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Environmental Institute

Kos, Slovakia
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News Article | April 29, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Brasília (AFP) - Fed up with endless encroachment on their ancestral lands, leaders of Brazil's many indigenous tribes went to the capital Brasilia to speak out this week. But they had trouble finding anyone to listen. More than 3,000 tribal members massed on the esplanade outside the government complex in Brasilia for the 14th annual "Free lands" event. But their freedom had limits: when they tried to approach Congress on Tuesday, they were pushed back in clouds of tear gas. "They're prejudiced," said Alvaro Tucano, one of the tribal members taking part in a week-long camp outside the government complex. "I have never seen such a conservative Congress as the one there is today." The clash provided surreal scenes of men in traditional headdresses with bows and arrows facing off against black-clad riot police. Those who were there say the contrast reflected the permanent disconnect between Brazil's state and the descendants of the country's original inhabitants. Nearly 900,000 indigenous tribe members currently live in Brazil, or 0.4 percent of the entire population, divided into 305 ethnic groups. The statistic that matters most, however, is the 12 percent of Brazil their recognized lands cover, much of it in the Amazon. Although most of the world sees the region as one of the planet's greatest natural wonders, the powerful Brazilian agricultural industry values the sparsely populated lands mainly for logging and converting to farmland for soy and cattle. The government is committed to protecting those lands -- in theory. But the fact that many of the borders are not officially demarcated effectively deprives the tribal members of legal rights. The result is constant pressure on the indigenous peoples and frequent clashes. At least 137 tribal people were murdered in 2015, according to the Indigenous Missionary Council, run by the Catholic Church. The number of those killed since 2003 reaches above 890. To their chagrin, the official ultimately responsible for protecting vulnerable indigenous groups in the country's conservative government, Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio, belongs to Brasilia's influential pro-agriculture political wing. He recently outraged indigenous activists by saying that land is not the main issue in dispute. "Land doesn't fill anyone's stomach," he said. "We're going to give them good living conditions, but we're going to stop this talking about land." Adriana Ramos of the civil society group Social Environmental Institute says his words betray ignorance of indigenous people's true value to Brazil as well as their longing to inhabit their own lands. "The presence of these communities and the traditional management practices contribute to the enrichment of the forest and conservation," he said. Alessandra Korap, from the Munduruku ethnic group -- which is resisting hydroelectric and other infrastructure developments in its Amazon homeland -- says the minister just doesn't understand the country's native peoples. "I would like to tell him that the land does fill our stomach," he said. "It's on the land and for the land that we live," he added. "It sustains us, gives us fish, pigs, fruits and the artisanal techniques that we use." "It won't be cement that fills our stomach."

Slobodnik J.,Environmental Institute | Mrafkova L.,Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute | Carere M.,National Institute of Health | Ferrara F.,National Institute of Health | And 3 more authors.
TrAC - Trends in Analytical Chemistry | Year: 2012

Following the requirements of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD), a process of selecting relevant dangerous substances and developing related Pollution Reduction Programme (PRP) has started in the Slovak Republic in 2001. Based on the results of a three years investigative screening campaign, 59 chemical substances were identified as relevant dangerous substances in 2004 and included in the national PRP. This study describes two independent prioritization approaches that have been applied to revise the list of relevant dangerous substances in 2010. The first approach was using a classification system based on the occurrence monitoring data of these substances combined with self-monitoring data by industries on their emissions into wastewaters and data on production/usage of chemicals and agricultural pesticides. As an outcome, 41 of the 59 relevant substances were proposed to be retained in the updated PRP. The second approach was based on the evaluation of the Frequency of exceedance and the Extent of exceedance of environmental thresholds, referred to as predicted no effect concentrations (PNEC), for all organic compounds monitored in the river systems of the Slovak Republic from 2001 to 2010, with exclusion of WFD priority substances (PS). The results showed that 18 of 87 monitored compounds deserve closer attention in future revisions of the list, out of which 11 pollutants were new candidates to expand the list of relevant substances. The two approaches were found complementary. The methodology included a "safety net" to capture new pollutants not previously listed among the above target substances. A novel approach of prioritizing gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GC-MS) non-target screening data, based on the assessment of (i) derived provisional PNEC (P-PNEC) values and (ii) estimated concentrations of tentatively identified substances, has been applied for the first time. P-PNEC values were derived for 242 substances and the prioritization effort resulted in a list of 60 new substances that might be potential candidates for inclusion into investigative monitoring schemes and, if their relevance confirmed, into the updated PRP. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

