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As news about North Carolina's governor and his administration downplaying the risks of drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium unfolds, two leading environmental health advocates are pushing the Obama administration to finally set a nationwide standard for the highly toxic chemical.

Erin Brockovich, a noted environmental health advocate and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop dragging its feet and move quickly to set a tough national standard, known as a Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL, for the ubiquitous carcinogen found in millions of Americans' tap water.

In a joint letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Brockovich and Cook wrote:

We write with deep concern about this continued delay. It is clear that the delay is sowing confusion among state and local regulators, utilities and the public about how much hexavalent chromium is safe in drinking water. This confusion is resulting in many Americans' exposure to unregulated levels of hexavalent chromium that federal, state and independent scientists agree pose health hazards.

The request comes as a top state health official in North Carolina resigned in protest over meddling by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff. McCrory sought to retract "do-not-drink" warnings directed at some residents whose tap water comes from wells likely tainted by hexavalent chromium from nearby Duke Energy coal-burning facilities.

The situation in North Carolina is, in part, a result of the absence of a stringent nationwide health-protective EPA standard, argued Brockovich and Cook:

States like North Carolina, where industrial byproducts like coal ash increase the risk of hexavalent chromium contamination, need a federal mandate to set strong, health-protective standards for levels of the contaminant in drinking water. Without it, states will continue to use inconsistent and potentially unsafe guidelines and leave citizens confused about whether their drinking water is safe.

A report issued by EWG back in December 2010 found hexavalent chromium in tap water from 31 of 35 American cities.

"It's high time EPA put in place a stringent national standard to protect Americans from drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium," Cook said in a separate statement.

"A lack of a federal standard and the ongoing delay in setting one, are confusing utilities, states and citizens about what level of hexavalent chromium in drinking water is safe. Until EPA acts, we will likely continue to see the situation happening in North Carolina unfold in other states."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Deirdre Fulton

Lawmakers have come up with a compromise to avoid a potential government shutdown and provide long-awaited aid for Flint, Michigan—though the band-aid measure will still keep that community, which has been grappling with a lead-contamination crisis for more than two years, waiting for funds at least until November.

According to news outlets, U.S. House leaders on Tuesday night struck a deal to allow a vote on an amendment adding $170 million in infrastructure funding under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), to help Flint and other cities with water emergencies.

The agreement followed days of tense talks, and came after Senate Democrats earlier on Tuesday blocked a vote to advance a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Friday, citing the GOP's refusal to include funding for Flint. The legislation does include emergency flood assistance for Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the breakthrough on Flint "will help unlock" the short-term spending bill. Indeed, the Washington Post reported that while "Senate Democrats have not yet examined the House amendment ... a senior aide said leaders are 'optimistic' that the deal could offer a path to avert a shutdown."

And Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has been outspoken in his call for Flint funding (and about the cause of the crisis in the first place), said the deal "is a step forward to ensuring that Flint families get the resources they need to recover from this crisis."

"The people of my hometown have waited over two years for their government to help them in their time of need," Kildee said. "We will continue to fight until Flint aid reaches the president's desk."

That may not be until December, the Post reported, as the House and Senate versions of the WRDA must still be resolved, and Congress is about to depart on recess until after the Nov. 8 election.

And as Michigan Public Radio notes:

If [the WRDA] passes, it's unclear how long it will take for the money to reach the city of Flint.
As of Tuesday, the city had replaced 155 lead service lines. It's estimated there could be 10,000 pipes connecting Flint homes to city water mains that continue to leech lead into the city's drinking water.

"The people of Flint deserved assistance more than a year ago, and they require assistance now, without further delay," a coalition of 86 civil rights, public health, and environmental groups wrote in an open letter to Congress this week. "Therefore, it is critical that aid comes now so that other children and families will not suffer."

The full House is set to vote on the Flint amendment on Wednesday.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Frederic Stevens/ Getty Images News / Getty Images

For nearly as long as solar panels have been gracing rooftops and barren land, creative people have been searching out additional surfaces that can be tiled with energy-generating photovoltaic (PV) panels. The idea has been pretty straightforward: if solar panels generate energy simply by facing the sun, then humans could collectively reduce our reliance on coal, oil, gas and other polluting fuels by maximizing our aggregate solar surface area.

So, what kind of unobstructed surfaces are built in every community and in between every major city across the globe? Highways and streets. With this in mind, the futuristic vision of laying thousands, or even millions, of solar panels on top of the asphalt of interstates and main streets was born.

While the concept art looked like a still from a sci-fi film, many inventors, businesses and investors saw these panels as a golden path toward clean energy and profit. Ultimately, though, the technology and economics ended up letting down those working behind each solar roadway project — from initial concepts in the early 2000s to the first solar roadway actually opened in France in 2016, they all flopped.

