The former Diaz Chemical plant is a five-acre hazardous waste site in Holley, New York that sits on the Federal Superfund list, causing water contamination, land pollution, and vapor intrusion. The newest plan for cleaning up the toxic mess is a lesser-known tactic called electrical resistance heating remediation (ERH.)
ERH, in a nutshell, is a process in which a flow of electric currents heat the contaminated soil to evaporate the hazardous materials. In a more scientific description, given by Wikipedia, “ERH consists of constructing electrodes in the ground, applying alternating current (AC) electricity to the electrodes and heating the subsurface to temperatures that promote the evaporation of contaminants. Volatilized contaminants are captured by a subsurface vapor recovery system and conveyed to the surface along with recovered air and steam.”
Diaz Chemical took over the site in 1974 and began manufacturing chemicals for number of industries, including “agricultural, pharmaceutical, photographic, color and dye, and personal care,” according to an EPA National Priority Listing History report.
Processing chemicals was not the problem. Things went array after a long property history of spills and toxic mishaps. The same EPA report stated, “The Diaz Chemical facility has a long history of spills, releases and discharges of various materials to the environment that dates back to about 1975. An accidental air release occurred on January 5, 2002, when a reactor vessel in a process building overheated, causing its safety valve to rupture and release approximately 75 gallons of a chemical mixture through a roof stack vent. The release consisted primarily of a mixture of steam, toluene, and 2-chloro-6-fluorophenol as well as related phenolic compounds. Soon after the release, people complained of acute health effects such as sore throats, headaches, eye irritation, nosebleeds, and skin rashes. As a result of the release, residents voluntarily relocated from some of the homes in the neighborhood to area hotels with assistance from Diaz Chemical.”
Previous attempts have been made to clean up the Diaz site and prior to the company’s bankruptcy in 2003 the chemical manufacturer was contributing funds towards the process. After the company went kaput, the EPA had to step in and begin using money from the Superfund. Methods that have been used in the remediation are: removing and shipping 8,600 drums and 112,000 gallons of hazardous waste to remote areas, dismantling and removing 51,280 linear feet of facility piping, which recovered about 800 gallons of waste that was inside the pipes, recycling structural and scrap steel and motors, and removal of 5,750 tons of concrete and nine PCB-containing transformers. (source: The Daily News)
The Daily News article states, “The EPA also has removed and disposed of 175 cubic yards of lead-contaminated wood and 20 cubic yards of asbestos debris, decontaminated a warehouse, and dismantled all of the production buildings and tank containment areas, another warehouse and boiler room, electrical room, laboratory and an oil tank storage area.”
Hopefully, this latest electric method will yield the results that will finally get the Diaz site off the Superfund list and allow the town of Holley to move on and put the 29 years of pollution behind it.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has quite the mystery hatching at a water treatment plant in Hanford. The local swallow population has begun to build mud nests under the steel beams of the plant. Many of the nests have recently tested positive for radioactive waste, but no one is certain where the contamination originated.
The DOE has hypothesized that the 23,000 gallon storage units in the Liquid Effluent Retention Facility may be a culprit in the contaminated nest problem. The water stored in these basins is the contaminated water from local environmental cleanup projects and is brought here and stored until it can be purified. Environmental investigators studied the swallow’s behavior and observed the small birds frequenting the site. The storage containers are covered but water tends to pool on these covers and becomes potentially contaminated as well. The pooled water proves a desirable watering hole for swallows. “With little water available in central Hanford, that may have attracted the swallows,” said J.D. Dowell, assistant manager with the DOE.
Dust has also settled in the pools allowing plant life to begin growing as well as creating the perfect resource for the swallow’s favorite building material; mud. The basin covers have since been cleared of all pooled water to prevent future nest contamination.
While the waste water basins might be the source of some of the swallows’ raw materials, the mystery still remains as to why the nests are contaminated with radioactive substances as none is stored in the Hanford facility. A current construction project to develop the Hanford plant into a radioactive decontamination facility is still years away from reality. In the future, the plant will be responsible for decontaminating nearly 56 million gallons of radioactive hazardous waste materials resulting from the U.S. government plutonium production and nuclear weapons program.
Since Hanford does not yet have experience with radioactive material they have brought in companies that can aid in the cleanup. For the time being, the area with the contaminated nests has been barricaded off to prevent exposure to employees and construction crews. Officials do not believe that the public is at any risk of exposure either. Swallow nests found in other areas of the plant have all been tested and have been cleared of any radioactive waste.
