U.S. COURT UPHOLDS EPA DRINKING WATER STANDARDSThe D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA's rule setting limits on the permissible level of radionuclides in drinking water. The regulation retains the existing standards for the radionuclides radium-226, radium-228, and certain beta/photon emitters, and establishes standards for uranium for the first time.
The court rejected all arguments raised by the petitioners (two trade associations and several municipal water systems), including claims that the drinking water standards set by EPA were not based upon the best available science. The court also rejected claims that EPA failed to perform required cost-benefit analyses for the drinking water standards and failed to adequately respond to comments submitted during the rulemaking process.
The rule requires that public water systems continue to treat drinking water to meet longstanding standards for radium-226, radium-228, and certain beta/photon emitters, and establishes a standard for uranium for the first time. The standards are established to protect the public from the potential adverse health effects of radionuclides. Radionuclides emit "ionizing radiation," a known human carcinogen, as they decay. Long-term exposure to radionuclides in drinking water may cause cancer.
In addition to the standards themselves, the rule sets forth monitoring, reporting, and public notification requirements for radionuclides. EPA estimates that the rule will provide improved health protection for 420,000 persons through monitoring improvements for the combined radium-226/-228 standard (a carcinogen) and for an additional 620,000 persons through the new standard for uranium (a kidney toxin and carcinogen) in drinking water. The rule will be effective December 8, 2003.
The decision is captioned City of Waukesha v. EPA, and the court's opinion is available at: http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200302/01-1028a.pdf.
U.S. & VIRGINIA REACH $3.8 MILLION SETTLEMENT WITH TRUCKING FIRM FOR DAMAGING CHEMICAL SPILLThe United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia have reached a $3.8 million settlement with Certus Inc., an interstate trucking company, to recover natural resource damages and assessment costs arising from a chemical spill from an overturned tanker truck.
The spill occurred on August 27, 1998 in Tazewell County, Virginia and released more than 1,300 gallons of a toxic, liquid chemical product used in carpet manufacturing. The spill severely damaged the aquatic habitat along a six-mile stretch of the Clinch River in southwestern Virginia and destroyed populations of three endangered species of freshwater mussels, as well as causing major injuries to fish, other aquatic life and other natural resources.
The settlement was reached by the Justice Department on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Virginia Office of the Attorney General on behalf of the Virginia Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality. The settlement is contained in a consent decree lodged with the United States District Court in Abingdon, Virginia.
Certus has agreed to pay $3.7 million for the restoration of native, freshwater mussels injured by the spill and over $90,000 to reimburse all remaining unpaid costs incurred in assessing the injuries caused by the spill. The recovered funds will finance a multi-year program to breed juvenile mussels in a laboratory setting for re-introduction into the impacted reaches of the Clinch River to re-establish stable mussel populations in the affected areas of the river.
"This settlement will enable us to restore critically important populations of endangered freshwater mussels and other natural resources injured by this unfortunate incident," said Tom Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased to have worked productively with both federal and state natural resource trustees to achieve this result."
The chemical spill from the tanker truck, which was being operated by an employee of Certus, impacted a stretch of the Clinch River that was home to a diverse riverine ecosystem. In particular, the impacted area provided excellent habitat for mussels and, prior to the spill, was home to significant populations of more than a dozen species of native, freshwater mussels, including the federally-endangered Tan Riffleshell, Purple Bean and Rough Rabbitsfoot mussel species. Due to the mussels' unique reproductive characteristics, the juvenile mussel propagation activities described above are critical to achieving the goal of restoring the injured mussel species to stable population levels.
The Consent Decree was lodged on February 19, 2003 in the District Court for the Western District of Virginia. There will be a public comment period of 30 days.
MEN ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF ILLEGAL IMPORTATION OF HAZARDOUS WASTE INTO THE U.S.Encon Environmental Services of El Paso, Texas; Encon's owners, Roberto Loya of El Paso and Jesus Audelio Uribe Franco of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; Victor Manuel Arroyo Balderas, warehouse coordinator of Encon, Raul Chavez Beltran; and Ramon Martinez Altamirano of El Paso, Texas; were named in an indictment, unsealed on Feb. 13 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in El Paso. Loya, Altamirano, Franco and Balderas were subsequently arrested.
The indictment charges violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act when the five men and Encon participated in a scheme resulting in the illegal importation of hazardous waste into the United States. The indictment alleges Encon, Beltran and Franco developed a business relationship, in about 1995, with Loya to illegally import hazardous wastes, including soil contaminated with mercury, into the United States without a permit. Altamirano and Balderas allegedly supported the illegal operation. The defendants allegedly informed companies that had hired Encon to dispose of hazardous wastes that the wastes were being disposed of in a legal manner. Instead, the charges state that the wastes were illegally stored in a warehouse in El Paso.
Failing to properly dispose of mercury- containing wastes can lead to human contact with mercury which, in sufficient amounts, can cause brain damage and other illnesses. The case was investigated by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division Dallas Area Office, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Texas Environmental Task Force. It is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in El Paso.
EPA WITHDRAWS PILOT PROGRAM ON E-CYCLINGEPA published a direct final rule on December 26, 2002, to exclude (in specified circumstances) used CRTs and glass removed from CRTs from the definition of ``solid waste'' in the EPA Region III Mid-Atlantic States (which include the States of Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia and the Commonwealths of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and the District of Columbia). EPA published a companion proposed rule (67 FR 78761-78763) on the same date as the direct final rule.
The companion proposed rule invited comment on the substance of the direct final rule and stated that if adverse comment was received by January 27, 2003, the direct final rule would not become effective and a document would be published in the Federal Register to withdraw the direct final rule before the February 24, 2003, effective date. The EPA subsequently received adverse comments on the final rule. EPA plans to address those comments in a subsequent action. This week's action withdraws the direct final rule; the Regulatory Innovations: Pilot-Specific Rule for Electronic Materials in the EPA Region III Mid-Atlantic States; Hazardous Waste Management System; Modification of the Hazardous Waste Program; Cathode Ray Tubes (conditional exclusion for CRTs is not approved under 40 CFR part 261).
For further information contact Marie Holman (3EI00), U.S. EPA Region III, Office of Environmental Innovation, 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-2029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.