Are You Unknowingly Drinking Contaminated Water?

December 04, 2017

Florida is plagued by a stain of stealth pollution seeping from thousands of leaking petroleum tanks fouling both surface and groundwater, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The resultant risks to human health are aggravated by gaping holes in public notice requirements, as most affected residents do not know they live atop or next to contaminated sites.

Today, Florida has more than 19,000 contaminated sites registered in the state-funded cleanup programs – half of which (9,971) are still being cleaned up, or are awaiting cleanup. In addition, private parties are responsible for financing cleanups of another 12,000 contaminated sites– 2,657 of which are in cleanup or awaiting cleanup. Altogether, the state still has in excess of 12,000 active contamination sites.

The problem’s magnitude is underlined by the fact that more than half of Florida’s total estimated 44,000 underground and aboveground storage tanks have leaked their remaining petroleum products into the ground. These leaks taint surrounding groundwater and surface waters, as well as soils in the vicinity.

Yet, public awareness of the proximity of these thousands of contaminated sites is limited because –

  • State law requires that notice be given only to residents who own, or live on property known to be contaminated and there is no requirement notice be given to other persons, e.g. other persons who may live on contaminated property. Instead, it is up to property owners and/or landlords to decide whether to provide this notice;
  • Unless site rehabilitation efforts expand to include neighboring property, residents who live on, or own, property that is adjacent to such property receive no notice of the contamination, even if they have a drinking water well that may cause the underground contamination plume to migrate to that well due to its use; and
  • Cleanup of contaminated petroleum sites in Florida can occur without any notice to the public, other than property owners whose property is directly affected by the contamination.
  • “The location of these sites is not always obvious to the unsuspecting passerby,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) enforcement attorney.

 

“Since many of the sites were contaminated decades ago and have since been abandoned, it is sometimes difficult to detect past contamination, no matter how severe, just by looking at the property.”

Because DEP notice requirements are so limited, people whose water supply comes from a private well have little idea as to whether they could be at risk. A good example is the debacle in Tallevast in Manatee County where residents were not informed for years about dangerous levels of highly carcinogenic volatile organic compounds in their groundwater.

PEER urged DEP to affirmatively reach out to every resident with a drinking water or irrigation well who lives within a quarter to half mile of a contaminated site to advise that they should have their water tested.

Wilmington, DE RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Wilmington, DE, on December 5–7 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Raleigh RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Raleigh, NC, on January 8-10 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Anaheim RCRA and DOT Training

Register for California Hazardous Waste Management and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Anaheim, CA, on January 9-11 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

New Pennsylvania Methane-related Permits 

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has released details of two draft final general permits (GP) that address methane emissions and other air pollutants from unconventional well sites and from midstream and natural gas transmission facilities.  

“These permits are the first in the nation to establish a threshold to control methane emissions at unconventional well sites and midstream and natural gas transmission facilities,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “These permits are one part of fulfilling Governor Wolf’s methane reduction strategy, which aims to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change, affect human health, and waste Pennsylvania’s valuable natural resources.”

The updated GP-5 is applicable to midstream and natural gas transmission facilities, and GP-5A is for unconventional well sites and pigging stations. Both general permits incorporate the most current state and federal requirements.

“These permits will implement common-sense measures to reduce emissions of methane and other air pollutants from natural gas infrastructure, and they require regular leak detection and repair for unconventional gas operations,” said McDonnell. 

DEP proposed GP-5 and GP-5A in early 2017 and received more than 10,000 comments on the proposed general permits. The draft final GPs will be presented to the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee (AQTAC) on December 14, 2017 and will be finalized in the first quarter of 2018. 

Renewable Fuel and Biomass Diesel Standards Finalized 

The EPA finalized a rule that establishes the required renewable fuel volumes under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) program for 2018, and biomass-based diesel for 2019.

