Cardiff Friends of the Earth Newsletter - Summer 1999

Jubilee 2000 - The campaign to Drop the Debt

By Julie Lewis, Cardiff Jubilee 2000 coalition

Fed up with the millennium already, the constant media attention - from how to conceive your millennium baby to millennium bug disasters? This fast approaching date has hardly been out of the news and it is set to get worse. However, the millennium is also getting attention as a symbol of hope for the world's poorest countries.

Jubilee 2000 is a global movement to celebrate the millennium by cancelling the un-payable debts of the world's poorest countries by the end of the year 2000 and offer a new start in the next century to billions of people. The act of Jubilee comes from the Old Testament, an act to create a fairer way of living through cancelling debts, returning lands, and freeing slaves. An act of renewal as relevant today as then.

The arguments are as stark as they are clear, the United Nations Development Programme on 1997 stated that 21 million children's lives could be saved if the money used for debt servicing was put into health and education. This is why Jubilee 2000 is calling for debt relief to be conditional on investment in poverty reduction. For example, Africa spends four times as much on paying its debts as it does on health care, and in terms of education in the developing world 125 million primary age children never attend school. Another 150 million start school but drop out before completing four years.

The campaign push at the moment is the G8 summit in Cologne in June, to put debt relief at the top of the agenda and to get the world's most powerful countries to sign up to action rather than words. Canada has come out and said that they are prepared to act unilaterally and cancel 100 percent of the debt for a select number of countries, even the German and UK Chancellors are making positive statements. It seems that some action will be forthcoming.

The lobbying is continuing. As a show of strength human chains will be formed in many places around the world, including surrounding the G8 summit building. A petition that has signatures from countries far and wide will be presented to the delegates.

To mark this event Jubilee 2000 in Wales is organising a human chain around Cardiff Castle on 12 June. This will present a powerful voice to the politicians that they must act on this issue. There will be a stand at Bute Park next to the stone circle from 10am to let you know where to gather. The event will start at 11am with music, theatre and information. The chain will be formed at 12pm. Please try to join this event and support Jubilee 2000's effort to change the lives of millions of people for the better.

For all our millennium babies, such as those born in Zambia owing $790 in debt, lets act now, for a bright new millennium.

What hope now for Green issues after the election?

By Steve Bartley

Local and National Assembly elections see positive results for the Green Party, but how long before real progress is made?

There were numerous changes to the political scene in Wales earlier this month, both at local level and for the new Welsh Assembly. Each of the four main parties found something to congratulate themselves on. But will their political differences prove to be a positive measure in terms of the environment? Or will it just give politicians more jobs and the opportunity to do as they please?

The flag for fundamental Green policy was carried by the Green Party. But their support will unfortunately do little to alter the political perception of the environment. As a consequence we are left with the usual vote grabbing policies which will only brush the surface of what is actually needed.

How will this change? How can a new Green Party take up the responsibility of power and, more importantly, gain the confidence of the electorate to achieve power in the first place? Will it have to adopt those political measures, the bullying and the negative campaigning to actually gain the votes we need to actually make a change?

The main political parties still cling to comments of a greater need to devote funds to the environment. Yet the disturbing truth is that this won't come, as it doesn't win as many votes as tax cuts or shorter hospital waiting lists. They just don't spot the link green issues have with all these factors.

Yet they go on. Asked about the crisis in Wales' roads in a Radio Wales interview Lib Dem AM Jenny Randerson said that the future of transport is not the four-lane motorway. Well Mrs Randerson, it seems it is as your party offers no alternative.

Steve Bartley is a member of Cardiff Friends of the Earth and stood as a Green Party candidate in the local election.

High numbers of cancer cases in Gilfach Goch

Higher than average numbers of cancer cases have been discovered in Gilfach Goch, with the finger of blame being pointed at the nearby Rockwool plant.

Mrs Aurfron Roberts has asked for an enquiry by the Welsh Office into abnormally high levels of cancer cases in local people.

The firm denies any harmful emissions are being made from the plant, saying that strict standards are set. The Environment Agency has backed these claims and Bro Taf Health Authority's consultant on public health said there was no evidence linking the cancer cluster with the site.

Radiation expert, Richard Bramhall is urging people to carry out their own health checks and urging caution. Rockwool produces insulation from recycled newspaper and employs 454 staff.

Community environmental projects

The Chair of Cardiff Friends of the Earth, Neil Donovan, attended a workshop for local environmental projects last month. It was held at the Ecocentrig centre in Cardiff and was entitled Local Action - Local Help.

The event began with a description of different groups that offer financial help and information, then Jemma Ward of The Prince's Trust talked about projects for litter pick ups, tree planting, and putting walkways through woods.

Simon James of BTCV talked of the practical help and training available to local people for similar activities. Other groups attending included Environment Wales, the Black Environment Network, and Fairwater Community Garden.

