EPA Issues Warning on Dangerous Air Conditioner Refrigerants

May 09, 2016

The EPA is cautioning homeowners, manufacturers of propane-based refrigerants, home improvement contractors, and air conditioning technicians of the safety hazards related to the use of propane in existing motor vehicle and home air conditioning systems. Using a propane-based refrigerant in an air conditioner that is not designed to use propane or flammable refrigerants poses a threat to homeowners as well as service technicians, because systems that are recharged with an unapproved alternative called “22a” can catch fire or explode, resulting in injury and property damage. EPA continues to investigate instances where propane-based refrigerants have been illegally marketed and used as substitutes for HCFC-22 (R-22) and will continue to take enforcement actions where appropriate.

“Using an unapproved, flammable refrigerant in a system that wasn’t designed to address flammability can lead to serious consequences, including explosion or injury in the worst cases,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “As the summer cooling season gets started, we want to make sure consumers and equipment owners know what is going into their system is safe.”

A number of refrigerants with “22a” or “R-22a” in the name contain highly flammable hydrocarbons, such as propane, and are being marketed to consumers and contractors seeking to recharge existing home and motor vehicle air conditioning systems that were not designed to use propane or other flammable refrigerants. As a result, EPA recently proposed that 22a and other highly flammable refrigerants are unacceptable for use in existing central air-conditioning systems because they pose significantly more risk to public health or the environment than acceptable substitutes. Under the authority of the Clean Air Act, EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program evaluates chemicals and technologies on an ongoing basis within a comparative risk framework. Over the last two decades, SNAP has evaluated more than 400 substitutes for some of the most harmful chemicals used across the economy.

EPA encourages technicians and contractors to consult our website for more information and recommends homeowners confirm that air conditioning service providers follow manufacturers’ recommendations. Homeowners should be aware that recharging their cooling systems with the wrong refrigerant can void manufacturers’ warranties.

EPA will continue to take enforcement actions to protect the public from the unapproved marketing and selling of these refrigerants.

Recent enforcement actions include:

  • March 17, 2016: A Louisiana man was arrested for selling a product called Super-Freeze 22A, a substitute air-conditioning refrigerant composed primarily of propane, to air-conditioning repair technicians and equipment owners. According to reports, few of the individuals who purchased the product were aware it was potentially flammable.
  • January 29, 2016: In a settlement with EPA, Northcutt, Inc., of Wichita, Kan., agreed to discontinue domestic marketing and sales of unapproved flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants as substitutes for an ozone-depleting substitute, send a warning letter to past domestic purchasers of the substitutes, and pay a $100,000 civil penalty. Northcutt allegedly violated Clean Air Act requirements through the marketing and sale of two flammable hydrocarbon refrigerant products, ES 22a and ES 502a, as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances without providing the requisite information to EPA for review and approval.
  • May 15, 2015: In a settlement with EPA, Enviro-Safe Refrigerants, Inc., of Pekin, Ill., agreed to pay a $300,000 civil penalty and cease marketing and sale of unapproved flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. Enviro-Safe allegedly violated Clean Air Act requirements through the marketing and sale of three flammable hydrocarbon refrigerant products, HC-12a, HC-22a and HC-502a, as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances without providing the requisite information to EPA for review and approval.

Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

In the first major modification to the hazardous waste regulations in over 10 years, EPA plans to modify and reorganize the hazardous waste generator rule. When adopted, the rule will provide greater flexibility in how hazardous waste is managed and close important gaps in the regulations.

Attend Environmental Resource Center’s live, online session on April 18 to learn:

  • New requirements for documenting hazardous waste determinations
  • Revised requirements for when and how to submit the Notification of Generator Status form to EPA
  • How to take advantage of the episodic generation exclusion to avoid reclassification to a larger generator status
  • Definitions of important new terms – “Very Small Quantity Generator” and “Central Accumulation Area”
  • How to mark containers, tanks, and containment buildings with new information required at central accumulation areas and satellites
  • New conditions under which containers can be left open at satellite accumulation areas
  • Updated time and volume limits for satellite accumulation areas
  • New documentation requirements for contingency plans and biennial reports
  • New requirements for shipping hazardous waste from a VSQG to another facility owned by the same organization

Click here to register online or call 800-537-2372.

New Exclusions for Solvent Recycling and Hazardous Secondary Materials

EPA’s new final rule on the definition of solid waste creates new opportunities for waste recycling outside the scope of the full hazardous waste regulations. This rule, which went into effect on July 13, 2015, streamlines the regulatory burden for wastes that are legitimately recycled.

The first of the two exclusions is an exclusion from the definition of solid waste for high-value solvents transferred from one manufacturer to another for the purpose of extending the useful life of the original solvent by keeping the materials in commerce to reproduce a commercial grade of the original solvent product.

The second, and more wide-reaching of the two exclusions, is a revision of the existing hazardous secondary material recycling exclusion. This exclusion allows you to recycle, or send off-site for recycling, virtually any hazardous secondary material. Provided you meet the terms of the exclusion, the material will no longer be hazardous waste.

