Tag Archives: hazards

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger: Military must pursue alternatives to burning munitions

With President Barack Obama’s signature on the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, a nationwide grassroots campaign to ensure the safe disposal of conventional munitions stockpile secured a key victory.

The amendment, written by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., will benefit hundreds of communities across the country where open air burning of hazardous waste is routinely conducted by the Departments of Defense and Energy, according to a news release.

“I have been working on cleaning up the Badger Army Ammunition Plant since I first entered Congress, so I was proud to fight for this reform to help other communities facing similar challenges,” Baldwin said, according to the release. “This provision will assist the military in using safer and more environmentally-friendly technologies to properly dispose of munitions to ensure that other sites are not contaminated the way that the Badger site was.”

“I was proud to support and help shepherd through the Senate, the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act which includes a provision important to Madison County and the Blue Grass Army Depot community allowing the Army to use cost-competitive technologies to safely and efficiently dispose of stockpiles of legacy conventional munitions,” added U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The new act requires the Secretary of the Army to enter into an arrangement with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to conduct a study of the alternatives to the current practice of open burning the conventional munitions stockpile of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense manages conventional ammunition that includes items ranging from small arms cartridges to rockets, mortars, and artillery to tactical missiles.

As of February 2015, the stockpile of conventional ammunition awaiting demilitarization and disposal was approximately 529,373 tons.

By fiscal year 2020, the stockpile is expected to more than double, making the proper management and disposal of such large quantities of explosive materiel critical. 

“Open burning and detonation of munitions causes the uncontrolled dispersion of toxic heavy metals including chromium and lead, energetic compounds, perchlorate, nitrogen oxides and other munitions-related contaminants to the environment,” said Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger in Wisconsin and an organizer with the Cease Fire Campaign – a national grassroots coalition of 60 environmental, labor, veterans and social justice organizations calling for safer alternatives. 

Sites like the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Tennessee are currently permitted to open burn as much as 1,250,000 pounds net explosive waste per year — ignoring a 2012 Army Corps of Engineers study that concluded there are cutting-edge technologies that could be successfully deployed at Holston to replace open burning.

“There are over 100 hazardous chemicals released from open burning waste explosives and explosives-contaminated construction demolition debris that can be toxic and carcinogenic,” cautioned Connie & Mark Toohey with Volunteers for Environmental Health and Justice and residents living downwind of Holston. “Dioxins are highly toxic and cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system and can interfere with hormones.”

Also, for more than 60 years, the U. S. military used the offshore Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico for training exercises with live bombing, experimental use of conventional and non-conventional weapons, testing with napalm, agent orange, uranium and open burning and open detonation (OB/OD),” said Myrna Pagan with Vidas Viequenses Valen. “For over 10 years now there is a process of cleanup and restoration underway where OB/OD continues to contaminate this small island.”

“OB/OD is a dangerous, toxic and outdated method that feeds a health crisis of alarming rates of cancer and other catastrophic diseases,” Myrna added.  “Our little children, our teen agers have more than three times the probability of dying from cancer than their peers in the rest of Puerto Rico. We citizens depend on responsible action from the government to protect our rights to good health in a safe environment. We deserve the use of reliable, alternative, advanced technologies to repair this disaster.”

The National Academy of Sciences study is due to Congress in 18 months. 

Study: North Dakota pipelines average 4 spills per year

Pipelines in North Dakota have spilled crude oil and other hazardous liquids at least 85 times since 1996, according to an analysis released today by the Center for Biological Diversity. These 85 spills — an average of four a year — caused more than $40 million in property damage, according to the data compiled from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The analysis follows the recent decision by the Obama administration not to grant the Dakota Access pipeline an easement for construction under Lake Oahe.

After months of peaceful protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will undertake a review of alternate routes for the pipeline.

“Pipeline leaks are common and incredibly dangerous, and the Dakota Access pipeline will threaten every community it cuts through,” said the center’s Randi Spivak. “This pipeline wasn’t considered safe for the residents of Bismarck. It is equally unsafe for the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux. The Army Corps should not be putting anyone’s water supply at risk.”

