Tag Archives: drinking water

U.N.’s water agenda at risk of being hijacked by big business

By Thalif Deen, February 11, 2013.  Source: Inter Press Service

Amidst growing new threats of potential conflicts over fast-dwindling water resources in the world’s arid regions, the United Nations will commemorate 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC).

But Maude Barlow, chairperson, Council of Canadians and a former senior advisor on water to the president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2008-2009, warns the U.N.’s water agenda is in danger of being hijacked by big business and water conglomerates.

“We don’t need the United Nations to promote private sector participation under the guise of greater ‘cooperation’ when these same companies force their way into communities and make huge profits from the basic right to water and sanitation,” Barlow told IPS.

At this time of scarcity and financial crisis, she said, “We need the United Nations to ensure that governments are fulfilling their obligations to provide basic services rather than relinquishing to transnational corporations.”

The Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which has been designated the lead U.N. agency, formally launched IYWC at a ceremony in the French capital Monday.

In New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the new pressures on water, including growing populations and climate change. One-third of the world’s 7.1 billion people already live in countries with moderate to high water stress, he said.

“Competition is growing between farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country,” Ban said. Upstream and downstream, and across borders, “We need to cooperate for the benefit of all now and in the future… Let us harness the best technologies and share the best practices to get more crop per drop.”

Back in December 2010, the 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2013 as the IYWC, following a proposal by Tajikistan.

The 2013 World Water Day, which will take place on Mar. 22, will be dedicated to water cooperation.

Barlow told IPS big water corporations have gained influence in almost every agency working at the United Nations.

The CEO Water Mandate, a public-private sector initiative launched by the United Nations in July 2007 and designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices, puts corporations such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Suez and Veolia directly into a position of influence over global water policy and presents a clear conflict of interest, she said.

“For-profit private companies cannot uphold the public interest if it conflicts with their bottom line,” said Barlow, who is also founder of the Blue Planet Project.

Even the World Water Development Report is now advised by an industry group on “business, trade, finance and involvement of the private sector,” she added.

Tom Slaymaker, senior policy analyst on governance at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS the United Nations recognised the “human right to water and sanitation” back in 2010.

“But today over 780 million lack improved water supplies and 2.5 billion lack basic sanitation facilities,” he added.

The 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation will be a critical year for the United Nations to reflect on why universal access has not yet been achieved, he said.

Slaymaker said it’s also time to reflect on the kind of political leadership and new forms of partnership that are required to accelerate progress towards universal access as part of the emerging post-2015 development framework of the United Nations.

According to the United Nations, the primary objective of IYWC is to raise awareness, both on the potential for increased cooperation, and on the challenges facing water management in light of the increase in demand for water access, allocation and services.

Since the General Assembly recognised the human right to water and sanitation, a number of countries, including Mexico, Kenya, Bolivia, The Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ecuador, El Salvador, The Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and France, have either adopted laws recognising the right to water or amended their constitutions to do so.

The Vatican recently recognised the human right to water and added that “water is not a commercial product but rather a common good that belongs to everyone.”

And last June, all 193 member states signed the Rio+20 Declaration which includes the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation as a universal right.

Specifically zeroing on the role of the private sector, Barlow told IPS that corporations are among those pledging their support for IYWC.

Aguas de Barcelona, the water company at the heart of a fierce debate in Spain over control of drinking water, is participating, she pointed out.

So are “corporations who fought us on the right to water are now scrambling to claim it in their own image”.

She quoted Nestle as saying that 1.5 percent of the world’s water should be put aside for the poor and rest should be put on the open market.

If Nestle gets its way, she argued, there will one day be a water cartel similar to big oil, making life and death decisions about who gets water and under what circumstances every day.

“But at least we have this recognised and acknowledged right that no one should be allowed to appropriate water for personal gain while others die from an inability to pay for water,” she said.

With time, “we will build consensus around the right to water and the understanding that water is a common heritage and a public trust.”

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Filed under Corporate Globalization, Food Sovereignty, Industrial agriculture, Water

Radiation Detected In Drinking Water In 13 More US Cities, Cesium-137 In Vermont Milk

Cross-posted from Forbes

Radiation has reached the EPA's maximum contaminant level in some milk samples (Royalty-free image collection via flickr)

Radiation from Japan has been detected in drinking water in 13 more American cities, and cesium-137 has been found in American milk—in Montpelier, Vermont—for the first time since the Japan nuclear disaster began, according to data released by the Environmental Protection Agency late Friday.

Milk samples from Phoenix and Los Angeles contained iodine-131 at levels roughly equal to the maximum contaminant level permitted by EPA, the data shows. The Phoenix sample contained 3.2 picoCuries per liter of iodine-131. The Los Angeles sample contained 2.9. The EPA maximum contaminant level is 3.0, but this is a conservative standard designed to minimize exposure over a lifetime, so EPA does not consider these levels to pose a health threat.

[UPDATE: The FDA’s Derived Intervention Level for iodine-131 in milk is much higher: 4700 picoCuries per liter.]

The cesium-137 found in milk in Vermont is the first cesium detected in milk since the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear accident occurred last month. The sample contained 1.9 picoCuries per liter of cesium-137, which falls under the same 3.0 standard.