In the years since the concept of solar roadways went viral, solar PV has continued to improve in technology and drop in price. So, with a 2021 lens, is it time to re-run the numbers and see if a solar roadway could potentially deliver on that early promise? We dig in to find out.

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Nearly 20 percent of the water fountains in Chicago parks tested positive for excess levels of lead in the water and have been shut down by the Chicago Park District.

Hundreds of drinking fountains in Chicago parks have been shut off after testing revealed high levels of lead in the water.CBS Chicago

Of the 1,891 outdoor fountains in city parks, 445 exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion. Another 14 of 544 indoor water fountains were contaminated as well. However, the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule refers primarily to municipal water systems, not single source supplies. The rule requires that action be taken if more than 10 percent of the taps tested exceed the 15 parts per billion standard.

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By Bill Walker

Drinking water supplies for two-thirds of Americans are contaminated with the carcinogenic chemical made notorious by the film, Erin Brockovich, which was based on the real-life poisoning of tap water in a California desert town. But there are no national regulations for the compound—and the chemical industry is trying to keep it that way.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released an analysis Tuesday of more than 60,000 tap water tests conducted nationwide, finding that chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is in the tap water of more than 218 million Americans. That's two-thirds of the U.S. being served water with chromium-6 at, or above, the level that California state scientists consider safe. The California public health goal allows a chromium-6 level expected to cause no more than one case of cancer in 1 million people who drink it for lifetime.

Interactive map of chromium-6 in U.S. drinking water shows an estimated 218 million Americans served unsafe levels of the chemical.Environmental Protection Agency, UCMR-3

Though far more permissive than its public health goal, California is the only state that has set an enforceable legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water. Federal chromium regulations, set in 1991, do not specifically address chromium-6 and do not consider current science showing that drinking water contaminated with the chemical can cause cancer.

Chromium is a naturally occurring element but can also be manufactured. The two main types are chromium-3—an essential human nutrient considered to be mostly harmless—and chromium-6, which has long been known to cause lung cancer when airborne particles are inhaled. Recent science has also shown that, when ingested, it can cause stomach cancer. Chromium-6 is used in chrome plating, wood and leather treatments, dyes and pigments, and the water in cooling towers of electrical power plants.

A 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program found chromium-6 in drinking water caused cancer in rats and mice. California state scientists drew on that study to determine its public health goal, which is unenforceable, but guided state regulators in setting a legal limit. Although EWG believes the legal limit is far too high to protect public health, it is the only enforceable regulation on chromium-6 in the U.S.

The National Toxicology Program study was also used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draft a health assessment for a safe exposure level. The draft was completed in 2011, but not formally released because the chemical and electric power industries pressured the EPA to wait for the results of other, industry-funded studies. Five years later, we're still waiting for the industry studies, which are expected to argue that the EPA doesn't need to set a national standard at all. They're also expected to fundamentally challenge the way the EPA calculates the risk of all carcinogenic chemicals.

Will the EPA stand up to industry pressure? The agency's record is not good. Since landmark amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996, the EPA has not set any new drinking water regulations for previously unregulated contaminants. The EPA has ordered tests on 81 contaminants, but moved forward on setting regulations for just one—and those regulations are two years behind schedule.

California's public health goal is 0.02 parts per billion of chromium-6 in drinking water, yet the state's legal limit is 500 times higher. A home water filter can remove chromium-6 and most other chemicals of concern, but can be expensive. Ultimately, the better solution is for federal regulators to set drinking water standards that keep up with advances in science and prevent dangerous contaminants from getting into tap water in the first place.

In Monday's debate, Hillary Clinton pledged to spend $275 billion investing in America's infrastructure. Donald Trump doubled down, promises lots more. On Tuesday the Senate failed to pass a bill to keep the government open because Democrats insisted—and Republicans rejecting—inclusion of a modest $220 million to repair the toxic contamination in the Flint, Michigan public water system.

The 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which collapsed during rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007.

Where the disconnect? That's a small example of the big question at the heart of Upgrading America, today's DC summit on American infrastructure. Everyone agrees our infrastructure is a shambles—D+ according to the Academy of Engineering. Almost everyone agrees that a lot of this infrastructure is essential for a strong America, and requires a federal role. But, as we are reminded today, for the past 30-40 years, we have systematically starved the critical systems that make our country safe, liveable, competitive—and yes, Donald, great. (Trump is right about the third world condition of our airports etc. He is wrong in refusing to support anything that would plausibly pay for improving them.)

