In a current environmental issue that environmentalists deem a strike against them, the Supreme Court of California ruled that Las Angeles County is not liable for polluted water that flows through the area’s waterways and into the Pacific Ocean.
The Supreme Court, which overturned an earlier decision by a lower court, voted with the explanation that although the polluted water passes through L.A. County, the county itself does not contribute any of the hazardous waste materials that make the water so dirty.
Many others disagree and feel that the county got a free pass and even worse, the ruling doesn’t place the responsibility on anyone so the tainted rivers will continue to reach the Pacific.
“The county has managed to game the system in a way that allowed the pollution of our waterways to go unaddressed for many years. The county is the largest source of stormwater pollution to local waterways, and today it has escaped accountability, but only temporarily,” said Liz Crosson, of L.A. Waterkeeper.
The court decision was partially based on a precedent set in South Florida, according to Matthew Sanderson of the Pacific Palisades Patch. In that Supreme Court case, “the court determined pumping polluted water ‘between two parts of the same water body’ does not constitute a pollutant discharge under the Clean Water Act.”
The groups that filed the lawsuits are concerned about environmental safety and also the health of the people. Toxins such as “copper, zinc, cyanide, aluminum and fecal bacteria” make their way into the ocean as reported in Sanderson’s article.
“We’ll continue to seek to hold the Los Angeles County Flood Control District responsible for cleaning up its water pollution,” said Steve Fleishli, one of the environmental attorneys working for NRDC’s national water program.
The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, has shed light on the fact that many communities are lacking safe drinking water in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Upon her return from a trip to the area, Ms. McCarthy publicly expressed disappointment at the extended amount of time that it is taking the State of California to address drinking water issues. Ms. McCarthy’s commentary comes at an appropriate time, since the EPA is threatening to cease future funding to clean drinking water projects in California until the state uses some of the its existing stockpile of $455 million in federal funding.
While California sits on the millions of federal funding and takes slow steps towards supplying clean drinking water, many residents are growing tired of having to buy bottled water. These individuals have been subject to years of government hoops and red tape. It is estimated that 200,000 residents reliant on public water supplies are going without clean drinking water. An additional 2.1 million people who are not reliant on public supply are also without clean water. Area wells, including one at an elementary school in Orange Center have been monitored and tested positive for nitrates and uranium clearly indicating water contamination.
California’s public health agency promises that they are taking significant steps toward improvements. The first of which is the issuance of a 16 page plan outlining how the state will spend $800 million in federal funding over the next few years. The EPA is also taking a special interest in accounting for all of the dollars spent on the projects. The Environmental Protection Agency will also have more of a say once the scope of the Clean Water Act is increased to include jurisdiction of almost all waterways in the U.S. This scope of power is set to change very soon.
Much of the federal funding received by the state is used to build water treatment facilities, but the funding does not cover the future costs of operating the facility. This cost must be covered by the community being served, a cost that many municipalities simply cannot fulfill.
The San Elijo community, located to the north of San Diego, has drafted a detailed plan to completely restore a local 979 acre lagoon. Area residents are being given the opportunity to publicly comment on the San Elijo Lagoon plan this week at a town meeting. The public may also view the plan electronically on the San Diego Department of Parks & Recreation’s or U.S. Army Corp of Engineer’s website.
Over the past few decades, Lagoons have been completely ignored environmentally. They have been contaminated by highway runoff water and sewage. Lagoons like the one in San Elijo face water contamination as well as changes to currents. These changes have allowed lagoons to become shallow, mostly stagnant pools of water. It turns out that Lagoons are actually unique ecosystems that should be conserved. After site assessments, researchers have found that the San Elijo Lagoon is home to over 700 different types of plants and animals.
Restoring the Lagoon would involve a complete dredging as well as a redirecting of the channel flows. All sand resulting from the dredging process would then be donated to nearby beach for beach restoration projects. Nearby mud flats would also benefit from the restoration. Mud flats serve an important purpose of filtering potentially contaminated water before it reaches the ocean, as well as being the home to a multitude of shellfish. These shellfish would supply bird populations with a much needed food source.
A more circulated San Elijo Lagoon will vastly reduce the amount of mosquitoes in the area as well, since they will have much less stagnant breeding area. A reduction in mosquito populations would prevent the spread of diseases as well as make the scenic area far more enjoyable for residents. The restoration plan also calls for the construction of trails to access the Lagoon for nature walks, bike rides, or bird watching.
