Archives for category: Water

From Los Angeles Times:

One of the most widespread groundwater contaminants in the nation is more dangerous to humans than earlier thought, a federal agency has determined, in a decision that could raise the cost of cleanups nationwide, including large areas of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

The final risk assessment for trichloroethylene by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the widely used industrial solvent causes kidney and liver cancer, lymphoma and other health problems. That lays the groundwork to reevaluate the federal drinking-water standard for the contaminant: 5 parts per billion in water, and 1 microgram per cubic meter in air, officials said.

Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of research and development, said toxicity values for TCE reported in the risk assessment released this week may be used to establish new cleanup strategies at 761 Superfund sites, as well as in aquifers supplying drinking water to millions of residents in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys.

The risk assessment had been subject to more than a decade of delays. A 2001 draft assessment that suggested a strong link between TCE and cancer was opposed by the Defense Department, the Energy Department and NASA.

The Pentagon had demanded greater proof that industrial substances cause cancer before raising cleanup costs at more than 1,000 polluted sites.

“This risk assessment is a big deal because it will strengthen protections for people who live and work above TCE plumes — and there are a lot of them — and could force serious rethinking about the extent of cleanup efforts,” said Lenny Siegal, executive director of the Mountain View, Calif.-based Center for Public Environmental Oversight, which posted a letter Monday signed by activists across the country, demanding that the final risk assessment be released. It was released Wednesday.

Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the decision “launches new arguments about what the safety standards should be. In the meantime, people impacted by this pollution can now link their disease to it in litigation with more confidence because the science is no longer in dispute. TCE causes cancer.”

TCE has been discovered in nearly every state but in none more widely than California. Military bases including Camp Pendleton and Edwards Air Force Base have Superfund sites with TCE contamination.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area overlies a checkerboard of underground plumes of TCE, and has high ambient levels of the chemical in the air. More than 30 square miles of the San Gabriel Valley lie in one of four Superfund sites that contain TCE. The San Fernando Valley overlies a large plume grouped into three separate Superfund sites. The former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Orange County sits over a plume several miles long.

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Photo by Jeremy Brooks.

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From Columbus Dispatch:

The long line of tanker trucks waiting to unload at the Devco No. 1 injection well shows that business is good at the underground-disposal site.

When energy companies need to get rid of the millions of barrels of brine — the salty, chemical-laced wastewater that comes out of shale-gas wells — they bring most of it to places like this.

At the Devco well, the brine is injected 8,900 feet below ground, where it is expected to stay forever.

The process has been used for decades in Ohio to dispose of wastewater from fractured and traditional gas and oil wells.

These days, more than half of the brine coming to Ohio injection wells is from the shale-gas fields in Pennsylvania, where drilling has been under way for several years. The disposal industry is expected to grow as Ohio’s shale is exploited.

After rejecting proposals to pass brine through city sewage-treatment plants and dump the wastewater into streams, Ohio officials decided that the state’s 170 injection wells should be the primary disposal method.

“We think they got it right,” said Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. “Put it back where it came from, or deeper.”

It’s a solution that doesn’t sit well with environmental advocates, who say there are too many questions about the chemicals in the wastewater and the amount that will be pumped underground.

Teresa Mills, director of the Buckeye Environmental Network, said she fears that brine will contaminate groundwater, if it doesn’t already.

“First of all, we don’t know all the chemicals that are going down there,” Mills said. “It’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind, and nobody follows it once it’s down.”

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From CNN Health:

Catherine Garceau doesn’t go to the pool anymore. The former Olympic swimmer has trained at many fitness centers over the years that smelled strongly of chlorine. While most would assume that means the water is clean, Garceau now knows it’s just the opposite.

After winning bronze in 2000 with the Canadian synchronized swimming team in Sydney, Australia, Garceau was a “mess.” Her digestive system was in turmoil, she had chronic bronchitis and she suffered from frequent migraines.

Garceau retired in 2002 and began looking into holistic medicine. Experts suggested detoxifying her body to rid it of chemicals, including what fellow teammates used to jokingly refer to as “eau de chlorine — the swimmer’s perfume.”

