Wednesday, June 29, 2005

local Downing Street memos and impeachment campaign launched

Alliance Marxist-Leninist (a member of the After Downing Street Coalition) and the Durham Bill of Rights Defense Committee are circulating a petition to Rep. Price to ask that he support investigation of the Downing Street memos as evidence of impeachable crimes by Bush & Co. Price has supported Rep. Conyers' efforts on this, so he may be willing to go further, especially if we push. The petition is based on the After Downing Street Coalition's demands. Email me at if you want to circulate the petition (or use it in your own Congressional district). I encourage other groups to join the effort - just email me to be included. This is also an opportunity for practical cooperation of communist parties in the area. Currently this is just a petition effort, but there are further steps to take. I suggested that Alliance work on this campaign in all of its US branches, and I think there is interest in doing this.

The petition will be circulated here at the peace vigil every Friday at the corner of E. Franklin St. and Ellit Road (and maybe at other vigils) and at the BORDC's table July 4th at the Carrboro Town Hall. We will probably present the petition in late July or August. July 23rd is an anniversary of one of the memos and the Coalition is calling for a national day of action then.

The petition says:

"We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, want to thank Rep. Price for signing Rep. Conyers’ letter to President Bush asking for an explanation ofthe Downing Street memos (, but more needs to be done. We ask that you co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee’s Resolution of Inquiry (which is not about impeachment) and that you introduce or support a Resolution ofInquiry into whether the leaked memos contain groundsfor impeachment. These memos suggest that the Administration deliberately misled Congress to justifyaggression against Iraq, a felony and a violation of international law. If there are grounds for impeachment, with or without involving this newinformation, we ask that you support impeachment ofthe President and anyone else who has committed impeachable offenses."

After the 2004 election this is the next way we can politically fight the entire Bush agenda, rather than only fighting particular battles. This campaign should be supported by social justice groups because removing or weakening Bush will aid many of our campaigns, it is a good organizing tool and cause for unity for our groups, it is a framework that allows us to show how the Administration is criminal, and because Bush should not continue to get away with all of these crimes.

The Administration is losing support, the Republicans are less unified, the Congressional situation couldchange next year, and these memos have been revealed, so impeachment is now more likely. Ramsey Clark ( shows that impeachment is a justified and reasonable step to take and it could remove more than just Bush. The Administration could have been impeached before, over Bush's wars of aggression, violation of civil rights, torture, etc. (see the articles of impeachment drafted by Clark and the National Lawyers' Guild), but the Democratic Party as a whole would not support it. Now with these memos there are Democrats willing to speak of impeachment. Congress members pledged to uphold the Constitution, so they should vote for impeachment if there is a clear case, but I realize that the oath isn't taken seriously. If they don't impeach Bush then they will be exposed as acting unconstitutionally, again weakening the opponents of democracy.

I think any neo-conservatives left in the Administration would be lame ducks after impeachment of the others. If it fails, the Administration would still be weakened by the effort.

We have not planned steps to take with our Senators, but a petition to them could say:

"We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, ask that you urge the House to introduce and pass a Resolution of Inquiry into impeachment of the President and others over the evidence revealed by the Downing Street memos ( These memos suggest that the Administration deliberately misled Congress to justify premeditated aggression against Iraq. This would be a felony and a violation of international law. We also ask that you support Senators Kennedy and Kerry in their efforts on this issue. If there are grounds for impeachment, with or without involving this new information, we askthat you support impeachment of the President and anyone else who has committed impeachable offenses."

Let me know if you want to circulate this and we could coordinate a Senate campaign also.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Water pollution by local wastewater treatment plants

A few weeks ago there was an article (and a letter) in the Herald-Sun newspaper ( on upgrades to the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant to produce cleaner effluent to improve Jordan Lake's waster quality. The Triangle WTP is at the intersection of TW Alexander Drive and Highway 55 in Durham County and dumps into Northeast Creek.

The improvements are good, for example the Creek no longer smells like chlorine for miles. More should be done. This treated water might still degrade the Creek's ecosystem and this dumping therefore violates the spirit of the Clean Water Act (see the article below). Also, these improvements are being made to improve Jordan Lake, not for the sake of cleaner water in general, which I think should be the goal.

