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New technology propels efforts to fight Western wildfires

New technology propels efforts to fight Western wildfires

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As drought- and wind-driven wildfires have become more dangerous across the American West in recent years, firefighters have tried to become smarter in how they prepare.They’re using new technology and better positioning of resources in a bid to keep small blazes from erupting into mega-fires like the ones that torched a record 4% of California last year, or the nation’s biggest wildfire this year that has charred a section of Oregon half the size of Rhode Island.There have been 730 more wildfires in California so far this year than last, an increase of about 16%. But nearly triple the area has burned — 470 square miles (1,200 square kilometers).Catching fires more quickly gives firefighters a better chance of keeping them small.That includes using new fire behavior computer modeling that can help assess risks before fires start, then project their path and growth.When “critical weather” is predicted — hot, dry winds or lightning storms — the technology, on top of hard-earned experience, allows California planners to pre-position fire engines, bulldozers, aircraft and hand crews armed with shovels and chain saws in areas where they can respond more quickly.With the computer modeling, “they can do a daily risk forecast across the state, so they use that for planning,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for Cal Fire, California’s firefighting agency.That’s helped Cal Fire hold an average 95% of blazes to 10 acres (4 hectares) or less even in poor conditions driven by drought or climate change, she said. So far this year it’s held 96.5% of fires below 10 acres (4 hectares).Federal firefighters similarly track how dry vegetation has become in certain areas, then station crews and equipment ahead of lightning storms or in areas where people gather during holidays, said Stanton Florea, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.In another effort to catch fires quickly, what once were fire lookout towers staffed by humans have largely been replaced with cameras in remote areas, many of them in high-definition and armed with artificial intelligence to discern a smoke plume from morning fog. There are 800 such cameras scattered across California, Nevada and Oregon, and even casual viewers can remotely watch wildfires in real time.Fire managers can then “start making tactical decisions based on what they can see,” even before firefighters reach the scene, Tolmachoff said.Fire managers also routinely summon military drones from the National Guard or Air Force to fly over fires at night, using heat imaging to map their boundaries and hot spots. They can use satellite imagery to plot the course of smoke and ash.“Your job is to manage the fire, and these are tools that will help you do so” with a degree of accuracy unheard of even five years ago, said Char Miller, a professor at Pomona College in California and a widely recognized wildfire policy expert.In California, fire managers can overlay all that information on high-quality Light Detection and Ranging topography maps that can aid decisions on forest management, infrastructure planning and preparation for wildfires, floods, tsunamis and landslides. Then they add the fire behavior computer simulation based on weather and other variables.Other mapping software can show active fires, fuel breaks designed to slow their spread, prescribed burns, defensible space cleared around homes, destroyed homes and other wildfire damage.“It’s all still new, but we can see where it’s going to take us in the future when it comes to planning for people building homes on the wildland area, but also wildland firefighting,” Tolmachoff said.Cal Fire and other fire agencies have been early adopters of remote imaging and other technologies that can be key in early wildfire detection, said John Bailey, a former firefighter and now professor at Oregon State University.Some experts argue it’s a losing battle against wildfires worsened by global warming, a century of reflexive wildfire suppression and overgrown forests, and communities creeping into what once were sparsely populated areas. Climate change has made the West hotter and drier in the past 30 years, and scientists have long warned the weather will get more extreme as the world warms.Yet, firefighters’ goal is to replicate the outcome of a fire that started Monday in the canyon community of Topanga, between Los Angeles and Malibu.It had the potential to swiftly spread through dry brush but was held to about 7 acres (3 hectares) after water-dropping aircraft were scrambled within minutes from LA and neighboring Ventura County.What firefighters don’t want is another wildfire like the one that ravaged the Malibu area in 2018. It destroyed more than 1,600 structures, killed three people and forced thousands to flee.In another bid to gain an early advantage, California is buying a dozen new Sikorsky Firehawk helicopters — at $24 million each — that can operate at night, fly faster, drop more water and carry more firefighters than the Vietnam War-era Bell UH-1H “Hueys” they will eventually replace.It will also soon receive seven military surplus C-130 transport aircraft retrofitted to carry 4,000 gallons (15,140 litres) of fire retardant, more than three times as much as Cal Fire’s workhorse S-2 airtankers.For all that, firefighters’ efforts to outsmart and suppress wildfires is counterproductive if all it does is postpone fires in areas that will eventually burn, argued Richard Minnich, a professor in Riverside who studies fire ecology.“No matter how sophisticated the technology may be, the areas they can manage or physically impact things is small,” he said. “We’re in over our heads. You can have all the technology in the world — fire control is impossible.”Working with wildfires is more realistic, he said, by taking advantage of patches that previously burned to channel the spread of new blazes.Timothy Ingalsbee, a former federal firefighter who now heads Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, also said firefighters need to adopt a new approach when confronting the most dangerous wind-driven wildfires that leapfrog containment lines by showering flaming embers a mile or more ahead of the main inferno.It’s better to build more fire-resistant homes and devote scarce resources to protecting threatened communities while letting the fires burn around them, he said.“We have these amazing tools that allow us to map fire spread in real time and model it better than weather predictions,” Ingalsbee said. “Using that technology, we can start being more strategic and working with fire to keep people safe, keep homes safe, but let fire do the work it needs to do — which is recycle all the dead stuff into soil.”————Associated Press writers Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Technology has growing role in corralling US West wildfires

