Entries in Pollution (4)


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


California Town Decides on Home Sales to PG&E Amid Pollution Concerns

BananaStock/Thinkstock(HINKLEY, Calif.) -- Residents of Hinkley, Calif., faced a deadline Monday to decide whether to sell their homes to the power company that polluted their desert town, or stay and accept a water treatment system installed at no charge.

Pacific Gas & Electric gave the choice to 314 homeowners who live within one mile of a chromium 6 contaminated plume.  They had until the end of Monday to decide.

The contentious relationship between Hinkley and PG&E was sparked after scientists found hexavalent chromium 6 in the local wells, a result of pollution caused by the company’s compressor station, after an investigation sparked by law clerk Erin Brockovich.

The power company agreed to a $333 million settlement with the town in 1997, but the cleanup of the chromium 6 and its pollutant by-products, and the efforts to define the areas affected by the plume remain contentious issues between Hinkley residents and PG&E.

“We’ve been working with the Hinkley community for a couple of years and are listening to their concerns.  This is why we started this offer,” PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith told ABC News.

“In April 2012, we have expanded the eligibility to include 314 homeowners a mile wide from the plume with any presence of chromium levels,” he said.

Some residents have said that the expansion of the area admitted by PG&E to be contaminated is an indication that the company is still polluting the area, but Smith said it’s not that the pollutants are spreading, but that the company is spreading its testing.

“The reason we are finding more contaminated areas is because we are testing in areas that haven’t been tested before and as a result the plume map keeps changing.  But PG&E have stopped using the toxins since the 1960s,” he said.

The cleanup itself has been a problem, however, some residents claim, because now new pollutants are plaguing the town.

“The clean-up of chromium is going on, but we are faced with a new problem, the by-products that result from the clean-up.  Now arsenic, manganese, and other pollutants are showing up in our water and these are not being addressed by PG&E,” Hinkely Elementary School Principal Larry Notario told ABC News.

“Also, the water fountains at our school have been shut off for a year while PG&E has been supplying us with bottled water,” he said.

As for the value of the properties whose owners have decided to sell, PG&E told ABC News that it is not appraising them based on the conditions at Hinkley, but as though they were in a normal town.

“Otherwise the value of the houses will be very low,” Smith said.  “We are treating the property as if it were in a neighboring town not having problems similar to Hinkley.”

The complete figures of the sales have not yet been made official.

“We do have initial data though,” Smith said.  “It is a 60-40 percent, with 60 percent opting to sell their property.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Has Irene Polluted Shoreline Beaches?

ABC News(TRENTON, N.J.) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has ordered people back to the beach now that Hurricane Irene has blown through the state, although his own environmental agency is still testing waters for sewage, bacteria and debris churned up by the storm.

"Get the hell back on the beach," the notoriously blustery governor tweeted Monday as Irene faded away.

The state's Department of Environmental Protection issued a warning on its website Monday that raw sewage was spilling from a lake into the ocean near Asbury Park, just three blocks south of where Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno held a press conference encouraging visitors to make one last trip to the state's beaches for Labor Day weekend.

"We're open for business," Guadgno said.

Larry Ragonese, spokesperson for the DEP, said the agency had begun testing all of the beaches up and down the coast for water quality and expected to have the results posted by the end of the week on

"Obviously you have tremendous runoff of stormwater," Ragonese said. "And everything that is on land and sea kind of meet. So we're looking for any kind of bacteria, anything unusual. We're also looking for debris, from docks or boats. You don't want a life vest popping through the water."

Ragonese said it was likely that stormwater from Irene could have overwhelmed sewer systems and caused overflows, and that the department would be monitoring the water closely.

State environmental officials are testing beaches all along the Irene's path from North Carolina to New York as Labor Day weekend approaches.

Until the test results come in, beaches and the ocean will remain open, Ragonese said.

"It's up to each town along the coast. They're the ones as far as safety that would determine that," Ragonese said.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cleanest US Beaches Are in Delaware, Minnesota, New Hampshire

David De Lossy/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- With beach season well underway and the Fourth of July holiday weekend approaching, an environmental advocacy group is out Wednesday with its annual beach report, ranking the nation's cleanest and most contaminated shores.

Judging by water cleanliness and not by beauty, the Natural Resources Defense Council gives its "Superstar Beach" rating to two beaches in Delaware and to one in each Minnesota and New Hampshire.

Futhermore, the group finds that the dirtiest beaches are in California, primarily in Los Angeles County, with three making the NRDC's list of beaches with persistent contamination problems.

The NRDC's David Beckman says the number of beach closures and advisories on dirty beaches over the past year is the second-highest since the council has been tracking them, standing at over 24,000.

"The two big problems, when it comes to America's beaches, are pollution runoff in urban areas and from agriculture," says Beckman. "It contains bacteria and viruses that can make you sick if you come into contact with them.  And you can also get the same bacteria and viruses from sewage spills."

Michelle Mehta with the NRDC says swimmers exposed to the contamination can suffer from "gastrointestinal problems, ear, nose and throat problems, and skin rashes."

Here are the four beaches ranked as "Superstar Beaches" by the NRDC:

-- Delaware: Rehoboth Beach-Rehoboth Avenue Beach
-- Delaware: Dewey Beach
-- Minnesota: Park Point Lafayette Community Club Beach
-- New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park

And here are the 10 beaches that have had persistent contamination problems:

-- California: Avalon Beach
-- California: Cabrillo Beach Station
-- California: Doheny State Beach
-- Florida: Keaton Beach
-- Illinois: North Point Marina North Beach
-- New Jersey: Beachwood Beach West
-- Ohio: Villa Angela State Park
-- Texas: Ropes Park
-- Wisconsin: Eichelman Beach
-- Wisconsin: South Shore Beach

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio