Ecological Issues http://ecologymania.com Ecology and environmental issues on the Earth Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:50:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.1 China says one-fifth of its farmland is polluted http://ecologymania.com/ap-as-china-soil-pollution.html http://ecologymania.com/ap-as-china-soil-pollution.html#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 13:50:59 +0000 inna.ivanina http://ecologymania.com/?p=1704 Public expressed anger about a poisonous environment since study claimed that nearly one-fifth of the China's farmland is contaminated with toxic metals.

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china

BEIJING (AP) — Faced with growing public anger about a poisonous environment, China’s government released a yearslong study that shows nearly one-fifth of the country’s farmland is contaminated with toxic metals, a stunning indictment of unfettered industrialization under the Communist Party’s authoritarian rule.

The report, previously deemed so sensitive it was classified as a state secret, names the heavy metals cadmium, nickel and arsenic as the top contaminants.

It adds to widespread doubts about the safety of China’s farm produce and confirms suspicions about the dire state of its soil following more than two decades of explosive industrial growth, the overuse of farm chemicals and minimal environmental protection.

It also points to health risks that, in the case of heavy metals, can take decades to emerge after the first exposure. Already, health advocates have identified several “cancer villages” in China near factories suspected of polluting the environment where they say cancer rates are above the national average.

The soil survey was conducted from 2005 until last year, and showed contamination in 16.1 percent of China’s soil overall and 19.4 percent of its arable land, according to a summary released late Thursday by China’s Environmental Protection Ministry and its Land and Resources Ministry.

“The overall condition of the Chinese soil allows no optimism,” the report said. Some regions suffer serious soil pollution, worrying farm land quality and “prominent problems” with deserted industrial and mining land, it said. Contamination ranged from “slight,” which indicated up to twice the safe level, to “severe.”

The report’s release shows China’s authoritarian government responding to growing public anger at pollution with more openness, but only on its own terms and pace. Early last year, Beijing-based lawyer Dong Zhengwei had demanded that the government release the soil findings, but was initially rebuffed by the environment ministry, which cited rules barring release of “state secrets.”

That led to criticism from the Chinese public, and even from some arms of the state media. The Communist Party-run People’s Daily declared that, “Covering this up only makes people think: We’re being lied to.” The ministry later acknowledged the information should be shared, said Dong, who attributed this week’s release of the report to public pressure.

Without a release of the information, “the public anger would get stronger, and soil contamination would deteriorate, while news of cancer villages and poisonous rice would continue to spring up,” Dong, an anti-trust lawyer, said in an interview Friday.

Because some of the samples in the survey, which is the first of its kind in China, date back nearly a decade, the results would likely be much worse if tests were taken today, Dong said.

He said the government should conduct soil surveys and release the results on an annual basis and respond with immediate remediation measures.

China’s leaders have said they are determined to tackle the country’s pollution problem, though the threat to soil has so far been overshadowed by public alarm at smog and water contamination. However, recent scandals of tainted rice and crops have begun to shift attention to soil.

A key concern among scientists is cadmium, a carcinogenic metal that can cause kidney damage and other health problems and is absorbed by rice, the country’s staple grain.

Last May, authorities launched an investigation into rice mills in southern China after tests found almost half of the supplies sold in Guangzhou, a major city, were contaminated with cadmium.

In early 2013, the newspaper Nanfang Daily reported that tens of thousands of tons of cadmium-tainted rice had been sold to noodle makers in southern China since 2009. It said government inspectors declared it fit only for production of non-food goods such as industrial alcohol but a trader sold most of the rice to food processors anyway.

The worst pollution detailed in this week’s report centers around the country’s most industrialized regions, the Yangtse and Pearl River deltas in southern China, as well heavily industrial portions of the northeast.

The summary of findings gave no detailed breakdown of contamination by region. It said most of the contaminated soil had levels of pollutants ranging from just above the allowable limit to double the limit, while for 1.1 percent of the country’s soil the contaminants were at five times the safety limit or more.

Lu Yizhong, a soil contamination expert at China Agricultural University, said soil surveys must become more frequent, with detailed results published regularly. More legislation is needed to control the problem, he said.

Warning that food safety was emerging as a “thorny issue” for China, Lu said the effects of the gradual accumulation of toxic metals in the bodies of people who eat contaminated produce can take years to unfold. “Sometime it can take 10 to 30 years to develop serious disease.”

China must step up efforts to monitor and regulate soil contamination “otherwise the speed of new contamination will surely outpace efforts to rein it back,” he said.

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News assistants Zhao Liang and Yu Bing in Beijing contributed.

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ESA launching satellite for new monitoring system http://ecologymania.com/ap-eu-europe-space-launch.html http://ecologymania.com/ap-eu-europe-space-launch.html#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 13:09:44 +0000 inna.ivanina http://ecologymania.com/?p=1700 Five new observation satellites to monitor clomate changes will be put into orbit over the coming years. The Sentinel 1A satellite has been launched from French Guiana.

