Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Suisun Estuary threatened by Potrero Hills "superdump" landfill

"Court ruling dumped in landfill expansion fight; Lower court ruling reversed in favor of landfill operator"
2014-04-30 by Ryan Chalk for "The Reporter" []:
A state appellate court this week reversed a Solano County Superior Court judge's earlier ruling in favor of operators for Potrero Hills landfill, who for years have been battling in court over a proposed expansion effort.
The unanimous ruling out of the state Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, could clear the path for landfill operators to move forward with a planned expansion. Potrero Hills Landfill, which sits outside of Fairfield near the Suisun Marsh, had received permits for the proposed expansion, but saw those plans halted when environmental groups brought forth lawsuits.
According to the appellate court ruling, the expansion, as proposed in 2003, would allow an increase in fill height and also add 260 acres of adjoining property to the site — extending the life of the landfill another 35 years.
Environmental impacts were addressed, notably the requirement to alter a portion of an intermittent watercourse, called Spring Branch. In 2005, Solano County officials certified an environmental impact report (EIR) and issued a use permit and marsh development permit for the proposed expansion, but those were challenged by environmentalists in court.
This led to alternatives being brought forth by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission for smaller expansions and no impact to Spring Branch, although landfill operators, and the commission, acknowledged that some of the alternatives would not be economically viable, according to the court ruling.
In 2010, a modified marsh development permit allowed for replacement of portions of Spring Branch but placed a cap on the height of the landfill at 220 feet above sea level.
According to the court ruling, the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF) filed a writ claiming that the commission's determination that there were no reasonable alternatives that would preserve Spring Branch was not supported by substantial evidence.
In 2012, a Solano County Superior Court judge sided with SPRAWLDEF.
The appellate court ruling, however, stated, "In this case, the commission had an adequate record before it to fairly determine the smaller alternatives were not economically reasonable."
"Ultimately, the commission stated it had reviewed all the 'information available to it, the information and statements made by (Waste Connections, Inc.) in response to staff requests to evaluate the feasibility of a smaller landfill expansion project, and the information provided in the draft EIR that with mitigation measures, diverting Spring Branch...would not have a significant environmental impact on surface water quality,' and concluded, 'restricting the project to avoid Spring not a reasonable alternative,'" the appellate court document went on to state.
Jim Dunbar, manager of Potrero Hills Landfill, said the ruling will allow Potrero Hills to move forward with its original expansion as it was proposed a little more than a decade ago.
"It really is the last piece of the puzzle," Dunbar said.
In a statement, landfill officials said that they have worked closely for many years with the commission, Solano County and other state and federal agencies to ensure the Potrero Hills meets high environmental standards.
"This means that we don't have to change course. We can continue with the plan we started," Dunbar said.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Breuner Marsh restoration project

"North Richmond shoreline transformed into open space"
2014-04-23 by Carolyn Jones []:
Odalys Ariza (left) and Liane Herzfeld, both 13, view wildlife during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Breuner Marsh restoration project, which will become part of Point Pinole Regional Shoreline. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Students from Manzanita Charter Middle School in Richmond check out wildlife at Breuner Marsh. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

A raptor flies above the wetlands during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Breuner Marsh restoration project in Richmond, Calif. on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. When completed, the 50-acre wetlands site will become a part of the East Bay Regional Park District's Point Pinole park. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

The North Richmond shoreline has seen a lot of dumped mattresses, smokestacks and toxic plumes over the past century or so. But these days, it's among the greenest places in the Bay Area.
Thanks to 40 years of efforts by Richmond residents and environmental officials, a lush, 130-acre marsh near a dense housing complex is now permanent open space, officials said Tuesday.
"People in Richmond have been trying to save this place for years. Now we can finally say we won. We absolutely won," said Whitney Dotson, a Richmond native who represents the area on the East Bay Regional Park District board.

The wetland, called Breuner Marsh, lies between Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, the Amtrak railroad tracks and Parchester Village, a predominantly low-income and African American neighborhood. To the south is a gun club.
Over the years, Breuner Marsh was partially filled in and used as a concrete dumping zone, and various owners tried, to no avail, to build an airstrip, factories and industrial parks.
Children from Parchester Village, however, had no trouble finding a use for the marsh. Generations of them romped through the pickleweed and explored its mucky treasures.

Resisting development -
In fact, it was Parchester residents who, in the 1970s, led the charge to keep the marsh free of development. They fought with the city and with various owners, wrangling over plans to pave their tidal paradise.
Their efforts finally paid off in 2000, when the East Bay Regional Park District obtained the land through eminent domain and embarked on the long process of getting permits, legal approval and funding to clean up the marsh and restore it.
With all the hurdles finally cleared, the district plans to start restoration as early as next week.
"We're going to be moving dirt. Lots of dirt. It's going to be like a giant Tonka toy sculpting project," said the district's general manager, Bob Doyle.
The district spent $10 million to buy the land and plans to spend another $10 million on restoration. When it's through, in about two years, the marsh will be free of toxics, concrete chunks and nonnative plants, and contain a natural channel connecting Rheem Creek with San Francisco Bay.

Improved habitat -
The restored marsh should provide improved habitat for birds and other shoreline creatures, including the endangered California clapper rail. It will become part of the adjoining 1,500-acre Point Pinole Regional Shoreline.
The marsh will also host several hiking trails and about 1 1/2 miles of the Bay Trail, on an elevated boardwalk to keep cyclists clear of the railroad tracks and vegetation. The new Bay Trail segment will connect Point Pinole with the Richmond Parkway and points south.

'It's inspiring' -
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency kicked in $5 million for the project, citing its urban location.
"This isn't the Marin Headlands. This isn't Sonoma. This is one of the most industrialized shorelines in California," said Jared Blumenfeld, the agency's regional director. "People often feel that environmental problems are too big to do anything about. But this is a community that didn't have a lot of resources, and they did it. It's inspiring."
Ideally, the entire bay shoreline should be lined with wetlands, instead of freeways or buildings, to better prepare for sea level rise and catastrophic storms, Blumenfeld said.
About 100 people gathered at the marsh Tuesday to celebrate the groundbreaking for the restoration. Among them were a few classes of Richmond schoolchildren marking Earth Day.

Keeping animals alive -
Jada Holmes, 15, a student at Vista High School in Richmond, said she's not an avid hiker or bicyclist but still thinks the marsh should be saved.
"It's important, I think. You don't want animals to die," she said. "I'm happy - this'll be something to look forward to."

Forest Defense Sing Along With The Humboldt Board of Supervisors

2014-04-22 from "Redwood Forest Defense":
Redwood Forest Defense, a grassroots non-violent direct action group committed to protecting the forest and best known for the tree-sits outside of Trinidad, came to today's Humboldt Board of Supervisors meeting in mass to demand, in song, that the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors increase the riparian zone protections under the general plan as well as urge the timber companies that are operating in Humboldt County to cease their clear-cutting, deforestation activities.
A member of RFD opened with a statement directed to the Board regarding their position of authority to make positive change.(see below) Following the statement multiple ukuleles, a flute, and a harmonica wailed as twelve community members sang to Humboldt County to bring an end to Green Diamond Resource Company's destructive and short sighted forestry practices. Even Supervisor Rex Bohn added to the atmosphere by beat-boxing with the music on his microphone.
Green Diamond owns 425,000 acres of predominate Redwood Forest and has a stated plan of clear-cutting all of their holding in a 45 year rotation. If completed, this would be devastating to both the biosphere and the economy here in Northern California, undermining future generation's ability to have a sustainable working forest.
Video from the Humboldt Board Of supervisors meetings (RFD sing along starts at 1:35:25): []

