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Fracking ban on the ballot in tiny San Benito County has big statewide implications


SAN JUAN BAUTISTA — When President Ronald Reagan was pushing for offshore oil drilling on the edges of Monterey Bay in the mid-1980s, Santa Cruz voters fought back, approving a ballot measure that banned construction of all storage tanks, pipelines and other oil equipment in the city.

The small protest vote was soon copied by 25 other coastal communities, from San Diego to Fort Bragg, helping to kill the oil industry’s drilling plans.

Now, nearly 30 years later, the same David vs. Goliath tactic is being used farther from shore. Activists in San Benito County have placed a closely watched measure on the Nov. 4 ballot to outlaw hydraulic fracturing, the controversial oil-extraction technique known as fracking.

San Benito was the first California county to decide to take the issue to the voters. Campaign ads bankrolled by the oil industry are filling TV and radio airwaves, claiming that a fracking ban would hurt the county’s economy and trample property rights. And the issue is straining longtime friendships among farmers and ranchers.

Supporters of Measure J say they are frustrated that Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers have not banned fracking, a process that involves pumping water and chemicals underground to release oil and gas — so they decided to go around them.

“I’m hoping every community in California will emulate this,” said Andy Hsia-Coron, a retired schoolteacher in San Juan Bautista who backs the measure. “Too many decisions are compromised by money. We have more potential for democracy reviving itself at the local level.”

San Benito County has rarely been a political battleground of statewide significance.

The rural region on the southern edge of Silicon Valley has only 24,000 registered voters. It is best known for cattle, Pinnacles National Park and a 1947 motorcycle brawl in the county seat of Hollister that inspired the Marlon Brando movie “The Wild One.”

Already, Santa Barbara County environmentalists have copied the San Benito measure and placed it on the November ballot there. A similar measure is on the ballot in Mendocino County, and Butte County has one proposed for 2016.

The oil industry, trying to prevent the dominoes from falling, is fighting back vigorously.

A coalition funded by Chevron, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and other oil giants has donated $1.8 million to the opposition campaign in San Benito County, outspending supporters 15-1. The coalition also gave $5 million to the no effort in Santa Barbara County.

“They didn’t get their ban at the state. Their goal is to go county by county and use scare tactics to deceive voters,” said Kristina Chavez Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the No on J campaign.

Opponents include the San Benito County Farm Bureau, the county’s chamber of commerce and the San Benito County Cattlemen’s Association. They note that although there is some limited oil production in southern San Benito County, there is no fracking taking place anywhere in the county, and no significant pollution problems from 26 existing oil wells.

Critics say the measure goes too far by also banning commonly used oil techniques such as steam injection, in which steam is pumped underground to soften thick oil deposits. In addition to costing future jobs and tax revenue, opponents contend, limiting those practices means farmers and ranchers may not be able to earn money by selling oil and gas beneath their property.

“You work all your life; your family works all their life,” said Richard Bianchi, a third-generation farmer who grows vegetables on 1,000 acres north of Hollister. “To limit the mineral rights, that’s a Pandora’s box. You are taking somebody’s rights away.”

Bianchi, president of the county farm bureau, said he doesn’t worry about fracking or the pollution that critics say can come with it.

“I kind of equate the fracking issue to banning ice fishing in San Benito County,” he said. “There’s the same amount of fracking here as ice fishing. The oil industry says we’re not fracking now, we’re not planning on fracking and we don’t need to frack. I’m not worried about it being an issue.”

Other longtime farmers and ranchers disagree.

“This is a beautiful, productive county for agriculture. Some people want to win the lottery with oil and gas, but why would we want to take the risk?” said Joe Morris, a third-generation cattle rancher in San Juan Bautista.

Morris and other supporters say they are concerned that if the Monterey Shale, a vast oil deposit that stretches across central California — including parts of San Benito County — is ever developed, an oil boom could compete with farming for scarce water supplies. They also worry that fracking and other oil-extraction techniques could cause groundwater and air pollution, as they have in Texas, North Dakota and other states.

Joining Morris in supporting the measure are other farmers and ranchers, along with the area’s longtime congressman, Democrat Sam Farr; state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey; Luis Valdez, founding artistic director of El Teatro Campesino, and two county supervisors, Robert Rivas and Anthony Botello.