"Maintaining the renewable fuel standard at current levels ensures stability in the marketplace and follows through with my commitment to meet the statutory deadlines and lead the Agency by upholding the rule of law," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set the RFS volume requirements annually and to finalize the standards by November 30th for the following year. The final standards for 2018, and for biomass-based diesel for 2019, are only slightly changed from the proposed standards that EPA issued earlier this year. 

Final Volume Requirements

                                                               2018         2019

Cellulosic biofuel (million gallons)              288           n/a

Biomass-based diesel (billion gallons)        2.1            2.1

Advanced biofuel (billion gallons)              4.29          n/a

Renewable fuel (billion gallons)                 19.29         n/a

 

The RFS program was created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and expanded by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. EPA implements the program in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. The RFS program is a national policy that requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace or reduce the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel, heating oil or jet fuel.

EPA Settlement with Wal-Mart and GSA Over Diesel Rule in CA

EPA announced recent settlements with Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, and the General Services Administration (GSA) that require upgraded diesel particulate filters on their truck fleets to resolve alleged violations of California’s Truck and Bus Regulation. Wal-Mart will also fund an environmental project to reduce air pollution at schools in the Los Angeles area. 

“EPA will continue to ensure that all trucking fleets operating in California comply with the state’s air pollution rules,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Working with our state and local partners, EPA will help achieve cleaner air throughout California.”

“California Air Resources Board rules are designed to protect public health by ensuring all Californians breathe clean air,” said Todd Sax, head of CARB’s Enforcement Division. “We appreciate our partners at U.S. EPA who are helping to achieve federal air quality standards throughout the State."

Wal-Mart will pay $300,000 for the installation of air filtration systems at one or more schools near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. These systems will reduce exposure to ultrafine particulate matter, black carbon, and fine particulate matter emitted from vehicles operating on highways near the school sites. The filters are expected to be installed in schools in early 2018. The South Coast Air Quality Management District will work with contractors to verify the performance of the systems and training of school staff to ensure their proper operation. The project includes several years’ worth of replacement filters, depending on how many schools are selected. The filters are expected to remove more than 90% of ultra-fine particulate matter and black carbon, based on independent testing.

“The funds from this settlement will go to schools that are hardest hit by air pollution from diesel engines due to their proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” said Wayne Nastri, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “This is yet another effort by SCAQMD and its partners to protect the health and safety of children and families who face the direct impacts of harmful emissions from mobile sources in the Southland.”

Children’s exposure to traffic-related air pollution while at school is a concern because many schools across the country are located near heavily traveled roadways and children are particularly vulnerable to air traffic pollution. Studies have shown that improved indoor air quality in classrooms increases productivity and improves attendance and performance in both adults and students.

Diesel emissions from trucks are one of the state’s largest sources of fine particle pollution, or soot, which has been linked to a variety of illnesses, including asthma, impaired lung development in children, and cardiovascular problems in adults. About 625,000 trucks are registered outside of California, but operate in the state and are subject to the rule. Many of these vehicles are older models which emit large amounts of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The rule, which requires diesel trucks and buses operating in California to be upgraded to reduce diesel emissions, is an essential part of the state’s plan to attain cleaner air.

Wal-Mart Transportation, LLC, a subsidiary of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., supports 14 distribution centers and 304 retail units in California. Between 2012 and 2014, the company failed to upgrade 19 of its heavy-duty trucks with required diesel particulate filters and failed to verify that carriers it hired to transport goods in California complied with the Truck and Bus Regulation. Wal-Mart has paid a $100,000 penalty and taken steps to ensure future compliance.

GSA is a federal agency that owns and maintains diesel-fueled vehicles driven in California. Between 2012 and 2017, GSA failed to upgrade more than 200 of its heavy-duty trucks with required diesel particulate filters or 2010 engines. GSA has paid a $485,000 penalty and taken steps to ensure future compliance.

