Archives for category: Energy

groundwater pollution

From the AP:

Jurors in the longest state trial in New Hampshire’s history will return to the courtroom this week after a nearly two-week hiatus to hear closing arguments in the state’s groundwater contamination case against Exxon Mobil Corp.

Lawyers for the state want jurors to hold Exxon Mobil liable to the tune of $240 million to monitor and clean up wells and public water systems contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether.

Lawyers for Exxon Mobil counter that MTBE was used to comply with federal Clean Air Act requirements to reduce smog. They also blame any lingering contamination on third parties not named in the state’s decade-old lawsuit.

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The jury will be asked to determine whether MTBE is a defective product and whether Exxon Mobil failed to warn its distributors and vendors about the characteristics and care needed in handling gasoline containing it.

MTBE, experts on both sides agreed, travels farther and faster in groundwater and contaminates larger volumes of water than gasoline without the additive.

If jurors find Exxon Mobil is liable for damages, they must then determine what was the oil giant’s market share of all gasoline sold in New Hampshire between 1988 and 2005. The state contends it was 30 percent; Exxon Mobil says it’s closer to 6 percent.

The state banned MTBE in 2007.

Lawyers for Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil claim state environmental officials knew or should have known about the contaminating qualities of MTBE. * * *

Exxon Mobil is the sole remaining defendant of the 26 the state sued in 2003. Citgo was a co-defendant when the trial began, but it began settlement negotiations with the state on day two and withdrew from the trial. Citgo ultimately settled for $16 million – bringing the total the state has collected in MTBE settlement money to $136 million.

Read the entire article here.  Image from here.

From Living On Earth (portions of radio discussion of the “the health effects of the deepwater disaster”):

GELLERMAN: . . . . It’s been more than six months since BP finally capped its runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But now come reports of a wave of illnesses and puzzling symptoms from some residents along the Gulf Coast. Their blood contains high levels of chemicals found in oil and the dispersants that were used to clean up the mess.

Many who are suffering say firm answers and adequate treatment are hard to come by, and there’s a growing sense of frustration with government agencies and the medical community. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young has the first part of our special report: “Toxic Tide – Discovering the Health Effects of the Deepwater Disaster”.

[HEARING: OIL SPILL COMMISSIONER DON BOESCH Okay, questions and comments from the floor…]

YOUNG: When the National Oil Spill Commission presented its final report in New Orleans, commissioners expected to get an earful from rig workers and fishermen worried about their jobs. Instead they heard speaker after speaker worried about something else: their health.

SPEAKER 1: I worked 60 days on the frontline for BP out here. I’m sick today, nobody wants to take care of me.

SPEAKER 2: The issue is ongoing; people are getting sick and dying.

SPEAKER 3: I have seen small children with lesions all over their body. We are very, very ill. And there’s a very good chance now that I won’t get to see my grandbabies.

YOUNG: Some had worked cleaning up the oil, others lived in or had visited places where oil washed ashore. All complained of mysterious ailments that arose after the spill.

Robin Young was one of those who spoke out. She manages vacation rental properties in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she has lived for 10 years.

When the spill started, Young helped form a citizen group called Guardians of the Gulf. At first, the group was not focused on health issues. Then, people, including Young, started getting sick.

R YOUNG: Headaches, I would get nauseous – and these are all things that I don’t normally experience at all, I’ve always been very, very, very healthy. Then the coughing – I coughed up so much nasty looking mess.

J YOUNG: Young says symptoms started after she spent a day near the water in June and she still hasn’t fully recovered. She heard from others in her community and across the Gulf coast with similar problems.

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J YOUNG: Young’s group paid for more blood sampling. The Louisiana Environmental Action network asked biochemist and MacArthur grant winner Wilma Subra to analyze the results. The blood samples came from cleanup workers, crabbers, a diver who’d been in oiled water, and at least two children who live on the coast. All had reported recent health problems. Subra compared the levels of volatile organic compounds in those samples to a national database of VOC’s in blood compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics.

SUBRA: They’re as much as 5 to 10 times what you’d find in the normal population. And again, these are chemicals that relate back to chemicals in the BP crude and the dispersants.

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SUBRA: I think it’s demonstrating that the chemicals they are being exposed to are showing up in their blood. We’ve briefed the federal agencies on it, tried to get them interested – they are evaluating the results. And I think there’s a lot of frustration in the community members across the coastal areas. They are really requesting answers.

