New EPA Wastewater Limits for PFAS, Updated Limits for Nutrients

September 13, 2021
EPA prepares Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plans pursuant to CWA section 304(m). Preliminary plans provide a description of the agency’s annual review of ELGs and pretreatment standards, consistent with the CWA. Based on these reviews, EPA develops preliminary plans to identify any new or existing industrial categories selected for ELG or pretreatment standards rulemakings and to provide a schedule for such rulemakings. In addition, preliminary plans present any new or existing categories of industry selected for further review and analysis.
EPA has released Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15), which identifies opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution. Preliminary Plan 15 announces that EPA will undertake three new rulemakings to reduce contaminants including PFAS and nutrients—from key industries.
“To protect drinking water supplies, recreational waters, and aquatic ecosystems, it is essential that we utilize the latest scientific and technological breakthroughs in wastewater treatment,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “This plan illustrates one way that EPA is following science to better protect public health and the environment. Importantly and for the first time, EPA is committing to limit PFAS in wastewater discharges.”
EPA will be initiating three new rulemakings after concluding several studies that were discussed in Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 14. The agency has determined that revised effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs) and pretreatment standards are warranted for:
  • Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers category to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discharges from facilities manufacturing PFAS.
  • Metal Finishing category to address PFAS discharges from chromium electroplating facilities.
  • Meat and Poultry Products category to address nutrient discharges.
Preliminary Plan 15 also discusses the Steam Electric Power Generating category rulemaking that the agency announced on July 26, 2021. EPA has initiated that rulemaking process to consider strengthening the effluent limits applicable to certain ELG waste streams from coal power plants that use steam to generate electricity.
U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works said, “I’m encouraged that the Biden administration is taking a step in the right direction to curb the discharges of PFAS, so-called ‘forever chemicals’ that present a sinister and pervasive threat to our nation’s health and economy. Putting limits on these toxic substances will help address the widespread PFAS contamination that has devastated so many communities and families across the country. We must continue our efforts to tackle these dangerous toxins.”
OSHA Rule to Require COVID Vaccines or Testing
On September 8, President Biden announced a dramatically expanded reach of vaccination requirements, requiring — through a rule OSHA is developing — that all businesses with 100 or more employees ensure every worker is either fully vaccinated or gets tested at least one time a week; requiring all workers in most healthcare settings that receive Medicaid or Medicare to be fully vaccinated; requiring all federal executive branch employees and all employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated; and requiring all Head Start educators and teachers and staff of all federally run schools to be fully vaccinated.
The rule, which is expected to be published within the next few weeks, will cover over 100 million private sector employees, healthcare workers, educators and teachers, federal employees and contractors, or about two thirds of all US workers.  The White House indicated that if a workplace refuses to follow the standard, the OSHA fines can be quite significant.  Enforcement actions can include fines up to $13,600 per violation.
Ban on Polystyrene Packaging and Fill Proposed
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced the release of proposed regulations to implement a ban on expanded polystyrene foam containers and loose fill packaging, commonly referred to as 'packing peanuts,' that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022. The ban builds on New York's environmental leadership in preventing litter and reducing waste through measures such as the ban on plastic carryout bags, the bottle bill, and food scrap recycling and food waste prevention efforts. New York is among the first states to ban polystyrene packaging and fill. DEC is accepting comments on the proposed regulations until Nov. 22, 2021.
"New York's proposed regulations to implement a ban on polystyrene foam containers and packing material will reduce the waste headed to landfills and combustors," Commissioner Seggos said. "The ban creates enormous long-term benefits for the environment by helping to reduce litter, clean up the recycling stream, prevent macro/microplastic pollution, and bolster the ongoing transition to more sustainable alternatives. I encourage New Yorkers to review the draft regulations and provide comments as we work to remove these single-use plastic products from our waste stream to protect the environment, both now and into the future."
