Equilibrium/Sustainability — Climate, democracy emergencies indivisible 

Today is Thursday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup 

On the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, the future of the global climate emergency may hinge upon “defusing the democracy emergency,” environment correspondent Mark Hertsgaard argued in a column for the Nation.  

“The democracy emergency is closely linked to the climate crisis,” wrote Hertsgaard. “Each is grounded in a big lie — that climate science is a hoax, that Trump won in 2020.”  

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Meanwhile, more trouble looms for President BidenJoe BidenFox News reporter says Biden called him after 'son of a b----' remark Peloton responds after another TV character has a heart attack on one of its bikes Defense & National Security — Pentagon puts 8,500 troops on high alert MORE’s climate goals in 2022. With the Build Back Better plan in limbo, the Supreme Court is about to hear a case that could restrict Biden’s authority to regulate power plant emissions in the run-up to midterm elections, The New York Times reported.    

“If they can’t pull this off, then we failed; the country has failed the climate test,” said John PodestaJohn PodestaEquilibrium/Sustainability — Climate, democracy emergencies indivisible  Specialty sites and corporate hypocrisy: Journalism worth paying attention to Durham's latest indictment: More lines drawn to Clinton's campaign MORE, a former senior counselor to President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaA needed warning for Yemen's rebels — and for our allies and enemies alike What Joe Biden can learn from Harry Truman's failed steel seizure Biden: A good coach knows when to change up the team MORE, told the Times.    

Today we’ll look at how the anti-fogging sprays we’ve all used may carry toxic "forever chemicals." Then we’ll examine a recent surge in electric pickup trucks, which show that material supply may be the limiting factor in getting electric vehicles on the road. 

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin 

Let’s get to it. 

 

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‘Forever chemicals’ in anti-fogging products

The sprays and cloths that have helped bespectacled mask-wearers clear up foggy lenses throughout the coronavirus pandemic may contain high levels of “forever chemicals,” scientists have found.   

Researchers from Duke University tested four top-rated anti-fogging sprays and five top-rated anti-fogging cloths available on Amazon and found that all nine products contained perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — the group of thousands of toxic compounds linked to kidney, liver, immunological, developmental and reproductive issues.   

“Flown under the scientific radar”: The researchers, who published their findings on Wednesday in Environmental Science & Technology, saw that the products contained fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs) and fluorotelomer ethoxylates (FTEOs), two types of PFAS that they said have largely “flown under the scientific radar until now.” 

While PFAS are most notorious for polluting waterways via firefighting foam, they are also known to appear in household items like nonstick pans, toys, makeup, food packaging and waterproof apparel. But their presence in the antifogging products that have become a pandemic staple is a new finding.   

Trading one risk for another: “It’s disturbing to think that products people have been using on a daily basis to help keep themselves safe during the COVID pandemic may be exposing them to a different risk,” Heather Stapleton, a professor of environmental chemistry and health at Duke, said in a press statement.   

“Ironically, it was advertised as safe and nontoxic,” added Stapleton, who initiated the study after reviewing the ingredients on an anti-fogging spray she had bought for her nine-year-old daughter. “It said to spray it on your glasses and use your fingers to rub it around.”   

No ingredient list? Try mass spectrometry. None of the other eight products that she tested even listed the ingredients, she explained, adding that it was nearly impossible to know whether they contained harmful chemicals without using high-resolution mass spectrometry.    

But Stapleton and her colleagues had such capabilities in their laboratory and ultimately found that the sprays contained up to 20.7 milligrams of PFAS per milliliter of solution, which postdoctoral researcher Nicholas Herkert described as “a pretty high concentration.”   

How high? The current Environmental Protection Agency health advisory — which provides guidance only and is not a regulatory standard — is 70 parts per trillion, or equivalent to 70 nanograms per liter, for two specific types of PFAS, PFOS and PFOA.    

This means that the concentration of FTOHs and FTEOs in these sprays is almost 300 million times more than the EPA’s health advisory level for PFOS and PFOA. 

If those compounds prove to be as toxic as the more well-known forms of PFAS, “then one spray from these bottles would expose you to PFAS at levels that are several orders of magnitude higher than you’d receive from drinking a liter of water that contains PFAS at the current EPA health advisory limit for safe consumption,” Herkert said in a statement. 

 

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SCIENTISTS CALL FOR MORE RESEARCH

Because their study is only the second ever to explore FTEOs, and involved a small sample size, the scientists acknowledged that further research is necessary. They called for broader studies that include both in vivo and in vitro testing — research that occurs within a living organism and outside an organism using cultures, respectively — as the logical next step.  

Although the health risks of FTOHs and FTEOs remain unknown, previous research has suggested that when FTOHs are inhaled or absorbed through the skin, they can break down into PFOA and other PFAS compounds known to be toxic, according to Herkert. Meanwhile, the FTEOs used in all four sprays inflicts significant cell damage, he added.  

Pandemic necessitates additional study: Widespread use of anti-fogging sprays and cloths has become more widespread than ever, particularly as medical professionals and first-responders continue “using these sprays and cloths to keep their glasses from fogging up when they wear masks or face shields,” Stapleton said in the statement.    

Last words: “They deserve to know what’s in the products they’re using,” she added. 


