Tag Archives: hazardous waste

Rusting and Leaking: radioactive waste in Australia

image from wikipedia

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia.
CSIRO faces a $30 million clean up bill after barrels of radioactive waste at a major facility were found to be “deteriorating rapidly” and possibly leaking.

An inspection found “significant rusting” on many of the 9,725 drums, which are understood to contain radioactive waste and other toxic chemicals.  Much of the radioactive waste was trucked to Woomera from Sydney in the mid 1990s.  CSIRO flagged a $29.7 million budget provision for “remediation works” at a remote location in its latest annual report.

Almost 10,000 drums of radioactive waste are stored at a CSIRO facility in Woomera, South Australia.  The Woomera facility is currently one of Australia’s largest storage sites for low and intermediate-level radioactive waste.   A damning report of the Woomera facility was issued by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) after an inspection in April 2016.   “Evidence was sighted that indicates the drums are now beginning to deteriorate rapidly,” read the report, seen by Fairfax Media.   “Significant rust on a number of the drums, deterioration of the plastic drum-liners and crushing of some stacked drums was observed.

Tests confirmed the presence of radioactive isotopes at one location and inspectors said there was a possibility the drums were leaking.”Although unlikely, there is the possibility that the presence of deceased animals such as rodents and birds may indicate that some of the drums, which contain industrial chemicals, may be leaking into the environment.”  The mixture of water and concentrated radioactive material inside some of the drums also had the potential to produce explosive hydrogen gas, inspectors found.

They also noted CSIRO had little knowledge of what was inside many of the barrels, some of which are believed to date back more than 50 years.  “Without full knowledge [of] the contents of the drums, risks cannot be fully identified and risk controls cannot be appropriately implements to protect people and the environment,” inspectors noted in the report.

Many of the drums are understood to contain contaminated soil generated by government research into radioactive ores at Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend throughout the 1940s and 1950s.  The toxic soil was discovered by the Department of Defence in 1989, who sent it to Sydney’s Lucas Heights facility before it was palmed off to Woomera in 1994.

The country’s other major radioactive waste storage facility at Lucas Heights, Sydney, is rapidly approaching full capacity. 

Coupled with issues at the CSIRO site, the revelations highlighted the urgent need for a national radioactive waste storage solution, experts said.

Excerpts from Rusted barrels of radioactive waste cost CSIRO $30 million, Sydney Morning Herald, Mar. 13, 2017

Lethal Trash

Lake Nokoue, Cotonou, Benin image from http://observers.france24.com/en/20130308-observers-world-photos-trash-pollution-waste-slideshow

An explosion at a waste dump in Benin killed eight people, local mayor Robert Tolegbon said on on September 11, 2016. The blast occurred late onat a giant trash heap in Tori, a town about 40 km north-west of the capital Cotonou, as locals were sifting for food. Previously, the health ministry said two people had died.  Safety standards for waste management are poor in much of West Africa and debris is rarely filtered to eliminate toxic or flammable materials.

Eight killed in Benin waste blast, Reuters, Sept. 12, 2016

How to Reincarnate E-Waste

In the electronics recycling business, the benchmark is to try to collect and recycle 70 percent, by weight, of the devices produced seven years earlier…. Apple exceeds that, typically reaching 85 percent, including recycling some non-Apple products that customers bring in.

That means Apple will have to get hold of and destroy the equivalent of more than 9 million of 2009’s iPhone 3GS models this year around the world. With iPhone sales climbing to 155 million units in 2015, grinding up Apple products is a growth business.  Apple said it collected more than 40,000 tons of e-waste in 2014 from recycled devices, including enough steel to build 100 miles of railway track.

Brightstar Corp., based in Miami, Florida, TES-AMM in Singapore, Hong-Kong’s Li Tong and Foxconn Technology Group, the most famous manufacturer of iPhones, are part of a global network of recyclers that agreed to more than 50 rules, ranging from security, to insurance, to auditing, in the destruction of the phones.

The process starts at hundreds of Apple stores globally, or online, where the company offers gift certificates to lure iPhone owners to sell back their devices….Once Apple’s partners decide a phone must be scrapped, a deconstruction process begins that is remarkably similar to Apple’s production model, only in reverse.

