As a follow up to a recent blog post about two contaminated middle schools in Southington, Conn., this story is about how the EPA has agreed to allow the town to build over the contamination, saving millions on the project.
Before construction had even begun on either DePaulo or Kennedy Middle School, a site assessment turned up elevated levels of Polychloronated Biphenyls (PCBs) in the buildings. An environmental engineering outfit named Hygenix, Inc. performed over 200 tests in the schools and found the bulk of the contamination was integrated into building materials such as window caulking and floor tiles. The only good news at the time was that water sampling and air quality testing confirmed that no one was ingesting the substances.
The discovery of the harmful chemicals brought a dark cloud over the construction project because the threat of a huge bloat in the budget loomed. Town planners were smart; they had already added a $1.2 million slush fund into the equation just in case things came up. But the cost of remediation was unknown and could have easily gone over that figure.
One estimate would have added $14 million just to remediate the vapor barriers that were contaminated and located inside the walls of the schools.
Luckily, brighter days are here for the Southington middle schools. According to Rob Glidden of the Southington Observer, “The middle schools renovation project is poised to clear a major hurdle, after officials received verbal confirmation from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the cheaper plan for the remediation of hazardous materials will likely be approved.”
The EPA’s decision is that “as long as conditions remain the same in terms of air quality” the vapor barriers didn’t need to come down in order to safely complete the renovations.
Fingers crossed for both Kennedy and DePaulo Middle School.
The Great Lakes are now facing a very large water contamination problem resulting from tiny pieces of plastic that are the size of a typed period. (Just like the one at the end of this sentence). The tiny pieces of plastic are actually beads used as exfoliates in toiletry products like facial scrubs and body washes. Most of the beads were initially believed to have gotten into the lakes due to raw sewage spills over the years. More recently, researchers have discovered that the plastic beads also pass through standard water treatment processes since they are so small.
The beads are turning up by the ten millions in the Great Lakes with the largest concentrations in Lake Erie & Lake Ontario. Dr. Shari Mason, a University of New York chemist, has been studying the contamination issue extensively over the past two years. In approximately 100 samples, Dr. Mason has concluded that 60% of the samples consisted of plastic beads. Furthermore, she has estimated that the samples suggest some areas of the lakes have concentrations as high as 1.1 million beads per square mile.
The plastic beads pose a huge danger to fish because of their resemblance to natural fish food. Once ingested the beads are not broken down and have been found in the intestines of fish caught for human consumption. The plastic beads are also easily coated with toxic pollutants as they float on the lakes’ surface. Once again the beads are eaten by fish, exposing the animal to toxins, which may in turn be consumed by human beings. Many of the toxic chemicals found in the fish have been classified as dangerous to human beings by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is important to mention that approximately 65 million pounds of fish are harvested from the Great Lakes a year for human consumption.
Unfortunately there is not much that can be done to clean up the existing plastic beads in the Great Lakes. Large scale filtering would capture particles and food sources essential to the ecosystem. The solution to the water contamination issue is to prevent any future bead pollution. Companies like Johnson & Johnson have agreed to stop using the beads in all of their products over the next two years. Other companies like Burt’s Bees and St. Ives have been vocal regarding their use of natural exfoliates like crushed nut shells, oat kernel flour, and jojoba beads. There are currently no environmental regulations being broken by companies still using the beads, and water treatment facilities are completely compliant in their filtration practices. Water filters were simply not designed to capture particles that tiny.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking is once again at the forefront of environmental news. This time the news is not all bad. Researchers have discovered that the fracking process is not directly linked to drinking water contaminated by natural gas in North Texas or in Pennsylvania, the homes of two of the nation’s largest shale.
Researchers from several different universities figured out the exact source of the water contamination by testing seven separate locations in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and one in the Barnett Shale in Texas. The samples were then examined based on their elemental make up, which allowed researchers to determine exactly where the gas originated, including the depth that is was released from.
This allowed the researchers to pinpoint that the water contamination was linked to natural gas wells that had not been associated with active fracking practices. Researchers feel that this is relatively good news since the safety of gas well construction can be improved to ensure leaks do not occur in the future.
Water Contaminated with natural gas is not only dangerous to human health, but it also poses a huge public safety hazard. If water contains enough gas, fumes can be leached into the home creating an extremely flammable environment. Since natural gas is so flammable, dangerous explosions can occur. One homeowner near the area in which the Barnett Shale sample was taken, demonstrated the danger of natural gas in local water by creating a home video of his garden hose being lit on fire, shooting a fiery stream.
