Report: Texas coal power plants leaching toxic pollutants into groundwater

As the Trump administration considers weakening Obama-era safeguards for the disposal of toxic coal waste, a new report shows that groundwater near all of Texas’ 16 monitored coal-fired power plants is contaminated with pollutants — including known carcinogens — linked to so-called coal ash.
The report by the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project, released Thursday, analyzed on-site groundwater monitoring data that power companies are now required to report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under an Obama-era regulation known as the “Coal Ash Rule.” The report found that the groundwater around coal-fired plants across the state contain levels of pollutants like arsenic, boron, cobalt or lithium that would make it unsafe for human consumption.
In some cases, EIP’s report notes, contaminant levels at Texas coal plants far exceed federal health benchmarks.
For example, at a plant south of San Antonio owned by the San Miguel Electric Co-Op, a plant northwest of Houston owned and operated by the Texas Municipal Power Agency, known as Gibbons Creek, and Southwestern Electric Power Company’s J. Robert Welsh Power Plant east of Dallas, the level of cobalt found in the groundwater reached more than 600 micrograms per liter — more than 100 times higher than safe levels, according to the report.
"AEP is conducting the additional groundwater monitoring and analysis that is required by the CCR rule to determine if there is an impact on groundwater at the site."
The report found that the groundwater under another plant co-owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority and Austin Energy — the well-known Fayette Power Project Plant, which sits off Highway 71 between Austin and Houston — contains “unsafe levels of arsenic, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, and sulfate.” The report acknowledges that some of the contaminants may be naturally occurring and that it’s “unclear whether and to what extent these pollutants are coming from coal ash.” But it says that the company-reported monitoring data, which compares water samples gathered from wells upstream of the plants — water that shouldn’t be contaminated, but, the report notes, possibly could be — to water from wells downstream of the site indicate that sulfate levels are significantly higher downstream of the Fayette landfill “and is therefore probably not naturally occurring.” Bill Lauderback, LCRA executive vice president for Public Affairs, said in a statement that the report is incorrect.
“Repeated testing has not indicated that groundwater at FPP poses a public health risk, and EPA rules do not require LCRA to take further action at this time.” Despite data that indicates widespread groundwater contamination, Russ, the EIP attorney, said it’s too soon to know which plants have started shuttering their coal ash pits or cleaning them up because the process laid out in the federal coal ash rule is not complete.
That process requires companies to conduct additional testing if elevated levels of a pollutant are found before the EPA would take enforcement action.
Propping up the beleaguered coal industry was one of President Trump’s most reiterated campaign promises, and the Trump administration is now looking at unwinding the coal ash rule after industry groups petitioned the EPA last May.
"The TCEQ continues the process of revising the draft rule due to changes to the federal coal ash rule."

Chemours promises to reduce pollutants, but concerns persist downstream

Before November 2017, when DEQ suspended Chemours’ discharge privilege, the plant sent process wastewater into the Cape Fear River for less than $10 a day in permit fees.
And we have developed new technology to do some things that we’ve never been able to do before to address this issue.” The six tanks are part of a $100 million project to reduce Chemours’ fluorochemical pollution to no more than 1 percent of what it was in 2017.
That agreement passed to Chemours in 2015, when DuPont formed the company from business units that included the manufacture of GenX at the Fayetteville Works.
“We’ve announced corporate responsibility goals to reduce emissions of fluorinated organic compounds by 99 percent,” Long said.
“No other producer in the world has announced that goal.” Less stringent than June proposal A number of concerns have been raised about the proposed agreement since DEQ made it public the evening before Thanksgiving.
Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, which serves about 200,000 people in New Hanover County, filed a motion in late December to intervene in the lawsuit filed by DEQ that the proposed consent order would settle.
It also questioned why state regulators did not consult with CFPUA or address the costs it and its ratepayers have and will incur to deal with contamination the utility believes will continue from sources such as groundwater seepage or tainted river sediment.
In a “fact sheet” meant to address concerns such as those CFPUA expressed, DEQ pointed to regulatory actions since June 2017 it said reduced GenX in drinking water distributed by CFPUA “from over 1,000 parts per trillion in 2017 to less than 10 ppt in recent sampling.” “The order stops PFAS from contaminating the Cape Fear River, which stops PFAS from entering the drinking water of downstream users,” DEQ wrote.
However, combined levels of certain PFAS still remain above the stated levels in the proposed consent order.” In early December, DEQ staff conducted a community meeting in Bladen County to discuss GenX-related issues, including the proposed agreement.
Carolina Public Press’ in-depth, investigative journalism takes a lot of money, persistence and hard work to produce.

