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July to September 2004 Environmental News

September, 2004

After two years of drinking bottled water, tap water is within reach of 50 Warrington, Pennsylvania homes

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection could decide by the end of the year whether to spend an estimated $500,000 to bring public water to the residents. Testing in 2001 found about 45 residential wells contaminated with tetracholorethylene, also known as PCE or perc, a solvent found in household products and used for dry cleaning. The pollution source is unknown. The Intelligencer_ 9/30/04

Environmental Defense study urges restoring California's fabled but long-flooded Hetch Hetchy Valley; The reservoir that covers the valley is the source of San Francisco-area drinking water

Analysts for Environmental Defense, one of the nation's best-known environmental groups, argued that O'Shaughnessy Dam at the headwaters of the Tuolumne River is no longer necessary. The dam and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir are linchpins of a system supplying water to 2.4 million people in the Bay Area and some of the most powerful farm interests in the Central Valley. San Francisco Chronicle_ 9/28/04

Arkansas surprises Oklahoma with news of dirty water designation

Arkansas officials say the Arkansas and Poteau rivers violate Arkansas water standards near the point where they enter the state from Oklahoma. Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission administrator Ed Fite says Arkansas should have told Oklahoma about the decision before announcing it at a meeting of water officials from the two states. AP/KOTV_ 9/25/04

Hot weather, high demand and new technique equal brown water

Stamford, Darien and Greenwich, Connecticut homes and businesses had brown, rusty-looking water pouring out of their faucets and showers the past two days because of a miscalculation by Aquarion Water Co. Although not dangerous, the brown water sent people scurrying for the clear stuff. Stamford Hospital patients washed with bottled water, a coffee shop had to close early and a Laundromat posted a warning. The company used a new procedure called a "linestop technique," which temporarily stops the flow of water in an isolated section of the water main while not interrupting service on either side of the blocked area of pipeline. Stamford Advocate_ 9/24/04

Perchlorate discovered in Massachusetts communities' treated waste water

Results from a round of samples along the Concord River showed water leaving Billerica's waste-water treatment plant had a perchlorate level 158 times the limit recommended by state guidelines. Earlier in the month, test results showed the water flowing out of the Lowell Regional Wastewater Treatment Utility into the Merrimack River contained perchlorate levels about 20 times the recommended limit. Boston Globe_ 9/23/04

Antartic glaciers melting faster - Studies

Glaciers once held up by a floating ice shelf off Antarctica are now sliding off into the sea -- and they are going fast, scientists said. Two separate studies from climate researchers and the space agency NASA show the glaciers are flowing into Antarctica's Weddell Sea, freed by the 2002 breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf. Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers said their satellite measurements suggest climate warming can lead to rapid sea level rise. Reuters_ 9/21/04

U.S. says drinking water on some planes contaminated

A surprising number of drinking water systems on domestic and foreign commercial aircraft tested this summer by the government did not meet federal standards because they were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, regulators said. The Environmental Protection Agency suggested passengers with compromised immune systems -- usually the elderly, very young or those who are sick -- not wash with water from the tap or drink beverages that are brewed or mixed on flights, like coffee or tea. Airlines defended aircraft water quality and said the government's conclusions were drawn from samples taken from only a fraction of the thousands of aircraft in the fleet. Reuters_ 9/20/04

IBM to pay $10 million to hook East Fishkill, New York to water supply - EPA

The connection to Fishkill's existing municipal water supply system will take approximately two-and-a-half years to complete. In 2000, the New York State Department of Health found volatile organic compounds, including tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, above safe drinking water levels in area residential wells. EPA identified IBM property as the source of contamination. The Shenandoah Road Superfund site was placed on EPA's National Priorities List of the nation's most hazardous waste sites in June 2001. Press Release_ 9/15/04

Fluoride to continue in Manchester, New Hampshire drinking water after voters in the city and four surrounding towns overwhelmingly endorse its continuation

