Report claims that regulation of air emissions from ships is virtually nonexistent today in the developing world.

Companies claiming social responsibility might wish to consider how their ocean shipping needs are being met. According to a new report from the respected New York City based Natural Resources Defense Council,  an estimated 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 were caused by ambient air pollution, and shipping is a significant source of these air pollution and health problems.

Although the focus of the report is China, it also addresses international and developing country problems associated with emissions from ocean going ships. According to the report:

  • China is home to seven of the world’s ten busiest container ports. About 26 percent of the world’s containers pass through the top ten Chinese ports every year.
  • a medium- to large-size container ship running at 70% maximum power for one day using bunker fuel with 35,000 ppm (3.5%) sulfur emits as much soot (PM2.5) as the average of half a million new trucks in China during that same day.
  • shipping emissions are essentially unregulated in China and in many other developing countries.
  • soot from diesel or bunker fuel combustion contains black carbon, a short-lived pollutant that is accelerating glacial and polar ice melting, exacerbating climate change. NOx and SOx emissions from diesel engines also cause acidification, eutrophication, and nutrient enrichment of ecosystems, contributing to ocean acidification.
  • the soot in diesel exhaust has been designated as a known carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s cancer research institute. Diesel PM is especially toxic due to the very small size of the soot particles, and because these particles contain roughly 40 different toxic air contaminants, 15 of which are recognized carcinogens. One particularly toxic class of chemicals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), can be adsorbed onto fine PM and travel for long distances (as far as 10,000 km).
  • one of the most common measures to reduce air pollution from vessel exhaust is to switch from bunker fuel to a
    fuel that contains a much lower percentage of sulfur. Both California and the EU have imposed the strictest at-berth
    fuel switch requirements, mandating that ocean going vessels use fuel with maximum sulfur content of 1,000 ppm (0.1%) while at dock. The fuel switching regulation in California is even more stringent, extending to 24 nautical miles from the California shore. Within the four existing Emission Control Areas, all ocean going vessels now have to use fuel with a maximum 10,000 ppm (1%) sulfur content; the limit will be lowered to 1,000 ppm (0.1%) in January 2015. In 2011 the Port of Singapore, the world’s busiest container port, introduced a voluntary Green Port Programme offering a 25% reduction in port dues for OGVs that used approved abatement/scrubber technology or burned clean fuels (with no more than 1,000 ppm sulfur) both at berth and within Singapore waters.

It seems to GallonDaily that companies that contract for ocean transportation of large quantities of goods might have a very positive influence on this problem if they were to specify more environmentally responsible behaviour by the ocean shippers which carry their goods.

Much more detail on the problem can be found at http://www.nrdc.org/international/china-controlling-port-air-emissions.asp, where there is also a link to the full 43 page report with an analysis of technical and regulatory measures which can dramatically reduce pollution from ships. Our sister publication, Gallon Environment Letter, covered the topic of pollution from ships in volume 9, number 2 dated January 22nd 2004.

Public opinion poll indicates environment more important than energy prices to Canadians

A very recent Nanos poll, conducted October 18th to 21st, 2014, indicates that protecting the environment is more important to Canadians than the price of energy and that Canadians would prefer that the burden of any new carbon tax be placed on those businesses that emit GHGs. Among the findings:

  • 94% of Canadians reported that they are familiar or somewhat familiar with the discussion concerning climate change and the use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal as an energy source?
  • 62% reported that protecting the environment is more important than the price of energy to them personally.
  • 62% reported that they had heard of reducing CO2 emissions from coal plants by capturing CO2 and storing it underground.
  • 38% reported that they had a positive or somewhat positive impression of storing carbon emissions from coal electricity plants underground to reduce green house gases; 44% had a somewhat negative or negative impression, while 18% were unsure.
  • 76% stated that if the carbon capture and storage process reduced green house gases and was considered environmentally responsible, they would support or somewhat support governments encouraging these types of projects.
  • 53% agreed that the government should put a new tax on businesses based on the volume of green house gases they
    emit, the proceeds of which would be used to fund projects which help reduce Canada’s green house gas emissions. 29% supported that there be no new taxes on fossil fuels such as gasoline, natural gas and heating oil or on businesses that emit green house gases. 11% supported a new five percent tax on energy items such as electricity and gasoline, natural gas and heating oil, the proceeds of which would be used to fund projects which help reduce Canada’s green house gas emissions.

