Paying price of pollution – Albany Times Union, 7/3/2016

Albany Times Union – 2016-07-03

Source: Paying price of pollution – Albany Times Union, 7/3/2016

 

Albany

The Patroon Creek bubbles east from Colonie into the city of Albany, barely noticeable as it wends beneath Interstate 90 and a rail line, passing by fading industrial parks and struggling neighborhoods on its way to the Hudson River.

Few of the thousands of commuters who pass over the creek daily likely know of its history as atoxic courier, nor of what Patroon Creek exemplifies: how even the most aggressive efforts to clean up contamination usually fall victim to agonizing delay and inadequate funding, often leaving poisons to imperil upstate New York neighborhoods for decades.

“Superfund is running on fumes; if we had more resources we would see quicker cleanups,” said Judith Enck, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator overseeing Region 2, which includes New York and New Jersey. She added that it’s also the polluters who sometimes “slow walk” and deliberately delay the cleanups. “They make it as lengthy aprocess as possible because they want to put off paying the cost.”

As a result, toxic risks recognized long ago continue to confront New Yorkers throughout the state, a legacy of the lax dumping standards that characterized America’s industrial sites for generations. Patroon Creek is but one example of the often slow response to citizens’ health fears, a practice that’s been repeated at Superfund sites around the region.

For years, the tiny stream carried mercury and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, that were dumped down the embankment of a Patroon Creek tributary at the former Mereco manufacturing plant on Railroad Avenue, about 1,000 feet north of the University at Albany.

The state of New York began documenting the contamination in 1981. Two years later, the EPA placed the site on its fledgling National Priorities List of the federal Super-fund program, established in 1980 to clean up the nation’s most polluted land and water.

Despite the earlier attention from regulators, the Mereco site took decades to clean up. The delay underscores the challenges that state and federal officials said they face in assessing thousands of polluted sites scattered across New York, from chemical spills on Long Island to toxic landfills near Buffalo.

Public records indicate there are 85 federal Superfund sites in New York, which are considered the most severe cases, and also roughly 465 state Superfund sites that pose “a significant threat” to public health or the environment. The Superfund sites don’t include so-called brownfields, which are moderately contaminated sites, such as corner gas stations with leaky fuel tanks. There are also nearly 2,500 polluted sites that have not yet been evaluated, according to state records.

The backlog, in part, is a result of limited government resources.

Last year, the fallout of manufacturing pollution struck Hoosick Falls, a factory village in eastern Rensselaer County that for decades has been a hub for small plants that produce niche products such as heat-resistant wiring and nonstick coatings. The contamination of public water supplies in Hoosick Falls spurred criticism because the state Health Department and elected leaders told residents their water was safe to drink for more than a year after the officials were made aware that a dangerous chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, had polluted the community’s underground wells.

The discovery of elevated levels of the man-made chemical, PFOA, prompted the EPA in December to demand that state officials warn residents to stop consuming the water. A month later, as questions mounted about the actions of state and local officials in Hoosick Falls, New York’s environmental commissioner, Basil Seggos, declared PFOA is a hazardous chemical. He also announced several manufacturing plants believed to be responsible for the pollution would become state Superfund sites. Seggos did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.

Some residents in Hoosick Falls worry their longterm exposure to PFOA may have caused cancer or other serious illnesses, and their concerns are not unique.

The Times Union examined other communities where the public was exposed to toxic chemicals from manufacturing or dumping. In some instances, residents who live near polluted sites or former industries said they have suffered health problems due to possible exposure to chemicals. In other instances, people said they have lost hope that anything will be done to clean up their neighborhoods and water supplies.

In the Mereco case, records show it took eight years for the company, which reclaimed mercury from light bulbs and thermometers, to sign an agreement with the state to identify and fully clean up the pollution. The company initially removed a large amount of contaminated soil. By 1999, as the state struggled to get the company to comply with the plan, the EPA stepped in and took over. Still, it would take until 2013, more than 30 years after the contamination was discovered, for the EPA to secure removal of the remaining 173 tons of hazardous soil.

