Trump Administration Halts Mountaintop Removal Health Study Monday, Aug 21 2017 

The Trump administration’s Department of the Interior has asked the National Academy of Sciences to suspend research into the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining.

A team from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine was established last year for a two-year study. The committee has been conducting hearings and investigating accumulating science on the health impacts of surface mining, especially the practice known as mountaintop removal.

A statement from the National Academies said that the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent a letter calling off the study until an agency-wide review of existing grants and projects can be conducted.

The Interior Department says its review is due to changing budget conditions. But environmental groups quickly issued statements condemning the decision. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition called it an “attack on science,” and the Sierra Club called it “infuriating” that the administration would impede the ability of mining communities to learn about the health effects of mining.

Indiana University Environmental Health Professor Michael Hendryx has conducted substantial research into possible health correlations associated with living near surface mining operations. Hendryx said in an email that he worries the review is politically motivated given the Trump Administration’s “anti-science, pro-coal orientation.”

Hearings previously planned for this week in Kentucky will proceed. A release from the Academy calls the study important and says the academy is ready to resume work as soon as the review is complete.

Warning Of Potential Disaster, MSD Board Settles For Lower Rate Increase Friday, Jul 28 2017 

Jefferson County residents will see sewer rates go up 6.9 percent beginning next month.

The Metropolitan Sewer District’s board approved the rate hike at a special meeting Friday. It comes after months of lobbying from district officials for a much larger rate increase; two separate proposals to accomplish that were passed over last night by Metro Council.

The MSD Board only has the power to raise rates 6.9 percent without Metro Council approval. The board was seeking a 20 percent rate increase, but for the second year in a row the plan didn’t get lawmaker buy-in. Another alternative proposal before the Metro Council would have allowed the MSD Board to raise rates up to 10 percent by itself for the next five years; that, too, didn’t receive a vote.

In the meeting Friday, board members bemoaned Metro Council’s inaction, questioning if political posturing tabled the 20 percent rate increase.

“I think this represents a failure of our community leaders to address issues related to the public health and safety of this community,” said MSD Infrastructure Committee Chair John Phelps. “I find it ironic that we can get pressure from the Mayor and from Metro Council to spend millions of dollars on aesthetic improvements to our storm retention basins … and then not fund us when we absolutely have to have it. It just doesn’t make sense.”

District officials say the agency faces nearly $4.3 billion in repair costs to its aging flood protection and sewer infrastructure. This is in addition to the federal consent decree to reduce sewer overflows into the Ohio River: MSD has already spent more than $400 million on those projects, and is projected to spend another $500 million through 2024.

Those numbers stirred MSD Chief Engineer Angela Akridge, who said less funding for the critical systems could bring disaster.

“Every time it rains, who’s it going to be? Whose house is going to flood that can’t afford it? Which baby is going to be in a boat?” Akridge asked. “Operations will continue to work around the clock. But we will live in fear. We will live in fear of the next catastrophe and we will do our best to protect and serve.”

MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott said conversations to address the sewer systems and needed repairs will continue.

The rate increase will raise the average customer’s bill by $3.63 per month.

MSD’s Proposed Sewer Rate Hike Is Dead Thursday, Jul 27 2017 

The Louisville Metro Council has effectively denied a pair of measures related to Metropolitan Sewer District officials’ request to increase user rates.

Council members on Thursday opted not to vote on the ordinances that would have granted sewer district officials the authority to raise rates beyond the 6.9 threshold currently in place and, furthermore, institute a 20 percent hike for sewer district residents this year.

Sewer district officials have for months been pushing council members to approve a proposal to increase sewer rates by 20 percent to help fund what they consider to be critical infrastructure repairs. Such a hike would have increased customer’s monthly bills by about $11, according to sewer district officials.

District officials say the agency faces nearly $4.3 billion in repair costs, according to a presentation made to the council earlier this year.

Council members have hesitated on backing any rate hikes, and criticized sewer district officials’ efforts to raise awareness on just why such a increase is necessary.

