AHEAD OF THE PACK...AWARE
OF GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION THREAT IN 1970'S AND PROTECTED BY
ZONING AFTER DOMINSKI-OAKROCK. WESTON WATER STUDY REPEATED
OF RECOMMENDATIONS OF D-O, IN 1993. CT
- WWHD looks into arsenic along
with CT DPH...and in Greenwich in 2014
- Arsenic and
...other things in your well water
- here in Weston and CT; NJ report. Massachusetts here.
- Mansfield to
Manchester: taking water from one watershed to another to satisfy
also is a technique to make your well be able to reach water
nearby...as we learned in the Weston Water Study.
- Connecticut has found uranium
wellwater! In Stamford, too.
world-wide from differing causes: Tokyo; Bangladesh; Camp Lejeune, South Carolina; and then there is toxic algal bloom in Toledo water supply;
- WESTON STUDY
- MOREHOUSE FARM
PARK ON THE
LIST BUT HAS
ZERO VIOLATIONS - this was the issue, "About Town" notes, where
neighbors of the fields
brought in Aquarion and DEP to prevent any potential pollution from
pesticides and herbicides - even tho' the Legislature had exempted
Weston from the law, because, among other reasons, the Saugatuck
Reservoir is close by and at a lower elevation (our summary of a really
- Weston argued on the
Farm Park matter,
but in the end was glad to help
CT DEP and the CT Health Department break
new ground (see story on Stratford),
Farm Park as an example of a method by which pesticides and herbicides
on public fields might be regulated.
- NORWALK: And now we find out that
NORDEN SYSTEMS had groundwater contamination
- And what of the nationally recognized lagoon
- Landfill closure in
- STRATFORD - Raymark
- West Virginia spill
(4-methylcyclohexane methanol) sends company into bankrupcy.
More toxins found in Greenwich soil
Bill Cummings, Greenwich TIME
Updated 12:07 am, Sunday, December 28, 2014
The discovery of PCBs and other contaminants at Greenwich High School
two years ago is only part of a mosaic of cancer-causing toxics that
have cropped up at various sites around one of the nation's wealthiest,
most exclusive communities.
Pollutants have now been confirmed at three other locations in
Greenwich, providing new and expanding evidence of a decades-old trail
of ash stretching from the high school to the west, down along both
sides of the Interstate 95 corridor and directly into Long Island Sound.
Recent soil tests near an old pool at waterfront Byram Park that the
town wants to replace revealed arsenic concentrations at 11 times the
acceptable residential standard and the presence of an "ash type
A series of tests last month at Armstrong Court, a 1950s-era public
housing complex the town housing authority wants to expand, found trace
amounts of PCBs and other dangerous heavy metals.
In 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers tested sediment in Greenwich Harbor
and found PCBs at twice the reporting limit, along with other heavy
metals similar to those found at Byram Park, Armstrong Court and GHS.
The discovery of contamination footprints beyond the high school is
raising new questions about the level of pollution in Greenwich and
whether a former town trash incinerator and a coal-fired electric plant
is the source of the toxic problem...Story (same one, we think!) in
Water crisis: new test results expected Saturday evening
Posted: Aug 02, 2014 1:52 AM EST Updated: Aug 02, 2014 2:06 PM EST
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins says further test results on Toledo's
water conducted in Cincinnati are expected to be ready by 7:30
p.m. on Saturday and that more tests are also being run in labs in
Columbus. He said there would three independent tests available to
assess the health of the water.
He also said National Guard trucks were on their way to Toledo with
water and that they would announce the locations when the water arrives.
Collins said pre-mixed formula and MRE rations were also enroute.
The mayor said stores in suburban locations are restocking shelves with
He urged Toledoans to stay patient and ask that they not line up for water ahead of time.
The city of Toledo released an urgent notice to all Toledo water users
overnight. The city is asking anyone who receives water from Toledo to
avoid drinking or boiling the water. This warning also affects people in
Lucas County and parts of Michigan.
Lucas County officials say well water is not affected and the City of
Oregon, Monroe, Michigan and Genoa say their water is fine.
Chemists testing water at Toledo's Collins Park Water Treatment Plant
tested for microcystin in excess of the recommended amount. Health
officials are advising businesses who use water to treat this like a
level 3 snow emergency and remain closed.
It's a good idea to call ahead if you're heading out to a business or an event.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins urges residents to remain calm. He said
further tests will be run on the water by chemists in Cincinnati and
that tests results should be back by later in the day. He also
said that the water was safe for healthy adults to use for bathing, but
not safe to consume and should not be used for cooking. Officials also
warned that home filtration systems will not take care of the algae.
The Mayor says the city is putting together plans to distribute water,
but is waiting to see the results of the tests. Here is more
information provided by the city:
What should you do?
Do not drink the water. Alternative water should be used for drinking,
making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth and preparing food.
Pets should not drink the water.
Do not boil the water.. Boiling the water will not destroy the toxins. It will increase the concentration of the toxins.
Consuming water containing algal toxins may result in abnormal liver
function, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, numbness or dizziness. Seek
medical attention if you feel you have been exposed to algal toxins and
are having adverse health effects. Skin contact with contaminated water
can cause irritation or rashes. Contact a veterinarian immediately if
pets or livestock show signs of illness.
What happened? What is being done?
Lake Erie, which is a source of drinking water for the Toledo water
system may have been impacted by a harmful algal bloom (HAB). These
organisms are capable of producing a number of toxins that may pose a
risk to human and animal health. HABs occur when excess nitrogen and
phosphorus are present in lakes and streams. Such
nutrients can come from runoff of over-fertilized fields and lawns,
from malfunctioning septic systems and from livestock pens.
Additional monitoring is being conducted and we will let you know when
the situation has been resolved or if additional precautions should be
taken. The water system is running additional tests to verify the
severity of the microcystin levels in our water supply...
APRIL 11, 2013 AT
LIBRARY AT 7PM:
District and the CT DPH at Weston Library on arsenic in well water
This was to no
small degree a "regional meeting"
L-R: CT DPH speaker
said that the State would be taking a state-wide look at the
problem. the cue for North Stamford residents to
case. Sustainability Committee using
Weston Water Resources Guide; current information
CT DPH includes the lab Weston Water Study used. ...
Photo at left shortly before
the meeting began...
Every seat taken by a bit after the 7pm time, and the
presentations and q&a about Weston
specific matter and then more
broadly about what the
State of CT is doing and finally, North Stamford
group got after the State of CT guy a bit.
no one said so, the environment was the star. First Selectwoman
Weinstein was present and said all the information on Weston would be
uploaded to the Town of Weston website.
WELL WATER AND ARSENIC: CT DPH AND WWHD PRESENTATIONS;
U.S. E.P.A. SETS THE STANDARDS
It is interesting to
that the State
of Massachusetts arsenic webpage says, in part:
"...In 2001, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) reduced the regulatory MCL from 50 ppb to 10
ppb on the basis on bladder and lung cancer risks. The MCL is based on
the average individual consuming 2 liters of water a day for a
And further more, here is the word on who is covered by U.S.E.P.A.
rules on arsenic: http://www.ct.gov/dph/LIB/dph/drinking_water/pdf/arsenic.pdf
Thursday night at Weston
Library, people from Weston, Westport, Wilton and Stamford listened
and then asked a lot of questions of Brian Toal of the CT DPH.
A.R. Cooper of WWHD reported on arsenic in Weston wells that have been
self reported after testing. In a nutshell, no problem because
remove the arsenic with filtration if you know it is there. Long
exposure can have its consequences, but these can be reversed after
stopping injestion of H20 from an unfiltered well.
Weston Forum present - and they had previously done an excellent story
on the subject.
Turns out that naturally occurring arsenic from bedrock is one kind,
and then there is the
effect of pressure treated deck lumber...and
arsenic in food.
Background: What does a
neighboring New England state (Massachusetts) say about arsenic?
"The current drinking water standard or Maximum
Level (MCL) set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is
0.010 mg/L or parts per million (ppm). This is equivalent to 10 ug/L
(micrograms per liter) or 10 ppb. In 2001, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) reduced the regulatory MCL from 50 ppb to 10
ppb on the basis on bladder and lung cancer risks. The MCL is based on
the average individual consuming 2 liters of water a day for a
lifetime. Long term exposure to drinking water containing arsenic at
levels higher than 10 ppb increases the chances of getting cancer,
while for lower arsenic water levels the chances are less.
"If your water has arsenic levels above 10 ppb, you should obtain
drinking water from another source or install a home treatment device.
Concentrations above 10 ppb will increase the risk of long-term or
chronic health problems, the higher the level and length of exposure,
the greater the risk. It is especially important to reduce arsenic
water concentrations if you have children or are pregnant. Children are
at greater risk (to any agent in water) because of their greater water
consumption on a per unit body weight basis. Pregnant women may wish to
reduce their arsenic exposures because arsenic has been found at low
levels in mother's milk and will cross the placenta, increasing
exposures and risks for the fetus. If your water has arsenic levels
above 200 ppb, you should immediately stop drinking the water until you
can either obtain water from another source or install and maintain
treatment. Unless your arsenic level is over 500 ppb , showering,
bathing and other household uses are safe. Arsenic is not easily
absorbed through the skin and does not evaporate into the air."
APNewsBreak: Lejeune Toxic Water May
Date to 1948
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 14, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal agency's reconstruction of decades of
toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune says the contamination could date
to 1948, five years earlier than researchers have previously reported.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is releasing its
report Friday reconstructing the contamination. The Associated Press
obtained a copy Thursday.
The agency report says an industrial solvent called TCE likely first
exceeded the maximum contaminant level in August 1953. But evidence
shows it might go back as far as November 1948. TCE is now a known
In January, the agency tentatively set 1953 as the starting date for
the contamination in Lejeune's residential area called Hadnot Point. A
law passed last year granted health care and screening to Lejeune
Marines and their dependents between 1957 and 1987.
will just feed more urban sprawl…"
Plan To Tap MDC Water Supply Criticized
The Hartford Courant
By PETER MARTEKA, firstname.lastname@example.org
10:40 PM EST, December 11, 2012
STORRS — A plan to quench the thirst of the University of Connecticut
by piping in millions of gallons of water from the Metropolitan
District has upset residents on both sides of the state.
Residents, town officials and MDC members packed a public hearing at
UConn Tuesday night to comment on the plan to construct 20 miles of
pipeline and pumping stations from Manchester to Mansfield to bring
millions of gallons of water to the university. The university's
growth has taxed local water supplies, including one point in 2005 when
a section of the Fenton River was pumped dry.
Residents who spoke Tuesday criticized the plan and also what they said
was a lack of publicly available information about the proposal.
Ed Wazer, of Storrs, the section of Mansfield where the university is
located, asked whether the university was doing all it could to
conserve water on campus. He also asked for an analysis of the
environmental impact of the project 50 to 100 years from now.
"I don't think regional overconsumption justifies more consumption,"
said Storrs resident Raluca Mocanu.
Mansfield resident Dorie Smith said she was angry with town officials
and the university for the lack of information about the project. She
said if more residents knew about the project, there would be a wider
protest. She said the town would lose its rural atmosphere if the water
line is built.
"This is an area that is scenic and draws tourists," she said. "But
more important, it is where we live…This is a done deal with so many
residents unaware of this…This will just feed more urban sprawl… why is
this campus allowed to continue to grow and become a city?"
MDC representatives did not speak at the meeting. A two-page letter
written by Scott W. Jellison, the district's deputy CEO and chief
operating officer, was submitted prior to the meeting to "clarify any
misunderstandings and correct several misstatements" regarding the
"We have no intention of 'draining' the Farmington River watershed
basin in order to supply water to UConn," the letter noted. "All water
supplied with our proposal will be from existing sources, namely the
MDC's two existing reservoirs, Barkhamsted and Nepaug."
The letter also noted that the MDC has up to 12 million gallons a day
available for future customers without diverting water from the
Farmington River. But members of the Farmington River Watershed
Association and Trout Unlimited were concerned about the waterway.
Trout Unlimited President Bill Case of Unionville said the Farmington
River is one of the best fisheries in New England, as fish thrive on
the bottom-release of cold water from the Goodwin Reservoir.
"There would be a significant economic impact," Case said of the
possible diversion of water.
Meg Reich, vice president of the Willimantic River Alliance, said the
review process is flawed, and that no state entity oversees water
"This is a process that should be dealt with at the state level," she
Copyright © 2012, The Hartford
About My Support for
By JOE NOCERA
April 15, 2011
Some readers of The New York Times are unimpressed with the idea of
substituting natural gas for imported oil, even though such a move
would help wean the country from its dependence on OPEC. Or so it
appears after I made that argument in my column on Tuesday, noting that
natural gas is a fossil fuel we have in abundance and is cleaner than
oil to boot.
After that column was published, I was buried under an avalanche of
angry e-mails and comments, most of them complaining that I had ignored
the environmental dangers of drilling for gas, particularly the use of
hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that involves shooting
water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground.
“No mention of the disastrous consequences of fracking?” read one
e-mail. Many readers pointed to a study by a Cornell scientist —
reported in The Times the same day my column appeared — claiming that
methane gas emissions posed a bigger threat to the environment than
dirty coal. Another reader called my column “a disgrace.”
Really? Let’s take a closer look. To begin with, fracking is hardly
new. In Texas and Oklahoma, it has been used for decades, with nobody
complaining much about environmental degradation. It must be a
coincidence that these worries surfaced when a natural gas field called
the Marcellus Shale was discovered in the Northeast, primarily under
Pennsylvania and New York. Surely, East Coast residents wouldn’t object
to having the country use more natural gas just because it’s going to
be drilled in their own backyard instead of, say, downtown Fort Worth.
As for the actual environmental questions, there are three main ones.
First, fracking supposedly allows gas and dangerous chemicals to seep
into the water supply. This is pretty implausible. Water tables are
1,000 feet or less from the surface; fracking usually takes place well
under 7,000 feet. In Dimock, Pa., where methane appears to have leaked
into the water supply, state environmental officials say that the
problem was not fracking but rather sloppy gas producers who didn’t
take proper care in cementing their wells.
The second problem is the disposal of the chemical waste. In the
Southwest, producers bury the waste in sealed containers deep
underground. The geology of the Marcellus Shale, however, makes that
much more difficult. Some of that waste is being sent to existing
underground waste dumps, leading to the possibility of spills. Other
waste is being buried in shallower ground, which creates a fear of
contamination. Ultimately, producers in the Marcellus Shale will have
to do a better job getting rid of the waste.
Finally, there is the concern raised by Robert Howarth, the Cornell
scientist, who says that natural gas is dirtier than coal. His main
contention is that so much methane is escaping from gas wells that it
is creating an enormous footprint of greenhouse gases. His study,
however, is not exactly iron-clad. Industry officials have mocked it,
but even less-biased experts have poked holes in it. The Environmental
Defense Fund, for instance, has estimates of methane gas emissions that
are 75 percent lower than Howarth’s.
Nor is Howarth what you’d call an unbiased observer. Although he told
me that he had “a strong reputation, which I value, for objectivity,”
he also acknowledged that he has testified about the hazards of
fracking and sometimes wears a “no fracking” pin. (He does so, he said,
“because I’m a citizen of the world.”)
The truth is, every problem associated with drilling for natural gas is
solvable. The technology exists to prevent most methane from escaping,
for instance. Strong state regulation will help ensure environmentally
safe wells. And so on. Somewhat to my surprise, this view was seconded
by Abrahm Lustgarten, a reporter for ProPublica who has probably
written more stories about the dangers of fracking than anyone. In a
comment posted online to my Tuesday column, he wrote that while the
environmental issues were real, they “can be readily addressed by the
employment of best drilling practices, technological investment, and
rigorous regulatory oversight.”
The country has been handed an incredible gift with the Marcellus
Shale. With an estimated 500 trillion cubic feet of reserves, it is
widely believed to be the second-largest natural gas field ever
discovered. Which means that those of you who live near this tremendous
resource have two choices. You can play the Not-In-My-Backyard card,
employing environmental scare tactics to fight attempts to drill for
Or you can embrace the idea that America needs the Marcellus Shale,
accept the inconvenience that the drilling will bring, but insist that
it be done properly. If you choose this latter path, you will be
helping to move the country to a fuel that is — yes — cleaner than oil,
while diminishing the strategic importance of the Middle East, where
American soldiers continue to die.
It’s your call.
The Gas Revolution: Amazingly, an era
of energy abundance is upon
us, unless politicians and environmentalists get their way.
Steven F. Hayward
April 18, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 30
When Andrew Liveris took over as CEO of Dow Chemical at the end of
2004, the company was in the midst of a wrenching reorganization that
saw it shed 7,000 jobs—14 percent of its workforce—and close 23
older chemical plants in this country. Looking ahead to a new product
cycle in a fast-growing global marketplace, Liveris faced a stark
choice: Should Dow invest in new capacity in the United States, or
should he locate more facilities in emerging markets? One factor made
expanding overseas much more attractive—not labor costs but the price
of natural gas.
Dow and several other industrial manufacturing sectors use natural gas
as a basic feedstock for much of their product line, not primarily as
an energy source. As such there are few substitutes or efficiency
strategies the company could use. As Liveris told the Senate Energy and
Natural Resources Committee in the fall of 2005, “This [natural gas]
price of $14, simply put, renders the entire U.S. chemical industry
uncompetitive. . . . We simply cannot compete with the rest of the
world at these prices. . . . When faced with a choice of investing in
the United States at $14 gas versus $2 to $3 elsewhere, how can I
recommend investing here?” Not long after, Dow Chemical announced plans
for a major expansion in Kuwait and Oman, both of which were able to
guarantee long-term rock-bottom natural gas prices. Other chemical
companies followed suit, and a sector that was once among the nation’s
strongest export industries became a net importer. Between 1997 and
2005, overall industrial consumption of natural gas in the United
States fell 22.4 percent.
One of the less appreciated facts of the U.S. energy marketplace is
that the price of natural gas has been much more volatile than the
price of oil over the last 15 years. Unlike oil, which trades at
globally uniform prices, natural gas has always been a more locally
traded commodity, with wide price differences from region to region.
And in the middle years of the last decade, when the U.S. natural gas
price spiked to $14 per thousand cubic feet, up from $2 or less for
most of the 1990s, both Middle Eastern and Russian gas could be had
much more cheaply—if you were located in their neighborhood.
