The Case of the Reticent Rubbermaker
Cosmoflex, Inc., a manufacturer of rubber and plastic hoses and belts, has agreed to pay an $80,000 civil penalty to the US to settle a series of violations of environmental regulations related to the public reporting of toxic chemicals at its manufacturing facility in Hannibal, Missouri.
According to an administrative consent agreement filed by EPA Region 7 in Kansas City, Kansas, the Agency conducted an inspection of Cosmoflex’s facility at 4142 Industrial Drive in Hannibal in February 2011. Among its findings, the inspection noted that the company had failed to make timely reports to EPA and the State of Missouri on certain quantities of toxic chemicals that were manufactured, processed, or otherwise used at the facility during 2007, 2008, and 2009.
More specifically, the inspection found that the facility:
- Failed to conduct Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) reporting for antimony, barium, and zinc compounds for calendar years 2007, 2008, and 2009.
- Was late in filing inventory reports for dioctylphthalate and lead compounds for calendar years 2007, 2008, and 2009.
- Failed to maintain documentation for lead compounds during calendar years 2007, 2008, and 2009.
- Had a data quality error in its reporting of lead compounds for calendar year 2007.
Cosmoflex uses more than one million lb of dioctylphthalate, a carcinogen, in its plastic manufacturing operations each year. Several thousand lb of lead-containing PVC is also used at the facility as a raw material. Antimony, barium, zinc compounds, dioctylphthalate, and lead compounds are toxic chemicals that can have negative impacts on human health and the environment. General information about potential health concerns and environmental effects associated with releases of and exposures to toxic chemicals is available at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/index.asp.
Submission of the annual toxic chemical reports is a requirement of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). Under EPCRA regulations, companies of a certain size are required to submit annual reports to EPA and state authorities listing the amounts of regulated chemicals that their facilities release into the environment through routine activities or as a result of accidents. The reports provide an important source of information to emergency planners and responders, and residents of surrounding communities.
EPCRA was enacted by Congress in 1986 as an outgrowth of concern over the protection of the public from chemical emergencies and dangers. After the catastrophic accidental release of methyl isocyanate at Union Carbide’s Bhopal, India, facility in December 1984, and a later toxic release from a West Virginia chemical plant, it was evident that national public disclosure of toxic release inventory information was needed.
Virginia Beach RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, from April 17–19 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
Atlanta RCRA/DOT Update Training, Advanced Hazardous Waste Training, and OSHA GHS-Hazcom Training
Environmental Resource Center will offer DOT and RCRA Annual Update and Refresher training on May 1, Advanced Hazardous Waste Management training on May 2, and OSHA GHS Hazard Communication Standard: Training for Trainers on May 3, in Atlanta, Georgia. To register for any of these upcoming courses in Atlanta, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
St. Louis RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in St. Louis, Missouri, from May 8–10 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
How to Prepare for OSHA’s Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication Standard (GHS)
OSHA has issued a final rule revising its Hazard Communication Standard, aligning it with the United Nations’ globally harmonized system (GHS) for the classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals. This means that virtually every product label, material safety data sheet (now called “safety data sheet” or SDS), and written hazard communication plan must be revised to meet the new standard. Worker training must be updated so that workers can recognize and understand the symbols and pictograms on the new labels as well as the new hazard statements and precautions on SDSs.
Environmental Resource Center is offering webcast training for you to learn how the new rule differs from current requirements, how to implement the changes, and when the changes must be implemented. Register for an upcoming webcast on How to Prepare for OSHA’s Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication Standard (GHS) offered on the following dates:
- April 17
- May 18
- June 26
- July 18
- August 15
- October 2
Community Groups File Lawsuit for Federal Coal Ash Protections
Environmental and public health groups filed a lawsuit in the US District Court, District of Columbia on April 5, 2012, to force the EPA to complete its rulemaking process and finalize public health safeguards against toxic coal ash. Although the EPA has not updated its waste disposal and control standards for coal ash in over thirty years, it continues to delay these needed federal protections despite more evidence of leaking waste ponds, poisoned groundwater supplies, and threats to public health. The groups’ lawsuit comes as EPA data show that an additional 29 power plants in 16 states have contaminated groundwater near coal ash dump sites.
Earthjustice is suing the agency under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) on behalf of Appalachian Voices (NC), Environmental Integrity Project, Chesapeake Climate Action Network (MD), French Broad Riverkeeper (NC), Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KY), Moapa Band of Paiutes (NV), Montana Environmental Information Center (MT), Physicians for Social Responsibility, Prairie Rivers Network (IL), Sierra Club, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (TN). RCRA requires the EPA to ensure that safeguards are regularly updated to address threats posed by wastes, but the EPA has never revised the safeguards to ensure that they address coal ash. Coal ash is the byproduct of coal-fired power plants, and includes a toxic mix of arsenic, lead, hexavalent chromium, mercury, selenium, cadmium, and other dangerous pollutants.
