Plastic in Birds’ Stomachs Reveals Ocean’s Garbage Problem

July 4, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Water Quality

A pair of Northern fulmars in early May at their nest site at Cape Vera, Devon Island, Nunavut. The gull-like birds tend to breed in high-Arctic Canada and on islands in the Bering Sea. CREDIT: Mark Mallory.

Plastic found in the stomachs of dead seabirds suggests the Pacific Ocean off the northwest coast of North America is more polluted than was realized.

The birds, called northern fulmars, feed exclusively at sea. Plastic remains in their stomachs for long periods. Researchers have for several decades examined stomach contents of fulmars, and in new study they tallied the plastic products in dead fulmars that had washed up on the coasts of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, Canada.

The research revealed a “substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past four decades,” the researchers said in a statement.

“Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans,” said Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in University of British Columbia’s Department of Zoology. “Their stomach content provides a ’snapshot’ sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean.”

Plastic products deteriorate slowly and several studies in recent years have shown vast amounts plastic and other trash in the Pacific Ocean. The garbage can be harmful to the entire ecosystem, scientists say.

The new study found that more than 90 percent of 67 fulmars had ingested plastics such as twine, Styrofoam and candy wrappers. An average of 36.8 pieces of plastic were found per bird. On average, the fraction of a gram in each bird would equate to a human packing 10 quarters in his stomach, the scientists figure. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, globally, up to 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from eating plastic. [Video of plastic-entangled sea lions]

“Despite the close proximity of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch,’ an area of concentrated plastic pollution in the middle of the North Pacific gyre, plastic pollution has not been considered an issue of concern off our coast,” Avery-Gomm said in a statement. “But we’ve found similar amounts and incident rates of plastic in beached northern fulmars here as those in the North Sea. This indicates it is an issue which warrants further study.”

The findings, announced this week, are detailed online in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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Article source: http://www.livescience.com/21391-ocean-plastic-pollution.html

Pollution Playing A Major Role In Sea Temperatures

April 4, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Featured, 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.

Article source: http://www.npr.org/2012/04/04/150005074/pollution-playing-a-major-role-in-sea-temperatures

4 companies fined $1 million for ship pollution

August 9, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Dumping

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A whistleblower’s complaint about a cargo ship dumping waste in the ocean led Thursday to a $1 million fine levied against four companies that own and operate a fleet of vessels that regularly call on New Orleans.

The conglomerate also was banned by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier from operating in the United States for up to five years.

In April, Stanships Inc. of the Marshall Islands, Stanships Inc. of New York, Standard Shipping Inc. and Calmore Maritime Ltd., pleaded guilty to 32 felony counts of violating ship safety and pollution standards, along with obstruction of justice.

A whistleblower aboard the M/V Americana — part of the conglomerate’s fleet — told the Coast Guard last November that the ship was dumping sludge and oily waste through the use of a pipe to bypass required pollution equipment. Prosecutors said the whistleblower provided cell phone pictures of the device being used at sea.

The ship’s owners also were accused of falsifying a record book to hide the illegal discharges.

An ensuing investigation also resulted in the owners being accused of violating safety standards for trying to conceal the failure of the ship’s generators. According to prosecutors, the ship arrived at the Southwest Pass — a major entry point to the Mississippi River — after losing power for several days at sea. A manager ordered the ship’s captain to falsely tell the Coast Guard that the ship had two operating generators. The master eventually ordered tugboats to guide the ship into port.

According to court records, Stanships Inc. of the Marshall Islands, was a repeat offender, committing new violations after it was fined $700,000 for illegal discharges and falsifying records with another ship on Sept. 29.

On April 27, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan revoked the company’s probation and banned the company’s ships from further trade in the United States.

Barbier ordered $250,000 of the latest fine to go to projects benefiting fish resources.

Article source: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/4-companies-fined-1-million-apf-1974536903.html?x=0&.v=1

Marine pollution problem for China

June 20, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Dumping

BEIJING, June 20 (UPI) — Explosive economic growth in China’s coastal regions has led to levels of ocean pollution that threaten human and marine life, a government report concluded.

The State Oceanic Administration of China says 18,000 square miles of Chinese coastal oceanic territory is seriously polluted, an increase of 7,000 square miles from last year, Inter Press Service reported Monday.

As expanding coastal centers dispose of a growing amount of industrial and domestic waste at sea, about 56,000 square miles of the country’s coastal waters failed to meet standards for “clear water” in 2009, the SOA reported.

