Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dispensing Myths About Styrofoam

Dispensing myths about Styrofoam

By Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, Pittsfield, MA

As momentum grows to ban Styrofoam ("polystyrene"), so does the opposition, and with it, the perpetuation of myths.

Myth No. 1: It’s illegal for Pittsfield to ban Styrofoam.
Under what is known as home rule, which is in the Massachusetts Constitution, local municipalities can pass any legislation they want so long as it not proscribed by the state Constitution or is contradictory to state law. Under home rule, local municipalities can ban Styrofoam, since no state law prevents this. Numerous municipalities in Massachusetts have passed Styrofoam bans such as Brookline, Nantucket, and Amherst. Great Barrington’s ban dates back to 1990. Polystyrene manufacturers have not challenged these bylaws in court and the Massachusetts attorney general has approved them.

Myth No. 2: Styrofoam is a harmless substance. 
Jim Therrien, covering the Green Commission meeting of May 19 for the Eagle, wrote that industry representatives "said there are myriad claims voiced about the materials but they’re rarely based on scientific research." Here’s some scientific research.

The National Toxicology Program, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011 added styrene to its "reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen" list. The abstract of the study reads, "Styrene is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans, sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals, and supporting data on mechanisms of carcinogenesis." Styrene migrates from the containers into food and beverages when heated or in contact with fatty or acidic foods. In fact, the studies of the deleterious effect of polystyrene on health and the environment are voluminous.

Myth No. 3: Styrofoam harmlessly breaks down into innocuous compounds when incinerated. 
Some of the Styrofoam purchased in Pittsfield will end up in the Pittsfield municipal waste system (instead of the forest and streams where it will never break down), and Pittsfield does incinerate its garbage.

So the false argument goes, when polystyrene is burned at 800 degrees Celsius, polystyrene breaks down into harmless chemicals. But when local resident Katherine Lloyd looked into the matter and spoke before the Green Commission, she discovered that Pittsfield incinerates at 400 degrees Celsius, not 800. Moreover, even if Pittsfield did incinerate at 800 degrees Celsius, the industry claims are not true.

When polystyrene is burned at 800 to 900 degrees Celsius, the products of combustion consist of a complex mixture of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- scientific words for really toxic stuff. In fact, over 90 different compounds have been identified with the combustion of polystyrene. With the addition of chlorine donors such as simple table salt, "highly chlorinated polycyclic compounds" are formed -- more scientific jargon for some of the most biologically active toxins known to humans. According to the state DEP, about 50 percent of Massachusetts’ municipal solid waste is incinerated.

Myth No. 4: If you look at the entire life cycle of polystyrene, it’s less harmful to the environment than the alternatives. 
As the Eagle reported, the industry representatives argued "The amount of energy and water needed to produce foam containers is less." I call this the "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" argument because it overlooks the most serious flaw in favor a "balanced" approach looking at the "entirety" of the life cycle as if the benefits could possibly outweigh the detriments.

Katherine Lloyd pointed out that many of the industry claims are based upon studies which make no such conclusions. But even if less water and energy were used, polystyrene never breaks down and is highly toxic to humans and animals -- these disadvantages infinitely outweigh whatever imagined environmental benefits.

Myth No. 5: Styrofoam can be recycled. 
It cannot be effectively recycled, and the vast majority of it is not. There are very few polystyrene recycle facilities in the United States. Often, long distance travel is required. The nearest facility to Pittsfield is in Leominster, which is 119 miles away. There is little market for the recycled product. Food residue is considered a contaminant, so either it is not used or must be washed with solvents.

Myth No. 6: Polystyrene makes up only a small part of landfills. 
Since Styrofoam is extremely light weight, the industry always presents data in terms of weight. But Styrofoam is extremely volume consuming. The town of Amherst website states, "In a landfill environment, ten pounds (the weight of five reams of 8.5"x11" computer paper) of foam takes the space equivalent to a household refrigerator."

Myth No. 7: A ban on Styrofoam will work an economic hardship. 
When Amherst enacted the ban, its research team found that 70 percent of the restaurants do not use disposable Styrofoam anyhow. And while environmentally friendly alternatives are more expensive, the price comparison is a three cents Styrofoam cup versus an eight cents compostable cup -- an expense certainly worth the environmental benefit. Moreover, those that use Styrofoam do not have to pay for their environmental damage, and externalize this cost on the public.

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is a local attorney in Pittsfield, activist, and has filed petitions in Pittsfield to ban Styrofoam and plastic grocery bags.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HealthLink: Why we no longer support gas in Salem as we did in 1997

HealthLink: Why we no longer support gas in Salem as we did in 1997

Republished by permission

HealthLink has been asked why we no longer support gas in Salem as we did in 1997 when we first learned of the health damage from pollution.  Let’s put 1997 into perspective: 1997 was 4 years before 9/11, ten years before iPhones were sold, pre-Google and Hurricane Katrina an Superstorm Sandy were in our future.