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam is a major contributor to environmental litter, causing negative impacts to wildlife, waterways, and natural resources. EPS foam is lightweight, breaks apart easily, and does not readily biodegrade, rendering it persistent in the environment and susceptible to becoming microplastic pollution. In addition, EPS foam containers and loose fill packaging are not accepted by most recycling programs in New York State because the foam is difficult to recycle, easily contaminates the recycling stream, is often soiled, and has low value.
The law and proposed regulations prohibit any person engaged in the business of selling or distributing prepared food or beverages for on- or off-premises consumption from selling, offering for sale, or distributing disposable food service containers that contain expanded polystyrene foam in New York. In addition, no manufacturer or store will be allowed to sell, offer for sale, or distribute polystyrene loose fill packaging in the state.
Examples of covered food service providers required to comply with the ban include:
  • Food service establishments, caterers, temporary food service establishments, mobile food service establishments, and pushcarts as defined in the New York State Sanitary Code;
  • Retail food stores, as defined in Article 28 of the Agriculture and Markets Law, which include any establishment where food and food products are offered to the consumer and intended for off-premises consumption;
  • Delis, grocery stores, restaurants, cafeterias, and coffee shops;
  • Hospitals, adult care facilities, and nursing homes; and
  • Elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities.
Disposable food service containers made of expanded polystyrene that will be banned under the law and proposed regulations include bowls, cartons, hinged clamshell containers, cups, lids, plates, trays, or any other product designed or used to temporarily store or transport prepared foods or beverages, including containers generally recognized as designed for single use. Under the law, certain facilities and covered food service providers may request a financial hardship waiver, which may apply to one or more disposable food service containers. The proposed regulations detail the application process and approval criteria.
The law and proposed regulations include exemptions for raw meat, pork, seafood, poultry, or fish sold for the purpose of cooking or preparing off-site by the customer and prepackaged food filled or sealed prior to receipt at a covered food service provider. The law does not apply in New York City because the city has a local polystyrene ban in place and meets the law's population threshold. Other local laws enacting a polystyrene ban are preempted by the state law, except any county law enacting a polystyrene ban providing environmental protection equal to or greater than the state law or regulations will not be preempted if the county files a written declaration with DEC of its intent to administer and enforce its local law.
The full text of the draft regulations, including express terms, hearing information, and related information pertaining the proposed rulemaking, is available on DEC's website.
DEC will hold a virtual public hearing on the proposed Part 353 regulations on Nov. 15, at 1 p.m. Details about the public hearing will be shared soon. The public is invited to submit written comments on the proposed regulations from Sept. 8 through Nov. 22. Written comments can be submitted by email to or by mail to: BWRR-Part 353, NYSDEC, Division of Materials Management, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-7253. Please include "Comments on Proposed Part 353" in the subject line of the email.
CT Not on Track to Meet Statutory Emissions Targets
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) announced the release of the 2018 Connecticut Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Inventory (2018 GHG Inventory), which tracks the state’s progress toward meeting the economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets established in the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA).
The 2018 GHG Inventory, which provides an overview of emissions for the year 2018—the most recent year for which there is data available—and emission trends since 1990, reveals that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle exhaust and building heating and cooling are increasing, which is not in line with the substantial reductions that will be needed to meet the 2030 and 2050 GHG reduction targets set by the General Assembly.
“This report demonstrates that there is urgent work to be done for Connecticut to reduce our share of the greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change,” said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes. “Taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not only help to mitigate the harm and the costs to future generations, but it will also deliver immediate benefits to Connecticut communities today, in terms of cleaner air, better health, more affordable transportation, growing jobs, strengthened infrastructure, and better quality of life.”
In 2018, Connecticut emitted 42.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is 7.3 percent below 1990 emission levels, 17.8 percent below 2001 emission levels, but 1.2 tons, or approximately 2.9 percent, higher than the state’s 2020 emissions goal. While this amount is a 24 percent decrease from 2004, when the state’s emissions peaked, it is a 2.7 percent increase from the 2017 inventory.