The EPA’s data about groundwater contamination at 29 additional sites came as a result of a 2010 questionnaire the agency sent to approximately 700 fossil- and nuclear-fueled power plants in an effort to collect data on water discharges. The questionnaire collected general plant information and also required a subset of coal-fired power plants to collect and analyze samples of leachate from coal ash dump sites and report exceedances of toxic chemicals in groundwater monitored by the plants. The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the data. After analysis by Earthjustice and EIP, according to the facilities’ own monitoring data, 29 sites had coal ash contaminants in groundwater, including arsenic, lead, and other pollutants. Contamination was found at plants in 16 states, with multiple new cases in Texas (3), North Carolina (3), Colorado (2), South Carolina (2), Pennsylvania (2), Iowa (3), and West Virginia (5), among others.
The lawsuit would force the EPA to set deadlines for review and revision of relevant solid and hazardous waste safeguards to address coal ash, as well as the much needed, and long overdue changes to the test that determines whether a waste is hazardous under RCRA.
“The numbers of coal ash ponds and landfills that are contaminating water supplies continues to grow, yet nearby communities still do not have effective federal protection,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. “It is well past time the EPA acts on promises made years ago to protect the nation from coal ash contamination and life-threatening coal ash ponds.”
“It is a fact that all of Duke and Progress Energies’ coal ash ponds are leaching toxic heavy metals into groundwater,” said Sandra Diaz of Appalachian Voices. “How long must the people of North Carolina wait for the EPA to do its job to protect us from the threat that coal ash poses to our health?”
“Right now our organization is involved in several lawsuits against old, leaking coal ash landfills in Maryland,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, staff attorney with Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN). “Dangerous coal ash is leaching into waterways that hurt the Chesapeake Bay and could be threatening the health of Maryland citizens. The EPA has a responsibility to issue a strong rule to address coal ash so groups like ours don’t have to fight to clean them up, facility by facility, at the state level. That is why CCAN is involved in this federal RCRA deadline lawsuit—to force EPA’s hand on the coal ash rule. They have been delaying this essential rule that will protect public health and the environment for far too long.”
“Three decades since EPA last reviewed the coal ash disposal standards and over three years since the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston spill, citizens still lack basic protections from dumping of toxic ash,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of EIP. “Meanwhile, toxic dumping continues to rise: in 2010 alone, power plants used unsafe and leak-prone coal ash ponds to dispose of wastes containing 113.6 million pounds of toxic metals, a nearly ten percent increase from 2009. Yet EPA’s proposed standards for safe disposal, including a plan to close down ash ponds within five years, have gone nowhere.”
“One of the biggest threats to our clean water is coal ash pollution,” explains French Broad Riverkeeper, Hartwell Carson. “Monitoring at Progress Energy’s two coal ash ponds in Asheville, North Carolina, shows chronic groundwater pollution concerns and the community around the plant has repeatedly complained about fugitive coal ash dust coating their homes. We need the EPA to act to protect human health and the environment.”
“Here in Louisville, Kentucky, we are having problems with dust discharges from one of our big coal-burning power plants,” said Mary Love of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “Our local Air Pollution Control District is doing what it can to force the power company to keep our air safe to breathe, but without federal standards on the hazards of coal ash, there is only so much they can do.”
“Our air, our health and our culture is under attack by pollution from nearby coal wastewater ponds,” said William Anderson, chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes in southeastern Nevada. “We once hunted geese and ducks on our land, but no longer. These birds are being poisoned by the water in the coal ash ponds. We once harvested medicinal plants, but not any more. Soils are contaminated by the power plant’s coal ash dust, soot and other pollutants. We are being forced to bear the burden of dirty power for Nevada.”
“In the West, water is a scarce commodity. It’s EPA’s job to protect it from contamination,” said Anne Hedges, Program Director of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “They are failing to do their job at Colstrip where ground and surface waters are already contaminated with coal ash waste. It’s time for EPA to step up and protect the lives and livelihoods of people who live near this enormous facility.”
“Coal ash is severely and dangerously toxic. The heavy metals it contains are contaminating ground water supplies and drinking wells, as well as air and farmland. It’s time that we bring this serious health hazard under control. As physicians and health professionals, we strongly endorse nationwide health-protective rules for coal ash disposal,” noted Barbara Gottlieb, director for Environment & Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“When lead was discovered to be hazardous, it was taken out of paint and gasoline. When asbestos was discovered to be dangerous, we stopped using it in our building materials. Now that the scientific evidence is in, we know coal ash is a harmful material and needs to be disposed of as such,” said Traci Barkley, water resources scientist with Prairie Rivers Network. “The EPA must not delay their responsibility to protect people and the environment—federal regulations on coal ash are needed now.”
