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Commerce City Colorado, just north of Denver, is still being exposed to water pollution from an oil refinery leak that began almost a year ago.

The denverpost.com has been following this story since November of last year. The primary pollutant in this case is Benzene, a well known carcinogen. Apparently, efforts over the past few months have largely failed at both removing significant amount of this toxin and preventing any more from entering the environment.
commerce city water pollution
Although almost 700,000 gallons of “material” have been removed over the past few months, recent measurements show that there are levels of benzene that are more than 400 parts per billion in affected bodies of water. Government mandated “safe” levels of benzene in drinking water must not pass 5 parts per billion. This is obviously major cause for concern when you realize that nearby waterways are being exposed to levels of benzene that are more than 100 times the limit of what is considered “safe”.

It turns out that this story is nothing new for this part of Colorado. This refinery site dates back to the 1930′s. State health officials have known about pollution incidents in the area for more than a decade now, making this the most enduring case of industrial pollution in Colorado.

The refinery company in question here, Suncor, has attempted to mitigate the problem to some degree. Last year they managed to pump out 209 million gallons of contaminated groundwater. This water was then treated and released into Sand Creek. Obviously, this is the least that they should do since they are the reason for this toxic mess to begin with.

Not surprisingly, Suncor has not received any fines even though the pollution they have caused due to their business practices has contributed to benzene levels that have been tested to be more than a 1,000 times the legal limit. Sadly, the little that has been done to repair the environmental damage here only occurred when the EPA finally stepped in.

When will ethics and environmentalism finally trump the power and influence of the almighty dollar? Hopefully sometime soon. We are running our of rivers and waterways to pollute.

I realize that many of my blog posts are about our severe water pollution issues. This is why it is always great to find a story that is a bit more on the positive side of things.

This article comes by way of the The Examiner and entails a great example of what some powerful organizations and people can do to help make sure our future contains plenty of clean water.

Apparently much work has recently been done to improve the quality of water in and around the Long Island Sound in New York. Awards have been given by the Sound Guardian to 4 different people and organizations largely responsible for this cleanup effort. Those who are the recipients this year are; Commissioners Joseph Martens and Carter Strickland, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Construction company Skanska USA Civil Northeast.
long island sound cleanup
The commissioners were specifically responsible for a 2.4 billion dollar pledge to develop some major green infrastructure improvements. This includes building rain gardens, making more porous pavements, allowing for more rooftop vegetation, and many other green advancements that make for safer and cleaner stormwater.

Senator Gillibrand is being recognized for her efforts in getting the Long Island Sound Stewardship and Restoration Act passed. This act is crucial for the funding that the EPA needs to continue its protection and work in this area of New York. In addition to an overall protection of the sound, the EPA now has more funding that it will specifically use to improve wastewater treatment facilities in the area. The senator sees the Sound as a “great place to work, play, and raise a family” so it should go without saying that these are crucial improvements that must occur to make this future a reality.

Last but not least to mention here is Skanska. Skanska is a very large construction company that has completed dozens of wastewater treatment projects all across the country. The company currently is working on three different projects in New York that will have a direct impact on the quality of water in the Long Island Sound and New York City as well. Due efforts in recent years, wastewater treatment facilities have largely been responsible for an increase in dissolved oxygen and a decrease in pathogens in tested Sound waters. Much work still needs to be done but Skanska is proud to be a part of the solution.

This story will undoubtedly inspire many other U.S. cities to take further action to improve their own local waterways. In the meantime, it is always a good idea to make sure the water that you drink is as pure as possible. Many have found that a home water filter is the perfect solution. Positive clean water stories like this one are definitely great to hear about, but taking an extra step to know that you are drinking the best water possible is “sound” advice.

In a report from indystar.com, Indiana was the state that allowed the most pollutants in its waterways for 2011.

More than 27 million pounds of toxins were dumped by industries in the Hoosier state in this past year. The company – AK Steel – was the largest single contributor of this water pollution. In 2010, the company dumped about 24 million pounds of pollutants in the Ohio River in that year alone. This plant uses nitric acid to clean its stainless steel products. This toxin then gets released into waterways as wastewater that contains nitrates.
polluted Indiana water
Not surprisingly, those that are in charge of speaking on behalf of these industrial (or should I say – industrious?) polluters completely downplay the vast chemical discharges. The director of government and public relations for AK Steel basically claims that the company’s discharge is well within government regulations and poses no threat to the environment. Even the spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said that the pollution that the company is responsible for “cannot be used to draw conclusions to human health or the environment“.

Really? Well, based on the responses by these two individuals, it is fairly easy to draw conclusions about who signs their paychecks. It is unbelievably audacious to defend a company whose waste has made its state’s waterways the most polluted in the country. It’s typically not a crime to finish in last place, but in this case it should be. No amount of pollution should be considered safe and acceptable, so there is absolutely no reasonable defense for a company who pollutes the most.