The California Truck and Bus Regulation was adopted into federal Clean Air Act plan requirements in 2012 and applies to diesel trucks and buses operating in California. The rule requires trucking companies to upgrade vehicles they own to meet specific NOx and particulate matter performance standards and also requires trucking companies to verify compliance of vehicles they hire or dispatch. Heavy-duty diesel trucks in California must meet 2010 engine emissions levels or use diesel particulate filters that can reduce the emissions of diesel particulates into the atmosphere by 85% or more.

Southern California Natural Gas Pipeline Outage Concerns  

State and local agencies released an assessment of the energy reliability for Southern California this winter and expressed concern about the ability of the local utility to meet customer demand and calling for conservation.

The energy agencies’ risk assessment found the region faces new challenges and greater uncertainty than a year ago because of three natural gas transmission pipelines that the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) relies on to serve customers are out of operation. One pipeline ruptured in October and simultaneously damaged a second nearby line.

The California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, California Independent System Operator, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) completed the assessment. This is the fourth assessment since the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility had one of the nation’s worst gas leaks in 2015. In July 2017, the state determined the facility was safe to operate and could reopen at a greatly reduced capacity in order to protect public safety.

“Southern Californians have played a role in timely reducing energy use in past peak demand seasons,” said Energy Commission Chair Robert Weisenmiller during a teleconference with reporters. “Southern Californians will be called upon again to turn down thermostats and conserve both electricity and natural gas at a rate greater than a year ago.”

President Michael Picker of the California Public Utilities Commission added, “While implementing several mitigation measures, including using gas at the Aliso Canyon storage field, it remains unclear that such actions will be sufficient to avoid gas service curtailments to noncore customers in Southern California if there is a colder than normal winter this year.”

Noncore customers are large commercial customers, some of which burn natural gas to produce electricity. Core customers are the owners of residential homes and small businesses.

To ensure public safety and reduce the threat of climate change from burning fossil fuels, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. has asked the Energy Commission to plan for the permanent closure of the Aliso Canyon facility. The Energy Commission has recommended to the CPUC that the facility be closed within the next 10 years.

The energy agencies have implemented dozens of mitigation measures to reduce risk. Additional mitigation measures are under consideration, including greater outreach to encourage gas conservation by core customers and expanding programs that use smart thermostats for demand response. Earlier this month, the CPUC asked SoCalGas to develop a program to begin in December to allow dispatching the thousands of smart thermostats that are already in place in the SoCalGas service area.

Other actions under consideration include an emergency moratorium on new natural gas service connections in the areas of Los Angeles County that the Aliso Canyon storage field serves. Another proposed measure would direct electricity generators to more frequently shift generation to facilities located outside the SoCalGas system to reduce gas use in December. This could allow SoCalGas to preserve storage inventories deeper into the winter. This is possible because LADWP has delayed electrical transmission work that provides access to power sources outside the region. Another proposal calls for slightly increasing the volume of gas that can be stored at Aliso Canyon in order to maintain energy reliability in the region. Of the three natural gas transmission pipelines out of operation, SoCalGas estimates one will return to service December 31, 2017.

Energy leaders said the situation this winter will require constant monitoring and communication. The Energy Commission and CPUC have been watching natural gas prices carefully for price spikes. Staff at both agencies is monitoring daily operations, including storage inventories and receipt point deliveries, and conferring with SoCalGas frequently. The California Office of Emergency Services and the state Legislature have been briefed. Updates to the public, including requests for additional conservation on high demand days, will be made as needed.

Travel Centers of America to Pay $500,000 for Violating Consent Judgment in Underground Storage Tank Case 

Travel Centers of America and its affiliates (TA) ha ve agreed to pay a $ 500,000 penalty for breaking the terms of a consent judgment related to violations of the underground storage tank (UST) regulations.

The judgment, issued in February 2014 in Merced County Superior Court

, resolved violations alleged by the State Water Resources Control Board against TA that began in 200 5 . The alleged violations, which took place at six UST facilities in K ern and Merced counties, included fai lure to perform required testing and monitoring, and not instal l ing leak prevention equipment . The facilities included service stations and truck stops.