Letter to the Humboldt Board of Supervisors:
Dear Humboldt County Board of Supervisors,
You have much power in determining how the land, air, and water is managed here in this special place we call Humboldt County.  It should be clear to all of you, that our resources, or better yet, our biosphere has been dealt several severe blows and is now in a precarious state that is in urgent need of action, political and otherwise. 
Did you know that here in Northern California mature forests are our best safeguard against drought, and that clear-cutting a forest is a certain way of insuring that our creeks and springs go dry during the summer months?  And did you know that as redwoods age, their ability to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere exponentially increases?  And did you know that when you clear cut a forest, not only are you taking away the habitat of several key endangered species such as the spotted owl, coho salmon and the marbled murrelet, but you are also stripping the soil of nutrients and microbes that are essential components of a healthy forest, furthering the deforestation process here in California, forever.
We urge you to do all that is in your power to put an end to the practice of clear cut logging.  Sustainable forestry is a viable alternative. It offers both long term skilled careers and healthy mature forests. Promoting and maintaining a healthy working forest habitat is a crucial undertaking to ensuring a stable economy.
Green Diamond, Humboldt Redwood Company, and Sierra Pacific industries are continuing the long process of stripping this area's wealth.  They do not care for the people here, they only care for their bottom line: profits at any cost.
Do not weaken the protections of our riparian zones in the general plan update, rather increase the buffer zone. These areas are sensitive and provide many services to all beings, including endemic and endangered salmon populations.
For the Wild, [signed] Redwood Forest Defense

Lyrics to the sing along:
Hey Humboldt County have you heard the saws
the noise of clear cuts in your back yard
Green Diamond Resource Company
Isn't being very neighborly
Taking our forests for corporate greed
Outsourcing our local economy

They cut on the slopes it kills the roots
And all the dirt on the hill comes loose
the land is sliding into the ravine
these logging practices aren't very green
So what's green about their diamond
when they plan to clear cut the land
spotted owl salmon bear and bat
without habitat can they stay at your flat

Hey Humboldt County have you heard the news
Redwood trees sequester C02s
The longer that a redwood lives
The more clean air that it can give
Stop cutting down the second growth
And ancient forests cuz we need them both

All we want from you is to care for the trees
So future generations have air to breathe
To heal our planet and save our air
No more clear cuts anywhere
So what's green about their diamond
when they plan to clear cut the land
spotted owl salmon bear and bat
without habitat can they stay at your flat

Hey Humboldt County lets take a stand
Our rivers are in danger from the General Plan
Shortening the length from clear cut to stream
Ruining watersheds ain't a bad dream
Protect the water from river to sink
So our h2o is good to drink

Tell green diamond to clean their mess
Leaving the land like a board of chess
The answers restorative forestry
Don't repeat logging history
So what's green about their diamond
when they plan to clear cut the land
spotted owl salmon bear and bat
without habitat can they stay at your flat

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Adapting Human-Altered Landscapes for the benefit of ecological niches

Golf courses can minimize impact against salamander and amphibian species [link].

Dunlin lift off from newly flooded rice field near Colusa in Sacramento Valley (photo by Drew Kelley from the Nature Conservancy).

"Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife"
2014-04-22 by Rob Jordan for Stanford Woods Institute News []:
Stanford CA -
Lonchophylla robusta is one of many bat species found in Panama and Costa Rica, where Stanford scientists studied wildlife populations in agricultural areas. (Photo: Matthew Champoux)

Protecting wildlife while feeding a world population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050 will require a holistic approach to conservation that considers human-altered landscapes such as farmland, according to Stanford researchers.
Wildlife and the natural habitat that supports it might be an increasingly scarce commodity in a world where at least three-quarters of the land surface is directly affected by humans and the rest is vulnerable to human-caused impacts such as climate change. But what if altered agricultural landscapes could play vital roles in nurturing wildlife populations while also feeding an ever-growing human population?
A new study, published in the journal Nature and co-authored by three Stanford scientists [], finds that a long-accepted theory used to estimate extinction rates, predict ecological risk and make conservation policy recommendations is overly pessimistic. The researchers point to an alternative framework that promises a more effective way of accounting for human-altered landscapes and assessing ecological risks.
Current projections forecast that about half of Earth's plants and animals will go extinct over the next century because of human activities, mostly due to our agricultural methods.
"The extinction under way threatens to weaken and even destroy key parts of Earth's life-support systems, upon which economic prosperity and all other aspects of human well-being depend," said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science at Stanford and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
But that grim future isn't a foregone conclusion.
"Until the next asteroid slams into Earth, the future of all known life hinges on people, more than on any other force," Daily said.

Nature is not an island -
Conservationists have long assumed that once natural landscapes are fractured by human development or agriculture, migration corridors for wildlife are broken, blocking access to food, shelter and breeding grounds. A scholarly theory was developed to estimate the number of species in such fractured landscapes, where patches of forest surrounded by farms resemble islands of natural habitat.
The "equilibrium theory of island biogeography" is a pillar of biological research - its elegant equation to estimate the number of species in a habitat has almost reached the status of a scientific law, according to Chase Mendenhall, a Stanford doctoral student in biology and the study's lead author. The theory drives the default strategy of conserving biodiversity by designating nature reserves.
This strategy sees reserves as "islands in an inhospitable sea of human-modified habitats" and doesn't adequately account for biodiversity patterns in many human-dominated landscapes, according to the Stanford study.
"This paper shows that farmland and forest remnants can be more valuable for biodiversity than previously assumed," said Daniel Karp, who earned his PhD in biology at Stanford in 2013 and is currently a NatureNet postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
"If we're valuing coffee fields and other human-made habitats at zero, we're doing a disservice to ourselves and wildlife," Mendenhall said.
To test the island theory against a more holistic theory of agricultural or countryside biogeography, the researchers turned to bats acutely sensitive to deforestation. The study focused on bat populations within a mosaic of forest fragments and farmland in Costa Rica and on islands in a large lake in Panama. The researchers also did a meta-analysis of 29 studies of more than 700 bat species to bolster and generalize their findings globally.
Island biogeographic theory accurately predicted bats' responses to forest loss on the Panamanian islands system, but didn't come close to accurately forecasting similar responses in the Costa Rican countryside landscape. For example, the island theory predicted that the Costa Rican coffee plantations would have inadequate habitat to sustain a single species of bat.
In reality, plantations in the countryside typically supported 18 bat species, compared to the 23 to 28 supported by tropical forest fragments and nature reserves.
"Conservation opportunities for tropical wildlife are tightly linked to adequate management of these human-modified habitats," said co-author Christoph Meyer, a researcher at the University of Lisbon's Center for Environmental Biology.
Overall, as forest cover disappeared, the rate of species loss was "substantially and significantly higher" in the island ecosystem, and species abundances were "increasingly uneven" compared to the countryside ecosystem, the study found.
The reason for the discrepancies, according to the study's authors, is that island biogeographic theory was originally based on actual islands surrounded by water, and does not account for factors such as a countryside landscape's ability to support more species and slow extinction rates compared to true island ecosystems. Especially in the tropics, island biogeographic theory's application is "distorting our understanding and conservation strategies in agriculture, the enterprise on which the future of biodiversity most critically hinges," the study's authors wrote.
"Not only do more species persist across the 'sea of farmland' than expected by island biogeographic theory, novel yet native species actually thrive there," said co-author Elizabeth Hadly, the Paul S. and Billie Achilles Professor in Environmental Biology at Stanford and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "This indicates that human-altered landscapes can foster more biological diversity than we anticipated."