Report gives Nycomed Amersham the green light

The House of Lords' Select Committee report on nuclear waste puts the responsibility on Nycomed Amersham to plan properly for the interim storage of the nuclear waste that they produce at their plant in Whitchurch, Cardiff.

"We regret that there's no criticism of the way the company have, with Cardiff Council's agreement, bypassed legislation on environmental impact assessments in establishing their nuclear waste store", said Max Wallis of Friends of the Earth Cymru. He added, "Nycomed Amersham's long-standing excuse - that they are waiting for the Government to decide on a disposal dump - has been neatly debunked by the House of Lords' report. The company must now come up with plans to end nuclear storage in Cardiff".

Friends of the Earth Cymru condemns power station announcement

Friends of the Earth Cymru have denounced the Government's support of a gas-fired power station at Port Talbot as a "pre-election stitch-up" having nothing to do with sustainable energy.

They dismissed Welsh Office claims that the development could lead to 10,000 jobs in the area as "utter fantasy". They point out that the Government approval for the power station will weaken the case for renewable energy projects funded by Objective One money.

Alun Michael, leader of the Welsh Assembly, has visited the Baglan Bay development and announced that the Secretary of State for Industry, Stephen Byers has decided not to use his powers to halt or defer the project. The decision breaks Government policy that new gas-fired power stations would not normally be allowed.

Friends of the Earth Cymru believe that the proposed 500 megawatt power station is too large, and that it would cause even more air pollution in one of the most polluted town in Wales.

Alun Michael claimed that the power station would "give Wales a global showcase for sustainable development" because it uses gas turbine technology allowing up to 60 percent efficiency. Friends of the Earth Cymru points out that a smaller Combined Heat and Power power station could give up to 70 to 80 percent efficiency.

Tritium found in the River Taff

The Welsh Office programme of tritium sampling has discovered very high levels of radioactivity in eels and in sediments in the River Taff. Levels were found up to 23000Bq/kg in eels, and up to 5600Bq/kg in sediments.

The tritium is thought to come from discharges into sewers from the Nycomed Amersham plant in Whitchurch. Because the levels are unexpectedly high, monitoring is to be extended to sea trout, wildfowl, soil, and grass.

"These figures are surprisingly high. They show that the policy of dumping tritium waste in the sea and expecting it to disperse is quite wrong", commented Max Wallis for Friends of the Earth Cymru. Under the 1988 OSPAR Agreement, tritium discharges have to be reduced to 'near background levels' of around 10Bq/kg. There are damage-limitation 'assurances' by Welsh Office Minister Jon Owen Jones, and by the Environment Agency's Alun James, who said, "the radiation dose from eating 10kg of eels per year would be very low".

Recycling levels could collapse in Cardiff

A Friends of the Earth Cymru poll has said that recent changes in the system of recycling in Cardiff could lead to a collapse in public participation. The survey on the council's green bag scheme found a pessimistic response.

The results of the survey were that 69 percent of people said that the service had got worse, 45 percent said they were unaware of the need to register for the scheme, and 40 percent stated they would not pay for new green bags when their free ones run out.

Julian Rosser of Friends of the Earth Cymru said, "this is a far cry from the days of Recycling City when Cardiff Council was going to recycle 50 percent of household waste by 1995. If the council cuts back yet further on the green bag scheme then many people are simply going to stop recycling".

Other Environment news

GM-Free Welsh countryside

Plans to plant genetically modified oilseed rape in Monmouthshire have been abandoned after protests from Friends of the Earth Cymru, local people, and Monmouth MP Huw Edwards.

Although the plans were approved by the Government's advisory committee the farmer, Tim Buckland, from Llanishen withdrew his permission for the trial.

Nuclear hazard in Milford Haven

An incident off the Welsh coast has shown the dangers of transporting nuclear waste by sea. A container ship bound for Spain was towed into Millford Haven after reporting a fire on board.

Pontypridd shopping development to go ahead

The Fountain Walk Shopping Centre now looks certain to go ahead after Rhondda Cynon Taff Council gave itself planning permission before the public inquiry into the development. The plan, which involves building on part of the War Memorial Park, includes a four-storey car park and would cost over �30 million.

Removing oil spills is a hairy process

Phillip McCrory, a hairdresser from Alabama, has developed a new process that uses hair to remove oil spills from water. The oil clings to the hair which is contained in a nylon stocking which can then be squeezed out and re-used. Cheap and environmentally friendly.

Fears at Trecatti Tip

Local residents have voiced increasing concerns over the landfill site at Trecatti near Merthyr Tydfil and claimed that it is responsible for the high numbers of birth defects in the area.

The tip, which was bought from the local council by Biffa Waste has a licence to receive "special" and "difficult" waste. Such waste can include highly toxic, or even radioactive, substances. Lorries drive hundreds of miles to Trecatti to dispose of industrial waste.

Understandably residents are concerned about the long-term health risks from living close to the site.

Biffa has said that there is no evidence linking the site with the health problems. They say they are operating within the law, and that independent testing has proved the site to be safe.