Under the terms of the 2014 judgment, TA paid $1 million in civil penalties and $ 800,000 to the State Water Board for its enforcement costs. TA received $2 million in credit for environmental improvements that enhance d compliance at its facilities, and a n additional $ 1 million in penalties was to be suspended if TA stayed in compliance with the requirements of the judgment for five years.

“Failure to comply with the UST leak prevention laws and regulations poses a substantial risk to the groundwater resources in California,” said Cris Carrigan, director of the State Water Board’s Office of Enforcement. “UST owners and operators need to be mindful that the Legislature has mandated significant penalties for UST owners and operators who don’t comply with leak prevention requirements.”

Between March 201 5 and May 2017, the State Water Board reviewed annual status reports submitted by TA under the 2014 judgment. During its review the Board identified seven violations that allowed the suspended penalties to be reinstated.  The alleged violations included failure to timely re pair secondary containment after testing failures, failure to have an approved overfill prevention system, failure to timely perform an enhanced leak detection test and failure to have a line leak detector on a pressurized product line .

The State Water Board reached a settlement agreement with TA regarding the alleged violations. TA will pay $500,000 of the $1 million in penalties to the Cleanup and Abatement Account, with the remaining $500,000 suspended if TA does not violate any UST laws or the terms of the settlement for the rest of the original five year period.

Removal of Asbestos-Contaminated Debris at Fire-Damaged Properties Underway

As part of the multi-agency response to the recent fires in Northern California, the EPA has started work to remove asbestos-contaminated debris at fire-damaged properties in Lake and Mendocino counties. This work follows the completion of household hazardous waste (HHW) collection and disposal conducted by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently requested EPA conduct this work. EPA teams have started work in the area this week, developing a plan for removal operations and beginning bulk asbestos debris collection. Asbestos removal can take anywhere from several hours to a few days depending on the size of the property.

Following a natural disaster, homeowners may need to quickly conduct emergency renovations or demolition of their homes. Many homes, particularly older ones, may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen. Asbestos that has been disturbed may pose a health hazard to homeowners and to workers aiding with disaster recovery.

EPA is also continuing asbestos removal at fire-impacted parcels Napa and Sonoma counties, where household hazardous waste collection is nearly complete.

Washing Systems LLC Recognized for Environmental Stewardship

Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler awarded Washing Systems LLC with Ohio EPA’s highest environmental stewardship honor in a flag-raising event highlighting the company’s focus on making its products more efficient and environmentally sustainable for its laundry processing industry customers in North America and Europe.

The company is one of the first two organizations in Ohio to achieve platinum-level recognition in Ohio EPA’s Encouraging Environmental Excellence (E3) program.

“Washing Systems has made a commitment to be environmentally sustainable and, through their research and development efforts, deliver innovative products that clean better, more efficiently and without chemicals that have harmful effects on human health and the environment,” Director Butler said. “The company’s environmental leadership and its success are measurable and important. I am proud to recognize this outstanding Ohio business as one of the first to achieve the Platinum Level E3 award.”

Washing Systems focuses on formulating products that reduce or eliminate chemicals of concern, reduce water and energy use and provide better process control systems to monitor and regulate laundry chemistry, energy and water use.

For example, in 2015, Washing Systems launched an innovative technology process called Clear Path that produces accelerated cleaning results with less energy and water. Clear Path is nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) and phosphate free. The company estimates the product reduces customers’ water use by 19% and gas use by 17%.

The NPE-free detergents have prevented more than 21.6 million lb of NPE from being discharged into the environment where it is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. Removing phosphorus has prevented about 1.5 million lb per year in discharges to water where they contribute to harmful algal blooms. The company also has removed butyl cellosolve from its new detergents, reducing the release of this chemical of concern by about 1.3 million lb per year.

