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Fukushima still in hell

Members of the IAEA fact-finding team in Japan visit the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant May 27, 2011, to examine the devastation wrought by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. Copyright: IAEA Imagebank, photo by Greg Webb IAEA

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY
March, 2017

Six years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami ruined four nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, urgently needed clean up is still stalled.

Despite the $188 billion cost (and counting), engineers haven’t even been able to build a robot [1] that can survive radiation inside the plant long enough to send back images of the inferno. Apparently nothing that moves can operate in such a hot and radioactive environment — much less a human, who would be dead in seconds.

We do know that fuel in at least two out of three of the reactors melted right through the reactor floors. Time Magazine reported in 2011, “that means that…the fuel itself lies in a clump [2] — either at the bottom of the pressure vessel, or in the basement below or possibly even outside the containment building. Engineers don’t know for sure…” Fuel rods won’t explode [3], but they can burn if exposed to air, producing massive clouds of radioactive smoke.

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On February 13, 2017, muon tomography images offered a slightly clearer picture [4], but not much more hopeful. TEPCO learned that radiation levels at reactor number two were actually emitting about 530 sieverts [5], not 73 sieverts, as they had expected. Administered to a human, a one sievert dose causes acute radiation poisoning [6], and a 10 sievert dose is fatal.

Although the disaster is local, the toxins travel. Unlike other environmental disaster areas (e.g. Love Canal) Fukushima Daiichi sheds toxins daily — widely —  because every day TEPCO pours 400 tons of water over the fuel rods to keep them from overheating.

More than 962,000 tons of contaminated water are now stored on site. Last fall, TEPCO  poured 300 million tons of it into the Pacific Ocean, into currents that reach the North American West Coast. After the 2011 earthquake, the tsunami wave and the wind spread contamination broadly across the Fukushima prefecture.

Unlike Russia, Japan doesn’t have enough land to be able to sequester the damaged plants and leave them alone for centuries — the half-life of some radioactive isotopes — even if reactor number two was stabilized, which it is not.

Instead, the Japanese government evacuated people and conducted massive decontamination programs, scraping and replacing the top two inches of soil, leaving 9,000,000 bags of contaminated soil all around the area. Now it is urging 100,000 displaced citizens to return to their cleaned up villages. Not everybody is convinced that the land is safe. [7]

Greenpeace Japan noted on March 11, “this year will be the first time that some of the more heavily contaminated areas. [7]..are being opened up for resettlement….despite radiation still far exceeding long-term targets in places where decontamination work has been done.

“Levels in nearby forests are comparable to the current levels within Chernobyl’s 30 kilometre exclusion zone, which, more than 30 years after the accident, remains formally closed to habitation…”

Greenpeace measured radiation across the village of Iitate (population 6,000) which is 75 per cent forest, and found high levels of contamination [8] even in areas that had been officially decontaminated. Packs of radioactive wild boars are patrolling the empty village. [9]

Fukushima has become one of the largest of the global nuclear sacrifice zones, such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, which have afflicted the world since 1930. That’s when uranium refining started in Hanford, Montana, which eventually provided fuel for the first atomic weapons.

These days, the whole town of Hanford is a toxic waste supersite [10], containing some 55 million gallons of some of the world’s most dangerous radioactive wastes. The entire congressional delegation for the area has petitioned President Trump to give top priority to Hanford clean-up funding, despite the staggering $2 billion cost annually for 30 or 40 years.

Nuclear power plants have an operating life of about 30 to 50 years. Most existing plants were built in the 1970s, before anybody actually had plans for how to de-commission them. However, Reuters reported in 2011, that along with its 104 operating commercial nuclear power plants, the US also had 23 plants in the process of being
de-commissioned, at a cost of $500 million to $1 billion each, including 10 that had been “completely cleaned up.”

Seven of the remaining 13 reactors are in SAFSTOR — shut down, under guard, but still holding nuclear materials. In Canada, Quebec’s Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant and units 2 and 3 of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, Pickering, Ontario, are already in safe storage [11] — essentially no-human-zones although not permanently sacrificed.

However, Fukushima Daiichi is different from other sacrifice zones because of the ongoing seething nuclear reaction in reactor number two,  and because (unlike other zones where habitation is forbidden) Prime Minister Abe’s government wants people to live there.

PM Abe’s government and some media reports downplay radiation’s potentially horrifying effects on humans and babies not yet born. Public relations campaigns label former residents (mostly women, mostly mothers) who resist returning to the ostensibly decontaminated land as neurotically “radiophobic,” [12]  even though 174 children in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with — or are suspected of having — thyroid cancer since the nuclear meltdown.

Meanwhile, as evidence emerges that TEPCO has lied about how serious the crisis is [13],  radiation leaks into the Pacific Ocean and the world’s airshed, and one melted-down plant at Fukushima Daiichi threatens to burst into a catastrophic nuclear fire.

“For the global nuclear industry, the Fukushima disaster is an historic — if not fatal — setback,” said Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin. He introduced a draft copy of Worldwatch’s 2011 World Nuclear Industry Status Report.

Among other points, the report noted that every single nuclear power plant under construction in the world was chosen by central planners. Not one faced any competition from local markets or alternatives. And even during the nuclear binge building years, only 41 per cent of the approved power plants ever achieved operating status. Major delays and massive cost overruns were the rule.

In the foreword, Amory Lovins wrote that “long before Fukushima, nuclear power was dying of an incurable attack of market forces.” Wind and solar devices now offer more flexibility at half the price or less.

Indeed, Lovins said, “just as computing no longer needs mainframes, electricity no longer needs giant power plants.” Instead, the Pentagon prefers to rely on a variety of mass-produced generators networked in microgrids,” for resilience. So could the public.

More troubling, though, Lovins noted that the accident “vaporized” TEPCO’s balance sheet. “A 2007 earthquake had cost the company perhaps $20 billion; this one could cost it $100 plus billion. TEPCO is now broke and is becoming, in whatever form, a ward of the state.”

If the company is “a ward of the state,” that means its liabilities  are too. Yet Japan’s government seems determined to repopulate Fukushima prefecture even as the doomed reactors overheat in the distance. Volunteer organizations like Greenpeace have to provide radioactivity monitoring for local air, water, soil and food.

On the other hand, what affects one nation affects us all. There has to be some point where the public stands up and says, “no more sacrifice zones!” The ongoing Fukushima Daiichi tragedy cries out for the United Nations to step in, take charge, and direct all the world’s best minds and resources to containing the disaster and rescuing the people who live there.

