Seven remaining residents: The town of Centralia the real inspiration for Silent Hill….

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The Centralia area has grown to be a tourist attraction. Visitors come to see the smoke on Centralia’s empty streets and the abandoned portion of PA Route 61 where it detours around the former site of Byrnesville. But this was not always the case, once upon a time Centralia was a functioning town with a population of 2,761 nowadays it’s population numbers seven. The rest of the town was compulsorily purchased by the state as a means of obliging people to move out of a town that had become subject to dangerously high levels of Carbon Monoxide.

Well, you may say, what type of disaster could possibly have forced all the residents of Centralia to pack up their bags and leave? The answer to that appears to be incredibly simple and yet incredibly complex. Joan Quigley argues in her 2007 book The Day the Earth Caved In that the fire had in fact started the previous day, when a trash hauler dumped hot ash discarded from coal burners into the open trash pit.

She noted that borough council minutes from June 4, 1962, referred to two fires at the dump, and that five firefighters had submitted bills for “fighting the fire at the landfill area”. The borough, by law, was responsible for installing a fire-resistant clay barrier between each layer,but fell behind schedule, leaving the barrier incomplete.

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This allowed the hot coals to penetrate the vein of coal underneath the pit and light the subsequent subterranean fire. In addition to the council minutes, Quigley cites “interviews with volunteer firemen, the former fire chief, borough officials, and several eyewitnesses” as her sources.

In short, negligence in fireproofing two landfill sites led to hot coal ash being tipped onto a coal seam, and this triggered off a subterranean coal-mine fire that has continued to burn from 27 May 1962 until the present day.

One would have thought that the residents could have sued Centralia Borough for its negligence. But the minute disaster hit, it became apparent that the borough had covered its own ass, minutes were produced proving that the council had voted to close down the landfill site, although the minutes did not describe the proposed procedure. Nonetheless, the Centralia council had set a date and hired five members of the volunteer firefighter company to clean up the landfill, according to the minutes.

Subsequent action that was taken to put out the mine fire was insufficient because to all intents & purposes officials were far too concerned with covering up the extent of the problem.

Until that is 1984, when, with the help of congress, families still residing in this carbon-monoxide-bound hell where able to accept a buyout offer and move to the nearby communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. 

So there the town of Centralia, with its seven residents, abides, along with the town of Byrnesville, a few miles to the south, which has also had to be abandoned and levelled due to the spread of the subterranean mine fire.

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Two whole towns have lain deserted for decades, just because of gaping holes in the sides and base of a landfill site that could easily have been filled in and safely lined at very little cost. When you have examples like this to hand, you have to wonder why mountain- top removals have been permitted, and why Shale Oil Fracking has been given pride of place in Pennsylvania.

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A Terrorism Case in Britain Ends in Acquittal, but No One Can Say Why

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LONDON — Ian Cobain, a reporter with The Guardian, is one of very few people who know why a student arrested by armed British police officers in 2013 was finally acquitted this year of terrorism charges.

Problem is, he cannot report what he knows. He was allowed to observe much of the trial, but only under strict conditions intended to keep classified material secret. His notebooks are being held by Britain’s domestic intelligence agency. And if he writes — or even talks — about the reason that the student, Erol Incedal, 27, was acquitted, Mr. Cobain faces prosecution and possibly jail.

“I know the essence of what was happening,” Mr. Cobain said, “but I can’t tell, I can’t even talk to my editor about this.”

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Having initially gone along reluctantly with the reporting restrictions, a number of British news organizations are now challenging them in court. And yes, the challenge itself is being heard under secrecy rules that leave the public mostly excluded. Were Mr. Cobain to break the law and disclose what he knows publicly, his prosecution would also take place in secret.

“Not even the Russians do that to journalists,” Mr. Cobain said, speaking recently in the cafe of the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

The case is among the latest to highlight the growing debate about the proper balance between civil liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. That debate has intensified this year in the United States and across much of Europe, with nations reflecting on decisions they have made since the Sept. 11 attacks and reacting to more recent developments, from the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris to disclosures in Germany about eavesdropping by the United States National Security Agency.

In Britain, which recently lost 30 citizens to a terrorist attack in Tunisia, public support for the intelligence and security agencies is high, according to opinion surveys, and Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to expand their resources and their ability to monitor electronic communications.

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But the Incedal case has focused attention on whether governments are cloaking too many of their activities in national security classifications, insulating themselves from public debate and accountability for mistakes or collusion with suspects.

