Monday, May 04, 2009

Important Warmist research an apparent fraud

It looks like there is no reliable thermometer data on temperatures in China

Professor Wei-Chyung Wang is a star scientist in the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the University at Albany, New York. He is a key player in the climate change debate (see his self-description here). Wang has been accused of scientific fraud.

I have no inclination to "weigh in" on the topic of climate change. However the case involves issues of integrity that are at the very core of proper science. These issues are the same whether they are raised in a pharmaceutical clinical trial, in a basic science laboratory, by a climate change "denialist" or a "warmist". The case involves the hiding of data, access to data, and the proper description of "method" in science.

The case is also of interest because it provides yet another example of how *not* to create trust in a scientific misconduct investigation. It adds to the litany of cases suggesting that Universities cannot be allowed to investigate misconduct of their own star academics. The University response has so far been incoherent on its face.

Doug Keenan, the mathematician who raised the case of Wang is on the "denialist" side of the climate change debate. He maintains that "almost by itself, the withholding of their raw data by [climate] scientists tells us that they are not scientists".

Below is my own summary of the straightforward substance of this case. I wrote to Wei-Chyung Wang, to Lynn Videka (VP at Albany, responsible for the investigation), and to John H. Reilly (a lawyer at Albany) asking for any correction or comments on the details presented below. My request was acknowledged prior to publication, but no factual correction was suggested.

Case Summary

The allegations concern two publications. These are:

Jones P.D., Groisman P.Y., Coughlan M., Plummer N., Wang W.-C., Karl T.R. (1990), “Assessment of urbanization effects in time series of surface air temperature over land”, Nature, 347: 169–172. (PDF here)

Wang W.-C., Zeng Z., Karl T.R. (1990), “Urban heat islands in China”, Geophysical Research Letters, 17: 2377–2380. (PDF here)

The publications concern temperature at a variety of measuring stations over three decades (1954-1983). Stations are denoted by name or number. A potential confounder in such research is that measuring stations may be moved to different locations at different points in time. It is clearly important that readers of publications understand the methodology, and important confounders. The publications make the following statements:

(Statement A) "The stations were selected on the basis of station history: we chose those with few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location or observation times." [Jones et al.]

(Statement B) "They were chosen based on station histories: selected stations have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times…." [Wang et al.]

The publications refer to a report produced jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) which details station moves, and the publications further suggest that stations with few if any moves or changes were selected on the basis of that report. However:

Of 84 stations that were selected, Keenan found that information about only 35 are available in the DOE/CAS report. Of those 35 stations at least half did have substantial moves (e.g 25 km). One station had five different locations during 1954–1983 as far as 41 km apart. It therefore appears that Statements A and B must be false. If false, readers would have been misled both in terms of the status of the stations and the manner in which they had been selected (or not selected).

Keenan then communicated with the author of one of the publications (Jones) to ask about the source of location information pertaining to the other 49 stations that had not been selected using the described methodology. Jones informed Keenan that his co-author Wang had selected those stations in urban and rural China based on his "extensive knowledge of those networks".

On 11 April 2007 Keenan E-mailed Wang, asking "How did you ensure the quality of the data?”. Wang did not answer for several weeks, but on 30 April 2007 he replied as follows: "The discussion with Ms. Zeng last week in Beijing have re-affirmed that she used the hard copies of station histories to make sure that the selected stations for the study of urban warming in China have relatively few, if any, changes in instrumentation, location, or observation times over the study period (1954-1983)"

Keenan points out that the “hard copies” to which Wang refers were not found by the authors of the DOE/CAS report, who had endeavored to be "comprehensive" (and that the DOE/CAS report was authored in part by Zeng, one of the co-authors on Wang). Keenan further notes that any form of comprehensive data covering these stations during the Cultural Revolution would be implausible.

In August 2007 Keenan submitted a report to the University at Albany, alleging fraud. Wang could at that stage have made the "hard copy" details of the stations selected available to the scientific community. However, he failed to do so.

In May 2008, the University at Albany wrote to Keenan that they had conducted an investigation and asked him to comment on it (see the rather odd letter). However they refused to show him the report of the investigation or any of the evidence to allow any comment (further odd letter).

In August 2008 the University sent Keenan an astonishing letter of "determination" stating that they did not find that Wang had fabricated data, but that they refused to provide any investigation report or any other information at all because "the Office of Research Integrity regulations preclude discussion of any information pertaining to this case with others who were not directly involved in the investigation".