A new approach -
The fate of much of the world's wildlife is playing out in human-altered landscapes that are increasingly threatened by chemical inputs such as herbicides and pesticides. Biodiversity is not the only loser. People are losing many of nature's benefits such as water purification provided by forests and wetlands and pest control provided by birds and bats.
The study's findings point to the need for new approaches that integrate conservation and food production, to make agricultural lands more hospitable to wildlife by reducing chemical inputs, preserving fragments of forest and other natural habitats and rewarding farmers and ranchers for the benefits that result.
"A theory of countryside biogeography is pivotal to conservation strategy in the agricultural ecosystems that comprise roughly half of the global land surface and are likely to increase even further in the future," the researchers wrote.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Environmental Justice: 2014 Study from the University of Minnesota

"Groundbreaking nationwide study finds that people of color live in neighborhoods with more air pollution than whites;
Gap results in an estimated 7,000 deaths each year among people of color from heart disease alone"
2014-04-15 by Rhonda Zurn from University of Minnesota []:
IMAGE: This shows the difference in population-weighted mean NO2 concentrations (ppb) between lower-income nonwhites and higher-income whites for U.S. states.

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (04/15/2014) — A first-of-its-kind study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that on average nationally, people of color are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) outdoor air pollution compared to white people.
Nitrogen dioxide comes from sources like vehicle exhaust and power plants. Breathing NO2 is linked to asthma symptoms and heart disease. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed it as one of the seven key air pollutants it monitors. The researchers studied NO2 levels in urban areas across the country and compared specific areas within the cities based on populations defined in the U.S. Census as “nonwhite” or “white.”
The health impacts from the difference in levels between whites and nonwhites found in the study are substantial. For example, researchers estimate that if nonwhites breathed the lower NO2 levels experienced by whites, it would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease alone among nonwhites each year.
The study entitled “National patterns in environmental injustice and inequality: Outdoor NO2 air pollution in the United States” was published in the April 15 issue of PLOS ONE, a leading peer-reviewed scientific journal.
“We were quite shocked to find such a large disparity between whites and nonwhites related to air pollution,” said Julian Marshall, a civil engineering associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and co-author of the study. “Our study provides a great baseline to track over time on important issues of environmental injustice and inequality in our country.”
Other U.S. studies have documented disparities in exposures to environmental risks, including air pollution, but this research goes beyond previous studies of specific cities, communities or regions within the nation. This new study is the first to use satellite observations, measurements by the Environmental Protection Agency, and maps of land uses to explore disparities in exposure to air pollution for the U.S. nationwide, including both rural and urban areas, with comparisons by city, county, state and region.
The new research builds on a recently published University of Minnesota study that used satellite data and land use information to look at nitrogen dioxide pollution throughout the continental United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), including all 448 urban areas defined by the U.S. Census. In the present study, the researchers overlaid the pollution information with U.S. Census data about where people live. The results provide groundbreaking evidence of environmental disparities nationwide.
The researchers found that in most areas, lower-income nonwhites are more exposed than higher-income whites, and on average, race matters more than income in explaining differences in NO2 exposure. They also found that New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois had the largest exposure gaps between whites and nonwhites, irrespective of income. The urban areas with the largest exposure gaps between whites and nonwhites were New York/Newark, Philadelphia and Bridgeport/Stamford, Conn.

IMAGE: This shows the difference in population-weighted mean NO2 concentrations (ppb) between lower-income nonwhites and higher-income whites for U.S. cities (448 urban areas).

The 15 states with the largest exposure gaps between whites and nonwhites were (from highest disparity to lower):
* New York
* Pennsylvania
* Illinois
* Michigan
* New Jersey
* Rhode Island
* Massachusetts
* California
* Wisconsin
* Connecticut
* Missouri
* Ohio
* Kentucky
* Indiana
* Minnesota
Note: The list above reflects disparities by race alone, irrespective of income. The map below reflects disparities by race-income.

The 15 urban areas**  with the largest exposure gaps between whites and nonwhites were (from highest disparity to lower):
* New York--Newark; NY--NJ--CT
* Philadelphia; PA--NJ--DE--MD
* Bridgeport--Stamford; CT--NY
* Boston; MA--NH--RI
* Providence; RI--MA
* Detroit; MI
* Los Angeles--Long Beach--Santa Ana; CA
* New Haven; CT
* Worcester; MA--CT
* Springfield; MA--CT
* Rochester; NY
* Chicago; IL--IN
* Birmingham; AL
* Hartford; CT
* Milwaukee; WI
** As defined by the U.S. Census
Note: The list above reflects disparities by race alone, irrespective of income. The map below reflects disparities by race-income group.

Visit the University of Minnesota Marshall Research Group website for the full listing of states and urban areas studied [].
“Our findings are of broad interest to researchers, policy makers and city planners,” said Lara Clark, co-author of the study and civil engineering Ph.D. student in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering. “The next step in the research would be to look at why this disparity occurs and what we can do to solve it.”
In addition to Marshall and Clark, Dylan Millet, an associate professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate in the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences was also a co-author of the study. Marshall and Millet are also resident fellows in the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.
To read the entire research paper in the PLOS ONE journal, visit [].

Related links:
* Video summary of the research (1:24) []
* Excel file with summary of findings (contains data on estimated differences in NO2 exposure between whites and nonwhites, by state and by city) []
* An interactive map showing levels of NO2 air pollution in the US is available here: []

