Tag Archives: warning

Environmentalists sue De Beers over mercury at Canadian diamond mine

Wildlands League has gone to court against De Beers Canada Inc. for allegedly failing to report levels of mercury and methylmercury at its Victor Diamond Mine site in northern Ontario.

Methylmercury, a neurotoxin, can threaten the health of human and aquatic life.

Wildlands League alleges De Beers failed to report properly on mercury levels from five out of nine surface water monitoring stations for the creeks next to its open pit mine between 2009 and 2016, violating a condition of its Certificate of Approval. These are offenses under the Ontario Water Resources Act. 

“Private prosecutions are an important tool that allows private citizens to hold industry to account,” said Julia Croome, a lawyer with Ecojustice, which is representing the Wildlands League.

“When governments don’t enforce their own laws, this course of action is in the public interest,” Croome said.

The reporting failures undermined the effectiveness of the mine’s early warning system for mercury pollution, Ecojustice lawyers assisting the group say.

De Beers’ plans include extending the life of the Victor mine by digging the existing pit deeper and by digging another pit to bring the ore back to the Victor site for processing.

The Victor Diamond Mine is the first of 16 potential open pit mines that De Beers could build in the Attawapiskat River watershed. Further, a number of major mines have also been proposed for the Ring of Fire region, further upstream.

Wildlands League alerted the province and De Beers to the failures more than 18 months ago.

The group then outlined these concerns and others last December, in a special public report, “Nothing to See Here: failures of self-monitoring and reporting at the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine in Canada.”

“After months and months of silence from Ontario, we felt we had no choice but to file charges,” said Trevor Hesselink, citizen informant in this case, and Wildlands League director of policy and research.

“We expected Ontario to enforce its own laws. If we can’t rely on Ontario to oversee a single diamond mine, how can we trust it to oversee the many northern infrastructure and mining developments that are on the horizon?” Hesselink added.

The mine does not directly deposit methylmercury into nearby creeks.

Instead, its activities trigger impacts on the environment by stimulating the conversion of mercury already present in the ecosystem into methylmercury.

Methylmercury enters the food chain when fish absorb it directly through their gills or when they consume small organisms, like plankton, that are contaminated. The neurotoxin quickly concentrates at harmful levels in top predator fish and game, posing risks to indigenous people and recreational fishers that eat fish or game caught in the region.

The highest risks are borne by women of childbearing age and children under 15, as methylmercury affects brain and nervous system development.

The maximum fine under the Ontario Water Resources Act for a first time corporate offender is $250,000 per day.

De Beers has been ordered to make a first appearance in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto on Jan. 12, 2017.

Ahead of ‘Finding Dory,’ consumers urged not to buy wild-caught fish as pets 

In advance of the release of Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory, animal protection and conservation groups are urging consumers not to buy fish like Dory, a blue tang, or other wild-caught fish as pets for home aquariums.

While many freshwater fish can be bred in captivity, most saltwater fish offered for sale for aquariums are captured in the wild and taken primarily from coral reefs in the Philippines and Indonesia, often using cyanide that kills coral and other animals. These fish have complex needs that cannot be replicated in home aquariums, resulting in high mortality rates.

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, the Center for Biological Diversity and For the Fishes welcome the awareness about marine species that Finding Dory will create but warn that a sharp increase in demand of blue tangs could have severe impacts on the species. Finding Dory is a sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, which triggered millions of consumers and moviegoers to purchase wild-caught clownfish. The sudden mass demand and subsequent capture of millions of clownfish from their homes decimated wild populations, causing irreparable harm to both the species and the coral reefs they inhabited. Many consumers were unaware that clownfish were wild caught from their native reefs at that time, not bred or raised in captivity.

Although clownfish are now able to be bred in captivity, blue tangs have not been successfully bred in captivity, and captive-bred blue tangs are not available for purchase for home aquariums. While blue tangs are sold as 1- to 2-inch animals, they reach 12 inches as adults and have difficult care requirements, making them unsuitable for most home aquarists. Species this size, and with natural wide-roaming behaviors on the reef, require a minimum tank size of 180 gallons, which is about the size of a small sofa and at least three times larger than the average home tank.