At 15.8 million metric tons, transportation emissions exceeded the combined emissions of the next two largest sectors, electricity and residential, and have actually risen since 1990 despite a 16 percent improvement in per vehicle mile emissions over the same period. Despite significant improvements in fuel economy since 1990, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) has increased at a faster rate, thereby increasing transportation-sector emissions.  The 2018 GC3 report indicated that transportation emissions must fall by about one-third by 2030 in order to meet the state’s GHG emission reduction target for that year.  While increasing transportation emissions is the most worrying trend, the 2018 Inventory also showed a modest increase in GHG emissions associated with heating and cooling buildings, primarily due to weather conditions.  But this slight increase is not in line with the approximately 34% reduction in emissions from the built environment that will be needed to meet the 2030 target, according to the 2018 GC3 report.
The 2018 GHG Inventory shows encouraging results in electricity sector emissions. The inventory documents a decline in electricity-sector emissions of 32 percent since 1990 and 35 percent since 2001.  This reduction was due to increased energy efficiency in businesses and homes and, especially, a continuing regional shift from carbon-intensive fuels such as petroleum and coal to less carbon-intensive natural gas and zero-carbon renewables.  The sector’s emissions in 2018 were down 4.7 percent from 2017, even though somewhat warmer weather in 2018 increased electricity demand for air conditioning.
The results found in this inventory make clear that significantly reducing transportation emissions — and meeting the state’s overall emission goals — will require not only strategies to further improve fuel economy, especially by boosting adoption of zero-emission vehicles, but also strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled. This will require pursuing strategies recommended by the Governor’s Council on Climate Change (GC3) in its 2021 report, including implementing the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI) to set a limit on transportation GHG emissions and support $1 billion in clean transportation investments and adopting more stringent emissions standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles.  In the buildings sector, substantial GHG emissions reductions can be achieved by authorizing municipalities to implement an ‘energy stretch code’ to require large new or renovated buildings to use at least 10% per square foot less energy.
The GWSA as enacted established a requirement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions statewide but does not provide for general authority to regulate GHG emissions to meet the targets or mechanisms to enforce the targets, as similar statutes in other states provide.
The consequences of not taking action to accelerate emissions reductions are dire. According to the 2021 GC3 report, climate change will have substantial impacts on Connecticut, some of which are already being experienced.  Because of GHG emissions already released into the atmosphere, these impacts will accelerate between now and 2050, including rising seas, higher temperatures, heavier rainfall events, more frequent droughts, and hurricanes with stronger winds and more precipitation.
But the science also says that if we take aggressive action now to reach net zero GHG emissions globally by 2050 we can stop the warming and stabilize our earth’s climate for 2050 and beyond. In the absence of action, warming will accelerate and sea levels will rise by more than 6 feet by 2100. Lowering emissions to prevent the impacts of climate change is the most affordable and effective way to address climate change.
“As the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report reaffirmed, we cannot wait to act. The harmful impacts of climate change are here, now, and increasing,” declared Dykes.  “It is not too late to avoid the worst case. We must rapidly reduce emissions now to mitigate the harm and the costs to future generations.”
Four California Facilities Fined More Than $800,000 for Clean Air Act Chemical Safety Violations
Thousands of facilities nationwide make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances, including anhydrous ammonia. Catastrophic accidents at ammonia refrigeration facilities—historically about 150 each year—result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, and other harm to human health and the environment. EPA inspected these facilities as part of the Agency’s National Compliance Initiative, which seeks to reduce risk to human health and the environment by decreasing the likelihood of accidental releases and mitigating the consequences of chemical accidents.
EPA recently announced settlements with four companies for alleged violations of Clean Air Act chemical release prevention requirements at four anhydrous ammonia facilities in Central California. The companies will pay more than $826,000 in civil penalties and make safety improvements to their facilities, with the goal of protecting the public and first responders from dangerous chemicals.
Anhydrous ammonia can cause serious, often irreversible health effects when released. In addition to potential harmful effects from inhalation of or skin contact with this substance, it is highly flammable. Anhydrous ammonia is considered an extremely hazardous substance.
