April 17, 2015

James River saved for awhile by the Virginia Supreme Court

Sharing this from the James River Association.

The James River Association, along with national, state and local partners, has been advocating for Dominion Virginia Power to study and pursue alternative solutions on where to place a transmission line, currently planned to span the James River near Jamestown. 

As proposed, this power line would negatively impact scenic views and visitors’ experience of the Historic Triangle, which attracts an estimated 6 million visitors annually. 

A key part of James River Association’s effort was joining James City County and Save the James Alliance to challenge the State Corporation Commission’s (SCC) approval of the transmission line project as it stands now.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Virginia released its decision and has overturned part of the SCC ruling, thereby requiring local zoning approval of certain aspects of the project. 

The decision allows James City County to further review the project through its local zoning process. James City County now has the opportunity to ensure their concerns are addressed and will provide additional opportunities for the public to register their concerns as well.

This is an encouraging and positive step in the effort to avoid the impacts that the proposed transmission line will have on America’s Founding River and surrounding communities.

April 14, 2015

New tick virus to fear?

If recent reports are correct, we should be aware of a virulent new tick-borne disease that has shown up in southern Connecticut. Known as the first place for Lyme disease to appear, this lovely state may soon be known for Powassen, an untreatable and sometimes fatal disease.

The scariest part is that the ticks begin to transmit this nasty virus  within two hours after latching on. Lyme virus needed almost two days. 

The virus can often be symptomless before often infecting the nervous system and causing encephalitis and meningitis. Survivors can develop neurological symptoms such as muscle wasting and memory problems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

April 10, 2015

The latest buzz on pesticides is promising

Did you know that 51 percent of the plants at many Lowe's, Home Depot and Walmart stores contain levels of neonicotinoid pesticides that threaten honeybees?

So it is quite good news that Lowe's stores will phase out the use of this pesticide by 2019. Home Depot supposedly has asked its suppliers to label plants that have been treated with this nasty stuff. So look for the labeling.

March 25, 2015

Virginia secures research lease for wind energy

I hope this is not simply a good PR move for Dominion Virginia Power. But today's headline made me smile.

We know that the offshore wind is more than sufficient for a viable wind farm. Dominion can now move forward to erect two 6-megawatt test turbines 24 nautical miles off Virginia Beach. I hope to sail by them soon.

When we travel, I'm always taking photos of wind turbines when they unexpectedly pop up. Here are some in the Galapagos where I was amazed to see them.

Baltic Sea similar to the Chesapeake Bay?

I never thought of it . . . But these two bodies of water have a lot in common when it comes to nitrogen pollution. Especially the runoff from roads and farms that is known as non-point source pollution.

So researchers in Finland are analyzing the similarities and differences between protection policies initiated in both areas. They do not have as many political entities that need to agree to get things done as the Chesapeake faces. The many states that need to arrive at consensus are somewhat of an obstacle here because it takes so long for the governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to make significant progress. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks help coordinate plans but a lot of beaurocracy gets in the way.

Good luck, Finland.

March 12, 2015

Ice in the Chesapeake a hazard

I do not remember any alert such as this in recent years. But the Coast Guard just announced that boaters should not venture into the northern part of Chesapeake Bay (and specifically Baltimore harbor) until April 15 due to imminent hazardous ice. 

If you have any questions, contact Ronald L. Houck, Sector Baltimore Waterways Management Division, USCG, (410) 576-2674, Ronald.L.Houck@uscg.mil

Because of imminent hazardous conditions, USCG did not provide advance notice or a public comment period. It fears frozen waterways could steer boats off course or cause sinking or grounding. It is broadcasting the ban though marine bulletins, including reports on the thickness of the ice. During winters, hazardous ice buildups frequently occur in the waterways, most often in the canal between Town Point Wharf and Reedy Point; in and around Baltimore Harbor; and the Elk River, Susquehanna and Patapsco rivers.

USCG says it will allow some traffic in certain areas if conditions allow for it to travel safely. If conditions allow, it may end the ban sooner than April 15

March 9, 2015

Electric powered supercarrier on its way

Some interesting trivia of the billion dollars kind. . .

A warship unlike any other is under construction at Bath Iron Works in Maine. General Dynamics is completing a $3.3 billion Zumwalt destroyer that will use all-electric power. And rumor says it may never see battle because no other country will have anything like it. 