Energy Transfer Partners, the conglomerate behind the controversial Dakota Access project, has a questionable safety record. The company has been responsible for 29 pipeline safety incidents since 2006, in which 9,555 barrels of hazardous liquids were spilled.

The standoff over the Dakota Access pipeline has united indigenous people across the globe in an unprecedented show of solidarity. Thousands have come to show their support. In response local police have militarized the situation, firing rubber bullets and showering protesters with water in freezing temperatures.

A 2013 study reveals a deeply troubling history of pipeline accidents in the United States. This independent analysis of federal records found that since 1986, oil and gas pipeline leaks, spills and other safety incidents have resulted in nearly $7 billion in damages, more than 2,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths.

A time-lapse video documents significant pipeline” incidents in the continental United States — along with their human and financial costs — from 1986 through May 2013.

On average one significant pipeline incident occurred in the country every 30 hours, according to the data.

“We expect the Corps to conduct a full oil-spill risk analysis for every river crossing along the entire route of the Dakota Access project,” Spivak said in a statement to the press. “Spills are a fact of life when pipelines fail — and that puts water, wildlife and people directly in harm’s way.”

 

Genetic ‘extinction’ technology raises concerns at World Conservation Congress

As thousands of government representatives and conservationists convene in Oahu this week for the 2016 World Conservation Congress, international conservation and environmental leaders are raising awareness about the potentially dangerous use of gene drives — a controversial new synthetic biology technology intended to deliberately cause targeted species to become extinct.

Members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, including NGOs, government representatives and scientific and academic institutions, overwhelmingly voted to adopt a de facto moratorium on supporting or endorsing research into gene drives for conservation or other purposes until the IUCN has fully assessed their impacts.

Yet, scientists and environmental experts and organizations from around the globe have advocated for a halt to proposals for the use of gene drive technologies in conservation.

Announced this week, a long list of environmental leaders — including Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, genetics professor and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Fritjof Capra, entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva and organic pioneer and biologist Nell Newman — have lent their support to the open letter: “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation.”

The letter states, in part: “Gene drives, which have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as conservation tools.”

“Gene drives are basically a technology that aims for a targeted species to go extinct,” explains ecologist and entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, president of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility. “While this may appear to some conservationist professionals to be a ‘good’ thing and a ‘silver bullet’ to handle complicated problems, there are high risks of unintended consequences that could be worse than the problems they are trying to fix.”

Both the leading developers of the technology and also those concerned about gene drives will be attending this week’s Congress and holding events to raise awareness, hype promises or highlight the potential hazards of gene drives.

One near-term gene drive proposal, promoted by U.S.-based non-governmental organization Island Conservation, intends to release gene drive mice on islands to eradicate them.

Another led by the University of Hawai’i would develop gene drive mosquitoes for use in Hawaii to combat avian malaria which affects honeycreeper birds.

The debate around gene drives is likely to resurface later this year at the negotiations of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in Cancun Mexico in December.

“Gene drives, also known as ‘mutagenic chain reactions,’ aim to alter DNA so an organism always passes down a desired trait, hoping to change over time the genetic makeup of an entire species,” said Dr. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. “This technology would give biotech developers an unprecedented ability to directly intervene in evolution, to dramatically modify ecosystems, or even crash a targeted species to extinction.”

“Genetic extinction technologies are a false and dangerous solution to the problem of biodiversity loss,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. “There are real, sustainable, community-based conservation efforts that should be supported. We are concerned that genetic extinction technologies will allow new destructive agricultural practices and even use by the military. Speculative conservation claims are at best an unfounded diversion or smokescreen. We support those in the IUCN who recognize the gravity of irreversible and irresponsible technologies such as gene drives.”

Signatories of the letter, which include indigenous organizations and legal experts, raised legal and moral questions, citing an “ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.”

“From military testing to GMO crops, and now gene drives, Hawai’i should not be treated as a test zone for risky and experimental technologies,” said Walter Ritte, Native Hawaiian activist and hunter. “What happens in Hawai’i must be discussed with residents, not decided from a lab on the other side of the continent. Hawaiians should decide what is best for Hawai’i.”