Oil by Rail cargo transport being done in secrecy despite safety risk

"Despite Rise in Spills, Hazardous Cargo Rides Rails in Secret"
2014-04-15 by Jad Mouawad []:
Jodi Ross, town manager in Westford, Mass., did not expect she would be threatened with arrest after she and her fire chief went onto the railroad tracks to find out why a train carrying liquid petroleum gas derailed on a bridge in February.
But as they reached the accident site northwest of Boston, a manager for Pan Am Railways called the police, claiming she was trespassing on rail property. The cars were eventually put back on the tracks safely, but the incident underlined a reality for local officials dealing with railroads.
“They don’t have to tell us a thing,” Ms. Ross said. “It’s a very arrogant attitude.”
American railroads have long operated under federal laws that shield them from local or state oversight and provide a blanket of secrecy over much of their operations. But now a rapid rise in the number of trains carrying crude oil — along with a series of derailments and explosions — has brought new concern about the risks of transporting dangerous cargo by rail.
Local and state officials complain that they receive very little information about when hazardous materials are shipped through their communities or how railroads pick their routes. Federal interstate commerce rules give them little say in the matter and railroads are exempted from federal “right to know” regulations on hazardous material sites.
Under pressure to act, the Transportation Department said in February that railroads had agreed to apply the same routing rules to oil trains that they already apply to other hazardous materials, such as explosives, radioactive materials and poisonous substances like chlorine.
This voluntary agreement, which takes effect in July, was among commitments that also included lowering speed limits to 40 miles per hour when traveling in large metropolitan areas, and providing $5 million to develop training programs for emergency responders.
Still, the railroads remain particularly secretive about how they determine the precise routing of their hazardous cargo. The rules that apply to that cargo, which came into effect in 2008 during the Bush administration, give railroads a lot of leeway.
Recently, resolutions seeking more information from the railroads have been approved in Seattle, Spokane and Bellingham, Wash., and are being debated by the legislatures in Washington and Minnesota, among other places.
The problem has taken on a new urgency since federal regulators warned earlier this year that crude oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota, which is mainly transported by rail, can explode in an accident, like it did near Casselton, N.D., in December. Last July, 47 people were killed in Canada, about 10 miles from the border with the United States, when a runaway train carrying Bakken oil derailed and blew up.
Railroads are required to look at 27 factors before they determine the “safest and most secure” route for hazardous shipments. These include the type of tracks on the route, distance traveled, the number of grade crossings and the proximity of “iconic targets” like sports arenas along the way.
That information is fed into the Rail Corridor Risk Management System, a web-based program that examines alternative routes and ranks them. Tens of thousands of routes are examined in this manner every year.The software, partly financed by the federal government, considers safety requirements as well as security factors such as the threat of terrorism, according to Robert E. Fronczak, assistant vice president for environment and hazardous materials at the Association of American Railroads, the industry’s trade group.
But the system provides little transparency, and outsiders cannot find out why a particular route is favored, for instance. Railroads do not provide any information on their route selection, citing safety concerns.
And railroads are also allowed to consider the economic effects of their routing choices and how it would affect their customer relationships, which gives them additional flexibility in their choice.
Gary T. Sease, a spokesman for CSX, said the results of the program’s analysis “are considered sensitive security information, and we are not able to share details.”
Fred Millar, an independent rail consultant, said the system had not demonstrated that it reduced shipping hazards by avoiding populated areas. “The federal government has produced not one line of public assessment on the effectiveness of the law in reducing risk,” he said.
Railroads are subject to periodic federal audits. But none has ever been fined over its choice of route since reviews started in 2009, according to Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration.
Some analysts cautioned that rerouting was not always possible or even desirable. Brigham A. McCown, an administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration during the Bush administration, said a railroad may decide that a shorter route through a city may have better tracks, and therefore be less risky, than a longer route with older tracks.
“Rerouting may be less effective than some believe,” he said. “The current concern is that the volume of hazmat is growing exponentially, and the question is whether the agencies have the adequate resources to actively monitor that.”Railroad officials said they provide local emergency responders with a list of the 25 most hazardous commodities transported through their communities. But the recipients must sign an agreement to restrict the information to “bona fide emergency planning and response organizations for the expressed purpose of emergency and contingency planning,” a constraint that precludes them from making the information public.
“We feel the information is getting to where it needs to get,” said Thomas L. Farmer, assistant vice president for security at the Association of American Railroads. “It should be on a need-to-know basis. Public availability of highly detailed information is problematic from a security perspective.”
In 2005, the District of Columbia and a handful of other communities sought to stop the traffic of hazardous products in their city centers. But the ban was successfully challenged in federal court by CSX.
“It’s hard for the regulator and industry not to become somewhat comfortable with each other’s dance moves — like in an old marriage,” said Reuven Carlyle, a representative in the Washington State Legislature and chairman of the House finance committee. “But you shouldn’t have double-secret nondisclosure agreements. Information is not a luxury. Regular people have a right to this information.”
The National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended that railroads “avoid populated and other sensitive areas” when shipping hazardous materials, something they are not required to do today.Little oil was transported by trains just five years ago. Today, about 784,000 barrels a day of oil, or 11 percent of domestic production, goes on trains, according to the Association of American Railroads, and those figures are expected to keep growing in the next decade. Carrying mostly oil from the Bakken, these trains cross the country to reach coastal refineries.
Oil trains regularly run through Minneapolis and St. Paul, for instance, instead of using bypass tracks to the west, according to Frank Hornstein, a Democrat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Railroad officials say there is no need for tighter regulation. They argue that the industry has made big investments in recent years to upgrade tracks and that train safety has improved.
But critics say the federal government has been too slow to address the danger posed by these new shipments.
“There is an unwillingness to use any kind of enforcement power at the federal level,” said Mike O’Brien, a Seattle City Council member who sponsored a resolution seeking greater disclosures from the industry. “The railroads have a lot of protections through federal statutes. That’s the ongoing challenge we face as cities.”

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pacific Gopher Snake

3 to 4 feet long, April 9th, in Glen Cove (Vallejo).
They're beneficial, and non-poisonous, which prey on gophers, voles, mice, lizards, maybe some birds and insects. Please resist the urge to kill them on sight.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Amphibian preservation efforts in the Bay Area

"Bay Area programs offer hope for dwindling frog population"2014-04-12 by Carolyn Jones for "The San Francisco Chronicle" []:
It's not easy hunting frogs. For starters, there aren't many frogs left.
If you want to find a frog, you're best off in the flatlands of Madagascar, or maybe Papau New Guinea. But everywhere else? They've pretty much croaked.
"It's grim," said David Wake, an integrative biology professor at UC Berkeley and an expert on amphibians. "We actually have quite a few species, but the problem is, they're almost all in trouble."
Frogs across the globe, from the creeks of the Bay Area to the rain forests of Panama, are diminishing rapidly. About 50 percent of amphibian species worldwide are threatened or endangered, a higher number than any other vertebrate. Where frogs once happily hopped in backyards, ponds and streams, those places are now ribbit-less.
But the best hope for the slimy bug-eaters may lie in the Bay Area, where an increasing number of frog experts are pioneering research, education and captive breeding programs. The latest entry is Save the Frogs, the world's only nonprofit dedicated solely to saving amphibians, which recently opened its headquarters and a gift shop in Berkeley.
"I fell in love with frogs, and I realized that the greatest threat to frogs is people's lack of awareness," said Kerry Kriger, an environmental biologist who founded Save the Frogs six years ago. "I think when we protect frogs, we can protect the whole environment."
 That's because frogs are a critical link in the food chain, he said. They eat huge quantities of bugs, especially mosquitoes, and are a favorite snack for a host of predators in creeks, ponds, forests and wetlands.
Kriger and his crew visit schools, work on legislation to ban pesticides, persuade restaurants not to serve frog legs, and encourage people to build frog ponds. They're working with Assemblyman V. Manuel PĂ©rez, D-Coachella (Riverside County), to declare the endangered red-legged frog - made famous in Mark Twain's tale "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" - as the official state amphibian.

Restaurants on board -
Gary Danko, the high-end San Francisco restaurant, is among the establishments that have stopped serving frog's legs. Chez Panisse in Berkeley hasn't served frog legs in years.
But Save the Frogs most important work is overseas, where environmental degradation in developing countries poses some of the biggest threats to amphibians. Save the Frogs has staff in Ghana and Bangladesh, and has worked with governments, timber companies, universities and schoolchildren in Tanzania, Nepal, Colombia, Mexico and other countries.
Frogs began declining in the 1980s because of habitat loss and a host of pathogens, namely the chytrid fungus. In the past 35 years, almost 200 species of amphibians have become extinct, and hundreds more are threatened or endangered.
In California, 17 of about 67 amphibian species are threatened or endangered. Others appear to be in serious decline, but data are incomplete, Kriger said.

Other species at risk -
No one's quite sure what caused the spread of chytrid, although it's probably linked to climate change and habitat destruction, Wake said. Other factors, such as pesticides and invasive species, exacerbate matters for a class of animals that's already weakened by disease.
"As we press further and further against nature and into the last wild places, we're seeing pathogens released," Wake said. "But amphibians generally are very tough organisms. They've been around a long time. That they've been so hard hit, I think, came as a great surprise."
Many scientists believe the amphibian die-off is a harbinger for other species, including Homo sapiens, as climate change and environmental destruction accelerates. But they also believe that saving the frogs could teach us how to save ourselves.
In the Bay Area, Professors Tyrone Hayes at UC Berkeley and Vance Vredenburg at San Francisco State have led the way in amphibian research, especially in pesticide and chytrid studies.
Wake's website,, is a global clearinghouse for amphibian research, and the Oakland Zoo, California Academy of Sciences and San Francisco Zoo all participate in captive breeding programs for endangered frogs and toads.

