October 30, 2011
Federal and State regulations in regard to beach testing often have many limitations in relation to the uniform nature of the legislation and sets of procedures that states must follow. However, aquatic ecosystems are very diverse and require specialized attention in order to properly test for water quality criteria. The BEACH Act, which is legislation that sets a standardized method for testing for fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) on a daily, monthly and yearly basis, was developed by the EPA and enacted in 2000. Although this can effectively increase the health of the population through reporting methods, this mode of Federal and State regulation has a number of limitations.
The BEACH Act tests three different FIB, which include Enterococci, Fecal Coliforms and Total Coliforms. However, these FIB often times do not have a direct relationship to sickness and are oftentimes naturalized in the environment through nonhuman waste sources such as animals. Methods for testing are also outdated and as such, notification of beach contamination is often coupled with a lag time. The standard for EPA FIB testing under The BEACH Act is culture-based methods, which take up to 24-48 hours to process. Moreover, new rapid testing methods contain a high error rate, which pose a barrier to limiting recreational waterborne illness. This can leave the public unaware of current beach conditions, which can pose serious health risks (Gross 2004). While testing and beach monitoring has advanced in recent years, as noted by a steady increase in beach closures, not much has been done to curve point and non point sources of pollution, which is the main issue at hand. Until point and non point sources of pollution are addressed, marine ecosystems will see a steady rise in closures and no manifested gain from advances in testing methods (Bohem 2009).
Local oversight of beach testing, however, may pose as the solution to the BEACH Act’s deficiencies. According to a recent study, single FIB measurements (as imposed by Federal and State agencies) are not accurate representations of an ecosystem’s true FIB concentrations. Spatial and temporal differences in testing can lead to great variability amongst FIB readings (Boehm, Fuhrman, MRSE, and Grant 1-2). Additionally, supplementary factors including, “…the highly dynamic currents that transport them, and the complex biological and physicochemical processes that influence the rate at which they are removed from the water column” also greatly influence FIB concentrations (Boehm, Fuhrman, MRSE, and Grant 1-2). Due to this high range of FIB variability concentrations within a single environment, extensive monitoring is required – including multiple daily water tests involving temporal and spatial variation – in order to accurately assess FIB concentrations.
Evidently, such monitoring would need to be conducted by local authorities that have a better understanding of the environment’s unique biological and physicochemical properties. In addition to obtaining more accurate FIB readings, local agencies would also be able to better assess the source of FIB than federal or state authorities as FIB can originate from several local sources – from septic tanks and urban runoff to fecal disposal from boats and natural animal sources. As local authorities pinpoint the FIB source, solutions for cleanup would be more deemed possible and effective. “The best way to protect swimmers from beach water pollution is to prevent it” according to Megan Severson from Wisconsin Environment, “A key solution is investing in smarter, greener infrastructure on land – like porous pavement, green roofs, parks, roadside plantings and rain barrels” preventing overloading sewage systems and polluted storm-drain water from hitting the beach. Clearly, Federal and State agencies who solely visit the site when required for testing, would not be as qualified to take into account all the unique factors of the ecosystem in their FIB readings, let alone provide a successful solution.
Boehm, Alexandria, et al. “A sea change ahead for recreational water quality criteria”. Journal of Water and Health. 07.1 (2009): 9-20.
Boehm, Alexandra B., Jed A. Fuhrman, Robert D. MRSE, and Stanely B. Grant. “Tiered Approach for Identification of a Human Fecal Pollution Source at a Recreational Beach: Case Study at Avalon Bay, Catalina Island, California.” USC Dornsife College: Environment, Science, and Technology. n.d. 1-2. Web. 18 Oct 2011. <http://dornsife.usc.edu/labs/fuhrman/Documents/Publications/Tiered%20Approach.pdf>
Gross, Jason. “No Day at the Beach”. Scientific American. 19 July 2004. 1-2. Web. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=no-day-at-the-beach
Mednick, Adam. “Preciting Beach Water Quality.” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 22 Apr 2010. Web 17 Oct 2011. <http://dnr.wi.gov/org/es/science/contaminants/beach.htm>.