Overall, 14 of the 18 ecological zones monitored by the SOA were found to have unhealthy levels of pollution. SOA’s 2010 China Marine Environment Bulletin reported that 86 percent of China’s estuaries, bays, wetlands, coral reefs and seaweed beds were below what the agency considers “healthy.”

Government officials acknowledge much remains to be done in tackling the problem of ocean pollution.

“Our environmental quality is only improving in certain areas, but overall the environment is still deteriorating,” Vice Minister of Environmental Protection Zhang Lijun said.

Article source: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2011/06/20/Marine-pollution-problem-for-China/UPI-42411308614779/?spt=hs&or=tn

Clean Water Act suit to proceed against Seward coal facility

January 21, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Dumping

A Clean Water Act lawsuit alleging violations by the Seward Coal Loading Facility was allowed to go forward Jan. 10 by federal district Judge Timothy Burgess.

The coal facility, jointly operated by Alaska Railroad Corp. and Usibelli coal mine subsidiary Aurora Energy Services, has been a sore spot for Seward residents who say the coal dust from operations creates both a nuisance and a public health hazard.

Alaska Railroad Corp. and Aurora Energy Services were denied their bid for dismissal by Burgess.

The lawsuit, filed last January by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the Sierra Club, Alaska Center for the Environment and Alaska Community Action on Toxins, alleges that a conveyor system delivering coal to export vessels allows coal to fall directly into Resurrection Bay along the length of the conveyor system to the loading facility, as well as from the belt after it loops back underneath itself.

Trustees for Alaska said coal dust from the stockpiles, railcar dumping facility, stacker/reclaimer, ship loader and the conveyor systems fall into Resurrection Bay. There are also concerns over Aurora Energy plowing snow that is allegedly contaminated with coal dust, as well as storm water that flows directly into Resurrection Bay.

The coal dust also blows off the facility’s two massive coal stockpiles into the bay, covering nearby fishing charter boats, other vessels and nearby neighborhoods with dust and debris.

“We are pleased that the Court will allow the case to move forward and address the pollution problems at the coal facility in Seward,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Brian Litmans in a statement. “The facility is unable to contain the coal dust and keep coal from going into Resurrection Bay, which violates the law and is an ongoing nuisance and health issue.”

The statement from the consortium of plaintiffs also stated Seward was covered with coal dust both on Dec. 10 and Dec. 22.

Last July, the railroad and Aurora reached a joint compliance order with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to pay a $220,000 fine, with most of that money going toward the cost of dust mitigation measures.

Three supplemental environmental projects ordered by DEC were completed on schedule in 2010 and include the installation of additional dust suppression equipment including spray bards, high-pressure spray nozzles and a sealed chute and fogging system on the stacker/reclaimer.

According to Alaska Railroad Corp. vice president for corporate affairs Wendy Lindskoog, another $540,000 in capital expenditures are planned for 2011 regarding dust suppression projects.

Lindskoog said it is company policy to not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Seward coal loading facility, which is located on land owned by the Alaska Railroad, was originally built in 1984 as an economic development project to sell coal to world markets.

Suneel Alaska Corp., the purchaser of the coal for the Korean domestic market, negotiated with the state for construction of the coal dock and a loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities built the dock and Suneel installed the conveyor and loading systems.

Railroad officials said their participation was limited to leasing waterfront property for the facility and transporting the coal from Healy to Seward under a contract with Suneel.

Suneel and its successor, Hyundai Merchant Marine, continued to purchase coal and operate the facility through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, with AIDEA becoming a co-owner of the facility in 1995.

Hyundai remained the lessee on the property and operated the facility until January 2007, when the railroad entered into an operating agreement with Aurora Energy Services.

Since then, railroad officials said, the Alaska Railroad and Aurora Energy Services have spent more than $1 million on safety, operational and environmental improvements, including significant environmental upgrades to deal with coal dust.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at andrew.jensen@alaskajournal.com.

Article source: http://www.alaskajournal.com/stories/012111/oil_cwasp.shtml

Lipinski Helps Lead Bipartisan Effort to Protect the Great Lakes

January 21, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Dumping

The following information was released by the office of Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski:

In a bipartisan effort to protect Lake Michigan, Congressman Dan Lipinski and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk were joined today by Sen. Dick Durbin and Congressman Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) to announce they will introduce legislation that will increase fines for dumping sewage into the Great Lakes. Congressman Lipinski has worked with Sen. Kirk on similar legislation over the last two Congresses.