A few painful reminders of how bad we have allowed things to get:

  • We have stored 727 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, our insurance policy in case, say, a Middle Eastern crisis shut down Persian Gulf oil. We couldn't get it out as fast as we might need it, Energy Secretary Moniz tells us, because we don't have enough loading docks.
  • We have 200,000 water mains break in the U.S. every year. The average water pipe in Washington DC is 79 years old, meaning half are past their useful life. Cities as diverse as Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Cleveland have suffered lead poisoning from water just like Flint.
  • Enough natural gas leaks from our pipeline system every year to power 7 million homes. Every year we have a major natural gas explosion or leak that kills people or drives them from their homes.
  • Most of America's railway bridges cannot handle double stacked loads. But all our planning for handling the 45 percent increase we expect in goods movement requires such double stacking.
  • There are new challenges as well. Every year, there are now 150 cyber attacks on the U.S. energy system. The system is simply not hardened against such threats, much less against a massive electro-magnetic pulse that a single high altitude nuclear explosion might unleash.

And some economic realities, that should, but won't, sober up Trump:

  • The old way of doing things is getting steadily more expensive. A single new substation in New York City can cost a billion dollars, even thought it is needed only half the time.
  • Cities like Baltimore, after decades of not investing in their water systems, are now raising rates at 10 percent a year—their citizens will soon not be able to pay for water.
  • Even at our present replacement rate, ½ of 1 percent a year, it will cost us $650 billion every ten years to maintain our water and sewer systems. At the end of that time, the average water main will be 200 years old.
  • The wholesale price of electricity has fallen by 30 percent over the last eight years. But the cost of the wires and poles that distribute electricity has increased so fast that the retail price of electricity is up 20 percent.
  • Adding new highway improvements in Washington State at a cost of $2.5 billion are considered a "success" if they cut 90 seconds off the average commute time.

But we have some stunning opportunities if we start thinking systemically, rather than clinging to mid-twentieth century approaches and mind-sets. Efficiency, substituting data for raw materials, and renewables for fossils, are the keys.

  • If we replaced outmoded, leaky water mains, we would immediately recapture 1.7 trillion gallons of water, 25 percent of the treated water we feed into them, water which after collection and treatment at great expense now leaks into the ground.
  • That same $1 billion NY substation became completely unnecessary when ConEdison invested $200 million in modern load smoothing strategies like energy efficiency and demand management.
  • Utilities are currently rewarded for wastefully investing more capital in power plants, wires and poles. Yet we have huge surplus capacity in our system already—New York State uses its power plants only 54 percent of the time. Using new technology to shift demand by only a few hours using energy storage could postpone the need for new capital investment.
  • The cost of renewable power continues to plummet. Over the last eight years prices fell from 41 percent (wind) to 90 percent (LED bulbs). Unsubsidized solar power in the best locations now cost a trivial 2.4 cents a kwh.
  • New prototype Class 8 trucks can save 88 percent of the fuel used by today's models, meaning we won't need as many pipelines to deliver diesel.

And these solutions, thoughtfully designed, can have a phenomenally positive impact on our economy, inequality and our sense of national dignity and unity.

  • Accelerating the repairs on our natural gas pipeline system to eliminate leaks and explosions would generate 300,000 jobs.
  • Restoring high quality public water systems may cost more than we are used to paying—but it would cost perhaps 1/1000 of our current work-around, bottled water. And we would all be equally well served.
  • In California, which has put in place climate policies that generate revenues and discourage pollution, the clean energy sector is now the state's largest single employer, with 500,000 jobs. The sector is growing six times as fast as the state's overall economy, which in turn is growing faster than the U.S. economy.

Finally, replacing wasteful consumption of fossil fuels, leaky gas and water mains, and outmoded electrical infrastructure with knowledge driven, higher performance, low carbon infrastructure and technology is, quite simply, the single most powerful economic development strategy available to us. To cite one example, (probably the biggest, but only one), there was tremendous excitement last month at the news that the economic recovery was finally reaching the average American. Median family incomes increased by 5.2 percent. But it turns out that if energy prices in 2015 had tracked the rest of the consumer price index, instead of falling 17 percent, the household benefit would have been only 3.4 percent. And if the U.S. had not invested in more efficient cars and trucks beginning in 2007, if renewables and efficiency weren't displacing natural gas and coal, then that fall in energy prices would not have occurred—and household income would have grown far less rapidly.

Investing in innovative and less wasteful, less carbon and resource intensive infrastructure, does have an upfront cost: but it pays off in so many ways that voters ought to be doubling down on Donald Trump's bid. America ought to set a goal—improving our infrastructure from D- to B+ say—and make sure that politicians of both parties get it done.

Watch John Oliver as he discusses "America's crumbling infrastructure: It's not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one":

Just weeks before the U.S. presidential election, filmmaker Anthony Baxter will release a sequel to his award-winning film, You've Been Trumped.

You've Been Trumped Too, shot in Scotland and the U.S., features the real-life stories of Molly and Michael Forbes, who became nationally-recognized Scottish folk heroes after opposing a controversial Trump golf development in their pristine coastal village.

