Environment: Deep-sea fish not immune to pollution

New study finds liver damage and tumors in fish living a mile deep off the coast of France

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Even fish living deep in remote oceans are tainted by pollution.

Staff Report

FRISCO — As big and as deep as Earth’s oceans are, they’re still feeling the sting of human-caused pollution. Even a mile down, some fish have liver pathologies, tumors and other types of health problems that are often linked with exposure to toxic chemicals and carcinogens, according to a new study conducted in the Bay of Biscay, off the coast of France.

The study also discovered the first case of a deep water fish species with an “intersex” condition, a blend of male and female sex organs. The sampling was done in an area with no apparent point-source pollution, and appears to reflect general ocean conditions.

“Deep in the ocean one might have thought that the level of contamination and its biological impact would be less,” said Michael Kent, an Oregon State University microbiologist who co-authored the new study. “That may not be the case. The pathological changes we’re seeing are clearly the type associated with exposure to toxins and carcinogens,” said Kent, one of the study’s co-authors. Continue reading

Scientists urge greater care of World Heritage sites

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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef seen from a NASA satellite.

‘As a wealthy country, Australia has the capability and responsibility to improve its management of the reef’

FRISCO — Strong local management may be the key to preserving treasured world heritage sites, researchers concluded in a new study after taking a close look at threats facing the Amazon Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef and Spain’s Doñana wetlands.

The team of scientists, who published their findings in the journal Science, said protecting such areas from the larger dangers of climate change requires addressing local threats, for example overfishing, fertilizer pollution and land clearing — all of which can exacerbate the effects of climatic extremes, such as heat waves and droughts. Continue reading

Federal judge blocks Four Corners coal mine plan

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

Regulators failed to consider environmental effects of burning the coal

Staff Report

FRISCO — Despite strong leadership from the Obama administration on climate change policy, the word apparently hasn’t trickled down to all levels yet, as federal agencies still routinely try to approve projects without evaluating carbon impacts.

Recently, the White River National Forest released a draft environmental study for a massive expansion of summer operations at Colorado’s Breckenridge Ski area without ever mentioning the words climate change, global warming or carbon.

But courts are increasingly holding those agencies accountable, including this week’s decision by U.S. District Court Judge John Kane to reject a 2012 Office of Surface Mining plan to expand coal mining at the 13,000-acre Navajo Mine near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. Continue reading

New map IDs pesticide pollution hot spots

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Pesticide pollution hotspots are identified in a new map.

Global warming could exacerbate pesticide woes

Staff Report

FRISCO — The world has a long way to go to come to grips with pesticide pollution say scientists who recently created a global map showing which areas are most susceptible.

Their modeling suggests that streams across about 40 percent of the planet’s surface are at risk from the application of insecticides, with the Mediterranean region, the USA, Central America and Southeast Asia among the hotspots.

On average, farmers apply about 4 million tons of agricultural pesticides  annually, equating to an average of 0.27 kilograms per hectare of the global land surface. Continue reading

Environment: Study tracks soot pollution in snow

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Pure white? Not always.

Staff Report

FRISCO— From a distance, a freshly fallen blanket of snow looks pure white, but there’s more than meets the eye. Mixed in with the reflective flakes are tiny, dark particles of pollution. University of Washington scientists recently studied that pollution to see if they could find regional or seasonal patterns that might affect melting and the overall climate.

The study shows that North American snow away from cities is similar to Arctic snow in many places, with more pollution in the U.S. Great Plains. The findings also also show that agricultural practices, not just smokestacks and tailpipes, may have a big impact on snow purity. Continue reading

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

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.

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