The Multinational Monitor


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Nicaragua Nixes Toxics

Local and international environmental groups have convinced the recently elected UNO government of Nicaragua to reject a proposal to accept incinerator ash from the city of Philadelphia, Pa. Lion Investments, Inc., a Miami-based company represented by Nicaraguan businessman Roberto Morales, had proposed sending 230,000 tons of incinerator ash and industrial waste to Nicaragua every month for $1.2 million per shipment.

The Nicaraguan Biologists and Ecologists Association as well as scientists from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua strongly objected to the plan, fearing that toxic chemicals in the ash would leach into drinking water and fishing areas.

Morales would have received 50 percent of the payments and the Nicaraguan government only 15 percent, according to Barricada Internacional, a Sandinista-sponsored international newspaper. The remainder would have gone to traders, shippers and lawyers.

Morales proposed that the waste be used to construct a much-needed highway between two ports on the Atlantic Coast: Puerto Cabezas and Bluefields, the trade center for the region's Caribbean descendants and the indigenous Miskitos. Land traffic to Bluefields has been cut off from the rest of the country since October 1988, when a hurricane destroyed the city.

The ash contains several extremely toxic substances, including dioxins, arsenic, chromium, lead and mercury, according to studies by Villanova University and the U.S. Center for Disease Control. Scientists in Nicaragua feared the effects of these poisons, even though U.S. studies call the level of health risks from the toxics "acceptable." The Nicaraguans note that the authors of these reports drew their conclusions with the understanding that waste would be going into a sanitary landfill with the "usual compaction and cover practices" mandated by U.S. law. Nicaragua, however, has no equivalent to a sanitary landfill. The ash would have been dumped in a region that averages 80-160 inches of rainfall a year. Nicaraguan scientists charge that the rain would have rapidly washed the toxics into the local water system.


One of the world's largest environmental organizations has teamed up with one of the world's largest polluters to study ways of disposing of solid waste. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an environmental group based in New York City, held a news conference with McDonald's Corporation in early August to announce the formation of a joint task force to examine options for reduction and recycling of the company's waste stream.

Fred Krupp, executive director of EDF, praised McDonald's, saying the company is "number one in their business ... they are justifiably proud of their role as number one and they are in a position to lead the restaurant industry and business in general."

Contrary to the good-natured rapport displayed at the news conference, McDonald's has been one of the most frequently attacked companies by environmental groups, consumer organizations and labor unions. Critics have denounced it for: use of toxic materials in its packaging; breaking child-labor laws; invasion of employee privacy through the use of lie-detector tests; and deceptive advertising. In 1987, attorneys general in Texas, New York and California threatened legal action unless the company stopped advertisements about "good nutrition." McDonald's has also stated flat out that it is anti-union. According to the Transnational Information Centre in England, McDonald's chief management consultant once said, "If the [U.S.] unions succeed at McDonald's, then my job has failed."

Despite these rocky relations, McDonald's is now getting involved in a variety of high-exposure, public service projects and has carefully associated itself with several mainstream nonprofit groups. It is helping the American Forestry Association's "Global ReLeaf' campaign, which encourages school children to plant trees. McDonald's will be distributing educational packets and free tree seedlings to customers upon request. (This offer will not be available in the company's South American franchises.) The company is also jointly sponsoring, with the World Wildlife Fund, "the single largest environmental education piece currently used in classes across the country" as announced in McDonald's "Environment" tray liners that display the World Wildlife Fund logo next to the golden arches. Only the Environmental Defense Fund, however, has been permitted by the company to study McDonald's contribution to the world's environmental problems. Fortunately for McDonald's, EDF's director Fred Krupp seems to have the company's bottom line in mind. "I believe that if McDonald's can earn the title of being the green arches, [it] will win over hordes of new customers."

Japan Goes Nuclear

The Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) is proposing that Japan dramatically increase nuclear power production to meet electric power demands which are expected to surge 66 percent by the year 2010. In a recently released report, MITI recommends that nuclear power account for 43 percent of all power generated by that year. Currently, 26 percent of Japanese electricity is provided by nuclear facilities.

The report, prepared for MITI by the Electrical Utility Industry Council, an advisory board, predicts rapidly increasing power demands outside of the country's energy-efficient manufacturing sector.

The Council calls nuclear power safer, cheaper and more environmentally sound than other sources. Many of Japan's citizens do not share MITI's high opinion of nuclear power, however. Last April in Tokyo, 2.5 million signatures of people asking for the phase-out of nuclear power were presented to the Diet, Japan's parliament.

� Jim Sugarman

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