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New EPA Report Focuses on Environmental Accomplishments
Salmon are jumping in abundance on the Penobscot River in New England, where none were found 10 years ago. In downtown Bangor, Maine, it is not unusual to see blue-jeaned children and office workers in business suits catching 12 to 20-pound salmon on their lunch hour.
The Lake Erie beaches at Michigan's Sterling State Park are safe for swimming after being closed for 17 years.
The Willamette River in Oregon, called a "biological cesspool" in 1967, is alive with migratory salmon and native trout.
Coast-to-coast environmental accomplishments of this sort are profiled in a new 10-year report published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: National Accomplishments in Pollution Control: Some Case Histories.
"This report is a means of presenting some of the many accomplishments of the 'decade of the environment,'" said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Douglas M. Costle. "The report also emphasizes the many challenges which still face us. It is critical that those concerned about meeting the challenges continue to work in an effective partnership to further improve the environment in this new decade," said Costle.
The new report does not attempt to cover all accomplishments; only to highlight examples of achievements over the past decade. Included are case histories of cleaner rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries; victories in the battle against air pollution; examples of increased protection of the land, including efforts to control hazardous waste and sludge; accomplishments in dealing with PCB threats; responses to environmental emergencies, such as hazardous material spills; and instances where there was success in dealing with noise problems.
The report shows how lakes have been saved from a choking death called eutrophication, largely through sophisticated sewage treatment operations. Examples include Lake Erie, Haley Pond and Rangeley Lake in Maine, Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota, and Utah Lake near Provo City. Eutrophication is an aging process often characterized by thick algae blooms caused by excessive nitrogen and phosphorous discharges.
An employee in EPA's regional office in Philadelphia raised a question which led to a critical improvement in drinking water quality. He suspected that the chlorine used to disinfect drinking water might itself be contaminating the water with toxic organics. It turned out that the chlorine used at a water treatment plant contained carbon tetrachloride, a known animal carcinogen. Traced to the manufacturer, a processing malfunction was discovered. EPA also ascertained that few companies in the chlorine manufacturing business tested the chlorine for carbon tetrachloride contamination. The entire industry joined in rectifying the situation, agreeing to meet a standard which will help avert such a risk anywhere.
The EPA report says that many industries undertook major pollution control efforts and a mutual search for new and better solutions to old problems. Notable examples occurred in the food processing industries, where organic waste has been converted from a liability into a financial asset. The citrus, potato processing, and sugar mill industries are singled out in the new EPA report.
In describing efforts to reduce air pollutants, there are examples of early success in controlling sulfur dioxide (SO2) in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Missouri and Oregon. While the clean-up campaign is not complete in many areas, the EPA report highlights six urban areas where the air is cleaner than it was 10 years ago: New York, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Detroit, Gary, and Chicago.
Power plants have the potential for an enormous pollution impact of the air. The report highlights the outstanding strides made by the Nashville Thermal Transfer Company which reduced particulate emissions 92 percent; a reduction of 80 percent in SO2 emissions by the Dairyland Power Cooperative near the Mississippi River bluffs in Wisconsin; and the extensive use of stack scrubbers (which allows for burning high-sulfur fuel) by Kansas City Power and Light Company and Kansas Gas and Electric Company.
Throughout its existence, EPA has sought to grapple with the problem of how to clean up areas with dirty air without stifling industrial development. The report cites examples of an innovative Federal policy that allows a company to build a new plant in an area with poor air quality when it can get existing air pollution sources to control their emissions more tightly.
One example of this "emissions offset" policy took place in Pennsylvania. The State switched from hydrocarbon-based asphalt for road maintenance to water-based asphalt. The decrease in emissions of hydrocarbons was great enough to offset emissions from a new Volkswagon plant in New Stanton.
As a result of disasters like Love Canal, communities are increasingly aware of the hazardous waste problem generated by our industrial society. The National Accomplishments report details many incidents in which quick actions by Federal, State, and local governments, by industry, or by private citizens have prevented potential catastrophes. For instance, a wildlife refuge at Ogden Bay, Utah, was saved in 1974 from becoming a simmering lagoon of oil and acidic sludge when State and EPA officials cleaned up an old dump site that was leaching into the Bay.
According to the report, the Agency views these case histories as evidence of hope for a stressed and threatened environment--and that while science and technology do not yet have all the answers, workable pollution controls are available and can make a significant difference when they are applied.
The report emphasizes that the cited case histories deal, for the most part, "only with the Nation's first generation of pollution problems. Tomorrow's environmental problems--particularly those involving deadly toxic pollutants--confront us with even greater challenges."
"Ultimately we must look beyond pollution abatement to the more sophisticated arena of pollution prevention," the report concludes.
National Accomplishments in Pollution Control, 1970-1980: Some Case Histories is available through interlibrary loan from EPA's Library Network.