Locally, all electricity from the 750 MW Salem and 1500 MW Brayton generating stations were needed. Today ISO has approved the closure of Salem and Brayton runs under 20% and has requested to close. Since 2007, total electricity consumption in the United States has fallen by over 100,000 MW and low gas prices due to controversial fracking methods put gas in competition with renewable energy.

Today, the additional concern is the rate climate change is happening. In 2007, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that the planet would see a one degree Celsius temperature increase due to climate change by 2100. Just six years later, The International Energy Agency predicted a 3.5C increase by 2035. Weather extremes, severe property damage, skyrocketing insurance costs, tropical diseases moving north and polar vortexes moving south are a few of those consequences.

Gas is used for over 2/3rds of MA's energy today, plenty to support the needed transition to renewable energy and economics compel Footprint to run their plant full time, negating their much touted "quick start" benefits.

The fifteen-month 167 MW shortfall ISO has modeled does not need 40 plus years of a 692 MW fossil fuel plant. Enhanced transmission upgrades, needed and already planned for the region, would get us through.

There is total agreement that the site must be remediated, something DEP has the authority to require and Footprint has the funding to do, jobs must be created and the dwindling tax base not just replaced, but grown. So we continue to ask, is this really the best we can do for Salem, the region and the State for the next 40 years?

Jane Bright

Smart grid vs. false choices - by Rep. Lori Ehrlich

Smart grid vs. false choices

by State Representative Lori Ehrlich

Just last week, an exciting and achievable energy vision known as a “Smart Grid” plan was unfurled by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities’ (DPU). This plan will require electric companies to modernize their infrastructure and move toward increased electric reliability and efficiency. This, in turn will go on to improve economic and environmental health by changing the way we generate and distribute energy.

This, while others locally cling to an older, outdated vision of our energy future based on the fossil fuel-burning giants of days gone by. Proponents of the development of a new gas-fired power plant at Salem Harbor have sought to put the project on a fast track, arguing that the regular review and appeals process for this project should be expedited. Promoting another oversized power plant, one that we can reasonably assume will be with us for the next half century, shows neither leadership nor vision. The new power plant’s size, cost and permanence — and the fact that it will impact generations to come throughout the region — makes our full consideration of all legal, environmental and monetary issues our moral responsibility.

The tax dollars Salem may recover from this project will be dwarfed by the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be paid by those who turn on lights or heat with gas — including many Salem residents. We will pay for more than half of the power plant’s construction costs through ISO charges, and the entire cost of gas pipeline expansion needed to feed a plant of this size.

We all know what happens when there is demand for a finite item: the cost goes up. While natural gas prices are currently only creeping up, history confirms they are subject to sudden increases made more likely as coal use sunsets. In addition, greenhouse gas and carbon capture taxes and fees are expected and being planned for by virtually all major companies. Cost comparisons that work right now may not work into the indefinite future.

Finally, the fact is that the old coal plant will close and be cleaned up even if it is not repowered. Owners are legally bound to do so. We need not be drawn into the false choice of coal v. gas. Additionally, the New England Electric System has collected millions of dollars from customers over the last 40 years which are supposed to be used to decommission the site. We have already paid for it.

Energy needs are projected to be about one fifth of the size of the plant proposed. That can be met by installing efficient, smart grid technologies, and turning to short-run advances in clean, renewable power sources. This will reduce costs for businesses and homeowners, increase the security, safety and reliability of the region’s electricity system, and create a healthier environment.

It is no longer necessary to build fossil-fuel burning megaliths with half-century lifespans when remarkable renewable technologies and electric transmission and distribution systems are on the near-term horizon. The whole region has borne the worst of this old way of doing things for over 60 years so Salem needs to be part of this smarter solution. Our state leads the nation in energy efficiency, conservation and smarter grids. Massachusetts’ well-trained workforce is well positioned to be a leader in using clean, renewable energy.
There is a choice and it’s not between coal or gas. Emissions, expense, explosions and fracking are on one side of the equation. Please join me on the other side in pursuing the vision of a smarter, healthier, less costly energy future.

Republished by permission.

Lori A. Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, is state representative for Massachusetts 8th Essex District and vice chairperson of the House Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sustainability for the Future Generations

My classmates and I are Millennials. Born at the turn of the century, we are the heirs to the Earth and will soon mature into our role as the Earth’s caretakers. However, in order to save the environment, both the older generations and the aspiring environmentalists of the younger generation must assume a greater role in stopping the rapid deterioration of the Earth’s ecosystems. The older generations must begin to realize that there is only one Earth, which must be shared with the future generations to come. And my generation must assume a greater role in saving the environment as we come of age. If my generation becomes more environmentally aware, then anything is possible. My generation could provide engineers and activists, who could change the world through eco-friendly initiatives and inventions.

