California Refinery Blaze Fuels Concerns About Response

Questions emerge about Chevron’s handling of leak that sparked massive fire. Investigators are probing whether the oil company could have prevented the accident at its Richmond, Calif., refinery by shutting a unit that began leaking hours before the blaze erupted Monday. Also, health officials are asking if Chevron waited too long to warn the public. State law requires oil companies to immediately alert the public of any leak, spill or fire, but Monday’s leak was detected more than two hours before health officials were notified. The fire sent about 1,700 people to the hospital, marking the latest conflict between the refinery and its neighbors, who have long complained about health and environmental problems. Contra Costa Times, The Associated Press

Falling rocket parts raise environmental concerns in eastern Siberia. Russia’s Proton rockets have put many satellites into orbit, boosting the nation’s space industry. But every time a rocket is launched, the discarded booster stages fall in the Republic of Altai, a forested area of Siberia near Kazakhstan. Environmentalists say the rocket debris contains highly toxic rocket fuel that spreads in the atmosphere and penetrates soil and water, harming plants and animals. Very little public health research has been carried out, but local people believe they are suffering. BBC

Nuclear Regulatory Commission halts some licensing while it evaluates waste disposal policy. The NRC decision, in response to a petition by anti-nuclear groups, was cheered by industry critics. But it’s not clear whether the decision will force any reactors to shut down or delay the opening of new ones. For years the NRC has licensed reactors on the assumption that the federal government will establish a disposal system for spent fuel. But in June a federal appeals court rejected that approach, and now the NRC is trying to figure out how to comply with legal requirements. Underground storage isn’t an option for the foreseeable future: the Obama administration killed Nevada’s Yucca Mountain project. The New York Times

Processing of rare-earth minerals in China takes devastating environmental toll on nearby villages. The town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, is the largest Chinese source of 17 of the world’s most sought after minerals, known as rare earths and used in advanced technologies. But the concentration of rare earths in the ore is very low, so the minerals must be separated and purified, using hydro-metallurgical techniques and acid baths. Left behind in the fouled tailings pond are toxic chemicals and radioactive elements such as thorium which, if ingested, cause cancers of the pancreas and lungs, and leukemia. Now the soil and groundwater are saturated with toxic substances, and farmers have moved away. Guardian (reprinted from Le Monde)

Subsidies developed by the United Nations to eliminate greenhouses gases backfire. Some manufacturers of gases used in air-conditioning and refrigeration took advantage of the UN’s financial incentive by increasing production of an ozone-depleting coolant gas — so that they could pocket lucrative subsidies to destroy a waste byproduct of the gas. Since 2005, the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments, mostly in China and India, have profited handsomely from the business. The UN and the European Union are trying to undo the unintended bonanza, but the lucrative carbon credits incentive has become so entrenched that efforts to roll it back face tough opposition. The New York Times

Recalls: Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars, GE dishwashers, Market Pantry and Archer Farms deli salads, Shepherd’s Way and Tumalo Farms cheese, Menno Beachy organic grape tomatoes

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein and Bridget Huber


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