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Vol.10 Number 5 - Oct/Nov 2000
Pierre Elliot Trudeau
A Toxic Break for Mines?
FREE SPEECH VICTORY - Public servants can speak out for public interest
REPORT - Trees on Drugs - Fertilizing Forests in Urban Watersheds
Taking Care of the Kids
Children's Vulnerability Recognized
Ecotoxicity and Life Expectancy
Pesticides in the playground - Canadian Policy Ignores Children's Exposure to Environmental Pollution
Putting the Streams Back, One by One
NEWS BRIEFS - The High Price of Exploitation
Tax dollars sell asbestos
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Acknowledges the Environment
NAFTA makes Mexico pay off waste dumper
Fish Farm Waste Fuels Toxic Algae
DFO Says Roads Wreck Fish Habitat
THE FOOTPRINT QUIZ - Measure Your Dependence on Nature
FEATURE - What's the Buzz on Beetles?
ANALYSIS - The Trail to the Money - NDP Policy, the Trees and the Greens
FEATURE - Excrement Happens - Septic System Info
The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind
Oil Prices Should Come as No Surprise
REPORT - The Pine River Oil Spill
OPINION - The Cost of a Job in the Mine
Government Must Rule Britannia
Plutonium in Scrap Metal
Antarctic Ozone Hole Bigger than Ever
PEI Pesticides Kill Fish
Pierre Elliot Trudeau
When Pierre Trudeau came to Canada's consciousness, he shone a light on all of us. During the years he served as Prime Minister the eyes of the world were focused on Canada. Often it seemed those eyes looked enviously in our direction because we had a leader that out-shone them all. He had guts, he had flair and oh, such an elegant panache.
Even after leaving the political scene his opinions were sought, appreciated, and feared by many. Often those opinions changed the course of events.
But we, perhaps, thought it enough to bask in his light when we should have used it to guide us along the path he hoped we would follow.
But now, we have lost him. We have lost the leading edge of the light. We dwell in the after-glow, jabbering like monkeys to the heavens, while we wait for another meteor to streak across the universe and burn itself out in the abrasive atmosphere of earth.
* Don Malcolm, October 2000
A Toxic Break for Mines?
From the West Coast Environmental Law Association (WCELA) newsletter comes word that BC is considering exempting mines from the Contaminated Sites Regime. WCELA staff lawyer Karen Campbell is a participant in the provincial government's Contaminated Sites Implementation Committee, a group charged with recommending changes to improve the implementation of the Contaminated Sites Regulation under the Waste Management Act (WMA).
The Ministry of Energy and Mines is proposing to exempt mine sites in BC from the requirements of Part 4 of the WMA (the Contaminated Sites Regime) and the Contaminated Sites Regulation. "This proposal has serious implications for the environmental regulation of mines in BC," says Campbell. "Not only would mine sites no longer be subject to ... liability for pollution, but they would also be exempt from WMA requirements such as ... site investigations, remediation orders, and government's cost recovery powers."
Campbell goes on to say, "Mines have already caused serious contamination in BC. Twenty-five acid generating mine sites and 18 potentially acid generating mine sites exist in BC. These sites include existing mines such as Huckleberry near Smithers, and Myra Falls in Strathcona Park, as well as the notorious Britannia mine in Howe Sound, and the Mount Washington mine that has killed the salmon run of the Tsolum River on Vancouver Island."
WCELA is opposed to the blanket exemption. So are we.
Public servants can speak out for public interest
A Federal Court ruling in September confirms the right of public servants to speak out publicly on matters concerning public health and safety and sets an important precedent for the rights of whistle-blowers.
"This ruling defends the fundamental democratic right of free speech of public servants," said Karen Wristen, executive director of Sierra Legal Defence Fund, which intervened in the case for the Canadian Health Coalition, the Council of Canadians, the National Farmers Union and the Sierra Club of Canada. "It says that the public interest outweighs the right of government employers to gag employees who wish to voice legitimate concerns about our health and safety-and by implication- the environment."
The ruling vindicates two Health Canada scientists, Haydon and Chopra, who went to Federal Court to challenge the gag orders placed on them by their employers after they went public with concerns about the drug approval process for bovine growth hormone, commonly known as BGH or BST, a synthetic hormone that boosts the milk production of cows.
The hormone is manufactured by Monsanto under the brand name Posilac. It was approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 1993, but has been banned in Europe owing to scientific research that has linked it to cancer. In January 1999, shortly after Haydon and Chopra were reprimanded, Canada also banned the use of the hormone.
Prior to that ban, however, Haydon and Chopra voiced concerns on CTV that Health Canada scientists were being pressured by their employers to approve BGH, which was worth billions of dollars in annual sales. At the same time, the RCMP began to investigate the theft of research files covering 10 years of Haydon's work and looked at Haydon's claim that Monsanto offered $1 to $2 million in exchange for swift approval of its new product.
Health Canada officials responded by reprimanding Haydon and Chopra for speaking out and ordering them not to speak to the media again, without official permission.
Federal Court Justice Tremblay-Lamer, however, found that the scientists were justified in voicing their concerns publicly.
"I am of the opinion that preventing the Applicants from going to the media in cases of legitimate safety or health concerns regarding policies within Health Canada is unreasonable," said Judge Tremblay-Lamer.
* Sierra Legal Defence Fund, September 2000
To read the full text of the Federal Court ruling, see docket: T-199-99 (Margaret Haydon and Her Majesty the Queen et al.) at www.fja.gc.ca
Trees on Drugs
"A fool throws a stone into the sea and a hundred wise men cannot pull it out." - Cypriot proverb.
by J. Cates
There are two big problems associated with putting chemicals into soil: first, chemicals are no respecters of geographic boundaries, and second, chemicals that are good for trees may not be so good for the people who have to work with them.
The equation is, faster tree growth equals more money. If this can be done safely, so much the better. But the bottom line is, always, the profit picture. Fertilizing at planting can result in faster growth by 200-400 percent.
Adding a bit of chemical fertilizer to a tree doesn't really matter much. But Weyerhaeuser has a lot of trees.
The forestry company, which bought out MacMillan Bloedel's interests, has been fertilizing young trees on a 300 square kilometre chunk of its fenced-in private land about 25 kilometres southwest of Nanaimo, and within that city's watershed.
Today's drug of choice
The current drug of choice is called NutriPak. Imported from a company in Wisconsin, the product comes in small plastic packages, one per tree. Depending on the size of the packet, it will have 8 to 16 pinholes punched through its skin. The premeasured dosages, says tree planter Ingmar Lee, are 50g for fir and 35g for cedar. Weyerhaeuser has planted about 300,000 trees at its site near Nanaimo, and will likely double that number in the current year.
The suppliers of NutriPak, Brinkman & Associates Reforestation, like this product because they believe it to be the easiest and safest to handle. Other forms of fertilizers, especially the loose urea-coated granular, resulted in complaints from almost one-third of the planters using them, and included nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, congestion, and eye irritation.
Tests commissioned by the Canadian Reforestation and Environmental Workers' Society on polymer-coated loose fertilizer revealed the presence of toxic metals (such as molybdenum and cadmium) not listed on their Material Safety Data Sheets.
Lee called those sheets "fraudulent," allowing "industrial waste disguised as fertilizers" to be imported from the United States. Use of loose fertilizers was suspended by Salt Spring Planters, and its parent company, Brinkman & Associates, adopted a policy of "if the workers won't handle a fertilizer the company wants to use, we'll turn down the contract."
But this history suggests that past practice has not been, 'This is safe, so let's use it,' but rather, 'Let's use it, and see if it's safe.'
NutriPak packets are placed in the ground dry; after they become moist, the contents seep out through tiny pinholes, reducing the planters' exposure to the fertilizer.
How safe is safe?
Two questions arise in response to this issue of worker safety.
Earlier this year, NutriPak at a planting site was mishandled by a job foreman, who presoaked it, causing seepage before planting. This was an isolated incident and has not been repeated. Problem identified, problem corrected. More important, though, the incident provided graphic evidence that Murphy's Law is alive and well. Sometime, someplace, somehow, despite the best intentions, something will go wrong, and it will always be due to human error.
The other question arises from the fact NutriPak is a pretty recent development. It's been used on farms and tested in laboratories, but only began seeing use on the BC coast this spring, which makes it still something of an experiment as it's used on plantations.
A solution to health concerns, according to distributor Dirk Brinkman, is unlikely to include more research that might provide proof of the product's safety, due to the differences in reactions among planters, their long-term concerns, and, of course, "the effective cost to production."
So even though the testing may be "not conclusive," he says "It appears best to simply minimize planter exposure at this time," while adding that, "Because of the complexity of operational problems and biological processes, there is considerable latitude for further refinement and new solutions."
For now, he believes this packaging solves 95 percent of the safety problems associated with other forms of fertilizer, while providing "a great kick-start" to new growth.
"Fertilizer production involves blending raw material sources from various mines and excavation sites. Some of these sources have more contaminants than others, but they all include the normal background presence of toxic metals also found in most BC soils. The cost of creating completely clean fertilizers is very prohibitive. Natural and organic fertilizers contain higher levels of toxic metals and other contaminants because they are more concentrated in the organic sources through bioaccumulation."
