One Bad Bug
By Kelly A. Reynolds, MSPH, PhD , Associate Professor at the University of Arizona College of Public Health
The emergence and increased prevalence of the ‘superbug’ bacterium known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), has raised questions as to the routes of transmission related to disease. Reports of MRSA infections in the general population and evidence of the bacteria surviving in wastewater, tap water and drinking water biofilms creates alarm in the public and warrants a discussion of whether or not MRSA infections occur from tapwater exposures.
Read more (pdf)
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
By JACOB SEIBEL TN Correspondent email@example.com
Unpermitted sewer lines that discharge untreated sewage, known as wildcat sewers, have officially delayed the nearly decade-long Act 537 project for West Penn Township and Walker Township.
With the plan supposed to be finished by the end of December before what supervisors hoped to be the start of the implementation process of fixing defective sewers in the township, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has called for further investigation into the wildcat sewers.
Although an investigation of the wildcats was unavoidable, West Penn Township Solicitor Gretchen Sterns and Township Engineer Ronald B. Madison, PE hoped that it could be done while the project was being worked on. They said there is no sense to delay the project to investigate a problem that they already know is there.
“I find that it is unbelievable, quite frankly,” Sterns said at last evening’s supervisor meeting, “that DEP showed great concern that there are areas where these wildcat sewers are where you literally have black water is coming out, causing a huge pollution concern, but their response is not to fix it. Their response is lets study it some more. I’m appalled, frankly, by that result.”
“Unfortunately, it’s more time and more expense,” Madison said.
The estimated cost for West Penn and Walker Township since the planning phase of Act 537 began in 2003 up this point has been $356,107.
A West Penn Township board of supervisors reorganization meeting will be Monday, Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. in the municipal building.
PennPIRG releases report on threat of nuclear power to PA drinking water
The Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) Education Fund has released new data on how nuclear power plants are a threat to the drinking water for Pennsylvanians in a report, “Too Close To Home: Nuclear Power and the Threat to Drinking Water.”
The March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster delivered a reminder to the world that nuclear power comes with inherent risks when a large amount of radioactive material escaped into the environment over the ensuing months. Drinking water sources as far as 130 miles from the plant were contaminated with radioactive iodine, prompting cities such as Tokyo to warn against consumption of the water by infants.
In the United States, 49 million Americans receive their drinking water from surface sources located within 50 miles of an active nuclear power plant – inside the boundary the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses to assess risk to food and water supplies.
According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans in 35 states drink water from sources within 50 miles of nuclear power plants. New York has the most residents drawing drinking water from sources near power plants, with the residents of New York City and its environs making up most of the total. Pennsylvania has the second most, including residents of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg.
The attached full report provides more information on the risks nuclear power poses and suggestions on how to reduce such risks.
PennPIRG- Too Close To Home Report (pdf)
Penn State Extension will be offering several training workshops for new Master Well Owner Volunteers in 2012. The six week online course will begin on February 6, 2012. Two Saturday training workshops will also be offered this spring in McKean and Butler Counties. More details on these training workshops, including a link to the online application, are provided below.
Upcoming Training Opportunities for New Master Well Owner Volunteers Pennsylvania is home to over one million private water wells and springs but it is one of the few states that do not provide statewide regulations to protect these rural drinking water supplies. In 2004, Penn State Cooperative Extension and several partner agencies created the Master Well Owner Network (MWON), a group of trained volunteers who are dedicated to promoting the proper construction, testing, and maintenance of private water wells, springs and cisterns throughout Pennsylvania. Since its inception, hundreds of MWON volunteers have been trained in 64 counties throughout Pennsylvania. These volunteers have, in turn, educated tens of thousands of private water system owners across the state.
In 2012, persons interested in becoming a trained Master Well Owner volunteer will have three opportunities.
1) Online MWON volunteer training will occur between February 6, 2012 and March 19, 2012. Volunteers in the online training receive weekly emails containing links to relevant reading in the MWON handbook (A Guide to Private Water Systems in Pennsylvania), a 45-minute video presentation for each chapter, and a short online exam. Participants in online training will largely be able to determine their own training schedule. Volunteers with questions can attend one optional live online meeting at the end of the course. Participants must score a cumulative 70% on all of the online exams to be certified as a MWON volunteer. Registration for the onilne course is limited to 25 participants. More information on the online course is available at:
2) A standard, Saturday MWON volunteer training workshop will be offered in Butler County (location TBA) on March 24, 2012 from 9 AM until 3:30 PM. Participants will hear presentations from Penn State water specialists, well drillers and other experts. As with the online course, volunteers at the Saturday workshops must score at least 70% on a final exam to be certified.