 

Copyright Penney Kome 2017

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

Links:
——
[1]
https://www.theguardian.com/wo rld/2017/mar/09/fukushima-nucl ear-cleanup-falters-six-years- after-tsunami
[2] http://science.time.com/2011/0 5/16/was-fukushima-a-china-syn drome/
[3]
http://www.sciencemag.org/news /2016/05/burning-reactor-fuel- could-have-worsened-fukushima- disaster
[4]
https://www.extremetech.com/ex treme/201706-muon-scans-confir m-complete-reactor-meltdown- at-fukushima-reactor-1
[5]
https://www.extremetech.com/ex treme/243904-fukushimas-reacto r-2-far-radioactive-previously -realized-no-sign-containment- breach
[6] https://www.britannica.com/tec hnology/sievert
[7]
http://www.greenpeace.org/inte rnational/en/press/releases/ 2017/Resettlement-in-contamina ted-areas-steamrolls-ahead-as- residents-mark-Fukushima- anniversary/
[8]
http://www.greenpeace.org/inte rnational/en/press/releases/ 2017/Greenpeace-exposes-high- radiation-risks-in-Fukushima- village-as-government- prepares-to-lift-evacuation- order/
[9]
https://thinkprogress.org/fuku shima-has-radioactive-boars- 8a1583b21856#.i239r4ty5
[10]
http://www.seattletimes.com/se attle-news/politics/congressio nal-delegation-urges-trump-to- fund-hanford-work/
[11] http://www.cnsc-ccsn.gc.ca/eng /reactors/power-plants/index. cfm
[12] http://www.asahi.com/ajw/artic les/AJ201703110033.html
[13] http://www.cbc.ca/news/busines s/japan-fukushima-tepco-1. 3645516
[14] http://penneykome.ca

Read more F&O columns by Penney Kome here

Related works on F&O:

Japan Wary of Nuclear Power in Fukushima’s Wake, by  By Tatsujiro Suzuki, March, 2017

Iran, nuclear waste, and Fukushima, by  Penney Kome,  July 2015

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Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

 

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Japan Wary of Nuclear Power in Fukushima’s Wake

Anti-nuclear demonstration in front of the Japanese Diet, June 22, 2012. Matthias Lambrecht, Creative Commons via Flickr

Anti-nuclear demonstration in front of the Japanese Diet, June 22, 2012. Matthias Lambrecht, Creative Commons via Flickr

By Tatsujiro Suzuki
March, 2017

Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones. The Conversation

In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.

The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.

Uncertainty over nuclear power

When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.

Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.

Public mistrust

The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.

Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?

METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.

International Atomic Energy Agency experts review plans for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, April 17, 2013. Photo by Greg Webb, IAEA, creative commons via Flickr

Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.

This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.

Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium

Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.

At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.

The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.

Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 1,200 crude nuclear weapons.

Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.

Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy.

Creative Commons

Tatsujiro Suzuki is Professor and Director, Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, Nagasaki University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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China’s Waterways Reveal Our Superbug Future

Somewhere on the planet, right now, there is a bacterial species quietly accumulating the genes that will turn it into the next superbug. There is still time to tackle antibiotic resistance.

By Michael Gillings, Macquarie University 
February, 2017

Antibiotics are medicines for treating infectious diseases caused by bacteria. They are one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time. They have saved my life, and probably saved yours as well. But we have used them unwisely.

We used them to treat viral infections, such as the flu, that don’t respond to antibiotics. We used them to promote growth rates in healthy agricultural animals. We have not followed instructions on how to take them properly.

These actions have serious consequences.

Bacteria have fought back; and all over the world, have become resistant to antibiotics. They do this by acquiring mutations, or by stealing genes that confer resistance to antibiotics from other bacteria.

The more we use antibiotics, the faster they become resistant. This has led to a major health crisis in the 21st century. It was recently estimated that by 2050, a total of 10 million people will die every year from antibiotic resistant infections. This is more than deaths from cancer.

The problem is so widespread that every person now carries antibiotic resistance genes in at least some of their gut bacteria or microbiome. This is not so bad because usually these bacteria do not cause disease, and they only have one or two resistance genes each. But it does lead to some unexpected and unwanted consequences.

The resistance genes in the human gut are eventually released into sewage, where they go on to pollute streams, rivers and waterways.

In a paper just published in Nature Microbiology, my colleagues and I show that antibiotic resistance genes have now become a major pollutant in estuaries, where rivers join the sea. Some estuaries in China have up to 100 million antibiotic resistance genes per gram of mud. That’s a million resistance genes in a fragment of mud that’s the size of a match head. None of these genes were there 100 years ago.

Estuaries are natural filtering points between fresh water and the ocean. They tend to accumulate pollutants, including resistance genes. This is the way the system works: human and agricultural animals excrete antibiotic resistance genes in their faeces. Sometimes this waste is released directly into rivers and streams. But even when waste does go through a waste-water treatment plant, resistance genes are often not effectively removed.

To make matters worse, many of the antibiotics used to treat humans and animals are also excreted unchanged. These molecules do not break down easily, and join the disinfectants, heavy metals and other pollutants that can be found in all urban waterways. That means bacteria in natural ecosystems get great benefits if they can pick up genes for resistance to these metals, antibiotics and disinfectants. By doing this, they gain a survival advantage in the face of human pollution.

As waste water coming from human settlements contains a complex mixture of bacteria, resistance genes and antibacterial agents, polluted waterways become a huge reactor for generating bacteria that carry multiple resistance genes. And these resistant bacteria end up in estuaries.

What’s more, the bacteria already present in the estuary mud can take up resistance genes from polluted water.

Why does this matter? Well, many food items, such as prawns, oysters, crabs and fish, are harvested from estuaries. And many of these animals feed in or live in sediment. That means there’s a direct pathway for bacteria from estuary mud to enter the human food chain. Some of these bacteria are bound to have combinations of resistance genes that have never been seen together before.

And these resistance genes could also end up in new bacteria that have never really been a health problem for humans or animals in the past. This is where a new crop of superbugs could come from. Somewhere on the planet, right now, there is a bacterial species quietly accumulating the genes that will turn it into the next superbug.

Our research was done in China, where antibiotics are often used during intensive animal production. This might mean that the situation in China could more extreme than in other parts of the world. Although, it’s important to note that most countries continue to use antibiotics in this way, or have done so in the past. And, of course, all countries use antibiotics for treating people who are unwell.

This means every waterway flowing from farms, towns or cities contains antibiotic resistance genes and antibiotics. The kind of pollution we found in China is likely to be present in every estuary that lies downstream from urban development or animal agriculture. We already suspect this is the case, because every single estuary along 4,000 kilometres of China’s coastline had similar pollution with resistance genes.

There are things we can do to lessen the potential problem. We certainly need to use antibiotics more cautiously; we need to only use the medicines for treating difficult infections, and not as food additives. We also urgently need to develop water treatment technologies that remove disinfectants, metals, antibiotics and the genes that confer resistance to these agents.

Otherwise, the next trip you take to the coast for a seafood dinner just might be your last.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Michael Gillings is a Professor of Molecular Evolution at Macquarie University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Toxic Indian lake is cost of cheap drugs

A boy prepares to jump off a rock into the waters of the Osman Sagar Lake near the southern Indian city of Hyderabad May 29, 2011. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder/File Photo

A boy prepares to jump off a rock into the waters of the Osman Sagar Lake near the southern Indian city of Hyderabad May 29, 2011. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder/File Photo

By Zeba Siddiqui 
Fall, 2016

HYDERABAD, India (Reuters) – Centuries ago, Indian princes would bathe in the cool Kazhipally lake in Medak. Now, even the poorest villagers here in India’s baking south point to the barren banks and frothy water and say they avoid going anywhere near it.

