Military sees surge in sites with ‘forever chemical’ contamination

Military sees surge in sites with 'forever chemical' contamination

© Greg Nash

The military now has at least 651 sites that may have been contaminated with cancer-linked “forever chemicals,” a more than 50 percent jump from its last tally.

The information was released Friday in a report from the Department of Defense (DOD), part of a task force designed to help the military remove a class of chemicals known as PFAS from the water supply near numerous military bases.

PFAS, used in a variety of household products as well as an “AFFF” fire fighting foam relied on by the military, has been deemed a forever chemical due to its persistence in both the environment and the human body.

The military has been under increasing pressure to clean up contaminated sites, previously estimated to be as many as 401 locations. Each of those sites where PFAS may have been used must still be evaluated to determine whether it’s been contaminated, as well as the extent of the exposure.

“This report also makes it clear that we are still learning the full extent of the impact on our communities. The identification of over 250 new sites where PFAS was potentially released is astonishing,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

“It is critical that the department provide communities with timely assessment of these sites, communicate transparently with impacted households, and quickly act to protect civilians and service members alike from these forever chemicals.” MORE

Big Oil’s Plan B is already in the pipeline: More plastic

As public concern about plastic pollution rises, consumers are reaching for canvas bags, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. But while individuals fret over images of oceanic garbage gyres, the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tons of plastic than they now pump out.

Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.

“In the context of a world trying to shift off of fossil fuels as an energy source, this is where [oil and gas companies] see the growth,” said Steven Feit, a staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, an advocacy group.

And because the American fracking boom is unearthing, along with natural gas, large amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane, the United States is a big growth area for plastic production. With natural gas prices low, many fracking operations are losing money, so producers have been eager to find a use for the ethane they get as a byproduct of drilling.

“They’re looking for a way to monetize it,” Feit said. “You can think of plastic as a kind of subsidy for fracking.”

America’s petrochemical hub has historically been the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, with a stretch along the lower Mississippi River dubbed “Cancer Alley” because of the impact of toxic emissions. Producers are expanding their footprint there with a slew of new projects, and proposals for more. They are also seeking to create a new plastics corridor in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where fracking wells are rich in ethane.

Shell is building a $6 billion ethane cracking plant — a facility that turns ethane into ethylene, a building block for many kinds of plastic — in Monaca, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is expected to produce up to 1.6 million tons of plastic annually after it opens in the early 2020s. It’s just the highest profile piece of what the industry hails as a “renaissance in U.S. plastics manufacturing,” whose output goes not only into packaging and single-use items such as cutlery, bottles, and bags, but also longer-lasting uses like construction materials and parts for cars and airplanes.

Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the U.S., including expansions of existing facilities, new plants, and associated infrastructure such as pipelines, says the American Chemistry Council, an industry body. While some are already running or under construction, other projects await regulators’ approval.

“That’s why 2020 is so crucial. There are a lot of these facilities that are in the permitting process. We’re pretty close to it all being too late,” said Judith Enck, founder of Beyond Plastics and a former regional director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “If even a quarter of these ethane cracking facilities are built, it’s locking us into a plastic future that is going to be hard to recover from.”

Global emissions linked to plastic — now just under 900 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent annually — could by 2030 reach 1.3 billion tons, as much as almost 300 coal-fired power plants, the Center for International Environmental Law found. If output grows as planned, plastic would use up between 10 and 13 percent of the carbon emissions allowable if warming is to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Center reported. MORE

The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction

As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required could become a major issue in its own right

Amur River, the China/Russia borderAMUR RIVER, THE CHINA/RUSSIA BORDER This cold, remote region is where around 100 Chinese electric-car manufacturers test prototypes, such as the Chinese/Slovenian joint venture APG Elaphe, pictured. Global annual sales of electric vehicles exceeded one million for the first time in 2017, with more than half of these in China. Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

Here’s a thoroughly modern riddle: what links the battery in your smartphone with a dead yak floating down a Tibetan river? The answer is lithium – the reactive alkali metal that powers our phones, tablets, laptops and electric cars.

