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Archive for the ‘pollution’ tag

hexavalent chromium found in drinking water in Chicago and elsewhere

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Tracing Patterns in the Air

[Lake Michigan, near Green Bay, WI]

Hexavalent chromium1 found in drinking water in Chicago and elsewhere, and yet the EPA refuses to add it to their list of toxins to pay attention to. Criminal oversight, if you ask me.

Michael Hawthorne writes, in part:

The cancer-causing metal made infamous by the movie “Erin Brockovich” is turning up in tap water from Chicago and more than two dozen other cities, according to a new study that urges federal regulators to adopt tougher standards.

Even though scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Toxicology Program have linked the ingestion of hexavalent chromium to cancer, the EPA doesn’t require Chicago or other cities to test for the toxic metal. Nor does the EPA limit the dangerous form of chromium in drinking water.

To take a snapshot of what is flowing through taps across the nation, the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization, hired an independent laboratory that found the metal in treated drinking water from 31 cities. The amount in Lake Michigan water pumped to 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs was 0.18 parts per billion, three times higher than a safety limit California officials proposed last year.

A handful of other cities were significantly above the proposed California limit, including Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; Riverside, Calif.; and Madison, Wis., according to a report to be released Monday. Levels in Milwaukee water were the same as in Chicago.

(click to continue reading Pollution: Dangerous form of chromium found in drinking water in Chicago, other cities – chicagotribune.com.)

We’ve used a reverse osmosis water filter for many years, I hope it filters out hexavalent chromium. Seems like it does

A Screaming Comes Across the Sky

So what is the main cause of this pollutant? Besides a lax, underfunded EPA that is? Industry, of course. Industry that spends millions of dollars defeating regulations that would at least mitigate some of this contamination.

Last year alone, records show, the U.S. Steel and Arcelor Mittal mills dumped a combined 3,100 pounds of chromium into Lake Michigan and its tributaries, less than 9 miles away from Chicago’s water-intake crib off 68th Street. (The federal Toxics Release Inventory doesn’t require industry to report specific types of the metal, but chromium-6 and chromium-3 convert into the other form and back in the environment.)

Indiana officials once sought to relax limits on chromium discharges from U.S. Steel’s massive Gary Works, the largest industrial polluter on the Great Lakes.…Industry has fought for years to block tougher federal and state limits on chromium, which has contaminated drinking water supplies across the country. The award-winning movie “Erin Brockovich” dramatizes one of the most high-profile cases: a miles-long plume of hexavalent chromium dumped by a utility in rural Hinkley, Calif., that led to a $333 million legal settlement over illnesses and cancers.

Update:

If you are curious what specific toxic chemicals are in your water, the New York Times took the data from the Environmental Working Group and turned it into a slick little database. Click through, and check out your community:

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal. Examine whether contaminants in your water supply met two standards: the legal limits established by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the typically stricter health guidelines. The data was collected by an advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group, who shared it with The Times.

(click to continue reading What’s in Your Water – Interactive Feature – The New York Times.)

Footnotes:
  1. aka chromium-6, a clear cause in stomach cancers []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 19th, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Tests Confirm Spreading Oil Plumes in the Gulf

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Despite BP’s near-constant denial, these massive plumes of oil are spreading below the surface of the Gulf. Can we all just say in unison, BP sucks!

Was There Anything I Could Do?

The government and university researchers confirmed Tuesday that plumes of dispersed oil were spreading far below the ocean surface from the leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, raising fresh concern about the potential impact of the spill on sea life.

The tests, the first detailed chemical analyses of water from the deep sea, show that some of the most toxic components of the oil are not necessarily rising to the surface where they can evaporate, as would be expected in a shallow oil leak. Instead, they are drifting through deep water in plumes or layers that stretch as far as 50 miles from the leaking well.

As a rule, the toxic compounds are present at exceedingly low concentrations, the tests found, as would be expected given that they are being diluted in an immense volume of seawater.

“It’s pretty clear that the oil that has been released is becoming more and more dilute,” Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in an interview. “That does not mean it’s unimportant — far from it. The total amount of oil out there is likely very large, and we have yet to understand the full impact of all that hydrocarbon on the gulf ecosystem.”

BP’s chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, continued to insist Wednesday morning on the “Today” show on NBC that no underwater oil plumes in “large concentrations” have been detected from the spill, saying that it “may be down to how you define what a plume is here.”

But scientists outside the government noted that the plumes appeared to be so large that organisms might be bathed in them for extended periods, possibly long enough to kill eggs or embryos. They said this possibility added greater urgency to the effort to figure out exactly how sea life was being affected, work that remains in its infancy six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

(click to continue reading Tests Confirm Spreading Oil Plumes in the Gulf – NYTimes.com.)

Nancy Snow writes:

Get Really Close to Another Human Being This Life Time

Hey friends, try this search term “BP Sucks” and see what you find.

