The Department of Energy believes that they have come up with a lasting solution to disposing of nuclear waste. In 1999 the Department of Energy opened the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the New Mexico desert to begin disposing of radioactive waste resulting from government as well as private companies use. The WIPP is located on the surface of the desert sands, but it is what is below that makes it the ideal waste disposal location. Thick salt beds lie approximately a half mile below the ground’s surface. The underground salt is the result of ancient seas that had once covered the region. Rooms about the size of football fields have been carved into the salt beds where nuclear waste is then placed into hollow tubes in the walls. After placement, the salt begins to close the hole at a rate of six inches a year. The salt reacts to the heat of the radioactive material, with any water being drawn out, creating a super strong salt seal. The hazardous waste material is then entombed for what researches say eternity.
Currently the New Mexico plant is only housing plutonium based waste, which is less radioactive than other forms of nuclear waste. There are plans to expand and store other types of nuclear waste, especially after a planned storage site in Nevada was turned down by that state’s government. The more radioactive material would be the waste produced from power reactors and weapons manufacturing. Further site assessments must be done in New Mexico before a decision is made to house power reactor waste.
New Mexico officials in the area directly surrounding the site are in support to continuing and expanding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. They feel as though it is bringing an industry to an otherwise economically depressed area. Plant expansion could lead to more jobs and it could make the value of previously valueless desert land increase significantly. Tours of the facility are also available, which could increase area tourism. Locals also feel as though their community would be playing a role in making the nation safer from the danger of nuclear waste.
State official are not as thrilled, citing the fears associated with having a nuclear waste dumping facility nearby. Most recently a truck fire on the plant’s grounds brought attention to the potential dangers of having nuclear materials at the facility. Engineers at the site have stated that no material was compromised due to the fire. The most pertinent concern lies in the WIPP’s planned expansion. Only about 25 miles away, oil companies have been operating wells in order to pump oil using new fracking techniques. The fear lies in a potential overlap of a drilling site and an underground nuclear waste tomb.
Another concern is that the nuclear waste will be in the salt beds for eternity. Centuries from now the area could be developed and the radioactive waste would be disturbed with potentially disastrous results. State politicians would like to see the WIPP continue to operate at the capacity that is currently at, only processing plutonium and not making any expansions.
Fracking has been one of the most hotly contested current environmental issues of recent time. Both opponents and advocates have valid points and put up extremely convincing arguments defending their respective positions on the topic. New York has maintained a natural gas drilling moratorium on the state’s shale gas deposits. Proponents for developing a treatment plant to handle fracking fluid waste-water have been very vocal lately, and many residents in Niagra Falls are anything but pleased.
Should anything go wrong with a treatment plant in the Niagra Falls area, the consequences would be dire. With its proximity to the Great Lakes, the risk is very real of contaminating those ever-important bodies of water. Furthermore, any leaking of the mysterious fracking fluid could endanger the drinking water for residents in northern Upstate New York. The Niagra Falls Water Board nonetheless, is considering a proposal to do just that. According to CTVNews.ca, the Board “is reviewing a plan to treat ‘fracking’ water—fluid waste from a gas extraction procedure—at a facility sitting on the Niagra River, which joins up with Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.” The facility would be created with the intentions of recycling the fracking water for reuse in the gas procurement process.
Those opposed to the treatment plant raise numerous concerns; all of which are countered with pure economics. The Niagra Falls Water Board (NFWB) argues that allowing the treatment plant to come to fruition would be a boon for the area. Earl Wells, of the NFWB, states about Niagra Falls, “It’s a poor city. It continues to see residents leave and revenue leave. The cost of maintaining the water and the wastewater continue to put a burden on the ratepayers. It could generate jobs, mitigate rates.”
Wells argues that an underutilized plant in the region is equipped to handle the fracking fluid; a point that is quickly rebutted by University of Windsor geology professor Frank Simpson. Says Simpson, “Taking those chemicals from the water does not sound like an easy thing to me. This is an amazing cocktail of substances not found in the natural environment.”
Brian Smith, of the Citizens for the Environment agrees. "Fracking waste can contain toxic chemicals, radioactivity, and be five-times saltier than seawater," Smith said. "The Niagara Falls sewage treatment facility is ill equipped to properly treat hazardous fracking waste. Allowing this would risk the discharge of toxic, radioactive, and caustic waste into our fragile Great Lakes ecosystem."
