NCWQ Environmental Report May 2019

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on the impact of Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin: In previous reports and submissions to Government, concerns have been raised about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine. Theseincluded

  • Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas;
  • Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin;
  • Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss;
  • Impact of dredging at Abbot Point and
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

NCWQ submissions on impact of Carmichael Coal Mine;  impact of expansion of ports on the GBR environs; dredging and disposal of dredged material at Abbot Point; Galilee Coal Project at Bimblebox Nature Refuge

 

Details of objections to the granting of the mining lease and the environmental authority, the judicial review of the environmental authority and litigation against the mine involving native title have been detailed in previous reports. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;  http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

As reported previously the initial proposal to extract up to 60 million tonnes per annum of coal for 150 years from an estimated coal resource of 8.3 billion tonnes was reduced to a project lifetime to 60 yearswith estimated total production of2.3 billion tonnesof thermal coal. The originally proposal was for a new 189km rail line to the Port of Abbot Pointfor export principally to India to be burnt for electricity production, and for expanded capacity of the Port of Abbot. Subsequently, proposed port expansion has been reduced in size and the decision made to use the existing rail line for the initial stage of the project.

However the proposed mine would still be one of the largest coal mines in the worldand the mining and burning of coal from would generate an estimated 4.7 billion tonnesof greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to climate change, one of the major impacts of the mine is on groundwater. http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

Groundwatermodels aim to determine the likely effect of mining on groundwater levels and flows of water to and from key areas. If the groundwater levels decline below thresholdscritical to the function of whole ecosystems, such as the Doongmabulla Springs, irreversible harm can occur. Groundwater models can also be used to assess changes in flows of water to and from springs and streams, such as the Carmichael River, which crosses the mine site.

In late 2018 and early 2019 CSIRO and Geoscience Australia(GA) wrote two reports for the Federal Government on specific questions on groundwater monitoring, management and modelling planned by Adani Pty Ltd for its Carmichael mine proposal.

Their review pointed out three major flaws:-

  1. Over-prediction of flow from the Carmichael River into the aquifers below.
  2. Hydraulic conductivity values used in the model were significantly different from the values estimated by previous testing of the geological layers at the mine site.
  3. Bore heights used to calibrate the model were incorrect

If the model is corrected to address these flaws, the review points out that the drawdown at the Doongmabulla Springs will in all likelihood be higher than required under Adani’s federal approval conditions.

In addition which underground aquifers feed Doongmabulla Springs has not been identified.Substantive corrective measures for reversing future spring-flow impacts from mining have not been defined

Unless Adani puts forward its plan for dealing with these very real risks, regulators cannot hope to make an informed decision about the risk the mine poses to the Doongmabulla Springs.https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2019/Statement-on-Adani-Carmichael-proposalhttps://theconversation.com/unpacking-the-flaws-in-adanis-water-management-plan-116161

Adani’s groundwater dependent ecosystem management plan(GDEMP) for its proposed Carmichael coal mine was recently approved by Federal Environment Minister after the company made commitments to fully address these issues. However, there is serious concern whether the company can or will address these issues.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-17/adani-water-management-plan-criticised-by-csiro/10625228https://theconversation.com/unpacking-the-flaws-in-adanis-water-management-plan-116161

A January 2019 analysis by EDO Qldof the latest version of Adani’s Black-throated Finch Species Management Plan showed the company had gone backwards in its commitments to the endangered species, reducing its proposed offset area by more than 2000 hectares compared to previous versions of its plan.https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project11 March, 2019

The Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan and the Black Throated Finch Management Plan still need to be approved by the Queensland Government before significant disturbance can commence at the Carmichael Coal Mine.

Water licences: As reported previouslyCarmichael coal mine has been granted an unlimited 60-year water licence. Water pressure is an issue with flows from artesian bores now roughly half what they were in 1915. Since then, the water level in some bores has fallen by as much as 80 metres, and a third of bores have stopped flowing altogether. This directly affects the human, plant and animal communities that rely on artesian water. https://theconversation.com/why-does-the-carmichael-coal-mine-need-to-use-so-much-water-75923 April 13, 2017. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D for submission to Federal Government and Queensland Government;  http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

EDO QLD are currently taking the Federal Government to court, acting on behalf of Australian Conservation Foundation, over the Government’s decision to allow Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme to proceed without an assessment of its impacts on precious water resources. The scheme involves a 61 km pipeline for Adani to extract and pump up to 12.5 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor river.

Adani was granted their associated water licence and surface water licence for the Carmichael Mine on 29 March 2017. https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project11 March, 2019

History of offences:Previously reported  allegations of Adani’s environmental offences in India include causing salinity in water supplies, the illegal destruction of mangroves and sand dunes and the blocking and filling of creeks. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/emails-reveal-officials-probing-environmental-and-financial-concerns-with-adani-supermine-20171102-gzdc5h.htmlReport_Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia. The Adani Groups Global Environmental Record_29 Oct 2015.pdf

The Queensland Government is investigating whether Adani has breached its environmental licence for the second time in two years with the release of coal-laden floodwaters from its coal port at Abbot Point in the state’s north.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-13/adani-facing-government-probe-abbot-point-wetland-release/10805206

With high definition satellite imagery, drone footage, public bore registers, and on-the-ground observations and photography,  EDO Qld and their client, Coast and Country, have delivered evidence to the Queensland Government that Adani has broken the law by clearing land, building roads, and commencing dewatering operations without the correct approvals in place.https://www.edoqld.org.au/evidence_supports_the_case_adani_broken_the_law30 December, 2018; https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project,https://www.edoqld.org.au/update_adani_mine_project

Jobs:Initially 10,000 direct and indirect jobs peaking from 2024 with $22 billion in taxes and royalties were predicted. In court in 2015, the company economics expert instead said it would create an extra 1,464 jobs in Australia — 1,206 of them in Queensland — and generate $16.8 billion in taxes and royalties.

While the revised mine plan could be less than a quarter of its original scale, Adani has not publicly put forward a new projection for jobs or tax and royalty streams. It is yet to reach a final deal with the State Government on how its royalty payments might be deferred in the mine’s first five years.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-26/what-we-know-about-adanis-carmichael-coal-mine-project/11049938

It would seem prudent to delay the commencement of the project given the advice from CSIRO and the company’s poor record of environmental management in Indiaand Australia until these issues are addressed.

Environment Report, September 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Waste:  Australians are generating around 64 million tonnes of waste every year. This could cause health and environmental problems. To combat this problem the Federal and State Governments are updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources to provide a national framework for improving Australian waste management.  A circular economy is promoted in the discussion paper with five principles that underpin waste management, recycling and resource recovery: Discussion paper Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources September 2018   In this report which forms the basis of feedback to the Government, these principles and strategies are discussed.

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  • Updating the 2009 National Waste Policy: Less waste, more resources. Representation of a Circular Economy as it applies to resource use (reproduced by Department of the Environment and Energy with permission of the European Union)

Principle 1. Avoid waste  (National target 10% by 2030; Food Waste target  50% by 2030, problematic plastics by 2030))-

  • prioritise waste avoidance, encourage efficient use, reuse and repair
  • design products so waste is minimised, they are made to last and materials are more easily recoverable

 

Given the differences in % wastage of the various materials, it would appear advisable to encourage those industries which generate and use materials which can detrimentally affect health and the environment to have specific targets.  e.g. as well as plastics, fly ash and hazardous waste

 

 

 

Waste generation and fate by material category, Australia 2014-15

‘Masonry mat.’ means masonry material; ‘c’board’ means cardboard; ‘Hazwaste’ means hazardous waste; ‘En recovery’ means energy recovery. The stated percentages are the resource recovery rates = (energy recovery + recycling) / generation. Australian National Waste Report 2016

 

Designing systems and products that increase a product’s lifecycle including disassembly and repair is very important.  However the long term degradability of the material should be considered also.  For example plastic can break down into microplastics which could act as an agent for the transfer of many fat-soluble pollutants, such as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds, from the environment and into organisms such as fish. Lusher, A.L.; Hollman, P.C.H.; Mendoza-Hill, J.J. 2017.Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture: status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper. No. 615. Rome, Italy.

