Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An Allegory about NIMBYism

Remove contaminated soil.
Restore the aquifer to drinking water quality.
Replace air strippers that vent to the atmosphere with carbon filters.
Redevelop properties to bring in new tenants and raise property values.

What do these objectives have in common?
Throughout the history of a particular Silicon Valley Superfund site, these goals have been supported by the community, responsible parties, and regulators.  And at face value, they each appear to be protective of human health and the environment and benefit the neighboring community.

Only more recently has the concept of sustainable remediation been used to look at cleanup programs from a holistic viewpoint, and examine the collateral damage that some remedial decisions can cause, even those that appear to be protective.

In the 2008 Optimization Evaluation reports prepared by Northgate, Geosyntec, Weiss, and Schlumberger, we found that annual carbon (CO2) emissions related to the operation of five treatment systems at the Silicon Valley Superfund site ranged from 42 to 281 metric tons. For comparison, the EPA estimates that the annual CO2 emissions from a typical passenger vehicle are approximately 5 metric tons.

In a 2010 economic analysis of 25 San Francisco Bay Area Superfund sites, Northgate staff, Maile Smith and Scott McLaughlin found that although concentrations of groundwater pollutants had been greatly reduced, contaminant removal rates were insufficient to reach cleanup goals.  Furthermore, we found that the benefits of groundwater cleanup were reduced by the cross-media (e.g., water to air) pollution impacts of the remediation programs. The study indicated that the collective pollution reduction achieved by the cleanup programs at these sites is less than the pollution generated by the production of goods and services required to operate and maintain the cleanup programs themselves.

And this week the Center for Investigative Reporting published an article on the journey of the groundwater pollutants from that particular Silicon Valley Superfund site, illustrating the pathway that pollution takes after it is pumped from the ground and filtered through those carbon vessels.

“There’s really no such thing as throwing something away,” said Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Rusty Harris-Bishop. “You’re always throwing it somewhere.”

It's an interesting tale, and certainly highlights the potential collateral damage that can occur when we collectively decide, "not in my backyard."

Read the complete article here:

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's Been a Dirty Winter

Kurtis Alexander, SFGate Blog, March 6, 2014

This year’s dry winter is making history not only for a lack of rainfall but for a lung-blasting surge in air pollution.

With few storms to clear out the stagnant wintertime skies, dirty air has built up more often than usual, prompting air-quality regulators in the Bay Air to issue a record-tying number of advisories, known as Spare the Air alerts.

On 30 occasions between November and February the Bay Area Air Quality Management District advised that pollutants such as particulate matter in smoke and haze were approaching or would hit unhealthy levels.  The number of Spare the Air alerts this winter was the highest since the 2006-07 season.

The story was similar in other parts of the state. While not a record, the notoriously polluted San Joaquin Valley recorded 66 days of air quality approaching substandard levels, up from 52 the prior winter.

Read the complete post here.