pollution

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Cartoon: The dirty food dilemma

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/04/2024 - 10:55pm in

Cartoon by Jen Sorensen.

This Guardian article lists various foods that tend to be high in toxic PFAS, commonly known as "forever chemicals," which are used to make products stain- and water-resistant. To quote from the report, "Among the main sources of food contamination are tainted water, greaseproof food wrappers, some plastics, pesticides, or farms where PFAS-tainted sewage sludge is spread as fertilizer." As for microplastics, where to begin? They're everywhere, from human placentas to the oceans to Mount Everest. 

Help keep this work sustainable by joining the Sorensen Subscription Service! Also on Patreon.

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‘An Assault on Democracy’: Rishi Sunak Backs Bill to Overturn Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ Extension

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/03/2024 - 10:28pm in

Rishi Sunak is backing a bill that would overturn the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, in a move which sources close to the city’s mayor described as an “unprecedented assault on democracy and devolution.”

Powers over transport and air quality are currently devolved to the Mayor.

Londoners will also soon be handed the opportunity to have their own voice heard on the issue when they vote in May's London mayoral elections.

Sadiq Khan's Conservative candidate Susan Hall has made scrapping the zone's extension her central pledge, but is currently 24 points behind him, according to a Savanta poll published on Friday.

However, under the new backbench bill, which is being brought to Parliament today by the Kent-based Conservative MP Gareth Johnson, the Government would be handed the ability to unilaterally scrap the extension of the zone anyway.

The Transport Secretary Mark Harper said in a statement that the Government was "happy to support" Johnson's Bill.

“The government has been clear the Mayor of London’s decision to expand ULEZ charging area to the London borders, in breach of his own manifesto commitment, is a tax on the poorest motorists, which his own impact assessment states, in terms of air pollution, will only have a moderate impact on NOx and minor impact on particulates", Harper said.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister added that the bill would allow "communities to have their say".

A source close to Khan hit out at the bid to overturn the zone's extension.

“This unprecedented assault on democracy and devolution is a desperate distraction by a Government in its death throes which time and again has shown its contempt for Londoners and their rights,” the source said.

“Londoners will see through this pathetic attempt to play politics with the capital.”

Downing Street had previously ruled out seeking to overturn Sadiq Khan’s decision to extend the city’s air quality zone to Outer London.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said last month that "road user charging is a matter for the Mayor of London and for him to justify his decision to residents and businesses."

The zone, in which owners of higher-emission vehicles are compelled to pay a daily charge if they drive inside London’s boundaries, has proven controversial with some Londoners.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has also previously criticised it, telling Khan last summer that he should “reflect” on the policy. A spokesman for Starmer told Byline Times that the Labour leader's view had not changed since the scheme was brought in.

However, City Hall say the scheme has been a success, with a spokesman saying that 95% of vehicles on London’s roads were now compliant with the newly expanded zone, which was “helping clean up London’s air and protect Londoners’ health.”

While the Government's apparent support for Johnson's bill will allow it time in Parliament, it is unclear whether it will be given sufficient time to pass into law before the next general election.

Sunak's spokesperson said plans for the bill's passage would be set out by the Leader of the House in the coming weeks.

It comes as Conservative MPs also call on the Prime Minister to remove the Mayor’s powers over policing.

Asked this week about the push to reduce the Mayor’s powers, Khan told this paper that “you can tell there's a general election and a mayoral election around the corner because of these silly gimmicks and games from the Tories.

“They should get their own house in order before they start lecturing us about taking powers away.”

A spokesman for the Prime Minister did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Keir Starmer To Hand ‘New Powers’ to Mayors and Regions as He Extends Olive Branch to Sadiq Khan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/03/2024 - 3:27am in

The Labour party is set to unveil more details of its plans to devolve powers away from Westminster, Byline Times understands.

Some details of the proposals are expected to be outlined in a speech by the party's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner later this week.

The intervention follows notable tensions between the Labour leader and England's two most high-profile elected Mayors, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham.

Khan and Starmer clashed last summer over the London mayor's plans to implement a now-enacted low emission zone in outer London, while Burnham has criticised Starmer's decision to U-turn on his plans for green investment and House of Lords reform.

Starmer's appearance earlier this week alongside Khan for the launch of the London Mayor’s re-election campaign marked an apparent attempt to heal divisions after a period of real tensions between the two politicians.

The Labour leader’s very public criticism of Khan’s flagship decision to bring in an Ultra Low Emission Zone in Outer London last summer was met with significant anger by some of those around the Mayor.

At the time, sources close to Khan expressed frustration at Starmer’s decision to attack a policy which by that point was just weeks away from being rolled out. They also warned that Starmer’s intervention risked giving oxygen to the Conservative party’s anti-ULEZ campaign in the then upcoming Uxbridge by-election.

Their warning appeared to pan out, with the Conservatives pulling off a surprise win in Uxbridge and Rishi Sunak using the result as justification to ditch much of his own Government’s green agenda. Half a year on and Khan believes his original policy has been vindicated.

“When we brought in ULEZ in central London there were people who were very hostile and anti and the truth is that the sky didn’t fall in” Khan told this paper.

“And the great news is that 19 out of 20 cars seen driving into [the new zone] now on an average day are compliant [with ULEZ]… and this has transformed the air in our city.”

Repairing Relations

The two men’s appearance at a London community centre on Monday appeared to be attempt to move on from the row.

It was particularly notable that in his speech, Starmer praised his “friend" Khan's agenda on cleaning up London’s air, saying that “I say to people who challenge me on cleaner air, I’ve got two kids. They’re 15 and 13. I wouldn’t give them dirty water to drink and I wouldn’t want them to breathe in dirty air.”

