Environment Forum

The Green Gauge: Kimberly-Clark, NCR face pollution charges

A freight train on the Wisconsin Central Railroad lines crosses the Fox River on the south edge of Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area in a view from the town of Mukwonago, Wisconsin June 10, 2008.    REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson

Leading this week’s Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies in the news for behavior affecting the environment, are Kimberly-Clark and NCR who are being sued along with seven others for PCB pollution dating back more than 50 years.

Selections of headlines about publicly-traded companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

bot25 Kimberly-Clark Corp. and NCR Corp.

The long-lasting risks of environmental pollution were revealed recently, as the U.S. Department of Justice filed a major law suit against Kimberly-Clark, NCR, and nine other companies to pay for continued clean-up and environmental restoration work relating to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) pollution in Wisconsin’s Fox River and Green Bay from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s.  Although $300 million has already been paid for clean-up efforts at the site, the Department of Justice claims that $550 million of additional clean-up and $400 million of natural resource restoration work is still required.  The lawsuit claims that the companies originally responsible for the pollution have resisted taking full financial responsibility for the  clean-up costs as well as the efforts necessary to repair the long-term damage to natural resources that resulted from the pollution.

bot25 Zijin Mining Group Company Ltd.

Chinese authorities sued Zijin Mining for nearly $3 million following the collapse of a tailings dam near a tin mine controlled by the company.  In addition to the significant environmental damage caused by the resulting pollution, 28 people are dead or missing as a result of the dam’s collapse.  The incident follows another recent pollution incident at one of the company’s gold mines in China in July that killed more than 2,000 fish.

bot25 Bayer AG

Bayer recently settled with a group of 8 Texas rice farmers for $290,000 for damages suffered as a result of the 2006 contamination of rice by genetically modified seeds that had not been approved for cultivation.  The revelations of the contamination led to restrictions on rice imports by Japan and the E.U. as well as a subsequent drop in rice prices.  Bayer has lost all of the recent cases in the U.S. related to the incident in the past year, including a $48 judgment in punitive and compensatory damages by an Arkansas jury in April.  The recent settlement may indicate a potential change in Bayer’s strategy to begin to settle the more than 6,000 claims by rice farmers against Bayer currently in the court system.

from PopTech:

Making it right in New Orleans

PopTech speaker Tom Darden is the executive director of the Make It Right Foundation, the organization started by Brad Pitt to rebuild affordable, green homes in New Orleans' lower ninth ward. Make It Right has already built 50 homes and are in the midst of construction for another 30. Their initial goal is to build a total of 150.

So far, Darden has helped raise $36 million for the foundation. In 2009, Darden was named Louisiana's Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Small Business Administration. After being in New Orleans for four years now and having worked with the foundation since 2007, Darden explains why his work is so essential and how these types of homes can transform a family's quality of life:

More from Tom Darden:

Make It Right partnered with award-winning architects who worked pro bono to design homes based around the needs of lower ninth ward residents. Design features such as covered porches and wide front stairs allow residents to maintain social connections to their neighborhood, preserving the "culture of engagement" that characterized the neighborhood prior to Hurricane Katrina.

from For the Record:

Hungary drudges through this toxic spill

HUNGARY

I wish it were the awarding of its 14th Nobel Prize that is putting my country in the news these days.

Instead, Hungary is back on the world stage because of a disastrous chemical spill. An avalanche of a highly alkaline mud that could fill 440 Olympic-sized swimming pools has broken through the shoddy containment walls at an aluminum plant not far from the Lake Balaton region. As a result, nine people have died and 250 were injured. Wild and farm animals have perished, and lands and little summer gardens that were the villagers' food and staple for winter have been ravished.

The 16th century castle in Devecser has surely seen a lot but now looks over hundreds of homes doomed to demolition. Kolontar, the village right under the alumina pond has even been compared to Chernobyl, the infamous home of a nuclear power plant disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Backyard tigers

ENVIRONMENT-TIGERS/Would you keep a tiger as a pet?

A puppy-sized tiger cub can be bought in the United States for as little as $200, and there are probably about 5,000 such backyard tigers across the country, about the same number of privately owned tigers in China, according to World Wildlife Fund.

That is far greater than the approximately 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, compared to the estimated 100,000 wild tigers a century ago. The growing number of these animals in captivity poses a threat to the species in the wild, WWF reports.

“People don’t realize when they buy a $200 tiger cub that it grows into a full-grown tiger, which means a huge enclosure and costs about $5000 a year just to feed,” says Leigh Henry, an animal conservation expert at WWF. “So you end up with a lot of unwanted animals that are very poorly regulated.”

from PopTech:

Does our economy make us happy?

FRANCE/

By Lisa Gansky

The opinions expressed are her own.

