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6/16/2008

New Total Maximum Daily Loads Released

Environmental


Throughout the United States, there are thousands of waters listed for impairments from stormwater sources. The most common pollutants coming from stormwater sources include sediment, pathogens, nutrients, and metals. These impaired waters need a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which identifies the total pollutant loading that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards, and specifies a pollutant allocation to specific point and nonpoint sources. The TMDL is implemented via the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) stormwater permitting system. States and EPA regions have used a variety of methods to develop stormwater-source TMDLs during the past decade. With the expansion of NDPES stormwater regulations to smaller municipalities and smaller construction activities, there has been increasing demand for more detailed quantification of stormwater allocations in TMDLs that are more useful for implementation in NDPES permits. EPA recently updated its TMDL resources at this link.

Sniffing out a Broad-Spectrum of Airborne Threats in Seconds

Scientists in California are reporting successful laboratory and field tests of a new device that can sniff out the faintest traces of a wide range of chemical, biological, nuclear, and explosive threats—and illicit drugs—from the air in minutes with great accuracy. The ultra-sensitive detector, known as the single-particle aerosol mass spectrometry (SPAMS) system, could tighten security at airports, sports stadiums, and other large-scale facilities, according to a report, scheduled for the July 1 issue of ACS’ Analytical Chemistry.

Matthias Frank and colleagues explain that chemical, biological, nuclear, and explosive materials, as well as illicit drugs, all release minute amounts of aerosol particles into the air. Detecting these particles requires a device with a high sensitivity, low probability of false alarms, and a fast response time. “SPAMS uniquely meets these requirements in realistic field environments,” the report states. “While other aerosol detectors exist, SPAMS is specifically designed for the rapid detection of low-concentration aerosols.”

The study describes laboratory tests of SPAMS and extended field tests at San Francisco International Airport. It showed that within seconds, SPAMS detected a diverse set of materials including simulants for potentially hazardous biological, chemical, and radiological materials, as well as actual explosives and drugs. The study terms SPAMS a “significant and important advance in rapid aerosol threat detection.”

$33,625 Penalty for Discharging Acids and Solvents Into Floor Drain

The Massachusetts Department of Environment (MassDEP) penalized W.C. Canniff & Sons, Inc. of Quincy, Mass., $33,625 for hazardous waste management and industrial wastewater violations. The company, one of the largest manufacturers of gravestone monuments in the state, was found to be discharging an industrial wash of paint thinner and acid into a floor drain that went directly into the ground.

After receiving a complaint, MassDEP inspected the 84 Penn Street facility on Dec. 28, 2007. MassDEP determined that acids and paints thinners were routinely washed off the engraved monuments and discharged into a hole in the floor, a violation of state industrial wastewater and hazardous waste regulations.

"This type of discharge needs to be properly managed and not dumped on the floor and left to seep into the ground," said Richard Chalpin, director of MassDEPs Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington. "The company has professed its readiness to make amends by assessing any damage, cleaning it up, and preventing the possibility of a recurrence."

W.C. Canniff will submit an assessment of the surrounding soil and groundwater within 90 days and thereafter complete any necessary cleanup. In addition, the facility will fully comply with all industrial wastewater and hazardous waste regulations. MassDEP has agreed to suspend $17,625 of the penalty, provided the company fully complies with all agreements in the consent order within one year.

Eight Significant Violations Observed at E-Waste Recyclers

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has identified eight electronic waste management violations that occur at many e-waste recycling operations around the state. These violations may result in formal enforcement action and substantial fines and penalties. This document was prepared to help e-waste recyclers prevent or correct these violations and avoid fines and penalties.

  1. Unauthorized breakage of CRT glass
  2. Failure to prevent or contain spillage of broken glass or UWED residuals
  3. Failure to provide and document employee training on proper handling of CRTs
  4. Failure to provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and failure to ensure employees wear the PPE stipulated in their training plan
  5. Inability to demonstrate that "designated" items are not universal wastes
  6. Failure to properly classify treatment residuals and/or meet requirements to exclude a waste as a "recyclable material"
  7. Failure to verify compliance with local and state Air Pollution Control Laws and Regulations
  8. Failure to submit an annual report

Chemists Get Scoop on Crude ‘Oil’ From Pig Manure

After a close examination of crude oil made from pig manure, chemists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are certain about a number of things. Most obviously, “This stuff smells worse than manure,” says NIST chemist Tom Bruno.

