RSS feed for DEQ news releases DEQ news releases

Official DEQ news releases.

List administrator(s): Bill Hayden, Jennifer Underwood, Irina Calos, John Tragesser

Virginia's recycling rate remains strong

Nov. 24, 2008

Contact: Bill Hayden, DEQ
(804) 698-4447

RICHMOND, VA. -- The Department of Environmental Quality's annual recycling rate report shows that Virginians' commitment to recycling remains strong with 38.5 percent of municipal and other solid wastes recycled in 2007.

DEQ used data from recycling rate reports submitted by the 74 solid waste planning regions in Virginia representing 325 Virginia cities, counties and towns. The percentage represents 3,637,933 tons of material recycled or reused.

"Recycling rates continue to be strong across Virginia," DEQ Director David K. Paylor said. "It is clear that Virginians are committed to recycling as a way of preserving our natural resources and minimizing the use of landfill space."

The Virginia annual recycling report provides an overview of the materials recycled, the amount of waste disposed, and a list of the recycling rate reported by each solid waste planning region in 2007. The report is available on DEQ's website at

The recycling rate of 38.5 percent exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's national goal of 35 percent by 2010 and is above the 2007 national rate of 33.4 percent. The state's 2007 recycling rate grew slightly from the 2006 rate of 38.4 percent. Virginia showed an increase in recycling of plastics, metals, glass and used oil from 2006 to 2007.

DEQ's recycling program works closely with recycling program managers, as well as with local governments and solid waste planning regions to ensure that their recycling programs are able to meet or exceed the state's mandated recycling rates. Virginia has a two-tiered recycling mandate. Individual localities or solid waste planning regions with low population densities or high unemployment rates qualify for the 15 percent recycling level. All others must meet the 25 percent recycling rate.

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: November 24, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Fish kill task force evaluates results of latest studies

Nov. 18, 2008

Contact: Bill Hayden, DEQ
(804) 698-4447

Julia Dixon, DGIF
(804) 367-0991

RICHMOND, VA. -- The Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force met November 17, 2008, to review the latest research on the causes of unexplained fish kills in several Virginia river systems since 2003. The meeting included presentations and discussions of findings during 2008. Though researchers have not identified a cause, they are evaluating several significant findings.

The work plan for 2009 will be developed with input from the task force’s science subcommittee and should be finalized by early January. The general focus of work for 2009 will be on disease-causing organisms, fish health and water quality.

As researchers continue to gather valuable information, task force members are considering several theories. This includes the possibility of multiple stressors on fish populations that make the cause of the kills more complex than a single contaminant, virus or bacteria.

The Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, co-chairs of the task force, set priorities earlier in 2008 for available funds and coordinated a number of investigations this year. For example, studies in 2008 included sampling before, during and after fish kills in the rivers experiencing those problems. The investigation also emphasized rivers where fish kills have not occurred, expanded lists of chemical analyses with a focus on storm flows, and fish health studies.

Here is a summary of the fish kill investigation findings to date:

Water quality and environmental conditions – DEQ monitored every two weeks from March through May at multiple sites in the Shenandoah, James and Cowpasture rivers, and several comparison streams, for metals. Dr. Dan Downey of James Madison University conducted a study on the South Fork Shenandoah River and a heavily farmed tributary, Cub Run, that evaluated physical and environmental conditions, metals, nutrients, organic chemical, and pesticides. This was done at frequent intervals before, during and after storm events between March and May 2008. The fish kills have occurred mostly during the spring months, starting when water temperatures reach about 59 degrees Fahrenheit in March and April, and ending when temperatures reach the mid- to upper 70s in mid-June. Fish kills appear to be connected to spawning periods for many of the fish species that have been affected. Water quality data from these studies and from extensive sampling during previous fish kill seasons have not identified any contaminants at levels that exceed water quality criteria or known levels of concern for toxic chemicals. This monitoring does not cover every possible water quality parameter, though it does include the most likely potential contaminants.

Analyses of "passive samplers" (imitation fish tissue) – Passive samplers were placed at multiple sites in the Shenandoah and Cowpasture rivers in spring 2007 by the Friends of the North Fork and DEQ. Additional samplers were deployed in spring 2008. These samplers imitate fish tissue and "accumulate" chemicals during a four- to six-week period and allow measurements of chemicals that are normally not detected in conventional water samples. A wide range of chemicals were detected and quantified, but no chemicals were found at levels equal to or above known water quality criteria at any sites.