*Discussion of fertilizer test results and health hazards of fertilizing at planting - Dirk Brinkman, July 14, 2000.
Now: what's in the stuff?
Relatively large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and magnesium, of course. That's pretty much what fertilizer is.
Also of interest are the "micro nutrients"--boron, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, sodium, selenium, silicon, and zinc--and our old pals, the toxic metals: arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, and antimony. (A not too surprising array, since, Brinkman says, "Fertilizer production involves blending raw material sources from various mines and excavation sites." NutriPak itself is an import, coming to us from JRP International in Wisconsin.)
But Brinkman believes the product to be environmentally safe, based on testing that shows, due to its slow-release property, all of the ingredients go into the plants, not the soil.
"Because the products' rate of release is more in line with the rate of root uptake, it also reduces the amount of fertilizer lost to fixation, denitrification and leaching ... increasing the percentage of plant uptake reduces the contamination risk in fisheries sensitive zones and community watersheds, extending the potential area of use." (From a report by Salt Spring Planters.)
Just like home-grown dirt
And anyway, the ingredients closely match the levels that are already present in our normal soils. That same progress report says, "At low levels, 'toxic' metals are not toxic, and some argue they are essential for life."
Now we return to the Nanaimo and other watersheds. How sure can anyone be that the NutriPak brew is entirely absorbed by trees, and that there will never be another accident in its handling? Even though they match our natural soil composition, these substances constitute an addition to the soil ... and they gotta go somewhere.
The City of Nanaimo has no worries about Weyerhaeuser's operations in its watershed, and cooperates with the company.
The city, says its Superintendent of Water Supply, Wayne Hansen, has no regulatory or enforcement powers; those lie with the province, under the Forest Practices Code. His office conducts extensive water testing, he says, and has found no appreciable difference in samples taken before and after fertilization began. He emphasizes that Nanaimo's water is well within all the requirements of Canadian Drinking Water Standards.
Nanaimo, with a population of 72,000, uses about 18 million gallons of water a day. Weyerhaeuser's operation there is just one project within one watershed near one medium-sized city, using one form of fertilizer. For the province-wide picture, start multiplying. Keeping in mind, of course, that water testing does not so much predict when a problem will develop, as identify when a problem has developed. Testing is how we chart the effects of Murphy's Law.
Even in its safest forms, mass fertilization of tree plantations is something in the nature of an on-going experiment. If its proponents are correct in concluding that the stuff is probably pretty safe, then probably no one will be hurt.
But what if they're wrong?
The only way to guarantee worker and environmental safety is not to keep experimenting with new and improved designer drugs for trees, but to cease being so completely profit-driven in planting and harvesting procedures.
Discontinuing the use of chemical growth enhancers would remove not just 95 percent, but 100 percent of any risk from them. This wouldn't eliminate jobs. Trees would still need to be planted, and using natural methods would even be labour-intensive: without a "kick-start" of tree amphetamines (or, even worse, herbicide sprays) to help them outgrow the surrounding vegetation, more slash-cutters would be needed. The only difference would be, a few people would make smaller profits, and everyone else might become a bit less reliant on timber and pulp products. No down side there.
* For more information about NutriPak, contact its distributor: Brinkman & Associates Reforestation Ltd, 520 Sharpe St, New Westminster, BC V3M 4R2; ph: (604)521-7771; fax: (604)520-1968; More details about tree planting and fertilization are also available from the website of the Canadian Reforestation and Environmental Workers' Society at: www.crews.bc.ca
Child environmental health has belatedly made its first appearance in a Canadian public policy document, Environment Canada's 2000 Sustainable Development Strategy public consultation, as follows:
"Certain populations are particularly vulnerable to environmental hazards and could provide an appropriate focal point in designing and implementing any environmental health initiatives.
"Children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards due to the rapid growth and critical neurological development that occurs during the fetal stage and early childhood, combined with the immaturity of their immune and metabolic systems.
"By focusing on these most vulnerable populations, EC would be addressing some of the intra- and inter-generational equity issues that are an important part of sustainable development."
Taking Care of the Kids
The issue, already ensconced in American law, has not even begun to register on the Canadian policy agenda.
by Peter D. Carter, MD
Although the last throne speech promised action for Canada's children and action for Canada's environment, our government just can't seem to put the two together.
In 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States announced The US National Agenda to Protect Children's Health from Environmental Threats, noting that "children are particularly vulnerable to environmental threats."
During the revision of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) in 1998-99, medical and health associations made submissions on children's environmental health, citing the new US regulations. These submissions were ignored and the new CEPA makes no mention of children's health.
As a result, according to media reports, a chemical pesticide restricted in the United States because of the risk it poses to young children is still being used by fruit growers in BC. The US EPA has restricted the use of azinphos-methyl, an insecticide used on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, in order to reduce the chemical residue on food consumed by children. This new restriction is a result of the 1996 US Food Quality Protection Act, which required the EPA to provide a larger margin of safety when available research on the risks to children is incomplete, as is usually the case with pesticides.
In Canada the responsibility for protecting the health of children from toxic effects rests with the Health Protection Branch (HPB) of Health Canada. As the CEPA revision finished, a HPB Legislative Renewal was announced. At public consultations, a new approach was proposed, an approach focused on child environmental health. Yet when HPB published its summary of the consultations, children's environmental health was not mentioned.
How much longer can Canadian policy makers ignore the issue?
This year alone, we have seen a series of reports published in Canada on toxics and the health of children. The most recent is The Health of Canada's Children: A CICH Profile, 3rd Edition, a 375-page report released by the Canadian Institute of Child Health. The child-health study found a 25 percent increase in childhood cancers in the past 25 years, and noted that children are increasingly at risk of contracting serious diseases from environmental pollution, including nervous system damage. The report warns that "most substances to which children are exposed regularly, such as food additives and pesticides, have not been evaluated for their potential to affect brain development."
Pesticides: Making the Right Choice for the Protection of Health and the Environment is the May 2000 report of the federal Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. (It can be found at: www.parl.gc.ca/InfocomDoc/36/2/ENVI/Studies/Reports/envi01-e.html)
The committee found that "pesticides are known to play, or are suspected of playing, a role in a myriad of diseases and developmental abnormalities, including cancer (brain, breast, stomach, prostate and testicles), childhood leukemia, reduced
by Dr. Trevor Hancock
One of the stock responses of the chemical industry, when concerns are raised that the widespread chemical contamination that we experience today is affecting health, is to point out that life expectancy continues to increase -- so where's the problem? This response, however, displays a remarkable ignorance--willful or otherwise--of the meaning of life expectancy.
There seems to be a widespread belief that life expectancy is somehow predictive, whereas it is anything but that. It is in reality a somewhat sophisticated and complex way of measuring average age of death. Life expectancy tells us absolutely nothing about how much longer we may live, it simply tells us that if everyone born today had the same average life experience as all those dying this year, they could expect on average to live as long as those who are dying this year. So in reality life expectancy tells us a lot about those who die but tells us nothing about the living. And of course the basic premise is false, because we will not experience the same life circumstances as those who are dying, on average in their mid-70s, today.
One of the ways in which we differ is that, since approximately the 1950s, people have been born with a body burden of persistent organic pollutants such as DDT and PCBs, and have continued to be exposed throughout their lives to a multitude of toxic chemicals at very low levels - called "ecotoxicity." Ecotoxicity, of course, is not confined to humans but affects other species in the web of life, and thus threatens overall ecosystem health.
We are approximately 40 years into a major experiment to find out what happens when an entire cohort is exposed to such ecotoxicity throughout its life. While we do know that the average age of death for those born before 1930 is still increasing, we have absolutely no way of knowing what will be the average age of death of those born in the 1950s, 1960s or subsequently. Moreover, we won't know the answer to that for another 30 to 50 years.
So we will just have to wait and see whether ecotoxicity shortens life.
* An extract from Future Directions in Population Health published in the Canadian Public Health Journal, Vol. 90, reprinted in Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) Newsletter, May 2000.
fertility, damage to the thyroid and pituitary glands, lowered immunity, developmental abnormalities, and behavioural problems."
The Committee reported that "the testimony and the scientific literature have led Committee members to the conclusion that children are the most vulnerable group affected by pesticides. However, there appear to be no research programs focusing on this specific group in Canada. For example, there is no child or fetus pollution indicator system which would make it possible to gather data on concentrations of pollutants found in children's bodies."
The Committee heard evidence from the US National Resources Defence Council that 55 percent of cancer risk during a person's lifetime comes from "exposure to carcinogenic pesticides in food before the age of six."' The Committee advocated regulations to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides, in order to protect children.
The all-party Standing Committee recommends measures "to make the protection of human health and the environment the absolute priority in pest management decisions, especially the protection of children and other vulnerable populations." For example, they recommend that "what constitutes an unacceptable risk should be based on child health criteria." To provide extra protection for humans, wildlife and the environment, the Committee wants the precautionary principle embedded in both the preamble and the administrative part of a new law on pesticides.
The pesticide industry supports the status quo on regulations in Canada. A pesticide must be irrefutably linked to disease or harm before Health Canada can act to stop its use. Medical experts in Canada have complained for years about the HPB policy which considers a substance safe if there is no research to say otherwise, even when the research is clearly insufficient.