von der Ohe P.C.,Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research | Dulio V.,INERIS | Slobodnik J.,Environmental Institute | De Deckere E.,University of Antwerp | And 7 more authors.
Science of the Total Environment | Year: 2011

Given the huge number of chemicals released into the environment and existing time and budget constraints, there is a need to prioritize chemicals for risk assessment and monitoring in the context of the European Union Water Framework Directive (EU WFD). This study is the first to assess the risk of 500 organic substances based on observations in the four European river basins of the Elbe, Scheldt, Danube and Llobregat. A decision tree is introduced that first classifies chemicals into six categories depending on the information available, which allows water managers to focus on the next steps (e.g. derivation of Environmental Quality Standards (EQS), improvement of analytical methods, etc.). The priority within each category is then evaluated based on two indicators, the Frequency of Exceedance and the Extent of Exceedance of Predicted No-Effect Concentrations (PNECs). These two indictors are based on maximum environmental concentrations (MEC), rather than the commonly used statistically based averages (Predicted Effect Concentration, PEC), and compared to the lowest acute-based (PNECacute) or chronic-based thresholds (PNECchronic). For 56% of the compounds, PNECs were available from existing risk assessments, and the majority of these PNECs were derived from chronic toxicity data or simulated ecosystem studies (mesocosm) with rather low assessment factors. The limitations of this concept for risk assessment purposes are discussed. For the remainder, provisional PNECs (P-PNECs) were established from read-across models for acute toxicity to the standard test organisms Daphnia magna, Pimephales promelas and Selenastrum capricornutum. On the one hand, the prioritization revealed that about three-quarter of the 44 substances with MEC/PNEC ratios above ten were pesticides. On the other hand, based on the monitoring data used in this study, no risk with regard to the water phase could be found for eight of the 41 priority substances, indicating a first success of the implementation of the WFD in the investigated river basins. © 2011 Elsevier B.V.

von der Ohe P.C.,Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research | Schmitt-Jansen M.,Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research | Slobodnik J.,Environmental Institute | Brack W.,Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research
Environmental Science and Pollution Research | Year: 2012

Introduction: Triclosan (TCS) is a multi-purpose biocide. Its wide use in personal care products (PCPs) fosters its dispersal in the aquatic environment. Despite enhanced awareness of both scientists and the public in the last decade with regard to fate and effects, TCS received little attention regarding its prioritisation as a candidate river basin-specific pollutant or even priority substance, due to scarce monitoring data. Methods: Applying a new prioritisation methodology, the potential risk of TCS was assessed based on a refined hazard assessment and occurrences at 802 monitoring sites in the Elbe River basin. Results: The suggested acute-based predicted no-effect concentration (PNEC) of 4. 7 ng/l for the standard test species Selenastrum capricornutum was in good agreement with effect concentrations in algal communities and was exceeded in the Elbe River basin at 75% of the sites (limit of quantification of 5 ng/l). The 95th percentile of the maximum environmental concentrations at each site exceeded the PNEC by a factor of 12, indicating potential hazards for algal communities. Among 500 potential river basin-specific pollutants which were recently prioritised, triclosan ranks on position 6 of the most problematic substances, based on the Elbe River data alone. Conclusion: Considering the worldwide application of PCPs containing triclosan, we expect that the TCS problem is not restricted to the Elbe River basin, even if monitoring data from other river basins are scarce. Thus, we suggest to include TCS into routine monitoring programmes and to consider it as an important candidate for prioritisation at the European scale. © 2011 Springer-Verlag.

