Thursday, July 26, 2007

No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq

The first film of its kind to chronicle the reasons behind Iraq’s descent into guerilla war, warlord rule, criminality and anarchy, NO END IN SIGHT is a jaw-dropping, insider’s tale of wholesale incompetence, recklessness and venality. Based on over 200 hours of footage, the film provides a candid retelling of the events following the fall of Baghdad in 2003 by high ranking officials such as former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Ambassador Barbara Bodine (in charge of Baghdad during the Spring of 2003), Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, and General Jay Garner (in charge of the occupation of Iraq through May 2003) as well as Iraqi civilians, American soldiers, and prominent analysts. NO END IN SIGHT examines the manner in which the principal errors of U.S. policy – the use of insufficient troop levels, allowing the looting of Baghdad, the purging of professionals from the Iraqi government, and the disbanding of the Iraqi military – largely created the insurgency and chaos that engulf Iraq today. How did a group of men with little or no military experience, knowledge of the Arab world or personal experience in Iraq come to make such flagrantly debilitating decisions? NO END IN SIGHT dissects the people, issues and facts behind the Bush Administration’s decisions and their consequences on the ground to provide a powerful look into how arrogance and ignorance turned a military victory into a seemingly endless and deepening nightmare of a war.

“I think this decision to disband the [Iraqi] Army came as a surprise to most of us…”
Q: What was your reaction?
“I thought we had just created a problem. We had a lot of out of work [Iraqi] soldiers.”
– our interview with Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State

NO END IN SIGHT alternates between U.S. policy decisions and Iraqi consequences, systematically dissecting the Bush Administration’s decisions. The consequences of those decisions now include 3,000 American deaths and 20,000 American wounded, Iraq on the brink of civil war, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths, the strengthening of Iran, the weakening of the U.S. military, and economic costs of over $2 trillion. It marks the first time Americans will be allowed inside the White House, Pentagon, and Baghdad’s Green Zone to understand for themselves what has become the disintegration of Iraq.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Depleted Uranium Part 4: DU Blamed for Surge in Iraqi Cancer

by RIA Novosti
July 23, 2007

Iraq's environment minister on Monday blamed the use of depleted uranium weapons by U.S. forces during the 2003 Operation Shock and Awe for the current surge in cancer cases across the country.

As a result of "at least 350 sites in Iraq being contaminated during bombing" with depleted uranium (DU) weapons, Nermin Othman said, the nation is facing about 140,000 cases of cancer, with 7,000 to 8,000 new ones registered each year.

Speaking at a ministerial meeting of the Arab League, she also complained that many chemical plants and oil facilities had been destroyed during the two military campaigns since the 1990s, but the ecological consequences remain unclear.

"Our ministry is fledgling, and we need international support; notably, we need laboratories to better monitor air and water contamination," she said.

The first major UN research on the consequences of the use of DU on the battlefield was conducted in 2003 in the wake of NATO operations in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Montenegro. The UN Environment Program (UNEP) said in its report after the research that DU poses little threat if spent munitions are cleared from the ground.

"Health risks primarily depend on the awareness of people coming into contact with DU," UNEP writes in its 2004 brochure "Depleted Uranium Awareness."

No major clean-up or public awareness campaigns have been reported in Iraq.

Censure and Courage

by the Albany Times-Union
July 24, 2007

For the millions of Americans who voted to shake up Congress last year, the new Democratic leadership has been disappointing. Democrats talked a good game on Iraq and an array of other issues. But they haven't delivered much. So it was not surprising that Sen. Russell Feingold's call to censure President Bush attracted scant attention Sunday, even though his premise is sound and his remedy, which would fall well short on impeachment, is far from grandstanding.

But it was disheartening. Even if one opposes censure, as the Senate's Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada says he does, that should not preclude Congress from taking on the Bush administration in other ways.

Sen. Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who is perhaps best known as co-sponsor of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, tried and failed to censure Mr. Bush last year. But that was when Republicans controlled Congress, and any censure movement had zero chance of passage. Now the Democrats have power, if only they would summon the political courage to assert it.

Sen. Feingold believes two censure resolutions are warranted. One would be for leading the country to war in Iraq based on misleading information and for failing to adequately equip our troops. The second would be for the administration's assault on basic liberties, including eavesdropping on telephone calls, e-mails and other correspondence of American citizens without first securing a court warrant, as required by law.

These are not frivolous charges. They are based on documented evidence that the White House used selective intelligence to build the case for war against Iraq, and trampled on basic freedoms in the name of homeland security. They should not be simply waved aside, as Sen. Reid was quick to do Sunday after Sen. Feingold revealed his censure plans in an appearance on NBC Meet the Press.

"The President already has the mark of the American people -- he's the worst president we ever had. I don't think we need a censure resolution in the Senate to prove that," Sen. Reid said.

Perhaps not, but Senate Democrats have to prove that they are leaders. So far, Mr. Reid hasn't. His midnight marathon to force a key vote on Iraq was a dismal failure. He stood by while the Senate passed a horrible amendment that would put mayors and police chiefs in jail for sharing gun tracing data. And one solid achievement -- tough fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, SUVs and light trucks -- could come undone in the House because of the efforts of a fellow Democrat, John Dingell of Michigan.

Democrats had every right to complain last year, when they were in the minority. But now it's their turn to produce. We're waiting.

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

American Appetite for Vinyl Poisons Louisiana Town to Death

by Adrianne Appel
Inter Press Service
July 25, 2007

A U.S. health agency has made research subjects of people in tiny Mossville, Louisiana by repeatedly monitoring dangerously high levels of dioxin in their blood while doing nothing to get the community out of harm's way, residents say.

Further, the agency failed to release important test results for five years, and made it difficult for the community to obtain the actual data, say residents and their lawyers.

"The air is staggering," said resident Haki Vincent. "Come stay at my place and you will see firsthand that the air and water is repulsive."

Mossville is closed in by 14 chemical factories, including Petroleum giant Conaco Phillips and Georgia Gulf, a vinyl products manufacturer that had revenues of 2.4 billion dollars in 2006, according to the company.

Dioxin compounds are a byproduct of petroleum processing and vinyl manufacturing and residents in Mossville say the factories are releasing amounts into the air that are making them sick.

Studies show the community suffers from high rates of cancer, upper respiratory problems and reproductive issues, and residents say dioxin pollution is the cause.

Residents want an end to the pollution and want to be moved away from the factories.

"Here in this community, people are being inundated with pollution and it is killing us," said Shirley Johnson, a Mossville resident.

The U.S. health agency, ATSDR, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, tested the blood of 28 Mossville residents in 1999 and found dioxin at levels two to three times higher than what is considered normal.

But the agency offered no explanation for the high dioxin levels and failed to mention the factories as a possible source.

ATSDR agents left Mossville, and returned in 2001 and re-tested 22 people. It found that average dioxin levels had dropped slightly but were still two to three times higher than normal.

This same year, a division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found levels of the dioxin compound vinyl chloride in the air in Mossville at concentrations 100 times what is permitted by federal law, and ethylene dichloride at 20 times.

But again ATSDR failed to consider that the local factories could be responsible for the dioxin in the blood of people in Mossville.

"The source of dioxin exposures in the Mossville residents is not known," the 2001 report says.

The ATSDR did not release the 2001 results until 2006, with no explanation.

"I'm not going to tell you it was the quickest thing we've ever done. It is what it is," Steve Dearwent, an epidemiologist who led the study, told IPS.

"This can only be called callous indifference of agencies to the fact that people in Mossville are sick and dying as a result of toxins being dumped on them," said Nathalie Walker, a lawyer with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, an environmental group that is representing Mossville.

The historically black community founded in the late 1700s is unincorporated and has had no voting rights in the state and no power to control what businesses operate within its borders. Some factories moved to within 50 feet of people's homes.

"I live in a community that is dying. Schools are gone. Most of the light and happiness of this community doesn't really exist anymore," said resident Delma Bennett. As a project, he photographs many people in the community who use breathing machines.

The ATSDR does not believe that the dioxin levels seen in people in Mossville are high enough to cause health problems, said Dearwent, who was permitted to speak with a reporter only if a U.S. agency communications expert listened in on the conversation.

Dearwent says that in Mossville, older people had the highest levels of dioxin in their blood, and that younger people had nearly normal levels. This points to previous exposures to dioxin, and a reasonable suspect is typical U.S. store-bought food, all of which is contaminated with some amount of dioxin.

"It's perceived that all the dioxin exposure is related to industry. Our interpretation is that it is related to their diet," Dearwent said. However, tests did not show high amounts of dioxin in local Mossville food, he acknowledged.

Before the health agency experts left Mossville in 2001, they advised residents to change their diets, Dearwent said.