Unilever, a large manufacturer of toiletry and beauty products, has recently been held accountable for the dumping of wastewater into local Clinton, Connecticut waterways. The courts ruled that Unilever must pay a fine of $1 million for its wrongdoing. The company must also donate an additional $3.5 million to the Connecticut Statewide Supplemental Environmental Project Account. Of that hefty donation, $2.5 million will be used to fund climate and rising sea level research and education. The remaining million dollars will be split between the creation of a new fish way and various other environmental projects in Clinton, CT. Unilever is also going to be on probation for the next three years, with the Environmental Protection Agency checking up on the company’s environmental compliance.
The courts came to this ruling after finding Unilever guilty of allowing its wastewater to be released directly into local waterways, bypassing the treatment process. Federal and local investigators speculate that the practice of releasing this waste water continued over a two year period. Environmental investigators also believe that the company was intentionally releasing the contaminated water and never reported it. This is an accusation that Unilever continues to deny. The company claims that the damaged drainage system was the result of vandals and that they were unaware of the improper disposal of any wastewater. After all was said and done, the company pled guilty to several counts of violating several environmental regulations in the Clean Water Act.
Waste water produced by the manufacturer flowed very quickly and often overpowered the aging system in need of repair. If the system became overwhelmed the waste water was trucked to a treatment facility at a cost of $1,500 a truck. This cost as well as the costs associated with repairing the system may have been enough of a reason for Unilever to release the overflow into Clinton’s storm drains. The irony lies in the much larger price tag associated with the obvious violations. The Unilever plant in Clinton has since shut its doors, closing down in 2012 so the company could make many of its processes more efficient.
The waste water that was released into storm drains and local waterways ultimately made its way to the Long Island Sound. Unilever states any water contamination that may have resulted from their faulty waste water system has not harmed the Long Island Sound or any of the plants or animals living in it. They also state that no drinking water was ever contaminated.
The State of Connecticut as well as the federal government hopes that this most recent punishment will serve as important example to other manufacturing companies. Cynthia Giles, the Assistant Administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said it best when she stated that “America’s communities deserve clean water, free from contaminants in illegal wastewater discharges. Protecting these communities means holding violators accountable, both for illegal discharges and for failure to report them.” The decision should lay the groundwork for some important precedence.
In a modern day case of Whodunit, electronics component maker, AVX, and the U.S. military argue their cases in a civil trial. In question is who is responsible for water contamination underneath property owned by Horry Land Co. In a February settlement between AVX and Horry Land Co., AVX admitted to contributing to the contamination but claims that the U.S. Air Force also played a role and should pay for part of the cleanup costs.
The land, located in Myrtle Beach, was found to contain groundwater dangerously high in TCE (trichloroethelyne). “TCE is a degreaser that was commonly used by the military and businesses in the 1960’s and 70’s”, David Wren of the Sun News explains. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), drinking large amounts of TCE can cause nausea, liver damage, unconsciousness, impaired heart function or death. Even ingesting small amounts of TCE can be harmful; over long periods of time, doing so can cause liver and kidney damage, impaired immune system function, and impaired fetal development in pregnant women. It is important to note, however; the contaminated groundwater in question was not used as drinking water.
The military says there is no way that its operations from WWII until the 1993 closing of the Myrtle Beach Air Force base are to blame. Why? U.S. lawyer Merideth Weinberg says the property history shows that “no record exists of the Air Force using the land in question”, and furthermore she testified that “groundwater west of the runway flows in an opposite direction from AVX so none of the contamination on that side of the base could be to blame.”
AVX counters that it was the U.S. military operations on property adjacent to its own that contributed to the toxic groundwater and wants it to pay half of the damages which are estimated at six million.
Enter the sleuth in this case, geologist Steve Hart. Hart testified on behalf of AVX and concluded that the military maintained similar operations on both sides of the runway and that other sites exist where contamination was found and yet the military had no official record of using that land.
Most damaging of all are Hart’s findings that the U.S. Air Force’s “handling of TCE and other chemicals often was careless.” The result of the military’s recklessness is an area of groundwater pollution “the size of 25 football fields” according to thesunnews.com.
Hart attests that the reason the contamination was not found earlier is that the military performed shoddy testing− digging test wells too shallow to reach the water table below.
With all the finger pointing, one thing is clear. Horry Land Co. sits atop a water table that is highly concentrated with TCE and someone has to pay for the cleanup. With the clues presented so far− dumping into unlined landfills, accidently draining TCE directly into the ground for twenty years, to name a few− it appears that the U.S. military might have to fess up, and pay up. This case is especially significant because there are several other cases pending against AVX claiming the same pollution problems as Horry Land Co. It will be interesting to see how the burden of cleanup is split (if at all) between AVX and the government.
In 2000, Hollywood brought the small town of Hinkley, California into the national spotlight with the casting of Julia Roberts as famed environmental attorney, Erin Brockovich. The real Erin Brockovich was successful in exposing a company’s history of reckless water contamination and also in winning $333 million for her clients.
