Health Canada adds confusion to chemicals issue

Issued this week, a press release apparently issued by Health Canada via Marketwire under the headline Harmful Chemicals: How You Can Protect Yourself, seems to GallonDaily to simply add more confusion and little or no useful information to the public’s understanding of toxic substance issues. GallonDaily does wish to make it clear that this government press release could be a fake, though we consider this unlikely, because it seems to appear only on Marketwire and not on the Health Canada website.

The release states:

  • Chemicals are all around you – in your environment, food, clothes and even your body. While many of them help to improve your quality of life, some chemicals may cause harm to your health and the environment.

While that statement is true, the use of the term “chemicals” is very confusing. Everything, from oxygen to water to salt to dioxin, is a chemical. People are most often concerned about toxic chemicals, not about the rest. Such a basic understanding should not have escaped Health Canada’s wizards.

The press release continues:

  • The Government of Canada is taking action to help protect Canadians from harmful chemicals. The Chemicals Management Plan (CMP) is the primary tool used to assess and regulate chemicals.

It is true that a limited number of chemicals are being assessed under the Chemicals Management Plan but none (ZERO) have yet been regulated or restricted using this approach. In contrast, a number of chemicals have been regulated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which is not mentioned in this press release.

Finally, the release states:

  • While the CMP provides a number of measures to manage chemicals, there are actions you can take to protect your health and environment:
    Always follow label directions when using products, and store products according to package directions.
    Use proper disposal methods for products that may contain hazardous material.
    Make your home and car smoke-free.
    Use a wet cloth to remove dust.
    Open windows whenever possible to increase ventilation, especially when you are painting, varnishing or installing new carpets.
    Choose low emission paints, varnishes and glues.

Not bad advice but hardly sufficient to have much impact on the chemicals in household products that are frequently, correctly or incorrectly, described as toxic in the media and that are of concern to many consumers.

It seems that Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan is being supplanted by a strategy that makes consumers responsible for chemicals in household products. Given that human exposure to many of the chemicals which are of concern to consumers will not be reduced by any of the strategies listed in the press release, GallonDaily can only assume that Health Canada is replacing a strategy of reducing or eliminating household pollutants through regulation with a strategy of blaming the consumer for chemicals in products over which the consumer cannot possibly have any control or, in many cases, knowledge of their presence.

Government press releases should, in our opinion, be scientifically accurate and addressed to the problems that people are experiencing. GallonDaily suggests to Health Canada that if it has nothing useful to say about actions to eliminate toxic substances from household products then it is better to say nothing than to put out a release which further confuses an already confused situation.

The full release can be found at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/harmful-chemicals-how-you-can-protect-yourself-2012-02-28

Eco-office certification celebrates 10 years

Many of us think of industry being the polluter while offices are relatively environmentally clean but 10 years ago the Singapore Environment Council, a non-governmental organization, teamed with a developer, City Developments Limited, to establish an Eco-Office certification program.

Among the criteria required to be addressed for an office to qualify for the Eco-Office logo are ones addressing:

  • Purchasing Practice
  • Paper Use
  • Printer, Photocopier, Fax & Cartridges
  • Waste Reduction Measures
  • Recycling
  • Office Kitchen
  • Office Furniture
  • Energy Conservation
  • Water Conservation
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Signs
  • Travel

To date, 110 Singapore office locations have received the Eco-Office certification. The SEC plans to add 100 more this year. The program involves an environmental self-assessment, on which an office must achieve at least a Good rating to qualify for certification, followed by an independent third-party audit.

The Eco-Office workbook can be found at http://www.ecooffice.com.sg/templates/madeyourweb/pdf/Step_by_step_guide_How_to_green_your_office.pdf

The press release describing the program on its 10th anniversary is at http://www.ecooffice.com.sg/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71&Itemid=127

Environmentalists agree to offset plan from fertilizer giant

Mosaic Company, a major phosphate and potash producer, was granted federal wetlands permits to expand its South Fort Meade underground phosphate mine in Florida but Sierra Club and a group of environmental organizations challenged the permits in court based on claims regarding the environmental impact of the mine expansion.

Now the parties have settled the court challenge using the well-established process of offsets.  Mosaic has agreed to:

  • Preservation of approximately 130 acres of land otherwise eligible to be mined by Mosaic.
  • Donation of a 4,171 acre parcel of ranch land to the State of Florida or, alternatively, a not-for-profit organization for permanent conservation. In addition, , Mosaic will provide up to $2 million for startup and recurring expenses to operate the land as a state park in accordance with the State’s Florida Forever program plans. Its conservation will expand wildlife corridors and preserve vital habitats and floodplain, while protecting a vital water resource from approaching development.
  • Certain mitigation, monitoring and site enhancements.
  • Additional efforts to obtain permanent conservation easements along the Peace River in Florida.

