Jun 15, 2007

Study Says 13 Million Deaths a Year Could Be Prevented

Children_play_filthy_water_MAD3_052.jpgA recent report out of Europe indicates that tackling air pollution, contaminated drinking water and other environmental risks could save 13 million lives annually around the globe. Released by the World Health Organization, the report shows that Angola, Burkina Faso, Mali and Afghanistan to be among the countries most affected by environmental risk factors including noise pollution, hazardous working conditions, problematic agricultural methods, and climate change. Interestingly, in 23 of the 192 countries on which the report focused more than 10 percent of deaths can be traced to just two factors, unsafe drinking water and indoo...
Picture & source VIA Treehugger

Jun 6, 2007

Are FEMA Trailers Making Residents Sick?

Today the government says 86,000 families are still living in those white FEMA travel trailers across the Gulf — more and more waking up with a host of health problems — tied, medical experts believe, to the place they still call home.
Trailers with floors and cabinets built with particle board containing the chemical formaldehyde. Under hot, humid conditions, formaldehyde lets off toxic fumes, especially harmful to young lungs.

"It's the long-term carcinogen issue that really concerns me," Needle said.

Terry Sloan was a floor supervisor at a Gulf Stream Coach factory in Etna Green, Ind. Gulf Stream Coach built more than 50,000 stripped-down travel trailers.

Sloane says his crew worked at a breakneck pace for months, which, he says, forced the company to use cheaper wood products.

"Quality suffered dramatically because of the drive and pressure to put these trailers out," Sloan said.

Executives at Gulf Stream Coach declined an on-camera interview. Instead, the company issued this statement saying, in part, "For the FEMA trailers it used components and materials that met or exceeded industry standards."

But there are no federal standards for formaldehyde. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends a workplace exposure limit of .1 parts per million.

Last year the Sierra Club tested 31 travel trailers in Mississippi and found that virtually all — 94 percent — had levels of formaldehyde above that limit.

And CBS News has discovered an internal FEMA document that cites cancer as a potential job hazard for those just inspecting the trailers.

FEMA'S recommendation for fixing the problem? Open the windows and turn on the air conditioner.

David Paulison, FEMA's administrator, told Keteyian, "I don't know that the trailers are causing" any sickness.

As for Angela Orcutt, she's long suspected something in her home was making her son sick.

So we tested it, using the exact same meter used by FEMA.

Our result read .17. That's 70 percent higher than what the EPA standard is.

"It's scary," Orcutt said.

Coke Vows to Reduce Water Used in Drink Production

More than half the water Coke used in 2006 was dedicated to processes like rinsing, cleaning, heating and cooling, rather than going into the drinks themselves.

US: June 6, 2007

US Adopts Limits on Clean Water Law Enforcement

 WASHINGTON - The landmark US law to fight water pollution will now apply only to bodies of water large enough for boats to use, and their adjacent wetlands, and will not automatically protect streams, the US government said on Tuesday.

Environmental groups said they fear the new policy will muddy the purpose of the federal Clean Water Act and put many smaller bodies of water at risk. Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation mandating protection of creeks, estuaries and other watersheds.

The EPA's new policy does not offer clear instructions to scientists in the field on how to protect surface waters, Devine said, and would eliminate protections for many streams. He also said the case-by-case decisions would inspire an onslaught of lawsuits and public confusion.

Proposed standard to bring Green building practices mainstream

From- Plant Engineering,
A proposed new standard that will provide minimum guidelines for green building practices is nearly complete and has been released for public review and comment.
Standard 189P: Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings will provide a baseline for sustainable design, construction and operations in order to drive green building into mainstream building practices. It will apply to new commercial buildings and major renovation projects and will address key areas of performance including energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable site selection, water usage, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.
"Standard 189P will become the benchmark for all sustainable green buildings in the United States because it is being developed for inclusion into building codes," said John Hogan, chair of the Standard 189P project committee. "This means that owners and designers will have a consensus-based document that will set the minimum criteria that a building must satisfy in order to be considered a green building."

Comments on the standard will be accepted through July 9, 2007 at www.ashrae.org/publicreviews. The standard is being developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers in conjunction with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and the U.S. Green Building Council.
Click here to read the full press release.

Jun 2, 2007

Our oceans are turning into plastic...are we?

