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Are You Going to Drink That?

Updated on March 3, 2016

Flint, MI.

This could happen to you.

Are You Going to Drink That?

By now most everyone has heard of Flint, Michigan and not in a good way either. It would appear the appointed town manager, in an effort to save a dollar, made an adverse decision affecting the health of generation of children in that city.

This disaster and others like it in our country have and will continue to happen without our direct intervention.

Here’s what happened in Flint. Flint is a city that has lost most of its manufacturing jobs due to the crumbling automobile industry. This city has also endured lost revenues. With these lost revenues and in attempts to stave off another Michigan city bankruptcy, Governor Rick Snyder appointed Michael K. Brown as an emergency financial manager for Flint. It is this decision, and a flip of a switch, that caused many children to now face the rest of their lives coping with the symptoms of lead

Reuter’s news service, shows a hasty decision with terrible consequences. “Michigan Governor Rick Snyder approved a state takeover of the city of Flint on Tuesday,following a review team's assessment earlier in the month that the city, a former manufacturing hub for the auto industry, is in a financial emergency.”

When the regulatory portion of our government consistently fails to prevent incidents like Flint from occurring, what should we the citizens, do? Please understand that where you live is just as likely to have its own crisis.Without more stringent measures in the pollution prevention of our drinking water is clearly a ticking time-bomb.

The state of Michigan’s takeover of Flint set the stage for the polluted, drinking water crisis facing residents today and that pollutant is lead, as in lead poisoning. In an article from CNN news, the Kelso family is quoted as saying, "The water would come in brown and my daughter was like 'Mom ... why is the water brown?' " The article continues to explain the efforts made by Flint’s emergency financial manager to save money. It was proposed, then it was implemented, switching Flint off of their current drinking water supply, from Detroit’s intake at Lake Huron and to pull water from Flint’s own water source, the Flint River.

According to a team of researchers at Virginia Tech, the water from the Flint River was “19 times” more corrosive than the water of Lake Huron, this corrosive quality that has resulted in lead being leached from Flint’s piping. I checked the study and found that Virginia Tech’s testing methods were flawed. Being employed in the plumbing trade for a number of years and with my current employment in the drinking water/waste water industry gives me knowledge of the proper techniques used for joining copper piping. I am confident that the solution (Flint water) that they used was an accurate representation of the water, but the way they conducted their testing produced an inaccurate understanding of how much lead would actually be found leached into the copper water piping used to convey the drinking water.

The probable corrosive agent found in the river water which caused leaching of lead is chloride and the probable source of this chloride in the water could be road salts used for de-icing. According to a study published by the Cary Institute, the corrosive element of road salts (chloride) eventually find their way into streams and then rivers. With the switch from Detroit’s minimal chloride, Lake Huron water to the Flint River, this study likely blames contamination due to the use of road salts.

That should be the end of story, but another group says, “it’s not the river.” The Flint River Watershed Coalition has been testing the water of the Flint River in various locations since before this water crisis had begun and one of the test the coalition conducted is a pH test. This test would indicate how corrosive the river’s water could actually be, but according to an overall grade and based upon the many tests they have performed, their conclusion is that the river is not the problem.

There is no doubt that lead leached from service piping to homes in Flint has caused this lead poisoning, but there appears to be a disagreement in just how the water in the service mains became corrosive. I am confident that over-chlorination of the river water at the treatment plant, has caused the leaching of lead from the Flint homes that have older service lines. A news report and a water quality report will support my claim of the over-chlorination of the water resulting in lead poisoning.

An online news service, MLive reports, “In addition to failing to treat water to make it less corrosive, Flint struggled to keep up chlorine levels in river water. The city added so much chlorine to the water in an effort to boost levels that it was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act for total trihalomethanes (TTHM) in 2015. TTHM is a byproduct of chlorinating water.”

According to Flint’s own “City of Flint 2014 Annual Water Quality Report,” the findings of the report show a level of Coliform bacteria in excess of predetermined safe levels for human health. In order to combat the high level of Coliform bacteria, chlorine was added and I propose, added in excessive amounts which resulted in elevated TTHM levels too.