However, he failed to specifically endorse the ULEZ policy. A spokesman for Starmer later told this paper that the Labour leaders’s view on the policy “hasn't changed”.

A source close to Khan admitted that relations between City Hall and the Labour leader's office had been strained by the ULEZ row. 

Other policy differences do still remain between Khan and Starmer.

An example of these came on Monday when Starmer was asked about Khan’s proposals to implement a form of rent controls in London. The Labour leader poured cold water on the idea, saying that “it’s not our policy at the moment.”

However, despite these ongoing differences, Khan’s team retain hope that a Starmer Government could prove pivotal for London.

Over the past eight years Khan has been a regular target of successive Conservative Governments, who have tightly held the purse strings on new London infrastructure projects. Khan's recent treatment by former Conservative Chairman Lee Anderson, who was accused of making a series of Islamophobic comments about the London mayor, was seen as emblematic of this.

City Hall hope that a relations with central government would be transformed if Starmer enters Downing Street.

In particular Khan's campaign pledge to build tens of thousands of new council homes is seen as lining up with the party's own national proposals to increase housebuilding.

Yet as well as being potentially more amenable to investing in London, Khan is also pinning his hopes on an incoming Labour Prime Minister handing over big new powers to the Mayor.

“I'm really optimistic about the next Labour government devolving more powers and resources to the cities and regions,” Khan told this paper.

“The key things we’re talking about are in relation to planning, skills and the economy.”

Khan pointed to proposals by the London Finance Commission to give the Mayor new powers to raise infrastructure funding as the sort of proposals he would be lobbying Starmer to adopt in office.

“We've done the heavy lifting on this so we're hoping in the first 100 days that you'll see the fruits of [those proposals].”

A spokesman for Starmer told this paper that the Labour leader accepted “the need for more powers for regional mayors” on areas including skills and welfare.

Devolution 2.0?

Labour proposals to devolve additional powers to the Mayor were set out in a report for the party by Gordon Brown two years ago, but little has been confirmed since.

However, with a general election looming later this year, Labour sources suggested that some details of these new devolution proposals would be set out by the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner during a speech later this week.

Labour's devolution proposals are unlikely to be as impactful as anything pursued by Tony Blair during his first term as Prime Minister, however. The big wave of devolution rolled out by the then Labour Prime Minister was transformative, creating devolved government in both Scotland and Wales, as well as rolling out regional mayors and authorities across England.

Little proposed so far by Starmer appears to match that level of ambition, with previous plans for a new “senate of the regions” to replace the House of Lords, also reportedly being reconsidered by Starmer’s team.

However, with Labour dampening down expectations of big new spending proposals, the devolution agenda poses an opportunity for an incoming Starmer government to make real differences to the political landscape of the UK, at relatively little expense.

It could also help to contrast with the failure of the Government's own promise to "level up" the country. A Parliamentary report last week found that 90% of projects promised by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson remained years away from completion.

A spokesman for Starmer told journalists on Wednesday that the party would ditch the phrase "levelling up" if they form the next Government.

Clean Air Activists Accuse London Mayor Sadiq Khan of ‘Burying’ his Controversial Silvertown Tunnel Project as Election Nears

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/02/2024 - 2:51am in

Anti-pollution campaigners have pledged to make a huge new vehicle-only river crossing in east London an election issue for Labour’s Sadiq Khan, as he tries to secure an unprecedented third term as Mayor this May. 

Activists have expressed frustration with Transport for London (TfL – chaired by the Mayor) and the Mayor's Office for “repeatedly refusing to answer basic questions” regarding the climate and pollution impacts of the so-called Silvertown Tunnel, which is set to connect the London boroughs of Greenwich and Newham next spring. 

It has led some anti-pollution activists to believe that Khan is trying to hide or downplay what constitutes his biggest infrastructure project as Mayor.

The Mayor, who has staked much of his mayoralty on reducing air pollution, rarely issues statements about the tunnel and has rarely visited it during construction – compared to frequent media events ahead of the new Elizabeth Line opening in 2022. 

A recent letter to TfL and City Hall figures from the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, seen by Byline Times, sharply criticised environmental modelling used by TfL for the Silvertown project as unrealistic – accusing the public transport body of concealing the true increase in pollution and CO2 emissions that the project will result in.

Transport for London’s modelling of the pollution impacts of the new tunnel assumes that new tolls will be put in place at both the Silvertown Tunnel and the existing Blackwall Tunnel (thereby limiting traffic demand) – and remain in place indefinitely, despite there being no legal guarantees. Anti-pollution campaigners fear that a future mayor could simply tear up the tolls and lead to a surge in polluting vehicle crossings. 

The authors of the letter requested specific information on the real increase in pollution and CO2 emissions from the Silvertown Tunnel in various scenarios, as well as the impact of increased traffic in Newham, but say all requests have been refused.

TfL says it does not have the capacity to conduct new forecasts on the potential pollution impacts. 

But Stop the Silvertown Tunnel activists are urging TfL and the Mayor's Office to “respect London's voters” by providing all the information needed for a true assessment of the impact of the Silvertown project. 

Existing traffic modelling by TfL suggests that opening the Silvertown Tunnel to general traffic will increase traffic and emissions, regardless of new tolls. That could have major health impacts on communities at either end: Newham and Greenwich. Newham is among the poorest boroughs in London and already struggles with illegal pollution levels from toxic nitrogen dioxide (NOX) and particulate matter. 

