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January 22nd, 2012:


The news this week is making my head spin. As it turns out the dioxin emissions from Funi in Ísafjördur was nothing compared to the emissions in the Westman Islands and Kirkjubaejarklaustur, which measured 84 and 95 times over the authorized limit in 2007, respectively.

As if that wasn’t outrageous enough, the waste burning station in Kirkjubaejarklaustur is located in the same building as the town’s elementary school.

Is the potential hazard of dioxin pollution being downplayed—apparently, not much is known about the effects of such pollution—or are we looking at an Erin Brockovich scenario here?

Now medical examinations will be conducted on people living in these areas. Just to be on the safe side, they say. Dioxin in people is mostly caused by consumption of the chemical, not inhalation.

According to national broadcaster RÚV, possible consequences of dioxin pollution are cancer, liver damage, impotence and development problems in fetuses and children. Just minor ailments…

The worst part is that people already knew in 2007 that these waste burning stations were emitting far more dioxin than allowed, yet nothing was done. The public wasn’t even informed of the risks. Why? This environmental catastrophe could have been prevented.

In an interview on RÚV’s radio station Rás 2 on Wednesday, Environment Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir (who took office in 2009), explained that she didn’t have the authority to shut down the polluting waste burning stations.

Apparently, this whole story has been an administrative blunder from the start.

As I’ve understood it, everyone but the municipalities who operate the waste burning stations and/or whose financial interests lie in their continued operation lack the authority to close them down and the local authorities prioritized the municipality’s financial interests above public health.

They were informed of the risks and given advice on how to avoid them but chose to turn a deaf ear, a decision which has blown up in their faces.

To quote Alanis Morissette: “It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take. Who would have thought… it figures. […] Isn’t it ironic?”

But Svavarsdóttir is set on vacuuming under the rug.

She has notified the municipalities in question of her wish that they shut down or at least significantly reduce the operations of the waste burning stations until further testing has been conducted.

There is also a bill pending, stating that those who cause damage to the environment take responsibility for it, an independent commission will investigate who was responsible in the dioxin pollution affair and the minister has called for a clause on the public’s right to information and a healthy environment be included in the Icelandic Constitution.

Our constitution is so obviously flawed… who said we didn’t need a new one?

Right now the Constitutional Assembly elects are fighting for their rightful authority to review the constitution. Fingers crossed.

Unlike many of her predecessors, Svavarsdóttir seems to actually care about the environment. Some of the previous environment ministers would think along the lines of: “Our country is so clean that it’s safe to pollute some more.”

I kid you not. This blunder can all be traced back to the time when Iceland asked for an exemption from a European directive adapted in 2003, one which includes strict guidelines on pollution and which Icelandic authorities took part in fighting for.

The irony of the ordeal would be hilarious if it hadn’t been so tragic.

I can only hope that Icelanders—all Icelanders—take this as a wakeup call and realize that if they want Iceland to remain pure and clean, they have to contribute. If it isn’t already too late.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir –


22 January 2012

(AGI) Rome – The Consumers Association Codacons has reported that the Lazio Regional Administrative Court has sentenced the Health and Environment Ministries to pay compensation amounting to at least 100 euro per consumer for poisoned water in a number of regions (Lazio, Tuscany, Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardy and Umbria) where arsenic was found in the water.
Codacons has said “this sentence paves the way affirming that the public administration is held responsible for providing insufficient or defective or polluting services, which result in stress, damages and pose risks to citizens’ heath. This path will now be followed by those requesting compensation for polluted air and degradation present in Naples, in Rome and in other large cities where standards of living are seriously prejudiced by environmental degradation.”

Airline cost blow for ‘Boris island’

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Beijing releases data on fine particles

South China Morning Post – 22 Jan 2012

Authorities fulfil promise, under intense public pressure over PM2.5 – but only at one station

Beijing environmental authorities yesterday began releasing hourly air pollution readings for PM2.5 – health-threatening fine particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns – fulfilling a promise of publicising them before the Lunar New Year, under intense public pressure.