The environmental group litigants have accepted Mosaic’s proposal, which is still subject to court approval.

GallonDaily commends the Company and the groups for reaching this kind of settlement and commends the offset approach as worthy of consideration by other companies that are proposing major developments such as mines and pipelines.

More details of the planned settlement can be found at http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=70455&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1663421&highlight=

Excellent analysis of Ontario’s renewable FIT program

The well-respected Washington DC based Institute for Local Self-Reliance has just published an excellent review of Ontario’s green energy feed-in tariff program. The detailed report explains the history of the program and how it works. It also analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the FIT program in the context of its objective to build a green energy industry and create jobs in a province that is suffering through a current serious decline in manufacturing industries.

The conclusions of the report include:

  • Ontario’s feed-in tariff policy provides a robust regime for encouraging renewable electricity generation while maximizing the local economic benefits of this new power generation.
  • The domestic content provision ensures that projects will have significantly higher local value-added than would otherwise happen, encouraging more renewable energy industries to locate and hire in Ontario.
  • The community project price adders will also increase the jobs and economic impact of the renewable energy industry, by encouraging the development of projects that provide more jobs and more economic impact per MW than absentee owned projects.
  • The feed-in tariff distributed generation policy makes it easier for small scale projects to get on the grid and contribute to clean energy and economic goals swiftly.
  • The province’s policy seems to be an effective job strategy, with a cost per job comparable or lower than seen in American job subsidy programs. Ontario is getting both high wage jobs and an abundant supply of clean energy, not just subsidizing job creation.
  • Ontario’s feed-in tariff program is doubly robust, because even in the absence of the domestic content provisions, the local ownership price adders will result in greater than usual economic impact from renewable energy development than with absentee owned projects.
  • Ontario’s FIT Program has brought a surge of jobs and economic development. And given the uncertainty of the international trade dispute (Japan – joined by the United States and European Union – has brought a complaint against the Ontario FIT Program in the World Trade Organization (WTO) arguing that the domestic content provision is an unfair discrimination against overseas-made products), it’s unlikely that development will slow in the foreseeable future.

The full report can be found at http://www.newrules.org/energy/publications/maximizing-jobs-clean-energy-ontario-s-buy-local-policy

PFOA from popcorn and non-stick coatings may inhibit effectiveness of vaccines

PFOA is an environmentally persistent synthetic chemical most commonly associated with non-stick coatings on kitchenware and textiles as well as microwave popcorn bags.

The results of research published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that ingestion of PFOA may inhibit the effectiveness of vaccines against tetanus and diphtheria. The researchers found that the presence of perfluorinated compounds in the bloodstream was negatively associated with decreased antibody levels, in some cases with the antibody level being so low as to be ineffective in prevention of disease. The authors suggest that tetanus and diphtheria are likely to be markers for the behaviour of other antibodies and that the perfluorinated compounds may be reducing or negating the effectiveness of many childhood vaccinations.

Further research on the health effects of perfluorinated compounds is underway and results can be expected in the coming months. An abstract of the current paper (free) and links to the full paper (buy) can be found at http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/307/4/391.abstract?sid=73df54d6-e5f8-4e5c-9c45-ee37ebdec59d

 

Investors urge company action on climate change

A group of 92 pension funds, asset managers, insurers and banks has sent a letter to the CEOs of 415 of the world’s largest public companies calling for cost-effective management and reductions of their carbon emissions.  The initiative has been coordinated by the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Canadian signatories include Bâtirente, TD Asset Management, The Pension Plan For Employees of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and The Sisters of St. Ann. A number of US, European, Australian and other country investors are also included but there are no investors from China on the list. CDP has not provided an easily accessible list of the recipients of the letter but it likely includes a number of prominent North American corporations.

Details are at https://www.cdproject.net/en-US/News/CDP%20News%20Article%20Pages/call-for-energy-cost-cutting-February-2012.aspx

Failure to report costs chemical company huge fine

Under UK greenhouse gas regulations, which are based on the European Union GHG cap and trade program, companies are responsible for accurately reporting their emissions each year and for surrendering allowances (‘carbon credits’) to cover all of their emissions. The regulations provide for a civil penalty of €100 per tonne ($131 CDN per tonne) for emissions in excess of those for which allowances have been surrendered.

