Posts Tagged ‘alternative fuels’

Today I am delighted to publish a guest post on asbestos and human health, and their links to the environment. The post is by James O’Shea, content editor of; James K. Bashkin (Site Publisher and Editor; the guest post is the opinion of its author).

January 22, 2009: For more discussion of this topic, please see the comments here and the version of this article, with discussion, that was re-published by me on

January 1, 2009: Today I am somewhat less delighted to point out the comment made by Dennis of, who provided the link This blog, written by Dennis, documents some strange behaviors associated with the sponsors of the center that offered this guest report. While I was fully aware that they were sponsored by a law firm, I was not aware of some apparently predatory practices that Dennis has uncovered. I have removed the live links in this article except the one that I supplied to the literature citation, but you can still get to the site if you want to by typing the url of the center,, into your browser. Meanwhile, I have added to my blogroll. Thanks, Dennis!

The processing of fossil fuels has a long trail of consequences, with some being more obvious than others. There are essentially two tiers of negative ramifications to backwards energy policies. The first of these are the direct environmental consequences of the burning of fossil, which has been well documented in recent years with the recent interest in the effects of global warming. However, the second tier are the human health effects associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

(Revised Editor’s note: this paragraph has been removed.  Some comments refer to the missing text).

Then there are the more indirect costs, and specifically those which are associated with the industry itself. Working conditions in the fossil fuel industry are among the most hazardous of any occupation. One of the hazards workers will encounter is asbestos, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as a known carcinogen. And even though asbestos was banned by the CPSC in the late 1970’s, older asbestos fixtures still exist within nearly all facets of the fossil fuel infrastructure. These older and sometimes damaged fixtures pose and even greater hazard to human health.

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they lodge themselves in the lining of lungs. This lays the groundwork for the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. Perhaps it should come as no coincidence then that rates of pleural cancer (mesothelioma) in oil refinery workers are among the highest of any occupation.

What we begin to see then, is that there are effects of ozone depletion and fossil fuel use and processing, that are detrimental not only to the planet, but also to human health. When the world opens its eyes to the crisis we’re supporting, we’ll not only have sustained the future for our children, but also saved lives.


Environmental Protection Agency

Occupational Medicine 2007 (an Oxford Journal), Mortality of UK Oil Refinery Workers and Petroleum Distribution Workers 1951-2003, by Tom Sorahan, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham.


This information came to me by email because I signed up and committed to Earth Hour 2008, which is fast approaching. Since the message emphasizes getting the word out, and since it is written so well, I’ve reproduced a portion of it here. The full message can be found at the Earth Hour newsletter. Earth Hour is an important symbolic and real act of conservation and activism, a demonstration of awareness, a statement of how important the issues of sustainability, energy conservation and energy use are to each of us, and more. Go to the Earth Hour website for information about how entire cities and organizations are participating, worldwide, and how you can join in. The environment is our home, let’s keep working on cleaning it up and protecting it for the future. From the newsletter of March 27 (the content in the following indented quote is © Earth Hour):

This is the weekend to take a stand. Earth Hour – this Saturday, March 29 from 8-9 pm local time. You’ll be joining millions of people across the U.S. and around the globe in a monumental call for action on climate change. Here’s a last-minute checklist to help you make the most of the hour:

· Go compact — Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), that is. Come out of Earth Hour with better lighting than before. Changing to energy-efficient lighting is just one step, but it’s a part of Earth Hour we all can do. Identify the bulbs you can replace, then hit the hardware store and stock up. And watch for special free and discounted bulbs in many communities across America.

· Prepare to party — Whether you’re hosting a planet-friendly get-together by lamplight, camping out with the kids or just enjoying some unpowered screen-free “you” time, make sure you’ve got all the supplies you need ready at hand. It’s not too late to invite a few more friends.

· Buzz in the dark — You can often hear electric light bulbs buzzing. This weekend, the big buzz comes when we all turn them off. Tell your friends. The more people know about Earth Hour, the bigger an impact we’ll each make. E-mail your friends, link to Earth Hour on your blog, pass out flyers and stickers or just ask your neighbors, “What are you doing Saturday at 8?”

· Think long-term — Turning out the lights for one hour is a great start, but what will you be doing after March 29? As Saturday approaches, make a plan to go green after Earth Hour. Recycle more, drive less, talk to your elected leaders—whatever you do, make Earth Hour the beginning of a new, greener you!

