Tuesday, July 31, 2007

EPA: Abandoned Landfill Source Of Groundwater Contamination

MUSKEGO, Wis. -- The federal government may have pinpointed the source of contaminated groundwater in Muskego.

For years, neighbors of an abandoned landfill have blamed the operators of that site, Waste Management, for contaminating their wells. Waste Management hasn't used the facility for decades and the area is now part of an Environmental Protection Agency superfund cleanup.

The company helped to provide municipal water to the area, so residents didn't have to drink the well water, but has also continued to claim that the contamination could have come from any number of sources other than the landfill.

An EPA report, obtained by WISN 12 News, for the first time maps out the plume of contamination. It shows areas with higher levels of vinyl chloride and states that, in the opinion of the EPA, the old landfill is the source of groundwater contamination in the study areas.

That's vindication for neighbors, like Muskego resident Tony Vitrano.

"It only confirms what I've always contended, that they've been at fault and they've been denying. But this confirms it. It's -- wow -- it's a comfort," Vitrano said.

The report also concludes that the contamination is limited to the area now being served by municipal water.

There is no evidence that anyone who has a private well that is contaminated is currently using that well for drinking water.

Still, Vitrano believes the contaminated water below ground has tainted his land.
more from WISN, Milwaukee, WI

Chemical in Ohio River traced to Greenup plant

A Greenup County industrial plant has been ordered to stop dumping a toxic chemical into the Ohio River after it was detected as far away as Louisville -- more than 250 miles downstream.

The company, Pregis Innovative Packaging Inc. in Wurtland, Ky., now faces the possibility of several hundred thousand dollars in fines, according to enforcement records made public yesterday and interviews with state officials.

Plant manager Michael Nadeau said his company, which makes polypropylene foam packaging, has not conceded that it has discharged the chemical into the river.

"We're investigating the issues that were brought forth by the Division of Water," he said. "We take these allegations very seriously."

Kentucky state regulators described the case as a mystery that took months to resolve, starting in April, after the solvent methylene chloride first started showing up at a monitoring station at Cincinnati's water intake 130 miles away.

Several days later, trace amounts were detected near Louisville's water intake, Louisville Water Co. officials said.

Both water utilities stepped up treatment to make sure the chemical, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers a probable human carcinogen, didn't get into people's drinking water.

An investigation by the multistate Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, whose monitors first detected the chemical, helped identify the source, said Larry Sowder, a Kentucky water quality official.

"It took some sleuthing to determine where it was coming from," said Allison Fleck, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Water.
more from the Courier Journal

Monday, July 30, 2007

Vessel hits pipe in Gulf, causing spill

A vessel hit a pipeline Sunday morning in the Gulf of Mexico about 60 miles south of Venice, causing an oil spill two miles wide and eight miles long, the Coast Guard said.

The crude-oil spill was discovered about 8 a.m., and the leaking pipeline was fixed at 12:45 p.m., the Coast Guard said.

Investigators said it appears an unidentified vessel hit a discharge pipeline on a well owned by Boise de Arc of Houston.

The Coast Guard and two clean-up companies hired by Boise de Arc were working to contain the spill and prevent it from reaching shore. By mid-afternoon Sunday, the spill was about eight miles from the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.
from the Times Picayune

The ebb and flow of the Hudson's comeback


Bobby Gabrielson Jr. cut the engine on his 23-foot fishing boat while cars and trucks passed overhead on the Tappan Zee Bridge.

The air smelled of saltwater and fish as the boat rose and fell on the Hudson River's soft swells.

Gabrielson and his assistant, Michael Frank, began hauling in some of the 85 crab pots they had set out hours earlier. Frank pulled the first string of cages from the water while Gabrielson emptied the cages of their contents: blue crabs, which pinched reflexively and every once in a while scored a hit on the fisherman's hands.

Gabrielson has been fishing the Hudson for nearly 40 years, following the example of his father, a river fisherman for more than six decades. He's seen many changes in the river, and said efforts to clean the Hudson had been successful.

"There's a lot more boats, a lot more people fishing now," Gabrielson said. "I feel the river has come back dramatically."

Thirty-five years after the passage of the federal Clean Water Act, the Hudson River is unquestionably cleaner than it's been in decades.

But cleaner doesn't mean clean, and the legacy of pollution that once turned the river into an open sewer continues to dictate the public's interaction with it.

Catching, selling and eating fish and shellfish remains restricted due to health concerns. And contact with the water - by swimmers, boaters, paddlers, personal watercraft users and beachcombers - remains risky due to raw sewage and health concerns.

Experts said many contaminants in the river continue to pose a risk to people, as well as the wildlife, aquatic life and plant life of the Hudson.

Two main culprits are cause for the most concern when it comes to people and their direct contact with the river.

One is aging sewage treatment plants and combined sewer overflow systems that leak harmful bacteria into the Hudson. The other is polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs - man-made chemicals dumped into the river decades ago that have found their way into the aquatic food chain and are the main reason for most fish advisories issued by the state Health Department.
more from The Lower HUD

Atlantic Tropical Storms Have Doubled

WASHINGTON -- The number of tropical storms developing annually in the Atlantic Ocean more than doubled over the past century, with the increase taking place in two jumps, researchers say.

The increases coincided with rising sea surface temperature, largely the byproduct of human-induced climate warming, researchers Greg J. Holland and Peter J. Webster concluded. Their findings were being published online Sunday by Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.

An official at the National Hurricane Center called the research "sloppy science" and said technological improvements in observing storms accounted for the increase.

From 1905 to 1930, the Atlantic-Gulf Coast area averaged six tropical cyclones per year, with four of those storms growing into become hurricanes.

The annual average jumped to 10 tropical storms and five hurricanes from 1931 to 1994. From 1995 to 2005, the average was 15 tropical storms and eight hurricanes annually.

Even in 2006, widely reported as a mild year, there were 10 tropical storms.

"We are currently in an upward swing in frequency of named storms and hurricanes that has not stabilized," said Holland, director of mesoscale and microscale meteorology at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

"I really do not know how much further, if any, that it will go, but my sense is that we shall see a stabilization in frequencies for a while, followed by potentially another upward swing if global warming continues unabated," Holland said.

It is normal for chaotic systems such as weather and climate to move in sharp steps rather than gradual trends, he said.
more from the Associated Press

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Gulf 'Dead Zone' Still 3rd Largest

NEW ORLEANS (Map, News) - The oxygen-poor "dead zone" off the Louisiana and Texas coasts isn't quite as big as predicted this year, but it is still the third-largest ever mapped, a scientist said Saturday.

Crabs, eels and other creatures usually found on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico are swimming in crowds on the surface because there is too little oxygen in their usual habitat, said Nancy Rabalais, chief scientist for northern Gulf hypoxia studies.

"We very often see swarms of crabs, mostly blue crabs and their close relatives, swimming at the surface when the oxygen is low," she wrote in an e-mail from a research ship as it returned to Cocodrie from its annual measurement trip.

Eels, which live in sediments 60 to 70 feet below the water surface, are an even less common sight, she said.

The 7,900-square-mile area with almost no oxygen, a condition called hypoxia, is about the size of Connecticut and Delaware together. The Louisiana-Texas dead zone is the world's second-largest hypoxic area, she said.

This year's is about 7.5 percent smaller than what Eugene Turner, Rabalais' husband and a professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University, had predicted, judging by nitrogen content in the Mississippi River watershed.

