Tag Archives: Environment

10/14/2011 NY Times ASIA PACIFIC: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo

Toshiyuki Hattori, who runs a sewage plant in Tokyo, surrounded by sacks of radioactive sludge. By HIROKO TABUCHI 10/14/2011 New York Times: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo: TOKYO — Takeo Hayashida signed on with a citizens’ group to test for radiation near his son’s baseball field in Tokyo after government officials told him they had no plans to check for fallout from the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Like Japan’s central government, local officials said there was nothing to fear in the capital, 160 miles from the disaster zone.

Then came the test result: the level of radioactive cesium in a patch of dirt just yards from where his 11-year-old son, Koshiro, played baseball was equal to those in some contaminated areas around Chernobyl.

The patch of ground was one of more than 20 spots in and around the nation’s capital that the citizens’ group, and the respected nuclear research center they worked with, found were contaminated with potentially harmful levels of radioactive cesium.

It has been clear since the early days of the nuclear accident, the world’s second worst after Chernobyl, that that the vagaries of wind and rain had scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials in unexpected patterns far outside the evacuation zone 12 miles around the stricken plant. But reports that substantial amounts of cesium had accumulated as far away as Tokyo have raised new concerns about how far the contamination had spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking.

The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation. It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own.

“Radioactive substances are entering people’s bodies from the air, from the food. It’s everywhere,” said Kiyoshi Toda, a radiation expert at Nagasaki University’s faculty of environmental studies and a medical doctor. “But the government doesn’t even try to inform the public how much radiation they’re exposed to.”

The reports of hot spots do not indicate how widespread contamination is in the capital; more sampling would be needed to determine that. But they raise the prospect that people living near concentrated amounts of cesium are being exposed to levels of radiation above accepted international standards meant to protect people from cancer and other illnesses.

Japanese nuclear experts and activists have begun agitating for more comprehensive testing in Tokyo and elsewhere, and a cleanup if necessary. Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States secretary of energy, echoed those calls, saying the citizens’ groups’ measurements “raise major and unprecedented concerns about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”

The government has not ignored citizens’ pleas entirely; it recently completed aerial testing in eastern Japan, including Tokyo. But several experts and activists say the tests are unlikely to be sensitive enough to be useful in finding micro hot spots such as those found by the citizens’ group.

Kaoru Noguchi, head of Tokyo’s health and safety section, however, argues that the testing already done is sufficient. Because Tokyo is so developed, she says, radioactive material was much more likely to have fallen on concrete, then washed away. She also said exposure was likely to be limited.

“Nobody stands in one spot all day,” she said. “And nobody eats dirt.”

Tokyo residents knew soon after the March 11 accident, when a tsunami knocked out the crucial cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, that they were being exposed to radioactive materials. Researchers detected a spike in radiation levels on March 15. Then as rain drizzled down on the evening of March 21, radioactive material again fell on the city.

In the following week, however, radioactivity in the air and water dropped rapidly. Most in the city put aside their jitters, some openly scornful of those — mostly foreigners — who had fled Tokyo in the early days of the disaster.

But not everyone was convinced. Some Tokyo residents bought dosimeters. The Tokyo citizens’ group, the Radiation Defense Project, which grew out of a Facebook discussion page, decided to be more proactive. In consultation with the Yokohama-based Isotope Research Institute, members collected soil samples from near their own homes and submitted them for testing.

Some of the results were shocking: the sample that Mr. Hayashida collected under shrubs near his neighborhood baseball field in the Edogawa ward measured nearly 138,000 becquerels per square meter of radioactive cesium 137, which can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer.

Of the 132 areas tested, 22 were above 37,000 becquerels per square meter, the level at which zones were considered contaminated at Chernobyl.

Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said most residents near Chernobyl were undoubtedly much worse off, surrounded by widespread contamination rather than isolated hot spots. But he said the 37,000 figure remained a good reference point for mandatory cleanup because regular exposure to such contamination could result in a dosage of more than one millisievert per year, the maximum recommended for the public by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

The most contaminated spot in the Radiation Defense survey, near a church, was well above the level of the 1.5 million becquerels per square meter that required mandatory resettlement at Chernobyl. The level is so much higher than other results in the study that it raises the possibility of testing error, but micro hot spots are not unheard of after nuclear disasters.

Japan’s relatively tame mainstream media, which is more likely to report on government pronouncements than grass-roots movements, mainly ignored the citizens’ group’s findings.

“Everybody just wants to believe that this is Fukushima’s problem,” said Kota Kinoshita, one of the group’s leaders and a former television journalist. “But if the government is not serious about finding out, how can we trust them?”

