EPA Takes Key Steps to Protect Groundwater from Coal Ash Contamination

January 17, 2022
The EPA is taking several actions to protect communities and hold facilities accountable for controlling and cleaning up the contamination created by decades of coal ash disposal. Coal combustion residuals (CCR or coal ash), a byproduct of burning coal in coal-fired power plants, contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium, and arsenic that without proper management can pollute waterways, groundwater, drinking water, and the air.
The recent actions advance the agency’s commitment to protecting groundwater from coal ash contamination and include (1) proposing decisions on requests for extensions to the current deadline for initiating closure of unlined CCR surface impoundments; (2) putting several facilities on notice regarding their obligations to comply with CCR regulations and (3) laying out plans for future regulatory actions to ensure coal ash impoundments meet strong environmental and safety standards. EPA is committed to working with states to ensure robust protections for communities.
“I’ve seen firsthand how coal ash contamination can hurt people and communities. Coal ash surface impoundments and landfills must operate and close in a manner that protects public health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “For too long, communities already disproportionately impacted by high levels of pollution have been burdened by improper coal ash disposal. The recent actions will help us protect communities and hold facilities accountable. We look forward to working with our state partners to reverse damage that has already occurred. EPA will support communities with stakeholder engagement, technical assistance, compliance assistance, and enforcement.”
EPA’s regulations required most of the approximately 500 unlined coal ash surface impoundments nationwide to stop receiving waste and begin closure by April 2021.  The regulations outlined a process for facilities to apply for two types of extensions to the closure deadline.
EPA received and reviewed 57 applications from CCR facilities requesting deadline extensions and determined 52 were complete, four were incomplete, and one is ineligible for an extension. Of the 52 complete applications received, EPA conducted technical analyses and is proposing determinations on four applications, with more determinations planned in the coming months.
EPA is proposing denying three requests for deadline extensions after identifying several potential deficiencies with groundwater monitoring, cleanup, and closure activities, including a lack of monitoring wells, improper monitoring techniques, faulty identification of other sources of groundwater contamination, and insufficient evaluations of clean-up technologies, which could prevent adequate groundwater cleanup. EPA is proposing a conditional approval for one request, which would require the facility to fix groundwater monitoring issues.
In addition, the proposed determinations re-state EPA’s consistently held position that surface impoundments or landfills cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater. Limiting the contact between coal ash and groundwater after closure is critical to minimizing releases of contaminants into the environment and will help ensure communities near these facilities have access to safe water for drinking and recreation.
EPA is also taking action to notify facilities of their compliance obligations for several facilities where the agency has information concerning the possible presence of issues that could impact health and the environment. Concerns outlined in separate letters include improper groundwater monitoring, insufficient cleanup information, and the regulation of inactive surface impoundments. EPA is also ensuring facilities comply with the current CCR regulations by working with state partners to investigate compliance concerns at coal ash facilities across the country.
EPA will work in collaboration with states on facility compliance to protect public health and the environment. The agency will focus on compliance at facilities that intend to close surface impoundments with coal ash in contact with groundwater, and facilities with surface impoundments that warrant further groundwater investigation, including facilities that have used an alternate source demonstration, which is when a facility identifies another possible source of contamination. Closure with coal ash in contact with groundwater puts the health and safety of nearby communities at risk.
Moving forward, EPA will improve the current rules by finalizing a federal permitting program for the disposal of coal ash and establishing regulations for legacy coal ash surface impoundments. EPA will also continue its review of state-level CCR program applications to ensure they are as protective as federal regulations.
EPA is requesting public comment for 30 days on the proposed determinations through Regulations.gov.
New NIOSH Document Focuses on Field-Based Monitoring for Respirable Crystalline Silica
A document published this month by NIOSH describes how to implement field-based monitoring for respirable crystalline silica using portable Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). The publication is primarily intended for industrial hygienists and allied professionals who have health and safety responsibilities within the mining industry, though NIOSH states that IHs working in other industries may also find it useful. According to the agency, the document is written for users with experience in respirable dust or respirable crystalline silica exposure assessment who do not necessarily have specialized training in analytical techniques. AIHA member Emanuele Cauda, PhD, co-director of the NIOSH Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies, is a coauthor of the new publication.