There is no evidence that the factories are releasing dioxin that is settling on the community, he said.

"If there is an exorbitant amount of dioxin being released it would show up in the soil, the dust and the people. Especially the younger people," and ATSDR results did not show this, he said.

This interpretation differs markedly from that of independent scientist Wilma Subra, hired by the environmental organisation to do an independent analysis of any dioxin pollution in Mossville.

Subra found dioxin in nearby soil to be 2 to 230 times what the EPA considers acceptable.

Subra also compared the ATSDR data about dioxin in the blood of Mossville residents to the type of dioxin compounds actually being emitted by the five vinyl factories in the town.

The analysis found an exact match between the specific dioxin compounds being released by the factories and the compounds found in the blood, Subra said. Also, the compounds showed up in the blood in the same percentage as those being released by the factories.

"This is inappropriate exposure to the community," Subra said.

Louisiana is known for its long history of gross environmental problems and the situation in Mossville reflects that history, Walker said.

"The politics have not changed. We have a lot of work to do," she said.

"What we're up against is the control of corporations in Louisiana. They have a huge lobbying body and exert a huge influence," said Monique Harden, an attorney with the environmental organisation. Some factories have increased their emissions recently, she said.

Georgia Gulf says the industries in Mossville have improved their environmental records.

"Industry in Louisiana has reduced total [reportable] emissions by more than 80 percent since 1987," Georgia Gulf spokesman Will Hinson said in a statement to IPS.

In 2005, a local Mossville environmental group filed a petition against the U.S. government with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States, on the grounds that Mossville's environmental human rights are being violated. The group is waiting for a response from the U.S. State Department, Walker said.

On Wednesday, Mossville residents traveled to Washington to testify before a Senate committee, to raise questions about the actions of ATSDR and the EPA and ask for help in ending pollution in Mossville.

Change is long past due, said resident David Prince. "Fourteen facilities are just spewing these poisons and nothing has been done. When will it be our turn?"

Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

NY Times Strikes Out on Fallujah

July 24, 2007

To paraphrase Clark Hoyt, if you're going to defend the performance of a news organization, you at a minimum need to get your facts right.

In his second response to FAIR regarding the New York Times' review of the play Fallujah, Hoyt wrote:

"In restating its case, it introduced a new error-–calling white phosphorus (WP), the incendiary weapon that was used in Fallujah, a "chemical agent," which it is not. Chemical agents, like nerve gas, are something entirely different. While calling WP a chemical agent may add emotional punch to FAIR’s argument, it indicates to me a carelessness with terms that undercuts FAIR’s credibility."

In fact, white phosphorus has been described as a "chemical weapon" by both the Pentagon (Think Progress, 11/21/05) and by the New York Times (3/22/95)--when discussing its use by Saddam Hussein. (The Times actually called it one of "the worst chemical weapons.") An official of the U.N. body that enforces the ban against chemical weapons told the BBC (BBC News Online, 11/16/05) that

"if...the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because the way the [Chemical Weapons] Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

U.S. forces have admitted to using incendiaries--both white phosphorus and the modern version of napalm--as an anti-personnel weapon (Field Artillery, 3-4/05; London Independent, 8/10/03). See "Now It's a Chemical Weapon, Now It's Not" (Extra!, 3-4/06).

Hoyt was also critical of FAIR's citation of Rahul Mahajan's first-hand accounts of civilian deaths in Fallujah (CounterPunch, 11/6/04), asserting that he was right to rely instead on the Times reporter, Dexter Filkins, who was embedded with the U.S. Marines: "Mahajan said he was in the city months earlier, in April, when U.S. forces first assaulted Fallujah.... The allegations of napalm-–and the actual use of WP-–involved the November battle that Filkins covered."

That's just wrong; the first use of white phosphorus by the U.S. in Fallujah was in the April 2004 assault, as the newspaper North County Times (4/10/04) reported:

"[Cpl. Nicholas] Bogert is a mortar team leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused."

But Mahajan was cited not about the use of white phosphorus but about the deaths of civilians in Fallujah, which Hoyt, citing Filkins, claimed had not occurred in large numbers. While Hoyt made a legitimate point when he said that we should have made clear that Mahajan (like Dahr Jamail) was present during the April assault, Hoyt should also have specified that when Filkins said that he "doesn’t buy the charges of large numbers of civilian deaths" in Fallujah, he was referring only to the November assault--a distinction that may seem more than a little academic to the families of the people killed. (The play Fallujah, whose Times review was the subject of FAIR's original June 11 Action Alert, draws on accounts of both assaults.)

Finally, Hoyt dismissed Mahajan's estimate that at least 600 civilians were killed in the April attack on the city--an estimate that accords with Iraq Body Count's detailed analysis of Fallujah deaths (10/26/04)--because it was "based on news reports and personal observation":

"The war in Iraq has taken a terrible toll on Iraqi civilians, much of it through sectarian strife. Trying to establish the precise numbers killed-–and how they died-–is an important story. But it can’t be told authoritatively by best guesses based on some mix of unspecified news reports and personal observation."

As Hoyt surely knows, the most comprehensive and scientific attempt to determine how many people have been killed by the Iraq War is the Johns Hopkins study published in the Lancet (10/21/06), which found that the number of excess deaths since the invasion likely exceeds 600,000. The Times has downplayed these findings as "widely criticized" (1/1/07) and "controversial" (4/18/07)--precisely because they conflict with news reports and the personal observations of journalists and the officials they rely on.

Like Hoyt, we don't "buy the argument that facts are insignificant in the face of a higher truth." And we certainly agree with Hoyt when he writes, "The war in Iraq has stirred up such passion that something very valuable is in danger of getting lost-–facts." But the factual errors and spin in Hoyt's response suggest that he is not immune from the problem of passions getting in the way of accuracy.

Those who wish to comment on Hoyt's response can do so at the New York Times website:
What follows is Hoyt's response in full:

July 24, 2007, 11:04 am
Was There Napalm in Fallujah? Part II

By Clark Hoyt

If you’re going to criticize the performance of a news organization, you at a minimum need to get your facts right.

FAIR, a non-profit group that describes itself as progressive, has been a media watchdog barking at press failings since 1986. I don’t recall if I’ve had a previous encounter with FAIR, but our recent exchange of views over a Times story on an anti-war play in London doesn’t give me much confidence in FAIR’s fairness-–or its accuracy.

To recap:

FAIR issued an “Action Alert” last month, urging its readers to write me over a Times story by Jane Perlez about the play Fallujah. Deep in the article, Perlez said the play’s contention that the U.S. military used napalm in its assault on Fallujah has not been substantiated. FAIR took issue. I looked into the matter and concluded that Perlez was correct. You can read the Action Alert at and my findings below.

On Friday, FAIR shot back.

In restating its case, it introduced a new error-–calling white phosphorus (WP), the incendiary weapon that was used in Fallujah, a "chemical agent," which it is not. Chemical agents, like nerve gas, are something entirely different. While calling WP a chemical agent may add emotional punch to FAIR’s argument, it indicates to me a carelessness with terms that undercuts FAIR’s credibility.

FAIR also suggested I was wrong to rely on the eyewitness testimony of Dexter Filkins of the Times, who was embedded with U.S. Marines at Fallujah and accompanied them into the city when they took it in November 2004. Filkins doubted reports of large numbers of civilian casualties in that battle because the population appeared to have fled.

"With all due respect to Filkins," FAIR said, "Hoyt would have done better to consult the reporters who were actually in Fallujah during the siege rather than one who was with the forces bombarding it." FAIR then sent its readers to a link (insert the link) containing an article by Rahul Mahajan.

The problem is that Mahajan clearly was not in Fallujah when the November battle took place. Filkins was. He said, "I was, in fact, in the middle of Fallujah, in the battle, on foot, for eight days, and walked from one end of the city to the other.... I wasn’t outside the city with the troops 'bombarding it.' I was as close as one could possibly be, trying to get the story."

Mahajan said he was in the city months earlier, in April, when U.S. forces first assaulted Fallujah after four American contractors were killed and hung from a bridge. The military withdrew at that time, only to attack the city ferociously in November and take it.

The allegations of napalm–-and the actual use of WP-–involved the November battle that Filkins covered.

Speaking of civilian casualties in the first battle of Fallujah, in April, Mahajan said, "The best estimates are that roughly 900-1,000 people were killed directly, blown up, burnt or shot. Of them, my guess, based on news reports and personal observation, is that 2/3 to 3/4 were noncombatants."

The war in Iraq has taken a terrible toll on Iraqi civilians, much of it through sectarian strife. Trying to establish the precise numbers killed-–and how they died-–is an important story. But it can’t be told authoritatively by best guesses based on some mix of unspecified news reports and personal observation.

