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« Reply #420 on: Apr 28, 2013, 06:58 AM »

Insecticide firms in secret bid to stop ban that could save bees

Last-ditch lobbying to sway vote in Brussels to halt use of killer nerve agents

Damian Carrington   
The Observer, Sunday 28 April 2013   

Europe is on the brink of a landmark ban on the world's most widely used insecticides, which have increasingly been linked to serious declines in bee numbers. Despite intense secret lobbying by British ministers and chemical companies against the ban, revealed in documents obtained by the Observer, a vote in Brussels on Monday is expected to lead to the suspension of the nerve agents.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

The prospect of a ban has prompted a fierce behind-the-scenes campaign. In a letter released to the Observer under freedom of information rules, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, told the chemicals company Syngenta last week that he was "extremely disappointed" by the European commission's proposed ban. He said that "the UK has been very active" in opposing it and "our efforts will continue and intensify in the coming days".

Publicly, ministers have expressed concern for bees, with David Cameron saying: "If we do not look after our bee populations, very serious consequences will follow."

The chemical companies, which make billions from the products, have also lobbied hard, with Syngenta even threatening to sue individual European Union officials involved in publishing a report that found the pesticides posed an unacceptable risk to bees, according to documents seen by the Observer. The report, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), led the commission to propose a two-year ban on three neonicotinoids. "EFSA has provided a strong, substantive and scientific case for the suspension," a commission spokesman said.

A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queens produced and big increases in "disappeared" bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips. Pesticide manufacturers and UK ministers have argued that the science is inconclusive and that a ban would harm food production, but conservationists say harm stemming from dying pollinators is even greater.

"It's a landmark vote," said Joan Walley MP, chairwoman of parliament's green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, whose recent report on pollinators condemned the government's "extraordinary complacency". Walley said: "You have to have scientific evidence, but you also have to have the precautionary principle – that's the heart of this debate."

A ban has been supported by petitions signed by millions of people and Paterson has received 80,000 emails, an influx that he described as a "cyber-attack". "The impact of neonicotinoids on the massive demise of our bees is clear, yet Paterson seems unable to escape the haze of sloppy science and lobbying by powerful pesticide giants," said Iain Keith of the campaign group Avaaz. "Seventy per cent of British people want these poisons banned. Paterson must reconsider or send the bees to chemical Armageddon." Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth said a ban would be "a historic moment in the fight to save our bees".

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "As the proposal currently stands we could not support an outright ban. We have always been clear that a healthy bee population is our top priority, that's why decisions need to be taken using the best possible scientific evidence and we want to work with the commission to achieve this. Any action taken must be proportionate and not have any unforeseen knock-on effects."

"This plan is motivated by a quite understandable desire to save the beleaguered bee and concern about a serious decline in other important pollinator species," said the government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, "but it is based on a misreading of the currently available evidence." He said the EC plan was a serious "mistake".

Julian Little, a spokesman for Bayer Cropscience, said: "Call me an optimist, but I still believe the commission will see sense. There is so much field evidence to demonstrate safe use [and] an increasing number of member states who reject the apparent drive towards museum agriculture in the European Union." However, Bulgaria is the only nation known to have changed its voting intention and it will reverse its opposition.

The chemical industry has mounted an increasingly desperate lobbying effort against a ban on neonicotinoids, which have been in use for more than a decade. In March the top producers, Syngenta and Bayer, proposed a plan to support bee health, including planting more flowering margins around fields and monitoring for neonicotinoids.

However, the private lobbying began much earlier with a series of letters, obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory and given to the Observer, which were sent to commissioners in the summer of 2012, after France had proposed a unilateral ban. One Syngenta executive, mentioning in passing his recent lunch with Barack Obama, claimed that "a small group of activists and hobby bee-keepers" were behind that campaign for a ban. Another letter claims, without citing evidence, that the production of key crops would fall by "up to 40%".

At that time, the European Crop Protection Association – of which Syngenta and Bayer are members – welcomed the continuing EFSA evaluation. But in January, as the EFSA prepared to issue the damning verdict of its experts, the industry immediately turned on it. Syngenta's lawyers demanded last-minute changes to a press release to prevent "serious damage to the integrity of our product and reputation" and threatened legal action.

The EFSA stood its ground, prompting Syngenta to demand all documents, including handwritten ones, relating to the EFSA's decision and the names of individuals involved. A month later, it told EFSA officials it was considering the "identity of specific defendants" for possible court action. On a more conciliatory note, Syngenta told the EFSA it was considering "large-scale" bee-monitoring studies to "close data gaps", despite previous claims its product had been introduced only after "the most stringent regulatory work". Critics have condemned companies for keeping trial data secret.

A spokesman for Syngenta said: "No evidence from the field has ever been presented that these pesticides actually damage bee health, with the case against them resting on a few studies which identify some highly theoretical risks. Regardless of the outcome, we will continue our work with anyone who shares our goal of improving bee health, which is vital for sustainable agriculture as well as the future of our business."

In the first commission vote in March, 13 countries supported a ban, nine opposed it and five, including the UK and Germany, abstained, which meant there was not a sufficient majority for or against under voting rules, which give larger nations more votes. The result is likely to be repeated on Monday, meaning that the commission would step in and it is determined to see a ban in place.The chemical industry has warned that a ban on neonicotinoids would lead to the return of older, more harmful pesticides and crop losses. But campaigners point out that this has not happened during temporary suspensions in France, Italy and Germany and that the use of natural pest predators and crop rotation can tackle problems.

Professor David Goulson, a bee expert at the University of Sussex whose research has found harmful effects from neonicotinoids, said: "There is now a very substantial body of scientific evidence suggesting that this class of insecticides is impacting on health of wild bees, and perhaps other wildlife too. It is time for the EU's politicians to take a responsible position and support this ban."


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« Reply #421 on: Apr 29, 2013, 05:51 AM »

China rapidly becoming global climate change leader

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:54 EDT

China is rapidly assuming a global leadership role on climate change alongside the United States, a new study said Monday, but it warned greenhouse gas emissions worldwide continue to rise strongly.

The report by the independent Australian-based Climate Commission, “The Critical Decade: International Action on Climate Change” presents an overview of action in the last nine months.

