Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).


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Burbank Residents: Disney's Dumping Made Us Sick

| Tue Jun. 16, 2009 1:29 PM EDT

Last week, we learned that residents of Burbank, California, are suing Walt Disney Co. for allegedly dumping carcinogenic chemicals in a local stream. Now, the Glendale News Press reports, they're saying said chemicals caused both people and animals to become sick. Troubling, but so far it doesn't exactly sound like the stuff of epidemiological studies: 

Standing at the intersection of Parkside Avenue and Parish Place, Panuska gestured down several neighboring streets, pointing out the homes whose residents she said were diagnosed with various cancers, and listing off dozens of cases where horses, dogs and cats came down with various maladies...

On Beachwood Drive, plaintiff Dennis Weisenbaugh reflected on the life of his office manager, Gene Montoya, who two years ago died of liver failure after eight years of working eight-hour days from his home office.

Three of Weisenbaugh’s horses were diagnosed with diseases similar to laminitis, a painful inflammation of the foot, and had to be put down.

It's awfully hard to prove a causal relationship between toxic chemicals and a handful of illnesses in people and pets, and that ambiguity will certainly work in Disney's favor. The company still hasn't said much on the issue, other than to point out that a 2006 investigation by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control found that chromium levels in the community weren't problematic. It'll be interesting to see whether the EPA agrees.


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Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, June 16

| Tue Jun. 16, 2009 9:00 AM EDT

Hello, and happy Tuesday. Here's what's new in health, environment, and science:

Healthcare mythology day: In critiquing Obama's plans for more healthcare spending, conservatives revive two favorite chestnuts of anti-nationalization rhetoric. Meanwhile, Obama trots out his own old wives' tale, suggesting that restricting medical malpractice lawsuits could help reduce healthcare costs.

Geek out on futuristic climate solutions: Should we tether kitelike wind turbines into the jetstream to harvest its massive wind power? Maybe. Block out the sun to keep earth from heating up? Probably not.

Salacious wildlife news: An environmental group says Obama's nominee for head of the US Fish & Wildlife Service whored out panther habitat to sprawl-mongering developers. 

And one last question: Did you celebrate Meatless Monday?

Homeland Security High

| Thu Jun. 11, 2009 3:23 PM EDT

Back in 2007, Mother Jones reported on Maryland’s Joppatowne High School, the first school in the country to offer a homeland security curriculum. Today, the L.A. Times reports on nearby Meade High School, which started a similar four-year program this year. According to the article, areas of study include Islamic jihadism, nuclear arms, cyber-crime, and domestic militias. But that’s not all:

New themes even were added to their science, social studies and English classes.

"There's a lot of homeland security issues in 'Romeo and Juliet,' " said Bill Sheppard, the program coordinator. "Like, how do you deal with infiltration in your own family?"

Cringe. Aside from these tortured efforts to give everything a security spin, here’s what bugs me: The L.A. Times describes Meade as a “long-troubled public high school.” According to the website Public School Review, almost a third of Meade’s 2,150 students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and its graduation rate is just 82 percent, lower than the district average. The program’s website says part of its mission is to give students skills they need to “seek employment and/or postsecondary education in the homeland security career field.” I just can’t imagine a well-off school justifying what is essentially a political agenda with the promise of jobs. And it’s working. To wit:

"This course will help me get a top-secret security clearance," said Darryl Bagley, an eager 15-year-old. "That way I can always get a job."

Sort of chilling, right?

Did Disney Dump Toxic Waste?

| Thu Jun. 11, 2009 2:00 PM EDT

From the annals of the dark side of Disney, we bring you news that citizens of Burbank, California, are suing the media giant for allegedly dumping toxic chemicals, including a known carcinogen, in their community since 1998.

According to the Burbank Leader, citizens hired Delaware-based watchdog group Environmental World Watch Inc. to test local waterways for chromium 6 (also known as hexavalent chromium), which increases risk of lung cancer in those who inhale it. The group reported “significant quantities” of the toxin downstream from Disney's facilities.

Unsurprisingly, Disney has been tight-lipped about the case so far, but a spokesperson did call the allegations "completely baseless."

This all comes on the heels of the company's big we're-going-green announcement earlier this year, when execs outlined plans to conserve energy and reduce emissions and waste. If it turns out the dumping accusations are legit, Disney'll have quite the PR problem to imagineer its way out of.


Strapped Colleges Spurn Students

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 3:30 PM EDT

Things are not looking good for needy college applicants. Last week, I blogged about how the USNWR rankings rat race gives first-generation college students the short shrift. Today, the NY Times reports that because of financial problems, Reed College plans to substitute 100 of its poorest eligible applicants for potential students who don't require aid. Admissions officers at Reed were admirably candid with the Times about the painful nature of the decision:

The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college’s ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. “None of us are very happy,” she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this.”

The private college in Oregon isn't the only one making tough admissions decisions because of the recession. Here's how budget cuts are affecting needy students at some other schools:

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