EPA to Revise Particulate Matter Standard
In response to a court order, the EPA has proposed updates to its national air quality standards for harmful fine particulate matter, including soot (known as PM2.5). These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. A federal court ruling required EPA to update the standard based on best available science. This proposal, which meets that requirement, builds on smart steps already taken by the EPA to slash dangerous pollution in communities across the country. Thanks to these steps, 99% of US counties are projected to meet the proposed standard without any additional action.
EPA’s proposal would strengthen the annual health standard for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5) to a level within a range of 13 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The current annual standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter. The proposed changes, which are consistent with the advice from the agency’s independent science advisors, are based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies—including many large studies which show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood. By proposing a range, the agency will collect input from the public as well as a number of stakeholders, including industry, and public health groups, to help determine the most appropriate final standard to protect public health. It is important to note that the proposal has zero effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM10), both of which would remain unchanged.
Thanks to recent Clean Air Act (CAA) rules that have and will dramatically cut pollution, 99% of US counties are projected to meet the proposed standards without undertaking any further actions to reduce emissions.
Meanwhile, because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, these standards have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs. Depending on the final level of the standard, estimated benefits will range from $88 million a year, with estimated costs of implementation as low as $2.9 million, to $5.9 billion in annual benefits with a cost of $69 million—a return ranging from $30 to $86 for every dollar invested in pollution control. While EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the CAA, those costs are estimated as part of the careful analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.
The CAA requires EPA to review its standards for particle pollution every five years to determine whether the standards should be revised. The law requires the agency to ensure the standards are requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety and requisite to protect the public welfare. A federal court ordered EPA sign the proposed particle pollution standards by June 14, 2012, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards.
EPA will accept public comment for 63 days after the proposed standards are published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold two public hearings; one in Sacramento, California, and one in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Details on the hearings will be announced shortly. EPA will issue the final standards by December 14, 2012.
Dayton RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in Dayton, Ohio, from July 10–12 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
Raleigh RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in Raleigh, North Carolina, from July 16–18 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
Macon RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in Macon, Georgia, from July 24–26 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:
- June 26
- July 18
- August 15
- October 2
Measuring the Other Greenhouse Gases: New Method for Evaluating Short-Lived Pollutants
New research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that levels of methane—a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted from many man-made sources, such as coal mines, landfills, and livestock ranches—are at least one-and-a-half times higher in California than previously estimated.
Working with scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Berkeley Lab scientists Marc L. Fischer and Seongeun Jeong combined highly accurate methane measurements from a tower with model predictions of expected methane signals to revise estimated methane emissions from central California. They found that annually averaged methane emissions in California were 1.5 to 1.8 times greater than previous estimates, depending on the spatial distribution of the methane emissions.
At those levels, methane would account for 9% of California’s GHG emissions, compared to the current estimate of 6%. Their findings were published in a paper titled Seasonal variation of CH4 emissions from Central California in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Both the research findings as well as the methodology will have important implications for policymakers as the state strives to reduce its emissions. Under a law known as AB 32 California has a mandate to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. However, until now there has not been a good method of estimating methane emissions.
“Direct GHG emission measurements will be crucial to a sound energy and environment policy,” Fischer said. “This paper lays out a scientific method for evaluating future reductions in emissions that could be used to evaluate the success of mitigation activities at a large scale.”
Methane is a relatively potent but short-lived GHG (with a 10-year atmospheric lifetime), which traps about 70 times more heat than carbon dioxide per unit mass when averaged over a 20-year timescale. In contrast, carbon dioxide, the most abundant GHG, stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years. Black carbon (soot) is the other major short-lived climate pollutant.
Together, the short-lived climate pollutants account for about one-third of current global warming, with methane accounting for about 13%. Attention has increasingly turned to these short-lived pollutants recently since actions to reduce their emissions will yield a faster climate response than reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In February the US launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, which the G8 has just agreed to join. And last month the California Air Resources Board held a hearing on these pollutants, at which Fischer made a presentation.
