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In The News: Cleaner Water, Cleaner Air, Cleaner Future

Happy Tuesday, ecoSPEARS readers! It’s that time of the week where we review otherwise not-so-highlighted news from the environmental world of the previous week. This week’s blurb is going to cover three articles detailing issues at the Duwamish River in Washington State, smog emission levels in the US, and finally another article on PCB contamination at Elmira High School in Elmira, NY. The third issue you may remember from one of our blurbs last month in which we mentioned Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting, presenting to Elmira residents on PCB contamination at the school grounds and urged residents to ask for NYDEC’s cooperation in reevaluating contamination levels at the school.

Now, let’s get into the news.

The Duwamish Waterway which runs through Seattle’s industrial district has been the focus of environmentalists for decades, as should any body of water along which manufacturing centers are built. More recently, however, the aerospace titan commonly known as Boeing has come under fire for allegedly failing to cease discharging PCBs into the Duwamish River. Washington’s Department of Ecology claims that discharge from Boeing’s facility along the waterway has exceeded state-regulated PCB levels for the past five years. Two agencies, including Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, have issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue Boeing citing violations to the Clean Water Act.

Boeing’s MDC facility along the Duwamish Waterway in Seattle, WA

“Boeing has implemented numerous projects in recent years at the MDC (Military Delivery Center) site over the past decade,” the article says, including projects to remove contaminated materials such as caulk. Holly Braithwaite, a spokeswoman for Boeing, challenged allegations by saying that, “most of the samples of stormwater at the MDC have been nondetect or had very low levels of PCBs,” as a result of these activities and projects.

The Duwamish River is a designated Superfund site with an estimated cleanup cost of no less than $300 million. Braithwaite says Boeing has submitted a proposal to Ecology to address allegations of high-level PCB discharge into the waterway and eagerly anticipates the department’s reply.

Our second article comes to us from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) addressing EPA’s release of a statement identifying areas across the United States which have been found to meet or exceed national standards for ground-based ozone, more often referred to as “smog.” The EPA “identified 51 areas in 22 states and two tribal areas” that don’t meet national health standards on smog levels.

These national safety standards for air quality in the US were outlined in the 2015 Clean Air Act. While some recent critics of the EPA say the statement is “long-overdue” or “remains incomplete,” EPA has outlined most of the US in the statement’s findings, saying that air quality levels in eight remaining counties of the San Antonio, TX area will be measured and documented by or before mid-July.

Lastly, we return to Elmira, NY where city residents are now pressuring the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) to reevaluate contamination levels of PCBs and other potential toxins at the town’s high school campus. Much of the concern comes after Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting, presented findings on levels of contamination at the school which are believed to be higher and more dangerous to human health than originally thought.

The DEC counter-argued at a town meeting with residents that the contamination raising concern is at the sub-surface level and therefore poses less danger to human health.

Town meeting between NYDEC and residents of Elmira, NY addressing contamination at EHS.

DEC representatives also showed residents a map showcasing work done in 2017 where some 640 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil was removed from areas around EHS’s athletic grounds. Another short-term response action (STRA) by DEC done last year addressed and removed over 9,000 square feet of shallow soil with elevated PCB levels from an area near the school’s track field. NYDEC stands firm that, “future activities will return and complete the remediation” of other areas of concern at EHS, including PCB-contaminated soils at the Northeast portion of the school grounds.

In spite of this, many Elmira residents remain skeptical of the progress made thus far. Pollution has been present at the school grounds since the 1970s. “I live across the street,” one resident said, “this has been going on for a while and nothing’s been done about it.”

And that’s all for this week! Remember to check back into our blog every Tuesday as we cover environmental news highlights from the previous week that may not get much screen time on mainstream outlets and media. See you next time!

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For more information about the organizations mentioned in this post, please click the following links:

Puget Soundkeeper

Environmental Defense Fund

Toxics Targeting


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