In light of this report, I believe the reason for Flint’s corrosive water has been found. It is now a matter of cleanup of the water mains and removal of the lead service lines on older homes, but the lessons we take away from this incident should not be wasted.

The Animas River of Colorado was beautiful and pristine until the 13th of August 2015 According to CNN reporter Ben Brumfield on the 13th of August 2015 the river “water tainted with heavy metal gushed from Gold King [An abandoned gold mine] into the nearby Animas River, turning it a solid mustard color. It flowed downstream for dozens of miles crossing state lines. It made life miserable for thousands who depend on the river water.”

Many depend on that river for farm irrigation and for drinking water, but when the residents of Durango, Colorado found out about the EPA’s bungle which caused the discharge of lead contaminated water they stopped drawing water from the river. Just how safe is that water now?

You may have heard about the Animas River spill, but did you know there was a hidden spill lying underneath of New York City? In New York City, Brooklyn is known for its famous bridge. After it was originally built many unscrupulous people attempted to claim ownership, and they tried to sell it to unsuspecting souls. But, there is no one in Brooklyn who wants to own the trouble they have near Newton Creek.

In 1950, an explosion at the Exxon oil refinery occurred, blowing heavy manhole covers into the air, and polluting the soil with an estimated 17-30 million gallons of oil. The oil began moving at a rate of one-tenth inch per hour until the U.S. Coast Guard saw it reach the water of Newton Creek in 1978. Today, it still pollutes both the soil and the water with an approximate of only half the spill recovered.

That’s a very big spill, and it seems very unlikely to be removed any time soon, but this next spill site’s size is mind boggling. How big is 3,000 acres? If you’re not in real estate, or if you don’t own a farm or ranch, chances are you just don’t know how big that is. What about an acre; can you visualize how big an acre is? To bring the size of one acre into perspective imagine a football field. That field with its end zones is about one and a third acres in size. That means about 2,255 football fields would fit into 3,000 acres.

Once more use your imagination, and imagine there is mud on these football fields, mud about one foot deep, that’s the height of a football. But this is no ordinary mud, no sir or ma’am. This mud is made from fly ash (that’s a waste product from burning coal) and it is filled with toxic metals. One of these metals is hexavalent chromium which is known to be a carcinogen (a cancer causing agent). Here is a brief description of what happened in Kingston, Tennessee.

It’s just after one in the morning, in the pre-dawn hours of December 22, 2008 and a dam burst open spilling its contents of 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash slurry (mud) onto the land and into the nearby Watts Bar Lake and the Emory and Clinch Rivers. Fish soon died as a result of this mudslide. Initial testing showed high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and other heavy metals, all above EPA recognized safe levels. But, ironically the government had permitted the dam of slurry to be placed there.

These spills are part of an ongoing sequence of events. In a telephone interview I had with Tom Walter, a representative from the Maryland Department of the Environment, I was informed there are so many spills reported in Maryland alone, that I should understand why he did not know of a spill I called about which happened in Annapolis. Most of these toxic waste or oil spills, Maryland spills included, are caused by ignorance, negligence, or laws which are absent or too lenient.

In a case of negligence and an absence of effective regulation, a tank, located in Charleston, West Virginia, the capital of the state and a central hub for chemical producing companies, ruptures spilling its 10,000 gallon contents. With approximately 300,000 drinking water customers served by the American Water Kanawha district, nothing except enforcing the laws for pollution prevention from above ground chemical tanks, could have prevented this water treatment plant from drawing in the tainted water of the Elk River on January 9, 2014. On that day a release of a relatively unknown chemical Crude MCHM with its major component being 4-Methylcyclohexane methanol or MHCM, caused skin rashes and intestinal distress in many residents of Charleston.

Some people with chronic illnesses related to the kidney, liver or lungs were hospitalized for exposure to the chemical. In interviews with residents from Charleston, journalist Heather Rogers now Heather Ishimaru, reported on a story for Rolling Stone magazine. In her story, one resident was quoted as wondering what the community will now do about drinking or using water after the spill.