Fischer and Jeong’s study started with measurements taken in 2008 from a 2,000-foot tower in Walnut Grove, California, 30 miles south of Sacramento. “The instruments on the tower measure the complete suite of GHGs, ranging from CO2—including just the fossil fuel fraction of the CO2—to methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbon gases, or refrigerants,” said Fischer.
Measurements were taken hourly and then compared with a transport model of large-scale airflows over the earth with a high spatial and temporal resolution. This allowed the scientists to essentially track where the air came from; they used NOAA measurements of the background methane to estimate the methane concentrations entering California.
As part of the study, errors associated with the wind model were quantified by comparing predicted values to actual values; those errors were then run through the entire model to quantify any errors in the emissions estimate. “We do a very careful analysis of the uncertainties associated with both the modeling system and the measurements, so we can say fairly accurately how certain the results are,” Jeong said.
Since Fischer and Jeong did the analysis for this paper, they have begun a new collaboration with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to include data from five additional towers throughout California’s Central Valley set up by CARB. Further analysis on the additional data supported their initial results. “We are fairly confident that our measurements in the Central Valley capture about 90% of California’s emissions,” Fischer said.
Methane does have natural sources of emission, such as wetlands and the decomposition of organic matter. The current study does not have a way of separating natural sources from anthropogenic ones, but that is next on the research agenda. “We believe the majority of emissions from California are anthropogenic,” Fischer said. “We’ve lumped them together for the time being, but we’re starting a new project for the state of California which will use measurements of additional trace gases to attribute methane emissions to different sources.”
UL Environment Begins Validating Companies’ Claims of Landfill Waste Diversion
UL Environment, a business unit of UL, has announced a series of new environmental claim validation service offerings designed to help companies communicate and promote their efforts to reduce landfill waste. UL Environment’s Zero Waste to Landfill, Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill, and Landfill Waste Diversion claim validations recognize companies that handle waste in innovative and environmentally responsible ways. Companies that achieve a landfill diversion rate of 100% qualify for the Zero Waste to Landfill validation. Companies that achieve a diversion rate of 98% or greater qualify for the Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill validation. Those that achieve a diversion rate of 80% or greater qualify for a Landfill Waste Diversion validation.
“With more businesses undertaking waste reduction initiatives, there is a growing need for meaningful, third-party validation of landfill waste diversion claims. UL Environment is excited to introduce this claim validation service to companies that want to quantify and qualify their efforts,” says Sara Greenstein, president of UL Environment. “Additionally, the trusted UL Environmental Claim Validation mark, which companies may feature in their marketing materials, helps companies communicate and promote their facilities’ waste reduction accomplishments clearly and confidently.”
UL Environment’s landfill waste diversion criteria include a variety of methods that companies may use to minimize the amount of waste they send to landfills, from energy creation through waste incineration to reuse, recycling, and composting. To earn a Zero Waste to Landfill claim validation mark, a Virtually Zero Waste to Landfill claim validation mark, or a Landfill Waste Diversion claim validation mark, companies must undergo an extensive, two-part, UL-led audit, which includes document evaluation and onsite visits. Each claim validation mark clearly indicates the facility’s specific rate of landfill diversion. Facilities whose landfill waste diversion claims have been validated by UL Environment are audited annually and featured in UL Environment’s Sustainable Products Database.
Seafood Processors Settle CAA Violations for Improper Import and Handling of Ozone-Depleting Refrigerants
American Seafoods Company LLC, and Pacific Longline Company LLC, have agreed to phase out the use of ozone depleting refrigerants, implement a comprehensive leak detection and repair program aboard a number of their vessels, and pay a penalty to resolve federal CAA violations.
The settlement, outlined in a consent decree lodged by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of the EPA, concerns the improper release and illegal import of ozone depleting refrigerants. The consent decree was lodged at the US District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle.
Stratospheric ozone depletion can cause increased ultraviolet radiation to reach the Earth and has been linked to skin cancer, cataracts, and impaired immune systems. It can also damage crops and reduce crop yields. Some scientists suggest that marine phytoplankton, the base of the ocean food chain, may be under stress from ultraviolet radiation.
