Tag Archives | Pollution

Troubled Factory Could Leak Radioactive Waste into Columbia River

Picture: Prolineserver (CC)

Nothing to see here, no serious problems, say Bechtel spokespersons…

Via LA Times:

An investigation by the U.S. Energy Department has found that San Francisco engineering firm Bechtel may have committed a wide range of safety and health violations at a plant it is building to treat high-level radioactive waste at Hanford, Wash., according to agency documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The Energy Department halted construction at the plant earlier this year in the wake of allegations that the treatment complex had fundamental design and construction flaws.

The Hanford plant is being built to treat an estimated 56 million gallons of radioactive waste created from about half a century of nuclear weapons production. The waste is stored in underground tanks. At least some of those tanks are leaking radioactive sludge, posing a threat to the nearby Columbia River and making the $12.3-billion treatment plant one of the most urgent environmental projects in the nation.

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American Bombing of Iraq Left Legacy of Deformed Babies

Picture: USDOD (PD)

Haroon Siddiqui writes at the Toronto Star:

Remember Falluja? That city in central Iraq was the scene of two furious attacks in 2004 by American Marines. That spring, they went on a bombing, shooting rampage to avenge the murder and mutilation of four American mercenaries. Instead of targeting the estimated 2,000 insurgents, the Marines almost levelled the city of 300,000, without conquering it. Seven months later, they attacked again with artillery and bombs in what was described as the bloodiest urban warfare involving Americans since the Vietnam War.

Remember Basra? That southern Iraqi city has been suffering since the first Gulf War, in 1991. Radioactive residue from the 800 tons of bombs and 1 million rounds of ammunition used was soon showing up in babies born with huge heads, abnormally large eyes, stunted arms, bloated stomachs and defective hearts. Later in the 1990s, Basra was hit as part of maintaining the American no fly zone on Saddam Hussein.

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Endocrine Disruptors from Personal Care Products Found in Statewide Survey of Minnesota’s Rivers and Lakes

Via ScienceDaily:

A science team from Arizona State University, in collaboration with federal partners, has completed the first statewide analysis of freshwater bodies in Minnesota, finding widespread evidence of the presence of active ingredients of personal care products in Minnesota lakes, streams and rivers.

These products are a billion dollar industry and can be found in antimicrobial soaps, disinfectants, and sanitizers to scrub our hands and clean countertops. Hundreds of antimicrobial products are sold in the U.S., many marketed with efficacy claims that remain elusive due to the short duration of the average consumer’s handwashing practices. The fate of these products can be traced from home use to sewers to wastewater treatment plants to eventually, downstream bodies of water.

The research team focused on two active ingredients found prominently in anti-bacterial soaps — triclosan and triclocarban — which have come under scrutiny by the EPA and FDA due to their environmental and human health concerns.

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Lake Karachay: The Most Toxic Place On Earth

Basement Geographer on a lake in the Russian mountains which may be the single most concentrated spot of environmental desecration:

Imagine a lake so polluted and contaminated that spending just an hour on its shores would result in certain death, and the only way seen fit to deal with it is to fill the entire water body with concrete blocks to keep the toxic soil underneath from moving onshore. That lake is Lake Karachay in Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast, and it is considered by many to be the most polluted place on the planet.

Lake Karachay lies within the Mayak Production Association, one of Russia’s largest and oldest nuclear facilities and a major source of plutonium during the Soviet era. Built immediately following World War II, Mayak has been the site of numerous nuclear-related accidents throughout its history, some approaching the size of the Chernobyl meltdown but far more concentrated.

Statistics reveal that by the 1990s, there had been a 21% increase in the incidences of cancer, a 25% increase in birth defects, a 41% increase in leukaemia, and a rendering of 50% of the population of child bearing age sterile in the Mayak region.

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Data Centers Revealed As Massively Inefficient Energy Hogs

Google Data Center, The DallesIt’s good to see the New York Times engage in some real investigative reporting for a change. In this piece Frank Glanz uses FOIA requests and other federal and local government records to reveal how data centers have become major pollution centers:

Jeff Rothschild’s machines at Facebook had a problem he knew he had to solve immediately. They were about to melt.

The company had been packing a 40-by-60-foot rental space here with racks of computer servers that were needed to store and process information from members’ accounts. The electricity pouring into the computers was overheating Ethernet sockets and other crucial components.

