Home » Entries posted by JOHN FLESHER AP Environmental Writer

Audit: Military personnel unprotected from toxic chemicals

Audit: Military personnel unprotected from toxic chemicals

The Defense Department has dragged its feet on protecting service personnel from “forever chemicals” at military installations and isn’t doing enough to track health effects from exposure to the toxic compounds, according to an internal audit.Officials have taken steps to find and clean groundwater contaminated with firefighting foam containing PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the department’s inspector general found. But its recently released report said the Pentagon has fallen short on dealing with other sources of the chemicals as its rules require.It also found that despite plans to test military firefighters’ blood for PFAS this year as required by Congress, officials have no plan for tracking and analyzing results on a department-wide basis.The department “is missing an opportunity to capture comprehensive PFAS exposure data for DoD firefighters to be used for risk management, including future studies to assess significant long‑term health effects relating to PFAS,” according to the audit, which is dated July 22.The report included responses from two assistant secretaries of defense who largely agreed with the findings and promised to address them. The inspector general said the case will remain open until its recommendations are carried out.“This inspector general’s report confirms that the Defense Department must urgently do more to protect service members and their families from PFAS chemicals,” Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional PFAS Task Force, said Tuesday.A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.PFAS refers to thousands of man-made compounds used in countless products, including nonstick cookware, water-repellent sports gear, cosmetics and grease-resistant food packaging, along with firefighting foams.Public health studies on exposed populations have associated the chemicals with an array of health problems, including some cancers, weakened immunity and low birth weight. Widespread testing in recent years has found high levels of PFAS in many public water systems. They’re called “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment.PFAS substances have been found in groundwater on or near more than 300 military bases, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.Military crews began using foam containing PFAS to extinguish petroleum-based fires in the 1970s, the audit said. The Pentagon was informed in 2000 that leading manufacturers were phasing out products, including foam, made with some of the chemicals after one was found to be toxic and to build up in blood over time.Yet the department waited until 2011 to issue an alert and took an additional five years to list risk-management actions such as preventing uncontrolled releases of the foam during training and removal where practical, according to the audit.“Some of highest detections anywhere in the world been found in groundwater” at military installations, said Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president for government affairs. That means personnel “were drinking extraordinarily polluted water for much longer than they should have been, in violation of the department’s own policies.”In recent years, the Pentagon has tested wells and groundwater at bases for two widely used PFAS chemicals and begun removing foam containing one of them from its stockpiles, the audit said.But aside from firefighting foam, the department hasn’t addressed potential pollution from other PFAS-containing materials as its rules require, the report said.“As a result, people and the environment may continue to be exposed to preventable risks,” it said.In comments attached to the report, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Paul Cramer said risk management options for PFAS-containing materials other than foam would be developed by early 2022.Responding to the audit’s call for tracking and analyzing blood test results to monitor long-term health effects, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness Thomas Constable said data would be shared with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to assist a study on cancer among firefighters.Additionally, the department will analyze PFAS serum lab results at the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center and develop exposure limits, which will take more than four years, he said.