Our Clean Waters alleges Calwest discharged pollutants into waterways

LOS ANGELES — A non-profit organization is suing a Delaware corporation, among others, citing alleged violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
Our Clean Waters filed a complaint on Jan. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Valmont Industries Inc., doing business as Calwest, and Does 1-10, alleging that they failed to exercise care and caution for the protection of the environment.
On August 10, 2017, Our Clean Waters provided notice of the defendants’ alleged violations of the CWA, because of their disregard for the wrongful discharge of storm water pollutants from a Calwest facility into storm drains and local waterways.
The plaintiff holds the defendants responsible because they allegedly failed to control the continuous discharge of contaminated storm water, and failed to develop and implement a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan.
The plaintiff requests a trial by jury; and seeks judgment against the defendants for declaratory relief, civil penalties, restoration of the quality of waters impaired, costs and any further relief as the court may deem just.
It is represented by Scott L. Levitt of Levitt Law APC in Seal Beach.
U.S. District Court for the Central District of California case number 18-cv-00061

South Treatment Plant earns recognition for long-term permit compliance

South Treatment Plant earns recognition for long-term permit compliance.
King County’s South Treatment Plant in Renton earned the Platinum Peak Performance Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies for outstanding compliance with its state and federal permit requirements.
The award honors South Plant’s 19 consecutive years of meeting or surpassing its effluent discharge limits established by National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit under the federal Clean Water Act and the state’s Water Pollution Control Law.
The permit conditions also require the plant to conduct regular sampling and testing of both its untreated and treated wastewater.
South Plant also earned the Department of Ecology’s “Outstanding Performance Award” for perfect compliance with all permit conditions in 2014.
The plant treats an average of 90 million gallons of wastewater each day, with a capacity to treat up to 300 million gallons during severe storms.
The plant site also hosts the award-winning Waterworks Gardens Park, where art, technology and nature join in a unique way.
The park’s extensive network of wetlands acts as a natural treatment system to clean stormwater runoff from the plant site.
Waterworks Gardens is open to the public year-round from dawn to dusk.
Additional information about the South Treatment Plant is available online.

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Commissioners OK White Deer purchases

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Each Monday, the Sun-Gazette summarizes major votes of the past week and, more specifically, how our locally elected and appointed officials voted on each matter. Watch for it each Monday in the Sun-Gazette.) Locally elected and appointed officials voted on the following matters in the past week: Federal • The House voted to amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the Clean Water Act) to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency or a state from requiring a permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System for a discharge of a pesticide from a point source into navigable waters if the discharge is approved under FIFRA. U.S. Reps. Thomas Marino, R-Cogan Station, and Glenn “G.T.”…

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GHS sophomore receives Intel ISEF Grand Award

GHS sophomore receives Intel ISEF Grand Award.
Greenwich High School (GHS) sophomore Rahul Subramaniam received first place in the Microbiology category, a $3,000 award and Best in Category, a $5,000 award, from among about 1,800 students from around the world at the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) on Friday, May 19.
Rahul Subramaniam’s project is an Early Warning System for Zika Virus in Mosquito Populations Based on Real-Time Field Detection of Viral RNA in Mosquito Saliva – Rahul created an inexpensive and consumer-friendly mosquito trap with a food-source that would change color (in ~30min) if any of the (feeding) mosquitoes were infected with Zika.
Rahul is the first known researcher in literature to detect mosquito saliva in a live trap; this enabled him to detect Zika virus in that saliva in a field trap, that can be used as the initial basis for quarantine of an area that contains Zika-infected mosquitoes, before anyone gets infected.
Luca Barceló received an Intel ISEF second place award in the Environmental Engineering category ($1500), and was awarded a $48,000 scholarship to the University of Arizona for his project — Crowd-Sourced Detection and Mapping of Nitrate Water Pollutants via a Mobile Web-Based Image Analysis System.
Shobhita Sundaram received an Intel ISEF fourth place award in the Cellular and Molecular Biology category ($500), and also received a $1000 Special Award from NSA for her project — Detection of Premalignant Pancreatic Cancer via Computational Analysis of Serum Proteomic Profiles.
The application of her algorithm for pre-diagnosis of this otherwise (often) deadly disease represents a major breakthrough for pre-testing of those with a family history or suspicion of the disease, as curative surgery in the disease’s early stages is often successful.
Four additional Greenwich High School students were awarded the opportunity to participate in the 2017 Intel ISEF to present their projects: Agustina Stefani: Carbon Capture and Storage via Silver Nanoparticle Catalyzed Hydration of Carbon Dioxide.
Connor Li: Optimization of Vertically Aligned Boron Nitride Nanotube Membranes via Magnetic Arrangement in a Lyotropic Precursor for Water Transport Applications.
Michelle Xiong: Development of a CNT/ZnO/TiO2 Membrane for Visible-Light Induced Photocatalytic Filtration of Water-Borne Organic and Bacterial Pollutants.

MIT Researchers Use Electrochemical Method To Clean Water

MIT Researchers Use Electrochemical Method To Clean Water.
Relying on an electrochemical process, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) have developed a new method to remove very dilute concentrations of pollutants and even extremely low levels of unwanted compounds from water.
Separation methods that existed before tend to consume a lot of energy and chemicals.
The study, titled “Asymmetric Faradaic systems for selective electrochemical separations,” was first published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Energy and Environmental Science.
The methods and systems that are being used in current water treatment plants and labs include membrane filtration, which, despite its high cost, has limited effectiveness at low concentrations, electrodialysis and capacitive deionization, which often require high voltages that tend to produce side reactions.
Adding to their shortcomings, these processes are hampered by excess background salts.
These electrode surfaces are coated with Faradaic materials, which can undergo reactions to become positively or negatively charged.
These active groups can be tuned to bind strongly with a specific type of pollutant molecule, as the team demonstrated using ibuprofen and various pesticides.
Su argues that the same selective process should also be applied to the recovery of high-value compounds in a chemical or pharmaceutical production plant, where compounds might otherwise be wasted.
Matthew Suss, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Technion Institute of Technology in Israel, who was not involved in this work, finds this technique as highly significant.