ExxonMobil Chemical Limited notified the Scottish Environment Protection Agency that it had identified certain emissions sources that had not been included in its 2008 GHG emissions report and for which allowances had therefore not been given up.

The fine imposed on ExxonMobil for the excess emissions was €3,296,600 ($4,333,068 CDN). This is reported as being one of the largest, if not the largest, environmental penalties ever imposed in the UK.

This is a paperwork offence. No harm resulted to the environment, other than that almost 33,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide have been emitted without a similar amount of offsets having been  generated elsewhere. However, the message to other emitters is clear: failing to properly report emissions and comply with caps, where enforced, can be very expensive.

The enforcement statistics for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency for 2010/2011 have just been published and can be found at http://www.sepa.org.uk/about_us/sepa_board/agendas_and_papers/idoc.ashx?docid=e0020b5f-e6eb-4128-b25f-6d30eae27bdd&version=-1

Dow agrees to clean up contaminated homes and lots in Midland, MI

Maybe it has been too long coming and maybe some will say it is not enough but Dow Chemical Company has agreed to a cleanup of dioxin contaminated properties surrounding its Midland, Michigan, industrial site that sets a high standard for cleanup of contaminated neighbouring third party sites. Dioxin contamination in the city of Midland is the result of airborne emissions from historic waste management practices at Dow.

The Michigan (State) Department of Environmental Quality has announced an agreed cleanup plan for lands around the Dow Midland plant that includes the following:

  • residential and residential-like property within the ‘Resolution Area’ will get remediated if dioxin contamination levels exceed 250 ppm
  • the plan includes an agreed soil sampling methodology
  • the cleanup will be the removal of 12 inches of soil and replacement with clean soil including a new lawn and landscaping. Specific details, including preservation of trees and shrubs, will be worked out with each property owner.

Dow has gone beyond the agreement to offer owners of approximately 50 properties near the Michigan Operations manufacturing site a voluntary property purchase program. Dow will donate acquired properties to Midland Tomorrow, the nonprofit economic development entity serving Midland County.

Michigan DEQ information on this agreement is available at http://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/2012-2-15_Final_FACTSHEET_w_Map_376932_7.pdf

The Dow information is available at http://www.midlandpropertyprogram.com/

GE Hybrid water heater a great idea but with perhaps one limitation

General Electric Company has introduced what it calls a “hybrid” domestic water heater. The water heater, which is designed to have the same footprint as, and be completely interchangeable with, a standard domestic electric water heater uses a heat pump to extract heat from the surrounding air. This heat is used to heat the water. Supplementary 2500 watt conventional heating elements also provide heat for the water when the heat pump cannot keep up with hot water usage. GE claims that the hybrid water heater, branded as GeoSpring, is up to 62% more efficient than a conventional water heater.

The heat pump part of the GeoSpring is designed to work only in an ambient temperature range of 45F to 120F. The challenge is that, if located in a heated space, the hybrid water heater will remove heat from heated air and cause the furnace to work longer to replace the heat transferred to the water. If located in an air conditioned space, the hybrid heater will actually assist the air conditioning and reduce the energy usage of the air conditioning unit.

GE states that, typically, water heaters are located in what it calls “unconditioned spaces” such as garages, basements, and attics. That may be the case in the US but is almost certainly not the case in most Canadian homes where lack of heating would cause water pipes to burst in winter freezing. So, in Canada, a heat pump water heater will simply be taking heat out of the warmed air and causing the heating system to work harder, a process that will also contain some inefficiencies and which will likely end up using more energy in winter months than the hybrid water heater saves.

GE tries to address this by stating that if the heating season (furnace) and cooling season (air conditioner) are of roughly equal lengths, then the extra space heating required will be offset by the cooling energy saved and the energy savings of the hybrid water heater will still be realized.  However, no data are presented to substantiate this, the statement fails to take into account the inefficiency of heating a space to provide heat to a heat pump which then heats water, and in much of Canada the cooling season is much shorter than the heating season.

GallonDaily  commends GE for introducing a piece of technology that has the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption in many homes. It is the kind of technology leap that we need to address climate change and energy supply challenges. However, for it to be convincing, the Company also needs to provide information on how the water heater performs in a range of heated home situations that correspond to typical Canadian homes.  Otherwise many purchasers may end up being seriously disappointed and may even initiate claims of misleading advertising.

Details of the hybrid water heater are provided by GE at http://www.geappliances.com/heat-pump-hot-water-heater/

Availability in Canada can be determined by calling GE at 855-742-6112.