“It’s hard to know quite who is being protected in all this,” said David Davis, a lawmaker from the governing Conservative Party and a former minister.

“The implication is that this is more about the embarrassment of the agencies than it is about real questions of national security,” he added.

Sean O’Neill, a reporter with The Times of London who also attended the secret hearings, said he believes that the government’s desire to keep some of the trial evidence secret was legitimate, but that this could have been done under normal rules allowing parts of trials to be held behind closed doors.

Instead, the conduct of the Incedal case demonstrated an “obsession with secrecy” at a time when there is growing debate on the oversight of intelligence agencies, Mr. O’Neill said.

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The result is that, as things stand, public knowledge about one of Britain’s biggest recent terrorism trials is a patchwork of partial truths and unanswered questions.

In the parts of the proceedings that were open, jurors heard that Mr. Incedal traveled to Syria, met a fighter known as Ahmed and discussed terrorist attacks.

In September 2013, Mr. Incedal, who was born in Turkey but lived in London, was stopped by the police for speeding, and his car was searched. A slip of paper found in a glasses case contained the address of a property owned by Tony Blair, a former prime minister.

While he was detained, Mr. Incedal’s car was bugged, and a listening device recorded him talking about buying a gun.

Then came the dramatic arrest by armed police officers when Mr. Incedal was stopped while driving with a friend, Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, near Tower Bridge in central London, and the tires of his Mercedes were shot out. The police found a memory card with instructions on assembling a bomb in Mr. Incedal’s phone case.

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After his first trial last year, Mr. Incedal was convicted of possessing the bomb-making guide, and was sentenced to 42 months in jail. Mr. Rarmoul-Bouhadjar was jailed, too, after admitting to having a similar manual. But a jury could not agree on whether to convict Mr. Incedal of broader terrorism offenses.

After a retrial, Mr. Incedal was acquitted in March, but the reasons remain unknown to the public.

Mr. Incedal argued in open court that he wanted a gun to protect himself as he was planning to deal in drugs, and that he had a “reasonable excuse” for having the bomb-making manual. Again, what that excuse was is not clear.

Even these scraps of information are more than the authorities wanted made public. Initially, prosecutors argued that they might not be able to bring the case to court unless it was held in complete secrecy.

But after an appeal by news organizations last year, a strange middle way emerged: Some of the trial was held in public, some in secret, and the rest in a kind of no man’s land.

Ten reporters, including Mr. Cobain and Mr. O’Neill, were admitted to these segments of the trial on the condition that they published nothing from the semi-secret sessions and that, at the end of each day, their reporters’ notebooks were locked in a safe.

The notebooks are now being held by MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service — a fact that has been reported by the British news media and is not denied by the government, although it will not comment officially.

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In going along with the reporting restrictions a year ago, the 10 news organizations accredited to the trial may have believed — incorrectly as it proved — that the secrecy would be lifted at the end of proceedings. Although not all of the news organizations covered every phase of the trial, no media group refused to attend on principle. Mr. Cobain says he now has “real reservations” about having gone along with the process, but, of course, cannot explain why.

In a statement, the Crown Prosecution Service said that the case “touched on important issues which related to national security.”

“Some evidence has already been made public as it was dealt with in open court,” the statement said. “We are working to identify evidence heard during the closed proceedings which could be placed in the public domain.”

“The extent to which further evidence can go into the public domain will ultimately be a decision for the judge.”

Many are not convinced. “How is the public to evaluate the state’s actions if the media cannot report on it?” said Cian C. Murphy, a legal expert at King’s College London.

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“In constitutional terms, secrecy is anathema to the rule of law because legal and political accountability is impossible without transparency,” he said. “If errors are made, they must be brought to light — but there is little incentive for the prosecution, intelligence agencies or government departments to acquiesce when they can invoke national security to ensure secrecy.”

Critics contend that such secrecy risks eroding not only civil liberties, but ultimately the effectiveness of the intelligence agencies, too.

“The more secret the organization is, the more inefficient it tends to be,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s unwise to think of them as a bunch of hyperefficient James Bonds. They probably aren’t.”

“The truth is,” he added, “that there is no such thing as secret justice. If it’s secret, it’s not justice.”

The appeal against the reporting restrictions has now been adjourned until the autumn, but in one public session this month, Lord Chief Justice John Thomas acknowledged that there were “really difficult constitutional issues” at stake.