Those good folks at British Petroleum don’t want us to miss out on the company’s herculean efforts to clean up the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s why you can find all the BP-sponsored advertising links when you type in more innocuous Google search terms like “oil spill” or “oil spill cleanup.” You’ll find friendly come-ons prominently displayed at the top of your search page with phrases like “Learn more about how BP is helping.”

Seems the company finally got a clue, hmm, over six weeks in, that this might just be a PR debacle of supersize proportions for BP.

I don’t know what Google charges to buy frequency and recency placement in favorable advertising. I do know that it’s a fundamental principle of strategic communication in targeted messaging. When you are hungry, McDonald’s wants you thinking burgers and fries. And when you’re thinking oil spill, BP wants you to click on its version of the story first and keep coming back for more news about how BP is helping.

(click to continue reading Nancy Snow: Google This! BP Sucks, Just Not Enough Oil.)

More from Justin Gillis’ story:

Those readings suggest that a large plume, probably consisting of hydrocarbons from the leak, stretches through the deep ocean for at least 15 miles west of the gushing oil well, Dr. Joye said. The top of the plume is about 3,600 feet below the sea surface; the plume is three miles wide and as thick as 1,500 feet in spots, she said.

The University of South Florida researchers found an even larger plume stretching northeast of the oil well, with the hydrocarbons separated into two distinct layers in the ocean. One layer is about 1,200 feet below the surface, and the other is 3,000 feet deep, the scientists said.

The government’s confirmation of subsea oil plumes is significant in part because BP, the oil company responsible for the leak, had denied that such plumes existed, and NOAA itself had previously been cautious in interpreting the preliminary results from Dr. Joye’s group.

“The oil is on the surface,” Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, said last week. “There aren’t any plumes.”

Written by Seth Anderson

June 9th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Posted in environment,News-esque

Tagged with ,

BP Oil Spill Animations

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For your depressing news of the day, take a look at this animated simulation of possible oil spill dispersal. Frack me!

This animation shows one scenario of how oil released at the location of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico may move in the upper 65 feet of the ocean. This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill. It assumes oil spilling continuously from April 20 to June 20. The colors represent a dilution factor ranging from red (most concentrated) to beige (most diluted).  The dilution factor does not attempt to estimate the actual barrels of oil at any spot; rather, it depicts how much of the total oil from the source that will be carried elsewhere by ocean currents.

For example, areas showing a dilution factor of 0.01 would have one-hundredth the concentration of oil present at the spill site. The animation is based on a computer model simulation, using a virtual dye, that assumes weather and current conditions similar to those that occur in a typical year. It is one of a set of six scenarios released today that simulate possible pathways the oil might take under a variety of oceanic conditions. Each of the six scenarios shows the same overall movement of oil through the Gulf to the Atlantic and up the East Coast. However, the timing and fine-scale details differ, depending on the details of the ocean currents in the Gulf. (Visualization by Tim Scheitlin and Mary Haley, NCAR; based on model simulations.)

(click to continue reading Oil Spill Animations | UCAR.)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE-1G_476nA

[Download  high resolution video]

Written by Seth Anderson

June 4th, 2010 at 11:08 am

Posted in environment

Tagged with , ,

BP GOM Spill and Conflict of Interest

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BP is more powerful than you’d think – in what other kind of investigation would the corporation be able to influence the outcome like BP is in the GOM1 spill?

Bingham Gardner Gas Box Taylor

Local environmental officials throughout the Gulf Coast are feverishly collecting water, sediment and marine animal tissue samples that will be used in the coming months to help track pollution levels resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since those readings will be used by the federal government and courts to establish liability claims against BP. But the laboratory that officials have chosen to process virtually all of the samples is part of an oil and gas services company in Texas that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients.

Some people are questioning the independence of the Texas lab. Taylor Kirschenfeld, an environmental official for Escambia County, Fla., rebuffed instructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send water samples to the lab, which is based at TDI-Brooks International in College Station, Tex. He opted instead to get a waiver so he could send his county’s samples to a local laboratory that is licensed to do the same tests.

Mr. Kirschenfeld said he was also troubled by another rule. Local animal rescue workers have volunteered to help treat birds affected by the slick and to collect data that would also be used to help calculate penalties for the spill. But federal officials have told the volunteers that the work must be done by a company hired by BP.

“Everywhere you look, if you look, you start seeing these conflicts of interest in how this disaster is getting handled,” Mr. Kirschenfeld said. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there is just too much overlap between these people.”

(click to continue reading In Spill’s Aftermath, Conflict of Interest Worries – NYTimes.com.)

Standard Oil Co of Ind

especially when you add in the successful controlling of information, both of news, and information:

As BP withholds information on impact of massive oil spill, Coast Guard says that ’embedded’ media have been allowed to cover response effort

As oil from the massive BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico approached the US coastline, a CBS News crew was threatened by the US Coast Guard with arrest if they attempted to film a beach in South Pass, Louisiana.

