EPA Revises Risk Determinations for Three Solvents

July 18, 2022
EPA proposes to find that three solvents—methylene chloride, perchloroethylene (PCE), and n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP)—present “unreasonable [risks] of injury to human health” in draft revised risk determinations released in recent weeks. The revised risk determinations incorporate policy changes announced by EPA in June 2021 concerning personal protective equipment, risk management, unreasonable risk determinations, and exposure pathways. Unlike previous risk evaluations for these chemicals, which assumed that personal protective equipment was always provided to workers and worn properly in occupational settings, EPA’s new draft revised risk determinations do not assume the use of PPE. The new determinations also differ from previous risk evaluations in that they propose that the solvents present unreasonable risks as whole chemical substances, rather than making separate risk determinations for individual conditions of use. EPA’s new “whole chemical approach” applies “when it is clear the majority of the conditions of use warrant one determination,” the agency explains.
According to EPA, methylene chloride is used as a solvent in vapor degreasing and metal cleaning as well as an ingredient in sealants and adhesive removers. NMP, a common alternative to methylene chloride, is used in the manufacture of petrochemicals, electronics, and plastic material and resins. NMP is also used for producing and removing paints, coatings, and adhesives. PCE is also used as a solvent for cleaning and degreasing, and in lubricants, adhesives, and sealants, the agency says.
EPA is accepting comments related to its draft revised risk determinations on PCE and NMP until Aug. 1. Stakeholders have a few more days—until Aug. 4—to submit comments related to the revised risk determination for methylene chloride. Further details and instructions for submitting comments can be found in EPA’s press releases announcing its draft revised risk determinations for methylene chloride, PCE, and NMP.
New Skin Notation Profile Focuses on Flavoring Compounds
A new skin notation profile for the flavoring compound diacetyl and its substitute, 2,3-pentanedione, was published last week by NIOSH. The substances carry the SEN and DIR (IRR) designations, which indicate that they may cause immune-mediated reactions and irritation following dermal exposure.
Occupational exposures to both chemicals have been linked to decreased lung function and to the severe, irreversible lung disease obliterative bronchiolitis. Other health effects of occupational exposure to diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione include irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. A NIOSH topic page on flavorings-related lung disease provides information about previous agency research and investigations focused on the microwave popcorn and flavorings manufacturing industries.
New skin notation profiles for chlorodiphenyl (54% chlorine); dioxane; beta-chloroprene; and 2,4-toluene diisocyanate, 2,6-toluene diisocyanate, and the mixture of 2,4- and 2,6-toluene diisocyanate are also available. According to NIOSH, chlorodiphenyl (54% chlorine) was previously used as a dielectric fluid, hydraulic fluid, and rubber plasticizer, and may be present in transformers and capacitors that are still in use today. Dioxane is primarily used as an organic solvent, while beta-chloroprene is used as an intermediate in the production of artificial rubber and neoprene, the agency says. And 2,4-toluene diisocyanate is used as a chemical intermediate in the production of polyurethane products like foams, coatings, elastomers, adhesives, and sealants.
NIOSH skin notations offer warnings about the direct, systemic, and sensitizing effects of chemical exposures to the skin. Each skin notation profile includes a brief summary of epidemiological and toxicological data associated with skin contact with a chemical and the rationale behind the chemical’s hazard-specific skin notation assignment.
All final skin notation profiles are available via the NIOSH website. To learn more about the NIOSH strategy for assigning skin notations, see NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin 61.
Alarming Rise in Trench-Related Fatalities Spurs Nationwide Enforcement
In 2022’s first six months, 22 workers have fallen victim to the deadly hazards present in trenching and excavation work – surpassing 15 in all of 2021 – and prompting OSHA to launch enhanced enforcement initiatives to protect workers from known industry hazards.
To stress the dangers of disregarding federal workplace safety requirements for trenching and excavation work, OSHA enforcement staff will consider every available tool at the agency’s disposal. These actions will place additional emphasis on how agency officials evaluate penalties for trenching and excavation related incidents, including criminal referrals for federal or state prosecution to hold employers and others accountable when their actions or inactions kill workers or put their lives at risk.
In keeping with its National Emphasis Program for excavations, OSHA compliance officers will perform more than 1,000 trench inspections nationwide where they may stop by, and inspect, any excavation site during their daily duties.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is calling on all employers engaged in trenching and excavation activities to act immediately to ensure that required protections are fully in place every single time their employees step down into or work near a trench,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Health and Safety Doug Parker. “In a matter of seconds, workers can be crushed and buried under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in an unsafe trench. The alarming increase in the number of workers needlessly dying and suffering serious injuries in trenching incidents must be stopped.”
