Common Pollutant as Bad as PCBs?

“They’re crumbling out of couches…”

Blast from the past:  my previously published article on topic that’s back on front pages – Stephen

By Stephen Leahy

Wired News May 22 2004

Scientists reported this week that gull eggs in the Great Lakes region contain rising levels of a contaminant that could be as dangerous as the PCBs banned in the 1970s.

The contaminant, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, is used mainly as a flame retardant in upholstered furniture, computers, TVs, carpets and drapes.

While concentrations of the chemical have been shooting upward, doubling approximately every three years since the early 1980s, scientists have yet to investigate the environmental risks the substance poses.

Ross Norstrom, an adjunct chemistry professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, told the Toronto Globe and Mail that, “There is no reason to believe that these things will be any different than the PCBs.”

High levels of PBDEs are also being found in household dust, two new studies report this week. “PBDEs are everywhere,” said Bill Walker of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C., that conducted one of the studies.

“They’re crumbling out of couches and migrating out of plastics and TVs and getting into people’s blood and women’s breast milk,” Walker said in an interview. PBDEs are also being detected in just about every animal and fish around the world.

Lab research on animals shows PBDEs disrupt thyroid hormones, which can impact the developing brain and have other harmful effects. Newborn mice exposed to PBDEs have learning and motor-skill problems, and at least one form of the chemical is carcinogenic.

European countries have banned two of the three main forms of PBDEs, and U.S. manufacturers are also taking them off the market by year’s end. New research shows that the most heavily used remaining form, called “deca,” breaks down into one of the more toxic forms and ought to be banned as well, Walker said.

Many computer and electronics manufacturers such as IBM, Apple Computer and Toshiba are ahead of the curve and eliminating PBDEs from their products. “It also makes good economic sense because other countries are banning them too,” said Walker.

New Projects Dispel Myths and Spread the Truth About Vaccines

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 3, 2012 (IPS)

In northern Pakistan, one in ten children dies before the age of five from diseases such as polio, measles or hepatitis, despite the availability of vaccines. And while health workers feared visiting this region, which includes the mountainous Swat district controlled by the Taliban until 2009, local people also fear the potentially life-saving vaccines.

“Some local imams (religious leaders) have been preaching that vaccines are an attempt by the U.S. government to sterilise children,” said Erfaan Hussein Babak, director of The Awakening project, which aims to promote vaccinations in the Swat district.

“The child mortality rate from preventable diseases is distressingly high,” Babak told IPS by phone from the region.

Some people in the region understand that vaccines are safe, but overall, there is little demand by parents for vaccinations, he said. To counter certain negative perceptions, The Awakening project is working to promote child vaccination by establishing village health committees, school clubs and radio programs.

The project is being funded by the Canada-based Sandra Rotman Centre as one of five projects awarded 10,000 U.S. dollars to educate populations in developing countries about the use of vaccines and immunisation to prevent diseases.

Combating myth

By 2004, polio had nearly been eradicated in Pakistan. However, the disease has seen a resurgence in the northern areas, in part due to the mistaken belief that the oral vaccine could render children impotent or sterile.  Continue reading

Global Forest Decline with Warming Temperatures Scientists Warn

Image

Forests diebacks are taking place all around the world. The evidence is quite sobering,” said tropical biologist Daniel Nepstad of IPAM in Belem, Brazil.

This reinforces the urgent need to reduce emissions of fossils fuels and to develop a global land strategy to turn sources of CO2 into sinks for CO2, he said.

“Most of the evidence shows climate change is speeding up. Meanwhile political action on climate is slowing down,” Nepstad added.

–From a previous post on how the loss of trees to deforestation, drought and disease is accelerating climate change.

Last week the Japanese govt injected $billions into Tepco, owners of the damaged Fukushima nuke plant that still poses a huge threat. Many more billions are needed to make it safe.

Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 6, 2011 (IPS)

The nuclear energy industry only exists thanks to what insurance experts call the “mother of all subsidies”, and the public is largely unaware that every nuclear power plant in the world has a strict cap on how much the industry might have to pay out in case of an accident.

In Canada, this liability cap is an astonishingly low 75 million dollars. In India, it is 110 million dollars and in Britain 220 million dollars. If there is an accident, governments – i.e. the public – are on the hook for all costs exceeding those caps.

