Mercury taints lakes; climate pact delayed

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

Fish in 49% of U.S. lakes tainted by mercury, EPA says
A new EPA study shows concentrations of toxic chemicals in fish tissue from lakes and reservoirs in nearly all 50 U.S. states. For the first time, EPA is able to estimate the percentage of lakes and reservoirs nationwide that have fish containing potentially harmful levels of chemicals such as mercury and PCBs.

The data showed mercury concentrations in game fish exceeding EPA’s recommended levels at 49 percent of lakes and reservoirs nationwide, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in game fish at levels of potential concern at 17 percent of lakes and reservoirs. These findings are based on a comprehensive national study using more data on levels of contamination in fish tissue than any previous study.

Burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, accounts for nearly half of mercury air emissions caused by human activity in the U.S., and those emissions are a significant contributor to mercury in water bodies. From 1990 through 2005, emissions of mercury into the air decreased by 58 percent. EPA is committed to developing a new rule to substantially reduce mercury emissions from power plants, and the Obama Administration is actively supporting a new international agreement that will reduce mercury emissions worldwide.
–EPA news release

Analysis: Obama climate change push delayed
President Obama came into office pledging to end eight years of American inaction on climate change under President George W. Bush, and all year he has promised that the United States would lead the way toward a global agreement in Copenhagen next month to address the warming planet. 

But this weekend in Singapore, Mr. Obama was forced to acknowledge that a comprehensive climate deal was beyond reach this year. Instead, he and other world leaders ageed that they would work toward a more modest interim agreement with a promise to renew work toward a binding treaty next year.
–The New York Times 

Duluth pharmaceutical disposal set
The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) will host a free collection event for unwanted or expired medications at its regional Household Hazardous Waste Facility in Duluth from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20.

“Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out Day” is a one-day event offering residents free disposal of unwanted medications in a safe, convenient and environmentally sound manner. This is the first medication collection event held in over a year. Due to U.S. drug laws, medication can only be accepted at these specially-staffed events. 

Residents may bring their own or a family member’s unwanted or expired medication to the event for disposal. Drop-off is free and confidential. Residents will use the drive-through area at the Household Hazardous Waste facility during this special event. The facility is located at 2626 Courtland Street in Duluth.
–Pine Journal 

EPA tries a new threat on Chesapeake pollution
Trying to impose new accountability measures in the failing effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, the Obama administration is considering an odd-sounding threat.

 Stop missing deadlines for cleaning up polluted waterways, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would tell states in the bay watershed.

 Or we’ll . . . cut off funding for cleaning up polluted waterways.

 That idea, announced in a new “draft strategy” for the Chesapeake, might sound as if the EPA is threatening to shoot itself in the foot.

But it is at the heart of the Obama administration’s plans to overhaul the failed cleanup of the Chesapeake, where federal and state governments have repeatedly broken promises to reduce pollution.
–The Washington Post 

‘Stink bug’ eats kudzu – but soybeans, too
A kudzu-eating pest never before seen in the Western Hemisphere has arrived in northeast Georgia, but it’s not all good news.

 The bug feasts on soybean crops and releases a stinky chemical when threatened.

Researchers from UGA and Dow AgroSciences identified the bug, which is native to India and China, last month. It’s been spotted in Gwinnett, Hall, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Greene, Clarke, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties.

 Commonly called the lablab bug or globular stink bug, it’s pea-sized and brownish with a wide posterior. The bug waddles when it walks but flies well.
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Amazon rain forest: Less trendy; still in danger
We used to hear so much about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, but lately not a word. So what happened: Did we save it, or not? 