“When we tried to reach the beach … a boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest,” CBS’s Kelly Cobiella reported on Tuesday.

“This is BP’s rules, it’s not ours,” an officer can be seen calling from the other boat in the CBS video.

(click to continue reading After blocking CBS crew, Coast Guard denies ‘BP rules’ | Raw Story.)

such as

BP, the company in charge of the rig that exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, hasn’t publicly divulged the results of tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn’t monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf.

BP’s role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

(click to continue reading BP withholds oil spill facts — and government lets it | McClatchy.)

or of scientific measurements of the oil flow volume

 

Despite scientists’ growing skepticism about the accuracy of those measurements, the government has stuck with its 5,000-barrels-a-day estimate. It has not pressed BP for better measurements, and when asked about video footage, has deferred to BP. From ABC News:

Asked if the White House could compel the company to release the video, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday the decision rests with BP, which controls the tapes. When Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) pressed a top BP executive on the question during congressional hearings Tuesday, she was told the videos are under joint government and industry control at the incident command center in New Orleans, where they are teaming up to orchestrate the spill response.

McClatchy reported that when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was asked about air sampling data that BP has shared with the agency, an OSHA official again deferred to BP:

“It is not ours to publish,” said Dean Wingo, OSHA’s assistant regional administrator who oversees Louisiana. “We are working with (BP) and encouraging them to post the data so that it is publicly available.”

In one case, a federal agency leveled pointed criticism at the press for reporting on the spread of oil. After independent scientists discovered giant plumes of dispersed oil forming in the deep waters of the Gulf and heading toward the Gulf loop current, a spokeswoman from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration criticized media reports about plumes, calling them “misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate.”

According to the Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin, NOAA—the agency whose job it is to monitor and keep data on the oceans—“currently does not have a single research vessel taking measurements below.”

(click to continue reading While BP’s Oil Gushes, Company Keeps Information to a Trickle – ProPublica.)

Industrial Temple

Simply amazing. There really are two tiers of law in the US: big corporations, and the rest of us. Big corporations get all sorts of “winks and nods”, as they repeatedly evade responsibility for their actions, merrily paying lobbyists to legally bribe Congress with campaign donations.

Footnotes:
  1. Gulf of Mexico []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 21st, 2010 at 7:47 am

BP Has a History of Screwing Up

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Roiling

British Petroleum1 is just not having a good week. Don’t worry about them though, they won’t have any real penalties, based on previous problems BP has skated away from.

Despite those repeated promises to reform, BP continues to lag other oil companies when it comes to safety, according to federal officials and industry analysts. Many problems still afflict its operations in Texas and Alaska, they say. Regulators are investigating a whistle-blower’s allegations of safety violations at the Atlantis, one of BP’s newest offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now BP is in the spotlight because of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 people and continues to spew oil into the ocean. It is too early to say what caused the explosion. Other companies were also involved, including Transocean, which owned and operated the drilling rig, and Halliburton, which had worked on the well a day before the explosion.

(click to continue reading BP Has a History of Blasts and Oil Spills – NYTimes.com.)

Because BP just doesn’t give a rats-ass, and nobody is making them care either

But BP, the nation’s biggest oil and gas producer, has a worse health, environment and safety record than many other major oil companies, according to Yulia Reuter, the head of the energy research team at RiskMetrics, a consulting group that assigns scores to companies based on their performance in various categories, including safety.

BP Amoco is not greener than me

And…

government officials say that they are troubled by the continuation of hazardous practices at BP’s refineries and Alaskan oil operations despite warnings from regulators.

For example, last year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found more than 700 violations at the Texas City refinery — many concerning faulty valves, which are critical for safety given the high temperatures and pressures. The agency fined BP a record $87.4 million, which was more than four times the previous record fine, also to BP, for the 2005 explosion.

Another refinery, in Toledo, Ohio, was fined $3 million two months ago for “willful” safety violations, including the use of valves similar to those that contributed to the Texas City blast.

“BP has systemic safety and health problems,” said Jordan Barab, the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “They need to take their intentions and apply them much more effectively on the ground, where the hazards actually lie.”

Gas At Last

and…

Problems also remain in Alaska. In January, leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent BP a letter highlighting “serious safety and production incidents” over the last two years in Prudhoe Bay, the nation’s largest oil field.

So you make up your own mind: is BP cavalier about drilling safety? Or do they just consistently have “bad” luck, year after year after year…

Footnotes:
  1. as BP plc used to be known as []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 9th, 2010 at 8:12 am

Leak from Exelon nuke hits major NJ aquifer

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Speaking of government regulation being half-hearted, notice how this spill occurred in 2009, but nobody seemed to care much at the time.

It Is a Bit of a Joke

Radioactive water that leaked from the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant has now reached a major underground aquifer that supplies drinking water to much of southern New Jersey, the state’s environmental chief said Friday. The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station to halt the spread of contaminated water underground, even as it said there was no imminent threat to drinking water supplies.