Five years ago, Manchester voters narrowly adopted fluoridation. However, opponents took the matter to court, successfully arguing that the vote disenfranchised water users in surrounding towns, who drank Manchester water but did not get a chance to vote on fluoridation. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision, and the Legislature this year rewrote the law dealing with fluoride referenda and ordered yesterday’s vote. Union Leader_ 9/15/04

Byproduct of chloramine water disinfection found to be highly toxic

A recently discovered disinfection byproduct (DBP) found in U.S. drinking water treated with chloramines is the most toxic ever found, says a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who tested samples on mammalian cells. The discovery raises health-related questions regarding an Environmental Protection Agency plan to encourage all U.S. water-treatment facilities to adopt chlorine alternatives, said Michael J. Plewa, a genetic toxicologist in the department of crop sciences. Plewa and colleagues, three of them with the EPA, report on the structure and toxicity of five iodoacids found in chloramines-treated water in Corpus Christi, Texas, in this month's issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Medical News Today_ 9/15/04

Mild El Nino develops in the Pacific Ocean

These conditions occur when ocean waters become warmer than normal for the area, causing an increase in cloudiness and affecting air pressure and winds as well. El Ninos occur about every four to five years and can last up to 12 to 18 months. The effects can range from drought in Indonesia, Australia and Africa, to storms in California and floods elsewhere. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 9/10/04

Acapulco, Mexico officials sue  environmentalist who went public with charges about waste water runoff into Acapulco Bay

The defamation suit, filed in the Fifth Civil Court, accuses environmentalist Ramiro Gomez Pardillo of damages and defamation and seeks to make him pay damages of 68,558 (US$5,910) -- the cost of a newspaper ad the city took out to answer his accusations. Gomez Pardillo, head of the Association for the Environmental Protection of Acapulco's Waters, said the lawsuit is a retaliation for his charges that sewage and waste water from local hotels were being allowed to drain directly into the bay.The city government maintains that water tests carried out in July and August at the beaches in question showed pollution within acceptable limits; Gomez Pardillo countered the complaint predates those tests. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 9/10/04

Cancer-causing chemical from bracken could be leaching into water supplies, scientists warn

A British Ecological Society meeting in Lancaster was told that high levels of ptaquiloside (PTQ) had been found in wells on Danish and Swedish farms. And Venezuelan scientists said they had noticed a clear link between high levels of stomach cancer and bracken-covered countryside in their country. But experts said it was a theoretical risk because of tight water controls. BBC News_ 9/9/04

Kerr-McGee Chemical and Veolia Water team to use bacteria to clean perchlorate from the Colorado River

The single-cell organism with an appetite for perchlorate is being used to clean about 1,000 gallons of contaminated water per minute, replacing a less-efficient process known as ion exchange. Veolia owns the process, and details about the bacteria, including its name, remain a closely guarded secret. Kerr-McGee officials would say only that it is a single-cell organism that occurs naturally and is not harmful to people. Las Vegas Review Journal/AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 9/8/04

New York and Connecticut sue the Environmental Protection Agency to force the agency to set national standards on polluted water runoff from construction sites
The federal lawsuit says the E-P-A is failing to follow its requirement under the Clean Water Act to set guidelines for discharge of industrial pollutants at construction and land-development sites. The states are concerned about pollutants in storm water, such as oils, pesticides and heavy metals, that could contaminate drinking water. AP/NBC3_ 9/8/04

Spurred by illness, Indonesians lash out at U.S. mining giant

For years, fishermen in Indonesia complained about waste dumped in the ocean by the owner of a nearby gold mine, the Newmont Mining Corporation, the world's biggest gold producer, based in Denver. It also kicked up a political brawl pitting Indonesia's feisty environmental groups against the American mining giant, which has been trailed by allegations of pollution on four continents. The fight aroused intense interest in mining circles and among environmental groups for the fresh concerns it raises about how rich multinational companies - especially those that extract resources like coal, copper and gold as well as oil and natural gas - conduct themselves in poor nations. New York Times_ 9/8/04