 

Principle 2. Improve resource recovery (80% from all resource recovery streams by 2030)

  • improve material collection systems and processes for recycling
  • improve the quality of recycled material we produce

 

While packaging is essential to protect the integrity and security of products, single use packaging can make a substantial contribution to waste.  In their Australian Packaging Covenant Strategic Plan (2017-2022), the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO) aims by 2022 to have

  • developed proven viable approaches to remove 50% of current problem packaging types or materials including soft plastics, takeaway coffee cups and expanded polystyrene from the waste stream with 90% of its members actively participated in closed loop collaboration of circular economies.
  • delivered a packaging Recycling/Disposal Labelling Scheme in market covering 85% of packaging; and the collective efforts of APCO members will have resulted in a decrease in labelled recyclable packaging going to landfill , and have reduced single-use Business to Business packaging, as a proportion of turnover, by 30%, based on 2017 reported levels.Australian Packaging Covenant Strategic Plan 2017 – 2022

Does APCO membership cover the majority of firms in the packaging supply chain?  Perhaps membership could be extended to businesses in the packaging supply chain with less than an annual turnover of $AUD5 million.  Packaging on imported products must be a contributing factor to waste.

 

The current review of the Product Stewardship Act of 2011 should determine whether the Voluntary accreditation of product stewardship arrangements and the Co‐regulatory product stewardship schemes delivered by industry and regulated by the Australian Government are effective.  And it should be clear whether Mandatory product stewardship schemes are needed to label products, to make arrangements for recycling products at end of life, or require a deposit and refund to be applied to a product, or ban certain substances or materials from use in products. http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/consultations/79a39335-ee07-4f94-ab7f-cd8323641af0/files/ps-act-review-consultation-paper.pdf

 

Having different bins for each type of waste would be advantageous.  It should not be necessary for every householder to have every bin, provided depots are conveniently located.  For example, in Kamikatsu, Japan, the population of about 1,500 take their rubbish to the recycling centre and sort it into 45 different categories.  Volunteers collect the rubbish of the elderly once a month.  Food scraps are mostly composted and more than 80% of the town’s other waste is now recycled.  The remaining 20% that can’t currently be processed — things like nappies and certain types of plastics — get sent off to be incinerated.  By 2020 the town aims to be waste free.  The sheer inconvenience of having to take one’s rubbish to the recycling centre also acts as a deterrent to excess consumption in the first place..http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-20/kamikatsu-the-japanese-town-with-45-different-recycling-bins/9776560

Photo: Kamikatsu’s waste station manager, Kazuyuki Kiyohara.  Photo: Kamikatsu residents bring their waste to the recycling plant. (ABC News: Yumi Asada)

 

Principle 3. Increase use of recycled material and build demand and markets for recycled products

The importance of commonly accepted working definitions of what constitutes recyclable, compostable or reusable across the States and Territories is crucial for success.  At present these differ by State and Territory.  The milestone of having national standards and specifications for high priority recycled materials or applications in place by 2020 should start to address this.

Unless there is a strong domestic market for recyclable materials all the effort of collecting and sorting will be in vain.  For example, the lack of market for recycled plastic appears to have been a disincentive.  One recycling business which turns soft plastics such as milk cartons and squeezable shampoo bottles into sturdy plastic play equipment, termite-proof boardwalk decking and bollards, processes about a third of what it has the capacity to.  This firm with at least one other only accepts plastic waste from organisations willing to buy back the recycled products. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/22/recycling-in-australia-is-dead-in-the-water-three-companies-tackling-our-plastic-addiction.  Increased awareness of the waste problems and participation in recycling by organisations and the public is needed.  The current ABC TV series may help.

Converting plastic waste to fuel has potential.  Geyer et al note the vast majority of monomers used to make plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, are derived from fossil hydrocarbons.  None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable so they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment.  The only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by destructive thermal treatment, such as combustion or pyrolysis. Geyer, Jambeck, Law Sci. Adv. 2017;3: e1700782; (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782)  Some types of plastics e.g. pure hydrocarbons, such as polyethylene and polypropylene are more suitable than others for using this technology. https://insteading.com/blog/plastic-to-fuel   A commercial scale facility capable of converting waste plastics to fuel at a rate of 50 feedstock tonnes per day was commissioned in NSW by Integrated Green Energy (IGE) with Foyson Resources using a catalytic restructuring process. http://plasticpyrolysisplants.com/50-tpd-plastics-to-diesel-plant-produces-first-batch-in-australia/  A plant was also planned to be built at Hume in the ACT.  The company claimed their technology removed ash, dealt with hydrocarbon contaminants, and used waste gas for heating to burn off gas at a high enough temperature to destroy noxious compounds. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/foy-group-walks-away-from-plasticstofuel-plant-in-hume-20180114-h0i0qw.html  An independent panel reported the company’s environmental impact statement failed to sufficiently address key risks, including the risk of explosions, the potential damage to surrounding land, and the effects on air quality.  They also recommended ACT should have a “proof of performance” requirement.  Hence the plan was shelved. https://the-riotact.com/foys-planned-oil-refinery-has-hit-a-major-obstacle/202920   Could these problems have been addressed? Maybe, given the waste disposal problem exasperated by China’s ban on imported solid waste, the need for sustainable continuous energy supply and that Australia only has 48 days aggregated fuel reserves, the limitation on resin type to be used in waste to energy plants should be reconsidered.

 

Principle 4. Better manage material flows to benefit human health, the environment and the economy

Although the megatonnes of organic waste is much greater than that of plastic and hazardous waste the latter two pose a greater threat or risk to public health, safety or to the environment.

 

Recycled plastics aren’t able to continually serve the same purpose after recycling.  The process of melting down and recycling plastic produces volatile organic compounds that can harm plant and animal life including humans near the industrial site if not carefully controlled.  Plastic is manufactured from petroleum and this substance can leech into foods stored in recycled plastic containers.  Plastic manufacturers only use a small portion of recycled plastic, if any, when producing food containers and packaging.  Because of the potential health threats recycled plastic poses, much plastic recycling is actually down-cycling e.g. a plastic water bottle may be down-cycled to become artificial turf or plastic furniture.https://sciencing.com/disadvantages-recycled-plastics-7254476.html   Hence, the aim of the National Waste Policy to phase out problematic and unnecessary plastics is strongly supported.

There are many reasons to support the target of the National Food Waste Strategy of halving the volume of organic waste sent to landfill by 2030, not least to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diverting food waste from landfill, but also to make better use of resources such as land, water, energy and fuel to produce and distribute food.  Innovative Australian Food waste solutions such as turning imperfect-looking vegetables and fruit into other products and identifying most cost-effective transport option from farm through to processor, storage facility or manufacturer, through to retailers and export ports should help.. The National Food Waste Strategy.

Principle 5. Improve information to support innovation, guide investment and enable informed consumer decisions.

Baseline data being collected and referred to in National Waste Policy and the National Food Waste Strategy as well as data on hazardous materials in Hazardous Waste in Australia 2017 are essential information.  Should not national strategies such as National Waste Policy and the National Food Waste Strategy be developed for other materials, in particular hazardous waste and plastics, under the auspices of the Department of the Environment?

 

Recently, Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGES), announced a joint venture agreement with the Chinese Crown World Holdings to construct a waste plastic-to-fuel facility in Weifang in Shandon Province of China.  The facility will have an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per day, producing 70 million litres of road-ready fuels per annum.  IGES’s patented plastic-to-fuel process is claimed by the company to reduce the environmental impacts of waste plastic, that would otherwise be used in landfills or discarded into the environment. .http://www.manmonthly.com.au/news/australian-company-convert-chinas-waste-plastics-fuel/

This followed the shelving of the plastic to fuel facility in Hume.  It is regrettable the expertise could not be kept and exploited in Australia.  Strategies to support innovation and research and development in waste management and recycling, and support creating and maintaining markets for recycled materials are crucial.

