Blog Archives

EPA warns modernizing water system may boost levels of lead

WASA lead pipe replacement

WASA lead pipe replacement (Photo credit: IntangibleArts)

 

By Michael Hawthorne, Chicago Tribune

 

 

 

Chicago study finds high levels of toxic metal in areas of street work or plumbing repairs

 

Dangerous levels of lead are turning up in Chicago homes where pipes made of the toxic metal were disturbed by street work or plumbing repairs, according to a new federal study that suggests the city’s aggressive efforts to modernize its water system could inadvertently pose health risks.

The problem starts with lead service lines that Chicago installed across the city until the mid-1980s to connect water mains with homes. Researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that spikes of lead can leach into tap water when those pipes are altered by water main replacements, meter installations or street work.

High levels can be found in tap water for years afterward, the EPA study found, raising concerns that other cities with lead pipes could face similar problems.

Most homeowners likely are unaware they could be drinking tainted water. Under federal rules, utilities rarely are required to warn residents that work is being done or tell them they can take steps to reduce their exposure to lead. A potent neurotoxin, lead can damage the brains of young children, lower IQ and trigger learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life.

Lead is so hazardous that the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is no safe level of exposure. The metal has been phased out of gasoline, removed from paint and banned in children’s toys. But the widespread use of lead pipes during the last century has left a festering problem nationwide.

“We owe it to people to tell them that their water might not be safe to drink,” said Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech University who wasn’t involved with the EPA study but has reached similar conclusions in his own research. Read More

 

 

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Colorado waives asbestos cleanup laws for flood recovery, but experts fear safety may be compromised

Colorado National Guard Flood Response

Colorado National Guard Flood Response (Photo credit: The National Guard)

 

By Keli Rabon, http://www.thedenverchannel.com

 

Relaxed state requirements for asbestos cleanup and removal have paved the way for a speedier recovery for homeowners and businesses affected by the devastating floods. But cleanup professionals say the trade-off could be putting people at risk.

 

 “You can’t see it, taste it or smell it. There’s no way you’ll know without having a certified person come in and test for it,” says an industrial hygienist and state-certified asbestos inspector whose name we have withheld because he fears retaliation for speaking out.

 

On average, he says one in three homes in the state contains asbestos, and despite a common misconception that asbestos-containing products are no longer manufactured, the products are often shipped in from Canada and Mexico.  

 

“If you don’t know if a material has asbestos in it, you have to assume the material does, and treat it as an asbestos-containing material until it can be sampled and proven to not have asbestos in it,” the inspector said.

 

But in flood cleanup guidance released earlier this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said, “To enable timely cleanup of flood debris… the department will temporarily not enforce certain regulatory requirements.”  When it comes to asbestos contamination, the document states that, “If this is not known, the material may be handled as non-asbestos flood debris, and disposed of at a permitted landfill.”

 

But the asbestos inspector disagreed.

 

“Just removing the gross materials doesn’t guarantee that all the asbestos fibers are going to be gone from the structure,” the inspector said.

 

“So there could still be asbestos in the home, even though the materials are taken out?” Call7 Investigator Keli Rabon asked.

 

“Absolutely, because it’s a microscopic fiber,” he said.

 

If inhaled, those microscopic asbestos fibers can cause chronic lung disease or cancer, like mesothelioma. Studies show it can take 20 to 30 years before symptoms appear.

 

“Through this policy, is the state putting people at risk?” Rabon asked.

 

“Absolutely,” the inspector said.

 

“I don’t agree with that at all. The safety of our citizens, first-responders and cleanup crews is our number one priority,” said Will Allison, CDPHE’s Director of Air Pollution Control.  

 

Allison says the safest option is to clean flood debris as quickly as possible.

 

“We’ve seen 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed by the recent flooding, and since that’s not the traditional type of remodel we would see, we recognize that in some stances, traditional regulations, it’s not practical to have them apply,” Allison said.

 

Previous guidance from the state has said, “Buildings of any age, even those newly built, may have asbestos containing material.”

