Category Archives: Health/Environment

WikiLeaks and the Release of the Secret TPP Environment Report

By Martin J. Frid
The Asia-Pacific Journal: January 27, 2014

WikiLeaks has done it again – made available important documents that governments and corporate interests have tried to keep secret from the general public. Until this new release, we had almost no idea what was going on within the secret Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations involving an extraordinarily diverse group of 12 large and small as well as rich and poor nations of East and Southeast Asia, Australasia, and North and South America. The twelve are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United State and Vietnam, with the US driving the agenda. South Korea and Taiwan have also indicated that they may want to join. This time, we get a glimpse of the status of the Environment Chapter with important implications for the people and nature of the region. Wikileaks Press Release

In this cartoon accompanying the release, WikiLeaks shows Mickey Mouse crossing his fingers while promising that “Of course, the environment is in the TPP!” Note the corporate logos symbolizing Texaco and Apple, while the (usually copyrighted) Disney character is singing his merry tune to the crowd of birds and geese (or are they ducks?) representing environmental organization. Crossing fingers can mean wishing for luck but, of course, it also signifies breaking a promise. How appropriate.

We have been told by its proponents that TPP is about reducing and eliminating “trade barriers” and making the world a better place, at least for countries that sign up for this deal. Critics of TPP have responded that it will destroy small-scale agriculture, tighten the corporate grip over intellectual property rights and subvert democratic rule-making. Many people have participated in large-scale protests, including in Japan. It has been difficult, however, to discern the nature of the agreement, since documents have been kept hidden from the general public throughout the protracted negotiations.

In 2010 when the debate about TPP as another Free Trade Agreement started in earnest in Japan, long-term trade critic Yamaura Yasuaki noted: “First of all, we note the negative results that FTA has brought. Examples include environmental destruction and the effect on wildlife as tropical forests have been cut down for palm oil production, and worsening conditions for factory workers as developing countries compete to increase exports at the lowest possible price. From many regions, there are also worrying reports of how staple food production has been sacrificed to export-oriented food production. Moreover, large investments and the expansion of financing have led to deprivation and debt in developing countries. Deregulation and free trade is also the main factor behind the collapse of the industrial order here in Japan, and we consider it directly responsible for deteriorating labour conditions.”

By early 2014 observers were wondering whether significant progress was indeed being made, and what direction TPP would eventually take. How would this trade pact influence obligations to protect the environment and health? Since this is not being negotiated in a transparent way, would the new trade regime undermine efforts to deal with climate change and loss of biological diversity? Enter WikiLeaks on January 15 with the release of a very important report from the chair of one of the many working groups, dealing with the Environment Chapter. WikiLeaks has previously released other documents, including an earlier draft of the Chapter on Intellectual Property Rights, that the US had proposed, which the other countries rejected. The IP Chapter has been seen as a being so contentious that it was holding up the entire process. Now we learn that there is just as much controversy surrounding the Environment Chapter.

TPP has been billed as an ambitious, 21st-century trade agreement. To live up to this, environmental organizations including the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club have insisted that any new trade rules set up a mechanism for dealing with trade in products such as timber or species of animals or plants that are considered rare and near extinction. And many international treaties and conventions have been carefully negotiated elsewhere (usually under United Nations auspices) to make the world a better place by safeguarding the environment. Would TPP overrule these other treaties and conventions? Or might it establish better, more effective environmental protection? The Wikileaks revelations provide the first clear answers to these questions.

One problem is that the United States, the driving force in the negotiations, has not ratified several of the most important recent treaties pertaining to the environment, including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or the UN Climate Change Convention (FCCC). Another problem is that TPP involves both developed and developing economies, with different priorities.

(read the full article at The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus)

Source: http://japanfocus.org/-Martin_J_-Frid/4066ected+drug+money+back+judge+rules/9517166/story.html

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Doctors unsure what’s behind dramatic increase in birth defects in rural Washington

RT: February 17, 2014

As state and federal officials document the alarming rise of deadly birth defects in rural Washington, health experts are at a loss when it comes to pinpointing the source of the problem.

In the three years prior to January 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there had been 23 cases of anencephaly – a birth defect in which a child is born without parts of their brain or skull – reported in three Washington counties: Benton, Franklin and Yakima. This rate of 8.4 cases per 10,000 live births quickly attracted the attention of health officials, especially since it’s four times the national average

Anencephaly wasn’t the only severe birth defect confirmed by the CDC, however. Three cases of spina bifida were also uncovered, a condition that involves the failure of a baby’s spine and brain to develop properly.

Since the publication of the report last year, another eight or nine cases of anencephaly and spina bifida have been reported by Susie Ball, a counselor at the Central Washington Genetics Program.

