The city of Baltimore is now facing a lawsuit filed by two of its residents accusing that environmental contamination on the Horseshoe Casino construction site has been ignored. The concerned citizens specifically emphasize that polluted soil leeches into groundwater, and eventually into the Patapsco River, a waterway that they spend quite a bit of time in as avid boaters.
The construction site is located on what was once a chemical factory and contains toxic levels of arsenic and trichloryrtholene. These citizens, who deny belonging to any particular environmental group, feel as though Baltimore has not done enough in its environmental dealings with CBAC Gaming, a segment of Caeser’s Entertainment, the company behind the casino’s development.
City officials deny any wrongdoing and believe that the sudden concern for the environmental issues have more to do with opposition to the casino being built in the area, rather than a concern over potentially contaminated waterways. The most recent lawsuits follow a previous lawsuit lost against CBAC Gaming alleging that the company bypassed government environmental cleanup requirements. One of the reasons for the previous lawsuit’s failure is due to the implementation of a plan passed by the Maryland EPA. This plan includes covering any polluted ground with buildings and parking lots as well as monitoring any vapors that could seep into the building as a result. Despite this plan residents are still skeptical of merely covering up the problem.
Both the city and ultimately the taxpayers have a lot at stake if the casino developers are forced to shed big bucks for environmental cleanup. As a part of the deal with the city, CBAC Gaming can scrap the entire development if they are faced with more than $2 million in cleanup efforts. The company would also be eligible for a reduction in lease payments resulting in millions lost in city revenue over time. The city of Baltimore insists that environmental precautions have been taken and a plan is in place to contain any groundwater or land pollution.
Air pollution is commonly associated with a difficulty in breathing, but there have been a host of research studies conducted that have linked air pollution to many other health problems like diabetes and the weakening of the immune system. The old days of worrying about smog and visible air pollution making it tough to breathe are over. It is the air pollution that is not visible that could be affecting our health.
A recent study in the Boston area has revealed a strong link between areas of high air pollution concentrations and an increase of blood sugar levels in pregnant women. The study consisted of 2,000 women, the majority of which were not overweight or had any family history of diabetes. Over half of these women developed some type of increased sugar levels, not related to gestational diabetes. Many of these women lived in a densely populated area with heavy traffic. The heavy traffic has been deemed the source of an increased level of air pollution after air quality testing. The study did not however take into account the level of exposure each woman may have had to the pollution. For example a pregnant woman could live in a busy area, but spend the majority of her time elsewhere, not being exposed to the traffic exhaust.
Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center have been conducting similar research linking air quality to Type-2 Diabetes. Their conclusions state that poor air quality can inflame fat cells and affect insulin production drastically.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even gone as far as funding some of these types of research groups. One such group is from Stamford University out of Fresno, California. The hope is to gather as much information as possible to provide to safety and health programs and ultimately develop environmental regulations to decrease health risks.
The Stamford University group is studying the affect poor air quality and pollution can have on DNA. Research is focusing on children in the area and their T-Cell levels. It was revealed that children, who may not have shown outward signs of health problems like the development of asthma, were still being affected by air pollution. The children’s T-Cell levels were lowered significantly resulting in a much weaker immune system. Later investigation revealed that a gene known as FoxP3 was being suppressed and therefore producing much lower levels of T-Cells. Researchers were shocked that air pollution could now be linked to changes in our DNA. They continue to study whether this new genetic trait is temporary or if it will be passed down generationally. Researchers have been studying possible links between air pollution and devastating disorders like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as well.
The fracking industry is no stranger to current environmental issues, and recent concerns over workplace safety are no exception. The danger lies in the sand that is inhaled by workers. The sand is made up of extremely fine quartz silica which can lead to deadly lung diseases like silicosis.
Major attention to the issue began in 2011 when a government researcher visited a Colorado drilling site to study workers being exposed to potentially harmful fluids in fracking. The researcher’s attention was soon diverted once he saw the amount of dust that was generated in the process. The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) soon began conducting research at eleven drilling sites in five different states. Samples taken from the area around worker’s heads revealed that many were being exposed to silica dust levels that were 10 times legal levels.Fracking sand becomes airborne when it is trucked to drilling site and unloaded onto conveyor belts where it is eventually mixed with fluid chemicals and pumped into the ground.