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YOUNG: Solid answers will take time. There’s little in the scientific literature on long term health effects of oil spills. In March the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to start enrolling Gulf spill cleanup workers in a long-term health study. The principal investigator is Dale Sandler, chief of epidemiology at NIEHS. She hopes to track some 55,000 subjects for at least five years.

SANDLER: This will be by far the largest study of individuals exposed during an oil spill disaster that’s ever been conducted. So we have been moving heaven and earth to make this go quickly.

YOUNG: Sandler’s study has funding, thanks in part to BP. The study is a few months behind its original schedule. But researchers face another hurdle that may prove more difficult. Signing up tens of thousands of participants and getting people to accept results depends on credibility and trust. After the BP spill and Hurricane Katrina, trust is in low supply on the Gulf Coast. Here’s how Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kinnon sums up the attitude.

KINNON: The bottom line is very few people trust governmental agencies. They think there’s this incestuous relationship between BP and the government, and I tend to agree with them.

J YOUNG: And even as Robin Young asks the government to help her community, the plea comes with a note of deep suspicion.

RYOUNG: I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist – that’s what I’m starting to feel like. Because it’s hard to believe that something like this is going on in the United States and no one’s helping.

More . . .

Link to Living on Earth podcast.

Wilma Subra’s analysis of blood samples from sick Gulf Coast residents.

The NIEHS plan for a large-scale, long-term study of cleanup workers.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has just completed an amazing series of reports on the cancer clusters in Western Pennsylvania.  Here is a sample from Day 1 of their 8-day series.

Numerous studies show that southwestern Pennsylvania has poor air quality and a yearlong Pittsburgh Post-Gazette investigation has found that those pollution problems remain far from solved in communities such as Shippingport and Monaca, Bellevue and Sewickley, Masontown and Clearfield, Cranberry and Bridgeville, Pittsburgh and hundreds of others.

At the same time, the Post-Gazette’s review and analysis of state Department of Health mortality statistics shows that 14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict.

Those diseases have been linked to air pollution exposure.

After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from those three diseases is 12,833. That’s still a more than 10 percent higher mortality rate overall than would be expected in the population of approximately 3 million people in 14 counties, based on national risk rates for those three diseases.

More . . .

The Post-Gazette mapped the mortality rates for heart and lung disease and lung cancer for each of 746 municipalities in the 14-county region and found higher rates around many of the region’s 16 coal-fired power plants and 150 other companies considered by the EPA as major stationary sources of pollution emissions. High mortality rates also turned up irregularly in the “plume shadows” of the utilities and industrial sources, that is the downwind area where their emissions can be transported.

The mortality mapping, while not establishing any direct cause-and-effect link to any single or specific pollution source, shows associations that are consistent with accepted scientific health risk models and formulas used by the EPA and other pollution research scientists. It indicates that pollution may play as big a role in the region’s high mortality rates for those three diseases as Pall Malls, pilsners and pierogies.

“The maps do actually form some evidence that reinforces the literature that coal burning does have those effects,” said Conrad Dan Volz, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities and an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health.

He noted that the mortality rates from 2000 through 2008 are “lagging indicators” that could reflect past pollution exposure for the region’s population. But they might also show the health impacts of continuing exposure and that regulations aren’t as effective as they could be.

More . . .

On Sunday morning U.S. Steel finally shut down its Donora mills. By that afternoon, when a rainstorm blew into the valley ending the inversion and clearing the pollution, 22 people had died in Donora and the town of Webster, just across the Mon. Almost half of Donora’s 13,000 residents were sickened, and hundreds were evacuated or hospitalized.

“Dr. Clarence Mills, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati, said at the time that if the inversion had lasted another day, hundreds more would have died and life as we know it would not exist in Donora,” Dr. Stacey said.

In the months that followed, an additional 50 people died in Donora over the number that would normally be expected. And the town’s mortality rate remained significantly higher than that of neighboring towns in the Mon Valley for a decade.

U.S. Steel refused to accept blame at the time and still has not turned over to researchers its archival data related to the fatal smog.

Lawsuits totaling $4.5 million in claims were filed by more than 100 Donora residents against U. S. Steel. All were settled in 1951 for $256,000, according to a new book, “The Polluters,” written by Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter.