High levels of arsenic and iron force Butte, Montana to scrap plans to water park and school grass with water from the underground Belmont mining site

The well showed arsenic levels 11 times higher than recommended and iron content at eight times the EPA standard. Officials had hoped to both avoid high water bills and conserve water from the Big Hole River, Butte-Silver Bow County's primary municipal supply.  Billings Gazette_ 9/6/04

Ohio officials tell public it's safe to drink the water on South Bass Island as outbreak of gastrointestinal illness winds down

Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency health and environmental protection officials said moves to test and shut down water wells with possible bacterial contamination had slowed the number of new cases to a trickle. Overall, health authorities tallied 1,377 cases of gastrointestinal illness linked to the island, with symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal cramps, chills, and vomiting. Officials indicated they consider groundwater contamination the likely cause. Toledo Blade_ 9/4/04

Water slides remain closed for holiday.

San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department officials have closed a popular water slide after 11 confirmed cases of an intestinal illness -- cryptosporidiosis -- in young adults and children were confirmed.  In addition to the 11 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis, the Health Department received 250 calls between Wednesday and Thursday from people reporting contact with the water park and showing symptoms of the intestinal disease.  Santa Maria Times_  9/4/04

Exeter New Hampshire water ban imposed
Unusually high levels of a carcinogen TTHM or Total Trihalomethanes, has been found in the town’s drinking water. In response, the town shut down its water treatment plant and switched from surface to a groundwater source. The stringent water ban for residents could last for years. Exeter News-Letter _ 9/3/04

Illinois community demands clean up of vinyl chloride from drinking water--22 years after EPA said action was needed

None of the residents in a 120-home section of Wauconda drinks the water contaminated with the chemical suspected of causing cancer. Some even refuse to bathe in it. The vinyl chloride is believed to have leaked from an abandoned landfill about a quarter mile away. In 1982 the Environmental Protection Agency identified the Wauconda Sand and Gravel landfill as a toxic waste dump that should be cleaned as soon as funds become available. ABC7Chicago_ 8/31/04

Federal judge rules California's Friant Dam takes too much water from San Joaquin River
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ruled that the U.S. government violated California law when it built the Friant Dam near Fresno six decades ago, a decision that could settle a 16-year-old water dispute. The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Friant Water Users Authority in 1988. They argued that the river could be restored without hurting the region's farm economy, while opponents claimed restoring the river for salmon would take water away from farmers and residents.  AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 8/28/04

Mercury in fish in 48 states
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency says fish in virtually all of the nation's lakes and rivers were contaminated with mercury, a highly toxic chemical that poses health risks for pregnant women and young children. Michael Leavitt drew his conclusion from the agency's latest annual survey of fish advisories, which showed that 48 states -- all but Wyoming and Alaska -- issued warnings about mercury last year, compared with 44 states in 1993. Leavitt said it reflected a surge in monitoring -- not an increase in emissions. New York Times/San Francisco Chronicle_ 8/25/04

Report: Los Alamos, New Mexico lab waste reportedly found in the Rio Grande
In the latest dispute over possible contaminants from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Texas hydrologist George Rice says low concentrations of explosives and perchlorate suspected to be from the lab have reached the Rio Grande. Rice wrote the report after being hired by the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. The laboratory doesn't dispute that contaminants have entered the groundwater beneath its 40-square-mile property. What has been unclear is whether the waste has entered the Rio Grande.  AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 8/22/04

Weak El Nino seen affecting U.S. this fall, winter
A weak El Nino, the weather anomaly that distorts wind and rainfall patterns worldwide, is expected to develop and affect the United States this fall and winter.  If an El Nino does develop and persists through the end of the year, weather experts said it may ease drought in the U.S. Southwest.  Reuters_ 8/19/04

World water supplies won't feed future generations unless they cut down on meat

The World Water Week in Stockholm will be told the growth in demand for meat and dairy products is unsustainable. Animals need much more water than grain to produce the same amount of food, and ending malnutrition and feeding even more mouths will take still more water. The World Water Week conference is held annually in the Swedish capital, and is organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute, Siwi. This year's runs from 15 to 21 August. BBC News_ 8/15/04