NIOSH has made several pleas to the federal government to develop environmental regulations concerning the amount of fracking sands that can be produced. The American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agree that exposure to silica is dangerous, but argue that creating regulations is not an economically wise decision. Therefore, most legislation is rejected. These groups recommend that the responsibility should be placed on the companies that own the fracking sites.
One company, Encana has taken responsibility and changed its practice to include using vacuums to collect potentially airborne sand. The company has also started to train their employees in silica awareness, including the use of respiratory masks. Despite these efforts, silica levels remain above federal standards in at least three Encana sites. Another company called Sandbox offers a unique solution in which all sand remains in a closed box as it makes its way to the conveyor belt to be mixed with fluids. This minimizes the amount of airborne dust significantly.
Unfortunately, the impact on fracking worker’s health may not be known for several years. Silicosis and other lung diseases take between five and ten years to develop. Currently, there is no research being done to monitor worker’s health.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is advocating the use of wood as an ideal building material in the green construction movement. They are doing so by offering grants to companies interested in building tall buildings with wood. So far a proposed 10 story condominium unit in New York City has received half of the $3 million grant up for grabs. The other half is being awarded to a developer in Portland, Oregon looking to construct an office and mixed retail building. This money is to offset many of the extra cost associated with the unchartered green architecture.
The tall buildings would be made of cross-laminated timber or CLT, which consists on multiple boards compressed together, resulting in timber as strong as steel. Currently there are seventeen buildings over seven stories high the in the world that have been built using this product. The tallest wood building is currently being constructed in Norway and will be fourteen stories high once completed. Other buildings reside in Australia, Canada, and Europe. The New York and Portland projects would be the first tall buildings made of CTL in the United States.
Since constructing tall buildings with wood is so new, builders face many regulatory obstacles and expenses that are not associated with traditional materials like steel. For instance, tests must be performed to determine the strength and durability of CLT. This data has never been collected and is needed in order to improve the building process and figure out just how tall the building can safely be built. Safety permits and inspections may currently not exist, complicating the building process.
Similarly, builders have to demonstrate the CLT’s ability to withstand fire. So far they have concluded that the timbers stand up very well to fire since they burn slowly. The outside of the logs char, but the timber keeps 80% of its original strength. This allows anyone in the building enough time to safely exit.
Cutting down trees to build buildings seems counterintuitive to environmental sustainability, but there are several reasons why those doubts are untrue. First, trees trap carbon, so using them in green construction keeps that carbon trapped rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. New trees can then be planted to replace the trees harvested for timber. The new trees will then absorb and store carbon. Studies have also revealed that “harvesting, transporting, and using wood in lumber and panel products in building yields fewer air emissions- including greenhouse gases-.”
The U.S. Forest Service also hopes that using wood in more construction could help put the 45 million acres of dying trees across the nation’s national forests to use. These trees are extremely vulnerable to wild fires, which would release carbon back into the atmosphere. The dead trees also allow wildfires to spread more easily and put residents in danger.
Using wood in constructing tall buildings could also improve the economies of small towns across the United States by reviving the timber and milling industries. New job opportunities would be created to fulfill building supply demands
Last March, Japan experienced a magnitude nine earthquake, one of the most devastating in modern history; one that further led to the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. Now, almost a year later, scientists are conducting studies to determine just how much radiation was leaked into the environment and how weather patterns and geological formations have aided or hindered the spreading of that radiation. Other scientists are studying the effects that the nuclear fallout might have on future cases of cancer in the Japanese people unfortunate enough to have been located near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The results so far have been interesting—and in some cases, encouraging. Scientists developed maps showing areas where radioactivity levels were very high, and others where they were relatively low. According to Amina Khan for the Boston Herald, “The maps could help the government decide what to do with different tracts of land: whether to abandon them, return them to farming or remove contaminated topsoil first.”
What the studies found is that some parts of Japan had lower than expected levels of radioactive waste because mountains provided shelter to those areas. Wind carried nuclear particles to other places in Japan, and heavy rains brought those particles into the soil. In those parts, such as the eastern part of Fukishima, soil levels of radioactive materials are detrimentally high. There, says Khan, “Food production would be ‘severely impaired.’
