One cannot fully understand and apply environmental laws and administrative procedures or precedent-setting court decisions without understanding the social, economic and political contexts in which they emerged. Members of the Waterwise Consulting, LLC, consortium have lived through many of these seminal moments in environmental history and in several cases, have made significant contributions to them. Those experiences are embedded in our professional DNA.
In that light, Waterwise Consulting, LLC, commends several environmental history reference websites to your attention:
A more detailed chronology of environmental events is contained in:
1962: After years of investigation and writing in marine biology, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is published.
The book presents evidence then extant from a variety of sources that overuse of pesticides, especially DDT, is causing their accumulation in soil, water, and sediment and their (bio)accumulation in aquatic and terrestrial wildlife with unintended toxic effects to non-target species, including the reproductive failure of song birds, resulting in a Silent Spring. The book was met with some scientific acceptance but widespread skepticism. Some of the skepticism is based on legitimate scientific criticism that the author extrapolated to a conclusion from limited laboratory research and anecdotal field evidence. Of course, without the concern for such effects, there was little interest in conducting or funding such environmental studies. In contrast, some of the skepticism was based on a carefully manufactured backlash by the chemical companies who stood to lose huge profits if her thesis was correct.
For similar disinformation campaigns, see for example the tobacco industry’s response to the conclusion that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer in the 1950s and 1960s, the Pentagon’s response to the conclusion that the dioxin in Agent Orange caused various diseases in exposed Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s, Dupont’s response to the conclusion that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) threaten the ozone layer in the 1970s and 1980s, and Exxon’s response to the conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions of human origin are causing global warming in the 1990s and 2000s.
One of the defining events in environmental history is Earth Day 1970:
The University of Michigan made a seminal contribution to Earth Day 1970. The growing state-wide interest in the planned Michigan environmental teach-in the fall of 1969 encouraged the Earth Day organizers to pursue a nationwide effort using a similar approach planned for the following spring. Because April 22 fell in the middle of finals, Michigan organized a successful teach-in on the environment that immediately preceded the first Earth Day in March 1970. That history is recounted at the following website:
Antarctic ozone hole peaks 2006
Reproduced from Wikipedia 2010: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozone_depletion
1974: Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland publish"Stratospheric sink for chlorofluoromethanes: chlorine atom- catalysed destruction of ozone" in Nature.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Holland’s Paul Crutzen, Jr., studied the effect of oxides of nitrogen on the ozone-forming reactions in the stratosphere and concluded that the NOx produced by the then proposed fleet of supersonic transport jet aeroplanes (SSTs) flying at the edge of the stratosphere could result in depletion of the ozone layer by interfering with a critical ozone-producing reaction pathway. As a consequence, the Concorde SST fleet was the only one built and in 2003 the last of the fleet was removed from service.
Following an analogous line of research, in 1974 Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland co-authored a seminal paper in Nature that concluded that the chlorofluorohydrocarbons or CFCs, which were in wide commercial use as solvents and refrigerants, threatened the Earth’s ozone layer. This was because they could persist in the atmosphere long enough to migrate into the stratosphere where ozone is produced by the action of ultraviolet light on oxygen molecules. There the chlorine atoms stripped from the Freons by the intense sunlight could catalytically short-circuit the reaction pathways producing ozone, resulting in a depletion of the ozone layer and an increase in the destructive ultraviolet light reaching the Earth’s surface.
At a 1974 meeting of the American Chemical Society, the pair held a press conference at which they called for an immediate cessation of release of CFCs to the atmosphere. They reiterated their concerns before Congress at hearings held that same year. Subsequently, their results and conclusions were supported by the National Academy of Sciences in a 1976 report. Despite Dupont’s opposition, Congress, in its precautionary wisdom, amended the Clean Air Act to ban further production of CFCs in 1978, being willing to err on the side of the public health, safety, and welfare over private profit.