I wouldn’t come back at this subject-–remember, it all started with a simple, accurate declaration in a review of a play that the use of napalm at Fallujah hadn’t been substantiated-–but I think there’s an important point here.

The war in Iraq has stirred up such passion that something very valuable is in danger of getting lost-–facts. I’m an old-fashioned journalist in the sense that I don’t buy the argument that facts are insignificant in the face of a higher truth. It isn’t true if it isn’t factual.

In the case of Iraq, the anti-war movement has plenty of factual material to work with. I’m astonished that FAIR would feel the need to play so fast and loose with the facts about Fallujah.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Meet the Elders

by Kate Snow
ABC News
July 18, 2007

The Elders, a new alliance made up of an elite group of senior statesmen dedicated to solving thorny global problems, unveiled itself today in Johannesburg.

The rollout coincided with founding member Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday.

After a grand entrance, Mandela, the former South African president, announced the rest of the Elders.

The members include Desmond Tutu, South African archbishop emeritus of Capetown; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Bank in Bangladesh.

The group plans to get involved in some of the world's most pressing problems -- climate change, pandemics like AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, violent conflicts.

It was an extraordinary gathering; a who's who of famous international leaders, with enough emotion to move some of them to tears.

Under a large white futuristic dome, British billionaire Richard Branson and rock star Peter Gabriel, who conceived the idea for the Elders, gathered enough star power to change the world, or at least that's the hope.

"The structures we have to deal with these problems are often tied down by political, economic and geographic constraints," Mandela said. The Elders, he argued, will face no such constraints.

Seven years ago, Branson and Gabriel approached Mandela about the Elders idea, and he agreed to help them recruit others. "This group of elders will bring hope and wisdom back into the world," Branson said. "They'll play a role in bringing us together.

"Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nations ? they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live, " Branson said. " Let us call them 'global elders,' not because of their age but because of individual and collective wisdom."

Calling it "the most extraordinary day" of his life, Gabriel said, "The dream was there might still be a body of people in whom the world could place their trust."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who moderated the event and will serve as its leader, was moved to tears after Gabriel sang an impromptu accapella version of his hit song "Biko," written about a famous South African political prisoner.

Branson and Gabriel have raised enough money -- some $18 million -- to fund this group for three years.

Also onboard are names less well known in the United States, including Indian microfinance leader Ela Bhatt; former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; former Chinese ambassador to the United States Li Zhaoxing.

The group left an empty seat onstage -- symbolically -- for an elder who was invited, but could not attend because she is under house arrest in Burma, Nobel laureate and human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mandela and Carter emphasized the group's ability to talk to anyone without risk.

"We will be able to risk failure in worthy causes, and we will not need to claim credit for any successes that might be achieved," said Carter.

Carter said the group does not want to step on or interfere with other positive work that nations or organizations are doing but wants to supplement that work.

Several members acknowledged that the actual activities and actions of the group remain to be determined. There are no titles, no ranking of the members. And it is not clear if they will travel as a group, deploy individual members to global hot spots, or simply sit in a room together to develop strategies or assist those who are suffering find help.

But they certainly have high hopes.

"I didn't like the title "elders," because I didn't feel like an elder," said Yunus to laughter, "but I like the idea."

Yunus said the world is without direction and he hopes the Elders can provide some direction.

Speaking of the Elders, almost in the way one would describe a cartoon about superheroes, Mandela said, "The Elders can become a fiercely independent and positive force for good."

Annan added that the group does not "intend to go and take on Darfur or Somalia and resolve it singlehandedly. We don't have a magic wand," he said. But he argued that the group could intervene and perhaps force parties to honor agreements.

"There are certain crimes that shame us all," said Annan. "We all have a responsibility, and I hope the Elders will take the lead in asking the question: What can we do to move the situation forward?

"Sometimes by saying 'this is enough we can't take this anymore it must stop,' we are making a difference," Annan continued

Mandela and Branson both celebrated birthdays today. At 89, Mandela looked frail. He walked with a cane and Carter helped him to the podium. But once Mandela got there, he stood tall and easily delivered some 10 minutes of remarks.

"He, as you know, walks sedately," Tutu joked.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Future of Carbon-Free Transport: Groningen, Netherlands

by Warren Karlenzig
June 14, 2007

The future of carbon-free transport lives strong in Groningen. This Dutch city of 185,000 proves that bicycle transportation can reign supreme: people there make about 150,000 trips by bicycle every day.

Bicycles and pedestrians entirely rule the medieval-era city hub, cruising along on car-free dedicated pathways and short cuts with no traffic signals in some instances. But people also commute on bikes in large numbers from suburban housing spread out around the city to downtown jobs, via a ring-and-spoke network of paths. Overall, 37 percent of area commutes are made on bikes.

Boasting an official town bicycle planner, Groningen has created an infrastructure it refers to "continuous and integral," which includes massive surface and underground bicycle parking facilities, dedicated bike paths, and two-way bike lanes even on one-way auto streets.

Since the early 1980s, 30 city bicycle parking facilities have been developed, including one underground facility at the central train station that sells bikes, repairs bikes and offers valet and secure parking for more than 4,000 bikes. Parking is financed through a low-cost annual membership program that costs $50 a year, while bike valet positions create significant numbers of jobs at the public parking facilities and also at 15 local schools.

Bike parking and paths, however, are only the physical manifestation of the careful cycling cultural nourishment that has been provided by city leaders collaborating with citizens. In 1986 Groningen developed what is believed to be Europe’s first dedicated bike policy document, which focused on a broad spectrum of bike transportation and awareness programs. Educational programs now include teaching the health and economic benefits of cycling.

"We think we can boost the numbers of cyclists even higher," said bicycle planner Cor van der Klaauw on Josh Hart’s Car Free Blog. "We have programs to introduce new immigrants to cycling. Many of them came from places where the car is the ultimate status symbol. We need to show them that in Holland, they can get around very easily by bicycle, status symbols aside."

Groningen's bicycle planning has not occurred in a vacuum, but rather complements an integrated scheme that includes low-priced parking facilities for cars, strong public transport and careful public transit linkages between car parking areas and centers for employment and education. With these amenities, cars use, especially in the city center, was successfully restricted without impacting local business.

Other so-called northern European "cycling cities" may be more known (Amsterdam; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Ghent, Belgium) but none can match Groningen for its complete vision and high rate of daily velocipedic participation.

The Netherlands averages a 26 percent national cycling rate, Denmark scores just under 20 percent and Germany achieves about 10 percent, according to a report published by Dutch research group Fietsberaad (Number 7).

While bicycles in the US currently comprise only 0.4 percent of all commuter trips, some North American cities are actively promoting bicycle transportation--through planning dedicated mapped routes and facilities--as a way of reducing global climate change-causing carbon emissions. San Francisco, for instance, has announced a goal of having bicycle trips make up 10 percent of all city trips by 2010.

What’s behind the high rates in Europe, besides the history of bicycle use and culture? According to Fietsbaraad: "Accepting the cyclist as a 'normal' traffic participant with equal rights in the '50s and '60s has been a crucial factor; (so has) the realization of a motor car infrastructure (that) is not at the expense of the cyclist….”

Warren Karlenzig is Chief Strategy Officer at SustainLane, where he directs the company’s US city rankings, and SustainLane Government, an open-source best practices sustainability knowledgebase for state and local government officials and their constituents. Warren is lead author of the newly released How Green Is Your City? The SustainLane U.S. City Rankings (New Society Publishers). His blog is

Monday, July 16, 2007

Depleted Uranium Part 3: Horror of USA's Depleted Uranium in Iraq Threatens World

by James Denver
Vive le Canada
April 29, 2005

"I'm horrified. The people out there - the Iraqis, the media and the troops - risk the most appalling ill health. And the radiation from depleted uranium can travel literally anywhere. It's going to destroy the lives of thousands of children, all over the world. We all know how far radiation can travel. Radiation from Chernobyl reached Wales and in Britain you sometimes get red dust from the Sahara on your car."

The speaker is not some alarmist doomsayer. He is Dr. Chris Busby, the British radiation expert, Fellow of the University of Liverpool in the Faculty of Medicine and UK representative on the European Committee on Radiation Risk, talking about the best-kept secret of this war: the fact that by illegally using hundreds of tons of depleted uranium (DU) against Iraq, Britain and America have gravely endangered not only the Iraqis but the whole world.

For these weapons have released deadly, carcinogenic and mutagenic, radioactive particles in such abundance that-whipped up by sandstorms and carried on trade winds - there is no corner of the globe they cannot penetrate-including Britain. For the wind has no boundaries and time is on their side: the radioactivity persists for over 4,500,000,000 years and can cause cancer, leukemia, brain damage, kidney failure, and extreme birth defects - killing millions of every age for centuries to come. A crime against humanity which may, in the eyes of historians, rank with the worst atrocities of all time.