Wang has still not made the station records available to the scientific community. If he provided such records to the University as part of a misconduct investigation, then the University has apparently concealed them.


In the absence of any explanation to the contrary, it seems that the methodology for station selection as described in these two publications was false and misleading.

Wang maintains that hard copy records do exist detailing the location of stations selected by himself outwith the published methodology. However the refusal to clarify "method" is inappropriate and a form of misconduct in and of itself. It does not lend credence to Wang's assertion that fraud did not take place. It would also be necessary to see records of stations that were not selected, in order to confirm that selection was indeed random, and only "on the basis of station history".

The University at Albany is in a difficult position. If the University received such records as part of the supposed misconduct investigation, then they could easily resolve the problem by making them available to the scientific community and to readers. If the University does not have such records then they have been complicit in misconduct and in coverup of misconduct.

If the University at Albany does have such records, but such records are not in accordance with the stated methodology of the publications, then the University has more serious difficulties.

"Investigations" of scientific misconduct should themselves align with the usual principles of scientific discourse (open discussion, honesty, transparency of method, public disclosure of evidence, open public analysis and public discussion and reasoning underlying any conclusion). This was not the case at the University at Albany. When you see universities reluctant to investigate things properly, it provides reasonable evidence that they really don't want to investigate things properly.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Some comments from Doug Keenan here. Details of the bizarre coverup by the university here


If Americans don't start paying attention to what Congress is up to, our nation's energy policy may seriously change for the worse. A bill styled the American Clean Energy and Security Act, sponsored by Democrats Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, soon goes before the House. The enactment of laws to combat global warming is an established priority of the new administration and Congress, and their impact on the lives and opportunities of America's people would be substantial and detrimental.

As Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute noted last month, "Waxman-Markey would put big government in charge of how much energy people can use. It would be the biggest government intervention in people's lives since the second world war, which was the last time people had to have rationing coupons in order to buy a gallon of gas." And for what? According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Earth's average rate of warming in the 30 years from 1977 to 2007 was just 0.32 degree Fahrenheit per decade, and the global surface temperature has remained virtually flat since 1998.

The Waxman-Markey bill contains some serious mistakes. Slighting nuclear power is one. Nuclear plants generate no carbon dioxide or other pollution, and the 104 already in operation provide America with 73% of its CO2-free electricity generation. It is estimated that each new nuclear plant would employ some 2,000 workers to build and 500 to 600 people to operate. America could use some 40 more nuclear plants, but in the Waxman bill and the Obama administration's policies, additional nuclear power plants are likely nonexistent.

Cap-and-trade policies are another part of the bill intended to give the government more regulatory authority over the energy industry and a great deal more money--perhaps trillions of dollars--some of which would be available to grant to favored people and industries. The bill's outline does not say who would the energy allowances free, who would have to pay for them, and how much they would pay, but it does intend to make energy much more expensive and less available to consumers. Electricity, oil and large manufacturing businesses (which are jointly responsible for 85% of America's greenhouse emissions) would have to obtain at some price federal government pollution permits--"tradable federal permits," or "allowances," for each ton of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. These permits would require reduced plant emissions over time, from a mandate of 3% below 2005 levels in 2012, to 20% in 2020, 42% in 2030, and 83% in 2050.

Another economic mistake at the core of the Waxman bill is the reinstatement of protectionism. Since America's energy restrictions would not apply to manufacturers of goods America imports, unregulated foreign companies could sell their goods in America at lower costs, and thus U.S. manufacturers could be "put at a disadvantage relative to overseas competitors." The Waxman bill would seek to remedy this by making companies eligible for rebates determined and allocated by Washington. If the president found that the rebates "do not substantially correct competitive imbalances" he could establish what Mr. Waxman calls a "border adjustment program" that would require foreign companies to pay for special allowances to "cover" the "carbon contained in U.S.-bound products."

In other words, America would add an international carbon tariff--a global energy tax--to imported goods (just as there was in the Boxer-Lieberman bill that was defeated last year). That would amount to strong protectionism and lead to matching tariffs on goods exported from America.

Not included in the Waxman discussion draft summary is the question of what will become of the cash the government would receive from selling the cap-and-trade allowances. In the Boxer-Lieberman bill, it was estimated that auctioning off half the permits would gain the government some $3.3 trillion by 2050, and that would be handed out by the government to pet projects like "environmental" job training, "wildlife adaptation," international aid, domestic mass transit and so on.

