Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012-04-26 "Bay Area no longer among 25 most-polluted regions" by Peter Fimrite from San Francisco Chronicle"
The San Francisco metropolitan area has dropped off the list of the top 25 most polluted regions in the nation, the American Lung Association said in a report Wednesday.
 The State of the Air report ranked regions across the United States on particle and ozone pollution, finding that three of the nine least smoggy counties in California are located in the Bay Area and that, with a few exceptions, the air in Northern California is safe to inhale.
 That, however, is not a license to breathe easy. California still ranks among the most polluted places in the nation, according to the report.
 "Air pollution remains a serious health threat to too many Californians," said Jane Warner, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association in California. "We're making real and steady progress in the fight for clean air, but unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist, putting the health of California residents at risk."
 The comprehensive list of the cleanest and most polluted areas in the country used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to calculate ozone levels, which primarily come from vehicle tailpipes, and particle pollution, most of which comes from burning wood and fossil fuels.
 The report, which has been issued every year since 2000, has regularly shown California air to be among the most polluted in the United States, mainly because the warm, dry climate tends to trap smog, especially in Southern California and in the Central Valley.

Huge reductions -
 Lung association analysts gave credit Wednesday to California for huge reductions in car exhaust and soot, particularly over the past decade. In January, the California Air Resources Board approved regulations that will cut in half current greenhouse gas emissions and mandate production of more than a million zero-emission vehicles by 2025. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has implemented strict wood-burning regulations during designated Spare the Air days.
 The result, according to the lung association report, is that San Francisco is now among the cleanest counties in the country in terms of smog. The city and county did not record a single day that exceeded the federally designated ozone pollution standard last year. Marin, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt, Glenn and Siskiyou counties were also on the ozone honor list.
 The report said annual levels of particle pollution in Bay Area communities have dropped an average of between 15 and 30 percent since 2004. There has been a 51 percent decline in the number of days with unhealthy ozone levels since 2000.
 "The Bay Area has made really dramatic progress in reducing both ozone and particle pollution," said Jenny Bard, the advocacy manager for the Lung Association in California.

There's more to do -
 There is nevertheless a lot more that can be done, Bard said.
 The San Francisco metropolitan area, which includes San Jose and Oakland, only moved three spaces over the past year, from 24th to 27th worst, in the number of fine particles wafting in the air. It was the 33rd smoggiest region out of 232 metro areas in the country.
 Much of the local smog can be blamed on car-happy Santa Clara County, which recorded seven days last year that exceeded federal ozone standards, the worst in the Bay Area. San Franciscans should not boast, though, because most of their pollution blows away and fouls other people's air, Bard said.
The state as a whole isn't looking particularly good either. The State of the Air report said more than 90 percent of Californians live in counties that received a failing grade for either ozone or particle pollution. No California municipality was among the top 25 cleanest cities, a list that ranked Santa Fe, N.M., No. 1.
 California, in fact, had nine of the 10 most ozone-polluted metro areas. As usual, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, which includes Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, had the worst ozone pollution in the country. San Bernardino County alone had 127 bad air days.
 The other big smog areas were all in Southern California and the lower Central Valley, with the exception of San Luis Obispo, which is on the Central Coast.
"Ozone and particle pollution contribute to thousands of hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and deaths every year," said Kari Nadeau, an associate professor of immunology and allergy at Stanford Medical School. "Cleaner air can save lives and can lead to better lives for our children."

 How's your air?
People interested in their local rankings for air pollution can go to and click on their ZIP code.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

2012-04-21 "U.S. Waters Polluted by 10 Million Tons of Dog Poop" by Jennifer Mueller
The 78 million dogs living in the United States create 10 million tons of feces annually, polluting waterways and posing a threat to public health, according to a pet waste removal service asking Americans to pledge to scoop the poop this Earth Day.

Dog Waste Threatens Public Health -
“Dog waste is an environmental pollutant. In 1991, it was placed in the same health category as oil and toxic chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency,” explains Virginia-based pet waste removal company Doody Calls in a press release. “The longer dog waste stays on the ground, the greater a contamination becomes. Bacteria, worms and other parasites thrive in waste until it’s washed away into the water supply.”
USAToday reports that 40% of dog owners do not pick up their dog’s waste at all and all that waste pollutes waterways []. Because scientists are able to track the origin of the fecal bacteria to the species that excreted it, we even know how much. One study showed as much as 90% of the fecal coliform in urban stormwater was of non-human origin, mostly dog.
In just a couple of days, 100 dogs can deposit enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay, and all watershed areas within 20 miles of it, to swimming and fishing. Officials in Seattle consider waste from the city’s million dogs to be a major pollution source of Puget Sound. Dogs have also been shown to be a major source of water contamination in Clearwater, FL; Arlington, VA; and Boise, ID.

