The Animas River Stakeholders Group is bringing on Boston-based InnoCentive to help solve the acid mine drainage problem around Silverton

October 20, 2012

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The problem will be turned over to InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has 260,000 individual “solvers” eager to tackle challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and physical and life sciences.

Members of the stakeholder steering committee Wednesday devised a tentative agenda outlining problems they want to solve. The group will meet again within a month to refine its proposal.

“InnoCentive has all these problem-solvers who think out of the box and check in looking for a challenge,” committee member Bill Simon said. “In the end, the solution is ours to use.”

The problem-solver and InnoCentive get paid, and it isn’t cheap, Simon said. But acidic drainage from mines is a worldwide problem, which could win financial support from mining interests, environmental groups and government agencies…

Today, four mines – Sunnyside, Mogul, Gold King No. 7 and Red & Bonita – send up to 800 gallons a minute of iron, zinc, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, manganese and aluminum into Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas River at Silverton.

The stream is so toxic that biologists think the water never sustained aquatic life.

More Animas River Watershed coverage here.


New EPA rules for coal-fired electrical generation plants may reduce mercury in waterways

December 27, 2011

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From the Colorado News Connection (Kathleen Ryan) via The Durango Herald:

David Ellenberger, Rocky Mountain regional coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, says the scrubbers will reduce mercury pollution by at least 91 percent. He adds that cleaner air translates into cleaner water for Colorado’s lakes and rivers. “It’s absolutely a huge step forward in protecting public health, our children and our wildlife from these aspects of this hazardous air pollution.”[...]

Elemental mercury finds its way into lakes and reservoirs from prevailing winds, precipitation and runoff. It is converted to toxic methylmercury by microorganisms, the bottom of the food chain. Arsenic and selenium also contaminate fish but to a lesser degree than mercury…

Some utilities criticize the new rules as too onerous, especially as they pertain to older coal plants that may not be suitable for scrubber retrofits. The EPA estimates meeting the standards will cost utilities about $11 million nationwide. Ellenberger claims the savings in health-care costs more than make up for the expense. “The EPA estimates that for every dollar the utilities are about to spend on pollution controls at their coal-fired power plants, public health is going to benefit by about $13, which is pretty impressive,” he said.

More mercury pollution coverage here.


San Juan Mountains: Research into high mercury levels

January 25, 2011

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

“In 2007 we began to study mercury because very little was known about its presence in Southwest Colorado other than that reservoirs had fish-consumption advisories, and that precipitation sometimes deposited heavy concentrations of mercury at Mesa Verde National Park,” former institute director Koren Nydick said last week by telephone.

As result of mercury accumulation in fish, the state of Colorado has posted advisories at McPhee, Totten, Narraguinnep and Vallecito reservoirs and Najavo Lake cautioning about consumption of fish from those waters.

Kelly Palmer, a Bureau of Land Management hydrologist, said as a result of the Mountain Studies Institute pilot study at Molas Pass, the San Juan National Forest in 2009 initiated a long-term mercury-monitoring program there.

“It appears the levels of mercury are notable,” Palmer said last week…

Analysis of mercury and weather data collected from 2002 to 2008 at Mesa Verde points to coal-fired power plants in New Mexico as potential sources of mercury. Analysis of pollution components as well as potential sources and storm pathways support the theory, Nydick said.

But they don’t pinpoint specific sources and don’t definitely rule out the possibility that storms were carrying pollution from elsewhere when they passed over the New Mexico plants…

In June 2009, researchers from MSI and other agencies spent a day in Mancos Canyon trapping and releasing songbirds after testing their blood for mercury. They also collected crayfish, spiders, sow bugs, cicadas and centipedes and planned to return to electro-shock fish for testing.

“Wetland-dependent songbirds were chosen for study, in addition to fish and crayfish, because research shows they can accumulate methyl mercury,” Nydick said at the time. “It appears they accumulate methyl mercury from prey such as spiders that are a link between the aquatic and terrestrial food webs. That is why we collect invertebrates, soil and dead foliage to analyze for mercury, too.”

More mercury pollution coverage here and here.


Energy policy — coal: Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants rise recently across the U.S.

