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Houston Ship Channel Clogged with 15,000 Gallons of Beef Fat

The U.S. Coast Guard is working to clear the Houston Ship Channel of thousands of gallons of beef fat that leaked into the busy marine artery from a storage tank Tuesday.

Officials used pitchforks and fishnets to pierce and round up the oily substance.

“Hopefully they’ll finish clean-up efforts by tonight, or if not early in the morning,” said Coast Guard spokesman Richard Brahms, according to the Wall Street Journal.

An estimated 250,000 pounds of tallow spilled from a nearby on-shore storage tank owned by agricultural products company Jacob Stern & Sons Inc. Some 15,000 gallons of the fat streamed into the channel through a storm drain Tuesday, Brahms said.

“When it hit the water it instantly thickened,” Brahms said, as quoted by msnbc.com. “It turned into a thick pattie, which is pretty much what we’re cleaning up now.”

Brahms said the cause of the tank leak is being investigated. Meanwhile, workers are corralling the tallow with boom to open up the channel for ship traffic by early Thursday.

Richard Arnhart, director of the LaPorte region of the Texas General Land Office, said the tallow could pose environmental risks if it washes ashore and smothers marine life. But for now, the fat is not impacting the environment floating on the water.

“Our biggest concern right now is to ensure that this gets cleaned up,” Arnhart said.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Dams & Infrastructure, Industrial Pollution, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 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

Agriculture May Adapt to New Climate Conditions

The farming industry has a rough road ahead. With global warming expected to change precipitation rates and raise temperatures 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, growing conditions will look dramatically different when this century draws to a close.

But the challenges raised by climate change may not be insurmountable. According to a new study, wheat-growers in North America are no strangers to altering their growing practices according to new conditions.

Economists Alan Olmstead of the University of California, Davis and Paul Rhode of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor assessed the ways in which wheat crops in North America spread into new regions with temperature and precipitation differences. Their findings suggest that it will be possible for North American farmers to adapt to the new growing conditions brought on by climate change.

“As global change takes place, adaptation will help solve some of the problems that are created. Scientists and farmers are not going to roll over and not do anything,” Olmstead said, as quoted by Discovery News. “When we look at how great the adaptations were in the past, it gives us a sense of what might be achieved in the future.”

Analyzing data from a county-by-county record of wheat production from 1839 to 2007, Olmstead and Rhode found that conditions are already dramatically different than they were almost two centuries ago: In wheat-growing areas, the median annual temperature in 2007 was 3.7 degrees Celsius (6.6 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than in 1839, and average precipitation was halved.

Farmers adapted according to geographic changes as well.

“Wheat moved much farther west. It moved farther north and it moved into much harsher climates — drier and colder,” Rhode said.

As settlers relocated to new areas, they introduced new strains of the crop depending upon the conditions.

Baenziger believes that experts will have enough time to develop new varieties of crops as North America grows wetter and warmer. But he does fear that the new climate will bring more unpredictable extremes.

He also says other parts of the world may face bigger obstacles.

“I’m optimistic about wheat production in the U.S.,” he said, according to Discovery News. “I’m far less optimistic about what it means when it gets hotter and drier in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Posted in Farming & Ranching, Food Industry, Global Warming0 Comments

Texas Farmers, Pecan Growers Blame Vegetation Death on Power Plant

Environmentalists, scientists, plant specialists, and farmers say that sulfur dioxide from a Texas coal-fired power plant is causing extensive swaths of vegetation death in the region.

Pecan growers have reported plant devastation near the Fayette Power Project, a 30-year-old facility in Ellinger, Texas. They say the power plant, which is operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, emits sulfur dioxide that has caused thousands of trees to die and nut production to steadily plummet.

“There was an environmental catastrophe,” local horticulturalist Jim Berry told MSNBC.

“It wasn’t just the pecan groves,” he said. “It was the entire ecosystem that was under duress.”

Sulfur dioxide has been known to kill plants in other parts of the country, AP reports.

The Lower Colorado River Authority claims that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the plant is responsible for the dying trees, blaming the damage on recent droughts instead.

The Environmental Protection Agency toured some of the farms and is currently reviewing data, AP reports.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Industrial Pollution, Plants, Algae, & Fungi (Botany)0 Comments

Moon of Saturn May Have Hidden Ocean

GREENBELT, Md., Oct. 7 (UPI) — A moon of Saturn that should be frozen solid may have liquid oceans, thanks to a “wobble” it experiences as it orbits the ringed planet, researchers say.

With temperatures around 324 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the surface of Enceladus is indeed frozen, but in 2005 NASA’s Cassini spacecraft discovered a giant plume of water gushing from cracks in the surface over the moon’s south pole, suggesting there was a reservoir of water beneath the ice, a release from NASA’s Goddard Space Center said Thursday.

Analysis of the plume by Cassini shows the water is salty, indicating the reservoir is large, perhaps even a global subsurface ocean.

Scientists estimate the south polar heating is equivalent to a continuous release of about 13 billion watts of energy.

Researchers say tidal heating may be keeping Enceladus warm enough for liquid water to remain under its surface.

Enceladus’ orbit around Saturn is slightly oval-shaped and the moon moves closer in and then farther away as it travels around the planet. The fluctuating gravitational tug on Enceladus causes it to flex slightly, and the flexing, called gravitational tidal forcing, generates heat from friction deep within Enceladus.

Also, the moon’s rotation as it orbits may not be uniform, scientists say, and additional heat caused by this “wobble” could be five times as much as that created by tidal heating.

