Victory for Clean Energy

NW Natural Withdraws its Hydrogen-Fracked Gas Blending Project in Eugene

Gas tap with pipeline system at natural gas station.

What does it really take to fight for non-polluting and equitable energy choices while calling out greenwashing and false solutions? Beyond Toxics made a decision to step forward to halt an ill-conceived energy project put forward by NW Natural, a corporation that makes its profits by promoting the sale and use of fracked methane gas. Our decision aligns with our environmental justice values, specifically supporting community health and fair treatment.

This October, Beyond Toxics joined with other organizations to intervene in a proposal by NW (Not-so-very) Natural to stop a $10 million project to build an experimental hydrogen-blending facility in West Eugene. Our intervenor status was approved by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, which would need to approve NWN’s project before any proposal could proceed.

On November 1st, mere weeks after our team intervened in NW Natural’s application, the corporation formally withdrew its application. The cancellation of the methane-hydrogen blending project in West Eugene is a clear victory for community organizing! We were able to see this experimental project for what it was - greenwashing and the continuation of climate-destabilizing fossil fuel infrastructure.

It was important we took immediate action to block NW Natural’s predatory plan to use the Bethel neighborhood for the experimental project. As climate justice advocates, we want to share the facts about why hydrogen is the wrong choice for the Bethel neighborhood, and for Oregon!

The project objective was to send methane-hydrogen blended fuel into 2,273 residences in the Bethel neighborhood in West Eugene, a working class neighborhood. However, Bethel residents weren’t given a choice to opt-out, which meant the project was being forced on unsuspecting residents. As one Eugene elected official told me, “Here in Bethel, we’re their guinea pigs.” In addition to being the test subjects for this controversial project, NWN admits the costs of building out a large new fossil fuel infrastructure would be shifted to Oregon ratepayers.

That is merely the start of why this project is better dead. While NWN’s methane-hydrogen project plans are shelved for now, we are skeptical that they will remain forever buried. Should these plans come back to Lane County, the public must be armed with the knowledge of its potential negative impacts on our community.

Greenhouse Gas
Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas in the short term. Methane has twenty-one times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Yet, NWN’s $10 million “blending” project will remain 90-95% methane gas, with only 5-10% hydrogen in the blend. That minimal reduction in methane gas accomplishes next to nothing to reduce methane in the atmosphere where it will continue to swiftly affect the earth’s temperature and climate system.

Dangerously Unstable
The volatile nature of hydrogen makes sending hydrogen into homes highly risky. Hydrogen erodes metal pipes and valves, a process called Hydrogen Embrittlement. This occurs when metals become brittle as a result of introducing hydrogen into pipes and appliances. The degree of embrittlement becomes significant when it leads to cracking. Older appliances in houses may have weaknesses that make it more risky to introduce even modest amounts of hydrogen blended in with natural gas. A recent explosion of hydrogen in North Carolina seriously damaged 60 nearby homes, including making at least one home uninhabitable.

Water Usage
Technological inefficiencies along with green hydrogen’s reliance on freshwater during its production process are very worrisome, particularly because the West Eugene project would be using our drinking water from the McKenzie River. In Oregon, as well as other areas of the world, increasing drought conditions may put thirsty communities in competition with multinational hydrogen corporations for fresh water necessary for human, environmental and agricultural survival. A recent article on hydrogen in Reuters cited an Australian study estimating the upper end of water use at over 21 gallons to create one kg of hydrogen - which is equal to 1 gallon of gasoline in BTU equivalent. That’s a lot of water for very little energy.

Public Health
Blending hydrogen and methane increases emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) compared to burning methane alone. This raises the risk of NOx-associated chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Furthermore, if hydrogen blends cause pipe embrittlement, there may be increased health risks from carbon monoxide leaks from escaping methane gas.

Economics
Economic concerns being discussed by research firms, such Carbon Tracker (10/20/2022), have warned that up to $100 billion of “dirty” hydrogen investments – those which utilize fossil fuels as a feedstock – could become obsolete as nations move to reduce reliance on gas, particularly in light of the desire to avoid purchasing gas from Russia while it attacks Ukraine. According to Forbes Magazine (7/31/2021), “... many of the companies pushing hydrogen aren’t doing so to save the planet. They’re doing so to save their business models in a time of extreme transition towards greener technologies and e-mobility.”

It seems worthwhile to explore the possibilities for clean hydrogen in fuel cells needed for transportation (after all, hydrogen is rocket fuel) or heavy industrial uses. However, we know that blended hydrogen in homes does very little for public health or to help Oregon achieve its carbon reduction goals. NW Natural's claim that hydrogen is the pathway to “transition” away from fossil fuels for residential use is pure greenwashing. It is clear that their claims are merely a ploy to maintain the status quo for gas companies and keep us chained to fossil fuel infrastructure such as gas pipelines and appliances.

The more we learn, the more we understand that, wherever big natural gas companies peddle hydrogen blending projects, their proposals take us in the wrong direction to realistically meet climate harm reduction goals. For these reasons and more, Beyond Toxics stepped up to successfully stop this risky project. Now we can get back to the business of investing in the emissions reductions we need, and quickly, to protect health and step back from the brink of climate disaster.

Lisa Arkin,
Executive Director

How Baby Foods Might be Damaging Your Baby's Brain

Man Feeding Son

As elements with a higher density than water, heavy metals occur naturally in the environment. However, while some are beneficial for our health, such as zinc and iron, others can wreak havoc on our nervous system. Four of the most dangerous heavy metals are arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury [1]. Shockingly, these heavy metals can also be found in baby food intended for children under 36 months who go through a critical period of growth and development [2]. Exposure to these heavy metals by ingestion over a long time can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism [3], mainly if the baby food the child is fed contains chemical pesticides, too.