As reported by Ishimaru, “One resident, Sharon Satterfield, a grandmother of six in Charleston, West Virginia, doesn't touch the water. ‘It's still not all right, this is how we do it now, no hand washing from the tap.’ ’’ Ishimaru explains the apprehension the residents now have in using the water from their taps.

Here is a portion of Ishamaru’s story about Charleston’s water crisis: People exposed to the tainted water know MCHM's immediate effects: nausea, vomiting, headaches, and eye, skin and lung irritation. But the chemical is one of about 62,000 that have never been thoroughly tested for toxicity in humans.

Why is a chemical plant located adjacent to the river which supplies drinking water to thousands of people without understanding the potential danger?

Ishamaru continues by providing information about the chemical, MCHM: MCHM, concocted by the Eastman Chemical Company, is used to wash impurities from coal to enhance its combustibility. The few existing studies of MCHM were performed in the 1990s by the chemical's manufacturer, and were never peer reviewed...

Ishamaru explains how the potential long term effects might affect the children of Charleston: None of Eastman's inquiries considered health effects in children, or at lower levels of exposure and over time, including MCHM's carcinogenic properties and potential to damage human reproductive systems.

The future impact of this chemical spill on the youngest residents is still undetermined, but the immediate impact is given to us by Ishamaru:

Consequently, residents don't believe the water is safe because no one can tell them how and to what extent it is unsafe.

A known cancer causing compound, Hexavalent Chromium, is found in fly ash. Fly ash as you may recall is a byproduct of burning coal. This residue is largely placed in landfills, new landfills are now required to be lined with plastic at the base of the landfill cell, but older landfills did not have liners.

Fly ash is still not recognized as hazardous waste, even though fly ash contains many heavy metals at highly toxic levels.

According to the recent EPA Coal Ash Disposal Rule FAQ’s, the EPA will not be acting as a regulatory agency. I have extracted from the EPA’s website a statement which clearly shows the lack of authoritative context.

The regulations promulgated today are ‘self-implementing,’ that is a facility must comply with them without any action by a regulatory agency.

The EPA is a government agency which was created to protect the health of this nation’s people, and part of that mission includes protecting the environment we live in. This document appears to be missing, or circumventing the purpose for why the EPA was created: In addition, since these regulations are being promulgated under subtitle D of RCRA [The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act], EPA has no formal role in implementation nor can it enforce the requirements. Thus, enforcement of these requirements will be by citizen suits (or by States acting as citizens).

This next story should be of great concern to any resident of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. because this story may affect you! Many residents of Anne Arundel County procure their drinking water from a private well. A well is a bored hole through the soil and bedrock which eventually reaches an aquifer; aquifers are like underground rivers.

Sometimes in an aquifer water is found in a pure liquid state, and sometimes it is found in the form of water-saturated sand. Saturated sand aquifers are typical of Anne Arundel County. In a certain portion of this county, the southern portion, you can find most of Anne Arundel’s sand and gravel quarries (a quarry is a mine). When these quarries become abandoned, typically they will accumulate storm water which becomes a pond.

A pond has no economic value when you run a sand and gravel quarry except to use the reclaimed surface water as a rinse to make washed gravel. However, if you charge another company money to dump fill material into the abandoned quarry, then “Ka-ching”, you’re back in business.

This is what happened in Gambrills, Maryland; Gambrills has an active sand and gravel quarry business off Waugh Chapel Road. The quarry is owned by BBSS Inc. (Edwards 16). BBSS Inc., now Chaney Enterprises and Constellation Energy (parent company of BGE), made an agreement to dump fly ash into an abandoned, unlined sand and gravel quarry site. This site was approved in 1995 for fly ash dumping by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) with the requirement that test wells be installed and maintained. Test wells, also known as monitoring wells, are used to determine if leaching of potential contaminants has occurred.

According to Justin Fenton reporter for The Baltimore Sun, the MDE permitted the dumping of fly ash at the BBSS site. In the article Mr. Fenton states: “In allowing such material to be dumped at the Gambrills site, MDE followed an Environmental Protection Agency decision that fly ash was not considered a hazardous material and required less scrutiny.