Lois Gibbs, who became a national environmental figure 35 years ago when she took on federal and state officials over the pollution of her neighborhood, Love Canal, that was built on a toxic landfill in Niagara Falls, said there is inconsistency in the 10 EPA regions in dealing with environmental disasters.

“In other states, EPA has just turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to every one of these problems,” said Gibbs, who remains a prominent voice on environmental issues as founder of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice in Washington, D.C. She said that, while many other EPA regions do not do enough to protect the public, New York’s EPA administrator, Enck, is an exception.

The center was involved in the water crisis in Flint, Mich., “for more than a year before their water was shut off,” Gibbs said. “EPA’s been really horrible under this administration with the exception of climate change. … Historically, EPA has always been sort of the safety net, if you will. People could always appeal to the EPA and say our water is nasty… but the EPA isn’t always stepping in at these sites.”

The region’s most widely known Superfund site is a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River from New York City to Hudson Falls, Washington County, where General Electric Co. operated a capacitor-manufacturing facility for decades. The EPA estimates that GE flushed more than 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the river between the 1940s and 1970s, when the chemical was banned.

Although GE is completing a dredging project of the Hudson River that will cost more than $1 billion, the cleanup came only after the company spent millions of dollars opposing the project.

“General Electric fought EPA for a quarter century, including going to federal court to try to get the federal Superfund statute ruled unconstitutional, which luckily they did not prevail on,” Enck said.

Travis Proulx, a spokesman for Environmental Advocates of New York, said funding for Super-fund cleanups is growing thinner on the federal level but New York is in its first year of a $1 billion program that calls for $100 million to be spent annually for 10 years on cleaning up state Superfund sites.

“These are horrifically polluted sites that are very dangerous to the communities that they’re in,” Proulx said. “Had this large investment over a long period of time not happened over the last year we’d probably be having a different conversation about Hoosick Falls right now. … Historically, government has done just a very poor job of holding polluters accountable.”

Rensselaer and Columbia counties are still dealing with the fallout of contamination at the Dewey Loeffel landfill in Nassau, where the EPA estimates at least 46,000 tons of industrial and hazardous waste were dumped in the 1950s and 1960s. The landfill, which was operated by Richard Loeffel and later his son, Dewey, became the dumping ground for toxic waste that included solvents, waste oils, sludges and liquid resins. The landfill’s main customers included General Electric and Schenectady Chemicals, which later became SI Group, according to the EPA.

In 1968, the state pursued legal action against Dewey Loeffel after complaints that cattle and fish downstream from the landfill were dying.

Four years ago, the EPA reached an agreement with GE and SI Group calling for the companies to pay $10 million to filter the contaminated groundwater.. . .

Hydraulic fracturing water use variability in the United States and potential environmental implications – Gallegos – 2015 – Water Resources Research – Wiley Online Library

Source: Hydraulic fracturing water use variability in the United States and potential environmental implications – Gallegos – 2015 – Water Resources Research – Wiley Online Library

AP Exclusive: Drilling boom means more harmful waste spills

CROSSROADS, N.M. (AP) — Carl Johnson and son Justin are third- and fourth-generation ranchers who for decades have battled oilfield companies that left a patchwork of barren earth where the men graze cattle in the high…

Source: AP Exclusive: Drilling boom means more harmful waste spills

Awkward: Day After EPA Finds Fracking Does Not Pollute Water, Top Oil Regulator Resigns Over Water Contamination | Zero Hedge

Awkward: Day After EPA Finds Fracking Does Not Pollute Water, Top Oil Regulator Resigns Over Water Contamination | Zero Hedge.

Fracking’s Most Wanted: Spills & Violations

Fracking’s Most Wanted: Spills & Violations.

Ash for Trash Website Cortland-Onondaga Partnership

Ash for Trash Website  Cortland-Onondaga Partnership

North Dakota: oil producers aim to cut radioactive waste bills | Reuters

North Dakota: oil producers aim to cut radioactive waste bills | Reuters.

America’s dirtiest secret

America’s dirtiest secret.

Any solution? A clash over safe road brine sources

Any solution? A clash over safe road brine sources.

