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April 17, 2013

Emerging Contaminants in the Terrestrial Ecosystem

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , , , , — lecollin @ 11:52 am
Rodrigo Pena/The Press-Enterprise

Rodrigo Pena/The Press-Enterprise

Emerging contaminants are pollutants that have been recently discovered in the environment and can have adverse effects on both the ecosystem and humans. Ranging in effect from neurotoxin to endocrine disruptors these contaminants can cause reproductive issues and hormone disorders and some become more dangerous as they bioaccumulate up the food chain. Some, but not all of these emerging contaminants are regulated by the EPA and those which are can sometimes be given too high an allowance, causing states to step in and impose stricter standards.

PBB’s and PDBE’s are forms of brominated fire retardants that are used in a variety of commercial products including furniture, electrical devices, and even children’s pajamas. Being hydrophobic and bonding very well to soil particles these chemicals have a tendency to bioaccumulate in the terrestrial ecosystem. (De Wit 2002) These characteristics also allow the chemicals to become a non-point source by binding to airborne particulates and potentially travelling very far, causing difficulty in locating the source of contamination. (ATSDR 2004) PBB’s and PDBE’s have been identified as possible neurotoxins and are known endocrine disruptors. Despite these risks there are no federal guidelines or cleanup standards for these chemicals. (EPA 2010)

Laboratory research has begun to develop potential treatment methods for PBB and PBDE contaminants in the terrestrial ecosystem however. One such study includes the degradation of polybrominated diphenyl ethers by a sequential treatment with nanoscale zero valent iron (nZVI) and aerobic biodegradation. Reductive debromination and oxidation of 1 mg of deca-BDE with 100 mg/vial of nZVI proved highly effective, resulting in a 67% reduction of deca-BDE over a 20 day period. This method could help pave the way to a remediation strategy for highly halogenated pollutants in contaminated sites. (Kim, Y.-M et. al 2012)

Perchlorate is another contaminant, mainly used in the production of munitions, explosives, and found as a product of Chilean fertilizer imports, which poses a threat to terrestrial ecosystems. Unlike PBB’s perchlorate is highly soluble, which greatly increases its potential to leach into groundwater sources. Found in heavy concentrations at military shooting ranges and development sites this chemical commonly enters the ecosystem through mass burnings or burying of old munitions by the military. (ITRC 2005) Perchlorate has been known to infiltrate food supply via groundwater and show up in traceable concentrations, which can affect the thyroid. (FDA 2008) There is federal regulation by the EPA for perchlorates under the Safe Drinking Water Act, though the effectiveness at 15 micrograms per liter permissible is debatable. In contrast the states of Massachusetts and California have stricter standards on perchlorates with permissible levels in water being 2 and 6 micrograms respectively. (CDPH 2010 & Mass. DEP 2006)

In regards to treatment, there are a handful of methods that have been used to remediate perchlorate. Perchlorate can be completely reduced to chloride by acclimated bacteria via cell respiration in fixed-bed bioreactors, although design factors need further investigation. (Kim & Logan 2000) Other off site laboratory methods include ion exchange with perchlorate-selective resins or liquid phase carbon adsorption using granular activated carbon (GAC). On site cleanups have also been underway. The Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR), a 22,000-acre property sit over an aquifer that has been contaminated by fuel spills and other past activities at MMR’s Otis Air Force Base. One cleanup effort is a program managed by the army that implements technologies such as the aerial magnetometry that assist with the detection of metal objects on or below ground surface.

More extensive research on emerging contaminants can be found via the hyperlink at the beginning of this blog entry.

By Rian Downs & Ryan Gobar

Works Cited

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2004. Toxicological Profile for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers and Polybrominated Biphenyls.

California Department of Public Health (CDPH). 2011. Perchlorate in Drinking Water.

De Wit, C. A. 2002. An Overview of Brominated Flame Retardants in the Environment. Chemosphere. Volume 46. Pages 583 to 624.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2008. U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Total Diet Study: Dietary intake of Perchlorate and Iodine.

Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (ITRC). 2005. Perchlorate: Overview of Issues, Status, and Remedial Options.

