Bhopal Survivors Start Fasting on Wall StreetNEW YORK, New York, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - Two women who survived the release of lethal gas in Bhopal, India in 1984, and about 30 supporters began fasting today on Wall Street in the heart of New York's financial district to draw attention to their demands that the company responsible for the release clean up the area and compensate the survivors and families of the victims.
Survivors Rasheeda Bee and Champa Devi, and Bhopal activist Satinath Sarangi of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) started an indefinite fast to urge Union Carbide, and the company that has since acquired it, Dow Chemical, to address the devastation caused by the toxic release. At least 30 other people, including 24 students from Massachusetts' Wheaton College, and Bhopal supporters from India and the United States fasted in solidarity today.
During the early hours of December 3, 1984, methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a storage tank at a Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing facility in Bhopal. As it escaped, the gas moved across adjacent communities killing thousands of people and injuring many thousands more. According to the Indian government, some 3,800 people died. The hunger strikers and the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal say about 8,000 people were killed by the gas.
Survivors continue to suffer long-term health effects, and toxic wastes strewn around the factory are a source of ongoing contamination and injury, the ICJB says.
"A hunger strike is our way of emphasising the truth that the tragedy in Bhopal continues, and that Dow as Carbide's new owner is now responsible for ensuring that justice is done in Bhopal," said Bee of the Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association.
Since 1984, five of Bee's family members who were exposed to the gas have died of cancers. Partially blinded, she suffers psychiatric and respiratory problems due to exposure to her exposure.
Eight days into the hunger strike, the Bhopal activists will visit Midland, Michigan, to demonstrate outside the Dow shareholders meeting on May 8. The visiting survivors and members of the ICJB have sought a meeting with Dow Chairman William Stavropoulos on May 8 to press their demands. ICJB has declared May 8 as the day of mass action including hunger strikes around the world organized by allies of the Bhopal victims. The worldwide relay fast is expected to attract hundreds of people from around the world to join in protest against Dow Chemical. A similar fast begun last July lasted more than a month and involved 1,500 people from 10 countries.
Effective February 6, 2001 Union Carbide merged with a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company and became a wholly owned subsidiary of the company. Dow purchased all of the shares of Union Carbide stock, but Union Carbide continues to exist as a separate legal entity with its own assets and liabilities. Stockholders are not responsible for the liabilities, if any, of the companies in which they have invested, the companies explain.
Dow Chemical has denied having inherited any of Union Carbide's Bhopal liabilities.
Union Carbide currently faces criminal charges for manslaughter in a Bhopal court for the gas related deaths, but the company has never appeared in court.
The Indian Central Bureau of Investigation will report to the Bhopal court by May 30 on progress made towards including Dow as an accused in the criminal case against Union Carbide. If found guilty, Indian criminal law allows for the imposition of fines against the accused.
"Under Indian law, the fines for manslaughter have no upper limit, and are determined by the size and ability of the accused party to pay, the magnitude of the crime, and the current state of the victims," said Sarangi.
Billed as the world's worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal tragedy injured 500,000 people, and survivors and their children are impoverished and continue to suffer drastic long term effects in the absence of economic rehabilitation measures and appropriate medical care. According to the latest official estimates, 380 gas affected people succumb to health effects each year, and more than 20,000 are exposed to the toxic wastes lying in and around the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal.
On April 25, survivors and survivors' organizations appealed a recent decision by the New York District Court to dismiss their claims for cleanup and compensation for contamination related damages from Union Carbide.
The state government of Madhya Pradesh where Bhopal is located has stated that it plans to approach the Indian Supreme Court in a bid to get Dow to clean up the toxic wastes left behind by its subsidiary Union Carbide.
Fresh Analysis of Satellite Data Reveals Global WarmingBOULDER, Colorado, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - A U.S. government funded analysis of satellite data collected since the late 1970s from the lowest few miles of the atmosphere indicates a global temperature rise of about one-third of a degree Fahrenheit between 1979 and 1999.
The results differ from previous studies that show virtually no warming in the satellite record over the same 20 year period. The findings are published today by the journal "Science," a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Resolving these satellite data uncertainties is important in studies seeking to identify the impacts of human activities on climate.
The study's lead author is Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The team behind the study includes scientists Tom Wigley, Gerald Meehl, Caspar Ammann, Julie Arblaster, Thomas Bettge, and Warren Washington, all from the National Center for Atmospheric Research based in Boulder.