But rather than creating a new subsidy, wouldn't we be better off distributing those revenues to the American people, who would have to pay the carbon tax through higher-priced electricity and manufactured goods? Such an idea was recently offered by author Peter Barnes: send the trillions of dollars received from the companies buying the permits to people as a "cap-and-trade dividend" in the form of equal personal checks for all Americans. The Obama administration thinks the opposite--that a majority of the money raised by cap-and-trade should be sent only to taxpayers making under a certain amount as a part of his Making Work Pay credit.

The Waxman-Markey plan intends to give the federal government near-total control of America's energy supplies and usage. Depending upon how the allowances are organized, it may also create the largest redistribution of money from American families to the federal government since the creation of the American income tax. To keep America prospering, our economy growing, and jobs expanding, we need not less energy, but more of it; not higher energy prices but lower ones; and more energy generation through nuclear power, clean coal and offshore oil and gas as well as possible new energy sources. Waxman-Markey will take us in one direction, but to keep America prospering we need to go in the opposite one.


Congressional support for climate bill in doubt

House Democratic leaders appeared to still be short of the votes needed to pass climate-change legislation out of a key subcommittee, but a spokeswoman for one of the lawmakers leading the talks said negotiations were continuing.

Several moderate Democrats on the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment said Thursday that fundamental issues such as how to soften the impact of the legislation on constituents and industries in their regions are still unresolved and that the panel might not be ready to vote on the measure by next week as Democratic leaders have called for.

The qualms expressed over legislation sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Waxman (D., Calif.), and Edward Markey (D., Mass.) along with possible Republican obstruction, point to the difficulty Democrats are having in finding consensus on climate and energy issues.

“I don’t think the votes are there in the subcommittee,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D., N.C.) said in an interview. Mr. Butterfield said he was particularly concerned about the bill’s impact on low-income Americans, adding “What do I tell a single mom making eight dollars an hour?”

The legislation sponsored by Messrs Waxman and Markey calls for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020 and by roughly 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Earlier this week, Mr. Markey, who leads the energy and environment subcommittee, postponed a planned vote on the measure after having difficulty trying to forge consensus on who should bear the burden for cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions. On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Mr. Waxman said “we are encouraged by the progress that we are making, and the Committee will continue meeting with members to discuss the legislation.”

Mr. Waxman has said he wants the full committee to pass climate legislation by Memorial Day. Despite several days of talks with him and Mr. Markey this week, some moderate Democrats on the subcommittee said Thursday that there was still no agreement between them and Messrs. Waxman on Markey on how to resolve some of their concerns about the measure.

“As I speak, I don’t know if (Markey and Waxman) are agreeable to some of the language that I would like,” Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D., Texas) said in an interview. Mr. Gonzalez said he is pressing Messrs. Waxman and Markey to amend the bill to include greater incentives for nuclear power and to give electric utilities a free allocation of the emission permits that companies would be required to hold under the bill.

“If the language is not in there, I think it’s going to be hard to pull off at the mark up,” Mr. Gonzalez said, either because there won’t be the support from moderate Democrats or because Republicans may try to block the measure.

The legislation before the House panel would institute a cap-and-trade-system, in which the government would set an overall cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and companies would have to buy and sell the right to emit gases such as carbon dioxide. Over time, the cap would become more stringent, and fewer permits would be issued by the government, bringing emissions down. But the bill is largely silent on who will bear the costs of the legislation. It does not specify, for example, the degree to which industries will have to pay for emissions permits, and how revenue raised from selling those permits at government auctions would be used.

Lawmakers from regions heavily reliant on the coal industry, fossil-fuel generation and energy-intensive industries want the government to give out the emission credits to those sectors for free to soften the fiscal impact.

“I can’t vote for a bill unless my refineries (are protected) because of the nature of my district, it’s a job base and a tax base,” Rep. Gene Green (D., Texas), another moderate member of the panel, said in an interview. “Frankly it’s a national security issue, I don’t want to transfer production offshore for refined products, relying on imports from the Middle East and Venezuela.”


What is "normal" climate?

