Houston’s public housing residents are the worst hit by toxic flooding

Levels of E. coli tested in one development are 135 times above the amount considered safe

Floodwaters in two Houston-area neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Harvey have been contaminated with bacteria and toxins — and the highest levels of contamination were found in a low-income neighborhood built next to a slow-moving river that is known to have been polluted for decades.

A New York Times investigation discovered E. coli levels at four times the amount considered safe in “water flowing down Briarhills Parkway in the Houston Energy Corridor.”

“There’s pretty clearly sewage contamination, and it’s more concentrated inside the home than outside the home,” Lauren Stadler, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University who participated in the Times’ research said. “It suggests to me that conditions inside the home are more ideal for bacteria to grow and concentrate. It’s warmer and the water has stagnated for days and days. I know some kids were playing in the floodwater outside those places. That’s concerning to me.”

Though the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have risen concerns about contaminated floodwaters, none of the results of samples they have taken have been made public so far, the Times reported.

The Times elaborated on medical warnings:

Dr. Beau Briese, an emergency room physician at Houston Methodist Hospital, said he had seen a doubling in the number of cases of cellulitis — reddened skin infections — since the storm. He said it was a more modest increase than he had expected, and that the infections had been successfully treated with antibiotics.

Dr. David Persse, the chief medical officer of Houston, said residents caring for children, the elderly and those with immune disorders should try to keep them out of homes until they have been cleaned.

In the Clayton Homes public housing development, which is alongside the Buffalo Bayou, levels of E. coli were measured at a shocking 135 times higher than what’s considered safe, the Times reported. The water also included elevated levels of “lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in sediment from the floodwaters in the kitchen.”

The Buffalo Bayou has been polluted for years, and it’s been reported that minority residents have suffered the most from the consequences.

“Here it’s normal to see industrial flares from front porches, and to wake up to paint particles from the nearby scrap metal shredding facility floating into homes,” Houston Public Media reported regarding neighborhoods along the bayou.

“I wanted you to come through here because you’re going to see one of the shredding facilities that shreds cars into tiny tiny little pieces of metal. It comes into this community here, and they don’t like it,” said Juan Parras, a community activist who led TEJAS, or Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, in 2011.

Parras said the facility should have never been built. The Ashby high rise was heavily protested in the more affluent parts of town, Houston Public Media reported.

“And there was a lot of complaints, you know, the citizens obviously didn’t want it. And at the same time they were building this,” Parras said. “And sometimes it gets real real high, you know, just a pile of cars here. And so we call it our Ashby high rise. But even though we protested, you know, we got it anyway.

In 2012, environmentalists called for strengthening the Clean Water Act, which helps regulate pollution control, the same law that President Donald Trump’s administration has already proposed rolling back.

 

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay
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Emails show extent of EPA head Scott Pruitt’s ties to industries he’s supposed to regulate: report

A disturbing report indicates that Scott Pruitt’s fossil fuel connections are taking advantage of the EPA head

A new report sheds light on how the man who President Donald Trump appointed to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency — and who shares the president’s unscientific views on man-made climate change — has a lot of connections to industries that have a vested interest in denying global warming.

More than 4,000 pages of emails from Pruitt’s days as Oklahoma’s attorney general reveal that the EPA administrator and his staff had dozens of meetings with coal, oil and gas executives and lobbyists, according to a report by the Associated Press.

One email from Pete Regan, executive director of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, urges Pruitt to meet an oil and gas lobbyist who he describes as “a gem of a dude. He serves on DEPA executive Comm w Harold Hamm. AG Pruitt was on multiple exec calls on 2015 giving updates re ‘sue and settle’, endangered species cases, etc. . . . Greg worked closely with Sen. Bob Dole and has great stories.”

Many of the items on Pruitt’s schedule were blacked out, which makes it more difficult for watchdog groups to ascertain the extent of his connections with the coal, oil and gas industries.

The emails were withheld from the public by Pruitt until a lawsuit by the liberal advocacy group Center for Media and Democracy convinced a judge to order their release.

Pruitt’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA have been so drastic that even many of his fellow Republicans have criticized them. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey told Pruitt during a congressional hearing on Thursday that “we are home to a historical background that shows us to have more Superfund sites than any other in the nation. I know there has been a proposal here to reduce substantial funding for this program.”

Similarly, Rep. David Joyce of Ohio asked, if Pruitt’s proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative go through, “How will these functions be maintained if the GLRI is eliminated?”

Rep. Michael Simpson of Idaho pointed out that, because farmers in his state are dealing with new pests due to global warming, cutting EPA funding “leads to less timely reviews. The president’s budget will cut well below the minimum. The potato industry will not have access to the proper crop production tools.”

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

Trump’s assault on science ultimately rests on his hostility toward truth, an idea with a complicated history

Trump’s war on environment and science are rooted in his post-truth politics — and maybe in postmodern philosophy

Trump's war on environment and science are rooted in his post-truth politics — and maybe in postmodern philosophy
(Credit: AP/John Locher/Getty/David McNew)

The Trump administration’s war on the environment, which was accelerated this week with the president’s executive order to dismantle various environmental protections, is a product of the administration’s larger war on science, which is in turn a manifestation of President Trump’s unrelenting assault on the truth.

