This Database Tells You Which Bad Chemicals Are Hiding In Your Tap Water

Checkered kitchen sink with waterHow clean is your tap water? Access database via EWG Tap Water Database

In April 2015, Deborah Graham, a resident of the tiny town of Salisbury, North Carolina, received a letter from the North Carolina Division of Public Health, who wanted to let her know that the water coming out of her tap–the same water she used to fill her kids’ water bottles and cook dinner–was chock-full of vanadium, a coal-ash-derived chemical that causes nausea and, later in life, neurological decline. The public health authority also sent notices to 424 other households in the state.

Duke Energy, which supplies electricity for the state, had been depositing the ash created by burning coal into 32 pits throughout the state for decades. Coal ash contains radioactive materials and heavy metals; when it’s deposited into the pits, which are often unlined ponds, contaminants seep into the groundwater, through the local water system pipes, and from there make their way into people’s taps, water glasses, and bodies.

In the film From the Ashes, a Bloomberg Philanthropies-produced documentary that premiered last month, we see Graham hauling 24-packs of bottled water into her home to drink and cook with, while waging an advocacy battle against Duke Energy, demanding that the utility shell out the tens of millions it will take to clean up the water supply.

“It’s the only available database that is this comprehensive and tells Americans what they’re drinking.” [Photo: caristo/iStock]

Graham’s situation is far from unique. The Environmental Working Group’s updated Tap Water Database aggregated data from 2010 to 2015 from 50,000 utilities across all 50 states, and found traces of over 250 contaminants. Over 160 of those contaminants are unregulated, which means that despite their known adverse health effects, there’s no law limiting their presence in water supplies.The database was first launched in 2004, Nneka Leiba, EWG’s director of healthy living science, tells Fast Company; since then, updates were released in 2009 and now in 2017. “One of the reasons it takes us a while to update the database is also one of the reasons why it’s so important,” she says. “It’s the only available database that is this comprehensive and tells Americans what they’re drinking.”

Anyone can access the database, enter their zip code, and see a list of utilities that serve their area, as well as the contaminants found in their water. While the Environmental Protection Agency sets legal limits, measured in parts per billion (ppb) on a handful of chemicals, like chloroform and trichloroacetic acid (both known carcinogens); under those regulations, water utilities must comply with a certain level of contamination or face a fine. But legal limits, Leiba says, are not necessarily health-protective limits. “They’re a compromise between health, cost, and feasibility,” she says. What the EWG has done with this update of the Tap Water Database is to develop and establish what they’re calling “EWG standards,” which reflect truly health-protective limits. “So for nitrates, we’re not looking at 10 ppb, which is the legal limit; we’re looking at how many people are affected by levels over 5 ppb, which could be cancerous,” Leiba says.

Continue reading in Fast Company

Originally written by Eillie Anzilotti

Innovative affordable housing design for homeless youth, workers

Seattle City StreetAn affordable housing property is getting some national attention for its innovative design.

The Marion West is a mixed-use affordable housing property in the University District that won two Gold Nugget Grand Awards at the 2017 Pacific Coast Builders Conference, including “Residential Housing Project of the Year”.

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and Runberg Architecture Group collected the awards in San Diego.

The Marion West’s 2nd floor is dedicated to 20 units of permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless youths. This means they are given some wraparound services like an on-site case worker. Residents pay whatever 30% of their income is. The nonprofit YouthCare runs the floor.

The 3rd and 4th floors are 29 units of workforce housing. Units cost residents $640 per month, according to Sharon Lee of LIHI.

The 7,400 square foot rooftop has an urban garden residents can use. The rooftop also has downtown Seattle skyline views.

Downstairs houses the University District Food Bank. Some of the rooftop garden provides fresh produce for the food bank. Also downstairs, Street Bean Coffee is an apprentice program for formerly homeless youth.

Continue reading in King 5

Originally written by Ryan Takeo

Diversity award, new article on Latino business for García-Pabón

Jose Garcia HeadshotWSU Metro Center’s José García-Pabón, associate professor in Extension Community and Economic Development and Latino Community Studies and Outreach specialist, has earned National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals (NACDEP) honors in diversity for 2017. He placed second nationally and won top honors in the Western region. The awards were presented at the NACDEP-CDS Joint Conference, June 11-14 in Big Sky, Mont.

