August 26, 2005

Putting Differences Aside To Put The River First

Sierra Club is proud to be a founding partner in the Fox River Study Group. While we can all be proud of the improvements made in Fox River water quality over the last three decades, we also must be aware that this progress is jeopardized by the rapid development taking place in its watershed. The results of the Fox River Study will give us excellent information about the current state of the river, and about its future. The study should also help build support for the steps we will all need to take to protect the Fox River from pollution and continue its cleanup.

The Study began in the wake of monitoring data collected by the Sierra Club, Valley of the Fox Group's Water Sentinel volunteers that showed that the Fox was carrying unhealthy levels of phosphorus. There were legal battles over proposed expansion of sewage plants (without controls for phosphorus pollution). Illinois EPA brought Sierra Club and the dischargers together to our common interests - clean water and sound science.

We applaud the wastewater agencies and communities along the Fox River for the financial support, technical expertise, and staff support they are contributing to this effort. They are largely responsible for the improvements made so far in the Fox River, and we are confident that they will be also be able to take whatever steps the study recommends to finish the job. They stand between the river we love and much of the pollution that threatens it, and we all need to make sure they have the resources and support they need to do that critical job.

This study would not be possible without the support of the Illinois EPA. From the beginning, they have provided critical technical and financial support for the study. Under Governor Blagojevich, IEPA also is taking major steps to better protect rivers in fast-growing regions like this one, including moving toward phosphorus controls on wastewater plants, and improving the process for approving new sewer line extensions to better protect water quality. We also appreciate the efforts of House Speaker Dennis Hastert to secure federal funding for the effort, and the contributions of public and private entities throughout the watershed.

There was a nice ceremony in Aurora Wednesday to thank all those who have helped with the study so far. But the one person who perhaps has done the most did not get an award - Dr. Cynthia Skrukrud, who chairs the study and is Sierra Club's Clean Water Advocate in Illinois. She has worked tirelessly in recent years to help design, fund, and implement the study. 11% of Illinois' population now live in the Fox River watershed, and growth continues. They all owe a debt to Cynthia her partners in the Fox River Study Group.

August 18, 2005

And Now Big Oil Gets Big Subsidies

Governor Blagojevich reacted to record gas prices by asking President Bush to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The latest runup in gas prices is a classic supply and demand problem, and not being a big oil state (although those of you from southern Illinois know we are a small oil state), Illinios is essentially on the demand side of that equation. So, the only long-term answer is to reduce our demand by using less gas. That helps immediately by buying less of those $3 gallons, and in the long term by reducing demand pressures, particularly if others in the country and world take similar steps.

What are the steps? No surprises - making cars that go farther on a gallon of gas is the single biggest step. The average fuel efficiency of American cars actually declined with the 2005 model year. Transit and alternative fuels are also important parts of the mix.

Of course, big oil is raking it in these days. Between April and June 2005, BP recorded profits of $5 billion, and ConocoPhillips earned $3.1 billion in profits. ExxonMobil’s second quarter profits of almost $8 billion shattered records, giving the company more than $15 billion in profits in the first half of 2005 alone. This is on top of the company’s record $24 billion in profits in 2004.

Did Congress help by including vehicle fuel efficiency requirements in the energy bill passed last month? No, but they did provide at least $4 billions in subsidies to the oil industry. Talk about priorities.

August 16, 2005

Blagojevich Funds Critical Illinois River Program

Some welcome good conservation budget news comes today with the Illinois DNR calling for applications for farmers to participate in an innovative program to cut pollution in the Illinois River, create wildlife habitat, and provide income to farmers.

Blagojevich is making $10 million in capital funds available for the effort, as he proposed in his budget address last winter. The $10 million made available today will also leverage $40 million in federal funds, making it an unbeatable investment for today’s taxpayers and for future generations. By helping farmers protect fragile areas along the Illinois River and the creeks and rivers that flow into it, we can make major cuts in the amount of soil, pesticides, and fertilizers flowing into the River, provide a source of income to farmers, and create thousands of acres of habitat for waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife.

Since the program, known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP, began in 1998, 110,000 acres have been set aside. The goal of the program is to reduce soil runoff into the Illinois River by 20%, or one million tons per year. State funding for CREP had been cut during the state's recent severe budget problems, so making $10 million available this fiscal year is an important milestone.

Good work by Governor Blagojevich, the IDNR, and Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, who chairs the Illinois River Coordinating Council and has champoined this program.

You can learn more about the program (including how to apply if you are a farmer in the targetted areas) at

August 10, 2005

Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, But How Much Mercury Is In It?

Tuesday in Carbondale Sierra Club teamed up with a local hair salon to test the hair of local residents for mercury pollution. Levels of toxic mercury in your blood can also show up in your hair, so just a small lock of your hair can give you a very basic idea of whether you are carrying a heavy load of the toxic chemical that is linked to numerous serious health problems, particularly for developing fetuses and children.

People lined up outside the door to see if they have been impacted by mercury pollution, most of which comes from coal-burning power plants. The tests will be processed in the weeks ahead, and the results given confidentially to the participants. The overall results will be compiled with others from around the country.

The Southern Illinoisan has a nice story on the event at:

The main way most people are exposed to mercury is through the fish they eat. Mercury in coal is vaporized when the coal is burned, and it goes up the stack into the sky, only to come down in the rain. Certain species of ocean fish, such as swordfish, mackerel, and certain tunas, and virtually all large predator fish (bass, walleye, bluegill) from Illinois waters are risky dishes, particularly for women who may have children in the future.

Technology exists to reduce the mercury coming out of coal plants by 90%, but is not required in Illinois.

Would you like to get your hair tested for mercury pollution? We are looking for more locations around the state to do similar tests this fall. If you know of a salon that might be interested in hosting an event near you, let us know.

Soaring Smog Levels in Metro East Today

According to IEPA, by 4pm this afternoon the smog index had reached 190, a very high reading that approaches the category IEPA calls "Very Unhealthy", and where kids and others with asthma are likely to have trouble breathing. EVERYONE should limit outdoor exertion during this episode. Levels should drop as the sun goes down, but similar conditions are possible tomorrow.

August 02, 2005

Illinois Having a Bad Air Day (Again)

The heat and sunshine of our latest heat wave are driving up smog levels to heights not often seen in the last few years in Illinois, and as a result health warnings have been issued for "sensitive populations."

According to Illinois EPA, not only most of the Chicago area, but also Metro East, Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur are forecast to have "unhealthy" air Wednesday. Pollution levels will cause "Increased likelihood of respiratory symptoms and breathing discomfort in sensitive groups." The state recommends "Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor activity."

There are basically two types of pollution of particular concern on these dog days. Smog, or ozone, is a gas that forms when many different types of pollution cook in sunlight. In unhealthy concentrations, it can cause something like sunburn on the inside of your lungs, and cause asthma attacks and other health problems. Particulate matter refers to fine particles of pollution that get past our bodies defenses and lodge deep in our lungs. These also cause respiratory problems and even death on days like today. For instance, particulate pollution from Illinois' coal-burning power plants has been linked to 1350 deaths every year in Illinois.

Unfortunately pollution levels climb with the temperatures. In addition to the heat and sunlight creating ideal conditions for smog formation, our coal-burning power plants are often generating at peak capacity on days like to day to meet electricity demand. Since these plants don't have scrubbers or other modern pollution controls, a hot day that is simply uncomfortable for most of us can be deadly for many.

You can now see maps online that show current pollution levels, and time-lapse animation that shows how and where they grow during the course of the day.

You can see the daily map for ozone (smog) at:

And for particulate matter at:

IEPA's daily conditions & forecast are at: