No. 177, June 6-12, 2002


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North America shifts pollution from air to land

Incinerators are among the largest sources
of chemicals known as dioxins.
Photo courtesy of the Lake Michigan Federation

Montreal, Canada, May 31, (ENS)— Factories, electric utilities, hazardous waste management facilities, and coal mines in the United States and Canada generated almost 3.4 million metric tons of toxic chemical waste in 1999, shows an annual report from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America. The wastes included 269,000 tons of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive problems.

The report, Taking Stock, is based on reports submitted to the national pollutant release and transfer registers of Canada and the US by industry, and includes data on 210 chemical substances. This year, the study also presents the first five-year analysis of pollution releases and management.

The five-year trend shows a slight overall change in the total of toxic chemicals generated, but big changes in how those pollutants are handled. The North American manufacturing sector’s 25 percent (153,000 tons) reduction in releases to air was offset by a 25 percent (33,000 tons) increase in on-site releases to land and a 35 percent (58,000 tons) increase in off-site releases, mostly to landfills.

Releases to lakes, rivers and streams also increased during this period by 26 percent (24,000 tons).

Tank farm at the Douglassville Disposal
Superfund Site in Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy EPA

“‘Out of the air, into the water and land’ emerges as a major trend from our five year analysis,” said Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) executive director Janine Ferretti. “North America’s progress in reducing toxic releases to air must continue but it also must be matched by reductions in water and land releases.”

The CEC is an international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. The Agreement adds to the limited environmental provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The CEC was established to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the enforcement of environmental law. Its annual report on chemical wastes could be useful for NAFTA partners in setting goals for reducing chemical pollution.

But, according to Ferretti, “overall, the total reported amount of chemicals released changed little over the five years.”

“The findings in this new report should prompt all of us -- industry, government, environmental groups and citizens -- to ask what can be done to get all of the trends pointing in a downward direction.”

The CEC report signals a general decrease in on-site releases -- chemicals put into the air, water or otherwise disposed of inside a facility’s fence -- and a corresponding increase in amounts of chemicals transferred for disposal. Ferretti said that the growing shipment of toxic substances off-site could indicate a desire to send wastes to locations that are better equipped to manage them.

Or, she said, it could signal that most companies are still reluctant to prevent pollution at its source instead of managing pollutants after they are already produced.

Among other findings in the report:

* Total releases for 1999 include 269,000 tons of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive problems.

* Release of all cancer-causing chemicals fell by just three percent between 1995 and 1999, compared to a six percent decrease for all chemicals.

* More than 13,000 tons of ozone-depleting chemicals were released from Canadian and US industrial facilities in 1999. Between 1991 and 1999, releases of these substances in the US were reduced by over 90 percent.

* Electrical utilities report the largest releases -- over 450,000 tons -- of any North American industry.

* More than a million tons of chemicals were sent for recycling in North America in 1999.

* The difference in average releases and transfers per facility between Canada and the United States is narrowing. In 1995, releases and transfers from Canadian facilities were 1.7 times the US average, but this was down to 1.5 in 1999. Average amounts of chemicals sent to recycling by Canadian facilities in 1999 were 1.4 times the US average.

Cross-border chemical traffic decreased in 1999 from the previous year. Just four percent of all waste transfers in the US went outside the country, and most of these were sent for recycling in Canada. The US sent 31,000 tons to sites in Canada, most of which went to Ontario and Quebec, and 27,000 tons to sites in Mexico.

Taking Stock is produced by the CEC - the Montreal based environmental body established by NAFTA partners from data collected by the national governments of Canada and the United States. Reporting of data for Mexico is not yet mandatory, though legislation to collect this data was passed in Mexico late last year, and 117 Mexican facilities reported their chemical releases voluntarily.

“Mexico has made tremendous progress in passing enabling legislation for a mandatory and publicly accessible chemical reporting system,” Ferretti said. “This important step helps set the stage for industries to track chemicals, citizens to learn about neighborhood facilities, and governments to gain an improved picture of chemical pollution.”