When opened, the tunnel is expected to direct 20,000 to 30,000 additional vehicles into Newham every day, though TfL insists that as both boroughs are in the expanded Ultra Low Emissions Zone residents are partially protected. However, ULEZ does not actually ban the most polluting vehicles, it simply makes the drivers pay to pollute – suggesting that hundreds of heavy goods vehicles will still clog up the air. 

Campaigners say they failed to get a response from Transport for London to their concerns for nearly three months, until Byline Times approached TfL for comment. This week campaigners received a reply from Transport for London, apologising for the delay. 

A TfL spokesperson told campaigners: “TfL fully supports the need to keep London electoral candidates and Londoners updated on progress with implementing the Silvertown Tunnel.

"However, TfL must now focus on delivery and can no longer resource further theoretical modelling, given the comprehensive transport studies, quantitative assessments and modelling already undertaken and with findings now in the public domain, including environmental benefits.”

Photo: Anthony Hall/Alamy

“TfL remains both committed to monitoring the Tunnel’s impact and that electoral candidates will have the opportunity to meet and raise questions with TfL this year,” they added.

Dominic Leggett, a spokesperson for the Stop Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, responded by saying: "Tfl and the Mayor are outright refusing to tell candidates, the media, and the public the most basic facts about Silvertown. For example, with or without tolls, opening Silvertown will bring 20-30,000 more vehicles daily into Newham, already London's most polluted borough – and one of its most economically vulnerable. 

“We've asked TfL and the Mayor a simple question; how many more tons of dangerous particulates and NOX air pollution will these extra vehicles bring into Newham each year? It's an easy number for them to work out, but they've refused to answer. 

“Their refusal is entirely political; they just don't want residents, voters and media to know that Mr Khan's biggest project by far as Mayor, fundamentally undermines his own public health, social justice, air quality and climate policies.” 

He added that TfL modelling likely pollution levels under different scenarios was comparatively simple.

Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Rob Blackie told Byline Times that, if he was elected, he would rename it the “Sadiq Khan Motorway” – adding that if Khan is proud of it “he should be delighted by this tribute to his mayoralty”.

Greenwich Green Party activist and London Assembly candidate Karin Tearle added: “Sadiq Khan was responsible for reviewing Silvertown when he became Mayor. And we proposed doing better [pollution] modelling. He hasn’t done that, and he's still not doing it now he’s going into a third term.”

A TfL spokesperson told Byline Times: “The Silvertown Tunnel scheme will address the chronic issues Londoners face at the Blackwall Tunnel as well as provide new cross-river public transport options by zero-emission buses. 

“We are committed to delivering an overall improvement in air quality and the introduction of user charging ensures we can effectively manage traffic to achieve this outcome.

"Furthermore, as part of our commitment to making sure this happens, we began a comprehensive programme of monitoring in 2020 and have regularly published reports and monitoring data which helps our understanding of local air quality. Once the tunnel opens in 2025, we will continue to publish reports showing how we are meeting our obligations, or if further changes need to be made.

“We are working hard to ensure that this essential new infrastructure is delivered with minimal impact to local communities and delivers transformative benefits to cross-river travel in east London. We will continue to engage with the local community and monitor traffic, air quality and other factors, both during construction and once the tunnel is open.”

The TfL spokesperson added: “Once open, the crossing, which is within the Ultra-Low Emission Zone and will be subject to a user charge [a toll], will also reduce congestion and improve the reliability and resilience of the Blackwall Tunnel, which will improve overall air quality in the local area.” 

Transport for London says that that Silvertown Tunnel will provide a "public transport-focused" river crossing, with zero-emission bus links across the Thames. But Leggett claims that while there will be a few hundred more buses put on per day over the crossing, an extra 15-30,000 private vehicles are expected to use the tunnel once open.

A Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition protest last summer, including Green Party Deputy Leader Zack Polanski. Photo: Ron Fassbender/Alamy

The scheme faced a six-month public inquiry before it was awarded a development consent order by the Secretary of State in 2017. It is being delivered by private consortium Riverlinx and will be managed by the firm after it’s completed – with TfL making repayments to the company for decades to come (TfL says this will come from the tolls). 

Since the “vast majority” of the funding is being raised through private finance, TfL says the cash cannot be diverted to an alternative scheme – such as making the tunnel open only for public or active transport options. SSTC campaigners contest this.

Construction on the tunnel is well underway, with the tunnelling completed and the new road network to allow access to the new tunnel now being installed.

The Mayor’s Office deferred to Transport for London for comment. 

This piece was updated after publication to include a fresh response from SSTC (we are happy to do the same for TfL).

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com

Landfill’s Toxic Legacy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/02/2024 - 8:45pm in

Seven-year-old Zane Gbangbola and his family lived in a semi-detached Victorian house in Chertsey, Surrey, between the River Thames and what appeared to be an attractive lake, just the other side of the field that their home backed onto. To all appearances, it was an idyllic spot in a desirable greenbelt location.

Zane’s parents, Kye and Nicole Gbangbola, were both successful young professionals and their only child was a bright, lively boy, popular at his school and in the church community to which Kye and Nicole belonged.

But in January and February 2014, the heaviest rainfall since Met Office records began – the first climatic event attributed to climate change by a UK prime minister – showed the grim downside of living so close to water for many thousands of people in southern England.

Homes were inundated from Cornwall to Kent, rail lines were washed away and, on 5 February, amid mounting criticism that the Government was failing to get to grips with the crisis, Prime Minister David Cameron held the first of a series of COBRA meetings.

Two days later, in the early hours of 8 February, the happy lives of Zane and his family were shattered forever.