Greenpeace: Majority of consumers think manufacturers should recycle mobiles

Consumers say mobile phone manufacturers are releasing too many new models, according to a survey Greenpeace commissioned across six countries.

In all countries surveyed, consumers were most likely to say that mobile phone manufacturers should be responsible for providing people with the means to recycle their phones, while four in five surveyed said that it was important that a new smartphone can be easily repaired if damaged.

“The humble smartphone puts enormous strain on our environment from the moment they are produced — often with hazardous chemicals — to the moment they are disposed of in huge e-waste sites,” said Chih An Lee, Global IT Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

“Over half of respondents across the countries surveyed agree that manufacturers are releasing too many new models, many designed to only last a few years. In fact, most users actually want their phones to be more easily dismantled, repaired and recycled.”

Mobile phones are some of the most frequently replaced of all small electronics products.

A United Nations University report in 2014 showed that up to 3 million metric tonnes of e-waste is generated from small IT products, such as mobile phones and personal computers. This represents a massive waste of resources and a source of contamination from hazardous chemicals.

Key findings from the survey:

  • Chinese (66 percent) and South Korean respondents (64 percent) are more likely to have ever had their phones repaired, compared to those in the US (28 percent) and Germany (23 percent).

  • Nearly half surveyed believe that mobile phone manufacturers should be most responsible for making recycling accessible. This sentiment was strongest in Germany (61 percent).

  • Except in Germany (86 percent), over 90 percent of respondents surveyed in all countries said that “designed to last” is an important feature of a new smartphone.

  • Four in five respondents consider it important that a new smartphone is not produced using hazardous chemicals.

  • Four in five respondents believe it is important for a new smartphone to be easily repaired if damaged.This rises to as high as 95 percent in China, 94 percent in Mexico and 92 percent in South Korea.

  • Apart from respondents in South Korea, the most common reason for replacing their last phone was the desire for a more up-to-date device.

“We believe true innovation means gadgets designed to last, to be repaired and recycled. It is time for tech leaders to rethink the way they make our electronics so that they are as innovative for our planet as they are for our lives,” said Lee.

“If tech brands want to lead us into the future, they need to move towards closed-loop production and embrace the circular economy; something that can be good for their profits, for people and for the planet.”

Greenpeace East Asia conducted the survey as part of its True Innovation campaign, which challenges the technology sector to embrace innovation to protect our environment and our future.

200,000 urge EPA to strengthen protections for farmworkers

Some 200,000 people have called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen its Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, which is the only federal standard designed to protect the nation’s more than 2 million farmworkers from pesticide exposure.

“Farmworkers face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, an attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm. “While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are not protected by the same health and safety standards.”

Earthjustice, Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Migrant Clinicians Network, Pesticide Action Network North America, United Farm Workers and CREDO collected more than 200,000 signatures on petitions.

“The nation’s 2 million farmworkers deserve the level of workplace protections provided to other workers,” added Margaret Reeves, a senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network. “Protections for workers from pesticide exposure also mean protections for farmworker children and families.”

The petitioners and grassroots groups are calling on the EPA to change the proposed standard to include:

• Parity with safety rules provided to workers in non-agricultural industries.

• Improved safety training annually and starting before workers enter treated fields.

• Easily accessible information about pesticides used on the farm and in nurseries.

• No children under 18 years of age allowed to handle hazardous pesticides.

• Strict adherence to no-entry rules for areas recently treated with pesticides.

• Improved protections and safety monitoring for pesticide handlers.

Elvia Vasquez of Oxnard, California, worked in the fields of Southern California picking strawberries, lettuce and broccoli for nearly a decade. “I would get rashes and headaches when forced to enter the strawberry fields that had been sprayed with pesticides only hours before,” said Vasquez, who now works with Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc. to educate farmworkers on the dangers of pesticide exposure.

Farmworker advocates say millions are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals without adequate safeguards to protect their health and the EPA must at least take basic steps to protect them.

