Sewage Frequently Fouls Hudson River, Report Says

August 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

The study, issued by the environmental group Riverkeeper, underscores how a big sewage discharge in July, caused by a fire at a treatment plant in Manhattan, was part of a persistent and far more widespread sewage problem along the 155-mile river.

Despite improvements in water quality since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the group said, 21 percent of its water samples had unacceptable levels of bacteria because of problems like discharges from aging or failing sewage treatment plants, overflows caused by rain and poor maintenance of septic systems.

“More and more people are fishing, swimming and boating in the Hudson,” Riverkeeper’s president, Paul Gallay, said in an interview. “If we fail to take care of the river, we lose the gains we’ve made and the economic benefits that go with them.”

The study, based on more than 2,000 water samples collected from May through October at 75 sites between Albany and New York City from 2006 to 2010, offers some surprises. Some of the worst contamination, it turns out, comes from tributaries like streams and creeks that flow into the Hudson.

The report says further research is needed to pinpoint the cause of the pollution in the tributaries, but it suggests some possibilities like leaking septic systems that contaminate groundwater, illegal sewage hookups and agricultural runoff.

With more than eight million residents, New York City nonetheless has better water quality in its part of the Hudson than the Albany region, home to barely one million people, the study also concludes. One reason is that sewage in Albany enters a narrower and shallower stretch of the river, without the dilution benefits of New York City’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

Another reason, the report says, is that Albany’s treatment plants do not disinfect sewage — although there is a plan to start doing so by 2013 — leaving that section of the Hudson “chronically sewage-laden.”

The bright picture in New York City dims during rainstorms, however, when treatment plants cannot handle the volume, and a mix of sewage and storm water flows into the river. Over all, unacceptable samples increase more than threefold — to 32 percent from 9 percent — in wet weather versus dry weather, the report said.

Riverkeeper’s testing program, a collaboration with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and Queens College at the City University of New York, measures levels of the bacterium enterococcus, which lives in the intestines of humans and some animals. The group said that only New York City and 4 of 10 counties along the river currently perform water quality tests and that none report the findings in a timely fashion.

Riverkeeper officials are recommending weekly water quality testing and public notification on results, more spending on wastewater infrastructure, better enforcement of clean-water laws and new rules like one requiring the inspection and maintenance of private septic systems.

Carter Strickland, a deputy commissioner with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, said on Tuesday that the city had spent nearly $2 billion since the 1990s addressing the problem of combined sewer overflows, which involve systems that collect both storm water runoff and sanitary sewage in the same pipe. He said the solutions included separating the sewage and storm water runoff in some areas and building storage tanks in others so that overflows can be retained and treated.

The Bloomberg administration is also encouraging investment in environmentally friendly infrastructure, like roofs with plantings and porous pavement for parking lots, to capture and retain storm water before it reaches the sewer system and overloads it, Mr. Strickland said.

In the meantime, he said, his department is working toward releasing the results of its water quality tests to the public as soon as they become available.

ReThink Review: Gasland — Is Your Tap Water Flammable?

January 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

A man holds a lighter up to a running faucet, only to have the water burst into a fireball that comes perilously close to engulfing the man’s torso in flames. This has become the iconic image of Josh Fox’s documentary examining the dangers of natural gas extraction, Gasland, and for good reason — it’s such a stark, dramatic illustration of the damage energy companies are willing to inflict on both the environment and human lives as they attempt to extract natural gas using the controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” See the trailer for Gasland below.

Fracking, which was first developed by Halliburton (who else?) over 50 years ago, involves drilling a deep, L-shaped well (in the case of horizontal fracking) into an area believed to contain natural gas, then pumping in millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals (known as fracking fluid) to crack the earth around the gas deposit, allowing the gas to escape so it can be captured closer to the surface. However, natural gas as well as the toxic chemicals found in fracking fluid can make their way into aquifers used to supply drinking water, effectively poisoning wells and making tap water combustible.

See my ReThink Review of Gasland below, as well as my conversation with Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks (and MSNBC!) about the dangerous chemicals found in fracking fluid, the energy industry’s response to Gasland, and the connections between fracking, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and peak oil.

As I mentioned in my review, the natural gas industry has responded to Gasland by launching a website called Energy In Depth to debunk its claims. But what’s interesting is what is admitted through this website if one actually reads it, like the fact that fracking has never been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act — something which might have happened in 2004 if a study by Bush’s EPA hadn’t concluded that there was no evidence that fracking polluted water supplies, yet conducted no water tests that would have found such evidence. Or if Dick Cheney’s 2005 energy policy had re-classified fracked wells as injection wells.