“Coal ash poses a very real health risk to families and communities around the country,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “It’s time the EPA put in place strong protections that address the threats communities affected by coal ash have been facing for decades. We’ve been waiting for these standards since the disastrous TVA coal ash spill in 2008, and it’s time for action. The EPA needs to put these common-sense protections in place to keep this toxic pollution out of our rivers, lakes and streams.”
“It has been over two years since EPA started the coal ash rulemaking process and over three years since the Kingston disaster and still we have no comprehensive safeguards” said Josh Galperin, policy analyst and research attorney with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “If you ignore the growing problem of coal ash contamination and the people at risk for future disasters you could chalk this up to bureaucratic delay. Looking at the big picture, however, and despite federal laws requiring frequent review, it has been 30 years since EPA last addressed ash contamination. The people who drink, fish, swim, boat, play or live around water cannot wait any longer.”
Suncor Energy Fined More Than $2.2 Million for Air Emission Violations
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division announced that Suncor Energy (US) will pay approximately $2.2 million in fines as part of two separate compliance orders resulting from air quality violations at its Commerce City refinery. The total penalty amount is $2,204,673. The compliance orders were agreed to in negotiations with Suncor.
State inspectors discovered violations of state and federal requirements during an inspection of the refinery, which occurred in the summer of 2010. Inspections of large sources such as the Suncor facility take several days and are conducted annually.
The most significant violations relate to the national emission standard for benzene waste operations. Penalties will be paid both to the state of Colorado and the EPA. The orders allow Suncor to use a portion of the penalty amount to perform supplemental environmental projects to secure significant environmental or public health protection and improvements within the community affected by the violations.
“These orders enable us to move forward with Suncor to resolve related noncompliance issues,” said Will Allison, Air Pollution Control Division director. “They lay out a specific and detailed path back to compliance with state and federal regulations that includes the redesign and replacement of equipment and controls, training and other requirements.”
“The division has worked closely with Suncor since the 2010 inspection to resolve and mitigate the noncompliance issues. Remedies for many of the violations related to control and monitoring were put in place by Suncor by the end of the summer of 2010,” said Allison.
Although a portion of the Air Pollution Control Division’s actions also address compliance issues related to benzene, the actions are separate from those taken by the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division, and are not a part of any recent order related to the release of petroleum products from the refinery that affected Sand Creek.
Suncor’s refinery includes three plants that originally were constructed and owned by other companies. Suncor acquired two of the plants in 2003 from Conoco and the other in 2005 from Colorado Refining Company. At the time of those sales, the plants were—and remain—subject to a pair of federal consent decrees that addressed past noncompliance issues and detailed other specific compliance requirements. Suncor assumed liability for both consent decrees at the time of purchase. The compliance orders include stipulated penalties resulting from violations of those existing consent decrees.
Among the state’s findings during its 2010 inspection was failure to properly inspect and maintain equipment vital to the handling of benzene in process wastewater. As a result, Suncor exceeded the allowable uncontrolled benzene quantity in both 2008 and 2009. The national emission standard for benzene waste operations applies to equipment and processes that treat, store or dispose of benzene waste.
“We have no evidence to suggest the benzene-related violations discovered during our 2010 inspection are connected to the circumstances that led to the Sand Creek contamination,” Allison said.
Suncor also was cited for failure to conduct periodic equipment inspections, implement an annual training program for employees and complete the development of standard operating procedures for certain control equipment.
Innovative Clean Air Agreement for Industrial Flares
The Department of Justice and the EPA have announced an innovative environmental agreement with Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Company that already has significantly reduced air pollution from all six of the company’s petroleum refineries. In a first for the refining industry, Marathon has agreed to state of the art controls on combustion devices known as flares and to a cap on the volume of waste gas it will send to its flares. When fully implemented, the agreement is expected to reduce harmful air pollution by approximately 5,400 tons per year and result in future cost savings for the company.
“This agreement is a great victory for the environment and will result in cleaner and healthier air for the benefit of communities across the country in Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio and Texas,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “By spurring corporate ingenuity, this settlement will dramatically reduce emissions from all 22 flares at Marathon’s six refineries.”
“Today’s agreement will result in cleaner air for communities across the South and Midwest,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By working with EPA, Marathon helped advance new approaches that reduce air pollution and improve efficiency at its refineries and provide the US with new knowledge to bring similar improvements in air quality to other communities across the nation.”
“We commend Marathon for taking this action, which will reduce pollution in the areas around its refineries, including one in Detroit,” said Barbara McQuade, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “While this agreement helps protect clean air for future generations, it also protects the public health right now for the people living near the refineries.”
