A Greenfield, Mass. property that was slated to be purchased by the town will now remain unsold until at least summer, if not indefinitely. The former Lunt Silversmith property was under a purchase and sale agreement until the end of March when it lapsed and has not been renewed.
Lunt Silversmith was an iconic Greenfield manufacturer of silverware and other high-end silver items. In 2009, after years of declining demand for their products, the company decided to lay off employees and sell its assets, essentially closing its doors and shutting down production.
The town was planning to buy the Lunt parcel until site assessments uncovered land pollution and water contamination on its property. Now, unsure of the risks involved, Greenfield officials are seeking Brownfield status to protect the town from environmental lawsuits after becoming the new owner. According to Greenfield economic development director, Robert Pyers, “The state attorney general wants the town to take 90 days to complete off-site testing before entering into another buy-sell agreement.” “The purchase is contingent on the attorney general granting the [Brownfield] covenant,” said Mayor William Martin.
Money has already been invested in the Lunt property to the tune of over $200,000, with an additional $1.5 million approved by the town council to buy the land and building.
Meanwhile, more testing must be carried out on and off the property to determine just how much contamination exists. One snag with that is the town’s inability to enter the property; the bankruptcy court has issued a no trespassing warning to Greenfield. Testing will have to be conducted off the property.
The town is hoping to still close on the Lunt property by August. “We still don’t think the contamination we find is going to be horrible—we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Peyers.
Clean drinking water has become a scarce resource for the Navajo people of Arizona and other areas in the Southwest. Many Navajo travel hundreds of miles to collect fresh water for their homes every week. The arid landscape sits upon an underground aquifer, but that water contains high salt concentrations as well as other contaminates. The aquifer is estimated to be about half as salty as sea water, certainly not a potable option.
Researchers believe that they have come up with a viable solution to the Navajo’s drinking water crisis that could completely transform the tribe’s way of live. The innovation lies in a process known as solar thermal desalination. The process, using sustainable energy has proven much more cost effective than traditional reverse osmosis desalination methods and will become more economical as the production of the solar panels becomes more widespread. Thermal desalination uses solar panels to pump water from the underground aquifer and heat it to its boiling point. The water vapor resulting from being heated then passes through a series of membranes that filter out contaminates. The clean water can then be dispersed, while salty contaminates are placed in storage tanks.
One of the first desalination plants run off green power was completed in the in 2013, with all purified water being used by Navajo ranchers and their cattle. Currently, water quality must still be improved for human consumption, but researchers believe that change will happen by late 2014. There are plans to build more plants like this one as soon as funding becomes available so that Navajo people, spanning an area about the size of West Virginia can have running water in their homes.
While desalination using solar power seems to be the ideal solution to the Navajo problem, there are some drawbacks. For instance, the membranes that the salty aquifer water is filtered through do not necessarily remove other possibly toxic contaminates. If water containing chemicals is consumed it could prove harmful to the human or animal drinking it. The water will also be reintroduced to the water table, opening local waterways up to water contamination. Other critics find desalination to consume too much energy, whether it is solar or not, while others feel the process is merely too costly.
Many Navajos making their weekly trek to get fresh water are occasionally asked why they continue to live in the area instead of dealing with a lack of fresh water. The response is always the same. The Navajo feel as though the land has been their home for thousands of years and they share a unique bind with it despite adversity.
In a recent environmental issue, the question has come up over whose responsibility it is to protect the public from the gasoline additives MTBE and TBA.
The case which brought the issue to light is a lawsuit filed against oil industry giants Chevron USA, Shell Oil, ExxonMobil, and others by the city and Redevelopment Agency of Merced, California. The lawsuit claims that the oil industry purposefully mislead gas stations into purchasing MTBE and TBA under the assumption that the substance would help clean the air and not cause any type of harm or damage to groundwater and the humans that come in contact with it.
It turns out that gas stations were not taking any special precautions to protect the ground from the water-soluble toxin and due to shoddy storage, MTBE and TBA leaked in several gas stations, causing ground water contamination. MTBE is now known to be a possible carcinogen and it renders water undrinkable due to its turpentine odor and chemical taste. “All had duties to warn and advise the seriousness of the chemical and what procedures to take to protect the public. They failed to do so and proper precautions weren’t taken by the retailers,” said Greg Diaz, a city attorney.
Court documents show the city of Merced alleging that “the oil companies were negligent, careless, reckless, or intentionally failed to prevent leaks of MTBE or TBA through the use of appropriate technology, installation, and maintenance of gasoline delivery systems that could prevent leaks or monitor and discover them as soon as possible.”
On the other side of the fence, the oil industry behemoths proclaim that the city water is perfectly fine. A Chevron official stated, “The city’s drinking water has always been and continues to be of excellent quality.”
