Entries in EPA (10)


EPA Can't Stop the (Acid) Rain

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Acid rain commanded as much attention in the 1990s as global warming or the hole in the ozone does today.

But despite more than two decades of efforts to stop acid rain by wringing pollution out of the skies, millions of tons of toxins continue to rain down on the nation's watersheds, rivers and lakes.  And a new federal report suggests that the Environmental Protection Agency has hit a wall in its efforts to reduce the amount of acid rain that drifts down from the sky.

"Even with reduced emissions, NOx [nitrogen oxide], SO2 [sulfur dioxide] and mercury continue to pollute the nation's water bodies," the Government Accountability Office said in a report released last week.  Legal and scientific hurdles are blocking the EPA from making further advances in the battle against acid rain, the GAO wrote.

"It is unclear whether or when the agency will be able to address scientific uncertainties to enable adoption" of a tougher set of standards.

"According to agency officials, EPA has not identified alternative strategies to address acidification of the aquatic ecosystems if it cannot resolve the scientific uncertainties," the GAO concluded.

Acid rain is a combination of chemicals that consists primarily of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).  These chemicals react with the atmosphere to form nitric acid and sulfuric acids.

NOx at its highest concentrations can produce so much nitrogen in water it virtually eliminates the presence of oxygen, turning those bodies of water into "dead zones" where nothing can live.

A third key element in the airborne soup is mercury, which can be absorbed by fish and can be a serious health hazard when those fish are eaten by humans, especially children.  Complicating U.S. efforts to halt the mercury bombardment is the fact that most of it originates outside the U.S. and is beyond control of American regulators.

Since the effort to curb acid rain began in the 1990s, the amount of NOx emissions into the atmosphere has declined from 26 million tons in 1990 to about 17 million tons in 2008.  The SO2 reductions during that time went from 23 million tons to 10 million tons a year.

Much of the reductions in those airborne chemicals have come from the Clean Air Act mandating cleaner gasoline for cars and trucks and stricter rules on power plant emissions.

The amount of mercury emitted into the air has been greatly reduced from 246 tons in 1990 to 61 tons in 2008.

That still leaves tons of toxins wafting into the country's water each year and a sampling of the effect includes these stats from the GAO report:

  • 53,000 square miles of the Great Lakes, or 88 percent of those lakes, are impaired by acid rain.
  • 550 lakes in the Adirondack Mountains are affected by acid rain.
  • 21,000 miles of streams in the central Appalachian Mountains are tainted.
  • "Most of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal waters are impaired" by an excess of nitrogen from acid rain and other sources.
  • In the Northeast, the fish in more than 10,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs and 46,000 miles of rivers are designated as unfit for human consumption because of high levels of mercury.

"EPA faces challenges in using air regulations to further address the effects of atmospheric deposition from NOx, SO2 and mercury," the report states.

A key element that is preventing the EPA from devising new standards to further clean the air and prevent acid rain is the varying ability of different areas of the country to absorb or tolerate airborne pollutants.

The Clean Air Act demands that EPA's regulations be national in scope and be "neither more nor less stringent than necessary."

So a standard that is necessary for a particularly vulnerable watershed could be legally challenged as burdensome by another area of the country "that is naturally resistant to the effects of acid rain," the report states.

The inability to find that just right middle ground has stymied EPA's efforts to promulgate new standards to be enforced.

The EPA declined to make an official available to discuss the GAO's conclusions.  It issued a statement that several key pollutants "are at their lowest recorded levels," and that the EPA's new fuel economy rules for cars to take effect in 2025 "will provide significant reductions of NOx well into the future."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


EPA Investigating Texas Chemical Plant Blaze

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(DALLAS) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating a fire that enveloped a chemical manufacturing plant Monday in Waxahachie, Texas, causing residents and students at a nearby elementary school to evacuate.

The fire, which started about 11 a.m., erupted at Magnablend Chemical Plant, about 30 miles south of Dallas. Magnablend manufactures agricultural products such as fertilizer, oil field oils and methanol.

Fire chief David Hutchins said during a news conference Monday that the blaze was 80 percent contained but that it was still unclear what substances were burning. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board also was reviewing the situation and considering whether to dispatch a team to the site.

Thick, black smoke could be seen for 50 miles as four different fire departments teamed up Monday morning to fight the blazes. All 85 employees were safe, a plant spokesman told ABC News.

Firefighters tackled the blaze wearing hazardous material-retardant suits and officials said there were definitely contaminates in the air, according to ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV.