These weapons have released deadly, carcinogenic and mutagenic, radioactive particles in such abundance that there is no corner of the globe they cannot penetrate - including Britain. Yet, officially, no crime has been committed. For this story is a dirty story in which the facts have been concealed from those who needed them most. It is also a story we need to know if the people of Iraq are to get the medical care they desperately need, and if our troops, returning from Iraq, are not to suffer as terribly as the veterans of other conflicts in which depleted uranium was used.

'Depleted' uranium is in many ways a misnomer. 'Depleted' sounds weak. The only weak thing about depleted uranium is its price. It is dirt cheap, toxic, waste from nuclear power plants and bomb production. However, uranium is one of earth's heaviest elements and DU packs a Tyson's punch, smashing through tanks, buildings and bunkers with equal ease, spontaneously catching fire as it does so, and burning people alive. 'Crispy critters' is what US servicemen call those unfortunate enough to be close. And, when John Pilger encountered children killed at a greater distance he wrote: "The children's skin had folded back, like parchment, revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood, while the eyes, intact, stared straight ahead. I vomited." (Daily Mirror)

The millions of radioactive uranium oxide particles released when it burns can kill just as surely, but far more terribly. They can even be so tiny they pass through a gas mask, making protection against them impossible. Yet, small is not beautiful. For these invisible killers indiscriminately attack men, women, children and even babies in the womb--and do the gravest harm of all to children and unborn babies.

Doctors in Iraq have estimated that birth defects have increased by 2-6 times, and 3-12 times as many children have developed cancer and leukaemia since 1991. Moreover, a report published in The Lancet in 1998 said that as many as 500 children a day are dying from these sequels to war and sanctions and that the death rate for Iraqi children under 5 years of age increased from 23 per 1000 in 1989 to 166 per thousand in 1993. Overall, cases of lymphoblastic leukemia more than quadrupled with other cancers also increasing 'at an alarming rate.' In men, lung, bladder, bronchus, skin, and stomach cancers showed the highest increase. In women, the highest increases were in breast and bladder cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

On hearing that DU had been used in the Gulf in 1991, the UK Atomic Energy Authority sent the Ministry of Defense a special report on the potential damage to health and the environment. It said that it could cause half a million additional cancer deaths in Iraq over 10 years. In that war the authorities only admitted to using 320 tons of DU-although the Dutch charity LAKA estimates the true figure is closer to 800 tons. Many times that may have been spread across Iraq by this year's war. The devastating damage all this DU will do to the health and fertility of the people of Iraq now, and for generations to come, is beyond imagining.

The radioactivity persists for over 4,500,000,000 years killing millions of every age for centuries to come. This is a crime against humanity which may rank with the worst atrocities of all time.

We must also count the numberless thousands of miscarried babies. Nobody knows how many Iraqis have died in the womb since DU contaminated their world. But it is suggested that troops who were only exposed to DU for the brief period of the war were still excreting uranium in their semen 8 years later and some had 100 times the so-called 'safe limit' of uranium in their urine. The lack of government interest in the plight of veterans of the 1991 war is reflected in a lack of academic research on the impact of DU but informal research has found a high incidence of birth defects in their children and that the wives of men who served in Iraq have three times more miscarriages than the wives of servicemen who did not go there.

Since DU darkened the land Iraq has seen birth defects which would break a heart of stone: babies with terribly foreshortened limbs, with their intestines outside their bodies, with huge bulging tumors where their eyes should be, or with a single eye-like Cyclops, or without eyes, or without limbs, and even without heads. Significantly, some of the defects are almost unknown outside textbooks showing the babies born near A-bomb test sites in the Pacific.

Doctors report that many women no longer say 'Is it a girl or a boy?' but simply, 'Is it normal, doctor?' Moreover this terrible legacy will not end. The genes of their parents may have been damaged for ever, and the damaging DU dust is ever-present.

What the governments of America and Britain have done to the people of Iraq they have also done to their own soldiers, in both wars. And they have done it knowingly. For the battlefields have been thick with DU and soldiers have had to enter areas heavily contaminated by bombing. Moreover, their bodies have not only been assaulted by DU but also by a vaccination regime which violated normal protocols, experimental vaccines, nerve agent pills, and organophosphate pesticides in their tents. And yet, though the hazards of DU were known, British and American troops were not warned of its dangers. Nor were they given thorough medical checks on their return-even though identifying it quickly might have made it possible to remove some of it from their body. Then, when a growing number became seriously ill, and should have been sent to top experts in radiation damage and neurotoxins, many were sent to a psychiatrist.

Over 200,000 US troops who returned from the 1991 war are now invalided out with ailments officially attributed to service in Iraq-that's 1 in 3. In contrast, the British government's failure to fully assess the health of returning troops, or to monitor their health, means no one even knows how many have died or become gravely ill since their return. However, Gulf veterans' associations say that, of 40,000 or so fighting fit men and women who saw active service, at least 572 have died prematurely since coming home and 5000 may be ill. An alarming number are thought to have taken their own lives, unable to bear the torment of the innumerable ailments which have combined to take away their career, their sexuality, their ability to have normal children, and even their ability to breathe or walk normally. As one veteran puts it, they are 'on DU death row, waiting to die.'

Whatever other factors there may be, some of their illnesses are strikingly similar to those of Iraqis exposed to DU dust. For example, soldiers have also fathered children without eyes. And, in a group of eight servicemen whose babies lack eyes seven are known to have been directly exposed to DU dust.

They too have fathered children with stunted arms, and rare abnormalities classically associated with radiation damage. They too seem prone to cancer and leukemia. Tellingly, so are EU soldiers who served as peacekeepers in the Balkans, where DU was also used. Indeed their leukemia rate has been so high that several EU governments have protested at the use of DU.

Despite all that evidence of the harm done by DU, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have repeatedly claimed that as it emits only 'low level' radiation DU is harmless. Award-winning scientist, Dr. Rosalie Bertell who has led UN medical commissions, has studied 'low-level' radiation for 30 years. She has found that uranium oxide particles have more than enough power to harm cells, and describes their pulses of radiation as hitting surrounding cells 'like flashes of lightning' again and again in a single second. Like many scientists worldwide who have studied this type of radiation, she has found that such 'lightning strikes' can damage DNA and cause cell mutations which lead to cancer.

Moreover, these particles can be taken up by body fluids and travel through the body, damaging more than one organ. To compound all that, Dr. Bertell has found that this particular type of radiation can cause the body's communication systems to break down, leading to malfunctions in many vital organs of the body and to many medical problems. A striking fact, since many veterans of the first Gulf war suffer from innumerable, seemingly unrelated, ailments.

In addition, recent research by Eric Wright, Professor of Experimental Haematology at Dundee University, and others, have shown two ways in which such radiation can do far more damage than has been thought. The first is that a cell which seems unharmed by radiation can produce cells with diverse mutations several cell generations later. (And mutations are at the root of cancer and birth defects.) This 'radiation-induced genomic instability' is compounded by 'the bystander effect' by which cells mutate in unison with others which have been damaged by radiation-rather as birds swoop and turn in unison. Put together, these two mechanisms can greatly increase the damage done by a single source of radiation, such as a DU particle. Moreover, it is now clear that there are marked genetic differences in the way individuals respond to radiation-with some being far more likely to develop cancer than others. So the fact that some veterans of the first Gulf war seem relatively unharmed by their exposure to DU in no way proves that DU did not damage others.

That the evidence from Iraq and from our troops, and the research findings of such experts, have been ignored may be no accident. A US report, leaked in late 1995, allegedly says, 'The potential for health effects from DU exposure is real; however it must be viewed in perspective... the financial implications of long-term disability payments and healthcare costs would be excessive.'

Clearly, with hundreds of thousands gravely ill in Iraq and at least a quarter of a million UK and US troops seriously ill, huge disability claims might be made not only against the governments of Britain and America if the harm done by DU were acknowledged. There might also be huge claims against companies making DU weapons and some of their directors are said to be extremely close to the White House. How close they are to Downing Street is a matter for speculation, but arms sales makes a considerable contribution to British trade. So the massive whitewashing of DU over the past 12 years, and the way that governments have failed to test returning troops, seemed to disbelieve them, and washed their hands of them, may be purely to save money.

