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Lawmakers split over bill to ban plastic foam to-go containers 

A bill in the General Assembly that bans expanded polystyrene containers, also known as plastic foam, at all food vendors by 2025 currently is in limbo while both chambers hash out a Senate amendment rejected by the House.

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By David Tran

A bill in the General Assembly that bans expanded polystyrene containers, also known as plastic foam, at all food vendors by 2025 currently is in limbo while both chambers hash out a Senate amendment rejected by the House.

House Bill 533 would prohibit food vendors, including restaurants, catering trucks, and grocery stores, from serving food and beverages in plastic foam containers, plates, cups, and trays. The ban does not extend to packaging of unprepared food.

Del. Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond, is chief patron of the bill, which has two phases. First, food chain establishments with 20 locations or more would be required to phase out the plastic foam containers by July 1, 2023. The next deadline for all food vendors to eliminate use of such containers would be July 1, 2025. Carr’s bill exempts institutions such as schools and correctional facilities from the ban.

The bill passed the House (55-44) and the Senate passed it (23-13) with an amendment proposed by Sen. David R. Suetterlein, R-Roanoke. The amendment adds a reenactment clause stipulating the bill will not be enacted until it is voted on and passed again next year by the General Assembly.

 The House overwhelming (99-1) rejected the amendment, and the Senate didn’t budge insisting (38-1) on the reenactment clause. As of Feb. 27, the bill was assigned to a conference committee to debate its fate.

Co-patron Del. Paul E. Krizek, D-Fairfax, said the reenactment clause is “a way to kick the can down the road.”

“I was really hoping that we had come to a good compromise,” Krizek said, in reference to the two deadlines given to vendors to stop distributing polystyrene materials.

Krizek’s bill HB 1046 was incorporated into Carr’s bill. He said his bill stemmed from Maine’s prohibition of polystyrene containers that passed in 2019.

“Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our oceans and rivers and threaten wildlife for centuries,” Krizek said via email.

Expanded polystyrene foam, widely known as Styrofoam, breaks down into small pieces and takes an estimated hundreds to thousands of years to biodegrade, according to Elly Boehmer, the state director of Environment Virginia. The organization is an affiliate of Environment America, which works to advocate for environmental issues locally and nationally.

“Polystyrene is one of the most commonly found types of litter,” Boehmer said. “By reducing this type of litter from being an option in our environment, it would do a lot to protect our wildlife and our ecosystems.”

Environment Virginia launched a campaign called “Wildlife Over Waste” in 2018 with the goal to reduce the use of plastic foam cups and containers.

The organization campaigned across the state and gathered enough signed petitions to meet with Carr and draft the bill.

Carr said in an email interview that she introduced the bill because polystyrene is a serious contributor to pollution and poses a health risk to humans and animals.

Businesses that still use polystyrene containers after the deadlines will receive a civil penalty up to $50 for each day of violation. Food vendors may be granted a one-year exemption under the basis of “undue economic hardship,” such as the inability to obtain alternatives to polystyrene containers.

Alternatives to plastic foam containers include recyclable materials such as biodegradable paper or plastics, which can be more expensive. However, the additional cost would be minimal if it is passed on to consumers, Boehmer said.

“It does reduce the cost of picking up litter and the cost is quite small,” Boehmer said. “If you get a $10 meal that comes in a to-go container, the additional cost would be less than 1% of that added to your total cost.”

The bill also empowers the Litter Control and Recycling Fund Advisory Board, which works to eliminate littering while encouraging recycling, to help oversee a newly established Litter Control and Recycling Fund. Any collected civil penalties will go directly into the fund. The advisory board’s proposed additional responsibilities include raising public awareness on the dangers of polystyrene and promoting alternatives to plastic foam containers.

Maine and Maryland have passed similar bills to ban polystyrene food service containers in 2019. Several states, such as Oregon, Montana, and New Jersey, have introduced such legislation in the past year.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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CDC says the vaccinated should wear masks indoors in areas with high infection rates

Federal health officials on Tuesday urged Americans in areas of the country with the highest surges in COVID-19 infections to once again wear masks when they are in public, indoor settings — even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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By Laura Olson

The updated recommendations marked a sharp shift from the agency’s guidance in May that Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear a mask in most situations, indoors and outdoors.

