Category Archives: Mining

‘Hidden Killer’: Experts Urge Action After Study Shows How Air Pollution Causes Lung Cancer

“If you want to address human health, you have to address climate health first,” said Charles Swanton, who led the research team.

By Jessica Corbett  Published 9-11-2022 by Common Dreams

Steam rises from the cooling towers of the Jänschwalde lignite-fired power plant—which is to be taken off the grid and shut down by 2028 as Germany phases out coal. Photo: Julia Seeliger/flickr/CC

Experts emphasized the importance of more ambitiously addressing air pollution from fossil fuels after the presentation of a new breakthrough on lung cancer in Paris on Saturday.

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute and University College London (UCL) shared their findings—part of the TRACERx lung study funded by Cancer Research U.K.—at the annual conference of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO).

“Our study has fundamentally changed how we view lung cancer in people who have never smoked,” said Cancer Research U.K. chief clinician Charles Swanton, who led and presented the research.

The way air pollution causes cancer differs from cigarettes and sunlight. Tobacco smoke and ultraviolet light damage the structure of DNA, creating mutations that cause cancer. Air pollution causes inflammation in the lungs, affecting cells that carry mutations.

“Cells with cancer-causing mutations accumulate naturally as we age, but they are normally inactive,” Swanton explained. “We’ve demonstrated that air pollution wakes these cells up in the lungs, encouraging them to grow and potentially form tumors.”

The team analyzed 463,679 individuals from England, South Korea, and Taiwan, and examined lung tissue samples from humans and mice following exposure to particulate matter, or PM2.5—air particles that are no larger than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

They found higher rates of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutant lung cancer—and other types of cancers—in people who lived in areas with higher levels of PM2.5 pollution. They also found that, at least in mice, blocking a molecule which causes inflammation and is released in response to PM2.5 exposure prevents cancers from forming.

“According to our analysis, increasing air pollution levels increases the risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and cancers of the mouth and throat,” noted Emilia Lim, co-first author and postdoctoral researcher at the Francis Crick Institute and UCL. “This finding suggests a broader role for cancers caused by inflammation triggered by a carcinogen like air pollution.”

“Even small changes in air pollution levels can affect human health,” she said, adding that 99% of the global population lives in areas that exceed annual World Health Organization (WHO) limits for PM2.5, “underlining the public health challenges posed by air pollution across the globe.”

The WHO—when updating guidelines on air quality last September for the first time in over 15 years—warned that “the burden of disease attributable to air pollution is now estimated to be on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diet and tobacco smoking, and air pollution is now recognized as the single biggest environmental threat to human health.”

While most of the human population is exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution—which is tied to other health issues including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), dementia, and heart disease—research has repeatedly shown it’s often worse in the poorest communities.

One 2021 study found that air pollution reduces the average global citizen’s life by over two years. Citing an estimate that it is tied to more than eight million deaths worldwide per year, Swanton called air pollution a “hidden killer,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Swanton stressed in a statement that “the same particles in the air that derive from the combustion of fossil fuels, exacerbating climate change, are directly impacting human health via an important and previously overlooked cancer-causing mechanism in lung cells.”

“The risk of lung cancer from air pollution is lower than from smoking, but we have no control over what we all breathe,” the scientist said. “Globally, more people are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution than to toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke, and these new data link the importance of addressing climate health to improving human health.”

“It’s a wake-up call on the impact of pollution on human health,” he told The Guardian. “You cannot ignore climate health. If you want to address human health, you have to address climate health first.”

Tony Mok of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who was not involved in the study, similarly said in a statement that “as consumption of fossil fuels goes hand in hand with pollution and carbon emissions, we have a strong mandate for tackling these issues—for both environmental and health reasons.”

Like the scientists who conducted the study, Mok also pointed out how it could help with the prevention of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

“This research is intriguing and exciting as it means that we can ask whether, in the future, it will be possible to use lung scans to look for pre-cancerous lesions in the lungs and try to reverse them with medicines,” Mok said.

“We don’t yet know whether it will be possible to use highly sensitive EGFR profiling on blood or other samples to find nonsmokers who are predisposed to lung cancer and may benefit from lung scanning,” he added, “so discussions are still very speculative.”

Suzette Delaloge, head of the cancer prevention program at France’s Gustave Roussy institute, was also not involved in the research but discussed it with AFP in Paris this weekend.

“The study is quite an important step for science—and for society too, I hope,” she said, noting that it was “quite revolutionary, because we had practically no prior demonstration of this alternative way of cancer forming.”

“This opens a huge door, both for knowledge but also for new ways to prevent” cancer, added Delaloge. “This level of demonstration must force authorities to act on an international scale.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).
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New Study Warns Swaths of Amazon Have Already Passed Key ‘Tipping Point’

“The tipping point is not a future scenario but rather a stage already present in some areas of the region,” note researchers.