Jordan Lake has its good points but it destroyed a huge area of bottomlands that were probably rich in wildlife, as well as destroying a small town. I am irritated that the concern is for its water quality, not for the quality of the natural waterways running into it. Jordan Lake provides recreation and drinking water, but the creeks also provide recreation and food for people, as well as being diverse habitats for wildlife.

I am planning to start a Stream Watch group (part of a State program) for Northeast Creek to help improve and safeguard its quality and diversity.

I wrote the article below in October 2003 for UNC-Chapel Hill's left student magazine, Boiling Point.

Are wastewater treatment plants harming the quality of local waterways?

Where the entrance ford into UNC’s Mason Farm Biological Preserve crosses Morgan Creek there is a ‘chlorine’ smell to the air, but, other than perhaps its constant flow, the Creek seems ordinary. If you walk upstream to the area behind Finley Golf Course’s parking lot you will find the Orange Water and Sewer Authority’s Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant discharging processed wastewater into Morgan Creek.
In this age of environmental concern, sewage treatment plants are often the only point-source (pollution sources at a particular point, such as a pipe) polluters of local waterways. Treating wastewater before releasing it into the wild was a great improvement and has resurrected many waterways but today they are a main source of pollution. Their design and location in flood-prone bottomlands shows a disregard for improving water quality. Wastewater treatment plants (WTPs) only have to treat water to match the use of the waterway they drain into, preventing improvements. They release man-made and possibly harmful chemicals from the process of water treatment and chemical that were not removed, depending on the design of the plant they can release biocidal amounts of chlorine compounds into natural waterways, they release disease-causing pathogens, especially during floods, and they release biologically significant quantities of medical and possibly illegal drugs into the water. These problems are worsened by their often being located in flood-prone bottomlands, out of sight and without levees. Local creeks should not be mere ways to carry polluted water out of sight and out of mind. The Clean Water Act of 1972, a landmark law regulating pollution and water treatment, broadly defines the pollution it is intended to prevent as “the man-made or man-induced alteration of the chemical, physical, biologically, and radiologically integrity of water” (Adler, 1993) and if the effluent of local WTP’s is reducing water quality, then it has not met these expectations. Neither have they met the goal of zero-discharge in 1980s.
Heavy metals are toxic because above a certain quantity they hinder vital enzymes, disrupting bodily processes. Copper, lead, and zinc are leached from water system pipes and may be released with treated water in waterways, although heavy metals tend to accumulate in sludge rather than in the released water. These three metals are more toxic than many other heavy metals and they are not strongly stored in bottom sediment in waterways (Kennish, 1992). The concentration of heavy metals is of less concern than how they are complexed into molecules in a specific environment. Under the Clean Water Act, WTPs receiving water from residential and industrial sources are classified as receiving only residential wastes and they might not be designed to treat industrial wastes they receive, not to say that residential waste always lacks heavy metals, etc (Adler, 1993). Hopefully OWASA’s plants are designed to fully treat UNC’s wastes.
WTPs do not produce completely clean water and nature is used to purify the discharged water, which obviously must contain chlorine compounds poisonous to aquatic organisms, and other substances. In fish chlorine enters their gills, and often damages the gill surfaces, but in the bloodstream it binds to hemoglobin, causing suffocation (methemoglobinemia) (Kennish, 1992). Because chlorinated water is deadly to wildlife in waterways, the EPA issued guidelines on when it should be used in disinfection (and this probably applies to chloramines): it should be used only where its benefits are proven and specifically to protect public health, it should be used where protecting aquatic wildlife is not a concern, and where public health and conservation conflict, an alternative method should be used. Chlorine is toxic to fish at very low concentrations, and at these low concentrations control is difficult (Spellman, 1999). In waterways continuously exposed to chlorinated water, the total chlorine concentration should not be more than 0.01 milligrams/liter for tolerant organisms or 0.002 mg/L for most wildlife, and this is interpreted as making all chlorine release impermissible (Spellman, 1999). Combined chlorine compound concentrations in tapwater are usually 1-4 mg/L.
Recently Chapel Hill, Durham, and Hillsborough joined Raleigh and Cary in disinfecting drinking water with chloramines instead of using only chlorine. Chloramines are compounds of chlorine attached to a molecule made of nitrogen and hydrogen (NH2Cl is an example of a chloramine) and are created by the mixing of chlorine and ammonia at some point in water treatment. Because ammonia is abundant in wastewater, even if local WTPs use only chlorine in wastewater treatment, chloramines are created, as well as entering the system through tapwater. Chloramines are replacing chlorine because they don’t produce as much of the potentially carcinogenic disinfection byproducts trihalomethanes (THMs), they might improve tapwater’s odor and taste, because of liability worries regarding chlorine, and because chlorine may be prohibitively regulated. The problem is that chloramines can exist much longer than other chlorine molecules because they are less reactive with other molecules and they are poisonous to fish, reptiles, amphibians, corals and other wildlife. Unless natural processes react with chloramines to render them harmless they could exist in treated water for days, continuously dosing miles of a waterway with a biocidal compound. Where I grew up in southern Durham Northeast Creek smelled like chlorine for many miles downstream of the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant until a change was made at the plant. Unlike Morgan Creek, NE Creek has a silt problem and this allows one to see that during the summer clear WTP discharge makes up much of the Creek’s flow for a long distance.
