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Study finds that fracking contaminated a water supply

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The potential upsides and downsides of fracking technology for oil and gas keep coming.

The Energy Department found half of all U.S. continental oil production now comes from fracking, bringing enhanced energy self-sufficiency. But injecting wastewater from fracking underground has boosted the risk of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma and Kansas to the same level as California, according to the U.S. Geology Survey.

Now, a new study focuses on alleged contamination of drinking water in one of the highest-profile, longstanding cases. The location is the small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, population 231.

In 2004, Pavillion resident Louis Meeks said the company Encana drilled for natural gas by his house. And his water changed.

“In our toilets and stuff, we get a yellowish brown stain in there, which never happened til they drilled this well up here,” Meeks said. “A lot of times you get in and take a shower and that fine mist will just clear your sinuses.”

Meeks and his wife decided to sell their sheep. “We were losing lambs because of this water,” he said. “Cows, too. And then our chickens. We have to give them bottled water, or they die.”

Controversy has long surrounded Pavillion. The Environmental Protection Agency found that fracking “likely” impacted groundwaterin a draft 2011 study, but then discontinued it and handed the study over to the state of Wyoming. The state last December found contamination “unlikely.”

This new academic study analyzes all public data on the case, including monitoring wells of the drinking water aquifer.

“We found salts, potassium and chloride that do occur naturally but were much higher than found naturally,” said co-author Rob Jackson, an earth system scientist at Stanford University. “We found things like methanol in the water. There was benzene in the water 50 times higher than the allowable levels for drinking water.”

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DuPont’s toxic C8 chemical still unchecked, group says

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“When a toxic chemical used to make Teflon was discovered in the drinking water in parts of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, federal and state officials made changes to protect residents.

Officials in New York installed filters, and Vermont’s health department set a new standard for the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, in drinking water, establishing one of the lowest allowable levels in the nation.

And the governors of all three states sent a letter this month to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking the agency to help with additional drinking water testing and analysis in communities exposed to to perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA or C8, which DuPont used to make Teflon at a number of facilities, including its Washington Works plant, located on the Ohio River near Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The chemical has been linked to serious health problems including cancer, pregnancy complications and thyroid disease.

Yet in southeastern Ohio and near Parkersburg — considered by many the center of C8 contamination in the country — governments have remained largely silent. Neither the federal nor state governments require public drinking water systems in Ohio or West Virginia to filter out the chemical.

In 2005, the Ohio EPA sent letters to customers of the Little Hocking Water Association, advising residents that elevated C8 levels had been found in their water and noting that the agency would “continue its involvement in this issue.”

But in the decade since, Ohio largely has deferred to the U.S. EPA rather than push for additional testing of water or residents…”

Read more from The Columbus Dispatch

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Federal seafood advice leaves some women full of mercury: Study

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By Brian Bienkowski for Environmental Health News:

For years seafood was Karen Grote’s “go to” when eating out—ordering tuna, shrimp and lobster.

“I travel a lot for work, so was constantly eating out,” said the 34-year old actuary from the Philadelphia area.

But her choices changed after Grote had her hair tested for mercury as part of a study and her levels were elevated. Now pregnant, she still eats some seafood but is limiting how much to avoid harming her unborn child with the neurotoxic chemical.

“It was completely eye opening for me,” Grote said.

After the testing of Grote and other women across the country, an environmental group warns that eating federally recommended seafood amounts may leave women with too much mercury and not enough omega-3s.

The report, released today by the Environmental Working Group, found that the majority of mercury in 254 women of childbearing age from 40 states came from fish the government does not warn pregnant women to avoid, such as tuna steaks and tuna sushi. Only about 17 percent of the women’s mercury load came from species the agencies warn about.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5EMAu4H7Ds

And, though the women sampled ate more seafood than an average U.S. woman, about 60 percent still didn’t have the recommended amount of omega-3s for a pregnant woman.

“If you get a little bit of mercury it can be offset by the omega–3s. But that means you don’t get the full benefit of the omega–3s and other nutrients in seafood,” said Dr. Philippe Grandjean, an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement.

Medical professionals and officials have long struggled with balancing seafood recommendations for women who are, or might get pregnant. Fish are the major source of people’s exposure to mercury, which can harm developing brains and reduce IQs.

But research has also shown that eating fish provides vital nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids and protein, for fetal brain growth, and that children’s IQs increased when their mothers had eaten low-mercury fish.

The report comes a year and a half after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration made major changes to their seafood consumption advice: recommending consumption of at least 8 ounces of low-mercury fish per week.

The changes marked the first time the EPA and FDA recommended a minimum amount of fish that pregnant women and children should eat.

Michael Bender, executive director of the Mercury Policy Project, said the agencies’ changes to seafood advice fall “way short” in protecting fish eaters.

“We’re always hearing from federal agencies how we should follow the latest science, this advisory was the complete opposite,” said Bender, whose organization partnered with the Environmental Working Group on the recent study.

Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, led the study and said the main point is dietary guidance needs to be more specific. “The FDA for a long time said too many details could be overwhelming,” she said. “We’re in the information age … there are really savvy, informed consumers out there.”

Tuna seems to be a problem. Lunder pointed out that in their study about 40 percent of the mercury was coming from eating various forms of it—canned tuna, tuna steaks, tuna sushi.

“The FDA for a long time said too many details could be overwhelming. We’re in the information age … there are really savvy, informed consumers out there.”-Sonya Lunder, Environmental Working GroupThe FDA warns pregnant or breastfeeding women to eat no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna a week, but does not warn about other types of tuna.

The advisory “fails to recognize tuna steaks, tuna sushi, and also light canned tuna … this is clearly not a low mercury fish,” Bender said. Lunder added that tuna warnings are especially important, as it’s a common fish that some people eat daily.

Lauren Sucher, a spokesperson at the FDA, wouldn’t comment on the new study but said the agency is revising the 2014 draft advice, adding that they’ve received more than 200 public comments.

The study confirmed that seafood is the major route of mercury exposure for people: Mercury levels were 11 times higher in those who frequently ate fish compared to those who rarely ate it.

Perhaps most concerning: about 29 percent of the women (all of childbearing age) had mercury levels above 1 part per million, which is what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

Bender called the 1 part per million level, “clearly outdated and very weak.” Many health researchers, including Grandjean, say that 1 part per million is too high, and that about .58 parts per million is a more protective upper limit for pregnant women. Sixty-percent of those sampled exceeded that limit.

Grote said she’s still eating some seafood, but has completely cut out tuna. She’s trying to include more low mercury options, such as salmon. The new Dietary Guidelines released earlier this year by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and of Agriculture list salmon, anchovies, herring, shad, sardines, Pacific oysters and trout as fish high in omega-3s and low in mercury.

“I was a bit ignorant to the risks of mercury,” Grote said. “I always viewed seafood as healthy.”

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.


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EPA maps extent of West Lake radioactive contaminatio

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After almost a year of study, the Environmental Protection Agency says it believes it has completely mapped the extent of radioactive contamination at the West Lake Landfill.

The findings come as the agency works to finalize plans for a barrier separating the burning Bridgeton Landfill from the adjacent West Lake Landfill, which was contaminated in the 1970s with uranium processing waste dating to the Manhattan Project.

Read more at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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WILL STATE PAY $20M TO GET THE LEAD OUT OF NEWARK’S WATER INFRASTRUCTURE?

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The chairwoman of a key legislative committee is pushing a new bill that would provide $20 million to fund improvements to the city of Newark’s water system in an attempt to deal with high levels of lead in at least 30 schools in the district.

The legislation (A-3583), sponsored by Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex), would divert money from the state’s Clean Energy Fund to make the necessary improvements to the city’s water-supply infrastructure. Spencer heads the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.

The proposal is the latest initiative put forward to address problems of elevated levels of lead found in water at Newark schools, which led the district to switch to bottled water at the facilities when the problem was made public earlier this month.

While Newark and state environmental officials have not pinpointed the source of the contamination, both have said the source of supply — the city’s water system — is free of lead. The high levels of the toxic metal were a result of old lead plumbing and lead solder in fixtures from the streets to the buildings, according to officials…”

Read more from the New Jersey Spotlight

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Mossville’s end

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“As Sasol’s huge petrochemical project lifts Southwest Louisiana, an environmental justice community dissolves in its shadow.

Blessed by light rush hour traffic through Baton Rouge on a Thursday morning, I arrive 20 minutes early for an interview with Michael Hayes, vice president of public affairs for Sasol U.S. Mega Projects at the South African chemical firm’s offices in Westlake, La. This gives me more than enough time for a tour of the small town that is likely to dominate our discussion. I proceed across the tracks.

It has been a long drive from New Orleans, mostly along Route 10, a highway elevated for long stretches over swamp water. Crossing the bridge after Lake Charles, however, the landscape is suddenly dominated by refineries and petrochemical plants. I move through the outskirts of Westlake, driving one of the few passenger cars in a line of construction vehicles until I reach Old Spanish Trail, a road running away from the factories but parallel to a construction site. It becomes the main street through Mossville.

The prospect on both sides of the road is bleak. A handful of houses, some obviously abandoned, are interspersed with concrete slabs where others have been razed. Thin clusters of bare trees can be seen behind the buildings still standing. Past these, dust clouds rise around heavy machinery tearing at the earth.

I pass the Miracle Deliverance Holiness Church. A chain stretches across its gravel driveway. Further along, I see the first people on my drive through Mossville—a young woman sitting on the steps of a trailer home with a baby on her knee. I turn around and head back to Westlake, noticing on this pass that a 1950s-vintage school building now houses Sasol business offices.

By all accounts, Mossville is dying. Settled by freed slaves as early as the 1790s, it was one of the first black communities in the U.S., an unincorporated town famous for a sense of community and self-sufficiency that carried it through the Jim Crow era. But in recent decades, Mossville has been less successful standing up to the steady encroachment of heavy industry.

