I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

July 9, 2010

Anticipating health effects from the BP oil spill

Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: An Institute of Medicine Workshop

The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine held a workshop to examine a broad range of health issues resulting from the Gulf oil spill.

Home Activity page at http://www.iom.edu/Activities/PublicHealth/OilSpillHealth.aspx.

The workshop, “Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill,” was held June 22 and 23 in New Orleans. During the first day’s sessions, speakers and panelists discussed the potential adverse health effects for humans stemming from the oil spill for various populations. The second day’s sessions explored current monitoring activities, the types of research methods and data sources currently available, and questions to consider when developing short- and long-term surveillance and monitoring systems.

Presentations covered the groups at risk of exposure and possible acute, chronic, and delayed health effects.

Official U.S. Government Web Site on the Spill Response

http://www.restorethegulf.gov/

This site is apparently replacing the Deepwater Horizon website.  It contains news and links to resources from many Federal agencies.  For example, the Small Business Administration has a Disaster Assistance site for providing loans to affected small businesses.

Today’s news (from the old website) includes news that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will devote $10 million to research the potential human health effects of the oil spill. The NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) will recruit clean-up workers and Gulf residents to collect biological samples, health histories, and information about the clean-up work they performed and the nature of their oil exposure.

White House site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/deepwater-bp-oil-spill

The White House blog provides a timeline of the government’s response to the spill at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/issues/Deepwater-BP-Oil-Spill.

EPA testing of dispersant toxicity

On June 30 EPA posted information about the first round of toxicity testing at http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/dispersants-testing.html.  The testing was done using eight dispersants.  EPA also plans to test the toxicity of the dispersants mixed with crude oil.

Links to worker health and safety resources from OSHA and the CDC can be found on the EPA site.

Maps and data

The latest information about the oil spill’s trajectory, the position of NOAA’s research ships, spilled oil’s coastal location and the areas closed to shipping can be found at geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/.

To access the data materials generated for and by the Deepwater Response Incident, you can go to data.gov/restorethegulf/.

Oil containment effort

McClatchy is reporting that the effort is facing two key moments, connecting a third ship to the oil containment system and replacement of the “top hat” – http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20100707/sc_mcclatchy/3559853

Oil drilling moratorium

Obama loses moratorium bid on offshore oil drilling

Court refuses stay in deepwater drilling case
Court rejects bid to restore drilling moratorium

Apparently the courts don’t believe that there’s justification for a moratorium.  This despite the fact that an Associated Press investigation found that federal regulators do not typically inspect plugging of these offshore wells or monitor for leaks afterward.  (See “Enviro groups stunned that govt ignoring 27K wells”)

Of 50,000 wells drilled over the past six decades in the Gulf, 23,500 have been permanently abandoned. Another 3,500 are classified by federal regulators as “temporarily abandoned,” but some have been left that way since the 1950s, without the full safeguards of permanent abandonment.

Abandoned offshore oil wells

The story reports that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned in 1994 that leaks from abandoned offshore wells could cause “an environmental disaster.”  GAO recommended that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) set up an inspection system.  (Which MMS didn’t do. ) Although MMS did commission a 2001 study on such wells.  According to that study MMS officials were

“concerned that some abandoned oil wells in the Gulf may be leaking crude oil.” But nothing came of that warning.

The GAO report is “Offshore Oil and Gas Resources: Interior Can Improve Its Management of Lease Abandonment.”

RCED-94-82, May 11, 1994
Summary (HTML)   Full Report (PDF, 50 pages)     Recommendations (HTML)

From the summary at http://gao.gov/products/RCED-94-82

Among GAO’s findings:

  • MMS does not have an inspection strategy targeting its limited resources to ensure that wells are properly plugged and lease sites cleared
  • in March 1993, the active OCS leases in the Gulf of Mexico had estimated lease abandonment costs of about $4.4 billion, but were covered by bonds that totalled only $68 million

GAO’s recommendation (below) was closed, but not implemented.

Recommendation: In order to better protect the environment from the effects of OCS oil and gas lease abandonment and the federal government from incurring the costs of such abandonment, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, MMS, to require MMS to develop an inspection strategy for targeting its limited resources to ensure the proper plugging and abandonment of OCS wells and the clearance of lease sites.

Comments: After reviewing the results of the March 1996 study of techniques for removing offshore structures, MMS has decided that its inspection program is adequate. MMS does not intend to develop a different inspection strategy.

So not only is it an environmental disaster waiting to happen, MMS wasn’t even getting money from the oil companies that it was supposed to.

I’ve posted a list of other GAO reports on oil and gas management at https://amidthemaddingcrowd.wordpress.com/gao-reports-on-oil-and-gas-management/.

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June 27, 2010

More on the oil spill and the dispersants

Richard Denison of the Environmental Defense Fund has been blogging about the oil spill dispersants being used on the BP oil spill.

Most concerning is the fact that EPA data show dispersants plus oil are more toxic than either alone.