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Europe Space Launch

BERLIN (AP) — The European Space Agency is launching the first of six satellites for a new system designed to better monitor climate change, environmental disasters and catastrophes like floods, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

The Sentinel 1A satellite is due to be launched from French Guiana later Thursday. The other five observation satellites will be put into orbit over the coming years.

The satellites will collect data and then share it with their ground stations for immediate distribution where it is needed.

As of next year, they will be able to relay data through a stationary space-based hub — meaning that the data can be sent to ground stations in the right place almost immediately even if the satellite is on the other side of the world.

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Online: www.esa.int/sentinel-1

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UN: 2013 extreme events due to warming Earth http://ecologymania.com/ap-eu-united-nations-global-weather.html http://ecologymania.com/ap-eu-united-nations-global-weather.html#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 20:41:35 +0000 inna.ivanina http://ecologymania.com/?p=1695 Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change.

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UN Climate Panel

GENEVA (AP) — The head of the U.N. weather agency said Monday that recent extreme weather patterns are “consistent” with human-induced climate change, citing key events that wreaked havoc in Asia, Europe, the U.S. and Pacific region last year.

Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said his agency’s annual assessment of the global climate shows how dramatically people and lands everywhere felt the impacts of extreme weather such as droughts, heat waves, floods and tropical cyclones.

“Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change,” he said.

The U.N. agency called 2013 the sixth-warmest year on record. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century.

A rise in sea levels is leading to increasing damage from storm surges and coastal flooding, as demonstrated by Typhoon Haiyan, Jarraud said. The typhoon in November killed at least 6,100 people and caused $13 billion in damage to the Philippines and Vietnam.

Australia, meanwhile, had its hottest year on record and parts of central Asia and central Africa also notched record highs.

Jarraud drew special attention to studies and climate modeling examining Australia’s recent heat waves, saying the high temperatures there would have been virtually impossible without the emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

He cited other costly weather disasters such as $22 billion damage from central European flooding in June, $10 billion in damage from Typhoon Fitow in China and Japan, and a $10 billion drought in much of China.

Only a few places were cooler than normal. Among them was the central U.S.

Jarraud also cited frigid polar air in parts of Europe and the southeast U.S., and the widest tornado ever observed over rural areas of central Oklahoma, as being among extreme weather events.

There were 41 billion-dollar weather disasters in the world last year, the second highest number behind only 2010, according to insurance firm Aon Benfield, which tracks global disasters.

Jarraud spoke as top climate scientists and representatives from about 100 governments with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met in Japan to complete their latest report on global warming’s impact.

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Paris takes drastic measures to fight toxic smog http://ecologymania.com/ap-eu-france-pollution.html http://ecologymania.com/ap-eu-france-pollution.html#comments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 21:20:38 +0000 inna.ivanina http://ecologymania.com/?p=1689 Paris tries to reduce the toxic smog in the city by banning around half of the city's cars and trucks from its streets.

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APTOPIX France Pollution

PARIS (AP) — Paris imposed drastic measures Monday to combat its worst air pollution in years, banning around half of the city’s cars and trucks from its streets for a day in an attempt to reduce the toxic smog that’s shrouded the City of Light for more than a week.

Cars with even-numbered license plates were prohibited from driving in Paris and its suburbs. Around 700 police manned 179 control points around the region, handing out tickets to offenders. Taxis and commercial vehicles weren’t covered by the ban.

Police had ticketed nearly 4,000 people by midday, and 27 drivers had their cars impounded for refusing to cooperate with officers.

France has seen exceptionally warm, dry weather this month with little wind, which has trapped car pollution and fumes from seasonal farming activity in the air. France’s unusually high number of diesel vehicles is also contributing to the smog.

France Pollution

Environment Minister Philippe Martin said lower traffic and favorable weather patterns were having an impact on pollution Monday, and that the alternate-plates measure would be lifted Tuesday.

It was the first time since 1997 that the measure was taken.

All public transport has been free for four days straight to help deal with the pollution — but that too is set to end Tuesday.

Paris’ anti-pollution efforts trail behind those of some other cities.

Athens has had a similar alternate driving ban in place for many years that has reduced pollution and traffic. In Brazil, Sao Paulo employs a complicated license plate-based system that assigns each car a day of the week when it cannot be driven during rush hours.

Berlin has strict rules on what kind of cars can enter the city, and London makes drivers pay a “congestion charge” to drive in the center of town.

France Pollution

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Associated Press writers Cassandra Vinograd in London, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Alan Clendenning in Madrid, David Rising in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this article.

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Gas blast destroys 2 NY buildings; 5 people dead http://ecologymania.com/ap-us-nyc-explosion.html http://ecologymania.com/ap-us-nyc-explosion.html#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 08:06:15 +0000 inna.ivanina http://ecologymania.com/?p=1684 Police Sgt. John Buthorn says 5 people dead after gas explosion in 2 New York City buildings.

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NYC Explosion

NEW YORK (AP) — A fifth person has been confirmed killed by an explosion that flattened two New York City apartment buildings.

Police Sgt. John Buthorn says the body of an adult female was found among the debris around 2:50 a.m. Thursday. He says the number of people unaccounted for is about five.

A gas leak triggered the explosion Wednesday morning on Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem. The blast also injured more than 60 people. At least three of the injured were children.

