America’s environmental guardian angel has swooped down to take up a new cause. Ms. Brockovich has agreed to join the fight for veterans and their families to hold Camp Lejeune responsible for the health problems caused by the U.S. military base’s thirty years of water contamination.
According to a statement by Brockovich, “We need to look at what happened at Camp Lejeune, the ground water contamination,” she said. “Who’s been affected, find them all and make sure that we do everything possible to make their future a little bit brighter.”
The pollution at Camp Lejeune is well documented and is in fact the largest Defense Department contamination incident on record. Lindell Kay, of Jacksonville News, reports that “at least 500,000 people may have been exposed in the 30-year period from 1957 to 1987 to a host of toxic chemicals, including known human carcinogens benzene and vinyl chloride, as well as drying [sic] cleaning solvents and degreasers.”
What Brockovich and twenty two other state and national organizations are pushing for is legislation that would make it easier for those affected by the water contamination to receive medical care for their health conditions. Many of the veterans and their families who lived on the base used the water for everything from drinking, bathing, and cooking and cannot afford the proper medical treatments.
A number of Hollywood movies and independent documentaries have been filmed the past ten years highlighting the problem of water contamination at U.S. military bases. Most recently, a movie specifically focused on the problem at Camp Lejeune will be shown to members of Congress. With the help of the public awareness brought about by these films and the high caliber representation of Ms. Erin Brockovich, there is hope that these brave men and women who fought for our country and their families that lived with them on base will have access to the treatment that they need to take back their health. It is tragic that there have been some victims who have not lived to see that day.
One West Virginia man is convinced that hydraulic fracturing is causing methane contamination in his drinking water well and he’s fighting back with a lawsuit. “My water well is now a gas well,” says Jeremiah Magers.
The basis of the lawsuit, according to Mr. Magers, is that because Chesapeake Energy’s operations caused the water contamination, it should be responsible to provide an alternative drinking water source. And it did not do that. As described in the suit, Chesapeake Energy demonstrated, “willful, wanton, intentional, reckless and malicious” behavior.
According to Casey Junkins, of HeraldStarOnline.com, “Magers previously said his water well became contaminated with methane-and that natural gas began bubbling in Fish Creek- shortly after Chesapeake began fracking at a production site roughly 1200 feet from the Magers’ water tank.”
The fracking process has been found in several cases in the United States to have caused methane contamination. One example is the 2009 case in Dimock, Pennsylvania, in which Cabot Oil & Gas “had to financially compensate residents and construct a pipeline to bring in clean water,” says Wikipedia.
Methane can be found naturally in drinking water wells and isn’t always caused by fracking. That’s exactly the scenario that Chesapeake Energy is claiming. The company performed sampling of the Magers’ well. According to Stacey Brodak, a senior director of Chesapeake, the testing did find methane, but she claimed, “Chesapeake withdrew its water supply from Magers’ home because the company’s test results showed the methane present in the water sample did not match the gas from our oil and gas operations.”
Jeremiah Magers certainly disagrees with this statement and is pursuing his case in court. Mr. Magers’ environmental attorney, Joseph Canestrato had no comment about the pending suit but this will be one to watch for. Should Magers’ win his case, other residents facing similar problems may have a better chance at demanding a clean drinking water source when their wells become contaminated.
In a current environmental issue that environmentalists deem a strike against them, the Supreme Court of California ruled that Las Angeles County is not liable for polluted water that flows through the area’s waterways and into the Pacific Ocean.
The Supreme Court, which overturned an earlier decision by a lower court, voted with the explanation that although the polluted water passes through L.A. County, the county itself does not contribute any of the hazardous waste materials that make the water so dirty.
Many others disagree and feel that the county got a free pass and even worse, the ruling doesn’t place the responsibility on anyone so the tainted rivers will continue to reach the Pacific.
“The county has managed to game the system in a way that allowed the pollution of our waterways to go unaddressed for many years. The county is the largest source of stormwater pollution to local waterways, and today it has escaped accountability, but only temporarily,” said Liz Crosson, of L.A. Waterkeeper.
The court decision was partially based on a precedent set in South Florida, according to Matthew Sanderson of the Pacific Palisades Patch. In that Supreme Court case, “the court determined pumping polluted water ‘between two parts of the same water body’ does not constitute a pollutant discharge under the Clean Water Act.”
