Alternative Media

Putin Was Ready To Go Nuclear Over Crimea, Documentary Reveals

Russian president makes comments in film commemorating annexation of Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2009. (Photo: World Economic Forum/flickr/cc)

Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to ready Russia’s nuclear arsenal during last year’s conflict over Crimea, he reportedly said in a pre-recorded documentary broadcast on Russian state television on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of Moscow’s takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.

“We were ready to do this,” Putin reportedly said when asked about nuclear preparedness. “I talked with colleagues and told them that [Crimea] is our historical territory. Russian people live there. They were in danger. We cannot abandon them.”

The New York Times reports:

The documentary, called “Homeward Bound,” was produced by the state-run Rossiya 1 channel to celebrate the anniversary of the March 21, 2014, annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that was given to Ukraine in 1954 when both were a part of the Soviet Union.

The film presented the events as a triumph of security planning and execution, with Mr. Putin at its heart. Throughout the documentary, which ran for two and a half hours, Mr. Putin tried both to justify the move—which most Western nations considered outside international law and led to economic sanctions that have magnified Russia’s current, oil-related recession—and to boast about it.

Putin added that the wheels of the Crimean annexation were put in motion in response to the abrupt manner in which then-President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine was overthrown.

The Times points out that, “Before now, Mr. Putin had emphasized that he had felt compelled to act after the overwhelming majority of Crimeans approved a referendum on joining Russia.”

According to CNN, he told the filmmakers he was certain the United States was behind the ouster of Yanukovych, which Moscow views as an illegal armed coup.

“Formally, the opposition was primarily supported by Europeans, but we knew very well…that the real puppeteers were our American partners and friends. It was them who helped prepare nationalists [and] combat troops,” he reportedly said in the film.

The revelations underscore warnings about how relatively “pedestrian disputes,” as investigative journalist Robert Parry describes them, between Russia, Ukraine, and the West have the potential to quickly escalate into nuclear war.

“The United States and Russia still maintain vast nuclear arsenals of mutual assured destruction, putting the future of humanity in jeopardy every instant,” Parry wrote earlier this month. “But an unnerving nonchalance has settled over the American side which has become so casual about the risk of cataclysmic war that the West’s propaganda and passions now ignore Russian fears and sensitivities.”

Parry noted that “at such crisis moments, the people responsible for the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons are more likely to read a possible computer glitch or some other false alarm as a genuine launch and are thus more likely to push their own nuclear button.”

Putin has been mysteriously absent from the public eye since March 5, spurring rumorsabout his health and whereabouts. However, the Russian president was scheduled to meet on Monday meet with the president of Kyrgyzstan in an event covered by the news media.

Also on Monday, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Putin had ordered Russia’s Northern Fleet and other military units to be placed on full combat alert for drills and inspections, according to reports.

“The main aim…is to evaluate the capabilities of the Northern Fleet to fulfill tasks on ensuring Russia’s military security in the Arctic,” Shoigu is quoted as saying by Russia’s Tass news agency, which added that the exercise will involve 38,000 military personnel, 41 warships, 15 submarines, and 110 planes and helicopters.


Oxford Alumni Occupy Building After University Decides Not to Divest

England’s Oxford University became the latest school to take up the issue of divesting its endowment, worth $3.9 billion, from fossil fuels. Its university council met this morning to discuss it and decided—to do nothing. To the outrage of many student and alumni activists, it deferred any decision to a future meeting.

Oxford alumni occupy a building at the school, furious that the administration decided to punt of divesting its endowment from fossil fuels. Photo Credit: Oxford Fossil Free
Oxford alumni occupy a building at the school, furious that the administration decided to punt of divesting its endowment from fossil fuels. Photo Credit: Oxford Fossil Free

“Last October’s Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) resolution has raised an important and multi-faceted matter which requires thorough consideration,” said the administration’s statement. “The university council had a good discussion of the issues and agreed to consider the matter further at a future meeting.”

That clearly wasn’t satisfactory to members of the school’s large Oxford University Fossil Free Divestment Campaign, whose activities spurred today’s meeting in the first place.

“We are disappointed that they have deferred this important decision until a future meeting,” they said in a statement. “This deferral represents serious complacency towards the urgent need for action on climate change. The Oxford University Divestment Campaign has been active for over 18 months, during which time it has been continuously hampered by the slow burn of the university’s bureaucratic processes. The absence of a response today is disappointing, given how long the decision-making process has taken already. We appreciate the university’s active engagement with the student body on this issue, and strongly urge the university to make the right decision without delay.”

Others were less placated. Immediately after the university’s announcement, Oxford Fossil Free posted on its Facebook page: “BREAKING: Oxford alumni have occupied a university administration building to demonstrate their anger over today’s announcement that the university has deferred until May its decision on whether to divest from fossil fuels.”