"In the midst of all the public discussion about climate change, people lose sight of the simple, fundamental question: What is "normal" climate? Here in Saskatchewan we aren't even sure what "normal" weather is". -- Comment by Brian Pratt, P.Geo., a sedimentologist and palaeontologist at the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan

There is no such thing as one single global climate, and measuring the heat flux of the entire Earth is no simple matter. Every geoscientist knows that climate is never static: it has always been changing and always will be. Here in Saskatchewan, the last of the Pleistocene ice sheets only melted back 10,000 years ago. A hundred million years before then, dinosaurs strolled through lush jungles under a canopy of cypress trees.

We live in extraordinary times. In less than two centuries, first coal then petroleum fuelled unimaginable technical and scientific advances that have taken us to the point where information transmittal is instantaneous around the globe. Yet, even though everyone takes advantage of this technology, the level of scientific literacy among the general population is so abject that it makes the power of suggestion just about as strong as it was in the Dark Ages. Add a dash of guilt and fear of the apocalypse, and how can the citizenry resist the call to "save the planet"?

But when you stop and think about it, the apocalyptic predictions don't quite make sense scientifically. Alongside the enormity of the sun and what we know of the scale and power of natural processes, to imagine humans being able to make any difference to global climate would seem like the most preposterous conceit.

Fact and Fiction

Even though I consider myself a dedicated environmentalist, I cannot accept the claims of anthropogenic -humancaused- global warming. My research involves deducing climate back in what we call "Deep Time" - geological eras of millions and billions of years ago - so I think I have enough background to understand the evidence. I know that the factors controlling climate work as an extremely complex, integrated system that cannot be resolved by debate and exchange of opinion. Therefore the suspicions of any scientist should be aroused by glib assertions like "the science is settled" or "there is a consensus," because this is not how scientists and engineers operate.

Al Gore's movie and books are so appallingly riddled with mistakes and outlandish exaggerations that they would be laughable if they weren't taken so seriously by so many. Legislators have even passed laws declaring CO2 to be a pollutant, seemingly unaware of photosynthesis, respiration and biodegradation. Should I feel guilty that my beer gave off CO2 during fermentation and when I opened it? I need something to cry into when I hear of the measures planned to reduce "carbon emissions", because of the threat these pose to our already economically fragile society.

Here are the facts, as I understand them: solar heat varies cyclically at different frequencies, from the decades to the hundreds of thousands of years. Atmospheric CO2 concentration and temperature are linked, but rather than the former driving the latter, it is the other way around and there is a nearly thousand-year lag in the response.

The oceans are the great sink for CO2. Atmospheric CO2 concentration is not uniform around the globe and regional variations are tied to sea-surface temperature because CO2 dissolves in colder sea water while it degasses from warmer sea water. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, yes, but it absorbs only a very small portion of the infrared spectrum and its capacity to do so declines exponentially with concentration. It's a fact of physics that the CO2 molecule radiates almost none of the heat it can absorb. Moreover, it is such a trace gas that this effect is negligible, and even less so at the low pressures and cold temperatures high in the atmosphere.

All of this explains why, when CO2 concentration is thought to have been much higher in Deep Time such as during the Paleozoic, the surface of the globe did not overheat and the polar regions were still cold. Water vapour is what insulates the Earth and CO2 concentration has nothing to do with cloud generation. Why, then, have anthropogenic global warming promoters seized upon CO2 as the culprit?

Beyond the Science

Climate change has now become so highly politicized that one wonders whom or what to trust. It turns out that the legitimate science in the successive UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports was laundered to such a degree by a very small and select group of experts and bureaucrats charged with preparing the "summaries for policymakers" that they are often contradictory-indeed, some of the scientific contributors have since distanced themselves from these reports. There has grown a whole industry of taxpayer-funded climate modellers whose equations can't reproduce last week's weather let alone past climate change at all, but whose crystal balls universally forecast impending disaster (and of course the urgent need for more research money).

Why haven't physicists pointed out the basic mistakes in the science? Why haven't more geoscientists stood up to correct the misconceptions about natural, long-term climate change? Some have, but precious few. Barring a few notable exceptions, journalists have suspended their neutrality and taken up the cudgel to help enforce obedience to the anthropogenic global warming mantra. All manner of things from hurricanes to frog population decline to the sagging of gingerbread houses are blamed on it.

Moreover, the zealotry of many adherents is frighteningly reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, fascism and other movements designed to take control and silence dissent. Vicious personal attacks on those who raise valid scientific questions infect the blogosphere, including likening them to Holocaust deniers. Even NASA's James Hansen, a very vocal promoter of anthropogenic global warming, has been allowed to get away with all sorts of very unscientific and virulent statements, such as demanding that oil company executives be tried for "crimes against humanity and nature".

