Friday, May 17, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
An affordable housing facility at an old Wisconsin factory is coping with toxic fumes from the building’s industrial past, according to this story from the Appleton Post Crescent newspaper.
An underground ventilation system is the latest step to alleviate recently discovered trichloroethylene (TCE) fumes at the Wire Works Apartments in Appleton. Located beneath the building foundation, the system draws toxic fumes out of contaminated soil at the site and uses fans to discharge the fumes above the building’s roof.
A spokesperson from the Department of Natural Resources said the ventilation is to protect residents in the building’s 16 apartments from short-term exposure. Over 3,000 tons of contaminated soil has already been removed from the site, with more cleanup expected to come.
TCE is an industrial solvent that’s often used for degreasing, but it can also cause a variety of short- and long-term health problems.
Located at 601 E. Hancock Street, the Wire Works building was a factory from 1896-1987, and TCE was used to clean paper mill wires produced at the site.
The building was converted to affordable apartments by the Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities in 2005.
Appleton is located roughly 100 miles northwest of Milwaukee and has a population of approximately 73,000.
Monday, May 13, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
A mold outbreak is causing legal and financial headaches for residents of a Palm Strings condominium complex, according to this story from the Desert Sun.
The problem was discovered more than a year ago by retired school teacher Rita Siegel, who found a water leak from a neighboring condo had seeped through a shared wall and into her closet.
Siegel blames the damp conditions for causing a mold outbreak in her unit, and she moved out of the Riviera Gardens complex shortly after. Living in hotels while waiting for the problem to be fixed, she’s also been locked in a lengthy dispute with the homeowner’s association, its insurance company and the bank that owned the neighboring condo unit—the condo unit with the leak was vacant following a foreclosure.
A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explained that mold in shared walls is a complicated issue that’s outside their jurisdiction. Since no state agency has direct authority over mold, those disputes are typically settled through the legal system.
Los Angeles attorney Robb Strom is not representing Siegel, but he averages at least 10 mold lawsuits per year. He said homeowner’s associations are often involved in such cases and can be found liable. He added most cases settle out of court.
The homeowner’s association claims they were responsive to the issue when it was reported, and that Siegel was uncooperative. The association claims the mold problem at the unit has been fixed, but Siegel retained an environmental consultant who says otherwise.
Siegel told the Desert Sun she’s hired a lawyer, but was uncertain if she’d file a lawsuit.
According to the EPA, mold outbreaks can occur almost anywhere there’s moisture and oxygen. Health impacts vary according to age, allergy sensitivity and level of exposure. Common symptoms include headaches, breathing difficulty, allergic reactions or aggravated asthma. Mold spores can also be toxic in some circumstances.
Friday, April 26, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
A recently discovered cluster of contaminated wells has residents of Wake Forest, North Carolina asking why they weren’t warned about the problem in 2005, according to this NBC news story.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing over the past year has discovered the carcinogen trichloroethylene (TCE) in 21 wells across a 500-acre area around Stony Hill Road in the town of Wake Forest.
While the EPA has installed water filters to alleviate the problem, several residents were outraged to learn that the state discovered TCE contamination in a neighborhood well in 2005, but never alerted them.
The contamination is thought to date back 10 years, when TCE was used to clean circuit boards in a neighborhood shed.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which made the initial discovery, compiled an internal report saying the extent of the contamination was unclear and that other wells in the area should be tested.
A DENR spokesperson said the problem appeared to be confined to the single residential well, adding the agency has finite resources and higher-risk sites that took priority.
Last summer, the DENR advised area residents to get their water tested, and sought assistance from the EPA, which tested roughly 100 wells.
TCE is an industrial solvent that’s often used for degreasing. Improperly disposed of, it can create harmful vapors and migrate through groundwater.
Located roughly 18 miles northeast of Raleigh, Wake Forest has a population of roughly 31,000 people.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
A recent Sierra Club report indicates that disadvantaged communities in Michigan face greater health risks due to pollution, according to this story in the Detroit Free Press.
Impacted by activity from automobile plants, steel mills and other industry, Detroit and nearby River Rouge and Ecorse, are among the most polluted Midwest cities.