“It is paramount that facilities properly manage the handling of extremely hazardous substances to prevent dangerous incidents,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Director of Enforcement and Compliance , Amy Miller. “Industry needs to properly manage dangerous substances or face significant Clean Air Act penalties.”
A September 2019 EPA inspection of the Dreyers Grand Ice Cream Inc. facility located in Bakersfield, California, found the company failed to: comply with process safety and hazard evaluation requirements; correct deficient equipment; manage change requirements; comply with compliance audit requirements; and submit accurate hazardous chemical reports for anhydrous ammonia.
Dreyers paid a penalty of $301,066 and improved process safety by: adding machinery room signage, panic hardware, and an eyewash and safety shower; moving machinery room ammonia sensors; adding labeling; and improving machinery room emergency ventilation. The company also corrected deficient equipment and addressed outstanding recommendations from hazard evaluations and compliance audits.
An April 2018 EPA inspection of the Kern Ice and Cold Storage LLC. facility in Bakersfield, California found the company failed to: identify hazards and conduct an adequate hazard review; design and maintain a safe facility; and minimize the consequences of a release.
Kern Ice agreed to a civil penalty of $115,012 and will make modifications to the facility to improve safety. These will include adding labeling, improving equipment access, installing emergency stop switches, and improving machine room ventilation.
A June 2018 EPA inspection of Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc., owned by Dole Foods LLC and located in Marina, California, found the company failed to design and maintain a safe facility. Dole Fresh Vegetables also did not comply with process safety, hazard evaluation, and operating procedure requirements.
Dole Fresh Vegetables paid a penalty of $206,621 and made modifications to the facility to improve safety such as installing physical barriers around ammonia piping, improving machinery room ventilation, and improving emergency shutoff valve access. The facility also corrected deficient equipment, addressed outstanding hazard evaluation recommendations, and updated operating procedures.
A June 2018 EPA inspection of the Dole Packaged Foods LLC. owned by ITOCHU Corporation and located in Atwater, California, found the company failed to: comply with process safety, hazard evaluation, operating procedure, and training requirements; correct deficient equipment; and develop and implement an adequate emergency response plan.
Dole Packaged Foods paid a civil penalty of $203,445 and installed physical barriers around ammonia pressure vessels and piping. The company also agreed to update operating procedures and ammonia operator training, conduct a mechanical integrity audit and address the audit’s recommendations, conduct an emergency response team drill, and address outstanding action items from previous drills.
Hawaiian Ice Cited for Chemical Safety Violations
EPA announced a settlement with Hawaiian Ice Company over violations of the Clean Air Act’s chemical release prevention and reporting requirements at its ice production and distribution facility in Kalihi, adjacent to downtown Honolulu and the Honolulu Harbor. Hawaiian Ice will pay a penalty of $82,613 and has made facility safety improvements to protect the public and first responders.
“Facilities’ highest priority must be to properly manage the handling of extremely hazardous chemicals to prevent dangerous incidents,” said Amy Miller, EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Director of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “In Hawaii, EPA continues to focus our inspections and enforcement on those facilities that handle large amounts of extremely hazardous substances and have poor chemical management practices to prevent and minimize chemical accidents.”
On April 24, 2017, a release of ammonia from the 6,500-pound ammonia refrigeration system at the facility resulted in the evacuation of more than 100 people from nearby businesses and watercraft. Although no serious bodily injuries occurred from this release, several people were evaluated for irritated eyes, breathing difficulties, and other symptoms.
As a result of this event, EPA performed an inspection of the facility in 2018 and found safety design violations of the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act at the facility. Among other failures, EPA found that:
  • Ammonia detection alarms were not installed at several locations where they were needed.
  • The ammonia machinery room was not sealed to prevent ammonia from escaping to other occupied parts of the facility.
  • An oil drain line was not capped or equipped with a self-closing mechanism, presenting an ammonia release hazard if the valve were to be accidentally opened.
Following the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act helps decrease the likelihood of chemical releases at facilities that store extremely hazardous substances and minimizes the consequences of accidental releases.  Hawaiian Ice has addressed the cited violations, and these corrections will help protect human health and the environment by reducing the risk of future accidental chemical releases.