It also may be true that only 1% of fracking fluid contains the dozens of dangerous chemicals — like arsenic, asbestos, barium, cadmium, chromium, cyanide, lead, mercury, chlorobenzene, dichlorobenzene, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls, toluene, trichloroethylene, xylene, radium 226-228, uranium, etc. — that can be found on (if you look hard enough, like on page 2-13 through 2-16). But when you consider the fact that each frack uses 3-8 million gallons of fracking fluid, and that wells are commonly fracked dozens of times (and maybe even upwards of 300 times), that 1% adds up to millions of gallons of chemicals, much of which is never recovered for treatment.

In an interview with the New York Times, Fox promised a response to Energy in Depth’s attacks on Gasland, which you can find here. But perhaps the clearest response by the energy industry is their reluctance to respond to what would seem like a simple request by Fox:

I’ve been asking the industry since the movie has been out there, “If you’ve got a town where there’s more than 100 wells, and everything’s going fine, and you don’t have these issues, take me there.”

Gasland is now available on DVD and Netflix. To find out more about Gasland, visit

You can also find out more about the FRAC Act and efforts to prevent fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation that runs under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Tennessee by visiting

For more ReThink Reviews, visit

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Spill devastates creek and raises troubling questions

December 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

The chemicals that spilled after a fire at the JJ Chemical Co. plant off Olympic Drive wiped out aquatic life in a stretch of Trail Creek and cost two dozen people their jobs.


But the July 28 fire and resulting chemical spill exposed a much more troubling problem, some believe.

See photos from the spill.

See photos from the fire.

“One of the things that sticks with me still is that this is what it looks like on the ground when some of the very basics of the state government’s role in our communities are eroded by budget cuts and staff reductions,” said Ben Emanuel, Oconee River projects coordinator for the Altamaha Riverkeeper, one of the groups that banded together to gather information and post warning signs after the spill.

Emanuel believes budget cuts over the past few years at the state Environmental Protection Division, the lead state agency in environmental disasters like the Trail Creek spill, may be so deep that the agency may not be able to do its job of environmental protection any more.

EPD workers put in long hours trying to assess the spill and limit its effects, but an EPD emergency team took hours to respond as the fire launched exploding fireballs and sent towering plumes of black smoke into the Athens night sky. And like citizens and elected officials, both the EPD and local emergency response teams had a hard time at first finding out just what was in the chemical runoff that poured into a branch of Trail Creek as firefighters used 740,000 gallons of water to keep the fire from spreading.

The water flowing off the fire site at the building on Trans Tech Drive, in Northeast Clarke County, carried thousands of gallons of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, paradichlorobenzene and dozens of other chemicals downstream. Also in the mix were oily perfumes and a brilliant blue dye that made it easy to see the contamination as it flowed down Trail Creek and into the North Oconee River at Dudley Park.

But most people at first knew only that the water looked and smelled funny.

“The first few days was a real exercise in frustration,” said District 9 Commissioner Kelly Girtz, one of many who struggled to get answers in the days following the fire about the runoff and whether it was dangerous to people or pets.

“I think I spent about 30 hours … dealing with phone calls and messages,” Girtz said. “I was getting the sense that there was incomplete information at best, and seemingly no one steering the ship.”

In the end, it was not the RPD or the Athens-Clarke government but volunteers from a coalition of environmental groups Emanuel pulled together that posted warning signs along the stream telling people to avoid contact with the water – four days after runoff from the fire gushed downstream.

Commissioners like Girtz and Andy Herod got dozens of e-mails and calls from constituents, alarmed after noticing the water smelled like urinal cakes or seeing it flow toilet-bowl blue and wondering if they were safe.

Herod couldn’t tell them anything at first because he couldn’t find out anything, either, he said.

“I think there was a general failure to communicate,” Herod said. “The elected officials were basically left in the dark as to what was going on.”

Athens-Clarke government administrators vowed to do a better job of communicating to the public and to officials in future emergencies.

“One of the main things it reinforces for me is that we are a community that thrives on information. The better information we can share, the more confidence the community has in what we do,” said Athens-Clarke Manager Alan Reddish.

EPD officials said the agency would communicate better in the future, both within the agency and to outsiders. But EPD emergency responders were hampered during the Trail Creek spill because they couldn’t get information quickly from the chemical company or the cleanup company it hired about what chemicals were in the plant or about the unfolding crisis, according to an EPD report on the spill.