By Jessica Corbett  Published 9-5-2022 by Common Dreams

Photo: Amazônia Real/flickr/CC

Indigenous leaders and scientists on Monday revealed research showing that the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is so advanced that some swaths may have hit a key tipping point and never recover.

While experts have long warned of human activity causing portions of the massive, biodiverse rainforest to shift to savannah, the new findings were unveiled on the Global Day of Action for the Amazon and the launch of the 5th Amazon Summit of Indigenous Peoples: Solutions for a Living Amazon in Lima, Peru. Continue reading

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‘Big Win’ for Public Lands and Climate as US Judge Reinstates Coal Lease Ban

“It’s past time that this misguided action by the Trump administration is overturned,” said one environmental campaigner.

By Brett Wilkins  Published 8-12-2022 by Common Dreams

Surface coal mine in Gillette, Wyoming. Photo: Greg Goebel/Wikimedia Commons/CC

Climate and Indigenous activists on Friday applauded the reinstatement of an Obama-era moratorium prohibiting new coal leases on all public lands until after the completion of a thorough environmental review.

Brian Morris, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Montana, issued an order reinstating the 2016 moratorium, which Ryan Zinke, former President Donald Trump’s disgraced interior secretary, reversed the following year. Continue reading

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Death Valley Floods Deemed a ‘1,000-Year Event’

“With climate change models predicting more frequent and more intense storms, this is a place where you can see climate change in action,” said the park superintendent.

By Kenny Stancil  Published 8-11-2022 by Common Dreams

Three cars at the Inn at Death Valley pushed together by flash floods are towed on August 6, 2022. (Photo: National Park Service)

Last week’s historic rainfall and flash flooding that caused widespread damage and left hundreds of staff and tourists stranded in Death Valley National Park is another clear sign of how extreme weather is being intensified by the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency, experts say.

The otherwise bone dry landscape between California and Nevada was pummeled by multiple downpours last week. Friday’s storm dumped an estimated 1.46 inches of rain at Furnace Creek—75% of the annual average total for the park, where less than two inches of precipitation per year is typical—in just three hours. Continue reading

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Inside the Democrats’ climate deal with the devil

The new climate package furthers the US’ most profligate pastimes: drilling oil and driving big cars

By Aaron White  Published 8-2-2022 by openDemocracy

Senator Joe Manchin Photo: Third Way Think Tank/flickr/CC

Last week, Joe Manchin, the West Virginia senator whose decisive vote in the evenly split upper house has led some to brand him ‘President Manchin’, and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer surprised even the most clued-in political junkies by announcing support for a climate bill that had been declared dead just several weeks before.

The 725-page legislation seemed a brief respite from a summer of extreme weather – a brutal heatwave and flooding across the US – as well as soaring inflation, a cost of living crisis and radical Supreme Court rulings that overturned abortion rights and limited the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

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Why reporting from the Amazon has become so dangerous

The discovery of two bodies believed to be those of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira highlights risks facing journalists in the region

By Pablo Albarenga and Francesc Badia I Dalmases  Published 6-15-2022 by openDemocracy

Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira on Amazon expedition in 2018 Screenshot: The Guardian

Reporting from the Amazon, as we can both attest, is fraught with danger at every corner.

While leaving Indigenous territory on one of our recent reporting trips, we were stopped at gunpoint by military police. Officers searched our bags and personal belongings while firing questions at us. Continue reading

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Green Groups Blame Bolsonaro Policies as Amazon Deforestation Sets New Monthly Record

“The Bolsonaro administration is abetting deforestation and environmental crime,” said one campaigner, “and what we harvest are these terrible, scary, revolting numbers.”

By Brett Wilkins  Published 5-6-2022 by Common Dreams

Photo: Amazon Watch/Twitter

Brazil’s space research agency revealed Friday that deforestation in the country’s Amazon rainforest last month shattered the previous record for April, a development one conservation campaigner called “very scary” and an indication of the criminal level of environmental destruction occurring under the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

The National Institute for Space Research said nearly 400 square miles of the world’s largest rainforest was destroyed in Brazil last month, an area the size of 1,400 soccer fields and by far the biggest loss for April since record-keeping began in 2015, Agence France-Presse reports. Continue reading

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Arizona Slammed for Permitting Uranium Mine That Imperils Grand Canyon Tribe’s Water

“Uranium contamination in a system like this is forever and while the mining company can walk away, the Havasupai tribe can’t. This is, and always has been, their home.”

By Brett Wilkins  Published 4-29-2022 by Common Dreams

Havasupai activists protest against uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. (Photo: Jake Hoyungawa/Grand Canyon Trust)

Indigenous and environmental activists on Friday condemned an Arizona agency’s approval of a key permit for a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon that opponents say threatens the land, water, wildlife—and Native Americans’ ancestral obligation to safeguard a place they’ve called home for centuries.