He had predicted it would be about 8,540 square miles, which would have made it the largest measured in at least 22 years. More storms than normal may have reduced hypoxia by keeping the waters roiled, Rabalais said.
more from Examiner

What you don't see in the Catawba River is what's doing the most harm

In the murky waters of the Catawba River and the ripples of its peaceful creeks and streams lurk potential threats to people and wildlife.

Harmful bacteria and chemical elements pouring into the Catawba River Basin from homes, stormwater runoff and sewage spills have caused parts of the Catawba and most of its tributaries to miss the mark on federal clean water standards, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, putting public health and aquatic life at risk.

The problem is severe enough that at least one environmental group this summer said the Catawba River Basin has "the most concentrated" water pollution in the state.

The Catawba River Basin in South Carolina begins at Lake Wylie on the state line in northern York County and runs downstream along the Catawba River to Lake Wateree, south of Great Falls in Kershaw County. The basin includes dozens of streams and creeks that feed the river along the way.

Of the 127 sites along these waters DHEC monitors regularly, 78 failed to meet federal standards for supporting recreation or aquatic life between 2000 and 2004, according to the most recent DHEC data. Most sites were contaminated by fecal bacteria, copper, phosphorous and various chemicals, according to DHEC reports.

The 78 sites are scattered throughout the entire basin.

Earl Meyer, chairman of the S.C. Sierra Club's water committee, and a team of eight retired engineers and scientists have been studying the data for the past year. They've compared the eight major basins in the state, and concluded the Catawba, Lake Marion and the Greenville-Spartanburg areas are home to the three most polluted waters in South Carolina, Meyer said.
more from The Herald

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A spill grows in Brooklyn

NEWTOWN CREEK, which separates Brooklyn from Queens, is nowhere near as picturesque as its name suggests. The 3.5-mile (5.6km) waterway is flanked by industrial buildings and warehouses. There is little, if any, marine life. Much of the surrounding land is considered to be a brownfield zone. The only people on the river are on the gridlocked bridge overhead. The creek is coated with an oil spill that floats on the contaminated water.

After decades of neglect, the state is at last intervening. Last week Andrew Cuomo, New York's attorney-general, filed a suit against Exxon Mobil, the world's biggest privately-owned company, to force a faster clean-up of the spill. It is about one-and-a-half times bigger than the infamous one caused by the Exxon Valdez, which dumped 11m gallons of oil off the Alaskan coast in 1989. The Brooklyn spill is estimated to have been at least 17m gallons (64m litres) at one stage, extending over 100 acres (40 hectares). It still covers about 55 acres.

According to the complaint, a swarm of toxic pollutants is being discharged, including benzene, arsenic and lead. Tests also indicate that methane, an explosive gas, is in vapours near the spill. Some think the oil has been leaking since the early 1900s. A 1950 industrial explosion exacerbated the problem. It was ignored until the Coast Guard “rediscovered” it in 1978, and determined that the oil was coming from nearby refineries and storage facilities. It was not until 1990 that Exxon Mobil, the company primarily responsible for the spill, signed a consent agreement with the state to clean up the creek.
more from The Economist

Trading Salt Ponds for Salt Marshes

A high salinity pond at low tide. The pond is so salty that it actually has a layer of gypsum on it’s surface.(Photo: Andrea Kissack)

Fertile wetlands once lined the southern shore of the San Francisco Bay. But these wetlands have since been replaced by ponds used to harvest salt. Now, a collaborative effort to bring back tens of thousands of acres of those original marshes is underway. Andrea Kissack reports.

GELLERMAN: One of the biggest and most ambitious environmental restoration projects in the country is now underway in San Francisco Bay. It will take decades and upwards of a billion dollars to turn thousands of acres of industrial salt ponds back into wetlands. As Andrea Kissack reports from San Francisco, the work is helping nature make a comeback.

KISSACK: If you've ever flown into San Francisco International Airport then you've seen the salt ponds. A checkerboard of orange, red and yellow hues formed by algae from high salinity levels. Go a little closer still and some of the salt ponds look like the surface of the moon: sinuous water channels flow through a layer of chalky white crust. Back in the 1800's this former tidal marsh was diked off by levees to create ponds for salt making. In fact in some parts of the Bay, they're still making salt, for food, medicine and road de-icing.

MOPELLI: This is our reclaim area here. This is where the salt after it's harvested it's been washed and it has been stacked.

KISSACK: This East Bay salt plant is owned and operated by Cargill, the Minnesota-based multinational food firm. Pat Mopelli stands dwarfed by an 80-foot high stack of salt that looks like the white top of a circus tent.

KISSACK: We crunch our way over a salt covered road until we reach the edge of the bay. In front of us is a surreal site, what looks like a frozen alpine lake just beginning to melt. These are Cargill's crystallizer beds --the heart of the company's evaporative salt making operation.

MOPELLI: You actually start to see almost what looks like ice or glassy look on the surface. As those crystals continue to grow, and they do grow, they become heavy and drop to the bottom of the crystallizer bed. And so what we are looking at is this nice even flat surface for us to be able to harvest on.

KISSACK: The water in these engineered shallow beds is going through the final stages of evaporation. The process ends here, but it actually begins out in the ponds that ring the bay.

MOPELLI: If you follow a salt molecule from the time it is pumped in from the bay through the concentration process, until it actually is precipitated out on the crystallizer, it takes on the average about four to five years.

KISSACK: Cargill sold the majority of its ponds, in 2003, to the state and federal government for 100-million dollars. Now a coalition of groups is overseeing an effort to turn 16,000 acres of former salt ponds - an area the size of Manhattan - back to natural wetlands. It's a gargantuan effort to roll back the clock 150 years.
more from Living on Earth

Friday, July 27, 2007

Toxic cleanup technique challenged

A single sentence buried in a state report about a toxic gas-plant site in Sag Harbor is raising new questions about the effectiveness of a technique being used to treat a much larger polluted site in Bay Shore.

In a question-and-answer transcript in a report by the state Department of Environmental Conservation about the methods to be used to treat a highly toxic site in Sag Harbor, an unidentified person asks, "Have you looked at in-situ chemical oxidation for this site?"

The technique involves pumping oxidizing chemicals into a spill to help neutralize toxins in place, rather than remove them. Some experts have questioned the effectiveness of the technique, and the DEC's response to the question has fueled their skepticism:

"It was examined as an alternative but was not found viable as it has not been found to be effective in treating large concentrations of [coal-tar toxins] such as are present at this site," the report says.

The "in-situ" technique is currently being employed at the massive Bay Shore former manufactured natural gas plant site, where some have challenged its effectiveness and others suggest it could be making matters worse by "mobilizing" toxins into the air. Suffolk County's Health Services Department first broached the latter prospect in a letter to KeySpan last December.

"You're playing with fire if you mobilize \[the toxins\] and you don't get full destruction," said Suffolk Health Services' hydrogeologist Ron Paulson in an interview Wednesday.

He noted that the technique's use in Bay Shore is still effectively termed a pilot, and he called its effectiveness "still very questionable."
more from Newsday

Foam targets heavy metal clean-up

A type of porous foam can be used to soak up heavy metals from water, a team has reported in the journal Science.

The rigid material could be used for environmental clean-ups and other jobs that require so-called "molecular sieves" that can trap heavy metals.

Previously, materials called oxides have been used as molecular sieves, but these prefer to form bonds with small metal ions such as magnesium and zinc.

But the new foam preferentially absorbs heavy metals like mercury.