Emanuel wonders if the spill signals the beginning of an era of do-it-yourself environmental protection for the state.

“EPD has been gutted, and that hampered their ability to respond,” he said.

Meanwhile, Emanuel and others are keeping a close eye on the stream, wondering how long it may take to recover.

Eventually, the blue water flowed on downstream, along with the toxic chemicals. Water samples taken in mid-November showed no detectable levels of paradichlorobenzene, the EPD announced early in December. The formaldehyde was gone by September, the agency said.

But life has been slow to return to the creek, said Jessica Sterling, a graduate student in ecology and a member of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, which has for years monitored the health of Trail Creek and other Athens waterways.

UOWN volunteers last tested Trail Creek’s waters Nov. 13, and will test again early next year.

Contamination remains at a small wetland off Olympic Drive, just downstream from JJ Chemical, Sterling said.

“We could still smell that perfume, and see that grayish-blue color,” she said. “It makes you wonder what’s still there.”

But UOWN volunteers did find a few living creatures such as blood worms, which can survive in polluted water; in August, they found none.

Although Athens-Clarke officials have made progress in reducing pollution from everyday sources such as runoff from parking lots, Sterling wonders how much planning local officials have done to protect area waters from catastrophic chemical spills like the one that killed Trail Creek.

The county had another major spill just seven years ago, when gasoline wiped out life in Hunnicutt Creek, which flows into the Middle Oconee River at Ben Burton Park.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re prepared for that at all,” she said. “What is the plan? Is there a plan?”

Life returned to Hunnicutt Creek in about a year, but neither environmental officials nor local water activists can say if Trail Creek will recover that quickly.

Gasoline, the major pollutant in the Hunnicutt Creek spill, is lighter than water, so most of the poison was flushed downstream quickly.

Sterling and other water activists suspect some of the toxic chemicals that poisoned Trail Creek may have sunk into stream sediments and will be slowly released into the creek’s waters for a long time to come.

A company hired to clean up the land around the chemical factory is scheduled to finish its cleanup and issue a final report to EPD officials by Jan. 14; after that, officials in the environmental agency will decide whether the company will also have to undertake a second cleanup in Trail Creek itself.

Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, December 31, 2010

Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to foul 168 miles of Louisiana coastline

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

Published: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 7:30 PM Updated: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 8:10 PM

Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune


Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune

Louisiana’s coastline continues to be smeared with significant amounts of oil and oiled material from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, with cleanup teams struggling to remove as much as possible of the toxic material by the time migratory birds arrive at the end of February, said the program manager of the Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams, which are working for BP and the federal government.


BP cleanup worker Toney Edison was photographed Dec. 16 holding chunks of tar that were found buried underneath a layer of sand on East Grand Terre Island.

There are 113 miles of Louisiana coastline under active cleanup, with another 55 miles awaiting approval to start the cleanup process, according to SCAT statistics. Teams have finished cleaning almost 72 miles to levels where oil is no longer observable or where no further treatment is necessary.

But that’s not the whole story for the state’s coastline. According to SCAT statistics, there’s another 2,846 miles of beach and wetland areas where oil was once found but is no longer observable or is not treatable.

Gary Hayward, the Newfields Environmental Planning and Compliance contractor who oversees the SCAT program, said that large area will be placed into a new “monitor and maintenance” category, once Louisiana state and local officials agree to the procedures to be used for that category.

“With rare exceptions, most of the marshes still have a bathtub ring that we have all collectively decided we aren’t going to clean any more than we already have because we’d be doing more harm to the marshes than the oil is going to be doing to them,” Hayward said.

The cleanup protocols for each state have been approved by state and local governments, federal agencies and BP, he said.


Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressWorkers were photographed Dec. 16 digging up sand impacted by the BP oil spill on East Grand Terre Island.

Louisiana’s senior coastal official says the state is monitoring the cleanup, and remains concerned with end-of-year conclusions that the cleanup is almost complete.

“The reality is we still have hundreds of miles of oiled shoreline today,” said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “We still have oilings on a regular basis in areas of Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish, and there’s still a lot of oil buried back in the marshes where it was carried during high water events.

“The threat is absolutely still there and the oil is absolutely still there,” he said.

‘We know we’re not done’

Hayward does not disagree.

“We know we’re not done. We’re still working,” he said. “We have some challenges ahead of us, including winter weather that will slow us down a bit. But we’ve made a lot of progress.”