Environmental Standard Setting and Children's Health, a combined effort of the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Ontario College of Family Physicians, studied the risks to children's health from environmental contaminants and the adequacy of regulatory responses. Their 400-page report, released in May, 2000, found that both federal and provincial governments are not proactive enough in establishing environmental standards that protect children. It says children are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals, hence protecting their health means updating pollution standards--and the method of setting the standards--by putting children's health first. The report concludes that the status quo is harmful to children and makes 62 recommendations for policy change.
Research in other parts of the world confirms Canadian concerns. A draft report issued by the EPA in the States has confirmed that dioxin is a carcinogen and that "the risks to people may be somewhat higher than previously believed." A Swedish study has reported an association between nonhodgkins lymphoma and the glyphosphate herbicide Roundup. The study has been criticized by the pesticide industry as not statistically reliable, but with the biotech industry promoting Roundup-ready seeds, the case for caution and adequate research is greater than ever.
Researchers have found and measured pesticides in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women in Los Angeles. "Of the various health problems associated with these chemicals, developmental abnormalities of the male reproductive tract, suppression of immune function, development of the brain and neurobehavioral problems in children are of major concern because they are potentially avoidable and irreversible," say the researchers.
Consumer's Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, announced last February that many US fruits and vegetables carry pesticide residues that exceed the limits the EPA considers safe for children. And medical researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison have reported that combinations of low levels of pesticide and chemical ground water contaminants--at levels similar to those found in the ground water of agricultural areas--have measurable detrimental effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine (hormone) systems of mice. They say their research has direct implications for humans.
The US National Agenda to Protect Children's Health from Environmental Threats included community right-to-know legislation to allow parents to make informed choices concerning environmental exposures to their children. This is surely a natural right for families and children. But in Canada, again we are met with stony silence from policy makers.
What's holding us up? Health and environmental regulations are seen by the policy makers as obstacles to economic competitiveness. Their inaction suggests Machiavellian compliance to the global free trade princes overrides their responsibility to Canadian children's environmental health.
This is despite international commitments already made by Canada, in the 1997 Declaration of the Environmental Leaders of the Eight on Children's Environmental Health, in Chapter 25 of Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
So far, our policy makers have not had the sense of vision nor ethics to add child health and environmental rights to the free trade NAFTA and WTO rules. Until they do, it's doubtful we will see a focus on the environmental health of the nation's children in the new Health Protection Branch legislation and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
* Peter Carter is a family doctor for the Southern Gulf Islands. He has made policy consultation submissions on behalf of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment to Health Canada , Environment Canada, and the Department of International Trade.
The Canadian EarthCare Society (EarthCare) is concerned about pesticide use and its harmful effects on individuals and the environment.
A report entitled Unthinkable Risk, by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, points out that even though some pesticides are nerve poisons, carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or hormone disruptors, they are used in schools and other public areas.
Children are more at risk because of their size and immaturity. Their brains and nervous systems are not completely developed, and they are unable to detoxify or filter and excrete certain chemicals through their livers and kidneys as quickly as can adults. Their immune systems are not fully developed, and they actually receive higher doses than adults because they are in closer proximity to the applied pesticides in playgrounds. Also, kids receive greater doses than adults because they breathe in a greater volume of air and have larger skin surface areas relative to their smaller body weights.
"School and Parks Boards in every community in BC are applying tons of pesticides, and parents assume these pesticides are being used safely by these public agencies," says Leonard Fraser, Executive Director of the Canadian EarthCare Society. "This report shows that making those assumptions can be disastrous to children's health."
* Download Unthinkable Risk from: www.pesticide.org/UnthinkableRisk.html
Putting the Streams Back One by One
Fish Habitat in Campbell River - Before
Everywhere in Canada, as fish stocks have proceeded from precarious to critical, those concerned about preserving this precious resource for future generations have devoted their time and energies, as well as their money, to the cause of conservation.
The Land Conservancy of British Columbia, with the help of local governments, credit unions, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) successfully raised the money to purchase 140 acres of riparian area on the Lower Nanaimo River. The price tag was $1.1 million. The site contains 140 acres of mature Douglas fir forest and some of the most significant salmon rearing and spawning habitat on the east coast of Vancouver Island. So popular are initiatives like this one that, when the news of the purchase was announced on TV, a cheer went up in one of the local pubs.
And this year, a land purchase in the Campbell River estuary by the Nature Conservancy of Canada became a reality. This project in salmon habitat restoration involved the purchase of 46.7 acres of land for $1.675 million, with Fisheries and Oceans Canada contributing $500,000 and the city of Campbell River committing $300,000 from its Parks Reserve Fund. With more donations to this Return to the River campaign coming in from forest giant Weyerhaeuser, local fishing clubs and aquaculture firms, individuals and businesses, the fundraising goal was surpassed. The project is being called the most significant de-industrialization of any estuary in North America, and is just one of the many efforts being made to restore the environment throughout the continent.
Fish Habitat in Campbell River - After
The High Price of Exploitation
Confused government policies give out a mixed message on world trade, while tax dollars pay to prop up international polluters.
Tax dollars sell asbestos
The federal government has spent millions of dollars propping up the asbestos industry, despite acknowledging that asbestos is both toxic and a known carcinogen.
In September, the World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld France's right to ban asbestos and the Canadian government announced it would appeal the ruling.
Canada argued that banning all uses of all types of asbestos is a disproportionate and unnecessarily extreme measure, because regulation (i.e. "controlled use") of asbestos can render the remaining hazards to workers and society "undetectable." Asbestos is estimated to kill 100,000 workers a year from occupational exposure, especially cancer.
Maude Barlow, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, said, "Worse, documents from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) show that while the WTO was hearing horror stories about the death toll from asbestos, our government was helping to promote more exports, particularly in Asia and South America."
Access-to-information documents reveal that since 1993, after the federal government said direct funding of the Asbestos Institute ended, federal and provincial governments have channelled millions of dollars through a Mineral Development Agreement to the Asbestos Institute and to the asbestos industry.
In addition, NRCan documents reveal an additional $500,000 went "to support concrete activities in partnership with their provincial counterparts, industry and labour in defence of the asbestos industry, and another $250,000 to promote responsible use programs in developing countries." (Chrysotile Asbestos--Asbestos Institute Financing Briefing Note, Natural Resources Canada, June 1999).
Canada's appeal of the asbestos case came less than a week after the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade announced that trade agreements would be subjected to environmental screening.
* Council of Canadians, September 2000, and The WTO Asbestos Case and its Health and Trade Implications, speech by Barry Castleman, Seattle, December 1999.
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Acknowledges the Environment
The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is seeking comments from the public on a draft framework for the environmental assessment of trade negotiations.
The purpose of the framework is to consider the environmental impacts of all trade negotiations in which Canada participates. Public consultations started Sept. 9 and are planned until October 6. The comments received will be used to refine and finalize the framework before the end of October 2000. The framework can be viewed on the Department's website at: www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/tna-nac/social-e.asp
Copies can also be obtained by contacting the Environmental Services Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0G2.
* (613)944-0631; fax: (613)944-0432; email: email@example.com
NAFTA makes Mexico pay off waste dumper
In August, a secret international tribunal, the International Center for Investment Dispute Settlement, an obscure arm of the World Bank, ordered Mexico to pay nearly $17 million in compensation to a US company. MetalClad Corp. had built a hazardous waste dump in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potos, but state authorities stopped the project for environmental reasons. The area was later declared an environmental reserve.
The tribunal said the Mexican actions amounted to expropriation, and failed to protect the company's rights as a foreign investor under Chapter 11 of NAFTA.
Mary E. Bottari of Global Trade Watch, a Washington-based group, said: "Any time any investment is infringed upon by regulation, any time any worker safety protection puts any burden on a company, these companies may use this Chapter 11 system to directly sue sovereign governments --it's crazy. This is a part of the hidden agenda of NAFTA."
"Metalclad met all federal and state environmental regulations," said a Metalclad spokesman. "Besides, there is nothing stopping these governments from denying a landfill at any point, as long as they pay for it."
* New York Times, August 2000.
Fish Farm Waste Fuels Toxic Algae
Scotland's 350 fish farms release nutrients at levels which probably contribute to toxic algae blooms, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Each year, the farms deposit phosphorus equal to the sewage pollution of 9.4 million people as well as 7,500 tonnes of nitrogen, equivalent to that of the sewage from 3.2 million people, says a report by internationally respected ecologist Malcom MacGarvin, who used new criteria from OSPAR, the intergovernmental body for the North East Atlantic, to calculate the pollution.
Nutrients stimulate plant growth and contribute to toxic algal blooms, thought to be a factor in amnesic shellfish poisoning , a disease similar to Red Tide. Algal blooms may be toxic to wild fish lar vae and marine mammals, such as porpoises and seals, according to the report. They also kill caged salmon on salmon farms and close shellfish harvesting.