The good news is that the younger generation is one of the most environmentally aware in history. My generation has been significantly exposed to the challenges the Earth faces today and we are mounting great efforts to change that. In my school alone, environmentalist students, such as myself, are trying to make Saint Sebastian’s School more sustainable. Not to mention the fact that aspiring environmentalists of Generation Y are already significantly impacting the environmentalist movement through eco-friendly inventions, as well as internet lobbying.

I want to proclaim to the world, that there is hope for the Earth in the up-and–coming generations, as long as the older generations don’t continue bring the Earth closer to a full-out eco-catastrophe? But then again, are we already at that point?

Samuel Cullen, Class of 2017
Saint Sebastian's School, Needham, MA

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Longtime Sierra Club Supporter Passes

Murphy, James J. “Joe” of Rockland, died June 2, 2013.
A graduate of Boston College, Joe received his bachelors degree in accounting and worked for John Hancock as an actuarial consultant. He enjoyed camping, crossword puzzles, playing card games, and supporting his Boston sports teams. He was a man of many trades who would spend his time outdoors, enjoying technology and reading about NASA. Joe’s main passion was his family. As a loving husband of Joan Murphy, a devoted father to Kerrin, Corrin and Brendan, and grandfather of four, he will be sadly missed.

Donations have been made to the Massachusetts Sierra Club in memory of Joe. Daughter Kerrin Murphy mourned her father's passing by saying, "my dad taught my sister, brother and I how important it is to take care of the land and our environment, and that is something we will never forget."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Your Comments are Welcome!

This is the Mass Sierra Club's members' blog. Use this post's comments section to share your thoughts, comments, and ideas about the state's environmental issues.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Op-Ed: Looking Beyond The Rhetoric

Looking Beyond The Rhetoric 

Oped Submission by Jim Amatucci, Sierra Club

Jim Amatucci is a member of the Massachusetts Sierra Club’s Political Committee. He lives in Beverly, MA

If it seems that campaigns are even nastier than usual this year, you’re right. The Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate donations to political groups. It’s not hard to guess which side big corporations are supporting (Hint: it’s not on the side of clean air and clean water).

Nationwide, big corporations are spending millions on character assassination ads. Corporate-funded PACs’ primary strategy is to smear their ideological opponents while avoiding any mention of their own (pro-corporate welfare, anti-regulation, science denying) views. Using character assassination, with dark foreboding ads, scary music, and grainy black and white photos are Karl Rove’s trademarks. We’ve been seeing Rove’s handiwork throughout the Bay State this year, and it’s not pretty.

With just a few days before Election Day, we urge you to base your decision in the voting booth on the basis of a candidate’s voting record, lifetime accomplishments and their positions on actual issues. Don’t be fooled by the tangential accusations and the inflammatory rhetoric.

In the race between Congressman John Tierney and Former State Senator Richard Tisei, I urge voters to look at each candidate’s record.  For over a decade, John Tierney has been an unwavering advocate on behalf of many environmental bills. He voted against the Bush administration’s bills that favored big oil companies and threatened pristine wilderness areas with potential environmental disasters. John Tierney supported funding for rail transit, knowing that better transportation choices will reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuels.

John Tierney has repeatedly stood up to Big Oil, voting to end billions of dollars in corporate handouts. While his opponent may honestly believe that sending taxpayer dollars to the world’s wealthiest corporations is somehow in our best interests, we know that “trickle down” economics was a disaster in the late 1920s, again in the 1980s, and once more during the second Bush administration.

Congressman Tierney has been a leader in Washington, co-authoringthe federal Green Jobs Act, which helps support and train American workers to install solar panels, manufacture wind turbines, and weatherize homes. This program helped thousands of Americans, including many in Massachusetts, to get good jobs working toward energy independence.

John Tierney has championed the protection of our public lands and national monuments. Instead of opening our parks to drilling and mining for short-term corporate profits, he protects these precious resources for future generations.

John Tierney championed historic fuel efficiency standards, which will help create more than half a million new American jobs in the auto industry while saving families thousands every year at the pump. With important legislation like this, we can rebuild America’s manufacturing sector, burn less fossil fuels, and slow the rate of climate change.

Congressman Tierney stood up to protect the Clean Water Act, opposing corporate efforts to weaken the act and put our drinking water, streams, rivers, wetlands at risk from toxic pollutants.  Here in the Bay State, we remember all too well what happens to water when chemical companies run the show. But Congressman Tierney didn’t stop there, supporting protections from toxic mercury pollution that will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks every year.

John Tierney voted against the effort to strip the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Hurricane Sandy is yet another wake up call to anyone who thinks that climate change isn’t important - Scientists predict that future storms could be much worse.

In sharp contrast, Richard Tisei’s website lists absolutely no environmental positions - nothing. While Tisei was in the State Senate, he opposed many important environmental bills, refusing to sign on or support even the most basic environmental protections for the people of Massachusetts.

If you’re concerned about clean water and clean air, about climate change and pollution, if you want to end corporate control over your health and safety, I urge you to look at John Tierney’s consistent record and decide: who do you want to represent you in the US Congress?

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