Information of Interest, Sep 2011

1. Toxic School Supplies Pose Threat to Children’s Health

( – The average child’s character-themed backpack is filled with supplies and materials made from the most toxic plastic for our health and environment, polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl). Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful health effects of toxic chemicals, such as phthalates, lead and dioxin released by the PVC lifecycle. These chemicals are linked to chronic diseases on the rise in children, which includes learning and developmental disabilities, asthma, obesity and cancer.

A few tips for avoiding toxic PVC school supplies are: 1.) Avoid backpacks with shiny plastic designs as they often contain PVC and may contain lead; 2.) Use cloth or metal lunchboxes; 3.) Use cardboard, fabric-covered or polypropylene binders. (Most 3-ring binders are made of PVC.)

While phthalates have been banned in toys, they are still used in children’s school supplies and other PVC products. PVC is also a major source of dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. Dioxin has been targeted for international phase-out by a treaty signed by more than 170 nations. Both Congress and the President’s Cancer Panel have called for greater regulation of such toxic chemicals in consumer products, but parents can act now to protect their children’s health by making smart shopping choices.

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice’s 2011 Back to School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies is available at

2. NATO-Russia Experts Discuss Critical Infrastructure Protection

( – Civilian and military experts came together June 2011 to share lessons learned, best practices and strategies on various aspects of critical infrastructure protection. Discussions focused on six aspects of protection: the state of play in civilian and military spheres, energy security, cyber security, transportation, technology and managing the consequences of terrorist attacks. In addition to information exchange, it was highlighted that areas of future cooperation could include promoting exchange of technologies, techniques and means, as well as exploring opportunities for mutual assistance to mitigate the consequences of terrorist attacks and man-made disasters.

NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges Gábor Iklódy commented that effective protection against unconventional security challenges requires a major paradigm shift. “Rather than focusing on defense and deterrence, increasing emphasis must be laid on prevention and resilience . . . , i.e. preparing our societies, infrastructure, etc., to receive the blow and then to recover from it quickly,” he said.

The conference was organized under the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) Action Plan on Terrorism, which serves to provide overall coordination and strategic direction of NRC cooperation in this area. NATO-Russia cooperation in the struggle against terrorism has taken the form of regular exchanges of information, in-depth consultation, joint threat assessments, civil emergency planning for terrorist attacks, high-level dialogue on the military’s role in combating terrorism and lessons learned from recent terrorist attacks, and scientific and technical cooperation. NATO Allies and Russia also cooperate in areas related to terrorism, such as border control, non-proliferation, airspace management and nuclear safety.

3. Severe Low Temperatures Devastate Coral Reefs in Florida Keys

( – Increased seawater temperatures are known to be a leading cause of the decline of coral reefs around the world. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia have found that extreme low temperatures affect certain corals in much the same way that high temperatures do, with potentially catastrophic consequences for coral ecosystems. Their findings appear in the early online edition of the journal Global Change Biology.

Lead author Dustin Kemp, a postdoctoral associate in the UGA Odum School of Ecology, said the study was prompted by an abnormal episode of extended cold weather in January and February 2010. Temperatures on inshore reefs in the upper Florida Keys dropped below 12 C (54 F), and remained below 18 C (64 F) for two weeks. Kemp and his colleagues had planned to sample corals at Admiral Reef, an inshore reef off Key Largo, just three weeks after the cold snap. When they arrived, they discovered the reef, once abundant in hard and soft corals, was essentially dead. “It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” Kemp said. “The large, reef-building corals were gone. Some were estimated to be 200 to 300 years old and had survived other catastrophic events, such as the 1998 El Niño bleaching event. The severe cold water appeared to kill the corals quite rapidly.”

“Corals and their symbiotic algae have a range of stress tolerance. Some can handle moderate stress, some are highly sensitive and some are in-between. Extreme cold is just one stressor among many,” said Kemp. Other threats to coral health include increased seawater temperatures, diseases, ocean acidification and pollution.

“Adding stress from wintertime cold episodes could not only quickly kill corals but also may have long-term effects. For corals found in the Florida Keys, winter is typically a ‘non-stressful’ time and corals bulk up on tissue reserves important for surviving potentially ‘stressful’ summertime conditions (i.e. coral bleaching),” continued Kemp.

Kemp stressed that the study’s findings should not be interpreted to downplay the major role of higher temperatures on corals’ decline. “The study shows that warming may not be the only climate-related problem for coral reefs in the future,” he said.

Kemp also pointed out that it was not only the corals that were devastated by the cold snap. He explained, “The corals provide the framework for the entire reef ecosystem. The lobster, shrimp, clams, fish – all the creatures that depend on the reef – were affected too. The potential consequences for coral ecosystems are extremely alarming.”

4. U.S. Army Establishes Energy Initiatives Office Task Force

( – Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh announced August 2011 the establishment of the Energy Initiatives Office (EIO) Task Force, which will be part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. The new Task Force will serve as the central managing office for the development of large-scale Army renewable energy projects and be operational by Sept. 15, 2011. The new EIO Task Force is integral to the Army addressing rising energy security challenges, escalating fuel prices and stricter Federal mandates.

