Archive | Toxic Substances

Conservation Groups Want a Midway Cleanup

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) — U.S. conservation groups have renewed their call for Congress to clean up 70 lead paint-contaminated buildings at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.

The American Bird Conservancy and two Hawaiian groups — the Conservation Council for Hawaii and the Hawaii Audubon Society — said the buildings have been responsible for the deaths of up to 130,000 Laysan Albatross chicks since jurisdiction of over the northern Pacific Ocean islands was transferred from the Navy to the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1996.

“Curious albatross chicks are ingesting the lead-based paint chips, which causes a variety of painful ailments and ultimately, a slow death,” said Jessica Hardesty Norris, seabird program director for ABC. “Many of the chicks on Midway exhibit a condition called ‘droopwing,’ which leaves them unable to lift their wings. Unable to fly, many die of starvation and dehydration.”

In a paper to appear in the journal Animal Conservation, Myra Finkelstein of the University of California-Santa Cruz and colleagues conclude the deaths of Laysan Albatross chicks means by 2060 there may be as many as 190,000 fewer albatrosses due to lead poisoning. By contrast, they said removing lead-based paint now could increase the population by up to 360,000 during the same time period.

The conservationists said about 70 percent of the world’s population of Laysan Albatrosses nests on Midway Atoll, located about a third of the way between Hawaii and Tokyo.

The IUCN-World Conservation Union lists the species as globally vulnerable to extinction.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Buildings, Conservation, Toxic Substances0 Comments

Radioactive Water Leaks at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant Raise Safety Concerns

VERNON, Vt., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Radioactive water leaks at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and other such facilities are raising doubts about nuclear safety, The Boston Globe reported Sunday.

The newspaper said such incidents at more than 20 U.S. nuclear plants in recent years have created doubts about the viability of nuclear power at a time when President Barack Obama has called for “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country” along with alternative energy sources.

The Globe said a controversy over the Vermont Yankee leak in Vernon, Vt., could scotch plans to extend its operating license for 20 years. It said such leaks could stand in the way of resurgence for nuclear energy as memories of accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island recede.

Critics cite the integrity of underground pipes that carry the contaminated water, the report said. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., this month called for the U.S. Government Accountability Office to probe the state of buried pipes at nuclear plants.

But nuclear proponents say that while leaks of water containing tritium are serious, those that have contaminated groundwater have not exceeded regulatory limits or harmed any plant’s structural integrity, the Globe reported.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Agrees to Mercury Emissions Deadline

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 (UPI) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to issue rules covering power plants’ mercury emissions by 2011, documents indicate.

A consent decree filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington detailed an agreement with environmentalists and public health groups in which EPA officials agreed to a Nov. 16, 2011, deadline to close longstanding gaps in its regulation of mercury and other toxic substances from coal- or oil-burning power plants, The New York Times reported.

Less than one-third of U.S. coal-burning power plants have basic “scrubbers” for such pollution, in which tiny particles of mercury, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, dioxins and other toxic substances are thrown into the atmosphere, John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Times.

But energy industry groups and big electricity consumers are likely to challenge the rules emerging from the consent decree in court, the newspaper said.

Scott Segal of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council reportedly warned that forcing utilities to speed up their ongoing efforts to cut mercury emissions would raise electricity costs and send pollution-producing manufacturing activities overseas.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Coal, Electricity, Energy Industry, Other, Pollution & Toxins, Toxic Substances0 Comments

Obama Administration and EPA Seeks Upgrade of Chemical Regulations

The Obama administration says it is moving to update the regulation of thousands of chemicals used in U.S. consumer products and in workplaces.

Both public health advocates and chemical industry representatives welcomed the plan, the latter because they see it as a way to end moves by U.S. states and cities to regulate chemicals on their own and to reassure worried consumers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving to replace the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was passed in 1976 and which the newspaper said is seen as so ineffective, it did not allow the government to ban asbestos, a known carcinogen, decades ago.

The Inquirer said under the provisions of the proposed legislation, chemical makers would need to share more risk information about both existing products and new creations, while their ability to withhold data on claims of trade secrets would be cut.

“We can create a system that will result in an enhanced level of consumer confidence,” American Chemistry Council President Calvin Dooley told the newspaper.

Posted in Chemicals, Consumer Products, Other, Policy, Law, & Government, Toxic Substances0 Comments

U.S. Water Polluters Rarely Punished

WASHINGTON, Sept. 13 (UPI) — Polluters are admitting dumping more toxic substances into U.S. drinking water supplies but they are rarely punished by regulators, records indicate.

Even though chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have self-reported more than 500,000 instances of violating the Clean Water Act in the last five years, state agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have often failed to act, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Regulators admitted to the newspaper that enforcement actions are unacceptably rare. New EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said state regulators struggle with insufficient resources and vowed to make clean tap water her agency’s top priority.