“No one got rich,” said Dr. Stacey. “After the lawyers were paid, most people had enough to buy a television set.”

More . . .

Although FirstEnergy sent workers through the affected communities to power-wash the ashy black residue from the exterior of homes, outdoor deck and lawn furniture and vehicles, and cleaned indoor carpeting — and did so at Gracie’s grandparents’ home in Raccoon Township — it did not remove the sand pile where she continued to play daily, and, as was her wont, put things in her mouth.

Then, the lawsuit states, on Aug. 7, 16 days after what had become known in the community as the “black rain event,” FirstEnergy notified local officials and made public announcements recommending that farmers not allow livestock to graze in fields carpeted with the soot and that residents not use or eat from their home gardens for a year. In the weeks that followed, while company workers mowed the affected hay and yards, and harvested and paid for backyard garden produce, Gracie’s long brown hair was falling out in big clumps.

More . . .

Center for Public Integrity: Big polluters freed from environmental oversight by stimulus.

In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.

Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.

Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.

The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.

Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPAexemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.

Some polluters reported their stimulus projects might cause “unknown environmental risks” or could “adversely affect” sensitive resources, the documents show. Others acknowledged they would produce hazardous air pollutants or toxic metals. Still others won stimulus money just weeks after settling major pollution cases. Yet nearly all got exemptions from full environmental analyses, the documents show.

More . . .

From

March 22, 2012 was World Water Day. See how North Carolina citizens came together to protect their waters from coal ash.

It’s no secret that coal is our dirtiest energy source. However, what many people don’t know is that as coal burns, many of its most toxic elements, including heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and chromium, are concentrated in the ash that remains and the sludge that’s scrubbed from smokestacks. This by-product is called coal ash. It’s the second largest industrial waste stream in United States and is essentially unregulated.

From :

 

From EENews:

As President Obama catches up, at least rhetorically, with drilling critics who have pushed for public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, activists are stressing that disclosure is not enough.

In his State of the Union address last night, Obama said he would implement a proposal bouncing around the Interior Department since 2010 to require drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals used when fracturing on public land (E&E Daily, Jan. 25). It was the only specific action he mentioned about how he would develop the country’s vast store of natural gas in shale formations “without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

But activists stress that disclosure alone does not protect health and safety. Once the chemicals are known, they say, officials should move to make sure they are regulated, some would say banned.

“I can’t point to any community where that’s saved lives,” said Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist at Ithaca College, speaking at a conference earlier this month in the Washington area on drilling and public health.

At the same conference, Kathleen Hoke Dachille of the Network for Public Health Law pointed to U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, saying it has been helpful but “not transformative.”

“Disclosure is necessary, but not sufficient,” Dachille, director of the network’s Eastern region, said in an interview. “Detection is not prevention.”

Such sentiments are likely to rekindle suspicions in the oil and gas industry that disclosure is a Trojan horse in its persistent conflict with environmental groups.

“This isn’t the first time these folks have moved the goal posts on us, and we’re not naive enough to think it’ll be the last,” said Chris Tucker of the industry group Energy in Depth. “The bottom line here, at least for some of these groups, is that they don’t want us to produce the resource, plain and simple.”

Industry as a whole has moved grudgingly toward disclosure in the last few years, slowly giving up some of its concerns about revealing trade secrets.

While disclosure has gained acceptance among some companies and state regulators, actual public disclosure remains in its infancy. There is still no database of well-by-well fracturing chemicals that allows researchers to search by chemical or easily see how often a chemical has been used. In many states, public disclosure remains voluntary.

The industry-preferred method of disclosure, a website called FracFocus.org, included lists of chemicals used for 5,200 wells as of October. Operators could upload the data from any well “fracked” after Jan. 1, 2011. But more than 30,000 wells had been drilled in the United States through October (E&ENews PM, Oct. 21, 2011).

Disclosure requirements in Colorado and Texas have yet to go into effect. Colorado starts in April and Texas starts in February. Wyoming has required disclosure since September 2010.

After all the political fights over disclosure, there is little mention of the chemicals actually listed, which include diesel fuel and other carcinogens.

More.

A documentary that examines the April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

From the Denver Post:

Black goo is still seeping into waterways from Suncor Energy’s oil refinery north of Denver, and the latest tests show benzene levels 48 times the limit for drinking water, even downstream of the point at which Sand Creek flows into the South Platte River.