The settlement is part of the EPA’s national effort to reduce air pollution from refinery, petrochemical and chemical flares. A flare is a mechanical device, ordinarily elevated high off the ground, used to combust waste gases. The more waste gas a company sends to a flare, the more pollution occurs. The less efficient a flare is in burning waste gas, the more pollution occurs. EPA wants companies to flare less, and when they do flare, to fully combust the harmful chemicals found in the waste gas.
A consent decree, filed in the US District Court in Detroit, resolves Marathon’s alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA). As part of the effort to reach this agreement, Marathon, under the direction and oversight of EPA, spent more than $2.4 million to develop and conduct pioneering combustion efficiency testing of flares and to advance the understanding of the relationship between flare operating parameters and flare combustion efficiency.
In addition, beginning in 2009, Marathon installed equipment, such as flow monitors and gas chromatographs, to improve the combustion efficiency of its flares. To date, Marathon has spent approximately $45 million on this equipment and projects that it will spend an additional $6.5 million for this equipment. Marathon also will spend an as yet undetermined sum to comply with the flaring caps required in the consent decree.
At the same time, Marathon indicates that the equipment it already has installed is saving it approximately $5 million per year through reduced steam usage and product recovery. Marathon also projects additional savings through the operation of the equipment to be installed in the future.
From 2008 to the end of 2011, the controls Marathon installed eliminated approximately 4720 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 110 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from the air. An additional 530 tons per year of VOCs and 30 tons per year of HAPs are projected to be eliminated in the future.
Under the agreement, Marathon will also implement a project at its Detroit refinery to remove another 15 tons per year of VOCs and another one ton per year of benzene from the air. At an estimated cost of $2.2 million, Marathon will install controls on numerous sludge handling tanks and equipment.
Marathon’s six refineries are located in: Robinson, Illinois; Catlettsburg, Kentucky; Garyville, Louisiana; Detroit; Canton, Ohio; and Texas City, Texas. Together, the refineries have a capacity of more than 1.15 million barrels per day.
Marathon, headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, will pay a civil penalty of $460,000 to the US.
41 Years Later and No Cleanup of Le Roy Spill Site
One of the most remarkable environmental messes in local history was triggered 41 years ago when a train derailment dumped 200 tons of toxic chemicals on the porous bedrock of rural Genesee County, New York.
It was the single largest spill on record in New York State of the human carcinogen known as trichloroethene, or TCE. It fouled 4 ½ square miles—an area nearly as large as all of southeast Rochester, from Genesee Valley Park, to the Inner Loop, to the East Avenue Wegmans.
After a brief emergency response, local officials walked away. State and federal government agencies charged with addressing environmental contamination overlooked the accident—for nearly 20 years.
When they stumbled on the TCE while tracking another spill in 1989, environmental officials took steps to protect public health and map the extent of the problem. However, progress has come slowly, and the outside world was almost completely unaware.
That changed precipitously in January, when national attention was drawn to Le Roy by the cluster of young people there displaying unusual neurological symptoms. People in Le Roy and far beyond began looking for causes—and fingers began pointing back at the gigantic TCE spill.
Erin Brockovich, the country’s most famous environmental advocate, went on national television and said the TCE had seeped right under the high school. That was quickly shown to be incorrect, but the attempt to tie the neurological illnesses to the 1970 derailment has focused new attention on the site. This has highlighted the simple fact that not a single drop of the 35,000 gallons of toxic solvents has been cleaned up, and there is no timetable in place for starting. Questions linger about exactly where the TCE has gone and whether everything possible has been done to protect people against it.
Ironically, Brockovich’s assertion that the TCE had worked its way toward a school campus was not all wrong. It’s not Le Roy’s schools targeted by the toxic plume, however, but Caledonia-Mumford’s, four miles east of the original spill. Remarkably, officials believe the plume ends—literally disappears—less than a quarter-mile away from the Cal-Mum school.
In the pre-dawn darkness on December 6, 1970, a 114-car Lehigh Valley Railroad freight train headed east through Le Roy. Just as the train crossed Gulf Road, 25 cars left the tracks. No one was hurt, but a rail car carrying cyanide crystals overturned and spilled. Two tank cars filled with TCE ruptured, and an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 gallons spilled on the ground.
Today, that once-common industrial chemical, TCE, is recognized for causing cancer and numerous other health problems in people who swallow or inhale enough of it. Back then, however, the cyanide was the big concern. Most of the cyanide was cleaned up promptly; but the TCE wasn’t.
Within days, vapors were noted in nearby basements and water from private wells began to taste foul. “I’d worked with the stuff. The minute I smelled it I knew what it was,” said Thomas Yauchzee, whose family has lived near the derailment site for 44 years. “When the (bathtub) appliques started dissolving I knew something was really bad in there.”
