OTI Environmental News 2016
23 JANUARY 2016, Issue 853
In this issue:
SPILL
"Texas Chemical Plant Explosion leaves 1 Worker Dead, 3 Hurt." Associated Press, January 16, 2016.
SPILL / COMPATABILITY
"Toxic Gas Leaks From Tank in Warehouse in Brazil." Associated Pres, January 14, 2016.
CLEAN WATER ACT
"Rules to Protect Smaller Waterways Survive." Associated Press, January 21, 2016.
DRINKING WATER
"How Safe is Bottled Water?" Chicago Tribune, January 22, 2016.
PESTICIDES
"Bees Threatened by a Common Pesticide, EPA finds." January 6, 2016.
LEAD
"Lead Pipes Lurk In Older Neighborhoods Across the Nation." Associated Press, January 23, 2016.
SPILL

"Texas Chemical Plant Explosion leaves 1 Worker Dead, 3 Hurt." Associated Press, January 16, 2016.

Officials say an explosion at a Houston-area chemical plant has left one worker dead and three hurt. Pasadena police say the tank accident happened Saturday afternoon at the PeroxyChem Bayport Plant. A statement from Philadelphia-based PeroxyChem says the workers were doing a routine function when the contractor's equipment exploded. A contractor died at the scene. Two PeroxyChem employees and another contractor were taken to a hospital. Police say one worker has a broken arm, while the other two were being treated for exposure. Pasadena police spokesman Vance Mitchell says the tank spill involved about 1,000 gallons of an oil-based cleaning solution. The company didn't immediately identify the chemical or release names of the victims. PeroxyChem says the accident is under investigation. Pasadena is 10 miles east of Houston. view news article

SPILL / COMPATABILITY

"Toxic Gas Leaks From Tank in Warehouse in Brazil." Associated Pres, January 14, 2016.

Toxic gas Thursday leaked from tanks in a cargo warehouse in the Brazilian coastal city of Guaruja sending some 40 people to hospitals. The Guaruja fire department said rainwater seeped into the container where the tanks containing sodium chloride isocyanate were stored, causing a chemical reaction that sent a large white cloud into the sky. Guaruja Mayor Maria de Antonieta de Brito asked people to stay home because the gas can cause skin irritation, burning sensations, fainting spells and breathing problems. The gas leak took place at a privately owned warehouse storage facility owned by logistics company Localfrio. Localfrio spokeswoman Mariela Braga said emergency measures were in place and that the terminal had been evacuated. She said the gas that leaked was toxic, but "not that toxic." But medical toxicologist Flavio Zambrone disagreed. "It is an extremely toxic product. It irritates the skin and eyes and if inhaled will also irritate the lungs, "he told the G1 news portal. According to the Sao Paulo Port Authority, a fire that flared shortly after the leak began spread to 12 other containers carrying chemical products at the terminal. The fire was quickly put out, according to the fire departments. view news article

CLEAN WATER ACT

"Rules to Protect Smaller Waterways Survive." Associated Press, January 21, 2016.

New federal rules to protect smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands have survived the latest Republican effort to block them. Congress last week sent President Barack Obama a "resolution of disapproval" that would scrap the rules, a measure he promptly vetoed. On Thursday, the Senate voted 52-40, falling short of the three-fifths threshold to vote on a veto override. Republicans didn't appear to have the votes to win an override if they had been able to vote. An override needs support from two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House. The rules are designed to protect smaller bodies of water from development and pollution. The Obama administration says they would safeguard drinking water for 117 million people. Republicans and some Democrats representing rural areas say the regulations are costly, confusing and amount to a government power grab, giving federal regulators unprecedented control of small bodies of water on private land. Federal courts have put the rules on hold as judges review lawsuits. The rules clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two Supreme Court rulings left the reach of the Clean Water Act uncertain. view news article

DRINKING WATER

"How Safe is Bottled Water?" Chicago Tribune, January 22, 2016.