One company, Newport Beach-based Citadel Exploration, has plans to drill up to 1,000 wells on nearly 700 acres in a remote area near Bitterwater, on the southern edge of the county, using steam injection. In July, those plans were delayed when environmentalists sued and won a court ruling requiring more environmental study.

Citadel’s CEO, Armen Nahabedian, is a fourth-generation oil man who served in the Iraq War. He predicts the industry will sue and overturn Measure J if it passes.

“All of these recent wars and occupations that we have had are largely driven by a dependency on foreign fossil fuels — and they are entirely unnecessary,” he said. “We have the ability to be independent, and California needs to lead the charge.”

Supporters of the measure say the state needs to do more to get off fossil fuels quickly and is following in the footsteps of New York State, where more than 200 local communities prohibit fracking.

“We need Gov. Brown to put an immediate halt to fracking statewide,” said Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group supporting the measure. “But until he does, we are going to see more local governments and local residents going forward with measures to protect themselves.”

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN

Photograph: David Brossard/flickr

How saving West African forests might have prevented the Ebola epidemic


Photograph: David Brossard/flickr

The ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for months has now spread to North America and Europe – and fear of the virus has traveled worldwide. Research suggests that deforestation may have laid the groundwork for the outbreak, by allowing for more contact between humans and fruit bats, the animal reservoir for the virus.

“Even as global efforts intensify to quash the outbreak in West Africa, let’s not lose sight of what we can learn in this most sobering of teachable moments: we must give environmental science a much larger and more powerful role in public health practices. If West Africa’s forests had been harvested in a more sustainable manner and its wildlife monitored for health, Ebola might not have jumped into the human population,” writes JA Ginsburg for The Guardian.

Read more here.

Photo by Hannah Rappleye, NBC News

How Safe Is the Artificial Turf Your Child Plays On?


Coaches, athletes and families across the U.S. have started to draw surprising connections between the “grass” on athletic fields and instances of childhood cancer.

Photo by Hannah Rappleye, NBC News

A rash of leukemia and lymphoma diagnoses among soccer goalies has sparked concern about “crumb rubber” turf commonly used on athletic fields. Recent studies of crumb rubber, commonly made from used tires, have shown that the material contains hazardous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Could your child be at risk?

Read the full story by Hannah Rappleye at  NBC News.


Fracking Linked to More Ohio Earthquakes


Another rare case of fracking-caused earthquakes has jolted Ohio.

A new study connects some 400 micro-earthquakes in Harrison County, near the town of Canton, to hydraulic fracturing wells. The three wells operated from September through October 2013 in the Utica Shale. Ten of the quakes registered between magnitude 1.7 and magnitude 2.2, but the tremors were too deep to cause damage or to be easily felt by people, according to the study, published today (Oct. 14) in the journal Seismological Research Letters.

The new study is the second report this year of fracking-linked earthquakes from drilling in the Utica Shale. The shale is a rock formation that is deeper and closer than the Marcellus Shale to the crystalline basement rocks where faults are more common. In March, scientists with Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) shut down drilling at seven Utica Shale gas wells in Poland Township after fracking triggered two small earthquakes. The ODNR now requires monitoring of seismic activity at fracking sites near known fault lines, and reducing the flow of water if earthquakes begin to occur.

The Harrison case is one of the few scientifically documented incidents of hydraulic fracturing causing earthquakes on a fault, said lead study author Paul Friberg, a seismologist and owner of Instrumental Software Technologies Inc. (ISTI). Harrison County is the fifth documented case in the world, Friberg said. Other locations of earthquakes caused by fracking include Oklahoma; the United Kingdom; British Columbia, Canada; and Ohio’s Poland Township. [7 Ways the Earth Changes in the Blink of an Eye]

Fracking involves pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into underground shale or other rocks, such as coal. The pressure forces open the rocks, allowing trapped oil and gas to escape.

Within the oil and gas industry, hydraulic fracturing is known to cause earthquakes, but the tremors are usually so small that seismometers barely wiggle in response. The micro-earthquakes from fracturing rocks often register as negative magnitude 1 to negative magnitude 3. (Themagnitude scale is logarithmic. On a seismogram, a wiggle of 20 millimeters, or 0.8 inches, corresponds to a magnitude 2 earthquake, and a wiggle of 0.02 millimeters is magnitude minus 1.)

