nepal, Morocco, India, Georgia and other countries. Many low- and middle-income countries have laws governing food safety, but lack the resources to monitor and enforce them. Lead is unsafe in any quantity, affecting children most severely with behavioral and developmental delays. An estimated one in three children in the world has lead poisoning from contact with common exposure sources like paints, informal battery recycling centers, cookware, cosmetics and, in some cases, spices, a 2020 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Pure Earth found

Tests for lead poisoning occur rarely in low- and middle-income countries, where cases are clustered, because doctors lack the information and resources to administer them. Yet in Bangladesh and Georgia research that narrowed in on a specific lead-poisoning problem and its source, along with government investment in enforcement, made the difference. Both countries transformed their spice industries to remove poison pigments.

Uncovering a lead exposure problem


In 2018, a study of pregnant women in rural Bangladesh revealed that 31% had elevated blood lead levels. A research team from Stanford University and Bangladesh’s International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, or icddr had evidence the women were encountering lead in the solder on tin cans, in turmeric roots and in small pieces of clay sometimes chewed during pregnancy. They analyzed each source at its atomic level and found that only the lead in turmeric matched the lead in the women’s blood. That finding led them to the spice supply chain. “We wanted to be very detailed, because there have been a lot of food safety scares in Bangladesh,” Jenna Forsyth, a research scientist at the Stanford School of Medicine, told Environmental Health News (EHN). Debunked reports of fake eggs and plastic in rice had left the public and government skeptical.

Interviews and workshops with turmeric producers revealed that the practice of adding yellow pigment to turmeric roots started with large floods in the 1980s and persisted decades later. Even when the roots weren’t black from wet conditions, the yellow pigment increased profits. Turmeric roots are a duller brown on the outside, and polishing reveals the yellow spice inside, but that means losing weight and earning less for each root. With the lead chromate pigment, polishers could preserve weight and mimic the warm yellow color.

Finding the lead in Georgia


toxics lead in spices


lead in spices

Thousands of miles away, in the country of Georgia, spice mixes containing the regional yellow marigold flower were contaminated with the same lead chromate pigment. Here, instead of a dusting of color, spice packagers added pigment straight into powdered spices, sometimes in enormous quantities.

Health officials noticed the first signs of trouble in New York City. In the state, doctors test all 1- and 2-year-olds for lead and conduct risk assessments until age 6. Whenever a high blood lead level is identified in a child or an adult in New York City, investigators look for the source.

“We identify patterns in the types of consumer products that contain high levels of lead,” Paromita Hore, director of environmental exposure assessment and education at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told EHN. “[Data] can identify at-risk communities.”

Her team has found lead in spices from around the world, typically carried from other countries by individuals into New York. Georgian spices repeatedly ranked among the worst offenders, with high quantities of lead. In the worst instance, a spice mix sample taken during an investigation in September 2020 contained 78,000 parts per million of lead, meaning that nearly 8% of the spice was pure lead.

“The solution is fixing the issue in the abroad country,” said Hore, “so one of our approaches is to share our findings with foreign authorities.” The team reached out to the Georgian consulate in 2011 and in 2015.


lead exposure children

Continuing to identify lead in spices from Georgia, in 2017 the New York City health department issued a warning for New Yorkers to get a blood lead test if they had eaten spices from the country. News sites in Georgia picked up the story, and the Georgian National Food Agency responded saying the information “ has nothing to do with today’s reality,” and admonished the media for misleading the public, according to a Google translation of a 2017 Facebook post.

Yet a 2015 study of blood lead levels in Georgia had pointed to a bigger problem in the country. It was led by Dr. Ziad Kazzi, a medical toxicologist and emergency medicine professor at Emory University who traveled frequently to Georgia because of a family connection.

“I asked a question about lead in Georgia and I rapidly discovered there was no answer at the time,” Kazzi told EHN. He launched a study of children’s blood lead levels at a hospital in Tbilisi in 2015, and found that many children had levels above five micrograms per decilitre. This level means a case of lead-poisoning, and it causes children to lose about three to five IQ points, according to UNICEF.

The finding motivated the Georgian government to add blood lead testing to a national survey of children’s health. UNICEF coordinates children’s health surveys in developing countries around the world, but they had never included blood lead testing. Most low- and middle-income countries, where the surveys are conducted, don’t have the equipment or experience to test blood samples for lead. In Georgia’s case, the Italian National Institute of Health agreed to test the samples, collected from more than a thousand children around the country in 2018.

The testing revealed that 41% of children in Georgia had lead poisoning. “It was really appalling, nobody expected this,” Abheet Solomon, global program lead on healthy environments for healthy children at UNICEF told EHN. In a region of western Georgia called Ajarra, 80% of children had lead poisoning.

As the Georgian government and UNICEF started outreach and medical care, Bret Ericson, former chief operating officer at Pure Earth, arrived with a research team to root out the source of lead exposures.


lead in children

The Pure Earth team went to the homes of children who tested exceptionally high for lead, at 30 micrograms per decilitre or more, six times the typical level for serious concern. They brought an expensive handheld machine that could identify lead presence in anything it was pointed at.

