It has become common practice for the average person to be armed with an arsenal of electronic devices on a daily basis. We all carry smart phones, tablets, e-readers, mp3 players, etc. and inside of each one of these electronic devices lays a lithium ion battery. Lithium ion batteries have become so common that have grown into an $8 billion industry. Scientists have recently begun to research the impact of lithium ion batteries on the environment given the overwhelming use in modern society.
With the constant upgrading to the newest electronic devices, comes the potential for a large amount of waste. Besides for contributing to the increase in solid waste, researcher have revealed that lithium ion batteries are also considered hazardous waste material due to the high levels of lead that they contain. Some states with stricter definitions of hazardous waste than the federal government considers the batteries toxic due to the levels of copper, nickel, cobalt, and other metals as well. The average battery lasts a mere 2 to 4 years and is often simply tossed in the regular trash, which could potentially lead to land pollution issues.
With this new information brought to light and the inevitability of the continued use of lithium ion batteries, researches urge the government to put a greater emphasis on regulatory legislation. This legislation could encourage the recycling or reuse of lithium batteries. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency advises that batteries be recycled at drop off sites or recycling events. Efforts toward establishing lithium ion-battery recycling as part of the normal curbside recycle pickup are being made to decrease the amount of batteries tossed in the trash.
Curbside pickup of batteries for recycling has been piloted in an Ontario city where in one year 39 metric tons of batteries were recycled. Other cities like Minneapolis and San Francisco offer an option in which batteries can be bagged and placed on top of trashcans. The trash collector then removes them so that they can be recycled. Programs like these face many challenges related to cost or efficiency, but there success relies heavily on the willingness for residents to participate and make the effort worthwhile.
Scientists suggest that given the discovery that the millions of lithium ion batteries used in portable electronics will become hazardous waste material in the near future, stronger government recycling policies have to be introduced. Communities experimenting with convenient curbside pickup programs or drop off areas are having modest success, but more needs to be done to avoid potential environmental contamination and human health issues.
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 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.
A small island that lies in the Northwest portion of the Hawaiian Islands will be the subject of one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest site assessments. The study will examine the affects of plastic materials and other trash washed ashore on the local wildlife and environment. The EPA’s study is the direct response to a petition drafted by the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center requested that the island become a federal Superfund site. Before a decision can be made by the EPA the aforementioned study must be conducted and data collected to justify the classification.
The island, officially known as Tern Island is approximately 26 acres and was originally used as an airstrip during WWII for emergency landings and refueling. The Coast Guard has since occupied the island, but it is otherwise uninhabited serving mainly as a wildlife refuge. The island lies about 550 feet northwest of Hawaii’s capital city of Honolulu and is the largest in a series of small islands and coral reefs. Tern Island serves as a major breeding ground for millions of marine birds. It is also the home for other sea creatures like the Hawaiian Monk Seal and the Green Turtle, both of which are on the endangered species list.
Tern Island is also located in what has become known as the Pacific Garbage Patch, the name given to an area where most of the Pacific Ocean’s litter ends up. The current’s of the of the Pacific Ocean move and combine trash and other potentially toxic debris into one floating mixture that will eventually be trapped by Tern Island and its 1200 miles of surrounding reefs. As severe storms occur and coastline is rearranged as a result, more and more trash is uncovered. Recently a large amount of electrical debris was uncovered under a storm ravaged sea wall. This debris could contain hazardous waste materials and chemicals toxic to the environment.
The EPA is looking to answer many questions with its study. First, they will look at the impact on marine animals ingesting the debris and choking on it. Similarly they will study the wildlife that becomes trapped in plastic and discarded fishing equipment. Secondly, the Environmental Protection Agency will determine the affects of toxic chemicals in plastic products that contaminate the water. Lastly, the EPA wishes to decide whether the issue of such pollution has negative implications regarding the health and safety of human beings, the environment, or both. If Tern Island is declared a federal superfund site the EPA will spearhead an effort to clean up all pollution and contamination using government funding.
In order for the Island to be classified as an official federal superfund site it must prove to be extremely hazardous. The classification may be a long way away, but important steps have begun in the process. The Center for Biological Diversity recognizes the huge risks associated with inciting this EPA investigation, but are satisfied that the request for superfund status is still a possibility in the future. The Center is also extremely interested in discovering exactly what kind of affect the Pacific Garbage Patch is having the area’s wild life.
We often hear horror stories of pollution resulting from energy sources like fossil fuels, but one small New York town has pollution concerns of its own. Residents of Denning, New York are opposed to the potential noise pollution and view obstruction of a proposed wind turbine. Actor Judd Hirsch, most famous for his role in Taxi, wishes to construct a single wind turbine on his property providing him with 100% of his energy needs. Area residents have petitioned the turbine’s construction, leaving the decision up to the Ulster County Planning Board.
Denning residents believe that the 177 foot tall structure will be obtrusive to the visual landscape of the rolling forests. The noise produced by the wind turbine is another deep concern. Petitioners also share tales of the potential for increased bird deaths, flying ice, and the decreased resale values of their homes. Denning residents believe it is unfair that their tranquil way of life will be interrupted by an unsightly, noisy, and potentially dangerous pole. Other more cynical residents wonder why Judd Hirsch is even bothering to construct the turbine since his structure alone will not save the planet.
Hirsch as well as the turbine’s engineers state that all of the concerns raised by petitioners are unwarranted. First, the wind turbine would produce about the same number of noise decibels as the wind and is only audible for 100 yards. Judd Hirsch has no neighbors closer than 500 yards. Secondly, the turbine will be designed to blend in the surrounding landscape so that it is not a garish eyesore for the surrounding community. Lastly, Hirsch addresses many of the other concerns as mere ignorance and lack of knowledge toward wind power as a form of sustainable energy.
Opposition to wind turbine construction is nothing new, and has occurred across the country mainly due to their alleged unsightliness. In fact, wind power only accounts for 4% of the nation’s energy or enough green electricity for 15 million American houses. One of the most famous instances of opposition was off the coast of Cape Cod where plans were drafted to build a wind farm to supply the area with green power.