Lessons in toxic overload

BUILDINGS being constructed under the federal government’s schools stimulus program are riddled with safety hazards, from slippery tiles and toxic carpets to poisonous fumes from unflued heaters.Environmental scientists, building industry experts, health groups and the NSW Teachers Federation have raised concerns about the potential risks associated with buildings in the $16.2 billion program.The NSW Integrated Program Office for the Building the Education Revolution program has maintained the buildings are of high quality, sometimes exceeding building code standards.But schools have complained of dodgy workmanship, including incorrectly fitted light switches and fans, temporary foundations, leaking water tanks and lifting carpets.With winter approaching, schools and health groups have raised the alarm about the installation of 3000 unflued gas heaters.Studies have shown that the heaters release a potentially poisonous stew of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and formaldehyde. They are being phased out of schools in every state except NSW and Queensland.”These are new buildings going up at significant cost to the taxpayer,” NSW Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscombe said.”Heating is a very small component of the overall cost of building work. It would not cost a huge amount to put alternative heating in these new buildings. The Department of Education is not acting in a reasonable way at all.”The NSW Department of Education and Training says the heaters are safe, provided doors and windows are kept open to provide ventilation. Schools in cold-climate zones say this is impractical.Berridale Public School, in the Snowy Mountains, has an unflued heater in its new $900,000 library.”We have been constantly told the library is of a very high standard,” Berridale School Council’s Fiona Suthern said. ”It’s a building that cost close to $1 million. An unflued gas heater is not a high-standard heating device. We’re not asking for something flash – just something safe.”Richard Kalina, from the Campaign Opposing Unflued Gas Heating, said: ”I feel it’s bordering on criminal. When parents take their children to school, they should expect their children will be in a safe environment. They are not safe.”A 2007 Commonwealth health report on unflued heaters found exposure to the fumes they emitted causes increased respiratory symptoms in children with asthma, and were also associated with new asthma cases in children.About 11 per cent of children in NSW have asthma. The Asthma Foundation NSW has called on the Department of Education to remove the 51,000 existing unflued heaters in NSW schools and stop ordering new ones.A NSW Department of Education spokesman said there was ”no substantiated instances” of heaters causing illness when properly operated.The combination of exposure to unflued gas heaters, as well as fumes emitted from paint, new carpet and building materials, could cause toxic overload in children, according to environmental scientist Jo Immig of the National Toxics Network.”We are concerned about the overall toxic load,” she said. ”This is particularly important as far as children are concerned because they are much more sensitive to toxins than adults.”We recommended that schools undertake building work or renovations when children are on school holidays to minimise the risk of chemical exposure.”New buildings also posed a risk of volatile organic compounds being released from carpet, paint and new furniture, Ms Immig said. ”Carpets are potentially one of the most toxic things in the indoor environment.”Professor Margaret Burchett from the University of Technology, Sydney, said it could take months for indoor air quality to improve. ”If you smell that newness smell in a building it’s a nice smell but it’s also toxic.”Murdoch University environmental toxicologist Peter Dingle said the rooms should be allowed to air before being used.”If the teachers and kids walk into a new classroom or hall and there is a smell in the room they should not go into it,” Dr Dingle said.Tile supplier Richard Earp and slip resistance expert Carl Strautins have raised concerns about the type of tiles used in toilet blocks, canteens and entrances, which they say can lose their grip over a short time and become a slip hazard.A department spokesman said all floor tiles used were certified anti-slip in line with the relevant standard.
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Killer cut power: nurse came home to ambush