In the new film, Baxter followes Michael Forbes—who Trump branded "a pig" and his farm "a slum"—to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, where Forbes attempts to find out why some Americans are backing the man he blames for his family's misfortune.

"I was amazed to observe the consequences of Donald Trump's actions in Scotland, at the very same time he was running for president," Baxter said, who was once jailed after investigating why the Trump organization had cut off water supplies to local residents.

"I felt it was a story American voters needed to hear before November 8th."

If you want to be one of the first to see the entire film, check out this Kickstarter page and be among the more than 580 people supporting this film.

The film will debut in New York City and London in late October before being distributed worldwide on other platforms.

iStock

Tap water in the U.S. is generally safe to drink. At least that's what we are told by medical professionals and government agencies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates public drinking water, aims to "ensure and protect the quality of Americans' drinking water" under the Safe Drinking Water Act, established in 1974. Reports say that some 92 percent of tap water meets state and federal standards and that the U.S. has the cleanest and safest public water supply in the world.

But tell that to the residents of Flint, Michigan, who drank lead-laced water for more than a year, even though officials in Gov. Rick Snyder's administration knew about its toxicity. Or the 3,000 areas nationwide facing lead poisoning rates worse than Flint. Or the 218 million Americans unwittingly drinking chromium-6 (the carcinogenic "Erin Brockovich" chemical) right from their faucets.

For these reasons and many more, is it any surprise that many Americans are questioning the safety of their drinking water despite decades of assurances from experts and government officials?

A recent survey from Iowa-based marketing firm Meyocks found that only three out of five Americans (57 percent) agree that their tap water is safe. But the nationwide survey of 1,006 adults also revealed that about one in five Americans (19 percent) disagree that their tap water is safe and 24 percent are unsure.

Many Americans are unsure whether their tap water is safe to drink. Meyocks

So how do you know if your water is safe to drink? For the most part, America's drinking water is pulled from groundwater or surface water sources and treated at plants to federal and state purity levels before arriving to your tap.

Unless you have a private well, the best way to find out if the water flowing from your faucet is safe is by searching the EPA database and finding your local water supplier's Consumer Confidence Report or CCR. This annual drinking water quality report, which your supplier must complete by July 1 of each year, includes information on where your water comes from, the levels of detected contaminants and your supplier's compliance with drinking water rules.

For instance, take the CCR for Georgetown County, South Carolina, where I currently live. After sampling results for nearly 100 substances and elements regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, my local water supplier determined that the county's water is "healthy, safe, high quality and exceeded all state and federal health and safety standards."

While Georgetown's CCR reported trace amounts of contaminants, note that all drinking water—yes, even the bottled stuff—often contains minor traces of some contaminants. The EPA's National Primary Drinking Water Regulations table has set Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) for contaminants allowed in public water sources.

Contaminants are not necessarily harmful to healthy people, but some groups of people can be more vulnerable to polluted water, such as infants, children and pregnant women or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, transplant patients or people with HIV/AIDS.

For those of you who are still uncertain or do not trust your CCR—and given the water disasters in Flint and numerous other cities, that's understandable—contact your water supplier or the local health department for further testing options. You can also have your drinking water tested by contacting a laboratory certified by your state or territory.

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By Alex Formuzis and Sonya Lunder

Myron Ebell, head of President-elect Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team, is a notorious denier of global warming whose biography unashamedly notes that he's considered a "climate criminal" by activists and "a superstar of the denialosphere" by The Climate War author Eric Pooley. But he's also director of environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which touts "the life-enhancing value of chemicals"—chemicals like arsenic, DDT and PCBs.

One of the the Competitive Enterprise Institute's projects is SafeChemicalPolicy.org. The site is bursting with articles and reports that cast doubt on the dangers of toxic chemicals and pesticides in food, water and consumer products, and disparage the work of public health advocates, with Environmental Working Group (EWG) one of the site's favorite targets.

350.org

Here are just a few examples:

  • It disparages public health advocates' concerns over fetuses being exposed to endocrine disruptors in the womb, including Monsanto's notorious PCBs and the now-banned pesticide DDT.

There's much more: Anti-BPA Packaging Laws Jeopardize Public Health, Silent Spring Was Wrong and Erin Brockovich's Toxic Fearmongering.

"The simple reality," says the site, "is that modern living means living with chemicals." We couldn't agree more. The problem is that too many of those chemicals are hazardous to our health. The EPA is supposed to protect us from dangerous chemicals, not defend them, as Ebell would almost certainly do if he ran the agency.

As it turns out, EWG is a popular target among Trump's other top advisers. Steve Bannon, the former campaign CEO and incoming chief White House strategist attacked us when he was running the alt-right website Breitbart News.

We're used to it. In fact, when science deniers like Ebell and Bannon regularly get worked up over something you've said or done, it usually means you've said or done something right.

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EcoWatch is a community of experts publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions for a healthier planet and life.