Learn how to take advantage of these exclusions at Environmental Resource Center’s live webcast on July 8 where you will learn:

  • Which of your materials qualify under the new exclusions
  • What qualifies as a hazardous secondary material
  • Which solvents can be remanufactured, and which cannot
  • What is a tolling agreement
  • What is legitimate recycling
  • Generator storage requirements
  • What documentation you must maintain
  • Requirements for off-site shipments
  • Training and emergency planning requirements
  • If it is acceptable for the recycler to be outside the US

Bring your questions to this live webcast. Click here to register online or call 800-537-2372.

Orlando RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Orlando, FL, on May 17–19 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Hilton Head RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Hilton Head, SC, on May 24–26 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Baltimore RCRA, DOT, and IATA Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Baltimore, MD, on June 7–9 and save $100. Ensure you have the training you need to ship dangerous goods by air at Transportation of Dangerous Goods: Compliance with IATA Regulations on June 10. To register for these courses click here or call 800-537-2372.

MPCA Completes 22 Enforcement Cases in First Quarter of 2016

In its ongoing efforts to promote environmental compliance, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency concluded 22 enforcement cases in 19 counties throughout Minnesota during the first quarter of 2016. Penalties from all 22 cases totaled just over $160,000.

Environmental enforcement investigations often take several months, and in highly complex cases more than a year. Although, in rare instances, they can involve courts, they are most often negotiated settlements where the goal is compliance with environmental rules. Fines issued are targeted to match the environmental harm, economic advantage gained or environmental corrective actions.

In addition to these 22 recently completed cases, the MPCA also has 62 ongoing enforcement investigations, 14 of which were opened as new cases during the first quarter of 2016. Not all investigations lead to fines or other official action.

Imposing monetary penalties is only part of the MPCA’s enforcement process. Agency staff continue to provide assistance, support and information on the steps and tools necessary to achieve compliance for any company, individual or local government that requests it.

Click here to see a complete list of cases.

A.T. Still University of Health Science Fined $11,233 For Hazardous Waste Violations

An EPA Region 7 compliance evaluation inspection of A.T. Still University of Health Science in Kirksville, Mo., revealed violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) related to the storage and handling of hazardous waste. As part of the settlement filed recently, the university is required to pay a civil penalty of $11,233 to the U.S. Treasury.

The objectives of the RCRA program include protection of human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste management and disposal, conservation of energy and natural resources, reduction of the amount of waste generated, and ensuring wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner.

EPA representatives inspected the university’s facilities in June 2014 and determined the university failed to perform waste determinations on multiple waste streams on the main campus. Facilities that generate hazardous waste may operate without a RCRA permit if they meet specific generator requirements. However, at the Couts Learning Center, the university failed to meet these generator requirements by not properly storing or labeling hazardous waste. Also, the university had not coordinated with local authorities on the materials stored there. This coordination is critical to ensuring the safety of first responders in case of an emergency at the center.

In addition to the civil penalty, the university is required to provide to EPA on a quarterly basis written statements and photographic documentation demonstrating that it is correctly managing its hazardous waste containers. And, in order to increase transparency and ensure information is more accessible to the public, the university will post its memorandums of agreement with the local authorities on its website for one year.

By agreeing to the settlement, A.T. Still University has certified that it is now in compliance with all requirements of RCRA and its implementing regulations.

Summer Smog Season Starts Soon

With the onset of warmer weather, the EPA urges New Englanders to be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone and fine particle air pollution (when combined, often referred to as smog), and take health precautions when smog levels are high. For more information EPA has a web site—Air Quality Awareness Week.

"Air pollution is a significant public health issue in New England," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office "New Englanders need to pay close attention to air quality alerts and limit strenuous outdoor activity on air quality alert days In addition, we can all take individual actions to reduce the air pollution that contributes to this public health risk."

Air quality forecasts are issued daily by the New England state air agencies Current air quality conditions and next day forecasts for New England are available each day at EPA's web site. People can also sign up to receive "Air Quality Alerts." These alerts, provided free by EPA through the EnviroFlash system, in cooperation with the New England states, automatically notify participants by e-mail or text message when high concentrations of ground-level ozone or fine particles are predicted in their area.

On October 1, 2015, EPA strengthened the ozone standard. The standard was previously set in 2008 at 0.075 parts per million (ppm) on an 8-hour average basis The new, more protective, standard is set at a lower level of 0.070 ppm. This level was chosen because it is requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. Air quality alerts are issued when ozone concentrations exceed, or are predicted to exceed, this new level Since the standard is lower (more stringent), EPA expects that more air quality alerts will be issued this summer. EPA New England posts a list of exceedances of the ozone standard, by date and monitor location, on its web site.

Although the number of unhealthy days may vary from year to year due to weather conditions, over the long-term, New England has experienced a significant decrease in the number of unhealthy ozone days. Based on the new ozone standard, in 1983 New England had 118 unhealthy days, compared with 38 in 2015. This downward trend is due to a reduction in the emissions that form ozone. With your help we can continue this improvement in air quality.

Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to air pollutants, including people who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma When air quality is predicted to be unhealthy for sensitive groups, EPA and the States will announce an air quality alert for the affected areas EPA recommends that people in these areas limit strenuous outdoor activity and EPA asks that on these days, citizens and businesses take actions that will help reduce air pollution and protect the public health Everyone can reduce air pollution through the following actions:

  • Use public transportation or walk whenever possible
  • Combine errands and car-pool to reduce driving time and mileage
  • Use less electricity by turning air conditioning to a higher temperature setting, and turning off lights, TVs and computers when they are not being used
  • Avoid using small gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, string trimmers, chain saws, power-washers, air compressors, and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days

Cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses are a major source of the pollutants that form smog. Coal burning at electric generating stations, particularly on hot days, also generates significant smog-forming pollution. Other industries, as well as smaller sources, such as gasoline stations and print shops, also contribute to smog. In addition, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to smog formation.

The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in ozone air quality over the past 30 years and EPA continues to take steps to further reduce air pollution. Since model year 2007, large diesel trucks and buses have reduced NOx and fine particle emissions by up to 95%. In addition, last year, EPA finalized even tighter standards for future new cars, sold after 2017. The automobile and gasoline rule, known as Tier 3, will help lower automobile pollution by a significant margin. Compared to current automobile standards, the Tier 3 emissions standards for cars represent an additional 80% reduction of ozone causing pollution when compared to today's average. Furthermore, in 2011, EPA promulgated the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. This rule targets air pollution emissions from power plants in 28 eastern states EPA is in the process of further strengthening this rule.

Parkway Iron and Metal Co. to Pay $145,000 for Clean Air Act Violations

The EPA and U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement recently that requires Parkway Iron and Metal Co. to pay $145,000 and spend approximately $260,000 to install pollution controls for alleged Clean Air Act violations at its scrap metal recycling business in Clifton, New Jersey. The company was fined for improperly shredding dozens of refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners without first removing refrigerants, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs). Appliances containing CFCs and HFCs can be recycled as long as the refrigerants are properly removed first.

“Chlorofluorocarbons damage the ozone layer, which shields the earth from harmful radiation that contributes to increased skin cancer,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “EPA’s work will benefit the people of Clifton and result in less greenhouse gases and ozone depleting chemicals being released into the atmosphere.”

HFCs are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Climate change impacts people’s health in a number of ways, including by damaging air quality. Higher temperatures lead to an increase in allergens and harmful air pollutants. For instance, longer warm seasons can mean longer pollen seasons—which can increase allergic sensitivity and asthma episodes and diminish productive work and school days. Higher temperatures associated with climate change can also lead to an increase in ground level ozone, a harmful air pollutant. CFCs are atmospheric ozone depleting chemicals that cause the protective ozone layer to thin—allowing more cancer-causing ultraviolet rays to reach the Earth.

The EPA requested information from Parkway to ensure compliance with ozone-depletion regulations and inspected the company on multiple occasions. These inspections revealed violations of Clean Air Act regulations, resulting in this settlement.

In addition to paying the penalty, Parkway has agreed to comply with the Clean Air Act. Before recycling appliances, Parkway will remove all refrigerants at no cost to the appliance seller. Parkway will properly dispose of the recovered refrigerants, ensuring that CFCs and HFCs are not released to the atmosphere.

As a final part of the settlement, Parkway will install a baghouse on its metal-sorting conveyor belts. This pollution control device will make the facility even cleaner than required by law by reducing the quantity of fine particles and metals released into the air during the shredding and metal sorting process. The EPA estimates that this new equipment will cost about $260,000.

The proposed settlement was lodged with the United States District Court for the State of New Jersey, and is subject to a 30-day public comment period. During the public comment period, the Consent Decree may be examined and downloaded here.

SEPTA Settles With EPA on Underground Fuel Storage Tank Violations

The Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) has agreed to pay a $116,843 penalty to settle alleged violations of underground storage tank regulations at five bus garages in Philadelphia, the EPA announced recently. The settlement addresses compliance with environmental regulations that help protect communities and the environment from exposure to oil or potentially harmful chemicals.

EPA cited the company for not complying with safeguards designed to prevent, detect, and control leaks of oil and other hazardous substances from underground storage tanks at the following Philadelphia locations: Callowhill Bus Garage, 59th & Callowhill Streets; Comly Garage, Penn & Comly Streets; Frankford Bus Garage, 5235 Penn Street; Midvale Bus Garage, 4301 Wissahickon Avenue; and Southern Bus Garage, 20th & Johnson Streets.

Based on EPA inspections and follow-up inquiries, EPA cited SEPTA for nine total violations at the facilities involving underground tanks that store gasoline, diesel fuel, motor oil, transmission fluid and anti-freeze solution. Some of the alleged violations included failure to conduct proper testing of pipe lines, improper leak detectors on two lines, and failure to conduct proper line tests over an extended period. EPA inspectors did not identify any leaks.