So What’s a Responsible Dog Owner to Do?
If you live in Cambridge, MA, you can drop your dog’s leavings into methane digesters to power the lights in some parks. If you live in Jefferson County, CO, you can join the poop patrol to remind your neighbors that there is no dog poo fairy (seriously). For the rest of us, the Natural Resources Defense Council has the following recommendations:
* First, you definitely should not let your dog’s droppings lay near water ways, curbs, or even in your yard. What you should do is . . .
* Wrap it in a plastic bag (biodegradable, corn-derived, or regular) and put it in the trash (though not all municipalities allow this).
* Flush it. Dog waste can be managed by most sewage treatment systems and some septic tanks. (Do not flush cat waste because the parasite Toxoplasma gondii can survive sewage treatment plants.)
* Install an underground pet waste digester. Basically a septic tank just for your pet.
* Bury it in your yard. Keep pet waste away from vegetable gardens, the water table, and streams and buried at least 5 inches deep. Always cover fresh waste with with dirt.
* Hire a poop collection service. Services will patrol your yard for poop on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule.  What a service does with the waste will vary, but you won’t have to handle it yourself.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012-04-04 "For the Birds: Creating a backyard habitat for winged ones" by Juliane Poirier

"What kind of bird is that?"
At the kitchen window, I'm watching unrelated birds partying together on the deck of my friend Mr. Birdman, aka John Ruch, a Napa birder who scrupulously maintains three kinds of seed feeders, a hummingbird nectar station, an indoor bird-watching scope on a tripod and birding binoculars.
"A rufous-sided towhee," says Ruch. Then, pointing to the others, he adds, "Those nervous little yellow ones are goldfinches, that pushy spotted one strutting his stuff is an uninvited European starling and over there wearing the bright red scarf, that's a flicker."
"What about that one?" I ask, pointing. Ruch looks away sheepishly. "LBJ," he says with a shrug. "Little brown job."
What makes a model (read: sustainability-minded) bird enthusiast is not how many species he or she can identify, but how much effort that person makes to maintain a backyard habitat that supports a variety of bird life. Ruch not only keeps the feeder clean to prevent rotting seed from transmitting bacteria to birds, but provides clean water, options for shelter and places to raise young birds. To safeguard bird life, Ruch allows the house cat outside only under supervision. And he grows plants that produce fruit, seeds, berries and nectar.
"I plant lots of red flowers, like 'Hot Lip' salvia," explains Ruch. "They bloom all summer, and the hummingbirds love them." In his homemade hummingbird nectar, he never uses red food dye, and his birdseed is pesticide-free.
Most backyard birds, according to the National Audubon Society, feed on insects, so they provide an ecosystem service in exchange for your hospitality efforts. Intentional backyard habitat for birds is on the rise around the world; some people even get their backyards certified. A National Wildlife Federation program has certified almost 140,000 yards throughout the United States as wildlife habitats.
But you don't need to get certified to do the right thing for flighted wildlife, and for that matter, you don't have to do everything. Just do something. And for those who have done it all and think they can rest, go the extra mile and buy bird-friendly coffee, grown in the shade. Because birds winter in South America, those coffee plantations that retain bird-supporting trees deserve some plantation-supporting sales.
Then, as you stroll this summer through your backyard bird habitat and sip your fair trade, shade-grown coffee to the sound of wild birdsong from rufous-sided towhees, American goldfinches and European starlings, you can feel pretty damned good about yourself.
For more on names and identifiers of birds, see [].
For certification of backyard habitat, see [].

