February 14, 2022
A report released recently by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) calls for extending respiratory protection to the public and to workers not currently covered by relevant OSHA requirements. During a virtual presentation accompanying the report’s release, Dr. Jonathan Samet, chair of the NAS committee that developed the report, said that its recommendations “will require action at the highest levels of government” to provide respiratory protection to the entire United States population.
The NAS committee recommends that two “coordinating entities,” one for workers and one for the public, be given responsibility for assessing inhalation hazards, determining necessary respiratory protective devices, ensuring the devices’ availability, and incorporating new information as it arises. Formed in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee also addressed questions related to other inhalation hazards such as wildfire smoke and airborne infectious agents in addition to SARS-CoV-2.
According to the report, OSHA should be the coordinating entity for workers, and Congress should revise the Occupational Safety and Health Act to extend the agency’s authority to workplaces not currently covered by the Act. Other recommendations include improving the NIOSH respirator conformity assessment processes, developing guidance for a broader range of workers, and expanding research and surveillance of inhalation hazards in workplaces.
The coordinating entity for the public should be established within the Department of Health and Human Services, the report states. This entity would have the capability to oversee the development of standards for respiratory protection for the public and the approval of respiratory protective devices. The report acknowledges that a laboratory will be needed to serve the same role for the development of devices suitable for the public that the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory plays for respiratory protection in the workplace. Other priorities for the public entity would be to create a process for identifying the correct device for the inhalation hazard of concern and ensure the availability of devices as well as guidance and training that meets the needs of the whole population.
A key feature of the committee’s proposal is the need for the coordinating entities to actively monitor and evaluate activities related to respiratory protection. “This is not a static system,” Dr. Samet said. “We’ll learn as it’s implemented.”
The report broadly defines respiratory protective devices as those that protect against inhalation hazards. Both devices that protect the user and those that protect others through source control, including masks and face coverings, are addressed in the report.
The report was commissioned by NIOSH, EPA, the Department of State, and the CDC Foundation. A free PDF version of the report is available for download by registered users of the National Academies Press website
. More information can be found in a new post to the NIOSH Science Blog
Groups Seek to Stop Illegal PFAS Pollution of North Carolina’s Lumber River
After testing revealed unpermitted discharges of toxic PFAS into the Lumber River, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Winyah Rivers Alliance notified Active Energy Renewable Power—subsidiary of U.K. company, Active Energy Group—that the company is in violation of federal law and must stop its releases of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. If Active Energy does not stop polluting the river with PFAS from its facility in Lumberton, NC, the conservation groups will enforce the Clean Water Act
and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
in federal court to protect the health of surrounding communities and watershed.
“We are extremely concerned that Active Energy is releasing toxic PFAS into the Lumber River,” said Heather Hillaker, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The company is violating multiple federal laws by dumping these chemicals into the river without telling anyone and endangering people.”
Sampling conducted from Active Energy’s wastewater outfall detected total PFAS concentrations of nearly 20,000 parts per trillion in October 2021, and nearly 15,000 ppt in December 2021—thousands of times higher than recommended health values for the chemicals. EPA recently indicated that these industrial chemicals can be harmful to human health at levels below one ppt. PFAS have also been found in high levels in Jacob Branch, a tributary of the Lumber River that borders Active Energy’s site.
“This news is devastating to everyone who loves this watershed, including the local community, my fellow Lumbee Tribe members, and travelers from around the state who come here to fish, paddle, and camp,” said Winyah Rivers Alliance’s Lumber Riverkeeper, Jefferson Currie II. “Active Energy continues to ignore basic environment laws meant to protect our community—this is just one more example of this company’s disregard for our wellbeing and the health of the Lumber River.”
In March 2021, the conservation groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to stop Active Energy’s unpermitted discharges of other pollutants into the watershed. The company failed to apply for a permit from the state for its discharges and therefore has not disclosed information about its discharges to the state or the public. By releasing PFAS into the watershed as well, the company further endangers nearby communities that are predominantly Lumbee and Black, and already exposed to multiple sources of industrial pollution.