“When used appropriately, field-based monitoring for [respirable crystalline silica] enables the timely evaluation of workplace exposure to crystalline silica and can be a valuable component of successful RCS control strategies,” the document explains. “The accuracy of results obtained via field-based monitoring are reliant upon field conditions as well as upon the conscientious sampling and analysis by the user.”
The new document includes instructions for setting up the equipment and software required for field-based respirable crystalline silica monitoring; technical details of the monitoring method; quality assurance procedures to ensure consistent data; and examples and case studies related to the use of different types of samplers in conjunction with field-based monitoring. Appendices include links to additional resources, operational checklists for field-based monitoring, and a comparison of FTIR data obtained using different methods or parameters.
“Direct-on-Filter Analysis for Respirable Crystalline Silica Using a Portable FTIR Instrument” is freely available to download as a PDF from the NIOSH website.
Biochem Technical Services, LLC, Fined for Mismanagement of Medical Waste
Biochem Technical Services, LLC (Biochem), and its owner, Raoul Keith Mangrum Jr., are accused of serious and repeated violation of the state public health code involving the mismanagement of medical waste, such as sharps, body tissue samples, contaminated bandages and laboratory equipment.
On Dec. 10, 2021, the Michigan Department of Attorney General, on behalf of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Materials Management Division, served a complaint on Mangrum filed in Oakland County Circuit Court. EGLE alleges that Mangrum removed medical waste from his clients' facilities and stockpiled the waste, instead of arranging for proper disposal. In addition to the illegal storage, EGLE has documented violations of several other state requirements, including operating without authorization and failure to keep adequate records.
The suit seeks an order barring Mangrum and Biochem from engaging in medical waste collection, transportation, storage and disposal activities, or any other activities regulated by Part 138, Medical Waste Regulatory Act, of the Public Health Code, 1978 PA 368, as amended, and to recover costs to dispose of medical waste and other costs.
This action in the circuit court is necessary because Biochem and Mangrum continued to operate in violation of the law, despite EGLE's previous enforcement actions. These actions include revocation of Biochem's medical waste registration and criminal prosecution. In 2015, Mangrum pleaded guilty to one felony count of "Infectious Waste Littering" in the Wayne County 3rd Circuit Court. Mangrum was sentenced to 60 days in the Wayne County Jail (to be served on weekends), followed by two years' probation with 120 hours of community service, and payment of $3,000 to the Wayne County Environmental Protection Fund. Due to a history of violations, EGLE revoked Biochem's authorization to manage medical waste in 2019. 
Medical waste regulations are in place to protect the public from infectious materials.
"Mr. Mangrum's actions are the most egregious violations we have seen under Michigan's medical waste law," said Elizabeth M. Browne, director of EGLE's Materials Management Division. "Businesses involved in managing medical waste have an obligation to do their work in a way that protects Michigan residents. EGLE is committed to holding Mr. Mangrum accountable and protecting public health and the environment."
Connecticut Manufacturer Cited for 48 Safety, Health Violations Following Employee's Death
An employee of a Watertown metal fabrication company was electrocuted on July 14, 2021, while repairing a portable water heater. As the result of an inspection, OSHA found that his employer, PM Engineered Solutions, Inc., lacked safeguards to protect employees against electrocution, as well as mechanical, chemical, fall and other electrical hazards.
OSHA cited the company for 40 serious and eight other-than-serious violations of workplace safety and health standards found during its comprehensive inspection of the facility. PM Engineered Solutions Inc. now faces a total of $236,201 in proposed penalties.
OSHA inspectors determined that the company failed to develop procedures to lockout the water heater's power source during maintenance or provide lockout training to the deceased employee. They also found the company failed to check energy control procedures periodically.
