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Worst Places on Earth Are Home to Millions

Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service
Rapidly industrialising India and China have claimed four of the top 10 most polluted places on the planet for the first time, according to a report by U.S. and European environmental groups

BROOKLIN, Canada – In 2006, Russia topped the list with the three sites in the top 10, but this year, two very large toxic sites affecting hundreds of thousands of people in India and China were included that had been missed in the previous global survey, said Richard Fuller, director of the New York- based Blacksmith Institute, a independent environmental group that released the list Sep. 12 report in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland.

“We were surprised these sites had not been reported before,” Fuller told IPS.

One is Tianying in the Anhui Province of China, which produces about 50 percent of the country’s lead, often from low-level and illegal production facilities. A lack of environmental enforcement has resulted in severe lead poisoning, with soil and homes contaminated at levels 10 to 24 times China’s national standards.

Up to 140,000 people may be affected, suffering from brain damage and mental retardation.

“The Chinese government says it is one of the worst environmental sites in the country,” says David Hanrahan, Blacksmith’s director of global operations.

Another newly “discovered” toxic community is in India’s Sukinda Valley in the state of Orissa, home to 2.6 million people and one of the largest open cast chromite ore mines in the world. Twelve mines continue to operate without any environmental management plans. Over 30 million tonnes of waste rock are spread over the surrounding area and untreated water is discharged into the local river.

The ore is mined and refined for use in the many chrome-plated products enjoyed in North America and Europe, said Hanrahan.

Approximately 70 percent of the surface water and 60 percent of the drinking water contains hexavalent chromium at more than double national and international standards, and sometimes up to 20 times higher. In villages less than one kilometre from the sites, 24.47 percent of the inhabitants were found to be suffering from pollution-induced diseases.

“The fact of the matter is that children are sick and dying in these polluted places, and it’s not rocket science to fix them,” said Fuller.
(13 September 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.

Related at Financial Times: Planet’s most polluted sites unveiled

We will be known by the junk we throw away

Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times

That was the first word that came to mind Tuesday morning as I stood on the befouled banks of Compton Creek, wondering whether to wade into the rank, trash-strewn sludge.

I was in search of discarded plastic bags along with James Alamillo and Kirsten James of Heal the Bay, which is urging Los Angeles County officials to ban the ubiquitous sacks.

A study by the county Department of Public Works, requested by Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, has turned up a number that stunned county officials and Heal the Bay’s president, Mark Gold.

Roughly 6 billion plastic bags, most of them from supermarkets and other retailers, are used each year in Los Angeles County. And only about 5% of them are recycled.

“I was completely shocked,” said Gold. He knew from seeing the bags blowing down highways, trapped against fences and littering vacant lots that the problem was huge. But 6 billion bags? No wonder a million Pacific seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals die annually from discarded bags and other debris that make their way into the ocean.

“Our reliance on single-use packaging materials just doesn’t make sense. When you think about it, the life of that bag could be 10 minutes between the time we leave the store and get home.”

Gold had directed me to Compton Creek, near the Crystal Park Casino and Hotel, for a quick glance at the kind of junk that eventually washes into the Los Angeles River and out to sea. Alamillo and James assured me we’d find bags floating, buried under the low brush and wadded around trees and bushes, so we slipped on knee-high rubber boots and slogged into the cesspool.

The bags were indeed easy to find, mingled in with a flotilla of trash that had traveled for miles through a maze of storm drains and catch basins, or had simply been dumped into the creek. The collection was an indictment of our slovenly, junk-food, single-use, throwaway society.
(12 September 2007)

Experts ponder: Wider chairs, plumper derrières?

Misty Harris, CanWest News Service
Organizers of the 2012 Olympics have ordered wider seats to accommodate bigger backsides, increasing the breadth of each chair at Britain’s Aquatic Centre from 46 centimetres to 50 — slightly larger than a first-class seat on most major airlines.

London’s Olympic Delivery Authority is the latest addition to a growing list of worldwide organizations, businesses and civil engineers that have bellied up to obesity by incorporating plus-size design into public spaces. But as the landscape expands to include everything from broader bus seats to wider high chairs, experts wonder whether the trend will lessen the demonization of overweight people or enable obesity.

Put simply: Do wider chairs create plumper derrières?

“There’s a lot of talk about how the widening of North American waistlines really reflects our built environment,” says Gayle Nicoll, a noted Canadian expert on health and design.

“I do appreciate the idea of wider seats, but I would hate to think that’s the overall direction we’re going — that we’re simply accommodating our obesity, not thinking about how our environment can counteract it.”

Because people respond to their surroundings, Nicoll argues that encouraging physical activity through architectural design — highly visible stairwells, for instance — would be more meaningful than expanding seat sizes.
(14 September 2007)

Study: Pollution raises exercise risks

Linda A. Johnson, Associated Press
People with heart disease may want to steer clear of heavy traffic when exercising or simply take their workout indoors to avoid breathing polluted air.

Exercising in areas with high levels of diesel exhaust and microscopic soot particles is especially risky for people with heart disease, according to the first study in which heart patients were directly exposed to pollution.

European researchers found that brief exposure to diluted diesel exhaust during exercise reduced a key anticlotting substance in the blood and worsened exercise-induced ischemia, or insufficient flow of blood and oxygen to the heart – changes that can trigger a heart attack and even death.
(12 September 2007)