The penalty reflects SEPTA’s cooperation with EPA in correcting the alleged non-compliance and resolving this matter.

With millions of gallons of petroleum products and hazardous substances stored in underground storage tanks throughout the country, leaking tanks are a major source of soil and groundwater contamination. EPA and state regulations are designed to reduce the risk of underground leaks and to promptly detect and properly address leaks thus minimizing environmental harm and avoiding the costs of major cleanups.

New York Man Faces Penalties After Illegal Stormwater Discharges Eroded Graves in Neighboring Cemetery

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently announced that he has obtained civil and criminal contempt findings against a Cortlandville resident for causing the flooding of a cemetery and state roadway. New York Supreme Court Justice Hon. Phillip R. Rumsey, found James C. Stevens, III of Cortlandville, in contempt for failing to take court-ordered actions to remedy illegal diversions of water from his property onto St. Mary’s Cemetery and New York State Route 281. The cemetery flooding has resulted in the desecration of gravesites, and necessitated the disinterment and reburial of eighteen people.

“New York’s environmental and public nuisance laws are in place to ensure that individuals, their families, and our communities are properly protected,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “No one is above the law. My office will remain vigilant in holding fully accountable those who put New Yorkers in harm’s way.”

Beginning around July 2012, Stevens altered the flow of stormwater runoff on his Ridgeway Avenue property by constructing a stormwater diversion project designed to capture as much runoff as possible, redirect it through a several hundred foot long drainage swale, and discharge it onto St. Mary’s Cemetery. As a result, stormwater from over 100 acres of land that had previously drained into a wooded area was redirected onto burial plots at St. Mary’s Cemetery and ultimately State Route 281.

After the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) referred this matter for prosecution, Attorney General Schneiderman’s office filed a lawsuit against the landowner in November 2014. The suit charged that Stevens’ construction of the stormwater diversion project and discharge of stormwater without obtaining a DEC permit and implementing a stormwater pollution prevention plan violated the state’s Environmental Conservation laws. The suit also charged that his illegal activities injured the property, health, safety, or comfort of a considerable number of persons and thus constituted a public nuisance under state law.

In December 2014, Attorney General Schneiderman’s office obtained a court order, in the form of a preliminary injunction and consent order, in Cortland County Supreme Court, requiring—among other things—that Stevens cease discharging stormwater from the stormwater diversion project until he obtain a DEC permit and implement a DEC-approved stormwater pollution prevention plan. The preliminary injunction and consent order also directed Stevens to implement a DEC-approved engineering plan for controlling these discharges and preventing future down-gradient harm.

In December 2015, Attorney General Schneiderman’s office obtained a court order establishing Stevens’ liability on both the Environmental Conservation law and public nuisance causes of action. This order also found that the cemetery suffered from “significant” erosion following construction of Stevens’ stormwater diversion project and that storm water discharges from the project caused flooding and unsafe driving conditions on State Route 281.

In the decision and order announced recently by Attorney General Schneiderman, New York Supreme Court Judge Phillip R. Rumsey found that Stevens admitted to willfully disobeying the December 2014 preliminary injunction and consent order by failing to submit to DEC an approvable plan for controlling stormwater pollution, including specifications for abating potential future impacts to St. Mary’s Cemetery and State Route 281. The order includes:

  • A civil contempt penalty requiring Stevens to follow a specific timeline in the design, engineering, and construction of a comprehensive stormwater control system, including submittal to DEC of a project plan. The civil contempt against Stevens will be purged if he completes the necessary stormwater control system; and
  • A criminal contempt penalty of incarceration in the Cortland County Jail for 10 days, with this jail time suspended upon the condition that Stevens complete 20 hours of community service by serving meals through the Grace Episcopal Church of Cortland, New York Loaves and Fishes program.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s efforts cited reports of the Catholic Cemeteries of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, which owns St. Mary’s Cemetery, that several families have been forced to disinter and rebury eighteen of their loved ones due to significant erosion caused by Stevens’ illegal stormwater discharges. The illegal discharges have transported sediment, gravel, and dirt from the Stevens’ property and caused significant soil erosion on cemetery property. On multiple dates, the discharges desecrated gravesites at St. Mary’s by covering them with debris and by eroding them.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s office has also established that, in addition to the impacts at the cemetery, the illegal stormwater discharges had, on multiple dates, caused runoff to flow downslope onto Route 281 where it has overwhelmed the stormwater collection system, flooded the road, and threatened public safety.

The Attorney General thanks DEC engineer Carol Lamb-Lafay, Region 7 Regional Attorney Joseph Sluzar and Environmental Program Specialist Scott Cook for their assistance in the case.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Joseph M. Kowalczyk, Michael J. Myers and Brian Lusignan, and Environmental Scientists Mauricio Roma and Charles Silver. The Environmental Protection Bureau is led by Lemuel M. Srolovic and is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.