Technology has growing role in corralling US West wildfires

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As drought- and wind-driven wildfires have become more dangerous across the American West in recent years, firefighters have tried to become smarter in how they prepare.They’re using new technology and better positioning of resources in a bid to keep small blazes from erupting into mega-fires like the ones that torched a record 4% of California last year, or the nation’s biggest wildfire this year that has charred a section of Oregon, half the size of Rhode Island.There have been 730 more wildfires in California so far this year than last, an increase of about 16%. But nearly triple the area has burned — 470 square miles (1,200 square kilometers).Catching fires more quickly gives firefighters a better chance of keeping them small.That includes using new fire behavior computer modeling that can help assess risks before fires start, then project their path and growth.When “critical weather” is predicted — hot, dry winds or lightning storms — the technology, on top of hard-earned experience, allows California planners to pre-position fire engines, bulldozers, aircraft and hand crews armed with shovels and chain saws in areas where they can respond more quickly.With the computer modeling, “they can do a daily risk forecast across the state, so they use that for planning,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, spokeswoman for Cal Fire, California’s firefighting agency.That’s helped Cal Fire hold an average 95% of blazes to 10 acres (4 hectares) or less even in poor conditions driven by drought or climate change, she said. So far this year it’s held 96.5% of fires below 10 acres (4 hectares).Federal firefighters similarly track how dry vegetation has become in certain areas, then station crews and equipment ahead of lightning storms or in areas where people gather during holidays, said Stanton Florea, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.In another effort to catch fires quickly, what once were fire lookout towers staffed by humans have largely been replaced with cameras in remote areas, many of them in high-definition and armed with artificial intelligence to discern a smoke plume from morning fog. There are 800 such cameras scattered across California, Nevada and Oregon, and even casual viewers can remotely watch wildfires in real time.Fire managers can then “start making tactical decisions based on what they can see,” even before firefighters reach the scene, Tolmachoff said.Fire managers also routinely summon military drones from the National Guard or Air Force to fly over fires at night, using heat imaging to map their boundaries and hot spots. They can use satellite imagery to plot the course of smoke and ash.“Your job is to manage the fire, and these are tools that will help you do so” with a degree of accuracy unheard of even five years ago, said Char Miller, a professor at Pomona College in California and a widely recognized wildfire policy expert.In California, fire managers can overlay all that information on high-quality Light Detection and Ranging topography maps that can aid decisions on forest management, infrastructure planning and preparation for wildfires, floods, tsunamis and landslides. Then they add the fire behavior computer simulation based on weather and other variables.Other mapping software can show active fires, fuel breaks designed to slow their spread, prescribed burns, defensible space cleared around homes, destroyed homes and other wildfire damage.“It’s all still new, but we can see where it’s going to take us in the future when it comes to planning for people building homes on the wildland area, but also wildland firefighting,” Tolmachoff said.Cal Fire and other fire agencies have been early adopters of remote imaging and other technologies that can be key in early wildfire detection, said John Bailey, a former firefighter and now professor at Oregon State University.Some experts argue it’s a losing battle against wildfires worsened by global warming, a century of reflexive wildfire suppression and overgrown forests, and communities creeping into what once were sparsely populated areas. Climate change has made the West hotter and drier in the past 30 years, and scientists have long warned the weather will get more extreme as the world warms.Yet, firefighters’ goal is to replicate the outcome of a fire that started Monday in the canyon community of Topanga, between Los Angeles and Malibu.It had the potential to swiftly spread through dry brush but was held to about 7 acres (3 hectares) after water-dropping aircraft were scrambled within minutes from LA and neighboring Ventura County.What firefighters don’t want is another wildfire like the one that ravaged the Malibu area in 2018. It destroyed more than 1,600 structures, killed three people and forced thousands to flee.In another bid to gain an early advantage, California is buying a dozen new Sikorsky Firehawk helicopters — at $24 million each — that can operate at night, fly faster, drop more water and carry more firefighters than the Vietnam War-era Bell UH-1H “Hueys” they will eventually replace.It will also soon receive seven military surplus C-130 transport aircraft retrofitted to carry 4,000 gallons (15,140 litres) of fire retardant, more than three times as much as Cal Fire’s workhorse S-2 airtankers.For all that, firefighters’ efforts to outsmart and suppress wildfires is counterproductive if all it does is postpone fires in areas that will eventually burn, argued Richard Minnich, a professor in Riverside who studies fire ecology.“No matter how sophisticated the technology may be, the areas they can manage or physically impact things is small,” he said. “We’re in over our heads. You can have all the technology in the world — fire control is impossible.”Working with wildfires is more realistic, he said, by taking advantage of patches that previously burned to channel the spread of new blazes.Timothy Ingalsbee, a former federal firefighter who now heads Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, also said firefighters need to adopt a new approach when confronting the most dangerous wind-driven wildfires that leapfrog containment lines by showering flaming embers a mile or more ahead of the main inferno.It’s better to build more fire-resistant homes and devote scarce resources to protecting threatened communities while letting the fires burn around them, he said.“We have these amazing tools that allow us to map fire spread in real time and model it better than weather predictions,” Ingalsbee said. “Using that technology, we can start being more strategic and working with fire to keep people safe, keep homes safe, but let fire do the work it needs to do — which is recycle all the dead stuff into soil.”————Associated Press writers Keith Ridler in Boise, Idaho, and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Charges cite Trump unrest in alleged plot on Democrats' HQ

