Archive | Toxic Substances

Hungarian Aluminum Plant Still Causing Environmental Damage

A Hungarian aluminum plant that caused a massive spill of red sludge in October is still producing poisonous substances that endanger a local river, Greenpeace said Tuesday.

Urging the European Union to intervene, the international environmental protection organization said MAL AG is illegally disposing of red mud by delivering it directly into the river Marcal.

The facility made world headlines last October when 38.8 million cubic feet of red sludge burst through a reservoir’s retaining wall and flooded nearby villages, killing ten people.

Greenpeace conducted a water analysis on Jan. 26, taking samples at six points along a waste water channel near the Danube river.

The tests revealed alarming levels of toxic substances like arsenic, aluminum and organic carbon. The analysis by Vienna’s EPA found 1,300 micrograms of arsenic per liter in the samples – well above Austria’s legal limit of 100 micrograms. Aluminum levels, in turn, were were 100 times above the safe limit.

“The EU Commission has to intervene with the Hungarian government immediately to stop this threat to humans, animals and nature,” Greenpeace campaigner Balazs Tomori said.

Despite October’s disastrous chemical accident, MAL AG was able to resume operations barely two weeks after the spill.
“It’s immensely frustrating that the Hungarian government has legalized this environmental crime — a catastrophe emergency act has been activated, which overrides environmental regulations,” Tomori said, according to AFP.

Posted in Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

New York City Canal Contains Suspected Carcinogens

An investigation of New York City’s Gowanus Canal has revealed the waterway’s widespread contamination, which authorities say poses a threat to people and the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday released a study that assessed the pollution of the 1.5-mile canal, which was named eligible for the federal Superfund cleanup program last year.

The channel, which flows through an industrial area near affluent Brooklyn neighborhoods, is tainted with various metals and over a dozen contaminants, including suspected carcinogens like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the EPA said.

Under the Superfund program, the government will force polluters to pay for the canal’s cleanup. Officials say restoration will require major dredging and will last 10 to 11 years beginning in 2015 at a cost of $300 to $500 million.

The EPA said the canal also contains the contaminate polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, another suspected carcinogen.

Agency regional administrator Judith A. Enck told the New York Times that people should refrain from swimming in the canal and eating fish from it.

“What we found is no surprise,” she said. “The report paints a pretty serious picture of the level of contamination.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has opposed Gowanus’ designation as a Superfund site, saying the label would scare off developers.

Posted in Toxic Substances, Water Pollution, Water, Oceans, & Ice0 Comments

EPA Faces Pesticides, Endangered Species Lawsuit

Environmental conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of lax pesticide regulations that caused the poisonings of over 200 endangered and threatened species.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America said in the filing that the EPA has failed to consult officials with the Fish and Wildlife service regarding pesticide use.

“For decades, the EPA has turned a blind eye to the disastrous effects pesticides can have on some of America’s rarest species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “This lawsuit is intended to force the EPA to follow the law and ensure that harmful chemicals are not sprayed in endangered species habitats.”

The litigation claims that the pesticides pose a critical threat to 214 species around the country that need protection, including the California condor.

Plaintiffs also named the western snowy plover, northern spotted owl, San Joaquin kit fox, giant garter snake, light-footed clapper rail, California tiger salamander and several Northern California butterflies, rats, snakes, fish, rodents and insect species as vulnerable to lead poisoning and other chemicals in pesticides.

The EPA currently performs a number of tests on pesticides but rarely discusses findings with the Fish and Wildlife Association.

“The ecological risk assessment does not consider the cumulative or synergistic effects posed by multiple pesticides on wildlife or the environment, nor does it address delayed effects of pesticides, referred to as ‘lag effects,”‘ the suit filed in San Francisco federal court alleges.

“Since 1993, there have been only a few completed consultations with the (Fish and Wildlife) Service regarding pesticide impacts to listed species, other than those imposed by court orders,” it added.

18,000 pesticides are registered with the EPA for approved use in the United States.

Posted in Animals, Chemicals, Policies, Toxic Substances0 Comments

Bacteria Ate Methane from Gulf Oil Spill

Bacteria consumed methane gas from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in four months, a report said Thursday.

Methane constituted 20 percent of the crude oil that erupted from the Macondo oil well in worst marine spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

A report published Thursday in the journal Science said a sudden bloom of bacteria ingested the methane completely by early September.