Kye and Nicole’s home had never been inundated before, and it had a flood basement designed to protect from this risk. As the torrential rain continued in that first week of February, this was doing what it was meant to do – collecting floodwater that had overflowed from the nearby lake, which Kye and Nicole were pumping out with electric pumps. They had also hired a petrol-driven pump, but only used this for a short period in the morning of 7 February to set it up and test that it would work if needed as a back-up.

All members of the family had been feeling unwell in the previous few days, but believed this was due to seasonal infections.

That evening, Kye took Zane with him to a local residents’ meeting calling for councillors to do more to protect vulnerable residents from the impacts of flooding. Afterwards, they returned home and Zane enjoyed the treat of watching the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics on TV. 

After he had been put to bed, Kye used the bedroom next to his son’s to work on his computer. He and Nicole were taking it in turns to be on “floodwatch” during the night, to check that the electric pumps were working to protect their home.

At around 3.30am, Nicole checked on Zane and found he was not breathing. She tried desperately to resuscitate him while waiting for an ambulance but neither she nor the paramedics could revive him. Zane was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.

A second ambulance crew found Kye unconscious and in cardiac arrest in the room where he had been working, less than two metres from Zane’s room. He regained consciousness in hospital but had lost all sensation and power in his legs. Kye was later told that he would never walk again.

Hydrogen Cyanide

Exactly what caused Zane’s death and left his father in a wheelchair was, two-and-a-half years later, the subject of an inquest that many now believe failed to properly examine the strong evidence that points towards a deadly chemical culprit: hydrogen cyanide, conducted into the family's home along with water from the nearby lake that had, unbeknown to them, previously been a landfill site for all manner of waste materials.

The coroner found that, “on the balance of probabilities”, Zane was killed by carbon monoxide from the petrol-driven pump, despite Kye and Nicole’s denials that this was used that night – and despite the fact that officers of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s specialist HAZMAT team, which arrived at the family’s home at 4:30am that morning, found that the pump was cold and showed no sign of recent use.

The HAZMAT team detected no unusual levels of carbon monoxide within the house, but its specialised equipment did detect hydrogen cyanide at potentially dangerous levels – not once but three times.

Several other anomalies throw doubt on the coroner’s conclusions.

The carbon monoxide found in Zane’s blood was well below levels that would normally be fatal or cause serious symptoms. The Environment Agency national incident recording system classified the 25,000ppm reading for hydrogen cyanide, as reported by the fire crew, as "very high", and Kye and Nicole were advised not to return to the house for over a year, even to collect belongings. And in July 2014, a leading neurophysiologist ascribed Kye’s paralysing condition as being “due to hydrogen cyanide”.

Since 2014, Kye and Nicole have fought tirelessly for a full, independent panel inquiry into what happened that night. They have gathered an impressive body of evidence as well as support from unions including the Fire Brigades Union, the Communication Workers’ Union and UNISON, environmental scientists, local councillors, and many prominent politicians including Keir Starmer, Andy Burnham, David Lammy, Jess Phillips, Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas.

A petition by the 'Truth About Zane’ campaign calling for an independent investigation has been signed by 118,000 people.

Earlier this month, an Early Day Motion signed by 32 MPs called for an independent panel inquiry with full powers to compel disclosure into Zane’s death. It noted that “the victims and bereaved in this case have been blamed, abused and scapegoated” and that there had been a “lack of proper investigation” with “masses of evidence undisclosed or ignored and a flawed judicial outcome”.

The MPs also drew attention to a particularly shocking aspect of the case: “Zane’s family were refused legal aid for his inquest, whilst legal support for public officials was paid from the public purse and the coroner received legal aid.” This denial of so-called 'parity of arms’ meant that Zane’s parents have been faced with a steeply unlevel playing field in legal terms.

'Ticking Time Bombs’

During the past few years, evidence has emerged that strongly suggests the landfill site next to the family’s home, which had later been turned into that pretty lake, had previously been used to dispose of highly toxic material.

In 2020, a Ministry of Defence whistleblower told the BBC that chemical waste from an MoD research facility had been dumped in metal drums into gravel pits around Chertsey, including the one from which floodwater entered Kye and Nicole’s home.

This tallied with evidence uncovered in planning documents for an aviation fuel pipeline, which revealed that a borehole sunk into the gravel pit in 1972 (before it was flooded later that decade) had struck “a metal canister... which released a substance that effervesced with water in the borehole and gave rise to an 'obnoxious smell’”.

What happened to Zane and his family in 2014 also highlights a growing danger faced by many others who live near old landfill sites.

In 2021, independent environmental analysts the ENDS Report found that there are around 21,000 such sites across England and Wales. Of these, 1,287 are categorised as containing waste that would be hazardous to human health if it escaped. Very few of these sites are known to have been properly lined to stop residues being released.

An earlier government study into the link between birth defects and proximity to landfill sites found that 80% of the British population lives with two kilometres of such a site (it also found that incidence of birth defects and low birth weight increased with proximity, though causation could not be established with certainty).

Mapping by the Ends Report shows that 9% of such potentially dangerous sites lie directly under housing and 4% under commercial areas containing shops and restaurants. A further 45% of such sites are under green spaces or parkland. Nearly 750 are within 500 metres of bodies of water and 1,364 are in zones at risk of tidal flooding.

Like Zane’s family, most people who live close to these sites have no idea that they are there or of the potential dangers they may pose. This is not surprising, as information about historic landfills is by no means easy to come by.

Although the Environment Agency keeps records, these are, by its own admission, “not detailed” and often it is simply not known what materials may have been buried within these sites. Nor, in many cases, is it clear who is responsible for making sure that they are safe.