At the height of the oil recovery and cleanup effort over the summer, the response program included 48,200 workers and 9,700 vessels. As of Dec. 23, there were still 6,170 workers and 260 vessels, although not all of those are participating in the cleanup.


Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressWorkers were photographed Dec. 16 looking into a hole dug by an auger, left, while searching for buried layers of tar from the BP oil spill on East Grand Terre Island.

Hayward said that the aim is for the cleanup to evolve into a long-term monitoring program for both beaches and marshes by the end of April all along the coast, but that could depend on shoreline re-evaluations scheduled for April and May.

“We’ll be assisted by very low tides in April and May, where we can really see how things have worked out in the winter,” he said.

Hurricane Alex

The biggest remaining problem in Louisiana, Hayward said, is a large area of marsh along the shores of Bay Jimmy in northernmost Barataria Bay, west of Port Sulphur, that was fouled when storm surge from Hurricane Alex in late June pushed oil into the bay system, even though Alex went ashore near the Mexico-Texas border.

“There was enough high water in the tide surge and enough oil on top of the water that it came down on the marsh surface and flattened the grass along a 40- or 50-foot swath along the marsh front,” he said. “And when it did that, it pushed the grass over and left an oily mat on the surface. That has since dried and has become a very crusty surface, underneath which there is still gooey oil.”

View full size

Cleanup contractors have tried several methods over the past few months to remove that oil.

“We tried burning and that didn’t work,” Hayward said. “We tried various methods of cutting the marsh and raking the black tarry mat up, and met with some success. We’ve tried four different ways to cut the marsh and let the young sprouts come through.

“But oddly, what we saw was that even though that marsh was quite heavily impacted, before the growing season stopped, the marsh sprouts were coming up through that stuff,” he said. “So we feel pretty confident that even though it looks like hell, that area will recover in the spring when things start to green up again.”

February target date

The target date of February is aimed at removing the threat of oil from areas along Louisiana’s shoreline by the time migratory birds return to roost or rest on their way from Central and South America in the spring, Hayward said. The hope is also to assure clean beaches in advance of the tourist season on Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.

BP oil spill

Times-Picayune Staff

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, left, who hasn’t had much sleep in the past week, listens to BP 1st Global Properties Director Dave Kinnaird while he addresses the shrimpers and residents of Plaquemine Parish who gather to volunteer and learn how to use booms during a training session at old Boothville/Venice School in Boothville, LA., Friday April 30, 2010. According to the U. S. Coast Guard, oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that exploded and sank over a week ago has reached Louisiana land in the Mississippi Delta Friday.

The 3,086 miles of targeted coastline in Louisiana, which makes up the SCAT western district, dwarfs the 1,598 miles of mostly beaches targeted for clean-up in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which comprise the eastern district. Hayward said cleanup efforts also are aimed at February completion in those states.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get it done because of the loss of the last tourist season, and they want to get open for the winter months and they want to get open for spring breakers,” he said.

Unlike Louisiana’s rough texture beaches, a mix of sand, Mississippi River sediment and organic material, beaches to the east, especially along the Florida Panhandle, are a sugary, powdery white sand that’s more difficult to separate from the weathered remains from the BP spill.

“It’s really not oil. It’s not sticky, it’s not tacky, it’s basically a very crumbly, weathered oil residue,” Hayward said. “You can pick it up in your fingers and crumble it and it will just disintegrate.”

Mats of weathered oil

However, the cleanup plan is still struggling with tar balls and other material washing ashore from mats of weathered oil that are located in the surf zone just off several key beach areas, including Pensacola, Fla.; Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge at Gulf Shores, Ala.; and the barrier islands off Mississippi’s coast. Officials are concerned submerged tar mats may also be the source of tar balls that continue to be spotted along Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.

“People are concerned about the chunk of oil that they can’t find counted” in the federal description of how much oil remains in the Gulf of Mexico, Hayward said, and the tar mats explain a small part of the missing oil.

“These tar mats can be three or four or five yards wide and a couple hundred meters long, and they’re discontinuous,” he said. “They’re being found in 2 or 3 feet of water, just below the low-tide line.”

“These are areas where tar balls keep washing ashore,” Hayward said. “The shallow water (where the tar mats are believed to be located) precludes a lot of vessel activity. It’s a very turbulent area.”

Mark Schleifstein can be reached at or 504.826.3327.

The BP Oil Spill’s Long-Term Threat to Bluefin Tuna

December 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Toxic Spills

Bluefin tuna

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill spewed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most pressing questions was how the environmental disaster would affect the area’s other major industry: fishing, and in particular, the highly prized bluefin tuna.

