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Environment: Big gaps in North America pollution data

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Pollution doesn’t respect national borders.

Report shows declines in some of the most dangerous pollutants

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new report from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation tracks the changing face of industrial pollution between 2005 and 2010, showing a total increase of 14 percent in the five year span.

The comprehensive report includes more complete reporting by the metal ore mining and oil and gas extraction sectors in Canada, as well as data from 35,000 industrial facilities in Canada, the United States and Mexico. The CEC was formed as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Continue reading

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Environment: Federal court uphold 20-year ban on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area

A legal road on the Kaibab National Forest leads to this lookout spot on the rim of the Grand Canyon near the Saddle Mountain wilderness area. PHOTO COURTESY LEIGH WADDEN.

New uranium mining on lands near the Grand Canyon is at issue in a legal battle.

Judge says environmental studies followed the law and that the government has the right to err on the side of caution

Staff Report

FRISCO — A 20-year ban on uranium mining on lands surrounding the Grand Canyon withstood a legal challenge from industry interests and local governments this week, as U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell ruled in favor of the federal government.

“The Court can find no legal principle that prevents DOI from acting in the face of uncertainty. Nor can the Court conclude that the Secretary abused his discretion or acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or in violation of law when he chose to err on the side of caution in  protecting a national treasure – Grand Canyon National Park,” Campbell wrote in his Sept. 30 ruling that dismissed the lawsuit.

Salazar announced his intent to withdraw the lands in 2009 and the decision was finalized in 2012 after extensive studies to assess the potential impacts to the environment. Overall, the reviews showed that there was low risk for serious contamination of water sources, but that the consequences could be serious.

A U.S. Geological Survey study found water from 15 springs and five wells in the region where dissolved uranium concentrations exceeded EPA maximu concentrations for drinking water. The agency was uncertain whether these concentrations resulted from mining, natural processes, or both.

The USGS also found that floods, flas  floods, and debris flows caused by winter storms and intense summer thunderstorms transported substantial volumes of trace elements and radionuclides, and that fractures, faults, sinkholes, and breccia pipes occur throughout the area and are potential pathways for downward migration of contaminants.

Conservation groups and Arizona’s Havasupai Tribe praised the decision.

“The Havasupai support the withdrawal of the lands from mining for the protection of our homes and our water. The ruling today by Judge Campbell recognizes the unique and important resources on the lands south of Grand Canyon that are our aboriginal homelands and within the watershed that feeds our springs and flows into our canyon home,” said Havasupai Chairman Rex Tilousi.

The tribe and conservation helped to defend Interior’s decision to protect Grand Canyon’s springs and creeks, wildlife and vistas from new toxic uranium-mining pollution. The groups and tribe were represented by public-interest law firms Earthjustice and Western Mining Action Project.

“The lands surrounding Grand Canyon are full of natural beauty,” said Ted Zukoski, an Earthjustice staff attorney who helped represent the groups in the lawsuit. “The life-giving waters and deer, elk, condors, and other wildlife found there deserve protection from the toxic pollution and industrialization threatened by large-scale uranium mining. That is why it was critical to defend these lands from this self-serving attack by the uranium industry.”

The mining industry lawsuit asserted that the Interior Department’s exhaustive, 700-page evaluation of environmental impacts was inadequate.

“The court’s ruling affirms conclusions by five federal agencies, including scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey,” said Grand Canyon Trust’s Roger Clark. “Uranium mining poses unacceptable risks to Grand Canyon’s water, wildlife, and people. It should be permanently banned from our region.”

One of the great symbols of the American West, Grand Canyon was first protected as a national monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and is surrounded by millions of additional acres of public lands that include wilderness areas, two national monuments, lands designated to protect endangered species and cultural resources, and old-growth ponderosa pine forests.

The canyon area is also home to the Havasupai, Kaibab Band of Paiutes, Hualapai and Navajo tribes and has been designated a World Heritage site. The greater Grand Canyon region attracts about five million tourists and recreationists per year.

Interior’s study of the mining time-out showed that, without the withdrawal, 26 new uranium mines and 700 uranium exploration projects would be developed, resulting in more than 1,300 acres of surface disturbance and the consumption of 316 million gallons of water.

