Long-term intake of the Monsanto’s most popular Roundup herbicide, even in very small amounts lower than permissible in US water, may lead to kidney and liver damage, a new study claims.
The research, conducted by an international group of scientists from the UK, Italy and France, studied the effects of prolonged exposure to small amounts of the Roundup herbicide and one of its main components – glyphosate.
In their study, published in Environmental Health on August 25, the scientists particularly focused on the influence of Monsanto’s Roundup on gene expression in the kidneys and liver.
In the new two-year study, which extended the findings from one conducted in 2012, the team added tiny amounts of Roundup to water that was given to rats in doses much smaller than allowed in US drinking water.
Scientists say that some of the rats experienced “25 percent body weight loss, presence of tumors over 25 percent bodyweight, hemorrhagic bleeding, or prostration.”
The study’s conclusions indicate that there is an association between wide-scale alterations in liver and kidney gene expression and the consumption of small quantities of Roundup, even at admissible glyphosate-equivalent concentrations. As the dose used is “environmentally relevant in terms of human, domesticated animals and wildlife levels of exposure,” the results potentially have significant health implications for animal and human populations, the study warned.
“There were more than 4,000 genes in the liver and kidneys [of the rats that were fed Roundup] whose levels of expression had changed,” the study’s leading scientist, Michael Antoniou, head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London, said, as quoted by the Environmental Health News.
“Given even very low levels of exposure, Roundup can potentially result in organ damage when it comes to liver and kidney function,” he added. “The severity we don’t know, but our data say there will be harm given enough time.”
The results of the study have received mixed reviews in the scientific community, although many scientists have expressed their concern about possible negative health effects from Roundup use.
Taking into account that the team “used very low dose levels in drinking water … this study should have some kind of public health influence,” said Nichelle Harriott, the science and regulatory director at Beyond Pesticides, a Washington, DC based nonprofit organization, as quoted by the Environmental Health News.
“We don’t know what to make of such changes, they may be meaningful and may not,” said Bruce Blumberg, a professor from the University of California, who did not take part in the study.
“They can’t say which caused what, but what you have is an association – the group treated with a little Roundup had a lot of organ damage and the gene expression findings supported that,” he added.
Meanwhile, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, the use of glyphosate in herbicides has increased by more than 250 times in the United States in the last 40 years.
Research conducted in 2014 and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health linked the use of Monsanto’s Roundup to widespread chronic kidney disease that took the form of an epidemic in Sri Lanka. Another study showed that Monsanto agrochemicals may have caused cellular and genetic diseases in Brazilian soybean workers.
Additionally, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has recently determined that Roundup’s glyphosate is ‘number one’ among carcinogens, “possibly” causing cancer.
However, Monsanto has continuously and consistently insisted that its products are safe, citing other research supporting their claims. The latest such study was conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessments (BfR) and deemed that Monsanto’s Roundup was safe.
So far, Monsanto has made no comment concerning the research conducted by the group led by Michael Antoniou.
In response to President Rafael Correa’s proposed inheritance tax, a far right coalition in Ecuador has launched a campaign of anti-government protest in the country. This movement is being joined by some forces on the green and Indigenous left, long opposed to Correa’s economic strategy of neo-extractivism, that is, the exploitation of Ecuador’s rich deposits of oil to fuel the economy as well as providing the majority of government revenue. Correa’s economic approach has been to aggressively push forward oil operations, even in environmentally sensitive areas, and then use the proceeds to pay for poverty reduction programs. The various Eco-Indigenous groups have legitimate concerns about the sustainability of the neo-extractivist approach, but it is a fact that since Correa came into office in 2007 one million Ecuadorians have been lifted out of poverty. In 2007 4 of 10 Ecuadorians lived in poverty. Today less than a quarter of the population does.
COHA calls for an end to the violence that has accompanied the protests, with over 100 police and military now having suffered injuries, including grave ones. COHA supports dialogue between the various opposition sectors and the government, and the continuation of the positive trend in Ecuador of settling political differences by democratic procedures, not golpismo.
By Larry Birns, Director of COHA and Senior Research Fellows: Jim A. Baer, Nicholas Birns, William Camacaro, Lynn Holland, Frederick B. Mills, Ronn Pineo.
What a long, strange trip it’s been for engineer Dr. Walter Tamosaitis. Well, perhaps not so much strange as it has been heart-wrenching. Nonetheless, every once in awhile those who are maligned end up being vindicated. That’s exactly what happened last week for Tamosaitis, who has been entangled in five strained years of litigation against his former employer URS (now owned by AECOM).
On August 12, Tamosaitis agreed to a $4.1 million settlement of his federal whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against Hanford contractor URS. While AECOM refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing in the ordeal, there’s no question it didn’t want to drag on the case that could well have made the contractor look even worse than it already did. URS was hired by Bechtel to turn the radioactive sludge at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington into glass rods. It’s proven to be a costly and complex task, and the longer the clean up drags on the more money the contractors make.
“We are very pleased that Walter can get on with his life after five years of litigation, and that he has been vindicated,” said Jack Sheridan, the Seattle attorney who represented Tamosaitis, “This settlement sends a message to whistleblowers everywhere that integrity and truth are worth fighting for, and that you can win if you don’t give up.”