But a job’s a job, so the NIST team has developed the first detailed chemical analysis revealing what processing is needed to transform pig manure crude oil into fuel for vehicles or heating. Mass production of this type of biofuel could help consume a waste product overflowing at U.S. farms and possibly enable cutbacks in the nation’s petroleum use and imports. But, according to a new NIST paper, pig manure crude will require a lot of refining.

The ersatz oil used in the NIST analyses was provided by engineer Yuanhui Zhang of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Zhang developed a system using heat and pressure to transform organic compounds such as manure into oil.

As described in the new paper, Bruno and colleagues determined that the pig manure crude contains at least 83 major compounds, including many components that would need to be removed, such as about 15% water by volume, sulfur that otherwise could end up as pollution in vehicle exhaust, and lots of char waste containing heavy metals, including iron, zinc, silver, cobalt, chromium, lanthanum, scandium, tungsten, and minute amounts of gold and hafnium. Whatever the pigs eat, from dirt to nutritional supplements, ends up in the oil.

While the thick black liquid may look like its petroleum-based counterparts, the NIST study shows that looks can be deceiving. “The fact that pig manure crude oil contains a lot of water is unfavorable. They would need to get the water out,” Bruno says.

The measurements were made with a new NIST test method and apparatus, the advanced distillation curve, which provides highly detailed and accurate data on the makeup and performance of complex fluids. A distillation curve charts the percentage of the total mixture that evaporates as a sample is slowly heated. Because the different components of a complex mixture typically have different boiling points, a distillation curve gives a good measure of the relative amount of each component in the mixture. NIST chemists enhanced the traditional technique by improving precision and control of temperature measurements and adding the capability to analyze the chemical composition of each boiling fraction using a variety of advanced methods.

NIST researchers analyzed the graphite-like char remaining after the distillation by bombarding it with neutrons, a non-destructive way of identifying the types and amounts of elements present. Two complementary neutron methods detected the heavy metals listed above.

Bruno and colleagues currently spend much of their time analyzing military jet fuels and are not planning a major foray into pig manure. But Bruno concedes that the effort may have a payoff. “Who knows, it might help decrease the nuisance of manure piles.”

For more on the process of making pig waste crude, see the NIST report.

Science Academies Call for International Action on Climate Change, Global Health

On June 10, the science academies of the G8 countries, as well as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa, issued statements urging leaders worldwide to take action on two pressing global challenges. To mitigate and adapt to climate change, nations must begin a transition to being "low-carbon societies," a shift that will require energy-saving changes in all sectors—from housing to transportation to industry—and the development of a range of clean energy sources. Meeting global health challenges, such as infectious disease outbreaks and the rising incidence of lifestyle-linked diseases such as diabetes, will require stronger collaboration among nations, as well as the strengthening of their health systems and health work force.

Air Board Proposes World's Strictest Regulation Curbing Emissions From Ocean-Going Vessels

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has released a proposed regulation that would require ocean-going vessels within 24 nautical miles off California's coastline to use cleaner fuel in their main and auxiliary engines and boilers.

The measure to be considered by the Air Resources Board at its July 24 and 25 meeting would annually affect about 2,000 ocean-going vessels visiting California. The vessels would be required to use lower-sulfur marine distillates rather than the highly polluting heavy-fuel oil often called bunker fuel.

"The gains made by this regulation will save lives all along the coast and provide significant health benefits for those living near heavily used California seaports," ARB Deputy Director Michael Scheible explained. "We're requiring very large reductions that will greatly lessen air pollution from ships."

The proposed regulation requiring ships to use more refined fuel with lower sulfur content would be implemented in two steps—first in 2009 and second in 2012—and would be the most stringent and comprehensive requirement for marine fuel-use in the world. Both U.S.-flagged and foreign-flagged vessels would be subject to the statewide regulation.

The draft regulation would reduce emissions of toxic particulate matter from the vessels' diesel engines by 15 tons per day, an 80% reduction of the uncontrolled emissions now. Emissions of oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, major contributors to California's air pollution problems, would also be reduced by 90% and 6%, respectively.

The proposed regulation would have large health benefits for Californians. An estimated 2,000 premature deaths between 2009 and 2015 would be avoided, and the cancer risk caused by emissions from these vessels would be reduced by more than 80%. In addition, the emission reductions would aid the South Coast Air Quality Management District meet federal clean air requirements for fine particulate matter by 2014. The regulation is also needed for ARB to achieve its targeted 85% reduction of diesel PM by 2020.

Diesel exhaust contains a variety of harmful gases and more than 40 other known cancer-causing substances. Currently, diesel PM emissions from ocean-going vessels expose more than seven million people in California to high cancer risk levels—in excess of 100 in a million for lifetime exposures.

