Your Environment Update for August 13, 2015

  • Allegheny County has begun spraying for mosquitos after a wet spring and dry summer. Conditions have led to a boom in mosquitoes and concerns over West Nile virus. Photo: Tom via Flickr

August 13, 2015

Pittsburgh Test Drives Recycling Bins

It's actually the law in Pittsburgh that residents have to recycle. But it’s not always the easiest thing for people to do. Residents have to buy blue plastic bags to put their recyclables in—or supply their own container that’s clearly marked with a recycling symbol. And this can be a barrier to recycling participation.

So this summer, the city, in conjunction with Pennsylvania Resources Council, is testing out a pilot program where portions of the Northside neighborhood are getting free recycling bins to see how that affects recycling participation rates.

Kyle Winkler, the city’s recycling coordinator, also says they want to cut down on the use of those blue bags, which are gumming up the works at sorting facilities and decreasing the value of Pittsburgh’s recycled materials. The new program, which has already distributed about 1100 recycling bins, could expand to the entire Northside as early as the fall.

According to a recent audit, recycling participation in the city increased from 57 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2013. But Pittsburgh has still not reached its goal—set way back in 1988—of recycling 25 percent of solid waste.

Allegheny County is Spraying for Mosquitoes

Culex mosquitoes, the kind that typically bite birds and carry West Nile virus, are thriving in Allegheny County thanks to very wet spring and early summer, coupled with a dry July and August. The population of mosquitoes is still growing, and that could become a problem as birds begin to migrate out of the region come fall.

“You have this big population of mosquitoes that have been feeding on birds and amplifying the virus among them all summer long,” says Bill Todaro, the Allegheny County Health Department’s entomologist. “Now the bird population is way down; what are these mosquitoes going to feed upon?”

The short answer: us. And while there’s been only one confirmed case of a person with West Nile disease in Pennsylvania this year, the Allegheny County Health Department is spraying the pesticide Zenivex in neighborhoods where it's trapped mosquitoes carrying the live virus. Zenivex is a neurotoxin which kills adult mosquitoes and is also toxic to other insects, including bees. This is the first time the county has sprayed since 2012, and three areas have been sprayed so far.

“We take great pains to stay away from any of the commercial or hobbyist beekeepers,” Todaro says. “We know where they are and we avoid those places like the plague.”

Todaro says they spray in the evening to avoid times when bees are active. Only a small amount—an ounce per acre—of the pesticide is applied, and it breaks down very quickly in the environment, according to Todaro.

The health department says Zenivex is safe for people and pets, but the National Pesticide Information Center says if people want to avoid contact with it, they can shut windows and turn off the air conditioner during the application, bring outdoor pet food bowls inside and bring in children’s outdoor toys. The health department plans to spray for mosquitoes in the Wilkinsburg, Homewood and Point Breeze neighborhoods next week.

DEP Finalizes Oil and Gas Regulations

This week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released the final version of a rule to regulate the oil and gas industry. The DEP has been working on a new slate of regulations for four and a half years. The final draft of the rule was described by DEP Secretary John Quigley as a balance between protecting the environment while allowing drilling in the Marcellus Shale to proceed.

The agency took out a provision that would have created noise controls on the industry, saying the technical challenges to regulating noise still needed to be worked out. DEP also deleted a section that would have created new regulations for storing wastewater in above-ground tanks. Instead, the DEP will use tank rules already on the books for the regulation of industrial waste.

Environmental groups say the rules should have gone farther.

The oil and gas industry is not happy either. The Marcellus Shale Coalition says it will cost the industry $2 billion. Another industry group said it may sue to stop the rules.

The DEP remains undaunted. Secretary Quigley says he expects the rule to be finalized next year.