The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The 18 page poll report, including much more regional analysis and more data, is available at http://www.nanosresearch.com/library/polls/POLNAT-S14-T624.pdf

Many food packaging materials lack safety data

An article in Ensia, the magazine of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, reports that more than 50% of food contact materials in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration database of such substances lack accompanying toxicology information about the amount people can safely eat. The review article makes many interesting points about food packaging safety:

  • Upwards of 6,000 different manufactured substances are now listed by various government agencies as approved for use in food contact materials in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Recent analyses have revealed substantial gaps in what is known about the health and environmental effects of many of these materials and raised questions about the safety of others.
  • 175 chemicals used in food contact materials are also recognized by scientists and government agencies as chemicals of concern.
  • Some chemicals used in food packaging have been found to be biologically active.
  • Individual chemical assessments that determine food contact material approvals may not capture all the ways in which a single substance may interact with food, human bodies or the environment.
  • The Food Packaging Forum, a Zurich-based charitable foundation, is studying the problem of printing inks that can become mixed into recycled papers used in food packaging.
  • In its 2013 assessment of food additive chemicals — including those used in food packaging — the Pew Charitable Trusts found that the FDA’s method of assessing the safety of these materials is “fraught with systemic problems,” largely because it lacks adequate information.

The complete article, containing much more information about packaging materials in contact with food, can be found at http://ensia.com/features/when-it-comes-to-food-packaging-what-we-dont-know-could-hurt-us/

US insurance industry seeks to avoid climate change risks

A new report from Ceres, formerly the Coalition for Environmentally responsible economies, ranks large US insurance companies on their response to climate change.

Findings include:

  • most of the company responses show a profound lack of preparedness in addressing climate-related risks and opportunities.
  • insurers are using climate-informed catastrophe models to better quantify climate-related risks from more frequent and intense weather catastrophes.
  • barely 10 percent of the insurers overall have issued public climate risk management statements articulating the company’s understanding of climate science and its implications for core underwriting and their vast investment portfolios.
  • many insurers are seeking to reduce their exposure to climate change risks by not providing insurance in higher risk markets.
  • very few insurers are working with their clients to reduce risks through such measures as more durable construction techniques.
  • some insurance companies are going to court to fight claims that arise from climate change related events, and sometimes they win.

While GallonDaily is not aware of any similar research on Canadian insurer practices we suspect that similar findings may apply in this country. We invite comments from those with direct knowledge of such matters to comment.

A summary and a link to the 54 page plus appendices report [free registration required] can be found at http://www.ceres.org/press/press-releases/first-of-its-kind-report-ranks-u.s.-insurance-companies-on-climate-change-responses

Natural gas not nearly as beneficial in addressing climate change as proponents have suggested

A recent article published online by the journal Nature suggests that natural gas may not be of significant benefit in addressing climate change. The researchers suggest that gas from unconventional sources such as fracking could even add to the climate change problem. Many organizations, including some environmental groups in Canada, have advocated increased use of natural gas as an environmentally preferable substitute for higher carbon fuels such as coal.

The paper, by scientists from the Joint Global Change Research Institute of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland as well as others from around the world, states that increases in global supplies of unconventional natural gas do not discernibly reduce the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. The findings are based on five different models but the fundamental reason for this situation is that natural gas provides a substitute not only for high GHG emitting coal but also for existing low emitting energy technologies such as renewables and nuclear. Use of abundant natural gas is shown to change carbon dioxide emissions by an amount in the range of a 2% decrease to an 11% increase. The authors state that “results show that although market penetratioof globally abundant gas may substantially change the future energy system, it is not necessarily an effective substitute for climate changmitigation policy”.

Apart from the obvious impacts of this report on a natural gas industry that has been touting its benefits as a transitional fuel to a low carbon economy the findings of this report may also have impact in the long-term on users of natural gas. If carbon pricing eventually comes to Canada, as it appears likely it will, the pricing of natural gas as a fuel with little climate change benefit instead of as a transitional fuel could lessen the economic benefit which it provides.

An abstract and a link to the full paper (fee or subscription required) is available at  http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13837.html#access

Walmart owners painted as black, not green

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a reputable and usually responsible U.S. non-governmental organization, has published a report accusing the Walton family, majority owners of Walmart, of using their wealth to support organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the American Enterprise Institute which are opposing government action on climate change and some of which some would describe as climate change deniers. This accusation has the potential to cause major new damage to the green image which Walmart has been trying to build.

According to ILSR:

  • Since 2010, the Waltons have donated $4.5 million to more than 20 organizations which are leading the state campaigns against clean energy.
  • A Walton-owned solar company, First Solar, was instrumental in helping Arizona Public Service, an electricity utility, win higher fees for grid connection and net metering of rooftop solar panel systems. First Solar builds large solar arrays for utilities and, according to ILSR, stands to benefit if households are blocked from generating their own electricity, even if it means slowing the overall growth of solar.
  • First Solar also helped instigate a World Trade Organization proceeding that could force several U.S. states to repeal laws that use solar incentives to spur local job creation. First Solar does most of its manufacturing in Malaysia.