“Fracking earthquakes pose no real hazard, because they are so small in the majority of cases,” Friberg told Live Science in an email interview.

The Harrison County quakes struck less than 1 mile (1.4 kilometers) below the horizontal wells. Shaking started just 26 hours after fracking began on Sept. 29, 2013. Nearly 190 earthquakes hit during a 39-hour period on Oct. 1 and 2.

The quakes tapered off after the fracking was completed on the wells, the study reports.

Because the earthquakes line up in an east-west direction in ancient crystalline rocks beneath the Utica Shale, Friberg and his co-authors think the fracking activated a small, unknown fault. The fracking water could have “greased” the fault, unclamping the fracture and allowing it to slip.

Since 2008, shale gas drilling has been linked to earthquakes from Oklahoma to Ohio, but in almost all cases, the quakes are tied to wastewater disposal wells. Fracking produces millions of gallons of wastewater, which is pumped back underground and stored in deep wells to protect groundwater.

Though Ohio is one of the few states to monitor wells for earthquake activity, many of the small faults triggered by injection wells or fracking have never been previously identified by scientists.

“Ohio has been very proactive in installing seismometers throughout eastern Ohio to better analyze seismic data as it relates to oil and gas activity. If the data conclusively shows a probable correlation to a felt event, ODNR has and will continue to take the appropriate steps necessary to ensure public health and safety is protected,” said Bethany McCorkle, ODNR spokeswoman.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that Paul Friberg said that this was a rare case of hydraulic fracturing causing earthquakes on a fault, not of felt earthquakes.

Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience,Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

NBC NEWS - Pictured: Russian nuclear powered icebreaker Yamal traveling through the Arctic Ocean on its way to the North Pole. The icebreaker is a ship for use in waters continuously covered with ice. Photo taken on July 3, 2007 -- Photo by: Nery Ynclan/NBC NewsWire

Climate Change Poses Challenges to National Security


By Lolita C. Baldor

From HuffPost Green

NBC NEWS - Pictured: Russian nuclear powered icebreaker Yamal traveling through the Arctic Ocean on its way to the North Pole. The icebreaker is a ship for use in waters continuously covered with ice. Photo taken on July 3, 2007 -- Photo by: Nery Ynclan/NBC NewsWire

AREQUIPA, Peru (Associated Press) — Rising sea levels and other effects of climate change will pose major challenges for America’s military, including more and worse natural disasters and the threat that food and water shortages could fuel disputes and instability around the world, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday.

Addressing a conference of military leaders as the Pentagon released a new report on the issue, Hagel said, “Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed.”

U.S. military officials have long warned that changes in climate patterns, resulting in increased severe weather events and coastal flooding, will have a broad and costly impact on the Defense Department’s ability to protect the nation and respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the United States and around the globe.

The new report — described as a Pentagon roadmap — identifies four things that it says will affect the U.S. military: rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather and rising sea levels. It calls on the department and the military services to identify more specific concerns, including possible effects on the more than 7,000 bases and facilities, and to start putting plans in place to deal with them.

“Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront today — from infectious disease to armed insurgencies — and to produce new challenges in the future,” Hagel said. He spoke during the opening session of the conference, which was attended by defense ministers and military chiefs of more than 30 countries from the Americas, Spain and Portugal.

Changing climate trends could spur more natural disasters, demanding more military support, he said. “Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains and critical equipment.”

More broadly, the report warns that as temperatures rise and severe weather increases, food, water and electricity shortages could create instability in many countries, spreading disease, causing mass migration and opening the door for extremists to take advantage of fractures in already-unstable countries.

The report comes amid an ongoing debate within the administration and Congress over the actual extent and existence of global warming and climate change. But Hagel, who is on a six-day, three-country trip to South America, seemed to have little question about the impending changes.

“The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere. Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration,” he told the ministers at this mountain resort in the Andes near the southern tip of Peru.

“We have already seen these events unfold in other regions of the world, and there are worrying signs that climate change will create serious risks to stability in our own hemisphere,” he said.

For the U.S., rising sea levels could eventually put vast stretches of Navy docks and other military installations under water, in places like Norfolk, Virginia, Honolulu and other coastal locations worldwide.