In 2011, I wrote an investigative piece for Seattle Weekly, reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund, that not only looked into the very serious safety concerns raised by Tamosaitis at the Hanford nuclear reservation, put also exposed how his superiors plotted to silence him by removing him from his position and forcing him to work in an off-site, windowless basement. It was an egregious attempt to kill the messenger — a message that put millions of contract dollars at risk.
What URS didn’t expect, however, was that Tamosaitis would refuse to go down without a fight. He openly spoke with me about a greedy management culture at Hanford run amok. He was candid in explaining that the Hanford cleanup was a cash cow for URS and its parent contractor Bechtel, the same company accused of bilking tax-payers over its botched Iraq reconstruction projects. As such, he accused them of putting profits above safety of its employees and the public.
Tamosaitis was in charge of overseeing a sludge mixing project at Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), where, if certain deadlines were met, Bechtel and URS would walk away with a $6 million bonus. Yet Tamosaitis wasn’t about to sign off on it, because the mixing process wasn’t working out.
“The drive to stay on schedule is putting the whole [WTP] project at risk,” Tamosaitis told me in 2011. “”Not on my watch’ is a standard mantra among [DOE and Contract] management who like to intimidate naysayers like me. These guys would rather deal with major issues down the road than fix them up front … Cost and schedule performance trump sound science time and again.”
In 2011, Tamosaitis filed a federal whistleblower complaint under the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA). By 2013, Tamosaitis was let go for “lack of work.” Initially his case was dismissed by Federal District Court Judge Lonny Suko, who found that there was insufficient evidence to support his retaliation claim and that he didn’t have the right to a jury trial under ERA. In 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Judge Suko, stating there was “plenty of evidence that Bechtel encouraged URS E&C to remove Tamosaitis from the WTP site because of his whistleblowing, that URS E&C knew that Tamosaitis’s whistleblowing motivated Bechtel, and that URS E&C carried out the removal.”
The 9th Circuit also found that Tamosaitis indeed had a right to a jury trial. In July 2014, AECOM announced it would acquire URS and has since been pushing for a resolution. While no parties admitted liability, with a $4.1 million settlement, it’s clear who was victorious. Of course, the bigger issue is, will this set a precedent and help ensure that future Hanford employees aren’t afraid to step forward and voice concerns about public health and environmental safety?
That’s the hope, insists Tom Carpenter, director of the Seattle-based nonprofit watchdog group that keeps a close eye on all things Hanford.
“This is great news for Walt and great news for the public. Walt is a hero who staked his career to raise nuclear safety issues that could have resulted in a catastrophe down the road,” Carpenter said after the settlement announcement. “His issues were investigated and validated, and those safety issues are being scrutinized and corrected. This settlement brings justice to Walt, and is a necessary step in the quest to address a broken safety culture at Hanford that has historically punished employees for bringing forward concerns.”
As Native American tribes are struggling to cope with a toxic spill caused by an Environmental Protection Agency contractor that turned a river in Colorado orange, a letter from a retired geologist has emerged, that warned of the risk a week beforehand.
A contractor for the EPA released some three million gallons of toxic mining sludge on August 5 while attempting to clean up an abandoned mine near Silverton, Colorado. The waste flowed into Cement Creek, and has since contaminated the Animas River, San Juan River, and the Colorado River in Utah.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe in southern Colorado has declared a state of local emergency. Their 1,059-square-mile reservation was the first to be hit by the spill, a 100-mile-long stream of mining waste containing lead, copper, and arsenic. Classifying the spill as a disaster enables the release of aid and recovery funds.
“The cost and magnitude of responding to and recovery from the impact of the water contamination from the Gold King Mine Animas River Spill, caused by the EPA on August 5, 2015 is far in excess of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s available resources,” the tribe said in its declaration, quoted by Indian Country Today.
Further downstream, the Navajo Nation is fighting the EPA over the agency’s damage claims form. The tribe’s attorney general says Standard Form 95 contains “offending language,” waiving all claims to future compensation.
“Once the claim is made it will only be for the claims suffered to date and precludes future claims,” Navajo Nation president Russel Begaye said, ordering all tribal agencies to stop advising residents to use the form.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited Durango, Colorado earlier this week, but declined to travel to the disaster site, according to the Denver Post. Agency officials said the mine was “too far” to visit, involving a 55-mile trip, partly over unpaved roads.
“As you know, it is a significant distance away, but I did visit the river. I took a look at it myself to get a sense of the river,” McCarthy said. “And I think the good news is it seems to be restoring itself, but we have continued work to do and EPA is here.”
Originally estimated at 1 million gallons (3.785 million liters), the spill was later confirmed to have involved at least three times that amount of toxic waste. Among the metals detected in the sludge were arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, iron, lead, mercury, and zinc. The recorded lead levels alone were 12,000 times higher than normal.
Five water supply systems have been affected by the spill. While the river system mostly serves farming communities, the disaster also poses a risk to the drinking water of 17,000 people living in Durango, Colorado and 45,000 residents of Farmington, New Mexico.
While the agency has maintained that the release of toxic sludge from the Gold King mine was an accident, one retired geologist speculated the EPA might have been setting the area up for a disaster in order to get more federal funding.
“Based on my 47 years of experience as a professional geologist, it appears to me that the EPA is setting your town and the area up for a possible Superfund blitzkrieg,” Dave Taylor of Farmington wrote in a letter to the editors of the Silverton Standard, published July 30. The paper confirmed the letter’s authenticity in a blog post on August 12.
