The building that once housed Temco, a heavy-duty dry cleaning business from 1985 to 2002, has been sitting unused in upstate New York, causing PCE water contamination and eyesores. The small town of West Haverstraw has wanted to clean up the site since 2002 but was never able to hold anyone responsible for the costs.
Now, the state of New York is stepping in and adding the former Temco site to the Superfund list, which is also known in that state as the State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Sites. This month, the DEC will begin a site assessmentto determine the extent of the contamination.
According to LoHud.com, “Chemicals used by Temco’s operation—including Tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, and several kinds of semi-volatile organic compounds—have contaminated the site’s soil and groundwater.”
Although the residents who live in close vicinity to the site are hooked up to a public drinking water system, it’s unknown what kind of problems the pollution could be causing. This is especially troubling, says the DEC, since a number of “trespassers, including children, have been seen on the property and further investigation is needed to evaluate the potential risks.” The results of the site assessment will determine what type of remediation plan is put in place.
West Haverstraw residents are concerned over the fact that taxpayers are footing the bill of whatever cleanup is deemed necessary. In 2002, a company called Piccalili Properties, Inc purchased the property but has not begun any environmental remediation. The DEC has promised those concerned New Yorkers that it will do whatever it can to hold a property owner accountable. “The DEC would seek to recover the costs for the remedial investigation from potentially responsible parties, including the former owner,” said agency spokesperson Wendy Rosenbach.
A current environmental issue sliding its way closer to hydraulic fracturing in widespread discussion and picking up traction in the fight for environmental protection is toxic coal ash waste, the byproduct of coal industry operations.
Large coal corporations in North Carolina have been polluting carte blanche in their daily operations, with a court decision affectively ruling that they do not have to clean up the 14 proven contaminated sites around the state.
In fact, in a recent press release one person involved observed, “Today, toxic coal ash waste still remains less regulated than household waste.”
Laws already exist on North Carolina’s books protecting the waterways by requiring “industrial polluters to stop groundwater contamination and cleanup at these outdated coal ash ponds,” according to the press release. Over two decades, say the plaintiffs, the laws have become diluted or “misapplied” to the point that they are ineffective. This became evident with the recent ruling to “allow Progress Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Carolinas continued and widespread contamination of groundwater with dangerous substances, including arsenic and thallium, without taking action to stop the contamination.”
This week, a group of concerned and determined environmental watchdog groups has filed an environmental lawsuit with the goal of overturning the state’s decision. The plaintiffs are Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, and WNCA and they are being represented by the law firm Southern Environmental Law Center, a regional nonprofit.
“The practice of dumping toxic coal ash into unlined holes in the ground that pollute our groundwater and rivers needs to stop”, said Hartwell Carson, who is a French Broad Riverkeeper.
The problem, they say, is that by the coal conglomerates’ own admission and as proven by their own water monitoring, at least 14 unlined coal ash ponds are without question causing water contamination. One ash pond is contaminating groundwater less than half a mile from the Cape Fear River. In several of the sampling sites, levels of the contaminants are many times higher than environmental regulations allow. At the sampling site near Cape Fear River, the arsenic samples tested showed levels that were 27 times higher than normal.
Arsenic and thallium are deadly in high enough concentrations and when ingested in lower amounts over long periods of time, both can cause a dizzying array of health problems leading to and including cancer. Both hazardous waste materials are a normal part of the coal processing cycle, but the waste containing the toxins needs to be disposed of safely. There is frustratingly little regulation in this area, but for the most part, now companies must at least use lined landfills and keep the piles of coal ash, or fly ash as it’s also known as, damp, so that the material doesn’t spread to other areas. In a nightmarish scene on December 22, 2008 in Tennessee, an avalanche of fly ash slurry burst through a protective dam and flowed into the homes in its path and finally into the Emory River.
The groups involved in the lawsuit want the 14 outdated sites remediated and they want the laws the state already enacted to be enforced so that North Carolina’s vital waterways and groundwater do not become part of a toxic legacy left behind by the coal industry.