Fast forward twelve years and you’ll find that the environmental condition is anything but Hollywood glamour. The chromium 6 pollution that has made many residents sick is not only lingering in the groundwater, but is actually spreading. According to the Contra Costa times, the chemical plume “has leaped a mile in a year.”
And as life sometimes imitates art, the polluter, Pacific Gas & Electric is still up to its same underhanded tricks as in the movie. Studies commissioned by PG &E have come under scrutiny after company claims that background levels of naturally occurring chromium 6 are nearly as high as levels caused by the company’s operations. Not so fast, says James Jacobs, an area hydrologist. He has called the groundwater samples, “completely worthless,” and explained, “The area where the test wells were located is so mixed up from decades of water pumping by PG & E—for remediation and agricultural purposes—that meaningful data can not [sic] be retrieved.”
Researchers and town officials cite a number of possible reasons why the water contamination plume is spreading more rapidly. One reason is that the underground valley is narrowing, allowing the liquid to flow at a faster pace.
Meanwhile, residents are concerned that the water from their private wells is being depleted by PG & E’s remediation efforts. They claim that the company’s test wells are “siphoning off too much water from their drinking wells,” according to Contra Costa Times.
One thing is for sure. The residents are firm in their stance against ever hooking up to a public water source. With the levels of contaminants flowing freely through the ground, can anyone blame them?
In what was described by Burnham Construction owner Wade Perrow as a “step of last resort,” he filed an environmental lawsuit against the Gig Harbor Sportsman Club for allegedly causing lead contamination in North Creek.
The Washington State gun club is accused of causing water contamination and sampling from soil right below the property did show “extremely” elevated levels of lead and high levels of copper. The club is, in fact, on the Washington’s list of Toxic Cleanup Program Hazardous Sites.
Perrow says that he attempted to work directly with the Sportsman Club for over a year to resolve the issue before taking any legal action. He met with no cooperation and was forced to take more drastic measures since the polluted waters flow into Donkey Creek. Perrow is a principal of Burnham Contruction’s parent company, Donkey Creek Holdings.
Representatives for Gig Harbor Sportsman Club say that Perrow has ulterior motives and wants to shut the organization down. They say the club follows every bit of advice from the EPA on minimizing contamination hazards of lead shots and is in compliance with environmental regulations.
The club’s president, Lee Rodenberg said that GHSC has already begun to clean up the land pollution and strives to be an asset to the area. Rodenberg adds that “the club has been taking steps to address the situation.”
The fact that there has been no report of fish harmed from the lead is one of the club’s main defenses. Clark Davis, the club’s environmental attorney said, “The commercial fishermen put the fish in (Donkey Creek) and they care about the fish and don’t want any harm to come to the fish.”
According to Charlee Glock-Jackson of the Kitsap Sun, “Rodenberg noted that the club, which was founded in 1947 as a Washington State non-profit, counts many of Gig Harbor’s long-time fishing families among its members.”
Does Perrow, who happens to own property surrounding the club just want to shut it down or does he truly care about the effect the lead shots are having on the environment? What do you think?
After nearly 15 years and $60 million of remediation, Mississippi’s Picayune Superfund site redevelopment is almost complete. This last phase has involved containing soil contaminated by creosote into 14 1/2-foot tall containment cells and capping those off with two feet of fresh soil and a durable high-density polyethylene liner.
The 5-acre Picayune Superfund site came to existence after it was discovered that activities at the former Picayune Wood Treatment plant that took place from the 1940s to almost the new millennium were causing land pollution.
A multi-step remediation project began in the mid-2000s to restore the Superfund’s property health to a level suitable for future use—possibly a dog park, recreation area, or trails and walkways— as early as 2014.
After some finishing touches, including a fence that will span the perimeter of the site and some landscaping details, what remains is ten years of ongoing groundwater testing and installation of two groundwater monitoring wells to treat residual water contamination. According to Michael Taylor, EPA project manager, “Chemical oxidation will be used to remove ground water contamination from the most polluted areas and biological treatment, similar to sewage treatment, will be used in the less contaminated areas.”
With all this work nearly finished, the state-owned Superfund site will likely be turned over to the city. Because of its property history, the land will never be zoned for residential use, and environmental regulations restrict what it can be used for. Nevertheless, what was once a heavily-polluted, useless tract of land will be put to better use in one way or another.
“When getting near the completion of a project, it’s the perfect time to bring stakeholders together to discuss what they want to do with the project,” EPA Environmental Specialist Kyle Bryant said.
Everyone has heard the saying “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise?” Many residents of villages in the Arctic would respond with a definitive yes. Recently these villagers have begun to notice many of the trees have begun to lean or in more drastic cases fall over. Due to their sloppy appearance the trees have become known as “drunken trees”
Normally these drunken trees would stand up tall, straight up to the sky in the frozen permafrost of the Arctic tundra. Climate change has begun to melt the permafrost allowing the trees to become uprooted. The trees have also been affected by man- made erosion from excavation.