Like domestic production of oil, U.S. production of natural gas had
been relatively flat for years. All of the official public and private
forecasts expected domestic gas production to decline, with the result
that the United States, hitherto nearly self-sufficient in natural gas
(we have been importing about 10 percent of our gas from Canada and
Mexico), would have to import as much as 20 percent of our needs by the
year 2020. Most of the new gas imports were expected to come from the
Persian Gulf, extending American dependency on that politically sketchy
region. The oil and gas industry argued that the only way to turn
around our gas fortunes was to open up more areas for exploration and
production, especially offshore on the continental shelf, but this ran
into the same buzzsaw of political opposition that has hobbled domestic
Now, within an astonishingly short time, the entire picture has
changed. In mid-December the Energy Information Administration released
new estimates of U.S. natural gas showing proved reserves at their
highest level since 1967, up 33 percent in the last three years and 62
percent over the last 10 years. Natural gas production in the United
States in 2009 (21.6 trillion cubic feet) was the highest since 1973,
even though demand was down on account of the recession. The Department
of Energy now predicts gas reserves will grow by at least another 20
percent over the next decade, though a number of energy forecasters
think reserves will grow by much more, securing a 100-year supply for
our needs. Even as oil and gasoline prices rise again to uncomfortable
levels, the price of natural gas has declined 80 percent from its
mid-recession level in the summer of 2008, to about $4 per thousand
cubic feet, and it is likely to stay at this level or perhaps fall
further. Although price volatility may not be a thing of the past, it
is unlikely we’ll see spikes to $14 again for a very, very long time.
How did this startling turnabout occur? The phrase suddenly in every
newsroom copybook (the cover of Time magazine last week, a series in
the New York Times last month) is “unconventional gas,” chiefly shale
gas and coal-bed methane, produced through a technique known as
hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Fracking involves sending high
pressure fluid deep into wells to force cracks in the surrounding rock
formations, which releases gas (and also oil where oil deposits are
mixed in rock).
From the recent news reports you’d think shale gas and fracking had
just been discovered, but neither is brand new. It has been known for
decades that deep shale rock formations contain lots of natural gas,
and oil drillers have employed fracking for years to enhance oil
recovery. But fracking for shale gas was not economical until a second
technology achieved major breakthroughs in the last decade and a half:
directional drilling. It is possible today to drill several wells from
a single platform in many different directions, often for several miles
laterally, and navigational advances enable drillers to know their
exact position down to a few inches from thousands of feet away.
Combined with advances in underground geological surveying, directional
drilling and fracking over the last decade have allowed us to tap into
previously uneconomic shale gas deposits. At the present time shale gas
accounts for about 20 percent of total U.S. gas production (up from 1
percent in 2000), but it is projected to account for nearly half of
U.S. gas production by the year 2035.
One remarkable aspect of the shale gas revolution is that it was not
the product of an energy policy edict from Washington, or the result of
a bruising political battle to open up public lands and offshore waters
for new exploration. Although the Halliburtons of the world are now big
in the field, its pioneers were mostly smaller risk-taking
entrepreneurs and technological innovators. George P. Mitchell, an
independent producer based in Houston, is widely credited as being the
prime mover in shale gas, pushing the idea against skeptics. The
technology was mainly deployed on existing oil and gas leaseholds or on
private land beyond the reach of bureaucrats (for the time being,
anyway). That is why shale gas seemed to sneak up unannounced to the
media and Beltway elites, even though people inside the gas industry
realized several years ago what was rapidly taking place. Mitchell
worked the Barnett shale formation near Dallas, but the biggest shale
gas “play” is the Marcellus—a massive deep shale formation stretching
from West Virginia through upstate New York.
Now that shale gas is front-page news, everyone wants a piece of the
action. Environmentalists, who have supported natural gas as a “bridge
fuel” to kill coal, are starting to turn against gas now that it looks
more abundant. Regulators want to regulate it; state legislators want
to tax it more. And politicians are eager to “help” the market decide
how best to use this newfound bounty, which is music to the gas
industry’s ears, as they fear a glut might collapse prices and do to
their industry what the collapse in oil prices in 1986 did to the small
producers in the oil patch. In other words, the one thing that might
disrupt this amazing success story has arrived on the scene: politics.
The shale gas revolution presents two main issues. The first concerns
fracking, which is currently unregulated or lightly regulated by state
and local governments. Fracking is currently exempt from some sections
of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, though it is
subject to all of the wastewater and hazardous material rules and
regulations. Fracking fluids, once they have done their work loosening
the gas, contain some toxic chemicals (and can pick up low levels of
radiation from deep underground). Environmentalists are raising a
predictable hue and cry about threats to groundwater from well casing
leaks or from water that returns to the surface. The environmental
crusade against fracking has its own Inconvenient Truth-style
documentary, Gasland, by Pennsylvania filmmaker Josh Fox, which was
nominated for best documentary at the Academy Awards and aired on HBO.
Gasland features dramatic footage of gas-infused well water that can be
ignited at a kitchen tap, though it is not established that this is the
result of nearby shale gas drilling. Hitting pockets of gas has been a
well-known phenomena in shallow water wells in parts of Pennsylvania
for decades. Most shale gas fracking is conducted as far as 5,000 feet
underground, thousands of feet below the aquifer and beneath
impermeable rock layers that separate it from drinking water. Still,
spills and leaking well casings near the surface have caused some
localized water pollution problems, providing just enough traction for
environmentalist complaints. The EPA has launched a major study of
fracking that is expected to report findings in 2014, and New York’s
outgoing governor David Paterson imposed a moratorium on new gas
drilling last year in response to claims that fracking threatened
groundwater, even though New York’s state geologist concluded fracking
presented a low risk to the state’s groundwater.
The second issue is what to do with this unexpected bounty. The
suddenly low cost of gas, combined with high-efficiency gas power plant
designs, now make new gas-fired power plants cheaper than coal-fired
power plants according to the Department of Energy’s latest analysis.
Natural gas has been the largest growth sector in American power
generation over the last two decades, though because of its price
volatility much of the new gas capacity was employed in “peaker” power
plants that were turned on and off during periods of high demand such
as the summer months. Now it appears gas could be used more for
baseload generation, replacing aging coal plants that are under
pressure from costly new EPA clean air regulations and the
environmentalist crusade to do to coal-fired electricity what it did to
nuclear power 30 years ago.
For the time being natural gas producers and utilities are joining with
environmentalists to tilt the playing field in favor of forcing gas as
a replacement for coal, by offering incentives and subsidies for fuel
switching. Colorado enacted sweetheart legislation last year to prod
its utilities to convert from coal to gas, and Texas—which uses the
most coal-fired electricity of any state by a large margin—is
considering the same market-bending mischief. This coalition won’t long
endure, however, because the other edge of the cheap gas sword is
coming into play already: Cheap gas makes expensive wind and solar
power even less cost competitive than they already are.
Environmentalists used to love natural gas—so long as it was
expensive and used in part as a backstop for intermittent wind and
solar power. Now that it is suddenly cheap and practical for baseload
generation, environmentalists are changing their minds. Politico’s Bob
King noted this about-face in a mid-February story, “Greens Sour on
Natural Gas.” The Environmental Defense Fund, ProPublica, and the
Sierra Club are suddenly voicing opposition to the expansion of natural
gas use. King quoted Sierra Club chairman Carl Pope calling for phasing
out natural gas use in the United States entirely by the year 2050, and
Sierra’s deputy executive director Bruce Hamilton said, “We want people
to know that natural gas is not a clean fuel.” As recently as a
December appearance with me on CNBC, Hamilton endorsed using “clean”
natural gas “for a very long time.” You might call this the theorem of
environmental duplicity: namely, there is no form of “clean” or
“alternative” energy that environmentalists won’t decide to oppose if
it becomes practical and affordable on a large scale.
From the standpoint of the increasingly desperate and forlorn climate
campaign, environmentalists have a point. Natural gas has long been
regarded as the cleanest of the fossil fuels because it is much lower
in conventional air pollutants (that is, the emissions that cause
ozone, particulates, and carbon monoxide) than coal or oil. But it is
still a prodigious producer of carbon dioxide; climate change orthodoxy
calls for reducing CO2 emissions to almost 1 billion tons by the year
2050, yet carbon dioxide emissions from current levels of natural gas
use are 1.2 billion tons a year. There is no way to reach the targets
of climate orthodoxy if we expand our use of natural gas.
Still, it may be a mistake to adopt a dirigiste policy of pushing
natural gas use in the electric power sector, because coal remains
abundant and cheap, and neither climate hysteria nor conventional air
pollution concerns are compelling enough reasons to suppress coal power
deliberately. (Conventional air pollutants and mercury emissions from
coal plants are falling steadily, and will continue to do so even
without a new suite of EPA regulations.) Substituting natural gas for
coal power plants would not reduce our imports of foreign oil by a
single barrel. But adopting natural gas as a transportation fuel in our
car and truck fleet would, if done on a large scale, and this is the
most tantalizing prospect.
T. Boone Pickens has been pushing this idea for the last two years,
arguing that we should start with the trucking fleet. But the
conversion costs are high. It costs about $50,000 or more to convert a
diesel truck to run on compressed natural gas, and natural gas-powered
autos would be considerably more expensive than gasoline-powered autos.
The one commercial natural gas car currently available, a Honda Civic,
costs about $10,000 more than a gasoline engine Civic. Natural gas
vehicles would require a large compressed gas infrastructure that does
not currently exist. Pickens and other natural gas transportation
enthusiasts are lobbying for tax credits for truck fleet conversions
and filling station gas compression upgrades—another subsidy the
federal budget doesn’t need right now. But federal subsidies may not be
necessary. If diesel reaches $5 a gallon, the unsubsidized payback
period for converting a high-mileage long-haul truck would be two years
or less at current natural gas prices. That’s why UPS is starting to
expand its fleet of natural gas trucks. For comparatively low-mileage
passenger cars, the price of gasoline would have to be much higher than
it is today for gas conversion to look attractive, somewhere in the
neighborhood of $8 or $9 a gallon.
With all of the emphasis—and confusion—in the automotive industry
about whether to develop hybrid-electric cars or other power sources,
policymakers ought to tread carefully before piling on a new
market-distorting tax credit or subsidy. Furthermore, natural gas can
be converted to liquid fuels, especially methanol, that can be used in
current gasoline-powered cars for a minimal extra conversion cost. At
current natural gas prices, methanol can be produced at a cost of about
$1.30 a gallon, though methanol has a lower energy content than
gasoline, so the equivalent gasoline price would be closer to about
$1.60 a gallon—attractive at current oil prices, but not if oil drops
again to 2009 levels.
Finally, it is not a slam dunk that newly abundant natural gas supplies
should be used primarily for new energy production. Current low prices
are inducing the chemical industry to begin looking to our shores again
for expansion. Two weeks ago CP Chem, a joint venture of Chevron and
ConocoPhillips, announced that it is considering a major expansion at a
Gulf Coast facility that would utilize shale gas, a development
Chemical Week called “the most significant yet related to the improved
cost position of U.S. petro-chemicals.” The chief fear of the chemical
industry is that the price volatility that drove them overseas in the
last decade might not be over. The chemical industry, like electric
utilities, has been bit before by confident assurances that cheap gas
was here to stay.
There is good reason for that concern. The urge for politicians and
collaborating interest groups to meddle in the natural gas success
story is irresistible, but all options for gas share one key assumption
that should not go unchallenged: that the shale gas revolution will
continue uninterrupted, thereby guaranteeing stable low prices.
Although this appears probable at the moment, two aspects of shale gas
production have escaped notice in the recent lavish media attention.
First, its production costs—the “hurdle rate” as it is called in the
trade—can be highly variable and site specific. Although hurdle rates
are proprietary information from site to site and company to company,
some shale gas plays such as the Haynesville-Bossier that straddles the
Texas-Louisiana border are said to have production costs as high as $4
per thousand cubic feet, which is only slightly above the current
market price. Hence in recent months, many drilling rigs have been
pulling out of the Haynesville-Bossier and moving back to straight oil
exploration in other parts of Texas. By contrast, the hurdle rate for
Marcellus gas wells is said to be as low as 60 cents per thousand cubic
feet in some cases, making the Marcellus play very profitable even if
prices fall substantially below current levels.
The second factor is that shale gas wells have a much faster production
decline curve than conventional gas wells; in other words, shale wells
run out of gas sooner, requiring new wells to be drilled on a constant
basis. New regulations that slow or make more expensive the
replenishment of depleting wells, or a gas glut that collapses prices
and idles drilling capacity, could set off a fresh round of price
volatility and scramble everyone’s calculations. It would be best if
politicians left well enough alone and allowed the marketplace to
compete over the uses of natural gas, but politics and energy have
always mixed like gin-ethanol and tonic, so don’t count on it.
Steven F. Hayward is the F. K.
Weyerhaeuser fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author
of the Almanac of Environmental Trends, to be released on Earth Day
Larson allies with T. Boone Pickens on
natural gas tax incentives
By Deirdre Shesgreen, CT MIRROR
April 12, 2011
WASHINGTON--Rep. John Larson has revved up his alliance with oil tycoon
T. Boone Pickens and House Republicans in a push to make natural gas a
more dominate fuel--replacing traditional gasoline--in America's
This week, Larson will join Pickens--an Oklahoma native who made his
fortune in the oil and gas industry--to promote legislation that would
provide billions of dollars in tax incentives to spur the development
and purchase of natural gas vehicles, particular heavy-duty trucks that
now run on diesel.
Larson, D-1st District, said greater use of natural gas will help solve
a range of critical problems now facing the country, from the sour
economy to our over-reliance on imported oil. "It's abundant, it's
accessible, it's American," Larson said of natural gas, during a call
with reporters previewing his proposal last week.
But some skeptics say the push to bolster natural gas ignores the
environmental risks that come with drilling for it. And they worry that
Larson's proposal is a piecemeal approach that uses the tax code to
choose winners and losers in the energy industry.
"People tend to latch on to the latest silver bullet and throw billions
of dollars at it, and when it doesn't solve our nation's problems in
five years, they move on to the next silver bullet," said David
Friedman, deputy director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of
Concerned Scientists. "A few years ago, the silver bullet was ethanol.
Now it's natural gas. And in a couple years, it's going to be something
Larson is hardly the only one touting natural gas as the silver-bullet
solution to America's energy and climate conundrum. Several House
Republicans are also strongly backing the bill, and they hope to
fast-track it in the House. And for Pickens, natural gas has
become a crusade. This week, he's even planning to bring some natural
gas vehicles to Washington and park them at the U.S. Capitol for a news
conference with Larson touting the bill.
There's little question that natural gas is preferable to other fossil
fuels. when burned, it produces fewer polluting carbon emissions than
coal or oil. And as Larson noted, there's lots of it in the
U.S.-enough, experts say, to fuel American cars and generate
electricity for 100 years.
Pickens and others have called it a "bridge" fuel--an energy source
that can help wean the U.S. off foreign oil during a transition period,
until policymakers put in place a more comprehensive energy policy that
addresses global warming and taps into wind, solar and other sources to
meet America's insatiable energy needs.
Larson said his bill would give natural gas a boost "that provides a
foundation from which to build an energy policy."
The legislation would offer tax credits for the use of natural gas as a
vehicle fuel, the purchase of natural-gas vehicles, and the
installation of natural gas refueling stations. For example, consumers
and businesses would get a tax break of between $7,500 to $64,000,
depending on the weight of the vehicle, for buying a natural gas truck
or car. The Congressional Budget Office has not calculated an official
cost of the bill yet, but Pickens, during a recent forum at Yale
University, said it could cost the Treasury $3 billion to $4 billion.
Larson introduced the bill last week along with another Democrat, Rep.
Dan Boren of Oklahoma, and two Republicans, Reps. John Sullivan and
Kevin Brady, from Oklahoma and Texas respectively. The bill already has
129 additional co-sponsors, and Sullivan said House Speaker John
Boehner backs the proposal.
"The events in the Middle East and the events that have happened
tragically in Japan only further underscore the urgency behind this,"
Larson said, referring to the political upheaval in Libya, Yemen and
other Middle Eastern countries, as well as the still-unfolding nuclear
disaster in Japan.
But environmentalists say Congress shouldn't necessarily rush into a
new legislative framework that boosts natural gas.
"Natural gas may have an environmental role to play in heavy duty
vehicles, but increased natural gas production also comes with
environmental liabilities and those need to be evaluated," said Brian
Siu, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"There are air quality concerns, there are water quality concerns," Siu
said. And when it comes to drilling for natural gas, he added, "there
are chemical disclosure concerns."
The method for extracting natural gas is called hydraulic fracturing,
or hydrofracking, and the process requires injecting water, sand and
chemicals to break up the rock that holds the natural gas. The New York
Times and other outlets have recently reported on concerns about water
contamination, including high levels of radioactivity, caused by
There are no natural gas wells currently in Connecticut, although there
are about 14 natural gas pumping stations in the state. There are also
about 250 or so vehicles in Connecticut that run on natural gas,
according to Larson's office.
There are nearly 500,000 wells in other parts of the country, a
significant jump in recent years as companies seek to exploit this
newly popular energy source. In Pennsylvania, in particular, the
scramble to drill for natural gas has led to serious environmental
concerns, including seepage of the gas into underground water supplies.
Environmentalists say these issues need to be addressed with strict new
federal regulatory oversight, before lawmakers push to create a broad
new market for natural gas vehicles. "There are a lot of harms that are
being generated from natural gas production, and they really need to be
addressed and mitigated before we can look into creating new markets
for this," said Amy Mall, also a policy analyst at the NRDC.
Friedman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the better route
is a "technology-neutral" tax incentive program that doesn't favor one
industry over another.
"Why natural gas?" he asked. It may make sense, he said, but so might
other energy sources, like hybrid and electric vehicles. Friedman said
that rather than gumming up the tax code with another new tax
provision, Congress should embrace a performance-based credit that
rewards outcomes rather than specific industries.
That, along with strong global warming controls and strong
fuel-efficiency standards, is the best way forward. "That's what is
going to drive the technology. Let's not necessarily pick natural gas
as the winner," he said.
Larson and other supporters dismissed the environmental concerns,
saying there was a lot of "misinformation" about the risks of natural
gas. And they noted that President Barack Obama seemed to endorse their
bill in his energy speech on March 30th.