This is another day to do something for the environment (as is every day!).  I hope you will be able to join us and participate in this historic event.

James K. Bashkin

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As reported in the New York Times on Feb 8, 2008 and discussed by Douglas Schiller at, two studies have reached the conclusion given in the title. US demand for biofuels from food sources is driving up food prices throughout the world.

A key distinction here is “from food”. We may still have the option of using waste cooking vegetable oil and other waste products to produce biofuels (for example, to make biodiesel) without harming food prices or the environment. Solutions to the problems that do not require liquid fuels, including electric cars, are looking like the best answer over the long term, however.

read more | digg story

For another (better) overview of the reports that were released yesterday from a number of Universities and The Nature Conservancy, see here.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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From (via my friend Steve B. at, here is an article that predicts the point where gas prices will cause a five-fold increase in purchases of hybrid cars and the abandoning of SUVs by US consumers.  The point is said to be $4/gallon, a conclusion which is based on studies by and the Civil Society Institute. Also, according to the article,

“The US DOE expects gas prices to reach a record $3.50 this spring”

Clearly, in addition to all of the concerns about the environment that many people have today, we are going to need some purely economic forces to change the nature of the average American car.  Those economic forces seem to be building strength.

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Please read the story that my previous post links to on cities that are taking various approaches to sustainability. I applaud these cities on their effort, risk, expenditure and cooperation…

but I’d like to hear what people think about the cities’ actual solutions!

Since I can barely find people who agree on anything regarding alternative fuel, or at best we seem to have warring camps, did these cities choose plans that will help or hurt the environment? How did they know what to do when so few others agree? The best presentation at a City Council meeting may reflect marketing skills rather than content.

So, let’s bring it on in a discussion, pro or con, but civil please. Thanks!

What do you think?

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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Peaks Island in Casco Bay, off Portland, Maine. Photo by S. R. Shray, used with permission, some rights reserved, 2007

Please check out for a huge collection of articles, discussion forums, practical tips and wildly utopian but stimulating ideas for helping the environment.

The site also has treehuggertv for video reports (haven’t watched any yet).

As usual, I don’t endorse all the views expressed on the site (though I do endorse my own comments found there!), but I fully support engaging in the discussion and debate on treehugger as well as on my own blog.

We simply will not make progress talking only to people who agree with us or by dogmatically refusing to listen to dissenting opinions. Of that, I am sure. So, again, I invite comments, criticism, debate and discussion. Praise is nice, but not as important as these other responses.

Sample stories from

IBM Chips In a Wafer

by Tim McGee, Helena, MT, USA

“Although silicon is one of the most abundant elements on earth, single crystal silicon wafers don’t grow on trees- yet. It is actually quite an extensive and expensive process to produce silicon wafers, which are used to create everything from computer chips to solar cells. As announced via the IBM video above, IBM’ers in Vermont have devised a process that allows their rejected wafers to be repurposed for solar cells.”

Garbage-Burning Oven Helps Clean Up and Power Kenyan Slum

by Eliza Barclay, Nomad

“The Christian Science Monitor has a piece out of Nairobi on a garbage-burning oven in the notorious slum of Kibera that aims to preserve the country’s forests, which are swiftly being cleared to provide wood and charcoal for cooking, while finding a way to utilize trash for energy. If successful, Monitor says, the pilot project could be a model for megacities and the waste they create.”

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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Please see the article (click on the title):

Renewed Effort

Big oil companies are joining the search for the next generation of biofuels

By JESSICA RESNICK-AULT of the Wall Street Journal

Ms. Resnick-Ault provides a discussion of the range of biofuel options as viewed by major oil companies and she reports on their choices, which vary widely. The article mentions this blog (thanks!) in its round-up of relevant blogs. The most promising news reported, from my perspective, is the following:

“ConocoPhillips of Houston … has paired with Tyson Foods Inc. to produce renewable diesel at its refinery in Borger, Texas. Renewable diesel shares properties of conventional diesel fuel but is derived from feedstocks such as food waste rather than oil. A second venture …. unites ConocoPhillips with agribusiness giant Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. to research and commercialize … renewable transportation fuels from biomass, or farm waste.”

Hydrogen fuel cells also make an appearance on the scene courtesy of ExxonMobil. Also in the Wall Street Journal, we find the article (click on the title):

What Price Green?