Visit the World Water Week site

Feds ditch Clean Water Act protections for "isolated" water; Such lakes, creeks now under state authority

In 2003, the Bush administration instructed federal agencies that they no longer have authority over "isolated" waters. Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers has determined it has no jurisdiction over projects affecting at least two dozen creeks, ditches and reservoirs in northeastern Colorado, according to a new report on the administration's water policy. The report, titled "Reckless Abandon," was written by National Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. The policy shift stems from a Supreme Court decision against the corps in Illinois. Denver Post_ 8/12/04

New Jersey governor cheers water protection law without support of environmentalists

Calling it his "greatest environmental achievement," Gov. James E. McGreevey signed into law a measure to protect water in the Highlands region. But environmental activists refused to attend the party and prior to the bill signing, most of the state's environmental groups _ which had once hailed the Highlands preservation measure _ held their own news conference to criticize McGreevey for another new law they claim will speed building approvals in other parts of the state and may allow environmentally damaging projects to move ahead. AP/Newsday_ 8/10/04

Despite 25 years of planning, EPA says Scott County, Kentucky, hasn't proved it needs to dam rivers for a 280-acre reservoir

Officials say they need the reservoir because Royal Spring, the primary water source for Georgetown and much of the county, is increasingly suspectible to pollution. But the EPA says they have not adequately demonstrated that the reservoir is needed, have not provided a single alternative to building a dam across the confluence of Lytles Fork and Griffith Branch, and have not explored ways to mitigate the environmental impact of turning a free-flowing stream into a lake.  Lexington, Kentucky, Herald-Leader_ 8/9/04

Alabama's Dauphin Island water system combats trihalmethane contamination

Potentially cancer-causing byproducts of chlorine water treatment have been found in violation-level amounts since April of 2002, when testing for the chemicals began. Trihalomethanes is a group of chemicals produced when chlorine is used to treat water that is high in organic material such as leaves, grass or algae. Studies have shown that consumption of the chemicals over a number of years can cause liver, bladder and colon cancer. Mobile, Alabama, Register_ 8/10/04 (logon required)

Ohio's mega-dairies may contribute to Lake Erie "dead zone" and expensive drinking water filtration

Ohio State University zoologist David Culver poses the very real possibility that manure from northwest Ohio farms is contributing to Lake Erie's 6,300-square-mile "dead zone," an oxygen-depleted area where fish cannot live. Manure runoff can also affect the taste of drinking water tainted by decomposing algae. Bowling Green, for example, spent $3 million about four years ago to install a filtration system to improve the flavor of the city's water, which comes from the Maumee River. New filters cost about $70,000 a year. Cleveland Plain Dealer_ 8/1/04 (logon required)


July, 2004

Westford, Massachusetts residents criticize water department over perchlorate warning

About 100 callers complain city should have notified them earlier but officials say they acted as soon as they got state Department of Environmental Protection authorization. Lowell Sun_ 7/29/04

Audit: Federal efforts to clean Washington state's Hanford nuclear reservation's contaminated groundwater ineffective

The U.S. Department of Energy's inspector general reviewed the effectiveness of the agency's methods for water treatment at the nation's most contaminated nuclear site. The so-called pump-and-treat systems siphon contaminated water out of the ground, run it through filters and re-inject it. Those systems have been "largely ineffective," the audit concluded. The department has spent more than $85 million over the past eight years and will continue to spend about $8 million annually to operate the systems, the audit said. More than $230 million is scheduled to be spent on the surface barriers. Cleanup costs are expected to total $50 billion to $60 billion, with the work to be finished by 2035.  AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 7/28/04

Oklahoma municipal water utilities ask U.S. senators for help with new federal clean water regulations