"The potential for natural gas is enormous, and this is an area where
there's actually been some broad bipartisan agreement," Obama said,
noting that a version of the tax-incentives legislation garnered 150
sponsors in the House last year, even thought it did not win final
"Getting 150 members of Congress to agree on anything is a big deal,"
Obama said. "And they were even joined by T. Boone Pickens, a
businessman who made his fortune on oil, but who is out there making
the simple point that we can't simply drill our way out of our energy
But Obama also made reference to the environmental concerns. "We've got
to make sure that we're extracting natural gas safely, without
polluting our water supply," he said, adding that he'd asked his Energy
Secretary to work with the natural gas industry and environmental
experts to examine the safety of drilling.
Larson said that remark was just to provide public assurance about the
safety of natural gas. His bill, he said, is an important--albeit
targeted and narrow--policy change. He and others argued that it will
create the political wiggle room necessary for lawmakers to come
together on a more comprehensive energy policy, he and others argued.
"For 40 years our country has had no energy plan," Pickens said in the
call with Larson and other lawmakers last week. "This is the first step
Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted
Water Hits Rivers
By IAN URBINA
February 26, 2011
The American landscape is dotted with hundreds of thousands of new
wells and drilling rigs, as the country scrambles to tap into this
century’s gold rush — for natural gas.
The gas has always been there, of course, trapped deep underground in
countless tiny bubbles, like frozen spills of seltzer water between
thin layers of shale rock. But drilling companies have only in recent
years developed techniques to unlock the enormous reserves, thought to
be enough to supply the country with gas for heating buildings,
generating electricity and powering vehicles for up to a hundred years.
So energy companies are clamoring to drill. And they are getting rare
support from their usual sparring partners. Environmentalists say using
natural gas will help slow climate change because it burns more cleanly
than coal and oil. Lawmakers hail the gas as a source of jobs. They
also see it as a way to wean the United States from its dependency on
other countries for oil.
But the relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume
horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant
environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed
with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations
and release the gas.
With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of
wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens
like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can
occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic
materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the
While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of
internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the
Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show
that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than
The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to
sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers
that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher
than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal
regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.
Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are
alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water
in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never
made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some
sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling
waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.
The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a
confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that
radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and
But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state
regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept
drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water
intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in
Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for
radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in
In other words, there is no way of guaranteeing that the drinking water
taken in by all these plants is safe.
That has experts worried.
“We’re burning the furniture to heat the house,” said John H. Quigley,
who left last month as secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of
Conservation and Natural Resources. “In shifting away from coal and
toward natural gas, we’re trying for cleaner air, but we’re producing
massive amounts of toxic wastewater with salts and naturally occurring
radioactive materials, and it’s not clear we have a plan for properly
handling this waste.”
The risks are particularly severe in Pennsylvania, which has seen a
sharp increase in drilling, with roughly 71,000 active gas wells, up
from about 36,000 in 2000. The level of radioactivity in the wastewater
has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum
allowed by the federal standard for drinking water. While people
clearly do not drink drilling wastewater, the reason to use the
drinking-water standard for comparison is that there is no
comprehensive federal standard for what constitutes safe levels of
radioactivity in drilling wastewater.
Drillers trucked at least half of this waste to public sewage treatment
plants in Pennsylvania in 2008 and 2009, according to state officials.
Some of it has been sent to other states, including New York and West
Yet sewage treatment plant operators say they are far less capable of
removing radioactive contaminants than most other toxic substances.
Indeed, most of these facilities cannot remove enough of the
radioactive material to meet federal drinking-water standards before
discharging the wastewater into rivers, sometimes just miles upstream
from drinking-water intake plants.
In Pennsylvania, these treatment plants discharged waste into some of
the state’s major river basins. Greater amounts of the wastewater went
to the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to more than
800,000 people in the western part of the state, including Pittsburgh,
and to the Susquehanna River, which feeds into Chesapeake Bay and
provides drinking water to more than six million people, including some
in Harrisburg and Baltimore.
Lower amounts have been discharged into the Delaware River, which
provides drinking water for more than 15 million people in Philadelphia
and eastern Pennsylvania.
In New York, the wastewater was sent to two plants that discharge into
Southern Cayuga Lake, near Ithaca, and Owasco Outlet, near Auburn. In
West Virginia, a plant in Wheeling discharged gas-drilling wastewater
into the Ohio River.
“Hydrofracking impacts associated with health problems as well as
widespread air and water contamination have been reported in at least a
dozen states,” said Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, a
business in Ithaca, N.Y., that compiles data on gas drilling.
Problems in Other Regions
While Pennsylvania is an extreme case, the risks posed by hydrofracking
extend across the country.
There were more than 493,000 active natural-gas wells in the United
States in 2009, almost double the number in 1990. Around 90 percent
have used hydrofracking to get more gas flowing, according to the
Gas has seeped into underground drinking-water supplies in at least
five states, including Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West
Virginia, and residents blamed natural-gas drilling.
Air pollution caused by natural-gas drilling is a growing threat, too.
Wyoming, for example, failed in 2009 to meet federal standards for air
quality for the first time in its history partly because of the fumes
containing benzene and toluene from roughly 27,000 wells, the vast
majority drilled in the past five years.
In a sparsely populated Sublette County in Wyoming, which has some of
the highest concentrations of wells, vapors reacting to sunlight have
contributed to levels of ozone higher than those recorded in Houston
and Los Angeles.
Industry officials say any dangerous waste from the wells is handled in
compliance with state and federal laws, adding that drilling companies
are recycling more wastewater now. They also say that hydrofracking is
well regulated by the states and that it has been used safely for
But hydrofracking technology has become more powerful and more widely
used in recent years, producing far more wastewater. Some of the
problems with this drilling, including its environmental impact and the
challenge of disposing of waste, have been documented by ProPublica,
The Associated Press and other news organizations, especially out West.
And recent incidents underscore the dangers. In late 2008, drilling and
coal-mine waste released during a drought so overwhelmed the
Monongahela that local officials advised people in the Pittsburgh area
to drink bottled water. E.P.A. officials described the incident in an
internal memorandum as “one of the largest failures in U.S. history to
supply clean drinking water to the public.”
In Texas, which now has about 93,000 natural-gas wells, up from around
58,000 a dozen years ago, a hospital system in six counties with some
of the heaviest drilling said in 2010 that it found a 25 percent asthma
rate for young children, more than three times the state rate of about
“It’s ruining us,” said Kelly Gant, whose 14-year-old daughter and
11-year-old son have experienced severe asthma attacks, dizzy spells
and headaches since a compressor station and a gas well were set up
about two years ago near her house in Bartonville, Tex. The industry
and state regulators have said it is not clear what role the gas
industry has played in causing such problems, since the area has had
high air pollution for a while.
“I’m not an activist, an alarmist, a Democrat, environmentalist or
anything like that,” Ms. Gant said. “I’m just a person who isn’t able
to manage the health of my family because of all this drilling.”
And yet, for all its problems, natural gas offers some clear
environmental advantages over coal, which is used more than any other
fuel to generate electricity in the United States. Coal-fired power
plants without updated equipment to capture pollutants are a major
source of radioactive pollution. Coal mines annually produce millions
of tons of toxic waste.
But the hazards associated with natural-gas production and drilling are
far less understood than those associated with other fossil fuels, and
the regulations have not kept pace with the natural-gas industry’s
Pennsylvania, Ground Zero
Pennsylvania, which sits atop an enormous reserve called the Marcellus
Shale, has been called the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.
This rock formation, roughly the size of Greece, lies more than a mile
beneath the Appalachian landscape, from Virginia to the southern half
of New York. It is believed to hold enough gas to supply the country’s
energy needs for heat and electricity, at current consumption rates,
for more than 15 years.
Drilling companies were issued roughly 3,300 Marcellus gas-well permits
in Pennsylvania last year, up from just 117 in 2007.
This has brought thousands of jobs, five-figure windfalls for residents
who lease their land to the drillers and revenue for a state that has
struggled with budget deficits. It has also transformed the landscape
of southwestern Pennsylvania and brought heavy burdens.
Drilling derricks tower over barns, lining rural roads like feed silos.
Drilling sites bustle around the clock with workers, some in yellow
hazardous material suits, and 18-wheelers haul equipment, water and
waste along back roads.
The rigs announce their presence with the occasional boom and quiver of
underground explosions. Smelling like raw sewage mixed with gasoline,
drilling-waste pits, some as large as a football field, sit close to
Anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of the water sent down the well
during hydrofracking returns to the surface, carrying drilling
chemicals, very high levels of salts and, at times, naturally occurring
While most states require drillers to dispose of this water in
underground storage wells below impermeable rock layers, Pennsylvania
has few such wells. It is the only state that has allowed drillers to
discharge much of their waste through sewage treatment plants into
Regulators have theorized that passing drilling waste through the
plants is safe because most toxic material will settle during the
treatment process into a sludge that can be trucked to a landfill, and
whatever toxic material remains in the wastewater will be diluted when
mixed into rivers. But some plants were taking such large amounts of
waste with high salt levels in 2008 that downstream utilities started
complaining that the river water was eating away at their machines.
Regulators and drilling companies have said that these cases, and
others, were isolated.
“The wastewater treatment plants are effective at what they’re designed
to do — remove material from wastewater,” said Jamie Legenos, a
spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental
Protection, adding that the radioactive material and the salts were
being properly handled.
For proof that radioactive elements in drilling waste are not a
concern, industry spokesmen and regulators often point to the results
of wastewater tests from a 2009 draft report conducted by New York
State and a 1995 report by Pennsylvania that found that radioactivity
in drilling waste was not a threat. These two reports were based on
samples from roughly 13 gas wells in New York and 29 in Pennsylvania.
But a review by The Times of more than 30,000 pages of federal, state
and company records relating to more than 200 gas wells in
Pennsylvania, 40 in West Virginia and 20 public and private wastewater
treatment plants offers a fuller picture of the wastewater such wells
produce and the threat it poses.
Most of the information was drawn from drilling reports from the last
three years, obtained by visiting regional offices throughout
Pennsylvania, and from documents or databases provided by state and
federal regulators in response to records requests.
Among The Times’s findings:
¶More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by
Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been
previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in
three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many
of the toxic materials in drilling waste.
¶At least 12 sewage treatment plants in three states accepted gas
industry wastewater and discharged waste that was only partly treated
into rivers, lakes and streams.
¶Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of
radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive
materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water
standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than
1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.
Results came from field surveys conducted by state and federal
regulators, year-end reports filed by drilling companies and
state-ordered tests of some public treatment plants. Most of the tests
measured drilling wastewater for radium or for “gross alpha” radiation,
which typically comes from radium, uranium and other elements.
Industry officials say they are not concerned.
“These low levels of radioactivity pose no threat to the public or
worker safety and are more a public perception issue than a real health
threat,” said James E. Grey, chief operating officer of Triana Energy.
In interviews, industry trade groups like the Marcellus Shale Coalition
and Energy in Depth, as well as representatives from energy companies
like Shell and Chesapeake Energy, said they were producing far less
wastewater because they were recycling much of it rather than disposing
of it after each job.
But even with recycling, the amount of wastewater produced in
Pennsylvania is expected to increase because, according to industry
projections, more than 50,000 new wells are likely to be drilled over
the next two decades.
The radioactivity in the wastewater is not necessarily dangerous to
people who are near it. It can be blocked by thin barriers, including
skin, so exposure is generally harmless.
Rather, E.P.A. and industry researchers say, the bigger danger of
radioactive wastewater is its potential to contaminate drinking water
or enter the food chain through fish or farming. Once radium enters a
person’s body, by eating, drinking or breathing, it can cause cancer
and other health problems, many federal studies show.
Little Testing for Radioactivity
Under federal law, testing for radioactivity in drinking water is
required only at drinking-water plants. But federal and state
regulators have given nearly all drinking-water intake facilities in
Pennsylvania permission to test only once every six or nine years.
The Times reviewed data from more than 65 intake plants downstream from
some of the busiest drilling regions in the state. Not one has tested
for radioactivity since 2008, and most have not tested since at least
2005, before most of the drilling waste was being produced.
And in 2009 and 2010, public sewage treatment plants directly upstream
from some of these drinking-water intake facilities accepted wastewater
that contained radioactivity levels as high as 2,122 times the
drinking-water standard. But most sewage plants are not required to
monitor for radioactive elements in the water they discharge. So there
is virtually no data on such contaminants as water leaves these plants.
Regulators and gas producers have repeatedly said that the waste is not
a threat because it is so diluted in rivers or by treatment plants. But
industry and federal research cast doubt on those statements.
A confidential industry study from 1990, conducted for the American
Petroleum Institute, concluded that “using conservative assumptions,”
radium in drilling wastewater dumped off the Louisiana coast posed
“potentially significant risks” of cancer for people who eat fish from
those waters regularly.
The industry study focused on drilling industry wastewater being dumped
into the Gulf of Mexico, where it would be far more diluted than in
rivers. It also used estimates of radium levels far below those found
in Pennsylvania’s drilling waste, according to the study’s lead author,
Anne F. Meinhold, an environmental risk expert now at NASA.
Other federal, state and academic studies have also found dilution
problems with radioactive drilling waste.
In December 2009, these very risks led E.P.A. scientists to advise in a
letter to New York that sewage treatment plants not accept drilling
waste with radium levels 12 or more times as high as the drinking-water
standard. The Times found wastewater containing radium levels that were
hundreds of times this standard. The scientists also said that the
plants should never discharge radioactive contaminants at levels higher
than the drinking-water standard.
In 2009, E.P.A. scientists studied the matter and also determined that
certain Pennsylvania rivers were ineffective at sufficiently diluting
the radium-laced drilling wastewater being discharged into them.
Asked about the studies, Pennsylvania regulators said they were not
aware of them.
“Concerned? I’m always concerned,” said Dave Allard, director of the
Bureau of Radiation Protection. But he added that the threat of this
waste is reduced because “the dilutions are so huge going through those
Three months after The Times began asking questions about radioactive
and other toxic material being discharged into specific rivers, state
regulators placed monitors for radioactivity near where drilling waste
is discharged. Data will not be available until next month, state
But the monitor in the Monongahela is placed upstream from the two
public sewage treatment plants that the state says are still
discharging large amounts of drilling waste into the river, leaving the
discharges from these plants unchecked and Pittsburgh exposed.
Plant Operators in the Dark
In interviews, five treatment plant operators said they did not believe
that the drilling wastewater posed risks to the public. Several also
said they were not sure of the waste’s contents because the limited
information drillers provide usually goes to state officials.
“We count on state regulators to make sure that that’s properly done,”
said Paul McCurdy, environmental specialist at Ridgway Borough’s public
sewage treatment plant, in Elk County, Pa., in the northwest part of
Mr. McCurdy, whose plant discharges into the Clarion River, which flows
into the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, said his plant was taking about
20,000 gallons of drilling waste per day.
Like most of the sewage treatment plant operators interviewed, Mr.
McCurdy said his plant was not equipped to remove radioactive material
and was not required to test for it.
Documents filed by drillers with the state, though, show that in 2009
his facility was sent water from wells whose wastewater was laced with
radium at 275 times the drinking-water standard and with other types of
radiation at more than 780 times the standard.
Part of the problem is that industry has outpaced regulators. “We
simply can’t keep up,” said one inspector with the Pennsylvania
Department of Environmental Protection who was not authorized to speak
to reporters. “There’s just too much of the waste.”
“If we’re too hard on them,” the inspector added, “the companies might
just stop reporting their mistakes.”
Recently, Pennsylvania has tried to increase its oversight, doubling
the number of regulators, improving well-design requirements and
sharply decreasing how much drilling waste many treatment plants can
accept or release. The state is considering whether to require
treatment plants to begin monitoring for radioactivity in wastewater.
Even so, as of last November, 31 inspectors were keeping tabs on more
than 125,000 oil and gas wells. The new regulations also allowed at
least 18 plants to continue accepting the higher amounts set by their
Furthermore, environmental researchers from the University of
Pittsburgh tested wastewater late last year that had been discharged by
two treatment plants. They say these tests will show, when the results
are publicly released in March, that salt levels were far above the
Drilling contamination is entering the environment in Pennsylvania
through spills, too. In the past three years, at least 16 wells whose
records showed high levels of radioactivity in their wastewater also
reported spills, leaks or failures of pits where hydrofracking fluid or
waste is stored, according to state records.
Gas producers are generally left to police themselves when it comes to
spills. In Pennsylvania, regulators do not perform unannounced
inspections to check for signs of spills. Gas producers report their
own spills, write their own spill response plans and lead their own
A review of response plans for drilling projects at four Pennsylvania
sites where there have been accidents in the past year found that these
state-approved plans often appear to be in violation of the law.
At one well site where several spills occurred within a week, including
one that flowed into a creek, the well’s operator filed a revised spill
plan saying there was little chance that waste would ever enter a
“There are business pressures” on companies to “cut corners,” John
Hanger, who stepped down as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection in January, has said. “It’s cheaper to dump
wastewater than to treat it.”
Records back up that assertion.
From October 2008 through October 2010, regulators were more than twice
as likely to issue a written warning than to levy a fine for
environmental and safety violations, according to state data. During
this period, 15 companies were fined for drilling-related violations in
2008 and 2009, and the companies paid an average of about $44,000 each
year, according to state data.
This average was less than half of what some of the companies earned in
profits in a day and a tiny fraction of the more than $2 million that
some of them paid annually to haul and treat the waste.
And prospects for drillers in Pennsylvania are looking brighter.
In December, the Republican governor-elect, Tom Corbett, who during his
campaign took more gas industry contributions than all his competitors
combined, said he would reopen state land to new drilling, reversing a
decision made by his predecessor, Edward G. Rendell. The change clears
the way for as many as 10,000 wells on public land, up from about 25
active wells today.
In arguing against a proposed gas-extraction tax on the industry, Mr.
Corbett said regulation of the industry had been too aggressive.
“I will direct the Department of Environmental Protection to serve as a
partner with Pennsylvania businesses, communities and local
governments,” Mr. Corbett says on his Web site. “It should return to
its core mission protecting the environment based on sound science.”
Temporary contamination NOT in Weston, CT
Pipe that interrupted Mass. water
supply is fixed
By GLEN JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
3 May 2010
BOSTON – The region's drinking water supply could be back to normal in
a day or two under a "best-case scenario" outlined by state officials
on Monday, leaving in place the order to boil water after a ruptured
pipe disrupted the flow of clean water to about 2 million people.