It was released on the same day as a fresh round of UN talks were to start in Bonn on boosting action on climate change — a two-decade-long process that has been dogged by procedural bickering and defence of national interests.

The study found that every major economy had policies in place to tackle the issue, but China was at the forefront in strengthening its response, “taking ambitious strides to add renewable energy to its mix”.

“China is accelerating action,” said Tim Flannery, the co-author and a key figure at the Climate Commission, which brings together internationally-renowned scientists, as well as policy and business leaders.

“China has halved its growth in electricity demand, dramatically increased its renewable energy capacity, and decelerated its emissions growth more quickly than expected.

“After years of strong growth in coal use, this has begun to level off. They are beginning to put in place seven emissions trading schemes that will cover quarter of a billion people,” he said.

The report added that China, which this month agreed to work with the US to tackle global warming, wanted “to position themselves as the world’s renewable energy leader”.

“Whatever the reason, the results speak for themselves. China is quickly moving to the top of the leader board on climate change,” said Flannery.

The report found that in 2012 alone China invested US$65.1 billion in clean energy, 20 percent more than in 2011. This was unmatched and represented 30 percent of the entire G20 nations’ investment last year.

It pointed to new solar power capacity in China expanding 75 percent last year while the amount of electricity generated from wind in 2012 was 36 percent higher than 2011.

The United States, which with China produces some 37 percent of world emissions, also significantly strengthened its climate change response, pumping US$35.6 billion into renewable energy last year, second only to Beijing.

The report said the impact of the economic downturn and a progressive shift from coal to gas had kept Washington on track to meet its national goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent on 2005 levels by 2020.

“Important foundations have been set that are likely to have a lasting impact in the coming decades,” it added, pointing to California, the world’s ninth largest economy, beginning an emissions trading scheme in January.

More than half of US states now have policies to encourage renewable energy.

Beyond China and the US, momentum globally has grown with 98 countries committing to limit emissions.

“Renewable energy is surging globally with solar capacity increasing 42 percent and wind 21 percent in just one year,” said Flannery. “With so much global momentum this is clearly the beginning of the clean energy era.”

But while progress was being made, the report cautioned that “it is not enough”.

“Globally emissions are continuing to rise strongly, posing serious risks for our society,” it said.

“This decade must set the foundations to reduce emissions rapidly to nearly zero by 2050. The earlier such action is under way the less disruptive and costly it will be.”

The five-day Bonn negotiations beginning Monday are the first since United Nations talks in Qatar last December that set down a two-track process for tackling greenhouse gases.

The goal is a new climate treaty that will be concluded by 2015 and take effect by 2020. Countries would also pledge greater commitment on tackling the carbon problem in the interim years before 2020.


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« Reply #422 on: Apr 29, 2013, 05:53 AM »

Chilean penguins facing extinction due to human activity

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 28, 2013 16:37 EDT

AFP – Several dozen Humboldt penguins sun themselves along the coast of an islet in central Chile where the majestic birds coming here to nest once numbered in the thousands.

Humboldt penguins — which nest only in parts of Chile and Peru — over the years have become decimated by human encroachment, rat infestations and unforgiving weather currents carried by unusually warm El Nino ocean temperatures, naturalists said.

The Pajaro Nino islet, spread across a narrow channel of water from the popular resort area of Algarrobo, once drew about 2,000 of the birds during nesting season.

Today only about 500 of the birds come to this area some 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santiago.

“This area used to be completely filled with penguins and birds, but over time, their numbers have diminished,” said Ruben Rojas, a local fisherman.

There are various varieties of penguins that inhabit Chile, but the largest colonies of Humboldt can be found in the northern part of the country. The birds are identifiable by the distinctive black bands across their chests.

Experts have expressed alarm over the rapidly vanishing penguins. The once plentiful species is classified in Chile as “vulnerable,” while in Peru, the birds have been labeled “endangered.”

Alejandro Simeone, director of the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity at Andres Bello University, told AFP that there are currently fewer than 50,000 Humboldt penguins left in Chile and Peru.

“A multitude of factors threaten a species that is highly diminished relative to what once existed,” Simeone said.

The beginning of their demise dates back to 1978, when the island, which is also a nature sanctuary, was joined to the mainland by a cement fill-in — a breakwater designed to protect the yachts of millionaire sailing enthusiasts.

It created in effect a 150-meter (500-foot) bridge connecting the mainland to the island, and local residents say they have seen the detrimental impact of its construction on animal and plant life.

Yachters have been accused of trying to rid the region of the birds, and video footage has surfaced showing some deliberately — and illegally — destroying penguin eggs to prevent new broods.

Rojas said the yachters don’t like the excrement left behind by the birds. “They say it makes the island stink,” he explained.

Prosecutors say they are investigating the alleged destruction of the penguins’ eggs.

Part of the blame for the birds’ gradual disappearance goes to fishermen’s nets that ensnare hundreds of the birds each year.

A measure of blame also goes to the El Nino weather phenomenon and the warm water current it carries.

The frigid Humboldt current, which gives the penguin species its name, carries the birds’ favorite foods, like anchovies and sardines.

El Nino currents, however, “warm the waters, making it hard for the penguins to find the fish that make up their usual diet,” said Guillermo Cubillos of the Santiago National Zoo.

If the El Nino warming of the waters occurs during breeding season, many of the eggs or young die of cold and hunger, because their parents are delayed or even fail to return with food.

Rats also are seen as a major culprit. The cement breakwater that connects the islet to the mainland also has given free access to rodents, which feast on the vulnerable eggs and hatchlings of the nesting penguins.

A 2012 study found that almost half of all penguin eggs on the island were devoured, primarily by rodents, within the first 12 hours of breeding period.


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« Reply #423 on: Apr 30, 2013, 05:54 AM »

Global carbon dioxide levels on pace to hit ‘sobering milestone’ of 400ppm

By John Vidal, The Guardian
Monday, April 29, 2013 18:27 EDT

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 399.72 parts per million (ppm) and is likely to pass the symbolically important 400ppm level for the first time in the next few days.

Readings at the US government’s Earth Systems Research laboratory in Hawaii, are not expected to reach their 2013 peak until mid May, but were recorded at a daily average of 399.72ppm on 25 April. The weekly average stood at 398.5 on Monday.