The explosion shattered windows a block away, cast a plume of smoke over the skyline and sent people running into the streets.

Authorities say the fiery blast erupted about 9:30 a.m., about 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas.

NYC Explosion

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Powerful quake shakes California; no injuries http://ecologymania.com/ap-us-california-earthquake.html http://ecologymania.com/ap-us-california-earthquake.html#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:30:18 +0000 inna.ivanina http://ecologymania.com/?p=1679 A strong earth quake shaked California and was felt across the region, but there were no reports of any injuries or damage.

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CALIF EARTHQUAKE

EUREKA, Calif. (AP) — A very strong earthquake that struck offshore rattled the Northern California coast and was widely felt across the region, but authorities said early Monday that there were no reports of any injuries or damage.

The magnitude-6.9 quake struck at 10:18 p.m. PDT Sunday and was centered 50 miles west of Eureka and about 4 miles beneath the Pacific seabed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was followed by about a half-dozen aftershocks, including one of magnitude 4.6.

The quake was felt widely across the region but both fire and sheriff’s officials in Humboldt County said early Monday that they had no reports of any damage or injuries. Humboldt County includes most of the populated areas closest to the epicenter.

“We had some alarms go off and other than that we dodged a bullet,” Humboldt County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Knight told The Times-Standard of Eureka (http://bit.ly/1fQ4u6y).

The National Tsunami Warning Center said there was no tsunami danger for the region.

But more than 3,000 people reported on the USGS website that they felt the quake. Some reported a long, rolling shake that woke children or knocked items off shelves. Some of those respondents live across the border in Oregon.

“This lasted longer than any earthquake I’ve ever felt,” Raquel Maytorena, 52, who lives about a mile from the coast in Ferndale near Eureka, told The Los Angeles Times. “It just kept going and going, very slowly and softly. It was not violent. It almost felt like you were in a boat that was rocking.”

Maytorena said she felt a little rattling in her nearly 100-year-old home, but power remained on without any interruptions. The quake felt like it lasted about 20 seconds, she said.

“The animals, they felt it,” she said. “My two horses were running around out by the barn, and my dogs, six dogs, were ready to get out of the house.”

Jana Pursley, a geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center, said that based on the area’s tectonics and past temblors, damages or casualties were unlikely.

Earthquakes are very common in Eureka, a city of about 27,000 people about 270 miles northwest of San Francisco and 100 miles south of the Oregon state line. Nearby Arcata is home to about 17,000 people and Humboldt State University.

The area experienced a magnitude-7.2 earthquake in 1992 that left 95 people injured and caused millions of dollars in damage, according to the USGS. The earthquake was felt as far south as San Francisco.

It was followed by a magnitude-6.5 earthquake about 12 hours later and a magnitude-6.7 earthquake a few hours after that, both of which caused additional damage.

The area had a magnitude-5.6 earthquake in February, 2012 that did not cause serious damages or injuries.

An offshore magnitude-6.5 quake struck offshore in 2010 and caused bumps and cuts among residents and broke glass in some buildings, but it was about 25 miles closer to land than Sunday night’s quake.

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Concerns raised about Hanford tanks http://ecologymania.com/concerns-raised-about-hanford-tanks.html http://ecologymania.com/concerns-raised-about-hanford-tanks.html#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 10:26:15 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1675 There are "significant construction flaws" in some newer, double-walled storage tanks at Washington state's Hanford nuclear waste complex, which could lead to additional leaks.

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Hanford Tanks

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — There are “significant construction flaws” in some newer, double-walled storage tanks at Washington state’s Hanford nuclear waste complex, which could lead to additional leaks, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Those tanks hold some of the worst radioactive waste at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site.

One of the 28 giant underground tanks was found to be leaking in 2012. But subsequent surveys of other double-walled tanks performed for the U.S. Department of Energy by one of its Hanford contractors found at least six shared defects with the leaking tank that could lead to future leaks, the documents said. Thirteen additional tanks also might be compromised, according to the documents.

Questions about the storage tanks jeopardize efforts to clean up radioactive waste at the southeastern Washington site. Those efforts already cost taxpayers about $2 billion a year.

“It is time for the Department (of Energy) to stop hiding the ball and pretending that the situation at Hanford is being effectively managed,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote Friday in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Energy Department officials in Richland said the agency continues to make thorough inspections of the tanks, and has increased the frequency of those inspections.

“They used to be reviewed every five to seven years,” said Tom Fletcher, the Energy Department’s assistant manager for tank farms. “Now we are moving to a three-year time frame.”

The department is in the process of inspecting the final eight double-walled tanks at Hanford that have not been analyzed since the leak was detected in late 2012, Fletcher said Friday.

No new leaks have been found, he said.

“If there are changes or improvements we need to make in the program, based on what we learn, to make sure we capture the risks that exist on the tank farms, we will make them,” Fletcher said.

He added the Energy Department continues to examine the benefits of building new storage tanks at Hanford.

Tom Carpenter of the citizen watchdog group Hanford Challenge said he wasn’t surprised that more of the double-walled tanks are in danger of leaking.

