Kirsti Marohn: 'Forever' Chemicals in Groundwater

MPR:

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“We do know that these chemicals just don’t break down,” said Matt Simcik, a University of Minnesota professor who has done extensive research on PFAS. “So once we’ve made them, they’re around forever.” About 20 years ago, studies found that PFAS were showing up around the globe: in water, soil, wildlife and even in humans. Scientists are still studying the health effects of the chemicals, but research has linked prolonged exposure to PFAS to health problems including some cancers, thyroid disease and infertility.

”There’s strong evidence they have adverse biological effects,” said Bill Arnold, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied methods to remove PFAS from water. “The data isn’t 100 percent conclusive, but the prevailing wisdom is that it’s not good to have them in your bloodstream. And we all have them in our bloodstream.”

EPA's Forever Chemicals Plan

AP:

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Under pressure from Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it would move toward setting safety limits for a class of highly toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water around the country. Environmentalists, congressional Democrats and state officials countered that the agency wasn’t moving fast enough.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler released an “action plan” for dealing with the long-lasting substances, which have been linked to health threats ranging from cancer to decreased fertility. The perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS, have turned up increasingly in public water systems and private wells.

Stephanie Hemphill: Farmers Reducing Phosphorus Runoff

ENSIA:

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Why exactly does Green Bay need saving? Because it suffers from too much phosphorus, which contributes to Cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae. Around the world, these bacteria are turning water a disgusting shade of green and other colors, and producing poisons that can sicken people and kill animals. And when the algae die off they can rob oxygen from other life in the water, killing fish and other aquatic life.

Around Green Bay, several small streams carry excess nutrients from farm fields into the bay and eventually into Lake Michigan. One of them, Silver Creek, is the focus of a pilot project designed to answer a crucial question: Can farmers reduce their pollution enough to help the bay, while remaining profitable? The project lies within the boundaries of the Oneida reservation, and more than half the land is owned by the tribe, which leases a lot of land to non-tribal growers...

Five years in a pilot program isn’t much time to clean up a stream, but the ultimate goal of adaptive management is to bring Silver Creek up to the state’s water quality standard for phosphorus. NEW Water says the project has cost US$1 million dollars annually over the last four years. That’s a lot cheaper than US$100 million for a new treatment plant. And how well is it all working?

The project promises to provide extensive data about how well various agricultural practices work to reduce polluted farm runoff. The weekly samples from five monitors along Silver Creek provide baseline measurements from the year before the BMPs started. This is not as precise as more expensive continuous monitoring would be, but it offers more experimental rigor than most studies can provide.

Those five monitors continue to track water quality. So far, the results are mixed. In 2016, three of the monitors showed phosphorus reductions, one stayed essentially the same and one showed a slight increase. In 2017 the area was drenched with what felt like endless rainfall, soaking the fields and making them more vulnerable to runoff. The phosphorus numbers went up, but not to levels seen pre-BMPs. “I was very happy to see that even with a very wet year we never even approached the concentrations we saw before we started installing these best management practices,” NEW Water’s Erin Houghton says.

Adam Hinterthuer: Lake Water Level Changes and Mercury in Fish

Center for Limnology:

A study has found an connection between water levels in lakes and toxic mercury levels in fish. When droughts cause water levels to drop, the levels of mercury found in fish also plummet. In extended periods of wetter weather, water levels rise and levels of mercury in fish increase. The phenomenon was discovered by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources as they examined long-term data from several lakes in northern Wisconsin. In previous work, the researchers had found that, roughly once a decade, water levels in the northwestern Great Lakes and northern Wisconsin’s inland lakes fluctuate between high and low levels and back again.

The scientists turned to 32 years of data on mercury levels in more than 1,300 walleye, a fish popular with anglers and restaurants throughout the Great Lakes region. And when the researchers plotted out that data, they saw a very familiar pattern — mercury levels in walleye follow the 10-year water level fluctuations.

Nadja Popovich: Lake Ice Future

New York Times:

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In a study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists for the first time quantified the effects of rising temperatures on ice cover across 1.4 million lakes in the Northern Hemisphere. They found that, from Wisconsin to Japan, thousands of lakes that used to freeze reliably every winter already see some years without ice, and that “an extensive loss of lake ice will occur within the next generation.”

The vanishing ice will affect cold-water ecosystems and be felt by millions of people who live near northern lakes, the study said.

The study.

Genna Reed: PFAS Task Force Calls for Action

Union of Concerned Scientists:

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Earlier this week, members of Congress announced the creation of a bipartisan task force intended to shine a light on the dangers of nationwide PFAS contamination. The group plans to hold briefings to further educate members of Congress and to write and push for strong legislation and funding through the appropriations process.