March 21, 2010

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From The Denver Post (Renee Schoof):

Many coal- fired power plants lack widely available pollution controls for the highly toxic metal mercury, and mercury emissions recently increased at more than half of the country’s 50 largest mercury-emitting power plants, according to a report released Wednesday. Five of the 10 plants with the highest amount of mercury emitted are in Texas, according to the nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project. Plants in Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Michigan also are in the top 10. The report, which used the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, found that mercury emissions increased at 27 of the top 50 plants from 2007 to 2008. Overall, power- plant emissions of mercury decreased 4.7 percent in that period, but that amount was far less than what would be possible with available emissions controls, the report said. No Colorado plants were among the top 50 cited.

More coal coverage here and here.


Colorado to release 303d list on Tuesday

March 7, 2010

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Anderson):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Tuesday will adopt a lengthy list (pdf) of Colorado waters it has deemed impaired.

Despite the city of Grand Junction’s attempts to reverse the decision, the list likely will include Juniata Reservoir on Grand Mesa, which provides a majority of Grand Junction’s drinking water. The city temporarily closed the reservoir to visitors and fishermen before opening it again in late February, when the Health Department told the city the closure would not get the reservoir off the impaired-waters list…

Steve Gunderson, director of the state Health Department’s water-quality division, said most items on the list have water-contamination problems, but some areas get listed just for having active fish-consumption advisories, such as the one Juniata has…

City Attorney John Shaver said the city likely will offer suggestions to the Health Department staff about changing the methodology for listing bodies of water on the impaired list so the list would reflect water, and not fish, contamination.

More mercury pollution coverage here and here.


Juniata Reservoir fish consumption advisory due to mercury

February 21, 2010

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From the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Emily Anderson):

The statement adds that the city “is extremely concerned about public misinterpretations of the potential listing of its pristine terminal drinking water source reservoir as being impaired by mercury,” because the reservoir is at risk for addition to a state list of bodies of water that don’t meet water quality standards. The reservoir was adopted as a “high priority” on the list when it received preliminary approval from the state Water Quality Control Commission on Feb. 8. Although most bodies of water on the list are included because of water contamination, Juniata Reservoir and a few other bodies were included solely for having a fish-consumption advisory, according to Steve Gunderson, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s water quality division. “The levels of mercury in the water, you wouldn’t be able to detect them,” Gunderson said. “You’re talking extremely low mercury, but it accumulates in the fish. Gunderson said state health officials are meeting with city officials about taking Juniata off the list if they can get rid of all contaminated fish or isolate the reservoir. The final list will not be adopted until March 9.

More infrastructure coverage here.


USGS: Mercury in fish widespread

August 23, 2009

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Here’s the abstract from the study:

Mercury (Hg) was examined in top-predator fish, bed sediment, and water from streams that spanned regional and national gradients of Hg source strength and other factors thought to influence methylmercury (MeHg) bioaccumulation. Sampled settings include stream basins that were agricultural, urbanized, undeveloped (forested, grassland, shrubland, and wetland land cover), and mined (for gold and Hg). Each site was sampled one time during seasonal low flow. Predator fish were targeted for collection, and composited samples of fish (primarily skin-off fillets) were analyzed for total Hg (THg), as most of the Hg found in fish tissue (95–99 percent) is MeHg. Samples of bed sediment and stream water were analyzed for THg, MeHg, and characteristics thought to affect Hg methylation, such as loss-on-ignition (LOI, a measure of organic matter content) and acid-volatile sulfide in bed sediment, and pH, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and dissolved sulfate in water. Fish-Hg concentrations at 27 percent of sampled sites exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency human-health criterion of 0.3 micrograms per gram wet weight. Exceedances were geographically widespread, although the study design targeted specific sites and fish species and sizes, so results do not represent a true nationwide percentage of exceedances. The highest THg concentrations in fish were from blackwater coastal-plain streams draining forests or wetlands in the eastern and southeastern United States, as well as from streams draining gold- or Hg-mined basins in the western United States (1.80 and 1.95 micrograms THg per gram wet weight, respectively). For unmined basins, length-normalized Hg concentrations in largemouth bass were significantly higher in fish from predominantly undeveloped or mixed-land-use basins compared to urban basins. Hg concentrations in largemouth bass from unmined basins were correlated positively with basin percentages of evergreen forest and also woody wetland, especially with increasing proximity of these two land-cover types to the sampling site; this underscores the greater likelihood for Hg bioaccumulation to occur in these types of settings. Increasing concentrations of MeHg in unfiltered stream water, and of bed-sediment MeHg normalized by LOI, and decreasing pH and dissolved sulfate were also important in explaining increasing Hg concentrations in largemouth bass. MeHg concentrations in bed sediment correlated positively with THg, LOI, and acid-volatile sulfide. Concentrations of MeHg in water correlated positively with DOC, ultraviolet absorbance, and THg in water, the percentage of MeHg in bed sediment, and the percentage of wetland in the basin.