The U.S. Navy, already larger than that of all other countries combined, already has 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers. No other country has even one.

Just "food for thought" on a random day.

Blue crabs now in Maine waters

Scientists have now documented that lobsters are now sharing the waters north of Boston with Chesapeka blue crabs. The northern limit used to be Cape Cod, MAssachusetts, but they have been seen off Northern Maine and Nova Scotia.

The waters in the Gulf of Maine are warmer now and blue crabs are now happy there. Back in the 1950s, during a short spell of warmer water, they were also found here. Fiddler crabs are also now seen in these usually cold Canadian waters. However, ocean temps in 2012 and 2013 were 1.3 degrees Centigrade warmer than the previous decade.

March 5, 2015

Nicaragua Canal is humongous project

Did you know that the proposed canal through Nicaragua will be about 172 miles long, while the Panama Canal is merely 51 miles? It will run through Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater tropical lake of the Americas. Roads for all the needed equipment are already being built.

Its $50 billion cost will be shared between a Hong Kong company and the Nicaraguan government.

This info seemingly has little to do with Tidewater Virginia. But the Hampton Roads area will see an impact if and when the mega ships using the deeper and wider Nicaragua Canal use our port. The first mega-ships may pass through this canal in late 2019.

March 4, 2015

A cleaner James River?

$76 million may make a major difference to the water quality of the James River. It has been "predominantly brown" since I moved here eleven years ago, with frequent blue-green algae blooms many summers.

But the major pollutant is nitrogen, 575,000 pounds of it each year. Much of that has been coming from the wastewater treatment plant in Hopewell, east of Richmond. A $49 million grant from Virginia's Department of Enronmental Quality will join the dollars from other sources to upgrade those wastewater treatment facilities. 

The James is a very busy river. According to documents at the Corps of Engineer's James River Partnership website, between 1,000 and 2,500 barges a year travel up the river to the Deepwater Terminal in Richmond. Between 100 and 200 ships, not including the Ready Reserve Fleet at Fort Eustis or pleasure boats, travel on the James every year, with many of them transporting cargo to and from industrial facilities in Hopewell. 

February 24, 2015

Food for thought on SEA LEVEL RISE

How much is one inch in sea level rise?

Two quadrillion gallons of water. If you can't wrap your brain around that figure . . . It's enough to fill 3 billion Olympic size swimming pools.

And yet some don't worry about the one foot of James River water rise that I have noted in the past twelve years.

CSX in the headlines again

I'd like to think that this could be my last blog posting about CSX Transportation, but alas, it will likely be simply my latest. This company name was not in most folks' vocabulary until recently, when another of its MANY train cars full of Bakken field crude oil derailed in West Virginia. 

But this time CSX is in the news for the paltry $361,000 fine imposed on it by the state of Virginia for the huge oil spill in Lynchburg, Virginia, last April. It seems that 390 gallons of the 29,000 gallon spill are still in the environment. Presumably at the bottom of the James River.

During the ensuing fire, 90 percent of that spill burned and 245 gallons of crude oil were recovered at the riverbank site.

As part of the CSX agreement with the state, the company has reseeded the spill area and planted 200 trees. And they will make monthly inspections for oil that appears at the site.

But $12 per gallon of crude oil spilled -- or $900 per gallon still unaccounted for -- seems like a small fine to me in corporate dollars.

And I haven't researched yet what fines, if any, oil pipeline companies receive for their frequent leaks. Posting this on the expected day of President Obama's veto of Congress plan for Keystone pipeline is simply a coincidence!

February 18, 2015

Train safety standards

The train manufacturing industry has responded to safety issues by now making CPC 1232 cars to replace the many DOT-111 cars that are still in use. But even this improvement was not sufficient in the derailment in West Virginia earlier this week with huge explosions, fire and leak. That particular train was hauling 107 tank cars of North Dakota Bakken Field crude oil in the newer 1232 cars, not the older type model.

The CPC 1232 with a thicker one inch hull is the newer, supposedly tougher version of the DOT-111 cars that were manufactured up until 2011 and are being phased out. 1232 cars have reinforced top fittings to help prevent spills and pressure relief valves to allow gas to escape when there are fires. Thicker steel plates that are less likely to be punctured by couplers are another improvement. But the thousands of gallons of crude bound for the Yorktown, Virginia depot were still vulnerable.