Severson Megan. “Clean Water News.” Wisonsin Environment. Wisconsin Environment, 29 Jun 2011. Web. 17 Oct 2011. <http://www.wisconsinenvironment.org/news-releases/clean-water2/clean-water-news/wisconsins-beach-closings-increase-wisconsin-environment-calls-for-better-protections>.
Stephen Holle/Birka Burnison
Emerging contaminants are abiotic and biotic pollutants that are not currently included in routine monitoring programs from which ecotoxicological data and risk assessment are developed. Resultantly, their health effects are difficult to predict. Among this category of pollutants are pharmaceuticals (anti-cancer drugs, X-ray contrast media, antibiotics), personal care products (sunscreen), biocides, industrial nanomaterials (carbon-based and metal-based), and flame retardants. Most of these pollutants are present at low concentrations and thus accumulate in ecosystems very slowly. However, a select few can be found in concentrated, such as where antibiotics accumulate at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where brominated flame retardants are applied en mass to halt a forest fire, or where municipal biosolids are applied to farmland as fertilizer. Despite their occurrence on land, their concentration in specific areas shows little about the possible effects on terrestrial ecosystems. The true problem occurs when precipitation over a watershed aggregates these pollutants in runoff, facilitating infiltration into surface or groundwater supplies. Therefore, the attention of the scientific and policy-making communities needs to be directed at the measurable problem – the accumulation of emerging contaminants in water resources.
The ecological complications from emerging contaminants are typically realized in aquatic ecosystems (rivers, lakes, wetlands, coasts, groundwater, etc.). Precipitation operates as a purifying force for the terrestrial ecosystems, washing away sediments where they accumulate – keeping concentrations in soils low. Many of these compounds have the potential of affecting the endocrine system of animals- in this case, fish are the most vulnerable. In turn, they can accumulate in fish tissues and become intricately assimilated into food webs. The effects of these are still unknown, but the risk and reality of their potency is increasing.
The production of the growing list of potentially harmful pollutants is inevitable since they are intrinsically linked with countless industrial processes. Regulating specific chemicals of which little information of their long term effects are known and the costs involved could be deterring. However, in the long term it could be essential to focus on prioritizing the investigation of compounds and evaluating their environmental occurrence and persistence, potential health effects, and the appropriate level at which they should be measured.
Criteria for establishing priorities for methods development include: the quantities produced and used, pathways for release to the environment, anticipated environmental behavior, and information of human and environmental health effects.Programs that facilitate the proper disposal of pharmaceutical products go a long way to preventing integration of exotic chemicals into the environment. Also effective could be the singling out of sources and related industries who contribute significant amounts of known harmful contaminants and encouraging the implementation of large scale nanofiltration methods and molecular-weight-cutoffs targeting the given contaminant to divert it from the environment. Reinforcing landfills to reduce leachate infiltration can minimize the amount of chemicals that enter groundwater sources. Furthermore, regulating the waste that becomes incinerated can limit what harmful particulates enter the atmosphere and ultimately pollute the air and become deposited in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
Source pathways image: http://toxics.usgs.gov/regional/emc/sources_pathways.html
“Brominated Flame Retardants” link: http://www.hcn.org/issues/43.10/fire-fight-forest-service-finally-reveals-the-hazards-of-chemical-retardants
About the authors: Dylan Giordano and Sean Hernandez are working towards their bachelor degrees in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
n July 2011, Representative Ken Calvert (R-California) introduced the Reducing Environmental Barriers to Unified Infrastructure and Land Development (REBUILD) Act. Currently, construction and land development projects must not only meet state regulations, but also federal standards created by the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Under the REBUILD Act, development projects would have to comply with state regulations only, provided that these state regulations uphold NEPA standards or higher. In effect, the REBUILD Act seeks to merge state and federal legislation to expedite the process of bringing development projects to fruition without sacrificing environmental protection.
As it stands, many states, such as California, already feature more stringent regulations than NEPA standards.Calvert himself called the REBUILD Act an attempt to “remove bureaucratic red tape” and “streamline the environmental review processes for critical infrastructure projects without compromising environmental protections.” Estimates place the amount of time saved by the REBUILD Act, should it be passed, around 18 months per project.