The most worrisome aspect of the whole situation isn’t simply the increased rate of the defects, but the fact that no one is quite sure what’s causing the problem. According to a report by NBC News, the CDC inspected the medical records of hundreds of individuals, looking for disparities between mothers whose children suffered birth defects and those whose children were fine.

Despite examining disease history, the types of medication taken, the source of the water used by mothers, and other factors, the research ultimately yielded disappointing results.

“No statistically significant differences were identified between cases and controls, and a clear cause of the elevated prevalence of anencephaly was not determined,” the CDC report stated.

While some experts, such as the CDC’s Jim Kucik, speculate that the cluster of defects could simply be an unfortunate coincidence, others pointed out that since the investigation did not include interviews of the mothers due to lack of funds, crucial information could have been missed.

“If there were resources, it really would be wonderful to go back to the families to conduct more intensive interviews regarding common environmental exposures,” Allison Ashley-Koch, a professor at the Duke University Medical Center for Human Genetics, told NBC.

Ashley-Koch went on to note that considering the three affected Washington counties contain a significant agricultural presence, the anencephaly cases could be linked to prolonged exposure to pesticides or mold. If the pesticides used in the area contain nitrates, it’s possible they could be playing a role.

(read the full article at RT)

Source: http://rt.com/usa/rural-washington-birth-defects-445/

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Excessive radiation levels detected at New Mexico waste site

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – Underground sensors have detected excessive radiation levels inside a nuclear waste storage site deep below New Mexico’s desert, but no workers have been exposed and there was no risk to public health, U.S. Department of Energy officials said on Sunday.

An air-monitoring alarm went off at 11:30 p.m. local time Friday indicating unsafe concentrations of radiation inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in what DOE officials said appeared to be the first such mishap since the facility opened in 1999.

As of Sunday, the source of the high radiation readings had yet to be determined, and a plan to send inspection teams below ground to investigate was put on hold as a precaution.

“They will not go in today. It’s a safety thing more than anything. We’re waiting until we get other assessments done before we authorize re-entry,” DOE spokesman Bill Mackie said.

The facility, located in southeastern New Mexico near Carlsbad, is designed as a repository for so-called transuranic waste, which includes discarded machinery, clothing and other materials contaminated with plutonium or other radioisotopes heavier than uranium.

The waste, shipped in from other DOE nuclear laboratories and weapons sites around the country, is buried in underground salt formations that gradually close in around the disposal casks and seal them from the outside world.

No workers were underground when the apparent radiation leak was detected in the vicinity of the plant’s waste-disposal platform, and none of the 139 employees working above ground at the time was exposed, the Energy Department said.

The alarm automatically switched the underground ventilation system to filtration to keep any releases from reaching the surface, DOE officials said.

Subsequent testing of surface air in and around the facility showed the incident posed no danger to human health or the environment, Mackie said.

Air-monitor alarms at the facility have been tripped in the past by malfunctions or fluctuations in levels of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas. But officials said they believe this to be the first real alarm since the plant began operations.

(Read the full article at Yahoo)

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/excessive-radiation-levels-detected-mexico-waste-014933508.html

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TEPCO reveals record cesium level in Fukushima No. 1 well

RT: February 14, 2014

A record high level of radioactive cesium has been found in groundwater beneath the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, it’s operator TEPCO revealed.

On February 13, Tokyo Electric Power Co. reported 37,000 becquerels of cesium-134 and 93,000 becquerels of cesium-137 were detected per liter of groundwater sampled from a monitoring well earlier that day.

Water samples were taken from the technical well, located next to the second power unit, some 50 meters from the coast. These figures (the total reading) are the highest of all the cesium measurements taken previously.

Experts do not rule out that radioactive water is leaking from an underground tunnel, which is located close to the second power unit on the seashore.

However, no exact reason for such a significant increase of radioactive cesium content in the groundwater has been given so far.

Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun reported that the amount of radioactive chemicals seems to be increasing. On Feb. 12, the same sampling well had produced a combined cesium reading of 76,000 becquerels per liter.

Earlier Japan’s nuclear regulator slammed the stricken Fukushima plant operator for incorrectly measuring radiation levels in contaminated groundwater at the site.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) accused TEPCO of lacking basic understanding of measuring and handling radiation almost three years since the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

On Thursday, fears of new leaks surfaced in Japanese media, as the same newspaper reported two cracks in a concrete floor of the No. 1 facility near radioactive water storage tanks.

(read the full report at RT)

Source: http://rt.com/news/fukushima-record-level-cesium-067/

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Revealed: TEPCO hid dangerous Fukushima radiation levels for months

RT: February 13, 2014

Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is again in the midst of controversy for failing to timely report on record radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It is now blasted for holding back strontium measurements since September.