Also not placated was Oxford alumna Sunniva Taylor, who said, “If the university does not disinvest from fossil fuel extraction I have decided to hand back my degree, in protest. This is not just a question of integrity for me. I want to use the privilege having it gives me to try and shake things up; to use my power to draw attention to others’. The University of Oxford still has a lot influence—nationally and globally—and so the choices it makes about where it puts its money really do matter.”

Another alumnus, solar energy entrepreneur Dr. Jeremy Leggett, said, “I don’t think universities should be training young people to craft a viable civilisation with one hand and bankroll its sabotage with the other.”

Thousands of Oxford students and hundreds of alumni and academics have joined in encouraging the university o divest.. Photo Credit: Oxford Fossil Free
Thousands of Oxford students and hundreds of alumni and academics have joined in encouraging the university o divest.. Photo Credit: Oxford Fossil Free

Oxford Fossil Free began in 2013 when the Oxford University Student Union Environment and Ethics Campaign took on fossil fuel divestment as its main project. By last November, more than 2,000, along with 300 alumni and 100 Oxford academics, had signed an open letter urging the university to divest. Currently the campaign boasts more than 550 alumni who have pledged not to donate to the university until it divests.

The campaigners were encouraged when the university council decided to have today’s discussion, and last week, Oxford Fossil Free hosted a teach-in called “5 Days to Divest” to raise awareness of the issue and put some pressure on the administration, hoping it would follow in the footsteps of Scotland’s Glasgow University, the first UK school to divest last October. Around 200 institutions globally have made commitments to pull their investments from fossil fuels, including Stanford University and the New School in New York City.

“We call on supporters of the campaign to continue to lobby the University, and show their support for responsible investment,” said Oxford Fossil Free today. “The university must also know that our campaign will only grow from here; we will continue to make our demands, now with renewed urgency and determination.”

Oxford students say they’ll keep up the pressure on the administration. Photo credit: Oxford Fossil Free

The pressure will also continue from the Oxford University Student Union, which has endorsed the campaign.

“University council has seriously considered the proposals and has decided it wants to get more information before making a final decision, most likely in May,” noted student union president Louis Trup. “My colleagues and I who sit on university council will then be able to show that the significant student view and the undeniable scientific evidence must not be ignored.”

Palestine: denial of any right to resist

The right of Palestinians to resist their occupation is enshrined in international and customary law, a fact that is denied and violated by Israel and wilfully overlooked by the rest of the world.

Palestinian boy with a slingshot. Ahmed Talat/Demotix. All rights reserved.

Israel’s reaction to Palestinian’s exercising the right to resist, a right enshrined in both the customs and treaties of international law, is nothing short of brutal. The past few weeks have seen an array of incidences highlighting the perversity of the Israeli forces’ suppression of peaceful protest: arbitrary arrests and detentions, tear-gassing of demonstrators and—in the tragic but sadly not unusual case of a teenager allegedly throwing stones—a fatal shooting.

These events are all too common in the Occupied Territories, their victims often children and young adults who, despite the IDF’s frequent and well-known violations against innocent civilians, boldly persist in their struggle for freedom. The continuing denial by Israel of the applicability of international humanitarian law to the Occupied Territories, serves as the framework in which it sustains its ongoing regime of criminalisation.

By criminalising non-violent resistance activities, effectively attempting to stifle the Palestinian psyche, Israel advances what Jeff Halper has aptly labelled its “matrix of control”—a complex web of legal, architectural and systemic devices designed to fragment and isolate Palestinian society.

Additionally, the international discourse, particularly coverage by western media outlets, serves to perpetuate and further solidify the stereotype of the Palestinian ‘terrorist’, discounting the severity of the apartheid regime, disregarding the relevant international treaties—and thereby discrediting the right to resist.

Relevant law and custom

As well as refusing to distinguish between legitimate armed struggle and acts of terror, Israel’s constant suppression of non-violent protest highlights its attempts to completely delegitimise the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was ratified by Israel in 1966, states that “all peoples have the right to self-determination.” It elaborates the right to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)—which together with the ICCPR, UN Charter and customary law, makes up the body of international human rights law—guarantees the “freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. The right to peaceful assembly—again, enshrined in both the UDHR and ICCPR—is inviolable, but for necessary “national security” interests.

What is more, the myriad of UN General Assembly resolutions that explicitly recognise the “legitimacy of the people’s struggle for liberation from colonial and foreign domination…by all available means” only strengthens the legal basis for the right to resist.

Resolution 2787 refers specifically to the ‘Palestinian people’. Whilst not carrying binding legal force, these resolutions reflect the views of the majority of sovereign states, which form the basis of customary international law. This is applicable regardless of whether or not it has been codified.

In the sphere of customary international law, the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice also merits attention. In 2004, it issued its opinion against the Separation Wall, stating that the path of the Wall—80 percent of which runs through Palestinian land, well outside of Israel’s internationally recognised borders—is illegal.

