The Greene Report is a compilation of environmental stories written by Linda Greene for the Alternative and WFHB Community Radio's EcoReport. This week's edition includes:
- Carcinogens in Monroe County’s environment
- ALA’s pollution rankings of Indiana’s cities
- Clean-energy advocates are the U.S. majority
- Silica dust a newly revealed health risk from fracking
- EPA ignores the science of the carcinogen atrazine
- Why Fukushima is a greater disaster than Chernobyl
- Two grocery chains earn top grades for seafood sustainability
- Fetal exposure to the pesticide chloropyrifos lowers intelligence
- Monsanto buys company that blames it for bee deaths
- United States draws up plans for nuclear-powered drones
Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.
Carcinogens in Monroe County's environment
A front page Bloomington Herald-Times story in early May began, "Monroe County has the highest overall cancer incidence rate in our six-county area -- a rate slightly higher than the state rate, according to the recently released Indiana Cancer Facts and Figures 1012."
Monroe has three major environmental sources of cancer-causing pollutants: (1) IU's coal-fired power plant, (2) IU Health Bloomington Hospital's incinerator and (3) the PCBs that Westinghouse dumped around the county from the 1950s through the 1970s that haven't been cleaned up adequately.
1) Exposure to several trace elements, dioxins and furans, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds in coal-fired power plant emissions increases the risk of cancer, according to the American Lung Association.
2) Exposure to hospital emissions of high-molecular-weight organic molecules -- so called products of incomplete combustion -- benzopyrenes, PCBs, dioxins, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and other polycyclic organic matter, many of which are carcinogenic increases the risk of cancer, according to Rachel's Hazardous Waste News. Hospitals use loads of disposable plastic they incinerate after one use. Burning plastic, especially PVC (polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl), creates some of the above carcinogens.
3) Exposure to PCBs increases the risk of cancer. Allegedly cleaned up PCB Superfund sites in and around Bloomington still release PCBs into the environment. In the 1970s, the City of Bloomington gave away free "organic" sewage as fertilizer, only to learn later that the sludge contained PCBs -- after unsuspecting local organic gardeners applied it to their gardens. Citizens burned PCBs from electric capacitors in outdoor dumps, such as the one at Lemon Lane in Bloomington. Burning PCBs produces dioxins, the most potent carcinogens ever synthesized.
ALA's pollution rankings of Indiana's cities
Released on April 25, the American Lung Association's (ALA) State of the Air 2012 report revealed that the greater-Muncie and greater-Terre Haute areas rank in the top 50 American cities with ozone pollution, according to an ALA news release.
Indianapolis received an ozone (smog) grade of C, a short-term (24-hour) particle pollution (soot) grade of F and a passing grade for annual particle pollution.
The ALA report found that in the most polluted U.S. cities, air quality was at its cleanest since the organization's first report was published, in 1999.
This year's report demonstrates that standards set under the Clean Air Act for cleaning up major air pollution standards (such as coal-fired power plants, diesel engines and SUVs) are cutting ozone and particle pollution from the air. However, unhealthful levels of air pollution are prevalent and have worsened in some parts of the country.
The report found that more than 40 percent of U.S. residents live in areas where air pollution threatens their health. In other words, more than 127 million Americans live in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death.
Those at greatest risk are infants, children, the elderly, people with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people who are poor, and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.
Big polluters and some members of Congress, mostly Republicans, want to dismantle the Clean Air Act because it regulates industry and reduces polluters' profit. Recent Congressional proposals have suggested delaying implementation, blocking enforcement of parts of the act and limiting EPA's ability to consider all the scientific evidence on air pollution's damage to public health.
These threats to the Clean Air Act persist despite EPA's estimate that cutting air pollution through the act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.
On May 3, Physicians for Social Responsibility published a new report on air pollution, The Clean Air Act: A Proven Tool for Health Air.
Clean-energy advocates are the U.S. majority
The results of a Civil Society Institute survey released on April 25 show that clean-energy advocates among U.S. residents are mainstream and that their ideas are not divided along partisan lines.
Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents concur that the U.S. should switch from the use of dirty energy sources that pollute the air and water and work toward greater use of clean energy.
