The hazardous waste materials causing water contamination at this Central New Jersey Superfund site are finally on their way out for good. As the final leg of a three-phased remediation, the U.S. EPA will put a happy ending on a less-than-stellar property history.
Evor Phillips Leasing Superfund site has been a toxic eyesore in Old Bridge since its operating days decades ago. According to a statement by the EPA, “From the early 1970s to 1986, the Evor Phillips site was used for industrial waste treatment and metal recovery operations. Liquid waste treated on-site, and two waste disposal areas were used to neutralize acidic and caustic waste water. The site also contained 19 small furnaces for incinerating photographic film and printed circuit boards to recover silver and other precious metals.”
Cleanup began in 2002 with the demolition of several buildings and also “involved the removal of about 40 buried drums and soil contaminated by metals and the construction of a groundwater treatment system to prevent the contaminated ground water from moving off site,” according to an article on MyCentralJersey.com. The companies responsible for the contamination picked up the tab for the cleanup and the DEP supervised the process.
Six years later phase two began. The contaminated soil was removed and treated elsewhere.
To the delight of members of the community, phase three is set to begin one year from now. The ground water contamination will require ongoing treatment and monitoring. The remediation method selected for the job is called chemical oxidation, a treatment which “uses chemicals to destroy pollution in soil and ground water, breaking down the harmful chemicals into water and carbon dioxide,” according to the same article.
The EPA wants to make it very clear that the water is extremely hazardous to human health. “The chemicals in the ground water at the Evor Phillips Superfund site pose health risks. Removing and treating them is the best way protect the health of people who live and work in the area,” said EPA regional administrator, Judith Enck. The main hazardous waste materials at the site are volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can be carcinogenic in certain cases. The EPA explains that, “The extent and nature of potential health effects depend on many factors, including the level and length of exposure to the pollution.”
While many in Old Bridge, including the Mayor, have complaints about the slow pace of the entire remediation that has been going on since the 1980s, there is one additional thing that makes this particular Superfund cleanup a success. Though the aim of every Superfund project is to hold the actual polluters responsible for the cost of the cleanup, many times those parties have long gone out of business or have filed for protection in bankruptcy court leaving little or no assets to work with. In the case of Evor Phillips Leasing, all the original parties have been found and are taking the burden off tax payers and cleaning up the site with the EPA acting only in an oversight capacity.
The state of California has taken the initial steps in drafting legislation to regulate the hydraulic fracturing of underground oil, a process commonly known as fracking. While the practice has been occurring in the state over the past sixty years, the lack of environmental regulation has only recently come to attention. The recent attention comes as the fracking industry has begun to boom in the Monterey area.
Environmentalists and concerned citizens alike want the industry to be state-regulated before the California experiences some of the problems, such as water contamination and land pollution, seen in other fracking hotbed states. The bill is expected to be passed by the state’s legislature and signed into law by the governor before this winter.
It is estimated that there are 15.4 billion barrels of oil nestled in what has become known as the Monterey Shale. The Shale lies in a 1,750-square mile area in California’s Central Valley and requires horizontal drilling in order to become a useable source of domestic fuel. The Central Valley is also the home to acres of alfalfa, almond, and pistachio farms. Farmers are concerned that the sudden increase in fracking sites where crops once grew could devastate their livelihood. The concern lies in the potential for contamination of local waterways including the Kern River.
The Western States Petroleum Association, the organization representing the hydraulic fracturing industry, agrees that it also sees the increased need for regulation in the state of California in order to keep all operations safe. The Association also emphasizes that over the past sixty years there has never been an incident due to regulations that currently exist regarding the oil wells themselves. The new bill would create transparency of all chemicals used and notification of what is going on at the fracking site via a public website.
Proponents of the bill believe that it is important to institute a precedence of transparency before the industry becomes too large and difficult to regulate. There is a fear that once the need for regulation becomes urgent, bills will be passed hastily and become watered down. One resident explains the concerns: Tom Frantz, a local man who farms in an area likely to see increased fracking, said, “The high pressures they use to frack, I mean they could have literally a failure of the well that could contaminate this one area. I’m worried if they don’t do something, if they don’t take the time they need to make the rules right now, this thing will take off in a year, two years, and the scramble for money will…push regulation and worries about regulation out the door.”
