There’s too much nitrogen and phosphorus in U.S. waterways — Florida International University

Algae. Photo credit: Florida International University

Here’s the release from Florida International University (Chrystian Tejedor):

Even minor amounts of human activity can increase nutrient concentrations in fresh waters that can damage the environment, according to a new study.

These findings suggest most U.S. streams and rivers have higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorus than is recommended. Although nutrients are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems like streams and rivers, too much of either nutrient can have lasting impacts on the environment and public health.

In Florida, toxic blue-green algal blooms have been triggered by releases of phosphorus-laden waters from Lake Okeechobee. Algal blooms produce a foul odor along waterways, decrease dissolved oxygen, threaten insect and fish communities and can even produce toxins that are harmful to mammals and humans.

“Ecosystems are being loaded with legacy and current nitrogen and phosphorus, and their capacity to hold these nutrients in many cases is decreasing,” said FIU associate professor John Kominoski, an ecologist and co-author of the study. “Not only are they being overwhelmed by nutrients, but they also have and continue to undergo hydrological and land use alterations.”

As human populations and demands increasingly grow, more land – including wetlands – is converted to agricultural and urban uses. This can introduce more nitrogen and phosphorus onto the land, which eventually makes its way into bodies of water. To make matters worse, soil erosion and climate change are also impacting nutrient pollution, leading to nutrient export to coastal waters, Kominoski said.

Nitrogen is most likely to come from transportation, industry, agriculture and fertilizer application, while increased phosphorus is more commonly the result of sewage waste, amplified soil erosion and runoff from urban watersheds.

“High concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways are concerning because they threaten both human and ecosystem health,” said David Manning, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and lead author on the paper. “Nutrients are essential for all life, but when they get too high in our waterways, they can fundamentally change the way a stream looks and operates.”

In addition to causing algal blooms, these elevated nutrient concentrations can lead to a lack of species diversity and oxygen depletion. High nutrient concentrations can also affect the purity of the water we drink.

Nutrient pollution is a complex problem. While there’s still a lot of work to be done to develop management tools and set thresholds for nutrient concentrations in streams and rivers, better understanding of how nutrients are transported through the interconnected network of waterways can help lead to solutions. Kominoski emphasized the importance of management solutions at local-to-global scales required to effectively manage various sources of nitrogen and phosphorus.

“Water is a shared resource that connects communities, landscapes, and continents across the globe,” Kominoski said. “We must increase the protection and rehabilitation of ecosystems and water resources throughout the world, especially as human populations increase and climate changes.”

The study was published in Ecological Applications.

Environmentalists Object to Broad @EPA Waivers for Polluters During #Coronavirus Crisis — @WildEarthGuard #COVID19

The air pollution that industrial plants will not have to monitor damages the respiratory system, which is especially dangerous for already at-risk populations who may also become infected with COVID-19, which attacks the lungs. Photo credit: Ryan Adams via The High Country News

Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians (Rebecca Sobel):

Response to Trump Administration’s Plan to Relax Public Health Protections for Oil Refineries and Other Industries

WildEarth Guardians joined a coalition of environmentalists objecting to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) new Trump administration policy that relaxes environmental compliance rules for petrochemical plants and other big polluters during the coronavirus crisis.

“Relaxing pollution controls in the midst of a deadly health crisis is an obscene new low for the Trump administration,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “While the pandemic worsens, the administration is propping up polluters in poisoning clean air, instead of focusing on the health and safety of Americans.”

The environmental organizations voiced their concerns in response to an announcement yesterday that the Trump administration EPA will “provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions.”

“It is not clear why refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that continue to operate and keep their employees on the production line will no longer have the staff or time they need to comply with environmental laws,” said the statement, which was written by Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project, former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.

The Environmental Integrity Project released a report last year documenting the sharp drop in environmental enforcement during the Trump administration.

In February, WildEarth Guardians joined the Environmental Integrity Project in publishing a report documenting EPA air monitoring data at the fencelines of oil refineries which demonstrated excessive release of cancer-causing benzene into nearby communities at concentrations far above federal action levels. The second worst refinery in the U.S. was the Holly Frontier Navajo Artesia refinery in Artesia, New Mexico, where monitors at the plant’s fenceline detected benzene in amounts four times the EPA action level.

“Instead of reining in illegal polluters, this administration is propping them up, further endangering the health of New Mexicans and all Americans in the process,” continued Sobel. “We are all in this together, and now is the time to protect people, not polluters.”

Department of Defense expands list of military sites to investigate for #PFAS contamination

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

Here’s the release from the National Ground Water Association:

A U.S. Department of Defense progress report released on March 13 states the number of sites it is investigating for potential release of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the environment has grown from 401 to 651 as of September 2019.

The report summarizes the PFAS task force’s accomplishments since its establishment in July 2019 and its planned activities moving forward.

According to the report, no U.S. military personal on or off bases is drinking water above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion where the DoD is the known source of drinking water. Where levels exceed the EPA’s health advisory level, the DoD has provided bottled water and filters, and taken other actions as appropriate.

