CHICAGO — One of two brothers from Lyons who told police they buried their mother and sister in the backyard of their home last year was released from custody during a court hearing Friday afternoon in Bridgeview, prosecutors said. Michael Lelko, 45, was charged with two felony counts of concealment of a death, state’s attorney’s office spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said. Charges were still pending for his 42-year-old brother, Lyons police said in an email. Earlier, officials said Michael Lelko was 47. He appeared for a brief hearing Friday afternoon in the Bridgeview Courthouse before Cook Coun...
Stories Chosen For You
The testing method used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and local officials around the country is so circumscribed that regulators almost certainly have an incomplete understanding of the extent to which the nation's drinking water is contaminated with toxic "forever chemicals."
"There are so many PFAS that we don't know anything about, and if we don't know anything about them, how do we know they aren't hurting us?"
That's according to The Guardian's analysis of water samples taken in nine cities with high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) pollution, the findings of which were published Wednesday.
The newspaper examined water samples from the nine hot spots using two types of tests: an EPA-developed method that detects 30 types of PFAS and a more robust method that checks for a marker of the more than 9,000 PFAS compounds known to exist.
In seven of the nine cities, higher levels of PFAS were found in water samples when using a "total organic fluorine" (TOF) test that identifies markers for all known PFAS compounds than when using the EPA test—at concentrations up to 24 times greater.
"The EPA is doing the bare minimum it can and that's putting people's health at risk," said Kyla Bennett, the policy director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
PFAS are a class of synthetic compounds widely called forever chemicals because they don't fully break down—polluting people's bodies and the environment for years on end.
Scientists have linked long-term exposure to PFAS—which recent studies have identified at unsafe levels in the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans and detected in 97% of blood and 100% of breast milk samples—to numerous adverse health outcomes, including cancer, reproductive and developmental harms, immune system damage, and other negative effects.
Last month, the Biden administration unveiled what environmental groups described as "baby steps" to address toxic forever chemicals, including an allocation of $10 billion to protect drinking water from PFAS and other pollutants.
"But critics say when it comes to identifying PFAS-contaminated water, the limitations of the test used by state and federal regulators, which is called the EPA 537 method, virtually guarantees regulators will never have a full picture of contamination levels as industry churns out new compounds much faster than researchers can develop the science to measure them," The Guardian reported.
"That creates even more incentive for industry to shift away from older compounds," the newspaper noted. "If chemical companies produce newer PFAS, regulators won't be able to find the pollution."
The outlet added:
Clean water advocacy groups last year urged the EPA to use more comprehensive tests that they said would "give us a better understanding of the totality of PFAS contamination," but the agency told The Guardian it currently has no such plans.
In a statement to The Guardian, the EPA said it "continues to conduct research and monitor advances in analytical methodologies... that may improve our ability to measure more PFAS."
But that's hardly a sufficient response according to researchers such as Graham Peaslee, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who helped conduct the new analysis.
"We're looking for and studying less than 1% of PFAS so what the heck is that other 99%?" asked Peaslee. "I've never seen a good PFAS, so they're all going to have some toxicity."
Since Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, the EPA has established maximum contaminant levels for more than 90 pollutants, but it hasn't added any new chemicals to its regulated list since 2000.
"The U.S. tap water system," the Environmental Working Group said last November after updating its national database, "is plagued by antiquated infrastructure and rampant pollution of source water, while out-of-date EPA regulations, often relying on archaic science, allow unsafe levels of toxic chemicals in drinking water."
"The EPA and industry have long argued that many newer PFAS that can't be detected are safe," The Guardian reported. "However, most new compounds have not been independently reviewed, and the types of PFAS that have been studied have been found to be toxic and persistent in the environment."
"There are so many PFAS that we don't know anything about, and if we don't know anything about them, how do we know they aren't hurting us?" Bennett asked. "Why are we messing around?"
Nearly one year ago, the U.S. House passed the PFAS Action Act of 2021, which would improve federal oversight of toxic forever chemicals and facilitate clean-up efforts. The legislation has stalled in the U.S. Senate.
As US basketball player Brittney Griner stands trial in Russia accused of drug smuggling, a growing number of other foreign nationals are also imprisoned in harsh conditions. Is Russia building a store of international prisoners to use as political pawns?
Griner has been held in Russian prison since February 2022 when the Russian Federal Customs Service said it discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage after she arrived on a flight from New York to Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow.
“I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote, five months after she was first arrested. “Please don't forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”
Griner, 31, is one of the most decorated female basketball players in the US. She now faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years if convicted of drug smuggling charges, even though US authorities maintain that she has been “wrongfully detained”.
Some US commentators have denounced her hearing, which began on July 1, as a “show trial” and said that Russia is using Griner, who was arrested one week before Russia invaded Ukraine, as a political pawn.
“It’s a period of markedly heightened tension between Russia and the US,” says Ben Noble, associate professor of Russian politics at University College London. “The original detention of Brittney Griner may or may not have been politically motivated, but this certainly has become a politicized case.”