The data collected by the national governments do not currently include all chemicals, nor all sources of pollution such as dry cleaners, service stations, cars and trucks. Also not covered, due to differences in national reporting, are releases from the mining industry.

Champion of seas faces attempted murder case

The Farley Mowat

By Duncan Campbell

June 3— For a man under investigation for attempted murder on the high seas, Paul Watson seems remarkably calm. The veteran environmentalist, who has been arrested many times before but never convicted, believes the latest accusation is an example of how far powerful fishing interests are prepared to go in trying to neutralize conservation campaigners.

Watson is the founder of Sea Shepherd, the conservation group based in Malibu, California, whose two ships patrol the seas challenging illegal fishing and whaling.

Recently, Sea Shepherd was asked by a number of Latin American governments to act on their behalf in protecting endangered marine species from poachers. Last month, it was invited by a Costa Rican environmental group and the Costa Rican government to assist in the protection of Cocos island, 320 miles off the coast. On the way to the island last month on Sea Shepherd’s vessel, the Farley Mowat, group members came across a Costa Rican ship poaching. They contacted the authorities who told them to bring it in. As the poachers attempted to escape, Watson used water hoses “to intimidate them” after which, he said, the two boats collided, doing some damage to the poachers’ 13-foot vessel.

But when the Farley Mowat reached port in Costa Rica, Watson was told by a judge and prosecutor that he was alleged to have rammed the other ship and tried to kill its captain. He was told he would be charged with attempted murder and destruction of property.

By chance a documentary team was on board his ship and had filmed the episode. When the video was shown to the prosecutor, the charges were dismissed. But a few days later, a new prosecutor — appointed under pressure, Watson believes, from the fishing industry — made it clear that he should be held in jail pending charges. On the advice of his Costa Rican lawyer, Watson returned to the US.

He said that after the collision his vessel had had to “run the gauntlet” of hostile fishing vessels including many from Taiwan.

“It’s out of control down there. Taiwan gives a lot of foreign aid to Costa Rica so it looks like they are basically buying the right to fish even though it’s not legal.”

Watson believes fishing interests wanted him and his ship out of action.

“My lawyer is pretty confident that there is a lot of funny business going on,” he said. “I am not going back to Costa Rica unless they drop the investigation or they charge me.”

The Farley Mowat, with a 21-strong international crew, is now setting off on a separate mission for the Galapagos islands, attempting to intercept another poaching vessel. Although his opponents have accused Watson of being a terrorist and a pirate because of the aggressive action he takes against poaching vessels, he has also been asked by the governments of Colombia and Ecuador to assist them in stopping poachers. But while those governments are happy when he acts against nationals of other countries who break the law, he said, they were less than happy when he acted against their own nationals.

“In Ecuador, if I go after an Ecuadoran, I’m in trouble, if I go after a Costa Rican, I’m a hero. There is a lot of corruption... If we can’t save Cocos and the Galapagos which are not only national parks but world heritage sites, how are we going to save anything else?”

He uses as his basis for action against poachers the United Nations world charter for nature which says that any body or individual has the authority to intervene to uphold international conservation regulations.

He was arrested by Canadian authorities in 1993 for chasing Cuban and Spanish trawlers off Newfoundland.

“I was charged with three counts of mischief, two of which carried a sentence of life imprisonment, so it was two times life plus 10 for saving fish,” said Watson. “I never injured anybody or damaged property but they said I cost $35 million in lost revenue. My defense was the UN world charter for nature.” He was acquitted after a four-week, $4 million trial.

“We’ve got to be outspoken and interventionist. We know we’ll get into trouble for it and we’re certainly not whining about that.” One of the founders of Greenpeace, Watson has since fallen out with the group which he describes as “the world’s biggest feel-good organization.”

