New York Times

December 19, 2013

Facing Suit, City Agrees to Remove Mold in Public Housing More Quickly

Source: The New York Times, December 17, 2013
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The New York City Housing Authority will deal more quickly and more thoroughly with mold in its apartments as part of an agreement by the Bloomberg administration to settle a federal lawsuit by people living in housing projects and coping with asthma.

Lawyers for the residents accused the agency of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by allowing mold to persist, exacerbating the respiratory ailments of residents. Since Hurricane Sandy, mold has become more common in public housing. But even before the storm, tenants had long complained that maintenance workers failed to identify the leaks and other sources of moisture that cause the mold. Instead, the workers clean off walls and ceilings and repaint, and the mold often returns.

Since notifying the city of their intent to file a class-action suit, lawyers for the tenants have been negotiating a settlement. The agreement is expected to be filed in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, shortly after the lawsuit is filed. The settlement will require the authority not only to remove the mold but also to fix leaks, insulate pipes and address other sources of moisture. The agency will be required, in most cases, to fix the problem within seven to 15 days following a work order.

The agreement covers all of the more 400,000 tenants in public housing. But it requires housing officials to recognize asthma as a disability and to make accommodations for tenants with the condition. For example, the authority could be expected to relocate a person with asthma and his or her family to another apartment, or to use low-toxicity fungicides or to allow extra air-conditioning units in apartments.…

December 18, 2013

Scientists Turn Their Gaze Toward Tiny Threats to Great Lakes

Source: The New York Times, December 15, 2013
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The newest environmental threat to the Great Lakes is very, very small.

Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries like facial scrubs and toothpastes are slipping through water treatment plants and turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes. There, fish and other aquatic life eat them along with the pollutants they carry — which scientists fear could be working their way back up the food chain to humans.

Scientists have worried about plastic debris in the oceans for decades, but focused on enormous accumulations of floating junk. More recently, the question of smaller bits has gained attention, because plastics degrade so slowly and become coated with poisons in the water like the cancer-causing chemicals known as PCBs.

”Unfortunately, they look like fish food,” said Marcus Eriksen, executive director of the 5 Gyres organization, speaking of the beads found in the oceans and, now, the lakes. His group works to eliminate plastic pollution.

Studies published in recent months have drawn attention to the Great Lakes, where there may be even greater concentrations of plastic particles than are found in oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also been looking at the impact of microplastics on marine life.…

April 11, 2013

Revisiting the Facts on Fracking

Source: The New York Times, April 9, 2013

In their op-ed “The Facts on Fracking” (Views, March 14), Susan Brantley and Anna Meyendorff use a highly speculative estimate of the gas supply in the Marcellus shale of Eastern America that prevailed for years at the U.S. Energy Department. Using actual results from drilled wells, in 2011 U.S. government geologists slashed the Energy Department figures by about two-thirds.

The writers’ more troubling claim is a well failure rate of “1 to 2 percent.” Last fall, researchers at Cornell University compiled data from Pennsylvania regulators’ reports to confirm failure rates due to faulty cement and/or casing of 6 to 8.9 percent each year since 2010. These were wells just completed, from which methane could migrate into the atmosphere as a green-house gas or contaminate aquifers.

Methane in aquifers has found its way into homes via water wells. Many American families have seen their property values vaporize and their homes rendered unlivable. Drilling companies have settled numerous lawsuits.

Earlier industry studies suggest that over time, cement or casing in half the wells drilled may eventually fail. While calamities from leaky wells are unusual — small comfort if it affects your drinking water, or the water in your favorite stream — let us recognize the magnitude of risk: More than 6,000 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania, with 100,000 planned. A dozen states have industrial drilling.

Paul Roberts Friendsville, Maryland

Winemaker and citizen representative on a state commission studying shale gas development in Maryland.…

December 11, 2012

Hypothermia and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Cases Soar in City After Hurricane

Source: New York Times Online, November 29, 2012
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The number of cold-exposure cases in New York City tripled in the weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck compared with the same period in previous years, the health department reported in an alert to thousands of doctors and other health care providers on Wednesday.

And even though power and heat have been restored to most of the city, there are still thousands of people living in the cold, the department said.

The department warned health care providers that residents living in unheated homes faced “a significant risk of serious illness and death from multiple causes.”

The number of cases of carbon monoxide exposure, which can be fatal, was more than 10 times as high as expected the week of the storm and 6 times as high the next week, reflected in greater numbers of emergency department visits. Calls to the city’s poison center also increased, health officials said.

And as temperatures dip, health officials said the cold could lead to other health problems, including a worsening of heart and lung diseases and an increase in anxiety and depression.

“My bigger concern is what happens in the future as we get closer to winter in the next four weeks,” Dr. Thomas A. Farley, the city’s health commissioner, said in an interview. “There are probably about 12,000 people living in unheated apartments right now.”