The EPA’s grand experiment to plug the Red & Bonita mine might seem to work at first, Taylor wrote, but he predicted the water would find a way out and “exfiltrate uncontrollably through connected abandoned shafts, drifts, raises, fractures, and possibly from talus on the hillsides.”
Taylor further anticipated that all of the water flow would return to Cement Creek within anywhere from a week to 120 days and could even increase the contamination.
“Reading between the lines, I believe that has been EPA’s plan all along. The proposed Red & Bonita plugging plan has been their way of getting a foot in the door to justify their hidden agenda for construction of a treatment plant,” he wrote.
The EPA has been lobbying to designate the area as a recipient of federal Superfund financing, but met opposition from local residents, Breitbart confirmed. The Wall Street Journal identified the contractor hired to plug the Red and Bonita mines as Environmental Restoration, LLC of Fenton, Missouri, a recipient of over $380 million in EPA contracts over the past decade.
Colorado governor John Hickenlooper visited Durango on Wednesday and took a sip of water from the Animas River in a publicity stunt. An iodine tablet which he used to purify the water would have killed any bacteria and parasites, but had no effect on the heavy metal pollutants. Residents were advised not to follow the governor’s lead, though, as the water was considered unsafe for drinking even before the spill, the Durango Herald reported.
Thousands of people have filed lawsuits against DuPont for poisoning them with a chemical that causes birth defects, multiple types of cancer, and death. According to internal DuPont documents and emails, the company knew about the health risks to their employees and local communities but covered up the data in order to increase their profit margin. After decades of dumping this toxic chemical into the ocean, rivers, landfills, and the air, DuPont has contaminated the bloodstream of nearly every American with this non-biodegradable chemical.
In 1946, Teflon was introduced with an essential ingredient known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or C8. For several decades, DuPont and seven other corporations contaminated the U.S. by using C8 in hundreds of products, including Gore-Tex and other waterproof clothing; coatings for eyeglasses and tennis rackets; stain-proof coatings for carpets and furniture; bicycle lubricants; communications cables; fast food wrappers; fire-fighting foam; microwave popcorn bags; pizza boxes, ski wax; non-stick cookware; and satellite components.
According to internal DuPont documents, an employee named R.A. Dickison noted in 1954 receiving an inquiry into the possible toxicity of C8. Seven years later, a group of in-house researchers discovered that C8 was toxic and should be handled with extreme care. However, DuPont decided not to disclose this information to its own employees. Over the years, DuPont scientists have conducted experiments exposing dogs, rats, rabbits, monkeys, and humans to varying doses of C8, which killed many of the lab animals.
During the first trimester of her pregnancy, former DuPont employee Sue Bailey was transferred to the Teflon division at the Parkersburg plant in 1980. Her son, Bucky, was born with tear duct deformities, only one nostril, an eyelid that started down by his nose, and a condition known as keyhole pupil. According to a recent article in The Intercept, at least one of eight babies born to women who worked in the Teflon division had birth defects.
While on maternity leave, Bailey received a phone call from a DuPont doctor asking if her baby had any birth defects. Before Bailey returned to work, she learned that DuPont decided to remove all female employees from the Teflon division. When Bailey returned to work and visited the plant doctor, Dr. Younger Lovelace Power told her that Bucky’s birth defects were not caused by C8 and also told Bailey that the company had no record of her working in the Teflon division.
When the female employees were removed from the Teflon division at the Parkersburg plant, Ken Wamsley began working in Teflon after his supervisor assured him that C8 only affects some pregnant women. After years of exposure to C8, Wamsley was diagnosed with rectal cancer and underwent surgery in 2002 to treat it.
Due to the fact that C8 is so chemically stable, scientists have determined it will never break down and expect C8 to remain on the planet long after humans have gone extinct. During the early 1960s, DuPont buried approximately 200 drums of C8 on the banks of the Ohio River. An internal DuPont document from 1975 revealed that the company had also been packing the toxic chemical into drums loaded with stones and dumping them into the ocean.
As DuPont eventually ceased dumping C8 into the ocean, they began disposing the chemical in unlined landfills and ponds. DuPont also contaminated the air by releasing the chemical through smokestacks and pouring waste directly into the Ohio River. According to a 2007 analysis from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), C8 is in the blood of 99.7% of Americans. C8 has also been found in arctic birds, bald eagles, bottlenose dolphins, caribou, harbor seals, lions, tigers, polar bears, walruses, and sea turtles.
A study by Dennis Paustenbach published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that the DuPont plant in West Virginia spread nearly 2.5 million pounds of C8 into the area surrounding Parkersburg between 1951 and 2003. Roughly 80,000 residents filed a class-action lawsuit against DuPont in 2001. After reaching a settlement in 2005, DuPont agreed to pay $343 million for residents’ medical tests, the removal of as much C8 from the area’s water supply as possible, and a science panel’s study into the toxic effects of C8 on humans.
After seven years, the science panel found that C8 was “more likely than not” linked to ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer. The scientists also found that even extremely low levels of exposure were associated with health problems.
Next month, the first of approximately 3,500 personal injury claims is set for trial. Among the lawsuits is a wrongful death claim filed by Virginia Morrison of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Morrison is accusing DuPont of causing the death of her husband in 2008 from injuries related to kidney cancer.
