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Can trout evolve to survive toxic heavy metals?

Research documents genetic changes in UK trout population

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At least one brown trout population in the UK has evolved with more genetic resistance to toxic heavy metals in a polluted river in Cornwall.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Some brown trout may be evolving to develop a higher tolerance for toxic metals, researchers in the UK said after studying fish from the contaminated waters of the River Hayle in Cornwall.

Concentrations of metals are so high that they would be lethal to fish from unpolluted sites. The biologists from the University of Exeter and King’s College London believe the higher tolerance of the River Hayle trout is  due to changes in the expression of their genes. The research was funded by NERC and the Salmon and Trout Association.

“The work demonstrates that this population of brown trout has developed strategies for dealing with the metal pollution in the water and accumulation in their tissues avoiding the lethal damage that such concentrations of metals would normally cause,” said researcher Tamsyn Uren Webster, with the University of Exeter. Continue reading

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Colorado: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup set to begin

EPA removal action aims to reduce acid mine drainage at polluted site

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The ruins of the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine.

USGS and EPA experts sample soils near the Pennsylvania Mine.

USGS and EPA experts sample soils near the Pennsylvania Mine.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After years of study, state and federal mine reclamation experts say they’re ready to try and reduce the amount of tainted water oozing out of the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, in Summit County, Colorado.

The old mining site high in the Peru Creek drainage above Keystone has been identified as a key source of toxic heavy metals that impair water quality for miles downstream. Concentrations of lead, cadmium, managanese and especially zinc exceed standards set to protect aquatic life in the stream.

The mine operated between 1879 and 1908, and intermittently through the 1940s, producing gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc. As water and oxygen interact with the highly mineralized rocks, so-called acid mine drainage forms, loading the stream with dissolved heavy metals. Continue reading

Colorado: Peru Creek cleanup to hit high gear

Agencies ready to tackle acid mine drainage at abandoned Pennsylvania Mine

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado.

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

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Tainted water at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine.

By Bob Berwyn

*Extensive Summit Voice coverage of the Pennsylvania Mine is online here.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly a century after miners finished digging millions of dollars worth of silver, lead and zinc out of the Pennsylvania Mine, heavy machinery will once again rumble through the high alpine Peru Creek Valley.

But instead of burrowing deep into the ground to find precious metals, the workers this time will be trying to clean up the big mess left behind when the mine was abandoned. For decades, water coursing through the mine shafts has been dissolving minerals, resulting in acid mine drainage that pollutes Peru Creek and the Snake River. Concentrations of some metals, especially zinc, are high enough to kill trout.

After years of studying the mine, experts with federal and state agencies now say they are ready to try and tackle the pollution. They will provide details on the cleanup plan at the May 29 meeting of the Snake River Watershed Task Force. The public meeting is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Keystone Center, 1628 St. John Road, Keystone. Continue reading

Environment: Federal court clears way for new EPA regulations on water pollution from fossil fuel power plants

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New EPA rules will reduce toxic water pollution from fossil fuel power plants. Photo via Wikipedia under a GNU Free Documentation License.

Cutting discharges of selenium, lead and arsenic will protect the environment

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A federal appeals court this week cleared the way for the EPA to issue new regulations aimed at stemming mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium water pollution from power plant discharges.

Steam electric power plants alone contribute more than half of the toxic pollutants discharged to water bodies by all industrial categories currently regulated in the Unites States. The proposed rule sets the first federal limits on levels of toxic metals in wastewater that can be discharged from power plants. Continue reading

Udall visits Summit County to tout new mine cleanup rules

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Pollution from an abandoned mine turned the Blue River bright orange in April 2006. Bob Berwyn photo.

Public event planned Jan. 18 near Breckenridge

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Around the West, there are thousands of abandoned mines polluting streams and killing fish, and many volunteer cleanup efforts have been stymied by strict Clean Water Act liability provisions.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) for years has been working with the EPA to try and make it easier for Good Samaritan groups to tackle remediation projects without taking on responsibility for future pollution. Those efforts showed results in December, when the EPA issued new guidance specifying that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

Udall will be in Summit County Friday (Jan. 18) along with EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin to discuss the new policy and the public is invited to attend the event, set for 11 a.m. at the Iron Springs Mill off Boreas Pass Road. Continue reading

Op-ed: Colorado needs to pony up on oil and gas rules

Bob Berwyn.