Many states in the Eastern region of the United States have long complained that they were being forced to deal with and suffer the consequences of air pollution created by states to the West. The Supreme Court recently made a controversial ruling on requiring Western states to be responsible for reducing the air pollution that is created by the numerous coal-fired power plants and other industries residing in region.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is thrilled with the decision to uphold their “cross-state air pollution rule.” The EPA has stated that this ruling will affect the environmental safety of least 28 states or the equivalent of 240 million Americans. The environmental regulation should help to prevent the 400,000 asthma attacks and 34,000 deaths credited to air pollution annually. Assigning the price tag of emissions cleanup to Western states will likely also decrease the coal-fire power industry. Environmentalists applaud the potential consequence.
The Supreme Court’s ruling comes after years of legal and political battles. In 2011 Texas teamed with many Midwestern States to sue the federal government and block this portion of the Clean Air Act. The states won their case in 2012, a ruling the Supreme Court has obviously overturned with this latest decision.
Opponents of the bill believe that the Supreme Court’s ruling has only perpetuated the EPA’s abuse of the Clean Air Act. These critics feel that this ruling is an overreach of power that will not realistically result in a significant change of air quality. They feel the regulation will prove expensive for the states, many vital industries, and the economy. The cleanup costs would ultimately affect American citizens as well. The Western states also feel as though the EPA’s regulation mandates are infringing on their state’s rights. Overall they do not feel they should be responsible for the direction the wind blows.
The Supreme Court supported their decision by discussing the unfairness of Western states reaping all of the economic benefits of successful industry and power creation with little of their profits being spent on environmental cleanup and air quality testing. Meanwhile Eastern states that were not prospering from the industry were being held accountable for cleaning up the air pollution being blown in their direction.
Residents of North Carolina can now breathe a little easier. Last week, their state reached an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) which requires the coal powered utility to make enormous clean up concessions and pay some hefty ines.
The agreement was born out of the 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act. The act was hard fought for and had a big bark−it just lacked the necessary bite to effect change. A successful 2006 Clean Smokestacks lawsuit against TVA led by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper was later overturned by a federal court of appeals.
Fast forward to April 2011, and to the delight of environmental advocates and North Carolinians alike, the TVA agreement turns out to be more powerful than the original lawsuit.
TVA must close no less than 18 of its dirtiest coal fired plants, a number of which closely border North Carolina and directly pump air pollution into its skies.
The settlement calls for a cleanup estimated to cost TVA between three to five billion dollars as well as $350 million towards clean energy and environmental sustainability initiatives. Add to that a ten million dollar fine.
This landmark settlement sets a strong precedent for empowering states to go after heavy polluters in other states. The toxic emissions spewed from coal powered facilities do not just hover above the state that hosts them. The pollution travels great distances through wind currents and causes direct negative effects on the quality of life in neighboring states; increases in health problems and healthcare costs, adverse environmental effects, drops in tourism dollars, and a cumulative dip in their economies.
Two film makers created an Oscar-nominated documentary chronicling the dark history of water contamination at the Camp Lejeune Marines military base. The film, entitled, “Semper Fi: Always Faithful, was shot by directors Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon, and follows the lives of the two men who discovered and exposed the cover-up at Lejeune. Mike Partain and Jerome Ensminger take viewers on a wrenching journey, exploring the harm that drinking water laced with hazardous waste material caused for generations of military personnel and their families.
Located in North Carolina, Camp Lejeune is the largest Marine base in the U.S. Since the 1950s, everyone living and working at the base was exposed to contaminated drinking water. This fact, it turns out, was covered up by the military and wasn’t brought out in the open until Ensminger “started digging into Camp Lejeune’s documents after he saw a news report about the contamination.” He says, “I see all these memorandums, all this stuff that was going on. I’m thinking to myself, for God’s sake, I was right there.”
According to Gerry Broome of the Associated Press, “The Marine Corps at Lejeune routinely dumped fluids containing harmful chemicals, which leaked into groundwater and eventually contaminated a well. For decades, buried tanks also leaked fuel, allowing the chemical benzene, a known carcinogen, into the ground nearby.” Documents that Ensminger discovered showed that the military was aware of the hazardous drinking water since at least the 1980s, but that it did not take proper precautions to help or notify any of the million people who spent time living on the base since the problem began.
To this, the military has asserted that notifying that many people would have been “too large an undertaking.” Further, Marine Corps spokesperson Kendra Hardesty, says, “We care about every person who has ever lived or worked at Camp Lejeune. We are concerned about these individuals and are working hard with the scientific and medical communities to try to find them answers.”
Answers came too late for thousands of those who lived at Lejuene.