To find information on General Duty Clause requirements under the Clean Air Act, visit:
$35 Million Fine for Pipeline Rupture that Caused 29 Million Gallon Spill over 143 Days Before Discovery
The Department of Justice filed criminal charges under the Clean Water Act against Summit Midstream Partners LLC, a North Dakota pipeline company that discharged 29 million gallons of produced water from its pipeline near Williston, North Dakota, over the course of nearly five months in 2014-2015.
The discharge of more than 700,000 barrels of produced water – a waste product of hydraulic fracturing – contaminated land, groundwater, and over 30 miles of tributaries of the Missouri River. The spill, believed to be the largest inland spill in history, was visible in photographs taken by satellites orbiting the earth.
In addition to the criminal charges, the United States and the State of North Dakota filed a civil complaint against Summit and a related company, Meadowlark Midstream Company LLC, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and North Dakota water pollution control laws. Under parallel settlements resolving the criminal and civil cases, the company has agreed to pay a total of $35 million in criminal fines and civil penalties.
“Summit prioritized profits over the environment. The company’s disregard for pipeline safety resulted in pollution of the environment on a massive scale over 143 days,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Summit’s conduct was criminal and its failure to immediately report the discharge a felony.  This resolution holds the company financially accountable, requires enhanced compliance measures to prevent future spills, and provides compensation for North Dakota’s damaged natural resources.”
“North Dakota and its federal partners are holding Summit and Meadowlark accountable and making clear that disregard for North Dakota’s environmental laws will not be tolerated,” said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. “The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, Game and Fish Department, and Industrial Commission staff spent countless hours investigating and responding to the spill, making this settlement possible.”
If the court accepts the plea agreement, Summit will pay $15 million in federal criminal fines for negligently causing the continuous spill, failing to stop it and deliberately failing to make an immediate report as required.
“Summit’s negligence included the design, construction and operation of the Marmon Water Gathering System pipeline, as well as the negligent failure to find and stop the spill after learning of objective signs of a leak,” according to a factual admission signed by the company and filed in court. Summit started pipeline operations without meters at both ends of the pipeline to conduct “line balancing” or otherwise having a reliable leak detection system in place. “Even after the company learned of major drops in pressure and volume – objective signs of a leak – the company negligently continued operations and thus caused millions of additional gallons to be discharged into U.S. waters without learning the cause or pausing operations,” according to the Joint Factual Statement.
Summit has further admitted that it knowingly did not share all relevant information regarding the volume and duration of the spill and that its reports to federal and state authorities “were incomplete and misleading,” in papers filed in court. Summit eventually reported 70,000 barrels over a 10-day period despite an internal analysis showing the discharge was more than 700,000 barrels over 143 days. Under the terms of the proposed plea agreement, Summit will serve three years of probation in which comprehensive remedial measures are required.
Under the proposed civil settlement, Summit, Meadowlark, and a third related company, Summit Operating Services Company LLC, will pay $20 million in civil penalties, perform comprehensive injunctive relief, clean up the contamination caused by the spill and pay $1.25 million in natural resource damages to resolve the civil case. Summit has spent over $50 million to date to clean up the spill under state oversight; ongoing remediation efforts under the civil settlement are expected to continue over the next several years. The civil settlement further requires Summit and Meadowlark to take concrete steps to prevent future discharges, including stringent pipeline installation, operation, and testing requirements; a centralized computational pipeline monitoring system; spill response planning and countermeasures; an environmental management system; and data management and training measures. Independent third-party audits are required to ensure that certain injunctive measures are properly developed and implemented. These compliance measures were made a condition of Summit’s probation in the proposed criminal plea agreement. The companies have also agreed to enter into a related administrative settlement with the North Dakota Industrial Commission.
Summit continued pumping produced water through the pipeline in 2014 to 2015 despite multiple warning signs that the line had ruptured:
  • Aug. 17, 2014. Real-time pressure data collected by Summit showed a significant pressure drop, indicating a rupture had occurred.