As news about North Carolina's governor and his administration downplaying the risks of drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium unfolds, two leading environmental health advocates are pushing the Obama administration to finally set a nationwide standard for the highly toxic chemical.

Erin Brockovich, a noted environmental health advocate and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop dragging its feet and move quickly to set a tough national standard, known as a Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL, for the ubiquitous carcinogen found in millions of Americans' tap water.

In a joint letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Brockovich and Cook wrote:

We write with deep concern about this continued delay. It is clear that the delay is sowing confusion among state and local regulators, utilities and the public about how much hexavalent chromium is safe in drinking water. This confusion is resulting in many Americans' exposure to unregulated levels of hexavalent chromium that federal, state and independent scientists agree pose health hazards.

The request comes as a top state health official in North Carolina resigned in protest over meddling by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff. McCrory sought to retract "do-not-drink" warnings directed at some residents whose tap water comes from wells likely tainted by hexavalent chromium from nearby Duke Energy coal-burning facilities.

The situation in North Carolina is, in part, a result of the absence of a stringent nationwide health-protective EPA standard, argued Brockovich and Cook:

States like North Carolina, where industrial byproducts like coal ash increase the risk of hexavalent chromium contamination, need a federal mandate to set strong, health-protective standards for levels of the contaminant in drinking water. Without it, states will continue to use inconsistent and potentially unsafe guidelines and leave citizens confused about whether their drinking water is safe.

A report issued by EWG back in December 2010 found hexavalent chromium in tap water from 31 of 35 American cities.

"It's high time EPA put in place a stringent national standard to protect Americans from drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium," Cook said in a separate statement.

"A lack of a federal standard and the ongoing delay in setting one, are confusing utilities, states and citizens about what level of hexavalent chromium in drinking water is safe. Until EPA acts, we will likely continue to see the situation happening in North Carolina unfold in other states."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Deirdre Fulton

Lawmakers have come up with a compromise to avoid a potential government shutdown and provide long-awaited aid for Flint, Michigan—though the band-aid measure will still keep that community, which has been grappling with a lead-contamination crisis for more than two years, waiting for funds at least until November.

According to news outlets, U.S. House leaders on Tuesday night struck a deal to allow a vote on an amendment adding $170 million in infrastructure funding under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), to help Flint and other cities with water emergencies.

The agreement followed days of tense talks, and came after Senate Democrats earlier on Tuesday blocked a vote to advance a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Friday, citing the GOP's refusal to include funding for Flint. The legislation does include emergency flood assistance for Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the breakthrough on Flint "will help unlock" the short-term spending bill. Indeed, the Washington Post reported that while "Senate Democrats have not yet examined the House amendment ... a senior aide said leaders are 'optimistic' that the deal could offer a path to avert a shutdown."

And Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has been outspoken in his call for Flint funding (and about the cause of the crisis in the first place), said the deal "is a step forward to ensuring that Flint families get the resources they need to recover from this crisis."

"The people of my hometown have waited over two years for their government to help them in their time of need," Kildee said. "We will continue to fight until Flint aid reaches the president's desk."

That may not be until December, the Post reported, as the House and Senate versions of the WRDA must still be resolved, and Congress is about to depart on recess until after the Nov. 8 election.

And as Michigan Public Radio notes:

If [the WRDA] passes, it's unclear how long it will take for the money to reach the city of Flint.
As of Tuesday, the city had replaced 155 lead service lines. It's estimated there could be 10,000 pipes connecting Flint homes to city water mains that continue to leech lead into the city's drinking water.

"The people of Flint deserved assistance more than a year ago, and they require assistance now, without further delay," a coalition of 86 civil rights, public health, and environmental groups wrote in an open letter to Congress this week. "Therefore, it is critical that aid comes now so that other children and families will not suffer."

The full House is set to vote on the Flint amendment on Wednesday.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

Frederic Stevens/ Getty Images News / Getty Images

For nearly as long as solar panels have been gracing rooftops and barren land, creative people have been searching out additional surfaces that can be tiled with energy-generating photovoltaic (PV) panels. The idea has been pretty straightforward: if solar panels generate energy simply by facing the sun, then humans could collectively reduce our reliance on coal, oil, gas and other polluting fuels by maximizing our aggregate solar surface area.

So, what kind of unobstructed surfaces are built in every community and in between every major city across the globe? Highways and streets. With this in mind, the futuristic vision of laying thousands, or even millions, of solar panels on top of the asphalt of interstates and main streets was born.

While the concept art looked like a still from a sci-fi film, many inventors, businesses and investors saw these panels as a golden path toward clean energy and profit. Ultimately, though, the technology and economics ended up letting down those working behind each solar roadway project — from initial concepts in the early 2000s to the first solar roadway actually opened in France in 2016, they all flopped.