Download the full report with graphics, here.

Environment Report, November 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Climate Change – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report:  Under the Paris Agreement 197 nations agreed to reduce global warming emissions and limit the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C relative to 1850-1900, with an aspirational 1.5°C target to avoid dangerous climate effects such as sea level rise, extreme weather and droughts.  If the planet continues to warm at the current rate of 0.2℃ per decade, the 1.5℃ increase is likely around 2040. Impacts are already being felt around the world, with declines in crop yields, biodiversity, coral reefs, and Arctic sea ice, and increases in heatwaves and heavy rainfall.  Communities and ecosystems around the world have already suffered significant impacts from the 1℃ of warming so far, and the effects at 1.5℃ will be harsher still. Small island states, deltas and low-lying coasts are at risk of increased flooding, and threats to freshwater supplies, infrastructure, and livelihoods.  Warming to 1.5℃ also poses a risk to global economic growth, with the tropics and southern subtropics potentially being hit hardest. https://theconversation.com/new-un-report-outlines-urgent-transformational-change-needed-to-hold-global-warming-to-1-5-c-103237 October 8, 2018 Mark Howden & Rebecca Colvin ANU  ; NCWA Hot Habitats2018 Report Wendy Rainbird

The IPCC Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) illustrates climate-related risks are higher for global warming of 1.5°C than at present, but lower than at 2°C.  These risks depend on the magnitude and rate of warming, geographic location, levels of development and vulnerability, and on the choices and implementation of adaptation and mitigation options

e.g. coral reefs, heat waves, vulnerability, global scale disintegration, biodiversity  flooding, exposure, degradation of ice sheets, hot spots, monetary damage.

Warming greater than the global annual average is being experienced in many land regions and seasons, including two to three times higher in the Arctic.  Warming is generally higher over land than over the ocean.sr15_spm_final.pdf; https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/climate/unprecedented-changes-in-all-aspects-of-society-needed-to-meet-global-warming-target-ipcc-report/news-story/ecd1791a8d0cc99960525715ad9e0dc7

To limit warming to 1.5℃, carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, reaching near-zero by around 2050.  However current national pledges under the Paris Agreement are not enough to remain within a 3℃ temperature limit, let alone 1.5℃.  Many economists advocate putting a price on emissions to do this.  https://theconversation.com/new-un-report-outlines-urgent-transformational-change-needed-to-hold-global-warming-to-1-5-c-103237 October 8, 2018 Mark Howden & Rebecca Colvin ANU 

The argument against carbon tax has been put that for many countries a carbon tax it would have no detectable impact on global temperatures or climate but impose financial disadvantage.  In the U.S. which has withdrawn from the Paris agreement, coal-fired generation fell from 2,000 TWh in 2007 to 1,200 TWh in 2017 – without a carbon tax. Three decades ago, coal-fired power plants produced 38 percent of the world’s electricity or about 3,700 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year.  It was over 9,700 TWh in 2017.  In 2017, U.S. carbon emissions were around 5,100 billion metric tons from all sources, an almost 20 percent drop below emissions in 2007.

In contrast, world carbon emissions have kept increasing: by an average of more than 300 gigatons each year for the last decade, driven primarily by China’s and India’s increasing demand for energy.  The USA questions whether it should burden itself with a carbon tax when its competitors do not.  https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/413394-flaw-in-un-climate-report-china-india-will-never-impose-carbon-tax

https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html#.W9a8js8Uncs

Similarly, some Australians are questioning why Australia which only contributes about 1% of global dioxide emissions should phase out fossil fuels.  They claim the only way to have reliable baseload power is through coal and gas.  While the traditional approach of steady, constant ‘baseload’ generation from coal augmented by flexible, dynamic ‘peaking’ generation from gas is one way of ensuring reliable electricity supply, today there are alternatives to this model.  These systems have:

In addition to the environment issues there are other issues to consider.  Small island states like Marshall Islands (an Australia’s neighbour) were pivotal in the inclusion of the 1.5°C goal.  Increasing warming amplifies the exposure of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas to the risks associated with sea level rise for many human and ecological systems, including increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure (high confidence).  Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences of global warming of 1.5°C and beyond include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods (high confidence). sr15_spm_final.pdf  International cooperation is paramount.

 

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel , recommends working towards zero-emissions while maximising Australia’s economic growth.  This will require an orderly transition to be managed over several decades.  An alternative to fossil fuels could be hydrogen since Australia has the resources to produce clean hydrogen for the global market at a competitive price, on either of the two viable pathways: splitting water using solar and wind electricity, or deriving hydrogen from natural gas and coal in combination with carbon capture and sequestration.  Building an export hydrogen industry will be a major undertaking. But it will also bring jobs and infrastructure development, largely in regional communities, for decades https://theconversation.com/the-science-is-clear-we-have-to-start-creating-our-low-carbon-future-today-104774

 

Update on the impact of plastic on the environment and health: Previously I have reported that packaging was the major source of plastic waste with 40% ending up in landfill and 32% as litter in the environment.  Four to 12 million tonnes of plastics leaked into the oceans in one year.  NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, May 2018); The plastics industry is highly reliant on finite stocks of oil and gas, which make up more than 90% of its feedstock. Four to eight % of the world’s oil production is used to make plastics with roughly half of this is used as material process.  Considerable greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the production and sometimes the after-use pathway of plastics.  In 2012, these emissions amounted to approximately 390 million tonnes of CO2 for all plastics.  Thus the circular economy which aims to conserve resources, reduce pollution and promote efficiency would appear highly relevant to the plastic industry.

 

World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics(2016, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications)..

 

The potential health threats of plastics have previously been reported.  Supporting information for submissions on micro and nano plastics from NCWA & NCWQ Environment Adviser,  NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, May 2018,September2018);Phthalates  is used as plasticizers to convert polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from a hard plastic to a flexible plastic. PVC is a widely used material, including extensive use in toys and other children’s products such as chewy teethers, soft figures and inflatable toys. Phthalates can be released from soft PVC by surface contact, especially where mechanical pressure is applied e.g. during chewing of a PVC teether.  Phthalates are also used as additives in ink, perfumes etc. Neeti Rustagi, S. K. Pradhan,1 and Ritesh Singh Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2011 Sep-Dec; 15(3): 100–103

In the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), USA Congress permanently prohibited children’s toys or child care articles containing concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of three types of phthalates: di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP); dibutyl phthalate (DBP); or, benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP). The CPSIA also established an interim prohibition on children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth or child care articles that contain concentrations of more than 0.1 percent of diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), or di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP), On October 27, 2017, the Commission issued a final phthalates rule (16 CFR part 1307) effective April 25, 2018 making the interim prohibition on DINP permanent in addition to similar prohibition of diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), Di-n-pentyl phthalate (DPENP), di-n-hexyl phthalate (DHEXP), and dicyclohexyl phthalate (DCHP). but lifting the interim prohibition on DIDP and DNOB. The rule applies to products manufactured or imported on or after April 25, 2018. https://www.cpsc.gov/Business–Manufacturing/Business-Education/Business-Guidance/Phthalates-Information

From 2 March 2010, certain children’s plastic products that contain, or have a component

that contains, more than 1 per cent by weight DEHP, are intended for use by children up to

and including 36 months of age and can readily be sucked and/or chewed were banned from

supply in Australia.  SupplierGuide-Children’s plastic products with more than 1percent diethylhexyl phthalate.pdf Should Australia be concerned about the other phthalates which have more than 0.1 percent in children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth or child care articles and which the USA have banned?