Source: Guardian (UK)

Activists in Italy protest Ecuador pipeline

By Jorge Piña

Rome, Italy May 30 (IPS)— Environmentalists demonstrated today in the Italian capital to protest the construction of an oil pipeline that will cross Ecuador from east to west, and which activists say will severely damage fragile ecosystems.

The protest was staged outside the headquarters of the Italian oil giant Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI), which is participating in the construction of the Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP) in Ecuador through its subsidiary Agip Oil.

The pipeline is to carry 390,000 to 450,000 barrels a day of crude 600 kilometers from oilfields in the Amazon jungle to ports on the Pacific coast in the northwestern province of Esmeraldas. Construction began in September 2001, and is to be completed by late 2003.

The OCP’s forerunner in Ecuador, the Trans-Ecuadorean Pipeline System (SOTE), which is functioning today, suffered a number of accidents that jeopardized human life and the environment, according to the head of the non-governmental Permanent Observatory of ENI, Giuseppe De Marzo.

The Observatory, an umbrella linking Italy’s leading environmental groups and the Green Party, was set up to monitor ENI and the effects of the oil company’s activities on human rights, society, and the environment.

An ENI spokesman said that the transnational corporation takes measures to protect human health and the environment, and to guarantee labor safety, all of which, he said, the company treats as “priorities in strategy and planning.”

The company official said ENI has a 7.5 percent share in the OCP Limited consortium that is building the pipeline, which he claimed was using the most modern, environmentally-friendly systems, already used with optimum results in other countries.

The consortium is comprised of Agip Oil, Alberta Energy of Canada, the Spanish-Argentine Repsol-YPF, Kerr McGee and Occidental Petroleum of the United States, and Techint of Argentina.

A caravan of 25 people, including parliamentarians, reporters, and environmentalists, will drive through parts of Colombia and Ecuador from June 5-20 to protest the OCP pipeline and other projects of transnational corporations that activists say will hurt local communities, ecosystems and the economies of both countries.

In war-torn Colombia, the convoy will express its solidarity with the U’wa indigenous people and support for their recently successful peaceful resistance to the drilling of oil in their territory by Occidental Petroleum.

The OCP pipeline is to run through protected areas in Ecuador like the Yasuni National Park, the territory of the Huaorani indigenous community, and portions of the Amazon jungle that for centuries have been the home of the Quichua, Shuar, and Achuar Indians, according to activist Laura Radiconcilli, a member of the Observatory.

The pipeline will pass through 11 reserves, including the pristine Mindo-Nambillo cloud forest, considered South America’s premier bird sanctuary, home to more than 450 species of birds, 46 percent of which are in danger of extinction, said Radiconcilli.

The pipeline will also run through at least 40 villages and towns, many of which are located in the province of Esmeraldas. The province already has the highest rates of cancer of the respiratory system, the stomach, and skin in Ecuador, which activists blame on high levels of air, water, and soil pollution.

Moreover, say activists, the pipeline may not even bring economic benefits to Ecuador. The cost of the project, estimated at $400 million in 1999, has ballooned to $1 billion.

But due to the complex system of guarantees involved in this kind of project and to the mechanisms of foreign debt, it is likely that the increased costs will fall almost entirely on the Ecuadoran government.

President Gustavo Noboa complained that those opposed to the pipeline were “defending the butterflies, hummingbirds, trees and forests,” but not human beings, “the king of creation.”

According to Noboa, the project will generate 52,000 jobs, and the country’s economic growth and development depends on the full exploitation of its oil resources, which will only be possible thanks to the pipeline.

But Ecuadoran economist Alberto Costa, who was in Rome to take part in the protest, said that less than 4,000 jobs would actually be created, and that the high-level technicians working on the project are foreigners.

Nor will the pipeline benefit the Ecuadoran people, he said, pointing out that 80 percent of the revenues from exports of oil carried through the pipeline will be assigned to servicing the country’s foreign debt, 10 percent will go to an oil fund, and only 10 percent is to go to health and education.