The San Elijo Lagoon restoration plan is not anticipated to receive much public scrutiny since it is similar to plans that have proven highly successful at lagoons in nearby communities.
Two environmental watchdog groups recently uncovered a 1987 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document of a case study showing well water in Jackson County, West Virginia had been contaminated by the fracking process. This flies in the face of industry claims that the controversial natural gas drilling method poses no danger to homeowners living near drilling sites.
The document was a report to Congress which seems to have disappeared for all of these years and has not been discussed since the late 80’s. Environmental Working Group, one of the organizations that recovered the document began an investigation on the EPA’s findings and concluded that the abandoned wells named in the report could in fact allow fracking fluid to seep into drinking water.
“When you add up the gel in the water, the presence of abandoned wells and the documented ability of drilling fluids to migrate through these wells into underground water supplies, there is a lot of evidence that EPA got it right and that this was indeed a case of hydraulic fracturing contamination of groundwater,” said Dusty Horwitt, the Group’s senior oil and gas analyst.
Natural gas industry lobbyists have pushed hard (successfully) to keep fracking out of the 2005 Safe Water Drinking Act and since the process began, “hundreds of thousands of wells” have been fractured.
What the 1987 report shows is that fracking can cause drinking water contamination and that is a scary notion that can affect the many thousands of residents living in hotbed natural gas states including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and others.
The EPA investigators who originally wrote the report stated, “During the fracturing process, fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid, and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”
A number of American Indian tribes are sitting on reservations containing potentially trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Instead of jumping head-first into to the hydraulic fracturing gold rush that many oil and gas conglomerates are salivating over, the tribes are taking a cautious route—one that may very well serve as an example to the rest of the nation.
Oil and gas exploration has exploded in recent years with many some states acting in a “do now; deal with consequences later” manner, and with devastating results. A prime example is northern Pennsylvania, which has seen an alarming number of cases of water contamination related to fracking operations, as well as areas around the drilling regions that have seen small earthquakes and drinking water wells polluted with methane.
A handful of Montana tribes are optimistic about the possibility of drilling on their reservations, but want to make the drilling companies accountable to environmental regulations denoted in the Clean Water Act. The stakes and the potential profits are high. Talking about the Blackfeet Indian reservation, Tristan Scott, of Missoulian.com wrote, “One estimate says the reservation sits on top of about 109 million barrels of oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet natural gas.”
Joining the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, and the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, are the Blackfeet Indians to “apply the federal water quality standards under the Clean Water Act in an effort to protect its rivers, lakes, and wetlands,” says Scott.
The EPA’s website describes the Clean Water Act’s goals as “restoring and protecting the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. Water quality standards established under the CWA set the Tribe’s expectations for Reservation water quality, serve as a foundation for pollution control efforts and are a fundamental component of watershed management. Specifically, these standards serve as water quality goals for individual surface waters, guide and inform monitoring and assessment activities, and provide a legal basis for permitting and regulatory pollution controls (e.g. discharge permits).”
The Blackfeet tribe wants protection for the bodies of water located on their reservations so that the gas and oil exploration companies that want to get onto their land cannot simply ravage the precious natural resources. By applying the standards of the Clean Water Act, the tribe knows that it will maintain a great deal of control over the waters. The stringent rules are often attacked by big business interests as impeding on economic profits because they do hold polluters accountable for their operations. It’s an environmental management plan that works, to put it simply.
It appears to a positive environmental trend for the reservations to fight for tight regulations to protect the land they own. Other local districts around the country would be wise to also perform due diligence when considering allowing the natural gas industry to being exploring and drilling. The companies who perform hydraulic fracturing do not have the same incentives as the locales that open up their land. Once the drills have been dug and being pumping that coveted natural gas, there is very little that can be done to clean up the mess they leave behind.
Former energy ratepayers are the ultimate winners in a $160 million dollar environmental lawsuit settlement between Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Co. and the United States Government. For about four years, those customers paid a special surcharge on their bills to cover the cost of the Department of Energy to remove the waste after the nuclear plant was decommissioned in the 2000s. That money never was used for the correct purpose. The waste sits on the site today—at an annual cost of $7 million to $10 for maintenance.