For many Americans, pretty much any price is too high

By ANJALI ATHAVALEY of the Wall Street Journal

The author describes how unwilling Americans are to give up nearly any conveniences in order to help the environment, even when they believe that the environment needs help. Conservation is modest at best these days, even while a Gallup poll shows that pro-environmental political activism is increasing. In a thorough journalistic approach, the article cites surveys from a very broad range of sources to provide the overall picture of declining interest in things like more energy-efficient kitchen appliances, and it is very credible. Unfortunately! Overall, Europeans are found to be much more willing than Americans to make sacrifices for the good of the environment.

I will repeat my mantra that we have to cut back on energy use and other waste in addition to finding alternative energy sources.

America Unplugged is my new trial balloon slogan for conservation.

However, it is important to remember that plastic shopping bags come from petroleum just like gasoline/petrol does. So, bringing a set of cloth bags to the grocery store will help rid us of our dependence on foreign oil. As will recycling plastics.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007
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In case you missed it, a gentleman named Burl Haigwood kindly left a long and detailed comment, and rebuttal, to my recent post on the health effects of ethanol as a fuel.

Because I do want to debate the issues, I thought it best to reprint his response and my related comments here, since otherwise they would remain buried in the comments section.


BurlHaigwoodCFDC said in response to An Unfortunate Truth about Bioethanol (from Corn):

I would like to address a few missing and broken links to your argument. When you have only one side in mind during your article and can not give any merit to the only fuel to break the 100 year stranglehold on the oil dominated transportation fuel market – it is just an argument not a debate or discussion. The ethanol program started as an intended consequence to do something about nation’s reliance on imported oil. Since that time we have had several wars in the oil producing region of the world, which has fueled terrorism, we now understand where the greenhouse gases are coming from, we have not discovered any more oil in the US, we are using 40 billion more gallons of gasoline each year, and the oil companies have not produced any alternative fuels out of anything. The issue is about oil not ethanol. Take out ethanol and nothing has been accomplished in 30 years by anyone or anything else. Ethanol is the only fuel that has worked to replace gasoline in 30 years – despite a lot of trying by a lot of people and industries. LPG, electricity, solar, natural gas, biodiesel, and the consumer’s willingness to buy small cars have not worked. Ethanol works and it is better than imported crude oil and gasoline. If you really want to avoid being full of formaldehyde I suggest your try and avoid the estimated 65 carcinogens in gasoline like benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde. Ethanol made in Puerto Rico from sugar cane or from corn in Iowa is the same ethanol and receives the same credits/incentives. Those incentives are available to anyone, including the oil companies, to make alternative fuels in any form from any renewable feedstock. If you believe in a free market, then adding 400,000 barrels of a product that costs less than gasoline to the motor fuel pool should help. In fact DOE says ethanol has lowered the price of crude oil by $2.50 per barrel – that’s $18 billion dollars this year. Other studies show that record oil prices have twice the impact on food prices when compared to ethanol. The oil companies have not made one drop of alternative fuels or anything else to help their customers since they invented lead additives, which took the government 70 years to take out. While you say you are not paid by the oil companies you are doing their work by spreading heated and misguided mistruths about the U.S. ethanol program. That is their intended consequence. I suggest you and others interested in all aspects of a very complex ethanol issue Google The Ethanol Fact Book. Ethanol is not perfect, it is just better than imported crude oil and gasoline. Ethanol is leading the way to a brighter future – not gasoline or imported oil. We need your passion and brains on the solution side of this oil equation problem.




My Response to Mr. Haigwood of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC)* is given here:


Thank you for taking the time to respond in such a detailed manner. You make many good points, and I’ll try to address them.

First, I am not approaching this subject with any preconceived point of view. Believe me, I would be very happy if ethanol turned out to be the answer to our problems. If corn ethanol were the answer to our problems, I would be even happier. I just want the problems solved, and I’d like to avoid using more nuclear power.

Each post on this blog tends to report on one or more related articles in the scientific or popular press (including the web). Each article has a focus, naturally. The totality of this blog represents my interests and matters that I think should be discussed, so I am delighted by your comments and by the fact that you took the time to read what I had to say.

You were absolutely correct when you said

“The issue is about oil not ethanol.”


But this is not complete. The issue is also about the environment and food prices.

I am well aware of the carcinogens in smog from gasoline/petrol. They are made worse in strong sunlight by a process that generates photochemical smog. I am grateful to my colleague Hal H. for informing me of the key discoveries in this field from UC Riverside (the link goes to one scientific article).