* Scottish Telegraph, and Scotland's Secret - Aquaculture, nutrient pollution eutrophication and toxic blooms, WWF, September 2000
DFO Says Roads Wreck Fish Habitat
British Columbia is losing fish habitat at the rate of between 162,000 and 324,000 square metres (16 and 32 hectares) per year as a result of forest road construction, according to a report released by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
The study, published in the Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, is highly critical of the forest industry's repeated violations of the Forest Practices Code in constructing stream crossings on logging roads. It also criticizes DFO for failing to monitor these violations, failing to enforce the Fisheries Act and failing to follow its own guiding principle of 'no net loss' of fish habitat.
Numerous studies of the Pacific Northwest show that forestry roads are the single greatest threat to fish habitat, because of silt and sediments.
According to Sierra Legal biologist John Werring, the DFO report reveals that the problem is more serious than earlier believed. "One of the most alarming aspects of this report is that these inadequate stream crossings were all made after the introduction of the Forest Practices Code in 1995," Werring said. "The Code was supposed to prevent this kind of wanton destruction." Werring says that the actual amount of lost habitat may even be 4 to 5 times higher than reported.
* Sierra Legal Defence Fund, July 2000
Measure Your Dependence on Nature
Answer the questions, clip & mail. Measure your impact on this beautiful biosphere.
by Norberto Rodriquez dela Vega
"Our ecological impact corresponds to the amount of nature we occupy to keep us going. The Ecological Footprint of a specified population or economy can be defined as "the area of ecologically productive land (and water) in various classes--cropland, pasture, forests, etc. --that would be required to provide all the energy/material resources consumed, and to absorb all the wastes discharged by the population with prevailing technology, wherever on Earth that land is located." 1
Exceeding our ecological means will lead to the destruction of humanity's only home. Having insufficient natural resources, not living decently and equitably, will cause conflict and degrade our social fabric. Having "more stuff" is not the same as living a better life.
It would be wise to start monitoring whether we are living within our ecological means or at what rate are we depleting this magical biosphere. "We must ask ourselves: How much nature does humanity, our country or our household use to sustain itself?
"After all, we are part of nature, and depend on its steady supply of the basic requirements for life: energy for heat and mobility, wood for housing, furniture and paper products, fibres for clothes, quality food and water for healthy living, ecological sinks for waste absorption and many life-support services for securing living conditions on our planet." 2
The ecological footprint is not about how bad things are. It is about how they are, and what we can do about it.
This questionnaire is one simple way to measure our use of nature. With your answers, we can calculate our local ecological footprints and report the results in the next issue of the Watershed Sentinel.
1. Our Ecological Footprint; William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, New Society Publishers, 1996.
2. Ecological Footprints of Nations. Mathis Wackernagel, L. Onisto, A. Callejas. 1997.
Footprint Questionnaire: Calculating Our Use of Nature
(Please circle your choice, or best estimate, or fill in the blank):
No. 1: Animal-based Products. Animal-based products (beef, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, dairy, etc.) provide 43 percent of the calories of the average American diet.
How often do you eat animal-based products (including meat, eggs, dairy, and fish)?
a. Never (Vegan)
b. Infrequently (a few times a week or ovo-lacto vegetarian) (ovo-lacto = egg-milk)
c. Occasionally (once a day or dairy-heavy ovo-lacto vegetarian)
d. Frequently (at least some traces in every meal
e. A large part of every meal
No. 2: Food amounts. The average American eats approximately 3000 kilo-calories (kcal) every day (see calorie counter below). This diet is approximately equivalent to:
eating cereal, toast, juice, and coffee for breakfast,
a sandwich, yogurt, fruit, and beverage for lunch,
an afternoon snack, and
a dinner with main course, side, and beverage, and a snack or dessert in the evening.
Given this general description of the average American diet, and the fact that individual caloric intake will depend on age, physical activity, body type, and other factors, how would you describe your average daily food intake?
a. much less than average (2400 or less kcal/day)
b. less than average (2400 to 2800 kcal/day)
c. average (2800-3200 kcal/day)
d. more than average (3200-3600 kcal/day)
e. much more than average (3600-plus kcal/day)
No. 3: Food Waste. How much of your purchased food is thrown out?
b. About 5 percent is wasted
c. About 10 percent is wasted
d. About one quarter is wasted
e. About one third is wasted
f. About half is wasted
No. 4: Locally Grown Food. A significant portion of the energy cost of food production is spent on transporting food from harvest to market, and for processing, packaging, and storage. Growing your own food or buying locally grown unprocessed food can greatly reduce the need to expend energy in food production. Because it may be difficult to know where food has been produced, shopping at farmers' markets or buying directly from farmers is the best way to minimize your food footprint.
How much of the food that you eat is locally grown, unprocessed and in-season?
a. Most food I buy is packaged and from far away.
b. About one-quarter
c. About one-half
d. About three quarters
e. Most food I purchase is locally grown, unprocessed, and in-season
No. 5 : Distance driven per year. How much do you travel by car each year, on average? (either as driver or passenger)
a. 15000 miles or more (480+ km/week)
b. 12000-15000 miles (400 km/week)
c. 9000-12000 miles (320 km/week)
d. 8000-9000 miles (275 km/week)
e. 5000-8000 miles (200 km/week)
f. 2000-5000 (120 km/week)
g. 2000 or less (65 km/week or less)
No. 6: Ride Sharing. On average, how often do you drive with someone else (either your car or theirs)?
a. Almost never
b. About 10% of the time
c. About a quarter of the time
d. About half the time
e. About three quarters of the time
f. Almost all the time
No. 7: Fuel efficiency. How fuel-efficient is your car?
a. More than 50 miles per gallon (more than 17.7 km/litre)
b. 35-50 mpg (12.4-17.7 km/litre)
c. 25-35 mpg (8.8-12.4 km/litre)
d. 15-25 mpg (5.3-8.8 km/litre)
e. Fewer than 15 mpg (fewer than 5.3 km/litre)
No. 8: Public transportation. How far do you travel on public transportation (bus, rail) each week?
a. More than 200 miles per week (30+ miles or 48+km per day)
b. 100-200 miles per week (20 m or 32 km/day)
c. 25-100 miles per week (10 m or 16 km/day)
d. 15-25 miles per week (3 or 4.8 km/day)
e. Fewer than 15 miles per week (fewer than 2 m or 3.2 km/day)
No. 9: Air Travel. How many hours per year do you spend flying?
a. 400 hours
b. 100 hours
c. 50 hours
d. 25 hours
e. 10 hours
f. 5 hours
g. 2 hours
h. Less than 2 hours
i. Never fly
No. 10: How many people live in your home?
No. 11: House Size. The average single family house in the United States is around 2100 sq. ft. In area (total, including multiple floors if applicable), how big is your home?
a. 10000 sq ft or more
b. 5000-10000 sq ft
c. 2500-5000 sq ft
d. 1500-2500 sq ft
e. 1000-1500 sq ft
f. 500-1000 sq ft
g. 500 sq ft or less
No. 12: Does your home purchase electricity from a "green" electricity provider (e.g., solar, wind, micro-hydro)?
No. 13: Do you use energy efficient appliances & lights?
b. most of the time
c. half the time
d. some of the time
Thank you! We would like respondents to remain anonymous, but please answer a couple of questions about yourself:
No. 14: Where do you live? (Cortes Island? Prince George? Toronto?)
No. 15: How old are you?
After completing this questionnaire, please send to: Watershed Sentinel Footprint Questionnaire, Box 39, Whaletown, BC V0P 1Z0 or fax (during office hours, please) to: (250)935-6992. If you want to know how your footprint compares with others, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope.
* Questionnaire developed by Ritik Dholakia, Mathis Wackernagel, and Diana Deumling, 1999
* Sponsored by the Friends of Cortes Island Watershed Sentinel Fund
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What's the Buzz on Beetles?
Insects are as much a part of the forest as the trees, but they don't get no respect.
by Paula Rodriguez de la Vega
"The eradication of any native species of forest insect is impossible. They are as much a part of the forest as the trees themselves. They have been there as long as the trees have, and will continue to be so until the end of time." - Hector Richmond, former Chief Entomologist, BC Ministry of Forests
The real reason that clear cutting is prescribed for beetle salvage logging is purely economic. If beetle-killed pine is not harvested, the timber company does not get access to cheap timber (stumpage is roughly one-third of the usual), and the Annual Allowable Cut for the forest area will be lowered. Further, the clearcut prescription for the war on beetles allows logging companies access to pine stands without having to go through the usual 60-day public review and comment period, and without having to pay the usual stumpage fee (even for healthy pine). The natural function of the Lodgepole Pine ecosystem is practically forbidden by current forest practices and policy.
We keep seeing that expedited (immediate) clearcut salvage logging is being prescribed by timber companies in order to deal with 'beetle infestations' or 'outbreaks.' They claim that beetles are 'attacking the forests,' that the beetle is 'aggressive' and that it poses a 'threat to forest health.' In some cases the course of action is immediate 'forest sanitation.'
This so-called 'destructive pest' is the mountain pine beetle (dendroctonus ponderosae)--a tiny black beetle about half the size of a grain of rice.
Once one starts reading the literature, this beetle doesn't sound so nasty after all.
