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.
The state of California has begun a second major environmental lawsuit against an oil industry heavyweight. This month, Attorney General Kamala Harris filed suit against BP and its subsidiaries. Last month, Conoco Phillips was brought to court.
The two companies were sued for a combined 1340 underground tank violations, with Conoco Phillips tallying up at 560 and BP breaking the record at 780. Each company owns a staggering number of oil tanks beneath the ground in counties all over the state and each allegedly did many things improperly, which could have ultimately lead to land pollution and water contamination.
Leaking or damaged storage tanks are a problem common across the country but California has been the first to bring such wide-scale legal action against the oil barons. According to Attorney General Harris “Safe storage of gasoline is not only common sense, it is essential to protecting the integrity of California’s groundwater resources.”
January’s Conoco Phillips and sister company Phillips 66 case is similar in that hundreds of violations were found at stations throughout the state. The official charge, as stated in AllGov.com, was “alleged improper inspection and maintenance of 560 underground gasoline storage tanks” and further said that the companies “tampered with or disabled leak detection devices, didn’t maintain operational alarm systems, and improperly handled and disposed of hazardous wastes and materials.”
While oil corporations like BP and Conoco Phillips fight hard to stay free from the grip of stringent environmental regulations, California has decided it has had enough wanton disregard for the health and safety of residents. Each seemingly trivial violation, called “procedural violations” by a BP spokesperson, adds up to a sum greater than its parts. An overwhelming trend of lax tank regulations and shoddy monitoring of tanks translates into a hazard to both the environment and to the people who live there. A tank that leaked because it was not inspected properly could contaminate waterways, wells, and reservoirs.
These lawsuits are designed in part to send the message that gone are the days of a slap on the wrist. California is getting serious about the oil industry’s environmental responsibility; and it could be a costly lesson for the defendants.
The Houston, Texas Metropolitan area faces many new challenges as it continues to grown in population at a rapid rate. One of these challenges is finding enough safe, reliable sources of water. In the past the preferred water supply came from underground aquifers. Pumping from these aquifers has been directly linked to the sinking of land in the area. The layers of clay soil sink down once the moisture is removed in an occurrence known as subsidence.
Site assessments have revealed that some parts of the Houston Metro area have sunk almost ten feet over the past 100 years. The sunken land has caused infrastructure issues for homeowners, greatly threatening property health. Some properties have even become more vulnerable to potentially dangerous fault lines due to the change in geography. The biggest concern amongst residents in the sunken areas is an increased danger of flooding. This is especially true to those living near the coastline or in a river valley. Coastal communities become increasingly exposed to the brunt of hurricanes and other storms as well. Researchers have argued that subsidence was one of the contributing factors to the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Subsidence not only affects human infrastructure, but it drastically changes the geographic composition of large areas. With that said, every aspect of the ecosystem has the potential to be affected, risking the environmental safety of the area. Once the land has sunk the surface becomes much more susceptible to future erosion and damage.
Efforts have been made historically to lessen the Houston area’s dependency on underground aquifers and toward the usage local rivers and reservoirs. Since the 1970s the dependency has gone from half of the population to a quarter. Subsidence from groundwater pumping remains in the Houston area since many inlanders are not exposed to the potential flood damage. Residents also fear that nearby rivers are not sustainable water sources, especially in a drought period.
Groundwater pumping companies have proposed drilling the same aquifers from outside of the immediate subsidence area. The proposal was criticized right away and studies done soon after revealed that even though the drilling would take place further away the land could still sink up to an additional two feet. There is no known method to prevent subsidence other than stopping water pumping. There is also no way to reverse the damage done.
Arizona officials are currently awaiting the results of several water samples of the San Pedro River. The samples were collected after the Mexican Government issued a warning that contaminated water may have flowed into the River. Little is known about what was spilled or how much may have entered the waterway. Initial pH testing has revealed that the River remains at normal levels. Results concerning heavy metal levels are still out to the labs. Samples were difficult to collect given the San Pedro’s current flooded state, but environmental officials did their best to collect an adequate amount of water for testing as soon as they could.
Mexican officials stress that they do not believe a significant amount of contamination has reached the San Pedro River and that they are merely doing their legal due diligence by letting the United States know of the potential danger. Both nations do not feel that the public is facing any health risks from potential exposure.
The potential water contamination can be traced to the Buenavista Del Cobre mine. The mine produces approximately 200,000 of copper annually. Last week heavy rainfall from Hurricane Odile flooded parts of the mine and overcame a local dam. Severe flooding is making the path for possible contaminants extremely difficult to monitor.
Mexican officials have issued drinking water advisories until results have cleared the river of contamination. They have also advised that livestock not be watered from the San Pedro River and other farming practices be suspended. The transparency of the potential water contamination is welcomed change from past procedure. In the past, many mining spills went overlooked since the majority of area residents were employed by the mines. They feared that any complaints would result in termination.
Much of this transparency may result from that fact that less than a month ago, Grupo Mundo, the owners of the Buenavista Del Cobre mine were forced to shell out $151 million to clean up a 10 million gallon spill. This spill contained several heavy metals that contaminated at least two rivers and several tributaries.
