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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.

* * *

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.

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NRDC’s Larry Levine describes the successful, decades-long battle to clean up General Electric’s toxic PCBs from the Hudson River and gets a tour of the cleanup project with EPA.

From LinkTV:

An original investigative report by Earth Focus and UK’s Ecologist Film Unit looks at the risks of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale. From toxic chemicals in drinking water to unregulated interstate dumping of potentially radioactive waste that experts fear can contaminate water supplies in major population centers including New York City, are the health consequences worth the economic gains?

Marcellus Shale contains enough natural gas to supply all US gas needs for 14 years. But as gas drilling takes place, using a process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” toxic chemicals and methane gas seep into drinking water. Now experts fear that unacceptable levels of radioactive Radium 226 in gas development waste.

Fracking chemicals are linked to bone, liver and breast cancers, gastrointestinal, circulatory, respiratory, developmental as well as brain and nervous system disorders. Such chemicals are present in frack waste and may find their way into drinking water and air.

Waste from Pennsylvania gas wells — waste that may also contain unacceptable levels of radium — is routinely dumped across state lines into landfills in New York, Ohio and West Virginia. New York does not require testing waste for radioactivity prior to dumping or treatment. So drill cuttings from Pennsylvania have been dumped in New York’s Chemung and other counties and liquid waste is shipped to treatment plants in Auburn and Watertown New York. How radioactive is this waste? Experts are calling are for testing to find out.
New York State may have been the first state in the nation to put a temporary hold on fracking pending a safety review, but it allows other states to dump toxic frack waste within its boundaries.

With a gas production boom underway in the Marcellus Shale and plans for some 400,000 wells in the coming decades, the cumulative impact of dumping potential lethal waste without adequate oversight is a catastrophe waiting to happen. And now U.S. companies are exporting fracking to Europe.

From HEAN:

The Health and Environment Action Network (HEAN) is a national and locally driven effort committed to securing the right of all people to clean air and water. A project of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (the Alliance) and funded through a grant from the W.F. Kellogg Foundation, HEAN’s goal is to identify health risks from air and water pollution and mobilize community solutions.

At HEAN’s four partner sites around the country, volunteers use Eco-Pacs (mobile pollution sensors, GPS devices, and cameras) to measure air and water pollution in the community. Communities use these measurements, mapped on Google Earth images, with pictures and videos to tell their community’s environmental health story and formulate strategies to address environmental hazards.

Through HEAN, the Alliance and its partner sites are encouraging national and local action to improve the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the health and well-being of communities.

 

 

From PRI’s “The World”:

Robert Law raises sheep and grows sugar beets, wheat, barley oats and rye on his farm about an hour north of London.

It’s a big operation set on nearly 4,000 acres of rolling hills near the town of Royston. One key ingredient makes it all flourish — nitrogen fertilizer. Law said he uses it for almost all his crops, because his land is inherently very low in naturally-available nitrogen, which plants need to thrive./p>

Law is hardly alone. The invention of nitrogen-based fertilizer in 1909 helped fuel a global agricultural boom, and it’s been crucial in feeding a growing population ever since.

But a growing number of scientists say that boon to our food supply has come at a big cost — massive, nitrogen-based pollution.

Mark Sutton, of the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom, said the threat to the environment is large

“We’ve known for many years that using nitrogen for fertilizer is a great thing for farming to increase productivity,” Sutton said. “But there’s a whole range of threats resulting from this nitrogen leaking into the environment.”

Nitrogen is an inert gas that’s necessary for life. But we’re changing it into forms that are harmful, overloading the environment with it, and throwing the natural nitrogen cycle out of whack, Sutton said. Nitrogen compounds running off farmland have led to water pollution around the world, while nitrogen emissions from industry, agriculture and vehicles make a big contribution to air pollution.

Sutton said the cost is immense. Last year he was part of a team of 200 scientists from 21 countries who studied the problem in the European Union. They calculated the dollar value of the damage from nitrogen pollution at between $90 billion and $400 billion per year.

That’s “a massive number,” Sutton said.