“Taxpayers are on the hook for this failure and can expect more of the same until the government acts to implement a nuclear waste management program,” explained Steven Kerekes, who is a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute.
The former nuclear power plant in Haddam, Conn. follows two others—one in Maine and one in Mass. —in filing a lawsuit against the federal government claiming the defendant did not live up to its contracts. The Feds were supposed to remove nuclear hazardous waste material from the former Connecticut Yankee nuclear plant the year the nuclear plant ceased operations.
A Connecticut Yankee spokesperson, Bob Capstick said, “It is too to determine how the settlement money will be split among ratepayers, or even when that will occur.”
This settlement is the first in what will likely be a three part lawsuit. Dowling explains, “The companies expect a decision in 2013 on the second phase, which requests about $247 million from the federal government….Additional claims are expected to be filed by the end of 2013.”
The ratepayers surely will be happy to receive reimbursement for their money paid in vain, but what concerns everyone involved the most is that the highly toxic hazardous nuclear waste is still there in what is now a 583-acre wildlife refuge.
The state of Wisconsin has decided to explore many new options in order to stretch its annual spending budget. One of latest budget savers has been the use of cheese brine to treat icy winter roads. Cheese brine is a fraction of the cost and has proven extremely effective when mixed with rock salts. In the program’s first year the state saved an estimated $40,000 with the savings increase each years since. When traditional Sodium Chloride or rock salt is mixed with the brine much less is required on the roads. The salty liquid stays on the road far better than the dry salt which gets displace with every passing car.
Cheese brine has cost the state of Wisconsin an estimated $6,500 in the recent years past to store and transport, making up only a tiny portion of the $6.5 million spent to treat the roads in 2012. Obviously the brine has the potential to make things much cheaper in the future. Currently the state is mixing 8 gallons of brine to every ton of sodium chloride.
The use of cheese brine not only saves Wisconsin and its taxpayers money, but it also save dairy farmers the added expense of having the brine transported to a wastewater treatment plants. Farmers simply donate the brine to the state. There is no shortage of brine with Wisconsin producing 25% of the nation’s cheese or 2.8 billion pounds. Mozzarella and provolone have proven to have the best brine for the roadways due to their high salt content.
Aside for the financial benefits the use of cheese brine should also help remedy many of the current environmental issues associated with traditional road salting. Most states use Sodium Chloride to treat their roads during inclement winter weather. One of the largest environmental concerns is the damage of trees and other plant life along roadways. The harsh salt can damage root systems as well as the plant structure. Plants also absorb fewer nutrients in extremely salty soil. Some states like Nevada and California have greatly limited the amount of road salt that can be used due to this potential danger.
The salty chemical often leads to water contamination as it is washed away with snow melt as well. The change in the salinity of freshwater ecosystems can be devastating. Fish begin dying due to ingesting toxic levels of sodium. Road runoff can also make its way into water meant for human consumption. Excess sodium chloride in drinking water may change the taste of the water so slightly that it is not detectable by the average person, but the escalated salt content could prove deadly to individuals with health issues like, kidney disease, high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Animals in the wild tend to find the allure of road salt irresistible. Many larger mammals like deer and moose love to lick the road salt or nearby snow when they are thirsty. Their sodium levels are increased, but the animals also become less afraid of roadways and traffic. This increases the likelihood of the animal being hit by a car and killed. Humans could be injured in the collision as well. Smaller animals like birds confuse rock salt pellets for berries or other food sources. After consumption the animal’s body can reach toxic salt levels and become disoriented or die. While cheese brine still contains salt, it is thought to be less harmful to the environment that Sodium Chloride.
A Baltimore court case regarding the financial compensations for a young child being poisoned by lead paint has just settled nearly fifteen years after the initial exposure. Now teenage Daquantay Robinson has been awarded $2.1 million in damages for his exposure to lead paint as a child. The case set an important precedence for similar cases across the nation, but also demonstrates the importance of environmental regulations to protect individuals from hazardous waste materials.
Robinson’s family and health professionals have stated that the child has suffered permanent damages due to lead poisoning. Daquantay, now 17 suffered serious and permanent brain damage from the lead poisoning. These damages resulted in both learning and behavioral issues throughout the boy’s life. His grandmother went on to discuss her grandson’s difficulties in keeping up with other students. There is research to substantiate the Robinson’s medical claims. Studies have shown that lead paint can create serious health problems, especially when exposed to children younger than age six.