ILSR states that the Waltons claim to have a deep commitment to sustainability, but their support for anti-solar initiatives, which ILSR supports, tells a different story. The Waltons are investing in efforts that both undercut clean energy and prevent average Americans from benefitting economically from solar power.

Last year ILSR reported that since Walmart publicly embraced environmentalism in 2005, the Company’s self-reported greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 14 percent and the company was generating only 4 percent of its power from wind and solar, despite pledging to go 100 percent renewable.  That share has since dropped to 3 percent.  ILSR’s 2013 report also found that both Walmart’s and the Walton family’s political donations heavily favour lawmakers who oppose legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The ILSR / Walmart battle illustrates one of the complexities of greening a company without “walking the talk”. Supporting and implementing policies and actions that run counter to stated environmental objectives may do more harm than good to a company’s image and reputation. ILSR describes its report as “an instructive case study of the complexities of contemporary green-washing”.

The 19 page ILSR report How the Walton Family is Threatening Our Clean Energy Future is available at http://www.ilsr.org/walton-report/#more-37387 

Lack of environmental planning creates problems during and after disaster response

A report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies assessing the environmental aspects of the disaster response to the Haiti Earthquake in 2010 and Tropical Depression TD12-E in El Salvador in 2011 has found that failure to plan for the environmental aspects of the response activities actually added to the lingering effects of the disasters. For example:

  • vehicle emissions were very high, especially from trucks hauling water. Emissions could have been greatly reduced if water had been transported by pipeline using pumps.
  • renewable technologies (solar, wind) for electricity would have had a much lower environmental impact than diesel generators.
  • packaging of relief supplies should be planned to minimize waste and packaging materials should be reusable for local purposes or locally recyclable wherever possible.
  • the environmental impact of such relief items as tarpaulins, tents, blankets and jerry cans should be evaluated and steps taken to minimize the impacts during all phases of the product lifecycle, especially including adequate end of life management.
  • discarded plastic wrap can create serious environmental problems, including the blockages of rivers and streams which add to flooding. Again recovery and recycling of materials is should be planned into distribution programs.
  • local procurement is preferable to flying in relief supplies.

This well written report should provide everyone involved in production and distribution of relief supplies with much to think about and do.

The 56 page report is available at http://adore.ifrc.org/Download.aspx?FileId=50829&.pdf

Four more substances added to very credible list of human carcinogens

The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services has added four more substances to its list of agents, substances, mixtures, and exposure circumstances that are known or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans. Products containing these substances, or industries emitting them, are likely to come under more scrutiny from environmentalists and, potentially, from government regulators. The four are:

  • 1-Bromopropane
  • Cumene
  • Pentachlorophenol and By-products of Its Synthesis
  • o-Toluidine

1-Bromopropane, also called n-propyl bromide, is primarily in industrial uses such as a cleaner for optics, electronics, and metals and as a solvent for aerosol-applied adhesives, such as those used in foam cushion manufacturing. It is also used in dry cleaning and solvent sprays for aircraft maintenance, asphalt production, and synthetic fibre manufacturing.

Cumene is a natural component of coal tar and petroleum, and is found in tobacco smoke as well as the exhaust from petroleum fuelled vehicles and machinery. It is used primarily to manufacture acetone and phenol. NIEHS urges that exposure to emissions from vehicles and machinery that run on petroleum-based fuel be kept to a minimum.

Pentachlorophenol is a complex mixture of chemicals used as a wood preservative. NIEHS states that technical-grade pentachlorophenol is a mixture, which includes by-products of its synthesis, many of which are higher chlorinated dioxin compounds that may contribute to its carcinogenicity. Virtually everyone who is exposed to pentachlorophenol is exposed to its synthesis by-products. To limit exposure NIEHS recommends limiting reuse of, and contact with, pentachlorophenol-treated lumber. such as utility poles and cross arms, railroad ties, wooden pilings, fence posts, and lumber or timber for construction. Also limit contact with soil in pentachlorophenol-contaminated waste sites or around pentachlorophenol-treated lumber.

o-Toluidine is primarily used to make rubber chemicals, herbicides, dyes, and pigments. It is also used in some medical products. People can also be exposed to ortho-toluidine outside of the workplace, through tobacco smoke, the local medical anesthetic prilocaine, products that contain ortho-toluidine-based dyes, or the environment. Environmental contamination occurs when ortho-toluidine is released into air, land, or water, through its production and use.

