August 23, 2012

Court rules that wind can blow pollution your way

A sad decision by the federal appeals court in  D.C. just struck down the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) that would curb particular types of air pollution that originate from a polluter in one state but affect the air of another. This rule was opposed by a coalition of fossil fuel power companies, and the court sided sided with them.

Too bad, because the EPA estimated that CSAPR would have dramatic health benefits for downwind residents: 13,000 premature deaths avoided, as well as 420,000 upper and lower respiratory problems. 

So much for being good neighbors. Coal reigns again!

But stay tuned. It seems that another rule on cross-border pollution — the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) – remains in effect. At least until the next lawsuit.

August 22, 2012

Smart buoys no longer funded?

Up until now, you could track those bothersome jellyfish called nettles as they progressed up the Chesapeake Bay. You could check the nettle predictor map developed by NOAA or use their special ops buoys for a nettle search.

These smart buoys were quite handy for boaters because they also provided useful, real-time information on wind and wave height (very nice to know)), water quality and a brief history lesson.

Simply go to and choose a buoy near you, or download the smart buoy app.

But oops. President Obama has asked that the program not be refunded in fiscal 2013. Funding for fiscal 2012 continues, and might continue until a new budget passes Congress. But that has not occurred for a few years, so the buoys may remain for a while. Stay tuned.

August 17, 2012

Uranium mining in Virginia? (updated 10-2-12)

Studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the City of Virginia Beach have raised serious concerns about the safety of mining uranium in western Virginia, up river from more than one million people in Hampton Roads.

Yet Governor McDonnell has not abandoned requests from Virginia Uranium, Inc. to turn back the moratorium on mining this stuff in Virginia. His Uranium Mining Work Group is taking a serious look at it. I have little faith in the safeguards they say will exist.

Remember BP's blowout preventer?

10-2-12 update: The folks at Hampton Roads Planning District Commission are not too keen on resurrecting uranium mining in Virginia either. All but one member of the 16 cities that make up this commission voted against it last week because of concern over their drinking water being threatened by the "tailings" (waste) from this industry.

Meanwhile, the Uranium Working Group, a multi-agency state panel, will announce their findings by December 1.

Natural gas or coal?

I am not saying that I am a fan of fracking because of continuing threats to the water aquifers near the drilling.

The main draw to natural gas for power plants at the moment is the low price--about one third the cost of coal

EIA estimates that shale gas will comprise 49 percent of the gas supply by 2035. But natural gas is not clean energy only cleaner than coal energy

Potential EPA regulations could be enforced on methane emissions from shale gas. The methane in shale gas is probably more harmful to the environment than greenhouse gases in coal.

The proposed rule would require any new power plant to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity produced. The average U.S. natural gas plant, which emits 800 to 850 pounds of CO2 per MWh, meets that standard; coal plants, however, emit an average of 1,768 pounds of carbon dioxide per MWh.

So let's hope the power companies look before they leap.

August 16, 2012

Formaldehyde free, finally

Great news today from Johnson & Johnson: they are finally giving us personal care products without the carcinogen formaldehyde, but we'll have to wait until the end of 2015. P & G had already removed almost all of that stuff we first experienced in dissection lab from my Herbal Essences shampoo a while back.

Johnson & Johnson had already pledged to remove certain chemicals from its baby products by 2013, but the latest announcement extended the program to its adult products, including well-known drugstore brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno and Clean & Clear.

Thank you, Environmental Working Group and Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, for your continued pressure on companies to remove questionable ingredients from their products.

Formaldehyde and 1,4 dioxane do not belong on our bodies, but they are technically not an ingredient. So consumers won’t find either listed on the back of their shampoos or lotions. Shampooing should not be a mystery. So kudos to J & J for taking these steps.

The company also plans to phase out other ingredients that have been linked to health problems, including phthalates, which have a variety of uses, like lessening the stiffening effects of hair spray; several fragrance ingredients; and triclosan, an antibacterial substance used in soaps. Johnson & Johnson will also remove all parabens, a type of preservative, from baby products. Parabens do appear on labels, so keep reading them.

