The Cardno ChemRisk View
The prolonged three year drought currently facing California is breaking historical records, and despite emergency water restrictions, California still has an unquenchable thirst for the resource. California's Governor Jerry Brown signed new groundwater legislation on September 16, 2014, marking the first time in the state's history that groundwater usage will be regulated. Globally, according to the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO), one in three of the world's population lives in a water stressed area, and that number is projected to increase to one in two by 2030.
In response to this growing crisis, a handful of companies have invigorated an open market for creative technology and problem solving in order to reduce industrial water usage. One of the most significant water users in California -- large-scale agriculture -- has become proactive with its watering schedule by using precision watering with drip irrigation, weather forecasting sent to farmers via mobile phones, and soil saturation monitors. A U.S. based food and beverage company has created a secondary market for recycled water, selling the water used in food production to animal feed companies. A leading U.S. automotive manufacturer is also scaling back its water usage by reducing the water used in its cooling towers, parts washing, and paint operations. Internationally, a select number of textile companies have reduced their water usage from 100-to-150 liters of water used per kilograms of textiles to almost nothing by using saturated dyes. The implementation of water-saving strategies such as these on an industrial scale may help California and other water stressed areas conserve more of this vital resource.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in an Asheville, North Carolina case, in which landowners near a former electronics manufacturing facility (closed for nearly three decades) sued for property damage in 2011 after they became aware of groundwater contamination on their land. The Court upheld North Carolina's statute of repose law, which strictly limits the window for lawsuits
to ten years after the defendant's last culpable act. Under this law, the landowners missed the deadline to sue the electronics company for its alleged pollution.
The groundwater contaminants in this case were chlorinated solvents (typically used
industrially for their degreasing and thinning properties). In the environment, these solvents tend to either vaporize or sink into surface and groundwater systems, where they may persist for decades. According to the EPA, exposure to elevated levels of some forms of these solvents in drinking water may impact liver function and increase cancer risk.
Legacies of pollution affect water, soil, sediment, and air quality at former industrial sites across the United States. For residents of North Carolina and a handful of other states with statute of repose laws, the Supreme Court's decision may mean that they cannot sue for damage from past pollution if the repose period has expired, regardless of whether contamination was discovered after the cutoff date.
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New York is positioned to become the first state to ban the use of plastic microbeads widely used in cosmetics after elevated levels of the beads were found in rivers and lakes, including the Great Lakes. The microbeads, which are utilized in dozens of scrubs, soaps, and toothpastes, are too small to be removed by water treatment processes, and are not biodegradable. Concerns have been raised that the microbreads will be ingested by fish, potentially entering the food chain, and that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other pollutants will adsorb onto the surface of the plastics....