Archive for Pollution
www.independent.co.uk 21st September 2012
A recent poll put together by the “Break the Bag Habit” coalition has shown that 75% of adults would try to reduce their use of new plastic bags if there were a 5p charge on them. The poll of 1,752 English adults comes as statistics show disposable plastic bag use went up 5% last year, the second annual rise in a row, to 8 billion across the UK. However, in Wales where a 5p charge has already been introduced numbers have dropped significantly. Northern Ireland is about to bring its own levy and Scotland is consulting on doing the same. England, as yet, has no plans to follow suit although the poll shows 54% of those surveyed think the country should follow the rest of the UK. The “Break the Bag Habit” Coalition is a partnership of the Marine Conservation Society, Surfers Against Sewage, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Keep Britain Tidy set up to tackle the rising use of single-use bags. Plastic bags are a hazard in the environment and take a long time to break down. Large numbers find their way into the oceans where they become one of the more visible side of marine debris. Turtles, for example, can mistake them for jellyfish and then die from ingesting them.
www.independent.co.uk 16th August 2012
Scientists have created a “systematic way of scoring the health of the world’s oceans” in an attempt to evaluate their health in the face of growing problems such as pollution, overfishing, and acidification. The Ocean Health Index (graph below) places the overall health of the world’s oceans at 60 out of 100. The worst affected areas included the territorial waters of Sierra Leone, which scored just 37 and failed in every one of the ten measures the index uses to measure the sea’s health. Measures include water quality, biodiversity, and the sustainability and productivity of local maritime industries, such as fishing and tourism. Interestingly, the survey found that waters of the coasts of developed countries such as Germany differed little on the index than those in remote areas such as Jarvis Island in the Pacific Ocean. The survey was put together by 30 scientists and published in Nature. Only 5% of countries rated over 70 whereas a third were below 50. Great Britain weighed in at 61, just above the global average but below the US (63) and Germany (73).
www.guardian.co.uk 14th August 2012
The European Union has made radical changes to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, the world’s first comprehensive e-waste legislation introduced in 2003. The original legislation placed “producer responsibility” ‘on manufacturers that made them legally and financially responsible for the safe collection and disposal of old equipment’. However problems persisted with the export of e-waste to countries outside the EU for scrap. The updated directive ‘will impose a series of ambitious new e-waste recovery and recycling targets on the IT and electronics industry while also introducing stringent new penalties for companies and member states who fail to comply with the rules…new targets will require member states to collect 45 per cent of electronic equipment sold for approved recycling or disposal from 2016, rising to 65 per cent of equipment sold or 85 per cent of electronic waste generated by 2019, depending on which goal member states choose to adopt’. EU member states have until February 14 2014 to transcribe the new EU directive into their national e-waste laws.
www.seaweb.org 6th July 2011
In the absence of a global move to reduce carbon emissions, many have asked the question whether anything can really be done to reduce the effects of ocean acidification on the marine environment. A new paper, released in the journal Science, has tried to tackle this question by putting forward a number of ideas that could be implemented by local and national governments to better protect their coastlines. Although the growing amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing the level of the gas absorbed by the oceans (thereby creating carbonic acid), several other factors also play a role in this process. Freshwater input from rivers, pollution, and soil erosion all affect the acidic level of seawater. Although the report, headed by Ryan Kelly of the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, is aimed towards the United States, it’s lessons are relevant on a global scale. The first issue they tackle is to reduce acidification-related runoff. This can be done by using state funding and the Clean Water Act to prevent stormwater surges, upgrade water treatment facilities, and restore wetland areas. Secondly, in order to reduce coastal erosion (which carries with nutrient runoff and acidification-inducing fertilisers) local governing bodies should encourage vegetation growth that stabilises coastal sediment. Thirdly, “enforcement of federal emissions requirements for such industrial pollutants as nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide should provide local benefits given these pollutants’ short atmospheric resident times.” The paper insists that these more local moves challenge the commonly held belief that the problem of ocean acidification can only be dealt with on a national scale.