Disney recognized the potential unintended consequences of the film and developed educational materials to inform the public, including recommendations to “Always select appropriate acquacultured fish as a first choice for your home aquarium,” and that “Blue tangs, like Dory, do not make good pets. Instead choose appropriate acquacultured fish.” The HSUS and HSI commend Disney for its efforts to support responsible pet ownership and help drive the market toward captive-raised, not wild-caught, ornamental fish.

“We are already seeing a troublesome increase in the number of blue tangs offered for sale to unknowing consumers in preparation for the release of Finding Dory,” said Rene Umberger of For the Fishes, creator of Tank Watch, a free mobile app that allows consumers to find out if a fish is wild caught, and inappropriate as a pet, or captive bred.

Finding Nemo created appreciation for the diversity of marine life and prompted many people to realize the negative impact of keeping wild-caught aquarium fish,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for HSI. “Sadly, it also had the effect of prompting some consumers to purchase animals they are ill-equipped to care for. In the case of wild-caught marine animals, the majority of these creatures live only a fraction of their natural lives if they are kept in a home aquarium, if they survive being captured and transported.”

“People can literally love these beautiful fish to death and we don’t want to see that happen again,” said Nicholas Whipps with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Films like this can prompt people to buy wild-caught fish for their aquariums and have major impacts on sensitive coral reef ecosystems. Consumers should educate themselves before stocking an aquarium with wild-caught fish.”

All three groups filed a legal petition in March asking the U.S. government to test imported aquarium fish for cyanide poisoning and to urge the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries that use reef-damaging cyanide fishing to enforce their laws against the practice.

In a new critically acclaimed book, What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe, director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, writes about the diversity and beauty of fish and how individual fishes think, feel and behave.

What the public can do:

• Never buy wild-caught animals, including blue tangs, as pets for home aquaria.

• Sign the pledge ‘Don’t Buy Wild’ — whether fish, birds or other wild animals.

• If you are thinking of purchasing a fish, download the free Tank Watch App hereand find out which are wild caught and which survive best in home aquaria.

• Spread the word on social media.

In 83 speeches, U.S. senator warns of climate change

Like he did 82 times before, Sheldon Whitehouse stood on the U.S. Senate floor and preached the dangers of climate change.

In his last speech before Congress adjourned, the senator from Rhode Island warned that 2014 is on track to be the hottest year on record.

It was a familiar sight: Whitehouse has given a speech about climate change each of the last 83 weeks Congress has been in session.

He never has to give the same speech twice, he says — there are plenty of new angles to take on such a big problem.

The Democrat’s ever-changing, ever-present floor speeches — warnings over rising sea levels, warmer oceans, eroding coastlines and more — make him the Senate’s loudest, most persistent voice on the dangers of climate change.

Whitehouse is still haunted by what he saw after Superstorm Sandy: oceanfront houses in Rhode Island teetering into the sea. He fears future storms will be more catastrophic as sea level rises.  

“We’re not a very big state so we don’t have a lot of land to give away to the sea,” he said. He noted that Rhode Island finds itself “on the receiving end” of the climate change problem because it doesn’t have coal mines or oil drilling.

Whitehouse, now in his second term, is a former federal prosecutor and Rhode Island attorney general. His wife, Sandra Thornton Whitehouse, is a marine scientist who helped him see the importance of the oceans in everyone’s lives, he said.

“On a personal level, I have a deep fear of being ashamed,” he said. “I don’t want, 20 years from now, when this is way past our current discussion, to be ashamed that I didn’t do my best when we still had a chance to fix this problem.”

Whitehouse co-chairs the Senate Oceans Caucus and a congressional climate change task force. The caucus is working to get bipartisan legislation passed on fishing issues, ocean data monitoring and marine debris.

As the Senate switches to a Republican majority, however, Whitehouse faces significant hurdles in getting meaningful climate change legislation passed.

The oil and gas industry spent $53 million on the 2014 elections and nearly $75 million in 2012, with close to 90 percent of the contributions going to Republicans, according to the political money-tracking website OpenSecrets.org.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said his top priority will be to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency, which is trying to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. He has said their “overreaching efforts” are strangling the economy. New environmental regulations have hampered U.S. job growth and caused a depression in eastern Kentucky coalfields, according to McConnell.