A short drive from the bustling tech hub of Hyderabad, Medak is the heart of India’s antibiotics manufacturing business: a district of about 2.5 million that has become one of the world’s largest suppliers of cheap drugs to most markets, including the United States.

But community activists, researchers and some drug company employees say the presence of more than 300 drug firms, combined with lax oversight and inadequate water treatment, has left lakes and rivers laced with antibiotics, making this a giant Petri dish for anti-microbial resistance.

“Resistant bacteria are breeding here and will affect the whole world,” said Kishan Rao, a doctor and activist who has been working in Patancheru, a Medak industrial zone where many drug manufacturers have bases, for more than two decades.

Drugmakers in Medak, including large Indian firms Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd <REDY.NS>, Aurobindo Pharma Ltd <ARBN.NS> and Hetero Drugs Ltd, and U.S. giant Mylan Inc <MYL.O>, say they comply with local environmental rules and do not discharge effluent into waterways.

National and local government are divided on the scale of the problem.

While the Central Pollution Control Board (PCB) in New Delhi categorizes Medak’s Patancheru area as “critically polluted”, the state PCB says its own monitoring shows the situation has improved.

The rise of drug-resistant “superbugs” is a growing threat to modern medicine, with the emergence in the past year of infections resistant to even last-resort antibiotics.

In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million serious infections and 23,000 deaths annually, according to health officials.

Thirteen leading drugmakers promised last week to clean up pollution from factories making antibiotics as part of a drive to fight the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, while United Nations member countries pledged for the first time to take steps to tackle the threat.

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MAJOR EARNER

Patancheru is one of the main pharmaceutical manufacturing hubs in Telangana state, where the sector accounts for around 30 percent of GDP, according to commerce ministry data. Drug exports from state capital Hyderabad are worth around $14 billion annually.

Local doctor Rao pointed to studies by scientists from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg that have found very high levels of pharmaceutical pollution in and around Kazhipally lake, along with the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes.

The scientists have been publishing research on pollution in the area for nearly a decade. Their first study, in 2007, said antibiotic concentrations in effluent from a treatment plant used by drug factories were higher than would be expected in the blood of patients undergoing a course of treatment. That effluent was discharged into local lakes and rivers, they said.

“The polluted lakes harbored considerably higher proportions of ciprofloxacin-resistant and sulfamethoxazole-resistant bacteria than did other Indian and Swedish lakes included for comparison,” said their latest report, in 2015, referring to the generic names of two widely used antibiotics.

Those findings are disputed by local government officials and industry representatives.

The Hyderabad-based Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association of India (BDMAI) said the state pollution control board had found no antibiotics in its own study of water in Kazhipally lake. The state PCB did not provide a copy of this report, despite several requests from Reuters.

“I have not seen any credible report that says that the drugs are no longer there,” Joakim Larsson, a professor of environmental pharmacology at the University of Gothenburg who led the first Swedish study and took part in the others, told Reuters by email.

“There might very well have been improvements, but without data, I do not know.”

 

WATER TREATMENT

Local activists and researchers say the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) built in Medak in the 1990s was ill-equipped to handle large volumes of pharmaceutical waste.

After protests and court cases brought by local villagers a 20-km (12-mile) pipeline was built to take effluent to another plant near Hyderabad. But activists say that merely diverted the problem – waste sent there, they say, mixes with domestic sewage before the treated effluent is discharged into the Musi river.

A study published this year by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, found very high levels of broad-spectrum antibiotics in the Musi, a tributary of the Krishna, one of India’s longest rivers.

Local government officials responsible for the plants did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Nearly a dozen current and former officials from companies producing medicines in Patancheru told Reuters that factory staff from various firms often illegally dump untreated chemical effluent into boreholes inside plants, or even directly into local water bodies at night.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity and Reuters was unable to independently verify those allegations.

Major manufacturers in the area, including Dr Reddy’s and Mylan, said they operated so-called zero liquid discharge (ZLD) technology and processed waste onsite.

“Mylan is not dumping any effluent into the environment, borewells or the CETP,” said spokeswoman Nina Devlin.

Dr Reddy’s said it recycled water onsite and complied with all environmental regulations.

The same industry officials who spoke to Reuters said the pollution control board rarely checked waste-treatment practices at factories, adding that penalties for breaches were meager.

The Telangana state government did not respond to requests for comment.

“We are aware some companies are releasing more than the allowed effluent, but they are profit-making companies,” said state PCB spokesman N. Raveendher. “We do try and take action against the offenders, but we cannot kill the industry also.”

Many smaller companies also lacked the funds to install expensive machinery for treating waste, he added.

COURT BATTLES

A series of local court cases have been filed stretching back two decades, accusing drug companies of pollution and local authorities of poor checks. In some cases, companies have been ordered to pay annual compensation to villagers, but many are still grinding through India’s tortuous legal system.

Wahab Ahmed, 50, owns five acres of land near the shores of Kazhipally lake, where he grew rice until a decade ago. He says the worsening industrial pollution from several nearby pharmaceutical factories left his land barren.

“We have protested, sued, and done all sorts of things over the years … that’s how some of us are now getting around 1,700 rupees (roughly $20) a year from the companies,” he said.

“But what can you do with that small sum today?”

More than 200 companies were named as respondents in the case he was referring to, filed by a non-profit organization on behalf of villagers.

While pollution of farmland is a serious problem for villagers who depend on it for their livelihood, the potential incubation of “superbugs” in Medak’s waterways has wider implications.

The issue is particularly worrisome in India, where many waterways also contain harmful bacteria from human sewage. The more such bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the chances they will mutate and render such drugs ineffective against them.

The risk is that resistant bacteria would then infect people and be spread by travel.

So far, most of the focus worldwide on antimicrobial resistance has been on over-use of drugs in human medicine and farming.

“Pollution from antibiotic factories is a third big factor in causing antimicrobial resistance,” the chairman of one of the world’s largest drugmakers told Reuters. “But it is largely overlooked.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in LONDON; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Alex Richardson)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Sustainability needs academics, outside Ivory Towers

Avoiding societal collapse means building bridges between science and the rest of the world.

Paris smog, from Montmartre

“It is imperative that we quickly solve six intertwined problems: population growth and overconsumption, climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease spillovers and extinction.” Above, winter smog over Paris, seen from Montmartre © Deborah Jones 2015

by Anthony D. Barnosky, Elizabeth A. Hadly, and Paul R. Ehrlich
March 18, 2016

Until recently, Earth was so big compared with humanity’s impacts that its resources seemed limitless. But that is no longer the case. Thanks to rapid growth in both human population and per capita consumption, we are now on the edge of irrevocable damage to our planetary life support systems. If we want to avoid locking in long-lasting impacts, it is imperative that we quickly solve six intertwined problems: population growth and overconsumption, climate change, pollution, ecosystem destruction, disease spillovers and extinction.