  • Oct. 14, 2014: Summit’s construction manager raised a concern about “extreme low pressure on the pipeline.” The facilities engineer responded: “Not good. We may want to consider shutting it down.” Summit continued to operate the line.
  • Nov. 4, 2014: the third-party operator of the injection well at the end of the pipeline (Company A) informed Summit that 115,000 barrels (4,830,000 gallons) of produced water were missing for the month of October, which is approximately 3,700 barrels (155,400 gallons) per day.
  • Dec. 3, 10, and 16, 2014: Company A followed up with Summit about the produced water discrepancy, having received no response to its previous inquiries. During this time, Company A confirmed the accuracy of its injection well meters and informed Summit that the discrepancy had risen to 4,900 barrels per day.
  • Jan. 6, 2015: A Summit employee walked the line, finally identifying the rupture.
The resulting 700,000-barrel discharge of produced water contained crude oil, chloride, sodium, ammonia, aluminum, arsenic, boron, copper, nickel, selenium, zinc, barium, benzene and thallium, among other contaminants. Produced water is a waste product of oil extraction and can be toxic to plants, fish and other aquatic wildlife. It is also harmful to humans.
The designated federal trustee is the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, and the designated state trustees are the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality and the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish. A Draft Restoration Plan outlining the trustees’ restoration projects is available. The Draft Restoration Plan is subject to a 30-day public comment period. The civil settlement was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
The criminal case is being prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Richard A. Udell, Senior Trial Attorney Christopher J. Costantini, Trial Attorneys Stephen J. Foster and Erica H. Pencak of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resource Division (ENRD), and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme. The federal civil case is being handled by Senior Attorney Laura A. Thoms and Trial Attorney Devon A. Ahearn of the Environmental Enforcement Section of ENRD. The state civil case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Margaret I. Olson of the North Dakota Office of Attorney General.
The criminal investigation was conducted by EPA’s Criminal Investigations Division. EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, EPA Region 8, the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, the North Dakota Industrial Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish provided assistance to both the criminal and civil investigations.
Combining Sunlight and Wastewater Nitrate to Make the World’s No. 2 Chemical
Engineers at the University of Illinois Chicago have created a solar-powered electrochemical reaction that not only uses wastewater to make ammonia — the second most-produced chemical in the world — but also achieves a solar-to-fuel efficiency that is 10 times better than any other comparable technology.
Their findings are published in Energy & Environmental Science, a top journal for research at the intersection of energy delivery and environmental protections.
“This technology and our method have great potential for allowing on-demand synthesis of fertilizers and could have an immense impact on the agricultural and energy sectors in developed and developing countries, and on efforts to reduce greenhouse gases from fossil fuels,” said lead researcher Meenesh Singh, assistant professor of chemical engineering at the UIC College of Engineering.
Ammonia, a combination of one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms, is a key compound of fertilizers and many manufactured products, like plastics and pharmaceuticals. Current methods to make ammonia from nitrogen require enormous amounts of heat, generated by burning fossil fuels, to break the strong bonds between nitrogen atoms so they can bind to hydrogen. This century-old process produces a substantial fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions, which are a driving force of climate change.
Previously, Singh and his colleagues developed an environmentally friendly method to make ammonia by filtering pure nitrogen gas through an electrically charged, catalyst-covered mesh screen in a water-based solution. This reaction used only a tiny amount of fossil fuel energy to electrify the screen, which breaks apart nitrogen atoms, but it produced more hydrogen gas (80%) than ammonia (20%).
Now, the researchers have improved this concept and developed a new method that uses nitrate, one of the most common groundwater contaminants, to supply nitrogen and sunlight to electrify the reaction. The system produces nearly 100% ammonia with nearly zero hydrogen gas side reactions. The reaction needs no fossil fuels and produces no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, and its use of solar power yields an unprecedented solar-to-fuel efficiency, or STF, of 11%, which is 10 times better than any other state-of-the-art system to produce ammonia (about 1% STF).
