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Friday, January 23, 2009

Electronic waste,e-waste,copper, steel, plastic

Electronic wastes, "e-waste" or "Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment" ("WEEE") is a waste type consisting of any broken or unwanted electrical or electronic device. Recyclable electronic waste is sometimes further categorized as a "commodity" while e-waste which cannot be reused is distinguished as "waste". Both types of e-waste have raised concern considering that many components of such equipment are considered toxic and are not biodegradable. Responding to these concerns, many European countries banned e-waste from landfills in the 1990s. As the price of gold, silver and copper continue to rise, e-waste has become more desirable. E-waste roundups can be used as fundraisers in some communities.

The European Union would further advance e-waste policy in Europe by implementing the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive in 2002 which holds manufacturers responsible for e-waste disposal at end-of-life. Similar legislation has been enacted in Asia, with e-waste legislation in the United States limited to the state level due to stalled efforts in the United States Congress regarding multiple e-waste legislation bills.

Due to the difficulty and cost of recycling used electronics as well as lacklustre enforcement of legislation regarding e-waste exports, large amounts of used electronics have been sent to countries such as China, India, and Kenya, where lower environmental standards and working conditions make processing e-waste more profitable.

California was the first state in the U.S. to implement legislation that makes it illegal to throw specific covered electronics in with municipal solid waste. The California Electronic Waste Recycling Act placed a fee on covered electronics sold in California that helped create an infrustructre. California went from only a handful of recyclers to over 60 within the state and over 600 collection sites that can be found on the states implemented website [].


Some activists define "Electronic waste" to include all secondary computers, entertainment devices electronics, mobile phones and other items, whether they have been sold, donated, or discarded by their original owner. This definition includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal. Others define the reusable (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc.) to be "commodities", and reserve the use of the term "waste" for residue or material which was represented as working or repairable but which was discarded by the buyer.

Debate continues over the distinction between "commodity" and "waste" electronics definitions. Some exporters may deliberately leave obsolete or non-working equipment mixed in loads of working equipment (through ignorance, or to avoid more costly treatment processes for 'bad' equipment). On the other hand, some importing countries specifically seek to exclude working or repairable equipment in order to protect domestic manufacturing markets. "White box" computers ('off-brand' or 'no name' computers) are often assembled by smaller scale manufacturers utilizing refurbished components. These 'white box' sales accounted for approximately 45% of all computer sales worldwide by 2004, and are considered a threat to some large manufacturers, who therefore seek to classify used computers as 'waste'.

While a protectionist may broaden the definition of "waste" electronics, the high value of working and reusable laptops, computers, and components (e.g. RAM), can help pay the cost of transportation for a large number of worthless "commodities". Broken monitors, obsolete circuit boards, short circuited transistors, and other junk are difficult to spot in a containerload of used electronics.

Until such time as equipment no longer contains such hazardous substances, the disposal and recycling operations must be undertaken with great care to avoid damaging pollution and workplace hazards, and exports need to be monitored to avoid "toxics along for the ride".


If treated properly, electronic waste is a valuable source for secondary raw materials. However, if not treated properly, it is a major source of toxins and carcinogens. Rapid technology change, low initial cost and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast growing problem around the globe. Technical solutions are available but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied. Electronic waste represents 2 percent of America's trash in landfills, but it equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste.

Due to higher reuse and repair capability, as well as lower environmental standards and working conditions, markets for used electronics have expanded in China, India, Kenya, and elsewhere. Generally, the cost of transport is covered by legitimate reuse and repair value. However, there is a disincentive to screen out electronic waste, which requires additional staff as well as environmental liability in the (developed) generator country. Demand is also strong where there is copper and aluminum and plastic smelting. Guiyu in the Shantou region of China, and Delhi and Bangalore in India, all have electronic waste processing areas. Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal are causing environmental and health problems, including occupational safety and health effects among those directly involved, due to the methods of processing the waste. Trade in electronic waste is controlled by the Basel Convention. However, the Basel Convention specifically exempts repair and refurbishment of used electronics in Annex IX.

Electronic waste is of concern largely due to the toxicity and carcinogenicity of some of the substances if processed improperly. Toxic substances in electronic waste may include lead, mercury and cadmium. Carcinogenic substances in electronic waste may include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, much of which is in the lead glass of the CRT. Capacitors, transformers, PVC insulated wires, PVC coated components that were manufactured before 1977 often contain dangerous amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls.[5] Up to thirty-eight separate chemical elements are incorporated into electronic waste items. The unsustainability of discarding electronics and computer technology is another reason for the need to recycle – or perhaps more practically, reuse – electronic waste.

Electronic waste processing systems have matured in recent years following increased regulatory, public, and commercial scrutiny, and a commensurate increase in entrepreneurial interest. Part of this evolution has involved greater diversion of electronic waste from energy intensive, down-cycling processes (eg. conventional recycling) where equipment is reverted to a raw material form. This diversion is achieved through reuse and refurbishing. The environmental and social benefits of reuse are several: diminished demand for new products and their commensurate requirement for virgin raw materials (with their own environmental externalities not factored into the cost of the raw materials) and larger quantities of pure water and electricity for associated manufacturing, less packaging per unit, availability of technology to wider swaths of society due to greater affordability of products, and diminished use of landfills.

Challenges remain, when materials cannot or will not be reused, conventional recycling or disposal via landfill often follow. Standards for both approaches vary widely by jurisdiction, whether in developed or developing countries. The complexity of the various items to be disposed of, cost of environmentally sound recycling systems, and the need for concerned and concerted action to collect and systematically process equipment are the resources most lacked -- though this is changing. Many of the plastics used in electronic equipment contain flame retardants. These are generally halogens added to the plastic resin, making the plastics difficult to recycle.

In June 2008, a container of illegal electronic waste, destined from Port of Oakland in the US to Sanshui District in mainland China, was intercepted in Hong Kong by Greenpeace. E-waste is imported as a second-hand goods to Ghana.

Trends in disposal and recycling,SWICO,WEEE,EPR,PROs

In the 1990s some European countries banned the disposal of electronic waste in landfills. This created an e-waste processing industry in Europe.

In Switzerland the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991 beginning with collection of old refrigerators. Over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually added to the system. Legislation followed in 1998 and since January 2005 it has been possible to return all electronic waste to the sales points and other collection points free of charge. There are two established PROs (Producer Responsibility Organizations): SWICO mainly handling electronic waste and SENS mainly responsible for electrical appliances. The total amount of recycled electronic waste exceeds 10 kg per capita per year.
The European Union has implemented a similar system under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE 2002/96/EC). The WEEE Directive has now been transposed in national laws in all member countries of the European Union. The WEEE directive was designed to make equipment manufacturers financially or physically responsible for their equipment at its end-of-life under a policy known as extended producer responsibility (EPR). EPR was seen as a useful policy as it internalized the end-of-life costs and provided a competitive incentive for companies to design equipment with less costs and liabilities when it reached its end-of-life. However the application of the WEEE directive has been criticized for implementing the EPR concept in a collective manner and thereby losing the competitive incentive of individual manufacturers to be rewarded for their green design. Since 13 August 2005, the electronics manufacturers became financially responsible for compliance to the WEEE directive. Under the directive, by the end of 2006 – and with one or two years' delay for the new EU members – every country has to recycle at least 4 kg of e-waste per capita per year.