This is the same route used by the train that exploded in Lynchburg last April. And if the derailment had occurred 35 miles earlier, while the train passed through the city of Charleston, W.Va., it could have been catastrophic. Less risk is not the same as risk-free.

The rail industry rightly claims that in lieu of the Keystone pipeline, this will be the travel path of countless more train cars of crude oil. And more spills. Pipelines are merely marginally safer than rail cars.

February 15, 2015

Hockey stick graph on climate change

Michael Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K Hughes created the famous "hockey stick graph" in 1999 for a paper, "Northern hemisphere temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties, and limitations." In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a version of the graph in its report, pushing the hockey stick depiction of temperature trends to the forefront of the climate change discussion.

So I present it again for your consideration. It says it all.

January 10, 2015

Dilbit is NOT Dilbert

With all the discussion now taking place about Keystone XL, you might hear the term "dilbit" or diluted bituminous and wonder what the heck it is.

The TransCanada folks offer a great answer at http://blog.transcanada.com/dilbit-what-is-it if you want to learn more. And you just might want to. It is not as harmless as it sounds and you might not want it in your backyard or near your drinking water.

TransCanada history is not without blemish

Keystone pipeline advocates frequently argue that pipelines are safer ways to transport crude oil than railroad cars. But look at these facts.

TransCanada pipelines were in the headlines three times in 2014 for rather extensive failures. In September of 2014, a natural gas pipeline owned by TransCanada ruptured in Michigan causing the evacuation of 500 people. An earlier rupture in Alberta last February and another in Manitoba in January.

Some folks might argue that three leaks in one year is not that onerous. If one occurs in YOUR backyard or near your drinking water, you might not share that opinion.

In Keystone I's first year (2010), it leaked 14 times, with the largest spill more than 21,000 gallons. Pipeline regulators shut it down temporarily. Shortly thereafter, Keystone opened up their "state of the art" natural gas Bison pipeline that they claimed would not need repairs for 20 to 30 years. Oops. It exploded two months later. Guess those whistleblowers who claimed construction flaws were onto something.
Preventing leaks and detecting leaks may get easier as new technologies are developed. But leaks will occur. The Wall Street Journal reviewed 1400 pipeline accidents and discovered that out of 251 spill reports, energy companies' monitoring systems only discovered 19.5 percent of them. Most of them were discovered after the fact.
Pipelines spilled an average of 112,569 barrels a year in the U.S. from 2007 to 2012, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous five-year period, according to U.S. Transportation Department figures compiled by Bloomberg.
TransCanada explains: "The fact is, industry-leading design, construction, maintenance, operating and technological features are being incorporated into Keystone XL and the Gulf Coast Pipelines. Our primary focus is always to prevent leaks in the first place. . . While there are many emerging leak detection technologies that are being developed for the oil and gas pipeline industry most are still in the developmental stages. TransCanada is working with industry and the vendor community on evaluating a number of these technologies, including acoustic detection systems, internal pressure wave based tools and external cable and fiber optic based systems as well. . .
The pipeline monitoring and leak detection systems deployed on our Keystone oil pipeline system are based on proven technologies and represent the current state of the art for long distance, large diameter liquid pipeline operations. Our leak detection systems use the most advanced and proven technology available, and our highly-trained operators have consistently shown that they are able to notice very small changes that could be related to a leak and shut the pipeline down within minutes. This was demonstrated twice in 2011. Our monitoring system identified leaks of 10 and 500 barrels at above-ground pumping stations from very small fittings during two incidents in the U.S. On both occasions the pipeline was shut down within minutes and the oil was cleaned up with no environmental impact. The system worked as it was designed to do. Ten and 500-barrel leaks are extremely less than the 12,000 barrels our opponents claim would be the minimum amount our leak detection systems would be able to detect. We will continue to assess technologies that can further complement our current leak detection capabilities if and when the reliability and feasibility of those systems can be proven."

January 9, 2015

Addressing marine debris in Virginia waters

Marine debris was in the headlines a few months ago as searchers vainly looked for the missing Malaysian airline plane. Many had not heard of the floating masses called "garbage gyres" in the middle of our oceans. The one in the Pacific was in the news years ago, but memory is short when so many things plague our waters. And besides, this "sea of plastic" was not visible on our shorelines. It came from there, but few folks can actually see it now. But I pick up an assortment of flotsam on my nearby James River shoreline.

