Christopher Swain, a clean water advocate recently decided to swim the Gowanus Canal which flows between Brooklyn and New York and is considered one of the most polluted waterways in the nation. Swain swam the canal to draw attention to the serious cleanup effort being made and those that still need to be made. The swim had to be cut short due to a thunderstorm on the horizon, but Swain is working with the city on a rain date.
The Gowanus Canal was once a major transportation route, emptying into the New York Harbor. Its shores we once dotted with gas manufacturers, mills, and other chemical plants that polluted the waterway for decades. The water contamination is currently considered some of the worst in the nation, containing arsenic, radioactive waste as well as other carcinogens. The waterway also contains raw sewage and a plethora of bacteria. Swain doused himself in hydrogen peroxide upon exiting the water to kill any bacteria, but his exposure to hazardous waste material remained.
The Canal was officially deemed a federal superfund site by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009. The local community has stepped in as well in an attempt to speed up the cleanup process since they will use taxpayer money to fund their efforts. The EPA relies on funds collected as settlement in lawsuits against the polluters. Obviously the legal system can slow the clean up immensely.
Eventually local groups and the EPA joined forces and have come up with a plan to clean up the Gowanus Canal. The plan includes the dredging of 10-20 feet of contaminated sediment from the entire canal. Following the removal process several layers of filtration, clay, sand, and rock will cap the Canal floor to prevent any further water contamination. The plan is expected to be completed by 2022 and cost an estimated half billion dollars.
Swain adds that the canal has great potential as it runs through some of the most sought after and expensive real estate in the world. His goal was to bring attention back to the canal’s contamination, the cleanup effort, as well as this grand potential.
Many California residents are responding to the seemingly never-ending drought conditions by coming up with water friendly alternatives in their day to day lives. One of those changes has been a recent trend toward installing a synthetic lawn that requires no water to maintain.
Although artificial lawns do reduce water consumption, they often have a negative stigma and are opposed by many homeowners’ associations as well as some environmental groups. Homeowner’s groups oppose the lawns as they find them to be unsightly, cheap, or not fitting in their community. The city of Sacramento has outlawed the use of artificial turf in front yards altogether. The state legislature has passed a bill that would prevent any homeowners association from penalizing residents with fake lawns. The bill was later vetoed by Governor Brown. Other communities and water districts have welcomed the use of turf, offering rebates for the residents making the switch.
Environmental groups oppose the use of artificial turf as they feel it is more harmful to the environment than helpful. The groups equate turf to covering ones lawn with asphalt, allowing no soil biodiversity. All of the tiny ecosystems being sustained in real grass and soil cannot survive in synthetic grass. The turf is also not a recyclable product, so if it is removed it ends up land pollution in the dump. Environmental groups advocate water conservation by planting native plants in ones yard that require little to no watering. They also recommend decorative mulches that allow soil to breath, but are more aesthetically pleasing than a dead lawn.
Proponents of the fake grass feel as though this isn’t your grandma’s Astroturf, but rather a rather lush alternative in water conservation efforts. While there is no way around the fact that soil ecosystems will be destroyed, they feel that the reduction of water consumption is well worth it. Some resident have even gone as far as installing turf that is already recycled, previously having been used in sports fields.
Carnegie Wave Energy is an Australian company that is attempting to make the ocean into the ultimate form of sustainable energy. The Perth based company has three huge buoys floating off the Western coast of Australia currently turning the waves of the Indian Ocean into usable energy. Each buoy is 36 feet wide and is tied to the sea floor, floating just below the water’s surface. The energy produced by the buoys now supplies about 5% of the electricity at HMAS Stirling, which is the country’s biggest Navy Base. The majority of the power created by waves is used at the base to desalinize water so it can be utilized.
While Australia is currently rich in fossil fuels like coal, they recognize the importance for island nations to become energy independent in the future. With this independence they would not be reliant on expensive shipments. Underwater buoys are also ideal for island nations that rely on breathtaking views to fuel their tourist industry. Tourist may not be thrilled with wind turbines right outside their resort balcony. The buoys are also a good solution for tropical islands that experience daily storm clouds that would make solar energy a difficult green resource to rely on.
Other nations, like Scotland in the United Kingdom have experimented with using the ocean’s waves to generate power. The Pelamis Wave Power Company in Scotland eventually dissolved since they could no longer fund the energy project. The cost associated with creating green energy from the waves is the very reason that the technology remains so under researched.
