This Borrowed Earth by Robert Emmet Hernan

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As the Gulf of Mexico continues to fill with oil due to BP’s negligence and our own government agencies’ lack of oversight, we are experiencing an environmental disaster of catastrophic proportions. Tragically, this isn’t the first human-caused environmental disaster — and given our track record as stewards of this planet, it’s futile to fool ourselves that it will be the last. In his book, This Borrowed Earth: Lessons from the 15 Worst Environmental Disasters Around the World, Robert Emmet Hernan describes in detail 15 environmental disasters we must remember so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

In the book’s Introduction — penned merely months before BP’s so-called “spill,” Hernan wrote, “If we forget how and why these disasters happened and what horrible consequences emerged from them, we will not avert future disasters.” As a society, we seem to have done just what Hernan feared: We’ve forgotten. And so another disaster is upon us.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, writes in the book’s Foreword, “In an age where we’re once again ideologically committed to ‘loosening the reins’ on private enterprise, it’s sobering to remember what has happened in the past. In an age when new technologies are barely tested before they’re put into widespread use—genetically engineered crops, for instance—it’s even more sobering to contemplate a seemingly iron-clad rule: every new machine or system seems to fail catastrophically at least once.” …

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Brownfield Remediation Provides Local Opportunity

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Late this past fall, Cindy Quast, an environmental engineer with Stanley Consultants’ Iowa City Office, invited Blue Planet Green Living to visit a brownfield site. Quast, a 20-year veteran of environmental consulting, has been cleaning up brownfields for more than 10 years. Joe Hennager and I joined Quast at the western edge of Davenport, Iowa, for a quick course in Brownfields 101.

A chill wind cuts through my coat, and I instantly regret having left my gloves in the car. On the far side of the highway where we have parked, wetlands serve as a buffer zone for the Mississippi River. Eagles nest in the trees high above, soaring over the water to catch their food. A few feet from the busy highway on the near side, environmental engineer Cindy Quast is talking with two men. They stand at the bottom of a small hill that borders a long, private driveway.

One of the men, Wyatt McCain, is taking soil samples from the base of the hill. The other man, Daniel Cook, wears the uniform of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). We walk together to the far end of the driveway, where McCain begins sampling again. Quast and Cook take turns patiently explaining to us the work being done on the site and why it’s important.

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Surfers Against Sewage Sponsors “Barefoot Friendly Beach Cleaning Tour”

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Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is a volunteer organization dedicated to “clean, safe recreational water, free from sewage effluents, toxic chemicals, nuclear waste and marine litter.” Even landlocked folks like Joe and me, here in the Iowa Heartland, are joining the cause. We all need clean water. And we want beaches that are safe enough to walk on with bare feet. But clean beaches are growing scarce. Stories of medical waste, plastic bottles, cigarette butts, raw sewage, and disposable diapers make walking even remote beaches potentially unsafe and, often, unappealing.

In the next few days, SAS and Barefoot Wine and Bubbly will be hosting a beach cleanup tour on the shores of Britain. Join fellow environmentalists from 3 to 5 P.M. at the sites listed below. According to SAS’s Andy Cummins, as posted on the SAS website, “[V]olunteers can expect the afternoon clean-up sessions will kick off with a full introduction and briefing from the respected eco-campaigners at SAS. Each volunteer will then be given gloves and a rubbish bag and the marine litter-picking will commence. All volunteers need bring is suitable clothing for the weather”…

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ISO 14001: Comply with Laws, Prevent Pollution, Continually Improve

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“When something goes wrong, a company has an accident or a mistake, we immediately blame that company for not doing things right. And then, inside that company, it goes down from the plant manager, whose neck is on the line, and he starts looking for somebody he can blame,” says Molly Long. “There’s a hierarchy of blaming that occurs. It’s the picture of the two-story outhouse. No one wants to be on the bottom floor.”

As president of A.W.E. Consulting, Long audits compliance with ISO 14001, which, she describes as, “an international standard that helps people coalesce their environmental management into something that’s meaningful and trackable.” When a business seeks ISO 14001 certification, it enters into a process that changes that blaming mentality by putting responsibility where it belongs: at the top.

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Red Tape, Regulations, and Environmental Crimes

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“When I went to Ireland recently,” says environmental auditor and consultant Molly Long, “I sat in a pub with a pint of Guinness while being lectured to by an average citizen of Dublin about what environmental terrorists we Americans are. He didn’t know we were environmental consultants. It was a really interesting perspective. He said we do a terrible job of protecting the environment.”

Long is a former hazardous waste inspector for the state of Indiana. Today she is in high demand as an ISO 14001 auditor and an environmental consultant, two services she provides through A.W.E. [Agriculture. Wildlife. Environmental.] Consulting, Inc. As an enforcer of laws, an environmental auditor, and a consultant, Long has worked extensively with a wide variety of businesses, industries, and government groups. In this interview, she brings broad perspective to the topic of environmental laws and regulations.

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Part 4: Safety Tips for Battery Recycling

November 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Batteries, Blog, Front Page, Hazardous Waste, Landfill, Tips

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Collecting batteries for recycling doesn’t mean just dumping them together into a box or a pail. Careless handling of batteries — spent or not — can lead to disastrous consequences. As you gather household batteries for recycling, follow these simple steps.

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Part 3: Finding a Battery Recycler

November 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Batteries, Blog, Front Page, Hazardous Waste, Landfill, Tips

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Finding a battery recycling center sometimes feels like looking for Waldo in a crowd wearing red-and-white striped sweaters. In most cities and towns, there are recycling centers that accept almost everything. But battery recyclers are elusive.

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Part 2: The Inside Scoop on Batteries

November 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Batteries, Blog, Front Page, Hazardous Waste, Landfill, Tips

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Batteries are kind of mystifying to me. My flashlight does nothing until I put a battery inside. Then, suddenly, there’s light. The same is true of my digital camera. No battery, no picture. And my watch? Without a battery, time stands still. The magic doesn’t happen until I put in just the right battery in just the right way. But how? What allows a battery to give “life” to inanimate objects?

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Part 1: Much Ado about Batteries

November 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Batteries, Blog, Front Page, Hazardous Waste, Landfill, Tips

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According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans use billions of batteries every year. That’s Billions, with a B. We buy them, use them, and throw them away. Buy, use, throw. Buy, use, throw… Sounds like a bad habit.

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Hazardous Waste Combustors and IT3 Conference

October 31, 2008 by  
Filed under 2009, Blog, Hazardous Waste, Ohio

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Joining forces with the International Conference on Thermal Treatment Technologies, the Hazardous Waste Combustors Conference and Exhibition has rescheduled its November 2008 event.

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