Public involvement -
Plus, there's no shortage of public interest in the Bay Area. On a recent frog-hunting foray into the Berkeley hills last week, dozens of passersby stopped to chat with Kriger and his staff about all things slimy. Sadly, the hour-long hunt yielded no frogs but plenty of salamanders. Newts and salamanders are also in decline, but not as seriously as frogs.
Gary Helfand, a designer from Berkeley who was hiking along Strawberry Creek, was especially interested.
"Frogs might be little, but when one little piece goes ... we don't know what role they play, how it's all connected," he said. "Frogs are as important as any species."
Such comments hearten Kriger, who believes that with enough public help, frogs can indeed be saved.
"As long as there are still frogs to save, I know we'll try to save them," he said. "Am I hopeful? Yeah. I know we can do it."

How the public can contribute. Source:
-- Don't use pesticides.
-- Build a frog pond in your backyard.
-- Don't eat frog's legs.
-- Don't buy wild-caught frogs as pets.
-- Drive slowly on wet nights.
-- Be eco-friendly in general: Recycle, save water, use less plastic, buy organic and educate yourself on environmental issues.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Golf courses can minimize impact against salamander and amphibian species

"Salamanders Help Predict Health of Ecosystems on US Golf Courses"
2014-04-10 from []:
Columbia MO -
Black Bellied Salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus). Image courtesy Bill Peterman.

Currently, there are more than 18,300 golf courses in the U.S. covering over 2.7 million acres. The ecological impacts of golf courses are not always straightforward with popular opinion suggesting that environmentally, golf courses have a negative impact on ecosystems. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have determined that golf courses can offer a viable habitat for stream salamanders, and enhanced management practices may be beneficial to ecosystems within golf courses.
"If you look at the literature on golf courses, historically they get a lot of bad publicity," said Ray Semlitsch, Curators Professor of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at MU.
"It's always been thought that course managers not only clear the land, but they add a lot of chemicals to the environment. In terms of maintaining the turf of the golf course, managers use herbicides, insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers.
"We went into the research study thinking these things were going to be really toxic and really bad to the salamanders. What we found was quite the opposite-golf courses can actually provide a wonderful habitat for salamanders and other organisms where they can survive and thrive."
The study was conducted on 10 golf courses in the southern Appalachian region of western North Carolina. All courses were within a 30-mile radius of the Highlands Biological Station.
Sampling focused on both larvae and adult salamanders in streams that crossed fairways within the golf courses. Water samples were also analyzed for chemicals and adverse substances that might be detrimental to the salamanders located on the courses.
"Surprisingly, we found no change or reduction in the abundance or diversity of salamanders downstream, which is where we expected to find chemical runoff from the upkeep and maintenance of the courses," Semlitsch said.
"Golf courses have an environmental impact when they go in and clear an area; however, because of improved management techniques, we're seeing no signs of chemical effects around these courses.
"It implies that the turf science industry is doing a great job at utilizing fairway design techniques, plants that reduce chemicals found in the soil, and other methods to ensure that biodiversity succeeds on the course."
Semlitsch and his research team, including graduate students, Mark Mackey, Grant Connette and Bill Peterman, suggest that salamander abundance on golf courses and related ecosystems may be enhanced through simple management practices such as retaining woody debris, leaf litter, and restoring the natural buffers between fairways and streams.
"We have this image of pristine and highly manicured fairways such as the ones we see in Augusta, or at Pebble Beach," Semlitsch said.
"However, our research suggests a more natural course that includes streams with leaf litter, sticks and twigs that offer a natural habitat for different species is preferred. Turf and golf course managers are taking note of these practices, and it is making a real ecological difference."
The study, "Do golf courses reduce the ecological value of headwater streams for salamanders in the southern Appalachian Mountains?" was published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, and was funded by a Highlands Biological Station Fellowship and a United States Golf Association and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Wildlife Links granting program.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Site 12, Treasure Island’s toxic bullets: Someone’s about to get hit!"

2014-04-09 by Carol Harvey for "San Francisco Bay View" newspaper []:
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at

Is Treasure Island radiation making Jim ill? Jim Serrano talks about the illnesses he’s been having since he moved onto Treasure Island: polycythemia, a form of leukemia, unidentified liver disease and constant pain. He attributes some of his sickness to radiation releases on toxic Treasure Island.

Think of Treasure Island as an iridescent green glowing ghost ship whose prow divides the blue waves as it navigates San Francisco Bay waters gliding northwest under the Golden Gate Bridge. On the tidy front lawn of your market rate or low income Site 12 rental brought to you courtesy of The John Stewart Co., it is as if you are standing at the bow of the radioactive vessel as it carries its toxic contents ever forward into a stunning red-gold sunset. Imagine the vessel sliding toward Japan bearing the U.S. Navy’s gift of Treasure Island toxic soup to mix with irradiated ocean water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, perhaps detectable along the California Coast by April 2014 [].
On a recent warm spring night, I walked to the Berkeley side of Site 12 by the fire training station, plopped down in a chair in the Fat Grape Winery next to a sign reading, “Group therapy practiced here,” and, over a glass of delicious, red, sulfite-free cabernet sauvignon, sat shooting the breeze with vintner Patrick Bowen.
“Patrick, I have to give you credit for having Fat Grape signs everywhere,” I said.
“I have a lot of signs,” he replied laughing. “How else can you find me? I’m in the northwest corner of Treasure Island inside of an old prison. This is the Navy Brig.”

Treasure Island Elementary School class 2005-2006

Treasure Island children attended Treasure Island Elementary School before they began to be bussed to San Francisco. Quinn Lundgren, Kathryn's older daughter, is second from left in the back row.
Patrick is one of several small business owners who are as friendly as his Site 12 neighbors. Later, when I lost my way to Gateview Avenue to catch the 108, an African-American elder with a kind of awesome gentility noticed my confusion and offered directions. It’s a small town. Everyone knows everyone. Site 12 people are friendly to neighbors and strangers. It’s remarkable how they take care of and love each other.
The Site 12 community seems warehoused on extremely valuable, dangerously poisonous property. These sweet people, bombarded from every direction by radionuclides, chemicals, and asbestos, lead and mold contaminants, appear to be placeholders until Lennar can populate the island with condos for 19,000 high end renters.

Potentates’ political pawns -
Some speculate Site 12 residents are pawns in a political game officiated over by power-brokers so high in the stratosphere, you and I will never see them – a viperous nest of incestuously connected wealth – Nancy Pelosi, Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, Darius Anderson, Bob Berkel and Mayor Ed Lee, who finally did the deal for a Treasure Island eco-village.
Interests connected to TIDA, the Treasure Island Development Authority, a mysteriously-formed corporation that runs the island, have raked in millions from rent – but plan to make billions.

Institutional classism -
TIDA’s public relations brainchild, Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative (TIHDI – say “tie-die”) offers compassionate services – a food bank, subsidized housing and job placement – to low-income, pre-homeless, homeless, disabled and “recovering” San Franciscans.
A condescension-tinged message smacking of institutional classism traced by a finger in wet cement outside TIHDI’s Ship Shape Community Center, which hosts a weekly food pantry, at 850 Avenue I, orders supplicants to stand behind a line outside and “Wait here until called.”
Under the TIDHI umbrella, Swords to Plowshares offers vets “transitional housing.” One veteran reported he knew about the radioactivity. How? I asked. He answered, “The water tastes nasty.” There is a fine irony in the Navy’s offering a vet, recovering from a failed attempt to medicate war-induced trauma with drugs, a recovery place saturated with opportunities for radiation sickness, chemical poisoning, asbestosis or black-mold-induced respiratory illness.
Toolworks’ attractive webpage offers prospective employers a disability “workforce.” Community members, however, report working low-level jobs involving little skill-building or training.
A community of poor people is living in buildings left to ruin. TIDA and TIHDI seem to be warehousing impoverished people in an aging, neglected infrastructure. The homes of people residing in buildings constructed in the 1940s and 1950s are literally making them sick.
There are suspicions that lead or heavy metals leaching from inside aging pipes could have caused a rash of gall-bladder removals. Childhood respiratory diseases are rampant.
As they sicken and die, low incomes trap and intimidation paralyzes them. Some fear that complaints about 70-year-old water pipes or black mold in bathrooms might lead to retaliatory evictions by subsidized housing “benefactors” at Catholic Charities, Community Housing Partnership, San Francisco Housing Authority or by The John Stewart Co., the market rate rental master.
TIDA and naval personnel have said that redevelopment will change all this. One gets the sense infrastructure is being neglected because those in charge believe it will all be plowed under anyway.