To reach its goal of reducing diesel PM throughout California, over the past eight years ARB has adopted regulations affecting cargo-handling equipment, transport refrigeration units, truck idling, off-road equipment, harbor craft, port drayage trucks, onboard incineration, and ships at-berth. ARB's cleaner fuel requirements for railroad and ship engines have reduced pollution around rail yards and ports. And this fall, ARB will consider measures to reduce emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks.

Environmental Groups to Sue EPA Over New Water Rule

According to the environmental advocacy group Earth Justice, a final rule issued June 9 sanctions the practice of pumping polluted urban and agriculture wastewater into public drinking water supplies. The rule finalizes a June 2006 proposal to deregulate this form of water pollution, which the administration has adopted in violation of the law and without regard to public health, according to environmental groups.

Speaking before an industry trade association conference, EPA Agency Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles announced that the agency was issuing the so-called water transfer rule.

The EPA's new rule would exempt an entire class of water polluters from the Clean Water Act. The new rule would allow contaminants to be dumped into drinking water sources as well as lakes and streams by water transfer operations. Under the EPA rulemaking, facilities can "transfer" contaminated water from one waterbody into a cleaner-receiving water body without obtaining a permit limiting water pollution and requiring compliance with water quality standards.

The rule is intended to effectively overrule a 2006 federal court decision that declared the practice of unpermitted pollution pumping to be illegal. (See Friends of the Everglades, Inc. v. S. Fla. Water Mgmt. Dist.) Earthjustice Attorney David Guest, who represented environmental groups in the successful lawsuit involving the pumping of polluted water into Florida's Lake Okeechobee, underscored the implications of the final rule and said the organization would challenge the rule on behalf of its client organizations.
 
"In the face of irrefutable evidence that transfers of contaminated water pose grave public health threats, the EPA is trying to disguise disposal of polluted water as allocation of water for later public use," Guest said. "If it poisons you when you drink it, it's not allocation for public use."

"EPA deliberately avoided even looking at the pollution implications of this rulemaking for public health across the nation because they know the consequences in many instances, as in Florida, would be a blatant violation of water quality standards," Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel Joan Mulhern added. "Today's action by EPA represents one of the last and worst pieces of this administration's anti-clean water agenda. Congress should exercise its oversight responsibilities and investigate how EPA can finalize such a sweeping rule without either a scientific or legal leg to stand upon."

In addition to the Florida case, federal courts in the First and Second circuits have also held that interbasin transfers of waters that result in the pollution of the receiving waterbody require a Clean Water Act permit.

GM Joins Environmental Agencies to Bust the 3,000-Mile Myth

The California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB), the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA), and General Motors Corporation (GM) announced their partnership to educate Californians about the need to change their vehicles' oil based on manufacturers' guidelines and not automatically follow the long-standing 3,000-mile standard.

It is estimated that each driver drives approximately 15,000 miles per year. If your vehicle manufacturer recommends changing your oil at 5,000 miles instead of every 3,000 miles, you can reduce the amount of oil generated by seven or eight quarts and can keep used oil from entering the waste stream. The reduction in oil usage also equates to an average savings of $76 a year.

These projects will help boost the amount of used oil that is recycled yearly. Of the nearly 153 million gallons of used oil generated annually in California, only 5% is being recycled.

Used oil is very recyclable and can be re-refined or processed into fuel oil. Unfortunately, not enough is being recycled. In 2006, 153 million gallons of lubricating oil were sold in California. Approximately 33%, or 50 million gallons, leaked out of engines or was burned. Yet, of the remaining 102 million gallons, just 88 million gallons were recycled, leaving approximately 14 million gallons unaccounted for and possibly improperly disposed of down storm drains, into lakes or streams, or into the garbage.

The Board's Used Oil competitive grant program is designed to provide resources to explore new program activities and/or to transfer proven program ideas and best practices to a larger pool of communities in order to enhance overall used oil, and oil filter collection and recycling. Competitive grants can spur innovation, which may later be covered by local "Block Grant" used oil and filter collection programs.

"We’re asking drivers to check their vehicle owner’s manual for best car-care practices. With better cars, new technology, and the increase of synthetic oils, the 3,000-mile standard is not always recommended," CIWMB Chair Margo Reid Brown said. "And by reducing their oil usage, drivers can protect their pocketbooks and our environment."

A study by the CIWMB found that 73% of California drivers change their oil more frequently than their manufacturer recommends, needlessly generating more used oil waste. Reducing the amount of used oil in our waste stream is critical to our health and our surrounding environment.

