Posts Tagged ‘pollution’


The EPA should be contributing to public health, sustainability, education on complex environmental concerns, and related issues. I know that its members work hard to do so, but they are often thwarted by management. Bob Grant of The Scientist.com wrote about criticism from Congress over the EPA shutting down or limiting access to important libraries (note, free registration may be necessary to view this and other articles linked to below below that are found on The Scientist.com) .

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) closure of several of its research libraries is flawed, unjustified and is depriving academics, government employees, and the public of crucial environmental data, according to a Congressional report released yesterday (Mar. 13).

Of the EPA’s 26 libraries, six libraries have changed their hours of operation, and four others have been shut since 2006. These include its Office of Environmental Information headquarters library and the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics Chemical library, both in Washington, DC.

The report, issued by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO),…

Since I know EPA staff and scientists who are dedicated to making information available to researchers, State and Local governments, and the public, I can only speculate that these unfortunate plans must come from a combination of EPA’s politically-appointed “leadership” and budget cuts imposed by the will of the Bush White House.

In what may be a closely related story, Christopher Lee of the Washington Post reported that:

Unions at the Environmental Protection Agency have pulled out of a long-standing partnership with management, saying Administrator Stephen L. Johnson has failed to deal in good faith on issues such as scientific integrity and job evaluations.

In a Feb. 29 letter to Johnson, 19 union leaders, who represent 10,000 EPA employees, complained that he and other top managers have ignored the advice of unionized workers and the agency’s own principles of scientific integrity. They cited issues that include fluoride drinking-water standards, a California bid to limit greenhouse gases, and mercury emissions from power plants.

It is important to note what Mr. Lee reports about the scientific integrity agreements between EPA management and employees:

The agency’s scientific-integrity principles, jointly developed by unions and managers during the Clinton administration, call for employees to ensure that their scientific work is of the highest integrity, and to represent it fairly, acknowledge the intellectual contributions of others and avoid financial conflicts.

We see yet more examples of how the Bush White House has weakened the EPA in times of great environmental turmoil, when data and public understanding of data are critically important. At a time when the US needs public trust in the EPA, the actions of political appointees involved with environmental decision-making continue to erode that trust. Specific examples include denial of the requested changes to California automotive CO2 emissions standards, registration of toxic and highly carcinogenic methyl iodide as a fumigant, refusal of the Federal government to obey court orders to uphold the Endangered Species Act and related denial of scientific data that was later overturned by the courts.

From NPR:

The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency has authority to set the air quality standards to protect public health and the environment. But the White House is now interfering with new efforts by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Ignoring scientists is nothing new for Bush, but in this case he also ignored the U.S. Supreme Court. The EPA wanted to include a tougher secondary standard during growing seasons, designed to protect forests, crops and other plants from ozone, which retards plant growth and depletes soil moisture. Alarmed at the costs this would exact on polluters, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson saying the EPA couldn’t impose such limits without considering their economic effect. This is flatly untrue; a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in 2001 held that the EPA did not have to consider the costs of its clean-air regulations, only their scientific basis. When the EPA still refused to back down, the White House sent a curt letter saying the agency had been overruled by the president: The secondary standard was out.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Regarding the previous post on “The French Chernobyl”, it has caused some unfortunate confusion. The title of that post was coined by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to refer to the extremely serious PCB contamination of the Rhone river in France. These chemicals are or were used as coolants and insulators for industrial (and some consumer) transformers and capacitors. The massive extent of the pollution and its poisoning of local fish (for human consumption) led to the rather dramatic quote from WWF. This unfortunate situation in France is not a recipe for sustainable development!

Please read the comment on the preceding post from reader rengler and my response, which I also used as the basis for text added at the end of an edited, improved version of the article- I wasn’t clear enough with the first version. Thanks, JKB.


Note:  please see also my Feb 24 post, which clarifies this article a bit more.

“Years of unchecked pollution in France’s Rhone River have taken their toll with the recent discovery of PCB levels 10-12 times the safe limit in the river’s fish.” The World Wildlife fund has called this the “French Chernobyl”. Please read the comments for important clarification.

Given the recent comment about French responses to power and energy needs (with nuclear power) by a reader on this site, and my sense that French policy has been carried out without regard for the environment in some cases, I thought I would add this to the picture of an industrial situation that is seriously dangerous in France. Industrial chemicals used in generators and other electrical equipment have been leaking toxic PCB chemicals into the Rhone river for a long time. The fish are unsafe to eat.

We have plenty of problems with the environment in the USA, resulting from our own companies and from government choices (or abdication of responsibility). I am simply not in favor of energy policies that make environmental problems worse, which is why I do not see nuclear power as a viable answer to our energy needs.

The first version of my blog entry on this story had some inaccuracies, for which I apologize.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

read more | digg story

Clarification from my response to the comment by rengler:

As I mentioned, the term “French Cherbonyl” came from the WWF, and I was merely reporting this.

My point in the first place was to respond with more information to a previous comment by a reader, where a laundry list of countries that handle energy in supposedly better ways than we do in the US was presented. One example was how the French use nuclear power. I objected that these countries are often ruining their own environments with these approaches. I also mentioned that the French have to use the army to force construction of nuclear plants and transportation of waste through their own country.

The article cited in this post was meant to be an example of how French environmental policy is not necessarily something to hold up as a shining example, while at the same time trying to point out that this can be said for US practices and policies (which aren’t necessarily in agreement, as my reports of the need to sue the Federal government to obey Federal law and Federal court rulings indicate, for example in the case of pesticide use affecting Northwest salmon).

