A review of the history of the Holly Street Power Plant, as prepared by the City of Austin and readily available online, confirms that construction began in 1958 and operations started shortly thereafter in 1960. Lady Bird Lake was created “solely to provide cooling water for the Holly Street Power Plant.” According to the USGS, PAH concentrations in the Lake increased about 20-fold from 1959 to 1998. During these years, there were repeated fuel oil spills and fires with heavy smoke that contaminated the area and the nearby community. Oil spills and fires are well known sources of PAHs. Pressure from community activists and politicians forced closure of the Plant in 2007. The USGS acknowledges in its new publication that PAH levels in the lake sediment began to drop soon thereafter, but suggested that this was due to the Austin ban on coal tar sealants that coincidentally occurred at approximately the same time.
The USGS paper glosses over the common observation that PAHs in urban sediment nationwide have been decreasing for more than a decade, well before Austin banned coal tar sealants. A 2012 report by the City of Austin shows that the nationwide trend holds true in Austin sediments. Generally, the decrease has been attributed to improved vehicular and power plant emission controls, which have long been known to be a principal source of PAHs in urban environments. Regardless of the source, earlier publications by the USGS establish that the level of PAH contamination found in Lady Bird Lake sediment is well below any “probable effects concentration,”
In support of its opinions about the source of PAHs, the USGS authors once again relied on modeling for PAH source identification, using the same model that has been repeatedly called into question and challenged in peer reviewed articles published by scientists outside the USGS. PavementCouncil.org has challenged the USGS on these and other related issues via three Information Quality Act filings since May, 2013, available on the USGS web site. That process is still ongoing. For those interested in assessing the merits, limitations and flaws of the forensic modeling offered by the USGS, peer reviewed publications on this topic are listed at pavementcouncil.org.
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