But Whitehouse is hopeful. In his speeches, he has candidly described how climate change will affect individual states — particularly ones with Republican leaders who he thinks might support new environmental policies.

And Whitehouse thinks Republicans will have to take more responsibility for solving problems when they’re in charge, and it will become a “colossal liability” for them to continue denying climate change as the 2016 elections near, he said.

Whitehouse thinks there’s a chance his latest proposal, to impose a carbon fee on industries that emit carbon pollution into the atmosphere, can gain some traction.

Prominent Republicans outside of government have endorsed a revenue-neutral fee on carbon, including Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state George Shultz, Reagan’s economic adviser Arthur Laffer and former Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis. To make it palatable to conservatives, Laffer and Inglis say the fee should be offset by a cut to the income tax.

“What conservative wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to reduce the tax on income and put a tax on anything else?” said Inglis, a former South Carolina congressman.

Shultz, now a distinguished fellow at Stanford University, said the party is more concerned about climate change than it appears. Today’s highly partisan atmosphere, he said, “causes people to get on opposite sides of everything.”

“They’re sensible people and given the chance, they’ll do sensible things,” Shultz said. “I’m sure of it.”

Whitehouse has formed an unlikely energy alliance with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia. Manchin visited Rhode Island in October to see the effect of climate change firsthand and Whitehouse toured coal and energy resources in West Virginia. They plan to work on crafting legislation to invest in technology for cleaner fossil fuel energy.

In the new Congress, Whitehouse said, he’ll keep making speeches about climate change until there is “serious action” to address it.

Another environmental advocate, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, said Whitehouse’s climate change speeches present a “compelling, absolutely riveting case for action.”

“I consider myself vocal, but nobody is more vocal than Sheldon Whitehouse,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “He’s in a league of his own.”

State Department issues travel alert for Olympics in Russia

The U.S. State Department on Jan. 10 issued a travel alert for U.S. citizens planning to attend the Olympic Games in Sochi that includes a caution for LGBT people because of Russia’s anti-gay law.

The alert says U.S. citizens should remain “attentive regarding their personal security at all times” during the Olympics and the Paralympic Games that will take place Feb. 7-March 16.

The alert, which expires March 24, states:

MEDICAL CARE: The Olympics are the first large-scale event to be held in Sochi and medical capacity and infrastructure in the region are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics.  Medical care in many Russian localities differs substantially from Western standards due to differing practices and approaches to primary care.  Travelers should consider purchasing private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance.

TERRORISM:  Large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists.  Russian authorities have indicated that they are taking appropriate security measures in Sochi in light of this.  Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, continue to occur in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus region.  Between October 15 and December 30, 2013, there were three suicide bombings targeting public transportation in the city of Volgograd (600 miles from Sochi), two of which occurred within the same 24-hour period.  Other bombings over the past 10-15 years occurred at Russian government buildings, airports, hotels, tourist sites, markets, entertainment venues, schools, and residential complexes.  There have also been large-scale attacks on public transportation including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights, in the same time period.  In July 2013, Doku Umarov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate (an organization the United States designated as a terrorist organization in 2010, and known in Russian as the Imirat Kavkaz or IK) released a video message rescinding prior directions not to attack civilians and calling for attacks on the Winter Olympics in Sochi.  The Caucasus Emirate is responsible for many of the aforementioned attacks.  The group has targeted civilians, as indirect supporters of the government, including through attacks on a ski resort, metro system, high-speed rail, airport, and a theater.  Westerners have not specifically been targeted, but are viewed by IK as complicit in the Russian government’s efforts to control the North Caucasus region. 

Travelers to Sochi should expect increased police presence and enhanced security measures in and around the Olympic venues.  There is no indication of a specific threat to U.S. institutions or citizens, but U.S. citizens should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices.  U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and exercise good judgment and discretion when using any form of public transportation.  When traveling, U.S. citizens may wish to provide a friend, family member, or coworker a copy of their itinerary.

The U.S. Embassy will continue to monitor the security situation in Sochi throughout the Olympics.  In the event the U.S. government receives information of any specific and credible threat, the Department of State will immediately provide information to the public.  Information about potential threats to safety and security can be found on the Embassy’s website and the Department of State’s travel website.  Individuals who have enrolled in STEP will receive this information directly via email.

