Monday, August 5, 2013

State Investigating Rash of Contaminated Wells

By: Nathan Lamb

Environmental officials are seeking answers after discovering a potential carcinogen in 22 private wells at a Pennsylvania township, according to this story from the Norristown Times-Herald.

Representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently met with Limerick residents to discuss remediation measures and update the community on efforts to isolate the source of trichloroethylene (TCE) in local groundwater.

The DEP is paying to install charcoal filters in five homes where TCE levels exceed health standards. Estimated cost of installation and the first two years of maintenance for that undertaking is estimated at $44,000.

No action is being taken at the other 17 homes, so long as TCE levels remain below the government health standard of five parts per billion.

All told, the DEP has tested 150 wells in the area of West Ridge Pike since 2010, according to this article from the Limerick Patch.

While the DEP has yet to determine a source of the contamination, its representatives reported finding highly elevated levels of TCE at the former site of a defunct heating equipment company off West Ridge Pike. That sample came back 832 times higher than the safe water standard, but DEP officials said groundwater at that site flows away from most of the contaminated wells.

TCE is typically used as an industrial degreaser and can cause a variety of short- and long-term health problems, according to this EPA fact sheet. Improperly disposed of, it can migrate through soil and contaminate groundwater.

Limerick has a population of roughly 13,500 and is about 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Neighbors Unhappy with Superfund Cleanup

By: Nathan Lamb

A plan to corral contaminants at an old wood treatment plant has been approved by federal regulators, but the solution is unpopular with neighbors, according to this story from the Gainesville Sun.

The Koppers wood treatment plant operated from 1919 to 2009, but soil and groundwater contamination at the 90-acre site landed the Gainesville business on the federal Superfund cleanup list in 1984. The contaminants include the carcinogen dioxin, which has been found in soil at the site and neighboring properties.

According to the EPA, the contamination stemmed from waste handling practices at the wood plant.

Recently approved by a federal judge, the cleanup plan calls for excavating the contaminated soil from at least 66 neighboring properties and putting it into a sealed underground containment area at the old wood plant at the 200 block of Northwest 23rd Avenue.

Unhappy about the plan to consolidate the contaminants at the old wood plant, the community submitted roughly 80 pages of comments on the issue, suggesting everything from relocation of the neighbors to concerns the disposal site could eventually leak into a nearby aquifer.

Officials charged with reviewing the plan say there's "little risk" to the aquifer from the sealed disposal site, adding the containment measures will be sufficient to protect public health.

Gainesville is approximately 110 miles northwest of Orlando and has a population of roughly 125,000 people.

Monday, July 29, 2013

City Pushing for Quicker Oil Cleanup

By: Nathan Lamb

Leaks from an old oil field are causing health concerns in California, and officials are hoping to spur quicker cleanup, according to this story from the Los Angeles Times.

The contamination—which includes the carcinogen benzene—was discovered in 2008 beneath Carson city's Carousel tract, which is now a residential area with 285 homes.

Cleanup is being handled jointly by state officials and the Shell Oil Company, and is not expected to get underway until next year.

The declaration of emergency was recently suggested by Carson's mayor, in an effort to spur more immediate action.

Shell has stated there is no immediate threat to public health. The company is currently doing vapor testing at area homes and is putting together a comprehensive cleanup plan.

Residents of the Carousel tract have been told to avoid exposed yard soils and to not eat home-grown fruits or vegetables.

According to a recent report from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Carousel tract was a tank park used to store crude oil from 1920-1965. The study suggested that cracks and leaks in the concrete basins that contained the oil led to the contamination before the area was redeveloped in the late '60s.

The water control board study also found groundwater pollution in the area and crude oil in one local well, but no evidence of harmful vapors intruding into homes.

Carson is approximately 20 miles north of Los Angeles and has a population of roughly 91,000.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Study Links Contaminants to Gas Drilling

By: Nathan Lamb

The West Virginia legislature has been advised to step up environmental monitoring at natural gas drilling sites, after a recent study linked a potential carcinogen to that process, according a public broadcasting report.

The study was conducted by Chairman of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at West Virginia University, Michael McCawley, who checked air quality at seven drilling sites over four months. The sites were evaluated at several stages of drilling, from set-up to fracking to when the gas pipelines were installed.

In some cases, McCawley discovered dust with heightened levels of benzene, which can cause anemia and has been linked to cancer. According to the EPA, benzene typically enters the atmosphere through exhaust emissions.

In one instance, the testing showed benzene levels of 85 parts per billion. National standards require workers to have respiratory protection at 100 parts per billion or more.

McCawley's study was conducted at the request of the state Department of Environmental Protection, as part of the state's Horizontal Well Control Act of 2011. The law required a study by July 1, 2013 to advise lawmakers on whether air pollution at drill sites should be regulated and monitored.

The recently released study advised that companies should provide monitoring for drill sites near houses, schools or hospitals.

McCawley said he's planning a follow-up study, with the goal of providing more information about the health impacts of gas drilling in the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pipe Leak Follow-up Discovers Problem Well

By: Nathan Lamb

A testing program implemented after a gas pipeline spill has discovered a toxic chemical in public drinking water, according to this story in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

The Village of Jackson, Wisconsin, shut down one of its five public wells in May, after the potential carcinogen benzene was discovered in the water.

