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X-Press Pearl: The ‘toxic ship’ that caused an environmental disaster

X-Press Pearl: The ‘toxic ship’ that caused an environmental disaster

DATE: June 10, 2021
SNIP: Earlier last month, a cargo ship carrying chemicals caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka – leaving in its wake an environmental disaster that the island will likely have to live with for decades.

For days it stood burning off the Sri Lanka coast, plumes of thick dark smoke that could be seen from miles away. But the X-Press Pearl has now fallen silent, lying half sunken off the coast of Sri Lanka, its hull resting on the shallow ocean bed.

But though the flames have now been doused – the problems have only just begun.

Onboard the ship, there are still towers of containers stacked upon each other, many containing chemicals highly dangerous to the environment – some of these have already leaked into the water, sparking fears that it may poison marine life.

Additionally, tons of tiny plastic pellets have already washed up on local beaches nearby. And then there’s the hundreds of tonnes of engine fuel sealed in the sunken hull that could also potentially leak into the sea.

Aside from the environmental threats, there are also devastating consequences for the local communities, fishermen who overnight lost their livelihoods and will likely suffer for years to come.

One thing stands out when looking at photos of the disaster – tiny round pieces of plastic that stretch out almost as far as the eye can see.

These plastic pellets, also called nurdles, are used to make nearly all plastic goods.

“There were some 46 different chemicals on that ship,” Hemantha Withanage, a Sri Lankan environmental activist and founder of the Centre for Environmental Justice in the capital Colombo, told the BBC.

“But what’s been most visible so far are the tonnes of plastic pellets.”

Since late May, such pellets from the X-Press Pearl cargo have ended up on the Negombo beaches while fish have already been washed up with bloated bellies and pellets stuck in their gills.

The most long-lasting impact, likely to affect the country for decades, is that of chemical pollution.

Among the most dangerous elements on board the ship are nitric acid, sodium dioxide, copper and lead, says Mr Withanage.

Once in the water, these chemicals make their way into the bellies of the local marine life.

Small fish might die quickly as a result of poisoning, but bigger ones are less likely to. Instead, feeding on smaller fish, the toxins will slowly build up in their bodies over time.

This means fish from the area will be dangerous for humans – not just for now, but for years to come.

While there have been shipwrecks before, Sri Lanka has never faced one with such poisonous cargo – and the country is not well prepared for a difficult job like this.

Vale’s decomissioned Brazil dam at risk of collapse, labor body says

Vale’s decomissioned Brazil dam at risk of collapse, labor body says

SOURCE: Reuters
DATE: June 9, 2021
SNIP: Vale SA’s decomissioned Xingu dam is at “imminent risk of collapsing,” according to a statement on Wednesday by the Regional Labor Department for the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

The Xingu tailings, or mining waste, dam in the town of Mariana, already devastated by a 2015 dam rupture which killed 19 people, had its risk level elevated last October by Brazil’s National Mining Agency. Although the Xingu dam stopped receiving mining waste in 1998, Vale still employs workers there to monitor its stability ahead of a planned decommissioning procedure.

Labor auditors responsible for mandating the closure and evacuation of the surrounding area said a potential collapse at Xingu could happen via a process known as liquefaction, in which water weakens the solid materials composing a dam.

Liquefaction was previously pinpointed as a key cause of the 2019 collapse of Vale’s dam at Brumadinho, which killed 270 people.

The Regional Labor Department said in the statement on Wednesday that the area was closed after a request for documents on April 27 and an inspection on May 20. The company will have to take various technical measures to get permission to reopen the area.

“Documents presented by Vale show the Xingu dam is not stable (…), presenting a significant risk of collapse”, the surveillance group said. “The situation is extreme and puts workers at risk.”

Engineers and technicians told the auditors that the tailings at Xingu had not been properly drained and had been deposited in the dam in an uncontrolled manner.

It’s literally raining PFAS around the Great Lakes, say researchers

It’s literally raining PFAS around the Great Lakes, say researchers

DATE: June 8, 2021
SNIP: Rain that fell on Ohio this spring contained a surprisingly high amount of toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, according to raw data from a binational Great Lakes monitoring program that tracks airborne pollution.