Kijung Kim and Bruce E. Logan. Environmental Engineering Science. SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2000, 17(5): 257-265. doi:10.1089/ees.2000.17.257.

Kim, Y.-M., Murugesan, K., Chang, Y.-Y., Kim, E.-J. and Chang, Y.-S. (2012), Degradation of polybrominated diphenyl ethers by a sequential treatment with nanoscale zero valent iron and aerobic biodegradation. J. Chem. Technol. Biotechnol., 87: 216–224. doi: 10.1002/jctb.2699

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). 2006. Perchlorate Information.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2010. DecaBDE Phase-out Initiative.



Water Privatization

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , — lecollin @ 10:55 am

“Food and water are basic rights. But we pay for food. Why should we not pay for water?” 
-Ismail Serageldin at the Second World Water Forum

Water privatization is a current, controversial issue that also seems to be relatively misunderstood. Water privatization is the private ownership of water-related infrastructure, and is not a new concept.

World Bank data indicates a sharp rise in the investment into private water projects. Source: Bakker --same article as in citations/works cited

World Bank data indicates a sharp rise in the investment into private water projects. Source: Bakker –same article as in citations/works cited

Public and private, artisanal and industrial, corporate and community controlled water supply systems coexist around the world (Bakker 36). “Privatization” of the water sector can be understood as private enterprises, rather than governments, obtaining control of water-related infrastructure. Examples include “operation of a water delivery or transport system, a complete transfer of system ownership, or even sale of publicly owned water rights to private companies” as defined by the Pacific Institute. Water, when privatized, is then treated like any other economic good.  *

Deaths due to sub-par water quality and availability are prevalent in poor countries. Proponents of privately owned water believe this would be improved by replacing public infrastructure. IMG source

Deaths due to sub-par water quality and availability are prevalent in poor countries. Proponents of privately owned water believe this would be improved by replacing public infrastructure. IMG source

Proponents and opponents of water privatization stand divided on a number of issues, ethical as well as environmental and economical. Those in favor of water privatization believe that private management will encourage conservation of water, and it can be priced accordingly. It is believed that privatized, clean water could also better be delivered to those humans normally struggling to find safe access to it.  Opponents believe water ought to be protected by more than market forces, and may find it unethical to make a profit supplying people with a resource essential for life, ecological health, and human dignity (Bakker 47). Opponents also find the possibility of private management, driven by greed, will create environmental harm–namely pollution and scarcity of water.

A question Susan Spronk poses in her article, is privatization really the alternative if a government fails to supply its citizens with a basic factor to all life? Bolivia provides an excellent case study to examine privatization efforts, as well as provide a case study from which we can base recommendations.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and also home to one of the world’s most contentious water privatization programs. With the World Bank’s assistance in the 1990s, the water systems of some of Bolivia’s poorest regions were put up for sale to private investors and shareholders. A US-owned company, Bechtel, in Cochabamba, Bolivia, gained rights to administer and distribute water in this specific area.  Bechtel extended water access to many communities who had little to no access to water. However, a consequence of their involvement was less welcoming to neighboring cities—the prices for water had a sharp increase.  Bechtel consumed and controlled local wells, water pumps, public system infrastructure that was already in place, and many other resources used by the community for water supply (Mulreany, Calikoglu, and Ruiz ). The costs for these improvements and additions were far too expensive and unrealistic for their generally poor customers–costing up to twice the previous cost people had been paying when water was government-owned. Access for them was still not possible.

bolivia water

These results highlight the complexities of water privatization and differences between economic theory and what happens in the real world–social factors play a huge role. Positive impacts of privatization–ie, access to clean water for underprivileged areas–must have a way to subsidise the cause for poorer communities, as in the case of Bolivia.

Buenos Aires, conversely, experienced a water-privatization case with better results. Image source: (Pacific Institute -- same article cited in text.)

Buenos Aires, conversely, experienced a water-privatization case with better results. Image source: (Pacific Institute — same article cited in text.)