A separate measure that also failed to get a vote would have allowed sewer district officials to make annual rate hikes beyond the current ceiling of 6.9 percent. Presently, any proposed rate hike greater than 6.9 percent requires Metro Council approval.

Under that proposed measure, sewer officials could make annual increases up to 10 percent until 2021 — at which time the current ceiling would have been reinstated.

With the lack of a vote, the sewer district is limited to raising rates by no more than 6.9 percent in the coming years. Such a hike will generate about $830 million and raise rates by about $4 a year for the next five years, according to sewer district officials.

Steve Tedder, a spokesman for the district, declined to comment on the lack of a vote from the council. He said the sewer district will hold a special meeting Friday.

High Ozone Levels Expected Wednesday, Thursday Wednesday, Jul 19 2017 

The Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District  is predicting ozone levels will be high in Louisville and Southern Indiana both Wednesday and Thursday. Air quality alert

The air pollution could affect sensitive groups including young children, the elderly and people with respiratory ailments like asthma and COPD.

Officials say the general public is not likely to be affected.

APCD recommends that on air quality alert days, people take steps to avoid pumping excess pollution into the air.

Regulators suggest taking public transportation, not using gas-powered lawn mowers and combining your errands into one trip.

More information can be found here.

Metro Council Delays Vote On Proposed Sewer Rate Hike Thursday, Jul 13 2017 

A Louisville Metro Council committee is delaying a vote on a measure that seeks to approve a rate increase requested by the Metropolitan Sewer District.

Sewer officials have for months pushed for a rate increase that they say will help fund critical infrastructure repair works. Any such increase greater than 6.9 percent, however, requires Metro Council approval.

Last year, a proposed 20 percent rate hike didn’t get traction before lawmakers. Since then, regulators have held numerous public and private meetings around town to win support for the plan.

The council’s bipartisan budget committee was set to take up the measure in a special meeting Thursday. That meeting, however, was canceled, said Tony Hyatt, spokesman for the council’s majority Democratic caucus.

Hyatt said the measure could be revisited next week during the committee’s regularly scheduled meeting.

The cancellation was made at the request of sewer district officials, Hyatt said.

Last month, MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott told the Metro Budget Committee that a 20 percent increase was necessary to begin work on the city’s crumbling sewer and flood protection systems.

“Decades ago the system was adequate, but as our city has grown and as the assets have gotten older, we have been strained in terms of keeping the system in working order,” he said. “We have tried in recent years to stretch our dollars, to make sure we can keep them operational. We’ve been using sort of a Band-Aid approach, if you will, to do that, and to be able to make sure we could keep a level of service.”

The agency has proposed a 20-year, $4.3 billion Critical Repair and Reinvestment Plan to fund the improvements.

Your Sewer Bill Is Likely Going Up. Lawmakers Will Decide How Much Thursday Wednesday, Jul 12 2017 

Louisville’s Metro Council is set to decide Thursday if it will grant a rate increase requested by the Metropolitan Sewer District.

MSD has been making the case for a significant rate increase for more than a year. Last year, a 20 percent rate hike didn’t get traction before lawmakers. Since then, regulators have held numerous public and private meetings around town to win support for the plan.

Last month, MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott told the Metro Budget Committee that a 20 percent increase was necessary to begin work on the city’s crumbling sewer and flood protection systems.

“Decades ago the system was adequate, but as our city has grown and as the assets have gotten older, we have been strained in terms of keeping the system in working order,” he said. “We have tried in recent years to stretch our dollars, to make sure we can keep them operational. We’ve been using sort of a Band-Aid approach, if you will, to do that, and to be able to make sure we could keep a level of service.”

The agency has proposed a 20-year, $4.3 billion Critical Repair and Reinvestment Plan to fund the improvements.

Any rate increase larger than 6.9 percent requires Metro Council approval. But at last month’s committee meeting, lawmakers introduced the possibility they’d approve a compromise measure.

