In The News: EPA Pushes Mediation, Seattle Bans Plastic Straws

In The News: EPA Pushes Mediation, Seattle Bans Plastic Straws

Hey there, ecoSPEARS readers! To start off, we want to offer an apology for not posting an update to our blog in some time now. Our team has been extremely busy working and traveling all over the US making waves to ensure great things keep coming, and we can excitedly.

Today’s first article is an opinion piece from the Berkshire Eagle, a Massachusetts-based newspaper and media outlet many of our longtime readers may be more familiar with from past news and issues regarding PCBs in and along the Housatonic River.

Last month, mediation efforts resumed between US EPA, various environmental groups, and five towns which comprise the Rest of River Municipal Committee to discuss options on PCB remediation and disposal along the Housatonic. The Rest of River Committee has pressed GE on why is fighting for local dumping of PCBs removed from the Housatonic, particularly considering that PCBs removed from their 2009 project along the Hudson River in New York were able to be disposed of off-site.

Consent Decree Showing How the Rest of River Committee Mediates With GE on PCB Cleanup

EPA Regional Director Alexandra Dunn was quoted as saying she does not believe EPA will change its course on the issue of PCB remediation and removal from the Housatonic. She, additionally, “pressured the City Council of Pittsfield, after years of delay, to agree to borrow $74 million to upgrade a wastewater treatment plant that was dumping unacceptable amounts of toxic effluents into the Housatonic.” Ms. Dunn explained that contamination in the river by GE and the City were unrelated, and pollution caused by one party does not negate liability for another.

 

While Ms. Dunn’s autonomy as Regional Director is a welcoming presence, many local residents fear that a failure to reach agreement by GE and the Rest of River Committee will further delay PCB removal efforts from the Housatonic for many years to come, with or without the effort of mediation.

 

Back down south in Texas, it sadly appears the after-effects and foresighted worries from last year’s Hurricane Harvey are still being felt and seen. EPA concluded almost immediately after the storm rocked Texas in August of 2017 that the San Jacinto waste pits – essentially capped piles of toxic waste – started leaking due to extreme weather and flooding. Nearly a full year later and EPA has concluded that they have recorded dangerously high levels of dioxins around the pits.

Satellite Image of the Two Impounds Making Up the San Jacinto Waste Pits Along Their Namesake TX River.

Dioxins, a toxic by-product chemical caused by improper destruction of PCBs, “were registered at 2,000 times the level that triggers an automatic EPA-mandated cleanup” in the days and weeks following Hurricane Harvey’s destruction which eroded the 1.5-acre cap across the San Jacinto waste pits, “going as far as 12 feet deep in some places,” but EPA’s recent tests show similar levels of dioxins in the area.

EPA mandates cleanup for concentrations of dioxins at and above 30 parts-per-trillion. Dioxin levels at the San Jacinto waste pits are still measuring up to and above 70,000 parts-per-trillion. In other words, unfortunately, you may not want to go swimming or fishing in the area for a while.

Normally, here at ecoSPEARS, we try and tend to cover otherwise-overlooked environmental articles from the previous week; however, our final article today made too many headlines to outright ignore. Last weekend, Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks announced its initiative to eliminate plastic straws from all of its 28,000 worldwide stores by 2020. The motion is part of the company’s investment in creating “recyclable and compostable cups” all over the world. Replacing straws with “sip-lids”, similar to those found in other fast-serve coffee establishments, could likewise mean the reduction of up to one billion plastic straws littering the planet every year.

The “sip-lid” meant to replace plastic straws at Starbucks stores around the world.

Kevin Johnson, Starbucks’s President and CEO had this to say in a statement released on the straw ban: “For our partners and customers, this is a significant milestone to achieve our global aspiration of sustainable coffee, served to our customers in more sustainable ways.”

 

The statement and news on Starbucks’s straw ban follows on the heels of a city-wide ban on most plastic straws in its hometown of Seattle, WA, and just over one month after news broke that many European countries are moving towards outright bans on all single-use plastics.

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