Between Nov. 3 and 21, more than three times as many people visited emergency rooms for cold exposure as appeared during the same time periods from 2008 to 2011, the health department said. The storm hit on Oct. 29.…

November 14, 2011

Gas Drillers Invade Hunters’ Pennsylvania Paradise

Source: The New York Times, November 12, 2011
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For those who have ever stalked deer, turkey and bear here in “God’s Country” in north central Pennsylvania, this hunting season is like no other.

For one thing, it is louder. The soundtrack of birds chirping, thorns scraping against a hunter’s brush pants and twigs crunching underfoot is now accompanied by the dull roar of compressor stations and the chugging of big trucks up these hills.

Some of this state’s most prized game lands lie atop the Marcellus Shale, a vast reserve of natural gas. And now more and more drills are piercing the hunting grounds. Nine wells have cropped up on this one game land of roughly 7,000 wooded acres in Potter County, and permits have been issued for 19 more.

An old dirt road that meanders up a ridge here has been widened and fortified. Acres of aspen, maple and cherry trees have been cut. In their place is an industrial encampment of rigs, pipes and water-storage ponds, all to support the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, a process known as fracking.

“Who wants to go into their deer stand in the predawn darkness and listen to a compressor station?” lamented Bob Volkmar, 63, an environmental scientist who went grouse hunting the other day through these noisy autumnal woods. “It kind of ruins the experience.”

Like many hunters, Mr. Volkmar is upset that the State Game Commission is giving over more public land to the gas companies, which does not exactly fulfill the agency’s mission to enhance the hunting experience. The game lands, as he points out, were bought with the proceeds from licenses and fees paid by hunters and trappers.…

March 9, 2011

PA Gas Well Waste Monitoring to be Increased

Read here about the EPA asking Pennsylvania to increase their monitoring of gas well waste.…

March 3, 2011

Pressure Grows for Answers on Fracking

Source: New York Times Online, March 3, 2011
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Congressional Democrats are demanding answers from the Environmental Protection Agency about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, a form of natural gas drilling also known as fracking, after revelations that wastewater from such drilling, which contains radioactive material, is regularly dumped into rivers and streams without proper treatment.

The dumping of the contaminated water was detailed in an investigative series on natural gas drilling by Ian Urbina of The New York Times that began on Sunday.

The natural gas industry has repeatedly claimed that fracking can be done safely, Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement . We now know we need a full investigation into exactly how fracking is done and what it does to our drinking water and our environment.

Americans should not have to consume radioactive materials from their drinking water as a byproduct of natural gas production, he said.…

March 3, 2011

Officials call for water testing after report details radioactive shale waste

Source: Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA), March 2, 1011
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U.S. Sen. Bob Casey joined a chorus of lawmakers on Tuesday seeking additional testing of public water supplies following a report that the wastewater produced from Marcellus Shale gas wells in Pennsylvania contains higher levels of radioactive materials than was previously disclosed.

An article published Sunday in The New York Times detailed a lack of testing for those radioactive constituents at 65 public water intakes downstream from treatment plants that have discharged Marcellus Shale wastewater into rivers.

State regulators have limited how much drilling wastewater publicly-owned sewer plants can discharge since 2008, and further discharge restrictions were adopted by the state last August.

“Alarming information has been raised that must be fully investigated,” Mr. Casey said and asked both the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to “increase inspections of Pennsylvania drinking water resources for radioactive material and to account for why sufficient inspections haven’t taken place.”…

March 1, 2011

Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers

Source: The New York Times, February 27, 2011
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The American landscape is dotted with hundreds of thousands of new wells and drilling rigs, as the country scrambles to tap into this century’s gold rush — for natural gas.

The gas has always been there, of course, trapped deep underground in countless tiny bubbles, like frozen spills of seltzer water between thin layers of shale rock. But drilling companies have only in recent years developed techniques to unlock the enormous reserves, thought to be enough to supply the country with gas for heating buildings, generating electricity and powering vehicles for up to a hundred years.

So energy companies are clamoring to drill. And they are getting rare support from their usual sparring partners. Environmentalists say using natural gas will help slow climate change because it burns more cleanly than coal and oil. Lawmakers hail the gas as a source of jobs. They also see it as a way to wean the United States from its dependency on other countries for oil.…

February 3, 2011

Copper Plant Illegally Burned Hazardous Waste, E.P.A. Says

Source:, October 11, 2006
By: Ralph Blumenthal

A bankrupt copper giant facing billions of dollars in pollution claims across the nation pretended for years to recycle metals while illegally burning hazardous waste in a notorious El Paso smelter, according to a newly released Environmental Protection Agency document.

The agency, in a 1998 internal memorandum, said the company, Asarco, and its Corpus Christi subsidiary, Encycle, had a permit to extract metals from hazardous waste products but used that as a cover to burn the waste until the late 1990’s, saving the high costs of proper disposal.…