Hideo Yamazaki, an expert in environmental analysis at Kinki University in western Japan, did his own survey of the city and said he, too, discovered high levels in the area where the baseball field is located.

“These results are highly localized, so there is no cause for panic,” he said. “Still, there are steps the government could be taking, like decontaminating the highest spots.”

Since then, there have been other suggestions that hot spots were more widespread than originally imagined.

Last month, a local government in a Tokyo ward found a pile of composted leaves at a school that measured 849 becquerels per kilogram of cesium 137, over two times Japan’s legally permissible level for compost.

And on Wednesday, civilians who tested the roof of an apartment building in the nearby city of Yokohama — farther from Fukushima than Tokyo — found high quantities of radioactive strontium. (There was also one false alarm this week when sky-high readings were reported in the Setagaya ward in Tokyo; the government later said they were probably caused by bottles of radium, once widely used to make paint.)

The government’s own aerial testing showed that although almost all of Tokyo had relatively little contamination, two areas showed elevated readings. One was in a mountainous area at the western edge of the Tokyo metropolitan region, and the other was over three wards of the city — including the one where the baseball field is situated.

The metropolitan government said it had started preparations to begin monitoring food products from the nearby mountains, but acknowledged that food had been shipped from that area for months.

Mr. Hayashida, who discovered the high level at the baseball field, said that he was not waiting any longer for government assurances. He moved his family to Okayama, about 370 miles to the southwest.

“Perhaps we could have stayed in Tokyo with no problems,” he said. “But I choose a future with no radiation fears.”

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington, and Kantaro Suzuki from Tokyo.

10/3/2011 World Habitat Day Focus: population growth, urbanization, climate change

10/3/2011 World Habitat Day: “This year, World Habitat Day falls during the month when demographers predict our planet’s seven billionth inhabitant will be born. The future that this child and its generation will inherit depends to a great degree on how we handle the competing pressures of growing population growth, urbanization and climate change.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Message on World Habitat Day, 2011: In Resolution 40/202 of 17 December 1985, the UN General Assembly designated the first Monday of October of every year as World Habitat Day. In 2011, World Habitat Day is commemorated on 3 October.

In 2011, the theme of World Habitat Day is Cities and Climate Change. The effects of urbanization and climate change are converging in dangerous ways. The results of this convergence threaten to have unprecedented negative impacts on quality of life, and economic and social stability.

However, alongside these threats is an equally compelling set of opportunities. Although urban areas, with their high concentration of population, industries and infrastructure, are likely to face the most severe impacts of climate change, urbanization will also offer many opportunities to develop cohesive mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with climate change. The populations, enterprises and authorities of urban centres will be fundamental players in developing these strategies.

Source: Cities and Climate Change: Global Report on Human Settlements 2011

9/22/2011 US EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Testimony Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

9/22/2011 US EPA: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: EPA Press Office, press@epa.gov, 202-564-6794: Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Testimony Before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: As prepared for delivery: Chairman Stearns, Ranking Member DeGette and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to testify on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory process. It is a priority of the EPA and of this Administration, to ensure that our regulatory system is guided by science and that it protects human health and the environment in a pragmatic and cost effective manner.

One means by which this Administration has made this priority clear is through Executive Order 13563, which includes a directive for federal agencies to develop a regulatory retrospective plan for periodic review of existing significant regulations. Under that directive, EPA has developed a plan which includes 35 priority regulatory reviews. Recent reforms, already finalized or formally proposed, are estimated to save up to $1.5 billion over the next 5 years.

But let me be clear: the core mission of the EPA is protection of public health and the environment. That mission was established in recognition of a fundamental fact of American life – regulations can and do improve the lives of people. We need these rules to hold polluters accountable and keep us safe. For more than 40 years, the Agency has carried out its mission and established a proven track record that a healthy environment and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

The Clean Air Act is one of the most successful environmental laws in American history and provides an illustrative example of this point.

For 40 years, the nation’s Clean Air Act has made steady progress in reducing the threats posed by pollution and allowing us to breathe easier. In the last year alone, programs implemented pursuant to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 are estimated to have saved over 160,000 lives; spared Americans more than 100,000 hospital visits; and prevented millions of cases of respiratory problems, including bronchitis and asthma.

Few of the regulations that gave us these huge gains in public health were uncontroversial at the time they were developed. Most major rules have been adopted amidst claims that they would be bad for the economy and bad for employment.

