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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of May 9, 2014

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In our weekly trip beyond the news headlines Peter Dykstra tells host Steve Curwood about a pipeline company that argues oil spills are good for local economies, and a fire retardant chemical being removed from some soft drinks in the US.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Finally today, our weekly walk beyond the headlines with Peter Dykstra. As well as talking to us, he publishes DailyClimate.org and Environmental Health News - EHN.org. He's on the line from Conyers, Georgia, now. Hi, Peter, what's up?

DYKSTRA: Hi, Steve. Here’s a pretty cool story that’s been playing out for several years. Back in 2011, one of our reporters at Environmental Health News, Brett Israel, filed a story on bro-minated vegetable oil, or BVO.

CURWOOD: And what does brominated vegetable oil, or BVO do?

DYKSTRA: Well, it depends where you live. Here in the US, BVO is an additive in some fruit flavored soft drinks, and in Europe and Japan, you're not allowed to use it in food, but you can as a flame retardant chemical additive.

CURWOOD: Get out. So you're saying it’s foodstuff here and a firestopper elsewhere?

DYKSTRA: Yeah, and here, as of back then, 2011, it was in Gatorade, Powerade, Mountain Dew and a whole lot of citrus-based drinks as an emulsifier, that sort of holds the flavorings to-gether so you don’t have water at the top of the bottle and flavoring at the bottom. When Brett did this story for us it struck a nerve with a 15-year-old in Mississippi named Sarah Kavanaugh. She read the story, started a petition on the Change.org website, and 200,000 signatures later, Pepsi announced it would remove brominated vegetable oil from all of its Gatorade products. Sarah turned her sights on Coca-Cola, which owns the Powerade brand, and this week Coke con-firmed it’s quitting BVO as well.

CURWOOD: Sounds like a big victory for consumer concerns, but what to we really know about brominated vegetable oil?

DYKSTRA: Well, companies like Coke and Pepsi say it’s safe, even though they’ve just gotten rid of it due to consumer concerns. The FDA has given it “Conditional Approval” for use in food, in fact, they gave it conditional approval 30 years ago and that's where it stayed, sort of in a food limbo, and some studies have shown health risks with fairly large levels of consumption. But BVO is patented as a flame retardant.

CURWOOD: Maybe that’s why football coaches don’t burst into flames when they get the buck-et of sports drink dumped on them at the end of a winning game! Next story, Peter?

DYKSTRA: OK. There are pipeline projects crossing Canada that are just as contentious as the Keystone XL pipeline is here in the US. Last week, a prospective pipeline builder, Kinder Mor-gan, got a little too enthusiastic about the value of pipelines.

CURWOOD: A little over the top. How?

DYKSTRA: They submitted a report to the Canadian Federal government on a pipeline it hopes to expand to carry the tarsands in Alberta to Canada’s West Coast, and one of the economic ben-efits they say comes from pipelines, is how much money people might make cleaning up tar sands oil spills. They said that spills “create business and they create employment opportuni-ties.”

CURWOOD: Isn’t that a little like saying cigarettes and car wrecks are good business for the fu-neral industry?

DYKSTRA: Yes, people in the vicinity of an oil spill are always really thankful for it.

CURWOOD: I'm sure they are. Hey, Peter, what’s on the calendar this week?

DYKSTRA: Seven years ago this week, one of the world’s greatest news and media empires threw down the gauntlet on climate change. The media mogul in charge brought in all of the ex-ecutives and told them, and this is his quote - “Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.”

CURWOOD: OK, Peter, what's the name of this tree-hugging media tycoon?

DYKSTRA: Sir Rupert Murdoch.

CURWOOD: Come on! Really? You’re telling me that the guy who owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal thinks climate change is a big deal?

DYKSTRA: Yes, and he committed their parent company, News Corporation to "dramatically reduce their carbon footprint". It made a fair amount of news at the time, but I don’t think it made Fox News or the Wall Street Journal, or the Simpsons, which he also owns.

CURWOOD: So doing something about climate change while your global news empire says it doesn’t exist. Is that what they mean by “fair and balanced?”

DYKSTRA: Watch yourself with that “fair and balanced” talk. Those words are registered as a trademark by Sir Rupert’s company.

CURWOOD: You can find these and other links to our stories at LOE.org.

DYKSTRA: But you won't find it the News Corp site. It was taken down a couple of years ago.

CURWOOD: Peter Dykstra is Publisher of Environmental Health News, that's EHN.org, and DailyClimate.org. Thanks so much, Peter.

DYKSTRA: Thanks a lot, Steve. Talk to you soon.

 

Links

Environmental Health News

The Daily Climate

 

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