Pharmaceutical companies are fuelling the rise of superbugs by manufacturing drugs in factories that leak industrial waste, says a new report which calls on them to radically improve their supply chains.
Factories in China and India – where the majority of the world’s antibiotics are produced – are releasing untreated waste fluid containing active ingredients into surrounding areas, highlights the report by a coalition of environmental and public health organisations.
Ingredients used in antibiotics get into the local soil and water systems, leading to bacteria in the environment becoming resistant to the drugs. They are able to exchange genetic material with other nearby germs, spreading antibiotic resistance around the world, the report claims.
Ahead of a United Nations summit on antimicrobial resistance in New York next week, the report – by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and pressure group Changing Markets – calls on major drug companies to tackle the pollution which is one of its root causes.
They say the industry is ignoring the pollution in its supply chain while it drives the proliferation of drug resistant bacteria – a phenomenon which kills an estimated 25,000 people across Europe and globally poses “as big a threat as terrorism,” according to NHS England’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies.
If no action is taken antimicrobial resistance (AMR) will kill 10 million people worldwide every year – more than cancer – according to an independent review into AMR last year led by economist Professor Jim O’Neill.
Changing Markets compiled previous detailed reports and conducted its own on-the-ground research looking at a range of Chinese and Indian drug manufacturing plants making products for some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. One of the world’s biggest antibiotic production plants, in Inner Mongolia, was found in 2014 to be “pumping tonnes of toxic and antibiotic-rich effluent waste into the fields and waterways surrounding the factory,” according to Chinese state television.
In India, where much of the raw material produced by Chinese factories is turned into finished drugs, various studies have found “high levels of hazardous waste” and “large volumes of effluent waste” being dumped into the environment. About a quarter of UK medicines are made in India.
The factory pollution mixes with waste from farms and sewage plants, providing an ideal breeding ground for the drug-resistant bacteria. Once established in the environment, the germs can spread around the world through air and water, and by travellers visiting countries where the bacteria are prevalent.
A drug-resistant bacteria first found in India in 2014 has since been found in more than 70 countries around the world, the report highlights.
Most major drug companies display a “shocking lack of concern” about pollution in their supply chains, Changing Markets claims. It is calling for companies that fail to demand environmentally sound manufacturing and waste treatment techniques from their suppliers to be blacklisted.
Large purchasers of medicines, including health services, hospitals and pharmacies should push for cleaner production processes, it adds.
Natasha Hurley, a spokeswoman for Changing Markets, said: “Big Pharma’s role in fuelling drug resistance is all too often overlooked when policies to curb the spread of AMR are being discussed.
“Our research has shown that the industry is failing to take the necessary action to address the threat of a looming environmental and public health crisis in which it is playing a key part.”
Modern medical systems rely on antibiotics to prevent people becoming ill with bacterial infections.
The drugs also prevent infection during surgery and treatments like chemotherapy, which can wipe out the body’s immune system.
As the bugs become resistant to the drugs used to treat them, experts fear more people will die of infections – and common medical procedures will become high risk.
Next week global leaders will meet for a United Nations conference in New York to discuss the growing problem of AMR.
Resistance is fuelled by the overuse of antibiotics in farming as well as in human medicine, a topic the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been researching for more than six months.
Earlier this year, the Bureau analysed figures released by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, which regulates what drugs vets prescribe for use in British farming and agriculture, and revealed a significant increase in sales of some critically important antibiotics.
A “critically important” antibiotic is one which is either the sole treatment option or one of few alternatives for a serious infectious disease in humans.
They also treat diseases humans can catch from non-human sources such as animals, water, food or the environment, including some drug-resistant diseases.
The rise in sales of critically important antibiotics is happening despite the fact it is now known that resistant forms of certain food poisoning illnesses, including campylobacter, and some variations of the superbug MRSA, are directly linked to antibiotic use on farms.
In April, the Bureau revealed growing levels of resistance among campylobacter bacteria, which is commonly found in supermarket chickens. The bug infects up to 300,000 people in the UK each year, hospitalising about 1,000 and killing about 100.
Previously unpublished data collated by Public Health England showed almost one in two of all human campylobacter cases tested in England was resistant to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin.
Ciprofloxacin is one of several drugs doctors can turn to when victims of food poisoning develop complications, and is also used to treat other conditions such as urinary tract infections.
Responding the EPHA and Changing Markets’ report, Emma Rose from the campaign group the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics said: “Today’s briefing casts light on how big polluting factories are fueling the emergence of drug resistant bacteria.
“With prescribers of both human and veterinary medicine increasingly urged to take action on antibiotics, the pharmaceutical industry must now play its part in tackling this crisis.”
