Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Enviro Stories

Veterans Administration Abandons Vets Suffering From Depleted Uranium Contamination

Rachel Alexander | Mar 24, 2014

After young and healthy Marine Matt Parker fought for his country in the Middle East, he mysteriously came down with tumors. Now, he finds himself without adequate help from the country he fought for. I’ve known Matt since he was a small child; our families grew up together in church, and in high school I taught his sister violin lessons. Matt is a straight shooter; a bright, honest guy raised with solid values by outstanding Christian parents.
Matt enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1994 at age 19. He told KOMO News 4 in Seattle, “ I wanted to be a part of the best fighting force in the world.” Desert Storm and the majority of the fighting in Iraq had ended by then, and so Matt went to the Middle East as part of Operation Southern Watch, which was more of a recovery and rebuilding mission. His unit was tasked in part with arming Cobra helicopters in Kuwait with special 20mm rounds tipped in depleted uranium. No one instructed the Marines to wear gloves or protective clothing.
Upon finishing his service and returning to civilian life a few years later, he started having mood swings, joint pain, insomnia and severe headaches. Sinus infections led to a seizure in 2011, and after he was rushed to the hospital, doctors discovered a massive tumor in the front of his head. The doctors successfully removed the tumor, and asked him if he’d been exposed to radiation.
Matt contacted Marines in his former unit to see if others had developed similar health issues, almost 15 years after their service together. One of them, Dan Paris, told Matt he’d also developed what appeared to be a tumor growing in his head, and had similar physical symptoms.
Neither vet has a history of brain trauma in their families. Matt and Dan served together from late April 1994 until about September 1997. Together, they realized they had both come down with what has been labeled Gulf War Syndrome, a “chronic multi-symptom disorder affecting returning military veterans and civilian workers of the Gulf War.” One of its main causes is considered to be exposure to depleted uranium, which was used in 30mm and smaller caliber machine-gun bullets on a large scale for the first time during the Gulf War. Investigative journalist Christopher Bollyn discovered that “40 percent of the soldiers in one unit were found to have malignant cancerous growths when they returned from a tour of a year and a few months in Iraq.”
Matt’s family life started to fall apart as his health deteriorated. His marriage ended in divorce, and he lost his home to foreclosure. He developed a second tumor.
Dan’s tumor is practically inoperable. If removed, it will very likely affect regions of his brain associated with motor function, speech and higher learning. So far, he is delaying the inevitable; putting up with increasing levels of pain as the tumor continues to grow. Dan applied for disability, which was denied without even the courtesy of a notification. He has been granted 100 percent disability assistance for a shoulder injury, but has only been able to receive 40 percent disability assistance for his other ailments.
Matt applied for disability with the Veterans Administration in 2012, citing the exposure to depleted uranium as the reason for his disability. The VA denied his request, claiming there was no connection between his tumor and the exposure. They also bizarrely claimed that Matt had never been stationed in the Ali Al Saleem area in Kuwait where the exposure to depleted uranium took place. This isn’t true, because he’d been in a bus accident in Kuwait, resulting in a hospital stay - as well as teasing from his unit. The VA inexplicably lost the paperwork documenting the hospital stay.
Matt got nowhere until he went to the media with his plight. Nevada congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., including both U.S. Senators, began looking into the situation. Veteran's Advocate and retired Army sergeant, Dan Swafford of Phoenix, Ariz., put together an 80-page rebuttal to the VA’s turndown, which he turned in to the VA in Reno, Nev., last September.

Farmers along Dan River worry about livelihood

By Richard M. Barron
(Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record | Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014 8:29 pm