The report cites a University of Michigan study suggesting that 81.5 percent of Detroit’s African American students attend schools in high air pollution areas, compared to 62.1 percent for Hispanics and 44 percent for whites.
Compared to the rest of the state, adults from Detroit are 50 percent more likely to have asthma, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Included within the report is Detroit Renewable Power, a solid waste incinerating operation and the state’s fourth largest producer of nitrous oxide emissions. Ninety-four percent of its neighbors are African American, with an annual median household income $7,308 lower than the city average.
The Great Lakes Works steel facility in Ecorse was listed as another major producer of emissions. The city has a poverty rate of over 30 percent.
Sierra Club representatives asked that regulators adopt stricter environmental standards to protect those communities.
Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club is a grassroots environmental organization with 1.3 million members nationwide.
Monday, April 15, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
Officials from Somers, Connecticut are considering mandatory testing for private wells, after recent samples discovered uranium and arsenic in local drinking water, according to this story from the Journal Inquirer.
The issue came to light when officials tested more than 50 local wells. Town sanitarian Steven Jacobs didn’t give a specific number, but said high levels of contaminants were found in a small percentage of samples.
Arsenic and uranium are thought to have leeched into the water from bedrock, resulting in isolated pockets of contamination.
According the EPA, high levels of uranium can lead to increased cancer risk and/or liver damage. Arsenic—a naturally occurring, odorless and tasteless semi-metal—is linked to increased risk for a variety of cancers.
Two-thirds of the roughly 10,000 residents in Somers are on private wells. Jacobs said the town doesn’t regulate those drinking supplies, but that could change. The town’s Water Pollution and Control Authority recently collaborated with state health and environmental officials to draft an ordinance that would require testing of private wells.
Jacobs said the ordinance is still under development. In the meantime he advised residents with private wells to voluntarily do the testing.
Somers is located roughly 20 miles northeast of Hartford.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
A North Carolina power plant accused of leaking waterborne pollutants is facing legal action from environmental officials, according to this story from the Citizens-Times newspaper.
A recently filed lawsuit from the N.C. Division of Water Quality alleges that the Progress Energy plant in Asheville is leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater and the nearby French Broad River.
Officials termed the contamination a threat to public health and water resources, and asked the courts to require the company to assess the cause and extent of the problem within 120 days. The suit also requests additional testing for groundwater and private wells nearby.
The state compelled the utility to install monitoring wells at the site in 2009, and the complaint cites test results from monitoring wells, along with two incidents where inspectors discovered contaminants migrating from coal ash ponds to the nearby river.
Specific contaminants included thallium, a toxic metal often associated with coal burning operations. According to the EPA, effects can include nerve damage, gastrointestinal irrational, damage to the kidney, liver, testicular tissue and hair loss.
Duke Energy, which owns the plant, issued a statement saying it has complied with its environmental permits.
Located roughly 120 miles west and north of Charlotte, Asheville is a city of roughly 83,000.
Friday, March 29, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
The State of New York is considering several fixes for contaminated wells near a highway maintenance garage in the town of East Fishkill, according to this story from the Poughkeepsie Journal.
The problem of unsafe levels of sodium and chloride in groundwater near the garage was discovered in 1995, and the state has funded bottled water and testing for some of the garage neighbors since then.
The State Department of Transportation (DOT) has released a draft proposal that outlined several possible fixes, including installing new wells for seven of the neighbors, relocating the garage's salt storage facility, or installing a reserve-osmosis system to treat the water. Adding new well fields was another possibility.
DOT representatives held a special meeting to outline those measures for the residents and get feedback.
Road salt has been a concern for environmental officials in recent years due to its impact on aquatic life and drinking water. A report from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services cautions that chloride is toxic to aquatic life and impacts vegetation—adding it’s completely soluble, very mobile and there’s no natural process that removes it from the environment.
That same report says sodium can be a problematic drinking water contaminant for people on low-sodium diets.
East Fishkill is a town of roughly 29,000 people, approximately 70 miles north of New York City.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
By: Nathan lamb
A recent study has shed new light on long-standing water contamination issues at a North Carolina military base—and that could help veterans claiming adverse health impacts from their time at that post.
