Earth Day 2012: Join a CSA

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

This tip is part of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Earth Day blog series running through April 22, 2012.

A CSA is an acronym for “community supported agriculture.” What this means to me is that I buy my vegetables from my neighbors. And while I support local business, I also get organic vegetables that are better for me and my family. And I’m getting what’s grown in season in San Diego, which guarantees I’ll get a variety of veggies to spruce up my dinner plate.

The great thing about CSAs is that you can find them all over the county with different types of delivery or pick up options. They come in full boxes, half boxes and every-other-week boxes, which means you can find a size and delivery date/time that works with your schedule. You can even split a box with your neighbor–see more neighborly bonding.

Ourt staff recently signed up to be an office drop off for Suzie’s Farm. Now, the farm drops off vegetable boxes right to our office.

One thing that I have found fun with my CSA is to “google” two of the vegetables and search for new recipes. If I do this once a week, I easily use all of the vegetables in my CSA, and I’ve opened my dietary world to a whole new wonder of delicious dishes. And it’s fun.

Want to start today? Visit this online list of San Diego CSAs.


Victory for San Diego Bay

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

dsc00795-sThere’s still hope for a clean San Diego Bay.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board today ordered those responsible for polluting San Diego Bay to clean up their mess. The order directs shipyards NASSCO and BAE, the Navy, SDG&E, the City of San Diego, and the Port of San Diego to dredge a small portion of the 60-acre shipyard site south of the Coronado Bay Bridge to remove the worst of the pollution hot-spots caused by decades of shipbuilding, industrial activity and stormwater runoff.

This is a huge victory for Coastkeeper and Environmental Health Coalition and the community members we represent. The Regional Board has been considering taking action for more than 20 years. Dozens of staff members and volunteers from San Diego Coastkeeper and EHC have devoted thousands of hours over the past two decades to get a cleanup order adopted.

This victory belongs to all of us.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the struggle was the huge amount of time and resources it took to stand on equal footing with the shipyards flush with cash and an army of well-paid attorneys. I honestly believe their strategy was to try to overwhelm us to get us to give up and go away.

Thanks to your support and the support of our generous funders, we were able to stick it out and ultimately achieve a victory.

I’m confident that without Coastkeeper’s and EHC’s participation, the cleanup would be much worse–or possibly non-existent. If you’re impressed with what we have achieved here, please support us so that we can continue to fight the good fight and win important victories for San Diegans and our environment.

The People of California v. Auto Shredding

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

In a recent New York Times article I was quoted as saying, “The (auto) shredding business poses a risk to the environment, as well as to people’s health.”  An industry representative stated that she thought I was expressing my personal opinion.   Personal opinion?  How about facts?  What follows is my closing argument.


Click to watch the 10News investigation of Pacific Steel in San Diego

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the evidence in this case is persuasive, powerful and compelling.  You have heard and seen evidence that the shredding of automobiles and major household appliances poses a danger to both the environment and people’s health. I am asking that you return a verdict that says the same.

Automobile shredding is a process wherein a hammermill rips and grinds materials fed into fist-size pieces.  Auto shredder waste (ASW) is the15– 20 percent of vehicle materials remaining after a vehicle has been shredded and removed of reusable parts and metals.  This waste is composed of plastics, rubber, foam, residual metal pieces, paper, fabric, glass, wire, hoses, rubber gaskets, sand, dirt and other non-metallic waste that remains from recycled automobiles, trucks, buses, and household appliances.  ASW contains heavy metals (lead, copper, zinc and cadmium), chlorine and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

ASW is also known as “fluff.”

In California, mercury switches and lead wheel weights are required to be removed from automobiles prior to shredding.  All too often these toxic materials are not removed. The shredded waste is coated with an alkaline material that is designed to prevent metals from leaching out from the cement-like coating.  Treated ASW has been designated “non-hazardous waste” by the Department of Toxic Substances Control and can be disposed of at permitted non-hazardous landfills.   For the most part ASW is used as Alternate Daily Cover (ADC) at the landfills.