The Pentagon has been working for years to reduce the military’s heavy footprint on the earth by using alternative fuels and conducting maintenance aimed at managing water use and encroachment on natural resources.

But, according to a federal greenhouse gas inventory, the department was responsible for 71 percent of the federal government’s carbon footprint in 2010, producing 95.4 million tons of carbon dioxide. That put the military’s footprint at about the same size as that of the entire country of Chile.

The greenhouse gas report said that more than 60 percent of the Pentagon’s carbon footprint cannot be reduced easily.

In its new report, the Pentagon said it has to better define how climate change could affect military operations, training, testing and readiness.

The issue is a deep concern to many South and Central American nations that have long stretches of coastline. Gen. John Kelly, the top U.S. military commander in South America, was with Hagel at the conference.

Caribbean island countries in particular worry about rising sea levels and more violent hurricanes, he said, adding that “the fact that they’re all here talking about how important this is will make a difference.”

One key national security issue is the Arctic, where melting ice caps are opening up sea lanes, spurring competition for the lucrative oil and gas deposits and increasing the use of the icy waters for military exercises and transit.

“We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerge,” Hagel said during his stop in Chile. “We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources.”

Last November, at a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Hagel said the U.S. would assert its sovereignty in the Arctic, even as Russia, China and other countries stake their own claims in the largely untapped region. Increased use of the Arctic will require the U.S. to fill gaps in satellite and communications coverage, add deep-water ports and buy more ships that can withstand frigid waters.

In addition to those costs, the U.S. will have to address other changes in its military installations. Officials don’t yet have cost estimates.

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.


The Canal – a documentary


Children are sick and dying. We can do something about it.
This campaign is raising funds on behalf of Clean Air Coalition Of Western New York Inc, a verified nonprofit. The campaign does not necessarily reflect the views of the nonprofit or have any formal association with it. All contributions are considered unrestricted gifts and can’t be specified for any particular purpose.


A group of smart, committed women have been telling us something for almost 40 years: we need to protect our children from the shocking links between chemicals and human disease.  But it seems like no one has been listening.

Love Canal is a community in Niagara Falls which discovered in the mid-1970′s that its elementary school had been built on top of 22,000 tons of toxic chemicals.  Realizing that this explained why their children were sick and dying, a group of women fought the government and industry with extraordinary determination and bravery for two years to have their families evacuated.

The area, however, was declared habitable in the early 1990s and the homes were resold for below market value to working families who jumped at the chance to own a little piece of the dream. But the dream has become a nightmare.  The same symptoms that ravaged the community in the ’70s are back with a vengeance.

We’ve been filming with families who bought those homes and we need your help to finish the movie and tell the world this story which highlights an issue that affects us all.  1 in 2 Americans lives within 10 miles of a site like Love Canal and we are exposed to toxic chemicals in waste streams and in products every day.


We have two goals in making this film.

  • The first is to save the families living in Love Canal today.  And save is not too big a word: the rates of leukemia, miscarriages, and heart conditions are through the roof. Babies conceived in the area are at a hugely elevated risk of having birth defects.  Logan in the video above is just one example.
  • The second goal is what effects us all.  There are practically no safeguards between you and toxic chemicals either in the products you use or in the waste streams where they are deposited.  The current laws do not require a company to prove that a chemical is safe before it is used.  We must amend this law so that we can live without this unnecessary risk.  We believe there is a way for companies to make money while behaving responsibly.  This film introduces people to this debate through one of the most infamous chemical disasters.  It tells a specific human story that affects us all and hopefully will inspire us to demand change.


We have shot the film over the course of the last three years and are ready to finish it and get it out in the world.  We need to raise our goal so that we can finish editing the film, do the picture and audio post production work and license the archival material we need to use to tell the historical story.  Only by showing how big this story was in the 1970s can we underline the craziness that it’s repeating itself.  There’s something beautiful about seeing the women who fought the original battle interviewed now – they understood the lessons, they knew what should be done because their children suffered the consequences.  But as so often happens, those that know a truth which challenges the status quo are marginalized or ignored.

Any amount will help us.  If you can’t contribute, and we get it, tell your friends and family about us.  Whether they can contribute or not, it’s good for people to be aware of what is happening to us all.  The people in places like Love Canal are at particular risk but we are all being exposed to toxic chemicals on a daily basis.  It’s time to take them out of products and waste streams and to properly manage the hazards we have already created.