Washing Systems also carries EPA’s Safer Choice label on five of its products and the company participates in several industry organizations focused in environmental stewardship and protecting water quality.

Penske Logistics Awarded EPA’s SmartWay Sustainability Award

EPA's SmartWay program has named Penske Logistics a 2017 Excellence Award winner. Penske is among the program's top 1 to 2% of partners that display environmental best practices.

"Since 2004, the EPA and the business community have collaborated through the SmartWay Partnership to reduce the economic and environmental costs of goods movement, a vital sector of our national economy," said Christopher Grundler, Director of the EPA's Office of Transportation & Air Quality.

"Penske Logistics equips its more than 3,500 late model vehicles with the newest technology and continuously monitors performance," explained Senior Vice President of Fuels and Facility Services, Penske Truck Leasing, Drew Cullen. "These investments are certainly an enabler in being recognized by the EPA."

Penske Logistics is among the companies that have aided the SmartWay program, dating back to 2004, to avoid emitting in excess of 94 million metric tons of air pollutants and saving more than 197 million barrels of oil and $27.8 billion in fuel costs.

"Our company is honored to be recognized as an Excellence Award winner by the EPA SmartWay program," stated Penske Logistics President Marc Althen. "It serves as a continued validation of our efforts to be responsible environmental stewards in our daily operations."

Penske Truck Leasing is a transportation industry leader in the areas of spec'ing, operating and maintaining fleets of traditionally-fueled vehicles as well as alternative-fueled vehicles that includes natural gas, propane, electric and diesel-electric hybrids. There are over 550 vehicles in the company's alternative fuel fleet. In over 26 years, Penske has safely operated and maintained natural gas vehicles in excess of 80 million miles.

Penske Truck Leasing is an affiliate partner in the EPA SmartWay program and Penske Logistics is a partner in the trucking carrier and logistics categories. Penske Truck Leasing is also an affiliate partner in the Canada SmartWay Transport Partnership, which is administered by Natural Resources Canada.

Penske Logistics is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Penske Truck Leasing. With operations in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, Penske Logistics provides supply chain management and logistics services to leading companies around the world. Penske Logistics delivers value through its design, planning and execution in transportation, warehousing and freight management. To learn more visit www.penskelogistics.com.

Breakthrough Process for Directly Converting Methane to Methanol 

The direct oxidation of methane—found in natural gas—into methanol at low temperatures has long been a holy grail. Now, researchers at Tufts have found a breakthrough way to accomplish the feat using a heterogeneous catalyst and cheap molecular oxygen, according to a paper published today in the journal Nature by a team led by Tufts University chemical engineers.

Methanol is a key feedstock for the production of chemicals, some of which are used to make products such as plastics, plywood and paints. Methanol also can fuel vehicles or be reformed to produce high-grade hydrogen for fuel cells.

However, the current method for producing methanol from methane- or coal-derived synthesis gas involves a multi-step process that is neither efficient nor economical in small-scale applications. As a result, methane emissions from oil wells, accounting for 210 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually, are being vented and flared, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Meanwhile, the growth of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the subsequent use of shale gas, the chief component of which is methane, have dramatically increased the natural gas supply in the United States, and accelerated the desire to upgrade methane into more valuable chemicals, such as through oxidation to methanol or carbonylation to acetic acid.

As a result, scientists have been seeking more efficient and less expensive ways to convert methane with a process that uses inexpensive molecular oxygen in mild conditions in which relatively low temperatures and pressures are used. The potential benefit is significant. In 2000, the availability of cheap shale gas represented just 1% of American natural gas supplies, while today it represents more than 60%.

The Tufts-led researchers found that they could use molecular oxygen and carbon monoxide for the direct conversion of methane to methanol catalyzed by supported mononuclear rhodium dicarbonyl species, anchored on the internal pore walls of zeolites or on the surface of titanium dioxide supports that were suspended in water under mild pressure (20 to 30 bar) and temperature (110 to 150° C).