“These tanks have an engineered design life, and we are reaching the end,” Carpenter said. “It’s bad planning that they don’t have new tanks up and running.”

While new tanks are expensive, cleaning up a leak is more expensive, he added. “The price for cleaning up the environment once this stuff gets out there is incalculable.”

Hanford contains some 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive wastes from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. They are stored in 177 underground storage tanks, many of which date back to World War II and are single-walled models that have leaked. The 28 double-walled tanks were built from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Current plans call for transferring wastes from leaking single-walled tanks to the newer and bigger double-walled tanks, where the waste will be stored while a $13 billion plant for treating the waste is constructed. But the treatment plant is plagued with design problems and construction has stalled.

The situation did not appear dire until the news in October 2012 that the oldest of the double-walled tanks, called AY-102, had leaked, becoming the first of those 28 tanks to do so.

At the time, the Energy Department blamed construction problems with this particular tank for the leak and said it “seems unlikely” that the other double-walled tanks would leak.

However, Wyden said engineering reviews of six other double-walled tanks “found significant construction flaws in those six tanks essentially similar to those at the leaking tank.” Those six tanks contain about 5 million gallons of radioactive wastes, wrote Wyden, who until recently was chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

For instance, one tank was found to have bulging “in the primary and secondary bottoms,” according to the documents obtained through Wyden’s office. The tank also had a high number of welds that were rejected by inspectors and done again during its construction.

Additionally, a review of 13 other double-walled tanks found they were in better shape than the leaker. “But construction issues identified for these tanks, such as weld rejection rates, are cause for concern” and raise “uncertainty of long-term tank integrity,” Wyden wrote.

That means that 20 of the 28 double-walled tanks at Hanford raise some level of concern.

Wyden said the Energy Department should take a new look at proposals by the governors of Washington and Oregon to build new storage tanks at Hanford. Such tanks are likely to cost more than $100 million each.

The senator also criticized the Energy Department for releasing a “framework” for the cleanup of Hanford in September that did not mention the construction flaws in the double-walled tanks. He called that “indefensible.”

“The citizens living along banks of the Columbia River deserve to know the full story of what is happening with the Hanford tanks,” Wyden wrote.

Wyden asked the Energy Department to respond with an action plan in 45 days.

Hanford, located near Richland, stores about two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste.

Officials have said the leaking materials pose no immediate risk to public safety or the environment because it would take perhaps years for the chemicals to reach groundwater.

The federal government built Hanford at the height of World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Wyoming top in CO2 per person amid new regulations http://ecologymania.com/wyoming-top-in-co2-per-person-amid-new-regulations.html http://ecologymania.com/wyoming-top-in-co2-per-person-amid-new-regulations.html#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 12:36:42 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1672 Turns out the worst state for carbon dioxide emissions per person isn't smoggy California or bustling New York, but a place famous for its big, clear skies: Wyoming.

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Wyoming EPA

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Turns out the worst state for carbon dioxide emissions per person isn’t smoggy California or bustling New York, but a place famous for its big, clear skies: Wyoming.

But regulating greenhouse gases is a touchy subject in the least-populated state, which just recently received U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval to do so.

Wyoming also is the top coal-mining state by far, producing almost 40 percent of the nation’s coal. Burning coal to generate electricity produces large amounts of CO2 — in Wyoming, across the U.S., and in the Far Eastern countries where state officials have sought to open up new coal markets.

Gov. Matt Mead made such a trip to Taiwan and South Korea last year. Meanwhile, he’s called EPA efforts to curtail greenhouse emissions a “war on coal” and said at a recent forum he’s skeptical about man-made climate change.

“What he also says is we do have a responsibility to always do things better,” Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said Thursday. “The coal industry has to be profitable if it’s going to invest in the research and development of new technologies.”

MacKay highlighted the state’s efforts to make its coal cleaner: $50 million allocated toward new coal-burning technology at the University of Wyoming and plans by the state to support a proposed $10 million X Prize to develop economically feasible carbon-capture technology at an operational coal-fired power plant.

He said the EPA shouldn’t impose rules that cripple coal-fired electricity by requiring still-unattainable greenhouse reductions, but, instead, should gradually implement rules as new technologies to cut carbon emissions become available.

The stakes for Wyoming are high. Minerals taxes on coal provided $1 billion to the state and local governments in 2012 and coal mining supports some 6,900 jobs in the state.

Last year, Wyoming’s coal production fell 3 percent amid more stringent environmental regulations and inexpensive natural gas, a cleaner fuel source in growing use by electric utilities.

Meanwhile, per person, Wyoming faces an outsized challenge to regulate greenhouse gases on a shorter timeframe than breakthrough technologies are likely to allow.

In 2011, Wyoming emitted 64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Spread out over the smallest population of any state — about 568,000 people lived in Wyoming in 2011 — that works out to more than 112 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person, or more than six times the national average.

Burning coal — nearly all of it to make electricity — accounted for 69.2 percent of Wyoming’s CO2 emissions, twice the U.S. average.

Only West Virginia (80.9 percent) and North Dakota (69.4 percent) had more of their CO2 emissions come from coal.

