Weakening radiation standards; a cap on accident liability; reactor propaganda vs improvements; old units running past expiration dates; revving the engines beyond design specs …. You’d think we were itching for a meltdown.
The Environmental Protection Agency has recommended increased radiation exposure limits following major releases. It would save the industry a bundle to permit large human exposures then, rather than shut down rickety reactors now.
The EPA proposal is a knock-off prompted by Fukushima, because after the triple meltdown started three years ago, Japan increased — by 20 times — the allowable radiation exposures deemed tolerable for humans. Prior to the meltdowns of March 2011, Japan allowed only 1 milliSievert of radiation per year in an individual’s personal space. Now, the limit is 20 milliSieverts per year. This is not safe, it’s just allowable, or, rather, affordable, since the cost of decontaminating 1,000 square miles of Japan to the stricter standard could bust the bank.
The Price Anderson Act provides US reactor owners with a liability cap and a tax-payer bailout in the event of serious accidents or attacks. The law relieves utilities of hundreds of billions in financial risk posed by our ongoing meltdown roulette game. The owners won’t be bankrupted by the next loss-of-coolant disaster, but the US might.
Fukushima has spewed more long-lived radioactive chemicals to the air, the soil and the ocean than any catastrophe in history. But the chant heard round the world is: “The dose is low, there’s no immediate danger.” Promoters of nuclear power repeat this mantra at every opportunity, hoping to dodge Germany’s answer to Fukushima — a permanent reactor phase-out — and it has nearly drowned out all warnings of radiation’s health and environmental effects.
Have you heard of PSR’s March 2011 “Health risks of the releases of radioactivity from the Fukushima reactors: Are they a concern for residents of the US?”; or IPPNW’s June 2014 “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report”; or the Nov. 2012 “Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health within the context of the nuclear accident at Fukushima”; or Greenpeace’s two major reports, “Lessons from Fukushima,” and “Fukushima Fallout”? No, the feds would rather you read the UN Scientific Committee’s exec. summary which claims Fukushima’s effects are “unlikely to be observable.” This conclusion was made before any research was done.
The chances of radiation disasters will increase further if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows US reactors to run for 80 years. This is what Duke Power, Dominion Power and Exelon suggest for seven of their 40-year-old rattle traps now operating in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.
These seven reactors were designed and licensed to be shut down in the current decade. However, since 1991 the nuclear industry has been granted 70 “license extensions” that have generally added 20 years. Now the owners want to push their units an extra 40 years.
Former NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis wasn’t apoplectic when the commission considered the idea, but, according to the New York Times, he said, “I don’t know how we would explain to the public that these designs, 90-year-old designs, 100-year-old designs, are still safe to operate.” The NRC has yet to rule on the 80-year option, but it’s never denied a single license extension request.
Gunning old Fukushima-type engines
Captured by the industry it’s supposed to govern, the NRC has approved 149 reactor “power uprate” applications and has denied exactly one. Power uprates boost the output of old reactors beyond what their original licenses permit. It’s done by packing reactor cores with extra fuel rods and, feeling lucky, running them harder.
Chillingly, 23 operating US reactors are duplicates of the Fukushima-type General Electric Mark 1. Fifteen of these clunkers have been granted power uprates, and seven of these 15 have been granted a second power uprate. (See chart) Susquehanna’s two 31-year-old Fukushima clones in Pennsylvania were granted a hair-raising three power uprates.
With the radiation industry and the NRC working to deny or delay post-Fukushima safety improvements, how do you feel about reactor operators stomping the accelerator while they run their geriatric uranium jalopies toward the cliff?
A local council has voted to re-open the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant on the outermost western coast of Japan, despite local opposition and meteorologists’ warnings, following tremors in a nearby volcano.
Nineteen out of 26 members of the city council of Satsumasendai approved the reopening that is scheduled to take place from early 2015. Like all of Japan’s 48 functional reactors, Sendai’s 890 MW generators were mothballed in the months following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Satsumasendai, a town of 100,000 people, relies heavily on state subsidies and jobs, which are dependent on the continuing operation of the plant.
But other towns, located within sight of the plant, do not reap the same benefits, yet say they are being exposed to the same risks. A survey conducted by the local Minami-Nippon Shimbun newspaper earlier this year said that overall, 60 percent of those in the region were in favor of Sendai staying shut. In Ichikikushikino, a 30,000-strong community just 5 kilometers away, more than half of the population signed a petition opposing the restart. Fewer than half of the major businesses in the region reported that they backed a reopening, despite potential economic benefits.
Regional governor Yuichiro Ito has waved away the objections, insisting that only the city in which the plant is located is entitled to make the decision.
While most fears have centered around a lack of transparency and inadequate evacuation plans, Sendai is also located near the volcanically active Kirishima mountain range. Mount Ioyama, located just 65 kilometers away from the plant, has been experiencing tremors in recent weeks, prompting the Meteorological Agency to issue a warning. The government’s nuclear agency has dismissed volcanic risks over Sendai’s lifetime as “negligible,” however.
Mount Ioyama (image from blogs.yahoo.co.jp)
Satsumasendai’s Mayor Hideo Iwakiri welcomed the reopening, but said at the ensuing press conference that it would fall upon the government to ensure a repeat of the accident that damaged Fukushima, an outdated facility subject to loose oversight, is impossible.
September’s decision to initiate the return Japan’s nuclear capacity back online was taken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who endorses nuclear production in the country, but has delegated the controversial call on reopening to local councils. Sendai was chosen after becoming the first plant to officially fulfill the government’s new stricter safety rules. It may also have been picked due to its geographical remoteness, and distance from the 2011 disaster area.
The primary reason for Abe’s nuclear drive been the expense in replacing the lost energy that constituted 30 percent of the country’s consumption, which the government says cost Japan an extra $35 billion last year. Japanese consumers have seen their energy bills climb by 20 percent since the disaster as a result.