The cost comes to both the environment and human health. For instance, Sutton said, particulate air pollution caused in part by nitrogen shortens the lives of many Europeans by more than a year. Overall, the EU report estimated that the cost of nitrogen pollution in the EU is more than double the value that nitrogen fertilizers add to European farm income.

“So these are significant issues,” Sutton said.

The EU study is the first to calculate these costs in Europe. But Alan Townsend, an ecologist at the University of Colorado, insists nitrogen pollution is “unquestionably” a global problem.

The U.S. is also a major hotspot, and big problems are emerging in China, Southeast Asia and Latin America. The impacts of nitrogen pollution can be hard to recognize. Big environmental disasters like oil spills tend to grab all the attention, Townsend said, but “there is essentially a nitrogen spill everyday.”

The irony is that in the right places and chemical forms, nitrogen is valuable stuff. Every ounce of fertilizer that runs off a field into a river is a waste of resources and money. But Townsend said it’s a problem that shouldn’t be that hard to solve.

“This is not one of those problems where we sit around scratching our heads and say, ‘Man this is going to be a disaster, how are we going to deal with it, there’s nothing we can do,’” he said. “A lot of the solutions are right in front of us. It’s just about moving down that path.”

That path includes increasing the use of technology to cut nitrogen pollutants from power plants and vehicles, which is already widely used in the U.S. and Europe.

Cutting nitrogen pollution from food production is a more complicated challenge, but Townsend says on the farm field itself, it comes down to a simple principle: use fertilizer more efficiently.

“We have to approach it as an efficiency problem,” he said. “How do we maximize the benefits that we’re going to get from this stuff and minimize the unwanted consequences?”

Law is trying to rise to that challenge. He prides himself on running a farm that’s not only productive, but environmentally sensitive.

His tractor now sports a small computer console that his farmhands use to ensure each field gets only the exact amount of fertilizer it needs, depending on the crop, the season and the weather.

“We just program each individual field as we come to it,” said farm worker Mark Moule. ”Just press start and finish and one minute you’ll be putting 50 kilos on per hectare, next minute it’s 150.”

That kind of precision helps reduce the amount of nitrogen that runs off farm fields into nearby streams. It can also help save money on fertilizer.

But this kind of technology is expensive, and many smaller farms can’t afford it.

For his part, Law is willing to look for even more efficient ways to use fertilizer. But he warns that Britain and the rest of the world face a growing challenge when it comes to feeding a growing population.

“The area available for farming in this country is getting smaller each year,” Law laments. “Roads are being built, towns are being built.”

It’s a global trend — less farmland and more mouths to feed. And that will only add to the challenge of getting rid of the excess nitrogen we’ve been putting into the environment.

Listen to the story and get more information here.

From Huffington Post:

The U.S. Navy is asking government investigators to suppress information concerning the toxic water scandal at the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune, according to a letter obtained Thursday by The Huffington Post.

The letter, signed by Maj. Gen. J.A. Kessler of the Marine Corps and dated Jan. 5, 2012, asks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry to withhold from a forthcoming report details about the whereabouts of water lines, wells, treatment plants and storage tanks on the North Carolina military base — in the name of national security.

“The Marine Corps understands the need to share information with the scientific community,” writes Kessler, the Marines’ assistant deputy commandant for installations and logistics. “Prudence requires, however, that information sharing be within the rubric of responsible force protection.”

Government watchdogs and environmental advocates said they interpret the letter as further evidence of a Navy effort to evade culpability for what many call the worst and largest drinking water contamination in U.S. history.

Congress assigned the disease registry to trace when, where and at what levels Camp Lejeune’s drinking water was tainted with toxic industrial chemicals from the late-1950s to the 1980s. The research is a prerequisite for a series of health studies exploring links between chemical exposures and what appears to be increased levels of disease among former Camp Lejeune residents, including male breast cancer and childhood leukemia.

As part of its research, the disease registry must map the entire water system on the base, past and present. And for the findings to be credible, the registry must release all of the information, so other scientists can review or replicate the results. The Navy’s pressure could stymie that effort.

“This is exactly what happens when you have one federal agency investigating another,” said retired Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, the central character of a new documentary, “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” which tells the Camp Lejeune contamination story.

