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5 Stories: An underwater volcano creates a new island off Japan, customs officials confiscate thousands of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards and other stories you missed

PBS NewsHour's "5 STORIES" serves up the most interesting stories from around the world that you may have missed.

On this week's episode:

Painter creates valuable artwork from trashed flip-flops

Ivorian painter Aristide Kouame looks at one of his collages crafted from recycled flip-flops.
Ivorian painter Aristide Kouame looks at one of his collages crafted from recycled flip-flops. Video footage screen capture courtesy: Reuters

Ivory Coast painter Aristide Kouame is turning waste into art – one flip-flop at a time.

Kouame combs through plastic trash washed up on Abidjan's beaches searching for discarded rubber flip-flops. Then, he meticulously carves them to create collages that sell for more than $1,000.

According to the United Nations, more than 14 million tons of plastic waste pour into the world's oceans every year. Through art, Kouame helps to give some of it a second life. "I am an artist and by picking up this waste, I am removing this burden on nature," Kouame told Reuters.

Kouame's pieces range from portraits of civil rights leaders to abstract depictions of climate change, COVID-19 and wealth inequality. Kouame's flip-flop artwork has been showcased in galleries in West Africa and Europe.

Volatile chemicals in household products linked to premature deaths

Common chemicals in household products could be responsible for up to 900,000 premature deaths each year–that's the conclusion reported in a July Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics study. The estimate is more than 10 times what scientists previously thought.

Cleaning and personal care products, pesticides and paints all release what are called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the air. Whenever you smell a product you're using, that's likely some kind of VOC.

The problem is, some of these VOCs can transform into stickier, bigger compounds called anthropogenic secondary organic aerosols, or ASOAs. And according to the American Lung Association, prolonged exposure to fine particulate matter like ASOAs is associated with reduced lung function, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

And addressing the issue won't be solved by removing the products from a single home. The study found the levels of ASOAs in 11 urban areas around the world correlate with increased use of human-created VOCs in those regions.

Regulations have limited specific kinds of VOCs in the past, but most rules only targeted products like cars and trucks, not the household products looked at in this study. The scientists behind the new research hope regulators will start investigating which VOCs in household products should be swapped out to improve air quality for all.

Undersea eruption forms new island

An August 15 image released by the Japan Coast Guard shows the island created by the undersea volcano near Iwo Jima.
An August 15 image released by the Japan Coast Guard shows the island created by the undersea volcano near Iwo Jima and a plume of ash floating in the surrounding ocean. Photo courtesy: Japan Coast Guard

Japan literally grew this month.

When the Japanese coast guard went to observe an underwater volcanic eruption from the air in early August, they discovered a newly formed island.

The C-shaped island, approximately half a mile across, was discovered about 750 miles south of Tokyo near Iwo Jima.

Since 1904, the same Fukutoku-Okanoba volcano has formed three other islands, all which eventually sank back below the ocean due to wave erosion. According to the Japanese Coast Guard, an island created after a 1986 eruption disappeared after only about two months.

Should the new plot of land survive and be recognized as a naturally formed island as dictated by international standards, it could be added to Japan's territory.

Suspicious fake COVID vaccination cards arrive in the U.S.

Seized cards, like these spotted in Anchorage, Alaska, have low quality printing and have multiple typos.
Seized cards, like these spotted in Anchorage, Alaska, have low quality printing and have multiple typos. Photo courtesy: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Earlier this month, workers at the port of Memphis flagged a suspicious shipment from Shenzhen, China. It's description was simply: "PAPER CARD, PAPER."

Inside were 51 low quality, fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards – the 15th shipment of its kind flagged by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers that night.

This fiscal year, Memphis CBP officials have seized more than 3,000 fake vaccination cards in more than 120 packages. And Memphis isn't alone. Another 3,000 have been seized in Anchorage, Alaska. All are low quality and contain misspellings and other typos.

According to the FBI, buying, selling or using a fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination card off the black market is a crime that could result in fines or prison sentences of up to 20 years. The bureau also suggests individuals keep photos of their legitimate vaccination cards off social media to discourage forgeries.

Josephine Baker posthumously honored at Paris's Pantheon

Josephine Baker And Her Flounced Dress
Studio portrait, circa 1933, of Josephine Baker. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Nearly 50 years after her death, singer and dancer, Josephine Baker, is making history once again. French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed Sunday she will become the first Black woman inducted into the Pantheon mausoleum, France's highest honor.

The Pantheon in Paris is the final resting place for great writers, scientists, politicians and other celebrated French historical figures.

American-born Baker will become just the sixth French woman to enter the Pantheon. She gained French citizenship after marrying industrialist Jean Lion in 1937.

Baker was best known for her singing and dance numbers, some of which were considered provocative for the 1930s.

But Baker also worked for the French Resistance during WWI, using her celebrity status to gain information on German troop movements before passing it along written on musical scores.

Baker's body will actually remain buried in Monaco where it was originally interred, but a plaque noting her induction will be installed at the Pantheon during a November 30 ceremony.

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