The government has been hearing from workers and advocates for more than a decade— the WPS was first adopted in 1995 and has been awaiting revision since 2000. The EPA is expected to issue a finalized rule by early 2015, after closing its public comment period on Aug. 18.

Farmworkers welcome planned changes to protection standards

Farmworkers welcomed an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it will soon propose revisions to the Worker Protection Standard, which provides minimal workplace protections against pesticide exposures for farmworkers.

A coalition of farmworker, public health and other nonprofit organizations has long urged the EPA to include stronger protections for farmworkers. More than 20 years has passed since the rules were updated and the EPA has admitted for more than a decade that the standards are inadequate.

Following a review by the federal Office of Management and Budget, advocates expect the EPA will publish the proposed rule for public comment in the next few weeks. The farmworkers want to see updated rules for safety training requirements, safety precautions limiting farmworkers’ contact with pesticides and mechanisms to improve enforcement of workplace protections.

An estimated 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops annually in the United States with the nation’s 1 million to 2 million farmworkers facing the highest threat from the health impacts of the chemicals.

The federal government estimates there are 10,000–20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry annually. Short-term effects of pesticide exposures include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, nausea, headaches, respiratory problems and even death.

Long-term exposure can increase the risk of serious chronic health problems such as cancer, birth defects, neurological impairments and Parkinson’s disease for farmworkers, their families and their children.

A petition for reform was filed by Earthjustice and Farmworker Justice in November 2011 on behalf of United Farm Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., PCUN/Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, Farm Worker Pesticide Project, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation and the Pesticide Action Network North America.

“While most Americans benefit from broad workplace protections, farmworkers are fundamentally disadvantaged and face dangerous exposure to poisons over the course of their working life,” said Eve Gartner, attorney for Earthjustice. “We urge the EPA to offer farmworkers a more protective safeguard.”

“Each year pesticide exposure poisons tens of thousands of farmworkers and their families, leading to injury, illness, and death,” said Virginia Ruiz, director of occupational and environmental health at Farmworker Justice. “We applaud the administration for taking this step to help protect the men, women and children who labor to put food on our tables. We hope that the EPA’s revised Worker Protection Standard will include important safeguards for farmworkers and strengthen their right to a safe workplace.”

Protect pets from holiday hazards

You can bet that during the holiday season your pet is bound to sniff out leftovers, dig into the presents and have fun with all of your decorations. And while these holiday effects can spread cheer and joy among your human family members, they can be a real hazard to pets. This season, keep your holidays safe, happy and healthy for pets by taking these key measures:

Decorate wisely

Avoid poisonous holiday plants such as poinsettias and holly. There are plenty of toxic-free alternatives as evocative of the season as these traditional holiday favorites. If you must deck the halls with such plants, place them in an out-of-the-way spot your pets can’t reach and keep your pets away from those areas of your home.

Tinsel and gift ribbons are tempting for pets that like to play with shiny things, but when swallowed, such items can cause intestinal obstructions. Clean up after opening presents and vacuum around the tree to pick up any gift debris, as well as fallen pine needles which pose a similar hazard.

Avoid the problem

When it comes to the holidays, there’s no need to be a Grinch in order to keep your celebration safe for pets. New technologies are making it easier to teach pets to stay away from certain areas of your home, both indoors and outside. For example, Invisible Fence Brand Micro Shields Avoidance Solutions are small mobile wireless units to train pets to avoid areas of the home or yard where they might get into trouble. And if you have multiple pets, you can set different rules for different pets.

So don’t forgo that lovely holiday candle display just because you have a pet in your life. For more information go to www.invisiblefence.com.

Watch your plate

As most great pet owners know, not all human foods are safe or healthy for pets. Pets can choke on bones in meat or fish dishes. And such foods as onions, macadamia nuts and chocolate – which are commonly found in holiday cooking and baking – are unsafe for dogs.

Avoid having your well-meaning guests sending Spot to the vet by laying ground rules about sharing food.

Also, one man’s trash is a pet’s treasure, so be sure to keep the lid on the garbage secure.

By taking proper precautions, you can keep the holidays festive this year for both you and your pets.