WBEZ | contamination http://www.wbez.org/tags/contamination Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Behind the fracking boom, a sand mining rush http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-fracking-boom-sand-mining-rush-108078 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/for cover.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><a name="#starved"></a><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F101336097&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F101360760&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Sand mining is a largely-overlooked side effect of the fracking boom. &ldquo;Frac sand&rdquo; refers to the fine, white silica or quartz sand that is in high demand for use in hydraulic fracturing. The fracking process involves drilling a well thousands of feet underground, cracking open the shale rock, and shooting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand into the miniscule cracks to force out natural gas. The sand serves as a &ldquo;proppant&rdquo; to hold open the cracks in the rock.</p><p>Most of that sand comes from regions where fracking itself is not taking place. LaSalle County, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, has historically been the silica mining capital of the country. Now with the fracking process coming to some of Illinois&rsquo; downstate communities, the frac sand issue is grabbing a little more attention, although, as of yet, the downstate prospecting for natural gas wells has little effect on the sand mining industry in the northern part of the state.&nbsp;<strong>Listen in on the controversy over a proposed mine adjacent to Starved Rock State Park </strong><strong><a href="##starved">(above)</a></strong>. And then read on for some key facts about mining for frac sand.</p><p>While reporting this story, WBEZ also came across a case of severe and dangerous water contamination next to a frac sand mine in LaSalle County. While&nbsp;<strong>the problems with the water in Wedron remain an unsolved mystery <a href="##starved">(listen above)</a></strong>, check below for what we do know about Wedron.</p><h2><u><strong>Key Facts About Frac Sand Mining in Illinois</strong></u></h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Frac sand is not just for fracking.</strong>&nbsp;The sand that most companies want to use as a proppant in fracking fluid is the purest possible silica, or quartz, in a round and even grain size. The silica found in the midwest, in what&rsquo;s called the St. Peter sandstone formation, is perfect for the companies&rsquo; purposes&mdash;and it&rsquo;s also the sand that forms the majestic bluffs at Illinois&rsquo; Starved Rock State Park. This same sand has long been mined for commercial and industrial uses like sandboxes and glass. It&rsquo;s particularly advantageous for mining operations to find areas where silica is close to the surface.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sand mining has been going on in Illinois since at least the 1860s.&nbsp;</strong>A mine belonging to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ussilica.com/locations/ottawa-il" target="_blank">U.S. Silica,</a>&nbsp;the largest sand mining company in the country, has been located in Ottawa, Illinois since the 1860s.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There are five silica sand mines in Illinois,</strong>&nbsp;four of them in LaSalle County. Three new mines have been proposed and permitted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) but they are not currently operating. Over the last five years, U.S. Silica, Unimin and Fairmount Minerals, companies with long-standing mines in LaSalle County, have all increased production and opened new facilities in other states.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Illinois is historically the silica sand capital of the country.&nbsp;</strong>In 2012, the state was second behind Texas in production of silica sand. Wisconsin is a close third: the number of sand mines in Wisconsin more than&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2011/07/31/sand-mining-surges-in-wisconsin/" target="_blank">doubled from 2010-2011</a>&nbsp;and has been growing since, although in 2012&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2012/10/25/updated-map-frac-sand-rush-slowing/" target="_blank">the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported the rush to get new mining permits was slowing</a>. Many of the more than 100 Wisconsin mines have a far lower production capacity than Illinois&rsquo; well-established mines.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Demand has skyrocketed.</strong>&nbsp;The demand for silica sand suddenly shot through the roof with the growth of the fracking industry in the late 2000s. In 2011, U.S. silica consumption was over 26 million tons; in 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey reported it had nearly doubled to over 45 million tons. Prices spiked for a couple years, although now companies in Illinois and Wisconsin report the pricing has leveled out as supply begins to meet demand. The owner of Mississippi Sand, LLC says his sand will sell for $100-$150 per ton, including transportation.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Protections for workers have improved.</strong>&nbsp;Breathing in the fine particulate matter from silica mining&nbsp;<a href="https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/crystalline-factsheet.pdf" target="_blank">can cause silicosis and other lung diseases</a>. But in contrast to the first hundred years of mining for silica sand, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) now requires protections for workers such as wearing face masks. Still, many mines have been found in violation of federal and state standards, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5416a2.htm" target="_blank">a federal study</a>&nbsp;reported 148 deaths from silicosis in 2002.