In September 2011, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office announced that a $2.9-million settlement had been reached with SA Recycling LLC, a metal recycler headquartered in Anaheim.   I initiated the SA recycling investigation in 2008 while I was the chief of enforcement at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).  In May 2007, an explosion occurred at the company’s Terminal Island shredder, which destroyed the air pollution control system (APCS).  The Terminal Island facility continued to operate for 120 days without a fully functioning APCS.  As a result, approximately 4.4 tons of toxic particulates were released to the air, and migrated to bay waters and the environmental justice community of Wilmington putting local residents and the environment at risk.

In 2009, with the support of California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, University of California (Davis) Professor Thomas Cahill published a study on air quality at Southern California ports.  Professor Cahill’s report determined that the Terminal Island auto/appliance shredder contributed to “rates of morbidity and mortality among the residents that are far higher than the California average.  The results show clear violations of California lead and zinc hazardous waste levels in the city of Wilmington, CA, which lies directly downwind of the ports.”

The complaint also alleged that shredder waste was illegally transported by unregistered hazardous waste haulers; and, DTSC’s analytical results indicated that certain samples of treated auto shredder residue destined for the Simi Valley Landfill in Ventura County and Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Santa Clarita exceeded regulatory thresholds for lead, zinc or cadmium.   Both facilities are non-hazardous waste landfills.

At the end of 2011, San Diego News 10 and San Diego Coastkeeper joined forces and investigated Pacific Steel, a National City recycling yard that at one time operated an automobile shredder, in response to  complaints that there were piles  of toxic soil at the site.   In 2002, DTSC issued an “imminent and substantial endangerment” order against Pacific Steel, because dust blowing from contaminated piles of fluff and dirt put an environmental justice community, a school and a creek at risk.  The piles contained PCBs and toxic metals such as lead, zinc and copper.   In 2004 a San Diego court ordered the site cleaned up.  For more than 9 years Pacific Steel ignored the orders.  In November 2011, Channel 10 reported the ongoing violations.  In December DTSC responded to the Channel 10 News report and forced Pacific Steel to clean up the site.  It will take two years for the company to clean up the more than 16 million pounds of hazardous waste.

In January 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Sims Metal Management to comply with federal laws after inspectors found the company had unlawfully discharged PCBs, lead, copper, mercury and zinc into Redwood Creek, a tributary of San Francisco Bay.  Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, stated that “Companies such as Sims Metal Management . . . must abide by the Clean Water Act.”    The order requires Sims to submit a revised storm water pollution plan to update monitoring and sampling, and to implement storm water pollution counter measures.

According to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) records, 6,056,026 tons of ASW has been disposed in California landfills since 1998.  The Simi Valley Landfill has received 2,828,534,000 pounds of treated ASW as of the end of calendar year 2010.   As already noted, the Simi Valley Landfill and Recycling Center is a fully permitted non-hazardous municipal solid waste landfill and recycling facility.

In a 2009, the California Integrated Waste Management Board (now CalRecycle) issued the “Alternative Daily Cover White Paper.”   The paper states that:

“Staff with the Department of Toxics Substance Control have indicated that ASW is not effective, the material should be considered hazardous, and ASW should be required to be disposed in Class 1 landfills.  DTSC staff also indicate that ASW feedstocks are variable and have changed in the last 20 years (more electronic components, white goods, chlorinated plastics), sampling is costly, and it is difficult to obtain representative samples of ASW.  Automobile Recycling Fluff in Ohio is considered unsuitable for ADC due to concerns regarding fire hazards, wind-driven scattering, dispersal outside the working face by landfill equipment, and the potential for contamination by asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and mercury (from switches).”

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit that there is no doubt about the environmental and health dangers associated with automobile shredding in California.   The evidence is overwhelming that our environment, health and public safety are at risk.

I ask that you return a just and proper verdict.

Ocean Gala: Short Photo Recap

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Many thanks to our 300 registered guests and dozens of Ocean Gala sponsors who helped us raise $100,000 this weekend. And congratulations to this year’s Coastal Champions Ashok Israni, CEO of Pacifica Companies, and David Alvarez, San Diego City Councilmember. Leaders like you give us hope that we will have fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego!

