The West Virginia senate recently passed a bill that aims to increase the number of contaminated properties that become remediated and reused under the Brownfield program. According to the VWBrownfields.org, “Senate bill 603 authorized the creation of the north and south Brownfield assistance centers.” The centers will take an inventory of potentially contaminated sites that could be turned into new real estate or greenspace.
Brownfield sites can come from many different sources, including vacant warehouses and factories, abandoned salvage yards, old railroads, garbage dumps, small gas stations, parking lots, and mine-scarred lands.
The Brownfield assistance centers will serve as brokers to developers and will protect them from financial and legal liability. The bill will make it easier for potential buyers to find properties and perform legal due diligence by making property health information more accessible. According to the Associated Press, “The agency would also provide developers with environmental cleanup records plus information about underground tank locations, utilities and rail access. Properties listed with the agency would be certified as ready for construction.
The state believes this is an important step in converting unused land into property that adds value to West Virginia, through increased tax revenue, aesthetic value, and more greenspace for residents and visitors to enjoy. Says the Associated Press, “State officials say redeveloping former industrial sites that are free of contamination is important to West Virginia’s economic future and lawmakers are hoping that offering potential buyers access to environmental data and monitoring will make the properties more desirable. Despite once being contaminated with pesticides or harmful chemicals, the properties are seen as prime real estate because flat, developable land is a rare commodity in West Virginia.”
If successful, other states make pick up this environmental trend. The assistance centers do not siphon state tax revenue because they are fee-based, making the idea even more appealing.
The giant that is IBM Corp. has been involved in a number of related lawsuits dealing with water contamination and vapor intrusion at its former Endicott, New York campus.
Broome County Supreme Court Judge Ferris D. Lebous issued a series of decisions after hearing the cases and some of the decisions are almost certain to lead to appeals.
The suits claim that over thirty years ago, “thousands of gallons of TCE and other contaminants were allegedly discovered in groundwater beneath Endicott in 1980 during testing that was triggered by a 4,100-gallon spill at the IBM facility the previous year,” said Steve Reilly for PressConnects.com.
According to the article, “In the late 1990s, contamination from soil vapor intrusion was detected, and by 2002, IBM began testing the air at the request of state health and environmental agencies.” As a result of the air quality testing, more than 400 homes in the affected area had to have basement ventilation systems installed.
Speaking about the five decisions brought about by Judge Lebous, Reilly said, “Two worked in favor of the plaintiffs; three went in favor of IBM.”
Plaintiff environmental attorney Stephen Schwarz commented, “I think that it’s certainly an important day. Unfortunately what it probably signals is a longer fight than maybe we had hoped for.”
The decisions narrowed down what parts of the case will go forward and which ones are thrown away. In favor of the plaintiffs, Judge Lebous “denied IBM’s motion to prevent the jury from considering allegations by the plaintiffs that negligence on the part of the company led to groundwater contamination and eventual soil vapor intrusion,” said Reilly.
Also a boost for the plaintiffs was the decision to allow trespass allegations against the company.
Wanda Hudak, a spokesperson for the coalition that brought on the suits said “there is a growing sense of frustration in the community about repeated delays in the legal case. They wouldn’t have started the lawsuit if they didn’t think that they had an issue with their house. What are we waiting for here?”
It comes as a huge surprise to many that one of the Environmental Protection agency’s “contaminants of emerging concern” may be sitting in their kitchen cabinets. This contaminate is sucralose, the main ingredient of non calorie sweetener, Splenda. Only approximately 10% of sucralose is absorbed by the human body, which is why it has no calories. The remaining 90% of the sucralose is flushed down the toilet and into the water system.
Scientists conducting a study at the University of North Carolina have discovered the presents of sucralose in the Gulf Stream during site assessments off the coast of both North Carolina and Florida. The Gulf Stream is a waterway that moves water from the Gulf of Mexico to across to the Northern Atlantic Ocean. The Stream’s ability to move water to continents as distant as Europe and Africa means any pollutants in the water are also transported.
It is the unclear exactly what the possible danger of introducing sucralose into waterways may be, but by design the chemical is not easily broken down. Sucralose was discovered in the late 1970s, but only became popular in 1999 when Splenda made its way to store shelves. As a result the long term consequences have not been explored.
One anticipated danger is that sucralose will deeply change the food chain of marine life. Animals will ingest the chemical, and just as the human body does, will accept it as sugar. The animal’s bodies will be tricked into satisfaction with none of the nutrition. Fish and other sea creatures may starve to death, creating a domino effect in the delicate food chain.
