Endocrine disruption back on the agenda

A recent peer reviewed scientific paper indicates that, even at the low levels found in some drinking water, the pesticide atrazine, still quite widely used on corn in North America, may cause or contribute to irregular menstrual cycles and low estrogen levels. The paper compared these factors for women in Illinois, where atrazine levels in drinking water are higher, with those for women in Vermont, where atrazine levels in drinking water are very low.

GallonDaily sees this specific research as inconclusive but adding to the body of evidence that atrazine, which is not readily biodegradable, may be a more serious endocrine disruptor than bisphenol A (BPA), to which much more media and critic attention has been directed in recent years.

The bigger issue is that while so much attention has been focused on BPA the issue of endocrine disruption in a much broader range of chemicals has been given little attention. At some point this matter will return to the public policy agenda and a significant number of food and household products may be impacted by public concern.

The paper on endocrine disruption from drinking water (abstract: free; full paper: fee required) is at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935111002349

A summary prepared by the independent Environmental Health News is at http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2011/2011-1123atrazine-tied-to-menstrual-irregularities

A agricultural industry perspective on atrazine is at http://www.ontariocorn.org/envt/envpest.html

A more recent Federal government response to the issue of the effects of atrazine on amphibian populations is at http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/pet_283_e_32986.html

Brazil sets new high in oil spill fine

It used to be that resource companies could count on relatively low penalties for spills in developing countries but the Government of Brazil is showing big teeth in fining Chevron the maximum legally allowed amount. The oil company experienced a crude oil spill at one of its offshore wells earlier this month.

The relatively small spill, estimated to be about 2400 barrels in total compared to BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill which may have been almost five million barrels in total, took place in deep water about 120km off the Atlantic coast of Brazil.

Chevron has accepted full responsibility for the spill and has promised to do everything possible to clean it up. The Government of Brazil has fined Chevron 50 million reais ($USD28 million) and has suspended the Company’s permits for all current and planned exploration activities. More fines and penalties are possible. At the current level, the fine amounts to more than $11,500 per barrel of oil spilled.  Clean up costs will add significantly to this figure.

A Brazilian Government perspective from the Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA) can be found in Portuguese at http://www.brasil.gov.br/noticias/arquivos/2011/11/21/ibama-multa-empresa-chevron-em-r-50-mi-por-vazamento-de-oleo-no-rio-de-janeiro

A press release from Chevron is to be found at http://www.chevron.com/chevron/pressreleases/article/11232011_chevronvoluntarilysuspendscurrentandfuture.news

Canada and the Kyoto Protocol

According to a story being carried this morning by CTV, Canada is planning to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol later this month. GallonDaily has no independent confirmation of this news but is concerned about the possible impact of the announcement on Canada’s international reputation, especially as the news item leaked on the first day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban. Participating in a conference as a party to an international agreement while already having made a decision to withdraw from that agreement, assuming the CTV story is correct, is hardly likely to be seen as ethical behaviour by the international community. Indeed, again if the CTV story is correct, Canada may have taken a decision that will scuttle, or at least seriously delay, a Canada – Europe Free Trade Agreement and that will significantly worsen relations between Canada and much of the developing world.

There is no doubt that the Kyoto Protocol is not in good health. The international agreement does allow countries to pull out with one year’s notice. The United States, our largest trading partner, is not a party. Nevertheless, the annual meetings, as well as meetings of subsidiary bodies, do provide a place for international discussion of possible climate initiatives. The Protocol has defined methodologies for measuring controlling and measuring greenhouse gas emissions. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been made available for climate controlling projects around the world. Not just countries but many businesses have benefited economically from projects undertaken within the various frameworks of the Kyoto Protocol.

It is true that, unless Canada withdraws before the end of this year, we may be subject to sanctions for failing to meet our Kyoto Protocol commitments. However, other parties to the Protocol are at least partly understanding of Canada’s challenging circumstances and our close economic ties to the United States, the sanctions are negotiable, and there is no evidence that the other parties would try to extract a major pound of flesh from Canada for our Kyoto failure. Damage from pulling out is likely to at least equal any damage that may result from failing to meet our commitments.

Nuclear power not popular around the world

A new poll in 23 countries by Canadian pollster GlobeScan, conducted for the BBC, suggests that nuclear power for electricity generation is not attracting majority public approval in any of the countries where the research was undertaken.

The poll, conducted between July and September this year, shows the highest support in China (42%), Nigeria (41%), Pakistan (39%), USA (39%), UK (37%), Ghana (33%), and Egypt (31%). In all other countries where the poll was conducted, support for new reactors was among less than 30% of those polled. In France, with the highest percentage of power from operating reactors, public support for new reactors stood at 15%. In Germany, where the government has decided to close reactors, public support for new reactors stands at 7%. Neither Canada nor Iran were included in the survey.

The poll also indicates that the belief that conservation and renewable energy can fill the gap left, if there is a move away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy, is now the consensus view.

Detailed poll results, methodology, and comparison with results from similar research conducted in 2005, are available at http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbc2011_energy/

Lead and phthalates found in US toys

The environmental and consumer group U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, has published its 26th annual survey of toy safety. In addition to safety concerns about choking and loud noise, U.S. PIRG found very excessive levels of lead and phthalates in  a few toys being sold in U.S. stores. The presence of both substances is regulated by U.S. law because of concerns over their health impacts.

