Antibacterial agent used in soaps found in Baltimore area streams; Corps grants extension to watermen raising ariakensis oysters; and more…
Antibacterial agent used in soaps found in Baltimore area streams
An anti-bacterial agent commonly found in soaps and detergents has been found in in samples from six streams as well as wastewater treatment plants in the Baltimore area, a Johns Hopkins researcher recently reported.
The chemical, triclocarban, was not found in well water or municipal drinking water.
“We put out almost a million pounds of this every year, and nobody ever bothered to take a look at what happens to the stuff once we are done with it,” said the study’s author, Rolf U. Halden, assistant professor of the School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences and founding member of its Center for Water and Health.
“We pick up a bar of soap, the material gets washed down, goes to the wastewater treatment plant, and a lot of it ends up in our surface water,” he said.
Triclocarban is not one of the chemicals whose presence in drinking water is monitored or regulated by the EPA, although it is being reviewed by the agency, Halden said.
The chemical was found in surface water at levels up to 20 times higher than those reported to the EPA by the chemical industry, said Halden, who added that his group is planning a wider study of the chemical in surface waters nationwide.
Results of the research have been published in the online edition of Environmental Science & Technology.
The researcher said his group had to develop a new test to detect the chemical because conventional monitoring techniques cannot detect it.
“Now the big question is what are the ecological and human health consequences of triclocarban in the environment? From the chemical structure, one would expect the compound to concentrate in fish and bioaccumulate in the food chain, but at this point we can only speculate,” Halden said.
Researchers tested water entering and leaving Baltimore’s three water treatment plants as well as samples from Jones Falls, Gwynn’s Falls, Gwynn’s Run, Maiden’s Choice Run, Western Run and Stony Run.
Corps grants extension to watermen raising ariakensis oysters
Commercial fishermen have more time—until April 1, 2005—to grow sterile Asian oysters in Chesapeake Bay waters.
Since late last year, watermen have been raising 800,000 oysters in protective cages in eight locations as part of a Virginia Seafood Council experiment.
The original federal permit would have expired June 30, but the council wanted more time because the experiment got off to a late start. The Army Corps of Engineers recently approved an extension of the permit, with restrictions.
Because there’s a slight chance some of the oysters could become fertile, the permit extension requires that some of the shellfish be removed from the water or that the oyster cages be spaced 1 meter apart to lessen the likelihood of reproduction.
The oysters, known scientifically as Crassostrea ariakensis, are growing fast, especially in saltier waters, and might reach dinner-plate size by April, said Pete Kube, project manager for the Corps.
Virginia Seafood Council Director Frances Porter said watermen are working hard to abide by the permit. “Growers are spacing the oysters out and trying to sell as many as they can,” she said.
PA legislators recess without reaching deal on sewer, water bond spending
Pennsylvania’s General Assembly recessed for the summer without reaching a deal on how to divvy up $250 million in borrowing for water and sewer projects that voters approved in April.
When it reconvenes in September, the General Assembly will have to decide whether to send Gov. Ed Rendell a bill that directs the funding only to new projects that would create jobs—the approach he and the Senate seem to favor—or to spend some of it to repair existing residential systems.
Environmental groups argue that voters did not intend the money to bring sewer and water service to new industrial parks, and say the state badly needs to upgrade its aging sewage plants. In parts of the state, particularly in western Pennsylvania, overflowing plants sometimes dump untreated waste into streams.
John Quigley, government relations manager for the environmental advocacy group, PennFuture, said a bill that passed the House of Representatives last month would help the state begin to fix those plants.
“The House did a great job in tightening the language, focusing the money on existing infrastructure and limiting economic development uses to previously developed sites,” he said. On the other hand, he added that the Senate “virtually gutted all the improvements that the House made.”
House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said the House “is more community focused” as opposed to the Senate’s preference to spend bond proceeds on attracting and expanding businesses.
Rendell supports the Senate’s approach, and a deal could be in place soon after the General Assembly returns in September, said his spokeswoman, Kate Philips. But she cautioned there are still details to be worked out.
