Environment: Scientists call for ban on plastic microbeads

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.

8 trillion microbeads per day and counting …

Staff Report

As more and more research shows the impacts of microplastic pollution in a wide range of ecosystems, a team of researchers says the best way to protect water quality and wildlife is an outright ban on the common use of plastic microbeads.

The tiny pellets are used in everyday cosmetic and cleaning products and end up being flushed down drains. Since they’re not captured by wastewater treatment plants, they end up in the environment, either directly in the water or in the sludge from sewage treatment facilities that’s then spread on land. Continue reading

Scientists tracking Chesapeake Bay algae blooms


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

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.


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

Toxic threat of cyanobacteria may be growing worldwide


Global warming is likely one factor driving blooms of toxin-producing blue-green algae. @bberwyn photo.

Study calls for better monitoring, more warnings

Staff Report

FRISCO — Dammed rivers, global warming and increased agricultural runoff all contribute to the growing threat of toxic cyanobacteria, scientists said after taking a far-reaching look at the issue of blue-green algae blooms in fresh water.

The study, conducted by researchers with Oregon State University and the University of North Carolina, found that the threat is poorly monitored and represents an under-appreciated risk to recreational and drinking water quality in the United States. More testing and monitoring is needed to track potential threats to human health, the scientists concluded. Continue reading

Huge mine spill fouls Colorado’s Animas River, raising endangered species and public health concerns

Conservation groups decry EPA’s lax response


A map provided by the Center for Biological Diversity traces the path of a spill from the Gold King Mine via Cement Creek to the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say the EPA’s cavalier response to a toxic spill from a mine near Silverton, Colorado shows a disregard for potential impacts to wildlife downstream of the spill.

According to the EPA, a state and federal remediation team Wednesday morning unexpectedly triggered the spill of mine waste water into Cement Creek. As much as 1 million gallons of contaminated water that was contained behind a makeshift dam was released into the creek. The water is tainted by toxic heavy metals and is now flowing downstream in the Animas River toward Durango.

In a statement, the EPA said that, due to longstanding water quality impairment associated with heavy metals there are no fish populations in the Cement Creek watershed and populations in the Animas River have historically been impaired for several miles downstream of Silverton. The agency will be monitoring and sampling water in the Animas River farther downstream to assess the impacts. Continue reading

Environment: Proposed new federal regulations would reduce water quality impacts of mountaintop coal mining

Changes would slow decades of environmental destruction


The scale of mountaintop mining in West Virginia is visible in this NASA Earth Observatory Satellite image, taken in 1984.

Staff Report

FRISCO — After decades of environmental degradation, the federal government has tentatively moved to reduce impacts to surface water and groundwater from coal mining.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released the proposed regulations after several rounds of stakeholder sessions. Agency leaders said the new rule would protect about 6,500 miles of streams nationwide over a period of 20 years, “preserving community health and economic opportunities while meeting the nation’s energy needs.”

Guided by the best-available science and utilizing modern technologies, the proposed rule would require companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests. Continue reading


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