Government agencies cannot possibly monitor the presence of these additives in all toys being imported into North America. The fact that an environmental group is still finding them in toys suggests that the manufacturing industry in Asia and North American importers are still not doing enough to ensure that these substances are not present in the resins used for these toys. To avoid damage to a retailer or brand’s reputation, GallonDaily recommends that importers and retailers take additional steps to ensure that these additives are present at no more than trace levels in imported plastic goods, especially toys.

The report can be found at https://www.uspirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/product-safety/product-safety-reports/trouble-in-toyland-the-26th-annual-survey-of-toy-safety

UK Government: global Sustainable Development Goals for managing natural resources

The UK government has announced that it will support an initiative to build Sustainable Development Goals to focus international attention on the need to sustainably manage the world’s natural resources. It plans to launch the formal process for the new goals at the Rio+20 summit in June 2012 and hopes that they will replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman is quoted as saying: “Producing more food sustainably, dealing with environmental degradation, providing access to clean energy and poverty eradication are all part of the same picture. We need green growth to deal with them.”
“I welcome the proposal to use Rio+20 as a launch pad to develop new Sustainable Development Goals which will help to provide incentives for greater global cooperation to address these challenges.”

No response yet on whether or how the Government of Canada intends to participate in this initiative. GallonDaily expects that a new round of global Sustainable Development goals is likely to have a greater impact on international business, particularly companies involved in renewable and non-renewable resources, than the existing Millennium Development Goals.

The press release announcing this initiative is at http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2011/11/21/sustainable-development-goals/

Carbon capture and storage has air pollution downsides

A new report from the European Environment Agency discusses some of the air pollution downsides from carbon capture and storage technology systems.

The report points out that CCS requires from 15% to 25% more energy than an uncontrolled system so total emissions before storage are increased. This means that an increase in air pollutants other than carbon dioxide. Of particular concern are particulates, nitrogen dioxide, and ammonia from breakdown of the amines used to capture the carbon dioxide. However, the report does project that CCS systems would cause a decrease of 60% in EU CO2 emissions if implemented at all coal-fired electricity generating plants. If implemented at all coal, gas and biomass plants, the result could be a net reduction in total GHG emissions.

Note that there are as yet no full scale CCS systems in operation. GallonDaily suggests that economic factors make it unlikely that all EU coal fired generating plants will have CCS by 2050.

A summary of the report, as well as a link to the complete document, is available at http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/carbon-capture-and-storage-could

Greener fuel powers regular passenger air service

Biodiesel has had difficulty achieving market penetration with some North American fleet operators exhibiting, in GallonDaily’s opinion irrational, resistance to the product. An announcement from Skyteam Alliance member airline AeroMexico that it is using a 15% biofuel blend to power a regular airline service may help demonstrate that biodiesel type fuels have reached mainstream status.

UOP LLC, a Honeywell (NYSE: HON) company, has announced that Honeywell Green Jet Fuel™ is powering Aeroméxico’s Mexico City to San José, Costa Rica route, marking one of the first uses of renewable fuels in everyday airplane passenger service. The biofuel is made from the inedible plant camelina.

The agency that provides the blended jet fuel, Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares, expects that biofuels will account for 1 percent of the fuel in the Mexico aviation sector by 2015 and 15 percent by 2020.

More information is available at http://honeywell.com/News/Pages/Honeywell-Green-Jet-Fuel-Powers-Regular-Commercial-Route-For-Aeromexico.aspx

Ontario hazwaste site in conflict with community

The only hazardous waste facility in Ontario is in conflict with some of its neighbours and some of its users could face challenges as a result.

Clean Harbours’ facility in Lambton County has been emitting odours since August and some of its neighbours are fuming mad that the problem has not yet been solved. A public meeting this week degenerated into chaos, according to one of the participants, and, with media coverage of the problem and networking through the environmental group community, the Company is likely to start feeling much greater heat.

Management of hazardous waste has not had much of a profile in Ontario in recent years but it is incidents like that at the Lambton County facility that can quickly put it back on the environmental agenda. If that occurs, not only Clean Harbours but haulers and generators of hazardous waste are likely to find that Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley causes their world to change around them.

A media account of the public meeting called by Clean Harbours to discuss the odour problem with its neighbours can be found at http://www.theobserver.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3370718

A thoughtful environmental group take on management of hazardous waste in Ontario can be found at http://www.cielap.org/pdf/HazWaste2007.pdf

Wind turbines and wildlife

There is little doubt that windfarms can have an impact on wildlife but a recent study by the Kansas Nature Conservancy indicates that threats to wildlife can be mitigated through siting criteria and use of habitat offsets. According to the authors,  there are approximately 14.5 million ha suitable for wind energy development in Kansas, based on wind power class, distance to current and proposed transmission, and excluding urban and protected areas. After removing the wildlife avoidance areas identified in the study, approximately 10.3 million ha remain as suitable for wind energy development.   Of this, 7.6 million ha would require some type of mitigation or offset to protect wildlife habitat, leaving 2.7 million ha that the authors find suitable for wind farming without any wildlife compensatory activities or payments.

The study is clearly unique to Kansas but the methodology could be applied in many regions. It is illustrative of the approaches that need to be considered if wildlife is protected during development of windfarms. The paper also includes a schematic showing proposed steps of a Green Certification process for wind energy development.

The research is published in the online peer reviewed science journal PLoS ONE and can be found at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0026698