West Virginia

Delivering on the Promise of the Clean Water Act

By Gina McCarthy

(Cross Posted from EPA Connect)

On January 9th of this year, concerned citizens noticed a chemical odor floating down the Elk River Valley toward Charleston, West Virginia. State inspectors traced the odor to a Freedom Industries facility, where they found a storage tank leaking the chemical MCHM, used in coal processing.

Before the day ended, drinking water supplies for more than 300,000 people were contaminated. Schools closed. Hospitals evacuated patients. And the local economy ground to a halt.

West Virginia led the response to contain the spill within days. EPA provided technical assistance to help clear the water system, helped determine a water quality level that would be protective of public health, conducted air monitoring—and sent a Special Agent from our Criminal Investigation Division to the site. The Special Agent, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston and the FBI, conducted more than 100 interviews and launched a joint investigation into the cause of the disaster.

We found a pattern of negligence by the storage tank owners, who were obligated to inspect the tank, fix corrosion, and take action to contain potential spills. Their negligence resulted in one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters in recent memory.

Today, U.S. Attorney Goodwin, along with EPA and FBI officials, announced that four former officers of Freedom Industries have been indicted on Clean Water Act negligent misdemeanor charges, as well as for violating the Refuse Act. Freedom Industries, along with two other individuals, were separately charged with Clean Water Act crimes. The four indicted defendants face multiple years in prison if they are convicted, and the two other individuals each face up to one year.

When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, it gave states primary authority to implement the laws and protect the environment, including safeguarding drinking water supplies for American communities. EPA works with states to deliver these benefits, including through criminal investigative work that holds serious violators accountable. Our efforts send a clear message to would-be violators that we’re serious about enforcing our laws fairly, leveling the field for companies that play by the rules and follow the law.

The spill occurred in the 40th anniversary year of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects drinking water sources and requires that water from our taps be clean. The law has been such a success, and we so often take safe drinking water for granted, that it’s easy to become complacent. But Freedom Industries’ illegal, negligent actions serve as a reminder that we need to vigilantly enforce our laws to protect safe water.

Just last week, the Source Water Collaborative, a group of 25 national organizations united to protect America’s sources of drinking water, launched a call to action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to do more to protect source water, and prevent disasters like the one in Charleston before they happen. EPA provides states with technical and scientific expertise, as we did in the aftermath of the chemical spill in Charleston. We’re also developing tools and resources for prevention, preparedness and response to spills or releases, and sharing them with states so they can meet their legal responsibilities.

Clean, reliable water is precious. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy. Our efforts can’t undo the damage done to public health, the local economy, and the environment in Charleston. But by working together, we can help prevent spills like this one in the future, and protect our children’s health for years to come.

About the Author: Gina McCarthy is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Appointed by President Obama in 2009 as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, Gina McCarthy has been a leading advocate for common-sense strategies to protect public health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating EPA’s Wheeling Office, 50 years of Pioneering Environmental Protection

Cross posted on EPA Connect, EPA’s leadership blog

By Shawn M. Garvin

In the midst of a season of many celebrations, I’m reminded of the rich environmental history we have in Region III as we get ready to celebrate another important occasion:  The 50th anniversary of our Wheeling, W. Va. Field Office.  As a pioneer of many environmental controls and methods, the Wheeling Field Office is one of the places where environmental protection began in this country.

Before the EPA was established in 1970, environmental protection was taking hold in various pockets across the nation, including in the Ohio River area.  During the late 1950s, the U. S. Public Health Service (U.S. PHS) collected extensive data on declining fish populations in the Ohio River and its tributaries, and concluded that there was a serious human health threat from rivers full of untreated sewage and castoff industrial chemicals.

To address this threat, the U.S. PHS, supported in large measure by the efforts of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, formed the Ohio River Basin Project and in 1963, the Wheeling Field Office opened as part of this project.  The office’s original goal was to evaluate water quality across 72,000 square miles in six states in the upper Ohio River valley.

In 1966, the Wheeling Field Office was assigned added responsibility under the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Federal Water Pollution Control Administration to determine water usage and to oversee water storage needs in reservoirs in response to water quality and extensive acid mine drainage problems.  In the late 1960s, the Wheeling Field Office recorded the most acidic rain ever documented in the United States.

In 1970, the Wheeling Field Office was incorporated into the newly formed EPA under the Mid-Atlantic Region.  Emphasizing inspections and enforcement, the office was instrumental in EPA’s early charge to help local governments and industry comply with new laws governing air and water pollution.

Until 1986, the Wheeling Field Office operated a chemistry laboratory and continues to run a freshwater biology laboratory, and engineering, inspection and enforcement sections, to keep up with the latest environmental challenges, including among others acid rain, municipal water pollution, fish kills, air emissions, oil spills, hazardous materials, and mountaintop mining. Operations in the office and lab space have continued since its early days, likely making the Wheeling Field Office the oldest functioning environmental facility in the same location in the nation.

Currently, Wheeling houses staff from eight EPA Region III programs who maintain the focus on collaboration with state governments to advance science and environmental compliance in the Mid-Atlantic Region.   Scientists, hazardous cleanup managers, inspectors, and other staff continue the fifty year legacy of protecting human health and the environment. Learn more about the Wheeling Field Office here.

So, as we enjoy all this holiday season brings, let’s also celebrate the Wheeling Field Office by looking back on the past 50 years of environmental advances and looking forward to the opportunities to continue pioneering environmental protection.

