EPA intervenes to clean up mystery toxic dump threatening Texas county’s water

September 29, 2015

Maybe EPA should take Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s advice, and go door to door asking who did it.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Monday the agency will work to stop a toxic plume of tetrachloroethylene (PCE) that threatens to contaminate well waters in Burnet County.

The source of the plume, and who dumped the stuff, are unknowns.

EPA’s announcement:

EPA Adds Burnet Co., TX, Groundwater Plume to National Priorities List of Superfund Sites

Five hazardous waste sites added, seven proposed nationally

(DALLAS – Sept. 28, 2015)  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the Main Street Groundwater Plume site in Burnet Co., TX, to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites, a list of sites that pose risks to people’s health and the environment. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country and converts them into productive community resources by eliminating or reducing public health risks and environmental contamination.

The site lies about one mile south of the city of Burnet between County Road 340 and County Road 340 A. A plume of tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, was found in the groundwater in this area during monitoring of the Bertram Public Water Supply in 2010. The source of the contamination is unknown.

“Texans understand how precious water resources are for families and businesses,” said EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “Addressing contamination helps alleviate the risk to the community and return property to economic use.”

The plume released into the Ellenburger-San Saba Aquifer, and contaminated two public water supply wells and seven private wells. Monitoring indicates levels in drinking water wells are below EPA’s health-based maximum contaminant level (MCL). Two wells that exceeding the MCL are used for irrigation and livestock watering. Exposure to PCE could harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive system, and may lead to higher risk of some types of cancer.

EPA regularly works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the extent of the contamination before assessing how best to treat it.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the enactment of the Comprehensive Environmental, Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program. Superfund’s passage was a giant step forward in cleaning up legacy industrial waste sites to help ensure human health and environmental protection. The Superfund law gives EPA the authority to clean up releases of hazardous substances and directs EPA to update the NPL at least annually. The NPL contains the nation’s most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding; only sites on the NPL are eligible for such funding.

Federal Register notices and supporting documents for the final and proposed sites:

Information about how a site is listed on the NPL:

Superfund sites in local communities:

More information about the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), the law establishing the Superfund program, can be found at:

More about activities in EPA Region 6 is available at http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/region6.html

# # #

Tetrachloroethylene is a commonly used solvent, often used in dry cleaning of fabrics and degreasing metal parts.  The chemical is also known as perchloroethane, or perc. It was first synthesized in 1821 by Michael Faraday. It is volatile, but highly stable and not flammable.

EPA documents say, “Effects resulting from acute (short term) high-level inhalation exposure of humans to tetrachloroethylene include irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, kidney dysfunction, and neurological effects such as reversible mood and behavioral changes, impairment of coordination, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, and unconsciousness.” It is classed as a Type 2A chemical for carcinogenicity, which means it is a probable human carcinogen, but not a potent one.


Burnet County, outlined in red, covers parts of five different watersheds. EPA map

Burnet County, outlined in red, covers parts of five different watersheds. EPA map

Burnet County is in Central Texas, in red on this EPA map

Burnet County is in Central Texas, in red on this EPA map













Annals of Global Warming: Warm the oceans, raise the sea level

September 15, 2015

Svein T veitdal is one of those rare scientists who can explain why science observations are important in effects on people in just living their lives. A good man to listen to (you can follow his Twitter account: @tveitdal).

Recently he sent this notice:

Critics of the science of climate change and the work to slow or halt warming don’t like charts like that. Sea level is something measured by humans, worldwide, for a long time. That’s real data.

And it’s scary.

T veitdal’s Tweet was just a small part of a very large graphic from NASA, explaining the observations that tell us sea levels rise, how the observations are made, and what it means to you and me.

NASA infographic on sea level rise

NASA infographic on sea level rise: We know seas are rising and we know why. The urgent questions are by how much and how quickly. Available to download, this infographic covers the science behind sea level rise, who’s affected, how much melting ice is contributing, and what NASA is doing to help.

Yeah. “Your planet is changing. We’re on it.”

As Ban-ki Moon said the other day, there is no Planet B. We have only one Earth.

General science teachers, geology teachers, physics and chemistry teachers, history, geography and human geography teachers should see if someone at your school has a plotter and can print this thing out for you, poster size.

Cute pictures of polar bears, masking tragedy

March 17, 2015

It came from @planetpics on Twitter.

