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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

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

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

Chesapeake Bay to Go on Pollution Diet

The Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday unveiled a restoration plan for the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.

EPA regional administrator Shawn M. Garvin called the agreement with six states and the District of Columbia “the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation” and possibly “number one or number two” in the world, the Washington Post reported.

The comprehensive plan applies to the following areas in the bay’s watershed: Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. All the states and the District submitted individual plans this fall addressing how they hoped to slash pollution runoff into the bay by 2025. EPA compiled these proposals in its plan.

Pollution from farm, urban, and suburban runoff have stifled oxygen levels in the 200-mile-long estuary and harmed fish and oyster populations.

Garvin said EPA may have to “place additional controls on permanent sources of pollution” to counterbalance three potentially problematic areas: New York wastewater treatment, West Virginia’s agricultural sector, and Pennsylvania’s stormwater treatment.

The plan aims to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution by imposing total maximum daily load (TMDL) limits on areas in the estuary’s watershed.

Opponents of the new pollution measures say they will give farmers, developers, and local officials unneeded costs and difficulties. Environmentalists counter that the plan will bring economic benefits to the bay by boosting tourism and fishing.

“This is a very historic moment in the history, and the future, of the Chesapeake Bay,” Garvin told the press.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drinking Water, Groundwater, Springs & Aquifers, Oceans & Coastlines, Policies, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Water Pollution0 Comments

Stephen Baldwin Sues Kevin Costner over BP Oil Machine

Stephen Baldwin is suing fellow actor Kevin Costner over their investments in a machine that BP used to separate oil from water.

Baldwin reportedly owned 10 percent of the Costner-backed company that made oil-separating centrifuges. A federal lawsuit filed in New Orleans, Louisiana Wednesday alleges that Costner and his business partners “schemed” to get Baldwin to sell back his shares of an $18 million deal for BP to purchase the devices in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Costner’s representatives declined to comment, AP reported.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Posted in Courts & Litigation, Drilling for Oil, Environmental Disasters, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Chevrolet Volt Makers Recycle Oil Spill Materials

The makers of the Chevrolet Volt electric car plan to take advantage of leftover cleanup materials from the BP oil spill.

General Motors announced last week that it intends to recycle 100 miles of boom, or plastic oil containment lines, for vehicle parts instead of going to landfills for materials.

More than 2,550 miles of boom were strung throughout the Gulf last April in an attempt to corral oil before it reached shore. According to AP, only one mile of the vinyl-coated polyester or nylon boom is in use today. Much of the rest was incinerated or sent to landfills.

“Creative recycling is one extension of GM’s overall strategy to reduce its environmental impact,” Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety policy, said in a statement. “We reuse and recycle material by-products at our 76 landfill-free facilities every day. This is a good example of using this expertise and applying it to a greater magnitude.”

GM will use the boom to make under-the-hood components of the current generation of Volts. The parts will deflect air around the vehicle’s radiator and will consist of 25 percent recycled boom plastic, 25 percent recycled tires, and 50 percent post-consumer recycled plastics.

The Chevrolet Volt can run about 35 miles on stored battery power before switching to a gasoline engine.

Posted in Cars, Energy, Oceans & Coastlines, Recycling, Reduce & Reuse0 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

EPA Takes Over Texas Carbon Emission Permits

The Environmental Protection Agency Thursday announced its plans to take over carbon dioxide permitting of any new power plants and refineries in Texas, citing the state’s refusal to comply with emissions regulations going into effect Jan. 2.

Texas industries have openly opposed the Obama administration’s Clean Air Act, a program designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They claim that the cuts will threaten productivity, and that the economy, in turn, will take a hit.

The EPA said Thursday that it was reassuming the state’s Clean Air Act Permits because “officials in Texas have made clear . . . they have no intention of implementing this portion of the federal air permitting program,” The Associated Press reported.

“EPA prefers that the state of Texas and all states remain the permitting authority for (greenhouse gas) sources,” the agency said in a statement. “In the same way that EPA has worked with other states and local agencies, the agency stands ready to do the same with (Texas).”

The EPA constructed a framework for carbon emissions regulations in seven other states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming.

The agency also devised a timetable for establishing the cuts for all U.S. facilities and power plants. It plans to propose performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions beginning in July for powerplants and for oil refineries by December. The standards will be finalized in May 2012 for powerplants and November 2012 for refineries.

Gov. Rick Perry spokeswoman spoke out against the EPA’s decision to directly issue air permits in Texas.

“The EPA’s misguided plan paints a huge target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers by implementing unnecessary, burdensome mandates on our state’s energy sector, threatening hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs and imposing increased living costs on Texas families,” Cesinger said, according to the San Antonio Express.

An estimated 167 new or expanding projects would be subject to the EPA takeover. Texas lays claim to more oil refineries, chemical plants, and coal-fired power plants than any other state and produces the most greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution in the country, AP reports.

The new carbon emissions standards were adopted after a 2007 Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases should be classified as pollutants under the Clean Air Act and EPA research in 2009 revealed that the gases have a harmful effect on human health.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Coal, Courts & Litigation, Drilling for Oil, Energy Industry, Global Warming, Laws & Regulations, Oil & Petroleum, Ozone, Policies, Pollution Prevention0 Comments

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