One can’t help but wonder how much responsibility could be put on the gas stations for not performing due diligence on the new chemicals they were adding to their gasoline and also why they weren’t more careful about storage in the first place. This case will be interesting to follow and see how the verdict turns out.
These past couples of weeks, a group of three Bradford County, Pennsylvania families who performed their legal due diligence received finally got their justice. Environmental Attorney Allen Stewart declared that the lawsuit against oil and gas giant Chesapeake Energy Corporation settled for $1.6 million.
Prior to 2009, before Chesapeake Energy began drilling, there was no sign of water pollution. But by the summer of 2010, residents that live on Paradise Road Wyalusing in Northern Pennsylvania experienced sudden changes in their ground water quality. Due to contamination of excess methane, one family had to be evacuated from their home for two weeks. Simultaneously, Chesapeake properties were leaking gas contaminating the area from due negligence services of poorly constructed wells.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy and affiliated companies were responsible for the water contamination. Rory Sweeney, Chesapeake Spokesman responded about the outcome of the settlement, “While Chesapeake remains confident that the water supply is consistent with area water quality standards, it has entered into the settlement so the families and the company could bring closure to the matter.”
Attorney Allen Stewart who represented the plaintiffs explained, “These landowners signed oil and gas leases under assurances that gas drilling would never be close enough to affect their properties.” Mr. Stewart is known as a leader for holding those responsible for harming landowners due to negligence of poorly constructed wells to justice and encourages any landowner who suspects that their own water supply or property contact an attorney to learn more about legal rights.
Rory Sweeny remarks that “A difficult aspect from this investigation has been the lack of pre-drill water testing on some of the water sources.” Revealing that, “The Department of Environmental Protection currently recommends pre-drilling testing with a 2,500 foot radius of any oil or gas drilling operation”
Of all the current environmental issues in the news today, the controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing most likely tops the list for heated debate. The city of Detroit has found itself in the midst of strong arguments by proponents and naysayers of fracking—even though the practice has been going on for more than 60 years in other areas of the state.
In Michigan, as in other U.S. states that allow the horizontal drilling, fracking has brought many benefits to the communities in the form of increased tax revenue and secondary boons to local economies. The industry draws increasing numbers workers who in turn spend the money they earn and the oil and gas companies themselves spend enormous amounts of cash to operate.
These economic benefits are undeniable but environmentalists and some residents say the risk of ground pollution, water contamination, small earthquakes, and open land devastation are not worth the money.
According to Bill Laitner of the Detroit Free Press, though no drilling has occurred in metro Detroit, “the fear of multimillion-dollar drilling rigs rolling into town to break up deep deposits of shale rock laced with lucrative petroleum is enough to rile communities.”
Recent public city meetings have drawn crowds of people on both sides of the fence. Explains Laitner, “Fracking is credited with helping to cut the price of natural gas to Americans by two-thirds in the last decade. But because of environmental fears, the process has been banned permanently or temporarily in New York State; the Delaware River Basin…; Quebec, and virtually all of France, according to a shareholders proposal to regulate fracking at Chevron Corp. “
For every opinion in favor of fracking, someone could be heard who vehemently disagrees with the possibility of opening up Detroit. Charlene Romanow explained, “People moved here for the lakes and beaches—we don’t want lake town to turn into oil town."
Mrs. Romanow and her husand Rick attended the last meeting and told the crowd how oil and gas companies have been offering a $100 cash incentive to their lakeside neighbors to allow the corporations to perform exploratory drilling on their properties. Most did not accept the offer, but the retired couple said “We heard that six or seven of the people right on the lake signed.”
One can’t help wonder, however; if safety and health programs and strong environmental regulations are put in place, could the fracking industry bring much welcome wealth to a region still where the reining automobile industry is still working to gain traction after the Great Recession? The question rings true for any part of the country debating the merits of hydraulic fracturing.
Despite all the back and forth going on in Detroit, the reality is that the chance of fracking coming to town is slim, at least according to the state DEQ. “Fracking has yet to come to southeastern Michigan, and probably won’t because the geology of the land doesn’t call for it.”
The hospitality industry has recently made a large push towards becoming a much greener industry, with a focus on water conservation. Hotels were slow to make many changes in conserving water, since they did not see the initial monetary value in doing so. The hotels that did make water consumption changes began to realize that energy consumption also decreased as a direct result. With this change in energy use came the potential for huge savings. Hotels also realized that they could use their environmental consciousness to attract a new customer as well as separate themselves in a crowded market. A hotel that advertises green amenities has its finger on the pulse of environmental trends. Studies show that hotel guests, especially those who travel frequently or for business seem to care deeply about the environment and book stays at hotels that had made water conservation efforts over those that did not.