Additional updates include the following items.

  • No PFAS-free foam has met the strict safety standards the DoD requires to rapidly extinguish fuel fires. The DoD only uses aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) to respond to emergency events and no longer uses it for land-based testing and training. To limit environmental effects, the department treats each use of AFFF as a spill response. The DoD is investing $49 million through fiscal year 2025 in research, development, testing, and evaluation to find an effective alternative.
  • Each military service is collecting drinking water sampling results where DoD is the purveyor and maintaining the data in a centralized database.
  • Scientists are still studying the health effects of PFAS exposure. The DoD has provided $30 million and will provide an additional $10 million this year, to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to conduct exposure assessments in the communities around eight current and former military installations, as well as a multisite health study.
  • The task force will explore potential options for addressing PFAS overseas.
  • First map shows global hotspots of glyphosate contamination — The University of Sydney

    Here’s the release from the University of Sydney (Marcus Strom):

    Experts call for phasing out of reliance on controversial herbicide

    Glyphosate, or Roundup, is under scrutiny because of possible impacts on human health and ecosystems. Here Federico Maggi and Alex McBratney present the world’s first map detailing contamination hotspots of the controversial herbicide.

    Global hazard map of glyphosate contamination in soils. Credit: The University of Sydney

    Agricultural scientists and engineers have produced the world’s first map detailing global ‘hot spots’ of soil contaminated with glyphosate, a herbicide widely known as Roundup.

    The map is published as the world’s eyes fall on glyphosate and concerns about its potential impact on environmental and human health. Last year in the US the owner of Roundup, Monstanto (now owned by Bayer), was ordered to pay $US2 billion to a couple who said they contracted cancer from the weedkiller, the third case the company had lost.

    This year, Australia is emerging as the next legal battleground over whether the herbicide causes cancer with a class action suit being prepared for the Federal Court.

    “The scientific jury is still out on whether the chemical glyphosate is a health risk,” said Professor Alex McBratney, director of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. “But we should apply the precautionary principle when it comes to the health risks.

    “And even if no evidence emerges about these risks, it is time for the agriculture industry to diversify our herbicides away from relying on a single chemical.”

    The map and associated study have been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

    Lead author of the paper is Associate Professor Federico Maggi from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and Faculty of Engineering. He said: “Glyphosate is a ubiquitous environmental contaminant. About 36 million square kilometres are treated with 600 to 750 thousand tonnes every year – and residues are found even in remote areas.”

    Hot spots

    The paper identifies hotspots of glyphosate residue in Western Europe, Brazil and Argentina, as well as parts of China and Indonesia. Contamination refers to concentration levels above the background level.

    “Our analysis shows that Australia is not a hotspot of glyphosate contamination, but some regions are subject to some contamination hazard in NSW and QLD and, to a lesser extent, in all other mainland states,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    He said that given the widespread use of the herbicide, soil contamination is unpreventable. This is because it is hard to be degraded by soil microorganisms when it reaches pristine environments, or it releases a highly persistent contaminant called aminomethyl-phosphonic acid (AMPA) when it is degraded.

    The researchers emphasise that contamination levels do not necessarily equate to any environmental or health risks as these are still unknown and require further study.

    “Our recent environmental hazard analysis considers four modes of environmental contamination by glyphosate and AMPA – biodegradation recalcitrance, residues accumulation in soil, leaching and persistence,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    “We found that 1 percent of global croplands – about 385,000 square kilometres – has a mid- to high-contamination hazard.”

    He said that contamination is pervasive globally, but is highest in South America, Europe and East and South Asia. It is mostly correlated to the cultivation of soybean and corn, and is mainly caused by AMPA recalcitrance and accumulation rather than glyphosate itself.

    “While there are controversial perspectives on the safety of glyphosate use on human health, little is known about AMPA’s toxicity and potential impacts on biodiversity, soil function and environmental health. Much further study is required,” Associate Professor Maggi said.

    Poor long-term policy

    Professor McBratney said aside from the risks to human health, it is poor long-term agriculture policy to rely on glyphosate as a herbicide.

    “Weeds are genetically adapting and building resistance to glyphosate,” he said. “And there is growing evidence that a new generation of precision herbicide application could further improve yields.”

    Professor McBratney said Australia was well placed to economically benefit from the development of new herbicides.

    “In these times of increasing food demand, relying on a single molecule to sustain the world’s baseload crop production puts us in a very precarious position,” he said. “We urgently need to find alternatives to glyphosate to control weeds in agriculture.”

    Pentagon IDs Four More #NewMexico Sites At Risk Of #PFAS Contamination — New Mexico in Focus

    PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

    From New Mexico in Focus (Laura Paskus):

    On Friday, March 13, just as federal and state agencies ramped up emergency efforts to address the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Defense released a report summarizing its progress on PFAS issues through the end of last September.