Thinking fast, Mr. Rothschild, the company’s engineering chief, took some employees on an expedition to buy every fan they could find — “We cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area,” he said — to blast cool air at the equipment and prevent the Web site from going down.

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Creating A Habitable Island Made Of Garbage In The Pacific Ocean

Is this the solution to our waste problems? A research team at the University College London is working towards the creation of a Plastic Republic by 2030 in the North Pacific, and funding the project by selling off parcels of land on the future island:
We intend to engineer enhanced adhesive properties in Escherichia coli and marine bacteria to alter the composition and dynamics of resultant biofilms for the adhesion of micro-plastic pollutants, with an extended vision of creating mass aggregates, or ‘Plastic Islands’. After months of planning, we are now rallying to construct a ‘plastic island’ using the principles of synthetic biology. In so doing we hope to provide a solution to one of the world’s major environmental problems – the North Pacific Garbage Patch.
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Green Plants Reduce City Street Pollution Up to Eight Times More Than Previously Believed

Photo credit: Michael Fiegle

Via ScienceDaily:

Trees, bushes and other greenery growing in the concrete-and-glass canyons of cities can reduce levels of two of the most worrisome air pollutants by eight times more than previously believed, a new study has found. A report on the research appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Thomas Pugh and colleagues explain that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and microscopic particulate matter (PM) — both of which can be harmful to human health — exceed safe levels on the streets of many cities. Past research suggested that trees and other green plants can improve urban air quality by removing those pollutants from the air. However, the improvement seemed to be small, a reduction of less than 5 percent. The new study sought a better understanding of the effects of green plants in the sometimes stagnant air of city streets, which the authors term “urban street canyons.”

The study concluded that judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy and other plants in urban canyons can reduce the concentration at street level of NO2 by as much as 40 percent and PM by 60 percent, much more than previously believed.

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Study Finds Caffeine Pollution In Pacific Ocean

All of humanity are coffee addicts, and apparently we won’t stop until we have every creature on land and sea hooked. Via EurekAlert!:

A new study finds elevated levels of caffeine at several sites in Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Oregon—though not necessarily where researchers expected.

This study is the first to look at caffeine pollution off the Oregon coast. It was developed and conducted by Portland State University master’s student Zoe Rodriguez del Rey and her faculty adviser Elise Granek, in collaboration with Steve Sylvester of Washington State University, Vancouver.

Caffeine is found in many food and beverage products as well as some pharmaceuticals, and caffeine pollution is directly related to human activity (although many plant species produce caffeine, there are no natural sources of the substance in the Northwest). The presence of caffeine may also signal additional anthropogenic pollution, such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and other contaminants.

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Beach Rocks that Burned California Woman Had Elevated Phosphate Level

Map: Lencer (CC)

An update to this story, a California woman who brought home a handful of greenish rocks her children found on the beach had a very painful surprise when the rocks caught fire in her pocket. She suffered second and third degree burns due to the flaming stones. Her husband suffered similar injuries while attempting to help her.

Lab reports indicate that the rocks contained “elevated” phosphate levels, most likely contamination from a man-made source. San Clemente Island, just miles off the coast where the woman’s children found the rocks, is owned by the military. They’ve denied any responsibility for the pollution and injuries, and for now the investigation continues.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.

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Antibiotic Resistance Genes Accumulating in Lake Geneva Via Wastewater Treatment Plants

Lake Geneva

Photo: Christopher Down (CC)

Via ScienceDaily:

Large quantities of antibiotic-resistant bacteria enter the environment via municipal — and especially hospital — wastewater streams. Although wastewater treatment plants reduce the total number of bacteria, the most hazardous — multiresistant — strains appear to withstand or even to be promoted by treatment processes. This was demonstrated by Eawag researchers in a study carried out in Lake Geneva, near Lausanne.

Treated wastewater from the city of Lausanne — around 90,000 m3 per day — is released into Vidy Bay (Lake Geneva); the discharge point is located 700 m offshore, at a depth of 30 m. The Lausanne region does not have a pharmaceutical industry or intensive animal production. However, the Lausanne treatment plant receives wastewater not only from the region’s 214,000 inhabitants and a number of smaller healthcare centres, but also from a major healthcare facility — the University Hospital of Canton Vaud (CHUV).

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