In the short term, Gulf fishing was crippled, as thousands of square miles were immediately closed. But even after some of these areas reopened, scientists and fishermen alike worried about the long-term effect of contamination on the area’s bountiful aquatic life. Recently, evidence has emerged to suggest that the oil spill may have an impact far beyond the Gulf, threatening one of the world’s most lucrative fishing species.

The controversy surrounds dispersants, the chemical compounds that BP (BP) used to break up the spilled oil. Basically a form of detergent, dispersants make it possible for oil to interact with water, transforming huge oil slicks into microscopic droplets that could seemingly disappear into the Gulf. In theory, at least, this would make it easier for bacteria and weather to further break down the oil, allowing it to dissolve into the environment.

Ignoring a Key Issue?

When BP began using dispersants, many environmentalists fretted that the compounds might harm the area’s fragile ecosystem. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a two-pronged study to measure the toxicity of various dispersants. Their ultimate conclusion was that the eight dispersants tested — including Corexit 9500A, the main compound used in the Gulf — were generally less toxic than crude oil. What’s more, the EPA detected little or no increase in toxicity when dispersants were combined with oil. That is, the action of breaking down an oil slick generally did not add more toxins to the Gulf.

According to Peter Hodson, an aquatic toxicologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the EPA study ignored a key issue. While dispersants don’t increase the toxicity of petroleum, they can vastly increase the chances that a fish will interact with oil, and that the oil’s toxicity will affect sea life.

“After all,” Hodson points out, “Oil toxicity isn’t an issue until fish are exposed to it. Unfortunately, as minuscule dispersed oil droplets combine with water, the volume of the oil spill vastly expands. This can increase the risk to fish by 100- to 1,000-fold.”

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

One of the big problems, Hodson notes, is a matter of perspective. While oil dispersants make a spill disappear from the water’s surface, they don’t actually make it go away. For people, who naturally view a spill from above the surface of the water, it’s easy to see the effect of oil on birds, people and beaches, but harder to see the effect on fishes and other underwater organisms. That effect that may be increased as dispersants cause oil to combine with the water instead of float on the surface.

Hodson emphasizes that “This can lead to a blind approach when assessing risk, a process that is already difficult in an oil spill. If you are convinced that dispersants are not an issue because they aren’t more toxic than oil, then a lot less attention will be paid to what’s under the water, and we’re a lot more likely to endanger aquatic resources.”

This is particularly problematic for the Gulf’s sea life, especially eggs and embryos, which, Hodson says, “can’t move out of the way of oil.” Consequently, they’re likely to absorb dispersed oil and the chemicals that it releases. To make things worse, Hodson continues, “embryos and baby fish have thin skins, which makes them more susceptible to chemical contamination. This can lead to ‘teratogenic effects,’ or deformities.”

Bluefin Tuna in the Crosshairs

For the most part, attention has focused on the oysters and shrimp for which the Gulf is known. However, its waters are also home to a wide variety of sea life, including northern bluefin tuna, one of the most expensive fish species in the world. The tuna, which conservationists claim is on track to become an endangered species, spawns in only two areas: the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

While many fish may die because of the contamination, an even bigger problem may be the long-term impact on bluefin breeding. Hodson notes that “petroleum contamination could cause embryos to develop deformities, which can make it impossible for the young fish to grow old enough to reproduce.” This, in turn, could leave a major hole in breeding populations over the next few years.

To make things worse, bluefin tuna is already experiencing major problems. Exceedingly popular for sushi, the price of bluefin has skyrocketed over the past few years: In January 2010, a 510-pound bluefin tuna sold in Tokyo’s fish market for $175,000. With prices like that, fishermen are eager to reel in the fish.

Hammered at Both Ends

Fearing the bluefin’s extinction, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna set a 2010 quota of 13,500 tons, a 38% drop from 2009. In some regard, however, the ICCAT’s quota is largely irrelevant: Because of poaching and overfishing, the actual annual tuna yield is likely closer to 60,000 tons.

With so much money on the line, the pressure is tremendous to keep the bluefin tuna industry chugging along. Last month, fishing advocates successfully tabled a European Union plan to radically cut quotas aimed at allowing bluefin stocks to recover. Meanwhile, U.N. attempts to scale back or limit the industry have been blocked by several countries, notably Japan, which has lobbied aggressively to keep fishing quotas high.