www.telegraph.co.uk 6th May 2011
Fracking is the latest craze within the energy industry. Invented in 1821 in New York, fracking involves blasting water, sand, and often toxic chemicals into shale thousands of feet under the earth in order to extract natural gas. The use of the method rocketed in 2005 ‘in the US when the Energy Policy Act exempted fracking wells from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Act.’ Since then reports have been made by local residents about tap-water catching fire when a match is lit nearby. But with 28,000 wells in 16 states in the USA alone by 2009, fracking is big business. BP paid $3 billion for fracking rights in 2008 and the world’s largest mining company BHP Billiton handed over $5 billion for rights in Arkansas. Fracking began in the UK in March. Although some green advocates insist that burning natural gas is a greener option compared to other fossil fuels as it produces less CO2, the US Environment Agency released a report in 2010 that contradicts this. Due to the hugely intrusive way the natural gas is extracted from shale, greater amounts of methane (one of the worst greenhouse gases) is emitted, therefore making fracking one of the most polluting practices in energy production. Furthermore, the process produces harmful chemicals including carcinogens and radioactive elements that leak into local water supplies. Air quality is another issue. Due to the 27,000 fracking wells in Wyoming, the state failed its federal requirements for air quality.
The list goes on. Read more in the original article from the Daily Telegraph here.
e360.yale.edu 7th December 2010
Quoted from source:
‘Scientists in South America are exploring the use of common earthworms to clean contaminated soil and liquids at former industrial sites and landfills. According to a study published in the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, earthworms, which process waste and soil in gardens, have the potential to safely — and cheaply — remove toxic metals including lead and mercury from contaminated materials. In one study, researchers at the Universidad Centro Occidental Lisandro Alvarado in Venezuela found that in just two weeks earthworms were able to remove arsenic levels from soil with 42 to 72 percent efficiency, and reduce mercury content with 7.5 to 30.2 percent efficiency. In addition, they found that compost produced by worms worked as an effective absorbent substrate for cleaning wastewater contaminated with metals such as nickel, chromium, and lead.’
e360.yale.edu 15th November 2010
Quoted from source:
‘In a new book, a Dutch researcher says that the introduction of a new class of insecticides two decades ago has led to a steady decline in bird species that rely on insect species as their main source of food. The scientist — Henk Tennekes at the Experimental Toxicology Services in Zutphen, the Netherlands — says that the widespread use of a potent new group of insecticides, called neonicotinoids, has led to a drastic decline in insect populations, which, in turn, is causing declines in bird populations in Europe. In his book, The Systemic Insecticides: A Disaster in the Making, Tennekes says that neonicotinoids are placed inside seeds and permeate the entire plant, leading to the death of any insect that feeds on a crop treated with the insecticide. “The evidence shows that the bird species suffering massive declines since the 1990s rely on insects for their diet,” said Tennekes. Such species include house sparrows, common swifts, and starlings, whose populations have shown significant declines in recent decades. Some scientists believe that the use of neonicotinoids is one reason behind the recent collapse of bee populations in Europe and the United States. Other scientists said far more study is needed before researchers can conclusively prove that neonicotinoids are a key cause of insect and bird declines.’
Quoted from source:
‘The Story of Electronics, released on November 9th, 2010 at storyofelectronics.org, takes on the electronics industry’s “design for the dump” mentality and champions product take back to spur companies to make less toxic, more easily recyclable and longer lasting products. Produced by Free Range Studios and hosted by Annie Leonard, the eight-minute film explains ‘planned obsolescence’—products designed to be replaced as quickly as possible—and its often hidden consequences for tech workers, the environment and us. The film concludes with an opportunity for viewers to send a message to electronics companies demanding that they “make ‘em safe, make ‘em last, and take ‘em back.” The film was made in close partnership with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national network of over 30 environmental and health organizations working to promote green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.