The Challenges

Most pressing among these today is climate change. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have produced most of the energy we need by burning fossil fuels. This has added carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at a pace 200 times faster than what was normal for Earth’s pre-industrial carbon cycle. As a result, we are now changing climate faster than people have ever experienced since our ancestors became Homo sapiens. Already the changing climate is manifesting as more frequent floods, wildfires and heat waves that kill thousands of people annually; rising sea levels that displace communities and cost hundreds of billions of dollars for coastal infrastructure building and repair; and increasingly acid oceans, which in some places are becoming so acidic that oyster and scallop fisheries are beginning to collapse.

Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and trash have contaminated even the most remote environments of the world.

With no change in course, present emissions trajectories will likely, by mid-century, heat the planet to a level that humans and most other contemporary vertebrate species have never experienced, inhibiting food production and greatly multiplying other climate-change problems, including exacerbating global conflict and national security concerns. Indeed, if the present climate-change trajectory continues to 2100, Earth will be hotter than it has been in at least 14 million years, and large regions will be too hot to support human life outdoors.

Meanwhile, human consumption of natural resources is creating a plethora of other types of pollution as well. More than 6 million people die each year from the health effects of air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Our solid waste — increasingly plastic and electronic — has created burgeoning landfills and massive trash gyres in the middle of the oceans. Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and trash have contaminated even the most remote environments of the world. Whales and polar bears harbor toxins in their tissues; Arctic lakes far from any human settlements exhibit elevated nitrogen levels.

The harm we’re doing to nature is coming back to haunt us in the form of infectious disease risk as well. Increasing encroachment of humans into previously little-touched ecosystems is leading to more frequent and severe “spillovers” of disease from nonhuman to human communities. Climate change is further increasing the odds that novel diseases will crop up in humans and the plants and animals on which we depend: Many of the world’s diseases are tropical in origin, and as we build roads and destroy habitats in the tropics, we increase the probability of exposure. Reverse spillover from humans to animals is an issue as well — an increasing number of animals are afflicted with antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria.

Finally, meeting human demand for food, housing, water and other goods and services has transformed more than half of the planet into farms, cities, roads and dams. This ecosystem transformation, along with poaching, overfishing and generally exploiting nature for short-term profit, has accelerated the extinction rate of wild animals and plants to levels not seen since the dinosaurs died out. The result has been tremendous loss of ecosystem services such as water filtration, pollination of crops, control of pests and emotional fulfillment. Should present rates of extinction continue, in as little as three human lifetimes Earth would lose three out of every four familiar species (for example, vertebrates) forever.

Meeting human demand for food, housing, water and other goods and services has transformed more than half of the planet into farms, cities, roads and dams. Above, powerlines in Western Canada © Gavin Kennedy 2015

Meeting human demand for food, housing, water and other goods and services has transformed more than half of the planet into farms, cities, roads and dams. Above, powerlines in Western Canada © Gavin Kennedy 2015

Overarching Challenges

Contributing to all of these are two overarching challenges: the number of people in the world and our ecological footprints — especially the excessively large per capita ecological footprints in high-income countries.

To feed that many more people under business-as-usual food production, distribution and wastage would require converting even more of Earth’s lands to agriculture and overfishing more of the sea.

Human population has nearly tripled in just one lifetime, and almost a quarter of a million more people are being added every day. Best-case scenarios indicate that by 2050 the planet will have to support at least 2 billion to 3 billion people more than it does today.

Fishers leave Steveston, B.C. © Deborah Jones 2013

Fishing harbour at Steveston, B.C., Canada  © Deborah Jones 2013

To feed that many more people under business-as-usual food production, distribution and wastage would require converting even more of Earth’s lands to agriculture and overfishing more of the sea. There simply isn’t enough productive land left to accomplish that, or enough of the species we like to eat left in the ocean, especially in the face of climate stresses that agriculture and aquaculture have not yet witnessed.

Maintaining present rates of consumption — let alone raising standards of living for billions of poor people today — is similarly problematic. Continuing currently accepted norms of manufacturing goods and services into the future would dramatically increase what already are dangerous levels of environmental contamination worldwide and deplete water and other critical natural resources we depend upon today.

Beyond Breakthroughs 

How can science and society solve these intertwined problems and avoid environmental tipping points that would make human life infinitely more difficult?

Solutions will require scientific and technological breakthroughs — but breakthroughs will not be enough. On a global scale, obstacles include political, economic and social factors, including inequalities in economic opportunities and land tenure rights, or poor distributional infrastructure — problems science alone can’t solve. In addition to science, solutions will require effective collaboration of environmental and physical scientists with social scientists and those in the humanities.

In other words, we must recognize the interrelated facets of seemingly distinct issues. We must actively exchange information among practitioners in academics, politics, religion and business and other stakeholders to connect different pieces of the solutions puzzle that are emerging from different specialties.

In addition, people outside the scientific community must recognize and accept that the problems are serious and that solutions are at hand.

That means we within academia must link our work with stakeholders in ways that elicit significant action. This is especially important, since guiding the planet for the future will likely require some fundamental changes — not just in human economic and governance systems, but also in societal values. Engagement with religious leaders, local communities and businesses, subnational groups, and the military and security sectors of society is critically important to further these necessary conversations and impel action.

It is no longer enough to simply do the science and publish an academic paper. That is a necessary first step, but it moves only halfway toward the goal of guiding the planet toward a future that is sustainable.

The good news is we are already making progress in both areas. Scientists and others are coming together to propose and pursue solutions. And three initiatives have been constructed specifically to bridge the science-society divide. The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere was founded specifically to connect scientists, humanists, activists and civil society in order to foster positive global change. The Consensus for Action provides a venue for policy-makers to quickly digest why it is essential to immediately address the issues described here; for scientists to communicate to policy-makers throughout the world the importance of dealing with these key environmental issues; and for members of the public to voice their support to policy-makers for taking action. And Mapping the Impacts of Global Change: Stories of Our Changing Environment as Told By U.S. Citizens provides rapid and locally relevant information to everyone, from the general public to political leaders, about how these threats to humanity’s life support systems play out.

In summary, it is no longer enough to simply do the science and publish an academic paper. That is a necessary first step, but it moves only halfway toward the goal of guiding the planet toward a future that is sustainable for both human civilization and the biosphere. To implement knowledge that arises from basic research, we must establish dialogues and collaborations that transcend narrow academic specialties and bridge between academia, industry, the policy community and society in general.

Now is the time to rise to these scientific and communication challenges. The trajectories of population overgrowth, climate change, ecosystem loss, extinctions, disease and environmental contamination have been rapidly accelerating over the past half-century. If not arrested within the next decade, their momentum may prevent us from stopping them short of disaster.View Ensia homepage

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Anthony D. Barnosky is a Professor of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley.
@tonybarnosky  Elizabeth A. Hadly  is a Stanford professor and global change scientist.
@LizHadly  Paul R. Ehrlich is President, Center for Conservation Biology and Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University. This story was first published by Ensia in collaboration   with the academic journal Elementa. It is based on “Avoiding collapse: Grand challenges for science and society to solve by 2050,” a peer-reviewed article published March 15 as part of Elementa’s Avoiding Collapse special feature. Read the original piece here.