More mecury pollution coverage here and here.


Silverton: New mercury monitoring gear

July 14, 2009

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The monitor – atop an 8-foot-high platform – consists of a glass jar enclosed in a metal box, the roof of which retracts when a sensor detects precipitation. The sensor notes when it stops raining or snowing and the roof slides back to protect the jar from contaminants. Hydrochloric acid in the jar binds with the mercury to prevent it from evaporating. The jars are collected weekly and sent to Frontier GeoSciences in Seattle for analysis.

“After the mercury study by the Mountain Studies Institute in 2007 and 2008, we felt we should take a closer look,” [Bureau of Land Management hydrologist Kelly Palmer] said. “After all, we’re charged with protecting the pristine quality of Class 1 airsheds such as Mesa Verde and the Weminuche Wilderness.” Scientists suspect the main source of mercury is power plants in the Four Corners.

Over time, data on weekly and total mercury accumulation will give scientists a good picture of the situation in the San Juan Mountains and allow them to compare results with 120 similar sites in the country, including two in Alaska, Palmer said…

Later this summer, the Environmental Protection Agency will install an apparatus next to the mercury monitor to measure gaseous mercury, an airborne form of mercury that reacts rapidly with precipitation or particulate matter and can be deposited in wet or dry form. Roger Claybrooke, a meteorologist with the NADP, and a half-dozen BLM and Forest Service seasonal employees did the hands-on work June 30. In addition to installing the mercury monitor, they replaced an old rain gauge on a separate platform a few yards away. A third platform holds a monitor that measures sulfur, nitrogen and organic content in precipitation. The Claybrooke team also wired the instruments on the three stations to talk to one another. The rain gauge data should correlate with that of the mercury monitor on the amount of precipitation and when it fell.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


Mercury pollution: Many questions some answers

April 5, 2009

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Here’s a look at mercury pollution in Colorado, from Mark Jaffe writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

The heavy metal, however, isn’t found in fish in all lakes or all species in tainted lakes — a phenomenon in Colorado and in other parts of the country. So scientists are now trying to unravel the mystery of why it pops up in Carter Lake walleye, but not those in Chatfield Reservoir. “We’ve got some very hot fish in some, but not in all our reservoirs,” said Nicole Vieira, a state Division of Wildlife aquatic toxicologist. “If we can figure out what is at work, we might be able to manage the fish stocks to reduce mercury,” she said. At the same time, Colorado has issued regulations requiring mercury air emissions from power plants — a prime source of the pollutant — be cut 90 percent by 2018…

A dusting of mercury is falling into lakes and rivers all across the country — the Environmental Protection Agency estimates more than 112 tons of mercury emissions was generated in 2005. Among the largest sources are power plants, cement kilns, refineries and commercial boilers, according to the EPA. But the inorganic mercury coming out of those smokestacks would just sit on a lake bottom if not for bacteria that turn it into methylmercury — which animals along the food chain can absorb. Every state has issued mercury health advisories on eating fish, according to the EPA. Methylmercury poisoning can impair vision, walking, speech and hearing. Children suffer neurological damage with just a tenth of the exposure it takes to harm adults. A pregnant woman eating tainted fish can also can hurt her baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Women of child-rearing age are also advised to limit consumption of mercury-tainted fish because it takes eight to nine months for the body to purge the toxic. Colorado advisories to limit consumption are triggered when 0.5 parts per million of mercury or more is found in fish tissue. “The more we learn, the more damaging mercury turns out to be to a child’s brain,” said Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council…

“It is a complicated process, and we are trying to break it down,” said Steven Gunderson, director of water quality for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Lake Pueblo, for example, is not far from a steel mill but has no fish advisories, Gunderson said. Brush Hollow Reservoir, 30 miles away in Penrose, has a mercury problem.

In 2004, the state health department and the Division of Wildlife drew up a list of the 120 most-fished bodies of water and began testing their fish. About 112 have now been tested, and 23 have fish with elevated mercury levels — from Totten Reservoir west of Durango to Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins. The “hot” fish species have varied from lake to lake and include walleye, lake trout, northern pike, largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, saugeye and wiper. “These are all predators, top-of-the-food-chain fish, where the mercury gets concentrated,” said Alisa Mast, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


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