It emphasised Israel’s obligations to “terminate its breaches of international law” and cease construction of the Wall, as well as to make adequate compensation to Palestinians for the damage caused. The ICJ’s report also declared as illegal the building of Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories, confirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which states that an occupying power must not move its civilians into the occupied territory.

In light of Israel’s endless list of violations against the Fourth Convention, the existence of a parallel moral right to resist becomes obvious, especially given that numerous UN bodies have unequivocally stated that international humanitarian law (including the Geneva Conventions), as well as international human rights law, must be observed by Israel as an occupying power.

Just last October, the UN Human Rights Committee—in its fourth periodic review of Israel—strongly rejected Israel’s claim that the ICCPR does not apply to the Occupied Territories. Paragraph 5(b) of the Committee’s Concluding Observationsstated that Israel must “acknowledge that the applicability of international humanitarian law…in a situation of occupation, does not preclude the application of the ICCPR.” The “right to protest”, therefore, though not mentioned per se in the legal apparatus, derives from the relevant legal norms and is guaranteed by these provisions.

Suppression and criminalisation

Evidently, Israel denies that the norms of international law apply to its practices in the West Bank. Forty-eight years after UN Security Council Resolution 242, instructing Israel to leave the Occupied Territories, the Wall still stands, cutting through the West Bank and devastating the lives of those that live in its shadow.

The ongoing construction of the Wall, of the settlements, of the various architectural elements that have come to shape what is described by Federica D’Alessandra as Israel’s “alternative legality”, demonstrates the extent of the denial. The Palestinian civilians who reject this false legality and decide to resist are met with disproportionate force from the military.

Last month, nineteen-year old Jihad al-Jafari, a resident of Deheishe refugee camp in Bethlehem, was shot dead by Israeli forces that had raided the camp. Muhanad Quasi, the victim’s neighbour, said, “Israeli soldiers prevented anyone from reaching or rescuing him. They fired at anyone who would get close to help him.”

Deheishe refugee camp is accustomed to routine raids by the military, and stone throwing is a popular way of denouncing this practice. Viewed by many as a rite of passage, its metaphorical significance cannot be understated. It was the primary method of resisting during the first intifada, and carries a uniquely Palestinian history, more an act of defiance as opposed to an intention to actually injure. The ruthless killing of a young man by fully armed, helmeted soldiers, however, is unthinkable as a response.

Mahmoud Illean/Demotix. All rights reserved.

November of last year saw the Israeli cabinet pass a bill that, if approved, could mean twenty-year prison sentences for those charged with stone throwing. Approximately 700 children are annually sentenced for this ‘crime’ in the Occupied Territories. From an international law standpoint, this simply cannot be justified.

The international jurist Professor Emeritus Eric David of Brussels University, deems the IDF a “legitimate target” and asserts that “of course they (stone-throwing Palestinians) are allowed to do that…certainly not only from a jus contra bellum point of view, but also from a jus in bello point of view”. These are the two separate strands of the laws of war; Professor David legitimises stone throwing as protest in the face of military violations from the perspective of both strands.

The laws of war, by virtue of the Fourth Geneva Convention, authorise occupying powers to establish military courts for the civilians under occupation. The practices of the Israeli occupation forces, however, go far beyond the jurisdiction that is permissible and amount to grave human rights violations.

On February 16, eighteen year-old Lina Khattab, former student of Birzeit University, was given a sixth-month prison sentence after being tried in an Israeli military court. She was charged with “throwing stones” and “participating in an unlawful demonstration”, the only evidence against her being the testimonies of three Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli ban against demonstrations is but one example of the hundreds of military orders that strip the Palestinians of autonomy and illustrate just how far the regime extends. Military Order 101 forbade the gathering of more than ten people at a time. Order 107 prohibited a range of schoolbooks, including those on Arab grammar, the Crusades, and Arab nationalism. Order 1079 published a list of over a thousand banned items pertaining to Palestinian novels and poetry.

Resistance in all its forms is penalised.

Addameer, the leading prisoner support organisation operating in the West Bank, said that the arbitrary charges levelled towards Palestinians signify an “attack on the social fabric of Palestinian society”. Prior to receiving her sentence, Lina was held in administrative detention, which is known for its brutal procedures. “Detainees get told they won’t get fed until they confess, they’re told their houses will be demolished, their families are often threatened.”

When put on trial, the astonishing conviction rate of 99.74 percent ends any debate as to the legality of the regime. Students, farmers, ordinary men, women and children who resist in the face of great injustice—they are all convicts long before reaching court, prisoners of a system that deliberately and routinely turns them into criminals.

International discourse

The international community’s failure to compel Israel to observe the law allows this criminalisation to persist. The dominant discourse of the west obscures the lived reality of millions of Palestinians. Its tropes and terminology falsely depict each new incident as yet another phase of the ‘cycle of violence’ that plagues the region and, as Rashid Khalidi writes, “as though it is impossible to ascribe cause and effect to what is happening.”