Such landfills may contain anything from household waste to industrial sludge, asbestos, toxic mining waste, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (linked to a range of cancers) and polychlorinated biphenyls (linked to altered thyroid and reproductive function and increased risk of cardiovascular and liver disease, and to diabetes). Some sites are even thought to contain toxic materials from the UK’s historic chemical weapons programme.

Dr Paul Johnston, a specialist in environmental toxicity at Exeter University’s Greenpeace Research Laboratories, has described these landfills as “ticking time bombs”, noting that: “With the climate crisis set to bring more flooding and coastal erosion to the UK, some of these sites are at even higher risk of leaking their toxic contents. This is a difficult and costly problem to tackle, but we're going to have to do it at some point, or there'll be some nasty surprises in store."

Earlier this month, it was revealed that research undertaken on “a number of different operational and closed landfills” for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency had found 17 of these to be leaking highly toxic substances containing banned and potentially carcinogenic “forever chemicals” – in some cases at levels 260 times higher than is deemed safe for drinking water.

Zane’s Law

As the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill reached committee stage in the House of Lords last year, Green Party Baroness Natalie Bennett drew the attention of her fellow peers to plans to build homes on two former landfill sites known to have been used to dispose of highly toxic materials (in Coseley, near Dudley, and in the village of Somercotes in Derbyshire).

She sketched out the history of regulation of such sites, pointing out that “EU regulations on waste and pollution came in through the Environmental Protection Act 1990, tightening up controls. In particular, Section 143 provided an obligation for local authorities to investigate their area and draw up public registers of land that may be contaminated. Section 31 of that Act also gave local authorities powers to inspect and close landfills and clean them up if necessary”.

But, as the peer explained, these sections of the 1990 Act were never properly implemented, with the justification given for this being that it was about “the cost and desire not to place ‘new regulatory burdens’ on the private sector”. Later, the Cameron Government’s so-called “bonfire of red tape” had further reduced the right of authorities to use the law to enforce clean-up of these sites.

With this – and the horrific experience of Zane’s family – in mind, Baroness Bennett proposed an amendment to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which would place a duty on local authorities to report on land contamination in their areas, and for the Secretary of State to publish a nationwide review of the incidence of such contamination, identifying the resources and any legal changes needed to bring all potentially hazardous sites in England to safe levels.

Baroness Bennett proposed that this amendment be known as Zane’s Law.

It did not succeed in making it into the Act as passed but, with climate change driving an increasingly severe risk of flooding around such historic landfill sites, the need for stronger regulation is becoming ever more urgent.

“Surely, a basic duty of the Government is to ensure the security of people in their own homes, which, quite frankly, they are unable to do now because they are not empowering, directing and resourcing local authorities to ensure that they know what is in their land,” Baroness Bennett told the House of Lords.

This week, Zane’s parents have launched a petition for a change in the law, with Lewes Council becoming the first in England to pass a motion calling for a Zane’s Law.

Green Lewes councillor Imogen Makepeace said: “We hope that in passing this motion of support for Zane’s Law, our council will be paving the way for more local authorities to take up the call. Many thousands of people live near such potentially dangerous former landfill sites and are entirely unaware of the risks that they pose.”

Any change in the law will come too late for Zane and his family. But it can’t come soon enough for many others who face the growing risk from landfill’s toxic legacy.

‘The Government is Looking the Other Way as Our Rivers Are Being Poisoned’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/02/2024 - 10:36pm in

The Government’s own environmental watchdog has admitted that the UK may have breached environmental laws by failing to adequately monitor levels of nitrogen pollution into rivers in England.

Back in November 2022, the World Wildlife Forum (WWF), alongside the legal charity ClientEarth, issued a legal complaint against the Environment Agency (EA) following FOI requests revealing that between January 2020 and February 2021, the Agency had conducted 2,213 inspections of three important agricultural regulations, yet despite finding that half of farms surveyed had breached pollution laws, had only issued one civil sanction.

The Environment Agency also found 96 breaches of Nitrate Regulations, 291 breaches of farming rules for water quality, and 634 breaches of regulations concerning the control of slurry and agricultural fuel oil.

The WWF and ClientEarth argued that, as fewer than two per cent of all farms per year had been inspected, the Environment Agency had “little idea of the scale of law breaking taking place and of the damage being currently done to the environment”. Accusing the government body of “an unlawful abdication of its statutory responsibilities,” the organisations contended that the EA had failed to assess the environmental impacts of nitrogen oxides on protected nature sites, permitting farmers to use more fertiliser than the legal limit. 

Nitrates are responsible for degrading around 70% of sensitive habitats around Britain. A 2023 report published by the WWF found that “significant dangers associated with N2O emissions that will have lasting effects on climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion,” arguing that “as a long-lasting gas species (with a lifetime longer than 100 years), N2O will have a warming impact for more than a century after its release”. The report concluded that 45% of nitrogen fertilisers are lost into rivers and streams per year, costing farmers £397 million each year on average.

With 300 times the warming effect of CO2, nitrogen oxides remain a significant threat to water quality, as 55% of lakes in England have failed to meet the requisite standards with respect to nitrogen levels. 

Indeed, Kate Norgrove, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at the WWF, stated that “UK nature is paying the price of the failure of the UK Government and Environment Agency to enforce the rules, and address the critical harm that nitrate pollution has done to our rivers, streams, soil and air”. 

“At a time when the UK should be accelerating action on climate change we are shocked that there has been no answer on if an investigation will take place, and fear that expectations have been raised by the Government’s watchdog that are not being met", she added.

In response to ClientEarth and the WWF’s legal challenge, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) agreed that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had inadvertently encouraged breaches of environmental laws, challenging DEFRA to amend its guidance on water quality before September 2025. The advisory body also pledged to actively monitor the Environment Agency to ensure its compliance with legal requirements.

