EPA: Mixed tally for toxic releases in California

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week released its latest Toxic Release Inventory data — which means 2011′s data; not 2012′s.

The inventory tracks the release of various toxic chemicals by factories into the ground, air, or water; or toxins that are shipped off-site.

Compared to 2010, California in 2011 saw:

  • Air releases of toxins decrease 13% (1 million lbs.).
  • Water releases increase 10% (258,000 lbs.).
  • On-site land releases increases 9% (2 Million lbs.).
  • Underground Injection releases decrease 67% (2.5 million lbs.) since 2010.
  • Total off-site transfers have increased 72% (2.5 million lbs.) since 2010.

EPA officials caution that release data alone isn’t sufficient to determine exposure or to calculate potential risks to human health and the environment. The information is useful in concert with factors such as the toxicity of the chemical, into what medium it is released (air, water, etc.) and site-specific conditions.

“Community Right-to-Know data helps all of us remain aware of the types and amounts of chemicals being used in our neighborhoods,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, in a release. “It is great to see pollution prevention activities at reporting facilities, and we encourage them to reduce their chemical releases via this method.”


Poor showing: California has most poverty of any U.S. state

California’s poverty rate of 23.5 percent is the highest of any state in the country, according to new information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau worked with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile a Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in government programs to assist low-income people and families that aren’t included in official, income-based poverty measures that were developed in the early 1960s.

The new measure’s thresholds factor in the amount families spend on a basic goods including food, clothing, shelter and utilities and a small additional amount to allow for other needs such as household supplies, personal care items and non-work-related transportation. It’s adjusted to factor in geographical differences in housing costs, and also includes resources beyond income, such as nutrition assistance, subsidized housing, and home energy credits.

The nearest three-year (2009 to 2011) poverty rate to California’s is the District of Columbia with 23.2 percent. The next-highest poverty rate for a state is Arizona at 19.8 percent.

Some experts believe California’s higher cost of living is responsible for the increase in its poverty rate under the new means of evaluation, compared to 16.3 percent under the old measurement criteria.

Nationally, the new-measure poverty rate increased by a full percentage point, to 16.1 percent, or nearly 50 million people in poverty.

A link to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report is below:

U.S. Census report on poverty

Federal lawmakers don’t put money where the Salton Sea is

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in an Oct. 11 letter to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works chaired by her fellow California Democrat, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, requested $1.3 billion for California water projects from Sacramento down to Calexico.

Conspicuously missing from the list, however, is any request for money toward Salton Sea restoration.

The sea, California’s largest lake, is slowly dying as its salinity increases. Its shrinking shores are expected to be increasingly exposed by 2018, when a water transfer deal to San Diego County enters full implementation and the sea’s water supply via agricultural runoff is reduced considerably.  Scientists tell us that already challenged fish and bird habitats will be negatively impacted, and exposed lake beds could cause an air quality crisis across the region when carried by the winds.

Feinstein’s letter notes her latest requests are in addition to those she made in a May 2010 letter to the committee. That much longer list of water projects also doesn’t include a request for Salton Sea funds.

Sacramento has clearly pushed the looming crisis at the Salton Sea behind their budgetary struggles, and environmentally behind the need for fixes in the river deltas of Sacramento.

But a California Senator putting the sea behind more than 50 other water-related projects statewide? Really?

We sent an email to Feinstein’s spokespeople to ask about it and haven’t heard back so far.

The sea’s other federal lawmakers haven’t been particularly successful in garnering federal funds toward a fix. Boxer’s website touts that she secured $4.5 million for the sea in 2002, and $30 million for sea restoration projects in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act. But the latter money hasn’t been used, awaiting $10 million in either state or local matching funds.

“As soon as we get a plan and the matching funds, I will do everything I can to move this critical restoration project forward,” Boxer told The Desert Sun in late September.

In the House, Palm Springs Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, calling on them to “bring together your agencies and work with our local and state leaders” on Salton Sea solutions. She’s also called for a new Congressional hearing about the sea, due to dissatisfaction with the state’s lack of progress.

The state’s preferred alternative for sea mitigation and restoration in 2007 was estimated to cost nearly $9 billion.