The same catalyst also produces acetic acid through a different reaction scheme that does not involve methanol as an intermediate. Carbon monoxide is essential to the catalytic reaction, which is heterogeneous. Tuning the reaction to either methanol or acetic acid is possible by properly controlling the operating conditions, especially the acidity of the support. Even after many hours of reaction, there is no leaching of the catalyst in the water, the study found.

The paper’s senior author, Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, Ph.D., a Distinguished Professor and the Robert and Marcy Haber Endowed Professor in Energy Sustainability in the School of Engineering at Tufts University, said the researchers were very surprised to find that carbon monoxide was necessary in the gas mixture to produce methanol.

“We attributed this to retaining the active site carbonylation”, Flytzani-Stephanopoulos said. “Interestingly, our catalyst does not carbonylate methanol. Instead, it carbonylates methane directly to acetic acid, which is a most exciting finding.”

“Although more study is needed, we are encouraged that this process holds promise for further development. Not only could it be effective in producing methanol and acetic acid directly from methane, it also could do so in a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly way than current processes,” she added.

Postdoctoral fellow JunJun Shan and doctoral student Mengwei Li, who are both first authors of the paper, prepared supported Rh catalysts through relatively simple synthesis procedures. The main focus was to atomically disperse the rhodium species, which was achieved by a special heat treatment protocol on the zeolite support and by anchoring rhodium precursor species on reduced titania assisted by UV-irradiation.  The atomic rhodium state is necessary for the reaction to occur, said Shan.

Lawrence F. Allard, Ph.D., distinguished research staff member at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a co-author of the paper, said aberration-corrected electron microscopy was crucial in supporting the research.

“The ‘direct’ imaging of single atom dispersions coupled with more standard ‘indirect’ chemical and spectroscopic methods has been a powerful combination of capabilities that allow these studies to be so successful,” Allard said.

Flytzani-Stephanopoulos directs the Tufts Nano Catalysis and Energy Laboratory, in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, which investigates new catalyst materials for the production of hydrogen and “green” chemicals. Pioneering work from her lab has demonstrated the use of heterogeneous single metal atom catalysts for reactions of interest to fuel processing, and to commodity and value-added chemicals production, with improved yields and reduced carbon footprint, while using precious metals sustainably and more efficiently. 

In addition to the Tufts researchers from the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Allard from ORNL, another co-author of the paper, Sungsik Lee, Ph.D., staff scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, assisted with X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) work that was used to demonstrate the structural state of the catalysts. 

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)/ARPA-E program. The XAS research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory. Aberration-corrected electron microscopy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was sponsored by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Vehicle Technologies Office’s Propulsion Materials Program.

New and Aged Catalytic Converter Compared at the Nanoscale Level

Diesel vehicles today emit far fewer pollutants than older vehicles, thanks to a zeolite (hydrous silicate) catalytic converter that was invented around 10 years ago to reduce pollutants that cause the formation of acid rain and smog. Although many groups have investigated this catalyst, it remains unclear why a specific zeolite catalyst is much more effective than previous catalysts.

By managing to see inside the zeolite particles in three dimensions at the nanoscale, researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been able to directly image phenomena responsible for their enhanced stability and durability.

After simulating 135,000 miles of engine use, they compared a new and an aged version of the zeolite catalyst, which revealed that this catalyst retains much more of its original structure than other diesel catalyst formulations. The researchers also found the underlying reasons this zeolite catalyst is so much more stable over its lifespan and experiences only minimal damage. The results are published in Nature Communications.

Diesel catalytic converters are exposed to frequent temperature changes, extremely hot steam and pollutants, but they must remain stable for the entire life of the vehicle. The observed stability of this particular catalyst is due in part to its complexity.

