Report says Animas River spill could have been avoided

Hasty excavation without adequate technical info led to disastrous Gold King mine blowout in Colorado

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Tainted abandoned mine drainage is common in the mountains of Colorado. Photo courtesy Bureau of Reclamation.

By Bob Berwyn

Federal and state environmental engineers, along with their contractors, misjudged conditions inside the Gold King Mine before they unleashed a toxic flood of water into Cement Creek down the Animas and into the Colorado in early August.

The technical details about the spill were released this week by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, which did an independent review of the accident.  Most importantly, the workers underestimated the water level inside the mine. That error “resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure,” the Bureau of Reclamation wrote in the report. Continue reading

Environment: California to ban 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.

New law could help spur companies to reduce use of harmful plastics in personal care products

Staff Report

Just a few weeks after scientists issued a strongly worded call for a ban on plastic microbeads, California did just that, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new that will phase out the use of microbeads in beauty products by 2020.

The tiny plastic particles, used in common products like facial scrubs and toothpaste, have become a pollution scourge, with millions of tons bypassing water treatment and filtration and ending up in rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Biologists say that nearly all marine organisms are at risk from ingesting the tiny plastic bits. Up to 90 percent of all seabirds have already eaten plastic, and scientists have also documented the potential harm to sediment-dwelling worms, as well as crabs. Basically, microplastic pollution is everywhere. Continue reading

Study shows simple treatment can protect salmon from toxic urban stormwater runoff

Coho salmon are struggling, but a new report suggests that boosting stormwater treatment could help them in some environments. Photo courtesy USGS.

Coho salmon are struggling, but a new report suggests that boosting stormwater treatment could help them in some environments. Photo courtesy USGS.

Green stormwater infrastructure needed to protect salmon in urban streams

Staff Report

Simple sand and soil filters could prevent much of the pollution from urban runoff that’s killing adult coho salmon in West Coast streams, NOAA researchers found after studying water quality around Puget Sound.

The research traced the link between toxic parking lot runoff and other urban pollution and salmon deaths. More than half the coho salmon returning to urban streams dominated by stormwater runoff die every year before they spawn. Continue reading

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

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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.

Report:

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

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