A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain. Scientists say these toxins are causing obesity, infertility...and worse.

Captain Charles Moore Fate can take strange forms, and so perhaps it does not seem unusual that Captain Charles Moore found his life's purpose in a nightmare. Unfortunately, he was awake at the time, and 800 miles north of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

It happened on August 3, 1997, a lovely day, at least in the beginning: Sunny. Little wind. Water the color of sapphires. Moore and the crew of Alguita, his 50-foot aluminum-hulled catamaran, sliced through the sea.

Returning to Southern California from Hawaii after a sailing race, Moore had altered Alguita's course, veering slightly north. He had the time and the curiosity to try a new route, one that would lead the vessel through the eastern corner of a 10-million-square-mile oval known as the North Pacific subtropical gyre. This was an odd stretch of ocean, a place most boats purposely avoided. For one thing, it was becalmed. "The doldrums," sailors called it, and they steered clear. So did the ocean's top predators: the tuna, sharks, and other large fish that required livelier waters, flush with prey. The gyre was more like a desert—a slow, deep, clockwise-swirling vortex of air and water caused by a mountain of high-pressure air that lingered above it.

The area's reputation didn't deter Moore. He had grown up in Long Beach, 40 miles south of L.A., with the Pacific literally in his front yard, and he possessed an impressive aquatic résumé: deckhand, able seaman, sailor, scuba diver, surfer, and finally captain. Moore had spent countless hours in the ocean, fascinated by its vast trove of secrets and terrors. He'd seen a lot of things out there, things that were glorious and grand; things that were ferocious and humbling. But he had never seen anything nearly as chilling as what lay ahead of him in the gyre.
It began with a line of plastic bags ghosting the surface, followed by an ugly tangle of junk: nets and ropes and bottles, motor-oil jugs and cracked bath toys, a mangled tarp. Tires. A traffic cone. Moore could not believe his eyes. Out here in this desolate place, the water was a stew of plastic crap. It was as though someone had taken the pristine seascape of his youth and swapped it for a landfill.

How did all the plastic end up here? How did this trash tsunami begin? What did it mean? If the questions seemed overwhelming, Moore would soon learn that the answers were even more so, and that his discovery had dire implications for human—and planetary—health. As Alguita glided through the area that scientists now refer to as the "Eastern Garbage Patch," Moore realized that the trail of plastic went on for hundreds of miles. Depressed and stunned, he sailed for a week through bobbing, toxic debris trapped in a purgatory of circling currents. To his horror, he had stumbled across the 21st-century Leviathan. It had no head, no tail. Just an endless body.

"Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic." This Andy Warhol quote is emblazoned on a six-foot-long magenta and yellow banner that hangs—with extreme irony—in the solar-powered workshop in Moore's Long Beach home. The workshop is surrounded by a crazy Eden of trees, bushes, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, ranging from the prosaic (tomatoes) to the exotic (cherimoyas, guavas, chocolate persimmons, white figs the size of baseballs). This is the house in which Moore, 59, was raised, and it has a kind of open-air earthiness that reflects his '60s-activist roots, which included a stint in a Berkeley commune. Composting and organic gardening are serious business here—you can practically smell the humus—but there is also a kidney-shaped hot tub surrounded by palm trees. Two wet suits hang drying on a clothesline above it.
graph showing annual plastic production growth in US 

Food health: 5-30 second rule


HAROLD McGEE, NY TIMES, 2007 - Accompanied by six graphs, two tables and equations whose terms include "bologna" and "carpet," [a new study from Clemson University provides] a thorough microbiological study of the five-second rule: the idea that if you pick up a dropped piece of food before you can count to five, it's O.K. to eat it. . .
--Women are more likely than men to eat food that's been on the floor.

--Cookies and candy are much more likely to be picked up and eaten than cauliflower or broccoli.

--And, if you drop your food on a floor that does contain microorganisms, the food can be contaminated in 5 seconds or less.

Connecticut College seniors and cell and molecular biology majors Molly Goettsche and Nicole Moin took two food samples - apple slices and Skittles candies - to the Connecticut College dining hall and snack bar. They dropped the foods onto the floors in both locations for five, 10, 30 and 60 second intervals, and also tested them after allowing five minutes to elapse. They then looked for any rogue bacteria that might have attached to the foods.