The possibility that financial considerations have led the governments of Britain and America to cynically avoid taking responsibility for the harm they have done not only to the people of Iraq but to their own troops may seem outlandish. Yet DU weapons weren't used by the other side and no other explanation fits the evidence. For, in the days before Britain and America first used DU in war its hazards were no secret.4 One American study in 1990 said DU was 'linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and to] chemical toxicity-causing kidney damage'. While another openly warned that exposure to these particles under battlefield conditions could lead to cancers of the lung and bone, kidney damage, non-malignant lung disease, neuro-cognitive disorders, chromosomal damage and birth defects.

In 1996 and 1997 UN Human Rights Tribunals condemned DU weapons for illegally breaking the Geneva Convention and classed them as 'weapons of mass destruction' 'incompatible with international humanitarian and human rights law.' Since then, following leukemia in European peacekeeping troops in the Balkans and Afghanistan (where DU was also used), the EU has twice called for DU weapons to be banned.

Yet, far from banning DU, America and Britain stepped up their denials of the harm from this radioactive dust as more and more troops from the first Gulf war and from action and peacekeeping in the Balkans and Afghanistan have become seriously ill. This is no coincidence. In 1997, while citing experiments, by others, in which 84 percent of dogs exposed to inhaled uranium died of cancer of the lungs, Dr. Asaf Durakovic, then Professor of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington was quoted as saying, 'The [US government's] Veterans Administration asked me to lie about the risks of incorporating depleted uranium in the human body.' He concluded, 'uranium does cause cancer, uranium does cause mutation, and uranium does kill. If we continue with the irresponsible contamination of the biosphere, and denial of the fact that human life is endangered by the deadly isotope uranium, then we are doing disservice to ourselves, disservice to the truth, disservice to God and to all generations who follow.' Not what the authorities wanted to hear and his research was suddenly blocked.

During 12 years of ever-growing British whitewash the authorities have abolished military hospitals, where there could have been specialized research on the effects of DU and where expertise in treating DU victims could have built up. And, not content with the insult of suggesting the gravely disabling symptoms of Gulf veterans are imaginary they have refused full pensions to many. For, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the current House of Commons briefing paper on DU hazards says 'it is judged that any radiation effects from possible exposures are extremely unlikely to be a contributory factor to the illnesses currently being experienced by some Gulf war veterans.' Note how over a quarter of a million sick and dying US and UK vets are called 'some.'

Britain and America not only used DU in this year's Iraq war, they dramatically increased its use-from a minimum of 320 tons in the previous war to at minimum of 1500 tons in this one. And this time the use of DU wasn't limited to anti-tank weapons-as it had largely been in the previous Gulf war-but was extended to the guided missiles, large bunker busters and big 2000-pound bombs used in Iraq's cities. This means that Iraq's cities have been blanketed in lethal particles-any one of which can cause cancer or deform a child. In addition, the use of DU in huge bombs which throw the deadly particles higher and wider in huge plumes of smoke means that billions of deadly particles have been carried high into the air-again and again and again as the bombs rained down-ready to be swept worldwide by the winds.

The Royal Society has suggested the solution is massive decontamination in Iraq. That could only scratch the surface. For decontamination is hugely expensive and, though it may reduce the risks in some of the worst areas, it cannot fully remove them. For DU is too widespread on land and water. How do you clean up every nook and cranny of a city the size of Baghdad? How can they decontaminate a whole country in which microscopic particles, which cannot be detected with a normal geiger counter, are spread from border to border? And how can they clean up all the countries downwind of Iraq-and, indeed, the world?

So there are only two things we can do to mitigate this crime against humanity. The first is to provide the best possible medical care for the people of Iraq, for our returning troops and for those who served in the last Gulf war and, through that, minimize their suffering. The second is to relegate war, and the production and sale of weapons, to the scrap heap of history-along with slavery and genocide. Then, and only then, will this crime against humanity be expunged, and the tragic deaths from this war truly bring freedom to the people of Iraq, and of the world.

Copyright © 2007 Vive le Canada

Depleted Uranium Part 2: One Half-Life to Live

by Geraldean Hourigan

Ron Russo was 3 years old when National Lead Industries began processing uranium at its plant on Central Avenue in 1958. The factory, which occupied an 11.2-acre plot of land that is now just west of the I-90 overpass, spewed tall billowing clouds of smoke into the Colonie sky. Russo grew up four blocks away, and spent most of his childhood playing behind the plant. “Behind the building was the creek,” he said. “We swam back there. We drank back there. We did everything back there.”

In October 2002, doctors informed Russo that he had 18 months to live. Now 49, Russo has nodules covering both lungs, liver disease, diabetes, and neuropathy. Russo blames his terminal illnesses, and the death of both of his parents within the last five years, on NL and the microscopic particles of depleted uranium that the plant spat into his old neighborhood for 26 years.

Marcia Dingly lived next door to NL on Central Avenue between 1977 and 1984. In 1985, she gave birth to a baby girl with several birth defects, including a hole in her heart and a rare form of Down’s Syndrome. The girl, who would have been 18 this year, died of adult leukemia at age 4.

Dingly herself is now living with a rare condition called Cushing’s Disease. A tumor has grown around her pituitary gland and part of her brain, causing the overproduction of cortisol, a hormone released by the adrenal glands in order to maintain proper cardiovascular and metabolic function. Cushing’s disease has attacked her whole body. Dingly, 46, has diabetes, severe osteoporosis, psychiatric disturbances, severe deformation of the body, thyroid disease and two bladder diseases. All are in some way related to the rare brain tumor. Dingly too blames NL for her condition and the premature death of her daughter.

Russo and Dingly are not alone. According to a health survey conducted by the Albany-based Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, more than 250 members who lived in the community surrounding the plant during its years of operation have rare diseases or combinations of several health problems, and believe that their illnesses are related to NL’s emissions of depleted uranium. Though the plant has long been closed, residents still want answers about what its emissions did to them—and whether the current polluted site still poses a threat.

NL first purchased the Colo nie site in 1937 as a brass foundry, but in 1958 the plant morphed into a government production facility for projectiles containing depleted uranium. The NL plant also manufactured fuel from enriched uranium for experimental reactors between 1966 and 1972.

DU is a hard metal that burns on impact and is known for its ability to pierce armor. It is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process used in manufacturing nuclear fuels. It is produced at extremely high temperatures, making it insoluble and therefore indestructible.

It is also both radioactive and toxic. Just how dangerous its use is to human health is the subject of vociferous debate. It is primarily dangerous when it is in dust form and is inhaled or ingested. Both the radioactivity and the toxicity can cause DNA mutations.

The Pentagon gave DU an “all-clear” stamp in 1999, but veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome continue to point to DU as a possible source of their problems. Several hundred tons of DU were fired in both Gulf Wars and over the Balkans.

Col. Asaf Durakovic of the Uranium Medical Research Center in Washington refers to prior research on DU exposure as “poorly coordinated” with poor methodology. Newer data suggest a long-term risk of DU internal contamination that requires modification of established policies, he wrote in Military Medicine. Durakovic, chief of nuclear medicine at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from 1989-1997, says that the battlefields of the Gulf Wars and the Balkans continue to threaten civilians who survived those wars.

In 1980, Colonie’s NL plant had 200 employees. Ten stacks, each with a height of roughly 1,000 feet, billowed fine DU particles at high velocities into the air. Large DU particles from explosions in the chip burner were expelled from a side emergency vent system. In 1979, the New York State Supreme Court had ordered NL to restrict production because its uranium emissions were found to be in excess of state standards. Four years later, when it was still found to be releasing 54,000 times the allowed amount of DU, the plant was closed down. Community residents can only wonder how much it was emitting before 1979.

Two researchers at the University at Albany, John Arnason and Barb Fletcher, have shown that there are elevated levels of DU in the overlying soil just downstream of NL in Patroon Creek. After analyzing sediment cores extracted from the creek, Arnason and Fletcher noted that while the sediment contained consistent background levels of uranium below the depth of 1.9 meters (about 6.2 feet), there was a large spike of pure DU near the surface. That suggests a man-made source that suddenly appears around the late 1950’s and ceases abruptly. The DU levels in the surface soils are staggering, Arnason said. Sediments contained up to 320 ppm uranium, of which 25 percent to 95 precent is DU.*

Anne Rabe of the Citizen’s Environmental Coalition echoes many residents when she says the main question the plant left behind is, “What did NL’s toxic and radioactive emissions do to the community’s health?”

Over the years, federal and state agencies have conducted three studies to determine whether DU emissions from NL have harmed the health of plant workers and nearby residents. In each instance, their conclusion has been no, but critics say each report has serious flaws. The community is still seeking a full accounting.

In 1979, the New York State Department of Health took and analyzed urine and dust samples from the area surrounding the NL site. According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which recently reviewed the DOH’s results, this study showed no measurable levels of radioactive DU. At the time, the test group was given a verbal confirmation of a clean bill of health by the Department of Health. But the actual results of the urinalysis were never included in the report. Some members of the test group have recently set out to get the results on paper from DOH, but so far they haven’t been successful.