Through his Extension program, García-Pabón delivers educational resources to Latino families to help them engage with their communities and improve their families’ well-being in areas including entrepreneurship, youth leadership, sustainable farming, empowerment of women, and training.

García-Pabón also recently published “Latino small businesses in northwest Washington: Perceptions, challenges, and needs” in the latest issue of the Journal of Community Development. He surveyed Latino small business owners to learn about the factors that influence their success or failure. Most want business advising and training, and find satisfaction in owning their own businesses.

Originally published in WSU CAHNRS News

Invest in Resilience Before Disaster Strikes

Seattle Skyline from the waterLow-Income Communities Are Especially Vulnerable 

Across the nation heatwaves, droughts and floods have become more frequent and more severe, increasing risks to people, homes, and infrastructure. Between 2011 and 2013, the U.S. experienced 32 weather events that each caused at least one billion dollars in damages.

Low-income communities are on the front lines of this damage, and they continue to be the most vulnerable. From the Chicago heatwave of 1995 that led to 739 deaths to Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, these areas are often the first victims of extreme weather and the last to recover from devastation.

Investing in at-risk communities before disaster strikes is one of the most cost-effective ways to protect residents and property while increasing their ability to weather the severe storms ahead. At Enterprise Community Partners, our Resilient Communities Initiative works nationwide to strengthen communities and equip residents so they are better prepared for, and able to respond to extreme weather events and other emergencies. We provide technical assistance, grant funding, research and analysis, and build innovative tools to support this goal.

Defining Resilience; Public Costs of Inaction

Resilience is the capacity for households, communities, and regions to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain and regain functionality in the face of stress or disturbance. Enterprise works directly with communities, bringing together know-how, partners, policy leadership, and investment to increase resiliency nationwide.

Many low-income communities experience the same challenges around climate vulnerability. They were built on vulnerable land because it was the cheapest option, and now they face the uncertainty of a volatile climate, escalating home prices and a shifting economic environment. One storm, one tornado or one earthquake could mean massive displacement, economic disruption and complete dislodgement from their homes and communities.

These vulnerable communities are scattered across the country. They are the new single family homes sitting astride fault lines or on the path of mudslides along rocky hillsides; they are trailer park communities built on swampland; and they are costal island fishing communities struggling to stay afloat.

There are so many stories about resilient communities: families that braved tornadoes and managed to reunite, or neighbors that dragged water 15 stories to an elderly couple in a high rise public housing project. But disasters are complicated and challenging to recover from. There are only so many places to go and only so many nights you can sleep at a friend’s house or borrow a car, waiting for a reimbursement check that may not come for months. Short-term displacement can lead to long-term homelessness, temporary business closures can lead to a neighborhood-level economic downturn, and disruption of community services can lead to an extended loss of service continuity.

Each of these consequences increases public costs and compounds the health and economic challenges from which low-income communities disproportionately suffer.

Continue reading in Meeting of the Minds

Originally written by Laurie Schoeman

The Uninhabitable Earth

Sunset over the oceanFamine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

It is, I promise, worse than you think. If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today. And yet the swelling seas — and the cities they will drown — have so dominated the picture of global warming, and so overwhelmed our capacity for climate panic, that they have occluded our perception of other threats, many much closer at hand. Rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough.

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope. This past winter, a string of days 60 and 70 degrees warmer than normal baked the North Pole, melting the permafrost that encased Norway’s Svalbard seed vault — a global food bank nicknamed “Doomsday,” designed to ensure that our agriculture survives any catastrophe, and which appeared to have been flooded by climate change less than ten years after being built.

The Doomsday vault is fine, for now: The structure has been secured and the seeds are safe. But treating the episode as a parable of impending flooding missed the more important news. Until recently, permafrost was not a major concern of climate scientists, because, as the name suggests, it was soil that stayed permanently frozen. But Arctic permafrost contains 1.8 trillion tons of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. When it thaws and is released, that carbon may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times as powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket as carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century; when judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times as powerful. In other words, we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.

Maybe you know that already — there are alarming stories every day, like last month’s satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought. Or the news from Antarctica this past May, when a crack in an ice shelf grew 11 miles in six days, then kept going; the break now has just three miles to go — by the time you read this, it may already have met the open water, where it will drop into the sea one of the biggest icebergs ever, a process known poetically as “calving.”