3) Another standard, Saturday MWON volunteer training workshop will be offered in Smethport, PA (McKean County) on April 21, 2012 from 9 AM to 3:30 PM.
Volunteers who successfully complete any of these training courses and pass the exam(s) will receive a free copy of the 80 page publication – A Guide to Private Water Systems in Pennsylvania, a coupon good for a 10% discount on water testing through the Penn State water testing lab, and access to various MWON educational materials. In return, MWON volunteers are asked to pass along what they have learned to other private water supply owners and submit an annual report of their educational accomplishments.
Prospective volunteers need to submit an application and be accepted into the program. Applications for the online course will only be accepted through January 31, 2012. Applications for the Saturday workshops will be accepted up to one week before the workshop. To be eligible for any MWON training, applicants must not be affiliated with any business that works directly with private water system owners such as employees of water well drilling companies, water testing laboratories or water treatment businesses.
To learn more and the Master Well Owner Network, visit
To complete an application to participate in one of the MWON volunteer trainings listed above, visit
Water Resources Extension Specialist
Penn State Extension
Thursday, August 25, 2011
A new study finds that state regulations regarding coal ash disposal are inadequate to protect public health and drinking water supplies for nearby communities. The information comes as federal regulations – the first of their kind – are under attack by a hostile Congress bent on derailing any effort to ensure strong, federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash, America’s second largest industrial waste stream.
Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates (formerly the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment) released “State of Failure: How states fail to protect our health and drinking water from toxic coal ash,” a review of state regulations in 37 states, which together comprise over 98 percent of all coal ash generated nationally. The study highlights the lack of state-based regulations for coal ash disposal and points to the 12 worst states when it comes to coal ash dumping: Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Virginia.
There are currently nearly 700 coal ash ponds and hundreds of coal ash landfills in the U.S., most of which operate without adequate liners and water quality monitoring, and have been operating as such for decades. Most states do not require coal ash dumps to employ the most basic safeguards required at landfills for household garbage.
State of Failure includes detailed information on basic disposal safeguards, such as groundwater monitoring, liners, isolation of ash from the water table, and financial assurance requirements in 37 states where coal ash is currently generated and disposed.
Coal ash is the toxic remains of coal-fired power plants; enough is generated each year to fill train cars stretching from the North Pole to the South Pole. The ash contains toxic metals, including arsenic, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, and selenium. Coal ash is commonly dumped into unlined and unmonitored ponds and landfills. There are well over a hundred documented sites where coal ash has contaminated drinking water or surface water.
The EPA is currently considering a federal proposal to regulate coal ash that includes two options: the first option would classify coal ash as hazardous waste, requiring water quality monitoring, liners and the phase out of dangerous “wet” storage of coal ash, such as the pond that collapsed in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008. The second option would continue to allow states to inadequately regulate coal ash by establishing only guidelines that states are free to ignore. Within the industry, coal ash generators support the weaker option. The EPA, under pressure from industry, has postponed finalizing the coal ash standard until 2012.
But coal ash allies in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are not content with delay. Two bills currently moving through the House seek to undermine any efforts by the EPA to set federal enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal. Both bills require EPA to let the states – and the states alone – decide how to regulate ash, with little federal oversight.
“This report proves unequivocally that state programs, without federal mandates or oversight, are a recipe for disaster when it comes to protecting our health and our environment,” said Lisa Evans, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice and a co-author of the study. “Strong, federally enforceable safeguards are needed to guarantee that our drinking water remains free of arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic metals found in coal ash. The myth that states are doing a good job protecting Americans from coal ash is busted.”
“The problem with relying on state regulations is that they are not designed for the unique problems of coal ash generally and coal ash impoundments particularly,” said Mike Becher, the Equal Justice Works Fellow at Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “While many coal ash impoundments are regulated by state dam safety programs, these programs were developed to deal with dams holding back water, not toxic substances. State solid waste programs, on the other hand, are not used to dealing with large impoundments and the threat of a catastrophic dam failure like the one seen in Tennessee in 2008.”
By LIZ PINKEY TN Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Members of Tamaqua’s Borough Council got an earful last night from several citizens who are unhappy about the fact that they are responsible for footing the bill to connect to the sanitary sewer, after years of illegally, and in most cases, unknowingly, discharging waste into the Wabash Creek.