“You should have seen it right after it happened,” he said. “Imagine mixing up a bag of cement in there. You stick your hand in it, it’ll turn gray.”
That gray water from the Feb. 2 coal ash spill at Duke Energy’s storage pond in Eden may threaten fish and wildlife for generations.
Swimmers, boaters and those who fish have lost their refuge for the moment.
Now, Brandon may lose his way of life.
Brandon is a farmer. He raises cattle on a stretch of land that runs at least a half-mile along the river.
He is one of a dozen or more farmers — nobody knows how many for sure — who have raised crops along this river in Rockingham and Caswell counties for generations.
When the weather turns dry, these farmers turn to the river.
But at the moment, that’s not an option.
When a stormwater pipe burst at Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Steam Station, sending thousands of tons of coal ash into the Dan River, the fallout was predictable.
Concerns over safe drinking water and wildlife. The outcry from environmentalists. Public assurances by Duke Energy and Gov. Pat McCrory. And a flow of finger-pointing, subpoenas and controversy that hasn’t let up.
Lost in the discussion has been the plight of farmers, whose fields sit in the lowlands along the Dan in the back roads of Rockingham and Caswell counties.
During growing season, they depend on the river for irrigating crops and as drinking water for cattle.
This summer may be different.
Soil scientists from N.C. State are looking at data from Duke Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether the water will be safe for farming.
Their early conclusion Friday was that levels of dangerous metals will be at acceptable levels.
But for weeks, farmers grew weary of uncertainty.
Few things are predictable down on the farm, least of all the weather.
Even so, the coal ash spill was something the farmers along the Dan never saw coming.
In slate gray weather on the last day of winter, Mike Powell, a thin, 54-year-old, crunched across last year’s corn crop toward the Dan River.
His land is rimmed with trees as the river gently bends along a half-mile of frontage.
Deer and turkeys scavenge these muddy fields. Tree frogs provide the sound track.
Powell is used to watching the weather. That and market prices for his crop define his work.
Cold, rainy weather this year has pushed Powell’s corn-planting season toward its mid-April deadline.
But even if the weather improves in the coming weeks, he will wait to plant corn, wheat and tobacco until somebody can tell him if the Dan River is safe.
Opinions vary on how contaminated the water is — and how long it will stay that way.
State wildlife officials estimate that the toxic sludge coats 70 miles of the river bottom.
Recent tests by Duke Energy and the EPA show the water’s quality has improved.
One environmental group, however, has warned against exposure to skin.
In the meantime, all farmers can do is wait and hope.
“One day I want to retire and sell this land,” Powell said. “But you think anybody’s gonna buy some land here right now?
“I grow crops along here, and all of them are consumed by humans and animals. I would not like to be told I can’t farm here. I’d like some answers. I’d like to know.”
Carl Crozier, an N.C. State faculty member at the Vernon James Research and Extension Center in Plymouth, specializes in soil fertility.
Crozier said Friday that recent tests suggest that the river water won’t hurt crops or animals.
He is running some final calculations before he makes a firm recommendation, however.
His analysis comes from the latest information from Duke Energy and the EPA.
“We can actually take the data that they make available ... and we can calculate what could happen if someone pulls this water out of the river for livestock drinking water or irrigation water,” Crozier said.
Based on recent tests, “the levels are so small that they’re within drinking water standards,” he said.
Still, it can be tricky to draw conclusions. Especially when there’s not a lot of research about the effects of coal ash on crops to begin with.
Amy Adams, the North Carolina campaign coordinator for Appalachian Voices, an environmental group that focuses on coal, said scientists should be conservative when they make recommendations.
“All we have,” Adams said, “is studies from other states.”
Jerry Apple stood beside a fragile-looking contraption, 20 feet tall and hundreds of feet long, on wheeled legs. It’s an “irrigation pilot,” an aluminum truss designed for watering crops.
He has two of them he uses when he needs a lot of water for the farm, he said, which is often when his corn gets dry.
This year, Apple doesn’t know whether he will have a corn crop to water.
The farm he and a friend own along the Dan River, near Ruffin, straddles the North Carolina-Virginia- state line.
Walk a few hundred feet into the field, and you’re in Virginia.
Apple’s mind was somewhere else the day he stood on the muddy land in a cold breeze.
A big man, Apple, 67 talked about the higher yield he gets from corn and wonders if he will have to plant soybeans instead. Soybeans may not need much irrigation. But they don’t make as much money either.
Like other farmers, Apple isn’t as angry as he is puzzled and anxious.
He sells his corn for livestock feed, and buyers do their own testing.
If his crops contain elevated levels of toxic material, a buyer down the line might refuse to purchase his crop.
“They test everything so much that if they find something and we can’t use the corn for feed, we’d be out of luck.”
Apple walked over to the wide trench in the river bank where he pumps river water into his irrigation pilots.
“Hopefully, by the time we need water, it’ll be OK,” Apple said. “But we don’t know.”
Robert Brandon raises cattle on his land in Milton.
It’s a beautiful and unusual spot.
The land sits under the W. Claire Taylor Bridge, which carries N.C. 62 over the border into Virginia.
Along the farm’s south side, a wide, grassy byway sweeps beside the trees.
It’s a long stretch of the Southern Railway. A wooden depot sits near the bottom of the bridge, nearly collapsed from years of neglect.
But Brandon isn’t much for the railway bed’s aesthetics.
The river across his field is the scenery that concerns him.
Wearing a “Universal Leaf” tobacco hat, the bearded Brandon stands beside his Black Angus cattle, who moo loudly now and then.
When the summer weather gets hot, the small streams his cattle drink from dry up, and the livestock head for the river.
He said he worries they will be drinking polluted water.
Brandon, 54, recalls how he heard about the spill.
“Somebody called and said, ‘What is the gray stuff coming down the river?’ I said, ‘I have no earthly idea.’ It looked like a mix of cement to me.”

