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Archive for the ‘Toxics’ Category

If you live in the Houston area, you may be in the danger zone of a toxic chemical facility, and oil and chemical industry executives are trying to keep it that way. These toxic chemical facilities are vulnerable to accidents or terrorist attacks, even though safer alternatives are available. Now Congress is considering industry-backed legislation (HR 908) that would deny the Department of Homeland Security authority they have requested to require high risk facilities to prevent chemical disasters by using safer, available alternatives.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee could be voting on this within days, and your representative, Congressman Gene Green, is a critical vote.

Call Congressman Green’s office today and ask him to VOTE AGAINST HR 908. (202) 225-9903

If you can eliminate the risk of chemical disaster or the consequences of a terrorist attack, you should, right? Well if Congress passes this legislation, that common sense thinking will be held hostage for up to seven years.

This legislation also contains huge loopholes. It would exempt 500 port facilities including 125 refineries, as well as 2,400 water and waste-water treatment facilities. These facilities put millions of people at risk and will not be covered if this bill is passed.

Disaster prevention should be the heart of any chemical plant security legislation. A comprehensive approach should be taken that closes the current loopholes, requires the highest risk facilities to switch to safer alternatives, and gives workers and communities the ability to hold these facilities accountable.

An independent analysis of comprehensive legislation passed in 2009 showed that the bill would create jobs and provide a stimulus for local governments.

Congress should stop wasting its time and risking our lives with seven more years of delay, and should focus on constructing a comprehensive approach that focuses on preventing chemical disasters in Houston, and around the Country.

Call Congressman Green’s office today and ask him to VOTE AGAINST HR 908. (202) 225-9903

After you call his office, send him an email through our main website.

Not sure if you’re in Congressman Green’s district (district 29)? Check out the map. Still call even if you aren’t in his district. Though voices of his constituents are the most effective, anyone living in Houston should be concerned with this issue and you have every right to let him know your concerns.

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World News with Diane Sawyer is airing a segment tonight on the Bokoshe fly-ash dump in Oklahoma. Public Citizen first worked with the people of Bokoshe and others throughout Oklahoma back in 2008 to oppose the expansion of the Shady Point coal plant in Poteau, OK – the plant that dumps its coal ash in Bokoshe. In one of the swiftest coal plant battles in US history the expansion was defeated, but the people of Bokoshe continue to deal with the problem of toxic coal-ash from the existing coal plant.

The main problem is that coal ash is almost completely unregulated despite the fact that coal ash contains heavy, metallic neurotoxins like mercury and lead as well as other toxins like selenium, cadmium, arsenic, and can even contain radioactive isotopes. Though the EPA is attempting to initiate new, stricter regulations on this toxic and hazardous waste product there is a large push back from the coal industry to weaken these standards, and the implementation of those standards has been continually delayed. (more…)

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After residents report green and yellow-colored well water near an oilfield company’s operation in the spring of 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigated and formally designated an area in Midland as a national Superfund site when the presence of the highly toxic solvent hexavalent chromium was found in groundwater supplies.  The Superfund list is made up of sites so contaminated that they require long-term, complex and expensive cleanups.

These reports from residents led to testing that found that 46 of the more than 230 wells in the area had levels of the toxin in them that were above safety limits. Filtration systems have been provided to the owners of the contaminated wells.

Breathing airborne hexavalent chromium may cause lung cancer, can irritate or damage the nose, throat and lungs, and can also damage eyes or skin. Exposure to hexavalent chromium in drinking water can lead to an increased risk of stomach tumors.

While Texas has been at war with the EPA over the last couple of years, cleaning up sites that pose such a major threat to public health is one of the most vital aspects of the agency’s mission, and I for one, would not like to see the agency hobbled so that they can no longer protect communities from dangers posed by chemical contamination.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality first confirmed hexavalent chromium at more than 50 times the acceptable federal levels in early April 2009 in a well near West County Road 112.

Since then, 234 water wells have been tested by the TCEQ; chromium was found at above safe levels in 34 of them. The plume extends 1.25 miles from the center of the site and it covers about 260 acres, according to the EPA.

UPDATE:

Using the EPA document's description, this is about where the superfund site is centered

According to an EPA document, the Site consists of a contaminated ground water plume originating from an unidentified source. The contaminant plume is located along County Road 1290, between Interstate 20 to the south, and Interstate Business 20 to the north. The Trinity and Ogallala aquifer is the only ground water source for drinking water in the site area. The water table has been reported at depths as shallow as 30 feet below the ground surface and the base of the aquifer is approximately 95 – 105 feet below ground surface. The Triassic red beds form the base of the aquifer. Ground water flow in the aquifer is expected to be generally to the south-southeast.

