Thursday, January 28, 2010

EPA Setting New Air Standards for SO2 and NO2 for First Time in Over 30 Years

Earlier this week (1/25/2010), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a new, more protective ambient air quality standard for short-term nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory ailments, the first time in 35 years EPA has lowered the NO2 standard. See “EPA Strengthens Air Quality Standard for Nitrogen Dioxide/First new NO2 standard in 35 years will improve air quality for millions” for details.

EPA also proposed last November to set a new, more stringent sulfur dioxide (SO2) ambient air quality standard to protect people from short-term SO2 concentrations that can aggravate asthma, the first time in almost 40 years EPA has lowered the SO2 standard. See “EPA Proposes Stronger Air Quality Standards for Sulfur Dioxide/New standard to protect millions of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens” for details.

NO2 emissions occur whenever fuels are burned because nitrogen (N2) comprises about 79 percent of the air that is used to burn fuels (oxygen comprises most of the remaining 21% of air). Cars, trucks and offroad engines (e.g., lawnmowers, generators) are major sources of NO and NO2 emissions, collectively referred to as NOx. Catalytic converters help reduce NOx emissions from cars. Other major NOx sources are fossil fuel power plants, cement plants, and glass manufacturing plants. The EPA is most concerned about short-term high NO2 concentrations close to highways and busy roads and is requiring states to start monitoring NO2 levels near roads. The largest single source of NOx emissions in Berks County is Lehigh Cement’s Evansville plant. Lehigh Cement is in the process of installing NOx pollution controls on their two cement kilns, which they plan to operate to reduce NOx emissions in the summer “ozone season”. NOx emissions contribute to ozone pollution through photochemical reactions with volatile organic compounds in the summer months.

SO2 emissions are primarily associated with coal power plants because coal has very high sulfur content compared to other fuels like gas and oil. Many large coal power plants have installed scrubbers to remove SO2 emissions but other smaller coal plants continue to operate without SO2 pollution controls because they are older “grandfathered” plants that are allowed to operate by purchasing SO2 allowances under the Acid Rain and CAIR cap and trade programs. The largest single source of SO2 emissions in Berks County is the Reliant Energy Titus Station coal power plant located at the intersection of Rt. 422 and Rt. 176 on the Schuylkill River south of Reading. The Reliant Titus Station plant does not operate state-of-the-art NOx or SO2 scrubbers. The plant has operated since the 1950's and is considered grandfathered. The plant is relatively small compared to other coal power plants in western PA and has secured SO2 and NOx allowances rather than installing these controls under the Acid Rain and CAIR programs.

Here is a summary of the largest SO2 and NOx stationary sources in Berks County using the latest 2008 PA DEP air emissions data, with emission rates shown in tons per year (Source: PA DEP eFACTS )

Berks County Pollution Sources - NOx (tons/year), SO2 (tons/year)
Reliant Energy Titus Station – coal power plant – Reading
2,061 NOx, 12,128 SO2

Lehigh Cement – cement plant - Maiden Creek
2,157 NOx, 286 SO2

Carpenter Technologies – specialty steel mill – Reading
235 NOx, 20 SO2

Texas Eastern – gas pipeline compressor – Bechtelsville
197 NOx, 2 SO2

Texas Eastern – gas pipeline compressor – Bernville
152 NOx, SO2

East Penn Mfg. – lead smelter and battery plants – Lyons
86 NOx, 29 SO2

Exide Technologies – lead smelter - Laureldale
61 NOx, 111 SO2

Ontelaunee Power – gas power plant – Ontelaunee
39 NOx, 3 SO2

Glen Gery - brick plant - Shoemakersville
25 NOx, 60 SO2

In light of these new air standards for SO2 and NO2 it is reasonable to be concerned about possible localized NO2 impacts at residences and schools that are located close to busy roads. It is also reasonable to be concerned about possible localized SO2 impacts associated with large SO2 sources like Reliant Titus Station that have avoided installing scrubbers by purchasing allowances under the Acid Rain or CAIR cap and trade programs.

Gavin Biebuyck
Liberty Environmental, Inc.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Your ENERGY Options - consider a change!

If you are a PPL electric customer, rate caps on electric prices have expired at the beginning of the year. Now is a great time to switch to a renewable electricity supplier or purchase some Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). Both are easy to do and will significantly lower your carbon footprint.

Con Edison and Direct Energy offer plans sourced from wind and hydroelectric sources with only a small increase in your monthly bill. If you find some ways to conserve energy at home, you can go green and not even see a change in your bill.

You can purchase RECs through Community Energy or directly through PPL. Each REC you purchase guarantees that a megawatt-hour of electricity is generated by renewables, displacing fossil fuel energy sources on the grid and promoting the development of more renewable energy sources.

For a list of supplier choices and more information visit:

Jason Zerbe
State of the Environment in Berks Steering Committe, Energy Chair

Friday, January 15, 2010

So what exactly is a benthic macroinvertebrate?

By now you have probably read the Conservancy’s State of the Environment Report and learned about water, land, air, waste, and energy issues in Berks County. Hopefully you have taken the report’s advice to heart and looking at what changes you might make in your life to help make a difference. After reading that one lawn mower emits as much pollution per hour as 11 cars, I decided to look into getting an electric mower when we are in need for a new one. I have found that there are many options and their prices are quite reasonable.