“Every one of these tragedies could have been prevented had employers complied with OSHA standards,” Parker continued. “There simply is no excuse for ignoring safety requirements to prevent trench collapses and cave-ins, and leaving families, friends and co-workers to grieve when the solutions are so well-understood.”
A recent incident in central Texas highlights the dangers of trenching and an impetus for OSHA’s action. On June 28, 2022, two workers, aged 20 and 39, suffered fatal injuries in Jarrell, Texas, when the unprotected trench more than 20 feet deep collapsed upon them as they worked. Trench shields, which could have saved their lives, sat unused beside the excavation.
Trenching and excavation operations require protective systems and inspections before workers can enter. When employers fail to install trench protection systems or properly inspect the trench, workers are exposed to serious hazards, including risk of being buried under thousands of pounds of soil. By some estimates, a cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, equal to that of a compact car.
States that operate their own Occupational Safety and Health plan have similar emphasis programs in place, and OSHA also encourages those states to consider additional measures, including criminal referrals for federal or state prosecution for trenching-related incidents.
Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.
“OSHA stands ready to assist any employer who needs help to comply with our trenching and excavation requirements,” Parker added. “We will conduct outreach programs, including safety summits, in all of our 10 regions to help ensure any employer who wants assistance gets it. The stakes are too important.”
OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program, a free and confidential health and safety consulting program for small- and medium-sized businesses, will assist employers in developing strategic approaches for addressing trench-related illnesses and injuries in workplaces.
The agency also urges workers to contact their local OSHA or state plan office, or call 800-321-OSHA, if their employer requires working in or beside trenches that are not sloped, shored, or shielded and are five or more feet in depth. 
OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.
Settlement with PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer to Require Treatment of More Than a Billion Pounds of Hazardous Waste and Closure of Huge Phosphogypsum Waste Stacks and Impoundments
The Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) announced a settlement with PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer L.P. (PCS Nitrogen), to remedy hazardous waste issues at its former fertilizer manufacturing facility in Geismar, Louisiana.
This settlement resolves alleged violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at the facility, including that PCS Nitrogen failed to properly identify and manage certain waste streams as hazardous wastes. These corrosive (acidic) hazardous wastes were illegally mixed with process wastewater and phosphogypsum from phosphoric acid production. The resulting mixture of wastes was disposed of in surface impoundments. The settlement requires PCS Nitrogen to treat over one billion pounds of acidic hazardous process wastewater over the next several years. The acidic hazardous process wastewaters will be contained in the phosphogypsum stack system and then treated in the newly constructed water treatment plant. The settlement also regulates the long-term closure of PCS Nitrogen’s phosphogypsum stacks and surface impoundments for over 50 years and requires PCS Nitrogen to ensure that financial resources will be available for environmentally sound closure of the facility. PCS Nitrogen will provide over $84 million of financial assurance to secure the full cost of closure and pay a civil penalty of $1,510,023.
“This settlement requires treatment of all contaminated wastewater accumulated at the PCS Nitrogen facility, thus protecting sensitive wetlands and the Mississippi River,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “PCS Nitrogen also will secure the full cost of closure with $84 million in financial assurance to protect taxpayers, demonstrating our continued commitment to hold this industry accountable both for past violations and future contingencies.”
“This settlement requires PCS Nitrogen to treat over one billion pounds of hazardous waste and take steps to ensure that the long-term closure of its facility is protective of the environment,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This is a very important outcome as the facility is located in an area prone to hurricanes and the financial assurance secured will protect taxpayers from paying future closure and cleanup costs.”
“This settlement represents a lot of hard work by LDEQ enforcement and legal staffs who joined their EPA counterparts in drafting this settlement,” said LDEQ Secretary Dr. Chuck Carr Brown. “It will provide a protective solution for decades to come.”
PCS Nitrogen manufactured phosphate products in Louisiana for agriculture and industry from the 1960s to 2018, including phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizer, through processes that generated large quantities of acidic wastewater and a solid material called phosphogypsum. The phosphogypsum was deposited and remains in large piles (some over 100 acres large and 200 feet high) referred to as phosphogypsum stacks. Acidic wastewaters are stored in the phosphogypsum stacks and surface impoundments. The facility is now undergoing closure.