It’s estimated that the hotel industry consumes about 15% of the nation’s commercial water supply, so the importance of conservation is substantial. Hotels have made these efforts by focusing on bathrooms which consume 30% of their water as well as laundry and landscaping using about 15% each. They have done so by replacing many shower fixtures with low flow models and other green building materials. Surveys have shown that most guests did not notice a difference in their shower pressure, squashing the fears of hotel officers skeptical of replacement. The institution of progressive laundry policies is another huge change to the industry. Many hotels no longer change sheets on a daily basis unless they receive a specific request. They have also instituted programs in which towels are not automatically switched daily if the guest hangs them up to dry. Anything thrown on the floor is removed for laundering. New laundry programs have not only decreased water and energy use, but also increase the life of hotel linens, proving to be an additional financial benefit.
In an effort to encourage continued change in the hospitality industry, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has instituted a new program called the WaterSense H2Otel Challenge. The program challenges hotels to institute water conservation measures in order to save water, energy, money, as well as stay completive in an increasingly green market. This latest EPA program builds on the current WaterSense effort towards environmental sustainability. The initial program has already conserved an estimated 487 billion gallons of water over the past eight years. The EPA also forecasts that the average 150 room hotels could save approximately $7,000 annually in water costs alone by simply installing WaterSense approved fixtures. Hotels can also apply to several government incentive programs in order to offset the cost of installing things like low flow showerheads and water efficient toilets.
Many hotels in the city of Las Vegas, Nevada have been leaders in water conservation methods, perhaps due to its arid surroundings. Officers at these casino resorts, including the iconic Caesar’s Palace, state that environmental compliance with the EPA’s latest efforts is not a gamble. Hotels that step to the challenge will make and save money.
Water contamination dating back to the 1940’s is finally becoming measurably reduced in the Mississippi River where it runs through Minnesota. The river water had been heavily polluted with a compound known as PFCs, a substance used in several of 3M’s flagship products.
According to Star Tribune, “3M started using PFCs in the 1940’s at its Cottage Grove plant to make Scotchgard, nonstick cookware and firefighting foam. For decades, 3M legally dumped manufacturing waste in the area landfills and at the plant.”
It was this legal dumping that eventually led to the Mississippi pollution. In 2000, 3M began phasing out the use of PFCs in its products, and in 2002 the company stopped using the compound altogether. In 2007, 3M entered an agreement with the state of Minnesota to spend many millions of dollars to clean up the contamination. The cleanup method involves reusing PFC tainted water to cool Cottage Grove equipment and then treating the water to remove the compound before releasing it back into the Mississippi River.
While many of these huge industrial cleanup sagas drag on for decades without any real improvement, the 3M river-cleanup appears to be showing promising results. The levels of PFCs are still measuring above state standards, but recent testing showed significant reductions. Jean Sweeney, of 3M says, “The officials were pleasantly surprised by the results. They showed that 97 percent of the nearly 400 fish tested were below the consumption standard of one meal per month.”
It is tempting to say that 3M should have stopped using and dumping hazardous waste materials in its products a long time ago, and any other number of criticisms. However, it is refreshing to hear a story of relative success and that’s a notion not lost on the public. “We should be grateful to the state for imposing those limits and to 3M for doing a good job of cleaning it up,” said Whitney Clark of the group, Friends of the Mississippi River.
When a community houses a highly contaminated site that is likely to need an expensive, complicated cleanup, it often turns to the federal government to enlist the property on the Superfund list. The Massachusetts town of Hanover is doing just the opposite, in spite of the fact that its National Fireworks site is almost sure to make the grade.
According to the the Chris Burrell of Patriot Ledger, “More than six decades of munitions manufacturing and testing at a factory that armed the U.S. military during four wars has polluted a 280-acre site in Hanover with enough mercury, lead and other chemicals to make it a sure-fire candidate for a high-ranking, federal Superfund site.”
Why might a small town of 14,000 residents not want to seek the federal assistance afforded by the Superfund program? Hanover is a picturesque little New England town, chock-full of history and charm. As stated on the town’s website, Hanover-Ma.gov, “Hanover was established in 1727, a little over 100 years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, 17 miles to our south. We have maintained our ‘country town’ atmosphere over the years, yet combined it with the convenience of shopping malls, light industry, and, of course, technology.”
In other words, Hanover is an attractive location and Superfund sites tend to bring an unwelcome toxic stigma to an area. Put eloquently by town administrator Troy Clarkson, “The town’s interest is in revitalizing the area and that designation is not conducive to revitalization.”
Town officials are piecing together a remediation plan for the land pollution that includes funds from three parties responsible for the contamination and $950,000 that was won in a bankruptcy settlement with another now-defunct polluter.
Although the National Fireworks munitions site contains enough hazardous waste materials to be designated as a Tier 1A, the most ecologically harmful, the selectmen of Hanover feel the damage to property values and environmental stigma are not worth labeling the site a Superfund property.