Some states in recent years in the US developed policies banning CRTs from landfills due to the fear that the heavy metals contained in the glass would eventually leach into groundwater. Circuit boards also contain considerable quantities of lead-tin solders and are even more likely to leach into groundwater or become air pollution if managed in an incinerator. Indeed, a policy of "diversion from landfill" has been the driver for legislation in many states requiring higher and higher volumes of e-waste to be collected and processed separate from the solid waste stream. Today the e-waste recycling business is in all areas of the developed world a big and rapidly consolidating business. Unfortunately, increased regulation of e-waste and concern over the environmental harm which can result from toxic e-waste has raised disposal costs. This has had the unforeseen effect of providing brokers and others calling themselves recyclers with an incentive to export the e-waste to developing countries. This form of toxic trade was first exposed by the Basel Action Network (BAN) in their 2002 report and film entitled "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia". Exporting Harm placed a spotlight on the global dumping of electronic waste, primarily from North America on a township area of China known as Guiyu. To this day in Guiyu, thousands of men, women and children are employed, in highly polluting, primitive recycling technologies, extracting the metals, toners, and plastics from computers and other e-waste. Because the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention or the Basel Ban Amendment, and has no domestic laws forbidding the export of toxic waste, BAN estimates that about 80% of the e-waste directed to recycling in the US does not get recycled there at all but is put on container ships and sent to countries such as China.

In developed countries, e-waste processing usually first involves dismantling the equipment into various parts — metal frames, power supplies, circuit boards, and plastics — which are separated, often by hand. Alternatively, material is shredded, and sophisticated expensive equipment separates the various metal and plastic fractions, which then are sold to various smelters and or plastics recyclers. From 2004 the state of California introduced a Electronic Waste Recycling Fee on all new monitors and televisions sold to cover the cost of recycling. The amount of the fee depends on the size of the monitor. That amount was adjusted on July 1, 2005 in order to match the real cost of recycling. Canada has also begun to take responsibility for electronics recycling. For example, in August 2007 a fee similar to the one in California was added to the cost of purchasing new televisions, computers, and computer components in British Columbia. The new legislation made recycling mandatory for all of those products.

A typical electronic waste recycling plant as found in some industrialized countries combines the best of dismantling for component recovery with increased capacity to process large amounts of electronic waste in a cost effective-manner. Material is fed into a hopper, which travels up a conveyor and is dropped into the mechanical separator, which is followed by a number of screening and granulating machines. The entire recycling machinery is enclosed and employs a dust collection system. The European Union, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have already demanded that sellers and manufacturers of electronics be responsible for recycling 75% of them.

A growing trend in the field of E-Waste management is reuse. Advocates of this strategy, such as Gazelle, contend that reuse is actually preferable to recycling because it extends the lifespan of a device. The devices will need to be recycled at some point, they say, but by allowing others to purchase these used electronics, recycling can be postponed and value gained from use of the device. There is no reason to condemn electronics to recycling if they still have value. Many Asian countries have legislated, or will do so, for electronic waste recycling.

The United States Congress is considering a number of electronic waste bills including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). This bill has continually stalled, however.

In the meantime, several states have passed their own laws regarding electronic waste management. California was the first state to enact such legislation, followed by Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota. More recently, legislatures in Oregon and Texas passed their own laws.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2005 Malaysian haze

The 2005 Malaysian haze was a week-long choking smog-like haze over Malaysia that almost brought the central part of Peninsular Malaysia to a standstill, prompted crisis talks with Indonesia and caused widespread inconvenience. The haze was at its worst on August 11, 2005. This was a comeback of the haze crisis which last hit Malaysia in September 1997.

Initial onset

Haze is caused by "hotspots" (zones with high temperature levels as seen via satellite imagery) in Malaysia and Indonesia. Lingering smoke from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra are identified as the primary cause. Farmers regularly burn scrub and forest to clear land during the dry season for agricultural purposes, but this is the worst haze that has hit Malaysia since the 1997 haze.

On August 10, 2005, air quality in the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur was so poor, health officials advised citizens to stay at home with doors closed. Some schools were closed to keep children from being exposed to the haze.

State of Emergency in Port Klang and Kuala Selangor

On August 11, 2005 a state of emergency was announced for the world's 12th largest port, Port Klang and the district of Kuala Selangor after air pollution there reached dangerous levels (defined as a value greater than 500 on the Air Pollution Index or API). This was the first time the state of emergency was imposed in Malaysia since the September 1997 haze, when Sarawak was placed in a state of emergency due to similar reasons.

The state of emergency in the two affected areas meant that schools, government officials, the port, and offices were closed. Shops carrying necessities, however, such as supermarkets and pharmacies remained open.

After the API levels dropped to acceptable levels, the state of emergency was later removed on August 13.


By August 13, 2005, air quality and visibility returned to normal in Kuala Lumpur, as the haze moved northwards to the states of Perlis, Kedah and Penang, according to the Department of Environment (JAS) API reading. On August 16th, air quality throughout Malaysia had returned to normal according to JAS statistics, as the haze was blown further northwards into Thailand.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport was unaffected during the hazy period but flights for non-ILS equipped planes from Subang airport were suspended until conditions cleared on August 13th.

Cloud seeding operations using RMAF C-130s were used throughout Malaysia, although the haze had moved north of Malaysia into Thailand.

Malaysia's Environment Minister, Adenan Satem, and Commodities Minister, Peter Chin, met with Indonesia's forestry minister and officials from its environment ministry in Medan. Malaysia had sent 125 firefighters while Australia had sent 12 bushfire experts to fight Indonesia's estimated more than a thousand forest and scrub fires (estimate reached by counting hotspots greater than 1km on satellite imagery, example of such an image shown below).

Other nations pledged aid to Indonesia, including an offer from Singapore of planes for cloud seeding. Japan, Korea and Thailand also offered help.

On August 22, Malaysia extended its cloud seeding operations to include Indonesia, as requested by Indonesia.

The haze made a brief return on September 11.

API readings

The air pollutant index readings (API) were released for the first time by the Malaysian government since 1997. Up to date readings are now available for the 51 sites monitored automatically and continuously via the Department of Environment, Malaysia.

Following are API readings recorded during the onset of haze, 10 August, 2005 (refer Related article from the New Straits Times):

* Port Klang 424
* Kuala Selangor 418
* Shah Alam 349
* Putrajaya 337
* Petaling Jaya 304
* Kuala Lumpur 276
* Tanjung Malim 205
* Gombak 200
* Country Heights, Kajang 185
* Nilai 174
* Seremban 137
* Jerantut 131
* Bukit Rambai, Malacca 107

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Urban runoff

Urban runoff is surface runoff of rainwater created by urbanization. This runoff is a major source of water pollution in many parts of the United States and other urban communities worldwide.


Impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots and sidewalks) are constructed during land development. During rain storms and other precipitation events, these surfaces (built from materials such as asphalt, cement, and concrete), along with rooftops, carry polluted stormwater to storm drains, instead of allowing the water to percolate through soil. This causes lowering of the water table (because groundwater recharge is lessened) and flooding since the amount of water that remains on the surface is greater. Most municipal storm sewer systems discharge stormwater, untreated, to streams, rivers and bays.

Pollutants in urban runoff

Water running off these impervious surfaces tends to pick up gasoline, motor oil, heavy metals, trash and other pollutants from roadways and parking lots, as well as fertilizers and pesticides from lawns. Roads and parking lots are major sources of nickel, copper, zinc, cadmium, lead and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are created as combustion byproducts of gasoline and other fossil fuels. Roof runoff contributes high levels of synthetic organic compounds and zinc (from galvanized gutters). Fertilizer use on residental lawns, parks and golf courses is a significant source of nitrates and phosphorus.

As stormwater is channeled into storm drains and surface waters, the natural sediment load discharged to receiving waters decreases, but the water flow and velocity increases. In fact, the impervious cover in a typical city prevents groundwater percolation five times than that of a typical woodland of the same size.

Effects of urban runoff

A 2008 report by the United States National Research Council identified urban runoff as a leading source of water quality problems:

...further declines in water quality remain likely if the land-use changes that typify more diffuse sources of pollution are not addressed... These include land-disturbing agricultural, silvicultural, urban, industrial, and construction activities from which hard-to-monitor pollutants emerge during wet-weather events. Pollution from these landscapes has been almost universally acknowledged as the most pressing challenge to the restoration of waterbodies and aquatic ecosystems nationwide.

The runoff also increases temperatures in streams, harming fish and other organisms. (A sudden burst of runoff from a rainstorm can cause a fish-killing shock of hot water.) Also, road salt used to melt snow on sidewalks and roadways can contaminate streams and groundwater aquifers.

