Sheryl Barr

June 22, 2017

What turned Ellerbee Creek orange?

Source:, June 21, 2017
By: Virginia Bridges

City officials think the substance that turned part of Ellerbee Creek an oily orange last week may have been due to a city contractor’s mistake.

A city investigation found a city contractor improperly rerouted water meant to go to the city’s sanitary sewer system to a stormwater line, which flows into the creek. Contractor Crowder Construction was working at the Williams Water Treatment Plant on Hillandale Road.

City officials started looking into the issue Thursday, June 15, after receiving a report of the creek’s discoloration on the city’s stormwater hotline, where people can report pollution. The roughly 20-mile-long creek flows into Falls Lake, Raleigh’s primary drinking water supply.

Patrick Hogan, a city water quality technician, said the substance resembled a naturally occurring iron-oxide bacteria rarely found in a flowing stream.

Hogan walked the creek and found a break in the color near an outfall pipe, he said. He looked at maps of the drainage network, which led him to the treatment plant and the improperly routed pipe.

June 21, 2017

Asbestos exposure at Austin airport facility affects 120 employees

Source:, June 20, 2017
By: David Barer and Kylie McGivern

About 120 city of Austin employees were exposed to asbestos during 2016 airport office renovations, despite some workers voicing concerns that the potentially dangerous building material could cause contamination during construction, a KXAN investigation has uncovered.

The exposure happened during February and June 2016 floor renovations in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport’s Maintenance Complex Building, which is separate from the passenger terminals and not open to the public. The maintenance building contains offices and houses dozens of staff, including maintenance administrators, plumbers, carpenters, cleaners and police at the time, according to city records.

Three aviation maintenance workers, who spoke with KXAN on a condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, say the asbestos contamination may well have been avoided if their concerns were taken more seriously. Also, airport management may not have followed all recommended asbestos control procedures prior to renovating the offices.

“The people who run the airport put people in danger that they knew about, put them in hazardous areas and told them that they would be safe,” said one employee present for the February renovations. “I am concerned for everybody’s health who was in the building.”

In response to KXAN’s investigation, the city of Austin released a statement saying it is committed to the “health and safety of all employees,” and it is “continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding this incident.”

“The City of Austin and the Department of Aviation would never intentionally put its employees at risk,” according to the city’s June 16 prepared statement. “The City is committed to improving internal processes, training and communication to ensure our high standards are met for a safe working environment for all staff.”

June 19, 2017

Legionnaires’ Outbreak on Upper East Side Kills One and Sickens Six

Source:, June 16, 2017
By: Sarah Maslin Nir

One person is dead and six other people have been sickened in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the city health department announced on Friday.

The patients with the bacterial infection, which is typically contracted through contaminated water, fell ill within the past 11 days in the Lenox Hill neighborhood, said the agency, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Four remain hospitalized, and two have recovered and been released. The person who died was over 90, according to the department, and suffered from other health problems. The department has begun an investigation of air-conditioning equipment in the neighborhood, looking for signs of the Legionella bacteria.

“We know that this is an organism that exists in our environment, and we don’t expect to be able to eradicate it,” said Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the health commissioner. “From a public health point of view, we want to be able to get a handle on clusters that may have a common source, but we hardly ever are able to identify them.”In the Lenox Hill outbreak, where the patients are linked by geography, chances of finding the source may be better. Inspectors have looked at all cooling systems within about half a mile of the affected area, 116 in total, Dr. Bassett said. But results of the investigation will take up to two weeks — the bacteria must be cultured in a lab, and grow slowly, she said.

June 14, 2017

Polluted-Water Case Against BP and Shell Revived

Source:, June 13, 2017
By: Adam Klasfeld

No longer protected by its deals with California prosecutors, BP and Shell must face another lawsuit alleging that its underground storage tanks continue to pollute Orange County’s groundwater with a toxic gasoline additive.