European companies are accused of taking advantage of weak fuel standards in African countries to export highly-polluted fuel to West Africa, a new report says.
The report, from the Swiss watchdog group of Public Eye, said major European oil companies and commodity traders take crude oil from African countries, blend it with highly-polluted additives, and then sell it back to them.
“Many West African countries that export high grade crude oil to Europe receive toxic low quality fuel in return,” it wrote.
Toxic products that the companies add to make the so-called “African Quality” fuels are far higher than those allowed in Europe, according to Public Eye.
“Their business model relies on an illegitimate strategy of deliberately lowering the quality of fuels in order to increase their profits,” the report read.
It said companies, among them the Swiss commodity traders Trafigura and Vito, increased their profits at the expense of Africans’ health.
While the European Union (EU) has allowed ten parts per millions (ppm) of sulfur in diesel in the continent, the legal limit on sulfur petrol in some African countries like Nigeria is 3,000 ppm.
After burning, the sulfur is released into the atmosphere as sulfur dioxide and other particulates that provide a major contributor to respiratory symptoms such as bronchitis and asthma.
According to the report, 20 million people in the Nigerian state of Lagos breathe 13 times more particulate matter than people in London, with dirty fuel being the main reason.
This is while Nigeria and some other West African countries produce petroleum with the world’s lowest sulfur levels. They do not have refining capabilities, however, and have to import fuel from Europe.
“Africa could prevent 25,000 premature deaths in 2030 and almost 100,000 premature deaths in 2050” if the export of low-quality fuel is stopped, Public Eye said.
It called on African governments “to protect the health of their urban population, reduce car maintenance costs, and spend their health budgets on other pressing health issues.”
“If left unchanged, their practices will kill more and more people across the continent,” the report warned.
In response to the allegations, the report said, three of the companies denied any wrongdoing, arguing that they meet the regulatory requirements of the market.
Public Eye, however, said that the companies adjusted their blends with no increased costs when Ghana lowered its sulfur content level in 2014.
… Baxter says there are likely still 800 cases of dynamite stored in a wooden shed on the abandoned base, along with buried ammunition all over the site.
“The army sent a demolitions expert up to dispose of [the dynamite], but he said it was too risky to fool with, so he left.” … Read full article
Protest sign urging global conservation meeting to address the environmental damage from U.S. military bases. (Photo by Ann Wright)
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has come in for criticism due to its lack of attention to the detrimental effects of wars and military operations on nature. Considering the degree of harm to the environment coming from these human activities, one would think that the organization might have set aside some time at its World Conservation Congress this past week in Hawaii to specifically address these concerns.
Yet, of the more than 1,300 workshops crammed into the six-day marathon environmental meeting in Honolulu, followed by four days of discussion about internal resolutions, nothing specifically addressed the destruction of the environment by military operations and wars.
The heavy funding the IUCN gets from governments is undoubtedly the rationale for not addressing this “elephant in the room” at a conference for the protection of the endangered planet – a tragic commentary on a powerful organization that should acknowledge all anti-environmental pressures.
At a presentation at the USA Pavilion during the conference, senior representatives of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy regaled the IUCN audience of conservationists with tales about caring for the environment, including protecting endangered species, on hundreds of U.S. military bases in the United States.
The presenters did not mention what is done on the over 800 U.S. military bases outside of the United States. In the one-hour military style briefing, the speakers failed to mention the incredible amounts of fossil fuels used by military aircraft, ships and land vehicles that leave mammoth carbon footprints around the world. Also not mentioned were wars that kill humans, animals and plants; military exercise bombing of entire islands and large swaths of land; and the harmful effects of the burn pits which have incinerated the debris of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Each military service representative focused on the need for training areas to prepare the U.S. military to “keep peace in the world.” Of course, no mention was made of “keeping the peace” through wars of choice that have killed hundreds of thousands of persons, animals and plants, and the bombing of the cultural heritage in many areas around the world including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Miranda Ballentine, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Installations, the Environment and Energy, said the U.S. Air Force has over 5,000 aircraft, more than all the airlines in the United States — yet she never mentioned how many gallons of jet fuel are used by these aircraft, nor how many people, animals and cultural sites the aircraft have bombed.
To give one some idea of the scale of the footprint of U.S. military bases, Ballentine said Air Force has over 160 installations, including 70 major installation covering over 9 million square miles of land, larger than the country of Switzerland, plus 200 miles of coastland.
Incredibly, Ballentine said that due to commercial development around military bases, military bases have become “islands of conservation” — conservation takes place inside the protected base while there are larger conservation issues outside the fence lines of the bases.