Just what is this enigmatic fracking fluid made of? While natural gas drilling companies are not required to divulge the exact chemical makeup of the liquid, it is known that many of the substances are carcinogenic and toxic in many other ways.
Texas is known for doing things BIG, and now the state can add to that image a big win for holding an impressive number of polluters responsible for the mess they made. In what might be a record-breaking victory for Texas’ Department of Justice and the EPA, the agencies were able to reach an agreement with “over three dozen companies and government agencies that will result in a $56.4 million cleanup of the Malone Services Company Superfund Site in Texas City,” according to a recent press release.
The Malone Services Superfund Site is home to what was once a waste disposal site that handled all sorts of hazardous waste materials, including “waste oil and waste chemicals between approximately 1964 and 1996,” said an article on Equities.com. It continued, “Hundreds of entities sent a total of approximately 481 million gallons of waste to the site.” The site still contains over 250,000 cubic yards of “contaminated oily sludge,” in “above-ground storage tanks and a multi-acre earthen impoundment,” said the article.
Leave it to good ‘ole Texas to rope a whopping 27 companies into claiming responsibility for part of the land pollution. As stated in the settlement, it requires, “a group of 27 companies to clean up the site, pay EPA $900,000 towards past and future costs, and reimburse the state of Texas for $796,726 in past costs.”
EPA acting regional administrator Sam Coleman announced, “Once approved by the court, this settlement will reinforce the ‘polluter pays’ principle that is central to the Superfund program by obtaining a commitment for funds for cleanup work from the responsible parties at his site.”
Although the settlement is still subject to court approval, it looks as though the Lone Star state is on the right track to holding polluters to the task of cleaning up hazardous waste sites instead of leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
The city of Baltimore is now facing a lawsuit filed by two of its residents accusing that environmental contamination on the Horseshoe Casino construction site has been ignored. The concerned citizens specifically emphasize that polluted soil leeches into groundwater, and eventually into the Patapsco River, a waterway that they spend quite a bit of time in as avid boaters.
The construction site is located on what was once a chemical factory and contains toxic levels of arsenic and trichloryrtholene. These citizens, who deny belonging to any particular environmental group, feel as though Baltimore has not done enough in its environmental dealings with CBAC Gaming, a segment of Caeser’s Entertainment, the company behind the casino’s development.
City officials deny any wrongdoing and believe that the sudden concern for the environmental issues have more to do with opposition to the casino being built in the area, rather than a concern over potentially contaminated waterways. The most recent lawsuits follow a previous lawsuit lost against CBAC Gaming alleging that the company bypassed government environmental cleanup requirements. One of the reasons for the previous lawsuit’s failure is due to the implementation of a plan passed by the Maryland EPA. This plan includes covering any polluted ground with buildings and parking lots as well as monitoring any vapors that could seep into the building as a result. Despite this plan residents are still skeptical of merely covering up the problem.
Both the city and ultimately the taxpayers have a lot at stake if the casino developers are forced to shed big bucks for environmental cleanup. As a part of the deal with the city, CBAC Gaming can scrap the entire development if they are faced with more than $2 million in cleanup efforts. The company would also be eligible for a reduction in lease payments resulting in millions lost in city revenue over time. The city of Baltimore insists that environmental precautions have been taken and a plan is in place to contain any groundwater or land pollution.
Last March, Japan experienced a magnitude nine earthquake, one of the most devastating in modern history; one that further led to the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. Now, almost a year later, scientists are conducting studies to determine just how much radiation was leaked into the environment and how weather patterns and geological formations have aided or hindered the spreading of that radiation. Other scientists are studying the effects that the nuclear fallout might have on future cases of cancer in the Japanese people unfortunate enough to have been located near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The results so far have been interesting—and in some cases, encouraging. Scientists developed maps showing areas where radioactivity levels were very high, and others where they were relatively low. According to Amina Khan for the Boston Herald, “The maps could help the government decide what to do with different tracts of land: whether to abandon them, return them to farming or remove contaminated topsoil first.”
What the studies found is that some parts of Japan had lower than expected levels of radioactive waste because mountains provided shelter to those areas. Wind carried nuclear particles to other places in Japan, and heavy rains brought those particles into the soil. In those parts, such as the eastern part of Fukishima, soil levels of radioactive materials are detrimentally high. There, says Khan, “Food production would be ‘severely impaired.’