Apple pays for the service and owns every gram, from the used phone at the start to the pile of dust at the end, said Linda Li, chief strategy officer for Li Tong. The journey, consisting of about 10 steps, is controlled, measured and scripted through vacuum-sealed rooms that are designed to capture 100 percent of the chemicals and gasses released during the process, she said…

While some brands salvage components such as chips that can be used to repair faulty phones, Apple has a full-destruction policy.“Shredding components takes more energy than repurposing,” Li said. Li Tong works with other customers to advise on how to design products that are easier to deconstruct, taking cameras from smartphones for reuse in toy drones, and adapting screens from Microsoft Surface tablets to use in New York taxis, she said.  Apple shreds its devices to avoid having fake Apple products appearing on the secondary market.

And once it’s ground into shreds, what becomes of your old iPhone? Hazardous waste is stored at a licensed facility and the recycling partners can take a commission on other extracted materials such as gold and copper. The rest is reincarnated as aluminum window frames and furniture, or glass tiles.

Where iPhones Go To Die ( and Be Reborn), Bloomberg,  Mar. 13, 2016

The Waste that Circles the World: Canada to Philippines

Image from Philippine Bureau of Customs

Fifty containers of Canadian garbage, including used adult diapers, have been languishing in the port of Manila in the Philippines for almost two years and setting off recent protests by environmental and public health activists.The activists, among them a Catholic priest, say the containers hold toxic and hazardous waste, although a recent study by Philippines officials suggests they’re simply stuffed with household garbage.

Late last year (2014), the Philippines government recommended the containers be returned to Canada under the provisions of the Basel Convention, which prohibits developed countries from shipping waste to developing nations.“The Basel Convention says, as a developed country, (Canada) cannot export waste,” Filipino environment secretary Ramon Paje said in a televised interview. “That would be considered as dumping.”…

A spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs (Canada) reiterated the government’s long-stated opinion that the case is a private commercial matter involving a Canadian company and its Philippines partner.….Chronic Inc., a plastics exporter based in Whitby, Ontario , shipped the containers — supposedly filled with recyclable Vancouver plastics — to the Philippines in the spring and summer of 2013. But upon inspection, the country’s Bureau of Customs found the containers were filled with stinking household garbage, including used adult diapers and kitchen waste.
The bureau said the material could “pose biohazard risks” and impounded the shipment.
Jim Makris, head of the Lee-Anne Goodmandenied last year that he shipped garbage to the Philippines….The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported in 2014 that the Bureau of Customs is investigating the 150-worker plant in Valenzuela City started by Makris to sort and sell the plastic he ships.

Excerpts from Lee-Anne Goodman, 50 containers of Canadian garbage rots in Manila for two years, Canadian Press, Mar. 20, 2015

How to Mismanage Biomedical Waste, India

biohazard

*(India) Walk past any GVMC* [civic body that governs the city of Visakhapatnam, India]  garbage dump at Ramnagar, Maharanipeta or the areas around King George Hospital (KGH) and you can be sure to spot used syringes, saline bottles or bandages strewn around dustbins.  Rag-pickers and GVMC staff rummage through these bins and stray animals litter the hazardous biomedical waste on the roads – an open invitation to HIV, Hepatitis and other infections.

Though biomedical waste should be properly segregated and then incinerated in a separate plant at Kappulupada on the city’s outskirts, in reality the norms are often flouted blatantly and hazardous waste is dumped in regular garbage bins, jeopardising the health of denizens.

To blame are the ignorance and apathy of hospital staff and those collecting the waste as they don’t segregate it properly in respective colour-coded disposal bins. As per norms, biomedical waste should be segregated at the hospital itself and put into colour-coded bins or bags. Black bags are meant for throwing remnants of food, red bags for plastic disposables such as catheter, gloves and IV fluid bottles, while yellow bags are meant for disposing human waste including used dressing pads, plaster, and needles and so on. Also needle tips need to be destroyed in needle cutters and hubs disposed of in red covers.