City officials say the EPA requirements limiting the amounts of arsenic and other chemicals in drinking water will require massive upgrades of treatment plants and other infrastructure that they can't afford. The new arsenic standard, which goes into effect January 2006, will put 4,000 water systems serving 11 million people nationwide out of compliance. AP/KOTV_ 7/26/04

Arsenic removal from water in Reno-Sparks area of Nevada to cost $15 million
If it wasn't for the Truckee River, the cost of compliance with the 2006 federal standards would be $75 million. Arsenic is common in many places that rely on wells for their drinking water, but the river provides most of the water used by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. About 15 percent to 25 percent comes from ground water -- usually in the summer when the river is low. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require that concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic do not exceed 10 parts per billion, down from the existing standard of 50 ppb.  AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 7/26/04

Dozens of Elkhart, Indiana residents exposed to chemicals in water that could result in serious health effects

Thirty-two were exposed to trichloroethylene, and about 24 to carbon tetrachloride at levels that could result in serious health effects, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reviewed water wells for 598 homes and businesses. It found 251 contaminated wells near an old Conrail rail yard. The agency said 1,004 people ingested some chemical contaminants from the wells. New inceptor wells are being installed along the site, now the Elkhart Rail Yard, to stop or reduce the flow of contaminated water. AP/Indianapolis Star_ 7/25/04

Pentagon report on perchlorate in groundwater inadequate, senator says

The eight-page report found perchlorate contamination at 14 closed military bases nationwide, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein D-Calif. said the report didn't meet congressional demands. The Pentagon said it found perchlorate in ground water and soil samples at closed sites in 10 states. Perchlorate, a toxic chemical from rocket fuel and weapons production, has been linked to thyroid damage. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 7/23/04

Long-term testing of school water proposed
A Seattle School Board committee discussed a draft proposal yesterday that would commit the district to long-term water testing, notifying parents of results and appointing an oversight committee. The proposal would require that water from school drinking fountains contain no more than 20 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency recommends remedial action. Fountains not meeting health and aesthetic standards would be taken out of service and the schools given bottled water.  Seattle Times _7/22/04


Salt ponds being returned to wetlands

16,000 acres bought for $100 Million

One of the nation’s most ambitious environmental-restoration projects got under way this week as officials began the yearslong process of turning industrial salt ponds on the edge of San Francisco Bay into marshes brimming with wildlife.
The ponds were long used to produce salt. Under the restoration project, water is being pumped through two 4-foot-wide pipes to flush the salt out of the ponds. The ponds will ultimately be converted into wetlands that will support wildlife. Officials expect to see new species of birds, fish and plants move in.   MSNBC _7/20/04


Federal bill for $25 million perchlorate clean-up in California's Santa Clara Valley approved by House Committee on Resources
The legislation would fund projects by the Santa Clara Valley Water District to restore clean, safe drinking water to thousands of people whose wells are affected by perchlorate before completion of what is expected to be a decades-long cleanup of the groundwater basin. A 10-mile plume of the contaminant stretches south from a former Olin Corp. road flare-manufacturing site.  Morgan Hill Times_ 7/16/04

Nevada looking into groundwater concerns at mine southwest of Carlin
The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is planning to investigate questions raised by two environmental groups regarding groundwater quality at Cortez Gold Mines operations southwest of Carlin. The two groups are alleging that Cortez is contaminating groundwater with extra salt and nitrates picked up as water infiltrates back into the ground. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 7/18/04

Still no answer to source of perchlorate in Hills, Iowa water
A federal official told Hills residents the government expects to supply bottled water to the community for at least another year as an investigation continues into the cause of groundwater contamination. The EPA is providing bottled water for 24 homes with levels exceeding 18 parts per billion.  Iowa City Press-Citizen_ 7/16/04

Michigan canning company's waste suspected cause of contaminated wells
The 98-year-old New Era Canning Co.'s wastewater treatment lagoon is almost certainly the source of high iron and manganese levels contaminating nearby drinking wells, state officials say, and they've ordered ordered the company to supply any affected home owners with drinkable water.  Muskegon Chronicle_ 7/16/04 (logon required)

