Report: Delaware River ranks fifth in U.S. in legal dumping

April 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Water Quality

More toxins are dumped into the Delaware River annually than all but four other U.S. waterways, according to a report released by an environmental group that wants tighter controls on water pollution.

The report, “Wasting Our Waterways,” compiled by Environment America, calls the Clean Water Act an “unfulfilled promise” in the 40th year of the federal law that requires a permit to discharge pollutants into navigable water.


The U.S. waterways with the most permitted toxic discharge in 2010, according industry reports to the EPA:

1. Ohio River 32.1*

2. Mississippi River 12.7

3. New River 12.5

4. Savannah River 9.6

5. Delaware River 6.7

States with the most toxins discharged into waterways:

1. Indiana 27.3

2. Virginia 18.3

3. Nebraska 14.7

4. Texas 14.5

7. Pennsylvania 10.1

12. New Jersey 8.5

* millions of pounds

Source: Environment America

It cites data submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and says 10.1 million pounds of toxins were dumped into Pennsylvania waterways in 2010, ranking that state seventh. In New Jersey, 8.5 million pounds of toxins were discharged into its waterways, the 12th most of any state.

Those figures include 6.7 million pounds of toxins dumped into the Delaware River, which trailed only four other U.S. waterways.

“The problem is that government agencies allow these discharges to continue by issuing permits to pollute, a perverse interpretation of the Clean Water Act,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “This has to stop if we want to provide a healthy, economically sound Delaware River for everyone.”

The data were reported to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory by industries that are permitted to discharge the toxins.

John Martin, a spokesman for EPA Region 2, which includes New Jersey, said the agency is pleased organizations are using the data “to make industries more transparent and to give citizens groups ” more information.

“We do a lot of enforcement in regard to ” tougher permitting,” Martin said. “We’re always looking to make sure that the waters of the U.S. remain clean and protect human health.”

Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said the department is skeptical of the numbers because the report doesn’t say when and how the pollutants were counted.

He said the department “works every day to ensure that companies are in compliance within the rules of their discharge permits, and it takes appropriate enforcement actions when they are not.”

But the Riverkeeper Network and New Jersey Environment, the Garden State chapter of the group that did the study, want tougher standards. They’re calling for industries to reduce their discharges, for the Clean Water Act to apply to all waterways and the EPA to set pollution limits that would get stricter over time with stiff penalties.

The report says 226 million pounds of toxins were discharged into 1,400 U.S. waterways in 2010.

Online beach alert system wins award

April 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Water Quality

An innovative online project which provides real-time alerts on the cleanliness of Westcountry beaches has won a national award.

Beach Live was launched by South West Water last summer to provide live bathing water information about 21 popular or Blue Flag beaches across Devon and Cornwall.

It was developed by South West Water in partnership with Surfers Against Sewage, the Environment Agency, local authorities, tourism leaders and beach managers.

The website, which was named community project of the year at the annual Water Industry Achievement Awards, is set to be expanded to 40 beaches this summer.

South West Water chief executive Chris Loughlin said: “This is fantastic news and we are very proud that this key project has been acknowledged in this way.

“Sustainability, the environment and working in partnership and with our local communities is at the heart of what we do here so it is great to be recognised for our work in these areas. These awards are a testament to the hard work of our staff and all our partners.”

Cornwall Council portfolio holder for community safety and public protection Lance Kennedy said greater communication helped to “maintain confidence in the quality of Cornwall’s seas and beaches for residents and visitors alike”.

He said: “We already know we have some of the consistently best bathing water quality in Europe but we can’t just take that for granted. We have to show others that fact and demonstrate what is going on to keep it that way.”

Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, added: “Beach Live is an exciting service which gives our visitors information they can use. It’s live information that adds to our world class beach management and our competitiveness.”

EPA Must Clean Up Its (Water) Act

April 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Your editorial “Supremes 9, EPA 0” (March 22) concluding that it is time for Congress to amend the Clean Water Act (CWA) was on target. This agency has lost its way particularly as it relates to administering the CWA. The EPA’s misguided policies are not limited to the private sector but hurt the public sector as well. Its unilateral and unbridled aggression to impose unfunded mandates based on interpretation of the CWA is having profound consequences on local governments.

