Climate change, endocrine disruptors in the news

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of articles and research on water and the environment. Scan the articles here, then follow the links to read the articles in their entirety.

Obama to promise greenhouse gas reduction
President Obama will travel to Copenhagen at the start of the United Nations conference on climate change on Dec. 9 just before flying to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama, who had not previously committed to making an appearance at the climate conference, had been under considerable pressure from other world leaders and environmental advocates to make the trip as a statement of American seriousness about the climate change negotiations.

 Mr. Obama will tell the delegates to the climate conference that the United States intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, officials said. The administration has resisted until now delivering a firm pledge on emissions reductions.
–The New York Times

 Indonesian peat lands spew CO2
From the air, the Kampar Peninsula in Indonesia stretches for mile after mile in dense scrub and trees. One of the world’s largest peat swamp forests, it is also one of its biggest vaults of carbon dioxide, a source of potentially lucrative currency as world governments struggle to hammer out a global climate treat. The vault, though, is leaking.

 Canals — used legally and illegally — extend from surrounding rivers nearly into the peninsula’s impenetrable core. By slowly draining and drying the peat land, they are releasing carbon dioxide, contributing to making Indonesia the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the United States.
–The New York Times

Root and Sauk watersheds to get funding
The watersheds of the Sauk River in Central Minnesota and the Root River in the southeastern part of the state are among 41 watersheds in 12 states that have been selected to participate in a new initiative to improve water quality and the overall health of the Mississippi River Basin. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the watersheds – 42 million acres in all — that will be the first targets of a $320 million federal program to improve the Mississippi. 

The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, which was announced on Sept. 24, will provide U.S. Department of Agriculture financial assistance over the next four years for voluntary projects in priority watersheds in Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The program will help farmers put in place conservation and management practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff from agricultural land. 

Selections were based on the potential for managing nitrogen and phosphorus — nutrients associated with water quality problems in the Mississippi basin — while maintaining agricultural productivity and benefiting wildlife. 

For information about the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including eligibility requirements, go to 

Water pollution underestimated, researchers say
Inaccuracies in published data underestimate the amount of organic pollutants in raw sewage, providing flawed information for environmental policy makers, claim US scientists.  

High quality analysis of raw sewage is crucial to measure pollutants in the environment and the efficiency of wastewater treatments plants. Suspended solids in sewage can block analytical apparatus and complicate analysis so samples are commonly filtered before analysis. But, appropriate corrections for the filtration step are not always made say Rolf Halden and Randhir Deo at Arizona State University, Tempe. 

Some hydrophobic organic compounds adsorb onto these solid filters and disappear from the sample, so the analysis of the resulting aqueous phase does not show the total amount that was present before filtering, explains Halden.  

Halden and Deo studied reported data for 33 organic compounds in the aqueous phase and found that between 15-60% of some compounds’ mass was adsorbed onto the suspended solids, which led to estimates of organic pollutants being 50% lower than actually present.
–Highlights in Chemical Science

Endocrine-disruptors found in pristine lakes
Minnesota scientists say it appears endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pharmaceuticals are found in even the most pristine lakes in the state.

 Researchers say they’re not sure why the chemical compounds are so widespread, but they say more research is needed to better understand the potential impact on wildlife and humans. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sampled a dozen lakes and four rivers across the state. Some of the samples came from water close to cities and others were from lakes in remote northern forests.
–Minnesota Public Radio

 Endocrine-disruptors alter gender of fish
Something strange is happening to the fish in America’s rivers, lakes and ponds. Chemical pollution seems to be disrupting their hormones, blurring the line between male and female.

And as CBS News national correspondent Dean Reynolds reports, those fish swim where millions get their drinking water.
–CBS Evening News

 Answers come slowly in endocrine research
What’s the problem with the Potomac River — and could whatever it is spell problems for those of us who drink its water? 

In 2003, scientists discovered something startling in the Potomac, from which at least 3 million Washington area residents get their drinking water: Male fish were growing eggs. But six years later, a government-led research effort still hasn’t answered those two questions. Scientists say they still aren’t sure which pollutants are altering the fish, or whether the discovery poses any threat to people’s health.
–The Washington Post

Wisconsin groups threat to sue EPA over nutrients
The threat of a potential lawsuit could set the stage for new regulations of a pair of pollutants that are responsible for algae blooms and poor drinking water. 

Lawyers for several environmental groups notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on of their s intent to file suit against the agency for failing to protect state water from two forms of nutrient pollution – phosphorus and nitrogen. 

The source of the pollution is farm fields, manure, lawns and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Two law firms, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Madison-based Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the notice with the EPA. The agency said in 1999 that it would start to regulate the pollutants.
–The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  

Sea level rise could cost $28 trillion
A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world’s largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

 The value of infrastructure exposed in so-called “port mega-cities,” urban conurbations with more than 10 million people, is just $3 trillion at present. 

The rise in potential losses would be a result of expected greater urbanization and increased exposure of this greater population to catastrophic surge events occurring once every 100 years caused by rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

MPCA seeks comments on water quality
A public comment period on a water-quality report for six lakes in Washington and Chisago counties began Nov. 23 and continues through Dec. 23, 2009.  The Total Maximum Daily Load report addresses water pollution caused by excessive nutrients, mainly phosphorus that fuels algal blooms. 

All six lakes are in the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District near the cities of Wyoming and Forest Lake.  The lakes include Comfort, Birch, Bone, Moody, School, Shields and Little Comfort.  Water-quality monitoring of these lakes has shown that their nutrient levels frequently exceed state standards. 

The Six Lakes report is available on the Web at or at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s St. Paul office, 520 Lafayette Road N.  For more information and to submit comments, contact Christopher Klucas, MPCA Project Manager, at 651-757-2498 or
–MPCA news release

 EPA issues rules on construction runoff
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ssued a final rule to help reduce water pollution from construction sites. The rule takes effect in February 2010 and will be phased in over four years.

The final rule requires construction site owners and operators that disturb one or more acres to use best management practices to ensure that soil disturbed during construction activity does not pollute nearby water bodies.

In addition, owners and operators of sites that impact 10 or more acres of land at one time will be required to monitor discharges and ensure they comply with specific limits on discharges to minimize the impact on nearby water bodies. This is the first time that EPA has imposed national monitoring requirements and enforceable numeric limitations on construction site stormwater discharges. For information, go to
–EPA news release