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2012-04 "Clean Marinas Program Helps Ensure Environmentally Responsible Boating" by Bill Picture from "Bay Crossings" newspaper
Pollution in the Bay is a top concern of many Bay Area residents, but the search for a culprit is sometimes, well, as murky as the Bay’s waters.
Is it storm runoff, which carries a veritable laundry list of land-borne contaminants, some of them highly toxic, from a variety of sources into the Bay via storm drains and Bay-feeding watercourses? Is it the many, many large freight vessels passing through the Golden Gate each day? Is it the pleasure craft that dart past us as we take in a sweeping view of the Bay from our favorite vantage point? Is it the untreated sewage discharge from thousands of liveaboards who call Bay Area marinas home?
It’s all of those, said Emery Cove Yacht Harbor’s harbormaster Diane Isley. "The liveaboards have been taking the heat lately, but it’s not fair to point the finger just at them," she said. "As a rule, I’d say the liveaboards are the most conscientious."
Still, Isley said it only take a few irresponsible marina tenants dumping untreated sewage directly into the water to spoil it for the rest of the floating bunch. Bay pollution watchdog Baykeeper estimates there are enough bad apples living on the Bay to warrant serious concern. But without hard numbers, the claim falls largely on deaf ears, at least within the liveaboard community, amongst whose members it has aroused ire lately.
Isley wishes there were data available, so that stakeholders in a clean Bay could know once and for all who the worst culprits are, and then decide on an effective course of action. The problem is, the agencies in charge of keeping the Bay and other waterways free of pollution are underfunded as it is, and it seems unlikely that a study of specific point sources is imminent.
Thus, claims being volleyed back and forth between regulators and concerned Bay-lovers on one side, and harbormasters and boat owners on the other side, rely heavily on anectodal evidence. Some of the debates make even Isley, who’s been a harbormaster for 25 years and said she’s seen just about everything, wince.
"I’ve heard some real horror stories, and some of them are probably true," she said. "But I’d still say that the liveaboards are only a part of a problem."
Because the in-charge agencies are short on the wherewithal to regulate, the responsibility for enforcement has fallen largely on harbormasters, many of whom are also stretched too thin to play water-quality police.
"The boat owners should really be taking responsibility for themselves, but self-policing doesn’t always work," Isley said. "In order for that to really work, the marina owners, the harbormasters and the boat owners really need to work together as a solid, effectively self-regulating group."
While they wait for the boat-owning masses to get onboard, a growing group of marina owners and harbormasters has created the Clean Marina program. Using boater education as a key tool, the 100-plus member marinas in California employ program-prescribed best management practices that help prevent or reduce pollution and earn the marinas points toward Clean Marina certification. Many Bay Area marinas currently carry the Clean Marina designation but several notable local marinas have so far chosen not to participate.
Isley helped earn Emery Cove its certification. The Indiana native, who had a Los Angeles-to-New Zealand sailing trip under her seafaring belt before settling in the Bay Area in 1986, runs a tight ship when it comes to the marina under her charge.
For those boat owners who use their on-board heads, Isley requires that they call her from the marina’s pump-out station so that she can keep track of how often they are pumping out, or provide proof that a mobile pump-out service was contracted. She also performs an annual check of each boat to ensure that its y-valve is secured in the closed position. An open y-valve allows sewage to be discharged directly into the water.
In addition to allowing harbormasters to control the quality of the water in their own marinas, Isley said the measures afford a great opportunity for harbormasters to educate their tenants.
"It’s a good time to talk to your tenants about the laws and regulations, which are updated pretty regularly," she said. "That’s particularly important with new boaters and weekend boaters, who aren’t as familiar with the laws as the old-timers. I’m more concerned about new boaters and weekend boaters than I am about the liveaboards."
"I know that many harbormasters are sort of at their limit, workload-wise; but it really only takes a few minutes," she said. "And it gives me something to help prove to the powers-that-be that we’re complying with the rules if we’re ever challenged."
The Clean Marina program proved to be a very effective tool when regulators recently attempted to throw new fees at the problem of pollution from marinas. Those fees would have cost marinas hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Marina owners and boat owners already pay so much in fees," she said. "In fact, we already pay for water monitoring when we dredge."
The group was able to shoot down the additional charges, for now at least, by providing detailed documentation proving their compliance with laws pertaining to the handling of sewage on small vessels. "That’s what you need, to be able to provide documentation like we did," she said. "You have to be organized."
In exchange for temporarily dropping talk of added fees, the state came up with a list of additional points that it wants folded in to the Clean Marina program. Isley said that Clean Marina’s president, Tim Leathers, is working now to incorporate those points.
"I don’t think the issue is completely dead," she added. "So the key is to be proactive. And educating and raising consciousness within the boating community is important."
For more information on the Clean Marina program, visit
Emery Cove has been a designated “Clean Marina” for successful implementation of the Best Management Practices in the Clean Marina Program since November 2006.

Emery Cove Yacht Harbor is a 430-slip dockominium marina located on the Emeryville Peninsula. A dockominium is a marina that allows tenants to purchase their slips. Emery Cove Yacht Harbor is the only marina in the Bay Area offering the possibility of owning your own boat slip in a 100 percent fee title ownership. Photo by Jean-Michel Addor