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

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

New documents show EPA tried to warn Colorado about blowout potential at Gold King Mine

New records show the agency was keenly aware of potential blowout danger at the mine

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The portal of sorrow at the Gold King Mine. Photo courtesy EPA.

*Story corrected Aug. 22 at 12:02 a.m. in paragraph 5. Colorado and Utah attorneys general are taking aim at the EPA, not the Colorado and Utah governors.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The EPA knew there was potential for a dangerous blowout at the Gold King Mine at least since the summer of 2014, when the agency issued a Task Order Statement of Work.

In the July 25, 2014, order, the EPA wrote that conditions at the “Gold King Mine present an endangerement to human health and the environment and meet the criteria for initiating a removal action …”

Just more than a year later, the mine spilled about 3 million gallons of water tainted with arsenic, zinc, manganese, cadmium and lead. Concentrations of some pollutants spiked to many times the level deemed toxic for fish and other aquatic life.

New information about what the EPA was doing when its contractors accidentally breached a rubble dam to trigger the spill are detailed in documents the agency publicly released last week.

The EPA published the documents in an effort to respond “to concerns and to evaluate impacts to water and sediment that may have been contaminated by the Gold King Mine release,” according to this agency web page.  the Denver Post reported that the Republican attorneys general of Colorado and Utah — apparently on a politically motivated EPA witch hunt — alleged that the EPA has withheld information about the mine.

“Given the experience with the August 5, 2015 blow out from pressurized water at the Gold King Mine, additional work is needed to ensure there are no more blockages holding back water which could contribute to future surges of contaminated water. The EPA and State responders have begun these efforts, but they have not yet been completed,” the agency wrote.

The work that was being done when the water surged out of the mine was aimed at relieving pressure buildup from historic construction operations at the interconnected mines by the previous mining operator. Among other things, the contractors working for the EPA were trying to improve site access, stabilize the mine structure and control water and metals.

The work order also describes previous work done by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, including trying to stabilize the existing opening to allow mine water drainage

The work order states that the existing conveyance channel shall be protected and maintained during the work.

“If it becomes necessary to remove these drainage features, then suitable measures must be installed to control flows during the work. A replacement conveyance system is required to be installed after the portal and underground work are completed,” according to the work order.

In a key passage, the work order describes what the EPA had in mind with future work:

“It is proposed to re-open the Gold King Mine portal and workings to investigate the conditions to assess the on-going releases. This will require the incremental de-watering and removal of such blockages to prevent blowouts. The work is intended to take place in September-October, 2014. In addition, the secondary purpose of the work is to attempt to identify and characterize specific water flows into the mine and evaluate potential means to mitigate those flows if possible.”

A key focus of the work was to repair the portal in order to try and control what the EPA knew to be a potentially disastrous surge of polluted water:

“In addition, specify the anticipated approach for removing overburden, debris and re-establishing a safe structure that can be used for entry and egress and secured when not in use. This includes installing a portal gate with a secured locking system …

“Measures will be taken to control water and metal precipitate sludge and sediment that are impounded behind any blockage at the portal or in the mine. This will include the treatment of surge water discharge as necessary to prevent an uncontrolled release and impact to surface water.”

The EPA also knew that the water at the Gold King Mine would have to be treated at some point:

“A temporary water retention and sludge management pond must be prepared and operated, as necessary, on site to manage mine water and sludge removed from the adit. This will be used to manage impounded mine water and base flows and metal precipitate sludge from the mine workings during theconstruction activities.”

The second key document released by the EPA is a May 2015 Action/Work Plan which names ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION, LLC as the contractor. The plan outlines the scope of work and the operational approach.

In a background section, the agency once again detailed historic conditions at the mine that likely primed the site for the toxic surge on Aug. 5 this year, clearly recognizing the potential for a disastrous blowout:

The Gold King Mine has not had maintenance of the mine working since 1991, and the workings have been inaccessible since 1995 when the mine portal collapsed. This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse. In addition, other collapses within the workings may have occurred creating additional water impounding conditions. Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.

The Scope of Work section says that the contractor was to remove material covering the adit, which is probably what was being done when the mine spilled its guts.

Read all the EPA’s posted documents here: http://www2.epa.gov/goldkingmine/epa-posts-gold-king-mine-file-documents

EPA Action/Work Plan

https://www.scribd.com/doc/275630269/Gold-King-Mine-Action-Work-Plan

Gold King Mine Task Order Statement of Work

Pollution runs deep in the Colorado River

The confluence of Havasu Creek with the Colorado River (river mile 157) is a popular place for boaters to stop and admire the striking blue-green water of Havasu Creek. The turquoise color is caused by water with a high mineral content. At the point where the blue creek meets the turbid colorado river there often appears a definite break. NPS photo by Erin Whittaker.

The confluence of Havasu Creek with the Colorado River (river mile 157) is a popular place for boaters to stop and admire the striking blue-green water of Havasu Creek. The turquoise color is caused by water with a high mineral content. At the point where the blue creek meets the turbid colorado river there often appears a definite break. NPS photo by Erin Whittaker.

Fish in the Grand Canyon show levels of mercury and selenium that exceed risk thresholds for wildlife

Staff Report

FRISCO — Pollution runs deep in the Colorado River, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists who recently documented traces of mercury and selenium contamination in fish living in the Grand Canyon.

Similar studies have documented mercury contamination in fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. In the bigger picture, the USGS has also documented mercury contamination in 25 percent of U.S. streams. In the Arctic, polar bears are being exposed to similar contaminants. Continue reading

EPA says there’s no sign of widespread fish mortality after Gold King Mine spill

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Containment and treatment ponds near the Gold King Mine have helped reduce the flow of contaminants into Cement Creek and the Animas River. Photo via EPA.

Emergency work at spill site is reducing pollution discharge

Staff Report

FRISCO — Environmental experts say that, so far, there’s no sign of widespread fish mortality in the Animas River after the Aug. 5 spill from the Gold King Mine, near Silverton that sent about 1 million gallons of tainted water surging downstream.

The discharge included heavy metals like zinc, which can kill trout, but in an Aug. 10 update, the EPA said that fish cages placed directly in the Animas River by Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists indicate one mortality out of 108 fish tested.  The agency is working with the New Mexico Department of Game Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate reports of impacts to wildlife. Continue reading

Polluters sue to block new wetlands regulations

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Polluters are asking a federal court to roll back protection for important wetlands. @bberwyn photo.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads effort to overturn Waters of the U.S. rule

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A new federal wetlands rule that helps protect water quality and important wildlife habitat will face a federal court challenge from groups representing some of the country’s biggest polluters.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business,  and the Portland Cement Association last week filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, seeking to overturn the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule. Continue reading

Ohio study tracks air pollution from fracking

Fracked nation.

A new study raises more questions about public health risks in oil and gas development zones.

Findings confirm health risks to people living near oil and gas wells

Staff Report

FRISCO — Careful air sampling near active natural gas wells in Carroll County, Ohio showed the widespread presence of toxic air pollution at higher levels than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for lifetime exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The study reinforces the need for more extensive air quality monitoring in fracking zones around the country, where exposure to the poisonous emissions are likely to lead to increased risk of cancer and respiratory ailments. Continue reading

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