    According to its updated list, the military will assess whether activities at the Army National Guard armories in Rio Rancho and Roswell, the Army Aviation Support Facility in Santa Fe, and White Sands Missile Range have polluted groundwater with PFAS. The toxic compounds do not biodegrade, and have been linked to cancer and many other health problems.

    Nationwide, the updated list of military sites under investigation swelled from 450 military locations to 651. The military does not appear to have notified states, including New Mexico, prior to making the list public.

    According to the report from the Defense Department’s PFAS Task Force, the military’s earlier investigations focused on contamination from aqueous film forming foams, which the military used for firefighting and training from the 1970s until just a few years ago.

    The updated progress report notes that the task force’s expanded investigations now also focus on “installations where PFAS may have been used or released.”

    The report does not include details about specific activities that might have exposed people or the environment to PFAS. Defense Department spokesman Chuck Pritchard could not be reached for additional information before publication…

    The recent Defense Department report also notes that the funding for PFAS cleanup included as part of the newly-passed National Defense Authorization Act is inadequate.

    According to the report, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles will need to be retrofitted entirely—meaning that each vehicle component that came into contact with the firefighting foams will need to be replaced—at a cost of almost $200,000 per vehicle. That alone, according to the report, adds $600 million to earlier cleanup estimates.

    Alternately, replacing the Defense Department’s current fleet of about 3,000 contaminated vehicles will cost $4 to $6 billion—and take 18 years.

    The report also notes that as part of the Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department has committed $30 million to study PFAS exposure in eight communities near former and current military installations. Those studies are happening in West Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Washington, and Delaware. The military is also “developing a framework” to annually test the blood of military firefighters for PFAS levels.

    #EagleRiver Watershed Council: What in the watershed?

    Here’s a guest column from the Eagle River Watershed Council that’s running in the Vail Daily:

    Dear ERWC: Winter is certainly going to return, but with a warm week behind us I’m thinking about spring cleaning and one of the items on my list is the adventure vehicle. What is the best way to clean my truck with the least impact on our rivers? — Mike, Eagle

    Mike: Some might say the answer is to wash at home, where one has direct control regarding water usage and detergent choice. However, when it comes to the health of our watershed and overall water quality, that’s actually not recommended.

    Washing a car at home can be more economical and allows time to get into the nitty-gritty details, but what it doesn’t allow for is the capture of contaminated water.

    Modern and established car washes adhere to strict standards set in place by the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Through the Clean Water Act, they’re required to capture the water running off your car — full of phosphates, oils, dirt and other chemicals — and route it to treatment facilities or approved drainage facilities.

    This allows for all of those chemicals to be neutralized and removed before entering the waterways. The drains at the end of driveways are for stormwater and they flow directly into our rivers and streams with no treatment whatsoever.

    Water quantity should also be taken into consideration, especially given that we are in the arid west and water is a precious resource. Commercial car washes use 60% less water on average compared to washing a car at home, making them far more efficient at removing the six months of road dirt and magnesium chloride caked on your SUV.

    Here in Colorado, commercial car washes are able to use “reclaimed water” or wastewater that has been treated to a safe level but can’t be used for drinking water. This reduces the stress on drinking water supplies and reduces the energy used for treatment.

    There is an appropriate way to wash your car at home, should you decide that is still best for you. The EPA recommends the use of biodegradable detergents that are water-based and free of phosphates. It is also a best practice to wash vehicles on a lawn or similar surface. This allows for the contaminants to filter out through the ground before entering the streams — and hey, this waters your lawn too. Additionally, it is recommended to use some form of spray control, such as a pressure washer or other hose attachment to reduce water usage.

    Are you curious about critters around the rivers? Do you want to know how snowpack is measured? Do you have questions about our watershed? The Watershed Council has answers! You can email dilzell@erwc.org with your questions – and they might just be featured in articles like this one in our new series: What in the Watershed?

    James Dilzell is the Education & Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.

    #ColoradoSprings: Cottonwood Creek stormwater stabilization project update

    Channel erosion Colorado Springs July 2012 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Mary Shinn):

    City officials announced last week it received a $2.9 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for stabilization work along 9,000 feet of Cottonwood Creek, Biolchini said. The city plans to match the grant with $993,924 from funds intended to improve its stormwater management.

    The work will also keep thousands of cubic yards of sediment from washing into Fountain Creek and flowing south to Pueblo, Biolchini said. The project is among 71 Colorado Springs must complete as part of an agreement with Pueblo County to better control the volume and quality of water flowing south in Fountain Creek…

    Colorado Springs officials expect to spend $16 million in 2020 on stormwater improvements using fees paid by homeowners and nonresidential property owners, according to the city’s website. Officials must spend $100 million on stormwater projects, operations and maintenance from 2016 through 2020 to comply with the Pueblo agreement. Projects are on track to hit that goal, Biolchini said. The five-year benchmark is part of the requirement to spend $460 million over 20 years on stormwater improvement.

    Construction to help prevent erosion of Cottonwood Creek is expected to be designed this year and completed in 2021, he said.

    The construction will likely include reshaping the banks so they have gradual slopes and burying hardened structures to keep the creek from changing course, he said.