Local health officials told Yauchzee that because his was a private well, he was on his own. The railroad began giving bottled water to a few homeowners, and after Yauchzee and several others threatened suit, the railroad provided money to install home filtration systems.
The closest Lehigh Valley came to a TCE cleanup was in the spring of 1971, when the spill site was flooded with a million gallons of water. “I think the mentality back then was ‘the solution to pollution is dilution.’ The idea was to pump a lot of water and wash it out,” said Paul Richards, a College at Brockport geology professor who’s studied the area. “It wasn’t a smart thing to do. It probably made matters worse by getting the TCE down into the rock fractures quicker.”
No real effort was made to track the TCE, which filtered quickly through the caves and fractures in the area’s karst limestone. Even when the Love Canal disaster prompted a statewide hunt for old spills in the late 1970s, the Lehigh Valley site was overlooked. It was largely forgotten by everyone but those affected.
In 1989, wells that supplied public drinking water to the village of Caledonia in Livingston County were found to contain traces of the solvent 1-1-1-trichloroethane, or TCA. The suspected source was Jones Chemical Co., a chemical manufacturer known to have spilled that solvent near the village wells.
Officials began looking for TCA in other drinking-water wells nearby. In one well just west of the village, they found TCE instead. They were puzzled until someone reminded them of the Gulf Road derailment 18 years earlier.
The following year, state officials began a broader search for the spilled TCE. To their surprise, they detected it in private wells in Le Roy and adjoining parts of Caledonia and the town of Wheatland in Monroe County.
The solvent plume had traveled through the unusually porous limestone for four miles without anyone knowing it. Eventually, about 50 private drinking-water wells were found to be contaminated. Most were below 100 parts per billion, but at least one well contained TCE in a concentration of 7,200 parts per billion—more than 1,400 times greater than the state and federal drinking water standard.
Whether anyone was consuming that water on a daily basis isn’t clear. Neither is it clear what health impacts might have occurred.
A health assessment of the spill done by a branch of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001 said those who consumed water with the lower levels of TCE might have a slightly elevated risk of cancer. It said nothing about those who consumed water with the much higher levels. People had been drinking that tainted water for 20 years—and, for the only time in the 41-year history of the spill, some expressed concern about health impacts.
However, a 1992 survey of residents in the affected area did not find an unusual number of health problems, according to reports at the time. After people living in the area complained about what they believed was an unusual number of cancer cases, the state Department of Health examined cancer data and concluded in 2001 there was no excess.
After finding the tainted wells, state officials had begun delivering bottled water and filter systems. They placed the spill on the New York list of hazardous waste sites and began to study the extent of the contamination. A deliberative process, this activity took the better part of a decade and consumed $4 million in state tax money.
“The site itself probably got more careful study than most other sites in New York at the time. I think the pile of documents … is at least 2 feet high,” said Richard Young, a geology professor at the State College at Geneseo who examined the site for the Monroe County Health Department. “Of course, it was 20 years too late.”
The studies documented cyanide still in the soil at the derailment site, plus a vast area with at least trace amounts of TCE in the karst limestone and water table.
In 1997, state officials released a remedial strategy, one part of which was extending pipes carrying clean public water from the Monroe County Water Authority into homes and businesses in the contaminated area.
EPA stepped in to pay for that work, and the site was shifted to the federal Superfund list, which it remains on today. The EPA eventually spent about $6.5 million on the public water lines, which were finished in 2003.
For the first time in 32 years, officials said, no one in the area was drinking water with TCE in it.
Years of Negotiating
Once the water mains were in place, work at the Gulf Road site halted while the EPA spent years negotiating with the corporate successor to Lehigh Valley Railroad, which had ceased operations in 1976.
The company, American Premier Underwriters, signed an agreement in 2006 to pay for some additional work. Since that time, a consultant has installed at least 16 new groundwater test wells to verify the plume’s location. The plume, four miles long and up to two miles wide, is “stable,” said EPA program manager Peter Mannino.
At the derailment site, TCE levels are still sky-high—as much as 12,000 parts per billion. While TCE evaporates and breaks down quickly in the air, it persists for decades underground, where some of it dissolves in water but a larger portion of it sinks to bedrock and remains intact. Levels drop as the plume moves eastward, but concentrations in a narrow band that follows fractures in the rock are still five to 10 times above the drinking-water standard. The band extends into the village of Caledonia, aimed directly at the Caledonia-Mumford school campus.
However, EPA officials believe the plume ends a quarter-mile west of the campus, at Spring Creek. There, they say, the groundwater discharges upward into Caledonia’s springs and the creek they form, and apparently goes no farther east. This is a common phenomenon with water tables that pass close under streams. Years ago, State officials reported finding TCE in water and sediment in the springs and the creek. The EPA is now awaiting results of new sampling.