“At first glance, zeolites may seem easy to understand, but the more you study them, the more fascinated you become by their complexity,” said Joel Schmidt of Utrecht University, lead author of the publication. “In this material, it is becoming more and more evident that the way its structure isolates the active reaction site is key to its stability, and advanced characterization methods that can help us understand the active catalyst site environment are vital to knowing the subtle, but important details of materials utilized in zeolite catalytic converters.”

Schmidt and his colleagues from Utrecht University connected with Jonathan Poplawsky at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences (CNMS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL, to analyze the three-dimensional elemental distribution within the zeolite catalyst using a unique and powerful tool called local electrode atom probe tomography. With this technique, they could visualize all of the catalysts’ relevant chemical elements with three-dimensional resolution close to the atomic scale, for the as-produced “new” catalyst and after a 135,000-mile simulated aging procedure. 

The researchers found that after aging, the zeolite catalyst exhibits enhanced stability compared with other diesel-vehicle catalysts due primarily to structural and chemical properties that prevent the formation of a deactivating copper-aluminum-oxide phase. Thus, the optimal nanoscale distribution of elements within the zeolite structure—which enables optimal cleaning of combustion byproducts—remains intact during aging. 

“With this unique approach, we were able to add another piece to the puzzle of how to design catalysts that perform just as well at the end of a vehicle’s life as they did the day they rolled out of the factory,” said Bert Weckhuysen, Utrecht professor and co-author of the publication. “Since zeolite catalysts are used broadly in the chemical industry as well, insight on the migration of chemical elements under catalytic operating conditions is a very relevant contribution to realize more sustainable processes.”

Saltwater Disposal Well Operators Sentenced on Multiple Felony Charges in Connection with Operation of Well 

Two saltwater disposal well operators were sentenced in federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota, on felony charges stemming from the operation of a saltwater disposal well near Dickinson, in Stark County, North Dakota, the Justice Department announced. 

Jason A. Halek, 44, of Southlake, Texas, was sentenced to three years supervised release and ordered to pay a fine of $50,000. Halek will also be placed in a halfway house for up to one year as a result of today’s sentencing. Halek previously pleaded guilty, on April 12, 2017, to three counts of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. 

Nathan R. Garber, 48, of Kalispell, Montana, was sentenced to three years supervised release. Garber previously pleaded guilty, on September 26, 2014, to one count of conspiracy to violate the Safe Drinking Water Act and defraud the United States. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act, two counts of making false statements, two counts of falsification of records, and one count of concealment or cover up of a tangible object.

Restitution for both defendants will be addressed at a future hearing. 

“By illegally discharging contaminated wastewater, the defendants threatened the safety of drinking water and public health in North Dakota,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding accountable those who break laws that protect clean water and that ensure natural resources are developed in a safe and responsible manner.” 

“This case is a great example of state and federal authorities working shoulder to shoulder to ensure that our precious natural resources in North Dakota and the Citizens of North Dakota are protected,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher C. Myers for the District of North Dakota. “Those individuals who seek to exploit and damage our natural resources to increase their own personal wealth will be held accountable.”

The saltwater disposal well, named the Halek 5-22, received brine and other wastes commonly referred to as “saltwater” from oil and gas operations. In the oil and gas context, “saltwater” covers a wide array of drilling waste fluids, including waste workover, completion, stimulation and pigging fluids, as well as enhanced recovery waters. Underground injection into a saltwater disposal well is prohibited without a permit, which imposes requirements on the well’s operations to help ensure that the saltwater does not impact underground sources of drinking water. 

According to an agreed upon factual statement previously filed in court, Halek admitted to injecting saltwater into the well without first having the state of North Dakota witness a test of the well’s integrity. Such tests protect groundwater by focusing on whether there are any significant leaks or fluid movement in the well. Although the well’s permit required that fluids be injected through the tubing, Halek also admitted to injecting fluids down the “annulus” or “backside” of the well thereby violating the permit. Finally, Halek also admitted to failing to provide written notice to the state of the date of first injection into the well.