“After working on this legislation over the past two Congresses, I believe we’ve assembled a strong, bipartisan core of support that will enable us to see it signed into law,” Lipinski said at a press conference at the Shedd Aquarium. “The Great Lakes are our region’s most precious natural resource, providing drinking water for 30 million people, unmatched recreational opportunities, and a livelihood for many. Yet each year brings news of more beach closings and swimming bans. We can’t allow the dumping of billions of gallons of raw sewage into the same waters that we use for drinking, swimming, boating and fishing. We need to deter polluters while investing in projects that improve water quality, and this bill accomplishes that.”

The Great Lakes Water Protection Act would more than double fines for sewage dumping to $100,000 a day per violation and make it harder for offenders to avoid fines. Money collected from fines would flow to a Great Lakes Clean-Up Fund created by the legislation to generate financial resources for the Great Lakes states to improve wastewater treatment options, habitat protection, and wastewater treatment systems.

“By joining forces on this important piece of legislation, we believe we can keep our Great Lakes-the crown jewel of the Midwest - clean and safe,” Sen. Kirk said. “Not only does Lake Michigan provide millions of us with our drinking water, it is a vital economic engine to the entire region.”

“Our duty to future generations of Illinoisans is to protect the environment in which we live,” Rep. Dold said. “There is much we can do right here at home by protecting Lake Michigan and its ecosystem. I’m proud to join with Congressman Lipinski and Senators Kirk and Durbin to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure our Great Lakes remain the crown jewel of the Midwest.”

Great Lakes beaches had over 3,000 days worth of closings and advisories last year, and Illinois beaches had warnings or closings 10 percent of the time. Chicago has taken many steps to limit sewer overflow, including such projects as the Deep Tunnel. Other cities dump directly into the Great Lakes. Detroit traditionally has been one of the worst offenders, dumping an estimated 13 billion gallons of sewage into the Great Lakes annually, figures show.

“On Monday, I invited Rep. Dold to cross the aisle and sit with me during the State of the Union next week, and he readily agreed,” Congressman Lipinski said. “That same spirit of unity and bipartisanship is what brought us all together to work on this bill. The American people want to see partisan bickering replaced with productive debate and problem-solving. Democrats and Republicans will always have their differences, but we must find ways to work together for the good of the country. This bill shows that bipartisan cooperation on substantive issues is very much possible.”

(January 21, 2011)

###

Article source: http://www.waterworld.com/index/display/news_display/1344233772.html

Devices to monitor lake water quality

January 21, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Dumping

BANGALORE: In its efforts to check the deteriorating quality of water in the lakes across the city due to indiscriminate dumping of waste and discharge of sewerage into the catchment areas, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) is exploring the possibility of installing programmed devices to monitor the water quality in the lakes round the clock.

At present, the KSPCB is testing the accuracy of the devices offered by a private agency in Ulsoor lake, Sankey Tank and Bellandur Lake. According to the sources the cost of each device is expected to vary from `515 lakh according to the parameters that the device is expected to monitor. At present, the devices installed are monitoring the temperature, pH value, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved solids and turbidity. According to the readings obtained from these devices the water quality is acceptable in Ulsoor Lake and Sankey Tank and bad in Bellandur lake.

The KSPCB Member Secretary M S Gouder said, “We are also thinking of testing these devices for more parameters like E.coli [bacteria] and heavy metals. After the accuracy of these devices are proved, we will consider them in the lakes and coordinate with the other governmental agencies to maintain them in good condition as these devices will help us understand if anything is going wrong.”

According to Gouder these devices will be useful in monitoring the water quality automatically round the clock in the newly rejuvenated lakes as most of them are situated in the outskirts or the newlyadded areas of the city. They are also expected to help the concerned authorities to prevent the flow of sewerage or dumping of waste into the lakes by alerting them when the quality of water starts deteriorating.

Programmed sensors are inserted into the lakes and each sensor monitors a particular parameter and transmits the data to the centralised server every fifteen minutes. The data is later processed and updated on the website and transmitted to the concerned officials periodically.

Article source: http://expressbuzz.com/cities/bangalore/devices-to-monitor-lake-water-quality/241452.html

Oregon poised to adopt the strictest standard for toxic water pollution in the US

January 6, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Water Quality

Published: Thursday, January 06, 2011, 7:53 PM Updated: Thursday, January 06, 2011, 9:43 PM

Scott Learn, The Oregonian


By

Scott Learn, The Oregonian

Salmon Standoff
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Tribes have pushed for decades for stricter pollution rules, and Oregon is poised to implement the stricted standard for toxic water pollution in the United States.