August 15, 2012

West Nile virus on the move?

Mosquitoes wait for me here.
The alarming outbreak of West Nile virus in Texas, and 10 deaths so far, is somewhat frightening. How fast can these skeeters move to my state? Unlike the majority of the country, Virginia has had frequent rains this summer. So conditions are ripe for breeding skeeters.

The old adage, "You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't," comes to mind. I detest dousing myself with DEET, but that's the only reliable repellent when it comes to mosquitoes. I have even tried some mosquito repellent apps on my iPhone. They emit high frequency sounds that supposedly repel the pests, and I haven't been bitten lately, but I don't want to play Russian Roulette with mosquitoes either. It probably only takes one bite to send one to the ER.

Click here to read some helpful tips from NRDC about using DEET.

Aquifers under attack

Perhaps we don't need to worry about a Keystone oil pipeline contaminating our aquifers after all. It seems that we have been threatening the Ogallala aquifer (under 174,000 square miles of our Midwest) for a long time and rainfalls are not replenishing it.

Even in good years, farmers have drawn from it for irrigation. The last few years of drought have been especially taxing. You could say that really sucks. And if allowed to go dry, the Ogallala would take about 6,000 years to refill. Ponder that the next time you allow the faucet to run while you brush your teeth or rinse off your dished before loading the dishwasher or allow your sprinklers to run in the rain.

And it's not just Americans. Other aquifers around our planet are also being overused. Those in India and Saudi Arabia are in worse shape than ours. Nature magazine just revealed that "about 1.7 billion people live in areas where groundwater resources and/or groundwater-dependent ecosystems are under threat."

This is not the first time I've read this dire news. Quite a few years ago, some predicted "water wars" in our near future.

Recent news coverage has shared the startling info that aquifers in Mexico are threatened by the large amounts of fruits and veggies grown there for U.S. consumption.

Bad news about bactera and antibiotics

It is bad enough that the FDA has kicked the can about antibiotics in meat down the road for the past 35 years, but now the announcement that the chemical triclosan is getting into our bodies more than ever???? 

There has been plenty of proof that antibiotics in animal feed does more than keep the cows and chickens healthy. There is even a new strain of drug-resistant bladder infection that is linked to the antibiotics in chicken feed.

So a federal court in New York has said "Enough already" to the FDA. They gave them five years (that's seems generous to me) to get their act together and issue some real rules for the use of antibiotics in meat production. Can you hold your breath that long? Better yet, look for organic meats and convince yourself that the few more pennies are worth it.

And I bought a twin pack?
And now a new study by University of California, Davis and University of Colorado scientists announces some alarming news about triclosan, the antibacterial  that is in many soaps, deodorants, washcloths and even toothpastes and mouthwashes. iIntroduced in the 1970s, triclosan may pose an even bigger threat to our health.

The levels of tricloan in our bodies (blood, urine and breast milk) have been increasing. It now seems that exposure to triclosan is linked with muscle function impairments in humans and mice, as well as slowing the swimming of fish.  By reducing contractions in both cardiac and skeletal muscles, the chemical has the potential to contribute to heart disease and heart failure.That is not insignificant.

The levels in the environment have been increasing as well, because it can’t all be trapped in waste water treatment plants. So it is also in many of the fish we eat.

August 11, 2012

The "green thing"

The "old green" of our earlier years seems so long ago.

Thanks, Maureen, for reminding me of this great internet story about the older woman who said "We didn't have this green thing back in our day."

It was REALLY hot in Virginia

Since a picture is worth a thousand words.  .  .

NOAA chart

Now try telling me that it's simply a natural cycle.

West Virginia streams damaged by coal mining

Coal mining companies like to boast about their safety records, for both miners and the environment. But a closer look reveals that the proverbial canary in the Appalachia mine may not be so healthy on the surface either.