The village plans to spend up to $20,000 this month to investigate the cause of the contamination.

The problem was discovered by a monthly testing program that was implemented after a West Shore fuel pipeline broke and spilled roughly 54,000 gallons of gasoline into a pasture off Western Avenue last summer.

According to a previous report, the spill was roughly two miles away from the contaminated Jackson Drive well, but officials say groundwater from the spill area flows in the opposite direction.

Fuel storage tanks closer to the well have been identified as another possible source.

According to the EPA, benzene is used extensively in the tire and shoe industries, and is often associated with fuels, plastic production and paint thinning.

Benzene spilled onto soil typically migrates into groundwater. Drinking water contaminated with high levels of benzene can cause immune system deficiencies, bone marrow problems, cancer and death.

Located roughly 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee, the Village of Jackson has a population of roughly 7,500 people.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

N.M. County Approves Fracking Ban

By: Nathan Lamb

Citing a desire to protect local water supplies, Mora, New Mexico, has become the first county in the United States to ban fracking, according to this story from the L.A. Times.

Energy companies use "fracking"—hydraulic fracturing—to extract hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits from the ground. The process involves using a pressurized cocktail of water, sand and chemicals to fracture underground rock. Federal law doesn't require companies to disclose what chemicals are used; they are considered trade secrets. This has spurred water quality concerns in communities across the country.

While fracking has proved lucrative to landowners who lease mining rights, a number of communities are looking to ban or slow the spread of fracking wells. Pittsburgh was the first, in 2010, and more than a dozen east coast cities have followed suit.

The Mora ordinance that bans fracking cites the county's authority to regulate commercial activity.

Fracking is not regulated in California, where several cities are considering bans or moratoriums.

Culver City, which includes part of the 1,000-acre Inglewood Oil Field, is considering a proposed six-year moratorium, while the long-term air and water impacts of fracking are studied.

The California Department of Conservation is also finalizing statewide regulations for fracking.

The Environmental Protection Agency's study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water sources is slated for release in 2014.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fuel Leaks Prompt Store Chain Audit

By: Nathan Lamb

A pair of fuel leaks has proved costly for a Maryland-based convenience store chain, according to this story in the Baltimore Sun.

Royal Farms, which owns 70 stores across the region, recently reached a settlement with environmental officials that includes a $600,000 penalty and a comprehensive audit of the company’s underground fuel tanks and piping.

The settlement came after the Maryland Department of the Environment made it clear they were pursuing enforcement actions over two leaks that impacted residential homes.

The first was discovered in 2009, after a Rosedale home reported a gasoline smell. An investigation determined 5,400 gallons of fuel had spilled from the underground Royal Farms tank nearby. Royal Farms paid $2.7 million to settle the family’s case, and is pursuing litigation against the firm it hired to oversee the underground tanks.

Gasoline contamination was also discovered in five residential wells in the town of North East in 2011. Royal Farms is currently remediating the groundwater, and carbon filters were provided for some wells.

In both cases, environmental officials said the company wasn’t properly using state mandated equipment that detects fuel leaks. Installing and maintaining that equipment was a condition of the settlement.

A Royal Farms spokesperson said the company was not contesting the state’s accusations, but added the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mysterious Contaminant Shuts Down N.H. Wells

By: Nathan Lamb

A New Hampshire town is seeking relief from a mysterious contaminant that has shut down local wells for more than a year, according to this story from the Eagle Tribune.

The Town of Atkinson is eying a $3 million plan to extend water service to a cluster of 34 homes that have been without drinking water since 2011.

The wells are contaminated with 1,4-Diozane, a probable carcinogen that can also cause liver and kidney damage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1,4-Diozane is a synthetic industrial chemical that can quickly migrate through soil and groundwater.  The chemical is widely used for industrial processes, and can be found in paint strippers, dyes, greases, varnishes and waxes.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences (DES) is still seeking the source of the contamination, which so far has been restricted to a residential area off Emery and Belknap drives.

The DES—which currently provides residents with bottled water—announced that it will contribute up to $2 million to run water lines to effected homes. Town officials are mulling options to cover additional costs.

Located roughly 40 miles south east of Concord, New Hampshire, Atkinson has a population of approximately 6,100.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

City Waiting on Water-Supply Fix

By: Nathan Lamb

Residents of a southern California city may have had drinking water contaminated by a nearby munitions complex, according to this story from the Los Angeles Times.

Multiple city wells have been shut down in the City of Rialto, which is importing drinking water until widespread groundwater contamination is fixed.

The wells are tainted primarily with perchlorate, a persistent contaminant that can cause thyroid problems, especially with pregnant women and children.

A 2012 study by the California Department of Public Health indicated that drinking water supplied to Rial residents may have contained elevated levels of perchlorate from 1979 to 1997. The perchlorate has been traced back to production of ammunition, rocket fuel and fireworks at an industrial complex.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently reached binding agreements with several companies that will foot the bill for cleanup. The full scope of the problem is still being determined, but current estimates have the cleanup costing at least $140 million and taking 30 years or more.

According to the EPA website, perchlorate sometimes occurs naturally and is highly soluble in water. Human exposure is typically through contaminated drinking water, and large doses of perchlorate can cause irritation, coughing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Rialto is located approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Toxic Vapors a Problem at Wisconsin Apartment Complex

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.