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Air pollution from dust is a risk of silica mines.&nbsp;</strong>The federal EPA doesn&rsquo;t regulate airborne silica, but states may require air quality monitoring around mines. The proposed Mississippi Sand mine next to Starved Rock State Park will have to get an Illinois EPA air quality permit in order to start mining.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Most mines use a lot of water.</strong>&nbsp;Silica sand mining operations use water to wash sand, and they may also use water to keep down dust on windy days. In addition, many surface mining operations dig down into aquifers, which means some mines pump out water to the tune of millions of gallons per day in order to reach the desired sand.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Silica mining can contaminate waterways.</strong>&nbsp;<a href="http://stopthestarvedrocksandmine.wordpress.com/talking-points/" target="_blank">Environmentalists say water containing silica sediment may silt up streams and harm wildlife.</a>&nbsp;Water quality around sand mines is regulated by states, and in Illinois, surface mines are required to get a water discharge permit for operation. The proposed mine next to Starved Rock State Park has a permit to discharge over five million gallons of water per day into a nearby creek, and an average of 1.4 million gallons per day. The mine will be required to submit monthly water quality reports. In Wisconsin,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/2013/03/03/frac-sand-dnr-violations/" target="_blank">a recent report</a>&nbsp;found many mines violated water quality standards in 2012. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Mining can lower the water table and disturb wetlands.</strong>&nbsp;Because some sand mines reach below the water table, mining operations may involve pumping water out of the ground. These operations are known to alter water levels in certain areas, including at a sand mine in Wedron, Illinois that is now&nbsp;under investigation for its connection to groundwater contamination.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Sand is shipped out by train, barge and truck.</strong>&nbsp;The owner of Mississippi Sand, Tony Giordano, says about 100 trucks a day will leave the mine near Starved Rock once it is in full operation. Each truck carries about 25 tons of sand to a nearby train or barge terminal for long-distance shipping. In the case of Mississippi Sand, almost all the silica sand will be headed for fracking operations in other states.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Mining in Illinois is regulated by the state, counties and cities.</strong>&nbsp;There are no federal environmental standards related specifically to silica, so the environmental effects of silica mining are monitored at a state level. In Illinois, cities and counties with zoning laws can control permits for proposed mines, but may not have the authority to impose taxes or control environmental practices or traffic.</p><p><strong>A proposed mine next to Starved Rock State Park has been approved.&nbsp;</strong>The mine belonging to Mississippi Sand that would be adjacent to Starved Rock received a special use permit from LaSalle County in 2012, and it was also permitted by the IDNR and the Illinois EPA. Coincidentally, the IDNR also manages the state park that activists contend will be at risk. The IDNR said in a written statement to WBEZ, &ldquo;During the review process, the IDNR examined potential impacts to threatened and endangered species in the area and made recommendations to the county board based upon that analysis...Since then, the mining company has provided and satisfied all information requirements provided by law and thus, IDNR approved its permit to the company.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The mine next to Starved Rock is not yet under construction.&nbsp;</strong>In December 2012, the Sierra Club, Openlands, and the Prairie Rivers Network filed a lawsuit against the IDNR and Mississippi Sand, contending that the permit fails to comply with state law protecting wetlands and wildlife. Mississippi Sand owner Tony Giordano said in July 2013 that he can&rsquo;t say when operations will begin at the mine, but he believes the permitting process is proof that the mine is neither unique nor hazardous to the area.&nbsp;<strong><a href="##starved">Listen to the whole story.</a></strong></p><h2><u><strong>Key facts about the water contamination case in Wedron, Illinois</strong></u></h2><p dir="ltr"><strong>Wedron is home to one of the largest sand mines in the country.</strong>&nbsp;Wedron Silica, now owned by&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fairmountminerals.com/Fairmount-Corporate/About-Fairmount/History.aspx" target="_blank">Fairmount Minerals</a>, was established in the area 125 years ago and has expanded to become one of the largest sand mines in the county, now employing over 200 people. Fairmount also operates mines in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There is benzene in the groundwater supply.</strong>&nbsp;Benzene is commonly found in gasoline and petroleum along with toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, all of which have shown up in groundwater and well water tests in Wedron.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxguides/toxguide-3.pdf" target="_blank">Benzene is carcinogenic</a>&nbsp;and the&nbsp;<a href="http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/benzene.cfm#four" target="_blank">US EPA drinking water standard</a>&nbsp;for enforcement is five parts per billion (ppb). The recommended standard is zero. Wells in Wedron have tested at up to 2400 ppb for benzene. It may also be absorbed through the air; as of July, 2013, the EPA was awaiting test results regarding benzene vapors in Wedron.