Any solution? A clash over safe road brine sources

Environmentalists say the New York state practice of spreading brine from underground gas storage onto highways, including those in Tompkins and Broome counties is a health concern.

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New York state spreads brine from underground gas storage onto highways, including those in Tompkins and Broome counties, to keep drivers safe, but that practice could have its own health consequences.

According to Riverkeeper, a Hudson Valley-based environmental advocacy group:

The brine is inadequately tested for radioactive material before it’s spread onto highways, with approval based on tests for radioactive material conducted 15 years ago.

The salt-water solution can find its way into drinking water supplies from highway run-off.

The mixture has a carcinogenic chemical that exceeds Environmental Protection Agency standards for drinking water.

State Department of Transportation officials counter that the salt-water mixture is safe and approved by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Further, brine can form a protective barrier on roads that stops snow and ice accumulation, and it can help rock salt stick to asphalt.

“It helps plows keep up when there is heavy snowfall,” DOT spokesman Beau Duffy said.

DOT crews in Tompkins and Broome counties get their brine from a gas storage cavern in Harford, a Cortland County town about 20 miles east of Ithaca. The mixture can be known as “storage brine,” Duffy said.

The state spreads an average of 80,000 gallons of storage brine annually on state roads in Tompkins County, Duffy said. It spreads around 33,000 gallons on state roads in Broome County.

State crews also spread the storage brine in Cayuga, Chautauqua, Cortland, Onondaga and Seneca counties.

“(DEC) tested it, and it’s been deemed safe for us to use,” Duffy said. “We wouldn’t be able to use it without their permission.”

Environmentalists say the state hasn’t done enough to assure the storage brine is safe to use.

They point out that the DEC doesn’t know the radiation content of all storage brine that DOT spreads, and the substance can contain toxins at levels that exceed EPA safe drinking water standards.

“I don’t think that people should be reassured at all. I’m not,” said Misti Duvall, a staff attorney for Riverkeeper.

Riverkeeper obtained storage brine testing results from the DEC, and the testing did not include results for NORM, or naturally occurring radioactive material, Duvall said. The DEC doesn’t require NORM testing for brine, she said.

Without that data, Duvall said, it’s unclear how much radioactive material is dispersed when state trucks spread storage brine.

“If this is something that has been looked at by DEC, and NORM is not a concern, then we need to know why that is,” she said. “If it’s something that could be potentially a concern, there should be individual testing for NORM there as well.”

The DEC results showed that the storage brine contained benzene, a carcinogen that has been linked to blood disorders such as anemia; toluene, a chemical that has been linked to nervous system, kidney and liver problems; and chloride, a water contaminant that affects water taste, color and odor but is not considered a risk to human health.

“The concern is that you don’t want to see any of those getting into your drinking water at all,” Duvall said.

In the DEC storage-brine testing results, benzene levels ranged from 0.053 to 0.036 milligrams per liter; toluene ranged from 0.011 to 0.006 milligrams; and chloride ranged from 209,000 to 220,000 milligrams per liter, she said.

There are 1,000 milligrams in one gram.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level for benzene in drinking water is 0.005 milligrams per liter, and it’s 1 milligram per liter for toluene. Chloride is regulated by non-mandatory maximum levels of 250 milligrams per liter.

“When you put brine on the roadways, a lot of time, it does run off,” Duvall said. “If there are water supplies nearby, it can run into those water supplies.”

The high levels of chloride can increase salinity in waterways and harm wildlife, she added. The corrosive substance also can increase wear on vehicles and road infrastructure, such as bridges, she added.

Brine from gas drilling

Until 2012, DOT Region 6 crews spread “well-production brine,” which is brine that flowed up from New York state gas and oil wells.

The well-production brine was spread in Allegany, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Yates counties, according to Duffy. DOT stopped spreading the well-production brine after purchasing brine-making equipment, he added.

State crews never spread well-production brine in the Tompkins or Broome region, Duffy said.

Duvall argued that well-production brine has great potential to contain NORM, and the DEC needs to test for it.

“When a well is producing oil and gas, and you have that production brine coming up, you’re not just getting the fluids (that) went down initially, and you’re not just getting the oil and gas,” she said.