Toxic heavy metals in air, soil and water are a growing problem, threatening the health of populations around the world.

Sources of heavy metal pollution include coal, natural gas, paper and the chlor-alkali industry - which manufactures chlorine and caustic soda.

Mercouri Kanatzidis, a chemist at Northwestern University in Illinois, US, and colleagues developed a type of "aerogel" - a low-density material derived from a gel in which the liquid component has been replaced by gas.

This highly absorbent aerogel is made by linking clusters of chemical groups called chalcogenides with charged metal atoms - called metal ions. The elements sulphur and selenium are examples of chalcogenides.
more from BBC

BP dumps mercury in lake

Although the federal government ordered states more than a decade ago to dramatically limit mercury discharges into the Great Lakes, the BP refinery in northwest Indiana will be allowed to continue pouring small amounts of the toxic metal into Lake Michigan for at least another five years.

A little-noticed exemption in BP's controversial new state water permit gives the oil company until 2012 to meet strict federal limits on mercury discharges. In documents, Indiana regulators predict the refinery won't be able to comply and will ask to continue polluting after that date.

Federal records analyzed by the Tribune show BP puts 2 pounds of mercury into the lake every year from its sprawling plant 3 miles southeast of Chicago in Whiting, Ind. That amount is small compared with the mercury that falls into the water from air pollution, but mercury builds up in the environment and is so toxic that even tiny drops can threaten fish and people.

The BP refinery and a power plant in nearby Chesterton, Ind., are the only two industrial polluters that still dump mercury directly into Lake Michigan, federal records show. Under standards adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1995, BP's annual discharge of the metal should be reduced to 8/100th of a pound.

BP already is drawing fierce opposition to its plans to dump significantly more ammonia and suspended solids into Lake Michigan. Although the amounts are still below federal water quality guidelines, BP's new permit marks the first time in years that a company has been allowed to increase the amount of pollution pumped into the lake, a magnet for sport fishing and the source of drinking water for Chicago and scores of other communities.

more from the Chicago Tribune

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Farmers say growing more corn doesn't mean more water pollution

TOLEDO, Ohio - It seems like a simple equation.

Because of the rising demand for ethanol, farmers are growing more corn, which needs more nitrogen fertilizer than other crops.

Then it stands to reason that applying more chemicals means more of it will wind up polluting rivers and lakes.

Farmers say that's not necessarily so.

They say new technology allows them to apply fertilizer with more precision, reducing the amount that drains into waterways. And they point out that more farmers are planting grass strips along streams and rivers to reduce runoff.

"It isn't as simple as saying more fertilizer will lead to more runoff," said Matt Roberts, an agricultural economist at Ohio State University. "It's a lot more complicated."

How much rain fields get and when it rains both play a role in how much fertilizer is washed away too, he said. But he adds that "it's not unreasonable to think that a large increase in corn will lead to increase in runoff."

Until researchers can study the issue, it's difficult to say what will happen.

A study predicting the impact on the Chesapeake Bay concluded that an increase in corn production over the next five years could add as much as 16 million pounds of pollution.

About 300 million pounds of nitrogen flow in the bay each year, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"It simply means the ethanol boom is pointing us in the wrong direction in which we want to go in cleaning up the bay," said James Pease, an agriculture professor at Virginia Tech University.

Pease, who helped write the study, said farmers are expected to plant at least 500,000 more acres of corn in the bay's watershed, which stretches from New York to Virginia.

"We're obviously going to get more runoff," he said.

Much of that, though, can be negated if farmers embrace conservation management practices such as planting buffer strips and applying fertilizer more precisely, Pease said.
more from the AP

Big impact by NZ ice

Glaciers in places like New Zealand will have a bigger impact on sea-level change in the next century than the ice-sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, new research into global warming shows.

The fate of the polar ice sheets, home of 90 per cent of the world's fresh water and with the potential to increase sea levels by up to 60m, has dominated attention on the impact of climate change.

However, Associate Professor Wendy Lawson, head of geography at Canterbury University, said glaciers in the Southern Alps and similar places would have a much bigger effect in the short term.

Research by New Zealand academics suggests many of the more than 3000 glaciers in the Southern Alps will disappear over the next century, including some within a decade, and the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers will retreat dramatically.

"Small bits of ice, like we have in New Zealand, will be the main contributors to the rise in sea levels due to ice over the next 100 years," she said.

"Although the total amount we've got is small, the importance comes in the next century, as opposed to places like Antarctica, where the total amount is huge but in terms of the next century it's not going to be a pressing issue."

The research bolsters the findings released by the University of Colorado in the United States this month showing that the biggest threat to global sea levels will come from temperate glaciers and ice-caps rather than polar ones.

The study showed 60% of the water from retreating glaciers and ice-caps was from outside the polar regions, amounting to more than 400 cubic kilometres a year.
more from The Press

Health fears as polluted waters leave thousands vulnerable

Authorities in flood-stricken areas are struggling to cope with the biggest public health crisis for decades. Thousands of people have been made effectively homeless by the flooding, and more than 350,000 will have to rely on bottled water for everything from cooking to washing for up to two weeks.

An urgent appeal has been made for portable lavatories as fears about sewage treatment and contamination grow. Engineers gained full access to the Mythe water treatment plants near Tewkesbury yesterday but have yet to assess the full extent of the damage.

The western side of Oxford was engulfed in water yesterday after tributaries to the Thames burst their banks. At least 150 people have been moved from their homes to an emergency shelter at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium.

Three severe flood warnings, two in Oxford and one in nearby Abingdon, remained in place last night. The Environment Agency said that flooding was also expected in the Thameside towns of Wallingford and Henley.
more from the London Times

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Report should reveal cause of canal erosion

The cause for erosion along a portion of the Metairie side of the 17th Street Canal is to be disclosed today in a report from an Army Corps of Engineers contractor, but corps officials say there is no reason to think the floodwall may fail.

Despite the tentative assessment offered Tuesday that the erosion doesn't threaten the stability of the canal bank, the federal agency is responding with haste to a Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East request that engineers quickly determine why the damage is occurring.

Just as mysterious as the question of why pieces of the grassy bank are sloughing off along a 1,000-foot stretch of the west bank immediately north of Veterans Memorial Boulevard is the whereabouts of a report that corps officials say their agency generated in the spring of 2006 to document the erosion.

A high-ranking official in the corps' hurricane protection office said Tuesday that three district engineers doing a detailed walking inspection of the floodwalls and water-side canal banks after Hurricane Katrina saw erosion in the area, photographed it and included it in a "trip report" that should have been passed along to the East Jefferson Levee District for action.

"This scour was noted right after the storm," said John Grieshaber , executive support chief in the Hurricane Protection Office.

"We would normally consider it (scour) a maintenance issue . . . and show it to the appropriate" levee district, he said.
more from the Times Picayune

Northstar can release treated groundwater into Grand River

Northstar Aerospace has secured another approval for the cleanup of contaminated groundwater beneath its Bishop Street plant.

The Ministry of the Environment says the treatment being provided on-site at the Cambridge plant, to remove a noxious solvent called trichloroethylene, is working well.

Because of this, Northstar has been given the go-ahead to discharge treated groundwater into the Grand River, through a storm sewer.

Previously, treated groundwater had to go into sanitary sewers, for further treatment.

Skipping municipal treatment does not threaten drinking water or river quality, said Mohamed Dhalla of the Ministry of the Environment.