Watch the film with the link above.
www.guardian.co.uk 22nd August 2010
A three-year investigation by the United Nations Environment Programme has cleared Royal Dutch Shell from a large part of the widespread oil pollution in the Nigerian Delta. The investigation, which cost $10million and consisted of a 100 person team headed by Mike Cowing, stated that only 10% of the pollution in the region has been caused by Shell’s equipment and negligence. The remaining 90% has been attributed to the actions of local groups involved in illegal ‘bunkering’ operations that taps oil from the pipe-lines. Around 300 spills are known to have occurred in the last half century causing an estimated 9million barrels of oil to spill into the local environment. This is almost double the 5milion barrels that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig this summer. The results of the study, which was paid for by Shell and commissioned by the Nigerian government, have angered family members of the 9 Ogoniland chiefs who were hung by the Nigerian government in 1995 for peacefully protesting against Shell’s pollution. Conservationists have also denounced the findings claiming the study was influenced by its sponsors. The Niger Delta currently has 606 oil fields that account for 8.2% of crude oil imported into the USA.
www.nytimes.com 25th October 2010
The native American group of the Navajo have announced their intention to move away from their reliance on coal power and align themselves with technology that is more suited to their traditional values. The Navajo Nation spreads for 17million acres across the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and is they are the largest native American group in the States today. Coal mining and power plants currently make up about a third of the group’s annual operating budget but only employs around 1,500 of the 300,000 Navajos in the area. The fundamental reasons behind the decision seems to be the environmental degradation and health problems caused by coal mining. Navajo tradition, as explained by local medicine men, regards the extraction of natural resources such as coal and uranium (mined until health issues caused a ban in 2005) as tantamount to cutting through skin. Furthermore, the decision to make the most of solar and wind power in the Nation is an economic one. Income from coal has dwindled 15-20% in the past years and this is partly due to coal companies shutting down factories rather than paying hefty refurbishment fees to meet reduced pollution targets imposed on them by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Earlier this month the EPA told one company to install $717million in emission controls, labelling the factory in question the worst emitter of nitrous oxide in the country. Although progress is slow in the change, the Navajo have already given the go ahead for one wind farm that will generate power for 20,000 homes and have set up the ‘Navajo Green Economy Commission’ to help with the process.
The first attempt to produce a comprehensive survey of marine life has been undertaken by the Census of Marine Life (COML). The project is a huge undertaking but already the Census, contributed to by 2,700 scientists and 540 scientific expeditions over 10 years, has catalogued 250,000 marine species, including 6,000 that are newly discovered. It has also been estimated that as many as three quarters of a million species are awaiting discovery in the world’s oceans although the census admitted that it ”could not reliably estimate the total number of species, the kinds of life, known and unknown, in the ocean”. Those species do not include microbes which could number in the hundreds of millions of types. As well as cataloguing species, the COML also recorded migratory routes, meeting places, birth places, and even areas where species go to die. All the data is compiled in an online database open to the public (click here to taken to iobis.org).
Despite the optimistic tone in most of the report, the COML also made some stark warnings. Phytoplankton, the base species for much of the ocean’s food ladder and an important source of oxygen for the planet, has experienced a marked drop in numbers in recent times. Furthermore, due to overfishing and pollution, the world’s marine life has been ‘devastated’ by human action leaving many species close to collapse.
www.independent.co.uk 17th September 2010
Quoted from source:
‘People trying to be green by working from home or shopping online could actually be increasing carbon emissions rather than reducing them, according to a study published yesterday. Consumers who buy online must order more than 25 items from one retailer, otherwise the impact on the environment is likely to be worse than traditional shopping, research from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) revealed. Working from home can increase domestic energy use by up to 30 per cent and lead people to move further away from their employer, stretching urban sprawl and causing pollution. The findings came from the IET studying “rebound” effects of activities that are commonly thought to be green.’
www.guardian.co.uk 16th September 2010
The coal industry in China has experienced an astonishing expansion in recent years. From producing 357 gigawatts of energy in 2002, the sector is now responsible for 900 gigawatts causing 375 million tonnes of coal ash from 3 billion tonnes of coal, twice that of United States. 70% of China’s energy comes from coal and, although the government claim that 60% of the industry’s waste product, coal ash, is recycled, in reality most of it is dumped illegally. Fines for such actions exist but are minimal ( around £2.85 a tonne). Coal ash includes toxic chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead.
Greenpeace have highlighted the example of the Shentou number two power plant in Shuozhou, Shanxi province. The nearby towns of Mayi and Shuimotou have been heavily polluted by the coal ash fall out as there are little to no measures in place to prevent the ash passing over the settlements and the surrounding agriculture. Cattle and sheep are finding it difficult to reproduce and fields are no longer fertile. Despite numerous complaints the reaction by the plant’s owners has been its ‘ecological management system’ that erects dead maize stalks to act as ‘wind break’ (see image below). Livestock that feed on contaminated grass suffer high fatalities with one farmer saying 70% of his sheep has died of diarrhea following consumption of coal ash.
