5 Huge Scandals Happening Right Now (We've Been Ignoring)
Listen, I get it. There's a lot going on in the world, and it's impossible to keep up with all of it. Even worse, unless your job involves digging through massive amounts of headlines each week (hello!), you're at the mercy of whatever news source you rely on when it comes to what stories end up in front of your face. With that being the case, you'd expect that, at the very least, you'll hear the really important stuff right away. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, insanely important stories build up for months, sometimes years, before they get the attention they deserve from major news outlets. We talk about a few examples on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
...where I'm joined by Creed screenwriter Aaron Covington and comic Vanessa Gritton. I'll talk about a few right now, too!
The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis Started Two Years Ago
By now, you've probably heard that the water in Flint, Michigan is a disaster. If so, it's something you most likely heard about sometime within the last few weeks or so. Which is crazy, because it's been a problem for almost two years now. Like so many other problems in life, the source can be traced back to money. As a cost-saving measure, the state decided to switch the city of Flint's water supply from Lake Huron, which they had to pay Detroit for, to the Flint River, a body of water so gross that locals just assumed it was polluted. They never needed to know for sure, though, because they didn't have to drink it.
They didn't discover this river yesterday. There's probably a reason they never used it for drinking water.
People noticed problems almost immediately after the switch, complaining that the water tasted and smelled funny. Sometimes it was brown. That's gross. I'd honestly rather have my faucet unexpectedly spew horror movie blood than brown water. Residents were assured it was safe, but tests soon revealed that because the Flint River wasn't treated with an anti-corrosive agent (in violation of federal law), it was eroding water mains, leading to absurdly high levels of iron in the water. It's at that point that city officials ... still said the water was safe to drink.
Not only was that a lie, but the problem was also even worse than anyone realized at first. The pipes leading into about half the homes in Flint are actually made of lead, which anyone who's ever had a tasty paint chip slapped out of their hand knows is a way bigger problem than iron. Unfortunately, no one knew this until a group of researchers from Virginia Tech arrived to do their own tests on the water. This was in August, so almost a year and a half after the city made the switch. That entire time, residents were promised that the water was safe, even if they sometimes had to boil it before they could drink it. The now-former mayor, Dayne Walling, even drank a glass on local television to "prove" there was nothing to worry about.
He was incorrect, and for more than a year, half the city's residents, including thousands of children, were drinking water contaminated with high levels of lead. The effects of lead poisoning in children include learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and lowered I.Q. Even worse, the damage is mostly irreversible.
For the record, the anti-corrosive agent that could've prevented most of this would've set the city back all of about $100 per day.
The California Methane Leak Is As Bad As the BP Oil Spill
Much like the water crisis in Flint, news of the disastrous methane gas leak happening near Los Angeles is just now starting to make headlines. And even then, it's not getting nearly the attention it deserves, given the gravity of the situation. From an environmental standpoint, it's every bit as catastrophic as the BP oil spill that dominated headlines a few years ago, but it's not getting a fraction of the attention that disaster received. That likely has a lot to do with the fact that it's not producing heartbreaking pictures of oil-covered seabirds and such.
Down with the slickness.
In fact, to see anything at all, you have to use an infrared camera, and even then it just looks like there's a fire burning somewhere.
The Smoke Monster became a real asshole after Lost was cancelled.
That doesn't mean it's not a problem. For one thing, while methane itself isn't much of a threat to humans, the chemicals that are added to make leaks detectable by scent are making people sick. Sidebar: Is there a reason that stuff has to smell like rotten eggs? Is there a reason we couldn't have associated an overwhelming smell of strawberries with gas leaks? If it's going to give kids severe bloody noses, it should at least smell nice.
The bigger concern is the environment. Methane has a significantly greater potential to wreak global warming havoc than carbon dioxide, and the Aliso Canyon leak has been spewing a lot of it into the atmosphere. A recent Time Magazine article estimated that the 1.6 million pounds of methane being released each day have the same environmental impact as driving 4.5 million cars. That's every day. Since October. It's January now, and the most hopeful guesses say we might be able to stop the leak by the end of February.
