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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Slow Death by Rubber Duck

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The information in Slow Death by Rubber Duck doesn’t make for relaxing reading, even though the authors, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, do a masterful job of translating statistics and technical data (sometimes very technical) into highly readable prose. The problem is, the book is about a very unsettling topic.

When I first received my review copy and read the introduction, I was struck by the experiment that forms the basis for the book: The authors voluntarily and quite deliberately exposed themselves to toxic chemicals — lots of them.

Now, why would these men risk their health by loading their bodies with toxins? Isn’t that irresponsible? I wondered. It sounded so dangerous. And, from the way they tell it, their families were none too thrilled by their participation, either….

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Computer Recycling – The Downside of Upgrading

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In an era when prices for goods are escalating while product quality seems to be decreasing (“they don’t make ‘em like they used to”), electronics equipment is one bright spot on the consumer landscape. The products keep improving, and the prices keep dropping. That flash drive you’re carrying is about the size of a stick of gum, yet it has quadruple the storage capacity of the laptop you were using on the job ten years ago. With all these advancements in the computer arena, why not upgrade?

The downside of upgrading is disposing of all that old equipment. You can’t sell it, and you can’t give it away. Your local charities and schools won’t accept electronics donations — you’ve checked. So you make the environmentally responsible decision to recycle. Congratulations, you’re living green.

Or are you?

What if you knew that the obsolete cellphones, TVs, and computers you just recycled with a clear conscience are on their way to a “burn village” in China? …

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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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Dispose of Fluorescents As If Your Life Depends on It

July 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, CFLs, Front Page, Landfill, Mercury, Recycling, U.S., Water

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A few days ago, Joe and I were talking with the manager of a local discount store (part of a national chain) and asked what they did with their spent fluorescent light bulbs. She sheepishly hung her head and said, “Well, I know we should recycle them, but…” Our state doesn’t require that fluorescent bulbs be treated as hazardous wastes, so the store manager isn’t breaking the law. But it was obvious to us that she feels guilty about dumping them in the landfill.

Although the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has included fluorescent bulbs under Universal Waste regulations since 2001. Although EPA considers fluorescent bulbs to be hazardous wastes, their disposal in landfills is permitted. But it’s not the best policy. …

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Is Your Fish High in Mercury? Safe Harbor Knows

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I once heard a story about a lonely man who ate a tuna sandwich for lunch every day for 20 years. His cause of death? Mercury poisoning. I can’t say if this is true or not, but it certainly gets the point across: There could be something fishy in your fish…

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Porked Off! A Critical Look at Iowa’s Water Quality

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For 25 years, I’ve lived two blocks from the Iowa River. I used to water ski on, swim in, and fish from it. I don’t anymore. Twenty years ago, I felt safe including my children in these activities. We felt safe swimming in the river and eating bass, bullhead, catfish, and walleye from its waters. I had hoped I would be able to share the same experiences with my grandchildren someday.

Nowadays, you shouldn’t just drop in a line and catch your dinner. You should check with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before you eat the fish. The agency does federally mandated testing for pesticides at least once a year. They do periodic testing for mercury and PCBs, too. Their latest warnings are posted on their Fish Consumption Advisories page. You’ll find warnings like this one:

“The Cedar River from the Highway 218 bridge at Floyd (Floyd Co.) to the Iowa/Minnesota state line (39 mile stretch): Eat only 1 meal/week of smallmouth bass, walleye, and northern pike due to elevated levels of mercury.”

Sound healthy to you?

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Coal Industry Creates Appalachian War Zone

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Bo Webb lives in a war zone. He fears for his life and the lives of his family every day. He wonders, will an explosion cause debris to land on his house and loved ones? Will the toxic fumes from explosives poison their lungs and their waterways? Will the dam above his children’s elementary school break, covering everyone below with toxic waste? Will the scarred landscape of his homeland ever recover? Bo Webb lives in West Virginia. He has asked that his letter be spread as widely as possible. Read it, and you’ll understand the urgency with which he writes. There is no “clean coal.” There is only destruction. Pass it on.
As I write this letter, I brace myself for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above my home in the mountains of West Virginia. Outside my door, pulverized rock dust, laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground.

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Landmark National Children’s Study Launches in US

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The National Children’s Study is the largest study of children’s health that’s ever been undertaken in this country. It’s what we call a prospective epidemiologic study, which means it’s going to enroll moms very early in pregnancy and follow the children out to at least age 21.

The goal of the study is to identify factors in the environment that cause disease in children, like autism and childhood cancer, attention deficit disorder, asthma, diabetes, birth defects, prematurity, and low birth weight.

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