Ericson recalls spending hours in the first few houses, scanning every conceivable item and surface. Then he remembered a few studies he read on the plane to Georgia that mentioned spices as a source of lead exposure, and they started testing spices from families’ kitchens.

Particularly in the Ajarra region, “we started getting hit after hit of exceptionally high levels in spices,” Ericson told EHN. “We found one at 25,000 parts per million, that’s poison, and it’s just in some kid’s house, so it’s heart wrenching stuff,” he said.

Pure Earth contacted spice producers to understand how lead ended up in people’s food. They modeled their outreach off of Stanford and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research’s work in Bangladesh, Andrew McCartor, executive director of Pure Earth, told EHN.

“We interviewed everyone in the supply chain from the retail vendor in a bazaar to the wholesaler that supplies them to the manufacturer that supplies the wholesaler,” he said. They discovered that the same lead chromate yellow pigment used in Bangladesh was added to spices by people packing them for sale across Georgia.

The yellow marigold flower loses its bright hue as it dries, so packagers added yellow pigment to increase visual appeal and total weight, “There was no real understanding about the threats” from people in the spice industry, Khatuna Akhalaia, Georgia country director for Pure Earth, told EHN.

Getting the lead out


heavy metals in spices


Bangladesh lead exposure

Georgia’s government passed regulations to ban lead in spices, developed their enforcement capacity and began a public health awareness campaign.

Bangladesh already had laws banning lead in food, but a lack of awareness of the problem in turmeric meant it was never enforced. The mountain of data and information published by researchers convinced the government they needed to act.

The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority distributed roughly 50,000 flyers to people in wholesale markets selling turmeric and the public, explaining that lead chromate powder used on turmeric is poisonous and that they’d start enforcing the rules. Like the spice packagers in Georgia, turmeric polishers and wholesalers in Bangladesh weren’t aware of the health dangers.

Producers became “champions” of removing lead from turmeric once they knew about the health risks, said Forsyth. Her team tested blood lead levels of some people working in turmeric production: high levels were found in everyone from the people doing the polishing to business owners more removed from the raw pigment.

After making the industry aware of the rules, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority entered a spice market in Dhaka in 2019 with testing equipment, a mobile court and a camera crew to make a public example of enforcing the law.

Officials tested turmeric on the spot, and found it in two shops, where they confiscated the roots and issued $9,288 fines. The media picked up the story, and turmeric producers across Bangladesh saw that the lead chromate had to go.

Early signs of success in removing lead


The research team in Bangladesh returned to turmeric producers in 2021. First they tested turmeric in markets, and found no lead in more than 600 samples purchased from dozens of wholesalers in Dhaka, compared to the 47% of samples that contained lead in 2019. They visited turmeric polishing sites where they had previously seen the yellow pigments at 30% of production sites, and this time found no evidence of its presence. Finally, they repeated blood testing of turmeric polishers, finding a 30% drop in blood lead levels.

For children, removing an exposure source can lower their blood lead level and stop the impacts of lead from progressing, but neurological and developmental damage can’t be undone. In the most extreme cases, with a blood lead level above 45 micrograms per decilitre, doctors can use chelating medicine to remove lead from the blood, but it isn’t recommended below that level due to harsh side effects. Good nutrition with sufficient vitamins can help the body absorb less lead while it’s present in the blood.


Turmeric isn’t the only source of lead exposure in Bangladesh. The country has many informal lead acid battery recycling sites, which can expose people to lead through the air and soil surrounding them. But Forsyth is optimistic when it comes to spices. “We’re seeing some exciting results that, indeed, these local levels have declined frankly more than expected,” she said.

Similarly, in Georgia Pure Earth tested samples from markets in 2022 and found no evidence of lead in any spices, reported Akhalaia. She and Md. Mahbubur Rahman, project coordinator at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, both emphasized the importance of continuing strict monitoring.

“When you take action it works, but later on, when people forget, they can turn back to the same position,” Rahman said. Pure Earth Georgia and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research continue to monitor spices in their respective countries to stay vigilant for back sliding.

As for New York City, where the lead in Georgian spices was first flagged, Hore and her team are “seeing a 95% decline in the rate of children with Georgian ancestry with elevated blood lead levels,” she said.

Read part 2 to learn more about global efforts to stop lead-poisoning, an often overlooked health crisis.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

TxDOT holding public meetings in Houston ahead of construction for I-45 expansion project

A total of six community meetings will be held this week and next to address design and construction updates related to a $9.7 billion initiative to widen and reroute I-45 near and north of downtown.

