Summer 2005 Gulf Currents Newsletter

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Volume 9, Issue 2 June 2005

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promoting a new policy that threatens waters throughout the entire nation. The new policy would allow sewage treatment facilities to mix sewage that has been filtered but not treated with fully treated sewage, then discharge it into downstream waters when it is raining. The EPA refers to this as “sewage blending.” This policy would permit the discharge of sewage that has not been treated for pathogens and other pollutants. Many of our lakes, rivers, and streams are already polluted with bacteria and other pathogens from sewer system overflows and leaking septic tanks. As a result, we are not able to safely swim and fish in those waters. Unfortunately, the EPA’s sewage blending policy would make an already serious problem even worse. Sewer authorities argue that allowing largely untreated sewage to be discharged during periods of rainfall (when it can be diluted) is the answer to the insufficient maintenance of aging sewer systems. They claim that weakening current sewage treatment requirements will resolve “inconsistencies in regional enforcement” without the cost of upgrading treatment facilities. There are many problems with the nation’s sewer systems, but sewage blending is not the solution. Sewage blending is essentially sewage dumping. It is a bad idea for many reasons: • Sewage dumping is bad for public health. “Blended” sewage has significantly higher levels of pollutants, such as grease, toxins, intestinal worms, pharmaceuticals, hormones, and antibiotics. Sewage that has not been fully treated is also filled with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that carry diseases, such as cholera, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, and dysentery. These illnesses can be life-threatening for small children, the elderly, cancer patients, and others who are already weakened by disease.

Inside this issue:
Latino neighborhood is most polluted area in Houston The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act Mercury contamination in seafood Spotlight on new member groups Take Action: save our waters from sewage dumping

3 4

5 6 8

Special points of interest:

♦ Houston
neighborhood exceeds federal limits for carcinogens.

♦ Important legislation
to preserve the Clean Water Act in Congress now.

♦ The Gulf Coast is
home to three of the dirtiest sources of industrial mercury pollution in the country.

(Continued from page 1)

Sewage dumping is bad for the economy and the environment. Sewage in our water closes beaches, increases the cost of drinking water filtration, feeds toxic algal blooms, damages coral reefs, shuts down shellfish beds, and robs the water of oxygen that fish need to breathe. The EPA’s sewage dumping policy is illegal. The Clean Water Act (CWA) and its regulations require sewage to be fully treated prior to discharge under routine operating conditions. Under the EPA’s proposed policy, sewage would not meet current treatment requirements. In past enforcement actions against sewer operators, the EPA has clearly stated that sewage dumping violates the CWA.

Fortunately, even if the EPA does not back down, there is another potential solution in Congress. In March, four House members, Bart Stupak (DMI), Clay Shaw (R-FL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced the Save Our Waters from Sewage Act (H.R. 1126). The bill would prevent the EPA from finalizing its sewage dumping policy, require the agency to enforce existing Clean Water Act rules that only permit sewage blending in rare instances, and require public disclosure of discharges of inadequately treated sewage. In order to prevent this proposed policy from becoming a reality, we need you to take action today. See the action alert on the back page of this issue for instructions on what you can do to help save our waters from sewage. For additional information, visit the Clean Water Network’s website at or the GRN’s website at This article was adapted from a Clean Water Network fact sheet and action alert.

The EPA is in the process of deciding whether to finalize this proposed policy. Pressure against the EPA’s sewage dumping plan must come from the public, Congress, environmental groups, public health professionals, local elected officials, and others who care about clean and safe water, so that the EPA will decide to reconsider, or be forced to withdraw, its proposal.

On April 2, 2005, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Sierra Club sponsored a symposium on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). It was a great success. There were more than 40 participants from across the country. work together to fight for safe LNG for the Gulf.

Thanks to all the participants for their hard work and continued commitment to this important campaign. If you want copies of any GRN board member Casi Callaway leads a strategy session at the The symposium began with LNG symposium. information from the the panel discussion, “Fish, symposium, or to learn more Fires and FERC – is LNG meant to be?” hosted by about our campaign for Safe LNG for the Gulf, the Tulane Environmental Conference. After the please contact Briana Kerstein at the GRN, by panel, the afternoon was used for workshops on the phone at 504-525-1528 x208, or by email at specific threats of LNG and to develop a strategy to [email protected].
Page 2 JUNE 2005