If Active Energy constructs a wood pellet mill at the site as planned, the company will increase its wastewater discharges, including its releases of PFAS. PFAS is a class of thousands of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX and is associated with serious health impacts such as various cancers, developmental effects to infants, and reduced vaccine effectiveness. These contaminants are known as forever chemicals—they do not degrade and instead persist and build up in our bodies and the environment.
Healthcare Workers’ Injury and Illness Rates Soar
Amid the pandemic, U.S. healthcare workers experienced a staggering 249 percent increase in injury and illness rates in 2020
while serving those in need. In fact, workers in the healthcare and social assistance industries combined, suffered more injuries and illnesses than workers in any industry in the nation.
As the nation prepares to observe National Caregivers Day
on Feb. 18, OSHA calls on healthcare employers, and those in related industries, to take immediate actions to help make 2022 less hazardous and reduce worker injuries and illnesses.
“Healthcare workers routinely face the risks associated with exposures to bloodborne pathogens, drug residue, X-ray machines, respiratory illness and ergonomic injuries related to lifting patients and repetitive tasks,” said OSHA’s acting Regional Administrator Ryan Hodge in Kansas City, Missouri. “Our nation’s caregivers have made extraordinary sacrifices in recent years – putting themselves on the frontline in a pandemic – and we owe it to them to ensure their employers are doing all they can to protect their employees.”
An effective way to combat workplace injury and illness is to create and use a proactive safety and health program to address hazards and endorse training and preventive measures to keep workers safe.
To understand how effective a program of this kind can be, consider how Community Hospital Onaga – part of Community HealthCare System, Inc.’s, nonprofit healthcare system – succeeded in improving the safety and health of its workers. In 2000, the hospital in rural northeast Kansas contacted OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program about enhancing workplace safety. Visits by the Kansas Department of Labor’s On-Site Consultation
program soon began.
Following those visits, Community Hospital succeeded in correcting all hazards inspectors identified, and it continued to improve its safety and health programs. By December 2002, OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program
awarded the facility “SHARP” status, one of only two Kansas hospitals in the program. The facility has kept injury-and-illness rates below the industry average since 2002. As a result, OSHA has renewed Community Hospital’s SHARP status eight times, most recently in June 2021.
“Participating in OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program helps companies anticipate hazards and take initiative,” Hodge added. “As COVID-19 spread, Community HealthCare System implemented a plan to protect employees and clients. Other healthcare systems can follow their model by encouraging a mindset that anticipates and addresses hazards before they cause harm.”
Suit Filed Against Newcastle Homes for Stormwater Pollution
The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit
on behalf of Coosa Riverkeeper in federal court against Newcastle Homes for consistently violating the Clean Water Act in Shelby County.
In total, Coosa Riverkeeper has documented over 150 instances where Newcastle Homes violated its stormwater permit at its Melrose Landing construction site — a 78-lot subdivision adjacent to the Shelby County Dunnavant Valley Greenway. Coosa Riverkeeper has collected numerous samples in the North Fork of Yellowleaf Creek, a tributary to Lay Lake, and found that the developer discharged sediment 12-14 times over permit limits, which is illegal under the Clean Water Act
“Newcastle is allowing piles of mud and silt to pollute our creek which has incredibly harmful implications for downstream water quality and habitat,” said Coosa Riverkeeper’s Justinn Overton. “Shelby County communities who want to be able to enjoy our rivers, creeks, and places like the Dunnavant Valley Greenway Trail should not have to bear the burden of Newcastle’s pattern of bad development practices especially when Newcastle has had plenty of time and notice to address these problems.”
From 2020 to 2022, Coosa Riverkeeper collected water quality samples on 25 different days and every time it documented both visible stormwater
pollution, captured in pictures and videos, and excess sediment in lab samples taken from five unpermitted discharge points. In June 2021, SELC notified Newcastle of the Riverkeeper’s intent to sue — giving the developer 60 days to comply with permit requirements. However, every sample that Coosa Riverkeeper has taken since then has confirmed violations at the site, despite assurances that the company was fixing the problems.
Newcastle is the second most active homebuilder in Shelby and Jefferson counties with 220 active building permits in 2019. The company has the resources to follow practices that preserve the recreational and practical uses of surrounding waterways, yet Newcastle has repeatedly violated its construction stormwater permits for its projects across the state, including at the Dunnavant Valley Subdivision.