The purpose of lockout/tagout, also called hazardous energy control, is to prevent the unexpected startup or release of stored electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic or other energy sources in machines and equipment that can result in serious injury or death to workers.
"This employee lost his life due to the employer's failure to implement required energy control procedures," said OSHA Area Director Dale Varney in Hartford. "Of equal concern is the broad cross-section of hazards throughout the facility. Left uncorrected, they expose employees to being crushed, caught in moving machine parts, burned, chemical exposures, falling and being unable to exit the workplace promptly in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or explosion."
OSHA identified additional hazards during its inspection of the plant, including:
  • 62 instances of inadequately guarded machinery, including mechanical power presses, forges, hydraulic presses and grinding machinery
  • Numerous electrical safety violations, including exposed live electrical parts, uncovered electrical boxes, flexible cords used in lieu of permanent wiring and material stored in front of electrical panels
  • Open or unlabeled tanks and containers of hazardous chemicals
  • Improperly located or designed collection systems for combustible dust
  • Lack of personal protective equipment for employees
  • Unsecured or improperly stored compressed gas cylinders
  • Lack of a permit-required confined space program for employees who regularly entered a machine pit
  • Uninspected damaged and unmarked chain slings
  • Uninspected, inadequate and improperly altered powered fork trucks
  • Failure to periodically evaluate fork truck operators' performance
  • Missing or inadequate exit signage
Oregon OSHA Offers Free Online Training for Silica Dust Hazards
Oregon OSHA has launched a free online training course to help employers put protective measures in place for workers against the potential hazards of breathing in airborne crystalline silica dust.
Any worker exposed to dust that contains crystalline silica – from crushed rock, soil, dirt, gravel, or sand, for example – should be concerned about silicosis, a lung disease caused by breathing dust that contains particles of crystalline silica – particles so tiny you can seem them only with a microscope.
Featuring powerful visuals, personal stories, instructional videos, links to resources, and a certificate of completion, the training course is designed to boost the ability of employers to meet the requirements of Oregon OSHA’s silica rules. It offers a tool to employers and workers to bolster their existing training programs.
“Employers and workers need solid training resources to help light the way toward improvements in the health and safety of their workplaces,” said Julie Love, interim administrator for Oregon OSHA. “And it is in the spirit of continuous improvement that we designed and built this free and flexible training course to address the risks of silica dust.”
Common sources of exposure to silica dust include cutting, sawing, drilling, and crushing concrete, brick, ceramic tiles, rock, and stone products. When inhaled, silica particles become trapped in the lungs and damage the tissue. The lung tissue scars and forms small rounded masses called nodules. Over time, the nodules grow, making breathing increasingly difficult.
The training course covers a variety of topics. They include the different forms of silica and where it can be found; job activities involving building materials that can cause silica dust to become airborne and breathable; Oregon OSHA’s silica standard and its provisions to protect workers; and instructional videos showing protective steps workers can take while using powered tools.
The course is now available. A Spanish-language version of the course is in development.
Port of Morrow Fined $1.3 Million for Nitrate Violations
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined the Port of Morrow $1.3 million for repeatedly overapplying wastewater containing nitrogen to agricultural fields and failing to monitor those fields in the Lower Umatilla Basin—an area with longstanding groundwater contamination.
Groundwater is used as a primary drinking water source by residents in the basin, which spans northern Morrow and Umatilla counties. High levels of nitrate in drinking water is linked with serious health concerns, particularly for infants and pregnant women.
The Port of Morrow collects wastewater from food processors, storage facilities and data centers in its industrial park outside Boardman. The port has a DEQ water quality permit that allows it to use the nitrogen-rich wastewater beneficially for irrigation on nearby farms, but the permit includes limits on how much nitrogen can be applied to the farmland and how much nitrate can be present in soil prior to applications. The port violated these limits more than a thousand times, resulting in approximately 165 tons of excess nitrogen being applied between 2018-2021. The port also failed to monitor nitrogen at application sites on 121 separate occasions each year from 2018 to 2020.