Bottom-dwelling stream life – Dr. Reese Voshell of Virginia Tech led a multi-year study that evaluated invertebrate communities in the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah and a number of tributaries. Data analyses included comparisons with other large river systems, historical comparisons in the Shenandoah River, and indications whether areas with severe fish kills had corresponding harm to small creatures living on stream bottoms. None of the large river sites in the Shenandoah basin showed significant reduction in biological conditions. The health of small stream creatures showed no patterns that corresponded with areas of heavy fish kills. The data provided no evidence that toxic substances were present in amounts that would cause biological harm. In general, the presence of these creatures in the large river sections appears to be consistent with streams that have high levels of nutrients.

Fish health – Studies of fish health continued in 2008 by Dr. Vicki Blazer of the U.S. Geological Survey, and Dr. Don Orth of Virginia Tech and associates. Studies focused on fish kill areas in the Shenandoah, James and Cowpasture rivers and included comparison sites in the Rappahannock, New, North Fork Holston and other rivers. Fish were collected before, during and after fish kills. Specimens were examined externally and internally for lesions, general health and abnormalities of skin, gills and internal organs. In addition, parasites were identified and quantified, microscopic analysis was conducted on gills and internal organs, and blood chemistry was evaluated. As seen in previous years, male fish from the Shenandoah and Cowpasture rivers had a high incidence of immature female eggs in the testes, known as intersex. The studies suggest that a wide variety of parasites, bacteria and viruses caused infections in fish that died. It is not known whether fish kills and reproductive issues are linked.

Bacteria and viruses – In 2008, Dr. Rocco Cipriano of USGS conducted bacterial analyses on numerous specimens from fish kill and comparison sites before, during and after kills in the Shenandoah, James, Cowpasture and other rivers. Cultures were obtained from skin, gills and internal organs. The findings show that pre-kill fish had diverse types of bacteria, but no symptoms. Once the fish kills and symptoms such as skin lesions began, the dominant bacteria shifted to Aeromonas salmonicida. When fish kills ended in mid- to late June, the bacteria in fish from the rivers with fish kills returned to the diverse groups seen before the kills. Specimens examined from streams without fish kills did not appear to host Aeromonas salmonicida at any time, even when fish kills were occurring in other rivers. Aeromonas salmonicida causes furunculosis, a disease with symptoms consistent with those observed in dead and dying fish in the Shenandoah, Cowpasture and James rivers. However, the investigation has not determined whether the bacteria caused the fish kills or is related to them.

Fish kills mainly have affected smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish, though the incidence of fish deaths was relatively low in 2008. DEQ and DGIF continue to coordinate the investigation and efforts to obtain additional funding for future work.

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: November 18, 2008 at 2:27 pm

DEQ completes Virginia mercury study

October 15, 2008

Contact: Bill Hayden
(804) 698-4447

RICHMOND, VA. -- The Department of Environmental Quality has completed its report to Governor Timothy M. Kaine and the Virginia General Assembly on the effects of mercury in the environment. The 2006 General Assembly requested the report to help determine whether additional steps should be taken to control mercury emissions in Virginia.

The study focuses on computer modeling of mercury entering the environment from coal-burning power plants and other industrial sources, and effects on people who eat mercury-contaminated fish.

"This study provides the most detailed look we have ever had at how mercury affects Virginians and their environment," DEQ Director David K. Paylor said. "This information will help inform our continuing efforts to control mercury pollution in the Commonwealth."

DEQ issued a contract to ICF Resources to analyze sources of mercury in the Commonwealth. The analysis shows that mercury from outside Virginia contributes to mercury contamination found in the state. Global and background sources are responsible for the single-largest amount, 74 percent, of mercury deposited in the state.

The study also examined mercury reductions anticipated from rules established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since the study began, a federal court has issued opinions vacating the rules. Mercury entering Virginia’s environment from the atmosphere, called mercury deposition, would decrease 20.4 percent by 2018 under these rules. Most of the reduction, 61 percent, would come from lower mercury emissions in surrounding states. About 13 percent of the reduction would come from sources within Virginia.

Discounting mercury from global and background sources, 54 percent of mercury deposition in Virginia comes from power plants in surrounding states, compared with 14 percent from power plants in Virginia.

The study also evaluated how reduced concentrations of mercury would affect the 13 existing fish consumption advisories for mercury in Virginia. If mercury reductions occurred in 2010 and 2018 under the federal rules, the advisory could be removed for all fish species in three of the water bodies and for at least one fish species in 11 of the water bodies. These changes likely would take years or decades to occur.

For a second part of the study, the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Environmental Studies conducted a fish consumption survey in areas of Virginia affected by mercury advisories. The survey, conducted in summer 2007, asked anglers on the James River below Richmond, and the Chickahominy, Pamunkey, Mattaponi and upper Piankatank rivers about fish-eating habits. The survey found that a significant percentage of anglers and their families may be exposed to additional mercury in their diets by eating mercury-contaminated fish from these waters.

