Colorado Water
Dazed and confused coverage of water issues in Colorado

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Monday, December 11, 2006

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Here's a story about mercury pollution from power plants from the Denver Post. From the article, "Toxic mercury emissions from Colorado's coal-fired power plants may be two to three times higher than estimates reported to federal environmental regulators, according to new industry data. The data comes from advanced monitoring systems recently installed by Xcel Energy at its Comanche and Pawnee power plants. Public health officials say the new data raises questions about whether Colorado's 12 coal-fired power plants may be emitting higher levels of mercury than thought. 'We're very concerned,' said Pam Milmoe, air/waste coordinator for Boulder County Public Health. 'If these plants are emitting higher levels of mercury, then that certainly gives us pause about the state of the environment in Colorado.' Federal studies estimate about 40 percent of the mercury in the environment comes from power plants. The levels of mercury in the environment here are only traces, but they can be concentrated in the food chain...

"The new emissions data were submitted to the state air-pollution control commission in November. The commission is considering, for the first time, placing limits on the mercury that coal-fired power plants can release. A decision is expected in late January. State environmental regulators say they don't know how much mercury coal-fired power plants are emitting and probably won't know until 2009, when federal regulators are requiring the utility industry to install continuous emission-monitoring systems at coal-burning plants. 'Our knowledge about mercury is evolving - it's not as straightforward as other pollutants,' said Paul Tourangeau, the state health department's air-pollution control division director...

"Xcel voluntarily installed monitors at its Comanche plant near Pueblo this summer and the Pawnee plant near Brush this fall. The monitors found that Comanche was discharging the equivalent of 3.9 pounds of mercury for a set amount of heat produced from coal and that Pawnee was emitting 9.9 pounds. In reports to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Xcel had estimated Comanche emitted 2.7 pounds and Pawnee 3.5 pounds. Gary Magno, Xcel's principal environmental analyst, said utility officials have a great deal of confidence in the new monitoring systems but that the data is varying plant to plant. At the Comanche plant, the new monitors show mercury emissions are actually lower than stack tests - another way to measure emissions. The new monitors at the Pawnee plant show mercury is higher than stack-test data."

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

7:03:28 AM    

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What chemicals are used to frac oil and gas wells? The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, headquartered in Paonia, is trying to answer that question, according to the Rocky Mountain News. From the article, "She [Theo Colborn] and other researchers at the Paonia-based, nonprofit Endocrine Disruption Exchange are poring over scientific journals and scrambling to identify the chemicals used by energy companies to determine if there's a link between natural gas operations and area residents' health complaints. Energy industry officials say they are closely regulated and that much of the information about the chemicals they use is public by law. They also say some of the work they do is so far below the surface that it's unlikely it could affect people, and they question why energy workers aren't reporting the same problems...

"Now, she's focused on the oil and gas industry. Colborn said using industry Material Safety Data Sheets, kept at work sites, and information from industry insiders, she and her fellow researchers have identified nearly 220 chemicals used in energy development, some of which she said are known to cause respiratory and neurological problems and gastrointestinal and liver damage. 'It says on the (Material Safety Data Sheets) you should wear a respirator and goggles' around the chemicals, Colborn said. 'And people are living near these sites.' Colborn believes the numerous wastewater pits dotting the rolling hills in Garfield County, heart of northwestern Colorado's energy boom, are a health hazard. But she acknowledges that proving that could be difficult. One of the problems is that many of the chemicals haven't been thoroughly tested and no health standards have been established for them, Colborn said. 'And they've not been looked at for long-term health effects,' she added. Colborn said another challenge is that companies frequently won't reveal their recipes for hydraulic fracturing, which injects water, sand and chemicals underground to break down barriers and help release oil or gas for extraction."

Category: Colorado Water

6:38:22 AM    

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Here's a report on mercury pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park, from the Denver Post. They write, "Loch Vale, a clear, high-elevation alpine watershed, is Rocky Mountain National Park's most photographed lake setting. What the photos don't capture, researchers say, is that the area has some of the highest mercury levels in Colorado - comparable to polluted Midwest and Northeast lakes where people are warned not to eat the fish. But unlike those low-elevation lakes, the alpine ecosystem is protecting Loch Vale's fish from the highly toxic mercury...

"Mercury loading to sediment in the alpine lakes is four times higher than what it was in pre-industrial times, indicating that the mercury is from man-made sources. Research suggests that 70 percent of mercury in the atmosphere is from industrial processes, Campbell said. The most likely source is coal-fired power plants, Campbell said, though it is impossible to determine exactly where it's coming from. In the mercury cycle, the chemical gets spewed into the atmosphere in an elemental form and can travel the globe for months before being deposited back on land and water. Higher elevations get more precipitation and therefore get more mercury, Campbell said. In the Loch Vale study, rains in the spring and summer have produced levels of mercury three to four times higher than in winter."

Category: Colorado Water

6:28:33 AM    

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