 

Allison admits many people may not know if asbestos is in their home. Read More

 

 

The Government Shutdown’s effect on the EPA

US-EPA-Seal-EO11628

US-EPA-Seal-EO11628 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reposted from http://ieconnections.com

The shutdown of the federal government that began October 1 is affecting agencies and departments that deal with indoor environmental issues.

Now that the government has run out of money due to the failure to reach a budget agreement, federal agencies must decide which employees are “essential” and which ones can be furloughed for the duration of the budget impasse.

Ninety-four percent of the employees at the Environmental Protection Agency are being furloughed. This will suspend, for the time being, the agency’s ability to enforce its rules regarding lead-based paint, which require landlords to notify prospective tenants at rental units about potential hazards and contractors to be certified with respect to their knowledge of safe practices. Individuals should, of course, remain in compliance, as the agency will certainly reopen at some point.

But the head of the union that represents EPA employees issued a statement noting that some workers will remain on duty.

“Even today, some employees will continue to assist flood ravaged communities so that they can once again have clean, safe drinking water and fully functioning bathrooms,” the letter said. “They are helping these communities put the essentials in place so that they can begin to rebuild. But they will not have the support of their colleagues in the office, because they have been sent home to wait, wait for Congress to do its job and fund the government.” Read More

Landowners blast EPA cleanup

By Seaborn Larson, http://www.thewesternnews.com

Before Judy Lundstrom finally agreed to let the Environmental Protection Agency remove asbestos from her property, she wanted to know what her yard would look like after cleanup workers dug up the soil and removed the contaminated material.

Lundstrom, 72, said she was told by an EPA official that her yard, pasture, flower beds and garden would be “put back the same way, if not better.”

Three years later, after countless visits by EPA officials and contractors, Lundstrom said she has had enough. The asbestos has been removed, but she fears her property will never look as good as it once did.

“After they first did my lawn in 2010, I told them ‘This isn’t right. It shouldn’t be this way,'” Lundstrom said. “I’ve been going through this with (the EPA) for three years now. As far as I’m concerned they haven’t done anything right. It’s been a nightmare.” Read More

 

 

EPA cleans up lead contaminated lot in Pilsen

Environmental Protection Agency Seal

Environmental Protection Agency Seal (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

 

By Shannon Heffernan, http://www.wbez.org

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun cleanup of brain-damaging lead contamination on the former site of Loewenthal Metals in Pilsen.

 

Jerry Mead-Lucero is an organizer with Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO). He says lead contamination of over over 400 parts per million (ppm) is a concern. On the Lowenthal site, they discovered  lead levels levels as high as 23,000 ppm.

 

“Really we were quite shocked because that was off the charts from what we’ve seen before.  And it’s very close to a school and very close to a community garden,” said Mead-Lucero.

 

Lead exposure is especially damaging to pregnant women and young children. PERRO says the EPA knew about the contamination of the soil as early as 2006, but they only responded after PERRO began to pressure them. Read More

 

 

Spring cleanup can increase lead exposure in home

By Terry Gibb, Michigan State University Extension

Spring cleaning is an annual ritual. Whether you’re cleaning, remodeling or renovating, you need to become knowledgeable about potential lead contamination and sources.

Many homes have one or more sources of lead contamination. Lead exposure can have health and environmental effects on humans and pets. Lead is a soft metal used in many products, including ceramics, printer’s ink, children’s toys, paint, solder, lead crystal, water pipes and gasoline. For many years, it was commonly used in these products. Lead can last for hundreds of years in the environment and never break down into a harmless substance.

In homes, the most common source of lead is from “paint dust” in older homes. While lead was banned in paints in 1978, 74 percent of homes built prior to 1980 may have high levels of lead paint. This is the most common source of exposure for children. They don’t eat peeling paint chips, instead they play in areas where deteriorating paint has produced paint dust. Most of this dust can be found near areas exposed to moisture, such as around doors, windows and exterior walls. If paint is intact (no chipping, peeling or chalking), then exposure is greatly reduced. Chalking that causes paint dust also comes from weathering or when surfaces rub or scrape together as in the case of door and window sills.

Do-it-yourself kits are available to test for lead. These kits will indicate the presence or absence of lead but will not indicate the amount of lead present.

