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Our clothes are contaminating our planet with tiny plastic threads

crap! Feature_Microfibers_Main2.jpg

Editor’s note: This report is part one of a three-part series on the emerging threat of microfiber pollution. Parts two and three will explore the implications for the environment and human health, and look at who’s working to solve the problem.

You try to do the right thing. You’re conscientious about recycling. You carry reusable shopping bags, drink from refillable water bottles, and you’ve stopped using those face washes and toothpastes that contain plastic microbeads. Unless you’re a nudist, though, you probably haven’t yet addressed another big contributor to your environmental footprint: wearing clothing.

We have long known that apparel production is linked to environmental ills, such as water and air pollution, not to mention the land, water and pesticide use related to growing natural fibers. Now, a growing body of research shows that apparel made wholly or partially from synthetic textiles is the source of yet another big problem: a type of microplastic known as microfibers, shed during normal use and during laundering.


Made from polyester or other popular synthetics that account for a growing proportion of our wardrobes, these fibers linger in the environment, just like the plastic packaging that coats so many of the world’s beaches, and they bond to chemical pollutants in the environment, such as DDT and PCB. Plus, the textiles from which they are shed are often treated with waterproofing agents, stain- or fire-resistant chemicals, or synthetic dyes that could be harmful to organisms that ingest them. Worse, we all appear to be consuming microfibers in food and drink. And a research review published last year indicates that some of the microfibers floating in the air could be settling in our lungs.

Today, clothing retailers, textile companies, environmental nonprofits and others around the world are working hard to better understand the problem and craft solutions.

Troubling Findings

The epiphany occurred in 2004, when a team of researchers led by Richard Thompson from the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom set out to document and quantify the occurrence of microplastics in the marine environment. This involved collecting sediment from around 20 coastal sites in the United Kingdom. As part of the same study, published in Science, researchers also took surface water samples and compared the microfiber contents from samples taken decades prior. They observed an increase in fibrous synthetic material over time that corresponded with the uptick in synthetic fiber production since the 1970s.

Synthetic microfibers, threadlike pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) long, have been found in oceans and freshwater bodies around the world. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Aquarium

One of Thompson’s graduate students, Mark Anthony Browne, decided to pull on a thread of causation he suspected based on that research, and conducted a study that looked both at where fibers were found and a possible source of microfibers in coastal areas. He collected beach sediment samples from around the world. He also washed polyester apparel in order to quantify how many fibers those items shed into laundry wastewater.

Browne’s 2011 paper based on that research reported two troubling findings. First, samples taken near wastewater disposal sites had 250 percent more microplastic than those from reference sites, and the types of microplastic fibers found in those samples were mainly polymers often used in synthetic apparel, suggesting the fibers were eluding filters in wastewater treatment plants and being released with treated effluent (which is released into rivers, lakes or ocean water). Second, a single polyester fleece jacket could shed as many as 1,900 of these tiny fibers each time it was washed. (Subsequent studies have shown far higher numbers — 250,000 fibers, according to a later study from the University of California, Santa Barbara — but research and counting methods vary widely.)

His suspicion: synthetic apparel is a major source of microfibers in the environment.

Five years later, the Rozalia Project, a Vermont-based nonprofit focused on ocean protection, led a study of microfiber pollution across an entire watershed. Traveling by boat, members of a research team collected water samples from the mouth of the Hudson River all the way to where the river meets the Atlantic in Manhattan.

Based in part on Browne’s study they expected microfiber content would increase around treatment plants. It did. However, outside of samples taken near treatment plants, there was no statistically significant difference in the concentration fibers from the alpine region to the agricultural center of New York State to the high population areas of Manhattan and New Jersey.

Rozalia Projectsampling water

Rozalia Project volunteer scientists Dana Wilfahrt and Matthew Hurst collect water samples from the Hudson River in 2016. Courtesy of Rachael Miller

That surprised the group’s director, Rachael Miller, who expected cities to be microfiber hot spots. And it suggested to her that fibers might be entering surface waters from the air and from septic system drainfields in rural areas without municipal sewage systems.