Adding to the mammoth size of the military base footprint, Dr. Christine Altendorf, the regional director of the U.S. Army’s Installation Management Command of the Pacific, said U.S. Army bases have 12.4 million acres of land, including 1.3 million acres of wetlands, 82,605 archeological sites, 58,887 National Historical Landmarks and 223 endangered species on 118 installations.
The U.S. Navy’s briefer, a Navy Commander, added to the inventory of military equipment, saying the Navy has 3,700 aircraft; 276 ships, including 10 aircraft carriers; 72 submarines. Seventy naval installations in the United States have 4 million acres of land and 500 miles of coastline. The Navy presenter said the Navy has never heard of a marine mammal that has been harmed by U.S. Naval vessels or acoustic experiments in the past ten years.
Only One Question
At the end of the three presentations, there was time for only one question — and luckily, my intense hand waving paid off and I got to ask: “How can you conserve nature when you are bombing nature in wars of choice around the world, practicing military operations in areas that have endangered species like on the islands of Oahu, Big Island of Hawaii, Pagan, Tinian, Okinawa and bombing islands into wastelands like the Hawaiian island of Koho’olawe and the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and now you want to use the North Marianas ‘Pagan’ Island as a bombing target. And how does the construction of the new South Korean naval base in pristine marine areas of Jeju Island that will be used by the U.S. Navy and the proposed construction at Henoko of the runways into the pristine Oura Bay in Okinawa fit into conservation of nature?”
Interestingly, in the large audience of approximately 100 people, not one of them applauded the question indicating that either audience was composed primarily of Department of Defense employees, or that the conservationists are uneasy about confronting the U.S. government and particularly the U.S. military about its responsibility for its large role in the destruction of much of the planet’s environment.
The Navy representative was the only person to respond to my question. He reiterated the national security necessity for military exercises to practice to “defend peace around the world.” To his credit, he acknowledged the role the public has in commenting on the possible impact of military exercises. He said that over 32,000 comments from the public have been made on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the possibility of artillery firing and aircraft bombing of the Northern Marianas island of Tinian — that has only 2,300 inhabitants.
Despite all odds, someone in Hawaii was able to get an exhibit of photographs of the cleanup of Koho’olawe placed on the third floor of the Hawaii Convention Center. There was no sign announcing the exhibition, just a series of photos with some explanation. In five days of attending the conference, I observed that 95 percent of the conference attendees who walked past the exhibition did not stop to look at it – until I stopped them and explained what it was about. Then, they were very interested.
A crater that was created on the Hawaiian island of Koho’olawe from massive explosions of TNT in 1965. (Photo from Hawaii Archive)
From 1941 to 1990, the island of Koho’olawe was used as a bombing range for U.S. military aircraft and naval vessels. One photograph in the exhibition showed the crater called “Sailor’s Hat” which was made by several massive explosions of TNT in 1965 to recreate and study the effects of large explosions on nearby ships and personnel to simulate in some manner the effects of a nuclear explosion. The crater affected the island’s fresh water aquifer and now no artesian water remains on the island.
After Hawaiians stopped the bombing through their protests and by staying on the island during bombings from the 1970s, the U.S. Navy returned Koho’olawe to the State of Hawaii in 2004 after a 10-year clean-up process. But only 66 percent of the surface has been cleared of unexploded ordnance (UXO), and only 10 percent cleared to a depth of 4 feet. Twenty-three percent of the surface remains uncleared and 100 percent of the waters surrounding the island have not been cleared of UXO, putting divers and ships at risk.
Okinawan Environmental Activists
Environmental activists from Okinawa had a booth at the IUCN at which they told about the attempt of the U.S. military and the national Japanese government to construct a runway complex into Oura Bay, a pristine marine area that that is the home of the protected species of marine mammal, the dugong.
The Deputy Governor of Okinawa and the Mayor of Nago city, Okinawa, both of whom have been key figures in the grassroots campaign to stop the construction of the runways and the lawsuits filed by the provincial government of Okinawa against the federal Japanese government, gave presentations about the citizens’ struggle against the construction of the runways.
However, there was no mention of the environmental effects on the marine environment from the construction of a huge new naval base on Jeju Island, South Korea, the site of the previous IUCN conference four years ago. At that conference, IUCN, no doubt at the request of the South Korean government, refused to allow citizen activists to have a booth inside the convention or make presentations like the Okinawans did this year. As a result, the Jeju Island campaigners were forced to stay outside the conference site.
Four years later in the 2016 WCC conference in Hawaii, the Government of Japan and the Province of Jeju Island sponsored a large multi-media pavilion about Jeju island which did not mention the construction of the new naval base and the destruction of the cultural heritage of the site nor the displacement of women divers who had dived at the location for generations.