Ensminger added that the information the Navy seeks to suppress has been in the public domain for decades, including in print materials distributed by the Marines. “Anyone with Google Earth can zoom in on Camp Lejeune and see those red and white checkered tanks popping out of the housing areas,” said Ensminger, who lost his 9-year-old daughter Janey to a rare type of leukemia. Janey was conceived at Camp Lejeune.

Ensminger and other advocates said they are concerned that the letter represents another maneuver by the Navy to cover up its actions and inactions, and to delay justice for the estimated 1 million Marines and family members who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune over 30-odd years.

As the documentary explains, base officials received multiple warnings from 1980 to 1984 that tests of the drinking water showed toxic chemicals including the solvents trichloroethylene (TCE) and perchloroethylene (PCE), and the fuel additive benzene. Yet the first contaminated well wasn’t closed until late-1984, when the co-owner of an outside lab that had conducted three of those tests notified North Carolina environmental officials. By the end of 1985, 10 more contaminated wells had been closed.

The Marine Corps denies any delay or wrongdoing. TCE, a metal degreaser, and PCE, a dry-cleaning solvent, were unregulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act when they were discovered in water, Capt. Kendra N. Hardesty, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, told HuffPost in an email.

“The test results varied between drinking water samples collected at different times,” Hardesty added. “Base officials were confused and unable to immediately identify the source of the chemicals.”

Legislation is currently pending in the House and Senate that seeks to provide healthcare to Camp Lejeune residents suffering as a result of exposure to the contaminated drinking water. The Senate bill passed the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs over the summer and awaits further action. Legislators are on the hunt for offsets to cover its $340 million price. The House version of the bill, named after Janey Ensminger, has yet to move out of committee.

For Richard Clapp, the Camp Lejeune controversy triggers a bit of deja vu. Decades ago, the cancer expert at the Boston University School of Public Health helped link well water contaminated with TCE and PCE to an unusual number of childhood leukemia cases in Woburn, Mass. — a battle that became the basis of the book and movie, “A Civil Action.”

He recalled his first thought when those same two chemicals “popped up” in the Camp Lejeune water: “Here we go again.”

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From Youtube:

“Trouble is brewing along the Ohio River. For years DuPont has been making products with Teflon and simultaneously pumping its key ingredient, C8, into the local water supply. C8 has been linked to Cancer and birth defects, but little is being done to remedy the situation.” Created by Maria Averion, Lauren Malizia, Mike Burden and Trevor Carmick

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.

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Image from Flickr.

From NPR:

For the first time, a government study has tied contamination in drinking water to an advanced drilling technique commonly known as“fracking.”

The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft study Thursday tying the technique, formally called hydraulic fracturing, to high levels of chemicals found in ground water in the small town of Pavillion, Wyo. EPA scientists found high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and synthetic glycol and alcohol, commonly found in hydraulic fracturing fluid.

The gas industry and other experts have long contended that fracking doesn’t contaminate drinking water. The EPA’s findings provide the first official confirmation to the contrary.

In hydraulic fracturing, companies inject chemicals deep underground at high pressure to blast fractures in formations to make the gas flow faster.

Fracking has helped spawn a gas boom across the country, which President Obama supports as a key to the country’s energy security. But many experts have raised concerns about a wide range of environmental risks.

In many areas across the country, people who live near gas production have complained that their wells have been contaminated.

People in Pavillion, located on the Wind River Indian Reservation, contacted the EPA three years ago, complaining that their water smelled and tasted bad.

The agency started sampling drinking water wells in 2009 and found low levels of methane and other hydrocarbons in most of those wells. Although the levels did not exceed drinking water standards in most cases, the agency recommended that people get other sources of water for drinking and cooking, Encana, the company which drilled the wells, started providing water. The company says it provides drinking water to 21 households at a cost of about $1,500 per month.

The agency was concerned that higher concentrations of some of the chemicals might be lurking elsewhere in the aquifer.

So EPA researchers drilled two wells and found lots of chemicals, which could be tied to drilling. For example, they found levels of benzene, which is known to cause cancer and other health effects, far higher than safe drinking water standards. The presence of other chemicals — like synthetic glycols and alcohols — persuaded them that the contamination was likely coming from fracking.