Federal labor officials have launched an investigation of possible worker exposures at the refinery, where tap water also is tainted.

State regulators say they’re working with Suncor to find a way to block the toxic material from burbling into the bed of Sand Creek.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data — from samples taken by Suncor — showed benzene concentrations at 720 parts per billion on Jan. 9 at the point where Sand Creek meets the South Platte, up from 190 on Jan. 6, and 144 times higher than the 5 ppb national drinking-water standard. Benzene is a chemical found in crude oil that is classified as cancer-causing, especially affecting blood.

Downriver on the South Platte, the data show benzene at 240 ppb on Jan. 9, a decrease from 590 on Jan. 6 but still 48 times higher than the standard.

The South Platte River is the main water source for northeastern Colorado and the Denver area.

Spilled contaminants from decades of refinery operations at the site have seeped underground, “and it is snaking through. The pressures change. It finds the path of least resistance, and that’s apparently what has happened: It has found the path of least resistance to get into Sand Creek,” Colorado health department environmental-programs director Martha Rudolph said in an interview last week.

“We were not expecting that to occur,” she said. “If we were expecting that to occur, we would have taken steps to stop it.”

State regulators favor construction of underground clay walls at the creek and the refinery to try to block toxic material before it spreads; vapor-extraction systems to remove it from soil; and pumping of contaminated groundwater — all aimed at preventing further pollution.

They characterized the spill as one where hydrocarbons dissolved in groundwater enter through the bottom of Sand Creek, which carries them into the river. Aerators are being installed on Sand Creek to try to release toxic vapors trapped in water into the air — which is analogous to blowing through a straw in a fizzy drink to release what is trapped in the bubbles.

Preventing further pollution of Sand Creek has become a top-tier priority, Rudolph said. “We need to accelerate our responding to that particular issue — to get it out of Sand Creek, to stop that.”

For utilities such as Aurora Water, which serves 335,000 people, the situation has proved the importance of state-of-the-art water-treatment systems that can remove benzene before water reaches residents’ homes. Aurora Water currently is not drawing from its Prairie Waters intake system, 13 miles downriver, and will assess the upstream seepage before doing so, spokesman Greg Baker said.

Shortly after the spill was discovered Nov. 28, benzene in Sand Creek reached 120,000 ppb, according to state data released after a written request by The Denver Post.

Under Suncor’s property, a monitoring well detected benzene in groundwater at 74,000 ppb, with ethyl benzene at 7,300 ppb (standard is 700), toluene at 110,000 ppb (standard: 1,000), and xylenes at 38,000 ppb (standard: 1,400).

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating both air and water on Suncor property in response to a complaint that workers may have been exposed.

“It’s going to definitely take weeks, by the time we review all the information,” said Herb Gibson, director of OSHA’s Denver-area office. “We have not found any over-exposures. We’re focusing on benzene because that is the chemical that has the lowest exposure limit.”

However, OSHA lacks jurisdiction to look into the situation at the nearby Metro Wastewater plant, where toxic vapors forced workers to wear respirators and the closure of a technical-services building.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From al.com:

Alabama’s coal-fired power plants dispose of almost 15 million pounds of toxic metals in on-site ash ponds, more than plants in any other state. Alabama Power Co.’s Miller Steam Plant in western Jefferson County sends more toxic metals to its ash pond than any other plant in the country, more than 5 million pounds annually.

That’s according to an analysis of data in the U.S. EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory published Thursday by the Environmental Integrity Project, an advocacy organization.

The nation’s attention turned to coal ash ponds three years ago, when a pond associated with the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant ruptured, flooding 300 acres of the countryside with contaminated sludge that inundated homes and fields and flowed into the Emory and Clinch rivers, filling in large areas of the rivers and resulting in fish kills.

In the aftermath of the spill, industry and governmental agencies increased scrutiny of the ponds. Pond usage is one method of disposing of the ash left over from burning coal. That ash contains traces of such metals as arsenic, chromium and lead that occur naturally in the coal. Wet ash is pumped to the ponds, where the water is held so the contaminants settle out of suspension.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said Miller’s No.1 ranking and top 20 rankings for its Gorgas plant in Walker County, its Gaston plant in Shelby County and the Barry plant near Mobile are mostly a function of the size of the plants. Miller is one of the nation’s largest coal-fired plants.