In late 2013, the British centre-left newspaper, The Guardian, published an article about tensions caused among Israelis upon the release of Palestinian prisoners. It referred to the prisoners as “terrorists” without the use of quotation marks. A seemingly minor blunder, this is the type of subtle, pro-Israeli propaganda that enables Israel’s continued impunity and without question negates the Palestinian struggle.

It creates a narrative in which the notion of a Palestinian right of resistance becomes irrelevant; it is instead hijacked by the normalised conception of the ‘terrorist’ who warrants no sympathy. This is evident from UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech at Downing Street late last year, where in honour of the Chanukah holiday he addressed several representatives of the Jewish community:

“There is no moral equivalence between an Israeli government that wants to defend its people and its territory against attack, and terrorists that want to kill as many people as they can with the weapons and the bombs and the missiles that they throw over Israel’s borders.”

The refusal to contextualise, to even mention by name the Palestinian people, is striking. Last summer, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Gaza, Human Rights Watch failed to hold Israel accountable for its conduct. Through the vague language of its press releases—that of “may be”, “apparent” and “appears”, Human Rights Watch “distanced itself from alleging Israeli war crimes”, as Norman Finkelstein has written.

These “muted legal findings” are irresponsible on the part of an international human rights organisation, and only play into the myth that the complexity of the conflict makes it impossible to be objective.

The right of resistance of the Palestinian people is grounded in law, custom and conscience. It is the moral duty of international organisations, governmental or non-governmental, to recognise this right, and aim to facilitate a dialogue which reflects the reality of the situation in the Occupied Territories.

Meanwhile, it is the moral duty of us all to think historically, critically and compassionately about the apartheid in Palestine, and heed the words of Nelson Mandela in 1997:

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Saudi Arabia: Already 45 Beheadings in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 3.44.13 PMOne of last year’s most popular posts was titled: Record Beheadings and the Mass Arrest of Christians – Is it ISIS? No it’s Saudi Arabia. Here’s an excerpt:

In the past month, a group of radical Islamic extremists based in the Middle East beheaded at least 23 people and enforced a ban on Christianity by arresting a group of people for practicing the faith in a private home.

No, I’m not talking about ISIS. The real culprit is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one of the America’s closest global allies.

I have highlighted the inhumanity of the Saudi regime frequently recently in order to demonstrate the incredible hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy. While America’s phony politicians and useless mainstream media will often hype anti-Chrtistian bigotry and humanitarian issues when it suits the status quo message, the true driver of U.S. foreign policy can be summarized with two words: CORPORATE PROFITS.

It appears last year’s jump in beheadings was just the beginning for the Saudi monarchy, which follows a form of Sharia Islamic law in which one can be put to death for rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking. In case you aren’t familiar with the term “apostasy,” here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 3.30.10 PM

In 2015 to-date, the Saudis have averaged a little over one beheading every 48 hours, putting the latest tally at 45. Last year, they were only able to hit 87, but are clearly trying to make up for lost time. The Telegraph reports that:

A man convicted of murder was beheaded in the Saudi capital on Monday, amid a steep rise in the number of executions in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom this year. 

The beheading of Saad bin Abdullah al-Jadid, who had shot dead fellow Saudi Abdullah bin Faraj al-Gahtani, took to 45 the number of executions since January 1, according to an AFP count.

Saudi Arabia has carried out around 80 executions annually since 2011, with 87 recorded last year by AFP. 

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s version of Sharia Islamic law. 

Earlier this month, it was reported Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes after being convicted of insulting Islam, could face death by beheading, according to his family. 

The case attracted worldwide condemnation when he was publicly flogged in January. His family said they have been told he is to be tried for apostasy.

While we’re on the topic, just last week the Guardian reported that blogger and human rights activist, Mohammed al-Bajadi, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail. What could he have done, you ask, to justify such a sentence? Well, the Guardian reports that:

A founding member of one of the few independent human rights groups in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, a regional rights group has said.

Mohammed al-Bajadi was sentenced last Thursday by the specialised criminal court in Riyadh, whose jurisdiction is related to terrorism, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Bajadi, in his 30s, faced various accusations including acquiring banned books, organising a protest by the families of prisoners and publishing material that “would prejudice public order”, the group said.

The comments came in response to worldwide outrage over the sentence of 1,000 lashes handed to another activist, Raif Badawi, for “insulting Islam”. 

The foreign ministry said the country’s constitution “is based on sharia (Islamic law) that guarantees human rights”.

This is one of the American government’s closest global allies.

Naturally, some human rights are more equal than others. 

Designing Wetlands to Remove Drugs and Chemical Pollutants

Drinking water supplies around the world often contain trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and synthetic compounds that may be harmful to human health. One solution being tried in the U.S. and Europe is to construct man-made wetlands that naturally degrade these contaminants.

by carina storrs

Rising high in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, the Santa Ana River flows westward through cities and towns with a total population of nearly 5 million. Along the way, it receives so much sewage that 90 percent of its flow during the dry summer season is effluent, which is cleaned again and again at several dozen wastewater treatment plants.