In contrast to doomsday predictions, history has shown, again and again, that we can clean up pollution, create jobs, and grow our economy all at the same time. Over the same 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed, the Gross Domestic Product of the United States grew by more than 200 percent.

Some would have us believe that “job killing” describes EPA’s regulations. It is misleading to say that enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws is bad for the economy and employment. It isn’t.

Families should never have to choose between a job and a healthy environment. They are entitled to both.

We must regulate sensibly – in a manner that does not create undue burdens and that carefully considers both the benefits and the costs. However, in doing so, we must not lose sight of the reasons for implementation of environmental regulations: These regulations are necessary to ensure that Americans have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Americans are no less entitled to a safe, clean environment during difficult economic times than they are in a more prosperous economy.

As President Obama recently stated in his Joint Address to Congress, “…what we can’t do…is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades…We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom where we try to offer the…worst pollution standards.”

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I look forward to your questions.

Please Support Earthjustice: President Obama keeps weak ozone standards

Just last week, President Obama delayed establishing critical new national ozone standards. President Obama is putting our lives on the line to satisfy corporate polluters. And Earthjustice is fighting back in court. The President’s reckless move undermines years of work by Earthjustice to clean up deadly smog in our air. Our air quality, thousands of lives and tens of thousands of cases of asthma are at stake. We won’t take “not now” for an answer.

Earthjustice is not standing by while our air and lives are destroyed to satisfy corporate polluters. Our legal experts are working tirelessly in the courts to stop this delay, but we need your help to support these emergency efforts. Donate now to help us fight back.

In 2008, deficient national standards for ozone, or smog, which the Environmental Protection Agency’s own scientists said weren’t adequate to protect public health, were adopted by the Bush administration. Earthjustice stepped in and sued, but before the court ruled on our challenge, the incoming Obama administration promised to revisit the standards and our litigation was put on hold.

When the revised standard still wasn’t issued by the administration two years later, we went back to court last month and asked for an order compelling the EPA to issue new, lawful standards immediately.

Now that the White House has squashed the move to stronger standards, we’re going to redouble our efforts to get relief from the courts.

The President’s decision last week to delay critical new ozone standards demonstrates why court action is absolutely critical to make meaningful progress for the environment. And with your emergency support we will continue to fight for strong air and environmental protections in court.

Please make an emergency donation today to support our critical efforts
.

With your support, we won’t take “not now” for an answer.

Sincerely,

Trip Van Noppen
President, Earthjustice

P.S. President Obama is putting our lives on the line to satisfy corporate polluters. Donate now to help us fight back in court and on Capitol Hill before more lives are lost to deadly smog.

7/29/2011 NRDC Blog: With Media, Americans Focused on Debt Drama, Congress Attacks Environment

7/29/2011 NRDC: With Media, Americans Focused on Debt Drama, Congress Attacks Environment: Bob Keefe blog: It’s tough getting any news out of Washington these days that doesn’t involve the debt ceiling. Understandably, the political firestorm that has led our country to the brink of financial default has dominated headlines. With Washington and the world focused on the debt ceiling drama, hard-right House Republicans have launched the biggest congressional assault on the environment in history, attacking our fundamental environmental and public health protections in order to appease Tea Party ideologues and big business donors.

Weekends also find fewer Americans paying attention to what’s happening in Washington. And this weekend, the GOP-led House will take an unusual step and remain in session so they can take up more of the nearly 40 anti-environmental “riders” Republicans have attached to the Interior/EPA appropriations bill.

While you’re hopefully off enjoying the Great Outdoors, House Republicans will be pushing legislation that promises to destroy it.

Under GOP plans, coal mines will be able to dump more debris in our rivers and streams. Power plants and cement kilns will be able to pump more pollution into our air. And lands near the Grand Canyon could be opened for uranium mining.

Fortunately, the media is beginning to realize the unprecedented damage these anti-environmental riders could do to our environment and to America as we know it.

Leslie Kaufman of The New York Times picked up on the story Thursday.

“With the nation’s attention diverted by the drama over the debt ceiling, Republicans in the House of Representatives are loading up an appropriations bill 39 ways — and counting — to significantly curtail environmental regulation,” she points out.

The Washington Post’s Darryl Fears and Juliet Eilperin meanwhile, just logged in here.

In the Grand Canyon State, the Arizona Republic weighed in with one of the best editorials I’ve seen on what’s at stake.

“This bill does much more than just spread the pain of inevitable budget cuts,” the Republic writes. “It imposes changes that will undo things the American people want done. This is at odds with this nation’s commitment to preserving its astonishingly rich natural heritage.”