Again, you can't see the damage it's doing, but the damage is real, and there's really no way of telling how far it will reach or who will ultimately see the worst of it. The craziest part is how the leak happened in the first place. The underground well that accounts for the source of the leak used to be outfitted with a safety valve. Way back in 1979, that valve was in need of repair. However, because parts were hard to find and the well wasn't deemed "critical" (meaning it wasn't within 100 feet of a road or park, or within 300 feet of a home), the valve was just removed and never replaced. If it was there and functioning, none of this would be happening.
The United States And New Zealand Exported A Diabetes Epidemic To Pacific Islanders
Quick! Name the most obese nation in the world! If you said "the United States," that's a damn fine guess, but a little off. We're the sixth-most-obese nation. The "winner" is the tiny Pacific nation of Tonga, where some 40 percent of the population is thought to have Type II Diabetes, and where life expectancy clocks in at a dismal 64 years. Some of that has to do with a culture that equates being overweight with beauty and financial well-being. Skinny people would weigh 400 pounds if they could afford it, you know?
That said, Tonga and most of the other island nations around them get a lot of help when it comes to keeping that weight on. You see, sometime around World War II, it was decided that Pacific islanders would be the lucky recipients of the world's worst cuts of meat. For example, the United States exports tons of turkey tails to the region. "The fuck is that?" you ask? Well, it's not actually the tail of a turkey, but rather a gland that attaches the tail to the rest of the body. It's basically a sack filled with fat and oil. Turkeys use it to make their feathers look pretty. Pacific islanders use it to contract diabetes.
Come on, it's turkey. How fattening can it really be?
Another deadly import comes in the form of mutton flaps from New Zealand. They're the fattiest part of a sheep and seen as mostly inedible by New Zealand's standards. In Tonga and the countries around it, though, it's considered a staple food in most households.
Nice use of the "Post-Apocalypse" filter.
Another staple: Spam. To Americans, that's bomb shelter joke food that occupies the tiniest sliver of shelf space possible at most grocery stores. Here's what typical store shelves look like in the Pacific islands:
How many kinds of Spam are there?!?!?!?
That's a whole lot of canned meat, which is basically all the worst parts of every animal pressed together into a disgusting (albeit sometimes delicious) cube. Along with turkey tails and mutton flaps, this is the kind of shit the people of Tonga live on. Some countries in the region have tried banning the importation of these products, so as to keep obesity from killing the region off entirely. Unfortunately, that would be a violation of World Trade Organization rules, and the Pacific islands want to be a part of that group very badly. Allowing their markets (and only theirs) to be flooded with low-quality meats that kill people are just a necessary evil they're going to have to put up with to make that happen.
I know what you're thinking. "They're literally in the middle of the ocean. Can't they just eat fish?" Sure, if anyone could afford it. Some of the best fish in the world comes from that region, but because the locals can't afford to eat it, most of it ends up being exported to countries like New Zealand. Hooray for fair trade!
The EPA Is Letting Oil Companies Destroy A Native American Reservation In Wyoming
The act of drawing oil from the ground produces a lot of waste water. Starting back in the '70s, the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) made dumping this waste water above ground mostly illegal. However, ranchers in western states, especially Wyoming, argued that they needed this waste water to keep their livestock hydrated. So the EPA put a loophole in place: If oil companies could prove that farmers in the area could make use of the water, they'd be issued an exception that allowed them to dump it instead of injecting it deep underground, where it can't cause any harm (aside from rampant earthquakes in places that never had them before).
Eventually, states took over the decision-making as it pertains to oil company waste water, and most made dumping it illegal altogether. Unfortunately, the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming is still under the jurisdiction of the EPA when it comes to those decisions, and for some reason, the agency that's supposed to protect us from dying at the hands of corporate polluters have allowed oil companies to continue dumping their waste water on this one reservation unimpeded. For decades.
Honestly, though, what has the oil industry ever done to hurt anyone?