But another concern remains the state of the country’s aging nuclear plants, which will cost $12 billion to upgrade. Meanwhile plans to build modern nuclear reactors – which were supposed to be responsible for half of the country’s nuclear power by 2030, according to previous government energy plans – have predictably been shelved in the wake of the disaster.
Fukushima dome removal suspended
The painfully slow and calamitous decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in the northeast of the country, had to be halted yet again Tuesday, after the removal of the temporary dome over the damaged Reactor 1 was interrupted by severe winds.
The canopy needs to be taken off so that the radioactive reactor rods, which have been contaminating the soil and water around the plant, can be placed in storage.
But as workers attempted to lift a section of the plastic dome to decontaminate the air inside, a segment of the cover up to six feet was blown off by a severe gust of wind.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, the operator of the shuttered plant, says that the incident has not impacted radiation levels, and hopes to resume operations as soon as possible.
The United States is reportedly trying to fend off an attempt out of Switzerland to change a multi-national nuclear safety agreement in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.
Reuters and Bloomberg News both reported this week that Swiss officials are seeking addendums to the 77-nation Convention on Nuclear Safety, or CNS, so that countries around the globe are compelled to upgrade energy facilities in hopes of preventing fallout like the one spawned by the Fukushima meltdown more than three years ago.
But while Reuters says the Swiss-led initiative is tentatively being backed by other European countries, the newswire alleges that energy officials in the US, Russia and Canada are all opposed to the measure, which would likely increase industry costs.
Although details of the proposed pact have not been made public, Bloomberg reported that it would involve rewriting “international standards to ensure nuclear operators not only prevent accidents but mitigate consequences if they occur, by installing costly new structures built to survive natural disasters.” In a report published on Thursday this week by Reuters, the newswire said that the proposed changes would not only apply up-to-date safety standards for new reactors, but also carry out back-fitting measures on sites that are already in operation.
According to this week’s reports, however, some of the world’s top energy powers are opposed because, as Reuters’ Fredrick Dahl wrote, any changes to the CNS could take years to be installed if, of course, they are ratified by the dozens of nations involved.
“You are trying to drop a Ferrari engine into a Volkswagen. If you want a new car, let’s go to the show room” and buy one, a senior but unnamed Department of State official said to Dahl.
But experts have previously said American facilities, in particular, are in need of upgrades, with a July 2014 report published by the National Academy of Science that said the US “should access their preparedness for severe nuclear accidents associated with offsite-scale disasters.” Additionally, the authors of that study wrote that America’s current approach to nuclear safety is “clearly inadequate for preventing core-melt accidents and mitigating their consequences,” yet newly-initiated upgrades in the US are being conducted on a scale hardly comparable to what’s occurring overseas: according to Bloomberg, Electricite de France SA is spending around $13 billion on implementing safety measures on its 59 reactors, whereas American utilities will spend only $3 billion on portable generators and cooling reserves for roughly 100 reactors.
Nevertheless, officials in Berne remain optimistic that the countries currently opposed to the proposed changes will come to an agreement that makes facilities around the world more secure.
“Switzerland, as the initiator of the proposal, will continue to collaborate with all delegations and do everything to find a solution that is acceptable to all of us,” Georg Schwarz, deputy director general of the Swiss nuclear-safety regulator, ENSI, wrote to Bloomberg Business Week.
Russian officials did not immediately respond to Bloomberg’s requests for comment, and neither BusinessWeek nor Reuters included remarks from Canada in their report.
The recent number of articles in the popular press concerning loss of intellect among children exposed to chlorpyrifos is important in the case of this pesticide. Although in-home use of chlorpyrifos was restricted in the U. S in 2000, it is widely used in agriculture, and is a serious risk to health and intellect for people working and living in proximity to fields. Detectable levels of chlorpyrifos detected in New York City children, raises the question of exposure via food.
Across the U. S. we learn that students are doing poorly in school, often blaming the teachers and their unions. Are teachers no longer competent to teach or have children been “dumbed-down” by exposure to this neurotoxin?
The State of California is considering restriction on use, but is prepared for strong opposition from the pesticide and big agricultural industries.
Back in the “Dark Ages” – a mere 50 years ago – when I was a medical student and intern at Wayne State University, I rotated through Children’s Hospital in Detroit. It was staffed by some of the most thoughtful and kind physician/professors I have ever met. I attended a clinic named “FLK” otherwise known as Funny Looking Kid clinic. There we saw children who had abnormal looking faces, abnormal body parts, and, often impaired intelligence. Many of the children required complicated medical care, but I don’t recall much discussion as to why they had these abnormalities that had dramatically cut short their futures and altered the lives of their families.
Realizing you have given birth to a child with birth defects is devastating – not only for the child, but for the family, and for society in general. If the child survives infancy, it means being “different” and having to cope with disability, and with having to learn alternative ways to function. For many families, it means 24/7 care of a child who can never live independently. For society the costs can be enormous – surgery (often multiple), medications, social services, special education, special equipment, then alternative living arrangements, if and when family cannot care for their child, now grown to a non-functional adult.
Although the neurotoxicity of pesticides has been known for decades, recently, several national magazines, have named the pesticide, chlorpyrifos (Dursban/ Lorsban), as an agent causing loss of intelligence, as well as birth defects and structural brain damage.
Dr. James Hamblin’s article in March 2014 issue of The Atlantic, titled “The Toxins that Threaten Our Brains.” listed 12 commonly used chemicals, including chlorpyrifos, which is marketed as Dursban and Lorsban. The exposures described in the Atlantic articles were urban, so we do not know exactly how widespread this epidemic is, especially if we do not include agricultural areas such as in California, Hawaii and the mid-West.
That same month, The Nation published articles by Susan Freinkel “Poisoned Politics” and Lee Fang “Warning Signs” who reported adverse effects from exposure to Dursban and Lorsban.
Dr. Hamblin’s article generously cites Drs. Philip Landrigan of Mt. Sinai in New York City and Philippe Grandjean of Harvard that a “’silent pandemic’ of toxins has been damaging the brains of unborn children.”