Charges cite Trump unrest in alleged plot on Democrats' HQ

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ian Benjamin Rogers had five illegal pipe bombs and nearly 50 weapons at his home and shop in California’s wine country, a “ThreePercenters” bumper sticker on his vehicle, a “white privilege card” at his house, and text messages that led federal prosecutors to charge him with conspiring to firebomb the state Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento.His attorney admits his client is in serious trouble, but said Friday that the alleged plot was nothing more than drunken talk between two buddies inflamed by the defeat of former president Donald Trump.“Firebombing your perceived political opponents is illegal and does not nurture the sort of open and vigorous debate that created and supports our constitutional democracy,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds said in announcing the unsealing of an indictment Thursday in San Francisco federal court.Also charged is Jarrod Copeland, 37, of nearby Vallejo, who was arrested Wednesday and for whom no attorney is yet listed.Rogers, 45, has been in custody on related state charges since mid-January, when the FBI in an affidavit said he sent text messages that agents interpreted as threats against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and social media companies Facebook and Twitter.The new indictment alleges their first intended target was the Democratic Party headquarters, one of a series of planned attacks that they hoped would prompt a burgeoning movement of those upset with Trump’s defeat.“I want to blow up a democrat building bad,” Rogers wrote, according to the indictment, to which Copeland responded, “I agree” and “Plan attack.”“After the 20th we go to war,” Rogers wrote, which prosecutors said meant they intended to begin acts of violence after President Joe Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20.In November, prosecutors say Rogers used an encrypted messaging application to tell Copeland that he would “hit the enemy in the mouth” by using Molotov cocktails and gasoline to attack targets including the Governor’s Mansion and the state party headquarters.Prosecutors also say that in late December 2020, Copeland told Rogers he contacted an anti-government militia group to gather support for their movement. After Rogers’s arrest, they say Copeland communicated with a leader of a militia group who advised Copeland to delete his old messages and switch to a new communications platform.“The so-called conspiracy was a lot of drunken talk and bluster between two friends who share the same political beliefs, but it was no more than that,” countered Rogers’ defense attorney on the Napa County charges, Jess Raphael. “It was bluster with no intent to act.”His client is a mechanic who has an auto repair shop and likes to tinker with things, he said.That includes building the pipe bombs that Raphael said were safely stored, built long before the recent unrest, and that Rogers intended to take camping with his kids to blow up a stump or make dirt fly.Rogers began collecting the 49 firearms seized from his home in 2008 and bought no new firearms recently, Raphael said. But he acknowledged his client is in serious trouble for turning several of them into machine guns and altering others to violate California’s definition of illegal assault weapons.Investigators also pointed to the “ThreePercenters” bumper sticker on Rogers’s vehicle, signaling support for an anti-government movement named after the belief that just 3% of American colonists defeated the British during the American Revolution. Raphael said he got it at a barbeque at a local shooting range.“That bumper sticker was about the extent of Mr. Rogers’s participation,” he said. “He wasn’t an active participant in any (ThreePercenters) activities.”Rogers does belong to a group of survivalists who call themselves 3UP, he said. Raphael said he wasn’t familiar with 3UP, but the Anti-Defamation League identifies it as a similarly named Three Percent United Patriots militia that among other things aspired to protect the border with Mexico from illegal immigration.“Many extreme anti-government militias are populated by white supremacists,” according to the FBI affidavit.Agents also seized a “white privilege card” that looks like a credit card. “Trumps Everything” it says beneath the label, with the number 0045 repeated as a credit card number signaling the 45th U.S. president. “Scott Free” is listed as the cardholder, a member from “birth” through “death.” Raphael said it was a “joke card” someone sent to him.The two men each face multiple charges, including conspiracy to destroy by fire or explosive a building used or in affecting interstate commerce. Rogers is charged with additional weapons violations, including one count of possession of unregistered destructive devices, and three counts of possession of machine guns. Copeland is charged with an additional count of destruction of records.Rogers also faces state charges in a preliminary hearing on September 2.Copeland was arrested Wednesday and made an initial court appearance Thursday. He’s scheduled to appear in court again on July 20 for a detention hearing.If convicted on all charges, each defendant faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, officials said.Rogers’s defense attorney on the federal charges, Colin Cooper, declined comment Friday.But Raphael insisted the two men just liked to get drunk, play video games and spout off, and never followed through with any preparation like scouting trips or other planning.“You know, talking about ‘We need to get 50,000 people to follow us,’ and ‘Let’s wait and see what Trump does and then we’ll act,’ a lot of that stuff,’” Raphael said. “We should go do this, we should go do that. ‘We’ll call ourselves the Wolverines.’ It was really just bluster.”