On Sept. 3, local groups in Honolulu came to the Hawaii Convention Center with signs to remind the IUCN of the U.S. militarization of Asia and the Pacific. Signs and posters from local environmentalists cited the environmental impact from the huge 108,863-acre Pohakuloa bombing range on the Big Island of Hawaii, the largest U.S. military installation in the Pacific; the Aegis missile test center on the island of Kauai; and the four large U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine bases on the island of Oahu.
Other signs referenced the extensive number of U.S. military bases in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Guam and new U.S. military installations in the Philippines and Australia.
Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She also served 16 years as a US diplomat in US Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December 2001. She resigned from the US Department of State in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.
President Barack Obama has opted to ratchet up military tensions in Asia as one of his last foreign policy acts as president of the United States. Using climate change and free trade backdrops at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China and the U.S.-ASEAN and East Asia Summits in Vientiane, Laos as mirages intended to mask his aggressive military posture in the Asia-Pacific region, Obama seeks to cement his «pivot to Asia». It is Obama’s sincere hope that his anticipated successor, his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will expand on the expansionistic and aggressive regional showdown with China and Russia that his administration launched with his Asia «pivot».
The ultra-protocol conscious Chinese threw diplomacy and decorum to the wind when Obama touched down at Hangzhou International Airport and his national security adviser Susan Rice and deputy national security adviser became embroiled in an argument with Chinese security personnel. When White House officials traveling with Obama began issuing orders to the Chinese personnel, one Chinese official yelled at them, «This is our country. This is our airport». It was as if the Chinese, realizing that this would be their last encounter with Obama as president, were letting him and his war hawk national security team know who was the boss as long as they were on Chinese soil. At least on the tarmac at Hangzhou International Airport, the Chinese swung Obama’s Asia «pivot» back to China.
It was an ignominious final «haj» for Obama’s anti-Chinese jihad. Obama began his presidency in 2009 with being awarded, incredibly prematurely as it turned out, the Nobel Peace Prize. For the Asia-Pacific region, Obama’s presidency would end with angry words between his aides and Chinese officials at a Chinese airport.
Obama began his journey as the host for Pacific Island leaders at the Central Intelligence Agency front, the East-West Center, which is located at his mother’s alma mater, the University of Hawai’i. Obama was the official host at the 2016 Pacific Islands Conference (PIC) of Leaders at the CIA-linked center. Obama’s speech before the leaders, many from small Pacific island states, focused primarily on global climate change. Obama also addressed the World Conservation Congress at their meeting in Hawai’i.
Obama was schooled in anti-Chinese bigotry and Cold War fear tactics by his CIA mother and right-wing fascist Indonesian army stepfather while a child in post-1965 coup Indonesia. Obama, who is fully aware that the blood of 800,000 to one million Indonesians, Communists and ethnic Chinese Indonesian nationals, flowed in the streets, canals, and rivers of Indonesia from 1965 to 1967, the year he and his mother arrived in the country, believes it his birthright and duty to continue his familial “jihads” against «Communist» China that were instilled in him as a child, teen, and college student by his CIA-connected parents.
Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, tipped off the press about the real purpose of the PIC before he departed Port Moresby for Hawai’i. O’Neill, who is in charge of one of Papua New Guinea’s most corrupt governments since independence in 1975, said that “regional security” shared the bill with climate change at the Hawai’i conference. In addition to independent Pacific Island states, the PIC includes the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas, and the state of Hawai’i.
U.S. Army Assistant Chief of Staff Colonel Tom Hanson, a relatively low-level official to be issuing policy statements, gave an ultimatum to Australia just prior to Obama’s departure for Hawai’i and Asia. Hanson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “I think the Australians need to make a choice … it’s very difficult to walk this fine line between balancing the alliance with the United States and the economic engagement with China.” The statement chilled U.S.-Australian relations prior to Obama’s meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull at the G20 summit.
Also on Obama’s agenda was pressuring certain PIC leaders who have shown signs of resisting the political status quo imposed by Washington. Northern Marianas Governor Ralph Torres, a Republican, recently signed into law the Second Marianas Political Status Commission that seeks to re-evaluate the islands’ current neo-colonial status imposed by the agreement that transformed the Northern Marianas into a colony where Asian sweat shops predominate and where those of Northern Marianas descent have little say over their domestic affairs. The Pentagon wants to turn the island of Tinian into a live-fire range, a decision that imperils the 3,000 residents of the island.
Another U.S. colony, Guam, has seen the growth of a Commission on Decolonization and an Independence for Guahan Task Force. Guahan is the proper Chuukese name for Guam.