Solvents in the water would be diluted by the flow and dissipate harmlessly into the air, officials said. Richards, the Brockport geology professor who has studied the area’s karst formation for years, said, “It’s possible the plume is going under the springs and going east. But most people’s sense is Spring Creek is the main groundwater discharge point.”
Only one monitoring well has been installed just east of the creek, not far from the school campus. It was sampled four times last year and TCE in the range of 10 to 15 ppb was found each time.
Mannino suggested there were several possible explanations for the small amounts of TCE in that one well east of Spring Creek, and EPA should know more when the contractor’s report is submitted later this spring.
“Based on what we know now, we don’t believe that the school is impacted,” Mannino said.
The concern about where the TCE plume is today has to do with vapor intrusion, in which underground TCE evaporates, rises through the rock, and infiltrates homes. The threat of vapor intrusion was underestimated until new research 10 to 15 years ago.
In 2008, the contractor working on the Lehigh Valley Railroad site began going door-to-door asking permission to test for TCE vapors. At least 33 homes have been tested, and enough TCE vapors found in 11 of them that the EPA paid to install and operate special systems to draw away TCE vapors before they get inside. Levels were above guidelines, but not by a huge margin. Mannino said the testing didn’t reveal any “unacceptable risks.”
Mannino said the agency could do additional vapor studies or groundwater monitoring, including at the Cal-Mum schools, should it be indicated by findings of the contractor’s site investigation.
Richards has written a paper raising concerns that rapid springtime rises in the water table, a characteristic of the karst limestone, could push TCE vapors into homes where vapors might not appear at other times. He’s been unable to get funding to study the problem.
EPA contemplates a three-stage effort to remove TCE and remaining cyanide. One would suck out TCE vapor trapped in the rock, and another would pump out contaminated groundwater for treatment.
The first stage, though, would be removing about 8,000 cubic yards of tainted soil at the original spill site. Design of the soils cleanup process—first envisioned nearly 20 years ago by the state—should begin relatively soon, Mannino said.
Before any work can start, the agency must negotiate another agreement with American Premier Underwriters, and it isn’t known how long this will take.
Currently, the derailment site is an empty field with the railroad tracks mostly ripped up. To the east is a single home; to the west, a vast complex of quarries.
The predominant groundwater flow in that area is eastward, geologists say, but they note groundwater can flow in unexpected directions in the limestone.
Some solvent clearly has migrated westward. A test well 500 feet southwest of the spill epicenter has consistently shown high levels of TCE since it was installed nearly two decades ago. Water in the quarry has been sampled about 50 times by its owner, Dolomite Products, with low levels of TCE being found a third of the time.
Mannino said geologists have theorized that water-pumping operations at the quarry may pull groundwater in that direction at times. When the pending investigative report is submitted, EPA will evaluate the need for more sampling to the west.
“From what we’re seeing, it doesn’t seem like there’s any immediate need to go out and rush to do something,” Mannino said.
The Le Roy Factor
Claims that TCE from the derailment has spread westward—unsubstantiated claims—are the reason the giant spill has been in the news again.
EPA and other officials have said the notion that TCE from the Gulf Road derailment could be anywhere near the village of Le Roy is just wrong.
Still, television crews made numerous trips to the Gulf Road site, and the publicity does seem to have kick-started the EPA. In late February, for instance, the agency finally hauled away 235 drums of soil and rock, some containing minute amounts of TCE, which had been sitting at the spill site for years. Additionally, for the first time in years, the EPA has provided fresh information about the spill to local governments, the public, and the media, including summaries of groundwater and indoor air sampling, and an updated map of the TCE plume.
The information was news to local health officials in Genesee, Livingston, and Monroe counties, all of whom said they had heard little from the agency in recent years.
“EPA is very large and does a lot of studies all over the place, so they aren’t … great at providing frequent updates,” said Jim Mazerowski, director of environmental health for Livingston County. None of the health officials expressed concern about the pace of progress or about any outstanding problems.
Residents, many of them having lived with the contamination for decades, seem steeled to its presence. “The levels were extremely low,” said Frank Robbins, who’s lived in his Caledonia home for 33 years and dealt with both a TCE-tainted well and vapor intrusion.
“There is a concern—but you’re exposed to so many things these days.”
EPA Fines Violators of the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule
EPA announced three enforcement actions for violations of the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP) and other lead rules. The RRP rule requires the use of lead-safe work practices to ensure that common renovation activities like sanding, cutting, and demolition, which can create hazardous lead dust, are conducted properly by trained and certified contractors or individuals. EPA finalized the RRP rule in 2008 and the rule took effect on April 22, 2010.