Oregon is poised to adopt the strictest standard for toxic water pollution in the United States, driven by concerns about tribal members and others who eat large amounts of contaminated fish.

The Department of Environmental Quality proposed the new standard Thursday, nearly two decades after concerns about contamination in fish prompted studies that showed tribal members along the Columbia River eat far more fish than the general population.

The new rule, scheduled for approval in June, would dramatically tighten human health criteria for a host of pollutants, including mercury, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins, plasticizers and pesticides.

Industry and cities worry about the costs of complying with the new rules and controlling pollution, likely to run in the millions.

“There are potentially a lot of manufacturing jobs being put at risk,” said John Ledger, an Associated Oregon Industries vice president. “It could put (businesses) in a terrible position, where they can’t locate here or expand.”

Environmental groups say the change is long overdue, but exceptions built into the proposed rules and a lack of focus on pollution from farms, timberlands and urban stormwater mean they might not reduce pollution significantly.

“We can change standards on paper, but how it plays out on the ground and whether we’re really ratcheting down pollution is what matters,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper’s executive director.

The proposal presses some big hot buttons: regulating industry in a down economy; DEQ’s authority over farms and forests; protecting tribal members who have seen their health compromised and their traditional diet degraded by pollution.

Oregon’s current water quality standard is built on an assumption that people eat 17.5 grams of fish a day, about a cracker’s worth. The proposed standard boosts that to 175 grams a day, just shy of an 8-ounce meal.

That could boost cost for industry such as paper mills and for sewage treatment plants, increasing rates.

It could also lower the health risks for those who eat a lot of local fish — an estimated 100,000 Oregonians, including 20,000 children, according to a committee set up to consider the health effects of the new standard.

Two years ago, sewage treatment and business groups predicted millions in costs for industry and potentially billions for sewage treatment plants if they had to install state-of-the-art treatment systems.

A more recent study commissioned by DEQ came up with much lower estimates, about $400,000 a year in incremental compliance costs statewide. DEQ officials say they’ve built in a variance to make sure polluters can cut releases over time at a reasonable cost.

Measures could include public education campaigns, implementing “best management practices” to reduce pollution and pursuing sewer users who put pollution into sewer systems.

Janet Gillaspie, executive director of the Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies, said she thinks DEQ has underestimated the impact of the changes, including the costs and paperwork necessary to comply with the new rule.

Kathryn VanNatta, governmental affairs manager for the Northwest Pulp and Paper Association, said variances are likely to be hard to get: “Oregon has never issued a variance,” she said, “and this proposal does not make a variance any easier.”

The variance provision could also be modified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has to approve the new standard, or challenged in court, business advocates warn.

Environmental groups, including some that have filed lawsuits over implementation of the federal Clean Water Act in Oregon, say the proposal doesn’t go far enough.

Variances and other exemptions could water down the rules to the point “there may not be much there,” said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates.

The proposal is out for public comment through Feb. 18, with seven hearings scheduled statewide Feb. 1-10. Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission is scheduled to approve a final standard in June.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation led the move for a tougher standard. Carl Merkle, acting manager of the tribes’ environmental rights and protection program, said he’s still evaluating the draft.

“We don’t want to see exceptions swallowing up the rule,” Merkle said. “But we also understand that, for some dischargers, meeting these heightened standards is not going to happen overnight.”

– Scott Learn

Article source: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2011/01/oregon_poised_to_adopt_the_str.html

Squaxin Island Tribe Further Testing Mushrooms as Water Quality Solution

January 5, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Water Quality

Targeted News Service

January 5, 2011

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission issued the following news release:

Mushrooms might help treat one of the most widespread causes of water pollution — fecal bacteria from human and livestock waste in stormwater runoff. And if it works, the system can be used to protect the rich shellfish heritage of Puget Sound.

The Squaxin Island Tribe is teaming up with Mason Conservation District and Fungi Perfecti to test how well the vegetative growth (mycelia) of fungi filters fecal coliform bacteria out of running water.

“Several field studies have demonstrated that mushroom mycelia can capture and remove bacteria in running water,” said John Konovsky, environmental program manager for the Squaxin Island Tribe. “The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe worked with Battelle Labratories on a large treatment system and found that fungi mycelia can reduce bacteria concentrations. We’re trying to figure out just how well it works on a smaller scale.”

The tribe will put polluted water at Mason County’s Allyn wastewater treatment plant through a series of tests, and track how well the water cleans up over time. If the mushroom technique works on this small scale, it might become a very cost-effective method for removing fecal coliform from running water.