EPA Requires Ag Chemical Firm to Safely Manage Pesticides

The EPA recently announced a settlement with Southern Valley Chemical Company over improperly stored, and incorrectly labeled agricultural pesticides at its facility in Arvin, California. The firm, a pesticide re-packager and distributor, has agreed to pay $34,900 in civil penalties, and has corrected all identified compliance issues.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation inspected the Arvin facility in 2013. Based on those inspection findings, EPA asserted that Southern Valley Chemical Company had eleven violations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which regulates the safe distribution, sale and use of pesticides in the U.S.

“Failing to properly manage pesticides puts workers and the environment at risk,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Pesticide companies have a responsibility to ensure they are in compliance with all federal environmental laws.”

The company failed to protect pesticide dispensing equipment against damage from moving equipment, failed to seal cracks in its secondary containment structures, was improperly using external sight gauges to visually monitor levels of liquid pesticide in its tanks, and failed to adequately secure pesticide containers. Each of these violations increases the risk of a pesticide release. Southern Valley Chemical Company was also cited for inadequate recordkeeping, and distributing and selling pesticides from misbranded bulk containers.

California accounts for a quarter of all agricultural pesticides used each year in the U.S., and more than half of that amount is applied in the San Joaquin Valley alone. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act authorizes EPA to review and register pesticides for specified uses, to regulate safe storage and disposal of pesticides, and to conduct inspections and enforce pesticide requirements.

FIFRA regulations help safeguard the public by ensuring that pesticides are used, stored, and disposed of safely, and that pesticide containers are adequately cleaned. Pesticide registrants and refillers (i.e., those that repackage pesticides into refillable containers) must comply with the regulations, while consumers are required to follow the label instructions for proper use and disposal.

Malaga County Water District Fined $1 Million for Failure to Implement Wastewater Pretreatment Program

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Central Valley Water Board) recently approved an Administrative Civil Liability Order for more than $1 million against Malaga County Water District (Malaga) for failure to fully implement a federally mandated wastewater pretreatment program and submit wastewater treatment capacity reports.

“Malaga’s failure to timely implement a compliant pretreatment program has undermined its ability to properly regulate industrial facilities discharging to its wastewater treatment facility. It has put the public and workers at risk and undermined the Central Valley Water Board’s oversight role to protect water quality,” said Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer for the Central Valley Water Board.

Malaga’s wastewater treatment plant serves a user-base in Fresno County that is predominantly industrial, with only about 10 to 20% of its wastewater flows coming from residential users. The purpose of a pretreatment program is to ensure that wastewater from industrial users is properly treated prior to discharge into the collection system to prevent damage to the collection system and wastewater treatment plant.

A proper pretreatment program protects workers and the public from hazards, such as toxic fumes or explosions, pollutants passing through the wastewater treatment plant into receiving waters, industrial pollutants from interfering with the treatment performance of the plant, and sludge contamination. It also improves opportunities for wastewater and sludge reclamation.

The cease and desist order violation cited in the Order was based on Malaga’s failure to submit an adequate and complete study of the wastewater facility’s treatment and disposal capacity from June 2008 through December 2014.

Malaga violated its wastewater discharge permit through failure to issue adequate industrial-user permits; failure to review and analyze industrial user self-monitoring reports; failure to sample industrial users annually; failure to publish a list of industrial users in significant non-compliance; failure to evaluate the need for a sludge control plan; and failure to submit timely, complete quarterly and annual pretreatment reports containing required information. The total cost of the Administrative Civil Liability Order against Malaga is $1,036,728.

Schneider Electric USA Violates Terms of Superfund Agreement, Fined $6,868,975

The U.S. Justice Department, EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently announced that Schneider Electric USA will pay a $6,868,975 penalty for allegedly violating the terms of a 2002 court-approved Superfund consent decree during its cleanup at the Rodale Manufacturing Superfund Site located in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. These violations resulted in uncontrolled emissions of air pollutants that can cause threats to public health and the environment.

“We will not tolerate violation of our consent decrees, especially where those violations can result in risks to public health, welfare and the environment” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “The significant penalty in this case shows that non-compliance with settlement requirements have serious consequences.”

The company will pay the largest Superfund stipulated penalty in EPA history, and the third largest stipulated penalty overall in EPA history. Ten percent of the penalty will be paid to the Pennsylvania DEP.

The Superfund consent decree to remove groundwater contamination at the Lehigh County site includes the following: a groundwater “pump and treat” system, groundwater monitoring, and air pollution controls to prevent harmful air emissions during the cleanup operations. According to EPA and DEP, Schneider Electric USA was not operating the air pollution control portion as designed dating back to at least 2008. Schneider Electric addressed the problem in 2013 by replacing the groundwater treatment system. The alleged violations involve the following:

  • Failure to maintain air pollution control equipment to collect and treat hazardous air pollutants including trichloroethylene and other volatile organic compounds
  • Failure to alert EPA and PaDEP of its malfunctioning air pollution control equipment
  • Failure to comply with Pennsylvania air pollution permitting regulations
  • Failure to provide records to agency officials

This site is subject to the federal Superfund law, formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Responsibility, Compensation, and Liability Act. It requires landowners, waste generators and waste transporters responsible for contaminating a Superfund site to clean up the site, or reimburse the government, or other parties for cleanup activities.