“The most important thing would be avoidance,” Dr. Gary Weinstein, a pulmonary disease and critical care specialist at Texas Health Resources, told WFAA-TV. “If you have to be outside, you should wear a mask and try to minimize your exposure.”

An elementary school less than a mile from the plant was evacuated around noon because of the threat of possibly dangerous gases or fumes being released. Area residents were told to evacuate or stay inside with their doors and windows shut. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also was called to the site.

As a precaution, residents living in the nearby Bella Vida gated residential community were asked to evacuate by Texas state troopers. Residents living in a small nursing home were also relocated. Ellis County health officials were monitoring air quality.

There were several large explosions at the plant and the fire moved so quickly that it engulfed a fire truck at the scene, according to WFAA-TV‘s website. The Waxahachie Fire Department reported four different buildings on fire.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Los Alamos Fire: First Air Samples Show No Elevated Radiation

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke that's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted fire crews to set their own fires along the perimeter of the lab.  So far, the strategy is working.  The first air samples show lots of smoke, but no signs of elevated radiation.

"Those results show that what we see in this fire is exactly what we see in any fire across New Mexico," said Charles McMillan, the lab's director.

Environmental officials aren't taking any chances.  The Environmental Protection Agency is bringing in dozens of air monitors all around the state, along with a special airplane that takes instant radiation samples.  So far, officials have not been able to find anything amiss.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," McMillan told ABC News.

Some observers are worried not just about the barrels of nuclear waste stored at the lab, but also what's in the canyons that surround the sprawling complex.  Nuclear tests were performed in the canyons dating back to the 1940s.

"The trees have grown up during that time frame and the soil could be contaminated," said Rita Bates of the New Mexico Environment Department.  "If it gets heated and that stuff goes airborne, then we are concerned about that."

The canyons were a dumping ground for radioactive materials decades ago, but are now open to the public and are considered safe.

Still, one graduate student armed with a Geiger counter took to YouTube to show there was no shortage of metal or radioactivity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


EPA Testing for Radiation in New Mexico Wildfire

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke from the blaze that's so big it's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to bring in air monitors, along with a special airplane that checks for radiation levels. So far officials have not been able to find anything.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," Laboratory Director Dr. Charles McMillan told ABC News.

The Los Alamos facility -- the birthplace of the atomic bomb -- was shrouded in secrecy long before it was surrounded by smoke after the Las Conchas fire began Sunday.

"It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste," former top security official Glen Walp said.  "It's not contained within a concrete, brick and mortar-type building, but rather in a sort of fabric-type building that a fire could easily consume."

"Potential is high for a major calamity if the fire would reach these areas," he added.

Reports have indicated that the flames from the 95-square-mile fire have reached as close as 50 feet from the grounds.  With a wildfire this close, lab officials, along with government officials such as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, are trying to reassure the public of the plant's safety.

"I'm confident in saying that they are committed to making it safe," Martinez told ABC News.

After a mass evacuation, the city of Los Alamos remains a ghost town.  Most of its 12,000 residents were evacuated Monday, some leaving their sprinklers on to protect their homes.

Still, according to Police Chief Wayne Torpy, about 150 die-hard residents have stayed behind, unfazed by the danger presented by their nuclear neighbor.

Firefighters have made progress in the past few days, and have said that the risk of the flames reaching radioactive material is slim.  Still, they caution that winds Wednesday could change, as could their level of confidence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court: Only EPA Can Place Limits on Greenhouse Gases

John Foxx/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear Monday that it's up to the Environmental Protection Agency alone to place restrictions on greenhouse gases emitted by companies.

In the unanimous eight justice decision, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor recusing herself, the high court said a lower court was wrong to have ruled that federal judges can issue restrictions in a case involving six states that sued five major power companies.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court that "the critical point is that Congress delegated to EPA the decision whether and how to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants; the delegation is what displaces federal common law."

The ruling still allows states and conservation groups to file lawsuits against the EPA, which will formulate new regulations later this year to restrict carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas.

Monday's ruling by the high court is its most important decision on climate change since the EPA was granted authority in 2007 to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed in large part for global warming.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Trace Amounts of Japan's Radioactive Fallout Found in US Rainwater

Michael Blann/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan has had a residual effect felt all the way in the U.S., with rainwater here showing trace amounts of radiation.