One of the biggest environmental concerns for folks living in a fracking zone is the fear of fracturing fluid contaminating local water. From across the border comes a pollution solution which will be used first in the Fayetteville Shale of Arkansas.
Fountain Quail Water Management, LLC, out of Alberta, Canada, has developed and marketed a process to recycle the water used in hydraulic fracturing. The water that Fountain Quail recycles is then sold back to the fracturing companies to be used again in the process.
The water used in hydraulic fracturing is mixed with an assortment of chemicals, many of which companies are hesitant to report to the EPA. Once the water is used to break up rocks deep beneath the Earth’s surface, liquid that returns to the top of the drilling site must be disposed of as hazardous waste. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “The makeup of the wastewater makes it impossible to treat for human consumption under traditional water treatment waste.”
Patrick Horner, of Fountain Quail, describes the company’s process this way: “The treatment facility will take the wastewater and separate it from solids, boil it, de-aerate and turn it into steam and then back into water. It will be stored in a pit that can be drawn on by natural gas companies.”
“This is pure distilled water….It’s actually as clean as rain, probably cleaner than rain,” said company spokesperson Richard Magnus.
While the idea of actually drinking water that was used in fracking might send shivers down the spine, there’s no denying that a process that can safely transform hazardous waste into a useable product will calm quite a few nerves. Using recycled water cuts the risk of groundwater contamination associated with improper disposal, reduces the carbon footprint of trucking in new fracking fluid, and drastically reduces the amount of water that is typically drawn from local water supplies.
With so many hot, current environmental issues to talk about, like fracking, fly ash, and environmental sustainability; classic land pollution conversations often get left at the dump, buried somewhere between “save the whales” and illegal tire burning. Lead contamination may not be the hip enviro-trend du jour, but the truth is; lead is still causing serious problems in many neighborhoods across the country.
Many new studies of site assessments in the United State are finding that lead contamination is still prevalent, but primarily in areas near buildings left over from the manufacturing age. According to a report written by Tracey Schelmetic of ThomasNews.net, “Lead contamination is still common today, particularly near factories that produce (or had produced in the past) lead-acid batteries, lead wire or pipes, ammunition, plumbing equipment, circuit boards, plastics and glass. Very high levels are often observed in and around foundries and metal recycling facilities.”
The problems of lead contamination in a neighborhood extend far beyond the obvious risks of human and animal exposure. Reports of high lead levels in a plant that may have been closed for decades can bring down the property values of entire neighborhoods.
With fresh talk popping up about lead and its damaging effects, a group of six senators have stepped in and asked the EPA to start making lead cleanup a priority near schools and playgrounds. Many of the EPA’s targets operated in the early 20th century, before the agency was even formed or environmental regulations were put in place.
Some new remediation methods look promising to clean up lead contamination much faster and cheaper than the costly go-to method of removing soil containing hazardous waste and storing it at another location. One possibility is phytoremediation, a method in which certain plants and trees draw up the toxins, and another is bio-integration, a form of bio-remediation using a specialized mixture of bacteria that breaks down harmful chemicals and converts them into a non-harmful, organic form.
Whichever methods the EPA chooses, it is reassuring that this issue has been dusted off and brought back into the light so cleanup that’s been decades in the coming can begin.
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.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is nearing the end of an important three state research project that has been ongoing since the beginning of 2013. The study was federally funded and sought to test the affects that water contamination in the Great Lakes has had on surrounding communities that rely on fish as a major food source. The states involved included New York, Michigan, and Minnesota. Volunteers from each state were tested for hazardous waste materials like mercury, lead, cadmium, PCBs, and other pesticides.
The requirements for each state were different, but specific. In Michigan participants had to be at least 18 years old and consume a minimum of two meals a month that included Great Lake fish. These individuals lived along the Detroit River and Saginaw Bay. Many participants consumed closer to eleven fish based meals a month. New York volunteers were also 18 years or older, but had to hold a New York State Fishing License and eat the fish that they harvested from the Great Lake area. Many of the volunteers were Burmese immigrants along the Buffalo River and Lake Ontario. The Burmese culture includes a diet with an emphasis on fish. Minnesota was the most unique in that 491 members of the Ojibwa tribe along Lake Superior were studied.
While the majority of test results remain out to the lab, initial reports from Michigan are showing mercury levels about three times higher than the Center of Disease Control (CDC) average. The majority of the test volunteers were males, but any woman involved face the risk complications being passed to their children. Minnesota volunteers did not however have elevated lead or mercury levels.
Researchers have already begun drawing conclusions based on the initial results. They credit the differences in mercury levels to the difference the sizes of the waterways tested. Another major factor is the location of the waterway to an industrial area. For instance Michigan has many more heavy industrial sites than Minnesota, creating more opportunities for water contamination.
The exact amount of hazardous waste material required to make people sick is not official the general opinion is to limit ones exposure to them as much as possible. Researchers hope to use this study to help educate the affected on the potential dangers associated with eating Great Lake fish.