Every substance that’s down there is also flowing up, including NORM, she said.

The well-production brine test results that Riverkeeper obtained from the DEC showed no testing for NORM.

But the DEC did give Riverkeeper a single well-production brine test that showed benzene and toluene levels — 1.730 and 1.77 milligrams per liter, respectively, Duvall said.

Instead of testing well-production brine for NORM, the state bases its policy on test results published 15 years ago.

That round of testing, done after radioactive contamination of drilling waste was observed in other parts of the world, looked for radium isotopes in brine and other material associated with 74 gas and oil wells in upstate New York.

The study found that most brine, drilling equipment and other material sampled was at background levels for radioactivity, or just above, though several brine samples were appreciably higher than that.

The DEC concluded that spreading well-production brine posed no radiological risk, even to someone who walked almost every day for 20 years on a dirt road regularly treated with brine.

Man-made brine, a solution

When the DOT stopped spreading well-production brine in parts of New York, it wasn’t because of environmental concerns, but because the agency was looking to save money, Duffy said.

Man-made brine is cheaper because it doesn’t need to be trucked in from gas wells, he said.

“Our use of natural well brine has been decreasing and will continue to decrease as we mix more of our own,” Duffy said. The man-made brine is a mixture of 23 percent rock salt and 77 percent water.

In Chemung County, state crews spread man-made brine, and RiverKeeper said the solution is safer.

“That brine is just salt and water, and we do recognize that there are benefits to using brine rather than using rock salt on the roads,” Duvall said.

Though storage brine is spread on state routes that run through Broome County, the county highway department has found that pure rock salt and sand are the best materials to keep roadways clear in the winter.

“The county had tried brine in the past but got away from it years ago because they didn’t feel it was effective,” said Broome County Communications Coordinator Gabe Osterhout.

Tompkins considers ban

Tompkins County Legislator Dan Klein, D-Danby, said he’s planning to bring forward a law in March that would ban the spread of storage and well-production brine on all roads that pass through the county.

The law could affect highway departments throughout Tompkins County, but it’s unclear whether the legislation would stop the state DOT.

Duffy said it’s hard to say whether the DOT would heed the law, because it’s hypothetical at this point.

“Based on case law, we believe such a ban would not apply to the state highway system,” he said after talking with DOT lawyers.

If the law is passed, it’s likely that the most Tompkins could do is ask the state to stop spreading storage-brine on roads that pass through the county, Klein said.

“We might be able to claim that we have jurisdiction over the state, but on a practical level, there’s way no way to enforce that. We’re not going to sue the state; we’re not going to fine the state,” Klein said after talking with the county attorney.

“In the end, we might not actually be able to do anything about it,” he said.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle staff writer Steve Orr contributed to this report.

Follow Andrew Casler on Twitter: @AndrewCasler

Concerns

The state Department of Transportation spreads brine on state roads that comes from gas storage facilities, and testing has showed elevated levels of toxic materials.

Environmentalists warn that the brine could pollute drinking water through runoff and storm events.

The DEC is basing its safety approval in storage brine on 15-year-old tests for radioactive material.

By the numbers

EPA drinking water standards

Benzene: Below 0.005 milligrams per liter.

Toluene: Below 1 milligram per liter.

Storage brine

Naturally occurring radioactive materials: Unknown.

Benzene: 0.053 to 0.036 milligrams per liter.

Chloride: 209,000 to 220,000 milligrams per liter.

Well-production brine

Naturally occurring radioactive materials: Unknown.

Benzene: 1.73 milligrams per liter.*

Toluene: 1.77 milligrams per liter.*

Source: Levels based on New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Freedom of Information Law documents obtained by Riverkeeper.

*DEC supplied test results for only one well.

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Filling the Void: A Citizens’ Audit of Ohio Oil and Gas Waste Disposal Wells

ohiocitizen.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Citizen-audit-12-12.pdf.

Filling the Void: A Citizens’ Audit of Ohio 

Oil and Gas Waste Disposal Wells

Nathan Rutz and Melissa English

Ohio Citizen Action and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund

December 2014

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