The separate studies of future cancer rates are hard to predict accurately, since “so many people normally get cancer at some point in their lifetimes,” according to Malcom Ritter and Mari Yamaguchi of the Associated Press. However, the researchers of the 30 year project so far believe that most people in the Fukushima area will not see a great increase in risk because the exposure to radiation was so low.
The first study mirrors that opinion. “The Japanese took proper precautions….The levels they’re talking about are not going to damage people’s health at all,” says Gerry Thomas, a molecular pathologist at Imperial College London.
The Great Lakes are the largest non-oceanic body of water in the U.S. and are home to scenic vistas as well as important industrial shipping routes. They are in fact, “the largest group of freshwater lakes in the Earth, comprising 21% of the world’s surface fresh water,” according to Wikipedia.
Because of the significance and sheer size of the Great Lakes, a number of laws were put in place to protect them from water contamination and ensure environmental sustainability. One of the environmental regulations enacted makes dumping litter, or hazardous waste materials, into the lakes illegal.
Somehow, some large tankers were granted waivers to the dumping rule and regularly unload obscene amounts of harmful elements into the water. One such ship is the SS Badger. As stated in an article in the HollandSeninel.com, “In its travels between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wis., the ship dumps almost 8,000 pounds of coal ash into Lake Michigan daily under a special exemption from the National Environmental Protection Act, which the company received in 2008.”
The thought of the S.S. Badger dumping that much coal ash into the lake every single day for the past four years was too much for Michigan Republican senator, Rick Jones. He recently asked the E.P.A. to “honor the state of Michigan’s ban on Great Lakes dumping by rejecting the SS Badger’s request for a federal permit to dump coal ash into Lake Michigan, a violation of the law,” said the Sentinel article.
Considering that the law Jones is calling upon defines liter as: waste material, debris or other foreign substance of every kind and description, it would appear as a no-brainer that coal ash, commonly called fly ash, would fit the bill. In areas of the country where fly ash is produced, it is considered a pollutant and must be disposed of in a special landfill or recycled into a non-harmful product. The SS Badger should not be allowed to break the law and contaminate a body of water that holds almost a quarter of the world’s fresh surface water.
The New Jersey courts have decided that several companies will be paying $130 million as settlement in a long-running suit over the contamination of the Passaic River. The companies being held financially responsible are Tierra Solutions, Maxus Energy Corporation, as well as several other third party entities. The Passaic River is considered to be one of the most contaminated waterways in the world, polluted with chemicals like dioxins and PCBs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working on the cleanup effort of a particular 17-acre portion of the river for years making it the quintessential Superfund site.
The Passaic River has such severe water contamination due in large part to the former Diamond Shamrock Company. The factory produced Agent Orange for the Vietnam War, resulting in high levels of dioxin as waste. The river area most affected is directly outside of Newark. Dioxin is a known cancer-causing chemical. Through years of corporate acquisitions, a company known as Occidental Chemical Corp. has become responsible for the Diamond Shamrock Company’s contaminating waste.
State environmental officials feel that now that they have won a settlement from the smaller responsible parties, they can focus all of the attention on the case against the Occidental Chemical Corp. The state of New Jersey not only plans on using the $130 million towards river cleanup efforts, but to recover legal expenses that resulted from the drawn out civil court battle. A portion of settlement money would be put into the continued litigation against Occidental as well. There are hopes that this momentum could potentially result in $400 million in additional settlement to put toward cleanup of the Passaic River now that the smaller third party companies have taken responsibility for some of the contamination due to the dumping of raw sewage.
Despite winning a sizable settlement, river cleanup faces another obstacle. New Jersey governor Chris Christy can allocate millions of settlement dollars to the general fund as a part of the state’s overall annual budget. This money may never be used to clean up the river as intended and the New Jersey government can continue to apply future settlements in this manner.
The Environmental Protection Agency also worries that the State’s settlement in court will make it much more difficult for the federal government to hold Tierra, Maxus, and other lesser polluters responsible. With cleanup efforts for the Passaic River slated to be finalized within the next year with a price tag in the billions, the EPA would like financial retribution.
It is too bad that Mr. Clean does not make a Magic eraser large enough to clean up an area the size of a neighborhood.