In Ohio, where the Cuyahoga River once caught on fire before we had the Clean Water Act that we (at least for now) still have, the Toledo Blade has describes the state of our the environment and our public health simply but succinctly: “Under Seige”

The debt ceiling and the separate deficit debate will likely be front page news for a while. Rightfully so.

But it’s important to look behind the top headlines of the day to see what our elected officials are doing when our attention is diverted.

Fortunately, the press is starting to make it clear what out-of-touch House members are doing to our environment and public health protections.

Hopefully, we’ll all pay attention.

4/18/2011 U.N. Prepares to Debate Whether 'Mother Earth' Deserves Human Rights Status

U.N. Prepares to Debate Whether ‘Mother Earth’ Deserves Human Rights Status By Jonathan Wachtel, Published April 18, 2011, | FoxNews.com United Nations diplomats on Wednesday will set aside pressing issues of international peace and security to devote an entire day debating the rights of “Mother Earth.” A bloc of mostly socialist governments lead by Bolivia have put the issue on the General Assembly agenda to discuss the creation of a U.N. treaty that would grant the same rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to Mother Nature. Treaty supporters want the establishment of legal systems to maintain balance between human rights and what they perceive as the inalienable rights of other members of the Earth community — plants, animals, and terrain.

Communities and environmental activists would be given more legal power to monitor and control industries and development to ensure harmony between humans and nature. Though the United States and other Western governments are supportive of sustainable development, some see the upcoming event, “Harmony with Nature,” as political grandstanding — an attempt to blame environmental degradation and climate change on capitalism.

“The concept ‘Mother Earth’ is not universally accepted,” said a spokesman from the British Mission to the U.N. about Bolivia’s proposal. “In general, our view is that we should focus on tackling important sustainable development issues through existing channels and processes.”

The General Assembly two years ago passed a Bolivia-led resolution proclaiming April 22 as “International Mother Earth Day.” The measure was endorsed by all 192 member states. But Bolivian President Evo Morales envisioned much more, vowing in a speech to U.N. delegates that a global movement had begun to lay “out a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.”

Morales, who repeatedly says “the central enemy of Mother Earth is capitalism,” called for creating a charter that defends the right to life for all living things. Morales, who was named World Hero of Mother Earth by the General Assembly, has since made great strides in his campaign.

In January, Bolivia became the world’s first nation to grant the natural environment equal rights to humans. Bolivia’s Law of Mother Earth is heavily influenced by the spiritual indigenous Andean world outlook that revolves around the earth deity Pachamama, roughly translated to Mother Earth.

The Bolivian law establishes 11 rights for nature that include: the right to life and to exist; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered; the right to have nature’s processes free from human alteration. The law also establishes a Ministry of Mother Earth to act as an ombudsman, which will ensure nature is “not being affected my mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.”

Emboldened by this triumph, Morales’ goal is to emulate his domestic achievement as a U.N. treaty. In a 2008 address to a U.N. forum on indigenous people, he said the first step in saving the Earth is to “eradicate capitalism” and to force wealthy industrialized countries to “pay their environmental debt.” Morales presented 10 points, or Evo’s Ten Commandments, as they are affectionately called by devotees, to save the planet.

Among them is a call to end the capitalist system, and a world without imperialism or colonialism. Respect for Mother Earth is Commandment 6. U.N. critics slammed the decision to devote an entire day debating Mother Earth legislation as not only a waste of time and resources, but a major blunder.

“The UN is a one-act show,” said U.N. watchdog Anne Bayefsky, of Eye on the U.N., in which “Western democracies are responsible for the world’s ills and developing countries are perpetual victims.”

Bayefsky said the General Assembly’s focus on Mother Earth distracts from more pressing issues and problems at the U.N.

“The rights of inanimate objects violated by developed countries are considered a useful focal point this month,” she said, adding that, “Syria is scheduled to be elected next month to the U.N.’s top “human” rights body, and Iran is on the U.N.’s top women’s rights body.” Syria is one of the sponsors of the “Mother Earth” treaty.

Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N., Pablo Solon, who will represent Morales at the debate and ‘expert’ panel discussions at U.N. headquarters, said, “Presently many environmentally harmful human activities are completely legal,” including those that cause climate change.

“If legal systems recognized the rights of other-than-human beings,” he says, such as mountains, rivers, forests and animals, “courts and tribunals could deal with the fundamental issues of environmental contamination.”

It is not clear if Bolivia’s new tough environmental laws will actually go as far as to protect life forms like insects, but the legislation does include all living creatures.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/04/18/prepares-debate-rights-mother-earth/#ixzz1KVYSYgwt