The Natural Resources Defense Council released its annual beach water quality report yesterday and found water at a total of 134 beaches in the five boroughs and its surrounding areas had bacteria levels that exceeded state health standards.
Nationally, the report found the number of beach closings and advisories was at the second-highest level in the 18 years that the report has been issued.
According to the study, one Brooklyn swimming hole—Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach in Southern Brooklyn— was closed at different points due to bacteria levels. Five other sites in Brooklyn — including three Coney Island beaches, Kingsborough Community College Beach and Manhattan Beach– had bacteria levels that were unsafe for swimming on various days last year when samples were taken.
Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach’s water was higher than the acceptable standards for swimming 14 percent of the time. It was closed a total of 14 days.
Both Coney Island’s Brighton 15th-16th and West 16th-27th beaches had pollution levels higher than the state standard nine percent of the time.
The study also found levels that were unacceptable for swimming by New York State health standards at nine sites in the Bronx, 31 in Nassau County, 67 in Suffolk County, 17 in Westchester County and two in Staten Island.
“America’s beaches have long suffered from pollution,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney for the defense council. “The difference is now we know what to do about it. By making our communities literally greener on land, we can make the water at the beach cleaner. In the years to come, there’s no reason we can’t reverse this dirty legacy.”
The council, which is a non-profit environmental safeguard group that would formed in 1970, found that aging sewage treatment systems and contaminated storm water were the primary reasons for polluted beach water. Pollutants included litter, floating debris and “toilet-generated waste,” according to the defense council.
In Queens, Douglas Manor Beach, a private swimming spot, exceeded the state’s acceptable standard 25 percent of the time and was closed 54 times during the course of the study and Whitestone Beach exceeded the limit 17 percent of the time and was closed 21 times.
According to the study, Nassau County’s most polluted beaches were Crescent Beach, where samples were higher 27 percent of the time, and Seacliff Beach, which exceeded the limit 16 percent of the time.
But none of these beaches were listed in the study among the state’s most polluted.
“Generally, private beaches are more susceptible to closure due to higher bacteria levels, especially during times when there is rainfall due to their location. City beaches are classified as closed or under advisory when confirmed samples show that bathing beach water quality exceeds the water quality standard for marine water beaches,” said a spokesperson from the city’s Health Department.
“During the 2010 beach season, four public beaches - Coney Island, Orchard Beach, Wolfe’s Pond and Manhattan Beach- had exceedances when the weekly scheduled samples were collected, but re-sample results showed no exceedances. Therefore, the beaches were not closed.”
Related Topics: Beaches, Breezy Point, Brooklyn, Douglas Manor Beach, Douglaston, Environment, Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach, Nassau County, National Resources Defense Council, and coney island
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A team of environmental groups says two coal companies that were fined in Kentucky last year for violations of the Clean Water Act continue to break the federal law.
ICG and Frasure Creek Mining exceeded the limits of pollution discharge allowed under law more than 4,000 times altogether in the first three months of 2011, the groups said. They made the allegations Tuesday in intent-to-sue letters required by the Clean Water Act.
Last year, the environmental groups took a similar action against the same two coal operators, but never filed suit because Kentucky officials and the companies reached a $660,000 settlement. The environmental groups are challenging the settlement in court, saying it’s not enough.
A spokeswoman for Arch Coal, which completed a merger with ICG in June, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday. A number for Frasure Creek, based in Scott Depot, W. Va., was disconnected.
Frasure Creek and ICG reported the violations from earlier this year to the state, according to Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. State officials are planning to issue citations based on the violations, but Brown said the fines are pending. The state recorded 937 violations for Frasure Creek, and ICG number is still being prepared, Brown said.
Appalachian Voices, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Riverkeeper and New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance said they filed the notices this week to force the companies to comply with federal law.
“These violations represent a toxic soup being poured into our drinking water and streams,” said Ted Withrow, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and former officials with the state Division of Water.