The theory is that mycelia act as biological filters. As they grow, they capture and consume bacteria from contaminated water eliminating them from the environment.

Polluted upland runoff washing into Puget Sound each winter is a common cause for closing shellfish harvest. “Shellfish growers fear this yearly cycle of pollution,” Konovsky said. “We need innovative and cost effective solutions to solve the problem.”

“Our benchmark for cleaning up Puget Sound is whether we can eat its shellfish and harvest healthy populations of salmon,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe. “Mushrooms might be able to help us do that. They could be another valuable weapon in our fight to clean up Puget Sound.

Copyright Targeted News Services

TNS rd43-JF78 110106-3173885 StaffFurigay

Article source: http://www.waterworld.com/index/display/news_display/1334593686.html

Water quality, coal jobs at issue in mountains

January 3, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Water Quality

HUEYSVILLE Every Sunday, Rick Handshoe strolls from his mobile home across the two-lane paved highway, down the hill to Raccoon Creek, which is sometimes orange, sometimes silty, sometimes clear.

He notes whether any frogs or crawdads can be found, dead or alive, and he notes how much water is flowing from the pond built at the head of the Floyd County creek by a coal company about five years ago.

Handshoe has been watching his creek ebb and flow, die and come alive and die again, as the cycle of blasting, mining and reclamation has continued on land surrounding his retirement home. Until a year ago, his observations were just that; he couldn’t afford to send periodic water samples away to a laboratory to find out what minerals were leeching into his creek.

But for the past year, Handshoe has been armed with a new weapon: a conductivity meter given to him by the Sierra Club.

The small beige instrument, which looks like an oversized digital thermometer, measures the amount of dissolved minerals and ions by sending an electrical current through the water. It is cheap, compared to lab testing, and it can be used over and over.

And Handshoe has been using it every Sunday for a year, measuring the microSiemens of electricity passing through his water at 500, 600, 1,200, 1,600, and marking them on a calendar.

Since April, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued guidance that suggested that the target specific conductivity for Appalachian streams like Raccoon Creek should be 200 or less and began objecting to state-issued mine permits, Handshoe’s handheld meter has become a symbol of the Kentucky coal industry’s biggest environmental headache.

Since the guidance, two Kentucky mine operators have been issued an Army Corps of Engineers water-pollution permit. Both companies rejected the permits and are appealing their conditions. It’s taking 18 months or more to receive mine permits when 10 years ago, the worst case was six months, operators say.

A conductivity meter won’t tell you what’s in the water, just that there’s stuff in it.

Coal industry advocates say that’s the problem. They perform extensive tests and report monthly averages to the state over the life of their permits. They know how much manganese, iron and other minerals they’re discharging. They know how alkaline their water is, and they adjust additives every month to try to keep the water pollution within permitted levels.

But they say the conductivity benchmark of 200 to 500 microSiemens is impossible to meet by a coal mine or any other industry. Even runoff from building a house or salting a road in winter can raise the conductivity of nearby streams.

“I would like to think that you’ve got more than a guy rolling around with a handheld conductivity meter calling that real science,” said Paul Jackson of Perry County Coal, a subsidiary of TECO Coal.

Handshoe recognizes the strangeness of the situation.

He says he’s not pretending to know anything about water chemistry and biology, but he is learning. He has a GED and retired with disability after a back injury from the Kentucky State Police as a radio technician. He worked on transmission towers.

Handshoe says his goal is simply to know what’s in Raccoon Creek’s water, and he hopes to use that information to make sure it is safe and healthy for his neighbor’s kids to play in and for fish to swim in.

Environmental scientists consider conductivity measurements “a good first-cut test” to determine where to spend money on more expensive testing, said Rick Clewett, political director for the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Industry representatives say their regulators haven’t provided any options short of shutting down mines to solve the conductivity problem.

Conductivity is an important measure when it applies to the right kind of shallow, intermittent or headwater stream common in Appalachia, said Kentucky Environmental Protection Commissioner Bruce Scott. But it must be taken in context of other measures.

Jackson, of Perry County Coal, said streams are in better shape than they were years ago.

“I’ve seen streams clear up. I fish constantly, year-round, and I know there’s no significant impact to what we’re doing. I defy some of these people to say that streams aren’t better than what they were” decades ago before so-called “shoot-and-shove” mining was stopped, Jackson said.

Coal executives have taken to testing city tap water in Hazard (855 microSiemens on a dry November day), bottled drinking water (350 microSiemens), even Budweiser (1,250 microSiemens), to show that conductivity on its own isn’t a good measure of the ability of liquids to support life.