In May 2016, hundreds of protestors threw dead fish onto the streets of Tagong, a town on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. They had plucked them from the waters of the Liqi river, where a toxic chemical leak from the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine had wreaked havoc with the local ecosystem.

There are pictures of masses of dead fish on the surface of the stream. Some eyewitnesses reported seeing cow and yak carcasses floating downstream, dead from drinking contaminated water. It was the third such incident in the space of seven years in an area which has seen a sharp rise in mining activity, including operations run by BYD, the world’ biggest supplier of lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and electric cars. After the second incident, in 2013, officials closed the mine, but when it reopened in April 2016, the fish started dying again.


Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Workers drill though the crust of the world’s biggest salt flat with large rigs. They are aiming for the brine underneath swathes of magnesium and potassium in the hope of finding lithium-rich spots. Since the 2000s, most of the world’s lithium has been extracted this way, rather than using mineral ore sources such as spodumene, petalite and lepidolite. Matjaž Krivic/INSTITUTE

Lithium-ion batteries are a crucial component of efforts to clean up the planet. The battery of a Tesla Model S has about 12 kilograms of lithium in it, while grid storage solutions that will help balance renewable energy would need much more.

Demand for lithium is increasing exponentially, and it doubled in price between 2016 and 2018. According to consultancy Cairn Energy Research Advisors, the lithium ion industry is expected to grow from 100 gigawatt hours (GWh) of annual production in 2017, to almost 800 GWhs in 2027.

William Adams, head of research at Metal Bulletin, says the current spike in demand can be traced back to 2015, when the Chinese government announced a huge push towards electric vehicles in its 13th Five Year Plan. That has led to a massive rise in the number of projects to extract lithium, and there are “hundreds more in the pipeline,” says Adams.

But there’s a problem. As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required to enable that transformation could become a serious issue in its own right. “One of the biggest environmental problems caused by our endless hunger for the latest and smartest devices is a growing mineral crisis, particularly those needed to make our batteries,” says Christina Valimaki an analyst at Elsevier. MORE

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Quebec follows Canada into electric vehicle pledge


Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette seen here as an MNA on June 4, 2015 at the legislature in Quebec City. Photo by The Canadian Press / Jacques Boissinot

Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette announced the province was joining the Drive to Zero Pledge, at an event in New York on Sept. 24. The pledge commits signatories in part to make zero-emission technology commercially viable for the truck and bus industry over the next five years.

The commitment, made on the second day of the United Nations Climate Week, aligns Quebec with the federal Canadian government. Ottawa had already announced it was singing the pledge this year. It said it would ensure all new vehicle sales in Canada would be electric by 2040.

Quebec’s transportation sector is the main source of the province’s carbon pollution, accounting for 43 per cent, while across Canada heavy-duty gasoline vehicles produce nearly 30 per cent of total transportation-related pollution.

Canada was the first country to sign on to the pledge that dozens of other organizations, companies (including four in Quebec) and governments, including the province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver, have also signed.

The Eastern Canada province has already created a system of rebates on electric vehicle purchases, financial assistance for installing charging stations and a network of stations across the province.

“The objectives of the Drive to Zero challenge are in direct (alignment) with our ambition, and that is why we are very happy to join” – @CharetteB

On Sunday, Charette also announced the province would be contributing $43 million to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Adaptation Fund, to help climate resilience and adaptation efforts around the world.

Electric cars at ‘centre’ of Quebec plan

In an interview at UN headquarters, Charette said Drive to Zero’s objective, electrification of transportation, is at the “centre” of Quebec’s own plan….