The Times, after obtaining hundreds of thousands of water pollution records through the Freedom of Information Act, found that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that holds hazardous chemicals or that doesn’t meet safety standards in other ways.

Researchers told the newspaper that because most polluted water has no scent or taste, people don’t realize it they’ve been exposed until they contract cancer or other illnesses.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Chemicals, Drinking Water, Other, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Recycling Myths: Smothered in Garbage vs. More Landfill Capacity than Ever

Kids Sort Trash
Lessons start early in life
all recycling is good…

Editor’s note: Recycling is not always the environmentally correct choice. Many items we recycle come from abundant raw materials and are inert and harmless when dumped. It costs more to recycle these than to bury the used and manufacture the new from scratch. Glass is a perfect example; plastic runs a close second. If throwing away glass and plastic causes us to ever run out of sand and oil byproducts we can mine the landfills and recycle them all at once – it would be cheaper and easier than perpetual recycling. There’s plenty of land for landfills, there’s very little hazard remaining in modern landfills, and the economics and the environment often favor using them. Trillions are squandered on needless recycling. So what myths prevent change?

Governments across the European Union and America have announced plans to require more recycling.

The European Union has ordered the citizens of the United Kingdom to roughly double their recycling rates by 2008, while the city governments of New York and Seattle have proposed mandatory expansions of existing recycling programs.

These moves are not based on new developments in resource conservation; instead they – like other mandatory recycling programs – rest on misconceptions of mythic proportions. This article discusses the most egregious of these myths.

MYTH 1: OUR GARBAGE WILL BURY US

Rolling Hillside
All of America’s garbage for the next century could
fit in just one landfill, only about 10 miles square

Since the 1980s, people repeatedly have claimed that the United States faces a landfill crisis. Former Vice President Al gore, for example, asserted we are “running out of ways to dispose of our waste in a manner that keeps it out of either sight or mind.”

This claim originated in the 1980s, when the waste disposal industry moved to using fewer but much larger landfills. The Environmental Protection Agency, the press, and other commentators focused on the falling number of landfills, rather than on their growing overall capacity, and concluded that we were running out of space. The EPA also underestimated the prospects for creating additional capacity.

In fact, the United States today has more landfill capacity than ever before. In 2001, the nation’s landfills could accommodate 18 years’ worth of rubbish, an amount 25% greater than a decade before. To be sure, there are a few places where capacity has shrunk. But the uneven distribution of available landfill space is no more important than is the uneven distribution of auto manufacturing: Trash is an interstate business, with 47 states exporting the stuff and 45 importing it. Indeed, the total land area needed to hold all of America’s garbage for the next century would be only about 10 miles square.

MYTH 2: OUR GARBAGE WILL POISON US

The claim that our trash might poison us is impossible to completely refute, because almost anything might pose a threat. But the EPA itself acknowledges that the risks to humans (and presumably plants and animals) from modern landfills are virtually nonexistent: According to the EPA’s own estimates, modern landfills can be expected to cause 5.7 cancer-related deaths over the next 300 years – just one death every 50 years. To put this in perspective, cancer kills over 560,000 people every year in the United States.

Older landfills do possess a potential for harm to the ecosystem and to humans, especially when built on wetlands or swamps, because pollutants can leach from them. When located on dry land, however, even old-style landfills generally pose minimal danger, in part because remarkably little biodegradation takes place in them.

Modern landfills eliminate essentially any potential for problems. Siting occurs away from groundwater supplies, and the landfills are built on a foundation of several feet of dense clay, covered with thick plastic liners. This layer is covered by several feet of gravel or sand. Any leachate is drained out via collection pipes and sent to municipal wastewater plants for treatment. Methane gas produced by biodegradation is drawn off by wells on site and burned or purified and sold.

MYTH 3: PACKAGING IS THE PROBLEM

RECYCLING RATES – USA 2000
United States Recycling Rates
Cardboard is recycled at three times the rate for glass;
the worth of glass recycling is debatable.

Contrary to current wisdom, packaging can reduce total rubbish produced. The average household in the united States generates one-third less trash each year than does the average household in Mexico, partly because packaging reduces breakage and food waste. Turning a live chicken into a meal creates food waste. When chickens are processed commercially, the waste goes into marketable products (such as pet food), instead of into a landfill. Commercial processing of 1,000 chickens requires about 17 pounds of packaging, but it also recycles at least 2,000 pounds of by-products.

The gains from packaging have been growing over time, because companies have been reducing the weight of the packages they use. During the late 1970s and 1980s, although the number of packages entering landfills rose substantially, the total weight of those discards declined by 40 percent. Over the past 25 years the weights of individual packages have been reduced by amounts ranging from 30 percent (2-liter soft drink bottles) to 70 percent (plastic grocery sacks and trash bags). Even aluminum beverage cans weigh 40 percent less than they used to.