In the years since the concept of solar roadways went viral, solar PV has continued to improve in technology and drop in price. So, with a 2021 lens, is it time to re-run the numbers and see if a solar roadway could potentially deliver on that early promise? We dig in to find out.

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Nearly 20 percent of the water fountains in Chicago parks tested positive for excess levels of lead in the water and have been shut down by the Chicago Park District.

Hundreds of drinking fountains in Chicago parks have been shut off after testing revealed high levels of lead in the water.CBS Chicago

Of the 1,891 outdoor fountains in city parks, 445 exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion. Another 14 of 544 indoor water fountains were contaminated as well. However, the EPA's Lead and Copper Rule refers primarily to municipal water systems, not single source supplies. The rule requires that action be taken if more than 10 percent of the taps tested exceed the 15 parts per billion standard.

Read More Show Less
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By Bill Walker

Drinking water supplies for two-thirds of Americans are contaminated with the carcinogenic chemical made notorious by the film, Erin Brockovich, which was based on the real-life poisoning of tap water in a California desert town. But there are no national regulations for the compound—and the chemical industry is trying to keep it that way.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released an analysis Tuesday of more than 60,000 tap water tests conducted nationwide, finding that chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is in the tap water of more than 218 million Americans. That's two-thirds of the U.S. being served water with chromium-6 at, or above, the level that California state scientists consider safe. The California public health goal allows a chromium-6 level expected to cause no more than one case of cancer in 1 million people who drink it for lifetime.

Interactive map of chromium-6 in U.S. drinking water shows an estimated 218 million Americans served unsafe levels of the chemical.Environmental Protection Agency, UCMR-3

Though far more permissive than its public health goal, California is the only state that has set an enforceable legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water. Federal chromium regulations, set in 1991, do not specifically address chromium-6 and do not consider current science showing that drinking water contaminated with the chemical can cause cancer.

Chromium is a naturally occurring element but can also be manufactured. The two main types are chromium-3—an essential human nutrient considered to be mostly harmless—and chromium-6, which has long been known to cause lung cancer when airborne particles are inhaled. Recent science has also shown that, when ingested, it can cause stomach cancer. Chromium-6 is used in chrome plating, wood and leather treatments, dyes and pigments, and the water in cooling towers of electrical power plants.

A 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program found chromium-6 in drinking water caused cancer in rats and mice. California state scientists drew on that study to determine its public health goal, which is unenforceable, but guided state regulators in setting a legal limit. Although EWG believes the legal limit is far too high to protect public health, it is the only enforceable regulation on chromium-6 in the U.S.

The National Toxicology Program study was also used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draft a health assessment for a safe exposure level. The draft was completed in 2011, but not formally released because the chemical and electric power industries pressured the EPA to wait for the results of other, industry-funded studies. Five years later, we're still waiting for the industry studies, which are expected to argue that the EPA doesn't need to set a national standard at all. They're also expected to fundamentally challenge the way the EPA calculates the risk of all carcinogenic chemicals.

Will the EPA stand up to industry pressure? The agency's record is not good. Since landmark amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996, the EPA has not set any new drinking water regulations for previously unregulated contaminants. The EPA has ordered tests on 81 contaminants, but moved forward on setting regulations for just one—and those regulations are two years behind schedule.

California's public health goal is 0.02 parts per billion of chromium-6 in drinking water, yet the state's legal limit is 500 times higher. A home water filter can remove chromium-6 and most other chemicals of concern, but can be expensive. Ultimately, the better solution is for federal regulators to set drinking water standards that keep up with advances in science and prevent dangerous contaminants from getting into tap water in the first place.

In Monday's debate, Hillary Clinton pledged to spend $275 billion investing in America's infrastructure. Donald Trump doubled down, promises lots more. On Tuesday the Senate failed to pass a bill to keep the government open because Democrats insisted—and Republicans rejecting—inclusion of a modest $220 million to repair the toxic contamination in the Flint, Michigan public water system.

The 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which collapsed during rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007.

Where the disconnect? That's a small example of the big question at the heart of Upgrading America, today's DC summit on American infrastructure. Everyone agrees our infrastructure is a shambles—D+ according to the Academy of Engineering. Almost everyone agrees that a lot of this infrastructure is essential for a strong America, and requires a federal role. But, as we are reminded today, for the past 30-40 years, we have systematically starved the critical systems that make our country safe, liveable, competitive—and yes, Donald, great. (Trump is right about the third world condition of our airports etc. He is wrong in refusing to support anything that would plausibly pay for improving them.)