Over the past 25 years, a series of instruments aboard 12 U.S. satellites has provided a unique temperature record extending as high as the lower stratosphere. Each sensor intercepts microwaves emitted by various parts of the atmosphere, with the emissions increasing as temperatures rise. These data are used to infer the temperature at key atmospheric layers.
Since the 1990s, skeptics have pointed to the absence of a warming signal in the satellite derived temperatures, which stood in contrast to a distinct warming trend in average air temperature at Earth's surface.
A 2000 report from the National Research Council concluded that both trends might be correct - the global atmosphere might be warming more quickly near the ground than higher up. Wigley agreed, but he felt there was more to be explained.
"The real issue is the trend in the satellite data from 1979 onward," says Wigley. "If the original analysis of the satellite data were right, then something must be missing in the models. With the new data set, the agreement with the models is improved, and the agreement with the surface data is quite good."
In order to glean temperatures from the raw satellite data, several adjustments and corrections must be made. Until now, only one group, based at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), had produced a complete set of global temperatures from the raw data.
For the new study, a group based at Remote Sensing Systems in Santa Rosa, California, applied a revised set of corrections to the satellite data. These corrections accounted for the effects of heating on the radiation sensor itself - the first time this source of error had been addressed fully, according to the authors - as well as new adjustments for the drifting orbit of each satellite and other factors.
The group found a warming trend of 0.16 degree F per decade in the layer between about 1.5 and 7.5 miles high, compared to a trend of 0.02 degree F in the previously published UAH analysis. Both estimates have a margin of error of nearly 0.2 degree F (plus or minus).
According to the authors, the new results are a closer match with surface warming, as well as with four computer model simulations of 20th century climate produced by NCAR and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"It's undeniable that the agreement with both global climate models and surface data is better for the new analysis than for the old one," says Wigley.
The study was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with contributions from the National Science Foundation through its institutional support for NCAR.
Using NOAA satellite readings of temperatures in the lower atmosphere, UAH scientists produced a dataset that shows global atmospheric warming at the rate of about 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since November 1978.
"That works out to a global warming trend of about one and a quarter degrees Fahrenheit over 100 years," said Dr. John Christy of UAH, who compiled the comparison data. "That's a definite warming trend, which is probably due in part to human influences. But it's substantially less than the warming forecast by most climate models, and it isn't entirely out of the range of climate change we might expect from natural causes.
The UAH team's research is published in the May 2003 edition of the American Meteorological Society's "Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology."
"We know the climate is changing," said Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of UAH's Earth System Science Center. "Earth's climate has never been stable. What we don't know is the rate of natural climate change, which makes it really tough to say how much of the warming that we see might be due to things like adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere."
EPA Offers Online Compliance AssistanceWASHINGTON, DC, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is offering online help for companies that must comply with the agency's numerous rules and regulations. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman today unveiled a new EPA funded Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center, the first of two such centers to be announced this month that will provide information and resources on the Internet to ease compliance with federal and state environmental regulations.
Announcing the new online center the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) National and Chapter Leadership Conference at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington, Whitman honored the AGC for joining EPA's National Performance Track Network, a voluntary partnership program that rewards businesses and public facilities that demonstrate strong environmental performance beyond current requirements.
"By getting clear guidance to the people in the field, those who can make a positive impact on the environment, we believe the use of this Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center will substantially increase their compliance with the new stormwater regulations and other important regulations such as those involving wetlands, asbestos, and lead paint," Whitman said.
Stormwater runoff from construction sites is a primary cause of water body impairment, Whitman said. A 1999 EPA study found that of some 60,000 construction starts subject to stormwater control regulations, roughly two-thirds lacked the necessary permits. The agency's new stormwater regulations, which now apply to all sites over one acre, impact even more companies, most of them small or medium sized businesses.
Other environmental concerns involving the construction industry include improper handling of waste oil, toxics such as asbestos, lead, hazardous components in construction and demolition wastes, and airborne particulate matter.
The new Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center online at: http://www.cicacenter.org, was developed by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, in partnership with the Associated General Contractors of America, the National Association of Home Builders, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the Golf Course Builders Association of America.
Users will find plain language explanations of applicable regulations, as well as links to state and local regulatory agencies.
Next week, EPA plans to launch another compliance assistance center, for the nation's automotive recyclers. On May 9, J.P. Suarez, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance will announce the new Environmental Compliance Automotive Recyclers Center (ECARcenter) at the Automotive Recyclers Association's (ARA) leadership conference in Washington.
ECARcenter, a cooperative effort between the ARA and the National Center for Manufacturing Science, will help automotive recyclers comply with environmental regulations. The ECARcenter, also under development, can be found at http://www.ECARcenter.org.
