Group Sounds the Alarm About Flame Retardants in the Great Lakes

If your last-minute summer plans include swimming in Lake Erie, consider this before you take the plunge. A class of flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs have just been added to the U.S. and Canada’s list of “Chemicals of Mutual Concern.” And Lakes Erie and Ontario have the highest concentrations found in all five Great Lakes.

PBDEs are in all kinds of things, from furniture to electronics to carpet padding. But the toxic chemicals don’t stay put. They often leach out of products and build up in our bodies, the environment and wildlife.

“There have been test results suggesting these chemicals have effects on human beings, especially children and their development,” says Dave Dempsey, a policy adviser with the International Joint Commission (IJC), which counsels the U.S. and Canada on Great Lakes issues.

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The IJC’s water quality board wants Canada and the U.S. to do more to cut down on PBDEs in the lakes. That includes tougher controls on landfills and requiring companies to get approval for new chemicals that replace PBDEs.

“The concern is there’s been sort of an endless cycle of chemicals found to be of concern and then being replaced by other chemicals that are later found to be of concern,” Dempsey says.

The water quality board also wants the two governments to make sure there’s continued monitoring of PBDEs in the environment.

Reporting by Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

 

Air Pollution from Gas Sites is Still on the Rise

Air emissions from the natural gas industry continued to rise in 2014, according to new data released by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). DEP says the numbers—which include pollution from sources like drilling well pads and engines used to power gas operations—are up both because natural gas production rose in 2014 and because more facilities reported their emissions.

Sulfur dioxide saw one of the biggest spikes, rising by about 40 percent over 2013 levels. Sulfur dioxide in and of itself can cause breathing problems, but it also impacts particulate matter levels. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) also increased. VOCs can contribute to harmful levels of ozone, a compound that irritates the lungs and can cause breathing problems in people with conditions like asthma.

One silver lining: 2014’s jumps in gas industry pollution were accompanied by big emission declines in the coal industry, as coal continues to fade as a source of electricity nationwide.

For those living near gas developments, however, that overall trend may not bring much comfort.

“One of the biggest arguments in favor of drilling and fracking for natural gas is that it’s much cleaner to burn than coal,” says Allegheny Front energy reporter Reid Frazier. “But what we’re also seeing are local increases in pollution near gas infrastructure—things like hazardous air pollutants, which can be carcinogenic or cause neurological problems. Those have increased in counties where there’s a lot of drilling.”

For example, in Washington County, benzene levels increased in 2014. Frazier says that is likely a local impact related to natural gas production in the area.

Reporting by Kara Holsopple