The new method hinges on a cobalt catalyst, which the researchers describe along with the new process in their paper, “Solar-Driven Electrochemical Synthesis of Ammonia using Nitrate with 11% Solar-to-Fuel Efficiency at Ambient Conditions.”
To identify the catalyst, the researchers first applied computational theory to predict which metal would work best. After identifying cobalt through these models, the team experimented with the metal, trying different ways to optimize its activity in the reaction. The researchers found that a rough cobalt surface derived from oxidation worked best to create a reaction that was selective, meaning it converted nearly all the nitrate molecules to ammonia.
“Finding an active, selective, and stable catalyst that worked in a solar-powered system is powerful proof that sustainable synthesis of ammonia at an industrial scale is possible,” Singh said.
Not only is the reaction itself carbon-neutral, which is good for the environment, but if the system is developed for industrial use, it may also have an almost net-negative, restorative effect on the environment.
“Using wastewater nitrate means we also have to remove the contaminant from surface and groundwater. Over time, this means the process may simultaneously help correct for industrial waste and runoff water and rebalance the nitrogen cycle, particularly in rural areas which may experience economic disadvantages or bear the greatest risk from high exposure to excess nitrate,” Singh said.
High exposure to nitrate through drinking water has been associated with health conditions like cancer, thyroid disease, preterm birth, and low birth weight.
“We are all very thrilled with this achievement, and we are not stopping here. We are hopeful that we will soon have a larger prototype with which we can test a much greater scale,” said Singh, who is already collaborating with municipal corporations, wastewater treatment centers, and others in the industry on further developing the system.
A patent for the new process has been filed by the UIC Office of Technology Management.
Co-authors of the paper are Nishithan Kani and Aditya Parajapati of UIC, Joseph Gauthier of Texas Tech University, Jane Edgington and Linsey Seitz of Northwestern University, Isha Bordawekar of Warren Township High School, Windom Shields and Mitchell Shields of Worldwide Liquid Sunshine, and Aayush Singh of Dow Inc.
Free Trees Available in Rhode Island, Just in Time for Fall Planting
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), in partnership with the RI Tree Council, RI Nursery and Landscape Association, and the Arbor Day Foundation, is providing 1,000 free trees to Rhode Island residents this autumn. Now in its 13th season, the program helps Rhode Islanders beautify their yards, save energy, and lower their utility bills by strategically planting trees on their property.
"Planting a tree in the right place can improve air quality, sequester carbon, and help manage stormwater runoff," said DEM Agriculture and Forestry Chief Ken Ayars. "It's a terrific way for Rhode Islanders to reduce their energy costs today and in the years to come, and a tangible way to stand up to climate change. We're especially pleased to offer free trees now, when many of us are spending more time in our backyards because of the pandemic."
Planting the right tree in the right place is the key to maximizing the energy-saving benefits that trees provide. When planted properly, a single tree can save a homeowner money on energy costs by shading their home in the summer and blocking cold winds in the winter. Additional benefits include improved air quality, reducing storm-water runoff, increasing biodiversity, and beautifying one's surroundings.
The process to reserve your free tree takes less than 10 minutes. In three easy steps, you can reserve your tree!