Reading the report may also have left you with questions. After reading the report my wife asked me, “What exactly is a benthic macroinvertebrate?” Benthic macroinvertebrates were used to gauge Aquatic Life in Streams – Water Indicator Five from the report. In explaining what a benthic macroinvetebrate is, we should first breakdown the words:
Benthic = bottom
Macro = large
Invetebrate = animal without a backbone

So benthic macroinvertebrates are large animals without backbones that live in the bottoms of our waterways. Now, large may be misleading. A large invertebrate is still a very small animal. Benthic macroinvertebrates include crayfish, clams, snails, aqautic worms, and immature forms of insects such as stoneflies and mayflies. The animals live on rocks, logs, sediment, debris, and aquatic plants in our waterways. Many benthic macroinvertebrates are very dependent on clean water for survival; oxygen levels, the presence of toxic chemicals and nutrients, and overall habitat quality are all important factors. They are also an important component of the food chain. Benthic macroinvertebrates typically serve as “middlemen”, eating leaves and other organic matter, then serving as food to fish and other larger species.

Every one of us plays and important role in providing a healthy habitat for macroinvertebrates in Berks County. If you live along a stream, make sure you do not mow your lawn right to the streambank. This will protect the streambank from erosion and leave a buffer strip to filter pollutants before they reach the stream. Also, if you have various toxic substances around your house (cleaning agents, motor oil, antifreeze) make sure you store them properly to prevent spills and never pour them down storm drains that lead directly to our local waterways.

Matt Bixler
Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy

Friday, January 8, 2010

Motivation for the New Year

My dear friend Susan Fromm recently received an award and much deserved recognition for her long time volunteer efforts for the organization, Berks Women in Crisis.

In accepting her remarks she eloquently referenced the Conservancy's State of the Environment report. I'd like to share with you her inspirational remarks as motivation in the new year.

"Last month the Berks County Conservancy published their state of the environment report, and if I may, I'm going to borrow from it. The report said that we are all responsible for the state of the environment in Berks County and that if we all did just 3 little things each day, we could have a truly profound impact. Simple things like turning the lights off when leaving a room or walking to get the mail instead of driving or using a reusable grocery bag instead of one that's disposable. And if 1000 people did just 3 little things each day for a year it would amount to a million little things being done to improve the state of the environment. That's really big.

When Mary Kay (BWIC Executive Director Mary Kay Bernowski) called me last April to ask if I would accept this year's Vision for Peace award, I emphatically said no. It's not that I wasn't extremely flattered-and a little excited-at the prospect of being honored. It was more that I didn't feel that I had done anything grand enough to deserve the award. Michael and I have been giving financially to the agency for over 20 years, but we've never written that REALLY BIG check. And though I spent countless hours volunteering with the agency, I was never on the front line, doing the hard work, saving lives. But after reading the Conservancy report, it hit me. All of those years, and all of those hours, I had been doing the little things, and I guess they added up to something bigger.

As with the environment, we all share responsibility for the welfare of our community, and by getting a lot of people to do a lot of little things for organizations like BWIC, we can have a major impact on improving the lives of victims of violence, homelessness, hunger and other tragic circumstances for many years to come. Very few of us have the resources to write the REALLY BIG checks and most of us are spread too thin to give a TON of time. But it's fair to say that we can all find the time and resources to do the little things. And keep doing them.

Thank you for being here tonight. Tell your friends and family about the great work that Berks Women in Crisis is doing, everyday, right here in our community. Tell them to do the little things. And together we can achieve the Vision for Peace we all share. Thank you" - Susan Fromm

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year Resolutions Go Green

This new year, make a few resolutions to help keep the environment healthy. Simple changes in daily routines followed throughout the year can really make a difference. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Banish paper and plastic bags from your life. Do you opt for paper or plastic when at the grocery store? Neither is a good choice. Twelve million barrels of oil were used to make the 88.5 billion plastic bags consumed in the United States last year. And it takes four times more energy to make paper bags. The best choice is reusable shopping bags. Put a few reusable shopping bags in your car so you have them handy on your next shopping trip. And if you happen to forget your reusable bag (as we all do!), choose paper if you will recycle it or plastic if you will reuse or recycle it. The Berks Conservancy has great bags onsale for only $3.00 - order one today.

Stop Buying Bottled Water Did you know that it takes 26 bottles of water to produce the plastic container for a one-liter bottle of water, and that doing so pollutes 25 liters of groundwater? Don't leave a trail of plastic water bottles in your wake! Stop buying bottled water. Use reusable water bottles instead made from materials like stainless steel or aluminum that are not likely to degrade over time. If you choose a plastic water bottle, check the number on the bottom first: Plastics numbered 3, 6 and 7 could pose a health threat to you, so look for plastics numbered 1, 2, 4 or 5.

Give Up Hot Water in the Clothes Washer
Did you know that only 10 percent of the energy used by a typical washing machine powers the motor? About 90 percent of the energy is used to heat the water, and most clothes will come clean in cold water. Switch your washing machine's temperature setting to cold - you will be surprised how clean your clothes still get.