"The water that comes out after the treatment is very, very clear. The treatment is quite effective," said Dhalla, a supervisor of environmental approvals. "We are quite satisfied."

The change, approved in May, affects only the cleanup of the Northstar property itself.

Northstar is in the first phase of a three-part plan to clean the solvent from beneath the plant, from nearby industrial areas, and finally from a contaminated neighbourhood.

"We're always pleased when the ministry is satisfied," Northstar spokesperson Judy Scott-Walpole said.

But Debbie Vitez, who sold her affected home near the Northstar plant in February, is unimpressed with environmental reassurances.

"The Ministry of the Environment is not on our side," said Vitez, who remains bitterly concerned about the health effects of exposure to the industrial solvent.

Long-term exposure to the solvent, used in manufacturing, can increase the risk of cancer.
more from The Record

Rising sea, rising threat: What Puget Sound risks

Rising oceans over the next century can be expected to swamp half of existing Puget Sound estuary beaches, swallow tideflats and alter the spawning habitat for herring, surf smelt and other fish, and could also wreak havoc with the Sound's food web, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Federation.

Using sea-level-rise scenarios projected by an international climate-change panel that met earlier this year, the environmental group predicts that thousands of acres of what are now freshwater marshes could become salt marshes — while other marshland may simply disappear.

The group says such changes could end up affecting everything from harbor seals and seabirds to wild shellfish such as butter clams and Olympia oysters.

The report reinforces findings scientists for the state and the University of Washington issued two years ago, which determined that climate change could affect Puget Sound dramatically over time.

So the latest report was greeted Tuesday as another important reminder that climate change threatens to upset the Sound's delicate ecosystem in unpredictable ways.

"It's not like one day we have a beautifully restored salt marsh and the next day it's inundated," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, an environmental group. "It's gradual."

The sea-level estimates are based on the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has predicted that increasing global temperatures will cause oceans to rise about 2 feet by 2100.
more from the Seattle Times

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

High Mercury Levels Found in One-Fourth of Adults

One-quarter of adult New Yorkers, roughly 1.4 million people, have elevated levels of mercury in their blood, mainly from eating certain fish, according to survey results released yesterday by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The survey, part of a comprehensive study of the health of city residents, found that blood mercury levels were highest among Asians, women and higher-income New Yorkers.

The elevated mercury levels that were found pose little, if any, health risk for adults, but may increase the risk of neurological damage in fetuses and infants whose mothers pass on the mercury through their bloodstreams during pregnancy or through breast milk.

“These are not risks that are significant at all or existent for adults,” said Daniel Kass, the assistant commissioner for environmental surveillance and policy at the Health Department. “These are really issues for the developing brain and nervous system.”

Mercury is released into the atmosphere largely by coal-fired power plants and by solid-waste incinerators. In the form of methylmercury, it passes into lakes and rivers, where it is absorbed by fish and shellfish.

For years, the State Department of Health has issued warnings about eating fish caught in the Hudson River, because of mercury and other contaminants.

Nationally, said Mr. Kass, research showed that about 10 percent of women of childbearing age had blood mercury levels at or above five micrograms per liter, the threshold considered the low end for potential health risks.
more from the NY Times

On an Ancient Canal, Grunge Gives Way to Grandeur

HANGZHOU, China — Until the early 1990s, crews on barges and boats chugging down China’s 2,400-year-old Grand Canal did not need familiar landmarks to tell them they were approaching the scenic city of Hangzhou.
They could smell it.

“The water was black,” said Zhu Jianbai, assistant director of the city government’s Grand Canal Restoration and Development Group. “There was no life in it. If you lived beside it, you had to live with the stink.”

“It was an embarrassment,” Mr. Zhu said.

But a $250 million makeover that began in 2001 has improved water quality and spurred urban renewal along a 24-mile section of this ancient transport artery that once connected China’s great west-to-east river systems, carrying the goods, taxes and official communications that sustained successive dynasties.

Today, small fish swim among the pylons supporting cargo wharves where effluent from factories and raw sewage from homes had poisoned this section of the world’s oldest man-made waterway. Walkways and parkland line sections of the canal, and some of China’s most expensive apartment buildings have sprung up beside it on what has become prime real estate. Water taxis connect historic piers and bridges along the winding route through the city where old shop houses and tenements are being restored.

Most remarkably, the canal no longer smells.

For a growing number of activists campaigning for the preservation of the 1,115-mile canal and its many cultural and historical sites, the success is an important step in reversing almost two centuries of neglect, during which long sections of the waterway that linked Hangzhou with the capital, Beijing, were abandoned or fell into disrepair.

“We can borrow from this experience,” said Zhu Bingren, a well-known Hangzhou artist who with fellow activists has called on the central and local governments to develop a comprehensive strategy for rehabilitating the canal. “It can’t be copied for every city, but a lot of experts are generally satisfied with Hangzhou’s method.”
more from the NY Times

Monday, July 23, 2007

Scientific sleuths tail bay invaders

EDGEWATER - Greg Ruiz uses a pair of tweezers, tugging flesh out of the leg of a curiously hairy crab and thrusting it into a plastic vial.

Ruiz, director of the Marine Invasions Research Lab, packs the vial into a blue plastic box, which he will ship off for DNA analysis to determine where the crab came from. Then he aims his pincers at his next subject - one of six Chinese mitten crabs spread out on his lab table.

Ruiz is like a detective. He's trying to solve the mystery of how this spider-like Asian creature started breeding in the Chesapeake Bay and whether it's likely to threaten blue crabs or other native species.
He and other researchers in the lab, part of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, have found an increasing number of foreign organisms establishing themselves in the Chesapeake Bay in recent years. An estimated 175 alien species are now thriving in the bay's tidal waters, about 20 of which have been detected in the last decade.

Many have been carried in ballast water or on the hulls of ships as globalization has increased trade. The Internet has also spurred cross-border sales of exotic pets and other animals for ethnic food, some of which are dumped in the bay.
more from the Baltimore Sun

Thousands without fresh water as floods bring chaos

More than 350,000 people are facing days without fresh water supplies and a clean-up operation lasting months as devastating floods this weekend left communities cut off across central and southern England.

Last night waters were still rising in several parts of the country as the Severn and Thames threatened to burst their banks in Gloucester and Oxford, bringing more chaos to a region where hundreds of people have been evacuated after downpours which began on Friday and swept the country over the weekend.

Today Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, will make an emergency statement to the Commons and Gordon Brown's first monthly press conference as prime minister is certain to be dominated by criticism about the speed of the response to the latest flooding. He is expected to visit flood affected areas this morning, though Downing Street declined to reveal exactly where he would go. In developments yesterday:
more from Guardian Unlimited

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Plant set to start cleaning water

GREENWICH TWP. A much-anticipated water treatment facility is set to begin operation on Monday, a move that officials hope will put an end to residents' water quality worries.

The treatment facility is part of an $8.6 million overhaul to the township's water facility, which also includes last year's replacement of 100-year-old water mains as well as the addition of new fire hydrants and valves.

"This is a very big step," said Mayor George Shivery Jr. "This will take care of a lot of the water quality issues we'd been experiencing."

The treatment facility, which will be located on Memorial Avenue, will process water coming from Wells 4A and 6.

Well 6 was turned off last year after traces of benzene were found in the water, but Shivery said the well will come back online once the treatment facility is up and running. Later, 4A will be shut down for maintenance.

Annina Hogan, an engineer who worked on the facility, explained that the treatment plant is necessary for those wells because of the water's unusually high iron content.