Brack W.,Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research | Dulio V.,INERIS | Slobodnik J.,Environmental Institute
Environmental Sciences Europe | Year: 2012

The need to look beyond the conventional target pollutants when assessing the hazards of chemicals to human health and to ecosystems is now generally recognised as a priority issue in all environmental policy areas at both the European level and national level in the various countries. It has also become clear that it is not possible for individual countries alone to develop the knowledge and methodologies needed for measuring and evaluating the effects and associated risks of a vast number of emerging pollutants. Further to these priority needs, the NORMAN project (www.norman-network.net) was funded in 2005 by the European Commission in order to promote the creation of a permanent network among reference laboratories and research centres, in collaboration with the parties involved (industry, standardisation bodies, NGOs, etc.), to ensure (i) a more rapid and wide-scope exchange of data and information on the occurrence and effects of emerging substances, (ii) better data quality and comparability via validation and harmonisation of common measurement methods (chemical and biological) and monitoring tools, (iii) more transparent information (need for information, not just data) and (iv) the establishment of an independent and competent forum for the technical/scientific debate on issues related to emerging substances. NORMAN plays a significant role as an interface organisation between science and policy, with the advantage of speaking with a "bigger voice" to the European Commission and other public institutions. The activities of the network range from a scientific watch and the feeding of data on emerging substances into NORMAN databases (information gateway on emerging pollutants) to the organisation of working groups and workshops (producing position papers on research priorities), the setting-up of interlaboratory studies and the organisation of measurement campaigns. This article presents the objectives and scope of the activities of the NORMAN network, together with a summary of its concrete achievements after six years of existence. Moreover, the article gives a special insight in the work done by the NORMAN Working Group on effect-directed analysis for the identification of hazardous pollutants.© 2012 Brack et al.; licensee Springer.