A few painful reminders of how bad we have allowed things to get:

  • We have stored 727 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, our insurance policy in case, say, a Middle Eastern crisis shut down Persian Gulf oil. We couldn't get it out as fast as we might need it, Energy Secretary Moniz tells us, because we don't have enough loading docks.
  • We have 200,000 water mains break in the U.S. every year. The average water pipe in Washington DC is 79 years old, meaning half are past their useful life. Cities as diverse as Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Cleveland have suffered lead poisoning from water just like Flint.
  • Enough natural gas leaks from our pipeline system every year to power 7 million homes. Every year we have a major natural gas explosion or leak that kills people or drives them from their homes.
  • Most of America's railway bridges cannot handle double stacked loads. But all our planning for handling the 45 percent increase we expect in goods movement requires such double stacking.
  • There are new challenges as well. Every year, there are now 150 cyber attacks on the U.S. energy system. The system is simply not hardened against such threats, much less against a massive electro-magnetic pulse that a single high altitude nuclear explosion might unleash.

And some economic realities, that should, but won't, sober up Trump:

  • The old way of doing things is getting steadily more expensive. A single new substation in New York City can cost a billion dollars, even thought it is needed only half the time.
  • Cities like Baltimore, after decades of not investing in their water systems, are now raising rates at 10 percent a year—their citizens will soon not be able to pay for water.
  • Even at our present replacement rate, ½ of 1 percent a year, it will cost us $650 billion every ten years to maintain our water and sewer systems. At the end of that time, the average water main will be 200 years old.
  • The wholesale price of electricity has fallen by 30 percent over the last eight years. But the cost of the wires and poles that distribute electricity has increased so fast that the retail price of electricity is up 20 percent.
  • Adding new highway improvements in Washington State at a cost of $2.5 billion are considered a "success" if they cut 90 seconds off the average commute time.

But we have some stunning opportunities if we start thinking systemically, rather than clinging to mid-twentieth century approaches and mind-sets. Efficiency, substituting data for raw materials, and renewables for fossils, are the keys.

  • If we replaced outmoded, leaky water mains, we would immediately recapture 1.7 trillion gallons of water, 25 percent of the treated water we feed into them, water which after collection and treatment at great expense now leaks into the ground.
  • That same $1 billion NY substation became completely unnecessary when ConEdison invested $200 million in modern load smoothing strategies like energy efficiency and demand management.
  • Utilities are currently rewarded for wastefully investing more capital in power plants, wires and poles. Yet we have huge surplus capacity in our system already—New York State uses its power plants only 54 percent of the time. Using new technology to shift demand by only a few hours using energy storage could postpone the need for new capital investment.
  • The cost of renewable power continues to plummet. Over the last eight years prices fell from 41 percent (wind) to 90 percent (LED bulbs). Unsubsidized solar power in the best locations now cost a trivial 2.4 cents a kwh.
  • New prototype Class 8 trucks can save 88 percent of the fuel used by today's models, meaning we won't need as many pipelines to deliver diesel.

And these solutions, thoughtfully designed, can have a phenomenally positive impact on our economy, inequality and our sense of national dignity and unity.

  • Accelerating the repairs on our natural gas pipeline system to eliminate leaks and explosions would generate 300,000 jobs.
  • Restoring high quality public water systems may cost more than we are used to paying—but it would cost perhaps 1/1000 of our current work-around, bottled water. And we would all be equally well served.
  • In California, which has put in place climate policies that generate revenues and discourage pollution, the clean energy sector is now the state's largest single employer, with 500,000 jobs. The sector is growing six times as fast as the state's overall economy, which in turn is growing faster than the U.S. economy.

Finally, replacing wasteful consumption of fossil fuels, leaky gas and water mains, and outmoded electrical infrastructure with knowledge driven, higher performance, low carbon infrastructure and technology is, quite simply, the single most powerful economic development strategy available to us. To cite one example, (probably the biggest, but only one), there was tremendous excitement last month at the news that the economic recovery was finally reaching the average American. Median family incomes increased by 5.2 percent. But it turns out that if energy prices in 2015 had tracked the rest of the consumer price index, instead of falling 17 percent, the household benefit would have been only 3.4 percent. And if the U.S. had not invested in more efficient cars and trucks beginning in 2007, if renewables and efficiency weren't displacing natural gas and coal, then that fall in energy prices would not have occurred—and household income would have grown far less rapidly.

Investing in innovative and less wasteful, less carbon and resource intensive infrastructure, does have an upfront cost: but it pays off in so many ways that voters ought to be doubling down on Donald Trump's bid. America ought to set a goal—improving our infrastructure from D- to B+ say—and make sure that politicians of both parties get it done.

Watch John Oliver as he discusses "America's crumbling infrastructure: It's not a sexy problem, but it is a scary one":

Just weeks before the U.S. presidential election, filmmaker Anthony Baxter will release a sequel to his award-winning film, You've Been Trumped.

You've Been Trumped Too, shot in Scotland and the U.S., features the real-life stories of Molly and Michael Forbes, who became nationally-recognized Scottish folk heroes after opposing a controversial Trump golf development in their pristine coastal village.