Crews working through the night successfully repaired the 10-foot-wide
pipe that broke in suburban Weston on Saturday, prompting Gov. Deval
Patrick to declare a state of emergency.
The order for Boston and about 30 surrounding communities remains in
effect Monday even though the broken pipe is now operating at full
capacity, State Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said.
Officials have already started some environmental tests, he said, which
take about 24 hours to complete.
"We're now going to shift our attention to water quality testing," said
Fred Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources
Laskey is confident the repair will hold. "That's as solid as solid can
be," he said of the repaired pipe, which has been reinforced by
The exact reason the coupling gave way remains under investigation.
Officials have spent all their time and effort fixing the problem,
Laskey said. "Why it blew out is something we're going to work on," he
Government officials threw an "open-for-business" sign on Boston for
residents returning to work Monday, with Boston Mayor Tom Menino and
the governor urging commuters to return to the capital city.
Menino also told consumers Sunday that restaurants were open "and
serving delicious meals," while the city's school superintendent, Carol
Johnson, spoke for her suburban colleagues when she told
schoolchildren: "We expect to see you in class on time."
Health officials warned of the risk of a parasite infection if
residents used unboiled tap water for brushing their teeth, washing raw
vegetables or making ice. The water remained safe for showering and
toilet flushing, with one official likening it to lake water.
Laskey didn't shy from stating the magnitude of the problem created
when the pipe burst at a seam Saturday morning. Over the next eight
hours, an estimated 65 million gallons spilled into the Charles River
and forced officials to tap a reservoir filled with untreated water,
potentially contaminating the supply to 750,000 households.
"For the people in the water industry, it is everyone's worst
nightmare: to lose your main transmission line coming into a
metropolitan area," Laskey said.
Customers lined up at stores to buy bottled water, and both Patrick and
Attorney General Martha Coakley warned against price-gouging.
Hongbin Luo of Lexington came upon a Stop & Shop that had just
restocked its shelves. He wheeled out a shopping cart with two cases of
water, plus 18 one-gallon bottles.
"We want to have something to use and send off with the kids to
school," Luo said.
Fellow Lexington resident Ira Goldman said he had boiled water but
added that he was going to Europe on Monday so "it's not a big
Boston's water runs from the Quabbin Reservoir, in the central part of
the state, to the Wachusett Reservoir before being treated at a plant
in Marlborough. It travels through an 18-foot-wide pipe to suburban
Weston, where it branches off into the 10-foot-wide pipe that broke.
When the breach occurred, the MWRA rerouted the clean water supply
through an aqueduct that hadn't been used in decades. It also briefly
tapped a reservoir to maintain pressure and meet expected demand across
the system. While the water in the aqueduct was clean, the water from
the reservoir — which is in open air next to Boston College — is not,
prompting the warning to boil water for one minute.
"It's difficult to determine where that line (between clean and dirty
water) is so, under the rules, you make the whole district a boil-only
condition, even though we know and suspect that there are substantial
portions that are getting purely treated water," said Laskey.
The repair was initially expected to perhaps take weeks, but officials
diverted a spare coupling from a nearby project and welders modified
the parts in a matter of hours.
Officials remained puzzled by the cause because the break was in a
stretch of pipe just seven years old. They said they would be checking
the blueprints for other similar connections, to assess the risk of
"It could have been a design flaw, it could have been a construction
flaw, it could have been that the product was faulty, it could have
been something in our system," said Laskey. "There's just so many
different variables that come into play here when you're dealing with
that much strength."
Concerned about such a vulnerability in the system, the MWRA has been
repairing the original line that supplied Boston, which runs parallel
to the new one. That $700 million project started nine months ago and
is still three to four years from completion.
"We were working hard to have a solution in place for just this type of
problem. Unfortunately, it came up before we were finished," said MWRA
spokeswoman Ria Convery.
AP IMPACT: School drinking water contains toxins
By GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press Writer Garance Burke, Associated
Fri Sep 25, 11:06 am ET
CUTLER, Calif. – Over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands
of schools across the country has been found to contain unsafe levels
of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins.
An Associated Press investigation found that contaminants have surfaced
at public and private schools in all 50 states — in small towns and
inner cities alike.
But the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government,
even as the number of water safety violations has multiplied.
"It's an outrage," said Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who
has been honored for his work on water quality. "If a landlord doesn't
tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But
we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school
The contamination is most apparent at schools with wells, which
represent 8 to 11 percent of the nation's schools. Roughly one of every
five schools with its own water supply violated the Safe Drinking Water
Act in the past decade, according to data from the Environmental
Protection Agency analyzed by the AP.
In California's farm belt, wells at some schools are so tainted with
pesticides that students have taken to stuffing their backpacks with
bottled water for fear of getting sick from the drinking fountain.
Experts and children's advocates complain that responsibility for
drinking water is spread among too many local, state and federal
agencies, and that risks are going unreported. Finding a solution, they
say, would require a costly new national strategy for monitoring water
Schools with unsafe water represent only a small percentage of the
nation's 132,500 schools. And the EPA says the number of violations
spiked over the last decade largely because the government has
gradually adopted stricter standards for contaminants such as arsenic
and some disinfectants.
Many of the same toxins could also be found in water at homes, offices
and businesses. But the contaminants are especially dangerous to
children, who drink more water per pound than adults and are more
vulnerable to the effects of many hazardous substances.
"There's a different risk for kids," said Cynthia Dougherty, head of
the EPA's Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water.
Still, the EPA does not have the authority to require testing for all
schools and can only provide guidance on environmental practices.
In recent years, students at a Minnesota elementary school fell ill
after drinking tainted water. A young girl in Seattle got sick, too.
The AP analyzed a database showing federal drinking water violations
from 1998 to 2008 in schools with their own water supplies. The
• Water in about 100 school districts and 2,250 schools breached
federal safety standards.
• Those schools and districts racked up more than 5,550 separate
violations. In 2008, the EPA recorded 577 violations, up from 59 in
1998 — an increase that officials attribute mainly to tougher rules.
• California, which has the most schools of any state, also recorded
the most violations with 612, followed by Ohio (451), Maine (417),
Connecticut (318) and Indiana (289).
• Nearly half the violators in California were repeat offenders. One
elementary school in Tulare County, in the farm country of the Central
Valley, broke safe-water laws 20 times.
• The most frequently cited contaminant was coliform bacteria, followed
by lead and copper, arsenic and nitrates.
The AP analysis has "clearly identified the tip of an iceberg," said
Gina Solomon, a San Francisco physician who serves on an EPA drinking
water advisory board. "This tells me there is a widespread problem that
needs to be fixed because there are ongoing water quality problems in
small and large utilities, as well."
Schools with wells are required to test their water and report any
problems to the state, which is supposed to send all violations to the
But EPA officials acknowledge the agency's database of violations is
plagued with errors and omissions. And the agency does not specifically
monitor incoming state data on school water quality.
Critics say those practices prevent the government from reliably
identifying the worst offenders — and carrying out enforcement.
Scientists say the testing requirements fail to detect dangerous toxins
such as lead, which can wreak havoc on major organs and may retard
children's learning abilities.
"There is just no excuse for this. Period," said California Sen.
Barbara Boxer, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works. "We want to make sure that we fix this
problem in a way that it will never happen again, and we can ensure
parents that their children will be safe."
The problem goes beyond schools that use wells. Schools that draw water
from public utilities showed contamination, too, especially older
buildings where lead can concentrate at higher levels than in most
In schools with lead-soldered pipes, the metal sometimes flakes off
into drinking water. Lead levels can also build up as water sits
stagnant over weekends and holidays.
Schools that get water from local utilities are not required to test
for toxins because the EPA already regulates water providers. That
means there is no way to ensure detection of contaminants caused by
schools' own plumbing.
But voluntary tests in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle and
Los Angeles have found dangerous levels of lead in recent years. And
experts warn the real risk to schoolchildren is going unreported.
"I really suspect the level of exposure to lead and other metals at
schools is underestimated," said Michael Schock, a corrosion expert
with the EPA in Cincinnati. "You just don't know what is going on in
the places you don't sample."
Since 2004, the agency has been asking states to increase lead
monitoring. As of 2006, a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention found nearly half of all schools nationwide do not test
their water for lead.
Because contaminant levels in water can vary from drinking fountain to
drinking fountain, and different children drink different amounts of
water, epidemiologists often have trouble measuring the potential
threats to children's health.
But children have suffered health problems attributed to school water:
• In 2001, 28 children at a Worthington, Minn., elementary school
experienced severe stomach aches and nausea after drinking water
tainted with lead and copper, the result of a poorly installed
• In Seattle several years ago, a 6-year-old girl suffered stomach
aches and became disoriented and easily exhausted. The girl's mother
asked her daughter's school to test its water, and also tested a strand
of her daughter's hair. Tests showed high levels of copper and lead,
which figured into state health officials' decision to phase-in rules
requiring schools to test their water for both contaminants.
Many school officials say buying bottled water is less expensive than
fixing old pipes. Baltimore, for instance, has spent more than $2.5
million on bottled water over the last six years.
After wrestling with unsafe levels of arsenic for almost two years,
administrators in Sterling, Ohio, southeast of Cincinnati, finally
bought water coolers for elementary school students last fall. Now they
plan to move students to a new building.
In California, the Department of Public Health has given out more than
$4 million in recent years to help districts overhaul their water
But school administrators in the farmworker town of Cutler cannot fix
chronic water problems at Lovell High School because funding is frozen
due to the state's budget crisis.
Signs posted above the kitchen sink warn students not to drink from the
tap because the water is tainted with nitrates, a potential carcinogen,
and DBCP, a pesticide scientists say may cause male sterility.
As gym class ended one morning, thirsty basketball players crowded
around a five-gallon cooler, the only safe place to get a drink on
"The teachers always remind us to go to the classroom and get a cup of
water from the cooler," said sophomore Israel Aguila. "But the bathroom
sinks still work, so sometimes you kind of forget you can't drink out
The Nation’s Big Water Repair Bill
By THE EDITORS
Monica Almeida/The New York Times Samples of
contaminated tap water from Maywood, Calif.
A New York Times series, “Toxic Waters,”
has chronicled the problems of the nation’s drinking water supply, from
worsening chemical contamination to the crumbling networks of pipes
that are costing local and state governments more and more to repair.
A series about the worsening pollution in
America’s waters and regulators’ response.
Protection Agency recently announced that it would tighten
regulations on chemicals used by industry, and allow government
scientists to issue rules that would apply to dozens of chemicals at a
time, reversing a policy that essentially required them to examine
pollutants one by one.
Will the regulatory changes help ease the widespread
problems? How can the nation begin to address the prevalent risks,
given the overwhelming financial costs?
Where to Start
Matthiessen, who was a special assistant to Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt from 1997 to 2000, is the president of Riverkeeper Inc., a clean water
advocacy organization based in Tarrytown, N.Y.
Our regulatory system for protecting the nation’s water is
not working. After decades of significant improvements, water quality
is once again in a state of decline.
The federal share of spending on water
systems has plunged from about 75 percent in 1978 to less than 5
While the E.P.A. and state environmental agencies are failing
to fully enforce our federal and state clean water laws, it’s also a
funding problem. Since 1978, the U.S. share of water infrastructure
spending has plunged from about 75 percent to less than 5 percent,
leaving cash-strapped state and local governments to shoulder an
expense most cannot afford.
As a result, our water delivery and sewage treatment systems
are deteriorating, threatening public health and forcing many Americans
to rely increasingly on expensive bottled water, which from an
environmental and economic point of view is a disastrous trend.
So where do we get the money to reinvest in our water and
sewage systems given Congress’s reluctance to use the annual budget
process to make significant investments in clean water?
Legislation introduced in Congress would establish a Clean
Water Trust Fund which would distribute money to municipalities to help
cover the staggering costs of maintaining water infrastructure. The
Trust Fund could be financed from fees on bottled beverages, flushable
products, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and other substances
that contribute to water pollution.
Another proposal is to establish a National Development
Infrastructure Bank. The Bank would leverage private and public dollars
toward infrastructure spending, including waste water and drinking
water projects, creating jobs and spurring economic growth while
improving water quality.
And, yes, we ratepayers may need to pay more. We pay
relatively little for something we cannot live without. While access to
safe drinking water is a fundamental human right, our tendency to take
it for granted means we waste a lot of it and contribute to polluting
it, thus adding to the increasing costs of maintaining and delivering
Utilities should find a way to install smart meters in every
home so that households can monitor their water use, and with
appropriately priced water rates, have the incentive to conserve.
Gus Ruelas/Associated Press Workers pumped
water from a large hole on a street in Los Angeles after a main break
in September 2009.
A National Retreat
Carolyn Berndt is principal associate
for systems and sustainability at the National
League of Cities.
The water main breaks that occur in nearly every community in
the country highlight what state and local officials have long known:
that the needs of their water systems far exceed available funding.
Much of the infrastructure in many cities is more than 100 years old.
A case study is Nashville, which is facing a
$500 million price tag to update its water system that cannot be
covered with rate increases alone.
Many communities have made the politically unpopular decision
to raise rates. Some have complained that rates are too low for such a
vital resource, but the problem of financing critical maintenance,
repair and rehabilitation can’t be solved with rate increases alone.
The funding gap between needs and expenditures for aging and
failing waste water, storm water and drinking water networks is
estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few decades.
For example, Nashville is facing a $500 million price tag to update its
water system that cannot be solved with rate increases alone.
As a share of non-defense federal expenditures, spending on
roads, bridges and water systems has steadily declined since 1966.
For the past 20 years, this spending has averaged just 3.5 to
4 percent of total non-defense expenditures. The E.P.A. estimates that
on water systems alone we are short by $22 billion a year.
While federal assistance to local communities in meeting
these needs has declined, municipal cost for operation and maintenance
of water systems is escalating by 6 percent per year above the rate of
inflation. This growth in costs is occurring during a recession that
has severely cut cities’ revenues and increased the need for services
That is why the nation should identify a long-term, reliable
source of funding to help close the gap. The federal government must
reverse the decline in its financial support for municipal water
As state and local governments struggle to keep up with the
spiraling costs of maintaining and building these systems in their
communities, local officials recognize that they are the engine keeping
our local economies healthy and growing.
Investment in infrastructure — be it for drinking water,
sewage treatment and dams as well as roads, bridges, rail and transit —
keeps our local economics healthy and also protects the lives of our
citizens. We frequently take these behind-the-scenes services for
granted, but our failure to invest as a nation in this “invisible”
network threatens the gains we have made through the Clean Water Act.
Filter Just What We Drink
Robert Morris, M.D., Ph.D., is an
engineer and epidemiologist specializing in drinking water and health.
He is the author of “The Blue
Death: The Intriguing Past and Present Danger of the Water You Drink.”
He is an adjunct faculty member in environmental engineering at the
University of Washington.
A Lebanese woman once described to me the experience of
coming to the United States and searching through the house for the
drinking water tap. Lebanon, she explained, has separate water pipes
for drinking water. She could not imagine that she was supposed to
drink the same water that was being used to wash floors and flush
Local utilities could provide or lease water
filtering systems just for drinking water.
Unlike Lebanon, America does not distinguish between the
water we drink and the other 99.5 percent of water flowing to our
homes. However, the idea of separating water supplies according to end
use is not as far fetched as we might imagine.
A 2007 report
from the British Royal Society of Chemistry called for a separate
water supply system for drinking water pipes as an ideal system for use
in Great Britain. Dividing our water supply according to its end use
would allow us to raise the quality of our drinking water without
incurring the tremendous cost of advanced filtration for toilet water.
Over the coming decades, we will be forced to replace our
long neglected and decaying water supply system. As we do so,
innovations such as separation of drinking water are worth careful
consideration. Building a duplicate centralized system would be a slow,
disruptive and costly process, but a decentralized system that takes
water from the existing system and adds a final step of purification at
the level of the block, building, or household could be introduced
Such a distributed system could have real advantages for
drinking water quality. Placing a filter at the end aging water pipes
could protect against contamination from damaged water mains or even
the intentional contamination of our water supply.
In fact, the beginnings of this system already exist. Some 20
percent of households already have a water filter, creating a
two-tiered system related to household income. But point-of-use filters
could become part of the overall water supply system. Local utilities
could help users identify the best type of filter for a particular
community water supply. Some utilities could even provide or lease
systems to individual households similar to the leasing of water
heaters by gas utilities in many communities. At a cost of less than
$200 per household this is a reasonable alternative to a centralized
To many municipal water suppliers, point-of-use filters are
considered an affront, an implicit criticism of the water supply. But
water suppliers should view them as a valuable and cost effective
improvement to the drinking water system. Our water systems rely on a
basic design established over a century ago. It is time to reconsider
our entire approach to purifying this resource.
Build Smarter Systems
M. VanBriesen, a professor of civil and environmental
engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, is the director of the Center for Water
Quality in Urban Environmental Systems.
Public water works in American cities and towns are a marvel,
but they didn’t just happen. They are the result of significant
investments our parents and grandparents made in state-of-the art
technology — well, state-of-the-art in 1900 or 1950.
Put in pipes that sense when breaks are about
to happen and can call for repairs.
We’ve been coasting on those investments for a long time, and
there is no way to put off the need to repair, replace and upgrade much
of these systems. The bill will be large, and we will be tempted to
delay. But new investments in what is an important part of our public
health system offer an opportunity to create a different kind of water
We wouldn’t use the same kind of phones or cars our
grandparents had all those years ago, and we shouldn’t replace the
water system in 2010 with the same technology we used to build it in
The time has come to create an intelligent infrastructure:
water pipes that sense when breaks are about to happen and fix
themselves or call for repairs; sensors that evaluate the water quality
24-7, adjusting treatment at the plant for changes in the river; and
responsive systems that adjust reservoir levels to optimize energy
generation, flood control, and recreational opportunities. The time has
come for the water systems we rely on to be at least half as smart as
NEW YORK TIMES SERIES
ON TOXIC WATERS
Toxic Waters: Clean Water Laws
Neglected, at a Cost to Health
By CHARLES DUHIGG
September 13, 2009
Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near
In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water.
Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the
bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused
painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace
enamel that was eaten away.
Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin
burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead,
manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say
could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.
“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean
water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the
state’s largest banks.
She and her husband, Charles, do not live in some remote corner of
Appalachia. Charleston, the state capital, is less than 17 miles from
“How is this still happening today?” she asked.