News Article | December 21, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

Environmentalists and indigenous rights campaigners have attacked efforts by the Brazilian government to roll back laws protecting the environment and indigenous territories, warning the moves could have disastrous consequences and even threaten the country’s ability to meet its commitments under the Paris climate deal. The two initiatives include a bill that critics say would dismantle environmental licensing laws and a draft government decree campaigners say threatens existing and future indigenous territories. Coming after a recently announced 29% jump in Amazon deforestation, they have caused widespread alarm. The moves represent “the most worrying regressions of our recent history”, said Mauricio Guetta, a lawyer for Socio-Environmental Institute, a Brazilian non-governmental group. “If approved, they will certainly make it impossible for Brazil to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement,” he said. In ratifying the Paris agreement, Brazil committed to cut 37% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and end illegal deforestation by 2030. The bill to overhaul Brazil’s rigorous environmental licensing laws has been stalled for more than a decade. But an amended version is now being guided by Mauro Pereira, a congressman from President Michel Temer’s centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party. It proposes replacing standard environmental licensing procedures established by central government with a quicker, more flexible system in which different Brazilian states can decide which licences projects should have. Some companies can even supply their own licences. And in some cases the licence is exempted – including some agricultural activities, temporary works and electricity transmission lines. Mauro Pereira said some licences took up to a decade to clear and that Brazil is losing business to neighbouring countries that have faster procedures. “Our country needs clear laws, and laws that value the environment and value people,” Pereira said. About 250 organizations and individuals, including non-government groups and environmental prosecutors, disagreed. They have signed a letter condemning the bill, arguing it could increase the risk of environmental disasters like one caused when a tailings dam burst in Mariana, flooding the Brazilian countryside with millions of litres of mining waste. Suely Araújo, president of Brazil’s government environment agency, Ibama, said the proposal to let states and cities decide their own environmental licensing could lead to an “environmental war” as states competed to attract industries by offering looser licensing. “The danger is very real and very bad for environmental protection,” Araújo said. Brazil’s environment minister, José Sarney Filho, has also attacked the bill. His ministry is one of 13 that have almost finished a detailed proposal to reform licensing laws which has the support of Ibama and environmentalists. An open letter by Sarney Filho to Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilho, attacked Pereira’s bill and defended the detailed new blueprint his ministry helped draw up. “The environmental regression of this measure would be immense,” Sarney Filho said in the letter, noting that 52% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture and the use of land and forests. Pereira said that those attacking proposals to let states and cities handle their own licensing were insulting the capability of those working in local government. “They want to say that only they are intelligent and only they know,” he said. “We have intelligent and cultured people in all the states and cities. Minister Sarney Filho and his team have to respect all these people.” Opposition lawmakers said the new threat shows how vulnerable the government of Michel Temer is to pressure from a powerful block of pro-agribusiness lawmakers – the so-called ruralista bloc – whose support he needs to pass unpopular austerity measures. With Brazil in the third year of a debilitating recession, Temer made economic recovery the principle aim of the government he formed when the leftist president Dilma Rousseff was suspended for an impeachment trial. Temer was Rousseff’s vice-president. She has since been ousted and has denounced him as a traitor and her impeachment as a coup d’état. “It is a weak government and the ruralista block is very strong,” said Edmílson Rodrigues, a lawmaker from the leftist Socialism and Freedom party whose manoeuvres helped stop the environmental licensing bill from passing a crucial finance committee vote last week. These are not the only measures that Brazil’s conservative congress is trying to approve. The ruralista bloc also has its eye on the country’s indigenous reserves. A constitutional amendment to transfer control over their demarcation from the executive to the legislature is poised for a vote in the lower house. And campaigners say a draft decree apparently drawn up by the justice ministry and published by local media threatens both new and existing indigenous reserves. The draft decree stipulates that only areas occupied by indigenous groups in 1988, when Brazil’s constitution was signed, would be eligible to become new reserves – ruling out anywhere indigenous people had been expelled from. Indigenous groups claiming lands already occupied could be compensated in other ways instead. Mineral or water resources on indigenous reserves could be exploited with indigenous peoples sharing in mining income – though this would need congress’s approval – and communications networks, roads and “strategic energy alternatives” installed in existing indigenous lands without even consulting the communities involved or the government agency responsible.

News Article | October 24, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

It was just after sunset in Altamira, a small town nestled on a curve of the Xingu river in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, when Luiz Alberto Araújo, the secretary for the environment on the city council, arrived home with his family. Before he could get out of his car, two men on a motorcycle pulled up and the passenger shot seven bullets into the 54-year-old, who was still sitting in the driver’s seat. The killer got off the bike, opened the car door and shot him twice more. Araújo slumped on to his wife, who was seated beside him. Neither she, nor his two stepchildren, were injured. No attempt was made to steal anything. The killing, on Thursday 13 October, had all the hallmarks of the sort of assassination that is common in the lawless Pará state, in the eastern Amazon, where illegal logging, clandestine mining and modern slavery are rife. More than 150 environmental activists have been killed in Brazil since 2012, with studies showing the country accounts for half the global toll of such murders. Many of those killed, including the high-profile cases of Chico Mendes, Dorothy Stang and Zé Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, were campaigners. But Araújo was a government official, and advocates say his murder is a rare and worrying development. “The killing of Luiz Alberto Araújo marks a new low in the war waged against environmentalists in the Brazilian Amazon,” said Billy Kyte, campaign leader at the NGO Global Witness. “It sends a message that no one is untouchable. “The government must urgently protect activists under threat and hold to account those responsible for this killing spree. Until prosecutions are made and protection is guaranteed, this deadly spiral of violence will continue unabated.” Araújo’s home, Altamira, is a municipality in Pará, one of the poorest states in Brazil, with a land area larger than Greece but a population of just 110,000. His work was a cross-section of the region’s environmental woes, from the battle against deforestation – which has risen by 24% in Brazil, recent figures show – to the consequences of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which has been built nearby. Araújo, who colleagues described as studious, serious and highly competent, had become used to receiving death threats. He had moved from a similar role in São Félix do Xingu, a neighbouring municipality, for that reason, they said. “Without doubt he was afraid,” said Marcelo Salazar, of the Socio-Environmental Institute in Altamira, who worked with him. “He never said anything but anyone who works with the environment in Amazon towns will have a little bit of fear. “It was a professional killing, there was no fight,” he added. “You have to be very careful with this work [combating deforestation] – and who you denounce.” Araújo’s department this year granted a licence to a vast gold mine, called Esperança IV, in Altamira. Last month federal inspectors shut it down and fined its operators 50m reais ($16m) for breaching restrictions which barred the mine from any deforestation. Mercury and other pollutants were also leaking into the river Curuá, poisoning the food chain of the Kayapó indigenous tribe, inspectors said. Araújo also reported the operators of Belo Monte, the fourth largest hydroelectric dam in the world, to federal prosecutors after his team found masses of dead fish. Norte Energia, the operator, was eventually fined 35m reais ($11m) for the death of 16.2 tons of fish during the filling process of its reservoir. “He was assiduous in passing us this information,” said Ubiratan Cazetta, a federal prosecutor in Pará. Earlier this year, federal inspectors in Altamira also busted a deforestation operation that had used modern slaves to clear 112 sq miles of forest, although officials played down Araújo’s involvement in the investigation. The civil police in Xingu are investigating his murder. The detective leading the inquiry, Vinicius Sousa, said closed-circuit television footage was being analysed and his family and friends interviewed. Araújo’s environmental work and the inspections carried out by his secretariat were being considered as a possible motivation for his killing, he added.

