water pollution

Taxing pollutants to pay for water pollution cleanup -- too simple to pass Washington Legislature?

It's a little tough to tell, but it sounds like the idea of raising taxes on petroleum products and other toxic materials to pay for cleaning up stormwater runoff could have trouble getting through the recession-battered Washington Legislature this year. Taxing pollutants to pay for pollution cleanup may be too simple an idea, I suppose.

Today enviros are calling for green-minded citizens to e-mail their representatives in Olympia in support of what they’re calling the Clean Water Act of 2008 (HB 3181/SB 6851). It would raise taxes on petroleum and other toxic products that represent the biggest single environmental threat to Puget Sound (not to mention putting a whole bunch of other Washington waterways into violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972. The one that was supposed to control water pollution by 1985.

Right now the Leg is barreling toward a supposed conclusion – but with nothing even close to agreement on how to balance the budget. The Senate raised its hand for an increase in the sales tax. But Gov. Christine Gregoire and House leaders appear to not like that idea, although they’re careful politicians all and haven’t ruled it out, either.

Now, I’ve been writing about the need to clean up stormwater – in particular to rescue Puget Sound, but also as a nationwide program – for going on a decade now. Never before has the Legislature gotten this close to putting into effect such a large, ongoing and broadly based revenue source for stormwater cleanup.

Former couch potato plans wintertime run the length of world's oldest, deepest lake -- Siberia's Baikal

rm iwest mugIn the couple of decades I've watched environmentalists go to ever-greater lengths to get out their messages, I've seen few more wacky stunts than the one planned by two guys from Canada: Running the length of the world's oldest and deepest lake, Lake Baikal in Siberia, in the wintertime. While pulling along 100 pounds of supplies behind them. And live-blogging the whole thing, of course. (What?!? No Twitter!?!)

Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely -- shall we just call them "the wackos" from now on? -- plan to  set off on March 1, which means the ice will still be plenty hard on Baikal. (Fun fact: Less than a decade ago, Zahab was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker and couch potato!)

Their cause: to highlight the value and scarcity of fresh water. Nowhere else in the world does a freshwater lake hold as many gallons as does Baikal. It has more of the wet stuff than all of America's Great Lakes combined.

You may have heard of these wackos before.

Sightline highlights need for continued cleanup of US's No. 1 water-pollution problem, stormwater

rm iwest mugIt was good to see former Dateline Earth denizen Lisa Stiffler out today with a new report  (PDF) on the country's No. 1 water pollution problem:  Stormwater.

As longtime Dateline Earth readers will know, Lisa and I worked together on a bunch of stories over the past decade highlighting the need to protect Puget Sound.

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.

Should we be using composting toilets? Should NYT's "Toxic Waters" series on sewers, stormwater raise that question?

The latest installment of The New York Times' excellent "Toxic Waters" series has pushed me over the edge: I'm now firmly of the opinion these guys should win a Pulitzer.  

I've sung the praises of Charles Duhigg's reporting before, but he really got to the heart of the matter with this latest piece on sewage and stormwater.

It's been a while since I visited this topic, and in the meantime it seems the holy grail of related medical research has been found: research connecting the sloppy way our aging sewers are handling waste with actual human sickness. According to Duhigg:

A 2007 study published in the journal Pediatrics, focusing on one Milwaukee hospital, indicated that the number of children suffering from serious diarrhea rose whenever local sewers overflowed. Another study, published in 2008 in the Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, estimated that as many as four million people become sick each year in California from swimming in waters containing the kind of pollution often linked to untreated sewage.

I've written extensively about these problems in the Puget Sound region. Duhigg and the Times are taking it to the national level. And yet, Duhigg doesn't forget to detail how the guys at the local sewer plant in Brooklyn get antsy when it starts raining much, generating stormwater that overpowers sewers in the Big Apple:

They choose cable television packages for their homes based on which company offers the best local weather forecasts. They know meteorologists by the sound of their voices. When the leaves begin to fall each autumn, clogging sewer grates and pipes, Mr.

EPA to redouble Clean Water Act enforcement

You wouldn't guess it from a late-Friday Google News search, but in my book, this qualifies as big news: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promised today to redouble its efforts to  enforce the Clean Water Act.

The EPA's announcement today comes in reaction to an excellent New York Times series that we've paid homage to before, and which documented how polluters have systematically violated the Clean Water Act for decades, often with little or no retribution.

What's really significant is that agency is promising to go after some of the most prolific sources of stormwater, including city streets and feedlots.  We've been harping on this topic for years now, and it's great to get the heft of the NYT into the picture. The paper reports EPA is likely to go after "mining companies, large livestock farms, municipal wastewater treatment plants and construction companies that operate sites where polluted stormwater has run into nearby lakes and rivers." About time.

Here's what EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had to say in the agency's press release:

Updating our efforts under the Clean Water Act will promote innovative solutions for 21st century water challenges, build stronger ties between EPA, state, and local actions, and provide the transparency the public rightfully expects.

It should be pointed out that reporters had documented parts of this story before the Times. Yours truly, along with Lisa Stiffler, Lise Olsen and others at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, did that in the Puget Sound region earlier this decade.

Doing the laundry? You're probably polluting

Meeting this hour at a home in Northeast Seattle is a group of people with a message for the rest of the world: When you clean your laundry, you're probably polluting local waterways.

The gathering is a press conference by People for Puget Sound and the Washington Toxics Coalition to announce findings from a study of homes in western Washington in which a class of chemicals known as phthalates were found in house dust and laundry wastewater.

It's pronounced THAL-ates. Get used to hearing about them. They are endocrine disrupters that come from all that plastic we've got around our houses.

These chemicals have now been measured at six homes around Puget Sound, and sometimes at levels that raise concern. While this is an admittedly small study on one chemical, it shows that stuff in people's house dust is getting into the wastewater, which ultimately flows into local waterways.

More details here. It's time for the InvestigateWest staff meeting. I'll update this later if I get time.

Update 8:45 p.m.: OK, folks,  I'm running out of gas after a 13-hour workday and so will have to be satisfied with referring you to a story by John Stang at seattlepi.com. I had intended to send you to a story by my wife, Sally Deneen, for seattlepostglobe.org, but it's not posted yet. Nor do I see anything over at the Seattle Times.

-- Robert McClure

NYT, AP give us some in-depth reporting on water pollution

Wow. After toiling for years to expose the ills of water pollution, it's really exciting to see some of the nation's largest news organizations tackling some of the country's biggest water-contamination problems.

We've previously highlighted the New York Times' excellent piece on widespread industrial non-compliance with the Clean Water Act, which leads in some cases to polluted drinking water.

It's part of the NYT's "Toxic Waters" series. The latest installment devles into one of our favorite topics, stormwater, and particularly the nasty stuff generated at animal feedlots known as CAFOs.

Meanwhile, over at the Associated Press, some poor journalist whose byline was dropped when his story ran in the Charleston Daily Mail has done an admirable job looking into the quality of drinking water in the nation's schools. We helped in a sort of consultant role when the colleagues at the Seattle P-I took this topic on some years ago. We're glad the AP went after the national picture.

-- Robert McClure