When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal
companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water
supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As
required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports
to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal
concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from
But state regulators never fined or punished those companies for
breaking those pollution laws.
This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago,
Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the
toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to
fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their
own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen
steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution
records by The New York Times found.
In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants
and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half
a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions
to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to
cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment.
State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and
the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when
states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.
Because it is difficult to determine what causes diseases like cancer,
it is impossible to know how many illnesses are the result of water
pollution, or contaminants’ role in the health problems of specific
But concerns over these toxins are great enough that Congress and the
E.P.A. regulate more than 100 pollutants through the Clean Water Act
and strictly limit 91 chemicals or contaminants in tap water through
the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Regulators themselves acknowledge lapses. The new E.P.A. administrator,
Lisa P. Jackson, said in an interview that despite many successes since
the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, today the nation’s water does
not meet public health goals, and enforcement of water pollution laws
is unacceptably low. She added that strengthening water protections is
among her top priorities. State regulators say they are doing their
best with insufficient resources.
The Times obtained hundreds of thousands of water pollution records
through Freedom of Information Act requests to every state and the
E.P.A., and compiled a national database of water pollution violations
that is more comprehensive than those maintained by states or the
E.P.A. (For an interactive version, which can show violations in any
community, visit www.nytimes.com/toxicwaters.)
In addition, The Times interviewed more than 250 state and federal
regulators, water-system managers, environmental advocates and
That research shows that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been
exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals or fails to
meet a federal health benchmark in other ways.
Those exposures include carcinogens in the tap water of major American
cities and unsafe chemicals in drinking-water wells. Wells, which are
not typically regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, are more likely
to contain contaminants than municipal water systems.
Because most of today’s water pollution has no scent or taste, many
people who consume dangerous chemicals do not realize it, even after
they become sick, researchers say.
But an estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from
drinking water contaminated with parasites, bacteria or viruses,
according to a study published last year in the scientific journal
Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. That figure does
not include illnesses caused by other chemicals and toxins.
In the nation’s largest dairy states, like Wisconsin and California,
farmers have sprayed liquefied animal feces onto fields, where it has
seeped into wells, causing severe infections. Tap water in parts of the
Farm Belt, including cities in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana,
has contained pesticides at concentrations that some scientists have
linked to birth defects and fertility problems.
In parts of New York, Rhode Island, Ohio, California and other states
where sewer systems cannot accommodate heavy rains, untreated human
waste has flowed into rivers and washed onto beaches. Drinking water in
parts of New Jersey, New York, Arizona and Massachusetts shows some of
the highest concentrations of tetrachloroethylene, a dry cleaning
solvent that has been linked to kidney damage and cancer. (Specific
types of water pollution across the United States will be examined in
future Times articles.)
The Times’s research also shows that last year, 40 percent of the
nation’s community water systems violated the Safe Drinking Water Act
at least once, according to an analysis of E.P.A. data. Those
violations ranged from failing to maintain proper paperwork to allowing
carcinogens into tap water. More than 23 million people received
drinking water from municipal systems that violated a health-based
In some cases, people got sick right away. In other situations,
pollutants like chemicals, inorganic toxins and heavy metals can
accumulate in the body for years or decades before they cause problems.
Some of the most frequently detected contaminants have been linked to
cancer, birth defects and neurological disorders.
Records analyzed by The Times indicate that the Clean Water Act has
been violated more than 506,000 times since 2004, by more than 23,000
companies and other facilities, according to reports submitted by
polluters themselves. Companies sometimes test what they are dumping
only once a quarter, so the actual number of days when they broke the
law is often far higher. And some companies illegally avoid reporting
their emissions, say officials, so infractions go unrecorded.
Environmental groups say the number of Clean Water Act violations has
increased significantly in the last decade. Comprehensive data go back
only five years but show that the number of facilities violating the
Clean Water Act grew more than 16 percent from 2004 to 2007, the most
recent year with complete data.
Polluters include small companies, like gas stations, dry cleaners,
shopping malls and the Friendly Acres Mobile Home Park in Laporte,
Ind., which acknowledged to regulators that it had dumped human waste
into a nearby river for three years.
They also include large operations, like chemical factories, power
plants, sewage treatment centers and one of the biggest zinc smelters,
the Horsehead Corporation of Pennsylvania, which has dumped illegal
concentrations of copper, lead, zinc, chlorine and selenium into the
Ohio River. Those chemicals can contribute to mental retardation and
Some violations are relatively minor. But about 60 percent of the
polluters were deemed in “significant noncompliance” — meaning their
violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing
chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.
Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean
Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments
by state officials. And the E.P.A. has often declined to prosecute
polluters or force states to strengthen their enforcement by
threatening to withhold federal money or take away powers the agency
has delegated to state officials.
Neither Friendly Acres Mobile Home Park nor Horsehead, for instance,
was fined for Clean Water Act violations in the last eight years. A
representative of Friendly Acres declined to comment. Indiana officials
say they are investigating the mobile home park. A representative of
Horsehead said the company had taken steps to control pollution and was
negotiating with regulators to clean up its emissions.
Numerous state and federal lawmakers said they were unaware that
pollution was so widespread.
“I don’t think anyone realized how bad things have become,” said
Representative James L. Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, when told of
The Times’s findings. Mr. Oberstar is chairman of the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction
over many water-quality issues.
“The E.P.A. and states have completely dropped the ball,” he said.
“Without oversight and enforcement, companies will use our lakes and
rivers as dumping grounds — and that’s exactly what is apparently going
The E.P.A. administrator, Ms. Jackson, whose appointment was confirmed
in January, said in an interview that she intended to strengthen
enforcement of the Clean Water Act and pressure states to apply the law.
“I’ve been saying since Day One I want to work on these water issues
pretty broadly across the country,” she said. On Friday, the E.P.A.
said that it was reviewing dozens of coal-mining permits in West
Virginia and three other states to make sure they would not violate the
Clean Water Act.
After E.P.A. officials received detailed questions from The New York
Times in June, Ms. Jackson sent a memo to her enforcement deputy noting
that the E.P.A. is “falling short of this administration’s expectations
for the effectiveness of our clean water enforcement programs. Data
available to E.P.A. shows that, in many parts of the country, the level
of significant noncompliance with permitting requirements is
unacceptably high and the level of enforcement activity is unacceptably
State officials, for their part, attribute rising pollution rates to
increased workloads and dwindling resources. In 46 states, local
regulators have primary responsibility for crucial aspects of the Clean
Water Act. Though the number of regulated facilities has more than
doubled in the last 10 years, many state enforcement budgets have
remained essentially flat when adjusted for inflation. In New York, for
example, the number of regulated polluters has almost doubled to 19,000
in the last decade, but the number of inspections each year has
remained about the same.
But stretched resources are only part of the reason polluters escape
punishment. The Times’s investigation shows that in West Virginia and
other states, powerful industries have often successfully lobbied to
undermine effective regulation.
State officials also argue that water pollution statistics include
minor infractions, like failing to file reports, which do not pose
risks to human health, and that records collected by The Times failed
to examine informal enforcement methods, like sending warning letters.
“We work enormously hard inspecting our coal mines, analyzing water
samples, notifying companies of violations when we detect them,” said
Randy Huffman, head of West Virginia’s Department of Environmental
Protection. “When I look at how far we’ve come in protecting the
state’s waters since we took responsibility for the Clean Water Act, I
think we have a lot to be proud of.”
But unchecked pollution remains a problem in many states. West Virginia
offers a revealing example of why so many companies escape punishment.
One Community’s Plight
The mountains surrounding the home of Mrs. Hall-Massey’s family and
West Virginia’s nearby capital have long been mined for coal. And for
years, the area enjoyed clean well water.
But starting about a decade ago, awful smells began coming from local
taps. The water was sometimes gray, cloudy and oily. Bathtubs and
washers developed rust-colored rings that scrubbing could not remove.
When Mrs. Hall-Massey’s husband installed industrial water filters,
they quickly turned black. Tests showed that their water contained
toxic amounts of lead, manganese, barium and other metals that can
contribute to organ failure or developmental problems.
Around that time, nearby coal companies had begun pumping industrial
waste into the ground.
Mining companies often wash their coal to remove impurities. The
leftover liquid — a black fluid containing dissolved minerals and
chemicals, known as sludge or slurry — is often disposed of in vast
lagoons or through injection into abandoned mines. The liquid in those
lagoons and shafts can flow through cracks in the earth into water
supplies. Companies must regularly send samples of the injected liquid
to labs, which provide reports that are forwarded to state regulators.
In the eight miles surrounding Mrs. Hall-Massey’s home, coal companies
have injected more than 1.9 billion gallons of coal slurry and sludge
into the ground since 2004, according to a review of thousands of state
records. Millions more gallons have been dumped into lagoons.
These underground injections have contained chemicals at concentrations
that pose serious health risks, and thousands of injections have
violated state regulations and the Safe Drinking Water Act, according
to reports sent to the state by companies themselves.
For instance, three coal companies — Loadout, Remington Coal and Pine
Ridge, a subsidiary of Peabody Energy, one of the largest coal
companies in the world — reported to state officials that 93 percent of
the waste they injected near this community had illegal concentrations
of chemicals including arsenic, lead, chromium, beryllium or nickel.
Sometimes those concentrations exceeded legal limits by as much as
1,000 percent. Those chemicals have been shown to contribute to cancer,
organ failures and other diseases.
But those companies were never fined or punished for those illegal
injections, according to state records. They were never even warned
that their activities had been noticed.
Remington Coal declined to comment. A representative of Loadout’s
parent said the company had assigned its permit to another company,
which ceased injecting in 2006. Peabody Energy, which spun off Pine
Ridge in 2007, said that some data sent to regulators was inaccurate
and that the company’s actions reflected best industry practices.
West Virginia officials, when asked about these violations, said
regulators had accidentally overlooked many pollution records the
companies submitted until after the statute of limitations had passed,
so no action was taken. They also said their studies indicated that
those injections could not have affected drinking water in the area and
that other injections also had no detectable effect.
State officials noted that they had cited more than 4,200 water
pollution violations at mine sites around the state since 2000, as well
as conducted thousands of investigations. The state has initiated
research about how mining affects water quality. After receiving
questions from The Times, officials announced a statewide moratorium on
issuing injection permits and told some companies that regulators were
investigating their injections.
“Many of the issues you are examining are several years old, and many
have been addressed,” West Virginia officials wrote in a statement. The
state’s pollution program “has had its share of issues,” regulators
wrote. However, “it is important to note that if the close scrutiny
given to our state had been given to others, it is likely that similar
issues would have been found.”
More than 350 other companies and facilities in West Virginia have also
violated the Clean Water Act in recent years, records show. Those
infractions include releasing illegal concentrations of iron,
manganese, aluminum and other chemicals into lakes and rivers.
As the water in Mrs. Hall-Massey’s community continued to worsen,
residents began complaining of increased health problems. Gall bladder
diseases, fertility problems, miscarriages and kidney and thyroid
issues became common, according to interviews.
When Mrs. Hall-Massey’s family left on vacation, her sons’ rashes
cleared up. When they returned, the rashes reappeared. Her dentist told
her that chemicals appeared to be damaging her teeth and her son’s, she
said. As the quality of her water worsened, Mrs. Hall-Massey’s
once-healthy teeth needed many crowns. Her son brushed his teeth often,
used a fluoride rinse twice a day and was not allowed to eat sweets.
Even so, he continued getting cavities until the family stopped using
tap water. By the time his younger brother’s teeth started coming in,
the family was using bottled water to brush. He has not had dental
Medical professionals in the area say residents show unusually high
rates of health problems. A survey of more than 100 residents conducted
by a nurse hired by Mrs. Hall-Massey’s lawyer indicated that as many as
30 percent of people in this area have had their gallbladders removed,
and as many as half the residents have significant tooth enamel damage,
chronic stomach problems and other illnesses. That research was
confirmed through interviews with residents.
It is difficult to determine which companies, if any, are responsible
for the contamination that made its way into tap water or to conclude
which specific chemicals, if any, are responsible for particular health
problems. Many coal companies say they did not pollute the area’s
drinking water and chose injection sites that flowed away from nearby
An independent study by a university researcher challenges some of
“I don’t know what else could be polluting these wells,” said Ben
Stout, a biology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University who tested the
water in this community and elsewhere in West Virginia. “The chemicals
coming out of people’s taps are identical to the chemicals the coal
companies are pumping into the ground.”
One night, Mrs. Hall-Massey’s 6-year-old son, Clay, asked to play in
the tub. When he got out, his bright red rashes hurt so much he could
not fall asleep. Soon, Mrs. Hall-Massey began complaining to state
officials. They told her they did not know why her water was bad, she
recalls, but doubted coal companies had done anything wrong. The family
put their house on the market, but because of the water, buyers were
In December, Mrs. Hall-Massey and neighbors sued in county court,
seeking compensation. That suit is pending. To resolve a related
lawsuit filed about the same time, the community today gets regular
deliveries of clean drinking water, stored in coolers or large blue
barrels outside most homes. Construction began in August on a pipeline
bringing fresh water to the community.
But for now most residents still use polluted water to bathe, shower
and wash dishes.
“A parent’s only real job is to protect our children,” Mrs. Hall-Massey
said. “But where was the government when we needed them to protect us
from this stuff?”
Matthew Crum, a 43-year-old lawyer, wanted to protect people like Mrs.
Hall-Massey. That is why he joined West Virginia’s environmental
protection agency in 2001, when it became clear that the state’s and
nation’s streams and rivers were becoming more polluted.
But he said he quickly learned that good intentions could not compete
with intimidating politicians and a fearful bureaucracy.
Mr. Crum grew up during a golden age of environmental activism. He was
in elementary school when Congress passed the Clean Water Act of 1972
in response to environmental disasters, including a fire on the
polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. The act’s goal was to eliminate
most water pollution by 1985 and prohibit the “discharge of toxic
pollutants in toxic amounts.”
“There were a bunch of us that were raised with the example of the
Clean Water Act as inspiration,” he said. “I wanted to be part of that
In the two decades after the act’s passage, the nation’s waters grew
much healthier. The Cuyahoga River, West Virginia’s Kanawha River and
hundreds of other beaches, streams and ponds were revitalized.
But in the late 1990s, some states’ enforcement of pollution laws began
tapering off, according to regulators and environmentalists. Soon the
E.P.A. started reporting that the nation’s rivers, lakes and estuaries
were becoming dirtier again. Mr. Crum, after a stint in Washington with
the Justice Department and the birth of his first child, joined West
Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, where new leadership
was committed to revitalizing the Clean Water Act.
He said his idealism was tested within two weeks, when he was called to
a huge coal spill into a stream.
“I met our inspector at the spill site, and we had this really awkward
conversation,” Mr. Crum recalled. “I said we should shut down the mine
until everything was cleaned up. The inspector agreed, but he said if
he issued that order, he was scared of getting demoted or transferred
to the middle of nowhere. Everyone was terrified of doing their job.”
Mr. Crum temporarily shut the mine.
In the next two years, he shut many polluting mines until they changed
their ways. His tough approach raised his profile around the state.
Mining companies, worried about attracting Mr. Crum’s attention, began
improving their waste disposal practices, executives from that period
said. But they also began complaining to their friends in the state’s
legislature, they recalled in interviews, and started a whisper
campaign accusing Mr. Crum of vendettas against particular companies —
though those same executives now admit they had no evidence for those
In 2003, a new director, Stephanie Timmermeyer, was nominated to run
the Department of Environmental Protection. One of West Virginia’s most
powerful state lawmakers, Eustace Frederick, said she would be
confirmed, but only if she agreed to fire Mr. Crum, according to
several people who said they witnessed the conversation.
She was given the job and soon summoned Mr. Crum to her office. He was
dismissed two weeks after his second child’s birth.
Ms. Timmermeyer, who resigned in 2008, did not return calls. Mr.
Frederick died last year.
Since then, hundreds of workplaces in West Virginia have violated
pollution laws without paying fines. A half-dozen current and former
employees, in interviews, said their enforcement efforts had been
undermined by bureaucratic disorganization, a departmental preference
to let polluters escape punishment if they promise to try harder, and a
revolving door of regulators who leave for higher-paying jobs at the
companies they once policed.
“We are outmanned and overwhelmed, and that’s exactly how industry
wants us,” said one employee who requested anonymity for fear of being
fired. “It’s been obvious for decades that we’re not on top of things,
and coal companies have earned billions relying on that.”
In June, four environmental groups petitioned the E.P.A. to take over
much of West Virginia’s handling of the Clean Water Act, citing a
“nearly complete breakdown” in the state. The E.P.A. has asked state
officials to respond and said it is investigating the petition.
Similar problems exist in other states, where critics say regulators
have often turned a blind eye to polluters. Regulators in five other
states, in interviews, said they had been pressured by
industry-friendly politicians to drop continuing pollution
“Unless the E.P.A. is pushing state regulators, a culture of
transgression and apathy sets in,” said William K. Reilly, who led the
E.P.A. under President George H. W. Bush.
In response, many state officials defend their efforts. A spokeswoman
for West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, for
instance, said that between 2006 and 2008, the number of
cease-operation orders issued by regulators was 10 percent higher than
during Mr. Crum’s two-year tenure.
Mr. Huffman, the department’s head, said there is no political
interference with current investigations. Department officials say they
continue to improve the agency’s procedures, and note that regulators
have assessed $14.7 million in state fines against more than 70 mining
companies since 2006.
However, that is about equal to the revenue those businesses’ parent
companies collect every 10 hours, according to financial reports. (To
find out about every state’s enforcement record and read comments from
regulators, visit www.nytimes.com/waterdata.)
“The real test is, is our water clean?” said Mr. Huffman. “When the
Clean Water Act was passed, this river that flows through our capital
was very dirty. Thirty years later, it’s much cleaner because we’ve
chosen priorities carefully.”
Some regulators admit that polluters have fallen through the cracks. To
genuinely improve enforcement, they say, the E.P.A. needs to lead.
“If you don’t have vigorous oversight by the feds, then everything just
goes limp,” said Mr. Crum. “Regulators can’t afford to have some
backbone unless they know Washington or the governor’s office will back
It took Mr. Crum a while to recover from his firing. He moved to
Virginia to work at the Nature Conservancy, an environmental
conservation group. Today, he is in private practice and works on the
occasional environmental lawsuit.
“We’re moving backwards,” he said, “and it’s heartbreaking.”