A beautiful picture of a polar bear cub getting a lift across the water from its mom!  Life on Earth/@planetpics

“A beautiful picture of a polar bear cub getting a lift across the water from its mom!” Life on Earth/@planetpics

Couldn’t help but wonder if that cub will survive the next few months, let alone to adulthood.

Generally, polar bear mothers den on pack ice, and the cub would be kept on the ice while the mother hunted from that platform.  Polar bears can swim, but not well, and not far, usually.  They cannot hunt while swimming.  To eat, they wait on the ice for seals to come up for air, then grab the seals.

Lack of hard ice platforms, pack ice, means mother polar bears can’t hunt to feed their cubs.  While an adult polar bear can swim a distance to find ice, the cubs can’t. And if the adult doesn’t find hard ice, they perish.  Long swims are deadly to cubs.

It’s a cute pic, and we hope momma bear is swimming to an ice platform and can feed that cute little cub so it grows and flourishes.

We know the odds are against it.

Doubt climate change? Here, have a cigarette . . .

July 9, 2013

Colorado River runs dry, Peter McBried, Smithsonian

From Smithsonian Magazine: The Colorado River Runs Dry A boat casts a forlorn shadow in a dry river channel 25 miles from the river’s historical end at the Gulf of California. Photo by Peter McBride (Go see the entire slide show; spectacular and troubling images)

As John Mashey has been quietly but consistently warning us for some time . . .

From ClimateRealityProject.org:

Join us and stand up for reality. http://climaterealityproject.org – This film exposes the parallels between Big Tobacco‘s denial of smoking’s cancer-causing effects and the campaign against the science of climate change — showing that not only are the same strategies of denial at work, but often even the same strategists.

If you watched that all the way through, odds are high you’re not a denier.  If you can’t watch it, you really should think about it, hard.

More, and useful resources:

Annals of global warming: Arizona wildfires 2013 and “the new normal”

July 6, 2013

A burned home is seen in an unidentified neighborhood west of Highway 89 in Yarnell, Arizona July 3, 2013. Reuters

A burned home is seen in an unidentified neighborhood west of Highway 89 in Yarnell, Arizona July 3, 2013. Reuters, via International Business Times

From a much longer story you should read by Felicity Barringer and Kenneth Chang  in The New York Times, Tuesday, July 2, 2013, page A13 of the National Edition:

Since 1970, Arizona has warmed at a rate 0.72 degrees per decade, the fastest among the 50 states, based on an analysis of temperature data by Climate Central, an independent organization that researches and reports on climate. Even as the temperatures have leveled off in many places around the world in the past decade, the Southwest has continued to get hotter.

“The decade of 2001 to 2010 in Arizona was the hottest in both spring and the summer,” said Gregg Garfin, a professor of climate, natural resources and policy at the University of Arizona and the executive editor of a study examining the impact of climate change on the Southwest.

Warmer winters mean less snowfall. More of the winter precipitation falls as rain, which quickly flows away in streams instead of seeping deep underground.

The soils then dry out earlier and more quickly in May and June. “It’s the most arid time of year,” Dr. Garfin said. “It’s windy as well.”

The growing season also starts earlier, so there is more to burn.

“The fire season has lengthened substantially, by two months, over the last 30 years,” said Craig D. Allen, a research ecologist at the United States Geological Survey station at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.

The fire potential is exacerbated by the past policy, beginning around 1900, of putting out all fires. Fires are a natural way of clearing out the underbrush. With that natural rhythm disrupted, the flammable material piled up, so when it did catch fire, it ignited a giant fire that burned hotter and wider.

This total-suppression policy began to ease as early as the 1950s, when scientists began to see fire’s role in ecosystems. It was completely abandoned nearly two decades ago.

But in the 1970s, the Southwest entered a wet period, part of a climate cycle that repeats every 20 to 30 years. “That wet period helped keep a lid on fires,” Dr. Allen said. “And it also allowed the forests to fluff up.”

Since 1996, the climate pattern, known as the Pacific decadal oscillation, has swung to the dry end of the spectrum, and the region is caught in a long-term drought.

Stephen J. Pyne, one of the nation’s leading fire historians and a professor at Arizona State University, said, “How we live on the land, what we decide we put on public and private lands, how we do things and don’t do things on the land, changes its combustibility.”

In many landscapes, he added, “you’ve enhanced the natural combustibility” by building hundreds of thousands of homes in fire-prone areas, and for years suppressing natural fires, allowing a buildup of combustible materials like the “slash” debris left behind by logging.

