Archive

Archive for May, 2014

Tiny plastic timebomb – the pollutants in our cosmetics.

By Steve Connor  18th May 2014.             Find Full Article Here:-

You probably didn’t know they were there, but millions of tons of microbeads are being washed into the sea, up the food chain, and heading for the tuna on your plate.

When you scrub your face and brush your teeth, the tiny microbeads wash down the drain into the sea where they can be eaten by marine life.

Millions of people are unwittingly pouring hundreds of tons of tiny plastic beads down the drain. These can persist in the environment for more than 100 years, and have been found to contaminate a wide variety of freshwater and marine wildlife, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Few consumers realise that many cosmetic products, such as facial scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels, now contain many thousands of microplastic beads which have been deliberately added by the manufacturers of more than 100 consumer products over the past two decades.

Plastic microbeads, which are typically less than a millimetre wide and are too small to be filtered by sewage-treatment plants, are able to carry deadly toxins into the animals that ingest them, including those in the human food chain such as fish, mussels and crabs, scientists said.

While many people have assiduously tried to recycle their plastic waste, cosmetics companies have at the same time been quietly adding hundreds of cubic metres of plastics such as polyethylene to products that are deliberately designed to be washed into waste-water systems – one estimate suggests that, in the US alone, up to 1,200 cubic metres of microplastic beads are washed down the drains each year.

Scientists and environmentalists have started lobbying the industry to stop using plastic microbeads in exfoliant skin creams and washes, but with limited success – a relatively small number of firms have publicly agreed to phase them out, and even then have given themselves several years to do so.

Britain, along with the rest of the EU, is being urged to follow the lead of New York State which last week became the first place in the world to prohibit the use of plastic micropellets in cosmetic products after a failure by the vast majority of personal-care companies to agree to an immediate voluntary ban.

The New York State Assembly decided to act after scientists found disturbing levels of microplastic beads in the Great Lakes of North America. The researchers said the beads arrived in waste water contaminated with the microplastic residues of more than 100 consumer products, including facial scrubs, soaps, shampoos and toothpaste.

 

Microbeads up close

“People are unwilling to sacrifice water quality just to continue to use products with plastic microbeads. I never met anyone who has wanted plastic on their face or in their fish,” said Robert Sweeney, chair of the assembly’s conservation committee, after last week’s unanimous vote to ban the use of microbeads in personal-care products.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee last year heard evidence of the serious impact that microplastic waste could be having on Britain’s aquatic environments. Some members of the committee are calling for tougher legislation if the cosmetics industry continues to prevaricate.

“There is no reason for these microplastics in cosmetic products and I think they should be phased out. If they are not taken out voluntarily, then there should be legislation to ban their use,” said Graham Stringer MP, a member of the Commons committee.

UK Department of Education reveals plans to privatise vital child protection services.

By Tom Payne  17th May 2014.        Find Article Here:-

Private security giants such as G4S and Serco could be put in charge of child protection services under new proposals drawn up by the government.

In papers published by the Department of Education last month, the government is proposing to permit outsourcing of children’s social services in England to ease the burden on local authorities.

They say the plans will allow authorities to “stimulate new approaches to securing improvements” and “harness third-party expertise”.

Campaigners have voiced strong opposition to the plans, which they say could distort decisions on sensitive family matters.

G4S is currently being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for “serious issues” in connection with “invoicing, delivery and performance reporting” on contracts worth almost £4 billion as well as overcharging taxpayer for botched tagging contracts.

The firm suffered severe damage to its reputation after its failure to fulfil its contract to provide enough security staff for the 2012 London Olympics, forcing the Government to draft in members of the armed forces at short notice.

Professor Eileen Munro, who carried out an independent review of child protection for Michael Gove in 2011, said the proposals were “a bad idea”.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to protect people from maltreatment. It should not be delegated to a profit-making organisation,” she said.

Critics have cited the track record of companies such as G4S and Serco as evidence of the danger of introducing profit motive to vital public services.

