Monday, March 28, 2016

Breaking News - Anacostia River Still a Mess

Toxic pollution continues to wash into the Anacostia River in the District of Columbia, adding to the longstanding contamination that already makes it unsafe for residents to swim or wade in some places or eat fish caught from its waters.

That’s the surprising finding of a new study commissioned by the District Department of Energy & Environment as it begins work on a plan to clean up toxic hot spots in the “forgotten river,” as the Potomac River tributary has been dubbed because of its severely degraded condition.

In a nearly 200-page report, Tetra Tech, the District’s consultant, provided new details on the high levels of toxic chemicals and metals already known to linger in the river’s sediment from historic and mostly industrial pollution sources.

But the report, released late last week, noted that sampling of river sediments also detected evidence in certain spots of ongoing pollution – a finding Wesley Rosenfeld, assistant DOEE general counsel, called “unanticipated.”

“Something is happening basically as we speak,” Rosenfeld said. “We can’t clean up the river without eliminating an ongoing source of contamination.”

Rosenfeld said particularly high levels of contaminants in some samples near outfalls and industrial sites indicate the pollution “isn’t just historical.”

Though the report calls for further investigation to confirm sources, it found high levels of contaminants near outfalls at the Washington Gas Light Company’s former coal-gasification plant and the Washington Navy Yard, located on either side of the 11th Street Bridge. The spike in contaminants was also found near the former Steuart Petroleum terminal just downstream of the South Capitol Street Bridge.
As I've said before here, I worked on contaminants in the Anacostia River for several years, doing work similar, if likely not as extensive as this. The sediments of the river, from Bladensburg in MD to it's joining the Potomac are heavily contaminated with a wide variety of toxic organic compounds and heavy metals. While profiles suggested that levels coming into the River had gone down from earlier periods (lower concentrations in the surface sediments, with higher concentrations below), it was clear at the time that substantial amounts of contaminants coming in from the DC area:

Related:  Governments Are the Worst Polluters, And, of course, face little or no punishment
David Konisky of Indiana University and Manuel Teodoro of Texas A&M, in a study published by the American Journal of Political Science entitled “When Governments Regulate Governments,” have pulled together some data:
Our empirical subjects are public and private entities’ compliance with the U.S. Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.
We find that, compared with private firms, governments violate these laws significantly more frequently and are less likely to be penalized for violations.
More from an Indiana press release, via Tyler Cowen:
For the study, Konisky and Teodoro examined records from 2000 to 2011 for power plants and hospitals regulated under the Clean Air Act and from 2010 to 2013 for water utilities regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The study included over 3,000 power plants, over 1,000 hospitals and over 4,200 water utilities — some privately owned and others owned by public agencies.
* For power plants and hospitals, public facilities were on average 9 percent more likely to be out of compliance with Clean Air Act regulations and 20 percent more likely to have committed high-priority violations.
* For water utilities, public facilities had on average 14 percent more Safe Drinking Water Act health violations and were 29 percent more likely to commit monitoring violations.
* Public power plants and hospitals that violated the Clean Air Act were 1 percent less likely than private-sector violators to receive a punitive sanction and 20 percent less likely to be fined.
*Public water utilities that violated Safe Drinking Water Act standards were 3 percent less likely than investor-owned utilities to receive formal enforcement actions.
[After speculating that public operators may find it harder to raise funds promptly for needed facilities improvements:] Public entities also face lower costs for violating the regulations, the authors argue. There is evidence from other studies that they are able to delay or avoid paying fines when penalties are assessed. And officials with regulatory agencies may be sympathetic to violations by public entities, because they understand the difficulty of securing resources in the public sector.
Application of the principle to state-owned industry outside the United States can be left as an exercise for the reader.

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