Commenting on the improper segregation, a senior surgeon from King George Hospital (KGH), said, “Even though the paramedics, ward-boys and staff are trained, they callously dump the waste in any bin that’s close at hand, irrespective of colour codes. There’s neither proper supervision nor any disciplinary action being taken for these acts of omission,” he said.

The lack of timely availability of colour-coded bags, especially the frequently used yellow and black bags, also poses another problem. “The bags collected from various wards are overfilled and their mouths are not tied properly. Stray dogs cause a spillage while searching food,” pointed out another senior doctor.

There are also allegations that used saline bottles are sold and syringes and needles not destroyed before being disposed. “Sometimes, hospital workers sell used saline bottles outside for Rs 50-Rs 100 and these are recycled or reused, putting public health at risk. Needles are also disposed of without breaking them in needle cutters exposing rag-pickers, GVMC sanitation staff and even our garbage collectors to the risk of HIV and other dangerous ailments if they come in contact with them. Furthermore, disposal he vehicles that carry the uncovered biomedical waste litter them on the road….

Biomedical waste should be segregated at the hospital itself and put into colour-coded bins or bags, treated and incinerated in a separate plant at Kappulupada on the city’s outskirts.

*The GVMC (officially Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation), formerly known as the Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, is the civic body that governs the city of Visakhapatnam, India.

The Global Regulation of Mercury

fluorescent light bulbs

The Minamata Convention on Mercury – a global, legally binding treaty which opened for signature today – was agreed to by governments in January (2013) and formally adopted as international law…Countries began the recognition for this new treaty at a special ceremonial opening of the Diplomatic Conference in Minamata, the city where many local people were poisoned in the mid-20th Century after eating mercury-contaminated seafood from Minamata Bay. As a consequence, the neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning has come to be known as Minamata Disease.

The Minamata Convention provides for controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted. The treaty also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal, and safe storage of waste mercury.

“Mercury has some severe effects, both on human health and on the environment. UNEP has been proud to facilitate and support the treaty negotiation over the past four years because almost everyone in the world – be they small-scale gold miners, expectant mothers or waste-handlers in developing countries – will benefit from its provisions,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations….Other potential impacts include impaired thyroid and liver function, irritability, tremors, disturbances to vision, memory loss and cardiovascular problems.

“With the signing of the Minamata Convention on Mercury we will be going a long way in protecting the world forever from the devastating health consequences from mercury,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “Mercury is one of the top ten chemicals of major public health concern and is a substance which disperses into and remains in ecosystems for generations, causing severe ill health and intellectual impairment to exposed populations.”

Under the provisions of the Minamata Convention, Governments have agreed on a range of mercury-containing products whose production, import and export will be banned by 2020. These items have non-mercury alternatives that will be further phased in as these are phased out. They include:

•Batteries, except for ‘button cell’ batteries used in implantable medical devices

•Switches and relays

•Some compact fluorescent lamps

•Mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps

•Soaps and cosmetics (mercury is used in skin-whitening products)

•Some mercury-containing medical items such as thermometers and blood pressure devices.

Mercury from small-scale gold-mining and from coal-fired power stations represent the biggest source of mercury pollution worldwide. Miners inhale mercury during smelting, and mercury run-off into rivers and streams contaminates fish, the food chain and people downstream.  Under the Minamata Convention, Governments have agreed that countries will draw up strategies to reduce the amount of mercury used by small-scale miners and that national plans will be drawn up within three years of the treaty entering into force to reduce – and if possible eliminate – mercury.

The Convention will also control mercury emission and releases from large-scale industrial plants such as coal-fired power stations, industrial boilers, waste incinerators and cement clinkers facilities.

New global treaty cuts mercury emissions and releases, sets up controls on products, mines and industrial plant, UNEP Press Release, Oct 10, 2013

How to Break Toxic Ships: send them to another country

MV "HANSA BRANDENBURG.  Image from Black Sea News

WWF-Pakistan has warned Pakistan against the import of a European ship, which is suspected to have burnt containers and cargo that may contain a substantial amount of hazardous materials such as heavy metals or PCBs.  Moreover, the vessel is suspected to carry dangerous substances in fire fighting water as well as a significant amount of fuels and oil. This container ship caught fire in July (2013) and was later towed to Port-Louis in Mauritius. (MV “HANSA BRANDENBURG”,).MV Hansa Brandenburg is a 2002-built Liberian-flagged container ship operated by the German shipping company Leonhardt & Blumberg.