Marred with a history of deceit and negligence, DuPont has repeatedly violated state and federal laws while causing the deaths of numerous employees. The production of leaded gasoline at its New Jersey plant caused madness and several violent deaths of employees. During the 1930s, employees were diagnosed with bladder cancer after exposure to certain dye chemicals. In 1989, DuPont employees at the Parkersburg plant experienced an elevated number of leukemia deaths and an unexpectedly high number of kidney cancers among male workers.
On November 15, 2014, a gas leak resulted in the deaths of four DuPont employees at the La Porte plant. On January 23, 2010, a phosgene gas leak killed a DuPont employee at the Belle plant. And on November 11, 2010, two contractors were welding when sparks ignited flammable vapors and caused an explosion at the DuPont facility outside Buffalo, New York. The explosion killed one contractor and left the other seriously injured.
DuPont has denied any wrongdoing or breaking any laws even though the EPA, OSHA, and other agencies have repeatedly cited the company for serious safety violations. Instead of taking responsibility for causing multiple types of cancer and birth defects, DuPont claims that the plaintiffs’ injuries were “caused by acts of God” over which DuPont had no control.
In 2006, DuPont and seven other companies signed on with the EPA’s 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program and agreed to reduce C8 emissions and cease producing the toxic chemical by 2015.
I’ve claimed to be an organic gardener since I originally started planting vegetables in SE Ohio in the early 1970s. At the same time, I confess to having used Roundup and a few other herbicides to deal with poison ivy and a few other invasive species that were frustrating me. I apply it as sparingly and specifically as possible, never when windy or wet.
Here in Colombia this spring when we were sitting in a restaurant watching the midday news on the TV I was stunned to see video of US planes flown by US contractors aerial spraying US supplied glyphosate on suspected coca farms (the plant used to make cocaine). Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Everything I knew about applying this chemical said aerial spraying had to be a bad idea.
The practice is making the news because in March the World Health Organization’s research arm issued its finding that Glyphosate probably causes cancer. 1) Then on 9 May President Santos called for a ban on all aerial coca fumigation. It has been a controversial program with opponents likening it to Agent Orange use during the Viet Nam War. Residents in the areas of spraying report the loss of food crops, and various illnesses have been linked to the practice. The cancer link has moved Colombia’s Health Ministry to support the ban.
According to Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, the US has spent nearly two billion dollars, paying for the spraying of sixteen acres for every one-acre of coca reduced over the last twenty years. He sees Colombia’s use of glyphosate as a substitute for actual governance in the remote areas where resident access to traditional agricultural markets is virtually nonexistent for lack of infrastructure. (2)
Proponents of this kind of aerial spraying are few. Colombia is the only coca producing country that has allowed aerial fumigation. The US, one of the last countries to support the practice, says that in the long run the benefits outweigh the risks. They point to the decline in coca production since 2008. (But see footnote) (3) They also point to GPS units now installed in the planes that allow complaints from farmers to be promptly investigated.
And this is where I’d like to point out two things that I have learned working in Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams over the past seven years. First, there is no such thing as a prompt investigation of any incident that involves rural farmers or indigenous people in Colombia. Specific incidents of violence often see weeks pass before police arrive to investigate. There is no reason to expect a crop failure to be investigated any more quickly. But the bigger, more subtle, violation of human rights is the US position that essentially says, “Yes, there is a risk of collateral civilian damage in Colombia, but we are saving American lives and money by keeping cocaine out of our country.”
To this I say, campesino lives matter, too. I cannot imagine the public outcry if the federal government were to begin aerial spraying of Roundup in rural communities to control marijuana planting in the US. How can we continue to treat citizens of other countries as if their lives do not have the same value as American lives?
Colombia’s justice minister recently asked the United Nations to come up with alternative policies to combat drugs, claiming “we declared a war that hasn’t been won. Because of this, it will be imperative to on a global level come up with and agree on policies and interventions that allow us to respond to this enormous challenge in a more humane, intelligent and effective way.” (2)
I totally agree.
(2) Washington Office on Latin America
(3) The proponents are having a hard time explaining why a 14% increase in spraying in 2014 led to a 21% to 39% surge in the total area of land area under coca cultivation. CR – Santos calls for ban, May 10 http://colombiareports.com/santoscallsforbanonaerialcocafumigationincolombia/
Scotland says it will ban genetically modified crops on its soil. According to officials, the move will protect the environment. They are also taking advantage of new EU laws, allowing member states to decide whether they want to grow the crops or not.
Although the EU imports large quantities of GM crops from abroad, it is less sure about growing them on their own soil. Some environmental groups are worried about the impact they could have on the countryside, while there are also concerns over health issues for humans, despite producers of the crops insisting they are safe.
Only Monsanto’s maize MON810, which is cultivated in Spain and Portugal, is currently on sale for human consumption within the EU.
“Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment – and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status,” Richard Lochhead, the Scottish government’s minister for the environment, food and rural affairs, said in a statement.
The politician also added there was no public demand for introducing GM crops.
“There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion ($22 billion) food and drink sector,” Lochhead added.
‘GM not the answer to food security’
The decision was taken by Scotland’s devolved parliament, with the UK’s legislative body in London having no say in the matter.
The move was welcomed by the Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone. In a statement on the party’s website, she said, “Opting out of growing genetically modified crops is the right move for Scotland. Cultivation of GM crops would harm our environment and our reputation for high quality food and drink.”
“GM is not the answer to food security, and would represent further capture of our food by big business. Scotland has huge potential with a diverse mix of smaller-scale producers and community food initiatives, and we need to see those grow further.”