&nbsp;<strong>Hear the Wedron story (</strong><strong><a href="##starved">above)</a></strong><strong>.</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Benzene is not associated with the process of mining for frac sand.&nbsp;</strong>The mining process may use a lot of water and kick up a lot of dust, but it does not routinely require chemicals like benzene. If benzene in Wedron is somehow related to the presence of the mine, it would have to do with products used to clean equipment, or for maintenance or transportation, not mining itself.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Benzene could be associated with equipment used at the mine, or with an old spill.</strong>&nbsp;Twice in the last fifty years, trains have derailed in Wedron and spilled petroleum directly into the ground. Recent investigations have also uncovered underground storage tanks from former gas stations on the land now belonging to Illinois Railway, which hauls sand in and out of Wedron. A final theory on the source of the contaminants, suggested by Bob Bowcock, an environmental investigator for&nbsp;<a href="http://www.brockovich.com/projects/wedron-illinois/" target="_blank">Erin Brockovich</a>, is that a mixture of chemicals including petroleum and solvents come from an equipment maintenance facility on the Wedron Silica property. Fairmount Minerals, the owner of Wedron Silica, denies this charge.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The groundwater flow has been altered by mining in Wedron.</strong>&nbsp;A 2013 EPA groundwater study found that the pumping up of water out of a mining pit on the west side of town has likely caused the groundwater in Wedron to flow west, away from the train tracks and across town toward the pit. If this is true, that would be an alteration to its natural path. The&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/wedron/pdfs/wedron-memo-201302.pdf" target="_blank">EPA document&nbsp;</a>says &ldquo;mining operations are generally responsible for the reversal of natural groundwater flow direction and lowering the water table in Wedron.&rdquo; If the mine ceased to use the pit, the water could reverse itself and begin to flow downhill toward the river again.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In 2007, Fairmount Minerals opened a new frac sand treatment facility called Technisand.</strong>&nbsp;Technisand produces resin-coated sand for fracking, and has facilities in Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma and Mexico. The company has declined to discuss whether benzene could be involved in the Technisand operation in Wedron, but maintains that it does not believe Wedron Silica is responsible for a petroleum spill.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>An investigator from Erin Brockovich&rsquo;s office says they intend to file suit against the sand mine.</strong>&nbsp;Bob Bowcock, an environmental investigator for the Brockovich firm, says the suit will ask for damages on behalf of 35 residents of Wedron.&nbsp;<em>(Updated July 17. A previous version of this story listed the number involved in the suit as 25.)</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Lewis Wallace is a reporter. Follow him on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 17 Jul 2013 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/behind-fracking-boom-sand-mining-rush-108078 Delay and denial in Pines http://www.wbez.org/news/delay-and-denial-pines-106548 <p><p>The Town of Pines, Ind., is an unassuming place. There&rsquo;s no factory or skyline to compete with the smoky towers of Gary and nearby Michigan City. Sitting at the edge of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Pines is home to just over 700 people, two gas stations, one church and one bank. It&rsquo;s easy to miss unless you&#39;re looking for it, as it&#39;s tucked among groves of trees along U.S. Highway 12.</p><p dir="ltr">Pines does, however, have a landmark of sorts.</p><p dir="ltr">The unceremoniously-named Yard 520 is an out-of-use landfill that sits kitty-corner from Pines&#39; public park. There&#39;s no household garbage under the yard&#39;s rolling expanse of green grass; instead, the landfill holds an estimated 1.5 million tons of ash from coal burned at a Michigan City power plant, which sits about three miles away. Half of Yard 520&rsquo;s fill is unlined.</p><p dir="ltr">The ash dumping in Yard 520 started almost fifty years ago. Twelve years ago, the town learned the water was contaminated with pollutants that can leach from coal ash. Nine years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared most of Pines a cleanup site. And still today, the Pines cleanup is a web of distrust between residents, the companies responsible for the ash and the EPA.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My husband and I bought our home here to raise our family,&rdquo; said Cathi Murray, the vice president of Pines&rsquo; town council. &ldquo;We thought we found our own little piece of paradise. Well, it turns out to be pretty much our own little piece of hell.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Pines&#39; blue lawn ornaments</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The people in Pines first learned there was a problem in 2000, when a resident tasted something funny in her well water and complained to environmental authorities. After that, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the EPA conducted tests that turned up elevated levels of&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/pines/pdfs/pines_fs_200301.pdf" target="_blank">manganese, boron, molybdenum, arsenic and lead</a>. Residents and their environmentalist allies <a href="http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/Not_in_My_Lifetime.pdf" target="_blank">spent years agitating over the issue</a>, and the EPA made almost the entire town a cleanup site in 2004.