Does our economy make us happy?

The crash-and-burn of the financial system, a prolonged recession, and high unemployment obviously cause us enormous distress. We are forced to ask ourselves, “What can we afford now?”

The collapse has also made many of us rethink what we care about. We're finally asking, “Are all these things we’ve been buying (and probably still making payments on) truly making us happy?”

I started asking myself related questions long ago. Where do we look to derive value? What’s the source? As I talked with people, did research, and listened more intrusively to my own internal voice, I realized that in the process of choosing and buying we are actually being engulfed (essentially consumed), by the stuff in our lives.

Could “putting the cow inside the plant” make a new biofuel?

SWITZERLAND/The Next Big Thing in biofuel might involve genetically engineered plants that digest themselves, making it cheaper to turn them into fuel. That’s one of the new ideas that Arun Majumdar finds fascinating. As the head of the U.S. Energy Department’s ARPA-E – the path-breaking agency that aims come up with efficient, green energy solutions — Majumdar said this concept is one of a few dozen that are in the development stage now.

Majumdar let his enthusiasm show as he described this project at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit on Thursday. He was talking about a project in its early stages at Massachusetts-based Agrivida.

“If you look at biofuels, cellulosic biofuels  …  you take agricultural waste, you separate out … the cellulose, then you throw a bunch of enzymes at them. And these enzymes are there in the cow’s gut, or termites, that break down this long chain polymer, this cellulose, into small bits and pieces called sugar molecules. And then you take those sugar molecules and feed them into another bug and then you produce gasoline,” he said.

from Photographers' Blog:

A toxic work environment

Bernadett Szabo spent eight days photographing the disaster that enveloped part of Western Hungary after a reservoir of red sludge, an alumina factory by-product, burst on October 4 and released one million cubic meters of highly toxic sludge that killed eight people, injured 120, and destroyed nearly 1,000 hectares (2,400 acres) of land. Here’s her account of working in the field under the adverse conditions she found.

Photographer Bernadett Szabo works in the village of Devecser, 150 km (93 miles) west of Budapest, October, 2010.   REUTERS

This work required a whole lot more caution than normal when covering a different type of disaster story, like a flood for example. There’s water there, and mud, and you can sink and all, but that’s only water. This red sludge is toxic.

We knew it was alkaline, with a potent bite. We knew it was a lot more dense than regular silt, making moving around in it very tiring – and its toxicity meant no touching, so we could not hold onto anything for support. Falling over was not an option, because the toxic stuff could damage you to the point of visible wounds or cause damage to your eyes, and render your gear inoperable.

The Green Gauge: Vedanta, Sterlite ordered to shut smelter

A bird flies by the Vedanta office building in Mumbai August 16, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

This month, Vedanta Resources and subsidiary Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. made headlines for posing a public health risk to the surrounding community in southern India with pollution from a large copper smelter. They share the top spot in this issue of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies recently in the news for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

bot25 Vedanta Resources, Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd.
Vedanta Resources faces a new environmental setback in India after a Madras High Court ordered the closure of a large copper smelter at Tuticorin belonging to Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary, Sterlite Industries. Claiming that “the right to have a living atmosphere congenial to human existence is part of the right to life,” the Madras court argued that toxic emissions from the copper smelter, the 9th largest in the world, posed a public health risk to the surrounding community. The Indian Supreme Court granted permission for the facility to continue to operate while Vedanta appeals the verdict.

from Summit Notebook:

Will Bjorn Lomborg be compared to Al Gore?

lomborgBjorn Lomborg (left) worries that people will conclude he's becoming like Al Gore (right).gore

At first sight, that sounds unthinkable.

Lomborg, a Danish statistician who wrote the book "The Skeptical Environmentalist", argues that the world should develop cheap new green technologies before taking radical steps to fight global warming (...echoes of the policies of former U.S. President George W. Bush).

By contrast, former U.S. Vice President Gore won a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize after describing climate change as a "planetary emergency".

from MacroScope:

Will China make the world green?

Workers remove mine slag at an aluminium plant in Zibo, Shandong province December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Joschka Fischer was never one to mince words when he was Germany's foreign minister in the late '90s and early noughts. So it is not overly surprising that he has painted a picture in a new post of a world with only two powers -- the United States and China -- and an ineffective and divided Europe on the sidelines.

More controversial, however, is his view that China will not only grow into the world's most important market over the coming years, but will determine what the world produces and consumes -- and that that will be green.

Fischer, who was leader of  Germany's Green Party, reckons that due to its sheer size and needed GDP growth, China will have to pursue a green economy. Without that, he writes in his Project Syndicate post, China will quickly reach limits to growth with disastrous ecological and, as a result, political consequences.

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