So it is good news that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and many other agencies and individuals are addressing balloon releases, derelict crab pots and other marine debris. Their plan is supposedly the first of its kind on the East Coast. The Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program includes a lot of education and awareness programs as well as clean up. I hope to see more about in local and state news.

January 7, 2015

Chesapeake Bay receives a very lenient grade AGAIN

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks are the best hope for restoring the health of this huge estuary. But since when is an index score of 32 out of 100 deemed a D+? No teacher worth their weight could curve scores that much. Nor would parents accept that much leniency.

CBF looks at 13 separate indicators, some of which show improvement (oysters, water clarity, underwater grasses). But the blue crab and rockfish populations decreased and the amount of phosphorus leaching in from our lawns increased. Let's hope we can get our act together and get some newly funded programs going by 2017. Or face lost federal funding.

James River power lines are again in the headlines

Fear of the dark a lobbying force? Really?

Dominion Power must believe that if they repeat it enought, the public will believe them. So they keep saying that without the proposed 500 volt power lines across the James River, power outages in Hampton Roads will occur in the near future, all the way from northern Virginia to North Carolina.

Thus, yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court heard Dominion's oral arguments and those of opposing groups such as the James River Association, James City County and the Save the James Alliance who want to preserve the rather pristine look of the James River in that area. Also up for decision is whether a switching station is part of a power transmission line. They are integral to each other, but did the State Corporation Commission (SCC) err in late 2013 when they signed off on the project without input from James City County?

Marred views from our shorelines or impending darkness? 295 foot towers higher than the Statue of Liberty or no lights or TV? Dominion is not enthusiastic about burying the power lines, claiming that would add additional millions of dollars to the project cost.

The Supreme Court decision is not expected to make their decision until later this year. But stay tuned.  Then too, the Army Corps of Engineers still need to add their two cents before all can proceed.

December 9, 2014

Senate passes Chesapeake Bay bill

Senator Mark Warner (D) and Rep. Rob Wittman (R) sponsored a bipartisan bill that passed in the Senate recently that would coordinate the numerous agencies and efforts that are working on cleaning up our beloved bay. This Chesapeake Bay Accountability Act is now in the House of Representatives for their consideration. Sure hope that it passes now in 2014 and does not get bogged down in partisan squabbling. 

Under this Bill, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) would prepare ONE budget to oversee the myriad of programs and track their efforts to restore the bay. Right now it is difficult if not impossible to track the performance of the ten or more federal agencies that work on this huge task.

Powhatan's Village will be protected

Algonquin Chief Powhatan ruled these parts in 1607 when John Smith and friends "discovered" our Chesapeake Bay Area. Powhatan's seat of power was called Werowocomoco, a tract on the York River now privately owned by Bob and Lynn Ripley. But this piece of history on 57 of their acres has been threatened for some time by erosion. 

Good news! A $199,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant will allow the nice folks at VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science) to get busy in dealing with the erosion on these cliffs. The main feature of this restoration project will be two or more sills of piled rocks just offshore that will give a friendlier habitat for marsh grasses to thrive and more sand to remain. Hopefully, about 15,000 square feet of marsh will keep 900,000 pounds of sediment from washing into the York River each year. Yes, each YEAR. Mother Nature is a tough old gal.

Chesapeake Bay warming up too

According to the U.S. Geological Survey folks, most of the more than 100,000 creeks, streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay estuary are warming, largely driven by rising air temps. That is not really surprising if you consider that if your home's air is too cool, your leather sofa will be quite chilly too.

But the latest USGS research, published in the Climatic Change journal, announces that the Bay's water temp has risen more than 2.5 degrees F between 1960 and 2010. And that does not even include the years since then, with 2014 the hottest year on record so far. Air temps during that same 50 year period rose less than 2 degrees F, so obviously the Bay's waters retain the heat.

One major result of warming waters is increased eutrophication, a fancy way of saying too much nutrients in the water. Animals and plants used to one level of nutrients may move upstream in freshwater or up the Chesapeake. Invasive plants may also find an environment that they prefer.