Prevention and mitigation of urban runoff

Effective control of urban runoff involves reducing the velocity and flow of stormwater, as well as reducing pollutant discharges. A variety of stormwater management practices and systems may be used to reduce the effects of urban runoff. Some of these techniques, called best management practices (BMPs) in the U.S., focus on water quantity control, while others focus on improving water quality, and some perform both functions.

Pollution prevention practices include low impact development techniques, installation of green roofs and improved chemical handling (e.g. management of motor fuels & oil, fertilizers and pesticides). Runoff mitigation systems include infiltration basins, bioretention systems, constructed wetlands, retention basins and similar devices.

Kuwaiti oil fires

The Kuwaiti oil fires were a result of the scorched earth policy of Iraqi military forces retreating from Kuwait in 1991 after conquering the country but being driven out by Coalition military forces .

The resulting fires burned out of control because of the dangers of sending in firefighting crews. Land mines had been placed in areas around the oil wells, and a military cleaning of the areas was necessary before the fires could be put out. Somewhere around 6 million barrels (950,000 m3) of oil were lost each day. Eventually, privately contracted crews extinguished the fires, at a total cost of US$1.5 billion to Kuwait. By that time, however, the fires had burned for months, causing widespread pollution. The byproducts of the petroleum burn caused pollution to the soil and air, and the oil fires have been linked in the popular imagination with what was later called Gulf War Syndrome. Whether this syndrome has been caused by the oil fires, by chemical attack, or other causes has not been determined, and the longterm environmental effects of the fires have yet to be fully understood.

During Operation Desert Storm, Dr. S. Fred Singer debated Carl Sagan on the impact of the Kuwaiti petroleum fires on the ABC News program Nightline. Sagan said we know from the nuclear winter investigation that the smoke would loft into the upper atmosphere and that he believed the net effects would be very similar to the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1815, which resulted in the year 1816 being known as the Year Without a Summer, in massive agricultural failures, in very serious human suffering and, in some cases, starvation. He predicted the same for south Asia, and perhaps for a significant fraction of the northern hemisphere as well as a result. Singer, on the other hand, said that calculations showed that the smoke would go to an altitude of about 3,000 feet (910 m) and then be rained out after about three to five days and thus the lifetime of the smoke would be limited. In retrospect, we now know that smoke from the Kuwait Oil Fires dominated the weather pattern throughout the Persian Gulf and surrounding region during 1991, and that lower atmospheric wind blew the smoke along the eastern half of the Arabian Peninsula, and cities like Dhahran, Riyadh and Bahrain experienced days with smoke filled skies and carbon fallout.

The companies responsible for extinguishing the fires are Red Adair Company (now sold off to Global Industries of Louisiana), Boots and Coots (now Boots and Coots/IWC), Wild Well Control, Safety Boss, Cudd Well/Pressure Control, Neal Adams Firefighters, and Kuwait Wild Well Killers. All the wells were eventually fully extinguished and brought back under control.


By the eve of the Iraqi invasion, Kuwait had set production quotas to almost 1.9 million barrels per day (300,000 m³/d), which coincided with a sharp drop in the price of oil. By the summer of 1990, Kuwaiti overproduction had become a serious point of contention with Iraq, Some analysts have speculated that one of Saddam Hussein's main motivations in invading Kuwait was to punish the ruling al-Sabah family in Kuwait for not stopping its policy of overproduction, as well as his reasoning behind the destruction of said wells.

Environmental impact

Nearly 700 oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army and the fires were not fully extinguished until November 6, 1991, eight months after the end of the war. The fires consumed an estimated six million barrels of oil daily. Their immediate consequence was a dramatic decrease in air quality, causing respiratory problems for many Kuwaitis. The sabotage of the oil wells also impacted the desert environment, which has a limited natural cleansing ability. Unignited oil from the wells formed about 300 oil lakes that contaminated around 40 million tons of sand and earth. Cleaning efforts led by the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and the Arab Oil Co., who have tested a number of technologies including the use of petroleum-degrading bacteria, produced significant results. In fact, vegetation in most of the contaminated areas adjoining the oil lakes began recovering by 1995, but the dry climate has also partially solidified some of the lakes. Over time the oil has continued to sink into the sand, with as yet unknown consequences for Kuwait's precious groundwater resources.

Popular culture

The fires were the subject of a 1992 IMAX documentary film, Fires of Kuwait, which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film includes footage of the Hungarian team using their jet turbine extinguisher. The Kuwaiti oil fires are also featured in Werner Herzog's 1992 film Lessons of Darkness. The oil fires and black rain were also featured in the 2005 film Jarhead, as well as the video game Eternal Darkness. There was also a flyover of the oil fires in the movie Baraka. The Discovery Channel filmed a documentary series about "The Inventors" which interviewed Branko Babic about his Displacement Tube and Counter Pressure Plugs, patent applied for inventions, to contain the burning oil wells.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Phillips Disaster

The Phillips Disaster refers to a devastating series of explosions and fire in October of 1989, near the Houston Ship Channel in Texas, USA. The initial blast registered 3.5 on the Richter Scale, and the conflagration took 10 hours to bring under control. Some 23 employees were killed and 314 were injured.

Prior to the disaster

The facility produced approximately 1.5 billion pounds per year of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a plastic material used to make milk bottles and other containers. The HCC facility employed 905 company employees and approximately 600 daily contract employees, who were engaged primarily in regular maintenance activities and new plant construction.

The explosions

The incident started at approximately 1:00 PM local time on October 23, 1989, at 1400 Jefferson Road, Pasadena, Texas 77506. A massive and devastating explosion and fire ripped through the Phillips 66 Company's Houston Chemical Complex (HCC), killing 23 persons -- all working at the facility -- and injuring 314 others (185 Phillips 66 employees and 129 contract employees). In addition to the loss of life and injuries, the explosion affected all facilities within the complex, causing $715.5 million worth of damage plus an additional business disruption loss estimated at $700 million. The two polyethylene production plants nearest the source of the blast were destroyed, and in the HCC administration building nearly 0.5 mile away, windows were shattered and bricks ripped out. The initial explosion was equivalent to an earthquake registering 3.5 on the Richter Scale and threw debris as far away as six miles.

The accident resulted from a release of extremely flammable process gases that occurred during regular maintenance operations on one of the plant's polyethylene reactors. More than 85,000 pounds of highly flammable gases were released through an open valve. A vapor cloud formed and traveled rapidly through the polyethylene plant. Within 90 to 120 seconds, the vapor cloud came into contact with an ignition source and exploded with the force of 2.4 tons of TNT.

Early response

The initial response was provided by the Phillips 66 Company fire brigade which was soon joined by members of the Channel Industries Mutual Aid association (CIMA). Cooperating governmental agencies were the Texas Air Control Board, the Harris County Pollution Control Board, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. Coast Guard, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


The fire-fighting water system at the HCC was part of the process water system. When the first explosion occurred, some fire hydrants were sheared off at ground level by the blast. The result was inadequate water pressure for fire fighting. The shut-off valves which could have been used to prevent the loss of water from ruptured lines in the plant were out of reach in the burning wreckage. No remotely-operated fail-safe isolation valves existed in the combined plant/fire-fighting water system. In addition, the regular-service fire-water pumps were disabled by the fire which destroyed their electrical power cables. Of the three backup diesel-operated fire pumps, one had been taken out of service, and one ran out of fuel in about an hour. Fire-fighting water was brought in by hoses laid to remote sources: settling ponds, a cooling tower, a water main at a neighboring plant, and even the Houston Ship Channel. The fire was brought under control within about 10 hours as a result of the combined efforts of fire brigades from other nearby companies, local fire departments, and the Phillips 66 foam trucks and fire brigade.

