Port officials are wary about new state regulations intended to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes. Several states are working on laws that would tighten restrictions on ballast water in foreign ships. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bob Kelleher reports:
Port officials are wary about new state regulations intended to keep
invasive species out of the Great Lakes. Several states are working on
laws that would tighten restrictions on ballast water in foreign ships. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortiums Bob Kelleher reports:
Proponents hope to keep creatures like zebra mussels from getting
established in the Great Lakes. The non-native plants and animals arrive
in ship ballast water, carried from overseas ports.
Adolf Ojard is the Duluth Seaway Port Director. He says a state-by-state
approach to regulate ballast water is the wrong approach.
“We’re not the only area that is dealing with invasive species. Every
harbor and estuary around the world has a similar concern. It needs to be
dealt with on an international and world level, so that it can be a level
playing field for everybody out there that is involved in transportation.”
Michigan has passed new rules with stiff fines for ships with untreated
ballast water. Wisconsin and Indiana are expected to consider similar
rules; and Minnesota’s Attorney General says he’ll propose the
regulations this spring.
Heavy rains can overwhelm sewer systems. The EPA's proposed solution, blending, is a topic of debate. (photo by Sarah Griggs)
The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing
a policy that will allow sewage treatment operators to send largely untreated sewage directly into rivers and lakes. It’s a cost-savings effort pushed by the Bush administration. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing a policy that will allow sewage treatment operators to send largely untreated sewage directly into rivers and lakes. It’s a cost-savings effort pushed by the Bush administration. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The process is called blending. If too much sewage is coming in to treat completely, this policy allows operators to “blend” mostly untreated sewage with already treated waste water, then release it into the waterways. That saves the federal government money by not having to pay for sewage plant expansions.
Environmentalists don’t like it. Nancy Stoner is with the group Natural Resources Defense Council.
“They’re saying that they’re going to save money by providing less treatment now even though that pushes the cost onto the public by contaminating our drinking water supply, by killing fish, by contaminating shellfish so it cant be sold, by closing beaches.”
The EPA says blending untreated sewage with treated sewage dilutes it so that it meets federal standards. The agency also argues that the policy merely sanctions a practice that already happens every time a sewer system gets swamped by heavy rains.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Trash and toxic waste cross the U.S.-Canada border every day, and untreated toxic waste often ends up at the Clean Harbors facility. Some are trying to restrict this practice and purge the idea that waste is a commodity.
There’s only one place in North America that still dumps
toxic waste straight into the ground without any kind of pre-treatment. A legislator from Ontario, Canada wants this landfill to clean up its act. But trade in toxic waste is big business. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Ann Colihan follows some trucks to learn more:
There’s only one place in North America that still dumps toxic waste straight into the ground without any kind of pre-treatment. A legislator from Ontario, Canada wants this landfill to clean up its act. But trade in toxic waste is a big business. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mary Ann Colihan follows some trucks to learn more:
(Sound of trucks)
6,000 trucks cross the Blue Water Bridge every day between Canada and the United States. Just under the bridge, Lake Huron funnels into the skinny St. Clair River on its way to south to Lake Erie. The Blue Water Bridge connects Port Huron, Michigan with Sarnia, Ontario. This is the second busiest truck crossing between the United States and Canada. With post 9/11 security, the border can get backed up for miles in both directions. A lot of these trucks are carrying garbage back and forth across the border. Canadian trash and toxic waste is going to the U.S. and American toxic waste is going to Canada.
During her first month in office, Ontario Member of Parliament for Sarnia-Lambton, Caroline Di Cocco, found out just how much toxic waste was coming into her district.
“In 1999 that year, it was over 450,000 tons. To put it in perspective, the Love Canal was 12,000 tons.”
Di Cocco went on a five year crusade to change the Ontario laws that govern the trade in toxic waste. She adopted the U.N. resolution known as the Basel Agreement, as her model.
“The notion from that Basel Agreement is that everybody should look after their own waste and it is not a commodity.”
