Oct 31, 2019

Russian Scientists Reveal First Photos of Massive Arctic Methane Fountain

A group of Russian scientists has revealed the first pictures of a massive fountain of methane gas bubbling from the sea floor in the eastern Siberian Sea.

During the 35-day expedition that started Sept. 21, the scientific expedition organized by Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU)  noticed a spot of emerald-colored water which turned out to be a record methane gas emission. Concentrations of the greenhouse gas — which can significantly influence the planet's climate — were found to be up to nine times the global average.

"A new powerful region of massive methane discharge from bottom sediments has been formed in recent years," the members of the expedition said. "This indicates an abnormally high rate of permafrost degradation."

The fountain covers an area between 4 and 5 meters. According to the researchers, the methane discharge field's dimensions have grown several times since 2014 when the survey was last performed.

The water was boiling with methane bubbles so violently that the scientists had to use buckets to collect the gas instead of the special plastic cones normally used for sampling.

The expedition members said that the degradation of the underwater and coastal permafrost that surrounds the Arctic Ocean will lead to massive emissions of methane and carbon dioxide, the two biggest greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

During the expedition, researchers also studied the accumulation of various types of microplastics, one of the most dangerous pollutants for living organisms.

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Oct 30, 2019

BIG News! EPA Announces New 5-Year Plan to Accelerate Restoration of the Great Lakes

EPA Press Office (press@epa.gov) — Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Region 5 Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Cathy Stepp unveiled an updated and aggressive action plan under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The GLRI Action Plan III will guide the actions of federal agencies and their many partners over the next 5 years to protect and restore the Great Lakes — fueling local and regional economies and community revitalization efforts across the basin. The agency also announced $11 million in funding for grants to support GLRI projects in Michigan.

"The Trump Administration is taking action to improve water quality while boosting local economies across the country," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. "More than $2.4 billion from the GLRI has funded over 4,000 restoration projects. The GLRI Action Plan III and the grant funding we are announcing today will continue to accelerate this great work to the benefit of millions of Americans living in and visiting the region."

"The Great Lakes are a regional, national and international treasure," said Regional Administrator and Great Lakes National Program Manager Cathy Stepp. "It will take ambitious, dedicated and collaborative efforts by federal, state, tribal, local and non-governmental partners to ensure that our magnificent Great Lakes not only endure — but thrive."

"President Trump's EPA has made tremendous environmental progress and their plan to accelerate the restoration of the Great Lakes is a win for conservationists and Hoosiers," said Senator Mike Braun (IN). "This decisive action will keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, reduce harmful algal blooms and protect fish, birds and other animals whose habit relies on the Great Lakes."

"The work done through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) ensures our most treasured natural resource remains vibrant. Through President Trump's support and Administrator Wheeler's strong commitment to the Great Lakes, this new 5 year plan will provide a strong focus for the critical mission of the GLRI. This vision is a key element to protecting the Great Lakes and preserving the health of our communities, our rich sportsman heritage, and the economy of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula," said Congressman Jack Bergman (MI-01).

"The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has played an important and critical role in preserving and protecting the Great Lakes," said Congressman Bill Huizenga (MI-02), Co-Chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force. "The announcement of the GLRI Action Plan III will build on this success and strengthen the cleanup of legacy pollution, restore habitat, and combat invasive species across Michigan. I am glad to see Administrator Wheeler work to make the Great Lakes a national priority."

"I have worked alongside my colleagues in Congress to advocate to the administration about how important the Great Lakes are to everyone in Michigan and I welcome today's announcement for the next five years of the GLRI," said Congressman John Moolenaar (MI-04). "Working with partners including CMU and Ducks Unlimited, the GLRI has done incredible work to protect the Great Lakes for future generations and this new plan will continue that commitment in the years ahead."

"In Michigan, the Great Lakes impact every facet of our daily lives, from the significant economic benefits to all the recreational activities we enjoy," said Congressman Tim Walberg (MI-07). "The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has supported many successful projects and is critical to cleaning up pollutants, stopping the spread of invasive species like Asian Carp, and reducing algal blooms. I am pleased to see the EPA take important action to expand these efforts to help ensure the Great Lakes are in good health for future generations."

"The EPA's updated action plan sets an aggressive path forward to protect and restore the Great Lakes under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has been a catalyst for unparalleled federal agency coordination to fund more than 4,800 projects that address the largest environmental issues facing the Great Lakes. I look forward to working with EPA to continue improving water quality, protecting and restoring native habitats and species, and preventing and controlling invasive species," said Congressman Paul Mitchell (MI-10).