Dr. Landrigan chaired a 1998 meeting of the Collegium Ramazzini International Scientific Conference, held in Carpi, Italy. In attendance was Dr. Grandjean, whose research found “Methylmercury as a hazard to brain development.” Dr. Richard Jackson, from the U. S. CDC was also in attendance, as well as U.S. governmental and university members.
At that Collegium Ramazzini International Scientific Conference, on October 25, 1998, I presented definitive data in my paper: “Chlorpyrifos (Dursban) exposure and birth defects: report of 15 incidents, evaluation of 8 cases, theory of action, and medical and social aspects.” This presentation followed my earlier publications beginning in 1994 wherein I reported damage to the unborn from the same pesticide.
The Ramazzini organization sent my paper to the European Journal of Oncology for publication. Since my paper reported birth defects, not cancer, the paper has received little notice, but the attendees, including the EPA, have known of the findings for 16 years.
Currently a new battle is occurring in Hawaii over the use of pesticides, especially by Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, BASF Plant Science, and Syngenta on the island of Kauai where giant seed companies develop Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and other specialized seeds. The pesticides used there include alachlor, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, methomyl, metalochlor, permethrin and paraquat. The author, Paul Koberstein from Cascadia Times estimates that annually, more than 2000 pounds of chlorpyrifos are used per acre per year on Kauai, compared to less than 0.025 averages for the U. S. Mainland.
In addition to Hawaii, areas in California include workers and families from the Imperial Valley and other intensive agricultural areas where pesticide use is extensive. Using the Koberstein data, annual use of chlorpyrifos in California is approximately 1500 pounds/ acre.
Neurological Damage: Before and After Birth
Birth defects arise as a result of two mechanisms – damage to a gene, prior to fertilization, or damage to the growing cells of the fetus after life in the womb has begun. Differing from genetic damage, such as occurs in Down syndrome or Trisomy-21, the latter damage results from exposure of the developing fetus to agents called teratogens. For many years Mongolism was the name applied to children with growth delays, similar facial and hand features and intellectual deficits.
Chlorpyrifos is a unique pesticide. It is a combination of an organophosphate and a trichlorinatedpyridinol (TCP.) TCP is not only the feedstock used in the manufacture of chlorpyrifos, but also a contaminant in the product, and a metabolic breakdown product that is known to cause central nervous system abnormalities (hydrocephaly and dilated brain ventricles), and other abnormalities (cleft palate, skull and vertebral abnormalities) in fetuses as reported by Dow Chemical Co.
In March 1995, I was asked to fly to Arkansas to see a child whose mother had been exposed to the pesticide Dursban (chlorpyrifos) early in the pregnancy of her daughter.
Mrs. S had been working in a bank when in mid-March, 1991, she noticed a man spraying the baseboards behind the station where she worked as a teller. She said she asked the man if was okay to be in the area since she was pregnant, and she said the man told her it was “perfectly safe. She said the spraying had occurred around 4 PM, and that she worked at the bank until 6:30 PM, and when she went home that evening she had nausea and a” bit of headache.” She said she retuned to work the next day, felt nausea, but worked most of the day. An electrical fire at the drive-in window followed the pesticide event, and a technician used of a fogger that sprayed a “citrus-like” chemical that was intended to deodorize the smoke odor. Mrs. S. said she worked at the bank until about April of that year, and then worked at a credit union until her daughter was born in September.
When Mrs. S. was about five months pregnant she had an ultrasound, which showed that her baby had enlarged ventricles in her brain. Further examination revealed absence of the septum pellucidum, a central portion of her brain. Mrs. S. had additional follow up at a university center as well as with her own physician that showed normal amniocentesis and normal chromosomes.
Both Mr. & Mrs. S. said that caring for the daughter A. has been a severe financial and emotional drain, sometimes requiring them to be up 72 hours to try to soothe A’s crying. A. had surgery to repair her cleft lip when she was six months old, and repair of her cleft palate and left eyelid when she was a year old.
Both cleft lip and palate can now be repaired (in areas with skilled surgeon, and insurance or other funds) but until they are, the child has difficulty feeding and risks poor nutrition, upper respiratory and lung problems as a result of aspiration of food.
Additional diagnostic procedures indicated that A has a cleft left eye (failure of her eye to fuse during development), and she cannot blink her eye or move the left side of her face.
A was unable to sit up on her own by the time she was a year old, had to have food pureed until she was two, then her parents realized that when A neared her 4th birthday, she could not hear, when they began a program of sign language with the aid of a speech therapist.
A’s brother B. was born two years later, and is well, sleeping thought the night when he was two weeks of age.
I was given a tour of the bank where Ms. S worked by its’ Senior Vice-President, and to minimize stress to A, I examined her in the office and presence of her pediatrician. I also accompanied her parents to their home where I could observe A. at her home.
A was a small-boned child who walked with a wide-based, unsteady gait and who made audible sounds, but no language content. Her head was enlarged with hydrocephaly and a small bruise due to a recent, commonly occurring fall.
Her abnormalities included the following, and were characteristic of findings in other children:
low-set, tapering ears, wide-spaced nipples, and frequent infections. This litany is not to horrify readers, but to bring to attention the burdens imposed upon this child, her parents, and society as a whole. I evaluated seven more children, two families each having two children with similar, but more severe medical conditions.
With the exception of child #1, the seven children were profoundly retarded, were diapered, could not speak, and required feeding.
I first met C & D in 1996, along with their parents and handsome, healthy older brother, at their attractive home on the West Coast. Both D (a girl) and C (a boy) were lying flat, diapered, mouths open, fists clenched, staring into space, and being fed by bottle. Even today, looking at the photographs reminds me what an enormous burden was dealt to that family.
Ultimately I evaluated eight children, and identified seven more, reported by Dow Chemical Co., the manufacturer, to EPA on November 2, 1994, with reporting delays of as long as seven years from when the corporation first learned of them. I obtained the reports via a Freedom of Information request (FOI) from EPA. The reports were labeled with the revealing name: “DERBI” – or – “Dow Elanco Research Business Index.”