While “truth” and “objectivity” are endlessly debated in the field of journalism, no branch of human knowledge is more established on empirical evidence than the natural sciences, which seek to understand and describe the world through experimentation. One’s attitude toward the natural sciences and the scientists who dedicate their lives to research, therefore, can reveal a lot about one’s attitude toward truth in general.

By now it should be obvious that Trump, who once claimed that climate change was a hoax created by the Chinese, has very little respect for the natural sciences. This week we learned just how little the president cares about the expertise of scientists, with a New York Times article reporting that the staff of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has been completely decimated since Trump entered office. This elimination of STEM experts from advisory positions is consistent with President Trump’s other anti-science policies, including his call for cuts to the EPA, NASA and NOAA, as well as his sweeping deregulatory agenda on the environment.

Trump’s hostility towards science and scientific facts like climate change is characteristic of his “post-truth” outlook, and his administration’s anti-science agenda is just one part of his larger crusade against objective truth.

This crusade has involved the president relentlessly attacking the media as “fake news” while simultaneously peddling false stories and citing genuinely fake news publications himself. He has been so successful at this that Time magazine came right out and asked it on its latest cover: “Is Truth Dead?” With same font and format as the magazine’s famous “Is God Dead?” cover from 1966, it includes a remarkable interview with the president, who manages to make about a dozen false, unverifiable or misleading statements in one sitting.

Whether deliberate or not, the cover headline alludes to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who is best known for proclaiming the death of God, but also for rejecting the idea of objective truth (“there are no facts, only interpretations”). For the philosophically inclined, then, our “post-truth” era can be traced back to Nietzsche, as the lecturer in philosophy Alexis Papazoglou did last December in an article for the Conversation on the philosopher’s theory of “perspectivism.” According to Papazoglou, Nietzsche posits that, “once we realise that the idea of an absolute, objective truth is a philosophical hoax, the only alternative is a position called ‘perspectivism’ – the idea there is no one objective way the world is, only perspectives on what the world is like.” Papazoglou continues:

According to perspectivism, we agree on [basic facts, like that Paris is the capital of France] not because these propositions are ‘objectively true,’ but by virtue of sharing the same perspective. … but when it comes to issues such as morality, religion and politics, agreement is much harder to achieve.

While it is doubtful whether Trump has ever heard of Nietzsche — and even more doubtful whether he could get through one paragraph of the philosopher’s cryptic prose — the president is quite the perspectivist in his own crass and superficial way (much as he is a crude caricature of Nietzsche’s idealized Übermensch). In his Time interview, the president claimed to be a very “instinctual person,” which one can take to mean that he seldom questions his own perspective or feels the need to verify a claim that he feels in his gut before stating it as fact (even when, as president of the United States, he has access to top secret information).

If there are really no facts and only interpretations, and if millions of Americans are ready to unthinkingly embrace your perspective, then why bother adhering to a rigid line that separates fact from fiction? If you interpret a period of cold weather as evidence that climate change isn’t happening, and if millions of other people agree with your point of view, then climate change is a hoax. If your subjective experience perceives record attendance at the inauguration, then there was record attendance — aerial photographs that prove otherwise are simply illustrating another perspective.

Nietzsche was a major influence on the French postmodern philosophers of the late 20th century, who adopted a similar perspectivist view of objective truth and rejected the “grand narratives” of the Enlightenment and modernism. (Not surprisingly, these thinkers do not have a good reputation in the scientific community; see the notorious Sokal affair). As a philosophical movement, postmodernism is mostly known for the contention that all human knowledge is a product of social constructions and competing narratives — including scientific knowledge, which is no more or less true than, say, Jacques Derrida’s theory of deconstruction.

While prominent postmodernist thinkers were almost all on the left, and used their theories to critique dominant ideologies and powerful interests, their work did not go unnoticed by those on the right. In an interview with the New Yorker last October, Mike Cernovich, one of the leading online personalities of the alt-right, discussed postmodernism and the importance of narratives: “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Walter Cronkite lied about everything. Before Twitter, how would you have known? Look, I read postmodernist theory in college. If everything is a narrative, then we need alternatives to the dominant narrative.” Like many other alt-right figures Cernovich made his name on Twitter, which has become an invaluable tool for promoting different “narratives,” whether it be climate change denialism or voter fraud conspiracy theories or fables of the deep state.

So the right has managed to successfully adopt a postmodern style of politics, where alternative facts counter objective truth and alternative narratives create a new, paranoid picture of the world. It is far from certain, however, that this kind of postmodern (or post-truth) politics is sustainable in the long run — especially now that Trump and the Republican Party are in control of the government.

Two and a half months into his term, Trump’s presidency has been nothing short of a disaster, and this is largely because the president has shunned experts who operate in the real world (like, er, scientists), while surrounding himself with know-nothing sycophants who dare not contradict his fact-free worldview. If Trump continues to govern as a post-truth president disconnected from reality, all signs point to an eventual collapse. Then again, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.