“We’re trying to reach a consensus, but the original intent of the bill was to create a fund that would help create an economic stimulus—not just to reduce the number of [utility] projects on backlog,” she said.
Bill sponsor Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, said focusing bond proceeds on utility projects that help create jobs will allow the state’s existing water and sewer financial assistance fund, nicknamed Pennvest, to be devoted exclusively to residential projects.
But environmentalists contend the Senate bill would allow the funds to be used to bring development to previously untouched “green fields.”
A Senate GOP aide said there are also unresolved questions about whether using bond proceeds to help a privately held water company improve its facilities will affect the tax-free status of the bonds.
Sediment buildup behind dam raises concern on the Rappahannock
Conservationists are concerned about a sandy wall of silt piled up behind the breached Embrey Dam—which they say poses an environmental and navigational threat downriver in the Rappahannock River.
Friends of the Rappahannock Executive Director John Tippett outlined his concerns in a letter to Brian Rheinhart, who heads up the dam-removal project for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He cited plans to recreate a ferry crossing at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s boyhood home.
“Our concern is that the extensive volume of sediment remaining behind the dam will eventually make its way [there] where it will remain,” Tippett wrote. “Once there, it will not only impede recreational boating and the proposed ferry, but also increase the elevation of floodwaters in an already flood-prone area.”
The 22-foot-high Embrey Dam, built in 1910, was breached Feb. 23. A contractor will build a causeway into the river to begin dismantling what’s left. The dam removal should be completed by early next year.
“Why not remove the remaining sediment at that time as well?” Tippett asked, noting that it would be easier to remove now that it is exposed.
The dam was breached to allow the passage of migratory fish and because it is obsolete and a safety hazard.
Tippett said silt, which turns the water chocolate-brown after heavy rains, harms fish, smothers bottom dwellers such as mussels, and blocks sunlight needed by aquatic plants.
Prior to breaching the dam, the Army Corps of Engineers hired a contractor to dredge approximately 250,000 cubic yards of sediment from behind it. The material was pumped up the riverbank on the Fredericksburg shore to a giant disposal pit. Rheinhart says another 50,000 cubic yards or more may still be piled up behind the former dam.
The Army Corps said it would assess Tippet’s request. “A lot depends on funding,” Rheinhart said.
The cumulative effect of years of sediment buildup has made some stretches of the river passable only by canoe at low tide. At times, there’s barely enough water at City Dock for the City of Fredericksburg tour boat to turn around.
Through the early 1900s, the Rappahannock was a major conduit for commerce. The tidal portion of the river was dredged regularly until the 1940s. That’s not an option now because there’s too little commercial traffic on the river in Fredericksburg to justify keeping a channel open.
PA environmental bond issue killed
Pennsylvanians won’t get a chance to support an $800 environmental bond issue because the General Assembly failed to pass legislation that would put the measure, pushed by the Rendell administration, on the ballot.
Polls had shown the measure—dubbed Growing Greener II because it would extend the state’s Growing Greener program—was popular with voters but legislative leaders killed the measure in behind-the-scenes maneuvering as they worked out a last-minute budget deal in early July.
Failure to approve the legislation creates new obstacles for the state to meet its Bay cleanup goals, as tens of millions of dollars in the program were earmarked to control nutrients at wastewater treatment plants, establish streamside buffers, control farm runoff, and for other programs that would benefit the Chesapeake.
The bonds would have been financed by increased fees on trash disposal, and on the release of toxic chemicals into the environment. Some lawmakers had complained that the fees would hurt business, and some opposed additional state debt.
But the question never came to a vote on the floor. “Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats across Pennsylvania support this common sense initiative,” said Jan Jarrett, of the group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future. “But the legislative leaders decided to play politics instead of listening to their constituents.”
Lawmakers and Gov. Ed Rendell agreed to form a special “Green Ribbon” committee to review the proposal, or similar measures, for possible inclusion on the spring 2005 ballot.
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