Meet Walter Johnson, an enterprising and busy man. After prison, he sprung himself from a homeless shelter, to a job, to free housing into paying his own rent. Now he works, and, in his free time, helps distribute food to Treasure Island families through the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics. After that, he exercises at the Treasure Island YMCA.
Treasure Island resident Walter Johnson hard at work – Photo: Carol Harvey

Pandemonium, Mordor, fires -
Embedded within Site 12’s 90-acre body like cancerous tumors lie three major subsites, Halyburton Court, Site 31 and Site 6. Under a mandate in the Federal Installation Restoration Program, the Navy has for years been forced to locate and remediate radioactive and chemical contaminants from these three Site 12 locations. The work is scheduled for completion by 2018.
On this map of Treasure Island, the most toxic cleanup sites are outlined and color coded (Sites 12, 6, 31, Halyburton Court).

After the Navy abandoned the area as an ammunition bunker and storage yard, many Site 12 structures sit dilapidated, bearing lethal levels of three more toxins: Asbestos, lead and mold, as an added bonus, lurk in Site 12 roofs, exterior paint and interior building walls.
On March 7, 2014, San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi announced he was evacuating firefighters from Station House 48, 849 Avenue D at 10th Street, to new quarters at the fire training facility, 600 Avenue M. The firefighters union complained that rain through leaky windows had created such dangerous levels of black mold in the station’s interior walls that men were getting headaches and waking up at night. Asthma, chronic congestion and respiratory diseases have also been reported widely among townhouse residents nearby.
Neither the Navy nor TIDA has stated officially it is attending to the cleanup of these additional dangerous substances, which pose a serious public health risk to people living and working on Site 12.

Halyburton Court – Pandemonium’s radiation poisoning:
Situated at Treasure Island’s southeast end, Halyburton Court hosts phantom children trapped forever in silent trauma. A father of a 1970s military family shudders recalling the innocent play of children as their bodies were bombarded by radioisotopes along the shoreline near the highly radioactive USS Pandemonium I. (Pandemonium is the capital of Hell in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”)
Halyburton Court is so toxic that after the Navy decommissioned it in 1997, it was cordoned off and San Francisco’s new low-income residents were never allowed in.

Site 31 – Mordor:
In 1999, civilian families began to populate Site 12. Just inland, eastward from Halyburton Court, kids from the nearby elementary school and Boys and Girls Club began to take play periods and run track on a large asphalt area on Site 31.
Around 2005, this lighthearted exercise stopped. The Navy fenced off the space, dug a 10-by-40-foot-deep pit at its southeastern end and began carting out truckloads of tarp-covered toxic and radiologic material. Radioactive dust and possible chemical contaminants blew from the trucks into adjoining neighborhoods around the Gateview Avenue and 11th, 12th and 13th streets.
Ocean winds gusting from the northwest to the southeast off the Bay across Halyburton Court and Site 31 through a toxic tunnel toward the Oakland Bay Bridge’s span seem to have killed all the trees and vegetation along a narrow wind-lane over a former elementary school, a vacated Boys and Girls Club and an operating daycare center.

Subsite 6 – setting fires to put out fires:
Behind a chainlink fence on the northern border of Site 6, across Avenue M from the island’s wastewater treatment plant, the Navy continually moves a conveyor-belt-like trail of thousands of large boxcar-shaped containers full of radiologically toxic materials. As of May 2013, these containers were shipped off-island to a nuclear dumpsite in Clive, Utah.
Site 6 is also historically significant as the locus of a 1950s fire training school, where toxic oil-based materials that firefighting trainees employed to snuff out blazes were casually dumped in its soil.
Additionally, in 1969, USS Pandemonium I, the Navy’s fake nuclear war training ship, was moved from her western position at the Halyburton Court area around the Island’s northern shore eastward into its second incarnation as USS Pandemonium II.

“An imitation of an atomic blast’s mushroom cloud was created on Treasure Island in 1957 as the Navy set off a mock nuclear explosion for scientists at a symposium on modern warfare” is the Chronicle’s caption for this photo in a Nov. 13, 2013, story titled “Radiation worries on Treasure Island.” (Photo: Bill Young, San Francisco Chronicle).
When the Navy docked the ship next to the seismically unsafe water treatment plant built in the 1950s, her radioactive discharges were left to affect a second Site 12 sector, especially dangerous in the event of earthquake or water rise which could flood the area with both raw sewage – not good – and radioisotopes and chemical contaminants – infinitely worse.
Fifty years of Naval activity polluted Site 12 with a horrifying list of radioactive materials. Breathing, touching or ingesting any of these substances will continue to produce ionizing radiation that can create enough energy to break apart and re-bond with atoms inside the human body. These processes can go on for years deforming tissue and causing cancers.
In addition, the Navy is responsible for the below list of radioactive materials, chemical contaminants, as well as asbestos, lead and dangerous mold in air, soil and groundwater under and within Site 12 homes.