Hourly readings above 400ppm have been recorded six times in the last week, and on occasion, at observatories in the high Arctic. But the Mauna Loa station, sited at 3,400m and far away from major pollution sources in the Pacific Ocean, has been monitoring levels for more than 50 years and is considered the gold standard.

“I wish it weren’t true but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400ppm level without losing a beat. At this pace we’ll hit 450ppm within a few decades,” said Ralph Keeling, a geologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography which operates the Hawaiian observatory.

“Each year, the concentration of CO2 at Mauna Loa rises and falls in a sawtooth fashion, with the next year higher than the year before. The peak of the sawtooth typically comes in May. If CO2 levels don’t top 400ppm in May 2013, they almost certainly will next year,” Keeling said.

CO2 atmospheric levels have been steadily rising for 200 years, registering around 280ppm at the start of the industrial revolution and 316ppm in 1958 when the Mauna Loa observatory started measurements. The increase in the global burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the increase.

The approaching record level comes as countries resumed deadlocked UN climate talks in Bonn. No global agreement to reduce emissions is expected to be reached until 2015.

“The 400ppm threshold is a sobering milestone, and should serve as a wake up call for all of us to support clean energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, before it’s too late for our children and grandchildren,” said Tim Lueker, an oceanographer and carbon cycle researcher with Scripps CO2 Group.

The last time CO2 levels were so high was probably in the Pliocene epoch, between 3.2m and 5m years ago, when Earth’s climate was much warmer than today.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #424 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:39 AM »

April 29, 2013

A City That Turns Garbage Into Energy Copes With a Shortage

By JOHN TAGLIABUE
IHT

OSLO — This is a city that imports garbage. Some comes from England, some from Ireland. Some is from neighboring Sweden. It even has designs on the American market.

“I’d like to take some from the United States,” said Pal Mikkelsen, in his office at a huge plant on the edge of town that turns garbage into heat and electricity. “Sea transport is cheap.”

Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn.

The problem is not unique to Oslo, a city of 1.4 million people. Across Northern Europe, where the practice of burning garbage to generate heat and electricity has exploded in recent decades, demand for trash far outstrips supply. “Northern Europe has a huge generating capacity,” said Mr. Mikkelsen, 50, a mechanical engineer who for the last year has been the managing director of Oslo’s waste-to-energy agency.

Yet the fastidious population of Northern Europe produces only about 150 million tons of waste a year, he said, far too little to supply incinerating plants that can handle more than 700 million tons. “And the Swedes continue to build” more plants, he said, a look of exasperation on his face, “as do Austria and Germany.”

Stockholm, to the east, has become such a competitor that it has even managed to persuade some Norwegian municipalities to deliver their waste there. By ship and by truck, countless tons of garbage make their way from regions that have an excess to others that have the capacity to burn it and produce energy.

“There’s a European waste market — it’s a commodity,” said Hege Rooth Olbergsveen, the senior adviser to Oslo’s waste recovery program. “It’s a growing market.”

Most people approve of the idea. “Yes, absolutely,” said Terje Worren, 36, a software consultant, who admitted to heating his house with oil and his water with electricity. “It utilizes waste in a good away.”

The English like it, too, though they are not big players in the garbage-for-energy industry. The Yorkshire-based company that handles garbage collection for cities like Leeds, in the north of England, now ships as much as 1,000 tons a month of garbage — or, since the bad stuff has been sorted out, “refuse-derived fuel” — to countries in Northern Europe, including Norway, according to Donna Cox, a Leeds city spokeswoman.

A British tax on landfill makes it cheaper to send it to places like Oslo. “It helps us in reducing the escalating costs of the landfill tax,” Ms. Cox wrote in an e-mail.

For some, it might seem bizarre that Oslo would resort to importing garbage to produce energy. Norway ranks among the world’s 10 largest exporters of oil and gas, and has abundant coal reserves and a network of more than 1,100 hydroelectric plants in its water-rich mountains. Yet Mr. Mikkelsen said garbage burning was “a game of renewable energy, to reduce the use of fossil fuels.”

Of course, other areas of Europe are producing abundant amounts of garbage, including southern Italy, where cities like Naples paid towns in Germany and the Netherlands to accept garbage, helping to defuse a Neapolitan garbage crisis. Yet though Oslo considered the Italian garbage, it preferred to stick with what it said was the cleaner and safer English waste. “It’s a sensitive question,” Mr. Mikkelsen said.

Garbage may be, well, garbage in some parts of the world, but in Oslo it is very high-tech. Households separate their garbage, putting food waste in green plastic bags, plastics in blue bags and glass elsewhere. The bags are handed out free at groceries and other stores.

The larger of Mr. Mikkelsen’s two waste-to-energy plants uses computerized sensors to separate the color-coded garbage bags that race across conveyor belts and into incinerators. The building’s curved exterior, with lighting that is visible from a long distance to motorists driving by, competes architecturally with Oslo’s striking new opera house.

Still, not everybody is comfortable with this garbage addiction. “From an environmental point of view, it’s a huge problem,” said Lars Haltbrekken, the chairman of Norway’s oldest environmental group, an affiliate of the Friends of the Earth. “There is pressure to produce more and more waste, as long as there is this overcapacity.”

In a hierarchy of environmental goals, Mr. Haltbrekken said, producing less garbage should take first place, while generating energy from garbage should be at the bottom. “The problem is that our lowest priority conflicts with our highest one,” he said.

“So now we import waste from Leeds and other places, and we also had discussions with Naples,” he added. “We said, ‘O.K., so we’re helping the Neapolitans,’ but that’s not a long-term strategy.”

Maybe not, city planners say, but for now it is a necessity. “Recycling and energy recovery have to go hand in hand,” said Ms. Rooth Olbergsveen, of the city’s waste recovery agency. Recycling has made strides, she said, and the separation of organic garbage, like food waste, has begun enabling Oslo to produce biogas, which is now powering some buses in downtown Oslo.

Mr. Haltbrekken acknowledged that he does not benefit from garbage-generated energy. His home near the center of town, built about 1890, is heated by burning wood pellets, and his water is heated electrically. In general, he said, Friends of the Earth supports the city’s environmental goals.

Yet he added, “In the short-term view, of course, it’s better to burn the garbage in Oslo than to leave it in Leeds or Bristol.”

But “in the long term,” he said, “no.”