Recently, a congressional report exposed four major baby food companies in the U.S. for allowing outrageous concentrations of heavy metals in their products. The baby food manufacturers that agreed to partake in the investigation, led by Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, were found to use ingredients exceeding the safe limit of arsenic by 91 times and the maximum limit of lead by 177, and the safe limit of cadmium by 69 times. Because there are no regulations for heavy metals in baby food [4], companies feel encouraged to cut corners by skipping testing for these contaminants and thereby place financial gain over the wellbeing of children.

What exacerbates the extent of toxic exposure among children? In catering to baby food companies, farmers often use hazardous pesticides on their crops to destroy weeds and keep pests at bay. Pesticides can easily contaminate baby food, just like heavy metals, as they are absorbed by the grains, fruits, and vegetables through the leaves and roots. Heavy metals and pesticides act as neurotoxins [5] once inside children's bodies, which means exposure is likely to affect their neurodevelopment.

 

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How Exposure to Heavy Metals and Pesticides Cause Neurodevelopmental Problems

Exposure to heavy metals from baby food has a cumulative impact on the nervous system of children, as they accumulate in their bodies and stay there forever. Children have a higher rate of nutrient uptake by the gastrointestinal tract and undeveloped detoxification systems, making them more prone to neurotoxicity. Because heavy metals and pesticides are neurotoxins, they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier [6] and reach cerebral matter, where they will settle. Researchers have examined the brain tumor samples of patients with neurological disorders and found neurotoxicity and heavy metal poisoning.

Lead was found to take a toll on the nervous system of babies, affecting brain development and function. Currently, roughly 500,000 children between 1 and 5 in America have blood concentrations of lead above the official safe limit [7]. The presence of significant concentrations of lead in children's bodies can cause organ and metabolic abnormalities at the cellular and molecular levels of the nervous system.

The buildup of heavy metals in children's blood will create free radicals [8], which generate oxidative stress. Free radicals are very harmful, as they can cause a wide range of serious diseases, whereas oxidative stress can damage proteins, DNA, and cells [9]. 

Finally, when it comes to pesticides, organophosphates, carbamates, and organochlorine pesticides were scientifically proven to be neurotoxic [10], especially in very young children. Fumigants, which are neurotoxins, too, cause damage to the nervous system by inducing toxicological mechanisms that affect most tissues in the body. In addition to autism, other neurodevelopmental problems exposure to heavy metals and pesticides from baby food can cause are cognitive damage, learning disabilities, conduct disorders, mental retardation, behavioral disorders, vision and hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

 

The Baby Food Safety Act of 2021 Gives Hope to Parents of Infants and Toddlers

Shortly after the congressional report was made public, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi proposed the Baby Food Safety Act [11]. This bill would immediately set baby food's arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury limits. If it becomes effective, the bill would also make it mandatory for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to closely monitor baby food companies and lower the maximum allowable limits for heavy metals even more, if necessary.

The Baby Food Safety Act would also oblige facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold infant and toddler food to enforce specific plans to ensure their products comply with the safe limits on heavy elements. Lastly, the bill would make the Centers for Disease Control run awareness campaigns periodically about the dangers of heavy metals in baby food and children exposed to these neurotoxins.

 

Young beautiful woman with a tablet picks baby food in a supermarket, the girl is studying the composition of the product close-up

About the Author

As CFO at Environmental Litigation Group, Jonathan Sharp is responsible for managing firm assets, collecting and distributing funds, and financial analysis. The law firm, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, specializes in toxic exposure and assists parents whose children developed autism due to tainted baby food.



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An Apple a Day Brings Pesticides Your Way

Today we’re partnering with Friends of The Earth to help them release a national study revealing unsafe levels of pesticides in commonly purchased grocery store foods, including data from Oregon. During late 2018, Beyond Toxics representatives participated in this research project by shopping at common grocery stores in Oregon, including Costco and Fred Meyer.

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Protect Oregon's bees and have a good time doing it!

Important action is being taken across our state to protect honey bees. However, the public is less aware of the critical role Oregon’s native bees play in pollination and maintaining the healthy environment we all enjoy – nor of the threats they face. Did you know eight different species of native bees are currently listed on the United States Endangered Species List?

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Strides to Improve Air Quality and Ban Asbestos

Healthy air should be a basic right, but all over the world, people face exposure to toxins that remain unregulated and dangerous. It’s important that the public becomes more educated about these toxins, both in the natural environment and those hidden in consumer products or construction materials within our own homes. With better awareness and education, we can reduce the health risks these toxins pose, and help change the laws that allow the presence of toxic chemicals.

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GUEST BLOG: Toxics in our Living Rooms

The comfortable chair that I just bought and sit in for hours each day is giving me a sore throat and making my eyes sting. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve been experimenting for about a month now, and I can say for certain that after about a half hour of sitting in it – reading, doing my emails, or whatever – my throat starts to feel raw and I need to blink my eyes more. If I get up and move away from the chair, the symptoms dissipate until I go back there, and it starts again. I would just return the chair to the store, but there’s a no return policy. And if it’s actually emitting some sort of harmful chemical or fibers, I don’t want to give it away to an unsuspecting person who, like me, just wants to relax without side effects.

The Bee, the Puppy and You!

This week national environmental leaders in bee protection, including Beyond Toxics, signed on to letters sent to Ace and True Value Hardware stores asking them to act now to protect bees! Our petition is for Ace and True Value to commit to not sell products containing systemic neonicotinoid pesticides harmful to bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

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