Science is Never "Settled"

Globally averaged temperature data - imprecise, it must be admitted- show that temperature has not risen in the past 10 years: we are not in the midst of global warming at all. The famous "hockey-stick" graph wielded by Al Gore and the IPCC reports that claimed to show a dramatic rise in global temperature in the latter 20th century turns out to be a methodological and statistical chimera. Some have even suggested that it was a deliberate fraud. Temperature fluctuations and regional variations in the last few decades do not track rising atmospheric CO2 concentration.

So, if anthropogenic CO2 is not driving climate change, why do most Western governments -with the notable exception of Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic- continue to fall over themselves in support of the belief of anthropogenic global warming, and try to best each other in promising to cap CO2 production, designing carbon taxes and cap-and-trade legislation, and throwing huge sums of money at alternative energy schemes, CO2 sequestration projects and climatological research?

Sure, certain individuals stand to make a lot of money out of these measures, but some of them arguably will amount to economic suicide. Well, what politicians do "passeth all understanding" for most of us in the trenches, but it does illustrate the power of the green lobby and, in my opinion, a dearth of real leadership. The recent meeting of President Barack Obama and PrimeMinister Stephen Harper pledged a soothingly green approach to continental relations. Some of this will be beneficial: enhanced oil recovery by CO2 injection, more use of solar and geothermal heating, and improved energy efficiency. Other measures will cost a fortune and will make no difference whatsoever to climate or the weather.

As James Hutton said in 1795, the Earth has "no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end" and this holds true for climate change. Does reducing our dependence on fossil fuels justify promulgating scientific lies? I don't think so. But it is inescapable that coal, oil and natural gas are finite natural resources and when they are burned up they are gone. Period. Profligacy with these precious commodities is what needs to change.


Temps cooling amid CO2 alert

It might make a lot more sense to draw a correlation between man-made carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures if the temperatures hadn’t decreased in the last decade.

Studies show that average global temperatures have decreased as much as 0.2 degrees Celsius over the last ten years — just as human activity is thought to be taking its biggest toll on the planet’s climate.

The decrease is small, to be sure, but, say skeptics, it disproves the argument that rising man-made CO2 levels are the driving force behind global warming.


“The Earth’s climate has always alternated between warming and cooling phases,” said William Happer, who served the Department of Energy under former President George H.W. Bush. “In the medieval warming period, when the Norse settled Greenland, the Earth warmed as fast or faster than it has since 1800.

... What should world governments have done in the year 900 A.D., when people noticed that the climate was warming and the ice was melting in southern Greenland?”


'Green' lightbulbs poison workers

Hundreds of factory staff are being made ill by mercury used in bulbs destined for the West

WHEN British consumers are compelled to buy energy-efficient lightbulbs from 2012, they will save up to 5m tons of carbon dioxide a year from being pumped into the atmosphere. In China, however, a heavy environmental price is being paid for the production of “green” lightbulbs in cost-cutting factories. Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs. A surge in foreign demand, set off by a European Union directive making these bulbs compulsory within three years, has also led to the reopening of mercury mines that have ruined the environment.

Doctors, regulators, lawyers and courts in China - which supplies two thirds of the compact fluorescent bulbs sold in Britain - are increasingly alert to the potential impacts on public health of an industry that promotes itself as a friend of the earth but depends on highly toxic mercury. Making the bulbs requires workers to handle mercury in either solid or liquid form because a small amount of the metal is put into each bulb to start the chemical reaction that creates light.

Mercury is recognised as a health hazard by authorities worldwide because its accumulation in the body can damage the nervous system, lungs and kidneys, posing a particular threat to babies in the womb and young children. The risks are illustrated by guidance from the British government, which says that if a compact fluorescent lightbulb is broken in the home, the room should be cleared for 15 minutes because of the danger of inhaling mercury vapour.

Documents issued by the Chinese health ministry, instructions to doctors and occupational health propaganda all describe mercury poisoning in lighting factories as a growing public health concern. “Pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding must not be allowed to work in a unit where mercury is present,” states one official rulebook.

In southern China, compact fluorescent lightbulbs destined for western consumers are being made in factories that range from high-tech multinational operations to sweat-shops, with widely varying standards of health and safety. Tests on hundreds of employees have found dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies and many have required hospital treatment, according to interviews with workers, doctors and local health officials in the cities of Foshan and Guangzhou.