It seems that the very lightly contaminated rain is turning up coast-to-coast, with radiation showing up in Nevada and other Western states and as far East as North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

One of the radioactive by-products found in U.S. rain is in iodine-131, which briefly caused Japan to institute a ban on tap water in Tokyo and other prefectures.  However, there are no such worries here, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In fact, the risk to the public is so low that the EPA says that Americans are exposed to far more radiation when they take an international airline flight.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


EPA Proposes Standards to Cut Power Plant Pollutants

Tom Brakefield/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new standards to reduce mercury and other harmful emissions at power plants across the nation.

The agency announced the proposed guidelines Wednesday in response to a looming court deadline.

Toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants have been shown to cause neurological damage, including a lower IQ, in children exposed in the womb and during early development.

Mercury, arsenic, chromium and nickel also damage the environment and pollute lakes, streams, and fish.  The pollutants lead to premature death, heart disease and asthma.

Certain seafood can be high in mercury.  In such levels, it can be toxic, particularly to pregnant women.  Experts say it can damage an unborn baby or young child's central nervous system and has been linked to heart problems in adults.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


EPA Deploying Additional Radiation Monitors to Pacific U.S. States

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The Environmental Protection Agency is deploying some of the 40 additional deployable radiation air monitors to Pacific U.S. states and territories that will allow the agency to gather more data and monitor any radiation coming from Japan.

The monitors are part of the RadNet program, which posts the data on a website that the public can access.

Officials say the impetus for the announcement and the additional monitors is to make sure Americans know they can see for themselves that the information that experts are telling them -- that any radioactive materials from Japan will dissipate -- is true.

The EPA is sending two additional radiation air monitors to Guam, two to Hawaii, and three to Alaska -- one each to Dutch Harbor, Nome, and Juneau.

In a statement, the EPA said, “We do not expect to see radiation at harmful levels reaching the U.S. from damaged Japanese nuclear power plants,” and also said the move was part of the “federal government's continuing effort to make our activities and science transparent and available to the public.”

With approximately 100 monitors already deployed, RadNet “continuously monitors the nation's air and regularly monitors drinking water, milk and precipitation for environmental radiation,” the EPA said in a statement. “The RadNet online searchable database contains historical data of environmental radiation monitoring data from all 50 states and U.S. territories.”

RadNet monitors measure gamma radiation and have built-in weather stations, sending the information to EPA’s National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory every hour. If any radiation abnormalities are detected, EPA laboratory staff are immediately informed. Before posting it on the website, they review the data to ensure its accuracy.

The data is generally uploaded within two hours of EPA’s Central Data Exchange website and can be accessed after creating a username and password.

Monitors are currently in 49 states, covering about 70% of the U.S. population.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


EPA: New Refrigerant Fights Climate Change, Ozone Depletion

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Turn on your car air conditioner in a few years and it will be different and better, says the Environmental Protection Agency.  On Monday, the agency announced the approval of a new refrigerant, called HFO-1234yf, which it says does not deplete the Earth's ozone layer and has a so-called global warming potential that is 99.7 percent less than coolants currently used.

All this is fallout from the discovery, back in the mid-1980s, that the ozone layer was being damaged by the use of chloroflourocarbons -- CFCs for short -- in everything from air conditioners to the manufacturing of foam for coffee cups.  World governments got together relatively quickly. In 1987 the Reagan administration and 195 other countries signed on to the Montreal Protocol, which has been updated several times since, agreeing to phase out most ozone-depleting chemicals by 2030.

By the early 1990s the most common refrigerant for car air conditioners, known as CFC-12, had been replaced in the United States by one called HFC-134.  But it was a stopgap measure.  HFC-134 in the upper atmosphere is very potent at trapping heat in the air. So Honeywell and DuPont have developed HFO-1234yf. General Motors, among others, has said it will use it in its 2013 model cars.

"This new chemical helps fight climate change and ozone depletion," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in a statement. "It is homegrown innovative solutions like this that save lives and strengthen our economy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


EPA and Transportation Department Propose New Fuel Standards for Trucks and Buses

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation are proposing new national standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from heavy trucks and buses.

"These new standards are another step in our work to develop a new generation of clean, fuel-efficient American vehicles that will improve our environment and strengthen our economy,"  EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls the proposals a "win-win-win for the environment, businesses and the American consumer" due to a reduction in transportation's environmental impact as well as a reduction in the cost of transporting freight.

These proposals, the firsts of their kind, will be phased in starting in 2014 if approved. 

The government says the new standards will reduce GHG emissions by nearly 250 million metric tons and save 500 million barrels of oil within the first five years.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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