Judge: Newsom can't be listed as Democrat on recall ballot

Judge: Newsom can't be listed as Democrat on recall ballot

A judge has ruled California Gov. Gavin Newsom can’t put his Democratic Party affiliation on the ballot voters see when they decide whether to remove himBy DON THOMPSON Associated PressJuly 13, 2021, 4:29 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom can’t put his Democratic Party affiliation on the ballot voters see when they decide whether to remove him, a judge ruled Monday.Newsom’s campaign missed a deadline to submit his affiliation to California Secretary of State Shirley Weber for the Sept. 14 recall election. Newsom’s campaign said it was inadvertent and asked Weber, who was appointed by Newsom, to allow the affiliation to appear.She said the issue needed to go to a judge, so Newsom filed a lawsuit. Newsom’s Republican opponents criticized the move as an attempt to change rules everyone else must follow.Newsom’s elections attorney, Thomas Willis, and an attorney for Weber both argued during an hourlong hearing Friday that Newsom merely missed an arbitrary, harmless filing deadline and that it is in the voters’ interest to know his party preference.Adding that information now wouldn’t cause a procedural problem because elections officials still have enough time to ensure Newsom’s party preference appears on the ballot along with those seeking to replace him, Weber said in a court filing.“At base this comes down to whether the governor of California has to follow the unambiguous law — and it just so happens, a law that he signed,” countered attorney Eric Early, representing recall supporters including lead proponents Orrin Heatlie and Mike Netter and the California Patriot Coalition.Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James Arguelles said his decision Monday came down to whether there are reasons to look beyond the Newsom-approved law that required the governor to submit his party affiliation to the state’s top election official by February 2020.He determined that the law “unambiguously precludes party information from appearing on a recall ballot where the elected officer fails timely to make the designation.”It’s unclear if the lack of a party designation will have any practical impact. Newsom is well known, having held statewide office for a decade first as lieutenant governor and now as governor, and previously was San Francisco’s mayor for six years.The arcane legal debate took on a celebrity sheen when one of Newsom’s Republican challengers, reality TV personality and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, went to Sacramento and held the first news conference of her campaign to announce she was intervening in the lawsuit.She tweeted after the ruling that she is “thrilled that the rule of law prevailed” and that her joining the lawsuit “was the first step of finally breaking down politics-as-usual in Sacramento where special interests and political cronies are placed above the good of the people.”Early hailed Arguelles’ ruling, saying: “He followed the law, and that’s all we can ask for. No one is above the law, and this ruling makes clear that includes Gavin Newsom.”Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click did not respond directly to the ruling, saying in a text that Newsom will defeat the recall, which he termed a “Republican power grab.”Previous recall targets weren’t allowed to list their political party, but Democrats who control the state Legislature changed that in 2019 after a state senator from their party was recalled. They argued it gives voters important information.Last month, Newsom signed a law that again changes the recall rules, this time to speed up the election. Democrats believe the state’s reopened economy and low coronavirus case numbers put Newsom in a better position than when the recall gained momentum during the pandemic’s darkest days last winter.The recall was fueled by frustration over Newsom’s coronavirus shutdown orders and anger after it was learned the governor attended a party with lobbyist friends at a posh restaurant last fall when he was telling Californians to stay home.The election is set for Sept. 14, though ballots will be mailed to voters earlier. The two-part ballot will first ask voters if they want to remove Newsom from office and, if so, who should replace him. The answers to the second question are only counted if more than 50% of people say yes to the first.