Moreover, the OEP has itself criticised the Government’s prolonged inaction in meeting its environmental ambitions. Last month, it published a report which assessed 40 individual targets, including legally binding obligations under the 2021 Environment Act, concluding that the Government was off track in meeting 10 and only on track in meeting 4, with 15 targets lacking sufficient evidence to form a judgement.

The OEP found that while Government investment in improving water quality had increased, this had not offset the implications of a lack of stringent regulatory oversight, as only 16% of surface waters had a satisfactory ecological condition, and levels of pollution remained excessive. The report stated that “progress in achieving outcomes is poor,” adding: “the slow pace of progress is largely due to a lack of specific measures and investment to achieve government’s main environmental objectives and the focus of efforts and investments not addressing all major pressures”.

Criticising the inefficiency of the Government’s strategies for reducing water pollution, the OEP’s report concluded that “the scale and pace of delivery of actions is not aligned with the objective to achieve good ecological status or potential by 2027”. The report also mentioned that the government had made insufficient progress in reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution from agriculture into the water environment by 40% on 2018 levels by 2038, in accordance with the requirements of the 2021 Environment Act.

Indeed, OEP Chair Dame Glenys Stacey stated that the Government was “largely off track” in meeting legally binding ecological targets. She argued that “deeply, deeply concerning adverse environmental trends continue,” adding: “with the depleted state of our natural environment and the unprecedented pace of climate change, it does seem to many that we are at a crossroads. It is not easy for us as a nation to choose the right path, the right trajectory and to travel together at the pace needed, but we simply must”.

“So far, government [sic] has not been clear enough about how its ambitions will be delivered– about all that is to be done in each goal area, and against each statutory target, when, and by whom”, Stacey continued. “In our view, the government must do more to set out for Parliament, the public and all hose who must play a role in how it intends to deliver its ambition”.

As the Government falls behind in addressing critical environmental targets concerning the reduction of water pollution and the restoration of nature, public bodies such as the Environment Agency have neglected to actively monitor pollution levels at protected agricultural sites. With both major parties now abandoning important net zero pledges, this marks a backward step in not only addressing decarbonisation, but in ratifying measures which safeguard the natural environment. 

The Movement to ‘Make America Rake Again’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/01/2024 - 7:00pm in

Ten years ago, when Michael Hall retired as dean of students at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and began to spend more time at home, he noticed an ear-splitting noise — something he’d never been around during the day to hear. “The neighbor’s contractor was rattling my windows and assaulting my ears!” he says. One day, he went out and met the contractor at the curb and said, “Can you dial back on the leaf blower? There’s only 10 feet between our houses and it’s really a nuisance.” The contractor responded, “If you kept better care of that side of your house, I wouldn’t have to do that.”  

That launched Hall on a mission that he’s still leading to this day. “At first I started out as Don Quixote out there, tilting at windmills,” says Hall, who describes himself as an old Berkeley hippie. Today he’s not only a co-chair of Quiet Clean PDX, a grassroots organization that’s pushing to ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers city-wide, but part of a growing national movement. More than 100 US cities have banned gas-powered leaf blowers and over 45 different organizations across the country are part of the Quiet Clean Alliance, from Quiet Clean Philly to Quiet Clean Seattle.  

Michael Hall holding a coffee cup.Michael Hall. Courtesy of Quiet Clean PDX

Not only do gas-powered leaf blowers create extreme noise pollution — the most powerful can produce sounds of up to 100 decibels of low-frequency noise, around the same as a Boeing 737 taking off — they are also an environmental menace and a threat to human health. Most have what’s called a “two-stroke engine,” an outmoded design that burns a mix of gas and oil (for lubrication). It’s been shown that because this type of equipment doesn’t have catalytic converters, only two-thirds of the gas and oil mix is burned as fuel. The rest is emitted as toxic fumes of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), two of the main ingredients in ground-level ozone, which both trigger asthma attacks and contribute to premature death. In fact, according to the California Air Resources Board, a single operator using a gas leaf blower for one hour generates the same smog-forming emissions as one car driving 1,100 miles. These small devices also leak formaldehyde and benzene, both of which are known carcinogens. And the people who are most impacted by these toxic fumes? The lawn care workers who use them, many of whom are from lower socio-economic backgrounds. After that, children, the elderly and anyone who is ill are the most impacted — and unlike landscapers, they aren’t wearing protective gear. 

Finally, these relatively small devices also emit tons (literally) of carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming. According to the latest data from the EPA, fossil fuel-powered lawn equipment (including not just leaf blowers but trimmers, mowers, weedwackers, etc.) emits 30 million tons of carbon dioxide in the US each year — more than the amount of greenhouse gases that Los Angeles produced in 2021. 

The high-decibel noise pollution of a gas-powered leaf blower is not just obnoxious and disruptive; it can actually cause tinnitus and hearing loss for the workers who use them (or anyone who is close to one for a full hour). In an article in The Atlantic about his antipathy to gas-powered leaf blowers, journalist (and former Jimmy Carter speechwriter) James Fallows explained why the low-frequency buzz of these devices is especially insidious. “Low-frequency noise has a great penetrating power: It goes through walls, cement barriers, and many kinds of hearing-protection devices,” writes Fallows. The upshot is that even if crews are wearing ear protection, they’ll likely suffer hearing loss after long-term repeated use. 