Rainwater collected in Cleveland over two weeks in April contained a combined concentration of about 1,000 parts-per-trillion (ppt) of PFAS compounds. That’s according to scientists at the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN), a long-term Great Lakes monitoring program jointly funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Canada.

The samples are part of a new IADN effort to analyze the prevalence of PFAS in precipitation across the Great Lakes. The network has other monitoring stations in Illinois, Michigan and New York and the chemicals were detected there, too.

The preliminary data is unpublished and undergoing quality reviews, but researchers say early analysis shows PFAS chemicals to be major contaminant in regional rain and snow.

“You can actually say it’s raining PFAS at this point,” said Marta Venier, an environmental chemist Indiana University, speaking to reporters convened online by the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources (IJNR) in May.

The sites are located in Cleveland, Chicago, Sturgeon Point, N.Y., Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and Eagle Harbor in the Upper Peninsula.

The team measured 38 different PFAS compounds in ambient air and rainwater. The total concentration in most samples ranged from 100 to about 400-ppt across the sites, with higher counts at urban compared to rural or remote sites.

After nearly a year’s worth of sampling, Venier said preliminary analysis also shows PFAS concentrations are orders of magnitude higher than other pollutants in the samples.

Tony Spaniola, a national PFAS activist and attorney who owns a home near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Mich., was surprised to see significant concentrations at remote locations like Sleeping Bear Dunes and Eagle Harbor.

It’s everywhere,” Spaniola said. “I’m not happy to say that. It’s not good news. But it underscores how ubiquitous these chemicals are. They are everywhere.”

Built solar assets are ‘chronically underperforming’ and modules degrading faster than expected

Built solar assets are ‘chronically underperforming’ and modules degrading faster than expected

DATE: June 8, 2021
SNIP: Solar asset underperformance continues to worsen, with projects “chronically underperforming” P99 estimates and modules degrading faster than previously anticipated, risk management firm kWh Analytics has found.

kWh Analytics’ new Solar Risk Assessment, released this week, pulls together a raft of industry experts to assess the greatest risks to the global solar industry and has identified a number of serious threats which threaten to reduce investor returns and damage the industry’s credibility moving forward.

Perhaps the most notable finding from the report, which builds on a finding from last year’s edition, is that operational solar assets are continuing to experience higher than expected rates of degradation, with annual degradation in the field observed at around 1%.

It cites recent research conducted by both National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as well as kWh Analytics, as demonstrating that assumptions made in 2016 – that annually solar modules would degrade by around 0.5%, is outdated and underestimates annual degradation by as much as 0.5%.

kWh Analytics’ most recent figures place the median annual degradation for residential solar systems as 1.09% and non-residential systems at 0.8%. The report states that over a 20-year asset life, project degradation could therefore be underestimated by as much as 14%, resulting in severely overestimated performance and revenue forecasts produced within a P50 model.

Meanwhile, the report’s extreme weather risk section includes research from Clean Power Research which suggests that wildfires reduced energy production in Western US states by up to 6% last year.

Great apes predicted to lose 90% of homelands in Africa

Great apes predicted to lose 90% of homelands in Africa

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: June 7, 2021
SNIP: Great apes – humanity’s closest relatives, are predicted to lose a “devastating” 90% of their homelands in Africa in coming decades, according to a study.

All gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos are already endangered or critically endangered. But a combination of the climate crisis, the destruction of wild areas for minerals, timber and food, and human population growth is on track to decimate their ranges by 2050, the scientists said. Half of the projected lost territory will be in national parks and other protected areas.

Some new areas will become climatically suitable for the apes, but the researchers doubt they will be able to migrate into these regions in time. The estimated range loss is stark, but today’s ranges in central and western Africa are already much smaller than in the past.

“It’s a perfect storm for many of our closest genetic relatives, many of which are flagship species for conservation efforts within Africa and worldwide,” said Joana Carvalho, a biologist and computer modeller at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK and who led the study. “If we add climate change to the current causes of territory loss, the picture looks devastating.”