“These are serious violations of water quality regulations that are in place to protect public health and the environment,” said Leah Feldon, DEQ deputy director. “The existing nitrate contamination in the basin’s groundwater means everyone in the region has to do their part to reduce this contamination. The Port of Morrow has not been doing its part, and DEQ looks forward to working together to correct these violations and protect our aquifers from future contamination.”
Nitrogen limits prevent overapplication and ensure nitrates don’t filter down through the soil into groundwater. Nitrogen is a beneficial plant nutrient but applying too much can contribute to groundwater contamination.
Drinking water with high levels of nitrates can increase risk of methemoglobinemia, or blue baby syndrome, especially for infants who drink baby formula mixed with water containing nitrate above the safe level.
Public drinking water systems must monitor and maintain safe drinking water, but the same regulations do not apply to privately owned wells in Oregon. Private well users are responsible for monitoring and maintaining their own drinking water. Learn more about nitrates and well water from the Oregon Health Authority. Information is also available in Spanish.
DEQ identified the Port of Morrow’s wastewater as one of many sources contributing to nitrate contamination in the area’s groundwater. The primary source of contamination is fertilizer use on irrigated farmland, followed by confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), pastures, food processing wastewater systems and septic systems.
DEQ is also working with the Port of Morrow and other industrial facilities in the area to ensure appropriate and agronomic irrigation practices during the non-growing season when crop uptake of nitrate is minimal. There is increased risk of nitrate reaching groundwater during the non-growing season.
Reducing groundwater nitrate contamination from food processors is a goal of the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area (LUBGWMA) Second Local Action Plan, which was finalized in October 2020. The port and other local businesses and organizations contributed to the development of that action plan.
Roofing Companies Face Over $750,000 in Collective Fines for Repeatedly Putting Workers at Risk of Dangerous Falls
Falling from heights is one of the leading causes of workplace deaths and serious injuries. Fall protection can be a lifesaver, but you have to wear it for it to work.
The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) recently issued a combined $768,000 in fines against three Washington roofing companies for allowing workers to roof on top of homes without using fall protection and for other safety violations.
“It’s frustrating to see these repeat offenders continue to blatantly disregard their employees’ safety and health,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Always Roofing of Snohomish County, Wilson Roofing and Construction LLC of Kirkland, and Valentine Roofing Inc. of Tukwila have a history of ignoring safety requirements. These new citations and fines are the latest.
Allways Roofing, Snohomish
With the most fines of the three, Allways Roofing was fined $425,000 for seven safety violations including two egregious, willful, repeat violations — the most severe penalty imposed by the state. The fines are for failure to use fall protection and for using material roofing brackets as tie off points. L&I also cited the employer for lack of worker eye protection while using nail guns, improper ladder use, and other safety violations observed by inspectors at a Snohomish home.
Allways Roofing was fined $1.2 million six months ago for the same violations. And, about a year ago, it was fined nearly $375,000. The company has been, and will remain, in the Severe Violators Enforcement Program, subjecting the firm to greater scrutiny.
“That’s $2 million in fines over the last 12 months,” said Blackwood. “We won’t give up on our efforts to protect these workers no matter how many times we have to inspect, cite, and fine the company.”
Allways Roofing has had at least seven serious injuries including five falls from heights and two eye injuries from nail guns.
Wilson Roofing & Construction, LLC, Kirkland
Not far behind is Wilson Roofing & Construction, fined $247,000 for six safety violations including two egregious, willful, repeat violations for lack of fall protection and other safety violations while roofing a home in Ferndale.
During an inspection, three roofers were seen wearing harnesses that were not attached to tie off ropes while working on a steep pitched roof with a fall height of about 22 feet.
In the last three years, L&I has inspected Wilson Roofing & Construction twice following falls from heights, which hospitalized employees. In March 2019, the company was cited and fined $42,000 for not ensuring fall protection was being used by its roofers. Wilson Roofing & Construction is now considered a Severe Violator.
