The hydraulic fracturing industry, better known as fracking, is relatively young, so it comes as no surprise that the environmental regulations surrounding the practice are also still developing. Currently approximately ten states mandate that if a fracking site plans on using diesel fuels, they must register on FracFocus an online database. They must also notify all surrounding neighbors of the usage in order to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
One watchdog group, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) recently discovered that 33 companies owning 351 wells were illegally using fossil fuels over a four year period. The fossil fuel use was not permitted and the use was not logged into the online registry. The EIP argues that fracking companies should not be in charge of both “self-reporting and self-policing.” Neither the federal or state governments are monitoring compliance with FracFocus. In fact, the EIP found that six companies made numerous changes in disclosure on the website.
The companies being accused of making changes have credited them to coding errors during the submission process and not intentional. Fracking companies also blame issues regarding environmental compliance with changes made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA officially clarified which chemicals were considered diesel fuels in 2014, but had categorized kerosene as a diesel fuel two years prior to that with the Toxic Substance Control Act. Fracking companies were then forced to cease the use of kerosene over time in order to comply. They claim that a lack of clarification made the change much slower than it would have been normally. They also blame the FracFocus changes on the EPA’s new standards.
Fracking companies believe the Environmental Integrity Project’s study was unnecessary since the fracking industry is phasing out the use of diesel fuel all together. The EIP blasts these claims, listing 14 chemicals used in fracking that contain some amount of fossil fuels.
A large plywood and veneer mill in Springfield, Oregon caught fire in mid July, completely destroying the factory. The fire is said to have begun in a veneer dryer but an official investigation could take over a year to be finalized. There were also reports of explosions due to propane and glue tanks. Luckily there were no reported injuries due to the fire.
The large mill fire spread debris across many residential neighborhoods. At least forty residents have reported debris in their yards. Officials are concerned with the cleanup of debris since they discovered that the mill contained large amounts of asbestos in the roof as well as the insulation surrounding steam pipes.
The fire may have allowed some of the asbestos to become airborne, making exposure a health concern. Once asbestos becomes airborne it can be inhaled and lead to serious issues like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and cancer. Asbestos debris also remains completely intact once it does settle on the ground or in water creating contamination concerns.
So far twenty-seven of the forty Springfield residencies have requested the debris be cleaned up. Additional cleanup efforts will have to be made in order to account for potential asbestos removal. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has strict environmental regulations to follow when it comes to the removal of the hazardous material.
The first responders as well as any employees that were on site during the fire face the most risk to asbestos exposure. Heavy fire smoke helps make asbestos fibers airborne and potentially harmful. Fire fighters are generally protected if they are wearing all of their gear correctly within 1,000 feet of the fire. Obviously there is much room for unintentional error.
The factory is considered a total loss and if rebuilt would take years to complete. The Swanson Group, the mill owners, is unsure whether they will rebuild or not. The company will make that decision once they find out what their insurance company will pay. In the meantime approximately 250 employees are without a job.
Researchers have begun to explore the insecticide group known as neonicotinoids and the effects that they are having on U.S. waterways. Neonicotinoids are similar to nicotine in chemical makeup and includes about half a dozen types of insecticide. While research regarding the effect on waterways is a relatively new environmental trend, the chemicals have been widely used since the 1980s in over 120 nations worldwide.
Most recently, the insecticides have been scrutinized after they began to wipe out entire bee populations across Europe. The European Union eventually ended up banning the use of the neonicotinoids all together in order to protect any remaining bee colonies. Many environmentalists in the U.S. would like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do the same in order to protect its native bee and insect populations.
Neonicotinoids have become widely used in the Midwestern United States to protect large industrial corn and soybean crops from insects. The chemicals are not sprayed over crops like a traditional insecticide. Instead, the neonicotinoid coats each seed before the crop is planted. Once the seeds are watered they begin to leach the chemical into the groundwater. Neonicotinoids are extremely water soluble and have been found in many Midwestern waterways, including the mighty Mississippi River. The U.S. Geological Survey took approximately 79 water samples from nine waterways in the region. Of those sampled, three quarters of the streams experienced water contamination, testing positively for high levels of neonicotinoids. The insecticide also does not break down easily, so it remains in waterways over a significant period of time.
Critics of the study argue that insecticide levels found in waterways are well below EPA standards and should not be considered an alarming concern. The researchers conducting the study acknowledge that the levels are below EPA environmental regulations, but they feel that neoniconoids can be harmful to insects at far lower levels. Environmentalist stress that an insect may not killed by a chemical but may become completely useless and defenseless. For instance, neonicotinoids attack the nervous system of an insect and may make them unable to eat, fly, crawl, or reproduce. Weak insects are easily consumed by predators and future generations are not replenished without adequate mating.