The use of PCBs is not linked to nuclear power, as you state: it is linked in a nonessential way to a wide range of cooling and insulating applications in electrical transformers, capacitors and other industrial electrical equipment, as you well know. People who want to read more on the subject can look at this summary sheet: http://www.fisherenvironmental.com/faq_pcb.html

I certainly agree that the term “French Chernobyl” is hyperbole, for the reasons you state. This in itself underscores the insidious dangers of nuclear power, dangers which can’t be equaled by even the worst industrial disasters from other industries.

…Thanks for helping to clarify things so effectively.

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It is nice to see that Air Products has discovered a way for removing mercury and acid rain components from coal-fired electrical plants and other coal-burning facilities. I wonder how practical this will be? Air Products is certainly a very capable and innovative company. From Yahoo News:

“Air Products is a world leader in the development of oxyfuel technology. World scale air separation units (ASU) are required for oxyfuel CO2 capture projects, and Air Products is a proven supplier of this scale of cryogenic air separation plants. Additionally, Air Products’ CO2 purification process uniquely removes sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and mercury during the compression process. CO2 purification and compression is important for the transport and geological storage of CO2 capture projects. The CO2 purification and compression system must be designed to minimize power consumption while meeting the purity specifications for the CO2.”

read more | digg story

I would welcome any discussion of the merits of this system for cleaning up the products of burning coal. It purports to clean up much more than CO2 emissions. While there have been plenty of stories about how “clean coal” is a myth, I’d like to think that each case will be judged on its merits. So, what do people think? Thanks for reading.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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By Haider Rizvi, OneWorld US, Thu., Feb. 7, 2008.
Banks to consider climate before investing in coal: “Officials at Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley pledged Monday that they would give priority to investment in clean energy businesses and put coal-fired electricity generation to “a rigorous review” process for financing.”

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Researchers found dangerous levels of mercury and arsenic in Lake Baiyangdian, the largest lake in North China, a source of both food and drinking water. First reported by David Kagan in Sunstroke and his latest, book, Doomwatch–the Legacy. Submitted to DIGG by internjack.

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I couldn’t get digg to link to the specific story on this site for some reason, but anyway there is a wealth of collected stories on environmental issues, from studies on water quality to reports on the Bush administration’s policies. A very valuable site to check out. There doesn’t seem to be any commentary, but the stories are all on target. Some if it will cause you to read and weep, but there is much to act upon: contact your State and Federal representatives and write to your local newspapers. Voice your opinion and help democracy work.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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Millions of tons of toxic e-waste from around the world are finding their way onto streets and alleyways in Chinese villages as peasants eke out a living reclaiming precious metals from electronic equipment. What isn’t reclaimed goes into unregulated dumping grounds. Reported by AP and others, this is the flip-side of recycling: a good idea, poorly executed, is leaving massive heath problems and environmental problems in China. Frankly, this kind of work needs to be done in moderately or highly sophisticated facilities, not in peoples houses or in unregulated, improperly outfitted facilities. Of course, the same exploitation of Western countries occurred for many years, but we are trying to stop it (and have succeeded in many cases).  China would do well to learn from our more unfortunate tales of industrialization.

Who are we to judge? People whose countries have been there, done that, and seen enough (for the most part).  Of course, the Western world could do much better, too, but the situation reported here is just awful. The resulting health damage and eventual environmental cleanup will costs billions. Doing things properly to start with might require some capital investment, but it is necessary.

© 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 Treehugger.com 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 treehugger.com:

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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The first thing I want to do is point out my own main interest in green chemistry: as a practicing chemist, I have been very attracted to “pollution prevention” as a field of research and development. While it may seem obvious in today’s world, pollution prevention wasn’t always a high priority. The concept is: it is far better to avoid pollution in the first place than to try to clean up pollution after the fact.

The goal of this blog will be to discuss the ideas of Green Chemistry in non-technical terms, though I will provide links and references to relevant technical articles for the specialist. I will try, eventually, to cover all of the key ideas in Green Chemistry, not just my personal favorites. You might wonder, however, why I enjoy a focus on pollution prevention. This is because:

  • Pollution prevention is something that nearly all chemists can work on.
  • Pollution prevention can provide significant economic benefits to companies, making them likely to use new technology and reduce pollution.
  • Pollution prevention doesn’t require changing a product, simply the way a product is made. This also makes adoption of the technology more likely.
  • Much industrial chemistry of today is based on chemical reactions that are over a hundred years old.
  • We have learned so much chemistry in the last hundred years that we have a good chance of entirely replacing the older methods.
  • Reducing pollution has a dramatic and immediate effect on our air, rivers, streams and oceans.

Before I go any further, I should mention that I have posted in a few other places on this subject:

  • I wrote a comment on an article in the excellent blog, Highlight HEALTH, a site for health news and information from a scientific perspective.
  • There are also a few posts on my other blog (nearlynothingbutnovels.blogspot.com), which are really out of place because the blog is devoted to reviewing fiction and crime fiction. But, I had only just started blogging, I felt a need to write, and I had an outlet available. Now the time has come to break out in a new direction in a new blog.
  • You can see a list of books on Green Chemistry and related topics by clicking here and going to page 2. Note: in the interests of full disclosure, these books were written by friends or acquaintances of mine.

I will reveal conflicts of interest to help you judge what I say. Comments and questions are always welcome and appreciated.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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