Obama, a product of U.S. imperialist control over Hawai’i, the importance of which for Washington is solely military, has done everything possible to subvert and suppress the anti-colonial aspirations of the Pacific islands under U.S. domination and political influence.
The Obama administration has also been exercising subtle pressure on the Federation of Micronesia, a quasi-independent former U.S. Trust Territory, to deter movements for independence from the island groups of Chuuk and Yap. Under the Compact of Free Association, the U.S. effectively controls Micronesia and reserves the right o build military bases, through the federal government of Micronesia located in Pohnpei. Chuuk and Yap accuse Pohnpei of ignoring their own interests. Similar neo-colonialist “compacts” are in effect with the other former U.S. trust territories of the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. maintains a missile test range, and Palau, where the U.S. would like to build a naval base.
After departing Hawai’i for Asia, Obama stopped at the U.S.-controlled Midway Island, where he expanded the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument, a major marine wildlife sanctuary. However, the national monument, in addition to being the world’s largest marine sanctuary, also extends the protected wildlife area to the limits of America’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Ironically, it was China’s extension of its EEZ around disputed islands in the South China Sea, that resulted in Obama ratcheting up regional military confrontation with China.
Obama’s visit to another monument on Midway Island, the one honoring America’s decisive defeat of Japan in the Battle of Midway of 1942, had little to do with protecting sea turtles, albatrosses, and tiger sharks and everything to do with proclaiming America’s resolve to maintain the Pacific Ocean as an «American lake». The message to China and Russia could not have been more stark regardless of the masking of Obama’s military message with climate change and environmental optics.
Obama’s marine conservation visit to Midway is also suspicious. Under Obama’s neo-Cold War tactics, the United States is reopening abandoned or expanding previously scaled-down military bases in Iceland, Greenland, the Aleutian Islands of Shemya and Attu, Guam, American Samoa, and the Philippines. Midway, a former U.S. base, may also be see a renewed active military presence as part of Obama’s jihads against China and Russia. Midway Atoll is literally owned by the U.S. Interior Department. However, Midway’s Henderson Field is maintained as an active airport — which was capable of landing Obama’s Air Force One Boeing 747 — by a private company, American Airports Corporation. The company operates a number of airports in the western United States that were used to film some of the most jingoistic U.S. television shows, including the CIA propaganda series «24» and the U.S. Navy puffery series «JAG».
Obama, whose presidency has been buoyed by money and sycophancy from Hollywood, perhaps sees himself as not only waging a personal jihad against China and Russia but as a future action film star. It is a preferable option since as a movie star, Obama will only be able to wage fictional wars on movie sets.
It’s a little strange to write a fact sheet about a term that actually has no meaning.
That’s right – there’s no real definition of a “run-of-river” hydro project. As our former director, Patrick McCully, once said of run-of-river hydro, “It’s a sort of Alice in Wonderland, ‘it means exactly what I want it to mean’ term.”
Simply put, run-of-river (ROR) hydro projects have limited storage capacity as compared to conventional storage dams. But there, the clarity ends. The term has been applied to everything from micro-hydro projects providing electricity in remote villages to the Belo Monte mega-dam in Brazil, which will devastate an extensive area of the Brazilian rainforest, displace over 20,000 people, and threaten the survival of indigenous tribes that depend on the river.
One World Bank insider told me that Bank officials often misuse the term as short-hand for “low-impact.” That kind of imprecision lulls officials and the public into thinking ROR projects are the silver (or green) bullet: hydro projects that produce power but without the negative impacts. Because the term sounds so innocuous, ROR projects usually don’t get the level of scrutiny they require. And the truth is, run-of-river dams are anything but low-impact.
Preparing our new fact sheet, “Swindling Rivers,” I’ve learned a lot about run-of-river hydro, the different forms it takes, and the significant impact ROR projects can have:
The Himalayas are perforated by run-of-river tunnels where river flows are diverted to powerhouses, bypassing river channels for often dozens of kilometers. India’s Teesta River is undergoing a ROR boom that, once complete, will see more of the river flow though tunnels than the river channel itself. These ROR schemes divert some, or even all, of a river’s flow, often causing changes to a river’s temperature, velocity and depth that can completely kill off the natural life in a river.
At the same time, so-called “peaking” ROR projects are wreaking havoc on communities and aquatic life. Unlike the diversion tunnels, these projects often store a river’s flows behind a dam during the day, only to be released all at once in the evening to generate power during peak energy demand. These daily fluctuations between drought and flood are incredibly disruptive to river ecology. More tragically, these unexpected releases have made drownings a common occurrence for downstream communities in India.
And just like traditional dams, all run-of-river projects stymie the life cycle of migratory fish.