 

To address public concern about chemicals migrating from packaging into food FSANZ undertook a project to assess whether there were any unmanaged risks from packaging chemicals migrating into food.  FSANZ has determined that estimated dietary exposure to these chemicals is low and not of concern for human health.  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/foodpackaging/Pages/default.aspx

 

There has been an ongoing dispute about Bisphenol A (BPA) in the literature.  Several epidemiological studies and controlled animal (mainly rodent) experiments found associations between exposure to plastic compounds such as BPA and di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate DEHP and destructive effects on health and reproduction, such as early sexual maturation, decreased male fertility, aggressive behavior. Halden Rolf U., Plastics and Public Health  Ann . Rev. Public Health 2010. 31:179–94.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of polycarbonate plastics made from BPA in baby bottles.  Canada and the European Union followed suit. . However FDA’s current perspective, based on its most recent safety assessment, is that BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods. https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm064437.htm#summaryr

 

In June 2010, the Australian Government announced the voluntary phase-out by major Australian retailers of polycarbonate plastic baby bottles containing BPA.  This was reported to be in response to consumer preference and demand and not an issue about product safety.  In 2016 Food Standards Australia New Zealand  (FSANZ) published the 2nd phase of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study, which screened food for packaging chemicals.  BPA wasn’t found at all in many samples and where it was detected levels were well below safety level.  http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/pages/default.aspx

With regard to the several epidemiology studies where apparent associations between BPA exposure and adverse health effects. The FSANZ found that none of these studies had demonstrated a causal link between BPA and adverse effects in humans. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/chemicals/bpa/Pages/bpa-response-to-studies.aspx Despite the occurrence being below critical threshold values in many cases, exceedances in certain susceptible populations, such as pregnant women and children, are known to occur in some instances.  If BPA and DEHP have endocrine-disrupting properties, there is cause for concern.  Halden Rolf U., Plastics and Public Health  Annu. Rev. Public Health 2010. 31:179–94

Surely it is safer to err on the side of precaution?

 

Download the full PDF with graphics here.

 

Environment, Annual Report 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

A range of environmental issues was researched and reported on during the year. Major issues included the impact of marine debris, micro and nano-plastics on the coastal and marine environment, and the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin.  Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.

 

Impact of micro and nanoplastics:  In October 2015, the National Council of Women of Australia (NCWA) raised concerns with the Federal Government (FG) about the impact of microplastics on the marine environment, in particular the Great Barrier Reef, and whether toxins incorporated during manufacture or absorbed from the environment onto microplastics, were transferred to marine organisms and potentially up the food chain.  Since that time further research confirmed micro and nanoplastics contribute significantly to marine and coastal pollution and if ingested or inhaled, may transfer from the lungs and guts of organisms to their cells and tissues.  In addition, micro fibres have been found present in the air and contaminating tap water across the world.  Hence another submission was made urging the FG:

  • To support legislation to be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in December, 2017 and aimed at combating marine plastic waste and microplastics.
  • To support research and monitoring programs on the impact of micro- and nanoplastics
  • To undertake cost-effective ecological and seafood safety risk assessments on micro- and nanoplastics and associated polymers, to reduce plastic use and encourage the use of alternative materials, recycling and the adoption of sustainable practices in using plastics and managing plastic pollution.

A similar submission was submitted to the Queensland Government (QG).

 

Marine Debris:  The FG is to be congratulated on its initiatives in addressing the global problem of marine debris, especially the development of the 2017 Threat Abatement Plan.  It was pleasing to read that at the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the Australian delegate moved a draft resolution to address marine litter and microplastics and facilitated the final resolution being passed.  It is unfortunate resolutions are non-binding.  But as there appeared to be much common ground between the UN declaration and Australia’s Threat Abatement Plan, one wonders why Australia has not supported the United Nations Cleanseas campaign.

A submission was prepared urging the FG:

  • to legislate appropriate measures rather than rely on industry to voluntarily reduce pollution;
  • use the UN Environment platform to argue for countries to take responsibility of the marine waste originating in their country;
  • support research and development programs into recycling plastic; and
  • investigate opportunities to partner with overseas aid organisations, community organisations and schools to tackle existing plastic debris perhaps using the plastic to fuel converters, both the small scale and commercial depending on the situation.

 

Plastic Waste:  The production and fate of the various resins and the potential environmental and health issues have been researched together with strategies to combat the resulting plastic waste.  The FG is to be commended for negotiating with the State and Territory Governments for 100% of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025, but in order to reach this target and address the plastic waste being stockpiled or becoming landfill more measures need to be taken.  A resolution has been submitted to the NCWA Conference in October 2018 urging the Government to develop policies which encouraging new or different packaging material, the participation of the public in sorting their plastic waste by resin type, the development and expansion of businesses converting plastic waste to a useful product in a manner which safeguards human health and the environment.

 

Impact of Carmichael Coal Mine:  In a submission to the FG, the NCWA raised concerns about the impact of mega mines in the Galilee Basin, in particular the Carmichael mine.  These included:

  • Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas,
  • Impact on ground water users in the Galilee Basin.
  • Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss.
  • Impact of dredging at Abbot Point.
  • Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Hence, the NCWA urged the FG to:

  • Consider the merits of the court cases with respect to groundwater, climate, ecological and economic impacts rather than just legality;
  • Reconsider the granting of critical infrastructure status and an unlimited 60-year water licence;
  • Insist that the greenhouse gases from the coal exported to India be accounted for in an environment impact statement; and
  • Reconsider the granting of a tax payer funded loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to a private multinational company.

A similar submission was submitted to the QG.

 

Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au

NCWQ Environment Report June 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Plastic Waste –Problem:  In 2015 global plastic production reached 322 million tonnes (Mt), a dramatic increase compared to the 279 Mt produced in 2011.  The plastics demand in the European Union was 58 Mt, of which 29.7% was recycled, 39.5% was recovered in the form of energy (mainly incineration) and 30.8% was sent to landfill  Kalargaris, Ioannis Guohong Tian, Sai Gu The utilisation of oils produced from plastic waste at different pyrolysis temperatures in a DI diesel engine Energy 131 (2017) 179e185; Association of Plastic Manufacturers Europe, Plastics e the Facts 2016. An analysis of the European plastics production, demand and waste data. European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations; 2016 p. 1e38.  Geyer et al estimated that 8300 Mt of virgin plastics had been produced between 1950 and 2015, of which 30% was still in use.  They estimated that in 2015, 407 Mt of primary plastics (plastics manufactured from virgin materials) entered the use phase, whereas 302 Mt left it.  Thus, in 2015, 105 Mt were added to the in-use stock.  The cumulative waste generation of primary and secondary (recycled) plastic waste amounted to 6300 Mt of which around 9% had been recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment i.e. about 60% of all plastic ever produced is in landfill or litter.  Four to 12 Mt of plastic waste generated on land was estimated to enter the marine environment of all major ocean basins in 2010.  Geyer et al also noted plastics’ largest market was packaging most of which leaves use the same year they are produced

Geyer, Jambeck, Law Sci. Adv. 2017;3: e1700782; (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782)

 

The fate of plastic packaging material is illustrated below.  With 78 Mt of plastic packaging used in 2013, only 14% was collected for recycling, 14% incinerated and the remaining 72% ended up in landfill or as litter in the environment

GLOBAL FLOWS OF PLASTIC PACKAGING MATERIALS IN 2013

World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics(2016, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications).. https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857 

 

Health and Environmental Issues:  Toxins in or attached to microplastics can embed themselves in the marine food chain.  The smallest plastic particle, nanoplastics, can carry larger amounts of environmental toxicants due to their high surface/volume ratio and can enter organs and body fluids of marine or land organisms and could be a risk to humans if digested. Supporting information for submissions on micro and nano plastics from NCWA & NCWQ Environment Adviser,  Plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, derived from fossil hydrocarbons, are not biodegradable and as a result, they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment. Geyer et al  ibid  Over the very long term landfill would result in production of greenhouse gases through slow decomposition of plastic in a putrescible landfill. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf

 

Strategies to combat this waste problem include avoiding products becoming waste (reduce and reuse); finding an alternative use for waste (recycle and recover); and as a last resort, disposing safely. Unfortunately landfill can be the default for the latter..

