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
- Radiation released at Fukushima higher than originally reported
- Important Canadian environmental research center to close
- Watering your garden can be dangerous to your health
- Mega-sprawl “village” plan near wildlife refuge defeated
- Promising new chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Industry pays people to wear pro-coal t-shirts at EPA hearing
- Children protest fracking near their schools
- Stopping Shell from drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean
- Ohio set to beat Pennsylvania at passing a bad fracking law
- Halting uranium contamination of Navajo drinking water supplies
Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.
Radiation released at Fukushima higher than originally reported
On May 24 Reuters reported that the amount of radiation released in the first three weeks after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was 2.5 times greater than the amount Japanese safety experts estimated originally.
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) reported on May 24 that the amount of radiation released within three weeks after the accident was about one-sixth of that released during the 1986 Chernobyl accident. That was about 17 percent more than the highest estimate the government safety agency offered at first.
"If this information had been available at the time, we could have used it in planning evacuations,” Tepco spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said at a news conference.
The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami destroyed the radiation sensors close to the plant. Therefore, Tepco based its estimate on “monitoring posts and data collected by Japanese government agencies,” Reuters said.
In a newly released study, the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that people living around the plant “had been exposed to up to 20 times normal background radiation in the first year after the accident” the post said. “That was still within the WHO's recommended emergency limit.”
Experts estimate that it will take as many a 30 years to decommission Fukushima’s six reactors, three of which underwent meltdowns and hydrogen explosions.
Important Canadian environmental research center to close
Funded by the Canadian government, the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) faces defunding and closure by next April unless another entity comes forward to operate it, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported.
The internationally known ELA is a “unique outdoor laboratory for ecosystem research consisting of 58 lakes and their drainage areas,” according to the post.
Research carried out at the ELA includes investigating the environmental impacts of mercury on North American lakes and lake acidification and eutrophication, “the destruction of a body of water through the addition of nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates,” according to the post.
Shutting down the ELA is part of the Canadian federal government’s austerity measures.
“Former top researchers at the centre say the decision is emblematic of the government’s anti-science approach to environmental policy and its emphasis on resource development with little regard for impacts on the ecosystem unless they affect commercially important fish stocks,” the post says.
One finding of an ELA study was that newly introduced mercury enters the food chain far more rapidly than existing sources and that lakes and aquatic organisms recover rapidly when the deposits end.
“[T]he research – primarily funded by U.S. institutions – helped persuade American regulators to force utilities to remove the element from the emissions of coal-fired power plants,” the post says, “with the expectation the move would save tens of billions of dollars annually in health costs associated with mercury poisoning. Canadian regulators have yet to respond.”
The closing of the ELA is part of the pro-business, anti-environment stance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.
“I think they are uninterested in the environment and scientific research into the environment,” said John Rudd, who served as chief scientist at ELA and now consults for private labs. “They don’t want to see things that might get in the way of promoting industry.”
Watering your garden can be dangerous to your health
When the Ecology Center tested garden hoses, it found they contain toxic chemicals such as lead, bisphenol A, phthalates and flame retardants, according to story posted on Alternet.
The center discovered that one-third of hoses tested has lead levels exceeding drinking water standards. In one hose, lead was 18 times above the level permitted in drinking water.
Lead is occasionally used as a stabilizer or pigment, especially in yellow and green hoses, and causes neurologic problems, especially in children.
PVC (vinyl) hoses contain phthalate plasticizers, associated in some studies with liver cancer. The center discovered the levels of one phthlate, DEHP, in hose water to be four times the quantity allowed in drinking water.
“Another concern found,” the post says, “was BPA, an endocrine disruptor that has gotten a lot of publicity recently due to campaigns to ban it from use in baby bottles and sippy cups.” An endocrine-disrupting chemical, BPA was found in hoses at a level 20 times greater than that permitted in drinking water, according to the National Science Foundation.
In 2003 the State of California sued three major makers of garden hoses because of the lead content in their hoses. With the cases settled in 2004, the companies – Techni-Plex, Inc.; Plastic Specialties and Technologies, Inc., Teknor Apex Co.; and Flexon Industries Corp. – have had to decrease the lead content in their hoses. Though the Ecology Center didn’t test any of those brands currently for lead leaching, gardeners are probably safe with hoses bought since 2007, the year the settlement terms went into full effect.