Wyoming residents aren’t solely responsible for all of those emissions. Wyoming exports to other states about 68 percent more electricity than it consumes in state.

“Certainly other states, to put it mildly, they have blood on their hands as well,” Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians said Thursday.

The group has two active lawsuits opposing coal mining in Wyoming on climate-change grounds.

In December, Wyoming became one of the last several states to get EPA approval to regulate greenhouse gases. For over a year and a half, the EPA regulated greenhouse emissions in Wyoming while the state regulated other types of air emissions, a “dual permitting” process that resulted from a 1999 state law that said Wyoming wouldn’t enact any regulation reducing greenhouse gases.

The Legislature repealed the law over the last two years.

State regulators say they’re still waiting to see many details of how the EPA intends to regulate greenhouse emissions, including possible new rules for existing power plants, said Steve Dietrich, head of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division.

Other states with high per-capita CO2 emissions included North Dakota, at about 78 metric tons per person, followed by Alaska (53) and West Virginia (52).

Vermont, California and Connecticut had the fewest emissions per person, all with just above 9 metric tons per capita.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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NM nuclear dump officials say environment is safe http://ecologymania.com/nm-nuclear-dump-officials-say-environment-is-safe.html http://ecologymania.com/nm-nuclear-dump-officials-say-environment-is-safe.html#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 12:16:01 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1669 Officials investigating a leak from the federal government's underground nuclear waste dump tried to reassure southeastern New Mexico residents that their health is safe.

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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Officials investigating a leak from the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste dump tried to reassure skeptical southeastern New Mexico residents Monday night that their health is safe.

More than 250 people attended a two-hour meeting to ask questions about back-to-back accidents at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and the first-known release of radiation from the repository.

“I’m just a mom,” said Anna Hovrud, “and my first reaction was to start praying. … Basically I am not understanding about two-thirds of what has been said here. Is there a chance we could be exposed to radiation, that we are being poisoned somehow, while we are waiting for these samples?”

Joe Franco, who manages the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad office, told Hovrud “there is no risk from this event that would be a hazard to you or your children.”

Farok Sharif, president of the Nuclear Waste Partnership that runs the plant, told Hovrud his family also lives in the community. And he said he has been to the site repeatedly in the past week — without protective gear — to gather readings “because I know it is safe.”

The elevated amounts of radiation that have been detected in and around the plant offer no more risk than a dental X-ray or an airline flight, officials said.

Still, some left skeptical.

“I feel like they are not telling us everything,” said Leah Hunt.

Police were briefly brought to the doors after a man who identified himself as Martin Mills, a mayoral candidate, repeatedly and heatedly interrupted officials as they tried to respond.

“This is like poor management,” Mills insisted. “How can this facility be leaking? … It should not be releasing at all.”

Many others, however, said they are confident in the plant’s safety record and safety systems.

“I’m not leaving with any worries,” said Wanda Durham. “I’m not moving.”

After 15 years of operating with a stellar record, a truck that officials said was hauling salt in the facility’s underground chambers caught fire Feb. 5, shuttering the plant and halting all waste shipments. Nine days later, a radiation alert activated in the area where newly arrived waste was being stored.

Officials said they’re confident that the incidents are unrelated.

An initial analysis of samples from sensors inside and outside the plant indicate a container leaked. But officials say it is unclear what caused the release, and it will likely be weeks before teams can get underground.

WIPP is the nation’s first underground nuclear repository and the only facility in the country that can store plutonium-contaminated clothing and tools from Los Alamos National Laboratory and other federal nuclear sites.

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Obama to propose changes to wildfire funding http://ecologymania.com/obama-to-propose-changes-to-wildfire-funding.html http://ecologymania.com/obama-to-propose-changes-to-wildfire-funding.html#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 10:17:32 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1663 President Barack Obama's upcoming budget will include a proposal to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires.

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Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s upcoming budget will include a proposal to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires, a White House official said Saturday.

The proposal is part of the White House’s effort to ramp up its focus on what officials say are the growing impacts of climate change. The president will discuss the proposal Monday during a meeting with Western governors from states impacted by wildfires and c.

Obama wants the Interior and Agriculture Departments, the two agencies tasked with fighting wildfires, to be able to draw funds from a special disaster account when the cost of tackling fires exceeds their annual budget. That’s the same approach the federal government currently takes when responding to hurricanes and tornadoes.

The official said the new approach was aimed at providing more certainty for agencies fighting fires.

The proposal will be included in the annual budget Obama will send to Congress next month. The measure is similar to bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

The White House has been closely monitoring the severe drought gripping California and sparking fears of widespread wildfires. When Obama traveled to the state earlier this month to meet with officials and local farmers, he drew a connection between the drought and climate change.

“A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher,” Obama said.

The official was not authorized to discuss the details of the proposal by name and insisted on anonymity. The proposal was first reported by The New York Times.

___

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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US chemical arms ship arrives in Spain http://ecologymania.com/us-chemical-arms-ship-arrives-in-spain.html http://ecologymania.com/us-chemical-arms-ship-arrives-in-spain.html#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 09:54:59 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1660 The American ship MV Cape Ray has an unprecedented mission to collect and destroy highly toxic substances that form part of Syria's chemical weapons program.