Bob Berwyn.

Setbacks, water quality monitoring needs to err on the side of caution

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Even though Colorado touts clean air and water and healthy lifestyles based on outdoor activities like skiing and hiking, the reality is is far different.

Somehow, government and energy industry spin-meisters have perpetuated a myth of a “clean” natural gas energy boom, but thanks to our almost insatiable thirst for fossil fuels, large parts of the state have been turned into industrial zones. Drill pads, power generators, pumping stations and roads fragmenting forests, sagebrush fields and even residential areas.

Methane leakage from drilling operations is contributing to global warming. Other noxious gases contribute to regional haze and smog, causing serious health problems. At this point, there’s really no telling what’s going on with our groundwater, but every time I hear government and the energy industry say, “don’t worry,” my concern grows, especially as more and more areas are opened to drilling. Continue reading

More data shows groundwater pollution from fracking

Water sampling in Pavilion, Wyoming, Jan. 2010. Photo courtesy EPA.

USGS sampling in Wyoming appears to support earlier EPA results

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — There’s more evidence suggesting that fracking in Wyoming is polluting groundwater near the town of Pavilion, as U.S. Geological Survey water quality sampling appears to show similar results as an earlier EPA study.

The 2011 EPA sampling was one of the first to document hydrocarbons consistent with fracking fluid chemicals in drinking water wells and monitoring wells located near natural gas wells.

The latest USGS study was conducted specifically to check EPA’s results, even as the the oil and gas industry continue to question the results. Environmental advocates accuse the industry of protecting their economic interests at the expense of public health and safety. Continue reading

Global warming may be upping Snake River metals pollution

Study reports fourfold increases in levels of zinc in the Upper Snake River

Scientists have measured huge increases in concentrations of zinc in Deer Creek, near Montezuma, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Lower water levels resulting from earlier snowmelt may leave streamside rocks exposed to weathering for longer periods of time, resulting in increasing concentrations of metals in Colorado streams like the Snake River. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even without significant impacts from abandoned mines or other human activities, concentrations of heavy metals in the upper Snake River have increased by as much 400 percent in recent decades, with potentially serious consequences in a watershed that, in certain reaches, is already deadly to aquatic bugs and trout.

The also study illustrates the potential for comparable increases of metals in similar Western watersheds, said USGS scientist Andrew Todd, lead researcher on the project.

The observed spike in metals sent researchers on a quest to try and figure why levels of zinc and other metals are increasing so dramatically in the small headwaters streams above Montezuma, Colorado. Concentrations of zinc, for example, have increased fourfold in the past 30 years.

By default, they think global warming may be a significant factor.

“This is a really undisturbed watershed as far as anything that might change the water chemistry,” said USGS scientist Andy Manning. “It’s really important to be clear about the conclusions. What we found is that the concentrations are going up. Then we laid out some hypotheses, and the cause appears to be climate warming, in general,” Manning said. Continue reading

Environment: Tracing caffeine pollution in coastal waters

Caffeine pollution is becoming ubiquitous.

Traces of the popular beverage in waterways and oceans can be an indicator of other anthropogenic pollution

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Scientists on the lookout for all sorts of water pollution have found elevated levels of caffeine in unexpected locations in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oregon.

While caffeine may not be the biggest environmental problem, the researchers explained the presence of caffeine can signal additional anthropogenic pollution, such as pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

The presence of caffeine can also provide a pathway to understand the effectiveness of wastewater treatment systems. Previous studies have found caffeine in other bodies of water around the world, including the North Sea, the Mediterranean, Puget Sound, Boston Harbor, and Sarasota Bay, Fla. Continue reading

Colorado: More gas-drilling propaganda?

A drilling rig in Jackson County.

Industry leader caught making inaccurate statements about oil and gas drilling impacts to groundwater

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The public relations war over recent statements by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and oil and gas industry officials continued this week, as community activists pointed out yet another misleading and inaccurate statement about the impacts of fossil fuel development.

This time, the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association was under the gun for a statement she made to the Denver Post about groundwater pollution. In the Feb. 28 story, Tisha Schuller was quoted as saying, “there has not been a drilling or hydraulic-fracturing incident that has affected groundwater, and there have been no incidents which have affected a family’s or community’s drinking water.” Continue reading

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