October 9, 2010

Heavy metal is in the headlines again

I don’t mean Metallica, Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister, or AC/DC.

I'm talking about the heavy metals in that toxic sludge that spilled out from the aluminum mining plant’s reservoir in Hungary. The Blue Danube is now the Orange Danube although the experts say that the pH level has dropped to the level allowed in drinking water and predict that it will “turn unharmful” That’s a mighty positive bit of soothsaying, especially as the BP spill in the Gulf is still fresh in our memories. "The consequences do not seem to be that dramatic," Philip Weller, head of the Danube Commission for the Protection of the Danube, told The Associated Press.

Hungarian officials now estimate that between 158 million and 184 million gallons of this orange liquid mud gushed out in just a few hours. They say that’s 79 to 92 percent of the entire spill in the Gulf which took nearly three months to unfold this summer.

But what exactly are heavy metals? Cadmium was already in the news this summer when McDonald’s recalled those 12 million Shrek glasses because unsafe levels of cadmium could adhere to your hands.

If I remember from that periodic chart of elements in chemistry classes decades ago, these toxic elements (such as mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and beryllium) hang around for a really long time. So if the arsenic concentration in the Danube right now remains super high, somebody has a problem. A recent analysis suggested that roughly 50 tons of arsenic, 300 tons of chrome, and half a ton of mercury was unleashed by the spill. Some of the Hungarian villages had to be abandoned too. So don’t tell those residents that it’s not a big deal. 1/70 teaspoon of mercury in a 25 acre lake makes the fish unsafe to eat. A nice neutral pH makes very little impact then.

The Department of Labor’s OSHA has a lot of info about heavy metals at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/metalsheavy/index.html

October 8, 2010

Don't shelve the "continental shelf"

Lots of us mention the "outer continental shelf" as a great location for wind turbines so casually that our friends might think we really know a lot about the topic. Experts in the field refer to it as "OCS."  I realized I was not so sure just how far it extended. So some Googling was in order.

Wow. Check out this website for a rather impressive map that shows just how extensive it is. The OCS begins 3-9 nautical miles from shore (depending on the state) and extends 200 nautical miles outward, or farther if the continental shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles. That, my friends, is a lot of territory waiting for wind turbines.

Only a few offshore wind farms have gotten the necessary permits at this point--in Massachusetts off Cape Cod. Denmark and the U.K. are way ahead of the U.S.

There's even an Outer Continenal Shelf Lands Act--from 1953! Since its original enactment in 1953, the OCSLA has been amended several times, most recently as a result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Amendments have included, for example, the establishment of an oil spill liability fund and the distribution of a portion of the receipts from the leasing of mineral resources of the OCS to coastal states. Click here to learn more about it.

Drawing the boundary at 3 miles (or whatever) offshore might be a challenge since this is a moving target. As shorelines erode, that boundary will move closer to land. But I assume the OCS experts have considered that.

And don't let the bedbugs bite

There are more than 300 pesticides to deal with a bedbug infestation. There are some non-chemical methods too.

Check out the EPA link below to help you find the safest (that's subjective) product to kill these critters. Always follow the product instructions carefully.

EPA Pesticide Database

October 5, 2010

It's National Energy Awareness Week!

But put your home in a Snuggie?
You probably missed it in the news, but October is “National Energy Awareness Month.” Perhaps that’s why the White House will get a bit of solar energy this month. Even the U.S. military is embracing renewable energy sources to fuel its forces in Afghanistan. They have an advantage to “git er done” by not depending on Congressional action amid the toxic partisanship common during election season.

Our energy awareness usually kicks up a notch when we view our monthly utility bills, prompting us to ask “Why can’t anyone in this house remember to turn off the lights?” and “Who turned up the heat (or turned down the AC) to 75 degrees?”

The U.S. remains in a “green trend” in spite of “green fatigue” on some fronts. Newsweek will release their 2010 environmental ranking of the world’s largest corporations on October 18 as more and more companies reinvent themselves and commit to sustainable practices and reducing energy use.

As we invest in more biofuels, wind, solar, and future “clean coal” technologies, are we "moving into a new energy paradigm?" I’m tired of this over-used phrase, but it is exactly what all of us need to "get our heads around."

Oops, that’s another trite phrase, but I like it to describe embracing energy efficiency, reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, curbing consumption, and creating green jobs of the future. Might we also call it patriotic and cost-effective while we’re at it?

October 4, 2010

Virginia Underwhelms EPA

Many folks, including most CEOs and teachers, understand that setting goals should involve the acronym--SMART. Those letters stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

But Virginia didn’t come up with measurable or specific goals to meet EPA standards, at least not EPA’s 2010 standards. EPA poohbah Lisa Jackson is holding states accountable and actually viewing the 1972 Clean Water Act as worthy legislation. Virginia did not get a passing grade in its recent Watershed Improvement Plan, otherwise called WIP. Indeed, EPA deemed it to have “serious deficiencies.”

EPA required this watershed-wide plan to develop a detailed description of how they will achieve pollution reductions from all sources through enforceable or binding—rather than voluntary—measures. It was submitted to EPA as part of a multi-state and federal effort to develop a nutrient and sediment “pollution diet” or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries.

You can see the “Public Review Draft” of Phase I Draft Watershed Implementation Plan for the Commonwealth of Virginia.at http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil_and_water/baytmdl.shtml

It’s 111 pages of verbiage, numbers, and lots of charts! I got a TMDL Migraine trying to read it, so I’ll have to go back another day. One section that did catch my attention regarded Canada geese. The resident Canada goose population peaked at around 265,000 geese in the late 1990s. Now we have about 147,000 of these pesty poopy birds. The goal is to maintain a resident Canada goose population of 125,000-150,000 geese statewide. Now there’s a SMART goal.

As a sailor, I applaud our DEQ for beginning the process of establishing No-Discharge Zones (NDZ) from boaters holding tanks in all tidal creeks draining into the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay or its major tributaries. No date given, so that’s merely a semi-SMART goal. Virginia’s plan, however, did not require that farmers fence livestock out of streams. Boaters—NO; cattle—YES?

Thus EPA is asking Virginia to go back and revise their cleanup plans, so the federal government is not compelled to impose the pollution reductions that it outlined as possibilities in its draft plan. See the EPA’s Draft Chesapeake Bay TDML at www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl . It iincludes pollution limits to meet water quality standards in the Bay and its tidal rivers, and pollution control measures to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025, with 60 percent of the actions completed by 2017. The final TMDL will be established December 31.

Missing 2000 and 2010 deadlines—in spite of spending millions—to clean up the Chesapeake did not show a real serious attitude on Virginia’s part.

A 45 day public comment period on the EPA’s draft plan runs from September 24 through November 8. Check out your opportunities to comment at www.cbf.org//Page.aspxpid=2051&srctid=1&erid=4390807  

EPA is required to create a Bay pollution "diet" by the end of this year because of a consent agreement EPA signed with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to end a lawsuit against the federal agency. Here’s what the CBF had to say about Virginia’s Watershed improvement Plan: www.cbf.org//Page.aspxpid=2035&srctid=1&erid=4246935

I feel another TMDL Migraine coming on.