A landscape worker blowing leaves from the lawn on the capitol mall in Salem, Oregon.A single operator using a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour generates the same smog-forming emissions as one car driving 1,100 miles. Credit: Bob Pool / Shutterstock

When it comes to changing the status quo, California is in the lead, as usual, being the first state to require manufacturers to make zero-emission lawn equipment including leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other small off-road lawn equipment. (The law went into effect this month). Though the law doesn’t ban existing gas-powered leaf blowers or lawn mowers, the California legislature has also allocated $30 million in incentives for individuals and landscaping businesses to make the switch to zero-emission lawn equipment. 

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Cities from Burlington, Vermont to Evantston, Illinois have banned the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers along with one county: Montgomery County, Maryland. At least 25 cities across California have enacted legislation to regulate or ban gas-powered leaf blowers including Oakland, Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara.  

But the gold standard, according to Hall from Quiet Clean PDX, is Quiet Clean D.C. James Fallows and Chuck Elkins, former director of the Noise Control Program at the EPA, led the charge years ago and after a three-year phase-in, the ban finally went into effect in 2022. By all accounts, it has been successful. What sets Washington, D.C.’s ban apart is its broad prohibition of gas-powered blowers (it is both illegal to use them and illegal to sell them in District stores); a three-year ramp-up that allowed for education and compliance; and no-nonsense enforcement. According to Hall, “They’ve got it set up where a citizen affidavit can be filed to the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection and then the Department sends, at first, a warning. They didn’t want it to be punitive, they wanted it to be an educational issue for the mow and blow guys,” he says. After that first warning, fines of up to $500 are issued. 

An electric leaf blower.Electric leaf blowers are expensive — but once you have one, you never have to buy oil or gas again. Credit: JacZia / Shutterstock

There are many arguments against the bans. Some landscapers argue that the electric blowers aren’t as powerful. Others complain about the expense of buying all new equipment. Hall from Quiet Clean PDX understands that people have a deep relationship with their tools and may be reluctant to part with them. But he points out that there’s also an economic benefit to converting. It costs about $2,000 to get a top-of-the-line electric leaf blower (including charger and batteries), but the return on investment is only a year or two at most. After that, you never have to buy gasoline or oil again. 

The Santa Cruz Coalition for a Healthy & Safe Environment recently published a study on the economics of switching and found that even in the most expensive scenario, for a high-performance Stihl battery blower, the savings are significant. Though the up-front cost of this device is $2,261 (including tax), the coalition found, a positive return on investment is seen in just 10.5 months. By the end of the second year, using the electric blower would already have saved $2,904.  

Nick Seagraves, who runs Seagraves Landscaping in West Linn, Oregon, has been a landscaper for 40 years. He only started using electric devices a few years ago, mostly because Lake Oswego’s Department of Parks & Recreation (a client) required it. He has a crew of 14 and says that his guys like the electric blowers. “They actually prefer them,” he admits. That said, he says that even the Husqvarna electric models he purchased don’t put out quite as much energy as the gas blowers. But now that he has them, he says homeowner associations that have long been clients really appreciate them. “It gives us an edge,” he says. 


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Many cities (including D.C. and Dallas) are offering rebates or trade-in programs for quieter and less polluting electric blowers, which helps lessen the initial cost of switching over. On January 1 of this year, a new law went into effect in Colorado giving residents a 30 percent discount on all electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, and snow blowers.

Back in Portland, Quiet Clean PDX is working to get Portland City Council to vote on the issue this year. Does Hall hope that Quiet Clean PDX will eventually take up the crusade against electric leaf blowers, too? Even though they don’t emit benzene or VOCs, they still generate propulsive wind speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, stirring up ultrafine particles of demolition debris, fecal matter, pollens, pesticides, dirt and debris, and industrial pollutants. 

A Leave the Leaves sign.Courtesy of the Xerces Society

Hall is philosophical. “Yes, it would be great to Make America Rake Again,” he says. He is a proponent of Leave the Leaves, a campaign initiated by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit committed to protecting pollinators and other invertebrates. Pollinators, it turns out, find their homes in leaves that are a few inches thick. “We’ve had a tremendous uptick in birds since we started leaving the leaves,” Hall says. 

But Hall’s main focus is eliminating gas-powered blowers. Though he started out most offended by the devices’ noise pollution, he’s now more panicked about the carbon dioxide they emit. “It’s an existential issue right now,” Hall says. 

“I’ve become oddly more incremental in my thinking,” he says. He points to a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” 

“If my contribution can be getting off the polluting, death-creating bottom line with lawn equipment,” Hall says, “that’s what I’d like to do with the remainder of my life.”  

The post The Movement to ‘Make America Rake Again’ appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Plastic Turn – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 05/01/2024 - 11:17pm in

In The Plastic Turn, Ranjan Ghosh posits plastic as the defining material of our age and plasticity as an innovative means of understanding the arts and literature. Joff Bradley welcomes this innovative philosophical treatise on how we can make sense of the modern world through a plastic lens.

The Plastic Turn. Ranjan Ghosh. Cornell University Press. 2022.

Find this book: amazon-logo

Cover of The Plastic Turn by Ranjan Ghosh showing multicoloured plastic comes on a cream background.There are few books nowadays in which you can find expansive discussions on everything from the aesthetics of polymers and molecules, Indian poetics, and sculpture, to the lineage Umberto Eco-Aristotle-Dante-Kant-Borges-Foucault-Deleuze. Not only that, but this fine book for humanities students and scholars juxtaposes crystalline structures, thermoplastics and thermosetting, alongside treaties on critical thinking, T. S. Eliot, the poetics of flow and globalisation, the non-metaphorical nature of plastic, as well as Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Indian philosophy.