“As part of my journey to determine the factors that affected my health, I delved into the possible effects of chlorine and discovered some shocking facts,” Garceau writes in the appendix of her upcoming book, “Heart of Bronze.”

Outdoor pool season is ending in many parts of the country, and competitive swimmers are heading indoors for their workouts and team meets. But how safe are the waters they’re diving into? Researchers are examining the longterm effects of the chemicals in pool water.

Chlorine inactivates most disease-causing germs within a fraction of a second. That’s why it’s found in our drinking water as well as 95% of pools in the United States, said Dr. Tom Lachocki, the CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

As Lachocki points out, access to clean water is what often separates first and third world countries. Without chlorine, swimmers are at risk of contracting many dangerous waterborne illnesses. But the chemical compounds formed in pools have some scientists worried.

“When you open up a tap and pour yourself a glass of water, you don’t normally put someone’s backside in it,” Lachocki said. “But in a pool there are people getting into that water. Every time a person gets in they’re adding contaminants.”

Those contaminants — sweat, hair, urine, makeup, sunscreen, etc. — combine with chlorine to form chloramines, said pool consultant and researcher Alan Lewis. Chloramines are what bathers smell when they enter a pool area; a strong smell indicates too many “disinfectant byproducts,” or DBPs, in the water.

Indoor pools create an additional a danger because of the enclosed atmosphere. Volatile chemicals from the water are transferred, often via vigorous activity like a swim team’s kicks, to the air. Without a proper ventilation system, the chemicals can hang around to be inhaled by coaches, lifeguards or spectators.

Some DBPs, like chloroform, are known as trihalomethanes, and are considered carcinogenic, Lewis said. They’ve been linked specifically to bladder and colorectal cancer.

Dr. Alfred Bernard is a professor of toxicology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels and one of the world’s leading researchers on aquatic environments. He has published a series of studies documenting the effects of chlorine and its byproducts in swimming pools.

In June, Bernard published a study in the International Journal of Andrology linking chlorine with testicular damage. Swimming in indoor, chlorinated pools during childhood was shown to reduce levels of serum inhibin B and total testosterone, both indicators of sperm count and mobility. Bernard notes in the study summary that the “highly permeable scrotum” allows chlorine to be absorbed into the body.

Bernard has also substantiated previous studies’ claims of a link between swimming in indoor chlorinated pools and the development of asthma and recurrent bronchitis in children. His 2007 study showed airway and lung permeability changes in children who had participated in an infant swimming group.

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From

In this film, Earthjustice Managing Attorney David Guest talks about the threat to the health and wealth of Florida’s citizens posed by toxic algae outbreaks. The outbreaks are caused by pollutants from sewage, fertilizer and manure that big business pump into Florida’s waterways. Earthjustice, on behalf of several local groups, has filed suit to establish limits on these pollutants that will help end this problem.

Learn more and take action to help clean Florida’s waterways here.

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Description from Culture Unplugged:

“Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” is a film about the “unintended consequences” of farming practices on water quality, soil loss and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, an oxygen-deprived area where fish and shrimp cannot survive. Excess nitrogen, phosphorous and fertilizers essential to the growth of plants are contaminating the nation’s rivers, lakes and aquifers at the same time as precious soils wash away. The film features concerned farmers, scientists and citizens who are seeking solutions that will help meet the goals of an ambitious, food-producing nation while ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of its most precious natural resources

From

Yesterday the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History showed two screenings of “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story”, a documentary which relies on undisputed scientific facts to narrate how fertilizers used by industrial agriculture make their way into the water systems and the Mississippi River, and ultimately create a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite contracting the film, the University had initially blocked the release of “Troubled Waters” and held it from being broadcast Oct. 5 on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), claiming that its narrative was based on questionable science — even as news emerged that vice president for university relations Karen Himle’s husband runs a public relations firm representing agricultural clients in Minnesota. Himle was who initially pulled the plug on the movie airing on TPT tomorrow.Following the initial screening, The UpTake spoke to director Larkin McPhee about “Troubled Waters”, the role that sustainable farming can play in protecting our water systems, and the controversy over the University’s handling of the movie. We also spoke to several panelists who spoke following the screening, including Louisiana marine scientist Nancy Rabalais, sustainable farmer Jack Hedin and the university’s director of the institute on the environment Jonathan Foley.