The killer of nurse Michelle Beets waited in the dark for her to return home after cutting power to the premises.Detectives confirmed last night they were checking the hospital’s personnel records, in particular an incident in which a staffer had been sacked after Ms Beets reported the theft of drugs.Police now believe the murder was planned, and that robbery was not a motive for the attack.Ms Beets suffered multiple stab wounds to her chest, throat and head after being set upon on the verandah with no time to open the door to her house last Tuesday.But detectives said Ms Beets, 58, and her lawyer partner David Grant had never received any threats to harm them, nor had any other staff at the hospital.The cutting of power at a junction box near the front door of Ms Beets’s home in Holland Street, Chatswood, shortly before 6.20pm, immobilised a sensor light system on the eve of the verandah to the front yard, and caused loss of power to the house alarm.The private home security company monitoring the alarm immediately rang the house to check, but got no reply. The company rang Ms Betts, to no avail, then contacted Mr Grant on his mobile phone, who said he was on his way home and would check it out.When he neared the home police were already there, having been alerted to the attack by people walking dogs who saw a man running north down the street, wearing a green hooded jacket and carrying a small backpack.She had stepped on to the verandah carrying shopping from her car which she bought a short time early from Chatswood Chase shopping centre after finishing work as the senior nurse at the Royal North Shore Hospital Emergency Casualty unit at 4pm.As police await the results of DNA tests on blood samples taken from the footpath outside the home – in the hope the killer also may have been cut during the frenzied stabbing – they continued to search nearby streets and gutters yesterday for the knife used in the attack.Police ruled out blood found in a toilet block in a nearby park as being linked to the scene.They believe that blood came from a football match injury.Royal North Shore Hospital has been inundated with condolences and flowers for its former staff member, including a bouquet from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.A hospital spokesman said a staff memorial service would be held for Ms Beets. Many people are expected to attend her funeral on Friday.Ms Beets’s older brother Marty, who lives in New Zealand, said the family had not decided where Friday’s funeral would be held, but hundreds are expected to attend.”The amount of people in Australian and New Zealand who have been ringing and sending cards and flowers has been amazing. It’s fantastic that she has touched so many hearts,” he said.Mr Beets said he would arrive in Sydney on Wednesday, and his sister, Robyn, would be arriving tomorrow from the Gold Coast and their other sibling, Yvonne, from Britain later in the week.His father, Robby Beets, 87, will be brought from the Sunshine Coast by friends in a few days.”Dad is pretty devastated because he and Michelle were very close.” Mr Beets said the family were waiting for a breakthrough. Mr Beets said he last communicated with Michelle, whom he described as a ”bubbly” person via email, updating him on their father’s health.He said he still hadn’t spoken to Mr Grant, who is staying with friends.with PETER HAWKINS
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Rags-to-riches boxer takes fighting spirit into the political ring

MARBEL, Philippines: Manny Pacquiao is used to the frenzy. Tens of thousands of fans throng feverishly in front of the stage in the heavy, sticky heat of a tropical night. Young and old, rural and urban, devout and secular: all are eager for a glimpse of the man who is undeniably the Philippines’ most famous sporting hero.”I would not be where I am today without you, and now I want to help the Philippines,” he declares. ”What is important is my relationship to God and to the Filipino people.”Pacquiao’s rise from poverty to superstardom is a narrative that resonates with many Filipinos. But as the campaign for the May 10 election intensifies, the man considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters the world has seen is facing a greater challenge than just another welterweight slugger in the ring.In running for Congress in a rural province of Mindanao, Pacquiao joins a group of athletes who have sought to make the leap to politician.”Boxing is about honour,” he says in a pool bar that he owns in General Santos City. ”Now I want to be known as a good public servant. I want to be known as a generous person.”Politically, it is a seductive message – 40 per cent of Filipinos live on less than $US2 a day. Pacquiao has been drawing on a personal fortune estimated at more than $US40 million ($43 million) to support projects in his province such as providing water to impoverished areas.And guards at his mansion say he rarely leaves home without giving cash to the crowds of destitute people who gather there each day. His electoral pitch is that he would lobby for the most basic needs of the 600,000 people in his district: livelihood programs, free education, healthcare and medical assistance.”That’s the major problem right now,” he says. ”Do they need money? No. They need livelihood, to feed their family. They will not ask the government to help them if they have work.”The fever surrounding ”Pacman”, as he is known, is heady. But some sceptics note that sports stars do not always fare well in politics.The economist Winnie Monsod, a professor at the University of the Philippines, does not doubt his sincerity, but she says: ”I am not ready to translate that sincerity into actual deeds, because the other politicians he associates with do not exactly have the highest reputation for integrity.”Pacquiao has aligned himself with the presidential candidate Manny Villar, an outside chance, who is taking on a colourful slate of candidates.Among these are the son of the former president Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino, and the disgraced former president Joseph Estrada.Pacquiao’s failed attempts at an acting and singing career may also indicate people’s lack of readiness to accept him in a new role.”They love him as a boxer but may not be ready to take him in any other capacity,” Dr Monsod says.Guardian News & Media
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Indonesia goes to ground for energy