Meanwhile, the Society of Environmental Journalists Daily Glob blog reported on June 25 that “Spill-Related Measures Advance in Congress”.

NOAA

NOAA Response – Provides a wide variety of information about the Deepwater Horizon Incident, including trajectory maps and links to such sources as IncidentNews (http://www.incidentnews.gov/), which provides information from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) about the BP oil spill and other incidents.

GeoPlatform.gov/gulfresponse (http://www.geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/) is a new online tool that provides you with near-real time information about the response effort.  Developed by NOAA with the EPA, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of Interior, the site offers you a “one-stop shop” for spill response information.

The site integrates the latest data the federal responders have about the oil spill’s trajectory with fishery area closures, wildlife data and place-based Gulf Coast resources — such as pinpointed locations of oiled shoreline and current positions of deployed research ships — into one customizable interactive map.

Other mapping sites the Daily Glob links to include:

May 23, 2010

Food safety, marketing, and reducing childhood obesity

White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report

This report was released earlier this month. It discusses issues and offers recommendations relating to childhood obesity, including the usual regarding diet and lack of physical activity, but also notes the role that “obesogens” (endocrine disruptors and other chemicals thought to increase obesity by interfering with the body’s metabolic processes), food marketing, product formulation, access to healthier food, etc., play a part in the obesity epidemic.

Report: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation

http://www.letsmove.gov/taskforce_childhoodobesityrpt.html

Full reporthttp://www.letsmove.gov/tfco_table_of_contents.pdf (chapters also available as individual PDFs)

Contents
  • Early Childhood – A. Prenatal Care; B. Breastfeeding; C. Chemical Exposures; D. Screen Time; and E. Early Care and Education
  • Empowering parents and caregivers – A. Making Nutrition Information Useful; B. Food Marketing; and C. Health Care Services
  • Healthy Food in Schools – A. Quality School Meals; B. Other Foods in Schools; C. Food-Related Factors in the School Environment; and D. Food in Other Institutions
  • Access to Healthy, Affordable Food – A. Physical Access to Healthy Food; B. Food Pricing; C. Product Formulation; D. Hunger and Obesity
  • Increasing Physical Activity – A. School-Based Approaches; B. Expanded Day and Afterschool Activities; C. The “Built Environment”; and D. Community Recreation Venues

The role of marketing

The report notes:

Food marketing to children and adolescents is a big business. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that, in 2006, food, beverage, and quick-serve restaurant companies spent more than $1.6 billion to promote their products to young people. Children and adolescents are an important demographic for marketers for several reasons: (1) they are customers themselves; (2) they influence purchases made by parents and caregivers; and (3) they are the future adult market.

The report says that the relationship between marketing and obesity isn’t firmly established, but that advertising does appear to have an effect on kids. Give me a break. Why would companies spend that kind of money if they weren’t getting the results they wanted?

Many books have been written about the ways in which companies try to market products to kids. A couple of note are Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet Schor and Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood by Susan Linn. Both books cover food marketing in a good amount of detail (and are well-documented).

One of the things that caught my attention in Born to Buy was Schor’s discussion of how marketing companies want to create a world in which consumers are constantly bombarded by 360-degree advertising (or what one agency refers to as “infinite consumer touchpoint possibilities”).

What are the effects of such marketing? Probably not just obesity. Overstimulation. Psychological effects. Increased materialism. And what are the eventual consequences? In an article, “Children, Commercialism, and Environmental Sustainability,” the authors (Tim Kasser, Tom Crompton, and Susan Linn) argue that “the same generation of children that is being encouraged to prioritize wealth, consumption, and possessions is the same generation that, if current trends continue, will need to drastically reduce its consumption patterns so as to prevent further global climate disruption, habitat loss, and species extinction.”

Food safety issues

The USDA Office of Inspector General issued a report in March 2010 (Audit Report 24601-08-KC) noting that:

One of the public food safety issues facing the United States is the contamination of meat with residual veterinary drugs, pesticides, and heavy metals. “Residue” of this sort finds its way into the food supply when producers bring animals to slaughter plants while they have these residual contaminants in their system. When the animals are slaughtered, traces of the drugs or pesticides contained in these animals’ meat is shipped to meat processors and retail supermarkets, and eventually purchased by consumers. In order to safeguard the Nation’s food supply from harmful residue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) administers the national residue program.

The Inspector General found that “the national residue program is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for harmful residues. Together, FSIS, FDA, and EPA have not established thresholds for many dangerous substances (e.g., copper or dioxin), which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce. Additionally, FSIS does not attempt to recall meat, even when its tests have confirmed the excessive presence of veterinary drugs.”

So the food we eat might actually be a source of obesity in more than one way.  Does this bother anyone else?

April 23, 2010

An all consuming world?

Following the theme of yesterday’s post, I’ve included links to another video on waste and consumption (this one about McDonough’s & Braungart’s Cradle to Cradle concept), food consumption (includes a striking map), and creating green economies.