The homeowner, Steve Lipsky, was sued for defamations by a local gas company as a result of the video. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed with Lipsky in blaming the gas company for the contamination. The company was later found not responsible for the contamination by The Railroad Commission in a private hearing. The EPA soon changed its opinion on the matter.
The natural gas industry has exploded over the past decade due to fracking, especially in the Barnett Shale of North Texas and the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. The Barnett Shale is located to the west of Dallas, Texas and is about 5,000 square miles. Approximately 20,500 permits have been granted for well drilling over the past nine years alone. The Marcellus Shale is five times as large at approximately 95,000 square miles, spanning several states east of the Appalachian Mountains. Many officials in the area see the fracking industry as new way to spark the area’s slow economy. Other advocates see fracking as a means to creating an energy independent Unites States.
Critics of fracking are still not convinced that the process is completely innocent in potential water contamination. For instance, university researchers involved in this study have admitted that while the natural gas found in water supplies was not directly associated with the fracking process some of the gas in the leaky wells had traveled from deeper layers of the shale. With that said, they specify that fracking is not releasing natural gas directly into water supplies. They also said that if that was the case water contamination would be much more severe.
The City of Chicago seems to be treading water when it comes creating environmental regulations regarding the storage of petroleum coke. Petroleum coke, better known as Petcoke is a powdery hazardous waste material created during the oil refinery process similar in appearance to coal. Petcoke is usually stored and then moved to power plants so it can be used as fuel. Although the byproduct is solid, it is also extremely powdery. It is the dust created by the storage piles that is of concern for Chicago residents. If the dust is inhaled it can lead to health issues.
Early this June, Chicago area environmental groups composed a letter to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) expressing the disapproval of the Agency’s decision to not pursue comprehensive laws regarding the storage of petcoke. This decision came as a complete surprise since previous agency actions had indicated that the IEPA would create progressive environmental regulations. In fact, one year ago the IEPA had campaigned for emergency petcoke rules are put into place. This sudden change of heart is not sitting well with the Chicago people.
Critics argue that a lack of regulation on petcoke storage could prove harmful to both residents of Chicago as well as people in surrounding communities. The city has recently prohibited the establishment of any new petcoke storage facilities from being built in the city limits, which is forcing companies to look elsewhere. While limitations of future storage sites are a good thing, there is no regulation of the current process in Chicago or any other Illinois community.
The entire state of Illinois is at risk of petcoke exposure due to the lack of regulation. The Calumet River which borders a current storage facility flows outside the city limits and could easily be at risk of water contamination. The likelihood only increases if more facilities are built along its shores. Similarly railways throughout the state would be ideal petcoke storage facilities, many of which are located near the Mississippi River. Large deliveries of petcoke by barge or railway can also affect the local air quality as they do not by law have to be covered or wetted to prevent clouds of dust.
After the hurricane’s winds have died down and after the floods have subsided, unexpected dangers lurk in the aftermath. While hurricane victims are typically aware of the immediate hazards such as being hit with falling debris and drowning, they may not think of the residual problems that can be just as deadly—and much longer lasting.
One major environmental issue that areas affected by Irene, or any hurricane, have to deal with is water contamination. The high water from ocean swells, rising rivers, and broken water mains creates a runoff that can pick up contaminants from industrial, commercial, and even residential buildings in its path. This can be particularly poisonous when dry cleaners, gas stations, dumps, cars, and other pollution contributors end up in the water’s wake. As Patrick Breyesse of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health describes the phenomenon; it’s a “soupy mess.” That soupy mess can bring toxic water into homes, playgrounds, into drinking wells—places that put people at a real risk of health problems.
Another area of concern is the possibility that toxic mold can grow in buildings that Irene has affected. Water intrusion and flooding can leave floorboards, walls, and ceilings damp for extended periods of time which in turn breeds the noxious spores that adversely affect many peoples’ health. Black mold in particular is a culprit and can be hard to detect when it doesn’t grow in a visible area of a building. Mold can sprout up behind walls and under carpets. It’s important to conduct a thorough site assessment after a hurricane, especially if you notice abnormal health symptoms in yourself or your family.
Irene swung an unusually strong sucker punch to the Northeast where many states found more than half of their population without power. Victims of the hurricane in the Northeastern states may be particularly vulnerable to the silent killers since they are not used to the damage that many states in hurricane zones have grown accustomed to dealing with.