This exciting news comes as the public continues to wait for answers from the Trump administration, which has largely been all talk and no action on this issue. The EPA’s anticipated PFAS management plan has been delayed and documents uncovered by Politico revealed that the Department of Defense (DoD) had recently been eyeing Michael Dourson to lead a study on the health risks of PFAS. You might remember Dourson as the toxicologist who withdrew his name from consideration as EPA chemicals head last year after his industry conflicts and record of weakened standards were exposed. DoD’s consideration of Dourson for this work is a slap in the face to the communities calling for science-based thresholds that are health-protective.

The establishment of this task force is a great opportunity for Congress to push for urgent, strong action and answer the calls of so many Americans for whom drinking their own water presents a public health risk...

Lindsey Konkel: Potential Ideas for Using Stormwater

Environmental Health News:

Ana Deletic

Ana Deletic

In some water-stressed regions, scientists and engineers are working to optimize the use of plants to remove nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from storm water. High levels of these nutrients in ground and surface water can lead to algal blooms and harm drinking water sources.

Ana Deletic is a water-engineering expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia. She has helped to engineer massive rain gardens in Australia, Israel and China—some up to an acre in size—to help filter these common pollutants out of urban wastewater. “These are simple-looking systems, but they are not. They are living machines that must be tailored for local conditions,” Deletic told EHN.

Many urban environments have a history of contamination with toxic metals including lead and cadmium. Deletic said that zinc from rusting metal roofs has become a public health concern in some cities in Australia and New Zealand. Plants may be able to help remove heavy metals, too. “Plants need small amounts of metals to grow, so over time they will suck up some of these contaminants,” said Deletic.

Megan Geuss: EPA Regulation of Mercury Emissions Summary

Ars Technica:

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https://www.gettyimages.com/collections/bloomberg

On Friday, the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it did not think that current mercury emissions rules placed on coal-fired power plants were “appropriate and necessary,” based on the agency’s revised look at the costs and benefits of the rule...

Consequently, the Trump administration’s EPA is leaving the current MATS rule in place while undercutting the justification for the rule in such a way that it could preclude more stringent mercury standards in the future and could possibly set the stage for looser rules in the future.

And yet the EPA notes that mercury concentration in fish are increasing. Increases in mercury pollution have human consequences.

Karla Lant: The National Lakes Assessment

Environmental Monitor:

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The EPA (and others, such as this separate analysis from Dr. Dina Leech) are now reporting on observations of conditions and changes from 2007 to 2012. For most indicators, no change occurred, but changes in total phosphorus, two algal toxin indicators, and a physical habitat indicator are exceptions.

“While EPA did not observe changes in the condition categories for the nutrient phosphorus, Leech et al. 2018 found an 18.2 percent decline in the percentage of oligotrophic lakes (very clear lakes with less than 10 μg/L of total phosphorus) and an overall increase in the median concentration of phosphorus across all lakes,” comments Lynn. “The NLA 2012 Assessment Report observed a change within algal toxin measures. An analysis of cyanobacteria cell density, a measure of the density of cells that could produce cyanotoxins, showed a statistically significant increase (+8.3%) in the percentage of lakes in the most disturbed category between 2007 and 2012. The NLA identified a significant increase in the detection of microcystin among lakes in 2012 (+9.5%). However, concentrations of this algal toxin remained low and rarely exceeded WHO recreational levels of concern (<1% of the population) in both assessments.”

The NLA 2012 Assessment Report also found fewer lakes in the least disturbed category and more lakes in the moderately disturbed category for the habitat complexity indicator—which has to do with lakeshore habitat and buffering qualities.

Tim Vernimmen: Our Freshwater is Getting Saltier

Scientific American:

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Salts that de-ice roads, parking lots and sidewalks keep people safe in winter. But new research shows they are contributing to a sharp and widely rising problem across the U.S. At least a third of the rivers and streams in the country have gotten saltier in the past 25 years. And by 2100, more than half of them may contain at least 50 percent more salt than they used to. Increasing salinity will not just affect freshwater plants and animals but human lives as well—notably, by affecting drinking water.

Sujay Kaushal, a biogeochemist at the University of Maryland, College Park, recounts an experience he had when visiting relatives in New Jersey. When getting a drink from the tap, “I saw a white film on the glass.” After trying to scrub it off, he found, “it turned out to be a thin layer of salt crusting the glass.”

Ian Urbina: Poisoned Wildlife & Tainted Meat

New York Times

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Aiming a rifle loaded with a copper bullet rather than the standard type made of lead, Chelsea Cassens fired at an elk from 70 yards away, hitting it squarely behind its shoulder. To avoid spooking the animal if it was only injured, Ms. Cassens waited several minutes before approaching as her father needled her skeptically, suggesting her newfangled ammunition might not have immediately killed it...

