A global poll 6,000 10 to 12 year old children conducted in 47 countries found that environmental pollution is the top concern of this age group in developed countries, with natural disasters being the biggest worry for children in Africa and Asia.
The poll was conducted from June through August 2012 by the international children’s organization ChildFund Alliance, an alliance which includes Christian Children’s Fund of Canada and the US group Childfund International..
One in three (33%) children in developed countries cited pollution as their top concern, with half as many (16%) singling out global warming. Among children in the Americas, pollution was far and away the biggest concern, selected by 43 percent of respondents. Within developing countries, pollution was named as the top choice by 26 percent of children surveyed, while 23 percent cited natural disasters.
A summary as well as the full data report are available at http://www.childfund.org/media/press_releases/Global_Survey_of_Worlds_Children_Finds_Concern_Over_Pollution.aspx
A study from the University of Navarra, Spain, has identified excessive levels of mercury and arsenic in some infant cereal products. The researchers are calling for regulation of maximum levels of these contaminants in infant foods.
The study analysed 91 different products from 10 different manufacturers. The ingredients cocoa and rice were found to be the main sources of mercury and arsenic, respectively. Organic infant cereals based on cocoa showed the highest risk intakes of mercury, very close to exceeding European intake guidelines. Of the studied cereals, 32 out of 91 provide a risk of arsenic intake exceeding government guidelines.
It should be noted that this study relates to products found on the European (Spanish) market, not the North American market. In addition, mercury and arsenic are just two of many contaminants now being found in the human food chain. That does not mean that levels of these contaminants are acceptable, just that if one focusses on just one or two contaminants one may not be seeing the whole picture of environmental contaminants in food.
The mercury and arsenic study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Control and may be found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713512004641 abstract is free; a fee or subscription is required for the full text.
Yesterday, in association with the Los Angeles International Auto Show, General Motors announced that the Spark Electric Vehicle would be released next year in California, South Korea, Oregon, Canada, and other global markets. GallonDaily commends GM for including Canada in its initial product release.
The Spark is a five-door pure electric mini-car that GM claims will have a better range than its rivals, though no actual range figures have been released by the Company. So far GallonDaily is impressed, particularly by the recharging options which include 120v, 240v, and DC Fast Charge, which apparently will be able to recharge the battery pack to 80% of a full charge in 20 minutes.
It is important to remember that the current generation of EVs are essentially urban vehicles. It is unlikely that even the Spark EV will be able to travel from Toronto to Barrie and back, or Vancouver to Abbotsford and back, without recharging. Calgary to Edmonton return, or Montreal to Quebec City return, are not within current possibilities without on route recharging.
While GallonDaily is convinced that EVs have a role in replacement of gasoline vehicles, we also see it as important not to see electric mini-cars as a solution. If the electric mini-car becomes even more popular than conventional gasoline cars our cities risk becoming even more congested and energy use for transportation could in fact increase. Reducing the environmental footprint of transportation in cities means improving public transportation services and using public transit whenever possible. Despite their smaller environmental footprint, mini-cars are just as capable, perhaps more capable, of causing congestion and chaos in cities as existing vehicle designs. More responsible mobility in the context of Canada’s geography may mean personal transportation for low density inter-urban routes and public transportation for movement within the city. Current technology limitations mean that we are actually getting the reverse of this.
For GM’s press release about the Spark EV visit http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/gm/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2012/Nov/laas/1127-spark-ev.html
A study by scientists at Seoul National University and the University of Minnesota suggests that delivery of online purchases may have a lower environmental impact in suburban and low-density residential situations than customer pickup or conventional shopping. The research results indicate that pickup location systems, for example where buyers pickup goods from a subway location or a grocery store, may increase travel miles and emissions compared to a delivery system using a route designed for efficiency. The not necessarily intuitive reason for these results seems to be that delivery systems are most often organized for the most efficient routing while individual trips to stores and pickup locations are haphazard and highly duplicative.
GallonDaily points out that this research is by no means the last word on this subject and it may be difficult to reach conclusions that are uniform for all geographical settings. However, whatever the system used it is clear that much more needs to be done to increase the efficiency of delivery systems. For example, in a typical low density residential area, current delivery routes include at least school buses twice a day, one or more newspapers, mail, and a range of parcel and envelope delivery companies. Cooperation between delivery services could surely reduce these half dozen or more delivery services by at least 50%, with a corresponding reduction in fuel use and emissions.
The study results are published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es301302k – the abstract is free; a subscription or article purchase is required for the full text.
In developed countries one of the few places where one can still see black smoke belching from chimneys and smokestacks is around the port. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency:
- Ships are responsible for approximately 15% of all global anthropogenic nitrogen oxide emissions and approximately 4–9% of sulphur dioxide emissions.
- Ships also emit 1.8 million metric tons of PM10 (particulate matter which is 10 microns or less in diameter).
- Ocean-going ships were responsible for just under 3% of global CO2 emissions in 2007.
A newly published study from researchers at the University of California Riverside indicates that reducing the speed of ships by about 50% (from cruise at 25 – 29 miles per hour to 14 miles per hour) reduces emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and particulates per mile by substantially more than 50%.
The study focuses on ships in port areas, where air pollutants from ships are still a significant contributor to area air pollution, but the pollution reduction opportunities might provide some worthwhile opportunities for importers seeking to reduce the environmental footprint of their products.
The sample size for this study was small. As researchers routinely say, more study of this apparently worthwhile pollution reduction opportunity is needed.
The US EPA data on emissions from ships are at http://www.epa.gov/international/water/marine/ports.html
The study Greenhouse Gas and Criteria Emission Benefits through Reduction of Vessel Speed at Sea is at http://pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/abs/10.1021/es302371f – abstract is free; full article requires subscription or payment.