We didn’t save it, but we haven’t stopped trying. Environmentalists fret over the fate of the Amazon for good reason: It contains more than half of the planet’s remaining tropical rain forest, one-fifth of our global freshwater and as much as one-third of the world’s biodiversity. Saving all this was once a rallying cry for green activists, and a few early triumphs made that goal seem likely. But attention soon shifted away from the rain forest to such issues as climate change and organic agriculture, and now the Amazon is disappearing at about the same rate it was in the 1980s.
–The Washington Post 

Wisconsin firm penalized for water pollution
The manager of a Trempealeau County manufacturing plant will pay $5,000 in fines and fees for pumping “acutely toxic” wastewater into the Buffalo River in 2006, and his employer will pay nearly $19,000 in a civil action related to the discharge, the Wisconsin Department of Justice announced.

Thomas A. Callaghan, 53, of Eau Claire, Wis., agreed to pay the sum as part of a plea agreement after pleading no contest to discharging pollutants into state waters without a permit, according to the department. Callaghan is plant manager for Tremplo Manufacturing in Osseo, Wis., which fabricates metal parts for industrial mixers. 

The company will also pay $18,907 in forfeitures and costs for the discharge.

On Sept. 20, 2006, Callaghan ordered Tremplo employees to pump wastewater from the plant’s water table, which collects metal dust and shavings from the cutting process, to a storm sewer manhole outside the facility because of its foul odor, according to a criminal complaint. The storm sewer ran directly to the Buffalo River.
–The Winona Daily News 

California aquifers finally to be measured
California for the first time will require water users to disclose ground-water levels as a result of legislation recently approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers.

 Ground-water monitoring has long been sought by Democrats and environmentalists, but opposed by Republicans and farm groups, who fear an invasion of property. But the parties last week struck a compromise as part of a larger water deal, which includes new conservation rules and an $11 billion water bond voters will consider in a year to pay for dams and other projects.
–The Fresno Bee 

U.S. agencies ordered to cut water use by 2 percent per year
Water conservation has long been the “stepchild” of energy management programs, says William Lintner, a U.S. Energy Department official who coordinates federal water management policy.

Green government advocates focus far more on buying electronics and constructing buildings that are energy efficient, driving alternative-fuel vehicles and erecting solar panels. 

That’s about to change. 

Last month, President Barack Obama significantly extended and expanded mandates on agencies to cut their water use and better manage their waste water. 

Since 2007, agencies have been required by an executive order to cut potable water consumption by 2 percent annually through fiscal 2015, compared with 2007 baselines.  Obama extended that mandate through 2020 and added a new requirement to cut consumption of nonpotable water — such as that used for landscaping, industrial and agricultural purposes — by 2 percent annually through 2020, compared with a 2010 baseline.
–Federal Times

Bisphenol A implicated in sexual maladies
A paper in the journal Human Reproduction adds weight to a long-held (by some) suspicion that the plasticising chemical bisphenol A (BPA) does bad things to the body’s hormone balance.

 In this study, male workers in Chinese factories handling BPA were compared to a control group of Chinese factory workers who weren’t exposed to BPA over five years. 

The results showed that the workers in the factories handling BPA had four times the risk of erectile dysfunction, and seven times more risk of ejaculation difficulty.

Brown Pelican removed from endangered list
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the brown pelican from its list of endangered species. 

The recovery of the brown pelican is proof that the often criticized Endangered Species Act is effective, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a conference call with reporters . 

“For all the criticism that the Endangered Species Act takes, we need to celebrate now in 2009 that we have a bald eagle, we have a peregrine falcon, we have the brown pelican,” Mr. Salazar said.
–The Wall Street Journal 

Artificial glaciers save water in Himalayas
Faced with a dwindling supply of water for agriculture as northern India’s glaciers recede, a retired civil engineer has come up with an innovative adaptation to the pressures of climate change: artificial glaciers. 

By diverting unneeded winter glacial runoff into shaded mountain depressions, and using a basic system of metal pipes to spur freezing, he has created three new ‘glaciers’ designed to provide a stable supply of irrigation water. 

The technique improves on what locals say is an ancient method of preserving snow and runoff in shady areas of the Himalayan foothills.