More than half of Americans drink bottled water, and one-third drink it on a regular basis, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. This trend isn't expected to get bottled up anytime soon. Over the past decade, sales of bottled water tripled to about $4 billion annually, fueled by advertisements of waterfalls, glaciers and glistening forests despite regular recalls of bottled water for E. coli and other concerns. The most recent scare took place in late June, and it involved the recall of spring water produced at two Pennsylvania Niagara Bottling plants after evidence of E. coli bacteria was discovered at the spring source. So just how safe is bottled water? A report by the NRDC about 15 years ago the latest large-scale study performed tested more than 1,000 bottles from 103 brands of water by three independent labs. They found that about one-third of the bottles contained significant contamination with levels of chemical or bacterial contaminants exceeding those allowed under a state or industry standard or guideline in at least one test. "The overall point was that people shouldn't assume that bottled water is any more safe or more clean or more pure than regular tap water," said Mae Wu, senior attorney in the health program at NRDC. NRDC did the study in 1999, and in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration agreed to more stringently regulate bottled water safety. It is now testing and banning water sources contaminated with E. coli, and it is regulating the level of di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP. Water is regulated by the FDA and by the Environmental Protection Agency. The FDA regulates the bottled water, and the EPA regulates tap water and the production, distribution and quality of drinking water including source water protection, operation of drinking water systems, contaminant levels and reporting requirements. In fact, bottled water regulations are numerous and the companies are more strongly regulated than tap water is, said Stephen Edward, a board certified clinical and public health microbiologist, who regularly drinks bottled water. "If you pick up a bottle of water, it's highly likely that you're going to see a telephone number on it," Edward said. "You can call the company and they'll tell you exactly what's in it." They may not share so blatantly, however. A 2010 report by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, found that about a fifth of 175 bottled water labels and websites that they analyzed didn't list the source of the water, 32 percent didn't list their treatment methods and purity testing and 87 percent didn't publish testing results from water quality reports. These included big brands such as Aquafina and Crystal Geyser, though the government doesn't require water bottles to disclose any of this except in California. Bottlers in most states must only include the name of the product, type of water, name and address of the manufacturer, packer or distributor and the net content. Bottled water is much more transparent than tap water, however, because the responsibility of the EPA ends at the curb for the tap water, Edward said. "You might have an old pipe," he said. Even if the bottled water is old, however, it won't be a problem as long as it stays sealed. The current plastic bottles are made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, and they're very stable as opposed the bottles used years ago, which were memorable for their ability to leach chemicals. "Ink from the label could go through the plastic, but it doesn't happen anymore," Edward said. Water bottles produced today are so stable that the FDA considers them to have an indefinite safety shelf life, and doesn't require an expiration date for them. But the agency says long-term storage of the water may result in an off-odor and taste, and bottlers may voluntarily put expiration dates on the bottles. Consumers may notice a difference in the taste from brand to brand. While water is just water, there is a mild difference in taste between the various brands because they have differing amounts of calcium, magnesium and other minerals within them, Edwards said. They also come from different sources, which make them have differing flavors, said Chris Hogan, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, based in Virginia. "Spring waters often taste different from each other based on the source location, mineral content and other geological factors," Edwards said. "The taste of purified bottled water products can be unique as well, depending on the minerals in the water." The brands that earned top marks on transparency from the EWG in a 2011 score card were Gerber Pure Purified Water, Nestle Pure Life Purified Water and Penta Ultra-Purified Water but the water quality reports for those had lab tests dating back to 2008 when the EWG last checked on them. The brand that scored worst on transparency was Whole Foods' Italian Still Mineral Water because it didn't provide consumers with any of the basic facts about its water on the label or on its company website.

<•>Demystifying bottled water: The FDA established standards that define the types of water.
<•>Artesian: Water from a well tapping a confined aquifer (layers of porous rock, sand and earth containing water) where the water level stands above the top of the aquifer.
<•>Mineral water: Water containing more than 250 parts per million total dissolved solids originating from a protected underground water source. It must have constant levels and relative proportions of minerals and trace elements at the source. No minerals may be added to the water.
<•>Purified water: Produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other process that meets the definition.
<•>Sparkling: Water that contains that same amount of carbon dioxide that it had at emergence from the source after treatment and possible replacement of carbon dioxide.
<•>Spring water: Water that may be collected at the spring or through a borehole. It's any water that comes to the surface.

view news article

PESTICIDES

"Bees Threatened by a Common Pesticide, EPA finds." January 6, 2016.

