Scientists tracking Chesapeake Bay algae blooms

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Recent algae blooms in Chesapeake Bay are some of the most intense on record.

Studies eye potential human health risks

Staff Report

FRISCO — The West Coast isn’t the only place seeing unprecedented algae blooms this summer. Recent water sampling by researchers at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science show some of the densest concentrations of algae recorded in Chesapeake Bay in recent years.

According to the scientists, the current blooms are dominated by an algal species known to release toxins harmful to other marine life, particularly larval shellfish and finfish. Although the recent algae blooms haven’t been directly implicated, there have been some reports of small small numbers of dead fish, oysters, and crabs from the lower York River and adjacent Bay waters associated with nearby blooms. Continue reading

Environment: Study helps quantify plastic pollution from household cosmetic and cleaning products

Microbeads are bad juju for world’s waterways and oceans

 This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel. Photo courtesy Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University.

This image captured by an electron microscope shows polyethylene microbeads widely used in shower gel. Photo courtesy Thompson/Bakir/Plymouth University.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Simple, everyday uses of some cosmetics and cleaning products releases huge amounts of plastic micropollution into the environment, potentially at levels harmful to marine life.

Scientists at Plymouth University recently tried to quantify the well-known environmental problem by studying brands of facial scrubs that listed plastics among their ingredients. They used vacuum filtration to sort out the plastic particles and analyzed the debris with electron microscopes, finding that each 150ml of the products could contain between 137,000 and 2.8 million microparticles. Continue reading

EPA releases internal report on Animas River Spill

EPA releases first results of internal investigation

Why did the Gold King Mine spill its guts?

Why did the Gold King Mine spill its guts?

FRISCO — EPA officials say that workers at the Gold King Mine likely underestimated the pressure building up inside the mountain. That miscalculation likely resulted in the massive 3 million gallon spill that tainted the Animas and San Juan rivers for miles downstream.

Report:

Petition seeks new mining regulations to prevent future disasters like the Animas River spill

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Drainage from the abandoned Pennsylvannia Mine in Summit County, Colorado, has been poisoning Peru Creek and the Snake River for decades, @bberwyn photo.

Common sense tweaks would require more monitoring as well as reclamation

Staff Report

FRISCO — Congress, under fierce lobbying pressure from the mining industry, may not have the political wherewithal to make meaningful changes to mining laws.

But public land agencies could tweak their regulations to reduce the chances of another event like the spill from the Gold King Mine that tainted the Animas and San Juan rivers earlier this month.

A coalition of community and environmental groups hopes to spur those changes at the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture with a formal petition under the Administrative Procedures Act. The petition seeks four key changes to mining rules that would go a long way toward averting future toxic spills.

The rules changes would:

  • Limit the lifetime of a mine permit,
  • Impose enforceable reclamation deadlines and groundwater monitoring requirements on mines
  • Require regular monitoring and inspections,
  • And limit the number of years that a mine can remain inactive.

Continue reading

Environment: Canadian mine, energy developments stir trans-border unease in Alaska

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Ecosystems in a transboundary region are at issue in a series of upcoming meetings in Alaska. Map courtesy Rivers Without Borders.

Alaska communities seek international review of Canadian projects that will affect their rivers

Staff Report

FRISCO — Mining and energy development in western Canada is making some Alaskans uneasy, as they eye potential impacts to pristine salmon streams in the region.

Citing a bilateral environmental treaty, activists this week will meet with British Columbia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, when he visits Juneau and will ask him to support an international review of mine developments in northwest B.C.

The environmental and community advocates said an international review is the best way to develop specific, binding commitments to ensure clean water, salmon, jobs and traditional and customary practices are not harmed by mine development in British Columbia. Continue reading

Gold King Mine spill investigations start

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What really happened at the Gold King Mine? Photo via EPA.

EPA expects to have some answers within 60 days

Staff Report

FRISCO — Responding to congressional requests for an investigation into the Gold King Mine spill that fouled hundreds of miles of the Animas and San Juan rivers with toxic pollutants, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General this week announced that it will launch a full review of the disaster.

On Aug. 5, workers at the mine near Silverton triggered the release, sending about 3 million gallons of water laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury surging downstream.

According to the official notice on the investigation, the OIG’s Office of Program Evaluation, Office of Audit, and Office of Investigations will all be involved.

And as pledged by EPA chief Gina McCarthy, there will also be an outside review, led by the U.S. Department of the Interior, aimed at assessing the factors that led to the Gold King Mine spill. According to the EPA, the results will be released to the public within 60 days.

In a prepared statement, the EPA said the goal of the independent review is to provide EPA with an analysis of the incident that took place at Gold King Mine, including the contributing causes.

Both investigations will help inform ongoing and planned site assessments, investigations, and construction or removal projects.

Environment: Study finds neonicotinoid pesticides widespread in streams across the U.S.

Bad for bees, bad for people? @bberwyn photo.

Bad for bees, bad for people? @bberwyn photo.

Will fish and water bugs be decimated by systemic pesticides?

Staff Report

FRISCO — Neonicotinoid pesticides are spreading throughout the environment with as-yet unknown effects on human health, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The agency found the systemic pesticides in more than half the streams sampled across the country and in Puerto Rico during a survey between 2011 and 2014. This study is the first to take a nationwide look at the prevalence of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural and urban settings.

The research spanned 24 states and Puerto Rico and was completed as part of ongoing USGS investigations of pesticide and other contaminant levels in streams.

Neonicotinoids have been found to kill bee’s brain cells, and are also taking a toll on wild bee populations. Use of neonicotinoids has been banned in national wildlife refuges.

European food safety experts are already taking a hard look at the potential for human health impacts, saying that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may have harmful effects on people’s brain development and recommended lowering levels of acceptable exposures. Earlier this year, citing unacceptable hazards to bees — and on the recommendation of the EFSA — the European Union put a two-year moratorium on the use of three widely used neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid. Continue reading

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