In the fall of 2014 heavy rains began to show the city of Portland, Oregon that something needed to be done to update inadequate drainage in many areas. Aside from the obvious dangers associated with flooding, if the flow of water becomes too great the risk of water contamination also increases. The likelihood of raw sewage being introduced to the overwhelmed water systems becomes likely. Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services believes that they have come up with the perfect plan to solve the city’s storm drain problems while keeping local communities happy.
The Bureau convinced the City Council to earmark $260,000 for a green storm water project. The money would go toward creating a natural play area for K-eighth graders at the Laurelhurst School. Approximately 11,000 square feet of asphalt would either be removed or sloped differently to optimize the area for proper drainage. The play area would be lined with wood chips and have ample benches and shade trees for children to have both recreation and relaxation time.
Overall the project should keep about 700,000 gallons of storm water out of the sewer system, preventing the city of Portland from having to dig up at least eleven sections of pipe. Despite the taxpayer price tag, the Laurelhurst School project is considered a much cheaper option than the complete replacement of storm drain pipes. Building the play area at the Laurelhurst School is a much cheaper alternative and is expected to be completed before the 2015 school year. The Bureau would continue to fund the play area’s maintenance for the first two years, eventually transitioning them over to the school system. The green plan is expected to be cost effective even after maintenance fees.
The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services has accomplished two similar projects in the past. In 2003 the city spent $98,000 to create a rain garden at a local elementary school. Similarly in 2007 Portland spent $523,000 on another rain garden at a middle school.
When it comes to asbestos, Israel says no way, no how, not then, not now. The Knesset Internal Affairs and Environmental Committee approved a bill banning any and all use of asbestos; a significant move intended to protect the public from the known carcinogen.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Asbestos Bill, as it is aptly called, would “prohibit the use of asbestos in any form in Israel and would mandate the removal of existing asbestos over the next 10 years.”
Asbestos, which is still used in concrete mixtures and insulation today, can be found in buildings all over the country. The use of the toxic fibers peaked in the 1960’s and 70’s but still continues to find its way into construction projects. Mesothelioma cancer rates have paralleled the use of asbestos with new cases expected to continue until 2015.
Removing asbestos already in place will be costly− estimates believe the asbestos affected area includes hundreds of millions of square meters.
The Asbestos Bill specifically calls on the Eitanit Company to pay for NIS 300 million of the cleanup costs. Eitanit was an asbestos factory that closed in the late 90’s and was a major contributor of the deadly fibers in the Galilee region of Israel.
The bill aims to not only clean up past asbestos projects, but also to hold companies responsible for future asbestos violations. At up to NIS 800,000 per violation, you can bet that companies will choose safer building materials and allow the public to breathe a little easier. It begs the question: Will other countries take note and pass such strong legislation to protect their citizens?
A few weeks ago, you may have read a blog post about a Denver fisherman who discovered a mysterious oil slick in a tributary of the Colorado River. Although Suncor, an oil refinery was always thought to be the source of the water contamination, the exact location eluded environmental investigators, and the company itself. This last week it was reported that hazardous benzene-containing waste is leaking underground the Suncor Energy plant north of downtown Denver.
The petroleum-based pollution has found its way directly into the water systems, including the drinking water system at Suncor which quenches the thirst of its own employees. A site assessment of Sand Creek has shown elevated benzene levels as much as 134 times higher than national environmental regulations.
The tip came from an anonymous Suncor employee who “alerted health officials to contamination in tap water on the refinery property,” according to Bruce Finley of the Denver Post. Testing was performed to rule out the chance that the tap water was contaminated when it was brought in by Denver Water, its supplier. “We’re always concerned when there’s an indication of a water-quality issue with one of our customers. It appears this situation is isolated to Suncor’s private system,” said Stacy Chesney, spokesperson for Denver Water.
What makes this story extra scary is that petroleum contamination from Suncor’s plant is “entering the creek directly without surfacing,” reports Finley. Because the hazardous goo is infiltrating the river via Sand Creek, the state of Colorado is requiring Suncor to install a system that will aerate the water, causing the benzene to “evaporate into the air, instead of flowing into the South Platte.” Additionally, the company must “install a soil vapor extraction system and dig a second interceptor trench by Jan. 31 to try to trap the hydrocarbons floating in groundwater before they enter Sand Creek,” says Finely.