"As someone who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie, I'm proud to be a champion of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in Congress," said Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14). "The Great Lakes provide more than 1.5 million jobs, supply 90% of our nation's fresh surface water, support over 3,500 species of plants and animals, and generate $62 billion in wages every year. I applaud the Administration for recognizing the importance of this vital program and look forward to continuing our work to protect and preserve the invaluable natural resource and economic powerhouse that is the Great Lakes System."

"The Great Lakes are critical to Northeast Wisconsin's economy and way of life," said Congressman Mike Gallagher (WI-08). "We've seen firsthand how GLRI dollars successfully reduced harmful algae in Green Bay, and I'm glad that GLRI Action Plan III will build upon this success and take action to ensure the Great Lakes are clean for generations to come."

"The partnership between the EPA and its Federal and State partners announced today on the GLRI Plan III is vitally important to the environmental quality of our Great Lakes. These efforts are crucial to our entire region's economy and quality of life for our residents and for those who visit and enjoy Michigan's lakes and streams," said Pat Williams, Township Supervisor, Canton, MI.

The GLRI has been a catalyst for unprecedented federal agency coordination, which has in turn produced unprecedented results. Under GLRI's former Action Plans I and II, GLRI accomplished the formal delisting of the Presque Isle Bay (Penn.), Deer Lake (Mich.), and White Lake (Mich.) Areas of Concern (AOCs) and moved a number of the remaining AOCs closer to delisting through the removal of numerous environmental impairments. GLRI resources have also been used for projects that have prevented more than one million pounds of phosphorus from entering the Great Lakes, reducing the excess phosphorus that contributes to harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, and Green Bay. The GLRI produces economic benefits as well. A 2018 University of Michigan study shows that every dollar of federal spending on GLRI projects between 2010 and 2016 will produce $3.35 in additional economic activity in the Great Lakes region through 2036.

In addition to GLRI Action Plan III, the agency announced that it has recently awarded five GLRI grants for restoration work in Michigan, totaling nearly $11 million:

  • $2.2 million grant to Alliance for Rouge Communities (ARC) to restore Tamarack Creek and Johnson Creek habitat flood plains in Rouge River AOC.
  • $380,000 grant to Wayne County to design habitat restoration projects in Rouge River AOC.
  • $3.7 million grant to Michigan Department of Natural Resources to restore the natural surface water flow in flatwoods of Belle Isle in Detroit River AOC.
  • $815,500 grant to Alliance for Rouge Communities to restore wetlands in Seeley Creek in the Rouge River AOC.
  • $3.5 million to Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to continue restoration work at 12 impacted sites on the Great Lakes and to coordinate the state's lake-wide management plans for Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie as part of a new 3-year grant for $10.5 million.

To read the GLRI Action Plan III and related information visit: https://g

Oct 23, 2019

National Safety Council Position paper on marijuana and safety sensitive positions.

The National Safety Council,  published a Position/Policy Statement on October 21, 2019 addressing cannabis (marijuana) impairment in safety-sensitive positions. NSC stated that "it is clear that cannabis impacts psychomotor skills and cognitive ability," and concluded that "there is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety-sensitive positions." ("Safety-sensitive" refers to jobs that impact the safety of the employee and the safety of others as a result of performing that job).

NFPA 470: The “New” Old Hazardous Materials Response Standards

From Rick Edinger:

In April 2019 I published an article entitled "What Ever Happened to NFPA 472?" In that piece I examined the addition of two new National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) documents related to hazardous materials response, their relationship to each other and the existing hazmat standards, and the effects on the hazmat response community. The title of the article spoke to some confusion among hazmat responders about the need for several seemingly related standards and confirmed that the legacy hazmat standards, NFPA 472 and 473, would continued to be maintained. 

During that same time period the NFPA Standards Council approved a plan to consolidate 114 current emergency response and response safety (ERRS) standards and related documents into 38 overarching emergency response standards. Based on document revision cycles for the affected standards, the NFPA ERRS standards consolidation plan will occur over several years with the end result being less documents for emergency responders to track, comply with and maintain. As noted in the April 2019 article, the NFPA Hazardous Materials/WMD  Response Technical Committee maintained four documents (NFPA 472, 473, 475, and 1072) and assists with the preparation of the NFPA Hazardous Materials Handbook. As these standards are all classified as emergency response documents, the committee's documents became part of the ERRS consolidation process. 

The consolidation process for affected documents began in the spring of 2019. As a result of this effort, a "new" hazmat standards document was born: NFPA 470: Hazardous Materials Standards for Responders. NFPA 470 was released in early October 2019 and contains all of the current content of NFPA 472, NFPA 473, and NFPA 1072 in one standard. The fourth document maintained by the committee, NFPA 475, is a recommended practice for the management of hazardous materials response programs. The committee has elected to maintain NFPA 475 separately and will do so within the same revision cycle as NFPA 470. 

