Study finds chemicals widely in streams

Each week, the Freshwater Society publishes a digest of important regional, national and international articles and research 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.

Panoply of chemicals found in Minnesota streams
Potentially harmful chemicals and pharmaceuticals are widespread in Minnesota streams, state scientists found in a new study.

The study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also shows fish have genetic changes when exposed to the mix of chemicals.

 In the most comprehensive study of chemicals in Minnesota, the agency’s scientists collected water samples from 25 sewage treatment plants across Minnesota. They also sampled water upstream and downstream from the treatment plants for 78 chemicals.

Among the substances scientists most often found are the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole and carbamazepine, a drug used to treat attentional deficit hyperactivity disorder, agency scientist Mark Ferrey said. They also found the antibiotic trimethoprim and anti-depressant compounds.

Other commonly found chemicals include components of detergent, bisphenol A, which is found in plastics, and contraceptive hormones.

 Scientists found chemicals at more than 90 percent of the locations they sampled and chemical traces at all locations. Researchers expected to find the chemicals flowing out of sewage treatment plants, but were somewhat surprised to also find the chemicals upstream from treatment plants.

Ferrey said that indicates other sources, such as septic systems, or agricultural runoff. He said the compounds are all found at very low concentrations, measured in parts per billion or parts per trillion.

 “But just because these concentrations are very, very low doesn’t mean they can’t have effects,” Ferrey said. “More and more results are coming out that show that these compounds can have pretty profound hormonal effects or estrogenic effects even at those concentrations.”
–Minnesota Public Radio

 LCCMR funding debate continues
An advisory commission on funding environmental projects continues to wrestle with dozens of proposals being held up by the change in the majority party in the legislature.

 The LCCMR — the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — has new members with new priorities, and they’ve advised the group to drop 25 projects from its list of recommendations.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, who chairs the House Environment Committee, said some emerging issues should take precedence.

“Chronic wasting disease, Asian carp, zebra mussel, the sulfate and wild rice is really important and that’s just evolved in last couple months,” McNamara said.

 Jeff Broberg, vice-chair of the group, said changing the list now would damage the LCCMR’s credibility.

“The long-term consequence of what’s happened here in the last couple weeks is that it will always be fiddled with,” Broberg said. “It has no stability or security no matter what we think is in the plan, that’s the big consequence we haven’t faced yet.
–Minnesota Public Radio

Canadians practice Asian carp war games
It’s not every day emergency response experts gather to test their readiness to deal with a fish.

 But the Asian carp is no ordinary fish, and so a boardroom in the Peterborough offices of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources is being turned into a temporary war room of sorts. It marks the first time government experts have come together to simulate an invasive-species emergency.

“We’ve run emergency-preparedness exercises before for influenza outbreaks,” said Eric Boysen, director of the MNR’s biodiversity branch. “We’ve done them for ice storms. We said we want to run one for Asian carp.”

While the Great Lakes are already home to 180 invasive species, the potential for the next invader to be an Asian carp is spurring both the provincial and federal governments into action.

California cities prepare for rising seas
Cities along California’s coastline that for years have dismissed reports of climate change or lagged in preparing for rising sea levels are now making plans to fortify their beaches, harbors and waterfronts.

Communities up and down the coast have begun drafting plans to build up wetlands as buffers against rising tides, to construct levees and seawalls to keep the waters at bay or to retreat from the shoreline by moving structures inland.

Among them is Newport Beach, a politically conservative city where a council member once professed to not believe in global warming. Now, the wealthy beach city is considered to be on the forefront of preparing for climate change.

Though some in Newport Beach remain skeptical that global warming caused by humans is elevating sea levels, city planners are looking at raising seawalls by a foot or more to hold back the ocean. New homes along the city’s harbor are being built on foundations several feet higher than their predecessors as a precaution against flooding.
–The Los Angeles Times

GOP spending plan targets EPA
The House spending bill passed last month wouldn’t just chop $60 billion from the federal budget — it seeks to cut a broad swath through environmental regulation.

From fish protections in California to water pollution limits in Florida and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, environmental programs were targets of the Republican budget resolution, which appears to have been as much about setting a political agenda as about deficit reduction.

Democrats have promised to block the environmental and other cuts in the Senate, where they hold a slim majority, and President Obama has raised the threat of a veto, making it unlikely that many of the hits in the proposal will survive. Lawmakers passed a stopgap measure to keep the government operating while they hash out a compromise.

But few expect the recently elected and highly motivated GOP majority in the House to give up. “I think they’re going to try and use every tactic in the book,” said Nick Loris, a research associate with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “This is largely what they came into office saying they were going to do.”
–The Los Angeles Times

EPA targets old California mercury mine
An abandoned mercury mine that for decades has sent polluted, orange waste into a creek that eventually feeds into San Francisco Bay is a threat to human health and should be added to a list of the nation’s worst polluted places, federal environmental regulators say.

The New Idria mercury mine in remote San Benito County was shuttered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972 because of pollution from piles of mine waste and the site’s towering blast furnace. For decades, however, the agency refused to add it to the National Priorities List, which qualifies a site for millions of dollars in federal Superfund cleanup funding.

The EPA proposed listing the site — a year and a half after The Associated Press reported that federal and state regulators had failed to clean it despite their own studies showing the mine was polluting nearby streams and making fish unsafe to eat. The Blue Ledge copper and cadmium mine, along the Rogue River near the Oregon border, is also being recommended for Superfund status.

“In 2010, we realized … that our previous investigations had not sampled in areas that were likely impacted (and) that the effects were likely much farther downstream than we previously thought,” a group of EPA mine experts said in an e-mailed response to questions from the AP about the proposed change.
–The Associated Press

U of Iowa hiring sustainability profs
The only resource that will sustain a population set to grow by 50 to 80 million people in the next 25 years is water.

Dave Dzombak, civil and environmental professor from Carnegie Mellon University, spoke to a crowd of nearly 50 at the University of Iowa Chemistry Building about the increasing demand for water and alternatives for water in thermoelectric power production.

And in the quest for water sustainability, it’s time to move forward, Dzombak said.

“I’ve been thinking a lot these days about our various footprints,” said Dzombak. “The real challenge is to decrease resource consumption.”

As experts put more emphasis on water sustainability, the UI is keeping pace.

The university’s Water Sustainability Initiative established the Water Sustainability Cluster Steering Committee in 2009 in order to improve research in water sustainability. The initiative’s current goal is to hire 10 faculty to study the topic.

Jerald Schnoor, head of the initiative, said the 3-year-period hiring process is on schedule. Two faculty have already been hired, offers have been extended to two more and searches for three additional faculty are underway.
–The Daily Iowan

 Pennsylvania rivers scrutinized
Radioactivity levels are “at or below” safe levels in Pennsylvania rivers, state regulators said, based on water samples taken last November and December from seven rivers.

 The results come at a time of growing scrutiny of the potential hazards of radioactivity and other contaminants in wastewater fom natural-gas drilling. The wastewater is routinely sent to treatment plants in Pennsylvania, which then discharge their waste into rivers.

 In a letter sent to the state, the federal Environmental Protection Agency noted the state’s test results, but instructed officials there to perform testing within 30 days for radioactivity at drinking-water intake plants.

 It also said that all permits issued by the state to treatment plants handling this waste should be reviewed to ensure that operators were complying with the law.
–The New York Times