 

Reduce and Reuse:  There can be no argument about reducing plastic waste, like using alternative material to plastic e.g. hemp bags instead of plastic bags for shopping.  However, there is a proviso on continual reuse of plastic containers.  For example to make the plastic flexible, phthalates might be used in the manufacturing of plastic bottle.  Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, a major environmental concern, and which can mimic the actions of hormones in the human body.  https://www.thoughtco.com/safest-type-of-water-bottle-1203973

 

Recycle and Recover:  The Plastics Identification Code (PIC) identifies the type of plastic resin a product is made from, its properties and possible use when recycled.

 Code  

Resin

Examples of plastic products Characteristics Examples of recycled plastic products
PET/PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate Soft drink bottles, sleeping bag filling Clear, rigid, often used as a fibre Soft drink bottles, clear film for packaging
HDPE – High density Polyethylene Milk bottles, crinkly shopping bags Hard to semi flexible, usually opaque Wheelie bins, detergent bottles, agricultural pipes
PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride Cordial and juice bottles

Shoe soles, garden

hose

Flexible, clear and semi-elastic Pipes, tiles

Hose cores, industrial flooring

LDPE Low-density Polyethylene Ice cream lids, garbage bags Soft and flexible, waxy surface Freezer bags, plastic packaging
PP – Polypropylene Ice cream containers, crisp packets Flexible but strong Compost bins, worm farms
PS – Polystyrene

EPS Expanded Polystyrene

Yogurt pots, plastic cutlery, hot drink cups, take-away containers Rigid and brittle, clear or glassy looking, lightweight  and foam-like Clothes pegs, coat hangers
All other Plastic All other plastics Includes acrylic and nylon Varies Imitation timber and concrete products

Cleanaway Fact Sheet

However, these numbers do not mean that the items are automatically recyclable.  The PIC tells recyclers what type of plastic a product is made from.  Not all plastics are recyclable e.g. hard thermoset plastics commonly used in electronics.  Even those plastics that are recyclable often need mechanical or hand sorting into separate plastic polymer classes before they can be processed.  Currently only three of the seven categories are economically viable to recycle: PET (soft drink bottles); HDPE (milk bottles); and PVC (shampoo bottles).  The other four – LDPE (garbage bags); PP (microwaveable cookware); PS (foam hot drink cups); and other plastics are less economically viable and so are recycled at much lower rates.  https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857  Incentives like supplying labelled bins in convenient locations could encourage the public to sort their own plastic waste. Contamination can be a problem.

Effect on human health and the environment:  Recycled plastics aren’t able to continually serve the same purpose after recycling.  The process of melting down and recycling plastic produces volatile organic compounds that can harm plant and animal life including humans near the industrial site if not carefully controlled.  Plastic is manufactured from petroleum and this substance can leech into foods stored in recycled plastic containers.  Plastic manufacturers only use a small portion of recycled plastic, if any, when producing food containers and packaging.  Because of the potential health threats recycled plastic poses, much plastic recycling is actually downcycling e.g. a plastic water bottle may be downcycled to become artificial turf or plastic furniture.https://sciencing.com/disadvantages-recycled-plastics-7254476.html

Market for recycled plastic:  Lack of market for recycled plastic can be a disincentive.  One recycling business which turns soft plastics such as milk cartons and squeezable shampoo bottles into sturdy plastic play equipment, termite-proof boardwalk decking and bollards, processes about a third of what it has the capacity to.  This firm with at least one other only accepts plastic waste from organisations willing to buy back the recycled products. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/22/recycling-in-australia-is-dead-in-the-water-three-companies-tackling-our-plastic-addiction.

The Federal Government is to be commended for negotiating with the State and Territory Governments  for  a target of 100% of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.  The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, working with its 950 member companies are to deliver this target. However, the definitions of different waste categories vary by state and territory, so there is no commonly accepted working definition of what constitutes “recyclable, compostable or reusable”.  Because some products that are technically recyclable are not accepted in most councils, kerbside recycling collection the target is unlikely to be met without policies and market incentives. e.g. Almost 80% of glass and plastic bottles are recycled in SA which has container deposit legislation compared to 65% in WA where similar legislation is only at the discussion stage. Atiq Zaman, Curtin University, advocates

  1. legislation, regulations or incentives for manufacturers to develop new packaging types;
  2. an increase in public participation rates in recycling; and
  3. the development of a strong domestic market for recyclable materials.

https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857

Conversion of plastic waste to fuel:  Geyer et al note the vast majority of monomers used to make plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, are derived from fossil hydrocarbons.  None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable so they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment. The only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by destructive thermal treatment, such as combustion or pyrolysis. Geyer et al, ibid

 

The pyrolysis process to convert plastic waste to oil, the suitability of various plastics for this process and some of the commercial machines available to do this have been reported previously.  Some types of plastics e.g. pure hydrocarbons, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) are more suitable than others for using this technology NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, February 2018  Many Australian jurisdictions specify that the waste sourced as input for waste to energy plants must target genuine residual waste that cannot feasibly be reused or recycled. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf  A commercial scale facility capable of converting waste plastics to fuel at a rate of 50 feedstock tonnes per day was commissioned in NSW by Integrated Green Energy (IGE) with Foyson Resources using a catalytic restructuring process. http://plasticpyrolysisplants.com/50-tpd-plastics-to-diesel-plant-produces-first-batch-in-australia/  However, in a Report to the ACT Minister for Planning and Land Management on the Proposed FOY Group plastic to fuel facility in Hume industrial zone, an independent panel noted the IGE proposal was not supported by NSW EPA as the “proof of performance” requirement in the NSW Energy from Waste Policy was met. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf  The company also planned a plastics-to-fuel plant that would convert 73 tonnes of plastic into 77.5 million litres of fuel a year to be built at Hume in the ACT.  The company claimed their technology removed ash, dealt with hydrocarbon contaminants, and used waste gas for heating to burn off gas at a high enough temperature to destroy noxious compounds. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/foy-group-walks-away-from-plasticstofuel-plant-in-hume-20180114-h0i0qw.html  The independent panel reported the company’s environmental impact statement failed to sufficiently address key risks, including the risk of explosions, the potential damage to surrounding land, and the effects on air quality.  They also recommended ACT should have a “proof of performance” requirement.  Hence the plan was shelved. https://the-riotact.com/foys-planned-oil-refinery-has-hit-a-major-obstacle/202920  Recently, Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGES), announced a joint venture agreement with the Chinese Crown World Holdings to construct a waste plastic-to-fuel facility in Weifang in Shandon Province of China.  The facility will have an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per day, producing 70 million litres of road-ready fuels per annum.  IGES’s patented plastic-to-fuel process is claimed by the company to reduce the environmental impacts of waste plastic, that would otherwise be used in landfills or discarded into the environment. .http://www.manmonthly.com.au/news/australian-company-convert-chinas-waste-plastics-fuel/  The Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility Panel also noted that most proposed energy from waste facilities in Australia have not progressed to a commercial operation due to unanticipated complexities dealing with contamination in the mixed waste stream, resulting in mechanical handling problems, plant damage or failure to reliably comply with contemporary air emission standards.  An additional complication can be the challenge of maintaining a sustainable product in a marketplace where this competes with conventional products, and is influenced by world oil prices. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf   Maybe, given the waste disposal problem exasperated by China’s ban on imported solid waste, the need  for sustainable continuous energy supply and that Australia only has 48 days aggregated fuel reserves, the limitation on resin type to be used in waste to energy plants should be reconsidered.