A current environmental issue hits close to home as two middle schools in my town hit a speed bump on the path to renovation. It turns out that Kennedy and DePaolo Middle Schools in Southington, Connecticut might have to hit the brakes until an environmental engineering company can determine the extent of the contamination as well as the scope of remediation.
According to Rob Glidden of the Southington Observer, “Representatives of Hygenix, Inc are conducting over 200 tests in both schools to learn more about the extent of Polychloronated Biphenyls (PCBs) present in building materials such as window caulking and floor tiles.”
PCBs are found throughout the environment but are harmful when found in concentration because when ingested by humans they accumulate in the body, especially in body fat. A number of studies have shown PCBs to increase the occurrence of tumors and other health-related woes.
The good news is that air quality testing and water sampling have found that current students at the schools are not at risk of contamination. The PCBs are found in the building materials and would not be released unless construction work began.
The not-so-good news is that this discovery will add an unknown amount to the total renovation costs. While a project engineer reported that remediation will only add about $50,000 to the plans, school officials know that similar instances in other Connecticut towns have created significant budget shortfalls because of costs rising into the millions.
According to Glidden, “[Town Manager] Brumback said he expected the results from the additional testing by the end of October. This will ideally give the officials a sense of what the remediation costs will be…the budget for the renovation projects had $1.2 million meant to deal will remediation issues, $600,000 for each school.
A Niagara Falls paper company called the Greenpac Mill has had just completed the construction of a brand-new, $430 facility on a property with deep industrial roots. During the demolition process at a site of the former factory on the property, the company got an unwelcome and costly surprise in the form of radioactive soil. In order to recover some of the astronomic environmental cleanup costs, Greenpac has filed a lawsuit against the property’s former owners.
The property was originally owned by Niagara Mohawk Power Corp, which is presently known as National Grid, from 1891 through 1920. It was then owned until the 1970s by the Kimberly-Clark Company. Greenpac is suing both companies for 100% reimbursement of the costs to remove and dispose of all of the radioactive soil. Greenpac Mill states that upon purchasing the property, they were not informed of any potentially radioactive hazardous waste materials.
Greenpac had planned on clearing the factory site within environmental compliance when it entered New York’s Brownfield Cleanup Program. This program provided Greenpac a tax credit if they followed a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved plan. To begin the process in 2010 the paper company demolished three out of date buildings on the property. Following demolition of the buildings, the company began removing 135,839 tons of expected contaminated soil as well as 67,827 tons non contaminated soil. This type of environmental cleanup was anticipated and budgeted accordingly by the paper mill in their construction plan.
The soil was being trucked to a DEC-approved landfill when three full trucks activated a radiation detector while transporting. It was then that the radioactive soil was exposed. From that point on, Greenpac had to take extraordinary caution in the disposal the property’s soil. In total, the removal of 20,000 tons radioactive soil cost an estimated $6 million. The total price tag for the property cleanup was $16.2 million, so clearly the radioactive material nearly doubled the budget.
Greenpac alleges that the Kimberly-Clark company allowed chemical companies to dump radioactive waste during its ownership. According to Thomas Prohaska, of BuffaloNews.com, the suit alleges “ that Kimberly-Clark and National Grid arranged with Occidental or others to allow disposal of radioactive waste on the Royal Avenue property. Occidental is the current owner of the former Hooker Chemical Co. of Niagara Falls.” All of the radioactive soil was located under the Kimberly-Clark constructed building, supporting these implications.
It is Greenpac Mill’s goal to use this most recent lawsuit against both National Grid, Kimberly- Clark, and any other companies who may have been involved in the contamination process to be reimbursed the nearly $6 million it spent on cleaning up unexpected land pollution on its purchased property. While the battle ensues in the court system, Greenpac Mills plans to operate business as usual in its newly constructed factory.
Officials in charge of finding more permanent storage for U.S. nuclear waste believe that they may have discovered the perfect solution. Their solution lies in the form of, or shall we say rock formation, shale. Shale is a sedimentary rock consisting of thick clay layers. Shale is also the same type of rock that is being drilled as a part of the fracking process for natural gas by oil companies.