The researchers found no bacteria were present on the foods that had remained on the floor for five, 10 or 30 seconds. The apple slices did pick up bacteria after one minute, however, and the Skittles showed a bacterial presence after remaining on the floor for five minutes.

The results prove, according Goettsche and Moin, that you can wait at least 30 seconds to pick up wet foods and more than a minute to pick up dry foods before they become contaminated with bacteria.

Biofuels or Bio-fools?

Here's an ethical question: in a world where people starve, does it make sense to run cars on food? In 2005, ethanol plants consumed 14 percent of the nation's corn crop. Producing seven times as much fuel, under Bush's proposed mandate, would put the proportion close to 100 percent.

....it didn't take him long to decide that cellulosic ethanol was the Next Big Thing.

It was a simple question of math. In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which required 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels—mostly ethanol—to be blended into gasoline per year by 2012. Then, in his State of the Union Address this year, President Bush called for increasing that mandate to 35 bil­lion gallons by 2017, both to help the environment and to reduce America's reliance on foreign imports of fossil fuels. The ethanol mandate advocated by the president represents one-fourth of the gasoline consumed last year in the United States.

...Few governments are willing to live and let live when it comes to biofuels. Ethanol currently benefits not just from the multibillion-gallon man­date, but also from a 51-cent-per-gallon-of-ethanol tax credit to blenders that mix the stuff with gaso­line. At the same time, a tariff on imported ethanol reduces foreign competition.

Celunol isn't the only business chasing the cel­lulosic dream. John Howe, the company's vice president for public affairs, jokes that when he looks out his window in Cambridge, he can see six other firms working on the same problem. Most are fueled by a gusher of venture capital flowing as mightily as Heywood hoped his well would. In 2005, accord­ing to the National Venture Capital Association, venture capitalists (VCs) poured $195 million into alternative energy companies. In 2006, that figure reached $727 million. Cleantech Venture Network, an arm of the Cleantech Group (a consortium of companies that invest in green technologies) cal­culates that biofuel investments rose sevenfold from 2005 to 2006 (see chart on page 93).

Alexander Farrell, an energy expert who also teaches at Berkeley, tried to calm the debate with a January 2006 article in Science magazine that aggregated six different studies, including Pimentel's and Patzek's. Farrell's team found that, on the whole, corn ethanol had a positive energy balance, though "the average hides a lot," he said in an interview. "Some ethanol has a bigger benefit, and some a negative benefit—worse than gasoline." As for greenhouse gases, "the average is not terri­bly positive. There are technologies and plants today that perform well, but no one has an incentive for good performance."

At the pump, ethanol faces another big problem: it is less powerful than gasoline in today's engines. New flex-fuel vehicles that can run on 85 percent ethanol blends (E85) show decent fuel efficiency, and if an engine is built to take complete advan­tage of ethanol, the biofuel's high octane levels could give it some advantages over gasoline. But ethanol-optimized vehicles are as rare as ethanol service stations. That means that in the near future, ethanol, since it gets fewer miles per gallon in con­ventional cars, needs to be cheaper per gallon than gasoline to compete. Achieving that low price is tough because of America's limited corn supply. In 2005, ethanol plants consumed 14 percent of the nation's corn crop. Without efficiency gains or mas­sive imports, producing seven times as much fuel, under Bush's proposed mandate, would put the pro­portion of the crop close to 100 percent.

But ethanol policy isn't necessarily about prac­ticality. It's about politics, personified in another presence on the RFA's board: Martin Lyons, senior vice president for ethanol sales and marketing at Archer Daniels Midland Company.

What is clear is that, despite its environmental and efficiency woes, corn ethanol has been the lucky beneficiary of an American political quirk, first pointed out by economist Bruce Yandle in a famous 1983 article in the journal Regulation. In the article, Yandle, now dean emeritus of the Clemson College of Business and Behavioral Sciences, recounted that, while he worked at the Federal Trade Commission, he noticed a funny thing about regulations that captured the public's imagination and managed to endure. These regulations evolved not because of rational cost-benefit analysis, Yandle wrote, but because of odd alliances between what he called "Bootleggers and Baptists."

Yandle suggested that most regulations could be viewed in this light. Groups with moral motives provide cover for those who benefit eco­nomically (groups that, unlike bootleggers, typically operate within the law), even if the two sides don't have much else in common. So far, this dynamic has propelled etha­nol from obscurity to the center of American energy policy.

