Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Ugly Truth

Body burden: the amount of radioactive material present in a human body.

“Governments aren’t supposed to poison their own people.”

“I’ve had my life but its highly questionable whether you will have yours, my children.”

“Treat everyone you meet with dignity and respect, but have a plan to kill them just in case.”

            Prior to our class discussions on nuclear power and environmental injustice, I hardly ever gave them any thought. Now I’m obsessed. In the film Atomic States of America, several individuals from Suffolk County speak about the nuclear contamination present in their area. The NRC has known about the contamination since 2000 but continues to tell families that their water is safe to drink, regardless of the fact that its obviously not. Since the discovery of local contamination, the childhood cancer rate in Suffolk County has soared, with multiple children diagnosed on a single street. They say it is only the “friendly atom spreading its love” but the locals know better and fight for justice.
            The documentary immediately inspired me to research the conditions near my hometown of Peabody, Massachusetts. Of course I am no stranger to the story of contamination in nearby Woburn, but I wanted to learn more. If 104 of the 450 world commercial nuclear reactors exist in the United States, something more is bound to be happening in my neck of the woods. I began my research where I begin all my Internet endeavors: Google. Unsurprisingly, I was first brought to news about Woburn, so I gandered, and stumbled across this lovely quote from 2011: “From Cape Cod to the Berkshires and beyond, few communities are left untouched by the contamination.” Fabulous. After that, my fascination with contamination only skyrocketed. Google soon brought a story to my attention that hasn’t honestly crossed my mind since the event occurred in 2006. At 2:45AM, the morning before Thanksgiving, the Danvers ink and paint plant exploded and damaged over 270 buildings, destroying businesses and leaving more than 400 people homeless. Governor of Massachusetts at the time, Mitt Romney, called the chemical fire, “the Thanksgiving miracle” because even though the explosion was equivalent to the damage from “a 2,000 lb bomb”, not a single fatality had resulted. Hold on, a 2000 lb bomb? Why didn’t I know more about this? The EPA found low levels of toluene in the water but since the water had not been part of the local drinking water supply, citizens weren’t notified. Five years later, the EPA finally reached a $1.3 million settlement from the plant as a reimbursement for hazardous waste cleanup and violation of the Clean Air Act. Then there was the explosion at the Middleton Bostik chemical plant my senior year of high school. The EPA ran a series of test there as well, and detected compounds such as toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, acetone, and ether acetate. Again the levels were deemed safe but after watching Atomic States of America, I am skeptical. Both of these catastrophes were heard from several miles away but nobody seemed to talk about the environmental effects. Woburn, Danvers, and Bostik have me cornered, and I feel like I’m doomed.
            In the book, Full Body Burden, Kristen Iverson shares her own experience with nuclear radiation in Arvada, Colorado. Her family lived for years practically on top of Rocky Flats and yet nobody in the neighborhood had any idea what was going on there. People were noticing the genetic defects in livestock as well as the increase of cancer prevalence in the neighborhood but they couldn’t figure out why. Various members of public health and environmental organizations tested the area around Rocky Flats for toxic material. Slowly but surely, the truth was coming out but the government didn’t like it. After deeming home developments near Rocky Flats “unsafe,” Dr. Carl Johnson was fired for his work. The plant continued to produce plutonium pits, or “triggers”, that were small spherical explosives created for atomic chain reactions. The emissions attached to the triggers contained enough breathable material to kill not just some but lots of people. More than 5000 barrels of waste were left in the open for over 11 years completely unknown to the public. Radioactive material leaked into the soil, contaminated groundwater, and carried the toxic waste offsite. After further testing, Plutonium was detected in animals and children’s playgrounds and yet nothing was done to stop Rocky Flats.
            When Kristen Iverson visited campus she talked more about the secrecy and silence surrounding Rocky Flats. Her own parents thought the plant was responsible for nothing more than the production of cleaning supplies. They had no idea that their holiday turkeys were deformed and contaminated by Rocky Flats. That made me think a lot about the food I eat. Besides the meals I cook at home, I have no idea where my food is coming from. This campus is helpless. Despite the students’ arguments against the endless list of proven health violations surrounding campus dining, we are subjected to terrible food quality.
            No Family History made me think more about cancer occurring in people with exactly what the title says, no family history. People can go their whole lives eating well, exercising, and never picking up a cigarette, but still develop cancer. Why is that? As the short documentary explains, cancer is in the environment but nobody ever talks about prevention regarding such carcinogens. People are stuck under the illusion that the government will notify us when the environment is unsafe but they won’t. The only thing we can do to protect ourselves is by doing the research on our own and educating the people we care about.
Julia DiFranza

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Voiceless

I first would like to begin this entry with my story.