VCU also analyzed the fish consumption data to determine potential health effects from eating mercury-contaminated fish on women of child-bearing age, and DEQ assessed possible economic impacts from those health effects. The full mercury study is on the DEQ website at

From: Krystal Coxon

Sent: October 15, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Virginia significantly expands biosolids inspections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 12, 2008

Contact: Bill Hayden
(804) 698-4447

RICHMOND, VA. -- In its first six months of operation, the Department of Environmental Quality’s biosolids program inspected more than 42 percent of the fields and 73 percent of the farms where biosolids were spread in Virginia, DEQ Director David K. Paylor announced today.

“This represents a level of inspection for the land application of biosolids that Virginia has not seen before,” Paylor said. “It means we are more certain now that appliers are following the regulations that are designed to protect people’s health and the environment.”

Management of biosolids, or sewage sludge, became the responsibility of DEQ on January 1, 2008. Companies that apply biosolids to farm fields as fertilizer must receive a permit from DEQ and must meet stringent requirements on where biosolids are applied and the amount used.

As part of the transfer of the program to DEQ from the Virginia Department of Health, the General Assembly authorized increased application fees to pay for more inspections. DEQ also is working with the health department to address questions on biosolids and human health.

Between January and June 2008, biosolids were spread on 1,496 fields in Virginia. DEQ inspected 636 of them, or 42.5 percent. A total of 355 farms, some of which consist of more than one field, received biosolids during the first half of the year. DEQ inspected 262 of those farms, or 74 percent. In addition, 206 (78.6 percent) of the farm inspections occurred during biosolids applications.

So far in 2008, DEQ has issued four warning letters for biosolids applications to address concerns associated with application rates and spreading within designated buffer areas. DEQ considers these situations to be relatively minor, Paylor said.

DEQ now has 15 full-time positions dedicated to the proper management of biosolids. “We will continue to increase our inspection rate,” Paylor said, “and we expect to see strong compliance with the biosolids regulations.”

DEQ also plans to revise the existing biosolids regulations to streamline the DEQ program and provide consistency among those who conduct land application of biosolids.

From: Bill Hayden

Sent: September 12, 2008 at 10:09 am

DEQ to hold public meeting on Staunton River PCB study

July 15, 2008

Contact: Bill Hayden
(804) 698-4447

RICHMOND, VA. -- The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting July 29, 2008, at 7 p.m. at the Altavista YMCA on a water quality study of the Staunton (lower Roanoke) River.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for discussion of DEQ’s ongoing water quality study, monitoring and testing efforts, and cleanup activities. During several years of study on the Staunton between Altavista in Campbell County and Clover in Halifax County, DEQ has found fish contaminated with PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. These PCB levels have led to fish consumption advisories by the Virginia Department of Health.

The DEQ South Central Regional Office in Lynchburg has been working to identify sources of the PCBs, and the focus includes waterways in the urbanized areas of Altavista and in the vicinity of Corporation Branch, a tributary of the Staunton in Brookneal.

DEQ has collected samples of water discharged from two industrial facilities and one municipal facility. Test results from 2006 and 2007 show the average concentration of PCBs at 19.2 parts per trillion in water discharged from the Burlington Industries facility in Hurt. In 2007, PCBs were found at 9.9 ppt in the Altavista wastewater treatment plant discharge, and in 2006 at 0.5 ppt from the Dan River Inc. plant in Brookneal.

The current Virginia water quality standard for total PCBs in surface water is 1.7 ppt. One part per trillion is equivalent to one drop of water in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Burlington Industries in Hurt is closing its operations, and the Dan River facility at Brookneal closed in September 2006. The Altavista treatment plant receives wastewater from several industries, including BGF Industries Inc. Since 2001, BGF has been working on cleanup of historical releases of PCBs that were used at the site before and during the 1970s.

DEQ continues to work with these facility owners to ensure that PCBs are not released from the sites into Virginia waters. This includes developing site-specific cleanup strategies and industrial storm water permits for PCBs that may remain at the facilities. In addition, DEQ is working with Altavista to reduce PCBs entering the treatment plant.

Results of fish tissue samples from the Staunton in 2006 indicate that PCB concentrations in fish range from 7 parts per billion to 1,712 ppb. The Virginia Department of Health’s level of concern for PCBs in fish tissue is 50 ppb.

Information from the DEQ study will be used to develop a “total maximum daily load” for the river. A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant a water body may contain and still meet water quality standards. To restore water quality, PCBs will have to be reduced to the amount specified by the TMDL.

PCBs are chemicals that were used in electrical transformers and other equipment until the late 1970s and can remain in the environment for decades. The health department recommends that pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, infants and young children should avoid eating PCB-contaminated fish from advisory areas. A full list of waters and fish affected by the advisories is available on the health department’s website at

From: Bill Hayden

Sent: July 15, 2008 at 12:26 pm