However, the decision has not proved to be universally popular, with farmers saying they will lose out to competitors due to the ban being introduced.
“There is going to be one side of the border in England where they may adopt biotechnology, but just across the River Tweed farmers are not going to be allowed to. How are these farmers going to be capable of competing in the same market?” the National Farmers Union of Scotland vice-president Andrew McCornick told the Scotsman newspaper.
In April, the European Union gave the green light to start importing 10 new types of genetically modified crops for the first time since 2013. The crops, which include maize, soybeans, cotton and oilseed rape will be authorized for human food and animal feed for the next 10 years, the European Commission announced.
A chorus of powerful voices in Sweden has recently urged the country to join NATO but they failed to mention that the bloc embraces a preemptive nuclear strike doctrine which could possibly lead to a nuclear apocalypse, warned a Swedish affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
“NATO is a military alliance with nuclear weapons as a cornerstone,” Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Arms wrote in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.
The alliance itself described these armaments as a core component of its deterrence and defense capabilities.
“As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance,” the bloc reiterated in 2012. Moreover, the organization’s hands are not tied by the no first use (NFU) policy, which it has repeatedly refused to adopt.
Five European nations, according to the Swedish medical group, host US nuclear forces. Should Sweden join the bloc, it could become the next country to welcome them and it will also have to accept NATO’s preemptive nuclear strike doctrine.
Research has shown that even a limited nuclear war could threaten survival of millions.
A team at the Department of Meteorology of the Stockholm University studied climate implications of a fictional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, who possess less than 1 percent of world’s nukes. The colder temperatures caused by a nuclear explosion in their simulations would lead to crop failures and food shortages across the northern hemisphere.
Swedish Physicians against Nuclear Arms urged the government to commit to an initiative aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide. The organization believes that this goal is attainable and several major steps in this direction have already been taken.
The figures seem to support this view. For instance, the number of missiles with nuclear warheads has been reduced by 75 percent since 1986, the group said.
As many as 32 hectares of new wildfires have been registered in the exclusion zone close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, report Ukraine’s emergency services report. Firefighters are battling new fires that have flared up in the Kiev region.
The fires started in three locations close to the villages of Zamostye and Kovshilovka in the Ivankovsky area. As of 7am on Sunday, the fires have been reportedly localized, with firefighters continuing to extinguish burning dry grass and forest cover.
The last wildfire in Chernobyl’s forest preserve area started on June 29 and was eventually estimated at 130 hectares of burning dry grass, cane and peat in multiple locations. It took a fortnight to put all the fires out.
Forest fires in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone began in April this year. The head of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine Nikolay Chechetkin said that up to 70 percent of all the wildfires in Chernobyl exclusion zone are due to arson.
Experts warned that radioactive nuclides absorbed by the foliage around Chernobyl nuclear power plant from the soil contaminated as a result of the 1986 disaster can easily be released into the air and have a cumulative negative effect on the health of those who breathe in particles.
While firefighters were dealing with wildfires near Chernobyl from April through to July, the Kiev authorities gave assurances that there was no radiation threat. Territory engulfed by fires in the exclusion zone had reached 400 hectares by the beginning of May.
However, locals recalling the 1986 catastrophe fear that just as then officials are concealing the truth.
If the trees, which have been absorbing radioactivity for almost 30 years, are on fire, then radioactive elements “may spread with wind over long distances,” Yury Bandazhevsky, a scientist working on the sanitary consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, said in May.
August 6 marks 70 years since the bomber Enola Gay flew over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, with the atomic weapon “Little Boy” aboard. The mission unleashed devastation never witnessed before, changing history forever.
Very shortly, a terrifying race to test and stockpile increasingly more powerful nuclear weapons broke out between the United States and Soviet Union. The nuclear component of the Cold War between capitalism and communism raised the question of whether life on the planet could continue. Over 400 bombs were tested in the atmosphere, and tens of thousands of weapons were eventually constructed.
The abyss was reached in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Only a last-second political solution by President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev overrode the advice of most military and government advisors on both sides to engage in war. The action of these two men was all that stood in the way of a likely all-out nuclear disaster that would have released enough radioactivity to possibly extinguish all life.
The U.S. conducted nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1962, with contamination and adverse effects on the health of local residents still evident. More recently, the U.S. released depleted uranium weapons in Mideast nations, with devastating results on newborns and young children.
Great strides to harness the nuclear menace have been made over time. Atom bomb testing, both above and below the ground, has ended. Disarmament has dismantled tens of thousands of weapons. But despite these, the atom remains the greatest threat to life on earth.
There are still 16,000 atomic weapons deployed around the globe, accompanied by plans to strike human targets, with far greater destructive power than that at Hiroshima. Eight nations have a nuclear weapons arsenal, and more are hoping to develop their own bomb program.
But the legacy of what happened 70 years ago extends well beyond potential atomic bombing in the future. The process of manufacturing nuclear weapons continues to plague the planet. Uranium mining, milling, enrichment, purification, and fabrication are all necessary to build bombs, contaminating sites around the world. Large areas at plants like Oak Ridge TN, Hanford WA, and Savannah River SC continue to be uninhabitable due to the enormous amounts of nuclear waste, some of which is leaking into the ground. Years of extremely costly cleanup have fallen short of safely harnessing these dangerous chemicals.
