Toxic Fracking Wastewater Banned in White Plains, New York
A coalition of health and environmental groups gathered in White Plains today to congratulate the Westchester County Board of Legislators for unanimously voting to prohibit the sale, application and disposal of waste products from natural gas drilling anywhere in the county.
The new law, which applies to all wastewater treatment plants and all roads within the county, bans the sale of fracking waste, the processing of fracking waste at wastewater treatment plants, and the spreading of fracking wastewater on roads including applications for de-icing and dust control purposes. The groups are urging County Executive Rob Astorino to sign the bi-partisan legislation immediately.
High volume hydraulic fracturing also known as “hydrofracking” or “fracking” involves drilling deep underground into shale deposits and injecting millions of gallons of water and hundreds of toxic chemicals at high pressure to fracture the shale and release the gas. Much of this highly toxic mixture returns to the surface with the gas along with other contaminants including heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, brine (approximately eight times saltier than sea water) and high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials—including radium-226 and radium-228—which are known human carcinogens. Radium-226 has a half-life of 1600 years and is linked to bone, liver and breast cancers; other chemicals in fracking fluid are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
"Whether or not hydrofracking is permitted in New York State, radioactive fracking waste poses an immediate public health threat since it is produced by vertical gas wells in New York and is permitted for de-icing and dust control and is also accepted from Pennsylvania for dumping in landfills in New York State" said Ellen Weininger, educational outreach director for Grassroots Environmental Education, based in Rye, New York.
"With lax oversight from the state and absence of federal regulations, local governments need to step in to protect their citizens from dangerous exposures. We strongly commend the board of legislators for fulfilling that responsibility entrusted to them by the people of Westchester County by passing this critically important legislation."
"By passing this law, Westchester County legislators recognize the importance of protecting its citizens from radioactive components and heavy metals that are present in gas drilling waste," says Susan Van Dolsen, co-organizer of Westchester for Change.
"The law fills a void that exists in New York State due to a state regulation that classifies this waste as 'industrial' rather than 'hazardous' waste. We applaud our legislature's pro-active decision."
"This legislation is a crucial step toward protecting Westchester County residents from the harmful health effects of improper handling and disposal of fracking waste," said Kate Hudson, watershed program director at Riverkeeper. "By preventing wastewater treatment plants from accepting this waste and prohibiting its use on roads, the county’s drinking water supplies will be safe from heavy metals, naturally occurring radioactive materials, brine and other pollutants that are the toxic byproducts of fracking."
“This important legislation will protect Westchester County aquifers, reservoirs, rivers and streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds, and recharge areas," said Marian Rose, PhD, president emeritus of Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition.
Radioactive fracking waste from shale gas drilling can potentially cause irreversible damage to water, air, land and food supplies. Although this waste is hazardous and in fact exceeds the legal criteria for hazardous waste classification, it is categorized as “industrial” under federal and state laws as a result of special exemptions given to the oil and gas industry. These exemptions eliminate tracking requirements for its handling, storage, treatment and disposal of the waste.
Spreading radioactive fracking waste on roads will expose drivers, passengers and pedestrians to dangerous pollutants while contaminating nearby surface waters, residential areas, school properties and farmland. Radioactive particles may become airborne as trucks and passenger vehicles travel along roads. These events provide opportunity for human and livestock inhalation and ingestion of highly radioactive materials and other contaminants.
Wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to treat chemicals, contaminants and highly radioactive materials present in fracking waste. High bromide levels in this waste are highly corrosive to equipment and can react during water treatment to form brominated trihalomethanes, which are linked to bladder and colon cancers and are associated with birth defects.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.