Another surprise: microfibers spiked at a sample site near a popular trailhead that runs along a tributary to the Hudson. Miller suspects that hikers clad in synthetic fabrics shed fibers from clothing as they scramble up the trail. “If you’re going to rub up against rocks while climbing the trail, there’s likely to be abrasion,” she says.

From Sinks to Sources

Demand for polyester has grown faster than demand for wool, cotton and other fibers for at least 20 years, according to industry journal Textile World. And, by 2030 synthetics are expected to account for 75 percent of global apparel fiber production, or 97 million metric tons (107 million tons).

All textiles, including carpeting and upholstery, produce microfibers. So do commercial fishing nets.

But due to the frequency with which apparel is laundered and the increasing quantities of clothing being purchased throughout the world (thanks at least in part to the so-called fast fashion trend) apparel is the microfiber source on which researchers and policy-makers are focusing attention.

Outdoor gear is heavily reliant on synthetic textiles due to their performance profile (moisture wicking) and durability, according to Krystle Moody, a textile industry consultant. But price is the big driver behind the use of synthetics in textiles. A poly-cotton blend is generally far cheaper than a cotton one, but doesn’t look or feel appreciably different to most consumers, according to Jeffrey Silberman, professor and chairperson of textile development and marketing with the Fashion Institute of Technology at the State University of New York.

“The motivation is to get natural-like fibers and still be able to get a price point that people are willing to pay,” Moody says.

Recycling, ironically, is also a culprit. Recycling, ironically, is also a culprit. Many brands sell fleece jackets and base layers, for example, made from used PET water bottles. Synthetic textiles made from recycled polymers have less tenacity and yarn strength than those made from virgin polyester.

“Initial research suggested that recycled polyester might shed more microfibers,” says Katy Stevens, sustainability project manager for the outdoor gear industry consortium European Outdoor Group (EOG). “Are we doing the right thing by using recycled polyester that might shed more? It has added a whole other big question mark.”

Fiber-filled Planet

In the years since the University of Plymouth study, a stream of other studies has found microfibers in effluent from wastewater plants, in the digestive tracts of market fish, throughout riversheds and in air samples. Two separate studies released in March 2018 revealed that microfibers are found in bottled water sold all over the world. And a study published weeks later revealed that microplastic — chiefly microfibers — were present in 159 samples of tap water from around the word, a dozen brands of beer (made with Great Lakes water) as well as sea salt, also derived globally.

Most research has thus far focused only on synthetic fibers, which will take centuries to degrade and because they are often coated with potentially harmful chemicals and dyes during manufacturing. But Abigail Barrows, an independent microplastics researcher who has conducted numerous studies on microfibers, says natural fibers such as cotton and wool, and semi-synthetics such as rayon should not be totally ignored.

While they will degrade more quickly than, say, polyester, they may still be treated with chemicals of concern that can move up the food chain if the fibers are consumed before they degrade, says Barrows. She led an analysis of microplastics found in surface water samples collected globally and while 91 percent of the particles collected were microfibers, 12 percent of those were semi-synthetic and 31 percent were natural.

It’s clear microfibers are pretty much everywhere. And it’s clear that our clothes are playing a big role. Those segments of fibers haven’t been the focus of past studies, but “we have a lot of questions about them,” she says. It’s personal, too, she notes, because she favors natural fibers in an attempt to reduce her personal contribution to microfiber pollution but worries that might not be adequately stemming the chemical flow.

It’s clear microfibers are pretty much everywhere. And it’s clear that our clothes are playing a big role. We know microfibers, just like other shapes of microplastics, bond with toxins they encounter in the environment, and lab studies show clear harm to small organisms that ingest them. Still emerging is an understanding of impacts on the wider environment and on human health. How to design (and pay for) feasible methods of stemming the flow of microfibers into the environment, is another open question.

In part two of this series we’ll dive into those issues. Then, part three will examine some possible solutions to the microfiber pollution quandary.

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Vegetarianism – More Than A Lifestyle!

Natalie Portman is so vegetarian that she won’t even wear leather shoes. Here is her vegan alternative.