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Academics can change the world – if they engage with it. By Savo Heleta, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Research and creative thinking can change the world. This means that academics have enormous power. But, as academics Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr have warned, the overwhelming majority are not shaping today’s public debates. Instead, their work is largely sitting in academic journals that are read almost exclusively by their peers.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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‘Smeary’ Lake Erie — progress, and setbacks

The Great Lakes are no longer a dumping ground for industrial pollution. But farm run-off, aquatic invaders and climate change are once again putting fish and clean water in jeopardy

 

The Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes o New York state from the International Space Station, June 14, 2012, by the Expedition 31 crew. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=78617

The Great Lakes contain some 84% of North America’s surface fresh water, and about 21% of the world’s supply of surface fresh water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Above, the Great Lakes and the Finger Lakes in New York state seen from the International Space Station, June 14, 2012, by the Expedition 31 crew. Photo: NASA, Public Domain

By Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News
March, 2016

EAST LANSING, Michigan—When Dr. Suess wrote his iconic children’s book “The Lorax” in 1971, he took a swipe at the Great Lakes.

“They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary, in search of some water that isn’t so smeary. I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie.”

If the line doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry: It was removed after Ohio Sea Grant employees wrote the author to fill him in on the major strides in improving the lake’s health.

Lake Erie and its four great cousins have benefited mightily from cleanup and research in the 45 years since Dr. Suess penned what became his personal favorite. However, from plummeting prey fish populations to poopy Michigan rivers, grave threats to the region’s ecosystems remain, scientists and officials said at the annual Michigan Water Heritage conference held at Michigan State University this month.

Jon Allan, director of the Office of the Great Lakes, made note of the progress since the 1970s. For years we had “our backs to water, communities backed up to waterfront, we dumped our garbage there. How many of you remember those days?” he asked.

In the audience most of the roughly 150 water quality researchers, fisheries biologists, agency scientists, nonprofit employees and others raised a hand.

“Those days were not pleasant.”

Quagga mussels in fish trawl. Lake Michigan, August 2006. Photo NOAA

Quagga mussels, seen here in a 2006 fish trawl, are disrupting food chains in Lake Michigan. Photo NOAA, Public Domain

It’s true industrial waste largely stopped flowing into waters, but other problems percolated: invasive species, farm runoff, sewage overflows and failing septic systems. Quagga mussels are screwing up food chains in Lake Michigan, rivers are bearing the brunt of unregulated farm waste, and Lake Erie, once declared dead in the late 1960s, is once again suffering from large nutrient-driven dead zones.

Craig Stow, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, has spent more than two decades studying the Great Lakes. We’ve “slipped back” a bit recently, he said, saying that Lake Erie algae blooms have been on the rise in recent years. Last summer the largest bloom on record, about 300 square miles, tainted western Lake Erie.

Phosphorous runoff, mostly from farming, especially in Ohio’s Maumee River valley, feeds such blooms in the warm and shallow waters of the western part of the lake. Such blooms can produce harmful toxins and hurt humans and ecosystems. Stopping them will only become more difficult as the climate changes: long-term precipitation trends show bigger, fiercer downpours since the late 1990s; in conjunction, Maumee River discharge has increased. “We’re seeing some really important change in dynamics driving algal blooms in Lake Erie,” Stow said.

Officials are starting to pay attention. Just last month the U.S. and Canada adopted new targets to reduce phosphorous entering Lake Erie by 40 percent. Ohio governor and presidential hopeful John Kasich, beleaguered Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne spearheaded the effort.

Stow said such efforts are crucial to prevent taking giant steps backward.

“We’re going to be managing phosphorous for a long, long time,” Stow said. “If we don’t develop good adaptive management plans, we’re going to be back in the same position we were in 1980s.”

There is some good news. Western Lake Erie is the only section in all five Great Lakes where prey fish populations—the ones feeding popular predator fish such as salmon and trout feed—haven’t trended downward since 1980, said David Bunnell, a fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

That can’t be said for Lake Michigan. Last year Bunnell and colleagues reported the lowest catch rate ever for all fish groups—commercially harvested fish, sport harvested fish and prey fish—in Lake Michigan. Salmon populations, too, were down 75 percent from their 2012 peak.

This is worrisome for anyone who remembers the salmon crash in Lake Huron about a decade ago due to vanishing alewife, a staple of the predator’s diet. Salmon still haven’t recovered there.

Nascent research suggests a bottom-up problem in the lakes, Bunnell said: Declining nutrients, due largely to invasive, filter-feeding quagga mussels, break the food chain for creatures like zooplankton, which sustain alewife and other prey fish.

“Salmon need to eat more alewife to get the same amount of calories.”-David Bunnell, USGSA study last year found about 80 percent of larval alewife in Lake Michigan had empty stomachs. And their energy density—how much of a caloric punch they pack—has declined about 33 percent over the past decade.

A crash in salmon stocks could have a considerable impact on the shore and throughout the region: Salmon are a hugely popular sport fish and bring a lot of dollars to the state.

Then there’s the poop problem.

“I’m glad my talk was after lunch,” quipped Molly Rippke, an aquatic biologist with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Much of Tuesday’s session focused on the Great Lakes. Rippke reminded attendees “all rivers lead to the beach.” And many of those rivers bring poop with them.

Rippke estimated that 50 percent of Michigan rivers exceed acceptable levels of E. coli, a harmful bacteria indicating contamination from feces: Failing septic systems, farm runoff, congregating wildlife and combined sewer overflows.

Rippke and colleagues are trying to tease out causes to better stop the contamination. One thing was clear in their study of rivers: as agriculture increases, E. coli tends to increase, she said. They also found that the more forested land in a watershed, the lower the harmful bacteria levels.

But there is a glaring need for more science—they only sampled 11 percent of rivers in Michigan, a state with 120 major rivers covering 36,350 square miles.

While the conference focused on watersheds, with the city of Flint just an hour away, the issue of safe drinking water loomed large.

About 70 percent of people in Michigan are on a public water supply, Allan said.

“How many of you think that infrastructure is as good as it can be?” he asked the crowd made of mostly of water quality researchers and professionals.

Not a hand went up in the packed auditorium.

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This story was first published by Environmental Health News; view the original story. For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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How coal left scars on a Chinese town

By Jason Lee
January, 2016

An elderly villager walks along a railway, which is used to transfer coal, in front of a coal gangue hill outside Shuanghe coal mine from the state-owned Longmay Group on the outskirts of Jixi, in Heilongjiang province, China, October 24, 2015. To match story CHINA-COAL/JIXI    Picture taken on October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee

An elderly villager walks along a railway, which is used to transfer coal, in front of a coal gangue hill outside Shuanghe coal mine from the state-owned Longmay Group on the outskirts of Jixi, in Heilongjiang province, China, October 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Jason Lee

Jixi, China (Reuters) — The northeast mining city of Jixi bears the scars of China’s slowing economy and ailing heavy industry.

Giant mounds of unsold coal sprout weeds in the makeshift depots marking nearly every junction, and bitter Siberian winds blow sulphurous dust through streets peopled by laid-off miners.