Another legacy of the atomic era is the now-halted bomb testing. The worst effects were those closest to the explosions. Soldiers practicing maneuvers during a nuclear war close to the blasts, absorbed large doses, and later suffered from cancers and other diseases at high rates. Workers suffered a similar fate, as did persons living in areas close to the testing site in Nevada.
But fallout from the large mushroom clouds in tests traveled thousands of miles, propelled by wind. This toxic mixture of over 100 radioactive chemicals that didn’t exist before 1945 entered the environment through precipitation, and contaminated humans, animals, and plants. Most above-ground tests were ended in 1963, but the dissipation from the biosphere was slow. All who are now over age 45, especially the Baby Boom generation who were vulnerable fetuses, infants, and young children during testing, were exposed. And because radiation damages DNA, future generations inherited defective genes.
The current meaning of Hiroshima actually is not confined only to bombs. As Cold War tensions mounted, efforts to use the atom for more peaceful purposes were encouraged. The most prominent of these efforts were nuclear power reactors, which created electricity by splitting uranium atoms – the exact same splitting process used to explode nuclear weapons.
The 400-plus nuclear power reactors eventually built worldwide were environmental disasters. Numerous meltdowns in small test reactors years ago went unheeded, and failed to stop the development of electrical nuclear power. In time, larger meltdowns occurred, including Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011). The latter, which remains uncontrolled and is still spewing dangerous environmental radioactivity, may be the worst environmental catastrophe in history.
Aside from meltdowns, reactors steadily leaked a portion of the cocktails of 100-plus radioactive chemicals – the same found in the large atom bomb clouds. Nearby residents have been absorbing these chemicals through breathing and the food chain; to date, over 60 scientific journal articles have documented high rates of cancer in children exposed to routine emissions living near reactors.
A third harmful aspect of nuclear power is the staggering amount of waste that was captured in reactors before leaking, but will not fully decay for thousands of years. Permanent solutions for safely storing this waste continue to elude leaders, decades after plans began. Most waste is now stored at each nuclear plant, in large pools of water that need to be constantly cooled. Loss of cooling water from mechanical failure, human error, or act of sabotage would result in a meltdown.
The history of the atomic era has been a grim one, and continues to be grim today. The genie that was let out of the bottle all those years ago is still very much out. Constant future vigilance to reduce this enormous environmental health threat is needed if humanity is to avoid even more staggering consequences.
Joseph Mangano MPH MBA and Janette Sherman MD are Executive Director and Research Advisor of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, is the author of Mad Science (pub. 2012) as well and many articles on the effects of nuclear power. He is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project and can be reached at: (www.radiation.org). 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
The fundamental argument in favor of Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal is that it will change the structure of Nicaragua’s economy in such a way as to dramatically reduce poverty and so enable a reversal of the current destructive national and regional trends of impoverishment-driven environmental depredation.
Progressive and radical opinion in North America and Europe tends to skew discussion towards the Canal’s alleged potential environmental effects, generally ignoring both the urgent economic imperative of poverty reduction and the Canal’s wider regional and global significance.
The environmental argument in favor of the Canal is usually met with perplexed scepticism, blank incomprehension or, very often, deliberate misrepresentation.
Like almost all the articles that have criticized Nicaragua’s Canal, Truth Out’s recent article by Thomas J Scott,“Nicaragua’s Flirtation With Environmental Disaster” focuses largely on the Canal’s environmental aspects while omitting Nicaragua’s fundamental dilemma, one typical of impoverished countries. Namely, Nicaragua’s environmental sustainability requires significant new economic resources in the short term so as to reverse decades of poverty driven deforestation, contamination and inadequate water management.
Only massive structural investment in the economy will provide those resources. Some environmental impact from that level of investment is inevitable. But the resources generated by the investment will more than compensate for the initial limited local environmental impact by generating enough resources to finally enable adequate environmental recovery programs. Addressing environmental concerns, Thomas J. Scott’s account relies narrowly on other ideologically compromised media outlets highly critical of the Canal.
In doing so, Scott not only marginalizes the Canal’s fundamental economic logic, he also gets basic facts wrong.
Scott’s Truth Out article asserts, for example, that 120,000 people may be displaced by the Canal. That is completely untrue. The actual figure is around 7,000 families amounting to around 35,000 people along the Canal’s 275 kilometre length. Scott also asserts that the indigenous Rama-Kriol group may lose 40% of their land, referring to a negotiation process yet to be completed, a fact which undermines the very basis of the claim brought before the International Commission for Human Rights by the group’s lawyers, alleging lack of consultation. Similarly, Scott cites various environmental and scientific opinions against the Canal but fails to put them in context.
For example, he uncritically quotes a supposedly scientific calculation that up to a million acres of rainforest and wetlands could be destroyed by the Canal. Even a cursory look at that claim shows how nonsensical it is. The Canal is 278 kilometres long of which about 23km run from the Pacific Coast north of San Juan del Sur to Lake Nicaragua, known here as Lake Cocibolca. Then, 105km of the Canal route run across Lake Cocibolca. None of that part of the Canal or its related sub-projects affect any rainforest or wetlands, leaving 150km from the area of San Miguelito on the eastern edge of the lake to Punto Aguilar on the Caribbean coast.
