January 22, 2024
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a settlement with COIM USA, Inc. (COIM) for allegedly violating the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) at their chemical manufacturing facility in West Deptford, New Jersey. Failure of facilities to accurately disclose chemical information deprives local community members and officials of their right to know about releases and the presence of chemicals in their neighborhoods. Under the settlement, COIM will pay a $101,400 penalty. Additionally, the company will undertake a supplemental environmental project (SEP) estimated to cost approximately $25,000 to purchase emergency planning and preparedness equipment for the West Deptford Fire Department.
"COIM failed to meet their obligation to public safety by inaccurately reporting their activities involving 1,4-Dioxane, a hazardous chemical,” said Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. "This settlement not only holds the company accountable for their violations, but also supports the local fire department in enhancing their emergency preparedness and response capabilities.”
The settlement resolves EPA’s allegations that COIM failed to accurately report the off-site transfers and disposal methods of 1,4-Dioxane, in their Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reports for the years 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. The TRI program requires facilities that manufacture, process, or otherwise use certain toxic chemicals above threshold levels to report annually on their releases and other waste management activities. In response to EPA’s request for the raw data and information that supported their 1,4-Dioxane TRI reports, COIM identified chemical records they had previously not considered and reevaluated their calculations and waste transfer descriptions. Accordingly, COIM updated its calculations and waste transfer descriptions, fixed its TRI reports, and set up internal controls to prevent future violations.
In addition to the penalty, COIM agreed to perform a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP), which involves The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a proposal to strengthen Clean Air Act standards for large facilities that burn municipal solid waste. If finalized, the updated standards would reduce emissions of nine pollutants, including smog- and soot-forming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, by approximately 14,000 tons per year, improving air quality for overburdened communities living near these facilities. These proposed standards reflect current technologies available to control pollution in a cost-effective fashion.
“President Biden believes every person deserves clean air to breathe and the opportunity to lead a healthy life, and EPA’s proposal is just the latest action to achieve this vision. By reducing harmful pollution and improving air quality, this rule will also advance environmental justice for nearby communities already overburdened with pollution,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA is committed to working with communities and state, local, and Tribal governments to ensure that large facilities burning municipal waste utilize the most up-to-date and cost-effective control technologies to reduce pollution and protect public health.”
The proposed standards would apply to 57 facilities with 152 units that have the capacity to combust more than 250 tons per day of municipal solid waste. Nearly 4 million Americans live within 3 miles of these large facilities, which are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. Today’s proposal supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s unprecedented and ongoing efforts to protect overburdened communities from harmful pollution, and is likely to reduce existing disproportionate and adverse effects on communities with environmental justice concerns. The proposed standards are based on emission levels achieved by the best controlled and lower-emitting sources, and limit emissions of nine pollutants: particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, cadmium, mercury, and dioxins/furans.
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to evaluate these standards every five years in order to take into account developments in pollution control technologies and techniques. EPA last revised these standards in 2006. From day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has made advancing environmental justice a top priority, including by delivering on long overdue updates to pollution standards.
The estimated benefits of this action far outweigh the expected pollution control costs. After accounting for compliance costs of the rule, EPA estimated the net present value of health benefits from the proposed rule, due to reductions in particulate matter and ozone alone, to be up to $14 billion over 20 years. Reductions of mercury, lead, and other hazardous air pollutants required by the proposal are expected to result in additional unquantified economic and public health benefits. EPA believes this action is also likely to advance environmental justice by reducing existing disproportionate and adverse effects on overburdened communities.
EPA will accept comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA will hold an informational webinar and will announce details on our website shortly.
Swinerton Builders Reaches Agreement To Address Clean Water Act Violations
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Justice Department today announced that Swinerton Builders has agreed to pay a $2.3 million penalty – divided between the United States, Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and State of Illinois – to resolve allegations that it violated the Clean Water Act and related state laws during the construction of solar farms in Alabama, Idaho and Illinois.
The company has also agreed to undertake mitigation actions to help restore the Portneuf River in Idaho and to purchase stream credits to improve the watershed surrounding the Alabama site. The states of Alabama and Illinois joined the United States in the settlement.
“Illegal stormwater discharges from construction projects can contaminate municipal drinking water systems and harm aquatic life, which is why EPA, DOJ, and our state partners worked together to hold Swinerton Builders accountable for the company’s violations of the Clean Water Act,” said David M. Uhlmann, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Solar farms are vital to slowing the effects of climate change, but companies building solar farms must comply with environmental protection requirements just as companies must do for any other construction project.”