Search and rescue

All search and rescue operations were coordinated by the Harris County (Texas) Medical Examiner and County Coroner. Search and rescue efforts were delayed until the fire and heat subsided and all danger of further explosions had passed. These operations were difficult because of the extensive devastation in the HCC and the danger of structural collapse on the search and rescue team. The Phillips 66 Company requested, and the FAA approved and implemented, a 1-mile no-fly zone around the plant to prevent engine vibration and/or helicopter rotor downwash from dislodging any of the wreckage. The U.S. Coast Guard and City of Houston fire boats evacuated to safety over 100 trapped people across the Houston Ship Channel. OSHA preserved evidence for evaluation regarding the cause of the catastrophe.

List of fatalities

Phillips employees fatally wounded, listed by name, age, city of residence within Texas, and official date of death (following recovery and identification of remains or eventual death from injuries):

* Ruben Quilantan Alamillo, 35, Houston, 25-Oct-1989
* James Edward Allen, 38, Pasadena, 02-Nov-1989
* Albert Elroy Arce, 35, Deer Park, 28-Oct-1989 (listed as Eloy Albert Arce)
* James Henry Campbell, Jr., 30, Baytown, 26-Oct-1989
* Eloy Gonzales, 36, Houston, 01-Nov-1989
* Mark Lloyd Greeson, 30, Pasadena, 28-Oct-1989
* Jeffrey Lester Harrison, 36, Houston, 24-Oct-1989
* Delbert Lynn Haskell, 43, Deer Park, 29-Oct-1989
* Scotty Dale Hawkins, 32, Houston, 28-Oct-1989
* James Deowens Hubbard, 45, Houston, 25-Oct-1989 (listed as James Hubbard, Jr.)
* Richard Leos, 30, La Porte, 29-Oct-1989
* James Arthur Nichols, 40, Baytown, 27-Oct-1989
* Jesse Thomas Northrup, 43, Brookshire, 28-Oct-1989
* Mary Kathryn O'Connor, 34, Houston, 29-Oct-1989
* Gerald Galen Pipher, 39, Deer Park, 30-Oct-1989
* Cipriano Rodriguez, Jr., 42, Pasadena, 27-Oct-1989
* Jesse Oscar Trevino, 33, Pearland, 30-Oct-1989
* Lino Ralph Trujillo, 39, Pasadena, 29-Oct-1989
* Nathan Gene Warner, 30, Deer Park, 24-Oct-1989

Fish Engineering employees fatally wounded and official dates of death:

* Juan Manuel Garcia, 30-Oct-1989
* Jose Lara Gonzalez, 23-Oct-1989
* William Scott Martin, 25-Oct-1989
* John Medrano, 30-Oct-1989 (listed as Juan Trejo-Medrano)

OSHA findings

OSHA's major findings included: Lack of process hazard analysis; inadequate standard operating procedures (SOPs); non-fail-safe block valve; inadequate maintenance permitting system; inadequate lockout/tagout procedures; lack of combustible gas detection and alarm system; presence of ignition sources; inadequate ventilation systems for nearby buildings; fire protection system not maintained in an adequate state of readiness. Additional factors found by OSHA included: Proximity of high-occupancy structures (control rooms) to hazardous operations; inadequate separation between buildings; crowded process equipment; insufficient separation between the reactors and the control room for emergency shutdown procedures.

Quoting from a key OSHA document:

"At the conclusion of the investigation (April 19, 1990), OSHA issued 566 willful and 9 serious violations with a combined total proposed penalty of $5,666,200 to Phillips 66 Company and 181 willful and 12 serious violations with a combined total proposed penalty of $729,600 to Fish Engineering and Construction, Inc., a maintenance contractor on the site."

OSHA citations

As a result of a settlement between OSHA and Phillips 66 Company, OSHA agreed to delete the willful characterization of the citations and Phillips 66 agreed to pay a $4 million fine and to institute process safety management procedures at HCC and the company's sister facilities at Sweeny, Texas; Borger, Texas; and Woods Cross, Utah.

Facility today

Today, the facility continues to manufacture high-density polyethylene (HDPE), as well as K-Resin SBC. This complex employs 750 workers for the production of specialty chemicals, including 150 operations and maintenance personnel.

The facility experienced additional fatalities in 1999 and 2000. A massive propane leak occurred on 25-Jun-2008 in a utility easement just outside plant property.

Dust Bowl,Drought and dust storms

The Dust Bowl or the dirty thirties was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). It was caused by severe drought, coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation or other techniques to prevent erosion, and the deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains, which killed the natural grasses. These grasses normally kept the soil in place and trapped the moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

During the drought of the 1930s, with the grasses destroyed, the soil dried, turned to dust, and blew away eastwards and southwards in large dark clouds. At times the clouds blackened the sky, reaching all the way to East Coast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean. The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres (400,000 km2), centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.

The storms of the Dust Bowl were given names such as Black Blizzard and Black Roller because visibility was reduced to a few feet (around a meter). The Dust Bowl was an ecological and human disaster. It was caused by misuse of land and years of sustained drought. Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes. Hundreds of thousands of families from the Dust Bowl (often known as "Okies", since so many came from Oklahoma) traveled to California and other states, where they found conditions little better than those they had left. Owning no land, many traveled from farm to farm picking fruit and other crops at starvation wages. John Steinbeck later wrote the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath and also Of Mice and Men about such people.


Agricultural and settlement history

During early European and American exploration of the Great Plains, the region in which the Dust Bowl occurred was thought unsuitable for agriculture; indeed, the region was known as the Great American Desert. The lack of surface water and timber made the region less attractive for pioneer settlement and agriculture. However, following the Civil War, settlement in the area increased, encouraged by the Homestead Act and westward expansion. An unusually wet period in the Great Plains led settlers and government to believe that "rain follows the plow" and that the climate of the region had changed permanently. The initial agricultural endeavors were primarily cattle ranching with some cultivation; however, a series of harsh winters beginning in 1886, coupled with overgrazing followed by a short drought in 1890, led to an expansion of land under cultivation.

Immigration began again at the beginning of the 20th century. A return of unusually wet weather confirmed the previously held opinion that the "formerly" semi-arid area could support large-scale agriculture. Technological improvements led to increased automation, which allowed for cultivation on an ever greater scale. World War I increased agricultural prices, which also encouraged farmers to drastically increase cultivation. In the Llano Estacado, farmland area doubled between 1900 and 1920, and land under cultivation more than tripled between 1925 and 1930. Finally, farmers used agricultural practices that encouraged erosion. For example, cotton farmers left fields bare over winter months, when winds in the High Plains are highest, and burned their wheat stubble, which deprived the soil of organic matter and increased exposure to erosion.

This increased exposure to erosion was displayed when an unusually severe drought struck the Great Plains in 1934. The grass covering the prairie lands for centuries held the soil in place and maintained moisture. With deep plowing from increased farming, the grass holding the soil was eliminated. Combined with the drought, the soil became very dry and loose and was simply carried away by wind making dust clouds which further prevented rainfall. It was not until the government promoted soil conservation programs that the area began to become rehabilitated.


The catastrophe, which began as the economic effects of the Great Depression were intensifying, caused an exodus from Texas, Oklahoma, and the surrounding Great Plains, with more than 500,000 Americans left homeless. One storm caused 356 houses to be torn down. Many Americans migrated west looking for work, while many Canadians fled to urban areas such as Toronto. Two-thirds of farmers in "Palliser's Triangle", in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, had to rely on government aid. This was due mainly to drought, hailstorms, and erratic weather rather than to dust storms such as those occurring on the U.S. Great Plains. Some residents of the Plains, especially in Kansas and Oklahoma, fell ill and died from dust pneumonia and malnutrition.

Geographic characteristics

The Dust Bowl area lies principally west of the 100th meridian on the High Plains, characterized by plains which vary from rolling in the north to flat in the Llano Estacado. Elevation ranges from 2,500 feet (760 m) in the east to 6,000 feet (1,800 m) at the base of the Rocky Mountains. The area is semi-arid, receiving less than 20 inches (510 mm) of rain annually; this rainfall supports the Shortgrass prairie biome originally present in the area. The region is also prone to extended drought, alternating with unusual wetness of equivalent duration.[9] During wet years, the rich soil provides bountiful agricultural output, but crops fail during dry years. Furthermore, the region is subject to winds higher than any region except coastal regions.