Democracy has gone a little off the rails and it’s time we put it back on track.  We hope this film can play a part in doing that.


All of your donation minus the market value of any physical perks (i.e. the t-shirt and the book) are tax deductible.  You will receive an email with all the information you need to take the deduction on your 2014 tax return.


A percentage of the money you give will go to The Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, which is an amazing organization dedicated to training grassroots activists and communities to run and win environmental justice and public health campaigns.  Given the amazing legacy of Lois Gibbs and her own organization, The Center For Environmental Health and Justice, this feels like a fitting way to not only complete the film but to encourage ordinary citizens to take their health into their own hands.


Report: Lead from police firing range on Moccasin Bend may be leaching into the Tennessee River


An environmental assessment of the joint Chattanooga-Hamilton County firing range on Moccasin Bend indicates that the nearly 40 years of spent bullets at the site may be causing lead-laden surface water to flow into the Tennessee River.

And local and federal officials say they may need to review a recent decision to keep the guns firing on the Bend.

The assessment, paid for by the National Park Service to estimate the cost of cleaning up the site, shows that about 6,147 tons of surface soil across five areas on the range contain more than 400 mg/kg — the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable lead limit for the site.

No subsurface soil or water is jeopardized by lead, but the report shows lead-contaminated surface water is likely finding its way to the river, either through stormwater drainage ditches or natural routes.

Lead contamination can impair learning and behavioral development in children, and cause nerve and organ damage in adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chattanooga’s drinking water is collected upstream from the Bend, but the Tennessee River serves as a drinking water source for towns to the west of the Scenic City, out to Paducah, Ky.

In a separate note, the assessment found that a fire pit police had used to burn “cardboard targets, ammunition boxes and household trash” contained lead and arsenic, and was potentially leeching naphthalene, selenium and mercury — all semi-volatile organic compounds — into the groundwater under the Bend.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry shows high concentrations of naphthalene destroys red blood cells in humans and causes cancer in animals; toxic levels of selenium cause neurological damage; and too much mercury can damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetuses.

The firing range has caused friction between Friends of Moccasin Bend, an advocacy group for the nearby Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, and the city and county governments.

Former local officials agreed to move the gun range off the Bend and donate the land to the National Park Service more than a decade ago to expand the archaeological district and the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

But in August, current administrations said the $1.2 million price tag to remove the 40 years of lead in the ground at the range — coupled with the cost of relocating the training facility after a planned indoor range was nixed last year — was too great.

But Thursday, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the findings in the environmental assessment give “obvious reason to be concerned.”

“It’s something we take seriously, and I’m comfortable in saying the city takes it seriously,” Coppinger said. “Given the report, I think it’s important that we go back and review our options with regard to the firing range.”

But Coppinger stressed that police still need a viable place to train.

“At the end of the day, what we have to be able to do is to offer our law enforcement personnel, including in the municipalities, the best training we can possibly offer them,” Coppinger said.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke was traveling and unavailable for comment Thursday, but spokeswoman Lacie Stone said the administration is “thoroughly reviewing the report” and may do its own water quality analysis on the site.

Stone said the city was dedicated to providing green space and parks for residents, adding that it gave the park service 13 acres on the Bend last year.

“And even though building a new, indoor police training facility is cost prohibitive, we will continue to work with Friends of Moccasin Bend toward a solution that is in the best interest of Chattanooga and our public safety employees,” Stone said.

Whether a firing range is there or not, the city and county are responsible for its environmental impacts, according to state law.

Troy Keith, environmental field office manager with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said his agency did not regulate the firing range site, because no one has asked for help or complained.

But if toxins are leaking onto the river or groundwater, TDEC would get involved.

“We certainly would not like contamination coming from the site, so if we find that, it would be actionable,” Keith said.

Moccasin Bend’s archaeological district designation was initially driven by federal officials, and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said Thursday he was picking up the torch.

He said he set up a meeting for later this month with the Moccasin Bend group, along with representatives from Sens. Bob Corker’s and Lamar Alexander’s offices to find a solution.

“I just want to work toward an amicable solution consistent with what’s been laid out,” Fleischmann said. “It’s going to be a beautiful addition to the national park.”

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.