From Albany Times Union:

Dozens of scientists, including four from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, warned Gov. Andrew Cuomo that it will be practically impossible for municipal drinking water systems to protect against chemicals used in natural gas hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking.

Their letter to the governor, released Thursday, was signed by 59 experts from 18 states and seven foreign countries, included scientists from Cornell University, the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and the State University at Stony Brook.

“We urge the state to reconsider its position that existing water filtration systems provide adequate protection against the risk of hydraulic fracturing, should materials from flow-back fluids migrate to lakes, reservoirs, or groundwater used for municipal water supplies,” the letter states.

Hydrofracking relies on a high-pressure blend of chemicals, sand and water, injected deep underground to break up gas-bearing shale rock formations. Trucks bring in million of gallons of water as well as heavy equipment to each well.

Used drilling water, which can contain benzene and other volatile aromatic hydrocarbons, surfactants and organic biocides, barium and other toxic metals, and radioactive compounds, is later trucked to a disposal site.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is considering rules to permit hydrofracking, has vowed that treated wastewater from drilling could be discharged into rivers only after hazardous substances have been removed, spokeswoman Emily Desantis said.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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See the letter here.

From Chicago Tribune:

Chicago’s first round of testing for a toxic metal called hexavalent chromium found that levels in local drinking water are more than 11 times higher than a health standard California adopted last month.

But it could take years before anything is done about chromium contamination in Chicago and scores of other cities, in part because industrial polluters and municipal water utilities are lobbying to block or delay the Obama administration’s move toward national regulations.

The discovery of hexavalent chromium in drinking water is renewing a debate about dozens of unregulated substances that are showing up in water supplies nationwide. Potential health threats from many of the industrial chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs and herbicides still are being studied, but researchers say there is strong evidence that years of exposure to chromium-contaminated water can cause stomach cancer.

Test results obtained by the Tribune show that treated Lake Michigan water pumped to 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs contains up to 0.23 parts per billion of the toxic metal, well above an amount that researchers say could increase the long-term risk of cancer.

Chicago began quarterly testing for the dangerous form of chromium this year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged cities to track it while the Obama administration wraps up a scientific review — the first step toward a national standard. Until now, the results have not been shared with the public.

Federal officials are being nudged to act by California, which took a three-year look at the science and last month established the nation’s first “public health goal” to limit hexavalent chromium, an industrial pollutant made infamous by the 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.”

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment defines the goal, 0.02 parts per billion, as an amount that reduces the risk of developing cancer to a point considered negligible by most scientists and physicians. Studies show that exposure to the metal also increases the risk of reproductive problems, interferes with childhood development and causes liver and kidney damage.

Echoing their counterparts in other cities where the metal has been detected, Chicago officials stress that local tap water is safe and suggest that if a national limit is adopted, it likely would be less stringent than California’s goal. But the findings raise new concerns about a toxic metal that can pass unfiltered through conventional water treatment.

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From Chicago Tribune:

Though Chicago and other cities have long reported that lead levels in their water meet federal standards, regulators and scientists worry testing methods used for two decades could significantly underestimate consumers’ exposure to the toxic metal.

Recent test results in Chicago may back up those fears: High lead levels were found in drinking water in seven of 38 Chicago homes tested by federal regulators this spring, according to records obtained by the Tribune.

“That’s not really good news,” said Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech who researches lead in water. The testing suggests lead in water could be a “significant human health concern,” he said.

Environmental Protection Agency officials are still analyzing the tests, but the results give credence to concerns voiced by advocates and scientists that lead could be an underestimated health risk in the nation’s drinking water, especially in older cities and suburbs where lead pipe and solder are common.