The results of the test may have been accurate, as far as they go. But according to William Kelleher, a former employee with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the urine samples were taken three to six months after NL stopped production, giving the particles plenty of time to pass through the kidneys and bladder. If people had been exposed previously, or had inhaled rather than ingested particles, this study would not have given them any warnings.

The test group also did not represent those people with the highest exposures of DU during that time, says Kelleher. The Department of Health tested residents who lived directly outside NL’s fences. Those people would have mostly been exposed to larger particles blowing out of the emergency vent, but those particles were too big to be inhaled and trapped in the lungs. The finer, and therefore more dangerous, particles would have traveled farther.

The state Department of Health conducted a second study of the area surrounding the NL plant in 1993. That study looked at the incidence of cancer in a five-zip-code area surrounding the site. The study noted a high rate of certain cancers, but because the study examined such a large area, researchers determined that the increase had no relation to DU emissions.

Last August, the ATSDR issued its own report. That report concluded that there is “no public health hazard” associated with the NL site and surrounding properties. The preliminary report—a revised report is due late this winter following a three-month comment period—provoked an angry response from the neighboring Yardboro Avenue community and has reignited interest in the issue.

An outpouring of comments to ATSDR during the comment period for the preliminary report released in August forced the agency to extend the comment period in order to process them all. The comments were mostly from residents, and focused on health concerns, especially for children now living in the area.

ATSDR environmental scientist Aimee Treffiletti has been reviewing community responses to the August 2003 health consultation. “I did not expect to see the number of comments that came in,” she says. “Community involvement is good; we value it here.” ATSDR has told community activists that it is reviewing all the comments and that it hasn’t forgotten about the Yardboro Avenue community.

Treffiletti also said that the agency will clear up and flesh out some of the community’s concerns. For example, the revision will elaborate on the issue of children being exposed to DU via dirt piles and vegetable gardens.

But as for the overall conclusions, Treffiletti says, “The health call will not change.”

This frustrates community members and activists who are tired of studies based on partial data. “ATSDR had plenty of evidence about NL workers and NL contamination, but none of it was used in the report,” says Rabe. For example, according to Leonard Dietz, an atomic physicist who worked at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna for 25 years, the most recent ATSDR report neglects to include DU measurements that New York state made prior to NL being closed down. “The health study does not include former workers of NL,” he adds.

And according to Rabe, ATSDR ignored past epidemiological studies by DOH on workers exposed to radiation and DU and health problems associated with this; DOH studies in 1980 saying that people should be concerned about eating root vegetables in the Yardboro Avenue community; and studies given to them from CEC about various exposure pathways to DU. They treat them “with utter disdain,” says Rabe. “We have serious distrust with ATSDR that they would conduct a health study that would not reek of whitewash should they not include the community’s input.”

The ATSDR study claims that “touching or accidentally eating [DU particles] would not have made people sick.” Dietz, a certified radiological worker for 25 years, says that under no circumstances should any radiating material be touched with bare hands, much less eaten, no matter how small the quantity. But ATSDR concludes over and over again that there is “no apparent public hazard” associated with playing and gardening in soil contaminated by DU.

One point of contention between government sources and local activists is the amount of time that DU particles would exist in a person’s lungs.

Dietz said that his concern is “the long-term effects and the radioactivity of the particles.” According to an August 2003 study documented in Military Medicine, the half-life of a radioactive particle in the lungs is about 3.85 years. A radioactive half-life is how long it takes for substance to release approximately half its radioactivity. Based on the particles he studied, however, Dietz believes the half-life of NL’s emissions is much longer—by a couple of decades. “Anybody who breathes this stuff can expect that the DU will never leave their body,” he said. Dietz believes that DU’s residence time in the environment may be upwards of 100,000 years, giving particles enough time to be resuspended into the atmosphere under the proper conditions.

Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc.

Depleted Uranium Contamination Studied

by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist
Albany Times-Union
July 16, 2007

Ph.D. student Nicholas Lloyd traveled from England to a dusty patch off Central Avenue last summer hunting for terribly small pieces of New York's polluted military-industrial past.

He found them -- microscopic specs containing depleted uranium that he believes may provide clues to how this heavy metal component of modern weaponry behaves on battlefields a world away.

Used for the first time on a large scale in the 1991 Gulf War, depleted uranium weapons have been blamed for sickening soldiers exposed to them -- even though the military says the danger is limited.

Research by Lloyd and others shows that Albany-area residents may have been exposed for decades before the first shot was ever fired.

While substantial questions remain about depleted uranium's effect on humans, Lloyd and others suspect Colonie, home to a long-demolished munitions plant, may be a good place to look.

"This is a natural laboratory here to understand that problem," said John G. Arnason, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University at Albany.

"There are very few places in the world where you can do this other than here," said Arnason, who also has studied contamination from the factory operated by Houston-based NL Industries, formerly the National Lead Co. "Not only did you have the plant here that was doing the polluting, but you had a population, unfortunately, that was exposed to it."

Lloyd's research, in cooperation with the British Geological Survey, is not a health study. But his preliminary results show that nearly a quarter-century after NL's Central Avenue plant closed, some of the uranium oxide particles it spewed over surrounding neighborhoods remains -- in the soil and in homes. Some linger, he said, in a form that could be inhaled -- a state quite different from uranium that exists naturally in the air, soil and water.

"It spread further and it stayed around decades longer than anyone thought," said Anne Rabe, co-chairwoman of Community Concerned About NL Industries.

Lloyd discovered that depleted uranium contamination was detected as far as 3.5 miles from the plant and that uranium oxide particles found closer to it are comparable to those emitted by depleted uranium weapons.

The primary concern is not direct radiation. Instead, the risk stems from inhaling the particles, formed when the depleted uranium is burned and combines with oxygen. From the lungs, they can be absorbed into the blood and travel to the kidneys.

In the 1960s and '70s, the factory just west of city limits, which made armor-piercing bullets and counterweights, is believed to have emitted as much as five tons of uranium into the environment.

A byproduct of the manufacture of nuclear fuel, depleted uranium in weapons burns extremely hot and sprays dust. The weapons have been blamed for a range of ailments, including maladies known collectively as Gulf War syndrome.

But research on the dust's health effects on humans has been limited. The federal government has studied 80 military personnel exposed to depleted uranium through friendly fire during the Gulf War and detected elevated levels of uranium in their urine but found no kidney damage or other uranium-related health problems, according to the Pentagon. The federal Centers for Disease Control has said exposure to high levels of depleted uranium is "not known to cause cancer."

But neighbors and workers at the plant who were potentially exposed to the dust have, for years, blamed the smoke belched from its stacks for sickness and death among them. They have sought a block-by-block health study, and Lloyd believes his research could provide a baseline for that.

The state Health Department has conducted several studies of NL pollution, including comparing lead levels in the blood of children who live near the plant to those who don't. None of the studies conclusively linked the pollution to illness, said department spokesman Jeffrey Hammond.

Lloyd, 28, a student at the University of Leicester, set out to study how the molecules known as uranium oxide -- some small enough to travel to the deepest parts of human lungs -- behave in the environment.

Working with Arnason and local volunteers, Lloyd took more than 200 samples of soil that had been exposed to the elements -- some of it on land adjacent to the Thruway and Northway -- as well as dust from sheltered areas in homes and commercial buildings.

Of those samples taken from soil already decontaminated by the Army Corps of Engineers, none of the concentrations he detected exceed safety standards. The Army Corps is the federal agency charged with cleaning up the 12-acre site where all the company's buildings were demolished. The two-decade federal project is expected to conclude this summer with a price tag in excess of $175 million.

Rabe and others are eager for information on the concentrations of uranium detected inside homes -- data Lloyd has yet to tabulate.

Using mass spectrometry, Lloyd was able to prove the presence of depleted uranium. Finding traces of depleted uranium up to 3.5 miles away was not surprising, said Arnason, after it was revealed in the 1990s that air filters at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna and the Kesselring Site nuclear facility in Milton detected contamination from NL Industries some 25 miles away.

Arnason, who has studied uranium contamination around the nearby Patroon Creek, said he has tried for years to get funding for the kind of research Lloyd and his colleagues are doing.

"I find it ironic that the Brits came over here to study it," Arnason said of the Colonie site. "There are no agencies here that are specifically funding nondefense-related research on depleted uranium."

Lloyd plans to submit his work for peer review next year and hopes it will help move understanding of depleted uranium past speculation.

"I think that probably too much has been said in the media that isn't based on hard evidence," he said. "I don't want to add to that."