Although the project and its expense have people upset, one of the other issues that came to light at last night’s meeting is the fact that by delaying the investigation of the problem the borough may have caused citizens to miss out on opportunities to seek outside funding or loans to help finance the project.
Anna Brose, of 249 West Broad St., said that the first letter she received regarding the problem and explaining that dye testing would be completed in the future was in 2008.
“It has taken three years to have the dye test done. I have a problem with that,” she said. “There is no financial aid available. Two years ago, three years ago, there was money available. Now there is nothing.”
Brose went on to say that she had received a letter from the borough stating that there was money available through the USDA and through Schuylkill Community Action.
“That money has dried up,” she said. “Schuylkill Community Action said their funding dried up two years ago.”
Brose said she could take a low interest loan through the borough, but still balked at the cost.
“I have paid a lot of money to the borough, as have a lot of people in this room,” she said, referring to the estimated $9,200 she has paid in sewer bills over the last 30 years. “We just can’t absorb this amount of money, when this could have been done how long ago and money would have been available,” she said.
Borough President Micah Gursky agreed that the situation is not a good one. However, he stood by the borough’s process.
“Everyone agrees that it should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “Our initial plan was to dye test the properties, but the cost was much higher than we could afford as a borough. That was the delay. We were trying to figure out options, how to figure out who needed to hook up.”
Gursky also said this is not the first time that the borough has had to deal with properties where the owners believed that they were connected to the public system and were in fact, not.
“It happens from time to time,” he said. “Unfortunately, everyone is required to hook up.”
Councilman Tom Cara said that the borough was willing to “let this thing go on because we didn’t want to put the burden on you.” However, Gursky disagreed.
“You can’t flush your toilet into the creek,” he said.
Resident Kevin Kellner, who lost his home at 5 South Lehigh St. in a fire on July 5, was one of the property owners who was notified that he was not connected. Kellner said that his lawyer had advised him that the residents will be required to pay to connect to the sewer, however, he told him that he should recoup the money that he has paid to the borough over the years in sewer bills.
Gursky said that the borough has “been down that road before” and does not expect that the borough will be required to reimburse residents. Kellner also asked why DEP has not been held accountable for the cleanup of local waterways, including the Wabash and the Panther Creek.
Another unfortunate issue with the timing of the project has to deal with the Streetscape project that was recently completed along sections of Broad Street. Many of the property owners will be required to dig through the new sidewalks and pavers and replace them in order to connect to the sewer main.
“Yeah, we’re kicking ourselves because we’re going to have to cut into new sidewalks,” said Gursky.
One resident could be looking at an even larger project. Daniel Lattanzi, of 403 E. Broad St., is facing an estimated $25,000 in bills as he would need to connect to a main located on the other side of Broad Street, which would necessitate digging all the way across Route 209. Lattanzi has lived at the seven unit apartment complex since 1950 and owned it since 1962. Although he said he could pursue a cheaper alternative and install a grinder pump and avoid crossing 209, he has no control over what is going into that pump and is not willing to risk incurring more expense for the continual upkeep of the pump.
“I can’t get a bit of help. We’ve been hung out to dry,” he said, calling it a “moral issue.”
“I feel the borough should do something,” he added.
Another resident, Maria Burke, of Rowe Street, asked what will happen to residents who cannot comply with the Aug. 31 deadline. Burke expressed the frustration that many residents feel at being told they are breaking the law.
“I don’t want my crap going in the freaking creek. Who does? We want to do the right thing,” she said, but she indicated that with a newborn at home, she may not be able to find the money and additionally, trying to find a plumber to complete the work by Aug. 31 is going to be difficult with more than 40 properties needing to be addressed.
“We’re begging you,” she said to council members, “be an advocate for us.”
Councilman Brian Connelly said that the borough will contact other offices, including U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, to see if there is any aid that can be made available to residents.
However, he and other council members are not optimistic that funding will be forthcoming, especially not by the Aug. 31 deadline.
Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt said that the borough will definitely need to ask DEP for an extension. The Tamaqua Public Library has already missed its deadline to connect to a lateral on a neighboring property and will need to look at another alternative.
Steigerwalt said that DEP has been advised of that situation and has not approved or denied an extension request, it has just asked that it be corrected as soon as possible.