Shortcomings of the E.P.A.
The memos are marked “DO NOT DISTRIBUTE.”
They were written this year by E.P.A. staff, the culmination of a
five-year investigation of states’ enforcement of federal pollution
laws. And in bland, bureaucratic terms, they describe a regulatory
system — at the E.P.A. and among state agencies — that in many ways
simply does not work.
For years, according to one memo, federal regulators knew that more
than 30 states had major problems documenting which companies were
violating pollution laws. Another notes that states’ “personnel lack
direction, ability or training” to levy fines large enough to deter
But often, the memos say, the E.P.A. never corrected those problems
even though they were widely acknowledged. The E.P.A. “may hesitate to
push the states” out of “fear of risking their relationships,” one
report reads. Another notes that E.P.A. offices lack “a consistent
national oversight strategy.”
Some of those memos, part of an effort known as the State Review
Framework, were obtained from agency employees who asked for anonymity,
and others through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Enforcement lapses were particularly bad under the administration of
President George W. Bush, employees say. “For the last eight years, my
hands have been tied,” said one E.P.A. official who requested anonymity
for fear of retribution. “We were told to take our clean water and
clean air cases, put them in a box, and lock it shut. Everyone knew
polluters were getting away with murder. But these polluters are some
of the biggest campaign contributors in town, so no one really cared if
they were dumping poisons into streams.”
The E.P.A. administrators during the last eight years — Christine Todd
Whitman, Michael O. Leavitt and Stephen L. Johnson — all declined to
When President Obama chose Ms. Jackson to head the E.P.A., many
environmentalists and agency employees were encouraged. During his
campaign, Mr. Obama promised to “reinvigorate the drinking water
standards that have been weakened under the Bush administration and
update them to address new threats.” He pledged to regulate water
pollution from livestock operations and push for amendments to the
Clean Water Act.
But some worry those promises will not be kept. Water issues have taken
a back seat to other environmental concerns, like carbon emissions.
In an interview, Ms. Jackson noted that many of the nation’s waters
were healthier today than when the Clean Water Act was passed and said
she intended to enforce the law more vigorously. After receiving
detailed questions from The Times, she put many of the State Review
Framework documents on the agency’s Web site, and ordered more
disclosure of the agency’s handling of water issues, increased
enforcement and revamped technology so that facilities’ environmental
records are more accessible.
“Do critics have a good and valid point when they say improvements need
to be made? Absolutely,” Ms. Jackson said. “But I think we need to be
careful not to do that by scaring the bejesus out of people into
thinking that, boy, are things horrible. What it requires is attention,
and I’m going to give it that attention.”
In statements, E.P.A. officials noted that from 2006 to 2008, the
agency conducted 11,000 Clean Water Act and 21,000 Safe Drinking Water
Act inspections, and referred 146 cases to the Department of Justice.
During the 2007 to 2008 period, officials wrote, 92 percent of the
population served by community water systems received water that had no
reported health-based violations.
The Times’s reporting, the statements added, “does not distinguish
between significant violations and minor violations,” and “as a result,
the conclusions may present an unduly alarming picture.” They wrote
that “much of the country’s water quality problems are caused by
discharges from nonpoint sources of pollution, such as agricultural
runoff, which cannot be corrected solely through enforcement.”
Ultimately, lawmakers and environmental activists say, the best
solution is for Congress to hold the E.P.A. and states accountable for
The Clean Water Act, they add, should be expanded to police other types
of pollution — like farm and livestock runoff — that are largely
unregulated. And they say Congress should give state agencies more
resources, in the same way that federal dollars helped overhaul the
nation’s sewage systems in the 1970s.
Some say changes will not occur without public outrage.
“When we started regulating water pollution in the 1970s, there was a
huge public outcry because you could see raw sewage flowing into the
rivers,” said William D. Ruckelshaus, who served as the first head of
the Environmental Protection Agency under President Richard M. Nixon,
and then again under President Ronald Reagan.
“Today the violations are much more subtle — pesticides and chemicals
you can’t see or smell that are even more dangerous,” he added. “And so
a lot of the public pressure on regulatory agencies has ebbed away.”
Anxiety in Japan
radiation in tap water; two nuclear plant workers treated for 'burns'
Last Updated: 9:17 AM, March 24, 2011
Posted: 3:11 AM, March 24, 2011
TOKYO — Shops across Tokyo began rationing goods — milk, toilet paper,
rice and water — as a run on bottled water coupled with delivery
disruptions left shelves bare Thursday nearly two weeks after a
devastating earthquake and tsunami.
The unusual sights of scarcity in one of the world’s richest, most
modern capitals came a day after city officials reported that
radioactive iodine in the Tokyo’s tap water measured more than twice
the level considered safe for babies.
Radiation has been leaking from a nuclear plant 140 miles (220
kilometers) northeast of Tokyo since it was slammed by the March 11
quake and engulfed by the ensuing tsunami. Feverish efforts to get the
plant’s crucial cooling system back in operation have been beset by
explosions, fires and radiation scares.
On Thursday, two workers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant were being
treated at a hospital after stepping into contaminated water while
laying electrical cables in one unit, nuclear and government officials
The two workers likely suffered “beta ray burns,” said officials at
plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co, citing doctors. They tested at
radiation levels between 170 to 180 millisieverts, well below the
maximum 250 millisieverts allowed for workers, said Fumio Matsuda, a
spokesman for the Nuclear and Industry Safety.
More than two dozen people have been injured trying to bring the
Fukushima Dai-ichi plant under control.
The developments highlighted the challenges Japan faces after a
magnitude-9 quake off Sendai triggered a massive tsunami. An estimated
18,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been left
homeless as officials scramble to avert a major nuclear crisis.
Radiation has seeped into raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of
vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips, grown in areas
around the plant.
The U.S. and Australia were halting imports of Japanese dairy and
produce from the region, Hong Kong said it would require that Japan
perform safety checks on meat, eggs and seafood, and Canada said it
would upgrade controls on imports of Japanese food products.
Concerns also spread to Europe. In Iceland, officials said they
measured trace amounts of radioactive iodine in the air but assured
residents it was “less than a millionth” of levels found in European
countries in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Radioactive iodine is short-lived, with a half-life of eight days — the
length of time it takes for half of it to break down harmlessly.
However, experts say infants are particularly vulnerable to radioactive
iodine, which can cause thyroid cancer.
In Tokyo, government spokesman Yukio Edano pleaded for calm. Officials
urged residents to avoid panicked stockpiling, sending workers to
distribute 240,000 bottles — enough for three small bottles of water
for each of the 80,000 babies under age 1 registered with the city.
That didn’t stop Reiko Matsumoto, mother of 5-year-old Reina, from
rushing to a nearby store to stock up.
“The first thought was that I need to buy bottles of water,” the Tokyo
real estate agent said. “I also don’t know whether I can let her take a
New readings showed Tokyo tap water was back to safe levels Thursday
but the relief was tempered by elevated levels of the cancer-linked
isotope in two neighboring prefectures: Chiba and Saitama. A city in a
third prefecture, just south of the nuclear plant, also showed high
levels of radioactive iodine in tap water, officials said.
Tap water in Kawaguchi City in Saitama north of Tokyo contained 210
becquerels of radioactive iodine — well above the 100 becquerels
considered safe for babies but below the 300-becquerel level for
adults, Health Ministry official Shogo Misawa said.
In Chiba prefecture, the water tested high for radiation in two
separate areas, said water safety official Kyoji Narita. The government
there warned families in 11 cities in Chiba not to feed infants tap
“The high level of iodine was due to the nuclear disaster,” Narita
said. “There is no question about it.”
Radiation levels also tested dangerously high in Hitachi in Ibaraki
prefecture, about 70 miles (120 kilometers) south of the Fukushima
plant, city water official Toshifumi Suzuki said. Officials were
distributing bottled water, he said.
The limits refer to sustained consumption rates, and officials said
parents should stop using tap water for baby formula but that it was no
problem for infants to consume small amounts.
Still, shelves were bare in many stores across Tokyo.
Maruetsu supermarket in central Tokyo sought to impose buying limits on
specific items to prevent hoarding: only one carton of milk per family,
one 5-kilogram bag of rice, one package of toilet paper, one pack of
diapers, signs said. Similar notices at some drugs stores told women
they could only purchase two feminine hygiene items at a time.
Maruetsu spokeswoman Kayoko Kano acknowledged that the earthquake and
tsunami resulted in delays of some products.
A spokesman for Procter & Gamble Japan said its plant was fully
operational but that rolling blackouts in Tokyo may be affecting
distribution. “Consumers are nervous, and they may be buying up
supplies,” Noriyuki Endo added.
Hardship continued in the frigid, tsunami-struck northeast. Some
660,000 households still do not have water, the government said.
Electricity has not been restored to some 209,000 homes, Tohoku
Electric Power Co. said. Damage is estimated at $309 billion, making it
the most costly natural disaster on record.
In Fukushima, farmer Sumiko Matsuno went out to her fields and dug up
all the vegetables she could Thursday — not to sell but to eat.
“If it’s in the ground, it’s still safe,” she said. “The leafy ones are
no good anymore. We are digging up all our carrots and onions as fast
as we can.”
Matsuno, 65, said she was worried about the future.
“If this goes on, it is going to really hurt us.”
Tap water in Tokyo not safe for
list keeps growing
By Christopher Johnson, The Washington Times
6:29 p.m., Wednesday, March 23, 2011
SHIZUOKA, Japan | The government Wednesday warned Tokyo residents
against giving tap water to babies, after discovering double the level
of radiation considered safe for infants, as the damaged nuclear power
plant in northeastern Japan belched black smoke from an unknown source.
Japan also said the economic damage from the March 11 earthquake and
tsunami could be as high as $309 billion, making the catastrophe the
world's most expensive natural disaster.
Anxiety levels in Tokyo soared, after officials added tap water to
precautions on fresh milk and vegetables from the region near the
Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, about 150 miles
northeast of the capital.
"It is really scary. It is like a vicious negative spiral from the
nuclear disaster," said Etsuko Nomura, a mother of children ages 2 and
5. "We have contaminated milk and vegetables, and now tap water in
Tokyo, and I'm wondering what's next."
Neighborhood loudspeakers across the greater Tokyo area blared messages
about contaminated drinking water.
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said water could be used with no immediate
risk for adults.
"But, for infants under age 1, I would like them to refrain from using
tap water to dilute baby formula," he added.
The Tokyo Water Bureau found levels of radioactive iodine-131 rose to
210 becquerals per quart of tap water, more than double the limit for
infants but well below the safe level of 300 for adults. A becqueral is
an international unit measure of radioactivity.
The temporary ban on 11 types of winter vegetables from Fukushima
prefecture means farmers will lose most of their winter crops now due
Laboratory tests also suggest that the soil might be too contaminated
for spring planting, which could exacerbate Japan's acute shortage of
food. Seafood, a staple of Japanese diets, is also in short supply
because the tsunami wiped out ports and fishing boats in the hardest
Government spokesman Yukio Edano warned against panic-buying and
hoarding of water, as he tried to soothe the rattled nerves of Tokyo's
13 million residents.
"Even if you drink this water for one year, it will not affect people's
health," Mr. Edano said, referring to older children and adults. "Even
if these foods are temporarily eaten, there is no health hazard."
Many consumers on Twitter and Facebook sites said their local
supermarkets are rationing bottled beverages, including water and tea,
to one bottle per customer, as people hurried to stock up on dwindling
"I've never seen anything like this," said a befuddled Tokyo store
clerk, looking at empty shelves cleared of bottle water within minutes
of the announcement about tap water.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration blocked imports of vegetables,
milk and fruit from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures,
while Asian countries stepped up tests of food imported from Japan, and
Taiwan warned its fishermen to avoid Japanese waters.
At the power plant in Fukushima, black smoke billowed from one of the
six nuclear reactor units.
"We don't know the reason," said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint
Tokyo's toxic tap
By LEONARD GREENE
Last Updated: 9:17 AM, March 23, 2011
Posted: 3:17 AM, March 23, 2011
Tap water in Tokyo has tested more than twice the limits for
radioactive iodine considered safe for infants, officials said
today. Levels at a downtown water treatment center that supplies
much of the city's tap water contained 210 becquerels per liter of
iodine-131. That's more than twice the recommended limit of 100
becquerels per liter for infants.
Babies in Tokyo should not be given tap water although the level is not
an immediate health risk for adults, officials said. The news
came after a day in which temperatures soared in the core of one of
Japan's quake-crippled nuclear reactors, sparking new meltdown
concerns. An executive of the power company said the core of
reactor No. 1 had reached nearly 735 degrees -- more than 150 degrees
higher than its recommended operating temperature.
"We need to strive to bring that down a bit," said Tokyo Electric Power
Co.'s understated vice president, Sakae Muto. "We need more time. It's
too early to say that they are sufficiently stable."
There was still more bad news:
* Workers had to be
pulled from the plant's No. 2 reactor because of high radiation levels.
It was not immediately clear when they'd be allowed back.
* Two workers were injured trying to restore power
to the plant's critical cooling systems.
The power plant, battered by a tsunami after the March 11 quake,
continued to spew radiation from an undetermined source, according to
the International Atomic Energy Agency. Radioactive particles
from the battered plant found their way into the sea, raising concern
that seafood, a staple for the country, may become tainted. Five
kinds of materials released by damaged fuel rods were detected in the
sea, including iodine-131, which increases the risk of thyroid cancer.
Levels of that isotope were 127 times higher than normal in a sample of
seawater, but radiation experts said that even those levels posed only
a limited risk. Seawater readings showed the much longer-lived
cesium-134 was 25 times normal and cesium-137 was 17 times higher.
Cobalt has also been detected. Minuscule traces of radiation have
been detected as far away as Iceland, officials said.
"You could swim in the water with these levels of iodine-131 and there
shouldn't be a problem," said Don Higson, a Sydney-based fellow at the
Australian Radiation Protection Society.
"The only risk might be if people eat seafood with these materials
inside it, and this will be something the authorities will be paying
careful attention to."
Japanese officials have already detected levels of radioactive material
beyond legal limits in broccoli and raw milk in areas near the
Fukushima Daiichi plant. And traces of radioactive material were
found in drinking-water supplies as well as spinach in Fukushima.
The US said it will ban imports of dairy products and produce from the
Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said
"food-borne radiation will last longer than airborne radiation. Even
smaller amounts of radiation in food could potentially be more
dangerous because you ingest it."
Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered two prefectures near the plant to halt
shipments of farm products.
Study published in 1993 - Bangladesh
outbreak of arsenic poisoning; Wisconsin's
recommended arsenic level on H2O
not a test element, but volatile organic and syntheric solvents were..
U.S. Geological Society announced new findings July 8, 2012 that much
the region's wells have levels of arsenic and manganese that exceed
federal safety standards.
Well contamination 'a statewide problem'
Kate King, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published 10:06 pm, Saturday, March 23, 2013
WESTON -- Jessica Penna and Elle Wilson spent three years undergoing a
battery of medical tests, searching for answers they now believe were
floating in their well water all along.
The Weston mothers suffered similar symptoms -- hair loss, stomach and
joint pain, body numbness and skin rashes. After shelling out thousands
of dollars on blood tests, CAT scans, skin biopsies, ultrasounds and
even a brain scan, they decided to test their well water.
It turned out arsenic, in levels more than twice the federal
Environmental Protection Agency's recommended health limit of 0.01
milligrams per liter, had been flowing from the two women's taps -- and
they're not alone. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has
received numerous reports in recent years of pesticide and heavy metal
contamination in residential drinking water across the state. But the
state has done little research on the source or location of well water
contaminants such as arsenic, and requires the testing of private
drinking water only once -- when a new well is installed.
"I have been sick for three years. I've been searching for answers,"
said Penna, a Stamford native. "Most people associate well water with
natural springs. It's the best water, it's so clean. It's so healthy.
You think that you're fine."
Penna and Wilson's test results convinced them their health problems
are linked to years of drinking and bathing in arsenic-laced water.
"To finally have an answer that was in my well water all along -- I
never thought that all my symptoms were connected to the same thing,"
Penna said. "I just thought I was falling apart."
Penna and Wilson live in the same wooded neighborhood of rural Weston,
where the majority of the town's 10,000 residents use private well
water. The Weston Field Club, about four miles away, also recently
tested positive for elevated arsenic levels, said general manager Jeff
Weston residents rushed to test their own well water after hearing of
Penna and Wilson's findings, and 104 homeowners have reported their
results to the Westport-Weston Health Department, director Mark Cooper
said. About 30 percent of the wells tested positive for arsenic in
levels above the acceptable health limit.
Arsenic contamination is not confined to Weston's borders. Stamford's
health department detected arsenic in 24 of 227 well water tests
performed since 2010. The state DPH has also found the heavy metal in
drinking wells across Connecticut, most recently in Pomfret and Somers,
said state epidemiologist Brian Toal.
"We've seen enough of it and it's been in enough different places that
we do think -- it's an isolated, it's a sporadic problem -- but it is a
statewide problem," Toal said.
The state has not investigated the scope or severity of arsenic
contamination, however, even though the heavy metal has been linked to
serious health problems. There are an estimated 400,000 private wells
in Connecticut serving approximately 526,700 people, but it's not known
how prevalent arsenic is in residential well water.
"We don't have a statewide database and we have not done a statewide
survey," Toal said. "The testing that occurs is usually just
Skin, stomach, immune and neurological problems are common symptoms of
These health issues are usually associated with very high levels of
arsenic contamination and hair loss is not a common side effect, Toal
The main health concern stemming from long-term arsenic exposure is an
elevated risk of lung, bladder or skin cancer.
The state public health department recommends homeowners with high
levels of arsenic in their well water stop drinking from the tap until
they've installed remediation systems on their homes. Metal oxide
filters or reverse osmosis procedures are typically used to treat
arsenic contamination, but homeowners should consult a water service
professional to determine which method would work best for their house,
Wilson's family has lived in their 19th-century farmhouse for three
years. They stopped drinking the water about a year ago, after several
family members began experiencing stomach pain.
A water sample taken from Wilson's kitchen and analyzed by Aqua
Environmental Laboratory in Newtown contained 0.021 milligrams of
arsenic per liter, which is twice the recommended health limit. Wilson
then sent samples of her family's hair out for analysis -- her
five-year-old daughter's hair tested positive for high arsenic levels,
"It's one thing if you know as an adult that you could possibly get
cancer or be sick," Wilson said. "But for your children to possibly get
cancer is what I'm not sleeping over."