Di Cocco is not alone in her fight to slow or stop the flow of garbage and toxic waste from crossing the border. Mike Bradley is the mayor of Sarnia, Ontario. He can see the backup on the Blue Water Bridge every day from his home.
“One of the ironies on this is that while Michigan is very much upset, and rightly so, with the importation of Toronto trash, there are tens of thousands of tons of untreated toxic waste coming in from Michigan crossing the Blue Water Bridge into the Clean Harbors site.”
The Clean Harbors facility is the only place in North America that does not pre-treat hazardous waste before it dumps it into its landfill. Frank Hickling is Director of Lambton County Operations for Clean Harbors. He says imports from nearby states in the U.S. accounts for about forty percent of its volume.
“It’s from the Great Lakes area. We do reach down and take waste that our facility is best able to handle. We’re right on the border.”
Rarely do lawmakers on both sides of the border agree on an environmental issue. But pre-treatment of hazardous waste is the law in all fifty states, Mexico and every other Canadian province and territory except Ontario. Pre-treatment reduces the amount of toxic waste or transforms it into a less hazardous substance. But Hickling says disposing hazardous waste in Clean Harbors is a better economic bet.
“Obviously, if you don’t have to pre-treat it, it is cheaper there’s no doubt about that. But what isn’t obvious is the security of the site. Pre-treating waste doesn’t help immobilize the material forever.”
Clean Harbors’ company officials say their landfill won’t leak for 10,000 years. They say that the U.S. pre-treats hazardous waste because they expect their landfills to leak in hundreds of years or less. Hickling says the blue clay of Lambton County that lines Clean Harbors landfill gives them a competitive edge as a toxic dump.
“The facility is in a 140-foot clay plain and we go down about 60 feet. So there’s 80 feet below.”
But Clean Harbors has had big environmental problems. When volume was at its peak in 1999 the Clean Harbors landfill leaked methane gas and contaminated water. Remedial pumping of the landfill is ongoing.
Caroline Di Cocco found other ways to deal with toxic waste rather than simply dumping it in her district.
“First of all, there has to be a reduction of the amount of generation of this hazardous material. The more expensive you make it for industry to dispose of it, the more they are going to find creative ways to reduce it. Then there are what they call on-site treatments and closed-loop systems. You see technology is there but it’s expensive and again we go to the cost of doing business. And so a lot of the hazardous waste can be treated on site in a very safe way. And then what can’t be, well then you have to have facilities to dispose of it. But I believe that the days of the mega dumps have to end.”
Meanwhile, Clean Harbors looks at what the new Ontario regulations for pre-treatment will cost them.
“Certainly when you’re making the investment in pre-treatment and you’re adding all that cost for no additional environmental benefit we’re going to have to be getting larger volumes to ensure its profitability.”
Until we see a reduction in the loads of toxic waste that need to be dumped in Clean Harbors, it’s likely the trucks will roll on down the highway.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mary Ann Colihan.
Sewage overflows during heavy rains have long been implicated in illnesses in people. For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has come up with an estimate of just how many people are getting sick from swimming at contaminated beaches. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
Sewage overflows during heavy rains have long been implicated in
illnesses in people. For the first time, the Environmental Protection
Agency has come up with an estimate of just how many people are getting
sick from swimming at contaminated beaches. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
The EPA estimates that somewhere between 3,500 and 5,500 beachgoers get sick
every year when untreated sewage is flushed into rivers, streams and lakes
by heavy rains. The EPA’s Ben Grumbles says the report is another reason
for cities to fix their aging sewage systems – despite the high cost.
“And it can literally add up to hundreds of millions, a couple of billion dollars, for
very large cities, to fix the problem for the long-term.”
Grumbles says many communities can avoid that bigger expense by investing
in new technologies to better manage existing systems – and keeping pipes
well-maintained and free of debris.
Environmental groups say they hope legislators are listening. Congress just reduced
the fund from which communities can get loans for sewer projects by 500 million dollars.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.