Ontario’s Drummond Report an Environment and Sustainable Development Bust

Today the Ontario Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services released its report, a report that Ontario Finance Minister described as “very sweeping” and “very controversial”. However, those hoping for changes in the way the Ontario Government conducts its environmental business or those hoping for a transition to a Sustainable Development path will be very disappointed in the Drummond Report. The report never once uses the term Sustainable Development, recommends nothing for the environment except more studies, something the Ontario government is, in this journal’s opinion, already perpetuating to an absurd extent,  and gives absolutely no recognition to the linkage between the environment and the economy. It appears that hiring this team to recommend a new economic pathway for the Government of Ontario may have been one of the bigger environmental mistakes of the many committed during the McGuinty Liberal Governments term of office.  Task force Chair Don Drummond was Chief Economist of TD Bank. TD Bank was, and may still be, one of the greener among the coterie of Canadian Banks. However, little to none of this green economic thinking seems to have rubbed off on its former Chief Economist.

Drummond Commission recommendations for the environment are miserable at best:

13-1: Move towards full cost recovery and user-pay models for environmental programs and services.

13-2: Rationalize roles and responsibilities for environmental protections that are currently shared across levels of government.

13-3: Employ a risk-based approach for environmental approvals that focuses on improving outcomes and prevention.

13-4: Review opportunities to further streamline the environmental assessment process, such as co-ordinating further with the federal government’s process or integrating it with certain approvals.

13-5: Place greater emphasis on prevention and the polluter-pay principle for contaminated sites using appropriate financial tools, such as financial assurance.

13-6: Review the effectiveness of the current governance structure of the Ontario Clean Water Agency to evaluate the merits of restructuring it as a for-profit, wholly owned government entity.

13-7: Rationalize and consolidate the entities and agencies involved in land use planning and resources management.

13-8: Ensure that the government’s approach to the Ring of Fire maximizes opportunities for Aboriginal Peoples and all Ontarians.

In other areas, Drummond recommends:

3-1: Do not simply cut costs. The imperative to restrain spending should instead be an opportunity to reform programs and service delivery. [Wow, Don. Your meaningless rhetoric exceeds that of even the most seasoned politician!]

3-8: Higher priority should be assigned to programs and activities that invest in the future as opposed to those that serve the current status quo.

3-11: Boundaries between public- and private-sector activities should be shifted and, in many cases, removed. For the most part, policy development needs to remain in the realm of the government, though various stakeholders and community groups could and should be more involved. External groups should even be involved in advising the most senior
government decision-making bodies, including the Cabinet.

11-1: Government needs to publish an “economic vision” for Ontario.

12-2: Implement full cost pricing for water and wastewater services. [Legislation to do this was passed by the Conservative government years ago but was never implemented. This may be the most useful but among the most unlikely to be implemented recommendations of the Drummond report.]

12-4: Following the precedent set by the Toronto Transit Commission, begin charging for parking at GO Transit parking lots. [And hence encourage yet more people to use private polluting automobiles rather than the more environmentally responsible public transit!]

12-5: Pursue a national transit strategy with the federal government, other provinces and municipalities.

12-10: Eliminate the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit as quickly as possible.

12-11: Review all other energy subsidy programs against measures of value for money and achievement of specific policy goals.

12-14: As part of the review of the feed-in tariff (FIT) program, take steps to mitigate its impact on electricity prices by:

  • Lowering the initial prices offered in the FIT contract and introducing degression rates that reduce the tariff over time to encourage innovation and discourage any reliance on public subsidies17; and
  • Making better use of “off-ramps” built into existing contracts.

12-15: Procure larger [electricity] generation facilities through a request for proposal process.

20-5: Advocate for federal greenhouse gas mitigation programs to provide fair and equitable support for Ontario’s clean energy initiatives. [Another Wow - as if Ontario's Liberal government spending more money advocating for climate change initiatives with the Federal Conservative government would achieve anything useful at all!]

It is not GallonDaily’s mandate to review anything but the environmental and Sustainable Development aspects of government initiatives. For the many other recommendations of the Report, including a few other proposals that may have negative environmental impact, readers are referred to the full report at http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/reformcommission/index.html

In the spirit of making constructive suggestions, GallonDaily recommends that Premier McGuinty reinstate the Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy and task it with producing an economic document that leads the province into a greener economy while at the same time reducing the costs of government services. The Round Table produced a better document along these lines in 1989 than Economist Drummond and his team have produced in 2012.

[Note: GallonDaily's editor was a member of the Ontario Round Table on Environment and Economy.]