The way Ghosh’s book does this so cleverly throughout is to ask after the nature of plastic and, well, the very plasticity of the term. Ghosh structures the book in a manner that combines free-flowing exploration with organised thematic sections. The narrative moves seamlessly between different ideas and works of literature, creating a dynamic reading experience which moulds the intellect. Additionally, the book is divided into sections, each with specific themes concerning plasticity (turning, the literary, tough, literature, affect) that provide a structured framework for understanding the diverse range of topics covered.

Ghosh asks his readers: How has plastic come to infiltrate so many aspects of our everyday lives, and why must we turn or bend toward it?

Ghosh asks his readers: How has plastic come to infiltrate so many aspects of our everyday lives, and why must we turn or bend toward it? For many readers, this may not be a question that usually springs to mind, but once we immerse ourselves in Ghosh’s prose, we learn that the plasticity of “plastic” has a versatile reach and applicability, as it allows us to explore the aesthetics of material and materialist aesthetics.

The book is not a straightforward, inflexible treatise on environmental waste pollution per se, though it does nevertheless touch upon ecological issues; rather, its stance is something akin to a philosophical material science of plastic. It is more aesthetico-ecological in that sense. A key trope is the materiality of plastic, its codification, its expressive potential, its inspiration. And with this, the turn to plastic raises our eyes to its futural possibility. What can plastic do to transform the world, to mould and conjure new futures?

Thinking can never be without plastic material. Plastic matters in its materiality, in its affective-aesthetic power, in its technology.

What we learn much about from this mould-breaking (iconocl(pl)astic) book is the plasticity of poetry and how we must address language as the house of being’s plasticity, to reshape Heidegger’s words. Indeed, thinking can never be without plastic material. Plastic matters in its materiality, in its affective-aesthetic power, in its technology. Plastic offers a new sensibility and sensitivity. Plastic makes us think of moulding and malleability and the possibility of infinite shapes and forms, the nth degree of concepts. As the author says, plastic remodels, crafts and carves thinking, habits, lifestyles, emotions, economy, and passion. Ghosh shows the asymmetric connection between the material of plastic and the aesthetic and makes a pathway from denotation to deduction, to representation, and to asymmetry because, for him, plastic is such a malleable material form.

The materiality of plastic shows this through its dimensions of visibility, the haptic, the figure. And so, as we come to understand the way that plastic softens and solidifies, moulds and remoulds; we learn of the aesthetic hidden in the material; how the structures of plastic can be transferred to the structures of poetry and literature; and how material crystalline natures are somehow expressed in the crystalline textuality of poetry. The plastic offers new readings, joins chains of meaning and bonds ideas together, demonstrating that poetry, philosophy, language and literature are megamolecules or polymer in nature, in the way they open themselves to multiple interpretations, different meanings. Plastic helps us to understand the flow and movement of text, to understand, how plastic’s lubricity can be passed on to the text itself, how “plasticisers” open up the text, disturbing its stasis.

The plasticity of text doesn’t mean anarchy or structurelessness, because plasticity functions through plasticisers. This is how and where something can begin to gel, to take on form, structure, meaning

But more than this, the plasticity of text doesn’t mean anarchy or structurelessness, because plasticity functions through plasticisers. This is how and where something can begin to gel, to take on form, structure, meaning. Meaning-making is only possible with and through the operations of the plasticisers of the text. As Ghosh brilliantly shows, The Waste Land is PVC; it has its own polymeric status. Without the plasticisers, poetry would be rigid and strict in its meaning-making abilities. What this book so cleverly contends is that plastic’s formation and deformation not only suggest the endless remodelling of the term, but the very meta-modelisation or meta-moulding of the concept, that is, creating models that represent other models with the task of revealing new radical and revolutionary potentials.

Plastic has ‘unmade us’ and ‘ungrounded’ us, and the way we think, express, and love. Plastic gives sense to the question of new modes of extinction.

The qualities of plastic – durability, flexibility, and moldability, cohesiveness and consistency – suggest that the concept will linger and outlast us all. We need to know this, because as the author argues, we moderns have already unconsciously embraced deep forms of plasticity. The author adds to this description by suggesting that plastic is inherently connected with the quest of modernity, that it is essentially disruptive and oppositional. And now, in this time of the plastisphere and the plasticene, and with the Earth encrusted and entangled in plastic, and as plastitrash abounds, the concept should not be without criticism. We come to appreciate Ghosh’s congeries of performatives: the thanatopoetics (or death-poetics) of plastic, “the history of our inheritance,” the way plastic has “unmade us” and “ungrounded” us, and the way we think, express, and love. Plastic gives sense to the question of new modes of extinction. Plastic discloses the life-in-death of humankind. As Ghosh says, contorts the image of humankind: “[P]lastic has stunned the anthropos, threatening to morph them within a circuit where human comes to surprise human” (36).

With seas already full of plastic, a book like Ghosh’s demands that we open ourselves up to the concept of plasticity in the hope of transforming, remodelling another way to be

With seas already full of plastic, a book like Ghosh’s demands that we open ourselves up to the concept of plasticity in the hope of transforming, remodelling another way to be, to speak, to think, to see, and to feel. The future is plastic, bendable but not breakable. This is the hope of Ghosh’s methodology. The book in this respect sets out a new language, a new code and discipline; indeed, it demands a new politico-philosophical vision and for this reason, it is an original and worthwhile reading experience for all those concerned with the humanities, the Anthropocene, the written word and the ecology of good and bad ideas. Ghosh’s Plastic Turn not only breaks the mould of literary criticism but asks others to refashion critical literature in elastic, versatile and plastic ways.

This post gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Image Credit: Serrgey75 on Shutterstock.