When I saw seven more children, all of who looked like siblings, (much as Trisomy-21 or Down Syndrome children do) it became clear to me, that the cause was linked to Dursban, the pre-natal exposure common to each.
Among the Dursban-exposed children, all 8 had both brain and palate abnormalities, seven had widespread nipples and growth retardation, six had low vision or blindness and six had genital abnormalities, five had brain atrophy and external ear abnormalities, four children had absence of the corpus collosum that is the critical connection between the two hemispheres of the brain. Chromosomal studies were normal in all 8 families. All families reported stress and enormous financial burden to care for their children.
In addition to the children with birth defects, I also evaluated a number of families and a group of adults who had been exposed at their work site. Of the workers, all 12 complained of headache, and three of dizziness. Eight had findings of central nervous system damage, and six had peripheral nervous system damage. The patients reported upper respiratory and chest symptoms, as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and four had incontinence. The families also reported abnormalities and deaths in their household pets.
In February 1996, my deposition in the first case was taken by three groups of attorneys representing the defendants, two principally defending Dow Elanco. I was questioned for three 8-hour days. Ultimately a list of 565 exhibits was accumulated that included over 10,000 pages of materials that I supplied and relied upon for my opinion. These materials included Dow documents and correspondence, EPA documents, legal depositions, basic embryology, biochemistry and toxicology of chlorpyrifos, medical records of other exposed children, patents, books, articles, etc, etc.
Chlorpyrifos was designed to be neurotoxic in action. It is an interesting pesticide, in that it has not only an organophosphate portion, but also it has three chlorine atoms attached to a pyridinol ring. This ring is trichloropyridinol (TCP), a significant hazard, because it is fat-soluble, and persistent, up to 18 years as claimed by Dow Chemical Co. TCP also forms the body of trichlophenoxyacetic acid, part of Agent Orange, also linked to birth defects and cancer. In a war that ended in 1975, Agent Orange continues as a risk to the Vietnamese, and to military troops that were stationed there.
According to multiple Dow documents, TCP is the feedstock for production of chlopryrifos, a contaminant in the product, and a metabolic breakdown product. TCP has been demonstrated to cause central nervous system anomalies (hydrocephaly and dilated brain ventricles) as well as cleft palate, skull and vertebral abnormalities in the fetus at doses nontoxic to the mother, similar to the defects seen in affected children.
That TCP caused birth defects was known by Dow in 1987, but not reported to EPA until five years later in 1992. TCP is used to manufacture chlorpyrifos, and as such, comes under regulation of Section 8(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), rather than the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Control Act (FIFRA.) Though there was regulatory difference, TSCA states very clearly “any person who manufactures, processes or distributed in commerce a chemical substance or mixture, or who obtains information which reasonably supports the conclusion that such substance or mixture presents a substantial risk of injure to heath or the environment, shall immediately inform the Administrator of such information. From 1976 to 1982, I was a member of a 16 person Advisory Committee to the EPA for TSCA, Chairman of the Risk-Benefit Assessment Group from 1977 to 1979, and a member of the Carcinogen Policy Sub-group from 1977 to 1981. It was clear that risks and benefits do no accrue to the same party. In the case of chlorpyrifos, the risks are to the unaware public, and the benefits to the corporation.
The Legal System is Not the Same as the Justice System
Bernard P. Whetstone was a well-established attorney who handled the initial birth defects case in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was aware of another case in that state. Mr. Whetstone was a “Southern Gentleman” with a soft drawl who had earned both a bachelor and doctorate of jurisprudence, and started practice in 1934. In 1995, he was worked with Davidson and Associates until he retired in 1999 at age 86. Mr. Whetstone died in 2001.
I was required to appear In Court in Little Rock, where Judge Eisley ruled that I was not qualified. Hard to believe that 10,000 pages of documents is not adequate, but that opinion was softened because he ruled that all the plaintiff’s experts were not qualified. Another physician/ toxicology expert and I evaluated additional patients (adults) who developed multiple adverse effects, including central nervous system damage, so Dow, employing the Eisley decision, argued successfully in other court jurisdictions that we were not qualified to give an opinion.
The main Dow law firm was Barnes and Thornburg from Indianapolis, where DowElanco, the co-manufacturer Eli Lilly is located. Eli Lilly is a manufacturer of both pharmaceuticals and pesticides. Barnes & Thornburg has over 500 attorneys in 12 cities and appeared to be very well staffed and funded.
A recent news release noted that William W. Wales, who spent more than 30 years in the legal department of The Dow Chemical Company and Dow AgroSciences LLC, had joined Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s Indianapolis office as a partner in the firm’s litigation and corporate departments. “Bill’s depth and breadth of experience in a variety of matters will be a tremendous asset to many of our clients who are dealing with similar issues,” said Joseph G. Eaton, Vice Chair of the firm’s Litigation Department and Co-Chair of the Toxic Tort Practice Group. Joseph Eaton is one of the attorneys who took my extensive deposition. They were the most aggressive law firm I had ever encountered, and I have testified in more than 700 depositions and/or court appearances.
In defense of their product, the Dow attorneys argued that there were no reports of levels of pesticides used or existing levels – a questionable tactic, since the corporation has never suggested or requested that such records be obtained.
Although the EPA stopped home use of Dursban in 2000, Lorsban is widely used in agriculture, on ornamentals, and places where women, the unborn and children are exposed. For many, this exposure is without their knowledge or consent. How is this allowed to happen?
Is it successful advertising, recommendations from country and state agricultural agents, an inept or politically adept EPA such as when on September 11, 2001, the then administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former governor of New Jersey Christie Whitman said on September 13, 2001, “EPA is greatly relieved to have learned that there appears to be no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air in New York City.” A week
Whitman said: “Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, DC that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.”
In 2008, the U. S. EPA named Dow as an Energy Star Partner of the Year for excellence in energy management and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Dow’s fleet of skilled lawyers have managed to save Dow from liability, when they achieved a reversal of a $925 million judgment for the contamination of the area around Rocky Flats, the Colorado facility that produced plutonium triggers for hydrogen bombs. And, a lawsuit filed by Vietnamese, damaged by Agent Orange against Dow and Monsanto was dismissed.