“This is a coal city and there is nothing else,” said Xin Qinling, a former miner now responsible for dwindling shift rotas at Jixi’s depleted Zhengyang coalmine.

State-owned Longmay Group, which owns most of the collieries in Jixi, including Zhengyang, has been making losses since 2012.

The company said in October it would adopt a “wartime work atmosphere” and cut its 248,000 headcount by as much as 100,000 by year-end, more than the entire labour force of the U.S. coal sector.

As a state firm, it still has to grapple with its various “social responsibilities”, including the pensions of 180,000 retirees as well as the upkeep of 42 hospitals and 130 schools in the region.

With Chinese economic growth dipping to a 25-year-low and government waging a “war on pollution”, the plight of Jixi, near the Russian border in the province of Heilongjiang, is echoed across China’s coal belt.

The Luan Group in Shanxi province, another of China’s big state miners, said in October that it had no choice but to cut output and put some workers on extended unpaid leave.

The industrial provinces of Liaoning, Shanxi and Heilongjiang were China’s slowest-growing provinces in the first half of the year.

“Many laid-off miners went elsewhere,” said Xin.

Wang Xianzheng, head of the China National Coal Association, said in July that coal firms throughout the country have been slashing wages by as much as 30 percent.

His association surveyed 85 coal firms and found that almost half were struggling to pay staff, and many had failed to keep up with mandatory pension and health insurance contributions.

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China’s soil as poisonous as its air and water

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 19, 2015

"Factory in China at Yangtze River" by High Contrast - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 de via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG#/media/File:Factory_in_China_at_Yangtze_River.JPG

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists. Click here for details. Factory in China at Yangtze River. High Contrast/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

I was wrong when I said in last week’s column there is little reliable information available about the extent of soil pollution in China.

Well, half wrong.

In my hunt for facts I foolishly neglected to turn to the work of Professor Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and among the leading western academics gathering and analysing information on environmental degradation in China.

As Prof. Economy says in one of her latest essays: “Soil contamination has long been the poor stepchild of China’s environmental movement, lagging well behind air and water pollution in terms of government, and even non-government, attention and resources.”

From what is known, it will come as no surprise that the extent of soil pollution in China is as extensive and as deadly as the degradation of the country’s air and water. China is cursed from the beginning because only just over 11 per cent of its land is suitable for agriculture. The material gathered by Prof. Economy indicates that approaching 20 per cent of this scarce resource is now so contaminated by heavy metals from industrial pollution that food produced on it is toxic to one degree or another.

Thirty years of chaotic, corrupt and unregulated industrialization has so polluted China that it is killing hundreds of thousands of its people – by some estimates, millions – every year.

Last week’s column was sparked by the coincidence of Beijing having to shut down most municipal services because of deadly air pollution. The “smog” came, embarrassingly, in the middle of the United Nations conference on climate change being held in Paris. Smog is common in Beijing and in all China’s industrial cities, with the particulate level frequently reaching 80 times the level the World Health Organization considers safe.

I wrote last week that this deadly pollution at home has become the main reason wealthy Chinese give for wanting to emigrate, or at least acquire a safe haven abroad. They look for safe environments in places like Vancouver, Toronto, and other well-regulated countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and countries of the European Union.

Nearly as important for the pollution refugees is the safety of food, and that, as we will see in a moment, is where soil pollution plays a major role.

The irony, of course, is that the people who can afford to flee China are often those who have become rich through the free-for-all industrialization that has destroyed the country’s environment.

As always, the poor are stuck with the mess. I pointed out in last week’s column that pollution and destruction of the environment has become the spark for the majority of the nearly 500 riots and outbreaks of social unrest that occur in China every day. Until recently, it was corruption by Communist Party officials and their relatives and friends in business and industry that drove Chinese on to the streets every day in their thousands.

This seething daily discontent alarms the Communist Party rulers, who with a struggling economy now have little legitimacy in power. The response of the regime under President and party boss Xi Jingping is to tighten authoritarian control of the population and to mount nationalist propaganda campaigns, such as threatening Japan and the imperial expansion to take control of the South China Sea.

Xi’s reconstruction of an intolerant police state is having success. It is unlikely that in the foreseeable future the Chinese Communist Party will become the first regime in modern times to be deposed because it poisoned its people.

Yet it is evident everywhere that the Communists know they are skating on thin ice. As well as air and water pollution, the contamination of soil is not only a massive health hazard, it is undermining China’s efforts to maintain food self-sufficiency. China’s drive to lease or buy vast tracts of agricultural land in Africa, Central Asia and Russia are to meet the pressing need to be able to provide uncontaminated food for people at home.

Not surprisingly, China’s Ministry of Environment Protection (MEP) has rejected requests to make public its data on soil pollution. But Prof. Economy found that officials in the highly industrialized southern province of Guangdong bordering Hong Kong to be more open.

Material published in May 2013 showed excessive levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium in more than 150 batches of rice imported from other provinces. At the same time, Guangdong officials published the result of studies of soil contamination in their own province. They found that 28 per cent of soil in the Pearl River Delta was contaminated. That percentage rose to 50 per cent in the agricultural plots in the industrial cities of Guangzhou and Foshan.

Later in 2013, in an unusual outburst of frankness, the vice-minister of lands and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said that 3.3 million hectares (eight million acres) of agricultural land is so polluted that planting crops “should not be allowed.” That’s just under three per cent of China’s total arable land, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Last year the state-controlled Xinhua news agency reported that 40 per cent of China’s farm land is “suffering from degradation.” This description includes the results of over cropping, lack of fertilizers, and erosion as well as poisoning by acidification and contamination by industrial effluents.

Finally, says Prof. Economy, China’s MEP did release some statistics last year on soil pollution. Based on studies conducted between 2005 and 2013, the department found that more than 16 per cent of total land and 19.4 per cent of arable land was contaminated.

The MEP gave little detail about where, to what degree and what types of pollutants were revealed by the study. Roughly in line with the findings of the MEP was a 2014 examination by the National Environmental Monitoring Centre, which found that about 25 per cent of nearly 5,000 vegetable plots tested throughout the country were polluted.

The major industrial pollutants are cadmium, lead and mercury, but Prof. Economy said China also has a problem with antibiotics leeching into the soil. China consumes more than half the global total of antibiotics, and she quotes a study for the Chinese Academy of Sciences as saying more than a third of these pharmaceuticals end up in the country’s waterways and soil. The long-term environmental impact of antibiotics pollution is still a matter of scientific study, but it is established that it leads to the development of resistant strains of diseases.

China’s rulers are undoubtedly worried about the long term impact of soil pollution on the country, its people and the survival of their regime. But they do not seem to have either the will or the capacity to do much about it. Prof. Economy reports that the Beijing government has pledged $US450 million over the next three years to help 30 Chinese cities tackle heavy metal pollution.

However, China doesn’t appear to have the skilled officials necessary to do an effective soil clean-up. The Ministry of Land and Resources says that people skilled in land de-contamination account for only one per cent of all workers in the environmental protection sector. In most countries about 30 per cent of environmental reclamation workers specialise in soil de-contamination. China has only 20 companies experienced in soil remediation and less than 10 are really competent.