The groups that filed the lawsuits are concerned about environmental safety and also the health of the people. Toxins such as “copper, zinc, cyanide, aluminum and fecal bacteria” make their way into the ocean as reported in Sanderson’s article.
“We’ll continue to seek to hold the Los Angeles County Flood Control District responsible for cleaning up its water pollution,” said Steve Fleishli, one of the environmental attorneys working for NRDC’s national water program.
The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, has shed light on the fact that many communities are lacking safe drinking water in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Upon her return from a trip to the area, Ms. McCarthy publicly expressed disappointment at the extended amount of time that it is taking the State of California to address drinking water issues. Ms. McCarthy’s commentary comes at an appropriate time, since the EPA is threatening to cease future funding to clean drinking water projects in California until the state uses some of the its existing stockpile of $455 million in federal funding.
While California sits on the millions of federal funding and takes slow steps towards supplying clean drinking water, many residents are growing tired of having to buy bottled water. These individuals have been subject to years of government hoops and red tape. It is estimated that 200,000 residents reliant on public water supplies are going without clean drinking water. An additional 2.1 million people who are not reliant on public supply are also without clean water. Area wells, including one at an elementary school in Orange Center have been monitored and tested positive for nitrates and uranium clearly indicating water contamination.
California’s public health agency promises that they are taking significant steps toward improvements. The first of which is the issuance of a 16 page plan outlining how the state will spend $800 million in federal funding over the next few years. The EPA is also taking a special interest in accounting for all of the dollars spent on the projects. The Environmental Protection Agency will also have more of a say once the scope of the Clean Water Act is increased to include jurisdiction of almost all waterways in the U.S. This scope of power is set to change very soon.
Much of the federal funding received by the state is used to build water treatment facilities, but the funding does not cover the future costs of operating the facility. This cost must be covered by the community being served, a cost that many municipalities simply cannot fulfill.
The San Elijo community, located to the north of San Diego, has drafted a detailed plan to completely restore a local 979 acre lagoon. Area residents are being given the opportunity to publicly comment on the San Elijo Lagoon plan this week at a town meeting. The public may also view the plan electronically on the San Diego Department of Parks & Recreation’s or U.S. Army Corp of Engineer’s website.
Over the past few decades, Lagoons have been completely ignored environmentally. They have been contaminated by highway runoff water and sewage. Lagoons like the one in San Elijo face water contamination as well as changes to currents. These changes have allowed lagoons to become shallow, mostly stagnant pools of water. It turns out that Lagoons are actually unique ecosystems that should be conserved. After site assessments, researchers have found that the San Elijo Lagoon is home to over 700 different types of plants and animals.
Restoring the Lagoon would involve a complete dredging as well as a redirecting of the channel flows. All sand resulting from the dredging process would then be donated to nearby beach for beach restoration projects. Nearby mud flats would also benefit from the restoration. Mud flats serve an important purpose of filtering potentially contaminated water before it reaches the ocean, as well as being the home to a multitude of shellfish. These shellfish would supply bird populations with a much needed food source.
A more circulated San Elijo Lagoon will vastly reduce the amount of mosquitoes in the area as well, since they will have much less stagnant breeding area. A reduction in mosquito populations would prevent the spread of diseases as well as make the scenic area far more enjoyable for residents. The restoration plan also calls for the construction of trails to access the Lagoon for nature walks, bike rides, or bird watching.
The San Elijo Lagoon restoration plan is not anticipated to receive much public scrutiny since it is similar to plans that have proven highly successful at lagoons in nearby communities.
Residents in one Connecticut town have banned together in an attempt to have an unsightly barrier removed. A large orange boom is currently blocking off boat access to a canal that flows into the Connecticut River. The canal was once the home of a now decommissioned nuclear power plant.
The Connecticut Yankee nuclear power plant was originally closed in 1996 and was completely decommissioned in 2007. That same year the canal was reopened to the public, allowing boat access as well as fishing along the canal banks.