The settlement requires PCS Nitrogen to comply with RCRA requirements to make RCRA hazardous waste determinations and properly manage all hazardous wastes in its phosphogypsum stacks and surface impoundments. This injunctive relief will be governed by the terms of the consent decree and by administrative agreements, permits, and/or orders issued by LDEQ under its authorized state program, and subject to EPA’s authorities under RCRA or any other applicable law. Additionally, PCS Nitrogen has completed certain site assessment and remedial activities pursuant to EPA and Louisiana regulations.
The EPA has completed judicial and administrative settlements with 13 phosphate fertilizer facilities across the United States, all requiring extensive injunctive relief and financial assurance to bring their operations into compliance with RCRA.
A consent decree formalizing this settlement with PCS Nitrogen was lodged recently in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana and is subject to a 45-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. The consent decree can be viewed at the Department of Justice website: www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
'Weekend Work' Initiative to Conduct Random Safety Inspections to Protect Construction Workers from Fall Hazards
To target one of the construction industry's most dangerous hazards – falls from elevation – OSHA has launched a new initiative to conduct safety investigations on weekends in select counties in Colorado’s Front Range, Montana, and South Dakota.
Since 2017, OSHA has investigated 10 fatalities and numerous serious construction-related fall injuries in these areas. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that falls from elevation led to 351 of the 1,008 deaths among construction worker.
Through the fall of 2022, OSHA area offices in Denver and Englewood; Billings, Montana; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will undertake the "Weekend Work" initiative to open workplace safety and health inspections on weekends in Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, El Paso, Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Larimer and Weld counties in Colorado; Yellowstone, Carbon and Stillwater counties in Montana; and Minnehaha, Lincoln, Brookings, Pennington and Union counties in South Dakota.
"OSHA's Weekend Work initiative will identify and address construction-related fall hazards on weekends, when many employers typically do not monitor their job sites well," said OSHA Regional Administrator Jennifer Rous in Denver. "Our proactive approach will identify hazardous worksites, ensure that workers are protected from needless injuries or worse, and help ensure employers provide a safe and healthful workplace."
POET Biorefining LLC, Exceeds Stormwater Discharge Limits, Fails Sampling Requirements
According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) enforcement investigation, POET Biorefining LLC, in Glenville, Minnesota, exceeded its permitted stormwater discharge limits, including total suspended solids and carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand (CBOD), the measurement of dissolved oxygen depletion in wastewater released into a body of water.
Other violations included missing 10 percent of required sampling collection and reporting between March 2019 and March 2022, submitting monthly and annual reports late, missing flow meter calibrations, and missing stormwater inspections.
In addition to paying a $12,029 civil penalty to the MPCA, POET Biorefining developed and implemented revised operating plans to ensure similar violations would not occur in the future.
MPCA rules and regulations are designed to protect human health and the environment by limiting pollution emissions and discharges from facilities. When companies do not fully comply with regulatory requirements, the resulting pollution can be harmful to people and the environment.
When calculating penalties, the MPCA takes into account how seriously the violations affected or could have affected the environment, and whether they were first-time or repeat violations. The agency also attempts to recover the economic benefit the company gained by failing to comply with environmental laws in a timely manner.
Silver Bay Seafoods Agrees to Pay $467,469 for Alaska DEC Permit Violations
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) penalized Silver Bay Seafoods, LLC $467,469 for water quality violations at its Naknek River facility in Bristol Bay. Silver Bay Seafoods has also agreed to take corrective actions in response to significant violations of their Alaska Pollutant Discharge Eliminations System (APDES) permit. In addition to numerous violations found at the facility during a scheduled on-site inspection in 2021, the company also repeatedly discharged significantly more fish waste into the Naknek River than permitted, despite DEC denying Silver Bay Seafoods' request to exceed discharge limits.
"The terms of an APDES permit ensure a facility operates in a matter that is protective of public health and the environment, an especially important consideration in an area that supports a large commercial fishery and attracts sport fishers from all over the world," said Randy Bates, DEC Division of Water Director. "Not only did Silver Bay Seafoods' knowing and recalcitrant disregard for permit terms put the local environment at risk, but it also gave them a material competitive advantage over the other seafood processors in the area who undertook the costs of compliance."
The Silver Bay Seafoods facility is about five miles upstream from the mouth of the Naknek River, alongside other processing facilities up and down stream. The area is influenced by the significant tidal flows that wash in and out of the river, as well as the current of the river itself, which disperses the fish waste discharged by the processing facilities. However, there is a practical limit to the amount of waste the tidal river system can handle and exceeding it could cause concentrations of standing fish waste to accumulate and stagnate, leading to upstream and downstream consequences for the local environment.