“Alternative explanations were carefully considered to explain individual sets of data. However, when considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing,” the EPA reports says.

The EPA has yet to find those synthetic chemicals or benzene in private or public drinking wells. However, an EPA scientist said that the agency doesn’t know how contaminants might move in the aquifer, so it’s concerned about what will happen to the drinking water wells over time.

“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver.

Read more and listen to the story here.

From Science:

Pharmaceuticals in drinking water: it’s a made-for-TV topic that can stir up public outcry faster than you can say “barely detectable residues.”

With little data on how much excreted and dumped medicines are in the environment, and even less showing a cause-effect relationship between an active ingredient and an adverse effect, researchers, health and environmental agencies, and water-quality regulators have been playing hot potato with the question for decades. But now it’s getting serious attention from the European Commission and some pharmaceutical companies. A conference convened with the University of Verona met at the Royal Society of Medicine here on Monday to discuss whether increased monitoring of medicines’ effects on the environment, or “ecopharmacovigilance,” warrants more intense scrutiny, and what, if anything, can be done to green an increasingly drug-dependent world.

“Pharmaceuticals are new pollutants,” said Yves Levi of the University of Paris-Sud. What makes them different, he said, is that the whole point of a drug is to have a very targeted effect from the lowest dose possible. Doctors and pharmacists should keep in mind the potential for unintended exposure, said Christian Daughton of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, comparing drug waste in water to doctors prescribing a cocktail of unknown medications to healthy people at random.

Weighing the benefit of expensive water cleanup procedures is tough to do when you don’t know much about the risk of environmental exposure. Only a few studies have shown cause-effect relationships. For instance, wide use of the animal growth promoter avoparcin, which chemically resembles vancomycin, is believed to have enabled the evolution of vancomycin-resistant enterococci, which can cause intestinal infections. And in several rivers around the world, endocrine disruptors such as ethinyl estradiol (EE2), the main component in most oral birth control pills, have been linked to the feminization of male fish. (Some research questions whether this has any effect on the fishes’ ability to reproduce, however.) No studies have shown any effects on human health or on developing fetuses, potentially the biggest causes for concern.

While some governments have been concerned, E.U. leaders have not seen pharmaceutical pollution as a priority in the past. Right now, the European Commission requires an environmental risk assessment to be performed prior to drug approval. For veterinary products, approval can be denied based on environmental hazard (although this has never happened). Human medicinal product approval cannot be denied for this reason.

But Sweden, for one, is taking the issue seriously. Over the past decade, Sweden has begun monitoring the environment for approved pharmaceuticals and instituted a national classification system that ranks drugs based on their possible toxic effects and potential to build up, or bioaccumulate, in the tissues of organisms. The government disseminates this information to doctors and pharmacies (state-owned in Sweden) to encourage environmentally sound decisions. At the conference, Åke Wennmalm of the consulting agency Sustainpharma in Stockholm presented part of a new, expanded classification system that analyzes the environmental impacts of a drug—where data are available—as it travels through manufacturing, disposal, and human waste. But Sweden does not set threshold limits for any drug.

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An amazing and in-depth story from California Watch:

The Martin family lives 10 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, in a neat yellow house in a city called Maywood.

Starting a few blocks from their home, nearly 2,000 factories churn out Southern California’s hot dogs, pesticides, patio furniture and other products. Trucks rumble off the I-710 freeway into sprawling freight rail yards. Odors of rotting animal carcasses waft through the family’s windows on hot summer nights.

The Martins also have endured years of illness.

From the time Anaiz Martin was born until she was a toddler, her father would carry her in his arms, his big mustache tickling her baby cheeks. This simple embrace carried a haunting consequence. By age 3, Anaiz weighed just 19 pounds and could barely raise her head. Her parents said they were told by doctors that Salvador Martin’s mustache probably held sickening levels of lead from his plating factory job.

The heavy metal attacked her neurological system, permanently robbing her of critical learning skills.