Both Ensminger and Partain have experienced firsthand the tragic toll the secret pollution caused. Ensminger lost a nine-year old daughter who was born at the base to childhood leukemia. Partain, “is one of more than 70 men who lived there and now suffer from rare male breast cancer,” says Broome. Tragically, since no safety and health programs were in place over the years, more than 700 babies and unborn children who were affected by the polluted water now rest in a special section of the base’s cemetery, known locally as “Baby Heaven.”
“Semper Fi” hits hard but is has proven pivotal in drawing light to a very dark subject. The documentary was shown to Congress, which has taken note of Camp Lejeune’s water contamination and is finally seeking answers.
For Mike Partain, the congressional investigation is bittersweet. “The bad news is I was conceived, carried, and born at Camp Lejeune. What happened to me in the womb I will carry for the rest of my life, and will more than likely be the end of my life at some point.”
Southington is a quintessential Connecticut town with a growing population and an expanding economy base as new residents move in and new business open their doors seemingly each week. It’s an ideal place to raise a family based on a number of criteria. Unfortunately, Southington also deals with a water contamination problem similar to many others in the area due to high levels of phosphorous polluting the rivers that help make the town so picturesque.
The Quinnipiac River, in particular has been suffering from high levels of several pollutants, some of which the DEEP has already implemented cleanup plans for. After targeting heavy metals, solid waste, and nitrogen, the agency is now focusing on phosphorous. Too much phosphorous in a body of water supports algae blooms, choking off oxygen for aquatic life and makes water unsuitable for drinking or swimming.
Town officials are close to closing on a deal with the DEEP that will potentially save millions of dollars. The DEEP has been trying to lower the acceptable limits of phosphorous for a few years now. According to Jason Vallee of the SouthingtonPatch.com, “After nearly a year of battling a new federal EPA regulation regarding phosphorous removal, it appears the town and state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are close on deal that would save Southington over $18 million.” The deal will give the environmental regulations a little leeway by issuing a permit that allows “phosphorous limits to remain at 0.7 parts per million,” said Town Councilor Lou Martochhio.
If the limits were lowered to 0.2, as the DEEP wishes, Southington will have to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant, a project that will come with a hefty price tag. The town, along with Meriden and Cheshire, has been bracing itself for the upgrades that will be required if its treatment plant must drastically reduce phosphorous discharges. For now though, it looks like Southington will likely have a five-year extension on current limits.
This current environmental issue is one that the state of California has reason to celebrate. A twenty-year effort toward a cleaner San Diego Bay is close to being realized in September when the area south of the Coronado Bridge will be dredged, removing the contaminated soil that lies beneath the water.
San Diego Bay was once a diverse ecosystem of aquatic flora and fauna, but decades of industrial abuse have made it less so. It was, at one time, “a fertile, shallow bay supporting tremendous biodiversity in its open water, salt marshes and mud flats,” said the Environmental Health Coalition. Current environmental law has drastically reduced continued pollution, but it is the area’s toxic history that has settled to the ocean floor diminishing the health of the Bay.
A plan to dredge the San Diego Bay will remove an estimated 158,000 cubic feet of contaminated soil. The mud will be laid out to dry and moved to an approved landfill for proper disposal. The layers of sediment below the water are polluted with high amounts of heavy metals like mercury, copper, and lead. Most of the heavy metals polluting the Bay resulted from decades of coal-burning industry, waste-water runoff, as well as harsh boat paints which were banned in 1988.While all of these chemicals prove harmful to humans upon exposure, copper is particularly harmful to shellfish and other sea animals.
The entire cleanup process of the area south of the Coronado Bridge is slated to cost approximately $75 million. The price tag will be funded by several parties including the local port and shipyards. Conflict remains over who is responsible for how much.
San Diego Bay is a significant port site for both commercial businesses as well as the U.S. military. “San Diego Bay is an area of national importance,” said Dave Gibson, executive officer of the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board. “It is one of the most commercially important bays, and it is an important military base. So cleaning that up is one of the board’s highest priorities.”
Decontamination of the Bay is important to the ecosystem as well as local fishermen. Officials estimate that 61% of fishermen consume the seafood they catch. Cleaning up the bay will restore a level of environmental safety, reducing the risk of fishermen catching contaminated fish.
This area of the San Diego Bay will be the eighth dredging project as well as the largest scaled. Once the project is successful, thirty-three more dredging projects are slated to begin in the near future.
Environmentalists admit that the dredging will never return the San Diego Bay to its once-fertile ecosystem of salt marshes and undisturbed mud flats, but it is a huge step in the right direction. Now that stronger environmental regulations are in place regarding what can be released into the waters off California, the pollution levels will hopefully never return to such an unhealthy level.