The mountain pine beetle naturally exists at low (endemic) populations in all lodgepole pine forests. A pair of beetles will lay eggs within the inner bark of a tree. These hatch into tiny larvae who feed on the inner bark of the mature pine tree. If many beetles 'attack' the tree at once then they will likely kill it.
The beetle is a naturally occurring part of the lodgepole pine forest ecology. Beetles have been killing mature pine since the glaciers retreated. Beetles have also provided food for many beetle-eating birds such as woodpeckers for millennia. In return, these birds keep beetles at moderate levels. Mountain pine beetles are intricately woven into these ecosystems.
When climatic conditions (mild winters, warm summers) and food supplies (large lodgepole pine trees) are favourable over a long period of time, the small endemic populations grow into large epidemic proportions.
In a mixed species stand, if a beetle epidemic kills most of the pine, the other tree species will benefit from the space and take over.
In pure lodgepole pine forests, a beetle epidemic will kill a large percentage of the mature trees thus leaving behind a thinned out pine forest.
The trees that are killed by beetle will eventually fall down, then decompose or become fuel for an intense stand replacement forest fire. Pine will eventually regenerate the holes in the stand over time.
Contrary to common belief, the beetle will not kill all of the forest if we do not act.
Even in pure pine stands, some pine trees will survive. In some areas, lodgepole pine stands that are 140 to 250 years old exist. The beetle seems to be climatically limited when the weather is too cold. Epidemics end naturally when:
The mountain pine beetle is an integral part of the pine forest ecosystem. It is not going to go away and it cannot be exterminated. So next time you see clearcutting as the proposed method of dealing with beetle, think twice.
The recently published British Columbia Environmental Network Forest Caucus publication, Citizens' Guide to AAC Determinations - How to Make a Difference, by Greg Utzig and Donna Macdonald, is now available on the BCEN website. You can download the full version, maps-only, or text version. The PDF files can be found at: www.bcen.bc.ca/caucuspg/fr/publicat.htm
Clearcutting is not the answer
Clearcutting pine stands will not control the beetle. The beetle will continue to evolve new epidemics in uncut stands if the conditions are right. The reason for this is that it is already there but at very low levels. Only modifying stand or tree conditions to varied age classes and species mixtures will prevent epidemics.
Clearcutting will only reduce beetle hazard temporarily. The expanses of even aged, single species forest which (hopefully) regenerate following such a program will again be prime beetle habitat in 80 to 100 years, which is the short term in responsible forest management. Also, monocultures contain the lowest level of the beetle's natural predators and other controls, and are most susceptible to all forest pests.
What we can do is try to prevent a beetle epidemic.
Clearcutting the forest is the most common method of "dealing" with the beetle. The tactic is, get the trees before the beetles do. Yet endemic populations of beetles exist in every pine stand. Present at low populations, beetles are waiting for favourable conditions (warm winters, mature stands with low light intensity and low airflow) to increase their populations.
Tom Bradley's literature review on the Mountain Pine Beetle (1993) suggests the following:
"The only hope for long term control of pine beetle populations lies in managing the forest in such a way that habitat conditions never become favourable enough for epidemic populations to build up, and/or epidemics occur in geographically isolated pockets that will not spread extensively because the food supply is not continuous.
"Studies in the USA have shown that lodgepole pine forests can be selectively logged to create unfavourable habitat conditions for beetles. Thinning resulted in greater insolation, light intensity, wind movement, and a reduction in humidity. This effectively altered the stand microclimate enough to suppress beetle populations.
"Wind firmness of pine can be developed over time and successive entries. Mistletoe problems can be managed with careful leave tree selection." - Bradley, 1993
When it comes right down to it though, the solution is the development of a long-term, wholistic, insect management plan. This plan must recognize that there will be timber losses that will not be recovered. Wildlife habitat, travel corridors, streams and water quality, all need to be considered right at the beginning of planning.
Objectives of the plan need to prioritize healthy ecosystems that include beetle, not the sterilization of the landscape. Unlike what some in the forest industry would have us believe, this is not radiation therapy for cancer, but rather an additional factor to be considered by forest ecologists.
* Originally published in the East Kootenay Society Newsletter, February and March 2000.
The Trail to the Money
Forests and other green issues remain unresolved in NDP policy paralysis
by Delores Broten
Knight Inlet, 1995
"Most troubling ... is the suggestion that the professional accountability of foresters is a myth ..."
--British Columbia Association of Professional Foresters, June 2000
Photo by Ian McAllister Raincoast Conservation Society
This June, the British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) released The Inside Story of BC's Great Outdoors: Why Workers in the Ministry May Not Be Getting Full Value for its Timber. This survey of union members said the Ministry of Forests (MoF) is so under-staffed that the ministry is unable to monitor the provisions of the Forest Practices Code, or even check scaling of the timber to make sure royalties due to the public are properly assessed.
Four out of five BCGEU members noted that, although MoF did a good job delivering information to land use planning processes, the "public is not given a full and accurate picture of the state of BC's forests." Alarmingly, the BCGEU commented that the move to a deregulated, "results-based" Forest Practices Code "relies heavily upon the notion of professional accountability and that notion has no credibility with workers in MoF."
The Association of BC Professional Foresters professed dismay: "This assessment fails to take into account the expertise, integrity and independence of the professional men and women who are entrusted with the management of BC's forests." The foresters' professional association said curtly the union report did not reflect all the on-the-ground facts but, "Most troubling... is the suggestion that the professional accountability of foresters is a myth..."
The Great Outdoors report follows statements, verified by both provincial and federal auditors, from Ministry of Environment staff that they are unable to adequately monitor pollution or assess the ecological state of a watershed. In August 1999 the BCGEU reported that 86% of its members in the Ministry of Environment said important programs have been "eliminated or eroded to the point of ineffectiveness" since 1996. During those years, about 400 jobs and over a quarter of the budget were slashed from the Ministry of Environment, compared to a 10% decrease in other Ministries' budgets.
Environment has clearly been targeted for cuts as part of NDP policy. Nonetheless, a recent mailing from Minister Sawicki profiled the NDP government's environmental achievements, including $5 million restored to the budget in 1999 to "rebuild the ministry's core services."
The Minister rightly points out sterling achievements in the past decade:
But in some way, perhaps inevitably, these bright spots serve to highlight the murky areas of this government's environmental policy. The Minister brags about "the toughest pollution standards in Canada for pulp mill discharges," but the tough part doesn't come into effect until 2002, and current provisions are not enforced. Lacking provincial action, air quality in both urban centres and in mill towns is terrible. BC consistently lowers federal guidelines for water quality; the vaunted Fish Protection Act has left municipalities on their own to slug it out with developers over water for fish; urban sprawl continues unabated; regulations are poised to allow the unrestrained dumping of sewage and pulp mill sludge on our farm and forest land; and neither the Ministry of Environment nor the Ministry of Forests, contemplating the tatters of its "world class" Forest Practices Code, is able to do much to protect biodiversity. Meanwhile stream after stream empties of wild fish and fills with escaped Atlantic farmed salmon, mute evidence of the government's impotence when it comes to enforcing regulations and standards.
Annual Budget Allocations From 1995 To 2000
MELP staff were reduced by 400 from 2,453 in 1995 to 2053 in 2000.
* BC Government Services Employees' Union (BCGEU), (800)667-1033 http://www.bcgeu.bc.ca/contact.html
Over the past decade, interested citizens have been presented with hundreds of tonnes of assorted Vision Statements, Policy Papers, Strategic Options and Options for Strategies, while the government pushed the Snooze button. A few of the environmentalists still labelled "enemies of BC" by NDP politicians have continued to blockade the logging roads, but the overall response could be summed up as "Huh?"
Meanwhile, species go extinct, ecosystems crash, and ground water is contaminated. Greens could well echo the labour leader who asked, in bewilderment lately, "What has happened to our party?"
The answer, for enviros, if not for labour, is simple. The NDP party exploits our volunteer labour, and our optimism, but the government is not living up to its self-promotion as a green caretaker. Nor is it behaving any differently than other parties in its refusal to challenge corporate paradigms and in pandering to petty business agendas, whenever public attention wavers from health and environment priorities. What's going on?
Corporate interests have no direct input into party policy, nor is policy as set at Convention influenced by a heavy labour contingent. David Bieber, Provincial NDP Communications Officer, says that unions of all stripes had less than 10 percent of the delegates at the last convention. Tellingly, Bieber emphasized that party policy was not binding on government which was "free to implement, imitate or ignore" the policies, but which did "try not to violate" the policies passed at Convention. Factors other than party policy influence the political agenda.
An examination of 1996 campaign expenses reveals some suggestive evidence. One-fifth of NDP provincial party money during the last election was donated by labour. Most critically, 24 out of 75 NDP candidates received more than three-quarters of their local funding in their ridings from labour organizations, largely from the building trades and the IWA. Glen Clark, Joy MacPhail, Joan Smallwood, Ian Waddell, Joan Sawicki, Jim Doyle, Evelyn Gillespie, Cathy McGregor, Dennis Streifel, Dale Lovick, Glenn Robertson, and Lois Boone were among these 24. Another 23 NDP candidates received over half of their local funding from labour, while 10 candidates, including Dan Miller, Harry Lali and Ujjal Dosanjh, were gifted with less than a quarter of their locally raised funds by labour.