“They did a good job on it and that was much earlier than expected,” said John Kessler, a chemical oceanographer at Texas A&M University, according to AP.

University of California Santa Barbara geochemistry professor David Valentine, one of the study’s lead authors, said the discovery proves that the bacteria play a vital role in preventing heat-trapping greenhouse gases on the ocean’s floor from entering the earth’s atmosphere.

“They do serve an important function, and as we see here under certain conditions these bacteria can be very effective at preventing the methane from reaching the atmosphere,” Valentine told AFP.

Valentine added that previous research showed that other types of bacteria also ingested the ethane and propane released by the explosion.

The researchers also said bacteria consumed some of the crude oil itself, but it is not yet clear how much.

Posted in Global Warming, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Texas Commission OKs Nuclear Waste Dump Policy

A Texas commission has approved a plan that will allow 36 states to dump low-level radioactive waste along the Texas-New Mexico border.

Despite concerns raised by environmentalists regarding the possibility of groundwater pollution, the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Commission voted 5-2 to pass the measure, which will permit a number of additional states to export nuclear waste to an Andrews County dump owned by Waste Control Specialists. The site previously only accepted waste from Texas, Vermont and the federal government.

The commission also guaranteed Vermont preferred space of 20 percent capacity. Vermont has only one nuclear facility, which it plans to phase out in the next 30 or 40 years.

President Barack Obama has extolled nuclear energy as a clean alternative to oil, but opponents object to the radioactive waste associated with the process.

The proposal drew more than 5,000 public comments, The Associated Press reported.

Posted in Nuclear, Pollution & Toxins, Radiation, Toxic Substances, Waste Disposal0 Comments

Groups Oppose EPA Analysis of Coal Ash Prior to Regulations

Three environmental groups are challenging figures in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report on coal ash, a potentially harmful byproduct of coal-burning in industrial facilities and power plants.

The dispute comes as the EPA prepares first-ever regulations for the disposal of coal ash in the wake of the catastrophic Tennessee Valley spill that dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of the sludge into the Emory River two years ago.

The agency is considering two proposals. The first would give the toxic residue a “hazardous” label and impose new federal regulations for construction of containment facilities. The second option, heavily favored by industry supporters, would classify the substance as “non-hazardous” and encourage facilities to recycle their coal ash into building materials like cement and drywall.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center released an analysis of the EPA’s findings Wednesday claiming that the agency has exaggerated the value of coal ash recycling. The EPA stated in its report that the practice is worth $23 billion in health benefits, pollution avoidance, and lowered energy costs. The groups estimate the annual worth of coal ash recycling to be $1.15 billion while posing serious risks for the environment and human health.

“The concern we have is so loudly exaggerating the economic benefit of coal ash recycling,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, according to Bloomberg. “The noise that creates has sort of drowned out the concern over health and safety of properly disposing this kind of material.”

The groups voiced their support of the stricter program, which they say would protect communities near power plant-operated coal ash containment ponds.

They also noted in a statement Wednesday that there are as many as 50 unregulated coal ash dumps around the country similar to the one that broke down in the Tennessee Valley two years ago.

EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said the agency would review the report along with over 400,000 public comments submitted to officials.

Posted in Coal, Hazardous Waste, Industrial Pollution, Industrial Waste, Minerals & Mining, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Navy Testing May Hurt Whales along Pacific Coastline

New U.S. Navy testing off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts will pose a danger for orca whales, environmentalists say.

The Obama administration recently approved a plan to expand sailor training, weapons testing, and underwater training minefield for submarines in the 122,400 nautical square miles off the West Coast.

The Navy has been training in that range since  World War II, but environmentalists worry that new missile and sonar testing along with the dumping of depleted uranium could harm the population of 150 orcas known to live along the Pacific coast.

Howard Garrett, the president of the Washington-based nonprofit Orca Network, claims the hazardous materials could pose a serious risk for vulnerable orcas.

“They’re all very susceptible,” Garrett told AP. “The Navy is single-minded and they’re focused, and the whales are very much a secondary concern to them.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council also expressed concern over the new program, saying it “would pose a significant risk to whales, fish and other wildlife,” by releasing “thousands of rounds of spent ammunition and unexploded ordnance containing chromium, chromium compounds, depleted uranium,” and other hazardous materials, AP reported Saturday.