Pesticide caused kids' brain damage, California lawsuits say

Pesticide caused kids' brain damage, California lawsuits say

Lawsuits in California are seeking potential class-action damages from Dow Chemical and its successor company over a widely used bug killer linked to brain damage in childrenBy DON THOMPSON Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 9:33 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSACRAMENTO, Calif. — Lawsuits filed Monday in California seek potential class-action damages from Dow Chemical and its successor company over a widely used bug killer linked to brain damage in children.Chlorpyrifos is approved for use on more than 80 crops, including oranges, berries, grapes, soybeans, almonds and walnuts, though California banned sales of the pesticide last year and spraying of it this year. Some other states, including New York, have moved to ban it.Stuart Calwell, lead attorney in the lawsuits, argued that its effects linger in Central Valley agricultural communities contaminated by chlorpyrifos during decades of use, with measurable levels still found in his clients’ homes.Lawyers project that at least 100,000 homes in the nation’s largest agricultural state may need to dispose of most of their belongings because they are contaminated with the pesticide.“We have found it in the houses, we have found it in carpet, in upholstered furniture, we found it in a teddy bear, and we found it on the walls and surfaces,” Calwell said. “Then a little child picks up a teddy bear and holds on to it.”All that needs to be cleaned up, he says, because “it’s not going away on its own.”State records show 61 million pounds of the pesticide were applied from 1974 through 2017 in four counties where the lawsuits were filed, Calwell said.Officials with Dow and its affiliated Corteva Inc. did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests seeking comment.Corteva stopped producing the pesticide last year. The Delaware-based company was created after a merger of Dow Chemical and Dupont and had been the world’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos. The company has said it believes the product is safe and said it stopped production because of declining sales.Scientific studies have shown that chlorpyrifos damages the brains of fetuses and children. It was first used in 1965 but was banned for household use in 2001.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to ban the product or declare it safe, including for infants and children. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April ordered the EPA to make a decision after studying the product for more than a decade. The Trump administration had halted the rule-making process.The lawsuits were filed on behalf of people in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties, though Calwell said they are a precursor to seeking class-action status. Aside from Dow-related companies, they name various farming companies they say applied the chemical near the plaintiffs’ homes.In each case, the plaintiffs are parents suing on behalf of children who suffer from severe neurological injuries that the lawsuits blame on their exposure to the chemical while they were in the womb or when they were very young.Aside from nearby spraying, the lawsuits say the parent, relatives or others in frequent contact with the child worked in the fields or packing plants and became contaminated with the chemical that they passed on to the child.Calwell filed related lawsuits last fall on behalf of farmworkers who his firm said “spent years marinating in the pesticide.”The first of those related lawsuits blames chlorpyrifos for causing autism, cognitive and intellectual disabilities in a now-teenager born in 2003.The teen’s father worked spraying pesticides on farm fields and his mother packed what the lawsuit says was chlorpyrifos-covered produce in a facility surrounded by fields treated with the pesticide, often applied by aerial spraying.Calwell similarly sued Monsanto for damages he alleged it caused to homes in Nitro, West Virginia, with its use of dioxin to make the defoliant known during the Vietnam War era as Agent Orange.That case settled for $93 million, with Monsanto paying to decontaminate 4,500 homes, a fraction of those that he alleges in California will require more extensive decontamination followed by medical monitoring.

