Monday, December 20, 2010

Chromium-6 found in 31 water supplies

A new report released Monday says a suspected cancer-causing form of chromium is contaminating the water supply in at least 31 U.S. cities.
The report by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found chromium-6, also known as hexavalent chromium, in the public water supplies of 89 percent of the cities it sampled.
Chromium-6 is the same chemical discovered by legal researcher Erin Brokovich in the water supply of Hinkley, California. That discovery led to the largest medical settlement in history paid by Pacific Gas and Electric.
The EWG report is the result of laboratory tests of tap water in 35 cities across the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires water utilities to test for total chromium, which includes chromium-3 or trivalent chromium, and chromium-6, but does not require tests specific for Chromium-6.
Chromium-3 is a naturally occurring chemical often found in runoff from surface disturbances such as construction, road building and mining. It is not thought to be carcinogenic. Chromium-6 can occur naturally in some geologies, but is typically the result of human activities. It is an ingredient in industrial lubricants and degreasers, and has been shown to cause intestinal tumors in laboratory animals in some studies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet made a definitive statement that chromium-6 causes cancer.
In my own community of Letcher County, Kentucky, hexavalent chromium was found in three streams during initial tests in 2005. Retesting in 2007 did not show hexavalent chromium, though chromium-3 was still present. The tests were conducted by Headwaters Inc., a nonprofit watershed group on whose board of directors I serve.
Tests on tap water for Letcher County were not immediately available.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The science of getting to the climate conference

So, a funny thing happened on the way to the climate talks. Actually several funny things, and some not so funny, and these things promise to continue through the end of the COP16 because, well, people are stupid.

I’ve written a lot about the logistics of this place, and they really are horribly, horribly bad, but to be fair to the United Nations and the 194 separate countries participating, it’s not all their fault. Much of it is the fault of the people, many of them my brothers and sisters in the media.

Take passing through security. It’s difficult, but I haven’t seen a single full-body scanner, no one here is “touching my junk.” I feel like I should moo every time I start through the line, but it’s really not an onerous process.

Unless there’s someone in front of me who just doesn’t get it.

Here’s a hint, if you want to pass through a security line quickly, stop talking on your cell phone and put it in the tray. You know, the plastic thingy that the security guard is gesturing wildly at, while you continue to be oblivious to the fact that he’s even there.

This isn’t rocket science, especially for people who travel. Of course some of the people doing it aren’t rocket scientists either.

I was behind a woman television reporter a couple of days ago who hasn’t learned this lesson. She wobbled along the tiled portico toward security on impossibly high heels, with a short skirt, carefully quaffed (blond) hair, and strong evidence of a plastic surgeon with a dirigible fixation.

As I waited impatiently to pass through and board the bus to the conference room, she stood in front of the metal detector, blocking the way, and continued to giggle into her I-Phone in a language I didn’t recognize. (I’m not sure what country she was from, but I think if was Brassiere.)

Finally recognizing that walking and talking are in fact possible at the same time, she walked through the detector with the phone still pressed to her head.

Buzzzzz. Wrong.

No, the security guard told her, motioning for her to go back. On the third try, she placed the phone on the x-ray belt and walked through again, her name tag with the large metal clip on it still around her neck.

Buzzzzz. Wrong again.

After two more tries, neither of which included removing the name tag that the guard was pointing at, the weary man finally waved her onward and I was able to pass through the machine. I’m only glad that the machine wasn’t capable of detecting silicone. I might never have gotten to my press conference.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Where the information super highway ends

You can learn anything on the Internet, including what time journalists get up for the COP16 in Cancun. It’s between 6:30 and 7 a.m.

I know because that’s when the Internet tanks. It suddenly becomes impossible to post my reports, do my research, or often check email. All hope of communicating with the outside world suddenly disappears, and doesn’t seem to come back until sometime after I’ve gone to bed.

Which, by the way, was 12:30 a.m. this morning.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but could the U.N. possibly have chosen a worse logistical location for COP16? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful place to be – the cooling ocean breezes, the waves crashing outside my hotel window – it’s a just a terrible place to report on a conference of 10,000 people, 99-percent of whom have laptops and are all trying to use them at the same time.

December 1, while I was thankfully away from the city in the Yucatan, a colleague tells me Internet access crashed all over the city. It came back on, allegedly, before I got to the hotel, but that’s difficult for me to ascertain since I still could not post to my other blog.

Telephones aren’t much better. Cell phone signal seems to be surprisingly widespread, but it’s extremely expensive, and I can’t get voice mail because I keep getting a message that says I must register my phone. I already did that. Twice.

Top that with the fact that at a world conference dedicated to reducing carbon emission, nearly everyone has to travel 18 kilometers or so to the security check-in.

By bus.

Which runs only once every half-hour from 6:30 a.m. until 10 a.m., once every hour until 6 p.m., then once every half-hour again until 10 p.m.

Once there and checked through, everyone has to get on another bus to ride to a hotel several more kilometers back in the direction we just came.

If negotiations are no better than logistics, there’s no hope of an agreement.