The nature of the labour movement is critical to understanding the NDP dilemma. Labour is bound by codes of conduct which require unions to support each other, in a hard-earned tradition of solidarity in self-defence. Labour is also bound by rules which require democratic process for policy changes. And unions do not choose their members--the companies hire them. Union leaders must first and foremost look out for the well-being of their members; they have no choice. Their members are in the union because of the work they do in return for money. The details vary dramatically from leader to leader, as does the level of talent, moral commitment, and social conscience of each union, but the fundamental dynamic is unalterable: involuntary membership, democratic structure, and inter-union solidarity.
The NDP party itself has a Standing Committee on the Environment (SCOE), but that committee appears to be ineffective, either in developing policy recommendations, or in getting the elected politicians to follow them. Nonetheless, current Chair John McInnis asserts that it makes sense, rather than "being negative," to work within the Party, to "move forward the environmental agenda" in the time remaining to "restore support" for the next election. SCOE is composed of regional representatives, two union reps, and has gender parity, representing a "coalition of interests." McInnis points to recent experiments with certification for small business woodlots as a success story emanating from the party committee.
Comments by previous SCOE chairs reveal that the environmentalist-versus-logger paradigm that has plagued the province was also paralysing the party even in 1989. "It was a watershed time for our party," says John Cashore, the first environment minister in the Harcourt government and critic at the time the SCOE was founded. "The two traditional bases of support within the party, labour and environmentalists, were divided over conservation issues. Large forest companies were over-cutting our forests, making huge profits while laying off workers."
A survey of the professionals working for the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) reveals that the ability of MELP to protect the environment has been severely compromised by the budget cuts. The survey, conducted by the British Columbia Government Employees' Union (BCGEU) found very low morale, and a great loss of confidence in the ministry's ability to protect the environment. The men and women who protect BC's environment said they are less able to do the job now than they were five years ago, and there is not enough field work, monitoring and assessment.
It also found that current workloads do not allow permit and monitoring systems to work effectively. Only 2 percent give a good rating to BC's permit and monitoring systems. None rate it as very effective. More than half, 53 percent, call it poor, while 35 percent say it is not at all effective, for a combined negative rating of 88 percent.
The survey was conducted by sending 1,600 questionnaires to MELP staff; out of which 252 (16%) were returned and analysed. For more information contact Cliff Stainsby, BCGEU Victoria, B.C; ph 1-800-667-1033.
* From The Gallon Environment Letter, May 2000; 506 Victoria Ave., Montreal, Quebec H3Y 2R5; ph: (514)369-0230; fax: (514)369-3282; email firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no reason to suspect the situation has improved. Longtime NDP green activist Jim Cooperman credits SCOE with creating the framework for NDP policy such as the Forest Practices Code, but points the finger at a decline in influence of the committee, in the mid-1990s. "Very little of what SCOE does results in changes in government policy," said Cooperman. "It's more of a forum for discussion, and it's frustrating trying to get agreement (from the different parties)." (Quotes from The Democrat, 1999)
Lacking self-resolution of these internal tensions between labour and environmentalists, and particularly between IWA-led loggers and wildlife conservationists, it's not too surprising that the BCGEU members who safeguard the public interest have been left twisting in the winds of downsizing and deregulation. The paralysis between environmental and "company union" interests within the governing NDP party has held many hostage:
The only solution for these conflicts would be through vision, leadership, and persistence. Unfortunately the NDP now suffers from a surprising shortage of all three requirements. A few honourable individuals provide the exception to the rule. It is this lack of leadership from politicians who ignore their own party policy which has created the reigning confusion.
The budget and staff cuts at the Ministry of Environment are indicative of a political process of deregulation, devolution, and government indecision due to unresolved political conflicts within the party itself.
Sewage system information for recently rural residents.
by Cliff Turner
It's easy to get information on how to maintain a compost bin, but septic tanks, which operate with a similar biological breakdown of food or waste, seem more mysterious. The septic tank is an essential part of a sewage system. Here are some points to remember about the "care and feeding" of that part of the sewage treatment system.
A "starter" is not needed for bacterial action to begin in a septic tank. Many bacteria are present in the materials deposited into the tank and will thrive under the growth conditions present. The ideal anaerobic bacteria are plentiful in human waste.
Care and feeding of your septic system
If you feel an additive is needed, be aware that some may do great harm. Additives that advertise to "eliminate" tank cleaning may cause the sludge layer to fluff up and be washed out into the drainfield, plugging soil pores. Some additives, particularly degreasers, may contain suspected carcinogens that will flow into the ground water. The disposal field is not designed to handle grease. The septic tank is designed to float grease wastes and hold them in the tank for breakdown into simpler elements that do not float on water.
Send all sewage into the septic tank. Never run laundry wastes directly into the drainfield or a separate pit. Soap or detergent scum will contaminate the groundwater or plug the soil pores.
Normal amounts of household detergents, bleaches, drain cleaners, and other household chemicals can be used and won't stop the bacterial action in the septic tank. But don't use excessive amounts of any household chemicals. Never put antibiotics or quaternary ammonia disinfectants in sewer systems. Do not dump cleaning water for latex paint brushes into the house sewer. There is the danger of plugging the disposal field and/or stopping the normal operation of the septic tank.
Don't deposit coffee grounds, cooking fats, wet-strength towels, disposable diapers, plastic or latex products, facial tissues, cigarette butts, and other non-decomposable materials into the house sewer. These materials won't decompose and will eventually fill the septic tank and plug the system. Ground garbage may find its way out of the septic tank and plug up the drainfield. It is better to compost, incinerate, or deposit the materials in the garbage that will be hauled away.
Avoid dumping grease down the drain. It may plug the sink drain or the sewer pipes. It will build up in the septic tank as a floating scum layer and eventually break down, but it's better to keep a separate container for waste grease and discard it with the garbage.
If you use a garbage disposal type of food waste grinder, it may be beneficial to the operation of the septic tank in the same way it helps in a compost. Moderation is the key, because a small septic tank could become overloaded and you may need to remove septic tank solids more often.
Paper towels, toilet paper and tissues should break up easily if disposed of in the toilet. One way to find out is to put a handful of the paper tissue in a jar half-full of water. Shake the jar, and if the tissue breaks up easily, the product is suitable for the septic tank. High wet-strength tissues are not suitable. Colour has no effect on the septic tank.
Recharge wastes from a properly operating water softener will not harm septic tank action, but the additional water must be treated and disposed of by the drainfield.
If the softener recharge overloads the liquid sewage disposal system, this waste water can be discharged to the ground surface separately, since it contains no pathogens. It should be discharged in a location where it will not be a nuisance or damage valuable grass or plants. Recharge wastes contain salt or the chemical used to recharge the water softener media. Salt has been reported to plug percolation in clay-type soils in the disposal field.
Go easy on the soap
Using too much soap or detergent can cause problems with the septic system. It is difficult to estimate how dirty a load of laundry is, and most people use far more cleaning power than is needed.
It's generally best not to use inexpensive detergents that may contain excessive amounts of filler or carrier. Some of these fillers are montmorillonite clay, which can seal soils. The best solution may be to use a liquid laundry detergent, since they are less likely to have carriers or fillers.
Each septic system has its own capacity
Just as wells have limited capacities, each septic system has a certain capacity.
The disposal field limits the amount of water that will pass through the system in a given time, and the conditions in the tank limit the amount of semi-solid waste. If the solids from the tank overflow into the disposal field, plugging and failure will result. One way to greatly improve the standard septic tank is to fit a filter to the outlet which will give a timely warning that something is wrong before the solids reach the tile field. Users of the system should know the on-site sewage treatment system daily capacity. Each gallon of water that flows into the drain must go through the septic tank and into the soil absorption area.
The following are some ways to conserve water that cause no hardship in anyone's standard of living
Be sure that there are no leaking faucets or other plumbing fixtures. Routinely check the float valve on all toilets to be sure it isn't sticking and the water isn't running continuously. It doesn't take long for the water from a leaking toilet or a faucet to add up. A cup of water leaking out of a toilet every minute doesn't seem like much, but that's 90 gallons a day! Be sure that there is no water flowing into the sewer when all water-using appliances are supposed to be off.
Installing a water meter is one way to know how much water you are using and how much the water use will be reduced by doing certain things. A water meter for a home should cost from $50 to $100, plus installation.
Many toilets use 5 to 6 gallons per flush. Some so-called low-water- use toilets are advertised to use only 3.5 gallons per flush. But the design of the bowl hasn't been changed, and often two flushes are needed to remove all solids. That's seven gallons! Toilets are available which have been redesigned and will do a good job with one gallon or less per flush. Using a one-gallon toilet rather than a five-gallon toilet will reduce sewage flows from a home by about one-third. This reduction may be more than enough to make the sewage system function again.
Front-loading washers and suds-savers use less water than top-loading machines. If your sewage treatment system is reaching its maximum capacity, try to spread the washing out during the week to avoid overloading the sewage system on a single day.
