The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

Among the Georgia Water Coalition’s annual “Dirty Dozen” this year is the 100-mile long Georgia Coast because of its vulnerability to the effects of climate change. It’s the first time in the 11-year history of the report that climate change has been named an issue.

“Georgia is one of the most vulnerable and least prepared states
when it comes to dealing with effects of climate change, but Georgia’s elected
officials have largely failed to address the issue,” the report by this nearly 300-member coalition of businesses, nonprofits and religious groups states.

“It is also one of the least prepared states that deal with the public health impacts of climate change, according to a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health,” said Joe Cook of coalition member Georgia River Network during an online press conference introducing the report Tuesday. “In particular, Georgia’s elected officials have been slow to embrace policies that transition the state toward cleaner energy sources.”

The Dirty Dozen report brings attention to sites that aren’t necessarily the most polluted but are those where politics, policies and issues threaten the health of Georgia’s water and the well being of its citizens.

Climate change also came up in two other Dirty Dozen issues: a proposed plastics-to-fuel plant in Macon and the increasing problem of algal blooms.

“The proposed plant would take plastics and break them down to diesel and other fuels. So what seems like a silver bullet for the plastics pollution problem is in fact, part of the problem because it generates more greenhouse gases through the production, transformation and ultimate burning of fossil fuel based plastic fix while perpetuating our dependence on plastics,” Cook said.

Likely to worsen with climate change is the problem of algal blooms that thrive in nutrient rich water and warm temperatures.

“Earlier this year, a family pet died while coming in contact with cyanobacteria at Bull Sluice Lake on the Chattahoochee River in Roswell,” Cook said. Since then, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper identified two more locations with harmful algal blooms.

“Nutrients washing off the land from thousands of sources make this a particularly difficult problem to fix,” Cook said. “It will take the efforts of literally millions of individuals to get it corrected.”

The list identified three more coastal issues: the Golden Ray, a Superfund site in Brunswick, and the threat of mining near the Okefenokee.

The Golden Ray shipwreck is gone, but damage to Georgia’s coast is ongoing, the report stated.

Car debris from the shipwrecked Golden Ray washed upon a St. Simons mud flat this summer. Credit: Altamaha Riverkeeper

“Now that the largest maritime disaster recovery effort in US history is mostly complete, coastal advocates are calling on Georgia officials to request Natural Resources Damage Assessments by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” said Jennette Gayer, of the coalition member group Environment Georgia.

A Natural Resource Damage Assessment is a process to determine the appropriate type and amount of restoration needed to offset impacts to fisheries, wildlife, habitats, and human uses impacted by oil spills, hazardous waste sites, and vessel groundings, according to NOAA.

In Brunswick, the Dirty Dozen lists the Hercules landfill Superfund site, which Gayer said “continues to haunt the community.”

“Since the 1990s, a landfill operated by Hercules adjacent to the Golden Isles Parkway has leached benzene and other toxic chemicals into the groundwater,” Gayer said. “Now, recent testing suggests that the contaminants are actually migrating into groundwater adjacent to properties. These tests show benzene level 70 times the maximum contaminant level goal set by the US Environmental Protection Agency for this cleanup.”

Near the Okefenokee, proposed heavy mineral sands mine in Charlton County
threatens the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge east of the Mississippi.

“In total, the state has received more than 100,000 emails about this issue,” Gayer said. ” And the Okefenokee’s future really rests with the (Georgia) Environmental Protection Division, which will soon decide whether to issue permits for this controversial proposal that has drawn international attention.”

The remaining issues on the list are:

• Chattahoochee & Ocmulgee Rivers: Coal ash at multiple Georgia Power
Company fossil fuel plants pollutes groundwater in Cobb, Coweta, Carroll and
Monroe counties.

The Ogeechee watershed includes parts of Chatham and Bryan counties.

• Ogeechee River: A three-year delay in updating pollution control permit allows
the continued discharge of dangerous chemicals in Screven County.

• Whitewater Creek: Dirty stormwater runoff from a large mixed-use
development is muddying a historic Fayette County creek and lake, forcing
homeowners and Flint Riverkeeper to file a lawsuit to stop the pollution.

• Flint River: Jet fuel and sewage spills repeatedly foul the Flint that flows beneath
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Advocates say it’s high time
these needless spills stopped.

• Coosawattee River: In Gordon County a proposal to build a 24-house mega
chicken farm has prompted homeowners to plead with their county commission
to protect their property values, well water and their river.

• Conasauga-Oostanaula: Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from carpet mills are
haunting Northwest Georgians forcing downstream water providers like the City
of Rome to spend millions to remove the harmful chemicals from drinking water.
To date, the state has failed to regulate these chemicals.

The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

Mary Landers covers Coastal Georgia’s environment for The Current, a topic she covered for nearly 24 years at the Savannah Morning News, where she began and ended her time there writing about health,...