Gail Delaughter/Houston Public Media Drivers sit in traffic on I-45 northbound at North Main Street.The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is holding a series of virtual and in-person public meetings this month about its controversial Interstate 45 expansion project in Houston as construction is expected to start next year. The community engagement sessions, part of an agreement between the state agency and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) after an investigation into environmental and civil rights concerns about the $9.7 billion initiative, will provide design and construction updates while giving members of the public the opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback, according to TxDOT. There will be one in-person gathering and one virtual meeting for each of the three segments of the project, which will widen and reroute a 25-mile stretch of the freeway near and north of downtown. The first set of meetings will focus on Segment 3 in the downtown area, where construction is projected to begin in late 2024. The in-person meeting is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at St. John's Downtown Church, 2019 Crawford St., followed by a corresponding virtual meeting from 5-7 p.m. Thursday. "TxDOT will update the public on the overall project status, design refinements, details regarding the Voluntary Resolution Agreement (with the FHWA) and future construction schedule," the state transportation agency said in a news release. The Segment 2 meetings, which cover the part of I-45 between North Loop 610 and Interstate 10, are scheduled for next week. The in-person gathering will be held from 5-7 p.m. Monday at the Moody Community Center, 3725 Fulton St., and the virtual meeting is 5-7 p.m. Tuesday. For Segment 1, which covers I-45 from the North Loop to Beltway 8, the virtual meeting is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. next Wednesday, Dec. 13. The in-person meeting will be held from 5-7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Aldine Ninth Grade Center, 10650 North Fwy. For each segment, the same information will be presented at both the in-person and virtual gatherings, according to TxDOT, which said they will be conducted in English with real-time Spanish translation. TxDOT's "North Houston Highway Improvement Project" has been in the works for more than a decade, and construction is expected to last until 2042, according to the agency's presentation in May to the Houston-Galveston Area Council. The plan calls for reconstructing and rerouting I-45 from the west side of downtown to the east, aligning it with Interstates 10 and 69, while also widening the freeway north of downtown. The FHWA asked TxDOT to pause its work in 2021 amidst local complaints about the project, which also calls for the displacement of more than 1,000 homes and businesses in low-income communities of color. Harris County also filed a federal lawsuit against TxDOT in 2021, asking a judge to compel the state agency to respond to concerns about those issues and how the project might exacerbate flooding risks, air pollution and traffic congestion. Officials with TxDOT, Harris County and the City of Houston reached an agreement about the project late last year, with the county dropping its lawsuit, and the FHWA lifted its pause in March. That allowed TxDOT to move forward while pledging to improve its public engagement, allocate $30 million to help those who are displaced and incorporate green space, sidewalks and bicycle paths into the project design, among other concessions. TxDOT says the project will "help manage congestion, improve mobility, enhance safety and provide travelers with options to get to their destinations." But the plan continues to have opponents, including the Stop TxDOT I-45 grassroots campaign, which is inviting interested members of the public to attend "casual community dinners" following each of the upcoming in-person meetings. "Stop TxDOT I-45 will continue to advocate for a transformative I-45 project that, based on thorough community engagement, actually relieves traffic, actually makes us safer, actually improves air quality, reduces flooding and allows residents of Houston and Harris County to choose how they move around," the group said in a news release. "We want a project that does not displace, and we know that widened freeways do not relieve traffic." In addition to the upcoming meetings, TxDOT said members of the public can provide project feedback through Jan. 5. Correspondence in any language may be mailed to TxDOT I-45 NHHIP Ombudsman, TxDOT Houston District, P.O. Box 1386, Houston, Texas 77251-1386. Feedback also may be submitted by email to nhhip.ombudsman@txdot.gov or HOU-PIOwebmail@txdot.gov. A schedule for the upcoming meetings is below: SEGMENT 3 (DOWNTOWN AREA) In-person meeting: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, at St. John's Downtown Church, 2019 Crawford St. Virtual meeting: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, on Zoom. SEGMENT 2 (I-45 FROM I-10 TO NORTH LOOP 610) In-person meeting: 5-7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at Moody Community Center, 3725 Fulton St. Virtual meeting: 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, on Zoom. SEGMENT 1 (I-45 FROM NORTH LOOP 610 TO BELTWAY 8) Virtual meeting: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, on Zoom. In-person meeting: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, at Aldine Ninth Grade Center, 10650 North Fwy.

Decades After Europe, Turning Blades Send First Commercial Wind Power Onto US Grid

Off the coast of eastern Long Island, an 800-foot turbine is sending the first electricity onto the U.S. grid from a commercial offshore wind farm