It may well be that the popular clamour for action from the government and level of unrest on the streets become so intense that the Beijing regime is forced to take serious steps against soil pollution.

But until that time, my advice is to follow the example of my Chinese-Canadian friends. Examine food labels closely, and if there is any indication the product comes form China, leave it on the shelves.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Related Jonathan Manthorpe columns:

Beijing in smog on Nov. 29. Photo by LWYang/Flickr/Creative Commons

Vancouver’s housing bubble inflated by China’s air pollution

Vancouver’s grossly inflated housing market, the United Nations’ climate conference in Paris and China’s catastrophic environmental degradation are all linked in a circle of cause and effect.

China faces crippling water shortages and pollution

China’s drive for wealth and power is stumbling and could collapse over the country’s lack of water and its gross mismanagement of the resources it does have.

Beijing collides with China’s new community of human rights lawyers

The recent assault by President Xi Jinping on China’s community of human rights lawyers may be too late to insulate the Communist Party against a coming storm. There is a tacit acknowledgement by the party that China’s swelling community of about 300 human rights lawyers, their associates and like-minded advocacy groups have become a serious challenge to the one-party state.

Money flight impoverishes the poorest countries

It’s not just China’s “Red Nobility” and Russian oligarchs who are robbing their countries by illicitly exporting their wealth to compliant and complicit countries like Canada. There is an epidemic of money flight from developing countries, according to a new report from the Washington-based anti-money laundering organization Global Financial Integrity.

Vancouver: not mind-numbingly boring, but vacuously vain (public access)

The flood of vast wealth from China into Canada has not only contorted and distorted the Vancouver housing market beyond redemption, it has changed the sort of community the western Canadian metropolis is going to be for generations to come. In a bizarre piece of absence of mind and lack of attention, it has also hitched the future of Vancouver to the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. Vancouver’s low self-confidence and its destructive vanity have both played a part in these failures.

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chris1No matter our country, class or inclinations, we’re all equally dependent on Earth’s life support systems. These are everywhere being damaged and run down. Wood explores how the latest science news challenges conventional thinking about human security and our economy, and the opportunities for informed individuals and communities to respond.

State capitalism is back. By  Daniel De Bonis, report

State capitalism, which was considered only a few decades ago a relic of the mid-20th century, is back – with a vengeance. China has already surpassed the US as the world’s largest economy, after purchasing-power parity adjustments. And together, the economies of the so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – should be twice as big as the American economy by 2018, according to the IMF. Each of these countries in its own way share an important trait: an interventionist state, whose tentacles spread across economic sectors, exercising direct or indirect control over a good number of enterprises.

Nothing is rotten in Denmark, but China lives in a corrupt time: report. By Deborah Jones, Report

China, Turkey and Angola became increasingly corrupt, more quickly, than most other countries in the world in the past year despite strong economic growth, Transparency International reported. “Bribes and backroom deals don’t just steal resources from the most vulnerable – they undermine justice and economic development, and destroy public trust in government and leaders.”  The biggest falls were in Turkey (-5), Angola, China, Malawi and Rwanda (all -4). The biggest improvers were Côte d´Ivoire, Egypt, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (+5), Afghanistan, Jordan, Mali and Swaziland (+4).

Explainer: tumult in China’s casino stock market, by Michele Geraci

When I teach stock market investment to my Chinese students, I always remind them that the Shanghai stock exchange should be thought of more as a casino, rather than as a proper stock market. In normal stock markets, share prices are – or, at least, should be – linked to the economic performance of the underlying companies. Not so in China, where the popularity of the stock market directly correlated with the fall in casino popularity.

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Vancouver’s housing bubble inflated by China’s air pollution

Vancouver from Howe Sound. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2014

Vancouver, from a ship in the Salish Sea. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2014

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
December 11, 2015

Beijing in smog on Nov. 29. Photo by LWYang/Flickr/Creative Commons

Beijing in smog on Nov. 29. Photo by LWYang/Flickr/Creative Commons

Vancouver’s grossly inflated housing market, the United Nations’ climate conference in Paris and China’s catastrophic environmental degradation were all linked this week in a circle of cause and effect.

On Tuesday the authorities in Beijing declared air pollution in the Chinese capital to be “hazardous to human health,” and issued a “red alert,” closing down many of the city’s services, banning outdoor sports and restricting travel.

Beijing’s notorious “smog” caused by industrial air pollution being trapped over the city by unfavourable weather conditions reached 400 microgrammes per cubic metre (mg/m3) on the air quality index. But Chinese authorities regularly ignore much worse air pollution, which is a curse throughout the country, and especially in the highly industrialized south and east coast regions. Chinese authorities estimate that air pollution kills up to 500,000 people a year, but foreign health experts put the number of deaths at well over one million.

The World Health Organization says 10 mg/m3 air quality is safe, but in China, and Beijing in particular there have been many occasions when levels of 800 mg/m3 have been recorded. The situation in the capital is so bad that the United States embassy has taken to taking its own air quality readings every day and posting them on Twitter. Chinese authorities have reacted angrily to what they say is an “unlawful” act of diplomatic rudeness.

But on Tuesday, the Beijing authorities appear to have been embarrassed into issuing the “red alert” by the international attention the pollution got, coming in the middle of the Paris conference. Also it was only last week that China issued a commitment to cut emissions of major pollutants from its mainly coal-fired power stations by 60 per cent by 2020.

The pollution and gross degradation of China’s air, earth and water is now much more than an embarrassment to the Communist Party authorities, 30 years after it embarked on industrialization without thought for the environmental consequences.

While China’s lethal air quality is in the headlines, it is probably water pollution that is the greatest killer and threat to the country’s environmental sustainability.

A government study a few years ago, found that most of China’s underground aquifers, which provide 70 per cent of the country’s drinking water, are irredeemably polluted. The aquifers supplying 90 per cent of China’s cities are polluted. The water in more than 75 per cent of rivers flowing through China’s cities is unsuitable for drinking or fishing, and 30 per cent of river water throughout the country is too polluted to be used for industry or agriculture. As a result, much of the food produced in China is toxic at various levels. Nearly 700 million Chinese – over half the population – drink water contaminated with human or animal waste.

There are no reliable figures about pollution of China’s sparse stocks or arable land. But it is notable that very many of the protests by Chinese are against either proposed or existing chemical plants and factories they accuse of polluting earth, air and water.

China’s appalling pollution problems are now the country’s top public issue, and one on which the continued political legitimacy of the Communist Party hinges.

Vancouver, looking west toward English Bay and the city's West Side, left. Photo by Gavin Kennedy, Copyright 2013

Vancouver, looking west. Photo by Gavin Kennedy © 2013

And that brings us to unsustainably inflated housing prices in cities favoured by fleeing Chinese.

Several polls in recent years by organizations such as The Hunrun Report and LIO Global have asked the fabulously wealthy members of the princeling and aristocrat classes in and around China’s Communist Party why about half of them want to emigrate as quickly as possible.

Consistently, the two main reasons given have been the lethally toxic pollution of China’s environment and, as a result, that much of the food produced in the country is poisonous. (The third reason given is wanting a good education for their children.)