As part of the National Priorities List, the EPA will take the lead at the site and federal funds will be available for identifying the source of contamination and providing a method of cleanup.

Until a source of contamination is identified, EPA officials said in a release sent out Tuesday that the plume of contamination will continue to grow and affect additional water wells.

City of Midland officials have said, at this time, the city is unable to provide water to residents in that area. A group is working to put together a water district that would serve county residents, including those in the contaminated area, but a source of water has yet to be identified.

If a water source were available, EPA staff have said they could consider funding pipelines as part of the remediation process.

Related Articles

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Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano)

A bill filed by Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) – SB 468 - purports to promote “flexibility of the board of trustees of a school district in the management and operation of public schools in the district,” and makes several changes to the law, including class sizes and the repeal of Section 1951.212 of the Occupations Code, the section of state law entitled “Integrated Pest Management Programs for School Districts”.

In 1993, Texas became one of the first states to require schools to use the least toxic methods to control pests. Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure as they take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are less able to detoxify toxic chemicals.

According to the group Beyond Pesticides, of the 40 most commonly used pesticides in schools, “28 can cause cancer, 14 are linked to endocrine disruption, 26 can adversely affect reproduction, 26 are nervous system poisons and 13 can cause birth defects.” Texas has been a leader in this area and is one of fifteen states to require least toxic methods (known as “integrated pest management”) at schools to protect our children from exposure to these chemicals.

It’s unclear what the motivation is behind this repeal. In a 2005 Texas AgriLife Extension survey of over 500 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Coordinators, “53% felt that the IPM requirements had actually reduced long-term costs of pest management. Fifteen percent believed there was no change in cost to the district. Only 18% of districts said that they felt the school IPM regulations had increased the long-term costs of pest control to their district.” Furthermore, “schools were 75% more likely to be satisfied with their pest control program compared to 1993, before the law went into effect. In addition, the study found that 75% of school IPM coordinators believe that the state IPM requirements have resulted in more effective pest management in their districts.”

To read a copy of this bill, click here.  To read the section of the code this bill repeals, click here.  

This bill is expected to be heard in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow.  If you are concerned, please contact committee members to let them know of your concerns. 

Senate Education Committee

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The Senate is about to hear legislation pertaining to coal ash waste regulation. There is an amendment proposed to slash EPA’s funding so that they cannot enforce safeguards at coal ash waste landfills. The following is a message from our friends with Environmental Integrity Project. Please take a few moments to contact your senator and let them know you want enforcement of regulations on these very hazardous and dangerous waste sites.

Dear Friends,

Thank you for helping to influence 183 Representatives in the US House to vote against Congressman McKinley’s amendment to eliminate EPA’s funding to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.  Eighteen Representatives were Republicans switching ranks to vote against their party’s leadership and for safe water.

Within one week we MUST defeat this amendment likely to be proposed to the budget bill (Continuing Resolution) that is brought to the floor of the Senate, or this egregious proposal to slash EPA’s funding could become a reality – leaving EPA unable to enforce basic safeguards at toxic coal ash dumps such as liners, covers or monitoring and thousands of American communities nearby in harm’s way.

Nearly a half million Americans submitted comments on the EPA’s proposed coal ash rules with a majority of them in support of safeguards.   More than a thousand concerned citizens who traveled to 8 day-long EPA hearings supported these safeguards.  Clearly, Americans have voiced their support FOR protection of our drinking water and public health by the US EPA.

Please call your Senators today and urge them to vote NO to any amendments to cut the US EPA’s authority to protect our health from toxic coal ash.
Use this link to find phone numbers for your Senators – you just need to type in your zip code: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/

1.  Tell your Senators you want them to respect the rule-making process and the comments that their constituents submitted on the EPA coal ash regulation.

2.  Tell them to let the US EPA to do its job and protect public health.

3.  Ask them if you can count on their support for basic safeguards to protect public health from toxic coal ash.

After you make your call, please let us know you’ve made the calls and what their offices said.  Send your responses to: [email protected].

Please let your US Senators know today that Americans throughout the country want to be protected – call them immediately and tell them to uphold our right to safe drinking water.