Japan has a higher liability cap of 1.2 billion dollars, but that is not nearly enough for the estimated 25 to 150 billion dollars in decommissioning and liability costs for what is still an ongoing disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Seven weeks…

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Wealthy Countries and Investors Buying Up Farmland in Poor Countries

Lopiso Lagebo, 25, comes from Kambata, a small town 800km away from Metahar. He starts working at 0500, cuts up to 5 tons (5,000 kg) of sugar cane a day and earns $0.8. The company recruits most of the work force around his home town, where land shortage drives the workers to emigrate. Caption and Photo: Alfredo Bini/Cosmos  http://www.facebook.com/alfredobini

[I wrote this article three years ago revealing a global land grab by rich investors that is now estimated to be more than 200 million hectares – my recent update here – Stephen]

By Stephen Leahy*

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, USA, May 5 , 2009 (Tierramérica)

More than 20 million hectares of farmland in Africa and Latin America are now in the hands of foreign governments and companies, a sign of a global “land grab” that got a boost from last year’s food crisis.

Rich countries that are short on land or water at home are looking to secure food-producing lands elsewhere as a way to ensure food security for their populations, said Joachim von Braun, director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“There is a major lack of transparency in these land deals,” von Braun said in a telephone press conference from Washington.

The IFPRI study, “‘Land Grabbing’ by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries,” by von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick, which was presented last week, estimates that 15 to 20 million hectares have been acquired or are in the process of being sold.

Von Braun pointed out that this is equivalent to about 25 percent of all the farmland in Europe.

Because hard data is difficult to come by – the study was based primarily on information from press reports – IFPRI conservatively estimates that the deals represent 20 to 30 billion dollars being invested by China, South Korea, India and the Gulf States, mainly in Africa.

“About one-quarter of these investments are for biofuel plantations,” von Braun said.  Continue reading

Revealed: In Acidic Oceans Sunlight Kills Planet’s Most Important Organism — Marine Algae

A number of marine diatom cells (Pleurosigma), which are an important group of phytoplankton in the oceans.
Credit: Michael Stringer

“There’s a synergistic effect between increased ocean acidity and natural light”

“It’s clear we are conducting a giant experiment on the planet and we don’t know what we are doing.”

 By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 8, 2012 (IPS)

Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, sunlight will kill an unknown number of ocean phytoplankton, the planet’s most important organism, a new study reports this week.

Not only are phytoplankton, also known as marine algae, a vital component in the ocean’s food chain, they generate at least half of the oxygen we breathe.

In the not so distant future, sunlight, the very source of life for phytoplankton, will likely begin to kill them because of the ocean’s increasing acidity, researchers from China and Germany have learned.

“There’s a synergistic effect between increased ocean acidity and natural light,” says Ulf Riebesell of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany.

Riebesell added that it was also possible “phytoplankton could adapt”.

Researchers were surprised to discover that diatoms, one of the most important and abundant types of phytoplankton, fared very badly during shipboard experiments conducted by co-author Kunshan Gao, from the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University, Xiamen China.

Previous experiments in labs like Riebesell’s found that diatoms actually did better in high-acid seawater, unlike most other shell- forming plankton. Burning fossil fuels has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic researchers discovered less than 10 years ago. Oceans absorb one third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from using fossil fuels.

The good news is this has slowed the rate of global warming. The bad news is oceans are now more acidic and it will get worse as more CO2 is emitted. This is basic, well-understood ocean chemistry.  Continue reading

Standing Up for the Planet and the Future: Time to Stop Using Fossil Fuels

Coal power plant – Alberta

+15,000 temperature records already broken in the US this year 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 4, 2012 (IPS)

What are you doing on Saturday? Peter Nix, a retiree, will be standing on a railway track on Canada’s west coast blocking a coal train destined to ship U.S. and Canadian coal to Asia.

Nix will be joined by dozens of people near White Rock, British Columbia on May 5. They will be in good company as tens of thousands of people around the world participate in global day of action to “connect the dots” between climate change and extreme weather.

“There will be at least 1,200 actions in more than 100 countries,” says Jamie Henn, communications director for 350.org, a U.S.-based environmental group.

Please throw something in the tip jar before reading on. This is how I make my living.
There’s been a general perception that climate change is a future problem but with all the extreme weather disasters and weather records the public is being to realise that climate change is here, says Henn.

“Recent opinion surveys show the more than 60 percent of the U.S. public are connecting extreme weather to climate change,” Henn told IPS.

The U.S. public is not wrong, say scientists. 

“All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be,” Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, told IPS previously.  Continue reading