Adapted from an article by Javier Sierra, Sierra Club Media Team

Manchester is the most polluted neighborhood in Houston, the most polluted city in the United States. In this overwhelmingly Latino Houston barrio, 10 petrochemical plants spew 1.9 million pounds of air pollutants per year. Manchester is perhaps the most emblematic example of an injustice that repeats itself throughout the country. The poorer and more ethnic a community is, the higher the likelihood that its schools are close to toxic sites. “Here there are tens of thousands of children going to schools located less than two miles from a chemical plant,” said Juan Parras, leader of Unidos Contra Environmental Racism. “A good example is César Chávez High School, where more than a thousand students, almost all of them Latino, would take the brunt of a potential severe pollutant leak.” César Chávez High School, built in 2000, is located close to four petrochemical plants: ExxonMobil, Texas Petrochemical, Lyondell-Citgo, and Valero Houston Refinery. Moreover, the school was built on top of underground pipes conducting oil and gas to the factories. The companies claim they obey the law to the letter, but a recent study completed by the Houston Chronicle seems to confirm residents’ fears. According to the report, in Manchester, the levels

of 1,3-butadin, benzene and chloroform—three known carcinogens—far surpassed federal limits. A scientist told the Chronicle that Manchester's benzene levels are so high that living there is like being perpetually stuck in traffic. More than 80 samples taken by the newspaper would have provoked a full-blown federal investigation if the area was a toxic dumpsite rather than a community. Another scientist said Manchester is unique in the United States because no matter which direction the wind blows, pollutants get to the residents. School officials, however, reject the criticism, calling people like Parras “the fringe” and alleging that this $50-million school was built based on sound environmental studies completed in 1992, which “demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with the property.” “Many years have gone by since then,” answered Parras. “We have been the country’s most polluted city since 1998. School officials must install air monitors and stop keeping students’ medical records secret. It’s as if they're throwing us a bone, but that bone happens to be toxic.” The future might not be as bleak. Parras’s group, along with 650 Manchester residents, has convinced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an investigation into the barrio’s environmental conditions.

We Need Your Support!
Yes! I want to become an individual member of the GRN and support their work in protecting and preserving the resources of the Gulf of Mexico. Name: ____________________________________ Address: __________________________________ City: ______________ State: ______ Zip: ______ Phone: ____________________________________ __$15 __$35 __$50 __$75 __$100 __Other THANK YOU! Please make your checks payable to the GRN.

Mail to: GRN, P.O. Box 2245, New Orleans, LA 70176
Volume 9, Issue 2 Page 3

In 2001, a U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door for more limited protections under the Clean Water Act. That decision in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cooke County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (also known as the SWANCC decision) was a very narrow ruling limiting the ability of federal agencies to extend Clean Water Act protections to non-navigable intrastate, isolated waters based solely on the use of those waters by migratory birds. However, the SWANCC decision allowed industry groups and some federal agencies to push for the removal of protections for many waters throughout the country, leaving them vulnerable to the discharge of pollutants and the dredging and filling of wetlands. Legislation is needed to settle the debate over the Clean Water Act’s coverage for waters made vulnerable to destruction by the SWANCC decision and to reaffirm Congress’s original intent that the Clean Water Act protect our wetlands, streams, ponds, and lakes. Bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress that would reinforce the protection of our waters. The bill in the House of Representatives, the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2005 (H.R.1356), was introduced this spring and has over 130 co-sponsors. The Senate version, S. 912, now has eight co-sponsors. These bills do not provide any new protections: they simply reaffirm the common understanding that “waters of the United States”—the term defining the federal government’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act—should be interpreted broadly to protect important water resources throughout the United States. Similar bills died in both houses of Congress last year. Momentum is needed to ensure passage of this important legislation. Please take the time to contact your Senators and Representative and urge them to ensure that your state’s waters are protected by supporting the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act. For more information, visit our website at or the Clean Water Network at

The Gulf Restoration Network and our partner U.S. PIRG would like to thank the 15 restaurants that helped to educate the public about mercury in fish. This year’s dine out on May 19th built momentum and awareness to “Save Our Seafood” from mercury. Since New Orleans’ cuisine famously relies on seafood, the event helped to educate the general public with a simple message: there are safe consumption levels and safe species of seafood. This year’s dine out focused on the recent efforts of the Louisiana governor to create a “Mercury Action Plan,” which could include critical steps to limit mercury emissions into the environment. To learn more about the event and to take action to limit mercury emissions, visit Thanks to: Susan Spicer & Bayona, Ti Martin & Commander’s Palace, Emanuel Loubier & Dante’s Kitchen, Deniz Eroglu & Fresco Café, Patrick Singley & Gautreau’s, Moncef Sbaa & Jamila’s Café, Warren Chapoton & Juan’s Flying Burrito & Slice, John Harris & Lilette, Corbin Evans & Lulu’s in the Garden, Martinique Bistro, Steve Schwartz & Mat & Naddie’s, Muriel’s Jackson Square, Russell Davis & Saltwater Grill, Christy Rowley & Loyola’s Donnelly Center for Non-Profit Communications for the great design, and Dr. Bob and Scott Guion for the great art!
Page 4 JUNE 2005