News Article | November 10, 2016
Site: www.nature.com

Environmentalists in Brazil are feeling the heat. Conservative lawmakers want to weaken the country’s environmental regulations to clear the way for rapid development of energy facilities, mines and agriculture — in the Amazon and beyond. Their push comes at a time of economic and political turmoil following the impeachment in August of former President Dilma Rousseff. “It’s an offensive against our regulatory system,” says Mauricio Guetta, an attorney with the Socio-Environmental Institute, an advocacy group in São Paulo. More than 20 legislative proposals are circulating in the Brazilian Congress to loosen regulations governing activities such as building roads and hydroelectric dams or expanding agricultural businesses. One proposed constitutional amendment would ensure approval of a project once its developers have submitted an environmental-impact analysis — essentially eliminating government review. That proposal has stalled in the Senate, but the government of President Michel Temer is developing its own legislation to overhaul the environmental-licensing system, which many consider ineffective. “Something will happen, most probably in the wrong direction,” says Nilvo Silva, a former head of the licensing division of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, an environmental-enforcement agency. The debate comes during Brazil’s worst recession in decades, and follows corruption scandals that brought down Rousseff and her leftist Workers’ Party. The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party has taken the reins but it, too, has been tainted. Several cabinet members have resigned, and corruption investigations are continuing — with Temer in the crosshairs. The embattled president has promised to maintain Brazil’s environmental agenda, including its commitments under the Paris climate agreement. But agricultural and business interests are pushing back against environmental protections set by the Workers’ Party under Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, endangering more than a decade of progress on issues such as deforestation. “They keep paying lip service to environmental issues, but we can’t be confident in the implementation of policies,” says Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment, an activist group in Belém. Much of the concern centres on the Amazon, where the rate of forest loss has increased by nearly 36% since 2012. More than 6,200 square kilometres of land were cleared for agriculture in 2015, and many expect that number to increase when the 2016 data are released next week. The deforestation helped to increase Brazil’s overall greenhouse-gas emissions by 3.5% in 2015, even as emissions from the energy sector fell, according to a 27 October report by the Climate Observatory, a coalition of advocacy groups in São Paulo. Brazil’s environment minister, José Sarney Filho, says that some people may be taking advantage of the political crisis to clear forest. The government has responded by bolstering funding to enforce existing laws. “We expect that we will once more be on the right track of reducing deforestation,” he adds. Barreto says that part of the problem stems from changes to Brazil’s forest law in 2012 that weakened rules and let many landowners off the hook for past violations. The latest efforts to streamline the environmental licensing system would further advance that agenda. One project that could be fast-tracked if the latest regulatory changes take effect is the proposed Volta Grande mine on the Xingu River in the Amazonian state of Pará, near the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. The Volta Grande project, which would be Brazil’s largest gold mine, is facing legal challenges from independent prosecutors who say that the government’s analysis of its social and environmental impacts was flawed. But it would be difficult to fight such projects in the courts if the proposed constitutional amendment were enacted, says Raffael Tófoli, an ecologist at the State University of Maringá. Many scientists and environmentalists acknowledge that Brazil’s regulatory system is slow and often ineffective. The solution is to improve environmental assessments, increase public participation in environmental reviews and give regulators more resources, says Luis Sánchez, an engineer at the University of São Paulo who conducts environmental assessments. “This is something that could be solved without changing the law,” he says. It’s not yet clear what solutions Temer’s government will propose. Green groups say that the environment ministry’s first draft of a proposal to reform the licensing process expanded the focus from individual projects to the social and environmental effects of development across an entire landscape. But that proposal is now circulating among other ministries that oversee activities such as mining, energy and infrastructure, and some observers say that the latest leaked drafts show that the plan is being watered down with concessions to industry. “We are all waiting for the government to present this bill,” says Guetta, “but we are seeing the text get worse every day.”