While resistance to strict government legislation is nothing new, the current economic climate poses a unique challenge to environmental protection. As this collection of polls from 2007-2011 shows, there is often a dichotomy presented between the environment and the economy; if one prospers, the other suffers. A March 2010 Gallup Poll found that 53% of Americans surveyed said that economic growth takes precedence over environmental protection. The same study concluded that American concern for the environment had hit a 20 year low. Opinions are also especially polarized across party lines. A 2010 CNN poll reported that Republicans, and to a lesser extent, Independents, felt that “economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.” A majority of Democrats, however, felt that the environment should be protected, even at the risk of curbing economic growth.
Yet the issue of too much environmental regulation is not specific to Democrats or Republicans; nor is it limited to even The United States.“TheRedTapeChallenge” as it is known in the United Kingdom is an initiative launched by Parliament in early 2011 to reevaluate government regulation in a variety of sectors, including the environment. The Red Tape Challenge addresses the issue of regulation and red tape by attempting to encourage greater environmental and societal responsibility. The creators of The Red Tape Challenge recognize the importance of regulations but also the danger of having too many and the impact on an economy and business. On their website they sum up their opinions by saying, “This government has set a clear aim: to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation. With more than 21,000 regulations active in the UK today, this won’t be an easy task – but we’re determined to cut red tape.”
Essentially the United Kingdom is opening up their Environmental Regulations and Policies to be commented on and edited by the people. However just because a group of businessmen want one regulation cut doesn’t mean that it will be because the Ministers will have a total of 3 months to determine which regulations will be kept and why they will be kept. This is done so that the red tape will be cut, not the vital environmental regulations. In order for the regulations to remain the same cases will be heard on both sides and argued until a decision is made. However there is much concern as to whether or not this policy will be what is necessary to avoid Red Tape or whether it will undermine important regulations, and Britain remains largely divided over the issue.
About the authors: Makena Crowe and Minda Monteagudo are working towards their bachelor degrees in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
It’s hard to assess how strong or minimal the government’s involvement in the natural environment is—especially when their involvement is only through legal policy and legislation. Moreover the question is often raised as to how well the government regulates such legislation. As with all legislation, environmental legislation is constantly changing and adapting to new cases and findings and is not free from the influence of lobbying. However, in comparison to other types of legislation, environmental legislation and oversight is a relatively new concept that has only appeared in the last 75 years, thus facing many challenges as can be seen when looking at the history of environmental legislation in California.
In January of 1970 the federal government passed the National Environmental Protection Act, which essentially forced federal agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments (EA) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for their actions. The act was spurred in part by the disastrous after-effects of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.
Unfortunately, far too often NEPA assessments don’t lead to problem-solving or action on the part of the agency to change their procedures. Many corporations hire “NEPA mills”, which are private firms that train expert analysts specifically for writing EAs and EISs. Few corporations are actually committed to hiring and keeping environmental impact experts, and NEPA mills make it unnecessary. This opens up the possibility of corruption and negligent assessment.
Before NEPA, there weren’t any major environmentalist federal statutes in the United States.
In the state of California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) of 1970 soon followed the NEPA. The CEQA is a lot more all-encompassing than the NEPA—the CEQA actually requires that any major project, public or private, has to prepare an environmental statement report assessing the pros and cons of executing the project as is. It assesses everything from air and water pollution to hazardous waste, and has a say in the creation of anything from public service projects to digging new landfills.
However, recently CEQA has been cutting back on its scope too. In 2009 and spring of 2011 state legislature decided to let two special exceptions slide from regular CEQA query—the building of football stadiums in Los Angeles, a city that doesn’t even actually have a football team.
It will be interesting to see where this sets the bar in the future and demonstrates how strongly our country values economics and the prospects of gains. Gains can or cannot go had in hand with environmental protection and sustainability if individuals, states and country so choose. Whether we are on the right path in regards to legislation and oversight is therefore a matter of determining goals.
For more information, see: http://legalplanet.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/a-dangerous-bill/
About the authors: Kayla Duarte and Xueyou Wang are working towards their bachelor degrees in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.