The Rodale Manufacturing site was added to the Superfund list of the nation’s most contaminated sites and began cleanup activities in 1991.

This site has a long history of electrical component manufacturing—including electroplating, vapor degreasing and metal shaping activities—starting in the 1930’s by Rodale Manufacturing Company and continuing when a subsidiary of Square D Company purchased the facility in 1975. Schneider purchased the Square D Company and currently produces electrical distribution equipment including circuit breakers, switches and infrared measurement devices.

As part of the settlement, Schneider Electric has neither admitted nor denied liability for the alleged violations.

District of Columbia Man Indicted for Environmental Crimes

James Powers, 59, of Washington, D.C., was indicted recently for violating the Clean Air Act and for fraud stemming from a scheme to improperly remove asbestos from a historic building in the District of Columbia.

The seven-count indictment, returned by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips for the District of Columbia, and Jennifer Lynn, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in the Mid-Atlantic States. It charges Powers with violations of the Clean Air Act, wire fraud and first-degree fraud, which is a District of Columbia offense. The indictment also includes a forfeiture allegation seeking all proceeds that can be traced to the fraud scheme.

According to the indictment, asbestos, a once-popular fireproofing insulation, is now known to cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma in people who inhale the fibers released when asbestos is disturbed. Congress has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. The Clean Air Act requires that renovation in asbestos-containing properties follow specific protocols designed to safely remove asbestos from the property prior to any renovation or demolition activity, so as not to expose workers to the risk of deadly respiratory diseases.

“The Clean Air Act asbestos standards exist to protect the public, especially demolition and renovation workers, from harmful and potentially fatal exposure to asbestos,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “The Justice Department and the EPA will fully investigate and prosecute those individuals who skirt the law and put workers in danger.”

“This businessman is accused of endangering his own work crew by not taking the proper steps to renovate a building containing asbestos,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “The indictment in this case reflects our determination to enforce the federal Clean Air Act and other laws that protect the health and safety of workers and citizens of the District of Columbia.”

“Asbestos must be removed and disposed of safely and legally,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Lynn. “The federal Clean Air Act helps protect not only workers’ health and safety, but that of the entire community. Today’s charges demonstrate that EPA and its partner agencies are committed to enforcing important environmental and public health protection laws.”

The development project at issue involved renovating the historic Friendship House, located at 619 D Street SE in Washington, D.C., into condominiums, a development known as the Maples. The indictment alleges that, in March 2010, Powers formed a partnership with a local real estate development firm to purchase and renovate the property. According to the indictment, an asbestos survey of the property documented asbestos throughout the property, including in floor tiles, wall board, and pipe insulation. After the survey, the partnership received bids from licensed professional asbestos abatement and renovation firms in the area. The indictment alleges that, despite receiving those bids and despite knowing that the building contained asbestos, Powers hired Larry Miller, 58, of Palmetto, Georgia, a general contractor from Atlanta with no training, certification, or experience in asbestos abatement, to conduct interior demolition and renovation of the building. Powers represented to his partners that a qualified entity would conduct appropriate asbestos abatement at the property and emailed them a proposed contract, but the contract was with a corporation that, unbeknownst to his partners, was an alter-ego for Powers.

The indictment further alleges that Miller and his crew of workers conducted interior demolition at the Maples during September and October 2011, without any asbestos abatement having occurred. Even after an inspection by local environmental authorities revealed asbestos in the building, Powers had the workers continue demolition. Over the course of the project, the workers disturbed substantial quantities of asbestos, exposing themselves to a substantial risk of serious illness later in life.

Miller pleaded guilty on November 19, 2015, to one count of negligent endangerment under the Clean Air Act. He is awaiting sentencing by the Honorable Amy Berman Jackson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The charge carries a maximum sentence of not more than one year of imprisonment, a fine of up to $100,000, and a term of supervised release and/or probation.

If convicted, Powers faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss to victims under the Clean Air Act, and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss to victims under the wire fraud statute.

After the acts described in this Indictment, a licensed asbestos abatement firm conducted abatement at the Maples. The District of Columbia Department of the Environment subsequently conducted inspections and found the property to be free of all asbestos-containing materials.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty.

In announcing the charges, Assistant Attorney General Cruden, U.S. Attorney Phillips, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Lynn expressed appreciation for the work performed by Special Agents from EPA and the Department of Transportation. They also acknowledged the efforts of Trial Attorney Cassandra J. Barnum, Senior Trial Attorney Lana Pettus and Paralegal Specialist Cynthia Longmire of the Environmental Crimes Section and those working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Kaitlyn Krueger, John Lowell, and former Paralegal Specialist Krishawn Graham and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jonathan Hooks and Zia Faruqui.