A new feature in The Economist highlights the perils of dam construction on one of the world’s greatest waterways, the Mekong River, where Laos is currently building the Xayaburi and Don Sahong Dams. These would be the first two of eleven dams planned on the lower mainstream of the river, all of which are classified as “run-of-river” projects, despite sizeable reservoirs. Laos’ downstream neighbors fear the dams’ impacts on fish populations and agriculture that sustain the livelihoods and food security of millions and have voiced strong concerns over the projects. The Government of Laos, in return, has pointed to the fact these projects are run-of-river in an attempt to downplay concern over their impacts. If the full suite of dams is constructed, they would transform more than half of the vibrant river into a series of stagnant reservoirs.
But the concerns are not going away. In fact, they were recently echoed in an article in the prestigious magazine Science, which raised the alarm about the threat of major biodiversity losses by run-of-river projects on the world’s great rivers – the Mekong, the Amazon and the Congo.
In short, there’s nothing innately better about run-of-river projects. If anything, the term is a greenwash for some deeply destructive projects. The upshot? Don’t be fooled by the name: All ROR projects deserve the same exacting scrutiny as any other dam.
© Flickr/ Michael Lusk
Several Northern Mariana Islands conservation groups have sued the US Department of Defense and the Navy over live-fire exercises planned for the Pagan and Tinian islands, as part of a military buildup planned for Guam.
Seen as a part of the US’ “pivot to the Pacific,” about 5,000 US Marines in Okinawa are slated to relocate to the Mariana Islands and train using mortars, rockets, artillery, attack helicopters and warplanes, as well as ship-to-shore naval bombardment and amphibious assaults.
The plaintiff organizations, Guardians of Gani, Paganwatch, Center for Biological Diversity and the Tinian Island Women’s Association, are claiming that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to evaluate the environmental effects of military tests in an initial environmental impact statement.
The plans to move the Marines to Guam created the need for a training area, and this should have also been included in an impact statement. The plaintiffs say the Navy relied on a separate, and inadequate, statement.
David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney representing the groups, along with Tinian-based lawyer Kimberlyn King-Hinds, said,”The die is cast, the Navy has made a decision to move 5,000 Marines and their families to Guam without considering all the alternatives or whether Guam can absorb that many people in such a short time…We can’t defer consideration of other places.”
The complaint says that two impact statements, made in 2010 and 2015, should be set aside, claiming the Navy acknowledged that constructing training facilities and conducting tests would destroy coral reefs and rainforests, and kill native wildlife on Pagan and Tinian, including the endangered Mariana fruit bat.
The groups also note that Tinian will suffer the destruction of historic and cultural sites, be subject to severe restrictions to beaches and fishing grounds, and the population will be subject to high-decibel noise and the loss of 15% of farmlands.
The 18-square-mile island was evacuated due to a volcano eruption in 1981, and another issue claims that families seeking to return “would be forever banished from returning to their home island, which would be turned into a militarized wasteland,” according to the filing.
A Scientific American article titled “Dreading the Dredging: Military Buildup on Guam and Implications for Marine Biodiversity in Apra Harbor,” claims that dredging the harbor would destroy up to 70 acres of coral reef.
Joint Region Marianas deputy public affairs officer Greg Kuntz said that the Navy is committed to revising its environmental impact and working within the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Members of the Tinian Women’s Association, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Chamorro culture and advocating for Tinian women and children, have submitted comments to the Navy’s environmental review and passed out informational flyers. Member Florine Hofschneider said in a media statement, “We refuse to accept the Navy’s plan to subject our children to nearly constant bombardment.”
The Guardians of Gani say that this military training poses an “existential threat” to people who want to lead “a more traditional, productive and fulfilling lifestyle,” adding that, “the Guardians and their members view Gani [islands north of Saipan] as the last frontier to revive their traditions and culture.”
No war in recent memory can compare to the meat grinder of World War I. Europe still bears the scars of the war, even almost a century later. The gruesome and terrifying type of warfare typical of the Great War had a lasting impact on those who witnessed and experienced it. It also created such carnage on the land where it was fought that some of those areas are still uninhabitable to this day.
The uninhabitable areas are known as the Zone Rouge (French for “Red Zone”). They remain pock-marked and scarred by the intense fighting at places like Verdun and the Somme, the two bloodiest battles of the conflict.
During the Battle of Verdun, which lasted over 300 days in 1916, more than 60 million artillery shells were fired by both sides – many containing poisonous gases. These massive bombardments and the brutal fighting inflicted horrifying casualties, over 600,000 at Verdun and over 1 million at the Somme. But the most dangerous remnants of these battles are the unexploded ordnance littering the battlefield.
