san jose ban plastic bags oil drilling insurance chromium

Insurance for Oil, Rules for Chromium
stomach cancer water utilities

San Jose bans Plastic Bags

Defending your green rights is what government should do -- and is getting around to doing. We trim, blend, and append three 2010 articles from: (1) Mercury News, Dec 14, on plastic by John Woolfolk; (2) Los Angeles Times, Dec 20, on chromium; and (3) MarketWatch, Dec. 21, on insurance by Alistair Barr.

by J. Woolfolk, by LA Times, and by A. Barr

San Jose became the largest US city to ban plastic carry-out bags with an ordinance that supporters said was the most far-reaching in the country aimed at encouraging shoppers to bring reusable totes.

The Bay Area uses 3.8 billion plastic bags a year and about 1 million end up in San Francisco Bay, where they harm birds, fish, and other animals.

The ordinance, approved on a 10-1 vote after two years of study, wouldn't become effective until Jan. 1, 2012, to allow for more public outreach. It would prohibit retailers from giving out disposable plastic bags at the check stand and require them to charge for paper bags.

Amendments woven into the ban to allow bags for pharmaceuticals and meats.

San Jose isn't the first city to ban plastic bags; San Francisco led the way in 2007.

Industry lobbying helped thwart efforts to ban plastic bags statewide. A state Assembly bill to ban single-use plastic carry-out bags from grocery and drugstores died this year for lack of support in the Senate, despite backing from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That spurred local bans. In addition to San Francisco, Palo Alto, Oakland, Malibu, and Los Angeles County have approved similar measures, while Fremont, Sunnyvale, Marin County, and Santa Clara County are considering them.

Opponents have sued or threatened litigation against some cities over plastic bag bans, arguing that they only encourage use of disposable paper sacks. Plastic-bag backers contend that paper is more environmentally harmful because of deforestation and the energy needed to manufacture wood pulp.

Lawsuits and legal threats led Oakland to suspend its ban; Fairfax, in Marin County, made it voluntary. And Palo Alto agreed in a settlement to conduct a complete environmental review if it expands its ban beyond grocers.

San Jose's ordinance goes further than others. The ordinance covers most retailers, not just groceries and pharmacies, and discourages disposable paper bags by requiring merchants to charge customers for them.

The city ordinance may become a model for other cities and counties.

In Taiwan, merchants charge customers for disposable carry-out bags.

JJS: To protect the health of both the environment and people, government needs to do more.

A type of chromium linked to cancer is turning up in tap water in more than two dozen cities, according to a study that urges federal regulators to adopt tougher standards.

Bottled water, which often comes from municipal supplies, wasn't tested.

Even though scientists at the US Environmental Protection Agency and National Toxicology Program have linked the ingestion of hexavalent chromium to cancer, the EPA doesn't require cities to test for the toxic metal. Nor does the EPA limit the dangerous form of chromium in drinking water.

The limit that California officials proposed for the metal in treated drinking water was 0.6 parts per billion.

A handful of other cities were significantly above the proposed limit, including Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; Riverside, Calif.; and Madison, Wis. In other major cities, hexavalent-chromium levels ranged from 0.20 parts per billion in Los Angeles and Atlanta to 0.18 in New York and Chicago to 0.03 in Boston.

The source of chromium in Chicago drinking water is unclear, though federal records show that some of the nation's biggest industrial sources are four steel mills in northwestern Indiana that discharge waste water into the city's source of drinking water.

There is a clear risk of stomach cancer from drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium. “For years, scientists assumed this wasn't a problem because acids in our stomachs can convert chromium-6 into chromium-3, an essential nutrient,” said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group. “Newer science is showing our stomachs can't take care of everything, which means the dangerous form of chromium is getting into our bodies and can cause damage.”

Industry has fought for years to block tougher federal and state limits on chromium. The movie “Erin Brockovich” dramatized one of the most high-profile cases: a miles-long plume of hexavalent chromium dumped by a utility in rural Hinkley, Calif., that led to a $333-million legal settlement over illnesses and cancers.

Drinking-water utilities that could be forced to improve treatment methods have joined companies that discharge the metal into waterways in opposing regulations.

Utilities also detect dozens of unregulated substances in treated drinking water, including pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals that can pass unfiltered through conventional treatment methods.

JJS: Industry makes itself look bad by putting profit from dirty endeavors above public health. Industries that put others at risk should at least pay higher insurance.

A new insurance policy covering deepwater drilling off the US coast was unveiled. Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, is committing about $2 billion to the effort, called SOSCover.

While the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico this past spring cost billions of dollars, BP had insured itself, so the insurance industry was spared the worst of the financial impact from the disaster.

SOSCover aims to provide greater coverage than has been available for US deepwater drilling in the past.

JJS: You can’t buy a house or legally drive without insurance, but there’s a double standard for big business.

Setting the cost of insurance closer to the cost of damages by various industries is fair and may make the grey ways too expensive, leaving a bigger market share to green ways.

You can bet that government would get right on defending “green rights” if their main source of revenue were land and resources.

And citizens would be sure to push their officials if they all got a dividend that increased as the health of the natural world improved.

Geonomics lines up all the financial incentives so that the market would work right for both people and planet.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

Read all about it: humans husband nature!

Did Newspaper Use Outdated Data, Improper Modeling Tool?

Congressmen Raised Concerns About BP Safety Before Gulf Oil Spill

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