Whirlpool has hired an environmental management consultant to conduct extensive testing at its former Clyde site, Whirlpool Park, to determine whether or not the ground is contaminated. According to Jeff Noel, a vice president of the company, “About 200 compounds will be screened for in the roughly 360 samples that will be taken from the site.”
The testing comes in response to two major class action lawsuits brought on by homeowners whose properties sit on the land once used by Whirlpool. The plaintiffs claim that the company dumped hazardous waste materials on the land and also burned toxic materials, releasing benzaldehyde into the land. Several homes that have been tested do contain elevated levels of benzaldehyde.
Together, the environmental lawsuits total $755 million. The plaintiffs claim that the toxic materials lingering in the properties have caused a number of grave health concerns and in some cases, even death. The area has gained the sordid reputation as a cancer cluster and the property health of several homes is in question.
Whirlpool denies improper handling of waste materials and released a statement: “Whirlpool did not use the park as a dump site and never authorized dumping of any waste at the site.”
The company is now focusing on using rational principles to determine what the extent of the contamination is, and if any chemicals are found, if they be causing the illnesses affecting the plaintiffs. "I want to make sure that we keep focused on the facts and focused on the science," says Noel. “We want to do this in a very exhaustive and scientific way to get the results we need.”
The plans are expected to last a few weeks and include testing “soil, surface water, stream sediment, fill materials, soil piles, and ground water,” says the company.
It took a New Hampshire jury less than two hours to come to a decision in Exxon Mobil’s latest environmental lawsuit. The state filed the lawsuit against the company after groundwater became polluted with MTBE, an additive added to gasoline. The state of New Hampshire seeks approximately $236 million for the cleanup efforts and preventative measures. The jury sat through three months of testimony to help accomplish this goal as well as close to 400 pieces of evidence, making it the state’s longest continuous trial in its history.
Evidence presented included decades of memos, emails, and reports allegedly regarding the potential dangers of MTBE. The hazards of the additive are that it has a tendency to cause groundwater contamination at a more rapid speed and over a larger area than regular, unmixed gasoline. This led to the confirmed contamination of more than 600 New Hampshire wells and the potential contamination of closer to 5,000 wells, according to an expert witness. The jury decided that the evidence was overwhelming, especially in regard to state officials not being correctly informed of these hazardous consequences of MTBE. In fact, officials were only informed of the additive‘s potential to lower smog levels in the early 1990’s.
Exxon Mobil feels that they should not be held completely accountable for the contamination, since they were not responsible for the handling of the gasoline once it was in possession of gas stations and other bulk consumers. They state that they handled the product correctly and it is an important additive to reducing air pollution to meet Clean Air Act standards. Once the gasoline was under a third party’s ownership, that company became liable for any potential contamination. The jury must now consider these developments and decide whether or not to reduce Exxon Mobile financial responsibility in the remediation process as well as future monitoring of pollution. The oil company presently has no comment regarding the lawsuit.
The Beaverton, Oregon Community and Economic Development Department has begun a new Brownfield rejuvenation project, in large part to $400,000 in grants that the town recently received from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A Brownfield is the term used to describe property that has been contaminated and is eventually cleaned up through the use of federal grant money. The Beaverton grants were allotted for assessment purposes only, but the town is certain that they can secure future EPA grants to begin redevelopment stage. Beaverton hired an outside environmental management consultant to help apply for these grants as well as federal funding in other areas and have had much success. Half of this grant money will assess the contamination of hazardous waste materials and the other half towards assessing fuel pollution.
The city’s goals include revitalizing polluted properties with a special focus on the future of transportation and health. Databases show an estimated 58 polluted sites, 27 of them still in need of both an environmental assessment and cleanup. The grant could also be applied to the assessment of over 900 underground fuel tanks that may be contaminating surrounding soil. Many of these sites are in low income urban areas and the city is anxious to make its assessment and improve the health and overall quality of life for these residents. Beaverton has even sent officials to the EPA’s national conference on Brownfield grants allocation so that they could begin the projects as soon as possible in the most efficient and effective manner. A meeting of minds was also organized in Oregon for officials at the municipal, state, and federal government levels to discuss the importance of Brownfield funding.