WWF-Pakistan considers that this ship if imported to Pakistan may cause severe marine pollution in the Gadani area, which is already stressed because of a number of economic and industrial activities. Unplanned construction such as Fish harbour has already had serious environmental impact in the area, which is also designated as energy corridor and construction of power plants may have impact on the marine environment of the area unless proper mitigative measures are taken. According to WWF-Pakistan Technical Adviser (Marine Fisheries) Muhammad Moazzam Khan, the area of the Gadani is a part of Sonmiani, which is considered to have a rich marine biodiversity especially around Churna and Kaio islands. Dumping of toxic waste might seriously harm the fragile ecosystem of the area.

Agencies asked not to import vessel loaded with toxic chemicals, Daily Times (Pakistan) October 4, 2013

See also the Shipbreaking Business

Nuclear Waste: Cold World Nuclear Experiments in California

Santa Susana Field Laboratory, aerial view.  Image from wikipedia

Several environmental groups on Aug. 6, 2013 sued state regulators over the cleanup of a former nuclear research lab, saying low-level radioactive waste was improperly shipped to landfills.  Consumer Watchdog, along with other groups, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court against the Department of Public Health and Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees the cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.  Located about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Susana was once home to nuclear research and rocket engine tests. In 1959, one of the reactors suffered a partial nuclear meltdown. Responsible parties including Boeing Co., NASA and the U.S Energy Department have been working with state officials to meet a 2017 deadline to rid the nearly 2,900-acre site of contaminated soil.

In their complaint, the groups contend that materials from several buildings that were demolished were sent to landfills and metal recycling shops that are not licensed to accept radioactive waste. They also sought a temporary restraining order to stop Boeing from tearing down a plutonium fuel fabrication building on the hilltop complex….Officials at the toxic control agency rejected the allegations, saying that debris sent offsite posed no threat to human health or the environment.

Stewart Black, a deputy director at DTSC, said the state followed the rules in the demolishing and disposal of old buildings.   During the Cold War, workers at the site tested thousands of rockets and experimented with nuclear reactors, which were operational until 1980. And by the time the rest of the lab closed in 2006, a toxic legacy of radioactive and chemical contamination had been left.  Former workers and residents in nearby neighborhoods have blamed the lab for a variety of health problems.

Groups sue to block demolition at ex-nuclear site, Associated Press, Aug. 6, 2013

The Shipbreaking Business: how European states dump hazardous waste in South Asia

Shipbreaking Bangladesh. Image from wikipedia

Hundreds of European vessels are scrapped under hazardous conditions in South Asia every year. European parliamentarians have approved a new regulation to tackle the problem – but critics say it will have very limited impact…“With this, we will have a safer disposal of ships. About 90 percent of the European vessels are scrapped illegally and the Basel Convention has failed to do something about this,” said Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, who negotiated the agreement with the Council and guided the legislation through the European Parliament. “Last year one European ship was sent to a substandard beaching yard in South Asia every day.”

European Union-registered ships will now have to be recycled at EU-approved facilities that meet specific safety and environmental requirements and are certified and regularly inspected. The European Commission would be obliged to act if NGOs report irregularities.  Both EU ships and non-EU ships would also have to carry an inventory of hazardous materials when calling at ports in the EU. The regulation is likely to enter into force in the beginning of 2014.

Patrizia Heidegger from Shipbreaking Platform, a global coalition of organisations working for safe and sustainable ship recycling, is not pleased with the outcome…She says that the regulation will not have a large impact since ship owners can easily flag out and circumvent the regulation if they don’t want to comply. The coalition wants the regulation to apply to all ships calling at European ports, instead of only the EU-flagged vessels.