Greater than three of four Americans (76 percent overall -- 58 percent of Republicans, 88 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Independents) believe the United States should move toward a sustainable energy future through "a reduction in our reliance on nuclear power, natural gas and coal, and instead, launch a national initiative to boost renewable energy and energy efficiency," according to the report.
The majority attitude doesn't mean that Americans think government and industry share that attitude. More than three of four Americans (77 percent -- 70 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents and 85 percent of Democrats) think "the energy industry's extensive and well-financed public relations, campaign contributions and lobbying machine is a major barrier to moving beyond business as usual when it comes to America's energy policy," the report says.
Greater than eight of 10 Americans (83 percent -- 69 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Independents and 95 percent of Democrats) agree with the following statement, the report indicates: "The time is now for a new, grassroots-driven politics to realize a renewable energy future. Congress is debating large public investments in energy, and we need to take action to ensure that our taxpayer dollars support renewable energy -- one that protects public health, promotes energy independence and the economic well being of all Americans."
Silica dust a newly revealed health risk from fracking
Eric Esswein, a senior industrial hygienist at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has discovered that silica poses a heretofore undiscovered health risk to fracking workers, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council blog.
In every well, the process to extract natural gas from rock known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses up to 4 million pounds of silica sand to prop open newly created rock fractures.
Esswein monitored 116 workers at 11 fracking operations in five states to measure their exposures to silica dust. He found 79 percent of samples had more silica dust than the maximum recommended by NIOSH, and 31 percent had a maximum of 10 times higher than recommended. The highest sample was 137 times higher than recommended.
The respirators that workers used protect up to only 10 times the recommended limit. In other words, almost a third of the workers sampled were breathing silica dust above the NIOSH-recommended limit.
NIOSH's recommended health limit is 500 micrograms of silica dust per worker per day. Silica dust causes silicosis, an incurable disease with a "well-known, well-documented path to lung cancer," according to the NRDC blog.
EPA ignores the science of the carcinogen atrazine
Six months ago, EPA's Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) chastised the agency for minimizing the health risks of the pesticide atrazine, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) reported in a May 3 email, and so far EPA has taken no action.
According to SAP, there's "strong" evidence linking atrazine to thyroid cancer and "suggestive" evidence linking it to ovarian cancer, hairy-cell leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
EPA examined the same evidence that SAP did and concluded that atrazine is "not likely to be carcinogenic," as its website states.
Millions of Americans, especially Midwesterners, ingest atrazine every day in their drinking water. PAN's water-monitoring findings on 53 households in the upper Midwest revealed that the residents drink water daily that has atrazine levels averaging five times the level at which low birth weight and birth defects have occurred.
To sign a letter urging EPA to take action on atrazine, go to the Pesticide Action Network website.
Why Fukushima is a greater disaster than Chernobyl
Robert Alvarez, from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), said in an April 20, 2012, article on the IPS website that the Fukushima nuclear accident is worse than the one at Chernobyl. The reason is "the irradiated nuclear [spent] fuel stored in spent fuel pools amidst the reactor ruins may have far greater potential offsite consequences than the molten cores."
Each pool contains spent fuel, Alvarez said, from several years of operation, constituting a large volume of radioactive material "without a strong containment structure that encloses the reactor cores."
Second, several pools are open to the elements because the reactor buildings were destroyed by explosions. Those pools are located about 100 feet above ground "and could possibly topple or collapse from structural damage coupled with another powerful earthquake."
Last, loss of water, exposing the spent fuel, can result in overheating, which "can cause melting and ignite its zirconium metal cladding -- resulting in a fire that could deposit large amount of radioactive materials over hundreds of miles."
Spent fuel, Alvarez said, is "extraordinarily radioactive." It would take only seconds for an unprotected person one foot away from "a single freshly removed spent fuel assembly" to receive a lethal dose of radiation.
"Spent reactor fuel poses significant long-terms risks, requiring isolation in a geological disposal site that can protect the human environment for tens of thousands of years," he said.
The Fukushima site stores almost 85 times the amount of cesium-137 "estimated to have been released at Chernobyl."
An important goal for stabilizing the Fukushima site "is to place all of its spent reactor fuel into dry, hardened storage casks." Doing so will cost approximately $244 million. "To accomplish this goal, an international effort is required -- something that Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has called for."