It’s a sticky situation at the patch of land off Highway 301 in Molt, Montana; and not just because the soil is polluted with petroleum byproducts. The state DEQ and Terracon Inc, a hired environmental management consultant, have been working since the late 1990s to determine exactly what types of land pollution and water contamination exist at the former Molt Bulk Plant. They need to find out the specific contaminants in order to pinpoint just who caused the contamination; two separate spills occurred there from two separate companies’ tanks.
According to Susan Olp, of the Billings Gazette, “The plant was owned by the Town & Country Supply Association, which hired Terracon. The plant, at 1 Wolfskill Avenue, was closed in the mid-1990s, but not before an above-ground gasoline spill happened. It was reportedly cleaned up in 1996, but nothing was done with the soil.”
Across the street from the plant sits the Prairie Winds Café, which prior to 2000 was home to the Kepferle Mercantile. The mercantile also housed two large gasoline tanks until 1994 when they were removed. As the tanks were removed, it was discovered that the surrounding soil was contaminated and the contamination was subsequently reported to the DEQ.
Fast forward to today and owners of both the Prairie Winds Café and a home built on nearby land are grappling with the land pollution and newly discovered water contamination located 30 feet below the surface. Café owners Jerry and Fran Urfer had to change their retirement plans as they are unable to sell the restaurant because of the contamination. Several attempts at remediating the site, overseen by Terracon, led to weeks-long closing of their establishment, costing them loss income and wasted food.
The Krieger family, who purchased the adjacent home, has faced similar problems, since the water pollution was discovered when a well was drilled on his property. The Molt Elevator, owned by Mike Hollenbeck and Jim Visser is a company located on the same property.
Mr. and Mrs. Krieger filed an environmental lawsuit against Town & Country and were awarded a monetary settlement and the company purchased their house. Mr. Hollenbeck joined the suit as a plaintiff. The lawsuit, surprisingly to them, did not lead to a remediation of the land. “We took the money under the guise that the DEQ would push these other parties to clean it up. Otherwise I never would have settled,” said Mr. Hollenbeck.
What it did lead to though, was the DEQ to reopen the Kepferle site, which had been thought to be improving. The DEQ had issued a No Current Corrective Action letter to the owners of Kepferle Mercantile because soil quality testing had shown contamination levels were going down.
It was too late for the Prairie Winds Café, the owners say. Because potential buyers were turned off by the tainted property history and lingering contamination concerns, the couple decided to close up shop on June 28.
Similarly, Hollenbeck and Visser expect to close the Molt Elevator, as they have been unable to obtain financing “to sell it or operate it in the condition it’s in,” said Hollenbeck.
This week, a representative of Terracon told a town meeting about the remediation plans for the soil and the water are what timeframe they can expect. What is unknown is which tank led to which pollution. This will matter when it comes time to pay for the cleanup costs not covered by state funds. DEQ assured the public, and the affected parties, that the department “won’t close its investigation until the ground water is cleaned up.”
The recent mudslide in the small town of Oso, Washington has proven to be a horrific tragedy claiming the lives of dozens, including several children. Many more individuals are still missing and homes have been completely destroyed leaving the community in ruins. The mudslide completely destroyed everything in its path over about one square mile. Rescue efforts continue to find the missing during a period of slightly dryer weather. The nearly 500 rescuers face a great deal of danger wading through impossibly heavy mud and walking through mangled debris. In some areas of the devastation the mud is waist deep and debris if piled between 60 & 70 feet high. The task of searching for the missing is incredibly physically demanding on rescue crews.
Rescuers and area residents now face the additional danger of water contamination and the exposure to other pollutants buried beneath the mud. The mudslide took down everything in its path, mixing itself with household chemicals, propane, and gasoline. Septic materials from ruptured tanks have also mixed with the mud and debris. A toxic sludge of mud and debris could potentially result in outbreaks of dysentery, tetanus, and other diseases related to exposure to contaminants. The risk of these diseases remains a constant priority to safety and health program officials.
Rescue workers are being thoroughly decontaminated after a long day of search and rescue by National Guard members. Each member of the rescue team is hosed down to prevent the spread of any potential contamination. Every member of the team is decontaminated, including the search dogs. The four legged rescuers have proven vital to finding people buried beneath the mud. Each dog is completely hosed and then wiped down following a long physical day in order to protect the animal as well as prevent further contamination. Aside for finding the missing, the main concern is to ensure that contamination does not spread beyond the mudslide area.
Aside from the public health concern, the introduction of hazardous waste materials into the environment could be devastating. Household chemicals like the products that are used for cleaning or unclogging drains are extremely dangerous if not contained. Fuel spills from propane tanks and gasoline could result in fuel spills into local waterways as well. Rescue workers are draining any stagnant water puddles and are also carefully monitoring the flow of the nearby Stillaguamish River.