John Smith and Bartholomew Gosnold might not recognize our local waters for more reasons than the homes dotting the shorelines and the lack of oysters and sturgeon.

November 19, 2014

Sturgeon making a comeback

The homely sturgeon was nearly wiped out in the James River by overfishing in the late 1800s. NOAA listed four varieties of Atlantic sturgeon as endangered in 2013. But they seem to be making a comeback. A few have been spotted in the James River and in various spots in the Chesapeake Bay. Are they Chesapeake Bay sturgeon or migrating from the Potomac River? Some have radio tags and are being tracked. But these are not easy fish to capture.

An alternative to Keystone XL

The TransCanada website includes a lot of information about their alternative 2858 mile pipeline, called Energy East, from the Alberta tar sand to the EAST coast of Canada.

Now that Keystone XL is still being debated, and the First Nations tribes are still opposing a pipeline west through their land, look for more news about this alternative pipeline. The oil will move. Whether by train, highways or pipeline is the only question. And there will be spills any way they move it. How much of a threat can we handle?

Fracking in Virginia forests update

I have posted about the threat to Virginia's George Washington National Forest before. But this is good news "of a sort." A compromise has been reached.

In 2011, the drafted plan would allow fracking in quite a lot of the 1.1 million acre forest in the Shenandoah mountains that I love so well. The new compromise now will allow drilling on merely 10,000 acres where mineral rights are privately owned.

Why is this a big deal? According to the New York Times,

"Streams in the George Washington National Forest contribute drinking water to nearly three million people in Virginia, and the forest is the largest federal property in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The region includes some of the top agricultural counties in the state and supports a $10 million recreation and tourism economy."

Good news about styrofoam

Styrofoam is the one plastic that no one seemed to know how to recycle. Until now.

A company in Mexico, Rennueva, claims to have designed a machine that can separate the plastic polymers out of styrofoam into pellets that can be used to make transparent rigid plastic.

The process, called termodensification, heats styrofoam cups, packaging materials and those famous food-storage clam shells to the point that the five percent of it that is plastic can be compressed into pellets. Who knew that styrofoam was 95% air?

The company says that they will create another 12 to 18 recycling units before the end of 2014. If they can, this will be good news to landfill operators since that has been the final destination for a LOT of coffee cups, etc.

November 16, 2014

Dead zones in the Chesapeake

Those large areas of Chesapeake Bay that don't have enough oxygen in the water to support happy critters or happy underwater grasses did not get much attention this past summer. In fact, at the beginning of summer, things looked fairly good. Hurricane Arthur stirred up the bay nicely. But every heavy rain also washes a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen into the bay. In the October issue of PropTalk, the dead zone was estimated to be about 1.32 cubic miles. The crab harvest of 2014 was certainly lower. The increasing aquaculture of oysters is a good effort to clean our waters as well as provide some tasty morsels at happy hour. But our bay is anything but happy.

James River at risk?

You're darn right. The James River wake-up call was last April's train derailment in Lynchburg and subsequent fire. Lots of crude oil spilled into my favorite river that day. I posted about it then.

The James River Association has a new website at http://riveratrisk.org devoted to other high risks to the James from such things as storage of toxic coal ash and other chemicals that don't seem to get much monitoring.

Five inspectors to check the train tracks that carry a million gallons of crude oil should get your attention too. It is a patriotic duty to protect this historic river.

The folks in 37 counties and 18 cities who rely on the James as a major source of their drinking water should be especially vigilant. 

October 6, 2014

Train tracks in trouble?

A recent article in the Daily Press, with a "Dangerous Defects?" headline, should have gotten all readers' attention. But most have already forgotten the fire resulting from the CSX train derailment in Lynchburg, Virginia just a few months ago in late April. The 15 train cars that ended in the James River? The cars full of crude oil on their way to the Yorktown refinery?

That accident is still under investigation. Just a few days after the April 30 accident, inspectors found quite a few troublesome spots where support ties or bolts were missing, rails were cracked or two inches out of line and support soil or gravel was compromised. But now we know that inspectors found significant faults on that specific line six weeks before that derailment. 55 faults have been noted on the line through James City County and Newport News!

Just what constitutes urgency here? CSX is indeed spending about $1 billion this year maintaining existing tracks, signals and bridges. CSX, along with Norfolk Southern, operate about 2000 miles of train tracks in Virginia. Federal regulations call for tracks as heavily used as the CSX mainline through our area to be inspected at least twice a week and immediate repairs made. So someone is not doing their job.