By the mid-1980s ozone depletion had been observed, but it was much more pronounced than Molina and Rowland had predicted over the North and South poles, where the thinning was so severe that the depletion was characterized as a "hole" in the ozone layer. This was because the chemists had not included the effect of heterogeneous catalysis of the ozone-depleting reactions with Freon molecules on ice crystals in the stratosphere. When that omission was corrected, observation and prediction were again reconciled. The ratification of the Montreal protocol by the Senate in 1987 and subsequent revisions shifted the phase-out of use of CFCs to 2010. In 1995 Crutzen, Molina and Rowland shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their world-saving work. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_J._Molina
THE OZONE CYCLE and INTERFERANTS
Reproduced from Wikipedia 2010: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozone_depletion
1996: Our Stolen Future, by Theodora (Theo) Colborn, Ph.D. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theo_Colborn), Dianne Dumanoski and J. Peterson Myers, makes the case that chemicals of human origin that mimic hormones or stimulate or inhibit hormone production or effects are disrupting the endocrine systems of all higher organisms, including humans, with serious adverse consequences for successful reproduction. This conclusion is based on a comprehensive compilation of cutting-edge laboratory research and observations in the wild. The effects of endocrine disruption include the masculinization of females and the feminization of males, male and female genitalia hypo- and hypertrophy, increased incidences of hermaphrodism and infertility, as well as increased incidences of same-sex pairings and mating attempts. If these endocrine disrupters go unregulated, these effects could ultimately undermine the reproductive success of a wide range of higher organisms, including humans, resulting in Our Stolen Future.
Perhaps ironically, it was DDT's interference with the hormone governing calcium deposition in bird eggs that resulted in egg shell thinning and collapse under the weight of nesting females, thus compromising the reproductive success of raptors and songbirds alike.
Like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, Our Stolen Future in 1996 is met with a combination of acceptance and skepticism by scientists. However, inclusion of amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act requiring endocrine disrupter testing the same year of its publication is testament to the social and political influence of this book. Dr. Colborn’s work on this issue is continuing through The Endocrine Disrupter Exchange (TEDX).
Did we miss a seminal moment in environmental history that most impacted you? Let us know, so that we can add it to the list.
Ron Cobb's 1969 Ecology Symbol
1892: John Muir, the father of the U.S. park system, co-founds the Sierra Club.
1899: Congress passes the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act to protect navigable waters and the tributaries thereof from floating refuse of any kind and to prevent their dredging, filling, or change in course, condition, or capacity without a permit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is tasked with its administration.
1947: Congress passes the Federal Insecticide Fungicide Rodenticide Act. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Insecticide,_Fungicide,_and_Rodenticide_Act
1948: President Truman signs Federal Water Pollution Control Act to addess water pollution that creates first construction grants program for waseteater treatments plants.
1953-1959: Chisso Chemical Company’s release of wastes containing methylmercury into Minamata Bay beginning in 1938 eventually contaminates fish and mollusks, their marine mammal predators, and the humans of Minimata, Japan, that ate them. This results in a range of neurological symptoms from numbness of lips and limbs at low exposures to impairment of hearing and speech at moderate exposures to insanity, coma and death at high exposures. Even children born to highly exposed mothers exhibited neurological damage, including twisted limbs and mental retardation. The complex of symptoms from methylmercury contamination presented by this exposed population is referred to as Minamata disease.
1962: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is published. See Seminal Moments in Environmentl History in the adjacent column.
1962-1971: The application of hundreds of millions of pounds of Agent Orange to defoliate millions of acres of jungle in Vietnam as Operation Ranch Hand contaminates soil, sediment, crops, cattle, fish, and humans with 2,3,7,8-TCDD. Follow-up epidemiological studies over the following 40 years demonstrate increased incidences of various diseases associated with 2,3,7,8-TCDD toxicities in exposed Vietnamese and U.S. veteran populations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Ranchhand
1965: President Johnson signs Water Quality Act that establishes Federal Water Pollution Control Administration and first national Water Quality Standards, which the Surgeon General can enforce, but determing the cause of water quality standards violations is difficult.