“Exposure to lead can cause serious health problems and affects our most vulnerable population, our children,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By taking action to enforce lead rules we are protecting people’s health and ensuring that businesses that follow the rules have a level playing field.”
On March 21, 2012, Colin Wentworth, a rental property owner who was responsible for building operation and maintenance, agreed to pay $10,000 to resolve violations of the RRP rule. The complaint alleged that Mr. Wentworth’s workers violated the rule by improperly using power equipment to remove paint from the exterior surface of an 1850’s apartment building he owns in Rockland, Maine. The complaint also alleged that the workers had not received any training under the rule and that Mr. Wentworth had failed to apply for firm certification with the EPA. Due to the lead dust not being properly contained, residents were potentially exposed and the dust could have also contaminated the ground surrounding the apartment building. Two of the four units in the building were rented to recipients of US Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 vouchers and there were at least four children under the age of 18, including one under the age of six, living in the units. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection and OSHA also responded to the alleged violations.
On March 20, 2012, Valiant Home Remodelers, a New Jersey window and siding company, agreed to pay $1,500 to resolve violations from failing to follow the RRP rule during a window and siding replacement project at a home in Edison, New Jersey. Valiant Home Remodelers failed to contain renovation dust, contain waste, and train workers on lead-safe work practices.
On February 21, 2012, Johnson Sash and Door, a home repair company located in Omaha, Nebraska, agreed to pay a $5,558 penalty for failing to provide the owners or occupants of housing built prior to 1978 with an EPA-approved lead hazard information pamphlet or to obtain a written acknowledgement prior to commencement of renovation activities at five homes. The complaint also alleged that Johnson failed to obtain initial certification prior to performing renovations at these residences.
As required by the law, a company or individual’s ability to pay a penalty is evaluated and penalties are adjusted accordingly.
These recent actions are part of EPA’s effort to ensure that contractors and individuals follow the RRP requirements and other lead rules to protect people’s health from exposure to lead. Lead exposure can cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death, putting young children at the greatest risk because their nervous systems are still developing.
Greening Up the Blue Dye in Jeans; Police Uniforms; and the Red, White, and Blue
Efforts are underway to develop a more environmentally friendly process for dyeing denim with indigo, the storied “king of dyes,” used to the tune of 50,000 tons annually to color cotton blue jeans and hundreds of other products. That effort is the topic of an article in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN).
In the article, C&EN Assistant Managing Editor Michael McCoy notes that concerns about the environmental effects of indigo represent a modern concern about an ancient product. Indigo produces a rainbow of hues, ranging from deep navy to pale pastels. For centuries, the primary source of indigo was branches of a bush native to India. In 1878, German chemist and Nobel laureate Adolf von Baeyer made the first synthetic indigo, but the process was too expensive. It took chemical manufacturer BASF years to find a practical process for making the dye, and that happened only because of a lucky accident in which a lab worker broke a mercury thermometer, and the mercury catalyzed a reaction to make the dye.
The story describes how a partnership between the dye manufacturer DyStar and Swiss startup RedElec Technologie may be the beginning of a new revolution in indigo dyeing that will improve its environmental profile. To get indigo dye to attach to denim and other fabrics requires chemical reactions before and after the dye impregnates the cotton fibers. Even with modern improvements to the technique, the process produces large amounts of waste. The article highlights a new approach designed to achieve a long-standing goal of eliminating the need for sodium hydrosulfite in the dyeing process which would green up the indigo dyeing process and stop a water pollution problem at its source.
Can Water Float on Oil?
Defying thousands of years of conventional wisdom, scientists are reporting in the American Chemical Society’s Langmuir that it is possible for water to float on oil, a discovery they say has important potential applications in cleaning up oil spills that threaten seashores and fisheries.
Chi M. Phan and colleagues point out that the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle made an early attempt to explain flotation around 350 B.C. Today, most people know that less dense liquids float on more dense liquids. Therefore, crude oil, with a density of about 58 lb per cubic foot, floats on sea water, which has a density of 64 lb per cubic foot, and not vice-versa. Correct? Phan’s team decided to test this notion with computer models and in the lab.
They report that in certain cases, the conventional wisdom is wrong. By adding tiny amounts of water to a floating droplet of oil, they found that the ability of water drops to float at the surface of an oil bath depends on both the size of the droplet and the type of oil. Commercial vegetable oil has enough surface tension—the force between liquid molecules that allows beads of water to form or insects to walk on water—at its interfaces with air and water to support a droplet’s weight, while pure mineral oils do not. At the same time, they found that vegetable oil could not support drops bigger than about one hundredth of a cubic inch. The authors suggest the new knowledge could help clean up oil spills, where water-borne, oil-eating microbes will mix more easily into the oil if suspended in the tiny droplets they describe. “This result can lead to a new and advanced mechanism in processing oil/water mixtures, such as biodegrading process of unwanted oils, including vegetable oils, sand oil tailings and oil spillages,” the authors said.