Pesticide caused kids' brain damage, California lawsuits say

Pesticide caused kids' brain damage, California lawsuits say

Lawsuits in California are seeking potential class-action damages from Dow Chemical and its successor company over a widely used bug killer linked to brain damage in childrenBy DON THOMPSON Associated PressJuly 12, 2021, 9:33 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleSACRAMENTO, Calif. — Lawsuits filed Monday in California seek potential class-action damages from Dow Chemical and its successor company over a widely used bug killer linked to brain damage in children.Chlorpyrifos is approved for use on more than 80 crops, including oranges, berries, grapes, soybeans, almonds and walnuts, though California banned sales of the pesticide last year and spraying of it this year. Some other states, including New York, have moved to ban it.Stuart Calwell, lead attorney in the lawsuits, argued that its effects linger in Central Valley agricultural communities contaminated by chlorpyrifos during decades of use, with measurable levels still found in his clients’ homes.Lawyers project that at least 100,000 homes in the nation’s largest agricultural state may need to dispose of most of their belongings because they are contaminated with the pesticide.“We have found it in the houses, we have found it in carpet, in upholstered furniture, we found it in a teddy bear, and we found it on the walls and surfaces,” Calwell said. “Then a little child picks up a teddy bear and holds on to it.”All that needs to be cleaned up, he says, because “it’s not going away on its own.”State records show 61 million pounds of the pesticide were applied from 1974 through 2017 in four counties where the lawsuits were filed, Calwell said.Officials with Dow and its affiliated Corteva Inc. did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests seeking comment.Corteva stopped producing the pesticide last year. The Delaware-based company was created after a merger of Dow Chemical and Dupont and had been the world’s largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos. The company has said it believes the product is safe and said it stopped production because of declining sales.Scientific studies have shown that chlorpyrifos damages the brains of fetuses and children. It was first used in 1965 but was banned for household use in 2001.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to ban the product or declare it safe, including for infants and children. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April ordered the EPA to make a decision after studying the product for more than a decade. The Trump administration had halted the rule-making process.The lawsuits were filed on behalf of people in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties, though Calwell said they are a precursor to seeking class-action status. Aside from Dow-related companies, they name various farming companies they say applied the chemical near the plaintiffs’ homes.In each case, the plaintiffs are parents suing on behalf of children who suffer from severe neurological injuries that the lawsuits blame on their exposure to the chemical while they were in the womb or when they were very young.Aside from nearby spraying, the lawsuits say the parent, relatives or others in frequent contact with the child worked in the fields or packing plants and became contaminated with the chemical that they passed on to the child.Calwell filed related lawsuits last fall on behalf of farmworkers who his firm said “spent years marinating in the pesticide.”The first of those related lawsuits blames chlorpyrifos for causing autism, cognitive and intellectual disabilities in a now-teenager born in 2003.The teen’s father worked spraying pesticides on farm fields and his mother packed what the lawsuit says was chlorpyrifos-covered produce in a facility surrounded by fields treated with the pesticide, often applied by aerial spraying.Calwell similarly sued Monsanto for damages he alleged it caused to homes in Nitro, West Virginia, with its use of dioxin to make the defoliant known during the Vietnam War era as Agent Orange.That case settled for $93 million, with Monsanto paying to decontaminate 4,500 homes, a fraction of those that he alleges in California will require more extensive decontamination followed by medical monitoring.