Two of the largest U.S. grocery chains earn top grades for seafood sustainability
Greenpeace announced in a May 2 email that Safeway and Whole Foods have earned "green" ratings in the organization's new edition of the Carting Away the Oceans seafood scorecard report.
The two companies are the first to achieve this rating "thanks in large part to their commitments to source their canned tuna labels sustainably," the email says.
The U.S. is the world's premier tuna market.
"Chicken of the Sea is worried," the email says. "If we can get other major grocery store chains to follow suit with their own tuna labels, then they will have to change."
Greenpeace has now set its sites on Kroger and SUPERVALU, urging them to make a commitment to selling sustainable canned tuna.
Five years ago, when Greenpeace published its first seafood report, not a single store received a passing grade. "The campaign has real momentum right now and we have to keep it going," the email says.
You can take action to urge Kroger and SUPERVALU to join Safeway and Whole Foods in committing to sell sustainable canned tuna at this Greenpeace website.
Fetal exposure to the pesticide chloropyrifos lowers intelligence
Results of a the National Academy of Sciences study released on April 30 indicate that when pregnant women are exposed to moderate levels of the common pesticide chloropyrifos, their offspring might undergo permanent changes in brain structure linked to lower intelligence.
In 2001, chlorpyrifos was banned from household use in the United States, but the chemical continues to be used in agriculture all over the world. It's used on food and feed crops, in wood treatment and in such public spaces as golf courses, parks and highway medians.
The researchers examined 20 children aged 5 to 11 whose mothers tested highest for chloropyrifos levels and found "significant abnormalities" in brain structure as compared to the same number of children whose mothers' tests demonstrated lower exposures.
All the women in the study were exposed routinely to levels below the U.S.-established thresholds for acute exposure, showing that even low to moderate levels of exposure could post significant risks to fetal brain development.
"The present study," according to lead author Virginia Rauh, professor at the Mailman School of Public Health and deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, "provides evidence that the prenatal period is a vulnerable time for the developing child. Toxic exposure during this critical period can have far-reaching effects on brain development and behavioral functioning."
Monsanto buys company that blames it for bee deaths
In September 2011, Monsanto, notorious for its role in promoting genetically modified foods and for its manufacture of pesticides and PCBs, purchased Beeologics, a leading bee research firm, according to a post on the Care2 website.
"Borrowing a move from the tobacco companies' playbook, Monsanto appears to have decided that if you do not like the scientific reports coming out about you, then you should buy the labs," the post said.
Since 2007, Beeologics has studied two extremely important bee problems, colony collapse disorder and Israeli acute paralysis virus.
"In making this purchase," the Care2 post said, "Monsanto now has control of research that has previously pointed at its pesticides for contributing to -- if not outright causing -- a sharp decline in bee populations."
In recent years, numerous studies have linked pesticides and high-fructose corn syrup to colony collapse disorder.
It's possible "Monsanto will find a way to profit off whatever it deems the solution to the bee crisis with some exclusive product or perhaps just cover it up entirely," said the post.
"After the Natural Society named Monsanto the "Worst Company of 2011" for ... myriad ... reasons, here's hoping that other bee research organizations keep buzzing toward a true identification of the threats posed to bees," the Care2 post stated.
United States draws up plans for nuclear-powered drones
The U.S. government's principal nuclear research and development agency, Sandia National Laboratories, and defense contractor Northrup Grumman have developed plans for nuclear-powered drones that would be capable of flying for months without refueling, according to an April 2 article in the Guardian.
According to Chris Coles, of Drone Wars UK, which opposes drone use for both assassinations and surveillance, "Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot. There is a major push by this agency to increase the use of drones and both the public and government are struggling to keep up with the implications."
Termed "ultra-persistence technologies," nuclear-powered drones are intended to solve three problems with conventional drones: (1) "insufficient 'hang time' over potential targets"; (2) insufficient power for "running sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems"; and (3) a dearth of capacity for communications.
The research stopped at the theoretical stage, and no models were constructed or tested, "due to worries that public opinion will not accept the idea of such a potentially hazardous technology, with the inherent dangers of either a crash -- in effect turning the drone into a so-called dirty bomb -- or of its nuclear propulsion system falling into the hands of terrorists or unfriendly powers," the article said.
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.