Baths and showers can use lots of water. "Setting up camp" in the shower with a shower head flow of 5 gallons per minute will require 100 gallons in 20 minutes. Shower heads that limit the flow to 1.5 or 2 gallons per minute (and have a full-flow function to allow rinsing shampoo out of hair) are available. The idea is to consider water as a valuable resource.
If you don't use too much water or put materials in the septic tank that bacteria can't decompose, the septic system will be trouble-free for many years. Don't forget, the septic tank does need to be cleaned out when too many solids build up. However, pumping too often will also prevent the tank from working properly.
Inspecting and pumping your septic tank
If there are four people living in your house and your septic tank can hold 1,000 gallons, the tank should be inspected and pumped at about every three years.
To properly clean a septic tank, the manhole cover or the tank cover must be removed. A septic tank cannot be cleaned adequately by pumping out liquids through a four-inch inspection pipe. Doing so often results in some of the scum layer plugging the outlet baffle when the tank refills.
Be sure the tank is opened when it is cleaned. At this time, the baffles or tee fittings should be inspected and replaced if necessary.
Rather than pumping the tank, the sludge depth on the bottom and the scum layer on the top of the sewage in the septic tank can be measured by using a cloth wrapped and fastened to a wood pole inserted into the sewage through an inspection hole in the top of the tank.
By measuring the levels and state of materials in your tank, an exact and informed decision can be made on pumping necessity.
Caution: Never go down into a septic tank. The gases present may poison or asphyxiate you. Only trained professionals should enter a septic tank or any other confined space.
* Sponsored by Friends of Cortes Island Watershed Sentinel Fund
* Thanks to: Roger Machmeier, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota, and Karen Mancl; Journal of Environmental Engineering, 1984; Vol. 10.
* Thanks also to the Gabriola Ground Water Management Society for providing information and advice.
The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind
Farmers are beginning to double-crop with corn and wind.
by Lester R. Brown
Farmers and ranchers in the United States are discovering that they own not only land, but also the wind rights that go with that land.
A farmer in Iowa who leases a quarter-acre of crop land to the local utility as a site for a wind turbine can typically earn $2,000 a year in royalties from the electricity produced. In a good year, that same plot can produce $100 worth of corn.
Wind turbines strung across the farm at appropriate intervals can provide a welcome boost to farm income, yielding a year-round cash flow. At a time when farmers are struggling with low grain prices, some are now finding salvation in this new "crop," enabling them to stay on the land. It is like striking oil, except that the wind is never depleted.
Harnessing the wind has become increasingly profitable. The American Wind Energy Association reports that the cost per kilowatt-hour of wind-generated electricity has fallen from 38 cents in the early 1980s to three-to-six cents today, depending primarily on wind speed at the site.
Already competitive with other sources, the cost of wind-generated electricity is expected to continue to decline. These falling costs, facilitated by advances in wind turbine design, help explain why wind power is expanding rapidly beyond its original stronghold in California.
As wind farms have come online in farming and ranching states such as Minnesota, Iowa, Texas, and Wyoming, wind-electric generation has soared, pushing US wind generating capacity from 1,928 megawatts in 1998 to 2,490 megawatts in 1999--a gain of 29 percent.
The potential of wind power is enormous. The US Department of Energy found that three states--North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas--have enough harnessable wind energy to meet electricity needs for the whole USA.
Satisfying the local demand for electricity from wind is not the end of the story.
Cheap electricity produced from wind can be used to electrolyze water, producing hydrogen, now widely viewed as the fuel of the future. With automobiles powered by fuel cell engines expected on the market within a few years and with hydrogen as the fuel of choice for these new engines, a huge new market is opening up. Royal Dutch Shell, a leader in this area, is already starting to open hydrogen stations in Europe. William Ford, CEO of Ford Motor, has said he expects to preside over the demise of the internal combustion engine.
A formidable new alliance is emerging in support of wind energy. In addition to environmentalists, farmers and those consumers who favour green power are now supporting the development of American wind wealth. So, too, are political leaders in the farming and ranching states of the Midwest and the Great Plains, many of whom sponsored legislation in Washington to extend the wind energy Production Tax Credit, which encourages investment in wind power.
Aside from the economic benefits of wind power, political interest is being spurred by a steady diet of news stories about the possible effects of global warming, including record heat waves and droughts, melting glaciers, and rising sea level.
Rapid growth in wind energy is not limited to the United States. Worldwide, wind electric generation in 1999 expanded by a staggering 39 percent.
Wind already supplies 10 percent of Denmark's electricity. In Germany's northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein, it supplies some 14 percent of all electricity. Spain's northern industrial province of Navarra gets 23 percent of its electricity from wind, up from zero just four years ago.
In China, which recently brought its first wind farm online in Inner Mongolia, wind analysts estimate that the country's wind potential is sufficient to double national electricity generation.
In Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, individual farmers, or organized groups of farmers, are investing in the turbines themselves and selling the electricity to the local utilities, thus boosting the farmers' share of income from wind power.
The world is beginning to recognize wind for what it is--an inexhaustible energy source that can supply both electricity and fuel.
* For more information and data: www.worldwatch.org/chairman/index; Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., NW Washington, DC 20036-1904; ph: (202)452-1992 ext. 514; fax: (202)296-7365.
Oil Prices Should Come As No Surprise
The ghost of "oil crises" past returns to haunt us.
by Mike Nickerson
Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know.
So wrote M. K. Hubbert many years ago. The truth of his words can be applied to many situations, but they refer specifically to today's problem with oil supply.
As the drama of oil prices unfolds; we have to ask why policy makers, who for years had access to this information, continued to steer society in the direction of increasing oil use?
Why have we built our cities on the assumption of cheap-oil-based transportation? Why do we pursue international dependencies based on long-distance transport?
It has been four decades since Hubbert identified the inevitability of tomorrow's oil crunch. The rising price of oil is not the product of greedy producers or government taxes. It is the inevitable result of our steadily increasing consumption of a finite resource.
As a resource supply specialist, Hubbert identified what is now called the Hubbert Curve of resource production.
It goes like this: First, a use is found for a resource, then production begins, and consumption increases as the resource becomes available on the market. As use grows, production expands, initially using up the most easily tapped reserves and then moving into supplies that are harder to reach. Consumption continues to grow as more and more people find more ways to use the resource. Eventually, as it becomes harder and harder to find and extract new reserves, consumer demand becomes greater than supply.
This is called the Hubbert Peak.
After that point is reached, the price of the resource rises sharply until consumption falls to the level of available supply. Supply proceeds into a steady decline until the resource is practically eliminated.
Hubbert's methodology for predicting this pattern of resource exploitation is broadly accepted. A detailed explanation and abundant information about the petroleum situation are available at: www.hubbertpeak.com/index/
With the exception of a brief dip following the 1970s "oil crisis," we have consumed more oil every year since the first commercial production.
The price rise we are experiencing is because producers are either unwilling or unable to increase production. If they are unwilling, it is because they know that they will soon be unable to do so and that soon after that, they will be unable to continue producing even at their present rate.
Today's problem with oil supplies is not a surprise.
The petroleum industry, governments, and independent consultants have known of the approaching peak for many years.
If this information has been available for years, why have we continued to build permanent infrastructure on patterns that require oil powered vehicles? Why have we pursued an economic policy that is dependent on long distance transport?
At the Hubbert site you can find a presentation made to the British House of Commons last year by Dr. Colin Campbell (www.hubbertpeak.com/campbell/commons).
From a lifetime of experience exploring for oil, Camp bell describes the development of exploration technology from the hit-and-miss technique of the early days to the sophisticated methods used today. We can be sure there are no unexpected large reserves awaiting discovery to justify our unwillingness to act on the fact that oil is limited. We have been consuming oil faster than our rate of discovery since 1980. We now use four barrels from reserves for every new barrel discovered.
We need to join Campbell in asking why, because our leaders have obviously not paid attention. Ask your elected representatives when they will start making decisions based on the understanding that the age of oil is beginning to wane. Contact information for MPs is available at (800)667-3355.
We have to take action to move off of the limb of dependency and toward sustainable local provision of our basic needs.
Such policies would insulate us from the difficulties of depleting oil reserves and lead to far more local employment. Also, by acting locally to meet our needs, we would see the impacts of our actions and would be inclined to treat the environment, upon which we are ultimately dependent, with the sensitivity required for long-term well-being.
* Sustainability Project--Inviting Debate, Box 374, Merrickville, ON, Canada K0G 1N0; ph: (613)269-3500; email: email@example.com
The Pine River Oil Spill
by G. Leona Green, Hillspring Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility, Dawson Creek BC
The Pine River, born in the Rocky Mountains in the Pine Pass, meanders for many kilometres through still and peaceful valleys, deep canyons and stands of ancient timber. It finally spills into the "Mighty Peace" at Taylor Flats. The Pine is a fast flowing, gravel bottom river with many backwaters and muskegs. A few farms and ranches scattered along her way and the town of Chetwynd depend on her for life-giving waters.
Grayling, Rocky Mountain whites, Bull trout, Dolly Varden and Rainbow trout are just some of the fish who thrived in her waters. Moose, deer, elk, black and grizzly bears, martin, mink are some of the many animals that lived there also. The beavers had numerous ponds along her as well. Her valley hosted songbirds of every imaginable species, waterfowl by the hundreds and under every one of her many bridges, swallows built their little mud nests.