In Burlington, Iowa, utility company Alliant’s cleanup of coal tar left over from coal gasification during the late 1800s into the first half of the 1900s is turning out to be a massive endeavor. Treating the coal tar-contaminated soil, backfilling, and paving over a former gas plant was expected to cost a maximum of three million dollars. That price is soaring as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources determined the coal tar may have caused water contamination of the local water table and even as far as the Mississippi riverbed.
“There are groundwater impacts to be addressed,” Jill Stevens who is Alliant’s manager of environmental services told The Hawk Eye.
Because of the high costs which are expected to reach four million, Alliant is considering postponing paving over the backfilled area until 2012. More than 20,000 tons of soil have already been treated.
Coal tar, which is a dangerous byproduct of coal gasification, is commonly found in areas around the U.S. because the plants of the past centuries were not aware of the harmful effects their processes were having on the environment. In fact, in the 1970’s a resurgence of the technology brought new life to coal gasification that occurs even today, although by using safer methods.(zentech.org) Companies who plan to purchase properties on or near former sites of coal gasification plants should do an in depthproperty history analysis before making the purchase to prevent running into a large scale cleanup project− one that can cost millions more than planned.
A group of neighbors in the east side of Madison, Wisconsin have filed a lawsuit against Madison-Kipp Corporation, an industrial components maker for contaminating their homes with a cornucopia of carcinogens. The main toxin which has invaded the properties is PCE, but high levels of TCE and DCE are also causing trouble.
Madison-Kipp has been in operation for 130 years, and stopped using tetrachloroethylene (PCE) in the 1980s when it was discovered that the common industrial solvent was gaining notoriety as a cancer-causing agent. The company performed some testing in the 1990s and found that PCE had caused ground pollution in the neighboring area and began some efforts at remediation. Apparently not enough.
Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources has become so concerned by recent tests on Marquette Street that officials have been knocking on doors to asking residents to allow house inspections. Testing done this fall revealed contamination levels fifty times higher than previously thought. In addition to the groundwater contamination surrounding Madison-Kipp’s Waesuba Street facility, it is now thought that vapor intrusion is making the situation even more dangerous.
The plaintiff’s assert that they are concerned for their health and for the wellbeing of their families. To illustrate the fear, resident Deanna Schneider says, “My house has sub-slab soil vapor levels hundreds of times above the standard. That’s a health threat.”
So far, Madison-Kipp has stated that the company will fight the allegations but is willing to cooperate with the DNR. The components maker has a fight on its hands as the homeowners and their environmental attorneys are suing for losses in property value and punitive damages. Most importantly, the plaintiffs are seeking a complete site assessment to find out exactly how widespread the contamination is and a complete cleanup of all the toxins which have become nuisances in their once idyllic neighborhood.
Could it be possible that another controversial current environmental issue could take the spotlight off its ugly step-sister, fracking? For the time being in Utah, the dilemma is not to drill or not to drill (for natural gas); it is whether or not to protect groundwater near proposed tar sands mines.
New to some peoples’ lexicons, (this author included), tar sands, or bituminous sands, are bits of sandstone that contain “sand, clay, and water, saturated with a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum. The crude bitumen contained in the Canadian oil sands is described by Canadian authorities as ‘petroleum that exists in the semi-solid or solid phase in natural deposits’ according to Wikipedia.
A Canadian company oddly named U. S. Oil Sands Co. is causing quite a ruckus among environmentalists and Utah residents who happen to find themselves living near planned sites. A judge recently ruled that the company does not have to adhere to environmental regulations preventing water contamination because there is simply not enough water nearby to be impacted by the mining.
A great number of people familiar with Utah beg to differ and they are backed by science. “All that’s needed to settle the issue is to look around the mine site and the entire Colorado plateau,” said Rob Dubuc. “What you see—the wildlife, the grass, the brush—means there has to be water. There is nothing in the statutes that talks about how much water, [needs to be there to be covered them] just that all water needs to be protected.”
As it stands now, the government has already awarded U.S. Oil Sands Co. the permits it needs to go forward with mining. The burden falls of that of the environmental attorneys representing the two groups petitioning the judge who made the fateful decision. Perhaps tar sand mining may be a viable and profitable way to bring more crude petroleum into the county, but it has to be done responsibly, unlike fracking in some parts of the country that was done first and problems dealt with after.