Have you ever tried a completely vegetarian diet? Believe it or not, it has several advantages! Vegetarianism is generally considered as a lifestyle. But it is more than that. It is also about good health and saving money. It helps to reduce cruelty on animals and promotes a greener way of living. Here below some advantages of vegetarianism.

israel goes vegan

Weight Loss

With a diet consisting of mainly vegetables and fruits, you can easily maintain a lower body weight. If weight loss is your aim, turning vegetarian is a good idea, even if it is for a short period of time. Vegetables and fruits are packed with vitamins, antioxidants and other essential nutrients which can greatly help in weight loss. They are also free from unsaturated fats that are present in most non-veg and fast food. As you cut out meat, the calories and fats in your body decrease, lowering your Body Mass Index (BMI). Also, as per studies, non-meat eaters live longer than those who consume it.

Protection from Diseases

Want to stay away from illness? Adopt a vegetarian diet! It is a fact that eating vegetables and fruits is beneficial for health. As they are full of fibres and antioxidants, they help in protecting the body from diseases. They are also low in fats and cholesterol. Most people in the world suffer from cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, chronic fatigue and cholesterol. All these can be avoided with a vegetarian diet. Plus, most fruits are alkaline and help with acidity or heartburn. A person with an alkaline body also has a reduced risk of suffering from cancer.

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Protecting Animals and the Environment

Apart from the different health benefits, vegetarianism also encourages protection of the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions are associated with meat production. Lowering them has a beneficial effect on global warming and climate change. These emissions are caused by factory farm animals which produce methane during food digestion and elimination. In addition to this, animals go through a cruel procedure during meat production. Farm animals are locked and cramped in cages and are rarely fed, to be finally slaughtered to produce meat. So, a vegetarian diet means less cruelty to these animals.

Saving Money

Do you want to save money? Become a vegetarian! The costs of meat are higher than those of vegetables and fruits. The average person spends less on vegetarian food than those who consume meat. Especially if you go for organic or hormone and antibiotic-free meat, it is even more expensive. Cutting out meat from your shopping list allows you to save money while remaining healthy.

Thus, vegetarianism is not only a lifestyle but it also has various advantages and health benefits. It promotes a greener planet.

EU bans neonics; U.S. bees not so lucky

Bee buzzing

After years of strong scientific evidence and even stronger advocacy, this week European officials decided to make a temporary ban on three bee-harming pesticides permanent. This is very, very good news for bees in Europe.

The decision reflects years of hard work by our PAN partners and many others. It also spotlights just how far behind we are in the U.S. — not only with our pollinator protection efforts, but in how we regulate pesticides overall.

U.S. pollinators not so lucky

A few years ago, national momentum to protect honeybees and other pollinators from pesticides seemed to be building here in the U.S. A high-profile White House Pollinator Health Task Force officially recognized the importance and urgency of problem, and promised a comprehensive action plan.

Not surprisingly, the effort attracted the attention of pesticide industry lobbyists, and the Task Force ended up punting any meaningful action to the states.

The science on the harms neonicotinoid pesticides (aka “neonics”) cause to honey bees and other pollinators continued to mount, as did evidence that neonics provided little actual benefit to farmers. Yet states have by and large failed to step up to the plate. Pressure from pesticide manufacturers appears to have played a role here as well. Seeing a pattern here anyone?

State action stymied too

Minnesota provides a telling example. In the face of mounting scientific evidence and strong public concern about bee-harming pesticides, the state Department of Agriculture conducted a Neonic Review — and in 2016 released a strong set of recommended actions to protect pollinators in the state.

Governor Dayton then signed an executive order setting the changes in motion, and establishing a “Committee on Pollinator Protection” to track implementation and recommend what else could be done. PAN and our partners in the state celebrated these groundbreaking commitments, and held up Minnesota as an example for others to follow.

Then came the pushback.

In last year’s legislative session, lawmakers did all they could to undermine pollinator protection measures and state pesticide rules. While PAN and our partners were able to hold the line against the most egregious rollbacks, legislators were clearly keen to weaken pollinator protections in the state — just as industry lobbyings were pressing them to do. 

What do they have that we don’t?

So how is it that the entire European Union can agree to take the top three bee-harming pesticides off the market, but it’s so difficult to get even minimal protections in place here in the U.S.? While there’s certainly no simple answer to this question, I’d point to a few key facts.