Humans are also facing consequences due to the melting permafrost. Houses begin to lean and sag or piping cracks damaging the home. Roads and sidewalks also suffer. Many times damage is so sever and expensive that the residents choose to move out of their houses.
With the change in landscape toward falling or sagging trees, animal have also suffered. Birds that nest in those trees have been particularly affected. Deer migration patterns are also disrupted.
The problem of drunken trees does not appear to be ending anytime soon and is predicted to become a larger issue as permafrost melting continues. Researchers predict that the entire planet’s permafrost may be melted before the year 2100 as a result of a disturbing environmental trend. Currently about 8% of the permafrost zones have experienced melting.
Environmental engineering companies have come up with some solutions to the melting permafrost by adding insulation to roads. This option is a very costly one, but is used to prevent the need for constant road replacement.
So when asked If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise?” The answer is yes, and they are screaming about climate change.
With environmental news, it often seems as though the sky is falling. By this I mean that you often hear a lot more bad than you hear good. Here’s a story to tickle the optimist in us all.
This March, the Sun Sentinel reported an environmental trend that’s offering a one-two punch of positivity in south Florida.
The best news is that air pollution in the area is dropping. A database prepared by the paper shows that levels of pollutants such as benzene, styrene, and hydrochloric acid have dropped significantly since 2006−60 percent in Broward County and 74 percent in Palm Beach County− according to their website.
Environmental analysts chalk the pollution reduction up to the decrease in production of area industrial giants, especially sugar mills. They also note the positive effect that years of companies’ efforts to curb emissions have had on air quality.
The other good news is the fact that the list exists in the first place. The Sentinel’s list which is compiled from the EPA’s Annual Toxic Release Inventory opens the blinds on a window of information that industry polluters would not likely showcase to the public. Anyone can now view the list and see who is a major contributor and see trends over time−good or bad. “Letting people know what’s going into their air and water is a good thing,” Frank O’Donnell, President of Clean Air Watch told the Sentinel.
While air pollution is an ongoing and complex problem that is far from being solved, a little sunny news from the Sunshine State helps to encourage the good fight.
The Potomac River, which provides drinking water to some 6 million people in four states and the District of Columbia, is regarded by many as the Nation’s River. Says Ian Simpson for Reuters, “For the 15 million tourists who visit Washington each year, the broad Potomac serves as a dramatic backdrop to the city’s gleaming monuments and public buildings, including the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial.”
What many Americans outside the Washington DC geographical area may or may not know, however, is that the river is heavily polluted, especially after heavy rains flood its waters with sewage runoff and hazardous waste from “manure, pet waste, fertilizers, oil, chemicals, and trash,” says Simpson. He reports that “about 2.2 billion gallons of raw sewage mixed with rainwater is swept into the river each year when Washington’s sewers back up from heavy rain.”
Sadly, the river that pumps life into the very capitol of our country was downgraded to a “D” last year by the Potomac Conservancy. Eating fish from the river is a high-risk venture; fish have been found to contain a host of dangerous substances including polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.
The largest part of the water contamination problem is the outdated sewage system that serves roughly one-third of the city. Amazingly, those residents are hooked up to a sewer system that dates back to the 1800s. According to Simpson, the system “carries both sewage and storm-water into the Potomac and its district tributaries, the Anacostia River and Rock Creek.”
Last year, the EPA told Washington DC that the district must develop a plan to contain the pollution and reduce the toxin-laced storm-water runoff. Environmental groups and policy makers have been busy doing just that.
Some tactics for reducing runoff include “roof gardens, planting trees, refitting drainage and a requirement that 1.2 inches of rain be retained on a developer’s site during a 24-hour storm,” according to Simpson.
The most ambitious part of the Potomac River cleanup is what is being called the Big Dig. The $2.6 billion project is the largest public works endeavor since the 1970s. The Big Dig involves drilling about 16 miles of tunnel intended to redirect wastewater that normally would end up in the river. The contaminated water will instead be contained and eventually pumped and treated.
Drastically reducing the amount of runoff that reaches the Potomac will solve a good proportion of the river’s pollution problem. During the 1970s, single source polluters were all but eliminated by environmental regulations spurred by the Clean Water Act.
The notion of a clean Potomac is not out of reach. With storm-water runoff under control and measures that have already been put in place— such as restocking crab and fish populations that were decimated over the decades—the river stands a real chance of a clean start. Area families look forward to the day when they can swim in the river without fear of contamination. Residents who enjoy fishing await the time when their catches are safe to eat. With the new tunnel and environmental safety measures put in place, the Nation’s River will one day be as beautiful beneath the waters at it appears from the surface.