This case demonstrates the need for environmental regulations that will monitor the cleanup of lead as well as other hazardous waste materials in homes. The state of Maryland did not officially pass laws that helped regulate lead paint in older homes until 1994. Unfortunately, by this time, scores of children like the young Mr. Robinson had been exposed to the paint for decades. Older Baltimore homes regularly contained lead paint & were required to be registered by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) if built before 1950. The MDE also conducted a risk assessment of the property in 1996 before the Robinson’s moved in and passed the property. The property passed the assessment mainly due to the fact that in the 1990s a visual test for lead paint or powder was all that was required. An actual test of the dust in a home has been required since 2012.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has also changed the scale of lead poisoning levels in children, so cases like Daquantay’s would be considered more severe in the medical realm. Maryland is taking many steps to tighten the regulation of lead paint in old homes as well as ensure environmental compliance. As a result, lead poisoning has decreased significantly, but cases like the Robinson’s serve as an important reminder to keep efforts strong.
Picture, if you will, the following scenario. You purchase your dream house from the original owner. It’s only seven years old—and everything you wanted in a home. Life is great; until you and your family start to become chronically ill with nasal and eye problems, stuffiness, chest congestion, and coughing. Turns out, large amounts of toxic mold grew from moisture in the walls. Chances are, you’d be pretty disappointed.
Now throw in the fact that you cannot pin down who should be responsible for this mold contamination, and now extreme frustration can be added to that disappointment.
This situation is precisely what Neil White, of Calgary, Canada is dealing with and so far he has been led in circles trying to find a solution. White first tried to take the matter up with the builder but was shut down. According to CTV.ca, “because White isn’t the original owner of the home, and second, because the original owner developed the basement without a permit, and his contractor may have altered the moisture barrier the builder had installed.”
Next, thinking that the city may be responsible, White performed property research and pulled the property history records. Original home inspection records stated that the foundation inspection was “not acceptable.” The city’s chief building inspector, Kevin Griffiths said the the city was not responsible because under provincial inspection rules, lack of a foundation inspection is acceptable, although rare.
“A city inspection is an auditory inspection,” he explained, “It’s not an exhaustive process of warranting the product as being 100% compliant.”
Mr. White is in a state of turmoil, not sure where to turn. With some legal due diligence, perhaps the former homeowner might be held liable for the shoddy contract work without a permit. For now, Mr. White has no options with the property. “I have to live in this house. I can’t sell it, can’t fix it, can’t do anything with it.”
Residents of Hinkley, the little desert California town with a big reputation, have had a lot to deal with during the last decade or so—contamination of their drinking water, a corporate cover-up, and worldwide notoriety with the making of Hollywood film, Erin Brockovich.
One thing these folks have not had a great deal of is choices of what to do about the situation. Stuck in homes with property values diminished due to the stigma, most have just stayed put, worried that the water might still be poisoned with hazardous waste material. Worried that the health of their families may still be at risk.
Now, the Water Board has approved a new option for the more than 300 homes affected by Pacific Gas & Electric’s water contamination. Homeowners may now opt for the installation of a water replacement system that will work for the entire house.
This makes a grand total of three choices for Hinkley property owners. Besides the voluntary whole-house water replacement system, owners may choose “digging a deeper well on their property that would be free of chromium 6 contamination,” according to Jim Steinberg, of the Contra Costa Times.
The third option, which is becoming more popular with those stuck in this quagmire, is to sell their home to PG & E “at a price based on the value of comparable properties in surrounding communities that are not affected by the contamination,” said Steinberg.
To prevent being possibly being taken advantage of by PG & E, homeowners considering a buyout are performing due diligence and getting their homes formally appraised.
While it’s nice that a new option is on the table, the water filtration system is not without its critics. Aside from the general fear that water might still be dangerous after it has been filtered, there are environmental sustainability concerns. The method is not the most efficient. Scott Haislip, a Hinkley resident, said, “The water treatment system being used by PG & E wastes a lot of water to produce clean water.”
If you were an unfortunate Hinkley homeowner, what would you do in this situation?