By ANDY LEIBENGUTH email@example.com
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Forty Tamaqua property owners are being given 60-day notices to stop discharging wastewater directly to the Wabash Creek culvert and to connect to Tamaqua’s municipal sewer system. The work is to be done at property owners’ expense.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued an order to the borough last December to investigate and remove all illegal sewage discharges to the creek, which runs under downtown Tamaqua from South Lehigh Street to Rowe Street and then to South Railroad Street.
The deadline to comply with this order is Aug. 31.
The borough hired Alfred Benesch Company and A One Service, Shenandoah, to investigate both the Wabash Creek and Panther Creek, which runs through eastern portions of Tamaqua, for the sources of any possible illegal sewage discharge, aka wildcats. Inspections of the creeks were performed between March 1 and March 31. Initially, 56 connections were found to have active sanitary connections to the Wabash Creek culvert, with dry residue indicating recent sanitary connections.
Investigators used special equipment and cameras. The notice, given to affected property owners about a month ago, states, “In accordance with the DEP order and Borough Ordinance No. 304, you are hereby notified to stop discharging sewage to the Wabash Creek and connect your property to the municipal sewer system within 60 days of your receipt of this notice.”
Receiving the notice were homes and business owners on South Lehigh Street, West Broad Street, Spruce Street, Rowe Street and South Railroad Street. The notice also states that if a property owner fails to correct the illegal sewer discharge within 60 days of receiving the notice, the matter will be referred to the code enforcement officer and borough solicitor for legal action.
Some property owners are upset with the short notice and unexpected financial burden this has placed on them. Ann Brose, 249 West Broad St., said that it will cost approximately $7,000 to connect to the sewer system.
“I have to pay to dig into the second lane of SR209 to hook up to the sewer. I never knew my sewage wasn’t connected to the borough’s system,” adding, “I want to do what’s right, but not 30 years after I purchased my house.”
Brose, who pointed out that she doesn’t qualify for low interest loans, added, “I’ve paid the borough $9,200 over 30 years for sewer and now I have to pay to connect to a sewer system I thought I was already connected to.” Brose and other affected property owners are expected to attend tonight’s borough council meeting to bring up their concerns.
A summary of required steps was also given with the notice. The summary lists detailed instructions concerning steps required to connect to the borough’s sanitary sewer system, as well as a Building Sewer Permit Application. Current sewer customers do not have to pay the borough’s $2,000 first-time sewer connection charge.
Low and moderate income property owners may qualify for financial assistance for construction of their sewer connection. Kevin Steigerwalt, Tamaqua borough manager, stated that property owners can save on construction expenses by consolidating contract work with other affected property owners.
Assistance may be available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Schuylkill Community Action and the Tamaqua Borough’s Community Development Department. Affected residents are encouraged to contact Steigerwalt or Rob Jones, Tamaqua public works director, at (570) 668-3444 or (570) 668-0300 with any questions or concerns.
WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2011 (ENS) – Environmental health and autism experts Tuesday called for reform of the outdated U.S. law regulating chemicals, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
They warned that the recent sharp rise in autism is likely due, in part, to the cocktail of toxic chemicals that pregnant women, fetuses, babies and young children encounter.
“Lead, mercury, and other neurotoxic chemicals have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels that were once thought to be safe. With some complex combination of insults, little brains reach a tipping point,” warned Donna Ferullo, director of program research at The Autism Society, told reporters on a conference call convened by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition.
The nationwide coalition represents more than 11 million people, including parents, health professionals, advocates for people with learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health advocates, environmentalists and businesses.
Today in the United States, about one in every 110 children has autism, a disorder of neural development characterized by abnormalities of social interactions and communication, severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior. Boys are affected more than girls – one in every 70 boys will have autism.
Ferullo called autism the “fastest growing developmental disability in the United States.”
“It has increased 600 percent in the last two decades – 1.5 million Americans are living with autism,” she said. “This epidemic within one generation cannot be solely accounted for by genetic causes, or wider diagnostic criteria or even increased awareness.”
By Andrew Staub (Staff Writer)
Published: May 21, 2011
It seems everybody who lives near Chuck Meninchini is sick.
The radius of disease circles Mill Street and Carroll Street in Pittston, Meninchini’s hometown.
In a one-block radius on the streets five people have brain cancer, Meninchini said. And there’s more. Fifteen people in the area, Meninchini said, suffer from esophageal cancer.
“How rare is that?” he said.
