Gulf oil spill, cancer and 'smart growth'

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

Panel warns of environmental cancer risks
An expert panel that advises the president on cancer said that Americans are facing “grievous harm” from chemicals in the air, food and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored.

The President’s Cancer Panel called for a new national strategy that focuses on such threats in the environment and workplaces.

Epidemiologists have long maintained that tobacco use, diet and other factors are responsible for most cancers, and that chemicals and pollutants cause only a small portion — perhaps 5 percent.

The presidential panel said that figure has been “grossly underestimated” but it did not provide a new estimate.

“With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action,” the panel wrote in a report.
–The Washington Post

Environmentalists see oil spill as rallying point
The catastrophic oil spill unfolding in the Gulf has provided the environmental community with a rare opportunity to shift public opinion on climate and energy issues, an opening on which it has been quick to capitalize.

National environmental groups — including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Fund and others — have rushed both volunteers and scientific experts to the Gulf of Mexico to help with the cleanup in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon rig’s collapse. But they are also holding news conferences, filming television ads and organizing protest rallies, all aimed at persuading lawmakers to block new offshore oil drilling and pass legislation curbing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
–The Washington Post

Manipulating the Mississippi to fight oil spill?
Louisiana state officials and the Army Corps of Engineers are considering increasing the flow of water from the Mississippi River  to help keep the Gulf of Mexico oil spill from reaching land.

Currents from the USA’s longest river are believed to have already played a role in pushing the oil away from shore since an exploration rig exploded off the Louisiana coast two weeks ago, says Garret Graves, an adviser to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

A series of dams, locks and spillways regulate both the flow of water and exactly where the river exits the Mississippi Delta into the Gulf. Graves says that Louisiana has already “flipped on” sites it controls to increase water flow, and scientists are studying which of the larger sites controlled by the Corps of Engineers might also have a positive effect.
–USA Today 

EPA uses water $$ to promote ‘smart growth’
If you build it, they will come. And, if you don’t, they won’t.

Such is the thinking behind a policy released late last month by the Environmental Protection Agency that instructs states to adopt smart-growth principles in allocating the $3.3 billion in water infrastructure funding that the federal government doles out each year. States, it asserts, should prioritize projects that upgrade the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in cities over projects intended to serve new developments on the suburban fringe.

The new guidance arguably arrives five years too late — after a home building boom that swallowed up vast swaths of land. But building will eventually resume, and EPA officials say the leverage of the federal funding — the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund — could coax states toward a more sustainable form of development.
–The Washington Post 

Chisago County leads way on drug disposal
For years, unused pharmaceuticals were flushed down toilets or tossed in the garbage without a second thought. Now concerns about environmental impact and potential drug abuse have a growing number of communities looking at alternatives.

Counties across Minnesota are considering drug take-back programs, in which drugs are dropped off with local law enforcement and then incinerated, said Sgt. Karl Schreck with the Chisago County sheriff’s office.

Schreck heads the drug-disposal program in Chisago County — the first such ongoing program in the state. He thought the county program would be a flash in the pan when it began in 2007. But to date, the department has collected and disposed of more than a ton of unused drugs.

“Right now, our county is taking in a little more than five pounds a day,” Schreck said. “It’s been steady — I don’t see it declining anytime soon.”
–The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 Roundup-resistant ‘superweeds’ spread
For 15 years, Eddie Anderson, a farmer, has been a strict adherent of no-till agriculture, an environmentally friendly technique that all but eliminates plowing to curb erosion and the harmful runoff of fertilizers and pesticides.

But not this year.

On a recent afternoon here, Mr. Anderson watched as tractors crisscrossed a rolling field — plowing and mixing herbicides into the soil to kill weeds where soybeans will soon be planted.

Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds.
–The New York Times

 Minnesota DNR seeks help in catfish survey
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is entering year two of an effort to better understand and manage catfish in metro region rivers and is looking for a few avid anglers to help.

The project includes DNR tagging catfish to get a better idea of their population and movement. It also draws upon catfish anglers who are willing to answer a few survey questions and keep diaries of their angling efforts. The angler diaries will provide valuable information that is not typically obtained in standard creel surveys because many catfish anglers fish at night. More than 200 anglers have taken the survey since last year, but few have kept diaries.
–DNR news release 

Poison to again target Asian carp
Federal and state officials in Illinois plan to again poison a stretch of water around Chicago to kill any Asian carp that might be lurking there, past the electric barrier built to repel them.

Starting May 20, they are to dump rotenone, a fish-killing poison, into two miles of the Little Calumet River below the O’Brien lock and dam in southeast Chicago. DNA testing earlier this year detected the presence of Asian carp in a harbor where the Little Calumet empties into Lake Michigan. The operation is expected to last five to six days.

Michigan and other states tried to get the O’Brien and another lock in central Chicago closed temporarily this spring to stop Asian carp, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected that plea.

Two species of Asian carp are near the Great Lakes, and because of their size and voracious feeding habits experts fear that if they reproduce in the Great Lakes they could out-compete native fish species for scarce food and hurt the $7-billion fishing industry. Silver carp leap many feet in the air at the sound of motors and injure anglers when they flop into boats.
–The Detroit Free Press