Radioactive isotopes accumulate in milk after they spread through the atmosphere, fall to earth in rain or dust, and settle on vegetation, where they are ingested by grazing cattle. Iodine-131 is known to accumulate in the thyroid gland, where it can cause cancer and other thyroid diseases. Cesium-137 accumulates in the body’s soft tissues, where it increases risk of cancer, according to EPA.

Airborne contamination continues to cross the western states, the new data shows, and Boise has seen the highest concentrations of radioactive isotopes in rain so far.

A rainwater sample collected in Boise on March 27 contained 390 picocures per liter of iodine-131, plus 41 of cesium-134 and 36 of cesium-137. EPA released this result for the first time yesterday. Typically several days pass between sample collection and data release because of the time required to collect, transport and analyze the samples.

In most of the data released Friday the levels of contaminants detected are far below the standards observed by EPA and other U.S. agencies.

But the EPA drinking-water data includes one outlier—an unusually, but not dangerously, high reading in a drinking water sample from Chatanooga, Tennessee.

The sample was collected at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Sequoyah nuclear plant. A Tennessee official told the Chatanooga Times last week that radiation from Japan had been detected at Sequoyah but is “1,000 to 10,000 times below any levels of concern.” The 1.6 picocures per liter reported by the EPA on Friday is slightly more than half the maximum contaminant level permitted in drinking water, but more uniquely, it is many times higher than all the other drinking water samples collected in the U.S.

[UPDATE: EPA released new data Saturday revealing higher levels than reported here in Little Rock milk and Philadelphia drinking water]

The EPA released this new data through a new interactive open-data system it quietly launched on the EPA website Wednesday. The new interface is to be regularly updated, replacing EPA’s periodic news releases and pdf data charts. Here are more details of the data released Friday:

Drinking Water

Radioactive Iodine-131 was found in drinking water samples from 13 cities. Those cities are listed below, with the amount of Iodine-131 in picocuries per liter. The EPA’s maximum contaminant level for Iodine-131 in drinking water is 3 picocuries per liter.

  • Oak Ridge, TN collected 3/28: 0.63
  • Oak Ridge, TN collected at three sites 3/29: 0.28, 0.20, 0.18
  • Chatanooga, TN collected 3/28: 1.6
  • Helena, MT collected 3/28: 0.18
  • Columbia, PA collected 3/29: 0.20
  • Cincinatti, OH collected 3/28: 0.13
  • Pittsburgh, PA collected 3/28: 0.36
  • East Liverpool, OH collected 3/30: 0.42
  • Painesville, OH collected 3/29: 0.43
  • Denver, CO  collected 3/30: 0.17
  • Detroit, MI collected 3/31: 0.28
  • Trenton, NJ collected 3/31: 0.38
  • Waretown, NJ collected 3/31: 0.38
  • Muscle Shoals, AL collected 3/31: 0.16

Precipitation

In the data released Friday, iodine-131 was found in rainwater samples from the following locations:

  • Salt Lake City, UT collected 3/17: 8.1
  • Boston, MA collected 3/22: 92
  • Montgomery, Alabama collected 3/30: 3.7
  • Boise, ID collected 3/27: 390

As reported above, the Boise sample also contained 42 pC/m3 of Cesium-134, and 36 of Cesium-137.

Air

In the most recent data, iodine-131 was found in air filters in the following locations. In the case of air samples, the radiation is measured in picoCuries per cubic meter.

  • Montgomery, AL collected 3/31: 0.055
  • Nome AK collected 3/30: 0.17
  • Nome AK collected 3/29: 0.36
  • Nome AK collected 3/27: 0.36
  • Nome AK collected 3/26: 0.46
  • Nome AK collected 3/25: 0.26
  • Juneau AKcollected 3/26: 0.43
  • Juneau AK collected 3/27: 0.38
  • Juneau AK collected 3/30: 0.28
  • Dutch Harbor AK collected 3/30: 0.14
  • Dutch Harbor AK collected 3/29: 0.11
  • Dutch Harbor AK colleccted 3/26: 0.21
  • Boise, ID collected 3/27: 0.22
  • Boise, ID collected 3/29: 0.27
  • Boise, ID collected 3/28: 0.32
  • Las Vegas NV collected 3/28: 0.30
  • Las Vegas, NV collected 3/30:: 0.088
  • Las Vegas, NV collected 3/29: 0.044

No other types of isotopes were found in the most recent data from air samples, even though EPA is also on the lookout for barium-140, cobalt-60, cesium-134, cesium-136, cesium-137, iodine-132, iodine-133, tellurium-129, and tellurium-132.

In older samples, isotopes of cesium and tellurium were found in Boise; Las Vegas; Nome and Dutch Harbor; Honolulu, Kauai and Oahu, Hawaii; Anaheim, Riverside, San Francisco, and San Bernardino, California; Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida; Salt Lake City, Utah; Guam, and Saipan on the Marina Islands.

Some of these locations had not been previously reported in EPA news releases.

The EPA has said it will continue to monitor radiation levels in air, precipitation, drinking water, and milk even if the budget impasse shuts down the government next week.

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