MYTH 4: WE MUST ACHIEVE “TRASH INDEPENDENCE”

Numerous commentators contend that each state should achieve “trash independence” by disposing within its borders all of its rubbish. But, as with all voluntary trade, interstate trade in trash raises our wealth as a nation, perhaps by as much as $4 billion. Most of the increased wealth accrues to the citizens of areas importing trash.

Not only is the potential threat posed by modern landfills negligible, but transporting rubbish across state lines has no effect on the environmental impact of its disposal. Moving a ton of trash by truck is no more hazardous than moving a ton of any other commodity.

MYTH 5: WE SQUANDER IRREPLACEABLE RESOURCES WHEN WE DON’T RECYCLE

In fact, available stocks of most natural resources are growing rather than shrinking, but the reason is not recycling. Market prices are the best measure of natural resource scarcity. Rising prices imply that a resources is getting more scarce. Falling prices imply that it is becoming more plentiful. Applying this measure to oil, we find that over the past 125 years, oil has become no more scarce, despite our growing use of it. Reserves of other fossil fuels as well as other natural resources are also growing.

Thanks to innovation, we now produce about twice as much output per unit of energy as we did 50 years ago and five times as much as we did 200 years ago. Optical fiber carries 625 times more calls than the copper wire of 20 years ago, bridges are built with less steel, and automobile and truck engines consume less fuel per unit of work performed. The list goes on and on. Human innovation continues to increase the amount of resources at our command.

MYTH 6: RECYCLING ALWAYS PROTECTS THE ENVIRONMENT

United States Environmental Protection Agecny Logo

Recycling is a manufacturing process with environmental impacts. Viewed across a wide spectrum of goods, recycling sometimes cuts pollution, but not always. The EPA has examined both virgin paper processing and recycled paper processing for toxic substances and found that toxins often are more prevalent in the recycling process.

Often the pollution associated with recycling shows up in unexpected ways. Curbside recycling, for example, requires that more trucks be used to collect the same amount of waste materials. Thus, Los Angeles has 800 rubbish trucks rather than 400, because of its curb-side recycling. This means more iron ore and coal mining, steel and rubber manufacturing, petroleum extraction and refining – and of course extra air pollution in the Los Angeles basin.

MYTH 7: RECYCLING SAVES RESOURCES

It is widely claimed that recycling “saves resources.” Proponants usually focus on savings of a specific resource, or they single out particularly successful examples such as the recycling of aluminum cans.

But using less of one resource generally means using more of other resources. Franklin Associates, a firm that consults on behalf of the EPA, has compared the costs per ton of handling rubbish through three methods: disposal into landfills (but with a voluntary drop-off or buy-back program, and an extensive curbside recycling program.

On average, extensive recycling is 35 percent more costly than conventional disposal, and basic curbside recycling is 55 percent more costly than conventional disposal. That is, curbside recycling uses far more resources. As one expert puts it, adding curbside recycling is “like moving from once-a-week garbage collection to twice a week.”

Book Cover

MYTH 8: WITHOUT FORCED RECYCLING MANDATES, THERE WOULDN’T BE RECYCLING

This view reflects ignorance about the extent of recycling in the private sector, which is as old as trash itself. Scavenging may, in fact, be the oldest profession. In the 19th century, people bid for the right to scavenge New York City’s rubbish, and Winslow Homer’s 1859 etching, Scene on the Back Bay Lands, reveals adults and children digging through the detritus of the Boston city dump. Rag dealers were a constant of American life until driven out of business by the federal Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939, which stigmatized products made of recycled wool and cotton. And long before state or local governments had even contemplated the word recycling, makers of steel, aluminum, and many other products were recycling manufacturing scraps, and some were even operating post-consumer drop-off centers.

Recycling is a long-practiced, productive, indeed essential, element of the market system. Informed, voluntary recycling conserves resources and raises our wealth. In sharp contrast, misleading educational programs encourage the waste of resources when they overstate the benefits of recycling. And mandatory recycling programs, in which people are compelled to do what they know is not sensible, routinely make society worse off. Market prices are sufficient to induce the trashman to come, and to make his burden bearable, and neither he no we can hope for any better than that.

PERC Logo

Daniel K. Benjamin is professor of economics at Clemson University, a senior associate of the Political Economy Research Center (PERC), and a regular PERC columnist. This essay is adated from a longer paper, “Eight Great Myths of Recycling,” which is available from PERC.

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Posted in Air Pollution, Animals, Business & Economics, Causes, Coal, Conservation, Landfills, Other, Packaging, Recycling, Toxic Substances, Waste Disposal31 Comments

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