‘Humiliated as a human being’
Following the delivery of Griner’s letter, her wife, Cherelle Griner, told CBS Mornings on Tuesday that the basketball player was “probably the strongest person I know. That means she truly is terrified that she may never see us again. And, you know, I share those same sentiments”.
On Wednesday, President Biden called to tell Cherelle that his administration was working towards Brittney's release.
But the Griner’s fears are not unfounded – for months Brittney did not even have a trial date. This is common among detainees. Even though they are legally supposed to spend a maximum of two months on remand under Russian law, extensions are often granted. “A person could be sitting on remand for a very long time, while the investigator could be in no hurry to actually investigate,” says Natalia Prilutskaya, Amnesty International’s researcher for Russia.
In remand centers conditions are harsh and hostile. Cells are over-crowded, with poor bedding, limited shower facilities and shared toilets that often lack privacy. Detainees can be put in solitary confinement for offences as small as sitting on their bed at the wrong time. “It's a situation where you're humiliated as a human being,” Prilutskaya says.
The centers can also be dangerous. In 2021, more than a thousand leaked videos appeared to show Russian inmates being tortured.
At the end of this ordeal, there is little hope of a fair trial. “In almost 100% of cases the judge will go with what the investigation file says,” Prilutskaya says. “The Russian justice system has a very prosecutorial leaning, especially if there is some sort of political interest.”
Post-trial, those found guilty are sent to penal colonies where conditions are hardly better – forced labour, limited facilities, and lack of healthcare are common.
This is the situation that numerous other foreign detainees are now facing. Former US Marine, Paul Whelan, has been jailed in Russia since 2018, and is currently serving a 16-year sentence for espionage – a charge which he and US officials deny.
The war in Ukraine has offered a pretext for numerous other sentences. Four British nationals and one Moroccan were imprisoned after being captured in Ukraine and found guilty by Russian courts of fighting as mercenaries. Three of the group have been sentenced to death.
Meanwhile the Institute for the Study of War thinktank has warned that Russian forces have been increasing efforts to abduct and imprison Ukrainian citizens for use in prisoner exchanges.
It is hard to know exactly how foreign detainees are treated while imprisoned. “There are penal colonies where foreign nationals are held in conditions that probably are a little bit easier, but not necessarily,” says Prilutskaya. “Especially not if the authorities want to put pressure on a particular person or use them as a pawn.”
A growing rift
In Griner’s case, her status as a high-profile athlete could make her a particularly valuable political pawn that the US is keen to repatriate. “It may well be that she is being considered by the Russian political leadership as a possible candidate for a prisoner exchange,” says Noble. “There has been talk of swapping Griner for the Russian national Viktor Bout, who is a convicted arms dealer currently in prison in the US.”
A similar exchange was made in April 2022, when US citizen and former marine Trevor Reed was released in exchange for a Russian citizen being held in US prison on drug-smuggling charges. Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison for endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers, a charge which he and US officials denied.
He was held for almost three years before being released, after what the White House described as “months and months of hard careful work”.
This slow approach may be now Griner and other detainees’ only hope, even though the White House pledged on July 5 to do “everything it can” to secure freedom for the basketball player and Whelan.
In the meantime, the most significant political impact of Griner’s case may be to deepen the rift between Russia and the West.
According to Noble, it is unclear whether Russian authorities intend to increase detentions of foreign nationals for political ends, but many may now fear a hostile welcome if they should travel there. In March 2022, US officials warned that Americans visiting Russia on business trips – particularly those working for companies implementing sanctions against Russia – were at risk of being arrested and held by authorities.
Noble says, “the case of Brittney Griner may well make foreign nationals think twice about stepping on Russian soil for fear that they too may suffer her fate”.
Kandiss Taylor, a former Republican candidate to be Georgia's governor who has refused to concede despite losing by more than 70 points to incumbent Brian Kemp, is celebrating the destruction of a local monument that she has claimed is "Satanic."
Taylor, who ran on a platform of "Jesus, Guns and Babies," has for months targeted the mysterious Georgia Guidestones that were erected on behalf of an unknown benefactor in the late 1970s and that have been the subject of conspiracy theories thanks to inscriptions that include phrases such as, "Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a one world court."
In fact, Taylor even drafted an executive order to tear down the monuments that she would have enacted should she had been elected governor.
"They erected statues spelling out the exact plans they had for us, and today we the people of Georgia, say no more," she wrote in explaining her executive order. "It's time for us to return the favor. On my first day as Governor of Georgia, I will move to DEMOLISH the Demonic plans of our enemy. The Satanic agenda is NOT welcome in our state."
As local news station WSB-TV reports, part of the monument was destroyed this week and law enforcement officials believe that some individuals planted an explosive device near it in an attempt to wipe it out completely.
Taking to Twitter, Taylor celebrated news of the monument's destruction.
"God is God all by Himself," she wrote. "He can do ANYTHING He wants to do. That includes striking down Satanic Guidestones."