Environmentalists and industry representatives are battling in Olympia over whether to ban chemicals used widely in fast-food wrappers and found in some communities’ drinking water that may cause various health complications. If the bills are passed, Washington will be the first state to regulate “perfluorinated chemicals”.
The Washington House of Representatives this week passed and sent to Gov. Christine Gregoire legislation to make Washington the first state in the nation to ban toxic asphalt sealants that are ending up in people’s homes as well as polluting stormwater runoff and waterways.
For years talented fellow journalists — and before them my best professors — have emphasized the value of using all five of a journalist’s senses to experience a story and enlighten readers, listeners and viewers. Great idea — but tonight it went a little far for me. After more than a decade of writing about the perils of stormwater, tonight I actually tasted some.It was far, far from on purpose. I decided to dash down to Pike Place Market to buy some fish, a rare thing nowadays since I don’t work particularly near there. It was pouring as I drove back to my office. The windows fogged. I rolled them down while sitting at a stoplight. Then– whoosh! — passing cars sent walls of water cascading into the car. Unfortunately, when this started I had my mouth slightly open. (Maybe I was singing? Drooling? Mouth-breathing? I dunno….)Yes, that foul mixture that I’ve described in seemingly innumerable articles is something I’ve looked at and smelled and heard and — reluctantly — touched in the past. I had no intention of going to this extent to understand this story.Of course I spit and swished and spit and swished some more, using up a bit of mouthwash.Now, here’s the weird thing: I’ve written more than once about how bad it is to have copper in the waterways that are supposed to nourish young salmon, even at minuscule levels. And I’ve outlined how every one of us, every time we touch our brakes, unleashes a teensy-tiny amount of copper.
When the Obama administration not long ago went ahead with what could become a major expansion of oil drilling off Alaska's coasts, it did so with full knowledge that its scientists hadn't been able to do a proper environmental review.That's the upshot from auditors at the Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress. And it appears that oil companies' pleas to keep some information secret from the scientists also played a role in the half-baked look at environmental threats, a new GAO report states:"According to regional staff, this (secrecy) practice has hindered their ability to complete sound environmental analyses."Those analyses are required under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Although the GAO report just came out, drafts had been available at the Interior Department, which oversees the offshore oil drilling, since sometime before March 1, records show.The report says some scientists who were sick of being told to do a lousy job on environmental analyses just quit, further complicating the task for doing a first-rate job taking stock of the risks as required under NEPA. Remember, folks, we are talking here about the Obama admnistration, which, as we noted recently, seems reminiscent of the Bush administration on some enviro matters lately. This latest finding flies in the face of President Obama's chest-pounding about how his administration would end the era of arm-twisting government scientists.
Folks, it had been my intention to write tonight about the challenge to the feds' plans for Snake-Columbia river operations filed today by salmon advocates. But instead I got wrapped up in a discussion on the Society of Environmental Journalists' listserv about what sociologists should be studying in our realm. Here's what I told my fellow SEJers:"Sewage disposal: What is our big hangup with composting toilets? Think of the infrastucture repair and construction costs we could save merely by figuring out what to do with our pee and our poop. Night soils were the answer in ancient China — why not today, here?"
It's clear that climate change is going to be the story of the century, but today's news brings the reminder that an intertwined and nearly equally important story will be the lack of fresh water. Two developments highlight this trend today, on World Water Day:1) From Beijing comes Christopher Bodeen's dispatch for the Associated Press relating how the Chinese capital is under attack by a dust storm blown off of the desert hundreds of miles away in country's interior in Inner Mongolia, where the Gobi desert is expanding. The cause, the AP reports, is overgrazing, deforestation, drought and urban sprawl. One has to wonder if climate change shouldn't be added to that list. The tiny dust particles mix with industrial pollution to cause a miserable dust-soot combination that blankets Beijing, working its way into homes through openings as small as a keyhole. The Chinese have tried to fight the problem by planting vegetation to hold the soil, but it isn't working. Now they're working on plans to pump lots of water from the wetter south of the country. Lotsa luck, guys. 2) The United Nations issued a statement (PDF) pointing out that more people die each year from the lack of clean water than are killed in violence of any kind. Many of these people are children under the age of 5. The UN says that pollution in its traditional forms is responsible for some of these, but so is degradation of watersheds through timber-cutting, covering the ground with hard surfaces that don't allow rainfall to soak in, and other modern practices. Said the UN:"Preventing the pollution of water resources by reducing or eliminating contaminants at the source is almost always the cheapest, easiest and most effective way to protect water quality."
Former Dateline Earth denizen Lisa Stiffler, now digging up all kinds of interesting material on stormwater and other topics for Sightline.org, came out this week with a helpful hands-on guide to how homeowners can do their part to cut down on stormwater pollution.The basics: Keep as much rain as you can on your own property. Stiffler outlines how to use a variety of techniques to get the water to soak into the earth right around your castle.She gives us the rundown on rain gardens (aka bioswales), rain barrels, and even has a link to a Sunset magazine feature on an easy do-it-yourself "green" roof — meaning vegetated with moss. Like Stiffler, color me skeptical on that one. The example is on a home in the Pacific Northwest, like mine, but one that has a flat, rubberized roof. Mine has asphalt shingles (probably with some zinc washing off — yech!) and is steeply pitched. So I'm pretty sure that's not going to work at my house.Anyway, I hope you'll check out Stiffler's post and if that piques your interest, go on to her report about stormwater, how it's affecting Puget Sound, and what we can do about it. Also, don't miss Stiffler's really interesting look at how a business in south Seatle not only found a way to keep stormwater at bay — but also saved a bundle of cash.– Robert McClure