Charette said other aspects of the provincial plan, expected in full next year, will include sharing Quebec’s vast reserves of hydro electricity with Canadian provinces and U.S. states. MORE

Why Detroit Could Be the Engine for the Green New Deal

The city exhibits all of the problems the framework is meant to heal.

frontline-detroit-rally-1.jpgThousands of people took to the streets of Detroit at the Frontline Detroit March and Rally on July 30, ahead of the Democratic presidential debate. Photo from The Aadizookaan

In Detroit, more than 8,000 residents live in what has been called one of the most polluted ZIP codes in the state. Located in the city’s southwest corner, 48217 is known for its persistently poor air quality, where hundreds suffer from asthma, cancer, and other related health issues. The surrounding area has 26 industrial sites whose greenhouse gas emissions are being monitored by Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. And one of the largest polluters, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, whose processing plant is headquartered in 48217, has received several violations from the state’s environmental regulatory agency over the years.

Just last week, two contract workers were hospitalized after an oil vapor leak at Marathon. The leak, which produced a pungent smell, residents said, led to temporary road closures. And during a congressional field hearing this week on air and water quality issues and their adverse effects on communities of color, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), who grew up in Southwest Detroit, rebuked Marathon for its polluting history.

Calling them “corporate polluters,” Tlaib said the big oil company is unlikely to face any meaningful consequences. “They’ve just written off these leaks as a cost of doing business,” she said, while residents are “still searching for answers. “What was released? Is it safe to breathe the air?”

Other nearby communities also continue to be harmed by air pollution. In the Delray neighborhood, the construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge will increase air and noise pollution, experts say. The city’s housing swap program has offered to relocate the residents because of the construction. Also, Fiat Chrysler’s assembly plant expansion on the east side of the city is raising alarms that it will exacerbate the current air pollution.

And still, throughout the city, thousands of residents continue to battle water shutoffs, an ongoing process that five years ago left about 50,000 residents without running water. And this past school year, some schools had to restrict water use because of lead. About 70 miles north, the city of Flint, with a similar demographic of Detroit, has made national headlines over the past several years for the water crisis created when the state switched its water source to the toxic Flint River.

So when it was announced that the second round of the 2020 presidential debates would be held in Detroit, residents from Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities, environmental activists, union workers and lawmakers across the state came together to form Frontline Detroit Coalition. Their goal is to bring radical transformation to how the city functions, pivoting from reliance on fossil fuels, creating jobs rooted in a green, sustainable economy, and advocating for an equitable distribution of resources so that all Detroiters may thrive. The coalition is led by dozens of organizations, including the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, the Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, the Climate Justice Alliance, Soulardarity, We the People Michigan, and several others.

National media outlets covering the two-night event spotlighted one of the ground zeroes of the climate crisis in the United States, Detroit, whose urban infrastructure and economic development was based on auto-manufacturing and fossil fuel industry jobs. Thousands descended on downtown Detroit in July on the eve of both nights of the debates to bring attention to Detroit’s problems—environmental and otherwise. Frontline Detroit’s call was to Make Detroit the Engine of the Green New Deal, referencing the policy resolution introduced by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), which seeks to address climate change and economic inequality. MORE

 

 

‘It Is Our Very Governments Who Are Killing the Earth.’

Brazilian Indigenous Leader Speaks Out On Deforestation in the Amazon

Benki Piyãnko in his village, Apiwtxa, explaining about his work with agroforestry systems