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — Off the coast of eastern Long Island, an 800-foot tall turbine has begun sending electricity onto the U.S. grid from what's set to be the country's first commercial offshore wind farm.It’s a milestone many years in the making and at the same time a modest advance in what experts say needs to be a major buildout of this type of clean electricity to address climate change.Danish wind energy developer Ørsted and the utility Eversource announced Wednesday the first electricity from what will be a 12-turbine wind farm called South Fork Wind 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Montauk Point, New York. It will be New York’s first offshore wind farm.Ørsted and Eversource planned to meet Wednesday with New York officials to celebrate this “first power” milestone, in East Hampton, New York, where the wind farm connects to the onshore electric grid. They say the achievement builds a foundation for other large U.S. offshore wind farms that will follow. So far, two of the 11-megawatt turbines are up. The second is undergoing testing, then it can begin producing power too. When the other ten are spinning and South Fork opens by early next year, it will be able to generate 132 megawatts of offshore wind energy to power more than 70,000 homes. The first power announcement is “an incredible moment in the American clean energy story,” said Stephanie McClellan, executive director of the nonprofit Turn Forward, which advocates for offshore wind. She said South Fork will be a source of clean, reliable, domestically-produced energy.“This is just the beginning of what offshore wind can do,” she said in a statement.Large offshore wind farms have been making electricity for three decades in Europe, and more recently in Asia. The first U.S. offshore wind farm was supposed to be a project off the coast of Massachusetts known as Cape Wind. The application was submitted to the federal government in 2001. It failed after years of local opposition and litigation.Turbines began turning off Rhode Island’s Block Island in 2016. But with just five of them, it’s not a commercial-scale wind farm.Currently there are two commercial offshore wind farms under construction in the United States, South Fork Wind and Vineyard Wind. Vineyard Wind will be a 62-turbine wind farm 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the coast of Massachusetts. It has not started generating power yet, the developer said Monday. They’re installing and testing five turbines first. At State Pier in New London, Connecticut, blades and massive tower sections for South Fork are lined up, ready to leave port for the sea where they'll be erected in the coming weeks. The nacelles that house the generator for each wind turbine are there, too. On Monday, a barge carrying three blades and a nacelle for the third turbine left port. As Jeff Martin, of Eversource, watched, he said it was a “joy” to see the industry finally move from concept to fruition in the United States, to help reduce the nation's dependence on fossil fuels.“Finally we’re taking this step to catch up with the rest of the world and do our part to collectively address climate change,” said Martin, Eversource’s director of business development for the offshore wind group.Large, ocean-based wind farms are a linchpin of government plans to shift to renewable energy in populous East Coast states with limited land for wind turbines or solar arrays. The Biden administration aims to power 10 million homes with offshore wind by 2030 and establish a carbon-free electric grid five years later. But the industry has had hard times recently. Ørsted announced it's cancelling two large offshore wind projects in New Jersey due to problems with supply chains, higher interest rates and a failure to obtain the amount of tax credits the company wanted. Developers in New England recently canceled power contacts too, saying their projects were no longer financially feasible. The series of setbacks for the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry jeopardizes the clean energy goals.Other projects though, are advancing. Ørsted is moving forward with Eversource on construction of Revolution Wind, Rhode Island and Connecticut’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm. The 704-megawatt project will power roughly 400,000 homes. Tower sections, blades and nacelles are expected to begin arriving in New London as early as this spring.South Fork and Revolution Wind are a “bright spot for a challenged industry," said David Hardy, group executive vice president and CEO Americas at Ørsted.“As we demonstrate that we can build this project and build Revolution, then people will realize the real opportunity of offshore wind,” he said. Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Leading News Outlets Are Doing the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Greenwashing

Seven of the world’s “most trusted” media companies produce and promote content touting the key talking points of oil and gas. The post Leading News Outlets Are Doing the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Greenwashing appeared first on The Intercept.