The separate studies of future cancer rates are hard to predict accurately, since “so many people normally get cancer at some point in their lifetimes,” according to Malcom Ritter and Mari Yamaguchi of the Associated Press. However, the researchers of the 30 year project so far believe that most people in the Fukushima area will not see a great increase in risk because the exposure to radiation was so low.
The first study mirrors that opinion. “The Japanese took proper precautions….The levels they’re talking about are not going to damage people’s health at all,” says Gerry Thomas, a molecular pathologist at Imperial College London.
The Great Lakes are the largest non-oceanic body of water in the U.S. and are home to scenic vistas as well as important industrial shipping routes. They are in fact, “the largest group of freshwater lakes in the Earth, comprising 21% of the world’s surface fresh water,” according to Wikipedia.
Because of the significance and sheer size of the Great Lakes, a number of laws were put in place to protect them from water contamination and ensure environmental sustainability. One of the environmental regulations enacted makes dumping litter, or hazardous waste materials, into the lakes illegal.
Somehow, some large tankers were granted waivers to the dumping rule and regularly unload obscene amounts of harmful elements into the water. One such ship is the SS Badger. As stated in an article in the HollandSeninel.com, “In its travels between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis., the ship dumps almost 8,000 pounds of coal ash into Lake Michigan daily under a special exemption from the National Environmental Protection Act, which the company received in 2008.”
The thought of the S.S. Badger dumping that much coal ash into the lake every single day for the past four years was too much for Michigan Republican senator, Rick Jones. He recently asked the E.P.A. to “honor the state of Michigan’s ban on Great Lakes dumping by rejecting the SS Badger’s request for a federal permit to dump coal ash into Lake Michigan, a violation of the law,” said the Sentinel article.
Considering that the law Jones is calling upon defines liter as: waste material, debris or other foreign substance of every kind and description, it would appear as a no-brainer that coal ash, commonly called fly ash, would fit the bill. In areas of the country where fly ash is produced, it is considered a pollutant and must be disposed of in a special landfill or recycled into a non-harmful product. The SS Badger should not be allowed to break the law and contaminate a body of water that holds almost a quarter of the world’s fresh surface water.
The New Jersey courts have decided that several companies will be paying $130 million as settlement in a long-running suit over the contamination of the Passaic River. The companies being held financially responsible are Tierra Solutions, Maxus Energy Corporation, as well as several other third party entities. The Passaic River is considered to be one of the most contaminated waterways in the world, polluted with chemicals like dioxins and PCBs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working on the cleanup effort of a particular 17-acre portion of the river for years making it the quintessential Superfund site.
The Passaic River has such severe water contamination due in large part to the former Diamond Shamrock Company. The factory produced Agent Orange for the Vietnam War, resulting in high levels of dioxin as waste. The river area most affected is directly outside of Newark. Dioxin is a known cancer-causing chemical. Through years of corporate acquisitions, a company known as Occidental Chemical Corp. has become responsible for the Diamond Shamrock Company’s contaminating waste.
State environmental officials feel that now that they have won a settlement from the smaller responsible parties, they can focus all of the attention on the case against the Occidental Chemical Corp. The state of New Jersey not only plans on using the $130 million towards river cleanup efforts, but to recover legal expenses that resulted from the drawn out civil court battle. A portion of settlement money would be put into the continued litigation against Occidental as well. There are hopes that this momentum could potentially result in $400 million in additional settlement to put toward cleanup of the Passaic River now that the smaller third party companies have taken responsibility for some of the contamination due to the dumping of raw sewage.
Despite winning a sizable settlement, river cleanup faces another obstacle. New Jersey governor Chris Christy can allocate millions of settlement dollars to the general fund as a part of the state’s overall annual budget. This money may never be used to clean up the river as intended and the New Jersey government can continue to apply future settlements in this manner.
The Environmental Protection Agency also worries that the State’s settlement in court will make it much more difficult for the federal government to hold Tierra, Maxus, and other lesser polluters responsible. With cleanup efforts for the Passaic River slated to be finalized within the next year with a price tag in the billions, the EPA would like financial retribution.