Worries over racism, waterways inspire push to rename fish

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Minnesota state Sen. Foung Hawj was never a fan of the “Asian carp” label commonly applied to four imported fish species that are wreaking havoc in the U.S. heartland, infesting numerous rivers and bearing down on the Great Lakes.But the last straw came when an Asian business delegation arriving at the Minneapolis airport encountered a sign reading “Kill Asian Carp.” It was a well-intentioned plea to prevent spread of the invasive fish. But the message was off-putting to the visitors.Hawj and fellow Sen. John Hoffman in 2014 won approval of a measure requiring that Minnesota agencies refer to the fish as “invasive carp,” despite backlash from the late radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who ridiculed it as political correctness.“I had more hate mail than you could shake a stick at,” Hoffman said.Now some other government agencies are taking the same step in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes that surged during the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service quietly changed its designation to “invasive carp” in April.“We wanted to move away from any terms that cast Asian culture and people in a negative light,” said Charlie Wooley, director of its Great Lakes regional office.The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, representing agencies in the U.S. and Canada that are trying to contain the carp, will do likewise Aug. 2, he said.The moves come as other wildlife organizations consider revising names that some consider offensive, including the Entomological Society of America, which this month dropped “gypsy moth” and “gypsy ant” from its insect list.Yet the switch to “invasive carp” might not be the final say. As experts and policymakers have learned in their long struggle against the prolific and wily fish, almost nothing about them is simple. Scientists, technical journals, government agencies, language style guides, restaurants and grocery stores may have ideas about what to call them, based on differing motives — including getting more people to eat the critters.That’s a priority for researchers who have spent years developing technologies to stem the incursion — from underwater noisemakers and electric currents to netting operations.But the dish hasn’t caught on with U.S. consumers, despite its popularity in much of the world. For many Americans, “carp” calls to mind the common carp, a bottom-feeder with a reputation for a “muddy” flavor and bony flesh.“It’s a four-letter word in this country,” said Kevin Irons, assistant fisheries chief with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.The four species described collectively as Asian carp — bighead, silver, grass and black carp — were brought from China a half-century ago to rid Southern sewage and aquaculture ponds of algae, weeds and parasites. They escaped into the wild and have migrated up the Mississippi and other major rivers. The Great Lakes and their $7 billion sport fishery are vulnerable.Voracious and aggressive, silver and bighead gobble plankton that other fish need. Grass carp munch ecologically valuable wetland plants, and black carp feast on mussels and snails. Silvers can also hurtle from the water like missiles, causing nasty collisions with boaters.So far they’ve been netted mostly for bait, pet food and a few other uses. Philippe Parola, a Louisiana chef, trademarked the label “silverfin” for Asian carp fishcakes he developed around 2009.The state of Illinois and partner organizations hope a splashy media campaign in the works will get bigger results. Dubbed “The Perfect Catch,” it will describe Asian carp as “sustainably wild, surprisingly delicious” — high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, low in mercury and other contaminants.And it will give the fish a market-tested new name, which will remain secret until the makeover rollout, Irons said. A date hasn’t been announced.“We hope it will be new and refreshing and better represent these fish for consumers,” he said.The goal is to spur interest all along the chain — from commercial netters to processors, grocery stores and restaurants.The tactic has worked before. After the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service rechristened “slimehead” as “orange roughy” in the late 1970s, demand for the deep-sea dweller rose so sharply that some stocks were depleted. Chilean sea bass, another cold-water favorite, once was known less appealingly as “Patagonian toothfish.”But what new label for Asian carp will be considered official — “invasive carp,” which has been criticized as imprecise, or whatever the marketing blitz comes up with?It could be either. Or neither.The rebranding campaign will seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to use the new moniker for interstate commerce. But even if the FDA goes along and consumers buy in, scientists are another matter.The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the American Fisheries Society have a committee that lists fish titles, including scientific names in Latin and common ones thought up by people “who originally described the species or included them in a field guide or other reference,” said panel chairman Larry Page, curator of fishes at the Florida Museum of Natural History.For example, there’s “Micropterus salmoides,” which became known as largemouth bass, and “Oncorhynchus mykiss,” or rainbow trout.The committee has never adopted “Asian carp” as a term for the four invasive species, Page said.So where did it come from? According to a paper in the journal Fisheries, the label began showing up in scientific literature in the mid-1990s and took hold in the early 2000s as worries about the fish grew.It was never a good idea, said Patrick Kocovsky, a fish ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the paper’s authors, because the species affect the environment in different ways.Song Qian, a University of Toledo environmental sciences professor who teamed with Kocovsky on the article, said carp is a valued protein source in many Asian nations. It’s a good-luck symbol in his native China.“If you say it’s invasive, bad and needs to be eradicated, even though it’s because of miscommunication, that’s why there’s talk about cultural insensitivity,” Qian said.It’s most accurate to refer to the fish species individually, he said, acknowledging a collective name is sometimes convenient. The challenge now is finding the right one.Regardless of which one eventually sticks, said Hawj, the Minnesota legislator, who immigrated to the U.S. from Laos as a child refugee after the Vietnam War, he’s glad “Asian carp” is on its way out. He recalled the warm applause he received at an Asian-American conference after announcing his state had made the change.”It’s a nuisance, a small thing, but it can resonate greatly,” he said.———Follow John Flesher on Twitter: @johnflesher