The updates also included changes for schools, with federal health officials now urging everyone in K-12 schools to wear a mask indoors. That includes teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status and the level of community transmission.

The update in CDC guidance was prompted by new data indicating that although breakthrough infections among the vaccinated are rare, those individuals still may be contagious and able to spread the disease to others, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wearing a mask indoors in areas with “substantial” or “high” transmission of the virus could help to reduce further outbreaks of the highly contagious delta variant, she said.

Some 39 states have infection rates that have reached “substantial” or “high” levels of transmission, according to a data tracker on the CDC website. The CDC rates Virginia, with 56.4 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days and a 5 to 8 percent positivity rate, as having a “substantial” level of community transmission. However, that varies widely by locality.

“As always, we will thoroughly review these recommendations,” said Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam.  “The governor has taken a nuanced and data-driven approach throughout this pandemic—which is why Virginia has among the nation’s lowest total COVID-19 cases and death rates.

“As he has said repeatedly, the only way to end this pandemic is for everyone to get vaccinated. The facts show vaccines are highly effective at protecting Virginians from this serious virus — over 98 percent of hospitalizations and over 99 percent of deaths have been among unvaccinated Virginians.”

The agency also tracks infection rates on the county level, and 63 percent of U.S. counties are in those two categories of concern.

“This was not a decision that was taken lightly,” Walensky said. She added that other public health and medical experts agreed with the CDC that the new information on the potential for vaccinated people to have contagious infections required the agency to take action.

President Joe Biden described the agency’s revision on recommended mask use as “another step on our journey to defeating this virus.”

“I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it,” Biden said. “I certainly will when I travel to these areas.”

The mask-use changes may not be the only changes coming as the White House attempts to respond to the spiking infections. Biden also said Tuesday that a vaccination requirement for all federal employees is under consideration.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs already has required its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

But the new recommendations on masks are expected to be met with resistance.

Areas of the country with the highest spikes in COVID-19 infections tend to be those with the lowest vaccination rates and places that were the fastest to end mask mandates for public settings.

Some have taken legal steps to prevent future mask mandates. At least nine states — Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Vermont — have enacted legislation that prohibits districts from requiring masks in schools, according to a CNN analysis.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, blasted the updated guidance in a statement Tuesday, describing it as “not grounded in reality or common sense.” Iowa’s level of community transmission is rated as “substantial” in the latest CDC map. 

“I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support,” Reynolds said, adding that the vaccine “remains our strongest tool to combat COVID-19” and that she will continue to urge vaccinations.

Walensky sidestepped a question during Tuesday’s news briefing about the level of compliance that the CDC expects with the new recommendations, saying only that the way to drive down rising community transmission rates is to wear masks and to increase vaccination rates.

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Train Derailment Near Hollywood Cemetery Again

This derailment occurred Friday afternoon. A train also derailed in the same vicinity on June 9th.

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All photos courtesy of RFD Twitter.

Posted by RFD Twitter on July 23rd

At approximately 1:26 p.m., crews responded to an area down the North Bank Trail near Hollywood Cemetery for the report of a train derailment. Once on scene, they found multiple freight cars that had been tipped over. The cars were carrying coal.
Some of the load spilled onto the track and ground in the area, but there was no coal in the water. No injuries reported. The incident was marked under control at 1:59 p.m. and turned over to CSX.

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Suspect Sought in West Clay Street Burglary

At approximately 4:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, the man in the photos climbed a wall in the rear of a house, located in the 00 block of West Clay Street, broke into the residence and stole a computer and credit cards.

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Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the individual in the attached photos who is a suspect in a residential burglary that occurred in the Jackson Ward neighborhood last month.

At approximately 4:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, the man in the photos climbed a wall in the rear of a house, located in the 00 block of West Clay Street, broke into the residence and stole a computer and credit cards. A photo of his distinctive pink and black sneakers is also attached.

 

Anyone with information about the identity of this person is asked to call Fourth Precinct Detective J. Land at (804) 646-3103 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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