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A Pick Axe and a Heart Attack: Workers Suffer As They Clean Up Toxic Mess That Vernon’s Old Battery Recycling Plant Left Behind

By Mariah Castañeda - L.A. Taco, October 26, 2022

When workers tasked with cleaning up toxic lead dust spilled by the Exide battery recycling plant from Guadalupe Valdovinos’ yard started packing up, she noticed they hadn’t finished. She saw a large patch of soil on her property that they hadn’t touched. 

When she insisted they missed a spot, she remembers the clean-up workers rudely said that cleaning up the untouched corner of her property “wasn’t part of the plan.” 

Valdovinos says that the apparent disregard for her home started early in the clean-up process “They would hit and break things. We expected them to repair it. They were hostile. They were they would grunt or be very like, well, we didn’t do that,” said Valdovinos, “Like, we didn’t come at them attacking them. We were just pointing out, hey. You broke something. And they took it very offensive, like, No, we didn’t do that. No, that’s not our problem. So that was another issue. Yeah, it wasn’t a friendly environment.”

She complained about the clean-up at an Environmental Board Meeting in July and addressed California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), the state agency responsible for cleaning up the mess made by Exide Technologies’ battery recycling plant. For decades, Exide belched out thousands of tons of poisonous lead dust across the predominantly Latino communities surrounding the industrial city of Vernon. 

“I’m here to urge the Council and DTSC not to contract the cleaning crew National Engineering Consulting Company Group, also known as NEC because they are not professional,” said Valdovinos at the Environmental Board Meeting.

She was hardly the first to complain of sloppy standards affecting the cleanup of more than 7 million pounds of lead dust spewed out by Exide. Residents have long complained about issues with the cleanup, and now employees of the contractors responsible for the cleanup are speaking out too. Reporting by L.A. TACO found two incidents of severe injuries to subcontractor workers due to possibly unsafe working conditions and questionable treatment of poisonous lead dust. 

One cleanup worker died after suffering injuries inflicted by a Bobcat digger at one site in 2020. At another, in the spring of 2022, an employee of a state contractor was severely injured by a pickax blow to their chest and shoulder area after a site was not appropriately cleared for overhead hazards. 

Solving the Climate Crisis with Nuclear Energy Won’t Work

By Robert Pollin - Dollars & Sense, March/April 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is—as of this writing, in late March—an ongoing calamity. As of now, it is impossible to predict how it might end, and what all its costs will be. We do know, as of now, that many thousands of people are dead, and millions of lives are being wrecked.

In addition to these most brutal consequences, the war must force us to rethink many issues that—with no exaggeration—reach to the core of how we can envision future prospects for life on earth. I will consider only one such question now. That is: What role should nuclear energy play in advancing a workable global climate stabilization project?

In the initial phase of its invasion on February 24, the Russian military seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is located about 60 miles north of Kyiv in Ukraine. In 1986, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, Chernobyl was the site of the most severe nuclear power plant accident in history. An explosion blew the lid off one of the plant’s four operating nuclear reactors. This released radioactive materials into the atmosphere that spread throughout the region. Despite this disaster, the other three reactors at Chernobyl continued operating until 2000.

The other three reactors did cease operating in 2000. And the site still houses more than 20,000 spent fuel rods. These rods must be constantly cooled, with the cooling system operating on electricity. If the system’s electrical power source were to malfunction, the spent fuel rods could become exposed to the air and catch fire. This would release radioactive materials into the atmosphere. Once released, the radioactive materials could again spread throughout the region and beyond, as they did in 1986. This is a low-probability but by no means a zero-probability scenario.

On March 3, the Russian miliary also took control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe. According to a March 4 report on NPR, “Russian forces repeatedly fired heavy weapons in the direction of the plant’s massive reactor buildings, which housed dangerous nuclear fuel.” All military actions at or near the plant create further danger of the plant’s operations becoming compromised. As with Chernobyl, this could then lead to radioactive materials being released into the atmosphere.

Nuclear disasters at both Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia are therefore active threats right now. In addition, the war is compromising the security systems that operate to protect both sites. The fact that both sites have become combat zones means that they are more vulnerable to attacks from non-state actors, including terrorist organizations of any variety. The aim of such organizations in breaching security at Chernobyl or Zaporizhzhya would almost certainly include gaining access to materials that would enable them to produce homemade nuclear weapons. At the least, they would be positioned to threaten the release of radioactive materials.