As Robert Kendall, of the Institute of Environment and Human Health at Texas Tech University said after Irene, “It’s not like the flood waters just come and go, and people can go back to normal. For somewhere like New York City, this is uncharted territory. This storm is as big as the state of Texas.”
The state of Texas is about to get a little greener. No, scientists haven’t developed an space-age version of Miracle Grow. A new Texas Supreme Court ruling will now allow for the cleanup and redevelopment of “hundreds of thousands of condemned, dilapidated and possibly dangerous properties that have been neighborhood eyesores throughout the state of Texas…,” said Leonard Cherry of CHRON.com.
Urban blight and suburban decay have been a problem for cities and towns in Texas for many years because of pesky ordinances that prevented anyone from stepping in and knocking the problem buildings down, even when building inspections proved there were environmental safety concerns.
The court ruling states that cities now have the right to demolish blighted buildings as long as the “owner is given a specific amount of time after the initial notification to appeal,” explains Cherry.
This ruling does much more than just create prettier cities. Many of the run-down buildings were places of high crime, including violent crime, and drug dealing. Buildings like the ones discussed in the case brought down the property values of entire neighborhoods, not to mention the spirits of the residents who live in them.
Remediating the properties will bring new life to the areas. Allowing the dilapidated buildings to be knocked down is a positive step towards environmental sustainability. New businesses and homes can be built once environmental engineering companies and construction crews get in and clean up and rebuild. Neighbors can feel safer from the hazardous waste materials that often linger in abandoned buildings.
The demolition crews of today have environmental safety as a top priority. Cherry says, “Many of today’s demolition contracting firms are trained as environmental specialists and are skilled at necessary services, such as tank cleaning and removal, asbestos abatement, soil remediation and hazardous waste management.”
Here’s a Texas-sized hurray for smart environmental management.
An unfortunate current environmental issue that has been spreading its way through the country like a disease is the not-so-talked about question of what happens when a new homebuyer purchases a property contaminated by the production of methamphetamine. Some states are so inflicted with meth and its aftermath that they have found it necessary to pass laws protecting unwitting buyers.
Colorado is one of those states that have seen a high level of meth production in home-grown meth labs over the past few decades. The state in 2006 enacted a law “holding sellers liable if they do not disclose to buyers that their properties have been used as meth labs, and if it had, that the property has been cleaned up according to state standards,” according to Tom McGhee of the Denver Post.
That law did not stop Kenneth Harrison Dimon from fleecing John and Carla Hanks, who purchased a house from him in Lafayette in 2011 for over $103,000, after the law was on the books. A stunned Mr. Hanks was talking to a new neighbor when he was asked, “you know the guy was cooking meth in the house?”
After hiring a company to perform a house inspection, Mr. and Mrs. Hanks learned that the levels of hazardous waste materials were so dangerous that the family was told they must vacate the house. They had only lived in the property for three weeks. As stated in the indictment against Dimon, “Expert evidence shows that samples taken from this address proved to be among the highest levels recorded at confirmed methamphetamine houses in Colorado.”
Kenneth Dimon was formally charged and indicted for failing to disclose and clean up the contamination, but that brings little solace to John and Carla Hanks, who lost all of their possessions, cannot live in the home they paid for, and have not received a penny for their losses. “This has been two years of financial hell for us," said Mr. Hanks.
Residents near the Buffalo River in Arkansas are upset that they were never informed of the construction of a large scale pig farm. There is a large fear that the quantity of animal waste produced at the farm could affect the local environmental safety. The farm is expected to house approximately 6,500 pigs, which would produce an estimated 1.5 million gallons of animal waste a year.
The environmental affects resulting from an operation as large as this one include the possible water contamination of the Buffalo River and other waterways. The risk of water contamination is more likely in the area since the geology of the land is extremely rocky. The nonporous rock is not absorbent, allowing rain water to wash contaminates into local waterways. Corporate farms can release large quantities of ammonia which would suffocate fish in local waterways and kill native plants. The pollution of area agricultural fields is also a concern. Currently, animal waste is sprayed on local fields as fertilizer, but these same fields could reach toxic levels of phosphorous and nitrates in the near future.