With the addition of these new online centers, EPA has partnered with industry, academic institutions, environmental groups, and other agencies to develop a total of 13 sector specific compliance assistance centers.
Other centers include agriculture, auto repair, chemical, federal facilities, local government, metal finishing, painting and coatings, printed wiring board, printing, transportation, and U.S./Mexican border environmental issues. Through websites, telephone assistance lines, fax-back systems, and email discussion groups, the centers help businesses, local governments, and federal facilities understand federal environmental requirements and save money through pollution prevention techniques.
Wisconsin Regulates 144 Additional Hazardous Air PollutantsMADISON, Wisconsin, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - The state of Wisconsin has added 144 hazardous air pollutants to those currently listed under the state hazardous air pollution rule, and has revised the emission standards for 116 of the 438 air pollutants already listed.
The state Natural Resources Board at its April 22 meeting approved the revisions which represent the first comprehensive update of the rule since it was adopted in 1988.
"The revised rule accomplishes two major objectives," says Caroline Garber, chief of the environmental studies section of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Bureau of Air Management. "First, it puts our state air toxics program back onto a firm science base by incorporating current information about the cancer and non-cancer health effects of air pollutants. Second, it introduces new concepts into the regulatory system that make it more manageable, effective and flexible."
The revisions add 144 hazardous air pollutants to the 438 currently listed. Five pollutants are removed bringing the total to 577. The revisions also establish risk thresholds for those substances that are considered carcinogens.
The changes to the regulatory system include alternative methods for demonstrating compliance with the rule, reducing, streamlining and clarifying the requirements.
One new mechanism established in the revised rule allows for corrections for inadvertent violations without retroactive penalties if the facility complies in a timely manner. In addition to benefiting those business and industries regulated by the rule, the revisions should lead to improved regulatory compliance and better public health protection, Garber says.
"The rule approved by the Natural Resources Board was the result of the broad consensus reached during this far reaching stakeholder and public involvement," says Lloyd Eagan, director of the DNR Bureau of Air Management.
There was an extensive stakeholder process involved in creating the revised rules. DNR staff met with a group of more than 40 stakeholders over a 30 month period. During the public comment period for the proposed rule, comments were submitted by trade associations, companies, state and local health departments, environmental and civic organizations and more than 1,000 citizens representing 175 communities in Wisconsin.
Public-Private Pact Protects Hawaii's Forest WatershedsHONOLULU, Hawaii, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - To restore degraded forest watersheds and protect Hawaii's water resources, Governor Linda Lingle has signed an agreement with 50 public and private landowners to voluntarily protect large areas of forested watersheds for water recharge and preservation of native ecosystems. The agreement comes exactly 100 years after the Territory of Hawaii established Hawaii's forest reserve system.
The governor and the Hawaii Association of Watershed Partnerships will begin a new round of cooperative fundraising while building public and political support, and building new capacity for island based mountain watershed partnerships.
Lingle said, "I was pleased to sign the initial watershed partnership while I was the Mayor of Maui. The continuing success of the watershed partnerships has been due to the coming together of diverse interests based upon a common value - the protection and enhancement of Hawaii forests and water supply. They are voluntary agreements and the state is proud to be a member of every partnership. We participate because it is the right thing to do - for our environment, economy, and our future."
Peter Young, who chairs the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said, "Potential watershed partnerships are also being discussed in the Kohala Mountains on Hawaii, the Waianae Mountains on Oahu, Leeward Haleakala on Maui, and on Kauai."
This year of 2003 was declared the Year of the Hawaiian Forest by joint legislative resolution. Celebrations statewide are planned by public agencies, private organizations, school, community and environmental organizations.
A century ago, Hawaii's forests had been so degraded by land clearing for agriculture, wildfires, and impacts from wild cattle, that serious erosion was impacting the quality and quantity of Hawai'i's drinking water. Since then public and private organizations have helped set aside over 1.2 million acres of land in reserves and implemented a forest conservation effort that included fencing, animal removal, reforestation, and fire protection.
A watershed is an area of land, such as a mountain or a valley, that catches and collects rain water. In Hawaii, forested mountains are the primary watersheds. These areas, which contain both native and non-native forests, recharge underground aquifers and provide a dependable source of clean water for streams.
Suzanne Case, executive director of The Nature Conservancy, said, "Hawaii's native forests are the best watersheds we have, and we have the added benefit of saving Hawaii's native flora and fauna. The watershed partnerships are the most significant conservation efforts ongoing in the state right now."