Plastic pollution treaty: agreement must include all workers in plastics life cycle

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation, March 3, 2022

The ITUC has welcomed the latest step to agree a global treaty to tackle the crisis of plastic pollution, but has demanded immediate action to ensure a just transition for working people.

Nearly 200 countries agreed on a resolution that establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) with the ambition of completing a draft, global, legally-binding agreement by the end of 2024.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:

“It’s good that the final resolution acknowledges the key role of informal workers, and workers’ cooperatives, in collecting, sorting and recycling plastics in many places.

“But, the final treaty must recognise the importance of all workers in the life cycle of plastics, from fossil fuel fracking to production to waste.

“It must include comprehensive ’just transition’ plans to deal with the future impacts of the treaty on these workers in a fair way. But quite frankly, the world can’t wait. We need just transition plans now in every company and every country for every working person affected.

“We will engage fully with the INC to make sure all working people in the plastics supply chain are heard and their interests taken into account.”

It is expected that the INC will present a legally binding treaty that will address:

  • the full lifecycle of plastics;
  • the design of products and materials;
  • the need for international collaboration to facilitate access to technology and scientific and technical cooperation.

The UN Environment Programme says that global plastic production has risen to around 400 million tonnes per year, with only an estimated 9% recycled.

The remainder is dumped in landfills or into the environment, including around 11 million metric tonnes put into the ocean each year. This figure is expected to double by 2030.

Stop Buying Stuff (a case study on a successful reuse program)

Refuse workers take strike action during COP26 climate talks

Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

By Suzanne Jeffery, editor, et. al - Campaign Against Climate Change, November 2021

This report was written by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU). It builds on and develops the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014). The editorial group and contributors to this report are trade unionists, environmental activists and campaigners and academics who have collaborated to update and expand the previous work. Most importantly, this updated report is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and the type and scale of the transition needed to match it.

This report shows how we can cut UK emissions of greenhouse gases to help prevent catastrophic climate change. We explain how this transformation could create millions of climate jobs in the coming years and that the public sector must take a leading role. Climate jobs are those which directly contribute to reducing emissions. This investment will give us better public transport, warmer homes, clean air in our cities and community renewal in parts of the country which have long been neglected. Most importantly, it will give us a chance for the future, avoiding the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Read the text (Link).

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: Examining False Corporate Schemes advanced through the Paris Agreement

Workers at Curbside Recycling Win Raise, Paid Time Off

By Elise Brehob - Industrial Worker, September 22, 2021

For workers at the Curbside Recycling Program in Berkeley, California, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for better working conditions. The truck drivers, who have been required to work every day while many California residents sheltered at home, demanded and won both a wage increase and more paid time off. The Curbside Recycling Union is organized with the Industrial Workers of the World.

The Curbside Recycling Program is operated by the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization, under contract with the City of Berkeley. The program’s recycling truck drivers began organizing in 1988 and won their first union contract the following year. More than 30 years later, the drivers remain unionized, winning greater wages and benefits, as well as maintaining control over their routes and accident review committees.

“The purpose of the accident review committee is to give the workers the ability to discuss and vote on accident responsibility,” explains Joe, a driver at the Curbside Recycling Program and member of the union. “For instance, if a recycling truck is sideswiped by an impatient motorist, the committee has the ability to find the driver of the truck blameless.”

Joe also recalls a half-day strike that the Curbside Recycling Union staged a few years ago, which involved every driver walking off the job.

 “There was one key demand,” says Joe. “That demand was that the workers have a say in route distribution and route assignments, which the company agreed to. … That was a key moment for the union to demonstrate union power.”

Our Existence is Our Resistance: Mining and Resistance on the Island of Ireland

By Lydia Sullivan - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

This analysis of geological and permitting data shows that a staggering 27% of the Republic of Ireland and 25% of Northern Ireland are now under concession for mining.

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

A Green Shift? Mining and Resistance in Fennoscandia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Sápmi

Mirko Nikolic, Editor, et. al. - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish authorities have granted concessions for tens of thousands of hectares of land, with mining pressure increasing particularly dramatically in Sápmi – the home territory of the Indigenous Sámi Peoples. 

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

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