An insecticide widely used on grains, vegetables, fruit and other crops nationwide threatens honeybees, federal environmental regulators said in a decision that could lend impetus to efforts to ban the chemical. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that imidacloprid, a nicotine-imitating chemical found in at least 188 farm and household products in California, "potentially poses risk to hives when the pesticide comes in contact with certain crops that attract pollinators." The EPA's decision was prompted by increasing concern that the chemicals might be contributing to the sudden collapse of commercial honey bee colonies over the last decade. Those bees pollinate crucial food crops and contribute about $14 billion in value to the agricultural economy nationwide. This is the first of four risk assessments conducted by the EPA on the class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. The rest are slated for completion by the end of the year, after which the agency could tighten controls over the insecticides. California already prohibits use of the chemical on almonds and limits its application for other crops during bloom periods when bees are most likely to be present. "Clearly, as a result of this, there might be more restrictions coming," said Charlotte Fadipe, spokeswoman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. California's almond crop, valued at about $7 billion, is completely dependent on nearly 1 million commercial hives brought in to pollinate about 870,000 acres of trees. Other crops that depend strongly on commercial honeybee colonies include oranges and grapefruits, blueberries, cherries, alfalfa, apples, avocados, cucumbers, onions, cantaloupe, cranberries, pumpkins and sunflowers. California farmers applied nearly 144 tons of the chemical, originally manufactured by Bayer CropScience, on more than 1.5 million acres in 2013, the last year for which complete data were available, according to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation. The top users were wine grape growers, which applied 30 tons of it to about 240,000 acres in 2013, according to the state agency. Growers of table and raisin grapes, tomatoes for processing, oranges and cotton also were among the heaviest agricultural users, according to the agency. The single biggest user, however, was the predominantly urban structural pest control industry, which applied nearly 37 tons, according to the agency. Several studies have linked high levels of neonicotinoids to decreased foraging, failures of queen bees, breakdowns in hive communication and other colony-threatening phenomena. Last year, however, a study suggested that exposure to levels of the pesticide expected on most farms would pose no significant negative effects on bee colonies. Many factors have been blamed for the bee die-offs: exposure to multiple pesticides, poor hive management practices and natural pathogens such as mites and viruses. Although full-scale colony collapses have largely abated over the last several years, bees are continuing to die at a higher-than-normal rate. The USDA last year reported winter colony losses of about 23%, based on a survey of beekeepers. A winter decline of about 19% is considered normal. The EPA and its research partners weighed evidence from several hundred scientific studies before concluding that chemical traces of more than 25 parts per billion on plants probably will harm bees. Last year, the agency halted approval of any new outdoor uses of neonicotinoid pesticides until it completes a full risk assessment. It also has proposed banning use of any pesticide found to be toxic to bees while crops are in bloom and commercial colonies are present. Bayer CropScience said the EPA's assessment "appears to overestimate the potential for harmful exposures in certain crops, such as citrus and cotton, while ignoring the important benefits these products provide and management practices to protect bees." The company added that it hoped the agency further considers "the best available science, as well as a proper understanding of modern pest management practices." Pesticide industry advocates said it was premature to talk about a ban on the chemical. "I think there's a lot more work to be done, but we're pretty confident that the product is ultimately going to be found safe either as registered or with potentially any mitigation measures that need to be added," said Renee Pinel, president of the Western Plant Health Assn. in Sacramento. The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, chided EPA for not broadening its investigation beyond the honey bee, to the more than 4,000 wild bee species, and to other pollinators, including butterflies and bats. "You can't claim to do a 'pollinator risk assessment' and really only look at one pollinator, the honeybee," said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director of the group. "That's not only cheating on the purpose of this work but also cheating the native bees, birds, butterflies and other species threatened by this pesticide." Two other groups, the Center for Food Safety and the Pesticide Action Network, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against EPA, seeking tighter regulation of seeds coated in neonicotinoids. Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota beekeeper and plaintiff in the suit, said EPA "didn't say anything of substance" and did not commit to changing any regulations on neonicotinoids. Anderson rents hives to California almond growers, then to growers of cherries, apples and blueberries, before bringing them back to Minnesota for honey production in the late spring and summer. There, he has lost as much as 50% of his 3,000 bees, at a time when coated seeds are planted and cultivated. Dust from the seeds can spread the pesticide, which also is taken up into the plant, and can be detected in its nectar and pollen, said Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, which pushes for conservation of insects. "You really can't look at total risk to pollinators without looking at seed coating, and you really can't look at total risk to pollinators without looking at the 4,000 or so other species," Black said. view news article

LEAD

"Lead Pipes Lurk In Older Neighborhoods Across the Nation." Associated Press, January 23, 2016.