In addition to the full 20 percent increase, council members will consider a separate ordinance on Thursday. This measure would authorize the MSD Board to raise rates by itself up to 10 percent annually without Metro Council approval for the next four years.

Both possibilities are on the agenda for the meeting, which is at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Perry’s Coal Economics Leaves Economists Puzzled Thursday, Jul 6 2017 

Energy Secretary Rick Perry toured a modern and relatively clean coal-fired power plant in West Virginia in order to tout the benefits of coal in a competitive energy market. But the secretary’s comments generated some controversy.

The coal industry has been feeling the heat from natural gas as electric utilities switch to that cleaner, cheaper fuel. When asked how coal can compete, Perry said it was a simple matter of economics.

“Here’s a little economics lesson, that supply and demand,” Perry said. “You put the supply out there and the demand will follow that.”

That left some economists puzzled: Simply supplying a product does not necessarily create demand for it. West Virginia University economics professor Brian Lego guessed that Perry was likely talking about the 19th century theory known as Say’s Law but not quite getting it right.   

“The description that the secretary provided was very…” Lego struggled for a polite way to put it, “I don’t want to use the word inadequate, but incomplete at least.”

Perry’s comment caught the attention of energy market watchers and the gaffe was soon trending on Twitter.

Glynis Board | Ohio Valley ReSource

Longview Power faced years of community opposition and bankruptcy.

Perry’s visit to Longview Power and a nearby coal mine was intended to highlight energy infrastructure needs and what Perry calls “clean coal” technology.

According to Longview, their plant is the cleanest coal-burning power plant in North America, with some of the lowest emissions. However, it does not capture greenhouse gas emissions of CO2, something generally thought of as part of “clean coal” technology.  

The company that owns the plant has had its own economic troubles, emerging from bankruptcy just two years ago. Officials say the facility’s high efficiency helps make it competitive in a tough market.

Happy Independence Day! Now Let’s Talk About Air Pollution Tuesday, Jul 4 2017 

Fireworks are part of most Fourth of July celebrations. All across the city, events big and small send tiny minuscule particles into the air, sometimes causing air pollution to spike.

Unlike the ozone pollution that’s often the cause of Louisville’s summer air quality alerts, fireworks contribute to a different problem: particulate matter, or soot, which is linked to health problems like aggravated asthma and respiratory problems.

“Generally speaking, we don’t see violations of the pollution standards [on Fourth of July], but we have seen them, it has happened,” said Louisville Air Pollution Control District spokesman Tom Nord.

In recent memory, the city exceeded particulate matter air quality standards on July 4, 2014 and 2015.

Nord said it often takes more than one big event to exceed the federal standards. Even huge fires like the 2015 one at General Electric’s Appliance Park or large fireworks events like Thunder Over Louisville don’t tend to throw the city out of compliance.

“Even though it will affect you locally, as a general rule a single event in a single area is not enough to affect the air for the entire community,” Nord said.

But on Independence Day, there are multiple community fireworks displays, in addition to the large one at Waterfront Park. And there are also people setting off smaller-scale fireworks in most neighborhoods of the city. All of this can cause air pollution to spike, even if it doesn’t exceed the federal standard.

“It’s a one day of the year, and so we’re not trying to be a scold or anything, but just remember there are people with respiratory problems, there’s kids with asthma, and the smoke does tend to linger around the neighborhoods,” Nord said. “So be considerate and remember there are people who are affected by this stuff.”

High Levels Of Ozone Expected Sunday, Monday In Louisville Sunday, Jul 2 2017 

The Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District has issued an Air Quality Alert for ozone in Louisville and Southern Indiana on Sunday and Monday. Air quality alert

The air pollution could affect sensitive groups including young children, the elderly and people with respiratory ailments like asthma and COPD.

Officials say the general public is not likely to be affected.

APCD recommends that on air quality alert days, people take steps to avoid pumping excess pollution into the air.

Regulators suggest taking public transportation, not using gas-powered lawn mowers and combining your errands into one trip.

More information can be found here.

