Wasting Our Waterways
Industrial facilities continue to dump millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s rivers, streams, lakes and ocean waters each year—threatening both the environment and human health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pollution from industrial facilities is responsible for threatening or fouling water quality in more than 14,000 miles of rivers and more than 220,000 acres of lakes, ponds and estuaries nationwide.
Industrial facilities dumped nine million pounds of toxic chemicals into Ohio’s waterways, making Ohio the ninth worst in the nation, according to a new report—Wasting Our Waterways: Industrial Toxic Pollution and the Unfulfilled Promise of the Clean Water Act—released in March by Environment Ohio.
Industrial facilities discharged approximately 3,700 pounds of chemicals linked to developmental disorders and reproductive problems into the Cuyahoga River. The Ohio River is ranked first in the nation for highest amount of total toxic discharges, with 32 million pounds discharged in 2010.
AK Steel was the biggest polluter in Ohio, dumping 5.5 million pounds of toxic pollution into the state’s waterways. Furthermore, AK Steel Corp. was the third biggest polluter in the country.
“Our city and region’s biggest asset is Lake Erie and its tributaries,” said Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins of Ward 14. “Water quality is critical to the health of the lake and our waterways and, although much progress has been made, there is still a lot to be done in enforcing and strengthening our existing laws.”
The continued release of large volumes of toxic chemicals into the nation’s waterways shows that the nation needs to do more to reduce the threat posed by toxic chemicals to our environment and our health and to ensure that our waterways are fully protected against harmful pollution.
Industrial facilities dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into American waterways in 2010, according to the federal government’s Toxic Release Inventory.
• Toxic chemicals were discharged to more than 1,400 waterways in all 50 states. The Ohio River ranked first for toxic discharges in 2010, followed by the Mississippi River and the New River in Virginia and North Carolina.
• This represents a small (2.6 percent) decrease in the overall volume of toxic releases since the previous edition of this report, released in 2009 and based on data from 2007.
• Nitrate compounds—which can cause serious health problems in infants if found in drinking water and which contribute to oxygen-depleted “dead zones” in waterways—were by far the largest toxic releases in terms of overall volume.
• Small as well as large waterways received heavy doses of toxics. Because of a large release of arsenic and metal compounds from a gold mine, combined discharges of developmental toxicants to three small creeks in Nevada were larger than combined discharges of such toxicants to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
• Toxic releases continued in already damaged waterways. The Calumet River system in Indiana and Illinois—home to five different Superfund toxic waste sites, and at one time so polluted that not even sludge worms could live there—ranked high on the list of developmental and reproductive toxic releases due to ongoing discharges from steel mills and an oil refinery.
Toxic chemicals linked to serious health effects were released in large amounts to America’s waterways in 2010.
• Industrial facilities discharged approximately 1.5 million pounds of chemicals linked to cancer to more than 1,000 waterways during 2010. Nevada’s Burns Creek received the largest volume of carcinogenic releases, with a small neighboring creek placing third. The Mississippi River, Ohio River and Tennessee River also suffered large releases of carcinogens. Pulp and paper mills, gold mines and chemical manufacturers were the industries that released the greatest volume of carcinogenic chemicals in 2010.
• About 626,000 pounds of chemicals linked to developmental disorders were discharged into more than 900 waterways. Burns Creek in Nevada, a small waterway near a gold mine, received the greatest amount of developmental toxicant discharges, followed by the Kanawha River in West Virginia and the Mississippi River. Gold mining was the largest source of developmental toxicants, followed by pesticide manufacturing and fossil fueled power generation.
• Approximately 342,000 pounds of chemicals linked to reproductive disorders were released to more than 900 waterways. West Virginia’s Kanawha River received the heaviest dose of reproductive toxicants, followed by the Mississippi, Ohio and Brazos rivers.
• Discharges of persistent bioaccumulative toxins (including dioxin and mercury), organochlorines and phthalates are also widespread. Safer industrial practices can reduce or eliminate discharges of these and other dangerous substances to America’s waterways.
To protect the public and the environment from toxic releases, the U.S. should require industries to reduce their use of toxic chemicals, plus restore and strengthen the Clean Water Act protections for all of America’s waterways and improve this landmark law’s enforcement.
• The Obama administration should clarify that the Clean Water Act applies to headwaters streams, intermittent waterways, isolated wetlands and other waterways for which Clean Water Act protection has been called into question as a result of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
• EPA and the states should strengthen enforcement of the Clean Water Act by, among other things, ratcheting down permitted pollution levels from industrial facilities, ensuring that permits are renewed on time, and requiring mandatory minimum penalties for polluters in violation of the law.
• EPA should eliminate loopholes—such as the allowance of “mixing zones” for persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals—that allow greater discharge of toxic chemicals into waterways.
The U.S. should revise its strategy for regulating toxic chemicals to encourage the development and use of safer alternatives. Specifically, the nation should:
• Require chemical manufacturers to test all chemicals for their safety and submit the results of that testing to the government and the public.
• Regulate chemicals based on their intrinsic capacity to cause harm to the environment or health, rather than basing regulation on resource-intensive and flawed efforts to determine “safe” levels of exposure to those chemicals.
• Require industries to disclose the amount of toxic chemicals they use in their facilities—safeguarding local residents’ right to know about potential public health threats in their community and creating incentives for industry to reduce its use of toxic chemicals.
• Require safer alternatives to toxic chemicals, where alternatives exist.
• Phase out the worst toxic chemicals.
For more information, visit www.environmentamerica.org.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
- Essential Oils: 7 Common Questions Answered - EcoWatch ›
- 9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System - EcoWatch ›
- 15 Impressive Herbs with Antiviral Activity - EcoWatch ›
- Brazil Using Pandemic as Smokescreen for New Attacks on the ... ›
- In 'Totalitarian' Move, Brazil's Bolsonaro Removes Death and Case ... ›
- Brazil Passes 50,000 Coronavirus Deaths as Global Cases Top 9 ... ›
By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
- Solar Employs More Workers Than Coal, Oil and Natural Gas ... ›
- The Truth About Natural Gas: A 'Green' Bridge to Hell - EcoWatch ›
- Why Natural Gas Is a Bridge Fuel to Nowhere - EcoWatch ›
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- EPA Warns Against Fake Coronavirus Cleaners - EcoWatch ›
- What to Do if There's a Disinfectant Shortage in Your Area - EcoWatch ›
For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
- Trump Neglects Climate Change in State of the Union While ... ›
- House Democrats Hold First Climate Change Hearings in More ... ›
- If the Democratic Party Is Serious About Climate Change, They Must ... ›
Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
- Judge Blocks California From Putting Cancer Warning on Roundup ... ›
- Bayer Settles Roundup Cancer Suits for Over $10 Billion - EcoWatch ›
By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
- Elephant Poaching Is on the Rise in Botswana, Study Confirms ... ›
- In 'Conservation Disaster,' Hundreds of Botswana's Elephants Are ... ›
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›