In Massachusetts, contaminated drinking water linked to stillbirths


By Gail Sullivan
From The Washington Post

For nearly 20 years, New Englanders drank and bathed in water without knowing it was laced with a neurotoxin. The chemical leached into the water from vinyl coating sprayed inside water pipes in the late 1960s in response to complaints the water smelled and tasted funny.

More than half of New England’s 1,050 miles of water pipes sprayed with the contaminant are in Massachusetts, mostly in the Cape Cod region. The poison, tetrachloroethylene or PCE, still widely used in dry cleaning, wasn’t discovered in the water supply until 1979.

A new study published in the journal Environmental Health shows that the exposure to the poison is linked to increased risk for stillbirths and other pregnancy complications.

To read more, visit <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/10/06/in-
massachusetts-contaminated-drinking-water-linked-to-stillbirths/”>The Washington Post

The study itself can be accessed at the Environmental Health Journal.

As the Global Frackdown draws near, actions are taking place on every continent, including Antarctica!

3 Days Until the Global Frackdown!


Image from Food and Water Watch

As the Global Frackdown draws near, actions are taking place on every continent – even Antarctica, as shown in the picture above!

One of the powerful things about the Global Frackdown is how it links together campaigns happening across the world and the images that we are able to share with each other and the world is a big part of that. Food & Water Watch will be working to put together an album of high quality images from actions across the world to share. To include photos from you actions, please email photos to photos@fwwatch.org (we won’t be able to include them all, but we’ll do the best we can!) Also – remember to join the Global Frackdown main facebook event page and invite your networks. It is also a good place to post photos: https://www.facebook.com/events/1578033332337030/

Get down with the #GlobalFrackdown this Saturday and join the movement to #BanFracking in your community! http://fwwat.ch/1rFSmIC


U.S. Steel: New spills add to legacy of steelmaking pollution


U.S. Steel’s plan to off-load its Hamilton property is complicated by a legacy of historic pollution — but spills continue right up to the present day.

Ministry of Environment figures show the steelmaking plant reported about 170 spills to land or water over the past decade, although only four “relatively small” releases have been recorded this year, said district manager Geoffrey Knapper.

He was unable to quickly provide details about the size of the spills or the contaminants involved, citing the amount of time needed to search records. But environmental regulations since 2005 have required reporting of any discharge that “may” harm the environment.

Spills could include industrial chemicals, oils or sewage — for example, one reported spill this year involved 136 litres of liquid that contained ammonia. But more commonly reported incidents in recent years include spilled industrial cooling water, which is slightly acidic.

Overall there have been 85 spills to land and 85 to water since 2003, with the worst year coming shortly after Stelco was bought by U.S. Steel. The plant has faced land or water environmental penalties totalling $33,910, mostly related to sewage.

But spills have dropped dramatically since 2008, when 51 were recorded. The changes coincide with plant equipment upgrades, but also new penalties and ministry regulations on spill prevention. Only one spill to land per year has been recorded since 2011.

The Spectator couldn’t reach U.S. Steel Canada spokesperson Trevor Harris Tuesday. But in documents filed seeking court protection for restructuring, the company called itself a “good environmental steward” since it acquired Stelco in 2007, pointing to “significant investments and improvements” in pollution control.

It also says the company is not aware of any “ongoing offsite contaminant discharges,” but acknowledges “a number of spills” over the past century.

“The nature and extent of these legacy environmental impacts are not fully known,” says the court filing.

MORE: U.S. Steel situation adds uncertainty to reef cleanup

The lack of public information about even recent pollution is “frustrating for residents who deserve to be in the know,” said Environment Hamilton head Lynda Lukasik, who argued the ministry should post basic information about spills online.

Lukasik said it’s encouraging to see numbers that suggest improvements over time, but “without context, it’s hard to know what they really mean.”

The worst contamination on the property “is likely attributed to a large extent to historical operations,” said Knapper, noting steelmaking on the site dates back a century. The provincial environment ministry was established in 1972.

A large chunk of the property is actually fill dumped into the harbour — much of it slag, rocky debris left over from smelting. Knapper said examples of expected pollution from long-term steelmaking include chlorinated solvents, heavy metals, oils and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs).

Even though the company has indicated it wants to off-load the property, Knapper said the ministry expects U.S. Steel to come up with a “responsible site management plan” that covers “current and historic” pollution.