A few minutes later, those reporters without special permission to attend were politely asked to leave.

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Pollution isn’t colorblind: environmental hazards kill more black americans

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The call for racial and economic justice is getting louder and stronger. But while we are out on the streets fighting for equality, African American kids are being poisoned by the air they breathe. Environmental injustices are taking black lives – that’s why our fight for equality has to include climate and environmental justice too.

African-Americans are more likely to live near environmental hazards like power plants and be exposed to hazardous air pollution, including higher levels of nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter and carbon dioxide than their white counterparts. The presence of these pollutants increases rates of asthma, respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease. It puts newborn babies at risk. It causes missed days of work and school. We can’t afford this. Black kids already have the highest rate of asthma in the nation, and our infant mortality rate is nearly double the national rate.

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Increased health problems hit people financially. African-Americans typically spend a higher share of their income on health care than their white counterparts (16.5% v 12.2%), and roughly one in five African-Americans don’t have health insurance.

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a desperately needed response to this problem. The Clean Power Plan would cut carbon pollution from power plants and put our country on a path towards cleaner energy solutions. It could stop up to 6,600 premature deaths and prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children over the next 15 years – especially in African-American communities.

The total climate and health benefits from the Clean Power Plan could add up to as much as $93bn. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), every dollar we spend on the Clean Power Plan will translate into $7 in health benefits for American families. That’s a good return on investment.

But some utility and fossil fuel companies are spending a lot of money to scare black people into believing this plan will hurt them. They’re afraid that tackling climate change and cleaning up pollution will cut into their enormous profits – and they want us to think it will hurt us, too. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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Pollution from power plants is America’s single largest contributor to climate change. But you won’t hear these industry executives talk about the toxic air their companies spew into communities of color or the disproportionate health costs we shoulder. They won’t spend time explaining that carbon emissions from power plants amplify the devastating effects of ozone and other pollutants, or that their pollution leads to a direct worsening of asthma symptoms. Nor will they admit that economic projections show that the Clean Power Plan will reduce utility costs for American families. The EPA estimates that electricity bills will go down by roughly 8%, saving customers almost $100 dollars annually – and that’s on top of the savings in health costs.

According to the NRDC, the Clean Power Plan would create good, well-paying jobs in green technology and renewable energy. There are already more solar industry jobs than coal jobs in the United States. This energy revolution is an opportunity to increase African-American employment in a booming sector.

Centuries of racial discrimination as well as bad trade deals and economic policies that favor the wealthiest have led to black Americans being almost three times more likely to live in poverty than white Americans. We can’t fight this trend by believing the lies that rich fossil fuel and utility executives tell us. Black lives matter more than corporate profits –now is a chance to make sure our laws reflect that.

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UK Government refuses to investigate commodities giant Trafigura

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In a startling admission UK authorities have informed Amnesty International that they do not have the tools, resources or expertise to investigate whether the multinational commodities giant Trafigura conspired to dump toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire.

The statement came after Amnesty International presented a legal brief and 5,000 page dossier to UK authorities containing a raft of evidence that Trafigura’s London-based staff may have intentionally orchestrated the dumping of the waste in Côte d’Ivoire’s capital Abidjan in August 2006.

After the dumping more than 100,000 people sought medical attention. Côte d’Ivoire authorities reported at least 15 deaths.

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“The fact that the UK authorities do not have the tools, expertise or resources to investigate the case is truly shocking. This is tantamount to giving multinational companies carte blanche to commit corporate crimes abroad,” said Lucy Graham, Legal Adviser in Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Team.

“The toxic waste dumping was a catastrophe for the citizens of Abidjan. The UK’s failure to act is a further disaster for justice and accountability. The government has to prove that it is not running scared of corporate giants.”

Dossier reveals UK authorities shocking inability to act

Correspondence made public by Amnesty International today reveals how three of the UK’s law enforcement bodies treated its request for an investigation like a game of toxic pass the parcel for more than a year.

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Amnesty International has also made public today its legal brief and dossier of evidence against Trafigura, compiled over five years. This contains damning internal emails between Trafigura staff involved in the toxic dumping and gives UK authorities clear grounds to investigate whether they conspired to dump the waste in breach of the UK Criminal Law Act 1977.
Put together by Amnesty International’s legal team with the advice of external counsel, the case was presented to the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Environment Agency in March 2014.