Schlyter pushed for an EU fund to subsidise safe recycling of the ships. The fund would have been financed by fees on ships docked in EU ports, but the parliament rejected this part of the proposal.  “Without the ship recycling fund the new regulation won’t be effective. A ship recycling fund would put obligations on the ship owners beyond the flag,” Heidegger said.  “The fund was supported by all the political groups, but then the parliament voted it down after strong lobbying from ship owners and EU ports. The ports claimed that the arrangement would result in over 100 percent increase in fees, which is not true,” Schlyter told IPS.  Schlyter says that with a fund in place it would not pay to flag out. He says that the commission might propose creation of a fund later if the new regulation proves insufficient….

European ship owners dumped 365 toxic ships on South Asian beaches last year, according to the Shipbreaking Platform.  Of the top 10 European “global dumpers” in 2012, Greek ship owners were number one, dumping 167 ships on Asian beaches. German ship owners represented the second largest group of toxic ship dumpers with 48 ships, followed by ship owners from the UK with 30 ships, and Norway with 23 ships scrapped on beaches in South Asia.  According to the coalition most of the end-of-life ships sent by European ship owners did not fly an EU flag but flags from Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas or St Kitts-and-Nevis.  Bangladesh tops the list of countries having the greatest number of ships scrapped every year, with India and Pakistan trailing far behind. Unskilled and unprotected workers manually handle poisonous chemicals and are also exposed to the risk of explosion while dismantling old vessels.

Excerpts,By  Ida Karlsson, New EU Rules ‘Fail’ Against Shipbreaking Dangers, IPS, July 17, 2013

See also Greens against the Workers

The Nuclear Village in Japan: restarting nuclear power

anti-nuclear protest japan 2011. image wikipedia

After an earthquake and tsunami created a creeping nuclear catastrophe two years ago the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) said it would get the country out of nuclear energy by 2040. Although it quickly backtracked, almost all of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors are still lying idle.

In February this year (2013), Shinzo Abe, leader of the then incoming Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said the new government would restart reactors after they passed a forthcoming set of new safety tests. The country’s “nuclear village”, a cosy bunch from industry and government, cheered. But now the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant is starting to alarm the public once more. On April 15th, 2013 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN body, flew in to investigate a series of dangerous incidents.

A power outage in March (2013) left four underground pools that store thousands of the plant’s nuclear fuel rods without fresh cooling water for several hours. A rat, it later emerged, had gnawed through a cable. Workmen laying down rat-proof netting caused another outage. Then this month regulators discovered that thousands of gallons of radioactive water had seeped into the ground; the plant’s operator had installed a jerry-rigged system of plastic sheeting, which sprang leaks. The quantity of contaminated water has become a crisis in its own right, the manager has admitted. And now the pipes used to transfer water to safer storage containers are leaking too.

Experts who examined the causes of the 2011 catastrophe reckon the LDP has paid too little attention to what went wrong. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of a parliamentary investigation, says the country may be moving “too hastily back towards nuclear power, without fully regaining the trust of the Japanese public and the international community”. Yoichi Funabashi, a former editor of Asahi Shimbun newspaper who headed a private-sector investigation, says it is unfortunate that the 2012 election, which brought the LDP back to office, did not include a proper debate about the future of nuclear energy.

Now the set of policies known as “Abenomics” is making a return to nuclear power ever more pressing. The LDP is expected to push hard to restart plants if it wins a crucial election for the upper house of parliament this summer. Mr Abe’s focus on the economy has given greater say to the voice of business, including the big utilities whose plants are idle. Smaller firms clamour for cheaper power too.

Japan’s broader economic future may be at stake… [the deterioration of  overall current-account balance]  could affect Japan’s ability to keep funding its huge public debt domestically. A big cause is the cost of energy imported to fill the gap left by nuclear power. A weaker yen, the result of the central bank’s radical loosening of monetary policy, is further pushing up the price of imported oil and gas…[T]he public is still afraid of nuclear power. A nationwide poll  in February 2013 found that around 70% of respondents wanted either to phase out all the plants, or to shut them down immediately. Opposition is likely to be strongest at the local level, as regions move to switch their reactors back on. This week an Osaka court ruled on a suit brought by local residents to have Japan’s only two operating reactors, at the Oi plant in Fukui prefecture, shut down. They lost, but their suit looks like only the first of many battles

Japan’s nuclear future: Don’t look now, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 44.