In the new film, Baxter followes Michael Forbes—who Trump branded "a pig" and his farm "a slum"—to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, where Forbes attempts to find out why some Americans are backing the man he blames for his family's misfortune.

"I was amazed to observe the consequences of Donald Trump's actions in Scotland, at the very same time he was running for president," Baxter said, who was once jailed after investigating why the Trump organization had cut off water supplies to local residents.

"I felt it was a story American voters needed to hear before November 8th."

If you want to be one of the first to see the entire film, check out this Kickstarter page and be among the more than 580 people supporting this film.

The film will debut in New York City and London in late October before being distributed worldwide on other platforms.

iStock

Tap water in the U.S. is generally safe to drink. At least that's what we are told by medical professionals and government agencies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates public drinking water, aims to "ensure and protect the quality of Americans' drinking water" under the Safe Drinking Water Act, established in 1974. Reports say that some 92 percent of tap water meets state and federal standards and that the U.S. has the cleanest and safest public water supply in the world.

But tell that to the residents of Flint, Michigan, who drank lead-laced water for more than a year, even though officials in Gov. Rick Snyder's administration knew about its toxicity. Or the 3,000 areas nationwide facing lead poisoning rates worse than Flint. Or the 218 million Americans unwittingly drinking chromium-6 (the carcinogenic "Erin Brockovich" chemical) right from their faucets.

For these reasons and many more, is it any surprise that many Americans are questioning the safety of their drinking water despite decades of assurances from experts and government officials?

A recent survey from Iowa-based marketing firm Meyocks found that only three out of five Americans (57 percent) agree that their tap water is safe. But the nationwide survey of 1,006 adults also revealed that about one in five Americans (19 percent) disagree that their tap water is safe and 24 percent are unsure.

Many Americans are unsure whether their tap water is safe to drink. Meyocks

So how do you know if your water is safe to drink? For the most part, America's drinking water is pulled from groundwater or surface water sources and treated at plants to federal and state purity levels before arriving to your tap.

Unless you have a private well, the best way to find out if the water flowing from your faucet is safe is by searching the EPA database and finding your local water supplier's Consumer Confidence Report or CCR. This annual drinking water quality report, which your supplier must complete by July 1 of each year, includes information on where your water comes from, the levels of detected contaminants and your supplier's compliance with drinking water rules.

For instance, take the CCR for Georgetown County, South Carolina, where I currently live. After sampling results for nearly 100 substances and elements regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, my local water supplier determined that the county's water is "healthy, safe, high quality and exceeded all state and federal health and safety standards."

While Georgetown's CCR reported trace amounts of contaminants, note that all drinking water—yes, even the bottled stuff—often contains minor traces of some contaminants. The EPA's National Primary Drinking Water Regulations table has set Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL) for contaminants allowed in public water sources.

Contaminants are not necessarily harmful to healthy people, but some groups of people can be more vulnerable to polluted water, such as infants, children and pregnant women or cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, transplant patients or people with HIV/AIDS.

For those of you who are still uncertain or do not trust your CCR—and given the water disasters in Flint and numerous other cities, that's understandable—contact your water supplier or the local health department for further testing options. You can also have your drinking water tested by contacting a laboratory certified by your state or territory.

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By Alex Formuzis and Sonya Lunder

Myron Ebell, head of President-elect Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team, is a notorious denier of global warming whose biography unashamedly notes that he's considered a "climate criminal" by activists and "a superstar of the denialosphere" by The Climate War author Eric Pooley. But he's also director of environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which touts "the life-enhancing value of chemicals"—chemicals like arsenic, DDT and PCBs.

One of the the Competitive Enterprise Institute's projects is SafeChemicalPolicy.org. The site is bursting with articles and reports that cast doubt on the dangers of toxic chemicals and pesticides in food, water and consumer products, and disparage the work of public health advocates, with Environmental Working Group (EWG) one of the site's favorite targets.

350.org

Here are just a few examples:

  • It disparages public health advocates' concerns over fetuses being exposed to endocrine disruptors in the womb, including Monsanto's notorious PCBs and the now-banned pesticide DDT.

There's much more: Anti-BPA Packaging Laws Jeopardize Public Health, Silent Spring Was Wrong and Erin Brockovich's Toxic Fearmongering.

"The simple reality," says the site, "is that modern living means living with chemicals." We couldn't agree more. The problem is that too many of those chemicals are hazardous to our health. The EPA is supposed to protect us from dangerous chemicals, not defend them, as Ebell would almost certainly do if he ran the agency.

As it turns out, EWG is a popular target among Trump's other top advisers. Steve Bannon, the former campaign CEO and incoming chief White House strategist attacked us when he was running the alt-right website Breitbart News.

We're used to it. In fact, when science deniers like Ebell and Bannon regularly get worked up over something you've said or done, it usually means you've said or done something right.

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