It can be an easy argument to say that this company provides a much needed and valuable product for our country. However, there seems to be no attempt at discovering a better way to deal with the waste that is created from its business operations. Sure, this would mean an extra expense for the company. It could even be quite expensive. However, sustainable and long term operations should not be considered without making this change.

Hopefully the residents of Indiana are doing all that they can to protect themselves from their highly polluted water. Obviously, fishing should be out of the question since fish are the first to fall victim of the poisons in rivers. Many will start looking for the best water filter that they can find. This ultimately follows the awareness that bottled water is not the best choice for many reasons. Tap water is definitely out of the question here as well.

I guess the silver lining here is….well, not silver but a strong steel industry. At least Indiana can be proud of that. Who needs potable water?

Los Angeles waterways are about to receive some much needed attention.

A recent article from sportfishingmag.com entails this latest effort to clean up the most populated part of California. The Los Angeles Water Board and The Environmental Protection Agency have teamed up to make some major improvements to 175 bodies of water in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. The effects of this clean up will be numerous. A few include reducing the amounts of bacteria, mercury, phosphorus, nitrogen, and many other toxic chemicals. This will ultimately help restore these ecosystems which will provide cleaner water to all forms of life in the area. It will be safer to consume fish and there will be fewer beach closures.
los angeles beach pollution
This plan calls for more than 95% of affected waterways to eventually meet water quality standards once the work has been done. This will definitely be quite an achievement considering that this is one of the most populated areas of the United States. California is well on its way in proving that it is possible to have both a high density population and very low water pollution levels.

Part of this new water pollution reduction effort is associated with something that has already been set forth in the Clean Water Act. States are being held responsible to make sure that the waterways that are polluted to meet TMDLs (Total Maximimum Daily Loads). It is sad that polluted waterways are still accepted as a given and that corporate polluters are given allowances in this regard. Ideally, there should be no allowable “loads” at all. At least California is taking a step in the right direction.

Locals will soon be able to really appreciate these efforts to clean up local creeks, rivers, and beaches. The ultimate goal is for places like Long City Beach to be open all the time, instead of closing due to high levels of bacteria. Waters in Santa Monica Bay are currently polluted with significant levels of toxic chemicals that make its fish inedible. Work that is underway will drastically reduce levels of toxins that are found in this body of water.

Corporate polluters aside, many of Southern California’s waterways have apparently been quite literally trashed. The burden to avoid this type of pollution in the future definitely falls on the community. State and government sponsored clean up efforts can surely go a long way, however, it will take a much better environmental awareness by the local community to prevent general trash from ending up in rivers and beaches.

Hopefully California will help influence and lead the way for other states to help clean up their local waterways. This is not a far fetched idea because this state is both large in size and power.

A recent article from americanrivers.org explains exactly how water pollution can have devastating effects on wildlife.

A brown trout with two heads has been found in the polluted creeks in southern Idaho. Large quantities of the metal Selenium has been found to be the culprit here. This toxic substance can enter our waterways from numerous actions; phosphate mining, coal burning, and mountain top removal. Selenium is one of the toxic parts of coal ash, which is quite pervasive due to the extensive number of coal power plants still in existence.
mutated trout
While water pollution invariably will effect fish first, the effects of large amounts of substances like Selenium can be easily damaging to people as well. It has been linked to circulation problems, hair loss, increased risk of cancer, walking issues, and reduced reflexes, to name a few dangers. It is not difficult to determine that large quantities of any given metal in our waterways can have extremely detrimental effects on life in general.

Unfortunately, the EPA has found that quite a few states have dangerous levels of toxins in many of their rivers and creeks. Polluters need to wake up to the fact that this is not just a problem for fish and other wildlife. This affects all life.

Can we get the energy that we need and the products that we want without polluting our water supplies? Yes, we can. It is obvious that business cannot continue as usual. We need a major shift in how we think about our interactions with our environment and ultimately a concerted effort in putting those ideas into action. This will definitely disrupt many parts of our antiquated energy industry. This needs to happen.

In the meantime, it is best to assume that the water that you come into contact with is not as pure as it should be. If you are lucky enough to live in a major city in the U.S. or other first world nation that has been able to provide safe water to its residents, then good for you. The question remains, however, is it good enough? Many people decide not to take any chances. They have installed the best water filter that they can find in their homes to make sure that they are getting the cleanest water possible. After all, we cannot all live next to pristine mountain springs.

I am hopeful for the future. Corporate polluters will eventually be held accountable. They will either be forced to change operations or they will finally realize that it is in their best interest, along with the rest of the planet.

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