First, European regulators seem to actually be aware that the pesticide industry has a vested interest in keeping their products on the market. Somehow officials here in the U.S. seem to have missed this — or don’t think it matters — and give the interests of industry “stakeholders” the same (or more) weight than those advocating for the public good.

Second, scientific evidence has more influence on policy making in the EU. While it still takes advocacy to make this happen (as our PAN UK and PAN EU partners know well), the value placed on independent science stands in stark contrast to the increasingly post-truth, politicized rulemaking process here across the pond.

EPA process rewards delay

And finally, Europe takes less of an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to pesticides. When evidence shows a product may be causing harm, it’s quickly taken off the market until manufacturers can prove otherwise, in the interest of public and/or environmental health.

Hence the moratorium on neonic use that was put in place three years ago, and made permanent this week.

In the U.S., a pesticide can be flagged as a “chemical of concern” and stay on the market for years — even decades — while manufactures pay their scientists to (slowly) make the case that their products are safe. Every additional season on the market means one more year of profit; incentives are strong to drag out the process as far as possible.

Avoiding the treadmill

Whether here or in Europe, one of our top objectives at PAN is dismantling the pesticide treadmill, or as our colleagues in the UK call it, the

pesticide merry-go-round, whereby chemicals banned because of their environmental and health impacts are simply replaced by similarly toxic alternatives

We strongly support the efforts of our colleagues in the UK and Europe to ensure the neonics that were recently banned are not replaced by “similarly toxic alternatives.” Let’s support practices that benefit farmers, rural communities and the environment instead.

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These new Dutch bikes truly suck.

Bike-sharing programs are big right now. Designed for quick trips with convenience in mind, bike-sharing is a fun and affordable way to get around. A Dutch designer has devised a bike kitted up with air infiltration equipment that can eat smog and spit out clean air, helping to protect the lungs of individual riders. Now he‘s looking for an army of cyclists to power them. 

Daan Roosegaarde, an inventor from the Netherlands and the designer behind the ethereal “glowing trees” project (read more about that here) and “glowing bike paths” (link here) is back at it with a new initiative that aims to not only beautify our environment, but actually clean it.

For years, his company, Studio Roosegaarde, has been incubating the Smog Free Project, a series of urban innovations that reduce airborne particulants and provide an inspirational peek into a clean future. Roosegaarde kicked off the project after he visited Beijing and saw the impacts of air pollution. “Some days I couldn’t see the other side of the street,” he told MotherBoard. Successful prototypes launched in China, Poland and the Netherlands include the Smog Free Tower and the Smog Free Ring, which provide a local solution of clean air in public spaces.

The Smog Free Bicycle is the latest addition to the portfolio, developed under an exclusive partnership with Ofo, the leading Chinese bike-sharing program Ofo which operates more than 2.2 million bikes in 43 cities. The bike draws its inspiration from the Smog Free workshop held in Beijing in 2017 which featured artist Matt Hope and Professor Yang from Tsinghua University. That event aimed to design solutions to mitigate air pollution problems in Beijing.The first prototypes launch this year. 

Tapping into smog free tech, the custom bike inhales polluted air, cleans it, and releases it locally to the cyclist who would otherwise be sucking in toxic air as she/he pedaled through a dirty city environment. It is intended to become a medium for smog free cities, generating clean air to celebrate the bicycle and making thousands of them to create an impact on the larger urban scale.

“The project is about the dream of clean air, clean water and clean energy,” he said. The de-smogging process will be powered by a combination of pedaling and a small solar panel. The result is a clean, healthy breeze blowing into cyclists’ faces. If such a program was adopted on a huge scale, the bike-mounted smog scrubbers might even have a marginal impact on improving a city’s overall air quality.

Roosegaarde said he wants to focus on China first, where the bike is supported by the Chinese Central Government as part of its war on smog, but that doesn’t mean he’s not planning out the company’s next steps. His next stop is India.

“In the process, the smog particles are compressed and they clutter together so they can’t disconnect, and once they’ve connected on a negatively charged surface they’re not fine dust anymore [because they’ve clumped together to form a larger mass], and every month or two you clean the surface,” he said.