There are understandably many more factors to consider when, where, and how water would ideally be privatized (strength of current system, appropriate market, environmental concerns in the area), but from the Bolivia case study we can draw these conclusions:  We propose that, when water becomes privatized in certain regions for economic gain, a strict set of regulations must be upheld in order for the practice to be fully supportable. Beyond making sure it remains affordable for local communities, human and environmental needs should be prioritized, and all those dependent on the source should have a voice in the decision-making process.

By Meghan Heneghan and Renee Daniel

Works Cited:

Bakker, Karen J. “A Political Ecology of Water Privatization.” Studies in Political Economy (2002)

Gleick, Peter and Gary Wolff, Elizabeth Chalecki, Rachel Reyes . “The New Economy of Water: The Risks and Benefits of Globalization and Privatization of Fresh Water.” February 2002. Pacific Institute.

Mulreany, John P., Sule Calikoglu, and Sonia Ruiz. “Water privatization and public health in Latin America.”SciElo Public Health. 19.01 (2006): n. page. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <>.

Spronk, Susan . “Roots of Resistance to Urban Water Privatization in Bolivia: The “New Working Class,” the Crisis of Neoliberalism, and Public Services1.”International Labor and Working-Class History. 71.01 (2007): 8-28. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <;jsessionid=4CD04064EA4920D7942DDE5BC7393B19.journals?fromPage=online&aid=1354424>.



Emerging Contaminants: A brief look at effects on The Clam and More

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , — lecollin @ 10:44 am

Have you ever tasted a grain of salty baking soda in an otherwise a sweet cookie? That grain of baking soda could be classified as an emerging contaminant, as it has reached levels that were previously not at high enough levels to be noticed. As a society we have managed to develop infrastructure and sewage treatment plants for human waste, but there is new issue. There are certain materials that cannot be removed, and are accumulating in our water.These emerging contaminants, such as PCBs and nonylphenol, ingredients being used in industrial detergents, are being discovered in our waterways.

Household and Industry are two primary sources of emerging contaminants. They interact directly with bodies of water, even in areas that have functioning wastewater treatment systems. Courtesy of Mira Petrović, Susana Gonzalez, Damià Barceló,

Household and Industry are two primary sources of emerging contaminants. They interact directly with bodies of water, even in areas that have functioning wastewater treatment systems. Courtesy of Mira Petrović, Susana Gonzalez, Damià Barceló,

Analysis and removal of emerging contaminants in wastewater and drinking water.

As you might have been able to infer, an emerging contaminant is one that “is being discovered in water that previously had not been detected or are being detected at levels that may be significantly different than expected” as stated on the EPA website. These contaminants, which include human birth control and pesticides just to name a few, are interacting with our ecosystem, often causing adverse health issues in marine organisms. Although emerging contaminants are not as important as other water issues in the context of human health, it is tantamount to the health of the ecosystem that we fully identify what is going on in an attempt to mitigate these pollutants.

The problem with emerging contaminants is that it is not fully understood what the effects of certain unidentifiable pollutants are, but in the marine environment thus far, the effects have been adverse. Some EC’s, such as synthetic estrogen found in birth control that are not destroyed in the sewage treatment process, are released into the ocean and have been shown to cause serious problems for species in the water. According to the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, in a recent project that assessed emerging contaminant effects on coastal fish, they discovered that “some [emerging contaminants] have been shown to cause endocrine disruption after being released to the environment, as they either mimic or interfere with the action of reproductive hormones such as estrogen and testosterone” (SCCWRP 2012). Because many of these contaminants that are entering the marine environment are not monitored by any existing programs due the difficulty in analyzing and quantifying them, not much is know about what the full effects may be on marine organisms and human health.

A program that has existed since 1986 called Mussel Watch, performed by NOAA, is using the success of their water quality monitoring system to further understand emerging contaminants and their effects on the marine ecosystem as well as their potential effects on humans. Mussels, which are a bivalve, filter-feeding species, bioaccumulate contaminants in their tissues and can be used as indicators of local contamination. The program analyzes native bivalves by extracting tissue and analyzing the samples with instruments. The concern is that if the emerging contaminants that so little is known about is disrupting the health of marine species, it may also be bioaccumulating in humans and having unknown adverse effects. We already know and are working to eliminate existing pollutants that are continuously being monitored, but what about the ones we don’t know about? The goal of this addition to the Mussel Watch project is to come to a better understanding of what exactly it is we may be dealing with in the future.