Avery Chumbley, president of Wailuku Agribusiness Co., said, "The partnerships just make sense. Active management is needed to maintain healthy forested watersheds. Many of the threats to the forested watershed, such as feral animals, fire, and invasive non-native plants do not respect property boundaries. We need to work together to be effective."
Groups Challenge Toxic Spray for Crickets across IdahoBOISE, Idaho, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - Four conservation groups have asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho to intervene in a federal government program that calls for toxic insecticides to be sprayed on 20 million acres of public lands in southern Idaho.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) program to kill Mormon crickets with malathion and other insecticides violates environmental laws designed to protect human health, water quality and the environment, claim representatives of the Idaho Conservation League, Xerces Society, Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for the High Desert.
"We have grave concerns about the impacts that this program will have on human health and water quality," said Justin Hayes, program director of the Idaho Conservation League. "APHIS is proposing to apply some very toxic insecticides very near people and right on top of some waterways."
The insecticides that APHIS intends to use are classified as highly toxic to fish and extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates. The groups are especially concerned about the impacts on aquatic life because APHIS proposes to use planes to spray directly over waterways and immediately adjacent to rivers and canals.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies at least one of the insecticides as a potential human carcinogen, but the spray program would provide only a 500 foot no-spray zone around schools.
APHIS would allow a one mile no-spray buffer around commercial beehives and a half mile buffer along rivers inhabited by the endangered bull trout. Rivers and streams without endangered fish would receive less protection.
Mormon crickets are ground dwelling katydids that occurs in the western Rocky Mountain basins. APHIS explains that "during outbreaks they form migratory bands that march across rangelands." At very high populations they may damage the rangeland forage, but they are primarily a pest when they enter and consume croplands. Recent outbreaks have occurred in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming.
APHIS acknowledges that Mormon crickets are part of the native ecosystems of the United States. "They play an important role, serving as food for wildlife and contribute to nutrient cycling on rangelands," the agency says.
The Idaho groups object to the APHIS spray program because it is designed to use broad-spectrum insecticides that would kill nearly all insects, including bees and other native pollinators, in the targeted areas. The insecticides would also have direct and indirect effects on many other species, eliminating an essential food source for birds such as meadowlarks, mountain bluebirds, pheasants and sage grouse.
"APHIS is proposing to use malathion and other poisons on large blocks of wild public lands well removed from any croplands," said Katie Fite of Committee for the High Desert. "These chemicals kill insects that are essential for sage grouse and songbird chick survival, and they will harm the adult birds too."
The groups have urged APHIS to scale back its plan and employ other methods, such as biological controls, to keep the insects in check. They also have recommended alternative means of applying the insecticides to limit drift and reduce the variety and amount of insecticide used.
Advocates for the West, the law firm which represents the four conservation groups, made it clear to APHIS that the groups do not want to halt all grasshopper control actions this summer. In a letter to APHIS officials, Advocates for the West said the spraying program "can be better tailored to avoid unnecessary environmental harm or threats to public health, and [we] are willing to discuss ... ideas in that regard with you." APHIS officials did not respond to the letter, forcing the groups to pursue litigation.
Two Zoos Lose Permits for Wild Elephant ImportsWASHINGTON, DC, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - The San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida have been required to return federal permits authorizing them to import 11 wild juvenile elephants from the African country of Swaziland.
The return of the permits, on April 23, was in response to the efforts of a coalition of international wildlife advocacy and animal protection organizations. The coalition served formal notice to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the zoos' applications to import the elephants contained false and incomplete information about the location of the elephants and the justification for taking them from the wild, and the coalition sued in Federal District Court challenging the permits.
Suzanne Roy of In Defense of Animals, a member of the coalition, said, "These two well known zoos have been forced to surrender their import permits after being caught making fraudulent misrepresentations to the U.S. government."
In their permit applications, the zoos claimed the elephants would be captured from the 18,000 acre Mkhaya Game Reserve in Swaziland and that they would have to be killed if they were not imported, because of a lack of suitable habitat in the reserve.
In fact, the zoos now acknowledge that more than half of the elephants were captured from the adjacent 74,000 acre Hlane National Park, which had not claimed any need to cull elephants.