Two decades later, her family’s woes continue. Anaiz, now 21, her mother and siblings – Adilene, 22, and Sal Jr., 18 – have suffered irritable bowel syndrome, an ovarian cyst, skin rashes, chronic nausea, diarrhea, asthma and depression.

Their mother, Josefina, frets constantly about what she thinks are likely causes: the air they breathe, the ground beneath their home and, most of all, the gunky black, brown or yellow water that has intermittently run from their faucets for years.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t take it anymore,’ ” Josefina, 45, said during an interview in the summer of 2010. “I try to keep myself up and going, but I am really upset all the time. I just want to know what’s going on with my family and all of this contamination.”

The USC Annenberg Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism and California Watch commissioned tests to measure the family’s exposure levels to dangerous metals and industrial byproducts.

Americans have been randomly sampled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 30 years for chemicals linked to cancer, developmental disabilities and other problems, in a process known as biomonitoring. But some experts say one group has not been adequately sampled: people living in the shadow of industry.

The Martin family is among millions of Americans in similar circumstances – forced by their meager wages to live near industrial areas, including aging smokestacks, landfills, locomotives and other potential hazards. Yet because government officials make little attempt to dig deep into toxic exposure in ordinary people, it is impossible to know if they are unique or part of a much larger potential problem in hundreds of neighborhoods across the nation.

* * *

The Martins’ home and their small city sit eight miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, at the crossroads of an American manufacturing and freight-hauling juggernaut. About 1 square mile, Maywood is the state’s most densely populated community. Nearly 50,000 residents – 98 percent Latino – are squeezed into aging apartment blocks and cozy tract houses between a smorgasbord of pollutants.

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From the Sacramento Bee:

On a crisp winter day, look east from Orosi for a world-class view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada and California’s purest water on ice.

The snow melts, rushes down through granite canyons to reservoirs and eventually turns farmlands green in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

But somewhere between the glistening snowpack and the verdant countryside, a dangerous change takes place. The underground water becomes tainted with chemicals called nitrates. And the contamination winds up in tap water.

The county’s $4 billion farming industry is the prime suspect. And, since Tulare County is the biggest dairy county in the nation, cows and their prodigious waste often get most of the blame.

The animals create more waste than all the people in Los Angeles, says Elanor Starmer, San Francisco-based regional director of the nonprofit advocacy group Food & Water Watch. None of this nitrate-laden dairy waste is treated.

“I don’t believe there is any way to manage that much waste,” she said “It’s pretty obvious.”

But scientists haven’t conclusively shown that it’s the main source of the problem. A leading ground-water scientist, Thomas Harter of the University of California at Davis, suspects farm fertilizers, which have been applied for more than six decades. He is studying the sources of nitrates in the Valley.

He has heard the theories, like the one that says nitrates from decomposing trees and brush come streaming out of the Sierra Nevada. Another one says nitrates are carried in an upwelling of water deep beneath the Valley floor.

Harter says he doesn’t expect to find any mystery sources. The nitrates appear to come from farm fields, he said.

Although they also come from human sewage, “The largest source of nitrate in groundwater in this region is fertilizer and animal manure,” he said.

Not so fast, say farmers. Septic systems around rural towns are much closer to the drinking-water wells than most agriculture, they say.

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Former EPA administrator Carol Browner explains why clean air and water are good for America’s economy.

From The Fresno Bee:

From her living room window, Valeriana Alvarado can see the Friant-Kern Canal, where pristine snowmelt flows to farm fields.

She loves walking along the canal, knowing the sparkling water will irrigate oranges, peaches and grapes that keep her farmworker family employed.

But she wouldn’t mind getting some of that irrigation water at the drafty two-room trailer where she lives with eight family members.

“It’s much better water than we get from the tap,” she said through a Spanish interpreter. “It’s not easy for us to buy bottled water all the time.”

The water is often laced with nitrates, a chemical linked to a potentially lethal infant illness as well as cancer.

Rural Valley residents in an area half the size of Maryland live day-to-day wondering if the next drink of water will make their children sick.

As long ago as 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey said nitrates appeared to be a greater threat to ground-water quality than thousands of tons of pesticides.