Neonicotinoids have not been linked to any significant dangers to the health of human beings, but could have a serious effect on smaller animal populations. Proponents of neonicotinoids are quick to point out that they are far less lethal to mammals than traditional insecticides. Despite those claims, bird populations in the Midwest have been on the decline and researchers believe there is a correlation to insect deaths. Birds have far fewer insects to consume due to the pesticide’s devastation of insect populations. The birds are also eating the seeds that were completely coated in the pesticide as well as snacking on exposed bugs. Similarly, fish living in the sampled waterways may have fewer insects to feed on. Researchers feel that there simply is not enough information on how insecticides affect waterways and the associated wildlife and hope continued studies like the one conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey can help toward a healthier environmental future.
Water contamination due to pharmaceuticals has become a major current environmental issue in recent years. The contamination is a result of the increased number of drugs that human beings consume and flushed down the toilet as waste. The drugs enter the water table since they are often not removed in the standard water treatment process. One group of researchers in Sweden decided to study the effects that anti anxiety medication exposure would have on the Eurasian Perch.
The Swedish group tried to look at the experiment with a fresh perspective, not assuming that the exposure to contaminated water would be detrimental to the perch. They accomplished this by changing the variables in the study. First, instead of using lab bred fish in perfect health that would have near perfect survival rates they decided to use both two year old wild fish that had no exposure to pharmaceuticals as well as unexposed eggs.
Researchers then exposed half of the young fish and half of the eggs to oxazepam, a popular anti anxiety medication. Many of the young fish and eggs did not survive from both the control and non control groups. This was expected as mortality rates are high in the wild. The perch exposed to the anti anxiety pharmaceutical surprisingly ended up having a higher rate of survival than the control group.
The explanation for such unexpected findings is due to behavioral changes in the exposed fish. The fish exposed to oxazepam were much more aggressive, more active, and spent much more time alone. It is believed that the anti anxiety medication cause the perch to be much less stressed and therefore much more brave. They then felt unafraid to venture out alone and spend more time finding food. The well fed fish were stronger and more likely to survive. If the fish were in the wild as opposed to the laboratory setting, this bravery could prove dangerous. Lone fish would become a much easier meal for predators.
Despite the seemingly positive results of exposing fish to water contaminated with pharmaceuticals, scientist remind us that an increased perch population could be devastating to the ecosystem of a waterway. The entire food chain could be thrown off. Increased fish populations would require more food, so their prey would dwindle.
Overall, studies like these have revealed jut how little is known about how the introduction of pharmaceuticals into our waterways and how they will affect the environment. The study also shows that there are no simple results; fish are not simply dying in mass quantities making the water contamination obvious, instead evolutionary behaviors are being changed. These changes as small as they may appear can have devastating effects on a delicate ecosystem.
The United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has responded to the Swedish study and the changes that were made to the control group in the research process. While the EPA believes the findings are interesting they do not feel making significant changes to the way in which research is conducted would be appropriate based on one study.
Loving County, Texas has an official population of ninety-five people, but spans about 650 square miles of the Texas Dessert. This highly rural area is seeking a very large payment from the federal government of $28 billion to store radioactive waste resulting from spent nuclear reactors across the nation. The federal government is in a bit of a rush to come up with an alternative storage location after plans to build an extensive storage site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada were abruptly cancelled.
Residents of the rural Texas County feel as though the potential federal money could be put to great use in building roads, shipping in more water, and establishing an official municipal government. Love County would like to grow. Not all ninety-five residents are on the same page, a few feel that despite the potential benefits, inviting nuclear waste into the community is never a good idea. Other residents are more tongue in cheek, stating that the area is perfect since if something catastrophic should occur the county’s population is so small no one will notice.
Love County faces some serious competition in getting the money for a storage site, since two New Mexico communities about fifty mills away from the Texas border, are also in the run. Love County is advocating itself as the best candidate since they have plenty of space to store the hazardous waste material in cement casks, as well as the potential area for those casks to eventually be buried for permanent storage. This would save time, money, and prevent hazards since the radioactive waste would not have to be transferred again.
The Texas Counting has been busy working with the State’s governor as well as other legislators to help convince the federal government that they are the best choice. If the sites in New Mexico are chosen, Texas would not receive any of the benefits but would still be put at risk due to the proximity of the potential sites.