New Orleans Man Arrested for Illegal Disposal of Harmful Substances

Recently, investigators within the Criminal Investigation Division of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality arrested a New Orleans man for felony illegal disposal of harmful substances and aggravated criminal damage to property. Orestes Linares, 54, of New Orleans, is alleged to have hauled chemicals to the Lower 9th Ward and dumped them in a vacant lot near a storm drain.

On March 7, 2016, the City of New Orleans Fire Department and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Emergency Response personnel received a complaint from City Council employees about drums of chemicals leaking at the 2600 Block of Lizardi Street. Emergency responders found nine drums leaking liquid chemicals, which caused a chemical reaction and formed piles of orange colored foam insulation.

Investigators with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s Criminal Investigation Division were able to retrieve identification labels from the drums and trace them back to the original owner, Construction 419, LLC. Investigators learned that Linares, a former employee of Construction 419, LLC, allegedly took the drums without permission, dumped them in the vacant lot on Lizardi Street and intentionally punctured them, allowing their contents to spill out on the ground near a storm drain.

“Since the day I was appointed by the Governor, I have said that this department will not tolerate illegal dumping,” said Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, DEQ Secretary. “We owe it to the hard-working business owners and the people of New Orleans to investigate and seek prosecution of the people who commit these types of crimes.”

The City of New Orleans had to hire a cleanup contractor to remove the dumped chemicals from the site. The estimated cost of cleanup was around $12,000.

If convicted of the crime of disposal of a substance that endangers or that could endanger human life or health, Linares faces possible imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or a fine of not more than $100,000, or both. If convicted of aggravated criminal damage to property, he faces possible imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than 15 years, or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.

Pennsylvania DEP Reaches Natural Resource Damage Settlement with Talen Generation LLC for 2005 Martins Creek Ash Spill

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) have entered into an agreement with Talen Generation, LLC, for the company to pay a total of $952,150.00 for natural resource damages associated with the August 2005 ash spill at the Martins Creek Steam Electric Station in Lower Mount Bethel Township, Northampton County. The fine money will be directed to mussel restoration and dam removal projects in tributaries to the Delaware River.

The spill occurred after a wooden stop log in the Ash Basin No. 4 discharge structure failed, causing an estimated 100 million gallons of ash material to spread across local fields and into the Oughoughton Creek and the Delaware River. DEP, working with PFBC, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), determined that the mussel population in the Delaware River was impacted as a result of both the spill and the cleanup. Mussel restoration and dam removal projects will assist in the restoration and vitality of the mussel populations and improve aquatic habitat and water quality.

“This is the final piece of the settlement with the company to address the spill and its impacts,” said Mike Bedrin, Director of DEP’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilkes-Barre. “While this has been a long time coming, it is ultimately a good resolution that is in the best interest of the Delaware River and its ecological community.”

Under the settlement, Talen Generation will make a payment of $902,150 to the DRBC to fund the dam removal projects, as well as a separate payment of $50,000 for the mussel restoration project(s) in tributaries to the Delaware River. The company must also pay $373,050 to the NJDEP for New Jersey-based restoration projects under a separate agreement with that agency.

In May 2008, DEP reached the first part of a settlement with PPL Generation, LLC, and PPL Martins Creek, LLC, the owners and operators of the Martins Creek Plant at the time of the event, that required payment of a $1,500,000 civil penalty and corrective action for violations of various state environmental statutes associated with the ash spill. That settlement preserved the Department’s claims for natural resource damages, which are resolved under the agreement announced recently.

The Department sought public comment on this Natural Resource Damages Settlement over a 60-day period from July 25 to September 23, 2015. Five written comment letters were received and a comment response document was prepared in response to those comments.

A copy of the Natural Resource Damage Settlement and the comment/response document is available under the PPL Martins Creek Fly Ash heading here.

EPA Tools to Prevent Asthma Attacks

May is Asthma Awareness Month, when the EPA spotlights ways people can take simple steps to help prevent asthma attacks. EPA also honors local asthma management programs for their leadership in improving the lives of people living with asthma, especially those in underserved communities.

“Asthma is fundamentally connected to the health of our environment—whether it’s the air outside, or in our homes,” said Administrator Gina McCarthy. “By working together across the environmental, housing, social, and medical sectors, we can do even more to raise awareness about this critical public health issue and protect those who are most vulnerable, including the more than 6 million children in the U.S. with asthma.”

On May 12, EPA will honor the winners of the agency’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management. Each winner is an outstanding national model for comprehensive asthma care. These four winners are: AmeriHealth Caritas of Philadelphia; Urban Health Plan of Bronx, New York; New England Asthma Innovation Collaborative of Boston; and Public Health – Seattle and King County of Seattle.

Asthma is a respiratory disease that makes breathing difficult. Asthma affects nearly 24 million Americans, including more than six million children—with poor and minority children affected disproportionately. The economic impacts of asthma amount to more than $50 billion per year from direct and indirect costs, such as medical bills and missed school and work days. EPA’s comprehensive asthma program helps those with asthma through environmental research and education, as well as through community-focused outreach that aims to increase sustainable access to home visits.