CSX maintains that the derailed train was traveling at an order of slower speed through Lynchburg last April. But 10 mph on tracks with missing bolts and rails two inches out of alignment is not the answer. Watch these crude oil train cars traveling through our area and ask yourself if you are sleeping soundly. Another derailment WILL occur. It is just a question of WHEN.

Chikungunya is not a joke

The World Health Organization, CDC, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other disease-monitoring agencies have had their hands full recently. Ebola has been their priority. But a mosquito-borne viral disease, chikungunya, deserves more name recognition and media coverage, especially if you plan to travel to any Caribbean island soon.

The disease causes severe and debilitating joint pain and fever and is especially dangerous to those over 65. The actual name of the disease means "bended and twisted over." PAHO's most recent count reported 113 deaths attributed to chikungunya in St. Martin since it first appeared there in December 2013.

I first posted about this disease with the funny name in May, months after hearing about it when we were in St. Lucia and it had affected some folks nearby in St. Martin. But by now it has been reported in more than 738,000 individuals in almost all of the Caribbean islands. 19,000 new cases in the Dominican Republic alone, according to the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research. 

Fellow sailing enthusiasts now in Grenada posted that it is very prevalent now in their community. One said "I am nearly bathing in DEET in the past few weeks." She also repeated the oft quoted phrase that "chikungunya may not kill you but you'll wish you were dead when it doubles you over in pain."

And locally acquired cases in Florida too. Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, just reported its first locally acquired chikungunya case on September 19. The case apparently marks the 10th indigenous case in the continental United States, all of them in Florida.

Not to be an alarmist, but that fits my definition of "epidemic." The symptoms usually appear three to seven days after being bitten. So use more DEET products if you travel to the areas below, especially during daytime hours when this particular mosquito bites.

September 23, 2014

Drug drop off day coming

Unused Rx drugs should NOT be flushed down your toilets because they can enter our drinking water.

Instead, take advantage of the next drug drop-off day:

September 22, 2014

There is no PLANET B

That is a catchy phrase. And yesterday's climate change awareness march in New York City got a bit of news coverage. But the real actions need to be taken by world leaders. This week's United Nations summit on climate change may be the beginning of a change in more than attitude. But can the world leaders agree to actually set attainable and measurable goals within my lifetime? Unbelievably, there are still climate change deniers and skeptics choosing to toss aside science and believe what they want to believe. And the reality is that carbon emissions in the U.S. continue to increase.

Until sanity rules and the public demand real changes, little progress may be made--as our Planet A warms up even more.

But the United Nations will also be busy this week dealing with the increasing number of insurgents from other nations who are joining ISIS. That is a more imminent problem.

Nuclear costs soar

No, NOT nuclear energy. But our nuclear arsenal. And at a cost of $1 trillion. The world does not seem to be heading for a safer place.

Today's New York Times article on the escalating costs of refurbishing our nuclear arsenal should have caught everyone's attention. Is the Pentagon indeed planning for 12 new nuclear missile subs, 100 new bombers and 400 new or refurbished land-based missiles? All in the name of deterrence? 

But no new nuclear energy plants are looming. $1 trillion devoted to cleaner energy, even if nuclear, sounds better to me than ever. Can't believe I am saying that.

September 20, 2014

Coal ash in the Potomac?

If a Huffington Post article is accurate, decades of coal ash from Dominion Virginia power plants has been leaking into a Potomac River area watershed. And both Dominion and Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has known about it.

For more info, check out:

August 28, 2014

No swimming signs mean business

Most of us know that it is best to NOT swim in local waters after a big rain, even though local health departments monitor a lot of our beaches. In fact, 46 of Virginia beaches have water samples taken weekly from May to September. But those "frog drowners" flush a lot of nasty stuff off roads, parking lots and lawns into our streams. Then ultimately to our rivers; then finally the Chesapeake Bay.

And I have heard firsthand stories this summer while sailing about listeria causing flesh-eating afflictions to watermen and unwary folks who swim with unhealed cuts.

So I was glad to see a posting in AskHR Green that provided more helpful advice as the Labor Day weekend approaches:

To stay up to date on beach conditions, follow VDH’s Beach Monitoring Program on Twitter (@VDHBeach) to receive  notifications of the status of current swimming advisories, or log on to: https://twitter.com/VDHBeach.