Another method of producing fuel from plastic waste is Gasification which involves heating the waste plastic with air or steam, to produce a valuable industrial gas mixtures called “synthesis gas”, or syngas. This can then be used to produce diesel and petrol, or burned directly in boilers to generate electricity http://theconversation.com/if-we-cant-recycle-it-why-not-turn-our-waste-plastic-into-fuel-96128

However pyrolysis is reported to have better advantages towards environmental pollution and reduction of carbon footprint of plastic products. Pyrolysis minimizes the emissions of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide compared to combustion and gasification. A review on thermal and catalytic pyrolysis of plastic solid waste https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479717302992

 

Environment Report, September 2017

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environmental Adviser

A range of environmental issues were researched and reported on during the year. Threats to Great Barrier Reef and global warming remain major issues. Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.

Threats to Great Barrier ReefThe Queensland Government (QG) has accepted and is implementing the recommendations of the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce (GBRWST), including enhanced communication, increased levels of agricultural extension, a greater focus on innovation, expanded monitoring, financial and other incentives, and staged and targeted regulations. Early in the year, a submission was made urging the QG to ensure the recommendations come to fruition.

The QG commissioned the GBRWST to investigate the cost of various policy options to meet the reef water quality targets (sediment runoff to be reduced by 50% in the Fitzroy, Burdekin and Wet Tropics regions, and nitrogen levels by 80% in Burdekin and Wet Tropics catchments; sediment runoff by 20% and nitrogen levels by 50% in Mackay-Whitsunday and Burnett Mary catchments) below 2009 levels. The GBRWST estimated a cost of $8.2 billion using current methods and prices to reach the targets with a little more to be done in the Wet Tropics. However, by spending around $600 million in the most cost-effective areas halfway to the nitrogen and sediment targets could be achieved, allowing time to find more cost-effective solutions to close the remaining gap.

Unfortunately, for the second consecutive year the GBR suffered mass coral bleaching. In addition, tropical cyclone Debbie with to its category four intensity and slow speed impacted around a quarter of the Reef. There are also ongoing impacts from crown-of-thorns starfish, coral disease and poor water quality from coastal run-off. Recovery from bleaching is likely to be slower than from other impacts.

On 26-27May 2017, more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world met in Townsville for a Reef Summit to determine what else could be done to protect the Reef in addition to the existing extensive actions which were strongly supported. Additional options explored were developing coral nurseries, strategies for extending culling activities for the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, protecting herbivorous fish, expanding the vessel monitoring system and identifying priority reefs and demonstration sites for coral restoration.

The World Heritage Committee (WHC)’s 41st session held in July 2017 in Krakow, Poland recognised the significant effort underway to build the resilience of the GBR under the Australian Government(AG) and QG’s’ Reef 2050 Plan but noted the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 and that climate change remained the most significant overall threat to the future of the GBR. The WHC strongly encouraged accelerating efforts to meet the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, essential to the overall resilience of the GBR, in particular those regarding water quality.

Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions: At the National Council of Women Australia (NCWA) Conference on June 15th 2017 the resolution “The NCWA urges the AG to give priority to strategies combating global warming by reducing greenhouse gases and promoting renewable energy, while ensuring energy security, given the implication for Australia’s environment and such unique ecosystems as the GBRwas passed unanimously. Supporting arguments included:-

  • Scientific evidence of the increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) and the relationship with global temperature.
  • Scientific evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions resulting in climate changes cannot be explained by natural causes
  • Impact of global warming on the GBR
  • Alternative energy resources and renewable energy storage
  • Integration of variable renewable energy into the power system grids

Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au

 

NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, July 2017

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has confirmed an estimated 29 % of shallow water corals died from bleaching in 2016, up from the 22 % estimated mid-2016. Also coral bleaching extended to deeper corals beyond depths divers typically survey to, but that mortality cannot be systematically assessed. In 2017, further coral loss is expected with a pattern similar to 2016, but most severe in the centre of the Reef between Cairns and Townsville. Ongoing thermal stress is also causing elevated coral disease.

Tropical cyclone Debbie impacted around a quarter of the Reef in early 2017. Due to its category four intensity and slow speed as it crossed the reef, coral mortality is expected to be high in this zone, which includes the Whitsunday Islands tourism area.

There are also ongoing impacts from crown-of-thorns starfish, coral disease and poor water quality from coastal run-off. Recovery from bleaching is likely to be slower than from other impacts. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2017/significant-coral-decline-and-habitat-loss-on-the-great-barrier-reef

On 26-27May 2017, more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world met in Townsville for a Reef Summit to determine what else could be done to protect the Reef in addition to the existing extensive actions which were strongly supported. Additional options explored were developing coral nurseries, strategies for extending culling activities for the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, protecting herbivorous fish, expanding the vessel monitoring system and identifying priority reefs and demonstration sites for coral restoration.” http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/corporate/2017/reef-summit-sets-new-course-of-action-for-the-great-barrier-reef

The World Heritage Committee (WHC)’s 41st session held in July 2017 in Krakow, Poland recognised the significant effort underway to build the resilience of the GBR under the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Plan but noted the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 and that climate change remained the most significant overall threat to the future of the GBR. The WHC strongly encouraged accelerating efforts to meet the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, essential to the overall resilience of the GBR, in particular those regarding water quality.http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2017/whc17-41com-7BAdd-en.pdf

Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program: Wetlands in the Central Queensland (19), Cape York (10), Far North Queensland (5), North Queensland (6) and Wide Bay Burnett (10) regions, which are representative of the natural freshwater wetlands, have been assessed to provide baseline data of the GBR catchment wetlands’ conditions and processes so that positive and negative trends can be detected over time. Wetlands can not only reduce the impact of sediment run-off from river and creek systems but are also intrinsically invaluable in their own right, recharging ground water, providing important habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including commercially important species of fish. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/7/15/fifty-wetlands-assessed-under-qldfirst-research-project  Preliminary results of research by Dr Fernanda Adame from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute, indicate wetlands can remove nitrogen from the water and that forested wetlands have higher carbon and nitrogen storage capacity compared to marshes. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/7/16/palaszczuk-governmentbacked-great-barrier-reef-research-shows-early-promise

Clean energy technologies: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has invested around $20 million into a project at the Pilgangoora open pit mine.(Western Australia)  which produces lithium concentrate, an essential component in electric vehicles and battery storage. http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170627.htm

Tidal energy which is created through tidal movement and the vertical fluctuations in sea level and the horizontal flow of the water, has the potential to be available for more than 18 hours a day. The only slack period between high and low tide is predictable so tidal generation technology could be integrated to enhance the country’s grid stability, or to provide support to off-grid industrial sites and remote communities. A $6 million three year project led by the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania, in partnership with CSIRO and University of Queensland and supported by a $2.5 million investment by the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, will map the scale and distribution of Australia’s tidal energy resources. Potential sites and the technical performance modelling of known tidal energy devices and environmental impact will be assessed.http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170713.html?utm_source=mins&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feed

New Acland Stage 3 mine expansion at Oakey, Darling Downs: On 31 May 2017 Queensland Land Court recommended outright rejection of the New Acland Stage 3 mine proposal to expand coal production to 7.5 million tonnes per year on the following grounds:-

  1. Groundwater: Major shortcomings with the groundwater impact predictions proposed risks to the surrounding landholders;
  2. Noise: A stricter night time noise limit should be applied but is not permitted by the current legislation;
  3. Agricultural land was among the best 1.5% of agricultural land in Queensland and significant from an agricultural perspective;
  4. Intergenerational equity;
  5. Economics: While there would be a positive economic impact overall the loss of $437 million in royalties was significant and the high job figures in the Environmental Impact Study are not supported, rather 680 net jobs were accepted;
  6. Dust: If the mine was to proceed, it should be subject to additional monitoring requirements, including online real time forecasts and results, and additional dust limits to protect nearby residents; http://www.edoqld.org.au/news/key-findings-acland-coal-v-ashman-ors-and-dehp-no-4-2017-qlc-24/