According to Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s efile database, in the last five years alone, the Department found stormwater violations at 13 of the 15 Newcastle construction sites it inspected, and issued at least five warning letters, eight notices of violation, and two consent orders to the company (totaling $39,200 in penalties).
“Alabama’s rivers and streams are not a free dumping ground for developers who feel that they are above the law,” said SELC Senior Attorney Sarah Stokes. “It is past time for Newcastle Homes to address these violations once and for all.”
for photos and videos taken by Coosa Riverkeeper.
Dillsburg Company Pleads Guilty to Clean Air Act Violation
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced recently that Lobar, Inc., of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania entered a plea of guilty to beginning a demolition project of a former weaving mill prior to removing regulated asbestos containing material as required in 40 C.F.R. §61.145(c)(1) and 42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(1).
Asbestos was designated a hazardous air pollutant in 1971 which can become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs. There is no known safe amount of exposure.
According to United States Attorney John C. Gurganus, the criminal charge is the result of Lobar’s activity, as the general contractor, on the Berwick Area School District project, to demolish the former weaving mill in Berwick Pennsylvania and construct a new elementary school.
Prior to purchasing the mill in January 2014, the Berwick Area School District obtained an environmental assessment report that identified hazardous substances, including asbestos, located in the old facility. The existence of asbestos was confirmed by an environmental consultant. The findings of both assessments were shared with Lobar, and its subcontractors responsible for asbestos removal and demolition. Despite this, the demolition went forward before the asbestos was properly removed until stopped by the EPA.
“The defendant was responsible for the integrity of the work site and failed to ensure safe and legal removal of asbestos,” said Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Lynn of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Pennsylvania. “The defendant placed public health at risk and is being held accountable.”
A ten-count indictment filed in January 2020, charged Lobar Inc., First Capital Insulation, Inc., Francis Richard Yingling, Jr., Dennis Lee Charles, Jr., M&J Excavation, Inc., John August Sidari, Jr., and Ty Allen Barnett, with various violations of the federal Clean Air Act arising from disturbing and removing asbestos in violation of the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants regulations. The remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty and are currently scheduled for trial in June 2022 before U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer P. Wilson.
Kentucky Man Criminally Charged for Discharge of Oil and Brine into Adair County Creek
A federal grand jury in Bowling Green, Kentucky, issued an indictment charging Columbia resident Joshua M. Franklin, 32, with violating the Clean Water Act. The charge stems from a 2018 discharge of oil and brine water into Adair County creeks.
Franklin was an operator at an oil lease tank battery in Columbia. His duties included ensuring that brine water, a waste product from oil production, was separated from the oil before it was delivered to customers. The indictment alleges that on Aug. 22, 2018, the oil/water separator at the site used to remove brine water was not functioning. Instead, to remove the brine water, Franklin attached a conduit to the bottom of the oil tank and placed the open end of the conduit yards from a nearby creek. Franklin opened the tank valve, allowing a mixture of brine water and oil to discharge from the tank. With the valve still open, Franklin left the site. As a result, approximately 100 barrels (about 4,000 gallons) of the oily mixture discharged into a nearby creek and eventually flowed into connecting tributaries.
The EPA and the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection conducted the investigation. The maximum penalty under the Clean Water Act is three years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. A court may also impose a restitution payment for the costs of the cleanup.
Owner of San Joaquin Valley Almond Orchard Fined for Clean Water Act Violations, Ordered To Restore Wetlands
The EPA recently announced a settlement
with Edward Lynn Brown, owner of an almond orchard near Merced, California, for violations of the federal Clean Water Act
that impacted more than two acres of rare vernal pool wetlands. The settlement
requires Brown to pay $212,000 in civil penalties and restore and preserve 15 acres of wetland habitat.
On March 14, 2019, EPA inspected the site. Inspectors determined that earth-moving activities by Brown had discharged fill material into waters that flow into the San Joaquin River. This work had been undertaken without obtaining a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Grading and filling wetlands of the San Joaquin River Valley without proper permitting impacts water resources and endangers California’s unique native plants and animals,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “In a time of drought and climate change, it is essential to protect these rare and vital water resources and habitats from destruction.”
