Southern California environment news and trends

Your local Superfund site: Palos Verdes Shelf & its fish

This week, we got word of a study from the San Francisco Estuarine Institute finding plenty of what people leave in coastal waters - including mercury and PCBs - in sportfish. 

You might not know that southern California is home to the largest underwater Superfund site in the US - and so a lot of our PCBs and DDT has settled there. So without further ado, just a little background on the Palos Verdes Shelf - the largest underwater Superfund site in the US!

Superfund's a total misnomer, by the by. It's a program run by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to clean up toxic waste at sites around the U.S. - 1200 or so of 'em - but the fund's been, well, underfunded, for quite some time. Still, since CERCLA got made law 31 years ago, the word Superfund has become synonymous with nasty hazardous and toxic waste. 


John Bryson, Commerce Secretary?: 5 California environment connections for the nominee

A recent book by NRDC's cofounder, John Adams, A Force For Nature describes the origins of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Adams tells the story of how he met with a pack of young nerd lawyers from Yale, lubricated with a little Scotch, to talk about work they might do together. Those Yale nerds were brash, as far as John Adams thought at the time - and one of them was a guy named John Bryson. Down the line a little, Bryson opened the California office of NRDC, in Palo Alto, near where he had graduated from Stanford, doing forest and lands work, and later did nuclear waste monitoring. Adams writes about Bryson: "A native of Oregon, John was tall, outgoing, charming, confident, and ambitious in the best sense of word. Meeting him, we immediately saw his potential for accomplishing great things, perhaps a career in politics." 


Heal the Bay's Beach Report Card: 5 things to know

Patt Morrison and I talked about beach water quality today - as well as the specific problem of sportfishing along the southern California coast I have a friend here in LA who goes to the beach like its her job in the summertime. I told Heather I'd be talking on the radio today about beach water quality issues, and she said, plaintively, "But everyone's trying to barbecue!" Don't let me ruin your barbecues. But with summer coming and the Heal the Bay beach report card out, you do want to keep some background facts in mind as you check your favorite beaches' grades along the coast (something you can do not only on a yearly basis, but on a weekly one, at Heal the Bay's tricked out site). Without further ado, your Memorial Day list of five things to know about your beaches. 

1. The LA River is still a fecal bacteria freeway. It's got a thousand-square mile drainage, for crying out loud. And where does it come from? Uh, everywhere. 


Celebrate two birthdays: Rachel Carson, and her book "The Sea Around Us"

Rachel Carson would have been 104 today. If you don't know anything about her, you still might know about Silent Spring, her book about chemical contamination. Thing is, Silent Spring never really moved me. I think I was a spoiled specimen: I grew up in the late seventies, in a place where people taught me from early on the value of a pristine watershed. The way Rachel Carson banged the drum in Silent Spring just wasn't my jam. 

So for me, today's an even better day to celebrate Carson's poetic, National Book Award winning, Burroughs Award winning book, The Sea Around Us

BEGINNINGS  are apt to be shadowy, and so it is with the beginnings of that great mother of life, the sea. Many people have debated how and when the earth got its ocean, and it is not surprising that their explanations do not always agree. For the plain and inescapable truth is that no one was there to see,  and in the absence of eye-witness accounts there is bound to be a certain amount of disagreement. So if I tell here the story of how the young planet Earth acquired - an ocean, it must be a story pieced together from many sources and containing whole chapters the details of which we can only imagine. The story is founded on the testimony of the earth’s most ancient rocks, which were young when the earth was young; on other evidence written on the face of the earth’s satellite, the moon; and on hints contained in the history of the sun and the whole universe, of star-filled space. For although no man was there to witness this cosmic birth, the stars and the moon and the rocks were there, and, indeed, had much to do with the fact that there is an ocean.


Where the nasty bacteria in Malibu come from

E. coliFecal Indicator Bacteria. I love saying it. But I'm trying to be careful in reporting on John Izbicki's study because the issue of where the Fecal Indicator Bacteria come from is a hot one in Malibu these days. 

[My radio report can be heard here.]

In my reading of the USGS 8-page summary and charts, what I saw that I could clearly report was simply that where scientists might have expected to find FIB that leached out of septic tanks through groundwater to the Lagoon and Surfrider, they didn't. So the bacteria they detected...came from other places. They're still working out exactly how much, and from where, the bacteria came. They can trace it through genetic, biological, and chemical markers, which is pretty cool. 

Izbicki and others have their suspicions about other sources of bacteria. Some of those suspicions are referenced in the USGS press release for the study, here's how they phrase it