Monthly Archives: October 2014

Buffalo National River and a hog factory

A coalition of four environmental groups have joined together to try to stop pollution of the Nation’s first federally protected river. Although the Buffalo National River park boundary is only a narrow strip of land a scant mile or less on either side of the river, the watershed that drains into the Buffalo is several thousand miles.

A Hog factory was permitted by a previously unused process that allowed for scant public notification. The park service and several other agencies were unaware of the plan to house 6,300 hogs in the watershed. Although the park service can’t control the watershed, they should certainly have some input. They didn’t.

C & H Hog Farm is in the watershed on Big Creek about six miles upstream from the Buffalo, but outside the park boundary. The farm is described by an ecologist for the National Park as the largest hog operation in the state. Disposal of the hog feces and urine is by land application to several hundred acres of hay fields bordering Big Creek and very near the Mount Judea Public Schools. The total volume of waste is on the order of 2 to 4 million gallons per year.

It is not a question of if but when these pollutants make their way to the river. It is not a matter of if but the amount of nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous which will pollute the Buffalo. The nutrients will cause algal blooms that can kill fish and other aquatic organisms.

algal bloom

algal bloom

It is only a matter of time until bacteria from the pigs contaminates the Buffalo and possibly causes it to be closed to human contact.

Cargill, in direct meetings with representatives of the coalition, essentially admitted that it was a mistake to locate the factory farm there. It currently has a multi-year contract to buy the hogs produced at the factory. Cargill assured the coalition that it would take several steps in mitigation but would not close nor relocate the operation.

Currently the holding lagoons are only lined with clay which is prone to crack and leak.

hog waste lagoon

hog waste lagoon

The problem is exacerbated by the porous limestone topography. Cargill has promised to line the lagoons with a synthetic liner. It also promised to cover one of the lagoons which is a source of toxic gasses such as Ammonia and Hydrogen Sulfide. The collected gasses would be flared off, creating a whole new set of gaseous pollutants.

Cargill has also promised to examine the use of Plasma Arc Pyrolysis to deal with the feces and urine, rather than land apply the waste. This will require running close to a 100,000 lbs per day of liquid wastes between two arcing electrodes in an inert atmosphere like Argon. All water would be vaporized and all solid wastes converted to a type of char similar to charcoal. If the process is run as described, the electric bill alone will run to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

This process has been used previously on dry medical wastes, but never on liquid wastes nor on this scale. It could be a dangerous process which would best be tested outside the watershed and away from the public school.

Lethal Laetrile

In 2013 the parents of a 2 year old girl abandoned traditional medicine in Maine and sought a alternative healer in Arizona for treatment of a form of eye cancer. This was against the recommendations of the physicians in Maine who had determined that the cancer had spread to the surrounding tissue and needed additional conventional treatment.

The alternative healer, Martha Grout MD, didn’t use traditional treatment for the condition, a known protocol but rather substituted the use of Laetrile, which has never been shown to be a treatment for any condition, much less cancer, and is not approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

The drug was administered by the doctor at about 3 PM and the child was dead by 8. Cause of death? Cyanide poisoning. The doctor was reprimanded but not prosecuted and continues to practice her particular voodoo.

Laetrile

Laetrile

Laetrile, aka Amygdalin, is made from the seeds of the Rosaceae family and contains a substance which when consumed releases cyanide, in this case a lethal dose. So much for safety of this “natural medicine.”

Laetrile has been around since the 1950s but has never been shown to be effective in treating any condition. The original proponents suggested that normal cells can’t cause the release of cyanide, only cancer cells could. Cyanide would only be released within a cancer cell, killing it, but sparing normal cells. Not true.

Steve McQueen, the actor known for motorcycle chases in a World War II movie or a car chase movie in San Francisco, died while receiving Laetrile treatments in a clinic in Mexico in 1968. Laetrile can still be obtained from Mexico.

When the FDA began seeking fraud prosecutions for those selling Laetrile, the story changed. It was then described as a vitamin (Vitamin B-17), a deficiency of which could lead to cancer. This tack was taken because vitamins are regulated differently than drugs. Again the problem is that it is just not true. Laetrile is not a vitamin. There is know known condition that results from not having Laetrile as part of any diet.

Yet again the story changed. Once it could no longer be legally marketed as a vitamin, it became a necessary ingredient in a holistic approach to complete health, what ever that means.

Today the field of quackery is wide open due in large part to the internet and a significant change in the law with respect to how drugs are regulated. Previously anything sold as a drug had to be proven both safe and efficacious. In 1994 Senator Hatch of Utah sought and had enacted the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act.

Basically it defined a new class of “drugs” known as dietary supplements that no longer required proof of effectiveness or even safety. The only protection a consumer has is that the substance is what it claims to be, and doesn’t claim to be a drug. Advertizing is rife with claims such “supports a healthy” or “contributes to” or “promotes.” These terms can be interpreted by consumers as a supplement may really do something, but are sufficiently vague that they escape any regulation as a real drug.

Now more than ever – caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.

