The organization released its annual State of the Air report today and Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax and the District of Columbia earned an “F” grade for ozone pollution — also known as smog. The D.C. area as a whole ranked as the 9th most-polluted city in the nation for smog, up from 13th last year and 14th in 2011.
The report suggests that the D.C. area has improved in terms of particle pollution in recent years.
“The air in Washington, DC is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Kimberly Williams, Advocacy and Communications Manager for the American Lung Association, in a press release. “Even though the area experienced increases in unhealthy days of high ozone, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago. But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution in the D.C. area to protect the health of our citizens.”
The full press release, after the jump.
The GenOn Potomac River Generating Station, a 63-year-old coal-fired power plant on the Potomac River, north of Old Town Alexandria, permanently shut down this week. The plant closed after dogged efforts by local residents and environmental activists, who argued the 482-megawatt plant was harming local air quality and endangering residents.
The Washington Post called the plant the “largest single source of air pollution in the Washington region.” The plant’s smokestacks emitted fine particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, occasionally at levels that could temporarily harm sensitive individuals, according to a recent air quality study.
Jeff Harn, the Bureau Chief of Arlington’s Office of Sustainability and Environmental Management, said the plant’s closure is a positive development for local air quality.
“I think generally it’s a good thing,” he told ARLnow.com. “We sort of look at that plant as a regional source of air pollution. It affects the whole region. [The closure] would be beneficial, I’m sure.”
At a press conference on Monday, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said the closing of the plant will benefit the health of local residents.
“Today marks the conclusion of a long fought but well won victory for Northern Virginia residents and the health of citizens in the National Capital Region,” he said. “What once was the largest stationary source of air pollution in the metro area will be no more. With the extinction of this dinosaur, our air will be cleaner. As much as 600,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide, 1.9 million lbs of nitrogen oxide, and 325,000 lbs of sulfur dioxide will be in the air we breathe.”
Harn said the areas closest to the plant — parts of Alexandria, as well as parts of South Arlington and Crystal City — should see some air quality improvement as a result of the plant’s closure. D.C. should also benefit, he said, as prevailing winds often carried the plant’s emissions across the Potomac and into the District.
Since there is not much heavy industry in the area, Harn says most of the air pollution in the D.C. area is transportation-related — from sources like cars, buses and airplanes.
Flickr pool photo by Afagen
August brings the eleventh anniversary of the most notorious stream pollution incident in Arlington County history. In the years since golf course runoff poisoned the Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch streams, residents and county officials alike have stepped up their protection of our region’s waterways.
In August 2001, an herbicide applied to 12 fairways at the Washington Golf and Country Club washed into Donaldson Run and Gulf Branch after a storm. Eight thousand pounds of this herbicide, Basamid G, had been applied to kill all plant and animal life in the top two inches of the fairways’ soil. However, it did a whole lot more than its intention. The runoff killed an estimated 1,000 American eels. No living organisms were found in the streams following the storm.
Jen McDonnell, a Stormwater Outreach Specialist at Arlington’s Office of Sustainability and Environmental Management, said the incident “brought attention to the impacts that runoff can have on our streams.”
After this event, golf course officials agreed to halt the treatment of the remaining six fairways, which would drain into Gulf Branch. In 2005, facing civil charges, the golf course agreed to a consent decree in which it paid $145,000 to reimburse the costs incurred by the federal government — specifically, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – in responding to the incident.
Arlington County code makes it unlawful for “any person to discharge directly or indirectly into the storm sewer system or state waters, any substance likely, in the opinion of the County Manager, to have an adverse effect.”
McDonnell said that she is “not aware of any other penalty fines which have been paid for stream pollution.” However, she does know that polluters oftentimes have to pay for cleanup activities following a spill.
Despite the threat of financial consequences, pollution still continues, often unknowingly, from residents applying pesticides and fertilizers onto their lawn. The county and some environmental groups have been trying to counter the contamination with various stream-friendly projects.