Unfortunately, it will likely be years before scientists can fully measure the impact of the BP spill on the fish. During the initial cleanup efforts, it was impossible to directly observe the effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil on bluefin tuna embryos, though Hodson emphasizes that the long-term effect will be a decline in breeding stocks.

However, he warns, with overfishing threatening older bluefin tuna and oil contamination threatening embryos, humans are “hammering the bluefin population at both ends,” a process that is likely to lead to a devastating conclusion.

Tagged: bluefin tuna, bluefin-tuna-sushi, Deepwater Horizon, deepwater horizon oil spill, deepwater horizon spill, endangered, endangered animals, endangered species, endangered-species, EndangeredAnimals, extinct species

Two Years After Billion-Gallon Toxic Ash Spill, EPA Still Dawdles

December 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

Today marks the second anniversary of the nations largest toxic waste spill, when a billion-gallon wave of arsenic-filled coal ash carried away three houses and destroyed a riverfront community below the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant in rural Tennessee.

Two years and $400 million dollars later, critical problems remain. Despite removal of more than 3 million tons of spilled ash, the cleanup at Kingston is far from complete, and the direction of EPAs rulemaking, intended to prevent another spill, is as murky as the contaminated cove beneath the broken dam.

The disaster cast a spotlight on EPAs 30-year failure to regulate the disposal of coal ash, a toxic-laden waste left over after burning coal for electricity. In the absence of federal protection standards, an enormous quantity of this waste has been dumped in unlined pits and ponds throughout the U.S. At least 50 high-hazard dams hold back millions of tons of toxic ash and threaten communities, like Harriman, that face destruction should these aging, unregulated dams break. And if another one of these dams collapses, human life is expected to be lost.

Beyond these catastrophic disasters, there are more than 100 locations across the country where water and air are poisoned by coal ash.. Arsenic levels in drinking water around unlined ash ponds can be high enough to cause cancer in 1 of 50 people which is 2,000 times EPAs acceptable risk. Additionally, these sites often are not covered, allowing ash to enter into the lungs of vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

Immediately following the TVA disaster, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recognized the danger to our nations health and environment posed by unregulated coal ash, and she pledged to close that gap. But along the winding path to effective controls, the administration lost its way.

The regulatory proposal that appeared 18 months after the disaster offered no clear direction. Yet, at eight public hearings this fall, thousands of citizens voiced their clear and unequivocal support for strong, federally enforceable regulations. Last month, EPA received approximately 450,000 public commentsthe great majority demanding that coal ash be regulated in a manner that protects public health.

Two years is more than enough time to adopt common sense regulations that protect our health and water from toxic chemicals such as arsenic, lead and mercury in coal ash. Today, we point again to the ruined community of Harriman and say never again.

High on our Christmas wish list is that the EPA in 2011 will finish the job of reversing the decades of neglect and finalize a rule that protects the nation from cataclysmic coal ash disasters, the poisoning of our drinking water, the fouling of our air, and the destruction of aquatic environments. We hope the EPAs New Years resolution is the same.

Oil Spill Clean-up Gear Recycled As Electric Car Parts

December 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

In 2011, oil-soaked plastic boom material used to soak up oil in the Gulf of Mexico will find new life as auto parts in the Chevrolet Volt.

During the Gulf oil spill crisis, volunteers and clean-up crews deployed hundreds of miles of plastic booms in an effort to contain and remove toxic oil from the water’s surface.

Few people stopped to think about what would happen to the water-logged booms once they were no longer needed, but the folks at General Motors saw an opportunity to get creative.

GM has developed a cooperative method that will not only keep an estimated 100 miles of the oily material out of the nation’s landfills, it will also create enough plastic under-hood parts to supply the first year production of the Chevy Volt, an extended-range electric vehicle.

How it works: First, Heritage Environmental collects boom material along the Louisiana coast. Mobile Fluid Recovery steps in next, using a massive high-speed drum that spins the booms until dry and eliminates all the absorbed oil and wastewater. Lucent Polymers then uses its process to manipulate the material into the physical state necessary for plastic die-mold production. GDC Inc., used its patented EndurapreneTM material process to then combine the resin with other plastic compounds to produce the components.

Recycling the booms will result in the production of more than 100,000 pounds of plastic resin for the vehicle components, eliminating an equal amount of waste that would otherwise have been incinerated or sent to landfills.

The parts, which deflect air around the vehicles radiator, are comprised of 25 percent boom material and 25 percent recycled tires from GMs Milford Proving Ground vehicle test facility. The remaining is a mixture of post-consumer recycled plastics and other polymers.