Thanks for your continuing help and please spread the word.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Air pollution

Image via Wikipedia

In the face of the changes in the political dynamic in Washington, the Obama administration is retreating on long-delayed environmental regulations.  The new rules were set to take effect over the next several weeks, but this move will leave in place policies set by President George W. Bush while it pushes back deadlines to  July 2011 to further analyze scientific and health studies of the smog rules and until April 2012 on the boiler regulation.
Environmental advocates fear a similar delay on the approaching start of one of the most far-reaching regulatory programs in American environmental history, the effort to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The delayed smog rule would lower the allowable concentration of airborne ozone to 60 to 70 parts per billion from the current level of 75 parts per billion, putting several hundred cities in violation of air pollution standards. The agency says that the new rule would save thousands of lives per year, but saving lives now seems to have taken a back seat to saving the costs to businesses and municipalities of having to meet those standards.

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Barnett Shale

The Texas Railroad Commission (RCC) will hold a special hearing January 10th to look into the complaints of methane in two Parker County drinking water wells that prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week to order a natural gas drilling company to take steps to remediate the problem.  The RRC has not yet  posted the starting time or place but we will let you know as we hear more.

Both the Railroad Commission and Range Resources, which drilled the Barnett Shale gas wells near the two homes affected by the methane-laden water, accused the EPA of acting in haste when they issued an order of remediation late Tuesday.  Both the RRC and Range Resources claimed there was insufficient evidence to blame drilling operations for the situation.  But critics of the drilling operations in North Texas suggested that the Railroad Commission was acting more as a booster than a regulator of the natural gas industry.

In its emergency order, the EPA said that its testing suggests that the gases found in the water and gases from Range’s wells “are likely to be from the same source.” The EPA also pointed out that there were no reports of methane in either of the two water wells that were drilled in 2002 and 2005 until after Range sunk its nearby gas wells in 2009.

In the Railroad Commission’s response to the EPA order, all three commissioners suggested the federal agency was needlessly overstepping its authority. And the commission included a detailed timeline showing the progress of its own investigation into the affected drinking water wells.

If you live in the Barnett Shale region and are concerned, we urge you to attend this hearing.  We will post details about the hearing as soon as they are available.

If you are concerned that the RailRoad Commission is not being protective of the health and well-being of Texans, consider attending the Sunset Advisory Commission‘s hearing on the RRC and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality next week, December 15th.  See our earlier blog for details.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...

Is your drinking water safe? -Wikipedia

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ordering a natural gas company in Fort Worth to take immediate action to protect people living near one of its drilling operations who have complained about flammable drinking water coming out of their home faucets.

Read some of our earlier blogs about the process that is suspected of causing these kinds of  problems:

Read other recent posts about our regulatory agencies’ failure to adequately insure the safety of Texan’s drinking water:

Natural gas drilling (or fracking) near homes in Parker County west of Fort Worth has caused or contributed to the contamination of at least two residential drinking water wells, and the EPA  has confirmed that extremely high levels of methane in local water supplies pose an “imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire.” The agency also found other contaminants including benzene, which can cause cancer, in the drinking water.

The EPA has issued an imminent and substantial endangerment order under Section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act and has ordered the company to step in immediately to stop the contamination, provide drinking water and provide methane gas monitors to the homeowners.  EPA has given the company 24 hours to assure them that it will comply with the order and 48 hours to provide alternative water supplies to affected residents.

To see the EPA’s letter to the company, click here.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant -by Wikipedia

In an article by the New York Times that focuses on Vermont‘s concerns about losing space to waste from generators in other states, Matthew Wald writes:

Waste disposal is so difficult, says the company, Waste Control Services, that power plants and other generating sources have reduced their volumes sharply. And Vermont and Texas together produce so little that, the company adds, it would have to charge huge amounts per cubic foot and per unit of radioactivity to get its investment back.

Yet, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition’s research shows the Waste Control Specialists site is currently licensed for 2.3 million cubic feet of water and 3.89 million curies. Texas’ existing four reactors and Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor would require 6 million cubic feet of capacity.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, the director of the Texas office of Public Citizen tells the New York Times that he believes, “They’re trying to get it done before the new governor takes office.”

To read the New York Times article, click here.

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Last week, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals awarded a major victory to Public Citizen and Sierra Club in their long standing efforts to block the Sandy Creek coal plant near Waco when it ruled that developers improperly started construction without adequate clearance under the federal Clean Air Act.

The court overturned a district court ruling saying the developers of the Sandy Creek Power Plant should have been required to show that they would employ the “maximum achievable control technology” (MACT) to limit the emissions of mercury and other pollutants once the plant was up and running.

In 2006 the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued the permit for Sandy Creek, relying on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  ruling from the year before exempting coal- and oil-fired generating plants from the MACT standard.