‘SmokeHouse’ Coming to Pentagon City — Two veterans of The Palm restaurant are teaming up to create “Epic SmokeHouse,” described as a cross “between a fine dining steakhouse and a barbecue joint.” The restaurant will reportedly be located inside the Millennium at Metropolitan Park apartment building at 1330 S. Fair Street, near Pentagon City mall. [Washington City Paper]
County Launches ‘Green Streets’ Program — Arlington County has launched a pilot program to build bioretention systems into road medians, in an effort to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff before it reaches the Chesapeake Bay. [Connection Newspapers]
Hundreds Busted in HOV Crackdown — A Capitol Region HOV enforcement crackdown on Tuesday netted nearly 650 traffic summonses and arrests, including nearly 450 HOV violations. In Virginia, the enforcement was conducted by Virginia State Police, Arlington County police and other local law enforcement agencies. [CBS Local]
Expect Heavy Memorial Day Traffic — More motorists are expected to hit the roads in the D.C. area this Memorial Day weekend than at any time since the start of the recession, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. [WJLA]
AIM Offers Video Production Camp — Arlington Independent Media is offering a summer video production camp for youth ages 10 to 13. The two week camp will allow participants to “develop a story idea, write a script, shoot footage, and edit their own short production” with the guidance of media professionals. [Arlington Independent Media]
Flickr pool photo by Damiec
The massive upgrade of Arlington’s Water Pollution Control Plant, which is almost finished, is apparently already causing environmental benefits in the Chesapeake Bay. Plus, it has created a new source of revenue for the County.
Tests show the $568 million expansion and modernization of the WPCP has reduced the amount of harmful nitrogen it deposits into the Chesapeake Bay. That means the County will receive tradable credits that can be sold through the state’s Nutrient Credit Exchange Program. Earlier this week, the County Board voted to participate in the program, and also approved Arlington’s membership in the Virginia Nutrient Credit Exchange Association.
“The County has made a huge investment in expanding and upgrading the Water Pollution Control Plant, and it is great to see that – even before the upgrade is completed – the effort is producing significant benefits for the Bay and creating a new source of revenue for Arlington,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “This expansion is proving to be a worthwhile investment for our County and the region.”
The County could receive between $22,000 and $410,000 each year for its utility fund by participating in the exchange. Because it’s a new member, Arlington would have to wait the required three to five years before receiving money for its credits. There is an annual membership fee of $3,125 for the program.
The WPCP treats 30 million gallons of wastewater each day. Most of its renovations are slated to be finished this summer. A refurbishment of the fence around the facility will start this spring and end in the fall.
Northern Virginia residents were exposed to “dangerous” levels of smog on 33 days last year, the report said. There were also “3 ‘red-alert’ days, when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects,” according to a press release.
The report was released locally by Environment America offshoot Environment Virginia. Rep. Jim Moran and Del. Patrick Hope were among the speakers at a press conference yesterday at the Langston-Brown Community Center in Arlington.
Environmental Virginia spokeswoman Sarah Hyman said the report is troubling for local residents — particularly children and the elderly, who are a higher risk of adverse health effects from air pollution.
“Virginians deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the D.C. Metro area, including Northern Virginia, are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” Hyman said. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
Hyman went on to criticize the Obama administration’s decision to put off updating the Environmental Protection Agency’s national smog pollution standards until at least 2013.
“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” Hyman said. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. Virginia’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”
An American Lung Association study released in April said the D.C. area has the 14th worst smog levels in the country.
Photo courtesy Anne Hughes/Office of Rep. Jim Moran
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The GenOn power plant along the Potomac River in Alexandria will be retired next year, in a victory for local environmental advocates who railed against the coal-fired plant’s carbon emissions.
The 62-year-old plant is expected to close by Oct. 1, 2012, according to a City of Alexandria press release. Alexandria will release $32 million that was being held in escrow to pay for environmental controls at the plant, in order to facilitate its closure.
“Today’s announcement is a path forward for both Alexandria and the power company that works for everybody, and truly reflects the interest of both parties,” Alexandria Mayor William Euille said in a statement. “Both the Alexandria City Council and community have worked extremely hard toward this goal, and we are very proud of the final result. This news strengthens Alexandria’s future and opens the door to an enhanced quality of life for our residents.”
No word yet on what might eventually happen to the prime waterfront property on which the plant is located. The land is owned by Pepco, according to the Washington Business Journal, but there has been talk of using the land for a nearly half-billion dollar mixed-use project.
Rep. Jim Moran, meanwhile, released a statement praising today’s announcement.
This was a long fought but well won victory for the citizens of Alexandria and the nation’s capital. What once was the largest stationary source of air pollution will be no more. Through citizen involvement and committed city officials, the Potomac River Generating Station and its 1949 coal-fired boilers will finally be shuttered.