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s president has launched an ambitious program to tap the country’s famed seismic volatility and become the world’s leading producer of geothermal energy, one of the cleanest renewable sources of power available.Indonesia wants to accelerate its economic development but is beset by chronic electricity outages and shortfalls. Its ability to provide industry with the energy infrastructure it needs to expand is one of the country’s most critical challenges.It has also pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade by at least 26 per cent below ”business as usual” levels, making the energy objective even more demanding.In a speech to the World Geothermal Conference in Bali this week, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia aimed to be the world’s leading geothermal nation by 2025. ”Nations are striving to liberate themselves from over-dependence on fossil fuels,” he said.”And to many countries, including Indonesia, a large part of the solution to that problem is the successful tapping of vast resources of geothermal energy.”Geothermal energy works by pumping water beneath the surface, using the high temperatures below to turn it into steam and drive turbines. It is more or less carbon neutral. Indonesia has 40 per cent of the world’s potential geothermal resources and 265 potential sites for plants, thanks to its string of volcanoes.The underground heat is relatively easy to exploit in Indonesia because it is close to the surface and does not require deep drilling. The country’s geothermal reserves are believed to amount to 28,000 megawatts, or the equivalent of 12 billion barrels of oil. But it taps only 1200 megawatts at the moment.Under Dr Yudhoyono’s plan, 44 plants will be built by 2014, more than tripling geothermal capacity to 4000 megawatts. By 2025, it wants more than 9000 megawatts of geothermal power on stream.”It’s a big challenge,” said Asclepias Indriyanto, the executive director of the Indonesian Institute for Energy Economics. ”It will require collaboration between different arms of the Indonesian government and new regulations.”Getting its notoriously inefficient and insular bureaucrats across different levels of government to co-operate is always problematic, but the main barrier to achieving its geothermal goals is likely to be cost.The first phase of expansion to 2014 alone will cost $12.9 billion.The government wants the money to come almost entirely from private sources, primarily foreign investors. But exploration costs are high and geothermal plants cost roughly twice as much to build as coal-fired power stations, although the continuing operation and maintenance of geothermal plants is cheaper.Almost half of the country’s potential geothermal sites are in conservation forests, although one plant has already been built successfully in a protected zone.The state-run electricity monopoly fixes the price at which power is purchased. Many are calling for the price to be raised for geothermal power.On this front, the government has indicated it is prepared to remove the price ceiling while a new law to come into effect later this year breaks down the monopoly power of the state-owned electricity utility.Indonesia had hoped to fund its geothermal expansion by selling carbon credit offsets, but the collapse of climate change talks in Copenhagen and the apparent demise of a significant, global emissions trading scheme seems to have put paid to that.One possible for solution, at least in the long term, is for the government to pare back its immense subsidies for petrol and re-direct part of the savings into geothermal energy. Its cheap petrol scheme costs the government about $16 billion a year and studies, including one recently by the World Bank, show it favours the rich far more than the poor it is supposed to benefit.
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You’ve come a long way, baby: Shanghai finds its big feat

SHANGHAI: China has spent $48 billion – even more than it devoted to remake Beijing for the 2008 Olympics – to mount an elaborate World Expo and give its second city, Shanghai, the same coming-out party that the Games were for Beijing.It hopes Expo 2010, which features exhibits from 189 countries, including Australia, will showcase a polished, vibrant Shanghai that it envisions as a financial capital for the region, even the world.Everything about the expo, which opened last night on the banks of the Huangpu River, is large, most prominently the China Pavilion, a red, upside-down pyramid with floor space equivalent to more than 26 soccer fields. That makes it about 30 times the size of the US showcase, which is tucked away in a corner of the main expo site.Last night’s opening ceremony featured an elaborate fireworks display. ”Only we can hold such an expo,” said Fang Xinghai, director general of the Shanghai Financial Services Office. ”There’s a bit of national pride in it. We want the world to come and admire our success.”Preparations have been nothing short of monumental. After winning the bid in 2002 to host the event, Shanghai began clearing 2.6 square kilometres along the Huangpu River. That involved moving 18,000 families and 270 factories, including the Jiang Nan Shipyard, which employs 10,000 workers. Today the site is crowded with national pavilions, sculpture gardens, shops and a sports arena and performing arts centre shaped like a flying saucer.With 25 million tickets sold, city officials are projecting more than 70 million people could attend the 184-day event, which would shatter a record set in 1970 when 64 million people visited the expo in Osaka, Japan.Shanghai has trained more than 1.7 million volunteers and adopted Olympic-level security measures, adding metal detectors to subway entrances and screening cars entering the city.Last week police detained 6000 people they said were involved in street crimes such as theft and prostitution.In January the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, visited the Australian pavilion, the only international one in his expo tour.According to expo authorities, Australia’s pavilion has been a favourite with visitors during six days of final testing. More than 120,000 visitors joined long queues to see the pavilion and its mascot, a kookaburra called Peng Peng. And lamingtons were in hot demand with more than 1000 sold in one day, twice what was expected.GOING BIG  China expects about 400,000 daily visitors to consume 547 tonnes of food each day during expo.The site is twice the size of Monaco and 20 times bigger than the 2008 event held in Zaragoza, Spain.The expo theme is ”Better city, better life”.Chinese have been urged to queue better, spit less and not wear pyjamas in public.The 3500 police on patrol are forbidden to eat garlic or anything else that would make their breath smell.Agencies
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