Dow is a multinational corporation and the third largest chemical manufacturer in the world, with earnings more than $57 billion in 2013. In addition to the manufacture of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and genetically modified seeds, Dow also manufactures multiple plastics, polystyrene, polyurethane, synthetic rubber, biphenyl-A as well as many other chemicals.
What are the chances that the use of Lorsban will be curtailed in the agricultural areas of Hawaii, California and elsewhere? Given what we know of the financial strength of the Dow Corporation, the weakness of the EPA, and our paid-for Congress, it does not look promising.
The Burden of Brain Damage
If the top corporate officials were required to care for one of these severely brain-damaged children for a week, would it change their minds about the ethics of manufacturing chlorpyrifos and corporate profits?
There is not a teacher who can teach brain-damaged children to read and do math, which raises the larger question being proposed: are children’s lack of learning due to poor teachers, or to subtle brain damage? If children are being damaged to various degrees, profoundly in the situation of the 15 children sited in my research, to “mild” learning and/or behavioral problems, ranging from decreased IQ, Asperbergers, hyperactivity, autism, etc., how much is attributable to exposure to pesticides such as Dursban/ Lorsban? If we blame poor teaching, and teachers’ unions, but don’t stop the use of brain-damaging pesticides, where does that leave our U.S. society as a source of creativity and intellect in this world?
Note: All of my chlorpyrifos/ Dursban documents have been accepted and will be archived at the National Library of Medicine, along with my other scientific, medical and legal research.
Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease, and is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She edited the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, written by A. V. Yablokov, V. B., Nesterenko and A. V. Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education. She can be reached at: email@example.com www.janettesherman.com
Just in time for Halloween, a real zombie.
Although the Obama Administration cancelled the Yucca Mountain project for disposing high-level radioactive waste (uranium fuel rods) in 2009, the scheme stays amazingly undead.
Last Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the third in a series of reports in which it declared that the deep, engineered cavern inside the mountain — 90 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada — meet the commission’s ever-changing (Eric Pianin, “Rules changed for Nevada nuclear waste site plan,” Wash. Post, Dec. 12, 2001) requirements.
Still pending are two more reports and a final NRC ruling on the site’s suitability. Actual operation of the dump also requires approval from the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Transportation and Energy (DOE). Of course, lawsuits by the State of Nevada and dozens of environmental groups would follow a decision to start burying waste.
In spite of 70 years of head scratching, science and industry have not found a cheap way to “dispose” of high-level radioactive waste. In 2008, the plan was estimated to cost at least $90 billion.
The DOE’s 1999 draft environmental impact statement for Yucca, says that leaving the wastes at 72 US reactor sites in 39 states is just as safe as moving it thousands of miles toward Yucca Mt. — as long as it is repackaged every 100 years. There is no need to rush the opening a dumpsite, except that reactor operators want to free-up storage space for freshly produced waste so they can keep running old reactors.
Yucca Mt. Project Cancelled for Hundreds of Reasons
While Republicans from nuclear-heavy states are pushing to revive the Yucca project and hoping for a November take-over of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., broadcasts the science-based disqualifiers that prove Yucca unsuitable. Among them are fast flowing water inside the mountain, earthquake faults, lava flows, and the risk of exploding waste canisters — like the one that burst and wrecked the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico last February. Joonhong Ahn, an engineering professor at the U. of Calif., Berkeley, said in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.com, “… there are still numerous hurdles ahead.”
Indeed, the Government Accounting Office concluded in 2001 that 293 unresolved scientific and engineering problems hinder the plan. (“GAO Challenges Plans for Storage of Nuclear Waste,” Wash. Post, Nov. 30, 2001) Responding to the new report, Nevada state officials made the same point. “The NRC licensing board has admitted more than 200 Nevada contentions challenging the safety and environmental impacts of the proposed repository, and Nevada is prepared to aggressively prosecute these challenges. It is not apparent that the [NRC report] specifically addressed these and other safety contentions,” said Bob Halstead, Executive Director of Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, in a prepared statement.
“For the NRC staff to publically release just this one volume of the 5-volume Safety Evaluation Report outside the proper context of an ongoing licensing proceeding, and in the absence of a complete SER, is unprecedented,” Halsted said. “It creates a false impression that the safety review has been completed. It is difficult to see what reason there could be for such a release except to provide political support and encouragement for Yucca Mountain supporters in Congress and elsewhere.”
This false impression was spectacularly exaggerated by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Mich., who told the New York Times Oct. 17, “[N]uclear waste stored under that mountain … will be safe and secure for at least a million years.”
Nuclear Waste Production is Kept Alive by Yucca Supporters
Yucca Mt. wouldn’t begin to address the country’s vast nuclear waste problem. There already are about 70,000 tons of it stored at reactor sites. This stockpile would fill Yucca to capacity and force the start of a search for Dump No. 2. Waste that must be containerized for a million years is the “animated corpse” that will forever haunt our clean, cheap too-safe-to-meter nuclear power complex.
The Yucca Mt. “mobile Chernobyl” idea — and alternate plans for regional “interim” dumps — also explodes the risks of radiation accidents contaminating waste handlers and the people along transport routes. The DOE’s planning maps show the waste passing through 40 states, 40 Indian Reservations and 100 major cities. In January 2008, former state transportation analyst Fred Dilger caused alarm when he told a Hillary Clinton campaign rally that if waste trains go through Las Vegas, “All of the casinos on the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard would be bathed in gamma radiation.”
The shipments, using as-yet-untested waste casks, would expose between 138 and 161 million Americans to the risks of dangerous levels of radiation and to the consequences of inevitable truck, train and barge accidents. Even the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement predicts between 150 and 250 rail or truck crashes over the plan’s 25-year span — about 10 crashes every year for 25 years.
That’s an undying prospect scary enough for a million Halloweens.