The British and Dutch oil giants were named among the dozens of fossil-fuel companies in hundreds of lawsuits over the chemical methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

Used to raise the oxygen level in gasoline, MTBE is banned by more than half of the states in the nation. The Environmental Protection Agency has flagged it as a possible human carcinogen at high doses.

On the East Coast, ExxonMobil was forced to pay $236 million two years ago for its use in New Hampshire, and $105 million for its use in New York in 2009.

More than 500 of the lawsuits over the chemical were consolidated before a federal judge in Manhattan, where Chevron, BP and other major companies agreed to pay a $423 million settlement in 2008. 

Although the Orange County District Attorney’s office settled two California cases involving MTBEs with BP and Shell in 2003 and 2005, the Orange County Water District filed separate claims that remained on the Southern District of New York’s docket.

In 2015, then-U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin found that the water district’s claims had been barred by the deal that the county’s district attorney had reached.

Overruling that decision, the Second Circuit was unanimous Monday that both entities had separate interests.

“Neither settlement reimbursed the district’s clean up costs or afforded it other compensation,” U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote for a three-judge panel.

“The injunctive relief in the [Orange County District Attorney] consent judgments has expired and the district alleges that MTBE plumes from BP and Shell stations continue to migrate toward the district’s water production wells,” the 16-page ruling continues. “These are interests unique to the district that were not adjudicated in the prior suits.”

BP and Shell have not returned requests for comment made after business hours.

June 14, 2017

Insurers say Duke Energy knowingly risked groundwater contamination from coal ash

Source:, June 13, 2017
By: John Downey

Insurance companies sued by Duke Energy to recover $1 billion-plus in coal-ash contamination costs deny the claims are covered, alleging the Charlotte-based utility company elected to dispose of ash in ways it knew threatened groundwater.

“Duke’s ash ponds were built without any provision to prevent the contaminants from escaping into groundwater. Some of the ash ponds were designed so that ash was placed in direct contact with groundwater,” the international insurers say in documents filed last week in the N.C. Business Court suit brought by Duke.

“Had Duke taken appropriate measures, it could have avoided the closure costs that it alleges in its complaint,” they go on to say. “The costs Duke seeks are Duke’s cost of doing business and are not an insurable risk.”

Duke (NYSE:DUK) plans to use insurance claims to reduce charges to its customers for what it ultimately expects will be $5.2 billion in costs to clean up its ash sites in North and South Carolina. None of the money would go to compensate Duke for the costs of cleaning up its February 2014 accident that spilled 39,000 tons of toxic ash into the Dan River, making coal ash a front-burner issue.…

June 14, 2017

Red Hook Ballfields Lead Contamination Cleanup Pushed Back Another Year

Source:, June 14, 2017
By: Amy Langfield

NYC Parks officials need more time — and more money — to clean up the five most contaminated ballfields in Red Hook, community members were told Tuesday night.

The city-financed cleanup was previously estimated at $105 million and was expected to be completed by a rolling series of dates, first by the spring of 2018.

But now, officials said, they need another year for the fields — and they may need an unknown amount of additional funds.

“We are looking at that now. We are finalizing the cost,” said Imelda Bernstein, the NYC Parks landscape architect for the first phase, told the dozens of people assembled at the Red Hook recreation center Tuesday night.

Parks designers have nearly completed plans for the cleanup for baseball fields 5, 6, 7 and 8, located on Lorraine Street directly across the street form the NYCHA Red Hook Houses. Those four fields are now expected to open for play in the fall of 2019, instead of late 2018.

Baseball field 9, located on Bay Street across the street from the Red Hook Recreation Center, will be complete in the spring of 2021 instead of spring 2020, they said.…

June 14, 2017

Judge says insurers must cover lead exposure claims against Summit Elementary

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 13, 2017

A federal judge has ruled that two insurance companies are required to cover any potential financial losses tied to a lawsuit against the Butler Area School District surrounding lead-tainted drinking water that came from a well at Summit Elementary School.

U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab ruled that The Netherlands Insurance Co. and Peerless Insurance Co. can’t shirk their coverage duties. Lawyers for both companies contended that they were not obligated to pay or defend the district or former Superintendent Dale Lumley, also a defendant.