A push toward monitoring levels of sucralose in the ocean as well as other waterways is being advocated by many researchers. The chemical and its contamination are, as stated before, on the EPA’s watch list as well. In order to prevent further water contamination, there are hopes to develop a water treatment processes which will be able to completely break down the chemical so that it never reaches the ocean. If innovative water treatment methods are developed to break sucralose down, the potential environmental contamination would be avoided altogether.
There are over 4 million miles of public roadway in the United States. These miles often conjure up images of current environmental issues like air pollution and a dependence on non renewable fuels. That imagery should be drastically changed now that those millions of miles may play an important role in displacing carbon pollution. Environmental groups are advocating that shrubbery and other forms of vegetation be planted alongside public roads in order to offset carbon emissions from cars. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that the equivalent of 2.6 million cars could be offset at a minimum.
Currently the Federal government has been experimenting with this concept along the roadsides of many U.S. National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Over 7 million metric tons of carbon is being stored due to these locations.
Shrubs and other bushy plant life are ideal for planting on roadsides since they pose much less a danger than other vegetation like trees would. Low, scrubby vegetation require little maintenance and would not obscure sightlines while driving. Additionally, there would be less grassy lawn to be maintained by public works departments. Less mowing of the grass on the side of the highway decreases the amount of emissions produced as well. The effort to move towards lush, carbon rich roadsides does interfere with the pristine landscaping of some communities which could prevent the practice from being adopted unanimously.
The Federal Highway Administration has also provided select states with grants to experiment with increasing the amount of carbon emissions stored. New Mexico is receiving a $1 million grant over the next five years to experiment with what techniques will be most successful. The relatively dry and arid state was able to increase the carbon offset from 35% to 350% through the planting of native grasses and other shrubs along roadsides. The state also allowed all grass to grow and extra two inches before being mowed. It is important for states to take proactive steps toward cardoon storage as the federal government my pass environmental regulations requiring it in the near future.
Brian Dyer of Lakeland, Florida had a vision of his wife and four children swimming, splashing, and laughing in a brand-new inground pool. The vision he has instead is a mysterious hidden dump in his backyard that excavators found when they were digging the hole for Brian’s dream pool. Now, instead of gazing out the window to a happy scene, Brian’s family doesn’t want to look at all. His kids, he says, “shut the blinds so they don’t have to look at the junk.”
Diggers for Griffin Pools were preparing the hole for Brian’s pool, when at 2 and ½ feet down, they found household trash. As they dug deeper, metal appeared, and finally, “tires, lawnmowers, and even a washing machine,” said Andy Herman, of Griffin Pools. Because of the unexpected garbage dump, Herman said that his company could not complete the pool and was not responsible for the cleanup.
In fact, no one involved wants to take responsibility. The builder claims that it is not his company’s responsibility, and similar statements have come from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and the town’s planning and development department.
How did something like this happen? Five years ago, Brian and his family purchased the house from Southern Homes in the Oak Run neighborhood and it looked like any other property in the area. In fact, a close neighbor has a pool.
The only explanation seems to be that a farmer of the orange grove that stood in place of the neighborhood back in the 1970’s used the spot for an illegal dump and covered the evidence.
Kim Byer, who is with Polk County’s waste management department has offered to help with finding a new location for the garbage, but will not be able to help with the cost, which she estimates will be “in the thousands, at least.”
Brian cannot overstate his family’s disappointment and now faces the dilemma having all the trashed removed. He cannot even just cover it back up because it is not known what kind of an impact the dump could have on his neighborhood. One can only hope that some department with the town will free up some funds to at least help subsidize the costly cleanup that Brian Dyer could not possibly have predicted, even with an environmental due diligence service or proper site assessments. The garbage was buried just beneath the depth which developers dig when building new homes.
In what appears to be a misguided pursuit, Connecticut is going after five Meriden women, claiming they are responsible for a $344,000 ground pollution cleanup bill. The women, who are all in their 60s and 70s, never owned the gas station in question and the bill should have been covered by a muli-million dollar tank clean-up fund that the state has been collecting money for through a gross receipts tax on gas.
The convoluted story begins around the 1950s, when Dominic and Giordano Tiezzi leased some property to Petrol Plus, a gas station with underground storage tanks. According to Dan Ivers of myrecordjournal.com, “In the mid-20th century, however, environmental regulations were loose, and tanks often leaked. In 1992, the state began an investigation that found the tanks had been compromised, contaminating both the soil at the gas station and at a neighboring property."
