Pennsylvania and national groups today are calling attention to a major court filing made late July 27 by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) that will result in the closure of Little Blue Run, the nation’s largest coal ash impoundment.
The state action filed the first-ever lawsuit against a coal ash dump operator for causing a potential “imminent and substantial endangerment” to human health and the environment by operating the nation’s largest coal ash impoundment, Little Blue Run, which spans the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border.
The PA DEP’s suit was filed with a consent decree that includes $800,000 in penalties and also mandates FirstEnergy to devise a plan to clean up contaminated groundwater surrounding the impoundment. It was filed 59 days after the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Public Justice gave notice that they would sue FirstEnergy, the owner of Little Blue Run, in 60-90 days for endangerment and other violations on behalf of Little Blue Regional Action Group, a coalition of residents who live near the coal ash impoundment.
“We believe this is the first time PA DEP or any regulator has formally recognized that pollution from coal ash ponds like Little Blue Run release pollutants that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to nearby residents and the environment,” said Lisa Widawsky Hallowell, attorney for the EIP. “The department is taking the concerns we raised seriously enough to file suit in federal court to protect residents from those dangers. We’re looking forward to reviewing the consent decree and continuing our work to ensure that this site is promptly remediated and closed.”
At nearly 1,700 acres, FirstEnergy’s Little Blue Run is the largest coal ash disposal pond in the nation, and the citizen groups had identified in their letter numerous releases of toxic pollutants like arsenic and selenium into both ground water and surface water. “PA DEP has recognized that FirstEnergy’s disposal of wet coal ash into a huge unlined lagoon has caused major environmental problems, despite existing state regulations,” said Public Justice.
“We are pleased that PA DEP has recognized the problems and started to make FirstEnergy solve them," said Power-Cotchett Attorney Richard Webster.
Although FirstEnergy has disposed of more than 20 billion gallons of coal ash at Little Blue Run, the site has no liner and has never been covered to prevent the release of toxic pollutants. The impoundment sits on the banks of the Ohio River, a drinking water source for millions of people.
“For years, we have known that the toxic coal ash in Little Blue Run was poisoning our drinking water and our environment,” said Curt Havens, vice president of the Little Blue Regional Action Group. “We appreciate that the PA DEP appears to be taking action to stop FirstEnergy from continuing to pollute our community, and we are going to continue to work to ensure that all current sources of pollution from this site are cleaned up and all future contamination is prevented.”
To view Little Blue Regional Action Group's photo gallery, click here.
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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