Prado wetlands

Carina Storrs
A series of ponds helps remove medical drugs and other water contaminants in the Prado Wetlands in Southern California.

Near the end of its 96-mile course, the Santa Ana comes to a seeming standstill in the Prado Wetlands. Covering 425 acres, the wetlands site — designed by engineers — consists of a series of rectangular ponds, through which the river’s gentle flow is controlled by dam-like weir boxes. It takes about a week for water to traverse the wetlands, during which time cattails and other vegetation help remove nitrogen, phosphorous, and other contaminants.

Today, the Prado Wetlands, which are operated by the Orange County Water District, are part of a new project to remove a different kind of pollution: the residues of medical drugs and synthetic organic compounds, such as herbicides, that are found in small concentrations in rivers but that may

Sunlight and bacteria degrade residues of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, sex hormones, and other drugs and chemicals.

affect endocrine activity, metabolism, and development in humans. A year-old pilot project at the Prado Wetlands channels river water through three ponds, each about the length of five Olympic swimming pools. Sunlight and bacteria degrade residues of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, sex hormones, and other drugs and man-made chemicals before the Santa Ana reaches Anaheim, 20 miles downstream. There the river provides the drinking water for 2.5 million people in northern Orange County.

Concern has risen about the potential danger that may come from drinking water tainted by small concentrations of pharmaceuticals that pass through our bodies and are flushed down the toilet, not to mention other synthetic compounds discharged by agriculture and industry. Research has shown that endocrine disruptors and antidepressants may harm reproduction in fish, and endocrine-disrupting compounds also have been linked to adverse health effects in humans. Scientists also fear that the persistence of antibiotics in the environment could promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Currently, there are no U.S. regulations for medical drugs under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and only a few for the residues from consumer products. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Contaminant Candidate List, which establishes what chemicals should be evaluated for possible regulation, in 2009 included several endocrine disruptors called estradiols, found in products such as birth control pills. The list also included erythromycin, an antibiotic. The European Commission placed two types of estradiols and a painkiller called diclofenac on a similar watch list in 2013.

As a result of growing concerns, scientists and government authorities in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere are experimenting with the use of so-called “constructed wetlands” to remove these pharmaceuticals and chemicals from effluent released by wastewater treatment plants. Constructed wetlands have been used for several decades in the United States and Europe to remove nitrogen and other traditional pollutants from wastewater. In the U.S., roughly 250 constructed wetlands have been built to treat effluent from wastewater treatment plants, and in Europe thousands of constructed wetlands exist, mainly for treating wastewater from smaller communities.

”There are a lot of potential applications of this technology to give communities a more cost-effective treatment than traditional approaches,”

Tests reveal many of the compounds survive passage through wastewater treatment plants.

says Larry Barber, a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

About 10 years ago, thanks to the development of sensitive detection methods, it became possible to measure trace levels of these compounds in surface water bodies such as rivers. Tests reveal that many of the compounds survive passage through wastewater treatment plants. The EPA is currently investigating how well facilities that treat drinking water remove pharmaceutical products, and whether retrofitting these plants with steps such as reverse osmosis could improve removal. But there are financial and practical drawbacks. Reverse osmosis systems are expensive, and constructed wetlands need tens to hundreds of acres to process large volumes of wastewater.

One of the early indications that constructed wetlands could help treat pharmaceuticals and other synthetic contaminants came from a study of nonylphenol, which is widely present in laundry detergents. Nonylphenol is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to have potent toxicity in fish. When a research team led by the USGS was testing the ability of a small-scale wetlands system outside of Phoenix, Arizona, to diminish nitrogen levels in the wastewater treatment effluent, they noticed that

Tres Rios wetlands

Tres Rios Wetlands
Besides helping to remove chemicals, the Tres Rios Wetlands in Texas provide wildlife habitat.

nonylphenol and its breakdown products were also reduced, some by 90 percent.

Since those tests, the team has built a full-scale, 380-acre constructed wetlands at the site, called the Tres Rios Wetlands. It is one of the largest in the U.S. and provides water for irrigation and wildlife habitat. It also has three main ponds that remove chlorine, heavy metals, herbicides, nitrogen, and nonylphenol.

Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of constructed wetlands in removing such contaminants. A 2004 study of the Prado Wetlands found that the site helped reduce levels of ibuprofen and organic chemicals found in pesticides and flame retardants. Scientists in Spain have reported that natural systems efficiently removed a number of anti-inflammatory drugs and pesticides.

Still, many compounds, including some estradiols and antibacterials, are more resistant to treatment in constructed wetlands, with their levels dropping by only about half. “In my mind you definitely want more than 50 percent removal, or why bother?” says David Sedlak, a professor of environmental science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Sedlak and his collaborators are behind the pilot project at the Prado Wetlands. Inspired by experiments showing that drugs are degraded by sunlight as they move down a river, they worked on developing a new type of constructed wetland design specifically to remove these compounds.