The Maranoa-Balonne-Condamine assessment conducted by CSIRO and Geoscience and drawing on advice from Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas Extraction and Large Coal Mines found that impacts of the New Acland Stage 3 coal mine expansion and The Range coal mine on water resources in the region will be limited to small areas near the mines.  http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170713a.html?utm_source=mins&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feed : www.bioregionalassessments.gov.au/assessments/maranoa-balonne-condamine-subregion

Proposed Bio-industries: Bio Processing Australia has proposed a $50 million biorefinery at Mackay with $8.64 million assistance from the Queensland Government. The facility will comprise:-

A commercial-scale advanced biofuels pilot plant in Yarwun, Gladstone will take agricultural waste such as bagasse from sugar production and turn it into biofuels. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/6/1/new-gladstone-plant-a-boost-for-biofuel-industry-in-queensland

Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

 

NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, June 2017

 

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Climate Change:

Further evidence of the increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide (CO), methane (CH) and nitrous oxide (NO)) and the relationship with global temperature: Measurements of greenhouse gases (CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O) in current and archived air samples, air trapped in bubbles in ice cores, and compacted snow have been compiled to cover the past 2,000 years by dozens of laboratories around the world, including CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Cape Grim Station, NOAA, AGAGE and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, among others. The data shows the growth of greenhouse gases began with the onset of the industrial era around 1750 but sharply increased from 1950s and still continues today.

Between 1990 and 2010 the net emissions of CO₂increased by 42 %, which is particularly important because CO₂accounts for about three-fourths of total global emissions. Climate Change Indicators in the United States: Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions www.epa.gov/climate-indicators –Ben Henley(University of Melbourne) and Nerilie Abram (ANU) have shown a close relationship between global temperature and CO₂ since 1850.

https://theconversation.com/the-three-minute-story-of-800-000-years-of-climate-change-with-a-sting-in-the-tail-73368

Alternative energy resources Most of Australia’s electricity is generated centrally and relies heavily on fossil fuels 86% v 14% renewables. : https://www.originenergy.com.au/blog/about-energy/energy-in-australia.html; Department of the Environment and Energy, Australian Energy Statistics, Table O, May 2017  Fossil fuels can destroy and pollute the environment ; reserves are also limited, expecting to last only another 100 years given are basic rate of consumption. http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/different-energy-sources.php

But there are alternatives to fossil fuels. e.g. Nuclear power. However uranium isn’t renewable and there are issues about safety and disposal of waste; the cost of building and decommissioning nuclear power stations; and the danger of stockpiles of enriched uranium and nuclear plants being targeted by terrorists

http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/australian-energy-resource-assessment

On the other hand, Australia has a rich diversity of renewable energy resources with low greenhouse gas emissions. – dispatchable (i.e. biomass, concentrated solar power with storage, geothermal power and hydro) and non-dispatchable, or Variable Renewable Energy or VRE (i.e. ocean power, solar photovoltaics(PV) and wind).

  • Bioenergy: While Australia’s potential bioenergy resources are large and there are under-utilised resources in crop residues, plantation and forest residues and waste streams, the proportion of biomass potentially available for bioenergy will depend on the value of biomass relative to competing uses, impact of their removal (retention of biomass in situ returns nutrients to soil, improves soil structure and moisture retention), and global oil prices. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/bioenergy
  • Hydro power is the most advanced and mature renewable energy technology and has low greenhouse gas emissions, low operating costs, and can response quickly to demand. Much of Australia’s economically feasible hydro energy resource has already been harnessed. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/hydro-energy
  • Geothermal energy there is significant potential for geothermal energy in Australia. It is estimated that one per cent of the geothermal energy shallower than five kilometres and hotter than 150°C could supply Australia’s total energy requirements for 26 000 years http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/geothermal-energy-resources
  • Ocean Energy
  • Tidal energy Australia’s tidal energy resources is restricted to the tide kinetic energy present on Australia’s continental shelf. The regions of shelf that have the largest kinetic energy densities are the North West Shelf and the southern shelf of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Wave energy generated by converting the energy of ocean waves into other forms of energy is greatest on the southern half of the Australian shelf, The states with the best wave energy resource are Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

In the case of tidal and wave energy resources, the lack of control over the timing, rate or level of delivery can impact significantly on their potential as an electricity source http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/ocean-energy

  • Wind energy Australia has some of the best wind resources in the world. These are located mainly in the southern parts of the continent (which lie in the path of the westerly wind flow known as the ‘roaring 40s’) and reach a maximum around Bass Strait. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/wind-energy The biggest disadvantage is the variability of wind
  • Solar energy The Australian continent has the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent and consequently some of the best solar energy resource in the world. The regions with the highest solar radiation are the desert regions in the northwest and centre of the continent. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/solar-energy As with wind, viability can be a problem. . However, the sun does not shine all the time.

Renewable energy storage, like pumped hydropower, heat storage and batteries, flywheels, fuel cells and compressed air storage can provide a solution to the intermittency of variable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind These technologies have different characteristics and applications for the electricity grid. As battery costs continue to fall households and businesses with solar photovoltaics can store electricity they generate for use later and minimise the need to purchase increasingly expensive electricity from the grid. The lithium-ion battery has seen rapid cost decreases and is considered to have a range of technical and performance advantages over other battery types (energy and power density, usable life). However other batteries, such as advanced lead-acid batteries and redox-flow batteries are suited to specific purposes – such as stabilising the electricity grid, for longer-term storage or larger energy capacity. Battery storage technology also has the potential to reduce the two biggest contributors to the cost of electricity bills in Australia – the cost of building and maintaining the electricity distribution network and purchasing wholesale energy. They provide an alternative to expanding and upgrading the network, by instead evening out the demand on the network at peak times, and making more effective local use of surplus distributed generation. High levels of variable renewable energy can cause instability in the electricity grid if the generation is not adjusted to match demand.

Powerful Potential: Battery Storage for Renewable Energy and Electric Cars by Andrew Stock, Petra Stock and Veena Sahajwalla (Climate Council of Australia, 2015)

Integration of variable renewable energy into the power system grids is possible with system-friendly variable renewable energies, flexible generation, grid extension, smart grid technologies, and storage technologies. New advances in wind and solar photovoltaics technologies allow frequency and voltage control. Flexible generation requires changes in the energy mix to optimise production from both dispatchable and variable renewable energy resources. IEA-ETSAP and IRENA© Technology Brief E15 – April 2015 Smart grid technologies are made possible by two-way communication technologies, control systems, and computer processing. These advanced technologies include advanced sensors known as Phasor Measurement Units that allow operators to assess grid stability, advanced digital meters that give consumers better information and automatically report outages, relays that sense and recover from faults in the substation automatically, automated feeder switches that re-route power around problems, and batteries that store excess energy and make it available later to the grid to meet customer demand. https://energy.gov/oe/services/technology-development/smart-grid Small variable renewable power plants which produce electricity close to demand sites could be connected to a distribution network. In this way the need for centralised power generation, high-voltage transmission lines could be reduced, as well as transmission and distribution costs. . IEA-ETSAP and IRENA© Technology Brief E15 – April 2015

NCWQ Environment Report, April 2017

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Climate Change: The debate on climate change has continued but unfortunately appears to have become more ideological than scientific, perhaps fuelled by American and Australian politicians or aspiring politicians. Lord Christopher Monckton (a well known climate sceptic)’s view that anthropogenic global-warming is a myth is often cited in the popular press. His and similar views are supported by some scientists. https://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/24820-climate-scare-over-top-experts-expose-scam-at-freedom-confab https://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/22095-in-paris-scientists-debunk-un-climate-hysteria These views are just as vigorously refuted by other scientists https://www.skepticalscience.com/Monckton_Myths_arg.htm; Monckton-vs-Scientists.pdf.  Many of the protagonists on both sides appear to be intransigent but the issues raised need serious consideration.