Unsurprisingly, this constant stream of chemicals is turning the water on the Wind River reservation into a toxic nightmare. Specifically, hydrogen sulfide has turned up in huge concentrations in local sources. When an NPR reporter visited the reservation, one oil company official suggested not spending more than a few minutes at one of their dump sites, because the hydrogen sulfide fumes could very well kill her.
Granted, that detail comes from a story written in 2012. Since then, stories surfaced about the EPA turning over regulation of environmental protection on the reservation to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes who live there, but that was mostly just a technicality in a dispute over air quality monitoring. As of 2015, the EPA was still issuing permits allowing oil companies to dump their waste water on Wind River.
Keep in mind that we're not talking about a tiny piece of mostly uninhabited land. It's the seventh-largest Native American reservation in the United States. It's the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
Fine, maybe it's kind of small.
It also has enough problems already, even without the poisonous water. Crime is especially rampant in Wind River, with a crime rate that was five to seven times higher than the national average at one point. When President Obama launched an initiative aimed at reducing crime on reservations by flooding them with National Park Service officers, it worked almost everywhere. Wind River was the exception. Crime there increased by seven percent.
As of 2012, life expectancy on the reservation was 49 years. Unemployment was somewhere around 80 percent. Those figures were bad enough to make Wind River a worse place to live than Iraq and Zimbabwe, respectively. Polluted drinking water is the last thing they need.
The Soccer Goalie Cancer Outbreak
It's a weird time to be a soccer player in the United States right now. Why? Because it's apparently a great way to give yourself cancer. Nationwide, at least 38 high school and college soccer players have been diagnosed with various forms of the disease. Weirdly, of those 38, a whopping 34 of them played the same position: goalie.
No one knows for sure what's causing the outbreak, but all 38 cases have exactly one thing in common. Without exception, those kids all played on an artificial surface called "crumb rubber." It's exactly what it sounds like: tiny crumbs of rubber, a lot of it consisting of recycled tires. Players regularly complain about how the "little black dots" get in hair, clothes, mouths, and open wounds when diving around on the mutant turf.
So this, but in your blood and lungs.
Is that what's causing the cancer? No one knows for sure, but the crumb rubber is the suspected culprit. It stands to reason that if it is the cause, then goalies would be impacted the most. They do a lot more diving to the ground during the course of a game than any other position, so they'd have the most intense exposure to the potential carcinogen. The cancer-causing effects of crumb rubber haven't been confirmed, but an analysis of the chemicals released by the substance revealed some unfortunate news. Instead of trying to explain it, here's a screenshot:
You might as well be smoking while you play.
You'll note that last paragraph mentions lead. You know, like the substance that's forcing residents of Flint to ask the government for bottled water? And that's just one of the potentially damaging substances a person who comes in constant contact with crumb rubber is exposed to.
Even if a direct link between this playing surface and cancer hasn't been made yet, it's obvious that someone somewhere has some concerns, because school districts and organizations all around the country have moved away from using the artificial turf in recent years. New York City quit installing crumb rubber turf at their parks in 2008. The Los Angeles Unified School District followed suit in 2009. The people of San Francisco have been fighting for years to keep artificial turf from being installed at Golden Gate Park.
Because you can't grow weed on it, probably.
Weirdly, artificial turf is at the center of a gender discrimination controversy as well. You see, the Men's World Cup is always played on real grass. For some reason, in 2015, FIFA decided that the Women's World Cup would be played on crumb rubber surfaces. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of several prominent players, including United States soccer hero Abby Wombach. But with FIFA being FIFA and all, the suit fell apart after a number of participants withdrew their support, citing concerns over discrimination and reprisals from the organization resulting from their association with the suit.
On the bright side, the USA totally won the World Cup that year!
Scandals are fun, but watching people flounder as they try to worm their way out of scandals is even better. See why we're not buying the "I had to offer oral sex for my own safety" defense in The 5 Stupidest Excuses Ever Given in a Political Scandal. And see why Rush Limbaugh's career could survive a massive drug scandal in 4 Scandals That Prove We'll Forgive Celebrities for Anything.
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