Convenient, Yes, But Ride-Hailing Services Take an Environmental Toll, Study Finds

Environmental tolls: The average U.S. ride-hailing trip with Uber or Lyft results in 69% more pollution than the alternative transportation methods it displaces, such as mass transit, biking, walking and operating a personal car, according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which looked at federal vehicle efficiency statistics, data collected by state and local transportation regulators, and previous survey-based academic research. A big part of that increase in carbon emissions results from drivers for ride-hailing services cruising around without any passengers, or what’s known as “deadheading” in the biz,  Delilah Friedler reports for Mother Jones. The study makes several recommendations for lowering the carbon emissions of ride-hailing trips, including electrifying fleets and improving the pricing and convenience of pooled rides.

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Deadliest shooting of the year: A 51-year-old electrician for the Molson Coors Brewing Company in Milwaukee shot and killed five coworkers last week before turning the gun on himself. It is the worst mass shooting in the U.S. this year and among the worst in Wisconsin history, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The shooter, Anthony Ferrill,  was a veteran of the Coast Guard, and a gun enthusiast, assembling the weapons in his home from mail-order parts. He had reportedly feuded with one of the co-workers he killed. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Brian A. Boyle, who had attended college at Marquette University near the brewery, wrote: “What’s really messed up, what really scares me, is that this tragedy barely pierced the mass consciousness.” Boyle added: “And please spare me the ‘Twitter is not real life’ comments, because when I flipped on a traditional news outlet — CNN — Wolf Blitzer was consumed by coronavirus. There was no mention of the story still unfolding in Milwaukee.”

  • Also: A drastic increase in the number of ghost guns found in Washington D.C.—from three in 2017 to 116 in 2019—has prompted Mayor Muriel E. Bowser to propose banning the kits used to make these types of firearms, Peter Herrman reports for The Washington Post. Ghost guns lack serial numbers and are difficult if not impossible to trace, and are often assembled at home.

Unleaded fuel: Hunting game with lead ammunition can contaminate the meat, but public health officials have done a poor job of communicating the risks to hunters and their families, Sam Totoni, James Fabisiak, and Martha Ann Terry report for Environmental Health News. There is no safe level of lead in the blood, but infants and children are most at risk of impaired brain development. In a 2009 study, researchers gave pigs deer meat that had been killed using lead ammunition. They observed elevated blood-lead concentrations within days. “We conclude that people risk exposure to bioavailable lead from bullet fragments when they eat venison from deer killed with standard lead-based rifle bullets and processed under normal procedures,” the authors wrote. “At risk in the U.S. are some ten million hunters, their families, and low-income beneficiaries of venison donations.”

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Flagrant indifference: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts—the company responsible for a 2018 natural gas explosion that killed a teenager, injured two dozen others, and caused 130 fires in New Hampshire homes—pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges of violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act, and agreed to pay a $53 million penalty, Jennifer Levitz reports for The Wall Street Journal. Andrew Lelling, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, said the fine is the largest ever imposed for criminal violations of the act. “This investigation found that Columbia Gas, through a pattern of flagrant indifference in the face of extreme risks to life and property, knowingly violated minimum safety standards,” Lelling said. Almost simultaneously, Eversource Energy, the largest energy company in New England,  announced the purchase of the Massachusetts natural gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion, Nancy West reported for InDepthNH, published by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism.

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Forever yours: In a new report on the EPA’s 2019 PFAS Action Plan, the agency states that it “has multiple criminal investigations underway concerning PFAS-related pollution” of groundwater. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are a category of man-made chemicals nicknamed “forever chemicals” that have a wide range of applications, from ski wax to firefighting foam, but have also been linked to cancer and other serious health problems. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Bloomberg Law that the agency is committed to addressing contamination, but declined to go into further detail, saying he couldn’t comment on pending investigations. “Multiple investigations clearly signals EPA is serious about understanding what the manufacturers knew about the chemicals’ toxicity and when they knew it,” Earth & Water Law Group founder Brent Fewell, an EPA official during the George W. Bush administration, told Bloomberg. “EPA is likely focused on whether the PFAS manufacturers knowingly failed to disclose to EPA the known risks of the chemical.”

  • Also: The National Rural Water Association, which represents 31,000 water systems, and the Tennessee town of Millington have filed a proposed federal class action lawsuit against 3M and five other chemical manufacturers, accusing the companies of contaminating drinking water with PFAS, Sebastien Malo reports for Reuters. The lawsuit claims that the companies sold firefighting foam containing PFAS to military installations, airports and firefighting training facilities that used or stocked the substance in the vicinity of water wells, knowing that the chemicals were toxic and could leak into groundwater.

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Bees seized: Beekeepers lose around 40% of their colonies every winter to deadly mites, diseases, and toxic pesticides, but the pollinators are increasingly in demand for popular crops like almonds, Oliver Milman reports for The Guardian. That has contributed to a sharp increase in hive thefts. It’s serious enough that there are police officers who now specialize in hive crime in California. “There’s a shortage of bees this year, again,” Lloyd Cunniff, a beekeeper in California’s Central Valley, told The Guardian. “You watch in this next week or two, there’s going to be stealing of bees like crazy down here.”

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Pandemic panic: As of this writing, there have been nine deaths in the United States linked to the coronavirus, and more than 100 confirmed cases across 15 states. Four of the deaths were at a nursing home in King County near Seattle, CBS reports, underscoring the greater risk the virus poses to the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. All nine of the reported deaths were in Washington state. Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 90,000 people, and the death toll is up to 3,115, according to CNN. After days of confusion, with Trump administration officials making contradictory statements on television, the White House put Vice President Pence in charge, seeking to tighten control around coronavirus messaging, Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman reported for the Times. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, told associates that the White House instructed him not to say anything else without clearance. As for the Commander in Chief, Trump told attendees at an African American History Month reception in the White House Cabinet Room, “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Later, the administration announced that by the end of this week nearly a million coronavirus tests could be administered by the end of this week, although Politico’s David Lim reported that some testing labs questioned whether such a huge escalation in screening could be achieved. ProPublica reports that the CDC lost weeks tracking the spread of the infection in the U.S. because the agency wanted to develop its own test instead of relying on that of the WHO. Meanwhile, the surgeon general has asked the public to stop buying medical face masks, which is creating a shortage for frontline health workers.

  • Also: The threat of a pandemic has thrown gaps in the country’s safety net into sharp relief. After going into mandatory quarantine for two weeks, Frank Wucinski and his 3-year-old daughter received a bill for almost $4,000 in surprise charges, Sarah Kliff writes for The New York Times. And a lack of guaranteed paid sick leave in this country means many workers go to their jobs even when feeling under the weather, which could exacerbate the scale of the problem, Michelle Chen opines at NBC News.

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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