Current environmental issues are often the fodder for hot debate, but there is one issue that cannot be denied by even the biggest skeptics; garbage. The overwhelming amount of global trash can’t be ignored since it can literally be seen. There is no denying the problem exists, like many do when it comes to global warming and climate change.
The amount of trash in the world is expected to increase every year, which means that more will end up the planet’s oceans. Issues with trash in the ocean date back as far as WWII in which animals were found ensnared in Japanese military garbage. While the problem isn’t new it has come into the media spotlight recently during the search for the infamous missing Malaysian plane. Every time search crews felt they had a lead on the plane’s whereabouts it turned out to be garbage.
Trash in our oceans has become even more complicated with the over abundance of plastics in modern society. Plastics do not decompose like other materials and animals are not only becoming tangled in trash, but are now consuming tiny plastic beads. With this consumption comes the disturbance of entire food chains.
With the threat of increased ocean trash the question of a solution remains. Several plastic manufacturing companies have aligned to encourage the recycling of plastic products. Local beach cleanups are also planned in several communities regularly. These cleanups are often expensive and sadly ineffective in the grand scheme of things. For instance, the city of San Francisco spends an average of $6 million to clean up cigarette butts a year.
Unfortunately there is no easy answer; the introduction of micro plastics has made it impossible to simply skim the trash out of the ocean. If this was done, plankton and other small organisms vital to ocean life would also be removed. The best solution to this growing trash problem lies in prevention. Proper trash disposal and decreasing the amount of land pollution prevents much of it from ever reaching the oceans.
Back in the 1970’s and earlier , the popular method of lining landfills was to simply find a less than desirable location, use a clay base, or no base at all and then start filling in with rubbish. Pretty simple, and pretty unfriendly to surrounding areas.
Orange County, Virginia is making the move to close its landfill in spite of having enough room left to contain a few more years worth of refuse. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has more strict requirements for future landfills
and has required Orange County to upgrade to the new, safer style used in other parts of the state.
The DEQ requires that all landfills be created with higher standards. Kurt Hildebrand, Public Works Director says, “The new landfill will be built to the current regulations and standards; we’ll excavate it to a planned depth and install a synthetic liner and stone base.” In addition to using the liner, the new landfills are divided into separate cells so that only one part of a landfill is exposed to the elements at any time.
The main reason for the tighter environmental regulation is that lined landfills are far better at preventing the spillage and leakage that can contaminate the ground and water near the landfill. Even the air in the immediate vicinity of an old landfill can be polluted with volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) which can cause health problems and even be combustible.
Orange County’s landfill was one of the last Old Style landfills left in the state. The requirement by Virginia’s DEQ is significant towards protecting the state’s land from ground contamination. Although Hildbrand and others forecast slower than usual waste disposal over the next thirty years, in the long run, America’s population is growing and landfills are an unavoidable part of that growth. Well lined and planned landfills are an important step in protecting human health.
A recent study of hydraulic fracturing by the University of Texas at Austin produced results that fly in the face of numerous other studies and expert opinions. The final report claims that fracking in and of itself does not contaminate groundwater.
According to Casey Junkis, of Herald Star Online, the report “does not deny there are potential chemical and methane contamination problems related to the entire drilling process. Instead, it states these hazards—well casing failures, poor cement jobs or surface chemical spills— can occur at drill sites independent from the actual fracking process.”
Many experts, environmentalists, and people living in fracking zones are in an uproar. They believe the whole study is biased and led one biology professor, Yuri Gorby, to proclaim, “There are no new data presented, simply a compilation of industry-generated declarations of how there are no scientific data to link fracking to contamination.”
Indeed, only recently, testing in Wyoming showed a clear link between fracking fluid and water contamination. Widespread hydraulic fracturing in the northern part of Pennsylvania has caused a host of problems including fracking wastewater being flushed into waterways. A recently published EPA document from 1987 describes a case of well water contamination in Jackson County, West Virginia.
With all the skepticism surrounding this new study, questions do arise. Could it be that human error, not fracking itself that causes contamination? With all the economic benefits that stand to be gained with increased drilling for natural gas, is it worth finding a safe, relatively fool-proof method of fracking? Could using a safer fluid, one that does not contain such a toxic chemical cocktail, help avoid polluting local ground and drinking water?
Duke University professor Robert Jackson sums up the situation. “Most problems are caused by companies that are in a hurry. When you are in a hurry, you make a mistake.” Could it be a series of mistakes causing the contamination that is one of the most debated current environmental issues of our time?