My blog was based in part on a new study published in the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology, as reported on the website Highlight Health. This article predicts serious increases in respiratory problems caused directly by worsening air quality, if ethanol displaces gasoline/petrol as automobile fuel (specifically referring to E85, which is 85% ethanol and 15% petroleum). It is a new article. The results surprised me. On its own, I would have taken it seriously, but not as proof. However, Walter, who writes HIGHLIGHT Health does an excellent job researching for his blog, and he described other research, this time experimental in nature, on the growing ratio of formaldehyde to acetaldehyde in Brazilian air since the introduction of ethanol fuel.

I’m not sure exactly why the formaldehyde problem exists, but I will search the literature and report back. I believe that the formaldehyde is at least partly related to sunlight and ozone, as is photochemical smog in general. I suspect that the very high oxygen content of ethanol relative to petroleum is an important factor in formaldehyde generation, but it might not be. I’ll look into this more.

I would expect that car emissions could be improved so that ethanol-run cars did not suffer from this problem, though it would (or might) require new catalytic converters that, as far as I know, nobody is working on. Developing countries might or might not be able to afford the catalytic converters. The truth is that, with the zero or low nitrogen and sulfur content of ethanol-based fuels, cheaper catalytic converters might handle the problem and work well in place of current models designed to survive sulfur and nitrogen impurities.

So, while ethanol has some problems as a fuel, as I see it, these problems do not seem to me to be insurmountable. This hopeful statement is predicated on people admitting that the problems exist and resources being put into solving the problems. We’ll see what happens.


No, the big problem is corn. (Well, oil is a big problem, too.)


It is my conclusion, based on the articles I have read, that we are going to destroy the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico and in rivers and lakes and seas and bays around the world if we continue to grow corn for ethanol. Just the fertilizer alone places far too great a burden on the rivers and streams.

From my recent World Headlines and blogroll, take this New York Times article, for instance, which reports on a National Research Council (NRC) study sponsored by our most prestigious scientific body in the US., the National Academy of Sciences, and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other organizations:


“Panel Sees Problems in Ethanol Production


Published: October 11, 2007

Greater cultivation of crops to produce ethanol could harm water quality and leave some regions of the country with water shortages, a panel of experts is reporting. And corn, the most widely grown fuel crop in the United States, might cause more damage per unit of energy than other plants, especially switchgrass and native grasses, the panel said.”

I hope that you read this whole story, Mr. Haigwood. Afterwards, I’d like to see if you still feel the same about corn ethanol. I look forward to continuing the debate.

Personally, I don’t think that we will find a viable solution to the energy and fuel issues without efficient conversion of cellulose-based biomass to fuel and raw materials. There is progress being made in these areas, as I have discussed before.



© James K. Bashkin, 2007


*Note, the mission statement of the organization Mr. Haigwood is connected with is:

“The Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC) is an innovative not-for-profit organization that actively supports the development of new technologies and the increased production of fuels that can reduce air pollution, stimulate our economy, and lessen our dangerous dependence on imported oil. Our goal is to drive the demand for clean low-carbon fuels, like ethanol, through a combination of efforts that include collaborating with industry, educating and communicating with the media and other strategic influencers, and support new legislative initiatives that will help us achieve our mission.”

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Go to the Science Friday home page and look for the Oct 4, 2007 (Hour 1) show on Biofuels to listen to the Podcast.

Also, check out my blogroll (under Science) for a link to the Science Friday Kids’ Connection, an educational resource for grades 6-8.

Let me know what you think! Thanks, as always, for your feedback.

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It was reported by Timothy Gardner of Reuters that Jane Goodall, one of the world’s best-known scientists, has come out strongly against the planting of biofuel crops in tropical areas because this is typically accompanied by extensive destruction of rain forests.

So, whether it is “corn-to-ethanol” raising your food prices or fast-growing weeds for generation of fuel, one must question the true benefits of “bioenergy” or biofuels in many cases.

The situation is different in the case of waste oils being converted into biodiesel: waste is being put to good use here. Treating food and rain forests like waste is another matter, one that we can expect to be harmful to the planet in many ways. I’ll be discussing this at length over the next few weeks.

This quote from Jane Goodall, as reported in the Reuters article, sums things up perfectly: “Biofuel isn’t the answer to everything; it depends where it comes from.”

See here for another recent report on biofuels in India, and here for a summary of consumer waste.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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