Did You Live In The Ohio Valley From 1991 To 2013? You’ve Likely Been Exposed To PFOA Monday, Jun 26 2017 

A new study has found that people who lived in the Ohio River Valley between 1991 and 2013 have higher levels of a chemical called PFOA in their bloodstream than the national average.

PFOA, also called C-8, is a toxic chemical that was used to make products including non-stick cookware for decades. Its impact on health is the subject of ongoing study; even small amounts are thought to cause larger body mass index in adults, negative responses to vaccines and smaller birth weight in babies.

PFOA was manufactured, among other places, at the DuPont plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. That plant no longer uses PFOA, and as a result of a class action lawsuit and settlement, scientists found links between several types of cancers and PFOA exposure.

But the community surrounding the DuPont plant wasn’t the only one exposed to the chemical. It was discharged into the Ohio River for years, and numerous communities — including Louisville — get drinking water from the river.

Importantly, the study is looking backward, not forward.

“There really is no concern for drinking water today,” said University of Cincinnati professor and study co-author Susan Pinney.

Now that PFOA is known to be a problem, many water treatment plants use granular activated carbon, which filters PFOAs. The water is also routinely tested for the chemical.

Monthly Testing In Louisville

In Louisville, Louisville Water Company spokeswoman Kelley Dearing Smith said the company tests monthly for PFOAs and PFOS, a related chemical.

There’s no federal standard for the chemicals, but there’s a health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. Based on the past year and a half of data, the average amount of the chemicals found in the water company’s Crescent Hill Plant is 7 parts per trillion; for the B.E. Payne plant, it’s 9.5 parts per trillion.

Neither of the company’s plants use granular activated carbon; Dearing Smith said so far, it’s not been necessary.

“Our scientists don’t see this as a public health concern right now, based on the levels we’re seeing,” Dearing Smith said. “This is one of those things where even advanced treatment technology doesn’t entirely wipe out the threat. The best treatment options right now for PFOA would really be to change where you’re getting your water from, if you had really high levels.”

While it’s not a current concern, people who lived in Ohio Valley for the past few decades have likely been exposed to the chemical.

Using blood samples from people who lived along the Ohio River in the 1990s and early 2000s — mostly in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, but also in Louisville; Portsmouth, Ohio; and Huntington, West Virginia — researchers found levels of PFOA higher than the national average.

“And between that and being able to associate it with the body of water they got their drinking water from, we were able to say pretty conclusively that drinking water from the Ohio River and the Ohio River aquifer is a major source of exposure to PFOA,” said study lead author and University of Cincinnati graduate student Robert Herrick.

Implications For Future Health

The study found the most important factor that dictated how much PFOA was in a person’s bloodstream wasn’t how close they lived to the places that manufactured the chemical.

“Levels in the river itself decrease as you go downriver, but levels in people don’t necessarily decrease as you go downriver,” Herrick said. “The type of water treatment has a very big effect.”

Granular activated carbon is the most effective way to remove PFOA from drinking water. Cincinnati’s water system installed a system in 1992, while across the river, Northern Kentucky’s waterworks didn’t install one until 2012.

And while the amount of PFOA in the river would be similar at both sites, Herrick said people who got their drinking water from the Cincinnati water system had lower levels of the chemical in their blood than their Kentucky neighbors.

So, what does this all mean? Herrick and Pinney said understanding this historical data will help researchers in the future figure out what, if any, health effects can be linked to long-term PFOA exposure.

PFOA has pretty long half-life. Once it gets in your bloodstream, it takes two to four years for half of it to disappear. This means it sticks around for a very long time. Previous studies have linked high PFOA concentrations to a variety of conditions, like a larger body mass index in adults, a poor reaction to vaccines and a smaller birth weight for babies exposed in utero.

But Pinney said so far, there’s nothing conclusive. That’s where this study might help shed some light.

“We’re not saying people need to be very concerned about what they’re drinking today,” she said. “This is a historical study, but the importance of it is as we look toward the future, if we see some health effects we now know better that the exposure went back further and was actually greater in the early 1990s.”

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