The issue of toxic substances in children’s products may not be so new but it is getting more and more attention with each holiday season. It is difficult to substantiate a claim that the problem is getting worse but transfer of more plastics fabrication to developing countries, especially in Asia, and the ready availability of recycled plastic containing toxic substances in such countries may be contributing to the problem. Low cost personal care products labeled as appropriate for children may also be formulated with low cost ingredients that may not be considered appropriate use on for children.
In any case the problem is now attracting the attention of governments which means that, unless the children’s product industries takes rapid steps to self-regulate, there will be more testing and regulation of chemicals in toys and other children’s products in the months and years ahead.
One of the posters attracting attention at the recent SETAC conference (see articles below) was from the Washington State Department of Ecology and entitled Analysis of Children’s Products for Chemicals of High Concern to Children. Under the State’s Children’s Safe Products Act, manufacturers must report to the State on any of a list of 66 chemicals that are contained in their products intended for children. The list of chemicals, along with a summary of toxicity and exposure information, can be found at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=173-334-130
The State publishes the data in an easy to use database with appropriate caveats:
- Reports are based on data provided to [the State Department of] Ecology by manufacturers.
- The presence of a chemical in a children’s product does not necessarily mean that the product is harmful to human health or that there is any violation of existing safety standards or laws.
- The reporting triggers are not health-based values.
- The data should not be used determine the safety of an individual product.
Despite the caveats, parents and activists are almost certainly going to wonder why some of these substances are necessary at any concentration in children’s products.
The database is accessible to the public at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/cspareporting/
We’ll be discussing toxic substances in children’s products in a future issue of Gallon Environment Letter. A free subscription, with somewhat reduced content, is available by sending your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Details on full subscriptions are available at http://www.cialgroup.ca/subscription.htm
Of a sample of 141 items of clothing, made primarily in the “Global South” (developing countries), Greenpeace International reports finding high levels of phthalates in four, amines from the use of certain azo dyes in two, and nonylphenol ethoxylates in 89. Greenpeace considers the presence of any NPEs, phthalates, or azo dyes that can release cancer-causing amines, all inherently hazardous substances, as unacceptable.
The survey did not constitute a representative sample of clothing brands. From these results it is not possible to know the distribution of toxic substances across clothing items or the extent to which toxic substances in clothing have an environmental or health impact. Clothing with NPEs at the highest concentrations – above 1,000 ppm – included items branded as C&A, Mango, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Zara, Metersbonwe, Jack & Jones, and Marks & Spencer.
Greenpeace International is based in The Netherlands. Analytical chemistry for the study was carried out at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter in the UK.
A summary and links to detailed reports can be found at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/big-fashion-stitch-up/
Both houses of Congress in the United States have now passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act – legislation that protects all federal scientists who expose the censorship of federal information, either crucial to public health and safety or required by law or regulation. Scientists who call out censorship and then are demoted or fired by agency managers will have the right to fight that retaliation. And the WPEA will give all federal workers, including scientists, better tools and stronger rights as whistleblowers.
The legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama, will help Americans who depend on federal agencies to protect them from unsafe drugs, defective consumer products, hazardous workplaces, and polluted air and water. But it also strongly supports the role of independent science as the foundation for federal policymaking. It sends a strong signal that federal scientists deserve respect.
Hiding or obfuscation of federal science by senior government officials has from time to time been a problem in Canada. The fact that the US is now protecting the uncensored release of science information is likely to increase pressure on the Canadian government to do the same. Even if our laws are not amended, scientific analyses showing risks to human health and the environment is now more likely to reach the Canadian public through US government channels. Public Right to Know is something that it is increasingly difficult for democratic governments to suppress.
The Union of Concerned Scientists was a major player in lobbying for passage of the WPEA. View the UCS’ take on the legislation, and a link to the legislation, at http://blog.ucsusa.org/congress-does-something-right-for-federal-scientists/
The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment has issued a draft discussion document proposing tougher standards for lead in soil. Lead occurs mostly in areas where industrial activities involving lead have historically taken place. With such activities involving a number of processes such as building of vehicle batteries, contamination from broken vehicle batteries, recycling of vehicle batteries, paint manufacture, and burning of coal, lead contaminated sites are not uncommon.
The proposed new soil quality guidelines are:
- for agricultural soils: 70 parts per million, a new guideline
- for residential and parkland soils: 76 parts per million, down from the current guideline of 140 ppm
- for soil on commercial sites: 110 ppm, down from the current guideline of 260 ppm
- for soil on industrial sites: 150 ppm, down from the current guideline of 600 ppm.
These figures are still draft. The guidelines have no direct legal effect but may in future influence regulations concerning contaminated sites and should therefore be of interest to industry associations and others potentially affected by lead contamination.
The discussion document and a scientific criteria document may be found at http://www.ccme.ca/ourwork/soil.html?category_id=44 and is open for public comment until March 4, 2013.
Last week the World Bank issued a powerful report with the title Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided.
The well-referenced 70 page report is intended, according to Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, to shock the world into action. It spells out what the world would be like if it warmed by 4 degrees Celsius, which is what scientists are nearly unanimously predicting by the end of the century, without serious policy changes.
The report states that the 4°C scenarios are devastating:
- the inundation of coastal cities;
- increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates;
- many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter;
- unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics;
- substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions;
- increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and
- irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.
The report states that a 4°C world will pose unprecedented challenges to humanity. It is clear that large regional as well as global scale damages and risks are very likely to occur well before this level of warming is reached. Although no quantification of the full scale of human damage is yet possible, the picture that emerges challenges an often-implicit assumption that climate change will not significantly undermine economic growth.
The report is available at http://climatechange.worldbank.org/