View Feinstein’s requests for water project funding from October and May 2010 via the links below:

October 2012 Feinstein letter seeking 1.3 billion for CA water projects

Feinstein requested water project money May 2010

Coalition pushing online poker in California folds

A coalition of California Indian tribes seeking to create legal, regulated online poker in California has tossed in its cards.

The California Online Poker Association, or COPA, today issued a statement announcing it is dissolving.

“The decision was based upon insufficient progress within the legislature toward the passage of an online poker bill,” spokesperson Ryan Hightower stated in the release.

COPA formed two years ago as a coalition of California tribes and card rooms, including the Morongo Band of Mission Indians locally. It sought to have its voice heard on state efforts to legalize and regulate intrastate online poker, a $6 billion industry worldwide.

At least two efforts at an online poker bill over the past two years have stalled in the legislature, and have received mixed reviews from tribes and COPA members. Online poker appears, if not dead in Sacramento, at least not looking so good. Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, are working on a federal bill to regulate the industry that they may push in the “lame-duck session” after the Nov. 6 election.

“COPA’s members continue to believe that the authorization of intrastate Internet poker would provide California with hundreds of millions in new state revenue, thousands of new jobs and vital protections for players,” Hightower stated.

Scientists: Salton Sea volcanoes much younger than previously thought

The Salton Buttes, a line of four small volcanoes on the Salton Sea’s southeastern shore, are not only still considered active by scientists, new research indicates they last erupted thousands of years more recently than previously thought.

Many scientists previously thought the buttes last erupted between 6,500 and 10,000 years ago. But a new study detailed online Oct. 15 in the journal Geology indicates they last erupted between 940 and 0 B.C., OurAmazingPlanet.com reports.

In a June 2011 Desert Sun story, Bruce Perry, an Earth sciences lecturer at California State University-Long Beach, explained that what causes the volcanoes is the same thing that contributes to the Salton Sea’s mud pots and geothermal activity that’s being harnessed for renewable energy.

“The area of the Salton Sea is being pulled apart due to major tectonic forces beneath it,” Perry said. “As it is pulled apart, the crust gets thinner, and that allows magma — molten elements from deep underground — to work their way to the surface.”

To see what happens to a rift valley over millions of years, look to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, a long finger of land that broke away from the Mexican mainland along a rift valley, Patrick Muffler, a USGS geologist from Palo Alto who’s spent more than four decades focused on geothermal energy, and whose studies include the Salton Buttes, said last year.

A 1989 bulletin by U.S. Geological Survey found that “the compositions of lavas of past eruptions and the association of vents with groundwater and the Salton Sea suggest that pyroclastic flows and surges and explosive eruptions could occur in the future,” a 1989 bulletin by U.S. Geological Survey on potential future volcano hazards in California found.

“Such events commonly are destructive out to distances of at least 10 kilometers (6 miles) from an active vent.”

Pyroclastic flows are a mixture of mineral fragments and hot gases that move almost like a flash-flood of water. According to USGS, they reach speeds of over 60 mph, with gases reaching over 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Pyroclastic flows are responsible for thousands of deaths in history’s worst volcanic disasters, including at Herculaneum and Pompeii in ancient Roman times and at St. Pierre in Martinique in 1902, where 30,000 people died in a pyroclastic flow after Mount Pelée erupted.

USGS in February opened the California Volcano Observatory to monitor the state’s volcanoes and their activity. Based on the new research, the Salton Buttes are among the state’s newest volcanoes.

Study: Pacific Islander, Filipino diabetes rates higher than all other ethnic groups

Though Asians generally have lower instances of diagnosed diabetes than some other ethic groups, diabetes rates among some Asian subgroups are much higher, according to a new study.

Pacific Islanders, South Asians and Filipinos have diabetes rates that even exceed those of high-risk ethic groups such as Latinos and African-Americans, according to a new study by the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and the University of California, San Francisco which appears in the current online issue of Diabetes Care.

Because Asians historically have been lumped together in health studies, the numbers of the high-risk subgroups were skewed by the much lower diabetes rates among Chinese and other Asian subgroups, said Andrew Karter, a senior research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research and the lead author of the study.

The number of Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicity increased by 43 percent between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, and they now comprise 5 percent of the U.S. population.

Washington Post analysis finds Bono Mack’s wealth plummeting

Many in Congress have weathered the tough economy far better than most Americans. But that’s not the case for Rep. Mary Bono Mack, the Washington Post found.