1965: Dow Chemical Company convenes a summit of the major Agent Orange maufacturers to inform them of the toxicity of 2,3,7.8-TCDD at ppm concentrations in the 2,4,5,-T component of Agent Orange and urges them to switch to a cleaner process of 2,4,5-T manufacture the rights to which Dow had purchased from the Boehringer Ingelheim Chemical Company.
1966: U.S. vs. Standard Oil is the second Supreme Court ruling that the Rivers and Harbors Act applies to discharge of industial wastewater.
1967: The oil tanker, Torrey Canyon, breaks up off Cornwall, England, releasing nearly 1 million barrels of crude. http://www.marinergroup.com/oil-spill-history.htm
1968: Michigan is first state to ban DDT in response to evidence presented in ground-breaking Wisconsin hearings. http://www.law.wisc.edu/alumni/gargoyle/archive/16_2/gargoyle_16_2_2.pdf
1969: Extensive oil spill from blow-out of off-shore drilling rig in Santa Barbra harbor provides impetus for Earth Day 1970 and subsequent ban on near-shore oil exploration. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1969_Santa_Barbara_oil_spill
1969: The Cuyahoga River catches fire again and for the last time in Cleveland, Ohio, spurring passage of the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=1642
1969-70: Congress passes and President Richard Millhouse Nixon signs the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in late 1969 to go into effect on January 1, 1970. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Environmental_Policy_Act
1970: The first Earth-Day Teach-In is held on U.S. college campuses on April 22, 1970.
1970: Federal Clean Air Act Amendments http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Air_Act_(United_States)
1970: Effects of 2,4,5-T on Man and the Environment. Hearings before the Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and the Environment, Senate Commerce Committee, April 7, 15, 1970.
1970: President Nixon creates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Executive Order to implement NEPA and other environmental statutes. http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/epa/15c.htm
1970: President Nixon creates Rivers and Harbors Act Permit Progam by another Executive Order to regulate wastewater discharges to the nation's navigable waters.
1970-71: Michigan DNR confirms high levels of methylmercury pollution of Lake St. Clair and Detroit River fish and birds caused by mercury releases from Michigan and Ontario chlor-alkali manufacturing plants.
1970-71: In response to Lake St. Clair and Detroit River mercury surprise, Michigan passes ground-breaking Truth in Pollution law requiring reporting of discharge of Critical Materials to the state’s waters. New Jersey’s later version, which borrows extensively from Michigan’s, becomes basis for Federal toxic substances release inventory (TRI) under SARA.
1971: U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear case of Ohio v. Wyandotte Chemical Co. over Lake Erie mercury pollution from chlor-alkali manufacture in Michigan, underscoring the need for fundamental changes to water pollution law. http://supreme.justia.com/us/401/493/case.html
1972: FIFRA is extensively amended and responsibility for registering pesticides is transferred from USDA to EPA.
1972: The widely-used organochlorine pesticide, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), is the first polychlorinated pesticide banned by EPA.
1972: Congress passes Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments over President Nixon’s veto establishing the national policy of restoring the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters with the goal of zero discharge of toxic substances by July 1984. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Water_Act
1972: The U.S. and Canada sign the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to be administered by the International Joint Commission’s Great Lakes Water Quality Board and Science Advisory Board.
1973: Federal Endangered Species Act http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endangered_Species_Act
1973: Judge Miles Lord of Federal District Court of the District of Minnesota bans Reserve Mining Company discharge of asbestos-contaminated taconite mine tailings into Lake Superior (“The court cannot honor profit over human life.”)
1973: Mix-up of Michigan Chemical Company’s Nutrimaster feed additive with Firemaster fire retardant at feed formulation station contaminates Michigan’s agricultural then human food supplies with poly-brominated biphenyls (PBBs). This event becomes impetus for passage of Federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.