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« Reply #425 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:45 AM »


Grand Canyon uranium mining set to go ahead despite ban from Obama

Energy Fuels Resources has federal approval to reopen its mine six miles south of the canyon's South Rim entrance

Leslie Macmillan
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 April 2013 12.39 BST   

Uranium mining on the doorstep of the Grand Canyon national park is set to go ahead in 2015 despite a ban imposed last year by Barack Obama.

Energy Fuels Resources has been given federal approval to reopen its old Canyon Mine, located six miles south of the canyon's popular South Rim entrance, that attracts nearly 5 million visitors a year.

The Canadian company says that the Obama administration's ban on new hard-rock mining over 1m acres doesn't apply because its rights date from when it closed over 20 years ago.

However, its approval is based on an environmental study the US Forest Service conducted more than 25 years ago, in 1986.

Several environment groups – including the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club and the Centre for Biological Diversity – and the Havasupai tribe filed suit in March against the Forest Service, arguing that the study is badly outdated.

Curtis H Moore, a spokesman for Energy Resources, disagrees. "The Forest Service looked at that review with modern eyes and determined that it's adequate. And 1986 was not that long ago. These are tiny mines – about 20 acres."

But Roger Clark, a director at the conservation group Grand Canyon Trust, likened the size of the mine to "a Walmart parking lot. Within that area, they will remove all vegetation and install a catchment pond, two mine shafts and a metal building. That's a fairly impressive imposition on an otherwise undisturbed landscape."

The mine poses more than just an aesthetic threat, he said. It could pollute the Red Wall aquifer, "the main source of water to the Grand Canyon besides the Colorado River. Once that aquifer is contaminated, there's no turning back," said Clark.

Moore pointed out that uranium is abundant and naturally occurring in the Colorado plateau, where the mine is located.

But Clark argues that uranium's radioactive properties only become dangerous once it is brought up out of the ground and exposed to air and water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, such properties include radon gas, a substance that was not regulated when the government conducted its initial study of the mine in 1986. The lawsuit contends that radon and other chemicals could pollute the area.

In addition to environmental impacts, the lawsuit argues that the mine will harm the nearby area of Red Butte, which is sacred to the Havasupai, one of the plaintiffs, as well as other tribes, including the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo.

Uranium was mined extensively in the south-west after world war two for use in the federal government's nuclear weapons programme. On the Navajo Indian reservation alone there are over 500 abandoned mines, the focus of a five-year clean-up effort by the federal government that ended last year and which many complain was flawed and ineffective.

After the end of the cold war around 1990, demand for uranium dropped and so did its price. Now, with the global uranium market booming, companies are moving to reopen old claims.Observers say the outcome of the lawsuit is important, because it could serve as a bellwether for how future attempts to re-open old uranium mining claims in the area will go. There are over 3,000 mines in the Grand Canyon area that hold such claims.

"A lot of people out there want their piece of the park," said Dave Uberuaga, superintendent of Grand Canyon national park, citing "incredible pressure" from mining and other industries to develop land in the area. "My number one challenge is protecting this place," he said. "We can't take it for granted."


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« Reply #426 on: Apr 30, 2013, 06:56 AM »


IHT Rendezvous -
April 29, 2013, 10:59 am

Billions of Cellphones Polluting the World

By CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE

THE HAGUE — Once considered a status symbol, cellphones have become ubiquitous.There are now 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, 800 million more than at the end of 2011.

But mobile technology poses serious environmental challenges, both because of the raw materials needed to produce the hardware and the pollution associated with disposal.

“As populations in emerging economies adopt similar technologies and lifestyles to those currently used in OECD countries, global metal needs will be three to nine times larger than all the metals currently used in the world,” according to Achim Steiner, executive director at the United National Environmental Programme.

The United Nations agency responsible for the environment warned that the rapid growth in the demand for metals requires major rethinking of current recycling models. The announcement came during a U.N.-sponsored conference in Berlin last week.

“A far more sophisticated approach is urgently needed to address the challenges of recycling complex products, which contain a broad variety of interlinked metals and materials,” said Mr. Steiner.

The recycling of electronic devices — and the reuse of the constituent metals — is notoriously difficult, partly because of the design of the technology contained in consumer devices. But recycling experts say that less energy is needed to recycle and reuse metals from consumer electronics than to mine for new metals (not to mention the human toll such mining has taken).

Ian Urbina reported last year on the difficulty of recycling the many cathode-ray tube monitors that have been replaced by new LED flat screens. Each of the old monitors contains up to eight pounds of lead, which can harm the environment if not disposed of correctly.

Over five years, Ian reported, the electronic waste stream in the United States has more than doubled.

Samsung said this week that some of its phones might contain new tin mined at Bangka Island in Indonesia, according to The Guardian. The island was the subject of an investigation last year by The Guardian and Friends of the Earth for child labor and unregulated and environmentally harmful mining practices.

Apple, the maker of the iPhone, and Samsung’s chief competitor on the Smartphone market, came under fire last year after quietly withdrawing from EPEAT, a registry of environmentally friendly electronics. The company rejoined the registry after consumer protests.

Here in Europe, the European Parliament approved stricter guidelines for electronic waste last year. By 2016 member countries must collect 45 tons of electronic waste for 100 tons of electronics sold in the previous three years. Depending on the countries’ commitments, the target for the electronic waste recuperation goes up to 65 or 85 percent by 2019, according to the new Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (or WEEE) guidelines.

Paradoxically, clean energy technology, which is also booming, has created a spike in demand for metal and the associated disposal problems.

“Product designers need to ensure that materials such as rare-earth metals in products ranging from solar panels and wind turbine magnets to mobile phones can still be recovered easily when they reach the end of their life,” said Mr. Steiner of the UNEP.

Do you worry about electronic waste you generate? If so, what do you do to limit it? Join the conversation.


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« Reply #427 on: May 01, 2013, 06:00 AM »


UK government failing legal duty on air pollution, supreme court rules

The UK faces European fines and British cities may have to ban cars to dramatically reduce harmful effects of air pollution

John Vidal   
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 May 2013 10.51 BST   

The UK government has failed in its legal duty to protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution, the supreme court ruled on Wednesday.

The ruling by five judges – the first time a UK court has recognised that the government has failed in efforts to meet European air pollution limits – delighted air pollution campaigners.