CRIME:  U.S. citizens planning to attend the Games in Sochi should remain alert regarding their personal security at all times.  Criminal activity in Sochi is similar to other cities of comparable size.  However, major events such as the Olympic Games are a prime opportunity for criminal elements to target tourists.  Travelers should avoid carrying large amounts of money or other valuables.  Since cash may be the only accepted form of payment outside Olympic venues, consider keeping money in a hotel safe or dividing money and placing it in several different locations on your person.  Purses, wallets, cell phones, and electronics should be secured while traveling on buses, trains, or other forms of public transportation.  Travelers should only use marked taxi services and prearrange transportation through hotel concierge or other reputable services whenever possible.  Photocopies of passports, visas, credit cards, and other important documents should be kept in a secure location so proper notifications can be made if original documents are lost or stolen.

PUBLIC DEMONSTRATIONS:  U.S. citizens should avoid large crowds in areas that lack enhanced security measures.  Use caution in any areas where protests, demonstrations, or other public disturbances are taking place.  Demonstrations intended to be peaceful can develop quickly and unpredictably, sometimes turning violent.

On January 10, Vice Prime Minister Dmitriy Kozak announced that the Sochi authorities have determined that the village of Khost, located seven miles from the Olympic venues, will be the designated area for political demonstrations during the Winter Olympics.  Demonstrations must be unrelated to the Olympics and the organizers must receive permission prior to the event from the regional authorities of the Ministry of Interior and the Federal Security Service (FSB).  It is also worth noting that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter states “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER (LGBT) ISSUES:  In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a law banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors.  The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia.  Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100).  Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation.  The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms.  Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes “LGBT propaganda,” and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as “LGBT propaganda.”    LGBT travelers should review the State Department’s LGBT Travel Information page.

LODGING:  There may be shortages of hotel rooms during the Olympics.  While some hotels are under construction, visitors are urged to book rooms well in advance.  Advertised rates for standard rooms are currently $750-1,000 per night.  Now is the time to determine where you will stay and make your arrangements.

Karger campaign debuts ‘Sexy Frisbee’ ad

Republican Fred Karger, the first openly gay candidate of a major political party to run for president, debuted a new ad for the California primary. He is one of five Republicans on the June 5 primary ballot in the state.

Karger’s ad, “Sexy Frisbee,” opens with a “parental advisory: explicit content” warning on YouTube that has raised complaints from LGBT activists.

Watch the beach-themed ad here and then weigh in on WiG’s Facebook page: Was the warning required?

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Anti-violence project issues cautions

The New York City Anti-Violence Project, headquarters for the national program, issued a warning about recent incidents of pick-up violence in the LGBT community.

According to the AVP, such crimes – harassment, physical violence, robbery – are the “least discussed forms of violence committed against LGBTQ communities.

To respond, the AVP offered a series of tips about staying safe:

• Have a safety plan. Let someone know your plans, such as who you’ll be with, an address of your meeting place, the phone number of the person you are meeting, and if your plans change. Brainstorm in advance people you feel comfortable sharing this information with, and ways that those people can support you.

• Meet a pick-up in a public place. Discuss what activities you are comfortable with and the ones that you are not.

• On bathrooms and other public spaces: Be aware that incidents can occur in these locations.  Be aware of others in the restroom, stay near the exit if possible, use single stall restrooms where available, and if you feel uncomfortable find a different restroom to use.

• Be aware of your surroundings. Locate establishments to seek help if you feel unsafe.

• Trust your instincts. If you feel threatened or unsafe at any point, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible. 

• You can say no:  No matter who initiates or how far you’ve gone, you can stop at any time for any reason.

• Use words to alert bystanders of what’s going on and to frighten (but not anger) an assailant.

• Move towards a “safer place,” like a more public space.

• Self defense. Use your body to defend yourself or get away from an assailant.

Leave a trail and use your tech. Program hotline information into your phone; let people around you know when you are leaving a place; text yourself or friends about where you’ll be or where you are; save messages on Facebook, MySpace, OKCupid, Grindr, etc.

Get Support.

If possible, consider medical attention after any incident; violence can create many physical and emotional issues.

Document an incident. Take photos of any injuries; keep records of emails, texts, calls.


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