This effort is just another example of GM’s new resolve to be more transparent and environmentally-friendly in 2010 and beyond.

“This was purely a matter of helping out,” said John Bradburn, manager of GMs waste-reduction efforts. “If sent to a landfill, these materials would have taken hundreds of years to begin to break down, and we didnt want to see the spill further impact the environment. We knew we could identify a beneficial reuse of this material given our experience.”

The work in the Gulf is expected to last at least two more months and GM will continue to assist suppliers in collecting booms until the need no longer exists. The automaker anticipates enough material will be gathered that it can be used as components in other Chevrolet models.

Read more:
recycling, landfill, bp, offshore drilling, environment wildlife, oil spill, sustaintmc, Gulf of Mexico, electric car, chevy volt, oil boom

Government Malfeasance and Nonfeasance on Wall Street

December 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

Map entitled Fishery Closure Boundary as...

Image via Wikipedia

On December 15, 2010,the United States Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act against nine defendants (notably: BP, Anadarko, Triton, and Transocean) involved in what has become known as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The case represents a foray by the Justice Department into civil litigation rather than a criminal prosecution no, its not an incredibly rare step but its still noteworthy. After all, its not like we have crime under control in this country particularly corporate crime; but, hey, who am I to question priorities or suggest that the Justice Department might be better advised to focus on criminal cases.

At the heart of the Justice Departments case is a desire to find most of the Defendants as having unlimited liability for the costs of removing the spilled oil and the attendant damages.When you’re a Plaintiff in a civil action, convincing a court that your adversaries should have unlimited liability is a good thing. It often puts a goofy grin on Plaintiffs lawyers and I’m sure that the attorneys at the Justice Department will have a similarly broad smile if they prevail.

The Four Failures

The Justice Departments Complaint basically argues that important safety and operating regulations were violated in the period leading up to the April 20, 2010 Gulf oil spill. We’ve all seen the video of that I’m sure I don’t need to go into the gory details here.In making its case, the Justice Department cites the following shortcomings by the Defendants:

  • Failing to take necessary precautions to keep the Macondo Well under control in the period leading up to the April 20th explosion;
  • Failing to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the wells conditions;
  • Failing to maintain continuous surveillance; and
  • Failing to use and maintain equipment and material that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of personnel, equipment, natural resources, and the environment.

So . . . lemme see if I got all of this.

We had a bunch of folks poking holes in the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. They were hoping to strike oil, suck the stuff up, process it, and ship it to market and make big bucks along the way. Everyone involved in this process knew the likely and I stress, likely risks. Consequently, when the slimy, goopy, black stuff came burbling up and spread all over the place, few folks were actually shocked. The reaction was more in the vein of We were afraid of that or We told you so.I mean, cmon now,they didnt put those rigs up under the cover of night and then camouflage them so that no one knew they were there.

Why do I raise that point? Well, since the drilling and all that went with it was open and notorious, youd sort of expect that the state and federal government agencies charged with monitoring the activity and drawing up contingency plans would have done their jobs or perhaps should have done their jobs, might be more accurate.

Adding the Accelerant

Which leads me to ask: How come the Justice Department isn’t also suing state and federal agencies and their officers for malfeasance and nonfeasance?

I see the names of some nine companies under Defendants in the Justice Departments lawsuit. Why dont I see the names of any government agency, administration, or bureau in the caption to the Complaint? Why dont I see the names of any human being who was an officer at any government agency, administration, or bureau in the caption to the Complaint?

The way I see it, there were two contributing factors to the horrendous tragedy that was the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

First, you have those private-sector idiots who caused the leak through their likely negligence.

Second, you have those idiots in government who failed to do their jobs in terms of swift containment and clean-up.

Its as if you had an arson in which one person lit the fire and a second person came along and poured fuel on the fire.Remember, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulfin 2005 some five years before the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Like, what, Katrina wasnt the mother of all wake-up calls to those in government charged with handlingemergencies and disasters in the Gulf of Mexico?

Two To Tango on Wall Street

All of which prompts me to recall the Lehman Brothers failure, the Bear Stearns collapse, the Madoff and Stanford frauds,the Auction Rate Securities cases, the collateralized obligations frauds, and all the other exotic instruments that were dug up from the bowels of Wall Street, processed by the major financial services companies, dumped on an unsuspecting public, and supposedly monitored by a clueless regime of securities regulators.

And again, I ask: In all the federal civil and criminal cases against those who caused the toxic spill of financial products that nearly destroyed our nation, why haven’t any regulators and regulatory organizations also been named?