It means the government faces stiff European fines and British cities may have to ban cars and limit the entry of heavy good vehicles to dramatically reduce air pollution.

But because the court also ruled that the European court of justice will have to step in to clarify some legal issues, the government may be able to delay acting for up to a year.

"This landmark decision … paves the way for the European commission to take legal action against the UK," said James Thornton, ClientEarth chief executive. "The ruling marks a turning point in the fight for clean air and will pile the pressure on the environment secretary, Owen Paterson. He must now come up with an ambitious plan to protect people from carcinogenic diesel fumes. Until now, his only policy has been lobbying in Europe to try and weaken air pollution laws."

The group's case concerned 16 cities and regions, including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, which government plans show will suffer from illegal levels of NO2, nitrogen dioxide – until as late as 2020 or 2025.

The supreme court confirmed that because the government is in breach of the EU air quality directive, "the way is open to immediate enforcement action at national or European level". However, before deciding whether to take further action to enforce the law, it has referred a number of legal questions to the court of justice of the European Union.

The way is now open for the European commission to take infringement action against Britain without waiting for any ruling by the European court of justice. This could theoretically lead to heavy fines.

"Our assessment [has been] that the UK is already in breach of the air pollution law. We have not taken action against any country yet but we are working our way through different countries," said Joe Hennon, spokesman for EU environment commissioner, Janez Potočnik. "When we have done that we will look at the bigger picture and decide whether to take infringement action against which countries."

With the possibility of heavy fines and European commission action closer, Britain may now have little option but to come forward with ambitious new plans to reduce NO2 pollution in cities. Because most of the pollution is from cars, these could include ultra low-emission zones, bans on certain vehicles and the use of technological "solutions" such as dust suppressants.

The government declined to comment specifically on the case. A spokesman for the Department for Environment Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and almost all of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants."

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "The decision means the government must put public health at the heart of transport policy. In practice this should mean investing in alternatives to cars and diesel vans and trucks, especially in towns and cities. It should also call into question government plans for major new roads."

The London assembly green party member, Jenny Jones said: "This is great news for children and vulnerable people with respiratory and cardiovascular problems living in polluted environments. This judgment will hopefully spur both the government and the mayor of London to finally take effective action on tackling air pollution and get serious about traffic reduction."

Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said: "The supreme court recognised that this case has broader implications for EU environmental law: the government can't flout environmental law with impunity. If the government breaks the law, citizens can demand justice and the courts must act.

"The judges were clearly convinced of the serious health implications of allowing air pollution to continue unabated. It was also apparent that the case raised a fundamental question about the rule of law. If the supreme court is unable to give an effective remedy to a clear and admitted breach of EU environmental law, there are grave constitutional consequences.".

"This is a significant judgment that ministers must not ignore," said the Friends of the Earth London campaigner, Jenny Bates. "The UK's attitude to air pollution is a national scandal. We urge government to tackle this crisis, and to scrap plans to build more roads."

Air pollution causes 29,000 early deaths a year in the UK and is linked to heart and respiratory diseases including asthma.


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« Reply #428 on: May 02, 2013, 06:06 AM »


Greater Mekong countries 'lost one-third of forest cover in 40 years'

Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam have lost nearly 40m ha of forest cover since 1980, a new report shows

John Vidal   
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 May 2013 10.04 BST   

Five Asian countries have lost nearly one-third of their forests in the last 35 years and could be left with little more than 10-20% of their original cover by 2030 – with devastating effects on wildlife and humans, a new report suggests.

Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam have lost nearly 40m hectares (ha) of forest cover since 1980 but have retained about 98m ha of natural forest, just over half of the region's land area.

Using satellite data, the WWF researchers calculated that since 1980, Cambodia has lost 22% of its 1973 forest cover, Laos and Burma 24%, and Thailand and Vietnam 43%.

The report on ecosystems in the greater Mekong area warns that these countries risk losing more than one-third of their remaining forest cover within the next two decades if they fail to increase protection.

"The greater Mekong is at a crossroads," said Peter Cutter, landscape conservation manager with WWF-Greater Mekong. "One path leads to further declines in biodiversity and livelihoods, but if natural resources are managed responsibly, this region can pursue a course that will secure a healthy and prosperous future for its people."

The report documents alarming fragmentation of the region's forests in the past 30 years. Large connected areas of "core" forest – defined as areas of at least 3.2km sq of uninterrupted forest – have declined from over 70% in 1973 to about 20% in 2009. If current trends continue, WWF predicts that by 2030 only 14% of the greater Mekong's remaining forest will consist of contiguous habitat capable of sustaining viable populations of many wildlife species including the tiger, Asian elephant, Irrawaddy dolphin and the endemic saola – also known as the Asian unicorn.

The survival of many species , the report says, depend on the existence of well-managed protected area systems, and while the number of these areas have expanded dramatically since 1970, many are not well managed.

"Many protected areas exist in name only," added Cutter. "Even relatively secure protected areas are under intense pressure from poaching and timber theft, while others have been reduced in size by government's eager to cash in on land concessions to mining companies or plantation owners."

The five countries have all lost vast areas of primary forest in the last 30 years but many have replanted large areas. Vietnam, which used to be almost entirely forested until the second world war, now has only 80,000 ha of primary forest left. A further 10m ha has regenerated and 3.5m ha have been planted. This compares to 6.7m ha primary forest remaining in Thailand and 3.19m ha in Burma which has 27,5m ha of naturally regenerated forest but has only replanted 988,000ha. Nearly all the reforestation has been with plantations of single species, such as eucalyptus or palm oil which are far less attractive to wildlife.

The report offers two future scenarios for the region's ecosystems. One predicts what will likely happen by 2030 under an unsustainable growth model in which the deforestation and degradation observed over the past decade persists, while the other scenario assumes a 50% cut in the annual deforestation rate and a future based on "green economy growth". Under the latter, core forest areas extant in 2009 across the five countries would remain intact.

"The green economy approach is the choice for a viable future in the greater Mekong," added Cutter. "Regional leaders have already affirmed that healthy economic growth goes hand in hand with healthy and productive ecosystems, but fast and effective responses are needed now to avoid permanent environmental degradation."