TEPCO on Wednesday revealed that it detected 5 million becquerels per liter of radioactive Strontium-90 in a groundwater sample taken some 25 meters from the ocean as early as last September, Reuters reports. The legal limit for releasing strontium into the ocean is just 30 becquerels per liter.

Although the reading was alarmingly five times the levels taken at the same spot two months prior to that, TEPCO decided not to immediately report it to the country’s nuclear watchdog. That is despite Strontium-90 being considered twice as harmful to people as Cesium-137, which was also released in large quantities during the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011 caused by powerful earthquake and tsunami.

According to a TEPCO spokesman cited by Reuters, the decision was due to “uncertainty about the reliability and accuracy of the September strontium reading,” which prompted the plant’s operator to reexamine the data.

However, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) officials say no data came up until now despite repeated demands to TEPCO.

“We did not hear about this figure when they detected it last September. We have been repeatedly pushing TEPCO to release strontium data since November. It should not take them this long to release this information,” Shinji Kinjo, head of the NRA taskforce on contaminated water issues at Fukushima, told the agency.

Top NRA officials, including the watchdog’s chairman, have lashed out at TEPCO for “lacking a fundamental understanding of measuring and handling radiation” while responding to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“This is not an appropriate way to deal with the desire of the public [for transparency] and in particular, the regulator, which is now very closely regulating issues related to public health, the environment and so on,” Martin Schulz, a senior research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute, has said.

On Thursday, fears of new leaks surfaced in Japanese media, as Asahi Shimbun reported two cracks in a concrete floor of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 facility near radioactive water storage tanks. Some contaminated water from the melting snow may have seeped into the ground through the cracks stretching for 12 and 8 meters, TEPCO said.

(read the full report at RT)

Source: http://rt.com/news/tepco-concealed-fukushima-strontium-884/

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Chemicals again spill into West Virginia water

Can’t catch a break? Chemicals again spill into W. Virginia water

RT: February 12, 2014

A coal preparation facility breached Tuesday, sending over 100,000 gallons of coal liquid waste leaked from a West Virginia coal preparation facility and into the nearby water supply, officials have announced.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) opened an investigation into a coal slurry spill Tuesday morning. The slurry is made up solid and liquid waste that is created as a by-product of the coal mining process. While officials are unsure exactly how much of the waste leaked into a tributary of West Virginia’s Kanawha River, although one source told the West Virginia Gazette there is already “a significant environmental impact.”

West Virginia American Water, the company responsible for the Kanawha Valley Water Treatment Plant, issued a statement Tuesday saying that the leak is not expected to impact the public water supply.

If that proves true, it will be a relief to West Virginia residents who only weeks ago endured a massive chemical spill that spilled crude 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM) from a Freedom Industries plant into the Elk River, another tributary of the Kanawha River. The spill occurred on January 9 near the primary West Virginia American Water intake plant and left 300,000 citizens across nine counties without water for weeks.

(read the full report at RT)

Source: http://rt.com/usa/wvirginia-chemical-spill-again-water-617/

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Fukushima radiation levels underestimated by five times – TEPCO

RT: Published February 08, 2014, Edited February 10, 2014

TEPCO has revised the readings on the radioactivity levels at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant well to 5 million becquerels of strontium per liter – both a record, and nearly five times higher than the original reading of 900,000 becquerels per liter.

Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope of strontium produced by nuclear fission with a half-life of 28.8 years. The legal standard for strontium emissions is 30 becquerels per liter. Exposure to strontium-90 can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. originally said that the said 900,000 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter, including strontium – were measured in the water sampled on July 5 last year.

However, the company noted on Friday that the previous radioactivity levels had been wrong, meaning that it was also likely reading taken from the other wells at the disaster-struck plant prior to September were also likely to have been inaccurate, the Asahi Shimbum newspaper reported.

The Japanese company has already apologized for the failures, which they said were a result of the malfunctioning of measuring equipment.

TEPCO did not mention the radioactivity levels of other samples of both groundwater and seawater taken from between June and November last year – which totaled some 140.

However, the erroneous readings only pertain to the radiation levels measured in water – readings taken to measure the radiation levels in air or soil are likely to have been accurate.

In the basement of the station, the drainage system and special tanks have accumulated more than 360,000 tons of radioactive water. The leakage of radioactive water has been an ongoing problem in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.

TEPCO also said on Thursday that 600 liters of contaminated water – which had 2,800 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter in it, leaked from piping leading to a tank at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

A record high level of beta rays released from radioactive strontium-90 was detected at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant beneath the No. 2 reactor’s well facing the ocean, according to the facility’s operator who released news of the measurements mid-January.

TEPCO measured the amount of beta ray-emitting radioactivity at more than 2.7 million becquerels per liter, Fukushima’s operator said as reported in the Japanese media.

(read the full report at RT)

Source: http://rt.com/news/fukushima-radiation-levels-underestimated-143/

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