G4S was recently fined for overcharging on a contract to tag offenders, and Serco was rapped for manipulating its results for outsourcing NHS family doctor services.

According to latest estimates, around 68,000 children were in the child care system in England in 2013, with 43,000 on child protection registers.

Kathy Evans, chief executive of the Children England charity, has hit out at plans to outsource vital services to private providers.

“Michael Gove must ensure that no commercial company and its shareholders should ever be able to make profit from public spending on child protection,” she told The Guardian.

“Such an important public function must never be open to the real, or even perceived, risk of being done in the pursuit of profit.”

A spokeswoman for the NSPCC, Britain’s largest child protection charity, said the question was about “how good a service is at turning children’s lives around.

Its director of strategy, Lisa Harker, said the charity was “still looking at the detail to see if there are sufficient checks and balances around service quality”.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said there was “no obligation for councils councils to take up these freedoms and any that do will still be held accountable by Ofsted.”

 

Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, Lockerbie – And The Lies We Have Been Told.

By Tony Shell  March 11th 2014.           Find Full Article Here:-

On the 20th May 2012 the only person ever convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, died of cancer in Libya. Examination of contemporary events at the time of the bombing, the manner in which subsequent investigations were pursued, and the way in which the eventual trial (in 2000) of defendants Abdelbaset Al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah was handled, leads (ultimately) to some highly disturbing insights into the deceits that lie at the heart of “regime change”, and of “the war on global terrorism”.

Pan Am Flight 103, 21 December 1988. Lockerbie bombing Boeing 747–121, Clipper Maid of the Seas, Pan American World Airways, N739PA

Call for killing of birds deemed health hazard splits conservationists.

By   18th May 2014.              Find Article Here:-

Some of Britain’s most familiar species, such as the robin and starling, could end up in the firing line under new measures to allow destruction of nests and eggs if they present a danger.

Robin, Erithacus rubecula perched on a branch with snow. Image shot 2012. Exact date unknown.

The robin, one of the species Natural England thinks might present a hazard. Photograph: Dave Zubraski / Alamy/Alamy

The humble robin, regularly voted the nation’s favourite garden bird, captures hearts and minds like few other species. Since the Victorian era it has been venerated on the front of Christmas cards and in prose and poetry. “A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage,” William Blake decreed.

A heartfelt concern for the bird’s welfare was also captured in the famous nursery rhyme that asks: “Who killed Cock Robin? I, said the Sparrow, with my bow and arrow.”

But now it appears that the country’s 6.7m pairs of robins are no longer the feathered friend of yesteryear. A consultation by Natural England, the body that advises the government on the natural environment, has made the case for allowing people to destroy the birds‘ nests and remove their eggs, amid growing concerns that they threaten health and safety.

Natural England is also looking at similar measures to permit “taking, damaging and destroying of nests and eggs” for pied wagtails and starlings.

The consultation, which closes tomorrow, explains that the birds’ nests should be considered fair targets if they “present a potential hazard”, such as being found in ventilation flues.

Natural England has produced an analysis which suggests that the new measures, permitted under what are known as “general licences”, will have no conservation issues for the three bird species. It is also proposing similar action against greylag geese and mallards. But the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says it is concerned that the measures, due to be introduced next year, will mean the birds’ nests and eggs can be destroyed without monitoring.

General licences allow the public to take action against birds without having to apply for a specific licence. As a result, there is no requirement to record the number of birds killed or nests destroyed. “The number of nesting robins, starlings and pied wagtails prompting legitimate health and safety concerns in any year is very, very small, and we shall be responding to Natural England that it would be disproportionate to change the current licensing system, which should easily cope with genuine problems,” said Robin Wynde of the RSPB.

Wynde said the placing of the starling under a general licence was a particular worry, as this could encourage people to take down their nests at a time when their numbers were falling. “A lot of people quite like starlings, but some people find them a bit of a nuisance because they nest in their roofs,” Wynde said.

A spokesman for Natural England explained that a species would be listed under a general licence only “if the licensed activity poses a low risk to the conservation status of that species”.