Under the ban, existing mine operations are projected to have about one-tenth of the surface impacts and one-third the water usage over a 20-year period. If new uranium mining were allowed, uranium levels in some springs could rise to twice the level of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards and aquifers could be severely depleted, endangering public health and wildlife, and compromising the values of the tribes who consider the springs sacred.

The uranium mining companies have 60 days to appeal Judge Campbell’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and are likely to do so, given their past statements.

“If the mining companies do appeal, we’ll be there to defend the Secretary’s – and Judge Campbell’s – prudent decisions,” said Zukoski.

Environment: Pesticide pollution rising in urban streams

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About half the nation’s streams are polluted by pesticides at a level of concern for aquatic life.

90 percent of urban streams show signs of contamination

Staff Report

FRISCO — A huge number of rivers and streams around the country are still polluted with pesticides that can kill bugs and other aquatic organisms at the base of the food chain.

Streams in agricultural areas are polluted at about the same level as they were 1990s, but pesticide pollution is increasing in urban streams, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study spanning about 20 years. Continue reading

Study finds serious pollution in seabottom sediments of Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico

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Trouble at the bottom of the Caribbean, as researchers document high concentrations of toxics in sediments.

Toxins may be harming coral reef ecosystems

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Standing along the shore of Guánica Bay, Puerto Rico, the dazzling aquamarine Caribbean waters look normal. But deep below the surface, there may be trouble brewing, according to researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Pollutants measured in the sediments of the bay are among the highest ever measured by NOAA’s National Status & Trends, a nationwide contaminant monitoring program that began in 1986. The pollutants include PCBs, chlordane, chromium and nickel, according to the new NOAA study. Continue reading

Environment: Exposure to herbicides makes amphibians more susceptible to chytrid fungus

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Amphibians are in big trouble, and exposure to environmental pollution is a least partly to blame.

As of December 2012, there were 29 amphibian species classified as endangered or threatened and 5 species waiting to be listed. Overall frog and salamander numbers are declining and the cause, or causes, have not been determined ~ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

FRISCO — Early life exposure to the herbicide atrazine makes frogs much more susceptible to the chytrid fungus that has been implicated a global wave of amphibian die-offs.

Experiments by scientists at the university of South Florida showed that a six-day exposure to environmentally relevant concentrations of the most common herbicides in the world increased frog mortality 46 days after the atrazine exposure, but only when frogs were challenged with the chytrid fungus. This increase in mortality was driven by a reduction in the frogs’ tolerance of the infection.

Other research results have also suggested that exposure to pesticides suppresses the immune response in a variety of species, making them more susceptible to fungal infections and parasitic organisms. More information on the impact of environmental contaminants to amphibians is available at this USFWS web page. Continue reading

Environment: Study suggests diesel fumes may prevent honey bees from finding flowers

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A Colorado bumblebee searches wild fireweed for pollen or nectar. bberwyn photo.

Reactive exhaust gases change or destroy odor profiles of flowers

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Researchers tracking the decline of honey bees have discovered another clue, as a new study suggesta that diesel exhaust fumes may hinder the insects from finding flowers.

Bees use floral odors to help locate, identify and recognize the flowers from which they forage, but diesel fumes are highly reactive and can change the profile of floral smells, according to University of Southhampton researchers Dr. Tracey Newman and Professor Guy Poppy.

For the study (published Oct. 3 in Scientific Reports), the scientists mixed eight chemicals found in the odor of oil rapeseed flowers with clean air, and with air containing diesel exhaust. Six of the eight chemicals reduced (in volume) when mixed with the diesel exhaust air and two of them disappeared completely within a minute. The odour that was mixed with the clean air was unaffected. Continue reading

Study eyes selenium impacts to honey bees

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Bees gather on wildflowers in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Exposure can lead to mortality, California researchers say

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Along with pesticides, heavy metals may also be contributing to the decline of honey bees in some regions, according to entomologists at the University of California, Riverside.

Their research found that four main forms of selenium found in plants cause mortality and delays in development in the honey bee. Study results appear in the Oct. 2013 issue of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

“Metal pollutants like selenium contaminate soil, water, can be accumulated in plants, and can even be atmospherically deposited on the hive itself,” said Kristen Hladun, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral entomologist. “Our study examined the toxic effects of selenium at multiple life stages of the honey bee in order to mimic the chronic exposure this insect may face when foraging in a contaminated area.” Continue reading

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