Drought and dust storms

The unusually wet period, which encouraged increased settlement and cultivation in the Great Plains, ended in 1930. This was the year in which an extended and severe drought began. The drought caused crops to fail, leaving the plowed fields exposed to wind erosion. The fine soil of the Great Plains was easily eroded and carried east by strong continental winds.

On November 11, 1933, a very strong dust storm stripped topsoil from desiccated South Dakota farmlands in just one of a series of bad dust storms that year. Then, beginning on May 9, 1934, a strong two-day dust storm removed massive amounts of Great Plains topsoil in one of the worst such storms of the Dust Bowl. The dust clouds blew all the way to Chicago where dirt fell like snow. Two days later, the same storm reached cities in the east, such as Buffalo, Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. That winter, red snow fell on New England.

On April 14, 1935, known as "Black Sunday", twenty of the worst "Black Blizzards" occurred throughout the Dust Bowl, causing extensive damage and turning the day to night. Witnesses reported that they could not see five feet in front of them at certain points. The dust storms were so bad that often roosters thought that it was night instead of day and went to sleep during them.


The Dust Bowl exodus was the largest migration in American history within a short period of time. The second wave of the Great Migration by African Americans from the South to the North was larger, involving more than 5 million people, but it took place over decades, from 1940-1970. By 1940, 2.5 million people had moved out of the Plains states; of those, 200,000 moved to California. With their land barren and homes seized in foreclosure, many farm families were forced to leave. Migrants left farms in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico, but all were generally referred to as "Okies". The plight of Dust Bowl migrants became widely known from the novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.


When James N. Gregory examined the Census Bureau statistics as well as other surveys, he discovered some surprising percentages. For example, in 1939 the Bureau of Agricultural Economics surveyed the occupations of about 116,000 families who had come to California in the 1930s. It showed that only 43 percent of southwesterners were doing farmwork immediately before they migrated. Nearly one-third of all migrants were professional or white collar workers.

Government response

During President Franklin D. Roosevelt's first 100 days in 1933, governmental programs designed to conserve soil and restore the ecological balance of the nation were implemented. Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes established the Soil Erosion Service in August 1933 under Hugh Hammond Bennett. It was later reorganized and renamed the Soil Conservation Service in 1935, and is now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Additionally, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation was created after over six million pigs were slaughtered and went to waste in order to stabilize prices. The FSRC diverted agricultural commodities to relief organizations. Apples, beans, canned beef, flour and pork products were distributed through local relief channels. Cotton goods were eventually included to clothe the needy as well.

In 1935, the federal government formed a Drought Relief Service to coordinate relief activities. The DRS bought cattle in counties that were designated emergency areas, for $14 to $20 a head. Those unfit for human consumption - more than 50 percent at the beginning of the program - were destroyed. The remaining cattle were given to the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation to be used in food distribution to families nationwide. Although it was difficult for farmers to give up their herds, the cattle slaughter program helped many of them avoid bankruptcy. "The government cattle buying program was a God-send to many farmers, as they could not afford to keep their cattle, and the government paid a better price than they could obtain in local markets."

President Roosevelt ordered that the Civilian Conservation Corps plant a huge belt of more than 200 million trees from Canada to Abilene, Texas, to break the wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil itself in place. The administration also began to educate farmers on soil conservation and anti-erosion techniques, including crop rotation, strip farming, contour plowing, terracing and other beneficial farming practices.

In 1937, the federal government began an aggressive campaign to encourage Dust Bowlers to adopt planting and plowing methods that conserve the soil. The government paid the reluctant farmers a dollar an acre to practice one of the new methods. By 1938, the massive conservation effort had reduced the amount of blowing soil by 65 percent. Nevertheless, the land failed to yield a decent living.

In the fall of 1939, after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, rain finally came.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Invasion biology terminology

The terminology in this page contains definitions for invasion biology terms in common usage today, taken from accessible publications. References for each definition are included. Terminology relates primarily to invasion biology terms with some ecology terms included to clarify language and phrases on linked pages.


The need for a clearly defined and consistent invasion biology terminology has been acknowledged by many sources. Definitions of “invasive non-indigenous species have been inconsistent” which has led to confusion in both literature and in popular publications (Williams and Meffe 2005). Also, many scientists and managers feel that there is no firm definition of non-indigenous species, native species, exotic species, “and so on, and ecologists do not use the terms consistently” (Shrader-Frechette 2001). Another question asked is whether current language is likely to promote “effective and appropriate action” towards invasive species through cohesive language (Larson 2005). Biologists today spend more time and effort on invasive species work because of the rapid spread, economic cost, and effects on ecological systems, so the importance of effective communication about invasive species is clear (Larson 2005).

Controversy in invasion biology terms exists because of past usage and preference for certain terms. Even for biologists, defining a species as native may be far from being a straightforward matter of biological classification based on the location or the discipline a biologist is working in (Helmreich 2005). Questions often arise as to what exactly makes a species native as opposed to non native, because some non native species have no known negative effects (Woods and Moriarty 2001). Natural biological invasions, generally considered range expansions, and introductions involving human activities are important and could be considered a normal ecological process (Vermeij 2005). Non-native and native species may be sometimes considered invasive, and these invasions often follow human-induced landscape changes, with subsequent damage to existing landscapes a value judgment (Foster and Sandberg 2004). As a result, many important terms relevant to invasion biology, such as invasive, weed, or transient, include qualities that are “open to subjective interpretation” (Colautti and MacIsaac 2004). Sometimes one species can have both beneficial and detrimental effects, such as the mosquito fish (Gambusia affinis), which has been widely introduced because of its suppression of larval mosquitoes, although it also has negative impacts on native species of insects, fish and amphibians (Colautti and MacIsaac 2004).

The large number and current complexity of terms makes interpretation of some of the invasion biology literature challenging and intimidating. Exotic, alien, transplanted, introduced, non-indigenous, and invasive are all words that have been used to describe plants and animals that have been moved beyond their native ranges by humans (Williams and Meffe 2005), along with other terms such as foreign, injurious, aquatic nuisance, pest, non native, all with a particular implication. Even the use of what seem to be simple, basic terms to articulate ecological concepts “can confuse ideological debates and undermine management efforts” (Colautti and MacIsaac 2004). Attempts to redefine commonly used terms in invasion biology have been difficult because many authors and biologists are particular to a favorite definition (Colautti and MacIsaac 2004). Also, the status and identification of any species as an invader, a weed, or an exotic are “conditioned by cultural and political circumstances” (Robbins 2004).


Alien species
Less commonly used in scientific literature but often included in population publications, public information displays, and educational literature. This term refers to species that spread beyond their native range, not necessarily harmful, or species introduced to a new range that establish themselves and spread; similar terms include exotic species, foreign species, introduced species, non indigenous species, and non native species (Jeschke and Strayer 2005).

Aquatic nuisance species
Less commonly used in most literature. 1. A nonindigenous species that threatens the diversity or abundance of native species or the ecological stability of infested waters, or commercial, agricultural, aquacultural or recreational activities dependent on such waters (EPA 1990). 2. Aquatic species that causes economic or environmental harm to humans (Heutte and Bella 2003). 3. An aquatic species with adverse effects on humans, either directly (e.g. species that produce toxins that are harmful to humans) or indirectly (e.g. species that infest nature reserves) (Colautti and MacIsaac 2004).

Biological control or biocontrol
1. In general, the control of the numbers of one organism as a result of natural predation by another or others. Specifically, the human use of natural predators for the control of pests or weeds. Also applied to the introduction of large numbers of sterilized males of the pest species, whose matings result in the laying of infertile eggs (Allaby 1998). 2. The release of one species to control another (Carlton 2001). 3. The management of weeds using introduced herbivores (often insects) as biological control agents (Booth et al. 2003).