Immediately after the war, the French government quarantined much of the land subjected to the worst of the battles. Those areas that were completely devastated and destroyed, unsafe to farm, and impossible for human habitation became the Zone Rouge. The people of this area were forced to relocate elsewhere while entire villages were wiped off the map.
Nine villages deemed unfit to be rebuilt are known today as the “villages that died for France.” Inside the Zone Rouge signs marking the locations of streets and important buildings are the only reminders those villages ever existed.
Areas not completely devastated but heavily impacted by the war fell into other zones, Yellow and Blue. In these areas, people were allowed to return and rebuild their lives. This does not mean that the areas are completely safe, however. Every year, all along the old Western Front in France and Belgium, the population endures the “Iron Harvest” – the yearly collection of hundreds of tons of unexploded ordnance and other war materiel still buried in the ground.
Occasionally, the Iron Harvest claims casualties of its own, usually in the form of a dazed farmer and a destroyed tractor. Not all are so lucky to escape unscathed and so the French and Belgian governments still pay reparations to the “mutilée dans la guerre“– the victims of the war nearly 100 years after it ended.
To deal with the massive cleanup and unexploded ordnance issues, the French government created the Département du Déminage (Department of Demining) after World War II. To date, 630 minesweepers died while demining the zones.
An estimated 720 million shells were fired during the Great War, with approximately 12 million failing to detonate. At places like Verdun, the artillery barrages were so overwhelming, 150 shells hit every square meter of the battlefield. Concentrated barrages and driving rains turned the battlefield into a quagmire that swallowed soldiers and shells alike.
Further complicating the cleanup is the soil contamination caused by the remains of humans and animals. The grounds are also saturated with lead, mercury, and zinc from millions of rounds of ammunition from small arms and artillery fired in combat. In some places, the soil contains such high levels of arsenic that nothing can grow there, leaving haunting, desolate spaces.
Though the Zone Rouge started at some 460 square miles in size, cleanup efforts reduced it to around 65 square miles. With such massive amounts of explosives left in the ground, the French government estimates the current rate of removal will clear the battlefields between 300 and 900 years from now.
ANTI-NUCLEAR activists have claimed that a recent incident off the coast of Gibraltar in which a nuclear-powered submarine made a “glancing collision” with a merchant vessel shows the “risks” of the technology.
A statement on the Ministry of Defence website said the collision took place at approximately 1.30pm yesterday, with the submarine suffering “some external damage”, but claimed the nuclear reactor was was left undamaged while none of the submarine’s crew were injured.
The statement says the MoD were in contact with the merchant ship and that “initial indications are that it has not sustained damage”, and that the submarine – HMS Ambush – would be entering Gibraltar for further checks.
“It is yet another example of the risks of nuclear submarines operating out of Faslane.” John Ainslie
HMS Ambush is part of the Royal Navy’s Astute-class, of which there are seven in development. They are distinct from the Vanguard-class of submarines which carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles.
John Ainslie, co-ordinator with the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said: “You can’t have a minor incident on a nuclear submarine, there’s no such thing. It’s a question of what follows on. Clearly from the picture there’s major damage to the conning tower. The shock of that will have upset everything on the submarine.”
Ainslie questioned whether it was genuinely a “glancing” collision, pointing out that similar incidents have taken place in the past: “The MoD describe this as a ‘glancing’ collision but HMS Triumph ran aground in Skye at high speed and the description of the circumstances was pretty scathing.
“One of the main risks on a nuclear submarine is fire. The reactor may have automatically shut down, as a result of the shock, but these submarines carry an over-ride system which can over-ride the shutdown.
“We have consistently campaigned against nuclear-powered submarines as well. The whole thing is linked in. All the nuclear armed submarines are all nuclear-powered. It is yet another example of the risks of nuclear submarines operating out of Faslane.”
“Indian Point” is a film about the long problem-plagued Indian Point nuclear power plants that are “so, so risky—so close to New York City,” notes its director and producer Ivy Meeropol. “Times Square is 35 miles away.”
The plants constitute a disaster waiting to happen threatening especially the lives of the 22 million people who live within 50 miles from them. “There is no way to evacuate—what I’ve learned about an evacuation plan is that there is none,” says Meeropol. The plants are “on two earthquake fault lines,” she notes. “And there is a natural gas pipeline right there that an earthquake could rupture.”
Meanwhile, both plants, located in Buchanan, New York along the Hudson River, are now essentially running without licenses. The federal government’s 40-year operating license for Indian Point 2 expired in 2013 and Indian Point 3’s license expired last year. Their owner, Entergy, is seeking to have them run for another 20 years—although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. (Indian Point 1 was opened in 1962 and closed in 1974, its emergency core cooling system deemed impossible to fix.)