However, he conceded that the consultation was seeking “views on whether general licence users should be encouraged or required to provide information on the species and numbers they kill”.

The licensed killing of birds and the destruction of their nests and eggs has proven deeply divisive. The current consultation has been inundated with submissions by both bird-lovers and those who see them as pests. One particularly vocal group, farmers, complain that the current laws are weighted in favour of bird life at the expense of crop protection. However, it appears that their concerns are now being heard. Natural England is recommending that greylag geese and the Egyptian goose can be killed under a general licence “to prevent serious agricultural damage or disease”.

It is also recommending that the African sacred ibis and the Indian house crow can be killed under a general licence “for the purpose of conserving flora and fauna”. Both birds are flourishing abroad and there are fears about the impact they will have on native British birds if their populations increase here.

The number of sacred ibis in France has risen due to a huge increase of swamp crayfish in the country’s lakes and rivers. The sacred ibis feed on the crayfish and, at the same time, take the eggs of ground-nesting wading birds. The house crow is now common in the Netherlands and east Africa, where it has been blamed for a significant fall in the numbers of several other species of bird.

Natural England last comprehensively reviewed the general licences in 2008. Following the consultation, a number of invasive species, notably parakeets, were placed under licences that permitted their killing.

The measures can undoubtedly backfire. In 2005, the Department for Environment , Food and Rural Affairs removed two species, the house sparrow and starling, from the general licences category amid concerns that this was causing their numbers to fall drastically.

It was also the case for many years that great black-backed gulls could be killed under a general licence introduced amid concerns that the birds, like other species of gull, were invading town centres and becoming a major health and safety issue. But the birds were destroyed in such large numbers that they were removed from the general licence category in 2010.

The lesser black-backed gull, which can be killed under a general licence, is currently “amber listed”, meaning that it is at risk of decline. Natural England’s consultation states: “Concern has been raised regarding the conservation status of this species, and its continued inclusion on general licences. We are therefore reviewing whether the inclusion of lesser black-backed gulls on the general licences remains appropriate.”

It is also seeking evidence for whether the jackdaw, jay and collared dove should continue to be killed under general licences that prevent agricultural damage. All three species have stable or rising populations, but none is believed to constitute a threat to farming. Wynde said it was worrying that the number of jays being killed was not being recorded, as the bird had a relatively modest population.

“We are a country of bird-lovers,” Wynde said. “Do we really need to take birds out, or can we find other solutions? Surely we can go the extra few centimetres to look after our bird life?”

Everyone should know just how much the US government lied to defend the NSA.

By   17th May 2014.             Find Full Article Here:-

A web of deception has finally been untangled: the Justice Department got the US supreme court to dismiss a case that could have curtailed the NSA’s dragnet. Why?

snowden woman
It turns out neither of two statements that held up in the nation’s highest court were true – but it took Snowden’s historic whistleblowing to prove it. Photograph: Philippe Lopez / AFP / Getty Images

If you blinked this week, you might have missed the news: two Senators accused the Justice Department of lying about NSA warrantless surveillance to the US supreme court last year, and those falsehoods all but ensured that mass spying on Americans would continue. But hardly anyone seems to care – least of all those who lied and who should have already come forward with the truth.

Here’s what happened: just before Edward Snowden became a household name, the ACLU argued before the supreme court that the Fisa Amendments Act – one of the two main laws used by the NSA to conduct mass surveillance – was unconstitutional.

In a sharply divided opinion, the supreme court ruled, 5-4, that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs didn’t have “standing” – in other words, that the ACLU couldn’t prove with near-certainty that their clients, which included journalists and human rights advocates, were targets of surveillance, so they couldn’t challenge the law. As the New York Times noted this week, the court relied on two claims by the Justice Department to support their ruling: 1) that the NSA would only get the content of Americans’ communications without a warrant when they are targeting a foreigner abroad for surveillance, and 2) that the Justice Department would notify criminal defendants who have been spied on under the Fisa Amendments Act, so there exists some way to challenge the law in court.