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Spain Chemical Weapons Destruction Ship

ROTA, Spain (AP) — The American ship MV Cape Ray arrived Thursday at the Spanish naval base of Rota for crew rest and refueling ahead of an unprecedented mission to collect and destroy highly toxic substances that form part of Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The ship, which left Portsmouth, Virginia Jan. 27, will leave Rota when Syria has completed removal of its chemical materials and proceed to the transloading port in Italy, Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said in a statement.

Here are some questions and answers about the Cape Ray and its mission:

WHAT IS THE MV CAPE RAY?

It is a giant U.S. government cargo ship, usually based in Virginia, which has been fitted with two machines designed to neutralize hundreds of tons of the most toxic chemicals, including mustard gas and the raw materials for sarin nerve gas, that are being removed from Syria as part of the international effort to destroy its chemical weapons program by mid-year. The 648-foot (197.5-meter) ship is typically used in relief operations after natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Sandy. It has a crew of about 35 civilian mariners and some technical experts on board.

HOW WILL THE CHEMICALS BE DESTROYED?

Bolted into the Cape Ray’s cavernous cargo hold are two machines called Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems. They consist of mazes of tanks, tubes, cables and electronics that will mix the Syrian chemicals with heated water and a cocktail of other chemicals in a titanium reactor to render them inert. More than 60 experts needed to operate chemical destruction machinery, as well as security and support staff, are expected to be on board by the time it starts picking up chemicals.

WHERE DOES IT GO AND WHAT DOES IT DO NEXT?

After leaving Spain, the Cape Ray’s next port of call is expected to be Gioia Tauro in southern Italy, where experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons say it will take on board 560 metric tons of chemicals that have been transported from the Syrian port of Latakia in two cargo ships from Denmark and Norway.

WHERE WILL THE DESTRUCTION HAPPEN AND WHAT HAPPENS TO THE HAZARDOUS WASTE?

Officials have not revealed the exact location of the destruction, though U.S. officials say it will be somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. The only thing that is clear is that it will be on board the Cape Ray and is supposed to be completed by March 31. However, that deadline looks tough to meet due to delays that have already hit efforts to remove chemicals from Syria. The destruction process on Cape Ray will generate hundreds of tons of chemical waste that will be stored on board and eventually destroyed on land. Germany has said it will take 370 metric tons of waste generated by the destruction of mustard gas and incinerate it at a specialized government facility. A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Madrid said no hydrolysis byproducts will be released into the sea or air.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

The disarmament process is risky from beginning to end, but those in charge stress that equally hazardous chemicals are neutralized on a daily basis around the world. The operation marks the first time the Nobel Peace Prize-winning OPCW has overseen the destruction of a chemical weapon stockpile in the midst of a raging civil war. Just getting the chemicals to port was a challenge, amid fears that rebels or terrorists could target convoys. Destroying chemical weapons at sea, as is happening on the Cape Ray, also is unprecedented. But U.S. officials say the process is a proven, safe way to neutralize toxic chemicals and that no vapor or water runoff will be released into the atmosphere or sea as a result.

___

Corder reported from The Hague, Netherlands.

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Obama: Figure out how to satisfy US water needs http://ecologymania.com/obama-figure-out-how-to-satisfy-us-water-needs.html http://ecologymania.com/obama-figure-out-how-to-satisfy-us-water-needs.html#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 08:40:38 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1657 Barack Obama drew a link between climate change and California's drought, and saidmuch should be done to make sure everyone's water needs are satisfied.

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California Drought-Obama

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) — President Barack Obama drew a link between climate change and California’s drought, and said the U.S. must do a better job of figuring out how to make sure everyone’s water needs are satisfied.

On a tour of central California on Friday, Obama warned that weather-related disasters will only get worse.

“We can’t think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can’t just be a matter of there’s going to be less and less water so I’m going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water,” Obama said after touring part of a farm that is suffering under the state’s worst drought in more than 100 years.

“Instead what we have to do is all come together and figure out how we all are going to make sure that agricultural needs, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed,” he said.

Even if the U.S. takes immediate action to curb pollution, the planet will keep getting warmer for a long time to come because of greenhouse gases that already have built up, he said.

“We’re going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for,” Obama said, announcing more than $160 million in federal financial aid. The sum includes $100 million in the farm bill he signed into law last week for programs that cover the loss of livestock.

The package includes smaller aid amounts for the most extreme drought areas and to help food banks serving families affected by the water shortage. Obama also called on federal facilities in California to begin conserving water immediately.

“These actions will help, but they’re just the first step,” he said. “We have to be clear. A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.”

The budget Obama will send Congress next month includes $1 billion for a “climate resilience fund” to invest in research and pay for new technologies to help communities deal with climate change. The proposal is likely to face stiff opposition from lawmakers wary of new spending and divided on global warming.

Obama urged Congress to act swiftly on Democratic legislation backed by California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, that would pour $300 million into emergency aid and drought-relief projects, upgrade city water systems and water conservation, and speed up environmental reviews of water projects.