Biological invasion or bioinvasion
A broad term that refers to both human-assisted introductions and natural range expansions (Carlton 2001).

Biological diversity (See biodiversity)
Used to describe species richness, ecosystem complexity, and genetic variation (Allaby 1998).

Biological control (See Biological pest control)
Control method involving a biological control agent that is a natural enemy of a target pest (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Bioregion (See Ecoregion)
A biological subdivision of the earth’s surface delineated by the flora and fauna of the region (Allaby 1998).

The plants and animals of a specific region or period, or the total aggregation of organisms in the biosphere (Allaby 1998).

Casual species
This term is becoming less common in usage. A non native species that does not form self-replacing populations (Booth et al. 2003). Similar terms include introduced species, non indigenous species, and non native species.

Chemical control
Control method that employs herbicides to control exotic plants (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Any grouping of populations of different organisms that live together in a particular environment (Allaby 1998).

Cryptogenic species
Species that are neither clearly native nor exotic (Cohen and Carlton 1988).

A variety of a plant produced and maintained by horticultural techniques and not normally found in wild populations (Allaby 1998).

An event or change in the environment that alters the composition and successional status of a biological community and may deflect succession onto a new trajectory, such as a forest fire or hurricane, glaciation, agriculture, and urbanization (Art 1993).

A discrete unit, or community of organisms and their physical environment (living and non-living parts), that interact to form a stable system (Allaby 1998).

A species or taxonomic group that is restricted to a particular geographic region because of such factors as isolation or response to soil or climatic conditions; this species is said to be endemic to the region (Allaby 1998).

Exotic species
This term is commonly used in publications and literature, and is similar to the terms alien species, foreign species, introduced species, non indigenous species, and non native species (Heutte and Bella 2003). Other definitions include: 1. An introduced, non native species, or a species that is the result of direct or indirect, deliberate or accidental introduction of the species by humans, and for which introduction permitted the species to cross a natural barrier to dispersal (Noss and Cooperrider 1994). 2. In North America, often refers to those species not present in a bioregion before the entry of Europeans in the 16th century, or present in later parts of that region and later introduced to an ecosystem by human-mediated mechanisms (Cohen and Carlton 1988).

The animal life of a region or geological period (Allaby 1998).

Foreign species (See Introduced species)
A species introduced to a new area or country. Similar terms include alien species, exotic species, introduced species, non indigenous species, and non native species.

Plant or bacterial life forms of a region or geological period (Allaby 1998).

The place, including physical and biotic conditions, where a plant or an animal usually occurs (Allaby 1998).

Pesticide that specifically targets vegetation (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Indigenous (See Indigenous species)
A species that occurs naturally in an area; a synonym for native species (Allaby 1998).

Injurious species
An introduced species that causes economic or environmental harm to humans. Similar terms include aquatic nuisance species, noxious weed, and invasive species (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Intentional introduction
A species that is brought to a new area, country, or bioregion for a specific purpose, such as for a garden or lawn; a crop species; a landscaping species; a species that provides food; a groundcover species; for soil stabilization or hydrological control; for aesthetics or familiarity of the species; or other purposeful reasons (Booth et al. 2003).

Introduced species
This term, along with the terms introduced species and nonindigenous species, is one of the most commonly used terms to describe a plant or animal species that is not originally from the area in which it occurs. This terms means those species that have been transported by human activities, either intentionally or unintentionally, into a region in which they did not occur in historical time and are now reproducing in the wild (Carlton 2001). Similar terms include alien species, exotic species, foreign species, non indigenous species, and non native species.

Invasive species
This term is subject to the most confusion and debate within invasion biology terminology. Generally, this term refers to a subset of plants or animals that are introduced to an area, survive, and reproduce, and causes harm economically or environmentally within the new area of introduction. 1. An alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health (Executive Order 1999). 2. An adjective for non native or nonindigenous species that have colonized natural areas; 3. Discrimination of nonindigenous species established in cultivated habitats (as ‘noninvasive’) from those established in natural habitats; 4. Nonindigenous species that are widespread; or 5. Widespread nonindigenous species that have adverse effects on the invaded habitat (Colautti and MacIsaac 2004). Other definitions include the following: 5. Species that spread beyond their native range, not necessarily harmful, or species introduced to a new range that establish themselves and spread (Jeschke and Strayer 2005). 6. Species that displace native species and have the ability to dominate an ecosystem, or a species that enters an ecosystem beyond its natural range and causes economic or environmental harm (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Integrated Pest Management. IPM focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pests. The integrated approach to weed management incorporates the best suited cultural, biological and chemical controls that have minimum impact on the environment and on people (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Manual control
Removal that involves the use of tools such as shovels, axes, rakes, grubbing hoes, and hand clippers to expose, cut, and remove flowers, fruits, stems, leaves, and/or roots from target plants (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Mechanical control
Removal that involves the use of motorized equipment such as mowers, “weed-whackers”, and tractor-mounted plows, disks, and sweepers. Burning is also categorized here (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Native range
The ecosystem that a species inhabits (Booth et al. 2003).

Native species (See Indigenous (ecology)
1. A synonym for indigenous species 2. A species that occurs naturally in an area, and has not been introduced by humans either intentionally or unintentionally Allaby 2005). 3. In North America, a species established before the year 500 (Jeschke and Strayer 2005)

Native weed (invasive native)
A species that is native to an area or bioregion that has increased in number dramatically. In cases of disturbance or change to a landscape, a ruderal species can increase in cover and compete with other native plants, threatening the diversity of a community. In other cases, landscape level changes can cause the increase of the population of a species, such as white-tailed deer in the northeastern part of the United State, which are at the highest levels historically and cause damage to humans, crops, and structures, suffer high disease levels, and pose threats to humans through interactions on roads (Foster and Sandberg 2004).

Naturalized species (
1. A species that was originally introduced from a different country, a different bioregion, or a different geographical area, but now behaves like a native species in that it maintains itself without further human intervention and now grows and reproduces in native communities (Allaby 1998). 2. A non native species that forms self-sustaining populations but is not necessarily an invasive species (Booth et al. 2003).

Niche opportunity
Defines conditions that promote invasions in terms of resources, natural enemies, the physical environment, interactions between these factors, and the manner in which they vary in time and space (Shea and Chesson 2002).

Nonindigenous species
This is a common term used along with non native species and introduced species in current literature and publications; other similar terms include alien species, exotic species, and foreign species. 1. Any species or other viable biological material that enters an ecosystem beyond its historic range, including any such organism transferred from one country into another (EPA 1990). 2. A plant or animal that is not native to the area in which it occurs which was either intentionally or unintentionally introduced (Williams and Meffe 2005).

Non native species
This term, along with the terms introduced species and nonindigenous species, is one of the most commonly used terms to describe a plant or animal species that is not originally from the area in which it occurs. Similar terms also include alien species, exotic species, and foreign species. This term has also been defined as: 1. A species whose presence is due to intentional or unintentional introduction as a result of human activity (Booth et al. 2003). 2. A species that has been introduced to an area or bioregion (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Noxious weed
This term is frequently a legal term in state code, denoting a special status of the plant as, for example, prohibited or restricted. 1. Native or non-native plants, or plant products, that injure or cause damage to interests of agriculture, irrigation, navigation, natural resources, public health, or the environment (Heutte and Bella 2003). 2. Implies a species’ adverse effects on humans, either directly (e.g. species that produce toxins that are harmful to humans) or indirectly (e.g. species that infest nature reserves) (Colautti and MacIsaac 2004). 3. Any species of plants, either annual, biennial, or perennial; reproduced by seed, root, underground stem, or bulblet; which when established is or may become destructive and difficult to control by ordinary means of cultivation or other farm practices (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Pathway (See Path)
1. Used to mean vector, purpose (the reason why a species is moved), and route (the geographic corridor from one point to another) (Carlton 2001). 2. Mode by which a species establishes and continues to exist in a new environment (Heutte and Bella 2003).