Head Start kids' drinking water may have had lead
Some of the most vulnerable children who spend time in Seattle's public schools -- those aged 3, 4 and 5 enrolled in the Head Start program -- may have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water from fountains in or near their classrooms.  The Seattle School District conducted tests systemwide this winter and spring after parents at Wedgwood Elementary complained about the quality of the water there and paid for testing that showed lead contamination. Of the 88 schools for which the district has released results, 70 include at least one fountain failing to meet the federal standard, and in 19 schools, more than half the fountains had dangerous lead levels.  Seattle Post-Intelligencer _7/13/04

Family relies on bottled water now
On Friday, the Lansing, Michigan Board of Water and Light confirmed something homeowners Chris and Emily Bourne have been trying to find out for more than a month - that the water pipe leading into their home is made of lead and will be replaced with copper. They are just one of 14,000 families whose pipes will be replaced voluntarily by the public utility.  Homeowner says she learned her new home had lead piping when she was contacted by a Washington Post reporter in May. Lansing State Journal _7/11/04

Arsenic levels at their limit

Arsenic levels in the Exeter, N.H. town well are at the 10 parts per billion safe limit recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, but any more arsenic would cause the water to exceed safe drinking water limits.  "We have to monitor it. We have to report it." But taking action is not yet mandated by the EPA. It appears the 10 parts per billion level is holding steady.  MSNBC_ 7/9/04


Water district warns customers of high radiation levels

A water quality warning sent by Boone County Public Water District No. 9 has stirred fear among some of its customers.
The special noticesaid the district’s system violated two drinking water standards. It contained slightly elevated levels of radiation in the form of radionuclide alpha emitters and combined radium. Although these levels have been elevated for years, this is the first time customers have been sent a notice. Roger Ballew, manager of the district, said the notice follows a new environmental rule that in December lowered the cutoff limit for safe levels of radioactive elements in water. "The water hasn’t changed; the rule changed," Ballew said. "I don’t want to minimize it, but it sounds a lot worse than it really is." Columbia Daily Tribune _7/9/04

Parents voice anger over lead in school water
Why weren't we told earlier about 1992 findings, they ask
Concern and anger spilled over at a Seattle school meeting last night, as parents demanded to know why the district did not act earlier to inform them about contaminants in school drinking-water and take steps to fix the problem. Recent districtwide tests found some of the highest lead levels in drinking water in Seattle Public Schools. Officials say the district is 'committed to doing whatever it takes to fix water problems at all schools.' No federal or state laws require school districts test drinking water for contaminants.  Seattle Post-Intelligencer _ 7/8/04

Rio Grande not toxic threat, but don't drink or swim in untreated water, report says
The International Boundary and Water Commission reported that the El Paso and Juarez, Mexico, section of the river contains traces of heavy metals, including some that cause cancer but that the amounts are not large enough to significantly threaten health. But experts say the findings of the study, begun in 1992, do not mean that it is safe to swim in or drink unpurified water from the river. AP/Star-Telegram_ 7/7/04 (logon required)

Shutting water wells to comply with arsenic standards may hurt Mesa, Arizona in an emergency, official says

Mesa plans to shut down nearly 25 percent of its wells to meet new arsenic limits in 2006. "We don’t have somewhere else where we can turn real quick in an emergency," said Alan Martindale, the city’s water quality supervisor. Wells account for 15 percent of the water supply. On Jan. 23, 2006, the arsenic limit for drinking water will change from 50 parts per billion — the standard since 1942 — to 10 parts per billion. The city plans to drill 27 new wells by 2025.  East Valley Tribune_ 7/6/04

Cost of reducing radium for 400,000 Wisconsin water customers is $200 million and climbing

One 18-home subdivision is dropping out altogether. But other water officials hope for relief from federal legislation that would provide $30 billion in loans and grants to the 42 utilities in Wisconsin and 600 others nationwide under orders to reduce illegal levels of radium and other contaminants in their water supplies. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel_ 7/3/04 (logon required)

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