In typical constructed wetland designs, weedy aquatic plants are the focal point, because of the myriad ways they break down contaminants. But they also overshadow, literally, the contribution of sunlight. So about a year ago,

At the Texas project, water will first travel through weedy ponds to remove nitrogen.

Sedlak’s team started testing what they call open-water units at the Prado Wetlands. Now, before wastewater enters the series of cattail-filled ponds, it drifts through one of three large ponds over the course of a day or two. To prevent plant growth, engineers used a simple approach: They put down a tarp along the bottom of the ponds.

Although the researchers are still in the first phase of data collection, the new ponds at the Prado Wetlands seem to work as well as a similar pilot-scale system in Discovery Bay near San Francisco that has been operating for about seven years. Early data suggest that open-water units at Discovery Bay remove 90 percent of sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic often resistant to removal in waste treatment plants. An unexpected benefit is that a layer of algae and bacteria that grows on the tarp-covered pond bottoms appears to bind and degrade compounds.

Ponds similar to open-water units will also be incorporated into the Brazos River Demonstration Wetland, a 12-acre site that engineers started building in January in Waco, Texas. Construction should finish later this year. The project marks the first constructed wetlands designed to optimize the breakdown of drugs while also removing traditional contaminants found in wastewater treatment plant discharge. Brazos will not rely solely on photodegradation to remove compounds. Water will travel through weedy ponds to remove nitrogen and then through subsurface wetlands with very low oxygen levels to help strip out chemicals.

Barber, the USGS geologist who worked on the Tres Rios wetlands in Arizona and also helped design the Brazos site, hopes that what

Desalination has long been associated with one process — turning seawater into drinking water. But a host of new technologies are being developed that not only are improving traditional desalination but opening up new frontiers in reusing everything from agricultural water to industrial effluent.


Recent research in Europe supports the idea that hybrid constructed wetlands — a combination of surface-level and subsurface ponds that do not freeze in colder climates —most effectively remove endocrine disruptors and other compounds. Environmental agencies in countries such as Denmark, Austria, and Germany currently provide guidelines and set standards for removal of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants in constructed wetlands. Researchers do not expect official guidelines on levels of drugs and other micro-contaminants until those substances are regulated.

Even without regulations, some communities are willing to invest in constructed wetlands, as evidenced by the Brazos site. “It’s about being proactive in terms of the right way to do water reuse,” says Barber.

Epic Urban Treehouse

Did you ever dream of living in a treehouse when you were young? Well, the residents of 25 Verde in Turin, Italy are living out the ultimate childhood fantasy in a breathtaking eco-friendly building enclosed within hundreds of trees.

Photo Credit: Beppe Giardino
Hundreds of trees and shrubs surround 25 Verde in Turin, Italy, creating a “perfect microclimate” inside the building, architect Luciano Pia said. Photo Credit: Beppe Giardino

Designed by architect Luciano Pia, the five-story structure is held up by rust-colored metal beams made to look like tree trunks and branches. Potted trees and shrubs of various leaves, colors and flowering are placed on terraces and inside the building to provide shade and reduce noise pollution. There are 150 trees surrounding the building and on the roof and 50 more trees in the courtyard.

As the architect puts it, the building is alive, grows and changes with the seasons. “When all the green is fully blooming it gives the feeling of living in a tree house,” he wrote on his website. “You can dream of a house or live in a dream!”

Deciduous varieties of flora were chosen to filter out the hot summer sun and to allow light to break into the units during winter as the leaves fall from the trees. Like an urban forest, the abundant foliage apparently sucks in 200,000 liters of carbon dioxide an hour, a welcome reprieve from the city’s notorious pollution.

As noted by a local English publication, Turin is one of the most polluted cities within the European Union due to a number of factors including the high concentration of industrial plants, and how it’s situated in the Po Valley, which traps pollution.

The building has several green features. Pia wrote that “one of the aims of the project is the increase of the energetic efficiency, and for this reason several integrated solutions have been adopted: continuous insulation, sun protection, heating and cooling systems which make use of the geothermal energy with heat pumps and recycling of the falling rain to water the green.”

There are a total of 63 residential units in the building. The upper floors have views of a park and the Po river, and the top floor apartments are covered by private green roofs. According to the New York Times, two-thirds of the apartments were sold before construction completed in 2012 at €6,500 per square meter.