Much of the area between San Miguelito and Punto Aguilar is already intervened by agricultural cultivation and cattle ranching and by often illicit timber activity. Here, the total area affected by the construction of the Canal itself is certainly not greater than about 150 square kilometres, equivalent to 37,500 acres. To guarantee adequate water for the canal and improve the region’s water management, an artificial lake will be created of about 395 square kilometres, equivalent to 98,750 acres. So the total affected land area of the Canal in this part of Nicaragua will be around 136,250 acres.
Even if one overstates that 70%-75% of that affected land area is vulnerable wetlands or forest, the total such area affected will be around 100,000 acres, equivalent to about 40,000 hectares, around one tenth of the area of one million acres mentioned by Scott in his article. The canal runs well south of the hugely important Bosawas reserve and well north of the equally important Indio Maiz reserve. Much smaller reserves like Cerro Silva may be directly affected, but these reserves are already suffering significant deforestation and contamination at the hands of the local population.
The canal projects have to reforest more than the forest it will displace over the five year period of its main construction, because the Canal depends on water conservation to be able to operate.
Currently Nicaragua is losing 65,000 to 70,000 hectares of forest a year to agricultural cultivation, cattle ranching and illicit timber felling. Under-resourced, government promoted reforestation programs only replace around 15,000 hectares a year
None of this information appears in Scott’s account in Truth Out or other similar anti-Canal reports. It puts in context the outrageous, nonsensical claim that a million acres of pristine rainforest may be destroyed by the project. It also highlights the truly urgent nature of Nicaragua’s environmental and economic dilemma.
The same is true in relation to the exaggerated claims that Lake Cocibolca may be destroyed by the huge dredging the project entails. The lake is already contaminated and suffering heavy sedimentation. But that information too is omitted from Truth Out, which alleges “The possibility the HKND environmental protection plan will mitigate the scientists’ concerns is questionable, given the scale and complexity of the project.” In fact, far more questionable is the wild speculation clearly underlying those often ideologically motivated scientists’ concerns and their own misleading interpretations of inadequate data.
The canal’s pre-feasibility studies by a Dutch company began in January 2013 and lasted six months. The complete feasibility studies by international specialist companies lasted 23 months from July 2013 until May 2015. The cost of these studies over almost two and a half years has been well over US$150 million. The canal company HKND puts the figure at around US$200 million.
By contrast, the environmental scientists critical of the canal can marshal no data remotely equivalent to these substantial, large scale, detailed, highly resource intensive and very expensive studies.
In any case, as the planning process for the canal has progressed, legitimate, relevant environmental concerns have indeed been taken into account. For example, the location of the proposed deep water port on the Pacific Coast has been moved so as to minimize damage to local mangroves. The final precise route of the Canal has been subject to similar change. So it is far from true that environmental and other concerns in relation to the Canal have not been heeded. But that fact too is completely missing from Truth Out’s article.
Politics and geopolitics
Shifting from the environment to political analysis, Scott’s article makes the completely ahistorical assertion that “Sandino led an armed resistance movement against US plans to build a canal in 1927.” Sandino campaign was not against US plans to build a canal in 1927. The US government had no plans to build a canal in Nicaragua in 1927. Sandino’s guerrilla was was very clearly and overwhelmingly against the US imperialist military occupation of his country. The US government already controlled and occupied the Panama Canal zone, invading Nicaragua only so as to consolidate its regional political and economic domination.
In his manifesto “The Supreme Dream of Bolivar”, Sandino himself wrote, “nothing is more logical, nothing more decisive and vital than the union of the twenty-one states of our America into a single unique Latin American Nationality, which may make possible, as an immediate consequence, the right to the route of an Inter-oceanic Canal through Central America.” The US military occupation of Nicaragua vetoed that right. In his Truth Out article, Scott himself proceeds to row back from his incorrect, ahistorical assertion ending up suggesting that critics of the canal have legitimate concerns about Chinese imperialism in Nicaragua.
But most of those same critics are people bought and paid for by US government money in one form or another. Right-wing opposition to the Canal comes from politicians who are explicit allies of the United States government. Currently those politicians and their political parties have around 8% support nationally. Social democrat opposition to the Canal comes from ex-Sandinista politicians now closely identified with US government and European Union policy. They currently enjoy under 1% support nationally. These critics have zero credibility when they express their clearly hypocritical concerns about Nicaragua’s sovereignty in relation to growing Chinese influence.
Nicaragua’s sovereignty over the canal and the rights of its population are protected by the legislation for the Canal and its sub- projects which place the overall project under the control of a government Commission. The government’s Minister for National Policy, has explained, “The incentives have to be strong because Nicaragua isn’t giving a sovereign guarantee….. After 50 years Nicaragua will already have 50% of the profits from the Canal. Then in the second 50 years the share goes up 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%. Finally Nicaragua will take over after benefiting by over 50% for 50 years. While considerable, that benefit is tiny compared to doubling the economy, and reducing poverty.”
Not only do decisions in relation to the canal have to be authorized by the government, but ownership of the Canal’s business will pass progressively to the Nicaraguan government on an already agreed schedule.
Scott’s inaccurate and misleading analysis of the canal and of the national context in Nicaragua extends equally to his article’s geopolitical analysis. He manages to write his article without once mentioning ALBA, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or Mercosur. Scott completely ignores the diverse tensions between the Pacific Alliance countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) and their ALBA and Mercosur counterparts. Nor do US sponsored supra-national trade structures like the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership figure in their extremely superficial report.