Forced to reduce its emissions and scale back its operations to comply with the Clean Air Act as a result of a lawsuit and enforcement actions, Mirant and GenOn were ultimately unable to compete with cheaper and cleaner natural gas powered electricity. Tougher federal regulations now in development may have also convinced GenOn’s management that the $28 million in settlement funds that had been set aside to meet the cleanup terms of the settlement were better than the losses their shareholders were taking trying to keep the outdated plant in operation.
Northern Virginia stands as an example of a prosperous and environmentally-conscious community. Today’s action maintains our commitment to a better, cleaner environment for our region’s next generation. The extinction of this dinosaur of a facility is heartily welcomed.
Del. David Englin, who represents parts of Alexandria and Arlington, also released a statement.
“Every human being has a basic and fundamental right to breathe clean air, which is why so many of us have fought for so long to shut down this dirty, old coal-fired power plant in our midst. This is a major victory for the people of Alexandria that will strengthen our quality of life, and I congratulate all of the officials involved.”
“Our community owes a great deal to the citizen activists who have worked with such unfailing dedication and perseverance to get us to this point. While there is reason to celebrate, the agreement does allow some wiggle room on the closing date, which means we must continue to be vigilant until the day the plant finally and permanently closes its doors.”
Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief
It’s sort of like the “Adopt-a-Highway” program, but without the corresponding road signs.
Arlington has launched an “Adopt-a-Street” program that allows civic-minded residents and organizations to commit to picking up litter and debris along a road of their choosing. After signing up, volunteers receive safety and cleaning supplies, a five gallon collection bucket and scheduled pickups of collected debris.
Adopters are asked to perform their cleaning duties on a quarterly or as-needed basis, with a minimum one year commitment.
The program, which is run by the county’s Solid Waste Bureau, is intended to reduce storm water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with minimal cost to taxpayers. Supplies for the program have been purchased through sponsorships, the county says.
In a report released this morning, the association said the Washington region has the 14th highest ozone (smog) levels in the country. Arlington itself was slightly less polluted than the District, with an average of 9.8 ‘high ozone’ days compared to 10.7 days in the District.
The average number of high ozone days in Arlington has been been falling steadily since reaching a high of 32 from 1997 to 1999 (see chart, left).
“The progress we have made here in the District is due to the Clean Air Act; it has proven that cleaning up pollution results in healthier air to breathe,” said Dennis Alexander, Regional Executive Director for the local office of the American Lung Association. “Unfortunately, the D.C. metro area is still one of the most polluted areas in the nation and we still have a long way to go to achieve healthy air. This is exactly why we cannot stop now.”
Arlington received a grade of ‘C’ for particle pollution, also known as soot, while the District received a grade of ‘D.’ The Lung Association says there are more than 17,000 people with asthma and 7,000 people with chronic bronchitis in Arlington. Those groups are at greater risk from pollution, the association said.
A bill now before congress contains a provision, inserted at the behest of Western lawmakers like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), that would allow for regular non-stop flights from Reagan National Airport to cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Currently, federal regulations ban most flights beyond a 1,250 mile perimeter. The rule is meant to protect local communities from the noise and air pollution produced by the larger planes needed for cross-country flight.
The Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, Virgina Senators Webb and Warner, and local community groups have come out against the proposed rule change, the Washington Post reports.
Did you know that all of Arlington’s storm drains empty directly into local streams and waterways? Many people do not, which is part of the reason why 50-100 cases of stream contamination are reported each year.
To help reduce that number, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment and Whole Foods are teaming up to put “Don’t Dump” markers on neighborhood storm drains.
The project is taking place this Saturday. Volunteers are asked to meet at the Clarendon Whole Foods (2700 Wilson Blvd) at 1:00 p.m. A light snack will be served at Whole Foods afterward.
Contact Jackie Zovko (jackie.zovko[at]wholefoods.com) for more information.
Firefighters ultimately determined the substance was non-toxic. A subsequent Department of Environmental Services investigation revealed that the cloudy white water was caused by runoff from concrete work at a nearby home.
The incident is not altogether uncommon — DES investigates 50 to 100 complaints of stream contamination each year — but it serves as a reminder that many residents still don’t know where the county’s storm drains go.
Arlington’s 300 miles of storm sewers all empty into local waterways said Aileen Winquist, an environmental planner with the county.
Paint, antifreeze, petroleum products and portable toilet chemicals have all wound up in streams around Arlington due to people –purposely or inadvertently — dumping into storm drains.