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Official DEQ news releases.

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

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

Virginia issues 2008 water quality report

June 16, 2008

Contact: Bill Hayden
(804) 698-4447

RICHMOND, VA. -- Virginia’s 2008 water quality report, released today by the Department of Environmental Quality, provides detailed information on more than 1,100 watersheds in the Commonwealth.

“This report brings the total amount of assessed watersheds in Virginia to 95 percent,” DEQ Director David K. Paylor said. “This is the most complete picture we’ve ever had of water quality problems in Virginia.”

The draft 2008 Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report contains a water quality assessment from January 2001 to December 2006 and the statewide list of impaired waters. DEQ is seeking public comment on the report before it becomes final.

DEQ used a watershed-based assessment approach, as supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, of 1,247 small watersheds of similar size to enable a meaningful comparison of water quality over time. Every two years Virginia monitors about one third of the state’s watersheds on a rotating basis, taking six years to complete a full monitoring cycle. This report contains the first six-year assessment of watersheds. The agency has assessed 95 percent – or 1,188 – of 1,247 watersheds since the 2002 report. Findings include:

• 191 watersheds (15 percent of the total) have no impaired waters identified, meaning water quality supports some or all six designated uses – aquatic life, fish and shellfish consumption, swimming, public water supplies and wildlife.
• 514 watersheds (41 percent) have one or two impaired waters, meaning the waters are affected by pollution or natural conditions.
• 340 watersheds (27 percent) have three to five impaired waters.
• 133 watersheds (11 percent) have six to nine impaired waters.
• 69 watersheds (6 percent) have 10 or more impaired waters.

The report provides, as in past assessments, the number of stream miles and the area of lakes, reservoirs and estuaries assessed. Among the information contained in this report:

• About 5,600 miles of rivers and streams, 18,200 acres of lakes and reservoirs, and 120 square miles of estuaries have high water quality that supports some or all six designated uses.
• About 10,600 miles of rivers and streams, 94,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs, and 2,200 square miles of estuaries are impaired.
• Sufficient information was not available on about 34,800 miles of streams and rivers, and 2,700 acres of lakes and reservoirs.
• 100 percent of estuaries were assessed for the 2008 report.

“As we have seen in past years, we found more waters that qualify as impaired because we are assessing new waters,” Paylor said.

Excess bacteria levels are the cause of 57 percent of new impaired waters, followed by low oxygen levels, which account for 18 percent of new impairments.

This year DEQ has added about 1,100 miles of streams and rivers, 3,300 acres of lakes, and less than half a square mile of estuaries to the impaired waters list. The addition of these waters will require Virginia to develop a total of 1,677 cleanup plans when they are added to the previous list of impaired waters.

DEQ invites public comment on the contents of the report until July 25, 2008, at 5 p.m. A public briefing will be held at the DEQ central office in Richmond on June 24 at 7 p.m. and shown via teleconference for the public at every DEQ regional office:

• DEQ Valley Regional Office, 4411 Early Road, Harrisonburg.
• DEQ West Central Regional Office, 3019 Peters Creek Road, Roanoke.
• DEQ Tidewater Regional Office, 5636 Southern Blvd., Virginia Beach.
• DEQ South Central Regional Office, 7705 Timberlake Road, Lynchburg.
• DEQ Piedmont Regional Office, 4949-A Cox Road, Glen Allen.
• DEQ Southwest Regional Office, 355 Deadmore St., Abingdon.
• DEQ Northern Regional Office, 13901 Crown Court, Woodbridge.

The draft 2008 water quality report is available on the DEQ website at Written comments on the report should be sent to Darryl M. Glover, DEQ water quality monitoring and assessment manager, or by email attachment at or by mail at P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, Va. 23218. DEQ requests that all emailed and written comments include the sender’s name, mailing address, phone number and email address.

From: Bill Hayden

Sent: June 16, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Fish kills have developed more slowly in 2008, Virginia reports

June 13, 2008

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

Julia Dixon, DGIF
(804) 367-0991

RICHMOND, VA. -- Fish kills are occurring in Virginia rivers again this year but have developed more slowly than in past years, according to ongoing studies by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The severity of the kills in the Shenandoah River watershed may be more moderate this year, though fish kills in the upper James River watershed appear similar to those in 2007, the agencies reported today.

Fish kills and fish with lesions have been observed in the upper James River and some tributaries, including the Jackson and Cowpasture rivers. DGIF sampling on these rivers has confirmed recent anglers’ reports that 25 percent to 30 percent of fish have lesions.

There have been no problems reported on the mainstem Shenandoah River, though the upper North and South Forks of the Shenandoah have seen low numbers of affected fish this year. The sections of both forks that experienced kills in past years are reporting greatly improved catches this spring.

Though the fish kills each year apparently have followed the onset of warmer water temperatures during the spring, no cause for the fish deaths and lesions has been identified. The kills have not occurred after June in previous years. The Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force, chaired by DEQ and DGIF, began extensive investigations into the problem in 2005.

The number of kills began to increase this spring after stream temperatures rose in late May. Investigators have collected water and fish samples before and during the fish kills, and the same type of sampling has been conducted at other streams – in rivers with similar fish species but no fish kills. Laboratory processing of these samples may take several months.

Here is a summary of fish problems reported in 2008:

James River and tributaries

• The upper James River began showing signs of ailing fish in early April. Numbers of dead fish and fish with lesions – mostly smallmouth bass and sunfish – have increased since stream temperatures increased and stayed warm. Anglers are reporting that fishing remains slow, and many are seeing numerous dead fish on each trip. They also are seeing lesions regularly on the live fish they catch.

• For the first time, the Jackson River is experiencing fish kills. Anglers on the lower Jackson downstream of Covington are providing reports similar to those on the James. Fewer reports have been received from the Jackson than from the James, possibly because there are fewer fishermen on the Jackson.

• The Cowpasture River has generated fewer reports than last year, but the reports all include some lesions and dead fish.

• Craig Creek, a tributary of the James at Eagle Rock, has seen a small number of reports of dead fish and lesions. Fish kills have not been reported on this stream in past years.

Shenandoah River, and North and South Forks

• No problems have been reported this year on the mainstem Shenandoah River, downstream of Front Royal.

• Compared to past years, fairly low numbers of dead fish have been reported on the North and South Forks. Lesion rates of 10 percent to 20 percent have been reported in the past several weeks, primarily upstream of the Mount Jackson-Edinburg area on the North Fork and upstream of Elkton on the South Fork.

• Anglers on most sections of the Shenandoah are reporting excellent success and few fish with visible problems. In particular, the lower North Fork from Woodstock to the mouth is producing very good catches this year. The South Fork also is supporting excellent catches in areas that previously experienced fish kills. Sunfish and rock bass, whose numbers were reduced during the kills, appear to be recovering well.

DEQ and DGIF have set priorities for available funds and are coordinating a number of investigations this year. For example, studies in 2008 include sampling before, during and after fish kills in the rivers experiencing those problems. The investigation also is emphasizing rivers where fish kills have not occurred, expanded lists of chemical analyses with a focus on storm flows, and multiple fish health investigations.

The investigating agencies and the fish kill task force encourage the public to provide information on the location, number and type of fish found dead or sick in the Shenandoah and James river systems. Anyone with information is asked to call the DEQ regional office in Harrisonburg at (540) 574-7800, or toll-free in Virginia at 1-800-592-5482. Information also can be emailed to

From: Bill Hayden

Sent: June 13, 2008 at 11:00 am