The northern Italian city was the site of the 2006 winter olympics and is home to carmaker Fiat. The building sits on some of the auto company’s former offices at the address Via Gabriele Chiabrera, 25, 10126 Torino, Italy. Check out the Google street view and wander around the area, but first check out these cool images:

A living, growing building. Deciduous foliage blocks the summer sun and lets in light in the winter as the leaves fall. Photo Credit: Beppe Giardino
There are potted trees and shrubs of various leaves, colors and flowering throughout the building. Photo Credit: Beppe Giardino
There are 50 trees planted in the court garden. Photo Credit: Beppe Giardino
Photo Credit: Luciano Pia
Photo Credit: Luciano Pia


Fukushima: Over 30 million permanently affected

By ENENews

Nuclear Hotseat hosted by Libbe HaLevy, Mar 10, 2015 (emphasis added): Translated interview with Prof. Hiroaki Koide, Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute (at 31:30 in) – “Because of the radiation dispersed due to the accident a large area of Japan… has been contaminated… It looks like the national government is simply going to abandon these people. Moreover, surrounding the 386 square mile evacuation zone where these people live, there is a 5,400 square mile [14,000 square kilometer] area that is heavily contaminated. If Japan were a country under the rule of law, this would be a restricted access area where people should not be allowed to live due to radiation. The several million people who live there have been cast aside and told if you want to leave, go ahead and do it on your own. The government feigns ignorance. These millions of people, including children and infants, go about their daily lives in this area being exposed to radiation as if there’s no problem at all… I think this is very bizarre. Additionally there has been no resolution at the accident site… from my vantage point, the accident is not under control at all.”

Green Cross International (NGO founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union), Mar 11, 2015: 32 million people in Japan still exposed to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster… according to the 2015 Fukushima Report now available from Green Cross… [They are] at potential risk from both long and short-term consequences… Japan is expected to see increased cancer risk… Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disasters were categorized as level 7 events – defined as a major release of radioactive material, with widespread effects, requiring planned and extended countermeasures… “However, the number of people affected by radiation in Japan has tripled compared to Chernobyl,” said Nathalie Gysi of Green Cross Switzerland… water leakage at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant remains a problem four years after… There continue to be… rising doubts over the safety of seafood, such as radioactivity levels in tuna and other fish… The Fukushima Report was prepared under the direction of [Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, MD, Professor at the USC School of Medicine and chair of Preventive Medicine]… using the same measurement standards as a similar 2012 study on Chernobyl… The lives of approximately 42 million people have been permanently affected by radioactive contamination caused by… Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi… Continued exposure to low-level radiation, entering the human body on a daily basis through food intake, is of particular consequence.

Download the full interview with Prof. Koide here

Related Posts

  1. Official: Japan will be ruined if public doesn’t realize they’re being exposed to Fukushima radiation — “99.99% of the people are being sacrificed” — Rest of world will be taken down too (AUDIO) March 12, 2014
  2. Experts: Plutonium and uranium flow into ocean from Fukushima — “Heavily contaminated” water is leaking out of plant — Melted fuel releasing hundreds of different radioactive materials — Officials refuse to investigate 90% of these (VIDEO) August 19, 2014
  3. “Bizarre, milky rain” falls for days by most contaminated nuclear site in U.S. — Expert: I’ve never seen anything like it — TV: Very unusual for our area — Nuke lab “didn’t collect enough to analyze… never planned to do real study” on mystery material — NOAA contaminates sample, then loses it (VIDEO) February 22, 2015
  4. Fukushima Farmer: Nuclear is the most terrible thing, people don’t realize how horrible and scary it is — Sending this to future generations is unbelievable — “I don’t want to be their guinea pig” — Mayor evacuated his own kids while trying to get families to stay, this is a significant crime (AUDIO) March 4, 2014
  5. Former Official: “40+ areas where extremely contaminated water flows directly into ocean” at Fukushima — Bloomberg: “4 years out, Fukushima reactors still spewing… Fishermen alleging for a while that radioactive water spilling into Pacific… astounding nobody at Tepco has gone to jail” (AUDIO) March 13, 2015

Expert: Disease outbreak on US West Coast is largest ever seen in any population of animals — Tens of millions dead — Official: Gov’t needs to declare emergency before extinction occurs

McClatchy, Mar 13, 2015 (emphasis added): With millions of starfish dying all along the West Coast [and] disintegrating into mush [Congressman Denny Heck wants NOAA] to declare “sea star wasting syndrome” an emergency before the starfish becomes extinct.

National Geographic, Jan 23, 2015: [It’s killed] tens of millions of sea stars.

Cornell Prof. Drew Harvell, sea star researcher, Mar 13, 2015: “There has never been an outbreak of disease in natural populations of animals that I know that’s been this large.”

Newport Beach official Michelle Clemente: “All of our area’s sea stars have disintegrated

Russian gov’t news service (Sputnik), Mar 12, 2015: Many researchers initially believed radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster could be at the heart of the disease… Dr. Peter Raimondi of the University of California at Santa Cruz [believed] the power plant contaminated the water, propagating the disease which the simple immune system of the starfish would not be able to fight off… “One of the byproducts is obviously nuclear radiation discharge…” he added. Today, scientists are less convinced that Fukushima is to blame, citing the fact that [1] awareness of the disease predates the disaster, [2] the die-offs areobservable on both US coasts, and [3] other marine life doesn’t appear to be affected.