I doubt very many people have ever heard or seen a “tank mix.” Simply put, it is a mix of several crop chemicals used together to control a variety of weeds. I have not looked into a swirling mix of chemicals in a crop spray rig for probably 20 years–that’s about how long it has been since we have used any herbicides on our farm.
It may look different now, new chemicals, perhaps new colors and new toxic smells. I remember it as a sulfurous yellow mix of rising spreading plumes of chemicals, circulating and mixing together in the tank. The smell was literally breathtaking and the toxicity likewise. (That’s why it’s recommended that the applicator wear breathing protection and a Hazmat suit.)
When people ask me why we switched to organic farming, that swirling yellow tank mix always reappears in my mind. How did I ever rationalize putting that stuff on my fields?
When genetically modified (GM) crops were introduced commercially in 1996, farmers were told that Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready”(RR) technology would make crop production easier, safer, and “one spray was all they’d ever need.”
Roundup would be a safer, more effective replacement for all those chemicals farmers were currently using their tank mixes, they told us. With Roundup as the cornerstone of GM crop technology, the promise was safety. We’d have no more worries about weeds, and it would be eternally effective, so there would be no more need for tank mixes.
While I really don’t consider any pesticide safe (after all–they are poisons), Roundup was probably less toxic, perhaps less carcinogenic, and perhaps less of an endocrine disruptor than some of the chemicals it replaced. Perhaps.
I specifically remember 2,4-D (one of the components of the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange) being singled out as a “more dangerous” herbicide that would no longer be needed. Who wouldn’t like that–a dangerous herbicide replaced by an easier to use, safer, permanently more effective one? There was sliced bread and then there was RR.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. In 1996, Monsanto was fined by the State of New York for false advertising in its promotion of Roundup as “safe.” According to a 2013 Associated Press article, Monsanto acknowledged that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval “is not an assurance or finding of safety” because U.S. regulations are based on a cost-benefit analysis, which balances the potential of “any unreasonable risk to man or the environment” against the “the economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits of the use of any pesticide.”
Isn’t that something? EPA approval is not an assurance of safety.
Consider the fact that EPA-approval was based on specific recommended quantities, and then, as these products became less effective, the tendency would be to “add a just little more.” But, even with “just a little more,” nature found a way to survive, and weeds developed resistance to Roundup to the point that even a thorough sousing would no longer kill them. Once again the tank mix became the only hope in killing these new, pesticide-resistant “superweeds.”
To help fight resistant weeds, farmers have also been encouraged to develop integrated weed management strategies. Mark Jeschke, Agronomy Research Manager at DuPont Pioneer, notes that “mechanical weed control and crop rotation are examples of two such tactics available to growers.” (These are tactics organic farmers have always used). But for heaven’s sake, the industry says, don’t stop spraying.
The “new generation” of GM crops are on the way and the first out of the pipeline are corn and soybeans that Dow AgroSciences developed to be used in conjunction with 2,4-D. In September, The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the new seeds, as part of a branded “Enlist Weed Control System” that could be going into the ground as early as spring 2015.
Now remember that in 1996 Roundup was touted as the safe alternative to 2,4-D, a dangerous pesticide. Has 2,4-D become safer than it used to be? No.
My guess is that Dow decided it would be cheaper and easier to engineer seeds to resist the old herbicides rather than develop new herbicides that might be less toxic. And, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones notes, Dow and Monsanto know that planting seeds that withstand both 2,4-D and Roundup would lead to an increase in herbicide use.
In fact, Dow and Monsanto stand to cash in on 2,4-D and Roundup cross-licensing. We are talking big profit potential. Never mind the fact that an Ohio study pointed out that 2,4-D is potentially potent enough to cause a “17 to 77 percent reduction of the marketable fruit and vegetables” on farms close to those where it is sprayed.
The University of Maryland recommends leaving a 350-foot buffer zone (PDF) between fields sprayed with 2,4-D and grapevines, which–along with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, sweet potatoes, beans, and other vegetables–are highly susceptible to 2,4-D drift.
It would be one thing if the farmer doing the spraying was responsible for leaving a buffer strip between their crops and the neighbors’ vegetables. But the guy with the chemicals can spray right up to the property line. Over the last 20 years I have had to leave many acres of my land in buffer strips. Most farmers try to be good neighbors, but they can’t control the wind.
Weeds resistant to 2,4-D were documented as early as 1957, and still, farmers are hoping that 2,4-D resistant corn and soybeans, especially a 2,4-D/Roundup resistant combination, will be “the one” solution to their problems. And if weed resistance shows up they can “just add a little more”–at least until this system fails and the next GM crop is introduced.
Civil Eats editor’s note: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today approved Dow Chemical’s Enlist Duo herbicide, a new blend of 2,4-D and Roundup (glyphosate) developed for use on new varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn, soybeans, and cotton.
Maduro Hands Over Land Titles to Indigenous Communities, Creates Institute to Protect Native Languages
On Monday, in celebration of the nationally acclaimed Day of Indigenous Resistance, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro established a presidential council for indigenous peoples, handed over collective land titles to 14 original communities, lowered the threshold age for indigenous pensioners, and announced the creation of an institute to protect the country’s 44 native languages.
The South American leader also pledged 5000 new homes for indigenous communities for 2015 through the national housing mission Mision Vivienda, and announced the investment of 575 million bolivars (about $7 million) to address extreme poverty in 396 of those communities.
Aloha Nuñez, the Indigenous Peoples’ Minister, noted that the presidential council was formed as a result of elections held in 2,194 indigenous communities after the idea was discussed in 1,589 countrywide assemblies.
Delia Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the Wayúu community of Zulia state, said that the debates leading up to the creation of the council were conducted with respect, tolerance and spirituality, in the interest of enabling diverse indigenous peoples to make significant contributions to the transition towards socialism.
Nuñez also explained how the language institute is the product of many years’ collective efforts. Of the 44 different original peoples that exist in Venezuela, Nuñez said, 34 speak their language and 10 have lost theirs through lack of use.
