Living on Earth: Beyond the Headlines

Release date: Week of April 1, 2022

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East Antarctica is generally considered to be very stable; The recent sea ice breakup is the first humans have seen in half a century since satellites began imaging Antarctica. (Photo: NASA, public domain)

On this week’s journey beyond the headlines, host Steve Curwood is joined by Environmental Health News weekend editor Peter Dykstra to discuss an ice floe break in the East Antarctica generally stable. Next, the two look at fast food companies’ promises to remove PFAS chemicals from their packaging. Finally, the couple make history on how plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean has complicated the search for debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

And on the line now from Atlanta, Georgia, is Peter Dykstra. Peter is an editor at Environmental Health News i.e. and And he’s here to tell us what’s going on beyond the headlines. Hey pierre. How are you?

DYKSTRA: Well, hi, Steve. Last week, we received disturbing news from East Antarctica, considered the most climate-stable region of the Arctic or Antarctic. An ice floe the size of New York has collapsed in eastern Antarctica. And that can only mean bad news for the contributions of the Arctic and Antarctic, to global warming or climate change, or whatever we want to call it. But it is a crisis.

CURWOOD: Yeah. And it’s funny that it happened right around the equinox, with the sun shining equally on the southern hemisphere and the northern hemisphere in the polar regions. And there were heat waves in both places, Peter at that time.

DYKSTRA: Up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal in parts of Antarctica. And less than that, but still near record high Arctic heat at the end of the Arctic winter.
CURWOOD: And of course now it’s the collapse of an ice cap already on the water that’s not going to raise sea levels. But that trend continues, the glaciers behind it, it’s not good news, peter. Maybe you have something to cheer me up?

DYKSTRA: Well, if you’re a fast food consumer, and I’m not saying you are: Burger King and Chick-Fil-A have pledged to remove these so-called eternal chemicals from their food packaging. Restaurant Brands International, which is the company that owns Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, those delicious donuts from Canada, announced a week ago its intention to phase out per- and polyfluoroalkyls, the ones we know as the name of PFAS, of all consumers. packaging by the end of 2025.

CURWOOD: Hey, Peter, my excuse for going to those fast food places: you know, as a journalist doing journalism and you’re there late at night and guess what’s open late at night or first thing in the morning?

Several fast food companies have pledged to remove PFAS and other toxic chemicals from their packaging. (Photo: Marco Verch, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

DYKSTRA: Yeah, I’m a bit of a hypocrite too, because we know the different ways that eating beef, in particular, can harm our global climate just as quickly as it can harm our own bodies. There are other companies that have also been above this. Last year, McDonald’s said it had eliminated a significant subset of PFAS in its packaging. They pledged to remove everything by 2025. And a few years ago, Taco Bell made a similar promise, stating that the citation, PFAS, phthalates and bisphenol A will be removed from all packaging materials. for consumers,

CURWOOD: Which of course leaves open what happens in the kitchen and in the back office. Now PFAS chemicals are not good for us. They’re associated with cancers and low birth weight and that sort of thing.

DYKSTRA: All kinds of reproductive issues, as well as certain types of cancer. We find out how damaging they are. We also discover how absolutely ubiquitous they are in the supply chain for so many food products.

CURWOOD: Well, Peter, I’m waiting for you to tell us a story about how we can get this stuff out of our bodies. But for now, take a look at your history books over there and tell me what you see.

DYKSTRA: We only go back eight years for an article that you’d be surprised had such a strong link to the environment. But in March 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 crashed over the Indian Ocean, setting off an absolute search frenzy and an equal media frenzy. But on April 2, 2014, searchers of the wreckage of Malaysian Flight 370 reported a new problem. Radar and satellite imagery could not distinguish between all the routine floating trash we dumped in the Indian Ocean and the floating trash that could point to the wreckage of a Boeing 777. This is a troubling precedent for search and rescue. This is another troubling precedent, by the way, for ocean-borne waste. And to me, that’s just an amazing way that we’ve managed to fill the oceans with our own waste.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing in March 2014 and search and rescue efforts were thwarted by an overabundance of marine litter. (Photo: Laurent Errera, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

CURWOOD: That’s right, and a lot of what’s floating out there is made of plastic, which comes from fossil fuels, and we also have a bunch of carbon dioxide waste in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. One has to wonder how useful fossil fuels are to our civilization these days.

DYKSTRA: Well, consider this. It wasn’t until a quarter of a century ago that we began to realize that the oceans were suffering from both of these things. We thought the oceans were far too vast for us to pollute them with trash or acidify them with deposits of fossil fuels, especially coal. But both of these things have proven to be serious issues as we look to Earth’s future environmental health.

CURWOOD: Alright, Peter. Well, I’m looking for a fossil-free, PFAS-free, arctic-friendly burger somewhere.

DYKSTRA: Make mine to go.

CURWOOD: Peter Dykstra is an editor at Environmental Health News, ie and We will speak to you very soon.

DYKSTRA: Okay, Steve. Thanks very much. We’ll talk to you soon.

CURWOOD: And there’s more about those stories on the Living on Earth website. This is


PA News | “Ice shelf collapses in previously stable East Antarctica”

KTLA 5 | “Fast Food Chains Pledge to Eliminate ‘Eternal Chemicals’ Discovered in Packaging”

The Christian Science Monitor | “Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Search Reveals Extent of Ocean Trash”

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