"Basically, the plant that exists right now for those wells, they have filters but they have no pre-treatment," Hogan said. "So you're trying to do a job that the filters aren't capable of handling."

The new system will run the water through an air filtration or "aeration" process, according to Hogan. Then, it will use chemicals called "clarifiers" to bond to any remaining iron particles, helping them to sink to the bottom so that clean "pretreated" water can be skimmed through the top.

Afterward, Hogan said, that water is put through the filters to take out any remaining iron, bringing it to acceptable and safe drinking water standards.
more from Gloucester County Times

Loved that murky water

Dozens of men in Speedos and women in one-piece bathing suits lined up yesterday morning on the dock for the race. The toned -- and the not-so-toned -- swimmers hopped in place to warm their muscles while peering into the greenish-brown waters.

But this was no ordinary swim, nor ordinary water. They were about to plunge into the Charles River -- Boston's historically dingy waterway that has not seen swimmers in more than half a century. The water temperature hovered in the mid-70s and it was, as always, murky, but that did not stop 69 people from braving that infamous dirty water.

To some, the morning jaunt was just another athletic feat. But for many Bostonians, the one-mile loop signified hope for a swimmable Charles -- once a forbidden and unthinkable summer activity.

Amy Walsh's father was born and raised in Cambridge and swam there in the 1950s. He loved it, and did not know any better, she said. "You just never know what it's going to be like -- the winds, the currents. Is everyone going to be on top of each other? " said Walsh, 31, of Belmont, before yesterday's swim. "I realize that they wouldn't allow this to happen if it weren't safe to swim."

Just last week, reports of algae growth threatened the event, which was canceled last year when the same toxic substance bloomed. But state health and environmental officials gave the thumbs-up a day before the gunshot. The fastest male swimmer, Sebastian Neumayer, clocked in at 20 minutes, 20 seconds; and the fastest female, Emily Sutliff, finished at 21 minutes, 46 seconds. The last swimmer touched the dock after 45 minutes,28 seconds.

"I came from Switzerland in '78 and swimming in the Charles has been my dream ever since," said Renata von Tscharner, 58, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy, as she watched the swim from the dock. "Imagine if every urban American river became swimmable, what that would change."
more from the Boston Globe

Saturday, July 21, 2007

New chief takes over Army Corps' New Orleans district

Col. Alvin "Al" Lee, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, assumed command Friday of the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers, still reeling from the impact and aftershocks of Katrina and now bracing for the potentially nastiest stretch of the current hurricane season the months of August and September.

The 45-year-old engineer and native of southern Georgia, replaces Col. Richard Wagenaar, the outgoing commander, who is taking early retirement from the Army after two harrowing years at the wheel of the 30,000-square-mile district.

Wagenaar assumed his command in July of 2005, just 45 days before Katrina sideswiped New Orleans with a record surge that helped expose catastrophic deficiencies in the federal hurricane protection system the corps built in pieces, but still had not finished, over the preceding four decades.

"I know the eyes of America and the people of New Orleans are focused on everything we do," Lee told the audience assembled Friday to witness the change of command, saying he would focus on strengthening relationships with the community and other government agencies and "executing the promises" made to residents of the devastated region.
more from the Times Picayune

Lake O's muck too dirty for some uses

For the last two months, water managers have been scooping out polluted ooze that had strangled the shallow marshes of Lake Okeechobee.

Now, the question is what to do with a massive mound of muck that is, to no one's surprise, laced with nasty contaminants.

While most are at trace levels, arsenic spikes have eliminated the South Florida Water Management District's hope of selling the material as clean suburban fill to recoup some of the $11.4 million spent on the effort.

But Susan Gray, a district deputy director who oversees the lake, said the material poses no health or environmental threat if used properly. Water managers are weighing options -- putting it under a paved lakeside parking lot, capping an old landfill in Okeechobee County or even spreading it on farm fields.

''We've had a lot of interest,'' Gray said. ``A lot of people want that material.''

There's a lot of it to go around, nearly 2 million cubic yards of soft black stuff, enough to fill some 100,000 dump trucks.

The mix of fine clay, decayed plants and algae covers a huge swath of lake bottom and has been a festering source of pollution for decades. It is laced with pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants from rain water running off farms, cattle pastures and lawns.

Hurricanes over the last few years churned it up and pushed several feet of muck and dark water into shoreline marshes.

The marshes, covering about a fifth of the lake, are the key to the entire ecosystem, providing critical habitat and food for everything from fowl to fish, including the lake's renowned large-mouth bass and popular panfish such as crappie and bream.

more from the Miami Herald

Advocates hope to turn tide against bottled water

That's what an increasing number of public officials, environmental advocates and restaurateurs are urging people to do when they're tempted to reach for bottled water.

Rather than spend their dollars on costly plastic containers of water, consumers should boot the bottle and turn on their taps, according to such officials as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Salt Lake City Mayor Ross "Rocky" Anderson and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Those three sponsored a resolution at last month's meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors calling for a study to examine the environmental impact that millions of empty water bottles have on municipal garbage operations.

Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have issued executive orders prohibiting the use of city money to buy bottled water, and the Ann Arbor City Council in Michigan last month approved a measure calling for city events to be bottled-water-free.

"For a long time, I've viewed [bottled water] as a huge marketing scam," Anderson said recently, explaining why he has called for city employees to drink tap water and use refillable water bottles.

Municipal water supplies are just as good as bottled water and are monitored far more closely, city officials around the country say. And a gallon of tap water typically costs less than a penny, up to 10,000 times less than an equivalent gallon of bottled water, according to the mayors' resolution.
more from the Chicago Tribune

Friday, July 20, 2007

Watery debris fuels new fight for state, FEMA

BATON ROUGE -- With sunken cars and boats, splintered structures and other debris littering Louisiana waters nearly two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, state and federal officials have positioned themselves for a quarrel about how the wreckage will be removed.

FEMA doesn't dispute it should pay for the cleanup. Rather, Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C., bureaucrats are reprising the now-familiar routine of feuding about how to interpret and apply the strict laws and regulations that govern disaster response.

A Louisiana Recovery Authority committee on Thursday adopted a written request that FEMA coordinate the cleanup -- potentially at a cost of several hundred million dollars -- rather than have state and local government bodies contract out the job, then seek reimbursement through FEMA's Public Assistance program. The request also seeks to recover any money the state or local agencies have already spent on marine debris cleanup.
more from the Times Picayune

Rice paddies map arsenic problem

A team of scientists has mapped in minute detail the fate of arsenic as it is carried across several hectares of rice paddies in Bangladesh. The complex picture painted by the work, published in ES&T in two parts (DOI es070298u; es0702972), provides a solid base for future assessments of human exposure to the toxic metal, researchers say.

Since the 1980s, nearly half of the rice paddies in Bangladesh have been flooded with irrigation water—sometimes laden with arsenic. To determine what happens to the arsenic as it flows over the fields and transfers to soils, scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology sampled irrigation water and soil from 18 rice paddies near Sreenagar (30 kilometers south of Dhaka) at different times in the growing season over a period of more than one year (December 2004 to February 2006). Their data show that from the point where irrigation water enters a field, arsenic unfurls like a fan: within 20–30 meters of the entry point, arsenic levels are the highest, but at the outermost edges, the concentrations lessen.