The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar testing could damage the orca navigation and communication skills and could even cause brain damage and affect reproductive rates, the NRDC said.

But Navy officials maintain that the expanded practices will have no effect on marine life.

“We are not even permitted to kill even one marine mammal. … What people don’t seem to understand is we share the environment with everybody,” Navy spokeswoman Sheila Murray said, according to AP. “It’s our environment, too. Of course we want to take care of it. The Navy goes to great lengths to protect the marine environment.”

Garrett remains skeptical. “I’m not convinced by the assurances that the Navy gives that there will be no effect,” Garrett said. “I can’t imagine there won’t be mortalities.”

Posted in Aquatic Life, Conservation, Ecosystems, Fish, Mammals, Noise Pollution, Oceans & Coastlines, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Smokeless Tobacco May Hurt DNA, Enzymes

CHANDIGARH, India, June 18 (UPI) — A researcher in India warns smokeless tobacco use may damage the body’s DNA and key enzymes.

Krishan Khanduja of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, suggests smokeless tobacco not only may damage DNA, but may also affect the normal functioning of a key family of enzymes found in almost every organ.

Khanduja and colleagues found laboratory rats exposed to extracts of smokeless tobacco had altered DNA material in the liver, kidney and lungs — as well as changed function of the CYP-450 family of enzymes. This enzyme group affects many functions including the production of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, the processing of cholesterol and vitamin D and the breaking down of prescription drugs and possibly toxic substances.

The study, published in Chemical Research in Toxicology, noted use of smokeless products is increasing not only among men but also among children, teenagers and women.

“These products are used around the world but are most common in Northern Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean region,” the study authors said in a statement. “Most of the users seem to be unaware of the harmful health effects and, therefore, use smokeless tobacco to ‘treat’ toothaches, headaches, and stomachaches.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Education, Other, Toxic Substances0 Comments

Army Creates Ultra-strength Decontaminants

ABERDEEN, Md., April 28 (UPI) — U.S. chemists and military scientists say they have created a group of ultra-strength cleaners designed for use in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

The researchers led by George Wagner at the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland said the cleaners are tough enough to neutralize nerve gas, mustard gas, radioactive isotopes and anthrax. But Wagner said the cleaners are also non-toxic, based on ingredients found in foods, cosmetics and other consumer products.

The scientists charged with developing the new decontaminant said they were initially faced with several problems in that chlorine- or lye-based decontamination agents are potentially hazardous and can react with chemical weapons and materials in the environment to form new toxic substances. So if the military needed to decontaminate a large area, the runoff from such chemicals could harm people and the environment.

To solve the problem the researchers said they created the Decon Green suite of decontamination agents, all of which use peroxides as their main ingredient. Peroxides are the same substances contained in many household cleaners and whitening toothpaste.

To bolster their effectiveness, the scientists said they mix the peroxides with bicarbonates or other non-toxic bases to produce peroxyanions — highly reactive ions that can clean just about anything.

That, said the researchers, ensures chemical weapons, such as nerve gas, will completely break down.

A detailed evaluation of the cleansers appears in the journal Industrial Engineering and Chemistry Research.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Chemicals, Consumer Products, Engineering, Other, Toxic Substances0 Comments

Report: Water Around Bhopal Plant Polluted

BHOPAL, India, Feb. 7 (UPI) — Water around the long-closed Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, contains high levels of toxic pollutants, researchers say.

The plant was the site of an accidental release of toxic gas in 1984 that killed thousands of people and exposed an estimated half-million to airborne poisons.

The Central Pollution Control Board reports that underground aquifers around the plant are contaminated with benzene and chloroform, the Hindustan Times reported. Both chemicals can cause headache, nausea and, with high exposure, respiratory problems and coma.

“In some cases, the toxins were found to be several hundred times more than the permissible limits in drinking water,” the agency said.

Chemicals remain stored in the plant. Environmental activists like Sunitra Narain, director of the Center for Science and the Environment, accuse the government of failing to deal with the problem.

“The study shows that the site is highly contaminated,” Narain said. “The focus of the government is to dispose of the stored waste and ignore the site’s contamination. This will not solve the environmental problems from emanating from the UCIL factory.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Chemicals, Drinking Water, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

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