</p><p dir="ltr">For Murray, the damage was already done. She had moved to Pines with her husband years earlier and put down roots, working as a school teacher and raising two kids. She&#39;d already spent a decade drinking tap water that came straight out of the ground in Pines; while she was pregnant, she says, she swore off pop and coffee and drank only well water.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines inline 1.JPG" style="float: right; height: 263px; width: 330px;" title="George Adey and Cathi Murray have lived in Pines since before the coal ash contamination was uncovered. They now worry about their families’ health. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p dir="ltr">&quot;So I have an older daughter who was born with a rare bowel disorder, and I have a younger daughter who was born hearing impaired,&quot; she said. &quot;Do you think I will ever stop wondering, did the water I drink have anything to do with that?&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The EPA began circling around a suspect: coal combustion waste, or coal ash, the material stored in Yard 520. The presumption was that as water struck underground ash deposits, it would pick up traces of arsenic, boron, and other elements that can be dangerous if consumed at high levels. The contaminated water would continue moving underground, only to be drawn into residents&#39; drinking wells.</p><p dir="ltr">NIPSCO, the utility that had dumped most of the ash, and the landfill owner, Brown, agreed to pipe in municipal water from Michigan City to two separate parts of Pines. After residents without municipal water (including Murray) sued the companies, they extended the water lines to most of the town under&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/pines/pinesfs200404b.htm" target="_blank">a new agreement with the EPA</a>. About 50 homes in Pines still have no access to the new municipal pipes. For the past nine years they&#39;ve drunk bottled water provided by the companies; today you can spot big, blue containers on some homes&rsquo; front lawns or driveways.</p><p dir="ltr">And Yard 520 is not the only potential source of contamination in the town. In the sixties and seventies coal ash was used as road base and structural fill throughout Pines. You can literally pick the light, shimmery black stuff off the ground in roadways, driveways and even yards. Murray says her children used to play with it before anyone realized the potential danger.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>An alternative approach?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;You have to cook with bottled water, boil spaghetti, potatoes ... drink bottled water,&rdquo; said Shirley McColpin. She and her husband own one of about fifty homes in Pines that still have well water in their pipes. &ldquo;I just don&rsquo;t think people should have to live like that.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The responsible companies pay for water for people like McColpin, but she&rsquo;s tired of waiting for the outcome of the official cleanup. She says she&rsquo;s never had her well tested, and she&rsquo;s afraid to wash in the water. McColpin says her husband dodged a bout with skin cancer just a couple years ago.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Somebody polluted our water and somebody&rsquo;s responsible for this,&rdquo; McColpin said. &ldquo;Fess up ... and give us our water.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">From the vantage of people like McColpin, the cleanup begun in 2004 has been slow and the definition of &quot;cleanup&quot; slippery. But the EPA and NIPSCO say they&rsquo;ve done all they can to involve the community in what&#39;s called a &ldquo;Superfund Alternative Agreement,&rdquo; a less formal version of the official&nbsp;<a href="http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/news/superfund/?ar_a=1" target="_blank">Superfund cleanup program</a>. The &ldquo;alternative&rdquo; approach, they say, can save time and money by allowing polluters to enter into voluntary but legally-binding agreements.</p><p dir="ltr"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines inline 2.JPG" style="height: 510px; width: 680px;" title="The Yard 520 landfill is the biggest thing in the 700-person town of Pines. It holds more than a million tons of coal ash. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" />Superfund Alternative sites are not listed on the EPA&rsquo;s National Priorities List for hazardous contamination sites, although they meet the exact same criteria for the severity of the pollution. The strategy is logical: Superfund cleanups are notoriously complicated and time-consuming, and listing a site on the NPL can involve lengthy litigation. With the Superfund Alternative, the EPA drops legal battles, while industry avoids the bad P.R. smell that comes with having a Superfund site under your nose.</p><p dir="ltr">But observers of Pines and other cleanup sites question whether this &nbsp;route is actually transparent and expedient. A&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/evaluate/pdf/waste/effectiveness-assessment-region-4-superfund-alternative-approach.pdf" target="_blank">recent EPA assessment says the alternative approach doesn&rsquo;t necessarily make cleanups cheaper or faster.</a> And Pines residents have repeatedly accused the EPA and the companies of making decisions about the cleanup behind closed doors.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We feel that we&rsquo;ve done more community involvement at the Pines site than some of our NPL sites,&rdquo; said Rick Karl, who heads the EPA Region 5 Superfund Division. He says there&rsquo;s no real difference in transparency or oversight from a regular Superfund cleanup aside from the formality of NPL listing.</p><p dir="ltr">Between 2002 and 2011, Region 5 established more alternative sites than the rest of the country combined. But Karl says he has not evaluated whether Superfund Alternative cleanups are faster or cheaper.