From this point forward the committee will maintain one standards document that contains the content of the original standards that existed prior to June 2019. Within this single document will be the content of NFPA 472: Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents which is an "organization-based" document and is written as a risk-based response text that identifies minimum core performance competencies for Awareness, Operations and Technician level hazardous materials responders. NFPA 472 language enhances the basic core hazmat competencies with mission-specific competencies that outline defined knowledge, skills, and abilities that a responder should have for a given hazard, container type, or needed tactical skill.

Also within the scope of the "new" NFPA 470, the committee will continue to maintain and develop new content for NFPA 473: Standard for Competencies for EMS Personnel Responding to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction IncidentsAnd NFPA 1072: Standard for Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Emergency Response Personnel Professional Qualifications which is classified as an individual-based document. NFPA 1072 is written as a Pro Qual standard outlining the minimum job performance requirements (JPRs) for Awareness, Operations and Technician level responders and includes Operations – Mission Specific and Hazmat Incident Commander criteria. Those organizations that have adopted NFPA 1072 as their certifying / accreditation standard should consult with their professional qualifications accrediting agency (ex. IFSAC or Pro Board) for guidance on how to adopt the new standard. 

Importantly, due to the ERRS consolidation process, the period to provide public input for the next revision cycle for these documents was suspended for a brief period while the document consolidation editing was occurring and has now reopened under NFPA 470. However, the input period closes on November 15. Feedback and suggestions from the hazmat response community are vital to the committee's work. All public inputs are considered and will guide the NFPA Hazardous Materials/WMD Response Technical Committee for the next revision of NFPA 470, which is scheduled to be published in Fall 2021. It is important that people who seek to propose changes or additions to the content of NFPA 470, get those submissions in prior to November 15, 2019. 

Regardless of the format or style of the NFPA hazardous materials response documents, the NFPA Hazardous Materials/WMD Response Technical Committee will continue to strive to produce the most up to date and exacting standards language to guide the training and responder competencies for safe and effective response to hazmat incidents. 

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Oct 1, 2019

Supporting Farmers' Mental Health

Farming is more than just work for many; it's a way of life that is rewarding despite the tough physical work. But now it's becoming increasingly apparent that the unique challenges faced daily by farmers - from the long hours to the isolation to the many uncertainties beyond their control - can also greatly impact their mental health and well-being.

On farms and ranches across the country, struggles are taking their toll, leading to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic disorder, and even suicide. Although there are no Canadian statistics to assess the extent of mental health issues among farmers, a survey of more than 1100 farmers in Canada conducted by Guelph University professor Andria Jones-Bitton found that 35% of respondents met the criteria for depression. 58% met the criteria for anxiety and 45% were highly stressed - far higher than the general population.

The same survey found that 40% of farmers were uneasy seeking professional help, largely out of fear for what others would think. The traditional image of the hardy farmer who overcomes adversity is indeed hard to shake.

In Canada, the agriculture and agri-food industries support 1 in 8 jobs (2.3 million workers) and contributes over $100 billion to the country's economy. It makes good sense to build resilience among farmers to help them thrive in times of uncertainty or stress.

Unique stressors

From June 2018 to January 2019, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food conducted a study on the mental health challenges facing Canadian producers. Their Mental Health: A Priority for our Farmers report identifies many stressors that make producers particularly vulnerable to mental health issues.

Farmers live with many uncertainties that put them under pressure. Weather can make or break their livelihood yet is completely out of their control. Financial challenges from running a business and economic volatility are major stressors. Uncertain crop yields, machinery breakdowns, handling dangerous goods, and concerns over the well-being of livestock are also ongoing stressors. Long hours working on the land, away from people and community supports, can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness which adds to their stress.

Supporting farmers

The Committee's report looked at existing initiatives across the country to support producers facing mental health challenges, including telephone help lines, consultations with mental health and agricultural professionals, and funding from the federal government and agricultural producers' associations.

Farm Credit Canada offers online resources and an assessment tool through their "Rooted in Strength" program. The Do More Agriculture Foundation is piloting a project that offers mental health first aid training for agricultural communities in Canada. The Union des producteurs agricoles, in partnership with the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide, created a network of "Sentinels" across Quebec, who regularly interact with farmers and are trained to identify people vulnerable to mental illness.

But existing resources can be difficult to access due to unpredictable working hours, remote locations, and lack of reliable Internet. And not all health professionals are experienced with the specific challenges faced by agricultural workers. The report calls for more to be done, listing ten recommendations. It suggests the federal government consider the impacts that regulatory changes, labour reviews and audits may have on farmers. As well, the report recommends help to combat the growing violence against agricultural workers through public awareness campaigns and strategies. The report also calls for education and capacity building, more help lines, e-mental health services, funding for recognized organizations to provide mental health assistance to farmers and their families, and national co-ordination of further research targeting the mental health of farmers.

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