We are currently at a point where we are still identifying all of the different contaminants and what impacts and risks they create to us and our ecosystems. There are various methods of treatment which are can be integrated into pre-existing treatment plants. However, it is a difficult issue that is not fully understood, which makes implementation difficult. It is a step forward, though, that we are addressing these problems before they manifest themselves on a larger scale with other populations, including humans.


By Clayton Greene and Dana Handy


Works Cited

Mira Petrović, Susana Gonzalez, Damià Barceló. “Analysis and removal of emerging contaminants in wastewater and drinking water.TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry. 2003: 685-696. Online Journal.

“Project: Southern California Mussel Watch.” SCCWRP. N.p., 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2013. <>.

Terry L Wade, José L. Sericano, Piero R Gardinali, Gary Wolff, Laura Chambers.  “NOAA’s Mussel Watch project: Current use organic compounds in bivalves”.Volume 37, Issues 1–2, January–February 1998, Pages 20-26. Marine Pollution Bulletin.



Clean Beaches: In the Hands of the People

Filed under: California Drought — Tags: , , , — lecollin @ 10:42 am


Ever seen one of the signs above before? The infamous (and rather alarming) red and white signs warn beachgoers that the water quality in that area is below safe standards. Enacted in 1997, California State legislature passed AB 411 to regulate safe water quality levels. Defined by the EPA, the federal standards are monitored through the Department of Health Services to protect swimmer’s health and local economies. Because 85% of tourism in the U.S. is dependant on coastal regions, there is a lot of pressure to keep local beaches clean. (NRDC-National Resources Defense Council).

Unfortunately, many of the beaches in the U.S. suffer from high levels of bacteria like enterococci and E. coli indicating animal and human waste present in the water. The NRDC graph below shows that beaches are consistently closed for high bacteria levels over other reasons. Officials will often also close beaches for precautionary reasons due to high amounts of rainfall and increased storm water pollution or in rare cases a known sewage leak or oil spill.

However, due to the uncertainty of the economy the EPA has cut $10 million typically given to states for beach water testing and oversight. Now local authorities are presented with the task of cleaning up beaches and identifying the sources of Fecal Indicator Bacteria. The EPA stated that local governments possess the skills and expertise to continue beach testing without federal support (Tribune Business News).

While some people fear that beaches will be in a terrible state due to the budget cuts, local officials are confident that they will be self-sufficient in beach testing. Local comities can also make a difference by promoting green infrastructures. A Green infrastructure is “a network of decentralized stormwater management practices – such as green roofs, trees, rain gardens, and permeable pavement – that can capture and infiltrate rain where it falls” (American Water Works Association). Ultimately green infrastructures would reduce runoff pollution and boost the health of local beaches making them safer for the many beachgoers and the surrounding communities.

Although, federal aid in beach testing has been very important in most states; however, budget cuts do not necessarily mean that all beachgoers health will be at risk. Local authorities are confident that beach testing and frequency will stay the same. According to a Fox news article  Rhonda Kolberg, a member of the Door County Health Department, remains optismtic beach testing will continue frequently this year despite budget cuts. The public should continue to be strong advocates of beach cleanup and water quality testing not only to improve the beauty of U.S. beaches but also to improve their own health and economy.

By Christine Irvin & Esmy Jimenez

Works Cited

Myers, John. “Lake Superior Beach Bacteria Testing Set to Start next Week.” McClatchy – Tribune Business

News, 23 May 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

Smith, Laura. “Funding Cut Jeopardizes Beach Testing.” WLUK TV. N.p., 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

“Testing the Waters.” Testing The Waters, Prevent Beach Pollution. Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012. Web.

27 Mar. 2013.


N.p., 10 Oct. 2000. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.


April 16, 2013

Safe Swimming Water: At What Cost?