All told, more than 80 families include somebody who is battling cancer, Meninchini said. He’s one of them, diagnosed with lymphoma in February.
Meninchini believes there’s a connection. Namely, the Butler Mine Tunnel. It was built before the 1930s to provide mine drainage for the maze of underground coal mines that run under the small city, but eventually became an illegal dumping ground for millions of gallons of oil waste collected by a nearby service station.
The Butler Mine Tunnel runs near Meninchini’s homes on 200 Carroll St., eventually discharging into the Susquehanna River. Meninchini believes whole-heartedly the sludge that has built up below caused his cancer and the diseases of those around him.
“You’re talking two streets. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Meninchini said. “If something wasn’t going on, prove me different. Show me where it’s coming from.”
Meninchini’s doctor, he said, told him exposure to benzene caused his cancer.
According to records from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the Pittston Mine Tunnel spewed an oily discharge into the Susquehanna River on July 30, 1979. Contaminants from the oil slick stretched from shoreline to shoreline, the records indicate, and drifted 60 miles downstream to Danville.
Responding to the emergency, the EPA installed booms on the river and collected 160,000 gallons of oil waste. The booms also collected 13,000 pounds of dichlorobenzene, a chemical used to make herbicides, insecticides, medicine and dyes, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.
The particular type of dichlorobenzene found in the river has not been tested to see if it can cause cancer, according to the agency. Another type of the chemical, though, “could play a role in the development of cancer in humans, but we do not definitely know this,” the agency concluded in its public health statement about dichlorobenzene.
In 1985, after heavy rains associated with Hurricane Gloria, the Butler Mine Tunnel spewed another 100,000 gallons of oily waste into the river and prompted another boom cleanup.
While the EPA has not connected the rash of cancer to the Butler Mine Tunnel, Meninchini wonders if chemicals eventually worked their way into the soil and into the vegetables people ate, he said. He wonders if he was exposed to any chemicals while working as a plumber in the city.
Answers – which Meninchini said have been tough to extract from government officials – might come next week.
State and federal officials have scheduled an open house for Tuesday to discuss the Butler Mine Tunnel. Representatives from the EPA, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, among others, will attend the event at the Martin L. Mattei Middle School on New Street in Pittston.
The open house runs from 4 to 6 p.m. with a presentation and follow-up session afterwards. Postcards detailing the event were mailed to about 1,500 homes in the vicinity of the tunnel, and Meninchini expects plenty of residents to show up. A woman from Connecticut, he said, even called him about it.
Until then, Meninchini continues to fight his cancer. The lymphoma, which originally riddled his stomach, pancreas, liver and spleen, has been beaten back in some places, but Meninchini said he was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and faces surgery.
Meninchini can’t work anymore, and he’s blown through his savings and cashed in his 401(k) to fund the thousands of dollars of medical expenses not covered by insurance.
Meninchini doesn’t want to get rich by publicizing the cancer outbreak – he just wants people’s health expenses financed, he said.
This week, friends and family have organized a “night-at-the-races” fundraiser to offset some of Meninchini’s health care costs – it runs from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Italian Citizens Club in Pittston and includes food, drink and a wager.
An EPA official who oversees the Butler Mine Tunnel did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Reported on Friday, May 20, 2011
By LIZ PINKEY firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifty six properties in the borough of Tamaqua have been identified as having active or once active illegal sewer connections to the Wabash Creek.
Those that were once active may need further investigation to determine if they will need to be addressed. Council president Micah Gursky announced the findings of a recent study at this week’s borough council meeting, stating that property owners have already been notified by certified mail.
“As sad as it is that we have illegal discharge, it’s nice to see a list finally verifying who is illegally connected,” said Gursky. “There have always been rumors.”
The list is now available to the general public and can be viewed at the borough building.
“This is just the beginning,” said Gursky. “There are a lot of folks who have to connect and a lot of work to be done over the next several months to connect them.”
The majority of the properties are located along S. Lehigh, W. Broad, Rowe, S. Railroad and Nescopec streets. Gursky added that
The borough has until August to address the problems to avoid further issues with DEP, which has already cited the borough for the illegal discharge. Property owners have 60 days to connect to the sewage system.
Borough manager Kevin Steigerwalt asked borough residents for their continued cooperation in the matter.
“So far, the people have have contacted us with questions have been very cooperative. We appreciate that,” he said.
The borough does have a revolving loan program that could be available to property owners who need financial assistance to have the work completed. More information on that program is available from the borough.