Benki Piyãnko in his village, Apiwtxa, explaining about his work with agroforestry systems
Benki Pyãnko is a community leader from Apiwtxa, an Ashaninka community situated in the Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil. He has led projects to defend his community from deforestation and to defend Ashaninka rights and culture in the indigenous territory of Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia. His community’s sustainability projects were awarded an Equator Prize by the U.N. in 2017.
As TIME reported in its recent special climate issue, the fires from the Amazon seen across the skies of Brazil in August “helped illuminate something the world can no longer ignore.” On the front lines of the fight to protect the land is 46-year-old Benki Pyãnko, who has experienced these significant — and devastating—changes to the environment firsthand. A ambassador of the Ashaninka people, Pyãnko has led environmental and reforesting projects in his community of Apiwtxa, inhabiting the indigenous territory of Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia in the Brazilian state of Acre, located close to the border with Peru and covered by the Amazon rainforest. There are around 3,000 Ashaninka people living across four indigenous land areas in Brazil, and over 120,000 Ashaninka living over the frontier in Peru. Pyãnko’s Apiwtxa community won the United Nations Equator Prize in 2017, a prize honoring indigenous communities, for its reforesting initiatives and defense of Ashaninka rights and culture. As part of the Flourishing Diversity Summit at University College London, Pyãnko was one of several indigenous leaders invited from around the world to gather and share their experiences of protecting their environments. TIME spoke with Pyãnko about the solutions that indigenous people can offer to tackle climate change, and what lessons the rest of the world can learn from them.
Where we live, there is still a great deal of richness as far as forests, animals, plants. These species still exist because of the way we guarded and tended the forest since around 1986 when we began this work of preservation. Our people still maintain our culture very protectively and very well, but with all that we have protected, we also carry great worry, because of all that surrounds us where we live. People who use the forest hunt animals to a great extent, take part in logging activities, and deforest the forest to make way for pastures. Our rivers cannot exist without the forest, our animals cannot live without the forest, and we ourselves depend on these plants and animals for our consumption, for our existence.

Deforesting was one of the greatest catastrophes that happened in our territory. People felled our forests, and that made our rivers very dry. There were many species of fish that disappeared, as the forest has been cut down, many kinds of animals also disappeared, or disappeared from that region at least. We have experienced a lot more heatwaves now, almost unbearable heatwaves. There would be rains during the summer time as if it were winter time, and also dryness during the rainy season. There’s been growing lightning storms and hurricane storms that would come and uproot many trees. We had great floods that caused many animals to die, and even people. Because of climatic changes, there are many species of trees whose fruits are borne before the correct time of the year. All the people who live in the forest realize that over the last 30 years, the changes have been very significant.

It is man who has been perpetrating all this disaster. We see mining and oil business coming into our area and invading our rivers. There were gold mines, with many areas of the forest burned or logged, and we have seen many industries moving into the area that pollute the air, significantly. We see all the rubbish created by these industries, not only plastic but also cans and all the waste being thrown in our rivers.

All our worry about the destruction that is happening makes us take our message as indigenous peoples to the whole world, speaking about these problems. Our environment, our natural fruits, animals and plants are the security of our lives. And if we don’t take care of all these species, of this richness of nature, we are heading towards a great catastrophe that may affect us in a very deep way. That’s why my work as a leader is to try to show people how we can change this attitude, and we can change all of this. That’s why I have come out of my village to go outside and show to other people with my projects what can be done to protect our environment. MORE

The ban against oil tankers: Pleasing no one

 

“Everyone agrees that the coast needs to be protected, but Bill C-48 doesn’t offer real-time protection. It allows the government to exempt, arbitrarily, any number of tankers from the ban. It does nothing to address other marine traffic that pose spill risks and have damaged coastal communities…This bill is not a moratorium so much as a cynical distraction from our real obligation.” -Senator Elaine McCoy

The legislated moratorium comes at a time when pipeline capacity is particularly constrained in Canada, and the politics are sensitive.

Oil tanker off the coat
Oil Tanker

Depending on how you view it, Bill C-48, which proposes to ban oil tankers from transporting crude oil along most of Canada’s West Coast, either legislates a long-existing voluntary practice, thereby safeguarding coastal resources for generations to come, or threatens the very foundation of our confederation.

In substance, Bill C-48 places a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic along the Northern British Columbia Coast. Part of Transport Canada’s Oceans Protections Plan, the bill largely consists of delineating the geographical scope of the prohibition, and instituting administration and enforcement mechanisms.  The federal government has promoted the legislation as an effort to protect shorelines and coastal waters from the risk of potential pollution.

But the moratorium also comes at a time when pipeline capacity is particularly constrained in Canada. Many in Alberta see the bill as being a final nail in the coffin to bringing Western resources to tidewater. The Trudeau government has also drawn criticism for trying to appease certain political lobbies while doing little to safeguard marine resources.