“We should immediately found and motivate a team systematically [that can] permanently, scientifically, register, rescue and revive all indigenous languages that exist in Venezuelan territory,” said Maduro from Miraflores presidential palace where Monday’s ceremony was held.
Shortly after, the Venezuelan president announced the incorporation of all indigenous above the age of 50 into the Amor Mayor mission for special elderly pensions. Nationwide, the mission applies to women over 55 and men over 60 who live in family homes maintained by minimum wage workers.
Land titles that encompass six ethnic groups and 14 communities of Anzoategui state were presented to community representatives; 1,891 hectares to the Guatacarito people, 438 to the Cumanagoto, 983 to the Capachal, 3,294 to the Pedregal, 657 to the Guayabal and 1,119 hectares to the Kariñas of Mapiricurito.
From 2011 to 2013 the Committee for the Demarcation of Land and Habitat, of the indigenous ministry, has signed 40 property titles for collective lands, including over 1.8 million hectares of land.
In a similar ceremony in July, Nuñez declared, “Today, the Bolivarian government recognizes the lands that ancestrally belonged to us and have been our home for many years.”
Communities lose out to oil palm plantations
Palm oil is not something you would associate with a Mexican kitchen. But go to any supermarket in the country, and you will find countless products containing it. The country’s food system has changed immensely since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect in 1994 and multinational companies moved in to take control of the country’s food supply. The alarming rate of obesity, now higher than that of the US, is one manifestation of Mexico’s changing food landscape, and tied to this is the escalating consumption of palm oil.
Palm oil consumption has increased by over four times since NAFTA was signed, and it now accounts for one quarter of the vegetable oil consumed by the average Mexican, up from 10% in 1996. Other countries in Latin America undergoing similar changes to their food systems have also increased their consumption of palm oil. Venezuelans have doubled their intake, and Brazilians are consuming 5 times what they did in 1996.
This growing consumption is matched by growing production, not in Mexico, but in those countries where oil palm can be most cheaply produced. A third of Latin America’s palm oil exports now go to Mexico.
Colombia, with about 450,000 ha under production, is the biggest palm oil producer in the Americas. Since the late 1990s, Colombia’s palm oil production has taken off for several overlapping reasons, including government incentives and a national biodiesel mandate. Oil palm has also been promoted as a substitute crop for coca as part of the US-backed “Plan Colombia” – a programme aimed at ending the country’s long-standing armed conflict and curbing cocaine production. Paradoxically, palm oil is also proving a useful way for drug cartels, paramilitaries and landlords to launder money and maintain control of the countryside.
The most notorious land grabs for palm oil in Colombia have occurred in the north west Chocó province, where businessmen and paramilitaries have colluded to force Afro-Colombian communities to cede their territories for palm oil plantations and contract farming. After dozens of Afro-Colombian leaders were killed resisting such land grabs, Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office brought forward charges against 19 palm oil businessmen for crimes of conspiracy, forced displacement, and the invasion of ecologically important land. Three of these businessmen have so far been convicted.
Disease outbreaks have limited palm oil’s expansion in Chocó Province and most of the expansion has instead happened on the pasture lands of the central and eastern parts of the country, where the oil palm industry claims there is little deforestation and displacement of peasants. But studies show that these pasture lands are in fact typically common areas vital to peasants for the production of their food crops and the grazing of their livestock. The “pasture lands” are often the only lands that peasants have access to, and palm oil companies routinely use force and coercion, including paramilitaries, to take control of these lands from them or to force them into oppressive contract production arrangements. Across Colombia, the expansion of palm oil and the presence of paramilitaries are tightly correlated.
Ecuador, Latin America’s second largest palm oil producer, has also seen a recent expansion in oil palm production. While much of its palm oil is produced on farms of less than 50 ha, new expansion is driven by private companies who have been moving into the territories of Afro-Ecuadorians and other indigenous peoples in the Northern part of the country, leading to severe deforestation and displacement and meeting with stiff local resistance.
Land conflicts over palm oil are also erupting in Central America. In Honduras, peasants in the Aguan Valley have been killed, jailed and terrorized for trying to defend their lands and small palm oil farms from powerful national businessmen who have been grabbing their lands to expand their palm oil plantations with the backing of foreign capital. Ironically, these peasant families first moved into the forests of the Aguan in the 1970s as part of a government land reform programme, and were encouraged to grow palm oil and establish their own cooperatives. The neoliberal policies of the 1990s and a coup d’état in 2009, opened the door for powerful local businessmen like Miguel Facussé, to destroy the peasant cooperatives, violently grab lands for plantations, and reorient the supply chain towards exports for biofuels and multinational food companies. Likewise in Guatemala, where production of palm oil has quadrupled over the past decade, the palm oil sector is now entirely controlled by just eight wealthy families who have been aggressively seizing lands from indigenous communities, such as the Q’eqchi,
Some industry insiders predict that an expansion of oil palm production in Brazil will soon dwarf all other production in the region. Brazil is a net importer, and production has so far been confined to a small area of Pará, in the North. But, unlike in other regional palm oil producing countries where production is dominated by national companies and wealthy landowning families, transnational corporations have recently made significant investments in Brazilian palm oil production, such as the mining company Vale, energy companies Petrobras and Galp, and ADM, one of the world’s largest grain traders and a major shareholder in the world’s largest palm oil processor Wilmar.
Tanya M. Kerssen, “Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras,” FoodFirst, 1 February 2013
Human Rights Everywhere, “The flow of palm oil Colombia- Belgium/Europe: A study from a human rights perspective,” 2006
The Department of Energy (DOE) is drafting a solicitation to provide as much as $12.6 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear energy projects.
The goal of the loan guarantees is to commercialize advanced nuclear technologies that could not otherwise get financing for research and development.
Any nuclear project that would reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions is eligible, but DOE said it is particularly interested in advanced nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, upgrades at existing facilities and front-end nuclear projects.
“For the first time in more than 30 years, new nuclear power plants are under construction in the United States,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a Tuesday statement.
“This solicitation would build on that investment and help support the construction of the next generation of safe and secure nuclear energy projects.”
