Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for August, 2017

Cruise ships pollute immensely while in harbour

I’d never thought much about cruise ships. But now I know better. This week, a team from the German NGO Nature and Biodiversity Union (NBU) have been measuring pollution around a harbour area of Reykjavik and discovered that while air quality in Reykjavik is generally “very, very good”, air pollution levels in the wind direction from arriving and departing cruise ships were up to 1000 times higher than local background concentrations.

The NBU were working with the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA). Dr Axel Friedrich from NBU measures ultrafine particulates, down to 20 nm, which penetrate through lung walls and can lead to a heart attack. They also contribute to dementia, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes II. Within a period of 24 hours, one ship can release the same amount of ultrafine particulates as one million cars. Iceland doesn’t have the sort of equipment required to measure these ultrafine particles.

In European Emission Control Areas, ships are required to use environment-friendly diesel oil with a sulphur content of 0.1%. But apparently regulations are less stringent elsewhere, and ships switch from low-sulphur diesel to heavy fuel oil – which has a sulphur content of 3.5% – when they reach Icelandic waters. In theory, in Iceland boats with 12 passengers or more have to use fuel with a maximum sulphur content of 1.5%. There are also rules which stipulate that ships have to use diesel or electricity when in port. But no one is responsible for monitoring this. And cruise ships keep their engines running when in port as they are required to continue to offer services to passengers in port as well as at sea. One cruise ship in harbour emits as much sulphur dioxide over a 24-hour period as 317 million cars. On Monday, when the measurements were done, three cruise ships were docked in Reykjavik.

Black carbon (also known as soot) is also released in huge amounts from cruise ships due to inefficient burning and on windy days it can be carried to glaciers where it darkens the surface and thereby increases heat absorption, which leads to melting. Transport of heavy fuel oil can also cause havoc if an accident happens out in the ocean.

About 50,000 people die annually from the black carbon, sulphur emissions and nitrogen oxides emitted from ships.

This is a complex issue which is well worth investigating. Besides NABU, check out the Clean Arctic Alliance and its website, HFO Free Arctic.

Anyone want an article on this?




Heated residents’ meeting demands closure of United Silicon smelter

At the packed public meeting aimed at residents living in the vicinity of the United Silicon plant at Helguvik, south-west Iceland, the Environment Agency said that they had authorized restarting of the plant back in May in the belief that modifications had been/were being done to the plant and that these would mean an end to the problems. But no, this hadn’t happened. In a detailed letter to the company that lists irregularities since the plant was restarted, the Agency now says they will close the plant on 10 September so that repairs can be done, or before then if if the furnace is stopped for more than an hour or was run at less than 10 megawatt power.

They say they receive almost no complaints if the smelter is run at full capacity, which is 32 megawatts. However, as one local councillor pointed out, in the 9 months since the plant started operating, the longest time that the plant has run at full capacity is 1.5 weeks.

The meeting was heated. One person asked those who had been affected by odour pollution or other pollution to stand up – and about one-third of those present did so. I suspect that many of those who did not stand up were not locals.

Various issues came up. The Left-Green MP for the constituency, Ari Trausti Gudmundsson, said that the plant machinery was made up of bits and pieces – one bit from here, another from there – which partly explains why there have been computer problems and pollution. Heart surgeon Tomas Gudbjartsson said that Norwegian research, though limited, shows that silicon has adverse effects on people living near silicon smelters as well as those working in the plants.

The local campaigning group that organized the meeting, ASH, wants the plant to close down. Period. And unlike the Environment Agency, which has always said that the plant must shut down until ….., ASH says there is no “until”. They are sick and tired of being guinea pigs. And they don’t want the Thorsil silicon plant to be built on the site opposite United Silicon either.

Only the Environment Agency has the authority to close down the plant.


Foreign news rarely reliable

Foreign news may actually be reliable sometimes, but I suspect it’s either because the news is very short or because a foreign correspondent (or “stringer” as they seem to be called) actually lives in the place where the reporting is from. Basically, reporters who get their news from elsewhere, or from an agency, don’t have the background to be able to understand the complexities of issues they’re writing about, or don’t know that the underlying premises are wrong. Or they take things out of context.

For instance, sometimes the Icelandic Foreign Affairs Ministry and other institutions have had to spend considerable time correcting incorrect information after inaccurate articles. Such articles come from “foreign news” journalists of national overseas news media, who may be able to report trivial news like the Icelandic president liking pineapple on his pizza but who do not have the background to report on issues such as Icelanders’ views towards EU membership, the housing crisis or other significant issues. It’s not just what IS reported that matters. What is left out, intentionally or unintentionally, is also important (that statement is actually valid for all reporting).

A friend in Kenya pointed out inaccuracies in how the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service incorrectly reported the latest elections in Kenya, and it’s well known that bad news sells, so that if a news agency journalist reports violence at a demonstration, that will be reported worldwide, whereas usually violence is only a very small part of demonstrations. During the pots and pans revolution in Iceland in 2009, there was violence one night, but it was NOT perpetrated by demonstrators but by petty criminals, who were using the opportunity to their advantage. The demonstrators ended up by protecting the police.

Another current example concerns the recent programme on CBS about how virtually 100% of Downs’ embryos are aborted in Iceland after screening. The head of the obstetrics department at the National University Hospital here is now having to explain that the statistics were used to prove their point, which means that viewers were being misled.

Some media sources have foreign correspondents based in particular countries, and such people SHOULD be able to report relatively accurately. And that’s fine. But for news from smaller countries,  I suspect that news media rarely use input from outsiders, even though those outsiders may be ideally suited to report in detail on issues.

So this is a plea to print, online and broadcasting media: develop a network of stringers in different countries and use them. Like me in Iceland, for instance.