I have been a vegan for 4 years, but that lifestyle change did not come overnight. I grew up eating animal products my whole life, until a friend of mine recommended a book to me called Farm Sanctuary. The story is told by author and animal rights activist, Gene Baur, whose life was forever changed after a visit to a factory farm. As Baur began to hear about animal injustices on factory farms, he decided to visit a stockyard where animals are held to be fattened up and give birth before heading to slaughter. Amid the rotting stench, bacteria laded floors, and excruciating noise, Baur’s attention was drawn to a sheep that was assumed to be dead, and tossed upon a pile of dead animals known as “the dead pile.” But as Baur walked by, the sheep slightly raised her head and looked right at him. He noticed that she was still alive, so he took her from the stockyard and immediately brought her to safety. Hilda, as she was later named by Baur and his friends, was nursed back to health with the help of Cornell’s veterinary department and became the first resident of Farm Sanctuary—an organization and farm in Watkins Glen, NY dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and protection of abused farm animals.

The truth is, is that farm production does not depend on the family farmer with only a small herd of animals, but instead is an industrialized complex, resembling an enormous assembly-line factory. Animals raised for human consumption are confined for their whole lives—living, eating, sleeping, and giving birth in spaces and crates the size of their bodies, with no room to turn around. They live their lives without companionship, fresh air, or even adequate nutrition and water. They are viewed as commodities rather than living beings that feel both physical and emotional pain just like humans do.

After reading Farm Sanctuary followed by other books such as Eating Animals and Diet For A New America, I became vegetarian, and visited the farm for a summer event where my life was changed forever.  After spending time on the farm getting to know the rescued farm animals as individuals and acknowledging their horrible pasts filled with neglect and abuse, in addition to listening to speeches given by animal rights activists, environmental activists, and health activists, I was inspired to remove all animal products from my diet and become vegan. Proceeding this event, I brought my parents to Farm Sanctuary for another summer event, and they became vegan that weekend and have been thriving for 3 years on this ethical, healthy diet ever since.

After this, I became vested animal right issues of all sorts, including ocean animal mistreatment and zoo/park confinement and abuse. I watched the movie The Cove (which was assigned for this class as well), which unveils the exploitation of dolphins from Taiji, Japan, that are being slaughtered and sold for meat and captured for entertainment for amusement parks such as Seaworld. The Cove is directed by National Geographic photographer, Louie Psihoyos, whose mission is to uncover the “secret” ritual that takes place along the coast of Japan, in a small cove within the town of Taiji by setting up hidden cameras surrounding the area. What takes place in this cove is the herding and slaughter of thousands upon thousands of bottlenose dolphins. When fishermen are ringing these animals into the cove and stabbing them to death, some of these dolphins are saved from slaughter but instead captured and sold off to aquariums to perform water shows, which in my eyes, is just as unethical. Also unethical, is the fact that this is a secret kept from the Japanese public. When interviewing people on the street or having Cove activist Ric O’Barry stand in the middle of a city center with a TV strapped to him presenting dolphin slaughter on the screen, people are absolutely shocked. The Japanese have no idea that the meat they are consuming and feeding to their children is actually mercury-laded dolphin meat. The government is purposely mislabeling the packages. As disturbing as much of this film is to watch, I absolutely love it and find myself recommending it to basically everyone I talk to.

Another eye-opening and inspirational documentary is How I Became an Elephant, which we also watched for class. This movie is about a fourteen-year-old girl named Juliette who is on a mission to save the elephant population from decline as well as from abuse and mistreatment. After raising enough funds, Juliette embarks on a journey to Southeast Asia to meet and work with The Elephant Lady. It is so beautiful to see two women from different parts of the world coming together and connecting through a common goal. This film also truly inspired me with its message—that no matter your age, gender, or ethnicity, you can make a difference if you stand up for what you believe in. 

As Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary always concludes his speeches: “Live a life that is aligned with your values.”

Ashley Smalley

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The “New-Clear” Shift to Green

“Silence is an easy habit. But it doesn't come naturally. Silence has to be cultivated, enforced by implication and innuendo, looks and glances, hints of dark consequence. Silence is greedy. It insists upon its own necessity. It transcends generations.”  Kristen Iverson’s novel Full Body Burden brings up an issue of secrecy relating to the nuclear weapons plant in her town of Rocky Flats.  Governments worldwide seem to shelter their people, and keep them deaf, dumb, and blind; with regards to important issues that can affect them.  To a certain degree secrecy is a policy that must be implemented.  If the world were to know where we kept nuclear weapons facilities this could spark a major international conflict, but what happens when secrecy goes to far?  When the government withholds information to its people so much that townships, and communities are built on areas that are inherently dangerous; than this becomes an issue.  Justification of withholding this information is quite frankly wrong.  My language must be toned down for the audience at hand, but this is messed up! Drinking water that contains pollutants of nuclear waste, and the air around it does too, is something that can potentially cause the loss of life.  Kristen Iverson writes about how she has seen these effects, but in my opinion this is where the book becomes a little weak.  Her examples of people becoming sick aren’t extraordinary high, and although she has facts and scenarios that directly relate these peoples sickness to the pollution; it just doesn’t have the “Wow” factor that could influence as great of a change as I am sure she would have liked too. 
            What seems to be missing is the visuals that push people to take a step back and say: “Oh wow, this is something we need to change.”  Where Iverson lacks this, the movie Atomic States of America picks up, and runs with it.  What this movie is in essence doing is taking an objective approach to a sensitive topic, and exposing the dirty secrets that nuclear power has.  This film manages to expose the nuclear regulatory commission, and find a direct correlation from the leaking, spills, and accidents to nuclear power plants to cancer.  The film starts by talking about the stark reality that people were coerced and taught to think that nuclear power is the answer.  People in these towns where plants were built were told that power would be so cheap that meters will spin backwards.  They were told that everything is completely and utterly safe and not just safe from accidents, but safe and secure in job security.  Now while the idea of jobs and a great economic boost does sound great; at what cost does it have to be done?  When can people’s lives be sacrificed in order for electrical power?  One of the most famous lines in philosophy is “A means to an end” basically means you use other people as stepping stones to get to your goal and in this case the goal is nuclear power.  Where has morality strayed so far that we are using people as stepping stones?  People, as Immanuel Kant said need to be “A means in themselves.”  We need to stop putting people in harm’s way.  Because we know that nuclear power plants can put people in harm’s way, we need to end it now and move towards more renewable sources of energy.   Some people have already begun living life using more eco-friendly ways, but we need to start this as a worldwide movement. 
            The short film “Slice of life provides a prime example, of being resourceful and the peace of mind you can achieve from living a simpler, more hands on “greener” lifestyle.  A huge problem that has swept through the nation like a plague after World War II was consumption and purchasing of goods.  In order for people to live the American dream you needed more of everything.  The problem this creates is more waste, but underneath the obviousness of more waste is this act directly related to more greenhouse gases being spilled into the atmosphere at insane rates.  More products means more transportation of goods, more factories to mine materials, more factories to build goods, and all this does is harm our planet, and to the point where is may never recover.  What this couple is doing is recycling materials, such as windows to build their home.  They make their own clothing; they try to act more environmentally conscience which is what more people need to do.  If we could only all do this, maybe climate change wouldn’t be that evil doomsday scenario we have all heard about.  Unfortunately I can’t see this ever happening, this lifestyle so many have come accustom too has been engrained in the fabric of our life for generations. 
            Perhaps if we take a softer energy path and use greener technology we can find a “new-clear” path and have a brighter future for the next generations.  We must not look at the dangers of nuclear power and sulk, but we need to move on and work towards a different way of producing energy.  Take the lessons of the past and apply them for the future, and that will lead us to the ultimate solution for the power crisis. 