In their The Reliable Source column Sunday, WaPo style writers Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger mined an interesting nugget about the Palm Springs Republican from the Post’s analysis of the personal wealth of all 535 members of Congress: Bono Mack’s estimated assets dropped from $3 million to $848,000 in six years.

Roberts and Argetsinger attribute the drop to diminished royalties from Bono Mack’s late husband, former Palm Springs Mayor, Congressman and 1960s and 1970s singer-songwriter-entertainer Sonny Bono.

“Guess they’re not playing ‘I Got You, Babe’ like they used to,” Roberts and Argetsinger wrote.

Coming Sunday: Salton Sea at the tipping point

The Sept. 10 “Big Stink,” when a strong southerly wind took foul Salton Sea odors throughout Southern California, was a warning sign of things to come, scientists and policy-makers say. And it highlighted the decades of failed attempts by local, state and federal politicians, as well as area residents, to stem off a crisis that’s headed for the shrinking sea.

By 2018, the Salton Sea’s water supply will drop dramatically as part of a water transfer from Imperial Valley farmers to urban areas in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley. More than 100 square miles of exposed, dusty lake bed will then be carried wherever the desert winds take it. And ever-rising salinity levels at any time could kill off the last remaining species of game fish in the sea, tilapia. When that happens, the birds who rely upon the sea will have no adequate food source. And with most of California’s wetlands long ago lost to development, where they will go and how they will survive is in question for several species.

I and my iSun colleagues Marcel Honoré, Erica Felci and Rebecca Walsh this weekend will take an in-depth look at the Salton Sea, past failures to find a fix and what went wrong, and where things go from here. Look for it in Sunday’s print edition of The Desert Sun or here on mydesert.com .

Meanwhile, check out some of our past Salton Sea coverage at www.mydesert.com/saltonsea.

New study: Fish oil may not reduce heart attack, stroke risk

Omega-3 fatty acids may not have the cardiovascular benefits previously believed, a new study found.

The study, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compiled information on nearly 70,000 adult patients from 20 previous studies. Statistical analyses showed Omega-3, used by millions as a nutritional supplement usually from fish oil, “was not associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiac death, sudden death, myocardial infarction, or stroke.”

A quick perusal of fish oil supplements on amazon.com shows they sell from about $20 to more than $50 per bottle.


Today’s “Big Stink” could be harbinger of smelly things to come

A surprisingly large portion of Southern California got an unpleasant encounter with “The Big Stink” on Monday, a rotten-egg-like smell emanating from the Salton Sea following a strong, windy storm Sunday night.

Those not used to the Sea’s occasional foul smells were calling 911 in Los Angeles County to report it, according to media reports, and it was smelled as far away as Simi Valley in Ventura County.

Get used to it, said Desert Hot Springs City Manager Rick Daniels, the former executive director of the Salton Sea Authority. Such waves of stench may become far more common region-wide, he said.

“This is just the beginning,” he said.

“If the State does not implement the Salton Sea Restoration Plan as required by the Agreement for the Use of the Colorado River and the Sea dies, this odor will be an everyday occurrence somewhere in SoCal depending upon which way the wind blows.”

Timothy Krantz, a professor in the University of Redlands’ Environmental Studies Program who studies the troubled lake, said the smell comes not from dead fish necessarily, but from accumulated sulphur dioxide stored up in the sea’s depths as algae blooms and then decays.

“The Sea accumulates sulphur dioxide at depth during the summer months,” he said. “Then, when we get a wind event, such as yesterday’s southeasterly ‘Chubasco’ blowing up from the Gulf of California, it pushes the surface waters off, causing upwelling of the bottom sulphurous water layers, hence the rotten egg smell.  One more reason why we need to ‘fix’ the Sea.”

Compounding the event, Krantz added, was that the sulphur dioxide was able to build up over time, and the evaporating sea’s declining depths — at its peak it was up to 51 feet deep but now is only around 43 feet deep — make it easier for that deeper water layer holding back the rotten-egg smell to come to the surface.

“Shades of things to come?” he said.  “At least it’s not laden with PM10 or micro-particulates.  That would be worse.  But for now, its just smelly.”