Andersen R.,James Hutton Institute | Andersen R.,Environmental Institute | Chapman S.J.,James Hutton Institute | Artz R.R.E.,James Hutton Institute
Soil Biology and Biochemistry | Year: 2013

Even though large extents of boreal peatlands are still in a pristine condition, especially in North America, extensive areas have been affected by natural or anthropogenic disturbances that change some of the systems from being sinks to sources of carbon dioxide and shift the methane production/consumption patterns through alterations of both above- and below-ground communities and functions. In order to fully assess the role of peatlands on global C balance, now and in the future, it is imperative that we deepen our understanding of the relative contributions of various groups of microorganisms to organic matter transformations. Here, we review the drivers structuring fungal, bacterial and archaeal communities in natural peatlands and the response of these microbial communities to natural and anthropogenic disturbances, including fire, drainage, nutrient deposition, peat mining and climate change. The microbial diversity in peatlands is characterized by organisms that have developed physiological and metabolic adaptations to cope with the constraining conditions found in these ecosystems, such as low oxygen availability, cold temperature, acidity and oligotrophy. Furthermore, these unique organisms sometimes appear to be organized as repeat mosaics responding to vegetation, physico-chemical and hydrological characteristics more than to geographical distance, in other words, similar to the much valued biodiversity aspects of the peatland vegetation itself and associated higher organisms. The response of microbial communities to disturbances is far from fully understood. In particular, whilst many studies have identified changes in microbial community composition or on microbially driven processes following a given disturbance, it remains unclear how the two components, diversity and function, relate with each other. Future challenges involve designing studies that will test whether ecological theories like species sorting, stress physiology, temporal niche or functional redundancy can be used to understand what regulates microbial populations and activity in peatlands, and studies that will allow us to predict more accurately how peatlands respond to global change or anthropogenic disturbances. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

News Article | January 13, 2016
Site: www.reuters.com

The incident was the latest involving water quality in the bay, where sailing, open water swimming, and triathlon races are due to take place at the Games in August. "Officials found rubbish in the water and on the beach as well as a considerable number of dead fish all from the same species of sardine," the government's State Environmental Institute said in a statement. "These fish because of their low commercial value are often thrown overboard by trawlers as we have seen on other occasions in this same area." Other than floating garbage the officials saw no "visual abnormalities" in the water. They took samples and will report back in five days. When Rio bid to host the 2016 Olympics, the city said it would cut the amount of raw sewage flowing into the bay by 80 percent but has since confirmed it will not meet that target. An independent report last year found there were dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria in the water.

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