</p><p dir="ltr">That&rsquo;s not surprising, or so says Lisa Evans, an environmental activist and lawyer who worked for the EPA in the 1980s. &ldquo;Are cleanups being done faster, does the community have more involvement in those sites, is it costing industry or the government less money?&rdquo; Evans said. &ldquo;None of that is true. What the advantage is, is that industry doesn&rsquo;t have the stigma of having a Superfund site.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, NIPSCO and their consultants are quick to point out that Pines is not a regular Superfund site and they are only &ldquo;potentially responsible parties&rdquo; under the alternative agreement. In other words, they&rsquo;ve agreed to pay the price for cleanup, but they haven&rsquo;t necessarily accepted blame for Pines&rsquo; groundwater contamination. The irony is that people like Shirley McColpin haven&rsquo;t avoided the stigma of living in a contamination zone.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve just been held prisoner,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t sell your home, real estate agents won&rsquo;t come. They don&rsquo;t say, &lsquo;You have poison water we&rsquo;re not coming.&rsquo; But that&rsquo;s the reason they don&rsquo;t come.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The slow grind</strong></p><p dir="ltr">A likely culprit behind the pace of Superfund cleanups is the principle of the &ldquo;polluter pays.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">As in most Superfund sites, the companies responsible for coal ash in Pines bankrolled the environmental investigation. They hired their own consultants, but they also issued grants to a citizen&rsquo;s group, People in Need of Environmental Safety (P.I.N.E.S.), to hire an independent technical advisor to review the studies of environmental and human health risks from coal ash in Pines.</p><p dir="ltr">The result? The experts (again, one representing the company, another representing the citizens&rsquo; group) spar over technical details, while the residents absorb mixed messages about the contamination&rsquo;s severity and sources. According to P.I.N.E.S. technical advisor, Chuck Norris of GeoHydro, fundamental questions remain unanswered &mdash; despite the fact that the EPA is nine years into its investigation.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, Norris says the EPA and AECOM haven&rsquo;t adequately measured how much coal ash was buried and spread around Pines, where it&rsquo;s located, or how much of the contamination can be accurately attributed to coal ash used as road fill. And, he says, the arsenic showing up in monitoring wells near the landfill has never been located in soil or water samples taken in other places, despite the fact that it&rsquo;s presumably spreading with the groundwater plume or filtering out into the soil.</p><p dir="ltr">Norris is also perplexed about the lack of a definitive groundwater model. In other words, NIPSCO&rsquo;s consultants offered several predictions about where the contaminated plume of water is moving, none of which were accepted by the EPA. That debate took years, and still left the cleanup with no groundwater model at all, a move Norris calls &ldquo;very unusual&rdquo; for a groundwater contamination site.<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines inline 3.JPG" style="height: 285px; width: 380px; float: right;" title="Some Pines residents have been drinking and cooking with bottled water for almost ten years. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p dir="ltr">The EPA approved the environmental reports sanctioned by NIPSCO at each stage even when those reports lacked what Norris considers key information. Norris finds this disconcerting.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to leave the gorilla in the room, but we&rsquo;re not going to make you acknowledge that the gorilla&rsquo;s there,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Even though whether or not it&rsquo;s there seems to be important.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">But Norris says it&rsquo;s too soon to declare the cleanup a success or failure; the proof, he says, will be in the pudding. And, he says, it can be hard for affected residents to face the fact that a &ldquo;cleanup&rdquo; of groundwater contamination is never really over.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s always a balance between what technically can be done, what it costs to do it and how much damage will be allowed to continue in lieu of trying to do more,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;A perfect cleanup doesn&rsquo;t exist. Once these contaminants are out, they&rsquo;re out.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">And here&rsquo;s the latest message Pines residents have had to absorb: The&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/region5/cleanup/pines/pdfs/pines_fs_200301.pdf" target="_blank">most recent studies of the site</a> approved by the EPA find no significant risk to human health from coal ash contamination.</p><p dir="ltr">This seemingly reassuring news is the word of the consultant overseeing the science in Pines on behalf of the companies. That person also happens to be a leading advocate for the coal ash industry.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>At the helm: An advocate for coal ash reuse</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Lisa Bradley has managed the environmental investigation in Pines since 2004 as an employee of AECOM, an international consulting giant. AECOM already has a coal ash track record: In 2009 the Inspector General for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the utility responsible for the wet ash disaster in Kingston, accused&nbsp;<a href="http://oig.tva.gov/PDF/09rpts/2008-12283-02.pdf" target="_blank">AECOM of understating the company&rsquo;s responsibility</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">And last year, Lisa Bradley joined the executive committee of the powerful&nbsp;<a href="http://www.acaa-usa.org/" target="_blank">American Coal Ash Association</a>, an association of utilities and marketers in the business of promoting what they call the &ldquo;beneficial use&rdquo; of coal ash.