Alabama Power chose to build larger plants that burn more coal, he said, while another utility might have multiple plants that would add up to a similar volume. Sznajderman said the ponds are part of the plants’ environmental controls and the company has a long track record of operating them safely.

“We did have our ash impoundments inspected and received a satisfactory rating and that is the highest rating you can get,” he said. “The fact of the matter is we have operated these ash impoundments for decades to contain these materials onsite at the plant safely. We have a vigorous inspection program to ensure these facilities are inspected regularly.”

In addition to the assessment EPA made of the condition of ash pond dams across the country, the agency also classified ash ponds by the level of hazard posed if dams were to fail.

All but one of the Alabama Power ponds were classified as a significant risk, meaning that, if a rupture occurred, environmental and property damage would result. One ash pond at the Gaston plant in Shelby County’s Wilsonville is classified as a high hazard, meaning that loss of life could occur if a dam broke. All the ponds lie near waterways that receive treated discharge from the ponds.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From VBS TV:

Last winter we decided VBS had to do a story on the Oil Sands of Alberta. So far no American media outlet had comprehensively covered it and even the local press’s approach has left a lot to be desired. No one seemed to even know what it was. It’s strange that as we hit peak oil and the global oil reserves go on the decline, we have heard next to nothing about the fact that Canada, due to improved oil extraction technology and record oil prices, is poised to become a major player in the geopolitical market place. The big question going in is what does this sudden access to previously unobtainable oil mean? Is this our get out of jail free card for the present energy crisis or is it another pipe dream being hyped up by the very corporations and lobbyists who stand to gain the most from it? Traveling through the haze of Ft. McMurray did nothing but fortify our stance on fossil fuel. It’s dirty, expensive, and–most importantly–nonrenewable. Al Gore recently likened the oil sands to a drug pusher, satisfying our jones for quick and cheap energy. Say what you will about pushers (at least they’re not kicking out greenhouse gasses to the tune of 80 million kilograms a day), but we think he’s got us and our jones pretty much square on the head.

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From iWatch News:

Three years into Lisa Jackson’s tenure as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than a dozen formal complaints alleging air pollution is disproportionately harming low-income, minority communities remain unresolved. Each of these complaints has languished — in some instances, for more than a decade — in the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights despite Jackson’s stated commitment to environmental justice.

“We must include environmental justice principles in all of our decisions … especially with regard to children,” Jackson wrote in a January 2010 memo outlining the agency’s top priorities.

But EPA documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and interviews with activists and residents reveal that the administrator’s words have brought little relief to underprivileged communities overburdened with pollution.

The Office of Civil Rights — whose leader reports directly to Jackson — has in its files a total of 38 unresolved complaints dating to July 1994, according to a list published on the office’s website following a Freedom of Information Act request from iWatch News. Fifteen of these OCR complaints involve air pollution.

The EPA did not explain why so many cases remain unresolved. However, a spokeswoman said in an email that “the Agency has made meaningful progress on many of the complaints that remain on its docket.”

Environmental justice advocates are dubious. “The backlog doesn’t seem greatly improved, and it’s not clear what processes they use to evaluate the complaints” said Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer at Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. “Why is that progress?”

Poverty and pollution

Tammy Foster, a 39-year-old housewife turned environmental activist from Corpus Christi, Texas, has had several miscarriages in the 17 years that a complaint alleging discrimination in her community has been pending at OCR. Doctors don’t know why she’s been unable to conceive, she said. “If I had to guess, I’d say living on Refinery Row,” a 10-mile stretch of oil refineries and other industrial plants.

Foster blames emissions from the plants that border the Dona Park neighborhood on three sides for a birth defect that causes her to average four kidney infections per year and for regular outbreaks of hives and blisters. “When I’m gone, I feel great,” she said.

Dona Park, where Foster has lived most of her life, is about 70 percent Hispanic, according to the 2010 census. The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey found that about a quarter of all families in the community live below the poverty line.

In Ford Heights, Ill., a solidly African-American exurb of Chicago, about 40 percent of all families are in poverty, according to the American Community Survey. In April 2006, residents filed a complaint — still unresolved by OCR — against the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for failing to act on Geneva Energy, LLC, which bought a tire-burning power plant located only blocks from a community center that housed a preschool program.

The plant has operated intermittently due to financial and environmental problems that include a long list of air pollution violations. “The only way that you would know [it was running] is that the smoke was in the air,” said Melva Smith-Weaver, who worked at the Head Start program in Ford Heights until 2007.