The department launched a new investigation Friday into the April 2009 spill and said the actions of plant owner Exelon Corp. have not been sufficient to contain water contaminated with tritium. Tritium is found naturally in tiny amounts and is a product of nuclear fission. It has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large amounts.

“There is a problem here,” said environmental Commissioner Bob Martin. “I am worried about the continuing spread of the tritium into the groundwater and its gradual moving toward wells in the area. This is not something that can wait. That would be unacceptable.” The company did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The tritium leaked from underground pipes at the plant on April 9, 2009, and has been slowly spreading underground at 1 to 3 feet a day.

At the current rate, it would be 14 or 15 years before the tainted water reaches the nearest private or commercial drinking water wells. But the mere fact that the radioactive water — at concentrations 50 times higher than those allowed by law — has reached southern New Jersey’s main source of drinking water calls for urgent action, Martin said.

(click to continue reading Leak from Exelon nuke hits major NJ aquifer | Crain’s Chicago Business.)

Crazy fools, did they think the problem would just solve itself? If corporations want to be treated like people, then corporations that subvert the public interest should lose their corporate charter. Or worse.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 8th, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Shut Fisk and Crawford Coal Plants

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Shuttering the damn things would be my preference – I can see the Fisk Coal plant from my window, spewing all sorts of toxins, and I don’t even live that close by.

Tales of the Towering Dead

Owners of two coal-fueled power plants on Chicago’s Southwest Side would have to clean them up within the next five years — or shut them down — under a proposal being pushed by an interesting coalition of aldermen and a Chicago environmental group.

   The proposed ordinance is aimed at the circa-1920s Fisk plant in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village, both now operated by Midwest Generation LLC.

Under its terms, scrubbers and related anti-pollution equipment would have to be installed by 2013-15, four to five years earlier than now required by state regulators.

   “The purpose is to get two of the oldest, dirtiest coal plants located in any urban neighborhood cleaned up soon,” said Howard Learner, executive director of Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center.

    “These are the two biggest (single) point sources of pollution in the city,” Mr. Learner added. But modernization of the plants repeatedly has been deferred, and the city now has an interest in making the plants “clean up or shut down,” he said.

   A statement e-mailed by Alderman Joseph Moore (49th) said the measure will be co-sponsored by him and colleagues including Sandi Jackson (7th), Eugene Schulter (47th) and Toni Preckwinkle (4th).

   Ms. Preckwinkle’s presence is particularly notable since she is the Democratic nominee to head the Cook County Board and is heavily favored to win that position in the November general election.

[Click to continue reading Push begins to ‘clean up or shut’ Fisk, Crawford coal power plants | Greg Hinz | Crain’s Chicago Business]

Cleaning them up so they fit current EPA standards would be a positive step, but would mean that lots of toxins would still be allowed, just not quite as much.

Written by Seth Anderson

April 8th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Chase Happily Conducts War on Nature

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Banks are corporate villains, part the 3243rd.

Loneliness is an ATM

Unlike virtually all of its competitors, JPMorgan Chase steeled itself early for the collapse of the subprime market and emerged from the rubble of the global financial meltdown with both its balance sheet and reputation intact. But the storied firm stands alone among its Wall Street rivals in another area, too. JPMorgan backstops one of the most destructive mining practices in the world: mountaintop removal coal mining. And it continues to do so even as other major banks have cut ties to this practice.

“Chase is the single largest remaining player in this game,” says Scott Edwards, advocacy director for the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental advocacy group comprised of lawyers, scientists, and activists, among others. “They just absolutely refuse to take responsibility for their role in this absolutely devastating industry.”

Mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, focused in Appalachian states like West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, involves deforesting huge swaths of land and blasting the summits off of mountains to expose the black veins of coal underneath. The waste and rubble from the demolition is then dumped into nearby rivers and streams, burying local water sources in toxic byproducts, choking off tributaries that feed into larger rivers, and wiping out plants and wildlife, according to numerous scientific studies. Despite the mining industry’s claims, there are no successful ways to mitigate the effects of MTR, according to Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The effects on the nearby environment, she says, are long lasting and often irreversible.

[Click to continue reading JPMorgan’s War on Nature | Mother Jones]

Satanic Gift

Chase is happy to make some short-term profits at the expense of all our lives

Over the past 17 years, JPMorgan Chase has helped to underwrite nearly 20 bond or loan deals, worth a combined $8.5 trillion, for some of the biggest players in the MTR mining business, according to data from Bloomberg. Other large banks have either halted financing companies engaging in the practice outright or signaled their intent to do so. In December 2008, for instance, Bank of America publicly announced plans to “phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal.” Wells Fargo has cut ties with coal giant Massey Energy. And a Credit Suisse official says the bank has a “global mining policy” that ensures “we explicitly do not finance the extraction of coal in a mountaintop removal setting.” But JPMorgan continues to back the practice.