“Her bullet did the trick just fine,” Mr. Hughes, 63, conceded, adding later that he also planned to switch from lead to copper bullets, a transition more and more hunters are making amid mounting evidence that lead bullets are poisoning the wildlife that feed on carcasses and polluting the game meat that many people eat.

If you hunt and use lead, then moving to copper and other non-toxic ammo is the conservative thing to do.

Eric Freedman: Mercury Levels in the North

Great Lakes Echo:

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Mercury levels remain high in the lakes, rivers and fish of the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula despite a substantial decline in airborne mercury emissions over the past 30 years, according to scientists from Michigan Technological University and the Environmental Protection Agency...

The study said, “One of the worst landscapes for mining mercury releases is into a wetland environment.” It identified five problem areas in the Lake Superior Basin in particular: the U.P., Northeast Minnesota and Ontario’s Thunder Bay, Nipigon and Wawa regions.

Mark Schapiro: Uphill Battle for Clean Water in Corn Country

Yale E360:

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“Health trumps politics,” said Iowa State Senator David Johnson before taking the stage at a raucous rally in Des Moines last winter to support strengthening the state’s water quality. In the marble rotunda of the state capitol, he rose to denounce the nitrogen and phosphates that have been flowing in ever-increasing quantities into Iowa’s public water supplies — and was cheered by the small crowd of family farmers, concerned mothers, and his new political allies, the legislature’s drastically outnumbered Democrats. Johnson had been one of the longest-serving Republicans in Iowa until he left the party to become an independent in 2016 after defying it repeatedly on one of the most divisive issues in Iowa — the integrity of the state’s water.

Iowa’s nitrogen load has been accelerating despite more than $100 million spent by the federal and state governments to rein it in. Starting in 1999, the concentration of nitrogen in the state’s major waterways has increased almost 50 percent, according to a study from the University of Iowa, published last spring in PLOS One. The battle over Iowa’s water had long been posed as one between rural and urban interests, until Johnson, whose district is one of the most thinly populated and heavily farmed in the state, came along...

More than 750, or 58 percent, of the state’s rivers and streams do not meet federal water quality standards and are designated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as too contaminated for swimming or consuming fish caught there — making a state once renowned for its lattice of waterways into a mess of inaccessible creeks, streams and lakes. Another 23 percent fall into a category of being “potentially impaired,” which the state defines as, “waters in need of further investigation.” Ninety-two percent of the nitrogen and 80 percent of phosphates in the state’s waterways, says the DNR, come from farms and animal feedlots.

Aaron Bady: Heavy Stuff: Lead is Poison

Popula:

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It’s peculiar that we know that lead is poison, that there is no “safe” amount to put in your body, and yet we still put it in our bodies. It is peculiar because you would think that what we know would inform what we do; you would think, for example, that Flint, Michigan, would not choose to use a river that had been poisoned for nearly a century as its municipal water supply. The fact that it did—the impossible-to-avoid fact that this is the choice that was made in Flint, Michigan—forces us to re-evaluate the basis of that expectation. One of the terms is wrong. Is it “we”? Is it “know”? Is it “safe”? Is it “choose”?

Or maybe it’s the word “peculiar,” which has two primary but opposed meanings: “strange” and “particular.” Describing slavery as America’s “peculiar institution” in the 19th century, for example, was not meant to imply that slavery was strange, but that it was particular to the southern United States (the rest of the world having mostly abolished it). In this sense, it was anything but “estranged” or “alien”; precisely in its particularity, “the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States,” as John Calhoun put it, was what made his home what it was.

If it’s peculiar that we drink poison, as a society, then there are one of two choices: either it’s a strange and inexplicable practice, or it’s what makes us who we are. It might also, like the word peculiar itself, be a strange and particular combination of both.

Here is what we know....

Mimi Kirk: Fertility -- Lead's Other Toxic Toll

CityLab:

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A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Toxic Truth: Lead and Fertility,” confirms this connection by providing, for the first time, causal evidence of the effects of lead exposure on fertility for large portions of the U.S. population, both male and female.

It’s a troubling new addition to the body of research examining the effects of lead poisoning on young people and families. American cities remain heavily laced with this toxic metal, which was once found in paint, plumbing, gasoline, and in various industrial usages. As the Flint water crisis demonstrated, its public health impacts are severe: Lead exposure in children is associated with serious health and developmental consequences. At least half a million American children under the age of five have blood lead levels higher than the point at which the Centers for Disease Control recommends public health intervention, and at least 4 million households are exposed to high levels of lead, the CDC says.

Many are clustered in low-income areas of cities like St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, where the effects of lead poisoning span generations. Some researchers have posited that chronic lead exposure is partially responsible for poor educational outcomes and high crime rates in some cities.