”There was quite a few children during that time that were asthmatic. You would expect to have out of 102 kids, one or two that are asthmatic, but we had quite a few — maybe 15 to 20.” In 2009, the preschool program moved to new location about a mile away, but middle school students still attend classes just down the road from the plant.

“This facility is clean and safe for the surrounding community,” said Geneva Energy CEO Ben Rose. He acknowledged the air pollution violations but said “there is little evidence that plants such as ours increase asthma attacks.” Rose said it’s “outrageous that this complaint wasn’t addressed immediately” by OCR.

Ford Heights Mayor Charles Griffin agreed. In an October letter to Jackson, he noted that Geneva Energy is the city’s biggest private employer and taxpayer. “This could have been dismissed after a brief investigation, lifting the cloud of uncertainty from the facility,” Griffin wrote.

The Corpus Christi and Ford Heights complaints are among at least 15 Clean Air Act cases pending with OCR; three of these cases date to the 1990s. Twenty-three other pending complaints allege violations of laws governing water pollution, toxic waste and pesticides.

More.

Image from Flickr.

From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration finished crafting tough new rules Friday curbing mercury and other poisons emitted by coal-fired utilities, according to several people briefed on the decision, culminating more than two decades of work to clean up the nation’s dirtiest power plants.

As part of last-minute negotiations between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, the regulations give some flexibility to power plant operators who argued they could not meet the three-year deadline for compliance outlined by the EPA. Several individuals familiar with the details declined to be identified because the agency will not announce the rules until next week.

The new rules will cost utilities $10.6 billion by 2016 for the installation of control equipment known as scrubbers, according to EPA estimates. But the EPA said those costs would be far offset by health benefits. The agency estimates that as of 2016, lowering emissions would save $59 billion to $140 billion in annual health costs, preventing 17,000 premature deaths a year along with illnesses and lost workdays.

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Several experts said the new controls on mercury, acid gas and other pollutants represent one of the most significant public health and environmental measures in years. The rules will prevent 91 percent of the mercury in coal from entering the air and much of the soot as well: According to EPA estimates, they will prevent 11,000 heart attacks and 120,000 asthma attacks annually by 2016.

“I think this will prove to be the signature environmental accomplishment of the Obama administration,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “It will soon mean the end of the smoke-spewing coal power plant as we know it today. At the same time, the administration is trying to add a bit of flexibility to extinguish the bogus claim that these standards could mean lights out.”

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Congress exempted toxic pollution from power plants — which can include arsenic, chromium, lead, formaldehyde and dioxins, among other substances — when it amended the Clean Air Act in 1990. In 2000, under the Clinton administraion, the EPA determined that it should be regulated, but a lengthy legal and lobbying battle ensued.

The EPA finalized the rules Friday to meet the terms of a court-ordered settlement with several advocacy groups that had sued the agency over its 10-year delay in issuing the regulations.

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More.

Image from Flickr.

From The Los Angeles Wave:

While attorneys fight in the courtroom against the County of Los Angeles and several other entities, many residents who lived in and around the shuttered Ujima Village complex are left to wonder whether their health problems are the result of toxic contamination.

Formerly the Athens Tank Farm between the 1920s and 1960s, the site was acquired from ExxonMobil and transformed into an apartment housing complex in 1972, with financing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The site was later sold by HUD to the Los Angeles County Housing Authority and the Community Development Commissioners (the five sitting Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors at the time) for $1.

In 2004, after poor workmanship of the original construction led to deterioration of the units, the Housing Authority tried to solicit developers to purchase, rehabilitate and operate the site; but the selected developer “later backed out of the proposed transaction, identifying gasoline and crude oil in the soil, soil gas and groundwater below Ujima Village,” said a county document on the chronology of village, which was named after the Swahili word for “collective work and responsibility.”

Willie Mitchell, son of Cordia Mitchell, lived on and off at the village with his mother. He last resided there was the year before the county began removing residents from the area.

In 2007, 64-year-old Cordia died following a battle with leukemia. “The doctor told her she had to have picked up from somewhere or that she was born with it,” Mitchell, 46, said. “She stayed at home a lot, she didn’t really work, she did babysitting. … They said she had to be working somewhere like an oil refinery or somewhere there are a lot of chemicals. Leukemia is not in the family at all, neither side.”