In a recent episode of the podcast “Powered By How,” award-winning journalist Nisha Pillai leads a discussion on the energy transition. Over the course of 25 minutes, the guests — a business psychologist, a renewable energy investor, and the head of an innovation lab — describe the challenges of scaling new technologies to combat the climate crisis. The casual listener could easily miss the first five seconds, when Pillai, a former BBC World News presenter whose voice instills instant confidence, announces that the podcast was produced by Reuters Plus in partnership with fossil fuel giant Saudi Aramco. Pillai never explains that Reuters Plus is the publication’s internal ad studio, nor does she remind listeners of the show’s sponsor when the head of the innovation lab, an Aramco executive, touts the benefits of unproven, industry-backed technologies. Reuters is one of at least seven major news outlets that creates and publishes misleading promotional content for fossil fuel companies, according to a report released today. Known as advertorials or native advertising, the sponsored material is created to look like a publication’s authentic editorial work, lending a veneer of journalistic credibility to the fossil fuel industry’s key climate talking points. In collaboration with The Intercept and The Nation, Drilled and DeSmog analyzed hundreds of advertorials and events, as well as ad data from MediaRadar. Our analysis focused on the three years spanning October 2020 to October 2023, when the public ramped up calls for media, public relations, and advertising companies to cut their commercial ties with fossil fuel clients amid growing awareness that the industry’s deceptive messaging was slowing climate action. All of the media companies reviewed — Bloomberg, The Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Politico, Reuters, and the Washington Post — consistently top lists of “most trusted” news outlets. They also all have internal brand studios that create advertising content for major oil and gas companies, furnishing the industry with an air of legitimacy as it pushes misleading climate claims to trusting readers. In addition to producing podcasts, newsletters, and videos, some of these outlets allow fossil fuel companies to sponsor their events. Reuters goes even further, creating custom summits for the industry explicitly designed to remove the “pain points” holding back faster production of oil and gas. (Disclosure: Co-author Matthew Green was formerly a Reuters climate correspondent.) With United Nations climate talks underway in the United Arab Emirates, oil and gas companies have been sponsoring even more advertorials and events with media partners than usual, primarily designed to portray the industry as a climate leader. “It’s really outrageous that outlets like the New York Times or Bloomberg or Reuters would lend their imprimatur to content that is misleading at best and in some cases outright false,” said Naomi Oreskes, a climate disinformation expert and professor at Harvard University. “They’re manufacturing content that at best is completely one-sided, and at worst is disinformation, and pushing that to their readers.” Chevron is the exclusive sponsor of “Politico Energy,” a daily podcast bringing listeners “the latest news in energy and environmental politics and policy.”Screenshot: Amy Westervelt Spokespeople for Bloomberg, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Washington Post told us that advertorial content is created by staff members who are separate from the newsroom, and their journalists are independent from their ad sales efforts (Politico and The Economist did not respond to requests for comment). But the independence of these outlets’ journalists is not in question; what’s important is whether readers understand the difference between reporting and advertising. And according to a growing body of peer-reviewed research, they do not. “It tarnishes the reputation of that news outlet. So it’s baffling to me why newsrooms are continuing to pursue this.” A 2016 Georgetown University study, for example, found that advertorials are confused for “real” content by about two-thirds of people. Another study, conducted in 2018 by Boston University researchers, found that only one in 10 people recognized native advertising as advertising rather than reporting. Michelle Amazeen, the lead author on the Boston University study, found that those who did recognize sponsored content for what it was thought less of the outlet they were reading. “It tarnishes the reputation of that news outlet,” Amazeen said. “So it’s baffling to me why newsrooms are continuing to pursue this.” COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during a press conference at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Dec. 4, 2023.Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images Crafting “Climate Narratives” This year’s 28th annual U.N. climate negotiations — known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP28 — are currently being held in Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s top oil-producing countries. Presided over by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the head of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, Adnoc, it is the most industry-influenced COP yet. Fossil fuel companies are seeking to preserve their business models by promoting carbon capture and storage, hydrogen power, and carbon offsets as viable climate solutions, even though the technologies are on track to do little more than extend the life of the fossil fuel industry. As COP28 president, Al Jaber backed these technologies in the leadup to the summit. The enormous influence oil and gas executives are wielding at COP28 has thrown commercial partnerships between media outlets and the fossil fuel industry into sharper focus. Climate reporters at every outlet we analyzed have diligently covered the challenges that the industry’s so-called solutions face, but when that reporting is placed alongside corporate-sponsored content touting the technologies’ benefits, it leaves readers confused. In addition to the Reuters Plus podcast produced this year for Aramco, the New York Times’s T Brand Studio created “the Energy Trilemma,” a 2022 podcast for BP about how high-emitting industries are decarbonizing — but not by reducing the development or use of fossil fuels. Bloomberg Media Studios, meanwhile, created a video for Exxon Mobil touting hydrogen power and carbon capture and storage, or CCS. In the video, Exxon CEO Darren Woods says the company is “ready to deploy CCS to reduce the world’s emissions” but leaves out the fact that the company also plans to increase annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece — news Bloomberg’s own climate reporters broke. Reuters Events offered to help corporations hone their “climate narrative” at COP28 via opportunities to secure “exclusive interviews,” seats at high-level roundtables, coverage on the Reuters website, exclusive dinner invites, and a Reuters presence in corporate pavilions at the Dubai expo center where negotiations are held. The media plays a fundamental role in shaping both policymakers’ and the public’s understanding of climate issues, according to Max Boykoff, who contributed research and analysis to the most recent climate mitigation report from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “People aren’t picking up the IPCC report or peer-reviewed research to understand climate change,” he said. “People are reading about it in the news. That’s what shapes their understanding.” Reuters Events marketing email sent to reporter Matthew Green on July 3, 2023.Photo: Matthew Green “Vast Sums of Money” The fossil fuel industry’s attempts to extend its social license by buying friendly advertorials and other sponsored content date back to 1970, when Mobil Oil Vice President of Public Affairs Herbert Schmertz worked with the New York Times to create the first advertorial. The company proceeded to run these pieces, which Schmertz described as “political pamphlets,” in the Times every week for decades — a program that Mobil Oil extended to dozens of other outlets. A peer-reviewed 2017 study of Mobil and then Exxon Mobil’s New York Times advertorials found that 81 percent of the ones that mentioned climate change emphasized doubt in the science. The advent of “brand studios” inside most major media outlets over the past decade has supercharged such content programs. Now many publications have staff dedicated to creating content for advertisers, and the outlets market their ability to tailor content to their readership. These offerings come at a higher cost than traditional ad buys, making them increasingly important to for-profit newsrooms facing a crisis in the traditional revenue models. And fossil fuel companies have been happy to pay. “They