Friday, September 21, 2007


(Left): Young coal miner in Linfen, China. The State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) of China has branded Linfen as having the worst air quality in the country. Photo: Andreas Haberman

On September 12, 2007 , the U.S.-based Blacksmith Institute, an independent environmental group, in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland, issued their Top Ten list of the world's most severely polluted places which are located in seven countries and affect a total of more than 12 million people. Major pollution causes are mining, the pollution legacy left by the Cold War era and unregulated industrial production. Time magazine has done a good pictorial summary of the Top Ten List here

'The 9/11 Cover-Up: Thousands of New Yorkers were endangered by WTC debris—and government malfeasance', is the title of an article by Michael Mason, in a special issue of Discover magazine on the health effects of 9/11 on the people of the city. Issue also includes interview with Philip Landrigan, the doctor leading the research on this. Extract as follows:

Q: Your department is monitoring the health effects from the collapse of the World Trade Center. When the towers collapsed, two million tons of dust containing cement, asbestos, glass, lead, and carcinogens rained down on lower Manhattan. Yet less than a week later, the EPA said it was safe to go there and breathe the air. Now we know that erroneous assessment may have put thousands of people at risk for serious chronic health problems, and even death.

A: [EPA Director] Christine Todd Whitman's statement that the air in Manhattan was safe to breathe was stupid and ill-considered because she was making a very strong assertion with almost no data. I wondered how she could say this—it's like a doctor telling a patient that the patient is healthy before he's done any tests.'

The disaster site created by Hurricane Katrina covered an area the size of Great Britain. At least 1,836 people were killed and some 1.5m have been displaced - the largest population migration in the US since the dust bowl of the 1930s. Now severe mental health problems in the region have developed among the nearly 70,000 families still living in temporary housing. 'The slow recovery, researchers and clinicians are finding, has bred levels of mental distress unseen in the aftermath of other disasters.'
Source: Emily Harrison - 'Suffering a Slow Recovery' [Scientific American. Sept 2007]

'Beyond the security checkpoint at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Ames Research Center at the southern end of San Francisco Bay, a small group gathered in November for a conference on the innocuous topic of “managing solar radiation.” The real subject was much bigger: how to save the planet from the effects of global warming. There was little talk among the two dozen scientists and other specialists about carbon taxes, alternative energy sources, or the other usual remedies. Many of the scientists were impatient with such schemes. Some were simply contemptuous of calls for international cooperation and the policies and lifestyle changes needed to curb greenhouse-gas emissions; others had concluded that the world’s politicians and bureaucrats are not up to the job of agreeing on such reforms or that global warming will come more rapidly, and with more catastrophic consequences, than many models predict. Now, they believe, it is time to consider radical measures: a technological quick fix for global ­warming.' Source: 'The Climate Engineers' by James R. Fleming [The Wilson Quarterly. Spring 2007]

On 26 April 1986, one of the four reactors at the Chernobyl power plant in northern Ukraine exploded. A concrete sarcophagus was hastily built over the wreckage, but it is starting to crumble and has been leaking radioactivity. President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine has signed a $505 million deal with the French construction firm Novarka to encase the whole Chernobyl plant in a massive steel vault to halt these leaks. The arched structure, called the New Safe Confinement (NSC), will be 150 metres long and 105 metres tall - big enough to allow the existing sarcophagus and the wrecked reactor to be dismantled and permanently entombed.
Source: 'Chernobyl to be encased in steel' (New Scientist. 20 September 2007)
See also: Panoramas From The Chernobyl Zone

This year's Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, which ran from August 27th to Sept 3rd had a Green Man theme. The Organisers stated aim was to try and offset the carbon footprint of the festival, todecrease solid waste by 70% and to switch to local biofuels for the burning (it requires 20,000 gallons). They also built a 30-kilowatt solar array to provide power for the event. As to whether they succeeded in their aims we will have to wait and see until they publish their annual AfterBurn Report.

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