1. An animal that competes with humans by consuming or damaging food, fiber, or other materials intended for human consumption or use, such as an insect consuming a cropfield (Allaby 1998) 2. Synonymous to invasive species (Jeschke and Strayer 2005).

A chemical or biological agent intended to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate plant or animal life and any substance intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant, including insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, herbicides, nematocides, and biocides (Heutte and Bella 2003).

A group of potentially inter-breeding individuals of the same species found in the same place at the same time (Booth et al. 2003).

Prohibited weed
A specific legal term applied to a plant or plant part that may not be brought into a state (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Restricted weed
A specific legal term applied to a plant or plant part that may only be brought into a state in limited quantities (Heutte and Bella 2003).

Ruderal species
A plant associated with human dwellings, construction, or agriculture, that usually colonizes disturbed or waste ground. Ruderals are often weeds which have high demands for nutrients and are intolerant of competition. See also native weed or invasive native (Allaby 1998).

Seed bank
Seeds that become incorporated into the soil (Booth et al. 2003).

A group of organisms formally recognized as distinct from other groups; the taxon rank in the hierarchy of biological classification below genus; the basic unit of biological classification, defined by the reproductive isolation of the group from all other groups of organisms (Allaby 1998).

Tens rule
1. Describes how approximately ten percent of species pass through each transition from being imported to becoming casual to becoming established, and finally becoming a weed (Booth et al. 2003). 2. Ten percent of the introduced species establish themselves in the non native continent and ten percent of these, in turn, spread or are pests although many exceptions to this rule have been noted (Jeschke and Strayer 2005).

Time lag
1. Time between introduction, establishment, and spread of a species (Jeschke and Strayer 2005). 2. The time between when a species is introduced and when its population growth explodes (Booth et al. 2003).

Unintentional introduction
An introduction of nonindigenous species that occurs as the result of activities other than the purposeful or intentional introduction of the species involved, such as the transport of nonindigenous species in ballast or in water used to transport fish, mollusks or crustaceans for aquaculture or other purposes (EPA 1990).

Vector (See Vector (biology)
The physical means or agent by which a species is transported, such as ballast water, ships’ hulls, boats, hiking boats, cars, vehicles, packing material, or soil in nursery stock (Carlton 2001). See also pathway.

1. A plant in the wrong place, being one that occurs opportunistically on land or in water that has been disturbed by human activities (see also ruderal species and native weed or invasive native), or on cultivated land, where it competes for nutrients, water, sunlight, or other resources with cultivated plants such as food crops. Under different circumstances the weed plant itself may be cultivated for different purposes (Allaby 1998). 2. A native or introduced species that has a perceived negative ecological or economic effect on agricultural or natural ecosystems (Booth et al. 2003). 3. A plant growing in an area where it is not wanted (Royer and Dickinson 1999).

Legal definitions

Invasive species (United States)
Executive Order 13112 (1999) defines this term as an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Introduction (United States)
Executive Order 13112 (1999) defines this term as the intentional or unintentional escape, release, dissemination, or placement of a species into an ecosystem as a result of human activity.

Native species (United States)
Executive Order 13112 (1999) defines this term as a species with respect to a particular ecosystem that historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem rather than as a result of an introduction.

Nonindigenous species (United States)
The Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-646, 16 USC 4701-4741) defines this term as any species or other viable biological material that enters an ecosystem beyond its historic range, including any such organism transferred from one country into another.

Species (United States)
Executive Order 13112 (1999) defines this term as a group of organisms, all of which have a high degree of physical and genetic similarity, generally interbreed only among themselves, and show persistent differences from members of allied groups of organisms.

Unintentional introduction (United States)
The Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-646, 16 USC 4701-4741) defines this term as an introduction of nonindigenous species that occurs as the result of activities other than the purposeful or intentional introduction of the species involved, such as the transport of nonindigenous species in ballast or in water used to transport fish, mollusks or crustaceans for aquaculture or other purposes.

Mountaintop removal mining

Mountaintop removal mining (MTR), often referred to as mountaintop mining/valley fills (MTM/VF), is a form of surface mining that involves extreme topographic change to the summit or summit ridge of a mountain. It is most closely associated with coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains, located in the eastern United States. The process involves the removal of up to 1,000 vertical feet of overburden to expose underlying coal seams. The overburden is often scraped into the adjacent drainage valleys in what is called a valley fill.

Because of its destructive nature, MTR is controversial and is protested by environmentalists, local residents, and others. Controversy over the practice stems from both the extreme topographical and ecological changes that the mining site undergoes, as well as from the storage of waste material generated from the mining and processing of the coal. Proponents of MTR point to its efficiency, job creation, and increase of flat land in areas where there is often little.


Increased demand for coal in the United States, sparked by the 1973 and 1979 petroleum crises, created incentives for a more economical form of coal mining than the traditional underground mining methods involving hundreds of workers, triggering the first widespread use of MTR. Its prevalence expanded further in the 1990's to retrieve relatively low-sulfur coal, a cleaner burning form, which became desirable as a result of amendments to the U.S. Clean Air Act that tightened emissions limits on high-sulfur coal processing. With an increasing call for energy independence in the U.S., as well as a growing call for Coal-To-Liquids and "clean coal technologies", MTR has continued to expand into the 2000's.


MTR in the United States is most often associated with the extraction of coal in the Appalachian Mountains, where the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 2,200 square miles (5,700 km2) of Appalachian forests will be cleared for MTR sites by the year 2012.[5] It occurs most commonly in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, the top two coal producing states in Appalachia, with each state using approximately 1000 metric tons of explosives per day for the purposes of surface mining. At current rates, MTR in the U.S. will mine over 1.4 million acres (5,700 km²) by 2010, an amount of land area that exceeds that of the state of Delaware.


No vegetation survives MTR, so the land is deforested prior to mining operations and the resultant lumber is either sold or burned. Ideally, the topsoil is removed and set aside for later reclamation. Once the area is cleared, miners use explosives to blast away the overburden, the rock and subsoil, to expose coal seams beneath. Often, the overburden is then pushed into a nearby valley or hollow, creating what is known as a valley fill. A dragline excavator then removes the coal, where it is transported to an often on-site processing plant and washed. Millions of gallons of waste from this coal processing, called coal sludge or slurry, are often stored nearby in open pools impounded by earthen dams. Once coal removal is completed, the mining operators replace the topsoil (or a topsoil substitute) on the site and seed it for revegetation. Dependant on mostly geologic factors the land can sometimes be used afterward for different purposes, such as forestry.

Because coal usually exists in multiple geologically stratified seams, miners can often repeat the blasting process to mine over a dozen seams on a single mountain, increasing the mine depth each time. This can result in vertical descension of hundreds of extra feet into the earth.


Just over half of the electricity generated in the United States is produced by coal-fired power plants. MTR accounted for less than 5% of U.S. coal production as of 2001. In some regions, however, the percentage is higher, for example MTR provided 30% of the coal mined in West Virginia in 2006.

Historically in the U.S. the prevalent method of coal acquisition was underground mining which is very labor-intensive. In MTR, through the use of explosives and large machinery, more than two and a half times as much coal can be extracted per worker per hour than in traditional underground mines, and thus greatly reducing the need for workers. The industry lost approximately 10,000 jobs from 1990 to 1997, as MTR and other more mechanized mining methods became more widely used. The United Mine Workers of America has called for additional legal measures to protect communities from the degradation and destruction that results from nearby blasting. The coal industry asserts that surface mining techniques, such as mountaintop removal, are safer for miners than sending miners underground.

Proponents argue that in certain geologic areas, MTR and similar forms of surface mining allow easier access to coal than traditional underground mining, and that it is the most cost-effective method of extracting coal. However, the counties that host MTR are often the poorest in Appalachia. For instance, in McDowell County, West Virginia, which produces the most coal in the state, over 37% of residents live below the poverty line. In Kentucky, counties with coal mining have economies no better than adjoining counties where no mining occurs.