The results also speak to concerns that utilities can “miss” lead when testing water by using certain permitted techniques, such as flushing pipes the night before samples are taken.

“People don’t really know the extent of the problem,” said Jeffrey Griffiths, a physician who is chairman of a drinking water advisory board for the EPA and a professor of public health and medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Under federal law, local utilities must test water in a relatively small sample of homes. If lead concentrations exceed 15 parts per billion in more than 10 percent of water samples, the utilities must alert residents and try to lower levels. The city of Chicago hasn’t exceeded the lead limit in nearly 20 years.

The allowable amount of lead was set in the 1990s and is based on a level utilities could feasibly meet. It is not a health-based standard, and many health and environment experts think the level allowed is too high.

Experts say there is no safe level of exposure to lead, which has been known to cause diminished IQs in children, even at low levels, and heart attacks and strokes in adults.

“What you really want is zero,” Griffiths said. “Four (parts per billion) is better than 15, but four is still four.”

Water rarely contains lead when it leaves treatment plants, but the heavy metal can leach into water while it sits in or flows through service lines that connect water mains to homes. Pipes and faucets inside homes also can contain lead, as can solder and brass parts used with plumbing materials.

Lead in water doesn’t smell or taste strange, so consumers would likely be alerted to the problem only if they have their water tested or if regulators discover the problem.

To prevent leaching, treatment plants add orthophosphate and other chemicals to water. A chemical reaction causes a white coating to form on the inside of pipes that is meant to stop lead from leaching into the water, but it isn’t always effective.

Water treatment is also complicated. For orthophosphate to protect against lead, the pH of water needs to be within a certain range. But if pH is too high in some water systems, calcium can build up, making valves like those on fire hydrants hard to open.

“You are kind of doing a balancing act,” said Miguel Del Toral, regulations manager for EPA Region 5’s Groundwater and Drinking Branch. “It’s not as simple as just make one change and you are fine.”

If high lead levels persist, a utility may have to replace lead service lines, although recent studies show partial pipe replacements can actually contribute to spikes in lead levels because they disturb lead rust that breaks off or leaches at a higher rate.

In Illinois, 52 water systems have been found to have high lead levels since 2008, according to a Tribune analysis of state records. Last November, New York City alerted residents after 14 percent of samples contained elevated lead levels.

Although the majority of water systems report that homes they test meet federal regulations, some experts think those results are due to outdated testing, government agencies gaming the system, or both.

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From Chicago Tribune:

Trace amounts of sex hormones, prescription drugs, flame retardants and herbicides are being detected in treated drinking water pumped to more than 7 million people in Chicago and its suburbs.

In the latest round of testing prompted by a 2008 Tribune investigation, city officials discovered that more than two dozen pharmaceutical drugs and other unregulated chemicals pass through Chicago’s massive treatment plants.

Little is known about potential health effects from drinking drug-contaminated water, but scientists and regulators increasingly are concerned about long-term exposure, even at very low levels.

“We need to start addressing the cumulative effects that these low-dose exposures could be having on people,” said Thomas Burke, associate dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“There are no quick solutions,” said Burke, who chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that called for a dramatic overhaul of the way the U.S. regulates toxic chemicals. “But we need a new approach that is more responsive to emerging science.”

Like other cities, Chicago must notify the public if its drinking water contains regulated contaminants, including lead, pesticides and harmful bacteria. There is no such requirement if pharmaceuticals and other unregulated substances are detected.

Annual water quality reports mailed last month to people in Chicago and the suburbs noted that the city is testing for substances that aren’t on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of regulated contaminants. A list of results obtained by the Tribune is dated April 11 but wasn’t posted on the city’s website until after the newspaper asked for it last week.

City officials were prompted to start testing for the substances after the Tribune found trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, residue from personal care products and unregulated industrial chemicals in local tap water. Substances found in the city’s latest tests include the sex hormones testosterone and progesterone; gemfibrozil, a prescription cholesterol-fighting drug; and DEET, the active ingredient in bug spray.