Silver Bay Seafoods' APDES permit allowed for the discharge of up to 10 million pounds of fish waste a year. They exceeded the limit without authorization by 2.9 million pounds (29 percent of the permitted limit) in 2017 and by 5.1 million pounds (51 percent of the permitted limit) in 2020. Their APDES permit also requires catch transfer water, wastewater sent from the vessel offloading fish to a processing plant, to be discharged through the plant's outfall to avoid water quality impacts. The onsite inspection in 2021 found Silver Bay allowing a vessel to discharge catch transfer water at the dock, causing a water quality violation of blood and foam on the water surface, in violation of their permit and DEC's direction not to discharge at the dock. DEC inspectors also found grind size limit exceedances, best management practice plan violations, and failure to self-report non-compliance with the permit conditions.
The penalty that Silver Bay Seafoods negotiated with the DEC Division of Water takes into consideration the severity of the violations as well as the economic benefits the company realized when they avoided the cost of complying with the permit conditions. The agreement includes required structural and operational changes the company must make to better ensure future compliance, as well as stipulated financial penalties that Silver Bay Seafoods will pay if the Naknek facility violates the terms of the permits in the future.
"As the Bristol Bay region prepares for a record setting return of 75 million sockeye salmon and the seafood processing season gets underway, those that benefit from our bountiful resources must comply with the terms of their permits," said Bates. "Our permits are designed to maintain water quality and, going forward, we expect adherence to our requirements."
Carpentry Contractor Cited After 19-Year-Old Worker Suffers Fatal Injuries in 25-Foot Fall
A fall from elevation, the leading cause of death in the construction industry, has claimed another victim; this time a 19-year-old worker in Port Saint Lucie whose fatal injuries in January 2022– a federal workplace safety investigation has determined – could have been prevented if their employer used required fall protection.
OSHA determined that the employee of Union Carpentry, LLC – a Fort Pierce carpentry contractor – was installing trusses and plywood sheathing on a residential development clubhouse when they fell about 25 feet onto a concrete floor. OSHA cited the contractor for one willful violation for failing to ensure employees wore fall protection while exposed to fall hazards, and one serious violation for failing to train workers on the correct use of fall arrest systems.
“Falls from elevation cause the most fatalities in the construction industry, and time and again, we find employers exposing workers to fall hazards by ignoring safety standards,” said OSHA Area Office Director Condell Eastmond in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Employers who fail to comply with fall protection standards put the lives and well-being of employees at risk and leave families to grieve when unnecessary tragedy strikes. OSHA will remain vigilant in holding employers accountable when they disregard their legal obligation to provide a safe work environment.”
EPA Orders Construction Site Operator in Puerto Rico to Comply with Clean Water Regulations
The EPA recently ordered the Kanaan Corporation to comply with critical Clean Water Act permitting and pollution reduction measures in order to address discharges of stormwater from a 19-acre site in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, where Kanaan is building a commercial center. This order is the latest in a series of enforcement actions taken by EPA to address stormwater violations from construction sites throughout the island. EPA considers it a priority to assure compliance with the Clean Water Act due to increased construction activity across Puerto Rico, especially in coastal areas.
“Polluted stormwater harms waterbodies used for fishing and swimming and that provide critical habitat for marine life in Puerto Rico, so it’s imperative developers manage stormwater from construction sites in accordance with the Clean Water Act,” said EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “This order embodies EPA’s continued commitment to holding companies accountable when they violate critical laws that protect clean water and public health.”
An EPA inspection earlier this year found that Kanaan lacked the proper Clean Water Act permits for discharges of stormwater from a site associated with the construction of the proposed Plaza Noroeste Shopping Mall on PR-2 Road in the Corrales Ward of Aguadilla. Kanaan has been discharging polluted stormwater from the site into a sewer system owned and operated by the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works, which is connected to a creek that flows to the Culebrinas River and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean.
EPA has ordered Kanaan to develop a plan to fully implement erosion and sediments controls for the site in Aguadilla and apply for a new permit under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. EPA’s order also requires Kanaan to stabilize certain areas at the site and control the spread of dust.
When it rains, stormwater washes over the loose soil on a construction site, along with various materials and products stored outside. As stormwater flows over the site, it can pick up pollutants like sediment, debris, and chemicals from that loose soil and transport them to nearby storm sewer systems or directly into rivers, lakes, or coastal waters. EPA works with construction site operators to make sure they have the proper stormwater controls in place so that construction can proceed in a way that protects your community’s clean water and the surrounding environment.
Learn more about the importance of controlling construction stormwater discharges at: https://www.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater-discharges-construction-activities#importance.
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