</p><p dir="ltr">The national industry in coal ash recycling is worth more than $2 billion a year. Companies say various types of dry ash from coal combustion can be safely used in roads, in concrete, or even in toothpaste. The EPA&rsquo;s currently&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/ccr-rule/index.htm" target="_blank">weighing two proposed regulations</a> on the use of coal ash; industry broadly favors one that&rsquo;s less restrictive. The agency&rsquo;s sat silent on both since 2011.</p><p dir="ltr">Also, the EPA itself supports coal ash reuse, and in 2011 the inspector general&nbsp;<a href="http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2011/20110323-11-P-0173.pdf" target="_blank">slapped the agency&rsquo;s wrist</a> over the issue. The agency, the IG wrote, had collaborated with industry to support the practice of coal ash reuse, despite the lack of data about the potential risks.</p><p dir="ltr">Bradley attends industry events, where she&nbsp;<a href="http://www.flyash.info/2011/Plenary-Bradley-2011.pdf" target="_blank">promotes the idea that coal ash is similar in composition to soil</a>. Environmentalist groups have <a href="http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/ACAAreport.pdf" target="_blank">smeared her work as &ldquo;junk science.&rdquo;</a> But she doesn&rsquo;t believe her advocacy makes her unqualified for the Pines jobs.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t see it as a conflict,&rdquo; said Bradley. &ldquo;I&rsquo;m very well trained in what I do. I&rsquo;ve been doing it for a long time. Certainly everything we&rsquo;ve done for Pines has followed EPA guidance and regulations.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">All of this is incontrovertible. Bradley&rsquo;s been a toxicologist at AECOM for 22 years. And in any EPA cleanup, the agency ultimately approves all the reports and decides the outcome based on its own regulatory powers.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet the EPA&rsquo;s&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fightingbob.com/files/Coalwaste.pdf" target="_blank">own research</a> has documented two dozen proven cases of environmental or health problems caused by coal ash, and dozens more potential cases. Numerous scientific studies demonstrate that the elements present in coal ash can harm human health, animals and the environment. An&nbsp;<a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2009/02/19/2942/coal-ash-hidden-story" target="_blank">investigative report</a> by the Center for Public Integrity finds industry has had a hand in holding back state regulations and fighting against federal ones.</p><p dir="ltr">So how could a figure like Bradley end up in such a key position in Pines?</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They&rsquo;re providing facts and information just as any other toxicologist would provide,&rdquo; said Nick Meyer, a spokesman for NIPSCO. He says the company selected AECOM as consultants through a standard bidding process. The data the consultants provide, he says, is not subjective. &ldquo;A 12-inch ruler is gonna measure something the same as it measures something down the road.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">But the comparison is not apt. Environmental reports are hundreds of pages long and include thousands of pieces of data gathered from wells and soil samples. EPA feedback on those reports is even more substantive; I&rsquo;ve been told a Freedom of Information Act request for comments and communications about the Pines reports will take six months to fulfill.</p><p dir="ltr">When I asked Rick Karl of EPA Region 5 about concerns that this cleanup could be influenced by the coal ash industry, his response was simple.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We use our own scientists to review and prepare comments on any document that is developed by a responsible party,&rdquo; Karl said.</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, the buck stops with the EPA. Though, of course, not everyone sees it that way, particularly those who think the EPA&rsquo;s dropped the ball on coal ash.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem lies in relying on the polluter to do the investigation,&rdquo; said Evans, adding that having the EPA make corrections after the fact is a waste of time at best. &ldquo;Because the polluter has a vested interest in keeping those costs low. It&rsquo;s a situation of the fox guarding the chicken coop.&rdquo;<img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/pines%20inline%204.JPG" style="float: left; height: 248px; width: 380px;" title="George Adey shows off bottom ash that had been deposited on a road in Pines long ago. In the 60s and 70s, coal combustion waste was used to fill roads in the town. (WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)" /></p><p dir="ltr">Evans argues potential gaps in oversight are built into &ldquo;the polluter pays&rdquo; model of almost all EPA cleanups. Keep in mind that there are more than 1,000 of these sites around the country, and Pines is neither the most contaminated, nor the most controversial.