Scientists: Pup births hopeful sign for Isle Royale wolves

Scientists: Pup births hopeful sign for Isle Royale wolves

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Wolf pups have been spotted again on Isle Royale, a hopeful sign in the effort to rebuild the predator species’ population at the U.S. national park, scientists said Monday.It’s unknown how many gray wolves roam the island chain in northwestern Lake Superior. The coronavirus pandemic forced cancellation of the census that Michigan Technological University experts had conducted each winter for 63 years.Remote cameras detected four pups on the park’s eastern end in January, the researchers said in a new report. The sightings, and additional clues such as previously observed scats and tracks, suggest that two litters were born in the area last year and perhaps another on the western side.Park officials said last fall that at least two pups likely were born in 2019.The population was 12 to 14 during the last Michigan Tech survey in winter 2020. The latest births would indicate it is higher now, but some older wolves may have died.“It most likely will be winter of next year before we have firm information,” said Sarah Hoy, a research assistant professor and animal ecologist, adding that the presence of young wolves is reason for optimism. “Things are definitely looking up.”Scientists with Michigan Tech, the National Park Service and State University of New York will combine available information with genetic analyses to produce a population estimate based on death rates and numbers of litters.An initial data summary should be finished this month, said Mark Romanski, a biologist and natural resources program manager at Isle Royale.“Because of constraints placed on field activities during the pandemic, we are especially pleased to have multiple lines of evidence to enumerate the population,” he said.Wolves are believed to have migrated to Isle Royale from Minnesota or the Canadian province of Ontario around the middle of the 20th century, crossing about 15 miles (24 kilometers) over the frozen lake surface.Once established, they began feasting on the park’s abundant moose and helped keep the herd from outgrowing its food supply. But wolf numbers plummeted in the past decade, which scientists blamed primarily on inbreeding.The National Park Service announced plans in 2018 to restore the population, which had fallen to two. Crews took 19 wolves from Minnesota, Ontario and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the island in a series of airlifts. Some have died and at least one wandered back to the mainland but most appear to be settling in.“They’re killing moose, starting to function as they should,” Hoy said.The goal is to have 20-30 wolves within three to five years. Officials haven’t decided whether to bring more in, park spokeswoman Liz Valencia said.“A healthy park ecosystem includes a variety of wildlife and abundant food sources,” said Christine Goepfert, Midwest associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “As wolves bounce back after nearly disappearing from the park, their presence as a predator on the island will help all wildlife and native plants thrive at Isle Royale.”The wolves’ decline fueled a moose boom between 2012 and 2019, when the population may have reached 2,000 before dropping to 1,876 last year. It appears to have fallen further since, the report said.During vegetation surveys this spring, researchers found 15 moose dead from starvation. Balsam fir saplings, their primary winter food source, were in “the worst condition ever observed” as moose munched every available branch, Hoy said. Blood-sucking ticks that thrived during the mild winter made things worse.Also during the past year, personnel with the park service and Michigan Tech organized thousands of moose bones that have been gathered at Isle Royale. They’re being cleaned, photo-documented and entered into a database. The collection eventually will be housed in a museum.“It is gratifying to see the National Park Service invest in the long-term preservation of moose bones, and it is almost certain that the scientific value of the collection will increase over time,” Michigan Tech wildlife ecologist Rolf Peterson said. “We have already put it to use in ways never anticipated when the bones were first collected and saved.”

Report: Great Lakes region needs about $2B for flood repairs

Report: Great Lakes region needs about $2B for flood repairs

Cities and towns along Great Lakes shorelines will pay a heavy price for recent floodingBy JOHN FLESHER AP Environmental WriterJuly 8, 2021, 8:14 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Shoreline cities and towns in the Great Lakes region will be spending heavily in coming years to fix public infrastructure damaged by recent flooding and erosion, with estimated costs approaching $2 billion, officials said Thursday.Communities already have poured about $878 million into repairs over the last two years, according to the results of a survey by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a coalition of mayors and local officials in the region’s eight states and two Canadian provinces.But the survey of 241 cities, villages and other jurisdictions found that at least $1.94 billion more will be needed over the next five years. The total is certain to be even higher because the report didn’t include all shoreline municipalities, said Jon Altenberg, the initiative’s executive director.“Communities around the Great Lakes face a growing crisis, and we need both the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada to assist with the necessary investments,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “Our coastal infrastructure is vital to the economic and recreational health of our communities, and coordinated action is required.”Abnormally high lake levels and severe rains since 2019 have hammered drinking water intake pipes, sidewalks, ports and docks. Parkland, beaches and wetlands have washed away. Portions of roads have crumbled.Great Lakes levels fluctuate annually with the seasons and historically experience prolonged high- and low-water periods. But scientists say the warming climate may be making those multi-year swings more abrupt and extreme.Lakes Huron and Michigan reached their lowest levels on record in early 2013, while the other Great Lakes — Superior, Erie and Ontario — were well below average. Then came a turnabout, as wetter weather filled the lakes to the brim. All five set record highs during the past two years.Although levels have dipped this year, intense storms have brought flooding to some cities on the lakes or rivers connecting them, including Chicago and Detroit.The cities group is joining other government, business and environmental organizations in pushing for the Great Lakes region to get a generous share of the infrastructure funding proposed by President Joe Biden and under consideration in Congress.In addition to continued funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative cleanup program established in 2010, the groups in a June 24 letter to congressional leaders requested billions for water and sewer upgrades, flood prevention and related needs.“These investments will address longstanding basin-wide priorities while stimulating economic activity in hard-hit communities throughout our region,” the letter said.

