Murray Stein, a clean water crusader, dies

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety where they originally were published.

Murray Stein, anti-pollution crusader, dies at 92
Murray Stein, who for more than 20 years led the federal government’s fight against water pollution and did much to overcome the prevailing attitude that the nation’s waterways could serve as sewers, died May 24 at his home in Falls Church, Va. He was 92.

 His daughter Judith Sloane confirmed his death.

 Mr. Stein, who retired in 1976, was something of a diplomat without portfolio, traveling from state to state with the difficult mission of seeking compliance through steps that avoided penalties or court action. His technique was to preside over hearings at which local officials and corporate executives were confronted with evidence of pollution and then invited or cajoled into adopting remedial programs. 

It was not easy. Most polluters were reluctant to cooperate, much less spend millions of dollars to remediate. State officials often challenged the constitutional right of the federal government to intervene. 

Mr. Stein usually dealt with resistance through soft-spoken amiability. His standard lines were: “We’re dealing with facts subject to scientific measurement. Once we get agreement on the facts, the solutions will present themselves.”
–The New York Times

 Coast Guard warns of long fight against oil spill
The Coast Guard commander in charge of the federal response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico warned that even if the flow of crude was stopped by summer, it could take well into autumn — and maybe much longer— to deal with the slick spreading relentlessly across the gulf. 

The assessment came as the sheer volume of oil gushing from the out-of-control well forced BP to temporarily halt its attempts to close all four vents on a capping device designed to capture the oil. Even with three vents still open, the cap was capturing so much oil — more than 10,000 barrels a day, an improvement over any previous containment attempt — that the company did not have adequate equipment at hand to process any more. 

The well, like a raging undersea beast, has continued to stymie BP and government officials. One technician, amazed at the power of the oil gushing from its depths, called it “one hell of a well.”
–The New York Times

Great Lakes water levels decline
After a winter of next-to-no snow, water levels all across the Great Lakes are down this spring, something government and business experts say could have an impact on the environment and the economy.

The Canadian Hydrographic Service issued a warning earlier that water levels were at potentially dangerous levels on the lakes system, which stretches from Lake Superior in northwestern Ontario to Montreal.

 Water levels in Lake Superior, the largest of the lakes, are at their lowest in more than a century, according to officials on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported this month that in April, the biggest of the Great Lakes lost about three centimetres during a time when spring runoff usually swells the lake by as much as eight centimetres. 

The Corps said that was only the fourth time Lake Superior declined in April in the past 110 years and was the lowest level since 1907. The levels are also low in lakes Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario — as much as 25 centimetres lower in some places.
–CTV News

 Even low levels of urbanization affect aquatic organisms
The number of native fish and aquatic insects, especially those that are pollution-sensitive, declines in urban and suburban streams at low levels of development — levels often considered protective for stream communities, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

“When the area of driveways, parking lots, streets and other impervious cover reaches 10 percent of a watershed area, many types of pollution sensitive aquatic insects decline by as much as one third, compared to streams in undeveloped forested watersheds,” said Tom Cuffney, USGS biologist. “We learned that there is no ‘safe zone,’ meaning that even minimal or early stages of development can negatively affect aquatic life in urban streams.” 

As a watershed becomes developed, the amount of pavement, sidewalks and other types of urban land cover increases. During storms, water is rapidly transported over these urban surfaces to streams. The rapid rise and fall of stream flow and changes in temperature can be detrimental to fish and aquatic insects. Stormwater from urban development can also contain fertilizers and insecticides used along roads and on lawns, parks and golf courses.
–USGS News Release

Drug factories spill pharmaceuticals into streams
Pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities can be a significant source of pharmaceuticals to surface waters, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey conducted in cooperation with the State of New York.

Outflow from two wastewater treatment plants in New York that receive more than 20 percent of their wastewater from pharmaceutical facilities had concentrations of pharmaceuticals that were 10 to 1000 times higher than outflows from 24 plants nationwide that do not receive wastewater from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

“This is the first study in the U.S. to identify pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities as a significant source of pharmaceuticals to the environment,” said Matthew C. Larsen, USGS Associate Director for Water. “The USGS is working with water utilities to evaluate alternative water treatment technologies with the goal of reducing the release of pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants to the environment.”

While pharmaceutical concentrations were significantly lower in receiving streams, measurable concentrations were detected as far as 20 miles downstream.

By contrast, outflow from the wastewater treatment plants that do not receive wastewater from pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities had concentrations that rarely exceeded one ppb.

This scientific paper is published in Environmental Science and Technology. The paper, an accompanying USGS data report, and related information are available online.
–USGS News Release

States, environmentalists differ over Chesapeake progress
Leaders of the District, Maryland and Virginia claimed major progress toward meeting pollution reduction deadlines for the Chesapeake Bay next year, even as environmentalists questioned those assertions and said that if leaders are wrong, the federal government must step in and levy penalties against the jurisdictions. 

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) gathered in Baltimore, along with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) and EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe in the first meeting of the so-called Chesapeake Executive Council since McDonnell took office in January and since a settlement last month of a lawsuit brought against the EPA by bay advocates. They say that settlement requires the EPA to hold states strictly to their 2011 deadlines for improvements to the bay, which include reducing nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants, planting cover crops to prevent erosion and cleaning up leaky septic systems.
–The Washington Post

Chicago Mayor Daley to EPA: Go swim in the Potomac
Mayor Richard Daley was primed and ready to tee off when asked about the Obama administration’s suggestion that the notoriously murky Chicago River be made safe enough for swimming.

“Go swim in the Potomac,” Daley said at a City Hall news conference about police issues. “We’re trying to make this river every day cleanable, more cleanable.”

Daley recited a rogue’s gallery of rivers that he said also deserve federal scrutiny while responding to a letter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed with the state Pollution Control Board saying the Chicago River should be clean enough for “recreation in and on the water.” The Tribune first reported the letter Wednesday.

Daley defended the city’s ongoing efforts to improve the river’s water quality, pointing out it now draws people with fishing rods where there used to be only industrial runoff.
–The Chicago Tribune 

California debates toxic pesticide use
State regulators are set to approve the use of a highly toxic pesticide that would replace a soil fumigant that is being phased out because of the damage it does to the ozone layer. 

State officials have received thousands of comments, largely from organized e-mail campaigns, in opposition to a proposal to allow the use of methyl iodide. The comment period runs through June 29. 

If approved, the pesticide would likely be used mostly on the strawberry fields around Salinas and Watsonville, and Southern California regions around Oxnard and Santa Maria. It is a fumigant that is usually injected into the soil before strawberries, nursery plants and nut trees are planted. 

“Because of methyl iodide’s high volatility and water solubility, broad use of this chemical in agriculture will guarantee substantial releases to air, surface waters and groundwater, and will result in exposures to many people,” dozens of scientists wrote to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before the chemical was approved by the federal government in 2007.
–The Contra Costa Times

MPCA offers chemical disposal tips
Americans generate 1.6 million tons of waste each year from common household products. These products can include paint, grease and rust removers, mold and mildew removers, oven cleaners and many more. Leftovers of these products, often referred to as household hazardous waste (HHW), may contain corrosive, toxic, flammable or reactive ingredients.

 Improper disposal of household hazardous waste can include pouring them down the drain, on the ground, into storm sewers, or in some cases putting them in the trash. Improper disposal of these materials can pollute the environment.

 The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency  web site has tips for preventing water pollution when you dispose of such chemicals.

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