The report highlights the Xayaburi dam development as a key threat to the health and productivity of the Mekong River and delta. The Mekong basin hosts 13 unique, yet connected, freshwater ecosystems, but the controversial Xayaburi project will sever the main stem of the lower Mekong River, blocking migratory fish and sediment flow with potentially devastating consequences for livelihoods and food security for 60 million people.

"Given that the majority of the region's biological heritage and supporting ecosystems occur in landscapes that cross borders, regional collaboration is critical," concluded Cutter. "Increased and more sustainable investment in maintaining ecosystem integrity must also be a priority at landscape, national, and regional scales."


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« Reply #429 on: May 03, 2013, 07:32 AM »

Insecticide linked to extreme spike in dragonfly and snail die-offs

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
Thursday, May 2, 2013 15:12 EDT

Dutch research reveals correlation between water polluted with imidacloprid and low numbers of aquatic insects

The world’s most widely used insecticide is devastating dragonflies, snails and other water-based species, a groundbreaking Dutch study has revealed.

On Monday, the insecticide and two others were banned for two years from use on some crops across the European Union, due to the risk posed to bees and other pollinators, on which many food crops rely.

However, much tougher action in the form of a total worldwide ban is needed, according to the scientist who led the new study.

“We are risking far too much to combat a few insect pests that might threaten agriculture,” said Dr Jeroen van der Sluijs at Utrecht University. “This substance should be phased out internationally as soon as possible.” The pollution was so bad in some places that the ditch water in fields could have been used as an effective pesticide, he said.

Van der Sluijs added that half the 20,000 tonnes of the imidacloprid produced each year is not affected by the EU ban. It is used not to treat crops, but to combat fleas and other pests in cattle, dogs and cats. “All this imidacloprid ends up in surface water,” he said.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, found that 70% less invertebrate species were found in water polluted with the insecticide compared to clean water. There were also far fewer individuals of each species in the polluted water. “This is the first study to show this happens in the field,” van der Sluijs said. As well as killing mayflies, midges and molluscs, the pollution could have a knock-on effect on birds such as swallows that rely on flying insects for food, he added.

“Bee-harming pesticides are now leaking into water where they are affecting wildlife,” said Friends of the Earth’s Paul de Zylva. “This study shows safety levels for chemicals are being routinely breached. Apart from not being properly tested for their risk to bees and other wildlife, pesticides are being used significantly above safe levels and without proper enforcement.”

Julian Little, spokesman for Bayer Cropscience, which manufactures imidacloprid, said: “There doesn’t appear to be anything hugely surprising in this article. It shows the presence of high levels of insecticide in water can have effects on aquatic insects and other invertebrates. Should we have strong stewardship of insecticides to minimise any contamination of water? Yes we should and yes we do.”

The research combined results from wildlife and water pollution surveys at 700 sites across the Netherlands conducted between 1998 and 2009. It found a very strong correlation between high levels of imidacloprid pollution and low numbers of invertebrates. In water exceeding the Dutch national pollution limit, just 17 species were found on average, whereas 50 species were found in cleaner water.

Van der Sluijs said it was highly likely the insecticide was causing the invertebrate die-offs, because imidacloprid was already known to be acutely toxic to these species and is by far the greatest pollutant in the waters. “Of all the chemicals, it is one of the prime suspects and when you look at the level of exceedence – often 100 times above national limits – it is suspect number one,” he said.

The scientists found several cases of extreme pollution, with imidacloprid levels 25,000 times the limit. “The water contained so much insecticide that it could actually be used directly as a lice-control pesticide,” van der Sluijs said. “A bee or bumblebee drinking that water would die within a day.” The extreme cases were all found close to greenhouses, in which imidacloprid is addded to the water used to water the plants.

The EU standard for imidacloprid pollution is five times higher than the Dutch limit – 67 nanogram per litre versus 13 ng/l – but even water meeting this standard proved toxic for many species. Water meeting the EU standard has 50% less species that were found in the cleaner water.

Van der Sluijs said the imidacloprid pollution appeared to break existing EU law: “In my view the present use of imidacloprid is not consistent with what the law says: that the product should not have unnacceptable impacts on non-target organisms.”

He blamed the underlying problem on imidacloprid’s extreme potency in killing invertebrates and its long persistence in soil and water. He said there was also a “system error” in the way that pesticides are authorised in the EU, which, for example, assesses only their effect in individual crops, not any cumulative impact. A recent report by MPs on the UK parliament’s green watchdog, the environmental audit committee, concluded that the EU approval process for pesticides was flawed and opaque. “The entire pesticide approval process needs an urgent overhaul,” said de Zylva.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #430 on: May 05, 2013, 07:23 AM »


Brittany villages blazing a trail in energy self-sufficiency

Residents of Côtes D'Armor in northern France hope a series of green schemes can also reinvigorate the local economy

Hervé Kempf   
Guardian Weekly, Sunday 5 May 2013 10.00 BST   

Jacky Aignel, the leader of Saint Gouéno council in Brittany, looks at the cranes hoisting blades to the top of a wind-mast: "We've been waiting so long for this," he sighs. The wind turbine is finally nearing completion, the result of a lengthy struggle by this small locality in Côtes d'Armor. The Enercon E53, with a rated capacity of 850kW and the first of a series of seven, is no ordinary beast. It is the result of a clever financial package that allows local residents to invest in the scheme and aims to invest the benefits in the local economy.

The co-operative investment company Cigale was established in 2008, and there are now 127 individuals who collectively own a 30% share in the venture. But the participatory windfarm is just one aspect of the energy policy being deployed by Mené district council, which represents Saint Gouéno and six other nearby localities (overall population 6,500).

In this largely rural area you can see a wood-fired boiler at Le Gouray, fed by nearby forests and powering a collective central-heating network, then the Geotexia methanisation plant at Saint Gilles du Mené, followed by an oil mill and biofuel production unit at Saint Gouéno, and finally a house fitted with solar panels at Plessala.

All these facilities should help Saint Gouéno towards its goal of being energy self-sufficient by 2025. To do so it needs to produce enough energy to cover its current consumption of 22,000 tonnes of oil equivalent (Toe), (slated to drop in the future, if the council's energy-saving policies deliver). Now that energy diversification is a topic of national debate in France, Le Mené is increasingly cited for its mix of renewables and decentralised production, with policymakers from all over the country visiting to see how it is done.