By underwriting MTR, JPMorgan ties itself to some of the nation’s biggest polluters. Take Massey Energy, which leads the nation in MTR mining. In 2008, the company extracted more than 21 million tons of coal using mountaintop removal mining, according to opensourcecoal.org, an online database for coal production statistics. That same year, JPMorgan acted as lead manager on a $690 million bond offering by Massey, according to financial records.

Written by Seth Anderson

March 31st, 2010 at 8:59 am

EPA Plans to slowly regulate emissions

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Speaking of obstructionist asses in the US Senate1, note how Senator Rockefeller words his plea to the EPA.

Sun Like a Drug

Facing wide criticism over their recent finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public welfare, top Environmental Protection Agency officials said Monday that any regulation of such gases would be phased in gradually and would not impose expensive new rules on most American businesses.

The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a letter to eight coal-state Democrats who have sought a moratorium on regulation that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be subjected to limits before 2013. Smaller ones would not be regulated before 2016, she said.

“I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” Ms. Jackson wrote.

The eight Democratic senators, led by John D. Rockefeller IV(Coal) of West Virginia, said hugely significant decisions about energy, the economy and the environment should be made by elected representatives, not by federal bureaucrats.

The senators, who earlier questioned broad cap-and-trade legislation pushed by the Obama administration, join a number of Republican lawmakers, industry groups and officials from Texas, Alabama and Virginia in challenging the proposed E.P.A. regulations of industrial sources. Senate Republicans are going a step further, seeking to prevent the agency from taking any action to limit greenhouse gases, which are tied to global warming.

[Click to continue reading E.P.A. Plans to Phase in Regulation of Emissions – NYTimes.com]

Don’t do anything, in other words. Senator Rockefeller (Coal) wants climate change policy making to come back to the Senate where it can die the Death of the Thousand Cuts and Additions2, and generally get debated until we’re all dead. In the last 10 years, what climate change policy has the Senate actually passed into law, Senator Rockerfeller (Coal)? I have exactly zero faith in the US Senate accomplishing anything productive, not unless LBJ rises from the grave to give some of the nattering nabobs of the Senate The Treatment.

Footnotes:
  1. aren’t we always??!! []
  2. sometimes called amendments []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 23rd, 2010 at 8:31 am

Tap Water Is Probably Bad For You

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You are much safer drinking tequila than tap water, in the US that is.

Saying goodbye is harder than it seems

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal.

Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times.

But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000.

[Click to continue reading Millions Drink Tap Water That Is Legal, but Maybe Not Healthy – Series – NYTimes.com]

It is almost as if the US government doesn’t care about the health of its citizens, only about preserving corporate profits.

South branch of the river

If you are curious about your local water, the New York Times has made their findings public, and searchable.

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal. Examine whether contaminants in your water supply met two standards: the legal limits established by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the typically stricter health guidelines. The data was collected by an advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group, who shared it with The Times.

[Click to continue reading What’s in Your Water – Interactive Feature – The New York Times]

For instance, Chicago tap water has 5 contaminants above health guidelines:
Alpa particle activity, combined radium, lead, Radium-226 and Radium-228, plus another 16 contaminants that are “within legal limits”1: arsenic, barium, chloroform, and so on. Yumm.

Footnotes:
  1. but which should be filtered out, if possible []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 17th, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Cancer From the Kitchen

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Nicholas Kristof asks a question I’ve asked many times: what if our chemical-friendly lifestyle is directly linked to our increased death rates from cancer, and other illnesses? Especially since, in the US, toxins don’t have to be proven to be safe1 before they are used. I’d rather we used the European model, and mandated extensive testing before chemicals are allowed. The American Chemistry Council has too much power in this country.

Thirsty?

What if breast cancer in the United States has less to do with insurance or mammograms and more to do with contaminants in our water or air — or in certain plastic containers in our kitchens? What if the surge in asthma and childhood leukemia reflect, in part, the poisons we impose upon ourselves?

Dr. Philip Landrigan, the chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai, said that the risk that a 50-year-old white woman will develop breast cancer has soared to 12 percent today, from 1 percent in 1975. (Some of that is probably a result of better detection.) Younger people also seem to be developing breast cancer: This year a 10-year-old in California, Hannah, is fighting breast cancer and recording her struggle on a blog.

Likewise, asthma rates have tripled over the last 25 years, Dr. Landrigan said. Childhood leukemia is increasing by 1 percent per year. Obesity has surged. One factor may be lifestyle changes — like less physical exercise and more stress and fast food — but some chemicals may also play a role.

[Click to continue reading Nicholas Kristof – Cancer From the Kitchen? – NYTimes.com]

and what to do? Simple answer is to make a few changes around your house:

I asked these doctors what they do in their own homes to reduce risks. They said that they avoid microwaving food in plastic or putting plastics in the dishwasher, because heat may cause chemicals to leach out. And the symposium handed out a reminder card listing “safer plastics” as those marked (usually at the bottom of a container) 1, 2, 4 or 5.