Members of the Lax Kw’Alaams, a First Nations community located on the North Coast of B.C, are amongst the most outspoken critics of the proposed legislation. Elected band leaders have launched the Eagle Spirit Energy Proposal, which would see a pipeline corridor built between Alberta and B.C. The moratorium would make the future of that pipeline proposal uncertain, if not impossible, prompting the Lax Kw’Alaams to file a legal challenge. The band is arguing that Transport Canada neglected its duty to consult in proposing the legislation and that the bill undermines efforts of self-determination.

There are doubts the argument will succeed. In its ruling last year in Mikisew Cree First Nation v. Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the duty of consult does not apply to the legislative sphere. Further, the government contends that they did consult with communities, even hereditary leaders within the band, who are favourable. MORE

Take Action! Prevent rich countries and giant corporations from dumping their plastic waste on poor communities.

Image result for plastic waste dumping
Take Action! We need the EU and more than 100 national governments to win this fight.

In early May, governments around the world will meet in Switzerland for a vote on international rules to help force wealthy states and corporations to stop treating developing countries like dumps for their plastic rubbish.

In the past two decades, businesses in the EU, US, Japan, Mexico and Canada have been exporting millions of tonnes of plastic waste overseas. That’s how European and North American plastic ends up choking the rivers and coasts of countries like Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Together, we can fight that plastic flood and environmental racism — but we need a majority of governments to back the proposal.

You know how this works. If we show governments that this vote has massive public support, we can overcome the plastic industry lobbyists and polluters.

Sign the petition to governments around the world to vote for this game-changing proposal to update international law, and to minimise marine pollution and international dumping of plastic waste.

 

Ajax’s Anti-Idling Campaign

Potential $38 fine for those who idle more than two minutes

Image result for car idling ajax
AJAX — Ajax resident and Antarctic expedition guide Geoff Carpentier, left, stopped to talk to Mayor Steve Parish and sign an anti-idling campaign. October 19, 2009 – Laura Stanley photo

In an effort to stop unnecessary idling, the Town of Ajax wants you to kick the idling habit and is promoting three anti-idling initiatives through the Every Minute Counts campaign:

  • An anti-idling bylaw
  • A community education program
  • Idle free zones.

On September 14, 2009 Ajax Council approved an anti-idling bylaw. The bylaw limits the idling of vehicles engines to less than two minutes. The bylaw also sets out a fine of $38.00 for those that don’t adhere to the limit. SOURCE

The Toxic Consequences of America’s Plastics Boom

Thanks to fracking, petrochemicals giants are poised to make the plastic pollution crisis much, much worse.

plastics-Carpenter_img

A beach at sunset. the sky is streaked peach and mauve, the wind cool and briny. A long line of dump trucks idles at the edge of the waves, each full of plastic—bags and milk jugs and floss containers, hair clips, shrink wrap, fake ferns, toys, and spatulas. Every minute, one of the trucks lifts its bed and deposits a load of trash into the sea.

The dump trucks aren’t real, but the trash is. No one knows exactly how much plastic leaks into the oceans every year, but one dump truck per minute—8 million tons per year—is a midrange estimate. Plastic waste usually begins its journey on land, where only 9 percent of it is recycled. The rest is thrown away, burned, or buried, left to wash into streams and rivers or to blow out to sea. Once in the ocean, the plastic drifts or sinks. The sun and the waves break it down into tiny particles that resemble plankton. Birds and fish and other sea creatures eat it and begin to starve. One analysis predicts that by 2050, the plastic in the oceans will outweigh the fish.

Some of the trash winds up in one of five current systems in the oceans known as gyres, where it forms a slowly circulating plastic soup. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of these zones, spanning an area twice the size of Texas between Hawaii and California, a merry-go-round of the remains of global consumption. Researchers have found small plastic shards and large objects in the gyre: hard hats and Game Boys and milk crates and enormous tangles of fishing nets, all swirling in a smog of microplastics. MORE

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