The tests also found perfluorooctane sulfonate, an ingredient in Scotchgard stain-fighting coatings; bisphenol A, a hormone-like plastics additive; and tris (2-butoxyethyl) phosphate, a flame retardant chemical.

“Our very awareness of trace amounts of these chemicals comes in large part because we are aggressively conducting research on water quality and safety,” said Tom LaPorte, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Water Management.

Drugs end up in drinking water after people take medicines and residue passes through their bodies down the toilet. Conventional sewage and water treatment filters out some of the substances, or at least reduces the concentrations, but studies have found that small amounts still get through.

Although treated sewage from the Chicago area drains away from Lake Michigan, more than 300 other cities discharge treated waste and untreated sewage overflows into the lake and its tributaries, according to the EPA.

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From The Charleston Gazette:

Despite strong pressure from the coal industry and its political allies, the Obama administration on Thursday finalized new guidance aimed at reducing the environmental and public health impacts of mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has said that “no or very few valley fills” would be approved under new guidance that EPA regional offices will now impose on state regulators for permits under the federal Clean Water Act.

EPA officials said the guidelines — being challenged in court and under fire from Congress — are needed because of a growing body of science that details devastating water quality impacts downstream of large-scale surface mines.

“The science holds up the actions they are taking 100 percent,” said Margaret Palmer, a University of Maryland biologist who has been studying mountaintop removal’s effects on streams and aquatic life. “It is blatant that the biodiversity is just decimated when you have these valley fills above streams.”

The new EPA guidance calls for tougher permit reviews, including more detailed studies of whether mining impacts can be avoided or reduced, new testing of potential toxic impacts of mining discharges, and tough limits on the increases in electrical conductivity, a crucial measure of water quality.

EPA said in a statement that the guidance would not block all mining permits, and cited three examples over the last two years when agency officials worked out acceptable deals with coal operators to approve new mining projects.

“Under this guidance, EPA will continue to work with other federal agencies, state, local communities, and companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation’s waters and people’s health,” said Nancy Stoner, EPA’s acting assistant administrator for water. “We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and this guidance allows EPA to work with companies to meet that goal, based on the best science.”

In the 61-page guidance memo, EPA said that since 1992, more than 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams have been filled by Appalachian coal mining operations. EPA cited an ongoing rate of about 120 miles of streams per year being impacted.

“Further, while precise estimates are limited, the estimated scale of deforestation from existing Appalachian surface mining operations is greater in size than the state of Delaware, or 5,700 square kilometers, predicted to be affected by 2012,” the EPA guidance memo said. “The full cumulative effects of surface coal mining operations at this scope and scale are still largely unknown.”

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From iWatch:

Stand before the pond known here in southwestern Pennsylvania as Little Blue Run, and you’ll see nothing that resembles its bucolic-sounding name.

The one-time stream is now an industrial pond, filled with arsenic-laced waste from a coal-fired power plant. The pond spans nearly 1,000 acres of rolling, rural landscape in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along the Ohio River. Millions of tons of coal ash have landed in the 35-year-old dump, looming over some 50,000 people in southeastern Ohio, held back by a 400-foot-tall dam, that federal regulators have deemed a “high hazard” to human life if it ever let loose.

Here in tiny Greene Township, where the pond consumes more than 10 percent of the total land, Little Blue Run seems a wasteland.

Coal ash, tinted blue, has overtaken the valley, rising each year by a million tons, blanketing the trees so they look like pixie sticks. Residents say dry ash wafts into their yards, its sulfuric smell burning their throats. At night, they hear a swooshing sound as coal ash cascades down a pipe stretching seven miles from the Bruce Mansfield Power Station, in Shippingport, Pa.

“It will keep rising,” says Marci Carpenter, who lives in a neighborhood dotted with vacant properties and abandoned homes, “and soon it’ll be above my house.”

Unless, that is, coal ash is regulated by the federal government.

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From :

Coal ash. It’s a byproduct of electric power plants. Residents near what is believed to be the largest dump site east of the Mississippi have lived with the environmental consequences for years. But now there’s new hope that proposed federal regulation may change the industry’s practices.