The extra heat makes it likely that Enceladus’ ocean could be long-lived, significant to a search for life on the orbiting moon, because life requires a stable environment to develop, NASA scientists say.

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 Other, Tidal0 Comments

City Gardens Could Be Contaminated

INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 27 (UPI) — As U.S. city dwellers turn more and more to home gardens to ease their monthly food bills, an expert warns urban soils may be seriously contaminated.

A scientist at the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis says city soil may be contaminated with lead and advises investigating the legacy of contamination in soil before planting and eating, a university release said.

“Most surface contamination in urban settings like Baltimore, Brooklyn (in New York City), Detroit or Indianapolis is from harmful metals, especially lead, and tends to be found near roadways, older homes or lead smelters,” geochemist Gabriel Filippelli, professor of earth sciences at the university, said. “Sources of contamination can be automobile exhaust, degraded paint, tire and vehicle debris, industrial emissions or other products of human technology.”

Filippelli urges urban gardeners to study a map of their metropolitan area and determine potential soil contamination risk by proximity to busy streets, major roadways, freeways, dilapidated painted structures or older industrial facilities.

“Urban gardens are powerful tools for personal health and for neighborhood revitalization,” Filippelli said. “These plots should be encouraged but need to be tended with special care to ensure that lead does not adhere to the food children and adults are consuming.

“Environmental awareness can ensure that a garden is a healthy place to work and that food is safe to eat and share.”

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 Other, Soil Contamination0 Comments

City Gardens Could Be Contaminated

INDIANAPOLIS, Sept. 27 (UPI) — As U.S. city dwellers turn more and more to home gardens to ease their monthly food bills, experts are warning that urban soils may be seriously contaminated.

Scientists at Indiana University say city soil may be contaminated with lead and they advise investigating the legacy of contamination in soil before planting and eating, a university release said.

“Most surface contamination in urban settings like Baltimore, Brooklyn (N.Y.), Detroit or Indianapolis is from harmful metals, especially lead, and tends to be found near roadways, older homes or lead smelters,” geochemist Gabriel Filippelli, professor of earth sciences at the university, said. “Sources of contamination can be automobile exhaust, degraded paint, tire and vehicle debris, industrial emissions or other products of human technology.”

Filipelli urges urban gardeners to study a map of their metropolitan area and determine potential soil contamination risk by proximity to busy streets, major roadways, freeways, dilapidated painted structures or older industrial facilities.

“Urban gardens are powerful tools for personal health and for neighborhood revitalization,” Filippelli said. “These plots should be encouraged but need to be tended with special care to ensure that lead does not adhere to the food children and adults are consuming.

“Environmental awareness can ensure that a garden is a healthy place to work and that food is safe to eat and share,” he said.

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 Other, Soil Contamination0 Comments

Satellites Confirm World Mangrove Losses

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 (UPI) — A decline in the world’s mangrove forests has been confirmed through comprehensive and exact data gathered by orbiting satellites, scientists say.

Scientists from the U.S Geological Survey and NASA say the area covered by mangrove forests, among the most productive and biologically important ecosystems of the world, is 12.3 percent smaller than earlier estimates, research published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography reveals.

The forests of trees, palms and shrubs, which grow at tropical and subtropical tidal zones across the equator, have adapted to challenging environmental conditions, thriving in regions of high salinity, scorching temperatures and extreme tides, researchers say.

Increasing human activity and frequent severe storms have taken their toll, however, resulting in a loss rate for mangrove forests higher than the loss of inland tropical forests and coral reefs, the new data shows.

“The current estimate of mangrove forests of the world is less than half what it once was, and much of that is in a degraded condition,” Dr. Chandra Giri from the USGS said. “It is believed that 35 percent of mangrove forests were lost from 1980 to 2000, which has had an impact on the coastal communities that use mangrove forests as a protective barrier from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis.”

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 Natural Disasters, Other, Tidal0 Comments

High Bacteria Levels Close Mass. Beaches

BOSTON, Aug. 13 (UPI) — High bacteria levels at many beaches along the Massachusetts coast resulted in them being closed to swimming Friday, state officials said.

Three state-run beaches — Tenean Beach in Dorchester, Carson Beach in South Boston, and Wollaston Beach in Quincy — were posted closed because of the bacteria enterococcus, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms similar to E. coli, The Boston Globe reported.

Beaches in 14 other Boston area communities have been posted closed in the past several days due to high bacteria counts, a state Web site said.

Department of Conservation and Recreation spokeswoman Wendy Fox said it usually takes one tidal cycle, 12 hours, for the bacteria to wash away, but it could take two to four cycles at Wollaston.

“Wollaston is different because it’s very wide, very shallow, and very protected,” she said.

There are four storm drains that empty into the water at Wollaston, making it more susceptible to bacteria, Fox said.

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 Conservation, Other, Tidal0 Comments

Heat Wave Kills Clams, Crabs in Japan

TOKYO, Aug. 4 (UPI) — A heat wave has caused mass deaths of clams and crabs in Tokyo Bay, ecological researchers say.

Scientists from Toho University say they believe the die-off of up to 80 percent of baby-neck clams was due to lack of oxygen when the extended heat wave accelerated the decomposition of marine algae, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

A Toho graduate student noticed the phenomenon July 28, prompting an urgent study.

Large amounts of edible green algae called sea lettuce grow every year on tidal flats in the bay.

Researchers think the algae dissolved abruptly as the heat wave warmed waters in the bay, resulting in less oxygen in the water and making it deadly for certain species of clams and crabs.

Weather records show the average temperature in the Tokyo area this year has been 5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

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 Other, Tidal0 Comments

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