Under the Clean Water Act, the companies have 60 days to respond to the allegations in the notice letter. Then, if the violations are not corrected, the environmental groups have the option to sue.
Article source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43584067
Near Record High Number of Beach Closings in 2010
June 29, 2011 — Last year, America’s beaches had the second-highest number of closings and advisory days in more than two decades. Dirty, polluted water was the main culprit.
In 2010, U.S. beaches were closed for 24,091 days, up 29% from 2009, according to the 21st annual beach water quality report, which was released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental action group headquartered in New York City.
The increase is mainly the result of heavy rainfall in Hawaii, contamination from unidentified sources in California, and oil washing up from the Gulf oil spill. Seventy percent of the closings resulted from too-high levels of bacteria from human or animal waste that finds its way into oceans in large part because of storm water runoff and sewage overflow. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 10 trillion gallons of untreated storm water makes its way to surface water each year.
“This year’s report confirms that our nation’s beach water continues to suffer from serious contamination,” David Beckman, director of the water program at the NRDC, said during a teleconference.
Beach water pollution poses health risks including stomach flu, skin rashes, and pinkeye; and ear, nose, and throat problems. Overall, the Great Lakes region had the most frequently contaminated beach water in 2010, and the Southeast, New York-New Jersey coast, and Delmarva region had the cleanest beach water, the new report showed. Individual states with the highest rates of reported contamination in were Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana. States with the lowest rates of contamination last year were New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii, and Delaware. The NRDC based their report on government data on beach water at more than 3,000 beaches nationwide, and also gave ratings to 200 popular public beaches based on their water quality.
Common Sense Advice for Beach Days
Beach goers can also do their share to make sure a day at the beach is nothing short of a day at the beach, said NRDC senior water attorney Jon Devine.
“A day at the beach doesn’t have to mean getting sick,” he says. “Don’t swim near or in front of storm drains and don’t swim within 72 hours of heavy rain,” Devine says.
And always make sure you check for closures or advisory notices before you hit the beach, he says. “If the water looks or smells funny, don’t go in,” he says.
“Picking up your garbage, not feeding birds or other wildlife, cleaning up after your pets, and directing water runoff from your house to soil, not the street also helps,” he says.
On a national level, green infrastructure — which involves the use of techniques that allow rainwater to infiltrate the soil, instead of flowing to storm drains that carry it to nearby water bodies — is part of the safer beach water solution. Congress is mulling over a Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act.
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.
Published: Thursday, January 06, 2011, 7:53 PM Updated: Thursday, January 06, 2011, 9:43 PM
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
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
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 energyindepth.org (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.”
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 MarcellusProtest.org.
For more ReThink Reviews, visit ReThinkReviews.net
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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.
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.
“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
Article source: http://onlineathens.com/stories/123110/new_763658698.shtml
Cities are fighting proposed state water standards that they say would show no benefits while costing up to $6 billion.
State regulators must review water-quality rules every three years to ensure they provide as much protection as national standards. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended lower levels of heavy metals such as zinc, copper and chromium in treated sewage to help protect shellfish and other aquatic life.
Other states have met the standards, said Nikki Schimizzi, a senior DENR environmental specialist. North Carolina is the only state in the region that has not adopted them, she said.
Cities worry about the potential for burdensome costs to utilities customers. The N.C. League of Municipalities, which did a financial study of the proposals, said costs to local governments could range from $590 million to more than $6 billion over 20 years.
The proposed standards aren’t based on real-life conditions in state waters, said Erin Wynia, a policy analyst for the league. Only the most expensive interventions would get treatment plants to the proposed limits, she said.
Regulators are collecting information on costs for an analysis that must be approved by the state Office of Budget and Management. Then, the proposed rules would go through public hearings and a vote of the state Environmental Management Commission. The process will take a year or more.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the new limits for zinc and copper would help protect the state’s freshwater mussels. The new standards also could help protect sensitive species not tested now, fish and wildlife officials said.