U.S. Geological Survey

WA Legislature: Let's become first state to ban toxic asphalt sealants

The Washington House of Representatives this week passed and sent to Gov. Christine Gregoire legislation to make Washington the first state in the nation to ban toxic asphalt sealants that are ending up in people’s homes as well as polluting stormwater runoff and waterways.

Meanwhile, a federal scientist on Thursday briefed Congressional aides and others about threats to the environment and public health from sealing of driveways, parking lots and playgrounds with coaltar, a byproduct of steelmaking. The briefing was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who is seeking a nationwide ban on the toxic sealants.

The Washington State legislation and Doggett’s drive for a nationwide ban flowed from studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, which showed that constituents of the toxic sealants are increasing in many waterways, while levels of most pollutants are declining.

A 2009 Geological Survey study identified chemicals associated with the coaltar sealants in house dust at levels that worried researchers because they could contribute to longterm cancer risks, especially in young children who crawl around in – and accidentally ingest – the toxic dust.

InvestigateWest and msnbc.com partnered last year to publish the first major national story examining the toxic sealants.


We better give a carp about invasive Asian fish hitting Great Lakes, but must we poison the water?

rm iwest mugSo it's come to this: we have to poison our waterways to protect our waterways.

Yes, in a development that brings to mind that (possibly apocryphal) saying about a Vietnamese village in the 1960s, it seems that the state of Illinois has agreed to try to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by poisoning Chicago-area waterways every time locks are opened to let boats through to Lake Michigan.

The Obama administration this week rolled out a $78 million plan to fight the carp and sought to broker a deal between the governors of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as federal agencies involved. Illinois wants waterborne commerce to continue, as do shippers, represented by the American Waterways Operators.

Michigan and Wisconsin are terrified that the carp will crowd out Great Lakes native fish -- just as they've done in the Illinois and Mississippi and Lower Missouri rivers, pummeling fisheries that formerly targeted much-more-valuable native fish.

Now, it's a pretty scary prospect that this aggressive Asian carp seems likely to blow past humans' efforts to keep it out of the Great Lakes. That could spell disaster for the native fish living off of America's  "northern coast." And carp DNA -- probably from their poop -- already has been found right at the edge of Lake Michigan.

The fish -- several species, actually -- were brought into this country to control nuisance algae, apparently, but got loose in waterways connected to  the Mississippi River.

Toxic parking lots shed dust that boosts kids' cancer risk, InvestigateWest says in major story

rm iwest mugOK, folks, it's the moment we've all been waiting for since we launched InvestigateWest last year: Our first big story is running today! And it's on msnbc.com, so we expect a lot of eyeballs to be on this 0ne.

This is an amazing tale about a series of studies that this week revealed that toxic dust from parking lots is making its way into Americans' homes in eyebrow-raising quantities. And because it's ending up in house dust, it's a particular worry for kids, for whom it raises lifetime cancer risks significantly, according to research led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Please go read the story, will you? We want to get all the clicks we can over at msnbc.com. But do come back and visit Dateline Earth in the next week or so, because there was really quite a bit we didn't get to get into, even in the decently in-depth treatment we were able to give the topic for msnbc.com.

InvestigateWest has been proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far, including our independent coverage of the Copenhagen climate talks, organizing into a non-profit, getting an incredibly talented board up and running, and landing grants from the Bullitt Foundation and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

But this toxic parking lots piece is a great example of our main reason for being: In-depth journalism on the environment, public health and social-justice issues (although this coal tar thing, in an unusual twist, seems likely to be more of a problem for well-to-do suburban families than for poor folks.

Intersex fish found across U.S. - which chemicals to blame?

The U.S. Geological Survey just completed a nine-year study in streams and rivers across the U.S. looking for intersex fish - males with female characteristics, like production of eggs, according toAlaska Dispatch. Largemouth and smallmouth bass were most affected, with 33 percent and 18 percent being intersex across the country, respectively. The full reportby Christopher Joyce is on NPR's All Things Considered.

Intersex fish aren't a new phenomenon, but this the largest study of its kind to be conducted in U.S. waters, according to the article. Scientists blame industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals, as well as personal care products like deodorant, cosmetics and shampoo. Many of these chemicals are "endocrine disruptors" that affect an individual's delicate hormone system.

We don't yet know if these chemicals are affecting humans. Many products containing them are not labeledin the United States, according to Samuel S. Epstein in the Huffington Post. It's difficult to isolate what is affecting other animals, since multiple chemicals could be mixing to form chemical cocktails.

The effects aren't restricted to fish. A resident in Montana has been tracking mutated jaws and genitals in deer and other animals for more than 13 years.

Study reveals mercury in 100 percent of fish tested

The U.S. Geological Survey released the results to a study yesterday that found mercury contamination in every fish tested in nearly 300 streams across the nation -- one quarter of which exceeded safe mercury levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reported The Seattle Times, among others.

The study, considered one of the most comprehensive to date,  pinned atmospheric mercury as the culprit in most streams. While the EPA says that coal-fired power plants are the largest polluter of toxic mercury, some of the most elevated levels were found in Western states, who still bear the toxic scars of decades of mercury and gold mining.

This study comes at an interesting time. Alaska's Kensington gold mine just recently received the final go-ahead as it prepares to dump mercury and various other mine waste into the nearby Lower Slate Lake. And Matthew Preusch of the Oregonian reports that Oregon is pairing up with one of the nation's most notorious airborne mercury polluter, Ash Grove Cement Co. While Oregon's top environmental agency is trying to cut the cement plant's mercury pollution by 75 percent --  they also are asking that the plant be exempt from the EPA's new, more stringent limits on mercury emissions.

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Landslides common in Utah

Landslides, like the one that killed three people in Logan, Utah this month are relatively common throughout Utah. Dan Bammes of KUER public radio spoke with a senior geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey about the agency's efforts to map landslide activity in Utah and understand the dangers to populated communities.