For example, Carnegie Wave Energy has been working on buoy projects since 1999 investing approximately $100 million. The three current buoys cost an estimated $30 million, with a large portion of that cost being covered by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Low Emissions Energy Development Program for Western Australia. Without the help of the Australian government, Carnegie may have suffered the same fate as its Scottish counterparts. Advocates for wave technology stress that the government should place more support behind the project to ensure it is successful. They cite the government support for wind technology in Holland. The Danish now have a wildly successful green energy program.
The cost is not the only difficulty preventing wave power from really becoming successful; the corrosive nature of the ocean’s waves also plays a part. Constant waves as well as strong storms can really wreak havoc on a floating buoy. Obviously replacements and fixes would have a cost associated to them. The Carnegie project is unique in that for the first time the buoys are between three and six feet below the water’s surface, preventing exposure to the relentless sea waves.
The Australian company hopes to have developed larger, more powerful buoys by 2017. The larger buoys would be about 65 feet wide and create four times of the energy. The buoys would also be placed deeper under water at a distance of seven miles or more off of the Western coast in order to harvest more sizable waves and therefore generate more power.
Retail giant, The Home Depot has begun the process of discontinuing the sale of all vinyl floors containing ortho-phthalates. They plan on working with six of their suppliers and have the chemical completely out of stores within the next year. This change affects approximately 15% of the stores vinyl floor products.
The Home Depot came to this decision after concerns were raised by a consumer advocacy group called Safer Chemicals Healthy Families as well as the website HealthyStuff.org. After recent studies ortho-phthalates have been linked to reproductive issues as well as other developmental problems in male babies. The chemical has also been associated with liver tumors in lab animals.
Currently there is a gap in environmental regulations regarding the use of ortho-phthlates. For instance, there is no regulation on the levels of ortho-phthlates that are allowed in vinyl flooring. There are however regulations regarding the amount of the exact same chemical in children’s toys. Currently the Consumer Protection Safety Commission allows 1,000 parts per million in plastic toys. The average vinyl floor contains 10,000 parts per million. Small children could be at particular risk to this discrepancy as they are often playing or crawling on the floor.
Other companies like Johnson & Johnson have also chosen to ban remove ortho-phthlates from their products. With large, global companies choosing to ban the use of a dangerous chemical there is the potential for other industries to follow the example. Lumber liquidators is not banning the vinyl floors containing ortho-phthlates, but they have agreed to adjust their standards. The flooring store will only sell floors that meet the Consumer Protection Safety Commission’s plastic toy standards.
The changeover should be fairly easy to put into production since alternative safe plasticizers already exist on the market. The consumer groups who are putting pressure on retailers feel that since there are already alternative, the risk of continuing to use ortho-phthlates is completely unnecessary.
Portland, Oregon officials recently held a big press event with one of the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to celebrate the state being awarded a $1.5 million federal grant that would replace twenty-three old diesel trucks and retrofit the filters on three others. The event was meant to celebrate a step toward reducing a huge air pollution issue linked to lung cancer, heart attacks, low birth weights, asthma, as well as other breathing problems. The new engines and filters will increase environmental safety by creating 90% less toxic waste than outdated models.
While reducing the amount of air pollution caused by diesel engines is an important current environmental issue, critics argue that 26 engines is a laughable accomplishment to celebrate when there are approximately 146,756 diesel engines in Oregon that have not been updated.
These critics argue that the reason the state has not scratched the surface of the diesel engine pollution problem is because they only rely on the federal EPA for funding. Surrounding states have used their own funds to spearhead efforts. The state of California has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and Washington State has spent upwards of $50 million. In contrary Oregon has spent approximately $1 million of its own money.
The best way for Oregon residents to get the state to fund a comprehensive cleanup effort is to lobby and pressure their legislature. Clean air officials from other states advised that the best way to garner public support and outrage is to explore the amount of diesel engine pollutants created by the school buses that children ride daily. The public will become more interested in the issue once they know that their children are being exposed to toxic fumes each day on the way to and from school.
Despite criticism it is still a step in the right direction to have twenty-six outdated diesel engines replaced. The press conference may have been more of an opportunity for local politicians to brag about their gallant efforts, but at least it was an opportunity for the public to be made aware that an air quality issue even exists.