Prices are high on the beef market, and Brandon is likely to soon sell the 50 cattle who graze on his 50 acres.
But he has 30 calves he is getting ready to raise.

New Poll: North Carolinians Want Coal Ash Safeguards Now

March 25, 2014
Mary Anne Hitt
Director, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign
The controversy continues almost two months after a Duke Energy spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River. First, the Waterkeeper Alliance discovered Duke Energy dumping some 61 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into yet another waterway – the Cape Fear River. Duke Energy has been cited eight times since the Feb. 2 Dan River spill!
Now, state regulators have withdrawn the sweetheart coal ash violation settlements offered in previous years and instead have asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in to further investigate coal ash violations.
Today the Sierra Club released a poll showing that these inexcusable and shocking continued water violations are taking their toll on North Carolinians. Some highlights from the poll:
  • A stunning 90 percent of North Carolina voters want Duke to clean up all coal ash sites in the state, including the Dan River spill, and 88 percent feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills.
  • A large majority of North Carolina voters – 75 percent – are aware of the Dan River coal ash spill and there is broad concern about it within the state’s electorate.
There is strong bipartisan support for regulating coal ash as a hazardous substance, to the tune of 83 percent of North Carolina voters, including super majorities of Democrats (91 percent), Independents (85 percent), and Republicans (75 percent).
  • North Carolinians, particularly those who have heard the most about the spill, place the blame for it squarely on Duke Energy.
  • North Carolinians strongly favor more regulation and enforcement when it comes to coal ash, and overwhelmingly believe that without this another spill will occur.
  • 70 percent of voters would support a candidate who favors strong regulations and enforcement to protect the water, air, and health of North Carolinians and to prevent future incidents like the recent coal ash spill, including 55 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.
These results are strikingly similar to the poll we recently conducted in West Virginia. Taken together, the two polls demonstrate a clear finding that turns conventional wisdom on its head – people in states where the coal industry is still powerful want protections against coal pollution, and they want to support independent leaders who will stand up for clean air and water safeguards.
This story is not going away, in part because residents of the affected states continue to suffer from these spills. In Charleston, residents are still not drinking their water and new test results revealed just today that the coal chemical MCHM is still leaking into the Elk River and showing up in household drinking water.
In North Carolina, officials say it will take at least two years to clean up the Dan River spill, while more coal ash problems are being revealed all the time. In Virginia, which also received some of the Dan River pollution, residents are angry and worried about their health, safety, and economy, and Governor McAuliffe has called on Duke to cover the costs of the cleanup.
The EPA has the tools it needs to prevent another Dan River spill from happening. As Politico reported this week, the EPA is coming under increased scrutiny for failing to finalize long-overdue coal water protections. No more delay – just ask the people of North Carolina. TAKE ACTION: It’s time to protect our water from coal pollution.

Lawyer hired by NC in spill probe represented Duke
Posted: March 24, 2014
The lawyer hired to represent North Carolina's environmental agency during a federal investigation into its regulation of Duke Energy's coal ash dumps once represented the utility company in a different criminal probe

March 25 & 27: Cautionary Tales Tour

March 25 (7 PM) - Congregational Church of Pinehurst
895 Linden Rd., Pinehurst, NC – View Flyer – Let us know you’re coming to prepare for refreshments 
March 27 (6:30 PM) Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte
234 N Sharon Amity Rd., Charlotte, NC –View more info here
Join us in Pinehurst and Charlotte for “Cautionary Tales from Communities Impacted by Fracking”, co-sponsored by the Frack Free NC Alliance and Stop the Frack Attack. This speaker tour includes community members and grassroots leaders from Pennsylvania, New York, and Iowa.  Hear their stories on the fight against natural gas development near their homes, and learn how we can take control to prevent fracking from coming to North Carolina! This event is free & open to the public!
For Pinehurst, contact: Betty Thomas, Save Our Sandhills –, or (919) 754-7255
For Charlotte, contact: June Blotnick, Clean Air Carolina - or Bill Gupton, Central Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club,
Featured Speakers:

Karen Feridun, a grassroots activist from Kutztown, PA, who has successfully helped fight against gas development in her community, who has built strong public support for a proposal for a fracking moratorium in PA.
Jill Wiener, a small business owner turned activist,who has been leading the charge to keep fracking out of New York.
Robert Nehman a father from Iowa whose life was turned upside down after frac sand mining came to his town.