At Indian Point 2 and 3 there have been frequent accidents and issues involving releases of radioactivity through the years. The discharges of tritium or irradiated water, H30, which cannot be filtered out of good water, into the aquifer below the Westinghouse nuclear plants and also the Hudson River have been a major concern.
But it’s not just Indian Point that “Indian Point” is about. The film emphasizes: “With so much attention focused on Indian Point, the future of nuclear plants in the United States might depend on what happens here.”
“I would give the film an ‘A.’ I wholeheartedly recommend it for wide release throughout the United States,” says Priscilla Star, founder of the Coalition Against Nukes: “It is a stellar learning tool. It depicts the David-versus-Goliath struggle involving those trying to close these decrepit nuclear plants and the profit-hungry nuclear industry. It shows grassroots activists fighting the time bombs in their community.”
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. For the past two weeks it has been showing five-times-a-day at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, also in Manhattan. That run will go until Thursday, July 21. On Friday, July 22, it is to open in Los Angeles. After its theatrical release, it will air on the Epix cable TV channel.
Among those in the film are anti-Indian Point activist Marilyn Elie and long-time environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon who has written extensively about Indian Point. And also Entergy employees appear. Meeropol and her crew were given full access to the nuclear plants.
The documentary provides a special focus on Dr. Gregory Jaczko. He was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan began in March 2011. As notes Meeropol, Jaczko sought to have “lessons learned” from the Fukushima catastrophe—which involved General Electric nuclear plants—applied to nuclear power plants in the U.S. And he was given “a really tough time.” Pressure by the nuclear industry caused Jaczko, with a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be “pushed out” as NRC chairman and member. Meeropol tells of how “this guy, a decent person trying to do his job, was completely abused.”
Meeropol, in an interview, said the NRC “is too closely linked to the nuclear industry. It’s not going to do anything that the nuclear industry regards as too costly or onerous. I want that to be one of the biggest takeaways from the film—how a regulatory body cares more about the industry it is supposed to regulate than the public. And of all industries that should be regulated, it’s the nuclear power industry.” She said she found the nuclear industry and nuclear energy officials in the U.S. government “one and the same.”
Meeropol began the “Indian Point” film project in January 2011. She had moved from Brooklyn up to the Hudson Valley “a decade ago when our son was born. Commuting in and out of the city on the Metro-North train, I went right past the plants. They looked so foreboding and odd there in that beautiful landscape.”
Also, until she, her husband and son moved upstate, “having lived in New York City, I had no idea how close they were to the city.”
Further, in the community where they went to live, Cold Spring, 15 miles from the plants. “we could hear the [emergency] sirens” from the plants and she was unsettled receiving in the mail an “emergency preparedness booklet titled: ‘Are You Ready?’”
So the experienced filmmaker started doing research on the “dangerous endeavor of making nuclear energy.” With the Fukushima disaster beginning just a few months after she started on the film, that “broadened” its perspective.
She said the films she has made have always been “character-driven” and she was attracted to feature in “Indian Point” Marilyn Elie—“she knows her stuff”—and Roger Witherspoon. “I liked his dynamic. He is a journalist. She is an activist.” She stressed to Entergy officials that she would be even-handed “and quite amazingly was given access” to the plants. Her connecting with Jaczko was crucial. It “became my crusade to redeem Greg Jaczko before the world.”
She started making the film on a shoe string. “I ran out of money numerous times.” But she was able to get financial support from the Sundance Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Catapult Fund, and individual contributions. And “partnering” with Julie Goldman, founder of Motto Films, was extremely important. Goldman is also producer of “Indian Point.” A “very generous grant” was received from the MacArthur Foundation which also “opened up other doors.”
The avidly pro-nuclear New York Times (its pro-Indian Point editorials never cease and its last reporter who long covered the plants and the nuclear industry has now gone on to a job with the PR arm of the industry) said in its review: “’Indian Point’ is a good overview of the issues, with insights into the problems of regulating the industry.” It complained about Meeropol’s being “steadfast in providing both sides.”
Meanwhile, Indian Point sits there on the Hudson, continuing with accidents and in emitting what the NRC says are “permissible” levels of radioactivity. They are highly likely candidates for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-level catastrophe in the most highly populated area of the United States. And the NRC, steadfastly ignoring Jaczko’s warnings, in league with Entergy, seeks to let the decrepit time bombs run for another 20 years—just asking for disaster.
The good news is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been endeavoring to have the Indian Point nuclear plants closed and safe-energy activists and an array of environmental and safe-energy organizations are working hard to shut them down—and the film “Indian Point” is out.