1974: Federal Safe Drinking Water Act
1974: Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland co-author a seminal paper in Nature that concluded that the chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, which were in wide commercial use as solvents and refrigerants, could catalytically short-circuit the reaction pathways producing ozone, resulting in a depletion of the ozone layer and an increase in the destructive ultraviolet light reaching the Earth’s surface. Dupont, the largest manufacturer of CFCs, attempts to discredit the science of these future Nobel Prize winners.
1976: The National Academy of Sciences supports the findings, conclusions and recommendations of Rowland and Molina. In contrast, Dupont continues its attacks on them.
1976: Congress passes Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to regulate the storage, transport and disposal of hazardous waste and force the clean-up of active waste disposal sites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resource_Conservation_and_Recovery_Act
1976: Congress passes Toxic Substances Control Act. TSCA banned the manufacture and future use of PCBs, regulated the storage and disposal of PCBs wastes, and authorized the remediation of PCBs-contaminated environments; required pre-manufacture toxicity testing of new chemicals to screen for potential environmental problems; required priority testing of existing chemicals in commerce to fill critical data gaps; and included a self-reporting requirement for information regarding discovered environmental hazards by a chemical's manufacturer, as well as a little known and less utilized citizen's suit provision. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_Substances_Control_Act_of_1976
However, weak regulations promulgated by EPA during the Reagan Administration limit its scope and undermine its implementation and enforcement. The appellate court ruling in Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, overturning EPA’s TSCA Section 6 asbestos ban is the final nail in its coffin. http://www.boltonsociety.org/research/policy-center/projects/tsca-oral-history.aspx
1976: 2,4,5-trichlorophenol manufacturing process upset at ICMESA plant in Seveso, Italy, results in widespread downwind environmental contamination and human exposure to 2,3,7,8-TCDD. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seveso_disaster
1977: Federal Clean Water Act Amendments incorporate list of toxic substances identified in NRDC v. (USEPA Administrator Russell) Train for priority regulation but moves date to achieve zero discharge to July 1985. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Water_Act
1978: Dow Chemical Company informs Michigan Department of Natural Resources that 2,3,7,8-TCDD is bioaccumulating more in Tittabawassee River fish downstream than upstream of its headquarters facility in Midland, MI, in technical compliance with the Section 8(e) self-reporting requirement of TSCA.
1978: President James Earl “Jimmy” Carter declares a national emergency and evacuates portions of the Love Canal neighborhoods in Niagara Falls, NY, to protect residents from exposure to toxic substances leaking from buried drums into basements and drinking water supplies. This becomes impetus for the Superfund Law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Canal
1978: The U.S. and Canada amend the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to expand the control of toxic and hazardous substances. http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/glwqa/1978/index.html
1979: Ixtoc1 well blow-out releases 140 million gallons of crude oil into Gulf of Mexico over 9-month period before it is permanently capped. http://www.marinergroup.com/oil-spill-history.htm
1980: Federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) provides EPA with authority to force the remediation (clean-up) of abandoned hazardous waste disposal sites paid for by the responsible parties and taxes chemical companies for a “Superfund” to provide for remediation of hazardous waste sites for which no responsible parties can be found or the responsible parties cannot afford the cost of remediation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CERCLA
1982: The United Nations adopts the Law of the Seas Convention http://www.un.org/Depts/los/index.htm
1982: Michigan’s Water Resources Commission adopts revised Rule 323.1057 establishing a procedure for translating the narrative Water Quality Standard for no toxic substances in toxic amounts into an equivalent numerical Water Quality Criterion applicable to any toxic substance. The revised rule included a precedent-setting government-authorized trade-off between private profit and public health in the form of an acceptable increased cancer risk of one-in-one hundred-thousand for continuous exposure to each carcinogen in a wastewater discharge over a 70-year lifetime.