And big kudos to all of our volunteers who helped make the event a success.

We’ll post more photos soon, but for now, here’s a short photo recap of the evening thanks to our volunteer photographer Jackie Loza.


20 Years in the Making: Will San Diego Bay Get Clean?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Think back to where you were in 1991, twenty years ago.

The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture, Gorbachev resigned and the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Senate hearings were in full swing.  If you were the Regional Water Quality Control Board, you were asking industrial dischargers to determine if cleanup of contaminated sediment was needed in San Diego Bay.

A lot has changed in 20 years, but that same sediment sits at the bottom of San Diego Bay, continuing its toxic legacy and poisoning our crown jewel.

Fortunately, 2011 is the year this could change.  The Regional Board will hold an extensive four-day hearing this month on a cleanup plan for that sediment.  YOU can be part of that hearing and a part of history.

Coastkeeper and the Environmental Health Coalition have spent thousands of hours advocating on your behalf, but we need to amplify YOUR voice.  This Wednesday, November 9, if you’re planning to meet friends for happy hour, consider meeting up in Kearny Mesa.  Isn’t a new life for the bay worth three minutes of your time?

What do you need to do? Lend your voice at public comment on November 9 at 5 p.m. at the California Regional Water Quality Control Board at 9174 Sky Park Court, Suite 100 (remember to wear your Coastkeeper blue).

What do you say? We’ve got you covered.  Making any of the points below will help educate the board members and move them to a meaningful cleanup.  And when the cleanup is finally approved, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re a part of history.

  1. I want a clean bay now: where were you 20 years ago, what have you accomplished in all the time that this cleanup has stood at a standstill?
  2. I want a meaningful cleanup: Even though the cleanup plan will address polluted sediment, there are too many loopholes that could keep the cleanup from having its full effect.  Tell Board members you support the common sense additions from Coastkeeper and EHC to make this cleanup a success
  3. I want to enjoy my bay: Kayaking, fishing, swimming, boating, bird watching; what could you do in a clean and safe bay?
  4. I want to hold polluters accountable: since you were very young you learned to clean up your room.  Why should the multi-billion dollar companies who polluted our bay get away with it
  5. I want to be counted:  Public speaking not for you?  Just showing up goes a long way towards supporting your friends and neighbors who do speak, and shows the Board you care about a clean bay.

San Diego Coastkeeper Water Quality Monitoring Embarks on Bioassessment

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

During the June water monitoring event, we hired Nautilus Environmental to perform some bioassessment investigations at a few of our sampling sites. Bioassessments measure the physical habitat of streams and collect and identify the aquatic insects that live there. By identifying the insect communities that live in a stream, we get a sense of how healthy the ecosystem is. If insects that are sensitive to pollution are not found, we can say that the ecosystem is stressed. The physical habitat measurements tell us the non-chemical story of the stream. Habitat degradation, sedimentation and stream bed characteristics are all quantified.

Our monthly water monitoring program looks at the chemical constituents found in the county’s creeks and streams. These numbers, however, only tell a partial story. When combined with the bioassessment studies we get a more holistic view of the stream health and a clearer picture of how the constituents we monitor affect the streams.

Our water monitoring lab intern, Matt Pawinski, accompanied the field techs at Nautilus Environmental and put together a video describing the process. Watch it here.


The Toxic Nature of Copper in our Waters

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Recent concerns over high levels of dissolved copper in San Diego Bay, likely due in part to leaching from boat hull paints, has led to calls for a new permitting process for in-water hull cleanings. Boat hull paints are designed to limit the accumulation of material on boat hulls, a process known as fouling, which includes growth of diverse species of marine organisms. Copper is a popular active ingredient in boat hull paints because it is toxic to a wide range of organisms that can cause fouling. Increased copper levels in water worldwide has triggered a search for effective non-toxic alternatives to traditional copper-based hull paints, as well as research to unravel the complex ways that copper exposure kills marine organisms.