Kelly April Tyrrell: Heavier Rain Means More Polluted Runoff

University of Wisconsin - Madison:

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Phosphorus, a nutrient found in the manure applied to agricultural fields, makes its way to Wisconsin waters (and waterways elsewhere) in runoff following rain storms. When the weather is warm, it can lead to the foul-smelling water and toxic algae blooms that plague lakes like Mendota, which is situated in an agricultural landscape.

This runoff may be getting worse, according to a recent study from researchers with the Water Sustainability and Climate Project at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. With a changing climate, the frequency of high-intensity rain events is on the rise. These storms bring heavy rains over a short period of time and exacerbate phosphorus runoff from manure-covered agricultural fields, more so than scientists expected.

“Both things are bad for water quality – too much manure is bad and too many intense storms are bad, too,” says lead author of the study in Environmental Research Letters, Melissa Motew. “This is a story about how one problem really compounds another problem.”

Lauren Chambliss: Fishing Tackle Kills Loons

All About Birds:

Roberta Olenick

Roberta Olenick

Loons still face many threats today, including the lead commonly used in fishing tackle. Decades after the U.S. government began regulating lead out of our environment through lead bans in gasoline, household paint, and the shotgun ammunition used for hunting waterfowl, the poisonous soft metal is still being directly introduced into lakes and waters via fishing tackle. In the contiguous U.S., lead is a leading cause of death in the Common Loon. And now for the first time, researchers in New Hampshire have discovered a much worse population-level impact than previously suspected.

In Minnesota, an estimated 100 to 200 loons die each year from lead poisoning. 

Vinicius J. Taguchi et al.: Urban Stormwater Phosphorus Dynamics

University of Minnesota:

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There is evidence that aging stormwater ponds can become net sources of phosphorus to receiving waters during high flow events. For example, the total phosphorus (TP) concentration in the pond should be equal to or less than the typical inflow TP concentration (due to settling). To evaluate this, we examined data from the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District (RPBCWD) in Minnesota. Between 2010 and 2012, the RPBCWD surveyed 98 ponds and observed high TP concentrations in a number of them...

All of the pond sediments released ortho-P under low DO conditions (< 0.5 mg/L) , as shown in Table 1 and Figure 5). By contrast, ortho-P release was negligible under high DO conditions (not shown). We used the calculated P flux rates for each pond to approximate the potential impact on the overall TP concentration in the pond (Table 1)... Stratification during the summer with turnover and mixing in the fall and spring are normal in large lakes, but small ponds were thought to turn over diurnally or at least during large storm events. Instead, regular manual temperature profiles throughout 2017 revealed evidence of stratification throughout most of the year, with DO concentration below 0.5 mg/L at the bottom sediment surface.

Phosphorus concentration is unusually high in roughly 1/3 of urban stormwater ponds, indicating that they are not performing as designed. Rather than capturing P, these ponds seem to be releasing P and polluting downstream waters. We believe the reason is the sediments are releasing ortho-P to the water column, a process known as internal loading. Phosphorus release from the sediments of ponds may be facilitated by low DO concentration. It appears that many ponds in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area are stratified through most of the summer by accumulation of road salt in winter and spring snowmelt, therefore leading to low DO concentration that promotes internal loading.

Jennifer-Anne Pascoe: The World's Largest High Arctic Lake Changes

Folio:

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A 1 C increase in temperature has set off a chain of events disrupting the entire ecology of the world’s largest High Arctic lake. “The amount of glacial meltwater going into the lake has dramatically increased,” said Martin Sharp, a University of Alberta glaciologist who was part of a team of scientists that documented the rapid changes in Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island over a series of warm summers in the last decade.

“Because it’s glacial meltwater, the amount of fine sediment going into the lake has dramatically increased as well. That in turn affects how much light can get into the water column, which may affect biological productivity in the lake.”

The changes resulted in algal blooms and detrimental changes to the Arctic char fish population, and point to a near certain future of summer ice-free conditions.

Geoffrey Lean: Death by Lead

The Guardian:

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ooking back, it seems insane. Bluntly put, we took a known poison and – for three quarters of a century – used it in machines that puffed it out in breathable form. Then we drove them millions of miles a day, all over the world, regularly dosing billions of people with the toxin...

The study, published in the Lancet Public Health journal and believed to be the first to research the effects of low levels of lead exposure on the general public, also concludes there is no safe level of the toxic metal: people with the lowest detectable amounts were still affected.

Researchers at four North American universities, led by Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official US survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths of them had harboured levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe.

The study found that deaths, especially from cardiovascular disease, increased markedly with exposure, even at the lowest levels. It concluded that lead kills 412,000 people a year – accounting for 18% of all US mortality, not much less than the 483,000 who perish as a result of smoking.