Archive for the ‘Northport, WA Air Monitoring’ Category

Air pollution science under siege

Top EPA adviser attacks the agency for making decisions before major review of air pollution standards is completed.

Jeff Tollefson

28 MARCH 2019

A quarter of a century of research has shown that breathing in fine airborne particles emitted by cars, power plants and other sources shortens people’s lifespans. But that scientific consensus is now under attack from a top adviser to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just as the agency is rushing to revise the national air-quality standard for such pollution before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term. Scientists fear that the result could be weaker rules on air pollution that are bad for public health — and based on politics, not science.

The US EPA is reviewing its standard for fine-particle pollution

The national air quality standards are designed to limit the amount of six widespread pollutants — including airborne particles and ozone — that are present in the air that people breathe. State and local governments must develop plans to curb pollution in areas that do not meet the standards. The EPA must review the science, and if necessary, revise the standard for each pollutant every five years, though in practice the process often takes longer.

The current review started in 2015, and various delays pushed the deadline back to 2022. But former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced early last year that the agency would push to complete its review and revision by December 2020. In order to meet that deadline, the EPA will have to curtail their normal review and revision process. In October 2018, the agency also dismantled a scientific advisory panel that works in parallel with the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which advises officials on air-quality standards.

The latest development came on 28 March, when CASAC met to discuss a draft letter they had released several weeks earlier, which blasted agency scientists for relying on “subjective judgments” and “unverifiable opinions” in their evaluation of particulate pollution research. The head of CASAC, Tony Cox, is a statistician who has long questioned the evidence linking fine particulate pollution to premature deaths, and the draft letter reflects this scepticism.

The draft letter called on the EPA to do another research assessment looking at the uncertainties and inconsistencies in the scientific literature on air pollution. It said that the agency should include all relevant studies, including some authored by Cox, some of which were funded by industry groups.

The full committee removed much of the most controversial language during their 28 March meeting. But CASAC members remained divided on the link between fine particle pollution and premature death. The final text of the letter will reflect that division.

Nevertheless, the debate between CASAC members over the link between particulate pollution and public health has alarmed agency scientists, academics and environmental groups.

“They are just completely dismissing the science,” says Gretchen Goldman, an environmental engineer in Washington DC who tracks the issue for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She co-wrote a guest editorial1published on 21 March in Science urging the EPA not to abandon the scientific evidence on air pollution. “Without independent science, we risk having public-health decisions made for political reasons,” she says.

The benefits of preventing premature deaths from particulate pollution are also baked into other air pollution regulations, such as those targeting mercury and greenhouse gases. So downplaying the public-health impacts of particle pollution could help the Trump administration to roll back an array of environmental regulations, says Goldman.

Burden of proof

Cox defended his views in an email to Nature. The EPA process for reviewing air-quality standards is focused on “eliciting, synthesizing, and documenting the opinions and judgments” of the agency’s own scientists, which are often based on “ambiguous statistical associations that depended on unverified models and assumptions”, he said. His own research has raised questions about the link between reducing fine-particle pollution and saving lives.

But there is mounting evidence, compiled by a wide range of scientists from around the world, that links pollution to higher death rates. In a 2017 study2 of almost 61 million people, for instance, researchers at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used satellite data and computer models to map out daily pollution levels on a 1-kilometre grid across the United States for 12 years. After controlling for factors including education and income, the scientists found that death rates increased in regions with more fine-particulate pollution and higher levels of ozone, a major component of smog — even if those areas met air-quality standards.

If anything, those results suggest that the national standard should be stricter than it is now, says Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician at Harvard University and a co-author of the 2017 study, as well as the Science editorial. But she stresses that her study is just one among many that have documented the public-health impacts from particulate pollution. “It’s about the whole body of evidence,” Dominici says.

Cory Zigler, a biostatistician at the University of Texas, Austin, says that Cox has effectively declared his own statistical methods king, writing off a variety of studies and methods demonstrating the link between air pollution and public health.

Cox says he is well aware of such criticisms and that he is only following the science where it leads, regardless of political consequences. “My sole motivation and commitment is to uphold and apply good science,” he told Nature.