Global Warming and Agriculture

Global warming and agriculture

Combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon accumulated over millions and millions of years. The carbon is released in the form of Carbon Dioxide and is accumulating in the atmosphere. The current concentration is about 400 PPM, higher that hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. Recently the EPA has begun to regulate CO2 as a pollutant.

Generally plant life requires three things to grow; soil, water, and CO2. The need for CO2 for plant growth has led some to believe that more of it is a good thing. The problem is that more CO2 means more global warming. The environmental and agricultural damage done by global warming far outweigh any beneficial effects of elevated CO2.

Agriculture is an important component of our economy, more so in Arkansas than many other states. One in six jobs are directly related to agriculture. We are number 1 in rice production, number 2 in broilers (chicken), number 3 in catfish, number 4 in saw logs (timber) and on and on for many other agriculture products.

The first and most obvious risk to agriculture is rising temperature. Rising temperatures can stress both plants and animals resulting in lower productivity. With modern mechanized agriculture and huge economies of scale, profit margins are thin. Even small changes in productivity can mean big changes in income for farmers.

One of the major projections for global warming is a change in rainfall patterns across the continent, with mid continental regions becoming drier and the coastal regions wetter.

Even if net rainfall doesn’t change there are other negative consequences related to the availability of water for agriculture. How much it rains is important but soil moisture is the real factor. Warmer air means faster evaporation from the soil and less water available to plants.

drought

drought

Climate instability will also impact agriculture via changing rainfall patterns. How much rain falls is important but when it rains is also important. Rain outside the growing season has much less value than rain when it’s needed.

flooding

flooding

Intense storms during the growing season damage crops. Floods, high winds and hail storms all damage crops. Tornadoes damage crops. Droughts damage crops. Much of the crops lost would have been animal feed, so all of the above damage livestock, directly or indirectly. Cattle, Broiler houses, and farrowing barns will all be negatively impacted.

Imbalances in rainfall can be partly corrected by the use of ground water, but it is already stressed in the agriculturally important grand prairie. The Sparta aquifer which underlays much of the grand prairie has already been pumped down to a dangerous degree. For over 50 years the withdrawal has exceeded recharge rates. This makes water more expensive to pump, and also may allow lateral intrusion of saline waters, requiring expensive treatment to be useful.

Overly simplistic claims like extra CO2 is good, or warmer weather is good, are at the heart of much of the denial of the risk of global warming. We face a difficult future if we don’t act now to reduce risk. Solutions are known and available, we need to act.

Arkansas and the HVDC Power Line

Plains and Eastern Clean Line has proposed and are planning the construction of a 700 mile High Voltage Direct Current Power line stretching from the Oklahoma Panhandle to Memphis. The 600 kilovolt line will have the capacity to move 3.5 GigaWatts of power, equivalent to the output of 5 or 6 coal fired power plants. This represents a major move to deliver excess clean, wind-generated electricity out of the midwest to markets to the east.

wind turbine blade

wind turbine blade

Similar projects are in progress to our north, the Grain Belt Express Line will be passing through Missouri on the way to St. Louis and points east and the Rock Island Clean Line which will pass through Iowa and tie into several eastern states.

These projects are not so much about the here and now, but rather the there and then. Multimillion dollar projects take long lead times between inception and completion, usually several years, so they have to be planned with the future needs in mind. The recent requirement by the EPA to reduce our nations carbon emissions only hastens our need for clean renewable electrical energy to replace obsolescent coal fired power plants.

The lines have both supporters and detractors. Environmental groups usually favor the projects as a way to reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce the risk of the damaging effects of global warming. On the other side are land owners who see the power lines marching across their land as more big government intrusion into their lifestyles and even interfering with their livelihoods. Additional arguments against construction of the lines are possible health effects, and the fact that the entities proposing the construction are private companies.

It seems strange that an argument against private industry would be made. The United States to a very large degree operates that way, it’s capitalism, right? Rights of way (ROW) must be secured for these power line projects private or otherwise, just as any project in the public interest such as water lines or a railway. Fair market price must be paid for any property taken for the ROW.

Because these are direct current lines they have a relatively small footprint, at most about 200 feet wide.

Monopole_structure

Monopole_structure

The total area utilized by the Plains and Eastern Clean Line is about 8000 acres spread over the total roughly 300 miles in Arkansas. The actual land area taken out of service is much less than that as grazing land and hay fields are essentially undisturbed even within the ROW.

Health effects of the power lines relate to several phenomena – Induced magnetic fields, possible corona discharge, and ion production. There is no convincing evidence based on years of experience with power lines that any of the aforementioned causes have health effects.

The magnetic field induced by the proposed line is about the same as the earth’s magnetic field. A few meters from the edge of the right of way won’t even deflect a compass. Power transmission line operators design equipment to avoid corona discharge as it wastes power. With respect to the ions generated, if you worry about power lines, stay away from beaches and waterfalls as they produce even greater numbers of ions.

In the interest in full disclosure I am a member of the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club which has endorsed the proposed power line.