Senate OKs bill to certify farm practices limiting emissions

Senate OKs bill to certify farm practices limiting emissions

The U.S. Senate is supporting a plan to encourage greater use of farming and forestry practices that prevent greenhouse gas emissionsBy JOHN FLESHER AP Environmental WriterJune 25, 2021, 8:21 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe U.S. Senate has approved a measure intended to encourage greater use of farming and forestry practices that prevent greenhouse gas emissions and remove planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.It authorizes the federal Department of Agriculture to create a program helping farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners earn payments through private markets for planting offseason cover crops, reducing tillage and taking other steps to lock up carbon in soils and trees.“Solving the climate crisis is a critical challenge for all of us … and we are taking landmark steps toward supporting agriculture and forestry leadership in addressing this,” Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor, said Thursday before it passed on a 92-8 vote.It now goes to the House, which is considering a similar proposal.Federal policies have long supported environmentally friendly practices such as planting buffer strips to prevent soil and nutrient erosion that feeds harmful algae blooms in waters.Some of those actions also work against climate change. Pulling marginal lands out of crop production, for example, can make way for carbon-absorbing grasses, trees and wetlands.The National Academy of Sciences estimates agricultural soils could take in 250 million metric tons (276 million tons) of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually, which would offset 5% of U.S. emissions. If scaled up significantly, farm and forestry actions could offset the yearly carbon output from nearly 110 million automobiles, Stabenow said.In recent years, companies wanting to shrink their environmental footprints have begun purchasing credits for carbon and other greenhouse gases stored in farmlands and forests, working through brokers who contract with farmers to use the best-management practices.Under the Senate bill, the agriculture department program would certify those who provide technical assistance to farmers entering carbon markets — and third-party experts who verify that the emission-preventing steps are taken.Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican who voted against the bill, argued the federal program wasn’t needed and could hamper innovation.“It would insert the federal government into a market that is blossoming on its own, imposing burdensome regulation and picking winners and losers in the carbon credit marketplace,” Lee said.Some environmental advocates contend voluntary actions by farmers won’t do enough to prevent climate change.“Rather than embracing offset schemes, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition away from emissions-intensive agricultural practices like factory farming and large scale monoculture,” said Mitch Jones, policy director of Food & Water Watch.But the bill drew support from other environmentalists — and farm groups which which they are often at odds.The Department of Agriculture is “perfectly positioned to define science-based best practices for measuring, reporting and verifying agricultural carbon credits,” said Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.Without the department’s involvement, it could be risky for farmers to participate in the markets and hard to determine whether the credits represent genuine emissions prevention, she said.Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federatioin, said lack of access to reliable information about carbon markets and a shortage of technical assistance have deterred some landowners.The bill “acknowledges the potential of climate-smart farming while ensuring farmers would be respected as partners who can build on our strong foundation of environmental stewardship,” Duvall said.