wouldn’t be spending vast sums of money on these campaigns if they didn’t have a payoff, and it’s well documented that for decades, the fossil fuel industry has leveraged and weaponized and innovated the media technology of the day to its advantage,” said University of Miami researcher Geoffrey Supran, a co-author of the 2017 advertorial study with Oreskes. “It’s sometimes treated as a historical phenomenon, but in reality, we’re living today with the digital descendants of the editorial campaigns pioneered by the fossil fuel industry — the old strategy is very much alive and well.” “It’s well documented that for decades, the fossil fuel industry has leveraged and weaponized and innovated the media technology of the day to its advantage.” As their content marketing about the journey to net zero continues to get bigger and better, oil majors’ investments in fossil fuel development have only increased. A peer-reviewed study comparing oil majors’ advertising claims and actions, published in the journal Plos One in 2022, found that while the companies are talking more than ever about energy transition and decarbonization, they are not actually investing in either. “The companies are pledging a transition to clean energy and setting targets more than they are making concrete actions,” the study’s authors wrote. Reporters at the publications we reviewed often cover this disconnect between advertising and action. Their employers, however, then sell the space next to those stories for industry-sponsored takes that research shows many readers take equally as seriously. Screen capture of WP Creative Group’s “Our Work” page, taken on Nov. 20, 2023.Screenshot: Amy Westervelt Taking a page from Schmertz’s book, the WP Creative Group — the Washington Post’s internal brand studio — describes on its website how it goes about “influencing the influencers.” In 2022 alone, Exxon Mobil sponsored more than 100 editions of Washington Post newsletters. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the Post also ran a series of online editorials for the American Petroleum Institute, the most powerful fossil fuel lobby in the U.S., including a multimedia piece that argued renewable energy is unreliable and fossil gas is a needed complement — talking points that the paper’s news reporters often debunk. During this time, the Washington Post editorial team published Pulitzer Prize-winning climate reporting and expanded its climate coverage. Over the past three years, the Financial Times has also created dedicated web pages for various fossil majors, including Equinor and Aramco, along with native content and videos, all focused on promoting oil and gas as a key component of the energy transition. In that same period, Politico has run native ads more than 50 times for the American Petroleum Institute; organized 37 email campaigns for Exxon Mobil; and sent dozens of newsletters sponsored by BP and Chevron, the latter of which also sponsors Politico’s annual Women Rule summit. According to data from MediaRadar, the New York Times took in more than $20 million in revenue from fossil fuel advertisers from October 2020 to October 2023 — twice what any other outlet earned from the industry. That number is due largely to the paper’s relationship with Saudi Aramco, which brought in $13 million in ad revenue during that three-year period, via a combination of print, mobile, and video ads, as well as sponsored newsletters. The revenue figure does not include creative services fees paid to the Times’s internal brand studio. New York Times spokesperson Alexis Mortenson said that the studio creates custom content for fossil fuel advertisers in print, video, and digital, including podcasts, and promotes it to the New York Times audience via “dark social posts”: advertisements that cannot be found organically and do not appear on a brand’s timeline. Mortenson noted that the Times also allows fossil fuel companies to sponsor some newsletters, provided they are not climate related. “I feel like it’s really important not to beat around the bush and to just recognize these activities for what they are, which is literally Big Oil and mainstream media collaborating in PR campaigns for the industry,” said Supran. “It’s nothing short of that.” “Gross,” “Undermining,” and “Dangerous” Of all the outlets we reviewed, only Reuters offers fossil fuel advertisers every possible avenue to reach its audience. Its event arm even produces custom events for the industry, despite counting “freedom from bias” as a core pillar of its “trust principles,” which were adopted to protect the publication’s independence during World War II. Since Reuters News, a subsidiary of Canadian media conglomerate Thomson Reuters, acquired an events business in 2019, the distinction between the company’s newsroom and its commercial ventures has become increasingly blurred. Reuters’ in-house creative studio produces native print, audio, video, and newsletter content for multiple oil majors, including Shell, Saudi Aramco, and BP, while Reuters journalists routinely take part as moderators and interviewers and propose guest speakers for Reuters Events. In a media kit for “content opportunities in the upstream industry,” Reuters Events staff offers to produce webinars, white papers, and live-event interviews for those hoping to get in front of its “unrivalled audience reach of decision makers in the oil & gas industry.” For its Hydrogen 2023 event, Reuters Events produced a companion white paper on the top 100 hydrogen innovators, which it then used to market the event in various other outlets. Topping the list of innovators were key event sponsors Chevron and Shell. Reuters Events also stages fossil fuel industry trade shows aimed at maximizing production of oil and gas, and it creates digital events and webinars for vendors in the fossil fuel supply chain looking to connect with oil and gas companies. In June, Reuters Events convened hundreds of oil, gas, and tech executives in Houston for Reuters Events: Data Driven Oil & Gas USA 2023, a conference held under the banner “Scaling Digital to Maximize Profit.” “Time is money, which is why our agenda gets straight to key pain points holding back drilling and production maximization,” the conference website said. In December 2022, Reuters ran an event sponsored by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a lobby group that includes many of the world’s largest oil companies, to discuss the “major part” fossil fuel companies “play in ensuring a sustainable energy transition.” During the event, industry talking points were tweeted directly from the Reuters Events Twitter account. For the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, the only real KPI is how much greenhouse gas is being removed from the oil and gas industry's output every year.#ReutersIMPACTWatch the full session, brought to you by @OGCInews: https://t.co/QlXUlaAXFm pic.twitter.com/I159E923NF— Reuters Events (@reutersevents) October 28, 2022 Other news outlets, including the Financial Times, The Economist, and Politico, have held their own climate-focused events, sponsored by petrochemical majors like BP, Chevron, Eni, and Shell. “Business-to-business publishers always had an events revenue stream, but consumer-facing news publications didn’t really get into the events business until digital advertising became commodified,” media analyst Ken Doctor said. Now events represent 20 to 30 percent of revenue for some publications. Doctor called them a “thought-leader exercise” for the advertisers. “There are only a few top media brands out there, and if you are associated with any of them, there is a lot of tangential brand building benefit to that.” “How can we expect people to take our climate coverage seriously after everything these oil companies have done to hide the truth?” Climate reporters at the outlets we reviewed, who requested anonymity to avoid professional repercussions, described the practice of selling advertorials and event sponsorships to fossil fuel companies as “gross,” “undermining,” and “dangerous.” “Not only does it undermine the climate journalism these outlets are producing, but it actually signals to readers that climate change is not a serious issue,” one climate reporter said. Another journalist at a major media organization said the outlet had undermined its credibility by striking commercial deals with oil and gas companies with a long history of casting doubt on climate science. “Where is our integrity? How can we expect people to take our climate coverage seriously after everything these oil companies have done to hide the truth?” This article was reported in partnership with DeSmog and The Nation. Additional reporting: Joey Grostern. The post Leading News Outlets Are Doing the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Greenwashing appeared first on The Intercept.