Area residents critical of the farm are upset that they were not informed of the farms construction and that the farm is being built in the middle of a robust natural environment. Residents are also upset that t groups like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are not enforcing stricter guidelines upon the corporate farm industry. One example of the lack of oversight is that the EPA no longer requires these farms to submit official operational procedures. This has decreased the amount of farms requiring permits to operate and made it easier for potential environmental hazards to be overlooked.
Proponents of the large pig farm feel that there is no real danger to the environment at stake. In fact they state that a large farm is much better monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency than small farms in the area. An example of this would be the waste storage tanks on the property of the corporate farm. The tanks are required to be lined with clay to meet environmental compliance standards, while small local farm would not, allowing waste materials to seep into the ground. Proponents also argue that small hog farms have been in the area for generations and never contaminated the Buffalo River. The prospect of economic stimulation and job opportunities in an area deeply affected in recent years have also softened the blow of potential environmental danger on residents.
The State of Arkansas has reacted to the controversy by enforcing temporary strict rules regarding the notification of residents when something like this farm are planned to be built. There are also new measures requiring environmental officials and politicians be notified of any proposals before they are passed. The governor has also budgeted $34,000 to be used to monitor and test the Buffalo River for contamination levels.
Environmental groups have been cracking down on the handling of coal ash storage ponds since a 50,000 ton spill occurs into North Carolina’s Dan River in February 2014 as well as a large breach in late 2008 in Tennessee. These groups have made water contamination due to coal ash an extremely current environmental issue.
As a result of the focus, The Southern Environmental Law Center, Potomac River keeper, and Sierra Nevada Club have banded together to take on Dominion Virginia Power and their Possum Point Power Plant. Upon site assessment, five coal ash ponds were revealed, two of which remain active. The remaining ponds have been abandoned for the past 50 years and were only revealed after all of the attention the Dan River spill received. These ponds are completely unlined, allowing arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium to leach into ground water and ultimately the Potomac River. Testing has revealed water contamination from heavy metals at 127 times the Virginia standard.
The two active ponds are also contaminating groundwater with heavy metals, a fact that Dominion Virginia Power has been aware of at least the past ten years, if not longer. Office memos as well as official reports support this belief. Inspectors also left comments regarding the toxic waste disposal upon each visit. There is no evidence that efforts were ever made to change procedures and prevent contamination. The three environmental groups are threatening Dominion with a lawsuit if nothing is done to help resolve the contamination. If a case was filed, it would accuse the Power Company of violating the Clean Water Act.
The environmental groups pushing for action believe that the issue must be addressed to set an important precedence in the state of Virginia that unprotected coal ash ponds will not be tolerated. Ideally, Dominion Virginia Power would move all of the coal ash ponds to dry, lined storage facilities that are not located near waterways. The Power Company has several other sites across Virginia, all of which are expected to have equally concerning contamination issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also working on new environmental regulations regarding how coal can be disposed of and stored. These regulations are set to be implemented in mid-December 2014 and would help give environmentalist another legal leg to stand on and get large companies to clean up their toxic mess.
Members of the spirit industry have taken it upon themselves to become more environmentally conscious. Liquor Companies are focusing on decreasing the output of hazardous waste materials, reducing water consumption, and reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases. One of the best examples is Bacardi Limited who established the Bacardi Limited Good Spirited global sustainability program, which ultimately aims to reduce the company’s energy consumption and global environmental impact significantly by 2022.
One of the first initiatives of the program was to ensure that Bacardi is obtaining ingredients from sustainable suppliers. The company hopes to be using 40% sustainable sugarcane by 2017 and 100% by 2022. Similarly, they are working to ensure that all packaging materials used come from a sustainable source. Over time they wish to reduce the size and weight of their packaging altogether, making it 10% lighter by 2017 and 15% lighter by 2022. Bacardi is also cutting the water that they use 55% by 2017.
The Bacardi owned, John Dewar & Sons Company has recently reduced their carbon footprint by at least 90% as a part of Bacardi’s Good Spirited global sustainability program. The Scottish Whiskey distillery did so by installing a biomass boiler in its Aberfeldy Distillery. The biomass boiler was the final decision after months of researching alternative methods of sustainable energy. The boiler burns wood pellets will cut the distiller’s annual emissions by 6,000 tons.
The Scottish company has also taken initiatives to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% since 2006, decrease its water used by 46% since 2009, and reduce land pollution by 30% since 2010. The Bacardi Limited Company has overall reduced its general energy consumption by 25% and greenhouse gas emissions by 48% since 2006. The spirits company is very close to its 2022 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 50%.