Currently, California generates more than 150 million gallons of used oil; if that oil is not recycled, it may end up polluting lakes, streams, and oceans. Used oil from just a single oil change (approximately four quarts) can pollute one million gallons of water, which equals a year’s supply of water for more than 50 people.

"General Motors and CIWMB share the common goal of reducing the amount of both new and used oil in order to help protect the environment," explains Peter Lord, executive director, GM Service Operations.

GM has equipped many of their year 2000 and newer models with an Oil Life System (OLS), a sensor that alerts drivers of the optimal time to change the oil. Keeping pace with technology, the system has been upgraded to account for advances in lubrication and engine design. If used as intended by the 2.5 million motorists in the state who have one of these vehicles, this technology could help drivers consume more than 8 million fewer gallons of motor oil annually, compared to oil changes at a 3,000-mile interval. Other manufacturers have also begun recommending that motorists change their oil every 7,500 miles for 2007 or new vehicles. Recommendations vary based on vehicle model, make, year, and driving conditions.

When it comes to oil changes, less is more. You’ll have more money in your wallet by changing your oil less—and fewer oil changes means less oil that needs to be safely managed and recycled.

Four of the Nation's Largest Home Builders Settle Storm Water Violations

Four of the nation’s largest home builders have agreed to pay civil penalties totaling $4.3 million to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, according to the Justice Department and EPA. The companies also have agreed to implement company-wide compliance programs that go beyond current regulatory requirements and put controls in place that will keep 1.2 billion pounds of sediment from polluting our nation’s waterways each year.

The home builders are Centex Homes, based in Dallas, Texas; KB Home, based in Los Angeles, Calif.; Pulte Homes, based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; and Richmond American Homes, based in Denver, Colo. The four separate settlements resolve alleged violations of storm water run-off regulations at construction sites in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Each company will pay the following penalties:

  • Centex: $1,485,000
  • KB Home: $1,185,000
  • Pulte: $877,000
  • Richmond: $795,000

Pulte Homes has also agreed to complete a supplemental environmental project at a minimum cost of $608,000. The project will reduce the amount of sediment going into a northern California watershed and improve the habitat for aquatic life.

"Today's settlements mark an important step forward in protecting our waters from harmful storm water runoff from construction activities," said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "In the future, these homebuilders will implement company-wide compliance programs that will provide better and more consistent protections at their construction sites across the country."

"EPA requires that construction sites obtain permits and take simple, basic steps to prevent pollutants from contaminating storm water and harming our nation’s waterways," said Granta Y. Nakayama, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Today’s settlements set a new bar for the home building industry."

Along with the federal government, seven state co-plaintiffs have joined the settlements. Those states are Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee, and Utah. Each of the seven states will receive a portion of the penalties based on the number of sites located within that state.

Combined, the four builders accounted for more than 124,000 home closings in 2006 and are ranked nationally among the top ten home builders in terms of home closings and revenues.

The government complaints allege a common pattern of violations that was discovered by reviewing documentation submitted by the companies and through federal and state site inspections. The alleged violations include not obtaining permits until after construction had begun or failing to obtain the required permits at all. At the sites that did have permits, violations included failure to prevent or minimize the discharge of pollutants, such as silt and debris, in storm water runoff.

The settlements require the companies to develop improved pollution prevention plans for each site, increase site inspections, and promptly correct any problems that are detected. The companies must properly train construction managers and contractors, and they are required to have trained staff at each construction site. They also must implement a management and internal reporting system to improve oversight of on-the-ground operations and submit annual reports to EPA.

Improving compliance at construction sites is one of EPA's national enforcement priorities. Construction projects have a high potential for environmental harm because they disturb large areas of land and significantly increase the potential for erosion. Without on-site pollution controls, sediment-laden runoff from construction sites can flow directly to the nearest waterway and degrade water quality. In addition, storm water can pick up other pollutants, including concrete washout, paint, used oil, pesticides, solvents, and other debris. Polluted runoff can harm or kill fish and wildlife and can affect drinking water quality.

The settlements are the latest in a series of enforcement actions to address storm water violations from construction sites around the country. A similar consent decree, reached in February with Home Depot, required the company to pay a fine of $1.3 million and establish a comprehensive storm water compliance plan to prevent future violations.

The Clean Water Act requires that construction sites have controls in place to prevent pollution from being discharged with storm water into nearby waterways. These controls include simple pollution-prevention techniques such as silt fences, phased site grading, and sediment basins to prevent common construction contaminants from entering the nation’s waterways.