The popular press has made much of the so called hiatus in global warming data accusing America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of manipulating the data to exaggerate global warming and timing their publication to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4192182/World-leaders-duped-manipulated-global-warming-data.html The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology accepted this conclusion. https://science.house.gov/news/press-releases/former-noaa-scientist-confirms-colleagues-manipulated-climate-records However, NOAA results have been validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-mail-sundays-astonishing-evidence-global-temperature-rise o

The Conversation has published a series on the science behind climate change and concluded  that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes. https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-real-an-open-letter-from-the-scientific-community-1808  These include articles by

However Dr Judith Curry, President of Climate Forecast Applications Network and  former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology, concluded that while climate models are useful tools for conducting scientific research to understand the climate system, the current global climate models (GCMs) can not attribute the causes of 20th century warming or predict global or regional climate change on timescales of decades to centuries, with any high level of confidence. Her conclusions are based on

  • substantial uncertainties in equilibrium climate sensitivity,
  • inability of GCMs to simulate the magnitude and phasing of natural internal

variability on decadal-to-century timescales,

  • the use of 20th century observations in calibrating/tuning the GCMs, and
  • the failure of climate models to provide a consistent explanation of the early

20th century warming and the mid-century cooling.

Thus she warns against using GCMs to justify political policies to alter world social, economic and energy systems. Judith Curry, Climate Models for the Layman, 2017, The Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing 24.

The 2015 edition of the State of the Climate report updates climate indicators such as greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover show patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system. Blunden, J. and D. S. Arndt, Eds., 2016: State of the Climate in 2015. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 97 (8), S1–S275, DOI:10.1175/2016BAMSStateoftheClimate.1  Highlights include

  • Global Temperature: Long-term warming and a strong El Niño contributed to the highest annual combined temperature for ocean and land since reliable records began in the mid-to-late 1800s. Average temperature departures for 2015 compared to the 1981-2010 averages showed Russia and western North America especially warm with only a few areas on land, notably Greenland and north eastern Canada, were cooler than average. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-global-temperature
  • Global mean sea level rose approximately 7 cm above the 1993 average in 2015, making it the highest observed since the satellite altimeter record began in 1993. Regional variations highlighted the short-term influence of climate phenomena like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Niño https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-sea-level
  • Ocean heat storage has increased substantially since 1993, hitting a record high in 2015. The heat content in the upper 700 m of the ocean rose more than the deeper ocean (0–2000m) relative to a 1993 baseline. Heat energy rises and falls every few years in response to natural patterns like El Niño and La Niña, but those ups and downs are superimposed on a long-term increase. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-ocean-heat-storage.
  • Global average carbon dioxide concentration (CO2) was reported as 4 parts per million (ppm), a new record high. At Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii where atmospheric carbon dioxide has been recorded longer than anywhere else in the world, the atmospheric mole fraction has increased from ~315 ppm in 1958 to 400.8 ± 0.1 ppm in 2015. Human emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production are largely considered responsible for this increase. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-carbon-dioxide.
  • Warm oceans and loss of sea ice are causing big changes in marine life. For example, loss of sea ice is changing the behaviour of Arctic walruses and causing huge declines in some Antarctic penguins species. Warm water fishes are driving polar species out of the Barents Sea. A toxic algal bloom in the Northwest Pacific was the largest in at least the past 15 years. Domoic acid in the algae can build up in shellfish, other invertebrates, and fish leading to illness and death in a variety of birds and mammals that consume them. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/2015-state-climate-warm-oceans-loss-sea-ice-behind-big-changes

As Dr Curry has pointed out there are difficulties in using the current global climate models to predict future climate with any certainty. Nevertheless, progress requires the on going monitoring of environmental data such as greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. NOAA compiles this from more than 450 scientists from 62 countries around the world. The global climate indicators help nations to understand the probable or possible impact of global warming on the world and its inhabitants. Regional differences highlight the effect climate phenomena like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Niño  can have on any long term trend. It is essential this research continues. The USA Committee on Science, Space & Technology are currently holding a Full Committee Hearing – Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method. Given the implication for our environment and such unique ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef it is crucial that in Australia research continues without political and ideological distractions.

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): As noted in previous reportedly global warming is the overriding threat (NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, July 2016, Feb 2016,March 2015); GBR-Coral-Mortality-13-June-2016.pdf  http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2016/the-facts-on-great-barrier-reef-coral-mortality; Ocean-acidity levels will continue to increase as the ocean absorbs anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions www.csiro.au/State-of-the-Climate-2014; National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). “Study projects unprecedented loss of corals in Great Barrier Reef due to warming.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150122103242.htm

Coral bleaching has been discussed previously (NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, July 2016, Feb 2016, March 2015, October2014, May2014)), in particular, the most serious bleaching event to hit the Reef on record in 2016, when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) reported the overall mortality to be 22% with about 85%of that die-off occurring in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometres north of Cairns ( the most pristine of GBR). GBR-Coral-Mortality-13-June-2016.pdf  http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2016/the-facts-on-great-barrier-reef-coral-mortality  In Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals (2017), Professor T Hughes, James Cook University, with 45 other coauthors shows the footprint of bleaching on the GBR in 1998, 2002 and 2016, using aerial and underwater survey data, with the spatial pattern of heat stress (Degree Heating Weeks, DHWs; °C-weeks) during each mass-bleaching event.

Professor Hughes and his colleagues found water quality and fishing pressure had minimal effect on the unprecedented bleaching in 2016. However these measures could give reefs a better chance to recover. Even good colonizers and fast growing corals can take 10 to 15 years to recover hence assemblage structure of corals is expected to change. A fourth bleaching event could interrupt the slow recovery. The authors urged immediate global action to curb future warming to secure a future for coral reefs. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v543/n7645/full/nature21707.html?WT.mc_id=COM_Nature_1703_Hughes

Many reefs worldwide have declined due to a reduced cover of reef-building corals and an increased abundance of upright macroalgae. Research conducted on Heron Island demonstrated that increasing ocean acidification to elevated CO2concentrations predicted to occur in 2050 and 2100, advantages seaweeds over corals. Vital corals could be significantly harmed by 2050 and killed off by 2100. A common brown algae species found in reefs worldwide was shown to be among those that caused the most damage. Del Monaco, C.. Hay M.E., Gartrell1, P., Mumby P. J.,  & Diaz-Pulido1,G. Effects of ocean acidification on the potency of macroalgal allelopathy to a common coral. Sci. Rep. 7, 41053; doi: 10.1038/srep41053 (2017).  The authors said it was futile to remove seaweeds that have the ability to regrow, and the problem could be tackled only by cutting carbon emissions. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/03/rising-carbon-emissions-could-kill-off-vital-corals-by-2100-study-warns

The GBRMPA has warned that more of the reef is showing built-up heat stress than this time last year, just before its worst bleaching event. While cooperative efforts by the entire international community is needed to address climate change and protect coral reefs worldwide the GBR independent review group said Australia needs to do more. They made a number of recommendations aimed at meeting the 2018 water quality, providing more effective regulations to reduce Reef pollution, controlling vegetation loss in Reef Catchments, planning framework to protect the Reef’s outstanding universal values, managing sustainable fisheries, enhancing Reef management, improving monitoring, modelling, evaluation and reporting.. A funding shortfall of $143m to $408m to meet the Reef 2050 Plan actions was estimated. The report also says Australia’s emission reduction targets are “not commensurate with a fair contribution to the reduced global carbon budget” needed to meet Paris agreement targets and protect coral reefs worldwide. It specifically criticises Australia’s support for new coal mines in Queensland that “pose a serious threat to the world heritage area.  Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, Progress On Implementation   Review By Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group  February 2017 https://independent.academia.edu/DiTarte

Download the full report HERE!