Health officials believe arsenic enters private well water from the
surrounding bedrock. State Geologist Margaret Thomas said
naturally-occurring arsenic is found in rocks that contain iron
sulfites, which are prevalent in New England.
"It's actually a quite beautiful mineral to see, it's sparkly and
silver, but that is one of the primary carriers of arsenic in the
bedrock," Thomas said.
The state has not studied the location or extent of arsenic-containing
bedrock, although it would be possible to do a geographic analysis
based on geologic mapping, Thomas said. Arsenic was also historically
used as a pesticide, mainly in apple orchards.
"The issue with arsenic is always that lingering question of whether or
not it has to do with historic pesticide application or whether it's
naturally occurring in the rock," Thomas said. "It is worth
investigating, but regardless of the source it's still not a
constituent you would want to be drinking."
Penna, a mother of three young children whose home was built in the
1960s, moved to Weston eight years ago.
Her once-thick hair has since fallen out in clumps -- she was able to
fill a plastic sandwich bag with brown strands collected from the drain
after one shower. She decided to test her well water after other Weston
mothers reported similar hair loss.
"I think the hair was the first thing that linked us all together
because it was such a traumatizing thing," Penna said.
"Then as we started talking together and comparing our symptoms; we
were just checking all the same things off the list."
The water sampled from Penna's kitchen sink and analyzed by Aqua
Environmental contained arsenic in amounts equal to 0.022 milligrams
per liter, more than twice the acceptable health limit.
Another raw water test performed a month later by Stratford-based
Complete Environmental Testing Inc. found similar arsenic levels --
0.024 milligrams per liter.
Penna installed a water filtration system, but wanted to know if the
metal was present in her body after years of drinking her well water.
She consulted several doctors and toxicologists but had a hard time
finding someone who could test her for arsenic poisoning.
"I spoke to six different toxicologists across the state," Penna said.
"It was mind-boggling to me that the medical treatment and research
wasn't there to help me."
She eventually visited a Westport natural pathologist, who sent a
sample of her hair to a Georgia laboratory for analysis. The results
revealed high arsenic levels, with her hair sample testing positive for
1.16 micrograms per gram -- well above the recommended limit of 0.15
micrograms per gram.
"This might sound strange but when I read it I was jumping for joy at
the fact that it said I have arsenic poisoning," Penna said. "This has
been a mystery for me for three years ... now I know what the problem
is and I can move forward to treat it."
A fact sheet published on the state health department's website said
urine and hair arsenic tests are "difficult to interpret and, according
to the American Medical Association, are unreliable." The best way to
investigate arsenic exposure is to test drinking water, according to
But homeowners won't know to test their wells for arsenic if public
health officials don't alert them, Penna and Wilson said.
The state DPH does not require private well owners to test their water
for arsenic and other known toxins, such as pesticides, copper and
The department didn't even recommend statewide arsenic testing until
last week, when it issued a news release recommending all homeowners
test their well water every five years for arsenic and uranium.
"If levels are found to be higher than state or federal criteria,
homeowners have a number of effective treatment options to lower levels
of the metals to less concerning levels," Toal wrote in the March 18
release. "The cost for testing for both metals can range between
Penna said she doubts homeowners will really be aware of the issue
unless the state requires periodic testing.
"If I hadn't gotten sick and done the research and learned to test for
these contaminants I never would have known that they exist," Penna
said. "Unless the state made private well owners aware of the
contaminants -- aware of what can be in their well and let them know to
test for it -- no one would know to test for it."
The state requires tests of private drinking water only once -- when
the well is installed -- and arsenic is not on the list of contaminants
laboratories are mandated to test for under the state Public Health
Code. The code requires new wells to be tested for total coliform,
nitrate, nitrite, sodium, chloride, iron, manganese, hardness,
turbidity, pH, sulfate, apparent color and odor.
Requiring homeowners to test their wells more frequently or changing
the health code to encompass a wider range of contaminants would
require legislative approval.
"That would be a long process and something we can think about, but
that's not something we could do unilaterally," Toal said.
The General Assembly's Environmental Committee chairman said he is open
to exploring the issue. State Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, said he would
support expanding the list of contaminants that laboratories are
required to test for when new wells are installed.
Mandating more frequent testing of private drinking water would be a
tougher bill to pass, however.
"There would be some controversy about expanding the (frequency of)
testing on the grounds that there's an expense involved and that's sort
of a private right because it's a private source of water," Meyer said.
"But I can't see any controversy with respect to expanding the list of
State health officials are looking to boost the public's awareness of
arsenic contamination, Toal said. Earlier this year the public health
department updated its fact sheet, "Arsenic in Private Drinking Water
Wells," which it sent to local health officials and posted online.
"Hopefully we'll get out and do some publicity in the near future,"
Toal said. "We changed the fact sheet a month ago and we're stepping up
Penna and Wilson said they think health officials should be doing more.
"I just have a feeling nobody knows about this," Wilson said. "You buy
a house, you're excited about the house. You don't even think about the
water. I would never know to test for arsenic -- never in a million
Mark Cooper, the health director for Weston and Westport, said the
department recommends private homeowners test their wells every year.
He is creating a map with the test results homeowners have reported,
which will be made public, and plans to hold a joint meeting with state
health officials on arsenic contamination next month.
"The private testing, it's blown me away by how many people have gone
out and done it by themselves and have been willing to share the
results," Cooper said. "It's been wonderful. We now have more test
results than we know what to do with."
Weston First Selectwoman Gayle Weinstein, a Democrat, warned the town
will not be footing the bill for private well water testing or
"It is the homeowner's responsibility to test the well water and then
remediate it," she said.
Penna and Wilson said they don't expect the government to pay for their
well water testing or hook their homes up to city water -- they just
want more public education about water contamination.
"We're taking care of ourselves," Penna said. "I think for both of us
it was just important to reach out to the rest of the community and let
them know that this is a problem. We just didn't want anyone else
Penna is using Facebook to urge other Weston mothers to test their well
Some residents have responded with fear that a contamination finding
could hurt their property values, she said.
"I think that our health should come first and I don't think it should
affect property values because it's a problem that can be fixed so long
as you know it exists," Penna said.
"My fight is to let other families and all the towns that have well
water -- not just Weston -- become aware of these contaminants that are
in their wells."
Assuaging property value fears and changing the way local and state
health officials approach water contamination will not happen
overnight, said Stamford resident Karen DeFalco.
DeFalco, president of the North Stamford Concerned Citizens for the
Environment nonprofit, was an early advocate for municipal and state
intervention in 2009 after the carcinogenic pesticides chlordane and
dieldrin were discovered in North Stamford drinking wells.
Stamford's public testing program, which has tested more than 1,000 of
the city's estimated 5,000 private drinking wells over the last year,
has helped local and state officials learn more about pesticide
contamination and inspired other testing across Connecticut.
"When we started the fear was insurmountable; it was huge," DeFalco
"People didn't know what to do with it. They were fearful. The city
wasn't giving any answers; the state wasn't giving any answers. But now
as we have started to keep the dialogue going, all of the sudden the
fear factor has subsided."
In the meantime, Penna said she plans to test her water quarterly.
There's a whole list of other contaminants Penna has yet to check her
Her sister, who lives in Newtown, has already tested her home's water
and discovered her radon levels are 18,000 picocuries per liter -- more
than three times the state-recommended limit of 5,000 picocuries per
"I personally think there's probably more than just arsenic in our
water," Penna said. "But until I have money to test ... I won't know
what's in it."
Nearly 90% of Bangladeshis use groundwater
77m poisoned by arsenic in
Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Saturday, 19 June 2010 16:09 UK
Up to 77 million people in Bangladesh have been exposed to toxic
levels of arsenic from drinking water in recent decades, according to a
The research assessed nearly 12,000 people in a district of the capital
Dhaka for over a period of 10 years.
More than 20% of deaths among those assessed were caused by the
naturally occurring poisonous element, it found.
The World Health Organization said the exposure was "the largest mass
poisoning of a population in history".
It began after hand-pumped wells were installed in the 1970s to tap
Scientists say even small amounts of arsenic over a long period can
cause cancer of the bladder, kidney, lung or skin.
Bangladesh was chosen for the study because nearly 90% of the
population uses groundwater as its primary source of fresh water.
Offer Solutions to Arsenic Groundwater Poisoning in Southern Asia
ScienceDaily (May 28,
2010) — An estimated 60 million people in Bangladesh are exposed to
unsafe levels of arsenic in their drinking water, dramatically raising
their risk for cancer and other serious diseases, according to the
World Health Organization (WHO).
Because most of the contaminated water is near the surface, many people
in Bangladesh have installed deep wells to tap into groundwater that's
relatively free of arsenic.
In recent years, farmers have begun using the deep, uncontaminated
aquifers for irrigation -- a practice that could compromise access to
clean drinking water across the country, according to a report in the
May 27 issue of journal Science.
The report is co-authored by groundwater experts Scott Fendorf
(Stanford University), Holly A. Michael (University of Delaware) and
Alexander van Geen (Columbia University).
"Every effort should be made to prevent irrigation by pumping from
deeper aquifers that are low in arsenic," the authors wrote. "This
precious resource must be preserved for drinking."
Every day, more than 100 million people are exposed to
arsenic-contaminated drinking water in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China,
India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam.
Over the last 10 years, Fendorf, Michael and van Geen have conducted
long-term groundwater studies throughout southern Asia with the goal of
finding low-cost solutions to what the WHO calls the largest mass
poisoning in history.
"Our Science report presents an overview of the scientific consensus
and continuing uncertainty about the root causes of the arsenic
calamity," said Fendorf, a professor of environmental Earth system
science at Stanford.
Crisis in southern Asia
Unlike most countries in the region, India and Bangladesh have very
deep aquifers that typically have low levels of arsenic. In Bangladesh,
one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world,
concerns about arsenic-contaminated rice crops have led farmers to look
for safer sources of water deep underground.
"People in Bangladesh want to sink irrigation wells to the deeper
aquifers where the water is clean," said Fendorf, a senior fellow at
Stanford's Woods Institute for the Environment. "The problem is that
irrigation wells pump high enough volumes to pull down
arsenic-contaminated water from the surface and jeopardize the quality
of the groundwater below."
Arsenic poisoning was first identified in the early 1980s in West
Bengal, India, where health officials linked an outbreak of skin
lesions to groundwater pumped from shallow wells. Today, the WHO
estimates that thousands of people from Pakistan to Vietnam die of
cancer each year from long-term arsenic exposure. Groundwater
containing arsenic also causes cardiovascular disease and inhibits the
mental development of children.
In the 1990s, scientists identified the source of the arsenic
contamination: the Himalaya mountain range, where arsenic-laden rocks
and sediments are carried downstream along four major river systems --
Ganges-Brahmaputra, Mekong, Irrawaddy and Red.
This naturally occurring arsenic is harmless until it reaches the river
basins. There, bacteria in surface and subsurface sediments release
arsenic from the solids to a soluble, toxic form that slowly works its
way into the shallow aquifers below. This process has been occurring
for millennia -- a discovery made by Fendorf and colleagues in Cambodia
in 2008 -- but had little impact on human health until recently when
people began tapping groundwater to avoid pathogen-laden surface water.
That same year, co-author Holly Michael demonstrated that in
Bangladesh, an uncontaminated domestic well more than 500 feet (150
meters) deep could remain arsenic-free for at least 1,000 years. But
Michael projected an entirely different scenario for deep irrigation
wells, which use mechanized pumps instead of hand pumps to bring
groundwater to the surface.
"Holly showed that if you start drawing high volumes of water from an
irrigation well, you create flow conditions that bring
arsenic-contaminated water from above into the deep aquifer below,"
While many Bangladeshis are justifiably concerned about the
accumulation of arsenic in rice paddies, the amount that actually ends
up inside a rice grain is small compared to exposure from drinking
water, he added. "For that reason, we recommend that deeper wells only
be used by individual households for drinking water and not for crop
In 1999, Bangladesh launched a major nationwide campaign to test well
water quality. Since then, thousands of households have drilled deeper
wells, some reaching depths of 1,500 feet (350 meters).
"Most people would say that deep wells are a good option," Fendorf
said. "They're not that expensive, and the water often has a similar
temperature and taste. For all intents and purposes, it's the same
water, except deep aquifers aren't poisonous."
However, because water-flow patterns below ground are constantly
altered by irrigation and other land-use changes, the authors
recommended that all existing deep wells in Bangladesh be retested on a
Aside from Bangladesh and India, the majority of affected countries
have aquifers that only reach depths of 300 feet (100 meters) .
Therefore, deep-water wells are not an option. In Cambodia, people have
turned to filtration to remove arsenic from shallow groundwater.
"Many arsenic filters are quite effective at removing arsenic over the
short term," Fendorf said. "However, they should be tested regularly,
which doesn't always happen, and replaced when they begin to fail from
disturbance or exhaustion."
Some governments in the region recommend piping water directly to
villages or homes, but that solution raises other health issues,
Fendorf said. "Piped water usually comes from a surface source, like a
river," he explained. "The problem is that it often contains bacteria
and other pathogens. It might go through a sand filtration system, but
that's often ineffective.
"We need to be thinking broadly about water options that are available
and not focus on a single solution," he added. "In one village, a deep
well might work great, in another village maybe it's rainwater
harvesting or water filtration. As scientists studying groundwater, we
can help people most by predicting where wells should be placed, and
whether those wells will remain clean over time, particularly as a
result of irrigation and other land-use changes."
140 million people, mainly in
developing countries, are being
poisoned by arsenic in their drinking water, researchers believe.
| By Richard Black, Environment correspondent, BBC News website
Updated: Thursday, 30 August 2007, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society
meeting in London, scientists said this will lead to higher rates of
cancer in the future.
About 50 million people are affected in
South and East Asia account for more than half of the
known cases globally.
Eating large amounts of rice grown in affected areas
could also be a health risk, scientists said.
"It's a global problem, present in 70 countries,
probably more," said Peter Ravenscroft, a research associate in
geography with Cambridge University.
"If you work on drinking water standards used in
and North America, then you see that about 140 million people around
the world are above those levels and at risk."
Arsenic consumption leads to higher rates of some
cancers, including tumours of the lung, bladder and skin, and other
lung conditions. Some of these effects show up decades after the first
"In the long term, one in every 10 people with high
arsenic in their water will die from it," observed Allan Smith from the
University of California at Berkeley.
"This is the highest known increase in mortality from
any environmental exposure."
The international response, he said, is not what the
scale of the problem merits.
"I don't know of one government agency which has
given this the priority it deserves," he commented.
The first signs that arsenic-contaminated water might
a major health issue emerged in the 1980s, with the documentation of
poisoned communities in Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal.
In order to avoid drinking surface water, which can be
contaminated with bacteria causing diarrhoea and other diseases, aid
agencies had been promoting the digging of wells, not suspecting that
well water would emerge with elevated levels of arsenic.
Rice plants absorb arsenic from the soil
as they grow
The metal is present naturally in soil, and leaches
into groundwater, with bacteria thought to play a role.
Since then, large-scale contamination has been found
other Asian countries such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam, in South
America and Africa.
It is less of a problem in North America and Europe
where most water is provided by utilities. However, some private wells
in the UK may not be tested and could present a problem, Mr Ravenscroft
Once the threat has been identified, there are
such as as digging deeper wells, purification, and identifying safe
surface water supplies.
As a matter of priority, scientists at the RGS
said, governments should test all wells in order to assess the threat
"Africa, for example, is probably affected less than
other continents, but so little is known that we would recommend
widespread testing," said Peter Ravenscroft.
His Cambridge team has developed computer models
at predicting which regions might have the highest risks, taking into
account factors such as geology and climate.
"We have assessments of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river
basins, for example, and then we look for similar basins elsewhere.
Arsenic contamination can be a problem in
parts of the US
"There are similar areas in Indonesia and the
Philippines, and very little evidence of tests; yet where there has
been some testing, in (the Indonesian province of) Aceh for example,
signs of arsenic turned up."
Asian countries use water for agriculture as well as
drinking, and this too can be a source of arsenic poisoning.
Rice is usually grown in paddy fields, often flooded
with water from the same wells. Arsenic is drawn up into the grains
which are used for food.
Andrew Meharg from Aberdeen University has shown that
arsenic transfers from soil to rice about 10 times more efficiently
than to other grain crops.
This is clearly a problem in countries such as
Bangladesh where rice is the staple food, and Professor Meharg believes
it could be an issue even in the UK among communities which eat rice
"The average (British) person eats about 10g to 16g
rice per day, but members of the UK Bangladeshi community for example
might eat 300g per day," he said.
The UK's Food Standards Agency is currently assessing
whether this level of consumption carries any risk.
EPA: Raymark pollution could extend
Brittany Lyte, Staff Writer CT POST
Updated 10:25 a.m., Wednesday, January 11, 2012
STRATFORD -- A 500-acre pool of severely contaminated groundwater
that's part of the Raymark Superfund site could extend beyond
boundaries originally assigned to it by regulators.
A federal agency wants to expand testing at the site to determine
whether the groundwater pool -- which is tainted by suspected
carcinogens and other toxins -- lies under a 68-unit condominium
complex on Ferry Court.
The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking permission from the
homeowners association at Village Square Condominiums to install two to
four groundwater monitoring wells on the property and test the indoor
The issue is not that the groundwater pool is moving, but that there
aren't enough wells for regulators to determine its precise footprint,
said Ron Jennings, a longtime EPA project manager for Raymark waste
"The real objective here is to just be able to better delineate the
outer edge of the plume," said Jennings. "We think we've got it, but it
would be nice to have a higher level of confidence."
More than 30 groundwater monitoring wells have been installed in the
neighborhood adjacent to the complex. No additional wells have been
installed since 2003, Jennings said.
The groundwater here is not used for drinking. But when it's
contaminated, it releases a toxic gas that permeates the soil and
disperses into the air. The gas can enter homes through plumbing gaps
and cracks in the foundation. When trapped within four walls, the
toxins become concentrated and potentially hazardous to breathe.
If the EPA finds contaminated groundwater beneath the condominiums, the
property would likely be adopted into the Superfund program, Jennings
"It worries me a little bit," said Bev Kochiss, a six-year resident,
"but this place has been here a long time. I think it's going to be
Lehti Hutzell, who has lived at Village Square with her husband for 15
years, said she plans to vote in favor of the groundwater testing.