Most great ape species prefer lowland habitats, but the climate crisis will make some lowlands hotter, drier and much less suitable. Uplands will become more attractive, assuming the apes can get there, but where there is no high ground, the apes will be left with nowhere to go.

“As climate change forces the different types of vegetation to essentially shift uphill, it means that all animals – not only great apes – that depend on particular habitat types will be forced to move uphill or become locally extinct,” said Fiona Maisels, at the Wildlife Conservation Society and part of the research team. “But when the hills are low, many species will not be able to go higher than the land allows, and huge numbers of animals and plants will simply vanish.”

The research, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, was conducted by scientists from almost 50 universities, research institutes and conservation organisations. It analysed two scenarios, one where action is taken to curb the climate risis, habitat loss and human population growth, and one where little is done.

But the researchers found relatively little difference in the projected range losses, with 85% loss in 2050 in the first scenario and 94% in the second. “What is predicted is really bad,” said Carvalho.

Some new areas will become suitable for the great apes as the climate changes, but the animals are poor at migrating compared with many species because they reproduce slowly and have low population densities and specific diets. “The timeframe of 30 years [until 2050] is not enough,” Carvalho said.

However, the biggest protection for great apes could come from consumers in rich nations demanding sustainably produced goods. Currently the export of minerals for mobile phones, timber, and palm oil are major drivers of great ape population falls.

Frightened terns abandon 3,000 eggs after drone illegally crashes on beach

Frightened terns abandon 3,000 eggs after drone illegally crashes on beach

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: June 4, 2021
SNIP: About 3,000 elegant tern eggs were abandoned at a southern California nesting island after a drone crashed and scared off the birds, a newspaper reported Friday.

Two drones were flown illegally over the Bolsa Chica ecological reserve in Huntington Beach in May and one of them went down in the wetlands, the Orange County Register said.

Fearing an attack from a predator, several thousand terns abandoned their ground nests, according to the state department of fish and wildlife.

Now, during the month when the birds would be overseeing their eggs as they begin to hatch, the sand is littered with egg shells.

It’s one of the largest-scale abandonments of eggs ever at the coastal site about 100 miles (160 km) north of San Diego, according to the reserve manager, Melissa Loebl.

With the pandemic driving more and more people to outdoor spaces, last year saw about 100,000 visitors to the Bolsa Chica reserve – up from about 60,000 the previous year, Loebl said told the newspaper.

That’s contributed not only to increased drone activity, but also to more dogs and bicycles on the trails – all of which are prohibited.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in dogs, particularly off-leash,” Loebl said. “That’s devastating for wildlife and this is prime nesting season. The dogs chase the birds and the birds abandon their nests.

Another problem is the development of multimillion-dollar homes on the hillside at the north end of the reserve overlooking the wetlands, said Nick Molsberry, a fish and wildlife warden. While most residents respect the sensitive nature of the estuary, there are a few scofflaws, he said.

“It’s residents that sometimes feel entitled, that feel they should be able to use the land as they like,” Molsberry said. Authorities are ramping up enforcement and citing people who break the rules.

At nearly 1,500 acres, the reserve is the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay, just south of San Francisco, and the Tijuana River Estuary in Mexico. About 800 species of plants and animals live at or migrate to Bolsa Chica.

Korea’s 300 million tree harvest plan to reduce carbon emission irks activists

Korea’s 300 million tree harvest plan to reduce carbon emission irks activists

SOURCE: The Korea Times
DATE: May 31, 2021
SNIP: The Korea Forest Service (KFS) announced on Jan. 20 that it will cut down 300 million “old” trees and plant 3 billion new trees to increase the overall carbon absorption capability of the country’s forests.

Green Korea, a major NGO based in Seoul’s Seongbuk District, accused the National Institute of Forest Service, a state research agency under the KFS, of masterminding the controversial plan, and condemned the state agency for its disregard for trees aged 30 years or older.

“We don’t need a forestry service that is so near-sighted; it can only see the trees but not the forest,” the group said in a public statement on April 19, adding that the government’s tree harvest plan targets about 70 percent of the country’s entire forests. The group highlighted that those trees are part of the country’s rich forests that were planted in barren lands and mountains following the 1950-53 Korean War and have been conserved through decades of national forestation efforts that were launched in the 1960s.