Dozens of workers who were interviewed on condition of anonymity described living with the fear of mercury poisoning. They gave detailed accounts of medical tests that found numerous workers had dangerous levels of the toxin in their urine. “In tests, the mercury content in my blood and urine exceeded the standard but I was not sent to hospital because the managers said I was strong and the mercury would be decontaminated by my immune system,” said one young female employee, who provided her identity card.

“Two of my friends were sent to hospital for one month,” she added, giving their names also. “If they asked me to work inside the mercury workshop I wouldn’t do it, no matter how much they paid,” said another young male worker.

Doctors at two regional health centres said they had received patients in the past from the Foshan factory of Osram, a big manufacturer serving the British market. However, the company said in a statement that the latest tests on its staff had found nobody with elevated mercury levels. It added that local authorities had provided documents in 2007 and 2008 to certify the factory met the required environmental standards.

Osram said it used the latest technology employing solid mercury to maintain high standards of industrial hygiene equivalent to those in Germany. Labour lawyers said Osram, as a responsible multi-national company, was probably the best employer in a hazardous sector and conditions at Chinese-owned factories were often far worse.

A survey of published specialist literature and reports by state media shows hundreds of workers at Chinese-owned factories have been poisoned by mercury over the past decade. In one case, Foshan city officials intervened to order medical tests on workers at the Nanhai Feiyang lighting factory after receiving a petition alleging dangerous conditions, according to a report in the Nanfang Daily newspaper. The tests found 68 out of 72 workers were so badly poisoned they required hospitalisation.

A specialist medical journal, published by the health ministry, describes another compact fluorescent lightbulb factory in Jinzhou, in central China, where 121 out of 123 employees had excessive mercury levels. One man’s level was 150 times the accepted standard. The same journal identified a compact fluorescent lightbulb factory in Anyang, eastern China, where 35% of workers suffered mercury poisoning, and industrial discharge containing the toxin went straight into the water supply. It also reported a survey of 18 lightbulb factories near Shanghai, which found that exposure levels to mercury were higher for workers making the new compact fluorescent lightbulbs than for other lights containing the metal.

In China, people have been aware of the element’s toxic properties for more than 2,000 years because legend has it that the first emperor, Qin, died in 210BC after eating a pill of mercury and jade he thought would grant him eternal life. However, the scale of the public health problems in recent times caused by mercury mining and by the metal’s role in industrial pollution is beginning to emerge only with the growth of a civil society in China and the appearance of lawyers prepared to take on powerful local governments and companies.

A court in Beijing has just broken new ground in industrial injuries law by agreeing to hear a case unrelated to lightbulbs but filed by a plaintiff who is seeking £375,000 in compensation for acute mercury poisoning that he claims destroyed his digestive system.

The potential for litigation may be greatest in the ruined mountain landscape of Guizhou province in the southwest, where mercury has been mined for centuries. The land is scarred and many of the people have left. Until recently, the conditions were medieval. Miners hewed chunks of rock veined with cinnabar, the main commercial source of mercury. They inhaled toxic dust and vapours as the material seethed in primitive cauldrons to extract the mercury. Nobody wore a mask or protective clothing. “Our forefathers had been mining for mercury since the Ming Dynasty [1368-1644] and in olden days there was no pollution from such small mines,” said a 72-year-old farmer, named Shen.

“But in modern times thousands of miners came to our land, dug it out and poured chemicals to wash away the waste. Our water buffaloes grew stunted from drinking the water and our crops turned grey. Our people fell sick and didn’t live long. Anybody who could do has left.”

The government shut all the big mercury mining operations in the region in recent years in response to a fall in global mercury prices and concern over dead rivers, poisoned fields and ailing inhabitants. But The Sunday Times found that in this remote corner of a poverty-stricken province, the European demand for mercury had brought the miners back.

A Chinese entrepreneur, Zhao Yingquan, has paid £1.5m for the rights to an old state-run mine. The Luo Xi mining company used thousands of prisoners to carve out its first shaft and tunnels in the 1950s. “We’re in the last stages of preparing the mine to start operations again in the second half of this year,” said a manager at the site, named Su.

At Tongren, a town where mercury was processed for sale, an old worker spoke of the days when locals slaved day and night to extract the precious trickles of silvery metal. “I worked for 40 years in a mine and now my body is full of sickness and my lungs are finished,” he said.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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