It has become common practice for the average person to be armed with an arsenal of electronic devices on a daily basis. We all carry smart phones, tablets, e-readers, mp3 players, etc. and inside of each one of these electronic devices lays a lithium ion battery. Lithium ion batteries have become so common that have grown into an $8 billion industry. Scientists have recently begun to research the impact of lithium ion batteries on the environment given the overwhelming use in modern society.
With the constant upgrading to the newest electronic devices, comes the potential for a large amount of waste. Besides for contributing to the increase in solid waste, researcher have revealed that lithium ion batteries are also considered hazardous waste material due to the high levels of lead that they contain. Some states with stricter definitions of hazardous waste than the federal government considers the batteries toxic due to the levels of copper, nickel, cobalt, and other metals as well. The average battery lasts a mere 2 to 4 years and is often simply tossed in the regular trash, which could potentially lead to land pollution issues.
With this new information brought to light and the inevitability of the continued use of lithium ion batteries, researches urge the government to put a greater emphasis on regulatory legislation. This legislation could encourage the recycling or reuse of lithium batteries. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency advises that batteries be recycled at drop off sites or recycling events. Efforts toward establishing lithium ion-battery recycling as part of the normal curbside recycle pickup are being made to decrease the amount of batteries tossed in the trash.
Curbside pickup of batteries for recycling has been piloted in an Ontario city where in one year 39 metric tons of batteries were recycled. Other cities like Minneapolis and San Francisco offer an option in which batteries can be bagged and placed on top of trashcans. The trash collector then removes them so that they can be recycled. Programs like these face many challenges related to cost or efficiency, but there success relies heavily on the willingness for residents to participate and make the effort worthwhile.
Scientists suggest that given the discovery that the millions of lithium ion batteries used in portable electronics will become hazardous waste material in the near future, stronger government recycling policies have to be introduced. Communities experimenting with convenient curbside pickup programs or drop off areas are having modest success, but more needs to be done to avoid potential environmental contamination and human health issues.
The tragic toll that crystal meth takes on individuals and on society is well known; lives are destroyed, families torn apart, and neighborhoods are ravaged by crime. What is not talked about as often is the horrendous impact that the clandestine meth laboratories have on the environment. What’s worse is that federal funding to states to properly clean up after crystal meth busts has all but dried up. Municipalities are disposing of the waste in risky ways in order to save money.
The funding to fight meth labs is dwindling; however, the drug trade is not. Production of the substance, which is concocted from a witch’s brew of hazardous household chemicals—battery acid, drain cleaner, ammonia—and over-the-counter cold medicines, is a major pollution contributor. Byproducts of the process can cause drinking water contamination and ground pollution. As is eloquently stated on the Meth Task Force website, “One rash act by a meth cooker can also turn our fields and waterways into environmental waste dumps.”
There is definitely plenty of waste to cause environmental problems. Butte County, California has been a hotbed for crystal method production for over a decade. The town’s task force commander, Keith Krampitz said, “It is estimated about five to six pounds of hazardous waste are generated for every single pound of meth produced.”
St. Louis, Missouri is one area feeling the detrimental effects of the lack of governmental funding. Authorities in the district have all but halted their war on crystal meth purely because they “can no longer afford to clean up the toxic waste generated by labs,” according to freep.com. The cost of cleaning up a meth lab, once busted, typically ranges from $2,500 to $5,000, even for the smaller labs now more popular with illicit drug manufacturers. Due to the toxic nature of the ingredients used in meth production, the hazardous waste created cannot be sent to a typical landfill. The waste must be trucked to specialized dumping sites.
One sheriff in Texas, feeling crippled by the lack of money to clean up meth waste was tempted to simply burn the debris in a regular landfill, weighing the options of leaving it in a neighborhood where it can cause health problems to residents. Exposure to remnants of a meth lab can cause horrendous health problems including respiratory illness, skin and eye irritation, headaches, burns, nausea, and dizziness. Fumes from meth cookers can cause permanent injury and even death. (Source: 2stopmeth.org.) A task force member advised him not to because “he would be violating all sorts of laws.”