While the Metropolitan Police did not respond, the Crown Prosecution Service passed the legal brief on to the Environment Agency, the body charged with investigating environmental crime.

 

After months of deliberation and prevarication, it took the threat of judicial review proceedings before the Environment Agency finally agreed to look into the case.

gp01963_pressHowever, on 17 March 2015 it decided not to investigate despite acknowledging that if Amnesty International’s allegations were true “a serious offence was committed”. In its decision the Environment Agency admitted that it lacked the resources and expertise to investigate and took into account Trafigura’s ability to block that investigation:

“[The Agency] is not set up to undertake lengthy and complex investigations involving these areas … Trafigura will take any and every available procedural opportunity to challenge steps taken in a further investigation … The Agency has limited experience in conducting complex significant investigations, especially where the vast majority of the evidence would appear to be abroad … [It] would not have the appropriately skilled and experienced staff to undertake such an investigation.”

The Environment Agency also pointed out that its ability to enforce the law was weakened by austerity measures:

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“recent financial cuts …has had an impact on its regulatory capabilities…The Agency has enforcement priorities (including waste crime) which have, of necessity, become increasingly more sophisticated over time as it has had to manage competing demands with limited resources.”

“When we asked the UK if it was going to look into the case, three government bodies treated the evidence like it was toxic, passing the buck when asked to do their job and investigate one of the biggest corporate-created catastrophes of the 21st century so far,” said Lucy Graham. “Given the central role played by a UK company in this disaster, the indifferent response from UK authorities is shocking.”

A briefing published by Amnesty International today reveals significant gaps in the UK’s system for tackling corporate crime. It warns that the Trafigura case is not a one-off, highlighting a series of cases in which powerful UK multinationals have been implicated in serious human rights-related abuses abroad that may violate UK criminal law.

These cases involve potential crimes such as violating sanctions, complicity in torture and deaths in Myanmar, Colombia, Tanzania, Peru and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But in each instance it has been the victims or NGOs that have taken action to seek justice, rather than the UK authorities proactively investigating.

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“As multinationals become more powerful, it becomes ever more important that governments hold them to account when they are implicated in serious crime abroad, whether human rights-related or otherwise,” said Lucy Graham. “The UK justice system is instead woefully under-equipped to tackle this type of crime.”

“David Cameron has pledged to fight corruption, but his narrow focus on economic crimes is missing the point. Companies in the UK should not be able to get away with any serious crime in their global operations. It’s time for the UK to institute a justice system fit for the age of multinationals.”

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India’s annual solar investments to surpass those in coal by 2020-Deutsche Bank report

 solar-panels_2597461bIndia, which has raised its solar power capacity target five-fold, could see annual investments in solar surpassing those in coal by 2019-20 with commitments worth about $35 billion from global companies already in hand, a Deutsche Bank report said.
With its increased focus on solar power, India could become one of the largest renewable energy producers in the world, matching China’s target of 100GW (gigawatt) or 100,000MW (megawatts) capacity by 2020, the report released on Sunday said.
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 India has raised its 2022 solar energy target to 100GW from 20GW as part of Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s efforts to lower dependence on coal-fuelled electricity. The country needs to invest about $200 billion to meet this target and to set up around 60,000MW of wind power capacity by 2022.
Global companies, including the US renewable energy firm SunEdison Inc, Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank Corp, Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology, and China’s photovoltaic module maker Trina Solar Ltd, have announced multi-billion dollar investments in Indian companies to set up solar power projects.
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 Russia’s OAO Rosneft, the world’s largest publicly-traded oil company, is exploring a huge investment in India’s solar energy sector with capacity ranging between 10,000MW to 20,000MW, Mint reported last week.
Indian power companies such as Adani Power Ltd, Reliance Power Ltd and State-run NTPC Ltd have already made inroads with their solar energy projects. Aditya Birla Nuvo Ltd has also announced plans to bid for solar power projects.
“Private sector interest is decisively moving towards solar from coal power, and we foresee numerous opportunities of fund-raising, yieldco structuring and M&A activity,” Deutsche Bank analyst Abhishek Puri wrote in his report.
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 Falling tariffs would also help in aiding growth of solar power adoption. Tariffs have dropped about 60% over last four years, from Rs.14.90 per kWh (kilowatt-hour) in 2010 to almost Rs.5.75 per kWh in 2015, rivaling with prices of conventional power sources.
India’s per capita electricity consumption reached 1010 kilowatt-hour (kWh) in 2014-15, compared with 957 kWh in 2013-14, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), but continues to among the lowest in the world with several households in the interiors of the country having little or no access to electricity.
India plans to award solar contracts for the supply of 15,000MW this year. In 2014-15, the cumulative solar power capacity in India was about 3,744 MW, accounting for about 10.5% of the total renewable energy generated in the country.
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Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation donates $2 million to Oceans 5 collaborative

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Oceans 5, an international funders’ collaborative, announced a $2 Million grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation dedicated to stopping overfishing and establishing marine reserves in the world’s five oceans.