California adds vacation incentive to spur vaccinations

California adds vacation incentive to spur vaccinations

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will offer six “dream vacation” incentives to spur more people to get coronavirus vaccinations, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday on the eve of the state awarding of $15 million in cash prizes.Aside from boosting California’s vaccination rate as it lifts most pandemic restrictions Tuesday, the latest promotion aims to jump-start the Golden State’s travel and tourism industry after more than a year in virtual hibernation because of stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions.The tourism industry “had a sledgehammer taken to it,” Newsom said.Tourism revenues nose-dived from a record $145 billion in 2019 to $65 billion last year as California enacted some of the nation’s toughest restrictions.But Newsom said it’s safe to return as the state of nearly 40 million people boasts among the nation’s lowest virus transmission rates.In San Francisco, 80% of eligible city residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 70% are fully vaccinated, becoming the first major American city to hit that threshold, Mayor London Breed said Monday.Newsom spoke in San Francisco, site of one of the six vacation packages offered by various donors through Visit California, the state’s nonprofit travel promotion arm.Others will include Anaheim in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego and at a luxury hotel in Palm Springs. Newsom hastily added that he has never visited the luxury hotel, a caveat that comes after he was widely criticized for patronizing an exclusive Napa Valley restaurant during the pandemic.Goodies in the package include floor seats at an NBA game with the LA Lakers, and tickets to Disneyland, Legoland, SeaWorld and a symphony, he said.They are among “a series of spectacular items and packages and experiences, including culinary experiences, that really highlight the best of California,” Newsom said.Visit California will also provide each winner with $2,000 in travel money, Newsom said.Californians who are at least 18 years old who are at least partially vaccinated are eligible for the drawing.Newsom is also proposing $95 million in state funding to help a hospitality and tourism sector that at one point during the pandemic he said lost nearly half its 1.2 million jobs. The investment could speed the resumption of more than 300,000 jobs within a year, he projected.Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, said California is perceived to be less ready for tourism than other states, in particular Florida, because it enacted more safeguards that Newsom and other officials said were worth it both for the economy and the health of Californians.She predicted it will take another four years for California to fully recover, particularly because business and convention travel is expected to take more time to return.Meanwhile, Newsom said he expects California’s workplace regulators this week will allow employees to “self-attest” that they have been vaccinated.Fully vaccinated employees would not need to wear masks under rules to be considered Thursday by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. Newsom said he will then issue an executive order putting those regulations into effect immediately, bypassing a normal 10-day legal review.The methods of employer verification aren’t spelled out in the draft regulations released Friday.But the board’s staff confirmed Monday that employers would have options, including requiring workers to show proof of vaccination; requiring everyone to remain masked, vaccinated or not; or allowing employees to self-attest to their vaccination status, with the employer keeping a record of who self-attests.“Self-attestation is a necessary option to help businesses — particularly small businesses — avoid getting into the murky waters of attempting to verify vaccinations when workers may have lost their vaccine cards,” said Robert Moutrie, a policy advocate at the California Chamber of Commerce.Monday’s new prize announcement adds to a weekslong effort to entice those reluctant to get the vaccines to do so.Newsom on Tuesday will oversee a drawing where 10 vaccinated people will win $1.5 million each.That’s the same day Newsom is lifting his stay-at-home order and ending most restrictions on businesses, including allowing fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks under most circumstances.He said the state began offering the incentives after California and the nation started seeing a decline in the number of first vaccinations. Administered doses increased 13.8% week-over-week since the prize drawings began, he said.”We are confident these vaccine incentives have worked. That’s why we want to continue in that spirit” with the vacation packages, he said.The prize giveaways, streamed online, have the appearance of game shows, with Newsom as host giving out 30 $50,000 prizes. The state is also giving $50 gift cards to 2 million people who get vaccinated.Newsom, a Democrat, faces a likely recall election this fall largely driven by his handling of the pandemic, and his Republican challengers have contended that the prizes are a taxpayer-paid way for him to boost his popularity. However, other governors of both political parties launched similar incentives.To aid those who must show they have been vaccinated, the state later this week will unveil what Newsom said will be a way for people to show “an electronic version of your paper version” of the vaccine verification card.“It’s not a passport, it’s not a requirement,” he said, without giving details.