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Environment

Opinion | ADEM found E. Coli levels 35 times the danger level after Tyson spill. It didn’t tell anyone.

Josh Moon

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The Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s website should probably be the first clue that the department doesn’t understand its responsibility to alert the public to dangerous environmental issues. 

That website, which appears to be designed around the time people were still messaging in AOL chatrooms, states near the bottom that it is best viewed in Internet Explorer 7. 

That version of Explorer was released in 2006. 

So, no, it shouldn’t be a surprise that ADEM is still as slow as dial-up in getting information out to the public. Vital, important information. 

Like the fact that a Tyson plant had dumped thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into the Black Warrior River. And that wastewater had produced toxic, dangerous levels of E. coli bacteria in the water. 

The water where kids were swimming. And pets were drinking. And people were fishing for dinner. 

That spill occurred on June 6. And ADEM tested the water near the spill site and several miles downstream. 

Those tests showed incredibly high levels of bacteria in the water. Dangerous levels. 

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Levels that should have sent ADEM officials to their 2006 website and email list to alert the public to avoid the areas, keep their pets and kids away, don’t eat the fish. 

Instead, on Wednesday, for the very first time, the nonprofit group Black Warrior Riverkeepers publicized the tests, giving the public its first alert to the dangerous conditions. 

Nearly three months later. 

Because who really needs to know that E. Coli levels in the water where they’re swimming are 32 times the danger level. 

That’s right. Thirty-two times. 

And that was six miles downstream on the day of the spill. 

A day later, 14 miles downstream, the levels were 35 times higher than considered safe. 

Let me put that in better context for you: If you tested water anywhere in this state and found that E. Coli levels were 1/35th of the E. Coli levels found in the Black Warrior on June 7, that water would still be too dangerous to swim in. 

ADEM conducted these tests. Found those results. 

And then didn’t tell a soul. 

It’s like that episode of “Seinfeld” where the car rental place didn’t hold the car that Jerry reserved. “You know how to take the reservation,” he tells the employee, “but you don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation.”

Same concept here. 

ADEM did fine testing the water. But it’s the publicizing of those test results that’s really the most important part. 

But rest easy, ADEM is investigating what happened and looking into the allegations by the Black Warrior Riverkeepers and a statement is expected on Thursday at some point. 

There’s not much to investigate, really. The test results are right on the ADEM website now, with the dates and numbers for all to see. BWR tweeted out a screenshot of the test results on Wednesday. Those tests were clearly completed in the days after the spill, and we all know that ADEM didn’t alert anyone to anything. 

Look, I’ve heard all of the excuses from ADEM employees and ADEM supporters. I get that the Department is underfunded severely and that there are good people who are overworked and underpaid. 

But come on. This is basic stuff. Stuff that could save lives and doctor’s bills. Stuff that could be accomplished with a cell phone and a Facebook page. 

For too long now, ADEM has existed as an entity whose sole purpose was to serve as a buffer between the EPA and major corporations. To work around hefty fines. To help roll back penalties. 

ADEM, in its current configuration and under its current management, is doing a disservice to the people of Alabama. And the Department’s incompetence isn’t merely costing us dollars. It’s also making us less safe. 

Any governor who cared at all about the people she served would have long ago corrected this problem.

 

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Environment

Alabama State Waters reopen for shrimping on June 1

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division announced that pursuant to Section 9-12-46, Code of Alabama 1975, all inside waters not permanently closed by law or regulation will open for shrimp harvesting at 6 a.m., on Monday, June 1, 2020.

This opening includes Mobile Bay, Bon Secour Bay, the Mississippi Sound, Perdido Bay, Arnica Bay, Wolf Bay and Little Lagoon.

Licensed live bait dealers holding a permit for Special Live Bait Areas are reminded that an area beside the Battleship Alabama south of the Tensaw River Bridge, north of a line from the north point of Pinto Pass (N30 40.755, W88 01.124) to the northwest edge of Goat Island (N30 40.124, W88 00.784), and west of a line from the northwest edge of Goat Island to the eastern end of Tensaw River Bridge (N30 40.955, W88 00.444) will be open from one hour before sunrise until sunset from June 1 to December 31, 2020.

Shrimp are an important food species for a number of fish and wildlife species. Alabama waters contain 15 to 22 species of shrimp. Only three of these are normally eaten by humans. These are: the brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), the white shrimp (P. setiferus), and the pink shrimp (P. duorarum). Shrimp, along with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish, are a species of invertebrates known as decapods. There are about 2,000 species of shrimp in the world.

The brown shrimp is by far the most abundant The pink shrimp is the least abundant of the three. Alabamians harvest approximately 20.5 million pounds of shrimp with an estimated dockside value of $45 million.

The ADCNR closes Alabama’s waters around May 1 each year because May is when the juvenile brown shrimp begin to leave their nurseries in the wetlands and marshes to explore deeper water. The break in the shrimping action gives the commercially important shrimp time to age and grow without fishing pressure.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

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To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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Environment

Ivey announces $11.9 million for fisheries impacted by COVID-19, flooding

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced the $3.3 million in federal coronavirus aid money will be available in the coming months to Alabama’s seafood industry, impacted by the outbreak. 

