Law Offices of Roy L. Mason, P.A.

Annapolis Environmental Law Blog

Officials take the scenic route to assess impact of chemical spill p3

Four months after the Elk River chemical spill, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health began to gather information about the effects of the spill on residents. As we have noted in our past two posts, the Elk River is the primary source of water for about 300,000 people in West Virginia's capital, Charleston.

The company responsible for the spill, Freedom Industries Inc., had no idea what the risks of exposure to the primary chemical mixture in the spill, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or "crude MCHM." They were not alone, though: State health authorities were equally at sea. As the right hand struggled to clean up the mess (Freedom Industries sought bankruptcy protection a month after the spill), the left hand struggled to understand what could possibly happen to anyone who was exposed to the contaminated water.

Officials take the scenic route to assess impact of chemical spill p2

We are talking about the chemical spill near Charleston, West Virginia. The better term may be "chemicals spill," because the storage tank belonging to Freedom Industries Inc. was leaking a mixture called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, shorthanded as "crude MCHM." The company reported the spill on January 9, and it quickly became clear that Freedom Industries had no idea how long there had been a leak and no idea how much crude MCHM had escaped the storage tank.

To make matters worse, the crude MCHM was leaking into the Elk River, a primary source of drinking water for Charleston. The state warned 300,000 residents not to use the water for anything other than flushing toilets. The ban lasted for days as the company and the state scrambled to learn more about the chemicals and how to deal with the emergency. The ban was in place for four or five days, but residents were turning up at emergency rooms weeks later with health problems that could have been related to crude MCHM exposure.

Officials take the scenic route to assess impact of chemical spill

The Jan. 9, 2014, chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia, affected the drinking water of more than 300,000 people. Residents living near the Elk River were the first to report a suspicious odor, and they may well be the last to feel the effects of the spill.

The incident revealed some hard truths about the company responsible, Freedom Industries Inc., and the state. For example, the company not only failed to report the spill, but when officials arrived at the plant it was clear that the company had done nothing to respond to the emergency. The chemical mixture, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol or crude MCHM, was leaking from a 30,000-gallon tank; Freedom Industries had no idea how much MCHM had spilled, had not stopped the leak and had not tried to contain or to mitigate the harm caused by the MCHM that had escaped.

Mirror mirror on the wall, what's the most toxic cosmetic of all?

Cosmetics companies have long touted the benefits of protecting the skin from exposure to the sun, the elements, free radicals and a long list of natural and man-made toxins. Damaged skin, after all, makes a person -- especially a woman -- look older, and no one wants that.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan consumer watchdog, has said for a long time that the products may pose their own risks. Not all of the ingredients are safe for humans, it seems. In fact, when it comes to personal care products, more than 10 percent of the ingredients are industrial chemicals. And when it comes to industrial chemicals, the risks associated with long-term exposure include cancer and reproductive issues, among other things.

Once upon a time, there was a sleepy village named Love Canal ...

A Dutch company specializing in water treatment and air purification systems has a page on its website devoted to the 10 worst environmental disasters. There are actually two lists: one for natural disasters and one for anthropogenic disasters. The criteria used to determine each disaster's rank included total death toll, the number of injuries, lasting damage and media exposure.

The list of natural disasters comprises earthquakes, epidemics, floods, tornadoes and, it would seem, the rest of the 10 plagues of Egypt. The histories are both tragic and fascinating.

The list of anthropogenic disasters -- that is, the disasters that have come about as a result of human activity -- is both tragic and appalling. Bhopal is first, Chernobyl second. Scan down to the sixth entry, and you see Love Canal.

Employees ask, if the mold is gone, why are we still sick?

There is a certain formula to home renovation shows. For example, if the house went up before 1980 or so, you know there will be an asbestos problem. If the house is in a warm or humid region -- like, say, Maryland -- you know they will find evidence of termite damage. And, of course, if the house has been neglected for a time, there will be that moment when the show's host rips through some sheetrock and says, "Wow, this could be a problem."

He has found mold.

The mold may be "active" -- the area is still damp, a pipe is still leaking -- which means a big job in home reno terms. If the mold is "dry," it is a small job: The roof was fixed or the window frame was sealed, but no one had bothered to open up the walls to see if there was any damage. Either way, mold is bad, and living with mold can result in a number of health problems.

Anne Arundel bans rubble landfills; fate of two projects uncertain

The Anne Arundel County Council voted unanimously this week to ban new rubble landfills beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Originally, proponents asked only that the ban apply to residential areas. An amendment expanded the measure to include the entire county.

While the council was unanimous, other city officials warned against the ban. The county attorney suggested that the ban could encroach on landowners' property rights, and an argument over property rights would likely end up in court. The list of potential plaintiffs starts with two local developers who have been trying to open new rubble landfills for several years.

New EPA study links fracking to water contamination

States all over the nation are questioning the safety of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Although this practice has helped to push certain natural resource extraction rates to record levels, many safety experts warn that this progress is linked to unacceptable risks.

One of the biggest concerns voiced by many safety experts is that fracking may lead to otherwise preventable water contamination. Recently, an internal document produced in March of this year by the federal Environmental Protection Agency was leaked on the Internet. The document confirms what many safety experts have suspected for some time.

Hey there, fine-particle emission, new in town?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed the Environmental Protection Agency a victory that could clear the air a bit in Maryland. The court upheld the EPA's interpretation of the Cross-state Air Pollution Rule, also known as the Transport Rule.

States affected by the rule fall into one of two categories: upwind and downwind. An upwind state is where the air pollution is created. The fine-particle emissions and ozone-level air pollution drift across state borders, affecting the air quality in the states along the way, the downwind states. Specifically, the rule calls on coal-fired power plants in the upwind states to limit their harmful emissions. Not only will the plants' home states benefit from the reduction in pollutants, but the downwind states will as well.

Maryland community awaits reliable water contamination tests

One of the most basic human needs is water. In many parts of Maryland, residents rely on their local municipality to provide a safe and reliable water supply. In order to do this, communities must be diligent in order to ensure that the water is safe for consumption.

In Fort Detrick, local officials have been weighing the viability of installing wells on a specific plot of land, but issues have arisen. The problem? The groundwater at this site may have been contaminated by chemicals seeping from a local landfill. In order to ensure the safety of the water from the proposed well sites, the city has contracted a firm to conduct water contamination testing.