Sources: www.guardian.co.uk/environment 10th September 2010
Tougher action by local authorities has resulted in a dip in fly-tipping incidents in the UK. The figures from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which can be seen here, show that incidents have dropped by 18.7% to 947,000 in the past year. There were 2,460 cases brought to court of which 97% ended up with a successful outcome. The drop over doubles the previous year’s fall of 9%. Of the locations subjected to fly-tipping, roads and highways were the most severely affected with 49% of all incidents happening here. Council land and footpaths were in second with 33%. It cost local authorities £19.1 million in enforcement action 2009-2010 (up 4.3% from 2008-2009) and £45.8 million to clear up the illegal dumps (down £9.2 million from 2008-2009). However the results only represent fly-tipping incidents on public land and do not include dumping on private land (e.g.: farms).
In response to the report the Environment minister Lord Henley said: “We’re encouraged by the efforts being made by local authorities to tackle fly-tipping but there is no room for complacency. A total of nearly 947,000 incidents is unacceptable by any standards and fly-tipping is clearly still a significant problem. We must all work together to stamp out this continuing blight on our neighbourhoods.”
Sources: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment 9th September 2010
A survey by the Environmental Agency of several of the UK’s waterways has reported that efforts to clean up rivers have been successful. The Thames river, once declared biologically dead, has seen the return of the Sea Trout. So has the River Tyne where 15,000 Sea Trout have been recorded migrating compared to none at all 50 years ago. The Mersey, previously known as the most polluted river in Europe, is at its cleanest for 100 years. The Environmental Agency claimed that river cleanliness has risen for the 20th year in a row resulting from tougher measures on polluters, investment from water companies, changing agricultural practices, and reducing industry run-off. Currently 70% of the UK’s waterways are rated as ‘good’ or ‘very good’.
Sources: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment 8th September 2010
The environmental group Friends of the Earth have reported that in the first six months of 2010, Hong Kong’s air quality has reached record lows. The quality hit ‘unhealthy’ around 10% of the time between January to June. Health experts have stated that the poor quality of the city’s air has resulted in 3.8 million visits to the doctor this year alone as well as £99 million in lost productivity and doctor’s bills. The government has warned people with respiratory problems to stay away from traffic hot-spots where the air is more likely to fall into the ‘unhealthy’ category. Sandstorms from Northern China exaggerated the problem in March causing air quality to soar off the charts. Air pollution has contributed in Hong Kong’s relatively low position in city quality of life standings. A recent survey by Mercer Consulting put the city at 71st out of 221 compared to Singapore at 28th. However, officials noted that although roadside pollution was experiencing record highs, overall air pollution had actually declined in the past 6 months.
Sources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news 2nd September 2010
Another oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has suffered an explosion at 1330 GMT today the 2nd September. The rig is situated some 130km south of the Vermilion Bay on the Louisiana coast and is owned by Mariner Energy. All 13 crew are reported to have escaped successfully with only one injured. Unlike BP’s Deep Water Horizon explosion in April, the Mariner rig was built in relatively shallow water (105m) making any potential clean-up operation a relatively simple task. However, Mariner Energy have stated their rig was undergoing maintenance at the time of the explosion and was not producing any oil or gas.
So far 7 helicopters, 3 boats, and 2 planes have been dispatched from the states of Louisiana, Texas, Alabama. After the environmental disaster of April that saw BP’s Deep Horizon rig leak hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, local authorities are taking no risks in responding to this new catastrophe.
It has been called the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ by oceanographers and currently spans an area almost twice the size of the continental United States. The ‘plastic soup’ stretches from around 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast almost as far as Japan. It is kept in place by powerful currents which converge bringing with them refuse from 4 different continents. The American Oceanographer Charles Moore who discovered the ‘trash vortex’ has estimated that around 100 million tons of refuse are in the ‘soup’ effectively causing a dead-zone in the world’s largest ocean.