Now it would appear that Mossville’s final demise is at hand. Seeking to take advantage of low-cost natural gas extracted from shale, Sasol has embarked on a huge expansion of its Louisiana facility that will run right up to the town line. Well over half of its residents have opted to accept a buyout from the company and abandon Mossville…”

Read more from Chemical & Engineering News

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Boulder group joins fight against coal burning in Utah

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“A group of Boulder businesses, organizations and individuals are among a 100-member Colorado coalition that this week co-signed a letter imploring the Environmental Protection Agency to stop two Utah coal plants from creating hazy skies in some of the region’s most prominent wilderness areas.

The letter, submitted in conjunction with the Sierra Club and Protect Our Winters — the leading climate advocacy group for the winter sports industry — alleges that the Hunter and Huntington coal-fired power plants in Utah are not only harming that state’s air quality and health because of outdated emissions systems, but are also doing the same to several beloved natural areas in Colorado.

In world-famous Utah national parks like Arches, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands, the consequent haze poses a public health risk, and the letter’s coalition alleges the same can now be said of multiple Colorado spots, including Mesa Verde National Park, Black Canyon and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

“I think what resonates here,” said Sierra Club organizer Lindsay Beebe, “is not only the visibility issue with regional haze, but also tied to that intrinsically is the fact that public health is affected by these pollutants as well. You look out across a hazy sky and you know that there’s things in there you’re not supposed to be breathing.”

Among the brands with Boulder ties echoing that concern are Head Skis, La Sportiva footwear, ZEAL Optics, Backpacker and Skiing magazines, Boulder Cyclesport and the restaurant Pica’s Taqueria…”

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SA’s Declining Air Quality Puts the Whole City at Risk

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“Leaving San Antonio was the only remedy that helped Krystal Henagan’s son, Tanner.

Her family moved to San Antonio in 2012, when Tanner was 4 years old. He developed severe asthma, which soon became “uncontrollable.” Doctors thought the child had cedar or oak allergies, and put him on seven different medications. But fleeing the polluted Alamo City air was the only reliable treatment.

“There were some nights and afternoons that it would get so bad that we would leave the area just to get some relief,” said Henagan, who is now a field organizer with the advocacy group Moms Clean Air Force. “We shuttled him between Lubbock and Houston for about six months so his health could get back on track, and it did.”

As the temperature rises and San Antonio’s brief winter gives way to spring and summer, many take going outside for granted. But not everyone gets to enjoy the outdoors. The changing seasons signal an approach of the high point for air pollution, pushing children, the elderly and those who suffer from asthma and other illnesses indoors.

San Antonio’s air is cleaner than it was a decade ago, but pollution is on the rise. Now local officials are desperate to improve the air as soon as possible, both for the health of residents and the fiscal well-being of the region…”

Read more from the San Antonio Current

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Flint water e-mails written to stay secret

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LANSING — “In mid-October, as the massive scope of the Flint drinking water scandal and public health crisis was beginning to sink in, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality engineer Adam Rosenthal wrote an e-mail to two of his then supervisors in the department’s drinking water section.

The contents of the e-mail were purely factual: A Flint resident’s name and address, along with two lead readings for water samples taken from faucets at the home.

But typed just beneath the message were the words: “Preliminary and Deliberative not subject to FOIA.”

The Rosenthal e-mail is just one of thousands the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder has made public related to the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water after calls from the public, elected officials, advocates for open government and the media for information as to who knew what about the public health crisis and when, and what was done in response. Thousands of others have been released voluntarily by the governor, whose office is not subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

Besides answers to some questions, a review of the e-mails also revealed a potentially troubling trend: Many of the e-mails display what appears to be an active effort by state employees to avoid disclosure of public records under FOIA…”

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Is pollution poisoning Charleston’s African-American and low-income communities?

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“Nancy Button says you can’t fight progress.

But that hasn’t stopped her from trying.

In 2009, the 63-year-old president of the Rosemont Neighborhood Association was part of an environmental justice complaint filed with the United States Department of Justice opposing plans for the construction of a port access road from Interstate 26, arguing that the neighborhood’s voice had not been heard during the discussion of the expansion. For Button and members of the small, aging community located toward the northern part of the Charleston peninsula, this latest project was a harsh reminder of when the construction of I-26 split Rosemont in two in the 1960s.

“The Rosemont neighborhood is comprised of African-American citizens who have lived in the community for generations, oftentimes inheriting their homes from parents and/or grandparents,” said the official complaint. “This neighborhood is tightly knit and has dealt with an abundance of toxic neighbors, including polluting industry and the placement of I-26.”

In the suit, Rosemont’s attorney chronicled the Neck area’s long history of industrial concerns dating back to the late 19th century when Charleston was a national hub for the production of phosphate fertilizer. These plants left behind toxic levels of lead, arsenic, and mercury in the soil and tainted the groundwater…”

Read more from the Charleston City Paper