Is it not enough that the mountain tops need to be blown to smithereens? A new study at Duke and Baylor shows that one in five streams in southern West Virginia are now damaged. Water pollution from surface coal mining has degraded more than 22 percent of streams and rivers  to the point they may now qualify as impaired under state criteria.  There have been substantial losses in aquatic insect biodiversity (such as dragonflies and mayflies) and increased salinity linked to sulfates and other pollutants in runoff from mines often located miles upstream.

During recent years, 5 percent of the land there has been converted into mine sites, burying 480 miles of streams. That is significant by itself. But runoff pollution could substantially degrade more than 1,400 miles of streams in the region.

August 8, 2012

Cleaner water and air now have a chance in Tidewater Virginia

The good news today is that the proposed largest coal burning power plant in Virginia is on a really back burner. ODEC just announced that they are no longer pursuing permits for this plant across the James River from so many Virginians.

Thank you, WCAN, for your continued opposition to this threat to our air and water. The Climate Action Network folks deserve our appreciation.

August 3, 2012

Are backyard chickens for you?

Backyard chickens are growing in popularity, for both fresh eggs and insect control, although they are against code in many areas, as well as prohibited by most homeowner associations.

I met a young Virginia couple in Jamestown Feed & Seed who were shopping with their two young children for chickens. They were tired of pulling ticks off their kids and heard that chickens would rid a yard of ticks in no time.

The City of Williamsburg has nothing in the City Code prohibiting chickens, but they must be contained in your yard. Backyard hens are legal in some York County districts if you have 2500 square feet per chicken and follow a lot of other regs, as well as fill out an application. The James City County Zoning Ordinance permits the keeping of chickens in A-1, General Agricultural; R-6, Low-Density Residential and R-8, Rural Residential Zoning Districts.

Please check out your local zoning regs before purchasing any hens for eggs and/or insect control. And remember that roosters are usually prohibited in most suburban areas because they "cock-a-doodle-do" around the clock. I learned that in Key West after I found the free-roaming roosters quite delightful during the day.

August 1, 2012

Tidal energy has been so slow to harness

Anyone who spends time along our shorelines knows that tidal energy is a constant renewable resource. Two high tides and two low tides each day are part of our planet's pulse. Tidal power is an untapped resource, especially along the highly populated East Coast.

The U.S. Energy Department just recognized the "first commercial, grid-connected U.S. tidal energy project" in the U.S. What took so long? $$$.

A $10 million investment from the Energy Department provided Ocean Renewable Power Company enough to get their first tidal energy device in their pilot project  into Cobscook Bay near Eastport, Maine, this summer.

I have witnessed the famous Bay of Fundy's tides in Nova Scotia. 100 billion tons of water flow in and out of this bay daily. Initially, the Cobscook Bay pilot project will provide enough renewable electricity to power between 75 and 100 homes. But that's a good start. Detractors, of course, will divide $10 million by 100 homes and do some "funky math" to deride the program. After running and monitoring this initial system for a year, they will install additional power systems over the next three years to increase the project’s capacity to 3 megawatts—enough electricity to power 1,200 Maine homes and businesses.

Earlier this year, the Energy Department released a nationwide tidal energy resource assessment, identifying about 250 terawatt hours of annual electric generation potential from tidal currents.

Then there are the currents too. A promising project in New York City's East River has not been in the news for a long time.

Red tides in the sunset

It's supposed to be "red sails in the sunset . . .  "  But the season of red tides (or algae blooms) in the Chesapeake Bay waters is beginning. The recent record high temps have been the main factor, but a mild winter didn't help.

Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science will monitor the blooms of algae throughout the summer because some can be harmful to both marine life and humans if they generate toxic byproducts. Oysters are especially prone to damage. And the baby oyster spat had been thriving recently.

Red tides are actually dense blooms of tiny marine plants called dinoflagellates that contain reddish pigment.

If you see a patch of water that is red or mahogany and are concerned, contact Virginia's toll-free Harmful Algal Bloom hotline at (888) 238-6154.