But all of these are extremely and immediately relevant in any serious discussion of China’s growing world role, especially in Latin America and especially in relation to Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal. Perhaps the most astonishing omission in the Truth Out article’s geopolitical sketch of the meaning of Nicaragua’s Canal is the absence of China’s alliance with Russia India, Brazil and South Africa, in building a multipolar world. Scott still seems deeply invested in the long since discredited idea of Western, especially US, political, economic and moral global leadership.
The inaccuracies, falsehoods and omissions of Thomas J. Scott’s article about Nicaragua’s Canal are symptomatic of that intellectual and political narcissism, placing the US and its concerns at the center of every world trend.
In fact, the US government is increasingly losing influence in Latin America and the rest of the world as a result of its absurdly inept, aggressive foreign policy. Neither the US government nor its European Union allies have anything to offer countries like Nicaragua beyond the old neocolonial traps of onerous debt, inequitable trade and meager development aid.
The fundamental question Western progressives never pose, let alone answer, when criticizing the Interoceanic Canal is how Nicaragua will otherwise generate the enormous resources it needs to end looming poverty-driven environmental disaster. The Sandinista government has taken the strategic sovereign decision to prioritize the Interoceanic Canal so as to achieve the massive structural investment it needs in the short term to break out of low wage under-development. The decision itself is grounded in the vision of Simón Bolivar, one explicitly fought for by Sandino, of Latin American integration.
This vision underlies the Sandinistas’ historic program of political pluralism, a mixed economy and a non-aligned foreign policy. Inherently and necessarily, Nicaragua’s Canal is not just a national project but rather one that will multiply benefits in Central America and the Caribbean, generating trade and investment throughout the region. Likewise, in the global environmental picture, the Canal will encourage maritime shipping over air transport by shortening voyages. A study of the Nicaraguan Interoceanic Canal by Hong Kong academics argues, “Maritime transport will become more dominant in international trade by taking over from the air transport. To further take advantage of the low carbon opportunities, the shipping liners will use larger vessels and enjoy economies of scale for both economic and environmental benefits, while the hub and spoke system will be chosen to maximize the operation efficiency.”
In summary, the Nicaraguan Canal is a strategic national, regional and global development project based on the historic socialist program of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. That program develops in harmony with the anti-imperialist vision of regional integration promoted by Nicaragua’s ALBA partners led by Cuba and Venezuela in the context of developing policy embodied in CELAC, where the US and Canada have neither voice nor vote. Primarily, Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal project is designed to resolve the threat posed to national environmental sustainability by the economy’s current slow incremental economic development. But the Canal will also contribute to resolving that wider environmental dilemma regionally and globally. It is an integral part of the changing pattern of global seaborne trade and the infrastructure needed for that change in a multipolar world. This process and its respective outcomes are under way now with or without the say so of the United States and its Western allies and regardless of ill-informed, inaccurate and misleading propaganda from Western neocolonial media.
A survey conducted by the German Emnid polling institute found that 79% of Germans reject the installation of wind turbines in forests. That’s the result of a survey commissioned by the Deutschen Wildtier Stiftung (German Wildlife Foundation).
Not only are there plans to disfigure and destroy forest regions in Germany, it is already a sad reality in Vermont (New England). Here an aerial photo of a portion of the Lowell Mountain wind park shows how the once natural mountain was blasted with dynamite and forests cleared and industrialized. Photo: courtesy of Daniel F.
When asked if they agreed with the statement: “For the construction of more wind energy, in general no forest areas should disappear or be cut down.”, 79 percent replied with: “I agree!” Only 11% agreed with: “for additional wind parks also forest areas should be cleared away or cut down.” The Emnid Institute survey also determined that the public’s interest in the issue of wind parks in forests is very high. Only 8% said that the issue did not interest them.
For the Deutsche Wildtier Stiftung, the Emind results prove that a large majority of the German population reject wind parks in forests. “Wind power at any cost must not be the result of the Engergiewende,” emphasized Prof. Dr. Fritz Vahrenholt, Chairman of the German Wildlife Foundation. “The citizens of Germany do not want forests to become the victims of a one-dimensional climate policy.“ People think it is important to keep forests and biodiversity intact. Even 65% of those responding said: “In the case of any doubt, the construction of wind turbines must yield to the protection of birds and other animals”.
The thoughtless construction of wind energy in the forest is a serious threat. “Opening up forests to allow wind parks leads to the endangerment of rare species,” Prof. Dr. Vahrenholt criticized. Every year in Germany up to 240,000 bats are killed by wind turbine rotors. Although they are able to dodge the moving rotors, the negative pressure in the rotor’s wake causes the bats’ lungs to burst. Most of the domestic bats are on the endangered species list.
Bird species like the rare lesser spotted eagle, the red kite and the black stork are especially sensitive to turbines. For example half of the breeding population of the black stork disappeared in just 6 years at the Vogelsberg site in the state of Hesse after 125 wind turbines were constructed. Many predatory birds die in collisions with rotors.
“So far only the state of Saxony Anhalt has opted not to allow wind parks in forests,” says Prof. Vahrenholt. In German states with large forest areas, such as Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine Westphalia, Hesse and Brandenburg, there are already decrees to allow the construction of wind parks despite regional resistance to them,” said Vahrenholt.
Moreover Emnid found that among those surveyed, wind energy in forests is not a matter of personal preference, but one of a greater good – namely forest as a space for life. On the question: “Would you feel disturbed about wind turbines in the forest?”, 43% answered with “yes”.