Valentine Roofing, Inc., Tukwila
A homeowner in Lake Tapps contacted L&I after she photographed employees of Valentine Roofing working up to 16 feet high on the roof without wearing fall protection and without using eye protection while using a nail gun.
State inspectors said they also observed skylights and roof holes that did not have guardrails to prevent workers from falling through.
L&I fined Valentine Roofing $94,000 for four serious safety violations. The agency has inspected the company nine times over the past three years and cited it repeatedly for fall protection violations.
Allways Roofing and Wilson Roofing have appealed the citations and fines. Valentine Roofing has until Jan. 27 to file an appeal.
“Falls are the most common cause of death in construction,” said Blackwood. “If this continues, it’s just a matter of time before another injury or fatality occurs at one of these companies. L&I is working diligently to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Preventing falls in construction
Information and training are key to preventing this type of workplace tragedy. L&I developed a fall protection digital tool to help employers and workers learn the fall protection rules and other ways to stay safe on the job. If you see roofers working without fall protection, you can report it anonymously online or call L&I at 1-800-423-7733.
TCEQ Approves Fines Totaling $520,401
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently approved penalties totaling $439,725 against 26 regulated entities for violations of state environmental regulations.
Agreed orders were issued for the following enforcement categories: six air quality, two multimedia, four municipal wastewater discharge, three public water system, four petroleum storage tank, one municipal solid waste,  and one utility certification.
Default orders were issued for the following enforcement categories:  one petroleum storage tank, one municipal water discharge, two municipal solid waste, and one multimedia.
In addition, on Dec. 21 and Dec. 28, 2021, and Jan. 11, 2022, the executive director approved penalties totaling $80,676 against 25 entities.
West Penn Power Fined $610,00 for Discharge Violations at Coal Ash Landfills
West Penn Power of Greensburg, Pennsylvania will pay a $610,000 penalty under a settlement to resolve water discharge violations at two coal ash impoundment landfills in southwestern Pennsylvania, the EPA and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) announced recently.
“This settlement reaffirms that compliance with the Clean Water Act is an ongoing obligation for all industrial polluters who must ensure that their operations do not cause harm to public health and our nation’s waterways,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz.  “We are pleased to have partnered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to ensure the continued protection of Pennsylvania’s rivers and public health.”
According to the settlement, West Penn Power exceeded boron limits in discharges from the Mingo Landfill in Union Township, Washington County, and Springdale Landfill in Frazer Township, Allegheny County.
Along with the penalty, the consent decree with EPA and PADEP requires West Penn Power to construct new gravity pipelines to new outfall locations in a new receiving waters for each landfill (Peters Creek for the Mingo pipeline and the Allegheny River for the Springdale pipeline).  West Penn will also be required to collect data on instream boron levels in Peters Creek.
The settlement addresses alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law that threaten to degrade receiving streams, impact public health, and harm aquatic life.
Federal Helium Enrichment Unit Failed to Follow Safe Chemical Handling Procedures
OSHA has found that the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management violated procedures for safe handling of chemical materials at its Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit in Amarillo, a federal chemical producing plant that refines and sells helium products to private entities.
OSHA issued the facility 21 notices of unsafe working conditions. This is OSHA’s first use of the egregious violation policy in citing unsafe working conditions at a federal facility. The violations of process safety management procedures would carry a private sector penalty of $1,023,987.
The Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General initiated the June 8, 2021, inspection after the OIG received serious safety and health allegations from workers at the facility.
“OSHA found the Bureau of Land Management’s Cliffside Helium Enrichment Unit willfully and repeatedly failed to take required safety measures to ensure the facility’s compliance with federal safety and health procedures and protect employees from chemical production hazards,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Douglas Parker. “Federal employers, just like private sector employers, are responsible for knowing what hazards exist in their facilities and taking appropriate precautions to keep workers safe.”