While on a worldwide investigation of dirty drinking water — with stops in Bangladesh, Uruguay and Namibia — a United Nations investigator visited the Tulare County community of Seville in March. After seeing conditions, the investigator urged state and federal authorities to consider healthy drinking water a human right and clean up the mess.

In a state with the world’s seventh-largest economy, it wouldn’t take a lot of money to clean up the Valley’s small-town water problems — $150 million total for projects on record. San Francisco last year committed the same amount of money to help homeowners and businesses finance solar panels and water efficiency.

But small-town residents face an uphill fight for the healthy drinking water that most Californians take for granted. Townfolk feel they have nowhere to turn. State public health authorities make a habit of inviting them to apply for cleanup funding, then turning them down for technicalities.

Residents, activists, engineers and local officials say the Valley’s small drinking water systems are barely a blip on the state’s radar.

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From the Rock River Times:

On a Sunday in the late 1970s, Mike Molander was performing his assigned duties as a pollution control technician at the Amerock Corporation when he said he witnessed the suspicious pouring of highly toxic materials into an old farmer’s well located at the facility.

The old well head, from a farm that was used on the land before Amerock purchased the property, was where construction was under way for a new addition to the massive plant on Auburn Street, Molander said. The 10-year employee said he witnessed a curious, unexplainable siphoning of nickel and hexavalent chromium liquid from containers into the well head by three employees.

Molander’s job at the time was to collect water samples from around the hardware manufacturing plant for testing, then he was to report the results to the federally-run Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“It was a holiday when nobody was around,” Molander told The Rock River Times in an exclusive interview. “I didn’t know anyone else was in the building. I was walking around while going on my route. The company was building the new tool room with a climate-controlled environment.”

Molander said the expansion featured wall and ceiling construction, but the floor was not yet finished, and the well head was still accessible.

“I heard voices coming from the north end,” Molander said. “I looked over, and here was [sic] these three guys with a container that was used to put chromium and nickel in, about 25 to 30 gallons. Those containers held very, very toxic waste. They had a lot of that stuff lying around. They had one of those containers with a hose on top, siphoning the fluids from the drum. There was no reason to put fluids into the well head.”

Molander identified two of the three men as maintenance foreman Rollie Lindquist and maintenance lead man John Dahle.

Molander, who possesses a certificate of competency from the EPA to allow him to perform this type of work in a professional manner, has been a whistleblower no one would hear until now. He said during his time at Amerock in his pollution control job, Amerock never had negative citations from the EPA or the Rockford Sanitary Department regarding polluting.

“As part of my job, I had to do Federal Registry testing,” Molander said. “I had to do a week’s worth of samples from all over the building, test them and incubate them in a refrigerator. I recorded results and did analysis, then filled out a form for my supervisor. It took 21 days to do the testing process, seven days of collecting, seven for incubation and seven for final analysis. The tests were to determine the quality of effluent (waste water) BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand) and COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand). COD tells you basically how much oxygen the chemicals are seeking from the water.”

Water that came from the plating lines and other machines was monitored by Amerock and the EPA beginning in the mid-1970s, Molander said, when new EPA guidelines came out for waste water put into the city sanitation system.

After seeing the siphoning of chemicals from the drums into the well head, Molander took his observations to his boss, Roger Julin, who was in charge of all laboratory, pollution control and chemical research activities.

“Monday, I went and told my boss, Roger Julin,” Molander said. “He said he thought that was unusual. He told me he would look into it and get back to me. A couple days later, I asked him for information. He said he talked to the proper people and that everything was under control and not to worry about it. That, to me, was really strange. It never went anywhere.”

Dissatisfied with the answer he received, Molander said he called the City of Rockford Sanitary District a week later.

“I called the Compliance Department,” Molander said. “I had been down there on a few occasions as part of my job. I left messages, but they never responded back.”

Molander said he left a message for the department supervisor, Violet Chen.

“No one ever got back to me,” he said. “Her husband was in charge of the Rockford EPA at the time. I told them the same thing. I mentioned I had talked to the Sanitary Department to see if I had the right department. They never got back to me. It never went anywhere.”

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