Rethinking how we make things

Waste = Food (Documentary on 49:23 min.)
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3058533428492266222#

An inspiring documentary on the Cradle to Cradle design concept of the chemist Michael Braungart and the architect William McDonough. Winner of the Silver Dragon at the Beijing International Science Film Festival 2006.

Sustainable consumption

Can Consumer Culture Be Transformed?

http://earthsky.org/human-world/state-of-the-world-2010-can-consumer-culture-be-transformed

Deborah Byrd of EarthSky looks at consumerism and its repercussions.  The quiz was interesting (I scored worse than she did). She also discusses the State of the World 2010 report on moving from a consumerist society to a sustainable one (see link below).

Quiz – Consumer Consequences: Find out if you are living a sustainable life
http://sustainability.publicradio.org/consumerconsequences/

State of the World 2010: From Madison Avenue to Mad Max? (Press Release) –  January 12, 2010
http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6359

Report websitehttp://www.worldwatch.org/sow10

Excerpt from press release (emphasis added):

The report examines the institutions that shape cultural systems. Business has played the leading role in shifting cultures to center on consumerism, making an array of resource-intensive products such as bottled water, fast food, cars, disposable paper goods, and even pets seem increasingly “natural.”

Government has also promoted consumerism as a lynchpin of policy, often making it synonymous with national well-being and job creation. As the global economic recession accelerated in 2009, wealthy countries primed national economies with $2.8 trillion of new government stimulus packages, only a small percentage of which focused on green initiatives.

Food consumption

Where The Buffalo Roamed
http://www.weathersealed.com/2009/09/22/where-the-buffalo-roamed/

Includes a map of the contiguous United States, visualized by distance to the nearest McDonald’s.

This site contains a number of other fascinating maps and graphics on a wide variety of subjects.

Food, Inc., the future of food, and waste = food
http://earthsky.org/agriculture/food-inc-the-future-of-food-and-waste-food

Transforming Cultures Blog – WorldWatch Institute

http://blogs.worldwatch.org/transformingcultures/retire-ronald/

Creating a sustainable economy

Green Economy Takes Centre Stage at UNEP 2010 Champions of the Earth Awards

http://www.eco-business.com/news/2010/apr/22/green-economy-takes-centre-stage-unep-2010-champio/

UNEP Green Economy Initiative

http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/

The New Green Economy Conference Conversation

Part 1 – http://dirt.asla.org/2010/01/21/the-new-green-economy-part-1/
Part 2 – http://dirt.asla.org/2010/01/21/the-new-green-economy-part-2-what-d…
Part 3 – http://dirt.asla.org/2010/01/26/the-new-green-economy-part-3-what-i…

CleanSkies: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Calls For Green Revolution at NCSE Conference
http://greeneconomy.ning.com/video/lisa-jackson-calls-for-green

National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE)

http://ncseonline.org/

NCSE Green Economy Blog

http://greeneconomy.ning.com

Note: While this looks like it might contain some good information, they seem to have a little problem with spam.

April 22, 2010

The Story of Stuff (in honor of Earth Day)

Since today is Earth Day, I thought The Story of Stuff would be an appropriate topic.  EPA is also celebrating its 40th anniversary.  More info on EPA events on its website:

The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute animated film narrated by Annie Leonard about the “materials economy” (that is, the traditional process of extracting materials, manufacturing products, distribution, consumption, and disposal) and how we need to move to a sustainable economy, which is the message behind Cradle to Cradle.

Stephen Colbert said that more than 10 million people have viewed the film.  (You can see a short interview he did with Leonard on the Story of Stuff website.)

If you can’t view the video there, it’s also posted on YouTube.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLBE5QAYXp8&feature=player_embedded#! (among others)

There’s also a short excerpt from the video in her interview with Stephen Colbert (5 min 30 sec) on the Story of Stuff website that discusses what we do with our leisure time and how that helps drive the cycle.

Consumption drives the whole cycle

One thing that really struck me was a quote Leonard provided from Victor Lebow, a 20th century economist and retail analyst.  (There’s more from this quote on the Wikipedia page on Lebow.)

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today expressed in consumptive terms. The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to safe and accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats—his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies….

We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.

According to Wikipedia, “Modern authors disagree as to whether Lebow was encouraging and prescribing conspicuous consumption or grimly acknowledging and critiquing its prevalence among American consumers.”

Still, it’s pretty scary!  (Could consumerism be viewed as one big Ponzi scheme?  After all, at the rate we’re going to run out of stuff to make stuff from.)

Leonard notes that after 9/11 George W. Bush didn’t advocate grieving, he said something along the lines of “Go shopping!”  (I’ll have to go reread Brave New World.  If I remember correctly, the society in that book is based on mass consumption.)

The Story of Stuff: The Book” provides more information about the effects of the traditional extraction and production process.

More info on the effects of resource extraction

For more information on how people’s health and the environment are affected by the extraction of coal, oil, natural gas, gold, and other  resources, see the EARTHWORKS website and blog.

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