The team also observed the accumulation of arsenic in paddy soils despite monsoon flooding that clearly remobilized some of the arsenic. Sites that are irrigated several times a year and that experience no monsoon flooding should have higher levels of arsenic and more variability of arsenic concentrations across a field, says Stephan Hug of Eawag, a coauthor of the first paper. The flooding also seems to have a soil-depth-dependent effect; arsenic accumulates readily within the first 10 centimeters of soil, and no leaching to groundwater is evident.

The team is now conducting measurements of rice plants to determine how they take up arsenic in these mapped fields. Team members are also sampling floodwater during the monsoon season to see whether they can capture the remobilization process in action.

"Something like this was needed, where a group of careful scientists went to one particular area where arsenic has a high source and looked at the progress of arsenic through the soil," says Alexander van Geen, a prominent arsenic researcher at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. Still, this work is "not the ultimate step," he says, and future rice studies will need to determine whether the "patterns reflected in a particular field are associated in plants."

The new data add to the evidence that arsenic intake from rice consumption has the potential to outpace levels of arsenic from drinking water, counters Andrew Meharg of the University of Aberdeen (U.K.). Meharg and colleagues have analyzed rice grains from fields irrigated with arsenic-bearing water. The data, which are soon to be published, says Meharg, show a 1:1 transfer of arsenic from soil to grain. The new research provides "some evidence that more complex dynamics are going on" and that more work is needed, he says.
more from Environmental Science & Technology

Environmental group aims mercury complaint at chorine plants

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Chlorine plants in Ohio and four other states are worse mercury polluters than coal-fired power plants and are out of step with the chlorine industry's move to nonpolluting technology, an environmental group said Wednesday.

Representatives of Washington-based Oceana identified the five locations as Olin Corp.'s chlorine plants in Charleston, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga.; Ashta Chemicals in Ashtabula, Ohio; PPG Industries in Natrium, W. Va.; and ERCO Worldwide in Port Edwards, Wis.

Jacqueline Savitz, director of Oceana's 2-year-old campaign to stop seafood contamination, said more than 115 other chlorine plants have changed to mercury-free technology.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that accumulates in fish. Ingesting mercury can cause nerve and brain damage to pregnant women, women of childbearing age and young children. Mercury also can lead to kidney damage in children.

Savitz said the chlorine plants in Tennessee and Wisconsin are the largest single mercury polluters in those states.

Lenny Scott, director of technology at the Olin plant at Charleston, said "use of mercury at our Charleston plant is careful and controlled. We meet or do better than the laws and regulations on mercury emissions."

Scott said the company has spent $54 million to "update, modernize and reduce mercury emissions" at Charleston over the past eight years and emissions are 50 percent lower this year than in 2006.
more from the Associated Press

Eels slip into trouble

Four men, a young woman and two boys walk soaking wet from a small boat on an Oregon City boat launch on a sunny Friday morning.

Most are in sneakers and socks, shorts and T-shirts, the fabric plastered to their skin. A few have short hair, which is mostly dry. Others drip water from black braids and ponytails. They are old and young. One boy is barely taller than 5 feet.

The boy is Clayton Anderson, 15, a member of the Yakima Nation and the grandson of Ron Suppah, chairman of the Warm Springs tribe, who’s also just stepped off the boat. Suppah walks to the driver’s side of his pickup truck, shaking off the water.

The two tribes are close, they often intermarry, and they share in rituals such as this lamprey harvest at Willamette Falls in Oregon City, which the group tackled with nothing more than nets.

Scaling rocks in tennis shoes, sometimes grasping hands, the tribal members weathered strong currents, the pounding water of the falls and slippery terrain to gather lampreys where they cling to the rocks.

Lampreys are a staple food of the six tribes with interests in the Willamette River, but these annual harvests, though a long tradition, now occur in fewer and fewer places.

The last viable harvesting place in the Columbia River basin is at Willamette Falls. Like salmon, lampreys are in decline, dropping off rapidly in the last 40 to 50 years, harmed chiefly by dams and commercial fishing.

Scientists now are investigating whether decades of pollution in the Portland Harbor also may be harming the lampreys.
more from the West Linn Tidings

D.C. Officials Say Tap Water Is Safe

D.C. water officials tried yesterday to assuage public fears that a spike this spring in toxic chlorine pollutants in the city's tap water posed a health risk to the 1.1 million people who rely on it for drinking water.

At a news conference, leaders of the Washington Aqueduct and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority said high levels of chlorine toxins found in May in District water tests conducted by an environmental group were probably temporary. They predicted that average water quality measured over the full year would meet federal safety standards.

The toxins are linked in some health studies to cancers, reproductive problems and developmental delays in children. Some studies also suggest that the healthy growth of fetuses can be impaired when pregnant women are exposed to high doses of the toxins in the second and third trimesters.

Officials at the aqueduct, which treats the water, and WASA, which distributes the water to customers, said they are studying ways to improve the treatment process to reduce the toxins. They said that they could do better at informing the public about water quality issues and that they want to be as "transparent" as possible about the presence of chlorine compounds.

"Absolutely, the water that comes to the tap is safe to drink," said Thomas P. Jacobus, general manager of the aqueduct, which provides water to the District, Arlington and Falls Church. "But we don't want to look like we're hiding anything. Perhaps sometimes we don't do the best job we could of communicating."
more from the Washington Post

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Okeechobee's treasures and toxic muck

LAKEPORT, FLA. — Conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas once famously grumbled that Lake Okeechobee, the liquid heart of her beloved Everglades, had been poisoned by man's careless disposal of "pesticides, fertilizer, dead cats and old boots."

She didn't know about the 1920s steamship, rusty anchors, tractor tires, fishing-boat motors, settlers' stovepipes, Native American tools and jewelry, and the bones of man and beast dating back thousands of years. All were hauled from the lake bottom this summer.

Drought has caused the second-largest freshwater lake in the United States to drop to its lowest level since recording began in 1932, and the shoreline's recession has exposed trinkets, treasures and trash from throughout the ages.

Archeologists and historians are excited by the potential insight into the little-known lives of South Florida's earliest inhabitants.

But the lake's shrinkage has also left a monumental cleanup headache: a bathtub ring of toxic sludge from dumped wastewater and the objects hurled in by hurricanes and litterbugs.

The slimy gray lining, if not a silver one, is that the drought has given water managers an opportunity to scoop out the muck and refresh the shoreline habitat for Okeechobee's flora and fauna.

In little more than two months, contractors with the South Florida Water Management District have hauled away 2 million cubic yards of sludge — enough to fill nine football stadiums from the field to the nosebleed seats, said Tom Debold, water district supervisor on the muck-removal project.

After the muck was scraped and temporarily stored in 20-foot-high mounds set back from the shore, scientists discovered that much of it contains excessive levels of arsenic from pesticides and fertilizers used until the 1960s.
more from the LA Times

70-year mercury cleanup plan OK'd for S.F. Bay

Getting rid of enough mercury to make San Francisco Bay's fish safe to eat may take 70 years, under a plan adopted this week by state officials.

The cleanup plan focuses on some sources of the toxin -- old mines, businesses, sewage treatment plants and city streets -- and sets limits on how much mercury should be allowed to flow into the bay. The limits are based on how much the metal builds up in fish.

Residents who rely on contaminated bay fish for a part of their regular diet can suffer neurological damage, tremors, anxiety and memory problems. The danger of mercury poisoning is particularly high for fetuses and young children.

The plan, a decade in the making and closely scrutinized by environmental groups, was passed Tuesday by the State Water Resources Control Board and needs approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has declared its support of the plan.