Wealthy Chinese continue to get their money out of China by any means possible – most of them illegal – at ever faster rates. People’s Bank of China statistics for the first three months of this year indicated that $US80 billion fled China illegally in that period. That suggested that the illegal flight was on track to match last year’s total of $US324 billion, estimated by the UBS Group. But then in early August, China devalued its currency, the renminbi, and the flood turned into a torrent. Goldman Sachs estimates that $US200 billion was spirited out of China in the three weeks following the devaluation. The financial news agency Bloomberg, calculates that $US194 billion left China in September.

How much of this came to Canada may never be known, because Canada does not keep records of the country of residence of beneficial owners of property or companies. That anonymity is one of the great attractions of Canada to wealthy Chinese who want to hide their overseas holdings in case the political winds that always swirl around the Communist Party turn against them.

Those who have grown grossly wealthy on the profits of China’s 30-year manufacturing boom have, of course, the option to leave for their favourite sanctuaries, in the United States (52%), Canada (21%) and Australia (9%).

But, as is always the case, it is the poor or less well-off who are left to suffer. China’s blue collar classes, whose labour for rock-bottom wages and often in conditions not far off slavery, has filled the pockets of the Communist Party’s aristocracy, are just as furious and scared about what has been done to their country in the name of economic advancement.

But instead of heading to the airport, ordinary Chinese are protesting in the only way they can, and taking to the streets.

There are about 500 major protests and riots across China every day involving between 1,000 and 5,000 people. The Beijing government used to publish annual reports on the number of “mass incidents” involving over 1,000 protesters, but stopped doing so in 2008 when the numbers became embarrassingly large.

However, the numbers are still assembled and can be acquired through the right contacts. Most well-connected analysts inside and outside China agree there have been about 180,000 riots annually in China, for many years, though some put the number now as high as 250,000, or over 680 a day.

Many of these protests become violent and the authorities call out riot squads or the People’s Armed Police to restore order. In some areas where the links between the local Communist Party and the triad criminal gangs are especially strong, the authorities don’t bother with the police. They just call on triad gang fighters, whose methods of crowd control make even the Chinese police seem like gentlemen.

Until a few years ago the main cause of these outbursts of public discontent was corruption by local Communist Party or government officials. Usually, this involved theft of villagers’ land to sell to real estate developer buddies in return for backhand payoffs and cuts of the profits.

As the global recession began to hit China’s manufacturing industries after 2008, the protests were frequently against factory owners who had done a midnight flit to avoid paying their workers, or other examples of employer chicanery.

But public outrage at pollution or the threat of further environmental degradation has now become the spur for more than half the 500 riots every day, according to the 2012 “Social Unrest in China” report for the European Union.

Toxic pollution of earth, air, water and food remains the main cause of popular outrage in China. The Communist Party is well aware of the public anger, and is glumly contemplating the prospect that it might be the first regime in modern history to be ousted because it poisoned its citizens in order to feather its own bank accounts.

However, it is unlikely China’s people will rise up in the foreseeable future against their government in defence of their environment. Not least of the reasons to doubt the prospect of a national uprising is that the Communist Party has intensified the reach and efficiency of its authoritarian power since the new President and party boss Xi Jinping came to power at the end of 2012.

Since the 1989 students’ uprising in Tiananmen Square, successive Communist Party leaders have been swift to slit the throat of any organization that threatened to become a national focus of opposition to the regime. Xi pursues that survival strategy with even more vigour than his predecessors. The most compelling current evidence of his determination to smother even the most tentative questioning of Communist Party power is Xi’s campaign against China’s fledgling community of lawyers dedicated to the rule of law and an independent judiciary.

Since Xi came to power, scores of lawyers have been detained, dozens tortured and many are facing trial and imprisonment. Their supposed crimes are variations of a common theme: they have been “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” by defending or advocating for people the Communist Party wants to lock away.

Even among my most Sinophile friends there are now regular discussions over whether or not China can be accurately described as a fascist state. Majority opinion is that it has moved from authoritarianism into fascism. Some Sinophile friends quote contacts within the upper echelons of the Communist Party saying they fear they have in Xi chosen a new Mao Zedong as leader.

Mao, of course, had more blood on his hands, most of it of his fellow Chinese, than any leader of the 20th Century. Much of the last nearly 40 years since his death has been a half-hearted attempt to undo the evil Mao did. Half-hearted because as the rising tide of environmental degradation shows, without political accountability and the rule of law, China is destined to repeat past mistakes.

No wonder everyone who can wants to get out.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2015

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related Jonathan Manthorpe columns:

China faces crippling water shortages and pollution

China’s drive for wealth and power is stumbling and could collapse over the country’s lack of water and its gross mismanagement of the resources it does have.

Beijing collides with China’s new community of human rights lawyers

The recent assault by President Xi Jinping on China’s community of human rights lawyers may be too late to insulate the Communist Party against a coming storm. There is a tacit acknowledgement by the party that China’s swelling community of about 300 human rights lawyers, their associates and like-minded advocacy groups have become a serious challenge to the one-party state.

Money flight impoverishes the poorest countries

It’s not just China’s “Red Nobility” and Russian oligarchs who are robbing their countries by illicitly exporting their wealth to compliant and complicit countries like Canada. There is an epidemic of money flight from developing countries, according to a new report from the Washington-based anti-money laundering organization Global Financial Integrity.

Vancouver: not mind-numbingly boring, but vacuously vain (public access)

The flood of vast wealth from China into Canada has not only contorted and distorted the Vancouver housing market beyond redemption, it has changed the sort of community the western Canadian metropolis is going to be for generations to come. In a bizarre piece of absence of mind and lack of attention, it has also hitched the future of Vancouver to the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. Vancouver’s low self-confidence and its destructive vanity have both played a part in these failures.

Further reading:

Vancouver “overvalued,” warns UBS in housing bubble study, BNN:http://www.bnn.ca/News/2015/10/30/Vancouver-overvalued-warns-UBS-in-housing-bubble-study.aspx

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Return to Jonathan Manthorpe’s International Affairs column page

 

  • Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Artists call for ban on fracking near national park

FAO-BonneBay_GSL8376

Gros Morne National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bonne Bay, Newfoundland, Canada. Photo by Greg Locke © 2014

Thirty two well known artists sent an open letter to Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper, and  Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Paul Davis, calling on them to establish a permanent buffer zone free of industrial activity around Gros Morn National Park  and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland.

The area has been the target of many unsuccessful oil exploration attempt over the past two decades. In 2012 a number of companies proposed to conduct hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) drilling right up to the park’s boundaries. Last summer, UNESCO called on Canada to do more to protect the site. There was much public opposition, and in 2013 the proposals failed. There is currently a moratorium on fracking while the provincial government reviews a commissioned industry study.

The artists include musician Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta, authors Lawrence Hill, Lisa Moore, Michael Crummy and Joseph Boyden, astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar, painter Mary Pratt, and actor Greg Malone, who said, “If we can’t protect the most brilliant places in our province and in our country, what are we doing?”

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