Copper toxicity is not limited to organisms that find their way to boat hulls — as hull paints wear and dissolve into surrounding water, the toxic properties of copper can conceivably affect most living things present. The broad-spectrum effects of this metal lie mainly in its ability to readily oxidize many molecules. Oxidation is the process during which an atom loses electrons. The process of oxidation is most familiar in the formation of rust, when electrons move from iron in metals into oxygen in the air. Dissolved copper acts similarly to oxygen, but can attract electrons away from important biological molecules like DNA and proteins, sometimes rendering these molecules unfunctional. Excess copper also participates in chemical reactions that produce highly unstable molecules called reactive oxygen species, extremely strong oxidants that can do more direct damage to cell structures than copper alone.

The extent to which unrelated marine organisms are affected by exposure to copper varies and is in part determined by how much copper ends up on the inside of an organism’s cells. Cells of marine organisms are impacted by the chemistry of the surrounding water.  Concentrations of dissolved material in the surrounding ocean, including salts, organic matter, and ions like copper will tend to equilibrate with concentrations of dissolved material inside the cell. Therefore, as water chemistry changes, so does the chemistry of the inside of the cell. Marine organisms can either tolerate these changing internal cellular conditions or actively maintain constant internal cellular conditions, sometimes in opposition to environmental conditions. In addition to oxidative damage, copper has been found to interfere with the regulation of these internal conditions, so organisms that adopt the second strategy are hit with this additional mechanism of toxicity.  Copper can also be acquired from food, so an organism will encounter more copper if its food tends to accumulate the toxin within its cells. Copper toxicity therefore manifests itself in different ways, and a real understanding of its impacts would require individual assessments of all exposed organisms.

Copper toxicity also varies with water chemistry more generally, regardless of a species’ physiology or diet. High concentrations of other dissolved ions can compete with copper for entry into cells, effectively diluting this pollutant, so the same organism exposed to the same amount of copper will feel the effects of copper toxicity more acutely in freshwater than in saltwater. Water chemistry can also affect copper accumulation through differences in the presence of dissolved organic matter, such as degradation products of dead organisms, which form complexes with copper and block it from entry into living cells.

Historical accounts suggest that Phoenicians and Carthaginians may have used copper to treat ship hulls as long ago as 1000 BC. Our ancient predecessors understood that copper could be used as a biocide, and we are only now beginning to understand why. As use of copper in hull paints has become practically ubiquitous, we are now challenged with correcting the consequences of centuries of this practice.

Kelley Gallagher is a graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a Water Quality Monitoring Volunteer for San Diego Coastkeeper. This is one out of several blogs Kelley will write to help us understand the science of water pollution in our region in an easy-to-comprehend way.

References and further reading:
1. Grosell M, Blanchard J, Brix KV, Gerdes R: Physiology is pivotal for interactions between salinity and acute copper toxicity to fish and invertebrates. Aquatic Toxicology 2007, 84:162-172.
2. Main WPL, Ross C, Bielmyer GK: Copper accumulation and oxidative stress in the sea anemone, Aiptasia pallida, after waterborne copper exposure. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part C Toxicology & Pharmacology 2010, 151:216-221.
3. Viant MR, Walton JH, TenBrook PL, Tjeerdema RS: Sublethal actions of copper in abalone (Haliotis rufescens) as characterized by in vivo P-31 NMR. Aquatic Toxicology 2002, 57:139-151.
4. Pinto E, Sigaud-Kutner TCS, Leitao MAS, Okamoto OK, Morse D, Colepicolo P: Heavy metal-induced oxidative stress in algae. Journal of Phycology 2003, 39:1008-1018.
5. WHOI. 1952a. History of fouling prevention. In Marine fouling and its prevention. Prepared for Bureau of Ships, Navy Department by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Woods Hole, MA. United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD

Copper Hull Paint Bill Passes First Committee

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Back from Sacramento, with, if not a happy ending , then at least a happy beginning.  The copper hull paint bill Coastkeeper is sponsoring made it out of its first committee on a 5-1 vote. The bill now heads to its next hurdle: Senate Appropriations.  Over the next few weeks, the bill heads to at least six committees total before it will be ready to hit the Governor’s desk (I’m reminded of the Schoolhouse Rock classic, I’m just a bill.)  That’s if it can survive each one of those tests, and that’s where Coastkeeper comes in.

california-state-capitol-2As a nonprofit focused on the water quality issues caused by pollutants like copper, we’ve got a story to tell.  We count ourselves lucky to have incredible diversity in our membership – boaters, regulators, environmentalists, naturalists, businesspeople.  Our members want clean water in San Diego, and they also want to get out to enjoy that resource, on boats.  With your generous support, I can go to Sacramento and tell legislators why this bill is needed, and what will happen if it doesn’t pass.  Coming from a group with such a long history, that’s something they want to hear.

I’ll be travelling up to the capital next week to meet with all the statewide stakeholders; from paint manufacturers to hull cleaners, environmentalists to boat owners, we’ll be talking copper.  If there’s a message you want me to bring to this group, leave it here in the comments and I’ll raise it at the meeting.

Stay tuned…

Bathroom Water Quality: What’s in a bowl?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Test results from our homework assignment to show what we’ve learned at Coastkeeper.

On March 15, my co-intern Noah and I had to do a school project that utilizes some things that we have learned and done so far here at San Diego Coastkeeper. As interns, we are responsible for analyzing and producing all the data graphs you see on the water quality wiki. We decided to measure the bacteria count in the water in our bathrooms. Once we had the results, we would then compare our two houses to each other and to the bacteria levels in the waters around San Diego County.

Once Noah and I collected some water samples from our sink, toilet bowl and the toilet tank, Travis, Coastkeeper’s water quality lab coordinator, helped us analyze for E. coli and enteroccoci.

The results were somewhat surprising. All results were below the minimum level that the test can show, with the exception of samples taken from one of our toilet bowls (the actual owner to remain anonymous). One of our toilet bowls showed an E. coli level of 648.8 MPN/100 ml. This level of EColi is comparable to the February results from one of the Tijuana River sites. According to the field data sheet, the sample site also contains “lots of trash (including: a bowling ball, a boat, 3 deflated soccer balls, Styrofoam).”

Feel free to check out water quality data for other watersheds in San Diego. And read more about “gross water” on Coastkeeper’s blog.

San Diego Coastkeeper Co-Sponsors Legislation to Phase Out Copper Hull Paint

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper



Photo Credit

“Ms. Solmer goes to Sacramento.”  Ok, it isn’t as catchy as the 1939 Frank Capra classic movie “Mr. Smith goes to Washington,” and it doesn’t star Jimmy Stewart. But Coastkeeper is sending me to the capitol next week to testify at a Senate Environmental Quality Committee, and in a way, you’re all coming with me.

It’s so inspiring for me to go and represent your voice in Sacramento. At Coastkeeper, we’ve worked with stakeholders for almost 10 years to address copper exceedances in our bays.  About five years ago, Shelter Island Yacht Basin was listed under the Clean Water Act as exceeding objectives for copper.  That triggered a restoration plan (called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL) to reduce the amount of copper going into the marina basin.  But copper isn’t just a problem in Shelter Island, or the rest of San Diego Bay–copper causes marine life problems all over the state.  So for years we’ve pushed for a statewide fix.  And this year, Senator Christine Kehoe responded.  She authored a bill, SB 623, which calls for a phase out of copper hull paint from recreational vessels.

We’re honored to co-sponsor Senator Kehoe’s bill and help educate our decision makers about the copper pollution in our marinas.  We know from years of experience that preventing the pollution before it gets to the boats, and before it gets into the water, is cheaper and more effective than waiting.

Clearly, our members and supporters understand this concept.  Last week we put out the call for letters of support for SB 623, and just like in the movie, you answered our call, and they’ve been pouring in – nearly 200 and counting.

So I’ll be thinking of all you when I speak to our state’s leaders next week.  And just like in the movie, I know we’ll get our happy ending.