Copyright 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

Friday, July 13, 2007

NY Times Dismisses Criticism of Giuliani

July 13, 2007

When the International Association of Fire Fighters, the nation's largest firefighters union, released a video on July 12 challenging the portrayal of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a hero of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, New York Times reporter Marc Santora rushed to put out the anti-Giuliani fire. His July 12 story's lead cast doubt on the accuracy of the group's claims, calling the video "at times factually questionable."

But besides quoting Giuliani partisans--who predictably differed with the firefighters--Santora offered little evidence that the video was "factually questionable"; in fact, that phrase could more plausibly be applied to Santora's story. For example, the reporter challenged the video's claim that the Giuliani administration's failure to provide proper radios led to firefighters' deaths on September 11, when they couldn't hear orders to evacuate the towers. (The city had been trying to replace the radios since their poor performance during the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, just before Giuliani first took office
see Extra!, 5-6/07.)

In an attempt to shoot down this charge, Santora wrote that "there is no dispute...that there were communications failures on September 11. But the video highlights the hand-held radios, whereas the central problem, most experts agree, was the failure of a device meant to boost the signal so that it could reach the high floors of the towers."

This is a puzzling claim, since the New York Police Department did, in fact, have radios that were able to function in the towers. As FDNY safety chief Alexander Santora said in the video, "Not a single cop was lost in that building. Why was that? Because they had gotten the word to get out. Our radios weren't working."

And the 9/11 Commission report determined that the signal boosters had actually worked on that day. As Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins wrote in their landmark book, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11:

In the months immediately after 9/11, [Giuliani fire chief Thomas] Von Essen and other fire department officials began blaming the communications breakdown on malfunctioning repeaters or amplifiers that the Port Authority installed after the '93 bombing. When the [9/11] commission determined that the repeaters in each tower were functional that day, Giuliani tried another version of the same argument, contending that chiefs in the lobby "decided" the repeater "wasn't operable" and "they couldn't use it." Both positions appeared to be attempts to divert attention from the radios. But every investigation that's examined the 9/11 failings—including the [9/11] Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and McKinsey—refused to take the bait.

In fact, the New York Times has previously reported that the National Institute of Standards and Technology investigation found that the boosters were not the problem, writing (4/4/05) that the NIST "report also found that the World Trade Center's high rise communication repeater was working properly, a finding that contradicts claims by some rescue workers."

So who are the "most experts" who dispute the conclusions of the three leading investigations into 9/11? Times readers don't know because Santora didn't tell them. When FAIR asked Wayne Barrett about Santora's claim about the repeaters, he said the New York Times reporter was "simply adopting an old Giuliani line."

The only other example for Santora's claim that the video was "factually questionable" was his assertion that the video "implies" that Giuliani was "more concerned about securing some $200 million in gold stored in a basement vault at the World Trade Center than in recovering the remains of the dead." Santora called this "an accusation widely dismissed by people who closely monitored the cleanup." The question of what Giuliani was "more concerned about" would seem to be a matter of opinion, not fact, but the factual observations made in the video about the timing of the scale-back of search efforts in relation to the recovery of the gold are accurate.

It is very unusual for the New York Times to introduce a political statement like the firefighters' video by labeling it "factually questionable"; the paper could actually do a great deal more to investigate and when necessary rebut political claims. But when political arguments are dismissed with dubious references to the opinions of unnamed "experts" and "people," the Times appears less interested in keeping the political debate honest than in doing damage control for a favored politician.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Organic Farming Can Feed The World

University of Michigan News Service
July 10, 2007

Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food on individual farms in developing countries, as low-intensive methods on the same land—according to new findings which refute the long-standing claim that organic farming methods cannot produce enough food to feed the global population.

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that in developed countries, yields were almost equal on organic and conventional farms. In developing countries, food production could double or triple using organic methods, said Ivette Perfecto, professor at U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment, and one the study's principal investigators. Catherine Badgley, research scientist in the Museum of Paleontology, is a co-author of the paper along with several current and former graduate and undergraduate students from U-M.

"My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can’t produce enough food through organic agriculture," Perfecto said.

In addition to equal or greater yields, the authors found that those yields could be accomplished using existing quantities of organic fertilizers, without putting more farmland into production.

The idea to undertake an exhaustive review of existing data about yields and nitrogen availability was fueled in a roundabout way, when Perfecto and Badgley were teaching a class about the global food system and visiting farms in Southern Michigan.

"We were struck by how much food the organic farmers would produce," Perfecto said. The researchers set about compiling data from published literature to investigate the two chief objections to organic farming: low yields and lack of organically acceptable nitrogen sources.

Their findings refute those key arguments, Perfecto said, and confirm that organic farming is less environmentally harmful yet can potentially produce more than enough food. This is especially good news for developing countries, where it’s sometimes impossible to deliver food from outside, so farmers must supply their own. Yields in developing countries could increase dramatically by switching to organic farming, Perfecto said.

While that seems counterintuitive, it makes sense because in developing countries, many farmers still do not have the access to the expensive fertilizers and pesticides that farmers use in developed countries to produce those high yields, she said.

After comparing yields of organic and non-organic farms, the researchers looked at nitrogen availability. To do so, they multiplied the current farm land area by the average amount of nitrogen available for production crops if so-called "green manures" were planted between growing seasons. Green manures are cover crops which are plowed into the soil to provide natural soil amendments. They found that planting green manures between growing seasons provided enough nitrogen to replace synthetic fertilizers.

Organic farming is important because conventional agriculture—which involves high-yielding plants, mechanized tillage, synthetic fertilizers and biocides—is so detrimental to the environment, Perfecto said. For instance, fertilizer runoff from conventional agriculture is the chief culprit in creating dead zones—low oxygen areas where marine life cannot survive. Proponents of organic farming argue that conventional farming also causes soil erosion, greenhouse gas emission, increased pest resistance and loss of biodiversity.

For their analysis, researchers defined the term organic as: practices referred to as sustainable or ecological; that utilize non-synthetic nutrient cycling processes; that exclude or rarely use synthetic pesticides; and sustain or regenerate the soil quality.

Perfecto said the idea that people would go hungry if farming went organic is "ridiculous."

"Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies—all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food," she said.

Copyright © The Regents of the University of Michigan

Bush Dismisses CIA Leak As Old News

Photo: Ron Edmonds / AP
by Jennifer Loven
The Associated Press
July 12, 2007

President Bush always said he would wait to talk about the CIA leak case until after the investigation into his administration's role. On Thursday, he skipped over that step and pronounced the matter old news hardly worth discussing.

"It's run its course," he said. "Now we're going to move on."

Despite a long history of denouncing leaks, Bush declined to express any disappointment in the people who worked for him and who were involved in disclosing the name of a CIA operative. Asked about that during a wide-ranging news conference, the president gave a dodgy answer.

"It's been a tough issue for a lot of people in the White House," he said.

He didn't even acknowledge the undisputed fact that someone working for him was the source, saying only that "perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person."

The investigation was launched to determine who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a former CIA operations officer who had served overseas and is married to a key administration critic on the war, Joseph Wilson.

Shortly before Plame's cover was blown in 2003, Wilson had accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence to exaggerate the threat from Iraqi weapons and thus help justify the war.

Wilson has said he believes his wife's identity was disclosed to punish him and to undermine his credibility.

After a two-year probe, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of obstruction of justice and of lying to investigators and the grand jury about the leak. He was convicted in March on all but one count. Ten days ago, Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence, while leaving other penalties in place.

Libby is still appealing his conviction. And Bush has not ruled out an eventual pardon for the former top White House aide.

But the president appeared eager Thursday to put the entire case in the past. It was costly for his presidency, denting his image as someone who had pledged to restore integrity to the White House.

As it turned out, several administration officials revealed Plame's identity. White House political adviser Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage were the primary sources for a 2003 newspaper column outing Plame. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer also admitted telling reporters about her. Libby was the only one charged in the matter and not for leaking.

"I've often thought about what would have happened had that person come forth and said, `I did it,'" Bush said, despite the fact that Armitage and perhaps the others did just that.

In the beginning stages of the case, Bush said, "I want to know the truth," and pledged to fire anyone found to have leaked. As the investigation wore on, he expressed more weariness than outrage, saying only that someone who "committed a crime" would be fired and calling the case "background noise" he had to ignore.

The question on the CIA leak case was only one of three during the 59-minute news conference that did not deal with Iraq.

The others addressed a new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts. It says al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001.

Nevertheless, Bush said, "Because of the actions we've taken, al-Qaida is weaker today than they would have been."