Other sources of lead are contaminated soils and drinking water. While lead occurs naturally in soil, soils can become further contaminated through paint or leaded gasoline. Read More

 

Indoor air quality: One of the EPA’s top 5 environmental risks to public health

By Michelle Krueger, http://www.nwitimes.com

When it comes to air sealing and ventilating, new residential building codes are now in place to ensure energy efficiency as well as the comfort of the homeowner. In many existing homes, there can be a number of uncontrolled air leaks that add up to the equivalent of leaving a window open 24/7.

While its been reported that air sealing uncontrolled leaks can reduce energy bills anywhere from 10-20 percent or more in some cases, its important to understand a home’s ventilation before undertaking any project. The advice of a certified home contractor may even be needed to avoid creating an unhealthy and potentially-life threatening environment.

With indoor air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, dust mites, pollen, radon, mold, excessive carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds and other chemicals identified by the EPA as contributing to poor indoor quality that causes or contributes to health concerns such as asthma, headaches, dry eyes, nasal congestion, nausea and fatigue, it’s extremely important to understand the role of proper ventilation or air exchanges. Indoor air is on average two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors and can be up to 100 times more. Read More

 

EPA Losing a Bundle on RRP Program

By Lauren Hunter, http://www.remodeling.hw.net

According to a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the EPA is losing money on its lead-based paint program. Based on the agency’s estimates since the Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule went into effect in 2010, the total loss will amount to $16.4 million by 2014. Fiscal year 2010 actually turned a profit of $8.9 million, but costs are exceeding fee collections by $25.3 million for 2011 through 2014.

According to the report, three issues are contributing to the EPA’s unrecovered costs. The agency has not conducted recommended biennial cost reviews to ensure that fees are in line with costs, and the fee structure also does not take into account all the indirect costs needed to recover the cost of administering the lead-based paint program. More importantly, the agency notes that RRP firm participation is lower than projected. Read More

 

‘Zero-TV’ Homes Spell Trouble for the Environment

By Lisa Marie Chirico, http://www.triplepundit.com

Although we’ve seen George Jetson watch TV on a flat screen, it’s not very likely that the rest of us will be doing so fifty years from now. Consumers are already watching more and more TV on their mobile devices or the Internet, and pushing their old TV sets out the door. How will we manage the ongoing environmental impact that the accumulation of toxic electronic waste, or e-waste brings? Moreover, how are electronics manufacturers implementing environmental sustainability efforts?

Tuning out

Dubbed “Zero TV” households by the Nielsen Co. since they don’t fit its usual definition of a TV home, their numbers are steadily increasing. This segment prefers to watch their favorite content on a computer (37 percent), or Internet TV (16 percent), followed by smartphones (8 percent), and tablets (6 percent). In 2007, there were three million Zero TV residences in the United States that unplugged.  Today, the number of Zero TV households in the U.S. has increased to more than five million. Satellite dishes, antennas, and cable TV providers are all things of the past for this segment. Nielsen’s study suggests that this new group may have left traditional TV for good.

Hit the road, Jack

As broadcasters scramble to create ways to adapt their programming to modern platforms, unwanted TV sets belonging to former cable subscribers are showing up in in landfills. The first wave of this began with the conversion from analog to digital TV. This prompted some consumers to purchase new flat-screen or plasma versions, and say goodbye to their cathode ray tube (CRT)-based sets. That move was, and continues to be, a blow to the environment, since the glass video display component of a CRT-based TV set contains as much as 27 percent lead according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition to lead, other heavy metals and toxic compounds lurk inside discarded TVs and run the danger of leaking into the ground. Read More

 

Linking mold to respiratory problems

By Carl Bennett, http://www.hivehealthmedia.com

Molds are rather harmless little fungi, present in every single environment, all-year round. But when they find warm and humid conditions, they tend to turn into that matter-decomposing eye sore we all know and dread. Their aspect however is probably the least important characteristic we should worry about; molds can be the cause of many health issues, ranging from itchy eyes and a runny nose to serious respiratory infections. Read More