Ryan Jackson 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Not In My Backyard…Or Within ~100 Miles From It.

Atomic States of America

Terrifying. It’s a great little pattern we have going on here, great job America! We pass legislature to drill offshore then leak oil into the ocean for weeks. We decide to build some more nuclear power plants and one blows up on the other side of the globe. Really great executive decisions we have going here! Bravo. This documentary was just the right amount of, “Yup you’re all screwed.” This stuff is heavy and just maddening. Just like in Full Body Burden I find myself wondering if anywhere is safe. It’s pretty screwed up that our own government that is making these power plants and plants to build weapons to protecting us are simultaneously scaring the bejesus out of us. I wish I had the resources to create a map much like an infrared map of America and have the dark red spots show insane cancer & illness rates. I enjoyed the direction this film took, as if it were analyzing our ability to actually split an atom safely. Obviously all forms of energy pose risks, but I don’t think wind power generates as many cancer rates. The energy from nuclear power is vast and has so much potential but the lack of regulations and waste disposal create so much mess that cannot be properly cleaned up.

Full Body Burden

This book is just startling. I cannot help but scream, “This is Love Canal!” the entire time I read through this book. Isn’t it insane? That the government is willing to prosper at the expense of innocent human lives? Not to mention the fact that it’s just not telling the community what is going on. They thought the factory made soap! This is the reason I want to be an environmental advocate, like actually the entire reason. Because the fricken government just thinks they own the place and messes up everyone’s lives. Why must all land be owned? Why can’t a community just be, without a big brother watching over? I ask because I wonder if there is anywhere that I could live in America that would allow me to not have to fear this happening to me. The fear that I might pick a place to raise a family and unknowingly have all my children poisoned. We should be able to know. There should be a website exactly like the one that tells you where all the sex offenders are, except it would display all the radioactive material sites and all power plants. This book grabbed me because instead of reading about things that some reporter said happen, it was a person telling the story of her life, a person who I graciously got to meet at the Suffolk County Center. She saw these things happen, she wasn’t just reporting on it, she was living in it. Plutonium deposits in the soil and contaminated groundwater, it just isn’t okay. It’s an environmental justice issue that can literally effect anyone, not just the lower class.

Legislature Hearing

I had the privilege of speaking at the Suffolk County Center to support a bill that would ban the importation of fracking fluids to Suffolk County. Although this process would be economically pleasing to the county, the side effects have disastrous potential. The fluid would be stored and perhaps even used as de-icer on roads in the winter. For a county with fantastic aquifers, a huge agriculture output and a tourist destination, I cannot even imagine why anyone would want that crap here. The fluid is radioactive, containing extremely dangerous isotopes of radon and radium. As this blog is about radioactive waste – I thought I would put in what I said to the county legislature.

Good Morning, my name is Andrea Burrows and I am a student at Stony Brook University. I am standing here to strongly support the passing of Bill 1117 to ban the importation of hydraulic fracturing water into Suffolk County. Over the years the extraction of natural gas has proven itself to be dangerous to the environment, resulting in its banning from countries such as France and Germany. These millions of gallons of frack water that would be brought to this county would contain multitudes of known carcinogens and radioactive materials, including Radium-226 and 228. Radium-226 is linked to liver, bone and breast cancers and omits gamma radiation, which travels through the air. New York State does not allow the process of hydraulic fracturing to take place, why would we accept the consequences of other state’s poor decisions? We must protect this ecosystem and this community. Please support 1117, thank you.