The CWA has had a remarkable impact on improving the quality of all U.S. waters. During the first two decades of the act, the EPA partnered with state and local governments to improve water quality. Through this partnership, projects were based on cost sharing, cost benefit, good science and prioritization.

That sense of partnership has been lost. The new EPA is indifferent to the cost of compliance because it no longer has a monetary stake in its mandates and chooses whatever it deems as acceptable science to justify its decisions. Without a monetary stake, the EPA imposes unfunded mandates with impunity on local governments. The process for challenging its edicts is severely skewed in the agency’s favor to the extent that few communities choose to appeal its orders.

We need to preserve our aquatic resources and use validated science to guide how and where to spend the public’s money effectively. It is time to declare a moratorium on new CWA regulations or interpretations that will add to the burden of local government. The EPA must return to administering the CWA in a way that is sustainable and reasonable.

Robert L. Moylan Jr., P.E.


Massachusetts Coalition for Water Resources Stewardship

Worcester, Mass.

A version of this article appeared April 7, 2012, on page A14 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: EPA Must Clean Up Its (Water) Act.

Pollution Playing A Major Role In Sea Temperatures

April 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Global Warming

The Atlantic Ocean, especially the North Atlantic, is peculiar: Every few decades, the average temperature of surface water there changes dramatically.

Scientists want to know why that is, especially because these temperature shifts affect the weather. New research suggests that human activity is part of the cause.

Scientists originally thought that maybe some mysterious pattern in deep-ocean currents, such as an invisible hand stirring a giant bathtub, created this temperature see-saw.

And that may be part of it. But there’s a new idea: The cause isn’t in the water; it’s above it — a kind of air pollution called aerosols.

NASA Earth Observations

This NASA map shows the size of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Green areas indicate larger, more naturally occurring particles like dust. Red areas indicate smaller aerosol particles, which can come from fossil fuels and fires. Yellow areas indicate a mix of large and small particles.

Click to see a high-resolution version of this image

Ben Booth, a climate scientist at Britain’s Met Office Hadley Center, says that aerosols create clouds.

“The more aerosols you have, the more places there are for water vapor to condense,” he says. “And so what aerosols do is they cool.”

They cool the ocean because clouds reflect sunlight back into space before it can hit the ocean.

Aerosols are fine particles like soot or sulfur compounds, mostly from burning fuel. They seed a kind of cloud that’s especially good at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Even on their own, without clouds, these aerosols act like sunblock.

Volcanoes create aerosols, too, but air pollution appears to produce more, and then the aerosols sweep across the Atlantic sky.

Booth has calculated their effect on sea surface temperature swings.

“If you combine the role of volcanic activity and the human emissions of aerosols, we account for 76 percent of the total variation in sea surface temperature in our study,” Booth says. That’s a huge amount.

Booth and his colleagues aren’t the first to propose that aerosols influence sea surface temperatures. But climate scientist Amato Evan at the University of Virginia says they’ve done the most thorough job to date of tracking and confirming those changes.

“If they’re right, human activity has a huge influence on just so many climate processes around the Atlantic Ocean,” he says.

Surface temperatures around the Atlantic influence the amount and timing of rainfall in West Africa and the Amazon in South America, and whether there’s drought there. They affect the number and strength of Atlantic hurricanes and even where hurricanes go.

That’s if, as Evan says, Booth and his team are right.

Booth used computer models to analyze a very complicated process — the interaction of ocean and atmosphere over many decades. The models’ predictions didn’t match all the changes people have actually observed in the Atlantic.

Evan says scientists need more hard evidence to nail down exactly how aerosols affect oceans, but he’s observed a similar process going on in the Indian Ocean.

“The same type of release of pollution aerosols coming from the Indian subcontinent is actually changing the monsoon,” he says, referring to the pattern of rainy and dry weather in the Indian Ocean.

The new research appears in the journal Nature. If it’s confirmed, it could foretell a warmer Atlantic, because the aerosol pollution has apparently cooled the Atlantic some. But new pollution controls are reducing the amount of those aerosols — that’s good for public health, but it also means the ocean loses its sunblock.