In addition to the $3.3 million from the CARES Act, the state is to also receive $8.6 million in federal fisheries disaster relief funds due to freshwater flooding in 2019 that impacted fisheries in the Gulf, according to a press release from Ivey’s office Wednesday. 

“The Gulf and its fisheries are vital to Alabama’s economy by providing jobs for fishermen, processors, and others in the seafood industry,” Ivey said in a statement. “We are thankful to provide this much needed relief to those affected in our coastal communities.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources worked with the seafood industry to calculate the damages and coordinated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the disaster relief funding.

The federal money isn’t yet available to affected commercial and charter fishing businesses, agriculture operations and seafood processors, however. 

 The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is currently and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to establish eligibility guidelines for applicants, the press release states. Those guidelines are expected to be finalized and released “in the coming months.” 

 “Once we receive documentation regarding the guidelines, the state will develop a spending plan and submit it to NOAA for approval,” said Christopher Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner, in a statement. “When approved, we will announce the application period and the requirements for eligibility to the public. I would like to thank Senator Richard Shelby for his work to provide the fisheries disaster funding for the seafood industry and for including the fisheries funding in the CARES Act.”

Visit NOAA’s website for more information on federal relief for fisheries and the response to COVID-19.

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ADEM receives EPA grant to “help keep our waters clean”

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management recently received a $500,000 competitive grant from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency as part of ADEM’s efforts to keep trash out of Alabama’s waterways and from entering the Gulf of Mexico.

ADEM’s “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” litter abatement project was one of 17 recipients of EPA’s 2020 Trash Free Waters grants in the Southeastern U.S.

“ADEM has a long history of fostering good stewardship of the Gulf’s vast natural resources,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said.This grant will help the Department preserve, enhance and develop the area’s resources for present and future generations of Alabamians.

The “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project is designed to promote awareness about watersheds and reduce nonpoint source pollution entering waterways that drain to the Gulf of Mexico. A goal of the project is to engage the community in the fight against litter through education and outreach that encourage the use of voluntary and sustainable best practices.

“We want to inspire and empower citizens through their voluntary actions to help prevent litter from even reaching our waterways,” LeFleur said. “This project will both educate them about the importance of our rivers, streams and other bodies of water, and create opportunities for them to actually get involved in efforts to prevent and collect litter.

Perhaps the most visible aspects of the “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project are signs being placed along interstates in Alabama to inform motorists they are entering a watershed and encourage them not to litter, as well as colorful metal sculptures of water lifesuch as fish, turtles and water birds – that will mark litter collection sites at rest areas and other strategic locations.

An important component of the project is education. ADEM will reach out to disadvantaged and other communities to promote anti-littering messages and to educate the public about the importance of good watershed health. The project will target specific locations andschools in its efforts.

In addition to ADEM, the City of Mobile and the Freshwater Land Trust also received EPA competitive grants.

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“The EPA has over 50 partnership projects across the country as part of our Trash Free Waters Program, which focuses on preventing trash from reaching waterways in the first place,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “These 17 recipients will target the Gulf of Mexico Region for clean-up, trash prevention and education. Preventing trash from entering the waterways will have an immediate impact on the Gulf’s ecosystem.”

EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker added, “Staying on the front lines of environmental protection requires ingenuity and proactive practices. Investing in efforts to eliminate trash from entering waterways is critical for the protection of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans and essential for healthy drinking water. From a healthy ecosystem, to an economic boom, to flood protection, the benefits of trashfree waters are endless.”

According to the EPA, common trash from consumer goods makes up the majority of what eventually becomes marine debris, polluting our waterways and oceans. Plastics in the aquatic environment are of increasing concern because of their persistence and effect on the environment, wildlife and human health. About 80 percent of plastics come from land-based sources carried by both wind and water.

ADEM Director LeFleur said the “Help Keep Our Waters Clean” project will be a continuing effort of the state’s environmental watchdog agency.

“This isn’t a one-time deal. We want to promote long-term,sustainable, voluntary practices to reduce this form of pollution,which fouls Alabama waterways, spoils nature’s beauty and harms aquatic life. This grant help jump-start those efforts.”

For more information about the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, go to www.adem.alabama.gov. For more information about EPA’s Trash Free Waters program, visit www.epa.gov/trash-free-waters.

 

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Interior Dept. issues new offshore air quality regulations

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In support of President Donald Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, the Department of the Interior (Department) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today announced a final rule to update air quality regulations for applicable BOEM activities in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska’s North Slope Borough. The new rule does not relax any standards for regulating air quality, uses the best available science and makes important technical and compliance-related updates to bring the regulation into this century. 

“Under the President’s leadership, the Department has taken numerous, commonsense actions resulting in billions of dollars in deregulatory savings, and we will continue to take actions to better serve the American people,” said Secretary David L. Bernhardt. “The final rule released today incorporates current standards, creates consistency with the statutory authorities and is one more step in the right direction.” 