[1] Is it a fact this disease predates the 2011 arrival of the Fukushima plume on the West Coast?

  • Melissa Miner, researcher who works for Dr. Raimondi (at 18:30): “The Olympic coast was the first place, in June 2013, where we saw the disease.”
  • Miner (at 4:45): “This is very different from prior events…It’s not associated w/ warm water … Populations really [got] hit hard over the winter, this has never happened… The other big difference… is the geographic extent is much, much larger than we’ve ever seen.”

[2] Is it a fact the die-offs are observable on both US coasts?

  • Miner (50:45 in): “I think it was just a few-month epidemic on the East Coast of the US… My feeling, because we have not heard a lot about it, is that it sort of disappeared. It just lasted a few months and then was gone.”

[3] Is it a fact other marine life doesn’t appear to be affected?

  • “Researchers are now keeping an eye on other echinoderms, such as sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Wasting has been observed in those animals… ‘We’re seeing urchins in southern California with lesions in areas where stars were dying’ [said Miner].” –Source
  • Miner (43:15 in): “People are really watching closely [if] it will spread… We’ve had isolated observations of sick urchins and sea cucumbers w/ lesions and other odd looking things.”

What about the reported surge in baby sea stars? “‘It’s not a coast-wide phenomenon at all,’ said Miner… as few as four of 70 long-term sites [have] greater than normal numbers… ‘I was trying really hard to find juveniles and I couldn’t find any,’ said [Chrissy McLean].” –Source

What about reports that wasting mystery is solved?No one knows what might have triggered such widespread wasting, although scientists [published a paper identifying] densovirusrather than environmental pollutants, such as the oft-suggested [Fukushima] radiation… They found the virus in a Connecticut aquarium where mass die-offs had not been observed, as well as in preserved sea stars from 1942… Miner, who is one of the paper’s authors [said] “It’s likely that other environmental factors have pushed stars to the limit” –Source

View Miner’s presentation here

“40+ areas where extremely contaminated water flows directly into ocean” at Fukushima — Bloomberg: “4 years out, Fukushima reactors still spewing… Fishermen alleging for a while that radioactive water spilling into Pacific… astounding nobody at Tepco has gone to jail”

Bloomberg, Columnist William Pesek, Mar 10, 2015: Four years out, Fukushima reactors still spewingFishermen trawling the waters off Japan’s eastern coast have been alleging for a while that radioactive water was again spilling into the Pacific from the Fukushima power plant… On Feb. 24 [Tepco] admitted those suspicions were justified. And it turns out that Tepco knew about this latest radioactive leak since last May — and the giant utility said nothing for almost a year. In the 15 days since Tepco finally confessed, have investigators raided its Tokyo headquarters? Have regulators demanded that heads roll? Has Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his bully pulpit to demand accountability?… Tokyo was a scary place to be in March 2011 amid Fukushima’s triple meltdown. Most frightening, though, was the utter lack of transparency from the authorities… Even in the context of Japanese cronyism, it’s astounding that nobody at Tepco has gone to jail…  At the very least, Tepco’s senior management should be fired without pensions and face charges from prosecutors…

Mainichi Daily News, Mar 11, 2015 (emphasis added): Fukushima plant still posing risks 4 yrs after meltdowns: regulator — Problems still occur regularly at the radiation-leaking complex… [TEPCO] said highly radioactive rainwater has flowed into the Pacific Ocean every time it has rained, in the latest revelation of a series of contaminated water leakages… but did not disclose the data for 10 months.. TEPCO President Naomi Hirose said Wednesday that the company “could have dealt with the situation differently if we had been able to give consideration to the feeling” of the local fishermen… the number of accidents involving plant workers has increased as the decommissioning work becomes more complex. “Over the past year, two workers died at Fukushima Daiichi, while other severe accidents occurred as well“… Hirose told TEPCO employees at the plant.

Japan Times, Mar 11, 2015: “There have been quite a few accidents and problems at the Fukushima plant in the past year, and we need to face the reality that they are causing anxiety and anger among people in Fukushima,” Shunichi Tanaka told personnel at the Nuclear Regulation Authority… Mishaps still occur regularly at the radiation-leaking complex… “There arenumerous risks that could cause various accidents and problems,” Tanaka said…

Nuclear Hotseat hosted by Libbe HaLevy, Mar 10, 2015 (at 41:00 in): Seiichi Mizuno, member of Japan’s House of Councillors (Upper House of Parliament) from 1995-2001 – “The biggest problem is the melt-through of reactor cores… We have groundwater contamination… The idea that the contaminated water is somehow blocked in the harbor is especially absurd… It is leaking directly into the ocean. There’s evidence of more than 40 known ‘hotspot’ areas where extremely contaminated water is flowing directly into the ocean… We face huge problems with no prospect of solution.”

Download the full interview with Mizuno here


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