Mega-sprawl “village” plan near wildlife refuge defeated
The Center for Biological Diversity and its supporters have stopped a huge development project in California that would have threatened a major wildlife refuge.
The “Villages of Lakeview” was to be an exurb of 34,000 residents adjacent to the San Jacinto Wildlife Area in Riverside County.
After the center and a coalition it initiated brought several lawsuits, a court rejected the plan on May 24.
“The 11,350 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial sprawl would have hurt wildlife, congested roads, and harmed the area's air quality -- and the world's climate -- by causing an additional 175,000 tons of greenhouse gas pollution every year,” according to the center (May 31 Endangered Earth Online).
The San Jacinto Wildlife Area, internationally known, is home to 150 “imperiled species,” including 300 resident and migratory birds, such as the endangered burrowing owls, California gnatcatchers and yellow-billed cuckoos.
The plaintiffs argued, the Desert Sun says, the development would have generated 85,000 car trips daily, consisting of 294 million new miles of car travel each year.
“The county should never have approved a new city next to one of California's most important birding areas,” said Jonathan Evans, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Luring tens of thousands of residents to the edge of the environmentally sensitive (19,000-acre) San Jacinto Wildlife Area is a reckless decision that was properly rejected by the court.”
Promising new chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Although not against nuclear power, the newly nominated NRC chair, Professor Allison Macfarlane, is a big improvement over the outgoing chair, Dr. Greg Jazcko.
The NRC is the federal agency with the responsibility for overseeing safety and security in the nuclear industry.
A geologist, Professor Macfarlane is on the faculty of George Mason University and one of the current NRC commissioners. Her credentials in environmental science are extensive.
Professor Macfarlane “has won thanks from the environmental and public interest community for: her opposition to risky radioactive waste reprocessing while serving on Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future; her shining a spotlight on the scientific unsuitability of the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump (she co-edited the book Uncertainty Underground, about Yucca's many flaws); and her advocacy for addressing the potentially catastrophic risks of high-level radioactive waste storage pool fires (see co-authored the 2003 study by Alvarez et al., highlighting such risks in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks),” the post says.
Macfarlane’s nomination will entail a long, difficult confirmation process before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee since the nuclear industry is probably going to oppose the nomination.
“[C]oncerned citizen and environmental advocacy are always required to hold NRC's feet to the fire, no matter who chairs the agency,” the post says.
Industry pays people to wear pro-coal t-shirts at EPA hearing
Recently an ad appeared on the Chicago craiglist to the effect that people were needed to attend a public meeting wearing “a t-shirt in support of an energy project for two hours,” according to an article posted on Alternet. The ad promised that for their efforts, participants would receive $50 in cash and a free lunch.
The t-shirts said, “Count on Coal.”
On May 24 hundreds of people packed EPA hearings in Chicago and Washington, D.C., to support the agency’s proposed regulations on carbon pollution emissions.
During the proceedings, Chicago’s Environmental Law & Policy Center discovered the ad. Soon afterwards the ad disappeared from craigslist.
Coal opponents consider it a good sign that the coal industry has to create an “astroturf” group to defend the industry since few members of the public favor coal burning.
Children protest fracking near their schools
Encana Corp. has set up fracking operations near schools and daycare centers in Erie, Co., and the children and their parents are fighting back, according to a post on the Colorado Independent.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho! These fracking wells have got to do!” shouted 6-ear-old Olivia Cusimano into a megaphone as she led a march against the company’s natural gas–drilling enterprise. When asked her opinion, Cusimano said, “I think people will get hurt. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Her concern,” the post says, “stems from the rising tide of information scientists are publishing about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health recently released a study showing people who reside within a half-mile of oil-and-gas drilling were exposed to air pollutants five times above federal hazard standards. The researchers concluded that people living closer to natural gas wells had a greater risk of developing cancer.”
Cusimano also wrote to President Obama on May 26 requesting his help in stopping fracking in her area.
Some of Cusimano’s classmates missed school last year because of breathing and gastrointestinal problems their parents blame on pollutants from the area’s hundreds of fracking wells.
Second-grader Cusimano’s grade school is only a few hundred yards from the Canyon Creek well site, and Erie Middle School is close by.
Encana waited till school was out for he summer to begin working at the site. The company also installed a large sound barrier.