It all started in 1999 when a group of pig farmers hatched a project to build a methanisation plant to digest their output of slurry, using a fermentation technique that turns pig manure into methane gas. This prompted broader debate on energy. "This is one of the poorest parts of Brittany," says Aignel. "As a farmer I try to be as self-sufficient as possible and I was well aware cheap energy wouldn't last for ever."

Wider economic concerns also played a part. The local economy depends heavily on a large abattoir, operated by Kermené, a subsidiary of the Leclerc supermarket chain, which employs 2,500 people. Local policymakers began to wonder whether there might be scope for diversifying into energy. In 2005 they visited Güssling, an Austrian village that had been working on energy self-sufficiency for 15 years. "We came home convinced that with waste, biomass resources, wind and sun we could diversify the economy alongside Kermené, enabling us to create some qualified jobs," says Michel Fablet, the leader of Le Gouray town council. Together the council and residents joined forces, assisted by Marc Théry, the former CEO of a large company, and decided to launch 10 energy projects, which have gradually taken shape.

But at times it was an upward struggle. "All the layers of local government made decision-making a very slow process," Aignel explains.Nor did the rules set by the Autorité des Marchés Financiers (France's investor-protection watchdog) facilitate the task of funding a co-operative wind farm. Agrofuel and fertiliser lobbies tried to prevent the oil mill and methanisation plant getting off the ground.

Another difficulty was bringing local residents on board. "We held meetings in each village," says Fablet, "but it wasn't really a crowd-puller. Other topics which concern everybody, like housing, work much better." Perhaps saving energy in the home will stir their interest. "But it's much more difficult to save 2,000 Toe on energy consumption than to build a windfarm," Théry says.

The economic climate is a further obstacle. "We aim to renovate 90 houses, to reduce consumption by a third," says Fablet. "Subsidies will pay for 60% of the outlay, the rest will be covered by interest-free loans, but many cannot even afford such loans."

Progress has been made. "The best part is not all this gear, it's the human contact, all the new connections we've built," says Dominique Rocaboy, a pig farmer and head of the methanisation plant.

This story appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde


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« Reply #431 on: May 05, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Australia’s Barrier Reef set for heritage downgrade: UNESCO

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 4, 2013 14:06 EDT

Australia insisted it was committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef on Saturday after the UN warned that the natural wonder’s world heritage status could be in downgraded in 2014.

UNESCO said little had been done to address concerns about rampant coastal development and water quality raised a year ago with the Australian government in a warning that its heritage status was at risk.

“The state party has made progress on some key issues and actions but progress on several recommendations, including those related to water quality and measures to prevent coastal development … remains limited,” UNESCO said ahead of its annual congress next month in Phnom Penh.

“Urgent and decisive action is needed to address these issues.”

Without a “firm and demonstrable commitment on these priority issues” UNESCO said the reef should be considered for inscription on the list of world heritage sites in danger in 2014.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said her government had taken steps to increase protection of the reef, including Aus$200 million (US$206 million) towards the Reef Rescue water quality project.

“We are very committed to keeping the Great Barrier Reef as the wonderful heritage area for the world that it is and for our nation,” Gillard told repoters.

But environmental group WWF said UNESCO had “put Australia in the sin bin”.

“The expert bodies are so concerned that they are recommending an immediate halt to approvals of coastal development projects that could individually or cumulatively impact on the reef’s world heritage values until (Australia’s state and national) governments have properly responded to their recommendations,” said WWF’s Richard Leck.

Australia’s environmentally-driven Greens party said the latest UNESCO report was a “slap on the wrist” for the government, with most sites on the heritage in danger list in developing nations or war zones.

“This is the world heritage body warning us that we need to (do) better or our reef, our most precious tourism icon, will be put on the world heritage endangered list, along with other countries like Yemen, the Congo and Afghanistan,” said Greens Senator Larissa Waters.

Australia is riding an unprecedented wave of resources investment due to booming demand from Asia, with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of resource projects in the pipeline.

Last June UNESCO said the sheer number and scale of proposals, including liquefied natural gas, tourism and mining projects, could threaten the reef’s status.


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« Reply #432 on: May 06, 2013, 05:54 AM »

Study: Climate-driven mega hurricanes have sights set on Hawaii

By Stephen C. Webster
RawStory
Sunday, May 5, 2013 20:05 EDT

The state of Hawaii faces a dire threat over the next 75-90 years from mega hurricanes super-charged by climate change, a team of Hawaiian scientists announced in a study published Sunday.

Although it is incredibly rare that hurricanes hit Hawaii, that’s all going to change as the ocean’s surface temperature shifts upward, according to new research published by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

“Computer models run with global warming scenarios generally project a decrease in tropical cyclones worldwide,” study author and University of Hawaii fellow Hiroyuki Murakami said in an advisory. “This, though, may not be what will happen with local communities.”

Hawaii is one such local community where climate change is expected to hit hard. “From 1979 to 2003, both observational records and our model document that only every four years on average did a tropical cyclone come near Hawaii,” Murakami said. “Our projections for the end of this century show a two-to-three-fold increase for this region.”

To make matters worse, those storms are expected to be bigger, more destructive and slower-moving than the storms of the last century, amplified by the warming climate. Researchers warned that changes in the atmosphere’s composition, driven by human activity increasing the amount of CO2 in the air, will result in wholly new moisture patterns and a shift in the jet stream that causes mega storms to drift toward the Hawaiian islands.

The good news is, even with an increase in exposure to these mega storms, Hawaii will still be relatively insulated to hurricanes when compared to the continental U.S. “Our finding that more tropical cyclones will approach Hawaii as Earth continues to warm is fairly robust because we ran our experiments with different model versions and under varying conditions,” study co-author Bin Wang said. “The yearly number we project, however, still remains very low.”
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« Reply #433 on: May 06, 2013, 05:56 AM »

Conservationists warn: Hong Kong risks losing rare ‘pink dolphins’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 6, 2013 7:25 EDT

Conservationists warned Monday that Hong Kong may lose its rare Chinese white dolphins, also known as pink dolphins for their unique colour, unless it takes urgent action against pollution and other threats.

Their numbers in Hong Kong waters have fallen from an estimated 158 in 2003 to just 78 in 2011, with a further decline expected when figures for 2012 are released next month, said the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.