The women in this case are daughters of the Tiezzi brothers and inherited the gas station years ago. The ground contamination had been cleaned up by Alliance Energy, “which had taken over the station,” said Ivers.
Arthur Pfeiffer, who passed away this year, owned the property neighboring the old gas station and refused to let Alliance remediate his land. After an environmental investigation exposed vapor intrusion containing harmful elements on Pfeiffer’s land, the state decided to pay for and conduct a cleanup.
Now, with Petrol Plus long-defunct, and Alliance Energy no longer operating the gas station, Connecticut wants Joyce Fazzuoli, Mary Malchiodi, Ada Gionfrido, Henrietta Scalise, and Paula Guilfoile to repay the money spent to cleanup Pfeiffer’s land. The women, who had nothing to do with the petrol station, hired an environmental attorney and are fighting the claim.
What further complicates the state’s claim is that a specific Tank Fund was set up to help small gas station owners clean up contamination. According to Ivers, “The fund was created in the early 1990s to help gas station owners comply with new federal insurance requirements, and it was funded by raising the state’s gross receipts tax on gas by 1 percent. While the gross receipts tax continues to bring hundreds of millions of dollars each year, recent budget issues have resulted in the money’s being diverted to the state’s general fund, rather than to gas station owners facing large cleanup bills.”
The budget issues have effectively stopped the payments that were going out to the small business owners. The five women feel that they are being unfairly targeted to repay the $344,000 bill, which would surely leave them each in a financial hardship. The state’s financial woes should not lead to a blind finger-pointing simply because they inherited land many years ago; land that was cleaned up sufficiently.
Attorney Martha Dean, asserts that the women are ensnared in this claim because of an amendment that stopped payments from the Tank Fund. Dean said, “The amendment allows DEEP to almost arbitrarily force people like Fazzuoli, Malchioidi and Gionfriddo to pay for cleanup costs, regardless of circumstance.”
The women and Ms. Dean are appealing to state lawmakers to come to their defense in this issue.
The EPA has begun the first part of its first scientifically sound, unbiased assessment of the risks of fracking, and in spite of a crucial missing piece, the study has received mostly positive criticism.
According to Kevin Begos of the New Herald (of Northern Ohio) “An ongoing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on natural gas drilling and its potential for groundwater contamination has gotten tentative praise so far from both industry and environmental groups.”
The basis of this study is a computer simulation that will determine the risks of certain fracking doomsday scenarios. Right now, the computer simulations are all the EPA is counting on, giving critics a reason to pounce on the project. The agency hasn’t been able to find a drilling company that is willing to conduct field tests at actual drilling sites to more accurately determine if water contamination will happen at each step of the fracking process. The EPA has conceded that “Those [computer simulations] won’t be able to address the likelyhood of contamination occurring during actual field operations”
The bit of information that many in the industry and environmental groups want to know is the odds of fracking causing water contamination. Therein lies the problem. According to Begos, “In the report, the EPA describes what it is and isn’t studying. The agency also indicates its final report won’t provide a measurement of the likelihood of contamination- for example, once every 100,000 wells or once every 1000.”
One thing is certain; scientific sound studies are needed to gain an unbiased look at whether fracking can be performed safely and therefore become a lucrative industry within our country’s borders. With so many conflicting interests, it’s crucial to have the EPA and independent universities conduct testing and use many different scenarios so that the big picture of fracking and the damage it can or cannot cause can finally be brought into the open. The phase I testing has been call by both parties, “a step in the right direction.”
The state of South Carolina is in a standoff with the federal government’s Energy Department over the slowdown of nuclear waste cleanup at the Savanna River Site plant. The original timeline promised the clean up would be finished by 2023, but that deadline has been pushed all the way to 2040. South Carolina officials feel that the federal government should be held accountable for the broken deadline and broken promises. As a result the state plans to impose a fine of $154 million. South Carolina considers the Savanna River Site one of its most dangerous environmental concerns in the nation and would like cleanup to progress as close to the original timeline as possible.
The Energy Department has responded with an explanation that federal budget cuts have crippled cleanup efforts nationwide. Sequestration cuts and a reduction in military spending (the category that this cleanup falls into) have forced the Energy Department to do the best they can with what they have. They also ensure the state that the budget cuts are merely temporary.