Treated water can be dechlorinated but this has potential problems as well. Dechlorinating chlorine compounds releases the molecules associated with them allowing new, toxic or carcinogenic compounds to arise (White, 1999). Dechlorinating chloramines releases ammonia and nitrogen containing compounds also poisonous to fish.
Chlorine can form THM compounds with organic matter in water and these compounds are regulated in drinking water to be at no more than 0.10 mg/L. In treated wastewater chlorine is more likely to form chloramines because of the abundance of ammonia, but THMs are still possible (Bryant et. al, 1992). THMs, other disinfection byproducts, and even the water disinfectants themselves may cause cancer and other illnesses. Chlorine affects the thyroid and possibly the kidneys and can form other byproducts after it enters the body and “liver toxicity” is caused in lab animals by chloramines (Bryant, 2000). The use of water treatment chemicals has inherent dangers, for example if one ton of chlorine gas kept at a WTP escaped, it could endanger an area within a six mile radius of the release, but accidents are rare (Spellman, 1999).
An obvious danger from WTPs is pathogens in wastewater and spills of raw sewage is a problem for this reason. Diseases ranging from fungal ear or skin infection and relatively minor viral gastrointestinal illnesses to lethal illnesses like typhoid and cholera are caused by the 300 viral types, 100 bacteria species, fungi, a few protozoa, and nematode and annelid worms transmitted through wastewaters. Some, such as the virus causing polio and Giardida protozoans, can survive away from a host for a long period (years for polio viruses), so contamination would occur without very many sewage spills (Buzzi, 1992). Many disease causing organisms infect wildlife or are opportunistic pathogens and cause disease only because nutrient-rich wastewater encourages their growth and increases chances of infection. Amoeba that cause rare (and lethal) brain infections and exist in this area are an example. This excess nitrogen in treated water should also change waterway ecosystems, maybe encouraging non-native and destructive carp populations, since excess nutrients tend to encourage generalist species like carp over ecological specialist species. Nitrites can be produced with chloramines by nitrogen-metabolizing bacteria, which are harmful to humans and wildlife (Environmental Health Program, 1995). The release of pathogens is also a danger to wildlife since they may be susceptible to infection by these organisms.
Biologically significant and active concentrations of medical and possibly illegal drugs (and the chemicals used to create them) (Daughton) and other household chemicals survive passage through WTPs and are continuously released into nature. Pharmaceuticals and personal care products, such as drugs and fragrances, have been found in small concentrations in natural waters. Medical drugs especially are often designed to be active in very small doses so a low concentration is not necessarily a good sign. As an example, one used NuvaRing contraceptive could pollute 24 million liters of water with estrogen at a level active in fish (see Science News magazine of Jan. 25, volume 163, number 4). Many substances still have not been looked for in natural waterways and the possibility of dangers to humans is even murkier than environmental effects. The chemicals mentioned in this article could also interact in unknown ways to be more dangerous to wildlife. Chemicals could be released at small rates, but become a problem if they accumulate in sediment or bioaccumulate through storage in certain species (Beuhler, 1993).
WTPs are often located without very adequate protection in floodplains, along with their inflowing sewer pipes. The Triangle WTP and its sewer easements are located on the banks of Northeast Creek, and it is only a few feet above the Creek banks without levees and it has sewer spills during every major storm. The Mason Farm WTP is much better protected, which is a good thing given that it is located on a low island. WTPs are usually relatively isolated, for good reasons, but this makes public oversight more difficult.
Pollutants and pathogens released by WTPs intentionally or unintentionally damage the quality and health of waterway ecosystems and potentially human health. It is possible that illegal activity makes contamination worse than we know from official information. The Public Interest Research Group reports that most municipal and industrial WTPs in several Northern states have violated their pollution permit (Environmental Water Analysis, 2002). Those in charge of our WTPs should be as concerned about dialoguing with the public about environmental problems as they are regarding human health. When Durham switched to chloraminating drinking water it alerted water customers about the health aspect of chloramines but glossed over any environmental issues. Natural waterways should not be used to transport wastes away from sight and concern and WTPs should not be dumping into waterways at all. Contamination and alteration of natural waterways by WTPs ought to be studied and here UNC could work to fix these problems. Biology, chemistry, environmental studies, and other classes could study how the Mason Farm WTP effects Morgan Creek, for example. Better means to treat wastewater exist and ought to be more widely used. American infrastructure such as WTPs needs upgrading and repair but instead money is squandered blowing up foreign infrastructure. Just because wastewater is treated before being dumped does not mean that it is free of pollutants and poisons, especially those unlikely to cause a scene (like a burning or fishless river) and publicly embarrass the utility.