It turns out that neither of those statements were true – but it took Snowden’s historic whistleblowing to prove it.

One of the most explosive Snowden revelations exposed a then-secret technique known as “about” surveillance. As the New York Times first reported, the NSA “is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance.” In other words, the NSA doesn’t just target a contact overseas – it sweeps up everyone’s international communications into a dragnet and searches them for keywords.

The Snowden leaks also pushed the Justice Department to admit – contrary to what it told the court – that the government hadn’t been notifying any defendants they were being charged based on NSA surveillance, making it actually impossible for anyone to prove they had standing to challenge the Fisa Amendments Act as unconstitutional.

It’s unclear how much Solicitor General Donald Verrilli knew when he told the government’s lies – twice – to the justices of the supreme court. Reports suggest that he was livid when he found out that his national security staff at the Justice Department misled him about whether they were notifying defendants in criminal trials of surveillance. And we don’t know if he knew about the “about” surveillance that might well have given the ACLU standing in the case. But we do know other Justice Department officials knew about both things, and they have let both lies stand without correcting the record.

MoD loses battle to block radioactive waste contamination report.

By   14th May 2014.                  Find Full Article Here:-

Report warning contamination of military sites could pose public health risk to be published next week after six-month delay.

Read the Comare report on contamination of military sites (pdf)

MoD warning of radioactive contaminants found on Dalgety Bay beach, Fife

The report will reveal concerns about radium contamination at Dalgety Bay in Fife and at least 25 other sites across the UK.  Photograph: Michael Mercer /Alamy

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been forced to abandon attempts to block a report by government advisers warning that radioactive contamination of military sites across the UK could pose a risk to public health.

The report was submitted for publication last October by the 18-member Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare). To the frustration of its authors and the Scottish government, UK ministers have sat on it for the past six months after objections from the MoD.

But after the 75-page report was leaked to the Guardian, a decision was taken in Whitehall on Tuesday to publish it early next week. It will reveal that Comare is concerned about radium contamination from the second world war at Dalgety Bay in Fife and at least 25 other sites across the UK.

The contamination at Dalgety Bay poses “a potential risk to public health”, the report says. It condemns the MoD’s failure to provide a comprehensive list of other potentially contaminated sites as “unacceptable” as it “implies an unknown risk to the general population”.

Because of the “extensive” contamination, parents should be recommended not to allow their children to dig on the beach, the report says. Although it concludes that there is no immediate evidence of increased cancers, it points out that side-effects can take time to appear and recommends a study of cancer rates to be carried out around Dalgety Bay in five or 10 years.

Comare’s report recommends that the Scottish government should ensure that Dalgety Bay is cleaned up as soon as is possible. An evaluation of the best means of remediation should be instituted immediately, “considering efficacy, practicability and cost”, it says.

According to the report, disposal of radium – used to paint aircraft dials so that they could be read in the dark – was “very widespread”. It criticises the MoD for only providing a limited list of sites where this could have happened. Though the only site named in the report is Dalgety Bay, 15 have been previously listed by the MoD.

World champion cardstacker Bryan Berg’s Houses of cards.

theguardian.com,  12th May 2014.               Find Article and more Photos Here:-

World champion cardstacker Bryan Berg was invited to mark the completion of renovation work on a shopping mall in Bucharest, Romania, by constructing a model of the centre and two other buildings entirely out of playing cards.

Berg inspects model shopping centre
Brian Berg inspects his model of the Plaza Romania shopping mall in Bucharest.
Berg study cards
Berg, whom is from Iowa in the US, at work on the model. Photograph: Hepta/Barcroft Media
Berg building cards
As well as the mall, Berg built replicas of Bucharest’s Romanian Athenaeum and the palace of parliament. Photograph: Hepta/Barcroft Media
Berg decks cards
The Guinness world record holder used no tape and no glue in his structures. Photograph: Hepta/Barcroft Media
Berg cards dome
Adding the finishing touch. Photograph: Hepta/Barcroft Media