The Arizona Republic reports the state’s Department of Environmental Quality on Thursday issued an aquifer protection plan permit for Canada-based Energy Fuels Resources’ Pinyon Plain Mine, located about 10 miles south of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim in Kaibab National Forest.

Conservationists and tribes have long opposed the mine, which has been in various stages of planning and preparation since 1984 but from which no uranium has yet been extracted. The Havasupai people, some of whom live in a nearby canyon, say the project imperils their sole source of drinking water.

“Mining uranium in the Grand Canyon watershed threatens the enduring legacy of this landscape and jeopardizes the entire water supply of the Havasupai people,” Michè Lozano, Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), said in a statement, warning of the “incredible threats that uranium mining poses to the limited underground sources that feed the canyon’s creeks and waterways.”

According to NPCA:

The mine… has a history of flooding as it depletes shallow groundwater aquifers that express at South Rim springs. It also threatens to permanently contaminate deep aquifers that feed Havasu Creek and other springs. The approval comes despite calls by the Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups to close the Pinyon Plain Mine given its risks to water and tribal cultural resources…

In late 2016 mineshaft drilling pierced shallow aquifers, causing water pumped from the mine to spike from 151,000 gallons in 2015 to 1.4 million gallons in 2016. In the years since then, inflow has ranged from 8.8 million gallons in 2017 to 10.76 million gallons in 2019; most recently, the mine took on 8,261,406 gallons of groundwater in 2021.

Since 2016, dissolved uranium in that water has consistently exceeded federal toxicity limits by more than 300% and arsenic levels by more than 2,800%.

“Neither regulators nor the uranium industry can ensure that mining won’t permanently damage the Grand Canyon’s precious aquifers and springs,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This permit strenuously ignores science showing the potential for deep aquifer pollution, and in a region still plagued by seven decades of uranium industry pollution, risking more, as this permit does, is dangerous.”

Asserting that “uranium mines do not belong among the complex groundwater systems that surround the Grand Canyon,” Amber Reimondo, energy director for the Grand Canyon Trust, said that “uranium contamination in a system like this is forever and while the mining company can walk away, the Havasupai tribe can’t. This is, and always has been, their home.”

Havasupai tribal leaders have long argued against uranium mining on lands from which their ancestors were ethnically cleansed to make way for white tourists before being pressed into dehumanizing railroad labor.

One of the staunchest Havasupai mining opponents, the late Tribal Chairman Rex Tilousi, believed that his people “were given a responsibility to protect and preserve this land and water for those yet to come.”

“The ancient rock writing in our canyon tells us to protect this place,” Tilousi said at a 2018 prayer gathering. “The canyon doesn’t belong to us. We belong to the canyon, to the Earth, to the water. It created us and gave us life. We are fighting for our lives and for those who are yet to come.”

Carletta Tilousi, Rex’s niece and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, spoke against uranium mining at an Earth Day rally in Phoenix last week.

“Native Americans, we have struggled so far and so long, and we don’t need it anymore,” she said. “We want to make sure our future generations have clean air, clean water, and a happy life. That’s all we ask for.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
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Shareholders Target Wall Street Banks With ‘Groundbreaking’ Climate Resolutions

“Investors are saying we can’t conduct business in a world that is on fire, that has heatwaves and insufficient water. And I do think companies are beginning to understand that it’s in their interest to take action.”

By Brett Wilkins  Published 4-26-2022 by Common Dreams

Protest outside the Bank of America shareholder meeting on April 25, 2022. Photo: drew hudson #1u/Twitter

A significant percentage of shareholders at three of the biggest U.S. banks voted Tuesday to endorse first-of-their-kind resolutions urging the companies to stop supporting new fossil fuel development amid a worsening climate emergency.

Shareholders at Citi, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo voted 12.8%, 11%, and 11%, respectively, to support climate resolutions filed by the Sierra Club Foundation and other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. According to the Sierra Club, any resolution that receives at least 5% of the vote can be refiled the following year, and those that get 10% or more are “considered difficult for a company to ignore.” Continue reading

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Biden Takes ‘Critical First Step’ to Fix Landmark Environmental Law Gutted by Trump

“The Biden administration cannot stop here,” said one advocate, calling on the White House “to ensure we tap NEPA’s full potential to address the unprecedented environmental challenges we face now.”

By Jessica Corbett  Published 4-19-2022 by Common Dreams

While welcoming the White House’s move Tuesday to repair some of the damage that the Trump administration did to a federal law known as “the Magna Carta of environmental legislation,” green groups also urged President Joe Biden to go even further.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) finalized its “phase 1” rule for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), reaffirming that federal agencies reviewing infrastructure projects such as highways and pipelines must consider all relevant environmental impacts, including those that are climate-related. Continue reading

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