“The Energy Initiatives Office Task Force will help the Army build resilience through renewable energy while streamlining our business practices so developers can invest in and build an economically viable, large-scale renewable energy infrastructure,” said McHugh. “To meet a goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, the Army must use every opportunity to be energy efficient and draw power from alternative and/or renewable sources.”

The scale of renewable energy production the Army needs in order to provide enhanced energy security is estimated to require investment up to $7.1 billion within the next 10 years. The level of investment is expected to generate 2.1 million megawatt hours annually for the Army.

The EIO Task Force will work within the Army to streamline existing acquisition processes and leverage industry for the execution of large-scale renewable and alternative energy projects on Army installations. Army installations currently are pursuing renewable energy infrastructure, but often lack needed expertise. The EIO will fill this gap and provide resources focused on working with the private sector to execute large-scale renewable energy projects. This is expected to result in increased interest by project developers and improved financial outcomes for the Army.

Through the EIO Task Force, the Army is planning to conduct an aggressive outreach effort to attract and engage private industry to foster strategic and financial collaboration in support of the Army’s installation needs.

5. U.S. Air Force Awarded for Energy Savings

( – The Air Force was awarded almost one-half the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Federal Energy Management Program’s 2011 Federal Energy and Water Management Awards earned by Department of Defense entities. The awards, co-sponsored by the DOE and Federal Interagency Energy Policy Committee, spotlight Federal organizations and individuals who make significant contributions to improve energy efficiency and water conservation. A primary goal of the program is to “recognize and encourage agency staff who are implementing game changing energy and water management practices that support meeting Federal energy management goals,” according to DOE officials.

Air Force team program winners are:

  • The Vandenberg Energy Conservation Program, Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB), Calif. Group members include 2nd Lt. Julian Vaiana, Scott Bly, Bradley King and Pernell Rush. The team saved more than 144 million Btus in energy and 336,000 kilo gallons of water through awareness and training programs, building retrofits and innovative energy management and control systems.
  • The Headquarters Air Combat Command (ACC) Energy Program, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. Group members include Steve Dumont, Mark Hunt, John McDuffie, William Turnbull and Steve White. The ACC team used a power purchase agreement to acquire a 14.5 megawatt photovoltaic (PV) array at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. and installed similar PV arrays at 14 bases by reusing excess solar panel equipment, which is expected to yield an estimated 582,536 megawatt hours in renewable energy over their life cycles.
  • The Air Mobility Command (AMC) Aviation Fuel Efficiency Program, Scott AFB, Ill. Team members include Col. Kevin Trayer, Lt. Col. Michael Lepchenske, Maj. Philip Morrison, Tony Hart and Rick Turcotte. The AMC team saved almost 48 million gallons of fuel in fiscal 2010 through policy changes, innovative data collection methods and focused culture change across the full spectrum of their operations.
  • The Energy Efficiency Program, 171st Air Refueling Wing (ARW), Pittsburgh International Airport, Pa. 171st ARW members include Brig. Gen. Roy Uptegraff, Col. David MacMillan and Lt. Col. Jeffrey Jones. The wing saved more than 1.5 million gallons of fuel in fiscal 2010 through leadership involvement, application of innovative tools and focused culture change.
  • Individual winners are Rose Forbes, Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment, Massachusetts Military Reservation, Cape Cod, Mass.; Michael Miller, 92nd Civil Engineer Squadron, Fairchild AFB, Wash.; and Clifford Richardson, 377th Civil Engineer Squadron, Kirtland AFB, N.M.


6. Major Beverage Companies Willing To Take Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging

( – Several major U.S. beverage brands would support new laws making producers financially responsible for collection and recycling of post-consumer beverage packaging, according to a new report assessing corporate progress on recycling released by shareholder advocacy group As You Sow. The new report, “Waste & Opportunity: U.S. Beverage Container Recycling Scorecard and Report,” is As You Sow’s third review of the beverage industry since 2006. Nestlé Waters North America received the highest ranking, followed closely by PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company and Red Bull. All four received a letter grade of B-. The report discusses new efforts by several companies to promote Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) mandates to reverse lagging U.S. bottle and can recycling rates.

“The major development since our last survey has been the willingness of leading beverage companies to consider new legislative mandates requiring them to take responsibility for their post-consumer packaging,” said Conrad MacKerron, Senior Director of As You Sow’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program. “Many beverage and consumer packaged goods companies pay fees in other countries to finance recovery of their packaging.”

Of the 224 billion beverage containers sold annually in the U.S. only 29 percent by weight are recycled; the rest are landfilled or incinerated, which results in a huge waste of natural resources. In Europe and Canada, where EPR laws are in place, far higher levels of containers are recovered.

Several survey respondents said that in developing a recycling program, they are most likely to support programs that set recycling fees paid by producers or importers, which are included in the price of the product and administered by industry.

Of note is that recycled content has not significantly increased since As You Sow’s 2008 “Waste & Opportunity” report:

  • PepsiCo continues to have the highest use of rPET, 10 percent across all product lines, with a commitment to maintain and increase this percentage.
  • Coca-Cola was unable to meet a commitment to use 10 percent rPET across its product lines in 2010.
  • New Belgium Brewing Company currently uses 50 percent recycled glass, the highest reported, in its 22 oz. bottles.
  • Nestlé Waters uses 50 percent recycled PET in its re-source™ brand bottles, but lacks a company-wide commitment for reprocessed PET or rPET.