List of horrors -
In 2001, at an international convention in Stockholm, Sweden, a treaty was signed banning the production, import, export, disposal and use of “the dirty dozen,” a group of 12 chemicals the United Nations considers the world’s most dangerous pollutants. These are aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene, dioxins and furans.
Of these 12, eight – DDT, polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), Benzenes, dioxins, furans, heptachlor, dieldrin and endrin, both components of dioxin – are currently present in Treasure Island soil, water, air and structures.
* DDT, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane: Inhaling the pesticide DDT leads to long-term kidney and liver disease, cancer and short-term death.
* PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls: While Naval personnel waffle on the cause of Site 12’s astronomically high PCB levels, Jim Serrano and his family live with his painful liver disease every day on Bayside Drive. Environmental Protection Agency studies found PCBs highly suspect for liver and skin cancer. Used as transformer, capacitor and electric motor coolants, PCBs were banned by Congress in 1979.
Fifty years of Naval activity polluted Site 12 with a horrifying list of radioactive materials. Breathing, touching or ingesting any of these substances will continue to produce ionizing radiation that can create enough energy to break apart and re-bond with atoms inside the human body. These processes can go on for years deforming tissue and causing cancers.
* Benzene: Benzene, a carcinogenic constituent of crude oil and gas, is a widely used petrochemical solvent. My father would not have chain-smoked or used a benzene-based spot remover, Renuzit, to dry clean his suits had he known it caused leukemia. In an orgy of industrial burning, the Navy sent oil-generated benzene fumes boiling out into Treasure Island air from burn pits and incinerators in and above Site 12 soil where homes currently exist.
Over time, benzene remains in dirt as soot, continuing to emit fumes, especially as high island water levels dissolve dry benzene soot in wet soil.
Scientific evidence proves that benzene weakens the immune system and causes leukemia, aplastic anemia and breast cancer. Inhaling benzene vapors can damage reproductive organs and produce infertility. At least one Treasure Island teenager has recurring ovarian cysts. Residents, present and past, have reported miscarriages and hysterectomies.
* PAHs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Through the 1970s, PAH-laden smoke wafted across Treasure Island homes as sailors routinely set fire to a wide variety of materials in burn pits and incinerators in multiple spots around the island. PAHs consist of hundreds of carcinogens, products of incomplete burning of coal, gas and garbage, tobacco or charbroiled meat released as soot or attached to fine particulate airborne matter, settling in soil or on surface water. Touching or breathing PAHs mixed with other chemicals appears to cause skin, stomach and lung cancer.
* Dioxins, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins: In the worst five of “the dirty dozen” world’s worst chemicals, dioxins include a class of 75 chemically stable, organic proven carcinogens, produced when the Navy burned waste containing chlorinated plastic – IV bags, gloves or oxygen tents. A burn pit was discovered recently on Bayshore Avenue near a family suffering severe health effects.
Dioxins’ chemically stable, organic pollutants store persistently and permanently in the food chain and in children’s fatty tissue, especially females. As their bodies convert it to growth material – bone, muscles, tissue, brain – it is eventually passed into their offspring. Ingested by eating over-heated meat, dairy products, fish and shellfish, dioxin is suspect in liver, lung, stomach, soft tissue and connective tissue cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the weakening of the immune system. Dioxin is a hormone disruptor producing genetic defects, reproductive and developmental problems.
* Arsenic: Arsenic is found in herbicides and pesticides. Made notorious by film director Frank Capra and actor Cary Grant in the black comedy, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” arsenic is mixed by two old women into their elderberry wine to perpetrate mercy killings on lonely old men, although the rather unmerciful symptoms include stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, vertigo, delirium, shock and death. If they had survived, they’d have died of cancer.
* Lead: Lead-based paint can be seen chipped off the exterior walls of many abandoned Navy buildings – structures built in the 1940s and ‘50s roughly 30 years before 1978, when the U.S. government banned lead paint. Teens play in the yard next to a tuition-free charter high school, the Life Learning Academy, at 651 Eighth St., immediately west of a long row of buildings on Avenue M covered with old, badly flaking paint fragments blowing around in the island’s high winds. Exposure to lead’s heavy metal component could damage their nervous systems and kill their brain cells.
* Radium 226: Painted on glow-in-the-dark “buttons” buried in Treasure Island soil to be found by naval trainees with geiger counters, radium 226 is a highly unstable radioactive element which decays into an inert gas called radon. If built up in lung tissue, Radon could cause cancer.
* TPH, total petroleum hydrocarbons: Fossil fuels, petroleum distillates and natural gas can suffocate people in high concentrations, cause nausea if swallowed and tissue swelling and edema if inhaled. When burned at the former fire training station on Site 6, TPHs caused soot to form in soil. With the raising and lowering of the island’s high water table, TPH soot may have sunk into groundwater. This was a subject very much under discussion during the March 12, 2014, public meeting covering the Navy’s Remedial Action Plan Proposal.
* VOCs, volatile organic compounds: Open burning can expose people to harmful volatile organic compounds causing respiratory and heart problems, eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, incoordination, nausea, and central nervous system, liver and kidney damage.
* Cesium 137: In the 1950s, highly radioactive cesium137, a byproduct of nuclear fission, was released in a Building 223 accidental nuclear material spill. It’s all over the playgrounds. It is highly radioactive and very dangerous. A shorter half-life of 30 years makes it a stronger emitter, throwing off radioactive atoms faster. Yet it is persistent in the environment and works its way up the food chain.

Bullets from all directions -
When there are so many variables, it is almost impossible to win a legal battle by drawing a straight line between its environmental cause and a disease. In this case, the gap has been narrowed by multitudinous environmental hazards. Anyone living in Site 12 over a year who escapes illness could make a killing in Reno. Bullets are flying from so many directions, not being hit is unlikely.
Occupants wonder why the Navy has not provided empirical data with a longitudinal study of former military occupants’ current health status. They are the population in whom the more severe symptoms would be surfacing now. Do they fear what they will find? Kathryn Lundgren believes they do.
Treasure Island residents Pandora and her grandchild – Photo: Carol Harvey

'Treasure Island Your Recreation Destination' sign, web

Monday, April 7, 2014

Urban Gardening and the risks of soil contaminants

"Urban gardeners may be unaware of how best to manage contaminants in soil"
2014-04-07 by, Brent Kim, Melissa Poulsen, Jared Margulies, Katie Dix, Anne Palmer and Keeve Nachman [].
For more information, including resources for urban farmers and gardeners, please visit: []
Baltimore MD -
Consuming foods grown in urban gardens may offer a variety of health benefits, but a lack of knowledge about the soil used for planting, could pose a health threat for both consumers and gardeners.
In a new study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), researchers identified a range of factors and challenges related to the perceived risk of soil contamination among urban community gardeners and found a need for clear and concise information on how best to prevent and manage soil contamination. The results are featured online in PLOS ONE [].
"While the benefits are far-reaching, gardening in urban settings can also create opportunities for exposure to contaminants such as heavy metals, petroleum products, and asbestos, which may be present in urban soils," said Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with CLF.
"Our study suggests gardeners generally recognize the importance of knowing a garden site's prior uses, but they may lack the information and expertise to determine accurately the prior use of their garden site and potential contaminants in the soil. They may also have misperceptions or gaps in knowledge, about how best to minimize their risk of exposure to contaminants that may be in urban soil."
According to CLF researchers, urban soils are often close to pollution sources, such as industrial areas and heavily trafficked roads and as a result, many soil contaminants have been found at higher concentrations in urban centers.
To characterize urban community gardeners' knowledge and perceptions of soil contamination risks and reducing exposure, researchers conducted surveys among urban community gardeners and semi-structured interviews with key informants in the gardening community in Baltimore, Md.
Informants included individuals whose job function or organizational affiliation makes them knowledgeable about Baltimore City community gardening and soil contamination.
"People may come into contact with these contaminants if they work or play in contaminated soil, or eat food that was grown in it. In some cases, exposure to soil contaminants can increase disease risks, especially for young children," said Brent Kim, MHS, lead author of the paper and a program officer with CLF.
"Given the health, social, environmental and economic benefits associated with participating in and supporting urban green spaces, it is critical to protect the viability of urban community gardens while also ensuring a safe gardening environment."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"US diners gorge on oysters as polluted bay revives" (Massachusetts)

2014-04-05 from "AFP" newswire []:
Cage after cage, oysters destined for a sprinkling of lemon juice and a delighted diner are pulled from the majestic Chesapeake Bay, where 20 years ago they had nearly disappeared.
"Those will be at the restaurants tomorrow," says Tal Petty, 55, an oysterman who has worked these waters for 40 years.
Today, the mollusk's reintroduction is playing a vital role in the health of the bay and Petty is quick to point out the dual ecological and gastronomical benefits.
In recent summers, Petty says, he could not see much in the water at his farm in southeastern Maryland, because of a thick algae that thrived in the region's sweltering summers.
But last year "all summer long, I was able to see the bottom, which means the oysters were filtering and cleaning," he said, talking to AFP at a cove near the small community of Hollywood.
The eastern oyster, or Crassostrea Virginica as it is known scientifically, was once abundant in the Chesapeake, one of the world's largest estuaries and a major US waterway.
But it nearly disappeared here at the end of the 20th century due to overfishing, disease and pollution.
In 1607, when English explorer Captain John Smith -- famous for his encounter with American Indian princess Pocahontas -- explored the bay, "ships were running aground on oysters because they were so plentiful," says Steve Allen, biologist and senior manager at the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), a public-private entity that is facilitating the mollusk's rehabilitation in the Chesapeake.
Two decades ago, no more than one percent of the stocks that had existed in the Chesapeake a century earlier remained in the bay.
This was troubling because the oyster cleans water by filter-feeding on phytoplankton that flourishes when excess nitrogen and phosphorus disrupt the water's ecological balance, the biologist said.
In addition, the mollusk can clean 200 liters of water a day, which basically makes it "the kidney of the bay."
The oyster's reefs also provide shelter for other animals such as fish, mussels and especially blue crabs, the pride of the state of Maryland and Chesapeake.

