A Michigan court has begun examining one of the largest asbestos contamination incidents in the state’s history. Three individuals stand trial for intentionally evading the proper disposal of asbestos as well as failing to notify the proper authorities upon discovery of the hazardous waste material. All three of the accused face a maximum of five years in prison as well as a monetary punishment after pleading guilty to violating the Clean Air Act.
The asbestos contamination began in 2011 shortly after LuAnne LaBrie, Cory Hammond, and Robert “Mike” White took control of a salvage project at the defunct Consumer Energy Power Generation Facility located at 6800 East Michigan Avenue in the town of Comstock. LaBrie assumed the role of general supervisor and instructed laborers to remove asbestos insulation from the facility. At no point in time did LaBrie notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the asbestos removal.
Hammond and White also failed to report the asbestos removal to authorities. The two men were also accused of failing to remove asbestos properly, specifically not wetting the material to prevent it from become airborne. The three partners were removing asbestos improperly and avoiding reporting it in order to cut down on costs and increase their profit margins. In doing so, they created a potentially deadly work site.
Eventually the state of Michigan and federal authorities caught on to the operation which resulted in a $1 million cleanup job paid for by the EPA’s Superfund Division. State and federal government agencies hope that this case serves as important precedence in punishing those individuals who disregard public and environmental safety for a quick buck. The EPA stresses that the environmental regulations in place regarding the removal and abatement of asbestos exist to protect the health and safety of individuals as well as the air that we breathe.
The derailment of a train carrying crude oil in West Virginia has created great concern for water contamination and other environmental issues. While the train’s tanks did not derail directly into the nearby Kanawha River, photographs and site assessments have revealed that the tanks are leaking crude oil into the nearby river sediment. There is a shiny layer of oil on the surface of the water that is visible to individuals at the site. Oil has also been found trapped under the ice of nearby tributaries like Armstrong Creek.
Samples have been taken at both the derailment location as well as at a water processing site about three miles away. All samples have not been contaminated with crude oil, but researchers have not ruled out the possibility. The West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety will continue to monitor the area. Aside from the potential risk to drinking water, researchers fear that freshwater mussel beds in the Kanawha River may be negatively affected. There are no mussel beds located directly at the derailment site, but mussels are extremely reliant on clean water, so even the slightest contamination could be devastating.
Surface oil is also burning on the river’s banks, resulting in fumes that can be harmful if inhaled. One first responder has already been treated for respiratory issues after breathing in the fumes. Officials plan to let most of the fires burn out by themselves, which should only take a day or two.
West Virginia is no stranger to being in the headlines for environmental contamination. Just about one year ago a large spill at a coal plant contaminated the drinking water for over 300,000 residents for weeks. With the memory of the coal plant spill still fresh as well as newer incidents like this train derailment, many West Virginians are urging environmental regulations be reexamined. The goal would be to ultimately prevent future catastrophe.
The old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure could not be more fitting for the Juniper Ridge Landfill located in Old Town, Maine. The Landfill‘s parent company Casella Waste Systems has just signed a deal with Michigan based Aria Energy to build an onsite energy plant. The plant will convert methane gas produced at the Juniper Landfill into electricity. Casella Waste Systems and Arias Energy have had many other successful ventures turning landfill methane into renewable energy at sites in New York State and Connecticut. With the prior experience the new sustainable energy plant will work and will work well.
The Juniper Landfill has the potential to supply enough methane through is decomposition programs to produce renewable energy for about 4,800 households. Arias states that they will not only make money selling the energy produced, but they will also receive a renewable energy credit from the government.
Construction on the methane to energy plant will begin in 2016 with the goal of becoming fully operational by 2017. Without the financial backing of Arias, the plant would not be a possibility. The Juniper landfill’s 70 acre site needed the funding to get the project underway. Finding the financing for project has been an issue in the past, especially regarding a deal with the University of Maine. The Landfill had spent over three years working on a deal with the University to supply its campus with methane that would be used to heat for all buildings. The deal ultimately fell apart after lack of funding.
There are over fifty functional methane landfill gases to energy sites in the United States, with the majority of them being located in New York, New Jersey, & Connecticut. In fact, methane gas as energy exceeds both solar and wind as sustainable resources. The tri-state region has really embraced this industry and has made it successful.
If the methane created from landfills is not used as an energy source, it ends up as a dangerous greenhouse gas.