States feel handicapped without the necessary money to fight the meth trade. Some states have looked for innovative ways to stem the production to protect their residents and for environmental safety. A far less expensive method has been used in Oklahoma where “local police and deputies are trained to remove meth waste and collect it in designated containers—essentially small metal storage buildings,” according to freep.com. All states are focusing on making it more difficult to acquire the ingredients used in production to nip meth cookers in the bud. In all cases, states are adjusting to fighting crystal meth on their own, without the aid of federal funding. With the sizable damage meth waste causes humans, wildlife, and the land, it’s not a fight that can be given up.
Students, parents, and faculty at Monona Grove High school in Monona were notified by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that vapors that have been intruding the school from a nearby building are harmless and do not pose a health threat. Those words of encouragement did little to set minds at ease, but the Board of Education tried to reassure. “Absolutely it’s a concern of everyone, especially those who have children. The building’s safe. If the building was not safe, we would not send children and staff into that building,” said Superintendent Craig Gerlach.
The vapors are originating from an adjacent company named Klinke Cleaners, which is doing its part to take full responsibility for the problem. Ground pollution containing PCE, a common industrial solvent, was found in the soil underneath the cleaners almost four years ago. The issue affecting Monona Grove High School is vapor intrusion, an environmental issue that is relatively new and only recently understood. Jeff Carnahan, an environmental consultant explains, “The study of vapor intrusion is very young.”
Steve Klinke, a director at Klinke Cleaners has been working diligently with the DNR since 2008 when the contamination was first discovered. “What I’ve come to understand with this process, vapors are new to us,” he said. Once a final report came out on May 2 that revealed that vapors were present, Klinke began taking action to notify the neighboring buildings. He hired Mr. Carnahan, of EnviroForensics, to perform PCE testing. According to The Herald-Independent, “Carnahan told the city council Monday, May 7, that he would be approaching neighboring residences and businesses to gain permission to gather air samples for testing to identify the boundaries of the vapor plume.”
Testing at the high school produced results that some consider unnerving. The results were high enough to trigger environmental regulation action levels, but low enough that they are not expected to cause any harm to humans or animals, even after long-term exposure. PCE levels were high enough that the school wisely began taking “immediate action on interim solutions to lower the levels, including increased air circulation with the HVAC and sealing cracks in the foundation,” reports The Herald-Independent.
In New Jersey, it’s New Year, New Vapor Intrusion Guidelines. Recent updates to the state’s stance on vapor intrusion, which was last officially addressed in 2007, will make some site cleanups more challenging because the guidelines for some VOCs have become stricter, and others will be easier to complete as certain chemical tolerance levels have become more lax.
The changes became effective on January 16, 2013 and will impact not only environmental remediation projects that begin after that date, but also ones that are already underway.
According to Marci Horowitz, writing for environmental attorneys Cole Schotz Meisel Forman and Leonard PA, “NJDEP’s new screening levels could result in significant changes to cleanups already in progress, as well as future cleanups. For some contaminants, the screening level have become much less stringent- for example, the groundwater screening level for a common cleaning solvent, tetrachloroethene (PCE), has increased from 1 part per billion to 31 parts per billion. Other screening levels have become more stringent. Two new compounds, naphthalene and 2-methulnapthalene, were added to the screening level tables.”
New Jersey’s revamping of its environmental regulations regarding vapor intrusion is beneficial for several reasons. By adjusting the guidelines, the state can focus on the Superfund sites and Brownfields that are most in need of remediation. And now the state or other responsible parties in charge of cleaning up properties that are below the VOC threshold can do so more cost effectively. This would make sense for a property that isn’t posing a threat to the health and safety of anyone but just barely tested above the limit under the old guidelines.