Andi Burrows

Nuclear…time to “fallout” of use

One of the harshest realities we face as a society is that most people know someone or have personally been affected by cancer. This is one of the reasons that reading about and watching footage of those dealing with the effects of nuclear power was so impactful. We hardly ever think about the potential dangers of operating nuclear facilities and expect that the government is diligently regulating this industry. However, this is not necessarily the case.
            Despite nuclear power being long established in our society, it is amazing how much we do not know, or rather choose to ignore. The documentary “Atomic States of America” does an excellent job of highlighting the inherent risks and effects associated with the use of nuclear power facilities. As fact after fact was presented in this film, I was amazed to learn that although there are lapses in regulation and risks to the health and safety of the public we continue to largely accept the consequences without question. It is clear that as a society we are, as Eric Epstein (Chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, Inc.) noted, “naive” and “arrogant” to think we have everything under control. This naivety, however, does not stem from a lack of coverage of these issues. In fact, one of the most powerful segments of the film was the series of news stories and headlines about accidents and problems with nuclear power facilities. Both national and local news stories were shown, proving that not only is this a prevalent issue, but also the lack of ability we have to safely manage this power source. If nuclear reactions are by definition uncontrolled, how can we in good consciousness put the public at risk by running these facilities in populated areas? Worse yet, how can we permit such lax regulation of these plants? I was furthermore stunned to learn after watching “Atomic States of America” that for a nuclear power plant to get relicensed the review does not look at earthquake, fire, and evacuation plans. To me these requirements seem like common sense, but as other units we have discussed have shown, money is a large part of the reason nothing has been done. When millions of dollars are poured into lobbying, campaigning, and in public relations the senate effectively takes power away from the NRC to regulate the industry. Thus, citizens are forced to pay the price with their health. We must continue to challenge and question the actions of nuclear plant operations in order to protect our communities.
            Should society continue to allow the health hazards to be overlooked, we run the risk of allowing our community to fall into ruins. I cannot imagine living in a world like that depicted in the short documentary, Blind, about the reality of the effect of Fukushima. Much like the images of the film, the world is dark and grey. Should citizens turn as the film suggests a “blind” eye to the side effects of nuclear power, our world will consist of people forced to wear gas masks and running the constant risk of contamination. These depressing scenes were powerful and show the most extreme case scenario. The reality is, however, that there are people forced to grapple with cancer and other contamination related diseases. Women like Robin Caslenova and others living in areas of heightened exposure must put themselves and their families through emotional and physical pains as a result. If we are to protect families of the future from having to face the turmoil depicted in the documentary “No Family History,” the source of increased cancer risk needs to be scrutinized. One of the aspects of this particular documentary that made it so real for me is the fact that this is happening right in my own back yard. Thus this film is an important reminder that these issues do not belong only to those who live in a town with a nuclear facility, but our society as a whole. There are toxics just as harmful as those emitted by nuclear facilities that we come in contact with every day that need to be addressed, and information presented side by side with personal anecdotes is the first step towards bringing up this issue on a large scale.
            Although citizens in an area where nuclear plants are present may comprehend, at least to some degree, that they are in danger of coming in contact with cancer-causing radiation, the money the nuclear industry brings to the communities plays a substantial role in their acceptance. It was clear after reading Kristen Iverson’s memoir, “Full Body Burden,” that these plants are a complicated issue. I was compelled by Iverson’s personal account and for that reason was able to better digest all the information about the nearby Rocky Flats nuclear weapon facility. Her connection to the area is powerful and explains how contamination could be covered up and go unacknowledged for decades. One of the reoccurring topics throughout the novel that stuck with me is the dependency on the plant for jobs. Even though people in the surrounding area knew that it was not necessarily safe, they could not argue with the money Rocky Flats brought in. Iverson explains, “Hazardous or not, Rocky Flats is a boon to the Denver economy. In 1972, Rocky Flats employs 3,700 people working in three shift, seven days a week” (102). Later in life, Iverson herself could not escape the lure of the money Rocky Flats promised and found herself working as a secretary there. This connection in juxtaposition to the details of the hazardous waste makes the stories of her family and friend’s health struggles that much more heartbreaking. With each reveal about the cutting of corners at the plant and new cancers being found I became increasingly outraged. This book does the issue of nuclear safety great justice and brings the need for tougher regulations to light.

            While we struggle as a nation to figure out what to do with our nuclear waste and continue to operate nuclear power facilities, it is clear that not enough is being done to educate the public about the risks. We assume that “they” would tell us if there was cause for concern. However, this is simply not the case. Particularly after reading “Full Body Burden,” I understand the need for a strong voice in opposition to nuclear plants as they are currently managed. It should not take massive fallout and living in an even more cancer-laden society for us to realize that the dangers of these plants are real.

Allison Cukrov