Currently 77,000 tons of radioactive waste resides in temporary above ground storage. Once the nuclear material at a power plant becomes hazardous waste, it is moved to storage pools where it is cooled for many years. After the hazardous waste material reaches a safe temperature it is then moved into tanks made of metal and concrete. These tanks keep the radiation from leaking out and contaminating anything. It is these tanks filled with the waste material that must find a permanent home. The U.S. government had originally begun a plan to permanently store nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, but had to scrap the plan after heated environmental opposition.
The waste in the storage tanks continues to remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years and is far more vulnerable in surface storage facilities. Researchers point to the leak at the Fukushima Nuclear plant in Japan as a prime example of why surface storage can be dangerous. These facilities also require protection and security. Natural disasters and uncertainty of protective measures in the distant future are real threats to the planet’s environmental safety.
Initial research has shown that shale is the ideal storage location for radioactive nuclear waste given the minimal amount of water that flows through the rock. This is extremely important since the number one danger of a leaking storage tank would be water contamination. Shale in Switzerland has even been observed during pressure changes due to glacial activity. Other European nations like Belgium are already using shale storage methods. The key to making these storage facilities work is to find shale that are void of any oil and natural gas, so that they will not be drilled in the future.
Santander Bank has recently made the decision to cut off any future financial backing or investment to the Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL) due to questionable environmental practices. Over the past few years APRIL has become notorious for its practices in clear cutting the Indonesian Rain Forest and peat lands. Environmentalists and groups like Greenpeace have been working tirelessly to stop these dangerous practices and cutting financial ties has proved an effective measure.
APRIL is a pulp and Paper Company based out of Singapore and has had its role in destroying the Indonesian Rainforests under the microscope for years. Recently approximately 165,000 complaints were made to Santander Bank through a Greenpeace initiative.
In response to global complaints the banking company began an independent audit of APRIL’s practices a few months ago. Details of the audit’s finding were not discussed, but they were evidence enough for Santander to end its partnership. APRIL has responded by stating that have put a plan in place that will remedy any concerns found after the audit.
The banking giant did not reference the Greenpeace complaints as the reason they ended financial backing, but rather took this as an opportunity to point out their environmental initiatives. Santander Bank specifically refers to the policies in place that protect environmental health and safety. Meanwhile, Greenpeace credits itself as one of the major catalysis in getting Santander to end its funding. Greenpeace also takes credit for putting the pressure on several international paper companies to end contracts with APRIL until better environmental regulations are adopted.
APRIL continues to ensure critics that they already have sustainability policies in place and are adhering to them. While this is true, the policies that the company has in place are weaker than any other company’s in the industry. The policies mainly exist so that when APRIL is continually caught clear cutting forest they can say that they are abiding by all written policies.
Environmental authorities that have the clout to determine the outcome of a given issue that affects the health of the public typically jump in and protect the people in jeopardy. So it seems strange to residents and law makers in Lexington County, South Carolina that the State’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is taking so long to decide whether or not to deny the permit of a sewage dump that has been expired for almost two years. It seems so strange, in fact, that
lawmakers are calling on the DHEC to publicly explain why their conclusion is so elusive and so long coming.
The sewage dump in question is owned by the C.E. Taylor Company and is used to filter such grotesque substances as septic tank sewage, portable toilet waste, and restaurant grease and convert them into a useable fertilizer for local farms.
Back in the late 1980’s, C.E. Taylor Company and state regulators assured residents of Pelion, where the dump is located, that everything was hunky dory and there was no risk of land pollution. Over time, however, this assertion proved to be untrue. Complaints began to flood the DHEC when high levels of nitrates were found in nearby groundwater. A report written by Sammy Fretwell for “The State” says that “community concerns intensified last year after the department found three backyard wells near the Taylor site polluted with unsafe levels of nitrates.”
The fact that nitrates were found not only in local groundwater, but also in wells used for locals as drinking water should have set off some serious alarms. Ingesting high levels of nitrates is incredibly harmful; nitrate toxicity decreases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Infants are particularly sensitive and can suffer from what is known as blue baby syndrome. In extreme cases, the nitrate toxicity can be fatal to infants.