American Seafoods Company is one of the country’s largest seafood harvesters and at-sea processors of pollock, hake, cod, scallops, and yellowfin sole. The company sells its products in the US, Asia, and Europe. American Seafoods Company and Pacific Longline Company are based in Seattle.
Between 2006 and 2009, American Seafoods Company and Pacific Longline Company used R-22 as a refrigerant in industrial refrigeration units aboard seafood catcher-processor vessels. American Seafoods illegally imported 70,000 kg of R-22 refrigerant to the US without holding valid allowances. The US limits the amount of R-22 that companies are permitted to import through the use of set allowances.
The consent decree also resolves violations relating to their use of ozone-depleting substances:
Failure to repair refrigerant leaks in a timely manner
Failure to verify adequacy of repairs to refrigeration system
Inadequate records of repair service on refrigerant system
Use of uncertified employees to perform refrigerant-related work
R-22 is among a set of refrigerants being phased out of use due its to high ozone depletion potential under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
In addition to a $700,000 penalty, the companies will spend an estimated $9 million to $15 million to convert refrigeration systems on several vessels to operate using non-ozone depleting refrigerants. The companies have also purchased and retired R-22 allowances to offset the harm caused by their illegal importation. American Seafoods Company and Pacific Longline Company are subsidiaries of American Seafoods Group.
Virginia Town Settles Alleged Environmental Violations at Water Treatment Facility
The town of Culpeper, Virginia will pay a $27,420 penalty and make more than $100,000 in upgrades at its water treatment facility to settle alleged environmental violations at the town’s water treatment facilities, the EPA announced.
According to a consent agreement with EPA, the town did not immediately notify the EPA’s National Response Center as required following an incident in May 2008 when about 106lb of chlorine were released into the atmosphere from Culpeper’s Water Pollution Control Facility. In addition, the town did not notify the state and did not provide the state or local emergency planning committee with written follow-up reports about the incident.
This case involved two federal laws designed to ensure prompt notification and emergency response to hazardous chemical releases. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), facilities must immediately report significant releases of hazardous substances to the National Response Center, the national point of contact for reporting oil and hazardous chemical spills. The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) mandates that facilities notify state and local emergency officials of hazardous releases, and provide follow-up reports explaining the responses to the releases and any public health effects resulting from the release.
EPA also identified other environmental violations during a risk management program inspection at the town’s water treatment facility including failure to develop a management system to oversee a risk management program, failure to implement safe work practices to maintain equipment, and failure to conduct compliance audits.
In addition to a $27,420 penalty, the town has committed to complete a supplemental environmental project at an estimated cost of $100,000. This project will eliminate the risk of future chlorine releases by upgrading the town’s water treatment plant to use sodium hypochlorite instead of chlorine. Chlorine released is a respiratory irritant and can lead to temporary skin irritations and breathing problems to people exposed to the release. In larger concentrations, chlorine can be toxic.
Environmental News Links
Court Holds Vapor Intrusion is Imminent and Substantial Endangerment
Court Rejects Attempt to Expand RCRA to Diesel Exhaust
EPA Announces Chemicals to be Reviewed
Climate Change Will Boost Wildfires Across North America and Europe, Scientists Report
WHO: Diesel Fumes Cause Cancer
As the Earth Warms, Forest Floors Add GHGs to the Air
Rio+20 Earth Summit: Walkout at Green Economy Talks
A State-by-State Climate Map
Dirty 30 Want EPA Air Pollution Rule Repealed
EPA Offers Flexibility for Cities on Sewer Overflows
Court: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Must Assess Spent Fuel Storage Dangers
Legislators Urge American Chemistry Council to Expel Flame-Retardant Firms
Scientists: GHGs Largely to Blame for Warming Oceans
Frack Sand Mining Boom: Silica Dust, Air Quality, and Human Health
China RoHS, EPA Solid Waste Regulations Move Forward
Trivia Question of the Week
According to the American Petroleum Institute, how many gallons of recycled used oil does it take to generate enough electricity to run the average family home for 24 hours?a. 1 gallon
b. 2 gallons
c. 3 gallons
d. 4 gallons