Access to the canal was cut off again in 2013 after the Boston Marathon Bombings as well as an incident in which a Tennessee nuclear plant worker was threatened by a boater. Connecticut Yankee feared that since the defunct plant is still technically a nuclear site storing 1,100 spent fuel rods that public access could create a national security issue. The spent rods are stored in cement casks on the property and are always guarded. The company felt it was their legal due diligence to take action.
At first residents were somewhat understanding, especially after Connecticut Yankee stated that they were required by the Department of Homeland Security to block canal access. Upon investigation, residents discovered that Homeland Security had made no such regulation and did not authorize the closing of the canal.
Local fisherman, boaters, environmentalist, and enjoyers of river all activities have created a petition stating that the barrier is destroying the natural setting and interfering with the property health of the area. It also calls for the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to look into the matter. DEEP ensures the public that it is working with Connecticut Yankee to come up with a solution that will be better for the environment as well as the natural aesthetics of the area. Alternatives may include the complete removal of the boom, moving the boom, further down in the canal, or coming up with a new less garish design.
Two environmental watchdog groups recently uncovered a 1987 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document of a case study showing well water in Jackson County, West Virginia had been contaminated by the fracking process. This flies in the face of industry claims that the controversial natural gas drilling method poses no danger to homeowners living near drilling sites.
The document was a report to Congress which seems to have disappeared for all of these years and has not been discussed since the late 80’s. Environmental Working Group, one of the organizations that recovered the document began an investigation on the EPA’s findings and concluded that the abandoned wells named in the report could in fact allow fracking fluid to seep into drinking water.
“When you add up the gel in the water, the presence of abandoned wells and the documented ability of drilling fluids to migrate through these wells into underground water supplies, there is a lot of evidence that EPA got it right and that this was indeed a case of hydraulic fracturing contamination of groundwater,” said Dusty Horwitt, the Group’s senior oil and gas analyst.
Natural gas industry lobbyists have pushed hard (successfully) to keep fracking out of the 2005 Safe Water Drinking Act and since the process began, “hundreds of thousands of wells” have been fractured.
What the 1987 report shows is that fracking can cause drinking water contamination and that is a scary notion that can affect the many thousands of residents living in hotbed natural gas states including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and others.
The EPA investigators who originally wrote the report stated, “During the fracturing process, fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid, and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”
A number of American Indian tribes are sitting on reservations containing potentially trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Instead of jumping head-first into to the hydraulic fracturing gold rush that many oil and gas conglomerates are salivating over, the tribes are taking a cautious route—one that may very well serve as an example to the rest of the nation.
Oil and gas exploration has exploded in recent years with many some states acting in a “do now; deal with consequences later” manner, and with devastating results. A prime example is northern Pennsylvania, which has seen an alarming number of cases of water contamination related to fracking operations, as well as areas around the drilling regions that have seen small earthquakes and drinking water wells polluted with methane.
A handful of Montana tribes are optimistic about the possibility of drilling on their reservations, but want to make the drilling companies accountable to environmental regulations denoted in the Clean Water Act. The stakes and the potential profits are high. Talking about the Blackfeet Indian reservation, Tristan Scott, of Missoulian.com wrote, “One estimate says the reservation sits on top of about 109 million barrels of oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet natural gas.”
Joining the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, and the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, are the Blackfeet Indians to “apply the federal water quality standards under the Clean Water Act in an effort to protect its rivers, lakes, and wetlands,” says Scott.
The EPA’s website describes the Clean Water Act’s goals as “restoring and protecting the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. Water quality standards established under the CWA set the Tribe’s expectations for Reservation water quality, serve as a foundation for pollution control efforts and are a fundamental component of watershed management. Specifically, these standards serve as water quality goals for individual surface waters, guide and inform monitoring and assessment activities, and provide a legal basis for permitting and regulatory pollution controls (e.g. discharge permits).”
The Blackfeet tribe wants protection for the bodies of water located on their reservations so that the gas and oil exploration companies that want to get onto their land cannot simply ravage the precious natural resources. By applying the standards of the Clean Water Act, the tribe knows that it will maintain a great deal of control over the waters. The stringent rules are often attacked by big business interests as impeding on economic profits because they do hold polluters accountable for their operations. It’s an environmental management plan that works, to put it simply.