According to Horowitz, cleanup projects that have already begun prior to the January 16 revamping must undergo an “order of magnitude” analysis by April 16, 2013 to “evaluate site conditions using the new vapor intrusion screening levels.”
Once the site assessments are complete, the DEP will determine the course of action based on the new vapor intrusion screening levels.
Farming used to be a very cyclical production; crops were grown, fed to livestock, livestock created waste, the waste was used fertilize crops, repeat. This process was eventually interrupted, in part, with the creation of manmade fertilizers. This allowed farmers to specialize in one area like growing crops or raising animals. This important change in society has begun to affect the environment, especially regarding the increased amounts of phosphorous being released into ground soil and waterways.
Farmers use manmade fertilizers which contain high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous to huge areas of crops. Grains are harvested and sold to livestock farmers as feed. Animals like chickens or cattle ingest the nitrogen and phosphorous rich feed, but absorb little of the chemical. The majority of the fertilizer chemicals are excreted from the animal. Farmers will then either dispose of the animals waste or use it on their fields as additional fertilizer.
Crops usually require a lot more nitrogen to grow than phosphorous, so excess phosphorous gets washed away by rain or watering. The chemical will soon trickle into the nearest waterway resulting water contamination. Since phosphorous is a fertilizer, it does just that when it reaches a waterway, usually causing extensive algae growth. The algae cover the surface of the pond or lake blocking sunlight from other underwater plants. These plants die and are no longer a food source for fish. The algae also die once its bloom is over, absorbing large quantities of oxygen from the water. Fish ultimately suffocate underwater because there is no oxygen for them to bring in through their gills. These are known as dead zones.
The state of Maryland has become the leader in environmental regulations regarding the use of fertilizer in area farms. The state has since backed off the issue following the opposition of local farmers. Farmers feel that the ban on manure use places unfair costs upon their industry. Following a manure ban farmers would be responsible for the cost associated with disposing of animal waste. They would also have to pay for manmade fertilizer containing only nitrogen for their crops instead of spreading their manure.
The ideal solution to the issue would be for manure from farms to be collected and shipped back to the farms growing crops so that it could be used instead of manmade fertilizer. The cost of transporting manure across the country in many instances proves far too costly for the farming industry to agree to. It is widely accepted that any additional costs that farmers are faced to pay will only be passed along to the consumer.
All of the rain that has recently drenched the eastern United States has caused more than one nuisance, with flooding being a major factor in many of the environmental hazards. In Bridgewater, New Jersey, the worst case scenario is playing out at the American Cyanamid Superfund site.
The site, owned by a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, has been contaminating the area on and off since the early 1900’s. In the 1930’s, chemical lagoons were installed around the Superfund site to protect from floodwaters spreading the dangerous pollutant benzene. After Hurricane Floyd, the 1999 doozy, the lagoons were breached and somewhat fortunately, the chemicals were washed out to sea.
This time around, Hurricane Irene and other periods of heavy rain have once again sent the toxic waters creeping into areas around the American Cyanamid site. According to MyCentralJersey.com, “The lagoons have been seeping carcinogenic benzene 20,000 times regulatory levels all year into the Raritan River, according to the EPA, which has collected samples of floodwaters from the 400-acre site.”
Environmentalists are perturbed by the snail’s pace of Pfizer’s cleanup of the Superfund site, which has been ongoing since 1994 when the behemoth purchased the land. They are calling on the U.S. EPA to take over the remediation efforts, “especially now that those floodwaters might have contaminated the township and neighboring Bound Brook,” said the website. The general feeling is that Pfizer will take its time knowing that as long as the company is cooperating with the EPA, the site cannot be taken over by the regulatory agency.
Possibly compounding the dangers is a mysterious tar-like substance found on the chemical lagoons. The material is being collected and disposed of as hazardous waste. Pfizer has stated that as soon as the floodwaters recede the company will continue “pumping and treating contaminated groundwater beneath the site, which is part of the ongoing cleanup.” Will the process be complete soon enough to protect area residents?