Prior to his mother’s passing, “I noticed that a lot of people over there were dying. I just knew something was wrong,” Mitchell added. “I would leave and then come back home and it was a ghost town over there. They were moving people out. We didn’t understand what happened to her when she got sick and how this came about. I noticed people who lived there after so many … years, they would start getting sick. My mom lived there for over 12 years, she was diagnosed in 2005.”

Mitchell said he knows of neighborhood children who have developed irritable skin rashes, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory problems, while elderly residents reported suffering from various forms of cancer.

There was also talk of birth defects. According to Mitchell, he grew up with two girls who were born with one kidney. “It’s not a coincidence, there is something really wrong going on over there that they are trying to cover up for whatever reason,” he contends. “We are tying to find answers.”

A non-smoker, Mitchell said he has bronchitis and experiences severe migraines and itching. Nervousness, he said, may be due to lingering grief over his mother’s death.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m going to scratch my skin off,” he said, “and it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes before I can even soothe it.”

Don Brown, 57, lived at Ujima for approximately five years. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy for stage four cancer of the liver, which has spread to his intestines.

“When I first realized that something wasn’t right was when my neighbor caught pneumonia — a little boy who was about five caught pneumonia. I caught pneumonia twice,” he said. “My neighbor who was on the back side of my apartment, he caught pneumonia and he died. His neighbor, she caught pneumonia. And then a lot of the kids started having respiratory problems.

“We would get information from the mailbox,” he added. “You would go and get the mail and hear Miss So-and-So passed or so-and-so is real sick. You have over 29 people who have died, you have a lot of people like myself who have cancer and a lot of the kids who lived there have respiratory problems. There are a number of women in there who have had miscarriages. There is a real problem here.”

Brown said he learned of his cancer during a routine check-up. The doctor, he said, was astonished by what she found. “For my age and the health that I am, the cancer is rare and she hadn’t seen it before, and where it was … in the backside of my liver. She said it was real unusual.”

At several community outreach meetings, Brown said he and other residents were never warned about the possible health risks that could be associated with the toxic remnants left behind by Exxon Mobil after the former tank farm was acquired by HUD.

When residents began to question county officials about contamination on the site and possible health risks, “it was hushed,” Brown said. “They said there was nothing around us — yet 20 feet from my door, they were drilling holes. You have people dying. No one came over to Ujima Village to rescue us, they just had us there with a bunch of lies. They left us there to fend for ourselves.”

More.

From the Associated Press:

A $35 million settlement between Massey Energy and some 600 southern West Virginiaresidents who blamed the mining company for poisoning their wells with coal slurry finally has court approval.

Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone signed an order declaring the deal reached July 27 “fair, just and reasonable under the circumstances.” Mazzone headed a three-judge Mass Litigation Panel that had been set to try the 7-year-old case against Massey and its Rawl Sales & Processing subsidiary.

Both companies were absorbed in June by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. Under the deal, they admit no wrongdoing.

The order signed Wednesday directs Alpha Appalachia Holdings Inc. to pay up within 30 days. It also schedules a hearing for Dec. 16 to hear from any guardians for minors who have yet to appear and to hear a petition for approval of wrongful death settlements.

Lawyers for both sides remained under a gag order Thursday and could not comment.

The terms of the settlement were supposed to be confidential, but The Associated Press obtained a letter sent to the plaintiffs and reported its contents. The letter explained that Massey had offered $35 million besides the $5 million it had previously agreed to put into a fund to cover medical testing.

The settlement was reached after a marathon session with two judges who were mediating the case while the other three prepared for the trial.

Current and former residents of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg had accused Massey of contaminating their aquifer and wells by pumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into worked-out underground mines between 1978 and 1987.

Slurry is created when coal is washed to help it burn more cleanly. The residents say it seeped out of the old mine workings and into their aquifer, turning their well water varying shades of red, brown and black, and causing ailments ranging from learning disabilities to cancer.

The plaintiffs are now mostly served by a public water system but believe chronic exposure to metals and chemicals are to blame for birth defects and other health problems.

For decades, coal companies in Appalachia have injected slurry into worked-out mines as a cheap alternative to dams and other systems that can safely store or treat it. The industry claims underground injection is safe, but critics say slurry leaches into water tables through natural and man-made cracks in the earth.

More.

Image from Flickr.

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