1983: Reagan-era, acting EPA Administrator John Hernandez, who replaced Ann Gorsuch Burford after her resignation for contempt of Congress http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Burford
himself is forced to resign for allowing Dow Chemical Company the opportunity to make changes to a 1981 EPA report prepared by Region 5 in Chicago on dioxin contamination of the Midland, MI, environment http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,923392,00.html
1983: Times Beach, MO, is evacuated because of high levels of soil contamination with 2,3,7,8-TCDD. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Times_Beach,_Missouri
1984: Federal District Judge Jack B. Weinstein accepts settlement of the Agent Orange Vietnam Veterans lawsuit against the manufacturers of Agent Orange, providing $180 million in compensation for the 15,000 members of the class and some 250,000 included thereafter. The manufacturers accept no culpability.
1984: Catastrophic release of a cloud of methyl isocyanate from Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, results in on the order of 15,000 deaths of the some 500,000 exposed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster
1984: Upon reversal by the Federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Northern District Court for Northern Illinois rules in favor of Illinois in (Attorney General) Scott v. City of Hammond et al. to require Clean Water Act Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for Lake Michigan, leading to uniform Water Quality Standards, Lakewide Management Plans, and a mass balance approach to Great Lakes restoration and protection. http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/lawsguidance/cwa/tmdl/upload/2009_02_25_tmdl_section303d_listsandtmdl_litigation.pdf
1986: Worst flood on record flushes PBBs and DDT produced by Michigan Chemical Company contaminating Pine River sediments, 2,3,7,8-TCDD from Dow Chemical chlorophenol production and waste incineration contaminating Tittabawassee River sediments, and PCBs from GM’s Bay City Casting Plant contaminating Saginaw River sediments onto downstream floodplains and into Saginaw Bay.
1987: Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1987 mandate control of stormwater pollution, listing of impaired waters, and priority restoration and protection for special water bodies of concern, including the Great Lakes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Water_Act
1986: Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act creates Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). http://www.epa.gov/superfund/policy/sara.htm
1987: The U.S. Senate ratifies the Montreal Protocols, extending the phase out of CFCs to 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal_Protocol
1987: A Protocol is signed amending the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The amendments aim to strengthen the programs, practices and technology described in the 1978 Agreement and to increase accountability for their implementation. Timetables are set for implementation of specific programs. Toxic and hazardous waste programs are strengthened, and commitments are made to identify and remediate contaminated priority harbors as Areas of Concern and to restore and protect each of the Great Lakes by developing and implementing Lakewide Management Plans.
1989: Oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, following the accidental grounding of the giant, single-hulled oil tanker, Exxon Valdez, on March 24, 1989, releases 11 million gallons of oil over several days that eventually contaminates nearly 1,300 miles of coastline and kills billions of fish eggs, hundreds of thousands of sea birds, and thousands of marine mammals. Residues and their adverse effects on environment and economy persist for decades. http://www.eoearth.org/article/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill?topic=58075
1990: CAA Amendments authorize trading of oxides of sulfur and nitrogen credits and require mercury emissions reduction. EPA fails to implement the latter in a timely fashion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Air_Act_(United_States)
1995: Paul Crutzen, Jr. of the Netherlands and F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina of the U.S. share the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their research into the effects of oxides of nitrogen (Crutzen) and chloro-fluorocarbons (Rowland and Molina) on the Earth’s ozone layer.
1996: Our Stolen Future by Theo Colborn, Ph.D., and co-authors, is published. See Seminal Moments in Environmentl History in the adjacent panel.
1996: Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 require testing and regulation of endocrine disrupters, but Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 repeals the pesticide residues portion of the 1958 Delaney Clause amendment to Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Quality Act of 1938. The Delaney Clause precluded known carcinogens from being intentionally added to food and precluded detectable levels of carcinogenic pesticide residues from being present in food. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaney_clause
2000: The Stockholm Convention Treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) commits its signatory nations to the elimination of the manufacture, use, and disposal of nine persistent organic pesticides and the substantial reduction for several other POPs, including polychlorinated dibenzop-p-dioxins (PCDDs and dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
2000: Title VI of the Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 2000 approves the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan for implementation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the South Florida Water Management District. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_Resources_Development_Act_of_2000
2001-2010: This is the lost environmental decade under President George W. Bush and his carry-over economic legacy to President Barack Hussein Obama.