Roosegaarde said that there has to be some sort of incentive to get people to return the bikes, because China has a problem with bike thieves. Other aspects not yet defined include price points and timelines for release.

The World Health Organization rates China as the worst country in the world for outside air pollution. More than a million of its people died prematurely in 2012 due to fumes pumped out by factories, cars, and other sources. And, according to Wikipedia, as of December 2016 roughly 1000 cities worldwide have a bike-sharing programIn New York City alone, Citi Bike – the largest such program in America – offers 12,000 bikes at 750 stations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City. The potential to make a significant positive impact is enormous, especially when factoring in the reduction of gas-fueled vehicles as bicycles replace them. 

Studio Roosegaarde wouldn’t say whether its biking system is intended to attack smog on the city-wide scale, as it’s still a nascent idea. Right now, it seems like the technology is intended to help protect the lungs of individual riders.

Experiencing the Polar Vortex first hand

Effects of the earth’s Polar Vortex polar air masses have been attributed to causing extremely cold weather patterns causing sub-freezing temperatures in U.S. cities like New York City, Chicago, and even as far south as northern Florida. The unusual cold weather phenomenon has also been said to have caused deep freeze conditions in the Middle East; including a 2013  shocking snowfall in Cairo for the first time in 100 years.

The most recent bout of Polar Vortex induced weather brought near zero temperatures to many parts of the USA, literally ringing in the new year 2018 with 11 degree F temperatures in New York City’s Times Square. Freezing and sub-freezing temperatures were felt as far south as Texas and northern Florida. Spending time in New York City during the recent holiday season presented an opportunity to experience this phenomenon first hand; including a sudden mega snow storm that dumped between 8 and 12 inches of snow in Manhattan and

other parts of the city,  closing down the city’s major airports for several days.

Comimg from a much warmer Mediterranean climate, trying to walk anywhere in temperatures averaging between 11 and 15 degrees Farenheit (-12 – 9 Celsius) made even short distances seem like climbing the north face of K-2 mountain in the Himalayas. Weather advisories on local TV channels constantly warned against undue exposure to the extreme cold, especially facial exposure. A short three block walk to a local food store or other location seemed like something out of an extreme sport endurance trial. Needless to say, local taxi drivers were kept quite busy taking people around; even for distances that might have been easily accomplished on foot in warmer weather.

Fortunately, these bouts of sub-freezing cold only last a week or so; returning to more ‘normal’ seasonal weather of temperatures reaching the high 30’s to low 40’s F ( O – 4 degrees C). This spout of intense cold and snowy weather prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to comment about global warming: “Global warming? How can there be global warming with such cold weather?”

His scientific advisors did not appear to inform him that it’s now common scientific knowledge that global warming is being attributed as one of the main causes of the Polar Vortex phenomenon. Climatologists are also saying that the ongoing Arctic ice melt is literally rocking world weather.

Conditions like Polar Vortex caused polar air dips are only one example of abnormal climate change conditions being tied to global warming. More intense tropical storms like hurricanes and typhoons, severe drought in many locations, especially the Middle East, are now also being attributed to over consumption of fossil fuels and destruction of natural habitats by the earth’s nearly 7 billion human inhabitants. The way it looks now, the overall situation may only get worse; much worse.

Read more on Polar Vortex and climate change:

Arctic ice melt is rocking world weather

Will the Polar Vortex “dip” freeze the Middle East

Snow shocks Cairo for first time in 100 years

Five Bucks an Acre for Iconic National Monument Lands


Five Bucks an Acre for Iconic National Monument Lands

Trump removed national monument protections in Utah, and today the land is up for grabs by anyone with four stakes and no conscience.

By Heidi McIntosh | February 2, 2018

Hard-rock miners can now stake a claim in the lands President Trump carved out from Bears Ears National Monument, including Valley of the Gods, seen here.

Hard-rock miners can now stake a claim in the lands President Trump carved out from Bears Ears National Monument, including Valley of the Gods, seen here.

Bob Wick / BLM

Amid the soaring sandstone canyons of Bears Ears National Monument are 13,000-year-old cultural artifacts … and uranium. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument harbors copper, uranium, zirconium and other minerals.