“It is up to the government and every Hong Kong citizen to stand up for dolphins. We risk losing them unless we all take action,” said society chairman Samuel Hung.

Two weeks ago a tour guide from Hong Kong Dolphinwatch spotted a group of pink dolphins helping a grieving mother support the body of her dead calf above the water in an attempt to revive it.

The scene, captured on video and widely shared on Facebook, has raised fresh concerns about the dwindling population in a city where dolphin watching is a tourist attraction.

“We’re 99 percent certain the calf died from toxins in the mother’s milk, accumulated from polluted seawater,” said Hong Kong Dolphinwatch spokeswoman Janet Walker, who added it was the third such incident reported in April alone.

Fewer than 2,500 of the mammals survive in the Pearl River Delta, the body of water between Macau and Hong Kong, with the majority found in Chinese waters and the rest in Hong Kong.

Experts say their number has dropped significantly in the past few years due to overfishing, an increase in marine traffic, water pollution, habitat loss and coastal development.

Hung said proposals to build a third runway on reclaimed land at the Hong Kong international airport would place further strain on the dolphins’ habitat.

Campaigning against such developments and lobbying boat companies to divert traffic away from dolphin-inhabited areas are some of the ways people can support the mammals, he said.

The Chinese white dolphins, a population of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin species, are listed as “near-threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The pink dolphin was the official mascot at the handover ceremony when the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #434 on: May 06, 2013, 07:05 AM »


Guadeloupe and Martinique threatened as pesticide contaminates food chain

Chemical once used on banana crops threatening livelihoods and public health by polluting soil and sea

Martine Valo   
Guardian Weekly, Monday 6 May 2013 10.24 BST

On 15 April more than 100 fishermen demonstrated in the streets of Fort de France, the main town on Martinique, in the French West Indies. In January they barricaded the port until the government in Paris allocated €2m ($2.6m) in aid, which they are still waiting for. The contamination caused by chlordecone, a persistent organochlorine pesticide, means their spiny lobsters are no longer fit for human consumption. The people of neighbouring Guadeloupe are increasingly angry for the same reason. After polluting the soil, the chemical is wreaking havoc out at sea, an environmental disaster that now threatens the whole economy.

"I've been eating pesticide for 30 years so I carry on eating my fish. But what will happen to my grandchildren?" asks Franck Nétri who has fished off the south-east coast of Guadeloupe all his life. Aged 46, he sees little scope for a change of trade. Yet he knows he has no option: the area where fishing has been banned will soon be extended. In 2010 a government decree placed the offshore limit at 500 metres. It will soon be 900 metres.

Chlordecone (aka Kepone) is known to be an endocrine disruptor and was listed as carcinogenic in 1979. The coastline was the last part of the island to be contaminated, as the chemical was gradually washed down by the rivers. Pollution centres on the Basse-Terre area, which specialised in growing bananas for export. As the contamination spread, fishing had to be stopped and freshwater prawn farms closed. The same soon applied to the crabs caught in the mangrove swamps. It remains to be seen which deepwater species will be allowed to be caught in the future.

In the little fishing port at Les Bananiers people are worried and angry. But at 10am there are plenty of customers for the fresh fish on sale, all at €10 a kilo, contaminated or not. The fishermen admit to playing cat-and-mouse with the maritime inspectors, who do not hesitate to cut the lines of their lobster pots. "They want to get rid of us, make room for more tourists," they complain.

About 70 families depend on fishing for their livelihood here. "There is no hope of improvement," says Nicolas Diaz, a biologist working for Guadeloupe regional council. "The chlordecone is trapped in the mud on the estuary and is released every time there's a storm. It will go on for generations."

This all happened because chlordecone was used to combat banana weevil from 1972 to 1993. The chemical was banned in mainland France in 1990, but an exception was made for overseas territories. The US stopped producing and using the chemical in 1976. It is estimated that chlordecone persists in the soil for 700 years.

It was first detected in drinking water on Martinique in 1999, then in sweet potatoes and cassava, but strangely not in bananas. It has since been established that it has infested the whole food chain, including beef and chickens, with high concentrations in eggs. It is even present in the milk of nursing mothers.

The contamination has caused a major upheaval among poor families who derive part of their livelihood from market gardening. After a two-year study to identify the most severely polluted areas, a special team in charge of allotments launched an information campaign in 2009. They have visited the homes of over 10,000 families. "We tell them not to plant root vegetables and to eat less of them. We also explain that they can grow tomatoes and fruit, but they are still sceptical," says Johann Agrapart, one of the team leaders.

Dr Luc Multigner, an epidemiologist at France's Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), is studying the chemical's impact on public health. He leads a team that has been investigating the fertility of banana-plantation workers since 2002. So far no clear effects have been detected but on the other hand research has revealed a substantial increase in the risk of prostate cancer.

The doctors also studied about 1,000 women and their children who were exposed to chlordecone during pregnancy. In partnership with international research teams, they monitored the development of 153 toddlers under seven months. The conclusions published by the journal Environmental Research in 2012 revealed psycho-motor impairment, reduced visual interest in new things and problems with visual memory. A further battery of tests, focusing on 18-month-old children, confirmed the motor issues among boys, according to results published this January by NeuroToxicology.

Somehow it took a very long time for the message to get through to the authorities in Paris. A report on contamination of wildlife on Guadeloupe was filed in 1980, with a copy going to the environment ministry. In 2007 four NGOs and the Confédération Paysanne farmers' union lodged a legal complaint. Public health prosecutors have finally launched an investigation. "The problem is perhaps not on the same scale as Fukushima," says Dr Multigner, "but it is comparable in its complexity. It isn't the sort of crisis you can contain and solve, then move onto the next thing. No, it's going to last."

Paris is not denying its responsibility. Several ministries have contributed to two government schemes, initially allocating €33m in 2008-10, which paid for research, publications and checks on local foodstuffs. The second scheme will run to the end of this year, but no one knows what will happen after that.

A few NGOs are still campaigning on issues related to public health and the islands' remarkable biodiversity. The local community is largely fatalistic and policymakers are either silent or more inclined to defend the interests of banana growers. The French West Indies exports 270,000 tonnes of bananas a year to Europe, almost the islands' only export.


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