“This settlement holds Swinerton accountable for its widespread Clean Water Act violations and ensures that nearby communities in Alabama and Idaho will benefit from projects to restore the waterways and enhance recreation,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “We’re grateful for the work and cooperation of our state partners in helping reach this agreement.”
“My office was pleased to work with the United States Department of Justice to resolve the alleged water pollution violations,” said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. “Clean water is a critical resource, and I will continue the work to protect Illinois water sources.”
“We are pleased with today’s announced settlement, which holds the builder to task for serious stormwater violations that harmed the watershed and its ecosystem,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “The settlement not only requires Swinerton to pay civil penalties to both the state and federal government, it also obligates the company to mitigate the environmental damage it caused by taking steps to protect water quality and preserve habitats through the purchase of stream credits. Those credits are an investment that will provide long-term benefits to the watershed.”
Swinerton is a California-based construction company that operates nationwide. Until 2021, its Swinerton Renewable Energy division was the country’s leading constructor of utility-scale solar farms.
Solar farm construction involves clearing and grading large sections of land, which can lead to significant erosion and major runoff of sediment into waterways if stormwater controls at the site are inadequate. Increased sediment in waterways can injure, suffocate or kill aquatic life, damage aquatic ecosystems and cause significant harm to drinking water treatment systems. To avoid these harms to the environment and public health, parties responsible for construction of solar farms must obtain construction stormwater permits under the Clean Water Act and comply with the terms of those permits. A complaint filed with the settlement alleges that during its construction of solar farms near American Falls, Idaho, Lafayette, Alabama, and Perry and White Counties, Illinois, Swinerton failed to use proper stormwater controls, did not conduct regular site inspections by qualified personnel and did not accurately report and address stormwater issues. At the Alabama and Idaho sites, Swinerton’s actions led to unauthorized discharges of large volumes of sediment-laden stormwater into nearby waterways. The United States previously settled cases against the owners of the four solar farm sites.
To resolve the alleged Clean Water Act violations at these sites, Swinerton will pay a civil penalty of $1,614,600 to the United States, $540,500 to ADEM and $144,900 to the State of Illinois. In addition, Swinerton will fund substantial mitigation projects to redress the excess sediment discharges at the Idaho and Alabama sites. In Idaho, Swinerton will provide $600,000 in funding towards a restoration project on the Portneuf River in nearby Pocatello. The project will capture sediment, reconnect riparian and wetland habitat, and will provide a host of other environmental and recreational benefits. In Alabama, Swinerton will purchase 14,020 stream credits in the surrounding watershed, which will help preserve the watershed to promote healthier water quality and aquatic habitats.
Electric Vehicle Battery Manufacturer Exposed Employees to Unsafe Metal Levels
A global electric vehicle battery manufacturer exposed employees at its Commerce plant to serious and potentially disabling safety and health hazards, a U.S. Department of Labor workplace safety inspection found.
The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited SK Battery America Inc. with six serious violations and one other-than-serious violation after finding the company:
- Subjected employees to continuous noise levels exceeding the 8-hour time-weighted average of 85 A-weighted decibels by not developing a monitoring program, nor establishing an audiometric testing program, including a valid baseline audiogram.
- Exposed employees working with cobalt, nickel and manganese to respiratory hazards by failing to complete a workplace hazard assessment; ensure employees were given clean, disinfected and sanitary respirators; and store respirators properly to protect them from material contamination.
- Failed to make certain that people working with corrosive materials had access to eyewash stations and emergency showers.
- Left workers handling bags of nickel powder vulnerable to respiratory hazards by not providing feasible administrative or engineering controls to reduce exposure levels.
"The lithium battery industry has experienced unprecedented growth, and with that growth comes a heightened responsibility to ensure the safety of those at the forefront of innovation. SK Battery America Inc. is well aware that materials used to produce lithium batteries can cause debilitating and permanent health issues,” said OSHA Area Office Director Joshua Turner in Atlanta-East. "OSHA's continued efforts to identify and remain vigilant to these emerging hazards is key in helping the industry understand how to eliminate employee exposures in the workplace. No employer should overlook the reality that is not just about advancing technology; it is about prioritizing the safety of your employees.”
OSHA has proposed $75,449 in penalties, an amount set by federal statute.
SK Battery America Inc., which employs about 3,100 people at its two battery manufacturing plants in Commerce, is a subsidiary of SK On, a global electric vehicle battery manufacturer. SK On is part of the Seoul-based SK Group, South Korea's second-largest conglomerate, which includes companies in energy, advanced materials, biopharmaceuticals, and digital business.