From TheStar.com:

Just below the soaring Scarborough Bluffs, 17-month old Piper Clark scoops the fine sand into gloppy pies. Her brother Reed, 4, bravely ventures deeper into the water.

Around them on this hot summer day, bikini-clad girls frolic and tease boys in the waves, while the lifeguard warns them from straying too far out.

Colonies of swallows, warily eyeing the hawks soaring above, cling to the sandy face of the cliff.

Colleen Clark, a nurse, stands watch over her toddlers, her feet in the water, her dress hitched up above her knees.

“Oh sure, I let them go in,” she says, pointing to the green flag indicating the water is safe. “But I wouldn’t let them drink it.”

A few kilometres west of Bluffer’s Park, just below the Gardiner, two adult geese paddle around Keating Channel with their four fluffy goslings

That’s where the Don River spills into Toronto Harbour, spewing sewage as it flows.

It’s also where heavy trucks rumble on their way to the Leslie Spit to dump their loads of asphalt and rusty steel, bricks and rebar — what the city calls “clean fill.”

A boom spreads just beneath the trees where the geese shelter, there to catch the “floatables,” the used condoms, plastic tampon applicators and hypodermic needles that bob among the mini-explosions of methane bubbles.

Unlike Colleen Clark, Mother Goose can’t read the menace in the soupy black water.

Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a criminal lawyer turned, appropriately enough, environmental lawyer, surveys the scene and says, “I’ve been investigating the channel for 20 years, and this is as bad as it’s ever been.

“These carp go all over the lake, the birds migrate,” continues Mattson, as one of the geese elegantly dips its beak into the water. “They’re still part of the diet of northern communities. I wouldn’t want to be the hunter who shoots one of these geese and feeds it to his children.”

This, folks, is your water, what comes out of your tap, what you drink, what you bathe in and, if you aren’t lucky enough to have a cottage, what you swim in.

Some 4 1/2 million humans who have made their homes around Lake Ontario depend on this water — as does the wildlife on, in, above and around it.

“It’s our only source of drinking water,” says Mattson. “We’re very fortunate because, unlike so many other cities, Boston, New York, Vancouver, they don’t have their drinking water at the bottom of their street.

“But think about it: if Lake Ontario became undrinkable, if we had a Fukushima disaster at one of Ontario’s 21 reactors, there would be no alternative potable drinking water. We’d have to build a pipeline to Lake Huron or James Bay or something.”

In the Huron language, Lake Ontario means Lake of Shining Waters.

Stand on the crest of the slope on Jones Avenue, just below the Danforth, and, when the sun hits the water it’s like a mirror.

But of all the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario, which is furthest downstream, is almost certainly the most polluted.

“Your fish warnings are more ominous in Lake Ontario,” says Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller. “If you look at the guidelines for eating fish, you’ll find that the highest level of contaminants is in Lake Ontario.”

Just check out the Environment Ministry’s 2011-2012 “Guide to Eating Ontario Sport Fish.” No kids under 15 and no women considering getting pregnant should even think of a fish fry.

Here’s an appetizing bit: “In the various species of trout and salmon found in Lake Ontario, dioxins, furans, dioxin-like PCBs, mirex, photomirex, toxaphene and chlordane can be elevated in the same fish . . .

“Consumption of species such as walleye, pike, bass and perch is usually restricted because of mercury. In total, 58.6 per cent of the advice given for sport fish from Lake Ontario results in some level of consumption restriction.”

Lake Ontario is the 14th largest lake in the world: 19,529 square kilometres, 1,146 kilometres of shoreline, 244 metres at its deepest.

Which is one reason it’s not a total cesspool, experts say.

Its size and depth help dissipate the bacteria, which our drinking-water filtration plants kill off with chlorine.

But what about the agricultural runoff? The sewage? The industrial sludge? The nuclear waste? The pesticides? Herbicides? Road salt? The toxic by-products of burning medical and municipal waste? The engine oil you poured down the storm sewer? The leftover prescription pills you flushed down the toilet?