The decision was upheld in 2000 after much debate, including conflicting accounts of the potential dangers.”

What a costly mistake the MDE made in allowing the construction of a toxic waste dump in our county. We, the residents, will feel the effects of that decision for years to come. In 1993 and again in 2000, the EPA decided that fly ash was not to be considered a regulated hazardous waste (RCRA). The MDE, without doing much of an investigation of their own, followed the EPA ruling allowing the dump in Gambrills to proceed. MDE representatives should have done a more thorough investigation of fly ash. If MDE had sent a representative to attend a conference on the uses of Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR), it would have reversed its decision to continue the dumping of fly ash. In a published document, Coal Combustion By-Products ..., originating from a conference over the potential benefits and harm of fly ash; a representative from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was on hand to discuss a project already underway in western Maryland. DNR was using fly ash in combination with other CCRs, to lower the pH of an abandoned coal mine’s groundwater. The introduction of fly ash and other CCRs, could be seen as beneficial to the environment in this scenario.

According to Evangelou, addressing his peers at the conference held in Carbondale at Southern Illinois University, he states: It has yet to be determined if this is a worthwhile practice from an environmental standpoint. Fly ash is enriched in many trace elements, particularly metals ... Elements that are surface adsorbed can be quite mobile. Many of these trace elements could be quite leachable under low pH conditions (123)

Hensel and Mehnert explain that eastern coal; the bituminous coal that burns in Maryland’s power plants: [can] produce acidic ashes because these coals generally contain higher concentrations of several trace elements including Arsenic, Molybdenum, and Zinc, [and] are more concentrated in the fly ash of bituminous coal. (162).

Finally, Esling asserts that these combustion by-products when contacting groundwater: [M]ay produce a leachate containing hazardous substances ... Leachate generated by these materials is distinctly different than that generated by coal, spoil, or coal processing waste (183).

In addition to the mentioned beneficial use of CCRs for stabilizing groundwater pH of abandoned coal mines; other current uses for fly ash are the construction of pavements, and use in building materials. Fly ash is used in making asphalt for roadways, concrete for buildings, and drywall for a building’s interior. This is a unique way to take something that would typically sit in a landfill, and reuse it for our benefit.There are many experts in this field of reclamation, and there are just as many differing opinions about the safety of these reclaimed materials. What do you think is the right thing to do with these waste products, would you want them in your home where they could be even closer to you?

I believe this county, Anne Arundel, needs to slow down its use of fossil fuels for energy production. The Brandon Shores power plant in Pasadena, and the Herbert A. Wagner plant just east of Glen Burnie, both burn bituminous coal.

I propose that each of us make a personal commitment to reduce our use of fossil fuels with its resulting pollution. We could ask the power company to substitute, we could even demand as consumers that it change its fuel source to cleaner burning natural gas. In this age of immediate satisfaction, imagine if you have to wait for your water to be processed first before you could use it; water might require filtration, sterilization or other methods to remove the contaminants that we helped place there.

We only have this one planet, and even though 70% is covered with water, only a percentage of about 3.5% is fresh water; that includes the ice caps.

According to the United States Geological Service or USGS, if we were to put all the attainable drinking water into a sphere, that sphere would only measure about 35 miles across; that’s roughly the same distance as Annapolis is from Washington D.C. Perhaps you’re thinking that’s really a lot of water, and you’re right it is, but there’s a catch; all that water has to be replenished through the water cycle.

In the Bible there’s a specific verse that attests to all we have been given as a people, and a planet. The Gospel of Luke, chapter 12, verse 48 says: “But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.”

We’ve been given water for life; our water should last not only for our lifetimes, but for all generations yet to come. The punishment for not taking care of the earth is that the earth will no longer be able to take care of us. We have been entrusted with the lives of all future generations to come, but preserving our clean water requires that we act responsibly with our water now.

Animas River poisoned by the EPA.

10,000 gallons of Crude MCHM dumped.

Kingston, TN. coal ash spilled over 3,000 acres


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