About the Author: Shawn M. Garvin is EPA’s Regional Administrator for Region 3, overseeing the Agency’s operations in Delaware, D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Shawn’s career in intergovernmental affairs spans more than 20 years at the federal and local levels.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrating EPA’s Wheeling, WV Office, 50 years of Pioneering Environmental Protection

In the midst of a season of many celebrations, I’m reminded of the rich environmental history we have in EPA’s Region III as we get ready to celebrate another important occasion: The 50th anniversary of our Wheeling, W. Va. Field Office. As a pioneer of many environmental controls and methods, the Wheeling Field Office is one of the places where environmental protection began in this country.

50th pic3Before EPA was established in 1970, environmental protection was taking hold in various pockets across the nation, including in the Ohio River area. During the late 1950s, the U. S. Public Health Service (U.S. PHS) collected extensive data on declining fish populations in the Ohio River and its tributaries, and concluded that there was a serious human health threat from rivers full of untreated sewage and castoff industrial chemicals.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Bay Rings Out 2012 with Wave of Good News

By Tom Damm

I didn’t hear Ryan Seacrest mention the Chesapeake Bay as the ball dropped in Times Square Monday night.  But he seemed to be the only one who didn’t have something to say about the Bay as 2012 wound to a close.

Construction Underway on the Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia

Construction Underway on the Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia. At its opening, it will reduce total nitrogen loading by 90,000 pounds per year and total phosphorus by 93,000 pounds per year to the Chesapeake Bay and local waters.

In December alone, there were Bay-friendly announcements from the District of Columbia and Lancaster and Scranton in Pennsylvania, along with news from West Virginia about a treatment plant that will account for a big chunk of the state’s pollution-cutting pledge.

And it isn’t just the Bay that will benefit from these cork-popping developments.  Local rivers and streams in these communities will also run cleaner as a result.

In Scranton, the U.S. and Pennsylvania announced a settlement with the Scranton Sewer Authority on a long-term solution that will reduce millions of gallons of contaminated stormwater overflows into the Lackawanna River and local streams, all part of the Bay watershed.

In Lancaster, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and EPA announced more than $1.8 million in grants for projects to reduce water pollution and improve habitats.

In the nation’s capital, EPA, the District and DC Water signed a major partnership agreement to include green infrastructure techniques in the city’s steps to control stormwater pollution.

And in West Virginia, it was reported that when the new $40 million Moorefield Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant opens later in 2013, it will gobble up huge amounts of pollutants that are now impacting local water quality and the Bay.

Check out our Chesapeake Bay TMDL web site for more announcements about actions by partners to make the new year a good one for the network of Chesapeake Bay waterways.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reviving Urban Waters

By Tom Damm

On the grounds of Friends Hospital in northeast Philadelphia a few weeks ago, we got a first-hand look at how funds from EPA’s Urban Waters Program will make a big difference.  This was the first year for the Urban Waters small grant program, and there was keen interest in the $2.7 million that was made available across the country.

Members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society took us down a winding path to an area where work will occur to clear overgrown brush, prevent existing flooding and improve the flow of a tributary to Tacony Creek.  It’s one of 10 projects that will be done in coordination with a local environmental group to help restore a watershed on the city’s outskirts.

Drew Becher (President, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), Julie Slavet (Executive Director, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc.), Barbara McCabe (Director of Stewardship, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and William C. Early (Deputy Regional Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III) with the Urban Waters small grant “big check” at Friends Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.

Drew Becher (President, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), Julie Slavet (Executive Director, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc.), Barbara McCabe (Director of Stewardship, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, and William C. Early (Deputy Regional Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III) with the Urban Waters small grant “big check” at Friends Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.

Five days later in Morgantown, West Virginia, there was a similar scene as members of Friends of Deckers Creek described to our Regional Administrator, Shawn M. Garvin, how urban waters funds will be used to prepare for the cleanup of polluted water from an abandoned mine.

And last Friday, we toured the Bellemeade neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, where urban waters funds will help transform a neglected creek into the spark for a community revival.

Other projects in Baltimore and Philadelphia in our region, as well as many others across the country, are underway to help communities unlock the potential of their waterways and the land around them.  That’s what the Urban Waters program is all about.

Many urban waterways have been left a legacy of pollution by sewage, runoff from city streets and contamination from now abandoned industrial facilities.  Healthy and accessible urban waters can help grow local businesses and enhance educational, economic, recreational, employment and social opportunities in nearby communities.

To read about other urban waters projects and perhaps be inspired to take your own actions, visit http://www.epa.gov/urbanwaters/index.html.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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We’ve Come So Far, But Still Have So Far To Go

A few weeks ago, I took some time off for vacation. We traveled from our southern Maryland home to the mountains of West Virginia to visit friends for a few days, and then it was off to the shores of North Carolina. Throughout the trip, I couldn’t help but marvel at the diversity of the landscape and environment even in that little triangle of the world.

Driving through the mountains in West Virginia on our way to Nags Head, we saw what I assumed (and hoped) was a wind farm on the top of a mountain. I was really quite impressed, and thoroughly pleased to see that kind of progress and forward-thinking taking hold. About 20 minutes further on our drive, strip-mining was taking place and I wondered and hoped that the environment would be restored some day.

For the next hour or so on that ride, I was thinking about all of the progress that has been made to save our environment whether it be by recycling, or energy and water conservation, and locally, nationally or even globally.

It really stuck a chord with me that as much progress we have made, we still have so far to go. Many of us wonder what impact can really be made by just our household of say one or two people. It all adds up, and each and every one of us really can make a difference…one recycled bottle or can and reusable grocery bag at a time!

About the author: Kelly Chick has worked at EPA for many years. She currently works in the Office of Public Affairs at EPA Headquarters, and manages the EPA blog, Greenversations.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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