South Carolina and Energy Department officials share many of the same concerns over the clean up slowdown, as much of the equipment used in the process was not built to sustain the additional decades of use. The Energy Department has been mixing radioactive waste with liquid hot glass and into hollow steel tubes since 1996. The mixture eventually cools into a solid that poses little risk to the environment. In its solid form it cannot be spilled or leak making the chances of contamination far less likely. The glass columns are 10 feet tall by 2 feet wide and the entire cleanup will require the production of 7,824 of them. Last year the plant produced 325, this year they are only expected to produce 125 columns.
The nuclear plant faces many new obstacles in maintaining its equipment to continue to produce the columns over the extended future. The equipment was not intended for long term use and will require upkeep, if not a complete overhaul. These repairs will come at an additional cost, when budgets are already shrunk. The nuclear cleanup may be further slowed so repairs can be paid for creating a dangerous cycle. Every year that passes on the project costs the Energy Department millions to maintain equipment and ensure the site is secure.
Outdated equipment pushed to its maximum lifespan could result in environmental concerns as well. The older equipment is more likely to leak or break during the cleanup process risking the introduction of hazardous waste materials to the environment. Tanks holding nuclear waste will be ninety years old when the project meets its new deadline, they were originally constructed for temporary use. These same tanks which are buried in the ground are suspected to have some small leaks. The federal government is working hard to control this and prevent groundwater contamination like that of the Fukushima Plant in Japan a few years ago.
The slowdown in cleanup has also had deep economic affects to the South Carolina community. Government spending cuts have shrunk the workforce from 2,200 down to 1,800 employees.
Owners of over one-hundred homes in North Lanarkshire, England, have recently had the misfortune of learning that their properties were built atop soil contaminated with a cocktail of hazardous materials, including trichloroethylene (TCE), a known carcinogen, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s), and high levels of heavy metals (among others.)
The North Lanarkshire estate was built in 1995 over land once used as industrial sites. Recommendations were made before the homes were built that proper remediation methods be used to ensure the decontamination of the land before building began.
It appears that the remediation efforts were not sufficient since this July, Collins Solicitors, a firm which specializes in Environmental law, reported that intensive testing of the soil at the North Lanarkshire estate where the properties lie shows that the levels of the toxic substances are high enough to pose health risks to the residents.
In addition to the contaminated soil, tests of the air in twenty of the homes have shown “a significant number of chlorinated compounds and petroleum products (in particular Toluene) in the indoor air in the properties.” (BBC News)
BBC News reports that, “Since the new housing estate was built in the 1990s some local people have blamed their illnesses on possible contaminated land.”
Although the North Lanarkshire Council has downplayed the risks revealed by the reports, Collins Solicitors isn’t taking the findings lightly and is pressing for a meeting with the Council to come up with a solution to the contamination problem. The Council wants to see the methodology used for the testing and the full report.
The reassurance by the Council to the North Lanarkshire residents offers little relief for their worries. Definite risks have been exposed to their health and wellbeing, and it goes without saying the loss of property value that comes with findings like these.
With all the news these days of environmental catastrophes and heated debates raging over current environmental issues like fracking and coal ash contamination, it’s refreshing to hear simple success stories.
The US Superfund list grows each year and sometimes you can’t help but wonder if all that time and money ever really makes a difference. Well, because of a sound environmental management plan in central New Jersey, the EPA can proudly cross one formerly contaminated site off its Superfund roster.
After a $50 million land pollution remediation, the property known as Imperial Oil/ Champion Chemicals, is now cleaned up to environmental regulation standards and is ready to return to the ranks of productive, tax revenue producing land.
Before the cleanup, Imperial Oil’s land was heavily contaminated with a mish-mash of nasty hazardous waste substances, all of which are known to be harmful to humans. According to an EPA May 2 press release, “Soil on the 15-acre Imperial Oil site, which contained a facility that reclaimed and processed waste oil, was contaminated with arsenic, lead, PCBs and other pollutants.”
A cleanup plan that involved removing the polluted soil and oil that sat below the surface of ground water was able to transform the land to a condition suitable for future use. Now, a monitoring plan is underway to ensure ongoing environmental safety.
Area lawmakers are bursting with pride. “Today, congressmember Pallone and I got a first-hand look at how the cleanups of Imperial Oil and other Superfund sites are protecting people’s health and the environment. Sites like Imperial Oil can be put back to good use. The site has gone from being a polluted wasteland to an area with trees, shrubs, grass, restored wetlands, and a pond and bike path,” said EPA official Judith Enck.