But no matter how well-informed you are, you are surely not alarmed enough. Over the past decades, our culture has gone apocalyptic with zombie movies and Mad Max dystopias, perhaps the collective result of displaced climate anxiety, and yet when it comes to contemplating real-world warming dangers, we suffer from an incredible failure of imagination. The reasons for that are many: the timid language of scientific probabilities, which the climatologist James Hansen once called “scientific reticence” in a paper chastising scientists for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat really was; the fact that the country is dominated by a group of technocrats who believe any problem can be solved and an opposing culture that doesn’t even see warming as a problem worth addressing; the way that climate denialism has made scientists even more cautious in offering speculative warnings; the simple speed of change and, also, its slowness, such that we are only seeing effects now of warming from decades past; our uncertainty about uncertainty, which the climate writer Naomi Oreskes in particular has suggested stops us from preparing as though anything worse than a median outcome were even possible; the way we assume climate change will hit hardest elsewhere, not everywhere; the smallness (two degrees) and largeness (1.8 trillion tons) and abstractness (400 parts per million) of the numbers; the discomfort of considering a problem that is very difficult, if not impossible, to solve; the altogether incomprehensible scale of that problem, which amounts to the prospect of our own annihilation; simple fear. But aversion arising from fear is a form of denial, too.

In between scientific reticence and science fiction is science itself. This article is the result of dozens of interviews and exchanges with climatologists and researchers in related fields and reflects hundreds of scientific papers on the subject of climate change. What follows is not a series of predictions of what will happen — that will be determined in large part by the much-less-certain science of human response. Instead, it is a portrait of our best understanding of where the planet is heading absent aggressive action. It is unlikely that all of these warming scenarios will be fully realized, largely because the devastation along the way will shake our complacency. But those scenarios, and not the present climate, are the baseline. In fact, they are our schedule.

Mapping Average Commutes from Anywhere in the Seattle Area

Map graphic with random pinsWNYC recently released an interactive map of commute times across the U.S., based on data from the Census Bureau. Zeroing in on the Seattle area, it looks like the folks over in Bellevue have got it best (16.5 minutes) while most everyone else is sitting somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes, which would put everyone within range of the nationwide average of 25.4 minutes.

Continue reading and see what your city’s average commute time is in Curbed Seattle

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Three Keys to Inclusive Growth

Photo by: Kyle Grillot/Reuters

Recently, a jury in Minnesota acquitted the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer, sparking renewed anger over a criminal justice system that perpetuates historic racial bias in cities. On the same day, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his company had bought Whole Foods for $13.4 billion, potentially upending the future of retail.

These were not unrelated events. They represent the twin urgencies that local and regional leaders must confront if they want to create broad-based prosperity: Make right the wrongs of the past, while radically preparing for the future.

Cities are under pressure to deliver on a whole host of national priorities, including addressing the nation’s weak productivity growth, stagnant wages, and stark racial disparities. That’s because Washington, D.C., has made clear that building an inclusive economy is not a top priority. Health care and other supports for low-income, working families are on the chopping block. A robust federal economic growth agenda is missing. And the Trump administration’s budget blueprint and policies indicate that state and local governments, along with the private sector, are expected to step up their investments in key domestic policy areas including infrastructure, basic and applied research, job training, and housing assistance.

As public and private sector leaders in metro areas set out to build more productive, inclusive economies, they should address the structural barriers, past and future, that prevent many people, places, and businesses from participating fully in the economy.At one level, this means that cities and metro areas must reverse the housing, land use, and infrastructure policies that have privileged white homeowners over black and brown Americans. In a pair of recent speeches, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu articulated their response to these challenges. Before an audience of Michigan’s top business, government, and nonprofit leaders, Mayor Duggan detailed how his latest affordable housing and neighborhood policies aim to return economic power and wealth-creating potential to longtime city residents. In an address that went viral, Mayor Landrieu explained why removing Confederate monuments was an essential step towards racial healing and opening a new chapter of greater opportunities for all.

At the same time, cities and metro areas must help their communities adapt to the rapidly shifting dynamics of the new era, which threaten to exacerbate inequality and exclusion. Technology is transforming every occupation and industry in cities large and small: According to forthcoming Brookings research, the share of U.S. jobs that require only low levels of digital literacy shrank from 56 percent in 2002 to less than 30 percent today. In just over a decade, the day-to-day duties of administrative assistants, toolmakers, truck mechanics, HR specialists, and numerous other occupations have dramatically digitalized.

Continue reading in City Lab

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