The readings of one monitoring station at Chegongzhuang in Xicheng district were updated hourly with about three hours’ delay on the website of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre.

Releasing PM2.5 data was perceived as a move to appease residents angry about the government’s prolonged secrecy over the city’s deteriorating air quality. Beijing authorities have long measured PM10 levels, meaning particles with a diameter of 10-microns or less. But PM2.5 are considered more critical as these smaller bodies can embed themselves deep in the lungs and even enter the bloodstream.

They can cause cancer and extreme respiratory problems.

The US embassy conducts its own monitoring, in Chaoyang district, and publishes its PM2.5 readings on Twitter, winning praise from the public while giving Chinese authorities a headache.

Analysts applauded the move as a step forward in environmental-information disclosure because residents would be better informed about air quality. The government had fulfilled its commitment, they said, which helped restore its credibility.

However, the readings were obtained from only one of the city’s six monitoring stations equipped to take PM2.5 readings.

“The readings at one station cannot represent the whole city’s air conditions, but they still serve as an important reference for the public,” said Ma Jun , head of the non-government Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. “I hope the government can disclose data from other stations soon.”

A Beijing official said the government had monitored PM2.5 levels since 2006, but the data was collected mainly for research.

The government said it hoped to install equipment for taking PM2.5 readings at all 27 monitoring stations and release real-time figures by the end of this year.

It was sunny with a blue sky and some wind yesterday. The official reading at 12pm yesterday showed 0.015mg per cubic metre while the US embassy reading was 0.018mg per cubic metre, or a measure of 57 on the Air Quality Index.

The US data fell into the category of moderate health concern, which means people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children are groups most at risk, according to Air Now, a website designed to provide air-quality information.

Smog plagued the capital on Thursday as the United States embassy readings at 3am and 11pm exceeded 0.5mg per cubic metre, categorised as “hazardous for the entire population”.

Ma said that the rapid development of the city powered by coal-burning electrical plants, a growing number of cars, dust from construction sites and emissions from surrounding heavy-chemical industries had offset efforts taken by the authorities at improving air quality.

Professor Zhu Tong , head of Peking University’s centre for environment and health, said that it would take some time to see the results of efforts taken to improve air quality. “The air can be improved when the new sources of pollutants are fewer and government takes greater steps to counter their effects,” he said.

Outdated plant will blow poisonous cocktail over Hong Kong residents

SCMP – 22 Jan 2012

I refer to the excellent editorial (“Developing Lantau a delicate task”, January 15) saying how ill-conceived the Environmental Protection Department’s plan is to build a super-incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau off Lantau.

The department should be trying to reduce pollution, not increase it. Its reply that it won’t increase it by very much, is just not what we expect of the so-called world-class government of “Asia’s world city”.

The obsolescent technology which the department proposes to use will spew dioxins and heavy metals and damaging particulates into the atmosphere. The department claims the winds will only blow this back over Hong Kong 8 per cent of the time (“Neighbours mull legal bid to stop incinerator”, January 13). In fact the Hong Kong Observatory’s figures show winds will blow this poisonous cocktail over Hong Kong for 25 per cent of the time, not 8 per cent. And even for the rest of the time, where will this toxic brew go? It will of course land in the sea, and affect marine life.

Modern proven technology exists which will not generate pollutants, but the department will not admit that it is making a mistake by choosing an outdated system. It prefers poisoning the population to losing face. The department has been stalling on updating Hong Kong’s air quality objectives – if it did update them, this very project could not pass. So, it is cheating us.

Also, the reclamation at Shek Kwu Chau will cause the project to cost the taxpayer some HK$10 billion more than using alternative sites, and involve much higher ongoing running costs. So why has the department selected Shek Kwu Chau?

We taxpayers deserve better.

R. E. J. Bunker, Lantau