I’m going to try and control myself here. It would be easy for me to launch into a rant. It would simply be one of many diatribes that Ive written about failed regulation and inept regulators. Nonetheless, at least permit me to rephrase the Justice Departments hit list of failures in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. I offer you that list in terms that might be suitable for those who brought us the Great Recession:

  • Failing to take necessary precautions to keep the financial crisis of 2007 under control in the period leading up to the beginning of the Great Recession;
  • Failing to use the best available and safesttechnology to monitor the equity and credit markets;
  • Failing to maintain continuous surveillance; and
  • Failing to use and maintain human resources and technology that were available and necessary to ensure the safety and protection of the financial markets and investors.

Sort of puts things in a different light, right? Makes you wonder. When do we put all the feet private sector and government to the fire?

Hungarian Toxic Sludge Reaches Danube River

October 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

Hungary’s toxic sludge spill, which has killed four people, reached the Danube river, threatening to contaminate the waterway’s entire ecosystem, officials have said.

The sludge reached the Danube’s Mosoni Branch, about six miles from the main branch of the river this morning, according to Tibor Dobson, head of the disaster relief services.

The industrial accident triggered by the collapse of walls at the factory reservoir on Monday has been described as an ecological disaster and is now threatening the entire ecosystem of the Danube, Europe’s second longest river which runs from Hungary through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine before flowing into the Black Sea. Toxic sludge from alumina in Hungary is an ecological catasrophe.

Hungarian villagers whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by the wave that poured out of an aluminium plant reservoir earlier this week have demanded compensation from the company blamed for the disaster.

Authorities have ordered a criminal inquiry into the accident, which killed at least four people, injured 120 and left three people missing.

After bursting from the reservoir and flooding three villages on Monday, the sludge – a waste product of aluminium production that can contain heavy metals – ended up in the Marcal River, part of the tributary system feeding the Danube, some 45 miles to the north.

It is feared it could contaminate the Danube, one of Europe’s biggest rivers.

Angry villagers gathered outside the mayor’s office in Kolontar, as they berated a senior official of MAL Rt., the Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company that owns the Ajkai Timfoldgyar plant, demanding compensation.

Local officials said 34 homes in the village were uninhabitable. However, furious residents said the disaster had destroyed the whole community by making their real estate valueless.

“The whole settlement should be bulldozed into the ground,” bellowed Janos Potza, straining to be heard above his neighbours. “There’s no point for anyone to go back home.”

“Those who can, will move out of Kolontar. From now on, this is a dead town,” fumed Beata Gasko Monek.

Visibly shaken, Jozsef Deak, the company’s operations manager, said it would not shy away from taking responsibility if found guilty. He spoke from the passenger seat of a police cruiser, using its speaker system as villagers crowded around.

Two days after the red torrent disgorged an estimated 35 million cubic feet of toxic waste, it was not known why part of the reservoir collapsed.

National Police Chief Jozsef Hatala was heading the investigation into the spill because of its importance and complexity, police spokeswoman Monika Benyi said. Investigators would look into whether on-the-job carelessness was a factor, she said.

The huge reservoir, more than 1,000 feet long and 1,500 feet wide, was no longer leaking and a triple-tiered protective wall was being built around its damaged section.


Brew City Flood: Sewage Dumping Surpasses BP Oil Spill

July 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Dumping

By Michael George

MILWAUKEE – Just when you thought it was safe to back in the water comes word that more than 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water was dumped into Lake Michigan.

Many beachgoers at Bradford Beach said they wouldn’t ever go back in the lake again.

In fact, the amount of sewage and storm water dumped in Lake Michigan last week is 10 times the amount of oil spilled by BP in the Gulf Coast.

The BP spill is estimated at 94 to 184 million gallons of oil.

The sewage and storm water runoff is estimated at 2.1 billion gallons.

Many beaches were closed for several days over concerns of E. coli contamination. Now, some beaches are reopening, and sure enough, we found people back at Bender Beach, jumping into the water

Many were fully aware of the sewage dumping, and said it didn’t bother them.

“The water’s fantastic and I’m not worried about it whatsoever,” said Colleen McCann.

McCann said if tests show the water is safe, she doesn’t feel like she’s in danger. She doesn’t mind that other swimmers are staying away.

“Good, it makes it better for the rest of us to come swimming,” McCann said.

The lake at Bradford Beach remains closed to the public, though people are allowed to sit on the beach.