UK ad watchdog to crack down on ‘biodegradable’ and ‘recyclable’ claims

Consumers left angry and dismayed when they found out the truth about these terms, says Advertising Standards Authority studyPlastic bottles, takeaway cups and food packaging that could take an unlimited amount of time to break down are being advertised as “biodegradable”, with the advertising regulator calling for more clarity on such claims from businesses.British consumers believe they are making green choices while disposing of waste when they are often not, according to a new report. The study, from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), based on extensive interviews with consumers, found widespread misunderstandings around common terms such as “biodegradable”, “compostable” and “recyclable”, leaving participants angry when they discovered what they meant. Continue reading...

Plastic bottles, takeaway cups and food packaging that could take an unlimited amount of time to break down are being advertised as “biodegradable”, with the advertising regulator calling for more clarity on such claims from businesses.British consumers believe they are making green choices while disposing of waste when they are often not, according to a new report. The study, from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), based on extensive interviews with consumers, found widespread misunderstandings around common terms such as “biodegradable”, “compostable” and “recyclable”, leaving participants angry when they discovered what they meant.According to the ASA, households in the UK take pride in recycling and food-waste management, and hope to play their part in preventing the destruction of nature by putting rubbish into correct bins or buying products with green packaging.However, some participants in the new research believed the labelling meant that packaging would disappear entirely or decompose. Some of those surveyed were surprised to learn that “biodegradable” packaging has an unlimited timeframe to break down and could produce toxins.Many “compostable” products need to be taken to a specialist waste centre and would not break down in a household compost bin, although many of those surveyed believed the products could be composted at home.Miles Lockwood, director of complaints and investigations at the ASA, said the regulator would be cracking down on the use of the terms in adverts as part of its action on greenwashing.“Consumers were telling us that they were proud of what they were doing on the environment. They have green bins, they were separating things out, they were doing their bit for the environment and it made them feel good.“When we began to explain the differences between recycling in the home or recycling in a centre, it created a sense of depression or disappointment at what is happening,” said Lockwood.“People assume because it’s ‘compostable’, they can put it into their garden compost bin. When you explain that you can’t and it’s not going to compost without being taken to a council facility, it generated a really negative response,” he said.“With the issue of biodegradability, there is no definition of what makes something biodegradable. It can take years and sometimes degrade into microplastics – that created a real sense of disappointment and anger. Businesses need to work a lot harder to explain the difference.”Previous studies have shown that most plastics marketed as “home compostable” do not work, with as many as 60% failing to disintegrate after six months. Pollution is a leading driver of biodiversity loss and waste is a significant source of methane emissions.‘Compostable’ plastic bags often will not decompose in a home compost heap, and must be handled in a council facility. Photograph: Angela Hampton Picture Library/AlamyIn recent years, the ASA has banned ads that it felt misled consumers on the climate crisis and the destruction of nature. In 2022, the ASA banned a Lipton Ice Tea advert for giving the impression that the bottle was made from entirely recycled materials when the cap and label were not.It has previously upheld complaints about baby wipes and dog poo bags over their biodegradability claims, and promised to ban claims of “carbon neutrality” using offsets, amid concerns that many offsets have no benefit to the climate.The ASA research also showed how participants routinely believed environmental claims in advertising, assuming that brands would not be able to make claims without verification or evidence, particularly when a company made a claim using statistics. Those surveyed said they wanted clear information about what was in products, where it would be disposed, how long that would take and what the outcome of the disposal would be.The report comes against a backdrop of tighter restrictions on green claims in advertising. Last week, the ASA banned two Toyota adverts for condoning driving that disregards its environmental impact, stating that the SUV ads had been created without “a sense of responsibility to society”.“Business are trying to get it right but they often make really silly mistakes. Half the time we see companies who are a bit too enthusiastic, who are a bit too broad brush and a bit vague, who don’t walk consumers through a journey with them. They make assumptions about what consumers know,” said Lockwood.“We have been focusing a lot on cases around oil and gas, airlines and banks and so on. We are calling time in those sectors on companies making ‘green halo claims’, where they just focus on the green bits of what they do and ignore the rest,” he said.