When the permit for C.E. Taylor Company to continue operations at the sewage disposal site expired, many were
confounded when the DHEC did not step in swiftly deny the permit renewal until an investigation into the pollution problem came back with satisfactory results.
South Carolina state representative Kit Spires expresses his disdain when he said, “I have concerns about the operation and my concern falls with the regulation of this operation by the DHEC.” Most law makers want the site shut down.
With all the pressure to explain why they have not taken any action concerning the disposal site, members of the
South Carolina DHEC will hold two public meetings to respond to the concerns of everyone in the area.
The state law makers are not the only ones who want a decision on the permit; C.E. Taylor owner Frank Taylor wants an answer as well. Taylor claims that the nitrate pollution actually comes from nearby farms which use manure as fertilizer−a contributor of nitrates.
Fast approaching two years, it is time for the state DHEC to make a decision on whether or not to renew the permit. Not renewing the permit has significant consequences; the sewage facility will have to close. For many in Pelion, that decision can’t come soon enough.
For 15 teenagers attending high school in Le Roy, New York, life has become quite complicated—more so than for most students their age. The students have come down with a mysterious illness that causes them to experience “facial tics and verbal outbursts,” according to ABC News.
Doctors have diagnosed each teenager with an illness called Conversion Disorder, but many in the town believe there may be more to the story than that. Joining the parents is Erin Brockovich, the notorious environmental activist who was made famous by a Hollywood movie starring Julia Roberts. (I mistakenly called Ms. Brockovich an environmental attorney in a previous blog post.)
Brockovich and the parents believe the root of the teens’ disorder might more likely stem from a chemical spill that took place in 1970. On that fateful day more than forty years ago, a train derailed, spewing hazardous waste materials including cyanide and trichloroethylene. The spill occurred within three miles of the school all the kids attend.
What no one can seem to figure out is how any chemicals from that spill could be inflicting harm on the students. “The school is served by a public water system. An environmental exposure would affect many people,” says NY Department of Health spokesperson Jeffrey Hammond.
Parents of the 15 students and Ms. Brockovich are concerned that hardly any testing was done after or since the spill. Says Brockovich, “ I read reports like this that the NY Department of health and state agencies were well-aware of the spill and you don’t do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don’t have an all-clear.”
What is clear is that the students who have no control of their motor functions and the parents who must watch them suffer want answers. Even if it turns out that the environment is not a factor, at least they can rule that out in their quest.
A group of around 135 people who live near Hillcrest Industries, Inc. in Attica, New York filed an environmental lawsuit against the coatings company for pollution they claim is hurting their health and their property values.
Environmental attorney Richard Lippes is representing the plaintiffs in this $100 million dollar lawsuit. Lippes and the homeowners allege that “the defendants [Hillcrest and is owner, Dan Kirsch] were grossly, recklessly and wantonly negligent in their actions involving the facility and its operations.”
The operations included burning a number of hazardous waste materials. According to Matt Surtel of TheDailyNewsOnline.com, “The plaintiffs allege Hillcrest operated negligently, allowing glass, coal ash, chemicals from burning plastic, and other hazardous substances- benzene, toluene, and styrene- into the surrounding neighborhood and properties.” They complain not only about the recent fire that occurred on October 12 but say that the “putrid smell” has been infiltrating their yards and homes for about a year now.
The suit, if won, is not just a slap on the wrist. The plaintiffs are seeking $100 million in damages including “$50 million in compensatory damages, along with an additional $50 million in punitive damages,” said Surtel. Along with these costs, Hillcrest may also be liable to pay for attorney fees, a medical trust fund to cover the medical expenses incurred by the plaintiffs later on, and also the remediation of the land pollution.
Perhaps the scariest part for those involved in the suit is the uncertainty of what the future will bring for their health and that of their families. The dangerous chemicals that have been seeping into the land and air of the surrounding neighborhoods for at least a year could be causing health problems that the neighbors won’t know about for decades. As stated in the lawsuit, “Due to the acts and omissions of the defendants, the plaintiffs have been put in fear of future disease and serious injury, and will require special and expert monitoring to ameliorate any adverse health consequences, due to exposure to the contaminants.”