July 31, 2014

Another bug to fear?

Ebola is not the only disease getting media coverage. It seems that another disease called chagas is in the headlines along with the insects that transmit it. Perhaps one of the names of this nasty insect, kissing bugs, implies a less-than-dangerous illness. But chagas can remain in a human for months and even transmitted to newborns.

Doctors are slowly becoming aware of the dangers of this disease that is predominantly afflicting Bolivians, many of whom live in Northern Virginia. But a map on the Centers for Disease Control website shows the entire southern US reporting this insect.

According to the World Health Organization: Triatomine bugs are large bloodsucking insects that occur mainly in Latin America and the southern USA, frequently in homes made of mud and with thatched roofs. A number of species have adapted to living in and around houses and are important in the transmission to humans of Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease (also known as American trypanosomiasis). Chagas disease, which occurs in most South and Central American countries, is incurable and in its chronic phase may cause damage to the heart and intestines. Some patients eventually die from heart disease.

WHO also estimates that 8 million people have Chagas disease worldwide, most of them in Latin America. The triatomines, or the so-called kissing bugs, bite people at night, passing the parasite through their feces. The bite itself is painless, and many people never show any signs of the disease. A third of those with Chagas, however, develop heart disease or megacolon, and untreated, they die from what appears to be heart attacks. An estimated 11,000 people lose their lives every year to the disease. 


July 28, 2014

Chemical sensitivity is more than an allergy

The Green Lodging blog included a recent posting on multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) that caught my attention. Hotels are infamous for introducing "smells" into their rooms and I have found a few to be overwhelming. Fragrances in many retail stores also drive me back out their doors.

But folks tired from driving or long airline flights usually do not complain beyond finding bedbugs or the smell of cigarettes as they crash into hotel beds. But perfumes, VOCs from newly painted rooms, and cleaning and laundry products' lingering odors can be more problematic to quite a few people. 12% of humans may suffer from MCS. More from pet dander, dust mites and mold.

July 26, 2014

Antibiotics in our meat?

Hmmmm. It seems that a U.S. Court of Appeals decision this week may result in continued antibiotics in our meat and poultry. The FDA has been looking into the meat industry's practice of adding antibiotics to their animals' diets to promote growth and prevent disease, but this decision says that agency is off the hook in decision making. 

Cargill recently announced they will stop adding antibiotics to promote faster growth, but no mention of stopping it altogether.

And antibiotic-resistant diseases are in recent headlines too. That flesh-eating one that one can catch by swimming in saltwater, if you have a small scratch, certainly has my attention.

So it looks like organic turkey will be on my Thanksgiving shopping list. 

July 19, 2014

One step closer to offshore drilling?

Attention: whales, dolphins, turtles and other sea life. Get out your earplugs and shut down your echolocation devices. Sonic cannons will be coming soon to offshore Virginia. Actually anywhere from Florida to Delaware. 

Loud sonic cannons too. 100 times louder than jet engines. And every 10 seconds or so, bouncing back info to oil companies looking for the most likely spots to drill for oil and gas after 

WHY? An estimated 4.72 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.51 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas may lie beneath federal waters from Florida to Maine. Opening it to drilling could generate $195 billion in investment and spending between 2017 and 2035, creating thousands of jobs and contributing $23.5 billion per year to the economy. Could

So sea life, listen up. 

July 9, 2014

Chigger season is here in Virginia

These darn almost microscopic mites are making outdoor living miserable for a lot of us in Tidewater Virginia. One look behind my knees and more tells you that they thrive in the tall grasses and shrubs in my yard. Or maybe I found them while searching for a lost golf ball.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do NOT burrow into your skin. So coating the bites with nail polish accomplishes nothing. 

The nymph form find a spot on your body with some restrictive clothing and then settle down for some fine dining. They inject a digestive enzyme that literally liquifies your skin cells and lymph, so they can suck them up. You don't feel the bite for quite a few hours and the itching begins a day or so later. REALLY big time itching. 

Calamine lotion or other prescription anti-itch medications relieve some of the itching for a short while. And the itching seems worse at night.