DOE said the loans align with the Obama administration’s “all-of-the-above” approach to energy as well as the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Officials released a draft solicitation for the projects Tuesday. It will take comments on the draft for 30 days before writing a final version.
The Obama administration has been far less aggressive about pursuing criminal prosecutions of environmental crimes than the George W. Bush administration, according to Justice Department figures.
Last year, there were 449 prosecutions for environmental crimes. That’s less than half the 927 prosecutions initiated in 2007, toward the end of the Bush administration. And the trend line is falling; there were 271 prosecutions in the first nine months of this fiscal year. If cases are filed at the current rate, that would result in only 361 for 2014, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
Any violation of environmental laws can result in a criminal prosecution, but according to Graham Kates at The Crime Report, only one-half of one percent do. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says they’re focusing on big cases, but fiscal considerations also play a part in deciding how many cases to prosecute. “The reality of budget cuts and staffing reductions make hard choices necessary across the board,” EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi told The Crime Report.
Criminal prosecutions, particularly of large corporations, are simply more difficult. Corporations hire teams of lawyers to fight prosecutors every step of the way and watch closely for government missteps that can give grounds for appeal, dragging out the case for years.
“I think a criminal prosecution will be defended much harder, corporations will take that very seriously, and investors take that very seriously,” Mark Roberts, an attorney and international policy advisor with the Environmental Investigation Agency, told The Crime Report. “If you’re in that tiny percentage that gets charged criminally, you want to win.”
A former EPA criminal investigator pointed out the effort involved in prosecuting a big company: “The typical corporate case can take two to three and a half years. But if you have ‘Joe Schlock the barrel hauler,’ you catch him red-handed and you’re out in two months,” David Wilma said.
Polluters aren’t even the biggest target of environmental prosecutions. Illegally taking fish and wildlife and illegal possession of migratory birds are the top two lead charges in the TRAC database. Water pollution is third and air pollution, ninth.
To Learn More:
Environment Prosecutions Decline Under Obama (TRAC Reports)
The Environmental Prosecution Gap (by Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest)
Environmental Crime: The Prosecution Gap (by Graham Kates, Crime Report)
When Companies Break Environmental Laws, Why are Responsible Individuals not Prosecuted? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)
The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – the corporate lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the disintegrating atomic power industry – doesn’t have to worry about repercussions from the negative impacts of nuclear power. For nuclear power is a government/taxpayer-guaranteed boondoggle whose staggering costs, incurred and deferred, are absorbed by American taxpayers via a supine government regulatory and subsidy apparatus.
So if you go to work at the NEI and you read about the absence of any permanent radioactive waste storage site, no problem, the government/taxpayers are responsible for transporting and safeguarding that lethal garbage for centuries.
If your reactors experience ever larger cost over-runs and delays, as is now happening with two new reactors in South Carolina, no problem, the supine state regulatory commissions will just pass the bill on to consumers, despite the fact that consumers receive no electricity from these unfinished plants.
If these plants, and two others in Georgia under construction, experience financial squeezes from Wall Street, no problem, a supine Congress has already passed ample taxpayer loan guarantees that make Uncle Sam (you the taxpayer) bear the cost of the risk.
If there were to be an accident such as the one that happened in Fukushima, Japan, no problem, under the Price-Anderson Act, the government/taxpayers bear the cost of the vast amount of damage from any nuclear power plant meltdown. To put this cost into perspective, a report by the Atomic Energy Commission about fifty years ago estimated that a class nine meltdown could make an area “the size of Pennsylvania” uninhabitable.
Why do we stand for such a doomsday technology all over America that is uneconomic, uninsurable, unsafe, unnecessary (it can’t compete with energy conservation and renewable energies [or carbon fuels]), unevacuable (try evacuating the greater New York City area from a disaster at the two Indian Point plants 30 miles from Manhattan) and unprotectable (either from sabotage or earthquake)?
David Freeman, the famous energy engineer and lawyer, who has run four giant utilities (the Tennessee Valley Authority, the SMUD complex – where he closed the Rancho Seco Nuclear Plant – the New York Power Authority and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) sums up the history of nuclear power this way: “Nuclear power, promoted as too cheap to meter, turned out to be too expensive to use, the road to nuclear proliferation, and the creator of radioactive trash that has no place to go.” Right wing conservative/libertarians call it extreme “crony capitalism.”
Nuclear power plants are shutting down. In 2013, four reactors shut down: Crystal River 3, Kewaunee, San Onofre 2 and San Onofre 3. Now, Michael Peck, a senior federal nuclear expert, is urging that the last nuke plant left in California, Diablo Canyon, be shut down until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulators can demonstrate that the two reactors at this site can withstand shaking from three nearby earthquake faults.
Meanwhile, the human, environmental and economic disasters at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plants keep metastasizing. Scientists are producing studies that show serious biological effects (genetic damage and mutation rates) of radiation on plant, insect and bird life in and around the large, cordoned off, uninhabitable area surrounding these closed down reactors. The giant politically-influential electric utility company underestimated the likelihood of a powerful earthquake and tsunami.
In the early nineteen-seventies, the industry and its governmental patrons were expecting 1,000 nuclear plants – 100 of them along the California coast – to be operating by the year 2000. Instead, a little more than a hundred were built nationwide. In reality, as of 2014, there are only 100 operable reactors, many of which are aging.
The pitfalls are real and numerous. In addition to growing public opposition, and lower-priced natural gas attracting electric utilities, there are the ever-present, sky-rocketing costs and delays of construction, repair and the question of where to store nuclear waste. These costs are what make Wall Street financiers turn their backs on nuclear power unless the industry can ram more tens of billions of dollars in government/taxpayer loan guarantees through Congress.
And what is all this nuclear technology, from the uranium mines to the nuclear plants to the still absent waste storage dumps for? To boil water!
These are the tragic follies when the corporate masters and their political minions, who are ready and willing to guarantee taxpayer funding, have no “skin in the game.” This kind of staggering power without responsibility is indeed radioactive.