In 2008, an appeals court struck down the EPA’s earlier ruling and, even though construction had already started on Sandy Creek, the Sierra Club and Public Citizen filed a lawsuit arguing that work could not go forward because the plant had not shown it could meet MACT standard.

The district court sided with Sandy Creek because it had commenced with construction, and that, at the time, the plant was in compliance with the rules in place.

The circuit court said in its ruling that because the EPA was wrong to exempt coal plants from the MACT standard, Sandy Creek cannot rely on that exemption to continue construction without a proper permit, and sent the case back to the district court.

Click here to see the 5th Circuit’s full ruling.

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The EPA said it issued the subpoena after Texas-based Halliburton refused to voluntarily disclose the a description of the chemical components used in a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, a drilling practice that has been at the center of a controversy in the DFW area.  Halliburton was the only one of nine major energy companies that refused the EPA’s request.

The agency said the information is important to its study of fracking, to see whether the practice affects drinking water and the public health. (more…)

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A new online film, the “Story of Electronics”, is available to watch today, Tues, November 9.

This is the newest in the series of the excellent, user-friendly Story of Stuff web-films about excessive consumerism and waste.

The Story of Electronics  tells the story of how electronics are really “designed for the dump” and not made to last or made for recycling.

Watch the film at www.storyofelectronics.org and tell your friends about it.

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NRC ANNOUNCES AVAILABILITY OF LICENSE RENEWAL APPLICATION FOR SOUTH TEXAS PROJECT NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

The 22 year old South Texas Project (STP) Units 1 and 2 are up for renewal and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced today that an application for a 20-year renewal of the operating licenses is available for public review.

The plant’s current operating licenses for Units 1 and 2 will expire on Aug. 20, 2027, and Dec. 15, 2028, respectively.  A 20 year license extension would have the two units in production well past their initial life expectancy, and the onsite spent fuel rod storage, well – that’s a whole other can of worms.

South Texas Project Units 1 and 2 are both pressurized-water nuclear reactors, located 12 miles southwest of Bay City, Texas.  When they were built, these plants were projected to have a 30 to 40 year life expectancy and STP says it has enough underwater storage capacity on site to safely store spent fuel for the licensed life of the plant.  Since it is up for a 20 year renewal, let’s hope that that means they have enough spent fuel storage capacity for at least that long.  They haven’t been very forthcoming about what their hoped for expansion would mean for their spent fuel storage capacity, continuing to hold forth the promise of a long-term storage solution (Yucca Mountain being the most frequently touted option). But with the development of Yucca Mountain in limbo, and the NRC extending the period for onsite storage past the production life of a plant, it seems likely that an off site long term storage solution is unlikely anytime soon.

The licensee, STP Nuclear Operating Co., submitted the renewal application Oct. 26. The application is available on the NRC website at this address: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/renewal/applications/south-texas-project.html. The NRC staff is currently conducting an initial review of the application to determine whether it contains enough information for the required formal review. If the application has sufficient information, the NRC will formally “docket,” or file, the application and will announce an opportunity to request a public hearing.

For further information, contact Carmen Fells or Tam Tran at the Division of License Renewal, Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Mail Stop O11-F1, Washington, D.C. 20555; telephone (301) 415-6337 for Carmen Fells and telephone (301) 415-3617 for Tam Tran.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission TLLRWDCC will meet in Midland, Texas a week from Saturday (November 13th) to reconsider adopting a rule that was withdrawn in July that would allow for export of low-level radioactive waste for management and disposal from facilities outside of the Texas Compact, this will be followed by a host of generator petitions to ship low-level radioactive waste to Texas facilities.  For those that have been following our blogs on this, that means to the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in Andrews County out in West Texas.  The Compact Commission will receive public comment, discuss and take formal action, as appropriate, on items on the agenda below until it adjourns.

November 13, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Center for Energy and Economic Diversification
1400 Farm-To-Market Road 1788 N
Midland, Texas.

To see the proposed rule, click here.
To see the proposed additions to the draft rule from Compact Commision chair, Mike Ford, click here.

TEXAS LOW-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE DISPOSAL COMPACT COMMISSION AGENDA (more…)

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A new online film, the “Story of Electronics”, will be released on Tues, November 9. This is the newest in the series of the excellent, user-friendly Story of Stuff web-films about excessive consumerism and waste.

The Story of Electronics  tells the story of how electronics are really “designed for the dump” and not made to last or made for recycling. View the trailer at: www.storyofelectronics.org

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