They say the EPA, in holding up permits based largely on data from what’s called the Pond-Passmore study of mayflies, is choosing one insect over the jobs of hundreds or thousands of Eastern Kentucky mine workers. The study found that conductivity of water in a particular kind of headwater stream in West Virginia correlated with the presence of certain species of mayflies that are low on the food chain and generally considered indicators of overall stream health.

“The argument was very broad” initially, said Gene Kitts, vice president of operations for ICG, Kentucky’s largest surface-mine coal producer. “They finally narrowed it down to an argument that they apparently thought had a chance of sticking, which was conductivity and its alleged effects on stream quality.

“They seemed to emphasize that any change to the stream itself is impairment.”

West Virginia and Kentucky, along with the National Mining Association, the Kentucky Coal Association and others, have sued the EPA over permits that it allowed one day and objected to the next, after the conductivity benchmark was issued.

If the conductivity benchmark continues to hold up mining permits, TECO Coal, a Florida power company subsidiary, will have to start laying off workers within a year, said Bob Zik, vice president of operations for TECO Coal.

“It’s not going to go boom,” he said. “As people run out of permits, it’s going to slowly start decreasing.”

Because of uncertainty of regulations, companies aren’t investing the capital in machines and equipment to maintain production and hiring levels that they’ve had over the past few years, Zik said.

Black Mountain Resources, bought this year by Massey Energy of Virginia, is waiting for a revision to a permit governing its Harlan County processing plant, which serves the company’s underground coal mines.

If it is required to stop working because it can’t meet conductivity benchmarks, said vice president of operations Ross Kegan, stoppages could affect the entire company in five to six years.

ICG has withdrawn two Eastern Kentucky permit applications that the EPA commented on, Kitts said. A third, in southern West Virginia, has been resubmitted in an attempt to comply with EPA directives, and a fourth, a modification of an existing fill in Knott County, Ky., is still in process, he said.

“We have had situations where we have cut back on production, laid people off and idled equipment due to delays” in getting Army Corps of Engineers pollution permits that have been delayed by the EPA, Kitts said. “We have changed mining plans, scaled back plans to a certain extent, to work around the permitting situation.”

Mines can sometimes use existing permitted fills to accept spoil from newly mined areas, he said.

Two Kentucky companies have been offered Army Corps of Engineers water impact permits since the April conductivity guidelines, but the companies have not accepted them.

The two companies, Czar Coal Corp. and Sapphire Mining, a subsidiary of United Coal, did not return phone calls seeking comment, but Army Corps of Engineers regulator Lee Ann Devine said the companies are appealing the permit requirements partly based on issues surrounding conductivity. It’s not that the permit requirements can’t be met, Devine said, but that the companies think that achieving the requirements isn’t economically feasible.

Research, by the University of Kentucky and others, shows promising results in reducing the conductivity of runoff from rebuilt surface mines. Using “weeping berms” that allow waters to seep through loose soil instead of spilling out of a sediment holding pond, for example, shows promise, said Scott, the state environmental protection commissioner. The problem is that permits must be approved before such methods can be tested in the real world, he said.

Many permits last for a given number of years and then must be renewed. The EPA has objected to 21 that the state approved in the past year, Scott said. Last month, the state sent the EPA a revised permit for Laurel Mountain Resources (formerly Miller Brothers Coal), which wants to add a sediment pond and several other ponds to its land around Handshoe’s Raccoon Creek. Last month, the state was revising 11 more permits to accommodate the conductivity benchmark, among other EPA objections, Scott said.

The Sierra Club provided Handshoe’s conductivity meter a year ago, before EPA benchmarks were handed down in April, and the club itself has tested water in Eastern Kentucky.

The club’s tests of Raccoon Creek in November, done as a favor to Handshoe, found high levels of aluminum, manganese and zinc, and high alkalinity and the presence of caustic soda, or lye, added to the water by the coal company to lower the acidity of the water.

Sierra Club Water Sentinels head Tim Guilfoile said he was glad not to find high levels of mercury or selenium, which can cause deformities and reproductive problems in aquatic life.

Clewett said the legal realm of conductivity isn’t a sure thing yet, so it’s unclear whether benchmarks set in April will stick.

“Things haven’t really shaken out there yet,” he said.

If they do stick, then environmentalists might have a cheaper tool in their box, but time will tell.

Article source: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/01/03/1585946/water-quality-coal-jobs-at-issue.html

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