Pilots Flying Tourists Over National Parks Face New Rules. None Are Stricter Than at Mount Rushmore

Fewer airplanes and helicopters will be flying tourists over Mount Rushmore and other national monuments and parks as new regulations take effect that are intended to protect the serenity of some of the nation’s most beloved natural areas

Fewer planes and helicopters will be flying tourists over Mount Rushmore and other national monuments and parks as new regulations take effect that are intended to protect the serenity of some of the most beloved natural areas in the United States.The air tours have pitted tour operators against visitors frustrated with the noise for decades, but it has come to a head as new management plans are rolled out at nearly two dozen national parks and monuments. One of the strictest yet was recently announced at Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, where tour flights will essentially be banned from getting within a half mile of the South Dakota sites starting in April. “I don’t know what we’re going to be able to salvage,” complained Mark Schlaefli, a co-owner of Black Hills Aerial Adventures who is looking for alternative routes. The regulations are the result of a federal appeals court finding three years ago that the National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration failed to enforce a 2000 law governing commercial air tours over the parks and some tribal lands. A schedule was crafted for setting rules, and many are wrapping up now.But now an industry group is eying litigation, and an environmental coalition already has sued over one plan. The issue has grown so contentious that a congressional oversight hearing is planned for Tuesday.Critics argue that the whirr of chopper blades is drowning out the sound of birds, bubbling lava and babbling brooks. That in turn disrupts the experiences of visitors and the tribes who call the land around the parks home.“Is that fair?" asked Kristen Brengel of the National Parks Conservation Association, noting that visitors on the ground far outnumber those overhead. "I don’t think so.”The air operators argue they provide unrivaled access, particularly to the elderly and disabled.“Absolutely exhilarating, a thrilling experience" is how Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the Helicopter Association International, described them. Sightseeing flights got their start in the 1930s as crews building the massive Hoover Dam asked the helicopter pilots working on the project to give their families flyovers, Wood said. “It took off from there,” he said, jokingly adding, “Sorry, aviation pun.”The issue hit a tipping point at the Grand Canyon in 1986 when two tour aircraft collided over the national park in Arizona, killing 25 people. Congress acted the next year and a plan was enacted to designate routes and minimum altitude for canyon flights.Congress passed another round of legislation in 2000 with a goal of setting rules in other national parks. But bureaucratic difficulties and delays stalled compliance.The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono sued, demanding something be done. Historically, some of the nation's busiest spots for tour operators are Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Haleakala National Park. In 2020, a federal court ordered compliance at 23 national parks, including popular sites such as Glacier in Montana, Arches in Utah and Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. That same year, the latest in which data is available, there were 15,624 air tours reported, which was down about 30% because of the pandemic, the park service said. As of this month, plans or voluntary agreements have been adopted for most of the parks, although not all of them have taken effect. Work is still underway on five, the park service said. Parks exempted from developing plans include those with few flights and those in Alaska, where small planes are often the only way to get around. “Mostly, the plans have been pretty generous to the industry, allowing them to continue as they have done in the past with some limited air tours around these parks," said Peter Jenkins, senior council for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.His group went to court over a plan to allow a combined total of about 2,500 flights over the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and other nearby parks, alleging an inadequate environmental study.Then came last month's announcement about restrictions over Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. “This isn’t a management plan,” complained Ray Jilek, owner of Eagle Aviation Inc. and its chief pilot. “This is a cease and desist plan, as far as I’m concerned."Andrew Busse of Black Hills Helicopter Inc. said his tours already don't fly directly over Mount Rushmore. The park is relatively small, so the monument to the nation's presidents is still visible from outside its boundaries, he said. The plans are aimed at taking tribal desires into account. But Shawn Bordeaux, a Democratic state lawmaker in South Dakota and a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, said he hasn't heard complaints."We don’t want them flying around trying to watch our sun dances or ceremonies or something," he said. "But as for tourism, I don’t see why it’s an issue."A similarly strict plan has been proposed for Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. Bruce Adams, owner of Southwest Safaris, flies a fixed-wing plane with tourists a couple times a week over the area known for the dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs. "Changing the route is going to force me to fly over Pueblo tribal lands that I have assiduously avoided doing for 49 years because I know it’s going to cause noise problems,” he said. Glacier National Park, meanwhile, is phasing out the flights by the end of 2029. Wood said the process has been “broken and rushed” and threatens to put some operators out of business.“Litigation is one tool that is definitely under consideration," he said.But Brengel of the National Parks Conservation Association said the resistance doesn't have much traction. An amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would have required the agency to factor in the economics of commercial air tours over national parks failed in July, she said.“People go to Arches, people go to Hawaii to hear the sights and sounds of these places," Brengel said. "It’s so utterly clear that the vast majority of people who are going to these parks aren’t going to hear the sounds of helicopters over their heads.”Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Suggested Viewing

Join us to forge
a sustainable future

Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!

CONTACT US

sign up for our mailing list to stay informed on the latest films and environmental headlines.

Subscribers receive a free day pass for streaming Cinema Verde.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.