The president also was asked whether it was appropriate for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to say he had a "gut feeling" there might be a terror attack this summer. "My gut tells me that which my head tells as well, is that: When we find a credible threat, we'll share it with you," Bush said.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press

Florida Governor to Sign Sweeping Environmental Orders

by Mary Ellen Klas
Miami Herald
July 10, 2007

Florida will adopt California's car-pollution standards -- the toughest in the nation -- and become the first state in the Southeast to enact targets for reducing greenhouse gases, under executive orders Gov. Charlie Crist plans to sign Friday in Miami.

Drafts of the orders released Tuesday would require the state secretary of environmental protection to immediately adopt rules to limit pollution-causing emissions for cars, diesel engines and electric companies. The orders also impose tough new energy conservation goals for state agencies, demand better fuel efficiency from state-owned vehicles and require state cars to "use ethanol and biodiesel fuels when locally available.''

But the most optimistic step in Crist's green agenda is the requirement to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the air to 1990 levels by 2025, and 80 percent lower by 2050, in spite of what is expected to be a near doubling of the state's population.

''Florida is the second fastest-growing state in the union with respect to the annual increase of new greenhouse gas emissions,'' the governor's draft order states, adding "immediate actions are available and required to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in Florida.''

Crist will sign the orders at a two-day climate change summit he is hosting in Miami beginning Thursday. The summit will feature speeches by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and environmental activists Robert Kennedy Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt IV.

The governor's orders say the new rules can be enacted without approval from the Legislature because they are based on existing state environmental laws.


The orders would bring Florida's pollution controls up to par with at least two dozen other states on the East and West coasts but would be the strictest in the Southeast.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush rejected appeals from environmentalists to support similar pollution control standards, although he quietly drafted a carbon-reductions policy in the final months of his term.

Crist, who was elected in November, has vowed to make reducing greenhouse gases in Florida a priority. One of the orders he will sign says the state's vulnerability to rising ocean levels and violent weather makes "global climate change one of the most important issues facing the state of Florida this century.''

Under the California emissions standards, automakers that sell cars in Florida beginning with the 2009 model year would have to reduce greenhouse gas pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, by 25 percent for cars and 18 percent for sport utility vehicles.

At least 12 other states have adopted California's standards, including New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Automakers are challenging the standards in court and, for two years, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has refused to allow the new law to take effect.

Environmentalists hailed the proposals, and utility executives said they were cautious but encouraged.

''They're very significant and very comprehensive,'' said Susan Glickman, a consultant for the National Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups. "It's clear from these executive orders that he is dead serious about reducing [carbon dioxide] emissions. The governor's goals now provide the starting point for the Legislature to enact them.''


The governor's orders also require electric companies to reduce greenhouse emissions to 2000 levels by 2017 and to 1990 levels by 2025. They also ask the Public Service Commssion, the state agency that regulates utilities, to impose rules this year that require electric companies to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, ''with a strong focus on solar and wind energy.'' Regulators would set the deadlines.

Florida Power & Light President Armando Olivera said he hadn't seen the proposed executive order but the company, the largest producer of solar-power and wind-power energy in the nation, generally supports increasing the state's reliance on renewable energy.

''It depends on what the rules are and how those rules are developed,'' he said. "But we are obviously very supportive of renewables and we think it should be a huge element of our energy policy.''

Crist's orders include several elements of an energy bill passed by legislators that he vetoed last month because it didn't go far enough.

Among them: State agencies must buy cars with the highest fuel efficiency, maintain vehicles to maximize gas mileage and use biofuels when possible instead of gasoline. Rental car contracts must put a priority on fuel efficiency.

The state will also give agencies a preferred products list and require that meetings and conferences take place in hotels or centers that have been given a ''green lodging'' certification from the Department of Environmental Protection.


Sen. Lee Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican who supported the bill Crist vetoed and authored a bill last year that authorized a state energy plan, said he was encouraged by the governor's proposals but considers it the first step.

''The goal here is to move forward fast,'' he said. "I'm hopeful the executive order does that, but we still have to do legislation.''

Copyright 2007 Miami Herald Media Co.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

CNN Gets Blitzed by Michael Moore

Mike's Chat on HuffPost After CNN Showdown

"Just apologize to the American people and to the families of the troops for not doing your job four years ago. We wouldn't be in this war if you had done your job. Come on. Just admit it. Just apologize to the American people." -- Michael Moore, live on The Situation Room

'SiCKO' Truth Squad Sets the Record Straight:
"If we get that confirmed, obviously, we'll correct the record." -- Wolf Blitzer, live on The Situation Room

Michael Moore on Wolf Blitzer, Round II (VIDEO)
More on the Situation from the Michigan Liberal

'Fahrenheit 9/11' is Right (VIDEO)
-- Douglas Brinkley, U.S. Historian and director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization

Demand an apology from CNN for Dr. Sanjay Gupta's biased report on 'SiCKO' and for helping the Bush administration lie us into a pointless war.

Commenting on the Commentaries

"Where can I see the film?" | "What can I do?"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Secrecy Shrouds Accident at Nuclear Plant

by Matthew L. Wald
The New York Times
July 5, 2007

A factory that makes uranium fuel for nuclear reactors had a spill so bad that it kept the plant closed for seven months last year and became one of only three incidents in all of 2006 serious enough for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to include in an annual report to Congress. After an investigation, the commission changed the terms of the factory’s license and said that the public had 20 days to request a hearing on the changes.

But no member of the public ever did. In fact, no member of the public could find out about the changes. The document describing them, including the notice of hearing rights for anyone who felt adversely affected, was stamped “official use only,” meaning that it was not publicly accessible. “Official use only” is a category below “Secret” and, while documents in that category are not technically classified, they are kept from the public.

The agency would not even have told Congress which factory was involved were it not for the efforts of one of the five commissioners, Gregory B. Jaczko, who named the company, Nuclear Fuel Services, of Erwin, Tenn., in a memo that became part of the public record. His memo said that other public documents would allow an informed person to deduce that the factory belonged to Nuclear Fuel Services.Such secrecy by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now coming under attack by influential members of Congress who complain that the agency is withholding numerous documents about the country’s nuclear facilities in the name of national security, but that many withheld documents are not sensitive. The lawmakers say the agency must move to balance its penchant for secrecy with the public’s right to participate in the licensing process and its right to know about potential hazards.

Additional details of the 2006 incident are coming to light now because of a letter sent on Tuesday to the nuclear agency by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee chairman, Representative John D. Dingell, and the chairman of the oversight subcommittee, Representative Bart Stupak, both Democrats from Michigan, complained that the N.R.C. “went far beyond” the need to protect sensitive security information by keeping documents about Nuclear Fuel Services, a private company, from the public. The agency, the congressmen complained, “has removed hundreds of otherwise innocuous documents relating to the N.F.S. plant from public view.”

Mr. Jaczko, in a telephone interview, said, “ultimately, we regulate on behalf of the public, and it’s important for them to have a role.” He said that he believed other information about Nuclear Fuel Services that should be public had been marked “official use only.”

With a resurgence of nuclear plant construction expected after a 30-year halt, agency officials say frequently that they are trying to strike a balance between winning public confidence by regulating openly, and protecting sensitive information. A commission spokesman, Scott Burnell, said that the designation as “official use only” was now under review.

As laid out by the commission’s report to Congress and other sources, the event at the Nuclear Fuel Service factory was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid dribbling under a door and into a hallway. Workers had previously described a yellow liquid in a “glove box,” a sealed container with gloves built into the sides to allow a technician to manipulate objects inside, but managers had decided that it was ordinary uranium.

In fact, it was highly enriched uranium that had been declared surplus from the weapons inventory of the Energy Department and sent to the plant to be diluted to a strength appropriate for a civilian reactor. The factory is under contract to prepare such uranium for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In a puddle, the uranium is not particularly hazardous, but if it formed a more spherical shape, according to the commission, it could become a “critical mass,” a quantity of nuclear fuel sufficient to sustain a chain reaction, in this case outside a reactor. According to the letter sent by the lawmakers, the puddle, containing about nine gallons, reached to within four feet of an elevator pit. The letter from the congressmen says the agency’s report suggests “that it was merely a matter of luck that a criticality accident did not occur.”

If the material had gone critical, “it is likely that at least one worker would have received an exposure high enough to cause acute health effects or death,” the commission said. A spokesman for the company, Tony Treadway, said the elevator was better described as a dumbwaiter, meaning it was far smaller than a passenger elevator.

Almost anywhere else, the commission would have disclosed the details. But in 2004, according to the committee’s letter, the Office of Naval Reactors, part of the Energy Department, reached an agreement with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that any correspondence with Nuclear Fuel Services would be marked “official use only.” The plant processes high-enriched uranium for Navy submarine propulsion reactors.

The memorandum that declared such correspondence to be “official use only” was itself designated “official use only.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company