SK Battery America Inc. has contested the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
EPA Lowers Screening Levels for the First Time in 30 Years
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is lowering recommended screening levels and strengthening guidance for investigating and cleaning up lead-contaminated soil in residential areas where children live and play. As a result of lower screening levels, EPA expects to investigate more residential properties for potential cleanup under the Superfund law and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Today’s action delivers on the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing commitment to protect communities from lead poisoning, particularly in disadvantaged and overburdened communities facing multiple sources of lead exposure, advancing President Biden’s environmental justice goals.
“Every family and child, regardless of their zip code, deserves to live without worrying about the life-long health effects from exposure to lead pollution,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Today’s action ensures that EPA uses the latest, best available science to protect children living and playing near sites contaminated by lead in soil.”
EPA is lowering the screening level for lead in soil at residential properties from 400 parts per million (ppm) to 200 ppm. At residential properties with multiple sources of lead exposure, EPA will generally use 100 ppm as the screening level.
Screening levels are not cleanup standards. While this update will help EPA site teams make site-specific cleanup decisions to protect nearby communities, EPA makes cleanup decisions specific to each site, using site-specific factors, including risk factors and community input that can vary from site to site.
The science is clear: there is no known safe blood lead level in children. In infants and children, lead can severely harm mental and physical development—slowing down learning and damaging the brain. In adults, lead can cause increased blood pressure, heart disease, decreased kidney function, and cancer. Communities often face multiple sources of lead exposure, including from lead-based paint, lead in soil, and lead in drinking water.
From day one, the Biden-Harris Administration has made protecting public health and advancing environmental justice a top priority, including by delivering on long overdue updates that follow the science. Updating the residential soil lead guidance is a significant milestone in EPA’s agencywide Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities, and aligns with the goals outlined in the Federal Lead Action Plan.
While the guidance goes into effect immediately, EPA welcomes feedback from the public that may be considered in any future updates to the guidance. Please submit written feedback on the guidance in the public docket (Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OLEM-2023-0664) for 60 days from January 17, 2024, to March 17, 2024.
U.S. Department of Labor Cites Hattiesburg Poultry Facility After Worker Suffers Fatal Injuries
For the second time in just over two years, a poultry processing plant in Hattiesburg has disregarded safety standards that have led to a worker's death, this time a 16-year-old sanitation worker who was pulled into a machine, federal safety investigators found.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that on July 14, 2023, a contract worker employed by Onin Staffing, LLC was performing a deep clean of the deboning area at the Mar-Jac Poultry MS, LLC plant. While sanitizing the still-energized machine, the teen was caught in the rotating shaft and sprockets and pulled in, sustaining fatal injuries. Investigators found that – despite a manager's supervision in and around the area prior to and during the fatal incident – lockout/tagout procedures were not utilized to disconnect power to the machine and a lockout/tagout device was not used to prevent the machine from unintentionally starting during the cleaning.
"Mar-Jac Poultry is aware of how dangerous the machinery they use can be when safety standards are not in place to prevent serious injury and death. The company's inaction has directly led to this terrible tragedy, which has left so many to mourn this child's preventable death," said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt Petermeyer in Atlanta.
OSHA cited Mar-Jac Poultry with 14 serious and three other-than-serious violations after finding the company failed to:
- Ensure energy control procedures were used to prevent the unexpected start-up of machines while employees performed sanitation, exposing workers to caught-in hazards.
- Ensure employees used lockout/tagout devices on machinery when performing cleaning.
- Ensure an energy control procedure included specific steps for blocking and securing portions of the machinery while workers performed cleaning.
- Failed to ensure the machinery retained guarding to prevent employees from entering danger zones while machinery was in operation.
- Cover open holes in 480-volt electrical cabinets, exposing workers to electrical hazards.
- Prevent workers from using portable ladders incorrectly to gain access to elevated work surfaces, exposing workers to fall hazards.
OSHA has proposed $212,646 in penalties, an amount set by federal statute.
The agency previously cited Mar-Jac Poultry after a May 31, 2021, incident in which an employee's shirt sleeve was caught in a machine and they were pulled in, pinning their body against the support and the machine's carousel, resulting in fatal injuries.
"Following the fatal incident in May 2021 Mar-Jac Poultry should have enforced strict safety standards in its facility," Petermeyer added. "Only about two years later nothing has changed and the company continues to treat employee safety as an afterthought, putting its workers at risk. No worker should be placed in a preventable, dangerous situation, let alone a child."
In addition to OSHA's investigation, the department's Wage and Hour Division has an open child labor investigation and the matter is currently pending.
Headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia, Mar-Jac Poultry was founded in 1954 and has facilities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. The company raises live birds for poultry production food service sold to numerous countries.
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