Environmental symposium raises renewable energy awareness

The Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) held their Ninth annual symposium to raise awareness about environmental changes and renewable energy production.

Professors from CSUN and UCLA led lectures on various environmental changes. Representatives from the LA County Department of Health and Grad Students also gave presentations on energy production

One of the lectures during the EOH Technical Symposium, Richard Jackson of the Fielding School of  Public Health at UCLA, spoke at length regarding the hidden costs of energy production.

Jackson noted that all sources of energy, whether it be biomass, coal, tar sands or petroleum, have their own inefficiencies with regard to cost.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch with regard to energy production,” Jackson said.

Diseases from burning biomass in India, for example, result in 800,000 deaths per year.

Black carbon also accrues an unrealized cost as it enhances the melting of glaciers in the arctic.

As for the hidden costs of coal, Jackson said the top 10 percent of coal burning plants generate $666 million in health care costs.

While one the coal industry’s rationalizations for mining is the positive impact on employment, Jackson says the impact is often overstated.

“Coal mines in West Virginia only employ 10 to 15 people, so the effect on employment isn’t as stated,” Jackson said. “These mines employ more heavy machinery.”

Jackson attributed the inefficiency to a failure to do adequate energy research since the 1970s.

The United States is trending toward producing energy more efficiently as nuclear power has flatlined, natural gas production has exceeded coal. Renewable energy is increasing ever so slightly.

However, Jackson believes that is still not enough. He said half of the energy produced in the US is wasted.

He closed his presentation with his proposals regarding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Jackson believes if communities are going to be exposed to fracking, energy companies need to provide real-time monitoring of air releases because the public has a right to know if there are air quality violations.

He also said energy companies need to be adequately taxed to accurately assess cost of energy production.

Jackson said in Colorado, the tax revenues generated “would only cover the costs of potholes caused by their big trucks.”

Later in the symposium, Dr. James Dahlgren of UCLA gave a controversial presentation tying together race and environmental issues at CSUN’s Ninth Annual Environmental and Occupational Health Technical Symposium.

The focus of Dahlgren’s lecture was the Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in the Vernon area of Los Angeles, which has been in operation for over 90 years.

The plant, which is located near a residential area, is known to produce a high amount of air pollution that contains lead and arsenic, which have been shown in studies to cause cancer, neurological damage and several chronic illnesses.

Dahlgren said the non-cancer-significant health impacts on the area surrounding the plant are “exceedingly high.”

Last year, the LA Department of Public Health shut down the facility because of health concerns for surrounding neighborhoods, but a judge quickly reopened it.

“I doubt that would be happening if that plant was in Beverly Hills,” Dahlgren said.

Dahlgren showed graphs that displayed various statistics showing that African American and Hispanic people in low-income neighborhoods have a higher rate of death from Alzheimer’s Disease brought on by environmental toxins.

“Poor people tend to have more damages to the brain from air pollution,” Dahlgren said.

But adults are not the only segment of the population that needs to worry about lead and arsenic from environmental sources.

According to Dahlgren’s research, studies show that children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, depression and autism have higher levels of lead in their blood. The lead then moves into the bones and stays there for as long as 30 years.

Dahlgren said plant workers are also in danger of toxin exposure

“Workers exposed to lead develop kidney disease,” Dahlgren said.

Rowena Morntilla, an environmental and occupational health major, felt the lecture could help with her future career.

“I like the presentation,” said who wants to research the effects of environmental toxins on children. “I’m interested more in the neurological effects on children.”

The symposium was held at the Northridge Center of the University Student Union. Students who took part in it received eight hours of continuing education credits.