Mercury contamination is a problem throughout the Gulf states. In addition to the Gulf-wide advisory on king mackerel, eight Mississippi waterbodies (plus those in the Mississippi River Delta), 14 Alabama waterbodies, 20 Texas waterbodies, 36 Louisiana waterbodies, and over 200 Florida waterbodies all produce fish that accumulate problematic levels of mercury, prompting advisories warning children and women of childbearing age not to eat certain species of fish. However, efforts are underway in Congress to decrease mercury pollution, and some states are beginning to tackle the issue as well.
Photo Credit: Emily Dauterive, Shawn M. Donnelly Center for Non-Profit Communications, Loyola University New Orleans

There is legislation in Congress that could decrease mercury pollution from power plants. Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) is sponsoring the Clean Power Act, which would cap and decrease emissions of mercury and other pollutants. Unfortunately, the EPA is offering its own, far weaker regulation of mercury from coal-fired power plants. Recent reporting on the EPA rule has shown that the agency ignored public health studies that estimated the health benefits of reducing mercury were hundreds of times more valuable than the cost to industry. Some states have jumped in to tackle power plant mercury emissions on their own. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have all taken steps to limit emissions further and faster than the EPA’s federal rule. Florida has been very aggressive in ensuring that estuarine and marine fish advisories are up to date and protective. In Louisiana, Governor Kathleen Blanco has directed the state environmental agency to develop a mercury action plan. The GRN has participated in an advisory capacity and will be working with other groups to ensure the action plan works to limit mercury emissions from industrial sources. We are hopeful about the prospect of limiting emissions around the Gulf, but action is far from assured. In the meantime, state agencies that monitor mercury levels need to take additional steps to educate the public about the levels that they are finding, particularly increasing the signage for affected waterbodies. To better understand cause and effect relationships of contaminants in the environment to public health, the federal government must work with the states to establish a nationwide network to track exposures to mercury, as well as other pollutants like lead, PCPs, and dioxins. It is time to implement some commonsense steps against mercury exposure.
Page 5

Mercury is a neurotoxin linked to developmental delays and cognitive impairment at low exposure levels. Scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently estimated that 1 in 6 U.S. women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels above the level that the National Academy of Sciences considers safe. Elemental mercury is naturally occurring and released into the atmosphere through forest fires and volcanoes, as well as less-natural combustion sources. Mercury is also present in coal, and coalfired power plants make up the single largest source of mercury emissions across the nation. The Gulf Coast is home to three of the oldest, dirtiest sources of industrial mercury pollution in the country. Called chlor-alkali plants, these facilities use technology developed in 1894 to manufacture chlorine by pumping brine through massive vats of mercury. The two chlor-alkali plants in Louisiana and the single facility in Alabama consistently rate as the top industrial sources in their respective states, ahead of the Gulf Coast’s numerous coal-fired power plants.
Volume 9, Issue 2

New Member Groups
The Gulf Restoration Network is pleased to announce the addition of three member groups: Louisiana Audubon Council, Louisiana Bayoukeeper, and the Portersville Revival Group. The Louisiana Audubon Council is a non-profit organization comprising Audubon Chapters and National Audubon Society members. The Council gives chapters throughout the state a chance to share news, ideas, concerns and strategies. The Council’s current major projects are mercury contamination, fish consumption advisories, and cypress logging. Louisiana Audubon Council 355 Napoleon St. Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Founded in 1994, the Gulf Restoration Network is a section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the resources of the Gulf Region for future generations.

Board of Directors
Casi Callaway Mobile Bay Watch/Mobile Baykeeper Mobile, AL Mark Davis—Chair Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana Baton Rouge, LA Robert Hastings Alabama Natural Heritage Program Montgomery, AL Joe Murphy Sierra Club Tampa, FL Juan Parras TSU Law Clinic Houston, TX Bob Schaeffer Public Policy Communications Sanibel, FL Page Williams Sierra Club—Lone Star Chapter Houston, TX Robert Wiygul—Acting Secretary/ Treasurer Waltzer and Associates Biloxi, MS

Louisiana Bayoukeeper was formed by family-based commercial fishermen living in Lafitte and Barataria, Louisiana in an effort to protect their way of life and the land and water that support it. Louisiana Bayoukeeper is part of the national Waterkeeper Alliance. Louisiana Bayoukeeper 504-689-7880 [email protected]