Company defends use of toxic chemicals to fight plant fire

Company defends use of toxic chemicals to fight plant fire

A company whose northern Illinois chemical plant was heavily damaged in a fire last week is defending its use of firefighting foam containing toxic chemicalsBy JOHN FLESHER AP Environmental WriterJune 24, 2021, 12:16 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleA company whose northern Illinois chemical plant was heavily damaged in a fire last week defended its use of firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals Wednesday, saying crews had taken steps to contain the material.An industrial team hired by Lubrizol Inc., parent company of Chemtool, used foam containing PFAS compounds June 15 before switching to another foam without them on orders of the fire chief in Rockton, a town near the Wisconsin border.State and federal regulators had raised concerns with the company about the PFAS-containing foam. It is legal in most of the U.S. but generally used only for highly flammable or combustible fires involving gas tankers and oil refineries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.The foam was used “in the early stages of firefighting efforts for a limited time given the heightened risk of letting the fire burn and spread,” Lubrizol said in a statement Wednesday. “Fluorinated foam is twice as effective as non-fluorinated foam in suppressing a fire like the one we experienced and offered the best chance to control the fire in the shortest amount of time. ”The company said the foam was sprayed on one portion of the site. Before it was applied, Lubrizol and the contractor, U.S. Fire Pumps, dug trenches around the property. The foam and water in which it was diluted were vacuumed up and stored in tanks for appropriate disposal, the statement said.“We continue to run tests of the soil and water to further validate the effectiveness of the containment measures,” Lubrizol said.PFAS chemicals belong to a group known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in a wide variety of industrial and household products. They have been linked to numerous health problems including cancer and damage to organs including the liver, kidneys and thyroid gland.They are described as “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment or the human body.Louisiana-based U.S. Fire Pump used about 3,200 gallons of the PFAS-containing foam mixed with 71,000 gallons of water, according to the Illinois EPA.State officials did not respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday. The U.S. EPA said it stood by its earlier statement of concern about use of the foam.The fire sent thick black smoke thousands of feet in the air and caused debris to rain onto nearby yards. About 1,000 residents were evacuated for four days.Lubrizol said experts were continuing to monitor air quality in the area of the plant, which manufactured lubricants, grease products and other fluids. No negative effects have been detected aside from “the short-term irritation one would normally experience in the presence of smoke,” the company said.Debris is being removed and properties cleaned, Lubrizol said. The debris will be sent to an EPA- approved facility for disposal.

Army Corps plans extensive review of Great Lakes tunnel plan

Army Corps plans extensive review of Great Lakes tunnel plan

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will conduct an extensive review of Enbridge Energy’s plan to build an oil pipeline tunnel beneath a Great Lakes waterway in MichiganBy JOHN FLESHER AP Environmental WriterJune 23, 2021, 10:36 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleTRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday it would conduct an extensive review of Enbridge Energy’s plan to build an oil pipeline tunnel beneath a Great Lakes channel in Michigan, which could significantly delay the project.The tunnel would house a replacement for a portion of Enbridge’s Line 5 that crosses the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, a roughly 4-mile-long (6.4-kilometers-long) waterway connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has issued a permit for the $500 million tunnel, but approval from the Army Corps also is needed. The federal agency would consider potential effects on the straits and adjacent wetlands.The Corps could have settled for a narrowly tailored examination of needs and purposes for the tunnel before making its ruling. But it opted for an environmental impact statement, which involves a more comprehensive study, including consideration of reasonable alternatives.“I have concluded that an EIS is the most appropriate level of review because of the potential for impacts significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” said Jaime A. Pinkham, acting assistant secretary of the Army for civil works.Thousands of comments from the public and indigenous tribes justified the deeper investigation, Pinkham said, adding that navigation in the busy shipping channel also was also a consideration.Enbridge had pledged to complete the tunnel by 2024 but is “evaluating the timeline” in view of the government’s decision, which will hold up construction, spokesman Ryan Duffy said.“Placing a pipeline in a new Great Lakes tunnel will provide extra layers of safety and environmental protection and make what is currently a safe pipeline even safer, while creating Michigan jobs and securing the needed energy for consumers in Michigan and the region,” Enbridge said.The Canadian company, based in Calgary, Alberta, reached a deal in 2018 with former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to construct the tunnel. It came amid pressure from area tribes, tourist businesses and environmental groups to shut down Line 5, which carries oil and natural gas liquids between Superior, Wisconsin, and Sarnia, Ontario.Critics contend the underwater section — two parallel pipes laid in 1953 — is vulnerable to a spill that could pollute hundreds of miles of waters and shorelines. Enbridge, backed by industry and labor groups, says it is in good condition and has never leaked.Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Line 5’s underwater pipes closed by mid-May, a deadline the company ignored. A lawsuit is pending in federal court. Canada, which has described continued operation of the pipeline as “non-negotiable,” is pushing the Biden administration to intervene.The proposed tunnel is a separate regulatory matter. In addition to the Army Corps, Enbridge also awaits approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission.“We are encouraged to see that the Army Corps of Engineers heeded our call to undertake a more rigorous analysis” of the project, said Whitney Gravelle, chairwoman of the Bay Mills Indian Community. The tribe, which has treaty-guaranteed fishing rights in the straits, “is very concerned that the pipeline threatens our way of life,” she said.Drilling through bedrock and soils beneath the straits would violate numerous environmental protection laws, said David Holtz of Oil and Water Don’t Mix, an anti-Line 5 coalition.“It is difficult to imagine how Enbridge’s tunnel project can survive the kind of thorough, independent evaluation that is now possible with today’s Army Corps decision,” Holtz said.Enbridge said it would continue working with the Corps on its review of company’s application “and towards a successful conclusion to this process.”

Page 1 of 212