Lead pipes like the ones that led to contamination of the tap water in Flint, Michigan, carry water into millions of older homes across the U.S. every day, a legacy of an era before scientists realized the severe long-term health consequences of exposure to the heavy metal. Replacing these buried pipes would be costly in many cases, so chemicals often are added to prevent the plumbing from corroding and leaching lead and other dangerous metals into the drinking water. That's a step authorities in Flint failed to take, for reasons that are being investigated. Some researchers question whether chemical treatment and routine testing for lead in the water are enough, arguing that the only way to remove the threat is to replace the pipes. Utility operators say what happened in Flint a largely poor and predominantly black city of about 100,000 people that was once an automobile manufacturing powerhouse is unlikely to be repeated, pointing to a series of mistakes at every level of government. The city began drawing drinking water from the Flint River, and state environmental regulators failed to make sure the corrosive water was treated to prevent leaching from old pipes. The result: Flint children have been found with high blood levels of lead that could cause lifelong health problems, and parents and others are furious at public officials. Lead pipes are predominantly found in older neighborhoods, especially in the East and Midwest, because most cities stopped installing them in the 1930s. The pipes carry water from main lines under the streets and into homes. Estimates vary on how many of these pipes are still in use. A survey just completed by the American Water Works Association puts the number at 6.5 million. Inside homes, lead can also be found in faucets and in the solder that is used to join water pipes, but that is considered a less serious concern. To stop lead from seeping into tap water, chemicals to protect the pipes are commonly added to the water during the treatment process. Some utilities also adjust the composition of their water to limit its corrosiveness. In Toledo, which like Flint is an older, Rust Belt city, officials have long treated the water with phosphates to prevent leaching. Phosphates are generally considered safe for humans but can lead to runaway algae growth when the water works its way back into lakes and rivers. Trouble can start when a utility makes a change in its treatment process or taps into a new water source without accounting for how that will affect its lead pipes, said Daniel Giammar, a lead and water researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. "In general, as long as the water chemistry isn't changing, you won't have a problem," he said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires all drinking water utilities to test for lead. The frequency of the testing can range from six months to every three years, depending on past lead levels. The reliability of such testing is a matter of debate. Often, a small number of homeowners are given instructions and asked to provide samples of their water, which is then analyzed by regulators. That, of course, does not guarantee all homes are lead-free. "Each individual really is given a large responsibility, and I think most people would be surprised to learn that they can't trust what's flowing from their tap in many cities," said Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech University who investigated high lead levels in Flint. Determining the scope of the problem is complicated by the lack of accurate records on which homes have lead pipes, Edwards said. The EPA says cities need to take steps to reduce lead levels if they exceed 15 parts per billion. But many health experts say no amount is safe. They say that is especially true for children, who are susceptible to learning disabilities and behavior problems from exposure to lead. David Cornwell, who is president of an environmental engineering company and has written some of the corrosion control methods used in the industry, said there is only one way to make certain that tap water is lead- free: "Ultimately, we have to get rid of those lead lines. No question about it." Similarly, an EPA advisory committee of water plant managers, water quality experts and health professionals recommended to the agency in December that such pipes be replaced. Only a few cities have attempted such an undertaking. Utility operators in Washington started a $400 million pipe replacement program after lead levels spiked above federal standards. But they halted the work in 2008, saying other measures had brought lead down to acceptable levels. In Michigan, Lansing has eliminated about 13,500 lead lines and hopes to have all of them replaced within the next two years. The city is spending about $42 million over 10 years to do the work. One big obstacle is that the lead pipes under the streets are owned by the utilities, while the sections leading into houses are usually the responsibility of the homeowners. Also, researchers have found that removing just part of the lines isn't enough to solve the problem and can actually make it worse by loosening lead particles in the plumbing that remains. That's why the water utility in Madison, Wisconsin, decided to replace its lead pipes and cover half the cost for homeowners. City water quality manager Joe Grande said only a few lead pipes remain since the completion of the $15 million project three years ago. view news article

related:

<•>"'I let you down.' Michigan governor apologizes for Flint water crisis, says he'll release emails." view news article
<•>"Flint Lead Problem Could be Eased by Recoating Old Pipes." view news article