According to an agreed upon factual statement previously filed in court, Garber admitted to conspiring with others in a number of coordinated and illegal acts. For instance, Garber injected saltwater into the well without first having the state of North Dakota witness a test of the well’s integrity, causing a regulator to determine that there was no assurance as to the integrity of the well and that “the fluid could be going anywhere.” Garber also violated a February 2012 order from the state to stop injecting until a well integrity test was done. When questioned by the state about these injections, Garber made false statements by denying that these injections occurred. After the well failed a pressure test in February 2012 Garber continued to inject saltwater even though he knew that the well did not have integrity and thus posed an increased risk of contaminating groundwater.  

Further, Garber moved a device called a “packer” up the wellbore in violation of the well’s permit, without first getting approval from the state. A properly placed packer is an essential device to maintaining integrity of the well and ensuring wastewater does not escape into surrounding soil and groundwater. Garber then gave false information to a state inspector regarding the depth of the packer. Despite illegally moving the packer, Garber continued to inject saltwater into the well until about March 2012, when a state employee shut the well in.

The case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division. Significant cooperation was provided by the State of North Dakota and the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC). The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of North Dakota and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. 

Greentree Landfill Fined $600,000 for Waste Slope Failure and Other Violations 

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that Advanced Disposal Services Greentree Landfill, LLC (Advanced Disposal) has agreed to a $600,000 civil penalty in a Consent Order and Agreement addressing a waste slope failure that resulted in the death of its employee at the Greentree Landfill in Kersey, Elk County. 

On February 8, 2017, a slope failure occurred at the Greentree Landfill causing an estimated 15.5 acres of solid waste to shift and an estimated five acres of solid waste to slide off the lined disposal area. A landfill employee was trapped in the slide and died.  

In addition to paying $600,000 for violations of the Solid Waste Management Act occurring before and after the slide, Advanced Disposal is required to submit a written “Root Cause” Report to the DEP on or before December 31, 2017, detailing Advanced Disposal’s investigation and conclusion regarding the cause of the slope failure. Advanced Disposal has also agreed to operational changes that will improve safety, including:

  •  Limit municipal sewage sludge and approved non-hazardous waste with flowable characteristics to 10% of the monthly scaled tonnage with a maximum of 15% of the total scaled tonnage on any one day until the slide has been remediated 
  • Limit municipal sewage sludge and approved non-hazardous waste with flowable characteristics to 15% of the monthly scaled tonnage with a maximum of 20% of the total scaled tonnage on any one day for three years after the slide has been remediated 
  • Remove and dispose of all the waste outside the lined area of the landfill by March 31, 2018, according to a plan approved by the Department
  • Improve its Odor Control Plan
  • Employ an individual or individuals to serve as the primary engineering and environmental compliance contact for the landfill

 

The Agreement provideed additional stipulated penalties if Advanced Disposal fails to comply with its obligations in a timely manner.

Environmental News Links

State Implementation of Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

Metal Binding Polymer Continues to Surprise

Score One for Corn: In Battle Over Biofuel, a Rare Setback for Big Oil

NGOs Criticize EPA Plan for SNURs in New Chemical Decisions

Familiar Battle Lines Drawn on First Day of EPA’s Single Hearing on Clean Power Plan Repeal

Many Florida Residents Drink Contaminated Water

Holiday Lights

EPA Shows Inclination to Side with Industry on Coal Ash

Senate Votes to Approve Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

NOAA: it's the Third Warmest Year to Date

Time to Bring an End to the Dirtiest Word of them All: Pollution

Reduce Waste Generated During the Holidays

Ignoring Rules can Send Recycling to Landfills

Pollution-Choked India Buying Dirty Us Oil Byproduct

Frying Food can Have a Direct Effect on the Weather 

Trivia Question: 

How much more food than usual is thrown away in the US during the holidays?

a. 3%

b. 10%

c. 33%

d. 50%

 

Answer: c