Sunday, April 29, 2007

New Chemical Plant Regulations

Earlier this month new regulations have been drawn up concerning chemical plants in the US. But these regulations were not drawn up by the US Environmental Protection Agency, but by the Department of Homeland Security.

The regulations are designed to reduce risk from attacks against chemical plants. The government can fine or even close plants which do not comply with the regulations. The regulations are specifically aimed at securing the outside of the facility, controlling access, and preventing sabotage.

I find that these regulations are rather interesting in that the Bush administration has done very little to regulate chemicals which are released to the environment from chemical plants or other facilities. These releases include intentional discharges of wastes, improperly treated waste streams, discharge of pollutants to the air through stacks, evaporation of volatile compounds from spills, and leaching from landfills (both domestic and hazardous). Also important is exposure of workers to toxic fumes, insufficient protective gear, improper handling of chemicals, and poor chemical management.

But of course, we must protect ourselves from "terrorists" (sarc meter on high!).

The importance here is perceived versus real risk. Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert, has written much on this topic. The risk from a spill or other release of toxic chemicals (whether accidental or intentional) is much greater then the risk of a terrorist attack. We should be protecting the public health by correct environmental and safety regulations, not through anti-terrorism legislation drawn up by homeland security "experts".

It is also interesting to note that, unlike the US, the European Union has new regulations (called REACH) which does address the real issues of hazardous chemicals (especially testing and substitution). But the US has criticized them for interfering with "free trade" (see this story).

One thing worries me on a global scale. Around the world there has been the rhetoric of anti-terrorism to justify many actions, including human rights violations. Will other countries follow the US lead on chemical plants, while ignoring the sometimes major environmental problems plaguing their countries?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mileage Maniacs

Here is a interesting story about "mileage maniacs" in Japan who try to get the best gas mileage they can. They can get up to 115 miles per gallon (48 liters per kilometer).

My question is if these people can get such good gas mileage why cannot the big auto makers with their much larger research and development budgets?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Flash Floods in Thailand

It happened again. Another flash flood in Thailand killing 38 people - all tourists. The meteorolgy department had said that heavy rains could cause flooding.

I blogged about a very similar event last year. Here is part of what I said (original post here):

A couple of years ago a flash flood occurred in a national park in Thailand which killed some people. The thing that first came to my mind when I heard the news was: what were these people doing in that area in the first place?

I grew up in the Midwest of America where we get many thunderstorms and flash floods. People around there know that if the weatherman gives a flash flood warning, then you get out of the low lying areas because you cannot outrun the water.

My reaction this time was the same "what were they doing there?" Here is what I said about the solution:

I think the answer is that the public needs to be involved. When I say "involved" I do not only mean teaching people about hazards and how to respond, but also in getting people to make the government give them information, force tour operators to not go to areas when danger threatens, and prevent buildings from being setting up in dangerous areas (for example flood plains or vulnerable shorelines).

Frankly, something must change. The meteorolgy department here in Thailand does not take weather seriously. And the people do not either. Backpackers and the like respect nature and learn to know when there is a dangerous situation. Others must learn this also.

If you are going into parks or similar areas, or if you are a tour operator, please pay attention to the weather.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Note to Viewers

This is a note to anyone who happens to come across this blog. It is ...well... under construction. Actually I am in the process of moving from another site ( to this site. If you wish to read my posts they are here.