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From the Spokesman Review:

When there’s a funeral on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Harold Campbell puts on his grave-digging hat, collects his tools and heads to the cemetery.

Over the past 30 years, the volunteer gravedigger has helped prepare the final resting spots for hundreds of the tribe’s members. Death is a familiar presence to Campbell, who sits with grieving families and blesses burial plots with the fragrant smoke of sage and sweetgrass. Yet one aspect troubles him: Too many Spokane Indians die from cancer.

“I watch them die, young and old,” Campbell said. “I think it’s caused by the radiation.”

The radiation is from the Northwest’s only open-pit uranium mines – an all-but- forgotten chapter of Washington’s Cold War history. Uranium ore was blasted out of the Spokane Reservation’s arid hillsides and sold to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The truckloads of radioactive material that rumbled daily through the reservation helped build the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

The mines closed 30 years ago, but they’ve left a complex legacy of pride, patriotism and radioactive pollution on the 157,000-acre reservation west of Spokane.

After uranium deposits were discovered in the 1950s, entire families drew paychecks from the mines. The work seemed part of a greater cause, a strike against communism. And it brought a flash of prosperity to the impoverished reservation through steady paychecks and mining royalties.

But now there are troubling questions. Many workers labored without adequate safety gear. They brought home dust on their clothing, exposing their families to radiation and heavy metals. Uncovered ore trucks spilled radioactive rock, creating “hot spots” along the highway bisecting the reservation.

With each new cancer diagnosis, people wonder: Is it from the radiation?

It’s a haunting question. Bob Brisbois, the tribe’s executive director, lost five members of his extended family to cancer in a single year.

“Where did I get this cancer from? I never smoked,” Brisbois recalls his mother saying before she died of colon and bone cancer. “I would like to know where I got all this.”

Brisbois’ 40-year-old nephew had the same question. “He swam in the Spokane River below the mine,” Brisbois said. “He ate the roots and berries and wild game.” The nephew died last year of cancer that started in his bladder and spread throughout his body.

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From Denver Post:

As mountain snow starts to melt, trickling toxic acid laced with dissolved metals — arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc — is fouling Colorado watersheds.

Nobody dares try to stop it.

Among the casualties: Peru Creek east of the Keystone ski area has been pronounced “biologically dead.”

State environmental officials also have listed 32 sites along the Animas River in critical condition. Some headwaters of the Arkansas River, too, are “virtually devoid of any aquatic life.”

The source of the contamination is abandoned mines — about 500,000 across the West, at least 7,300 in Colorado. Federal authorities estimate that the headwaters of 40 percent of Western rivers are tainted with toxic discharge from abandoned mines.

Colorado Department of Natural Resources records show 450 abandoned mines are known to be leaking measurable toxins into watersheds. So far, 1,300 miles of streams have been impaired.

But as bad as the damage is, community watershed groups, mining companies and even state agencies contend they cannot embark on cleanups for fear of incurring legal liability.

Under the Clean Water Act, parties who get involved at abandoned mines and accidentally make matters worse — even over the short term — could be vulnerable to federal prosecution for polluting waterways without a permit.

Obama administration officials two years ago promised to break gridlock on this issue, spurring a legislative fix to enable “good Samaritan” cleanups and devoting “significant resources” for watershed restoration.

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From ABC7 News (Fort Detrick):

For years, Rosemary Gruden was worried whether the water from her well and the soil in her garden are safe. She feared they were contaminated by chemical runoff. She considered moving. “I really don’t want to pull up roots and move,” she said.The Grudens live one mile from Fort Detrick. ABC7 has been investigating alleged spraying of the chemical known as Agent Orange at the Fort.“I don’t think it’s safe for people who work there. I really don’t,” she said.Gruden’s father, Charles, was a Detrick test lab worker for 30 years. He died of colon cancer. Her husband, Joe, was an employee at the Fort for 15 years. He suffers from blood cancer.“Frederick has a very high cancer rate and it always has,” Gruden said. “Lots of people have had cancer. Five of my neighbors, close neighbors. And now my husband.”

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