The White House has threatened to veto a Republican, House-passed bill that would roll back environmental protections and temporarily halt the restoration of a dried-up stretch of the San Joaquin River, work that is designed to restore historic salmon runs. The White House says the measure would not alleviate the drought but would undo decades of work to address California’s longstanding water shortages.

In the evening, Obama met Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the Rancho Mirage estate Sunnylands for talks focused largely on Syria.

Obama announced he would seek authority from Congress for new financial aid for Jordan, a key Arab ally of the U.S., including $1 billion in loan guarantees to help it manage the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Syrian war. He also wants to renew a five-year aid program for the kingdom.

Jordan’s economy is struggling in part because of the influx of the nearly 600,000 refugees seeking an escape from the day-to-day death and destruction from the civil war in next-door Syria, which began in 2011.

The refugees have overwhelmed Jordan, a country of 6 million people, straining its health care and education systems and other resources. Jordanians fear the spillover violence from Syria and the potential the presence of the refugees could create a regional base for extremists and terrorists.

Obama was spending the weekend at the sprawling desert estate built by billionaire philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg. He traveled without first lady Michelle Obama.

___

Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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Wide gap between New Delhi, Beijing smog policies http://ecologymania.com/wide-gap-between-new-delhi-beijing-smog-policies.html http://ecologymania.com/wide-gap-between-new-delhi-beijing-smog-policies.html#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 11:49:35 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1649 Think twice before taking a deep breath in New Delhi, where worsening air pollution has drawn comparisons with Beijing, the world's pollution poster child.

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India Air Pollution

NEW DELHI (AP) — Think twice before taking a deep breath in New Delhi, where worsening air pollution has drawn comparisons with Beijing, the world’s pollution poster child.

On bad days in India’s congested capital, the air is so murky it slows traffic to a crawl. Conversations are punctuated with rasping coughs. Weak bands of sunlight filter through a grainy sky.

Air monitoring sensors around the landlocked Indian capital have routinely registered levels of small airborne particles at “hazardous” levels in recent months — three to four times New Delhi’s own sanctioned limit, rivaling Beijing.

While it’s uncertain which city has worse smog — there are various toxins to measure and methods differ, among other things — one thing is clear: China’s capital is taking steps to improve air quality but New Delhi hasn’t done much in recent years to tackle the problem, largely because there’s been little public outcry.

Doctors overwhelmingly agree that more people in New Delhi are getting sick from the air pollution, although there is scant data to show it. Air pollution is proven to exacerbate chronic lung ailments, and there is mounting evidence it also leads to stress, coronary diseases and inflammation.

“It seems incredible that the politicians and judges living in Delhi would not be worried about how their families and children are suffering from the bad air,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, head of the Public Health Foundation of India. “People have to recognize the extent of the damage happening. That’s where the outrage will come in. That’s when the action will happen.”

This week, Reddy co-chaired the first meeting of a new Health Ministry committee, formed two months ago with academics, officials and health workers, tasked with recommending ways to protect the public from dirty air.

Their report is due in a year.

Comparing pollution levels between the two megacities, home to a combined 29 million people, seems natural given their iconic status representing Asia’s opportunity and growth. They both have gone through breakneck economic development that has transformed their landscapes within a generation, raising living standards but also spewing out loads of pollution.

Decades of policies that favored economic decisions over environmental concerns have taken their toll. Cars now represent the middle-class dream for thousands digging out of poverty, and decades of booming construction has kicked up countless clouds of dust.

There are various ways to measure pollution, but comparisons have generally focused on the microscopic particulate matter, sometimes called black carbon or soot, which can lodge in a person’s lungs and fester over time.

In New Delhi, levels of PM 10 — particulate matter that is 10 micrometers in size — have routinely bounced around 400 micrograms per cubic meter the past several months. That’s four times the city’s legal limit of 100, and well above the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 20. In 2011, the average level rose to about 280.

In Beijing, average annual PM 10 levels have declined to just above 100 last year, according to the Center for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based research and advocacy group that crunched the official numbers.

The Chinese capital is way ahead of its Indian counterpart in terms of in informing citizens about the dangers of pollution. Beijing has launched a health alert system that advises caution on smoggy days, and the term PM 2.5 — particles even smaller than PM 10 and considered more dangerous to health — has become a common part of the vocabulary among citizens, with many checking smartphone apps for the hourly readings.

During high alert times, schools may be closed, industries shut down and government vehicles taken off the roads.

New Delhi has no such alert system or emergency protocols. While the city recently began offering smog data online, power cuts can cause gaps in real-time reporting. And experts say many among the migrant-heavy population are unlikely to see or understand the information.

“It is the state’s responsibility to inform people about pollution dangers,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, research director at the Center for Science and Environment. “People need to know what they’re breathing, even if only so they can demand better.”

Beijing has also launched aggressive control measures, from limiting the number of cars that ply its roads to sanctioning punishments against factories that fail environmental standards.

New Delhi, however, has seen little action since enacting a set of reforms over a decade ago, which included moving industry beyond city limits, building a subway and switching public transportation to cleaner-burning fuel.