Saturday rolls around with a perfect weather forecast, so you head out to the beach hoping to soak up the sun and take a dip in the ocean. Your spirits are high as your feet hit the warm sand until you see a red sign reading “KEEP OUT: Sewage Contaminated Water. Exposure May Cause Illness.” Though the beach closure may seem to ruin your weekend, at least it prevents you from a worse fate: spending the weekend with the stomach flu, pinkeye, or another water-borne illness.

Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act (hyperlink to: of 2000, recreational waters are required to be tested and monitored for indicators of water-borne pathogens. The measurement of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) levels is most common, as the BEACH Act complies with the Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2000). Additionally, the public is to be informed of water quality and health risks associated with coming into contact with polluted water. Federal funds are to be distributed amongst local and state agencies to pay for water quality testing and information dispersal.

Though the nation is facing economic hardship, budget cuts regarding water quality should be limited. Federal funding and regulation is critical to ensure safe water without water-borne illness for swimmers and beach goers. In the long run, funding water quality tests pays off—public health costs due to gastrointestinal illness caused by polluted water were estimated to be tens of millions of dollars each year (Given, et al 2006). Not to mention that about 85% of the nation’s tourism comes from coastal states, much of that coming from visitors spending the day at the beach (NRDC).

However, testing and water quality requirements were already minimal due to a lack of resources, but recent budget cuts have made financial matters even more restricting. The proposed overall budget for the EPA in 2013 is $8.3 billion, $700 million less than the budget in 2012 (EPA, 2013). A $10 million Federal grant to test water quality usually given to states with a coastline or that border Great Lakes is also being cut out (Barboza, 2012). These budget cuts continue to make it difficult for states to receive high ratings on beach and water quality tests.

Most states that are in need of water quality testing and routine beach assessment do not currently have the funds, knowledge, or personnel to maintain water and beach quality well enough to keep beachgoers from falling ill. Heavily dependent on revenue from tourism and recreational water activities, these coastal states cannot afford to have poor water quality.

Jon Devine, an attorney with the National Resource Defense Council outlined a few possible consequences by saying, “the potential is that states will decrease the number of beaches they monitor, the frequency or cut back on resources they use to notify the public about conditions at the beach. We’d likely see a reduction in information about an important public health concern (Fears, 2011)”

The Federal government has been pushing for states to preserve beaches using their own resources and methods because they believe states have the knowledge, expertise, and funds required to enforce policies and do the work to sustain clean water and beaches. This certainly is not the case and the health of all beachgoers is at risk if the Federal government does not give states the funds and resources needed.

In order to maintain water quality and keep the public informed, the federal government must continue to enforce strict water quality standards and help state and local governments fund testing operations. If not, the health of beach goers and the success of coastal economies may be in jeopardy.


Brittany Hoedemaker is a freshman from Bellevue, Washington. She is currently an Environmental Studies major at USC. Devin Grigsby is a sophomore from Mill Creek, Washington. He is interested in sustainability and agriculture.


Works Cited

Barboza, Tony. “Federal Funds For Health Testing At Beaches To Be Eliminated.” LA Now. LA Times, 15 Feb. 2012. Web. <>.

“Beach Act.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., 2000. Web. <>.

Drajem, Mark. “House Republicans Propose Cutting EPA Budget, Preventing Rules.” Bloomberg. Business Week, 19 June 2012. Web. < news/2012-06-19/house-republicans-propose-cutting-epa-budget-preventing-rules.html>.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” US Environmental Protection Agency. N.p., 2000. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <>.

Given, S., et al., “Regional Public Health Cost Estimates of Contaminated Coastal Waters: A Case Study of Gastroenteritis at Southern California Beaches,” Environmental Science and Technology, 40, 2006, p. 4,851.

Scott, Monica. “Proposed Fed Budget Eliminates Beach Water-Quality Grants.” Local Voice. Coastal Point, 2 Mar. 2012. Web. < proposed_fed_budget_eliminates_beach_waterquality_grants>.

“Testing the Waters.” Natural Resources Defense Council. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2013. <>.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. The Budget For Fiscal Year 2013. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web. < fy2013/assets/environmental.pdf>.

“U.S. EPA 2013 Budget Cuts Programs, Supports States, Tribes.” Environment News Service RSS. International Daily Newswire, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. <

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