Read full here


TARA LOHAN, ALTERNET - Across the country, multinational corporations are targeting hundreds of rural communities to gain control of their most precious resource. By strong-arming small towns with limited economic means, these corporations are part of a growing trend to privatize public water supplies for economic gain in the ballooning bottled water industry.

With sales of over $35 billion worldwide in the bottled water market, corporations are doing whatever it takes to buy up pristine springs in some of our country's most beautiful places. While the companies reap the profits, the local communities and the environment are paying the price.

One of the biggest and most voracious of the water gobblers is Nestle, which controls one-third of the U.S. market and sells 70 different brand names -- such as Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Perrier, Poland Spring and Ice Mountain -- which it draws from 75 springs located all over the country.
 By TPR  prorev.com


OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY ­ - Factories are using more than 18 million barrels of oil and up to 130 billion gallons of fresh water a year to create bottled water. And the resources mentioned above are just to make the plastic containers. Another 41 billion gallons of water is then used to fill them ­ water that is often just tap water, and other times has less frequent monitoring for safety or purity than if it had come out of a tap.

Jarvis, who has studied the issue for 15 years and makes frequent presentations on it, arrived long ago at a simple conclusion ­ bottled water is not worth the price, and the people buying it often have no idea of the environmental repercussions.

"There have always been, and still are some places in the developing world where bottled water is necessary for health concerns and relief efforts," Jarvis said. "But in most of the world it was a niche item until the 1970s, when Perrier spent millions on advertising, and the industry just took off. It hasn't looked back since, and now in America we're spending $20,000 every minute of every day on bottled water."

Between 1978 and 2006, the consumption of bottled water in America went up 20 times, or 2,000 percent. Large soft drink companies dominate the market.

With bottled water, Jarvis said, any past issues of health and safety now take a back seat to convenience, taste, and perhaps most important, trendiness. About 700 name brands of water compete for shelf space, and tap water that originally cost maybe five cents a gallon can be sold for $4 a gallon. Doesn't take a business genius to see how that pencils out.

The water itself, Jarvis said, is generally fine ­ usually no more or less safe than tap water, which in the United States is among the safest in the world. Worth noting, however, is that community water supplies are subject to fairly strict and constant monitoring required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, while bottled water is considered a "food" and entails much less frequent monitoring for safety and quality by the Food and Drug Administration or individual states. Tests of bottled water have at times found contaminants.

"There doesn't seem to be any correlation between safety and bottled water consumption in the U.S.," Jarvis said. "New York City, for instance, gets its water from a very carefully managed watershed and has some of the best drinking water in the nation ­ and also among the highest per capita consumption of bottled water."

And some of the myths surrounding water, Jarvis said, need to be checked. Spring water, for instance, is often touted as if it's inherently safer or more pure than other forms of water ­ when in fact it could be subject to more surface pollution because of the engineering difficulties associated with securing a source that is a spring-based or shallow well supply. Water from deep wells ­ like that often used for municipal water supplies ­ could be of the same or better quality than water from springs. . .

But before people get too carried away with visions of pristine water from a sparkling aquifer or mountain stream, Jarvis said, they should be aware that 25-40 percent of what is on store shelves is just tap water that has undergone additional treatment or had minerals added at the bottling plant.

"If people still want to drink bottled water, I usually recommend purified water, 'rain' water or well water from a nearby local source to provide the best combination of purity and environmental sensitivity," Jarvis said. "But a reasonable alternative is just chilled tap water in a re-usable container. That often removes the chlorine taste that people complain about with tap water, it's safe, and it's a lot cheaper."

By TPR - prorev.com

OSHA's Targeted Inspection Plan for 2007

Approximately 4,150 high-hazard worksites are on tap for inspection under OSHA's 2007 Site-Specific Targeting Program, as of May 14. This year's program will initially target sites that reported 11 or more injuries or illnesses, resulting in days away from work, restricted work activity, or job transfer for every 100 full-time employees (known as the DART rate). The list will also include sites that have a days away from work injury and illness (DAFWII) rate of 9 or higher. The program stems from the agency's Data Initiative for 2006, which surveyed approximately 80,000 employers to attain their injury and illness numbers for 2005.