Brown’s earth-moving activities from 2016 to 2020 involved building a retention basin and access roads and planting a new almond orchard. The impacts from these activities resulted in the degradation of over two acres of vernal pool wetlands adjacent to Parkinson Creek, a tributary of the San Joaquin River that bisects the ranch. This work violated provisions of a previous 2014 EPA Order
, which had required Brown to notify the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of any proposed activity that may impact local water systems.
To mitigate these negative environmental impacts, under this settlement Brown has agreed to develop a plan for removing 1.9 acres of fill material, restoring, and enhancing 2.44 acres, and preserving 12.66 acres within an 81.39-acre area within the orchard.
Damage Restoration Company Settles Claims of Illegal Asbestos Work at Elementary School
A fire- and water-damage restoration company based in Leominster, MA, will pay more than $67,000 in civil penalties and train its employees on asbestos safety to settle allegations of illegal asbestos work at a Fitchburg elementary school that serves environmental justice neighborhoods, Attorney General Maura Healey announced. The City of Fitchburg, which hired the company, will also implement a comprehensive plan to ensure asbestos is properly maintained at all City schools.
The consent judgment, entered in Suffolk Superior Court, settles allegations that SERVPRO violated the Massachusetts Clean Air Act and its asbestos regulations when it illegally removed asbestos-containing ceiling tiles from the Crocker Elementary School after a burst water pipe damaged the tiles in several classrooms.
“Companies that perform renovation and construction work – especially projects in schools – must comply with state and federal asbestos safety laws and regulations,” AG Healey said. “This settlement holds the company accountable for its illegal and dangerous actions and includes a plan that will improve public health and safety in Fitchburg’s schools.”
The AG’s complaint alleges that SERVPRO failed to recognize that the ceiling tiles contained asbestos, even though school documentation, which is required by federal law and was available to SERVPRO for review, stated that the tiles contained asbestos and required special handling. Instead, during a winter school vacation, the company allegedly broke the tiles into pieces and removed them from several classrooms, hallways, and stairwells without using legally-required safety measures. The company also allegedly dropped some of the tiles out of a second-floor classroom into a dumpster, which contaminated both floors of the school with asbestos fibers.
The AG’s Office further alleges that the City of Fitchburg hired SERVPRO even though it should have known that the tiles contained asbestos and that SERVPRO was not certified to remove the asbestos. Due to the asbestos contamination and required clean up, the school closed for the remainder of the school year, requiring the relocation of all students to neighboring schools.
“As a restoration company, SERVPRO is well aware of the need to conduct a survey for asbestos-containing materials before beginning work, and of the need to ensure that those materials are properly handled by licensed personnel,” said MaryJude Pigsley, Director of the Central Regional Office of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and by failing to follow required work practices, the company put students, school personnel, workers, and the public at risk.”
The consent judgment requires SERVPRO to pay a $67,400 civil penalty and to ensure that at least one employee on each of its work sites will have completed training to improve their awareness of the dangers posed by asbestos and the proper methods of handling it.
Additionally, after working cooperatively with the AG’s Office to create a citywide plan for asbestos management in its schools, the City of Fitchburg agreed to implement that comprehensive plan, which will improve training, notification, monitoring, and maintenance of asbestos in each of Fitchburg’s schools. This plan will bring the City into compliance with asbestos laws and improve asbestos safety. The City will also provide online information about asbestos in its schools in both English and Spanish.
is a mineral fiber that is used in a wide variety of building materials, from roofing and flooring, to siding and wallboard, to caulking and insulation. If asbestos is improperly handled or maintained, fibers can be released into the air and inhaled, potentially resulting in life-threatening illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
AG Healey has made asbestos safety a priority, as part of the Office’s “Healthy Buildings, Healthy Air
” Initiative that was announced in March 2017
to better protect the health of children, families, and workers in Massachusetts from health risks posed by asbestos. Since September 2016, the AG’s Office, with the assistance of MassDEP, has successfully brought asbestos enforcement cases that together have resulted in more than $5.7 million in civil penalties.
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