An EPA plan to get more aggressive with the cleanup of hazardous waste materials left behind from three dry cleaners was attacked at a public hearing in Columbus, Ohio.
The defunct dry cleaners polluted the groundwater and eventually, a large chemical plume formed that is now causing not only dangers in the water, but the air as well. Air quality testing at the sites showed positive signs of vapor intrusion.
For years, a slow and steady remediation plan has been in place at the site of three buildings that are currently leased to tenants that have nothing to do with the water contamination. The current system is expected to take “decades to bring the chemicals down to safe drinking standards,” said EPA project manager, Nancy Swyers. To provide clean drinking water for homes and businesses in the vicinity, a $700,000 per year municipal extraction system is in place—running up a sizable tab year after year.
At the recent public meeting, the EPA announced that it is considering demolishing the three buildings that sit atop the poisonous soil and performing a complete excavation “before the sites are further treated and restored,” said Swyers. The choice was not easy, she said, We really tried the best we could to clean this up without having to do this.” The EPA maintains that it did not suggest this method years ago because the agency did not want to interrupt normal business activities.
Tenants renting the building in question are outraged and voiced their opinions at the hearing. They want to continue a cleanup, but suggest “a more long-term, but cheaper, [sic] process that would include increasing the output from the city’s north well field,” said the former owner of Jackson Cleaners, one of the dry cleaners involved. They called the EPA’s plan, “scare tactics.”
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management, or ADEM, has decided to file suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for its oversight of a local coal burning energy plant. The suit follows recent pressure by outside environmental groups threatening to sue independently. ADEM believes that the TVA has allowed the Colbert Fossil Plant to dump coal ash into nearby waste ponds with little monitoring of toxin levels. This method of pollutant waste storage poses a grave danger to the environmental safety of both Cane Creek and the Tennessee River.
ADEM has been keeping an eye on the Colbert Fossil Plant since as early as 1985, releasing studies showing that the ponds used to store coal ash leak and have resulted in high levels of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins in surrounding waterways. “The contaminants are settling to the bottom and eventually seeping out,” said David Whiteside, who is the executive director of the Tennessee Riverkeeper.
The lawsuit alleges that the TVA has not done enough to put an end to ash waste contamination of the local groundwater. The suit requests that the TVA be held accountable if they do not take significant measures to clean up existing water contamination and cease future pollution.
The five environmental groups that sought to sue the TVA find it distrubing that the state of Alabama was aware of the situation for so long but did nothing to enforce environmental regulations until now. According to Whiteside, “The Alabama Department of Environmental Management knew about this illegal pollution coming out of the TVA Fossil Plant for some time and chose not to do anything about it until Riverkeeper came in and filed our notice of intent to sue and started pointing out these illegal violations to the public.”
Tennessee Valley Authority acknowledges the lawsuit and ADEM’s concerns. The Authority states that it has indeed been proactive in preventing future waste and cleaning up existing coal ash pollutants. According to TVA representatives, at least $12 million has been invested in these efforts as well as efforts to cooperate with environmental group concerns.
The implications of ADEM’s lawsuit reach beyond the destruction of the fragile ecosystem of the Tennessee River and its tributaries, the potential for high levels of lead, mercury, arsenic, and other deadly toxins to continue to seep into reservoirs intended for human consumption is very real. This concern for human vitality is key and the most poignant in the introduction of ADEM’s lawsuit against the TVA and the Colbert Fossil Plant. While timing behind the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s suit may be controversial, it is long overdue for the courts to rule whether the Clean Water Act has been violated and what should be done to rectify the disregard of environmental compliance.
Whiteside explains: “We are concerned that these toxins are indeed making it into the Pickwick Reservoir and we are concerned for public health, this is a citizen issue. The citizens depend on Pickwick Reservoir for drinking water in Colbert County.”