June 30, 2014

Tangier Island still sinking

The folks on Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay are tough. The men are predominantly watermen, eking out a living finding crabs and oysters. But they have a tougher job facing the sinking land and rising waters. This graphic shows proof.

So it is not surprising that Tangier earned a place on Virginia Landmarkd Registry last spring. I have not yet seen if the island is on the National Register of Historic Places. But it certainly deserves it, and sooner than later. The island is losing about 16 feet on the west side and 3 on the east annually, according to a blurb in Chesapeake Bay magazine. A jetty is in the works, but progress is at glacial speed.

Good news, bad news for the Chesapeake Bay

Sure wish the headlines had consistent news about my beloved Chesapeake Bay. Only a few weeks ago, I posted the good news about our bay states finally agreeing on a plan to clean up our watershed.

But NOAA is now forecasting a sad summer for the bay with higher nitrogen runoff pollution leading to even more dead zones. Low oxygen (hypoxic) areas are NOT conducive to happy fish. And the VIMS model predicts more than the average 10 percent of the bay being affected. So algae blooms may be more prevalent than usual. Striped bass and crabs will be the first to suffer. Unfortunately, jelly fish don't seem to mind and will continue to be the object of many foul words.

Free tap water app a handy tool

If you always carry a plastic water bottle wherever you go, you are in luck.

A new free mobile app from the nice folks at www.askHRgreen.org/TapIt can lead you to clean tap water sources in the greater Hampton Roads area.

More than 100 local restaurants and businesses are already participating.

Curbside Recycling now more inclusive

New and bigger wheeled recycling carts have arrived in James City and York Counties, Williamsburg and Poquoson, thanks to a new contract.

All cleaned rigid plastics including yogurt containers, produce containers, party cups, plant pots, buckets and plastic toys (no larger than 3'x4') are now accepted along with newspapers, magazines, cardboard, junk mail, catalogs, phone books, computer paper; shredded paper inside a stapled paper bag, paper bags; glass bottles; aluminum and steel cans. But NO STYROFOAM please.

Call Virginia Peninsula Public Service Authority at 259-9850, to find out if weekly curbside pickup is available in your area, or to request a bin. 

Click here for the new program's informational brochure of what is and is NOT accepted.

Our 65-gallon cart is almost full and we have a week to go before it will be picked up. So we may very well be requesting the 95-gallon version soon.

June 20, 2014

Virginia waters nothing to brag about

I knew Virginia waters were not in the best shape, but fifth worse in the nation for nasty chemicals? And my beloved lower James River ninth worst watershed for arsenic and lead?

That's what the latest "Wasting our Waterways" report from Environment Virginia says. They are basing these rankings on 2012 figures on dumped chemicals self-reported to the EPA by industrial facilities. Nearly 12 million pounds of chemicals into Virginia waters! 3.23 million pounds of toxic chemicals in the entire Chesapeake watershed should get into the headlines.

Restoring the bay by 2025 looks like an unattainable goal to me. Power plants, paper mills, and poultry farms are major contributors. But the surprising news to me was that the biggest culprit is the U.S. Army. Its Ammunition Power Plant near Radford released more than 7.3 million pounds into the Upper New River Waterway.

Many chemicals are not even evaluated for their toxicity. And fracking chemicals are "trade secrets," according to the infamous Dick Cheney's Halliburton loophole. So the true amount of toxic chemicals may be even more than reported. Seems like a war on chemicals should take place.

To read the report, go to www.environmentvirginia.org 

June 17, 2014

Good news for the Chesapeake Bay

Huzzah for the Chesapeake Bay. All seven watersheds affecting the bay signed on to a new Bay Watershed Agreement yesterday. And this agreement goes beyond the obvious goal of better water quality. Climate change even got more than a pleasant nod.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York, along with the D.C. Mayor, pledged a bunch of measurable restoration goals.

And today's headline of millions of new federal dollars going to shoring up vulnerable Hampton Roads shorelines made me smile as well. Especially since we have been sailing these waters in recent days.

So habitat restoration, land conservation, better fisheries management, toxics control and citizen education should see some major improvement in the coming years.

Governor McAuliffe pushed for climate change to be included as well because Hampton Roads is second in vulnerability to rising sea levels behind New Orleans. But the mayors of the coal states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia listened to their lobbyists and no mention was made in the agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Building homemade boats is still an option.