Electric trucks at center of EV race  

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The electric truck is emerging as a key zone of contention among automakers in America, with Ford and General Motors each betting on a different vision of a high-power, long range electric vehicle (EV) — while startups like Rivian try to beat them to market, and Tesla waits in the wings.  

But in a world of supply shortages and long waiting lists, arousing consumer interest won't be enough. Companies will have to lay hands on critical, coveted raw materials — meaning that market dominance may go to the company with the best supply line, rather than the best product. 

First words: General Motors unveiled the new Chevy Silverado EV on Wednesday in an event tied to the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Festival — a futuristic-looking truck with a new-model electric engine whose power dwarfs that of the gasoline-powered Silverado, CNN reported.  

How so? GM says that The Silverado EV, which in some models will be able to travel 400 miles on a single charge — 100 miles more than the Ford Lightning — has 58-percent more horsepower and almost 70-percent more torque, or pulling power, than the gasoline-powered model, CNN reported.  

The secret behind this power is the GM’s Ultium technology, a bespoke system of batteries and motors that the company hopes to make the backbone of dozens of future models, according to The Wall Street Journal — starting, a few weeks ago, with the luxury GMC Hummers which President Biden test-drove at a press event.  

But all that’s going to take time and money: The Chevy Silverado EV won’t be out until Spring 2023, and it will cost $40,000 for the most bare-bones version — suitable for work-fleets — and $105,000 for the most expensive, according to CNN. 

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By that time, Ford will already have been delivering its F-150 Lightnings for nearly a year, at prices competitive with that of the Silverado — which it has managed in part by reverse-engineering the existing Ford F-150 with huge batteries and an electric, rather than building a new vehicle from the ground up, the Journal reported. 

STOKING DEMAND IS ONLY HALF THE BATTLE

On Thursday, Ford doubled its production goals for the electric F-150 to 150,000 a year, citing soaring customer demand — and sending its stocks to a two-decade high, the Journal reported.   

But winning orders is one thing; filling them is another. And both Ford and GM suffered last year from shortages across their supply chains, particularly around the semiconductors that are essential to all modern cars, and particularly EVs, The Detroit News reported. 

That weakness let Toyota surge ahead: The Japan-based car company beat out GM for the first time last year as America’s top-selling car company — though its CEO hastened to say that he doesn’t consider that position to be “sustainable,” the Journal reported. 

All about the supply chain: Even as the company pioneered the “just-in-time” manufacturing style since the 1980s — which has proven to be an Achilles’ heel to many manufacturers post-pandemic — it built close relationships with suppliers. This meant that “with demand exceeding supply across the market, Toyota sold more vehicles simply because it had more vehicles to sell,” the Journal reported. 

That’s a big advantage: With several major car companies crowding in to develop new EV production lines that depend on relatively scarce metals, the largest companies with the best supply agreements are likely to win — squeezing out startups like Rivian that don’t have the weight to negotiate preferential agreements, the Journal reported.  

Now, Toyota’s plans to roll out 3.5 million EVs annually by the end of the decade — a big shift for a company that once bet exclusively on hydrogen fuels sells — will depend on its ability to make enough batteries, Bloomberg Green reported. 

Last words: Even with Toyota and VW pouring unprecedented amounts of cash into new EV and battery lines, Tesla remains the force to beat. 

“With market demand for EVs clearly outstripping industry’s ability to produce, success in EVs is no longer about the order book, but rather about production capacity, ability to secure supply, and best cost, where Tesla feels it has considerable lead,” Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner told Bloomberg. 

 

Thursday Threats 

Flames consume the bark of a tree

Wildfire particulates, Walmart attack drones and a doomsday glacier. 

Health risks from air pollutants rising with increase in wildfires 

  • As devastating wildfires increase in frequency over the Western U.S., levels of two dangerous air pollutants — ozone and smoke — are also on the rise, suggesting a link to climate change, scientists told The New York Times.    
  • Surface-level ozone, a main ingredient of smog, is generated when emissions react with sunlight, while fine soot particles, or PM 2.5, is a component of wildfire smoke — and high levels of either pollutant can affect lung and cardiovascular function, the Times reported. “But when they both occur at once, then you’re getting the worst of both worlds,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Times.   

U.S. military has few defenses against cheap flying drones 

  • After decades of preparing for expensive slugging matches with other first-rank militaries, the U.S. military is struggling to develop weapons — from signal jammers to lasers — to defend against cheap, nimble drones, The Wall Street Journal reported. 
  • “I am very concerned about it,” U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee in April. “We still have a ways to go to get on the right side of the curve with this, because right now you can go out and buy one at Walmart or some other location, you can weaponize it very readily.”  

Scientist voyage on first mission to collapsing “doomsday” glacier in Antarctica 

  • Thirty-two scientists from around the world are sailing for the “doomsday” Antarctic glacier of Thwaites, in Antarctica — so-called because the Florida-sized glacier is sloughing off 50 billion tons of ice a year, enough to account for 4 percent of current global sea level rise and perhaps two feet in total if it collapses entirely, The Associated Press reported.  
  • “Thwaites is the main reason I would say that we have so large an uncertainty in the projections of future sea level rise and that is because it’s a very remote area, difficult to reach,” Anna Wahlin, an oceanographer from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, told the AP on Wednesday. The glacier “is configured in a way so that it’s potentially unstable. And that is why we are worried about this,” she added. 

 

Please visit The Hill’s sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Friday.