"When I first moved here, I was aware of the Raymark Superfund site,"
said Hutzell, playfully swatting at Tokin, the intrepid house cat
stretched across her shoulder blades. "But I saw the Walmart they built
where the factory had been and I kind of assumed it has all been taken
care of and capped. So this is a little surprise."
Barbara Dugan, an eight-year resident, said she would rather see the
EPA spend money on cleanup projects than well installations that could
reduce her property value and might not be necessary.
"What bothers me is that the EPA has said there is a one in a million
chance (of a groundwater contamination issue on the property)," Dugan
said. "If they're not worried, why are they trying to put in wells? Why
10 years later? If the chances of our health being affected is one in a
million, why are they even bothering?"
Dugan said she's also worried the condo complex could be adopted into
the Superfund program if groundwater monitoring wells are installed on
But depending on whether the water beneath the complex is contaminated,
Village Square could already be part of the Superfund site even though
it hasn't been designated as such in the past, Jennings said.
"If there is contaminated groundwater under the property, then it's
part of the Superfund site; whether or not there's a well on the
property has no bearing on its status as a Superfund site," Jennings
said. "The groundwater doesn't stay in one place, so I don't know if I
could say for certain that (the condominiums) are not part of the
Superfund site. I don't know if I could say for certain without sitting
down and looking at a map that any property is or is not part of it."
Andrea Boissevain, director of the town Health Department, said she
doesn't think Village Square currently has Superfund status. But she
said the more data regulators have about the whereabouts of the
groundwater, the better.
"It's a double-edged sword," she said. "You want to know, but if you
find out there are levels of concern, you have to deal with what does
If the project wins approval from homeowners, new wells would be
installed over the course of about a week. Groundwater test results
would be available about one or two months after installation, Jennings
Indoor air sampling would take place over a 24-hour period and results
would be available in about a week, he said.
Jennings said the association is set to vote on whether to allow
testing on the property at the end of the month.
Residents battle plan for contaminated
By Magdalene Perez, Staff Writer
Published: 10:43 p.m., Monday, October 26, 2009
NORWALK -- A group of 40 city residents rallied Monday against the
proposed rezoning of a contaminated industrial site on Norden Place.
If approved by city boards, the rezoning would allow developer
Spinnaker Real Estate Partners to build a 240-unit apartment on land
where federal officials have found toxic chemicals in groundwater and
soil at levels deemed unsafe by state health standards. The property,
formerly owned by Norden Systems Inc., was once used for building radar
systems and cleaning equipment, neighbors said.
Five City Council members, including Democratic mayoral candidate Steve
Serasis, were among opponents of the project who met outside the
NordenPark building Monday in anticipation of an Inlands and Wetlands
decision on the project.
District C Councilwoman Laurel Lindstrom said a residential development
is not appropriate for the site.
"I'm concerned for current and future residents," Lindstrom said.
"Residential construction may never be safe for this site.
According to a 1999 report from the Environmental Protection Agency,
five chemicals were known or "reasonably suspected" to contaminate
groundwater and soil at the site, including the industrial solvent TCE.
The EPA has deemed TCE "highly likely to cause cancer," and the solvent
can effect the nervous and immune systems. Past tests have found a
similar solvent, trichloroethane, in nearby residential wells as far as
Myrtle Street, about a quarter mile from the Norden Place property.
The EPA report said exposure to the contamination could not be
"reasonably expected to be significant" in part because land use
restrictions would "prevent future residential use of the area."
The developer has proposed to build the residential development on a
40-acre plot that is currently vacant. It is part of an 80-acre parcel
Spinnaker acquired in 2002, which includes a 1960s industrial building.
The developer won several awards for its renovation of the building,
including a citation of design excellence from the Connecticut chapter
of the American Institute of Architects and a Pride in Norwalk Award
from the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce.
Doug Zimmerman, the State Department of Environmental Protection
supervising environmental analyst for the region, said the owner of the
property is responsible for its remediation. What steps need to be
taken to remediate the land will depend on whether it is used for
residential or other use, he said.
Neighbors, hoisting signs reading "no to the rezone" and "leave the
zone alone," said they are concerned about other effects a residential
development could have on the area, including on traffic and city
services. More than 250 people have signed a petition against the
Spinnaker project, David Park, a Strawberry Hill homeowner said.
City councilman Nicholas Kydes said the area should not be rezoned
because of down economy. Instead, the space should be preserved to
attract companies in better times, he said.
"We want to reserve this park to allow companies to move into Norwalk
to bring in jobs and reduce the tax burden on families," Kydes said.
After the Inlands and Wetlands recommendation Monday night, the Zoning
Commission will make a final decision on the proposed rezoning, likely
within two months, neighbors said.
In 2006, the Zoning Commission denied a similar request to rezone the
property proposed by the same developer. In that case, the proposed
residential development was larger and encroached on wetlands, Park
The principals of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners could not be reached
Staff writer Magdalene Perez can be reached at email@example.com
Hamden Residents Worry About Huge
By JOSH KOVNER, firstname.lastname@example.org
August 21, 2010
The largest residential environmental cleanup in state history has
begun in the town's Newhall section, a venerable neighborhood of
closely clustered former factory housing built on what amounts to a
The project, a decade in the planning, has been received all along the
way with skepticism and uncertainty by this community of largely
African American homeowners. They are tired of living with sinkholes
and digging up car batteries and shell casings from the old Winchester
Repeating Arms factory in their back yards, but do they don't have a
great deal of faith in the cleanup either. State officials are
confident. They say removing up to four feet of contaminated soil from
the yards of 232 homes should lift a stigma that has clung to these
close-knit blocks like a fog for 100 years.
The area, including a former middle school, ball fields and a park, was
polluted by arsenic, lead, heavy metals and partially burned waste from
decades of dumping in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to fill
the mosquito-infested swamplands of south Hamden. The unfettered
dumping solved one problem, but spawned another.
The officials say it will take three to five years and $50 million to
$70 million, half paid by state taxpayers, to truck away the dirt and
replace it with hundreds of thousands of tons of clean material. The
houses will remain, but decks, porches, shrubbery and anything else in
the way will be yanked out and replaced.
Some trees have already been removed; the big dig starts in earnest
this week on the first wave, 22 homes.
The contamination goes down 18 feet or more on some of the properties,
and residents are questioning whether the 4-foot dig goes deep enough.
The state Department of Environmental Protection says four feet of fill
is enough to bury any potential threat, but the uncertainty lingers
even as the backhoes get to roll Monday morning.
First stop for the heavy equipment: the yard around Charlie Patterson's
tidy brick home on Morse Street. Late last week, the 80-year-old former
New Haven police officer, paper-supply salesman and small-business
owner was wrestling with what to do. His face was creased with
On Wednesday afternoon, he said he shared the concerns that the cleanup
didn't go far enough but was ready to accept the work. Wednesday night,
he spoke with the indomitable Elizabeth Hayes, the neighborhood
resident leading the opposition, and after that conversation, Patterson
decided to sign a statement rescinding the permission he gave to
contractors for Olin Corp., the company that is shouldering the other
half of the cleanup cost, to come on his property.
Thursday afternoon, Patterson got a visit from the DEP's Raymond
Frigon, the project manager, who said Patterson and the rest of the
homeowners had the right to reject the service, but if they did, they'd
"own'' the contaminated soil and would be responsible for paying for it
to be removed. On Thursday evening, Patterson went to visit attorney
Howard Lawrence of New Haven, who is advising the coalition that
opposes the DEP plan. Thursday night, Patterson reported on his
session with Lawrence.
"His advice was to go ahead and let them do the work,'' Patterson said,
adding that he'll heed that guidance. "If they don't do the work
properly, then there would be some sort of a course of action in the
On Friday, Lawrence said: "I've reviewed the science and the promises
made by the DEP. My best advice to the homeowners in phase 1 is to
accept the service. If the state does it right, then we've done the
right thing. If they do it wrong, we can pursue an action. In the
spring, when the next phase is about to start, we can see how it went.''
The properties in the first wave have the least amount of
contamination, and the DEP has promised that for this group, 100
percent of the tainted soil will be removed, Lawrence said.
Hayes, who lives in the neighborhood but does not have contamination on
her property, said she is trying to get the DEP to go down eight feet
and needs the whole neighborhood pushing together for that effort to
have a chance.
She asked why, if the four-foot cap is sufficient, homeowners are
required to disclose the presence of any remaining contaminated soil to
prospective buyers when selling their homes?
"If four feet is enough, why not call it clean?'' asked Hayes, who is
convinced property values will remain depressed in the neighborhood
even after the cleanup.
Frigon, of the DEP, said the disclosure is intended to protect owners
of properties with deep contamination in the event that they want to
dig down below four feet to build an addition. He said properly owners
can dip into a fund being set up to pay for the removal of the deep
Other than that, Frigon said four feet of clean fill, layered on top of
a barrier, is more than sufficient to bury any remaining contamination
and neutralize any potential health threat.
Richard Pearce, a popular local businessman, has been hired by the town
as a liaison between the neighborhood and officials. He said he
understands the angst.
"It's a complex project. A wrong was done many years ago; now we have
to right that wrong. I'm here to facilitate clear communication and
answer concerns. I have found that when I sit down with a resident
one-on-one and explain the details, they have felt comfortable with the
project,'' Pearce said.
State health officials have concluded that there has no elevation in
the number of cancer cases, blood poisonings or any other illness in
the neighborhood. A separate fund, containing $5 million in
proceeds from the sale of state bonds, will be used to correct any
structural damage caused to the homes by uneven settling of the fill
material under and around the foundations.
Dale Kroop, Hamden's director of economic development, said he has so
far identified 51 houses with structural damage. He said about 20 of
those probably will have to be bought through the fund and demolished.
Others can be repaired, he said.
Kroop sees the cleanup, coupled with the repair and replacement of some
of the houses in Newhall, as an opportunity to permanently improve the
neighborhood. He is considering employing a deconstructionist, rather
than a demolition company, so that flooring and other material from the
houses can be saved and reused. He said he would like to see some jobs
created for Newhall residents during the razing and reconstruction.
Some of the homes with cracked foundations, tilted walls and sinking
garages date from the late 19th century.
The South Central Regional Water Authority and the town of Hamden are
responsible for cleaning up of the old middle-school campus and the
park, respectively. That will be done later in the project.
'A Few More Years'
The least contaminated soil — that is, dirt that can be reused for an
industrial purpose but not a residential one — will be trucked across
Hamden to the town's other iconic environmental problem: the country's
largest tire pond. A lagoon with millions of discarded tires is being
covered over by a small mountain of fill.
Shannon Pociu of the DEP said most of the soil from Newhall has been
cleared to be used to cap the tire pond, an operation that is in its
Tainted soil from Newhall that can't be used again will be trucked to a
Removing and replacing the soil from the 22 Newhall homes in the first
wave will require 400 truckloads. The clean soil is coming from a
housing construction project in Orange.
Specific truck routes from Newhall to the tire pond off State Street
have been approved by Hamden police.
"You can expect a tremendous amount of activity in Newhall for the next
few years,'' said Kroop.
"Been living in this neighborhood since 1948,'' said Patterson, who was
born in North Carolina. "Guess I can wait a few more years to see how
it all turns out.''
Copyright © 2010, The Hartford
Morehouse Farm Park. Fields built, Boy's & Girl's Club
never did get traction.
M.I.S.A. construction at high school
fields brings out bad news - problem now solved, we think.
Company in Chemical Spill Files
By MICHAEL WINES
JAN. 17, 2014
Freedom Industries, the West Virginia company whose chemical spill last
week tainted the drinking water of more than 300,000 residents in and
around Charleston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday.
In documents filed in federal bankruptcy court in Charleston, a lawyer
for the company stated that the spill apparently occurred after a
broken water line caused the ground to freeze beneath an aging chemical
storage tank, pushing an unidentified object into the bottom of the
The resulting puncture allowed 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane
methanol, a chemical that washes impurities from coal, to escape the
tank on Jan. 9 and leach into the Elk River, the source of drinking
water for Charleston and surrounding communities.
The area’s main water intake is about one and a half miles downstream
from the cluster of 13 tanks where the leak occurred. Residents were
warned not to use the water for the next five days, and 14 were
hospitalized for exposure to the chemical.
Although the authorities now say that the area’s water is safe, public
and even official mistrust continues to run high. The Charleston
Gazette reported Friday that the state’s Education Department had
recommended that nine school districts in the region continue to use
bottled water at least through next week.
A Facebook page organized by area residents maintains a list of
restaurants serving bottled water, and in a random sample of stores on
Friday, bottled-water sales remained brisk.
The state attorney general’s office said it was investigating reports
of price-gouging related to water sales.
One Charleston resident said in an interview on Thursday that her
family was ignoring assurances that the water was safe, saying it
remained foul-smelling. She spoke from a state park away from the area,
where her family had gone to spend the night.
News reports stated that Freedom Industries was facing more than 25
lawsuits stemming from the leak. At least one newspaper carried an
advertisement on Friday soliciting plaintiffs for a proposed
class-action suit related to the spill.
Under Chapter 11 procedures, the company would restructure its debts
and reorganize to continue operating. A Pittsburgh law firm
representing it declined on Friday to comment on the filing.
How safe is West
Virginia tap water, if pregnant women shouldn't drink it?
By Catherine E. Shoichet. Jean Casarez and Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 11:00 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
CNN) -- Days after they told some West Virginia residents they
shouldn't worry about drinking tap water contaminated with a chemical
used to clean coal, local health officials issued a new advisory this
Pregnant women, they suggested, might want to stick to drinking bottled
In new guidance issued Wednesday night, West Virginia health officials
advised pregnant women to wait to drink tap water until there are no
detectable levels of the chemical in it.
So how safe can the tap water be, if pregnant women shouldn't drink it?
Probe launched in W. Va. water disaster
CNN test finds chemical in "clean" water
"That's a good question," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the
Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. "There's a lot of unknowns about
this potential chemical that have the chance to do some harm to humans."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said as long as the
chemical is diluted enough, the water should be safe to drink.
But other experts say they aren't so sure, because studies about the
chemical -- 4-methylcyclohexane methanol -- are sparse, and
investigators are still looking into them.
"Due to limited availability of data, and out of an abundance of
caution, you may wish to consider an alternative drinking water source
for pregnant women until the chemical is at non-detectable levels in
the water distribution system," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in
a letter to West Virginia health officials advising them on the
It's not uncommon for officials to issue different guidance for
pregnant women, who are considered to be more vulnerable to illness
than the general population. One reason why: even when chemicals have
been studied, research into the impact on pregnant women is less common.
But some have expressed concern that ever since the spill started,
guidance to the public about the contaminated water has been murky.
Expert: 'We don't know enough'
Residents first got word of the situation on January 9, when
authorities warned hundreds of thousands of people living in nine West
Virginia counties not to use tap water or do anything except flush
their toilets with it.
More than 7,000 gallons of the chemical, known as MCHM, has leaked from
a storage tank into the Elk River -- a key water supply source.
A strong licorice odor was the telltale sign that the chemical was
present, and officials warned that they couldn't say the water was safe.
Over the weekend, state health officials said they'd gotten guidance
from the CDC. And starting Monday, they began giving the go-ahead to
people in certain areas to start using tap water again.
Asked about the chemical, the CDC issued guidance to state authorities
in West Virginia suggesting the water would be safe to drink if samples
met the safety standard of 1 part per million -- meaning that there is
no more than 1 milligram of the chemical in 1 liter of water.
Does that mean it's safe?
"Based on the water sampling data that we have seen, we think that
allowing the water to be used for drinking and cooking and all the
other things is perfectly appropriate," said Dr. Vikas Kapil, chief
medical officer for the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health.
The 1 part per million guideline, he told reporters Thursday, "is a
level not likely to be associated with adverse health effects."
But during situations like this, he admitted, there are often questions
investigators can't answer -- at least not at first.
Scott Simonton, vice chairman of the West Virginia Environmental
Quality Board, said he isn't so sure the water is safe.
"I don't think that just because it's below that number, it's magically
safe," said Simonton, a professor of environmental science at Marshall
University. "We don't know enough about the toxicity of this particular
chemical to know what its long-term effects are and what the maximum
contaminant level really should be."
Officials had to come up with guidelines quickly when the spill
happened, he said. Normally, establishing a standard would be a
"Right now, it's an acceptable standard," he said. "I don't think
anybody can genuinely call it a safe standard."
Gupta, the director of the local health department, said hospital
visits in the area spiked mid-week as more people started using their
"People come to us and report that right after they've taken a shower,
they've had this rash," he said. "We've had people walk in here with
Charleston mother Jacqueline Bevan told CNN Thursday she's not going to
let her 7-year-old drink the water even though she's been told by
officials that it's safe.
"If a pregnant woman can't drink this... no, we're not feeling safe
here in West Virginia," she said, adding that the caution about
pregnant women feels like "more disturbing news."
It "most upsets us" that "we're not given any details about this
chemical," she said. The public hasn't been given much information
about 4-methylcyclohexane methanol. She and others want to know about
the chemical's long-term effects.
The chemical is used to wash coal before it goes to market to reduce
ash. Exposure to it can cause vomiting, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea
and irritated skin, among other symptoms, the American Association of
Poison Control Centers and CNN's previous reporting shows.
READ: What is 4-methylcyclohexane methanol
Saying that there's little research on the chemical is not good enough
for Bevan and other residents, she said.
"This story is going to go away," she said, but health concerns among
West Virginians will linger for a long time.
Independent testing and what the state
On Wednesday, independent testing of water supplies from a hotel and a
home in southwest West Virginia showed the presence of
4-methylcyclohexane methanol, but both samples tested at levels
believed to be acceptable for consumption.
CNN commissioned the testing of the samples by TestAmerica, a private
According to the TestAmerica study, samples taken Tuesday showed the
presence of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol well below the 1 part per
million considered safe to drink. Water in the private residence tested
at 0.27 parts per million, or about a fourth of the limit, while water
at the hotel tested at .011 parts per million, roughly a hundredth of
the limit, according to the testing firm.
More than two thirds of the 300,000 West Virginians who hadn't been
able to turn on their faucets since last week now have access to safe
water again, the state said Thursday.
West Virginia American Water said that about 71,000 customers -- or
213,000 people -- have had their "do not use" water order lifted.
READ: Spill shines spotlight on loose regulation