  1. Sign up at and map your house by using the interactive mapping tool.
  2. Select the right tree by choosing from the list of available trees.
  3. Reserve your tree and select your pick-up location from the list below.
The free trees will be approximately 4-6 feet tall and in 3-gallon containers. These trees will fit in most cars for transportation to your home. All program participants must be Rhode Island residents and pre-register online to reserve their free tree. The trees will be available for pick up starting in late September at the following locations, dates, and times:
  • Dexter Training Ground Park: 85 Parade Street, Providence, RI 02909 Saturday, Sept. 25, 9 AM-12 PM
  • Richmond Elementary School: 190 Kingstown Road, Richmond, RI 02898 Saturday, Oct. 2, 9 AM-12 PM
  • Colt State Park: Route 114, Bristol, RI 02809 Saturday, Oct. 16, 9 AM-12 PM
  • RI Tree Council: 2953 Hartford Avenue, Johnston, RI 02919 Saturday, Oct. 23, 9 AM-12 PM
Funding for the program is provided by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
For online registration assistance, please contact the Arbor Day Foundation at 1-855-234-3801. For more information about the Rhode Island Energy-Saving Trees Program, please visit DEM's Division of Forest Environment Urban and Community Forestry website at or follow the Division of Forest Environment on Facebook
Sims Lohman Issued Repeat Citations, Faces $203K in Fines for Machine Safety Violations
Sims Lohman Inc., a Cincinnati stone manufacturer was cited again for exposing workers to amputation hazards when it failed to ensure machine safety procedures were followed and machine guards were in place, as required by law.
An OSHA investigation determined Sims Lohman did not use lockout/tagout procedures to prevent workers – who cut granite and other stones for area buildings and homes – from coming in contact with operating machine parts. The company also operated machinery with missing or inadequate guarding and improperly stored flammable liquids. OSHA proposed penalties of $203,826 for three repeat safety violations. Sims Lohman was cited for similar violations in February 2020.
“Sims Lohman failed to meet its obligation to develop machine safety programs and train workers on how to control hazardous energy to prevent serious injuries,” said OSHA Area Director Ken Montgomery in Cincinnati. “Lack of adequate machine guarding remains one of OSHA's most frequently cited hazards. Employers have a responsibility to continually review and update their procedures to ensure workers are protected on the job.”
Based in Cincinnati, Sims Lohman operates six manufacturing facilities in Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee.
Arbor Hills Energy Cited for SO2 Violations
Arbor Hills Energy LLC (AHE) has agreed to significantly reduce, if not virtually eliminate, AHE’s sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions at its landfill gas-to-energy facility (Facility) in Northville, Michigan, to resolve alleged Clean Air Act and State law violations.
In a complaint filed simultaneously with the consent decree, the United States and the State of Michigan allege several Clean Air Act and State law violations, including exceedances of the Facility’s permitted SO2 emissions limits. This pollutant causes harm to human health and the environment once emitted into the air, including premature death, heart attacks, respiratory problems and adverse environmental effects.
“Illegal air pollution from landfill gas power plants can harm people’s health and the environment,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement is an example of how EPA is working to protect our communities by ensuring that landfill gas is handled in compliance with Clean Air Act requirements.”
“This settlement benefits public health and the environment by delivering deep cuts in SO2 emissions from the AHE Facility,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to enforce the Clean Air Act vigorously in cooperation with our state partners.”
“The health of the citizens of the State of Michigan is a top priority of this office,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Saima S. Mohsin. “Successful efforts such as this protect and preserve the environment for current and future generations and demonstrate our ongoing dedication to that goal.”
“This settlement makes important progress in improving air quality near the AHE Facility,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “My office is also addressing air pollution from the adjacent landfill in the case I filed on behalf of Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) in 2020 against the landfill owner. Combined, when completed, this work will dramatically improve the impact both facilities have had on the surrounding communities.”
“This agreement better protects nearby residents and the region’s air quality and is a good example of working with our partners to ensure environmental compliance and emissions reductions,” said Director Liesl Clark of EGLE.
The AHE Facility converts landfill gas (LFG), which is generated by decomposition of waste from an adjacent landfill, into electricity by burning it as fuel in four gas turbines. Under the settlement, by March 2023 AHE will either construct a renewable natural gas facility that converts LFG into pipeline quality natural gas and would virtually eliminate SO2 emissions, or install a sulfur treatment system that achieves a 64 percent reduction in SO2 emissions. Either pathway will bring AHE into compliance with the Clean Air Act and mitigate past excess SO2 emissions from the AHE Facility.
Based on an evaluation of the company’s limited ability to pay, AHE also will pay a civil penalty of $750,000, split equally between the United States and the State of Michigan. The proposed decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, resolves EPA’s and Michigan’s Clean Air Act and State law claims against AHE. The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. It will be available for viewing at
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