“If the plan proceeds, all the trees 30 years or older in the country’s national parks, protected forest areas and forest reserves along Baekdu Mountain Range will have to be fell,” the group said.

Green Korea was most disturbed by the government considering local forests merely as a national tool for carbon absorption.

Ongoing fish kill on the Klamath River is an ‘absolute worst-case scenario’

Ongoing fish kill on the Klamath River is an ‘absolute worst-case scenario’

SOURCE: High Country News

DATE: May 27, 2021

SNIP: The video shows clear river water washing over rocks as sunlight dances in the shallows. Small slivers of white that look like leaves float on the surface. But they aren’t leaves; they’re the bodies of juvenile salmon, most of them no longer than a finger, dead from a warm-water disease exacerbated by drought on the Klamath River. The caption to the video, filmed by Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Joe Myers, is stark: “This is what climate change looks like when we don’t act.”

Fish have been dying on the Klamath since around May 4, according to the Yurok Tribal Fisheries Department. At that time, 97% of the juvenile salmon caught by the department’s in-river trapping device were infected with the disease C. shasta, and were either dead, or would die within days. Over a two-week period, 70% of the juvenile salmon caught in the trap were dead.

This spring, the Klamath Basin is already in extreme and exceptional drought — one of the worst drought years in four decades. Irrigators upriver from the fish kill were told in mid-May that for the first time since “A” Canal in the Klamath Project began operating in 1907, they would not receive any water from it. The irrigators say they need 400,000 acre-feet of water but this year, they will receive just 33,000 acre-feet from the Klamath Project — a historic low. The situation has put pressure on an embattled region already caught in a cyclical mode of crisis due to a drying climate. “For salmon people, a juvenile fish kill is an absolute worst-case scenario,” Myers said in a statement.

In a statement about this year’s drought, Klamath Irrigation District President Ty Kliewer said, “This just couldn’t be worse. The impacts to our family farms and these rural communities will be off the scale.”

Last summer was also dry, and farmers and their supporters held a tractor convoy to protest the lack of water and the Bureau of Reclamation’s allocation decisions. Meanwhile, the Yurok Tribe’s Boat Dance ceremony was cancelled because of low flows last August, and after a dry winter, heated litigation around water allocation persists. This week, several irrigators set up an encampment by the Klamath Project head gates, which have been forced open by irrigators during past droughts. “This drought is not a fluke event,” Yurok citizen and tribal counsel Amy Cordalis testified in a House hearing on the ongoing drought in the West this week. “It is part of a larger pattern of drought brought on by climate change. Climate change is no longer some vague future threat — we are seeing its effects happening now, in real time.”

Wet years used to be the norm, and dry years were uncommon, but in recent years that’s changed, especially since 2014, said Barry McCovey Jr., Yurok Fisheries Department director and Yurok citizen, who has studied fish disease on the Klamath for 20 years. This year’s drought is part of the new climate regime the basin is shifting into.

Sri Lanka faces ‘worst-ever beach pollution’ from burning ship

Sri Lanka faces ‘worst-ever beach pollution’ from burning ship

DATE: May 29, 2021
SNIP: Sri Lanka is facing probably “the worst beach pollution in our history,” as a burning container ship continues to spill plastic debris into the sea off the capital, Colombo, a senior environmental official warned Saturday.

Dharshani Lahandapura, head of the country’s Marine Environment and Protection Authority (MEPA), said the microplastic pollution could cause years of ecological damage to the Indian Ocean island.

She made the comments as tons of hazardous waste continued to wash up on the shore from the Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl, which caught fire 10 days ago while waiting to enter Colombo harbor.

How much plastic and waste has spilled so far?

More than 30 containers, most of them containing chemicals, have already fallen overboard into the sea, and the contents have been washed ashore, spanning over 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers).

Thousands of navy personnel, using mechanical diggers, have already scooped tonnes of tiny plastic waste off the beaches.

Authorities are concerned that millions more of the pellets will wash ashore and threaten fish-breeding shallow waters.

The affected seafront is known for its crabs and jumbo prawns as well as its tourist beaches.