A 2008 study from environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies LLC concluded that wind farm development is a more economic land-use option than mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. The study was commissioned by Coal River Mountain Watch, a group that works to stop mountaintop mining and which encourages the development of wind projects instead. The study calculated that a wind farm consisting of 164 wind turbines and generating 328 megawatts of electricity, would provide over $1.74 million in annual property taxes to Raleigh County. By comparison, the coal severance taxes related to the mountaintop removal mining would provide the county with $36,000 per year.

Legislation in the United States

In the United States, MTR is allowed by section 515(c)(1) of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). Although most coal mining sites must be reclaimed to the land's pre-mining contour and use, regulatory agencies can issue waivers to allow MTR. In such cases, SMCRA dictates that reclamation must create "a level plateau or a gently rolling contour with no highwalls remaining."

Permits must be obtained to deposit valley fill into streams. On four occasions, federal courts have ruled that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated the Clean Water Act by issuing such permits. Massey Energy Company is currently appealing a 2007 ruling, but has been allowed to continue mining in the meantime because "most of the substantial harm has already occurred," according to the judge.

The Bush administration appealed one of these rulings in 2001 because the Act had not explicitly defined "fill material" that could legally be placed in a waterway. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers changed a rule to include mining debris in the definition of fill material, and the ruling was overturned. However, if passed, the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R.2169), a bill in the House of Representatives, would revert this change by specifying that coal mining waste does not constitute fill material, in effect disallowing valley fills.

On December 2, 2008, the Bush Administration made a rule change to remove the Stream Buffer Zone protection provision from SMCRA allowing coal companies to place mining waste rock and dirt directly into headwater waterways thereby affecting downriver areas.

A federal judge has also ruled that using settling ponds to remove mining waste from streams violates the Clean Water Act. He also declared that the Army Corps of Engineers has no authority to issue permits allowing discharge of pollutants into such in-stream settling ponds, which are often built just below valley fills.

Additionally, a September 2007 survey conducted by the Civil Society Institute found that 65% of Americans oppose the Bush Administration's proposal "to ease environmental regulations to permit wider use of 'mountain top removal' coal mining in the U.S." The study also found that 74% of Americans are opposed to the expansion of MTR coal mining in general, and that 90% of Americans agree that more mining should be permitted only after the United States government has assessed its impacts on safety and the environment.

On 15 January 2008, the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to end a policy that waives detailed federal Endangered Species Act reviews for new mining permits. The current policy states that MTR can never damage endangered species or their habitat as long as mining operators comply with federal surface mining law, despite the complexities of species and ecosystems. Since 1996, this policy has exempted many strip mines from being subject to permit-specific reviews of impact on individual endangered species.

On May 25, 2008 North Carolina State Representative Pricey Harrison introduced a bill to ban the use of mountaintop removal coal from coal fired power plants within North Carolina. This proposed legislation would be the first of its kind in the United States.


Critics contend that MTR is a destructive and unsustainable practice that benefits a small number of corporations at the expense of local communities and the environment. Though the main issue has been over the physical alteration of the landscape, opponents to the practice have also criticized MTR for the damage done to the environment by massive transport trucks, and the environmental damage done by the burning of coal for power. Blasting at MTR sites also expels coal dust and fly-rock into the air, which can disturb or settle onto private property nearby. This dust contains sulfur compounds, which corrodes structures and is a health hazard.

Advocates of MTR claim that once the areas are reclaimed as mandated by law, the area provides flat land suitable for many uses in a region where flat land is at a premium. They also maintain that the new growth on reclaimed mountaintop mined areas is better suited to support populations of game animals.
Mountaintop removal coal mining at Kayford Mountain, West Virginia.

Artists have been leaders in the fight against the process of mountaintop removal. Writers and musicians have been particularly active in Kentucky. In April 2005, respected writer and social critic Wendell Berry invited Kentucky writers on a tour of mountaintop removal sites that started a movement that continues to heat up. The attending writers have since contributed writing on the issue to national magazines and newspapers and even created a respected book called Missing Mountains, edited by Kristin Johnason, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Mary-Ann Taylor Hall. The book contains a foreword by Silas House and an afterword by Berry and is widely used in college courses.

2005 also saw the release of the album Songs For the Mountaintop, a collection of anti-MTR music. In 2007 the band Public Outcry (Silas House, Jason Howard, Jessie Lynne Keltner, Kate Larken, George Ella Lyon, and Anne Shelby) was formed to sing anti-MTR songs. They have performed at universities, festivals, and libraries throughout the region and in 2008 released their first, eponymous album.

Many personal interest stories of coalfield residents have been written; the first, "Lost Mountain" by Erik Reese,was released in 2005. In addition, Penny Loeb (Moving Mountains: How One Woman and Her Community Won Justice From Big Coal) and Michael Shnayerson (Coal River) have also contributed to the anti-mountaintop removal struggle with informative works. To date, Dr. Shirley Stewart Burns, a coalfield native, has written the only academic book on mountaintop removal, titled "Bringing Down The Mountains" (2007), which is loosely based on the 2005 Ph.D. dissertation of the same name. All of these books are critically acclaimed and their authors continue to make a collective effort to give voice to the people of the Appalachian coalfields.

In 2006, cultural historian, Jeff Biggers, published "The United States of Appalachia", which chronicled the historical contributions of Appalachians and their impact on the nation, and examined the role of mountaintop removal in destroying Appalachia's history and cultural significance. Biggers continues to write extensively on the cultural and human costs of mountaintop removal, and the parallel connection between the devastation of the environment and the culture.

In 2007 Ann Pancake released the novel Strange As This Weather Has Been, which has been hailed by critics and received several awards. The book is the first major fiction work about the subject of MTR and was highly critical of the mining practice.

In 2007, a feature documentary titled Mountain Top Removal was completed by Haw River Films. The film features Mountain Justice Summer activists, coal field residents, and coal industry officials. Included in the film are US President George W. Bush and West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, among others. On April 18 2008 the film received the Reel Current award selected and presented by Al Gore at the Nashville Film Festival.

Maria Gunnoe is a community organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition who is concerned about the long-term effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. She is featured in the 2008 documentary film Burning the Future: Coal in America and the 2007 documentary film Mountain Top Removal. In 2006, Gunnoe received the Callaway Award for her organizing efforts in her southern West Virginia community.


An EPA environmental impact statement finds that streams near valley fills from mountaintop removal contain high levels of minerals in the water and decreased aquatic biodiversity. The statement also estimates that 724 miles (1,165 km) of Appalachian streams were buried by valley fills between 1985 to 2001.

Although U.S. mountaintop removal sites by law must be reclaimed after mining is complete, reclamation has traditionally focused on stabilizing rock formations and controlling for erosion, and not on the reforestation of the affected area. Fast-growing, non-native grasses, planted to quickly provide vegetation on a site, compete with tree seedlings, and trees have difficulty establishing root systems in compacted backfill. Consequently, biodiversity suffers in a region of the United States with numerous endemic species. Erosion also increases, which can intensify flooding. In the Eastern United States, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative works to promote the use of trees in mining reclamation.

[edit] Sludge ponds

As with other methods of coal mining, processing of the coal mined generates waste slurry (also called coal sludge), which is usually stored in large sludge ponds impounded by an on-site dam. Many coal slurry impoundments in West Virginia exceed 500 million gallons in volume, and can be larger than 7 billion gallons. Such impoundments can be hundreds of feet high and sometimes have close proximity to schools or private residences.

The most controversial sludge dam at present sits 400 yards (400 m) above Marsh Fork Elementary School. On May 31, 2005, 16 people were arrested at Governor Manchin's office for protesting the Governor's refusal to fund the relocation of the school. The leaking (according to CorpWatch) sludge pond is permitted to hold 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge, and is 21 times larger than the pond which killed 125 people in the Buffalo Creek Flood in 1972.

Kentucky's Martin County Sludge Spill occurred after midnight on October 11, 2000, when a coal sludge impoundment broke through into an underground mine below, propelling 306 million gallons of sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. The spill polluted hundreds of miles of waterways, contaminated the water supply for over 27,000 residents, and killed all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek.