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:
Read The Greene Report archive on The Bloomington Alternative.
Indiana leads the country in pollution discharges
Indiana tops the country in the total amount of toxic discharges to waterways, with more than 27 million pounds in the last three years according to a newly released Environment America report.
Once again the Ohio River leads the nation in the volume of industrial chemicals dumped into it, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported on Apr. 3.
Since the organization’s last report on the issue, in 2009, around 1 million more pounds of contaminants have been released into U.S. waterways by industries.
“America’s waterways are a polluter’s paradise,” said Shelley Vinyard, a water advocate with Environment America.
The 1972 Clean Water Act, she pointed out, was intended to clean up the country’s waterways by 1985.
Some of the chemicals dumped have been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental problems.
“While the Ohio is, by all accounts, much cleaner than it was a generation or two ago when it was used as an open sewer for industries and millions of toilets,” the C-J said, “ the study shows that some industries continue to use the 981-mile river as a way to dispose of waste.”
According to Judy Petersen, executive director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, the river “receives a lot of toxic discharges. I think the question is, ‘What are our goals for the Ohio River?’ I think our goals are to continue cleaning it up [and] improving recreation ad fishing in [it].”
One of the two major plants dumping waste into the Ohio River is the AK Steel plant in Rockport, Ind. In 2010 its discharges amounted to 24 million pounds, more than two-thirds of the total by weight released into the Ohio, the C-J said.
The plant produces stainless steel for cars and other uses.
Petersen said some of the emissions discharged into the Ohio can harm human health even at low levels. “She is particularly concerned about heavy metals such as mercury, which is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the environment," the C-J said. "Several states … warn people to limit or avoid eating fish from the Ohio River because of mercury in them.”
The amount of emissions as reported to the EPA doesn’t “’indicate anything illegal or indiscriminate or any disregard for the Environment’ and are within what the government allows,” Barry L. Racey, director of government and public relations for AK Steel, told the C-J.
Trial begins on ALCOA’s toxic waste dump at Indiana’s Squaw Creek coal mine
A trial has begin in Southwest Indiana on a longstanding environmental issue involving pollution by the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA), according to a news release published on April 11 by the Alliance for Clean Rural Environment (ACRE), a grassroots organization based in Evansville.
The problem is the dumping of millions of gallons of hazardous waste in unlined surface coal pits at the Squaw Creek Surface Coal Mine, near Boonsville, about 15 miles from Evansvillle. Some of the chemicals dumped are known carcinogens.
The issue became public knowledge eight years ago.
ALCOA has admitted doing the dumping. The mine covered 8,000 acres and was managed by Peabody Coal Co.
“Many community members and former employees were exposed to the ALCOA waste,” says Gary Fritz, vice president of ACRE. “They have suffered health issues and are seeking justice. A large portion of Southwestern Indiana was surface mined. It’s not uncommon for local residents to enjoy fishing, hunting, swimming, trail bike riding and target practicing on surface mined land in the tri-state area.”
This trial is the first of many in which past employees and other citizens will testify that they witnessed unusual deaths and cancer related to the dumping.
Two expert witnesses will testify on behalf of the plaintiffs -- Drs. William Sawyer, a leading toxicologist on the Gulf Oil spill, and James Dahlgren, who was instrumental in the Erin Brokovich trial. (In that case Pacific Gas & Electric had been contaminating the California town of Hinkley’s water with chromium 6 for more than 30 years. In 1996, as a result of the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind up to that point, the utility was forced to pay out the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.)
According to ALCOA’s own records, it dumped 69 million gallons of coal tar pitch, 7.4 million cubic feet of chromium sludge and 34,800 tons of spent potlining. The records show that ALCOA did the dumping for seven-plus years.
ALCOA has never proven that it received a permit for disposing of coal tar pitch, which is similar to creosote and a known carcinogen.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
IU-Bloomington named one of top “green” colleges and universities
On April 19 WRTV Indianapolis announced IU-Bloomington, along with four other Indiana colleges and universities, is one of the nation’s top “green” schools of higher education.
The others are Ball State, Earlham, Purdue and Notre Dame. They are all included in the “Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges”.
“Among 7,445 college applicants who participated in our 2012 College Hopes & Worries Survey,” said Robert Franek, senior vice president and publisher of the Princeton Review in a news release, “nearly seven out of 10 told us that having information about a school’s commitment to the environment would influence their decision to apply or attend the school.”
IU, which made the green list for the first time this year, earned recognition for its Office of Sustainability, established in 2009 and employing two full-time staff and 18 interns, and its Campus Sustainability Board, made up of 40 representatives of the faculty, staff and students, including almost 200 volunteers.
But because of its reliance on a coal-fired plant for energy on the Bloomington campus, IU has a long way to go before it’s truly green, according to the student group Coal Free IU. It has been pressing the university administration to abandon coal for renewable energy sources.
Richmond’s Earlham College was recognized by the Princeton survey for its real-time energy-monitoring project that “measures energy usage of the entire campus in 60-second snapshots," said the news release.
Ball State has implemented a two-phase, 10-year project to change its boiler system to an environmentally friendly geoethermal system that will “save the university up to $2 million a year in operating costs and cut its carbon footprint almost in half,” according to the release.
Purdue’s waste-diversion rate was 77 percent in 2011, thanks to its Dual Stream Recycling Program, which enabled the university to eliminate trash cans from all the offices on campus, says the Princeton guide.
Notre Dame received recognition for enlarging its Office of Sustainability to include three full-time staff and seven interns.
The report says, "The university is amidst a $10 million investment in energy conservation projects in more than 70 buildings and has established a $2 million Green Loan Fund to support capital projects that save energy and natural resources."
The criteria for the list were the result of a partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council.
Westinghouse gets the okay to supply nuclear reactors to India
According to the Apr. 24 Business Standard, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission released the final safety-evaluation report on the technical review of the AP1000 nuclear reactor design on March 28. Westinghouse Electric Co. had submitted its application for the design exactly 10 years earlier.
The U.S. Senate ratified the commission’s certification.
The chair and managing director of India’s Nuclear Power Corporation, S.K. Jain, said certification “paves the way” for the corporation “to pursue techno commercial talks with Westinghouse.” He “admitted that the certification was quite crucial, especially in the wake of stress tests and reviews conducted across the nuclear producing countries after the Fukushima accident.”
Balendra Sutharshan, director of India Business Development at Westinghouse, said the “output of the AP1000 should pose no adverse risk to the existing grid, and would mitigate any additional, costly upgrades to the infrastructure to support the plants.”
Meanwhile, public outcry against nuclear power has increased vastly since the Fukushima disaster. Germany announced that it was shutting down all its nuclear reactors and would switch to renewable-energy sources.
No second term for Krinstine Svinicki, NRC commissioner
On Apr. 24 the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) posted an email urging people to tell their senators and President Obama not to nominate Kristine Svinicki to a second term as a commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Svinicki's first-term voting record demonstrates that she consistently favored the nuclear power industry’s interests over the public's health and safety.
For example, on March 9, 2012, Svinicki -- the only one of the five current NRC commissioners -- voted against “implementation of all the first three post-Fukushima safety measures recommended by NRC staff through the use of a regulatory framework that concludes that they are necessary for the adequate protection of nuclear reactors,” the NIRS says.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Environmental Committee Chair Barbara Boxer and Senator Barry Sanders have expressed their opinions publicly that Svinicki should not be renominated because of her obvious proindustry stance.
You can sign a letter opposing Svinicki’s renomination at Democracy in Action.
Gatica wins the Goldman Environmental Prize
Sofia Gatica, a mother of three from a small, rural town in Argentina whose newborn infant died after fetal exposure to pesticides, has won this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize, according to an email from the Pesticide Action Network.
Gatica translated her family’s loss into a grassroots movement to protect children in her community and beyond from the hazards of pesticides. She went head to head with the pesticide industry, including the notorious Monsanto.
When her infant died, Gatica realized that such deaths were very common in her town, Ituzaingo Annex. She also observed that aerial spraying of Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp had increased dramatically in the area as the number of acres of the corporation’s “RoundUp Ready” soy crops increased.
Gastica and other concerned mothers traveled door to door collecting stories about health problems in every family, thereby conducting the town’s first epidemiological study. Their grassroots organization, named the Mothers of Ituzaingo, found the community’s cancer rate to be 41 times the national average and its rates of neurological problems, respiratory diseases and infant mortality to be alarmingly high.
The Mothers began a “Stop the Spraying!” campaign and achieved passage of an ordinance declaring a buffer zone in the community where aerial spraying can’t be done less than 2,500 meters from homes. In 2008, thanks to their efforts, Argentina’s president ordered an investigation of the health effects of pesticides in Ituzaingo Annex. It corroborated the findings of the Mothers’ canvass.
In the process of trying to make these changes, Gatica was held at gunpoint in her house at one point. Today, however, she and the other Mothers are working to expand protections from pesticides to people around Argentina.
A video of Gatica is available on the PAN website.
Nine low-tech steps to community resilience under global warming
“There are many things we can and must do to reduce the warming trajectory," according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. "First among these is reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common and potent greenhouse gas, particularly by transitioning to a clean energy economy."
"But turning this ship around is going to take time, even under the best scenarios,” Kaid Benfield wrote on Apr. 3 in Think Progress.