Indian authorities are touchy about comparisons between the two cities, and point to seasonal factors, such as when winds die down in the winter and let pollution pool over the capital. But Beijing experiences a rise in pollution once people start burning coal for heat while Delhi’s homeless turn to burning wood and piles of trash.

“It is scientifically wrong to compare Delhi and Beijing. The way of measuring (pollution) is different. The cities’ weather dynamics are different,” said M.P. George, who heads air monitoring with six citywide sensors for the Delhi Pollution Control Committee in addition to five managed by federal authorities.

Regardless of which city is worse, experts warn that pollution is a serious health hazard. Globally, pollution-related diseases kill 3.2 million people each year, with two-third in developing Asia, according to the 2012 multi-institutional report titled the Global Burden of Disease.

In New Delhi and other major Indian cities, “we are seeing more patients than we saw before, especially children” with recurring nose, throat and chest infections, said Dr. Sundeep Salvi of the Chest Research Foundation in the southern city of Pune. Such infections can inhibit lung growth — another problem area for India.

A study published in the Lancet medical journal in October showed the lung capacity of nonsmoking Indian adults is just two-thirds that of North America and Europe. The study did not analyze various factors, from pollution to nutrition, that might account for the difference, but doctors unaffiliated with the study said they believed air pollution was likely a major cause.

“If pollution continues to get worse, today’s children may have even less lung capacity,” Salvi said.

___

AP writer Louise Watt contributed to this story from Beijing.

___

Follow Katy Daigle on Twitter at http://twitter.com/katydaigle

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Lawmakers seek Endangered Species Act overhaul http://ecologymania.com/lawmakers-seek-endangered-species-act-overhaul.html http://ecologymania.com/lawmakers-seek-endangered-species-act-overhaul.html#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 11:27:39 +0000 natalia.maslova http://ecologymania.com/?p=1646 Republicans in Congress on Tuesday called for an overhaul to the Endangered Species Act to curtail environmentalists' lawsuits and give more power to states.

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Endangered Species

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Republicans in Congress on Tuesday called for an overhaul to the Endangered Species Act to curtail environmentalists’ lawsuits and give more power to states, but experts say broad changes to one of the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws are unlikely given the pervasive partisan divide in Washington, D.C.

A group of 13 GOP lawmakers representing states across the U.S. released a report proposing “targeted reforms” for the 40-year-old federal law, which protects imperiled plants and animals.

Proponents credit the law with staving off extinction for hundreds of species — from the bald eagle and American alligator to the gray whale. But critics contend the law has been abused by environmental groups seeking to restrict development in the name of species protection.

Led by Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, the Republicans want to amend the law to limit litigation from wildlife advocates that has resulted in protections for some species. And they want to give states more authority over imperiled species that fall within their borders.

Also among the recommendations from the group are increased scientific transparency, more accurate economic impact studies and safeguards for private landowners.

“The biggest problem is that the Endangered Species Act is not recovering species,” said Hastings. “The way the act was written, there is more of an effort to list (species as endangered or threatened) than to delist.”

Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in December 1973, the act has resulted in additional protections for more than 1,500 plants, insects, mammals, birds, reptiles and other creatures, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Republicans have seized on the fact that only 2 percent of protected species have been declared recovered — despite billions of dollars in federal and state spending.

Noah Greenwald, a wildlife advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, disputed the 2 percent figure as a “gross manipulation of facts” that ignores the hundreds of protected species now on the path to recovery.

The political hurdles for an overhaul of the law are considerable. The Endangered Species Act enjoys fervent support among many environmentalists, whose Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have thwarted past proposals for change.

Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, suggested Tuesday that Republicans appeared intent on gutting the law. He predicted the changes being sought would go nowhere in the Senate.

“There is no appetite to overturn the (Endangered Species Act),” DeFazio said.

Federal wildlife officials said they would not comment on Tuesday’s report until they have a chance to review it.

Throughout its history, the law has faced criticism from business interests, Republicans and others. They argue actions taken to shield at-risk species such as the northern spotted owl have severely hampered logging and other economic development.

Those complaints grew louder in recent months after federal wildlife officials agreed to consider protections for more than 250 additional species under settlement terms in lawsuits brought by environmental groups.

Included in the settlement was the greater sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird that has been in decline across large portions of its 11-state Western range. A final decision on whether to protect sage grouse is due next year and could result in wide-ranging restrictions on oil and gas development, agriculture and other economic activity.

The endangered act was last amended in the 1980s. Given the current level of rancor between Democrats and Republicans, academics who track the law were skeptical that the latest calls for change would succeed.

“Both sides have enough power to prevent something happening that they don’t like. But nobody has enough power to pass anything,” said Dale Goble, an expert on the act who works as a law professor at the University of Idaho.

Goble added that the main reason some species linger for decades on the endangered list is a shortage of federal money to help pay for their recovery.

Vanderbilt Law School professor J.B. Ruhl said previous attempts to reform the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s and again last decade failed. Regardless of the merits of the latest proposal, Ruhl said the topic remains a “third rail” many politicians are unwilling to touch.

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