Compressed timeline

The EPA’s recently confirmed administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is continuing the push to review and revise the particulate pollution standard by late 2020. But meeting the abbreviated deadline will be nearly impossible without damaging the integrity of the scientific review process, particularly in light of the delays caused by the government shutdown that ended in January, says an EPA official who is familiar with the process and who requested anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk to the press.

Wheeler has also drawn criticism for disbanding the scientific review panel last October, which normally works in parallel with CASAC. The current CASAC members — all of whom were appointed after Trump took office — lack the scientific expertise in epidemiology and other fields to properly evaluate the EPA’s work on air-quality standards, says Christopher Frey, an environmental engineer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Frey formerly chaired CASAC and was on the scientific review panel that Wheeler dissolved in October 2018.

Cox and other CASAC members have publicly acknowledged this criticism and say that they need access to additional experts. During the 28 March meeting, the committee revised its draft letter to include a request for the EPA to either reinstate the previous review panel or create a new one.

Frey adds that the normal process for assessing the science has been repeatedly reviewed and approved by CASAC, and that every prior assessment has confirmed the link between particulate pollution and death rates. “That finding is one of the most robust scientific findings in air-pollution health,” Frey says.

There is some difference of opinion within CASAC. Although the recent draft letter is highly critical of the EPA, individual comments submitted by some panel members, and included with the draft letter, were more supportive of the agency’s science assessment on particulate pollution. And three of the seven members called for the disbanded review panel to be reinstated.

What happens next is unclear. Normally, the EPA would revise its evaluation of the scientific research on the pollutant in question after input from CASAC and the larger scientific advisory panel. Then it would conduct an assessment focused on health risks and exposure trends. If the EPA found that an update to the standard was justified, it would then formally proposes a change. But many scientists and environmentalists expect the EPA will try to consolidate these steps in order to finalize a new standard next year.

To read Jeff Tollefson full article click here.

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Teck appeals $8.25 million U.S. court ruling – of course.

On Feb. 16th, 2018 Trail Times reported Teck Resources is appealing the 2016 $8.25 million U.S. court ruling by District Court Judge Lonny Suko.  This ruling found in favor of The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CCT).  Of the $82.5 million awarded, $4.9 million is allocated to the CCT’s decades of litigation costs and $3.4 million is allocated for the expenses related to their investigative studies of the water.

Teck believes they should not be responsible for paying the $8.25 million the CCT had no choice but to spend to eventually force Teck into taking responsibility for the damages their century of gross negligence caused.  Teck claims that since beginning their remedial investigation study of our area in 2006 (ish) they have spent $85 million also stating; “To date, these studies are showing in general that the water in the Columbia River is clean, fish are as safe to eat as fish from other water bodies in Washington State, and beaches are safe for recreational activities.”

I am going to try to remain calm here.  No need to lose my shit over this.  I will simply dispute Teck’s quote above with ACTUAL FACTS, being the ACTUAL results of their studies.  Keep in mind I am only addressing SOME of their studies conducted, but rest assured all the results of the other studies were very similar to those listed below.

To date, Teck’s studies (partial list below) have concluded the following;

  • 2005 Sediment Toxicity Tests –  Concluded; “Contaminants in the UCR….surface sediment (are) at concentrations that pose unacceptable risk to benthic/epibenthic resources” and “…elevated concentrations of metals in most of the UCR sediment samples”
  • 1993 – 2009 Air Monitoring of Northport – Concluded; “…particulate matter less than 10-μm in size (PM10) concentrations of arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), and lead (Pb) significantly exceeded health impact screening concentrations”.
  • 2008 & 2009 White Sturgeon Acute Water Toxicity Study – Concluded; Acute exposures of cadmium, copper and zinc to ELS of white sturgeon resulted in acute toxicity due to levels of these heavy metals being “….substantially greater than the acute water quality criteria for these metals in the state of Washington.”
  • 2012 Human Health Evaluation of Contaminants in UCR Fish – Concluded; …heavy metal toxins of concern are higher to those seen in other fished waterbodies across the northeast region.
  • 2015 Northport Residential Soil Study Summary – Concluded; …dangerous levels of specific heavy metal toxins (lead, arsenic and/or cadmium) found on properties of 15 Northport residents prompted Teck to complete expedited clean-ups of these properties.
  • 2016 Additional Northport/UCR Residential Soil Study Summary – Concluded;  …dangerous levels of specific heavy metal toxins (arsenic, lead and/or cadmium) found on properties of 13 Northport/UCR residents prompted Teck to complete expedited clean-up of these properties.