The article explains how this is the dry phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation; so we can hope the wet phase will be wet enough to suppress fires.  However, the simple fact of additional effects brought on by PDO does not mean warming goes away when the PDO switches phases.  Note especially the lengthening fire season over three decades; incrementally, warming is making these well-known cycles, warmer, and too often, destructive or more destructive.


Sign welcoming visitors to Yarnell, Arizona:

Sign welcoming visitors to Yarnell, Arizona, with wildfire in the background: “Elevation 4,850 ft., ‘Where the desert breeze meets the mountain air.'” Sedonaeye.com image


English: Monthly values for the Pacific decada...

Monthly values for the Pacific decadal oscillation index, 1900 – 2010 Black line:121-month smooth Data source: http://jisao.washington.edu/pdo/PDO.latest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Punchline too brutal for work: Why it is that environmentalists are the real humanitarians (a necessary encore)

March 1, 2013

I wish it weren’t true.  I wish people didn’t appear to be getting stupider, less scientifically literate, and less knowledgeable of history (see Santayana‘s thoughts in the upper right-hand corner of the blog . . .).  My e-mail box is filling today with notes from people claiming environmentalists want to rid the Earth of humans, urging that we should oppose them and let poisoning of our air and water continue . . . oblivious to the irony of the claim coupled with their supposed opposition to the idea.  Here’s the truth, in large part, an encore post from several months ago (I apologize in advance for the necessary profanity):

The fictional but very popular memes that environmentalists hate humans, humanity and capitalism wouldn’t bother me so much if they didn’t blind their believers to larger truths and sensible policies on environmental protection.

One may argue the history of the environmental movement, how most of the originators were great capitalists and humanitarians — think Andrew Carnegie, Laurance Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and all the early medical doctors who warned of the dangers of pollution-caused diseases — but it falls on deaf ears on the other sides.

Here’s the 30-second response, from Humon, in cartoon form:

Mother Gaia explains why environmental protection is important, from Humon at Deviant Art

Facts of life and environmental protection – from Humon at Deviant Art

Tip of the old scrub brush to P. Z. Myers, and Mia, whoever she is.  Myers noted, “Environmentalism is actually an act of self defense.”


Wall of Shame; sites that don’t get it, or intentionally tell the error:

English: 1908 US editorial cartoon on Theodore...

1908 Rense cartoon in the St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press, celebrating Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation of U.S. forests; image from Wikipedia, and Boundless blog

1908 editorial cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt as “A Practical Forester.”  Source: St. Paul Minnesota “Pioneer Press”. Via GPO's Government Book Talk blog.

1908 Rense editorial cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt as “A Practical Forester.” Source: St. Paul Minnesota “Pioneer Press”. Via GPO’s Government Book Talk blog.

Sounds of the Yellowstone in winter will haunt you, lovingly

February 14, 2013

This is a heckuva research project: What is the sound ecosystem of the Yellowstone?

Film from Yellowstone National Park:

The film was produced by Emily Narrow for NPS, with financial assistance from the Yellowstone Association.

From NPS:

Published on Jul 13, 2012

Many people come to Yellowstone to see the fantastic landscapes. Wise visitors also come to experience the amazing soundscapes. This video provides some insight into the value of natural sounds in wild places and how the park is monitoring those sounds as well as the sounds created by humans.

Nothing matches the sound of a western river, to my mind.  I love the sound of the tumbling waters, and it was on one of those roaring creeks that we scattered the ashes of my Yellowstone-loving oldest brother Jerry Jones.

Poster for Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/...

Classic, vintage poster for Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other sounds will captivate you.  The rush and gush of the geysers, and the gurgle and plop of heated pools rivets you for a while.  Once you hear the chuff of an interested grizzly bear, you don’t forget it.  And while it can be scary if you’re relatively alone on the trail, the howl of the wolf tells you about the wilderness in a way no other sound ever can.  The honks of the geese, the trumpets of the swans, the grunts of the bison, the scolding of the many different squirrels and chipmunks, the slap of a trout jumping out of the river — these are all worth making the trip.

After you go, these sounds will lovingly haunt your life.  You’ll smile when you remember them.

I hope you can go soon.  (I hope I can go, soon.)

Sad note:  Only 1,553 people have watched this video since last July.  Can you spread the word a bit?



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