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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Reports highlight inadequate attention to drinking-water contamination from fracking

The potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing with respect to water purity have become fairly well-known across the United States. Environmentalists, naturally, have called attention to the potential environmental impact of “fracking.” Even the federal government, though, has highlighted the dangers of fracking with respect to water contamination. Two recent reports, the result of a two-year audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office, found that the Environmental Protection Agency is not doing enough to protect drinking water supplies from fracking contamination.

The problem is particularly pronounced when it comes to the process of utilizing specific chemicals to directly mine for oil and natural gas. While other aspects of the fracking process are regulated and monitored by the EPA, direct production of oil and natural gas is exempt. Because gas production very often occurs at the same ground depth as that on which drinking-water aquifers reside, the potential for contamination is significant. 

Authorities work to clear out toxin which left Ohio residents without drinking water

Clean water is among the most precious of resources, and it is only when we find ourselves without it that we really appreciate this fact. Water contamination can have a serious impact not only on individuals, but on entire communities. This is residents in Toledo and small areas of southeastern Michigan have been finding out recently when a toxin was found in a treatment plant.

Because of the toxin, Governor John Kasich declared a state of emergency for several counties and called on the assistance of the National Guard to bring water to residents. In this case, boiling tap water was not an option since the contaminant in question becomes more potent with boiling.

Court of Appeals decision affirms protection for salt water marshes

Buffering is an important aspect of maintaining clean waterways. A buffer, as some readers may know, consists of a band of permanent vegetation around a stream or wetland which has the purpose of preventing erosion and filtering contamination from rainwater runoff, as well as purification of bacteria and pathogens. Protecting salt marshes from pollution is an important environmental goal, since they provide a rich habitat for wildlife and even support the state economy.

Under a state law passed in 1975, the Erosion and Sedimentation Act, various measures were implemented to support and protect salt marshes, including the establishment of 25-foot buffer zones around certain waters throughout the state. Up until recently, salt marshes were included among these protected waters. Earlier this year, though, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued a directive which effectively removed the requirement of a protective buffer for salt water marshes.

Ever wondered what contaminants are in your swimming hole?

Being that it is summertime, many readers are surely enjoying the warm weather on the beach from time to time. This is all well and good, but have you ever stopped to consider what is in the water at your favorite swimming hole? According to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a fair amount of beaches across the United States do not stand up to safety standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the report, 10 percent of the water samples taken from various coastal and lake beaches are substandard. What types of contaminants may be found in these waters? Not only bacteria and viruses, which can lead to illnesses like the flu, infections and dysentery, but often also pollution caused by storm water runoff and sewer overflows. 

WA agency proposes cleanup plan for old Georgia-Pacific site

A 31-acre parcel of proper formerly owned by Georgia-Pacific Corp. is currently the subject of debate for officials at the Washington State Department of Ecology. The debate concerns how to clean up contaminated portions of the property. The department, it has been reported, is probably going to recommend spending around $5.7 million to cap and remove portions of the property exposed to toxic pollution. Sources say the contaminants include mercury and other metals, petroleum, dioxins/furans, and volatile organic compounds.

That plan, while expensive, is actually the most inexpensive option for restoring the property to a usable condition. The most expensive option, which would cost $91 million, proposes to remove and replace all contaminated soil up to 15-feet below the ground. The cheapest alternative for cleanup also calls for monitoring metal-contaminated groundwater to ensure metal levels keep going down and that it isn’t used for drinking. Other alternatives are available, but it is unlikely the agency will opt for them when all is said and done. 

Georgia chemical company under scrutiny for spill record

The safety record of a Georgia chemical company is currently under scrutiny due to repeated chemical spills. MFG Chemical, Inc., located in Dalton, has reportedly been responsible for 6 chemical spills or releases since 2004. An incident in 2012 led to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issuing 20 safety violations. A total of 40 workers from other companies were hospitalized in connection with that incident, and a total of $77,000 in penalties have been issued in connection with the spills. Two more workers were recently injured in another incident.

All but the latter incident have been deemed by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to be minor. This, of course, is concerning for residents surrounding the facility. The agency has suggested improved training to avoid worker injuries from chemical release incidents. 

New zoning rules support trend in urban agriculture

On this blog, we often focus on the issues of water and air pollution, toxic torts and environmental cleanup, which tend to be rather negative topics. Today we’ll write about something a bit more positive: new city laws which are allowing Atlanta residents to grow their own food. The increasing trend in urban agriculture is a positive one for multiple reasons: not only does it promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce the need to ship in food; it also strengthens relationships and communities.

Part of what has made the trend possible is changes in zoning rules. Zoning, as readers know, refers to rules enacted by local government regarding the permitted uses of sections of land. Zoning can regulate not only the use to which property is put, but also things like building height and density. 

Clean Power Rule to impact Georgia coal plants

Atlanta readers may have heard that the Environmental Protection Agency released a new rule at the beginning of June which aims to cut back carbon emissions to 30 percent by the year 2030. Already, Georgia Power has starting the process of upgrading units at its plants so as to come into compliance with the new rule. More shutdowns are reportedly scheduled for next year

The new EPA rule, of course, has been welcomed by environmentalist groups, including the Sierra Club, which has pointed out that widespread adoption of the standard in the state of Georgia will result in reduced health and environmental risks, but also in lower costs for electricity. Georgia Power, though, has said that implementing the rule will lead to rate increase. Even so, the public health benefits and reduction of pollution will be significant. 

Old GM site could soon be transformed into transportation hub

New zoning rules applying to a 165-acre tract of land in Doraville previously home to a GM plant will reportedly help to open that site up and put it back to use. The plant was closed down back in 2008 in an effort by the auto manufacturer to restructure its business, and has been sitting idle since. Atlanta readers may know that the property is on the intersection of the Atlanta Perimeter, three miles from the DeKalb Peachtree Airport.

The new zoning rules have been recognized as a major opportunity for redevelopment of the site. The rules specifically give potential developers the option of a variety of uses for the property. One developer has envisioned transforming the property into a transit hub, which could be a big boon the area in a variety of ways. All of this could become a possibility because of the new zoning rules, which allow for a master plan including mixed uses for the property.

Supreme Court decision protects company, government from contamination liability

A group of homeowners received disappointing news on Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that they will not be able to pursue CTS Corp., an electronics manufacturer, for contaminating drinking water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The contamination apparently occurred while the company was conducting business until 1987, when it sold the property. The contamination itself was not discovered until 2009, when residents found that various chemicals in the water had the potential to cause health problems.

The reason the homeowners are not able to sue the company in court is that state law gives plaintiffs only 10 years after the last occurrence of contamination to seek damages. The issue up for the Supreme Court was whether a federal law giving contamination victims two years to sue from the date the contamination is discovered could be applied in this case. The court decided it could not. 

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