It suggests that the “plastics to avoid” are those numbered 3, 6 and 7 (unless they are also marked “BPA-free”). Yes, the evidence is uncertain, but my weekend project is to go through containers in our house and toss out 3’s, 6’s and 7’s.

Bill Moyers did a piece on this topic several years ago, including testing his own blood, and discovering tons of toxins, at levels unsafe.2

The “precautionary principle” – adopted by the European Union in 1992 as the basis for regulation of toxic chemicals –- holds that in the face of scientific uncertainty, government should err on the side of protecting public health and safety. In other words, if scientific evidence indicates there is a good chance that a chemical may pose a risk of irreversible harm, regulators should not wait for absolute proof before acting.

One of the major themes running through the internal chemical industry documents investigated in TRADE SECRETS: A MOYERS REPORT is the industry’s opposition to the precautionary principle. It has used its wealth to win favorable treatment from politicians, sponsored surrogates to promote the industry point of view with the media, and now is quietly pushing legislation through state legislatures that will overturn many of the gains citizens believe they have made in their right to information about toxic chemicals.

Footnotes:
  1. the so-called precautionary principle []
  2. I’ve blogged about it, but can’t find it at the moment []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 6th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Toxic Water and Your Government

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This is what happens when you let Republicans and Corporatist Democrats control Congress: there are real consequences to real people, and death panels for all of us.

Saying goodbye is harder than it seems

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va. In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.

When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from residents’ taps.

But state regulators never fined or punished those companies for breaking those pollution laws.

This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

[Click to continue reading Toxic Waters – Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in Suffering – Series – NYTimes.com]

If you haven’t read this article, you should. There’s also an interactive chart at the NYT worth browsing. There is no money allocated to investigate polluters so that polluting companies can make slightly more profit. Is it worth it?

500,000 violations in five years – that’s a lot of un-investigated crime. If a person committed this many affronts to society in five years, jail would be in their future. A corporation? Not much of a consequence. I say take away their corporate charters, dissolve the company, sell its assets. If the corporation fulfills a needed role in the economy, new, more law-abiding corporations will take the place of the miscreants.

For a closer look at some of the offenders, check out this chart, sortable by zip code, or city, or state. For instance, in Chicago, in the last five years, there are 146 facilities that have permits to discharge pollutants. Of these, zero have been fined, although some have not had their sites inspected since 1978. Hey, see no evil, right?

Like1

Mwrdgc Calumet Wrp 400 East 130th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60628

$0 Total Fines
Total Inspections: 17
Last Inspection: May 10, 1979
Classification: Sewerage Systems

13 Violations

This facility has been out of regulatory compliance 6 of the past 12 quarters.

so, out of compliance more often than not in the last four years, yet hasn’t actually had an on-site inspection2 in more than thirty fracking years. Lovely.

Illinois in general, per the NYT investigation, has 7,304 facilities that are permitted to release some toxic materials into the environment, but of these, again most have not been inspected in many, many years, if ever, despite having thousands of violations cited against these companies. Only three sites have actually had fines levied against them:

Equistar Chemicals, Lp Morris , last inspected – Oct. 4, 1978 – 5 violations fines totaling: $714,200

Mg Industries Mapleton last inspected – Feb. 16, 1995 – 1 violation, fine totaling: $383,501

Kmart Distribution Ctr 8289 Manteno No Information re: last inspection, fine of $102,422

I suspect there is a lot of pollution being released that nobody in the EPA knows about. How about in your state? Aren’t you curious how bad your water is after reading paragraphs like:

In some cases, people got sick right away. In other situations, pollutants like chemicals, inorganic toxins and heavy metals can accumulate in the body for years or decades before they cause problems. Some of the most frequently detected contaminants have been linked to cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders.

Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000 companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by polluters themselves. Companies sometimes test what they are dumping only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.

Environmental groups say the number of Clean Water Act violations has increased significantly in the last decade. Comprehensive data go back only five years but show that the number of facilities violating the Clean Water Act grew more than 16 percent from 2004 to 2007, the most recent year with complete data.

Footnotes:
  1. The EPA database has more complete details if you are interested. []
  2. that the New York Times could find []

Written by Seth Anderson

September 13th, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Politicians and Pollution

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A story that makes my blood boil: politicians dithering and being petty about enforcing environmental laws. They treat pollution like it is an earmark, or something to be bartererd. No you evil people, it isn’t – toxic death is permanent, and willfully destroying the health of your citizens should be a felony. The Illinois EPA is so corrupt and toothless, the entire organization’s staff should be fired, and new employees brought in, preferably not from the ranks of energy-related corporation employees.

Blago Jogging on May Street

Even though the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had plenty of evidence to file charges against the owner and operator of Anchor Metal Finishing, top agency officials sat on the case for more than a year. Meanwhile, carcinogenic solvents and caustic acids kept leaching from barrels packed haphazardly into a ramshackle building, two blocks away from a Schiller Park subdivision.