Toward a Test Strip for Detecting TNT and Other Explosives in Water
Scientists at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) described development of a new explosives detector that can sense small amounts of TNT and other common explosives in liquids instantly with a sensitivity that rivals bomb-sniffing dogs, the current gold standard in protecting the public from terrorist bombs. They reported on the technology, suitable for incorporation into a TNT test strip.
A new, ultrasensitive real-time sensor can detect trace levels of explosives, such as TNT, in liquids. The sensor also has potential uses in detecting water pollution involving TNT, according to Yu Lei, Ph.D., and Ying Wang, who developed the sensor. Such contamination can occur from production, obsolete storage facilities, and other sources. TNT contamination of drinking water carries a risk of serious health disorders.
Wang, a graduate student in Lei’s laboratory at the University of Connecticut, said there has been a long-standing need for a fast, simple, accurate way to detect so-called “nitroaromatic compounds” in salt water, fresh water, and other liquids. That family of compounds includes 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene—TNT—which is so widely used in construction, agriculture, and military applications that it has become the standard for measuring explosive force, even for nuclear weapons.
“Law enforcement or homeland security officials concerned about the presence of TNT in a harbor at docks need an answer quickly so they can take steps to protect people and property,” Wang pointed out. “That’s not easy with traditional testing methods.”
Those tests involve taking a sample of water and shipping it to a full-scale laboratory. The sample must be concentrated because water currents dilute the explosive, leaving only minute amounts in the sample. Additionally, water samples must be prepared in other ways prior to analysis with expensive laboratory instruments.
“Our new sensor promises to provide answers on-the-scene almost immediately,” Wang added, noting that it is based on a color change that occurs when a sensing molecule in the device attaches to an explosive. Lei explained that the device can detect very small amounts of TNT, as well as larger amounts. The broad sensing range, high sensitivity, and dual action make this new sensor unique among those that work on water-based samples, he noted.
So far, Lei and Wang have been able to detect concentrations of explosives, such as TNT, ranging from about 33 parts per trillion (equivalent to one drop in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools) to 225 parts per million.
Lei and Wang explained that the sensor is already easy to use, but they plan to make it even more user-friendly by incorporating it into a paper strip, similar to the test strips used to test for pregnancy. That way, an explosives expert or airport screener would simply dip the filter paper into a sample of ocean water or other liquid, and put that filter paper into a machine that would read the fluorescence and detect the presence of explosives in real time. The sensor also could be used to detect TNT that leaches into the environment, in streams or rivers near munitions testing sites and manufacturing facilities.
Landowner Agrees to Clean Up Oil Spill, Pay $38,000 Penalty for Delay
A settlement has been reached with a Massachusetts property owner to ensure that oil and hazardous material released on site has been properly cleaned up and does not present a risk to human health and the environment, Attorney General (AG) Martha Coakley announced. The settlement is part of an ongoing effort by the Attorney General’s Office and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to force the cleanup of hazardous sites in accordance with the Commonwealth’s environmental laws.
Under the settlement filed in Suffolk Superior Court, James H. Pollack, Jr., must pay a $38,000 civil penalty to the Commonwealth for ignoring MassDEP’s clean-up order and for violating the Massachusetts Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Act. Pollock is further required to bring his Middleborough property into compliance with MassDEP’s regulations, known as the Massachusetts Contingency Plan (MCP).
“The law requires individuals responsible for the release of oil or hazardous material into the environment to conduct and pay for the cleanup of their contaminated properties in accordance with the Commonwealth’s environmental laws,” AG Coakley said.
“Whenever companies or individuals are found responsible for contamination, and repeatedly try to avoid their obligation to clean up oil and hazardous materials, we will work with the state’s Attorney General, so that the proper cleanup is done, penalties are issued, and taxpayers won’t have to bear the cost of another cleanup,” said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, Kenneth Kimmell.
According to the lawsuit, the Middleborough property was formerly used for manufacturing. The property was the site of an oil spill from an underground tank, resulting in the release of gallons of oil into the environment. Soil and groundwater samples taken from the property confirmed that oil and other hazardous materials had contaminated the site. Following an environmental assessment report, MassDEP confirmed the release of hazardous material on the property and listed the site on the Transition List.
The lawsuit further alleges that despite repeated compliance demands from MassDEP, Pollok ignored orders to clean up the release of oil from his property that contaminated the surrounding soil and groundwater.
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Trivia Question of the Week
EPA set a goal of achieving a 40% national recycling rate by 2011. According to 2010 data, what is the municipal solid waste recycling rate in the US?a. 24.1%