Much more detail is available from NIEHS at http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/pubhealth/roc/roc13/index.html

Health statistics show there is no safe level of air pollution

In a paper published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Professor Adrian Barnett, a Professor of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health, Queensland University of Technology, produces results that he claims show that there simply is no safe level of air pollution – health problems in the population rise in line with increases in average pollution levels.

Using Australian standards and data, Barnett shows that if air pollution levels in Australia were to rise to the maximums allowed by regulation, often considered by other environmental agencies and in the media reports to be ‘safe’ levels, there would be 6,000 more deaths across the country each year.  He says that the increase would hospitalize a further 20,700 people per year in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The population of Australia is about 23 million and that of the three major cities mentioned is about 11 million.

In his published commentary Barnett cites recent government environmental reports for the East-West road link in Melbourne and for trains carrying coal in Queensland that conclude that predicted pollution increases were ‘safe’ levels and that therefore everything is fine. Barnett is quoted as stating that any new project that increases air pollution will always mean an increase in illness. He is calling on authorities to use thorough cost-benefit analyses of increased pollution levels in future environmental studies. The increased health problems could then be balanced against the economic and societal benefit of the new infrastructure or industry.

In the University press release Barnett is quoted as saying that “Changes also need to be made to the National Environment Protection Measures documentation and web site to prominently state that the standards should not be used to judge whether individual projects are safe or dangerous.”

GallonDaily agrees that government, health and environment agencies, as well as businesses, should stop presenting any pollution levels in any medium as being ‘safe’. There is not much in life that is ‘safe’ though some exposures are of lower risk while others are of higher risk. Lower risk does not equate to safety. Obviously societies should work towards lowering the risks of exposure to hazardous pollutants, wherever they are to be found. If Dr. Barnett’s conclusions are supported by future research it is conceivable that, in the future, elevated levels of air pollution will become as socially unacceptable as tobacco smoke has already become.

The article, but no abstract, is available – fee or subscription required – at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1753-6405.12264/abstract  An article about the article is available at https://www.qut.edu.au/about/news/news?news-id=79577

US Inspector General report updates case against hazardous industrial waste into sewers

The case against allowing hazardous industrial waste to be discharged into sewers received a boost this week with the release of a report from the US Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General. The report carries the self-explanatory title More Action Is Needed to Protect Water Resources From Unmonitored Hazardous Chemicals. As in Canada, the US EPA is responsible for discharges from sewage treatment plants while the municipalities that own the sewer systems are responsible for allowing or not allowing industry (and householders) to discharge to sewer systems. The problem arises in part because historically municipalities were led to believe that sewage treatment plants could detoxify almost anything. Today we know that sewage treatment plants are good at dealing with human waste and some biodegradable wastes but are not effective at dealing with hazardous materials including much of the toxic waste that is discharged by industry to the sewers.

Among the points made by the Inspector General’s report:

  • US EPA regulations are not effective in controlling the discharge of hundreds of hazardous chemicals to surface waters such as lakes and streams.
  • This is due to a general regulatory focus on the priority pollutants list that has not been updated since 1981, limited monitoring
    requirements, limited coordination between EPA offices, a lack of tracking hazardous waste notifications required for submittal by industrial users, or a lack of knowledge of discharges reported by industrial users under the Toxics Release Inventory.
  • The US TRI Program currently covers 683 chemicals and chemical categories including many, but not all, hazardous chemicals. [Canada's equivalent, the National Pollutant Release Inventory, covers 346 substances.]
  • EPA has not taken actions to address discharges of hundreds of hazardous chemicals from sewage treatment plants.
  • Sewage treatment plant staff do not monitor for hazardous chemicals discharged by industrial users.
  • Hundreds of hazardous chemicals are not listed as clean water act priority pollutants.
  • Under the general pretreatment regulations, industrial users are required to notify the sewage treatment plant, the EPA Regional Waste Management Division Director, and state hazardous waste authorities in writing of any discharge into the
    sewage treatment plant of a substance, which, if otherwise disposed of, would be a hazardous waste. This refers to RCRA hazardous wastes. However, when EPA staff were asked about these notifications, there was a general lack of awareness
    of the requirement.
  • Whole effluent toxicity tests are not effectively used for monitoring and enforcement.
  • Some sewage treatment plant operators believed, incorrectly, that monitoring of toxic chemicals was not necessary because the chemicals in question should be metabolized and rendered harmless in the sewage treatment process.
  • US EPA has agreed with a set of recommendations made by the Inspector General, including a review of chemicals monitored nationwide in sewage treatment plant discharges.

GallonDaily repeats its prediction that discharge of industrial wastes to sewers will be severely restricted within five to ten years.

The full 20 page report is available at http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2014/20140929-14-P-0363.pdf