“We are pleased with the decision and believe the court properly applied the law,” Butler Area School District solicitor Tom King said Monday.

A federal lawsuit filed in February against the school district contends Lumley and administrators concealed information for months that Summit Elementary’s water supply from a well on school property contained dangerous amounts of lead. An executive summary of an internal investigation noted a possible cover-up or negligence in addressing and communicating the lead problem.

Three school district administrators, including Lumley, resigned during the scandal, and a criminal investigation is ongoing.

After the initial lawsuit, attorneys for the insurance carriers filed a separate action in federal court, arguing both companies are exempt from claims because their policies with the district did not cover lead exposure.…

June 14, 2017

Health officials warn hospitals to do more to prevent Legionnaire’s disease

Source: Watertown Daily Times (NY), June 12, 2017
Posted on:

Health officials last week warned of the lurking dangers that Legionnaires’ disease can pose to the water systems of hospitals and other health care facilities.

In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed more than 2,800 cases of Legionnaires’ disease from 2015.

Legionnaires’ is a severe form of bacterial pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria. Legionella bacteria is natural to freshwater environments, but grows best in warm water and can cause problems when it spreads to utilities such as showers, faucets, air conditioners and hot water tanks.

To infect people, it must be aerated or spread in droplets small enough to be inhaled.

The CDC found 553 of those cases in 2015 occurred in healthcare facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes, where those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to contracting it.

“(Legionnaires’) can be very serious and deadly to elderly populations,” said Barbara Fargo, director of nursing at Samaritan Summit Village assisted living center in Watertown. “It’s important that we ensure we don’t give it to any patient.”…

June 14, 2017

A New Budget, A New EPA Administrator, And New Uncertainty For Superfund Cleanups

Source: Mondaq Business Briefing, June 13, 2017
By: Mr Van Hilderbrand Jr and Marian C. Hwang
Posted on:

When Scott Pruitt took over the post as Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he made it clear that one of his top priorities was to expedite cleanups at contaminated sites across the country. Facing reductions in the agency’s FY2018 operating budget, including cuts to the Superfund program, it has become clear that in order to achieve this goal, Administrator Pruitt will not be able to simply increase spending, but instead must look to overhaul and restructure the cleanup program from within. To that end, he has made several significant decisions recently including centralizing remedy selection decision-making authority at EPA headquarters and creating a regulatory reform task force.

Briefly, What is Superfund?

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), enacted in 1980, and the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), enacted in 1986, are the federal statutes that provide EPA with the responsibility and authority to identify and clean up contaminated sites throughout the country that pose harm to human health and the environment. CERCLA holds those responsible, in whole or in part, for releases of hazardous substances at a site through a joint and several, strict liability scheme. Those that can be found liable include current and former site owners and operators, as well as waste generators and those that arrange for the disposal of hazardous substances at the site.…

June 13, 2017

Who pays for one of the costliest cleanups ever?

Source:, June 12, 2017
By: Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder

Lurking under the surface of the lower 8.3 miles of New Jersey’s Passaic River are blue crabs, fish and tens of thousands of pounds of cancer-causing contaminants.

The Passaic is one of the nation’s most polluted rivers. And it’s expected to see one of the costliest cleanups ever under U.S. EPA’s Superfund program.

The estimated $1.4 billion cleanup cost falls on the shoulders of over 100 companies that have contributed to the river’s contamination over the years.

But apportioning the expenses — and forcing companies to pay up — isn’t easy and wades into complicated legal waters.

EPA last year reached a $165 million settlement with Occidental Chemical Corp., or OxyChem, one of the liable parties responsible for the former Diamond Alkali factory on the Passaic in Newark, which produced the Agent Orange herbicide in the 1960s (Greenwire, Oct. 6, 2016).

But OxyChem has accused another one of the responsible parties — Maxus Energy Corp. — of trying to get out of its monetary responsibilities through a bankruptcy declaration.…