Also worth mentioning;

  • 2017 Department of Ecology’s Preliminary Review and Evaluation of Available Air Quality Monitoring Data and Consideration of Potential Present-Day Health Risks: Upper Columbia River Valley, near Northport, Washington  – Concluded; Teck’s air monitors assessing potential air quality conditions near Northport between 2009 and 2014 indicates recent average PM10 As and Cd concentrations that exceed State of Washington ASILs (Safety Standards), Just as they did in Ecology’s 1992 – 1996 four air monitoring studies.  

I am going to try to not to even get into depth about the fact that time after time, community meeting after community meeting, press release after press release Teck has claimed to accept responsibility for the damages their century of pollution has caused and would be paying for all the studies, testing and clean ups deemed necessary.  Yet, they continue to appeal every court finding they do not win.

If you want to truly be amazed read this 2017 article on how they managed to avoid responsibility for the well documented damages caused by the heavy metal toxic air particulates, found way above safety standards, their smoke stacks have released into Northport and the Upper Columbia River valley since the early 1920’s.

To read all of the studies Teck has completed of the Upper Columbia River site please go to:  https://www.ucr-rifs.com/home/documents-plans/.

 

“For the better part of 20 years now, Teck has continued to fight liability and associated obligations at all levels for the century’s worth of industrial wastes Trail historically discharged directly to the Columbia River or from smoke stacks at the smelter complex. The litigation and multiple appeals continue in federal court.”    

– Washington State Department of Ecology

Ecology Memo Recommending Additional Air Monitoring in Northport, WA

Department of Ecology

 

13 April 2017

TO:  Karen Wood and Chris Hanlon-Meyer

FROM:  Matt Kadlec

SUBJECT:  Regional PM10 Air Monitoring Speciation Network Comparison to
Measured and Predicted Conditions in the Upper Columbia River Valley
near the U.S.-Canadian Border

 

An analysis was recently completed on observed and estimated recent air quality
conditions for arsenic, cadmium, and lead within the upper Columbia River valley near
the international border.[1]  The report recommended a renewal of monitoring of certain aerosol elements in that area in order to conclusively determine current air quality conditions there.

Those estimates are matched to comparable data from monitors in Washington,
Oregon and Idaho as follows.

In the histograms below, the mean concentrations of US EPA Air Quality System
(AQS)[2] PM10 speciation data are compared to estimates of the mean concentrations
near Northport and the upper Columbia River Valley near the border (UCR). All the
means are of the February 2009 through December 2014 interval.

arsenic

 

 

 

cadmium

lead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISCUSSION

The upper limit of each location’s histogram bar is the ≈ 6-year mean PM10 element
concentration in micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). The purple bars are the
estimated concentrations in the upper Columbia River Valley area and near Northport.
The blue bars are the observed mean concentrations at the AQS monitor locations.

 

CONCLUSIONS

Average airborne PM10 arsenic and lead concentrations in the upper Columbia River
valley near the international border are potentially the highest known levels in
Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Likewise, the average airborne cadmium
concentrations are potentially the highest known anywhere in three states except at the monitor at 2231 N Flint Ave, Portland, OR, which is about 500 feet from an art-glass
foundry known to have emitted high levels of cadmium in particulate matter.[3]

Previously interpreted air monitoring data from 2009 through 2014 suggest that current
emissions from the Trail smelter continue to influence upper Columbia River valley air
quality. PM10 arsenic, cadmium and lead concentrations in the upper Columbia River
valley near the international border exceed expected air quality conditions for a rural
setting. Absent smelter emissions, the particulate metal concentrations in this rural
portion or northeast Washington likely would be about as low as those at the monitors
in rural Oregon and Idaho.

These findings reinforce the need for current PM10 speciation monitoring in the upper
Columbia River Valley near the international border and Northport area.

 

 

1 https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/SummaryPages/1702003.html
2 https://www.epa.gov/aqs accessed by Jill Schulte, 6 April 2017

3 http://www.opb.org/news/article/why-portland-heavy-metals-pollution-went-undetected-for-so-long/ Accessed 11 April 2017

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