What appeared to be an obvious violation of state environmental laws became entangled in one of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s political feuds, delaying action for months. Dozens of other cases against polluters languished as well, largely because Blagojevich and his top aides refused to refer them to his archnemesis, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, a Tribune investigation found.

The bitter dispute still reverberates through state government today, eight months after Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges and then impeached and removed from office. Nearly 19 months after it was discovered, the Schiller Park site still hasn’t been cleaned up, and several other older cases are moving through an enforcement system that Gov. Pat Quinn and Madigan only recently have begun to repair.

Blagojevich and Madigan started out on amicable terms after they were elected in 2002. But EPA referrals of civil and criminal violations to the attorney general began to drop sharply in 2005, and fell to a record low of 114 in 2007, according to state records.

The agency hasn’t sent a criminal case to the attorney general in two years, records show.

[Click to continue reading Illinois pollution enforcement hampered by politics — chicagotribune.com]

Up Yours Illinois!

and this is just horrible:

Federal regulators also cited Midwest Generation, the owner of six coal-fired power plants that records show are some of the biggest contributors to dirty air in the Chicago area. Madigan’s staff documented thousands of pollution violations at the plants, but the state EPA repeatedly refused to take action against the company, which was represented for years by one of Blagojevich’s top campaign aides.

Business lobbyists persuaded lawmakers in 2002 to require a less-confrontational approach that doesn’t involve the attorney general’s office unless there is an imminent threat to the environment; lawsuits still can be filled if an agreement can’t be brokered.

Although the state EPA declined to cite Midwest Generation — the agency agreed with the company that frequent bursts of soot from its coal plants weren’t harmful — Scott noted the Blagojevich administration negotiated a deal that will force the aging generators to clean up or shut down by the end of the next decade. Environmental groups are seeking to impose tighter deadlines.

Withered and Died

The EPA agreed with the polluter that frequent bursts of soot from its coal plants weren’t harmful? Un-fucking-believable. The EPA should be forced to move their offices to be located adjacent to pollution sites like the Midwest Generation plants, or adjacent to the Crestwood polluted well.

Read the whole article if you can stomach it.

Written by Seth Anderson

August 23rd, 2009 at 10:39 am

Coal Plants in Chicago

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Kudos to the citizen groups for “taking to the streets“. It is really a travesty that in a world-class, allegedly green city like Chicago, these polluters are allowed to operate their stacks with impunity. Outrageous, indeed.

Withered and Died

Frustrated by inaction at every level of government, several environmental watchdog organizations announced plans today to sue the owner of Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants for alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

The coal plants are among the biggest sources of dangerous air emissions in the region, but authorities have moved only haltingly to compel them to clean up.

Just a week ago several environmental groups chided Chicago officials for failing to get tough with the plants, which studies have blamed for scores of ER visits and premature deaths every year. Today the groups essentially took aim at the state and federal governments, which they contend should do more to force plant owner Midwest Generation to slash its emissions of dangerous soot.

The organizations sent a letter to the company and government regulators declaring their intention to sue within two months. They charge that in its own reports to the state Midwest Generation has repeatedly admitted it produced a higher concentration of soot than allowed. Soot, otherwise known as particulate matter, has been linked to heart disease, asthma, cancer, and other ailments.

“How do they get away with that?” asked Faith Bugel, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Beats me. That’s why we’re outraged.”

[Click to continue reading The latest salvo in the fight to clean up Chicago’s air | The Blog | Chicago Reader]

Satanic Gift

If you ask me, this lame excuse by Midwest Generation is not sufficient. All coal plants should be shut down if they can’t control their exceedances.

Midwest Generation spokesman Charley Parnell says the environmental groups are blowing things out of proportion. “We have acknowledged that there have been exceedances from our operations, as there are with every coal-fired power plant in the country,” he said. “The [government] agencies have always allowed for those exceedances because it’s impossible to run a coal plant without them.”

Written by Seth Anderson

July 29th, 2009 at 11:38 am

EPA Fiddles while Neurotoxin In Our Food

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Lovely

Keep away from children

One of the most comprehensive analyses yet of human exposure to PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, shows that the chemical — long used in everything from computers to sleeping bags — enters humans through their diets, not just their household.

“The more you eat, the more PBDEs you have in your serum,” said Alicia Fraser, an environmental health researcher at Boston University’s School of Public Health who headed the new study, published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives.

PBDEs are chemical cousins of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are known to cause birth defects and neurological impairments. PCBs were banned throughout the world by the mid-1970s, when PBDEs were gaining popularity as flame retardants. PBDEs were soon found in most plastic-containing household products.

By the late 1990s, trace amounts of PBDEs had been found in people all over the world, with the highest exposures measured in the United States. Researchers became nervous: Low doses caused neurological damage in laboratory animals, and the highest human PBDE levels were found in breast milk.