I know this river well. I lived on her banks for many years and raised all my children there. I have hiked and ridden horseback her entire length. I have listened to the booming echo of summer thunder in her canyons and have watched in awe at the mighty power of ice flows in spring breakup. I have lain in bed and heard the booming of the ice when the mercury hit forty below. I have waded in her cool waters in the mid July heat. Yes I know this river well.
On August 1st, 2000, a forty year old crude oil pipeline, belonging to Pembina Pipeline, ruptured and spilled one million litres of light crude oil into the river. Crews rushed to contain the spill but in my opinion were not expecting what they were up against. The boom that they put out to contain the oil bounced in the fast flowing stream and the oil went merrily on its way over and under the booms. The waves washed the oil up on the banks, where it stayed until high water after the recent heavy rains washed it back into the river.
The "powers that be" would allow no one on the river to rescue any wildlife until four days after the spill. By that time it was too late for any kind of meaningful rescue. They then allowed persons in there for three days to collect dead fish, (of which about 3000 were collected). At my facility, I received only one Golden eagle which was subsequently released after treatment and one Hooded Merganser which was too far gone to save. I understand one beaver kit was saved by the Chetwynd vets.
My son, on his last trip to the Pine just a few short days ago, said that it is as silent as a tomb along there now, no birds, not even any insects. There is no animal life at all. On one of his previous trips, he walked the banks for several kilometres and he said one could smell the rank odour of rotting animal flesh all along.
The town of Chetwynd is hauling water by truck from the Sukunka River, twenty kilometres away. After freeze up this will not work, so they are drilling into the Jackfish aquafer in hopes of finding a long term supply of water. The river will be polluted for some years to come according to all sources.
After the spill I saw two persons on TV from the regional Ministry of Environment, Pollution Prevention and Waste Management Branch and they just smiled quietly and said "These things happen," as if it were nothing.
Here in the northeast, "these things" are happening more frequently and will continue to do so as long as our MOE takes this attitude. This oil spill has changed the lives of many people who lived along the river. To me and my family it is a grave and personal loss. I wonder as I sit here reflecting on my life there, will I live long enough to see the river and the wildlife restored to what it once was?
The Cost of a Job in the Mine
The glamour and shine of precious metals pale, for those under the earth.
by Don Malcolm
Over the centuries the mining industry worldwide has spawned many songs and legends. From the executive suites in the ivory towers of the industry and the trading floors of the world's stock exchanges have come tales of risk-taking, deal-making, and fortunes made and lost. No doubt, those people holding high positions in the industry derive a sense of glamour from their endeavours.
But for those who go down into the depths of the earth to perform the hard physical labour involved in extracting the ore, there is little glamour. Of those are the songs written: songs of tyranny and difficult working conditions, of union organizing and union busting, of villains and heroes ... but mostly, they are songs of sadness.
The miner's occupation is demanding and dangerous. Since the advent of radio, and later television, populations the world over have been held on the edges of their chairs as, one after another, mining disasters unfold. Stories of cave-ins, poisonous gas, fires, floods and explosions, surface as miners' bodies are brought out. And in many cases, bodies are never recovered and the families and friends of the lost miners endure an unimaginable agony.
Yet many, perhaps all of us, treat the lives of miners and their families too callously. In almost everything we use, from paper clips to toasters to motor vehicles, ships, aircraft, machinery to facilitate and make possible all other modern industries, and to wage war, we are using part of a miner's very life.
As if in mockery of their sacrifice, we have, over centuries, carelessly tossed the worn-out fruits of miners' labour into landfills, while giving little thought to built in ease of recycling in everything we manufacture. We are currently involved in a program of sinking obsolete warships in sheltered bays on the BC coast to provide, for recreational divers, relief from the boredom of exploring the natural wonders that must surely exist in the underwater world.
Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves why we continue the frenzied pace with which we pursue exploration and mining.
The feverish quest for gold and silver has, throughout recorded history, driven men to the very ends of the earth at the cost of many lives. Yet, most of the gold and silver ever mined lies in the vaults of the treasuries of many nations.
These metals have an arbitrary and imaginary value and except for jewellery, which serves no useful purpose, they are little-used. Where they are used, as conductors in electrical circuits and photographic processes, for example, perhaps their desirability as jewellery helps stabilize the price per ounce. Speculative buying and selling, however, can cause dramatic fluctuations in that price and thus, in the fortunes of the buyers and sellers.
The mining industry, historically, has experienced wild gyrations due to production levels and industrial demand for particular metals. The dizzying spirals can be felt throughout the bulk of a population. Overproduction can result in lowering prices, cut-backs, lay-offs and mine closures which, in many cases, bring into effect massive subsidies in the form of tax incentives, tax forgiveness, and outright grants designed to stimulate employment.
In many cases it appears mining is a publicly funded enterprise that returns profits to private shareholders.
Certainly there is no glamour in the scarred landscapes and many thousands of tonnes of mine-tailings scattered throughout the country, leaching toxics dangerous to humans, wildlife, and the environment generally, a burden for unborn generations for years to come.
Human-kind, following the dictates of curiosity and an inventive mind, has made mining an essential part of our common infrastructure. It would now be difficult to imagine a life without the benefits from mining. The challenge ahead will be to civilize the industry.
Meanwhile, propaganda from the ivory towers and the stock market trading floors still heralds the glamour.
Government Must Rule Britannia
Environment Canada says the closed Britannia Mine, 50 km. north of Vancouver, is "the worst point source of metals pollution in North America." Up to one tonne of heavy metals including zinc, copper and cadmium flow from the mine site into Howe Sound each day. The metals are acutely toxic to salmon, contaminate shellfish, and pose risks to human health.
"The provincial and federal governments need to put a solution in place to stop (these metals) from flowing into Howe sound again this winter and spring," says Karen Wristen, executive director of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. "They need to either sue the companies responsible for this mess, or commit to a clean-up plan using public funds until responsible parties are brought to justice."
In 1979 Copper Beach Estates Ltd. purchased the property. Since that time Copper Beach has been issued four pollution abatement orders, under BC's Waste Management Act, which they have been unable to meet. The BC government has also notified several large companies formerly connected with the mine, including ARCO, CanZinco and ArrowHead/Ivaco that they are potentially responsible for the clean-up at Britannia. None of the companies has offered to assist in cleaning up the site.
Meanwhile, Copper Beach has been unable to comply with its remediation order and has not conducted the required studies needed to begin clean-up of the site. The company says it is unable to secure financing for a clean-up plan that, it says, would include building a waste water treatment plant and using the mine site itself to store contaminated soils and industrial wastes. The Environmental Mining Council of BC (EMCBC), which monitors events at Britannia, says the company's contaminated soils landfill idea was never financially viable or environmentally sound.
"It's time the provincial government recognized that this so-called plan is going nowhere and did something to end the continued pollution at this site," said EMCBC executive director Alan Young.
"There are over 10,000 abandoned mines in Canada. Britannia is one of the worst of them. The impacts on fisheries and human health are deadly serious. Both the federal and provincial governments have neglected this serious problem far too long."
* Sierra Legal Defence Fund, August 2000 For background material, please contact EMCBC at (250)384-2686 or visit EMCBC's website http://emcbc.miningwatch.org
Plutonium in Scrap Metal
In a global first, one gram of plutonium in scrap metal fed through a British smelter has turned 50 tonnes of reclaimed material into highly dangerous nuclear waste, according to a May report in the Guardian Weekly. The error was discovered when radioactive alarms went off at the foundry in Sheffield. Plutonium 238 is used in medical equipment as well as the nuclear power industry, so the source may be hard to track down.
* The Guardian Weekly May 2000
Antarctic Ozone Hole Bigger than Ever
This fall, the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is the largest ever, measuring 28.3 million square kilometres, three times the size of the United States. Ozone gas in the stratosphere acts as a protective sun screen for life on earth against ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Unprecedented international treaties slowed the release of chlorofluorocarbons, mostly used in air conditioning and refrigeration, which interact in the high atmosphere to destroy the ozone molecules. However, although the release of CFCs has been successfully slowed, their concentration in the stratosphere is now reaching peak levels, because it takes years for the long-lived chemicals to ascend miles into the atmosphere.
Last spring, the ozone hole over the Arctic was also of record proportions.
The chemicals which are used to replace CFCs are potent and long-lived global warming (greenhouse) gases and are also subject to international treaty in the coming decades.
* BBC News Online, Sept. 2000
PEI Pesticides Kill Fish
Samples collected in August after three fish kills in PEI's Indian, French, and Mount Herbert Rivers indicate the presence of some pesticide runoff.
A number of pesticides were found in water samples taken from two locations in the Indian River.
In Mount Herbert, a carrot field showed evidence of runoff and erosion. Samples contained one fungicide, chlorothalonil, at moderate to high concentrations.
At the French River, trace amounts of pesticides were detected in sediment and foliage taken from a suspect field. In all cases, autopsies indicate the fish deaths were sudden, the result of anoxia or a toxic substance. The Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Environment continues to investigate.
* For more information, contact Clair Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org; Prince Edward Island News Releases, September 2000
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