Fishermen have been banned from an 80-kilometer (50-mile) stretch of coast around the vessel.

The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) said the affected region should be declared “hazardous areas” and the public should be ordered to stay away.

The impact on mangroves, lagoons and marine wildlife in the region was being assessed by environmental experts.

The X-Press Pearl caught fire as it waited to enter Colombo harbor and remains anchored just outside the port. The 25-member crew was evacuated.

The vessel was en route from the Indian port of Hazira to Singapore, with 1,486 containers, most of them carrying chemicals.

Oil spill fears mount

Though the fire was brought under control on Friday, firefighters are now focusing on keeping the engine room cool to prevent an oil spill, Lahandapura said earlier.

Much of the ship’s cargo, including 25 tons of nitric acid, sodium hydroxide, lubricants and other chemicals, appeared to have been destroyed in the fire, officials said.

Authorities believe the fire was caused by a nitric acid leak that the crew had been aware of since May 11.

MEPA has lodged a complaint with police against the captain of the ship, claiming that authorities were not informed of the blaze in time.

This is the second major environmental disaster to hit Sri Lanka in less than a year.

A crew member of the New Diamond was killed when the oil tanker caught fire last September.

Brazil aerial photos show miners’ devastation of indigenous people’s land

Brazil aerial photos show miners’ devastation of indigenous people’s land

SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: May 27, 2021
SNIP: Rare and disturbing aerial photographs have laid bare the devastation being inflicted on Brazil’s largest reserve for indigenous people by thousands of wildcat goldminers whose illegal activities have accelerated under the country’s far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro.

Activists believe as many as 20,000 garimpeiro prospectors are operating within the Yanomami reserve in northern Brazil using speedboats and light aircraft to penetrate the vast expanse of jungle near the border with Venezuela.

Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly bemoaned the size of the Yanomami territory and been accused of emboldening environmental criminals with his pro-development rhetoric, was due to make a provocative trip to ​a village in the reserve’s south-western tip​ on Thursday – his first to an indigenous community since becoming president in January 2019. Yanomami leaders denounced the visit as an unwanted attempt to promote illegal mining in their ancestral land.

The images, captured during flyovers early last month, leave no doubt about the intruders’ impact on the 9.6m-hectare (24m-acre) Amazon enclave – nor the impunity with which they are allowed to act in a supposedly protected reserve.

Several photographs show areas where the miners, whose trade Bolsonaro has vowed to legalise, have obliterated the dense, pine-green forest and replaced it with immense bronze-coloured gashes littered with felled trees and pools of stagnant water. Others depict bustling riverside encampments where the garimpeiros live and work, featuring bars, restaurants, shops, houses and even a snooker table. In some pictures it is possible to make out single-engine planes and helicopters – used to smuggle workers, supplies and equipment into the reserve – positioned beside clandestine airstrips near the Venezuelan border.

Along the Uraricoera river, a region the Guardian visited last year, the monitoring team spotted enormous manmade craters reminiscent of the Serra Pelada goldmine made notorious in the 1980s by the images of Brazil’s most celebrated photographer, Sebastião Salgado.

“What shocked me was the enormity of it,” said Christian Braga, the Amazon-based photographer who took the recent images from a Greenpeace turboprop plane.

“We knew these mines existed. The whole of Brazil knows there are goldmines on Yanomami land. But we didn’t understand the true scale of it and how economically valuable these mines are. These mines are prosperous. These mines are worth millions … It is truly frightening. They are just huge.”

Braga said the miners he saw at work in the Yanomami reserve, which is the same size as Portugal, bore no relation to those who once used steel pans to hunt for gold in remote Amazon rivers.

“That’s history; nowadays the mines are insane. These guys are organised. They’ve got planes. They got antennas. They’ve got satellite TV, motorbikes, quad bikes, planes, helicopters, air conditioning, generators. These guys have built a town,” the photographer said.

“When I looked down [at their camps] I just thought: we’ve lost control of goldmining … just look at the point this has reached. More than 20,000 garimpeiros. What are we going to do now?”

In a recent interview the anthropologist Ana Maria Machado, who works with the Yanomami, called the region “a pressure cooker about to explode”.