The state of Ohio has some serious question for the oil and gasoline industry after experiencing a series of small earthquakes recently. It is believed that the earthquakes, usually a magnitude 3.0 or less, were a direct result of nearby fracking sites. The process of fracking involves injecting high pressured water and sand into the ground in order to forcefully extract oil deposits. The oil is then processed into usable fuel. Although earthquakes are normally natural occurrences, all of the commotion in the deep bedrock has resulted in manmade earthquakes. The change in underground pressure due to drilling is forcing tectonic plates to shift. Ohio is not alone in this phenomenon; states like Oklahoma have been drawing this conclusion for years.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has responded to the recent tremors, acknowledging a correlation with fracking practices and creating stricter regulations for the oil industry. Drilling has been stopped at all fracking sites near areas affected by quakes. These drilling sites must remain closed until they can prove that operations are secure and new regulations are followed. One of the ODNR’s new environmental regulations is the mandatory use of seismic monitors for any drilling site within a three mile area of a known fault line. This new policy is aimed at preventing any future and possibly more dangerous future tremors.
Fracking had begun to boom in Ohio with over 800 drilling sites across the state, many focused on the Utica and Marcellus Shale’s. The newly acknowledged link between fracking and earthquakes may slow this boom down. The ODNR as well as other Ohio officials will be paying closer attention to how the oil and gas industry conduct business. Quake concerns as well as previous concerns of water contamination will make the fracking sites more accountable for their practices.
The state of California has a tough nut to crack when it comes to balancing the thriving almond industry with the ongoing drought. Currently, California produces 80% of the world almond supply on approximately 860,000 acres of land. This results in an estimated $11 billion industry at the heart of the state’s economy.
Many farmers began to ditch other crops like cotton and lettuce years ago since almonds were a much more prosperous use of their land. Not only was there a demand, but almonds grow on trees which only had to be planted once. Fields only needed to be tended to, not torn out and replanted each season. Since almond trees are permanent it also presents an issue with farmers having the ability to conserve water and not plant for a season. If the trees are not monitored they will die ruining all future harvests.
During the years of drought the almond industry has relied on irrigated surface water as well as water from the Sacramento River. As the drought stretched on, the government passed many environmental regulations in order to conserve water. One such regulation requires that in times of drought, all major California Rivers must have flowing water. Flowing water creates environmental sustainability to allow salmon populations to survive.
The almond industries, with all the power that comes with its prosperity is attempting to have the state’s government overturn legislation regarding water restrictions. They argue that initiatives like the one to protect salmon have proven unsuccessful since populations have not increased significantly.
California legislatures have decided to uphold all present water restrictions as they feel that alternatives must be explored. Allowing the almond industry special rights to the state’s water supply could be devastating to other agriculture in the area. Congress states that they completely understand the frustrations of the almond farmer and their livelihood that is on the line, but feel that this is not a flood gate that they are ready to open.
It is too bad that Mr. Clean does not make a Magic eraser large enough to clean up an area the size of a neighborhood.
In Burlington, Iowa, utility company Alliant’s cleanup of coal tar left over from coal gasification during the late 1800s into the first half of the 1900s is turning out to be a massive endeavor. Treating the coal tar-contaminated soil, backfilling, and paving over a former gas plant was expected to cost a maximum of three million dollars. That price is soaring as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources determined the coal tar may have caused water contamination of the local water table and even as far as the Mississippi riverbed.
“There are groundwater impacts to be addressed,” Jill Stevens who is Alliant’s manager of environmental services told The Hawk Eye.
Because of the high costs which are expected to reach four million, Alliant is considering postponing paving over the backfilled area until 2012. More than 20,000 tons of soil have already been treated.
Coal tar, which is a dangerous byproduct of coal gasification, is commonly found in areas around the U.S. because the plants of the past centuries were not aware of the harmful effects their processes were having on the environment. In fact, in the 1970’s a resurgence of the technology brought new life to coal gasification that occurs even today, although by using safer methods.(zentech.org) Companies who plan to purchase properties on or near former sites of coal gasification plants should do an in depthproperty history analysis before making the purchase to prevent running into a large scale cleanup project− one that can cost millions more than planned.