Benfield catalogued some low-tech things people can do right now to make their communities more resilient in the face of climate change:
Bring more vegetation into neighborhoods, including green roofs and rain gardens. Plant community gardens that are scaled to your city. Apply drought-resistant landscaping, such as planting native species and those that rely less on water (xeriscaping). Use light-colored roofing and pavement. Take seriously the rise in sea level and storm surges, keeping future buildings out of flood plains. Renovate and save older buildings. Follow simple practices -- such as installing front porches and planting deciduous trees on the south side and evergreens on the north side -- in new construction. “Keep the regional footprint small and well-connected,” such as revitalizing neighborhoods. Update building and zoning codes to improve resilience, such as making “walkable, diverse neighborhoods legal again.”
“[T]hese steps also provide other kinds of resilience,” Benfield concluded. "Since fuel prices will continue to rise, for example, reducing demand for electricity and gasoline through smart building and growth management conserves financial resources. So does obviating the construction of infrastructure expansion to accommodate sprawl and employing green techniques to manage stormwater instead of building larger concrete sewer and drainage pipes."
Coming to your supermarket: dioxin-laced corn
EPA has rejected a ban on genetically modified corn that’s resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D, also known as “Agent Orange,” the defoliant that the U.S. military used in Vietnam, according to the Organic Consumers Organization’s Organic Bytes.
The most dangerous ingredient in 2,4-D is dioxin, the most potent carcinogen known after radiation and the strongest one ever synthesized. Dioxin contamination was the reason for evacuating the residents of Times Beach, Mo. Dioxin is closely related chemically and was mixed with the PCBs Westinghouse dumped in the Bloomington area from the late 1950s through the '70s.
2,4-D is known to cause cancer, hormone disruption, genetic mutations, neurotoxicity, Parkinson’s disease and birth defects.
The manufacture and application of 2,4-D is the seventh largest source of dioxin pollution in the U.S.
2.4-D–resistant corn will mean the use of 2,4-D 50 times more frequently than it’s used today.
In making its decision to reject the ban, EPA ignored independent research on the dangers of the herbicide and instead considered only contradictory evidence supplied by the herbicide’s manufacturer, Dow Chemical.
EPA’s decision opens the gate to approving Dow’s new genetically engineered, 2,4-D–resistant corn.
Dioxin has an extraordinarily long life and accumulates in the environment, fatty tissue of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, and ultimately in the human body.
Recent Environmental Working Group research has demonstrated that infants who drink breast milk are exposed to a daily dose of dioxin 15–17 times higher than the level EPA considers safe for the endocrine and immune systems.
Let’s eliminate carcinogens in our everyday products
In the United States, one in two men and one and three women will develop cancer. That disease is the leading cause of death from disease in children younger than 15, according to an email from the League of Conservation Voters.
Carcinogens are wherever people congregate -- in the workplace, home and classroom, for example. And they’re in the products we use, such as clothing, furniture, cleaning products, plastics, personal-care products, cosmetics and children’s toys.
Some 80,000 chemicals are on the market today in the United States, yet only a few have been tested for their cancer-causing potential.
Cancer is largely an environmentally caused disease and therefore is largely preventable.
Antiquated laws controlling chemicals -- the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act -- need to be updated and modernized, says the league.
Last year the President’s Cancer Panel urged President Obama to “most strongly use the power of [his] office” to eliminate human exposure to carcinogens.
The chemical, plastics, fossil fuel and many other industries, however, have steadfastly opposed reform of the nation’s obsolete and inadequate laws governing the nation’s use of toxic chemicals.
To sign a petition urging Obama to protect human health from carcinogens in everyday products -- to test all suspected carcinogens on the market and to phase out or ban ones proven to cause cancer -- go to this League website.
Prescribed burns and managed wildfires are deadly
The U.S. Forest Service has tried to convince the public that prescribed burns and managed wildfires are good ways to maintain forest health, but the unfiltered wood smoke from both procedures is deadly, particularly for fetuses, infants, children and elders, says PrescribedBurns.com.
For vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, chronic respiratory diseases, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, short exposure to wood smoke can be fatal, the website says.
Wood smoke is 12 times more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke and kills at least 40,000 adults and children each year in the United States. Such smoke contains a toxic brew of more than 4,000 chemicals in gases and particulate materials that penetrate deep into the lungs. Sixty-nine of them are known human carcinogens, including arsenic, particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and dioxin.
In 2008 the American Lung Association published a warning about the dangers of burning wood.
“Burning wood emits harmful toxins and fine particles in the air that can worsen breathing problems and lead to heart and lung disease and early death,” it says.
Mechanical methods of dealing with unwanted trees, such as using tree thinning and mulching machines, remove only unwanted trees and brush, leaving healthful mulch instead of the charred remains of a forest.
Forest-protection advocates argue that leaving forests to nature and not “managing” them at all is preferable to human intervention.
Prescribedburns.com recommends urging your senators and congress members to stop the Forest Service’s devastating forest practices.
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.