As The New York Times‘ Toxic Waters captures attention across the country, the Associated Press has released its own story about government oversight failing to stop massive contamination, this time from abandoned mercury mines in California.
Creek near an abandoned mercury mine in the California ghost town of New Idria. Photo by mlhradio
The AP’s Jason Dearen found that the government has only tried to clean up a handful of the hundreds of abandoned mercury mines in California’s coastal mountains.
According to Dearen, “mercury mines are the biggest sources of the pollution in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast.” At least 100,000 impoverished people are eating fish tainted with levels of toxins beyond EPA guidelines, Dearen found.
“Records and interviews show that federal regulators have conducted about 10 cleanups at major mercury mines with mixed results, while dozens of sites still foul the air, soil and water.”
Recent reports indicate that current federal standards may allow dangerous levels of the herbicide atrazine into water supplies, especially in central states. According to The New York Times‘ Charles Duhigg, fetuses appear to be the highest-risk group: “recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems.” Duhigg also found that, because some localities don’t check atrazine levels frequently enough, dangerous spikes the levels of the herbicide found in water supplies may go undetected.
Duhigg also notes an interesting local wrinkle: “Forty-three water systems in six states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi and Ohio — recently sued atrazine’s manufacturers to force them to pay for removing the chemical from drinking water.” On a national level, new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has promised to take a closer look at the regulation of atrazine and similar chemicals.
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s “Poisoning the Well” report on the dangers and prevalence of atrazine
Leah Beth Ward tells how the Yakima Herald-Republic reported the “Hidden wells, dirty water” series. Greg Barnes of the Fayetteville Observer gives a behind-the-scenes look at how he reported the award-winning “What lies beneath” series that revealed contaminated drinking water in the Fayetteville area. Both AHCJ pieces also provide advice and resources for reporters looking to do similar stories in their own areas.
Fact sheet on atrazine from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry circa 2003.