“Many Erie residents would like gas drilling to be relocated away from homes and schools,” the post says. “So far, they’re not finding much sympathy from one of their congressmen, Rep. Cory Gardner. Flush with campaign cash from Halliburton, Exxon, Koch Industries, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Williams Companies and other fossil fuel corporations, Gardner has been a consistent critic of the Environmental Protection Agency and has worked to undermine laws that protect public health and nature.”
In December a report presented by Democrats listed Gardner as one of the major Congresspeople in “the most anti-environment House in the history of Congress.”
Stopping Shell from drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean
Currently Shell ships are sailing to the Arctic Ocean to explore drilling for oil, according to a recent email from Greenpeace.
“The ships are part of oil giant Shell’s mission to drill the very first wells in the pristine waters off the coast of Alaska,” the post says. "It’s insane, but melting sea ice from global warming has made it a reality. If Shell finds oil, the Arctic oil rush will be on."
The survival of polar bears is at stake.
People are fighting back. Activists from Greenpeace New Zealand took over a drill ship and prevented it from leaving the Arctic for several days. Further, other activists occupied two icebreakers in Finland.
Some 350,000 people from across the globe have signed a petition to Shell CEO Peter Voser demanding Shell terminate its plans to drill in the Arctic. The goal is to add another 40,000 names from the U.S.
“Shell isn't prepared for a disaster in the Arctic Ocean,” the post says. “No one is. The Arctic Ocean makes the Gulf of Mexico look like a flat, calm lake. With constant high seas, icebergs and massive waves, there’s no way to effectively cleanup an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. Even the head of the US Coast Guard has publicly admitted that his agency would have little chance of dealing with a spill in the frozen Arctic on their own.”
Shell has proven it’s not taking seriously the possibility of a spill. The cleanup plan the company has submitted stipulates in part using shovels and brooms to clean up a spill.
Ohio set to beat Pennsylvania at passing a bad fracking law
Ohio could top Pennsylvania’s notorious fracking law if Ohio governor Kasich signs SB 3115, according to an article posted on Alternet.
The fracking industry is planning to construct thousands of new wells in Ohio.
Some of the problems with the bill are:
- The gas industry wrote key parts of it.
- “Fracking companies can hide which chemicals they use in the fracking process by calling them ‘trade secrets,’” the post says. What little they do disclose is 60 days after drilling takes place, too late for communities to test to show what was in their water before drilling, rendering the disclosure meaningless."
- The fracking industry will receive large tax breaks, according to the post. The governor’s small tax on individual wells is offset by new tax breaks that will mean the gas industry won’t have to pay taxes in Ohio as high as it does in any other state.
“No citizen notification or input will be allowed on any part of the fracking industry,” the post says. "There is no public notice, no public comment, and no right to appeal for drill sites, pipelines or compressor stations."
The grassroots organization Don’t Frack Ohio is planning demonstrations against fracking in the state capital, Columbus, on June 14–17.
Vermont was the first and only state to ban fracking within its borders.
Halting uranium contamination of Navajo drinking water supplies
The Eastern Navajo Diné are trying to stop Hydro Resources from acting on a 23-year-old permit to mine uranium from an aquifer at four sites in two New Mexico towns, Church Rock and nearby Crownpoint, according to the June 1 issue of the Beyond Nuclear Bulletin.
Former uranium mine worker and Navajo leader Larry J. King has collected a growing number of signatures, now adding up to over 10,000, on a petition to EPA to stop new uranium mines that will contaminate Navajo drinking water supplies, according to change.org.
“The Colorado Plateau of New Mexico,” the post says, “still bears the unhealed sores of the Uranium Boom of the last century – radioactive waste piles, contaminated water and hundreds of mines on Navajo land abandoned by companies looking to make a quick profit. Despite the massive contamination, companies want to start a new era of mining in this region.”
People living near or working at the mines have experienced serious health problems. One study, according to the post, found that cancer rates among Navajo living in the vicinity of mine tailings are several times higher than the national average.
In 1989 the EPA granted Hydro Resources, Inc., an “aquifer exemption,” which permits the corporation to destroy part of the aquifer underneath Navajo communities to extract uranium through in situ leach processing. “The EPA did this,” the post says, “before [the] community even knew about the proposal.”
Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining has been opposing the company’s plan since 1994.
Recently EPA announced that it would review the 1989 decision; the agency can revoke the aquifer exemption if it chooses to.
“The Navajo Nation has banned uranium mining on its own lands,” the post says.
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.