Whether PBDEs posed an immediate threat to humans was uncertain. Direct testing is unethical, and population-wide epidemiological studies are difficult to run. But there’s enough reason for concern that the European Union banned two of the three most common PBDE formulations in 2004.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which in January admitted that it lacked the ability to establish basic standards of chemical safety, has not followed suit, but three states — California, Washington and Maine — have banned PBDEs since 2007. Many manufacturers have either stopped or plan on stopping their use.

“They are persistent in the environment. They don’t get broken down. Therefore, it takes a really long time for the contamination to leave our environment and our bodies,” said Fraser. “Even though we don’t know the health effects at this point, most people would want policies that would stop us from being exposed to them.”

[Click to continue reading Potential Neurotoxin Could Be in Our Food | Wired Science | Wired.com]

I’m sure the plastic council has a different answer as to the toxicity of PBDEs, but they have zero credibility. If the EPA wasn’t such a corporate tool, they would have been actively removing PBDEs from our environment decades ago.

Data Dump

The real long term solution would be to adopt similar practices to the European model: prove that a chemical is harmless before it is allowed to be used. In the US, there have to be lawsuits and deaths1 before the EPA will even begin to study if a chemical is harmful. Years of litigation follow, yadda yadda. A system that totally and unequivocally favors chemical manufacturers in other words.

REACH requires all chemicals sold or used in Europe to be registered with the European Chemicals Agency. Manufacturers or distributors must supply the agency with the chemicals’ properties, materials safety data sheets (MSDSes), risk management guidelines, and safety measures for downstream users. Many hazardous chemicals (over 1,500 of them) will require permission from the European Commission to use; some chemicals will not be allowed at all. Consumers can also request (could be WWF, Greenpeace, or just person) chemical safety and environmental impact data from manufacturers. Perhaps most importantly, the government is not burdened with proving any chemicals are harmful, it falls to industry to test the toxicity of their chemicals, and the EU need only do monitoring and compliance-checking when they believe a company has submitted incomplete or bogus information. REACH covers all chemicals, both substances and mixtures, existing and new (new chemicals are less than 1% of market). It includes intentionally released chemicals (like inkjet ink) and non-intentionally released ones (like dye in jeans); anything that will have more than one metric ton per year produced or imported into Europe. It includes not only the chemicals a company makes, but all the chemicals contained in a product the company sells. It also includes chemicals used in manufacturing that don’t end up in products, if the manufacturing happens in Europe. Unfortunately the amount of time for questions was very limited, so I didn’t get to ask what they define as a “chemical”; I presume it’s any substance that isn’t elemental and requires processing to get out of the natural world.

[Click to continue reading Worldchanging: Bright Green: What Does REACH Mean For Products?]

The US EPA is just a sick joke. A joke that damages all of us.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to assess toxic chemicals is as broken as the nation’s financial markets and needs a total overhaul, a congressional audit has found.

The Government Accountability Office has released a report saying the EPA lacks even basic information to say whether chemicals pose substantial health risks to the public. It says actions are needed to streamline and increase the transparency of the EPA’s registry of chemicals. And it calls for measures to enhance the agency’s ability to obtain health and safety information from the chemical industry.

Earlier in 2008, the Journal Sentinel revealed that the EPA’s Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program, which relies on companies to provide information about the dangers of the chemicals they produce, is all but dead. And it disclosed that the agency’s program to screen chemicals that damage the endocrine system had failed to screen a single chemical more than 10 years after the program was launched.

[Click to continue reading EPA a failure on chemicals, audit finds – JSOnline]

No wonder so many EPA officials get jobs in the chemical industry after their EPA tenure is over.

Richard Wiles, executive director of Environmental Working Group:

“The EPA joins the hall of shame of failed government programs,” Wiles said.

The EPA is at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement and needs a broad-based transformation, the auditors found.

“The EPA lacks adequate scientific information on the toxicity of many chemicals that may be found in the environment – as well as on tens of thousands of chemicals used commercially in the United States,” the GAO report said. “EPA’s inadequate progress in assessing toxic chemicals significantly limits the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment.”

I haven’t been able to locate the GAO report yet, but did find this:

Since 1976, the EPA issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals determined to present an unreasonable risk. Its 1989 regulation phasing out most uses of asbestos was vacated by a federal appeals court in 1991 because it was not based on “substantial evidence.”

In contrast, the EU and a number of other countries banned asbestos, a known human carcinogen that can cause lung cancer and other diseases. The GAO previously recommended that Congress amend the TSCA to reduce the evidentiary burden the EPA

[Click to continue reading GAO: EPA Needs Stronger Authority to Improve Effectiveness of Toxic Substances Control Act]

Five substances in over 30 years? Yeesh, that’s pretty lame.

Footnotes:
  1. or at least lots of negative publicity []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 19th, 2009 at 9:20 am

Posted in environment

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