The funds will support projects creating large protected areas in the Pacific Islands and the Arctic, while also improving fisheries enforcement in Europe, the United States and Central America. DiCaprio’s contribution also supported the protection of threatened shark populations, created a large marine monument in remote Pacific waters of the United States, and advanced efforts to protect Antarctica.

Oceans 5 is a new model for collaborative philanthropy. Founded in 2011, the organization develops and supports projects involving multiple groups working toward significant ocean conservation objectives. Oceans 5 includes eight donors who share a common inspiration for results-oriented grantmaking. Over the past three years, the group has supported thirteen projects, providing tangible benefits for the world’s oceans and strengthening ocean conservation philanthropy.

“The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is a valued partner of Oceans 5,” said Kristian Parker, Chairman of the Geneva-based Oak Foundation, “Leo’s personal commitment is phenomenal. He brings enormous energy and enthusiasm to our work for the oceans.”

Ted Waitt, Founder and Chairman of the California-based Waitt Foundation, added, “Oceans 5 is about making a difference for future generations. Leo and his Foundation bring a strategic focus to helping coastal communities protect biodiversity. It is a strong addition to our group.”

The LDF grant will assist in the development of future initiatives and will directly support beneficiaries including:

  • A new coalition of four conservation groups, working to strengthen controls on illegal fishing in the European Union, the world’s largest seafood market;
  • A local organization in the Republic of Kiribati, working to implement the world’s fourth largest marine reserve, located in the Central Pacific;
  • A coalition of three organizations working to improve fisheries enforcement in Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador, including construction of a radar facility on Cocos Island;
  • A group of Cook Islanders working to create a marine park within a territory that is three times the size of California;
  • Several organizations working to create Arctic marine reserves in Canada, Greenland and Russia.

In addition, the foundation supported a coalition of six organizations that worked successfully to secure new global trade restrictions for endangered sharks and an international coalition of organizations seeking to create the world’s largest protected areas in the waters around Antarctica.

Oceans 5 is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a New York-based public charity. Its Members and Partners include the Oak Foundation, Planet Heritage Foundation, Marisla Foundation, Waitt Foundation, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Moore Charitable Foundation, Angell Family Foundation and Bill and Shannon Joy.

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Texas’ drinking water shortage has gotten so bad, one city is turning to toilets

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As three years of ongoing drought take their toll, Wichita Falls, Texas, is on the verge of becoming the first city in the country where half of the drinking water is recycled from wastewater — including the water flushed down toilets.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. “You can take any water and turn it into drinking water,” says Joseph Cotruvo, a Washington, D.C., water consultant who wrote clean water standards during his time at the EPA. Cotruvo recently told Businessweek, “There is the technology out there to take out everything.”

NPR reports on how the city’s adapting to its new, drier reality: The plan to recycle the water became necessary after three years of extreme drought, which has also imposed some harsh restrictions on Wichita Falls residents, says Mayor Glenn Barham.

“No outside irrigation whatsoever with potable water,” he says. “Car washes are closed, for instance, one day a week. If you drain your pool to do maintenance you’re not allowed to fill it.”

Barham says citizens have cut water use by more than a third, but water supplies are still expected to run out in two years.

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So the city has built a 13-mile pipeline that connects its wastewater plant directly to the plant where water is purified for drinking. That means the waste that residents flush down their toilets will be part of what’s cleaned up and sent back to them through the tap.

“The vast majority of water that enters a waste water plant did not come from a toilet,” adds Daniel Nix, the city official overseeing the process. “They come from sinks, and bathtubs, and washing machines and dishwashers.”

But will that be enough to get people to drink it? Professor Carol Nemeroff of the University of Southern Maine, who has studied reactions to reclaimed water, thinks it can be done: “If you’re desperate,” she told CNN, ”you’ll override anything for survival.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.