The city also wants these potentially contaminated sites assessed as soon as possible, because if future development money becomes available, the property must be ready for groundbreaking. Land not assessed could lead to a huge missed opportunity Beaverton’s future.
Of all the current environmental issues in the news today, the controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing most likely tops the list for heated debate. The city of Detroit has found itself in the midst of strong arguments by proponents and naysayers of fracking—even though the practice has been going on for more than 60 years in other areas of the state.
In Michigan, as in other U.S. states that allow the horizontal drilling, fracking has brought many benefits to the communities in the form of increased tax revenue and secondary boons to local economies. The industry draws increasing numbers workers who in turn spend the money they earn and the oil and gas companies themselves spend enormous amounts of cash to operate.
These economic benefits are undeniable but environmentalists and some residents say the risk of ground pollution, water contamination, small earthquakes, and open land devastation are not worth the money.
According to Bill Laitner of the Detroit Free Press, though no drilling has occurred in metro Detroit, “the fear of multimillion-dollar drilling rigs rolling into town to break up deep deposits of shale rock laced with lucrative petroleum is enough to rile communities.”
Recent public city meetings have drawn crowds of people on both sides of the fence. Explains Laitner, “Fracking is credited with helping to cut the price of natural gas to Americans by two-thirds in the last decade. But because of environmental fears, the process has been banned permanently or temporarily in New York State; the Delaware River Basin…; Quebec, and virtually all of France, according to a shareholders proposal to regulate fracking at Chevron Corp. “
For every opinion in favor of fracking, someone could be heard who vehemently disagrees with the possibility of opening up Detroit. Charlene Romanow explained, “People moved here for the lakes and beaches—we don’t want lake town to turn into oil town."
Mrs. Romanow and her husand Rick attended the last meeting and told the crowd how oil and gas companies have been offering a $100 cash incentive to their lakeside neighbors to allow the corporations to perform exploratory drilling on their properties. Most did not accept the offer, but the retired couple said “We heard that six or seven of the people right on the lake signed.”
One can’t help wonder, however; if safety and health programs and strong environmental regulations are put in place, could the fracking industry bring much welcome wealth to a region still where the reining automobile industry is still working to gain traction after the Great Recession? The question rings true for any part of the country debating the merits of hydraulic fracturing.
Despite all the back and forth going on in Detroit, the reality is that the chance of fracking coming to town is slim, at least according to the state DEQ. “Fracking has yet to come to southeastern Michigan, and probably won’t because the geology of the land doesn’t call for it.”
A group of environmentally concerned South Carolinians have filed a federal lawsuit against Santee Cooper and its Grainger Power Plant. The Grainger plant which burns coal to supply the state’s power company with energy is located just to the west of the Myrtle Beach area. The lawsuit claims that the plant has been disposing of coal ash in storage ponds that are ultimately polluting the nearby Waccamaw River. The Waccamaw and other local waterways have elevated levels of arsenic, a toxic metal directly related to coal ash.
This lawsuit not only brings Santee Cooper’s coal ash disposal practice under fire, but it also sheds light on the department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to enforce certain environmental regulations upon the plant. The plaintiffs are able to do so through a section of the Clean Water Act. Citizens argue that the DHEC has failed to enforce any regulations over the Plant’s 47 year history and Environmental regulatory agencies have allegedly been aware of hundreds of occurrences of arsenic-contaminated groundwater over the decades, but done nothing to remedy the contamination.
The Grainger Plant states that removing the coal ash ponds would cost an estimated $90 million and is not a practical option. Instead they have submitted plans to better fortify the ponds with cement barriers. They argue that this option meets everyone’s needs, promotes environmental safety, and prevents future arsenic pollution. The containment option is approximately half the cost of removing the coal ash ponds completely.
Local residents are apprehensive of containing the pollution and support the removal, especially since many other South Carolina communities have faced similarly polluted waterways and damaged dams due to coal ash ponds. Those other communities have set an important precedent in using the court system to ignite cleanup efforts.