</p><p dir="ltr">But despite the confusion it can cause for residents and the potential for conflicts of interest, the &ldquo;polluter pays&rdquo; model is all the EPA has to work with. The EPA&rsquo;s Superfund program <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/2007/04/26/5621/superfund-today" target="_blank">hasn&rsquo;t received new funding since 1995</a>, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/20/AR2010062001789.html" target="_blank">the Obama administration&rsquo;s efforts to reinstate the Superfund tax</a> have gone nowhere. In the meantime, the EPA is placing fewer new sites on the National Priorities List, and Superfund Alternative Approach sites are on the rise.</p><p dir="ltr">As it stands now (in Pines, and around the country), if the polluter doesn&rsquo;t pay, no one does.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The clock will keep ticking</strong></p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The coal industry wants a free hand to dispose of this stuff how they see fit,&rdquo; said George Adey, the Pines Town Council president. &ldquo;Our community is a perfect example of why we need a stronger EPA and stronger regulation for coal ash.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">That kind of sentiment&rsquo;s drawing more attention lately, especially after the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/us/27sludge.html?_r=0" target="_blank">Kingston disaster</a>. That incident reminded environmentalists and lawmakers that towns such as Pines had been treated like coal ash dumps, though it hasn&rsquo;t led to much action. The EPA has been sitting on two proposed regulations on the disposal of coal ash since 2010, and the states offer a hodge-podge of guidelines. As it stands, the states regulate the disposal of coal ash in more than a thousand ponds and landfills around the country, many of them unlined.</p><p dir="ltr">Coal remains a major source of energy in the Chicago region as well as the entire nation. And environmentalists say &ldquo;clean coal&rdquo; is a fallacy if you <a href="http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1870599,00.html" target="_blank">consider the continued production of unregulated coal ash.</a></p><p dir="ltr">New regulatory developments are likely to pass Pines by, since NIPSCO no longer dumps ash there. The clock, though, will still be running on the cleanup. The EPA says it expects to announce what cleanup requirements it will impose on NIPSCO and Brown in early 2015.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the Yard 520 landfill still sits at the edge of the town. There&rsquo;s a marshy ditch right next to Yard 520 that captures most of the contaminated runoff from the area and carries it through the town of Pines and through Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.</p><p dir="ltr">The final destination? Lake Michigan.</p><p dir="ltr">Lewis Wallace is a WBEZ Pritzker Journalism Fellow. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/lewispants" target="_blank">@lewispants</a>.</p></p> Mon, 08 Apr 2013 15:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/delay-and-denial-pines-106548 Settlement could lead to big park for Mexican neighborhood http://www.wbez.org/story/settlement-could-lead-big-park-mexican-neighborhood-90552 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-12/00_580x350_parks6.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The city of Chicago could be near the end of a five-year legal battle for control of a former industrial site with potential to help form a 24-acre park. If an eminent-domain settlement holds up, the land could be an asset for a Mexican-American area of the Southwest Side.<br> <br> Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sanjay T. Tailor this week signed off on the deal, under which the city will pay more than $7.5 million for about 19 acres owned by 2600 Sacramento Corp.<br> <br> “I don’t get a penny,” company owner Joanne Urso said Friday afternoon. The money will go to the Cook County Treasurer’s Office and remain there as Urso tries to settle with a bank that has filed suit to foreclose on the property, according to her attorney.<br> <br> Urso’s land could combine with an adjacent five acres the city already controls. The park would total about five blocks, all just west of South Sacramento Avenue and north of West 31st Street. The perimeter would pass residential buildings, industrial properties and the Cook County Jail.<br> <br> Activists in the Little Village neighborhood hailed the settlement. “We have not seen any park development in over 75 years,” said Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.<br> <br> Wasserman said the deal could inspire other neighborhoods to push for public amenities and services. “Regardless of language and regardless of immigration status, as long as there is determination in these communities, we can continue to get the things that we need,” she said.<br> <br> The park concept has the backing of the local alderman. “That’s what we’re pushing for,” said Juan Manzano, an aide to Ald. George Cárdenas, 12th Ward.<br> <br> The property served industrial manufacturers for more than 70 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Their output included asphalt, coal tar and driveway sealer. Celotex Corp. made roofing products on the site from 1967 to 1982, the EPA says.<br> <br> Allied Chemical and Dye Corp. purchased that operation. A series of mergers and acquisitions turned Allied into New Jersey-based Honeywell International Inc. The corporation dismantled the Celotex facilities between 1991 and 1993, according to the EPA. Urso’s company bought the property later.<br> <br> After cancer-linked chemicals turned up in nearby homes and yards, the EPA designated the area a Superfund site. A Honeywell cleanup consisted largely of covering the land with gravel. The cleanup finished last year, the agency says in a statement.<br> <br> Chicago filed the eminent-domain suit in 2006. The case became more complicated in August 2010, when Texas-based United Central Bank filed the foreclosure suit, a nearly $10 million claim, in federal court. The loan involves both the Celotex site and another Urso property.