While the zoos have told the public they are "rescuing" these animals from certain death, there is no basis for this assertion, say the coalition groups. Not only is there ample space for these 11 animals in Swaziland, but according to Adam Roberts of Born Free USA and the Animal Welfare Institute, "If Swaziland truly must reduce its elephant population, a questionable claim given that the entire country has fewer than 40 elephants, then several reserves in Africa have indicated a willingness to take the elephants, allowing them to continue to live in a wild setting in Africa. Wildlife belongs in the wild."
"Better yet," Roberts suggested, "if African elephant conservation were truly the goal, zoos could donate the estimated $300,000 Swaziland needs for fencing to expand the elephants' range, thereby obviating the need to move the animals at all." This is a small expense next to the estimated $11 million the zoos would have spent to import the elephants and construct new facilities to house them.
"The bottom line is that these zoos desire elephants for purely commercial purposes as attractions and breeders, and they are willing to go to great lengths, including falsifying information on permit applications to the federal government, to obtain them," said Nicole Paquette of the Animal Protection Institute, another coalition member.
The zoos had provided elephant microchip numbers in order to specifically identify the individual elephants that would be taken from the Mkhaya Game Reserve, as required by the laws governing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). But the coalition says that these microchip numbers were not associated with any specific elephants and were instead placed on the animals after they were captured.
The zoos now admit that they immobilized 22 elephants - twice as many as needed for their exhibition projects. Thirteen elephants - 11 targeted for export and two held as replacements - are currently confined in a holding area in Swaziland.
Bison Hazing Leads to Stillborn CalfWEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana, May 1, 2003 (ENS) - Montana Department of Livestock agents hazed some 200 wild buffalo from national forests west of Yellowstone National Park Wednesday, disrupting a calving bison and leading to a stillborn birth.
"This is what happens when livestock agents manage wildlife," said Scott Williams, a Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) volunteer who witnessed the event. "The DOL's inhumane treatment of buffalo during calving season further underscores their poor management of America's last wild bison."
The Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field to stop the killing of Yellowstone's wild buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo on their traditional winter habitat and advocate for their protection. Daily patrols stand with the buffalo on the ground they choose to be on and document every move made against them.
Williams was in the Gallatin National Forest on Horse Butte documenting the Department of Livestock (DOL) agents haze against a group of around 80 wild buffalo, including two calves. The buffalo migrate onto public land on Horse Butte every spring to give birth. There are no cattle present this time of year.
Williams noticed a pregnant cow buffalo bed down and strain in what appeared to be the start of birthing. Soon two livestock agents on horseback pushed the calving buffalo into the herd that they were hazing.
"After hazing the buffalo away, the agents returned, circled around the spot where the buffalo was calving, and pointed. I knew that I had to return after the haze to see what happened," Williams said.
When Williams returned later that day he saw Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks agents accompanied by one of the DOL agents involved in the haze removing a dead calf.
"If the DOL really believes that brucellosis transmission from 'infected aborted fetus, birthing material or afterbirth' is possible, then why are they using management tactics that could increase that risk by hazing wild buffalo when there are no cattle present?" asked Williams.
Nearly every week in April the DOL repeatedly pushed the same herds of wild buffalo miles back into Yellowstone National Park, Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers have documented. The cumulative stress of repeated hazes on pregnant buffalo ready to calve may have already caused premature stillborn births or calf deaths that have not been documented, the BFC says. Today the Department of Livestock is again hazing wild buffalo and their calves.
The Montana Department of Livestock has spent over $3 million since 1996 on bison management operations that have killed 2,064 wild bison. Montana's justification for the ongoing buffalo slaughter has been the threat of brucellosis transmission to cattle. There has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to cattle. Yet the DOL continues to haze hundreds of wild buffalo during their calving season.
Last week the U.S. Forest Service announced that it had transferred the only cattle allotment on national forest land on Horse Butte to another public land allotment in Idaho. The allotment had already been cancelled last summer pending further environmental assessment.
Until May 15 the management plan requires that a temporal and spatial separation be maintained between wild buffalo and cattle. Cattle are not moved to the sole private ranch on Horse Butte until June when the buffalo have returned to Yellowstone National Park. "Why is Montana wasting tax dollars to harass wild buffalo on our public lands? Where are the cattle that are supposedly threatened?" asked Williams.
Bison/brucellosis management actions outside Yellowstone National Park are jointly supported operations conducted by personnel assigned by the five implementing agencies of the Interagency Bison Management Plan.
This is the third season the Plan has been followed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Montana Department of Livestock, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
In the Plan, the National Park Service (NPS) set the population target for the whole Yellowstone herd at 3,000 bison. An aerial count conducted in August 2002 by the NPS reported 4,045 bison in Yellowstone National Park.