Asthma sufferers can take some important actions to help control their symptoms and still maintain active lifestyles with three simple steps: Identify and avoid environmental asthma triggers; create an Asthma Action Plan with help from your doctor; and pay attention to your local air quality conditions through the http://airnow.gov website and Air Quality Index app for your smart phone.

MassDEP Celebrates 'National Drinking Water Week' by Presenting 45 Recipients with a 2016 Public Water Systems Award

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has announced 45 winners of the annual Public Water Systems Awards, which are given each year to celebrate "National Drinking Water Week" (May 1–7). The awards were presented during a ceremony held at the Devens Community Center.

"Drinking Water Week is an excellent opportunity to thank those workers who, throughout the year, have served diligently to deliver a safe, reliable water supply to the residents of the Commonwealth," said Governor Charlie Baker. "Small or large, all of these systems are critical to the health and well-being of the public."

"The Commonwealth knows well the importance of water, as well as the value, importance and fragility of our state's water resources," said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. "The municipalities and MassDEP are constantly working in close cooperation to ensure that drinking water utilities deliver consumers a potable water supply that meets all federal and state standards."

"The tasks facing state drinking water programs and public water systems continue to be extremely challenging, but we recognize how critical they are to public health and the vitality of our economy," said EEA Secretary Matthew Beaton. "The drinking water infrastructure presents us with some daunting resource demands, but these awards are a means of noting how some of those have not only met that challenge, but done exemplary work to maintain our public water systems."

"We are fortunate to have water systems that work to provide the safe and consistent supply of drinking water we all depend on when we open the tap each day," said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg, who served as the event's keynote speaker. "Large or small, we acknowledge all the work these systems do, and today, we recognize some of these systems for their exemplary efforts."

MassDEP initially began issuing water systems awards in 1986 as a way to acknowledge the many dedicated professionals for their accomplishments in maintaining consistent and safe delivery of potable water to the residents of the Commonwealth.

Click here for a list of winners.

10 Organizations Recognized for Recycling Excellence in Michigan

As part of the continuing effort to increase recycling rates in Michigan, the DEQ and Governor’s Recycling Council recently recognized 10 organizations for outstanding success in promoting recycling and finding new uses for recycled materials.

The organizations received the Excellence in Recycling awards at the second annual Governor’s Recycling Summit, held in Plymouth. The DEQ and Governor’s Recycling Council hosted the summit in collaboration with the Michigan Recycling Coalition’s 34th Annual MRC Conference. Hundreds of public and private professionals joined to discuss key topics to grow recycling in Michigan.

The businesses, institutions, government agencies, and nonprofits honored focused their efforts in several areas: promoting outstanding education programs for K-12 students and youth organizations, creating new and enhanced programs that increase access to recycling, and developing programs that “close the loop” by creating new recyclable products or using recycled products in the manufacturing process. These award categories echo the objectives and goals outlined in Governor Rick Snyder’s April 2014 statewide recycling plan.

The 10 organizations selected for awards include:

  • Outstanding Education Awards
  • Green Living Science, for providing outreach and education to elementary students in Detroit Public Schools
  • The Ecology Center, for providing outreach and education to students in Ann Arbor-area schools
  • Southeast Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority, for providing education and tours to numerous Southeast Michigan communities
  • Carpenter Year Round Elementary School, for emphasizing recycling as an institutional priority

Outstanding Education Inspiring Individual Award

  • Bob Bowman, for lifelong commitment to recycling education at Parkside Elementary School

New Recycling Program Award

  • Hastings Charter Township, for implementing a new recycling drop-off center

Enhanced Recycling Program Award

  • Calhoun County, for expanding drop-off recycling access by partnering with the City of Albion
  • City of Plymouth, for expanding to a cart-based curbside recycling program
  • US Farathane Port Huron, for enhancing recycling opportunities in the workplace

Closing the Loop Award

  • Petoskey Plastics, for developing manufacturing solutions that include post-consumer recycled content

Environmental News Links

Take Steps to Control Asthma by Learning the Triggers

EPA Releases Results from Short Term Air Tests at Hayden Island and Jantzen Beach in North Portland, Oregon

California Issues Draft Plan for Freight System of the Future

Louisiana Governor Proclaims May as Air Quality Awareness Month

Report: Maryland's Air Quality is Improving

New Wastewater Permit for Fruit Packers in Washington Up for Review

New York City Gives Nod to 5-Cent Charge for Store Bags

Fracking: Environmental Groups Sue EPA in Call for Strict Rules on Waste

Energy – High-Efficiency Storage

Batteries – New Life for Old Tires

Hazardous Material Spill Cleaned Up After Accident

Train Carrying Hazardous Material Derails in D.C.

Hazardous Materials Released in Houston Warehouse Fire

Trivia Question of the Week

How many plastic shopping bags do Americans use every year?

a) 1,000,000

b) 100,000,000

c) 1,000,000,000

d) 100,000,000,000

Answer