<br> <br> The city’s payment for Urso's land will consist of $6 million from the Chicago Park District and more than $1.5 million from city general-obligation bonds, according to Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.<br> <br> But the timeframe for creating the park is not clear. Ownership of Urso’s property will transfer to Chicago upon payment, due September 7, but the city is not specifying a date for turning over the acreage to the Park District. “Possibly later this year,” Hoyle wrote Friday afternoon.<br> <br> A possible obstacle is a Chicago Fire Department facility on the adjacent five acres.</p><p>The biggest challenge could be funding the park construction. Wasserman’s group is calling for playgrounds, a farm, sports fields, an amphitheater and a community center. Building all those amenities could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the group says.</p></p> Fri, 12 Aug 2011 22:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/settlement-could-lead-big-park-mexican-neighborhood-90552 Organic poultry farms have fewer drug-resistant bacteria, study finds http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-10/organic-poultry-farms-have-fewer-drug-resistant-bacteria-study-finds-90508 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-12/organic chickens_Flickr_WBUR.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Proponents of organic meat often make the case that it's inherently better for people's health and the environment than meat raised by conventional farming methods. But the actual impacts of organic production can be tough for scientists to prove.</p><p>A <a href="http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003350">study</a> out today in <em>Environmental Health Perspectives</em> adds some weight to the argument that organic poultry, at least, may reduce one type of health risk. A team of scientists from the University of Maryland and other universities found that large-scale organic poultry farms — which are not allowed to use antibiotics to prevent disease in the animals — had significantly lower levels of one group of drug-resistant bacteria than their conventional counterparts.</p><p></p><p>The study comes at a time when antibiotic use in industrial livestock production is under heavy fire from the public health community. Farmers who raise food-producing animals use about <a href="http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/12/news-break-fda-estimate-us-livestock-get-29-million-pounds-of-antibiotics-per-year/">29 million pounds</a> of antibiotics each year, according to the Food and Drug Administration, and the latest <em>Salmonella</em> outbreak in ground turkey turned out <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/08/06/139019030/salmonella-outbreak-reignites-debate-over-antibiotics-in-food-supply?ps=sh_sthdl">to be caused</a> by a strain resistant to several antibiotics.</p><p>Bacteria resistant to antibiotics can make their way to humans through the meat itself and the environment — like waterways contaminated with runoff. If humans ingest those bacteria or are exposed to them other ways and get sick, there aren't many options for treating them.</p><p>Several European countries have already banned the prophylactic or preventative use of antibiotics for exactly this reason, and some studies there have shown that once farmers reduce antibiotic use, those resistant microbes mostly go away.</p><p>But that's been difficult to study in the U.S., since the majority of farmers still use antibiotics pretty indiscriminately. So <a href="http://www.sph.umd.edu/miaeh/people/index.cfm">Amy Sapkota</a>, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study, decided to look at 10 mid-Atlantic farms that had just adopted organic practices. She measured the change in levels of <em>enterococci</em> bacteria against 10 mid-Atlantic conventional farms. <em>Enterococci </em>can show up in poultry litter, feed, and water. The researchers tested their resistance to 17 different types of antibiotic drugs.</p><p>"We were surprised to see such dramatic differences in the levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the very first flock at these organic farms," Sapkota tells Shots.</p><p>For one common antibiotic, erythromycin, 67 percent of an <em>Enterococcus </em>bacterium from conventional poultry farms were found to be resistant, while 18 percent were resistant at the organic farms. But Sapkota notes that organic farms usually still have "reservoirs" of resistant bacteria that can linger in the soil or the packed dirt floor of the poultry houses, so they may never be completely free of the bugs.</p><p>But Sapkota's work does not mean organic poultry eaters get a free pass when it comes to food safety. No chicken is completely free of <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/06/08/137055474/mixed-results-on-foodborne-illness-cast-shadow-on-daily-menu">pathogens</a>, and consumers still need to take all the precautions they normally would when preparing poultry: Cook it well and beware of cross-contamination on the cutting board. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. <img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1313159176?&gn=Organic+Poultry+Farms+Have+Fewer+Drug-Resistant+Bacteria%2C+Study+Finds&ev=event2&ch=103537970&h1=antibiotics,food+safety,Public+Health,Infectious+Disease,Shots+-+Health+Blog,Health,Your+Health,Food,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=139386917&c7=1128&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1128&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110810&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c31=133650740,133490675,133188449,126568156,103537970&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Wed, 10 Aug 2011 13:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-10/organic-poultry-farms-have-fewer-drug-resistant-bacteria-study-finds-90508