It appears to a positive environmental trend for the reservations to fight for tight regulations to protect the land they own. Other local districts around the country would be wise to also perform due diligence when considering allowing the natural gas industry to being exploring and drilling. The companies who perform hydraulic fracturing do not have the same incentives as the locales that open up their land. Once the drills have been dug and being pumping that coveted natural gas, there is very little that can be done to clean up the mess they leave behind.
Former energy ratepayers are the ultimate winners in a $160 million dollar environmental lawsuit settlement between Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co. and the United States Government. For about four years, those customers paid a special surcharge on their bills to cover the cost of the Department of Energy to remove the waste after the nuclear plant was decommissioned in the 2000s. That money never was used for the correct purpose. The waste sits on the site today—at an annual cost of $7 million to $10 for maintenance.
“Taxpayers are on the hook for this failure and can expect more of the same until the government acts to implement a nuclear waste management program,” explained Steven Kerekes, who is a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The former nuclear power plant in Haddam, Conn. follows two others—one in Maine and one in Mass. —in filing a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the defendant did not live up to its contracts. The Feds were supposed to remove nuclear hazardous waste material from the former Connecticut Yankee nuclear plant the year the nuclear plant ceased operations.
A Connecticut Yankee spokesperson, Bob Capstick said, “It is too to determine how the settlement money will be split among ratepayers, or even when that will occur.”
This settlement is the first in what will likely be a three part lawsuit. Dowling explains, “The companies expect a decision in 2013 on the second phase, which requests about $247 million from the federal government….Additional claims are expected to be filed by the end of 2013.”
The ratepayers surely will be happy to receive reimbursement for their money paid in vain, but what concerns everyone involved the most is that the highly toxic hazardous nuclear waste is still there in what is now a 583-acre wildlife refuge.
The state of Wisconsin has decided to explore many new options in order to stretch its annual spending budget. One of latest budget savers has been the use of cheese brine to treat icy winter roads. Cheese brine is a fraction of the cost and has proven extremely effective when mixed with rock salts. In the program’s first year the state saved an estimated $40,000 with the savings increase each years since. When traditional Sodium Chloride or rock salt is mixed with the brine much less is required on the roads. The salty liquid stays on the road far better than the dry salt which gets displace with every passing car.
Cheese brine has cost the state of Wisconsin an estimated $6,500 in the recent years past to store and transport, making up only a tiny portion of the $6.5 million spent to treat the roads in 2012. Obviously the brine has the potential to make things much cheaper in the future. Currently the state is mixing 8 gallons of brine to every ton of sodium chloride.
The use of cheese brine not only saves Wisconsin and its taxpayers money, but it also save dairy farmers the added expense of having the brine transported to a wastewater treatment plants. Farmers simply donate the brine to the state. There is no shortage of brine with Wisconsin producing 25% of the nation’s cheese or 2.8 billion pounds. Mozzarella and provolone have proven to have the best brine for the roadways due to their high salt content.
Aside for the financial benefits the use of cheese brine should also help remedy many of the current environmental issues associated with traditional road salting. Most states use Sodium Chloride to treat their roads during inclement winter weather. One of the largest environmental concerns is the damage of trees and other plant life along roadways. The harsh salt can damage root systems as well as the plant structure. Plants also absorb fewer nutrients in extremely salty soil. Some states like Nevada and California have greatly limited the amount of road salt that can be used due to this potential danger.
The salty chemical often leads to water contamination as it is washed away with snow melt as well. The change in the salinity of freshwater ecosystems can be devastating. Fish begin dying due to ingesting toxic levels of sodium. Road runoff can also make its way into water meant for human consumption. Excess sodium chloride in drinking water may change the taste of the water so slightly that it is not detectable by the average person, but the escalated salt content could prove deadly to individuals with health issues like, kidney disease, high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Animals in the wild tend to find the allure of road salt irresistible. Many larger mammals like deer and moose love to lick the road salt or nearby snow when they are thirsty. Their sodium levels are increased, but the animals also become less afraid of roadways and traffic. This increases the likelihood of the animal being hit by a car and killed. Humans could be injured in the collision as well. Smaller animals like birds confuse rock salt pellets for berries or other food sources. After consumption the animal’s body can reach toxic salt levels and become disoriented or die. While cheese brine still contains salt, it is thought to be less harmful to the environment that Sodium Chloride.