- 'Nutty' with 'cucumber finish' -
Maryland and Virginia, the two states that border the Chesapeake, have in recent years launched rescue programs, creating sanctuaries and giving subsidized loans to develop oyster farms.
Over the course of 10 years, ORP reintroduced 4.5 billion oysters, along with a recycling program for empty shells to serve as nurseries for larvae.
Virginia saw 10,000 tons of oysters collected during the winter of 2012 to 2013, double the year before and twenty times more than 15 years ago, although it represents only one percent of what was collected in the 1950s.
Petty created his company Hollywood Oyster and left his job in finance five years ago to embark on his Chesapeake Bay venture. He never looked back.
Baseball cap on head and cell phone to the ear, Petty takes orders from wholesalers and local restaurants from his boat.
"We're growing the operation because of the demand," he says.
"Two years ago, I started a million and a half oysters, last year I started almost 3 million oysters and this year I started almost 4 million," he said.
"We are really lucky that chefs and customers love the taste profile of this cove, this is very, very good oyster water" he said, describing his oysters as having "a nutty taste with a cucumber finish."
And thanks to American consumers' growing fondness for shellfish and local products, oysters are coming back into fashion.
The Oyster bars that flourish in nearby Washington promote the local Chesapeake oyster with gusto.
Tony Kowkabi, owner and manager of Catch 15, an oyster bar that opened three months ago a stone's throw from the White House, says it is a logical choice for his menu.
"Chesapeake Bay oysters are delicious, we are in the neighborhood, it makes sense for one of the best oysters in the country to be on my list," he says.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Efforts to preserve pollinator insects in California

Pollinator Partnership []

"Program Looks to Give Bees a Leg (or Six) Up"
2014-04-02 by John Schwartz from "New York Times" []:
LOCKEFORD, Calif. — Helping America’s beleaguered bees could start with something as humble as planting a shrub.
Here in California’s Central Valley, researchers are trying to find assortments of bee-friendly plants that local farmers and ranchers can easily grow, whether in unusable corners and borders of their land or on acreage set aside with government support.
Bees could certainly use the assist. Since 2006, the commercial beekeepers who raise honeybees and transport them across the country to pollinate crops have reported losing a third of their colonies each year, on average.
Native species of bees, too, have been in decline. That is taking a toll on crops that rely on bees for pollination, including many nuts and fruits. The Department of Agriculture says that one of every three bites that Americans take is affected, directly or indirectly, by bees. They cause an estimated $15 billion increase in agricultural crop value each year.
The causes of the decline, known as colony collapse disorder, are still being studied. But they appear to be a combination of factors that include parasites, infection and insecticides. Underlying all of these problems is the loss of uncultivated fields with their broad assortment of pollen-rich plants that sustain bees. That land has been developed commercially or converted to farming corn, soybeans and other crops.
The federal government has announced a new $3 million program to step up support for honeybees in five states in the Upper Midwest. Those five — Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North and South Dakota — have huge numbers of honeybee colonies at various times of the year, perhaps 65 percent of the nation’s total. Beekeepers truck them around the country in the spring to pollinate commercial crops.
The new program will encourage farmers and ranchers to grow alfalfa, clover and other crops favored by bees and which serve a second purpose of being forage for livestock. Other proposed changes in practices include fencing property for managing grazing pastures in rotation so that they can replenish, leaving living plants for the bees.
Jeffery S. Pettis, who leads bee research at the federal Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., said the effort to get farmers to plant more crops with pollinators like bees and butterflies in mind was intended to help the creatures weather the challenges of pathogens, parasites and pesticides. “If they have a good nutritional foundation, they can survive some of the things they are faced with,” Dr. Pettis said.
The federal agency that focuses heavily on these issues, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, began in the 1930s as a government effort to help farmers hold on to soil and prevent dust bowls. The 2008 farm bill called for the service to include fostering pollinator health in its efforts in all 50 states.
That, in turn, has led to about 43 million acres of land across the country incorporating conservation features that support pollinator health. From 2009 to 2012, the bill’s environmental quality incentive program spread around $630 million.
In the Central Valley, the research to support that work is done on 106 acres of prime farmland at a Department of Agriculture plant materials center. The results are beautiful: More than 2,200 feet of hedges and fields of blended crops present a feast for the eyes — and for bees — beginning in early spring. On a recent viewing, flowers dotted the landscape with color. The bright orange flowers of California poppies opened near rich purple lupines. Last year, an entomologist found about 50 species of bees and 1,500 other beneficial insects, birds and creatures of all sorts in the hedgerows.
Jessa Cruz, a senior pollinator conservation specialist with the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving pollinator health that is collaborating with the center, said drought-resistant plants that are bee friendly are increasingly important in arid California.
“It’s important to be able to tell farmers, ‘You’re not going to have to use your precious water to irrigate your hedgerows,’ ” Ms. Cruz said.
The use of hedgerows and cover crops is on display at nearby Vino Farms, whose grapes are bought by 180 wineries. Growing among the vines are peas and beans, aromatic sage, golden currant, wild rose and even daikon radish.
Chris Storm, the director of viticulture for the company, said that even though grapes are self-fertilizing and do not need bees in the way that the nearby almond orchards do, “We’re doing it for everybody else,” providing a habitat for bees pollinating other crops nearby.
Vino Farms receives other benefits from the plantings, which help reduce the use of pesticides by supporting beneficial creatures like the tiny wasps and green lacewings that kill pests. Mr. Storm has taken out rows of vines for some hedgerows, and has flowering plants growing at the base of vines.
His company’s efforts also allow it to assert that it grows grapes sustainably. The certified sustainable production, he said, can bring a 10 percent increase in price from winemakers looking for a green edge. That translates to anything from $250 to $500 more per ton.
“It doesn’t yet pay for itself,” he said, though he clearly expects it to. It also helps that Mr. Storm is as adept at raising money from government conservation programs as he is at raising grapes and pollinating plants. He is constantly on the lookout for federal and state programs that will help pay for new techniques.
A mix of plants that works beautifully in California’s Central Valley will not necessarily be much good in the Upper Midwest, said Laurie Davies Adams, the executive director of the Pollinator Partnership, which promotes the health of bees, butterflies and other plant helpers.
“When I talk about hedgerows to guys in Iowa, they just kind of glaze over,” Ms. Adams said. The big bushes would interfere with the giant equipment those farmers use, she said, but they might be persuaded to set aside small plots of land for pollen-rich plants, which can help accomplish the same conservation goals.
“This is not one size fits all,” she said. “This is one ethic fits all.”
A major commercial beekeeper, John Miller, said that the multimillion-dollar pollinator program for the Upper Midwest would not work miracles. Spreading the money across five states over several years, he said, doing a little “shirttail math,” means that “you’ve got about a Dixie cup worth of seeds going into a field” in any one season.
He added, however, that the program is good news because it means “the pendulum, perhaps, is beginning to swing back” to paying attention to the role of bees in the food supply.
Surging corn prices have led farmers to grow on every available acre, which has been bad for bee habitats. A. Gary Shilling, an economic consultant, asset manager and avid beekeeper in New Jersey, said corn prices had been coming down again, and that should affect the number of acres they plant. “There will be less incentive to plant fence-row to fence-row,” he said. So pollinator plantings could make a comeback, especially if social pressure encourages farmers to support bees.
“This is a business,” Mr. Shilling said. “Are these guys going to go out of their way for something that’s going to hurt their business, affect their bottom line? Not unless they think they’ll catch some flak if they won’t.”