The study indicates that drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune had elevated levels of carcinogens for more than 60 years, according to this story from the Kansas City Star.
At peak levels, the contaminants were 150 times higher than safety standards—and the report estimated up to one million service personnel and their families may have been exposed while at the base.
A special law enacted in 2012 provides screening and health care for those at the base from 1957 to when the contaminated wells were closed in 1987—but the study suggests the problem could date back far as 1948.
Federal lawmakers are calling for additional hearings on the issue and a bill has been filed to extend coverage back to 1953, which is thought to be when the contamination first exceeded health standards, according to this story from the Washington Post.
The contaminants include trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial degreaser that can cause a variety of short- and long-term health impacts. The other contaminants were from dry-cleaning and fuel, according to the Marine Corps, which as recently as last year claimed there was insufficient evidence to link health problems to the drinking water.
Retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger has long alleged the connection between the camp water and health impacts. He was stationed at Lejeune and lost his 9-year-old daughter to a rare leukemia in 1985. Ensminger credited advocates like himself for bringing the issue to light.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
Lost Lake is the centerpiece of a tight-knit community in Groton, Massachusetts, but that arrangement is thought to have created long-term water quality issues for that nature resource.
At issue are high levels of phosphorus and fecal coliform bacteria in the lake that have raised concerns about protecting water quality in the neighborhood, which relies on private wells.
The problem was outlined in a 2012 environmental notification form filed with the state by a Selectmen-appointed advisory committee. Compiled by environmental consultants, the report noted that wastewater disposal has been an issue at the neighborhood for at least 40 years due to “antiquated on-site wastewater disposal systems” with “high failure rates”.
A sewer system would alleviate the problem, but that $12.9 million proposal was rejected by town meeting voters in January, according to this story from the Lowell Sun newspaper.
Aside from cost, the primary objection at the town meeting was a perceived lack of information about where the contamination was coming from. The Board of Selectmen responded to the vote by appointing a new group to revisit the issue and provide more information for residents.
Meeting again on March 6, the reconfigured group’s discussion focused on gathering baseline data—compiling an inventory of neighborhood wells and speaking with experts involved with the last process. The group also discussed options for determining the contamination’s source; speakers at the town meeting listed nearby streams as possible culprits.
Lost Lake was originally a seasonal cottage community that has since evolved into a full-time residential community. In addition to poor soils, the area is dominated by small lots—with more than half the lots one-quarter of an acre or smaller.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants, but in high levels it can spur a population explosion of weeks and threaten natural resources. Fecal bacteria is generally associated with human or animal feces, and can carry a variety of disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
By: Nathan Lamb
A discontinued solvent has contaminated groundwater at an airplane factory in Washington state—and that has nearby residents concerned about possible health impacts, according to this story from the Auburn Reporter.
The problem stems from the Boeing-Auburn plant, which is near the Algona city line. Recently released tests show a plume of contaminated groundwater that begins at the factory and migrates off-site.
A spokesperson for the state departments of Ecology and Health said the size of the plume is still being determined and that cleanup won't begin until after that determination is made.
The contaminant is trichloroethylene (TCE), a potential carcinogen that was used to clean engine parts from the 1960s-‘80s.
Environmental officials say there is no danger to the Algona water supply, emphasizing that the plume is moving away from the city wells and there are impermeable barriers between groundwater from the city’s aquifer.
However, some residents were unhappy it took so long to unearth the contamination. The state and Boeing began testing in spring of 2011, telling the mayors of Auburn and Algona they’d have results to disseminate by March of 2012. The test results showing TCE contamination were first reported by a radio station in early 2013.
Speaking to the Auburn Reporter, Department of Ecology spokesperson Larry Altose apologized, saying the state should have gotten the information to the communities sooner.
Testing is also underway to determine if the groundwater contamination is causing toxic vapors for the factory’s neighbors. Testing at a nearby YMCA and other buildings have come back clean so far.
Located approximately 30 miles south of Seattle, Algona is a city of roughly 3,000 people.