The consent decrees, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, are subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. The companies are required to pay the penalty within 30 days of the court's approval of the settlement. Copies of the consent decrees are available on the Justice Department website at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

Foundary Fined $25,000 for Hazardous Waste and Storm Water Violations

The EPA announced that Leed Foundry Inc. has agreed to pay a $25,000 penalty to settle alleged violations related to hazardous waste management and storm water discharges at its foundry in St. Clair, Pa. This settlement follows a precedent-setting ruling by EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board that the foundry’s “baghouse dust” is subject to federal hazardous waste regulations.

In a September 2004 complaint, EPA cited the company for improper storage of its baghouse dust, which contained toxic concentrations of lead and cadmium. This dust was generated by furnace operations at the foundry, which manufactures grey iron castings such as storm sewer gratings and manhole covers. Approximately 514 tons of the dust removed from the baghouse—an air pollution control device—was stored in a pile, resulting in some dust releases to the surrounding environment.

EPA’s complaint alleged violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which governs the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. RCRA is designed to protect public health and the environment, and avoid costly cleanups, by requiring the safe, environmentally sound storage and disposal of hazardous waste. In the same case, the EPA administrative law judge had previously assessed a penalty against the company for Clean Water Act violations related to storm water discharges from the facility. That decision was not appealed and the penalty is included in the settlement referred to above.

The company challenged EPA’s authority to regulate grey iron foundry waste, arguing that this substance is covered by the “Bevill Amendment,” a RCRA provision that exempts certain fossil fuel combustion wastes from hazardous waste regulation. On Feb. 20, 2008, EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) reversed an administrative law judge ruling in favor of the company. The EAB agreed with federal court decisions interpreting the Bevill Exclusion to be limited to high volume and low toxicity waste. The board deferred to EPA’s determination that grey iron foundry waste is sufficiently toxic to warrant regulation under RCRA, noting that Leed Foundry’s waste exceeded regulatory standards by 10 times for cadmium and 185 times for lead. The full text of the EAB’s decision is available here.

After the EAB ruling, Leed Foundry cooperated with EPA in negotiating a settlement of this lengthy litigation. The company has signed a consent agreement, which will become effective on June 23, 2008. This agreement requires the company to submit a cleanup plan to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the former storage area of the toxic baghouse dust and submit a revised Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency plan including the monitoring of flow and constituents related to the facility’s storm water discharge permit. Leed Foundry is also treating the baghouse dust to prevent it from exceeding RCRA’s toxicity standards.

As part of the settlement agreement, the company has neither admitted nor denied liability for the alleged violations but committed to comply with applicable requirements.

Parts of Earliest Genetic Material May Have Come From the Stars

Scientists have confirmed for the first time that an important component of early genetic material, which has been found in meteorite fragments, is extraterrestrial in origin, according to a paper published on June 15, 2008.

The finding suggests that parts of the raw materials to make the first molecules of DNA and RNA may have come from the stars.

The scientists, from Europe and the United States, say that their research, published in the journal “Earth and Planetary Science Letters,” provides evidence that life's raw materials came from sources beyond the Earth.

The materials they have found include the molecules uracil and xanthine, which are precursors to the molecules that make up DNA and RNA, and are known as nucleobases.

The team discovered the molecules in rock fragments of the Murchison meteorite, which crashed in Australia in 1969. They tested the meteorite material to determine whether the molecules came from the solar system or were a result of contamination when the meteorite landed on Earth.

The analysis shows that the nucleobases contain a heavy form of carbon, which could only have been formed in space. Materials formed on Earth consist of a lighter variety of carbon.

Lead Author Dr Zita Martins, of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says that the research may provide another piece of evidence explaining the evolution of early life.

"We believe early life may have adopted nucleobases from meteoritic fragments for use in genetic coding, which enabled them to pass on their successful features to subsequent generations," Martins said.

Between 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago, large numbers of rocks similar to the Murchison meteorite rained down on Earth at the time when primitive life was forming. The heavy bombardment would have dropped large amounts of meteorite material to the surface on planets like Earth and Mars.

Coauthor Professor Mark Sephton, also of Imperial's Department of Earth Science and Engineering, believes this research is an important step in understanding how early life might have evolved.

"Because meteorites represent left-over materials from the formation of the solar system, the key components for life—including nucleobases—could be widespread in the cosmos,” Sephton said.

“As more and more of life's raw materials are discovered in objects from space, the possibility of life springing forth wherever the right chemistry is present becomes more likely."

Environmental News Links

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Trivia Question of the Week

How many plastic water bottles are wasted per second in the United States?

a. 84
b. 845
c. 845,000
d. 8.4 million

Answer