Six willful safety violations include failing to train workers to understand the purpose and function of the energy control program, and five egregious willful violations are for failing to perform inspections and tests on process equipment. OSHA cited serious violations for process safety management failures, and other-than-serious safety violations involved notification and records violations.
As required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, federal agencies must comply with the same safety standards as private sector employers. The federal agency equivalent to a private sector citation is the notice of unsafe and unhealthful working conditions. A notice is used to inform establishment officials of violations of OSHA standards, alternate standards, and 29 Code of Federal Regulations citable program elements. Monetary penalties are not assessed to federal agencies for failing to comply with OSHA standards.
Seaside Contractor Fined for Violating Job Safety Requirements
Oregon OSHA has fined a Seaside-based contractor more than $15,000 for violating job safety standards during a residential roofing project. All three violations were repeat offenses, including one that exposed workers to potential falls that could seriously injure or kill them.
The citation against Synergy Construction Group Inc. stems from an inspection the division launched in response to a complaint about a lack of fall protection for employees at a multi-story house in Seaside.
Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry.
Oregon OSHA’s inspection found two employees working on the roof with no protection against potential falls to the ground of up to 22 feet. It was a violation of a basic fall protection rule requiring employers to implement protective systems – such as a personal fall restraint system – when employees are exposed to a hazard of falling six feet or more to a lower level. 
In fact, it was the fourth time Synergy Construction Group has violated the standard since February 2020.
“Repeatedly violating workplace safety standards – standards that are proven to protect workers against fall hazards – serves only one purpose: to increase the risk to employees of serious harm or death,” said Julie Love, interim administrator for Oregon OSHA. “And there is absolutely no excuse for it.”
Altogether, Oregon OSHA cited Synergy Construction Group for the following violations and proposed penalties totaling $15,850:
  • Failure to provide fall protection systems where workers were exposed to a hazard of falling six feet or more to a lower level. It was a repeat violation.
  • Total proposed penalty: $15,000
  • Failure to provide documentation of fall protection training for the employees doing the roofing job. It was a repeat violation.
  • Total proposed penalty: $500
  • Failure to document, make available, and maintain for three years a written record of safety meetings addressing such issues as hazards related to tools, equipment, the work environment, and unsafe work practices. It was a repeat violation.
  • Total proposed penalty: $350
Bronx Medical Center Failed to Protect Employees from Workplace Violence
Registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, patient care technicians and security officers provide essential services in healthcare settings. Their work also exposes them to various on-the-job hazards, including assault and other forms of workplace violence. When such hazards exist, employers must develop and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention program.
An inspection by OSHA, prompted by employee complaints, determined that Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx lacked adequate safeguards for employees in the pediatric emergency department of the Children's Hospital at Montefiore.
OSHA found that employees, including nurses, assistants, technicians and security personnel, were exposed to workplace violence. In some cases, physical assaults from violent patients occurred during one-on-one patient observations, while restraining patients during assaults and attempted escapes, and while performing holds on or restraining patients. The violent incidents resulted in worker injuries, including broken bones, bites, and neck, back and shoulder injuries. The injuries caused some employees to incur lost work time.
The agency determined that Montefiore's workplace violence prevention program was inadequate and lacked effective engineering and administrative controls and employee training to protect workers against the recurring hazard of workplace violence.
OSHA cited Montefiore for one serious violation under the general duty clause, with a proposed penalty of $13,653, for not providing a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. The agency also cited the facility for two other-than-serious violations, with $3,902 in proposed penalties, for incomplete, inaccurate and untimely injury and illness incident reports. View the citations.
“This employer ignored repeated episodes of physical assault that put their employees at risk,” said OSHA Area Director Robert T. Garvey in Tarrytown, New York. “Employers can and must reduce workplace violence hazards by implementing and maintaining an effective workplace violence prevention program, which is an essential safeguard for these essential workers.”
Free Amazon HD 10 Tablet with RCRA and DOT Training
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