2002: 3,250 square kilometers of the Larsen B Ice Shelf breaks off in Antarctica. http://nsidc.org/
2002: European Union ratifies Kyoto Protocol committing signatories to a reduction schedule for carbon dioxide emissions.
2004: Report concludes that wars, mining, development, and hunting have wiped out 70% of Eastern Lowlad Gorilla population over the preceding decade, leaving less than 5,000 individuals world-wide. http://gorillafund.org/
2005: Kyoto Protocol committing nations to a reduction schedule for carbon dioxide emissions goes into effect for signatories, of which the U.S. is not one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_Protocol
2005: The European Union begins greenhouse gas emissions credits trading under law passed in 2003.
2005-06: The Great Lakes Alliance, Great Lakes United, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and the Biodiversity Project lead a multi-NGO comprehensive review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the U.S. and Canada. http://waterwiki.net/images/6/6c/Great_Lakes_Water_Quality_Agreement.pdf
2007: The Supreme Court affirms lower court ruling that the Clean Air Act grants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as hazardous air pollutants.
2008: Nearly one billion gallons of impounded toxic fly ash waste slurry spill through failed dike wall into tributaries of Tennessee River near Knoxville, TN. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill
2009: EPA makes official finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are major air pollutants that endanger public health and the environment the emissions of which must be regulated under the CAA.
2009: EPA releases draft of the Great Lakes Mercury Emissions Reduction Strategy for public comment in November 2009. http://www.glrc.us/initiatives/toxics/drafthgemissionreductionstrategy1109.html
2010: BP’s Deepwater Horizon well blow-out in April 2010 releases 185 million gallons of crude oil into Gulf of Mexico before it is capped, sealed and killed by mid-September 2010. It is the worst environmental disaster to date. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-10656239
2010: In July a 30-inch pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy of Canada bursts near Battle Creek, MI, spilling approximately one million gallons of Canadian tar sand oil emulsion into the Kalamazoo River. Lake Michigan narrowly escaped being impacted by the spill. The cleanup itself becomes a disaster when undocumented workers brought in by a subcontractor to aid in the cleanup are subjected to dangerous and abusive conditions and practices. The cleanup turns out to be much harder and takes longer than initially anticipated, because, unlike light crude, which floats, the tar sand oil emulsion breaks in water and what is left behind sticks to the rocks with the consistency and tenacity of peanut butter. The cleanup costs eventually exceed $765M, while Department of Transportation fines total only $3.7M for 22 violations. Enbridge Oil Spill
2010: The registration of endosulfan, the last of the polychlorinated pesticides, is withdrawn by EPA under FIFRA.
2011: In July a 12-inch pipeline owned by Exxon-Mobil bursts near Laurel, Montana, spilling more than 40,000 gallons of crude oil, contaminating a tributary of the Yellow-stone River upstream of Yellowstone National Park.
2011: In October 25,000 cubic yards of soil and coal fly ash slide into Lake Michigan following the collapse of a bluff and settling pond at the We Energies Oak Creek Power Plant in Milwaukee County, WI.
2011: In December EPA issues mercury air emissions regulations under the Clean Air Act. http://www.epa.gov/mats/
2012: In March EPA proposes first carbon pollution standard for new power plants under the Clean Air Act.
2012: This is the hottest year on record in the modern era of global temperature monitoring, with extreme weather events increasing in magnitude, duration, and frequency, including the third year of a disastrous drought in the Southwest and Wheat Belt, flooding in the Midwest, and Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Northeast with a storm surge that floods Manhattan and devastates much of the Atlantic Ocean-facing coastline of Staten Island and a significant portion of the New Jersey coast.