One Hartford, Connecticut School was forced to shut its doors after testing positive for high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls also known as PCB’s. The Clark Elementary and Middle school was undergoing renovations with a brand new sprinkler system being installed earlier in the year. In order to pass final public inspections and complete the renovation, the building had to have air quality testing performed. The school did not pass the initial test, with levels of PCB considered high enough to harm children five years old and under. Unfortunately elementary students fall awfully close these ages.
The Hartford School system made use of the student’s Christmas break and had the entire building ventilated for three days to remove excess PCBs. The hope was that the ventilation would get rid of any PCB’s in the building, allowing students to return to school normally after break ended. Following the ventilation, the school was tested again, but again tested positive for the chemical. As a result the school was shut down, with several days of school being canceled in addition to the recent holiday break. Eventually, the students then began to be bused to other schools in the surrounding area since they could not continue to miss days of school.
The presents of elevated PCB levels in building built between 1950 and 1978 is not unusual, since the chemical was often used in calk during that time period until it was banned in the United States in 1979. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that all buildings built in this 28 year span test their calking so they can take remediation measures before issues come up. The Clark School was built in 1971 and clearly did not test their calk before reconstruction occurred.
PCBs are considered to be carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Exposure to the chemical may also cause more immediate health issues like rashes, headaches, tiredness, and liver damage.
Critics argue that the school system is being overly cautious and wreaking havoc on the children’s quality of education. They argue they cannot possibly be learning with this much disruption going on around them. Furthermore, parents are upset with the lack of communication that the school has had with them. Many parents brought their children to school after Christmas break and hadn’t been made aware of its closure. Even after being told the school was closed they were not given a definitive reason why. Rumors of a burst pipe and even a teacher strike began to circulate until they were later informed of the presents of PCBs.
The States Board of Education has stated that they will work with the Harford School System to do what it takes to get the school back open for students as soon as possible as well as provide them with a quality education in the meantime. The EPA has not gotten involved in clean up at the Clark School since they stated they are at they need to conduct more research before they can give any remediation advice.
There is a new current environmental issue brewing right in the homes and offices of most Americans. The problem is the nation’s new dependence on single use coffee pods for systems like Keurig. The affects that these two inch pods are having on the environment may not be worth the convenience associated with making a quick single cup of Joe.
Keurig has become the leader in the single serve coffee market since its launch in the 1990s, during that time approximately 60 billion K-cups have been dumped into landfills. Currently K-Cups consist of four major pieces; the aluminum foil lid, inner paper filter, coffee grounds, and plastic cup. The cup consists of plastic #7 which is a completely non recyclable material. Once in the landfill, the plastic cups will not biodegrade and will after many years break apart into tiny microplastic pieces. Since the pieces are so small, they often end up in waterways causing major water contamination issues.
Keurig Green Mountain promises that they are hard at work researching and developing a completely recyclable K-Cup. The company has set a 2020 deadline. Environmental groups feel as though this goal is not ambitious enough since the amount of pods that will end up in the landfill in the meantime is staggering. Keurig states that the problem with finding a recyclable option lies in the fact that the design must fit all existing machines currently residing in $13 million homes and offices. The company reiterates that they are committed to finding a recycling option and are proud of the progress that they have made.
There are a few options for the eco-minded consumer who wants a convenient cup of coffee. They can use a system that does offer recyclable pods like Nespresso or Vue, but those brands are far less commonplace. A consumer could also purchase a reusable pod that you spoon coffee grounds in and empty after each brew, but this takes away from the grab and go convenience.
Keurig Green Mountain also offers a disposal program called “Grounds to Grow On” in which you order a special bin for used K-cups. The bin is then mailed in to Keurig where they are burned for fuel. This program is not cheap though, ranging from $50 -$100. Other companies like Terracyle offer similar expensive mail in programs in which used pods are disposed of through custom recycling techniques. Aside from cost, one wonders if the fuels and other resources involved in transporting used pods is worth it in the end.
Many more creative consumers recycle the pods by reusing them as planters for seedlings and using the spent coffee grounds as compost. The problem with these recycling measures is that the majority of people are not apt to practice a single one of them. They are using a single serve coffee machine for a reason; they like convenience. Dissecting the inner workings of a K-Cup pod or mailing in used bins is not as convenient as tossing a used pod in the trash can and never thinking about it ever again.