The final rule respects the clear and distinct authority Congress delegated to the Department. The Department’s jurisdiction is limited to activities authorized under the OCS Lands Act in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico and offshore the North Slope Borough of Alaska. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has air quality jurisdiction over all other parts of the OCS. It is also limited to regulating offshore emissions of criteria and their precursor pollutants to the extent they significantly affect the air quality of any state. With this clear mandate, the final rule operates within these parameters to improve air quality. 

“Offshore energy development accounts for 18 percent of our nation’s oil production and billions of dollars in revenues for the states, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the American people,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Kate MacGregor. “This commonsense update brings the Department’s regulations in line with current standards and within our distinct, statutory mandate.”

The final rule provides a commonsense approach to ensure BOEM’s Air Quality Regulatory Program remains in compliance with the OCS Lands Act requirements by ensuring that BOEM uses up-to-date air quality standards (i.e., National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)) and benchmarks consistent with those already established by the EPA. 

Summary of Changes under the Final Rule

Pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13795 signed by President Trump and Secretary’s Order (S.O.) 3350, BOEM reviewed its 2016 Proposed Rule on Air Quality Control, Reporting, and Compliance. As a result of this review and analysis of comments received on the proposed rule, BOEM’s final rule adopts the following, notable changes: 

1 Compliance with NAAQS. As was the case with the proposed rule, this final rule adds a definition of the NAAQS. It also clarifies that the Department’s reporting and compliance requirements apply to the emissions of all pollutants on the OCS for which a national ambient air quality standard has been defined. 

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2 Updating Significance Levels (SLs). The final rule replaces the table of SLs in BOEM’s existing regulations – dating back to 1980 – with a revised table, which is based on values set forth in EPA’s regulations (40 CFR 165.51(b)(2)). BOEM will continue to update the table of SLs as appropriate, which will save operators from having to search for the SLs in EPA’s regulations. 

3 New Requirements for PM2.5 and PM10. This final rule replaces the former criteria air pollutant “total suspended particulates (TSP)” modeling requirements with new modeling requirements for the criteria pollutants “particulate matter 10” (PM10) and “particulate matter 2.5” (PM2.5). BOEM is also updating its forms to enable lessees and operators to identify, report, and evaluate PM2.5 and PM10 pollution in the air quality spreadsheets that they submit in connection with their exploration or development plans. 

4 Emissions Exemption Thresholds. The final rule also updates existing regulations that refer to Emissions Exemption Thresholds to clarify that these formulas apply equally to Development and Production Plans (DPPs) and Development Operations Coordination Documents (DOCDs). This update will not lead to a change in practice because BOEM has always applied its existing regulations on air quality to both DPPs and DOCDs. 

5 Clarifying Terminology. The final rule updates various terminology to better clarify the intent of the regulations. For example, the final rule replaces the term “air pollutant” with the term “criteria air pollutant.” Under the OCS Lands Act, BOEM regulates the emissions of criteria air pollutants, since those represent pollutants for which the EPA has defined a NAAQS. BOEM regulates only those emissions that could affect BOEM’s obligation to ensure compliance of state air quality with the NAAQS, so previously  using the term “air pollutant” was not appropriate. 

6 Air Quality Spreadsheets. With the implementation of the new air quality rule, BOEM is also updating the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)-approved air quality spreadsheets, BOEM-0138 (for exploration plans) and BOEM-0139 (for DOCDs, and DPPs). The lessee or its designated operator must use these forms for proposed operations in areas of BOEM air quality regulatory jurisdiction. Concurrent with these changes, BOEM is phasing out its previous practice of including the emissions from transiting support vessels in the EET calculations, consistent with BOEM’s statutory mandates. Air quality modeling will henceforth only be required in situations when a regulated facility, exclusive of support vessels, exceeds the relevant EET. 

Background

On April 5, 2016, BOEM proposed regulations to update air quality regulations promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior almost 40 years ago. 

On April 28, 2017, President Trump issued E.O. 13795 titled, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.” The E.O. directed the Secretary of the Interior to “take all steps necessary to review BOEM’s Proposed Rule entitled ‘Air Quality Control, Reporting, and Compliance,’ along with any related rules and guidance, to determine whether it should be revised or withdrawn.” 

On May 1, 2017, in response to E.O. 13795, the Secretary of the Interior issued S.O. 3350, requiring the Director of BOEM to “provide to the ASLM, the Deputy Secretary, and Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy, a report explaining the effects, if any, of not issuing a new rule addressing offshore air quality, and providing options for revising or withdrawing the proposed rule consistent with the policy set forth in section 2 of the E.O.” This final rule is consistent with the policies of those orders. 

BOEM promulgated the final rule after careful analysis of comments received in response to the proposed rule, including those provided by other government agencies, industry and non-governmental organizations. A summary of the relevant comments and BOEM’s response to them can be found in the final rule. 

More information about the final rule can be viewed here.

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