2013: In February there were new reports of radioactive leaks from storage tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Facility near Hanford, WA. The plume of contaminated groundwater containing radioactive tritium has already reached the Columbia River. https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/02/16-2
2013: In March an underground pipeline owned and operated by Exxon burst, spilling 157,000 gallons of tar sand oil emulsion into the streets of Mayflower, AK. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/12/nation/la-na-nn-arkansas-oil-spill-20130412
2013: After claiming to have everything under control, in June a tank at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Reactor leaked substantial quantities of radioactive water into the ground over an aquifer that eventually flows into the Pacific Ocean. This occurred after a revelation that 300 tons of radioactive groundwater was flowing into the Pacific Ocean every day. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/08/130821-fukushima-latest-leak-how-is-it-different/
2013: In October many nations sign a non-binding agreement to eliminate mercury from their economies to the maximum practicable extent to address the growing worldwide threat of the methylmercury made by naturally occurring sediment bacteria from inorganic mercury that is magnifying in top-predator fresh and salt water fish to levels that interfere with brain development and/or function in highly exposed humans and some fish-eating wildlife species and their predators.
2013: In November Canada experienced what may have been the worst coal slurry spill in its history into the Athabasca River near Hinton, Alberta. http://ecowatch.com/2013/11/08/canada-largest-coal-slurry-spill/
2013: This year there were numerous reports of fracking-related contamination of drinking water supplies and earthquakes caused by the deepwell injection of fracking-related waste.
2013: This was the hottest year on record in the modern era of global temperature monitoring.
2014: In January the coal-washing chemical MCHM (methyl 4-cyclohexane methanol) leaked from a tank farm on a bluff into the Elk River upstream of the Charleston, WV, intake supply drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people. This forced temporarily switching most onto alternative sources of drinking water and to cook and bathe in contaminated water for weeks before the emergency was declared over. The contamination remained in the drinking water supply system for months, as evidenced by the persistence of a licorice-like odor associated with MCHM in drinking water decalred safe. The company that caused the problem, Freedom Industries, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, subsequently went bankrupt, so it is not yet clear who will be stuck with the bill for the cost of bottled water, the flush-out of the drinking water system or the medical costs, both immediate and long-term. This was the third chemical accident in the Kanawha River Valley over the previous five years.
2014: In February coal ash from a dewatering pond owned by Duke Energy flowed into the Dan River near Eden, North Carolina, eventually causing so many billions of dollars of downstream contamination that Duke’s CEO said it was too expensive to clean up. http://www.catawbariverkeeper.org/issues/coal-ash-1/duke-energy-dan-river-coal-ash-spill-what-do-we-currently-know-what-do-we-need-to-know
2014: In April a train derailed in downtown Lynchburg, VA, and spilled oil into the James River, which flows into Chesapeake Bay. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/01/us-railways-accident-virginia-idUSBREA3T0YW20140501
2014: This was the hottest year on record in the modern era of global temperature monitoring.
2015: In February President Barack Obama vetoed a bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline that would have carried tar sand oil emulsion from Alberta, Canada, to a refinery in Okalahoma through or over vunerable natural resoucres and wildlife habitats. ... in November Obama killed the project.
2015: In June Pope Francis issued an encyclical titled "Laudato Si" supporting greenhouse gas reductions as good stewards of God's green Earth.
2015: In December at a meeting in Paris called by the United Nations to address climate change from anthropogenic global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions 196 nations sign a non-binding Climate Change Agreement that is a commitment to plan to do something binding at some future date. In April 2016 174 countries sign a binding agreement in New York, including the USA.
2015: This was the hottest year on record in the modern era of global temperature monitoring.
2016: The first half of this years is the hottest year on record in the modern era of global temperature monitoring. Record-setting heatwaves are baking the planet everywhere, but especially India and Iran.
2016: Epidemiologists infer that exposure to toxic substances that suppress the immune system early in life can reduce the effectiveness of vaccinations later in life.
A more detailed chronology of environmental events in the 20th Century is contained in:
... and in the 21st Century in: