The Daily Grist: March 18

What's Love Canal Got to Do With It?
Love Canal, First Superfund Site, Declared Clean

Love Canal is clean and will be removed from the Superfund list, said the U.S. EPA yesterday. Extensive pollution in the working-class area of Niagara Falls, N.Y., prompted President Carter to declare environmental emergencies in 1978 and 1980, and led Congress to pass the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act -- subsequently known as Superfund. The neighborhood was built on a 19th century canal filled with a toxic mix of 80 industrial chemicals, which seeped into homes, burning children and causing a panoply of long-term ailments. Cleaning the site took 21 years and $400 million. The de-listing is largely symbolic, since most of the work on the site was completed several years ago and the EPA will continue monitoring it for years to come, but it has prompted reflection on the oft-troubled program. "While Love Canal marked the beginning of the Superfund, its successful cleanup should by no means mark its demise," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in a statement. "We still have a long way to go."

Tiger, Tiger, Dying Quick
Sumatran Tigers May Face Extinction

Indonesia's Sumatran tiger may well have the dubious distinction of being the first large predator to go extinct this century, unless rampant poaching and illegal trade are sharply curtailed. This is the grim conclusion of
a report released this week by TRAFFIC, a network established by the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union to monitor illegal wildlife trade. Of the world's eight tiger subspecies, three have gone extinct in the past 70 years; the remaining five are all endangered. Experts estimate that 500 Sumatran tigers remain alive in the wild. Tigers are caught and killed using rudimentary wire snares, often deep within national parks, and sold for their skins and body parts in an illegal trade industry that spans much of Asia. The report concludes by taking Indonesian officials to task: "Numerous sources indicate that a lack of political will at best, and widespread corruption at worst, hinders enforcement of trade and hunting bans."

Rockets' Red Scare
California First State to Announce Perchlorate Limits

Last week, California regulators announced a "
public health goal" that will lead to formal regulations restricting levels of perchlorate -- a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel that damages thyroid glands -- in the water supply, thus becoming the first state to define such standards. The recommendation, 6 parts per billion, prompted much debate. Environmental groups had hoped for a more stringent standard, like the 1 ppb standard the U.S. EPA has provisionally adopted, pending a more comprehensive study by the National Academy of Sciences. The California Department of Health Services will now develop an official regulatory standard, taking into account the recommendation, the NAS study, and the costs of cleaning widely polluted water supplies like the lower Colorado River. The Pentagon is lobbying the state -- and the U.S. EPA -- not for the 1 ppb standard, nor the 6 ppb, but for ... 200 ppb. We wish that were a typo.

Ready to Grumble
Congressional Leaders Chastise EPA Over Lead Contamination

A bipartisan group of congressional leaders
criticized the U.S. EPA yesterday in a letter for its handling of the Washington, D.C., lead-contamination crisis and called on the agency to strengthen its rules governing lead in drinking water. Embattled D.C. officials, struggling to react to findings of widespread lead contamination in the city's water system, have repeatedly claimed that they were simply following EPA guidelines. The letter, addressed to EPA water chief Benjamin Grumbles (whose name we never tire of writing), seemed to agree: "Weak public notification requirements may have prevented people living and working in the District from being adequately informed of the situation." If the EPA adopts the letter's recommendations, utilities in every state likely would be required to test water more frequently and report more data to the EPA, and the agency would make public reporting on lead dangers and remedies more explicit.

The Little Engine That Couldn't Quite
French Inventor Builds Air-Powered Car

Guy Negre, an inventor working out of an industrial park on the French Riviera, has developed a car that
runs entirely on compressed air, producing only cold air as exhaust. While he has attracted a number of investors and received a flurry of media attention, enviros shouldn't dream airy dreams just yet. Negre concedes that the car has too little power and too short a maximum range to make it fit for sale. However, he has returned to the drawing board to develop a kind of hybrid that runs half on compressed air and half on a clean-burning external combustion chamber. He claims that the chamber would produce only tiny amounts of pollution and that an early version of the car got 94 miles per gallon. Given that Negre is operating on a shoestring budget, and the process for testing and selling new engines takes big automakers years, there won't likely be air-cars on the street anytime soon. But it's another dream -- along with hydrogen cars -- to dream.

For more environmental news and humor go to Grist Magazine.

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