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

Annapolis Environmental Law Blog

It's a dessert! It's a floor wax! The fracking debate continues

Two new reports have been added to the literature about hydraulic fracturing. Early this month, the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Natural Resources published a draft of their joint report about the risks associated with oil and gas exploration and extraction in the westernmost counties of the state.

The draft will be open for comment until Nov. 17 on the MDE website. The researchers say that there is a greater risk of traffic congestion and motor vehicle accidents at drilling sites than there is of water contamination.

What you should know about asbestos exposure

When destructive behaviors combine with toxic materials, the results can be devastating. Sadly, there are too many people who don't care about or fail to understand the extent to which they may be harming someone with their irresponsible and unlawful actions. This is often the case when it comes to asbestos exposure.

For decades, employers, product manufacturers and property owners looked the other way while their workers, consumers and tenants were regularly exposed to asbestos. This happened even though people understood the dangers of asbestos and knew that it could lead to catastrophic illnesses like mesothelioma. Even today, the reckless and negligent behaviors involving asbestos continue to put lives in danger.

Officials take the scenic route to assess impact of chemical spill p4

This is the final part of our discussion about the Elk River chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia. A storage tank owned by chemical company Freedom Industries Inc. leaked as much as 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or crude MCHM, into the water supply of about 300,000 residents. Not knowing how much of a risk the chemical posed to humans, the state banned the use of water for anything but flushing toilets. Within a few days, though authorities did not know much more than they had before the ban, the state began to lift the ban.

As we said in our last post, health authorities from the state and the federal government have been working to understand the impact of the spill on residents' health. Progress, however, is slow. A survey showed that 1 in 5 respondents had experienced some type of aftereffect from the spill, but, again, not much is known about what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the state Bureau for Public Health should be looking for.

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.