Drilling for oil in national parks and the ancestral territory of indigenous peoples violates Ecuador’s constitution, said De Marzo.

The Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), an Italian bank, is taking part in the project as the intermediary for a $900 million loan granted by the Westdeutsche Landesbank (WestLB), a leading German bank, to finance the project.

“The OCP is just one more example of the application of an inequitable and unsustainable model of development, which only takes into account the economic interests of a few, and violates the rights of the rest,” said Senator Francesco Martone of Italy’s Green Party.

The pipeline even violates the environmental guidelines set by the World Bank for the projects it finances, said Martone.

Ecuador is Latin America’s fourth-largest oil exporter.

ENI operates in 67 countries, employing 70,000 people. It billed around $44 billion last year, with net profits of $7 billion.


Rainforest clearings damage ecosystems
The slightest clearing in the rainforests of the Amazon can wreak havoc with the inhabitants, shows a 22-year investigation.

Clearings hamper the movement of wildlife and disrupt their communities, according to the results of the investigation, published in the June issue of Conservation Biology.

A team of researchers, led by William Laurance of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, reviewed more than 340 articles and papers generated by the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP), the world’s largest and longest running study of habitat fragmentation, since its inception in 1979.

They found that the effect of habitat fragmentation on the structure, composition, and function of rainforests is far-reaching. It increases local extinction rates for many plant and animal species; alters species richness and abundance; disrupts ecological processes; creates opportunities for non-native species invasions; alters forest carbon storage; and increases vulnerability to fire.

“A surprising number of wildlife species are extremely sensitive to very small clearings,” said Laurance. “Even a 30 meter wide road alters the community composition of understory birds and other wildlife, and creates a complete barrier to the movements of some species.” (ENS)

Superfund runs dry
The Federal Superfund money for cleaning the nationas worse toxic sites has dried up. In 1980 an EPA report estimated that 90 percent of the nation’s landfills and incinerators lacked proper safeguards to contain hazardous materials. So Congress passed the Superfund, with a $1.6 billion account from which to draw to clean up the worst sites.

Congress raised most of the money by imposing a tax on chemical, oil and other industries. But since 1995, Congress has refused to re-impose the tax on those corporations.

Without the $1 billion yearly proceeds, the pot of cleanup money that contained $3.79 billion just six years ago will have sunk to an anemic $28 million by October.
(Post Dispatch)

Humans cause global warming, US admits
The US Government has acknowledged for the first time that man-made pollution is largely to blame for global warming.

“Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise,” the report concluded.

“The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities.”

In a 268-page report submitted to the United Nations, the EPA endorsed what many scientists have long argued -- that human activities such as oil refining, power generation, and car emissions are significant causes of global warming.

The EPA report also acknowledged that global warming was set to continue -- forecasting that total US greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 43% from 2000 - 2020.

But the administration has again refused to shift its position on the Kyoto protocol, an international treaty against global warming which the Bush administration rejected last year.

The White House had previously said there was not enough scientific evidence to blame industrial emissions for global warming.

The submission of the EPA report came on the same day that all 15 European Union nations ratified the Kyoto pact. The United States is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. (BBC)

Zimbabwe shuns offer of GM corn
Gripped by severe food shortages, with a potentially vast famine looming, the Zimbabwean authorities have rejected a US government donation of 10,000 tons of maize, worth $6 million, because it has not been certified as free from genetic modification.

The decision was yet another example of President Robert Mugabe protest of western imperialism. It was taken to protect Zimbabwe’s own crop and its ability to export certified hybrid maize seed throughout Africa.

Despite widespread hunger, Zimbabwe refused the shipment of maize because it came in the form of whole kernels, which, if used as seed, could spread GM strains across the country. (Guardian (UK))


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Entire Contents Copyright 2002 Asheville Global Report.
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