The Portersville Revival Group is dedicated to preserving the environment, rich history and unique culture of South Mobile County, Alabama. The group is particularly concerned about the effect of the gas industry in the region. To date, the Portersville Revival Group has intervened in the applications of Freeport-McMoran and Compass Port filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and has been instrumental in procuring a cease and desist order from the Alabama Historical Commission at the Rolston Park site in Coden. Portersville Revival Group 955 Downtowner Blvd. Suite 111 Mobile, Alabama 36609 (251) 343-4145

Cynthia Sarthou: Executive Director Amy Gill: Director of Operations Vicki Murillo: Director for Water Resources Briana Kerstein: Outreach Coordinator Aaron Viles: Fisheries Campaign Director Marianne Cufone: Fisheries Consultant

Page 6

JUNE 2005

Network Notebook: New literature and reports that GRN members might find useful

The following are new documents available from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications, P.O. Box 42419, Cincinnati, OH 45242, 1-800-490-9198, or online at • Is There Lead in My Drinking Water? Tips for Protecting Your Family’s Health (EPA #816F05001) • Protecting Water Quality from Agricultural Runoff: Clean Water is Everybody’s Business (EPA #841F05001) • Thirstin’s Wacky Water Adventure Activity Book (EPA #816K04002) Science-Based Restoration Monitoring of Coastal Habitats Reports Now Available. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announces the availability of 2 new reports at Volume One: A Framework for Monitoring Plans Under the Estuaries and Clean Waters Act of 2000 and Volume Two: Tools for Monitoring Coastal Habitats. Hard copies should be printed and available by the end of June. To obtain hard copies, please contact: John Wickham NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (N/SCI2) Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research 1305 East West Highway, Room 8243 Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282 phone: (301)713-3338 fax: (301)713-4044 [email protected] Teresa A. McTigue, Ph.D. National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (N/SCI) 1305 East-West Highway, Room 8128 Silver Spring, Maryland 20910 phone: (301)713-3028 x141 fax: (301)713-4353 [email protected]

Calendar of Events
JUNE 2005 19-22 The 2005 Watershed Management Conference: Managing Watersheds for 13-15 Lower Mississippi River Conservation Human and Natural Impacts: Engineering, Committee Annual Meeting. Grand Casino Ecological, and Economic Challenges. The Tunica, Robinsonville, MS. For more Environmental and Water Resources Institute information, visit of the American Society of Civil Engineers is sponsoring this conference at Woodlands JULY 2005 Hotel & Suites in Williamsburg, VA. Topics 11-14 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management include Stream and Watershed Restoration, Council Meeting. DiamondHead Beach Constructed Wetlands, and Best Management Resort, Fort Meyers, FL. For more Practices. E-mail [email protected] for more information, visit information. 17-21 Coastal Zone 05: Balancing on the Edge. Marriott Hotel, New Orleans, LA. For more SEPTEMBER 2005 information, contact Lynn Sellers at 84312-15 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management 740-1284 or [email protected]. Council Meeting. Wyndham Bourbon Orleans, New Orleans, LA. For more 18-21 StormCon ’05. Orlando, FL. Contact Steve information, visit or Di Giorgi at 805-682-1300 x 129 or e-mail [email protected]. [email protected] for more information.
Volume 9, Issue 2 Page 7

United for a Healthy Gulf

P.O. Box 2245 New Orleans, LA 70176 Phone: (504) 525-1528 Fax: (504) 525-0833 Website:

The GRN would like to thank the following foundations for making this newsletter, as well as the work of the GRN, possible: The Belvedere Fund, The Ben and Jerry’s Foundation, The Booth-Bricker Foundation, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The Elizabeth Ordway Dunn Foundation, The Holloman Price Foundation, The Joe W & Dorothy Dorsett Brown Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, the Regional Marine Conservation Project, and The RosaMary Foundation.

Your help is needed to prevent the discharge of largely untreated sewage into the lakes, rivers, and streams in which we swim and fish! The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promoting a policy that would allow sewage treatment facilities to mix sewage that has been filtered but not treated with fully treated sewage, then discharge it into downstream waters when it is raining. For more on this policy and why it is harmful, see the article on p. 1. In March, four House members introduced the Save Our Waters from Sewage Act (H.R. 1126), which would prevent the EPA from finalizing its sewage dumping policy and require it to enforce the rules of the Clean Water Act. Currently, the Save Our Waters from Sewage Act has more than 90 cosponsors that span the political spectrum. We need to continue to build opposition to the EPA’s sewage dumping policy in Congress to force the EPA to abandon its proposal. How You Can Help: 1. Send a letter to your Representative and your Senators asking them to oppose the EPA’s sewage dumping policy. 2. Ask your Representative to support the Save Our Waters from Sewage Act (H.R. 1126). Your action on this issue will help ensure that public health is not threatened by this reckless policy. Please visit our website at for more information and a sample letter to members of Congress!

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