Nonetheless, this time last year, over a million acres of Bears Ears were shielded under the national monument protections that Native American tribes and conservationists had worked tirelessly to secure. For 21 years, the Grand Staircase has been protected. 

A visitor looks at pictographs in Bears Ears' Grand Gulch

A visitor looks at pictographs in Bears Ears’ Grand Gulch
Steven Gabriel Gnam

That ended on December 4, 2017.  Acting on ill-informed recommendations from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and a rushed public comment period (which nonetheless resulted in near unanimous support for the monuments), President Trump revoked national monument status from 85 percent of Bears Ears and nearly 50 percent of Grand Staircase, replacing them with small, fragmented, and inadequate substitutes.  The decision to axe the monuments included a countdown clock which runs out today. Now, anybody with four wooden pickets and no conscience can stake a claim on the land, dig a hard-rock mine, pay no royalties, and walk away at will if their imagined “Gold Rush” turns out to be a pipe dream.   All at the expense of our national heritage in one of the most scenic and historic corners of the West.

The law authorizing this kind of public lands giveaway is the General Mining Act of 1872, which Congress passed to spur westward expansion across the American frontier. It awards surface as well as mineral rights to anyone who stakes a claim and finds certain “hard rock” minerals—uranium, gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc, among others—on the land (it does not cover oil and coal, which are subject to a different statutory scheme). The law cries out for reform, although powerful mining companies and their allies in Congress have blocked any meaningful changes.

So, while the administration says that Zinke “adamantly opposes the wholesale sale or transfer of public lands,” their actions prove otherwise. Revoking the monument protections and opening the land to hard-rock mining enables just that “wholesale sale” to happen—with little oversight from the Bureau of Land Management.

Starting today, if someone staking a claim on these sacred and scenic lands finds valuable mineral deposits in their claim, they can purchase the lands to the tune of $2.50 to $5.00 an acre. That’s not a typo. Five bucks an acre for some of our most iconic public lands.

In effect, it’s not really a sell-off of treasured public lands—it could be a give-away. We’ll have to wait and see if anyone takes advantage of Trump and Zinke’s invitation to pillage our public lands.

BearsEarMining 03 (PDF)

BearsEarMining 03 (Text)

We know that uranium miners covet Bears Ears. Last May, Energy Fuels Resources sent Zinke a letter warning of a “chilling effect” of the Bears Ears National Monument designation on uranium mining, and asked that that the Interior Department “reduce the size of BENM.” 

Communities in Southern Utah know what unfettered uranium mining can do. The Navajo Nation adjacent to Bears Ears has long fought the impacts of uranium development. More than 500 uranium mines have been abandoned on or near their lands; only one has been cleaned up. Most are Superfund sites awaiting the estimated $4 billion to $6 billion required to restore the landscape.

Half Life: America’s Last Uranium Mill from Grand Canyon Trust on Vimeo.

Earthjustice, representing a coalition of conservation groups, has taken the President to court to challenge his unprecedented attack on national monuments.  Much is at stake, including critically important historic, cultural and scientific riches. A coalition of five Native American tribes has filed a similar lawsuit, as have Patagonia Works and others.  We’re also fighting 3 bills moving through Congress to ratify Trump’s illegal executive order and gut the Antiquities Act, putting all national monuments at risk.

If the court upholds Trump’s actions, critically important parts of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase will be open to mining and other development that could destroy their historic, natural and scientific treasures forever.

The White Mesa uranium mill is located in Blanding, Utah

The White Mesa uranium mill is located in Blanding, Utah, just outside of Bears Ears.
Photo Courtesy of Energy Fuels, Inc.

Further, the precedent such a decision would set could threaten other national monuments, creating a quick path for vested interests to excavate our public lands for resources, yielding corporate profits at the expense of public values.

The opening of sensitive landscapes in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante to mining demonstrates just how vulnerable our heritage and the proud legacy of public lands protections in America really are.

A decision on our coalition’s lawsuits could come soon. Meanwhile, Earthjustice stands ready to continue the fight to protect our public lands.

Hikers explore Grand Gulch, Utah, on Nov. 7, 2017

Hikers explore Grand Gulch, Utah, on Nov. 7, 2017.
Steven Gabriel Gnam