Adler, Robert W., Landman, Jessica C., Cameron, Diana M. The Clean Water Act: 20 Years Later. Island Press: Washington, D.C., 1993.

Beuhler, Mark D. Proceedings: 1992 Water Quality Technology Conference: Part I – Sunday Seminars Through Session 3D: November 15-19, 1992: Toronto, Canada. Ed. American Water Works Association. 1993.

Bryant, Edward A., Fulton, George P., Budd, George C. Budd. Disinfection Alternatives for Safe Drinking Water. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992.

Buzzi, Ruth Ann. Chemical Hazards at Water and Wastewater Treatment Plants. Chelsea, Mich.: Lewis Publishers, 1992.

Environmental Health Program. Chloramines, modified May 1996, [web site]. Accessed February 8, 2003. Available at; or from Created October 1995.

Kennish, Michael J. Ecology of Estuaries: Anthropogenic Effects. Boca Raton, Flor.: CRC Press, 1992.

Spellman, Frank R. Choosing Disinfection Alternatives for Water/Wastewater Treatment. Lancaster, Penn.: Technomic Publishing Co., Inc., 1999.

White, Geo. C. Handbook of Chlorination and Alternative Disinfectants., 4th ed., New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999.

Daughton, Christian G. Various webpages about ppcps and illicit drugs in wastewater, created from about 2001-2003, [web sites]. Accessed September 29, 2003. Available linked to

Monday, June 06, 2005

About this blog, or my first post

I'm new to reading blogs and blogging, so I don't have a definite plan for this blog yet and I'm still learning how to use Blogger. As the description says (or should say), I want to provide news and commentary, mainly on local issues, but also on national and international concerns, from a progressive, communist viewpoint in the Triangle area of North Carolina. I am blogging because I want to speak about these issues and I want to reaffirm the need for Marxist-Leninism in solving these problems. Right now I am most involved in workers' rights (such as campaigns by state, Aramark, Angelica, and farm workers, through Student Action with Workers and Triangle Jobs with Justice), environmental issues (water quality, non-native organisms, and light pollution), and electoral issues (through a Bill of Rights Defense Committee) at the local level, so I will probably concentrate in those areas for now. Anti-imperialism and climate change are my big international issues. Of course, I want to tie all of this together in arguing for overthrowing capitalism and building a socialist society. I am a member of Alliance Marxist-Leninist ( and I hope to build a branch here, but this is a personal blog and I hope it will interest people of different progressive inclinations. I'll see how regularly I can post. Thanks for visiting and I hope to have more up soon.