The cleanup timetable is so long -- 70 years -- because there is so much mercury-laden sediment in the bay, said Bruce Wolfe, executive officer of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, which signed off on the plan last year.

"Obviously, we can't go through and dredge the whole bay," Wolfe said. "The goal is to protect human health and at the same time protect wildlife."

The mercury in the water works its way up to the fish, and then to the birds where it can affect their reproduction, he said.

"We're going straight to the fish -- the receptor -- and setting the limit in fish tissue," Wolfe said.

There are hundreds of sources of mercury. About 1,200 kilograms per year -- or about 2,645 pounds -- reach the bay. Under the cleanup plan, the pollution needs to be whacked to about 700 kilograms per year, or about 1,540 pounds.

more from the SF Chronicle

New Fears Raised Over Safety of D.C. Water

Toxic chlorine pollutants were found at unsafe levels in 40 percent of D.C. tap water samples tested this spring during the water utility's annual chlorine surge, according to a national environmental group's report to be released today.

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group conducted tests at 18 sites -- including private homes, an elementary school, the U.S. Capitol and the Environmental Protection Agency -- to measure the levels of chlorine toxins that could cause cancer, reproductive problems and developmental delays in children. In 90 percent of the samples, the tests found another class of chlorine toxin at levels that some epidemiological studies have associated with low birth weight and serious birth defects.

The findings suggest that the chemicals needed to help make Potomac River water potable could be creating a different risk to consumers. Chlorine is used to kill disease-causing microbes. Heavy use results in chemical compounds, called disinfection byproducts, that are formed when organic matter in the river water reacts with the chlorine.

The District's water utility has reported a general decrease in chlorine toxins since it switched from treating its water with chlorine to less-potent chloramine in 2000. But environmental groups and scientists said the new findings highlight a potential problem nationwide for many water utilities that, as in Washington, have switched at the EPA's urging to the chloramines and periodically flush their systems with high doses of chlorine to kill pathogens deep in their pipes.
more from the Washington Post

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Governor Sign’s Averitt’s Water Policy Bill

The bill requires basins to develop recommendations to meet in-stream needs at certain bays and estuaries.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is required to adopt the recommendations as environmental flow standards.

The measure also requires the TCEQ to give preference to water permit applicants based on conservation considerations like water levels, the environment and public need.

The measure also establishes the Environmental Flows Advisory Group, made up of appointed members, to oversee the process and make biennial reports to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

"Passage of this legislation along with the water infrastructure funding we secured will allow us to enact decades worth of water planning work and ensure a clean, adequate supply of water for future generations of Texans,” Averitt said.

The governor also signed Averitt’s Senate Bill 12, which substantially increases funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan and the Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, aimed at reducing motor vehicle pollution in the state.

"Mobile emissions are arguably the most important piece of the state's air quality puzzle," Averitt said.

"I've been looking at this issue for a long time from a lot of different angles, and Senate Bill 12 will maximize programs that taxpayers have already invested in to produce meaningful, expeditious air quality improvements for Texas,” he said.
more from KWTX

DEP, Manchin take heat for shrinking stream

Chris Byrd took half a day off work Monday to drive to Charleston and tell state officials what he thinks of their ever-shrinking list of protected streams.

“It’s an absolute insult to the general public,” said Byrd, a Clarksburg jeweler and avid trout fisherman.

Byrd urged state Department of Environmental Protection officials to let science — not politics or orders from Gov. Joe Manchin — decide what streams receive special anti-degradation protection.

“I would ask this agency not to be influenced by our ‘Open for Business’ governor,” Byrd told DEP officials during a public hearing Monday evening.

Byrd was among several dozen anglers who dominated testimony at a DEP hearing on the agency’s latest “Tier 2.5” list. The list is proposed as part of West Virginia’s federally required stream anti-degradation policy.

Under orders from Manchin, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer last month cut the number of streams on the agency’s preferred list from more than 300 to 157. Streams on the list are clean, and the anti-degradation policy aims to keep them that way.

Earlier this year, the Legislature refused to either approve or reject DEP’s list after it was vigorously opposed by the timber industry, farmers and other business interests.

Now, the list of 157 streams is out for public comment through the end of the day today. After DEP makes any changes, it will go back to the Legislature for consideration during the 2008 session.

About 50 people attended Tuesday’s hearing at DEP headquarters in Kanawha City, and the sentiment among speakers was heavily against Manchin’s actions. Representatives of both of the state’s Trout Unlimited chapters, along with various environmental groups and the Council of Churches, all lined up against the governor’s move to reduce the number of protected streams.

“I haven’t seen any science to back up this massive de-listing,” said Evan Hansen, a water quality consultant who works with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “This is based on what the governor has told DEP to do.”
more from the Charleston Gazette

When New Building Dries Up Resources

UNTIL five years ago, it seemed that the breakneck pace of development in Effingham County, a Savannah suburb in southeast Georgia, knew no limits.

But like other fast-growing areas across the country, Effingham had to learn that large-scale expansion often comes at a price. In the county’s case, it was the long-term integrity of the vast underground water supply that serves it as well as other major areas in the South.

“The prevalent mentality that natural resources have no end has come to an abrupt halt here,” said John A. Henry, chief executive of Effingham’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority. Because overuse of its wells could draw in saltwater, the county can no longer rely solely on the wells for business and residential use, he explained, and it has been buying water from Savannah for the last five years.

As a result, cities in the county have had to spend millions of dollars and expect to spend millions more to try to keep up with growth. Residents’ water bills have risen significantly, and yet, the growth continues.

As recently as the early 1980s, Effingham County was still dotted with farms and corner gas stations. But in the last two decades it has grown rapidly, becoming home to subdivisions and to businesses like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. The county’s population was 37,535 in 2000, a 46.1 percent increase from the 25,687 population in 1990, according to census figures. By 2006, it was 48,954, up another 30.4 percent.

Effingham’s development has been most noticeable in the city of Rincon, 20 miles north and slightly west of Savannah along State Highway 21, where new building permits for single-family houses rose to 268 last year from 65 in 1996. The city’s population in 2006, according to census data, reached 6,922, an increase of more than 58 percent from 2000, when it was 4,376.

The water problem became widely known about a decade ago, after years of investigation by scientists at the United States Geological Survey. They said that intense industrial and residential development had caused a cone of depression in the Upper Floridan aquifer, straining the key underground water source past its limits.
more from the NY Times

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

'Green' Fuel May Damage The Bay

A surge in the demand for ethanol -- touted as a greener alternative to gasoline -- could have a serious environmental downside for the Chesapeake Bay, because more farmers growing corn could mean more pollution washing off farm fields, a new study warned yesterday.

The study, whose sponsors included the U.S. government and an environmental group, predicted that farmers in the bay watershed will plant 500,000 or more new acres of corn in the next five years. Because fields of corn generally produce more polluted runoff than those of other crops, that's a problem.

"It's going in the opposite direction from where we want to go," said Jim Pease, a professor at Virginia Tech and one of the study's authors.

Ethanol, a fuel made from processed and fermented plant matter, is an old invention with enormous new cachet. Proponents say that it offers an alternative to oil imported from overseas and that it emits fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush called for its use in motor fuels to be increased sevenfold by 2017. Already, 15 ethanol facilities are either planned or under construction in the mid-Atlantic, according to yesterday's report.
more from the Washington Post

In a dry time, plans for water projects flow

SACRAMENTO — Acknowledging the specter of drought, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appealed Monday for a $6-billion investment in water works, while the Democratic leader of the state Senate called for a $5-billion water bond measure on next year's ballot.

The maneuverings by the two politicians virtually ensure that voters will be asked next year to approve billions of dollars in spending for water projects — including, perhaps, two new dams and a canal to siphon the Sacramento River.

Cutbacks are inevitable next year if rain and snow don't fall abundantly this winter, and the dueling announcements by Schwarzenegger and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) kick off what are expected to be several months of wrangling to shape ballot proposals.

The call for more spending comes as lawmakers and bureaucrats weigh how to spend $10 billion from previous water bonds.

Standing before a wind-swept, largely depleted Central Valley reservoir, Schwarzenegger said a second dry winter "will be catastrophic. It will be a disaster."

"We must get our act together now," he said. "We have to build."

The governor touted his $6-billion plan to build two reservoirs and boost groundwater storage, rework the plumbing of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, restore rivers and bolster conservation.
more from the LA Times

Monday, July 16, 2007

More rain, chance of flooding, in the forecast

Possible flooding from rain in the early morning hours could make for a soggy Monday morning commute, the National Weather Service said Sunday night.
The Weather Service issued a flood watch for Sunday night and early Monday. Meteorologist Robert Ricks said a weekend of rain, and the resulting saturated ground, contributed to the possibility of flooding.

Thunderstorms were expected to develop west of Interstate 55 and Tangipahoa Parish Sunday night, and move east into the north shore and New Orleans metropolitan area in the early morning hours.
Ricks said the storms would be likely to produce 1 to 2 inches of rain, but in some areas the rain could amount to as much as 4 inches.
The flood watch, which will be in effect in the metro area through Monday afternoon, means there's a possibility of ponding from rain in low-lying and poorly drained areas. Some small creeks and streams may swell to flood levels, and roadside ditches can fill quickly; however, most larger rivers are currently well below flood stages, the Weather Service said.
If heavy rains develop, there will be potential for flash flooding, the Weather Service said, adding that residents should monitor the forecasts and be alert for warnings.
more from the Times Picayune

Tainted shoreline, tepid response

Ten years after discovering seriously contaminated sediment along the Columbia in Vancouver, the polluter and the state have yet to begin cleanup

Acarcinogenic pollutant dumped by an aluminum smelter has tainted a stretch of Columbia River shoreline in Vancouver for at least a decade.

The polluter - Alcoa - knows it.

So does the state Department of Ecology.

Nevertheless, 10 years after the pollution was identified, not one shovelful of polluted sediment has been removed. And cleanup is still years away.

Meanwhile, there's a good chance that people have been eating tiny clams growing in a toxic stew of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Researchers happened across the PCB-tainted clams near the old Alcoa smelter, which closed seven years ago, as part of a larger study involving a common Asian bivalve.

What they found was startling enough to prompt a public health advisory.

The level of pollution in the tissue of clams living in the Columbia shoreline near Alcoa is higher than any discovered in a similar study in the notoriously polluted Portland Harbor - a federal Superfund cleanup site also laden with PCBs.

A decade of bureaucratic paper-shuffling and corporate foot-dragging delayed what should have been a straight-forward cleanup. The case belies the ambitious goal of reducing toxic pollution in the Columbia River, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year named a national priority.

"It is difficult to understand why, 10 years later, it hasn't been dealt with," said Brent Foster, director of the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper.
more from The Columbian

Algae blooms on reservoir providing drinking water

BEIJING -- A city in northeastern China has been forced to take emergency measures to deal with an outbreak of blue-green algae in a reservoir that provides water to the city, Chinese media reported Monday.

The algae outbreak in Changchun comes after similar problems in lakes in other parts of China.

But while appearances of blue-green algae in Lake Tai in eastern China and Dianchi Lake in southwestern China "were mainly attributed to pollutants from chemical factories," the problems in Changchun were the result of farm fertilizer, Xinhua News Agency said.

Blue-green algae, a plant-like organism, blooms when nutrients, sometimes caused by excessive pollution, build up in water. Some algae can produce dangerous toxins and if ingested can cause vomiting, respiratory failure and, on rare occasions, death.

Xinhua said the algae began to appear in Xinlicheng reservoir, one of Changchun's major water sources, last week.

The city government is using active carbon and chlorine to clear the water, and has dispatched workers to clean out the algae, it said.

Changchun has a population of more than 7 million, with 2.7 million living in the downtown area.

The outbreak of algae in Lake Tai forced 5 million residents of the eastern lakeside city of Wuxi to drink and bathe with bottled water.
more from China Daily

Conservative Pennsylvanians Pass ‘Radical' Laws Defying U.S. Constitution

Nearly 220 years after America's Constitution was drafted in Pennsylvania, scores of rural Keystone State communities are declaring the document null and void.

More than 100 largely Republican municipalities have passed laws to abolish the constitutional rights of corporations, inventing what some critics are calling a "radical" new kind of environmental activism. Led by the nonprofit Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, they are attempting to jumpstart a national movement, with Celdf chapters in at least 23 states actively promoting an agenda of "disobedient lawmaking."

"I understand that state law and federal law is supposed to pre-empt local laws, but federal law tells us we're supposed to have clean air and clean water," the mayor of Tamaqua, Pa., Christian Morrison, told The New York Sun.

More than a year ago, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Corporation stirred an uproar in Mr. Morrison's eastern Schuylkill County borough with a proposal to use a large strip mine as a disposal site for material dredged up from the Hudson and Delaware rivers.

But in May, the mayor, 37, cast a tie-breaking council vote to enact an ordinance that bans corporate waste dumping — making his the first community in America to do so — and abolishes all corporate rights within his borough.

"The state and federal environmental protection agencies … support the big corporations, and they really don't look after the safety of the people that I represent," Mr. Morrison told the Sun. Representatives at Lehigh Coal and Navigation did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
more from the New York Sun

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Yes, the Water's Warm . . . Too Warm

The reef looked small from the boat, but once I plunged into the Caribbean I found myself gazing at what looked like a vast and intricate community, which was oddly dead and alive at the same time. In one section of Glover's Reef, which surrounds an atoll 55 miles off the coast of Belize, delicate spiny corals jutted out fiercely, surrounded by vibrant green and silver fish; in other places, only ghostly white corals remained, a testament to how warmer water temperatures had wreaked ha-voc deep beneath the sea.

When people think of habitats collapsing from rising global temperatures, they tend to think of frigid climes where polar bears have been frolicking on snow and ice for centuries. Think again. Coral reefs rank as one of the ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change: Recent scientific studies suggest global warming has already destroyed 20 percent of the world's reefs, and an additional 50 percent are in danger of disappearing.

Two aspects of global warming -- hotter and more acidic oceans -- threaten corals the most. In seven tropical regions where most coral reefs occur, waters have warmed between 1.3 and 3 degrees in the past century. Though that might not seem like much, a seawater temperature rise of 1.8 to 3.6 degrees above the summer maximum can trigger bleaching on many reefs. When bleaching occurs, the single-celled algae that live in symbiosis with a coral are expelled, and if the coral does not take up other algae within a certain period of time, it dies. Scientists call this bleaching because the living tissue of a coral is white; if the algae leaves, the coral loses its color because it no longer has a living creature inside. At that point the white limestone skeleton shows through.

At the same time that seawater temperatures are on the rise, absorption of human-generated carbon emissions has altered the oceans' pH level, making it more difficult for reefs and other marine organisms to construct their calcium skeletons.

more from the Washington Post